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Archive for Christmas

TIP OF THE DAY: Make A Wreath Cake

You may not feel up to making a Bûche de Noël (Yule Log Cake), but you can certainly make a wreath cake.

While there is trend to pull-apart cupcake wreath cakes, we decided to try a traditional one.

This recipe was adapted by Audra, The Baker Chick from one on AllRecipes.com. It’s the third photo, requires no piping skills, and although it’s not as showy, it’s much easier to serve and eat.

RECIPE: CRANBERRY BUTTERMILK UPSIDE DOWN WREATH CAKE

Prep time is 15 minutes, bake time is 50 minutes.

Ingredients For 10 Servings

  • ½ cup (1 stick) plus 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, separated
  • ¾ cup plus ½ cup white sugar, separated
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste, separated
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 bag (12 ounces) fresh or frozen cranberries
  • 1½ cups flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk*
  •  
    For The Decoration

  • Frosted grapes
  • Fresh rosemary sprigs (instead of the evergreen† shown)
  •  
    Preparation

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 350°F. Spray or grease a 10-inch ring pan thoroughly‡.

    2. COMBINE the half stick of butter, 3/4 cup white sugar, cinnamon and 1 teaspoon of vanilla in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir until the butter has melted; then add the cranberries, tossing until they are coated in the butter mixture. Pour into the bottom of the cake pan and set aside.

    3. CREAM together the 6 tablespoons of butter with the remaining ½ cup of white sugar and the brown sugar in a large mixing bowl fitted with a paddle attachment. Add the eggs, one at a time, the rest of the vanilla and the buttermilk.

     

    wreath-cake-frederickspastry-pastry.net-230w

    wreath-cake-cupcakes-beautifullife.info-230

    Cranberry Christmas Wreath Cake

    TOP PHOTO: A professional wreath cake from Frederick’s Pastry. MIDDLE PHOTO: A wreath of cupcakes from BeautifulLife.info. BOTTOM PHOTO: An easier-to-make wreath cake from TheBakerChick.com.

     
    4. WHISK together the dry ingredients and slowly add to the butter mixture, mixing on low speed until well combined. Pour/scoop the batter over the cranberry mixture and use the back of a spoon to smooth as needed.

    5. BAKE for 35-50 minutes, depending on your oven, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

    6. MAKE the frosted grapes. Garnish before serving.
    ____________________________
     
    *If you don’t have buttermilk, add 1 or 2 tablespoons of lemon juice or vinegar to enough milk to make 1 cup.

    †Fresh evergreen can impart strong sap or needles.

    ‡There is not enough batter to fully fill out a bundt pan.

      

    Comments

    RECIPE: Peppermint White Hot Chocolate & Chocolate Peppermint Brownies

    Christmas season is a bonanza for peppermint lovers, from candy canes to peppermint bark to chocolate-peppermint everything.

    Now, have a cup of peppermint white hot chocolate with a dark chocolate peppermint brownie. Both recipes are from McCormick.

    While together they create a chocolate-peppermint symphony, they can be split up and paired with non-peppermint, non-chocolate beverages and cookies.

    RECIPE: PEPPERMINT WHITE HOT CHOCOLATE

    Ingredients For 6 One-Cup Servings

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 8 ounces white chocolate*, coarsely chopped
  • 4 cups half-and-half
  • 1/4 teaspoon McCormick Pure Peppermint Extract
  • Optional garnish: whipped cream
  •  
    *We chop up white chocolate bars from Green & Black’s or Lindt.
     
    Preparation

       

    white-hot-choc-peppermint-bars-mccormick-230

    If you’re a big fan of peppermint, this dessert is for you: white peppermint hot chocolate with chocolate peppermint bars. Photo courtesy McCormick.

     

    1. PLACE the heavy cream and chocolate in medium saucepan. Cook and stir on medium heat until chocolate is melted.

    2. STIR in half-and-half and peppermint extract. Cook and stir until heated through. Pour into serving cups. Garnish with whipped cream if desired.
     
    25+ HOT CHOCOLATE VARIATIONS

    There’s a recipe for every day of the month. See all the hot chocolate ideas.

