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Archive for Christmas

GIFT OF THE DAY: White Chocolate Polar Bears

White Chocolate Bears

White Chocolate Polar Bears

Mom, dad and the kids are adorable…but not too adorable to eat! Photos courtesy Woodhouse Chocolate.


They may be too old for Teddy bears and Winnie The Pooh, but no one is too old for these chocolate polar bears from Woodhouse Chocolate of Napa Valley, one of our favorite chocolate artisans.

Give just one bar or the whole family—all with your choice of red or blue snowflake medallions around their necks:

  • Five-inch tall chocolate bear, $12.00
  • Ten-inch tall chocolate bear, $32.00
    To get a bear, point your mouse to

    John Anderson of Woodhouse Chocolate was a vintner for 20 years before he became a chocolatier. So next up:


    From California

  • Fruity Chardonnay
  • Muscat
    From Europe

  • Gewürtztraminer: (Alsatian and German varieties have more sweetness than American versions
  • Liqueurs: cream liqueurs, creme de cacao, or fruit liquer
  • Mas Amiel: Vintage Blanc, from southwestern France
  • Muscat: (French) or Moscato from Italy
  • Riesling:: Alsatian (late harvest) or German Riesling: Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, Eiswein (ice wine)
  • Sherry: Amontillado, Brown, Cream or Pale Cream, East India, Moscatel, Oloroso, Pedro Ximénez (PX)

  • Asti Spumante, a sweeter sparkler from the Piedmont region of northwest Italy
  • Brachetto d’Acqui, an Italian sparkling rosé from the Piedmont region Italy
  • Champagne labeled sec, demi-sec or doux
  • Prosecco and Valdobbiadene from the Treviso area of northeast Italy
  • Other Italian sparkling wines labeled dolce or amabile
    If you need assistance in the wine department, don’t hesitate to ask one of the staff. That’s what they’re there for.


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    FOOD FUN: Green Bean Wreath

    Deck the halls with…green beans!

    You can serve this green bean wreath in several ways:

  • Crudités, with raw or blanched fresh green beans and a bowl of dip in the center.
  • Salad, raw or blanched, tossed in vinaigrette.
  • Steamed, and tossed with salted butter and fresh herbs (basil, dill, parsley).

    Choose the smaller beans: They’ll be sweeter and more tender. Long, thicker beans have been left on the vine too long, and can be tough and tasteless.

    Fresh green beans should be tender enough to eat raw, and should have a crisp snap when you break them apart. If they’re rubbery and bend, pass them by.

    Depending on the other sides, plan for 4-8 servings per pound of beans.


  • Green beans, trimmed and blanched or lightly steamed
  • Red onion, small dice
  • Dijon vinaigrette
  • Grape or cherry tomatoes, halved (red or mixed colors)
  • Fresh basil leaves, shredded (chiffonade) or other herb, chopped
  • Optional: anchovies, halved in a mustard vinaigrette, garnished with quartered hard-boiled eggs.
  • Garnish: large red bell peppers for the “bow”
    For The Vinaigrette

  • Olive oil and wine vinegar in a 3:1 proportion
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • Salt and pepper to taste

    Green Bean Wreath

    Green Bean Salad

    [1] Green bean and bell peppers crudités wreath from Between The Bread | NYC. [2] Re-arrange this green bean salad into a salad wreath (photo courtesy Keys To The Cucina).


    1. MAKE the vinaigrette. Toss the green beans and onion with the vinaigrette and refrigerate in a covered bowl to let the flavors meld.

    2. CUT the bell peppers into even strips. Wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve. Then…

    3. DRAIN and mound the beans onto a serving plate in the shape of a wreath. Decorate the wreath with the tomatoes and anchovies and sprinkle with the herbs. Arrange the “bow” at the top or bottom.


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    TIP OF THE DAY: 12 Ways To Serve Christmas Hot Chocolate

    Cocoa With Gingerbread Man

    Cocoa Mini Marshmallows

    Snowman Marshmallows

    [1] Topped with whipped cream that anchors a gingerbread man; photo courtesy The Hopeless Housewife. [2] A pile of mini marshmallow “snowballs” with a caramel drizzle; photo courtesy Damn Delicious. [3] Snowman marshmallows; photo courtesy Williams-Sonoma.


