Category Archives: Gifts

Chile Crisp, Condiment of the Year

And now, in time for your Labor Day entertaining, I present the third of three condiments, and by far the best. I discovered this recipe way back in early summer, nestled in the margin of “The Simple Issue”  of Bon Appetit. Within a week the page was permanently folded back, stained and a little greasy, and since then my fridge has never NOT had a jar of chile crisp in residence.

The catch on this spicy, sassy, savory creation is that it takes some effort to make. You can cut yourself some slack by buying pre-peeled garlic cloves. Even with those, you’re still going to have to do a lot of thin slicing. Soooo, dig deep! It’s the last weekend of summer, people. Get yourself a sharp knife and a good playlist and get going. There’s still time to make yourself the MVP by bringing this to the party, or spicing up your own patio fare.

But first, a couple of things: I’ve now made this several times , and each time I’ve overdone it on the volume of shallots. Only once did they really crisp up—which was tremendous and worth cranking up the heat a bit and then babysitting the pot until they were evenly brown. That said, it was pretty tremendous all the other times too. Just make sure you brown the shallots and garlic without burning them. I now use a bigger pot than seems necessary, which allows the shallots to really relax in their hot oil bath.

It’s worth going to the original Bon Appetit recipe and reading the comments. I think “off the hook” is the best reader description. We’ve put it on burgers, quesadillas, sandwiches, pizza, baked sweet potatoes and eggs; into salads and on bruschetta and burratta and toast. It’s so going to get stirred into soups this fall. I may draw the line at using it as an ice cream topper, but…no promises.

Finally, there is apparently an excellent version of this at Trader Joe’s called chile onion crunch. Add that to the pain of not having a TJ’s near me. For now, I chop.

PS This one goes out to Sister B, who hates bread and butter pickles and cilantro (see quick, easy, cheap salsa), but hung in there for this. Three’s the charm, baby.

Chile Crisp

Ingredients

  • 4 small shallots, thinly sliced (I end up with 1 1/2 cups or so, which is probably wayyyy too much, but I’m greedy and my shallots are apparently jumbo)
  • 2 heads of garlic (HEADS, not cloves), separated into cloves, sliced. (Google says that’s about 24 cloves)
  • 1½ cups vegetable oil
  • 2 3″ cinnamon sticks
  • 6 star anise pods
  • 1 2″ piece ginger, peeled, very finely chopped
  • ¼ cup crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 Tbsp. soy sauce
  • 2 tsp. sugar

Method:

  • Bring shallots, garlic, oil, cinnamon, and star anise to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Cook, reducing heat as needed to maintain a gentle simmer and swirling pot occasionally, until garlic and shallots are browned and crisp, 20–25 minutes.

    Shallots prepping for the spa

    (Take your time—you want to drive all the moisture out before they brown.)

  • Mix ginger, red pepper, soy sauce, and sugar in a medium bowl. Strain shallot mixture through a fine-mesh sieve set over ginger mixture. Let garlic and shallot cool in sieve (this will allow them to crisp further) before stirring back into chile oil. This is the time to take out the cinnamon and star anise too.
  • Do Ahead: Crisp can be made 1 month ahead. Cover and chill.

Bringing It:

Divide the goods into one big jar or smaller jars that you can fit a spoon into. Put the lids on tight and prepare to make a lot of friends. If you pour off a bunch of the oil you can then use it to make a sassy version of aquafaba mayo.

A shortcut worth every penny

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Holiday Favorites: Stay Sane, Go Nuts, Be Happy!

Fluff up your marmots and break out all things sparkly, the holidays are here. This is the season for many things: fake fur, sequins, fizzy drinks, warm everything. This is not the season for experimentation. We’re keeping our heads above water here, which means sticking with what we know. tried and true meals that make us happy, and treats to give that make others happy.

Maple oat breakfast bread

With that in mind, in my own kitchen I’m revisiting whole lot of Bring It tried and trues. That means soups like Thai Coconut Corn Soup, or Sugar and Spice Squash Soup. And yep, that means a crock pot full of Chicken Taco Chili that feeds a crowd with about 6 minutes of prep. All of the above, of course, beg for People’s Choice Cornbread or No Knead Challah or a honkin’ slice of Maple Oat Breakfast Bread to dunk in there. That is, UNLESS dirt bread is your thing…you know who you are, you little hemp seed eating chia pets. I’m with you there.

