All I Want for Christmas is Some Not-Ugly Cookies

I'd like to say that my Christmas cookies this year turned out great. But I'd also like to tell the truth (and avoid getting a lump of coal in my stocking). So here's a quick rundown of what I learned during my Christmas Cookie Baking Session:

The Ginger Chocolate Chip Bars are delish! They are easy and super tasty.

The ornament cookies that are all the rage this year are best left to people with more patience than me. After the first one I got tired of decorating them and got really tired of the little "ornament hooks" not sticking in. I think these have great potential but I'm not quite sure how to actually achieve it.

These cookies are superb! They're made from a rich brownie mix, dark chocolate whipped frosting, and even have a little dab of peanut butter hiding under the frosting. The only problem is that I got lazy and just made 24, when I probably should have made them stretch to about 36. Each one is pretty big and is really filling (not that I'm complaining!). For a party, I think it's better to have more cookies that are smaller, plus they're better for snacking. I just need to learn some patience in the kitchen and be willing to make another tray-ful!

These cookies will go down in my family history as The Ugliest Cookies Ever. I affectionately call them Cheesecake Shrapnel. I feel like the concept was good - use premade sugar cookie dough as a crust and then a delicious (and easy!) cream cheese filling, with some white chocolate chips sprinkled on top. But again I was trying to go too quickly and made one tray (24) of them when I should have done at least 36. The result was super swelled-up mini-cheesecakes that stuck to the pan. This was what they looked like after taking them out of the pan:

RIP, little cheesecakes. Next year I'm going to modify the recipe and do this:
1 - Roll premade sugar cookie into a ball, and press down in the middle to make a bowl.
2 - Add in the cheesecake filling.
3 - Make them much smaller than this year.

Stay tuned for the official FunnySpoon Cheesecake Cookie recipe!

Roasted Red Peppers - Part Deux

You already know I'm madly in love with roasted red peppers. But thanks to a recent recipe submission from Dori A. I found my new favorite meal - Spinach Pita Pizzas. They're way easier to make than they look, and you can get quite a few one-person meals out of all the ingredients. It feels super indulgent but it's not totally bad for you (just don't pay attention to how much feta I actually end up putting on).

Also, since it's red (roasted peppers) and green (fresh spinach) it can make a cute holiday appetizer - just slice it square-style and serve!

Fresh, fresh, fresh!

Since we're on a roll about fresh produce I thought I'd share my latest find. I'm obsessed with these new storage containers by Rubbermaid called Produce Savers. They're incredible. You know when you slice your fresh strawberries, put them in a plastic container in the fridge and then the next day they're all mushy and gross? It's so disappointing. However, with these containers you won't have that problem. They keep berries, veggies and even mushrooms fresh in the fridge for days on end. The best news - they're BPA-FREE!!!! And Rubbermaid also offers coupons for you to try these cool containers for yourself.

If you're tired of having soggy veggies and mushy fruit in your fridge like me then you should give them a try. Let us know what you think!

Keeping Fresh Herbs and Greens Fresh

Here's a tip that's kind of an add-on to Carrie's great advice. When you get home from the grocery, always wash your herbs and greens before putting them in the fridge. Wrap a paper towel around them while they're still wet, so the paper towel absorbs the extra water. Then store the paper-wrapped greens in a Ziploc bag. The damp paper towel keeps herbs and greens fresh and crisp longer than the plastic bag from the grocery store.

Also, if you have extra minced herbs or salad left over from dinner, you can place a damp paper towel or hand towel over them and then wrap the container in saran wrap. Your salad or herbs will still be fresh the next day.

Prepare dinner even faster

If you're like me then you'd be much more likely to have a salad with dinner if the veggies were already cleaned and prepared. Am I right? It took me a long time to figure it out, but organization really does pay off. I like to come home from the grocery and immediately clean all of my veggies so they're prepared for salads and cooking during the week when I need them. It does take a little more effort upfront, but then I'm actually inclined to use all the veggies before they go bad. When I don't do this I usually end up throwing the squash and zuccinni out after 10 days. Sad veggies and a waste of money!

I use the time as a chance to either catch up with my husband or catch up with one of my girlfriends. Thirty minutes of washing veggies and chopping flies by with some good conversation!


One time-saving trick I use is to make mini-meatloaves instead of one big loaf. A one-pound meatloaf takes 45 minutes to an hour to bake, but mini-meatloaves only take about 20 minutes.

If you want to try it, check out my new fave mini-meatloaf recipe - they're like bacon cheeseburgers but all-in-one!

