Thursday, May 30, 2013

Tribute to Grilled Cheese #3: Prosciutto, Fig and Brie, Oh My!

The first thing you need to know about this flavor combination:  there are no words to describe how incredible it tastes.  Which makes writing a story about it very difficult.  But I'll try!

MMmmmmm mmm mmmmMMMm mmmm, mmmm mm MMMMMmmmmm....
That's pretty much all I can say about that.

Grilled Cheese Tip #3:  Use a complimentary flavor when "greasing" your bread. 
For example, if your sandwich is Mediterranean or Italian-flavor inspired, use extra virgin olive oil.  If your sandwich is buttery and rich like this recipe, use butter.

Proscuitto, Fig and Brie Open-Faced Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Ingredients (per sandwich): 

The bread:  Something moist and chewy.  I used a hearty, dense multigrain bread from a local bakery.  I also like a good rustic Italian-style whole grain bread. 
Good quality Butter for spreading, room temperature
1 slice Prosciutto, very thinly sliced (aka the "standard" prosciutto cut)
2 oz. Good Brie (at least double cream. Triple-cream brie is even better)
1 1/2 Tbsp. Fig Spread/Jam


First, be sure to set out your brie and butter a few hours ahead of time to allow them to come to room temperature.  While it is still cold, slice your brie in 1/4-in slices and place on wax paper, then set aside to ripen.   
2.  Place all the prosciutto you will need for as many servings as you are making in a single layer on a broiler pan and bake at 350 until crispy, approx. 10 minutes.  Remove from oven and set aside.
3.  Spread butter thinly on both sides of a slice of bread.  Place bread in skillet over medium heat and toast one side.
4.  Be sure to have all of your ingredients handy at this point.  Once you turn the bread, you'll want to work fast!
5.  Once one side of the bread is golden brown, turn and begin topping the toasted side with your ingredients.
6.  Spoon fig spread onto bread and spread as evenly as  possible.   Add slices of brie to the top of the bread to cover the slice, leaving 1/4-in around the edge to allow for some melting.  Add a crumbled slice of prosciutto to the top, cover and allow the cheese to begin melting.  After 1-2 minutes, remove cover and  continue heating until cheese has melted to your preference.  Bottom of bread should be golden brown.
7.  Remove from heat and enjoy!  Goes well with a crisp bubbly!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Happy Summer! Strawberry, Avocado and Goat Cheese Salad

by Jaelyn

Regardless of what the calendar says, summer doesn't begin on June 21.  Summer either begins:  1. For kids, when school is out; or 2. For big kids, on Memorial Day weekend.

So, now that it's "officially" my summertime, I am in the mood for fresh, colorful, light and tasty foods!  This super-easy salad combines a few of my favorite things into one delicious experience.   You are going to absolutely love it! 

Strawberry, Avocado and Goat Cheese Salad

Ingredients (per salad)
1 c. spring mix greens
1/4 c. sliced ripe strawberries
2-3 heaping Tbsp crumbled goat cheese (I like a lot on mine, but it just depends on how much you love goat cheese!)
1/2 large avocado, sliced
2 Tbsp. toasted sliced almonds*
1-2 Tbsp. Balsamic vinaigrette -OR- this yummy vinaigrette, Brianna's Blush Wine  ----> 
1 tsp. chia seeds (optional)

Combine all ingredients, pour yourself a glass of white wine, and enjoy!  :-)

*to toast almonds, put 1/2 c. sliced almonds in a skillet over med-low heat.  Toss/flip the almonds every minute for the first 3 minutes, then every 30 seconds until golden brown.   Watch carefully and turn more often if necessary - once nuts begin to cook, they can burn quickly.  Cover and store in the refrigerator for 2-3 weeks.


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Tribute to Grilled Cheese #2: Cranberry & Pecan Grilled Goat Cheese Sandwich, and a visit to Antonelli's Cheese Shop

by Jaelyn

#2 in Our Tribute to Grilled Cheese!

