The Perfect Gift for the Foodie on Your List

Do you have a “foodie” in your life?

Trust me … you have all kinds of “foodies” in your life.

Whether it’s the gadget-loving chef or the tailgate-grazing sports fan or the I-don’t-turn-on-a-stove-but-I’ll-eat-anything-you-put-in-front-of-me consumer, everyone is a “foodie” at some level.

The beauty of this? It makes choosing a perfect gift simple and personal!

All year-long, we have occasions that call for a gift (birthdays, weddings, graduations, Christmas, etc.) or token of appreciation (hostess gift, party favor, etc.). Food is a universal language and can (and should) be customized for the receiver of the gift.

Since I started this blog, I have explored food-related markets, venues, restaurants, and resources and as I discovered new things, I would often think, “so-and-so would LOVE this” or “I should tell so-and-so about this.” Quickly, I started incorporating these “finds” into gifts. As long as I took into consideration the type of “foodie” the receiver was, it was not only appreciated but also unique.

At the risk of sounding like Oprah, I decided to put together a list of my favorite things from 2017. Don’t bother looking under your chair … no one’s getting a new car … but sometimes fresh ideas are just as generous. This list includes a lot of products made here in Iowa, or have a special tie to Iowa. These items are and should be customized to fit the person receiving the gift. Look for similar items that are local to them or personalized for their tastes and interests.

Let’s start shopping …

local Foodie

“Shop Local” is a key phrase these days and whether the location of the “shop” is in the country, or main street of a small town, or in the heart of a big city, people like things that have a tie to their community. Giving a community-based gift shows you care not only about the recipient but also about supporting that person’s “local” businesses. Here are some of my favorite “local” food items.


Herbs are big-time foodie news. No, they aren’t new to the foodie arena but they are being used more creatively than ever. The sweetness of desserts is balanced by the earthy and floral notes of herbs. Olive oils and balsamic vinegars are infused with flavor combinations of herbs, spices and citrus. The medicinal properties of herbs are incorporated into lotions, soaps, and fragrances.

I highly recommend the products made by Pickle Creek Herbs in Fairfield, Iowa. I am a sucker for free samples at the farmers’ market and became intrigued at the Pickle Creek tent when I saw Lavender Infused Balsamic Vinegar among many other vinegars and oils. It’s light and fresh and I later discovered it is delicious on fresh tomatoes, sliced watermelon, salads, and sandwiches.

Tim and Jocelyn also make soaps, lip balms, and skin salves. The Deep Relief Salve combines almond oil, beeswax, comfrey root, cayenne pepper, peppermint essential oil, and vitamin E to sooth and relax sore muscles. I love the light fragrance and the lack of oiliness in this product … not to mention that “soothing sore muscles” part! If you know an avid gardener or gardener-in-training, you might consider their Gardener’s Skin-Soothing Salve (and check out the Herb Garden Starter Kit below).

UNDER $20: A great gift idea from their site is the customizable Gift Box which contains 4 2-ounce bottles of olive oils and/or balsamic vinegar and you choose which four you want! They also include recipes with purchase. Shipping is free for orders over $50.


Another farmers’ market find, the Denison Mustard Company … yes, they had samples … has earned a place in my cupboard/refrigerator. These mustards are made in … nope … not Denison … Dow City, Iowa. Although the company has moved around over the years, it has called Crawford County, Iowa, home since 1885. It may be the fact that this company was founded by a German Immigrant (hint: it pays to know the heritage of the gift receiver), but I think my attraction to this product was my first taste of their Country Dill Mustard … amazing!

IDEA: Pair a couple of these mustards with a bag of pretzels and a 6-pack or growler of craft beer from a local brewery!


While we are visiting the western side of the state of Iowa, I must point you to Wall Lake, Iowa, where Cookies BBQ Sauces are produced. Although I like their BBQ sauces, I am absolutely hooked on their Wings ‘N’ Things Sauce. If you have a hot-wing-lover on your list, this is the gift that will win you a big ol’ sticky finger hug. It has perfect heat, and by that I mean the more you eat, the more your mouth burns. But don’t be deterred by this … if you want it less spicy, dilute it with one of their BBQ sauces or sweeten it with honey. We frequently mix it with Ranch dressing for a dip for chicken strips or veggies. This product is available in most Iowa grocery stores or can be ordered from their website. It must be good because you can also order it on Amazon … but only if you want quantity because it’s sold in 70 ounce bottles. That’s a lot of wings!


Moving over to Nevada (pronounced ne-vay-dah) in central Iowa, is a company making artisanal herb and spice infused seasoning blends: Saltlickers. My personal favorite is the Peter Rabbit … a salt blend with highlights of radishes and dill. Sprinkled on fresh veggies like carrots, celery, bell peppers and cauliflower … who needs dip! I am also quite infatuated with their Wassamatterhorn which is a blend of sea salt, rosemary, and juniper berries. It is a perfect blend for sweet potatoes or squash and I hope to use it to season the pheasant our bird dog better find this season.

