A cut above the rest: How to make the perfect holiday cookie

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The cookie that makes everyone merry

(BPT) - Many of our fondest childhood memories consist of spending time with friends and family, baking delicious holiday cookies and eyeing the beautifully wrapped presents under the tree.

Embrace nostalgia and create the perfect holiday cookie that tastes delicious and is easy to decorate. Instead of displaying a gingerbread house, cut sugar cookies using some snowman, tree and star cookie cutters to set up a festive and tasty holiday scene. Scatter some coconut shavings or crinkled strips of paper for snow and place holiday candies behind the cookies, so they stand up all night long.

When making holiday cookies, remember to:

* Cream the butter and vanilla together. Doing this beforehand will encapsulate the vanilla and prevent flavor loss.

* Chill the dough in the fridge before shaping it. This will make for a softer, moister cookie that is less likely to spread when baking.

* Remove cookies from the oven a few minutes early, as they will continue to cook on the sheet.

* Let the cookies cool completely before you begin to ice them.

Try this recipe to make three dozen perfect holiday cookies, using Nielsen-Massey vanilla and peppermint extracts to provide a completely unique flavor your entire family will enjoy.


Classic Holiday Sugar Cookies                                                                                          

Ingredients

3 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

1 cup superfine sugar (purchase at store or process granulated sugar for about 20 seconds in a food processor)

2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream

3 1/4 teaspoons Nielsen-Massey Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Extract

1 teaspoon Nielsen-Massey Pure Peppermint Extract

2 eggs

1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar (for dusting work surface)

1/4 cup all-purpose flour (for dusting work surface)


Directions

Position oven rack in the center of oven and preheat to 350 F. Line two large, heavy light-colored baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking powder and salt until blended; set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, add butter, sugar, cream, vanilla and peppermint extracts; beat with a handheld mixer on medium speed until fluffy, which should take about two minutes. Scrape the sides of the bowl as needed. Reduce speed to medium-low; add eggs one at a time and beat after each addition. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the dry ingredients one half at a time.

Divide dough into two even pieces, then press each piece into a disk shape. Wrap them tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for one hour. Dough should be cool and firm but easy to work with.  

In a small bowl, whisk confectioners’ sugar and flour until blended; set aside. Working with one piece of dough at a time, place on a clean, dusted surface. Roll dough to about 1/8-inch thickness. Use cookie cutters to cut shapes and transfer with a thin offset metal spatula to prepared cookie sheets. For even baking, do not overcrowd cookies. Gather remaining dough, cover with plastic and chill. Continue with second chilled dough.

For best results, bake one sheet pan at a time until done, which should take about 10 minutes; remove and place cookies on wire racks to cool. Decorate and store in an airtight container.


Peppermint Glaze and Peppermint Piping Icing

1 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar

1 tablespoon meringue powder

2 tablespoons water

1/2 teaspoon Nielsen-Massey Pure Peppermint Extract (may substitute with Nielsen-Massey Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Extract)

Variety gel food colors

Directions

In a small bowl, whisk together sugar and meringue powder. Add water and peppermint extract, stir until smooth. Glaze cookies in desired colors and set aside to dry before piping. For the piping icing, remake the glaze recipe and add additional confectioners’ sugar, one tablespoon at a time until desired consistency is reached. Divide icing into small bowls; add desired gel colors. Select pastry tips, prepare pastry bags and creatively pipe icing onto glazed cookies.

Dare to pair: food and wine pairings for game day

(BPT) - When it comes to game day food, are you bored by brats and beer? If you’re looking to step up your game and serve daring game day fare, why not try something new with a creative food and wine pairing?

“When I have the guys over for a game, I try to use my love of great flavors and the skills I have in the kitchen to create something beyond the typical tailgate fare,” says popular TV personality Adam Richman. “And instead of the typical beer or soda, I'll pair it with a glass of high-quality versatile red wine like Alamos Malbec.”

Richman recommends his Malbec Burger for game day grub because it’s more unique than a typical burger, but can still please any crowd. To up the daring factor, Richman recommends adding a splash of wine to the recipe to enhance the flavor. “People think of Malbec with beef in fine dining, but what about in a burger? By putting the Malbec right into the ground beef it makes the flavors of both the burger and the wine really sing.”

Being willing to experiment with food and wine pairings often leads to success, Richman says. Play with recipe ideas and then invite friends over to test them out, he suggests. To get you started, Richman created five “Daring Pairing” recipes designed to pair with the high-quality Argentine wines from Alamos.

“Malbec is one of my favorite varietals and is a great wine to experiment with,” Richman says. “Alamos Malbec is truly versatile enough to complement just about any food from fun snacking to fine dining.”

The versatility comes from the growing conditions in Argentina’s Andes Mountains, which result in Malbec grapes with bold layers of flavor and excellent natural acidity for a wine that you really can dare to pair with just about any meal.

