Thanksgiving Crostini

There’s a serious lack of Thanksgiving Day appetizers out on the web. Have you noticed that, or is it just me imagining things? I was searching for some starter ideas for my family’s big celebration, and I couldn’t find much. Especially nothing that appealed to me. We’re always on the lookout for “THE” perfect turkey recipe or “THE” perfect mashed potato recipes for the big day. Sides are pretty important so I get that, there are literally a billion side dish recipes out there. I kid you not, a billion! (Okay maybe not a billion). You get the point though. We’re all concerned about the main components of the meal, but sometimes forget that appetizers are just as important, if not more important, because they set the tone for the entire dinner. 

Maybe it’s because most people don’t even bother serving appetizers? I have no clue. Perhaps they’re saving their appetite for game time. I don’t know about you though, if I tried to do that in my house, my family would revolt. They would complain all the way to Christmas. I have to worry about breakfast, snacks, appetizers, dinner and dessert on Turkey Day. They can definitely eat so providing hors d’Oeurves is a must. I can’t get away without them. Luckily for me, I delegate the cooking and baking to everyone so that I don’t have to do it all. You should definitely do that as well. Plus, it’s nice to get everyone in the kitchen on Thanksgiving. Helping out and having fun with some music on. There’s nothing better. 

So anyhow, like I was saying, where are all of the Thanksgiving Day appetizers?! Someone buy me a vowel because I don’t know. Just in case I’m not alone in this battle, I’ve decided to make up a recipe for me. For you. For us. So here we are, Thanksgiving Crostini. It sounds and looks fancy but I gotta tell you, it’s not fancy at all. It’s really simple to make and the best part of it is that you can prepare the components the night or day before and then keep them separately. Then just assemble the appetizers right before serving. I devised this recipe to be served either cold, warm, or at room temperature. You can thank me now. Oh you’re welcome. You’re welcome. I’m keeping you all in mind. The last thing you need is another complicated recipe to add to your already long list of things you need to prepare. So let’s make this appetizer, be rock stars in the kitchen and have the best Thanksgiving EVER! We deserve it. 

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Pistachio Eclairs

For me, growing up, Valentine’s Day was something special. Not because of all the valentines I would receive from my many admirers—that goes without saying. I was pret-ty popular as a kid. I’m totally kidding. You caught me. I didn’t have any admirers, and what’s more, I’d get just the same amount of cards as any other boring Joe at school. The bare minimum. It was sad and depressing. I don’t want to talk about it. No, it was a special day because of the crafts we’d do at home. The coloring of cards and cutting of construction paper and gluing of pipe cleaners. My hearts were always cut lopsided, unlike my sisters’, but that’s okay. I think we all know which were better (mine). The youngest child can practically make a pile of crap and it would still be considered cute. The best part of the day, however, was when we’d get to decorate cookies, and then eat them, of course. Mamma would make a batch of heart-shaped sugar cookies for us. Then we’d proceed to dump globs of pink, red and white colored icing on them, and make it rain nothing but sprinkles. I’d make it rain sprinkles—in my mouth. It was awesome! Sure there would be a gigantic mess at the end of it all, not even worth the cookies that came out of it, but the memories were totally worth it. Now don’t get me wrong. Mamma, bless her soul, isn’t a baker at all. She didn’t spend hours in the kitchen making said Valentine’s Day cookies. Nope. Instead, she would take a few minutes to open up a package of store-bought dough and plop them on a baking sheet and call it a day. We never complained. I mean after all, a cookie is a cookie.

There are only a few things in life, when it  comes to food, that I really enjoy. Okay, who am I kidding? I don’t even believe that myself. There are a lot of food things in life I can’t get enough of, like Valentine’s Day cookies for instance. Also, doughnuts are definitely on the top of that can’t-get-enough list. Come to think of it, I don’t think there is a list out there where doughnuts don’t make an appearance. Freshly popped popcorn doused in a generous amount of questionable white cheddar cheese powder, add that to my “food I really enjoy” list also. Powdered popcorn cheese? Yes, please! 100% yes. I don’t even give it a second thought, yes. Of course there are more reasonable foods I absolutely go nuts for like, french fries, tater tots, hash browns (I promise you it’s not all potatoes, but really it is), potato tacos, and garlic mashed potatoes. I was a potato in my past life, remember? Dinosaur shaped chicken nuggets—you’ll forever have my heart. Croutons on an iceberg salad. Hard boiled eggs in the evening. Whipped ricotta on crusty bread with a drizzle of good olive oil. Pistachios in pretty much ANYTHING (especially ice cream). Yeah, I could go on and on but you catch my drift, I love food. Especially themed food.

