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My Favorite Back-to-School Cookies

For people between the ages of 5 and 23, going back to school is a standard — and sometimes unsettling — part of life. We’ve put together easy recipes and food tips to help make the entire experience way more appetizing.

One of my favorite family food traditions is that my mom always made a fresh batch of cookies on the first day of school. Since back-to-school fever seems to be in the air, I wanted to share one of the cookie recipes I love most from home. My Pink Lemonade Candy Cookies are a variation of a Lemon Drop Candy Cookie that my mom made when I was growing up. The secret ingredient is none other than classic lemon hard candies (Lemonheads!). They are scattered throughout the batter and every now and then you get a bite with a zing of lemon candy that is crazy delicious. The secret to making hard candies work in a cookie recipe is to pulse them in a food processor. It’s important that they’re a fine crumble and that there aren’t any large pieces throughout.

The most important rule for making these cookies perfect is that it’s critical to not overbake them. When you pull them out of the oven, you might think that they aren’t finished, but they are — I promise. It’s also important to let them cool completely on the sheet tray.

I made a batch this week for the sake of tradition, even though no one in my family is headed back to school. Let’s be honest: Who doesn’t love having an excuse to make cookies?

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Kelsey’s Icebox Cake Essentials

The icebox cake is an iconic retro dessert that is perfect for the summer months. From June to August I avoid my oven at all costs, so the only way to make cake is by “baking” it in the refrigerator, rather than the oven. It’s easy to make and is always a favorite among family and friends. The ingredients are simple enough to have on hand and once you get the method down, the variations are endless. Every icebox cake is made up of some key components: essentially, cookies and cream. (What’s not to like?) I tend to think about it in layers.

First: the wafer cookies. These chocolate wafer cookies are a classic option and perfect for any icebox cake, but I’ve found that a variety of flavored wafer cookies are fun to use as well, like lemon, almond, chocolate-mint and ginger. I usually use two (6 to 9 ounce) boxes of cookies for one cake made in a 9-inch springform pan.

Second: whipped cream. Here you can keep it super simple, or have some fun. Fresh whipped cream is a must and it can be a great canvas for other flavors from extracts, sweeteners, or even peanut butter, coffee or fruit curd. I usually use 2 1/2 to 3 cups heavy whipping cream for one cake made in a 9-inch springform pan.

Third: flair. Here’s where you can really play with flavor, whether by layering in or garnishing with additional ingredients. Consider adding fresh fruit or chocolate shavings in between the layers or to the top of the icebox cake. 

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One Lemonade Base, Three Recipes

You just can’t beat a big, cold glass of lemonade on a hot summer day. I’m a lemon lover, so this classic refreshing drink is right up my alley. I made lemonade the old-fashioned way for years by concocting a simple syrup (boiling sugar and water together until it dissolves and then letting it cool), but the past few summers I’ve been cheating (or being lazy, whatever you want to call it) and making this drink an even easier way. The result? Fresh-squeezed lemonade that comes together more quickly, with no chilling time. The key is to use superfine sugar. At the beginning of each summer, I now buy a big bag, which I dedicate to fulfilling my lemonade cravings during the hot summer months. This recipe is embarrassingly simple, and I often adjust the amount of sugar I use simply based on how much sweetness I’m craving that day. It’s very unscientific and easy to remember. The best part is that it’s a wonderful base recipe or ratio for other variations. Below are three of my favorite lemonade variations, which I’ve been making all summer long.

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Grilling in the Park: How City Girls Can Barbecue

It’s no secret that I miss my grill from the suburbs. But even city dwellers have a couple options for achieving the authentic flavor of a BBQ dinner (including indoor grilling). Just because that grill isn’t on your back patio (if you have one), it doesn’t mean you can’t spend a sunny summer day grilling outdoors. We love living in Brooklyn, especially near the new Brooklyn Bridge Park — it’s an amazing public space that continues to get better every year. One recently opened feature is the Picnic Peninsula, which has a ton of hibachi-style grills and picnic tables. We’ve been trying to get there all season for a good old-fashioned city BBQ and finally made it happen this past week; the experience was one of our best this summer. I learned a few things my first time barbecuing on-the-go that you’ll want to keep in mind if you’re ready to plan your own city adventure.

