Kitchen Tips

Winter Produce

It’s the first day of winter and to celebrate I have a very special post, focusing on the seasonal fruits and vegetables throughout the year.

I am a firm believer that you should eat “seasonally,” or include foods in your meals that are grown at the same time of the year you eat them. For example, that means beets in the winter, and corn in the summer. Eating seasonally is important, and carries benefits to your health and your wallet.

At first glance, eating seasonally may seem simple—you eat foods that are in season, or being grown and harvested at the time of the year when you buy them. But there’s more to it than just being a trendy food movement. There are real benefits to eating foods that are available at their peak right now.

Perhaps the biggest tangible benefit of eating seasonally is that you’ll save money at the grocery store and farmer’s markets. When you buy what’s in season, you buy food that’s at the peak of its supply, and costs less to farmers and distribution companies to harvest and get to your grocery store. It may seem like common sense, but it’s one of those things many of us ignore when we’re shopping.

However, the best consequence of eating seasonally is that you get the best tasting, healthiest produce available. The same reasons that keep the cost of seasonal food down also drive its quality up: The food is grown closer to you so it doesn’t spoil on its trip, it’s harvested at the peak of its season, and sold during its season, before it spoils. Ideally, this means you’re getting fruits and vegetables that haven’t had time to lose their flavor or their health benefits by sitting in a shipping container for a trip across the ocean.

Please feel free to print this little “cheat sheet” and post in on the fridge as a reminder of what to look for at the grocery store this winter.

Sources: Life Hacker and United States Department of Agriculture

Beverages

Recipe—Creamy Hot Cocoa in a Crock-Pot

Over the weekend we had a holiday cookie decorating party for my son and his little buddies from school. It was wonderful! All the kiddos huddled around the table eating the cookie toppings quicker than they were putting them on the actual frosted cookies getting all hopped up on sugar. I love this time of year!

I wanted to have a little hot cocoa bar where all the kids (and grown ups) could make themselves a fancy cup of cocoa. I’m not talking little envelopes of dry god knows what. I’m talking thick and creamy REAL hot cocoa. The kind that fills you up and warms your belly, the kind that leaves a thick creamy mustache on your upper lip with every sip. I made this a couple of hours before the party and it was perfect! Along with a big crock pot full of pure joy I had bowls of marshmallows, mini chocolate chips, crushed candy canes, chocolate sprinkles, whip cream, and then of course some grown up mixers (Kahlua, Disaronno, Baily’s, Frangelico, and peppermint schnapps). Hey if you know me, you know I don’t half ass anything. 😉

This hot cocoa was by far the best I ever had! If you are having a few people and want to make something very special this holiday season then I recommend you make this hot cocoa. It will take every grown up back to their childhood days and will be memorable for all the kiddos.

Note: Makes 8–12 servings.

INGREDIENTS
14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
12 oz bag chocolate chips (dark, milk, or white chocolate will all work)
2 c heavy whipping cream
6 c milk (2% or whole)
1 tsp vanilla

STEPS

  • Combine all of the ingredients in a large crock-pot.
  • Turn on low.
  • Cook for 2 hours stirring occasionally using a whisk.
  • Ladle into a mug, add in your mixer (optional), and top with your favorite treats or leave as is.
Side Dishes, Soups

Recipe—Sweet Potato and Black Bean Chili

I’ve said it before and I will say it again. My hubby is not a big fan of sweet potatoes. However, we get them pretty frequently in our weekly organic produce delivery so I am always looking for creative new ways to prepare the sweet tasting tuberous root. When I saw this recipe I knew I had to try it. It was the perfect balance of spicy and sweet. Even thought there is no actual meat in it you can certainly fool yourself into thinking there is. It is delicious, thick, hearty, and filling. We served it with a grilled tri-tip and my husband ended up chopping up his tri tip and mixing it in. He is truly a meat and potatoes kind of guy. Give this a try next time you are looking for a super food side dish to warm you up.

Note: For a completely vegan version of this recipe sub vegetable broth for beef broth.