    Here’s the difference between hot chocolate and cocoa.

     

    peppermint-cream-brownies-mccormick-a-kitchen-addiction-230

    Top chocolate brownies with peppermint
    cream and chocolate ganache. Photo
    courtesy A Kitchen Addiction.

     

    RECIPE: CHOCOLATE PEPPERMINT BARS

    This fudgy brownie is layered with peppermint frosting and a rich chocolate glaze. Prep time is 15 minutes, bake time is 15 minutes.

    RECIPE: CHOCOLATE PEPPERMINT BARS

    Ingredients For 36 Bars

  • 1 package (family-size) fudge brownie mix or your own brownie recipe
  • 2-1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) plus 7 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon pure peppermint extract
  • 12 ounces semi-sweet baking chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • Crushed peppermint candies
  •  

    Preparation

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 350°F. Prepare the brownie mix as directed on the package. Spread in greased foil-lined 15x10x1-inch baking pan. Bake 15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out almost clean. Cool in the pan on wire rack. Meanwhile…

    2. BEAT the confectioners’ sugar, 7 tablespoons of the butter (melted), cream and peppermint extract in large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed until well blended and smooth. Spread evenly over the cooled pan of brownies. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

    3. MICROWAVE the chocolate and the remaining 1/2 cup (1 stick)pf butter in large microwavable bowl on HIGH, for 2 minutes or until the butter is melted. Stir until chocolate is completely melted. Spread over top of chilled brownie.

    4. SPRINKLE with the crushed peppermint candies. Cut into bars.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: 10+ Holiday Garnishes

    Many people are so accustomed to the same old parsley or watercress garnish. It’s easy to create special touches can you use for the holidays. The majority can be used with either drinks or dishes of food, savory or sweet.

    We like festive red and green garnishes and star shapes. Consider:

  • Carambola (star fruit) slices (it’s greenish yellow; combine with a sprinkle of pomegranate arils for plate garnishes or notch for the rims of glasses)
  • Caviar: green- and red-colored golden whitefish caviar or green and red tobiko (flying fish roe)
  • Champagne grapes or red currants
  • Pomegranate arils on a slice of lime or kiwi
  • Red and green grapes: clusters, threaded, scattered, or on picks
  • Red cherry or grape tomatoes, halved on a cucumber slice or placed on top of baby arugula or spinach
  • Red radish slices atop cucumber slices
  •  

    Christmas Garnish

    A lime with pomegranate arils can dress drinks or plates of food. Photo courtesy Danny Meyer.

  • Rosemary sprigs, plain or stems threaded with whole cranberries
  • Sprinkled dried cranberries and green pistachios
  • Star shapes cut from fruits and vegetables (use a small star cookie cutter)
  • Whole cranberries (thread them with green grapes of popcorn as platter garnishes)
  •  
    For Desserts

  • Crushed candy canes
  • Frosted grapes
  • Raspberries or strawberries and mint leaves
  •  
    Other ideas? Please share!

      

    Comments

    RECIPE: Christmas Ornament Cookies

    If our recent article on making Christmas tree ornaments from deyhydrated fruit didn’t appeal to you, how about cookie ornaments? Unlike the dried citrus, you can eat the cookies when you take down the tree.

    This is a recipe for people who want to hone their decorating techniques. Marian, cookie decorating expert and author of the blog Sweetopia, has created a tutorial to guide you. Follow her easy steps and master the art of marbling (also called feathering or swirling).

    To marble, you simply add one or more colors of icing to a base coat and then drag a toothpick through the icing to create a marbled effect. Check out the step-by-step decorating instructions

    If you’ve made cookies like these before you, you know that all you need are time and patience. It gets easier with every batch.

    Bonus: You can use the marbling technique on cakes, cocktails with foam top layer, and of course, cappuccino and latte.

    These are gingerbread cookies, but if you prefer, you can make shortbread or chocolate shortbread cookies. Prep time is 25 minutes, cook time is 15 minutes. Determine in advance how many colors of icing you want to use.

