Stretching The Drinks At Thanksgiving

If you are hosting and putting on Thanksgiving dinner, then you know that it can come with a hefty price-tag.  Whether you’re feeding two, 12, or 25, food costs money and so do the drinks that go along with it!

And even though everyone is hungry and ready to eat now, drinks tend to go the quickest.  Am I right?  Drinks are free flowing all day long, “because it’s a holiday!” and it’s easy to spend a lot of money just keeping everyone supplied.

If you are hosting, having guests chip in and bring a drink or five is a great way to keep your budget in check and also for others to show their gratification for your hospitality.

However drinks are still going to go quickly!  How can you make the drinks last longer?

By combining them with something else! Yes technically it’s a mixed drink of sorts but the kind that won’t kill your budget or have you wondering if you are going to run out of beverages.

White Wine can be combined with seltzer to make White Wine Fizzies.  These are highly popular here at the HQ.  Great for when you want a just a sip of wine but want a full glass of drink.  A splash of white wine (stick with the non-sweet varieties) in the glass, then top it off with some seltzer creates the fizzie.  Flavored seltzer works too!  Or you can add a twist of lime or orange to give it kick.  Frozen cranberries keep the drink cool and festive looking.  Seltzer is cheap, under a $1 for a liter.  Most all grocery stores carry them and even run deals on them.  If you prefer Club Soda, use that! A little bit more expensive then seltzer but it works just as well.

Red Wine can be combined with apple cider and warmed up on the stove or in a crock pot that has a warm setting.  Toss in some orange slices, maybe some cloves, and cinnamon sticks and you have a great drink.  If you think that might be overpowering for some guests leave out the spices.  Red wine and cider are perfect just on their own.

Okay, so you have some beer loving folks coming over.  If you get some of the higher-end cheaper beer (and this will probably be the only time you see me recommend cheap beer), you can mix a few bottles with limeade.  It has the flavors of a margarita but made with two very simple things.  A lime slice on the glass to garnish and you’ve got a tasty beverage.

If you have some hardcore fellas who won’t drink that, well then have them bring their own beer!

Stick to your budget this year and make those drinks work for you!  Stretch them out and everyone will be happy and you’ll be stress free!

Happy Thanksgiving from OHC!

Tuesday Tip: Homemade Croutons

Ever since I started eating salads as a wee lass, I have loved croutons.  No scratch that, I adore croutons!  Crispy crunchy little bits of bread that are loaded with flavor adding a nice texture to salad.  Sometimes they’ll soak up a bit of the dressing acquiring even more flavor!  I prefer smaller bite sized pieces but I won’t turn down a crouton when presented to me.

I used to buy croutons all the time at the store.  I had my favorite brands and favorite flavors.  Garlic was a must and cheese was optional.

Croutons that came on salads from a restaurant seemed even more special.  No doubt they were the same croutons I was buying myself but when you’re out to dinner everything always seems a little more decadent and special.

I rarely meet a crouton that I don’t like.  Oh it happens, just not often.

For some reason it never occurred to me to make my own until I saw Ina do it several years ago.  Then the lightbulb went off, “I can do that too!”

The best part about making your own croutons is that you are in control of what goes on them and how much you use.  If you are using bread that you made yourself, bonus points because you have even more control of what goes into your food!

While I love all bread, I prefer a nice whole grain for eating.  Yet when it comes to making croutons, a good old French baggette does the job nicely.  I love the baguette because it’s got a nice texture to work with.  The day of purchase it’s crusty with a softer inside, perfect for dipping and making bruschetta.  The next day?  It’s hard enough to knock one out of the park or defend yourself against an intruder.  Perfect for making croutons.  You have to love versatility.

I’m also going to let you in on a little secret, you do not have to use day old or stale bread to make croutons.  You can use fresh bread.

Totally true!

All you need is some bread of your choice and then cut it up into bite sized pieces.

Here’s how to make croutons at home.  Keep in mind that I’m passing along a concept and not an exact recipe.  Amounts depend on your taste preferences and how much bread you have.

Andrea’s Homemade Restaurant Style Croutons

  • 1 French Bagguette, cut into bite size pieces
  • Olive Oil
  • Balsamic Vinegar
  • Garlic Powder
  • Italian Seasoning ( I use Mrs. Dash)

Preheat oven to 350 and line a large baking sheet with foil.  Spray with olive oil or non-stick spray.  In a large mixing bowl add the bread cubes, drizzle olive oil and vinegar on top, toss using your hands or using a large spoon.  Add in garlic powder and Italian seasoning, again, toss using your hands or a large spoon.

