Are you looking for the perfect holiday dessert? Children and adults alike will enjoy this playful and seasonal twist on traditional brownies.
Start to finish: 1 hour (30 minutes active)
Servings: 24 brownies
For the brownies
• 1 cup butter, room temperature
• 2 cups sugar
• 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
• 4 eggs
• 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
• 1 cup flour
• 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
For the icing
• 1/3 cup butter, room temperature
• 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
• 2 tablespoons honey or maple syrup
• 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
• 2 cups icing sugar
• 3 tablespoons milk
• 1 cup heavy cream
• 1/4 cup sugar
• 24 strawberries, hulled
1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease a 9 by 13-inch baking dish. Set aside.
2. Using a whisk or hand beater, blend the butter, sugar, and vanilla in a large bowl. Add the eggs and mix well. Incorporate the rest of the brownie ingredients and blend until the mixture is uniform.
3. Pour the brownie mixture into the baking dish and bake in the oven for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Set aside to cool.
4. In the meantime, whisk the butter, cocoa powder, honey, and 1 teaspoon of vanilla in a large bowl. Slowly add the icing sugar and milk while blending the mixture at low speed until it reaches the desired texture. Set aside.
5. In another bowl, mix the heavy cream, sugar, and the rest of the vanilla. Blend at high speed until the whipped cream is firm.
6. Once the brownies are completely cool, spread a thin layer of the chocolate icing on top. Cut the brownies into 24 equal portions. Place 1 strawberry upside down on each piece of brownie. Using a piping bag, create a circle of whipped cream around the base of each strawberry and top the fruit with a dot of whipped cream.
Easy cream scones and lemon curd
Enjoy the sunny, sharp flavor of lemon curd on a warm scone, fresh from the oven. It doesn’t take a pastry chef to throw this combo together, either. From start to finish, these scones are ready to eat in less than an hour, and the lemon curd takes about 15 minutes, plus time to chill in the refrigerator (overnight is best). Meyer lemons, with their lower acidity and sweet, floral flavor are perfect for this curd, but regular lemons are also delicious. If you like more than just plain scones, jazz them up with dried fruits, nuts, or chocolate chips.
3 large eggs
3/4 cup granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice (Meyer lemons preferred if available)
Zest from 1 to 2 lemons, depending on size and preferred flavor intensity
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced
Place eggs, sugar, salt, juice, and zest in a medium saucepan, away from heat. Whisk the ingredients together until smooth and incorporated. Place over low heat and stir constantly with a wooden spoon or silicone spatula until the mixture thickens, around five minutes. Turn the heat all the way to low when the mixture thickens and add the butter. Stir until smooth. Remove from heat and pour into a jar or other storage container, then chill. Makes around two cups and keeps for about a week in the refrigerator.
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting surface
1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, diced
1 large egg, beaten to blend
1-1/4 cups heavy cream, plus more for brushing
Coarse sugar for sprinkling
Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Combine granulated sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and flour, stir to combine. Alternatively, you can combine in the bowl of a large food processor and quickly pulse to mix dry ingredients. Add butter and toss to coat.
Using your fingers or a pastry blender, or quick pulses if using a food processor, work the butter into the flour until pea-sized. If using a food processor, dump flour mixture into a bowl now. Make a well in the center of your flour/butter mixture and add the egg and cream, mixing with a fork while incorporating dry ingredients a little at a time until a shaggy, dry dough forms. Don’t overwork the dough — it’s okay if it looks a little bit dry.
Once the wet ingredients are incorporated, use your hands to gently knead the dough until it just comes together. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and pat it into a 1-inch thick round. Cut into wedges and place wedges onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, giving each wedge room to expand. Brush the dough wedges with cream and sprinkle with your coarse sugar.
Bake 25-30 minutes, or until golden brown. Scones can be made ahead of time and stored in a covered container.
This coastal delicacy can carry a nasty bacteria
Some people should pay more attention to that little warning on the seafood menu about the dangers of consuming raw fish.
Of course, millions of people every year enjoy a plate of oysters on the half-shell washed down with a crisp chardonnay or beer, and it’s an actual way of life in coastal areas. So, one should not overstate the danger, except when it comes to people with compromised immune systems.
If you have diabetes, liver disease, blood disorders, stomach or digestion issues, or if you take immune-suppressing drugs for cancer or steroids for breathing problems, then never eat oysters on the half-shell.
In fact, if you have any of these problems, don’t even touch brackish water (partly salt, partly fresh) or seawater habitats of oysters. Even a small cut (or in one case, a new tattoo) can expose you to nasty bacteria called Vibrio parahaemolyticus.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 80,000 people each year get vibriosis, the disease caused by bacteria. Most have relatively mild, but very unpleasant symptoms of diarrhea and vomiting. But about 100 people each year die from it, mostly those with the underlying health problems mentioned earlier. In the worst cases, it can cause blood infections, blistering skin lesions, and even necessitate limb amputations.
Vibrio parahaemolyticus is a naturally occurring and has nothing to do with water pollution, so even water that seems to be clear can contain it. It tends to proliferate in warmer waters between May and October.
If you don’t have any of those underlying problems, get your oysters at a restaurant that closely follows oyster guidelines, such as freshly shucked oysters and keeping the oysters continuously on ice.
