An Open Letter to Facebook from a Lowly Blogger

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Dear Facebook,

I am just a lowly blogger, sharing my knowledge and creativity with the rest of the internet in hopes of making the world a better place. 

I don't have a staff. My editor is my cat. My blogging hours are weekends and weeknights 7 p.m.-2 a.m. My salary is the few dollars I get from advertising placement, enough to by a few extra Christmas presents a the end of the year. But that's not why I do this. My real salary is the reward of connecting and sharing with others-with the larger community I built around myself with similar interests and joys. I have had some pretty emotional moments, like inspiring a mother to make a container pond so her blind daughter could hear the sound of water on her deck. Or coaching a young lady around baking her first pasta casserole for her guests. These were real people that found me on my Facebook page and started a virtual relationship with me. Through my blog's Facebook page, I could reach further and get to know more people with similar interests. After all, wasn't that the whole point of having a Facebook page? I could really make an impact in other people's lives. That's the real reward of having an active blog that I work so hard on. Creating a rich and active community of sharing and connecting. Sadly, you continue to make it more and more difficult for content developers like me to do that. You are making the internet a less richer place-simple because you are focusing on the content developers that are RICHER, meaning they have money to spend.

Not so long ago, we bloggers worked hard on trying to build likes for our pages. Many people (and companies) even bought likes. Now, you are making it so page owners have to pay again just to talk to those same people-thanks to your crazy new algorithm. We have built communities around ourselves that you are now making virtually impossible to connect with unless we pay for it. I am not a large corporation. I don't have money spilling out of my pockets. But my content is pretty good, and I have been diligent with my writing since 2008. That should count for something. At least Google thinks so. At least Google ranks and honors the good content developers of the world, because they are looking at the greater good of information sharing on a global scale. You have become a social channel that's about the money. And frankly, it's not fair. And as for companies and bloggers urged to pay for likes? They probably feel taken to the cleaners right now. And these updates have completely changed the personal Facebook experience for many of us.

I want the old Facebook back, where it was a place to reconnect with old friends and discover new people, places and feeds that had cool content. It was not as much about brands and companies as it was about creating a community around your little cyber-self. I followed bloggers I adored, and yes-even small companies I discovered and loved. I commented and shared many of their posts. They showed up in my feed a lot more regularly. Now I don't see them at all. Now I see ridiculous promoted posts 5 times a week asking me to engage with a bottled water, a new beer or some ketchup. Where are the pages and people I CHOSE to engage with years ago? They must not have deep enough pockets to continue getting visibility to me.

My guess is you will continue to answer to your bean counters. After all, you are a publicly held company now. But don't be surprised when people begin using Facebook less and less. We don't want to be sold to all the time. We don't want companies forced on us. And we believe in the underdog, the little guys out there that are creating and sharing. We want to hear from them. We want to give them a chance to have their voices heard. It's why we "liked" many of them in the first place. 

My blogger-self wants to be able to connect with my followers that opted to do so-and not just 2% of them on any given post. I don't have money. But I do have a voice. So at least maybe 2% of my followers will see this and they will share it. Maybe, just maybe, you will listen and make some changes to help us little guys with good ideas and expertise to share. Maybe you can start ranking ideas and content as high as you rank media spend?

Thanks,

The Urban Domestic Diva

RECIPE: Coconut Cocoa Rice Crispy Treats

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Have you ever been sitting watching a marathon of your favorite show and suddenly get a hankering to make something delicious for a snack? If you stay up late enough, your body is going to want another meal for energy. Hubby and I really get into our shows and sometimes we are up pretty late binge watching Homeland, The Newsroom, Ripper Street or Downton Abbey. 

This was last night's concoction. I am still on my FMD diet so I could only eat a small nibble to taste it's post-worthy-ness. Hubby and child loved them-and they're gluten free!

We used a Costco brand of rice cereal called Cocoa Rice Crackles. You can use plain old Cocoa Crispies. And be sure to use some parchment paper so these just come right up without sticking to your pan.

Now we're all set for tonight's T.V. binge watching-Fargo. (Man, Billy Bob Thornton knows how to play crazy. Yikes.)