    RECIPE: MARBLED ORNAMENT GINGERBREAD COOKIES

       

    Christmas Ornament Cookies

    Hang these ornament cookies on the tree, and eat them when the tree comes down (in theory). Photo courtesy GoBoldWithButter.com.

     
    Ingredients For 30 Cookies

    For The Cookies

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 3 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoons ground cloves
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup molasses
  • 6-1/2 cups (800 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Optional: 1 teaspoon baking powder*
  •  
    For The Royal Icing

  • 3/4 cup (6 ounces) warm water
  • 5 tablespoons meringue powder (if not vanilla flavored, add 1 teaspoon clear vanilla extract†)
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 2-1/4 pounds (about 5-2/3 cups) powdered sugar
  •  
    For Decorating

  • Christmas ornament cookie cutters
  • Piping bags
  • Piping bag couplers
  • #2 piping tips
  • Icing bag ties or rubber bands
  • Toothpicks
  • Ribbon
  •  
    *Omit the baking powder if you do not want cookies to spread/rise.

    †Clear vanilla extract is a flavoring used when you don’t want vanilla to discolor a light icing. It is not “real” vanilla extract. Rather, it is flavored with vanillin, which is used to make artificial vanilla extract.

     

    Ornament Cookies

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    Christmas Cookie Ornaments

    The three steps to decorating ornament
    cookies. In the third photo, a toothpick is
    used to drag the icing up and down, as
    shown by the arrows. Photos courtesy Go
    Bold With Butter.

     

    Preparation

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 350°F. Cream the butter and brown sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment, on medium speed, until fluffy. Mix in the spices, then the eggs and molasses. Reduce the speed to low.

    2. WHISK together in a separate bowl the flour, salt and baking powder. Add to butter mixture, and mix until just combined.

    3. FORM the dough into a disk shape and wrap it in plastic. Refrigerate until cold, about 1 hour.

    4. ROLL the out dough on lightly floured work surface or between 2 sheets of parchment paper to about 1/4-inch thick. Cut out the shapes with cookie cutters and cut a small hole in the top of each cookie for the ribbon.

    5. PLACE the cookies approximately 2 inches apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Refrigerate until the dough is firm, at least 15 minutes and up to 1 hour.

    6. BAKE the cookies until lightly golden, 12 to 14 minutes. Let them cool on the sheets on wire racks.

    7. MAKE the royal icing. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add the warm water and meringue powder (and the clear vanilla extract if necessary). Whisk by hand until frothy and thickened, about 30 seconds. Add the cream of tartar and whisk by hand for 30 seconds more.

    8. ADD all the powdered sugar at once. Using the lowest speed, mix slowly with the paddle for 10 minutes. The icing will become thick and creamy.

    9. DIVIDE into portions to tint with food colorings. As necessary, thin the icing with small amounts of warm water to reach the desired consistency.
     
    DECORATING WITH ROYAL ICING

    1. BEGIN by piping an icing outline around each cookie. Use a piping bag fitted with a coupler and #2 tip.

    2. LET the outline dry for a few minutes to create a solid border. You’ll be able to see the border somewhat when the icing dries, so alternately you could fill or flood your cookie in right after piping the outline. Once you’ve filled the whole cookie…

    3. SHAKE it gently left to right on your work surface, to help smooth the icing out.

     

    4. ADD your second (or more) layer or color of icing. Work as quickly as you can before the icing sets.

    5. TAKE a toothpick and drag it through the icing, drawing S-like shapes. Each combination of colors creates another look. Just by changing the way you set up your lines and drag the toothpick, completely different designs emerge.

    6. DO as much decorating as you like. Once the marbled icing has set (at least 15 minutes), pipe the icing at the top (crown) of the ornament, representing (use grey or gold). Let that set and pipe a few line details as desired.
     
    IMPORTANT NOTE

    Don’t be intimidated by the piping. You don’t have to make perfectly marbled cookies like an expert baker. You can make abstract swirls, polka dots or whatever you like.

