Monday, December 22, 2014

Hot Cocoa Bar

Christmas is just around the corner and I'm sure almost everyone has a few more holiday parties to attend or host.  Last week I shared some of my new favorite party appetizers and this week I thought we could all use something sweet and super simple to make.  

A hot cocoa bar is the perfect way to really get into the Christmas spirit and if your Elf on the Shelf is running out of ideas here's something that the whole family can enjoy.  All you need is a great hot cocoa recipe, some whipped cream, cookies to dip and a few fun toppings.  Oh, and don't forget your PJ's and a good movie.  Also, if you haven't checked out Conflicted Pixie's Little Play Furniture you definitely should!  Her beautifully handmade play tents make a wonderful gift and would be the perfect place for your little ones to enjoy their hot cocoa and cookies!

So whether you are hosting a fancy holiday fete or needing some quiet quality family time a little hot cocoa will be sure to keep everyone warm during this holiday season!

Gingersnap S'mores 

40 small gingersnap cookies (I use Trader Joe's triple ginger cookies)
60 mini marshmallows
6-8 ounces chocolate chips
1-1/2 teaspoons vegetable shortening

Preheat the oven to broil.

Place 20 gingersnap cookies, flat side up, on a parchment paper lined baking sheet.  Place 3 mini marshmallow on top of each cookie.  Place in the oven under the broiler for about 1 minute.  Watch the marshmallows carefully so that they don't burn.  It only takes a few seconds for them to go from golden brown to burnt.  Remove the cookies from the oven and top with the remaining 20 cookies, gently pressing down to seal.

Place the chocolate chips and shortening in a double broiler or a heat proof bowl over a sauce pan filled with water over medium heat.  Stir chocolate and shortening until completely melted and smooth.  Remove from the burner.  Carefully dip the cookies halfway into the chocolate and return them to the parchment paper lined baking sheet.  Place the cookies in the refrigerator for about 25 minutes to set the chocolate.  Serve immediately or store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.  Makes 20 cookies.

Peppermint Marshmallow Pops

10 candy canes, tops removed
10 marshmallows
6-8 ounces chocolate chips
1-1/2 teaspoons vegetable shortening
1/4 cup red sprinkles or crushed candy canes

Place the chocolate chips and shortening in a double broiler or a heat proof bowl over a sauce pan filled with water over medium heat.  Stir chocolate and and shortening until completely melted and smooth.  Remove from the burner.  Carefully dip the marshmallows halfway into the chocolate then into the sprinkles or crushed candy canes.  Place the marshmallow pops on a parchment paper lined baking sheet and place in the refrigerator for about 25 minutes allowing the chocolate to set.  Insert candy canes into the center to the marshmallows. Enjoy immediately or store in an airtight container for up to 2 days.  Makes 10 pops.  

Hot Cocoa Bar Extras

Peanut Butter Cup and Rolo pops
Candy Canes
Whipped cream
Caramel sauce
Cinnamon sticks
Chocolate Jimmys
Adults only: Bailey's, Kahlua, or Frangellico

Friday, December 12, 2014

Holiday Parties: Food And Fashion On A Budget

I can't tell you how excited I am to be collaborating again this holiday season with my dear friend Erica from Conflicted Pixie.  Last year we brought you the best of New Year's Eve and this year we present to you holiday parties on a budget!

Erica is the queen of budget-friendly everything!  I don't ever miss a blog post from her so that I can stay on top of the latest trends and also for the best deals out there!  Staying within a budget when it comes to food however is often difficult for me.  I admit I am a sucker for a really good creamy, stinky and expensive cheese.  However, this holiday season (after I nearly spent my savings on airline tickets for Christmas) I am all about keeping it simple and inexpensive.

Holiday parties can still be festive and creative without being over done and complicated.  I personally love small plates, finger foods and sharing.  Serving your party tapas style can keep you from preparing a big meal, out of the kitchen and enjoying that glass of wine with your guests.

I have created some tapas plates with a holiday twist that won't leave your pockets empty.  All three recipes cost me under $50 to make, herbs, spices and condiments included!  Consider serving wine and beer instead of a fancy cocktail to keep things simple and cost effective.  I've paired one of my favorite Spanish wines that I purchased for under $15 and Greg has suggested to try a great pilsner like this one!  

Now, what to wear to this festive tapas holiday party?  Check out Erica's amazing budget-friendly Lookbook (Did I mention she's a personal stylist for Keaton Row and it's free to have her style you?) created just for you (and me)!

Cheers and Happy Holidays!!

