Archive for December, 2010

The commercial markets have been flooded recently with advertising based on different types of salt used in food production, flavoring and presentation. Everyone from McDonalds to Kraft Foods has been pushing sea salt over table salt, or kosher salt over sea salt, or iodized salt over un-iodized, but they forget to mention why! Thanks to a request from a valued reader, I spent a little time doing some research on the subject, and realized…

….that it really doesn’t matter what kind of salt you use. Salt is salt, but  if you have specific applications, the different textures and flavors of sea salt, kosher salt, and table salt can be very useful in your final dish’s presentation.

When you are interested in salt from the culinary aspect, the main variable in choosing a salt is its texture. Nutritionally, its the ratio of sodium levels, and other added nutrients that can be found in the different types of salt. All salts are at least 97.5% sodium chloride.

  • Table salt is mined only from underground sources. It is very fine, and very smooth, dissolves quickly in water and other liquids, and adds a large amount of flavor in relation to its size. It is best used for baking, soups, and other areas where it is a flavoring agent from the INSIDE of the food item. It also includes a small amount of calcium silicate, which prevents it from clumping when stored in a somewhat damp environment. A teaspoon of table salt is much “saltier” than a teaspoon of kosher or sea salt. It also usually contains iodine, a nutrient necessary for human health but not naturally found in our diets.
  • Sea salt is made from larger more-coarse crystals, is easier to take a “pinch” out of, and contains different nutrients than table salt. It is best used as a last minute addition to your meal, the granules offering an aesthetic quality to your meal as well as briny flavor. It is mined directly from ocean and seawater, and is not processed at all, so it contains nutrients that are not normally found in table salt, but usually not in enough quantities to make it nutritionally different to table salt. Because of the large crystals, sea salt tends to lose its flavor when heated. It is usually advertised as more natural than salt mined from underground sources, because it does not need to be processed.
  • Kosher salt is mined from underground, or from the sea, and has large white crystals like sea salt. It derives its name from it’s use in the kosher blessing process, and can be used as a substitute for both sea salt and table salt, but is preferred for its help in pickling and preserving foods, or as a salt rub, because the large crystals draw more moisture out of the food than table salt.  

Sea salt, kosher salt, and table salt contain the same amounts of sodium by weight, but there different volumes make sea salt and kosher salt slightly healthier, based on just that technicality alone. The larger crystals of sea salt are also more aesthetically pleasing, so it is more often used in the presentation of a dish, whereas table salt is part of the internal structure.

The Mayo Clinic recommends that people keep their sodium intake between 1500 to 2300 mg a day, but many people exceed that number in dangerous levels everyday. They offer a very informative series of online articles about ways to reduce your sodium intake, check those out HERE. Processed foods often contain large amounts of preservatives, which are usually sodium based, and can up your intake into the 10k of mg. To test your knowledge on the differences between salt and sodium, try this QUIZ from HealthCentral.com.

Happy Cooking!

Nothing makes me dislike winter more than the beginning of the cold and flu season. It seems that as soon as the first fall breezes sweep in from the north, or in the case the Midwest, kids start sniffling, adults start calling in sick, and doctor’s offices and urgent care centers are filled with coughing, sneezing and sickly patients. I always recommend orange juice and chicken soup before starting my speech about the benefits of a diet high in things like zinc and vitamin C, but most people think that I mean the canned soup when I say Chicken Soup. If you reach for a can of the Campbell’s Chicken and Stars, I’ll give you an A for effort, but its not nearly as healthy and beneficial as chicken soup made from scratch.

WAIT, WHAT? Isn’t this blog supposed to be about easy and simple nutritious things? I know, you probably think that chicken soup takes days of work, hours of prep, and ages of simmering on your cooktop before you can even begin to enjoy it, but I am here to tell you that it can be 1 EASY, 2 FUN, and 3 RESOURCEFUL. Consider your holiday meal plans. Are you roasting a turkey, a ham, a large roast, or a large chicken in the next few weeks? Do YOU KNOW what you can do with that carcass after it has been carved? Are you aware that the basis for some of the most delicious soup in the world can be started with a simple pile of bones and leftover meat? It’s true. For years my dad turned every roasted meat item that graced our family table into soup, and thankfully I paid enough attention to how he did it to post it in this blog. It’s a very simple process, does not require more than 3 hours of your time, and can become a family tradition that will fill your holidays with healthy and hearty meals for years to come.