Coconut Cocoa Rice Crispy Treats

Ingredients
3 Tbsp. butter
6 cups cocoa rice crispy cereal
7-8 dove milk chocolates or chocolate eggs (about 2 oz. total)
1/3 cup shredded coconut 
8-10  oz. mini marshallows

Directions
Line a rimmed cookie sheet or 2 inch deep rectangular pan with parchment paper.

In a large stock pot, melt the butter and chocolate over medium low heat. Once melted, add the marshallows and stir until melted. Take pot off heat and mix in the cereal and coconut until all is well combined. Pour onto the parchment and press the mixture into the pan until evenly distributed and flattened. Let cool.

Once cool, cut into squares and keep in an airtight container using parchment in between layers to prevent sticking. Or you can wrap each square in plastic wrap so they are already to throw into lunch bags the next day.

CRAFTS: Video on how to make a DIY Ornament Topiary Tree for Any Festive Occasion

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I know...I know. I am late. Christmas is very much over, and I know we are all a little bit grateful for it. But I was planning on getting this up and if I don't do it now-it may be lost forever in my ipad camera roll.

And honestly, Valentine's day is around the corner-and you could make some super cute versions of these to celebrate the holiday of love! Use red, pink and white ornaments, wrap it with metallic heart garland or Valentine ribbon and voila! Eat your Dove chocolate hearts your partner (hopefully) gave you and enjoy the glam.

FMD Phase 2 RECIPE: Beef, Leek and Mushroom Soup, AMP'D UP

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Moving along on the Fast Metabolism Diet, and I have to admit one of the things that's pretty tough is the whole no oil/fat thing for phase 1 and 2. This recipe in the book looked like a winner for my family. It had all the flavors that even my picky daughter would enjoy. But I wanted to use the meat as a way to cook the vegetable base in the juices/fat from the meat-seeing as I couldn't use oil. I thought this would richen the flavor.

The recipe in the book had all the ingredients thrown in a slow cooker after browning the meat. I made this on a Sunday when I was making a ton of other meals for the diet, and my slow cooker was being taken up by oatmeal. So I needed to make this in a giant stock pot. It worked out great!

Below is the adapted recipe, and I would admit that cooking some of the vegetables in the meat juice made the soup extra delicious.

Beef, Leek and Mushroom Soup, AMP'D UP

Ingredients:
2 lbs. boneless, lean stew beef
4 cups organic vegetable broth
4 cups organic beef broth
3 cups chopped kale (ribs removed)
2 cups baby spinach, roughly torn up
2 cups sliced mushrooms
1 medium leek, white parts and some tender green, chopped up (around 1 cup or so)
1/4 cup red onion, chopped
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
1 Tbsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground pepper

Directions:




 In a large stock pot, brown the stew meat in batches over medium heat until no longer pink. Transfer browned meat to a plate and continue until all browned. To the brown bits and juices, add the onion and garlic, and splash of water. Cook until beginning to soften, splashing water if things are beginning to dry up and brown up too fast. Scrape the bottom as you cook the vegetables.

 
Next add the leeks and soften, scraping the bottom.


 Once the leeks are softened, add the broths slowly to deglaze the pan, scraping the bottom as you go. Add the mushrooms and bring the pan to a boil. Lower the heat, and add the greens, salt and pepper. Stir well, and cover, leaving the lid askew to let some of the steam out. Simmer, with the lid on in this manner, on medium-low heat for 2-3 hours. Stir occasionally. I freeze the soup in single servings as well as reserve a bigger serving for a family dinner mid week, when phase 2 hits. This recipe does not yield as much as the others. You may get a family dinner and one or two single servings.

Crafts: Tips and Tricks on an A+ Undersea Diorama, Sunlight Zone

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My daughter was OBSESSED with all things nautical all through elementary school. Now that she is a tweener, she is obsessed with all things digital. Oh how things go by so fast in parenting!

One of the things I felt she was making all the time for school were dioramas. So many, that we got very good at making them. This one was based on the sunlight zone of the ocean. To make a diorama similar to this, you will need to visit a craft store, print a few things off the web in color, and scrounge around your house.