INGREDIENTS
1 tbsp olive oil
1 lb sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 tbsp garlic, minced
2 tbsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp dried oregano
1/4–1/2 tsp cayenne (depends on how much kick you like)
2 (14.5 oz cans) diced tomatoes with chiles, undrained
2 (15 oz cans) black beans, drained
2 c beef broth

STEPS

  • In a large pot heat the olive oil over medium-high heat.
  • Add the sweet potatoes, onion, and bell pepper until the onions become translucent, about 8–10 minutes.
  • Stir in the garlic, chili powder, cumin, oregano, and cayenne.
  • Sauté for about 1 minute.
  • Add the tomatoes, beans, and broth stirring until well combined.
  • Bring to a boil and then simmer for 30–35 minutes or until potatoes are tender and the chili is the desired consistency.

Recipe adapted from Alida’s Kitchen

Soups

Recipe—Creamy Cheesy Broccoli Soup

It is FINALLY starting to feel like winter in California! We have been having 60–70 degree days in December and January. Not normal! Don’t get me wrong, I love nice weather but one of my favorite things about Cali is that we usually have 4 very distinct seasons. I love being bundled up with a cozy scarf and boots on a cold winter day with a big bowl of soup and it has just not been that kind of winter. Well we just got our first spell of rain in what feels like months! This led me to go into full on soup mode.

Broccoli cheddar soup has always been one of my all time favorite soups. It is so rich, creamy, and filling. (Exactly what you need after you made your new year’s resolutions right?) Well give yourself a cheat day and serve this up with an old-fashioned grilled cheese sandwich for a real winter treat. A perfect warm up for a cold winter day!

INGREDIENTS
1/4 c butter
1 tbsp garlic, minced
1 yellow onion, diced
1/4 tsp thyme
3 tbsp flour
3 c milk
3 c chicken broth
1 c heavy cream
2 heads broccoli, chopped
1 c cheddar cheese, shredded
1/4 c parmesan, grated
salt
white pepper

STEPS

  • Melt the butter in a large pot over medium-high heat.
  • Add the garlic, onion, and thyme and cook stirring occasionally until the onion is translucent, about 4–5 minutes.
  • Add in the flour and mix until well combined and it starts to brown, about 1 minute.
  • Gradually whisk in milk, broth, and cream.
  • Stir in the chopped broccoli and bring to a boil.
  • Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the broccoli is tender, about 8–10 minutes.
  • Add in the shredded cheeses and stir until smooth and melted, about 2 minutes.
  • Season to taste with the salt and white pepper.
  • Serve and top with additional shredded cheddar if desired.
  • Serve immediately.
Sweet Treats

Recipes—Craisin White Chocolate Chip Pudding Cookies

The first time I made these cookies was actually around the holidays. They turned out delicious! So good that I even included them in my annual holiday goodie boxes. While cranberries and white chocolate are perfect for the holiday season, I think they are equally perfect for any time of year. Cranberry and white chocolate is such an awesome flavor combo, why only enjoy during the winter months? Pudding cookies are great because they turn out super moist and are some of the softest cookies you will ever have! The pudding really helps to hold them all together so you end up with perfect little mounds of deliciousness!

INGREDIENTS
2 1/4 c flour
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 c butter, softened
3/4 c brown sugar
1/4 c sugar
3.4 oz vanilla instant pudding mix (dry, do not prepare)
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 c craisins
3/4 c white chocolate chips

STEPS

  • Preheat oven to 350º.
  • In a medium mixing bowl stir together flour and baking soda. Set aside.
  • In a separate bowl, mix together the butter and sugars.
  • Add in dry pudding mix and beat until well blended.
  • Add eggs and vanilla and mix well.
  • Slowly incorporate flour mixture until well combined.
  • Mix in craisins and white chocolate chips.
  • Roll the cookie dough into 1² balls and place on a greased baking sheet.
  • Bake cookies for 8­12 minutes or until just turning golden on the edges.

Recipe adapted from Chef in Training. 