Chicken Soup From Scratch

You Will Need:

For the Soup Base:
A roasted or rotisseried Chicken, half  or mostly eaten 
A Large Stock Pot
A Large Soup Pot
1 Large Onion, peeled and quartered
2 large carrots, halved
Any leftover veggies, herbs and spices from your fridge
1-2 cloves of garlic, peeled and slightly squashed under the flat of a spoon or knife
1 large bay leaf
Cheesecloth

For The Soup:
A bag of egg noodles, or pasta of your choice, or rice or barley
1 can of corn
1 can of sliced carrots
3 sliced green onions, just the green parts
1 teaspoon of dried thyme

Place the entire chicken carcass, bones, giblets, leftover meat, and all, into the bottom of your stock pot. Cover the carcass with enough cold water so that it is covered plus one inch. Bring the water to a boil over high heat and let it boil until a foam starts to gather on top of the water. Reduce the heat and scoop off the foam. This removes alot of the fats from your soup and makes the broth clearer. Add your large onion, large carrots, and your leftover veggies and herbs, your cloves of garlic and your bay leaf. Cover the pot but leave the lid slightly ajar, allowing steam to escape and makes the soup thicker. Let your soup base, also called a stock, to simmer over medium heat for 2 whole hours, for the best flavor and nutrition. The simmering pulls all sorts of yummy nutrients from the bones, tendons and meat from your chicken, and the longer it simmers the better. If you are pressed for time, just one hour of simmering will do, but your soup won’t be as flavorful.

Place a colander over your large soup pot and line it with some cheese cloth. Remove your chicken from the pot and place it on a cutting board. Pour the stock, veggies, and herbs into the pot through the cheese cloth and colander so that just the broth is left. Wrap the softened veggies and herbs in the cheesecloth and throw them away, or add them to your compost pile. Add your canned veggies, sliced onions, and pasta to  eight cups of the broth and heat it again over medium heat.

While the soup is boiling go over the carcass one last time with a fine tooth comb and pull every bit of leftover meat from it. Because the meat has simmered it should literally fall right off the bones, and I usually I get anywhere from 1-3 cups of meat depending on how hungry my family was the night before. once you have seperated your meat, add it to the soup, and throw away your chicken bones. Make sure you put it in the bottom of your garbage can so that Fido can’t get to it, because chicken bones can splinter and crack when eaten, causing your doggie to choke.

Let the freshly picked meat, canned and fresh veggies, stock, and pasta or rice cook until the pasta is done, usually another ten to fiteen minutes, then add salt and pepper to taste. Serve it steaming hot in giant bowls with some crusty french bread, crispy drop biscuits, or Saltines. If you’d like, let the soup cool then pour it into Ziploc or Glad containers, and freeze it, or take it over to your neighbors for a tasty holiday treat!

You can use this same method for hams, turkeys, and even roasts. It allows you to clean out your refrigerator, use your leftovers again, and keep those colds at bay!

Happy Cooking!

When you are a mom, your time and energy are incredibly important, and nothing requires more time and energy when baking than bread made with yeast. That pesky little organism is often the reason that many moms don’t bake bread as often any more, unless its in a bread machine that you simply add ingredients too and press a button. (An incredible invention, by the way! Second only to the Crock Pot!)

Anyway, the mishaps, blunders, and bloopers that accompany the trials of yeast breadmaking have been recorded since the early days of yeast, around 4000 to 3000 BC, when the Egyptians first discovered the amazing powers of yeast, and added it to their baking recipes for a lighter fluffier bread. Breads up until that time had been simply a paste of water and flour, chewy and kind of bland to say the least. Breadmaking spread like wildfire over the European continent, with yeast leading the way, French artisan breadmakers making better lighter and tastier breads, all thanks to yeast! Unfortunately the power of yeast is only held back by its difficulty to work with, especially in the days before the little packets with instructions written on them. Bakers continued to experiment with other ways to add the reaction that created CO2 bubbles necessary for a light and fluffy bread, adding things like lye and sodium bicarbonate to their recipes. Baking soda was the most poular option until the 1800’s, but bakers and foodies alike were thrilled about the invention of baking powder, a reactive substance that not only helped the texture of their bread, but was not as bitter as baking soda.  Baking powder was faster, more stable, and did not affect the taste of sweet breads, nor did it call for a starter batch like sourdough bread.

Thus heralded the invention of the quickbread recipe, a slightly denser usually fruit or veggie based bread that used baking powder or soda as its leavener, and was made faster,as it needs no rising time or kneading time. Squash type veggies are perfect as the main ingredient in a variety of quickbread recipes, as well as bananas, apples, corn and pumpkin.