I think the best part of any holiday is the themed food, snacks and desserts you can make and eat. What makes Valentine’s Day so special? Is it all the love that is going around? Sure that’s nice, but no that’s not it. Is it the fact that you can spend the day with your loved ones? Uh I don’t think so. That can happen any day of the week, if you think about it. Perhaps it’s all the heart shaped chocolate, brownies, cookies, love-inspired desserts and meals out there? Yeah that’s definitely it. Think about it, what other day of the year is it perfectly acceptable to dive, mouth first, into a heart-shaped box of chocolate and not even feel guilty about it? What other day can you pretend to make something decadent like pistachio eclairs for your “significant other,” when in reality, we all know it’s really just for you? There is no other day. This is the only chance we get. So let’s stop fighting it and do nothing but eat chocolate and candy and pistachio eclairs on this day of love. That’s what February 14th is all about, right? Well that, and chubby naked babies flying around, flinging arrows at people.

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Gingerbread Cookies

When I was a kid all I really wanted to do was eat gingerbread cookies. Like all the time. Gingerbread cookies, night and day. It wasn’t because I loved gingerbread cookies so much that I just had to have them. The truth was, I just wanted to bite their heads off. And then eat them. But definitely not in the weird way that it sounded just now. Sometimes I’d go easy on them (I was a reasonable kid) and start with an arm, or a leg and then work my way up. Okay, that does sound weird, now that I think about it, but come on, I was a kid. You can’t blame me. What child doesn’t get pleasure out of torturing cookies by eating them, limb by limb? I think that’s totally normal, right? Doesn’t everyone do that? Nothing screams “Happy Holidays” like a cookie massacre, and by massacre I of course mean feast. A cookie free for all. A buffet of cookies. A never-ending supply of cookies. I envied Santa Claus (maybe because of his red suit) but it was mostly because of the fact that he got to eat cookies and drink milk all night long. ALL. NIGHT. LONG. Talk about a dream job. Professional cookie eater sounds like the kind of thing I would be great at. I can eat cookies for a living. I would’t mind. I’d do it like my life depended on it, and as if every cookie I ate, saved a life. I’d save a million lives, in that case. It would be a tough job, but one I would hesitantly excel at, you know, for the good of the people. I’m saving lives after all.

It’s fun sometimes to just forget about everything and decorate some cookies. Especially during the holidays. There’s something about gathering everyone together in the kitchen and getting all those creative juices flowing. The holidays can be so stressful at times, brought on by the pressure of fighting the crowds and purchasing gifts, but if you really think about it, it isn’t about the gifts but rather the good times and the memories you create with those you love. Those are the things we carry with us throughout our lives. Material items come and go, but memories, those will last a lifetime. No assembly or batteries required. Just the willingness to have fun. It doesn’t even matter how old you are, you can still have a good time at any moment of your life. I mean, I’m a quarter of a century and I still get a kick out of biting the heads off of gingerbread men. Some things never change. Especially my love for gingerbread. That will always be there.

As a child, I often wondered if Santa Claus had a favorite cookie. It would keep me up at night. “What if he doesn’t like sugar cookies?” I would ask my mom, (which were the ones we always left for him). I felt bad, as a kid, for forcing him to eat just the one type of cookie, year after year. What if the man loved gingerbread and I had no idea? Of course it was impossible to leave a variety for him because my mom wasn’t much of a baker, and the cookies we left Mr. Claus were from out of a tube. It wasn’t until I was older when I saw the red markings left behind on the glass of milk and the leftover cookie pieces one year and I thought to myself, “Santa Claus wears lipstick?!” Who am I to judge? Whatever floats your boat Santa. Whatever floats your boat. Of course it was then that I realized it didn’t matter what cookies we left behind because my mom (aka the best Santa in the world) was just like me. We don’t discriminate against a cookie. We welcome each and every one of them. I’ll never say no to a spicy gingerbread cookie that’s for sure, and something tell me, Santa wouldn’t either.

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Gluten-Free Carrot Bundt Cake

I don’t know about yours, but my Easter Bunny happens to be gluten intolerant. I learned that the hard way when for years he didn’t eat the cookies I left out for him. Each year comes and goes; the treats left behind, untouched, while the milk was completely gone. I’d lay them out by the Easter plant that I decorated with colored eggs and chocolate candy….wait….that’s not right. I’m getting my holidays mixed up. Now I know what you’re thinking, “Silly Jonathan. Cookies are for kids. Bunny rabbits don’t eat cookies!” And do you know why that is? Because most cookies have flour in it. Ergo, they must be gluten intolerant. It is the only explanation as to why bunnies don’t eat cookies. So this year I’ve decided to get smart by making a gluten-free cake for my furry Easter friend. Maybe, just maybe, this year will be the year he eats the dessert I leave out for him, so he can get energy to deliver Easter baskets for all to enjoy. I’m crossing my fingers and hoping for an Easter miracle.