Soups

Recipe—Crock-Pot Loaded Baked Potato Soup

It’s been a chilly couple of weeks where I live and I just can’t seem to warm up. One of the only things that really seem to take the bite off is a big bowl of hearty soup. Well this loaded baked potato soup truly is comfort in a bowl and hits the spot on these cold winter days. This is one of those recipes that people of all ages will love. It’s creamy and cheesy just the way baked potato soup should be. It is amazing the amount of flavor you get from a few simple ingredients. Since this does require a little prep before it goes in the crock-pot it may not be the best thing to try and do on a workday. However, it is the perfect crock-pot meal to whip up on the weekend. Perfect for a cozy Sunday lunch or dinner while watching some football. Hope you love this favorite soup of mine as much as I do!

Note: You can certainly use fresh potatoes for this soup. I just use a bag of the frozen ones to save a few extra minutes, after all, that’s the whole reason I use my crock-pot. If you want to use fresh potatoes I recommend using 5–6 cups of russet potatoes peeled and cut into 1/2″ pieces.

INGREDIENTS
8 slices bacon, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 tbsp garlic, minced
1 1/2 tsp fresh thyme, minced (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)
2 tbsp flour
salt and pepper
4 c chicken broth, divided
32 oz bag of frozen diced potatoes (I use Ora Ida Hash Browns, not the shredded ones but the little cubes.)
3 c cheddar cheese, shredded and divided
2/3 c heavy cream
2/3 c sour cream
4 tbsp chives, minced

STEPS

  • In a large skillet cook the bacon over medium high heat until crispy.
  • Transfer the bacon to a paper towel lined plate and place in the fridge until ready to serve the soup.
  • Pour out most of the bacon drippings leaving about 2 tbsp in the skillet.
  • Add the onion to the skillet and cook over medium-high heat until soft and lightly browned.
  • Add the garlic and thyme to the skillet and cook for another 2 minutes.
  • Stir in the flour, salt, and pepper and cook for a minute stirring constantly.
  • Whisk in 1 cup of the chicken broth.
  • Cook until the mixture starts to thicken and then pour into your crock-pot.
  • Add the remaining 3 cups of broth, potatoes, 3/4 teaspoon of salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper to the crock-pot.
  • Cover and cook for 5–6 hours on low heat.
  • Using a hand masher, mash the potatoes in the crock-pot leaving some chunks in there.
  • Stir in the heavy cream, sour cream, and 2 cups of the shredded cheddar cheese.
  • Cook soup for another 20–30 minutes.
  • Right before serving heat the plate of cooked bacon in the microwave for 30 seconds.
  • Ladle the soup into bowl and top with remaining cheddar, bacon pieces, and chives.
Side Dishes, Soups

Recipe—Chili (The Classic Kind)

It’s finally cooling off here in California and that means I am cooking up lots of soups and one of my favorite winter comfort foods, chili, the classic kind. This is the good stuff, heavy on meat and beans, light on veggies. That’s how I like my chili. What better way to warm up at the end of a cold day then a big bowl of chili? This recipe really is perfect, it’s not too spicy, not too mild, it’s just right. Something Goldilocks would love, probably Momma, Daddy, and baby bear too. This recipe does take a couple of hours to cook but that’s what makes it so good. All those flavors get cooked into the meat giving you a really hearty and flavorful chili you are sure to enjoy.

Note: If you are someone that likes chili with a little more kick, just add in a couple dashes of cayenne pepper.

INGREDIENTS
2 lbs ground beef
2 medium yellow onions, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1/3 c chili powder
2 tbsp flour
1 tbsp oregano
1 tsp cumin
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 (14.5 oz) cans diced tomatoes
2 (15 oz) cans red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
15 oz can tomato sauce
1–2 c beef broth

GARNISHES
shredded cheddar
sour cream
green onions, chopped
fritos
diced avocadoes

