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Tag: Christmas (page 2 of 2)

Pumpkin Pie Makeover- Upgrades for the Holiday Classic

Most families can’t picture Thanksgiving or Christmas without a slice of pumpkin pie, but as someone who loves to try new things in the kitchen, pumpkin pie is kind of boring to me (there I go being a food snob again!).  Most of the time pumpkin pie consists of a pre-made crust and a can of filling, so I like to add a little pizazz to my pie.  A homemade crust or some homemade whipped cream will take a pumpkin pie to the next level.  Here are a few easy ideas to spruce up your pumpkin pie:

Try a homemade pie crust.  Making a pie crust doesn’t have to be difficult, especially if you use some crushed up graham crackers or cookies.  The ginger flavor of gingersnaps will bring out the ginger flavor in the pumpkin pie filling. Check out this recipe for a gingersnap pie crust from Martha Stewart.

Mix it up with a pumpkin cheesecake. A pumpkin cheesecake brings the flavor of pumpkin pie with a yummy twist that will make everyone come back for seconds. This easy recipe is one of my favorites.

Add a few fancy toppings. This year I’m trying Chef Bobby Flay’s Pumpkin Pie recipe.  It includes bourbon whipped cream and a crunchy oat topping- sounds like a winner to me!

Skip the hard work with a pumpkin kringle pastry. Not a fan of baking? Try a pumpkin kringle! Each light and flaky pastry is baked fresh and then shipped to your door from

Do you have a friend or family member who can’t get enough pie? Make their day with a gift of the Pie of the Month Club membership.

Stocking Stuffers That Show Wisconsin Pride

Tasty Wisconsin treats like cheese and sausage gift baskets or Kringle pastries make perfect gifts for under the tree, but what about stocking stuffers?  Here are some smaller gifts that will show Wisconsin pride AND fit in a stocking.

Cheese and Sasuage Gift BoxMini Cheese and Sausage Gift features cheese and sausage gift boxes in all shapes and sizes.  This particular box is small enough to fit in a stocking and it ships to APO and FPO addresses so even your friends and family serving overseas can enjoy a taste of Wisconsin.


Cranberry ChutneyCranberry Chutney – Did you know Wisconsin is one of the top producers of cranberries?  Have a spicy Christmas with some cranberry salsa.

Green Bay Turtle Candy– For the Packer fan with a sweet tooth, chocolate turtles in a gift box tied with a green and gold ribbon will surely bring a smile.

City TinesCityTins –  These retro tins contain $200 worth of gift cards to local Wisconsin restaurants, but cost only $25 including shipping.  At a price like that you might want to sneak one into your own stocking.  CityTins are available in both Madison and Milwaukee versions. Note: The 2011 version of the City Tin is no longer available but we hope to have the 2012 version soon! Gift Card–  If you can’t decide what gift to send to your friends and family, let them decide.  A gift card makes an easy stocking stuffer, or if you’re shopping last minute, send an e-mail gift card instead.

3 Fruit Cake Alternatives

Someone out there must like fruit cake because they keep getting sent as Christmas gifts. Sorry fruit cake lovers, call me a food snob, but I’m not a fan.  I’ll concede that fruit cake isn’t the worst food ever (I think that title goes to canned ham), but why subject yourself to neon colored “fruit” pieces and dense cake when there are so many festive holiday pastry alternatives.

StollenStollen–  This German fruit bread has “stollen” my heart (ha!).  It sort of resembles a fruit cake but it’s much, much better!  Instead of the neon fake fruit, the stollen is filled with two kinds of raisins, almonds, spices and a strip of sweet marizpan.  Bakers dust the whole loaf with a generous coating of powdered sugar.  Why is stollen so popular at Christmas time? Because the shape and color symbolize the baby Jesus wrapped in a white cloth.

Christmas Sugar CookiesChristmas Sugar Cookies– Are you challenged in the baking department?  You can still send gorgeous sugar cookies thanks to the bakers at K-Delights bakery.





Turtle CheesecakeTurtle Cheesecake– This turtle cheesecake is made by a bakery in Wisconsin called Cheesecake Heaven.  It’s not just a clever name, it’s where you go when you eat it! The creamy cheesecake, crunchy nuts and gooey caramel make a decadent combination that will put any fruit cake to shame.


