Tag: cooking

Cool Summer Entertaining Tips to Keep Guests Happy

(StatePoint) Hosting friends and family for backyard barbecues, picnics and garden parties during summer carries its own challenges. Here are a few tips guaranteed to keep your guests cool, comfortable and happy when you entertain.

Create Shade

Entertaining outdoors? Remember, not all guests are going to want direct sunlight for too long. Take into consideration the sun’s position in the sky during the hours you will be hosting, ensuring your seating offers guests the option to sit in the shade. Create DIY shades by hanging curtains or fabric around or above your party location.

Protect Guests

Protect your guests from getting bitten and burned in your garden or yard. Be sure the space is clear of standing water in advance of the party. Also, create a small station with bug spray and sunscreen (kids’ varieties, too, if you’re hosting families). Keep it away from the areas where the food and drinks are being served. Consider adding citronella candles or tiki posts as an additional strategy for warding off mosquitoes and other insects.

Be Creative with Cold Drinks

Nothing is more evocative of summer than a cold glass of iced tea. Indeed, Iced Tea Month, celebrated in June, is a great time to create an iced tea bar that includes several varieties to suit your guests’ different tastes. Serve varieties like sweet tea, no calorie tea, tea mixed with lemonade, and peach tea. Label each clearly with small chalk boards or calligraphy name cards. Offer guests ready to drink teas made with high-quality, fresh, natural ingredients, such as Milo’s. They fresh brew all of their teas and do not add any extra “stuff” like colors, acids or preservatives.

A handy trick to keep beverages undiluted and impress your guests as things heat up? Create ice cubes out of Milo’s Tea in advance, then use those to cool down drinks. For recipe ideas, visit drinkmilos.com.

Serve Cool Snacks

You may have the grill going, but you can keep things otherwise cool and light with snacks and sides like crudité, dips, pasta salad, fresh fruit skewers and cold finger foods, like tea sandwiches.

Play Games

Take full advantage of your yard this outdoor entertaining season with a few simple, fun lawn games like cornhole, horseshoes and ladder toss. Want to make things more interesting? Create an elimination bracket and tournament for each game.

From refreshing drinks to fun and games, you can make the most of the summer with a few cool strategies.

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PHOTO SOURCE: (c) Jennifer Hagler

Safety Tips for Grilling Season

People have been cooking meals over open flames since the discovery of fire. Even today, when there are so many ways to cook a meal, many still insist there’s nothing better than the taste of food cooked on the grill.

The Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association, which tracks industry trends, points out that one-third of consumers plan to use their grill or smoker more often this year. Even though grilling is widely associated with summer, a growing number of people are embracing year-round grilling. HPBA’s CEO Jack Goldman has said, “Barbecuing is no longer just a pastime, but an integral part of the North American lifestyle.”

Seven in 10 adults in the United States and eight out of 10 in Canada own a grill or smoker. With so many people firing up their grills, it’s important to recognize the importance of grilling safety. Each year an average of 8,900 home fires are caused by grilling, and close to half of all injuries involving grills are due to thermal burns, advises the National Fire Protection Association. Here’s how to stay safe.

• Only grill outside. Propane and charcoal barbecue grills should only be used outdoors. Grills should be placed well away from the home. Keep grills away from deck railings, eaves, overhangs, and tree branches.

• Keep the grill clean. Thoroughly clean the grill prior to first use, and keep it tidy all year long. Grease or fat buildup can ignite and cause a fire.

• Always attend the grill. Grill distraction-free and keep an eye on the food being cooked. Simply stepping away for a few moments can lead to a fire or accident. • Start fires safely. Charcoal grills and gas grills may be lit using electronic starters that do not require fire. If using starter fluid, only do so on charcoal, and do not add more fluid or other flammable liquids after the fire has ignited.

• Check for gas leaks. Whether the gas grill is hooked up to a propane tank or the natural gas supply of a home, ensure that the hoses or tanks are not leaking. Apply a light soap-and-water solution to hoses to see if they bubble from leaking gas.

• Keep baking soda nearby. Baking soda can control grease fires, but it’s also helpful to have a fire extinguisher or a bucket of sand on hand for other types of fires.

• Watch children and pets. Keep children and pets at least three feet away from grilling areas.

• Wait for the grill and coals to cool. Practice safety around the grill until all coals are cool and the grill is no longer hot to the touch. Only then should the grill be moved or relocated.

Grilling is a passion that is enjoyed throughout much of the year. Safely cook outdoors by heeding safety guidelines.

4 Steps to a Healthier You this New Year

Want to make resolutions you’ll keep this new year? Think simple, sustainable changes. Follow these four steps for a healthier you, inside and out.

