These gingerbread houses look like they could be from a holiday episode of Food Network Challenge, but they’re not the creations of a pro baker or sugar artist — they’re the handiwork of 11-year-old Lydia Gentry, who has snagged first place in her age group at the National Gingerbread Competition in Asheville, N.C., for three years running. Lydia’s mother, Michelle, credits her daughter’s gingerbread skills to the family’s ongoing remodeling projects: Lydia helped put an addition onto their real house. “After that, constructing a gingerbread house isn’t hard,” Michelle says. The only catch is that entries have to be 100 percent edible, so Lydia has to get creative with her supplies. This year, she won her fourth title with a holiday-themed cuckoo clock. Check out the winners at nationalgingerbreadhousecompetition.com, or see them in person at The Grove Park Inn in Asheville (290 Macon Ave.; groveparkinn.com) through January 1.
This week is like the holiday Olympics for moms, jam-packed with recitals, school parties and hours of gift-wrapping. Homemade gifts have always been my favorite to give, and they’re the ones that friends and family talk about for years to come. In the past, spending hours squirreled away in the kitchen wasn’t an issue, but life is quite different these days.
As my daughters grow, homework duties increased, and the list of recipients grew longer, I started re-thinking my homemade gift-giving strategy. I didn’t want to give up on the idea of hand-decorated cookies, but I began to realize I was in need of a compromise. Rather than start crossing names off my “nice” list, I decided to put friends, family and even my girls’ teachers in charge of the final product.
One of the basic truths of cooking is that there are as many pasta sauces out there in the world as there are home cooks. I grew up eating my mom’s long-simmered sauce that was bursting with zucchini, peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes and onions. My husband grew up eating a more basic marinara, studded with rounds of sausage (my younger self would have been very jealous that he got to avoid so many of the veggies).
These days my sauces tend to shift with the seasons. During the summer I like to prep an uncooked sauce of chopped tomatoes, torn basil, olive oil and salt. But as the days get shorter, I opt for thicker, heartier ingredients that have the ability to warm the kitchen and keep bellies satisfied.
With the holidays looming and houseguests streaming into town, a pot of filling pasta sauce is just the thing to make those big family dinners a bit easier. Right now my go-to recipe is one from Giada De Laurentiis for Lamb Ragu With Mint.
It’s Christmas morning: There are a few half-eaten cookies and an empty glass on the table next to the tree, the kids are ripping open presents and Dad has been videotaping the entire event for hours. This is surely not the moment to worry about what to serve for breakfast. This year, instead of resorting to cereal and cocoa (though there’s nothing wrong with either!), serve a simple brunch featuring hearty dishes that are ready in 30 minutes or less and will leave the family full until dinnertime.
What better way to spread Christmas cheer than with Food Network Magazine’s light and fluffy Almost-Famous Cheesecake Pancakes (pictured above). Chunks of creamy cheesecake are incorporated into a classic pancake batter and each flapjack is cooked until golden brown and topped with a sweet strawberry sauce, featuring fresh berries and strawberry jam. Top each stack with a dollop of whipped cream — because it is Christmas, after all, and New Year’s diets don’t start for another week.
This Christmas, serve up a little holiday cheer in the form of crowd-pleasing recipes the whole family will enjoy. We’ve complied Food Network’s top five Christmas recipes below; prepare them all for a weekend’s worth of festive favorites and holiday classics.
5. White Chocolate Holiday Bark — Dried cranberries and pistachio nuts add color and texture to this sweet snack, perfect to give as a last-minute gift.
4. Baked French Toast Casserole With Maple Syrup — Prepare Paula’s indulgent casserole the night before and bake on Christmas morning for an easy brunch favorite.
I don’t know about you, but I love to make people happy. I strive for that moment in presentation when you hear an audible gasp of delight and surprise.
If I could, I would spend hours in the kitchen slaving away over a special dessert, but I can’t. And I am betting your time is valuable as well.
So that is why I could not be more excited to share this cake with you. It takes less than an hour to assemble, including prep. This stunning cake is so easy to make, but it can make a huge impact on your family and friends. They will be talking about it for years to come.
Let’s put it this way, if you can play with Play-Doh, you can make this cake.
People are, understandably, very particular about their Christmas cookies. For many, the baking of holiday cookies is a ritual and tradition passed on from generation to generation.
For the December 2011 issue of Food Network Magazine, the editors at the magazine decided on a red-and-green cookie story. We in the test kitchens immediately got excited and started spurting out cookie-coloring ideas (doing our best to avoid the expected royal icing with food coloring): “green tea,” “dried cranberries” and “pistachios.”
By the next day, we were churning out colorful, delicious cookies. We made green mint-swirled meringues, lime buttons, dried cranberry butter cookies, green tea shortbreads and pistachio sables. But as the days progressed, we began to notice the cookies, although beautiful on their own, were not beautiful as a collection.
Hominy is one of those foods you might think you’ve never tried, yet almost certainly have. Or at least a close relative of it.
That’s because the ingredient that starts as hominy can end as many different dishes across many cultures, from Mexican pozole to Southern grits to the corn nuts down at your neighborhood bar.
But first, the basics.
Hominy is the name given to whole corn kernels, usually white, that have been cooked in a lye or lime solution to remove their thick hulls. The result is a tender, somewhat bulbous kernel with a chewy texture and a clean, corn flavor.
In Latin America, these kernels are used most often in soups and stews such as pozole, a highly seasoned stew of hominy, pork and chili peppers.
The Southern staple known as grits follows a similar path. In this case, the hominy is dried after processing, then coarsely ground. The resulting meal then is cooked with water or milk to a porridge-like consistency similar to polenta.
This soup is really simple to make. It’s really a matter of cooking the beets and garlic together and allowing the flavors to meld. Once that part is done, it’s simply a matter of adding the tangy element of the creme fraiche and the pleasing crunch of the cucumber. I find a chilled soup so refreshing and wonderful when paired with something like a braised meat. The other great thing is that you can make this entirely in advance and simply ladle it into the bowls when ready. For me, when I’m having people over, I love serving the appetizer effortlessly and getting the main course done. The goal is to make great food but to get out of the kitchen and have fun with my friends.
The slow cooker is our friend in the test kitchen, and we’ve discovered some helpful tips to create the perfect dish every time:
1. Pick the Right Cut of Meat: Use cuts of meat that are best for slow braising, like pork shoulder, and try to avoid leaner cuts, like pork tenderloin, that don’t hold up as well.
2. Spend Some Time Up Front: All you need is 30 minutes or less to brown your meat. Make a quick pan sauce or reduce wine before adding to your slow cooker — it makes a big difference in flavor.
3. Choose Your Alliums Wisely: Onion, garlic and shallot all belong to the same genus and when they’re added raw to a slow cooker, sometimes they create a metallically after-taste. We prefer to use leeks (also in same genus), which are milder. We also love to toast thinly sliced garlic in butter or oil and stir in at the end (like in Food Network Magazine’s Vegetable and Lentil Slow Cooker Soup, pictured above).