Tag Archives: fun

Easter Nests with Almond Bark

nests

The best part of any holiday is family gathering in the kitchen.  I’ve always loved cooking and baking. Growing up, I couldn’t wait to share traditions with my future child. I would help both my grandmother and mother in the kitchen.

My grandma lived on a farm and I’d help her clean green beans, collect eggs, and bake German Chocolate Cake. I cherish those memories. My mother is an amazing baker and she would create elaborate cakes for our birthdays – remember the Barbie cakes? I had several of those.

And I also teach my 6-year-old how to cook and bake. But I am a modern woman and so we focus on fun and easy recipes.

Many families make Easter nests, which are candy nests made with chow mein noodles (although there are other variations).  Most people I know use chocolate in their recipe, but I like to work with almond bark  because it is more forgiving. It also sets faster which means we can eat these sooner.

I use both vanilla and chocolate almond bark for variety. I add coconut to the chocolate, and pretzels to the vanilla because the vanilla is sweeter and it adds a salty crunch. I love sweet and salty combinations. I hope you make these with your children!

Almond bark nests

 

Almond Bark Nests

Makes 20 nests

5 squares chocolate almond bark

5 squares vanilla almond bark

3 cups chow mein noodles

½ cup shredded coconut

½ cup broken pretzel pieces

Wax paper

Jellybeans or chocolate eggs

This makes 10 chocolate nests and 10 vanilla.

Spread wax paper out over two cookie sheets. Set aside.

Place chocolate almond bark in a microwave safe bowl and microwave for 60 seconds. Stir and then microwave at 20 second intervals until the chocolate has melted. Stir in 1 ½ cups of chow mein noodles and ½ cup shredded coconut. Stir to coat.

Use two spoons to grab a mound of mix and place it on wax paper, try to make an indentation in the center so you can place a jellybean there later. Allow to cool for 40 minutes.

Place vanilla almond bark in a microwave safe bowl and microwave for 60 seconds. Stir and then microwave at 20 second intervals until the bark has melted. Stir in 1 ½ cups of chow mein noodles and ½ cup crushed pretzels. I used mini rods.  Stir to coat and when the mixture is coated in bark, spoon onto wax paper. Try to leave an indentation in the center. Cool. Once mixture has hardened, place one or two jellybeans in the center.

 

 

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What to do with leftover Halloween candy

 

 

DSC_0268On Halloween, if you’re expecting a flood of trick-or-treaters and don’t get many, or your kiddo comes home with more candy than you want them to eat, don’t fret, put the leftover candy to use.

There are many ways to repurpose Halloween sweets.

This may sound terrible, but I swipe some candy from my daughter’s pumpkin ever year and it reappears in her stocking at Christmas (she’s never noticed). I don’t like her to eat a lot of candy and I figure she scores enough on Halloween to help out Santa.

I save Hershey’s Kisses to make peanut butter Hershey’s Kiss cookies at Christmas.

Anything peanut related – like Reese’s or Butterfingers- can be used in peanut butter pie.

Kit Kats are wonderful baked into brownies with mini marshmallows – it creates S’mores\ brownies. Bake your favorite recipe according to its directions, and in the last 10 minutes, top it with chopped up Kit Kats and 3/4 cup or more of mini marshmallows. The crunchy cookie in the Kit Kat acts like a graham cracker and then you have the marshmallows and chocolate. It’s delicious.

I also love to make Snickers or Baby Ruth brownies. I simply chop 8-10 mini bars and sprinkle them on top of the brownie before I bake it. Any candy bar with caramel works well because it melts into the chocolate. These will freeze well, too.

This year I decided to put some of my least favorite ingredients to reuse for this column.  I don’t like white chocolate but I made an amazing trail mix using white chocolate Kit Kats.  As a side note, you can use a variety of chocolates in trail mix or party mix. But I blended crunchy pretzels, salty cashews, plump raisins and white chocolate Kit Kats and it was some of the best trail mix I’ve ever tasted.  The sweet and salty, soft and crunchy combinations were perfect. I plan to give away batches for Christmas.

I also decided to play around with infused vodkas- those are not kid friendly. Every year I infuse vodka with jalapenos and give it away as Christmas gifts, but this year I am tinkering with some sweet vodkas. I made one out of Skittles, one from Tootsie Rolls and chocolate, and another from candy corn. To my surprise, the candy corn was the best. I absolutely hate candy corn, but when it dissolves in vodka, it leaves behind a caramel, butterscotch flavor. I plan to make more and give it away with a recipe for a Candy Corn Martini attached.

