Tag Archives: cooking

5 Hacks for Holiday Hosting

Simplify your holiday entertaining. 

It may feel impossible to fit even more into already jam-packed days, but when the holidays roll around, entertaining and celebrating always find a way. Fortunately, you can find some shortcuts when hosting that offer plenty of festive style while also helping you avoid stressing over every detail. 

This year, rely on some time-saving hacks so you’re not just throwing the holiday party, but enjoying some seasonal fun of your own. 

Repurpose with purpose. There’s no need to make time for a trip to the store or to spend a bundle on party supplies. A pretty, oversized flowerpot or planter that has been cast aside for winter makes a perfect tub for icing down beverages. When it comes to decor, you can cover any old box with some of last year’s leftover holiday paper to add some colorful touches around the home. A similar idea: wrap canvas art or other frames in pretty paper to extend the theme up the walls. 

Make easy attractive. Most holiday celebrations center on the food, but it’s still an area where you can shave some time. For example, a simple but attractive option is to forgo the family china and opt for gorgeous disposable plates and utensils. (Chinet Classic White has a wide range of products designed for practical use. They do not bend, fold or leak, and are strong enough for extra helpings no matter the occasion. And for a more elegant affair, the Chinet Cut Crystal collection is the only fully coordinated line of disposable plates, cups, cutlery and wineglasses.) Guests will barely realize they’re not using the good china, but you’ll definitely notice when you’re able to skip time at the sink to spend more precious moments with your loved ones. 

Fill the freezer. Whether your holiday entertaining is more impromptu in nature or you host a single sizable shindig, keeping a well-stocked freezer can help make hosting a cinch. Dedicate an afternoon to preparing items you can easily defrost and serve later, like casseroles, appetizers, side dishes and desserts. 

Forgo fussy food. An elegant sit-down meal isn’t the only way to enjoy a holiday gathering. Guests may even appreciate a break from traditional heavier fare. Simple food stations, finger foods and even store-bought meals are all time-saving alternatives. Another time-saving option: dressing up store-bought food as part of a larger spread. For example, you can top side dishes like mashed potatoes with olive oil or butter and sprinkle with cheese or embellish a main course such as ham with rosemary sprigs and fresh fruit. 

Keep cleanup simple. For a festive, yet deceptively easy table, consider using kraft paper as tablecloths and let some of that leftover wrapping paper do double-duty as table runners. Simply cut the wrapping paper to your desired length and fold the edges under to create clean seams. Match the DIY table coverings with a coordinated line of disposable tableware to make cleaning up a cinch. 

Explore more hacks to simplify your holiday entertaining at www.mychinet.com

Swapping Habits for Healthier Living

When it comes to cooking, you’re always on the lookout for new recipes, easy shortcuts and ways to make familiar recipes healthier without sacrificing the great taste. If you are a health-minded cook, here are some tips to get you started:

1. Add colors to your foods – Colorful fruits and vegetables quickly decorate a traditional recipe and make food appear much more appetizing. Look for deep greens in spinach, vibrant reds in tomatoes and a rainbow of colors in peppers to add to your casseroles, lasagnas or meat dishes.

2. Swap out the plate size – It may surprise you to learn serving meals on smaller plates encourages people to eat less food. So downsize your dinner plates, and you might find your family eating the proper portions. You’ll also ensure they clean their plates!

3. Change your take-out menus to meal plans – If you have a stack of take-out menus in your home, replace them with recipes and a daily meal planner. Having a planner will help you arrange a weekly grocery shopping list and save you time and money by limiting the number of nights you eat out.

4. Flip the after-dinner routine – Instead of settling down into the couch after dinner, jump start your digestion and take a family walk around the neighborhood together. For healthy bodies, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people work their way up to 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activities per week, which can include a brisk walk (at a 15-minute mile pace).

5. Vary the ingredients – If you already have family-favorite recipes, look them over to see if there are ways to swap healthier ingredients in place of others. For example, corn oil can help lower LDL or “bad” cholesterol more than extra virgin olive oil, according to a recent study sponsored in part by ACH Food Companies, Inc. which sells Mazola(C) Corn Oil. The research found plant sterols, which are naturally present in corn oil, have heart healthy benefits such as preventing the absorption of cholesterol in the body. Corn oil contains more cholesterol-blocking plant sterols than other cooking oils, making it a healthier swap for your favorite recipes.

