Sunday, January 29, 2012

The heat is on: Five getaways to kindle the romance

Romance is in the air. Whether you are celebrating Valentine's Day, planning a honeymoon, or just looking for a fun getaway with your better half, these trip ideas are guaranteed to ignite a spark.

Escape into uber-relaxation

Get pampered together at a spa or at home.The flexibility of a SpaFinder Gift Certificate
allows you to choose the services, the products and the location that is right for you. They are redeemable at close to 5,000 day, medical and destination resort spas worldwide.With so many treatment options and spa types available, a SpaFinder Gift Certificate
makes the perfect gift for anyone! Or bring the spa home with massagers
and surrender to a luxurious bath experience with bath gift sets

Splurge for a dream vacation

Hawaii embodies the words dreamy, romantic and sensual like almost nowhere else. The Big Island of Hawaii was named by as a top-10 destination for a honeymoon vacation on a budget. "Hawaii is a great choice for a honeymoon, but many people think they can't afford it. The trick is to look beyond the name-brand places on the Big Island, like Kona, in favor of a hidden-gem like Kealakekua Bay," says's senior editor Kate Chandler. Hawaii is known for its sandy beaches, but it has so much to offer, such as snorkeling expeditions, rolling golf courses, interesting cultural and natural history and plenty of yummy food choices. You can also choose to do nothing at all besides just basking in your love somewhere indescribable.

Take a hot air balloon ride

What better way to experience the beauty of Napa and Sonoma wine country than with a birds-eye view? Book a sunrise or sunset tour, complete with a mini-picnic and local sparkling wine to set the mood as your drift above the vines and wineries. Very few things can match the serene energy you feel as you watch the first rays of sun begin to paint the morning sky.

Hear a gig

The saying goes that it takes two to tango. But in Austin, Texas, you might well swap in the two-step instead. named Austin one of its 2012 Hotspots, and for good reason. Austin is the self-proclaimed "Live Music Capital of the World," and this music mecca is living up to its reputation. It's home to more live-music venues per capita than anywhere else in the United States, so any time, day or night, just follow the sounds to find something playing. While you listen, loosen your belt and enjoy the good eats that Austin has to offer. The city is well known for its barbecue and Tex-Mex dishes.

Watch the stars

For those who prefer to experience the outdoors with a touch of luxury, head somewhere like Amangiri in Canyon Point, Utah. This resort rests on 600 acres and was consciously designed to blend into its surroundings; every window has a sweeping view toward Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. One of the best aspects of the American Southwest, whether you're staying at a ranch or roughing it in a tent, is that you're never too far from an unobstructed view of the night sky. Grab a blanket or two and snuggle up for some truly romantic stargazing.

Shop Dylan's Candy Bar for Valentine's Day!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Valentine's Day gift-giving tips

Giving your significant other the right gift can make or break your Valentine's celebration. If you're also giving something to your best friend, mom and children, you may need a little help finding the perfect token.

Erase some of frustration involved in finding the perfect gift and enjoy the holiday of love and romance with these great Valentine's gift-giving tips:
Valentine Heart Motif Chandelier & Swarovski Crystal Earrings- Etsy  Sale-Free Shipping in the USA
Valentine Heart Motif Chandelier & Swarovski Crystal Earrings

Want to take a unique route but lack a good idea? Start searching for ideas online. Traditional gifts can be altered slightly with gifts that incorporate jewels, chocolate or flowers in an unusual setting. For example, a bouquet of chocolate
-covered strawberries designed to look like a bouquet of roses, puts a unique twist on several of the more popular gifting items.

Or deviate completely from the traditional and look for gifts your loved ones would appreciate, but never expect for Valentine's Day. Use your computer to help you find great gift ideas for others on your Valentine's Day shopping list like your grandma and best friends.

If you have an idea in mind, find product reviews and recommendations from experts and savvy shoppers with a few quick online searches. Use forums to read reviews on products ranging from electronics to travel. This way not only will you be able to confirm that your idea is a great one, but also ensure you find the best prices, and the best retailer for that product.

If you choose to go the traditional route and order your girlfriend a beautiful bouquet of flowers from ProFlowers, You can get a FREE glass vase with any bouquet and Guaranteed on-time Valentine's delivery to make your Valentine's Day celebration even more special.

