Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Dark Chocolate Peppermint Mocha

by Jaelyn Penner

It’s December – and that means one thing… Peppermint!   If you love this wintertime favorite flavor as much as I do, be sure to subscribe to our updates (on the right side of the screen, just under the menu buttons), so you don’t miss a thing.  We’ll have peppermint recipes and info all month long!

Dark Chocolate Peppermint Mocha

The rich decadence of delicious dark chocolate combined with the refreshing chill of peppermint is, to me, the very essence of winter in dessert form.  

I have to tell you, this is my new favorite drink.  Rich.  Peppermint-y.  Caffeinated.  I am sipping it right now, and each mouthful makes me feel like I am sitting in my flannel PJ’s (I’m not) in front of a fireplace (which my home doesn’t have) during a snowstorm in Vail.  Ahhhh… bliss. 

And it’s so easy!

P.S. Do NOT tell any chocolatiers that I told you to microwave dark chocolate.  They would probably hunt me down and force me to eat cocoa until I was stuffed like a truffle.  But seriously, microwaving chocolate in beverages actually works great! :-D

  • 1 c. milk (I use 1% organic milk, but you can use whatever you normally have around the house!  More fat = creamier flavor.  Less fat = stronger flavor)
  • 1 oz. 60% dark chocolate (usually is 2 squares of a normal sized bar)
  • ½ tsp. sugar (or more, to taste.  I like mine minimally sweetened.)
  • 1 shot espresso OR 1 tsp. freeze-dried espresso OR 1 tsp good quality instant coffee
  • Generous 1/8 tsp. Peppermint Extract

In a microwave safe mug, heat the milk 3 minutes on 50% heat.  While the milk is heating, place the chocolate in a plastic sandwich bag and break into tiny pieces with a mallet.  When the milk is done warming, add the chocolate and stir.  Place back in the microwave for 1 minute intervals on 50% heat until chocolate dissolves when stirred.  Be careful not to bring to full boil.  Add the sugar, espresso and peppermint extract, stir and ENJOY!

Serving Suggestions:  Use a vegetable peeler to shave some chocolate on top, and toss in a marshmallow or two.  Divine!

Merry Minting!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Tips for Surviving (and Enjoying!) the Holiday Season

Note from Jaelyn:  This contribution is from an amazing therapist and great friend, who also just so happens to be my mom.  :-)  I love these tips for staying sane during this time of year - it's so easy to let the stress of expectations overwhelm you and make you lose focus on what you should be enjoying.  This quotation sums it up pretty well, I think!  -->

By Bev Lucas, LMSW
It’s hard to believe the holidays are here again and with them, anticipation, both positive and negative. If you think back over all of the holidays you have experienced most likely your favorites have been as children.  Those were times when the biggest expectation was whether you received the things you had asked for.   As we got bigger and older, our expectations got bigger as well.   Now, we not only try to make others happy, but also re-experience the happiness from our youth, and our high expectations often lead to failure and disappointment.  So, the question we face is:  How can we enjoy the holidays as we once did? 

Practice “Self-Care”  

In times of stress, the most important thing you can do is  to practice “self-care.”  The holidays can make this difficult. How you go about assuring self-care is up to each individual but here are a few rules to keep in mind:

  1. Eat regular, healthy meals starting with protein for breakfast. Don’t deprive yourself of the wonderful goodies, just eat them sensibly and in limited amounts.
  2. Sleep 7-9 hours every  night.  Get into the habit of sleeping regular hours as much as possible. Set a bedtime.  Starting an hour before that, begin to do relaxing things.  That means no telephone or computer, and preferably no TV.
  3. Do something every day to address your personal needs.  Take a walk, read something entertaining, watch a funny movie, stand in the shower and enjoy how the water feels.   If you can afford it, get a massage. The most important thing is to do something personally positive for at least 15 minutes every day.
  4.  Take your “emotional temperature” often.  Do you feel tension in your neck or shoulders?   Is your heart-rate elevated? Are things irritating you that don’t normally?  Are you distracted while driving?  If you notice these or any other stress signals, take a few seconds to acknowledge each of your Five Senses.  Close your eyes (this can even be done at the office).  Start with how each part of your body feels in the chair, and simply acknowledge the feeling.  Next, listen to and identify what you hear in the room.  It may be others talking, a fan, or noises from outside.  From there, acknowledge what you smell.  Is there a particular taste in your mouth?  If so, acknowledge what that might be. Don’t judge your sensations, just take them in.  Open your eyes and look around to see if there is anything that was there before closing your eyes that you didn’t notice before.  If you follow these steps, it will help to calm your mind and let your body know that things are ok.   This isn’t meant to totally relax you but to let you catch your “emotional breath.”

