Treat Yourself with a New Kitchen Toy

You know who deserves a gift this year? You do! With all the hosting and attending parties, baking and cooking, shopping and wrapping you’ve got ahead of you, why not treat yourself to that long-coveted kitchen gadget you’ve had your eye on to save you some time and sanity this year and beyond.

Don’t worry that your new toy will be relegated to the oft-forgotten top shelf after the holidays. I’ve come up with some ideas based on different cooking profiles so you can find a tool that fits your style and needs in the kitchen. Plus, these incredible multi-purpose wonders are things you’ll use over and over … so much so that you’ll wonder how you ever lived without them! Trust me, the investment will be well worth it!

Better Baking: Are you in charge of making all the family’s holiday cookies, pies, cakes, and quick breads? Your must have in the kitchen is a stand mixer. A lifesaver for mixing all sorts of doughs and batters, it’ll save you tons of time and energy in the kitchen, and make your baking style way more efficient. Beyond just a sweet shop workhorse, a stand mixer is also great for meatloaf, beating egg whites, making pasta or ice cream, puréeing tomatoes, or even making your own sausage. Plus, these days they come in a wide variety of colors to brighten up any kitchen counter, inspiring you to use yours all year long.

Quicker Cutting: Stop spending so much time at the cutting board and treat yourself to a food processor. They’re great for people who cook a lot, or for crowds, to help speed prep and make fast work of purées, salsas, hummus and more. Quickly turn a huge hunk of cheese or big batch of carrots into gorgeous fine shreds, and make your own nut butters at home in a snap. Some processors even come with a dough blade so you can try your hand at bread baking or pizza making. Really, they make food prep so easy, you’ll find yourself wanting to cook even more! 

Healthier Eating: If you’re drawn to making elegantly silky soups, veggie based sauces, protein smoothies, or fresh juices, definitely consider investing in a VitamixTrust me, it’ll put your old blender to shame. They’re super easy to clean up, and work like crazy to turn out thick, creamy soups, smoothies, juices, and veggie purees. They’re versatile enough to chop and grind ingredients and are so great, you’ll find a use for it every day of the week. 

Sleeker Solutions: If you’re in the market for an easy to store, multi-purpose, time-saving hero, a Ninja blender is what you need. Part blender and part food processor, it’s strong, portable and offers a mix of functions in an apartment-perfect size. They’re great for everything: chopping, grinding, puréeing, and more. Crush ice, knead dough, and prep for holiday meals in a flash, all in a compact, kitchen-game-changer package.

Go ahead. Treat yourself this holiday season. You know you deserve it, and a great kitchen gadget is one gift that truly does keep on giving.

What’s your pick for an appliance splurge?

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Tips for Shipping & Transporting Food

From transporting hearty meals for potluck parties to mailing homemade goodies to out of town friends, the holidays are a time that keep us constantly sending our treats on the road. Problem is, not many people have sticky spills or crushed cookies on their wish list this year. I’d like to share with you some great tips on shipping and transporting goods to make sure your dishes arrive as in tact and fresh as when you sent them out.

Travel Tips for Popular To-Go Treats

  • Appetizers: If you’re taking hors d’oeuvres such crudités or chips and dip, get a carrier that will keep your dippers organized and party-fresh. Covered trays with dividers and a center well are great for keeping things neat, and much easier to manage than a separate container for each type of veggie. Tote the dip in a separate container and add it to the well when you arrive to avoid en-route spills. A tip for keeping cut veggies fresh? Place a damp paper towel on top before you seal the container for the trip. 
  • Baked Goods: The biggest risk with baked goods are crushing, cracking, and crumbs. Go for shallow, lidded containers that are sturdy and the right size to keep your treats from sliding around. Great options include cookie tins, gift boxes, or even small craft boxes from the art supply store. Be sure to use parchment or wax paper inside your container to limit shifting even more.
  • Frosted Items: Frosting takes the complexity of travel up a notch, because the decoration is way delicate. When it comes to cakes, cupcakes and other baked goods, a custom-designed caddy is the way to go. Make delivery a snap and avoid frosting fails. 
  • Main Dishes and Sides: Soups and other hot-dish sides hold up best in glass or some other microwavable, oven-safe melt-proof container. Or, consider an insulated tote to keep your dish at the optimal temperature – works great for keep-cool sides as well. Idea: make the gratin, pie plate, or serving piece you use to transport food a gift for the host. 