Supplies:
A large cardboard box
Colored construction paper, crayons or markers, glitter, paint, scissors
Bilowy feathers
Pipecleaners, wavy ones preferable
A fish/ocean plastic animal TOOB
Brown paper bags
Tape, glue
Iridescent cellophane
fishing line
Sea sponges, usually used for painting affects on walls

The project:


First get some color printouts of the "sunlight zone" where you can see under water, a water line and a sky. Print these large to cover the backs of the box with glue. This sets up the scene, and gives you the water line. the sunlight zone is not so deep in the water, so your student needs to show the water line. The cellophane will help you specify this too, but put that cellophane in after you build out the sea floor. Also have your student use a sand color construction paper and draw and color what lives on the sea floor. Glue it on the bottom of the box.


To add dimension, cut a large rock formation in construction paper, and make a folded glue tab along the side and bottom, and set it somewhere a few inches from the back. Next add "coral or grasses" by clumping wavy pipecleaners and glue them sticking up. If your TOOB has some coral, glue them down here and there too, as well as and sea life that lives on the floor or on rocks.

Feathers are a great way to show sea grasses and corals, and they move and sway as if they were really underwater. Glue them into the sea sponge "coral", and whatever rock formations you have going on.


Sea sponges can look like coral beds if you paint them with watered down acrylic paint. Use them to build out coral beds, and there you can add pipecleaners or feathers on it to make a coral reef. Even add some bits of glitter glue, too for glimmer and interest.




Here is how we nestled coral in the back corner and added feathers around it.


To make a rock cave, take a brown paper bag and twist it up, then curve it in an arc. Glue the bottom ends to the bottom of the box, and ht it with some paint or glitter glue for dimension. Pop a fish in there as if it was swimming into the abyss.


Finally using fishing line and poking holes in the top of the box with a needle, hang the swimming fish around there home. Thread the line through the hole in the top, anchor it with a knot and secure it with some tape.


We cut wavy strips of iridescent cellophane to the length of the box. We added one mid way for dimension, gluing a folded tab on either side. We also taped a strip horizontally, matching the water line of the box. We secured it tightly on both ends and glued a plastic seal right on top of the "water".


Finally, we glued some plain construction paper along the outer sides to make the outer box look nicer. We then taped down a sandwich bag on top to hold the "book" that accompanied the project. We cut the top off so it was a simple pocket that the teacher can pull out to read.

Yes, We got an A+ of course! And yes, I did help, but my daughter had a lot of the ideas and we worked on it together, but I made sure she did most of the work and art. I just helped with tying knots and dealing with fishing line-a tough thing for a second grader.

FMD Progress and a Recipe: Phase 3 Coconut & Chocolate Pudding

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Hiya!
It's week number 2 on the Fast Metabolism Diet, and I have to say I have been pleasantly surprised by my progress on it. I'll know my total weight loss for the week tomorrow morning, but by yesterday morning I was at 7 lbs. lost! SO in my excitement, I treated myself to a phase 3 dessert out of the companion cookbook by Haylie Pomroy. I did make a few adaptations to the original recipe, which is why I am sharing it with you here. I am hoping I did not throw off whatever fat balance Haylie calculated into the original recipe! I added cocoa to the almond coconut pudding recipe, and added some extracts to kick up the coconut. Cocoa does have natural oils in it, which is why I cut down on the ground nuts a little to try and balance it out.

This is AMAZING. My hubby who has been complaining all month about all the dinner restrictions had this and kept saying "MMMM, YUM! It's like our famous New Year's fondue recipe but in pudding form! This is healthy?
So this is a keeper.

One final note on desserts. Most of the desserts after a meal need an extra day of exercise. You can also use it as a snack if you pair it with a phase appropriate vegetable. This can feel odd with a pudding, so I prefer to do an extra day of exercise. One other note, Haylie asks for very minimal exercise on this diet. But I still am having trouble carving out time to do it. I think if I was more diligent about exercise the weight would come off even faster. I bought a yoga app, a 7 minute workout app and a meditation app. I also put a free weight in the living room by the arm chair. I think I can fit in the exercise better for my final two weeks with these apps.

On to week 3!


