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Archive for Christmas

TIP OF THE DAY: Make Christmas Popcorn Balls

Our grandmother loved to make popcorn balls with candied pecans. They’d be placed in a beautiful Moorcroft bowl for nibbling.

Our childhood contribution was to add chocolate chips and M&Ms. But these Coconut Popcorn Snowballs with candy canes are spot on for the holiday season. (If you don’t like peppermint, you can leave out the candy canes.)

The recipe is from the Popcorn Board. While the recipe suggests four-inch-diameter popcorn balls, that’s a huge portion. We suggest making two-inch-diameter balls.

You can give them gifts and party favors—if you can restrain yourself from eating them.


Ingredients For 8 Four-Inch Balls

  • 2 cups shredded or flaked sweetened coconut
  • 3 quarts popped popcorn
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
  • 3 cups miniature marshmallows

    Coconut popcorn snowball. Photo courtesy The Popcorn Board.

  • 1 teaspoon coconut or vanilla extract
  • 8 candy canes or candy cane sticks, about 3-4 inches

    1. PLACE a large sheet of waxed or parchment paper over a work surface. Spread coconut onto paper.

    2. SPRAY a large mixing bowl lightly with cooking spray and place popcorn inside.

    3. MELT butter over low heat in a medium saucepan. Stir in marshmallows and continue to stir until marshmallows are melted and mixture is smooth. Pour over popcorn and mix well until coated.

    4. SPRAY hands with cooking spray and press firmly to form into balls. Place balls on coconut and roll and press coconut to coat. While holding popcorn ball, gently press a candy cane into each ball.

    5. SERVE immediately or wrap individually in plastic wrap for storage.


    White chocolate candy cane popcorn. Photo
    courtesy The Popcorn Board.



    Ingredients For 1 Pound

  • 5 cups popped popcorn
  • 12 ounces white chocolate baking chips, chopped white chocolate or white chocolate chips
  • 1 cup crushed hard candy peppermints

    1. COVER a baking pan with foil or wax paper; set aside. Place popcorn in a large bowl; set aside.

    2. MELT chocolate in a double boiler over barely simmering water, stirring until smooth. Or, melt according to package directions. Stir in crushed peppermints after chocolate is melted.


    3. POUR chocolate mixture over popcorn mixture and stir to coat. Spread onto prepared pan; allow to cool completely. When chocolate is cooled and set, break into chunks for serving.

    4. STORE in an air-tight container at room temperature.

    Don’t like mint? Mix ½ cup dried sweetened cranberries and ½ cup sliced almonds with the popcorn. Pour chocolate over the mixture after it is melted.



    RECIPE: Holiday Sorbet Cocktail

    We spent much of the weekend enjoying limited-edition, seasonal batch flavors from Ciao Bella Gelato: Cranberry Prosecco Sorbet, Montebianco Gelato and Pumpkin Sea Salt Caramel Gelato.

    Cranberry Prosecco Gelato. No matter how stuffed you may be from a big holiday dinner, there’s always room for sorbet. Ciao Bella’s Cranberry Prosecco Sorbet marries sweet-tart cranberry sorbet with a hint of Prosecco, the Italian sparkling wine.

    Colorful and delicious by itself, it creates an easy cocktail—apéritif or dessert—when scooped into a glass of Prosecco or other sparkling wine. A great idea for Christmas or New Year’s Eve. It can be made as a mocktail for non-drinkers.

    Montebianco Gelato. Montebianco, or Mont Blanc, is a famous European dessert made with puréed, sweetened chestnuts, whipped cream and chocolate shavings. Ciao Bella’s Montebianco Gelato is a luscious chestnut cream with organic dark chocolate chunks and a bit of rum extract. If you’re an ice cream lover who’s dreaming of a white Christmas, this could be it.

    Pumpkin Sea Salt Caramel Gelato. What a great way to enhance delicious pumpkin gelato! Made with real pumpkin purée and a hint of cinnamon, the thick swirls of sea salt caramel make it the best pumpkin ice cream you could wish for. While you can still get pumpkin ice cream, pick up a pint.


    Make a sparkling cranberry sorbet cocktail. Photo by Lognetics | Fotolia.

    The flavors are all natural and the milk for the gelato is rBST-free.