You might be needing some holiday entertaining staples like pomegranate everything (along with a genius pomegranate wrangling technique). What’s winter without fondue, and the easiest in the world Guinness Fondue at that? And what’s “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” without snacks? I highly recommend a batch of Nootch Popcorn or a bowl of Hail Mary Coconut.

As far as gifting and hostess offerings, you will never go wrong with crackle and its intriguing, slightly sophisticated dark cousin, pretzel and beer Crackle 2.0. And cookies? Yeah we’ve got those, basics like my faves—champion chip cookies—as well as totally slacker kiss my crust cookies, made from refrigerated pie crust and whatever chocolates you have around. If you need to scare up a snowstorm, or a reason to start a sweet family tradition make up a snow ghost pie.

Snow Ghost pie ad

And lest this be a pure re-hash of deliciousness we have an actual new recipe. I realize this blog has a somewhat extensive nut treatment, including honey thyme walnuts, spicy rosemary maple walnuts and an entire holiday nut anthology. But it turns out you really do need one more way to make roasted almonds. These are very similar to ginger glazed almonds (see anthology above), but without the ginger and with a coating of sesame seeds. You can choose a mix of sweeteners for your preferred flavor dimension (honey and sesame were pretty much born for each other), but for the best texture and glaze use at least some brown sugar.  

We’re talking nuts here, not rocket science, so be bold and mess around with flavorings, spices, herbs, types of nuts etc. Above all, enjoy the madness of the season and, like James says, remember “Shower the people you love with love.”

Sesame Almonds

Makes 3 1/2 cups almonds

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons packed light brown sugar (or sub out up to 2 tablespoons with honey or maple syrup)
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil (or your healthy oil of choice)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon rice vinegar
  • 1 pound raw almonds (a scant 3 ½ cups)
  • 2 tablespoons (or more) white sesame seeds

Method:

Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 350°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet and 2 wire cooling racks with parchment paper and set aside.

Pour the almonds into a mixing bowl. (If you keep your nuts in the freezer, warm them up in the oven for a few minutes first). In the microwave or on the stovetop stir together the brown sugar/honey/syrup, oil, salt, paprika, and vinegar over low heat. Pour mixture over the almonds and toss until the almonds are thoroughly coated. Transfer the almonds to the prepared baking sheet and spread into an even layer.

Bake, stirring every 5 minutes, until the almonds are brown and fragrant, 12 to 15 minutes total. They should be a rich brown color and just start to smell toasted as you open the oven door.

Sprinkle the sesame seeds over the hot almonds and stir to evenly distribute the seeds. This is where I go a little overboard, and try to get as many sesame seeds as possible to coat the almonds. Divide the nuts between the 2 prepared cooling racks and use a spatula to spread the nuts out so they do not touch. Cool completely, about 30 minutes.

Break apart any nut clusters that are stuck together if needed.

Bringing It:

Pour these babies into a treat bag, jar, tin or a cardboard takeout container lined with festive tissue paper, and store them in the fridge until you are ready to give them or devour them.

 

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Salted Peanut Butter Cookies: Gluten-Free and Mini-Mart Sourced

Gluten-free, marmot approved.

Gluten-free, marmot approved

Here’s a hypothetical situation. It’s Christmas Eve, you gave away all your homemade cookies (if you happen to have made them in the first place), and you just found out Santa (or a guest) is gluten-free. There’s no way you’re going to the grocery store for special ingredients but you may be able to pull off a mini mart run. What if all that happened? What would you do?

You would make these cookies.  These are barely adapted from Smitten Kitchen who got them from the Ovenly cookbook. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. Here’s hoping you don’t need these tonight, and you stay clear of mini marts, but in case of emergency, you’re covered. Have a good one all, enjoy your people, and see you on the other side!

Salted Peanut Butter Cookies

Yield 26 to 28 cookies with a 1 2/3 tablespoon or #40 scoop.