      

    Comments

    RECIPE: Easy Gingerbread Cake & More Ways To Enjoy Gingerbread

    Gingerbread is a long-standing holiday tradition, the seeds of which are with the 11th-century crusaders returning from the Holy Land with ginger and other spices. The history is below.

    Beyond those first gingerbread cakes and cookies, ginger has found its way into present day mousse, waffles,

    RECIPE: EASY GINGERBREAD CAKE

    Ingredients

  • 2 cups of all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons of ground ginger
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon of ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup warm milk
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup dark molasses
  • Garnish: whipped cream*
  •  
    *Instead of vanilla-flavored whip cream, consider bourbon whipped cream.
     
    Preparation

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 350°F. Whisk together the flour, ginger, cinnamon, cloves and baking soda in a large bowl until combined; set aside.

    2. PLACE the milk in a microwave-safe bowl and cook in the microwave on high for 90 seconds. Whisk the butter into the bowl with the hot milk until it has melted. Add the brown sugar and molasses and mix. Stir in the egg.

    3. ADD the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients bowl and mix until they are completely combined. Pour the batter into an 8″x8″ pan. Bake for 30 minutes or until it the cake is firm in the center. Cool the cake completely. Serve with whipped cream.

       

    Gingerbread Cake

    gingerbread-cheesecaked-bakedbyrachel-230

    TOP PHOTO: Easy gingerbread cake made even easier in a disposable Reynolds Bakeware pan. When you’re bringing food to someone’s house, you don’t have to worry about getting the pan back. BOTTOM PHOTO: How about a gingerbread cheesecake? Here’s the recipe from BakedByRachel.com.

     
    MORE WAYS TO ENJOY GINGERBREAD

  • Easy Gingerbread Cupcakes Recipe
  • Gingerbread Bars With Cream Cheese Frosting Recipe
  • Gingerbread Frozen Yogurt Recipe
  • Gingerbread Latte Recipe
  • Gingerbread Men Cookies Recipe (you’ll need a gingerbread woman cookie cutter to give equal opportunity to the ladies)
  • Gingerbread Whoopie Pies Recipe
  • Gingerbread Pancakes & Waffles Recipe
  • Gluten-Free Gingerbread Cookies Recipe
  • Ginger-Lemon Cinnamon Buns Recipe
  • Mini Eggnog-Gingerbread Cheesecakes Recipe
  •  
    Even More
    Make a gingerbread sundae with cinnamon, ginger and vanilla ice creams. Add cubes of fresh-baked gingerbread bars or cake, topped with whipped cream, candied ginger and chunks of Chuao Chocolate’s gingerbread chocolate bar. The truly indulgent can add caramel sauce.

    Don’t want to make anything at all? Check out the gingerbread cottages, trains, wreaths and cake pops at MackenzieLtd.com.

    Check your supermarket, frozen yogurt or gelato/ice shop for a seasonal gingerbread flavor.

    Look for Nonni’s Nonni’s Gingerbread Biscotti. We’re big fans.
     

     

    Gingerbread Man and Woman

    Gingerbread Cupcakes

    TOP PHOTO: Equal opportunity: Bake
    gingerbread men and women. Photo courtesy
    WMMB. BOTTOM PHOTO: Make these
    gingerbread cupcakes from Pillsbury.

     

    THE HISTORY OF GINGERBREAD

    At the end of the 11th century, the Crusaders returned to Europe from the Middle East with ginger and other spices. Prior to the 15th century, “gingerbread” referred to preserved ginger. It began to be used to flavor cakes and cookies. Monks baked the first gingerbread cookies for holidays and festivals, which are called Lebkuchen in German.

    Why is it called ginger “bread” in English? The spice ginger, zingebar in Latin, became gingerbras in Old French, gingerbread in Medieval English and Ingwer in German.

    Gingerbread cookies were made year-round in a proliferation of shapes—flowers, hearts, trees and so forth in different sizes. The Medieval German Lebkuchen Guild† transformed gingerbread into a highly-decorated art, crafting the fancy shapes and decorating them with sugar and gold.

