Kristina’s Hot Chocolate

I adore hot chocolate. Seriously. I’m not big on coffee, and I’m really particular about teas (and actually prefer them iced – I know, I’m a Philistine!) so when I go for a hot beverage more often than not it’s hot chocolate. Which I’m also particular about because there is a difference between hot cocoa (which is fine, but not my favorite) and hot chocolate (which, when made correctly, is divine). Since we’re into the cold months, I thought I’d share my grandmother’s hot chocolate recipe. Here we go!
The ingredients:

  • 1-2 tbsp sugar – this is completely optional and is actually an estimate…I actually just use a couple of healthy pinches
  • 2 cups whole milk – 2% milk will work but do not, no matter what you think, go to 1% or skim…I’m begging you
  • 4 oz/1 cup dark chocolate chopped (I use my Ninja Food Prep so the bits are super fine, it makes for a smoother overall drink)
  • splash of vanilla extract
  • whipped cream 
  • peppermint stick, candy cane, or puffed peppermints if you’d like a hint of mint

The directions:
First things first, the chocolate needs to be melted so pop it into a microwave safe bowl and blast it in 45 second increments, stirring between each blast, in a microwave until it’s nicely melted. While you’re melting the chocolate, it’s safe to start on the milk. Using a sauce pan over medium heat, warm the vanilla and milk until it’s at the scalding phase – you’ll know it’s at the right heat when it’s 180 degrees…or, if you don’t have a handy thermometer, when there are bubbles around the edge but it isn’t boiling. If you make a mistake and the milk boils, my suggestion is to start over because that will give the drink a grainy texture. Turn the burner to the low setting and begin to add in the melted chocolate, stirring as you do. Once the chocolate and milk are well blended, pour into mugs, top with a bit of whipped cream (the kind from the can, not Cool Whip) and add in the peppermint if you’re in a mint-chocolate mood). Serve.

A couple of notes: This makes about four servings, depending on the size of your mugs, which probably means leftovers. Yay! And, yes, you can keep this for a bit by storing whatever is left in a covered dish/mug in your fridge for up to three days. Reheat over the stove as reheating in the microwave can lead to uneven temperatures and a drink that isn’t as smooth as the original. Also: I do mean use dark chocolate (some call it bittersweet), this recipe won’t be the same (it will still be fine, but not as good in my opinion) if you use either semi-sweet or milk chocolate…if you do use either of those definitely nix the added sugar, as it won’t be needed. I keep chocolate chips on-hand in my house, Nestle’s Dark are my favorite for this recipe. 

There you have it – the perfect (in my opinion) hot chocolate! Do you have a favorite cold weather hot beverage? Feel free to share!

December Goals + Holiday Cookie Recipe ~ @AuthorKristina Knight

The calendar has rolled around again – and it’s time for a goals check-in! Here we go.

In November, my personal goals were to track meals and workouts Monday-Friday, to continue using time-blocking techniques in my daily schedule. These two goals both get a tic beside them because I succeeded in meal-tracking and time-blocking in November – and I’ve felt so good!

Work goals: finish and format the novella that is coming out in March: the novella is finished (tic!) but I need to tweak a little bit on the formatting, along with making a couple of more editing changes before it’s 100% finalized (partial-tic). All in all, I’m happy with my progress, which will make December goal-setting a bit simpler.

For December, my goals will be a little different because the holiday season means a lot more activities than usual, which will mean I need a bit more focus on the work/writing front. Here we go:

  • Set a daily writing goal on Sunday of each week (Sunday is my planning day); my minimum writing goal will be 1,000 words.
  • Finalize a partial/synopsis for my agent.
  • Finalize the novella edits and formatting in preparation for the March release (I just saw the cover and I canNOT wait to share with you guys!).

That’s it. It sounds like December will be a simple month, but with holiday parties and family trips and last-minute baking and shopping, Speaking of holiday parties and baking, I’ve got a fun recipe to share with you guys today! It’s my mom’s sugar cookie recipe, along with my sugar cookie icing recipe. We always take a couple of Saturdays in late November/early December to bake and ice and then we freeze the resulting cookies so that starting on December 23, we just have to grab a tin of cookies from the freezer when we’re ready to munch. Here we go with the recipe!
Cookie Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups butter (the real stuff, don’t use butter substitute, the cookies won’t taste right)
2 cups granulated sugar

Kristina’s Christmas Sugar Cookies!

