A New Year’s Eve Cocktail

champagne cocktail

Pimm’s No. 1 and fresh berries add a colorful twist to this New Year’s Eve cocktail.

A smooch at midnight, fireworks, colorful underwear, a rousing rendition of “Auld Lang Syne” and a plateful of Hoppin’ John on New Year’s Day. The traditions of New Year’s Eve are many and varied, but among the best known is a champagne toast as the clock strikes twelve.

Tipping a glass of bubbly to ring the new year is rumored to have began in the 17th century, thanks to an innovative monk named Dom Perignon (whose very name tells the tale). Perignon developed a method for bottling sparking wine without the pressure that would normally cause it to shatter. Thicker glass and a wire cage around the cork solved the problem, but wasn’t cheap. Sparkling wine became associated with prosperity and was reserved for special events, most notable New Year’s Eve. A tradition was born.

Not every New Year’s toast uses champagne (a sparkling wine must be bottled in Champagne, France to bear that name). Some even forego wine for family-friendly sparkling cider or grape juice. If it sparkles, bubbles and the glasses are raised high, the tradition remains intact.

This year we will toast the new year with a colorful twist on a champagne cocktail. Similar to the Kir Royale, the Pimm’s Royale is a simple cocktail of champagne and Pimm’s No. 1, a gin-based liqueur with quinine, spices, and citrus with warm reddish-brown color and a recipe that remains a well-kept secret to this day. A splash of Pimm’s and a burst of color, thanks to select fresh berries bobbing in the glass, add great flavor and festive flair to a New Year’s classic. Although the Pimm’s Royale is usually garnished with strawberries, a variety raspberries, blackberries or blueberries in the glasses are a pretty and colorful way to toast good times, great friends and a happy and healthy year to come.

Pimm’s Royale

  • 1 ounce Pimm’s No. 1
  • Champagne or other sparkling wine.
  • Approximately 2 tablespoons fresh berries (raspberries, blackberries, blueberries or strawberries)

Pour Pimm’s No. 1 into champagne flute.

Add selected berries to the glass.

Top off glass with champagne and serve.

Originally: A New Year’s Eve Cocktail

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Homemade Buttermilk Doughnuts for National Doughnuts Day


Celebrate National Doughnut Day with fresh buttermilk doughnuts.

I love using “National Days” as an excuse for decadence. November 5th is a good one as we celebrate National Doughnut Day. But wait a second. Wasn’t National Donut Day back in June? I seem to remember Ellen making some super-cool cactus doughnuts to celebrate. It’s true. National Donut Day is the first Friday in June to commemorate Salvation Army workers feeding the popular baked good to World War I soldiers (which spawned the nickname “doughboys” for infantrymen.) November 5th is National Doughnut Day, which is a celebration of the tasty treat itself. Jelly donuts have a day of their own (June 8) and cream-filled are celebrated September 14. It’s possible I’m not the only one looking for an excuse to make doughnuts.


Use a doughnut cutter or biscuit cutters of two different sizes to create the familiar shape.

November is a pretty great time to celebrate the doughnut. Cool weather means I’m happy to spend time in a hot kitchen and warm, fresh doughnuts lightly spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg are perfect for the season.


Deep fried in oil, doughnuts take about two minutes to cook.

This recipe for buttermilk doughnuts takes less than 45 minutes to prepare. Crisp on the outside, soft on the inside and delicious through and through, it’s a surprisingly-easy recipe you’d be tempted to make more often if it wasn’t, you know, deep-fried dough rolled in sugar. Did I mention an excuse for decadence? Besides, National Pizza Day With Everything Except Anchovies isn’t until next week. I’m not even kidding about that.

Buttermilk Doughnut Holes

Don’t forget the doughnut holes!

Buttermilk Doughnuts

Yield: About 18 doughnuts (plus holes)

  • Vegetable or peanut oil for frying
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons of butter, melted
  • 3 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 3 tablespoons cinnamon

Pour peanut or vegetable oil into a deep, heavy skillet to a depth of about an inch and heat on medium-high to a temperature of 370 degrees while preparing dough.

Whisk buttermilk, egg, sugar and butter together in a mixer.