    But gingerbread men originated elsewhere. The credit goes to Queen Elizabeth I—or more precisely, an unnamed palace baker who toiled during her reign (1558 to 1603). Her Majesty bestowed “portrait” gingerbread cookies upon important court visitors, decorated in their likenesses.
     
    Who Invented Gingerbread Houses?

    According to a reference in FoodTimeline.org, the tradition of baking gingerbread houses began in Germany after the Brothers Grimm published their collection of fairy tales in 1812.

    Life imitates art: Inspired by the story of Hansel and Gretel, who nibbled at the witch’s candy-covered gingerbread house (and inspired our name, The Nibble), German bakers created miniature houses from the already popular lebkuchen (gingerbread). Artists were employed to decorate the houses, which became particularly popular during Christmas.

    “Hansel and Gretel” vastly increased the popularity of gingerbread cookies and other treats. Gingerbread men and animals became popular Christmas tree ornaments.

     
     
    The gingerbread tradition crossed the ocean with the German immigration wave that began in 1820. We thank them for the gingerbread.
     
    THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN GINGERBREAD, GINGERSNAPS & GINGER COOKIES

    A ginger cookie is a soft, molasses-type cookie that is flavored with ginger and other spices. It is larger than, and otherwise differs from, a gingersnap.

    Unlike the fancier gingerbread, a gingersnap is a small, thin, plain round cookie with a hard, smooth texture like a gingerbread cookie. It is a smaller version of the traditional German Christmas cookie known as Lebkuchen. Like a gingerbread cookie, ginger snaps break with a “snap.”

    Gingersnaps contain a larger amount of ginger, and thus are spicier, than the chewier ginger cookies.

     
    *Only Lebkuchen Guild members could bake gingerbread, except during Christmas, when anyone could bake it.

      

    Comments

    CHRISTMAS: A Star Made Of Cheese

    Cabot Cheese commemorates the Christmas Star (Star of Bethlehem) using a different flavor of their excellent cheddars for each point on the star.

    In addition to regular cheddars in different stages of sharpness, there are delicious flavored cheddars: Chipotle, Everything Bagel, Garlic & Herb, Horseradish, Hot Buffalo Wing, Smoky Bacon and Tomato Basil. The company also makes Muenster, Pepper Jack and other popular cheese styles.

    For variety, use other semi-hard cheeses. Look for young Asiago, Colby, Edam, Fontinella, aged Gouda, Jack, Manchego, Provolone and Queso Blanco—for starters.
     
    RECIPE: CHEESE STAR

    You can make the star with one kind of cheese or use a different flavor for each star point—any cheese firm enough to cut into cubes. You can make a larger star for a larger crowd.

    Ingredients For A 13-Inch Diameter Star

     

    Cheese Star

    A cheese star is born. Before building the cheese cube design, place a small bowl in the center for the garnish (here, pecans). Gouda wishes! Photo courtesy Cabot Cheese.

  • 5 (8-ounce) bars or blocks of cheese, cut into cubes
  • Fresh bay leaves or other herb
  • Roasted nuts, mixed olives or grape tomatoes
  • Garnish: fresh sage leaves (substitute basil, bay leaf, sweet bay or perilla [shiso])
  •  
    Ingredients

    1. PLACE a small shallow bowl or saucer in the center of a large platter or cheese plate. Cut the cheese bars into 3/4-inch cubes, about 30 cubes for each flavor.

    2. BUILD the star around the bowl. Each of the five star points will be 5 cubes long and from 1 to 5 cubes wide. (If your bowl is too big, you will need more cubes to evenly the space five star points.)

    3. PLACE 4 or 5 cubes against the bowl to form each star point, for a total of 5 star points. Build out the points by placing more cubes as shown in the photo. In our star, we had a base row of 3 or 4 cubes, followed by one row of 3 cubes, 2 rows of 2 cubes and one row of 1 cube for the tip of each star point.

    4. BUILD up the star by topping the first layer with a second layer of cubes.

    5. TUCK sage leaves into the star as shown. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. Fill the bowl in the center with nuts, olives or tomatoes.
     
    HOW ABOUT A CHEESE CHRISTMAS TREE?

