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Archive for Holidays & Occasions

TIP OF THE DAY: Antipasto Platter With Cocktails

Contemplating what to serve during cocktail hour as guests arrive for Christmas or New Year’s Eve? There are dips, chips, crudités, cheese plates, hot and cold hors d’oeuvre and other possibilities to consider.

But a recent email from Baldor Specialty Foods rang true: Let people pick what they want from an antipasto table. Just set it out and let your guests help themselves.

An antipasto platter both pleases foodies and can cover every diet: gluten-free, lactose-free, low calorie, vegan, etc.

OPTIONS FOR YOUR ANTIPASTO

Just because antipasto is an Italian word doesn’t mean every item has to be Italian. If you want to serve Greek feta and kalamata olives, French pâte and Gruyère de Comté: Go for it. Select what you think your guests will like, and select an assortment of colors to make the choices look lively. Here’s a list of possibilities to get you thinking:
 
Vegetables

  • Assorted olive mix (ideally pitted)
  • Cipppolini onions in agrodolce (sweet and sour marinated onions—recipe)
  • Grilled vegetables
  • Marinated artichoke hearts, bell peppers, mushrooms and/or sundried tomatoes
  • Radishes and carrot sticks
  • Red and yellow cherry or grape tomatoes
  • Roasted red peppers
  •  
    Pickles

  • Cherry peppers or pickled jalapeños
  • Cornichons
  • Peppadews
  • Sweet gherkins
  • Other pickled vegetables
  •  
    Proteins

  • Anchovies
  • Charcuterie (sausage, salame, pâté)
  • Marinated mozzarella balls (bocconcini)
  • Sliced ham and/or turkey
  • Seafood salad (recipe)
  • Semihard cheese (look for one with something extra: peppercorns, chiles, herbs, olives, etc.)
  • Smoked salmon or gravlax
  • Steamed mussels (recipe)
  •  
    Breads & Crackers

  • Breadsticks
  • Mary’s Gone Crackers or other gluten-free option
  • 34 Degrees or other fancy crackers
  • Thin-sliced white or whole-grain baguette
  •  

    Antipasto Platter

    Antipasto Items

    Antipasto Plate

    Different presentations of antipasto. Top photo by Spin12. Middle photo by Yulia Davidovich. Bottom photo by Terrasprite.

     
    HOW MANY SELECTIONS DO YOU NEED?

    The number of items you serve depends on the number of guests. For a smaller group, consider four or five options. For a larger group, plan for eight or more items.

  • Arrange the ingredients artistically on a tray, plate or platter, balancing colors and shapes.
  • If you don’t have the right platter, use smaller plates and bowls.
  • Slice sausages and salamis; with ham, roll or fold.
  • You can leave cheeses whole or cut them into chunks. Semi-hard cheese are better than soft or runny ones; the latter get messier as more people slice them.
  • If any of your selections needs condiments—mustard or cocktail sauce, for example—set them out.
  • Don’t forget small plates, cocktail napkins, cocktail picks or toothpicks.
  •  
    If there are any leftovers, the good news is that you’ll enjoy antipasto the next day, instead of trying to use up dip and cold pigs in blankets.

      

    Comments

    REC: White Chocolate Peppermint Popcorn Bark

    White Chocolate Peppermint Popcorn

    Popcorn, peppermints and white chocolate: Yum! Photo courtesy Popcorn.org.

     

    We enjoyed this confection so much at a holiday party that we asked for the recipe. Turns out it’s from Popcorn.org, the consumer site of The Popcorn Board.

    And it’s easy! Make it for gifts, for your guests and for yourself!

    Also take a look at this recipe white chocolate peppermint pretzels.

    RECIPE: WHITE CHOCOLATE PEPPERMINT POPCORN BARK

    Ingredients For 1 Pound (Twelve 3-Inch Squares)

  • 5 cups popped popcorn (purchased or home-popped)
  • 12 ounces white chocolate baking chips, chopped white chocolate or white candy coating*
  • 1 cup crushed hard candy peppermints
  •  
    *We use Guittard white chocolate chips or chop Green & Black’s or Lindt white chocolate bars. We avoid white candy coating because it substitutes vegetable oil for the cocoa butter in real chocolate (and that’s the reason many people dislike “white chocolate,” as they’re actually eating white candy coating).