Get started on the mild side by trying Richman’s recipe for Malbec Burgers with Creole Mustard Tomato Jam for your next game day crowd. To view all five Daring Pairing recipes visit www.facebook.com/AlamosWines.

Malbec Burgers with Creole Mustard Tomato Jam

Burger ingredients:

1/2 pound ground lamb

1/2 pound ground pork

1/2 pound ground beef (85 percent lean)

1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs

1/2 cup roasted tomatoes, finely chopped (approximately three to four plum tomatoes roasted with a drizzle of olive oil until soft)

1/3 cup flat leaf parsley, finely chopped

1/4 cup roasted garlic, finely chopped (approximately a head of garlic roasted with a drizzle of olive oil until soft, then squeezed out of skin)

3 tablespoons sun-dried tomatoes, finely chopped

3 tablespoons roasted red peppers, finely chopped

2 tablespoons fire-roasted poblano chilies (packed in olive oil), finely chopped

1 egg

1/2 cup Alamos Malbec

2 teaspoons brown sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons paprika

1 1/4 teaspoons red pepper flakes

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

5 Kaiser rolls for entree size burgers or 10 small potato rolls for sliders, split, toasted and lightly buttered

Olive oil

Watercress and sliced tomato for topping burgers

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  In a large bowl, mix all burger ingredients, except rolls and olive oil, using your hands until evenly incorporated. Make into five large (entree size) or 10 small (slider size) patties and set aside.

Over high heat, heat an oven safe pan until drops of water skitter across its surface. Pour in enough olive oil to coat bottom of pan by 1/4 inch. Heat oil for 30 seconds. Place patties in pan, working in batches if necessary. Cook patties until browned on bottom and then flip and brown the other side. Remove burgers to baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Repeat until all burgers are browned.

Place burgers in preheated oven for roughly 5 to 7 minutes for medium doneness. Place on grilled buns and top with watercress, sliced plum tomato and Creole Mustard Tomato Jam. Serve hot.

Creole Mustard Tomato Jam

Ingredients:

1/3 cup Alamos Red Blend

1/3 cup crushed grape tomatoes

2 1/2 tablespoons blackberry or raspberry jam (with seeds)

1 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon onion powder

1/3 cup stone ground or Creole mustard

Directions:

Cook down all ingredients except mustard in a small saucepan, stirring constantly until thick and relatively uniform in consistency. Mash all bits of tomato into sauce.  Remove from heat and place in a nonreactive bowl to cool. When just above room temperature, stir in mustard.

Argentinean Table Wine ©2014 Alamos USA, Hayward, CA. All rights reserved.

Grape idea! One simple ingredient boosts nutrition and reinvents meals

(BPT) - As the days start to get shorter – and the evenings busier – families are always on the lookout for quick and easy go-to meals that will please even the pickiest eaters. A few tricks and time-saving recipes instantly reinvent family favorites and will receive rave reviews at the dinner table.

With the California grape season still going strong, make the burst of red, green or black grapes your juicy secret for happy fall meals. Honey-Balsamic Chicken with California grapes is sure to earn an A-plus from your crowd. Boneless, skinless chicken breast is a school-year standby, and chances are the other ingredients – honey, spices and balsamic vinegar – are already stocked in your pantry. Add halved red and green grapes, and that’s all it takes to turn ho-hum chicken into a new and comforting family favorite.

Another option: skip the take-out pizza and take the family on a flavor trip with trendy Italian Sausage Flatbread and California grapes. The combination of sausage and grapes is an Italian culinary tradition and pairs deliciously with sprinkles of chard and feta cheese. By using whole-grain flatbread and turkey sausage in this recipe, you can sneak in better nutrition without your family even noticing.

Why not turn it into a family affair by enlisting the kids’ help in assembling the ingredients on the flatbread? Making dinner together is fun, and research shows that kids who help with meal prep tend to have healthier diets.

Here’s a nifty trick to easily halve grapes in these and other recipes: Place a handful of grapes on a dinner plate (the plate should have a raised bottom, not be completely flat). Gently place another dinner plate (bottom side down) on top of the grapes.  Using a serrated knife, slice between the plates and voila! You have perfectly halved grapes. 

Try these great recipes and watch them bring smiles of satisfaction to your family. For more grape ideas, go to GrapesfromCalifornia.comfacebook.com/GrapesfromCaliforniatwitter.com/GrapesfromCA or pinterest.com/GrapesfromCA.

Honey-Balsamic Chicken with California Grapes

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

To taste freshly ground black pepper

3 shallots, roughly chopped

2 cups  red seedless California grapes, halved

1 cup green seedless California grapes, halved

3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon honey

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Heat the oil in a large oven-safe skillet over medium-high heat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and add it to the skillet with the shallots. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring and turning the chicken occasionally, until it and the shallots are nicely browned.

