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Archive for December, 2012

TIP OF THE DAY: Healthy Cooking Classes

Regardless of how much cooking experience they have, many cooks don’t know the basics of cooking healthy meals. On the other hand, some people can’t cook at all, so rely on prepared foods packed with salt, sugar and bad fats.

That’s why our final pre-Christmas tip is to give yourself or your loved ones healthy cooking classes. It’s smart to include adolescents, teens and young adults: Most eating habits are learned at home.

That’s why we love the gift of understanding how to make nutritious and calorie-wise foods:

  • How to make the bounty of fresh vegetables extremely appealing—not just the basic veggies but chard, collards, fennel, kale, leeks and more
  • Appealing ways to serve fruit for dessert
  • How to select lean meats and poultry

    Vegetables can be as exciting as any other foods. Photo courtesy

  • How to choose tastier grains and starches
  • How to add nuts and seeds for flavor, texture and nutrition
  • How the right herbs and spices make everything more appealing
  • Easy cooking techniques that save calories without sacrificing flavor
    And it’s a great last minute gift: You need only a holiday card. Just write, “This card entitles you to a gift of healthy cooking classes at the school of your choice.”


    You’ll find healthy cooking classes at local cooking schools, Ys, community colleges, adult education centers and natural foods stores such as Whole Foods Market.

    Just search “healthy cooking classes” and your town.



    GIFT: Change The Life Of A Needy Family

    The best gift of all: a cow, goat, sheep or
    chickens to a very needy family. Photo
    courtesy Heifer International.


    If you’re finished with shopping for nice-but-not-life-changing gifts for the people you care about, how about helping a family you don’t know, who will be grateful to you forever?

    Perhaps the most important gift catalog is from Heifer International, which provides indigent families with a cow or other livestock: a reliable source of food for the children and also a reliable source of income. Extra milk from a cow, goat or sheep, or eggs from a poultry gift, can be sold at the local market.

    You can give the gift in the name of someone else: a double gift, as it were, giving the person who has everything the donation of a food animal to a family that has nothing. This truly meaningful gift will change the lives of a third-world family in need.


    Income from the milk or eggs, coupled with the training in sustainable practices that the family receives, allows them to clothe their families, obtain medical care and send the children to school.

    It’s not just cows: You can give a goat or sheep, a beehive, chickens, ducks or geese. The cost of a gift is as little as $20…or less:

    You can buy a “share” in a cow or sheep for just $10. Take a look at the options.

    Your cousin may not need those extra iTunes, but a needy family sure could use that flock of chickens ($20).

    Check out the options.



    RECIPE: Candy Cane Fudge Brownies

    Candy cane fudge brownies? How can you resist this delicious recipe from Lauryn Cohen of

    The recipe becomes “Peppermint Brownies” any time of the year: Just crush hard peppermint candies instead of candy canes.



  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces
  • 6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1-1/4 cup sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup all purpose flour
  • 2-1/2 cups crushed candy canes

  • For The Ganache

  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 4 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons butter, room temperature, cut into 4 pieces

    A minty, chocolaty Christmas treat: Candy Cane Fudge Brownies. Photo courtesy



    1. CENTER a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F. Generously butter a 9×13 glass baking pan.

    2. PLACE butter in a microwave safe bowl; top with the chopped chocolate. Microwave for 45 seconds, then remove and stir vigorously with a whisk until the ingredients are just melted (you don’t want them to get so hot that the butter separates). Microwave for another 30 seconds if needed to melt the chocolate completely.

    3. WHISK in the sugar. Whisk in the eggs one by one. Add the vanilla and peppermint extracts and whisk vigorously to bring the batter together and give it a shine before gently stirring in the salt and flour; stir only until incorporated. Switch to a rubber spatula and fold in 2 cups of the candy cane pieces. Scrape the batter into the pan and smooth the top with the rubber spatula.

    4. BAKE the brownies for 30 to 33 minutes, or until the top is dull and a thin knife inserted into the center comes out clean. (The tip of the knife may be a touch streaky.) Transfer the pan to a rack and cool to room temperature.