  • 1 3/4 cups (335 grams) packed light brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 3/4 cups (450 grams) smooth peanut butter (see note at end)
  • 1 cup (or so) of your favorite chocolate chips (optional)
  • Coarse-grained sea salt, to finish

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the light brown sugar and eggs until smooth. Whisk in the vanilla extract, then the peanut butter until smooth and completely incorporated; you shouldn’t be able to see any ribbons of peanut butter. Stir in chocolate chips, if desired.

Scoop or spoon the dough into balls — from a heaping Tablespoon to monster 1/4 cup sized. Place on prepared pan. For the tallest final shape, place the tray in the freezer for 15 minutes before baking.

Sprinkle the dough balls lightly with coarse-grained sea salt just before baking. Bake smaller cookies for 14 to 15 minutes and larger for 18 to 20. When finished, cookies should be golden at edges. They’ll need to set on the sheet for a minute or two before they can be lifted intact to a cooling sheet. With any luck Santa hits your house late enough to let them cool completely so the crispy outside/soft inside thing can really happen. 

Do ahead: You can make the dough in advance and either refrigerate it for a couple days or scoop out the cookies, freeze them, then bake them right from the freezer.

About chilling the dough: You can scoop and bake the cookies right away, but they keep their shape better if you chill them in the freezer for 15 minutes first.

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Spicy Rosemary Maple Nuts

img_5305

Nuts. Straight up. This is my fantasy.

It’s here people. Crunch time. This is your week to bake or cook your way out of small gift madness.  Let’s review some options: We have, of course, the standby Crackle, and the more grown up Guinness and dark chocolate version. We have easy as pie (crust) cookies and jars of salted caramel cholliesauce or honey thyme walnuts. And speaking of nuts…we now also have an updated riff on sweet and savory roasted nuts.

Sadly, I have no kill switch when it comes to sweet and spicy roasted nuts. Until now the men in my house have allowed me to make them, give them and sample (hoard) them with no interference. This year, however, when I made these for Thanksgiving they disappeared before they were cool enough to hide. Either the locals’ tastes have evolved or this recipe is just that good.  It calls for fresh rosemary, maple syrup and cayenne—standard issue stuff amongst us nut fans. What takes them over the edge is the amount of rosemary (lots) added both before and after baking. Oh, and flaky sea salt. No secrets here.

They’re sweet but not too sweet, and have enough heat to get your attention but not in a scary way. Best of all, there are no egg whites or other fussy things involved. Yes, those are angels singing. You’ve got to get fresh rosemary—I’m not letting you off the hook there—but you can use a mix of whatever raw nuts strike your fancy. Pictured is the full walnut monty, but a mix with pecans, almonds and/or cashews is divine. Love the one you’re with, baby.

Make a lot so you don’t have to be stingy with your family. It’s so close to Christmas and all.

Spicy Rosemary Maple Nuts

From Kitchen Konfidence

Ingredients

  • 1 pound unsalted mixed nuts (cashews, walnuts and almonds are delish)
  • 1 tablespoon melted butter
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary, divided
  • 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 teaspoons flaky sea salt or kosher salt, plus more to taste

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. In a large bowl, toss mixed nuts with melted butter and maple syrup. Add 2 tablespoons chopped rosemary, dark brown sugar, cayenne pepper and 2 teaspoons flaky sea salt, mixing until the nuts are well coated . Spread nuts out onto a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake until glazed and golden (about 18 – 20 minutes), stirring twice during the cooking process.*
  2. As soon as the nuts come out of the oven, season with an additional 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary, and flaky sea salt to taste (I added an additional 3/4 teaspoon). Serve warm immediately or store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.

Notes

  • Set the timer and If your oven runs hot, be sure to check the nuts a bit early. Nuts can turn on you and go from golden to bitter if you ignore them.

Up next: What if you find out Santa is gluten free….and you only have access to a mini mart? Got ya covered.

nuts-n-stuff

 

 

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ABC Summer Sauce

Green goodness with a kick

Green goodness with a kick

Summer. It gets away from you. As in, we’re halfway through July ?!?! and #$%^&*! Recipe-wise, I don’t have a whole lot to show for summer so far, but I have been doing some background work, like: ongoing watermelon rind experiments, which will save you from some pretty scary concoctions; exploring Vegan frontiers with the mysterious magical Aquafaba; making rhubarb vanilla jam and rhubarb vinegar that I promise to post before the end of strawberry rhubarb season next year; mixing up all kinds of drinks and mocktails (ginger limeade, watermelon aqua fresca), even homemade grenadine, which it turns out is nothing more than pomegranate simple syrup. Who knew? I’ve also been brewing up herbal Sun Tea like it’s my job and adding fresh citrus and mint simple syrup.