If you’re looking for a new delicious recipe that uses corn oil, check out this Kick’N Chicken recipe:

chickenKick’N Chicken with Mango Salsa

Ingredients:

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (one pound total)
2 tablespoons Weber Kick’N Chicken Seasoning
1/4 cup Mazola(C) Corn Oil
3 tablespoons fresh lemon or lime juice

Mango Pepper Salsa
2 cups diced fresh mango, 1/4-inch dice
1 cup diced red bell pepper, 1/4-inch dice
3 tablespoons minced red onion
1 tablespoon minced jalapeno pepper
1 tablespoon fresh lemon or lime juice
2 tablespoons minced, fresh cilantro
Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

Preheat grill to medium heat, or between 350 to 450 F.
Trim excess fat from chicken, rinse and pat dry using paper towels. If necessary, pound chicken to an even 1/2-inch thickness using a mallet, rolling pin or cast iron skillet (this will ensure the chicken cooks evenly). Place chicken into a 1-gallon size resealable plastic bag. Add seasoning, oil and lemon juice to the bag. Seal bag and turn to thoroughly coat chicken.
Grill chicken over direct high heat for 6 to 8 minutes. Turn chicken and continue to cook for 6 to 8 minutes until cooked through. Transfer cooked chicken to a serving plate.
Combine salsa ingredients in a bowl; stir and season to taste with salt and pepper. (Can be made up to 8 hours ahead and refrigerated until ready to serve.)
Top grilled chicken with mango salsa and serve immediately.
Recipe tip: Try slicing the chicken onto warm, low-fat tortillas, top with mango salsa and crumbled queso fresco cheese for delicious spicy chicken wraps.

Healthy, reduced-guilt holiday desserts

The holidays are right around the corner and so are the rich, indulgent foods that adorn many dessert tables. Sweets of the season tend to be rich in flavor but also calories and fat.

Still, you don’t have to deny your cravings this holiday season. It is possible to create satisfying, sweet treats that are healthier options than traditional holiday fare. With these quick nutrition-savvy tips, enjoying decadent desserts has never tasted so good.

Infuse fresh flavors

Start your baking with all-natural ingredients and incorporate seasonal fruits and vegetables, such as apples, pears, sweet potatoes, pomegranates and pumpkins. These, along with super foods like walnuts and soy, are excellent choices to increase the nutritional benefits, and enhance the flavor, of baked goods.

Try fresh variations to old classics to give your homemade desserts a gourmet twist. Add a dash of vitamin A-rich chili powder for a bold take on dark chocolate brownies or tarts. Experiment with exciting combinations like lavender and lemon for a bright, unique flavor and a healthy dose of iron, plus vitamin C. Mix antioxidant-rich basil and cinnamon to produce a powerful taste sensation with added health benefits.

Make smart swaps

When deciding on a recipe for your next holiday gathering, take a look at its nutritional value, as not all desserts are created equal. To create reduced-guilt baked goods use alternative ingredients, such as egg whites instead of whole eggs or whole wheat flour instead of white flour. Apple sauce is also a clever way to introduce moisture into cakes rather than using oil.

A reduced-fat pumpkin pie – which can be made by blending pumpkin with healthier ingredients, like egg substitute and non-fat milk, may be significantly lower in calories and fat than pies made with full-fat ingredients.

As an added bonus, the leftover pumpkin pie ingredients, plus a few extra items likely on hand in your kitchen, can easily yield a low-calorie smoothie. This smooth, frozen treat is the perfect way to enjoy the fruits of your labor while baking for company.

Add a smooth finish

Don’t discount chocolate. In addition to being delicious, dark chocolate with at least 70 percent cacao contains heart-friendly antioxidants. Make a festive fondue platter with warm dark chocolate and sliced fruits like bananas, pineapple and strawberries.