     
    Preparation

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

    2. MELT the chocolate in a double boiler over barely simmering water, stirring until smooth. Alternatively, melt according to package directions. When the chocolate is melted, stir in the crushed peppermints.

    3. POUR the chocolate mixture over the popcorn mixture and stir to coat. Spread it onto the prepared pan and allow to cool completely. When chocolate is cooled and set…

    4. BREAK into chunks for serving. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.
     
    Variation: White Chocolate Popcorn Crunch (No Peppermint)

    1. OMIT the candy peppermints.

    2. MIX ½ cup dried cranberries and ½ cup sliced almonds with the popcorn. You can also sprinkle chocolate chips over the popcorn. Pour the melted chocolate over the mixture.
     
    POPCORN TRIVIA

    Popcorn was first popped at least 5,600 years ago in Mexico, by throwing corn kernels on sizzling hot stones.

    Although it is an indigenous American snack, it originally was not a snack food, but was pounded into a meal and mixed with water. This same cooking technique was used by the early American colonists, who mixed ground popcorn with milk and ate it for breakfast.

    Popcorn is a whole grain food. Here’s the history of popcorn.

     
      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Make A Special Christmas Punch

    When we first received this recipe, we thought: Readers of The Nibble won’t want to buy or make the oleo saccharum. Holiday season is busy enough as it is.

    But we loved the recipe, and decided to make it for our own holiday celebration. We tasted the test batch and thought: We’ll be shortchanging our readers if we don’t share this.

    The recipe was created by Masahiro Urushido, an award-winning New York City bartender. He used Auchentoshan American Oak Single Malt Scotch, Rothman & Winter Orchard Apricot Liqueur and Lejay Creme de Cassis.

    This punch is inspired by traditional Scottish Christmas pudding, made with dried fruits such as raisins and apricots.

    Masa calls his recipe Pepperdier Christmas Punch, adapting the name of a friend. But since that can be confusing to the rest of us (we tried to research “Pepperdier” online), we’ll rename it slightly to Scotch Christmas Punch, acknowledging both the country of inspiration and the Scotch whisky in the recipe.

    RECIPE: SINGLE MALT CHRISTMAS PUNCH

    Ingredients For 8 To 10 Servings

  • 1/4 cup raisins or sultanas
  • 6 ounces Scotch Whisky
  • 8 ounces Scottish Breakfast Tea (it’s malty Assam tea, but you can substitute any classic black tea)
  • 6 ounces fresh lemon juice
  • 4 ounces Dubonnet Rouge (substitute sweet vermouth)
  • 2 ounces apricot liqueur
  • 1 ounce creme de cassis
  • 3 tablespoons oleo saccharum syrup (citrus sugar syrup—see below)
  • Sparkling wine*
  • Garnishes: rosemary sprigs, whole cranberries, orange slices and bay leaves
  •    

    Christmas Punch

    Oleo Saccharum Syrup

    TOP PHOTO: Christmas punch. Photo by Gabi Porter. BOTTOM PHOTO: Oleo saccharum, a big-sounding name for citrus sugar syrup. Photo courtesy Cocktail & Sons.

     
    *We happened to have a good bottle of Lambrusco—a red sparkling wine—on hand and it went great with this recipe. Most people will use Cava, Prosecco or another sparkling white wine.
     
    Preparation

    1. SOAK the raisins in the Scotch for several hours or overnight.

    2. MAKE the oleo saccharum if you aren’t purchasing it (recipe).

    3. MIX all ingredients except the sparkling wine in a punch bowl. Garnish with rosemary, cranberries, orange slices and bay leaves. Top with sparkling wine and serve.
     
    No Punch Bowl?

    If you don’t have a punch bowl, mix all ingredients except the sparkling wine in a pitcher. To serve, pour the punch into individual glasses, top with sparkling wine and garnish with an orange slice.
     

     

    Harney Scottish Breakfast Tea

    /home/content/p3pnexwpnas01 data02/07/2891007/html/wp content/uploads/scottish breakfast tea blend jenierteas 230r

    Both of these are Scottish breakfast teas, yet
    look at the difference in the blends. The top
    photo is Scottish Morn from Harney & Sons.
    The bottom photo is Scottish Breakfast tea
    blend from Jenier Teas.

     

    WHAT IS OLEO SACCHARUM?