Phase 3 Coconut & Chocolate Pudding

Ingredients:
2 cups unsweetened coconut milk
1 cup unsweetened coconut cream
2/3 cup plus 3 Tbsp. birch xylitol
1/4 cup small tapioca pearls
1/8 cup ground almonds, pecans or hazelnuts
1/3 cup plus 2 Tbsp. good quality ground cocoa
1/4 tsp. sea salt
3 large eggs, beaten
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. coconut extract

Directions:
In a large saucepan, whisk the coconut milk, coconut cream, xylitol, eggs, salt and tapioca until well combined. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly. Once things are well blended, add the ground nuts and cocoa. Continue to cook over medium heat, whisking the whole time, until things begin to thicken. Manage your heat carefully so you don't scald things. Cook until thick, about 8-10 minutes. Take off the heat and whisk in the vanilla and coconut extracts. Either serve warm in small bowls, or chill then serve.




FMD Progress & RECIPE: Phase 1 or 3 Slow Cooker Steel Cut Vanilla Oatmeal and an Apple Topping

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Steel Cut oatmeal is a delicious and nutrient rich breakfast food, and a must have for the Fast Metabolism diet-of which I have bravely taken on this month!

 The challenge with Steel Cut oatmeal is that it takes time. So enter the slow cooker! Make a giant batch during the day or while you sleep. 7-8 hours later you have breakfast to take you through quite a few phases. I cook it up, divide it up into individual servings, top some with some fresh fruit and keep some plain, label which phase the oatmeal is for and freeze.

A couple things to note, depending on the phase, you will need to switch out your "milk" ingredients. I am using quotes because it's NOT dairy I am talking about, but dairy replacement. Dairy is a NO-NO on this diet.

On the diet, phase one is about grains and phase 3 is minimal grains/carbs and more healthy fats with balanced other good things. So for phase 1 I recommend using unsweetened vanilla organic rice milk and for phase 3 I recommend using organic unsweetened vanilla almond milk.

One other thing, I am adding in this post an apple topping variation which I thought was for phase 3. After I made it and ate it, I went to log it into the FMD app. That's when I found out apples was a no-no for phase 3! (any of you FMDers out there, help we with this one? Apples I thought were good for diabetics because they are lower in sugar? Surprised they are a No for phase 3?) So I am giving you the apple topping I used but perhaps use it as a maintenance recipe once you are off the phases. Or you can sub in another fruit that's phase 3 approved.

How am I doing?
-Well I lost 4 pounds in week 1!
-The water amounts looked insurmountable but now that I am doing it, my body seems to be craving it-more than coffee.
-I went to a restaurant for my bookclub first night of phase 3 and try as I could to stay on the approved foods, the restaurant was limited with healthy foods. It set my body in a tailspin the next day. I did not feel well at all. It seems the clean eating really sets your body up for NOT liking anything you are not making yourself. So my advice is, no eating out until you take yourself off of the FMD with some maintenance. You just don't now how your meals are prepared in the kitchen of a restaurant. Is there dairy snuck in there? What oils are they using? What quality are their ingredients? I just know I wasn't feeling well all weekend because of some restaurant visits.
Overall, it's a tough diet but it seems to be working, so on to week 2!

Enough chit-chat. Here are the goods!

Phase 1 or 3 Slow Cooker Steel Cut Vanilla Oatmeal

Ingredients:
2 cups organic steel cut oats
8 cups water
2 cups rice milk (phase 1) OR almond milk (phase 3)
1/3 cup stevia or Birch xylitol (I prefer xylitol! I am so happy I discovered this stuff.)
1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

Directions:

Mix together in a slow cooker and cook on low for 7-8 hours. Divide among containers, top with fresh berries if you wish and an extra sprinkle of sweetener, label and freeze. Defrost then heat when ready to eat, add a little extra rice/almond (depending on phase) milk to make it creamy.

Maintenance phase Apple Oatmeal topping

Ingredients:
2 small Johnathan apples, cleaned, cored and diced (I keep the skin on for extra nutrients)
1/2 Tbsp. coconut or olive oil
dash of salt
3 Tbsp. Birch xylitol
dash of nutmeg
1/2 tsp almond extract
splash of vanilla extract
2 dashes of cinnamon
2 Tbsp. chopped almonds

Directions:






Cook over medium heat until apples are well softened and a syrup forms. Pour over your hot oatmeal and enjoy!