I had the most inspiring trip yesterday to Antonelli's Cheese Shop in Austin.  Cheesemonger Kara was kind enough to walk me through some of the intricacies of grilled cheese, including which cheeses melt the best, which cheese to avoid, and which cheeses rarely leave the store because they are so good you have to eat them there.  OK, OK, I made that last one up.  But seriously, some of the cheeses I sampled were so good, they made me not ever want to use my mouth for talking again.  My mouth now has better things to do - or rather, better cheeses to eat!  I'll share Kara's tips along with her own Grilled Cheese recipe later this series- so don't forget to come back and check it out!  Sign up for our email list (on the right side of the screen) if you want to be sure and get all the latest info directly in your inbox!

Today's recipe was inspired by one of my favorite salad combinations - greens with dried cranberries, feta/goat cheese, toasted pecans and balsamic vinaigrette.  It's just the right combination of creamy, sweet and tart - the strong flavors of each ingredient complimenting each other perfectly!

With Kara the Cheesemonger's help, I selected two artisan cheeses for use in this sandwich:  a goat's milk feta from Pure Luck Farm and Dairy and a Majorero (a firmer goat's cheese from Spain).  I know not everyone will have access to these specific cheeses, so in the recipe below I have included two types of cheeses that should be widely available.  Flavors vary fairly widely even within individual styles of cheese, so if possible, sample before you buy.  However, you should be pretty safe with the types of cheeses here - no matter what, I'm sure it will be delicious!   Happy cheesing!

Grilled Cheese Tip #2:  Bring your cheese to room temperature before adding to the sandwich.  - I mentioned this within the last recipe, but as I left the cheese shop yesterday, the cheesemongers reminded me again - so now we know for sure not to skip this important step!

Ingredients (per sandwich)
  • Bread:  Good quality Ciabatta OR other chewy bread
  • olive oil
  • 1/2 c. shredded or crumbled Chevre (goat cheese), room temperature (I used Majorero which can be shredded.  If the goat cheese you use is softer/crumblier, it might not melt. But that doesn't mean it won't be yummy!)
  • 1/4 c. whole pecans
  • 1/8 c.  Mild-flavored goat Feta, room temperature (can substitute mild cow's feta.  If your feta is very strongly flavored, just use a little less)
       Balsamic Cranberries (enough for 2 sandwiches)
  • 1/2 c. Dried cranberries
  • 1 c. Balsamic vinegar
  • pinch each of white pepper, fine ground sea salt, and ground sage

1.  Spread pecans on a cookie sheet and bake in a 350F oven until toasted - appr. 5 minutes.  Watch closely, as nuts can scorch quickly.  Remove from oven and set aside.
2.  Prepare the Balsamic Cranberries.  Add the cramberries, balsamic vinegar and seasonings to a small saucepan on med-high.  Bring to a boil and reduce heat to low, simmer.  Cranberries will soak up some of the liquid while at the same time the vinegar is reducing.  Turn off heat when liquid is reduced by half.
2.  Cut ciabatta loaf into 4-inch sections.  Slice section in half crosswise to form sandwich top and bottom.  Try to slice it so the pieces are equal thickness.  Brush both sides of each slice with olive oil.
3.  Heat skillet over med-high heat.  Place top and bottom slices of bread, face-side down, in skillet.  Cook until toasted golden.
4.  Flip pieces of bread over in the skillet and immediately add the feta to the bottom slice and the goat cheese to the top slice.  Cover with a lid to help melt/warm the cheese.
6.  When cheese is starting to melt, add 2 spoonfuls of cranberries to top of bottom slice (reserve the balsamic liquid), then add a layer of pecans.  Add the top slice of bread, press sandwich down with a spatula, and let layers of cheese melt together for 1-2 minutes.
7.  Remove from skillet, serve with greens.  Drizzle greens and sandwich with reduced balsamic liquid.
Enjoy the crispy, creamy, tart, sweet, chewy goodness!  I love this sandwich!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Tribute to Grilled Cheese #1: Ital-Yum Grilled Cheese!

