Make a healthy snack station

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Help family members make better snacking decisions by creating a Healthy Snack Station. Our snack station, pictured above, is made using a layered fruit basket with canning jars filled with various healthy snacks. My family knows exactly where to go for a quick, healthy and delicious treat. I store items such as nuts, cocoa nibs, coconut flake and dried fruit in these resealable jars for quick access and that even little hands can easily grab.

Some items to munch on include.. but let your imagination run wild:
* Cocoa nibs
* Coconut Flake
* Pretzels
* Granola
* nuts
* Seeds such as pumpkin and sunflower
* Dried Fruit
* Hemp Seed and Protein Powder
* Chia Seed

Bouquet garni

STORY

Make these simple, fragrant and game changing bundles to add to soups, stews and sauces. Bouquet garni or “garnished bundle” as it translates from French to English are bundles or packages of herbs tied together or rolled into a ball and tucked into cheesecloth or even a tea strainer. Bouquet garni is added to broths, stews and liquids to add deep flavor and is removed prior to serving the dish. While there is no one recipe for a bouquet garni most French recipes use thyme, bay leaf, parsley, and often times have the addition of basil, chervil, rosemary and tarragon depending on the protein or liquid it is flavoring.

Pictured here I am making simple bundles of herbs using thyme, rosemary and parsley and a few Italian versions by adding oregano. I make several bouquets at a time, pop a couple into the refrigerator to use for the week and then freeze several to use later in the season. This works especially well during late fall when we have an abundance of herbs that need to be harvested before the deep freeze of winter arrives. These make wonderful hostess gifts too.

Ingredients

* Several bundles of your favorites herbs, rinsed and dried
* Twine,
* Sharp scissors
* Cheese cloth, optional

1. Rinse and dry the herbs well.
2. Separate each herb into piles according to the flavor profile you desire. Use 4-5 sprigs of each herb and group the different herbs together.
3. Cut a piece of string long enough to wrap around the bundle a few times.
4. Wrap the herbs tight enough so they stay in tact during cooking and simmering but not so tight as to rip the delicate sprigs and then tie a knot and snip the ends of the twine off. Be sure to keep about an inch on each side so you can easily grab the bouquet when you are ready to remove it.
5. When the dish is finished cooking or simmering, remove the Bouquet garni with a spoon and wring out any remaining liquid back into the dish.

Here are some flavor combinations to try. The combinations are endless.

* Classic French: thyme, bay leaf and parsley

* Italian: oregano, rosemary, thyme, basil

* Chicken: tarragon, thyme and basil

* Beef: rosemary, thyme, parsley, bay leaf

* Fish: tarragon, lemon balm, thyme

Forcing Blooms on Branches to Bring Indoors

STORY

BRING A LITTLE SPRING INTO YOUR HOME

Springtime blooms cheer up the last, seemingly endless days of winter. Follow these few easy steps to have gorgeous blossoms in no time. These pretty stems make a beautiful dinner party centerpiece and make a lovely hostess gift too.

HOW TO PRUNE BRANCHES

All you need is a pair of clean, sharp pruners (and a spring-flowering tree or shrub!)
Choose a day when the temperature is above freezing. The milder temperatures help ease the transition the plants must make from outdoors to indoors.
Select branches that are not essential to the form of your shrub or tree, in a crowded section, and towards the back of the plant.
Prune a 1 to 2 foot-long length of branch. Choose a branch with lots of buds, preferably with very small buds that are beginning to open. (The flower buds are generally fatter and more rounded than leaf buds.)
Remember proper pruning! Cut branches on the diagonal. Steeply-angled cuts ensure water uptake.
It helps to “bruise” the cut ends: Crush the stem ends with a small hammer; they’ll soak up the water faster.

HOW TO FORCE BRANCHES
Once you’re inside, set the branches in a vase or vessel of room temperature overnight. Cut slits from the cut up the branch for several inches to promote water uptake. (Make sure the vase won’t tip with the heavy branches.)
Keep vase in a bright room away from heaters and direct sun. The brighter the room, the better the quality of bloom.
Recut the ends using a slanting cut the next day.
Change the water every few days so the branches don’t rot from build-up of bacteria forming. Mist flowers.
Flowers should appear in a few weeks. Once blooms appear, display in a warm area and enjoy!
Note: If it does not work the first time you try a plant, cut branches a few weeks later and try again.
Misted flowers and catkins can last for up to a week in a cool, 60 degree room. Branches with leaves may last longer.