Stick to Your Workout

After the holidays, the gym is filled with people who have resolved to incorporate exercise routines into their lives. Come February, the novelty of the new year wears off, life gets in the way and, according to “U.S. News & World Report,” 80 percent of resolutions fail by the second week of the month.

Instead of jumping from no routine to a seven-days-a-week commitment, introduce workouts to your schedule in small doses. Dread cardio or weight machines? Find something that you’ll look forward to, like a cycling class, yoga or outdoor pursuits. Choosing activities that you enjoy will increase your chances of sticking to your resolution.

Eat Smarter

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most Americans are falling short of their fruit and vegetable intake goals, and most eat only half the recommended amount of fiber. To increase your consumption of essential nutrients, create a grocery list packed with fruits, vegetables, protein and whole grains.

Plan meals for the week to ensure you stick to a whole-food menu. Keep ingredients on hand for meals you can make in a pinch, so you’re not tempted by fast food on a busy day. Try frozen salmon fillets, which you can cook without thawing, or eggs, low-fat cheese and veggies for a quick-baking frittata.

Freeze individual servings of chopped fruits and vegetables in resealable bags to create quick and delicious smoothies each morning in a high-powered blender, such as the Vitamix E310 Explorian Series machine. For a satisfying, energy-boosting snack, use your blender to pre-make Dried Fruit Chia Bars or White Chocolate Peanut Butter Energy Balls.

Stress Less

Stress can have adverse effects on minds and bodies, as insomnia, weight gain, anxiety and depression are all potential related risks. While it isn’t always avoidable, simple changes will help you manage tension.

Sometimes, stress can be solved with some “me time.” Treat yourself to a massage or manicure, soak in a hot bath, or unwind with a nature walk. Connecting with others can help, too. Plan a brunch with your best friend or a date night with your significant other.

Feeling overwhelmed with work and family life? Build out a to-do list or calendar to feel more in control of your busy schedule, then cross items off the list when completed.

Practice Positivity

A sunny outlook can affect your wellbeing. Keep a gratitude journal by writing down something good that happens each day. On bad days, you’ll be forced to focus on the positive aspects of your life.

One of the best ways to improve your happiness is by giving others a boost. Volunteer with a charitable organization or donate to a favorite cause. Practice doing something kind daily.

This new year, take small steps to help you feel happier and healthier. (StatePoint)

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Be Prepared for Unexpected Company

The latter part of the year is full of social engagements with family and friends. Pew Research Center says 92 percent of all Americans plan to celebrate Christmas as a holiday, with 69 percent using it as an opportunity to spend time with family and friends.

While many social occasions surrounding Christmas are anticipated for months in advance, unexpected pop-ins are also the norm this time of year. Rather than being caught off guard, individuals can take steps to prepare for unexpected guests.

· Have food available. Even if guests pop in for a little while, it’s nice to be able to offer them something to eat. Keep cheese and crackers, fresh fruit, pretzels, and other snacks on hand. Make-ahead, crowd-friendly foods can be prepared and frozen. Casseroles, pasta dishes and stews are hearty and can serve in a pinch when unexpected visitors arrive. Simply take out to defrost and heat up. Keep cookies in air-tight tins and purchase a premade frozen pie to serve, if necessary. In a pinch, you can always order out, but over time the cost of having food delivered can add up.

· Keep the bar stocked. Toasting to a happy holiday season is the norm during this time of year. Toasting requires hosts have some spirits on hand. Stock the bar with a few staples, such as red and white wine, vodka, rum, whiskey, and mixers. Also, you may just want to create a signature or seasonal cocktail that can be served when guests arrive, such as a spiced punch or a holiday eggnog.

· Cue the playlist. Put together a playlist of favorite holiday music that will provide the ideal ambiance should guests ring your doorbell. Thanks to services like Spotify, Amazon Music and Pandora, holiday music that fills a home with the sweet sounds of the season is now always accessible.

· Keep things neat. Set aside a closet or space that can serve as a catch-all where errant items can quickly be stored should guests arrive. Gather loose toys, books or stray papers in a basket and then stash the basket in the closet until guests depart. Routinely empty the dishwasher so dirty dishes left in the sink can be quickly loaded before guests arrive.

· Create an aromatic atmosphere. Scented candles that evoke the aromas of the season can refresh stale indoor air. Butter cookie-, apple pie- and cinnamon-scented candles can make it seem like you just finished some holiday baking.

Guests tend to drop by on a moment’s notice come the holidays. Preparing for the unexpected can make such visits more enjoyable.