Quickbreads are easily made into healthier recipes, as they require no butter, like some yeast based breads need for lightness, texture and stability, you can easily swap butter for applesauce in a quickbread recipe. You can also use artificial sweeteners with no detriment to the finished product. You can swap the standard all purpose flour for whole wheat, for extra fiber and nutrition, or if you are looking for a gluten free recipe, try a rice based or corn based flour. Even the orignal corbread popularized by the Mayan Indians in the days of Christopher Columbus is considered a quickbread!

Some tips for the best quickbreads:

  • Never add baking soda  or powder directly to liquids all by itself. It reacts with the liquid and you don’t want to waste the CO2 bubbles, so mix it in with your dry ingredients, until you are at the very lat step of mixing your wet and dry ingredients.
  • Use the “well” method when adding your liquids to dry ingredients. Sift your flour and dry ingredients into a little pile on a cutting board or butcher’sblock, then using a large spoon, press a well into the center of the mound. Add your wet ingredients into the well, then gently mix to combine.
  • Avoid overmixing your ingredients. Mix until just combined, leave a couple of lumps. The CO2 reaction only lasts so long, and you need those air bubbles to live as long as possible until you get the bread in the oven. Killing them by over-kneading or mixing them will result in dead bread, or chewy, thick, kinda gross bread.
  • Remember that quick breads are usually very wet recipes, and are poured into a pan more often than shaped into a ball of dough. For uniform sizes and shapes, fill your bread pans about halfway, or muffin pans 2/3 of the way up, so that you don’t end up overflowing.
  • Times vary for cooking based on oven temperature, density of your bread recipe, age of your baking soda, way to many variables to list here. So use the toothpick method when checking your bread, insert a dry fresh toothpick into the center of your bread, then pull it out the same way it was put in. If the toothpick is clean and still looks pretty dry, your bread is done. If it comes out with chunks, goo, or looks wets, leave your bread in the oven just a little bit longer, until the toothpick comes out dry. 🙂
  • When cooling your quickbread, let them cool in pan until you can handle them, then pop them out and cool the rest of the way on a wire rack until they can be stored, wrapped, or eaten. The air circulating around the bottom of the bread will keep the crust from getting soggy.

Search “quick bread recipes” on Google, Cooks.com, or Allrecipes.com for a great recipe to add to your holiday baking! Quick breads are faster, more reliable and easier to make than yeast breads, and a homemade bread tastes and SMELLS much better than a store bought one.

Happy Cooking!

I am always searching for a quick and easy cookie recipe that doesnt requires too much of anything, be it ingredients, cooking time, prep time, or calories. In the spirit of the holiday season, I am often barraged by hundreds and hundreds of holiday sweets guides, not easy for a blogger that is supposed to be focused on nutrition. But today the kid in me has won over, as I am the worlds biggest fan of shortbread. I love shortbread of all kinds and flavors, its so perfectly buttery and crumbly and just decadent. Even the cheap store bought short bread is delicious. I believe my love affair with all things shortbread comes from a deep love of my dear friend butter, but the recipe that I have found calls for the smallest amount of real butter, (only a cup!) and still turns out to be perfectly tender and crisp. The amount of butter in a shortbread cookie is relative to its delectability, and is necessary for not only its texture but a large part of its taste.

Shortbread cookies were popularized with the rise of quickbreads, after the invention of baking powder in the mid 1800’s, and have been mentioned in several classic novels and literature from that time period. They were very popular with French and English nobility.

Make a giant batch of these cookies and wrap them in pretty colored seran wrap for a Christmas party! Add a little red or green food coloring and make them the feature of your next holiday gathering! Dip them in chocolate, cover them in sprinkles and serve them up with whipped cream to makes scrumptious cookie sandwiches for your kiddos.  Or spend Christmas Eve with your significant other, sipping hot apple cider and munching on delicious shortbread cookies after a night of hurried Santa-related activities!

Simple Shortbread Cookies

You Will Need:
2 cups of flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1 cup of salted butter
1/2 cup of powdered sugar
Cookie Cutters
A Rolling Pin
An Ungreased Cookie Sheet

Preaheat your oven to 350*F. In a large bowl, sift together your flour, baking powder, and salt until they are thoroughly combined. Using a handheld or standing mixer, whip the cup of salted butter until smooth using medium speed, then slowly add the powdered sugar to the butter. When the butter and sugar are combined you can again slowly add the flour mixture to the dough, until everything is mixed. Wrap your dough in plastic wrap and chill it in the freezer for 30 minutes. Dust a cutting board with powdered sugar or flour and roll out your dough in a large circle with your rolling pin, until it is about 1/3″ thick.