    Here’s the recipe to stack cubes of cheese into a Christmas tree cheese board.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Christmas Cheese Balls

    Holiday Cream Cheese Balls

    Vegetable Cheese Ball

    TOP PHOTO: Cheese balls decorated like
    ornaments for holiday festivals. Photo
    courtesy Kraft. BOTTOM PHOTO: What’s
    inside the cheese ball? Here it’s red and
    green bell peppers. Photo by Claire
    Freierman | THE NIBBLE.

     

    Turn cheese balls into holiday ornaments with the right coatings. This recipe from Philadelphia Cream Cheese uses only cream cheese, but you can use your favorite cheese ball recipe.

    Instead of one big cheese ball, you make mini cheese balls with different coatings.

    We prefer to take the recipe one step further and flavor the cream cheese. We like bell pepper cream cheese, jalapeño cream cheese, olive cream cheese and scallion cream cheese; and for a splurge, smoked salmon cream cheese rolled in fresh dill.
     
    DESSERT CHEESE BALLS

    You can also make a dessert version to serve with cookies, like chocolate cream cheese (with cocoa powder and sugar), chocolate chip cream cheese (or other chip flavor), berry cream cheese (blueberry, raspberry, strawberry) and peanut butter cream cheese, rolled in cocoa powder, coconut or mini chocolate chips. But back to the savory:

    RECIPE: HOLIDAY CHEESE BALLS

    Ingredients

  • 1-1/2 packages cream cheese (total 12 ounces), softened
  • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
  • 1 teaspoon poppy seeds
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced, divided
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped dried cranberries
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped pecans
  •  
    Plus

  • Cream cheese mix-ins: green and red jalapeños, green and red bell peppers, olives, pimentos, scallions or other fillings
  •  
    Serve With

  • Bagel Chips
  • Crackers
  • Other chips and crisps
  • Preparation

    1. CUT the cream cheese brick into 6 two-ounce pieces; roll each into ball. If you’re flavoring the cream cheese, finely chop and blend in the mix-ins before shaping the balls.

    2. COMBINE the sesame seeds, poppy seeds and half the garlic in small bowl. Mix the herbs and remaining garlic in a separate small bowl. Combine the cranberries and nuts in third bowl.

    3. ROLL 2 cheese balls in the sesame seed mixture, 2 cheese balls in the herb mixture and the remaining 2 cheese balls in the nut mixture.

    4. WRAP each ball in plastic and refrigerate until ready to serve. Alternatively, you can place them in an airtight food storage container, lightly covered with plastic before you close the lid.

     

    RECIPE: CHRISTMAS GOAT CHEESE LOGS

    The glamorous goat cheese log in the photo couldn’t be easier. If you’d rather turn it into round “tree ornaments. See Step 2.

    Ingredients

  • Log(s) of goat cheese, straight from the fridge
  • Dried cranberries and pistachios -or-
  • The coating of your choice
  •  
    Preparation

    1. MIX roughly-chopped dried cranberries and pistachio nuts and place them on wax paper on a work surface.

    2. ROLL the log of goat cheese in the mixture, pressing down lightly so the mixture adheres. If you’d rather have round balls of goat cheese, let the cheese soften, form it into balls, and return it to the fridge until it hardens enough to roll easily.

    3. WRAP the finished log tightly in plastic and refrigerate until serving.
     
    TIP: See if you can score some honey goat cheese logs (we get ours at Trader Vic’s). They’re a revelation.
     
    MORE HOLIDAY CHEESE BALL IDEAS

  • Christmas Tree Cheese Ball Recipe #2
  • Pine Cone Cheese Ball Recipe(#1 is in the photo caption)
  • Pine Cone Cheese Ball Recipe #2
  • Snowman Cheese Ball Recipe
  • Snowman Cheese Ball Recipe #2
  •  

    Christmas Goat Cheese Log

    Christmas Tree Cheese Ball

    TOP PHOTO: Goat cheese log from More Than Hungry. BOTTOM PHOTO: We love this Christmas tree cheese “ball.” Here’s the recipe from Betty Crocker.