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A Quick and Delicious Holiday Dessert

The holiday season is synonymous with many things, including delicious foods. While Thanksgiving turkeys or Christmas geese will be found on many a table this holiday season, baked goods and desserts are what many people look forward to this time of year.

Holiday hosts with a lot on their plates might not have the time to prepare homemade baked goods for their guests. Thankfully, the following recipe for “Chocolate-Strawberry Pie” from Addie Gundry’s “No-Bake Desserts” (St. Martin’s Press) can be prepared in just 15 minutes, all without turning on the oven.

Chocolate-Strawberry Pie

Yields 1 pie

1 pint fresh strawberries, washed, trimmed and halved
1 store-bought (or homemade) chocolate cookie pie crust
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon minced crystallized ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Pinch of kosher or sea salt
6 large egg yolks
21/2 cups half-and-half
6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 tablespoon rum extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Additional strawberries for garnish (optional)

1. Place the strawberry halves in a single layer in the bottom of the pie crust.
2. In a medium saucepan, whisk together the sugar, cornstarch, cocoa powder, ginger, nutmeg, and salt over medium heat.
3. Whisk in the egg yolks to create a thick paste. Gradually whisk in the half-and-half until the mixture thickens, about 5 minutes. Bring to a boil and cook for 1 minute. Remove from the heat.
4. Add the chocolate and whisk until combined. Add the rum and vanilla extracts. Cool the mixture for 4 minutes.
5. Pour the filling over the strawberries and up to the top of the crust. Chill the pie for 2 hours or until set.
6. Garnish with additional strawberries, if desired.

Simple Tricks to Satisfy Picky Eaters

Family mealtime can be challenging for a variety of reasons, including the varying taste buds of moms, dads and their kids.

Although there is no consistent definition of picky eating, according to a report published in the journal Frontiers in Pediatrics, the term is generally used to characterize children who eat a limited amount of food, have strong food preferences, have restricted intake of certain foods, or who are unwilling to try new foods. It’s difficult to account statistically for picky eating, but this relatively common behavioral problem tends to peak around age 3.

Picky eating tends to be genetic. A study led by Dr. Lucy Cooke of the department of epidemiology and public health at University College London found genes are largely to blame for picky eaters. According to her research, 78 percent of pickiness is genetic and the other 22 percent is environmental. Pickiness usually is a temporary part of normal development, and many of the behaviors associated with picky eating can be alleviated by open-minded, patient parents who are willing to try new things themselves.

Experiment with different textures

Sometimes it isn’t the food itself but the texture of the food that is the problem. Therefore, parents shouldn’t rule out certain foods just yet. For example, a child might not like the texture of a baked potato, but mashed potatoes are fine. Try presenting the food in a different way. Cauliflower is one food that can be transformed into many different styles, from being grated like rice, to baked into a pizza crust. Don’t give up on foods on the first try.

Make meals more hands-on

Many ingredients touching one another can be an overwhelming experience for children getting ready to eat. For example, young kids may not understand that melted yellow stuff on a hamburger is the same type of cheese they eat cubed with crackers for lunch. Rather than create separate meals, make the dinner table look like a fixings bar at a restaurant. Let kids pick and choose what they want to put on their plates. This may compel them to be more adventurous with their selections.

Find ways to mask nutrition

Choose foods that children regularly eat and enjoy and experiment with ways to dress them up and make them more nutritious. Regular mac-and-cheese can be improved with the use of whole-grain pasta and fresh cheese instead of boxed mixes. Try making chicken nuggets from scratch rather than buying frozen nuggets. Smoothies can be enhanced with fresh fruit and other mix-ins. Even desserts can include pureed vegetables and fruits to increase their amount of vitamins and minerals.

Picky eating is a phase many children will experience. Parents can ride through the mealtime woes by experimenting more in the kitchen.

Baking Shortcuts for Time-Pressed Entertainers

‘Tis the season for baking cookies, cakes and other treats. However, during the holiday rush, it’s easy to get side-tracked or tired, and perhaps even a little bit overwhelmed by all the things to do in such a short period of time. Holiday baking doesn’t have to add to seasonal stress. With these tips and shortcuts, there will be plenty of sweet treats for the family.

Stick with tested recipes

Although holiday bakers may want to branch out a bit with their culinary creativity, recipes that have previously been prepared with great success can take some of the work out of holiday baking. Preparing recipes you recall preparing in the past is much easier than trying something new. If you’d like, add sparkle to old standards, such as decorating oatmeal or chocolate chip cookies with colored sprinkles.