IDEA: Check out their website for gift boxes or custom blends!


Just in time for this blog, I came across Bisschopswijn Mulling Spices on my final trip to the farmers’ market. I had never crossed paths with this company before and quickly learned that this Pella, Iowa based company has a big following. It is a Dutch tradition for “families to sip Bisschopswijn (Bishop’s Wine) as they await the arrival of the good saint”, Sinterklaas … think Miracle on 34th Street! The mulling spices can be used to spice cider or cranberry juice, mulled wine, and even desserts. There are recipes for alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks on their site that will warm any Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, or winter celebration.

IDEA: If you are looking for a unique hostess or grab bag gift, package the mulling spices with a bottle of rum or cranberry juice and some pretty napkins. Or for a festive party favor, buy a big bag of the mulling spices and make individual steeping bags out of cheesecloth tied with kitchen-string and a small cinnamon stick!

fan-atical foodie

One of the first things we learn about another person is their allegiance to a college or professional team. It may be where they went to school or it may be a team they’ve cheered for and cried with since childhood. Maybe it’s a place they know very little about but is about to become home as they begin school or a job in a new location. Want to think outside the t-shirt box?

I’ve got you covered …


Art is not an easy thing to choose for another person; however, when you choose a simple piece  that represents something the person loves you can’t go wrong. This 12″x18″ print from Modern Map Art, placed in a simple frame, is more than something to hang on a wall or prop on a shelf. It is a map of memories or a first impression on a new adventure.

How is this a “foodie” gift? Imagine this as a graduation present for a student headed off to the best university in the world (as pictured), or any number of other schools, but with color-coded or numbers dots on the clear covering for points of interest like iconic restaurants, movie theaters, football stadiums, shopping malls, grocery stores, etc. Want to take it another step? Include a gift certificate and menu from one of the restaurants to get them acclimated quickly!

Speaking of …


A lot of people do not like giving gift certificates because they feel it’s too impersonal. They are only impersonal if personality isn’t added to the gift card. Here’s a great example of something that could easily be added to the map art shown above: a gift card to a favorite, local restaurant.

One of my all-time favorite pizza places in Ames, Iowa, Great Plains Sauce and Dough Company , has been serving amazing pizza since I was in college (now that’s longevity). What makes them unique is not only the nostalgic atmosphere of the restaurant but the variety of crusts available … the Denver (a wheat dough with hand-rolled edges that you finish off with honey like a breadstick … do NOT knock it til you try it) is my personal recommendation!

Wrap the gift card in a pizza box with a take-out menu (both of which the restaurant will almost always provide at no charge), some napkins and filler to make it colorful, and you’ve got personality.


Remember that “tailgate-grazing sports fan” I referred to earlier? Koozies keep their “beverages” cold on a hot day and Cozies keep them hot on the cold days. I found this hand-knitted cozie at The Market Place (Manning, Iowa) and thought it would make a great grab bag gift or stocking stuffer!

IDEA: Fill the cup with a bag of homemade snack mix and a little (or big) bottle of the tailgate beverage of choice (cue Florida Georgia Line please), and a small gift evokes a big feeling of good times!



Aprons are the perfect gift for that person who is equally infatuated with cooking/grilling and a team. I know a couple guys who would happily stand guard over a grill for hours making food for other people. If they can sport their team colors and keep the inevitable splatters of the grill off their clothes, it’s all good.

IDEA: Wrap up an apron with some new grilling utensils, grill seasonings or sauces, and/or a new color-coordinating cooler.



foodie with a cause

Food is inspiring. It is relatable and uplifting. We talk over coffee. Our mood can change over a scent. The gift of food can say what cannot be put into words. Receiving a gift that “gives back” is twice the gift. Here are a few ideas of how to give a gift that feeds the soul.


This book was given to me earlier this year by a good friend and I have shared it with many friends since then. It is written by Jennifer Dukes Lee, a NW Iowa Christian writer, blogger, and speaker, and provides a journey to find your personal “happiness style”. Are you a Giver, a Doer, a Thinker, a Relater, or an Experiencer? Maybe a combination of several or all of these? Jennifer helps you identify your style and helps you understand why God made you, and everyone around you, to be happy in this way. It’s a little hard to see in this picture, but the words on the cover are formed out of candy. Why? That’s for you to find out … and to share with others! It’s inspiring, it’s funny, it’s helpful on many levels, and it’s full of good reminders of just how special you, and your gift recipient, are.

IDEA: Wrap up this book with a bag of your recipient’s favorite candy, a sweet treat from a local candy store, or a few pieces of homemade fudge.