Add flour, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg and salt and mix until a soft, sticky dough comes together.

Place dough on a floured work surface, flip over and roll to a thickness of about 1/2″.

Use a doughnut cutter or a 3-inch biscuit cutter and 1-inch biscuit cutter to stamp doughnuts (save the holes).

Combine 1 1/2 cups sugar and cinnamon together in a bowl.

Fry doughnuts a few at a time for 60-90 seconds, use tongs to flip and fry for another minute until golden brown (doughnuts will expand while cooking, so take care to avoid overcrowding).

Using tongs, remove doughnuts from oil, roll in sugar/cinnamon to coat and place on top of paper towels on wire racks to cool.

Bonus: Fry doughnuts holes for about a minute on each side, toss in sugar/cinnamon and cool.

Serve warm or at room temperature.



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Homemade Nut Butter Cups

nut butter cups

If peanut allergies are a concern, these treats can be made using a variety of nut and seed butters.

Any guesses on what the most popular Halloween candy is? It’s not Snickers. Not Kit Kat, Hershey bars or even M&Ms. It may not be too surprising to learn that when someone got chocolate in H.B. Reese’s peanut butter way back in 1928, a star was born. With sales of nearly $510 million in 2013, peanut butter cups will be the most shared treat this Halloween. Although homemade treats aren’t approved for distribution to the ghosties and goblins that show up at our door, we’re making our own to enjoy this Halloween (once the doorbell stops ringing).

If you haven’t yet tried your hand at making peanut butter at home, this nearly-perfect marriage of fresh peanut butter and chocolate is reason enough to start. For those with peanut allergies or sending treats into classrooms declared “peanut-free zones,” this easy recipe also shines when made with nut butters like almond, pecan or walnut or sunflower seed butter. And without the preservatives found in store-bought candy, this homemade treat may not be quite guilt-free, but it comes close.

Nut Butter Cups

Yield: 12

  • 1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs
  • 3/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 1/2 cup peanut or other nut or seed butter
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 2 cups semisweet chocolate
  • 1 tablespoon shortening

Line 12 muffin tins with cupcake liners and set aside

Heat chocolate and shortening in a double boiler or heat-safe bowl nestled over a pot of water over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until melted.

Pour enough melted chocolate into each cupcake liner to coat the bottom of cup (about a tablespoon) and place in refrigerator for 10 minutes to set.

Stir graham cracker crumbs and confectioner’s sugar together in a bowl.

Add peanut butter and butter and stir until thoroughly combined.

Using your fingers, roll a ball of peanut butter filling about the size of a large grape and press into a disc about 1/4 inch thick (if the filling is difficult to handle, refrigerate for 5 or ten minutes to stiffen).

Place a disc of peanut butter filling in the bottom of each cup. A narrow ring of chocolate should remain visible around the edge (if not, adjust size of filling disc).

Pour more melted chocolate into each cup to completely cover filling.

Refrigerate at least 30 minutes to set.

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Halloween Hack: Make Trickerdoodle Cookies Using Leftover Candy


This post-Halloween spin on the classic snickerdoodle has a secret inside.

If your youngsters are aggressive trick-or-treaters or the turnout at your own front door didn’t meet expectations, there’s a good chance November starts off with a serious surplus of bite-sized candy. You can freeze some to be eaten later, you can give it away or you can eat it until regret sets in. Truth be told, it’ll probably be option three, but we’re going to keep it interesting this year with this fun recipe for a cookie with a surprise inside. Introducing the “trickerdoodle.” If you’re going to use Halloween candy to make a cookie, it’s got to have a cute name, right?

Basically a snickerdoodle with a little candy bar melted inside, part of the fun is not knowing exactly what you’ll get. Snickers? Milky Way? Mini Reese’s Cup, Kit Kat or Three Musketeers? Take a bite and see.


The cookie dough is wrapped around the candy to about golf ball size. Roll it in sugar and place it on a cookie sheet to bake. Don’t don’t flatten it. It will spread out on its own to become a soft, delicious cookie and the candy will melt to leave little trace of what lies within until you take a bite.


