Below are a couple of sweet winter treats that I made over the holidays that I wanted to share:
– The first is a mint marshmallow recipe by Martha Stewart. A lot of people tell me that they didn’t know that they could make marshmallows from scratch – and you can…and they taste WAY better than anything that you have ever purchased on a grocery store shelf. I was inspired to make my own marshmallows after visiting a delicious restaurant called Hot Chocolate in Chicago. They include a homemade marshmallow in their hot chocolate creations, and I decided to give it a try. After one failed attempt at making vanilla bean marshmallows, (they ended up being too rubbery), I came across this delicious and fluffy recipe from Martha Stewart. It’s not hard, but it does require you to pay attention and move quickly. It also helps to get a candy thermometer:
I served these marshmallows at a party as a part of my hot chocolate bar and they were a hit! I highly recommend that you try them and experiment w/other flavors.
– The next item is extremely easy to make, and can serve as a nice touch for any winter party. These are chocolate spoons, which can be used for stirring into hot chocolate or coffee for an extra chocolate boost. They are incredibly easy to make, and could also be wrapped in cellophane w/a ribbon for a gift. I also included these in my hot chocolate bar. I had both milk chocolate spoons and white chocolate spoons, and drizzled the alternate color on top of each by putting the warm chocolate into a sandwich bag, and cutting a small corner of the bag to drizzle chocolate over the spoons. Very nice presentation, if I must say so myself.
I wanted to post a video about how I freeze cookie dough. I like to freeze the dough for my signature Chocolate Chip and Pecan cookies (I’m going to keep that particular recipe to myself), and other chocolate chip types of cookies (I haven’t tried this on sugar cookies).
The beauty of freezing the dough is that you don’t need to let it thaw out before you bake it. You can put the cold, frozen dough right on the cookie sheet and bake to your heart’s content.
This method is nice because you can make dozens of cookies and then bake them whenever you need them. Sometimes, I’ll cut off only 3 cookies, and make those just for myself.
Hope this is useful to you, especially for the holiday baking season.
Below is a link to a delicious recipe that I will share. Salted Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies. You can freeze this recipe too – I have done it many times:
How are those New Year’s Resolutions going? Some people say that they want to stop eating out so much, then realize that they need to sharpen their cooking skills. The more you cook, the better you get. Here are some creative and inexpensive ways to learn:
1. Host A Cooking Party:
Each One, Teach One- Everyone has cooking strengths. Whether you are more of a cook or a baker, everyone has a signature dish. Use the knowledge from your friends and family by asking a friend/family member to show you and a small group how to make a dish. The different members in each group can rotate “cooking classes”. Maybe you have a friend that knows how to make Indian Food. Have them to teach everyone how to make an Indian dish. The next month, someone else can show off their specialty. There is a great wealth of knowledge in your friendship circles. Use it!
You could also ask a chef at one of your favorite restaurants to teach you and a group of friends how to cook at your house. If you invite 10-15 people and everyone pays about $30, that could cover the cost of the chef’s time and the food ingredients. Ask the chef to make the class as interactive as possible. This is a great way to get tips on how to make delicious, restaurant quality food.
2. Community Colleges:
Check your local community college for cooking classes. They are often a great value, and you get instruction from people that are trained to cook. In the metro Chicago area (suburbs), College of DuPage offers cooking classes. Downtown, the Chicago Cultural Center also offers cooking classes that are quite affordable, starting at $30 a class (visit http://www.chicagoworldkitchen.org).
3. Grocery Stores:
Upscale grocery stores often offer cooking classes. Check your local Whole Foods, Wegmans and Publix stores to see if they offer classes. Local gourmet stores are also great places to check.
Get cooking tips from the comfort of your own home – there’s no need to go anywhere. Set up your laptop or iPad to watch cooking podcasts and YouTube channels.
Cooking-specific podcasts are a great way to learn how to cook. Many of them have a nominal cost, and some of them are free.
Subscribe to Podcasts like Start Cooking, which covers cooking basics (you would be surprised at what you don’t know) http://startcooking.com/,
Visit the video section at allrecipes.com for quick, instructional videos on everything from Shortcut Recipes to how to make French Toast.