This will all be tasty Intel for later summer lovin’. In the near term, I am steeling myself for an exhaustive test of the many frosé recipes (thank you Cousin D) now trying their best to break the Internet. We need a hot weekend, a boatload of rose and some thirsty volunteers. Who’s with me?

Mostly, I’ve been thinking about good people, and how they are the most important ingredient to summer fun. As it happened the US Ski Team announced their 2016/2017 team yesterday, and it includes some really, really fine young people, many of whom I’ve been fortunate to get to know. Sure, they are amazing athletes, but way more importantly they are stellar people who make their ski people proud.

AJ and Ollie

AJ Ginnis, building his fan base.

Pro move: Lila's got the tools of the trade—parchment paper and high tech oven mitts.

Lila Lapanja baking up some Champion Chip Cookies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In honor of this moment we’re looking to Anna Marno (U.S. Ski Team member, National Super G Champ, healthy eater and cooker, part unicorn) for a summer recipe that is exactly what summer is about. This gorgeous cilantro-packed sauce is fresh, easy, delicious, and versatile enough to liven up most anything you feel like roasting, grilling or dipping.

It was photographed by Rocky Mtn Tania, who’s contributions seriously raise the Bring It! bar.

Says Tania: “This sauce is simply amazing on almost everything: as a side for street tacos, with chicken, fish or pasta even on crackers with cheese.  The ingredients work together so well, but the amounts can and should be adjusted to taste.”

Shall we just call this Anna’s Best Cilantro Sauce? Yes we shall!

Anna-ripping

Anna Marno…ripping!

ABC Summer Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 1 large bunch of cilantro
  • Juice from 2 limes
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1 clove garlic peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 5 oz plain greek yogurt *
  • 2-3 Tbsp agave sweetener
  • 1/3 cup olive oil

Method:

Put everything but the olive oil in a blender (a Vita Mix if you’re showing off, but a regular blender will do). You have to push the ingredients down to blend.  Slowly drizzle olive oil into blended ingredients while the blender is running to emulsify the sauce.  Make ahead of time so flavors come together.

*The beauty of this recipe is that you can omit the yogurt and you have an incredible vinaigrette for a salad.

Bringing it:
This travels well and is a wonderful hostess gift.

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Pomegranates Unplugged

pomegranate

“Tis the season to overdo everything. So let’s overdo pomegranates!

It’s almost Christmas, and whether you celebrate it or not, I’ m giving you a gift. Pomegranates. Well, I’m not actually buying them for you, but I am unlocking their potential. For a long time we have heard about the amazing health benefits of pomegranates. They are rich in vitamins and antioxidants, low in calories, high in fiber, high in heart healthy phytochemicals (say that three times quickly then google it). They strengthen the immune system, regulate blood pressure, improve oral hygiene, reduce wrinkles and even give PMS the boot. 

All this, and yet I have ignored pomegranates entirely, for the simple reason that they are a pain in the butt. They are messy, labor intensive, not roastable in any way and obscenely expensive in their juiced or seeded form. Until recently nothing moved me to entertain an interest in the pomegranate or its derivatives other than as a splash in a martini.

But then I found myself living with a young friend who has a pomegranate-a-day habit. Fortuitously this coincided with running across a pomegranate hack that made seeding a pomegranate so easy that I had to try it. Bells rang, stars aligned, produce departments rejoiced. Now, my record for getting all the seeds out of a pomegranate is 1 minute 11 seconds, and it is a rare day in my household that does not involve this “super fruit.”

Incidentally, my young friend rejected the hack, even after we staged timed contests to prove hack efficiency. A traditionalist, he adheres to his old ways, enjoying his ritual of settling down on the couch, focusing on his pomegranate, a bowl and the mission. I respect. But I also have yet to find a primary food provider who is in search of labor intensive food prep rituals. So for the rest of you, here is your key to pomegranate freedom.