    5. MAKE the ganache while the cookies are cooling. Place chopped chocolate in a medium bowl. Bring heavy cream to a boil. Once heavy cream has reached boiling, pour half the heavy cream over the chopped chocolate. Let sit for 30 seconds, then gently stir chocolate and cream together with a rubber spatula in a figure eight motion. Pour remaining heavy cream over chocolate and continue to gently stir. Add butter, one piece at a time, until ingredients are fully incorporated and ganache is smooth and glossy.

    6. POUR ganache over brownies and smooth with rubber spatula to completely cover top of brownies. Sprinkle remaining 1/2 cup of crushed candy canes on top of ganache.

    7. REFRIGERATE brownies for one hour until ganache has set before cutting into squares.



    TIP OF THE DAY: Candy Cane Martini

    Turn your Martini into a Candy Cane Martini. Photo courtesy Bagatelle Restaurant | NYC.


    You can turn any Martini into a Candy Cane Martini by adding a half ounce peppermint schnaps (or more to taste).

    At Bagatelle, a bistro with locations in Los Angeles and New York, they’ve turned the concept into what they call the Père Noël (Father Christmas):


    Ingredients Per Drink

  • .75 ounce (4.5 teaspoons) prickly pear purée or grenadine
  • 1 ounce vodka
  • 1 ounce peppermint schnapps
  • 1 ounce crème de cacao
  • 1 ounce heavy cream
  • 2 teaspoons of vanilla-infused sugar (buy it or make it—recipe below)
  • Garnish: small candy cane and candy cane “crumbles”


    1. RIM glass with crushed candy canes.

    2. LAYER puree/grenadine on the bottom of a Martini glass.

    3. COMBINE, shake and layer the vodka, peppermint schnapps and crème de cacao.

    4. COMBINE, shake and layer the cream and sugar.

    5. TOP with candy cane crumbles and garnish with a candy cane.




    You can buy vanilla sugar or make it by placing a vanilla bean in an airtight container of sugar. It’s a great way to use a vanilla bean that’s already been scraped for a prior recipe. Use vanilla sugar anywhere you’d use plain table sugar, for some added flavor. You can also make it for gifting.

  • 1 vanilla bean, whole or scraped
  • 2 cups granulated sugar

    1. PLACE sugar into an airtight container.

    2. SLICE a whole bean down the side with the back of a knife and scrape the seeds into the container.

    3. SUBMERGE the bean itself in the middle of the sugar.


    You can buy vanilla sugar if you don’t have time to make it. Photo courtesy Bakto Flavors.

    4. SEAL tightly with lid and let the flavors infuse for 1-2 weeks.



    GIFT: Grand Marnier Cherry

    A limited-edition treat: grab a bottle or two.
    Photo courtesy Grand Marnier.


    Grab a bottle of the limited release Grand Marnier Cherry, the new, elegant, complex expression from Grand Marnier.

    In fact, grab several: one for yourself and others for gifts.

    Grand Marnier’s famous flavor of wild tropical oranges and fine Cognac is enhanced with European griotte cherries. The result is a treat that stirs up the holiday spirit.

    Grand Marnier Cherry is available in limited quantities, a USA release only…and a guaranteed treat for anyone who enjoys fine spirit.

    Enjoy it neat, over ice, with club soda or in a signature cocktail (there are recipes on the Grand Marnier website).

    We loved it poured over sorbet (cherry, lemon, mango, peach) and drizzled over pudding, pound cake or angel food cake.
    Find more of our favorite spirits in our Cocktails & Spirits section.




    TIP OF THE DAY: Curly Beets Christmas Salad

    Make your holiday salad more Christmasy with beet ribbons, stars, dice or julienne strips.

    You can curl beets (as well as carrots, turnips and other root vegetables) by cutting a continuous ribbon from the raw vegetable; then steam lightly.

    Add baby lettuces, toasted walnuts, and your choice of blue cheese, feta or goat cheese for a flavorful Christmas salad.