I love gifts that give back: when you buy something from an organization and the proceeds go to support that organization or another organization in need. This type of gift can be perfect for the “I don’t need anything” person. And the truth is, they probably don’t but you want them to know you care.

Over the past few years, I have become acquainted with an organization here in Des Moines called “Freedom for Youth“. This organization provides faith ministry, education assistance, job training, and a safe environment for before- and after-school and weekend activities to youth and young-adults in Des Moines and a growing number of communities across Iowa. One of their programs is the Freedom Blend Coffee shop which is operated by young adults within this organization. They sell and serve fair-trade coffee that is roasted and packaged on site, as well as breakfast and lunch items.









Can you believe this place started out as an abandoned car wash? This transformation has lifted an entire community!

IDEA: In the Des Moines area? Stop by the coffee shop and purchase some of their coffee beans, get yourself a latte, and pick up a donation form and brochure. Enjoy your latte. Wrap up the coffee beans (maybe with an inspirational or personalized mug) and a card that says you’ve made a donation to this organization in honor of the recipient. Don’t forget to include the brochure so the recipient can read all about the good efforts of the organization while they sip their coffee.

Not in the area? There are organizations like this EVERYWHERE. Check with your church or school. Google is your friend. Or seek out an organization that has a special place in the recipient’s heart and find a way to combine a donation with a small, but related, gift.


The sense of smell is a powerful thing. It evokes memories, lifts spirits, and makes stomachs growl. There are many options for gifting in this area: candles, essential oils and diffusers, lotions, and hand soaps. The trend right now is natural ingredients with a focus on herbs, spices, and citrus elements like geranium, basil, rhubarb, rosemary, grapefruit, chai or white tea, and juniper.

The ageless combination of orange and clove is popular again and my recommendation for fall and winter. This little candle came from Target for $5.

IDEA: An all-natural, inexpensive way to provide aromatherapy in your home is to add citrus peel (orange, lemon, grapefruit) and spice (whole clove, juniper, all spice, cinnamon) and herbs (rosemary, thyme, sage) to boiling water on the stove and simmer for 15 minutes at a time.  You must watch carefully as the water will evaporate over time … add more water as needed to continue the scent.

Foodie Cookbook

What would a gift giving blog for foodies be without a cookbook recommendation? Technically, this book was never meant to be a “cookbook” according to the author, Samin Nosrat. Salt Fat Acid Heat was written to be a “how to cook” book, not a recipe book. Samin discovered that no publisher wanted to get behind a cookbook without recipes. In the end, she did add recipes as a vehicle to learning to cook without recipes. This book is beautiful, funny, easy to read, and so instructive.

I have learned a great deal from this book about these elements of cooking and how to cook from instinct and senses … smell, touch, sound, and, of course, taste. It is the perfect gift for cooks of all skill levels.


HerbacEous Foodie

After mentioning several times the role of fresh herbs in the foodie scene, I want to share with you a beautiful gift idea that a good friend and fellow blogger posted on her site (Root and Bloom Forever): the DIY Herb Garden Starter Kit. Mary combines fresh herb plants, plant markers, gardening gloves, a trowel and pruning shears, seed packets, and other related items, all nestled in a pretty wicker basket or crate.

IDEA: When you put this smile-inducing basket together, make sure you add a tag with the website to Root and Bloom Forever so they too can benefit from the inspiring, motivating, and creative information she shares!


Homemade Party Favors

Remember when I said the orange and clove combination was making a comeback? These Sugar and Spice Pecans are proof. I have made these pecans over and over again since my friend, Lori (the same “good friend” who gave me the book The Happiness Dare mentioned earlier … she’s a great source of all things awesome!), gave me the recipe. Every single time I give these as a party favor in clear cellophane bags tied with twine, I am asked the same question … “are these hard to make?” The answer is “no”! They are easy and are as delicious in the summer on a spinach salad with strawberries as they are in the winter on a charcuterie platter or as a topping to sweet potato casserole. That is, if you don’t just eat them all right out of the bag.

My gift to you: the recipe!

Foodie Gift Wrapping Tips

If you’re taking the time to pick out a perfect gift for a foodie, why not wrap it appropriately?

Look closely. This package is wrapped in a paper grocery bag from Trader Joe’s. It is tied with a strip of cheesecloth and a bonus adornment gift of a small wooden serving spoon. I will often wrap gifts with the unmarked side of paper grocery bags but as I grabbed this bag, I realized these Trader Joe’s bags are beautiful! Why wouldn’t I use the pictures of fruit and vegetables to wrap a foodie gift?