    There are special ways to serve hot chocolate during the holiday season. Some of the ones we’ve enjoyed:

  • In a special Christmas mug: green and red pattern, Santa or reindeer motif, etc.
  • With a candy cane, candy cane stirring stick or candy cane whipped cream.
  • Garnished with whipped cream and red and green sprinkles or holiday spices: cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, star anise.
  • Regular hot chocolate with a peppermint marshmallow.
  • Peppermint hot chocolate with a regular marshmallow.
  • Regular hot chocolate with peppermint schnapps (or cherry, chocolate, coffee, orange or raspberry liqueur).
  • With Christmas cookies, gingerbread or peppermint bark.
  • With a cup rim of crushed candy canes.

  • With candy cane ice cream instead of whipped cream.
  • Mint white hot chocolate: Make white hot chocolate and tint it green.
  • Holiday-themed to hand-melt in hot milk.
  • A tiny gingerbread house cookie garnish (created by Megan Reardon; get the recipe at, or a little gingerbread man whose arm hangs over the cup rim.
    Plus: Holiday Marshmallows

    Take a look and you’ll find holiday marshmallows shaped as evergreen trees, snowflakes, gingerbread men and so forth; or decorated in red and green. At Williams-Sonoma alone, we found:

  • Rudolph the Reindeer Marshmallows
  • Snowflake Marshmallows
  • Snowman Marshmallows




    The words cacao and chocolate come from our ancient neighbors in Central America, who first sampled its joys. Cacao trees, which originated in the Amazon region, grew wild in the rainforests of ancient Mexico. They were cultivated by the native Olmecs and the Mayas who followed them.

    While the sweet white fruit of the cacao pod was initially eaten, Amazonian natives ultimately found that grinding and mixing the seeds with water produced an even greater treat: the original cocoa beverage.

    Chocolate has been a beverage for most of its history as a food. We know that more than 2500 years the Maya were making the cacao beverage; and perhaps as early as 1200 B.C.E. the Olmec were doing so.

    Hardly the sweet treat we know today, xocoatl (pronounced cho-co-LAH-tay) was served as a cold, unsweetened drink. The beans were crushed into a paste and whipped until foamy with pepper, vanilla, chili pepper, cinnamon, musk and cornmeal.

    Still, it was fatty and bitter; the foam was considered to be the best part. Christopher Columbus and his officers, offered the elixir as a great honor, found the bitter concoction unpalatable and couldn’t even choke it down. He had no idea the locals were offering him their most valuable goods for trade. Thinking the product abominable, he brought only a few beans back to Spain.

    Seventeen years later, Hernan Cortés understood its value, and promoted plantations run by Europeans. Today’s descendants of the Maya and Aztec still prepare cacao and corn-based drinks that are similar to those enjoyed by their ancestors.

    Here’s more on the history of chocolate.


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    TIP OF THE DAY: A Perfect Christmas Cocktail (& A Chanukah Cocktail, Too)

    For your holiday celebrations, we propose a perfect Christmas cocktail:

  • It’s sparkling.
  • I can be red and green.
  • It’s easy to make.
  • There’s a mocktail variation.
    A conventional Mimosa combines sparkling wine and orange juice (see the Mimosa history, below). Substitute cranberry juice and you’ve got the holiday version.

    (For a Chanukah version, use sparkling wine and blue Curaçao, with blue sparkling sugar. Here’s the recipe; photo below.).

    You need only two ingredients—wine and cranberry juice. But you can create a more complex flavor and glamorous look recipe by adding:

  • Liqueur: cranberry or orange.
  • Rose or red sparkling wine.
  • A glass rimmer.
  • A festive garnish.

    You can make the drink sweeter with a sweeter sparkling wine, by adding liqueur, and/or by increasing the percentage of cranberry juice (which also makes a less potent drink).