FMD progress: My Pumped Up Version of the Fast Metabolism Diet's Loaded "Egg White Muffins", Phase 2

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Hello and Happy New Year! My New Year's resolution is all about getting healthier. After doing some research and reading, I decided to try the 28 day Fast Metabolism Diet by Haylie Pomroy. It's medically sound, and many people have gotten off major medications and lost weight just by healing their metabolism on this diet. After watching her PBS special and reading her book, I was sold.

I am on week one, and I have to admit-it's not an easy diet to do because you have to do a lot of preplanning and cooking. You can buy products from the clinic, and that would make it much easier. But I am a foodie so I have been having some fun learning how to cook Haylie Pomroy's recipes with healthier ingredients and no oil, sugar, dairy or unhealthy fats (not easy!)

But after a couple of days of cooking and shopping, dividing and freezing and making a meal plan for the month I am on day 3 and cranking along!

Her recipes are really delicious, and some I played with to make even better. These egg white muffins from Haylie's newsletter seemed right up my alley for Phase 2 breakfasts. But I kicked things up a little and did some precooking of the ingredients before adding the egg whites so the flavors could really meld and come together.

The recipe makes 12. A serving is 3 muffins, and I divided up single servings in plastic bags and froze them. I grab one for work, and when I get there it's usually partially defrosted. I just throw them in the toaster oven at 325˚ for 15 minutes or so and there is a delicious breakfast for Phase 2! 

And if you're not on this diet, these are still a super healthy low carb breakfast option to have on hand during the week.

My Pumped Up Version of the Fast Metabolism Diet's Loaded "Egg White Muffins"- Phase 2

Ingredients:
2 oz. nitrite free turkey bacon, chopped
10 egg whites (the store bought liquid kind is fine)
1 medium zucchini, chopped
1 cup fresh baby spinach, chopped
1 Jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
1/4 cup red onion, chopped
1 1/2 cup chopped button mushrooms
1/4 tsp salt and pepper
1 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
Directions:


Preheat oven to 350˚. In a large saute pan over medium heat, cook the bacon until beginning to brown. Next add the garlic and onion and cook until beginning to soften and become translucent. Next add the Jalapeno and mushrooms, and cook until the mushrooms begin to release their juices. Next add the spinach and zucchini and cook. Add the seasonings and rest of the spices, and cook until zucchini are beginning to soften and the spinach are beginning to wilt. Take off the heat.





Divide the turkey and vegetable mixture among each of the muffin molds. Once all the filling is divided, pour the egg whites into each until they are about 1/4 inch from the rims.



Bake the muffins for about 20-25 minutes. The muffins will puff up and have a golden brown color on top. Use a spatula to pull them out and cool before freezing.

Special note, make sure you have non stick tins. These did stick a little in my tins, but my tins are old. You can't use oil in phase 1 & 2 so you can't spray the tins with non stick cooking spray. That's why I would recommend some good non stick tins or using silicon muffin pans.

RECIPE: Poached Chicken with Ginger and Mushroom Soup

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SO your New Year's resolution is on day 3? How are you doing? Hopefully you are staying on track!? I for one welcome the lighter eating after all the treats for the holidays.

Here is a recipe we tried from Bon Appetit to lighten up and stay on track. The dish was quite welcome at our home after all the holiday eating craziness. But come Monday we will be trying the Fast Metabolism Diet for 28 days. This recipe actually would work on phase 2, and if you add noodles it could work on phase 1.

It doesn't take too long to make and uses no oil, but a simple poaching technique. If you are missing noodles, you can add some rice or glass noodles toward the end of cooking time, but I would pre-boil them a little before throwing them in. Otherwise they absorb too much of the delicious broth that you are going to want to slurp up all on it's own.

