Cranberry Cocktail

Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve and the perfect day for a cocktail. I have been making this cranberry cocktail for years. I like it because I can make half the batch spiked and and half the batch virgin. The cranberry juice makes it look so festive, but it is not too sweet.

You start by making ginger simple syrup. After you strain out the ginger pieces, don’t throw them away. It is basically candied ginger and tastes so good dropped into a cup of tea.

Cranberry Cocktail

1/4 Cup Water

1/4 Cup Sugar

1 inch piece of Fresh Ginger, Chopped

3 Cups Cranberry Juice (not unsweetened)

1/4 Cup Fresh Lime Juice (from 3-4 limes)

Seltzer Water

1/4-1/2 Cup Vodka (optional)

Fresh Cranberries (optional for garnish)

 

Directions

Make the ginger simple syrup:

In a small saucepan, combine water, sugar and chopped ginger. Bring to a boil and simmer gently for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. Strain the ginger pieces out (I like to put the candied ginger in tea.)

Mix the Cocktail Base:

In a large pitcher, combine ginger syrup, cranberry juice, and lime juice.

If you want to add the vodka, add 1/2 cup to the mixture. Or, you can divide the cocktail base in half and add 1/4 cup to half of the cranberry mixture so you can serve alcoholic and non-alcoholic cocktails.

Serve the Cocktail:

To serve the cocktail, pour 1/3 cup of the cranberry base mix into a champagne flute. Top with 1/4 cup of seltzer water and a few fresh cranberries.

Cranberry Orange Baked Oatmeal

It is Christmas week and the kids are home from school. Most of us have special foods for Christmas morning, but we have to feed our family all week. This Cranberry Orange Baked Oatmeal is great for quiet mornings when you can sleep in and stay in your pajamas a little later than usual. It also works really well for busy weekdays. You can prep it the night before and place it in the oven when you wake up.

My daughter took a little taste as I was photographing this today and she said “mom, you make lots of baked oatmeal, but this one is the best!” I do make lots of baked oatmeal because it is super simple to throw together and it makes a hearty warm breakfast for weekdays. Check out Pumpkin Spice Baked Oatmeal, Lemon Blueberry Baked Oatmeal and Apple Cinnamon Baked Oatmeal.

Cranberry Orange Baked Oatmeal

**Note** The nuts are optional, but if your family likes nuts, please add them, it really enhances the oatmeal.

  • 1 3/4  Cup Milk
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1/2 Cup Brown Sugar (packed)
  • 1/4 Cup Butter, melted
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon orange zest (from 1 large orange)
  • 3 Cups Old Fashioned Oats (oatmeal)
  • 1 teaspoon Baking Powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 6 oz Sweetened Dried Cranberries (Craisins) (about 1 packed cup)
  • 1 Cup Chopped Walnuts, toasted (optional) See note for toasting.
  • Cooking Spray

 

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a medium bowl, mix milk, eggs, brown sugar, and melted butter. Add in the oats, baking powder, salt, and stir to combine. Fold in the dried cranberries and optional nuts.

Generously coat an 8 x 8 baking dish with cooking spray. (I prefer a glass baking dish, but metal works too.) Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish and bake at 350 for 30 minutes. The oatmeal should be a little jiggly in the middle (like custard.) Remove from oven and let it rest for 5-10 minutes before serving. It will continue to cook and thicken as it rests. Serve warm. **Note** To toast the nuts, place them in a microwave safe dish and heat at 100% power for 2-3 minutes until warm and fragrant. I like to start with 2 minutes and test them to see if they are warm. Continue to heat 30 seconds at a time until they are warm and fragrant.

Episode 59 Are Holiday Food Traditions Important?

Holiday food traditions help ground our families. They are little things that create stability and reliability for our children. They can be very simple or more complex. Maybe you take your kids out to lunch on the last day of school before Christmas break, or you get donuts on Christmas Eve morning.

What are the holiday food traditions in your family? We would love to hear about them in the Feed Your Family Tonight Facebook group. 