Have I convinced you? Forget the fruit cake and browse the holiday desserts at

Spritz Cookies

spritz-cookies-1 I had never made spritz cookies until my mom bought me a cookie press for Christmas.  As it turns out the cookie press is the gadget I never knew I wanted and spritz cookies are the Christmas cookie I never knew I loved.

My friends and coworkers warned me that spritz cookies are hard to master, but with a little trial and error and a giant mess in the kitchen I finally got the hang of them.

I used a recipe from Apple Betty & Sloppy Joe, a fun family cookbook with a quirky sense of humor.  Cute quotations from family members are sprinkled throughout the book, one of my favorites:

“Only the first three Christmas cookies are fun to decorate.”

If this is your philosophy on Christmas cookies, spritz cookies are for you since they come in fun shapes and don’t need additional decorations. Read on to get the recipe!

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Fudge Brownies

fudge-browniesSnowy Wisconsin Fudge Brownies

What’s the secret to extra gooey fudge brownies? Baking R&R Homestead’s gourmet hot fudge topping right into them!  I updated the recipe from with some great brownie baking tips, and a fun way to decorate your brownies.

Prep Time: 15 Minutes

Cook Time: 35 Minutes


New Year 2010 Gets Off To A Grateful Start With Thank-You Parties And Gifts

Today I’m not cooking, just eating. Unable to pitch the left-over holiday sweets, I’m snacking on them as I dismantle the Christmas tree and box-up decorations. Yes, by tonight the bows, bells, and St. Nick statues will be gone and the normal, every-day knick-knacks will be back. But there is something lingering in the post-holiday air. And that something is the quiet calm of gratitude.  

The gratitude may be just a feeling of relief, -relief that I’d done it again. I’d decorated, baked, cooked, shopped, and entertained my way successfully through another Christmas. I’d transmitted our culture’s magic of Christmas to my children and they had smiled. Yes, that accomplishment is definitely one to be grateful for.

And I’m not alone in feeling grateful that we successfully “got-through” Christmas. Retailers and holiday-service providers are also breathing sighs of relief. At the company I work for,, we enjoyed the months-long, holiday-shopping season during which we helped people send gifts across the country. It was busy, fast-paced, and even fun, and now we’ll return to normal schedules and work-loads. But all is not normal yet, first we’ll have a holiday party in which we thank each other for jobs very well done. At our up-coming holiday party we’ll recognize each person’s contribution to making work. It’s true; I’m not kidding. It took all of us to get those kringles to Idaho, that Babcock ice cream to Texas, those Badger sweatshirts to Indiana, those pottery crocks to California, those gift baskets to New York, those bratwursts to New Jersey, and that cheese to Iraq. Ours was a team effort coordinated with our teammates, the 250 artisans throughout Wisconsin who make our company ‘Wisconsinmade’.

In these opening weeks of the new year Wisconsinmade is just one of thousands of companies, organizations, groups, and clubs that are holding thank-you parties. In fact, I’m going to a thank-you party tonight. The party’s pot-luck and I have to bring something. But I’m cooked-out. What to bring that I can make in the next 30 minutes? Not to worry, I’ll think of something; I always do. Now isn’t that a hopeful outlook for 2010?  Happy new year everyone. Keep reading if you want some suggestions for thoughtful thank-you gifts.

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Holiday Party Game: Find the Protein!

My husband’s family has the Christmas Eve tradition of hiding an almond in their rice pudding.  Whoever finds the almond is supposed to have good luck in the upcoming year.  I’ve heard of other families rummaging through their food foraging for a lone nut.  It’s kind of like the game ‘I Spy’, except with food.  I like this game, but I suggest it be taken a step further, and I have highly practical reasons to support this suggestion.  Before I describe my advanced version of ‘find the nut’, I’ll first convince you of why you should play it.