4 eggs (medium sized works great!)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (the good stuff, from Mexico, not the generic stuff off the grocery shelf!)
5 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
Cookie Baking Directions: 
Put the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl and cream them together until smooth; beat in the eggs and vanilla, again until smooth. Next, add in the flour, baking powder, and salt. Now cover the bowl and put it in the fridge, you’re going to chill this mixture overnight. The next morning (or afternoon), preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Roll out your dough (finally! something to use that rolling pin Aunt Betty gave you at your wedding!) to about a half-inch thick. Use whatever cookie cutter shapes you like (we’re fans of stars, trees and balls because reindeer legs have a tendency to get too thin and burn…but you do you!). Cut out the shapes and place the cookies 1 inch apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Back about 7 minutes and then let them cool completely. Ice the cookies (don’t worry, the icing recipe is below)!
The most important piece of a sugar cookie (in my opinion) is the icing. Some are fans of buttercream, but I like a lighter icing. One that adds sweet, and maybe has the hint of a crunch, but that stays soft in the middle…that is exactly what this icing recipe does!
Icing Ingredients:
3 teaspoons milk (I like 2%, but whole would also work well)
2 teaspoons KARO syrup (the white kind, not the dark)
1 cup of powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla (the good stuff, from Mexico, don’t just use that generic stuff off the Piggly Wiggly shelf)
Food coloring (I like gel coloring because the colors are more vibrant)
Any sprinkles or other edible decorations you want
Icing directions: 
Put the powdered sugar into a mixing bowl, add the milk, KARO syrup and vanilla and cream all of that together. You want the icing to be almost firm, not drippy, but it needs to spread easily. I always test it with a simple kitchen spoon — if I can hold a spoonful upside down without it dropping right off, the consistency is right. Once the icing is the firmness you want, divide into different bowls and add the colors of food coloring you want, mix and you’re ready to ice the cookies!

I’m going to need a lot of focus. How about you? What are you planning and goal-setting for December?

Fall Favorite: Wisconsin Cheese Soup

Kristina’s Wisconsin Cheese Soup

It’s still slightly green here on the NorthCoast, but fall definitely blew in over the weekend. It was blustery and grey and cloudy and there were little flakes of…not really snow, but also not rain. I don’t have a good word for it. What I do have? A favorite fall recipe that I’m so glad I dug out for the weekend. Knowing it would be blustery and cold, I knew it was going to be a soup kind of a weekend. So I headed to my trusty recipe binder and pulled out a favorite: Wisconsin Cheese Soup. 

This is the perfect soup for a chilly day. It’s warm, it’s filling, it’s got all these tastes. It just makes you feel warm and cozy from the inside out. Here’s my recipe: 

Ingredients
  • 1/4 cup butter or margarine
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2-1/2 cups milk
  • 1 cup beer or water
  • 2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1-1/2 tsp. dry mustard
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 2 cups (8 oz.) Sargento® Shredded Sharp Cheddar Cheese – Traditional Cut
  • Garlic or herbed croutons (optional)
Directions: 

Melt the butter in large saucepan over medium heat. Stir in flour and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. From here, you have two choices: continue on the cooktop or transfer to the crockpot. Cooktop Method: Stir in milk, beer, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, salt and pepper. Continue heating to a boil, stirring frequently. Reduce heat; simmer 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in cheese until

Yum – perfect for a blustery, fall day!

melted. Ladle soup into bowls. If desired, serve with croutons or oyster crackers. The cooktop method takes about 30-45 minutes. The Crockpot Method: Once the flour and butter are cooked/combined, transfer them to the crockpot and turn it on low. Stir in milk and beer, keep stirring for maybe 2-3 minutes, just until the flour and butter are combined. This is what thickens the soup, after all. Next, add in the Worcestershire sauce, mustard, salt and pepper. Give it a final stir and then cook for 4 hours. Serve with croutons or oyster crackers. 

These methods taste the same; the difference is that I can do crockpot method in about five minutes and go on about my day, letting the crockpot do the heavy lifting. That’s a win my Kristina’s book! However you choose to do this recipe, I hope you enjoy!