STEPS

  • In a large pot cook the beef, onions, and garlic over medium-high heat until no longer pink.
  • Drain off most of the fat leaving about 2 tbsp in the bottom.
  • Stir into the pot the chili powder, flour, oregano, cumin, sugar, and salt.
  • Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook for 1 hour stirring every 15 minutes.
  • Add the tomatoes, beans, sauce, and 1 cup of the broth to the pot.
  • Cook for an additional 45–60 minutes stirring occasionally.
  • Add more broth if you want a soupier chili.
  • Ladle the chili into a bowl and have fun garnishing it with your favorite toppings.
Sweet Treats

Recipe—Homemade Marshmallows

I was trying to come up with a cute idea for a Christmas gift for my son’s teachers and came up with the idea of making hot cocoa gift baskets. You know, a mug, some hot cocoa, some homemade cookies, and marshmallows. Well I am never the person to take the easy way out by just buying an actual bag of jet puffed marshmallows at the store, I wanted these gift baskets to be special, made from the heart. So I decided to attempt to make my very own marshmallows. Gourmet marshmallows seem to be all the rage this season but unfortunately they can cost a fortune. With this recipe you can make your own at home. They are a little bit of work, and one might by intimidated, but they are actually easy. I think the hardest part was waiting for them to set! These homemade marshmallows put store bought marshmallows to shame and are so totally worth making on your own. If making your own marshmallows isn’t on your bucket list it should be. Give these a shot. They will take your hot cocoa on a cold winter night over the top!

Note: The original recipe I followed called for using a stand up mixer but I used a hand mixer. You can use either. The marshmallows can be very sticky and difficult to handle so the trick to cutting them is to constantly coat them in powdered sugar after every slice of the knife.

INGREDIENTS
3 c sugar
1 1/4 c light corn syrup
water
4 envelopes Knox unflavored gelatin
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 c powdered sugar

STEPS

  • Combine sugar, corn syrup, and 3/4 cup water in a large saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
  • While sugar water is heating up add 3/4 cup water to a large mixing bowl and sprinkle the 4 packs of gelatin over the top. Set aside.
  • Bring the sugar water mixture to a rolling boil and boil for 5 minutes or until a candy thermometer reads 235º.
  • Carefully pour the hot sugar water into your mixing bowl with the water and gelatin and mix on low.
  • Add the salt and increase mixer speed to high.
  • Beat the sugar mixture on high for 5 minutes and than add vanilla.
  • Continue beating the mixture for another 5 minutes.
  • When you are done, pour the marshmallow cream into a greased 9” x 13” pan.
  • Smooth the top and gently tap to release air.
  • Leave the dish on the counter for at least 10 hours.
  • After the waiting is up sprinkle the entire top of your marshmallows with powdered sugar making sure it’s coated and place a cutting board over the top of your dish.
  • While holding the cutting board and dish together carefully flip the dish and cutting board upside down simultaneously releasing the marshmallows onto the cutting board. (Your set marshmallows will now be upside down on the cutting board.)
  • Lift the baking dish and sprinkle all of the exposed marshmallow with powdered sugar making sure there are no exposed areas.
  • Using a large sharp knife cut into 1” strips and coat each exposed side with powdered sugar.
  • Cut those strips into 1” cubes making sure you coat each cut side with powdered sugar.
  • Once done, sprinkle all of the marshmallows with the remaining powdered sugar making sure there are no exposed sticky areas.
  • Enjoy in a big mug of hot cocoa!
Beverages

Recipe—Homemade Spiked Eggnog

What’s Christmas without a glass or three of spiked eggnog? It is a must have item in our family. I am not a huge eggnog fan but I will drink the occasional glass here and there. However, my sister really loves the stuff so I wanted to be sure and have some on hand for her while we celebrated the holidays early this year. Unfortunately, this eggnog comes with a sad story.