Let’s re-frame ‘find the almond’ as ‘find the protein’.   Almonds are an excellent source of protein.  Like fish, meat, cheese, and legumes, nuts are packed with life-supporting amino acids.  Cells in our bodies continually string amino acids together.  These strings then fold up into millions of unique shapes and thereby perform vital funtions. As a biologist who grocery shops, I can confirm that both the body and the grocer value protein more highly than sugar.  Consider how much more you pay for a pound of fish than a pound of sugar.

Sugars are carbohydrates.  Some are complex, as in fruits, veggies, and grains.  Others are simple, as in cupcakes, cookies, and soda pop.  The complex ones take the body longer to dismantle during digestion, but otherwise, a sugar is a sugar and our bodies convert it into energy.  When cells run low on sugar, they can convert protein into energy, but they can’t build muscles and brains out of sugar.

Unfortunately, kids typically like eating sugar more than protein, and if offered both simultaneously, will likely choose the sugar.  Yes, you can tell yourself that they have higher energy needs than adults.  But do you really want them exercising all that high energy on Christmas morning, especially on the Christmas morning that you spent the wee hours of assembling the 401-piece pirate ship and the ‘deluxe my little pony castle?  If they eat only sugar Christmas morning, they’ll be racing through the house, throwing random objects at each other, repeatedly uttering discordant, strange noises which they insist are songs, and asking you if you don’t think these songs are brilliant compositions.

But say you have anticipated this scenario, and immediately after giving them the sugar, you send them outside or into the care of a bachelor uncle or aunt.  Good try, but regrettably, their sky-rocketed blood-sugar levels will come back to bite you.  Within a half an hour they’ll be feeling the effects of the insulin now coursing through their blood telling their cells to absorb the blood’s excess sugar.  The cells respond, and inevitably blood-sugar levels temporarily crash.  Now, adults experience this crash as feelings of lethargy, sleepiness, and sometimes illness.  Kids, on the other hand, just get cranky — really cranky.  Your previously sugared-up darlings will run back to you crying that his or her sibling has maimed, cheated, or stolen something from him or her.  Hysterical wails of injustice will replace earlier peals of laughter.  Now, at this point, though it be only 10:30 am, many reasonable parents will start spiking the eggnog.

I have a pro-active remedy for this holiday headache. Here are three good reasons why you should fill your loved ones with a hearty, high-protein breakfast before you pass the sweets. 

  1. A stomach full of protein has less room for sugar.  Therefore, the kids will be too full to eat as much candy and coffeecake as they had hoped.
  2. Protein digestion takes more time than sugar digestion.  Thus, they’ll feel full longer and you won’t be back in the kitchen cooking so soon.
  3. Protein digestion slows down sugar digestion.  Therefore, the sugar will enter the blood stream more gradually.  The sugar buzz won’t be as high and the insulin crash won’t be as low.  Your darlings will be calmer and more even-keeled.

Convinced you should fill your kids up on protein, now you wonder how.  You’ll have to make eating protein amazingly fun!  Let a piece of protein be the grand prize to a ‘can’t-wait-to-play-again’ game!  Now I’ll describe the advanced version of ‘find the almond in the pudding’.  I know that some kids who find the almond don’t actually eat it.  But one almond is hardly a prize.  To motivate injestion, you’ll need an impressively large quantity of protein –say, a ham.

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Kids, cookies, and cows: Bringing it all together for the holidays!

One batch of cookies can take 1/2 lb. of butter.  Frosting it will take another 1/4 lb.  Calculations using the U.S. 2000 census indicate that if just 1/3 of American households make 3 batches of cookies this holiday season, then butter consumption will increase by approximately 79,110,075.75 lbs.  That’s a lot of extra butter.  Where does it all come from?

For the answer, this investigative reporter went to the source.  The following is an excerpt from my interview with Anna May, Lulu, Sassy, Sprinkles, and Julia –Holstein cows on George Dittmar’s dairy farm in central Wisconsin.  The composed demeanor of these heifers, tastefully chewing their cud while sporting hides of contrasting black and white patches, belied the critical importance of their labor.  I asked, “Does the extra baking during the holidays make this a busy time for you?” kids-cookies-1

They looked at each other.  Then Anna May, the group’s most forthright member, spoke first.  “Oh, well, our busiest time is in the fall.”