Tip: Make sure your container has a sturdy, well-attached lid. Always a safer bet than foil or plastic wrap for avoiding in-transit spills. 

  • Foods to Gift:  Mason jars are a trendy, homespun, spill-proof way to share homemade treats like granola, salsas, chutneys, or sauces with yourfriends and family for the holidays. They’re an adorable way to present gifts and they’re perfect to travel with. If you’re taking lots of goody jars, use the box they came in for easy transport. Cookies look adorable stacked in a mason jar, and candy looks bakery-beautiful arranged inside colored cupcake liners. Then just attach a colorful bow or some craftsy twine with a labeled hanging tag to give your gift holiday flair.  
  • Goody (or Doggie) Bags: Send guests home from your own gathering is with a memorable party favor of homemade treats. Go tiny and totable like truffles, candies, or cookies in Chinese takeout containers or small gift boxes. You could also pack up some breakfast items for people to enjoy the next morning. Cradle muffins, scones, or a small loaf of quick bread in tissue paper or parchment, then tuck them in cute gift boxes to keep them smush-free. 

Lots of leftovers? Share them with your guests by portioning them out into plastic-sealed storage containers. Put together mini-meals for everyone to enjoy the next day, or as a late night snack.  

Road Trip Tips

If you’re going on a long trip with your treats, there are a few ways to make sure they arrive tasting great and looking fresh. Insulate hot dishes by wrapping them in a towel. Cold dishes travel well picnic-style in a cooler or surrounded with ice packs. Tucking your treats in the trunk? Be sure to give them a sturdy, flat surface to sit on. (Shipping boxes from online shopping are great for this.) Stick newspaper, paper towels, or dishtowels between containers before you take off to avoid slips and spills on the road.

A final tip: Use masking tape to label the bottom of your serving or storage containers to make sure they make it back home after the party.  

What’s your favorite dish to take to a potluck?

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What to Take to the Party

You never want to show up to an event empty handed and a bottle of wine is always an appropriate host gift, but what about making a fun dish to step up your game a little? Don’t worry about not being a gourmet cook. With these ideas for easy to make recipes for a variety of occasions, you’ll look like a total pro.

  • Have a friend who needs some TLC? Whether it’s a new baby, a new house or a broken leg that’s got them laid up, a crowd-pleasing dish that can be made in a big enough batch to freeze leftovers is just the thing. Turkey Meatballs in Grandma’s Marinara is a simple sauce that packs a ton of flavor.
  • Got an invite to a picnic or BBQ? Fun, funky, finger food is the way to go.  These Sweet & Spicy Asian Drumsticks cook up quickly in one pan using pantry staples to make the sauce. They’re delicious warm, room temp or even chilled!  

  • “Just bring a dessert.” Don’t resort to a store bought pie or bag of cookies. Instead, scoot on over to the produce aisle and score some pre-cut fruit to whip up this So Simple Honey-Lime Fruit Salad. The delicious honey dressing gussies this dish up so it’s party perfect. 
  • A cocktail party with light bites? Wow your friends with some gorgeous Smoked Salmon & Dill Cucumber Canapés. They’re elegant, delicious and they happen to be super easy to make. Win-win!
  • Invited to a potluck party? This delicious, simple to throw together Chopped Salad with Chickpeas, Feta & Dill is a crowd pleaser, plus it’s a healthy alternative to those cheesy casserole dishes everyone else will be bringing. 
  • Weekend brunch with your buddies? Give your pals a better brunch option than the usual cheesy omelets and sugary pancakes by baking up this incredible Turkey Sausage Strata with Goat Cheese & Roasted Peppers

Just a little planning and minimal time in the kitchen, be that super friend, perfect party guest and never again wonder “What on Earth to bring?”

What’s your favorite party food?

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5 Ways to Fend Off the Freshman 15

Finally! Your first year of college: freedom, new faces, fun adventures … and if you’re not careful, the unfortunate “freshman 15”. That’s the extra pounds lots of first year students pack on thanks to dining hall buffets, midnight pizza delivery and junk-food fueled cram sessions. What’s worse? Those bad eating habits, if left unchecked, can stick with you throughout college and beyond. 