Poached Chicken with Ginger and Mushroom Soup
adapted by Bon Appetit

Ingredients:

1 1/2 lb. boneless chicken breasts
3 tsp. "Better than Bouillon"- chicken flavor
6 cups water
3 bay leaves
5 allspice pods
1 tsp. salt
1 head of garlic, some of the skin removed and sliced in half horizontally in two
8 oz. shitake mushrooms, bottoms removed, caps cleaned and sliced
1 fresh red chili pepper, finely sliced
1 1/2" piece of ginger, peeled and minced
1 1/2 tsp. white vinegar
1 Tbsp. soy sauce
ground black pepper
minced cilantro and scallions for garnish

Directions:



In a large, deep fry pan that has a lid or large stock pot pour in the water and bouillon flavoring and combine. Heat on medium high flame, and add the sliced head of garlic, bay leaves, allspice and salt. Place the chicken breasts in the liquid and cover the pan. Poach the chicken, covered, for about 17-20 minutes. Time will depend on how thick your breasts are. You want the center to be just cooked through but not over done. So check the chicken breasts after 10 minutes at the center. Turn them over and cover if they are still to pink in the center.




Once cooked through, pull out the chicken and take the broth off the heat. Shred or slice the chicken and set aside. Pour the broth through a fine sieve into a bowl. Discard the material in the sieve. Pour the broth back in the pan. Add the mushrooms, ginger, chili, white vinegar, soy sauce and ground pepper. Simmer on medium high heat for about 10-15 minutes. Adjust seasoning and add the shredded chicken. Simmer until the meat is just heated through.

Pour the broth in bowls and garnish the top with cilantro and scallions. Enjoy with some whole grain bread or brown rice with a drizzle of soy sauce.

RECIPE: Shrimp with a champagne, shallot herb butter sauce over lemon risotto

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Do you have left over champagne still from New Year's Eve, but feel bad throwing it away. There are a lot of things you can do with left over champagne, and quite a few posts online that can give you some ideas-like champagne vinegar! But we made something more delicious. It's somewhat light, and you can use scallops or sea bass atop the risotto if you don't like shrimp.
Are you asking, who ever has left over champagne?
We do. We prefer Prosecco, but sometimes events dictate champagne. So when we have it, we don't really finish it.

Shrimp with a champagne, shallot herb butter sauce over lemon risotto
Sure. You could drink the rest of that left over Champagne but wouldn't it make a delicious follow up dinner to your new years eve party or any other celebration. This is a delicious and elegant way to use your leftover Champagne and is pretty easy to make.

Ingredients
Sauce 
2-3 cups Champagne or Prosecco
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar or sherry vinegar
1 sprig of tarragon (about 4" in length)
1/2 cup finely chopped shallots
1 clove of garlic cut in half
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper

Shrimp
1 cup Champagne 
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons chopped shallots
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
28-30 extra-large uncooked shrimp (8-12 count, approx 4-5 shrimp per person), peeled with tail left intact, deveined
2 tablespoon minced fresh chives
2 tablespoon minced fresh tarragon
2 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, sliced

Directions
For sauce:
Combine Champagne, vinegar, tarragon, shallots, and peppercorns in medium saucepan. Boil until reduced to 1/4 cup liquid, about 20-30 minutes. Turn off heat and set aside.
For shrimp:
Chop chives, tarragon, and parsley and mix herbs in small bowl. Combine Champagne, olive oil, shallots, ground pepper and 1/2 of the three herbs in resealable plastic bag. Add shrimp to the bag and seal; shake bag to coat shrimp. Marinate shrimp at room temperature at least 1 - 1 1/2 hours, turning bag occasionally. 
(Start Risotto, see recipe below)
Preheat broiler. Spray broiler pan with nonstick vegetable oil spray. Remove shrimp from marinade and arrange them on broiler pan in single layer. Broil shrimp until just opaque in center, about 2 minutes per side. 
Rewarm Champagne sauce over medium-low heat. Whisk in butter 2 pieces at a time, allowing pieces to melt before adding next (do not boil or sauce will separate). Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper.
(Plate risotto and shrimp)
Place about a cup of lemon risotto in the middle of a plate. Stand 4-5 shrimp, tails upright, in center of each plate over risotto. Spoon a small amount of warm sauce on each shrimp and then more around the risotto. Sprinkle with fresh herbs and grated parmesan. Add an optional side of asparagus or haricot verts (small green beans).