“Yes,” said Sassy, “that’s when Mr. D. asks us for extra milk to send to the cheese and butter factories.”

“They need it early to get the holiday food supplies ready in November,” explained Julia.

“Oh, I see,” I said, “which might be why Wisconsin butter production increased 6.9%, up to 33.9 million pounds this past October.”  The cows’ expressions went deadpan as each tried imagining a million pounds of butter.  “The extra work probably puts quite a strain on you,” I offered.

“Oh, but it’s worth it,” replied Sprinkles sweetly, “to see the children’s faces light up with joy when they’re given a frosted sugar cookie.  It just puts a lump in my throat.”

“That’s her cud,” quipped Lulu to Sassy.

Anna May shot them a stern look and said to me, “Sprinkles is right.  When you give a special holiday-shaped cookie to a child you give them more than a cookie, –you give a TOY!”

“Yes indeed,” confirmed Julia, “you give a TOY!”  The irreverence ceased as the younger cows deferred to Julia.  I learned later that Julia enjoys a position of authority in the barn because she had been named after Julia Child, a cook who definitely understood the value of good cream and butter.  Julia said, “A child doesn’t eat a cookie like an adult does.”

“Oh, no,” said Sprinkles shaking her head and pursing her lips in agreement.

“When adults bite into a cookie,” continued Julia, “their pleasure appears with a smile and brightening eyes.  The adult will say, ‘Mmmm! This is good!’  But a child’s pleasure…well, a child’s pleasure begins long before the first bite.” 

Christmas Cookies

holiday cookies

“You see,” explained Anna May, “the magic of the holiday is in the cookie.  In a child’s hand, a cookie comes alive.  Children hear the bell-shaped cookies ring when they shake them.”

“They see a shooting star’s fiery tale when they wave the star cookie above their heads,” said Julia.

“A wreath slipped on to a finger becomes a spinning ring,” added Sassy.

“Oh, that’s a wonderful game!” laughed Sprinkles. “Children love to see how much of the ring they can nibble away before it falls from their finger.”

“And they like to sing Frosty the Snowman when they pretend the snowmen cookies are skating over the table,” said Anna May.

“They sing Santa Claus Is Coming To Town when they make the Santas walk,” said Julia.

“Don’t forget the gingerbread man,” reminded Lulu. “Whole classrooms of kids run throughout schools looking for him.”

“And then it’s horrible!” wailed Sassy.  The other cows looked at her, stupefied.  “Haven’t you seen how those little boys eat a gingerbread man?!” she defended.  “They put their teeth around his neck and rip his whole head off!”

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Rick “Kringle” Delivers Holiday Cheer!

What does Santa Claus eat for breakfast?    KRINGLE!, of course!

What do Santa Claus and kringle have in common?    Both are sweet, packed with goodness, and bring joy to the holidays.

What flavor of kringle do Santa’s elves like best?    PUMPKIN! (See post of 11/16)

Who delivers fresh, yummy kringle to hard-working and cheerful employees?     Rick  KRINGLE  Remeschatis vicki_gets_kringle

Rick loves kringle – always has, always will.  So when its time to bring holiday treats into the office, we can count on Rick for kringle. 

When I first spoke to Rick regarding his passion for kringle, he lifted his eyes upward and said, “Kringle – pastry of the gods…(sigh).”  His favorite is pecan.  But he readily enjoys cherry-cheesecake, almond, and raspberry.  Rick added, “How can you have a bad kringle?”  I don’t know, but I was sure I wouldn’t make one after hearing Rick describe the 3-day process required to make the flaky dough.  (I found a kringle recipe on the web.  It’s not to be attempted by a novice baker.)

But Rick claims its EASY! (once you’ve purchased the kringle).  “Nothing simpler!  Just warm and serve!  Or you can buy it ahead of time, freeze it, then pop it frozen in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes.  Voila!  You’re ready to treat your friends.  And if you only eat half of it, just freeze it again.  Once we found a tiny foil package of leftover kringle way in the back of the freezer, who knows how ancient it was, – and it was still good!  Of course, in a large family, there won’t be any left-over kringle.”

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