All kidding aside, I’ve been promising you all more gluten-free desserts on this here blog. So here it is. Or rather, here one is. I thought a carrot cake would tie in perfectly with the upcoming holiday, regardless if you celebrate it or not. I know that Easter tends to be a religious holiday, but you don’t have to be religious to enjoy the seasonal treats that spring up during this time of year. If you don’t care for gluten-free desserts, have no fear, my blog isn’t becoming a gluten-free blog. I still very much enjoy making and posting and gorging on ridiculous amounts of crusty, golden brown, gluten-rich breads. I’m just taking a break to show my appreciation for those fans who are indeed gluten intolerant. I’m trying to expand my horizons and reach out to as many people as possible. I don’t have any special dietary restrictions—as you all may know by now with my penchant for all foods—but I do have to admit this is a really good cake. You don’t have to have celiac disease to appreciate the awesomeness of this recipe.

Growing up, Easter was always a big event at my house. My mom would go all out for my sisters and I. Even now as adults we still go through with our Annual Easter Egg Hunt, and there may or may not still be some baskets filled with goodies for us. If you thought that four grown adults could be civilized while searching for plastic eggs filled with prizes, you are very much mistaken. We get extremely vicious when searching for these eggs. Fighting hard to find the most we possibly can. Hair is pulled, clothes are ripped, siblings are pushed to the floor. Stealing, cheating and sneakiness are traits that are possessed for the day (and that’s just my middle sister, she’s very competitive). We demolish the house looking for eggs that mom has so cleverly hidden. We enjoy the occasional egg filled with chocolate Easter candy here and there, but what we’re really yearning for are the eggs stuffed with the major prizes. Frozen yogurt gift certificates, lottery scratchers and of course money. Those are the treasures that make the black eyes and bruises worth it. Of course at the end of the day we all sit down as a family and enjoy a pleasant meal together. One of us happier than the others because we were fortunate enough to find the perfect eggs. That my friends is Easter in my house and has been for as long as I can remember.

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Chocolate Strawberry Ice Cream Sandwiches

It is the day before Valentine’s Day. February 13th, in case you did not know. It has just dawned on you that you have not given tomorrow’s holiday a lick of thought. You have not stepped foot in a mall or a flower shop or a bakery. You have nothing, not even a card. Slowly the realization that someone is depending on you to show them how much you care is creeping up on you. You kept putting it off, telling yourself “eh I still have time. I have days left to think about it. I will deal with it later.” Well guess what, later has arrived. There is no more time left. Tomorrow is the big day, and unless you want to really cut it close and find yourself wandering the crowded shops—rubbing elbows with all the other soon-to-be-sleeping-on-the-couch spouses—you better think of something fast. You begin to panic, sweat beading down your forehead, heart pounding. You quickly go online to find what florist delivers on such short notice, crossing your fingers that you might be able to pull a miracle out of where the sun don’t shine. The panic rises as you are only met with sky rocket prices, and without a guarantee that the delivery will even get there on time. You stare at the screen absentmindedly, mouth slightly agape, and all you can see spelled out on the monitor is the impeding DOOM. You begin to cry a little. What else is there left for you to do?

I hope you like the dog house, because that is where you are headed. You have a one way ticket to Fido’s house without a return in sight unless you can turn things around, which is highly unlikely at this point. Let’s be real. That is what you get for waiting until the last minute. You cannot say I did not warn you. After all if I do recall, I did tell you to make ice cream did I not? That surely would have smoothed things over. Well, you did not listen to me did you? And now you are facing the prospect of a hurt loved one and there is nothing you can do about it. But you are wrong. There is something you can do. Thankfully I am here. The first thing you need to do is snap out of it! Let’s try and salvage the car wreck you are driving into. Okay, so you did not buy anything. Big deal. Any ol’ Joe can purchase something from the store. Who cares that you did not buy flowers? Those die within a week, and what do you have to show for it after? Nothing but dead flowers that are now garbage. Eh, you do not need roses or expensive gifts. Last resort, chocolates. You have been to every bakery and store, and all that the vultures have left behind are a few boxes of prepackaged, cheap looking heart-shaped boxes. Who knows what lies inside? Do you want to take that chance, and risk them finding out that you picked up that pitiful box up at the corner liquor store on your way to the house?