BEST TREES AND SHRUBS FOR FORCING INDOORS
Tree or Shrub Time to Bloom
Buckeye 5 weeks
Cherry 4 weeks
Cornelian dogwood 2 weeks
Crab apple 4 weeks
Deutzia 3 weeks
Flowering almond 3 weeks
Flowering dogwood 5 weeks
Flowering quince 4 weeks
Forsythia 1 week
Honeysuckle 3 weeks
Horse chestnut 5 weeks
Lilac 4 weeks
Magnolia 3 weeks
Pussy willow 2 weeks
Red maple 2 weeks
Redbud 2 weeks
Red-twig dogwood 5 weeks
Spicebush 2 weeks
Spirea 4 weeks
Wisteria 3 weeks

Homemade Mulling Spice

YIELDS | 8 SERVINGS

PREP TIME | 5 MINS

COOK TIME | 0 MINS

Recipe Image

The types of spices used in mulling spice mixtures varies but it usually consists of some combination of allspice, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and occasionally cardamom and peppercorns. I like to add dried Clementine peel. Steep this herbaceous, warm blend in wine and cider. The longer you steep the stronger the flavors. Expecting a crowd? Pour a gallon of wine or cider into a crockpot and add 3 tablespoons of the spice blend and heat on low. Bonus, your home will smell amazing too. A jar of this blend would make a wonderful hostess or holiday gift too!

INGREDIENTS

* ⅓  cup cardamom pods
* ¼ cup allspice berries
* ¼ cup whole cloves
* ¼  cup star anise pods
* ⅓ cup dried orange or clementine peel
* ¼ cup black peppercorns, optional

INSTRUCTIONS

1. Place cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods, allspice berries, cloves and star anise in large zip top bag.
2. Crush with rolling pin a few times to break larger spices and release the oils.
3. Add dried orange or clemintine peel and peppercorns to the bag and toss to mix well. Store until ready to use
4. Use 3 tablespoons of spice mix per gallon of apple cider or wine. Steep over simmering heat for 20-30 minutes, strain and enjoy.

NOTES

If making a small batch; mix 1 tablespoon blend with one bottle wine and simmer for a few minutes.

Winter Spiced Martini

YIELDS | 2 SERVINGS

PREP TIME | 5 MINS

COOK TIME | 30 MINS

Recipe Image

This is a warm and soothing cocktail spiked with loads of cinnamon, cloves, allspice and garnished with crystallized ginger. It will warm you up quickly on a cold day and tastes wonderful as a non alcoholic spritzer too. The spiced simple syrup is easy to make and great to have on hand for your next holiday gathering. Make a few batches and put into pretty bottles to give as a gifts.

INGREDIENTS

Winter Spiced Simple Syrup (makes approximately 1 1/2 cups)

* 1 cup sugar
* 1 cup water
* 3 cinnamon sticks
* 2 cloves
* 2 allspice berries
* 1 Star Anise
* 1 strip clementine zest

Winter Spiced Martini or Bourbon

* 2 oz Winter spiced simple syrup
* 4 oz vodka or bourbon
* 1 tablespoon lemon juice
* Crystallized ginger and or cinnamon stick for garnish

INSTRUCTIONS

For the simple syrup
Bring all ingredients to a boil in a small sauce pan over medium heat. Reduce to a simmer, stirring occasionally until sugar has dissolved, about 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat, cover and allow to cool completely, about 30-45 minutes.
Strain into a jar with a tight fitting lid such as a canning jar and store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks or freeze into cubes to use later.

For the Martini
Fill a cocktail shaker with ice.
Add all the ingredients to the shaker and shake well, strain into pretty glasses and garnish with crystallized ginger and or cinnamon stick.

NOTES

Herbed Salt

YIELDS | 32 SERVINGS

PREP TIME | 5 MINS

COOK TIME | 0 MINS

Recipe Image

I love to put the herbed salt into pretty jars to give as hostess gifts. One of my favorite combinations is lemon, thyme and rosemary salt.  It’s fantastic on just about everything! These herbed salt jars are easy to make and gorgeous too. I guarantee your recipient will love this thoughtful gift and think of you as they make your next culinary masterpiece. Use your imagination to put together different taste combinations. Choose hearty herbs like rosemary, thyme and sage as tender herbs like cilantro and dill do not work as well.

Easy Rosemary and Lemon Thyme Salt:

INGREDIENTS

• 1/2 coarse sea or kosher salt
• 1/4 cup fresh rosemary, stems removed
• 1/4 cup fresh lemon thyme

INSTRUCTIONS

1. Place rosemary and lemon thyme in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until rosemary and thyme have a fine consistency.
2. Add 1/2 cup sea salt and pulse to combine.
3. Pour salt mixture into a shallow bowl and let air dry until the herbs are dry, several hours to a day or two.
4. Transfer herbed salt to a glass jar with screw on lid. If giving as a gift, tie a pretty piece of ribbon or raffia cord into a bow.

NOTES

Happy Eating!