Place bread pieces on the baking sheet and into the oven for about 10-15 minutes.  Keep an eye on the bread to make sure it doesn’t burn.  Stir it occasionally and test the bread to see if it is hard and crispy.  When it has reached that stage and it picked up some golden brown color, remove from oven and allow to cool.  Add to soups and salads!

I told you it was easy to do!  The trickiest part is to make sure the bread doesn’t burn which is really simple.  You just have check the bread every few minutes to make sure it isn’t toasting up too far.

This works for both fresh and stale bread.  Fresh bread will still toast up and get crispy in the oven.  Use what you have on hand, and if that means stale or day old bread, go for it!  You can even do this with cornbread!  Cornbread will require a gentler hand because it can be crumbly, but will make croutons for you.

The balsamic gives the croutons a little bit of a darker color and also adds some tang to the taste.  Totally optional though, if you would rather straight olive oil that’s okay too!

If you want to get even fancier, you can grate some parm on the croutons before baking to give them a little hint of cheesy goodness.

For me, it’s like having mini garlic bread bites in your salad!

Now who’s going to make some croutons this week? :D

Tuesday Tip: Cutting corn off the cob

Oh farm fresh corn how we love you! You signal to us that it’s time for summer and that means crab boils, cookouts, camping, and maybe a few nights spent around the fire-pit.  You are very versatile and can be used in so many ways!

Sometimes a recipe calls for fresh corn cut off the cob and if you haven’t done it before or you’re not sure how to go about it, taking corn off the cob can be tricky business.

Corn is odd shaped and cutting it can be a test of patience and quick reflexes.  It can also get messy because corn actually carries a lot of liquid with it.

It doesn’t have to be a game of culinary roulette though!  Nope.  I promise, cutting corn off the cob can be done easily though you still need to stay focused during the task.  No one wants a runaway cob.  Remember that kids.

What do you need to successfully cut corn off the cob without making a mess or losing digits?

A bundt pan.

I swear it’s for cutting the corn and not for a corn cake or molded vegetable Jell-O salad (Ew, right? That has to be straight outta the 60s.)  Multitask your kitchen tools!  Here’s how it works:

Step 1: Once the fresh corn is husked and the corn silk is removed, place the corn in the bundt pan like so.  The hole in the bundt pan helps secure the corn cob in place.  Is it super sturdy? No, you still have to be careful but it does give you support which is what you need when cutting the corn off the cob.

Step 2: Slice straight down.  See how the corn just falls to the bottom of the pan?  This will catch all the kernels and the juice that comes out.  Once you clear a section, scrape it down a few more times to make sure you get all the corn goodness off the cob.

Step 3: Turn the cob and repeat Step 2 until all the corn is off the cob.

Step 4: You’re done! And now you have all the corn plus juice nicely contained in a pan and not all over your counter, floor, ceiling, and possibly fridge.  The corn has been freed and is now ready for whatever you want to use it for.   Except Jello salad!

“But A, now what do I do with these corn cobs?!”

Well if you’re lucky enough to have a kid who loves fresh veggies, like mine does, feel free to give them a taste.

Just a few licks though!  No chewing or eating the cob as that won’t digest all that well.  It helps if you have a seriously long boxer tongue to ensure you are able to lick the entire perimeter of the cob.

Bonus points if your kid gets that crazy gypsy-eyed look on their face at the prospect of, “ZOMG! I can has fresh cobby corns!”

But if you would like to be more practical, the cobs can be added to soups and chili during simmer time for extra flavor and creaminess.  Or toss it in with a pot of beans!

Now what are you going to make with some fresh corn? :D

Tuesday Tip: More cool treat ideas for your dog

With it being summertime, we have the chance to take the kids out and about more.  They get longer walks and more playtime.  The downside is that it is also hotter and just like us, our kids can get hot too.  They can overheat and get dehydrated.  We have to make sure that we pay attention to them to ensure that this doesn’t happen.