Though I adore the Russian Food hacker, his version (by his own admission) is a bit too bare bones: “Ve really need a bowl, not zeez cheap plastic plates from single guy apartment.” This guy  is a bit dry (and he could crack you in half like a pomegranate), but he is a pro.

And now, what to do with the bonanza of pomegranate seeds you have just unlocked? I’ve got you covered, with four festive ideas to let those seed brighten up your holiday.

#1 Pomegranate Bubbly

Pour anything bubbly—Prosecco, champagne, sparkling cider, birch beer, ginger ale etc—over pomegranate seeds and they will float up, be festive and give you something to chew on. Yum!

#2 Pomegranate Cheese Log

Ingredients

8 oz cream cheese (or 4 oz goat cheese and 4 oz cream cheese mixed)
1 cup pomegranate seeds
1/2 cup chopped chives
2 Tbsp finely minced fresh basil
Crackers, toasts or dipping vehicles of choice.

Method

Place cream cheese (or goat/cream cheese mix) on waxed paper and form into a log. Mix pomegranate seeds, chives and basil on another sheet of waxed paper. Roll cream cheese in seed/herb mixture, pressing lightly to stick. Serve with crackers.

# 3 Pomegranate Guacamole

Oh my! This brings me back to my very first pomegranate cocktail ever, the pomegranate margarita at Rosa Mexicano. This use for pomegranate seeds pretty much assures the pomegranate market in New Hampshire. Lest we forget, guacamole is not an exact science by any means. Shallots or green onion instead of red onion? Awesome. No fresh cilantro? No problemo. Roll with it– its Happy Hour fergawdssakes. If all you can muster is avocado, a shake of Adobo seasoning, a squirt of lemon and pomegranate seeds you are good to go.

Ingredients

2 medium ripe avocados
1/3 cup diced red onion
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
2 Tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
Chips or assorted veggies for serving

Method

Halve and pit the avocados then scoop out the flesh into a large bowl.

Add the red onion, cilantro, lime juice, salt and pepper to the bowl, mashing the mixture together with two forks until it reaches your desired consistency.

Stir in the pomegranate seeds then serve the guacamole with chips or assorted dippers.

#4 Pomegranate Desserts

Fly, be free. Let’s not overthink this. Sprinkle them on vanilla ice cream or yogurt. Put them in a trifle or slip them in fruit pies. Mix them with ripe sliced pears, a squeeze of lemon and a dash of cinnamon. Or just eat them with a spoon or funnel them from the bowl right into your mouth. Um. Of course, nobody would do something like that.

Bonus points: Just to let you know, in addition to the above we have also sprinkled them on raclette, put them into quesadillas and on salads, tossed them with sliced steak, put them in crepes and on cereal and thrown them in smoothies. And no, I have not yet roasted them, but the holiday season is young.

skihats

Are you still with me? Are you intrigued by the above? My sister turned me on to this video and my captive son and I got a little obsessed with yarn/toilet paper roll pom-pom hats. I figure there are worse obsessions, and who doesn’t need another decorative totally useless bottle topper? Right?

Merry Christmas all!

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Gingerbread Granola

Ginger Granola OneHere’s a thought.  How about an EASY holiday baking project? How about granola? Don’t get me wrong. I love to create festive holiday cookies and build gingerbread houses (structurally sound mind you— I’m married to an engineer), but every now and then I just want to throw everything in a pan, bake it at 350, and call it a show. Granola is easy peasy and this recipe has one of my all-time favorite ingredients, candied ginger! It’s medicinal, flavorful, and spicy. What more could you ask for in one ingredient. Plus, granola is a great holiday giveaway for friends and family.

I got this recipe from Cookie and Kate. Kate is a vegetarian food blogger extraordinaire, and Cookie is her cute little dog. You should check out her site. The photography is beautiful and she has a ton of great recipes. 

Have fun making batches of granola. And if you want to stick to the basics, you can also make my traditional Simply Sue’s granola.  Give it away, but make sure to save a generous bagful for yourself or you’ll have to make more.

Oh, and one more thing before we get started with the granola recipe….. when you are at the store, pick up some pomegranates because Edie has some quick and easy pomegranate intel coming at you this weekend.