  • For a sweeter cocktail, use a 1:1 proportion of wine to juice.
  • For a less sweet cocktail, use a 2:1 proportion of wine to juice.
  • For a dry cocktail, use a tablespoon or two of juice and fill the glass with wine.
    FOR THE WINE: There’s no need to spring for Champagne; its toasty flavors get covered up by the juice. Instead, use a well-priced ($10-$15/bottle) sparkling wine such as Asti Spumante or Prosecco from Italy, Cava from Spain, Crémant from France, or our favorite Yellow Tail Rosé Bubbles from Australia.
    TO SERVE: Champagne flutes are ideal, but you can use a conventional wine glass, preferably a white wine glass, which has a smaller and narrower mouth (a wide mouth lets the bubbles escape quickly, which is why champagne flutes are so narrow).


  • Sparkling wine (see our recommendations)
  • Cranberry juice (cranberry cocktail and cranberry drink products are sweeter)
  • Optional liqueur
  • Garnish (see ideas below)

    1. CHILL the wine and juice in advance.

    2. RIM the glasses in advance. Moisten the glass rims and twist them in a plate of sugar at the beginning of the event.

    3. ADD the juice and optional liqueur to the glass. Stir briefly.

    4. TOP off with the sparkling wine. Garnish as desired and serve.

  • “Evergreen”: rosemary sprig with cranberries or small red grapes.
  • Frozen grapes on a pick (recipe #3, below).
  • Red & Green: green sparkling sugar rim on the red drink.
  • “Santa hat”: a white sugar rim on the red drink.
  • Strawberry with green top, notched to sit on the rim.


  • Ocean spray sparkling juice drink or plain cranberry juice
  • Lemon-lime soda or (for a drier drink) club soda, plain or citrus-flavored

    Increase the ingredients as needed for the size of your gathering. You can mix the colors or use just one color of grapes.

  • 1 cup seedless green grapes
  • 1 cup seedless red grapes
  • 1/4 cup white granulated or sparkling sugar
  • Cocktail picks

    1. REMOVE from the stems and wash the grapes.

    2. PLACE 3-4 grapes on each pick and roll in a plate of sugar. The coating does not need to be even or heavy; a smaller amount makes for better eating. If the grapes have dried, you can lightly spray them with water. Let them sit for 15 minutes for the sugar to adhere.

    3. FREEZE the skewers until ready to use.


    Cranberry Mimosa

    Sparkling Christmas Cocktail

    Sparkling Christmas Cocktail

    Sparkling Christmas Cocktail

    Brachetto d'Acqui

    Chanukah Champagne Cocktail

    [1] Cranberry Mimosa with a conventional garnish (photo courtesy Ocean Spray). [2] With an “evergreen” garnish: a rosemary sprig and red grapes (photo courtesy Delish). [3] Like a Santa hat with a rim of sparkling sugar (photo courtesy Stress Baking). [4] With frozen sugared grapes (photo courtesy The Cookie Rookie). [5] For a deeper red cocktail: Brachetto d’Aqui sparkling Italian wine (photo courtesy Banfi). [6] The Chanukah version. Here’s the recipe from Announcing It, plus more Chanukah cocktails.

    The Mimosa, a cocktail composed of equal parts of orange juice and Champagne or other dry, white sparkling wine, was invented circa 1925 in the Hôtel Ritz in Paris, by bartender Frank Meier.

    Served in a Champagne flute, it is believed to be named after the the mimosa evergreen shrub (Acacia dealbata), which bears flowers of a similar light orange color as the drink.

    Because of the juice component, the Mimosa is often served at brunch. A Grapefruit Mimosa is a popular variation.

    A related drink, the Buck’s Fizz, has two parts Champagne to one part juice—and sometimes a splash of grenadine. Created at London’s Buck’s Club by bartender Pat McGarryhe, the Buck’s Fizz predates the Mimosa by about four years.


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    TIP OF THE DAY: Feast Of The Seven Fishes, Anchovies With Bread & Butter

    Anchovies, Bread & Butter

    White Anchovies

    White Anchovies

    Stirato, Italian Baguette

    [1] Nonna Menna’s buttered bread with anchovies (photo courtesy Giulia Scarpaleggia). [2] We substitute pimiento for the capers (photo courtesy La Tienda). [3] You can use anchovy filets in olive oil or boquerones, marinated filets turned white by the vinegar (photo courtesy La Tienda). [4] Stirato is the closed Italian bread to the French baguette (photo courtesy Them Apples).


