Completely Addictive Spicy Candied Nuts

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At my house, we like to eat our Thanksgiving dinner in the middle of the afternoon rather than at night.

But no matter how much I tell myself to save room for the big meal, my body still thinks it wants to eat at lunchtime. Obviously, the solution is appetizers! You cannot go wrong with these easy spice-candied nuts. I make them every year and they are a hit! My little ones love them, my adult friends and family love them—they are magical and delicious!

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Zimtsterne

Zimtsterne

I’ve been feeling pretty grinchy this Christmas season.

This isn’t a fun time of year to be forbidden from eating any dairy of any kind. I have been lusting after trays of cookies and holiday cheese balls and getting grumpier and grumpier.

But I just can’t imagine Christmastime without holiday baking, even if I can’t eat the spoils myself.

And wouldn’t you know it, the cookie that was at the top of my list to try this year actually turned out to be dairy free! And gluten free!

Surprise!

These cinnamon stars (little German lesson for you: Zimt = cinnamon, Sterne = stars. Literal naming at work…) are chewy and moist and simply amazing. Especially if you thought you were staring down a month without cookies. If you know anyone with food sensitivities, make these immediately. They will be so grateful!

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Easter Egg Nest Chocolate Cupcakes

Easter Egg Nest Chocolate Cupcakes

It’s almost Easter!

For several months now, Jake’s favorite “book” has been a Wilton cupcake decorating magazine. He found it on the cookbook shelf and immediately started asking me to “read” it to him, naming and describing all of the cupcakes from bubble-gum machines to bouncing babies to Christmas penguins. Now the poor cupcake magazine is more dog-eared than any other book in the house.

(In case you don’t know, I have never been a fan of fondant. Or extravagantly decorating desserts purely for visual effect. I am a firm believer that food should be primarily tasty, and that efforts that don’t affect the flavor are a waste of time.)

This cupcake book is entirely to blame for the fact that Jake has become obsessed with Easter eggs. Begging daily to do an Easter egg hunt (an event that he has never actually experienced…).

Because of this cupcake book, I am slowly realizing that I will have to let go of my ambivalence toward cute foods in favor of having fun with my kid.

Spring certainly does present a lot of fun (food) craft opportunities for little ones, so this week we decided to embrace the chocolate malt Easter egg and do a delicious art project! Jake had a blast decorating these cupcakes! Not only were these cupcakes cute and festive (perfect for a party!), but every part of them was tasty.

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How to Prepare a Special Feast (Without Wishing You Weren’t)

Feast Prep

This afternoon, as I was awkwardly stuffing the contents of four sacks of groceries into my fridge, it occurred to me that we haven’t really talked about Christmas dinner.

That’s partly because the entire first half of this month was a blur for me, as I spent it organizing and cooking for a multi-day party in the Outer Banks for my husband’s 30th birthday. Dave requested mostly meaty Asian foods (pho, moo shu, pad ka pow), which I made from scratch (no mixes of any kind!)…and then sat back and ate cookies while dinner was served. The main attraction was about 50 board games, which Dave and most of his friends and family proceeded to play for three days straight. It was a lot of work, but it turned out totally awesome!

And I learned something extremely valuable from feeding 20 people for three days: preparation is everything.

This is a lesson that really should be extended to all events, especially holiday feasts! Because, honestly, the last thing you want is to be running around frantically on what should be a day for family time and celebration.

Whether you are hosting Christmas breakfast or dinner, throwing a dinner party, or just bringing one dish to a potluck, planning—and doing—ahead will make your special feast relaxing and fun. So pour yourself a glass of wine, turn on your favorite Christmas music, and let’s get to work!

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Baby Guinness Cupcakes

Baby Guinness Cupcakes

I have never been one to celebrate or otherwise observe St. Patrick’s Day. I was always the kid who forgot and wore blue and got pinched all day long, while exclaiming that no one had the right to pinch me, regardless of what color I was or was not wearing.

But! I married an Irishman. And he appreciates the opportunity to celebrate his heritage…though I admit he is more interested in the landscape and history of Ireland than anything else. He likes to try to convince me that we are going to move to Ireland. He hasn’t gotten much further than me freaking out about the traditional cuisine of the country: what is a vegetarian potato-hater supposed to do in a country where meat and potatoes reign supreme?

