Category Archives: How to

Ten Festive Christmas Cocktails!

With Christmas just a week away, you’ve probably got a lot on your plate. Last-minute shopping, presents to wrap, house cleaning, and meal prep and planning before your guests arrive. And your to-do list probably keeps getting bigger. Sound familiar?

If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed with cooking for house full of people with different tastes and special diets, check out MagicKitchen.com for meal ideas everyone will enjoy. But before you serve the big meal, you might want to consider including a holiday drink to go with dinner. Try these 10 easy-to-make Festive Christmas Cocktails.

chambord-kir1. Chambord Kir Royale

Making a drink for the party couldn’t get much easier. All you need is two ingredients. Sweet Chambord liqueur made from black and red raspberries, and good champagne. Add your own signature to this cocktail with raspberries or a twist of lemon. Make your own with this recipe.

2. Tom & Jerry

It’s a holiday favorite that’s been around for a long time. Mix eggnog with brandy and rum, and serve hot in a large mug. Top it with whipped cream sprinkled with nutmeg or cinnamon. For fun, make your own eggnog.  Check out how this drink got its name here.

3. Rum Brandy Punch

This drink is a popular party-pleaser and easy to make a gallon at a time with lemon, sugar, rum, and brandy. Here’s the recipe.

4. Grand Marnier Coffee

If you’re getting by with caffeine and coffee during the last few days before Dec. 25, you’re not alone. But when it’s time to kick back, relax and enjoy the party, you and your guests might like coffee and caffeine with twist. All this recipe calls for to make this drink is Grand Marnier, a cup of Joe, and some whipped cream.

Cardamom-Pop-Punch5. Cardamom and Pop Punch

Make this drink and you’ll get a taste of sweet and a zing of sour in just the right amount. You’ll need sugar cubes, club soda, cardamom, rum, lime juice, grapefruit juice, and orange bitters, according to the recipe, to mix this drink.

6. Hot Buttered Rum

It’s another holiday favorite that can soothe the soul, chase away stress, and keep your guests feeling warm and happy. It’s made from a smooth blend of brown sugar, butter, honey, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Along with a little salt, rum, and boiling water. It only takes about 10 minutes to make this recipe and serve four people.

coquito7. Coquito

You don’t have to live south of the border to enjoy this Caribbean-inspired drink. It’s got just the right amount of creamy sweetness, rum, and spices to make this a party favorite. Try this five-star Coquito recipe.

8. Timmy’s Brandy Milk Punch

Here’s a frothy drink born in The Big Easy your guests will enjoy. Timmy’s Brandy and Milk Punch is made from brandy, milk, powdered sugar, vanilla, and nutmeg, according to the recipe. Some people serve this drink along with breakfast during the holidays.

9. Hot Apple Toddy

madtini_12days_06Serve the kids apple cider. Serve the adults Hot Apple Toddy. All you need to do to prepare this drink is add a few ingredients to the apple cider. Here’s the recipe. Thinly peeled apple slices can a little sweetness nice touch to the presentation.

10. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Cocktail

If you really want to pay tribute to the holidays and that red-nosed reindeer who saved Christmas, you might want to make a drink called Rudolph’s Nose. The recipe is a mix of rum, lemon, grenadine syrup, ice, and cranberry juice. Add a maraschino cherry, and your drink will shine at your party. You can even make a non-alcoholic version for the kiddos.

Enjoy the drinks!

Evan, MagicKitchen.com blogger

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How to Make the Best Soup…Ever

soup-naziThe Soup Nazi, of Seinfeld fame (season 7, episode 6 for those in search of a good laugh), was notorious for keeping his soup recipes secret…well, that and being quite rude and banning those customers who didn’t follow his regimented and Nazi-like rules while in his establishment (Elaine was famously banned for an entire year). We here at MagicKitchen.com are not so secretive regarding the keys to cooking soups that burst with flavor and keep your friends and family returning to your pot for more. After all, we make these types of soup everyday! So, here are a few ideas that are guaranteed to get that…”Mmmmm, what’s in this?” reaction.

