Mom’s Spiced Holiday Cider

You know how certain smells and tastes remind you of certain things?  Well, Mom’s Spiced Holiday Cider reminds me of Christmas.  In fact, I’m convinced that if my mom ever decided not to make it for our annual Christmas Eve party, that I would throw a toddler tantrum.   If you’re reading this, Mom….don’t even try that….it wouldn’t be pretty.    It’s just so tasty and so comforting for a nice warm holiday party inside.  Ok, maybe the comforting part comes from the handle of Captain Morgan we properly place next to the crockpot…… but you get where I’m going with this.  Cold Holiday Season.  Hot Christmas beverage brewing.  BAM.  You’re officially everyone’s favorite person for having made this.   You’re welcome.   

For whatever reason, my mom has always called this “Wassle” (am I even spelling this right)?.  I think that’s just what it was called when someone gave her the recipe years and years ago.  You can call this Wassle too if that strikes your fancy or even just Holiday Cider.  Heck, you can call it whatever the hell you want as long as you make it and enjoy it.  this drink is so perfect for holiday parties because it’s made in a crockpot and serves about 15-20 people for each batch.  So all you have to do is make it in the crockpot about an hour or so before guests arrive, let it heat up and blend in the crockpot and TADA!  Hot Holiday beverage for everyone to enjoy.    This year, I am particularly excited about this drink because it’s nonalcoholic and that’s kind of the trend I’ve been going for during this pregnancy ;)    I’m going to break world records for the amount of “wassle” I consume this year.  

As I mentioned, we serve a spiced rum next to the crockpot for people to pour in as they wish.  We usually buy a handle of Captain Morgan but you can try a different rum or bourbon with it.  This way it’s perfect for all ages.  

Mom's Spiced Holiday Cider
Yields 15
An easy and delicious crockpot recipe for spiced holiday cider!
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  1. 1 gallon of Apple Cider (not apple juice)
  2. 1 HALF gallon of cranberry juice
  3. 1/4 tsp of ground All Spice
  4. 1 small jar/container of WHOLE cloves (not crushed or powdered)
  5. Cinnamon sticks (about 8)
  6. 6 oranges
  7. 1 or 2 crockpots
  8. ** These ingredients above make 2 small crockpots of cider, but I usually only have room for one portion at a time, so the directions below tell you how much you need for 1 PORTION at a time. I re-use and keep the oranges and cinnamon sticks in the pot for both batches but add the extra cider, cranberry and all spice for the second batch. If you have a larger crockpot, you can probably fit both portions into one or use two crockpots, but then you would need to use double the oranges !
  1. In a crockpot, add 1/2 of the gallon of apple cider, followed by 1/2 of the bottle of cranberry juice. Add 1/4 tsp of All Spice and about 4-5 cinnamon sticks to the pot and stir.
  2. Cut the ends off of the oranges on both sides and then push about 10 whole cloves into each orange, scattered throughout the orange. (see photo above)
  3. Heat in crockpot until flavors blend and heated through, about an hour or so on high. You can leave it on warm while guests are enjoying it at the party.
  1. Unfortunately, cinnamon sticks and cloves are expensive, but luckily you only need to buy a small amount. I promise they make a difference in this recipe though!
Meghan Leigh | Photography and Lifestyle | Hinsdale and the greater Chicago area

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Prosciutto Crostini’s with Goat Cheese and Fig Jam

I saw a quote the other day that literally felt like it was made for me.  It read, ” it’s almost time for me to switch from my regular anxiety to my festive holiday anxiety”.  I mean…..could this be any more true right about now?  Although the holidays are a season I look forward to every year (and for good reason), they never fail to unleash a different kind of stress and anxiety and busy-ness.  I wish I could stop and smell the Christmas trees every once in a while over the holidays, but reality is, the decorating still needs to be done, the family and friends’ parties still need to be attended, the shopping and wrapping needs to get done and the food still needs to be cooked.  One day we will have robots for these things and we will be complaining about not being able to do it anymore (le sigh).    Anyways, back to the food still needing to be cooked.  I’ve realized I haven’t posted appetizers much on the blog and I think the holiday season is the perfect time to start.  Almost everyone needs a new appetizer idea this time of the year, amiright?  I’ve got you covered.  Enter these Prosciutto Crostini’s with Goat Cheese and Fig Jam.  Otherwise known as…..your new go-to appetizer recipe.  