Many artists from etsy provide free shipping & discounts, like featured artist MamaBecca73 allowing you to save plenty of money this Valentine's Day and helping to ease your gift shopping frustrations.

Here are some great gift ideas for $25 and under

Celebrate the holiday of love and romance this year in style with great gifts for your loved ones. Go online, gather great and unique ideas and don't forget to save while shopping.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Out-of-the-chocolate-box ideas for Valentine's Day treats

Valentine's Day usually brings to mind a box of chocolates for your sweetheart. As delicious as solid milk chocolate hearts and raspberry creams are, how about something a little different this year?

Matthieu Chamussy, certified executive pastry chef and chef instructor in the Baking & Pastry Program at The International Culinary School at The Art Institute of California - Inland Empire, suggests a wonderfully French confection for this Valentine's Day: the macaroon.

Not to be confused with the shredded coconut dessert macaroons, macarons have become increasingly popular stateside. Some news articles say it may be overtaking the cupcake as the "au courant" "must-have confection." If you search online for macaron gift boxes
you can find a number of options ranging from $20 for a dozen to $90 for 35 from a high-end retailer.

If you want to try making your own meringue-based treat, Chef Chamussy offers up his recipe below for pink, heart-shaped macaroons encircled with raspberries for this Valentine's Day. Chamussy, born and raised in Paris, learned the art of bread and confection making from his grandfather early on and had the opportunity to learn from the prominent French pastry chef Francois Payard. Since then, Chamussy has worked all over the world including Paris, New York and Los Angeles.

When trying out the recipe, Colleen Johnson, lead instructor in the Baking and Pastry Program at The International Culinary School at The Art Institute of California - Orange County, advises "macarons look fairly simple, but there are a lot of tricks that you will learn with practice.

"Let your egg whites sit out at room temperature for 48 hours. I like to use a ceramic bowl and put a cloth over my whites. I also suggest grinding your almond flour and powdered sugar really well in a food processor, and then sifting it," add Johnson, who also teaches a "Mastering Macarons" course at a cookware retailer in Costa Mesa, Calif.

"For my baking and pastry students at The Art Institute of California - Orange County, I like to have them check out a YouTube video about the macarons of renowned pastry chef Pierre Herme. It's in French, but the video shows you how the ingredients come together," says Johnson.

Even if your first attempt at baking macarons is imperfect, Johnson mentions that presentation is another important element of the culinary arts. "Proper presentation and plating can make even the tiniest morsel of dessert seem sumptuous and something to be savored," she says. For a plated dessert like heart-shaped macarons: "I like clean lines and color. So I would say a pink macaron would look simply great on a white plate," she says. "Or, if you want to give your treats as a gift, I'd put them in long, thin cellophane tube and tie both ends with a lovely ribbon."

Another great way to make this dessert even more special is to serve it with a glass of champagne, prosecco or cava, adds Chamussy.

Valentine's Day Macarons with Raspberries


Mixture 1

  • 2/3 cup almond flour
  • 2/3 cup confectioners' sugar
  • 1/4 cup egg whites
  • Red color

Mixture 2

  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1.3 fluid ounces water
  • 1/4 cup egg whites

Finishing touches

  • Fresh raspberries
  • Raspberry sauce
  • Rose petals
  • Almond flour, food color and raspberry dessert sauce can be found at Trader Joe's.
  • User may use bottled egg whites from the grocery store.


Preheat oven at 300 F.

For mixture 1: Sift the almond flour with the confectioners' sugar, stir until combined, set aside. Stir the red color into the egg whites. Add the colored egg whites to the almond flour and confectioners' sugar, set aside covered with plastic.

For mixture 2: In mixer bowl, or in a stainless steel mixing bowl, start whisking the egg whites slowly. Mix the granulated sugar with water in a pot, set on stove to boil. When the syrup reaches 238 F., remove from stove. Start whisking the egg whites on high speed, add the syrup slowly in a steady stream onto the egg whites. Let mixture whip for four minutes. When mixture is done, it should be dense, glossy, very similar to a marshmallow.