    Other ways to make curled vegetable garnishes:

  • Curl vegetables with julienne peeler or a cheese slicer
  • Make a beet rose
  • A rose star is easy to do with a star-shaped cookie cutter
  • Here are more fun vegetable garnishes

    Here are more ideas for Christmas salads and a beet salad recipe.


    Add some beets to your Christmas salad. Photo courtesy Triomphe Restaurant | NYC




    RECIPE: Oreo Peppermint Truffles

    No baking required! Photo courtesy


    For someone whose favorite ice cream flavor is Mint Cookie, these peppermint Oreo truffles were calling our name.

    This no-bake recipe produces a ball similar to a cake pop. No sticks are needed, but you can add them if you like (if you want to make pops, make the balls a bit larger).

    The “chocolate cake” center is made from crushed Oreos and cream cheese icing (we made ours—here’s the recipe—but you can purchase it). Finely crushed peppermint is mixed in, the mixture is rolled into balls; the balls are coated in white chocolate and sprinkled with more crushed peppermint.

    The recipe is courtesy Lauryn Cohen, a.k.a. Bella Baker.




  • 20 Oreo cookies
  • 6 tablespoons crushed peppermint candies, divided
  • 4 to 5 tablespoons cream cheese icing
  • 8 oz white chocolate candy melts
  • Parchment paper
  • Preparation

    1, CRUSH Oreo cookies and 3 tablespoons of the peppermint candies together in a food processor (a mini food processor works nicely here!)

    2. ADD cream cheese icing, 1 tablespoon at a time, until mixture becomes moist and can easily be rolled.

    3. ROLL into balls a little bit bigger than the size of cherries. Once the entire mixture has been rolled into balls, place balls in the fridge to chill for at least 30 minutes.

    4. MELT the white candy melts in a microwave safe bowl in 30 second intervals, stirring vigorously in between interval. It should take 2-3 intervals to melt entirely.

    5. DROP a ball, one at a time, into the melted chocolate to coat; using two forks, lift the ball out. Gently tap any excess chocolate through the tines of the fork. Use the second fork to help slide the truffle ball off of the first fork and onto a piece of parchment paper.

    6. IMMEDIATELY SPRINKLE the truffle ball with some of the reserved crushed peppermint candies. Repeat with remaining truffle balls. Let white chocolate set in the fridge before serving.



    TIP OF THE DAY: Christmas Ale & Beer

    Still looking something special for Christmas?

    Whether for your own guests, as Christmas gifts or host/hostess gifts, pick up some Christmas beers.

    Anchor Christmas Ale and Samuel Adams have good national distribution for their holiday brews, and your regional microbrewer no doubt has a seasonal special ale, beer, porter or stout. Here’s a list of Christmas brews.

    A Christmas ale is typically rich and dark ale, brewed with special holiday spices and often, a higher alcohol content to ward off the winter chill. However, even wheat beers, the lightest style, get the holiday treatment.

    Different brewers use cinnamon, clove, coriander, ginger, nutmeg and/or vanilla, and perhaps a touch of honey.

    Christmas ale makes a holiday beer drinking more special. It’s a welcome holiday gift, stocking stuffer or host gift for beer lovers.


    Merry Mischief is a gingerbread-spiced beer from Samuel Adams. Photo by Elvira Kalviste | THE NIBBLE.


    A trio of yeasty treats for Christmas. Photo
    by Elvira Kalviste | THE NIBBLE.


    We received an assortment of the Samuel Adams holiday beers, and enjoyed these festive brews:

    Cranberry Lambic is a crisp fruit beer that delivers rich cranberry flavor along with notes of banana, clove and nutmeg. While many people enjoy a lambic with dessert, some astringency and tartness makes this beer companionable to any course. It’s perfect with roast turkey.

    Holiday Porter is a rich, robust, smooth and malty: Four different types of malted barley plus a dash of flaked oats are used in the brew. The deep roasted flavors pair well with hearty or spicy fare.