YouTube: Search the videos for the dish that you’ve been wanting to learn how to make. I would suggest that you watch a few videos, and follow the advice of an expert source. I learned how to make sweet plantains by watching YouTube videos, and they were delicious. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wCHIeRYzKII
5. Attend Local Festivals
Local festivals often have cooking demonstrations. For example, in Chicago, The Taste of Chicago, Printer’s Row Lit Fest and the Flower and Garden Show all have cooking demonstrations, many times with local celebrity chefs.
6. Specialty Cookware Retail Stores:
Retail stores like Sur La Table and Williams Sonoma offer cooking classes in select locations. Some classes are offered for free, while others require a fee. Check their websites for details:
Meetup.com is a great website to meet people w/similar interests. Visit the website and search your city for cooking groups.
8. Online Daily Deals:
Daily deal websites like Groupon, YouSwoop and Living Social often offer deals on cooking classes. Scoop them up when you see them.
9. Get a Part-Time Job:
Want to learn how to professionally bake and decorate pastries? Get a part-time job at a bakery. They might be willing to train you. The pay might not be amazing, but it’s an affordable option to learn professional level skills vs. going to a culinary school.
Whether you are volunteering at a soup kitchen, making meals at the Ronald McDonald House, or teaching kids about healthy eating with Common Threads, food-based volunteer organizations are also a great way to learn some cooking skills. As simple as many of the dishes may seem, I’ve always learned at least one cooking tip during my volunteer experiences. It’s great to be able to serve the community and learn all at the same time.
I was inspired to create some homemade Christmas presents this year, and decided to make infused vodkas as a gift. I purchased the bottles from the Container Store (no more than $5 each), and used a mid-range vodka (Svedka) which is recommended when infusing – no need to spurge on the Belvedere when adding infused flavor. Once the vodka is finished infusing, remove the fruit, strain, and pour the vodka into the bottle w/a funnel. Decorate the bottle and wrap as a gift!
Check out my video for a demonstration:
Homemade Apple-Cinnamon Infused Vodka
Apple-Cinnamon Infused Vodka Recipe:
– 1/2 liter of vodka
– 3 apples
– 2 cinnamon sticks
I originally was planning on infusing it for 5 days, but it ended up turning into 3 weeks. The vodka was absolutely amazing and full of apple-cinnamon flavor. It was dangerous because you could literally drink it on the rocks. For an apple-cinnamon flavor, I would suggest mixing it with Sprite, Ginger Ale, or Apple Cider (hot or cold). I gave the vodka to my friend Jenny as a hostess gift for her holiday party, and I think she enjoyed it.
At this present moment, I’m infusing a Blueberry-Vanilla vodka as a gift for a party that I’m going to in 2 weeks. Vanilla doesn’t require as much time to infuse, so I removed the vanilla bean after 3 days, and I’ll let the blueberries continue to “marinate”.
Blueberry-Vanilla Infused Vodka Recipe:
– 2 cups of blueberries, sliced
– 1 vanilla bean, sliced down the middle
– 1 liter of vodka
– Shake the infused mixture from time-to-time to accelerate the infusing process
– Taste the infused mixture along the way to ensure that it does not taste too strong with the infusing agent. If it does taste too strong, add more vodka to tone down the flavor.
– If you don’t have the time to infuse, you can also present the vodka and the fruit in a bottle, and tell the recipient to open after a certain amount of time.
If you like cocktails, or if you have a friend that does, this is a great gift that can be used year-round.
Below are a couple of random recipes that I’m inspired to make:
Severed Finger Cookies:
Halloween is such a fun holiday. I saw these cookies in the Rachael Ray magazine and knew that I had to make them. I’ve showed them to a few people who are a little grossed out, but they are just sugar cookies in the shape of fingers with a little raspberry jam on the ends. I’ll be making these for a Halloween party this weekend, and let you all know how they turned out.
Another recipe that I’m inspired to make are these Sweet Potato Waffles from Bon Appetit magazine. They are showing this recipe with fried chicken, but I think that it would taste even better with jerk chicken and some maple syrup. Below is the link to the recipe if you are inclined to try it:
I participated in a “cupcake wars” cupcake cookoff party,
and won best overall cupcake for my “Peek-a-boo Strawberry Cupcakes” – I named it peek-a-boo because there is a whole fresh strawberry right in the center, and it also had a delicious homemade vanilla-lime buttercream frosting.
Below is the link to the recipe, which I found on another foodie blog after searching for “unique cupcakes”: