love bites

If there is any chance of denying your kids are growing up right before your eyes, it only takes a holiday or two to make it clear that there has been a shift.

My “babies” are only 16 and 12 but gone is the Valentine’s Day frenzy of candy grams, homemade treats for the class and finding the perfect Valentine’s cards for the big exchange. Perhaps its denial but I refuse to “go gently into that good night,” when it comes to my maturing babes and ANY holiday. When they are grown with families of their own, I want them to remember their childhood home as a place of tradition and celebration – no matter their age.

So for the past few years, I have made them their own Valentine’s Day celebration replete with decorations and a decadent amount of treats and sweets. I call this little party, “Love Bites,” because each morsel is filled with love (and of course, you can’t overlook the fact that sometimes, love DOES bite).

Love Bites Menu

The first year I created “Love Bites,” it was a wild-haired idea that came to me about an hour before school pick-up. I dashed to the store and bought heart-shaped cookies, nuts, conversation hearts, caramels, strawberries and whipped cream. It wasn’t a fancy display but I knew from the looks on their faces, it wasn’t about the fancy, it was about making an unexpected and special gesture just for them. Don’t think over the top if you create your own Love Bites table, just keep it simple and real – for whoever you’re loving.

Mini Layer Cakes with Strawberries+Mint

Mini Layer Cakes with Strawberries+Mint

Click HERE for recipe

Palmiers dipped in red chocolate+crushed peanuts

Palmiers dipped in red chocolate+crushed peanuts

 

White Chocolate Peanut Butter Krispies

White Chocolate Peanut Butter Krispies

Click HERE for recipe

Chocolate dipped strawberries with red sprinkles

Chocolate dipped strawberries with red sprinkles

 

Chocolate Tulip cups filled with Vanilla pudding and topped with raspberries & chocolate shavings

Chocolate Tulip cups filled with Vanilla pudding and topped with raspberries & chocolate shavings

 

Chocolate dipped alphabet cookies

Chocolate dipped alphabet cookies

 

Blackberry+Strawberry infused water with mint

Blackberry+Strawberry infused water with mint

 

Food alone won't fill your table - pay attention to the special touches

Food alone won’t fill your table – pay attention to the special touches

Happy Valentine’s Day!

white chocolate peanut butter krispies

Perfect for any holiday or special occasion, these White Chocolate Peanut Butter Krispies are highly addictive. A friend gave us some after her annual family cookie baking session in early December. Everything she gave us was yummy but my kids went wild for these delicious morsels. They are soooooooooo easy to make that I gave them out for teacher gifts at holiday time (I was asked for the recipe by several teachers).

For Valentine’s Day, I followed the recipe below and added conversation hearts and pink sprinkles for a little Valentine’s Day flair.

Ingredients:
2 cups Rice Krispies cereal
2 cups dry roasted peanuts
2 cups miniature marshmallows
1 cup creamy peanut butter
*2 pounds white melting chocolate =  (2, 12-oz packages plus 1 1/3 cup)
**I used Ghirardelli White Chocolate Melting Chips (NOT chocolate chip morsels)
**You can also use vanilla CandiQuik

Conversation Hearts and Pink Sprinkles add a Valentine's Day Flair

Conversation Hearts and Pink Sprinkles add a Valentine’s Day Flair

Directions:
In a large bowl, combine cereal, peanuts and marshmallows. In a microwave safe bowl, melt chocolate and peanut butter on high for 1 minute and then in 30 second intervals until fully melted. Stir chocolate into cereal mixture. Mixture will be slightly runny. Drop by tablespoon onto waxed paper. Add sprinkles (conversation hearts) at this point if desired. Let set until firm, 2 hours. Store in airtight container.
One batch makes between 20 and 30 pieces depending upon how big you drop them onto the wax paper.

mini strawberry layer cakes with fresh cream

The perfect little dessert for any occasion, these cakes are tailored for Valentine’s Day with bright red strawberries, fresh cream, chocolate zest and mint.