Here are some easy ways to fight the freshman 15 & start healthy eating habits to last a lifetime:

  1. Beware Liquid Calories: As delicious as smoothies, sodas, juices, and double whip frapps can be, they pack a huge caloric wallop, without satisfying your hunger. So, that means you’ll be adding more calories at mealtime. The solution is to drink as much water as you can throughout the day which keeps you hydrated, and makes you feel fuller so you might even eat less. Also, if you drink alcohol, do so in moderation (for calories and safety!) … you know, it’s not called a beer belly for nothing. 
  2. Avoid Buffet Blindness: All-you-can-eat piles of fattening faves are a sure road to adding on the pounds. Instead try to fill your plate with 2/3 vegetables, fruits and whole grains, and 1/3 lean, grilled protein. Before heading back for seconds, hang out a chat a bit to give your body time to register what you’ve eaten. 
  3. Move Your Butt: Find reasons to get your body moving whether it’s through a fun intramural sport like extreme frisbee or a spinning class at the campus gym. They’re both great ways to get exercise and make new friends. Make smart choices like walking to class instead of taking the shuttle, and use the stairs instead of the elevator. Instead of hanging with friends over coffee, have a chat while walking around the quad. Exercise is a known stress-release to help with academic anxiety, and it’ll help you avoid stress eating.
  4. Snack Smarter Keep up your energy and avoid bad food binges by sticking to healthy snacks. You’re going to have a busier schedule than ever before, so pack your own healthy snacks in mini storage containers to toss in your backpack. That way you’ll have food on the go, and save those vending machine quarters to use in the laundry room. Think sliced fruit, baby carrots, almonds and whole grain crackers. Be sure to stock your dorm fridge with the good stuff too, so you don’t get tempted during intense study sessions.
  5. Establish Healthy Habits: Studies show that people eat more calories when they don’t get enough sleep. Dorm living can wreak havoc with your schedule and inevitable all-nighters can keep you from getting your zzzz’s. So, it’s up to you to take care of your self. Enjoy some afternoon naps and do your best to get in those 8 hours a night. Avoid “2nd dinners” like evening pizza or wings, but be sure to eat breakfast every morning. That’ll start your system and give you energy to tackle early morning classes. Plus it kicks off your metabolism, which helps reduce calorie intake later in the day.

Healthy Eating Tip:Learn what a USDA-approved serving looks like. Check out their site, www.ChooseMyPlate.gov to learn guidelines, then grab some measuring cups to portion out different snacks to get a good visual. You’ll probably be surprised to see how much (or how little) a proper portion actually is. Want a big “wow”? Try this experiment with your favorite breakfast cereal.

Have a blast during your freshman year! Just don’t let your all your fun end up pouring over the waistline of your pants. Remember … Spring Break’s just a few months away!

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Find a Use for Your Flutes

Don’t save your fancy flutes for super special occasions only. You can enjoy using them any time as a fun way to make any event a little more memorable.

Although people traditionally reserve the bubbly for New Year’s Eve or a wedding, there’s a lot to be said about kicking off a party with a taste of champagne or toasting the end of a lovely dinner with a flute of prosecco and a bit of sweet elderflower liqueur. 

So, why not make a new habit of using those champagne flutes by introducing them at your next party, no matter what the occasion is? Here are some great ideas to get you started:

Champagne or Prosecco Cocktails 

Get in touch with your inner mixologist and try your hand at a variety of bubbly-based drinks that not only look gorgeous served in a flute, but are also super delicious.

  • Champagne Cocktail – this classic concoction dates back to the mid-19th century and is as simple to make as it is enjoyable to drink. Drop one sugar cube in a champagne flute, add 5 drops of Angostura bitters then fill 3/4 of the way with champagne. Garnish with a lemon twist, orangeslice or half a strawberry.
  • Barbotage – add some cognac or brandy and Grand Marnier to a champagne flute then fill with bubbly for a trendy and tasty tipple.
  • French 75 – Although several variations exist of this popular cocktail, my favorite recipe consists of a splash of simple syrup, splash of lemon juice and and ounce of gin. Top it off with bubbly and garnished with a lemon twist. Yum!
  • Kir Royale – créme de cassis adds a lovely red tint to prosecco or champagne for a classic, classy cocktail.
  • Poinsettia – a perfectly festive drink for the holidays, just add 1 part triple sec to 4 parts bubbly and add a splash of cranberry juice for color. Garnish with a single cranberry.

Build a Bubbly Bar

A great idea for brunch, you can build your own bubbly bar where guests can create their own versions of mimosas, bellinisor other champagne-based cocktails. Simply set up a table with a variety of juices and fruit nectars in pretty carafes, and a small tub of ice filled with prosecco and club soda for non-imbibers. Add a display of your fabulous flutes and you’re all set!