Cookies are fast-baking

Did you know that cookies were originally made to test oven temperatures? Culinary historians say that cookies were first made to test if an oven was hot enough to bake other goods. Today, cookies can be whipped up in mere minutes. Make a batch of dough and then freeze or refrigerate it, thawing it when the time comes to bake. Also, think about baking one day and decorating the next if pressed for time.

Embrace colored candy melts

Icing can be tricky to master. Simply heating colored candy melts and pouring over cakes or painting onto cookies can add festive appeal to desserts. Candy melts even come in many different colors and can be combined to achieve the tint desired.

Keep ingredients in top form

Don’t let poorly performing ingredients or a lack of supplies be your undoing. Butter can be softened quickly in the microwave when needed for recipes. Eggs can be brought to room temperature by allowing them to sit in a bowl of warm water. Ensure that brown sugar stays soft by putting a piece of sliced bread in the container. Don’t forget to stock up on other baking staples, such as vanilla and almond extracts, baking powder/soda, molasses, and confectioner’s sugar.

Don’t bake from scratch

Not all recipes need to be made from scratch. Boxed cake mixes can be embellished and turned into delicious desserts without much fuss. Substitute melted butter for oil, buttermilk for water, and add an extra egg for a rich cake. Mix in chocolate chips or nuts or experiment with garnishes for a festive look.

Parchment paper is key

Line cookie sheets or cake pans with parchment paper for easy dessert release and quick cleanup. Parchment paper and even foil can help lift cakes or cookie bars out of pans so they look neat and do not stick.

Holiday baking can be made much easier by employing a few tricks of the trade.

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Various Ways You Can Put Pumpkins to Use

Few items signal the fall harvest season more than the bright, orange pumpkins that dot fields and liven up displays outside of homes and businesses. Come fall, many pumpkins are turned into grinning jack-o-lanterns just in time for Halloween. But there are many other uses for pumpkins as well.

Pumpkins are believed to have originated in North America. Early Native Americans relied on pumpkins as a source of food that helped them survive long winters. Pumpkins could be roasted, baked, boiled, and dried, and they were eaten and used as medicine. Pumpkin blossoms were added to stews. The shells of the pumpkins could be dried and used as eating and storage vessels.

While pumpkins may now be symbolic of Halloween, the following are a handful of additional ways this versatile fruit can be put to use.

Beauty regimen

Pumpkins contain a number of essential vitamins and minerals that can help replenish the skin. Pumpkin purée can be mixed with honey, aloe vera gel, olive oil, and a bit of cornmeal to create an exfoliating mask for the face or body. Pumpkin also can be used to rejuvenate dry or tired skin from cold weather.

Honey, pumpkin and yogurt can be mixed together and used to condition hair. Let the mixture sit for 15 to 20 minutes, and then wash it out and shampoo.

Foods and beverages

Pumpkin purée is the basis for many tasty, pumpkin-infused treats. Purée can be used in pies, cakes, muffins, breads, and many additional foods. Pumpkin purée also may be found in certain beverages, such as smoothies and shakes. A bit of spiced purée may appear as flavoring in teas and coffees.

Roasted pumpkin seeds make a healthy treat. Foodies suggest using the seeds from “sugar pumpkins” or the ones best for making pies. Boil the seeds for a few minutes before draining. Spray a baking sheet with non-stick spray and put the seeds in a single layer. Bake at 400 F for 20 minutes. Allow to cool and serve.

Pumpkin wines and beers are popular as well. There are many recipes for developing sweet, fermented beverages, which tend to be especially popular in the fall.

The “guts” of the pumpkin can be simmered along with aromatics and other vegetables to create a vegetable stock perfect for soups and broths.

Decorations

Pumpkins can also add to one’s home décor during the fall. Pumpkins can be carved for Halloween displays, hollowed-out to hold tealights or simply left on tables and used as centerpieces. Larger pumpkins may be used as natural flower pots for mums or other seasonal floral displays. As the Native Americans once did, pumpkins can be hollowed-out and used as bowls to serve favorite soups and dips.

Use a hollowed, small pumpkin as a natural aromatic candle holder. Cut holes in the sides to vent the exhaust. Rub aromatic spices, such as cloves, nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon, and vanilla bean, on the inside of the pumpkin. Insert a beeswax candle in the bottom of the pumpkin and let it send inviting aromas into the air.

Pumpkins are a versatile fruit that can serve many purposes beyond just jack-o-lanterns and pies.

Set and Stick to Your Holiday Budget

The chance to give gifts and spend time with loved ones makes the holiday season a special time of year. But for many people, the holiday season often leads to overspending.

A 2016 survey from the American Research Group found that American shoppers anticipated spending an average of $930 on gifts that holiday season. Data from T. Rowe Price confirms that parents are spending between $400 and $500 per child each year. In 2015, CPA Canada conducted a random phone survey of 1,004 adult Canadians and found the average adult planned to spend $766 on holiday gifts.