The Skittles vodka was cloudy and had a layer of foam on top, so I pitched it. I tasted it and it tasted as good as it looked, so I’m not including the recipe.  I just wanted you to know in case you’re tempted to infuse Skittles into your vodka.

The Tootsie Roll vodka was OK, and I transformed it into a Tootsie Roll Coffee Martini (use the vodka in your favorite chocolate coffee martini recipe). You have to strain the vodka first through a fine mesh cloth because it’s a little chunky.

Definitely the crowd winning favorite was the dessert salad I made. I was talking to my neighbor and she told me about a dessert salad her mom makes with Snickers, apples,  and butterscotch pudding- called a Toffee Apple Salad. It sounded incredibly sweet but I loved the idea of a dessert pudding so I came up with my own version. This would be excellent on Thanksgiving. I mixed French vanilla pudding with whipped topping, milk, mini marshmallows, tart Granny Smith apples, and Snickers and Butterfingers. The result was incredible. Everyone who tried this took second servings. It has a caramel apple flavor, but is super light even though it sounds heavy. The tart apple mellows it out and adds crunch. I highly recommend it.

If you aren’t planning to hand out candy but want to try one of my recipes, wait until the day after Halloween when the candy is all on sale and make it then.

Happy Halloween and I hope you enjoy the recipes.candy corn vodka

Candy Corn Infused Vodka

4 cups vodka

2 cups candy corn

Drop candy corn into vodka and store in a cool dark place for 2 weeks. Shake the mixture every day. Then strain it and serve.

 

Tootsie Roll Infused Vodka

1 bottle vodka, minus ½ cup

1/3 cup white chocolate chips

11 large tootsie rolls

Pour out ½ cup of vodka so you have room for the candy. Insert the candy. Put the top back on and shake the vodka. Place in a dark, cool place for 2 weeks. Shake the mixture once a day. After 2 weeks, strain the mixture and use in your favorite chocolate coffee martini recipe, or chocolate martini recipe.

snicker pudding

Candy Apple Pudding

1 (3.4 ounce) package French vanilla pudding

2 cups whole milk

1 (8-ounce) container whipped topping

2 large Granny smith apples, cored and diced

2/3 cup mini marshmallows

12 Snickers minis

5 Butterfinger minis

Whisk together the pudding mix and milk until pudding starts to thicken. Then stir in the container of whipped topping. Core and dice the apples. Chop the Snickers and Butterfingers and stir those into the mixture with the apples and mini marshmallows. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours before serving. This keeps for 5 days in the refrigerator. If pudding starts to separate, simply stir it.

Awesome Trail Mix

3 cups mini pretzel twists

1 3/4 cups white chocolate Kit Kat minis

1 ½ cups raisins

1 ½ cups salted cashew halves

Mix all ingredients together. Store in an airtight container.

DSC_0268

Last Minute Halloween Ideas

The past three weeks have been insane! I’ve been working like crazy. I finally handed my first cookbook off the publisher and it should be printing soon. Aside from that, I’ve taken on a ton of food writing this month. The holidays are good for food writers, but I’ve neglected my column. So here are some last minute Halloween ideas for your party tonight.

For me, creativity is key when celebrating. I don’t want to spend a ton of money, so I immediately hit a dollar-type store before I do any other buying. Then I supplement with merchandise from bigger retailers. It’s amazing what you can find for $1 to use for a party.

One of my favorite finds was a bag of plastic assorted spooky rings (a mix of spider, skulls and bats).  I use the rings around the stem of a wine glass to decorate it; use them to top cupcakes; glue them to a sturdy toothpick (the plastic variety) to skewer meatballs or fruit;  use them to decorate food plates (just be sure it’s obvious this isn’t edible).

ring wine charms

rings

You can also dangle plastic spiders from the ceiling on dental floss; place them in cobwebs; or cut a sliver into a pumpkin or winter squash and have the spiders climbing all over the pumpkin, which is how I serve one of my recipes this week.

An idea I saw online was to freeze ice in plastic gloves and then use those to chill punch. You can also fill plastic gloves with candy or popcorn to serve.