Fold in 1/3 of mixture 2, into mixture 1, making sure the mixture looks homogeneous.
Fold in the rest of mixture 2 into mixture 1, folding a little more energetically. Put this mixture in piping bag with a round tip.

On a parchment paper, draw heart shapes, spacing them out evenly to facilitate heat circulation in oven. This will be used as a stencil. Place another sheet of parchment on top. Pipe the mixture following the traced heart, making sure not to pipe too thick in order to preserve that heart shape. Start with the outside of the heart, finishing with the inside of the heart. Let set at room temperature approximately 30 minutes until a "skin" is formed on the macaroon.

Bake in the preheated oven, making sure to leave the door of the oven partially opened for the first 13 minutes of the baking process. Close the door after 13 minutes are up and bake another 10 minutes. Rotate. Bake another eight - 12 minutes depending on macaron size. They should be set up, not moving at all on the sheet and with no extra color. Let cool one hour. The macaron should gently come off the paper and be slightly moist in the center.

To finish the dessert, you will need two macaron shells. Place one upside down; start placing fresh raspberries on the edges, trim them if necessary to make them sit straight. Fill the inside with a good quality jam of your choice. Place the other side of the macaron on top of the raspberries. Decorate with a fresh rose petal (organic preferably), and a fresh raspberry. Serve with a good quality vanilla ice cream and a raspberry sauce.

Here's a video on chocolate macarons for a reference for macaron first time bakers.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Free Entrance Days in the National Parks

America's Best Idea - the national parks - gets even better with several fee-free days at more than 100 national parks that usually charge entrance fees.

Mark your calendar for these fee-free dates in 2012:

January 14-16

Martin Luther King Jr. weekend

Yosemite Falls

April 21-29

National Park Week

June 9

Get Outdoors Day

September 29

National Public Lands Day

November 10-12

Veterans Day weekend

To make the fun even more affordable, check out these discounts and special offers from park partners and neighboring businesses:
Grand Canyon
National Park Hospitality Association

National Parks Promotions Council

Since 1916, the American people have entrusted the National Park Service with the care of their national parks. With the help of volunteers and park partners.

Arches National Park

Get Involved

Visits to national parks inspire people to plan another trip, to tell their friends, and often, to ask how they can help.

You can:

Olympic National Park

join a park Friends Group

make a donation

partner with the NPS

do your part

revitalize your community

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Three ways to a sustainably healthy New Year

New Year's Day will spur many people to resolve to follow healthier lifestyles in 2012, but how many will carry through with their pledges? The journey to better health is not as daunting as it may seem. Slight adjustments to your eating, sleeping and exercise habits can have a dramatic impact on your overall health. Focus on improving these three aspects, and you'll be well on your way to a healthier you.

Whole foods
While it's difficult for many of us to stick to a "diet," a few adjustments to your daily food intake can be equally effective and, more importantly, sustainable. One of the best ways to improve your diet is to increase the amount of whole foods you consume each day. Processed foods lack many of the nutrients our bodies crave and are laden with added sugars and preservatives. Whole foods, particularly fruits and vegetables, are packed with nutrients yet low in calories to help manage weight.

Not a fan of raw fruits and veggies? You can easily blend these vital food groups into your diet - literally. Toss a variety of fresh produce into a high-performance blender like a Vitamix machine, add some ice and water, and you've got a simple, tasty way to get several servings of whole fruits and vegetables at once.
These unparalleled machines are powerful enough to completely pulverize even the seeds and skin of their contents into smooth, silky treats that are full of nutrition. For instance, Vitamix's Going Green Smoothie offers four full servings of fruits and vegetables, nearly meeting the nutritionist-suggested five servings per day. More healthy, whole food recipes and information on Vitamix machines are available at VitaMix Info

Rest up
As the pace of our world continues to pick up speed, we tend to neglect important aspects of our health, including giving our bodies the rest they need. Unfortunately, fatigue has many negative impacts on physical health and personal wellbeing. Adequate rest is needed to complete everyday tasks effectively, including performing well at school and work. Functions like your metabolism and immune system also depend on sufficient amounts of sleep to operate properly. Sleep deprivation can lead to a number of serious health risks, including obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.