Ingredients:
Cake
Use your favorite vanilla/white cake recipe
Add 1 1/2 tsp. lemon zest
Add 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
Add 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Large 6-well cupcake pan

Fresh Whipped Cream
8 ounces heavy whipping cream
1 Tb pure granulated sugar
1 Tb vanilla extract

Other
Cleaned and sliced strawberries
Dark chocolate zest
Fresh mint leaves

Directions:
Make cake batter according to your recipe, adding the additional ingredients listed above (lemon zest, cinnamon and vanilla extract). Pour each cupcake well 3/4 full of cake batter and bake according to directions. Once finished, let cool.

In a blender, mix together the heavy cream, granulated sugar and vanilla extract. Blend on medium-high until stiff peaks form.

Using a perforated knife, cut each oversized cupcake into three layers.

Layer cupcakes with whipping cream, strawberries and mint. Repeat. Once the top layer is finished, zest dark chocolate over the whipped cream and top with a strawberry or two and a fresh mint leaf.

Place mini cakes on a heart shaped doilie on a cake stand. Place fresh mint leaves all around to fill white space.

Place mini cakes on a heart shaped doilie on a cake stand. Place fresh mint leaves all around to fill white space.

champagne and flowers

This simple and stunning floral arrangement will beautifully grace your holiday table or serve as a novel hostess gift. It works double-duty as a floral arrangement and a festive drink. Once the flowers have run their course, you can remove the oasis and pop open the bottle of bubbly.

Embellish arrangement with descriptive words for your Thanksgiving table

Embellish arrangement with descriptive Holiday Expressions tags

Surprisingly, this arrangement was made with just three bunches of flowers from my local Pavilions grocery store. The flowers and the Oasis floral foam came to a mere $18. The bottle of champagne (or sparkling wine) adds to the cost, but you can still create an affordable arrangement or gift on a budget. See this list from Gayot for their top Ten Sparkling Wines; all reasonably priced.

Start with three small bunches of florals

Start with three small bunches of florals

 

Alstroemerias in a deep burgundy play well against the Chrysanthemums

Alstroemerias in a deep burgundy play well against the Chrysanthemums


Items Needed

1 bottle Champagne or Sparkling Wine/Prosecco
Oasis floral foam
2 to 3 bunches of flowers
Chrysanthemum (burgundy and gold)
Alstroemeria (deep burgudy)
Fishing wire
Holiday Expressions tags (the ones pictured below are from the Paper Source)

Gently hang word tags from your arrangement with clear fishing wire

Gently hang Holiday Expressions tags from your arrangement with clear fishing wire

Directions
Make sure oasis is soaked in water for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Once soaked, take the oasis out of the water and let drain for a few minutes. Take the oasis and cut the edges so the shape is more circular. The oasis is easy to cut with a sharp knife – think of it as slicing a piece of cake. Once you have the desired circular shape, carefully push it down onto the chamapgne bottle until it is firmly in place. Water may drip down the bottle as you are working with it so keep a paper towel on hand to wipe up any moisture.

Trim corners of the square oasis into a circular shape

Trim corners of the square oasis into a circular shape

Gently push oasis onto top of bottle until firmly in place. Wipe up any moisture that may drip down the bottle while you are creating the arrangement

Gently push oasis onto top of bottle until firmly in place. Wipe up any moisture that may drip down the bottle while you are creating the arrangement

Start filling in around all sides of the oasis, one flower at a time. Be sure to fill in from the bottom as well for a round and robust effect. Keep filling in the oasis, varying the colors and types of flowers. Your goal is to create a round shape that is full. You don’t want to see any part of the green oasis. Once you have everything filled in, make sure you turn the bottle to look at it from all sides.