I can’t tell you how often people ask me how to make these.  To be honest, I threw this together one year because I liked making paninis with fig jam and prosciutto.  See recipe for that goodness here.   I added this herbed goat cheese that is a personal favorite cheese of mine (it also goes well with soooo many other things) and voila!……the prosciutto crostini’s with goat cheese and fig jam were born.   What a beautiful birth it was too.  The fig jam is insanely delicious with the prosciutto and the creaminess of the goat cheese pairs perfectly with the crunchy crostinis.  They’re not quite small enough for a one-biter but they’re easy enough to eat at a party and not look like a complete oaf eating them.  They also look so much more difficult and fancy than they actually are.   Everyone wants that, right?   And the colors?!!  it’s like they were made for Christmas!  

Proscuitto Crostini's with Goat Cheese and Fig Jam
Yields 20
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  1. 1 Italian Baguette
  2. 4 oz package of herbed goat cheese ( found in the fancy cheese section...this herbed version is THE best!!)
  3. 9 oz jar of fig jam ( I use Divina brand- found in the fancy cheese section)
  4. 10 thin slices of prosciutto (you can go to the deli and have them slice them thin for you or buy the thin pre-packaged slices too- deli is usually cheaper)
  5. Olive oil
  6. Fresh basil leaves, julienned
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Slice your baguette into 1 inch slices (see photo in post). Place them on a baking sheet and brush with olive oil. Toast for 7-8 minutes.
  3. Spread the baked crostinis with the goat cheese, followed a small dollop of the fig jam (you will have extra fig jam leftover).
  4. Pull apart pieces of the prosciutto until you have pieces that are around 2 inches x 4-5 inches long. Roll the prosciutto and place on top of the fig jam. (see photos in post).
  5. Roll the basil leaves and then make thin slices on the short side, julienne-style. Place the thin basil strips on top of the crostini
  6. Arrange on a festive platter or cheese board etc and enjoy!
  1. This flavored herbed goat cheese is Sooooo good and I find that it pairs better with the recipe than just regular goat cheese. If you cannot find this brand or another herbed goat cheese similar to garlic and herb, etc etc, you can always use regular goat cheese also.
  2. This only makes about 20 crostinis, so for a large party, I would double this recipe. You will NOT need to buy double the fig jam or basil but you will need an extra baguette, goat cheese and prosciutto slices.
Meghan Leigh | Photography and Lifestyle | Hinsdale and the greater Chicago area

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My Favorite Thanksgiving Side Dishes

Welp, it’s that time of year again.  The time to start mentally preparing yourself for the extra holiday weight you’re going to gain because of the yummy food you’re going to consume.  Well, let me just tell you….I have never ever been this excited for the holidays before.  You know why?  Because I’m 24 weeks pregnant and maternity pants are elastic.  That’s right……I’m eating for two and have expandable pants.  Best thing ever by the way.   Have you ever seen that Thanksgiving episode of Friends where Joey forces himself to eat the entire turkey himself and shows up wearing Phoebe’s old maternity pants?  Well, may I suggest we all be a little bit more “Joey” this year?  Come prepared with stretchy pants and eat all the turkey and stuffing and veggie goodness your little heart desires.   Whether you’re  asked to bring a side dish to a party or hosting yourself, I went ahead and went through a bunch of recipes and picked my favorite Thanksgiving side dishes that I think would be perfect for you.   Links to each one included below.  Happy eating!!!


 Glazed Carrots with Ginger – – – – Recipe HERE

 Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta – – – – Recipe HERE

 Garlic and Parmesan Crostinis – – – – Recipe HERE

 Mixed Greens Salad with Goat Cheese and Marinated Onions – – – –  Recipe HERE

 Parmesan and Rosemary Smashed Potatoes – – – – Recipe HERE

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Parmesan Rosemary Smashed Potatoes

Two words…..FOUR INGREDIENTS.  That’s all it takes to make these mouth watering and crispy Parmesan Rosemary Smashed Potatoes.  And aside from the potatoes, you might already have the rest in your pantry/fridge anyways!  These are so easy and so tasty- you literally boil, smash and bake!  I feel like there should be a song or jingle that goes with that…..but lucky for you, I can only type on this blog and not sing.  :)   

If you’re a potato person but are always looking for easier and tastier ways to cook them…. look no further.  You’ll never look at another potato the same again.  Trust me.  

I was looking for an easy alternative to make potatoes and found this technique in one of Ina Garten’s cookbooks.  She’s a food god so I figured this had to work, right?  I used a few different ingredients than she did but that’s the best part.  There are so many different ingredients to use for this recipe, as long as you keep the same technique!