To ensure a better night's rest
, the Mayo Clinic recommends several tactics, including sticking to a sleep schedule, limiting caffeine and other beverages before bed, creating a bedtime ritual, limiting daytime naps, including physical activity into daily life, and managing stress. The National Sleep Foundation suggests most adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night, but even one additional hour per night is proven to have a significant impact on physical, emotional and mental wellbeing. By making sleep a priority, other aspects of your life will improve and you'll be living healthier in 2012.

Taking steps
With American obesity at an all-time high, the need for more physical activity is evident. But fitting in time to exercise can be challenging with our hectic lifestyles. Fortunately, simply adjusting your routine to increase the number of steps you take each day can truly make a difference. Combating a sedentary lifestyle doesn't need to mean hours in the gym, and you can reap many benefits from this free and low-impact exercise. A reasonable walking goal for the average person is 10,000 steps per day. Sedentary people who may only be averaging 1,000 to 3,000 steps per day can work up to this goal by aiming to add 500 steps each day.

To track your progress, purchase a pedometer
and wear it every day for a week. You may be surprised at how many - or how few - steps you get in each day. There are many ways to increase your daily activity without major changes to your daily routine. Walking the dog, using the stairs instead of the elevator, parking farther from the grocery store, and walking to a coworker's desk instead of emailing are just a few ways you can incorporate more steps into your lifestyle and walk your way to better health.

With just a few adjustments to your everyday routine, you will see the many health benefits of improved nutrition, sleep and exercise habits. Cheers to a healthy New Year and a healthy new you.

Make New Year's resolutions close to home

As each year comes to a close, people begin to make resolutions - typically, vowing to start something new in the year ahead, such as lose weight, get a new job, start volunteering and so on. Making resolutions is easy; the hard part is keeping them. However, there are a few things you can do at home that might actually help you achieve some of your New Year's goals. Start 2012 on the right foot with this list of easy home updates and tips to help conquer your New Year's resolutions.

Develop better eating habits
* Research shows that people tend to eat less when surrounded by the color blue. Repaint your kitchen or dining room in a blue hue to help naturally suppress your appetite. And, painting is a great way to tone your arms if you also resolve to get in shape. Once the paint dries, clean out your pantry and replace any high-calorie or fatty foods with healthier options.

Help the environment
* Growing concern for the environment prompts many people to resolve to be more green. Your refrigerator runs all day, every day, which accounts for a large percentage of your home's energy usage. Keeping your refrigerator's thermostat set between 38 and 42 degrees will help save energy and keep your food from spoiling.

Give to others or volunteer
* Clean out your closets and collect any gently used items you and your family no longer use or need. There are a number of national and local organizations that accept clothing donations; some will even pick up the items directly from your home. Beyond clothing, consider giving previously used toys, games, books or materials for crafts to the local hospital or day care center.

Spend more time with family and friends
* After a long day at work or school, not to mention all of life's other activities and events, the last thing you want to do is spend your downtime cleaning your home. Look for household products and tools that keep cleaning time to a minimum.
The AccuClean(TM) whole-home air filtration system from American Standard Heating & Air Conditioning attaches to your furnace or air handler to reduce dust accumulation in the home by more than 50 percent, which means you'll spend less time cleaning and have more time for your family and friends.

Learn something new
* One of the most common resolutions centers around conquering a fear or trying something new. Take a look at your home and challenge yourself to tackle home improvement projects on your own.
Finish an unfinished basement, build an outdoor play space for the kids or renovate a bathroom. Not only will you conquer any do-it-yourself fears, but any revamp of your home will only add to its value and resale potential.