The best cookie in the world just got a little bit better. Or worse, depending on how you feel about Almond Joys. Or Twix. Or Butterfingers…


Yield: About 2 dozen cookies

3 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
24 pieces trick-or-treat size candy bars (any flavor)
1/3 cup sugar, for coating

Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl and set aside.

Cream 1 1/2 cups sugar, butter and shortening together in a stand mixer until fluffy.

Add eggs one at a time.

Add vanilla extract.

Add dry mix to mixer and beat on low speed until well combined.

Place 1/3 cup sugar in a small bowl.

Unwrap candy bars and shape some dough into a ball around each piece of candy just large enough to fully enclose (about the size of a golf ball).

Roll each cookie in sugar and arrange on ungreased and cookie sheet spaced at least 2 inches apart.

Bake in a 375 degree oven for 15-17 minutes or until lightly browned.

Allow to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to finish cooling.


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Healthy Halloween Cuisine: DIY Black Hamburger Buns Recipe

black buns 1

This Halloween, dress your burger in a fashionable black bun.

When a hamburger with a black bun was introduced in Japan by a fast food restaurant last year, it was an instant hit. Still, I was surprised when the novelty burger hit the American market just in time for Halloween this year and even more surprised when it got some unintended press. I won’t go into it here, but apparently the dye used for the US market sticks around for a while after you’ve finished lunch. If you haven’t heard the ruckus, go google “black hamburger bun.” Weird, huh?

I still wanted a black hamburger bun for Halloween, so we made our own. A little reading revealed that last year’s Japanese version of the black bun didn’t use food dye at all. The black was produced using “takesumi,” which is a cooler way of saying bamboo charcoal.

Sometimes used to purify drinking water, it is also popular in Japan as a food additive and detoxifying supplement.  So, it’s good for me and it will make my hamburger buns black? I’m sold.

I couldn’t find any takesumi at my local Asian market, but I was able to get it through Amazon for about eight bucks.

black buns 2

This black bun gets its color from bamboo charcoal, a food additive that’s actually good for you.

Using bamboo charcoal to make these Halloween buns couldn’t have been easier. Using a standard hamburger bun recipe, I stirred a little of the flavorless bamboo charcoal into the water before making the dough. Topped with sesame seeds, my plain old burger bun introduced a healthy dose of black and white into my technicolor lunch.

The restaurant version of this burger takes the theme a little further with black ketchup and black cheese, but I skipped that bit of business. Throw in some Halloween mac and cheese and a handful of DIY candy corn and our homemade Halloween lunch is served.

black buns 3

Black Hamburger Buns Recipe

3/4-1 C warm water

2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon yeast

1 1/2 teaspoons bamboo charcoal

3 cups flour

1 egg (+1 egg for wash)

3 tablespoons butter, melted

1 teaspoon salt

sesame seeds

Mix 3/4 water and sugar in a small bowl.

Add yeast to water.

Stir in bamboo charcoal.

Combine water blend with flour, 1 egg, butter and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and mix with dough hook until pliable dough forms (if dough doesn’t come together, add a little water until it does).

Place a ball of dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover and let rise in a warm place until about doubled in size (60-90 minutes).

Divide into 8 pieces and roll into balls.

Arrange on a greased baking sheet and flatten to a burger-sized diameter.

Let rise for 60 minutes until puffy and rounded.

Whisk together an egg with a teaspoon of water and brush buns with resulting egg wash.

Sprinkle buns with sesame seeds (about 1/2 teaspoon per bun).

Bake in a 375-degree oven for 15-18 minutes.

Transfer to wire rack to cool.



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7 Plants to Grow for Your Cats

7 plants to grow for your cats

A member of the mint family, catnip is a favorite with about 50% of the cat population.

In homes with cats, the survival of indoor greenery is often at risk as our feline friends delight in gnawing, scratching or pawing at houseplants. It may be a craving for fiber, an appealing scent or perhaps just boredom, but cats have a thing for plants. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Instead of seeing your favorite plants suffer the fate of the curious claw, try growing plants especially appealing to cats, with attractive aromas, chemical curiosities and all-around interest for a cat on the hunt for your houseplants.


This member of the mint family has earned its reputation as a favorite for cats. Although its intoxicating effects only affect about 50% of cats, those who love it are sure to let you know. Catnip is nontoxic, easy to grow and drives many cats to joyful frenzy. This one may be better grown out of paw’s reach and leaves harvested as an occasional treat.