Trade Expectations for Appreciation

Often the thing that causes us the most stress during the holidays is our set of expectations.   We have expectations for ourselves and concerns about what others might or might not do.   Expectations of ourselves like cooking the perfect meal, buying the perfect presents, or presenting an immaculately clean house.   Expectations of others that they appreciate your efforts, behave like respectful guests, or amaze you with their thoughtfulness.  To laughingly quote "Phil’s Osophy" (from the TV show Modern Family), “The most amazing thing that can happen to a human being can happen to you, if you just lower your expectations.”   While the quote was meant to be a joke, it actually makes a very valid point:  Part of our distress during the holidays is that we expect too much for a short period of time.   Life isn’t perfect.  You need to put aside your expectations and enjoy the present.  Find the irony in situations with family members. Whatever goes wrong is still part of the experience so find a way to appreciate it (remember National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation?). Try to not anticipate the behaviors of others because if you do, whatever happens will already be accompanied by stress. 

Always keep in mind that you made it through every other holiday and with some patience (and a sense of humor) you will make it through this one.

Enjoy as much of it as possible, don’t overextend yourself.  Practice saying “no.” And let the rest of it go.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Green Bean Casserole: The Way It's Meant to Be

By Kristen Barchers

Thanksgiving:  a day in which we are obligated to gorge ourselves on indulgent, soul-satisfying food until we can no longer see straight.  A day for cooks and foodies.  This is my day.  Well…this is usually my day.

This year, my husband, 18-month old son and I are braving the chaos of holiday airport travel to spend the week with extended family in Colorado. The beautiful mountain hikes and the sound of cousins playing are well worth the tiny bags of peanuts and miniscule seating we’ll endure (I’d add a crying baby to the list if we weren’t the ones now supplying said baby.)  And, while I can take a back seat role in the dinner preparation, there is one thing that I simply cannot relinquish control over- the green bean casserole.

Thanksgiving dinner means different things to different people. Some fantasize about juicy turkey legs or mashed potatoes and gravy. And who can blame the dessert lovers (myself included) for getting giddy over pumpkin or pecan pie.  But for me, it’s really all about the green bean casserole, and the tired old canned version simply will not do. The thought of smothering mushy canned green beans with a sludge of cream of mushroom soup is enough to make me want to skip dinner all together.

This recipe gives you green bean casserole the way you always hoped it could be. The way it’s meant to be. Fresh and fragrant with all of the rich comfort of the traditional version and none of the sludge.

Fresh Green Bean Casserole

Servings: 8


 6 c or 2 lbs fresh green beans
4 oz bacon (omit for a vegetarian dish)
2 TBS butter
2 TBS extra virgin olive oil
1 c diced onion
1 tsp salt
1 TBS freshly ground black pepper
4 cloves garlic, crushed
½ c fresh sage, chopped
3 TBS flour
1 ½ c vegetable or chicken broth
1 c heavy cream
1 package fried onions (I used a natural brand from my local Whole Foods, but the 6 oz. cans of French’s fried onions are widely available in most grocery stores)


1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. Rinse and trim green beans and snap in half. Place beans in a pot with a steamer basket and a few inches of water. Steam until beans are tender crisp. Remove from heat and set aside.
3. In a large cast iron skillet or Dutch oven fry bacon until crispy.  Remove from pan and set aside. Leave bacon drippings in the pan.
4. Add butter and olive oil to the pan with the bacon drippings and heat on medium until butter is melted. Add diced onions, sprinkle with salt and pepper and sauté on medium heat until onions begin to soften and become translucent.
5. Add crushed garlic and sage and sauté another 2 or 3 minutes, until garlic becomes fragrant.
6. Sprinkle onions with flour, stir into mixture and sauté another 2 minutes.
7. Add broth and cream and cook on medium-low, stirring frequently, until mixture thickens.
8. Add green beans and bacon to the mixture and toss to coat thoroughly.
9. Pour green beans into a baking dish and top with fried onions. Bake approximately 20 minutes, until sauce is bubbly and top begins to brown.


Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Great Pumpkin Pie-tini

by Jaelyn Penner
If you love pumpkin pie, you will adore this drink!  It has an intense pumpkin flavor, with pie-like sweetness and spice.   It would be fantastic served with heavy hors d’oeuvres, or even with just some tasty (pumpkin seed?) crackers to unwind after a long autumn workday!

