Tag: cooking

Essential Gear For First-Time Thanksgiving Hosts

Hosting Thanksgiving is a large undertaking that can put some hosts under pressure. Unlike some other holidays that are less food-focused, Thanksgiving is largely about the meal. Turkey is the centerpiece of the celebration, and any guests who come over are going to expect turkey and a number of side dishes. Leaving hungry is never an option on Thanksgiving.

Individuals who are new to Thanksgiving hosting may be at a loss as to where to start with their preparation. There are certain must-haves hosts should familiarize themselves with. Many of these essentials revolve around tools for cooking in the kitchen and serving guests.

· Large Roasting Pan: You’ll need somewhere to oven-roast the turkey. While it’s perfectly acceptable to purchase a disposable aluminum pan for this purpose, if you plan to host Thanksgiving year after year, investing in a quality roasting pan will help deliver even cooking temperatures to the food and also can be used for roasting other meats.

· Wire Rack: The turkey is placed upon a rack inside of the roasting pan so that it will not swim in the juices and cause a soggy bottom during cooking. Many roasting pans and racks are sold as sets, but others can be purchased separately. The rack can be used for other purposes as well, including cooling baked cookies or even drying out fresh herbs.

· Food Thermometer: Ensuring the turkey and other foods are cooked to the correct internal temperature is essential. You do not want to send guests home with foodborne illnesses. Food thermometers run the gamut from very basic to those that can be programmed to alert cooks through an app on a smartphone. Turkey is done when the temperature reads 170 F in the breast and 180 F in the thigh. If stuffed, the stuffing should register 165 F, according to Butterball.

· Coordinated Casserole Dishes: Casserole dishes can hold all of the sides served with the turkey, including stuffing, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, green beans, and more. A set of matching dishes will help the tablescape look more coordinated.

· Service For Eight or More: Thanksgiving draws a crowd, so take inventory of silverware, dishes, wine glasses, and any other table needs to ensure that you can accommodate all of the guests. Purchase new items if you cannot set the table completely with what you have, as mixed and matched may be okay for informal events but may not set the tone hosts are aiming for on Thanksgiving.

· Table and Chairs: Determine if you have enough table space to seat all of your guests. Some dining tables come with an extension leaf, but you still may need to supplement with a folding table. You may need more seating. Chairs can be rented or you can utilize some folding chairs.

· Turkey Serving Platter: When the turkey is ready, it can be placed on an attractive serving platter for your photos, after which you slice and then return the sliced poultry to the serving platter for dining.

Thanksgiving requires a number of essentials that hosts will need to have on hand to make the holiday complete.

Dish Up A Classic Comfort Food This St. Patrick’s Day

Everyone has “corned beef and cabbage” on the brain come St. Patrick’s Day. But another flavorful dish might appeal to a greater number of people with Irish roots.

Shepherd’s Pie is a savory dish made of minced lamb that originated in England but also made the jump to Ireland, where it became a popular comfort food. While Shepherd’s Pie can be made with freshly cooked ground meat, it also is a fine way to use leftovers from a previous meal. Shepherd’s Pie is commonly mistaken for Cottage Pie, which is very similar, yet tends to use beef as the meat of choice.

Many families have their own ancestral recipes for Shepherd’s Pie, but for those looking to cook the dish for the first time, try “Shepherd’s Pie,” courtesy of Alton Brown, which appeared in Season 12 of his hit show “Good Eats.”

Shepherd’s Pie

Yield: 8 servings

1 1/2 pounds russet potatoes

2 tablespoons canola oil

1 cup chopped onion

2 carrots, peeled and finely diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 1/2 pounds ground lamb

1 3/4 teaspoons kosher salt

3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 teaspoons tomato paste

1 cup chicken broth

2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary

1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1/4 cup half-and-half

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 large egg yolk

1/2 cup corn kernels, fresh or frozen

1/2 cup English peas, fresh or frozen

1. Heat oven to 400 F.

2. Peel the potatoes and cut them into 1/2-inch dice. Put them in a medium saucepan and cover with cold water. Set said pan over high heat, cover and bring to a boil. Uncover, drop the heat to maintain a simmer, and cook until tender, 10 to 15 minutes.

3. Heat the oil in an 11-inch saute pan over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the onion and carrots and saute just until they begin to take on color, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic and stir to combine. Add the meat, salt and pepper, and cook until browned and cooked through, approximately 3 minutes.

4. Sprinkle the meat with the flour, toss to coat, and continue to cook for another minute. Add the tomato paste, broth, Worcestershire sauce, rosemary, and thyme and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, then decrease the heat to low, cover, and simmer slowly until the sauce is thickened slightly, 10 to 12 minutes.

5. Meanwhile, combine the half-and-half and butter in a microwave-safe container and nuke until warmed through, about 35 seconds.

6. Drain the potatoes and return them to the saucepan. Mash the potatoes (a masher is an excellent tool for this, though a hand mixer will do), then add the hot half-and-half mixture, as well as the salt and pepper. Mash to smoothness, then stir in the egg yolk.

