Tag Archives: Christmas

Lavender Salt & Sugar

This post is so quick and easy I can hardly call it a recipe.

But pretty? Yes.  Delicious?  Oh, yeah.

Welcome, lavender salt and lavender sugar.  I’ve seen you around the blog universe, and I think even Martha Stewart would appreciate your gift-worthiness.  Plus, lavender grown in my very own herb garden made you extra easy to make–and real cheap.

Lavender Salt or Sugar

  • 1/2 C sugar (white or brown) or coarse sea salt
  • 3 t dried lavender buds (make sure they are approved for eating!)

I gave the lavender buds a quick whirl in my coffee grinder to break them up a bit and release some of those fragrant (not to mention delicious) oils.  I kept them mostly whole, so they were recognizable as lavender buds, though.

Either layer or combine the salt or sugar with the lavender in a glass container (or hey, you could go plastic if you want) with a lid. 

Well, that’s it.  You’re done.

I did a small one with brown sugar (probably only a quarter of a cup of sugar, if that) for sprinkling on top of oatmeal or baked goods.

I also did a bigger one with coarse sea salt–which would also be amazing on top of baked goodies (lavender salted chocolate fudge, anyone?), or fish, or pork.

Lastly, I made a fairly large container of plain white sugar–I figured I could add small amounts to things that I am baking for some extra flavor.  Or imagine rolling snickerdoodles in lavender sugar?  Gosh.

So many possibilities.

And of course, this makes a cheap and easy gift, especially if you tie a sweet label with some ribbon or string.

Christmas is coming up, ya know! 


Filed under Spice Mixes

(Not Your Grandmother’s) Tuna Salad

I found this recipe in Cooking Light magazine, and I decided to make it as a lazy post-gym quick yet satisfying meal.  Only once I realized that it was going to score high marks in the all-important triumvirate of cooking did I think to take a photo.  It was:

  1. Cheap
  2. Easy
  3. Healthy

I mean, what more could you ask for?  Oh wait–delicious!  That’s the last thing I expected, because I have never been a fan of canned tuna, and even less so of tuna salad.  But this is a whole ‘nother kind of tuna salad.

So here’s my recipe and one picture of my unintended success.

Not Your Grandmother’s Tuna Salad (adapted from Cooking Light)

  • 6 oz (half a box) of whole-wheat penne
  • 7 oz can of tuna, packed in water
  • 1 large (any color) bell pepper
  • 1/2 C cooked spinach, drained (I used frozen, but fresh would be even better)
  • 1/2 C cooked peas (I used frozen again)
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 2 T red wine vinegar
  • 1 t olive oil
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste

Boil the pasta according to directions on the box.  Meanwhile, cut the pepper in half lengthwise, remove the seeds, and place skin-side up on a foil-lined baking pan.  Broil in the oven until the skin is blackened, about fifteen minutes.  Dice into small pieces.

Once the pasta is cooked, drain and put in a large bowl.  Add the rest of the ingredients and toss well.  If using fresh spinach (or arugula), toss in the rinsed leaves and allow the hot pasta to wilt them.  Otherwise, heat the frozen veggies and drain before adding them in.

Serves four–and for the record, it’s good microwaved the second day too.

Since I don’t have any other pictures of dinner for tonight, I thought I’d let you feast your eyes upon the Christmas gifts that I made for some of my favorite ladies in my life.  Homemade vanilla extract.

It’s super easy–vanilla beans, vodka, and a cute bottle.

Let it sit for about six weeks until it turns dark and fragrant (much darker than these bottles–these pictures were taken the second day).  Then top it with an ornament and BOOM! Perfect presents!

Only eleven months ’til Christmas!  I think it’s about time to start planning some gifts, right?

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Filed under Entrees, Side Dishes

Seuss Gingerbread House I: the Dough

Now that the (amazing, fantastical, unbelievable) Dr. Seuss gingerbread house is finally complete, I can start blogging about it.  I want what it looks like to remain a bit of a surprise for now because you will really and truly be impressed at what we did when it is unveiled.  You really need to be in a house of artists and architects to create a masterpiece like this one.  It was so much fun, and the entire house was covered in candy, flour, and leftover gingerbread for three days–it was 100% worth it.  Now we just need to figure out what one does with a completed gigantic gingerbread house–we can’t eat something we worked so hard on!  For now I’ll just have to keep admiring it.

But you, my friends, will have to wait a few days to see the finished product.  Until then, here’s the recipe for the dough if you’d ever like to make your very own house!