Other foodie wrapping inspiration? Aluminum foil … cheesecloth … parchment paper … think outside the box (pun intended). Need a last minute filler for a basket or box? Run paper grocery bags through a shredder! Skip the ribbon and tie on a set of measuring spoons, a cheese knife, or accordion-fold a dish cloth into a bow.

Did we cover enough?

One more thing …

I want you to know that there is only one vendor on this list that approached me about featuring one of their products, and that was Modern Map Art with the Ames print. I was given the print in exchange for featuring it on one of my blogs. I agreed to this because I loved the item, it was a clear and stylish print, and I thought it was worth sharing with you. All of the other items were products that I found, use, and love. Some of these products were given to me at no cost when I told the vendor that I wanted to feature them in this post. Some of them I purchased on my own for this post.

My purpose in starting a blog was and is to share good, positive, and useful information. I have no desire to be negative about anything. If I come across something I don’t like, I won’t share it.

After all … sharing is the point of this post.

NOTE: If you’d like a chance to win some of these great products, head over to and “like” my Facebook page. Over the next 3 weeks, I’ll be giving away an Iowa Foodie box, an Iowa State Foodie box, and a Foodie with a Cause box (details in Facebook posts).

All my best to you! Happy Giving!

Foodie Gift Ideas
Need some fresh ideas for the food-lover on your list? Find the perfect gift or inspiration for holiday, birthday, wedding, graduation gifts or party favors and hostess gifts!

Food Resolutions

This is the week right between “Merry Christmas!” and “Happy New Year!” This is the week of “Have you made any resolutions for the new year?”


Most often, the answer to this question will involve one or more of these words:




Sound familiar?

Do you know what the second Friday in February is now being labeled?

The Fatty Solstice

I kid you not. Data collected from mobile phone apps (yes, my statistics brain does a mental eye roll here but bear with me) show a jump in visits to fast food restaurants and a drop in visits to workout facilities. In early January, the opposite is true. Good intentions and motivation have diminished in 6 weeks and resolution failure strikes again.

One more reason NOT to make food-related resolutions, right?

Or …

Maybe it’s time to make a resolution that makes us look at the new year with anticipation instead of dread. It’s not as difficult as it might seem. Here’s a non-food related example:

Years ago, when our boys were heavily involved in four-seasons of sports, my husband and I found ourselves only having conversations about how-to-get-who-to-where-on-time, what-game/practice-who-was-going-to-chauffeur, what-went-right/wrong, and can-you-believe-how-bad-that-ump/ref-was! We needed a distraction. So our resolution was to go to one movie a month. If we couldn’t agree on a movie, we would take turns choosing. If there wasn’t a movie either one of us wanted to see … too bad. Pick one. The ideas wasn’t that we would agree on how much we LIKED the movie. The idea was to have something that would get us talking ABOUT the movie. “Proof” (Gwyneth Paltrow, Anthony Hopkins, and Jake Gyllenhaal) and “Hitch” (Will Smith) were probably our favorite of that year. The most controversial? “Wedding Crashers” … let’s just say that one invoked a lot of conversation but it wasn’t much better than our conversations on the umpires and referees! And we have a funny story to tell our kids and our friends to this day!

So how to take this concept and make it work for our food/health resolutions? Here’s a few ideas …

  1. Eat more ________. For me this year, it’s quinoa. I know it’s a superfood. I’ve tried to make it twice (once successfully, once not). There are recipes ALL OVER Pinterest. It’s a perfect substitute for all the pasta, rice, bread I crave. So think about something you know you should include in your diet and make it a priority to start. Maybe it’s only once a month but that may just turn into once a week because you find you like it so much!
  2. Cook one meal a week/month with ____________. Whether it’s your spouse, your kids, your roommate, your neighbor, or your friends doesn’t matter. Just make it an event! My husband doesn’t know this yet (sorry Dear!), but it’s him. When we both had full-time jobs, he was in charge of spaghetti, chili, and tuna-noodle casserole! Since then, I have taken over the kitchen. It’s time to hand him an apron (figuratively Sweetheart … no worries … or pictures)!
  3. Expand your palate. Try new foods, restaurants, and grocery stores. Specialty isles in grocery stores are exploding. Ethnic food stores are popping up in all communities. We have access to varieties of fruits, vegetables, cheeses, beer, cuts of meat, spices, and recipes like never before. Try a new restaurant or just try something different on the menu of your favorite restaurant.
  4. Ask questions. Don’t know how to work with that gorgeous pomegranate? Ask the produce person. If they aren’t sure? Ask your friend Google! Not sure what something is on the menu or how to pronounce it? Ask. A good waiter will be excited to explain. Or check the menu on-line before you go, Google what you are curious about (and how to pronounce it), and be brave. Ask your friends for recipes and recommendations.
  5. Form a dinner club. Many years ago, a group of about 8 couples who shared bleachers with us all spring and summer formed a dinner club. Once a month, we met for a themed dinner. We took turns hosting the dinner in our homes. The hosts chose the theme and provided the main dish and the drinks. The rest of the couples were assigned appetizer, salad, side dish or dessert. Some of the themes were: Oktoberfest, Italian, Cuban, Mexican, and Mardi Gras. These dinners encouraged everyone to try new recipes and foods and talk about what they liked and didn’t like without worrying that they might insult the cook. No one ever left hungry (or thirsty)!
  6. Grow Something. Herbs, vegetables, edible flowers … it doesn’t take a lot of space and the experience of eating something freshly picked is a true reward.
  7. Share. Instead of going out, invite someone over. Have a make-your-own-pizza bar, a soup and sandwich night, or meatballs. Have you avoided making a dinner because you know it is just too much food, even when you consider the leftovers? Surely you know someone who would appreciate a fully-prepared meal. Volunteer to serve at a shelter, a benefit dinner, or a church event. All food tastes better when it blesses others.
  8. Be grateful. Do not forget to say grace. Do not forget to thank the cook, the waiter, the grocer who answered your questions, the friend who made a recommendation, or the farmer, butcher, gardener, baker who makes it accessible and fresh.
  9. Slow Down. Did you taste what you ate? Do you remember what you ate yesterday? Does it take longer to set the table than to empty the plate? Savor your food. Mindless eating is wasteful.

