Winter

Peppermint Bark Hot Chocolate

Are you still making hot chocolate from the store bought mix? This winter season, try something different. Make it from scratch, with real chocolate. It's a totally different taste experience. And there's a good chance you won't go back to a mix. And honestly, this doesn't take much longer (unless you are using instant).

I remember the first time I discovered hot cocoa did not have to come from a powdered mix, I was shocked. And this Peppermint Bark Hot Chocolate will make you a believer. I hope you will give it a chance.

The kid's eye's will pop when they see you add the Frozen Peppermint Whipped cream to the top of their mug. Cue happy music.

I broke up my peppermint bark chocolate bars into my saute pan. I love using a large saute pan to make hot chocolate. The large surface area makes it come together and heat up quickly. Easier to stir too.

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From the LA Times

fallbeans.jpgSome people mark the start of fall with an apple pie. Others start breaking out the big reds from their wine cellars. Me? I'm a bean boy.

All it takes is the first sign of a nip in the air or the first morning that smells like ocean rain and I drag my Dutch oven out of the cupboard and start a big pot of beans simmering.

It doesn't really matter that I know the next day may be back up in the 90s. In fact, that uncertainty even makes it a little sweeter.

That week of rain we had at the end of September? A Portuguese-style stew of white beans with shrimp and clams, given a final lift by chopped pickled peppers.

A week or so later, after the 100-degree temperatures had lifted? White beans braised with dandelion greens and served as a bed for crisp-skinned duck breasts (the leftovers, without the duck, were just as good a couple of nights later, with a few tablespoons of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano stirred in).

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kalesaladKale is in season right now with the common curly kind leading the pack. But there's also a darker, more unique variety that hails from Italy. Tuscan kale is darker in color, more delicate in flavor, and tender to eat. It's especially great in salads and it holds up to many bold flavors. If you're craving a salad this winter, Tuscan kale should be your green of choice.

Most people only think of kale as a cooked vegetable, but kale is great raw. Not only do you benefit from all its vitamins when it's raw, you also get a great texture and fresh taste. It's great as a slaw, or as an appetizer or main course salad. For this hearty recipe, I combine kale with sautéed mushrooms, croutons, and a richly flavored brown butter vinaigrette. I top it off with Parmesan and a poached egg. Serve it for lunch or a light dinner with a glass of wine.

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Smokey-Turnip-and-Parsnip-Gratin-a-perfect-holiday-sideTurnips and parsnips are not a taste I grew up with. It kind of surprises me as I was exposed to all kinds of different foods, heavy with Eastern European influence (not that the turnip or parsnip originated from that part of the world). However, root vegetables were a staple in my childhood household, but I don’t remember turnips and parsnips being part of the repertoire. 

Fast forward into adult life, my husband introduced me to what is now one of my favorite tastes, parsnips. Have you ever had parsnips mashed up like potatoes with butter and garlic? Or added them to soup? They are mild and sweet, and were used as a sweetener before the arrival in Europe of cane sugar. They mimic the taste of a roasted carrot, but with more complexity. I also add them to stews for a layer of unsuspected flavor.

For me, eating turnips was just a natural progression from parsnips. They are however very different in flavor from other root vegetables, more like a peppery radish with a bitter edge. Very distinct in taste but amazing when roasted, which brings on a milder flavor.

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orangealmondsaladThere is probably no other fruit more versatile than citrus. Most people would assume citrus fruit, because it's sweet, can only be used in desserts. But citrus is great in both sweet and savory recipes. Just think of lemons, which are widely used in Mediterranean cuisine. And oranges, too, are often used in savory recipes. Citrus juice also makes a flavorful marinade and tenderizer for meats. I love oranges in salads, especially when they are paired with Asian flavors in the form of a dressing. This salad features peppery watercress, flaked almonds for crunch, and tangelos, which lend wonderful flavor and juiciness.

My love for citrus fruit continues this week with tangelos. You have probably heard of tangerines, so that is half the story behind tangelos, which are a genetic cross between grapefruits and tangerines. The most popular variety is the Minneola, named after the city in Flordia. The fruit features a knobby stem end and has easy-to-peel skin and juicy flesh. The flavor and aroma of tangelos are very unique, not too sweet and exotically subtle. I've only been familiar with tangelos for a few years now, but I've come to love eating them almost immediately. Their juice is what makes them so renowned.

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