    Oleo saccharum is citrus oil blended with sugar. In Latin, oleo means oil and saccharum means sugar. It became prominent in the 19th-century as a way to provide a subtle citrus flavor and aroma to sweetened drinks, instead of plain sugar syrup (simple syrup).

    Oleo saccharum is made from orange and/or lemon peels (lime peels have too much bitterness) that are muddled (crushed) to release the oils. Sugar is added to the muddled peel and mixes with the citrus oil that emerges from the skins. The peel is strained out, leaving sugared citrus oil.

    You can use it to add an elegant citrus note to any cocktail that requires sugar/simple syrup, and can blend it with club soda for a refreshing non-alcoholic drink.

    The bottled oleo saccharum from Cocktail & Sons, featured in the photo above, is a citrus syrup enriched with fresh lemongrass, toasted green cardamom and ginger. You can buy it on Amazon.com.

    Or, it’s easy enough to make your own. Here’s a recipe.
     
    WHAT IS SCOTTISH BREAKFAST TEA?

    Here’s something that few people outside the tea industry realize: Breakfast teas, notably English Breakfast, Irish Breakfast and Scottish Breakfast, are simply strong black tea blends.

    The blends have more flavor to stand up to milk or cream, complement British breakfast foods (eggs, porridge, ham, bacon, etc.) and provide heartiness (more body and caffeine) to energize the drinker in the morning. Afternoon tea blends tend to be lighter and smoother, to pair with sweets and tea sandwiches.

     

    The British first imported tea from China in the 17th century, to great public appreciation. Coffee was available at the time, but otherwise beer and stout were drunk by everyone, including children, because of contaminated water sources.

    The British became avid tea drinkers, and since the 18th century have been among the world’s greatest per capita tea consumers.

    In China tea is drunk plain, but in the 1720s, the British began to add sugar and milk or cream to create a more comforting beverage. Black tea came to exceed green tea in popularity, as it goes better with sugar and milk. (The same pattern occurred in the Thirteen Colonies.)
     
    The Different Types Of Breakfast Tea

    In order of robust flavor and body:

  • English Breakfast Tea is the mildest of the strong teas. It can be a blend of teas from Africa, India (Assam), Indonesia and Sri Lanka (Ceylon), with a base of Chinese congou tea. Originally, before tea cultivation expanded beyond China, it was unblended congou tea.
  • Irish Breakfast Tea has a good amount of Assam, giving it Assam’s malty flavor notes and reddish color. It often contain others black teas, including Darjeeling, to balance the intense flavors of Assam.
  • Scottish Breakfast Tea is the strongest of the three, with a base of Assam plus the smoother Keemun tea from China, among other teas in the blend.
  •  
    It’s important to note that there is no standard formula for any of these blends and no governing body specifying what each should contain. The blends evolved over time, likely as one vendor sought to copy a popular blend offered by another vendor.

    Thus, teas of the same name—English Breakfast, Earl Grey, Jasmine, etc.—can vary slightly in taste, aroma and appearance from vendor to vendor, and country to country. Names can also vary for the same type of blend. [Source]

    For example, fine tea vendor Harney & Sons calls its Scottish Breakfast Tea “Scottish Morn.” Describing the blend, which was made to the specifications of the American Scottish Foundation, Harney says:

    “A mixture of dark brown leaves, the smaller pieces of Assam and Ceylon and [the] CTC (cut, tear, curl) method make for a stronger tea. This is one of our darkest teas, brewing a very dark brown color. Many Scots would lighten it with milk. Aroma is not the point of this tea, so there are only hints of suggestions of malt. It is caffeinated [and] a very full bodied tea…perhaps the strongest tea we offer. Strong and simple, this tea is meant to be drunk with milk.”

    And now you know about Scottish Breakfast Tea and its kin, English Breakfast and Irish Breakfast. Enjoy the teas…and the punch!

      

    Comments

    RECIPE: Christmas Pancakes

    Orange Cranberry Pancakes

    Artisan Maple Syrup

    Top photo: These festive pancakes taste great even if you don’t stack them. Photo courtesy Zulka Sugar. Bottom photo: Start with quality maple syrup and turn it into cranberry-maple syrup. Photo courtesy King Arthur Flour.

     

    We love this festive pancake recipe for the holidays, from Zulka Sugar. It incorporates an array of holiday flavors: cinnamon, cranberry, orange and maple.

    The pancakes and syrup are made from scratch, so it’s a weekend or vacation day recipe in our home.

