Thursday, November 21, 2013

Ugly Sweater Holiday Party with Hot Chocolate Bar

Holiday party season will be here before we know it! You might even be starting to plan your office, family or friend's gatherings already. So, I thought there could not be a better time than now to share a theme my main squeeze and I put together a couple of years ago for my son's big 1st Birthday party.

He is a December baby, so we decided to keep with the winter theme.

Hot Chocolate Bar

~Variety of hot chocolates
~Variety of Mugs
~Marshmellows in different flavors
  Gingerbread Marshmellow, Peppermint Marshmellows, Regular Marshmellows
~Candy Canes in Peppermint and Starburst flavors
~Coffee Maker, cleaned out, for hot water
~Half and Half for those that like a thicker hot cocoa optional
~Baileys and Kahlua for those that like adult hot cocoa optional

~Online Printables from

~Wood Stir Sticks customized with printed holiday flags
~Jars, Baskets, tins, Bowls, etc....decorated with the different printables banners, decorative paper prints, badges, etc 
~Ribbons and bows to add a little more flair to jars and what not (see pictures for ideas)


Our menu consisted of the four food groups, according go to Elf: candy, candy cane, candy corn, and syrup!

~Lemon Ricotta Cookies, a Giada recipe 
I added white chocolate drizzles in red and white to be candy-cane-ish. Pretty and festive!

I used a recipe online but can't remember which one. Look for a top rated one and go with it! Peanut butter and chocolate are things dreams are made of.

~Chocolate Dipped Pretzel Rods
We make these every year. My sisters and I get together and have a 4 hour session of dipping, cooling, rolling, drizzling, and sprinkling pretzel rods in white chocolate and regular chocolate. We crush up candy bars, nuts, use a variety of spinkles, even peppermint and Nerds candies. They make great gift bags for school friends and work friends, too!

~Orange Cupcakes with a Ginger Cream Cheese Frosting
With Ugly Sweater Fondant Toppers
I used a basic yellow cupcake boxed mix  for the  batter and added a healthy dose of grated orange rind with the juice from one orange. The frosting was a basic cream cheese frosting with a dash of nutmeg, ground ginger, and dash of black pepper added.

The mini ugly sweaters were made by cutting out the shape of a sweater and adding the stripes/decoration with sprinkles, edible paint, and gel frosting.

I had little winter themed take home boxes for guests to pick out goodies to bring home with them, too! Guests showed up in their holiday worst, we got chocolate wasted and actually had some regular food in the mix. Lots of fun, lots of merry, lots of cheer. 

In the end, our then one year old got to dig in to "The Green Monster Cake," (which I thought would look like a Christmas tree when I envisioned it.) I'm not sure it came out like that, but it was fun and funky, just the same. We did what we do best, we went with it. Honestly, those are sometimes the best moments, I heard lots of compliments over the cake. Lots of good feedback on the whole thing.
Yay, Success!!!

Big thank you to for the free printables! Ya'll are awesome!

Until next time....Happy Cooking and Party throwin'!!!


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Cucumber Koolsalade

My Polish is showing!  We had burger night, everyone seems to love burger night, what's not to love about a hunk of meat caramelized over the flame? But, you know me, I'm a sucker for glitter. It's the tsjuz. A great plain cheeseburger is yummy, of course. My man will tell you: No tomato, no lettuce, no onion, is the way to be. Just meat, bread and cheese. That's what I call a travesty! Where's the glitter? Where's the tsjuz? More glitter. Never enough glitter!

Moving on to the recipe itself. I thought maybe I would make a slaw, but try a little cucumber in the slaw, as a side dish, and that's where the recipe originated. It started Polish, and then I hit it with Greek (lemon, dill, cucumber).

I was very happy with the result. Not only is it eye catching, this is also a very versatile recipe; it's a side dish on its own. 

Or it's a condiment to your burger, and a really good one! It looks very sophisticated in that setting, elevating a cheeseburger to something of finer fare. Do mini sliders with this topping, and you have a dinner party appetizer. The beautiful colors in the slaw, make the burger look beautiful.

I even used it as the dressing on a basic green salad to mix up a basic salad. I eat salad every day, and I tire of the same toppings after a while. I found my new favorite way to mix it up this week.

1 small Red Onion, sliced
1/4 Red Cabbage
1 Cucumber, peeled and sliced
1/2 Pint Yellow Grape tomatoes 
1/2 Pint Golden Orange Grape Tomatoes (grape heirlooms as a substitute)

2 Tbsp Red Wine Vinegar
Juice from one lemon
Tbsp Mayo (low fat if possible)
1/4 Cup Sour Cream 
Salt and Pepper to taste; approve 1-2 tsp salt and 1 tsp pepper
1 packet Splenda or Stevia
2 tsp dill, dried 

Prep the vegetables and pit them in a large bowl; slice the red onion very thin. 