     

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Christmas Tree & Star Of David Napkin Folds

    Star Fold Christmas Napkin

    Star Of David Napkin Fold

    TOP PHOTO: Dress your holiday table with a Christmas tree napkin fold. Photo courtesy BHG.com. BOTTOM PHOTO: A Star Of David napkin fold for Chanukah. Photo courtesy Expert Village.

     

    Some people go all out decorating the holiday table: bowls of ornaments, candelabra, flowers, holly, miniature rosemary trees, pine boughs, pine cones, pomanders, reindeer, ribbons, the works.

    We always have so much food on the table that we need to keep things simple. We do it with a special tablecloth and napkins.

    And napkin folds.

    Last year we folded the dinner napkins in the shape of a traditional Christmas tree. This year, it’s a more abstract tree with a star.

    We found the top napkin fold on BHG.com, the website of Better Homes & Gardens.

    BHG has topped it with a star-shaped napkin ring. We don’t have star-shaped rings, but have jeweled gold-tone rings that will do the trick…unless we can pick up star rings on sale a day or two before Christmas.

    See how to fold the napkin, including a video, at BHG.com.
     
    MORE HOLIDAY NAPKIN FOLDS

    If you don’t want a tree, FabArtDIY.com has collected 20 different holiday folds.

    Chinet has a nice collection, including a poinsettia and a double star. There are also year-round designs.

    We like how NancyCreative.com folds napkins into festive bows.

    Elf hats, anyone? Here’s a video from Good Housekeeping.
     
    CHANUKAH NAPKIN FOLD

    Celebrating Chanukah? Here’s a Star of David. Star of David napkin fold (photo above).

    If you think you can do it, try this Star Of David, based on origami techniques.

     

    WHO ORIGINATED NAPKIN FOLDING?

    The art of napkin folding is called napery. The word comes from the Old French naperie, tablecloth.

    Not surprisingly, it started with royalty. According to one source, the art dates back to the around 1400, a time when warm napkins or even perfumed napkins graced the tables of the elite. Another source credits the reign of Louis XIV, 1643-1715.

    The craft trickled down to the homes of the wealthy and almost-wealthy (the upper middle class). At fine tables in the 19th century, starched napkins were artfully folded nightly.
     
    What About The Napkin Ring?

    The use of napkin rings began in Europe during the Napoleonic era, 1799 to 1815. They were developed not for royalty, but for the bourgeoisie (middle class).

    The wealthy could afford freshly-laundered napkins at every meal; but the bourgeoisie lacked the servant bandwidth to make that happen. As a result, one cloth napkin would be used for all the meals in one day, or even for an entire week. Monogrammed napkin rings identified whom each napkin belonged to.

    In modern times, napkin rings have become decorative, and using them is much quicker than napery.

    Interested in the craft? Get a book on napkin folding and go to town! Gearing up for Valentine’s Day, the cover photo of the linked book is a pink napkin in a heart-shape fold.
     
      

    Comments

    RECIPE: Cranberry Crumb Bars

    For a simple dessert or coffee break snack during the holiday season, try these “crantastic” crumb bars from the talented Lauryn Cohen, a.k.a. Bella Baker. See more of her terrific recipes at BellaBaker.com.

    RECIPE: CRANBERRY CRUMB BARS

    Ingredients

  • 1-3/4 cups white sugar
  • 3/4 cup rolled oats
  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup almond meal
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2-1/2 sticks cold butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 tablespoon potato starch
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 4 cups fresh cranberries
  •  

    cranberry-crumb-bars-bellabaker-230

    Try these crumb bars with a morning cup of coffee or as a snack. Photo courtesy Bella Baker.

     

    Preparation

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 375°F. Line a 9×13 glass baking dish with aluminum foil and spray foil with nonstick spray.

    2. MIX together in a bowl 1-3/4 cups sugar, the oats, flour, almond meal, salt, cinnamon and baking powder. Use your fingertips or a pastry cutter to blend in the butter. With a fork, mix in the eggs to create a dough that comes together. The dough will be a little crumbly. Pat half of the dough into the buttered pan.