Tis the season to season!

The trick to great food is seasoning. Not enough and it'll be bland. Too much and you might not be able to eat it. The spice cabinet can be your best friend (or worst enemy) when cooking.

Take a few minutes to organize your spice cabinet and it'll not only make your cooking more enjoyable, but it'll also make your food taste better when you're able to actually find the spice you need! I keep my spices alphabetized so they're at my fingertips when I need them. I have a small tiered shelf (that you can buy for a few bucks at Target or Wal-Mart) in my cabinet and it's perfect for my spices. And it looks all nice and organized when the cabinet is open.

Did you know that you're only supposed to keep your spices for 6 months before they begin to lose their flavor and freshness? I don't know about you, but I have a tough time remembering what I had for lunch yesterday let alone when I bought a spice. I write the date that I open it on the bottom of the bottle to help keep things straight.

Seasoning packets are great! If you don't use cumin or fajita seasoning often then don't buy bottles of them for just one recipe - they'll sit in your cabinet for a year and then be thrown away. The seasoning packets can be a great alternative. They're available for all types of food - you may be able to buy one seasoning packet for a few dollars instead of 3 different spices.

Happy seasoning!

Saving Leftover Chicken Broth

I don't know about you, but I play it safe when it comes to the guidelines on food products. That means that generally I can look in my fridge and find at least four open packages of chicken or vegetable broth that all read "Use within a week of opening." I can never remember how long it's been since I opened a container of broth! Rather than taste it or dump out what may be perfectly good broth, I just open another and promise myself I'll check the others when I'm not in such a rush. Then I'm left with five open containers of broth!

Now, instead of cluttering my fridge and wasting all that money, I immediately pour the extra broth into ice cube trays and freeze it. Next time a recipe calls for broth, I can pull out exactly what I need.

Warm for the Winter

I do this simple trick every time I prepare dinner in the oven - after I take out what I've prepared, I stick my dinner plates in for a minute or two to warm them up. It makes me feel like I'm in a restaurant since that's what they do!

Invest in Good Utensils

It really is worth investing in good utensils. A while back, I was making a dessert that required me to use a whisk to mix chocolate pudding mix and heavy whipping cream. Should be a simple task, right? Wrong. My whisk was a "bendy" whisk so instead of allowing the ingredients to whisk through it, it grabbed on to the mix and just formed one clump that got stuck in the center of the whisk. Great. After spending a lot of time getting the mixture off the whisk, I ended up just using a mixer to finish the job. Talk about a waste of time! Not to mention all the extra dishes I had to wash. Needless to say, I went out the next day and bought a nice sturdy whisk so that I'd be ready for the next time. And throwing away that bendy hunk-of-junk old whisk was SO satisfying.

What are your utensils mishaps? Any great suggestions for particular tools that get the job done better than others?

No Brainer Tip #2: Clean up as you go!

I've seen so many cooks tear up their kitchen and have a huge mess to clean up afterwards, just because they weren't cleaning up as they go. Every time you're finished with a bowl, measuring cup, utensil, whatever, immediately rinse it and put it in the dishwasher. Throw away trash as you go. Put away ingredients you are done with. It makes your work area less cluttered (and more sanitary) and saves you from the overwhelming feeling of looking at a huge mess once the meal is done. You may think you don't have time for it, but even putting one dish in the dishwasher in between stirring your soup will save time later!

Measuring takes too much time!

Most people enjoy my cooking and love to come to dinner at my house, but always insist on bringing the dessert. They all know I'm a terrible baker. I think most of my baking challenge has to do with the fact that I rarely measure things. Obviously that's a requirement in baking!

Instead of measuring things I like to eyeball them. I think I mostly do this because a) I'm too lazy to get out the measuring spoons and cups and b) I'm too lazy to do those extra dishes. If you are lazy like me, then try out these shortcuts to save yourself a few minutes:

1) a teaspoon = a palmful (when you make a cup with your hand this covers the very center)
2) a tablespoon = a handful (covers the entire base of your palm)
3) a cup = a heaping handful (fill your hand like you're holding a baseball)
4) a tablespoon of oil = 1 turn around the pan (pouring the oil around the circumfrence of the pan)

What are your measuring, cooking and baking shortcuts? Us lazy cooks need to stick together!

Spices: Fresh vs. Dried

I know I'm supposed to say I prefer fresh herbs and spices to dried spices. And I won't lie, you can't deny the great flavor of some fresh basil. But dried spices are so much EASIER! And I can keep them on hand and just throw together a quick dinner without having to run to the store. So if I'm already at the store, I'll consider picking some up, but when I'm staring into my pantry trying to decide what to have for dinner, it's great to know I've got an arsenal of spices at the ready.