    RECIPE: ORANGE CINNAMON PANCAKES WITH CRANBERRY MAPLE SYRUP

    Ingredients
     
    For the Pancakes

  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoons salt
  • Zest from 2 oranges (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • ¾ cup orange juice
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted and slightly cool
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  •  
    For the Cranberry Syrup

  • 1½ cups fresh cranberries
  • ¾ cup pure maple syrup
  • 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon orange juice
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  •  

    Preparation

    1. COMBINE the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and orange zest in a large bowl; whisk to combine.

    2. WHISK the eggs in a small bowl, then add the buttermilk, orange juice and vanilla extract. Add the cooled melted butter and stir again to combine. Add the wet mixture into the dry ingredients and mix well. Let sit for 10 minutes.

    3. MAKE the syrup: Combine 1 cup of the cranberries, the maple syrup, sugar, orange juice and lemon juice in a sauce pan. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and let simmer for 2 minutes. When the cranberries start to pop open, use a spoon to smash some of them against the side of the pan.

    4. COMBINE the cornstarch and a little water in a small bowl, just enough water to make the cornstarch liquid. Pour this into the syrup and bring it back to a boil for one minute. Add the remaining cranberries, turn off the heat and cover the pan to keep warm.

     

    Cranberry Pancakes Stack

    A stack of festive pancakes for the holidays. Photo courtesy Zulka Sugar.

     

    5. PREHEAT a griddle and grease with butter or coconut oil. Pour 1/3 cup batter for each pancake and cook 2-3 minutes or until the pancakes are covered in bubbles and edges are starting to look done. Carefully flip with a spatula and cook another 1-2 minutes or until browned slightly. Keep the pancakes warm and repeat with remaining batter.

    6. SERVE: Place a few pancakes on a plate with 1/3 cup of the cranberry syrup. Serve hot.
     
    ABOUT ZULKA SUGAR

    Zulka sugars are minimally processed from freshly-harvested sugar cane. They are not refined, which helps preserve the fresh flavor and natural properties of the sugar cane. You can taste the difference in a cup of tea.

    Zulka makes granulated, confectioners’ (powdered/10x sugar) and brown sugars. Here’s more about Zulka.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Tree & Wreath Christmas Crudités

    Crudites Christmas Wreath

    Christmas Tree Crudites

    Give the crudités some Christmas spirit. Top
    photo courtesy Superhealthykids.com; bottom
    photo courtesy MomEndeavors.com.

     

    Recently we showed how to Christmas-ize your breakfast, lunch and dinner. But we saved the crudites for last.

    At any holiday gathering, it’s a good idea to have a raw vegetable platter (the French term, crudités, pronounced crew-dee-TAY, sounds much more interesting), along with hummus or a nonfat yogurt-based dip.

    But what can you do that’s special for Christmas?

    Turn the crudités into a Christmas tree or wreath.

    You can do it flat on a platter, or turn into a craft project with a styrofoam base: a cone for a Christmas tree or a ring for a wreath.

    And, you can assign it to the kids for their contribution to the festivities.
     
    WHAT TO BUY

    Broccoli florets make the best base because they evoke an evergreen tree; but decorate your tree or wreath with:

  • Celery sticks (for the trunk)
  • Bell pepper strips for garlands (orange, red, yellow)
  • Carrot circles (use a crinkle cutter)
  • Cauliflower florets
  • Ciliegine (cherry-size mozzarella balls)
  • Grape tomatoes (red and yellow)
  • Mini cucumber and/or zucchini slices
  • Pearl onions
  • Peppadews (red or yellow-orange)
  • Pimento-stuffed olives and
  • Red gaeta, niçoise or other red olive variety
  • Starfruit (carambola) or a yellow bell peppers to make a star (an inexpensive mini cookie cutter set is a great asset, with star, heart, raindrop, flower, triangle and other shapes)
  • Water chestnuts
  •  
    Provide toothpicks to spear the mozzarella balls, olives, etc.
     
    WHAT ABOUT DESSERT?

    For dessert, you can serve a low-calorie wreath or tree of fruit, like this fruit Christmas tree we featured previously.

    But it’s only one of the many options that creative cooks have put together. Here are more designs for fruit Christmas trees.