Use the cookie cutter of your choice to cut the cookies, pressing down firmly and wiggling slightly for the best cut, but remember don’t pick them up until all of your cuts have been made. When you are done making your impressions in the dough, pick up a portion of the dough that is left over and life it, removing the leftover dough to be rerolled and cut again until you have no dough left. Use a spatula to gently lift your cookies and place them on an ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake your cookies in the oven for 20-25 minutes, or until slightly golden brown. Let them cool in place on the cookie sheet for a few minutes, then remove them to a wire rack to finish cooling for the perfect texture and smooth crunch.  Be sure to try one of the cookies while they are still warm, with a glass of ice cold milk. I promise you, it will be heavenly.

This recipe makes approximately 24-30 cookies depending on the size and shape of your cookie cutter, and can easily be doubled or tripled depending on your party guest numbers, or gifts to give this year. This quick and easy recipe is perfect for the busy holiday season and can easily be made by your kids too, just as usual be careful with the oven and the mixer. There’s no eggs in the recipe so you won’t even get my lecture about licking the spoon!

Happy Cooking!

This post is dedicated to my best friend in the whole wide world, Missa. She hates cranberries. 🙂

Nothing signals the holiday season to me like cranberries. Whether you eat them out of the can in a jelly with your turkey or string them dried along with popcorn to decorate your home, the aroma and tart fresh taste of a ripe red cranberry gives me a sense of joy that many who do not like the fruit or have not tried it yet do not understand. I am alsways the first person to dig out a massive helping of fresh cranberry sauce at the Thanksgiving table, and I eat Craisins on a regular basis. My fascination with this fruit started early, after all, it is BRIGHT red and pink, much like one of my other favorite veggies, beets, and I just can’t get over the flavor. They are the perfect sidekick to any kind of poultry and can add a bit of flavor and “tanginess” to any number of overly sweet holiday dishes. It’s bright color, easy availability in winter and tart flavor make them the best addition to any holiday meal.

The nutrition factor in the cranberry is also one of my favorite selling points. I will be first to tell anyone that they should drink cranberry juice or take cranberry extract if they have problems with toxin buildup in their system, or need to flush out their body after a tough week of over-indulging. Cranberries blend of antioxidants and cleansing prowess make them a favorite for those who had too much eggnog the night before, or find themselves plagued by kidney stones or the dreaded UTI.

Many people are only aware of cranberries in the jelly form, slopped out of the can into an odd looking dish and attacked both clumsily and messily on the Turkey Day tablecloth. Some people prefer the cranberry sauce in more of a “preserves” form, with whole berries, and some people even eat them fresh, a tart but refreshing treat indeed. I prefer them frozen in my Cosmopolitan, but here are three cranberry recipes that might bring you out of your comfort zone this holiday season.

Cranberry Salsa
A spicy sweet and tart blend of flavors best served slightly chilled and added to a roast turkey or chicken dinner.

You Will Need:
4 teaspoons of pumpkin seed oil or canola oil
1/2 cup shelled pumpkin seeds, also known as pepitas
2 cups fresh or thawed frozen cranberries
1-1/2 cups chopped green onion, the green parts only please
1 cup chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons minced sweet chiles
6 tablespoons sugar
6 tablespoons lime juice

Dissolve the sugar in the lime juice, then set aside. Heat the oil of your choice in a skillet over medium heat, and add the pepitas. Toast them for one minutes then sprinkle with salt. Remove them from the heat. In your food processor, spin the cranberries in bursts until they are in uniform chunks, and add the green onions, cilantro and chiles. When you are ready to serve your salsa, sprinkle the pepitas over the salsa mixture then drizzle the lime juice and sugar glaze over the top. Serve it with your turkey for a Spanish influence, or even serve it with taco chips! 

Cranberry Blueberry Pie
A decadent pie that will be the highlight of your Christmas Party, and is surprisingly easy to make! Have your kids roll out the dough while the berries are cooking.

