Monthly Archives: December 2015

New Years’ Party Menu

2016Photo Credit: blog.imonholidays.com

The year 2015 is coming to a close and if you’re like most people, you’re getting ready to start celebrating the New Year. For most of us, it’s a tradition to stay up until midnight and bring in the New Year with friends and loved ones; but if you’re going to be the one hosting the party, then you might be trying to rack your brain for possible meals and drinks to serve your guests. Christmas was here just about a week ago and you’re probably still trying to recover from the madness, and it might feel like you’re scrambling to make last minute preparations for your New Years’ party. So, if you’re completely out of ideas, here are a few suggestions for your New Years’ party drink menu!

Champagne
Nothing screams celebration like a refreshing bottle of champagne. Fortunately, champagne is one of the most simple and easiest drinks that you can present to your guests for the New Years’ evening. Pop open the bottle, set some fresh glasses on the side (or throw away cups!) and let your guests help themselves.

Lychee Martinis
Another great festive drink is the martini, and we promise that your guests will be smiling with this delicious and sweet flavored lychee martini. The lychee syrup gives the gin martini a sweet, floral flavor and is an easy-to-mix and sure-to-please drink for your guests.

Cognac Sparklers
This cognac is unique in the element of soft sweetness included as a result of the addition of sparkling cider. A few dashes of bitters in each glass add just the right balance to this savory cocktail. Your guests can mix and match as they choose to make their drinks perfectly suited to their own specific tastes.

Cognac sparklers
In an effort to promote the safety and well-being of everyone this New Years’ Eve, we certainly hope that some of your guests will not be consuming alcohol. Yet, this doesn’t mean that they won’t want to enjoy a nice refresher like the rests of your guests. For the DD’s of the night, we have the cranberry sparkler. This refreshing nonalcoholic beverage is made from blackberry puree, white cranberry juice, and sparkling water.

Brandy Alexander
For the brandy lovers in your home, we bring you the Brandy Alexander. It’s made with sweet cream, coffee liqueur, and brandy. Put in a blender with crushed ice for a frothy, smoothly-like treat, or mix in a cocktail shaker and strain with a martini glass for a non-blended recipe.

White Mulled Whine
What would a New Years’ party be without wine? This mulled white wine includes honey syrup infused with lemon zest, star anise, cinnamon sticks, and cloves mixed with orange Muscat. You may also include a variety of winter fruits, such as apples, pears or lemons to give it additional flavor and tailor it to your guests’ specific tastes.

These are just a few of the many drink options available to you as you plan your New Years’ Eve Party. You might also recruit a friend who is a natural mixer or serves as a bartender for work and offer them some sort of incentive to help you come up with some creative drinks to make. For the most part, people tend to know what they like and create their own versions of their favorite drinks from the options with which they are presented. So, don’t be surprised if you find a group of people in your kitchen  creating their own holiday fun.

Weight Loss Tips During the Holidays

ExercisePhoto Credit: westonmedichealth.com

So, you have an end-of-the-year weight loss goal, or you’re planning to start 2016 a significant weight loss goal as one of your New Years’ resolutions. But we all know that it’s hard to maintain your current weight, let alone lose weight during the holidays. It seems like wherever you go, there’s always delicious aromas wafting in from the kitchen. With all those freshly baked holiday treats that only seem to make an appearance once a year, it can be hard to stay away. Most folks end up hoping they don’t gain too many pounds over the holidays, let alone think about losing weight over the holidays, which is what makes weight loss such a popular option for a New Years’ resolution.

So, if you’re one of the few people in the holiday weight loss boat, we’ve got a few simple tips and suggestions that might help you not only keep the pounds off this year, but shed a few more while you’re at it.

Don’t Skip Meals
We all do it. You know you have a holiday party in the evening and you want to indulge in all the great food and deserts, but skipping meals and arriving to a feast on an empty stomach is never a good idea. When you’re feeling famished you’re more likely to go a bit stir crazy, scarfing down food without really tasting it or thinking about how much you’re putting into your mouth. Being among friends and food on an empty stomach is likely to cause you to overindulge and walk away feeling disappointed in yourself. Instead, eat your meals throughout the day as you normally would and maybe even have a snack right before you go to that holiday party so that you’re less likely to over-stuff yourself once you finally get there.