Gingerbread House Dough

  • 1 1/2 C whipping cream
  • 1 t vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 C firmly packed brown sugar
  • 2 T baking soda
  • 1 T ground ginger
  • 2 t ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/3 C light or dark molasses
  • 9 C (we used 8 1/2 for the perfect dough) all-purpose flour

First, preheat your oven to 300 degrees and line a few baking sheets with parchment paper (we ended up using five sheets…multiple times).  In a large bowl, mix together the sugar, baking soda, ginger (we added a bit extra the second time around with great results), and cinnamon.  Beat in the molasses.

In a smaller bowl, whip the cream and the vanilla together until it forms soft peaks, and add that to the molasses mixture.  Fold in the flour gradually (warning–the dough will be too tough for a hand mixer and might be too large for a stand mixer–we did the whole thing by hand), you will most likely end up “kneading” the dough together with your hands.  We added a half a cup of flour less the second time around, and the dough was a better consistency and much easier to roll out without having to worry about adding too much flour to keep it from sticking.

Lightly flour the countertop, and roll out a portion of the dough until it is ~1/8″ thick.  We made our house’s bottom walls first (oh yes, it is three stories tall) and they were the thickest layers (1/4″), getting thinner as we went higher for better structural integrity.  The topmost roof was about 1/10″ thick when rolled out.  Also, make sure to roll the dough out evenly and to bake equally thick layers at the same time to get a consistent color.  We got better at this as we went on, and you will too. 

Bake two sheets of dough at a time, for about 20-30 minutes, depending on thickness, until fairly firm in the center.  Take the sheets out and position your house template/pattern close together, and using a sharp knife cut around them.  We used a cardboard template that Johann created–you’ll see that in the next post.  Remove the pattern and the scrap pieces (eat those immediately for best results), and return to the oven for another 30 minutes, or until nicely browned and very firm.  Cool for five minutes on the baking sheet, then remove to a cooling rack–when cooled, they should be completely hard. 

At this point you have two choices: wrap the pieces in plastic and store for up to a month (wow), or start building your house.  Tune in tomorrow (or the next day…it is vacation, after all) for Seuss Gingerbread House II: the Construction.

I’ll leave you with this quote from Dr. Seuss:

Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.


Filed under Desserts

Merry Christmas from Calgary!

I hope everyone had a very merry Christmas yesterday and are eating as many leftovers as possible, like we are.  Yesterday, Tharrie outdid herself and made ham, a rack of lamb, creamed green beans, yams, a beautiful salad with goat cheese feta (WHAT?! Goat cheese feta?!  It can only be described as a Christmas miracle that such a cheese exists!), and potatoes au gratin for dinner yesterday, and I literally laid awake in bed this morning dreaming about ways to combine these things into a healthy and happy second round.  I went with a sandwich: purple wheat bread (the wheat itself must be purple because the bread certainly isn’t), lettuce, orange bell pepper, thickly sliced ham, and some spicy Russian vodka mustard with a substantial dose of black pepper.  Sadly, no pictures of either version of this Christmas meal exist.  That’s mainly because I was waaaay too concerned with the actual eating part that for once I had to push my food-blogger self aside.

But don’t worry–I did take some other Christmas-y pictures.

We slept in a bit (I did some reading–my goal is to get through roughly 287,539 books over the next three weeks, which has been made infinitely easier since my parents bought me a kindle!), had some tea and coffee, and decided it was time to open some presents.  Eber was designated Santa:


Our theme for gift-giving this year was tacky, $5 and under presents, as you will soon see.  Tharrie and Johann have, of course, managed the thwart this plan by giving us gifts under name other than Christmas (“Oh, these are your ‘you-just-arrived-here-gifts!'”, “no, these aren’t Christmas gifts, they are late Thanksgiving!/early birthday!/it’s Sunday morning! gifts”–you get the gist of it).  The theme definitely did make for some highly amusing gift moments, though.

As I’m sure you all know by now, I can rarely post without mentioning a cat.  Enter Prince, a handsome black cat who started off as Eber’s baby in the city and got adopted by Tharrie and Johann when she moved to a cat-free apartment:

Henry, who has been left with an automatic feeder, a million toys, and my BFF Jen to check in on him every once in a while, still managed to make his presence known, albeit from 2,445.24 miles away (I mapquested it).  When it was Fritz’s turn to unwrap a present from me, we noticed not only tooth marks in the wrapping paper but also what shall henceforth be named “The Mark of the Beast” in the decorative ornament on top:

Fritz also managed to wear every single one of his Christmas gifts:

Handsome guy, I know.  Not every woman can be so lucky.  Not only does he look good in drinking-straw glasses, but he was able to clean himself up enough to make us all a Christmas breakfast.

