Category Archives: Food

Kids Birthday Ideas_featured

Elf Hat Brownie Bites Upstage Birthday Cake at Elf on the Shelf Party

Kids Party IdeasDon’t think you have to slave for hours in the kitchen to bake up something delicious. These Elf Hat Brownie Bites—made at the last minute—nearly upstaged the birthday cake.

Depending on your perspective, it’s either too late—or too early—to be talking Elf on the Shelf.

But not when you’re turning 5 and not when you were (and still) so enamored with the arrival of Santa’s little helper prior to Christmas.

Each time my niece was asked what kind of birthday party she wanted, without hesitation she replied, “Elf on the Shelf.”

At first, we chalked it up to the newness of the elf not wearing off, but even as it got closer it got to the big day, she never wavered.

After years of being spoiled by her typical Disney princess party requests—and the plethora of decoration options—she threw us a bit of a curveball. But it actually came together more easily than expected with a little creative thinking.

The decorations were easy. Red tablecloths, napkins, cups, etc., were plentiful thanks to Valentine’s Day. A tabletop tree was easily found among the Christmas décor. Even the guest of honor—aside from the birthday girl—the Elf on the Shelf made a magical appearance.

Kids Birthday IdeasThe cake, made with Wilton’s book-shaped pan, was inspired by the Elf on the Shelf storybook. The birthday message was written on one side, while the Elf graced the opposite page.

Peppermints in the page corners added a holiday feel, and the Twizzler bookmark gave it a whimsical touch.

Though much more time was spent baking and decorating the cake, the Elf Hat Brownie Bites were the talk of the party.

Thanks to Pinterest (what else?) I got the idea from a recipe that was a little more involved, but the end result was very similar.

Simply bake a brownie mix using a mini cupcake pan. Cool and remove from pan. Add a swirl of buttercream frosting, and garnish with a strawberry with the top sliced off.

Extremely easy and delicious! Not to mention the perfect complement to an Elf on the Shelf birthday party.


Valentines Day Desserts_featured

5 (Fairly) Easy Desserts to Impress Your Sweetheart on Valentine’s Day

Valentines Day DessertsWant to do something sweet (literally) for your sweetie? Whether you’re at ease in the kitchen or just learning your way around, try your hand at one of these heartwarming desserts.

You can earn a lot of brownie points for the effort put forth in making something homemade this Valentine’s Day.

Thankfully, there’s plenty of inspiration to be found in this month’s food and cooking magazines with recipes inspired by everything from the traditional sweet staple (chocolate) to the popular color of the season (red).

Even if you’re crunched for time or want to slowly test the waters, these five fairly easy Valentine’s Day desserts will help you impress your sweetheart with your thoughtfulness.

Chocolate-Cinnamon Pudding, Taste of the South: Pudding isn’t just for kids anymore, not with this dressed-up version topped with chocolate shavings and cinnamon sticks. You’ll have to use the stovetop to make this dessert—no instant shortcuts here—so if you can manage that, you can pull this one off. But, judging by the photo, it looks like it’s worth the risk.

Valentine Sorbet Sandwiches, Everyday Food: A lighter, heart-healthier version of the ice cream sandwich, this treat makes use of sorbet that’s store-bought for a time-saving bonus. The cookie part of the sandwich is made from scratch but isn’t too complicated for a curious or experienced baker to pull off. Some may want to have a store-bought backup just in case.

Red Velvet Cheesecake, Food Network Magazine: This incorporates (almost) all you need for a perfect night: chocolate, red velvet and decadent cheesecake. The magazine says this recipe clocks in at a little over 30 minutes of active preparation, but you’ll want to keep in mind that you’ll have to chill this treat for at least four hours before you can slice and serve.

Strawberry Jam Cake, Cooking With Paula Deen: This fresh confection is perfect for the person who’s not much of a chocolate fan. The light cake gets its berry flavor from strawberry jam spread between its layers, which are then topped with a frosting that incorporates fresh berries. This one’s a little higher on the difficulty level but definitely not impossible.

“Puppy Love” Cherry Crunchies, Every Day With Rachael Ray: You read that right. If the love of your life (at least right now) is your four-legged friend, remember him or her this Valentine’s Day with these dog biscuits flavored with dried cherries. Bonus points for using heart-shaped cookie cutters when cutting out the dough. But either way, your pooch will love you.