I love this time of year!  The holiday trifecta:  Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas all in such close proximity makes the last three months of the year a veritable storm of activity, decorating, un-decorating, decorating again, un-decorating again, decorating some more and shopping-shopping-shopping!  But of course, the best parts of all of this madness are the celebrations!!!
What are celebrations but great people, great food, great mood and yummy drinks?  Luckily, two holidays in the Trifecta are autumnal… meaning pumpkin works wonderfully for Halloween as well as Thanksgiving.  And in that spirit (pun intended), I have the perfect beverage for you!

The Great Pumpkin Pie-tini

1/2oz Pumpkin Pie Vodka (unbelievable but true – this flavor was available at my local liquor store.  If you can’t find it, substitute with vanilla vodka)
1 tsp. Pumpkin Butter
1 oz. cold Ginger Beer(available at Cost Plus World Market, or often at health food stores)
3 oz. cold Pumpkin Beer
Dash of Fresh-Ground Nutmeg
Cinnamon Stick for garnish

In shaker, add Vodka and Pumpkin Butter.  Shake well, add ice, shake for another 5 seconds.  Pour liquid only (not ice) into martini glass.  Add Ginger Beer, fill with Pumpkin Beer.  Gently stir.  Using a small grinder and whole nutmeg, grind a dash on top of drink.  Add cinnamon stick for garnish, and enjoy!

Note:  Beverage brands vary widely in taste.  I used a fairly sweet ginger beer by The Ginger People.  If yours isn't as sweet as you would like, you can increase the amount of pumpkin butter in your drink.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Manly Man’s Smoked Salmon


by Kristen Barchers

To many, smoked salmon brings to mind the UK’s traditional layers of thinly sliced lox atop a bagel and shmear. I like to think of this very different style of salmon as the ‘manly man’s’ smoked salmon. The recipe for the brine was perfected by my dad, the master of ‘manly food.’ Many a professed salmon hater has been converted after a taste. For those who already love salmon, you’re in for a treat. The smoky, slightly sweet flavor and hearty texture will make this dish ideal for any occasion. While I often use this brine on salmon, it works well for foods like beef jerky and tempeh as well.

A note on choosing salmon:

With all of the warnings about mercury, PCBs (carcinogenic chemicals found in some predatory fish) and irresponsible farming, knowing which fish to eat can seem like a daunting task. The Monterey Bay Aquarium has developed Seafood Watch, an informative guide to purchasing all types of seafood. Good quality salmon, such as wild Alaskan, is typically more expensive than farmed Atlantic salmon, however the benefit to your health and the environment are well worth it. One money saving alternative is purchasing frozen or previously frozen salmon instead of fresh. Due to the nature of this recipe and the great amount of flavor the brine adds, it is not necessary to purchase fresh salmon.

Manly Man's Smoked Salmon

1 large or two small salmon filets (approximately 2 lbs)

Brine Ingredients:

1/3 c. sugar
¼ c. non-iodized salt
2 c. soy sauce
1 c. dry white wine
½ tsp onion powder
½ tsp garlic powder
½ teaspoon pepper
½ tsp Tabasco sauce
1 tsp orange zest
2 tsp grated ginger


  1. Mix all brine ingredients in a large bowl and stir until sugar is dissolved.
  2. Place salmon filet in a large, sealable plastic baggie and pour in brine. If needed, add water until salmon is fully submerged in liquid. Place the bag in a large bowl or container that will catch any spills in case your bag breaks.
  3. Refrigerate salmon for 24 to 48 hours. The longer the salmon is in the brine, the saltier and more strongly flavored it will be.
  4. For the prettiest filet, remove salmon from brine, pat dry and let air dry under a fan for 1-2 hours. This will create a smooth sheen on the surface of the salmon once it is smoked and dried. If you chose to skip this step, simply pat salmon dry and proceed to step 5.
  5. Place the salmon in your smoker and smoke/dry according to your smoker’s instructions. This typically takes 10-12 hours for large filets. When the salmon is done is partially determined by preference. I prefer my salmon very dried out and flaky, however it is completely safe and delicious to eat while still slightly moist inside. Once the salmon is brined or cured, bacterial growth is inhibited. The drying process helps to preserve the salmon, but it is the curing that makes the salmon safe to eat.

Note: I use a Smokehouse Little Chief smoker for all of my fish smoking needs. This type of smoker is designed for a cooler smoke/drying (<140°) as opposed to other smokers on the market that are designed to simultaneously smoke and cook meats at much higher temperatures. For best results, make sure your smoker is designed to smoke and dry fish.

To serve:

This salmon is amazing alone, but pairs wonderfully with a simple dill sour cream. Simply stir a couple of tablespoons of finely chopped dill into a cup of sour cream. Top the cracker of your choice with a dollop of dip and a slice of salmon.

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