You Will Need:
1 16oz package of frozen blueberries
1 12ox package of frozen cranberries
1-1/4 cups of sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
2 cinnamon sticks
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
Heavy Cream or melted butter
Flaky Pie Crust Recipe

Preheat your oven to 400*F. Heat all of your ingredients in a medium sauce pan over med high heat, approximately 12-14 minutes or until mixture starts to thicken. Boil, uncovered for two minutes, stirring constantly. Transfer berry mixture to glass or ceramic bowl and let it cool completely. Remove the cinnamon sticks after the mixture has cooled.  Using my Flaky Crust Recipe from the quiche post, make two balls of dough and keep them cool until ready to roll out. Roll one round into a cirlce, then set it in the bottom of a 9″ glass pie baking dish. Roll the other ball into a rectable and cut strips approximately 1-1/2 inch wide. Fill the pie with the filling then layer the strips in an alternating pattern to make a lattice over the top. Crimp the outer edge of the crust with a fork to make sure everything stays together and to make it look pretty, then brush the exposed crust with the whipping cream, or melted butter. Bake the entire pie for 1 hour and ten minutes, until the crust is golden and the filling bubbles slightly. Serve with vanilla ice cream or a dollop of whipped cream.

Cranberry Salad
Allows for the use of pineapple in a Jello recipe, a rare treat.

You Will Need:
1 8oz can of crushed pineapple
1 3oz box of cherry or cranberry Jello
1 cup of boiling water
1 cup of whole berry cranberry sauce
1 cup diced apple
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
Drain the pineapple, but keep the juice off to the side. Dissolve the Jello powder in the boiling water in a 9X13 glass baking dish. Let it cool slightly, then add the cranberry sauce, and 1/2 cup of liquid from the pineapple. Mix until lumpy, then add the pineapple chunks, the diced apple, and the walnuts. Mix to combine, then let it cool in the refrigerator overnight until firm. Serve with whipped cream.

Happy Cooking!

Nothing like a blustery cold or even snowy day to inspire a need for something warm, and comforting, and choclate-y. Even here in Florida it is particularly brutal when I am forced to wear jeans instead of shorts in December.  😀 (I still have enough Yankee in me to feel the need for hot cocoa by a warm fire under a blanket every once in a while.) Unfortunately a number of the hot chocolate recipes or the pre-made mixes are either very bad for you (ingredients you cant recognize on the label) or just taste TERRIBLE! Milk and chocolate syrup is a good starting place for your recipes, but that works best with cold milk. My particular favorite for hot chocolate mixes is the Nestle mix, but I refuse to leave the house today, so this is what I came up with, with a little help from the can of baking cocoa. It is possible to make a thick, creamy, and pleasantly sweet hot chocolate, in the comfort of your own home, and it’s great for kids, family and gift giving right around the holiday season!

Homemade Hot Chocolate
(Single Serving)

You Will Need:

1 tbsp Hershey’s cocoa powder
2 tbsp of white sugar, or Splenda
2 tbsp of hot water
1 cup milk, preferably 2% for creaminess but skim is ok
1 tsp vanilla extract

Get a large mug and mix your sugar, vanilla, cocoa powder and hot water together in the bottom of the mug until it resembles a slurry. Try to make it as smooth as possible, use a fork to make this easier. Heat your milk in the microwave until it is warm but not scalded. Burnt milk is TERRIBLE. Add the milk to your cocoa mixture in the mug and stir until throughly mixed. Top with a quick squirt of fat free Reddi Whip , some mini marshmallows, or a candy cane for a minty twist on the original recipe.

This recipe is also easily made healthy, by substituting Splenda for the sugar, and skim or fat free milk for the 2%, but please remember that the fat in the milk helps to make it creamier. Substituting the Splenda doesn’t have very much effect on the taste, at least it wasn’t noticeable in recipe trials for this post! 🙂 The key to making it the right consistency is blending your dry ingredients with the hot water before adding the milk. The slurry allows the flavors to blend and then be distributed evenly through the milk when you add it.

This recipe can easily be multiplied by three, four or even twelve if you want to make it a gift giving treat. Simply add enough of the dry ingredients together in a bowl, mix thoroughly until they are combined, then package in Ziploc baggies, small Tupperware containers, or even babyfood jars! Decorate the packaging however you like, print out your recipe on index cards to mention the vanilla and milk and mixing methods, and add a sweet note on the opposite side or a picture of your family to go along with it. These make the perfect house party gifts, or favors for those who attend your Christmas extravaganza! It also makes a cheap, easily packaged and simple Christmas gift for kids in your children’s class, for their teachers, or just for you!