But let me tell you, one thing I do enjoy celebrating on St. Patrick’s Day is the drink many Americans know as an Irish Car Bomb. (Though, of course, the Irish prefer to call it a Baby Guinness!) Have you ever tried it? Drop a shot full of Baileys Irish Cream into a mug full of Guinness and drink up before the cream curdles!

Okay, okay, I admit that I’ve never done this. Drinking fizzy things quickly is not my strong suit. Also I do not enjoy drinking beer.

But what do I love? Turning this classic bar drink into a cupcake. Chocolate cake full of dark, rich Guinness, topped by a mountain of Irish cream–infused frosting. Yum!

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Resolutions, v2013

Cookbook Shelf

So…round about this time last year I was making all these wonderful resolutions…several of them to do with eating healthier and exercising more. Did I succeed in accomplishing all of my goals? Like most years, my answer is no…but at least this year there was a very cute and cuddly reason I didn’t lose those 10 lbs or eat kale for lunch every day!

Jake Bats at Toys2012 was both wonderful and stressful. Stressful because the plumbing in our house revolted twice, very expensively. But it really was the best year I’ve ever had—all year long I was able to look forward to becoming a mom, and then in October we welcomed our beautiful baby boy, Jake, into our family! Honestly, what could top that?

I neglected you pretty thoroughly, though. Let’s just agree that it was more important for me to feed my baby than it was to feed you. Sorry!

But this brings me to my first resolution of the year: to share at least two recipes with you every week.

This ties in pretty closely with my second resolution, which is to actually prepare dinner twice a week. Maybe you will have a hard time believing this, but cooking dinner is really not my strong suit. Yes, I love to cook, but I often find myself at dinner time standing in front of the open and completely full fridge thinking, “Geez, we don’t have anything to eat! Maybe we should order pizza…” Or else I spend all of my cooking energies making bread and brownies. But now with a little one who will soon to be able to sit at the table with us, it’s time to focus on healthier eating habits and family meals!

And finally, my third resolution: to eat a salad every day. As long as we can agree that my egg salad wrap counted for today. (Um…sometimes you have to follow the letter of the law rather than the spirit of the law, right?…)

Of course, I have about a dozen other non-food related resolutions…because lists are great, and what list is completely rounded out with just three items on it!?

So what made it onto your list of New Year’s resolutions for 2013? I can’t wait to find out!

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Chocolate Peppermint Pinwheels and Cookie Parties

So our annual cookie party was last week! I baked and I baked and then I baked some more. I think I made more than 30 dozen cookies in total. And then I decorated. And thankfully my sister-in-law had mercy on me and came and helped me decorate.

The key to keeping yourself sane when you’re hosting a party is making lists. I started with a list of the cookies and sweets I wanted to make this year, then I put them in order of least to most time-consuming to help me decide what order to make them in:

magic cookie bars
minty fudge
toffee
chocolate chip cinnamon cookies
pepper cookies
snickerdoodles
red velvet cookies
gingerbread
chocolate peppermint pinwheels
Russian teacakes
pumpkin spice truffles
candy cane cookies

Once I figured out what cookies I wanted to make, I also made a list for decorating. After all, what’s a Christmas party without decorations? I decided on an ornament theme, so I got hung little snowflake ornaments all over the house, filled a vase with ornaments for the cookie table centerpiece, decorated my fridge with ornaments cut out of wrapping paper (because we didn’t have a tree yet…), and made name tags for all the cookies in the shape of ornaments. (Thank you, Kelly, for your mad ornament-cutting skills!)

I got started about a week ahead of time and vowed to cross at least two things off my list each day, be it baking or decorating. My goal was to have everything made by the day before the party so that I could spend the day of cleaning the house for guests. And I almost made it—though I must admit I was frosting gingerbread cookies about half an hour before everyone started to arrive!

Over all, having the lists to rely on was amazing. Nothing slipped through the cracks, and I was still excited to be having the party as I was laying out the table just before our guests arrived. My main failing was in being indecisive about decorations (yeah, that list changed several times during the process), which meant that I spent several days buying and exchanging ribbons and twinkle lights, etc., before I could cross “buy decorations” off my list. But all in all, I would say that if you intend to host a Christmas party, you should make about a thousand lists and plot out a timeline for how to accomplish everything before the big day.

Now. Let’s make some cookies! My husband said these pinwheel cookies were his favorite, and while I still haven’t figured out how to get the chocolate not to crack during baking, they are pretty darn delicious!

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