Similar to a traditional fondue table, by creating a variety of dips and glazes, you and your guests can indulge in a sinfully good concoction that is still light on calories. For dips, opt for a Greek yogurt base that is high in protein and sweeten with natural ingredients, such as agave nectar and honey. A cinnamon glaze made with soy milk and tofu will please your palate – even if you follow a vegan diet.

Pick petite portions

Anyone with a sweet tooth can attest to the desire to eat with abandon during the last course. However, controlling portion sizes – whether cutting thinner slices of cake or splitting a piece with a friend – is an important part of smarter holiday indulgence.

Better yet, stick to smaller servings by getting creative with the end product. When baking a pie, lose the top crust. Or, instead of a pie, try a bite-size tartlet. Encourage sampling by making mini-muffins and cupcakes rather than their oversized counterparts.

Making a few small changes to your ingredients and your intake will lower calories, provide some unexpected nutritional benefits and keep you satisfied all season long.

Experience the flavor of Vietnamese cinnamon

Cinnamon may be the world’s most popular baking spice, but all cinnamons are not created equal, and in the foodie world, Vietnamese cinnamon has emerged as the most prized of the bunch.

The bunch, by the way, includes an array of cinnamons and cassias, all from evergreen trees of the Cinnamomum genus. Some are from Indonesia, others from China, Sri Lanka or Mexico.

Dark reddish/brown and lushly aromatic, Vietnamese cinnamon is favored for its distinctly sweet, peppery, spicy flavor. Less tannic and more robust than its relatives, it delivers a powerful taste whether used solo – as in those gooey rolls or spirally bread – or in combo with other spices – in a curry or pumpkin pie spice blend, for example.

All that potency comes from an extraordinarily high volatile oil content – the highest of all the cinnamons about 1 to 6 percent, compared with .5 to 2.5 percent in other cinnamons. The high oil content also helps the flavor disperse fully; there’s no mistaking what spice you’re dealing with when you taste a dish seasoned with Vietnamese cinnamon.

Tips for using Vietnamese cinnamon:

Browse any assortment of baking recipes and you’ll find cinnamon in the ingredients lists for cakes, muffins, breads, cookies, pies, bread puddings, cobblers, crisps, and pastries. It also has a special affinity for fruits, such as apples, apricots, cherries, pears, bananas and citrus.

Cinnamon’s warm flavor also shows up in plenty of savory dishes – soups, sauces, chutneys, catsup, pickles, fish, meat and poultry glazes, as well as many ethnic recipes. Its pungent sweetness also enhances grains and hearty vegetables like carrots, squash, potatoes, beets and onions. In most savory dishes, cooks prefer Vietnamese cinnamon over other cinnamons because of its ability to hold its own alongside other lively ingredients.

When using Vietnamese cinnamon to spice a beverage – a hot cocoa, an eggnog, hot cider, coffee or tea – you might start by stirring it into your prepared beverage just a bit at a time. Once you nail your preferred amount, you can add it directly – right into your coffeemaker basket along with your ground coffee, your mulling cider pot or your tea blend, for example.

Vietnamese cinnamon also partners well with other spices like cloves, nutmeg, cardamom, ginger, allspice and black pepper.

Here are a few places you might not have considered using cinnamon:

* Soups, stews and chili
* Peanut brittle
* Popcorn seasoning
* Spice rubs for meats
* Grilling marinades for fruits
* Rice and tapioca puddings
* Chocolate cakes
* Spiced nuts
* Granola and muesli

Here’s a recipe that shows off the vibrant flavor of Vietnamese cinnamon:

Poached Cinnamon Cheese Pears

4 large pears
3/4 cup pear juice
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cinnamon stick
2 tablespoons golden raisins
4 ounces softened cream cheese
1/4 teaspoon Vietnamese cinnamon powder
3 tablespoons slivered almonds

Slice pears in half lengthwise and core. Place in a saucepan. In a small bowl combine juice, honey, vanilla extract, cinnamon stick and raisins; pour over the pears. Cover and simmer about half an hour, until pears are just tender. Place pears on a serving platter. Blend together cream cheese, leftover cooking liquid and cinnamon powder. Spoon some of the mixture atop the center of each pear, sprinkle with almonds, and serve.