And I'm sure most people know this, but my handy tip of the day is that 1 tsp. of dried herbs/spices = 1 tbsp. fresh herbs/spices. So keep that in mind if you're making substitutions in recipes. Bon appetit!

No Brainer Tip #1: Make Sure You Have All The Ingredients!

I know it sounds obvious - that's why it's part of my new No Brainer Tip series - but I can't tell you how many times I've forgotten to check for all the ingredients before starting a recipe! I'll be halfway through a recipe and realize I don't have flour or lemon juice or some other ingredient that I always just assume I have on hand. Doing a quick check before starting can save a big headache later!

Find Your Favorite Spice

One of my favorite spices is tarragon. Sometimes I come across a recipe that calls for a different spice, maybe a spice I don't like or one I just don't like as much. So I just swap it out! Sometimes it doesn't work - some things just weren't meant to be together. But a lot of times I end up discovering a great new way to make a recipe my own.

What's your favorite spice? Are there any recipes that don't sound appealing to you, but would sound better if you had your favorite spice thrown into the mix? Give it a shot!

Roasted Red Peppers Are All The Rage

I have been on a major roasted red peppers kick lately. It's a great way to add a big burst of flavor to pretty much any dish, but what I love even more is how easy they are to use! I keep a jar of World Classics Trading Company Roasted Red Peppers on hand at all times so that I can slice a few and throw them into pasta, salad, fish dishes - pretty much anything!

And I guess my friends are on the same wavelength as me - at a dinner party last week one of my friends made these awesome wraps with roasted red peppers and Boursin cheese. I decided to try them out for myself and was amazed at how easy they were to make. I totally recommend making these for your next dinner party. You'll look like an amazing chef but you'll only spend about 5 minutes making them.

I'm sure I'll have more recipes on the site soon that feature my new favorite ingredient, but for now you can check out these:
· Tilapia Fish Tacos
· Macaroni Grill Pasta

Mix Your Cheeses

I'm a huge cheese lover and am always finding ways to sneak cheese into things. One of my favorite tips is to simply mix cheeses. Whatever you're doing, instead of using the full amount of one cheese, use half the amount of two cheeses.

My favorite extra-cheesy FunnySpoon recipe is Gourmet Mac and Cheese. You start with your traditional cheddar and combine it with Italian 3-Cheese. Cheesy, gooey goodness!

Some of my other faves:

1) Grilled cheese sandwiches: slice of cheddar and a slice of provolone
2) Omelet: shredded monterey jack and shredded swiss
3) Pasta: grated parmesan and romano
4) Cheese and crackers: spread some Boursin or Alouette, then top with a thin slice of brie or chevre
5) Pizza: shredded mozzarella and provel

I always keep lots of different cheeses on hand in all forms (shredded, sliced, blocks, etc.) and toss together whatever I'm in the mood for!

What's your favorite cheesy combo?

Baguettes in the trash? No way!

There's nothing like a fresh baguette. It seriously makes every meal better. However, what do you do when you're finished with dinner, half the baguette is left and you know you won't eat it for dinner tomorrow?

1) Make crostinis. So easy. Thinly slice the baguette (about 1/4 inch thick). Lay them flat on a cookie sheet and lightly brush with a mixture of olive oil, garlic powder, onion powder and dried chives. Bake at 400 for about 6 minutes, flip over lightly brush the mixture on the other side and bake for another 4-6 minutes. Let them cool and store in a ziploc baggie. They'll last for weeks and are great with cheese, hummus and just about any dip.

2) Make french toast. This will seriously be the best french toast ever. Slice the baguette the night before - I like the slices to be about 1/2 inch or so thick. Beat 2-3 eggs, about 1/2 cup of milk (may need a bit more), a splash of vanilla (about 1 tsp) and a few dashes of cinnamon - to taste of course. Run the baguette through the egg mixture and cook on a buttered medium-high skillet or griddle. Serve with a maple syrup. Delish!

3) Make bread crumbs. These will be perfect for a Thanksgiving stuffing and they'll make any recipe that much tastier because the breadcrumbs will be fresh! Tear the baguette into small pieces and spread it out on a cookie sheet. Sprinkle with garlic powder, thyme or rosemary, sea salt and fresh ground pepper. Try these with one of our favorite recipes, Salmon Bites.

What do you do with your leftover baguette?

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