    Merry Mischief is a rich, smooth and sweet dark gingerbread stout with the enticing aromas of the holidays. The intensity of cinnamon, clove, ginger and nutmeg evoke the flavor of fresh gingerbread. Although it can be enjoyed with most foods, we especially liked it with gingerbread cookies and carrot cake.


    White Christmas is a crisp, unfiltered white ale blended with holiday spices: cinnamon, nutmeg and orange peel. Citrusy, wheaty and spicy, it pairs well with lighter fair, from salad (add dried cranberries and goat cheese) to dessert (try it with cheesecake or a fruit tart).

    Winter Lager is a full-bodied, malty, spicy lager with a deep ruby color and a “holiday” aroma of cinnamon and ginger; there’s also a hint of orange peel. The spices and roasty sweetness of the malts pair beautifully with Thai food and other spicy dishes where the chile heat needs to be subdued.

    Head to your nearest store and stock up.


    Browse through our Beer Glossary.



    NEW YEAR’S EVE: Dinner Menu

    We were about to cook a New Year’s Eve feast until we came across a seductive menu from Triomphe, a restaurant in midtown Manhattan.

    Executive Chef Jason Tilmann has assembled stunning flavors and visual excitement, making this the menu we want to eat on New Year’s Eve.

    Normally, we eschew words like “decadent” and “sinful” that some people inaccurately use to describe luscious foods. But in the case of luxurious excessiveness, we bow to Benjamin Franklin in “Poor Richard’s Almanac”:

    No wonder Tom grows fat, the unwieldy Sinner,
    Makes his whole Life but one continual Dinner.

    Let Chef Tilmann’s menu inspire your own thoughts for New Year’s Eve dining. And may the richness of your dinner inspire restraint in the new year—at least, until Valentine’s Day.


    1. ENVY: a feeling of discontent or covetousness with regard to another’s advantages, success, possessions, etc.

    Dish: osetra caviar, buckwheat blini, onion, egg and chives.

    2. VANITY: excessive pride in one’s appearance, qualities, abilities, achievements, etc.


    Even if you can’t make complex dishes like Triomphe’s, you can combine ingredients simply, like smoked salmon, salmon caviar (at the bottom of the dish), black caviar, a dab of crème fraîche and an herb garnish. Photo courtesy Tsar Nicoulai.


    Dish: lobster dumplings, wakame salad and ginger butter.

    3. WRATH: strong, stern or fierce anger; deeply resentful indignation; ire.

    Dish: spicy prawns, lemon, roasted garlic and herbed risotto.

    4. GLUTTONY: excessive eating and drinking.

    Dish: Pol Roger champagne sorbet, gold leaf and crispy grapes.

    5. SLOTH: habitual disinclination to exertion; indolence; laziness.

    Dish: slow-cooked cassoulet with duck confit, slab bacon and white northern beans.

    6. GREED: excessive or rapacious desire, especially for wealth or possessions.

    Dish: smoked Kobe tenderloin, fingerling potatoes, asparagus and bordelaise sauce.

    7. LUST: an overwhelming desire or craving.

    Dish: Valrhona chocolate soufflé with Grand Marnier crème anglaise.
    These seven “sinful” courses are certain to engender a day of restraint on January 1st.



    TIP OF THE DAY: Decorate Christmas Cupcakes

    Deck the cupcakes! Photo of Perfect Endings
    cupcakes courtesy Williams-Sonoma.


    Today’s tip is inspired by these delicious cupcakes from Perfect Endings, a Napa Valley bakery that sells them online via

    You can buy or bake and frost your own cupcakes, then decorate them with festive elements. It’s a fun family activity. Consider:

  • Chocolate curls or a chocolate medallion or kiss
  • Colored marzipan stars
  • Crushed peppermints
  • Dried or fresh berries
  • Gold and/or silver dragées or white “pearls”
  • Holiday candies (including M&Ms)
  • Holiday sprinkles (jimmies)
  • Shredded coconut
    Make a double batch: They’ll disappear quickly!




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