  • Wow, I coulda had a V8. Use V8 instead of plain tomato juice if the recipe calls for it. And use it in addition to canned or fresh tomatoes. The fact that V8 also incorporates other veggies, aside from tomatoes, will kick your soup’s flavor up a notch.
  • rindThrow in those cheese rinds. Especially Parmesan or pecorino rinds as they will add a depth of flavor to your veggie soups or minestrone. Some rinds will simply dissolve in the heat. If not, you can either remove them prior to serving, or chop them up to add a bit of chunky texture to your soup.
  • Use those shiitake stems…no bull. They will infuse your veggie or broth-based soups with an aromatic, earthy flavor. Just be sure to remove them before serving as they’re a bit too fibrous to eat.
  • Use more than just chicken in your chicken soup. Toss in some complimentary sweet or spicy sausage or even some crispy duck to get rave reviews. In terms of herbs, add a bit of lemongrass or curry powder depending upon your preference.
  • Add the greens last. Soup greens are meant to be crisp and tender rather than dull and gray. In order to achieve that, add the kale, chard, broccoli or any other green as your soup cools prior to serving.
  • soups delivered to your home
    Soup Bundle from MagicKitchen.com

    Cook the pasta separate. Pasta will suck up the flavor and liquid of your stock, spices and herbs. Therefore, cook it separate, al dente style, and add just before serving.

Or, if you’re pressed for time, you could have some delicious, flavor-full soup delivered to your home. Just browse our varied selections and pick your favorites…and we promise never to ban you or scream, “No soup for you!”

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Thanksgiving Centerpiece Ideas

turkey cookiesOf course, your best source for Thanksgiving Centerpiece Ideas would be Pinterest. But you’ve seen the epic pinterest fails, right? Where it looks soooo easy to do, and ends up looking terrifying? https://www.pinterest.com/mathomson/nailed-it/ These are a few of those.

So we’ll go for some easy, classic ideas that almost anyone should be able to pull off.

harvesttableau-m
Thanks to allyou.com!

1. From allyou.com, try this simple centerpiece. You will need a cake stand and only a few other items, such as red grapes, hazelnuts in the shell and some fall leaves. The three candles set the tone.

2.  I always prefer a short centerpiece, so everyone can see each other and the conversation flows. This elegant but easy design comes to us from  Midwest Living. Flowers under glass.

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Midwest living

 

thanks to shelterness.com1
thanks to shelterness.com!

3. shelterness.com brings us this rustic centerpiece. A glass container, some twine, Indian corn and a beautiful candle make for a country look, very autumnal!

4. I couldn’t resist this amusing and silly centerpiece, also from shelterness. A shallow bowl, some parsnips, and a sense of humor make this centerpiece easy and inexpensive.

silly centerpiece
Silly but adorable from shelterness

5. The Pampered Chef came up with this great idea using a trifle bowl.  Fill with nuts or fruit, and tie a ribbon around it. Simple!

pampered-chef-diy-thanksgiving-centerpiece

 

 

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Food Photography Tips from Amanda

Chicken with Artichoke and Spinach
Chicken with Artichoke and Spinach

Have you ever looked at a photo of, say our Chicken and Artichoke with Spinach, and wondered how Amanda, our food photographer here at Magickitchen, conveys the true sense of freshness and appetizing appeal that our food possesses through her photographs? Or are you an amateur food photographer seeking to improve your skills or become a paid professional? Either way, continue on, loyal reader, and become enlightened.

Below are some of Amanda’s “secrets” to her food photography success:

Freshness – Obviously, all the food items to be photographed must be the freshest available. If the dish in question is cooked, it’s best to remove it from the stove or oven a few minutes before it’s completely done as it will continue to cook once removed from heat. This also gives you the opportunity to snap a picture while it’s still simmering or while steam is still rising from it.

Buttered Carrots
Buttered Carrots

If the dish includes raw ingredients, either as the main item or as garnish, those ingredients should be as fresh off the vine as possible. This ensures vibrant colors and that no wilting has, or will, occur while photographing. Also, spritzing the fresh ingredients with water or oil adds to their deliciously fresh appearance.

Lighting – Proper lighting is essential in food photography and backlighting your subject material with natural light (aka sunlight) works best. Backlighting reduces glare, enhances the color highlights and texture of the food, and permits you to add dramatic shading or shadows. Do these lighting requirements demand a studio in which to photograph your food? Well, consider the fact that Amanda achieves great results without the aid of a studio and you have your answer. All you need is a clean kitchen counter, stove, or dining table with a few props, such as silverware or clean plates, and the correct placement of your dish backlit by the sun, and voilà, photographic masterpiece.