Boxers and other dogs that tend to have more squishy faces (or brachycephalic dogs for you fancy folks) have slightly more trouble dealing with extreme temperatures than those dogs with longer snouts.  Here’s a link with more info, scroll down past the human examples.  If you have a dog that falls into this category, make sure you pay even more attention to how they are handling the heat because they are more likely to overheat and have breathing problems.

We have talked before about some cool doggie treats that you can make at home that are easy and inexpensive.  To add on to those treats, you can use unsweetened applesauce instead of plain unsweetened yogurt.   Just put in ice cube molds and freeze.  Your dog will love the cool treat!  Not only will they be eating a fruit instead of a baked treat, they will also be getting some fluids as well.  Especially great if they just got done playing or had a lovely walk.  You can buy unsweetened applesauce or make your own without adding sugar.

If you want to go all out, you can get some bone shaped ice cube trays!  Very cute and very doggie appropriate! There are two sizes, one for the smaller guys and one for the bigger guys.

If you do have a smaller dog who wouldn’t be able to handle the size of a full ice cube, only fill the slots about half way (or even less for the super tiny ones!).  That should give you a good size for your little kid.

Yeah I'm running..

As always, make sure your pets (this goes for kitties too!) have plenty of water during the day and free access to the water.  Occasionally go in and change the water throughout the day so they have fresh water.  Take water along on walks with you if you need to and make stops for them if you think they are getting tired.  Early morning and late evenings are good times for walks.  Early afternoon tends to be the hottest and your dog might not handle that so well.

Remember, if you wouldn’t run in it because you think it’s too hot, then your dog probably thinks it’s too hot as well.

Now, go make some cool treats for your doggie and get out there for some play time!  Enjoy your summer!

Tuesday Tip: Stay Hydrated, eat your fruit and veggies

It’s summertime in the US and this mean HOT weather.  And if you are lucky enough to live in the East, South, and Midwest then you get the bonus of also enduring humidity!  Hooray!

High humidity means that you can actually swim to your car, the corner, or the mailbox instead of walking like normal folks.  It’s totally true because when you get back home you are soaked through like you just swam through something.  And how does it feel walking in that humidity?  It feels like you dove into a lukewarm bath.  Yeah, it’s pretty gross.

Hot and humidity means that you sweat.  A LOT! Way more than one normally sweats and this also means fluid loss.  In the summer we need to be more vigilant about making sure we take in enough fluids to keep our bodies hydrated and functioning at top levels!

This goes for both athletes and non-athletes.

This is where fruit and veggies become even more important to our diets and our well-being, because they can help keep us hydrated!

So many veggies get a bad rap.  Let’s list a few just for fun.

  • Iceberg Lettuce
  • Cucumbers
  • Celery

All lovely green veggies!  What is everyone’s biggest complaint about them?  “Oh I don’t eat those because they are mostly water.”

Last time I checked, our bodies are literally 60-70% water.

So why stay away from veggies that have lots of water?  Eat that stuff up and hydrate your bod!

Iceberg lettuce makes wonderful lettuce for wraps and dips.  Cucumbers can add crunch to salad or can be topped with hummus for instant snack.  Celery is great in potato salads, with PB, or just as a regular snack.

These are crunchy and yes, they are watery!  Water our bodies can definitely use especially in the summertime!

Fresh fruit can be a great source of fluids as well.  All the melons are totally juicy and great on hot days.  Grapes?  Fabbo!  Cherries, strawberries, and peaches?  Full of wonderful juice!

I don’t like dissing on fruit and veggies because I think everything can be used to benefit and aid us in some way, we just have find a way to use it.

Stay hydrated this summer friends!  Eat your fruits and veggies. :D

Tuesday Tip: Pineapple Core Uses

The first time I ever had fresh pineapple was at the salad bar at Eat ‘N Park.  Up until that point I only ever had canned pineapple.  I’m not a big canned fruit fan.  It’s always seems way too sweet.  Canned pineapple for whatever reason really doesn’t appeal to me.  When I had fresh pineapple I could not believe the taste! It was sweet and slightly tart.  It was soft with a little chew to it.

It wasn’t harsh or overly acidic like the canned version.

I could not get enough! From that point on I vowed that when living on my own I would get fresh pineapple when possible for a lovely treat.  It seems that I prefer pineapple more in the summer months.  I’m not sure what the growing season is for pineapple but the summer is when it calls my name.  Along with watermelon.  They have to compete with one another.