     
      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: What To Do With Your Panettone Or Pandoro

    Some people don’t know the delights of panettone and pandoro, Italian Christmas breads that are now in stores nationwide from. In Italy they’re Christmas and New Year’s staples, given as holiday gifts. Some Americans have adopted the tradition.

    For years we had friends who’d receive them as gifts, then put them aside like so much fruitcake. We started a Panettone Rescue Mission, to take those panettones and return them as bread pudding or another dessert.

    They’re delicious simply sliced and served with a cup of coffee or tea. But they adapt well to popular recipes.
     
    THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PANDORO & PANETTONE

    Most regions of Italy have their own specialty Christmas sweet bread recipes. The three that are are imported to the U.S. include:

  • Pandoro, from Verona, an “Italian pound cake” made in an eight-pointed star shape, topped with icing or confectioners’ sugar. It is often flavored with lemon zest, although anisette and other flavors can be used.
  • Panettone, a Milanese specialty, a tall yeast bread packed with candied fruits and raisins. Today there are also chocolate chip versions.
  • Panforte is short and dense. While the origins of a sweet leavened bread date back to Roman times, this dense mixture of almonds and candied fruit, sweetened with honey and flavored with spices, was born in 12th century Siena. Think of it as Italian fruitcake.
  •  
    While a plain slice is delicious as is, pandoro and panettone can be turned into more complex dishes. Bauli, the major exporter to the U.S. of pandoro and panettone, has developed numerous recipes.

    If you want to bake your own, there are plenty of recipes online.

       

    Panettone With Coffee

    Panettone Shortcake

    TOP: A panettone yeast loaf or cake. BOTTOM: Panettone sliced into a shortcake. Photos courtesy Bauli.

     
    You can use pandoro and panforte interchangeably in recipes, but they are different in texture and flavor. Here are some recipes from Bauli along with some of our own favorite uses.

    BREAKFAST & BRUNCH

  • Toasted with butter, cream cheese, jam or ricotta
  • French toast, including:
    • Baked French Toast With Custard Recipe
    • Eggnog French Toast Recipe
    • Pandoro Star-Shaped French Toast Recipe
    • Panettone French Toast With Mascarpone Recipe
    • Raspberry Jam & Hazelnut Spread Stuffed Panettone French Toast Recipe

  •  

    Pandoro On Plate

    Apple Bread Pudding

    TOP: The star-shaped pandoro. BOTTOM: Pandoro apple bread pudding. Photos
    courtesy Bauli.

     

    SNACK

  • A slice with coffee or tea
  • A slice with Nutella or chocolate spread (bananas optional)
  • Crostini (sliced thin and toasted), spread with fresh with goat cheese
  • Crostini with fruit and cheese
  •  
    DESSERT

  • Slice and layer with custard, fruit curd or icing into a stacked “Christmas tree” (scroll down here for a photo)
  • A slice for dessert with a glass of sweet wine; crème fraîche, mascarpone or whipped cream optional
  • Chocolate Fondue With Panettone Or Pandoro Recipe
  • Bread pudding or trifle. Try this Panettone Bread Pudding Recipe
  • Fabio Viviani’s Pandoro Tiramisu Recipe
  • Pandoro Apple Bread Pudding Recipe (see photo)
  • Panettone “Shortcake” with Berries and Orange Ricotta Recipe
  • Pandoro Strawberry Shortcake Recipe
  • Sundae: a slice topped with ice cream, chocolate or caramel sauce and whipped cream
  • Warmed Slice With Dessert Wine Recipe (mascarpone optional)
  •  
    TYPES OF CHRISTMAS BREADS

    During the Renaissance, different European countries and regions within them created their own specialty holiday breads. When the bread was sweetened, the terms “bread” and “cake” were used interchangeably.

    All are delicious with chai or other spiced tea like Constant Comment; or with a conventional black tea.

    If you want to put some spirit into your snack, dessert or tea time, serve the Christmas bread with mulled wine (warm spiced wine) or with a sweet dessert wine, such as Spumante or Moscato.