The holidays are just around the corner, and everywhere you go there are silver bells, and lit up trees, and lights on houses, and candles in windows and everything and everyone is doing their best to get into the holiday spirit. A lot of people are still trying to recover from some of the struggle that our country has faced in the last few years, and “simple Christmas” is largely the theme this year. Even the White House was decorated with a homemade, arts and crafty feel this year! So let’s explore some of the crafts, decorations, and ornaments that you can make at home, using food!

You Will Need:
Apples
Oranges
Popcorn (unbuttered, unsalted)
Honey or Peanut Butter
Dried or Fresh Cranberries
Cinnamon Sticks
Vanilla Beans
Large Pretzels
Candy Canes
4-6 cans, with labels removed and washed
A hammer
Several nails
12 baby food jars
Ornament hooks
Strong Thread
A needle
A box of Cheerios
A box of Apple Jacks
Salt Dough (recipe below)
Acrylic Paint
Paint Brushes
A glue gun
Newspaper
Glitter and other such decorative items

I know. It’s a huge list. But you don’t have to make every item that we go over today. Just a few is okay.  Lets get to work!

Popcorn Garland! (May be too tedious for younger kids)

Pop a couple of bags of popcorn and fill a bowl full of dried or fresh cranberries. Using the needle and thread, string the popcorn and cranberries until you reach a length that will wrap a few times around your Christmas tree, or you can hang from a balcony or railing.

Popcorn Ball Ornaments
Dip a single piece of popcorn in honey or penaut butter. Stick more pieces of popcorn until it forms a ball shape. Poke an ornament hanger into one end, and then paint, or hang just as it is!

Cereal Garland
String Apple Jacks and Cheerios in alternating colors on some string. Try putting them one on top of the other (lllllllllllll), or threading two strands of string in and out of the holes to look like (OOOOOOO).

Carved Apples
Carve faces, words, or shapes into small red and green apples. Coat the freshly carved spots with petroleum jelly or Vaseline to slow the browning process from where the sugar in the apple reacts with oxygen from the air. Hang the apples in your tree like ornaments, or carve out the top about halfway down and place a small votive candle in it.

Apple and Orange Slices
Slice up a dozen apples and oranges and lay them on parchment paper covered cookie sheets. Bake them in the oven @ 200*F until they are dry or leave them out on a countertop to air dry (takes a lot longer). Hang the slices on your tree for a fragrant and country-style look this season!

Pretzels
Hanging a handful of large crunchy pretzels on your tree might seem a little out of the ordinary, but they make truly classic ornaments, and then don’t cost too much! The bigger the pretzel the better. You can even paint them with acrylic paint for a festive look.

Candy Canes
A couple dozen candy canes aren’t hard to find for cheap, especially the little tiny miniature ones that you can get at dollar stores and discount stores all over the place. Candy canes don’t have to be white and red anymore either, they have fruit and other flavors and colors that can complement any decor.

Baby Food Jars
Wash and remove the labels from a dozen or so baby food jars. Using your hammer and nail, poke two holes in the tops of the jars and thread an ornament hook into the holes so that it is secure. You might want to twist it a few times to make sure that it is tight. Add a drop of glue from your glue gun to reinforce it. Now you have the choice of painting the outside of your jar, or putting things inside the jar, like glitter and beads and leaving it clear. When you are done either filling or painting the jar, drop a bead of glue on the rim, then screw on the lid so that it stays sealed. This is a great look for houses with new babies!

CAN-dle Holders
Wash and rinse a few steel or aluminum cans, the kind your veggies come in is great. Use a permanent maker to make a shape on the outside of the can using dots, then use the hammer and nail to poke holes in the can where the dots are. Try a star or a tree or a heart, the more creative the better. Better to let an adult do the hammering, to protect little fingers and thumbs. When your design is done, simply drop a votive candle or tea light in the can, and your design with light up! You can paint the outside of the cans if you want to, but the simple metal looks is classic.

Salt Dough Ornaments
1 Cup of Salt
1 Cup of Flour
1/2 Cup of Water
Food Coloring

Mix the flour and salt together, mix the food coloring in with the water, then add the water to the dry ingredients.  Knead the dough to combine. If the dough is too sticky add more flour, if it is too crumbly add more water. Continue to knead the dough until it is the color you’d like and has the consistency of Play-Doh. Roll the dough out and use cookie cutters or plastic knives, spoons, any tools you would like to make shapes, or build your own models out of the dough. When you are done secure an ornament hook in the top of the ornament and let them air dry or bake them at 200*F until they dry. You can paint them when they are dry and cool if you’d prefer to do that instead of using food coloring. If you only have kosher or really GRAINY salt, spin it in a food processor until it is fine, or your dough will look gritty. If you don’t use all the dough it should keep pretty well in a sealed container for two or three days, but its going to dry out eventually.