Slice the cucumber into thin rounds. Shave or slice thinly the red cabbage. Rinse tomatoes well and use them whole in the salad.

In a smaller bowl, measure out the dressing ingredients. The right amount of salt in the dressing will taste overly salted until you mix it over the veggies. Add less at first and, if needed after you put it over the vegetables, you can always salt as you go! The dill and lemon work together with the cucumber to create that a Grecian freshness, and the fullness of the sour cream and cabbage needs that cut. 

Pour your dressing over the vegetables.

And lastly, toss 'me up.

Cover and let marinate in the fridge for an hour or so before serving.

The final product is well balanced and full of flavor. And you have a variety of choices in how you can use it. Maybe a salad dressing this week, maybe a potluck coleslaw next time you make it. 

Here we used it as a topping on a cheese burger, YUM!

Until next time...Happy Cooking!!


Saturday, November 16, 2013

Ooey! Gooey! Yummy! Salted Caramel Chocolate Chip Cookies

These cookies are a chocolate chip cookie on steroids. 

The caramel center melts down to a liquid center when they are just out of the oven, the best time to grab one. Once they cool, they'll become gooey centers. 

Queue Rachel Riley's voice, " Ooey Gooey Yummy! Big Brother fans may get the reference? Ooey Gooey YUMMY! Bitches! The kind where bitches actually means all you lovely, wonderful, happening people. Yeah.

Well, these are a favorite at our house, they'll quickly become favorites at yours, too! You might want to make a double batch, they will disappear, fast!

Ingredients and Prep:
1/4 Cup Vegetable Oil
1/2 Cup Melted Butter
1 egg and 1 egg yolk
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 & 1/4 Cup Brown Sugar

1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cornstarch
2 1/2 Cups Flour
1/2 tsp salt plus 1 Tbsp coarse salt for topping

3/4 Cup Chocolate Chips, semi sweet
1/2 Cup Caramel Candies, unwrapped and chopped into small pieces
Plus unwrapped caramel candies cut in halves (about 25 halves needed)

Helpful Utencils:
Measuring Cups/Spoons
Cookie Sheets
Silicone Baking Mats work best for these sticky cookies, parchment paper, or well oil your sheets to cut down on the cookies sticking
Wire Cooling Rack and Spatula

Mix your flour, baking soda, cornstarch, and salt in a bowl; set aside. 

Chop up the 1/2 cup caramels and cut about 13 caramels in half for the centers. You may need more or less depending on how much dough you use per cookie. 

Melt butter. I use my Kitchenaid for the mixing/ whisking of the rest. Whisk together butter, oil, and sugars. Add in egg, yolk and vanilla. 

Add your dry ingredients in slowly. Last, add in chocolate chips and caramel pieces and mix well.

Prep your cookie sheets and set the oven to 335 degrees F.

Once you get the dough mixed, you'll portion out a small ball of dough, use a melon baller or cookie dough scoop to help measure, or a ::spoon:: ...who knew? 

You will need the caramels cut in half ahead of time for the next part. 

Flatten the dough out a bit, and wrap around a half of a caramel candy. I put about 10 of these on one sheet, spaced evenly. 

Before they go into the oven, sprinkle coarse sea salt over the top. 

Salt doesn't tend to stick like sugar, so you will sometimes have to gently press in to the dough...lightly, otherwise the salt comes right back off on your finger. You'll get the hang of it a few cookies in.  

Into the oven they go for 12-14 minutes. When they are done, get them off the sheet, don't let them cool on the sheet or they may stick. Allow cooling on the wire racks for best result.

Until next time....Happy Cooking!!


Saturday, November 9, 2013

Roasted Poblano Peppers Filled with Pumpkin, Pinto Beans & Quinoa/BrownRice & Tomatillo Sauce

Wow. What a week it has been! There is never enough time to get EVERYTHING done, but this week I did have time to make these delicious Stuffed Poblano Peppers.

We picked up a pumpkin for Halloween and never carved it. Bad parents! I know, I know. Actually, we ended up carving GIANT pumpkins atwith family. Knox decorated his with paint and stickers...though he had his eye on the knives the entire time and it was quite a feat to keep him away from the sharp objects. What is it with 2 year old boys and their love of all things dangerous? I don't know, but every week that we make it through with all finger, toes, etc in tact, is a successful week in my book!

