• An Old Fashioned Christmas | Visions of Sugar Plums

    The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
    While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads...


    Most of us could probably quote the poem "Twas the Nite Before Christmas", but if we were to do that and one of our most curious children were to pipe up out of bed and interrupt, asking,  "Mommy, what's a sugar plum?", what would you say?

    While it would have been common in the "olden days" to offer a piece of fruit as a sweet, a sugar plum really has nothing to do with fruit. In fact, sugar plums were one of the most difficult and tedious confections to make, requiring special equipment and real expertise. Just a single batch of sugar plums could literally take days. So, if they aren't actually plums, what are they?

    A sugar plum could best be compared to what we call Jordan almonds, an almond with a hard candy coating over it. Also, think peanut M & M's.  Sounds simple enough these days, but not just anyone could have made these candies, and as such, they were usually only found among royalty or the very wealthy. These were, indeed, quite special treats.

    So when our modern day children lie in bed the night before Christmas, filled with excitement and wonder and can hardly contain it all in their little bodies, what they might be imagining is "sugar plums"....their favorite and rarely enjoyed sweet....or perhaps it's more of a metaphor for the overwhelming sweetness of Christmas mornings past, filled with love and family and all of their favorite things. And, of course, presents. Or maybe it's merely Peanut M & M's. :)

    So if you're up for the task, go ahead and make some sugar plums.  Many of the recipes will include dried fruit for the center, and that will be equally wonderful and sweet. Alton Brown has a great one that you can find here. As you make these treats, you can have a sweet little history lesson also. :)

    Photo courtesy

  • An Old Fashioned Christmas | Sugar Cookies and Egg Nog

    The humble sugar cookie, surprisingly, has quite an impressive history. Called the "Nazareth Sugar Cookie", historical records date it clear back to the 1700's, and it somehow wiggled it's way all the way to the legislature in House Bill 1982. There it was decided that it'd become the official cookie of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Am I the only one giggling about this?!

    sugar cookiesI'm not much one for politics, but I find it impressive that this baked confection has endured for centuries and still occupies quite the distinguished place in the United States. You might think that it contains some special ingredient, but really, it's just a sugar cookie....sugar, flour, butter and eggs baked and finished only with your lovely and ever creative touch.

    This little confection has long been recognized as, really, the epitome of tradition at Christmas. Even if you don't eat these, baking them is still something you must not skip. And, gathering the kids, the grandkids and friends turns this tradition into quite the family affair. It's definitely old fashioned.

    egg nogHow about making the whole adventure a bit more fun {as if that were necessary or even possible} by adding in a tried and true recipe for Egg Nog? Whether or not you choose to spike it or leave it el naturel, there is just something about that nutmeg-y yummy-ness  that'll warm your heart. I happen to love both the taste and texture of a slightly warm cup of eggnog. I think it just begs to be accompanied by your favorite shaped Christmas sugar cookie.

    I know, I've got the warm fuzzies now too, even in April.


    Photo courtesy:  Cookies, Egg Nog

  • A Very Vegetarian Christmas ~ Cocoa Brownies with Raspberry Sauce

    This is going to be the last post in the series I've been doing over the last couple of weeks about lots of great ideas for a Vegetarian Christmas Meal.  We've covered appetizers and soups and salads and of course, the main course. All vegetarian. All interesting. All delicious. Yesterday we brought you a yummy Kahlua Chocolate Fondue, and to wrap everything up I've got one more dessert idea. Not only is it a ubiquitous dessert, this recipe includes a special, secret ingredient that makes it healthy and gluten free.

    black bean browniesChristmas cookies are pretty much a given if you're hosting a group of people for Christmas. So are certain kinds of pies. And, usually you'll have a favorite family dessert recipe that, let's be honest, Christmas would just not be Christmas without it. But, today I bring you brownies. Not your ordinary brownie if there is such a thing. These are simply amazing, both in taste and in concept. You will probably not want to tell your guests what the secret ingredient is in this recipe until after they've tried it and start raving. Then, and only then, can you tell them that these are Cocoa Black Bean Brownies!

    Stay with me. I know black beans are not really considered a dessert ingredient, but I promise you that you'll be simply amazed at how tasty they are.

    You can get the recipe and directions here. I serve these with a dollop of whip cream on top too. Mmmm. Is it Christmas yet?

  • A Very Vegetarian Christmas ~ Dessert!

    For the last couple of weeks we've been running a series here on the Merry Stockings blog with lots and lots of ideas for a vegetarian Christmas meal. We've covered it all, everything from appetizers to soups to some interesting salads, and of course the main course. Now there is just one part missing from this amazing spread . . . . DESSERT!!