I like to add a splash of food color to drinks. I’ve found that a few drops of food dye to Moscato doesn’t seem to affect the flavor. I’ve tried other dry wines and it does change the taste; I think this works in Moscato because the wine is sweet. Just empty a bottle of Moscato into a pitcher and add 3 drops of red dye and 6 drops of yellow and stir. You can adjust the color as needed with more dye.

orange moscato

I’ve also added food dye to margaritas and it doesn’t change the taste either. If you serve orange margaritas, rim the glass in green salt and place a spider ring on the stem of the glass.

Take your favorite hummus recipe and spread it on a plate (store-bought is fine). Then buy a jar of roasted red bell peppers and puree 1 of the pepper without liquid. Place in a piping bag and make a pumpkin face on the hummus or a scary face. You can add a celery stick to the top of its head to look like a stem.

The flavor of the roasted pepper is great with hummus. It can be a little runny, so if you want to make a bloody looking creature this will serve you well.

Hummus with roased red pepper

Halloween Fun: Assorted Dipped Spooky Pretzels

My Assorted Dipped Spooky Pretzels are a combination of pretzel rods dipped in chocolate with an almond sliver that makes it look like a finger, and pretzel ghosts dipped in almond bark with miniature chocolate chip eyes.  The great thing about Halloween is it’s the one time of year that if you mess up what you’re making it doesn’t matter because it can just look scary. For example, misplaced eyes on my pretzel sticks don’t look bad but that would be a completely different story if this was Christmas and those were snowmen. They’d look deranged.

rods laying down

Christmas and Thanksgiving are about perfection but anything goes with Halloween, which is why I think I love it so much.

These rods are fun, easy to make and yummy (I am partial to the chocolate). If you have children, they will love helping with these

rods

. I got the idea for the pretzel finger at a Halloween festival I was at last week. A vendor was selling those chocolate fingers and I thought it was a great idea to share. I have long made the bloody finger cookie for Halloween, so thought this was a nice change.

If you want a little “blood” you could always melt raspberry jam and use it as a dip. I hope you have fun with these. My daughter loves them

Spooky pretzel rods

Assorted Dipped Spooky Pretzels

1 (12-ounce) bag of pretzel rods

2 cups of miniature chocolate chips

12 ounces of almond bark (half a package)

Almond slivers to make fingernails

Black icing or chocolate chips to decorate

Parchment paper

Clean a work space and lay parchment paper out over a cookie sheet.

For the almond bark: Melt it according to package directions (there are microwave and stovetop options but I used the microwave because it was the fastest).

To keep the almond bark from getting hard, divide it in two batches and melt it in two batches and make one batch of dipped pretzels and then the other.

When it has melted, dip 2/3 of a pretzel rod in the almond bark and swirl it around to coat it.

Place it on parchment paper. Allow to cool 5 minutes and then add mini chocolate chips for the eyes, if using chocolate chips. If you are using icing instead, allow the almond bark to cool completely before drawing the eyes and mouth on with icing.

For the chocolate dipped pretzels, place chocolate in a coffee mug and microwave 30 seconds at a time, stirring between intervals, until the chocolate is melted and smooth. When it is smooth, dip the pretzel rod in the chocolate and swirl it around to coat 2/3 of it (a spoon helps with this process).

Place it on parchment paper and carefully add an almond sliver at the top to look like a finger nail.

Cool completely before serving (1-2 hours).

Halloween Party Ideas: Sundried Tomato Spider Web Pesto Dip

As far as I’m concerned, pre-Halloween planning kicks off the holiday season in our house. Truth be told, this is my Christmas season, too.

I simply relish every day between now and Dec. 26, when I slip into immediate post-holiday depression. But until then, it’s fun, fun, fun

Halloween falls on Saturday this year so celebrations are bound to be big! Spending is expected to top $6.9 billion, according to the National Retail Federation. Adult spending on costumes now outpaces spending on children’s costumes proving I’m not alone in loving this spooky day.

And I am never short of ideas when it comes to Halloween. I plan to post a new recipe or party idea every day this week for Halloween. I am stoked.

This dip isn’t just fun, it is absolutely delicious! Try it. You won’t be sorry.

Sundried Tomato Spider Web Pesto Dip

1 (8-ounce) block of cream cheese, softened

2 ounces feta cheese crumbles

½ cup jarred pesto sauce

Half an (8.5 ounce) jar julienned sundried tomatoes

1 fake spider for the center

French bread to serve

Allow cream cheese to come to room temperature on the counter for an hour or so. Then stir it with feta cheese until well combined.

Spread the mixture on a medium-sized round plate. Smooth pesto over the top.