Might I say it?  Another Christmas miracle!

Tonight we are going to go see A Christmas Carol, and many other fun surprises are in store for us.  Since we have a crazy schedule coming up, I can’t guarantee when the next blog post will arrive, but I can promise this:  the Zietsman clan is going to embark upon our first annual gingerbread house making escapade, and I will document every moment.  I also plan on introducing these South Africans to the joy of a true Hungarian stuffed cabbage dinner.  Keep checking back, and I promise that some delicious recipes will be heading your way!  Most importantly, enjoy your holidays with the people you love most.


Filed under Non-food things I like

Almond Chocolate Fudge

This is the last candy recipe that I’ll have on here for a while–I made these to go with the Mocha Melt Truffles for the dental students, and since it’s such a quick and easy recipe I wanted to post it for anyone needing last-minute Christmas gifts.  It’s a basic but still yummy recipe, and looks great with the almonds on top–perfect for stacking in a jar and giving away.

Speaking of chocolate, Mom told me about Lindt’s Excellence 90% cocoa “Supreme Dark” bar, and I found some at Wal-Mart on sale today.  I am an instant believer.  It is bitter and sweet and so, so dark.  You should probably go out and buy some right now.  I also grabbed a bar of salted dark chocolate, because I’ve told Mom about it and I want her to try some ASAP.  I was thinking about trying a salted fudge recipe too, but that one will have to wait until I make a few non-candy recipes.

Almond Chocolate Fudge

  • 18 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk
  • dash of salt
  • 1 1/2 t vanilla
  • 3/4 C chopped almonds and a handful whole almonds for the top

Combine the first four ingredients in a saucepan and melt over medium heat.  Once melted, mix in the almonds and pour into an 8×8 pan lined with wax paper.

I topped with whole almonds (because it’s cute), then stuck the pan in the fridge for a few hours while I made the truffles.  Once chilled, they can be cut into squares–they’ll hold their shape at room temp, so don’t worry about keeping them in the fridge.  However, since this is quick fudge, it doesn’t have the crystallized texture that old-fashioned fudge has, but a smoother, more creamy taste.  Can’t have everything!

It’s always fun to make presents for people.

In other happy news, I successfully finished finals week for the fall semester!  To celebrate (and save money by not going to PT Prom at $72 a ticket), we went to a fun dinner at John Harvard’s with the Jensens.  It was so nice to just hang out and chat with two of our favorite people and not feel guilty about the fact that I should be studying.  That dinner kicked of five weeks of vacation.

Five. Weeks. Of. Vacation.


Jeff and Cait had the worst lighting possible...but they still manage to look good!

Cait ate as healthy as always with soup and salad, and I had a garden burger with mozzarella, mushrooms, and roasted red peppers. Mmmm.  The boys celebrated the way boys do with giant smoked stackhouse burgers (or something like that) with carmelized onions and bacon.  In an evening full of classic girl moments, Cait and I did not order fries and instead snuck Fritz’s and Jeff’s fries all night.

Science has proven that fries are healthier when you didn’t order them.

The evening also consisted of some beer, wine, and good conversation–basically a perfect way to end a jam-packed semester.

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Filed under Desserts

Melt-In-Your-Mouth Mocha Truffles

Hi there!

Tomorrow is my last day of finals week.

(That feels so good to say). 

Tomorrow is my last day of finals week.

(Just wanted to hear it again).

Despite the fact that I have studied more this week than the rest of my life combined, I still managed to find some time to do some cooking.  Actually, I did a lot of cooking.  I may have to take a week off from making food so I can catch up on all the things I want to blog about.

Anyway, today I wanted to make something for Fritz’s dental class (hi!).  They have a big test tomorrow and since it’s Christmas time, I thought it would be fun to try some new really-bad-for-you-but-so-fun-to-make recipes.  Not to mention that these are the guys that you can really trust to brush their teeth after eating all this junk…right?

I didn’t want to make your standard Christmas cookie (I needed a long, challenging recipe for better procrastination purposes), so I settled on these Mocha Melt Truffles.  They literally do melt in your mouth.  It’s pretty cool.

Mocha Melt Truffles (adapted from “Coffee Creams” from A Passion For Chocolate)

  • 2 C sugar
  • 1/4 C skim milk
  • 2 T instant mocha mix (or even just 1 T instant coffee–I just used what we had)
  • 1 T light-colored corn syrup
  • 1/2 t vanilla
  • 16 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 3 T Smart Balance

Combine the sugar, water, milk, corn syrup, and mocha mix in a large saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally until it’s boiling steadily at 234-240 degrees, about 20-25 minutes.  This is the “soft ball stage”.