King Cake_featured

King (Cake) for a Day: Sweet Mardi Gras Tradition Gets Sandra Lee Semi-Homemade

King Cake Recipe.jpgWant to get in on the Mardi Gras revelry even if the carnival season isn’t celebrated in your city? Try this Big Easy King Cake. It may be the easiest thing you’ll ever make!

Growing up in what many believe is the shadow of New Orleans’ more well known Mardi Gras celebration, I took–and still take–pride in the unique carnival atmosphere that would overtake my hometown of Mobile, Ala., for a couple of weeks out of the year.

Already well underway this year, mystic society members aboard festive, themed floats have been tossing moon pies, doubloons, beads and other random assorted throws (large toothbrushes, stuffed animals, candy, peanuts and panties) into the crowds of revelers that pack the downtown streets.

Though Mobile is gaining some of its rightful notoriety as the birthplace of Mardi Gras, many still place its origins in the Big Easy. Most food and cooking magazines do.

A Sandra Lee Semi-Homemade magazine issue from my archives would be among those. Its January/February 2011 issue featured a New Orleans-inspired menu of Mini Muffulettas, Chicken Gumbo, Chicken Creole, Hurricanes and Big Easy King Cake.

So being 500 miles away from home, Mardi Gras and a “real” king cake, I opted to do the next best (and easiest) thing. I made that Big Easy King Cake from Sandra Lee Semi-Homemade, and it is both big and easy.

More bread-like but sweetened with cinnamon and sometimes cream cheese, king cake is one of the staples of Mardi Gras, and Sandra’s is one of the easiest recipes I’ve seen–or made. Simply arrange canned cinnamon rolls on a pan and bake. Top with the icing that’s included, then sprinkle with sugars in the season’s traditional colors of purple, green and gold. Or you can tint the icing instead.

The colors are said to represent the three gifts the wise men bestowed upon the baby Jesus, who some say is represented by the small plastic baby that is inserted in the cake after baking. Tradition also has it that the person who finds it is declared “king” for the day. Others say that lucky person must provide the king cake at the next party or even host a Mardi Gras gathering.

Fat Tuesday, which this year is February 12, will mark the end of the king cake’s season–at least if you’re looking to find it at a local bakery. But if you’re looking to let the good times roll–or as we say in Mobile, “laissez les bons temps rouler”–you can make this easy treat for a taste of carnival wherever you are.


Football Feast

4 Slimmed-Down Super Bowl Snack Options From Health and Fitness Magazines

Super Bowl recipes

Walnut-Goat Cheese Dip

Having people over for the big game? Serve these snacks that are as healthy as they are tasty at your Super Bowl party this weekend–courtesy of our favorite fitness magazines.

Have you seen the picture online of the football stadium made of snack foods? It’s built from guacamole, sour cream, cheese, bacon, chips, and much more, all surrounded by 58 Twinkies. One account online estimates the calorie count at more than 24,000.

Although such a snack scene would make your Super Bowl party guests smile and laugh, it certainly wouldn’t do much for their health and waistlines.

So, with your Super Bowl gathering in mind, I scoured my stack of recent health and fitness magazines to find healthier alternatives. Your guests don’t have to know they’re eating healthy, but you can be happy knowing that you fed them well.

  1. Sausage Pizza With Sweet Peppers from Shape magazine. At only 351 calories for TWO slices, this pizza is made with a whole wheat crust, fresh veggies and spicy chicken sausage to cut down on the fat and calories.
  2. Men’s Fitness magazine‘s Chili Dip. The magazine cooks up four ways to enjoy beef roast, one of which is a chili dip that can be served with tortilla chips or fresh veggie sticks. Beef, it does a body good. Isn’t that the saying?
  3. The Walnut-Goat Cheese Dip from Prevention magazine. I tried this recipe recently, and encourage you to do the same. Game day–or any day, really–is a great one for this dip. Have plenty of fresh pita chips and veggie sticks on hand. It’ll go fast!
  4. Double-Cut Pork Chops from Men’s Journal magazine. If you’d rather serve a meal than just a table full of snacks, this is the recipe to use. Made with fresh herbs and served with a side of sweet potato fries, it’s sure to be a crowd-pleaser.