Use a toothpick to draw a spider web into the cream cheese. Slice sundried tomato pieces as uniform as possible to make a web. Then use those slices to craft the web on the pesto.

When done, place a fake spider in the middle of the dip. Serve with French bread to spread this dip.

Pina Colada Trifle

I invented this recipe in honor of the late Floyd Mahon, who was like an uncle to me (me and so many others). Floyd died two years ago from colon cancer.  He was one of the best men I’ve ever known and ever will know; I say that with certainty because he was one of those rare, exceptional people who had the ability to make everyone laugh, make everyone feel special. You didn’t have to know him long to feel like a longtime friend.

He was a character and an excellent cook.

Because of that legacy of a life well lived, his family throws Floyd-fest each year to honor him. This year, the theme was Cancun which was Floyd’s favorite place.

Keeping the Cancun theme in mind, I whipped up this dessert in honor of Floyd. Trifles are one of my favorite desserts because they are easy, pretty, creamy, versatile and feed a crowd. And of course, who doesn’t enjoy sipping a pina colada on a beach in Mexico?  This dessert just seemed like him: fun, sweet, tropical, different. If you make it for adults only, you can double the rum.

Floyd-fest was a blast. About 80 people came throughout the day and night. There was a spread of amazing food and drinks. He sons and son-in-laws made incredible pulled pork, fish, steak and chicken and there was a taco buffet. There was a salsa competition (I took best overall salsa 🙂 ), and his entire family pitched in to make the day special and fun for everyone.

It was quite the effort of love.

Another amazing thing at Floyd-fest was his family releases balloons with a self-addressed postcard attached that tells a little about Floyd and asks whoever finds the postcard to drop it in the mail and tell them where it landed. The postcards have been returned from other states. It’s such a cool idea. As a world traveler myself, I want my family to do this to honor me one day.

If Floyd was alive, I hope he’d say this dish is “El Good-o”, that’s one of his many funny sayings.

I hope you find an occasion to share this recipe. Cheers to Floyd, his family, and his legacy.

pina colada

Pina Colada Trifle

1 white cake made according to package directions

3 tablespoons dark rum or coconut rum (optional)

2 boxes of instant coconut pudding

1 cup coconut milk (use the refrigerated type, not the canned)

2 2/3 cups half and half (can substitute regular milk)

1 teaspoon rum extract

2 1/2 cups finely chopped fresh pineapple

1 tub of extra creamy whipped topping

1 cup shredded sweet coconut

Bake cake according to package directions and 5 minutes after you remove it from the oven, brush it with rum. Set aside.

Empty two packages of coconut pudding and whisk together with coconut milk, half and half and rum extract. Whisk until well combined and cover and refrigerate.

Peel and chop the pineapple into small bits.

To assemble the trifle, break half the cake up and place it in the bottom of a bowl or trifle dish. Top with half the coconut pudding, half the pineapple and a thin layer of whipped topping (using only a third of it).

Then repeat the process to create the second layer of the trifle and top it with remaining whipped topping and shredded coconut. Cover and chill 2 hours before serving.

pinac

It’s summer … Let’s throw a margarita party!

By Juliana Goodwin

Nothing livens up a hot summer day like a margarita party.

Margarita parties are one of my favorite, laid-back summer rituals. Now, if you don’t entertain very often because you think it’s too much work, then the margarita party is for you. This is simple, fun entertaining (and women tend to particularly enjoy these).

The idea behind it is to provide a variety of margaritas for guests to sample and finger food, so you have plenty of time to visit with friends. It’s a blast.

I make a wonderful basic margarita and it’s not overly acidic. I love margaritas but find that so many recipes (especially ones that use sour mix), make my stomach hurt after one drink. What’s my secret? I use frozen limeade and fresh lime juice in my classic margarita which makes it smooth and less acidic.

When throwing a margarita party, I always offer a pitcher of plain margaritas and then put out some liqueurs that people can use to add a shot to the classic margarita.

For example, for an Italian margarita, add a shot of amaretto (that one is a little too sweet for me). For a top shelf margarita, add a splash of Grand Marnier (that’s my favorite). A shot of brandy is surprisingly good in a margarita.

Add a hint of raspberry with a shot of Chambord or another raspberry flavored liqueur. Curacoa will add a hint of orange flavor and turn your margarita blue (it’s very pretty). If you don’t have a well-stocked bar, then buy a few airplane size bottles of liqueurs for guests to experiment with.

If you don’t want to add the extra cost of the liqueurs, simply make all the margarita recipes here (I have three) and you will have plenty of samples for guests.