Charcuterie Boards

Charcuterie boards are having a moment. They are all the rage, and there is a good reason. First, they are delicious and second, they are super easy to make. Charcuterie boards are basically platters of meat, cheese, and condiments. They can be simple or very elaborate. I love to make them for holiday parties because you can make them ahead and there is something for everyone to enjoy.

There are some tricks to making a charcuterie board.

-Start with the meats.

Use your favorite cured meats. I like to have at lest 3 types and most grocery stores will sell a variety pack so you don’t have to but large quantities.

-Pick 3 types of cheese.

I like to have one that is soft, one that is hard, and one that is a little funky.

Soft Cheeses-

Goat Cheese

Brie

Camembert

Hard Cheeses-

Cheddar

Gouda

Havarti

Swiss

Parmesan

Funky Cheeses –

Blue Cheese

Gorgonzola (a type of blue cheese)

Herb Flavored Cheeses of all types

Smoked Cheeses of all types

-Choose Accompaniments.

I like to have a variety of accompaniments and I often just use what I have on hand. The key is to have a combination of fresh and dried or preserved offerings.

Nuts

Cut Fresh Fruit

Dried Fruit

Pickled Vegetables

Olives

Honey

Jam (fig is my favorite)

Fruit Paste

Charcuterie Board
Charcuterie Board

To assemble your board, start by choosing a platter or cutting board. You want it to be sized according to the amount of food you plan to serve. You do not want to have too much of the board showing but also want to have enough space for all the beautiful food.

Step 1 –

Place one type of meat on an edge of the board. You can overlap the slices, roll the slices, or form them into meat “flowers.”

Step 2 –

Add the soft cheese to the board.

Step 3 –

Cut the hard cheese into cubes or triangles and add it to the board.

Step 4-

Continue alternating adding meat and cheese. Be sure to leave space for accompaniments.

Step 5-

Fill in the gaps on the board with at least 2-3 accompaniments.

Serve the board at room temperature with crackers, crusty bread, or toast points. You can assemble the board ahead of time and cover it with plastic wrap. Pull the board out of the refrigerator an hour before serving to allow it to warm up to room temperature.

**Note** Some people like to put crackers on the board. This works if you are serving the board immediately, but I prefer to keep them separate so the crackers do not get soft in the refrigerator.

If you want inspiration for beautiful boards, follow @boardswichita on Instagram. She is truly an artist.

 

Episode 58 Candy Making

Candy making can be as simple as melting chocolate and dipping things, or it can be as complicated as making caramels from scratch. In this episode Marie covers basic candy making techniques and a few ways to trouble shoot when things go south.

The simplest form of candy making is to melt chocolate or candy melts and dip things like pretzels, nuts, or dried fruits.

Chocolate is made from both parts of the cocoa bean, cocoa butter and cocoa nibs. Cocoa butter gives the chocolate a smooth mouth feel and cocoa nibs give it the taste and smell.

White “chocolate” is technically not chocolate because it does not have any cocoa nibs. In its purest form, white “chocolate” is cocoa butter, sugar, milk solids, and vanilla. Most products we consider white chocolate are really candy melt. Candy melt is a mixture of sugar, palm oil, milk solids and lecithin. It works great for melting and dipping and you can find it at the craft store in lots of colors. It is tricky to color yourself because you need an oil-based, not a water-based food color. Most food colorings on the market are water-based so it is best to buy them pre-colored.

To melt chocolate for dipping you have two options.

1-Use the microwave. When using the microwave, be careful not to burn your chocolate or candy melts. Start with just one minute and stir. Continue heating for 15-20 seconds at a time stirring every 15-20 seconds. The residual heat will continue to melt the chocolate. When you have just a few small unmelted bits, you can just continue stirring and let the residual heat finish the melting.

2- Use a double broiler. A double broiler is a saucepan of water that is simmering with a glass or metal bowl placed on top of the saucepan. It is important that the water is not touching the bowl with the chocolate. The steam from the simmering water will heat the bowl which will then gently melt the chocolate. Be careful not to get any water in the chocolate. The water will cause the chocolate to “seize” and get almost crumbly and you cannot use it for dipping.

 

To make more complicated candy, you will be using some type of sugar syrup. It is important to use a Candy Thermometer (not affiliate). The candy thermometer will get you close to the correct consistency, but to have better results, you want to pair it with the cold water test.