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Top Indoor Grilling Tips

Cumin-Scented Oven-Baked Ribs

Shortly after I moved to New York City, I had to accept that I’d be breaking up with outdoor grilling. I received a ticket for grilling on a fire escape (I didn’t know, I swear!) and learned that it’s almost impossible to own a grill in the city, unless you have ample outdoor space and don’t live in Manhattan. As a result, I’ve taken particular interest in indoor grilling and even filmed an entire episode of Kelsey’s Essentials on the idea. With minimal equipment and some clever ingredients, you can grill dishes indoors that will be easy, quick and mess-free — and will mimic some of those flavors you associate with only the great outdoors.

My 3 Essentials for Indoor Grilling:

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Kelsey’s Top 3 Summer Entertaining Tips

Summer entertaining is my favorite kind of entertaining — it’s relaxed, laid-back and easy-breezy. I recently hosted a summer soiree to celebrate my son Oliver’s first birthday (in real life, not on Kelsey’s Essentials!). It was one of the first parties I threw this summer, and we all had a blast. No party is ever perfect, but I feel that this one was a success because I followed a few essential summer entertaining tips.

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Kelsey’s Essentials: Top 5 Moments of Shooting Season 5

The taping of Season 5 of Kelsey’s Essentials was our best yet. I still have to pinch myself every time I write “Season 5″ — I truly feel like I have the greatest job in the world, and I can’t believe I’ve been at it for this many seasons now. Each time we shoot, there are plenty of highs and lows that make the experience both challenging and rewarding. Here are a few of my favorite moments of Season 5 that made this season unforgettable. Look forward to seeing them when you tune in to new episodes on Wednesdays at 8pm ET.

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Top 3 Essential Tools for Cooking During Colder Months

One of the aspects of cooking that I love the most is that the seasons always seem to breathe new life into my kitchen every couple of months. As much as I love being inspired by the fruits and veggies that pop up in the spring and summer months, I have a serious soft spot for home cooking in the fall and winter months. I tend to hibernate a bit this time of year and find that cooking a hearty meal in my kitchen makes me happiest. These are a few essential tools that I find myself reaching for regularly throughout the winter.

1. Dutch Oven

I love my Dutch Oven so much that I never put it away. It happily rests on top of my stove all winter because I think it looks pretty and it’s a good reminder that something in my refrigerator is begging to be braised. Everyone should own one of these lovely pots. It’s worth it’s weight in gold.

Recipes:

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How to Throw the Perfect Potluck Party for Super Bowl Sunday

Kelsey Nixon Super Bowl Party

I love any excuse to host a potluck and Super Bowl Sunday is perfect for this! If you’re providing a place to watch the game, why not enlist your guests to help out with the food? With just a bit of advance planning, you can have a fuss-free party with fantastic food and great company (assuming they’re cheering for your team). Any time I host a potluck I like to keep these tips in mind.

1. Map out a menu early giving your guests plenty of time to shop and prepare. Giving your guests some direction on what to bring rather than leaving it entirely up to them can be really helpful and prevent a spread of multiple seven layer dips.

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The 5 Best Healthy Snacks to Have on Hand


Photo: Kylie Whiting
The days of snacking on holiday fudge and cookies are long gone. It’s time for me to start replacing some of the sweets I got used to snacking on the past few months with snacks that are more sensible. I’m a fan of setting small, attainable goals to kick off the new year and better snacking seemed like something that I could get behind.

The biggest challenge was actually getting these items back into my kitchen. Once I replaced the cookies with a big bowl of clementines, it was easy and I really enjoyed having snacks on hand that weren’t accompanied with any guilt. Not to mention, I feel better throughout the day! Whether you pack a snack for the office or you try to make one easily accessible at home, these five suggestions have been my favorite as I’ve kicked off a healthier 2013:

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