Cutting up a fresh pineapple is easy and tricky all at the same time.  Slice off the top and bottom, then slice down along the sides removing the skin.  Then you have to go through and try to remove as much of the “eyes” as possible.  When you chop up the pineapple, you need to maneuver around the core.

And there’s the rub.

After what seems like a lot of work you’re left with some cubed pineapple but a whole heck ton of core!

What to do with all that pineapple core?

Well you could eat it.  The pineapple core is edible although most people tend to not eat it since it has a harder and more gritty texture. What next?

Whatever you do, don’t throw it away!  Save the core!  It can be useful, I promise!

Freeze it!  That’s right, your freezer is your friend and you can freeze that core for later uses.

Perhaps you are making a punch?  Or some sangria?  Or you just want to give that OJ some pizazz at your next breakfast.   Plop the core down into the mix and let it hang out.  It’ll give your drink some extra pineapple flavor!  Plus if the core is still frozen it will help keep the drink cold and delicious.

The core is easy to cut up into more manageable pieces.  You can cube it and then freeze it.  Use instead of ice cubes.  We’ve talked before about how frozen fruit makes great additions to drinks and pineapple core can be used just the same!

It can also be tossed in with a marinade to bring some zip and tang to the dish.

Pineapple core can be handy! And once we start using it in different applications we won’t feel like we’re tossing half the pineapple away once it’s cut up!

Clean and pure

Tuesday Tip: Handling grilled foods

Despite the fluctuating temperatures and the increased amount of rainy days, Columbus is in full grilling mode!  Actually when the winter weather breaks and we reach at least 50F in temps, people start grilling.  Us included.  Taking an evening walk around the neighborhood yields itself to many delicious smells.

I have it in my head that grilling makes kitchen cleanup easy!  Everything gets prepped ahead so there are minimal dishes to wash after it’s all said and done.

Oh how I wish this were true!

Instead I find myself frustrated with the fact that I have a ton more dishes and such to cleanup than I originally planned on.  This is because grilling can be deceptive when it comes to how many dishes you actually need to use.

Just for starters there’s the utensils that are needed for grilling.  Meat forks, flippers, and tongs of various sizes and lengths.  Add in the fire and it can be like a bad talent show.

Then there’s all the plates and platters!  If you’re grilling meat, then you need two different plates, one for raw and one for cooked.  Veggies of course are going to get their own plate but thankfully that can get reused since raw dead veggies don’t carry around nasties.  Unless you are trying your hand at grilling some romaine for a grilled chopped salad.  Back away from the romaine!

By the end of the event you’re staring down platters, utensils, and some how a Yahtzee cup that got used making you wonder just how strong those margaritas actually were.  If you are like me, then you get a little frustrated at the extra work load.

My solution to counteract all the dishes that can pile up quicker than sequins during a costume change on Dancing with the Stars?

Cookies sheets and tin foil.


Alright, granted it might not be as pretty as Mamaw’s platter with the bluebell flower print but it gets the job done and saves you time in the kitchen.  If you are cooking meat, it can go right on the foil and right outside to the grill.  When all the meat is on the grill, just toss the previous piece of foil and cover the cookie sheet with another piece.  When it’s time for cleanup, just toss the foil and you’re done.

Veggies can go on a covered cookie sheet as well.  If you’ve got a mix of things that are going to finish and come off the grill together, use a bigger cookie sheet to handle the larger batch.

Plus cookie sheets are a lot more outdoor friendly than Mamaw’s platter!  If a stray gust of wind comes up and the cookie sheet takes a tumble, not a big deal.  That platter might end up in a splatter though (roll with it).

We grilled on Sunday and I totally forgot about this tip until I was looking at my kitchen and cursing myself for using so many dishes.  Then I remembered when I used this tip before and how much simpler life was then.

So the next time you grill, try using some cookie sheets wrapped in foil for transfering the food around and see if it helps you out at the end of the day.  I can’t help you with that Yahtzee cup though.

Tuesday Tip: Boiling Corn on the Cob

Corn on the cob has to be one of my most favorite things to eat.  It’s sweet, chewy, and with a pinch of salt, it can be a bit savory as well.  You get to eat it with your hands and if you’re doing it right, then you look like a mess with corn and butter all over your face.  The good news is that you look just like everyone else who’s eating with you!