    Ingredients Per Drink

  • 2 mall scoops cranberry sorbet
  • 6 ounces Prosecco or other sparkling wine; sparkling Italian soda (like San Pellegrino) for mocktail
  • Optional garnish: cocktail pick or toothpick threaded with mint leaves and fresh cranberries—or—lime curl
  • Optional garnish: sparkling sugar rim (green, red or white)

    1. SOFTEN sorbet at room temperature for 5-7 minutes. Add optional sugar rim to a Champagne glass.

    2. PLACE 2 small scoops of sorbet in the bottom of the glass.

    3. TOP with Prosecco or soda, garnish and serve.


    Enjoy limited edition seasonal flavors while
    you can. Photo courtesy Ciao Bella Gelato.



    Use Nutella and pizzelles (Italian waffle cookies) to make a most delicious ice cream sandwich.


  • 1 package pizzelles
  • 1 jar Nutella
  • 1 14-ounce container Ciao Bella Montebianco gelato
  • Optional: melted chocolate for dip

    1. SOFTEN gelato at room temperature for 5 minutes. Lay the bottom pizzelles on a cookie sheet, 2 per sandwich.]

    2. SPREAD Nutella on the bottom pizzelles and top with 1-2 scoops of Montebianco gelato. Add the top pizzelle and press down slightly to seal.

    3. DIP half of the sandwich in the optional melted chocolate.

    3. PLACE sandwiches in the freezer to harden until ready to serve.




    TIP OF THE DAY: An Edible Centerpiece For Christmas

    Flowers are lovely, of course. And arrangements of seasonal fruits and pine—lady apples, clove-studded oranges, pomegranates, pine cones and branches—have been our centerpiece of choice.

    But how about an edible centerpiece that becomes part of dessert?

    There’s nothing more charming than an old-fashioned gingerbread house as a holiday centerpiece. And if the gingerbread is top quality, it’s a joy to be part of the “demolition crew.”

    You can serve it at the end of a big holiday meal with ice cream—a much lighter choice than most cakes and pies.

    We have to give props to the creative bakers who’ve thought “outside the house” to produce these two gingerbread centerpieces.


    To grace your table, a gingerbread train. Photo courtesy Mackenzie Ltd.


    They’re available from one of our our favorite gourmet food e-tailers, Mackenzie Ltd. If you enjoy looking at photos of luscious foods, you’ll devour every page of Mackenzie’s website.


    Destined to become a classic, this three-car gingerbread train (photo above) replaces the traditional gingerbread house with a whimsical choo choo.

    Entirely edible, the train is a memorable holiday centerpiece that will delight children and adults alike. If you know model train enthusiasts, it makes a delightful gift.

    It’s 21 inches long, $59.95, at


    Gingerbread fantasy: a carousel. Photo
    courtesy Mackenzie Ltd.



    This stunning centerpiece is also 100% edible. It measures almost a foot tall and 15″ across. You can provide some optional old-fashioned carousel music during the dessert course.

    With an impressive amount of hand decoration, the gingerbread carousel is $149.95 at

    Both the train and the carousel are made of high-quality gingerbread and arrive fully assembled to immediately grace your table.
    Here’s the history of gingerbread, which evolved in 15th-century Germany. The Medieval German Lebkuchen Guild (lebkuchen is German for gingerbread) turned it into a highly-decorated art, crafting fancy shapes decorated with sugar and gold.




    RECIPE: Eggnog “Martini”

    The Eggnog “Martini” in sunny Napa Valley. Photo courtesy Boon Fly Café | Carneros Inn.


    Can you call any a cocktail poured into a Martini glass a Martini?

    Of course not; otherwise you’d call a Cosmopolitan a Cranberry Lime Martini with triple sec substituting for vermouth.

    The Martini is a cocktail made with gin and vermouth, and garnished with an olive or a lemon twist. The first recipe for a vodka Martini appears in 1951, but didn’t gain world notice until the publication of the second James Bond novel, Live and Let Die, in 1962 (Bond’s cocktail of choice was a vodka martini, “shaken not stirred”).

    Why a vodka Martini? Two good guesses are that a bartender made it for a customer who didn’t like gin; or that a vodka distributor created and promoted it to move more vodka—also a clear spirit but without the aromatic gin ingredients.


    If you want to make a cocktail with rum, tequila or whiskey, call it something other than a Martini.

    Here’s more Martini history.

    But even if they don’t know the rules, the folks at Boon Fly Café at the The Carneros Inn in sunny Napa Valley are pleasing customers with Eggnog “Martinis.”

    All you need is eggnog, Captain Morgan Spiced Rum and a Martini glass.