What are you serving at your Super Bowl party?


Valentine's Day Recipes_featured

Not Made in the South? Red Velvet Cake Recipes Outnumber the Myths Behind Its Origins

Valentine's Day RecipeFor Valentine’s Day, you may be searching for the perfect red velvet something to whip up for your sweetie. But how many of these myths about this colorful treat have you heard?

Love will soon be in the air, and that means you’re sure to find recipes for some variation of red velvet in this season’s food magazines—not to mention any holiday cookbook you have on hand.

The fascination with the moist, decadent, seasonally appropriate-colored cake (for Valentine’s Day or Christmas) topped with cream cheese has spun off into cupcakes, cookies, waffles, even fried chicken.

But who or what do we have to thank for the iconic dessert that started it all? Perhaps the free-wheeling flappers of the 1920s? Canadians? Turns out, no one can really say for sure, though there is proof that red velvet was around long before it made its dubious appearance as an armadillo-shaped groom’s cake on the movie Steel Magnolias.

Several food columnists point to one can-you-believe-it story about the cake’s origins that sounds a lot like what’s behind a famous cookie recipe that’s been circulating in cyberspace.

The story goes that in the 1920s a patron who dined at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York was so smitten with the red velvet cake she ate there that she requested the recipe from the chef. Her request was granted to the tune of $350, which she paid. But to even the score, so to speak, she passed out copies of the recipe to as many others as she could.

This led to red velvet cake also being known as Waldorf-Astoria cake, $100 or $200 cake—none of which I’d ever heard before. Like others, I assumed it was among the many regional delicacies the South holds dear.

Other theories about the origin of the name come from what is believed to be a chemical reaction between the baking soda and chocolate. But that one doesn’t hold up either.

Because the large amounts of red food coloring are what give the cake its color, red velvet cake can be nearly any hue you choose. Blogger and Southern Living editor Christy Jordan includes a recipe for green velvet cake in her Southern Plate cookbook. And I’ve even seen an orange velvet cake on television (and later put that idea to use for a groom’s cake).

But if you’d rather stick to the traditional and seasonally-appropriate color, there’s more than enough ideas for cakes—and otherwise—to keep you in the red.


Healthy New Year Resolution_featured

5 Healthy Eating Resolutions for the New Year

Healthy New Year's ResolutionsEating better and getting fit are among the most popular of the new year’s resolutions. Pretty daunting on their own, but break it down into smaller, doable steps for success.

If you’re making New Year’s resolutions, you more than likely are planning to eat better. The new year is a great opportunity to make such promises to ourselves. Eating better is on my list too. But it’s a big resolution.

So, what if we make it a little more specific? What if we break that one big resolution into several smaller, more doable goals for 2013? Like:

  1. Drink more water. Sometimes, simple thirst and slight dehydration can feel like hunger. Keep hydrated for overall health and to feel satisfied throughout the day. If you’re working out during the day, add another serving of water for every 20 minutes of activity.
  2. Avoid emotional eating. Here’s a simple trick: Make a list of 10 things to do other than eat when things get stressful and post it on the fridge or pantry door. Call a friend, walk around the block, work on a puzzle, the possibilities are endless. Then when you go to the pantry during stressful moments, you have more positive options for relieving that stress.
  3. Add more fruits and vegetables to your day. Do you get your full nine servings in each day? I don’t, so I’m going to try to slowly add more in. If this is one of your resolutions for healthy eating in 2013, consider local produce.
  4. Remember to indulge. No one wants to feel deprived, so go ahead, make Friday nights the nights you have dessert after dinner. Pick one Saturday each month where you won’t count calories or carbs. Allow yourself an indulgence every once in a while to keep from getting bored with your new healthy eating routine.
  5. Arm yourself with information and great recipes. You can do that with subscriptions to great magazines like Eating Well, Prevention and Cooking Light. There are a wide array of Cooking & Food and Health & Fitness titles to learn from on your way to a healthier 2011!

What do you think? Will eating better be on your list of resolutions for the new year?