Going back to basic math and vocabulary with a short yet informative post about the different units of measure, some of the conversions, and some of the terms that you and your kiddos will find in a number of recipes while cooking and baking. Hopefully this can help you if you find a recipe that needs to be converted from standard measurments to metric, and it should be very helpful when measuring flour as the technique of weighing it in grams or ounces instead of measuring it in cups is becoming more and more popular.

1 oz = 28.3495 grams
1 pound = 453.59 grams
16 oz = 1 pound1 cup = 0.236 liters
1 pint = 0.473 liters
1 quart = 0.946 liters
1 gallon = 3.78 liters1 tablespoon = 3 teaspoons or .5oz
1 cup = 8 fluid oz
1 pint = 2 cups
1 quart = 2 pints or 4 cups
1 gallon = 4 quarts, 8 pints or 16 cups
1 bushel = 8 gallons

pair = 2
couple = 2
trio = 3
handful = 4-5
several = between 4 and 7
dozen = 12
baker’s dozen = 13
gross = 144

tbsp =Tablespoon
tsp = Teaspoon
c = cup 
oz = ounce
lb = pound
qt = quart
in = inch
ft = foot
 
Doubled = X 2
Tripled = X 3
Quadrupled = X4

It’s time for a Tea Party!

Those of us who live outside the world of the 4 year old imagination have probably missed out on the whole tea party craze that has popped up since the release of the newest Alice In Wonderland movie this year, unless you think I’m talking about the political Tea Party. But more and more little girls are asking for Tea Party themed birthday parties, even Sweet Sixteens with a “high tea” theme have become popular in the last six months. It doesn’t take too much in the way of preperation, is surprisingly easy to plan and arrange, and can be fun for girls, and even boys, of any age.

Throw a Tea Party!

You Will Need:
Invitations
A small group of friends
Tea!
Small cookies or biscuits
Cucumber Sandwiches (recipe below)
Checkerboard Sandwiches (recipe below)
Cheshire Cat Sammies (recipe below)

Invitations:
Keep them simple. A piece of green construction paper can easily become a funky old Mad Hatter top hat. Write the date, the time, the location, and be sure to specify what your guests should wear! Give your party a crazy hat theme, or tell everyone to dress up in a costume or formal wear! Make sure to request that your guests RSVP so that you can make arrangements for food and snacks based on those who respond, but remember its always a good thing to plan for extra, and it helps if you are aware of any food allergies.

Tea and Snacks!
For younger kids, herbal, decaf or iced tea is a better idea than say black tea or anything with caffeine. If your guests are older try a flavored tea, or even chai if they are particularly worldly. It might even be worth it to invest in a cheap silver or porcelain tea set, you can ALWAYS find one at your local thrift store, particularly Goodwill.

Snacks are one of the fun parts about your Tea Party, because everything is miniaturized and made for eating with fingers, so perfect for small hands and very little mess! The “afternoon tea” was popularized by Anna, the Duchess of Bedford because she would often get hungry between lunch and dinner, which in those days were sometimes up to eight hours apart! So she started having tea and light snacks and cookies somewhere between 3 and 6 in the afternoon. As was the norm in the Victorian Era it soon became a wildly popular trend, thus came the tradition of afternoon tea! Afternoon tea is a very small series of snacks, usually something like a biscuit to start with your first cup of tea, then a small sandwich between cups of tea, and then a sweet item like a small pastry to go with your second cup of tea. It should not be confused with “high tea” which usually incorporates a full size meal.

Biscuits
All you need for the first course of your tea is two cans of Pillsbury biscuits. If you’d like you can use cookie cutters to make them into shapes, then bake them as the packaging suggests. Spread them with butter, cream cheese, honey, jam, or even “MUSTARD”! You can even delve deeper into the Alice In Wonderland theme and mark them with little signs that say “Eat Me”.

Cucumber Sandwiches
A classic tea snack, cucumber sandwiches are light, refreshing and go great as the second snack for your tea. All you need is a large cucumber, peeled and sliced into 1/4″ rounds, some cream cheese or butter, and a loaf of wheat bread. Press the slices of white bread so that they are more dense, to about half the thickness they normally are. Spread the cream cheese on one side of both pieces of the bread, arrange four slices of cucumber over the cream cheese so that they do not overlap, then put your sandwich together. Using a small cookie cutter, cut your sandwich with the cookie cutter so that you get four individual sammies, with the cucumbers right smack in the center. I’ve made these with little star shaped cookie cutters, they are ADORABLE.