Although these numbers can reflect an overwhelming sense of generosity, many times excessive spending is based on a desire to outdo gifting from the year prior – sometimes at the risk of personal finances. Some people are taking drastic measures to make holidays over-the-top, with some delving into emergency savings while others withdraw prematurely from retirement accounts. Budgeting for the holiday season can help shoppers keep their finances in check.

Determine spending patterns

An examination of receipts and spending habits from previous holiday seasons can help individuals establish budgets for the current year. Make a list of all expenses – even the ones that extend beyond holiday giving. These may include expenses such as gym service fees, homeowner’s insurance, traveling expenses, gift exchanges at work, and more. Extra costs can add up and should be factored into holiday budgets.

Try to recall if your spending last year felt comfortable or if you were paying off credit cards long after the holiday season had ended. If it’s the latter, resolve to make adjustments.

Establish a budget that fits

There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all budget. Figure out if there is extra money this season or if times are tight. This will help you plan accordingly and avoid overspending. Shifting priorities can help free up some cash. If children are interested in this year’s hot (and likely expensive) gift, cut back on holiday travel or entertaining. Instead of buying gifts for coworkers, buy a drink during a night out.

Use the holidays as an opportunity to sell

Collectibles, gently used toys, video games, action figures – all of these items may be collecting dust at your home, but they might be coveted by other shoppers. Rely on the season for spending to make some extra income that can be cashed in for your own holiday purchases.

Set up an account and track spending

Establish a separate account strictly for holiday spending. This can include a credit card only used for gifts and entertaining or a savings account at a bank or credit union. You won’t know what is going out of your account unless you keep careful tabs on it. Tracking spending is the biggest key to sticking with a budget, according to the financial advice group The Balance.

Holiday budgeting can be challenging. But with some effort, it is possible to avoid debt and still enjoy a happy holiday season.

Impress Guests With Homemade Salsa At Your Next Soirée

Gatherings of family and friends are better with food, and few foods are more universally beloved than salsa! Whether they’re hosting a gathering for the big game or a celebration of Hispanic culture and cuisine, hosts who want to go the extra mile can forgo store-bought salsa for the following homemade recipe for “Warm Black Bean Salsa” courtesy of Judith Finlayson’s “The Health Slow Cooker: 135 Gluten-Free Recipes for Health and Wellness” (Robert Rose).

Warm Black Bean Salsa (Makes about 3 cups)

2 cups cooked black beans, drained, rinsed and mashed (see tip 1 below)
1 cup diced tomatoes (see tip 2 below)
4 green onions, finely chopped
2 roasted peppers (poblano or sweet), peeled and diced
1 roasted jalapeño, seeded and diced, or 1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce
1 teaspoon puréed garlic (see tip 3 below)
1 teaspoon finely grated lime zest
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
2 cups shredded cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro leaves

Finely chopped green onions

1. In slow cooker stoneware, combine beans, tomatoes, green onions, poblano, jalapeño peppers, garlic, lime zest and juice, and cheese. Stir well. Cover and cook on high for 11/2 hours, until mixture is hot and bubbly. Stir in cilantro, sprinkle with green onions, if using, and serve.

Tips

1. Use 14- to 19-ounce can of no-salt-added beans, drained. Or cook dried beans yourself (see below).
2. For convenience, substitute 1 cup drained no-salt-added diced canned tomatoes.
3. To purée garlic, use a sharp-toothed grater.

Basic Beans (Makes approximately 2 cups)

1 cup dried white beans (see tip below)
3 cups water

Garlic (optional)
Bay leaves (optional)
Bouquet garni (optional)

1. Long soak: In a bowl, combine beans and water. Soak for at least 6 hours or overnight. Drain and rinse thoroughly with cold water. Beans are now ready for cooking.
2. Quick soak: In a pot, combine beans and water. Boil for 3 minutes. Turn off heat and soak for 1 hour. Drain and rinse thoroughly under cold water. Beans are now ready to cook.
3. Cooking: In slow cooker stoneware, combine 1 cup presoaked beans and 3 cups fresh cold water. If desired, season with garlic, bay leaves or a bouquet garni made from your favorite herbs tied together in a cheesecloth. Cover and cook on low for 10 to 12 hours or overnight or on high for 5 to 6 hours, until beans are tender. Drain and rinse. If not using immediately, cover and refrigerate. The beans are now ready for use.

Tip: If you have difficulty digesting legumes, add 2 teaspoons cider vinegar or lemon juice to the water when soaking dried beans.