Its clustered white flowers will attract pollinators to the yard and its root is sometimes employed as a calmative and sleep aid in humans, but this pungent plant is also a stimulant for cats and triggers a response similar to that of catnip. Although valerian is sometimes used in perfumes, some find the odor objectionable.

Cat Thyme

This slow-grower is another surprisingly feline stimulant and is often effective with cats for which catnip has no impact. Blooms in summer with strong-scented pink flowers.

Licorice Root

Cats love the taste of this familiar root, but it also happens to be very good for their health. An anti-inflammatory, licorice root can sooth an arthritic animal, promotes liver health and can help resolve digestive issues.

Cat Grass

Cat grass refers to any number of cat-friendly grasses, including wheat, oat and barley grasses. Although these grasses are not stimulants like catnip, cats are drawn to occasionally eat small amounts. Good for digestion, an aid in resolving hairballs and providing nutrients less common in pet foods, cat grass is a easy and attractive way to support kitty health.


A mild stimulant that offers the same benefits of some of the other cat-appropriate grasses, lemongrass is a favorite to have around for cats and humans alike. Easy to cultivate indoors or out.


Cats love the smell of mint and mint plants are easy and prolific growers, making it a popular choice when feline destruction is at hand. Cats are more likely to sniff and roll around in mint than eat it, but peppermint may cause an upset tummy in cats if eaten in large amounts

Originally: 7 Plants to Grow for Cats

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Cutting Edge Lawn Care

cutting edge

Artificial turf isn’t just for stadiums anymore. (Photo courtesy of ForeverLawn)

America has a love affair with lawns. Although in some drought-troubled areas, many have abandoned grass installations for natural yards better suited to the climate. Many of us aren’t quite ready to leave a lush green lawn behind, though, and homeowners are finding new ways to keep the yard looking fresh and vibrant without abusing water privileges or spending a fortune. Here are two lawn trends that keep the lawn looking good under difficult conditions and a service that makes maintaining a healthy lawn without breaking the bank as easy as a click of the mouse. The future of lawn care is looking mighty green.

Artificial Turf

Your neighbors will never notice the difference. Unless, of course, they were around when your fake grass was installed. Once as easy to spot as a bad toupee, artificial lawns have come a long way and made the move from sports arenas to residential landscapes. Existing sod is removed, a layer of fine gravel is graded and compacted and great rolls of glorious, green “grass” are installed like so much outdoor carpet. Although some object to this synthetic alternative to natural turf, it requires no watering or mowing, leaving your weekends free for recreational pursuits. As the price drops, the quality improves and water scarcity becomes an increasingly common concern, artificial lawns are moving in. Only your landscaper will know for sure.

Lawn Painting

If replacing your entire lawn with stadium-style turf isn’t the right play for you even when it has faded to an unsightly brown, it may be time to go green by the gallon. Applied as a spray, non-toxic “paint” (available from companies like industry pioneer Lawn Lift) quickly returns dying or dormant lawn to a healthy-looking green. Lawn painting is on the rise in California where water is at a premium and an application can boost curb appeal for houses on the market or even help avoid HOA fines when a brown lawn becomes the neighborhood eyesore. Shop carefully. Some less expensive products may leave a trail of green as kids head indoors after a day of play.

Order Lawn Service Online

If your lawn is healthy, but you’re looking for someone to take over the mowing duties, Lawn Mowing Online is connecting homeowners with on-call and on-demand mowers. Think of it as the Uber of lawn mowing with reasonably priced, next-day service and no contracts.

“How the service works is simple,” explains owner James Hassinger. “People sign up that want to mow lawns. When an order comes in (to mow a lawn), they show up, take before photos, mow the lawn, take after photos, then upload them for the customer to review. The customer sees the photos on the website and approves of payment. They can be professional lawn care companies or broke college kids, as long as they have the equipment to mow lawns that is what matters.”

Currently available in 15 cities around the country, LawnMowingOnline has been around since 2009 and its community-based service is a hit with customers and contractors alike.

Originally: Cutting Edge Lawn Care

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