    You don’t have to be of Italian descent to create the traditional Feast Of The Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve.

    We do it every year as a co-op event: Seven of us prepare the seven fish/seafood dishes, and the eighth makes dessert. (Note: With seven courses, the portions are smaller.)

    If you’re having a “regular” Christmas Eve party, set out the Feast Of The Seven Fishes as a buffet.

    We live near a good Italian bakery and can pick up stirato, the Italian bread closest to a baguette; but you can bake it yourself.

    Or buy baguettes!

    It’s a splendid feast, with opera playing in the background (or Christmas carols or Il Volo, if you prefer).

    For menu suggestions and a backgrounder on the holiday, check out our:

  • 2009 Feast Of The Seven Fishes
  • 2010 Feast Of The Seven Fishes
  • 2014 Feast Of The Seven Fishes
  • 2015 Feast Of The Seven Fishes

    As we sit around the sofa with bottles of wine, warming up for the main meal, we’re having a bread and butter with anchovies, inspired by the Tuscan grandmother of food writer Giulia Scarpaleggia. Nonna Menna added capers as well.

    “Just use quality ingredients,” says Giulia, “because there are no tricks nor deceits!” You can even…

    Butter. Our go-to butters are from Cabot’s and Vermont Creamery, but we’ll add Kerrygold, Organic Valley and Plugrá. If we had more capacity, we’d test Breakstone and Land o’ Lakes as well.

    Anchovies. We are happy with Cento, an inexpensive brand available at supermarkets, Trader Joe’s and elsewhere. We can also find Ortiz and Roland in our neighborhood, and are ordering some fancy brands online. (There are no fresh anchovies in our markets now.)

    Capers. Instead of Nonna’s capers, we’re using pimiento, a wonderful pairing with anchovies, with a garnish of chopped parsley. If we have time, we’ll add some lemon zest and garlic, or gremolata.

    The recipe is a no-brainer, but here’s how we’re serving it:

    Place all the ingredients on the table and let people butter and top their own.
    Ingredients & Preparation

  • A basket of sliced plain striate and a basket of toasted slices (substitute baguette for stirato).
  • Unsalted butter, softened in ramekins, served blind with butter spreaders. A number written on each ramekin with a china marker, and revealed at the end of the course.
  • Anchovies in oil, drained and piled into shallow bowls or small plates, with appetizer/cocktail forks for serving.
  • Pimiento (sweet red pepper) strips.
  • Fresh minced parsley, in a ramekin with an espresso spoon (because what’s a fish course without fresh herbs).

  • Replace the anchovies butter or sardine butter, a compound butter you can throw together.
  • Mash 1 cup of softened, unsalted butter with 1/2 cup mashed anchovies or sardines.
  • You can substitute anchovy paste, but it’s typically made with the cheapest anchovies, and very salty.


    Frutti di mare, “fruits of the sea” in Italian, is the name of a dish made of different seafood on the coasts of Italy.

    Frutti di mare literally means “fruits of the sea” and can include all types of seafood, including mussels, clams, prawns and other shellfish.

    It can be served in different ways: crudo (raw), fried and sautéed, for example.

    Sautéed, it is often used to top bucatini, linguine or spaghetti.

    For a first course, gather your favorite seafood and:

  • Serve it as a marinated seafood salad with good olive oil and lemon juice for at least part of the vinegar. You can serve it as is, but we prefer turning it into a green salad course.
  • You can mix the seafood with olives or capers. You can add onion. Place it atop Boston lettuce or mesclun mixed with fresh basil and baby arugula.
  • Pile it into a Martini or coupe glass, with a small romaine leaf for garnish.
  • You can serve frutti di mare as a pasta course, with good olive oil or garlic-infused oil as your sauce (don’t forget the fresh herbs). Or, use your favorite red sauce.
  • Like to make cannelloni or crêpes? Fill them with frutti de mare and top with mornay sauce.
  • Need a soup course? Cook the fish and seafood in some Swanson broth.

    They’re different from calamari, too.


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    Frutti Di Mare

    Frutti di mare, mixed seafood, can be served in many ways. [1] Marinated, at All’ Onda | NYC). [2] With pasta; here’s the recipe from



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