January Recipes

January 2012
 Winter Recipes

Today's Cooking Tip

Baked Apple French Toast
This is a simply wonderful brunch recipe that tastes good enough to be dessert
Baked Apple French Toast Recipe
10 serving recipe
  • 20 slices French bread (1 inch thick)
  • 1 can (21 ounces) apple pie filling
  • 8 eggs
  • 2 cups 2% milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  •  1 cup packed brown sugar
  •  1/2 cup cold butter, cubed
  •  1 cup chopped pecans
  •  2 tablespoons corn syrup
 Arrange 10 slices of bread in a greased 13-in. x 9-in. baking dish. Spread with pie filling; top with remaining bread. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, milk, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg. Pour over bread. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
 Remove from the refrigerator 30 minutes before baking. Meanwhile, place brown sugar in a small bowl. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in pecans and corn syrup. Sprinkle over French toast.
 Bake, uncovered, at 350° for 35-40 minutes or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean.
 Peach pie filling works very well also. And whipped topping with maple syrup is a good crowd pleaser.
Turkey-Lentil Chili
 Italian folklore holds that eating lentils brings good luck and prosperity. The round lentils symbolize coins.
  • 2 cups dry lentils
  • 2 quarts vegetable broth
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1 pound turkey sausage
  • 2 tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
  • 1 pinch crushed red pepper flakes
  • sea salt to taste
  • 1 (8 ounce) container plain lowfat yogurt
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley for garnish
 Bring lentils and vegetable broth to a boil in a large pot over high heat. Reduce heat to medium, and simmer for 10 minutes.
 Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Stir in the garlic, onion, celery, and sausage; cook and stir until the sausage is crumbly and no longer pink, about 10 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, turmeric, cumin, thyme, and red pepper flakes; cook 5 minutes more.
 Stir the sausage mixture into the simmering lentils. Continue simmering until the lentils are tender, 20 to 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt. Garnish each serving with a dollop of yogurt and a sprinkle of chopped parsley to serve.

Grilled Wisconsin Fontina Sandwich


 Cherry Chutney:
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 cup red onion, chopped
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup dried cherries, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried tarragon leaves
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 cup water
  •  8 slices hearty bread
  •  1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, room temperature
  •  16 slices of Wisconsin Fontina cheese
  •  1 pound smoked turkey, shaved
  •  1 Granny Smith apple, sliced thin

 Cooking Directions:

To prepare chutney, heat oil in a non-stick skillet over medium heat. Saute onions until beginning to brown. Deglaze pan with vinegar. Add cherries, salt, tarragon, honey and water and simmer for 20 to 25 minutes; cool.

To prepare sandwiches, butter one side of each slice of bread. Place four slices of bread, buttered side down, in a large, non-stick pan or griddle on medium heat. Top each with Wisconsin Fontina cheese, turkey, sliced apple, and 1 tablespoon of chutney. Top with remaining four slices of bread, buttered side out. Grill each side until golden brown and cheese is melted.


Potato Gatto

a casserole of potatoes mashed with mozzarella, prosciutto, and salami and baked until the cheese is melted and the top is crusty and browned.


  • 2 1/2 pounds potatoes, scrubbed
  • 2 tablespoons plain bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2/3 cup warm milk
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons freshly grated pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 8 ounces fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 4 ounces sliced Genoa or other Italian-style salami and/or prosciutto, chopped
 Place the potatoes in a large saucepan with cold water covering them completely. Cover the pan and bring the water to a simmer over medium-high heat. Cook the potatoes until they are tender when pierced with a knife, about 20 to 30 minutes. Drain them and let them cool slightly.

Generously butter a 2-quart baking dish. Sprinkle the dish with the bread crumbs, turning it to spread the crumbs evenly.
When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, remove the skins. Place the potatoes in a bowl and mash them until smooth. Stir in 3 tablespoons of the butter, the milk, 1 cup of the grated cheese, the egg, the nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste. Fold in the mozzarella and meat.
Heat the oven to 400º. Spread the mixture evenly in the dish, dot with the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter, and sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons of grated cheese. (This dish can be prepared to this point and refrigerated for up to 24 hours.)
Bake the dish until the top is browned and the center is hot, 40 to 45 minutes (50 minutes if it was refrigerated). Let it cool for 10 minutes before serving. Serves 10.

Dancing Deer Baking Co

White Bean and Spinach Soup

delicious way to get the vegetables in without the fuss.