    3. STIR together in another bowl the second 1-3/4 cups sugar, potato starch, vanilla and orange juice. Mix in the cranberries. Pour the cranberry mixture evenly over the dough in the pan.

    4. CRUMBLE the remaining dough over the berries and gently pat down so that dough is covering all of the cranberries. Bake for 50-55 minutes, or until the top is a light golden brown.

    5. COOL completely and chill in the refrigerator before cutting into squares. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: A Flavored Shots Party

    Pinnacle Peppermint Bark Vodka

    Plastic Shot Glasses

    TOP PHOTO: Pinnacle Vodka has 40 flavors, including holiday flavors like Peppermint Bark and Pumpkin Pie. BOTTOM PHOTO: One-ounce, colored shot glasses are the way to go. Photo courtesy Party Essentials.

     

    Looking to do something different for a holiday get-together with friends? While there’s always a holiday drinks menu, here’s an idea that requires no mixing: flavored shots.

    The flavored spirits category is “on fire,” according to Liquor.com. a website for industry professionals. You can now find flavored bourbons and ryes*, in addition to the pioneer category of flavored vodka and the flavored tequilas† that followed vodka’s success.

    Now before the angry comments begin, let us emphasize that this is not a lets-get-loaded shots party. It’s a responsible let’s-taste-some-flavored-spirits-straight opportunity. The novelty for many people is tasting flavored spirits outside of a mixed drink.

    In fact, sipping from a shot glass is our favorite way to enjoy flavored spirits. And for planning purposes, four different flavors are about as much as people should have in an evening, even with designated drivers. While a standard shot is 1.5 ounces (44 milliliters) for 80 proof distilled spirits, take it down to 1 ounce.

    What if people want more than four ounces? Flavored club soda or spritzers.
     
    WHERE DO YOU GET THE SHOT GLASSES?

    You can buy clear one-ounce plastic shot glasses or two-ounce shot glasses. They can be washed and reused for another occasion.

    But if you’re serving vodka or tequila, since the sprits are clear, we think colored shot glasses are all-around better. Not only are they festive, but you can color-code the pours.

     
    WHAT FLAVORS SHOULD YOU PICK?

    Your options are based on what spirit you choose. Pinnacle, for example, has more than 40 flavors of vodka. There are large numbers of flavored tequilas, and the numbers get smaller with whiskey.

    For vodka, you can choose four different fruits from the many options, or make the party more holiday-focused with specialty flavors like Pinnacle’s Caramel Apple, Peppermint Bark, Salted Caramel, Whipped Cream and Chocolate Whipped Cream.

     
    But wait: There’s also Cookie Dough, Pecan Pie Vodka and Pumpkin Pie.

    Pinnacle doesn’t make a cranberry vodka, but other distillers do, including Bear Hug, Deep Eddy, Smirnoff and Sobieski.

    And then there’s what your local liquor stores carry—or don’t.
     
    THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SHOTS AND SHOOTERS

    Both shooters and shots are served in shot glasses. Shots are 100% spirits; shooters are mini-cocktails, combining spirits and/or liqueurs with non-alcoholic mixers.

    Traditionally, both are consumed in one gulp, but we recommend breaking with the tradition of chugging. Chugging is for people who want to make a certain statement; sipping is for people who want to taste what they drink.

    As always, plan ahead for designated drivers and don’t forget the plain or flavored club soda for in-between.
     
    _______________________________________
    *Flavored bourbons include Knob Creek Smoked Maple Bourbon and; Red Stag Black Cherry, Hardcore Cider, Honey Tea and Spiced; and Wild Turkey Spiced Bourbon. Flavored ryes include Pow-Wow Botanical Rye (saffron and orange peel), Even Dewar’s has Highland Honey Scotch. And Kings County Distillery in Brooklyn produces the makes chocolate whiskey. Also look for Bird Dog Maple, a best-seller, and Canadian Mist Peach, among others.

    †There are numerous flavored tequilas: almond, banana, chile, chocolate, coconut, coffee, lime, mandarin, mango, pear, pomegranate, strawberry and watermelon. Check out these.
     
      

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