by Jaelyn

Grilled Cheese.  My mouth waters just typing the words.  You know the best thing about "Grilled Cheese?"  It can mean so many different things.  I mean, there are literally hundreds of different kinds of cheeses.  There are also hundreds of types of breads.  And a seemingly limitless amount of toppings and condiments.  That means there are more possibilities for Grilled Cheese combinations than I can count.   Another best thing about Grilled Cheese is that almost everyone has the ingredients for some kind of Grilled Cheese sandwich already in their pantry and fridge.  Go ahead, go check.  I'll bet you a slice of cheese I'm right.  The last best thing about Grilled Cheese?  That's easy.  It's EASY!  Few ingredients, minimal cook time, maximum Yum.  Maxiyum?  :-)

Grilled Cheese Tip #1:  Good Bread (the RIGHT Bread) = Sandwich Magic

Most of us have only ever used one type of bread (regular ol' sandwich bread) for our one type of grilled cheese sandwich.  And it works.  Butter, sandwich bread, American cheese (or Velveeta for the indulgent - you know who you are).  That's a classic.  Comfort on a plate.

BUT (and this is a big but), we are not making your regular ol' Grilled Cheese for this series.  That means regular ol' bread won't cut it.  I will warn you now - you CAN use your grocery store bag o' bread, and it might be good, but it won't be magic.

That being said, I know not everyone lives around the corner from a Whole Foods or a gourmet grocer or a French bakery.  I also know that most of us simply don't have the time or patience to make our own artisan bread at home.  So I will give you my ideal bread recommendation, and then I give you an option that (I think) should be available to everyone.  Sound fair?  I might even throw in a third option if I am feeling really hungry inspired.

Explanation's over.  Let's get Cheesy!

Ital-Yum Grilled Cheese!

Recommended Breads:
1.  Good Olive Bread, or
2.  "Seeduction" Bread (Pictured - from Whole Foods Market), or
3.  Grocery Store Italian or French Bread

Other Ingredients (per sandwich):
  • 1 Tbsp. Pesto - Fresh is best! (recipe here), but also can use store-bought
  • Fresh mozzarella medallions, room temperature (appr. 3 medallions per sandwich).  If medallions are not available, purchase a log of fresh mozzarella and cut 3/8-inch-thick slices.
  • 2 Tbsp. Pasta sauce, hot (I used Giada's Creamy Tomato sauce, available at Target - but any flavorful, good quality sauce will do.  If you love it by itself, you will love it on this sandwich.)
  • Pinch of Salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil (optional)

Put it Together
1.  Heat your pasta sauce in small saucepan on the stove.  Place a skillet on the stove over medium low heat.
2.  If not already sliced, cut your bread in 1/2-inch slices.
3.  Note:  I don't use butter or oil on my bread for this sandwich, as I prefer a "toasted" flavor.  If you prefer to use oil (recommended if your bread is not particularly moist), brush each piece of bread, on  the side that will touch the skillet only, with olive oil prior at this point.
4.   Spread pasta sauce on one piece of bread and place in the skillet, sauce side up.  Put the room-temperature mozzarella slices atop the sauce, with some space between slices.  Lightly salt the cheese, cover with lid for 2 minutes to warm the cheese.
5.  Spread pesto on one side of a second piece of bread.  Remove lid and place piece, pesto side down, on top of the sandwich.  Immediately flip the sandwich so the new piece of bread is being cooked on the skillet.
 6.  Cook until bottom slice is golden brown, then flip again to continue cooking other side.  Remove when both sides are golden brown and cheese is warm and beginning to melt.  

Serve with a side of greens, then sit back, eat, and enjoy all the gratitude from your satisfied family! :-)

Don't forget, over the next couple of months, I'll be doing a whole SERIES of grilled cheese - along with other recipes - so come back soon! 

Friday, April 12, 2013

Happy Grilled Cheese Day!

By Jaelyn

Yes, you read that right - today is National Grilled Cheese Day!   April is National Grilled Cheese Month, and get ready for Real.Beautiful.Good.'s series of Grilled Cheese starting next Monday!

It's easy, it's versatile, and amazingly satisfying.  Grilled Cheese is an American comfort food staple.  But have you ever taken a chance and move outside the realm of yellow cheese and buttered bread?  Next week, take a walk on the gooey side and become a Grilled Cheese Gourmet! I will show you several different fun and delicious combinations that all add up to one thing:  Yum!