Maple Thyme Barbecue Meatballs

1-1/2 lb ground beef
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup red onion, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup ketchup
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup maple syrup
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped

Over medium heat in a large sauce pan, combine the ketchup, brown sugar, maple syrup, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce and 2 tablespoons of fresh thyme.  Stir until the sugar has melted.  Continue cooking until the sauce comes to a low boil.  Reduce the heat to low, cover and allow to simmer for 10 minutes.  Remove from the burner and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl combine the ground beef, garlic and onions.  Add the salt, pepper, cayenne pepper and 1 tablespoon olive oil.  Stir to combine.  Roll the mixture into 1 inch balls.

In a large cast iron or non stick pan heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium high heat.  Place the meatballs in the pan and cook for 1-2 minutes on all sides .  The meatballs should be about a medium rare.  Remove the meatballs from the pan and place in the pan with the maple thyme barbecue sauce.  Simmer the meatballs and sauce over low heat for about 10 minutes.  Serve hot and garnish with remaining teaspoon of fresh thyme.  Makes 25-30 meatballs.

Note:  To keep the meatballs warm during a party, place them in a small crock pot on the warm setting.

Chipotle Goat Cheese Stuffed Baby Bell Peppers

10 baby bell peppers
8 ounces soft goat cheese, room temperature
1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, roughly chopped
1 bulb garlic, roasted
Ground black pepper to taste

1 tablespoons chives, chopped

In a small food processor combine the goat cheese, chipotle pepper and roasted garlic.  Season with ground black pepper if desired and pulse to combine.

Cut each baby bell pepper into thirds or quarters depending on the size of the pepper.  Remove the seeds and membranes and discard.  Fill each sliced bell pepper with the chipotle goat cheese.  Garnish with the chives and serve.  Makes 30-35.

Holiday "Stuffing" Empanadas

2 puff pastry sheets, thawed
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups crimini mushrooms, finely chopped
1 cup celery, finely chopped
1/2 cup onion, finely chopped

1/4 cup fennel, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon fresh marjoram, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon flour

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Over medium heat in a large pan, heat the olive oil.  Add the butter and melt.  Add the onions and cook until translucent about 3-5 minutes.  Add the mushrooms, fennel and celery.  Cook for about 7-10 minutes, occasionally stirring.  Add the marjoram, rosemary and thyme.  Stir to combine and cook for another 2-3 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.  Remove from the heat and allow to slightly cool.

Place the puff pastry on a slightly floured surface.  Flour the top of the dough and roll out the puff pastry until about 1/16 inch thick.  Using a 4 inch round cookie cutter cut circles out of the pastry.

Place 1 tablespoon of the vegetable mixture in the center of the cut pastry.    Brush the edges with the egg wash and fold the pastry in half making a half circle.  Gently pinch the ends together.  Using a fork press down along the edges sealing the empanadas together.  Repeat this until all the pastry is used.  Brush the tops of the empanadas with the egg wash.

Place the empanadas on a parchment paper lined baking sheet and bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown.  Remove from the oven and allow to slightly cool.  Serve with your favorite gravy recipe.  If you need one, here's Greg's favorite.  Makes 12-16.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Merry, Jolly, and Buzzed

December is here and it is finally time to break out the Christmas decorations, sing carols loudly throughout the house and start sipping on some festive drinks! This cocktail includes some of my favorite things; cinnamon, cranberries and the most wonderful of all...TEQUILA!  So be merry and get stirring!  Happy Holiday Season!!

Christmas Cranberry Margarita

2 ounces resposado tequila
1/2 ounce cranberry simple syrup (see recipe below)
1/2 lime, juiced
Soda water
1 teaspoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon (or to taste) cinnamon
Sea salt to taste
3 fresh cranberries for garnish

Cranberry Simple Syrup

1 cup water
1 cup sugar (I use organic coconut sugar)
6-8 ounces fresh cranberries

In a medium saucepan combine all of the ingredients over medium-high heat.  Stir until the sugar has dissolved.  Bring to a low boil.  Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes, stir intermittently.  Using the back of a spoon or a potato masher, break up the cranberries.  Strain into an airtight container and allow to cool.  You can either discard the cranberries or save them for a later use (I spread it on my toast with cream cheese).  Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.  

Assembling the Cocktail:

On a small plate combine the sugar and cinnamon.  Sprinkle with sea salt if desired.  Use a lime wedge to moisten the rim of a rocks glass.  Dip the glass into the mixture coating the rim of the glass.  Fill the glass with ice.  Add the Tequila, cranberry syrup and lime juice.  Top with soda water and stir to combine.  Garnish with cranberries.  Makes 1 cocktail.

Need to make a big batch?

In a large pitcher combine 3 cups of tequila, 1 cup of the cranberry simple syrup, and the juice from 6 limes.  Rim each glass with the cinnamon sugar mix and fill with ice.  Fill each glass about halfway with the tequila cranberry mixture and top with soda water.  Garnish with fresh cranberry skewers.  Serves 12.