Welcome Distraction
When you’re holding a conversation over dinner or trying to impress your crush from across the table, you’re likely to eat less. Distractions while you feast are a good thing, allowing your body to signal how full you really are so that you naturally stop eating instead of eating too quickly and not feeling the effects on your stomach until it’s too late. Whether it’s a fascinating conversation among friends, or helping a youngster with their own meal, welcome distraction when it comes to the dinner table.

Pace Yourself
Instead of allowing yourself to eat whatever you want in the first thirty minutes or hour of the party, pace yourself throughout the duration of the gathering and only eat small amounts at a time. When you eat everything you want in the first little bit, you’re food is likely to start digesting by the end of the party and you will be left with the temptation to go back for unnecessary seconds. Instead, pace yourself throughout the function, starting with a light main course, then going for deserts a few hours later, and maybe snacking a bit here or there toward the end of the party. Ultimately, pacing yourself will still allow you to get a bit of everything without packing on the calories by doing so.

Don’t Neglect Exercise
It’s easy to forget about working out in the midst of the holiday hustle and bustle. There’s so many extra tasks that need attention – the house needs to be cleaned, gifts need to be bought, things need to be wrapped, the pantry needs to be restocked, and there’s so many parties and events to attend, but in the middle of all these, you can’t neglect your daily or weekly workouts. Schedule your workouts like they’re any other kind of appointment. You wouldn’t miss work, a doctor’s appointment, or a gift exchange with a friend, so don’t skip out on your workouts either. Even if all you can do is offer to stand at the sink washing dishes, take out the trash, or putting things away, it will get you moving and help burn some calories. With all the holiday snacking temptations, your constant workout schedule may be the only thing that keeps you on track and losing weight throughout the holiday season.

Snag Some Sleep
With all the busyness that the holidays bring, it can be easy to lose sleep. Whether it’s putting up holiday decorations, wrapping gifts and getting everything ready for Christmas morning, or simply staying out late at those holiday get-togethers, you might not realize how much sleep you’re really losing. But sleep loss slows your metabolisms, causes you to eat more, and interferes with your weight loss goals. Try to get a minimum of 6-7 hours of sleep each night, anything less boarders on sleep deprivation and hazarded health.

At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that anything helps. If you’ve had a binge eating type of day, don’t neglect your workout routine under the assumption that it will be pointless. If you’ve over indulged on a specific treat, don’t just throw in the towel and start eating the rest of the treats on the table, too. Ultimately, any sacrifices that you can make for your health will be worth it in the end. Saving yourself just a few pounds in calories that could be eaten in a single night will save you weeks worth of dieting and weight loss efforts down the road.

 

 

 

How to Make Caribbean Jerk Seasoning

Jerk Spice                                        Photo Credit: savoryspiceshop.com

If you’re not familiar with Caribbean jerk seasoning, we hate to say it, but you’re missing out. Caribbean jerk seasoning is often used to enhance and accelerate the flavor of meats from things like steaks to pork ribs and chicken. It’s a great flavor enhancer originating out of Jamaica, but if you can’t hack spicy stuff, it may not be for you. If you’re looking for something new to try in the kitchen, this might be a great place to start. If you’re have a family of carnivores, this is a great way to give the meat an extra punch and a way to save yourself the trouble of constantly having to make sauces or find store-bought seasonings that will allow the meat to stand on its own.

So, if you’ve heard of Caribbean jerk seasoning and you’ve been meaning to try it, or you’re just looking for something new to spice up those meals at home, check out this delicious recipe and simply apply to your normal dinners!