This year I thought I would be adventurous and make my own eggnog. It turned out incredible and was actually really easy to make! This was by far the best eggnog I have ever had. I was so excited to share this fabulous concoction with my sister because I knew she would feel the same way. After slaving over the oven all day (okay I’m exaggerating, more like 20 minutes, this recipe is actually really quick to make) I had the eggnog done and poured it into my brand new glass pitcher. It was a gorgeous site! My mom, sister, husband, son, and I went and walked through a Christmas light display at our local zoo. The perfect end to the evening would be a homemade glass of eggnog. I poured the first glass and then went to pour the second when crack! The handle on my new pitcher literally fell off and the entire batch of eggnog shattered on my counter and went everywhere! I was on the verge of tears. However, the one lonely glass you see above survived. Thank goodness! So we all shared this one lonely glass of eggnog and it was the best glass of eggnog ever!

If you have never had homemade eggnog I highly recommend you give it a try. One thing that I absolutely love about this recipe is that the eggs are par cooked in the hot milk rather than raw, giving this a less eggy flavor. It is the perfect holiday beverage and takes on a superior quality being homemade.

Note: If you want virgin eggnog just omit the rum for a family friendly version. 

INGREDIENTS
3 1/2 c milk
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 cinnamon stick
pinch of ground cloves
6 egg yolks
3/4 c granulated sugar
1 c rum
1 c heavy cream
1/4 tsp nutmeg

STEPS

  • In a large saucepan heat the milk, vanilla, cinnamon, cinnamon stick, and cloves over medium heat.
  • Bring to a gentle boil and remove from heat.
  • Allow the milk to set for about 2 minutes while the cinnamon stick seeps.
  • While the milk is cooling, beat the egg yolks and sugar in a large mixing bowl until it’s pale yellow and fluffy.
  • Remove the cinnamon stick from your milk and slowly pour into the egg mixture.
  • Beat on low until well incorporated.
  • Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and heat on medium/medium-low heat for 5 minutes until thick and creamy. DO NOT LET IT BOIL OR THE EGGS WILL CURDLE!
  • Remove the saucepan from heat and stir in the rum, heavy cream, and nutmeg.
  • Allow the eggnog to cool on the counter for at least an hour.
  • Transfer the eggnog to a pitcher or serving dish and refrigerate for 8–10 hours.
Side Dishes

Recipe—Cheesy Mac Attack A.K.A. Macaroni N’ Cheese

When I think classic comfort food, I think of macaroni n’ cheese. Not the orange powdery stuff in a box that one might consider to be cheese, I’m talkin’ the real deal here. I’m talkin’ down right delicious oven baked mac n’ cheese that has a perfectly crunchy topping covering ooey gooey cheesy noodle goodness. If you are on a diet, do yourself a favor and don’t make this! You will not have the self-control to only eat one bite let alone resist it. Once you try this macaroni n’ cheese you will never need or want another recipe ever again. It is so good! It has now even become a regular item at our holiday dinners so keep it in mind come the holidays. I hope you and your family enjoy this favorite recipe of mine.

Note: I will warn you, this makes A LOT of ridiculously divine macaroni n’ cheese. It’s not a bad thing, just be warned! I actually follow the recipe and then split it into two 9”x 9” dishes and freeze one since it freezes great! The disposable foil containers you get at the grocery store are perfect for this and I love that they fit in the seal o’ meal bags allowing them to last well over 6 months in the freezer, not that it will last that long, but it could.

INGREDIENTS
1 lb pasta of choice (I like rotini because the cheese sticks to it really well)
2 c small curd cottage cheese
1 c sour cream
2 eggs
1 c Swiss cheese, shredded
3 c cheddar cheese, shredded
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp pepper
1 c bread crumbs (I like crushed croutons)

STEPS

  • Preheat oven to 375º.
  • Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook pasta noodles al dente according to package instructions.
  • While pasta is cooking combine cottage cheese, sour cream, eggs, cheeses, and seasonings in a large bowl.
  • When your pasta is done cooking add it to the cheesy mixture and stir well.
  • Place macaroni n’ cheese in a 9” x 13” baking dish, or two 9” x 9” dishes if you wish to freeze one for later.
  • Top with breadcrumbs.
  • Place in oven and bake for 25–30 minutes or until bread crumbs are lightly browned on top.
  • Allow to cool for 5 minutes before serving. (Good luck waiting that long!)