Adding color — …especially if the dish in question is monochromatic or contains boring, bland colors. Generally speaking, adding

Chile con Carne
Chile con Carne

fresh veggies or fruit that accent a cooked dish works best. For example, the crisp green beans and pomegranate seeds added to the previously mentioned Chicken and Artichoke with Spinach entrée adds a new level of delectability to an already delectable dish.   Also, the inclusion of a few sprigs of fresh thyme to a

simple bowl of chile con carne greatly enhances that dish’s appeal.

So, next time you’re preparing a menu, starting a food blog, or composing recipes, for whatever reason, why not add some photographs in order to get some mouths watering. Just remember fresh ingredients, the proper lighting and an appetizing color palate and you’ll certainly please your audience’s palate.

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Organizing the Kitchen Chaos that is Pots and Pans

By Ty Schmidt

It’s a sound with which most home cooks are all too familiar. The clanging and clattering of pots and pans in what is most likely an unruly stacking situation is one of those battles many home cooks face on a daily basis. After all, finding ways to creatively stack and arrange the precious cooking vessels in an organized fashion can prove challenging given the space and layout of the average kitchen. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

There are creative methods of storing pots and pans that can help even the disorganized cook be more efficient in the kitchen. Here are a few of our favorites:

The Pot and Pan Pantry. This idea may work best if you have pantry space to spare. Maybe you have a lazy Susan that’s packed with all the pantry basics and you also have a pantry closet. Or you keep canned goods and other pantry essentials at a minimum and have extra room. All it

kitchen1
Via Modernize

takes is a few hooks hung from a pantry shelf to convert that space into prime real estate for frying pans. Use the space below for larger pots and dutch ovens, and store the lids nearby as well.

Think Julia Child. You don’t necessarily need to include the outlines of pots and pans to keep them in place like Julia Child did, but especially if your pans are something special, they can play double duty. Integrate them into the decorative motif of the kitchen by hanging them from the walls or from a rack above your counters or island if you have one.

Find New Purpose. A lot of other organizational or home items can serve a dual role in the kitchen if you’re willing to think outside the box a bit. An example would be to incorporate some inexpensive towel rods within the inside of the cabinet you use for pots and pans. Those lids can be the toughest to figure out, and using towel rods on the cabinet doors allows you a place to effectively and efficiently store what may be one of the most challenging yet necessary components of kitchen cookery.

kitchen2
via Modernize

Command an audience. Another option for those pesky lids is to install Command hooks (or something like them) on the inside of those storage spaces. Strategically placed hooks can serve as a very helpful organizational tool that provides easy access and helps improve efficiency, allowing you to focus on more important things, like perfecting that homemade barbecue sauce.

Make a small investment. For the less do-it-yourself minded folks, there are plenty of options as well. Most home improvement stores have kits that allow you to convert cabinet space into pull-out storage for pots and pans that will help simplify and organize your valuable cabinet space.

For more organization ideas and other tips and tricks, head to Modernize.com.

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January- Time to plan your garden

It’s January, and winter stretches out before you. The holiday season is over, and you’re wondering what to do. It may surprise you that January is the perfect time to start planning your spring garden.

straw-bale-gardenStart a file folder to store ideas you’ve clipped out of magazines or printed off the internet. Investigate MagicKitchen.com’s pinterest page for gardening tips and ideas. Look around town and join a gardening club to get out of the house and talk to people who love to garden. You’ll get lots of great tips and advice that way.

Plan new things for the spring. Tired of bending over to weed and pick your veggies? Try starting a hay bale garden. So much cheaper than building raised beds, and easy to do. The straw holds moisture and heat, and is perfect for northern climates. Here’s the go-to source for hay or straw bale gardens: http://modernfarmer.com/2013/07/straw-bale-gardening/

While hardly new, square foot gardening is a great technique for getting more produce out of a smaller garden. Again, less bending and squatting and weeding makes for a better experience.

square-foot-gardeingWhichever garden design you decide to use, it’s a good idea to plot it out on graph paper or on the computer.

Go through your seeds and decide which to keep and throw out any moldy ones. Then go through your nursery catalogs and decide what seeds you will buy, which to start inside, and which nursery seedlings you’ll buy to plant.

Depending on where you live, you may be able to prep your garden bed now. Mulch, spray and prune. Here’s a guide to January garden prep in California: http://3000tomatoes.com/monthly-garden-jobs/january-garden/

Those of us in cooler temperatures are only allowed to dream of our hands in the soil again, but some good planning now will ensure that next year’s garden will shine!