Lemon Risotto
Ingredients
5 cups chicken base or chicken stock
1 cup vegetable base
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large shallots, chopped
1/3 cup red onion, minced
2 clove garlic, minced
2 cups arborio rice 
1/2 cup Champagne, Prosecco or dry white wine
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (about 3 ounces) + 1/2 cup for garnish
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
4 teaspoons grated lemon peel

Preparation
Simmer stock/base in medium saucepan over low heat. Melt butter with oil in heavy large saucepan over medium/high heat. Add shallots and sauté until tender, about 6 minutes. Add rice and stir 1-2 minutes. Add wine and stir until evaporated, about 30 seconds. Add 1-2 cups hot broth; simmer until absorbed, stirring frequently. Add broth 1/2 cup at a time, allowing broth to be absorbed before adding more and stirring frequently until rice is soft and creamy, about 35 minutes. Stir in cheese, parsley, lemon juice, and lemon peel. Season with salt and pepper to taste. 

ENTERTAINING: New Year's Eve Fondue Night, with oysters and crab legs (menu, recipes and how-to's)

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We started having a fondue night for New Year's Eve after our daughter was born. When you have a small child, you don't really want to go gallivanting around the city to giant New Year's Eve parties, getting tipsy and coming home at 2 a.m. just to be woken up by your bundle of joy a few hours later. It just wasn't in the cards for us any more. But after our daughter turned 2, we wanted her to take part in the fun night. So we had the idea of trying out some fondue courses accompanied by King crab legs. It was easy as well as fun finger food that she could get into-literally.

I mean, what's not fun about lancing and dipping pieces of pound cake in a giant vat of melted chocolate? Right?

She loved it. So did we. So began our tradition. Now she is 12 and we wouldn't have it any other way. Through the years we have perfected our fondue recipes and decided to share them with you here. Also, we have opened up our evening to friends and family that don't have the heart or energy to be at giant parties anymore either. So to kick up the entertaining level of play, we have added oysters, vegetarian entrees and cocktails to the night.

I mentioned this tradition to a few young moms and they were all over it. They were drawing a blank on what to do for New Years Eve with young kids. I hope they went ahead and tried it. I hope you do too. 

I am going to give you the menu, recipes and even a how to video to help you out as well as some simple decorating ideas. And don't save this for just New Year's Eve, this could be fun for Valentine's Day or any special night.

OUR MENU:

NOSH-
Various cheese, crackers and nuts

Pomegranate Grapefruit Gin Fizz cocktails

Chilled Prosecco

Blue Point Oysters with lemon wedges and cocktail sauce

1st COURSE-
"Our Urban Kitchen" Cheese Fondue with vegetable tray and sourdough bread cubes

2nd COURSE-
King Crab Legs with drawn butter and minced chives

Vegetarian Potstickers with sweet and spicy drizzle sauce

DESSERTS-
Dark Chocolate & Coconut Fondue with strawberries, cubed pineapple and cubed pound cake (and Oreos on some years!)

Christmas cookie plate  


THE DECOR:

Centerpiece:
Use gold and silver Christmas ornaments in various sized vases and apothecary jars. Place on a gold trimmed runner or napkin. Add some glitter confetti around the centerpiece. Cut out the last number of the new year, such as "5" for 2015 out of black paper. Place the 5s in the jars with the ornaments. Mingle various sized candle sticks around the jars and voila! A shimmery centerpiece.




Ceiling:
Out of black, gold and white paper, make white pinwheels or tissue pom poms. Hold them and hang them off of your chandelier or ceiling with gold string or ribbon above the dinner table to create a festive look to the room. For a how-to on pom poms, read my Easter post here. For pom poms shown here, go here. 

 


Table Setting:
If you are serving crab legs, place a few large bowls for shells around the table. Place crackers at every setting and a small cloth napkin to help hold the legs in guests' hands while they crack the shells. They will still need a normal napkin, too, so don't forget those! Place your fondue forks in a pretty vase where guests can reach, as well as have your fondue pots ready and in a central place in the table.