The following are all in Fahrenheit:

240 – Soft Ball – The sugar syrup forms a ball that flattens in the water.

255-260 – Hard Ball – The sugar syrup forms a ball that holds its shape and almost has a firm “shell” on the outside, but it is still malleable.

285 –  Soft Crack – The sugar syrup will make a crackle sound and have threads that will break apart but do not have a firm snap. Jolly Rancher candy is a soft crack candy, while a peppermint or candy cane are hard crack.

310 – Hard Crack – The sugar syrup will crackle and will break with a firm snap.

 

To make fudge, peanut brittle, toffee, marshmallows, divinity, or caramels, you will be cooking sugar with a liquid, like corn syrup, water, evaporated milk, butter and/or cream. Each type of candy uses different ingredients at different temperatures.

Fudge- There are two types of fudge. The first is “Old Fashioned” fudge which uses a sugar syrup and cocoa powder. It does not have any chocolate or marshmallow crème. The second is a more common type of fudge that uses chocolate and marshmallow crème.

Toffee- is made by quickly cooking a sugar syrup with butter then pouring into a pan and topping with chocolate and nuts.

Marshmallow – is made by whipping sugar syrup with gelatin to make a fluffy and stable confection that can be poured into molds or cut into squares.

Divinity – is made by adding sugar syrup to beaten egg whites.

Caramels – are, in my opinion, the most difficult candy to master. Cream, butter, and sugar are cooked slowly to a consistency between soft ball and hard ball.

Episode 57 Stress-Free Holiday Cookie Baking

It is the time of year when many of us get the itch to bake cookies. Some people do it because they love it, others do it because they want to make memories with their kids. It is important to ask yourself why you want to bake. Do you want to spend time with your children or do you want beautiful cookies to give away to friends and neighbors? In my experience, it is difficult to accomplish both of those goals at the same time. That is why we make gingerbread cookies just for our family.

Making gingerbread cookies was the most important holiday activity for my children. We will make one batch of cookies in several different sizes and decorate them with royal icing. I don’t stress bout kids licking their fingers or about the cookies looking perfect because my goal with gingerbread cookies is to enjoy my time with my kids.

My mother, on the other hand, loves to give away cookies. She usually makes 45 batches of dough and freezes it. She will have a long day of cookie baking and then she and my father will plate and wrap the cookies and deliver them to friends and neighbors. This year she is changing things up. She only made two kinds of cookie dough and plans to give away fewer cookies. She has made the same five recipes for over 30 years and this year she is ready to try something new.

It doesn’t matter if you make one batch or dozens of batches of cookies, what matters is that you know why you are making the cookies. If your goal is to spend time with your kids, then don’t worry about having lots of cookies to give away. If your goal is to use the cookies as gifts, then you may want to make them without the kids. Both ideas are great, it is just important to identify why you are making them and to keep your expectations clear.

 

Tips for stress-free cooking baking:

1-Put it on the calendar. You want to schedule a time to make the cookies. This time of year is so busy and if you don’t schedule time, you will feel stressed as you make the cookies.

2- Try not to make the dough and bake the cookies in the same day. Most cookie recipes chill the dough after it is made before shaping and baking. If you can make the dough one day and chill it, the next day you are ready to bake. If you try to do it all in one day, you will spend hours in the kitchen which can create unnecessary stress.

3-Make sure you leave time for your butter to come to room temperature. That means you want to take the butter out of the refrigerator at least two hours before you make your dough.

4-If you are making cut out cookies, roll out the dough between parchment paper before you chill the dough. Place the dough on a floured piece of parchment paper, sprinkle the top of the dough with more flour and cover with another piece of parchment paper. Roll out the dough between the two sheets of parchment. Place the rolled dough on a cookie sheet and chill in the refrigerator. You can stack several layers of dough on one cookie sheet. Then, you can cut the cookies and pull the scraps away. Leave the cookies on the parchment and bake.