Ingredients

4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 1/2 cups raw pecans, walnuts, or both
1 tsp fine grain sea salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 cup melted coconut oil (or olive oil)
1/3 cup real maple syrup
1/4 cup molasses
3/4 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup coconut flakes
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup chopped candied ginger

Method

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

In a large mixing bowl, combine oats, nuts, salt, cinnamon, and ground ginger. Stir to thoroughly combine.  In a separate bowl, stir together oil, maple syrup, molasses, and vanilla. Mix dry ingredients with wet ingredients. Turn granola out into baking pan and spread evenly. Bake for 20 minutes.

Remove granola from the oven and add coconut flakes. Mix in the coconut and return the pan to the oven for 10 more minutes. In the meantime, roughly chop the candied ginger.

When granola is done cooking, let it cool completely. Then add the cranberries and candied ginger.

Store for up to 2 weeks in an airtight container or store in freezer for up to 3 months.

Bring It!

There are a hundred ways to package granola to bring it as gifts to friends and family.  You can use mason jars, cellophane or paper bags, Chinese take out boxes, and much more.  For tips and tricks on wrapping, go to our Boot Camp Bonnie wrapping expert and you are sure to find something fun and festive.

Bonnie and Sue with just a smattering of supplies.

Bonnie and Sue with just a smattering of supplies.

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Bringing on the Holidays

Vail trees

World Champion tree trimming in Vail

I am just reentering the real world after a trip to Vail, CO, where their trees look like this. One day they were just, you know, trees. And the next day we were living in a patriotic LED forest. In addition to designer trees I had three days of life in the VIP tent at the base of the race course, a fantasy world I hope everyone can experience at least once.

Here’s what goes down in the VIP tent:

Pretty women in puffy pink coats pass glasses of champagne filled at the outdoor bar, where Bloody Marys are also mixed to order. Next to the bar juicy burgers are grilled up, nestled into buttered buns and wrapped up so you can grab them if you’re the outdoorsy type. Inside, tables are laden with fruit, cheeses and nuts, fresh baked breads, a Veggie Nirvana of salads, a Carnivorama of roasted beasts, coconutted shrimp, and steamy soups topped with mini grilled cheeses. And then comes the dessert table which is completely off the hook. I never even made it to dessert because another roving server appeared with a tray of whipped cream-topped hot chocolate with vanilla vodka, which sort of ended the lunch conquest.

VIP-tent-2VIP tent-1

 

 

 

 

I’m not going in to such detail to be mean, but to establish the high bar going in to prime, party intensive, holiday season. If you need some ideas for what to bring to your next soiree, here are just a few ideas from the Bring It! repertoire.

Bringing the cheer:

Cut to the chase and get the party started by bringing a premixed, seasonal cocktail like these ones we had at Thanksgiving. If you are going to be outdoors bring a Thermos of hot cocoa or tea and the hootch to add. Dark rum is a solid go-to for hot drinks and, as noted above, apparently so is vodka. Fixin’s for a big batch of mint chocolate milk will build your snack cred with all ages.

Apps for a crowd?

You can’t go wrong with Sue’s marinated shrimp and artichoke number, or the ever-festive, ridiculously easy Funitella Bruschetta. Below see a basic recipe for the cheddar cheese rounds that make their way into every spiral-bound community cookbook for good reason. (Bonus feature: they can be made with ingredients procured at any mini mart.) Bacon wrapped dates? Yes, have some! And really, putting that fondue pot in a tote bag with a big bag of grated cheese, and firing up some Guinness fondue is always the right thing to do.

DIY Hostess Gifts/Party Fare:

Bottle up some ginger simple syrup that goes in our previously mentioned cocktails, or get creative with help from the full simple syrup tutorial here. Go Mediterranean with a jar of Sicilian Caponata, go healthy with a loaf of Life Bread (thinly slice it and toast it for a tasty snack foundation), sweeten the deal with Salted Caramel Cholliesauce orrrrrrr, get nutty with some sweet and spicy roasted nuts. Oh-so-sophisticated thyme honey walnuts are pure gold on some lusty soft cheese. If you’re shamelessly vying for a quick hit of popularity bust out the Crackle.