Melody, MagicKitchen.com blogger.

 

 

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Top 10 Workout Tips For Getting Out of the Winter Rut

Winter often gives a sob story that we all hate to hear. The cold weather certainly gets the best of most us- but not all of us. There are those who welcome winter with open arms-I mean, it’s hard to understand the love for the cold-but for most people, working out is the best way to keep warm.

However, working out in the cold comes with many challenges. Regardless of whether you are in your best shape or not, winter is known to many as a working-out rut. Here are the ten best ways to ensure that you don’t get caught in it.
1. active-15926_640Set big goals
If you don’t have set working out goals or have been slacking with the ones that you already have, then it’s time for a change. Going back to basics will ensure that you work out faithfully in the winter, even when it seems difficult.

2. Embrace the cold weather
The best way to stay in shape during the cold months is to get out there and face it head on. Taking part in activities like skiing, ice-skating or just running outside will provide a great charge of pace which will in turn help you to cope with the cold better. Once you get out, you’ll love the bracing cold, and activity will warm you up quickly.

3. Ensure you have the best workout gear

It’s important to ensure that you have the right training shoes or gym gear. This will ensure that you are comfortable when working out during winter.

4. Be accountable

Beginning to work out may be more difficult than working out itself. A healthy sense of accountability will motivate you to wake up and join a running group or make time for workout sessions. Don’t focus too much on your weight; after all, muscle weighs more than fat.

5. Try something New

Try workout activities that you would not ordinarily try such as hot yoga. This will help you get excitement back to your workout routine. This will really bring excitement in winter workout.

measuring6. Note the changes

Documenting your changes as you work out in the winter will certainly keep the rut away. Noting changes in your body due to your workout routine is motivating.

7. Maintain a good diet

Staying active is only half the battle, you need to maintain a good diet to go together with your workout sessions. Good dieting and exercise is the best way to beat the winter rut.

8. Switch up your workout playlist

People on treadmill in gym runningMusic keeps a workout session going. Ensure that you have an interesting playlist with good work out songs. This will make your winter workout very enjoyable.

9. Grab a buddy

Winter is not the time to work out alone. Friends during this time will either workout with you or keep you accountable when the winter rut kicks in plus you will be safe.

10. Reconfigure your schedule

As winter mornings are extremely cold, if you are discouraged from working out in the morning, you can do it all at lunch hour or even in the evening. There’s no getting around winter. We still have to be fit. Follow these tips and tricks and you are well on your way to avoiding the winter workout rut.

If none of these tips work out with your schedule, winter provides its own workout. But wouldn’t you rather be in the gym?

snow-clearing

 

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How to survive the after Christmas blues

christmas-bluesThe week after Christmas is always the mini-season of limbo. We’re all different, and we all have different ways of dealing with the Christmas blues. Some may choose to spend the week opening presents while others might want an extra week off work. Personally, I just sit on the couch and make those New Year resolutions -either way, during this time, an old fashioned case of after Christmas blues can definitely be settling in.

What most of us do not know is that it is okay to grieve for those amazing Christmas days that are gone for another year – shed a tear, sing hallelujah… whatever you do, acknowledge the fact that there’s a whole new year that requires the best of your attention.   Get creative and create an outlet either by writing your feelings down on paper, writing a sad song, saying a prayer or painting a picture. It’s important to acknowledge the fact that the well-savored holidays are no more for another eleven months. It’s time to get busy-go back to the normal, mundane routine. A creative outlet would most definitely be helpful.

Sometimes, keeping a journal for when things get tough is a great idea considering that the after Christmas blues leave many of us feeling down and out. It often means back to work-miserable weather and a dwindling bank account balance due to all the expenses. One of the best things is creating something to look forward to. This will keep your spirits up. It might be a nice event or a work trip. Whatever it is, ensure that it is something worthwhile that will make you count down the days.

foodrunnersVolunteering for a good cause after Christmas might not be such a bad thing. Being selfless and focusing on others will certainly make you feel like you are contributing to something important. It’s important to keep your social life going. A true friend is one who sees you through a dark day. Putting yourself out there through your social life is important to boosting your moods after the festivities.

