New Year’s Eve Mocktails

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Homemade sparkling cider with maraschino cherry “ice cubes”

New Year’s Eve doesn’t have to be just an adult affair. With these two mocktails, kids can get in on the fun, champagne glasses included. The first idea is Milk with Chocolate Chip Cookie Stick—pour milk into a champagne glass and then garnish with the Chocolate Chip Cookie Stick for supreme dunking. This is a chocolate chip cookie recipe baked biscotti-style—so the sticks are crunchy and can withhold dairy dipping with ease.

The second New Year’s Eve mocktail is homemade sparkling cider, which is just an easy combination of apple juice concentrate and seltzer. But here’s where the fun can come in—freeze some maraschino cherries and use them as fruity “ice cubes” in the sparkling cider. For an adult riff on this mocktail, use pomegranate seeds in the sparkling cider (which will float) instead of maraschino cherries.

So cozy up to Netflix’s original All Hail King Julien (released December 19), and ring in the new year with these celebratory mocktails.

Milk Flutes with Chocolate Chip Cookie Sticks

Makes around 14 to 18 sticks

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½ cup melted butter

½ cup granulated sugar

½ cup packed brown sugar

1 egg

1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup mini chocolate chips

½ cup walnuts, very finely chopped (optional)

Milk, to serve

1. Preheat oven to 375°F. In a large bowl, add melted butter, sugars, egg, and vanilla. Stir to combine. Add flour, baking soda, and salt; stir into the wet mixture until combined. Stir in chocolate chips and walnuts into the cookie batter.

2. Line a 9-inch by 12-inch Pyrex dish with parchment paper and coat with cooking spray. Press the dough into a rectangle in the dish. Bake in the preheated oven until the cookie dough is golden on top, about 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool at least an hour.

3. Preheat oven to 325°F. Lift up the parchment paper to easily remove the chocolate chip cookie loaf from the baking pan. Place it onto a cutting board. Use a serrated knife to cut the cookie into 1-inch sticks.

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cutting into cookie sticks

4. Arrange sticks on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet so the sticks are cut side down. Bake in preheated oven for 12 minutes. Turn the oven off and let the sticks sit in oven for 1 hour. Keep in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

5. To serve, fill champagne glasses with milk. Place a chocolate chip cookie stick into the milk to serve.

Homemade Apple Cider

Makes 4 ½ cups

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1 (12-ounce) container apple juice concentrate, thawed in the fridge overnight

3 cups seltzer

Garnishes: frozen maraschino cherries or cinnamon sticks

In a pitcher, add the apple juice concentrate. Top with the seltzer, gently stirring to combine. Pour into cups or champagne glasses. Garnish with cinnamon sticks or frozen maraschino cherries.

Brain Booster: Strawberry-Yogurt Swirl Popsicles

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The swirling is the best part of making these–for adults and kids alike.

I’m obsessed with brain foods. In a sense, these foods have been scientifically dissected and are known to wire your brain with a focused energy. They’re also assumed to keep your mind sharp for years to come. Berries are one of the best brain foods there are–blueberries seem to have the highest amount of brain power, but all berries rate very high. (Other honorable mentions are salmon, eggs, and nuts.) I took that knowledge to create the most brain-boosting popsicles possible by merging berries with brain-friendly pomegranate juice and the protein powerhorse, Greek yogurt. Watermelon juice is added for sweetness, so less honey is needed.

In light of the dog days of summer, where kids’ brains are also on hiatus along with school, Netflix has rolled out featured educational shows like Leap Frog: Math Adventure to the Moon to documentaries like National Geographic: Secret Yellowstone and When We Left Earth: The NASA Missions. My husband is a teacher and will sometimes incorporate documentaries like these to jazz up a science lesson for his students. So he’s especially grateful to these year-round. Pair a popsicle with an educational program via Netflix to keep your kids’ brain active throughout summer. The popsicles are so refreshing and scrumptious, kids don’t need to know that they’re good for them as well. I won’t tell if you won’t.

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These brain-powered babies aren’t just for dessert–they also work as a snack or for breakfast.

Strawberry-Yogurt Swirl Popsicles

Two cups of any type of berries can be used, whether that’s blueberries, blackberries, or raspberries.

Yield: 6 to 8 Popsicles, depending on mold size

1 cup chopped watermelon

2 cups sliced strawberries (about 1 pound strawberries)

3 tablespoons pomegranate juice

3 tablespoons honey, divided

1 cup no-fat or low-fat Greek yogurt

1. In the bowl of a food processor, add watermelon, strawberries, pomegranate juice, and 1 tablespoon honey. Process about 1 minute until mixture turns into a puree. Taste; add just a bit more honey, if needed; a lot of this depends on the sweetness of the watermelon and strawberries.

2. In a small bowl, combine together yogurt and remaining 2 tablespoons honey.

3. Fill the popsicle molds: First, pour the strawberry mixture in the bottom of each popsicle mold. Spoon yogurt into it; again, top with strawberry mixture and then yogurt. Use a wooden popsicle stick or a skewer to swirl the strawberry mixture and yogurt together. Place in the freezer overnight.

4. To remove from popsicle molds, hold under warm water until popsicle can be easily pulled free of mold. Serve.

 

Snack Like a Scandal Gladiator: Red Wine Spritzer and Pizza Popcorn

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Scandal snacks: red wine spritzer and pizza popcorn

I like to spread the Scandal love.