I certainly do not want to discourage ANYONE from setting weight-loss, exercise, or health-related goals in 2017. Food is not the enemy. Food is fun and nourishing and healthy. Moderation and balance are key.


What? Never heard of “sparkling veggies” before? 😉

As movies motivated new conversations for my husband and I years ago, entertainment is a fun way to kick-start a new view on food and diet. Here are a few of my favorite food-related movies, shows and books that might inspire you:

100 Foot Journey
Bottle Shock
Julie & Julia

Delicious (Ruth Reichl)
The Secret of Hummingbird Cake (Celeste Fletcher McHale)
Making Piece: A Memoir of Love, Loss and Pie (Beth Howard)

Chopped (Food Network)

May 2017 be filled with an abundance of simple food, good company and a comfortable place for your picnic life! Happy New Year!

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Fudge and the Blue Bowl



I am a sentimental fool.

When I decorate for Christmas, there’s a story behind every decoration. Not just the random assortment of ornaments, but the nutcrackers, the nativities (yes, plural), the lighted village and train, the Santa collection and even the books. When I run short on space and have to decide which things are not going to be displayed, it tugs at my heart. But I still go through the memories as those pieces get put back to wait for next year.

It is the same with baking. The recipes trigger memories of baking with my mom and grandmothers worthy of a Hallmark movie script … well, I’d watch it anyway. There’s the labor-intensive batches of German cookies like Lebkuchen and Pfeffernusse of my maternal grandmother . The fun and whimsical “cookies” I made at my paternal grandmother’s house involved melted caramel and Ritz crackers and required two sets of hands. My mom and I would break out the third generation cookie cutters to make sugar cookies and take turns watching the oven so as to catch the “kiss cookies” … you know, the peanut butter cookies with the chocolate kiss on top? … before the chocolate kiss turned into a chocolate puddle.


Just last week, I was walking through a grocery store in Minneapolis and spent way too much time browsing their bakery. Their gingerbread display was GORGEOUS! My eyes caught a box of sugary, crispy confections that look like snowflakes. I was transported back to my aunt’s house. Every year for Christmas, she would make Rosettes. I never knew anyone else that made them and I haven’t met anyone since that does. She also made Spritz cookies which, lucky for me, I can get at our church’s annual cookie walk!

And, I’ve gotten carried away …

The blue bowl. I have a big attachment to this bowl. I’m guessing at least a few of my cousins saw this picture and immediately thought, “Anita has Grandma Glienke’s bowl!” It is funny that something as simple as a depression-era bowl that is bright blue (not red or green or gold or any of the traditional Christmas colors) could invoke such a response. Each and every year, my grandmother would serve her fudge and “Mounds Balls” (a.k.a. coconut truffles) in this bowl. When I see it, I remember not only the fudge (wasn’t a fan of coconut at the time) but the bigger picture of 40-50 people crammed into her living room on Christmas Eve, singing hymns and exchanging gifts.

So, today, I give you my recipe for fudge. It isn’t my grandmother’s recipe (at least as far as I know) but it is a tried-and-true, McVey-family-favorite recipe.





EASY? It IS easy. You need patience and time, but it is not difficult.

The key to smooth and creamy fudge is to work slowly. If you rush the process, you will get a “grainy” texture or, worse yet, a burnt flavor you did not intend to introduce. Take your time! After all, methodically stirring the sugar mixture and inhaling the scent of melting chocolate can be almost as therapeutic as eating it!