  • Gingerbread may be the best known Christmas “bread” in the U.S.; it originated in 15th-century Germany.
  • Pandoro is a star-shaped yeast bread sprinkled with confectioners’ sugar, created in 19th-century Verona.
  • Panettone is a Milanese Christmas yeast bread, filled with candied fruits and raisins, that dates to medieval Italy. It is tall, dome-shaped and airy.
  • Panforte is short and dense. While the origins of a sweet leavened bread date back to Roman times, this dense mixture of almonds and candied fruit, sweetened with honey and flavored with spices, was born in 12th century Siena. Think of it as Italian fruitcake.
  • Stollen is the traditional German Christmas cake or “bread,” created outside of Dresden, Germany in 1437 (not in Dresden itself, a point of historic contention). It is so prized that the city has trademarked the name, Dresden Stollen. The oval shape, covered with powdered sugar, is said to represent the diaper of Baby Jesus!
  •  
    Here are more Christmas breads, with beautiful photos.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Christmas-ize Your Food

    As we close in on Christmas, we like to “Christmas-ize” our food, adding red and green garnishes to everything from scrambled eggs (green and red bell peppers or jalapeños) to desserts (mint leaves and raspberries).

    We have fun doing it, looking for a different red and green combination at every meal. For sandwiches, we plate the lettuce and cherry* tomatoes next to the sandwich for presentation purposes, providing a fork so everyone can move them to the sandwich without fingers. Instead of drab green pimento-stuffed olives, we garnish the plate with bright green Castelvetrano olives with strips of pimento.

    You can also take the “cookie cutter” approach to savory foods, using your holiday cookie cutters to shape everything from bread (star- or Christmas tree-shaped toast or PB&J, for example). Or use the cookie cutters as molds to shape food (grains, for example) on the plate.

    Here’s how we garnished three of our favorite foods: fish/seafood, pasta and sushi.

    CHRISTMAS TARTARE

    It’s easy to garnish any fish dish with pearls of green and red tobiko (flying fish caviar). But in this salmon and tuna tartare recipe, we shaped the tartare into Christmas trees.

    You can make the tartare with fish or beef (here’s a beef tartare recipe), or make some of each for a nifty surf and turf first course. The cucumber-base version can be readily picked up from an hors d’oeuvre tray.

    Ingredients

  • Cucumber slices
  • Waffle potato chips (you can substitute conventional chips)
  • Tuna tartare and/or salmon tartare (recipe below)
  • Garnish: chives and/or wasabi tobiko caviar
  • Optional garnish: slices of yellow grape tomato for top of trees
  •  
    For The Tartare

  • 1 pound sushi grade tuna or salmon, finely diced
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon wasabi powder
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds, toasted
  • 1/8 teaspoon cracked black pepper
  • Pinch salt
  •  
    Preparation

    1. BLEND together olive oil, wasabi, sesame seeds, pepper and salt. Add fish and toss until evenly coated.

    2. ADJUST seasoning as desired with additional wasabi powder, pepper and/or salt.

    3. ASSEMBLE on cucumber and potato chip bases as shown in photo.
     
    RECIPE: CHRISTMAS PASTA

    You can make this dish with any pasta, but the curved tortellini and the cubes of cheese are a nice counterpoint.

    You can blanch the greens or use them raw; you can serve the dish hot or at room temperature (like pasta salad).

    Ingredients

  • Tortellini (any filling)
  • Sundried tomatoes (marinated in oil to soften)
  • Mozzarella (regular or smoked)
  • Baby spinach, baby arugula or other greens, washed and patted dry
  • Optional: grated or shaved Parmesan
  • Dried herbs: oregano, parsley, sage, thyme
  • Extra virgin olive oil or flavored olive oil (basil, chile, rosemary, etc.)
  • Salt and freshly-ground pepper to taste
  • Optional garnish: basil or chives
  • Optional garnish: pine nuts
  •  

    Christmas Pasta

    Cucumber & Tobiko Caviar

    Christmas Goat Cheese Log

    Christmas Filet Mignon

    TOP PHOTO: Tuna tartare Christmas trees; photo courtesy Bemka. SECOND PHOTO: Tortellini from Bella Sun Luci. THIRD PHOTO: Use red and green tobiko (flying fish roe) as a simple garnish; photo Melody Lan | THE NIBBLE. FOURTH PHOTO: Dried cranberries and pistachio nuts on a goat cheese log, at MoreThanHungry.com. BOTTOM PHOTO: Filet mignon with a red and green salad from Double Ranch.

     
    Preparation

    1. COOK the pasta and blanch the greens, as desired. While the pasta cooks, cube the mozzarella. Have all other ingredients ready to add.

    2. DRAIN the pasta. Return to the empty pot and add the other ingredients (except garnish), adding just enough olive oil to help bind the ingredients. Toss to blend. Taste, and add salt and pepper as desired.