    Ingredients For One Drink

  • 1 ounce of Captain Morgan Spiced Rum
  • 3 ounces eggnog
  • Garnish: Dash of nutmeg or cinnamon

    1. SHAKE rum and eggnog with ice and strain into a Martini glass.

    2. GARNISH and serve.

    Candy Cane Martini

    Cranberry Martini

    Ginger Martini

    Pomegranate Martini


    Captain Morgan, ready to pour rum into his eggnog. Image courtesy Diageo.




    FOOD FUN: Cinnamon Roll Christmas Trees

    Turn refrigerated cinnamon bun dough into
    Christmas trees. Photo courtesy Immaculate
    Baking Co.


    What’s for breakfast on Christmas? How about these Cinnamon Roll Christmas Trees—with a side of eggs or oatmeal for nutrition.

    This recipe comes from Immaculate Baking Co., which makes refrigerated cookie dough, pie crusts, biscuits, scones and other doughs in natural, organic and gluten-free versions.



  • Aluminum foil
  • 1 can refrigerated cinnamon rolls with icing
  • 4 to 6 drops green food color
  • Green, red, white and yellow candy sprinkles or colored sugar

    Immaculate Baking Co. used its gluten-free cinnamon rolls for this recipe, but you can use any refrigerated cinnamon roll dough.



    1. HEAT oven to 350°F. Cut five 18-inch pieces of foil. Crush each piece of foil into a cone shape 3-inches high with a 2 1/2- inch diameter base. Spray each cone very generously with cooking spray.

    2. SEPARATE dough. Unroll each roll into long strip. Wrap dough around cone starting at base and ending at top. Press at top of cone to form point. Bake 16 to 18 minutes or until golden brown.

    3. COOL 5 minutes. Gently remove foil cones; cool trees upright on cooling rack about 30 minutes.


    Photo courtesy Immaculate Baking Co.


    4. STIR together icing and food coloring in a small bowl. Working with one tree at a time, drizzle or frost edges of tree from top to bottom; sprinkle with candies. Repeat with remaining trees. Serve.

    You can follow the recipe in photos in Immaculate Baking’s cookie blog.



    RECIPE: Cranberry Baked Brie

    Baked Brie in pastry with dried cranberries,
    honey and almonds. Photo and recipe


    Here’s a recipe to serve with your favorite bubbly. It’s a favorite of Olga Dominguez, cheese buyer at Zabar’s in New York City.

    For the holidays use dried cranberries; for Valentine’s Day substitute dried cherries or strawberries.

    This party-size recipe uses a standard 17-inch wheel of Brie. If your celebration will be more intimate buy a Baby Brie, which at 8.8 ounces, serves up to four. (In theory, with a portion size of one ounce, it should serve eight—but we don’t know eight people with that much restraint).

    Brie (typically a double-crème cheese, although some like the Rouge et Noir brand are even richer triple-crèmes) is one of America’s top-selling cheeses.

    Other best sellers include Cheddar, cream cheese, mozzarella and Parmigiano Reggiano.



  • 1 large wheel of double crème Brie, 2.2 pounds
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/4 pound dried cherries, cranberries or strawberries (or a mix)
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds plus extra for garnish
  • 1 package of ready-to-bake crescent rolls (or make your own pastry)
  • Crackers or bread (or a combination)

    Keep the Brie refrigerated and cold until ready to slice.

    1. PREHEAT oven to 350°F.

    2. CUT the Brie in half horizontally with a sharp knife, creating a top and a bottom.

    3. SPRINKLE the cranberries, half the honey and half of the almonds in the center of the bottom half of the cheese, to within two inches of the edge. Cover with the top half and press down the edges. (When you press down, the fillings will spread close to the edge.)

    4. OPEN the crescent roll container and prepare to wrap the Brie with the pastry. Lay the triangle crescent dough pieces on a work surface to form a sheet, overlapping the edges slightly. Press to bond together. Place the Brie in the center of the sheet and wrap the edges around the wheel until the entire surface is covered. Overlap and press the crescent dough close to the edges so that the Brie and fillings will not run out.

    5. PLACE on a nonstick cookie sheet with a lip (just in case the cheese does run). Pour the remaining honey in the top center of the wrapped Brie and sprinkle with the remaining almond slices.