  •  2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 cup diced carrot
  • 1/2 cup diced red bell pepper
  •  1/2 cup diced onion
  • 1 tsp. grated lemon rind
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cumin
  •  1/4 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper, optional
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  •  Freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 oz. lean ground lamb or beef, broken up
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  •  Two 13-3/4 oz. cans chicken broth
  • One 16 oz.can small white beans, rinsed and drained
  • 8 cups (about 12 ounces) fresh spinach leaves, stemmed and slivered
  •  1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice

In a soup pot, heat olive oil. Saute the carrot, red pepper, onion, lemon rind, spices, salt and pepper 5 minutes. Stir in the ground meat and garlic; cook 5 minutes. Stir in the broth; heat to a simmer. Stir in the drained beans. Cook 10 minutes. Skim off fat. Stir in the spinach; simmer 10 minutes. Stir in lemon juice. Serve hot. Makes 8 servings.

Shop Taste of Home (Readers Digest)

Football Sandwich Cookies

Tint the icing to match your favorite team's colors. Go team, Go!

What You Need

1/4 C. cocoa

1 1/2 C. flour
1/2 tsp.

baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 C. butter
3/4 C. sugar
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
1 can of vanilla frosting or the icing

recipe below

football cookie cutter

What You Do

Sift the cocoa, flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a bowl, then set aside.

In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla; continue mixing until all is smooth and creamy. Gradually beat in flour mixture.
Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 325

Lightly sprinkle the table with sugar before rolling out the dough to 1/4 inch thickness. Cut out football-shaped cookies and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Remember to flip every other cookie over on the baking tray so that the cookies will match up evenly when they are paired together. Make sure to cut out an even number of cookies to match as pairs.

Bake for 8 minutes. Remove from oven and carefully move cookies from the baking sheet to cooling racks. Cool completely before icing.
Spread the icing in-between 2 cookies and draw on football laces on the top cookie.

Alternative ideas for cookie fillings:

Here is an easy creme filling if you don't like using canned frosting:
Creme filling
4 TBSP butter
1/2 C. butter-flavored shortening
1/8 tsp salt
2 C. powdered sugar
1 1/2 TBSP milk
1 tsp clear vanilla
1 tsp mint flavoring (optional - can use any flavoring desired) or can substitute 1 tsp cocoa powder for any added flavoring
In a large bowl, cream together butter, shortening, salt and powdered sugar. Add milk, vanilla and mint flavoring or cocoa powder and mix until creamy.
You could also fill these cookies with your favorite flavor of ice cream for delicious ice cream sandwiches.

Dylans Candy Bar

Nanaimo Bars
These delicious cookies are a staple of local cafes in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. These bars freeze well, so it's nice to make extras to keep in the freezer for anytime you want a quick treat. Before cutting the bars, if you dip your knife into hot water to heat it, it will help make the process neater and cut easily through the chocolate.
what you need
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon butter
  • 4 oz. semisweet chocolate, divided
  • 1/3 C sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1/2 C chopped walnuts
  • 1-1/2 C coconut
  • 1 1/2 teaspoona vanilla extract, divided
  • 2 C confectioner's sugar
  • 3 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 (1 ounce) squares semisweet chocolate
Makes 2 Dozen Bars

How to make

Grease a 9 inch square baking pan.

In a heavy saucepan melt 1/2 cup butter 2 ounces of the chocolate. Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar, egg, oats, chopped nuts, coconut and 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract. Press mixture into prepared pan and chill for 1 hour.

Mix the confectioner's sugar with the softened butter, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla and the milk. Beat until the icing is smooth. Spread it over the oat mixture and chill for 1/2 hour.

Melt the remaining 1 tablespoon butter with the remaining 2 ounces of chocolate. Spread over the top of the bars and chill for at least 4 hours before cutting into bars.

Variation: Add a couple of drops of green food coloring and use mint flavoured chocolate chips.