7. Add the corn and peas to the meat mixture and spread evenly in a 7-by-11-inch glass baking dish. Top with the mashed potatoes, starting around the edges to create a seal to prevent the mixture from bubbling over, and smooth the top with a rubber spatula. Place on a half sheet pan lined with parchment paper on the middle rack of the oven and bake for 25 minutes, or just until the potatoes begin to brown. Remove to a cooking rack and let rest for at least 15 minutes before serving.

A Perfect Dish For A New Year’s Day Brunch

The late-night revelry of New Year’s Eve has made New Year’s Day brunch a go-to tradition for millions of people. Staying up until the calendar officially turns from one year to the next at the stroke of midnight can make it harder to get out of bed on the morning of January 1, so there may be no better day to plan a brunch than the first day of the calendar year.

Many restaurants offer brunch specials on New Year’s Day, but people need not leave home to ensure their first meal of the new year is delicious. This recipe for “Pan-Fried Eggs and Mixed Mushroom Sauté on Toasted Sourdough Slices” from “Sunday Brunch” (Chronicle Books) by Betty Rosbottom can be just the dish to begin a new year.

Pan-Fried Eggs and Mixed Mushroom Sauté on Toasted Sourdough Slices

Serves 4

Mushroom Sauté

11/4 ounces mixed dried mushrooms

11/2 cups boiling water

3 tablespoons olive oil

8 ounces sliced brown mushrooms

2 teaspoons minced garlic

1 teaspoon dried crushed rosemary (see tip)

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Toast and Eggs

4 1/2-inch thick sourdough slices

Olive oil

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

4 eggs

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Rosemary sprigs for garnish (optional)

1. For the Mushroom Sauté: Place the dried mushrooms in a medium bowl and cover with the boiling water. Let stand until softened, 20 minutes. Strain in a sieve lined with a double thickness of paper towels and reserve the soaking liquid. Coarsely chop the mushrooms.

2. Heat the olive oil in a medium, heavy frying pan set over medium heat. When hot, add the brown mushrooms and sauté, stirring often, for 6 minutes. Add the reserved mushrooms, garlic, rosemary, and 1/2 teaspoon salt; stir for 1 minute. Add the mushroom liquid and cook, stirring, until it has evaporated, 4 to 7 minutes. Season with salt and several grinds of pepper. Remove the frying pan from the heat and cover with foil to keep warm. (The mushrooms can be prepared 1 day ahead; cool, cover and refrigerate. Reheat, stirring, over medium heat.)

3. For the toast and eggs: Brush both sides of the bread slices generously with olive oil. Set a 10- to 11-inch nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat, and, when hot, add the bread and cook until lightly browned, about 2 minutes per side. Remove the toast and cover loosely with foil. When pan is cool enough to handle, wipe it out with clean paper towels.

4. Add the butter to the frying pan and set it over medium heat. When the butter starts to foam, break an egg into a saucer, being careful to remove any shell fragments., and gently slide it into the frying pan. Repeat with the remaining eggs. Immediately reduce the heat to low and cook, basting the eggs with some of the butter in the pan frequently, until the whites are firm and the yolks are still soft and runny, 3 minutes.

5. While the eggs are cooking, arrange a toasted bread slice on each of four plates. Mound the mushrooms evenly over the toast.

6. Remove each egg with a spatula and arrange on top of the mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper and, if desired, garnish each serving with a rosemary sprig. Serve immediately.

How to Get Kids Interested in Cooking

Parents introduce their children to all types of new hobbies and skills. There are plenty of opportunities to open kids’ eyes to the world around them. One of the more useful lessons parents can teach their children is how to cook.

Knowing how to cook is a vital skill that can help children become more independent and ensure they know how to survive later in life on their own. So many young adults go off to college without the ability to do more than power up a microwave or boil noodles. Ordering takeout all the time is expensive, and frozen dinners often lack the nutrition of homemade dishes. Learning how to cook a variety of foods at an early age can lay the foundation for a lifetime of healthy eating and fun in the kitchen.

Parents can encourage children who show early inclinations in the kitchen, but also help reluctant learners to develop some basic cooking skills. Here are some ways to make cooking something kids can look forward to.

• Involve children in meal planning. Get input from your children about what they might like to see on the menu. While there may be some items that are expected, including comfort foods like mac-and-cheese, parents may be surprised at how mature their children’s palates can be. Maybe they’ve heard about a dish on television or learned about a specific ethnic cuisine at school and want to give it a try.

• Watch cooking shows together. How-to cooking shows and competitions appear on both cable and network television. Kids may enjoy watching Gordon Ramsay mentor young chefs; Robert Irvine help to renovate a failing restaurant; or Ann Burrell assist self-proclaimed “worst chefs” shed those monikers. Cooking shows can introduce kids to food-related terminology and get them heated up about cooking their own meals.

• Ask for help in the kitchen. Tailor cooking activities to youngsters’ ages. Little ones can begin by adding and stirring ingredients. As they get older, children can segue into chopping or even mixing foods on the stove. Many kids like being taste testers and offering advice on whether a food needs more spices. By middle school, many kids have the wherewithal to plan meals themselves and cook them from start to finish.

• Be adventurous. Introduce kids to various flavors by not only cooking various dishes at home, but by dining out at different restaurants. This can encourage kids to appreciate different cultures and cuisines.

Learning to cook is a vital skill. Lessons can begin early in childhood and become more extensive as children age.

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.