Makes four large servings.

For a collection of seven savory recipes with cinnamon from various publications, visit www.theKitchn.com. Vietnamese cinnamon is available through Frontier Natural Products. They offer their organic Vietnamese cinnamon (5 percent oil) in one-pound bulk bags as well as 1.31-ounce bottles. This brand won the Gold Star Award from the restaurant industry publication Sante Magazine, who deemed it “a standout.”

Cooking with Kids

Once temperatures start to drop, keeping kids active can be a difficult task as weekends migrate away from park visits and Little League games to more time spent indoors. Luckily, there are plenty of things you can do in your own home to keep children engaged and help limit their video game and TV time. One of those things is cooking together, which reinforces math, science and reading comprehension skills while building great memories.

Keep your household free of the winter blues by following these simple steps to a successful and fun time with kids in the kitchen:

Establish good habits

Set good habits for your children by teaching them to wash their hands before, during and after cooking. Kid-friendly tools, like a small step stool or high-tech faucet, can help make reinforcing these habits even easier. Let your little sous-chefs know that they should wash their hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds, by helping them count or singing the “Happy Birthday” song twice. Remember to set a good example by washing your own hands before and after eating and during the cooking process, as needed.

Different stages for different ages

Understanding which tasks your child is capable of doing is important. Children under 5 years old enjoy observing how recipes are compiled and can help out with small tasks like setting the table, while school-age children can strengthen their math skills as they help combine ingredients for recipes and practice cooking basics, like cracking an egg. This stage is a great time to introduce the importance of choosing nutritious ingredients for everyday cooking, which can help lay the groundwork for a healthy lifestyle. Tap teenagers for help by encouraging them to choose the menu or explore new and exciting cuisines.

Timing is everything

Avoiding a tight schedule is important. Instead of involving children in the dinner rush, enlist their help on a weekend afternoon when there is plenty of time for questions, experiments or careful demonstrations. Choose a time when everyone is well-rested and not easily frustrated. Plan ahead when deciding what recipe you will cook together. For younger kids, consider starting with a simple dish that has fewer than five ingredients like a fruit salad or an easy muffin recipe. A pizza assembly line allows children to show their creativity by choosing their own mini-crusts, sauces, cheese and toppings.

And if nothing else, just enjoy these moments! They may be messy, they may (or may not) be fun… but above all else they will be memorable and cherished for years to come!

Summer Cookout: Sultry Sides

Whether it’s hot dogs, chicken, or hamburgers, nothing is better that an entrée done right over a flame. Everyone has the entrees down, but what is there to do about the sides? Of course there are always the classics of potato salad and baked beans, but every now and then don’t you want to switch it up?

The first side to try is a twist on a classic: grilled corn. You’re going to want to remove the silk, but keep the husk and soak in cold water for ten minutes before grilling. Once you’ve done this, lay the corn on a piece of aluminum foil and spread a thin layer of butter over the ear(s). Then sprinkle the ear(s) with a little pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg. Wrap the corn tightly and lay on the grill and cook for ten minutes or until soft.

This next item is sure to have your mouth watering for more. Get a few sweet potatoes and slice them like French fries as thick or as thin as you like. Place the wedges on aluminum foil and sprinkle with paprika, lemon juice, salt, and a dash of pepper then coat with a tiny amount of olive oil. Wrap the foil around the wedges and make sure it is securely sealed at the top and place on the grill. Let these cook for about ten or fifteen minutes, let cool for a few minutes, and enjoy with ketchup or your favorite dipping sauce.

You know of grilled vegetables, but a well-kept secret is grilled fruit. Take a wooden spear and soak it in water for about thirty minutes. Chop up fruit like apples, mangos, pineapple, oranges (with peel still attached to side that will touch the grill), and cranberries that will make this treat even more delicious. Place the fruit pieces on the spear according to personal preference and grill for seven to ten minutes each spear.

These quick and easy sides make even the most cliché grilled dinner full of life. Adding semi-sweet touches to your favorite grilling classics can send your taste buds soaring and wanting more.