Ingredients
2 tablespoons dried onion flakes
1 tablespoon garlic powder
4 tablespoons crushed dry thyme leaves
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons ground allspice
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons black pepper
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Instructions
In a jar with a tight fitting lid, shake together all the spices and seasonings. Store with a tightly covered lid at room temperature and served on all your favorite dinner recipes. While this seasoning is typically used on meats, it’s also great for many recipes. Mix and match with all your favorite meals, and let us know about your favorite recipes to use with Caribbean jerk seasoning in the comments below!

5 Best Holiday Cookie Recipes

It’s that time of year again where almost everyone is doing cooking of some sort or another. Whether it’s crafting a delicious hand-made pie or rolling dough into delicious cookies, kitchens around the world are fired up and ready for the big day. A classic holiday favorite is cookies. It’s seems like you just can’t go wrong with cookies – pretty much everyone likes them, and even the non-chefs out there can usually find some pre-rolled dough to stick in the oven.

So, if you already know that you want to make some holiday cookies this year, but you’re not quite sure what kinds to make, we have some ideas. Based on Cooking Light’s 36 delicious Christmas cookie recipes, these are our favorite five!

Stain Glass Window Cookies
A bit out of the ordinary, we thought this idea was creative and adorable. Place them in decorative them strategically, and you’ll have a perfect cookie stain glass window for your guests to admire this year. Before they bite down and destroy it, that is.

Cookie                                                  Photo Credit: cookinglight.com

Classic Iced Sugar Cookies
It just wouldn’t feel like the holidays without the classic iced sugar cooking to add to your collection. Some people are picky, but almost everyone enjoys a good sugar cookie from time to time, and this one is sure to take the cake (literally, we mean).

Cookie1                                                  Photo Credit: cookinglight.com

Giant Chocolate Chunk Cookies
Chocolate chip is another classic cookie, but it’s also something that most folks will enjoy, and you can make them your own by making them larger than life. It’s the holidays, and folks are loosening their belt buckles by a notch or two, so it’s the perfect time to go a little wild.

Cookie2                                               Photo Credit: cookinglight.com

Fudgy Chocolate Peppermint Cookies
Peppermint is a seasonal favorite and chocolate is a 24/7 favorite, so it’s hard to go wrong when you mix the two into a perfectly delectable cookie. The presentation is quaint and the flavor is moth watering. Try something new this year with some chocolate peppermint cookies.

Cookie3                                                  Photo Credit: cookinglight.com

Truffle-Iced Sugar Cookies
There’s always got to be at least one melt-in-your-mouth cookie on the platter, and these truffle-iced sugar cookies are the ones. A delicious taste of the holidays, these cookies will be have your guests sneaking back to the platter for more.

Cookie4                                                  Photo Credit: cookinglght.com

Enjoyed these recipes? These are just our top five out of a grand 36, presented by Cooking Light. But hey, don’t take our word for it – our top five might be different from your own. Check out www.cookinglight.com for detailed recipes for all the cookies above, as well as a storehouse of other amazing recipes for any and every meal you can imagine

Kitchen Faucet Trends

Faucets are a wonder of home décor and home project renovation. Unlike many other appliances that are big, bulky, expensive, and probably require outside help to pick out, transfer, and install, faucets are simple and can be found for a much better cost than the rest of the appliances and hardware necessary in a full functioning kitchen. What’s more, the right kind of sink and faucet combination can give your kitchen an upgraded, luxurious feel, even when you don’t have the time or budget to upgrade anything else. So, if you’re looking to switch out that old, rusted looking thing you once called a faucet for something shiny and new, check out these trending faucet designs below.

The Expendable Faucet/Hose Model
Part of modern and contemporary home design is all about getting rid of the fluff and bustle that used to constitute luxury, and replace these things with minimalistic simplicity. This modern faucet design is a result of the trend, and its straightforward structure doubles as a spray hose for removing those truly stubborn food particles.

Kitchen                                              Photo Credit: kitchen.lovaninc.com

The Hands-Free Model
If you’re looking for something slightly more sophisticated and luxurious, something that will really speak wonders about your kitchen and leaves you feeling like a pampered princess after using it, this faucet is just the one for you. With the same high and rounded design of the previous model, this design might be the perfect fit. The design includes a handless shape with a touchpad sensor that will turn the water off and on at your simple touch.