    We're going to wrap up this series with a couple of great dessert ideas for the finishing touch on our vegetarian meal. Most desserts are already vegetarian, but most decidely it'd be much more difficult to make them vegan. Not impossible tho. We'll stick to the vegetarian kind, and have I ever got a couple of great options for you!

    fonduThe very first time I had fondue in a large party setting was at my sister's wedding. They rented out an entire Italian restaurant, and besides the wedding cake there was a chocolate fondue, complete with strawberries, pineapple, marshmallows and so much more. Now, that was delicious. But, today's recipe is even better because it includes . . . kahlua!

    So, yes, this is more of an adult dessert, but if you have children that you're hosting, you can leave it out. Or make a separate one for the kiddos. Either way, a chocolate fondue is always a hit. Just about everyone loves chocolate and when it flows from a fountain, well it's just fun.

    You can get the recipe and instructions for this Kahlua and Cream Chocolate Fondue here. I'm sure you're going to love every last drop.

  • A Very Vegetarian Christmas Meal ~ Broccoli Cheddar Quinoa Pie

    I'm going to tell you a little secret. I have never really liked broccoli that much. I know. It's good for me. It's green. It's loaded with phyto nutrients and all that jazz. I used to get my boys to eat broccoli for lunch by telling them they were eating trees. All they knew is that trees are really big and that they would get big if they ate these tree-like broccoli florets. Seriously, they would gobble them down. I was so happy not to have to finish the leftovers on this one.

    broccoli cheddar quinoa pie

    But, my taste buds have matured. First I tasted the very popular broccoli bacon salad at a picnic, and couldn't believe I was actually eating broccoli! Then I ventured into pouring cheese sauce all over it....equally yummy. Then I did the unthinkable. I actually ordered it at a restaurant steamed, plain. And, I actually liked it. If I can overcome childish taste buds, so can you.

    Today's entry for our very vegetarian Christmas meal won't take much coaxing tho. Just look at that piece a pie, would you? I can't imagine that tasting bad, and I'm here to tell you that even the carnivores you host at your Very Vegetarian Christmas Meal won't blink an eye at this dish without meat. It is really that good.

    It is thoroughly vegetarian. It is also gluten free. And of course it's not that hard to make and it's delicioooo. You can find the complete directions on how to make this fantastic dish here.

  • A Very Vegetarian Christmas ~ Stuffed Portobella's


    I still remember the first time I tasted a large portobella mushroom used more as the base of a dish rather than an ingredient in it. I was not too adventurous when it came to food at the time, but I was struck with how the lowly mushroom had been transformed and elevated! I have seen restaurant entrees that use these brown beauties in place of a hamburger bun. That is genius really when you think about it.

    Today we are not going to wrap a portobella mushroom around a piece of meat. What we are going to do is create a real work of art with a portobella stuffed mushroom cap. You're gonna love this one.

    They look like earthenware bowls, don't they?! What's inside them is even more nutritious than the container tho. Think super greens combined with onion, pine nuts, feta and couscous, scooped inside. This doesn't have any meat in it whatsoever, but you'll definitely need a knife and fork to eat it.

    Can you picture it next to the Roasted Vegetable Lasagna that we featured yesterday? I think these would make a fantastic accompaniment. You can find the recipe and all the instructions here.

    Get ready to dig in, these are fantastic.

  • A Very Vegetarian Christmas ~ Roasted Vegetable Lasagna!

    One of the things I like the most about planning a vegetarian Christmas meal is the fact that we get to go outside the box a little. Traditionally a Christmas dinner meal would include ham or turkey as the main meat dish. Even in Italian families, the pasta dishes are rarely the star of the show. Today, since we already have permission to break the mold, we are featuring a sumptuous roasted vegetable lasagna and we're going to place it at the center of the meal.

    RoastedVegetableLasagnaslidEven tho this is quite non-traditional, it contains some very traditional Italian lasagna ingredients. It is most noticeably without meat of any kind. In its place tho is some roasted goodness that will really broaden your lasagna horizons. I bet you didn't know you even had lasagna horizons, did you? It is, nonetheless, fact. You do. :)

    You'll still have the savory cheese mixture in each layer,  and you'll even still have the long lasagna noodles to divide the layers. It's the other fillings that will have you smacking your lips and going back for more, tho.

    So, if you dare to step outside the traditional fare for the Christmas meal, check out this pretty simple recipe here for a real vegetarian treat.