Smiling Snowman Cake
Creating this chocolate snowman cake is fun for the whole family.
  • 1 3/4 cups cake flour
  • 1/2 cup Dutch-processed cocoa
  • 1 1/4 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 1/2 cups vanilla frosting
  • Shredded coconut (optional)
  • 2 black licorice drops
  • 1 large orange gumdrop
  • Red shoestring licorice
  • Red fruit leather
  • 3 starlight mints
  • 3 small gumdrops
  • 2 sticks chocolate licorice
 Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour two ovenproof glass bowls, one slightly larger than the other. (Note: For our cake, we used one bowl with a 1-liter capacity and 6-inch diameter and the other with a 1 1/2-liter capacity and 7-inch diameter.)
 To make the cake, mix the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large mixing bowl. Sift the ingredients onto waxed paper and return to the bowl.
In a separate bowl, blend the butter with the sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Mix in the vanilla extract.
Alternately, add the flour mixture and the milk to the batter in thirds, combining well after each addition. Fill the bowls about two thirds full. Bake the smaller cake for about 50 minutes and the larger cake for about 65 minutes.
When done, the surface will spring back when touched and a toothpick inserted in the center will come out clean. Cool in the bowls for 10 minutes. Then invert onto a large, rectangular platter (about 17 by 12 inches) so the cakes resemble a snowman. Cool completely.
Ice the cakes with the vanilla frosting, then sprinkle with shredded coconut, if desired. Add licorice drop eyes, insert an orange gumdrop nose and fashion a broad smile with shoestring licorice.
For the scarf, cut two 2-inch-wide strips of fruit leather, notch the ends and wrap around the neck of the snowman. For the buttons, use starlight mints topped with gumdrops. Finish off the snowman with two chocolate licorice arms. Serves 10 to 12.
Kids' Steps: Measuring and adding the ingredients for the cake batter, and frosting and decorating the cute snowman.
Vanilla Raspberry Panna Cotta
Recipe features raspberries and a vanilla bean, making it both a delicious seasonal treat and a fun lesson in the source of a favorite flavoring.
  • 2/3 cup raspberries, plus more for garnish
  • 3 tablespoons cold water
  • 4 teaspoons unflavored, granulated gelatin
  • 1 vanilla bean (or 1 teaspoon vanilla paste or 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract)
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon fine sugar
  • 2 cups buttermilk
nullLightly oil eight 1/2 cup capacity pudding molds, ramekins or teacups. Put five raspberries in each. Transfer the molds to a baking dish.
nullPour the water into a small, heatproof bowl and sprinkle on the gelatin, distributing it evenly. Let the gelatin stand until the granules have swollen and absorbed all the liquid, about 1 minute.
nullBring a shallow pan of water to a simmer over low heat, then remove it from the stove top. Place the bowl of gelatin in the water and let the granules dissolve, stirring occasionally until the mixture is smooth, about 3 minutes.
Gently flatten the vanilla bean and slit it lengthwise with a small, sharp knife (an adult's job). If the bean is long, halve it again before scraping for easier handling. Scrape the knife along the inside of each bean half to remove the seeds, then place them in a medium pan with the cream. If you're using vanilla paste, whisk it into the cream. If you're using extract, add it at step 5.
Over medium heat, bring the cream to a boil, then remove it from the stove top. Whisk in the sugar and let it dissolve for 2 minutes. If you're using vanilla extract, add it now. Whisk in the gelatin mixture, then gradually whisk in the buttermilk.
nullnullStrain the mixture through a sieve into a 4-cup liquid measuring cup. Pour it evenly into the molds. Let the dishes cool for 30 minutes at room temperature.
nullUsing a single sheet of plastic wrap, cover the surface of each dessert to prevent a skin from forming. Chill the desserts until firm, for at least 6 hours or overnight.
To serve the panna cotta, remove the plastic wrap and turn out each dessert onto a plate (if needed, loosen the edges with a small metal spatula or butter knife). Garnish with fresh raspberries, if you like. Serves 8.
Imitation Vanilla Extract: Less expensive than pure extract, imitation vanilla is a synthetic flavoring that works best when vanilla is being combined with other flavorings or spices.
Vanilla Paste: This thick mix of vanilla seeds and syrup offers the full flavor of beans and the economy and convenience of extract.
Whole Vanilla Beans: These flexible, wrinkly seed pods of the vanilla orchid, a tropical vine, are the most expensive type of vanilla but have the most intense flavor. (At the grocery store, two beans cost about $12; you can find them for less online.) They're a good option when vanilla is the primary flavor in a recipe.
Pure Vanilla Extract: This dark liquid, made by soaking vanilla beans in alcohol, has a strong natural vanilla flavor.

The raspberries in this recipe can be swapped for another in-season fruit, such as chopped strawberries or peaches. But don't use raw pineapple or kiwi — those fruits won't allow the gelatin to set.
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