Sign up for our e-mail list and get these recipes sent right to your inbox!  Just enter your address in the box to the right, just under the top menu.

Here's a little teaser...

Monday, April 8, 2013

Chicken Puff Pastry Caprese

by Jaelyn Penner

Puff Pastry is one of my absolute favorite foods.  The buttery flakiness is addicting... and versatile!  You can make it into a sweet breakfast pastry, fill it with sandwich fixins' for lunch, wrap around a wheel of brie for an amazing appetizer or create multiple puff-pastry-based dishes for a decadent dinner.  Or, as I've done here, you can fix up a simple, delicious and easy dish that your entire family will love!

I've used some simple ingredients in this dish, several of which are a staple in my home.  Fresh basil is easy to grow and great to have on hand.  Pesto is easy to make and freezes well, and is a great way to use all that basil that you grew and didn't have time to eat!  Balsamic vinegar is a wonderful pantry staple - it's perfect to use with olive oil as a fast homemade salad dressing, or to reduce as in this recipe for a sweeter and more complex flavor.

This recipe is based on the traditional Insalata Caprese in Italian cuisine - which literally means "Salad of Capri" or "Salad in the style of Capri."  It revolves around three simple ingredients - fresh mozzarella, basil and tomato.  I've taken that side dish and made it the star of the meal.  I hope you love this as much as my family and I do!

Chicken Puff Pastry Caprese

  • 2 sheets puff pastry (store bought - found in the freezer section, generally near the pie crusts)
  • 3-4 Tbsp fresh pecan pesto (see recipe below - or in a pinch, you can purchase pre-made)
  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cooked and pulled apart with a fork
  • 9 oz. fresh mozzarella, cut in 1/4" slices
  • 3 med. Roma tomatoes
  • 1-2 Tbsp grated parmesan cheese
  • salt
  • fresh ground pepper
  • Balsamic reduction (see recipe below)

1.  Thaw puff pastry according to directions on package.  Keep refrigerated until ready to use.

2.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Cut tomatoes in 1/4" slices.  Salt each side and set aside.  This will draw out extra moisture for better baking.  Pat mozzarella slices with a clean towel to remove extra moisture, lightly salt and set aside.

3.  Remove pastry sheets from the fridge.  Using a rolling pin, roll each sheet to appr. 12x16-inches.  

4.  To assemble:  Place one sheet of puff pastry on parchment-lined flat sheet pan.  Spread 3-4 Tbsp. pesto on the pastry sheet, leaving a 1-inch border.  Stagger mozzarella slices, leaving at least 1/2-inch between slices (see pic).  Add chicken evenly across the top of the cheese and pesto.  Carefully place the 2nd sheet of puff pastry on top.  Score the top sheet appr. 1-inch from border, then press the edges of the two sheets together with a fork.  This will create a nice fluffy perimeter crust.  Poke several vent holes in the top of the pastry with a sharp knife to allow steam to escape while cooking.

Pat dry your tomato slices.  Using the scoring as your new border, stagger the slices on top of the pastry, covering the entire region within the scoring.  Dust with grated parmesan and freshly ground pepper.  Place in oven for 30-40 minutes, or until top of pastry and crusts are golden brown and tomatoes are nicely roasted.

While baking, prepare the Balsamic reduction according to the recipe below.

Cut into 9 pieces and drizzle 1 tsp. of Balsamic reduction over top of each.  Serve with a side of fresh greens. Enjoy!

Pecan Pesto

  • 3 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan
  • 3/4 cup whole pecans, toasted
  • 2 large garlic cloves, crushed
  • Good quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 tsp. sea salt
In a food processor, add basil, pecans and garlic.  As the ingredients chop, slowly drizzle olive oil through the feed tube just until a smooth paste is created.  Add the parmesan and blend for 20-30 seconds more, until well combined.  Refrigerate unused pesto, and use or freeze within 5 days.