Anyone can eat oysters when they are completely cooked. The bacteria dies in oysters when fried for three minutes at 375 degrees, baked at 450 degrees for 10 minutes, or boiled for three minutes.
Neither hot sauce (no matter how spicy) nor lemon kills the bacteria.
Brewing tea for maximum flavor, benefits
Sipping a hot flavorful cup of tea is a good way to relax and relieve stress. Though you may drink tea purely for pleasure, it’s good to remember that tea is also good for your health. Regardless of whether it’s green, black, or red tea, it is rich in antioxidants that help your heart.
Health matters aside, tea drinkers want to use the best brewing method to enhance the flavor of the tea. Here’s how to do it, according to the Johns Hopkins Medical Letter:
* Start with loose leaves or tea bags. Use one rounded teaspoon of loose tea per cup. For a stronger tea, add an extra bag or an extra teaspoon of leaves to the pot.
* Use fresh, cold water. Run the tap for one minute to aerate the water and to clear standing water from the pipes. The oxygen in water opens up the tea-leaf and helps to bring out the flavor. Bottled water should be shaken before heating it.
* Get the water hot, but don’t overheat. Use a rolling boil for black tea but heat up to the boiling point for green tea.
* Pre-warm your cup. A cold cup can interfere with steeping. Let warm water stand in the cup for a few minutes first.
* Steep appropriately. Green tea should be steeped for two minutes, black for five to 10 minutes. Steeping too long can cause a bitter taste.
4 ways to connect with local farmers
National AG Day, which takes place on March 23, presents an annual opportunity to recognize and celebrate the essential role that agriculture plays in the daily lives of all Americans. If you want to learn more about the contributions local farmers make to your community, here are four ways you can connect with them.
1. Visit a farmers’ market. If you want to get to know the producers in your area and buy fresh, locally grown products directly from the source, this is a great option. Use the USDA’s national farmers market directory to find one near you.
2. Participate in agritourism. Many small farms offer on-site services to increase their revenue and provide local entertainment. These can include horseback riding, u-pick operations, harvest festivals, bed and breakfast accommodations, cooking classes, petting zoos, educational tours, and more.
3. Join a CSA. As a member of a community-supported agriculture group, you’ll receive a weekly share of seasonal crops from one or more participating farms in your region. Many CSAs also offer private tours, social events, and other perks for members. You can use the USDA’s online CSA directory to find a group near you.
4. Shop at a farm store. Similar to a farmers’ market, visiting a farm store allows you to chat with local producers, ask questions about how the farm operates and purchase fresh produce on-site. Some also sell honey, fresh juice, eggs, homemade pastries, and other goods.
For more information about National AG Day and how you can support American farmers, visit agday.org.
Picky eaters: Go with the flow
Here’s a mystery for all times. Why will a kid eat Harry Potter dirt-flavored jelly beans but not a green bean?
The fun of the gross-out? Because a friend gave it to them? Maybe on a dare?
Some say parents should use the same psychology with foods kids hate. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says one strategy is to name the food. That’s not steamed carrots! It’s X-ray Vision Coins!
Might work. Seems like a lot of trouble for carrots.
In the end, picky eating is more about accepting new tastes, textures, and the fact that they aren’t in control of what goes on their plate (thankfully), says Dina Rose, a sociologist and author of It’s Not About the Broccoli.
Kids need up to 12 exposures to a food before they accept it, Rose says. That might mean just looking at it. Adults might remember having the same experience with school food.
The key is not to completely cater to kids’ tastes. They might want macaroni and cheese at every meal, but parents shouldn’t make a separate meal just for them. Remember they need exposure to foods.
Sally Sampson, the co-author of The Picky Eater Project, says she used one strategy with her children that offered them an option. If they did not like what was being served, they could leave the table and choose either cottage cheese, Cheerios, or plain yogurt. Her children said these options were just boring.
If meals are pleasant and happy, kids won’t really want to leave the table.
Other tactics: Involve kids in preparing the food. Help kids grow a vegetable garden. Be sure to offer healthy snacks when they come home from school.
Mindful eating: a practice with many benefits
Mindfulness is about learning how to focus your awareness on the present moment. Here are some advantages of mindful eating and how you can implement this practice in your daily life.
Benefits of mindful eating
If you pay close attention to what you eat as well as when, where, and why, you’re more likely to make healthy food choices and adopt better eating habits. For example, you’ll be more aware of how certain foods affect your energy and mood.
Mindful eating can also help you recognize your body’s hunger and fullness signals. This helps reduce the likelihood of overeating or emotional eating.
In addition, taking the time to savor the experience of each bite can increase your enjoyment of eating and help you develop a better relationship with food. Plus, a slow, deliberate style of eating is good for digestion.
How to eat mindfully
The key to mindfulness is to be completely focused on the activity at hand. Here are a few ways to help you be more aware of what you eat.
• Avoid distractions. Set aside time to eat rather than doing so on your commute or while you work. Put down your phone and turn off the TV, so you can focus on your meal.
• Use your senses. Take the time to appreciate the colors and aromas of your food before you start eating. Focus your attention on the textures and flavors of each bite.
• Eat slowly. Take small bites and chew thoroughly. Put down your utensils between each bite to help you avoid eating on autopilot. This will give your body time to signal that you’re full.
Keep in mind that cooking is also part of the mindful eating experience, and preparing a meal increases your awareness of the textures, flavors, and nutritional value of each ingredient.