I remember being given the job of shucking the corn as a kid.  I had to sit out in the back yard with a bowl and a paper bag.  The paper bag was for the husks and corn silk while the bowl was for the fresh cleaned corn. When we lived in North Carolina it was common place for people to shuck their corn in the grocery store instead of at home.

I admit that I found this to be the oddest thing.  I still took mine home as I didn’t really want to be standing around in the grocery store for an extra half an hour to shuck corn.

I stock up on summer corn as much as I can and then freeze it so I can enjoy throughout the rest of the year.  But that’s another tip for another day.   Today we’re talking about cooking corn!

Boiled corn was the only way we ever had corn when I was growing up.  It wasn’t until around 2001 when the Food Network was starting to take off that I was exposed to other ways of cooking corn.  There are so many ways that we should have a discussion just on that, yes?

I have not yet mastered some of the other ways of cooking corn but I have mastered boiling corn.  Or at least my approach to boiling corn has worked the best for me so far.  Boiling corn is really easy and doesn’t take as long as people want to make it out to be.  Here’s what I do to get the best tasting boiled corn.

Andrea’s Method for Boiling Corn on the Cob

  1. Bring a large pot (like a pasta or soup pot) of water up to a rolling boil
  2. Drop in the corn
  3. Allow the water to come back up to a boil
  4. Boil corn for a minute or so
  5. Turn off the heat and put a lid on the pot
  6. Allow corn to hang out in the pot until you’re ready to eat

This works for fresh corn or frozen corn on the cob.  The water in the pot stays hot gently cooking the corn and also keeping it warm.  I will get the corn started and let it hang out while I finish cooking the rest of the meal.  This is especially handy if you’re having corn with some grilled food because the corn can hang out while you finish up grilling whatever you’re having with the meal.

Can you over cook the corn this way?  Yes.  But the corn would have to be sitting in the pot for something like 45 minutes or so which is a long time.  That can result in some mushy corn.  Ideally, you don’t want the corn sitting in the water for more than half an hour.

This is a really easy method for boiling corn that results in nice sweet corn with a slight bite to it.  You don’t have to worry about a bunch of boiling water while you’re trying to cook other things and the corn will be ready when you are.  The next time you have corn on the cob and you’re boiling it, give this a try!

Tuesday Tip: Roasting shrimp

I am always looking for ways that I can cut down the number of dishes that I have to do after a meal.  One of my favorite ways of keeping the dirties to a minimum is by roasting things in the oven.  A foil wrapped baking sheet makes for super easy cleanup when the couch seems a little more inviting than a sink full of suds full of empty promises that it won’t dry out your hands.

One random Saturday I watched Ina make some shrimp cocktail and she roasted her shrimp.

Chef, what?!

Why this never occurred to me before I have no idea but I was determined to give it a try.  Cooking seafood takes only minutes, it’s pretty fast and really effortless once you get experience under your apron.  Shrimp do not take long to cook at all but roasting them means I don’t have to dirty a skillet and that’s really all that is needed for me to fall in love.

My desires are simple folks.

I preheated my oven to 400, lined my baking sheet and sprayed it with some nonstick spray.  I dumped on some seasoned shrimp and tossed that in the oven.  I kept a close eye on them because shrimp cook quickly.  I didn’t even have to turn them! In about five minutes I had perfectly cooked plump shrimp.  No skillet or pot of boiling water required!

Unless I’m making a saucy dish of some sort, this is my new method for cooking shrimp.  It’s fast and so easy making couch time arrive a lot sooner!

Next time you make shrimp, give roasting a try and see what you think!

Tuesday Tip: Cooking Quinoa with other liquids

One of the things that I love about quinoa is that it cooks quick.  It has the same ratios and cooking time as a white rice.

2 parts liquids to one part quinoa.

You handle it just like you would rice which makes it easy peasy! It also provides a sense of familiarity to a dish that might be a new cooking adventure.  The quinoa absorbs the liquid and sort of fluffs up.

Because the quinoa absorbs the liquid, you can use different liquids for cooking.  Chicken or veggie stock make great choices and will give the quinoa a hint of flavor that it won’t get from water.  You can split the different and do half stock/water and half wine. Sounds yummy, right?

If I don’t know what I’m going to do with the quinoa, I will usually stick with cooking it in water.  But if I know it’s going to be part of a savory dish then I’ll go ahead and use some stock for cooking.

Liven up quinoa and try using alternative liquids for cooking!