    6. BAKE for 30 to 40 minutes, or until golden brown and bubbly. Serve immediately.

    Serving Suggestions

  • As a cocktail party food, provide bread or crackers and a spreader.
  • For a dinner party salad/cheese course, give each guest a plated wedge with some dressed mesclun or frisée salad greens. Pass bread or crackers in a basket for those who want it.


    TIP OF THE DAY: Double-Crème And Triplè-Creme Cheeses

    Serving bubbly for Christmas or New Year’s Eve? The perfect cheese to serve with Champagne or other sparklers is a double-crème or a triple-crème.

    Double- and triple-creme cheeses have a distinctive texture (very creamy) and flavor (buttery). Extra cream is added before the curd is formed, creating the heavenly richness.

    According to Cheese Primer by Steven Jenkins, the first double-crème cheese was made in Normandy in 1850 by a cheesemaker whose name has been lost to history. He was a short man of Swiss extraction, and called his cheese Petit-Suisse (possibly his nickname!).

    By law, a French double-crème cheese has between 60% and 75% butterfat. Note that this is the percentage of fat in the dry matter of the cheese. Most double- and triple-crèmes have about 50% moisture, so a Brie that has 60% butterfat in the dry matter is actually 31% total fat.


    Decorate your Brie for a party. Photo courtesy

    As a point of reference, butter itself contains between 80% total fat (the legal minimum in the U.S) to 86% total fat.

    Double-crème examples include:

  • Boursault
  • Brie (a minority of Bries are triple-crèmes)
  • Fromage D’Affinois
  • Petit-Suisse
  • Domestic beauties: Bodacious from Bohemian Creamery in California, Cremont from Vermont Creamery and others (ask your cheesemonger)

    Like the first double-crème, the first triple-crème cheese was also made in Normandy (France’s dairy heartland), 75 years after Petit-Suisse was introduced. Called Le Magnum, it was made by the Dubuc family and was the ancestor of Brillat-Savarin*. By law, French triple-crème cheeses must have a butterfat content of 75% or more.


    Pick up this luscious Brillat-Savarin, a
    triple-crème cheese, at Whole Foods
    Markets. Photo courtesy Whole Foods.


    A Brillat-Savarin with 75% butterfat in the dry matter actually has 39% total fat.

  • Brillat-Savarin
  • Délice de Bourgogne
  • Explorateur
  • Gratte Paille
  • Pierre Robert
  • Domestic choices such as Kunik from Nettle Meadow in New York State, Mt. Tam and Red Hawk from Cowgirl Creamery in California, Triple Cream Disk, a chèvre from Coach Farms in New York State and other creamy delights (see what’s available from your cheesemonger)
    *The cheese was named for the French epicure (and also lawyer and politician) Brillat-Savarin, who famously said “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are.”



    You can go from basic (fruit) to gourmet (truffles):

    Fresh Fruits

    Grapes, mango, raspberries or strawberries are the best matches.


  • Cut the cheese in half horizontally; spread the bottom cut side with truffle butter or shaved truffles, and replace the top half of the cheese (let it sit for 30 minutes to develop flavor).
  • Optional additions to the filling: toasted walnuts (toast then chop) or, with shaved truffles, a thin layer of mascarpone and/or a drizzle of honey.
    Bread or Crackers

    Choose among baguette slices, water biscuits, wheatmeal biscuits (slightly sweetened whole wheat crackers) or other favorites.


  • Comments

    RECIPE: Reindeer Sugar Cookies

    Take a bite of Rudolph. Photo and recipe
    courtesy Pillsbury.


    This is a quick recipe using refrigerated cookie dough and a container of frosting. You can of course use your own homemade recipes. You can also use gingerbread cookie dough like Pillsbury Create ‘n Bake.

    Just shape the cookie dough into a triangular log, and slice for fun reindeer cookies ready in a flash.

    Prep time 40 minutes, total time 55 minutes

    Ingredients For 32 Cookies

  • 1 roll Pillsbury refrigerated sugar cookies
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup vanilla creamy ready-to-spread frosting (from 1-pound container)
  • 64 small pretzel twists
  • 64 semisweet chocolate chips (about 1/4 cup)
  • 16 gumdrops, cut in half (get red ones if you want to make Rudolph)


    1. BREAK UP cookie dough in a large bowl. Stir or knead in the flour until well blended. Reshape into a triangle-shaped log. If it’s too soft to cut into slices, refrigerate up to 30 minutes.

    2. PREHEAT oven to 350°F. With a thin sharp knife, cut dough into 32 (1/4-inch) triangular slices. On an ungreased cookie sheets, place slices 2 inches apart.