Balsamic Reduction

  • 2 c Balsamic vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp honey
  • pinch of freshly ground pepper (I prefer white pepper, but you can use whichever type is your favorite)
In small saucepan, heat the vinegar on med heat.  When warm but not boiling, add honey and stir to incorporate.  Bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer on med-low until reduced in volume by half.   Add pepper and stir, allow to reduce an additional 10%.  Remove from heat and allow to cool for 2-3 minutes before serving.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Easy Easter Treats - Lemon Cheesecake Easter Eggs

by Jaelyn Penner

The bluebonnets are blooming, the sun is shining and Easter is on its way!
I absolutely love this time of year because of the very things that Easter symbolizes - rebirth, renewal and lots of chocolate (right?).

OK, ok... technically, we could have Easter without chocolate, but that sure would be less delicious.   To show my gratitude for this tasty treat and this special day,  I am sharing with you one of the easiest, yummiest, cutest Easter desserts you can possibly make.  It's perfectly themed and just the right size serving size for your guests.  You can make it from scratch, or you can buy all the ingredients pre-made (or at least nearly made) and put together in a snap!

If you are new to the "Lemon Curd Experience" as I like to call it, be prepared for a party in your mouth!  In curd, the tartness of lemon is combined with decadent butter and eggs for a silky, absolutely heavenly concoction.  Combine it with the creamy cheesecake, chocolate-y shell, and sweet crunch of the graham cracker in this dessert...  just yum.

Lemon Curd from  Williams-Sonoma

Lemon Cheesecake Easter Eggs

makes one dozen eggs with nests

Graham Cracker Nest:

  •     2 cups graham cracker crumbs
  •     One stick, plus 3 T butter, melted
  •     1/3 cup sugar (you can substitute turbinado sugar for white)
  •     Pinch of salt

  1. Cover a cookie sheet with wax paper.  
  2. Mix all ingredients together until well-combined.  
  3. Using your hands, shape appr. 2T into round nest with middle indent just large enough for the egg to sit in.  Try to form it so that the egg will remain stable when sitting on the nest.  
  4. Place on the cookie sheet. Continue until you have 12, then place nests in the fridge to chill and set.

Cheesecake Eggs:

  •     1 Jar of Lemon Curd (you can usually find jars of this in the jelly or baking aisle, or use this recipe from Ina Garten)
  •     1 No-Bake Cheesecake (you can buy a Jello brand mix at the store, or use this recipe from Martha Stewart - no need to prepare her crust, only do Step #4.  Don't chill the mixture until you've filled the eggs - see steps below.)
  •     Hollow Chocolate Eggs (store purchased)

  1. Remove all wrapping from 12 hollow chocolate eggs.  With a warm knife, carefully cut away the top 1/4-1/3 of the egg, leaving the lower portion intact.  This doesn't have to be perfect!  It just has to look like a broken egg and be able to hold enough cheesecake to satisfy your guests. 
  2. Mix the cheesecake filling according to directions.  Instead of chilling, fill a pastry bag with the fresh mixture.  Using a large tip, pipe some of the cheesecake filling into each egg, just below the top of the egg.  Leave a small depression for the lemon curd.
  3. Place the eggs broken side up in an empty egg carton or back in their own containers and place in the fridge to chill for at least 30 minutes.

 To Assemble and Serve:  

  1. Remove the nests and the eggs from the fridge.  Place nest(s) on your serving dish.  
  2. Fill a small pastry bag with 1 c. of the lemon curd.  Using a small tip, slowly pipe the lemon curd into the indented spot in the cheesecake, until the curd resembles an egg yolk.  Fill bottom-to-top, do not use a swirling motion.
  3. Place the egg on its "nest" and repeat for all eggs.  You can pipe a very small spot of curd onto the nest to help hold the egg in place if desired.
  4. Enjoy!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas Morning Crunch!

 aka Dark Chocolate Peppermint Chex Mix

by Jaelyn Penner 

One more recipe for all of you mint-o-holics out there!  OK, I went outside of the “natural, healthy” realm for this treat.  In reality, this recipe has no redeeming nutritional value.  But it’s good!  And, since most of us indulge freely over the Christmas break (which is ok every once in a while!), this becomes, through the magic of Christmas, the perfect Christmas morning snack!  I mean, cereal for breakfast– mint for the morning breath – chocolate for the energy and Christmas cheer – enjoy with a strong coffee for the perfect 6am “mommy-we-just-can’t-wait-to-unwrap-presents” instant perk-up!
You won’t need a ton of this stuff.  It’s heavy on the chocolate and really more of a candy than a “mix.”  But it’s super easy to make and totally worth it for the novelty and decadence.