“You haven’t seen Scandal?” I’ll say. “Stop what you’re doing and watch now.” I’ve started many Scandal addictions this way–for friends, family, strangers. I’m basically a walking, talking Scandal promo. The first two seasons I watched on Netflix with this past third season in real time. Can I admit something? This fast-paced, soap opera-esque thriller is best for binge watching, which is great because Netflix now has all three seasons of Scandal.

Because everyone deserves a little me-time to refresh and recharge from hectic lives, I devised these Scandal-worthy snacks for the ultimate viewing experience. It doesn’t take many episodes of Scandal to realize main gladiator, Olivia Pope, basically consumes nothing but copious amounts of red wine and bowls of popcorn. So naturally, a Red Wine Spritzer and Pizza Popcorn were in order. While these recipes were inspired by Scandal, they’ll also work for other guilty-pleasures, like Orange Is the New Black, House of Cards or such.

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pizza popcorn

First, this is the popcorn to beat all popcorn. I could barely stop snacking on it long enough to take a photo. Pizza seasonings like dried oregano and basil are mixed with chopped sun-dried tomatoes and Parmesan for an addictive twist on popcorn. And, of course, you’ll need to pair this salty snack with a drink. If you’ve never had a wine spritzer before, it’s a light and refreshing–not to mention easy–wine cocktail for the summer. If you can’t find the Italian orange-flavored San Pellegrino Aranciata, there are a variety of other options like Sprite, 7-Up, or even seltzer with a squeeze of lime. Spritzers are a 1:1 ratio of wine to soda/ seltzer. If I know a spritzer is in my future for the evening, I’ll go ahead and put the red wine and Aranciata in the fridge to chill for later.

So crash on the couch, pull up Scandal on the iPad and eat like Gladiator.

Pizza Popcorn

Makes 8 cups

8 cups popped popcorn (around ½ cup popcorn kernels)

1 tablespoon melted butter

2 tablespoons finely chopped sundried tomatoes

1 tablespoon sun-dried tomato oil

1/8 teaspoon each of dried oregano, dried basil and garlic powder

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon finely grated Parmesan cheese

1. Make popcorn via either microwave popcorn or the stovetop. If going the stovetop route, I highly recommend Mark Bittman’s method.

2. Add 8 cups of popped popcorn to a large bowl. In a small bowl, mix together, melted butter, chopped sun-dried tomatoes, sun-dried tomato oil, herbs, and salt. Mix to combine.

3. Slowly drizzle sun-dried tomato mixture over popcorn, tossing to coat all the popcorn. Top with Parmesan cheese, again tossing to combine. Serve.

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red wine spritzer

Red Wine Spritzer

Any type of red wine can be used for a spritzer–just utilize whatever you already have around.

Makes 1 drink

½ cup red wine

½ cup San Pellegrino Aranciata

Slice of orange

In a glass, add red wine and Aranciata. Squeeze the orange slice into the glass and then garnish with it. Add ice to chill if needed. Serve.

Egg Cream: What’s in a Name?

Chocolate Egg Cream from Artisan Soda Workshop

I’m obsessed with the fresh, constant supply of seltzer water pumped out by my small SodaStream. So much so that I wrote a cookbookThe Artisan Soda Workshop, revolving around syrups that can be mixed into the seltzer for DIY soda. And then it was a thrill to write a blog post for SodaStream featuring a recipe from the cookbook. I chose to highlight my Egg Cream recipe, which is misleading as far as names. As I convey in the post, my Northern-raised mom would tell this Southern kid about how she missed Egg Creams. Of course, I thought the drinks actually contained eggs–a raw yolk floating in the mix of a drink. As an adult, I learned that an egg cream is actually nothing like that. It’s a splash of rich, chocolate syrup mixed with dairy and topped with seltzer. I use cream versus the more traditional milk because it makes the drink oh-so-much-more fizzy. Also, add a splash of booze like Kahlua turns this into cocktail magic.

Chocolate Fondue.. Easy as Can Be

Who knew chocolate fondue could be so easy? Photo courtesy of Dalboz17 on Flickr.

While chocolate fondue isn’t quite difficult to make, it involves tempering chocolate and all that jazz–which, let’s face it, can kind of be a pain. But, while working on my cookbook, The I Love Trader Joe’s College Cookbook, I discovered a quick, practically fool-proof way to get chocolate fondue the easy way. And that’s by melting chocolate chips and chocolate syrup together. The chocolate syrup from Trader Joe’s is already a pretty good quality–that’s what helps the most. Also, make sure to use a good-quality brand of chocolate chips. This is a quick way to impress a loved one with your (ahem) chocolate culinary talents. Just make sure to hide the chocolate syrup bottle, ok?

Chocolate Fondue 

Yield: 2 servings

Accompaniments like sliced strawberries, banana chunks, pound cake pieces, marshmallows, etc
1/2 cup Chocolate syrup, like Trader Joe’s Organic Midnight Moo Chocolate Flavored Syrup
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, divided

1. Cut the fruit and other accompaniments into bite-size pieces. Arrange them on a plate.
2. In a small microwave-safe bowl, stir together the chocolate syrup and 1/4 cup chocolate chips. Microwave on high until melted, 1 to 1 1/2 minutes (depending on the strength of your microwave).
3. Remove from the microwave and stir in the remaining 1/4 cup chocolate chips.
4. Place into a fondue pot to keep warm. Serve, dipping the fruit and cake pieces into the fondue with toothpicks or fondue forks.