    3. BAKE 7 to 11 minutes or until set. Cool 1 minute; remove from cookie sheets to cooling rack. Cool completely, about 15 minutes.

    4. FROST cookies. For antlers, place 2 pretzel twists on each triangle near the corners. Lightly press 2 chocolate chips into each cookie for eyes and press in 1 halved gumdrop for nose. Store cookies between sheets of waxed paper in tightly covered container.



    TIP OF THE DAY: Christmas Fruit Bowl

    If you like to serve fruit at Christmas parties—a much better-for-you option than trays of sweets—serve it holiday-style, in this watermelon snowman.

    In this recipe, a medium watermelon and two small ones create two bowls and a head for the snowman—as well as supplying plenty of melon balls for a fruit salad. You can use the Watermelon Snowman Fruit Bowl in different ways:

  • 2 bowls of the same fruit salad
  • 1 bowl of fruit salad, 1 bowl of plain berries
  • 1 bowl of fruit or fruit salad, 1 bowl of dip or sauce
    The Snowman Fruit Bowl was designed by the National Watermelon Promotion Board, which has plenty of interesting recipes and watermelon carvings—everything from Angry Birds and Minions to a seasonal penguin.


    The most fun Christmas fruit bowl. Photo courtesy




  • 3 watermelons: 1 larger, 2 smaller
  • Fruit salad ingredients (your choice) in addition to the watermelon from the hollowed melons
  • Face decorations: dried apricots, carrot and blueberries as shown, or anything you like—radishes, kumquats, etc.
  • Twigs for arms
  • Optional scarf (you can use a red ribbon and fringe the ends)
  • Optional hat (check craft stores for a plastic toy hat, or make one from craft materials)

    1. HALVE the large melon and one of the small melons. Scoop melon balls and reserve.

    2. CLEAN the leftover melon scraps from the two halves, leaving the white portion of the rind.

    3. FILL with fruit salad or other ingredients; make the face.

    4. MOVE to the serving table and add arms, hat and scarf.



    TIP OF THE DAY: Pandoro Star Shaped French Toast

    Turn star-shaped pandoro into holiday French
    toast. Photo courtesy Giovanni Rana
    Pastificio & Cucina | NYC.


    At least three famous Italian Christmas sweet breads are imported to the U.S.: panettone (a Milanese specialty), panforte (originally from Sienna) and pandoro (from Verona). Most regions have their own Christmas bread recipes.

    Panettone is a yeast loaf packed with candied fruits and raisins; panforte is a short, dense loaf with spices honey; and pandoro is an eggy yeast bread made in an eight-pointed star shape, topped with icing or confectioners’ sugar.

    All have become popular gift items—the equivalent of the English fruitcake.

    As with any prepared food, brands range from mediocre to magnificent. Chef Francesco Berardinelli of Giovanni Rana Pastificio & Cucina in Manhattan’s Chelsea Market prefers the Perbellini brand, which others also feel is the best brand in Italy. You can get it in the U.S. from A.G. Ferrari: sweet, light and delicate yet rich.

    Here’s his recipe for Pandoro French Toast, a lovely star-shaped breakfast treat; you can also serve the French toast with fried chicken, instead of waffles; or serve it à la mode or with whipped cream for dessert.



    Ingredients Per Serving

  • 1 slice pandoro bread
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon powdered sugar, or to taste
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 teaspoon orange blossom honey, or to taste
  • 5 whole strawberries


    1. CUT a 1-inch thick slice of pandoro.

    2. MIX the eggs and cream in a bowl. Submerge both sides of the pandoro in the mix.

    3. MELT the butter in a hot sauté pan and sear the bread on both sides.

    4. GARNISH with confectioners’ sugar, orange honey and sliced strawberries.

  • Substitute strawberry butter for the honey.
  • Add orange zest to the cream mix.
  • If you don’t have orange blossom honey, use the honey you do have.

    Pandoro is molded into an eight-point star and typically topped with confectioners’ sugar or icing. Photo courtesy


  • Make breakfast toast, served with butter and marmalade.
  • Make baked French toast, which surrounds the pandoro with rich custard (here’s a recipe).
  • Slice it and layer with custard, fruit curd or icing into a stacked “Christmas tree.”
  • Eat for dessert with a glass of sweet wine; crème fraîche, mascarpone or whipped cream optional.
  • Make bread pudding or trifle.
    Other ideas? Let us know.



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