    3. PLATE, garnish and serve.

     

    Christmas Scallops

    TOP PHOTO: An appetizer of sliced raw
    scallops, topped with red spice and green
    herb at cChicago. BOTTOM PHOTO: California
    rolls stacked into a snowman at Genji Sushi.

     

    CHRISTMAS SCALLOPS & SUSHI

    You can add red and green garnishes to any fish dish, raw or cooked. In the photo of the raw scallop appetizer, it’s simply herbs and spices. Alternatively, you can pomegranate arils and pistachio nuts, drizzle red grape or cherry tomatoes with a green basil oil, or bell peppers, raw and diced small or cut into strips and sautéed.

     
    RECIPE: CALIFORNIA ROLL SNOWMAN

    The photo shows a non-edible scarf and hat. We’ve substituted edible versions in our recipe. We purchase the California Rolls at the supermarket or get take-out from our corner sushi bar.

    Ingredients

  • California rolls, purchased or homemade
  • Black sesame seeds or black caviar roe (e.g. lumpfish caviar) for face
  • Toothpicks
  • Optional nose: a small piece of carrot
  • Optional garnish: red “scarf” cut from a roasted red bell pepper (pimento) or a green scarf made from the top portion of a green onion
  • Optional garnish: “hat” made from small square crackers
  •  
    Preparation

    You can assemble a standing snowman by slightly flattening the bottom piece, or simply arrange it flat on a dark colored plate (for contrast with the white rice).

    1. CREATE the face on the top piece: eyes, nose and mouth. Use the bit of carrot as an optional nose.

    2. STACK three California roll pieces. For a standing snowman, use toothpicks to join the pieces.

    3. ADD toothpicks as arms.

    4. ADD optional “clothing”: red scarf and hat. For a hat, affix two crackers in a perpendicular fashion with cream cheese. If using a green onion scarf, blanch it in boiling water to make it easier to tie.
     

    Check out all the different types of sushi in our beautiful Sushi Glossary.
     
    *When tomatoes are out of season, cherry and grape tomatoes, raised in hothouses, have the best flavor.

      

    Comments

    RECIPE: Christmas Peppermint Hard Candies

    Peppermint Stars

    Peppermint Christmas Trees

    Use your holiday cookie cutters to make these fun mint shapes from conventional peppermint candies. Photos courtesy Reynolds Kitchens.

     

    We love the recipe developers at Reynolds Kitchen, who often surprise us with their creativity. Just by looking at the photos, you can see what they’ve done with an everyday bag of striped peppermint candies.

    The result is like candy canes, but as Elle Woods would say, the shape is more funner.

    It’s also funner to make them with mints in both holiday colors, red and green. Brach’s makes their striped Starbrite Mints in both colors, as well as a sugar-free red and white mint*.

    So pick up the mints and get out every shape and size of cookie cutter that works for the holidays. Then, serve the mints:

  • On a platter, with after-dinner coffee
  • As decorations on holiday cakes and cupcakes
  • Wrapped in cellophane as stocking stuffers or party favors
  •  
    We’d suggest making them as tree ornaments, but can’t figure out how to affix something so that they hang evenly. We tried making holes with an ice pick before the shapes fully hardened, but it wasn’t neat. Ribbon didn’t stick to the peppermint with the glues we had at hand.

    Any other ideas?

    RECIPE: HOLIDAY SHAPE PEPPERMINTS CANDIES

    Ingredients

  • All of your holiday-appropriate metal cookie cutters (borrow as needed)
  • Cookie sheet and parchment paper
  • Baking spray (or bland cooking spray)
  • A bag of red and white and a bag of green and white hard mints
  •  
    Preparation

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 350°F. Line a cookie sheet with Reynolds Parchment Paper.

    2. SPRAY oven-safe, metal cookie cutters with non-stick cooking spray, then place on the cookie sheet. Fill each cookie cutter with peppermint candies. Break the candies into smaller pieces to fill in the smaller areas of the mold (we used a meat mallet).

    3. BAKE for 3–9 minutes until the candies melt into cookie cutter shapes. Remove the sheet from the oven and let the candy harden. Stretch the cookie cutter a bit to remove the candy.

     
    TIP

    This concept works for Valentine’s Day, too. Collect a bunch of heart-shaped cookie cutters.