This recipe (Semi-Sweet Chocolate Fudge) comes from a small cookbook called “Hershey’s Homemade“. I have been using this recipe with the semi-sweet chips for years. Last year, I noticed the dark chocolate chips right next to the semi-sweet and decided those could only make the recipe better.

It’s true.

Dark Chocolate Fudge

1 1/2 tablespoon butter, divided
1 1/2 cups (12 oz can) evaporated milk
1 jar (7 oz) marshmallow creme
4 cups sugar
24 oz dark chocolate (or semi-sweet) chips

Line a 9×13-inch pan with heavy-duty aluminum foil, extending foil over edges of pan. Lightly coat foil with butter (1/2 tablespoon at most); set aside.

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In a heavy 4-quart saucepan, melt 1 tablespoon of butter over medium-low heat. Add evaporated milk and marshmallow creme, stirring until marshmallow creme starts to dissolve. Add sugar and stir until well dissolved. Bring mixture to a slow boil over medium-low to medium heat, stirring almost constantly (a rubber scraper allows you to scrape the bottom and sides of the pan to avoid scorching). This will take 15-20 minutes, depending on the temperature of the burner. A “low boil” is when lots of small bubbles form (especially around the edges of the pan). Continue cooking (and stirring) for 5 minutes (may reduce heat a little at a time to keep the temperature steady).

Remove pan from heat and turn off burner. Stir in chocolate chips. Fold chips into hot sugar mixture until smooth.


Pour into prepared pan. Tap pan on countertop a few times to evenly distribute the fudge and to draw any air bubbles to the surface. Allow to cool; cover and refrigerate. When completely chilled, remove fudge from pan using the edges of the foil. Pull back the sides and cut into one inch cubes.

Store in air-tight ziploc bag or wrap in plastic wrap and keep in an air-tight container. Refrigerate.


This year, since I knew I would be dividing the fudge into thirds, I bought smaller, decorative 5×8-inch pans with lids. You could also use small bread loaf pans or other heat-tolerant containers for gift giving.


I am a sentimental fool.

But isn’t Christmas a holiday for just that sort of thing?

May your Christmas season be ever so sweet!

If you enjoyed this post, be sure to share it on social media using the buttons below. Like what you see? You can become an email or wordpress subscriber at the top left of this page. Please do not hesitate to contact us with thoughts and questions, and if you would like us to try out a recipe or test a product, drop us a line at!


Iowa: Home of Giant Poblanos

As I mentioned in a previous blog (Zucchini Bread), for reasons unknown to me, I cannot seem to grow zucchini in my suburban garden. Whatever causes that must not bother my poblano pepper plants. Everything I have read about these peppers indicate the plants should reach heights of 24″-48″. So explain this …


I am 5’8″ tall. I am standing in my garden, holding on to my two poblano pepper plants. I have no explanation. And before you accuse me of abusing Miracle Grow, I will plead guilty to two counts of liquid fertilizer this whole season. My cucumber plants failed. My green beans failed. But I have a poblano jungle!

dsc_5214I’m okay with that.

A poblano pepper falls in line between a bell pepper and a jalapeno pepper. I like to describe its flavor as warm rather than hot or spicy. The popular Mexican dish, Chiles Rellenos, is often made with poblano peppers.

I became a bit obsessed with these peppers a few years ago at the farmers’ market in downtown Des Moines. It was a fall day and I could smell them before I saw them … roasted poblanos. Not just roast-ed, roast-ing! This guy had a big metal cage filled with peppers, rotating over a flame. He had the warm peppers in plastic bags to take home. SOLD.

The next year, they were in my garden. The warmth and flavor of these peppers are magnified when they are roasted. My favorite ways to use them?

  • stuffed with seasoned pork, beans, rice and cheese
  • diced and folded into scrambled eggs with salsa
  • added into mexican soups/stews like Mexican Chicken Soup or Carrot-Poblano Soup
  • cut into strips and layered onto a burger with some pepper-jack cheese
  • added to guacamole and fresh salsa

I know it sounds like a lot of work but it is so worth it to have these guys hanging out in my freezer, waiting to make a  reappearance this winter!

Roasting Poblano Peppers

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  1. Wash and dry whole peppers, stem on.
  2. Drizzle peppers with olive or avocado oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  3. Place peppers on a hot grill.
  4. Rotate peppers until charred and blistered on all sides.
  5. Remove from grill and place in a resealable plastic bag.
  6. When cool enough to handle, put on rubber or vinyl gloves and gently rub off the thin skin.
  7. Remove the stems, seeds and membranes.
  8. Dice, slice or leave whole and place in portion-sized resealable plastic bags and freeze.