The way I see it, you have only one option left. The one you should have taken from the beginning. Get your butt to the grocery store and pick up a few ingredients. Make your amour a special treat. Do not mention your lack of investment this year, we will keep that between you and I. Make it seem like you had this planned out from the beginning. That you put all this effort into making them something they could truly enjoy. A sweet dessert that means so much more because you made it from scratch and with all the love in your heart. Just stand back and wait for the swooning, the tears, the hugs and kisses. You can thank me later. So what do I have for you? Ice cream sandwiches, because chocolate and strawberry are Valentine’s Day star ingredients and nothing says I Love You more than ice cream between two cookies.

And if you cannot even do that and all else fails, dishevel your hair, lose a shoe, rip your clothes and rub your face with dirt. Tell them that you were at the office/house/car and a squirrel/raccoon/dog came in through the window, and went straight for their gift. You tried to tackle them down to the ground. At one point you were wrestling with the squirrel/raccoon/dog, both of you holding on for dear life to the gift with a death grip. The two of you growling and biting. You tried reasoning and pleading to let the gift go. Say that you offered the squirrel/raccoon/dog some money/food/shelter in exchange for the gift because you had a caring and beautiful loved one at home that you needed to give this to. Eventually the squirrel/raccoon/dog won by punching you in the face, and then ran off with their gift. Start crying and say that it was a great present too, and that you put so much thought and effort into picking out the diamond necklace/keys to a brand new car/deed to a bigger house. For shame. Woe to me. Finally, top it off with a sympathy “I’m just glad I made it out alive. I need a hug and a kiss after everything I just went through. Hold me.”

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No-Churn Strawberry Cheesecake Ice Cream

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. Red, white and pink balloons are floating around. Heart-shaped chocolate boxes can easily be found at every store, for your convenience. Oversized teddy bears have made their appearance, eager to go to a loving home. Roses are springing up all over everywhere. We cannot walk down the street without being hit in the face by some kind of constant reminder that the Day of Love is fast approaching. We get it, we get it. Time is ticking. The pressure is intensified, even more so on the days leading up to the big event, where we have to prove our love for those we truly care about. Sure it seems like any other day, so what really makes this random holiday so important? What makes this day so special? Why do we have to show our appreciation and prove our love on this particular day? Perhaps it is because throughout the year, we sometimes forget to let those close to our heart know just how much they mean to us? February 14th is the day we get to redeem ourselves. It is the day that counts. We have to make it count. We know that deep down inside one day does not define an entire relationship yet we, for some unexplained reason, hold it up to such high standards. We keep our hopes high that we will not be forgotten. Our busy schedules are put on hold and we move our cares off to the side and wrack our brains for ideas to make each year unforgettable.

Valentine’s Day is not just for wives, husbands, boyfriends and girlfriends. Those people lucky enough to be single sometimes go into a “we hate Valentine’s Day” funk, one which we cannot seem to get out of until the day is long gone, and completely behind us. We forget that V-Day is every bit as important for our family as well. It is still important to take the time to do something small, yet meaningful, for our parents or our siblings. Families deserve some love and attention and recognition on this special holiday too. For all the singletons out there, myself included, make this February 14th about the friends you love, the family you cherish, and the one person who truly matters; yourself.

The stress leading up to the 14th of February can be scary. We fear that we have not done enough. Or worse, we are terrified by the prospect that we have not found the perfect gift. Planning out a Valentine’s Day date whether you are making something at home or making plans to go out and take the night by storm, can be a lot easier if you take one tiny rule into consideration; simple is better. You do not need to purchase the most expensive and extravagant gift to prove that you love someone. Money does not define love. After all, is it not the thought that counts? Instead of beating yourself up to plan out the perfect day, think about making a simple dinner at home, renting a movie, and making dessert. Get your mind out of the gutter, I mean real dessert. Make a chocolate that will impress your loved ones, whomever they might be. They will appreciate something thoughtful as a homemade meal, dessert included, much more than having dinner in a crowded restaurant. Surrounded by people and being served by those unfortunate souls who could not get the day off. Your wallet will thank you too. Who says we cannot be economical and romantic at the same time? Gentleman, you will avoid sleeping on the couch if you take my advice. Make your significant other a sweet dessert. Nothin’ says lovin’ like somethin’ from the oven. If  you do not have any idea of what to make, do not sweat it. Even you can make this dessert, it’s relatively fool-proof. Happy planning.

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