Parmesan Rosemary Smashed Potatoes
Serves 4
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  1. 1 pound mixed small Yukon Gold and red new potatoes, scrubbed
  2. Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  3. 3 tablespoons olive oil
  4. 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  5. Rosemary, dried or fresh
  6. Green onion, diced
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Place potatoes and 1 tablespoon of salt in a large saucepan and add water to cover the potatoes.
  3. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, then simmer for 17 to 20 minutes, until the potatoes are cooked and tender when pierced with a skewer. Drain the potatoes and place on a sheet pan/cookie sheet.
  4. With a potato masher or metal measuring cup, press each potato until it is about 1/2 inch thick, being careful not the smash them too much so they break apart.
  5. Drizzle the potatoes with the olive oil, salt, and pepper and sprinkle with rosemary.
  6. Roast the potatoes for 25 to 30 minutes, turning once, until the skins have become nicely browned. If they are too hard to turn without falling apart, just move them around a bit on the sheet and watch them carefully so they don't burn.
  7. Sprinkle potatoes with the Parmesan cheese and a bit more rosemary and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes, until the cheese melts.
  8. Top with a pinch of sea salt at the end and serve hot.
  1. Make a double batch! Great as leftovers! Heat back up in a skillet and eat as a breakfast, lunch or dinner side!
Meghan Leigh | Photography and Lifestyle | Hinsdale and the greater Chicago area

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Crockpot Creamy Chicken Enchilada Soup

I have a love/hate relationship with crockpot cooking.   I  acknowledge that my condo windows might get egged upon admitting this…so let me explain.  The thought of cooking full entrees and whole roasts in a crockpot really grosses me out, so I tend to stay away from that.  But cooking soup and chilis and sauces in a crockpot…… thing ever!!!  The idea that dinner can be ready when I come home from a long day of shooting or that the house will smell like yummy goodness all day makes me sooooo happy.  And what makes me even MORE happy?? Eating this Creamy Chicken Enchilada Soup.  Oh my gosh is it good….like, go back for 2 of 3 helpings good.  Don’t judge me.  

In order to get softer onions and that cream cheese incorporated into this soup, I start by cooking the onions and garlic in the skillet, followed by adding in the enchilada sauce and (this is KEY!)  room temperature cream cheese.  After that’s out of the way, we can transfer into the crockpot and begin the easy-peasy slow cooking technique that speaks everyone’s love language.  

Creamy Chicken Enchilada Soup
An easy and delicious skillet to crockpot recipe that's perfect for cold days in.
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  1. Crockpot!
  2. 2 cloves garlic
  3. 1/2 of a yellow onion, diced small
  4. 2 decent sized chicken breasts
  5. 2 tsp cumin
  6. 1 tsp chili powder
  7. 1 can black beans, drained
  8. 1 can of red enchilada sauce (10 ounces)
  9. 1 can of fire roasted diced tomatoes (15 ounces)
  10. 1 small can of diced green chilies ( fire roasted is fine, and so is mild or hot)
  11. 2 cups chicken broth
  12. 8 oz cream cheese at room temperature (do NOT use low fat or it will curdle more)
Optional Toppings
  1. Crushed tortilla chips
  2. Avocado slices
  3. sour cream
  4. diced green onions
  5. cilantro
  6. shredded cheddar cheese (or mozzarella, mexican, etc)
  1. First, make sure your cream cheese is at room temperature and set aside. In a medium-large skillet, heat a tbsp of olive oil. Add in the diced onions and cook for about 5 minutes on medium heat. Add the garlic and stir. Cook for a few more minutes until the onions are softening.
  2. Add in the enchilada sauce and cream cheese and stir until combined. The cream cheese might clump a bit but this will go away as it cooks longer and melts in the crockpot later.
  3. Transfer this mixture to the crockpot.
  4. Add the beans, chicken broth, fire roasted tomatoes, green chiles, cumin, chili powder and raw chicken breasts to the crockpot. Stir to combine.
  5. Cook on high heat for around 3 hours and then pull the chicken out to shred on a cutting board. (If it's not fully white in the middle, add it back to cook in the pot longer). Shred the chicken and add back to crockpot.
  6. Continue cooking for 1-1.5 hours longer on high.
Meghan Leigh | Photography and Lifestyle | Hinsdale and the greater Chicago area

 No enchilada or tortilla soup is complete without crunchy tortilla chips, sour cream and shredded cheddar, but I like to get a little wild and throw in some cilantro and avocado too.  I almost feel like it would be communist to leave out the toppings.  They’re the essence of the soup!!!! Load up on the toppings….just trust me on this. :)


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