  • A Very Vegetarian Christmas ~ Green Bean Salad with Basil, Parmesan, Shallots, and Balsamic

    Hello, and welcome back to Merry Stockings blog where we talk all year long about all things Christmas! Some people ask me if it's difficult to write about Christmas throughout the whole year, and really, it's not hard at all. I love everything there is about Christmas and all the festivities and cheer that go along with it. And, besides, there's sooo much to talk about!

    We've been unpacking our very vegetarian Christmas meal now for a couple of weeks, and we're not even at the main course yet! Like I said, there is SO much to share, it's easy to get carried away. And, if you happen to be reading this in the "off" season (I know, no such thing) then you are tucking all these ideas away in the your Christmas notebook for future use. If you happen to be reading this during the Christmas holiday season, well, this is for you too! As we say in our house, it's never too early or late to start planning for Christmas!

    green bean saladWe continue today into the vegetable sides portion of our vegetarian Christmas meal. Growing up the big traditional veggie dish was the green bean casserole. Oftentimes that has bacon in it, but today's entry will have you forgetting all about your mama's green bean casserole. And, you're gonna love it.

    When I was just out of college, my idea of eating a vegetable like cauliflower was to bread it, deep fry it and then smother it in cheese sauce. Hey, I was eating cauliflower, right?! Well, my taste buds have grown up, and I must say, there is not a thing I can think of that parmesan cheese does not improve upon.  And, this goes for green beans, too. Considered a staple vegetable on most American tables, it can stand a little sprucing up, no?

    Well, sprucing up we will do then! Close your eyes and imagine crispy cooked brilliantly green green beans tossed in a light sauce that includes shallots, basil, olive oil and parmesan cheese. It is utterly divine. Now, open your eyes and go here for the recipe. You will not be sorry, promise.

  • A Very Vegetarian Christmas ~ Warm Beet Salad

    beet-salad-citrusI have only learned to like beets in the past year. Growing up we only had the canned, pickled kind that served as our salad. Hmmm. I choked them down with lots of milk or iced tea, but once I got out on my own, beets never found their way into my menus. That is, until I tasted them roasted! OMG, there is seriously some magic that happens in the oven with beets.

    Today's contribution to our very vegetarian Christmas meal is a colorful, nutritious beet salad. It's always a good idea to have your basic greens salad, everyone loves that, but including this warm beet and citrus combo into your repertoire will have your guests believing you are a true gourmet chef. And, really, again, the ingredients do most of the heavy lifting. I promise you, you won't be spending hours slaving over this one.

    This salad is not only vegetarian, it is also vegan and gluten free, a total WIN. And, it looks so elegant, doesn't it?! The citrus vinaigrette that is drizzled over the top is the bright finishing touch, and if you have some left over it's also great over chicken or fish....or sweet potatoes! You can find the recipe for the salad and dressing here.

    If you are a beet hater, you might want to try this one. You will be doing your body a huge favor and I think your mouth will agree.

  • A Very Vegetarian Christmas ~ Curry & Maple Sweet Potato Soup

    curry_maple_sweet_potato_soupAre you a soup person? We tend, like most, to gravitate toward soup in the cooler months, but I know people who love soup year round. Even in hot weather, ending the day with a warm bowl of soup seems just right. We always make big batches so that we not only have enough for lunch the next day, but also have enough to put up several single serving jars in the freezer.

    In our series this month into a vegetarian-style Christmas dinner, we've learned about Roasted Red Beet Hummus, Holiday Jalapeno Poppers, and Pear & Gorgonzola Puff Pastry Squares. Last time we started on the soup/salad category with a yummy Potato Leek Soup, and since soup is such a great course to include in your Christmas meal I offer you today another very warm and savory soup ~ Curry & Maple Sweet Potato Soup.

    We have grown to love sweet potatoes in our house. Finding out they have so much nutritional value has moved this starch out of the only-for-Thanksgiving category, and into the every week category. Sometimes it's as simple as cutting the sweet potato into round discs, sprinkling with cinnamon and baking, and other times we get into a soup like today's recipe. I think it will make a fabulous addition to our very vegetarian Christmas meal. In fact, this recipe will also put a smile on the faces of your vegan friends and family too.

    Combining the natural sweet and rich flavor of a sweet potato with warm spices like curry, nutmeg and cloves make such a delightful combination, too. Your whole house will be a place you'll never want to leave, and I bet your guests will feel the same way. There is something about these warm spices that instantly conjures up a warm and cozy feeling.

    You can find the recipe for this simple soup here.

    Stay warm!

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