Kitchen1                                            Photo Credit: damgoodpictures.com

The Quadro Two-Handle Model
Another trending model is the quadro two handle sink. This sink faucet comes in a variety of designs and color schemes, but one aspect that we thought was unique are the handles of the faucet, which look similar to the handle of a garden hose, or maybe even a fire engine’s faucet handle. The design is unique and creative and it could be a great idea for a rustic kitchen design or other specifically staged kitchen.

Kitchen2                                                   Photo Credit: allmodern.com

The kitchen faucet designs only get more sophisticated and luxurious from here, and we encourage you to take a look around and find what works for your kitchen. Do you already have an awesome kitchen faucet? Take a photo and upload it so that we admire it!

How to Clean Your Oven without Chemicals

With research increasingly warning us about the harmful ingredients in household cleaning products, it’s no wonder that DIY and all natural cleaning methods are becoming more and more popular. Using a green cleaner that is void of harmful chemicals is especially important when you will be cleaning areas of the kitchen that come in contact with food in one way or another. While larger appliances, such as the oven, are not normally thought of as being in direct contact with food, these items are especially important to clean with a chemically-free substance because harmful chemicals can sit on the surface of the oven for quite some time, and then be emitted into the air and onto your food once heat is activated.

Oven                                   Photo Credit: modernparentsmessykids.com

So, if you need a chemical-free way of cleaning your oven and other kitchen appliances, follow the guidelines below to be on your way to safely getting your oven to sparkle and shine.

What You Need
Oven
Baking soda
Water
Rubber gloves
Damp dish cloth
Plastic or silicone spatula
Empty Spray Bottle
White Vinegar

The Cleaning Process:

  1. Remove the oven racks:Remove your oven racks, pizza stone, oven thermometer, and anything else you have inside the oven. Set aside.
  2. Make a baking soda paste:In a small bowl, mix a 1/2 cup of baking soda with a few tablespoons of water. Adjust the ratio of both as needed until you have a spreadable paste. For me this took about 3 tablespoons of water to get the desired spreadable consistency.
  3. Coat your oven:Spread the paste all over the interior surfaces of your oven, steering clear of the heating elements. I used gloves for this portion as my oven was pretty grimy. It helped me really get in there and coat the dirtiest nooks and crannies without having to worry about all that grime under my nails. The baking soda will turn a brownish color as you rub it in; it also might be chunkier in some places than others. That is fine. Just try to coat the whole oven to the best of your abilities, paying attention to any particularly greasy areas.
  4. Let it sit overnight:Allow the baking soda mixture to rest for at least 12 hours, or overnight.
  5. Clean your oven racks:Meanwhile, clean your oven racks. See the full cleaning tutorial here.
  6. Wipe out the oven:After 12 hours or overnight, take a damp dish cloth and wipe out as much of the dried baking soda paste as you can. Use a plastic or silicone spatula to help scrape off the paste as needed. I found that the damp cloth was enough for me, but a spatula might come in handy in those hard-to- reach places.
  7. Spray a little vinegar:Put a little vinegar in a spray bottle and spritz everywhere you still see baking soda residue in your oven. The vinegar will react with the baking soda and gently foam.
  8. Do a final wipe down:Take your damp cloth and wipe out the remaining foamy vinegar-baking-soda mixture. Repeat until all the baking soda residue is gone. Add more water or vinegar to your cloth as needed while wiping to really get the oven clean and shiny.
  9. Replace your oven racks:Replace the oven racks and anything else you keep in your oven, and you’re done!

Cleaning instructions via The Kitchen

We hope these guidelines give you a head start in getting your oven to look like the first day you got it. Leave your comments below and let us know how the cleaning process goes. Also, if you have any other tips or tricks for cleaning kitchen appliances without chemicals, please feel free to share!