I like to offer garnishes of lime and orange slices and then both coarse salt and sugar for guests to rim their glasses. You can buy specialty margarita salt or just serve coarse sea salt. A drop of food dye can color your salt or sugar and make it more festive.

Aside from the classic margaritas, I always have a pitcher of flavored margaritas, usually frozen cranberry margaritas. My mother got this recipe years ago from her cousin Jane Hightower and it has been a huge hit in our family. It’s wildly popular when I serve it at parties because it’s a great balance of sweet and tart. It’s also a frozen margarita which is particularly welcoming on a hot day. It also makes a large batch.

cran

For this column, I also whipped up a blueberry margarita too, which is delicious but sweeter than a classic margarita. My mother-in-law loved this recipe. There’s only four ingredients so it’s pretty easy to make and uses natural juice (again, less acidic). This makes a small batch, enough for three regular margaritas or six samples.

photo (8)

Another flavored option is mango margaritas. To make a batch, simply make your favorite pitcher of classic margaritas (if you’re making mine, omit the orange and orange liqueur), then add ¾ of a pint of mango sorbet and stir until it’s melted. This makes a fairly sweet margarita, but it’s delicious and refreshing. Serve it over ice. A twist on this idea to make margarita floats and serve a class margarita with a float of frozen sorbet (mango and raspberry are best) and let guest eat the sorbet out of the drink (like a root beer float).

As you can see, you’re only limited by your imagination that’s part of the reason I love these parties; I come up with something new every time.

Since you will be serving several options of drinks, I suggest using smaller glasses, like juice glasses or even dessert cups so people can sample without drinking too much.

The great thing about this party is you can make all the margaritas in advance and pop the pitchers in the refrigerator so you don’t have to stop to make more drinks.

Also, don’t forget to have buckets of ice for drinks.

As for the food, I keep it simple. I am a big believer that variety is the spice of life and so I offer three or four different flavored salsas, like classic, chipotle, black bean, peach or pineapple. I always throw in a fruit salsa. I have made salsa for these parties and bought it, too. I like to serve some salsas in margarita glasses to add height to the table setting. Walmart sells giant margarita glasses you can use to serve dips or chips. A dollar store is a good place to buy margarita glasses if you don’t have any; TJ Maxx also tends to have an affordable selection. Pier 1 has beautiful glasses if you’re budget isn’t too tight.

Chips and salsa isn’t enough to sustain everyone, so I usually make a taco bar. To do this, I just make taco meat and shredded chicken and leave those in slow cookers and just put out taco trimmings so people can help themselves whenever they want. That is one of the keys to a margarita party is guests can help themselves. It makes them feel at home and you don’t have to slave away; you can enjoy your own soiree

As for the tequila, you can use silver or gold but I prefer gold because it’s been aged in barrels so it tends to be smoother.

Other than that, all you need for the perfect party is to invite your friends and enjoy a summer day. Have fun.

Pitcher of Margaritas

1 ( 12-ounce) can of frozen limeade

2 ½ cans of water from the limeade can (note, this is cans not cups)

3 tablespoons fresh lime juice

2 tablespoons Grand Marnier or another good quality orange liqueur

1 ½ cups gold tequila

1 orange

1 lime sliced up

In a large pitcher, stir together limeade, water, lime juice, Grand Marnier, tequila and juice the orange and add it to the mix. Slice up a lime and use it to garnish drinks or float a few slices in the pitcher.  Keep refrigerated until serving. Serve over ice.

classic

Blueberry Margaritas

Makes 3 margaritas or 6 sample size

1 ½ cups Naked Blue Machine juice

½ cup gold tequila

½ cup fresh lime juice

¼ cup orange liqueur

Fresh blueberries to serve

Stir together juice, tequila, lime juice and orange liqueur. Serve over ice and top with fresh blueberries.

bueberry

Frozen Cranberry Margaritas

1 (12 ounce can) frozen cranberry juice

1 can jellied cranberry sauce

1 ½ cups of tequila

½ cup, plus 2 tablespoons of fresh lime juice

6 tablespoons of Grand Marnier

3 ½ cups ice

This makes a large batch, so you have to split it into two batches in the blender. Add half the ingredients to a blender and blend until smooth. Then transfer that to a large pitcher. Repeat and transfer the other half to a large pitcher. Stir and serve immediately.

cranberr

Source:  From Hope Goodwin’s cousin Jane Hightower

cran