Checkerboard Sandwiches
If the thought of cucumbers grosses your kids out, then try the same thing with ham and cheese and turkey, but instead of just wheat bread, try to incorporate a darker bread, like pumpernickel, or a much lighter bread, like white,  into the sandwiches too. Cut them into squares and arrange them, checkerboard style, on a plate or cutting board.

Cheshire Treats
This snack is the perfect dessert for your afternoon tea, sweet and refreshing and fun to make as well! You’ll need a few red apples, cored and sliced into 1/4″ thick slices. You’ll also need a jar of creamy peanut butter, and a bag of mini marshmallows. Spread the apple slices with peanut butter and arrange the marshmallows on the peanut butter so that they look like the Cheshire cat’s teeth. Top your sandwich with another apple slice and tada! Smile!

Have fun with this party theme. It’s perfect for indoors and outdoors, so the weather doesn’t have to be a factor in location or timing.

Happy Cooking!

“Doesn’t that title sound like a great name for a breakfast diner?”

Quiche, (pronouonced “Keesh”) by definition, is a pie, made with eggs. Plus its just a fun word to say. But if you ask a foodie, or a person who loves the quiche, they will say something along the lines of “Quiches are light and fluffy layers of egg, meat, vegetable, and savory seasonings, resting gently on a tender, flaky, and delectable crust.” Usually a traditional broccoli and cheese quiche is the staple for most brunches and potlucks, and the rise of the mini-quiche, a cute little tasty morsel, has led to quiches becoming almost an art form in both contruction and presentation.

Why all the fear?
Quiches are not difficult to make, but they are sometimes viewed with a little bit of hesitancy, because of the crust’s ability to go from tender and flaky to chewy and soft or crispy and burnt depending on the experience of the chef. The most important part of making a flaky crust is the temperature of the dough before your bake it. With a little bit of practice and some help from your regrigerator, your quiche can be the hit of your next Saturday morning breakfast with the family. Your kids might even stray from the cartoons for this one.

The Classic Chive and Cheese Quiche

Eggs and onions, or chives in this case, go great together. The eggs ability to absorb flavors and provide structure for the delicate and spicy chive makes them a match made in heaven. Add a little bit of Swiss or Gruyere cheese, and your breakfast will never be the same again.

You Will Need For The Dough:
A 10″ Springform Pan, (the one that the bottom pops up)
1-3/4 cups of whole wheat flour
1 egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon of honey
1/2 tsp of salt
7 tbsp FROZEN butter (cut it into small squares and keep it frozen until youre ready to add it)
5 tbsp ice water (again, keep it cold)
Dried beans

You Will Need for the Filling:
3 bunches of chives, chopped
4 eggs and the white from the crust egg
1/2 cup of cream
2/3 cup of sour cream
1/2 cup grated Gruyere cheese
1 tsp minced garlic

To Make the Quiche:
Preheat the oven to 350*F. Pile your flour on a cutting board. Make a little well in the center and pour the egg yolk, honey, and salt into the well. Layer the butter over the top of the flour and use two butter knives to cut the mixture repeatedly until crumbly. Do this as quickly as you can, to keep it cold. Add the ice water, a tablespoon at a time, until the mixture forms a ball, then immediately wrap it is seran wrap and freeze it for 30 minutes.

While the dough is freezing, beat together the eggs, cream, and sour cream in a large bowl, add the grated cheese, the garlic, and salt and pepper to taste. Make sure the filling is thoroughly mixed, then set aside.

Dust a cutting board with a liberal amount of flour, and quickly roll your dough into a circle that is 12″ in diameter. Spray your Springform pan with cooking spray and gently lay the crust over the top of the pan, pressing it into place so that the dough sticks out over the top just a bit. Fill the crust with the dried beans and bake it for ten minutes. Carefully remove the beans and then pour the filling into the crust. Bake the entire quiche for 20 minutes @ 350*F. Serve it warm, with crusty French bread. Scrumptious.

Quiche doesn’t have to be hard to make. Just practice alot with the crust, and you’ll be fine. You can use the same technique with any other kind of pastry that requires a light flaky crust, or buy a pre-made frozen crust available at any grocery store in the freezer section, usually by the Coolwhip and frozen berries.

Happy Cooking!