Easy Weeknight Recipes

Let’s face it, there are days in the weeks when you just don’t feel like cooking. Actually, forget the cooking – there are days where you dread standing in the kitchen washing dishes for an hour after dinner so badly that you’d rather starve or spend money outside of your budget to go pick something up. After all, who really wants to be spend a long day at work and then come home to figure out dinner plans that will leave you spending half your night in the kitchen? For all the single people out there, it might not be such a dilemma, but for those folks with kids who just have to be fed, it’s not quite as simple as ignoring the hunger pains or going to find a few things off the dollar menu at your local fast food joint.

So, if you’re not in the mood to go all-out for dinner during the week, check out these simple, yet delicious dinner recipes to make throughout your busy weeknights.

Taco Baked Pasta
Everyone loves pasta, and most people love tacos, so why not combine the two? This recipe is delicious, easy to make, and the perfect solution for those week nights when you just don’t feel like spending your few hours of free time standing over a hot stove.
Food1                                                   
Photo Credit: Buzzfeed.com

Ingredients:
250 grams whole wheat penne, uncooked
250 grams ground beef
1/2 cup chopped onions
2 tsp garlic
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 tsp Ortega taco seasoning
3/4 cup spreadable cheese (we used Laughing Cow)
1 cup grated cheddar cheese 

Instructions:
Cook pasta as directed in package, set aside.
Sauté garlic and onion in olive oil.
Add beef and cook for 3-5 minutes (make sure not to overcook).
Season with salt, pepper and taco seasoning.
Turn off fire.Toss together meat and pasta mixture.
Mix in spreadable cheese.
Transfer to a casserole. Top with grated cheddar cheese.
Bake in preheated 350 degrees Fahrenheit oven for 20-25 minutes or until cheese has melted. 

Recipe via Pepper

Chicken Pot Pie Casserole
Everyone enjoys a good chicken pot pie, but not everyone is willing to go to the trouble of making one from scratch. We all know those pre-made, microwavable things just don’t do the trick, so here’s an easy weeknight recipe that will hit the spot just right.

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Photo Credit: pipanddebby.com

Ingredients:
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups chopped carrots (approximately 4 medium)
2 cups frozen peas
1 yellow onion, chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 cups shredded cooked chicken
14.5-oz. can chicken broth
10.5-oz. can cream of chicken soup
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup flour (optional: use for a thicker sauce)
9-inch refrigerated pie crust

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Coat a 2 ½-quart round baking dish with cooking spray and set aside. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the carrots, peas, onions, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until veggies are soft and the onion is fragrant, 4 to 5 minutes.

Add the chicken, chicken broth, soup, milk and flour (if using). Mix well and cook over medium-low heat for an additional 5 minutes.

Pour the contents of the skillet into the prepared baking dish. Cover with the pie crust, letting the edges hang over the sides of the dish. Using a sharp knife, cut a few slits into the dough. Place baking dish on a baking sheet and bake in the preheated oven for 40 minutes, or until crust is lightly browned. Let cool for 10 minutes. Cut pizza-style and serve warm!

Recipe via Pip and Debby

Parmesan-Baked Chicken Nuggets
Chicken nuggets are an American favorite and there are times when even adults can enjoy them. One of the best things about them is that they are quick and easy as a weeknight dinner, and dipped in your favorite sauce, they become the ultimate meal plan.

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Photo Credit: gimmesomeoven.com

Ingredients:
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1 pound total), cut into bite-sized pieces
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/2 cup finely-grated or powdered Parmesan
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
Coarse sea salt and freshly-cracked black pepper
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
Cooking spray
(optional) sauces for serving

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spread panko out evenly on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until golden brown, about 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer to a small mixing bowl, then add Parmesan, and thyme. Toss until combined. Rinse off the baking sheet, then cover with parchment paper.

Place flour and eggs in separate shallow dishes. Increase temperature to 450 degrees.

Generously season the chicken with a few pinches of salt and pepper. One at a time, add a piece of chicken to the flour, and toss until coated, shaking off excess. Then dip it in egg until coated. Then transfer to the panko mixture, and toss until it is completely coated (pressing to adhere the Panko if needed). Transfer to the parchment-lined baking sheet. Repeat with remaining chicken.