Wrapping it all up:

Remember wrap master Boot Camp Bonnie? ‘Tis the season to revisit her tips for packaging brilliance.

You’ve got the week to prep for this weekend’s shenanigans, and a whole lot of joy on the calendar, so let’s do this holiday thing!

Can’t Go Wrong Cheddar Crisps

Ingredients:

  • 1 stick butter, softened
  • 1 cup extra-sharp cheddar cheese, finely shredded
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (some curry powder is also good if that’s your thing)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup Rice Krispies cereal

Method:

Preheat oven to 350 F. In a medium bowl, mix together the butter, cheese, flour, cayenne and salt until it forms a ball stuck lightly together. (Use your hands or a wooden spoon to fully incorporate all ingredients.) Gently fold the cereal into the dough. Pinch off nickel-size balls and roll tightly between your hands. Place them about an inch apart on an ungreased cookie or baking sheet. When all the balls are rolled, flatten each one with the tines of a fork. Bake 15 minutes.

Cool crisps 5 to 10 minutes before removing from the pan to serve. Leftovers may be stored in a tin up to 1 week. Makes about 4 dozen.

Note: Alternatively, you can roll the dough into a long log, wrap it in plastic or waxed paper chill. When ready to make them, slice log into ¼” (or so) rounds and bake as directed above. They’ll take a bit longer so just watch them. The whole make ahead, roll and chill (or freeze if needed) thing comes in handy and the end result looks pretty pro.

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Of Stick Season, Care Packages and Macaroons

dead leaves in autumn

Stick season in all its glory.

I know. It’s downright inspiring out there, making it the perfect time to send a care package. I’ve been in the business of care packages lately, the other day breaking a personal record and sending three. One to a kid away at school who is the master of the not so subtle hint. One to a nephew whose birthday I missed…by three months, and one to another kid on a trip where lunch is not included and foraging trumps grocery store preparation.

A care package is really just that. It says you care. It also says I love you. I miss you. I’m sorry I swore so much when you told me you lost your wallet. See? It really can say so much.

So, what to send that is delicious and not so “liquid, fragile or perishable” as to make you a liar, liar, liar at the post office? Here are just a few suggestions:

On Packaging

This fall I discovered a vacuum food sealer in our basement. It had been a wedding present over 16 years ago. I am quite sure I wrote a thank you note but still. Wow. Anyway, the thing works like a charm and if you happen to have one in your basement I highly recommend busting it out for care packages. If such a treasure does not lurk in your basement plan B is:

Ziploc bags and baggies: They keep things fresh and contained. Just make sure everything is fully cooled before it goes in. If not you may be sending a stuck-together clump of good intentions.

Cardboard takeout boxes: They pack well, resist collapse and make nice little serving vessels for the recipient:

Tupperware: Especially excellent when sending to a kid faced with his or her first kitchen. They’re young. They don’t know the beauty of Tupperware. Teach them.

Play the USPS game: If you are sending it far across the country, go for broke and figure out how to fill a flat rate box to the gills. Go for the heavy stuff and feel like you beat the system.

Popcorn: If you do have some space you need to fill, fire up the popcorn. Package it in appropriately sized baggies to fill whatever space you need. Envision those little air bubble pillows that come in the way-too-big Amazon package with two CD’s. Or just pour it in there and let someone on the other end clean up your mess.

Bonus Recipe: These are brilliant—easy, sturdy, moist, yummy and cheap. Oh did I say that? Of course money is no object when you care. The recipe comes right off the package of Bakers coconut. Don’t overthink the macaroon.

Coconut Macaroons

Ingredients

1 pkg.  (14 oz.) BAKER’S ANGEL FLAKE Coconut (5-1/3 cups)
2/3 cup  sugar
6 Tbsp  flour
1/4 tsp.  salt
4 egg whites
1 tsp  almond extract (or vanilla for the underprepared)

Method

  • Heat oven to 325°F.
  • Combine coconut, sugar, flour and salt in large bowl. Stir in egg whites and extract until blended.
  • Drop coconut mixture into 36 mounds, 2 inches apart, onto greased and lightly floured (or parchment-lined) baking sheets, using about 1 Tbsp. coconut mixture for each.
  • Bake 20 min. or until edges are golden brown. Immediately remove from baking sheets to wire racks; cool completely.