Well, I was left with a medium size pumpkin and wasn't sure what to do with it. I knew we were having dinner with family one night, though, and wanted to make stuffed peppers or something of the like. Wasn't sure how Italian flavors would pair with pumpkin but the idea of a slightly spicy Poblano against the sweetness of pumpkin fit the profile, I thought. It did, the result was really great. AAAnndd because I really wanted to put out 2-3 recipes this week, I am doing a 3-in-1 deal so we've got:

Quinoa, Brown Rice and Pinto Beans in a Pumpkin Bowl
Stuffed Poblano Peppers
Tomatillo Sauce to go over anything and everything

Stuffing anything entails some work, in the end you'll find it's time well spent! A menu GREAT for entertaining, or maybe mix up your Thanksgiving this year!

What you'll Need:

5 Poblano Peppers
Tomatillo Sauce (recipe below)
1 Whole Pumpkin, Seeds and Guts removed and seperated
2 Cups Raw Pumpkin
1/3 Cup Parmesan Cheese 
1/3 Cup Light Sour Cream
1 Cup Quinoa
1 Cup Brown Rice
1 1/2 Cup Pinto Beans, dry
4 Cups Homemade Chicken Stock, Vegetable Stock or Water
1 Tbsp Butter
1 tsp cumin
Queso Fresco
Salt and Pepper
Grape seed Oil
3 Tbsp tomato paste with 3/4 cup water (for extra side dish)

Prep Peppers and Pinto Beans In Advance 

Leave a pot of 6 cups water and 1 and 1/2 cups Pinto Beans out overnight to soak. 

Char 5 Poblanos over a flame or under a broiler until skins become blackened all around the pepper. Refrigerate until chilled or overnight. Once they cool, the skins peel off pretty easily. (Use red peppers for a substitute, the same process works for roasting and skinning the red peppers, as well) 

*Kitchen Tip: The Paper Bag Trick - Instead of rinsing off the skins, which can also rinse away some flavor, put the roasted peppers in a brown paper bag after the skins have been charred and refrigerate. When you are ready to peel them, the skins will start to peel off or flake off with ease, but don't worry too much about any tiny pieces of chars left behind!

A few hours before you plan to get started on the actual peppers, rinse the pinto beans that have soaked all night and refill the pot with lots of water, 6-8 cups is good; add rinsed beans to fresh water. Turn your stove on high and bring water and beans to a boil, lower heat to a simmer and cover. They will need at least an hour and a half, but I usually leave them on up to 3 hours for tender tender pinto beans.

Prepping your Pumpkin

Wash the outside of your pumpkin. Cut open the top like you would if you were going to carve the pumpkin. Scoop out the insides of the pumpkin and seperate the guts from the seeds. 

Rinse seeds and store for later. Rub the inside of a baking dish with oil and put 2 cups of pumpkin in dish, top with a little oil, salt and pepper. Heat oven to 400 degrees F. Set aside and start prep on your tomatillo sauce.

Tomatillo Sauce

3/4 of a White Onion
4 Garlic Cloves
15 Tomatillos
 2 Jalapeños, seeds removed
Handful of Cilantro, chopped
1 Lime

Prepare a large baking sheet by rubbing with oil.

Don't worry too much on your cuts, really, just get everything peeled, rough chopped and roasted because it's all headed for the food processor or blender when they are done! 

So, peel your garlic, discard of shell, I like to smash the cloves with my chefs knife to release the aroma, throw on to baking sheet, or gently toss. Whatever works. Do the same with the onion.

The tomatillos come in their weird outer sleeve, remove those and give them a good rinse. They will be sticky when you take off their jackets; it's okay, it's normal. Cut out the little tops just like you would with tomatoes, cut into quarters, and also on to the baking sheet.

Rinse your jalapeños, cut of the stems and try to get the seeds removed, the best you can, half them and on to the sheet they go. Drizzle a bit of oil over everything and toss them to get an even coating. Liberal salt and pepper and into the preheated oven they go.

Also, the pumpkin guts that you set aside earlier should go in now, too.

Roast tomatillos/onion/garlic for 25 - 30 minutes. The pumpkin will be ready around 20 minutes so take it out first and set aside to cool. 
While that is all roasting, and your pinto beans are still simmering, it's time to get started on the brown rice and quinoa that will be used as the stuffing in the peppers and also for a Pumpkin Bowl side dish.

In a large pot, bring 4 cups of homemade chicken stock or water to a boil. 

Add 1 cup quinoa, and one cup brown rice, 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tsp salt. Cover and bring down to a simmer for 20 minutes. Mine was too dry at that point, so I added another few ladles of the pinto bean water, which has some flavoring from the beans, covered and turned the heat off. I let it sit for 10 minutes, the result was perfect. 

Don't forget to check on your stuff roasting in the oven between!