5 cups Corn Chex (you can use Rice Chex, but they aren’t as uniformly shaped so won’t look quite as nice)
¾ cup Nestle dark chocolate and mint chips (I believe you can only find these during the holidays– can substitute with same amount of Andes chips, which are available year-round)
¾ cup Nestle semi-sweet chips
1/8 tsp. peppermint extract
Crushed candy cane or other peppermint candy for garnish


1.        Put Chex in a large mixing bowl.  Line a baking sheet with foil.
2.       In glass measuring cup, heat the chocolate in the microwave on High for 1 ½ minutes.  Stir thoroughly.  Heat for 1 minute intervals, stirring between, until smooth when stirred. 
3.       Add peppermint extract to the melted chocolate, stir well.
4.       Pour chocolate over Chex and stir to coat, being careful not to break the Chex while stirring.
5.       Pour onto baking sheet in single layer, again, be careful not to break the Chex.  Top with crushed peppermint candy while still warm.
6.       Cool until hard (7 minutes in fridge or 20-30 minutes at room temperature).
7.       Break candy with your hands into desired size chunks, place in gorgeous container, and enjoy!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Few of My Favorite *Minty* Things!

The Month of Mint continues!  


by Jaelyn Penner

Fun Fact:  Did you know that (according to the all-knowing online sage Wikipedia), peppermint has been found to enhance memory?  As a sleep-deprived mother of a toddler, I can definitely appreciate that!

Today, I wanted to share with you some of my favorite (and easy-to-find) mint products.  These are really staples in my house.   I don't use them every day, but when I need them, I NEED them, you know?  Let me know what you think - I have a feeling you are going to love them as much as I do!
Beverage:  Minty Green Tea

 In addition to my Dark Chocolate Peppermint Mocha, my other favorite minty beverage is a mint green tea.  At any Starbucks, you can get the Tazo brand "Refresh" tea, that is nicely minty.  Even better, brew one bag of that with one bag of Tazo's "Zen" green tea, and you have a yummy, calorie-free, caffeinated beverage that will make you feel warm AND refreshed!

Pick-Me-Up:  Origins "Peace of Mind"

 This is the ultimate stocking stuffer for women - only $12, it can fit in your purse (or pocket, if your pants are roomy!) and provides instant relaxation and focus.  Nothing better to have at the office!  You just rub a bit on your fingers, inhale the aroma, then rub into your temples, behind your ears, and the back of your neck.  Tingly and cool - Instant rejuvenation!

Shower Indulgence:  Eucalytpus Spearmint Sugar Scrub

This shower must-have is great for waking up in the morning OR winding down after a hard day.  The Eucalytpus and Spearmint combination helps to calm and clear my mind, and the oil/sugar scrub is an  absolutely luxurious way to exfoliate and moisturize.  Bonus:  this product is widely available at nationwide Bath and Body Works stores.  Hint:  this line of products rarely goes on sale, so snatch it up when it does!  Current regular price is $16. 

What are your favorite mint products?  I would love to hear from you!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Love Letters for Newtown

Hey Everyone -

By now, I am sure you all have heard about the horrible events last Friday that took the lives of 20 first graders and several school staff members, and changed an entire town forever.  My heart breaks for those that died, and especially those that are left to try to make sense of it, and grieve their losses.  The surviving children will be scarred forever, but I believe that there is something small yet powerful that we can do to  help them know they don't have to fear the world forever.  

Please take a minute to go to this site and leave a message of love for those affected by the recent tragedy in CT.   It's a small thing, but could be the best thing most of us can do:  to send so much love that those touched by unimaginable evil can start to have faith in the goodness of the world again.

If you don't prefer to go to Facebook, feel free to leave your "love letter" in the comments below this post.  We'll make sure it gets to the right place.

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.


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