Add the grapes, vinegar, honey, and garlic and bring them to a boil; cook and stir for five minutes more. Place the skillet in the oven and roast for 10 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through. Sprinkle the top with rosemary. Serves four.

Nutritional analysis per serving (without sides): Calories 261; Protein 28 g; Carbohydrate 19 g; Fat 8 g (Sat. Fat 1g); 28 percent Calories from Fat; Cholesterol 68 mg; Sodium 314 mg; Potassium 486 mg; Fiber 1 g.

Serving suggestion: Serve over a brown rice blend or polenta with lightly steamed chard or kale.

Italian Sausage Flatbread with California Grapes

Ingredients:

2 hot Italian turkey sausage links, casing removed

1/4 teaspoon Italian seasoning

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 whole grain flatbreads 

2 teaspoons olive oil

1/2 cup chopped Swiss chard

1/2 cup feta cheese crumbles

1 cup red and green seedless California grapes, sliced

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400 F.

Cook the sausage over medium-low heat in a nonstick skillet until cooked through. Stir in the Italian seasonings and red pepper flakes.

Gently brush each flatbread with the oil. Layer the flatbread with the sausage, chard, feta and grapes. Bake for 15 minutes. Slice each flatbread into eight even pieces. Serves four.

Nutritional analysis per serving: Calories 273; Protein 13 g; Carbohydrate 14 g; Fat 20 g (Sat. Fat 8g); 63 percent Calories from Fat; Cholesterol 47 mg; Sodium 699 mg; Potassium 175 mg; Fiber 4 g.

Improve your entire day with these easy breakfast ideas

(BPT) - Want to keep the weight off? It starts at the breakfast table. Seventy-eight percent of those who successfully maintain their weight loss eat breakfast each day, according to the National Weight Control Registry

Why does breakfast seem to make the difference?

Anika Christ, registered dietitian and senior program manager of Life Time Weight Loss at Life Time – The Healthy Way of Life Company, says eating breakfast - especially a high-protein breakfast - will leave you with sustained energy throughout the morning. Rather than feeling famished mid-morning, many people find when they make the right breakfast choices, they can easily last until lunch time before they need to eat again.

During the morning rush, you may be tempted to skip breakfast for extra minutes of sleep or simply getting yourself and your family ready for the day ahead. But as many experts maintain, breakfast may be the most important meal of the day and certainly it’s the one that could give you that extra morning energy kick you’ve been looking for.

Christ says that Life Time’s nutrition philosophy builds off of a nutritious breakfast, and suggests that a healthy breakfast can be easy, even on the go, with a little bit of prep.

“What we want to avoid is sugary, highly processed breakfasts, like cereal, that start our bodies on a glucose roller coaster,” says Christ. She adds that a well-rounded breakfast will include a quality protein, carbohydrates, fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables and healthy fats. Here are her top three fast and filling breakfast recipes:

Breakfast smoothie

Breakfast smoothies make for a quick morning meal for the whole family. They’re a go-to favorite, and can be made to taste preference with nut butter, fruits and/or veggies. Just blend the single-serve ingredients with ice, or batch it for a family.

* 8 ounces of milk or a milk alternative

* 1 tablespoon of natural nut butter (peanut, almond or cashew)

* 1 cup of fruit and/or veggies

* 1 scoop of whey protein

Energy bars

Energy bars can be great options if prepped on the weekends. Make a batch for the week, and it’s easy to grab and go.

* 2 1/2 cups of raw oats

* 3 scoops of whey protein powder, vanilla

* 2 1/2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed

* 1/4 cup organic honey

* 4 ounces unsweetened applesauce

* 1 teaspoon baking soda

* 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

* 2 ounces chopped almonds

* 1/4 cup dried fruit, chopped

Mix the oats, protein powder, flaxseed, honey, applesauce, baking soda and vanilla extract in a bowl. Mix in the remaining ingredients. Press the mixture into a pre-sprayed cookie sheet. Bake at 325 degrees Fahrenheit for 18 to 20 minutes. Let cool completely and cut into 12 bars. 

Egg scramble

Still looking to cook in the morning? Eggs are loaded with protein and can be a great, quick-cook option. Use thawed, frozen vegetable mixes to save more time.

* 1-2 cage-free eggs

* 1 cup of precut vegetables

* 1 ounce of natural cheese, mozzarella

* 1 cup of fruit

* 1 teaspoon organic butter (for cooking)

Scramble vegetables, eggs and cheese over a medium-high heat until fully cooked. Serve with fruit on the side. 

A good breakfast reduces your desire to reach for sweets or snacks mid-morning and sets you up for success for the rest of the day. Try it for a week and you’ll realize investing those extra couple of minutes in the morning will pay dividends later.