5-Use parchment paper or silicone baking mats. It will keep the cookies from sticking and makes cookie baking easier. Use pre-cut parchment sheets if you can. This is the parchment I buy. (not affiliate)

6-If you enjoy decorating cookies, keep a few for yourself to decorate. You can still decorate with the kids, but have some to decorate all by yourself without the kids.

 

Links for this episode

My mother’s icing for sugar cookies

How to use frozen cookie dough

Link chocolate chip cookie

Didn’t I just feed you

Amazon link for parchment

Cinnamon Monkey Bread

Cinnamon Monkey Bread

Christmas morning we like to wake up and open presents. Before the kids go downstairs to see their gifts, I turn on the oven and place a pan of monkey bread in the oven. The house starts to smell like cinnamon bread and it is the perfect start to a day of family fun.

This monkey bread can be made in the evening. The second rise happens in the refrigerator overnight. The next morning you can heat the oven and add the pan of monkey bread. It is sweet and warm, laced with cinnamon and totally addictive.

You can make it with my Food Processor Bread Dough or frozen yeast rolls.

Cinnamon Monkey Bread

2 Pounds Frozen Yeast Rolls or 1 Recipe Food Processor Bread Dough

1/2 Cup (1 stick) Unsalted Butter, Melted

4 teaspoons Cinnamon

1 Cup Sugar

Cooking Spray

Directions

Remove the yeast rolls from the freezer and let sit at room temperature for about 1-2 hours. Once they are thawed enough to cut, cut each roll in half.

OR

Make the Food Processor Bread Dough. Once it has risen 35-45 minutes, punch down the dough to remove the big air bubbles and cut into golf ball size pieces with a kitchen scissors.

—————

Mix the cinnamon and sugar in a small bowl. Spray a bundt pan well with cooking spray. Dip the cut rolls into the melted butter, roll in the cinnamon sugar and layer in the oiled pan. Continue dipping the rolls in butter, rolling in cinnamon sugar and placing in the pan until all the dough is used.  If there is any remaining butter, pour it over the top of the rolls.

Spray a piece of plastic wrap and place over the pan. If you are using frozen dough, let them rise for 2-3 hours in a warm place. If you are using the Food Processor Dough, let them rise 45 minutes in a warm place. OR Place in the refrigerator overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Place the risen monkey bread in the oven on the middle rack and bake at 350 for 35-45 minutes until deep golden brown on top. Remove from the oven and place a serving plate on top of the rolls. Using pot holders, invert the pan over the serving plate and remove the pan. Serve warm.

 

Puppy Chow

Puppy Chow

When my kids were little I would occasionally make this special treat. Recently, my 16 year old son has been making it for a late night snack. I wouldn’t call it health food, but it is a fun treat that hits all the best parts of a great snack. It is salty, sweet, and crunchy.

There is great debate about the proportions of chocolate, peanut butter, and cereal. Max likes it with lots of chocolate and a touch of peanut butter. His has lots of clumps of chocolate. I prefer it a little less sweet with a little more peanut butter. This recipe follows my preferences, but if you like lots of chocolate, add the full 12 oz bag of chocolate chips.

I have made this recipe with corn and rice square cereal (like chex) and have found I prefer the flavor of the rice over the flavor of the corn. The corn has a slightly toasted taste that isn’t bad, but the rice is more neutral in flavor allowing the peanut butter and chocolate to shine.

Puppy Chow

1 1/2 Cups Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips

1 Cup Creamy Peanut Butter

1 12oz Box Rice Square Cereal (Like Chex)

2 Cups Powdered Sugar

Directions

Melt the chocolate chips in a large microwave-safe bowl by heating on high for 1 minute and stir. Continue to heat in 30 second intervals stirring every 30 seconds until the chocolate is melted. Add the peanut butter and microwave another 30 seconds. Stir well. If the peanut butter does not easily mix with the chocolate, microwave another 30 seconds and stir well to combine.

Add the rice cereal and stir well. It will take a minute or two of stirring well to completely coat the cereal in the chocolate and peanut butter. Once the cereal is completely coated, add the powdered sugar and stir well. Again, it will take a few minutes to coat all the pieces in the powdered sugar.

Serve.

This will keep for several weeks in an air-tight container. It also freezes well. I like to eat it cold.