There are many things about my garden that I cannot figure out. Sometimes those horticultural mysteries are what make gardening fun (a.k.a. frustrating). For now, I think I’m going to go make some burgers.

Can’t you just smell them now?

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I think there is going to be a meatball renaissance. Call it a hunch. In fact, we’re going to launch the campaign now. Let’s #MakeMeatballsGreatAgain.

A lot of people hear the word “meatball” and instantly feel like yawning. Not me. My first thought is “What kind of meatballs?” I have seen how hamburgers have become the latest craze for creativity. What is a meatball but a ground up burger, bun and all? Why shouldn’t it be as trendy as its cousin?

What are breadcrumbs good for?

Hansel and Gretel used them as a way to mark their return route (resourceful but not particularly effective … one smart chipmunk and all that effort is wasted); children and adults alike are entertained by feeding them to birds; and apparently, they aid us as internet users to identify where we are and where we have been on the web.

FullSizeRender (3)

But their true purpose for existing? Meatballs.

It is the breadcrumbs and the egg(s) that hold the meat together and give them their texture. I don’t think I’m revealing anything to anyone with this statement. What I do hope to make clear is something I just learned while making the Cuban Meatballs for my post earlier this week.

I try to always have breadcrumbs in my freezer. They are usually homemade from bread that has gone a bit stale, leftover garlic bread, or the heels of a loaf that no one wants to eat. Sometimes, I buy bread crumbs for a recipe if I don’t have any homemade on hand and then I freeze what I don’t use to keep them fresh.

As I opened the container of breadcrumbs I had purchased at the grocery store, I saw that I had picked one that was labeled “fine”. They weren’t the flaky type I usually use but had more of a granular texture. No big deal. They are breadcrumbs. I measured them out, made the meatballs and they were delicious. But, they were much more dense than usual.

Written this way, I realize it sounds obvious and you might be rolling your eyes and thinking “great discovery, Einstein”. It’s not like I was trying to write a blog on this subject. I just didn’t realize how big of a difference the texture of the breadcrumbs would make on the texture and size of the meatballs. Using the more dense crumbs, means more will fit in the measuring cup and take leave less room in the meat mixture for “air”.

The point of this is not that one type of breadcrumb is better than another. The point is you can change the texture of the meatball by the type of breadcrumb you use.

FOOD TIP: If you like a denser meatball, use a more powdery, fine breadcrumb. For a lighter, softer meatball, use a flaky-style breadcrumb like Panko or make your own.

Tear leftover bread pieces into cubes and place on a baking sheet. Place the baking sheet on the cupboard and allow the bread to dry out for 2-3 hours. Place cubes in a food processor (do this in batches rather than overcrowding the bowl) and pulse until the cubes are evenly sized crumbs. Store in a Ziploc baggie or airtight container in the freezer. If you want to season the breadcrumbs, add seasonings to food processor right before pulsing.

Closing Thought: Is it any wonder that in this technology-driven era, the foodie culture is also booming? Do you suppose it has anything to do with the use of words like:


That darn subliminal messaging … now I’m hungry for cookies …

and apples …

funny … still not hungry for SPAM.

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A Re-Introduction to Meatballs


Swedish meatballs … Porcupine meatballs … Italian meatballs … Spaghetti and meatballs … Meatball subs … Meatball soup … Baked meatballs … Fried meatballs … Crock Pot meatballs …

I start thinking about the versatility of meatballs and end up channeling my inner Forrest Gump!

“I know everything there is to know about … ” meatballs.

Small Italian Meatballs

… well, maybe not everything. But I sure have done my fair share of experimenting!

While versatility is probably my favorite thing about meatballs, let’s not forget simple, inexpensive, healthy, kid-friendly and efficient.


Meatball Ingredients

The basic meatball recipe requires 6 ingredients: ground meat, bread crumbs, eggs, milk, salt and pepper. You can make smaller batches but I like to make a big batch once and reap the benefits of my labor for meals to come (we’ll talk efficient later).

3 pounds ground meat
2 cups bread crumbs
2 large eggs
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper

Ground Meat: I like to use a mixture of meats for two reasons. First, I think the flavor and texture is improved when two or three compatible meats are combined. Second, it allows me to control the nutritional value of the recipe. If I am choosing to use a ground meat with a higher fat/calorie content like Italian sausage, I can balance it with a leaner protein like turkey or ground pork.

Bread Crumbs: Not all bread crumbs are created equal. The texture of a meatball is a result of the type of bread crumb used. Tenderness is best achieved with a flaky crumb, like Panko. If you have a dense-style crumb, I would recommend soaking the crumbs in the milk before adding them to the other ingredients.