When it reaches the right temperature, remove from heat and cool without stirring until the mixture reaches 110 degrees.  It will look like a thick, sticky caramel.  Add the vanilla and stir until it becomes very thick and starts to lose its gloss.  Immediately shape into balls and place on wax paper.  I used my hands–it cooled down quickly when you stir it!

This stuff is the weirdest texture ever.  It hardens into what looks like maple sugar, but the heat of your hand melts it into a malleable semi-solid, which hardens quickly as soon as it cools.  If you ever used to put cornstarch and water into a baggie when you were a kid and marvel about the weird liquid/solid state, this is kind of like that.

Leave these to harden for about 20 minutes.  Meanwhile, melt the chocolate and the shortening together in the microwave (or do it the right way in a double boiler.  Or don’t.)  This sounds insane, but it’s the easiest way to do it (I quickly realized)–scoop some chocolate into your hands, and roll a mocha-ball around in your hands until it’s covered in chocolate.  In a feat of amazing coincidence, the Pioneer Woman posted about truffles today too, and she does it the same way!  Lay back down on wax paper and cool until solid (I left them for a few hours while I did laundry).

If you are anything like me, and you’ve licked clean any surface that came into contact with the chocolate by this point, even the thought of adding more chocolate to these babies is going to make you ill.  But this is the best part–roll the truffles in unsweetened dutch cocoa powder.  Just the tiny bit of bitterness offsets the ridiculous sweetness of the truffles–and it looks awesome.

These were a little time-consuming, but definitely worth it.  Hopefully the baby dentists will enjoy a bit of chocolate/coffee heaven after their test tomorrow.

Before I go, I want to share one last photo.  I think Henry has realized that we are starting to get ready to go to Canada for a while, and that he is going to be left behind.  He doesn’t like that at all, so he’s starting a campaign to try to subliminally get us to want to take him with us:

It’s hard to resist those big green eyeballs.


Filed under Desserts

Peppermint and Almond Rocha

This is probably one of the best Christmas gifts you will make, taste, give, or receive this holiday season.  The toffee is perfectly buttery, with silky chocolate and either crunchy toasted almonds or cool peppermint sprinkled on top.  Not to mention it looks perfectly imperfect.

Disclaimer: it is not healthy.  But it doesn’t matter–you’re giving it away!  Plus, it’s good for your body and your spirit to indulge in a treat every once in a while.  Just don’t eat the whole batch at once.

I made this over the weekend to give to one of our favorite couples, Bre and Zev, and as soon as they opened it we all couldn’t resist a taste…of both kinds.  It’s so simple to make and even easier to pack in a cute bakery bag, and the best part is that this recipe makes enough for several gifts–with enough left for you to snack on.

The book I took the recipe from is called A Passion For Chocolate, and this is the very first time I have used it since we received it as a wedding present.  Since this one turned out so spectacularly, all of my closest friends and family can expect to be seeing some other chocolate-themed packages in their near future.

Peppermint and Almond Rocha

  • 2 C butter
  • 2 C sugar
  • 2 T light-colored corn syrup
  • 1/3 C water
  • 1 3/4-2 C semi-sweet or milk chocolate pieces (you could also use dark or white chocolate–try anything!)
  • 1 C toppings–I used 1/2 C crushed candy canes and 1/2 C chopped toasted almonds

Line a baking sheet with foil, covering the edges.

Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat.  Stir in sugar, corn syrup and water, and cook over medium-high heat to boiling, stirring constantly.  Clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan (I used a digital meat thermometer) and stir frequently, until the temperature reaches 290 degrees.  Be careful–it’s hot!  This is the soft-crack stage for the toffee, and should take about 15-20 minutes.

Pour the toffee onto the baking sheet, and spread evenly.  Cool for about five minutes until the top is set, then sprinkle with chocolate pieces.  After a minute they should be warm enough to spread over the top.  Sprinkle with toppings and press into chocolate.

Everything you own will be covered in toffee–eat what you can, then soak the rest in warm water.  It’ll come off easily.

Here’s another view of the process:


Cool the whole thing for several hours, or until it is fully set.  Break into pieces (the less perfect, the better!), and put into bakery bags or boxes, wrap ’em up, and give it all away!  You will never be more popular!

Don’t forget to save some for your husband, or he may never forgive you.

I’m off to study for tomorrow’s test, but I’m curious–what kind of baking do you like to give away for the holidays?

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Filed under Desserts