Macaroon Pro Tips:

Topped Macaroons: Prepare as directed, pressing 1 almond or 1 drained candied cherry (surely they jest) into top of each mound of coconut mixture on baking sheet before baking as directed.

Chocolate-Dipped Macaroons: Prepare Coconut Macaroons as directed. Cool. Melt 8 oz. Semi-Sweet Chocolate as directed on package. Dip cookies halfway into chocolate; let excess chocolate drip off. Let stand at room temperature or refrigerate on waxed paper-covered tray 30 min. or until chocolate is firm. Makes 36 servings, 1 cookie each.

Store in tightly covered container at room temperature up to 1 week.

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Guests Gone Wild

 

Trader Joes bonanza- Guests Gone Wild

A partial look at a nutty, grainy Trader Joe’s bonanza

Here comes 4th of July and the smokin’ hot heart of summer. If you’re lucky enough to have scored an invitation to the lake or the beach or any other fabulous summer getaway, you’ll be needing some accordingly fabulous host/hostess gifts, both to show your gratitude and for the all important purpose of GETTING INVITED BACK. This is no time to show up empty-handed.

For some good ideas on what to bring, take a look at our Good Giving page, or pick your favorite recipe and bring it along with a related container or decoration that will remind your hosts of what a tremendous time they had with you.

In my mind you can’t really go overboard with non perishable gifts, especially with people who have a houseful. And I used to think I did a pretty good job of overachieving on that score. That was until my sister started swinging by Trader Joe’s before her visits.

Knowing how much I love Trader Joe’s, nutty grainy things, value and weird food in general she now shows up with several bags of Trader Joe’s Bounty. Now I have a stash of farro and pink Himalayan sea salt, grab and go trail mix packets, five kinds of nuts and enough chia seeds to make a petting zoo. Here are just some of the ways this gift is thoughtful:

  • We don’t have a Trader Joes, so these are things I don’t often get my hands on.
  • Most of it is non perishable, so I can use it at my leisure, and my leisure is a big thing in the summer.
  • Most of it is either a healthy pre-made snack or the whole ingredients to make healthy food.
  • Lots of it is ready to serve, so when she showed up the night I was hosting Book Group and I had no plan whatsoever, I was completely rescued.
  • Many of the things are ingredients for recipes she had told me about, or that she knew I wanted to try. (She gave me all the things for my favorite Life Bread, right down to the psylium husks.)
  • Instead of even suggesting that I should be more Paleo and less gluteny she simply stocks my pantry with lots of the Paleo staples that are expensive and hard to find in my neck of the woods, so now I have no excuse for not giving her recipes a whirl. Bonus: we’ll have something to bond about bicoastally.
  • And finally (this is nice in more ways than I can possibly list but I have to stop somewhere), she goes overboard on coconut. I have an unreasonable love for coconut and now I have coconut flour, coconut sugar, coconut milk and even coconut cashews. Actually, those last ones are so good they’re actually mean.

So, that’s one example of a guest gone wild in all the right ways. Another tactic is to bring one special something that is both meaningful and useful, for which I turn the spotlight on my cousin Tierney from California who brought me this all time favorite dishtowel.

California Dreaming on a dishtowel.

California Dreaming on a dishtowel.

This works because:

  • It is pretty
  • It took up little space in her luggage and now in my kitchen
  • It reminds me of my roots in California
  • It will remind me of my cousin every time I use it.
  • I can use it every day.

 So there you have it. Two examples of awesome hostess gifts. If you’re really in a jam you can never go wrong by going to the farmers market and getting a whole lot of whatever is in season, some shmancy sparkling beverages and the most killer ground coffee you can find.

Since I’m working the family angle here, I have to give a shout out to my cousin Danielle, a devoted Bring It! fan who just hosted family and friends at her amazing wedding in Mexico, and posted the best wedding dress picture ever.  It sort of makes me want to renew my vows, underwater, with lots of agave. Congratulations Danielle and Eric and way to make us all want a do-over!

Happily ever after...and wedding dress storage solved!

Happily ever after…and wedding dress storage solved!

 Now go out there and be the best guest on the block this summer!

 

 

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