*Kitchen Tip: Quick Stock -
For this recipe, I made a really simple but flavorful chicken stock. Whenever we finish a roast chicken, I freeze the bones for another day. We are usually sick of chicken by that time and not ready, yet, for a chicken flavored soup, etc, that I would typically use the bone for. For this recipe, I used half a roasted chicken, bones only, in a pot and turned the heat UP. I covered and let the bones brown and caramelize, giving them a turn every so often. Once everything looked good and carmel-ly, I added 7-8 cups of water and let everything boil, together for about an hour ( did this at the same time as the pinto beans so everything was ready around the same time.) 

Now you have a beautiful chicken stock for the quinoa and leftover stock for a garlic lime gravy used with the Garlic Lime Roasted Chicken made as the main event.

Of course, you can replace the chicken broth in these recipes with water or vegetable stock for vegetarian options!

So, we have a lot going on at this point. It's a good spot for a quick assessment of where you are at now - you have the pinto beans done, turn off their heat; quinoa/rice should be done, tomatillos out of the oven, and pumpkin out of the oven.

Moving right along, in a food processor or a blender (I used my blender so I reference that, but use whatever you prefer) add all of the roasted tomatillos/garlic/onion/jalapeños and give it a WHIRL until reasonably smooth.

Rinse a good handful of cilantro and throw in the blender with the juice of 1 or 2 limes. And this is the Tomatillo Sauce:

Put sauce into an oven safe baking dish for warming and serving later. Reserve about 1/3 cup for the pepper filling, just leave it in the blender, since you are making the filling next. 

To the reserved Tomatillo Sauce, add all of the roasted pumpkin, and 3/4 cup pinto beans with a ladle of pinto bean broth or chicken stock. Give it all a whirl in the blender until smooth texture. Add 1/3 cup of each sour cream and parmesan cheese and mix.

Last, add a squeeze of lime, a tsp of cumin, and a good handful of cilantro. 

Give it one last good mix and it is ready. 

In a bowl, mix 2 cups of this pumpkin mixture with 2 cups of your brown rice/quinoa mixture. Add salt to taste...this is your filling. Set aside leftover pumpkin mixture for later use or freeze for another day.

Prepare a baking dish for the Stuffed Poblanos, see picture for dish size used. 

Take out the roasted Poblanos and remove the skins. Gently cut out the stem, removing as many of the seeds as possible. Slice down one side of the pepper, to make it almost like flat piece of paper. For lack of a better description! See pictures for a better idea!

Taking scoops full of the pumpkin filling, spoon into the center of each of the flattened peppers. Sprinkle crumbled Queso Fresco on to of the mixture liberally, leaving enough room on the sides to roll them up.

Roll them up, the filling is a consistency that should hold them together without toothpicks, but if they don't want to stay put, use toothpicks! Top the whole deal with lots of Queso Fresco and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Set aside while prepping the pumpkin bowl.

Pre Heat oven to 375 degrees F.

Pumpkin Quinoa, Brown Rice, and Pinto Beans in a Pumpkin Bowl

To go along with the stuffed peppers, I used half of the pumpkin shell as a bowl and presented quinoa, brown rice, and pinto beans as a side dish. The recipe makes a large batch and looks beautiful, too. So great for entertaining a crowd, they will be impressed by the beauty of it all! 

You will need that half of the pumpkin, cleaned out earlier, and rubbed generously with oil on both inside, the outer shell, and especially any exposed edges. The oil gives it a glisten, but makes it slippery, too, so be careful when handling. Set the pumpkin on a cookie sheet.

In a bowl, stir the the beans, quinoa and brown rice not used for filling, about 3/4 Cup pinto beans and 2 Cups quinoa brown rice. Stir in 1/2 cup Pumpkin/Parmesan/pinto bean mix used for filling and 3 Tbsp tomato paste diluted in 3/4 Cup water. 

Pour rice and beans into the oiled pumpkin shell, cover with foil.

Now, the pumpkin goes into the oven with the peppers. 

Also, put the tomatillo sauce in the oven. It only needs about 15-20 minutes to warm up, keep an eye on it. 

Right before you put the Stuffed Poblanos in the oven, ladle a bit of chicken (or vegetable) broth to the bottom of baking dish.

Cover dish and into 375 degrees F oven for 30 minutes. Remove Pumpkin Rice and Beans after 30 minutes. Uncover Peppers and broil for a few additional minutes to brown the tops of the cheese just before serving.

Stuffed Peppers Out of the oven

Pumpkin Bowl done and on the table

I hope you enjoy as much as we did! It makes for a great new take on Thanksgiving or just something extra special nex time you make dinner!

Until next time...Happy Cooking!