RECIPES AND HOW-TO's:


NOSH-

Various cheese, crackers and nuts




Pomegranate Grapefruit Gin Fizz cocktails





Chilled Prosecco

Blue Point Oysters with lemon wedges and cocktail sauce





1st COURSE-


"Our Urban Kitchen" Cheese Fondue with vegetable tray and sourdough bread cubes







Ingredients:
Various chopped vegetables for dipping, like broccoli and cauliflower spears, tomatoes, mushrooms, peppers, asparagus spears, carrot sticks, etc. Blanche the broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms and asparagus for 5 minutes in hot water and drain, then cool. Place the vegetables in a veggie tray for serving. Cover until ready to serve.

Cubed artisan bread such as sourdough. (You need a hearty crumb to the bread so that the bread stays on the forks when being dipped. Keep that in mind.)

Cheese Sauce
2 tsp. corn starch
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 cup dry sherry
1 medium shallot, chopped
1 1/2 cups shredded Asiago cheese
1 cup White Cheddar cheese, shredded
1 cup Manchengo cheese, shredded
1/2 -3/4 cup rindless, cubed Brie
1 cup milk
pinch of nutmeg (optional)
pinch of ground white pepper
1/4 cup flour (add only if the cheese is too runny)

Directions:



Stir cornstarch and lemon juice in a small bowl until the cornstarch is dissolved. Set aside. 


Combine sherry and shallots in a medium sauce pan, simmer over medium heat for 2 minutes. 

 

Add all the cheeses and stir to combine. Heat gently over low heat until cheese is beginning to melt. Stir in the cornstarch mixture, and combine well. The cheese sauce will begin to thicken. 

 

Take off the heat and transfer the sauce to a fondue pot. Set the pot heat to a medium low flame or setting. Add the nutmeg and pepper, and mix. Serve hot with all the vegetables and bread for dipping.

(if the cheese sauce is too runny, add the 1/4 cup of flour before transferring it over.)

2nd COURSE-
King Crab Legs with drawn butter and minced chives


Ingredients:

Alaskan King Crab Legs
About 3 sticks of butter (enough for 5-6 people)
1/8 cup finely chopped chives

Directions:


 Make the drawn butter a few hours ahead of time. Melt the butter in a small sauce pan. Once melted, begin skimming the top with a small spoon. You are taking the foam off the top and discarding it in small bowl. Keep doing this while simmering over low heat, until there is no more white foam on the top. Take the pan off the heat, and pour the melted butter into a bowl, but be careful to leave the milk solids on the bottom of the pan in the pan. If it travels with it, remove it. All you want to pour out is what we call "the liquid gold".



Now in a fresh pan, pour in that liquid gold and add the chives. When ready to serve the crab legs, heat the drawn butter gently and pour the drawn butter in small ramekins for each guest. They can dip their crab meat in the butter for a happy happy dinner.

Now the crab legs. The best prices and quality we have found for such a decadent and expensive treat is CostCo. If any of you have other advice for my readers as to where to get affordable crab legs please share. We only do this once a year, and believe me, I understand it still is an expensive endeavor!

Preheat oven to 350˚. Place the crab legs on a foil lined baking sheet. Bake them for about 15-20 minutes. They steam within their shells in the oven. Take them out and let them sit for a few minutes until you can serve them where guests can handle them with their hands without burning themselves. Eat up! 


DESSERTS-
A plate of Christmas cookies

Dark Chocolate and Coconut Fondue with strawberries, cubed pineapple and cubed pound cake (and Oreos on some years!)



Ingredients:

Cubed pound cake (store bought is fine)
Chopped pineapple
Halved and whole strawberries
(Other ideas? Biscotti, Oreos, bite sized brownies, kiwis, Mandarin oranges, bananas, pretzels)
1 15 oz. can sweetened cream of coconut
12 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/4 cup whipping cream
1/4 tsp. coconut extract

Directions:
In a large saucepan, combine the cream of coconut with the chocolate. Over medium low heat, stir and combine until everything is melted and smooth. Add the whipping cream and coconut extract, and combine well. Transfer to a fondue pot and keep on a medium low flame or setting.  Serve with all yummy things you can dip in, including your fingers when no one is looking. {kidding, I'm kidding...}

You can prepare the fondue 8 hours prior. Just cover and store at room temp until ready. Stir over low heat until warm and smooth, then serve in the fondue pot.
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