Note: As a host, you want to be sure non-drinkers feel included in the festivities. Along with the boozier drinks, offer options that use cider, seltzer, or ginger ale as the bubbly part. Have fun trying different fruit nectars, juices and flavored syrups to create your own signature mock-tails. 

Serve Dessert in Style

Think beyond the bubbly and use your champagne flutes as a striking and elegant way to present your desserts. Think rich homemade ice cream, gelato, or a decadent mousse parfait. Top with berries, chocolate shavings or fresh whipped cream, and serve with long handled spoons so everyone can get to all the delicious goodness.

What other uses can you think of for your flutes? Share your ideas below! 

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Set the Perfect Table for Spring

Spring has sprung and it’s time to prepare for some special holidays. Whether you’re celebrating Mother’s Day, Passover, Easter or any spring occasion, I’ve got some great ideas for you to set a gorgeous table for every party.

Spring is all about blooming flowers, singing birds, hopping bunnies and growing gardens. The theme’s renewal (thus the symbolic egg), so use that as your spring celebration inspiration. 

Pull out your brightest linens and most cheerful placemats, runners, napkins and chargers to light up your table. Use simple, everyday white dishes or break out the fancy china to complement the look. 

Don’t be afraid to mix patterns. Florals look beautiful coordinated with stripes or gingham and create a cheerful mood. Simply stick with 1 or 2 common colors to tie it all together. And be sure carry them throughout floral arrangements and other table décor.

When it comes to flowers for a spring bash, the more the merrier! Celebrate with spring blooms such as tulips, daffodils, lilacs and hyacinths. Try multiple small arrangements to decorate your dining table and save the big bouquet for the buffet. You can use anything from small white or crystal pitchers to pretty tea pots to mason jars or even small watering cans for fun garden-themed floral containers. Small pots of blooming bulbs are great gifts for guests to plant in their own gardens. 

Get creative with place settings and party favors with a spring theme. Grab some small bird nests from the craft store and fill them with egg shaped pastel candy or Jordan almonds. Use customized dyed eggs in egg cups as place settings, and use seed packets tied in twine as décor your guests can take home and plant. A simple, single flower across a plate always looks beautiful and is an always appreciated gesture.

Celebrating Passover & Easter

Passover and Easter are two spring celebrations that come with their own unique décor.

Colored eggs  are a must for every Easter party, and place cards stamped with crosses are reminders of the true reason for the holiday. Let kids decorate an Easter tree with hollow eggs and tie small bows on chocolate bunnies to use as place cards at their table. 

The Seder plate is the traditional centerpiece of any Passover table, and it provides good inspiration for a décor theme. Consider incorporating some of the symbolic foods into each place setting like small carafes of wine for place cards). If you’ve got a large group, you might want to create multiple Seder plates to make it easier for everyone to participate, and avoid potential spills. Just arrange 5 small saucers or bowls atop a larger plate, then add the symbolic foods. Place initialed bookmarks and small copies of the Haggadah at each seat for guests to read from and take home as favors.

Make Mom Queen for Her Day

Start Mother’s Day off right by serving up breakfast in bed on a beautiful tray decorated with a vase of pretty spring blooms. Wake her with a small carafe of coffee, a basket of freshly baked treats and a copy of the morning newspaper or her favorite trashy magazines.

What’s your favorite spring tradition?

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6 Dorm-Inspired Decorating Tips

Take some tips from your aspiring scholars and try these 6 dorm-inspired ideas for creative and inexpensive storage and decorating solutions. Even if your college years are long gone, you can still benefit from the practical solutions inspired by the small quarters on campus. 

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Here are 6 easy, ingenious ideas inspired by clever dorm room décor:

  1. Multipurpose furniture is great because it’s easy to move around, provides extra storage and adds more function to small space design. When you don’t have a lot of room, no item or space should be wasted. Think chairs that turn into beds, or poufs and ottomans that double as extra seating. Have a closet that you want to put to good use? Add extra shelves or a small desk and turn it into a hideaway craft center or office. 
  2. Add cheer to your space and banish boredom with pops of color and bright patterns. Don’t have time to paint?  Hang a bold tapestry or piece of fabric behind a couch for a fun punch. Or try adding a few easy-to-remove wall decals to add interest to plain walls. Removable wallpaper is another fun option to try, without having to make a big commitment. s
  3. Casters on everything! Add wheels to your furniture so it can be rearranged easily, depending on your changing needs. Repurpose a rolling bar cart into an end table, nightstand, or bath cart. Wheel your coffee table aside for cozy sleepovers or movie night. Add casters to cubed bookcases for mobile storage for everything from kitchen gear to bath essentials to office supplies and more. They’re amazing room dividers, pop up bars, consoles behind a couch, or tuck small items into colored bins for a sleek storage solution.
  4. Soft textiles warm up cold impersonal dorm rooms, and can do the same for your space. Place a pretty throw rug next to your bed, add curtains to soften windows or use them to divide a space, hide storage, or create a canopy for a bed or reading nook. Anchor and warm a sleeping space with a make-and-mount fabric-covered “headboard.” Colorful throw pillows work magic on tired couches, side chairs, benches, and beds.

Combat clutter and streamline your space with smart solutions. Use bed risers to give yourself extra storage space for bins of off season linens, clothes or extra blankest and pillows. Bath product totes don’t have to stay in the dorm hallway; use them to corral hair sprays and gels, styling tools or even kitchen spices. And, don’t forget the inside of closet doors as prime storage space!

Despite the trappings of the texting era, a cork board, whiteboard or chalkboard on a door is still the hallmark of college living. They’re great for jotting down notes, leaving messages for roomies or tracking to-do lists. Incorporate the idea throughout your home in clever ways. Either buy pre-made boards or consider trying out fun, functional chalkboard paint on a wall or back of a door. 

What’s your favorite dorm decorating tip?

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7 Options to Step Outside the Usual Lunch Box

Back to school means lots of things for parents: checking homework, school supply shopping … and the dreaded nightly packing of the lunch. Nothing’s more frustrating than spending loving time preparing a nurturing, nutritious meal, than to find it at the end of the day, mushed, mashed and totally rejected. This school year, think outside the lunchbox and pack a brown bag that’ll blow them away.

Say goodbye to soggy, shunned sandwiches and crushed bags of grapes that makes it look like your kid has taken up backpack winemaking.

Fact is, kids are more likely to eat food they’ve helped make, so bring them into the kitchen to pitch in with their lunch. It doesn’t have to be messy or time consuming; just designate a couple of options each night and let them get their lunch ready while you clean up from dinner. Efficient and a fun way to create a little extra bonding time in the kitchen before they head to bed.

The key is to break out of the traditional sandwich-apple-juicebox routine and shake things up with these 7 clever, simple-to-make options.  

Wrap Up Bites: Set out small bowls of healthy ingredients like shredded chicken or cheese, sliced veggies, some hummus or ranch dressing. Hand each kid a whole wheat tortilla and let them pile on the goodies. Once they’ve selected and added the ingredients, help ’em roll it up tight and slice it into sushi-like bites. 

Mini-Make-It-Yourself-Pizzas: Use sandwich thins, English muffins or small pre-baked pizza crusts as the base for their favorite toppings. Think marinara sauce, pesto, shredded cheese, ricotta, pepperoni and diced veggies. Then just toss them in the toaster oven to melt a bit and let cool before packing. Who doesn’t love cold pizza?

Dippin’ Sticks: Buy mini containers of hummus or ranch dressing, offer the kids healthy dippers like cucumber slices, baby carrots, grape tomatoes, pepper strips, whole wheat pita, and chicken strips to pack into sectioned storage containers for a cool crudité lunch. 

Loads of Layers – Let kids build gorgeous yogurt parfaits (Greek yogurt, granola and chopped fresh fruit) or shake-n-serve chopped salads (diced veggies, shredded cheese, chopped lettuce and chicken with dressing at the bottom) into small jars. They’re a fun, flavorful way to go.

Tot-Sized Tapas: Some kids prefer a heartier meal for lunch, so let them pack their own mini portions of dinner leftovers to take to school. It’s the easiest option for you, and the only help they’ll need is with choosing which storage container to use. 

Pack a Picnic: Packing a school lunch isn’t that different from pulling together a picnic basket. Give ’em a piece of baguette along with hunks of cheese, salami slices, grapes and apple wedges.

Pinwheels: Give kids a choice from a variety of deli meats and cheese, then let them make little layers as they like. If they’re into condiments, spread on a little mayo or mustard, roll them up and cross slice with a knife. Add a side of fruit and crackers and they’re ready to go!

With these easy tips, you can make brown bagging a blast for your little scholar … and maybe perk up your own lunch at the same time. 

What was your favorite lunch to find in your brown bag?

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