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A la carte: Retro Cream Cheese Mints; wine tips; handy app for bakers

Retro Cream Cheese Mints

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Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Retro Cream Cheese Mints

A little retro and a whole lot of fun, cream cheese mints are the perfect way to keep little hands busy during Easter-dinner preparations.

Make up the dough, then let the kids play around with different flavors and colors (or not, if you're trying to avoid pink and green hands). They also can form the mints in a variety of shapes. Consider making lemon mints, classic peppermints, or orange-cream mints. You even could do mocha mints with coffee and chocolate extracts.

8-ounce block cream cheese

2 pounds confectioners' sugar

Flavorings or extracts of your choice

Gel food coloring (optional)

Superfine sugar

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the cream cheese and about a quarter of the confectioners' sugar. Using the dough hook, begin mixing. As the mixture comes together, add the remaining confectioners' sugar, a quarter at a time, mixing well between each addition. The dough also can be mixed by hand; treat it as though you are kneading bread dough. The mixture with be quite stiff.

Add 12 to 1 teaspoon of the flavoring or extract of your choice. Alternatively, you can divide the dough and make multiple batches, each with a different flavor.

Once the flavoring is mixed in, add food coloring if you wish, mixing until evenly colored. As with the flavoring, the mixture can be divided and different colors can be used for each batch.

Pinch off pieces of the dough and roll into 1-inch balls. Roll the balls in the superfine sugar. Press the pieces into candy molds or press with a fork or the bottom of a glass to make a decorative impression on the tops. Place on waxed paper and allow to dry, uncovered, overnight. If keeping longer than a few days, place in an airtight container between sheets of waxed paper and freeze for up to 1 month.

Makes 7 dozen.

Tips for sipping

Improve your learning curve — and fun factor — with these pointers from wine expert Bill Ward:

• Identifying aromas is more parlor game than useful exercise. Sniffing a wine generally is enjoyable and can be useful if you're looking for freshness, clarity, harmony (alcohol fumes = bad) and focus, but not if you're debating whether you're getting Key lime or kaffir lime. And those tasting notes that list a litany of fruits and other elements should be pretty much ignored, certainly not emulated.

• What we “know” can hurt us. The wine world is no place for assumptions and conventional wisdom. People love surprises, or at least the open-minded sorts who most enjoy wine.

• Understanding weight/body/texture/mouthfeel is simple. Consider this “lactic” analogy: Light-bodied wine is akin to skim milk; medium-bodied wine as whole milk; full-bodied wine as cream.

• Cook with what you drink. Wine should be viewed just like other ingredients in a dish: A good cook wouldn't use 5-year-old dried herbs, and a $20 cut of meat deserves a better flavor enhancer than most $6 wine.

A handy app for bakers — and travelers

Not everyone has the brain space to spare to remember how many teaspoons are in a tablespoon or the formula for converting Fahrenheit to Celsius — let alone that morning's exchange rate for dollars to yen.

For those of us who aren't pub-quiz champions, Amount is an app that will put all of those quick conversions at your fingertips. It's undoubtedly a handy tool for international travelers or serious bakers, and the app lets you save favorite conversions on a handy shortcut list. But ultimately, it's a niche app and you might balk at having to pay any amount — even 99 cents — when it's just as easy to pop your conversion question into your nearest search engine. 99 cents, for iOS devices.

— Staff and wire reports

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