Rather than throwing away the last slices a loaf of bread, leftover hamburger or hot dog buns or dried out garlic bread, tear them up, let them dry out a bit on a cookie sheet for about an hour, toss in a food processor and pulse until fine crumbs are produced. I do this whenever I have the bread and then store the crumbs in the freezer.

Need an emergency substitution? Try crushed up crackers or cereal (like corn flakes). Oatmeal will work too (soak in milk before adding).

Eggs: The least complicated of the ingredients, eggs simply act to hold all the ingredients together.

Milk: The type of milk is not as important as the amount of milk. I always recommend adding only half of the milk (or liquid) called for in a recipe, at least in the first mixing of ingredients. The types, and even the brands, of meat and bread crumbs make a huge difference in how much milk is needed. If the mixture does not hold together well or seems dry, add more milk, a little at a time, until the desired consistency is reached.

Salt & Pepper: These are especially critical when some type of sausage is not included as one of the meats. Sausage has salt and seasonings added whereas other ground meats do not. Knowing what you are working with helps you decide how much to add. Of course, other herbs, spices and condiments can be added for personal preference.

Tools: Clean hands and a cookie scoop are the best tools for making meatballs. Mixing the ingredients with your hands allows you to feel the texture and to know when all the ingredients are thoroughly combined.

Cookie Scoops for Meatballs

Cookie scoops are the easiest way to ensure size consistency. Variation in size creates potential for the smaller ones to be overcooked and the larger ones to be undercooked. A scoop like the one on the left is about 1 1/2″ in diameter. The above recipe will result in about 60 meatballs of this size. The scoop on the right is closer to 1″ in diameter and will make 110-120 smaller meatballs.

Baking Meatballs

Cooking Methods: The easiest way to cook meatballs is to bake them in the oven. The oven temperature can be anywhere from 300-400 degrees (a lower temperature will require longer cooking times a higher temp will require shorter cooking times). Smaller meatballs will require about 20-30 minutes, depending on the oven temp. Larger ones will require 30-40 minutes. Turn the meatballs once half-way through the cooking time to help the browning process. Make sure they are cooked through (especially if using ground chicken or turkey) before serving. Simply remove one from the middle of the pan and cut it in half. The color and texture should be consistent to the center.

Browning Italian Meatballs

Cooking the meatballs in a dutch oven or skillet on the stove top in a little oil will give the outside that nice color and crispy outside texture. Use a medium to medium-high heat to brown the meatballs on all sides (about 5-8 minutes depending on size) and then reduce the temperature to low, partially cover the pan with the lid (to allow the steam to escape) and continue to cook another 5-8 minutes or until thoroughly cooked.

Italian Meatballs cooking in Marinara

If you are going to add a sauce like marinara, add it just after the meatballs have browned and simmer on low for 10-15 minutes. The extra moisture from the sauce will keep them from drying out.

NOTE: Cooking times depend greatly on the size of the meatball
and the cooking
temperature. Always test before serving.


Of course the cost of making this recipe depends fully on choice of meat as well as where you buy it. Where I live, I can make this full recipe for under $15 (well under if I manage to buy ahead and on sale). Considering this recipe makes two to three times as many meatballs as a standard recipe, that’s pretty impressive! Using leftover bread to make bread crumbs reduces that cost even more.


As mentioned earlier, the ability to choose the type of meat that goes into the meatballs has amazing health benefits. Ground turkey, chicken and pork are all lean protein choices. Choose a leaner ground beef (like 90/10) to avoid the extra and unnecessary fat. Sausages like breakfast sausage, Italian sausage and turkey pepperoni add great flavor and balance out the other leaner meats.


Meatballs are the perfect opportunity to let kids help in the kitchen. Get the paper towels ready and let them get their hands in the mix! Measuring the milk and bread crumbs, cracking the eggs, forming the balls (parents scoop and kids roll): these are the building blocks for young chefs.

Kids love small, bite-size food. Especially if you let them use toothpicks to spear the meatball and dip it in a sauce or ketchup! Make individual pizzas and have them add some as a topping.


How are meatballs “efficient”? One big batch results in many meals. The freezer is your friend. Divide leftover meatballs into resealable plastic bags and freeze. Defrost what you need to add to soups, hoagies (teenage boys love this … trust me), pizza and pasta. Need a quick appetizer? Pull out the slow cooker and add some sauce!

Italian Meatballs in Marinara Sauce


And now we’re back to my inner Forest Gump. Versatility. Let your imagination go!

What are your families favorite flavors? What do they order when you eat out?

Hot Wings? Buffalo Chicken Meatballs
Cuban Sandwiches? Cuban Meatballs
Pizza? Italian Meatballs
Turkey Dinner? Thanksgiving Meatballs
Greek? Gryo Meatballs

Keep in mind, a meatball is simply a deconstructed sandwich … a sandwich for the kid in all of us. Grab your toothpicks!