     
    *We haven’t tested the recipe with sugar-free mints, but guess that they’ll melt in a similar fashion to the conventional variety.

     
      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Create A Special Christmas Mocktail

    Ocean Spray Mocktail

    strawberry-mint-lemonade-asweetpeachef-230

    A fun mocktail is a treat for non-drinkers. Top photo courtesy Ocean Spray. Bottom photo courtesy ASweetPeaChef.com.

     

    If you serve alcohol at parties, you’re bound to have some non-drinkers, designated drivers, and probably, drinkers who shouldn’t have another.

    Most hosts address the need with soft drinks and mineral water. But special occasions merit an extra step: a holiday mocktail.

    It’s easy to make it look and taste interesting, and those who can’t drink will feel special.

    For your Christmas mocktail, we suggest something red and green: a red- or rosy-hued drink with a green garnish.

  • Determine on the proportions, e.g. 2 parts cranberry juice and 1 part soft drink.
  • Decide if you want to serve a tall or short drink.
  • Consider a low-calorie option: The juice and soft drink ingredients both have diet versions, which will be especially appreciated by calorie-counting guests.
  •  
    CHRISTMAS MOCKTAIL #1: CRANBERRY GINGER

    Ingredients

  • Cranberry juice*
  • Ginger ale
  • Ice cubes
  • Garnish: stemmed cherry†, lime wheel or mint leaves
  •  
    CHRISTMAS MOCKTAIL #2: CRANBERRY ORANGE

    Ingredients

  • Cranberry juice*
  • Orange soda‡
  • Garnish: stemmed cherry†, lime wheel or mint leaves
  •  
    You can make the drinks a deeper red color with grenadine.
    _____________________________________________
    *Our favorite cranberry juice is Knudsen’s. Ocean Spray has several 100% juice flavors: plain or blended with blueberry-blackberry, cherry, grape, orange, pomegranate, raspberry, etc. Use 100% juice instead of “juice cocktails” or “juice drinks,” which are typically sweetened with high fructose corn syrup.

    †The best maraschino cherries by far are the all-natural (and kosher-certified) Tillen Farms Merry Maraschino Cherries. They are “maraschino red” in color but taste great—nothing like the traditional varieties. The company also makes Bada Bing Cherries, with the deep burgundy hue of bing cherries. If you buy multiple packs online, use the extras as stocking stuffers.

    ‡San Pellegrino Aranciata (orange) and Aranciata Rossa (blood orange), and Boylan’s Orange, are the only ones we’ve found that use sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup. San Pellegrino is less sweet and more elegant; Boylan’s is conventionally sweet.

     
      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Cranberry “Mistletoe” Kissing Ball

    You don’t need to buy mistletoe to encourage people at holiday get-togethers to kiss. Instead, substitute this “holiday kissing ball” from Ocean Spray.

    First head to the crafts store, then pick up fresh whole cranberries. You can pick up an extra bag or two for a Valentine Kissing Ball (and if you prefer, a foam heart instead of a ball).

    DIY CRANBERRY KISSING BALL

    Ingredients

  • 5” styrofoam ball
  • Red acrylic craft paint
  • 24-gauge beading wire
  • Hot glue gun/glue sticks -or- wooden toothpicks
  • 1-2 12-ounce bag(s) Ocean Spray fresh cranberries
  • Optional: shellac spray
  • Trim of choice: ribbon, mistletoe, holly, ivy, bells
  •  
    Preparation

     

    Cranberry Kissing Ball

    A kissing ball, mistletoe optional. Photo courtesy Ocean Spray.

     
    1. PAINT the foam ball with red craft paint. Set aside to dry.

    2. CUT an 18″ piece of wire and fold it in half. Push the folded wire all the way through the center of the ball, leaving a 1″ wire loop extending at bottom of ball and 3″ of wire extending at top.

    3. ATTACH the cranberries to ball with a hot glue gun or toothpicks, covering the ball completely. Spray with shellac for longevity (otherwise, the berries soften after 5 days or so, and the appearance will diminish). NOTE: The glue gun is a better choice. If you don’t have one, you can pick one up when you buy the foam ball at the crafts store.

    4. TWIST the two wires at top of ball into a simple hook for hanging. Use ribbon to tie the desired holiday trim to wire above and below ball, and hang with a hook.

    5. FIND someone to kiss and guide him/her underneath the ball.

      

    Comments

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