#FoodFriday: Vegetarian Enchilada Orzo

Kristina’s Vegetarian Enchilada Orzo

Last week was my annual writer’s retreat in Michigan – writing and brainstorming and laughing and eating and having a ball. I miss them already! And I miss the food. I made something new-is to me this year because we have a couple of vegan/vegetarian eaters in our group. And I can sometimes be persuaded to put away the chicken or beef. Not to worry, if you need chicken and beef in your life, I’ll tell you what to add at the end of this post. In the meantime, this recipe turned out so good – you could do it as a main dish (as we did) or even as a dip on those chilly football weekends coming up this fall. 

Without further ado, Vegetarian Enchilada OrzoThe ingredients:
• 1 (14.5-ounce) can fire roasted diced tomatoes
• 1 (10-ounce) mild enchilada sauce
• 1 (4.5-ounce) can chopped green chilies, drained (Note: for both the tomatoes and green chiles, feel free to dice them yourself from the produce aisle…or if you’re cooking on the road like I was over the weekend, use the canned version)
• 1 can vegetable broth, as needed
• 1 cup corn kernels, frozen (if you use canned, the taste will be the same just make sure you drain them)
• 1 cup canned black beans, drained and rinsed
• 1/2 can Vegan refried beans
• Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
• 1 Tablespoon chili powder (optional)
• 1 Tablespoon ground cumin (optional)
• 4 ounces cream cheese, cubed
• 8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
• 2 cups uncooked orzo pasta
Directions: 
If you have all day set your crockpot to low and cook for 8 hours, but if you only have the morning, set the crockpot to high and cook for 4 hours. In the crockpot, combine the corn, black and refried beans, chiles, tomatoes, enchilada sauce, and spices. Stir and then add in the cream cheese and half the can of vegetable broth. Stir once more and then put the lid on and let the crockpot do it’s thing. About once each hour, stir again, making sure the cream cheese is melting and combining with the other ingredients. After 4 (or eight, if you have all day) give the ingredients one more stir and then add in the orzo pasta and cook for another 20-30 minutes. Once the pasta is ready, grab some bowls and serve, sprinkling the cheddar over the top to your taste.
*Recipe Notes: Total cook time is 4:30 and this recipe serves 6 people. You can substitute quinoa for the orzo if you like; for me that adds too much of a nutty flavor but I’ve heard from several people that it’s really good that way. Also, if green chiles are too spicy for you, simply leave them out or halve that part of the recipe. If you want to add meat, I suggest about 6 ounces of grilled chicken or steak, already cooked, and then either cubed or shredded and added to the mix. 

#FoodFriday: Grilling up Salsa

Photo by Nik MacMillan on Unsplash

One of our favorite things to do in the summer is grill. Heck, one of our favorite things to do year-round (hence the grill not only in the backyard but also in the garage) is grill. Burgers, chicken, brats, steaks, kabobs. You name the meat and we’ve probably grilled it. The last time we were in the Caribbean (Jamaica) part of our stop was a beach day with a barbecue – and they included a pineapple grilled salsa as part of the condiments for the burgers. OMG, y’all, it was the best.thing.ever. This weekend, we’re recreating that and I can’t wait. If you’re looking for something a little new to go with the same-old Labor Day barbecue try this recipe, I think you’ll like it! 

Pineapple Salsa Recipe
Ingredients

Directions
Heat your grill to medium heat. Once prepped, spray your sheet of tin foil with cooking spray. Side note: you can grill the pineapple directly on the grill grate but I have a tendency to lose the pineapple *in* the grill when I do that. The tin foil keeps the pineapple from falling through and it doesn’t change the taste. If you’re a better griller than me, feel free to skip the tin foil and simply spray the grill grate with cooking spray and put the pineapple directly on it. You’ll cook the pineapple for about 7 minutes; you know it’s ready when it’s lightly brown and caramelized. Remove it from the grill and allow to cool. Use your food processor to chop and dice the sweet online, jalapeño, bell pepper, and garlic. I love my Ninja Master Prep for this step, makes it so simple! Combine all these ingredients, along with the cooled pineapple, lime juice, sugar, salt, and pepper in a serving bowl. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour; this will allow the flavors to blend. 

Top your burgers or chicken with this salsa or, heck, eat it right out of the bowl with some tortilla chips – you’re choice! Enjoy!

Do you have a favorite holiday grill recipe? Share in the comments!