Also, you could spend your time watching some great comedy or rent a funny DVD. After all, they say laughter is the best medicine. Do not pile all your sorrows into readily available junk food. Sadly, this leads to unnecessary weight gain. Instead, focus your energy on things in the new year that really matter. Above all, as all the holiday food settles into your system, do not forget the value of a good work out.

Most importantly, getting back to your regular routine will help you feel normal. Although we may all feel beat down and uninspired after the holidays, take time to do something interesting -step out of your comfort zone. Indulge in things that make you step out of your comfort zone. Feeling too comfortable will make you feel uninspired and unmotivated. Show how brave you are by beating the after Christmas blues and taking the New Year by the horns!

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How To Maintain Your Sanity During the Holidays

The holidays are a great time when all close and distant family members are together. They exchange gifts and tell stories and share happiness. Thanksgiving, Christmas and the New Year, so close together, give us a reason to meet up. But despite all the joy, this is the time when people are most stressed and they lose weight on their wallets, reach card limits and end up with huge expenses.

For the sake of the happiness of kids, cousins and family members it is hard to keep yourself from shopping and spending on preparing large dinner parties and home decorations. But with clever planning and by using some innovative ideas, you can keep your sanity.

Thanksgiving Planning made easy. Sides and Desserts, you cook the bird!

Don’t Over-Commit

One of the worst mistakes you can make is committing or giving hope to someone for a gift that you later regret promising. Promising your kids something on the holidays which you regret later for not being able to buy because of the expense, or to do because of a lack of time, will make you feel really bad. It’s good to plan with your family or friends but over planning can actually ruin your holidays. Don’t commit to someone for a gift that is expensive or you think that you might not be able to provide.

If you feel that you will have very little time to prepare someone’s special dish, don’t promise. That way, you won’t have to stand in line or rush to stores or overspend on something, but instead you will be able to make the dishes you’re comfortable with making.

Make a Plan

You will not succeed until you plan, and you need to have a good plan in order to save time, money and energy. If you didn’t over commit, you can create a list of gifts that you wish to give. Holidays often disturb budget but if you set a maximum budget that you can afford, you will have a boundary which you must try to stay inside. Speak to other family members and friends, and share your thoughts on gift prices, so you won’t receive an expensive gift which you can’t reciprocate.

Make a list of all the expenses for dinner and meals, total spending on gifts and cost of home decoration items. Try to fit all the gifts that you want to buy within your set budget, and feel free to replace expensive gifts with cheaper ones – the goal is to reach the maximum set budget of gifts. Do the same for food and decoration. Ordering food online such as at http://www.magickitchen.com/menu/thanksgiving.html will save you some bucks on groceries and time of preparation.

You also don’t need to stress by doing all the cooking in one day or over a weekend, but it will be much better if you start the day before the weekend for the following holiday. It’s all about planning but don’t forget to note down everything.

todoWelcome All the Help You Have

Get all the help you can find. You can get your kids to decorate the room and even vacuum the carpet and dust furniture. Make lists as to who is doing what, shopping, cleaning and cooking. Weekends are a great time to shop but so busy. If you can shop in off hours, you’ll save time waiting in lines. Or if you can find an item online then there is no better way to save time because these days most online stores offer free shipping.

If your cousin or friend offer some help bring them on-board – you can offer your help in return. You can also save some time on cooking by ordering meals online.

Make Bright Ideas

Some really good bright ideas can do wonders. Instead of giving gifts to everyone, you can invite everyone over the dinner and agree to donate a certain amount to charity instead of spending money on gifts.

Buying a gift can be expensive but giving gift certificates might work for you. You can choose your amount and let the recipients choose gifts themselves. If you had been planning a world tour, you can visit your favorite place during holidays, away from all the stress and worries of shopping.

Holiday Smiles are the name of the game!
Holiday Smiles are the name of the game!

Learn to Forget and Say No

Holidays bring smiles and charms but it is really hard to remain sweet to everyone, because some people will be expecting so much from you while others might be taking more of your time than they should. For instance, if you have friends coming over or you have your own plans you should learn to say no to other invitations. You don’t need to go to every event. Be polite but firm when others want to exchange expensive gifts.

Try to enjoy the meals you prepare. You are already stressed and you worked all day to prepare your meal, but it is also a good idea to delay your party so that you can become a guest and just enjoy the dinner.

Holiday is a time for which people wait all year, and it should be a reason to enjoy, not stress out. The best way to enjoy it is to plan and think differently, and take advice from your family and friends.

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