Bake until chicken is cooked through, about 10-12 minutes, flipping halfway through. Serve chicken nuggets warm with dipping sauce(s), if desired.

Recipe via Gimme Some Oven

Broccoli and Cheese Quesadillas
A delicious and healthy recipe that only takes minutes to make, this broccoli and cheese quesadilla the perfect solution for a weeknight dinner. In fact, you might have all the ingredients on hand already so it saves a shopping trip, too!

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Photo Credit: picky-palate.com

Ingredients:
11 ounce Green Giant™ Tuscan Broccoli Seasoned Steamers
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
4 burrito size tortillas
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

Instructions:
Heat Green Giant™ Tuscan Broccoli Seasoned Steamers according to package direction. Open bag carefully and with kitchen shears, cut broccoli into smaller pieces to fit inside quesadilla.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Spread butter on one side of each tortilla. Using one tortilla at a time, place buttered side down into skillet. Place 1/4 cup shredded cheese onto one half of tortilla then an even layer of Tuscan Broccoli. Top with another 1/4 cup shredded cheese and with a spatula fold tortilla over filling. Cook until both sides are golden brown and cheese is hot and melted.

Cut each tortilla in half and serve warm.

Makes four servings, 2 halves each

Recipe via Picky-Palate

30-Minute Skillet Lasagna
Lasagna can be a great dinner item, but it often takes a lot of prep work and quite a bit of time in the oven before it’s actually ready to go. This version of lasagna only takes about 30 minutes before it’s ready-to-eat, and you still get all the great flavors of a traditional lasagna recipe.

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Photo Credit: fivehearhome.com

Ingredients:
1 (28 oz.) can petite diced tomatoes
Water
1 (8 oz.) can tomato sauce
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
5 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 pound ground beef
Garlic salt and freshly ground black pepper
5 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian herbs (such as basil, oregano, thyme, parsley), divided
8 ounces bow-tie pasta (farfalle)
1 cup shredded mozzarella
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup ricotta cheese

Instructions:
Pour can of diced tomatoes (with juices) into a 1-quart liquid measuring cup. Add water until the mixture measures 4 cups. Stir in tomato sauce and sugar; set aside.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add olive oil; tilt pan to coat. Add garlic and red pepper flakes and stir for 30 seconds, or until fragrant. Add ground beef and cook until done. Drain grease, season meat with garlic salt and pepper, to taste, and stir in 3 tablespoons of fresh chopped herbs.

Scatter pasta over meat and pour tomato mixture over pasta without stirring. Cover and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low and continue to simmer, covered, stirring every 5 minutes. Cook until pasta is tender, for about 20 to 25 minutes.

Remove skillet from heat and stir in mozzarella and 1/2 cup Parmesan. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding more garlic salt, pepper, and/or sugar, if necessary. Remove from heat and dollop heaping tablespoons of ricotta all over surface of pasta mixture. Cover and allow to rest for 5 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining fresh herbs and Parmesan.

Tips, Tricks, & Variations
I use a 5 1/2-quart saute pan when making this recipe, but any large, deep skillet (with a lid) should work.

Each time you stir the lasagna, push down on the pasta so that it’s all submerged in tomato sauce before recovering with the lid.

If sauce is evaporating too quickly during 20 minute simmering time, additional tomato sauce and/or water may be stirred in as needed.

Use your favorite fresh herbs. You may use all basil or a combination of basil, oregano, thyme, parsley. If you don’t have fresh herbs, you may use dried (but use less since dried herbs are more concentrated).

Be sure to taste and adjust seasonings at the end before topping with the ricotta. If the tomatoes sauce is too acidic, add a bit more sugar.

Recipe via Five Heart Home

We think these are some of the best recipes to try when you’re still looking for a “real” meal without all the fuss. We’d love to hear from you regarding your own favorite weeknight meals. Leave your comments and suggestions below!