Start filling in the oasis from all sides, making sure to cover the bottom as well

Start filling in the oasis from all sides, making sure to cover the bottom as well

 

Keep filling in with flowers until you have a full effect and the oasis cannot be seen at all

Keep filling in with flowers until you have a full effect and the oasis cannot be seen at all

If you want to embellish the arrangements with special holiday words (like this version below for Thanksgiving), tie each small card with fishing wire and hang from the arrangement. To keep your arrangement alive, you can spritz with water every other day. This arrangement here lasted over a week.

I love how the fishing wire is invisible, creating a floating look with the word cards.

I love how the fishing wire is invisible, creating a floating look with the Holiday Expressions tags

Bold holiday colors showcase the beautiful arrangement

Bold holiday colors showcase the beautiful arrangement

alice’s stuffing

I love holiday recipes that have a life of their own brimming with history, insight and love. This cherished Thanksgiving recipe was shared by one of my dear friends, Annie-Laurie.

Annie-Laurie married into an Irish family of five, with her husband being the baby and the only boy. From day one, the family scooped her up into their holiday traditions and high-spirited meals. I’ve heard her recount many years of endearing holiday stories…turkey cook-offs, taking turns around the table saying what each person is thankful for, piano playing and singing and a bevy of games from Catch Phrase to Pictionary.

Annie-Laurie’s first Thanksgiving with her husband’s family was 25 years ago. Both of her in-laws have passed on but imprinted onto their family treasured customs that the family shares in, especially during this time of year.

This is Annie-Laurie’s favorite recipe from her mother-in-law, Alice. In reminiscing about Thanksgiving with Alice, she said, “Alice made everything from scratch and she did it so well. The whole meal was ready at the same time. She would always want us to take our time and enjoy it because it took an entire day to prepare. My sister-in-law, Beth, has followed in her footsteps and makes the Thanksgiving meal a treat. Next week we will have Alice’s stuffing and I will savor every mouthful.”

Counterclockwise: Alice's recipe in her own writing. she and husband Jack in the early years. Sitting down to Thanksgiving in the early 80s

Clockwise: Alice’s recipe in her own writing. She and husband Jack in their early years. Sitting down to Thanksgiving in the early 80s.

Recipes aren’t just instructions on a page; they connect families and friends to the past the present and the future. A special recipe holds purpose and love and the ability to tell a family’s story from generation to generation. The love of those we miss comes alive with each ingredient we add and with each bite we take. Ask your friends about their favorite family recipes and you will be sure to not only get a delicious new dish to make but insight into the love of family that connects us all.

Alice’s Stuffing is meant to cook inside the turkey. See below for a second version that omits a few ingredients and cooks outside of the bird.

Fresh, cubed bread, ready to be mixed with fresh ingredients

Fresh, cubed bread, ready to be mixed with celery, onions and herbs

Ingredients
1 cup butter or margarine
2 cups diced celery
1/2 cup chopped onions
1/4 cup chopped parsley
2 1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp poultry seasoning
1/2 tsp pepper
16 cups lightly packed fresh bread cubes
3 eggs lightly beaten

Fresh, wholesome food

A simple recipe using the freshest ingredients

Directions (about 40 minutes before adding to the turkey)
In a large saucepan over medium heat, in hot butter or margarine, cook celery and onions until tender, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add parsley, salt, poultry seasoning and pepper; mix well. Stir in bread cubes and eggs and mix well. Makes enough stuffing for one 8 to 11 pound turkey.

Use a pretty casserole dish for stuffing that bakes outside of the turkey

Use a pretty casserole dish for stuffing that bakes outside of the turkey

Crumbly Bread Stuffing
For stuffing cooked outside of the turkey, prepare as above but use only 3/4 cup butter and omit the eggs. Cook in a lightly buttered casserole dish on 350 degrees for about 25 to 30 minutes.

 

sweet potato soufflé

I asked a few of my best friends for their favorite family Thanksgiving recipe. My friend Lisa, always supportive of everything her friends do, sent me this recipe from her husband’s southern Georgia family. I made the dish (fluffy sweetness and savory scrumptiousness all in one bite), took pictures and sat down to write about it. It took me back to how Lisa and I became friends.

It was my first day of second grade at a new school. I was sporting a Dorothy Hamill pixie cut and wearing a light blue puffy jacket from JCPenney (my sister and I had matching ones). I was assigned to a square table of four with Lisa sitting next to me. She showed me where the drinking fountain was and we have been friends ever since. We survived the many adventures of grade school and then, all girls Catholic high school. We have shared the stages of life that only lifelong friendships can – homecoming dances, football games, big 80s style hair, cramming for exams, parties, sneaking out, graduation, college, concerts, careers, trips, marriage, babies, birthdays, book clubs, cooking clubs, illness, death and everything in between.

Friends since age seven... All the beautiful (and not so beautiful stages)...

Friends since age seven… All the beautiful (and not so beautiful stages)…

Friendships are like good recipes. They bring comfort, fulfillment, love and deliciousness to your life every day. This recipe is as good as the girl it came from (thanks, Lis!). Lisa adjusts the recipe for her son’s food allergies so you can also enjoy the same yumminess in a Gluten free and Dairy free version.

Ingredients
3 cups sweet potatoes, baked and mashed (approximately two large sweet potatoes)
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup evaporated milk
1 stick butter, softened
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Crumbled topping of pecans, brown sugar, flour and butter

Crumbled topping of pecans, brown sugar, flour and butter


Topping
1 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup flour
1 cup brown sugar
1 stick butter, melted

*For a Gluten Free and Dairy Free version use the following:
Non-dairy butter (Earth Balance)
Gluten Free flour
Vanilla Almond milk (in place of the evaporated milk)

Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix together sweet potatoes, sugar, eggs, evaporated milk, butter and vanilla until well blended. Pour into a buttered casserole dish. Mix the pecans, flour, brown sugar and melted butter and sprinkle over the entire top of the sweet potato mixture. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes.

Golden brown and cripsy crust just out of the oven

Golden brown and cripsy crust just out of the oven

You can make the Sweet Potato Souffle a day ahead. Cover tightly and refrigerate. To serve, simply bring it to room temperature and bake. The souffle also makes for great leftovers.

Use a large sweet potato and leaf-shaped cookie cutter top embellish soufflé on your Thanksgiving table

Use a large sweet potato and leaf-shaped cookie cutter to embellish soufflé on your Thanksgiving table with “Sweet Potato Leaves”

organic broccoli soup

Our friends at Red and Honey have a fun feature called Sunday Night Soups. Given that it’s a football Sunday in November, please enjoy this re-post from Cashmere Apron and check out the link to Red and Honey for their super yummy soup suggestions.

Soup is one of those meals that warms your heart and soul. When the human body gets sick, it is soup that it craves. It is a true “comfort food” that makes you reminisce of cold winter nights and family meals together. I love how you can make this soup so quickly and fill your loved one’s stomachs with loads of pureed vegetables. I try my hardest to purchase organic products when making this soup and have replaced the original heavy cream with fat-free cream. It is a simple recipe that can help you get through the middle of a busy week. Let’s face it, we are all making our Thanksgiving To Do lists and no one has time for burdensome meals. If you have an extra hungry mouth to please, just add a chopped salad or a nice piece of crusty bread.

Ingredients
4 Tb butter, room temperature
2 pounds fresh, organic broccoli, small chop
1 large organic onion, medium chop
1 large organic carrot, small chop
Salt and pepper to taste
3 Tb all-purpose flour
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup cream (I used fat-free)
Garnish with sliced scallions, bacon bits, cheddar cheese

Directions
Melt buter in a heavy-medium pot. Add broccoli, onion, carrot, salt and pepper and sauté until onion is transparent. Add the flour and cook for one minute or until the flour is a blonde color. Add stock and bring to a boil.

Simmer uncovered until the broccoli is tender, about 15 minutes. Pour in cream. With an immersion blender, puree the soup. Add salt and pepper, to taste. Can add more cream if you want. Serve with the garnish of your choice. Serves:4