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TIP OF THE DAY: A Brownie Sandwich Party

For a party dessert, offer several spreads and let guests fill their own brownie layers at the “brownie bar.” You can ask others who want to pitch in to bake different types of brownies. In addition to the original chocolate brownie, consider blondies, butterscotch brownies and peanut butter brownies. Guests on gluten-free diets can bring gluten-free brownies.

Multiple brownie flavors allow for mix-and-match: a blondie top with a brownie bottom, for example.

Bake the brownies using one of these techniques:

  • Make a pan of brownies and slice them in half.
  • Make dropped brownie cookies, no slicing involved.
  • Divide the brownie batter into two pans, so each layer will be half the height.
    For special occasions, you can use a cookie cutter to make shapes—for example, hearts for Valentine’s Day. Stick the leftover scraps in a freezer and use them on sundaes or for snacking.

    Guests fill the “sandwich” with their spread(s) of choice. We have more than 30 suggestions; all can be homemade or purchased. Unless you want to go crazy, select six or so options.

  • Bacon jam
  • Biscoff spread/cookie spread
  • Buttercream (chocolate coffee, strawberry, vanilla, anything)
  • Cannoli filling
  • Caramel/salted caramel
  • Cheesecake spread
  • Chestnut spread
  • Chocolate spread
  • Cinnamon honey butter
  • Clotted cream/double Devon cream
  • Coconut spread
  • Creme honey
  • Custard/pastry cream
  • Date spread
  • Dulce de leche
  • Flavored cream cheese
  • Fruit curd/preserves/spread


    Brownie Sandwich With Peanut Butter Filling

    TOP PHOTO: Brownie sandwich with pistachio filling. Get the recipe at SprinkleOf BOTTOM PHOTO: Peanut butter-filled brownie sandwich. Here’s the recipe from


    Peanut Butter & Jelly Brownie Sandwich

    How about a Peanut Butter and Jelly Brownie Sandwich? Get the recipe from Betty Crocker.

  • Ginger spread
  • Halvah spread
  • Holiday fillings (pumpkin, peppermint, etc.)
  • Ice cream (though it can get messy in a party setting)
  • Maple cream
  • Mascarpone
  • Marshmallow cream
  • Nutella/hazelnut spread
  • Maple cream
  • Peanut butter/other nut butter
  • Pecan honey spread (like pecan pie filling)
  • Pistachio spread
  • Toffee spread
  • Whipped topping
    We’d suggest decorations—crushed nuts, mini-chips, sprinkles, etc. But frankly, it’s overkill (and guaranteed to create a mess).
    Are you having fun just thinking about a brownie party?



    TIP OF THE DAY: Thanksgiving Table Decorations

    Thanksgiving Table Decorations

    Use grocery store items to decorate your Thanksgiving table. Photo courtesy Foragers Market | Brooklyn.


    Some people like a flower centerpiece for their table. Others take out the silver candelabra.

    We’ve done both, but realized that they can interfere with sight lines across the table. They’re also very 20th (and 19th) century.

    So in recent years we’ve tried:

  • A glass vase or clear salad bowl filled with pomegranates, lady apples, clementines, fresh green leaves and metallic-sprayed pine cones.
  • A short glass vase layered with different whole nuts, with florists’ moss between the layers.
  • A stack of three flat winter squash—like flatter pumpkins— in different colors (look in farmers markets for the Bonbon Buttercup, Flat Boer Pumpkin, some Hubbard and Kabocha, and other heirloom varieties).

  • Flat winter squash covered with silver and gold metallic paints.
  • A three-pound chocolate turkey, which was hammered into pieces at the end, and the pieces sent home with guests as party favors.
  • Indian corn and autumn leaves, which lasts a long time as household decor.
    While the first idea is our favorite, our guests deserve variety from year to year.

    So this year, we’re adapting an idea from Foragers Market, to scatter the table with miniature pumpkins, decorative gourds and rosemary sprigs.

    After dinner, the gourds go into a glass bowl or basket to decorate the foyer; the rosemary sprigs go into the freezer to use again on the Christmas table or to garnish cocktails, mineral water or soft drinks; or in recipes.

    You can use the same concept for Halloween.

    Need more ideas?

    Here are 45 Thanksgiving centerpieces from HGTV.


    TIP OF THE DAY: Make Mulling Spice Sachets

    Mulling Spice Sachets


    TOP PHOTO: Individual sachets are best if only one or two people want a cup. Larger sachets are used to make a 6- or 8-cup pot. Photo courtesy McCormick. BOTTOM PHOTO:
    Empty tea bag “sachets,” used to fill with loose tea, are easier to make although less festive than muslin or netting. You can get them at specialty tea shops or online. Photo courtesy NiceShop. Put leftover mulled beverages in the fridge to enjoy chilled.


    In our last article, we suggested a cider party with a pumpkin layer cake. Here’s a related tip:

    Make mulling spice sachets for mulled cider or wine. They layer the flavors found in spiced tea on top of the base beverage, which is typically warmed cider or wine.

    Make them for family, guests and gifting. Individual sachets are better for gifting; large sachets are better for a pot of cider.

    For gifting and party favors, you can package the sachets in a holiday tin or a Mason jar with a red ribbon. Be sure to add the mulling instructions (below) on the gift tag or insert them into the package.

    To give two individual sachets as small party favors, find a small, colored cellophane bag, a clear or vellum envelope or other gift bag. Include the instructions.

    Prep time is 5 minutes to make an individual sachet, 15 minutes to steep the cider or wine. If you have nimble fingers and have organized your ingredients, you can make three individual sachets or two large ones in 5 minutes.

    Thanks to McCormick for the recipe.


    Ingredients For 1 Bag/2 Servings

  • 1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 2 whole allspice
  • Optional: 2 cardamom pods
  • 2 cups apple cider, hard cider or wine
  • 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • Cheesecloth*, cut into 4″ squares
  • Kitchen string
    *The easiest option is to purchase drawstring filter bags, used for loose tea (photo at left). Another option: If you can find fine, flexible netting, it makes a prettier sachet but you need to wash it first, to soften it and eliminate any dust it’s picked up along the way.


    1. PLACE the spices in the center of a piece of cheesecloth. Tie tightly with long piece of string. Store in an airtight container. That’s it, until you’re ready to mull your beverage. Then…

    2. PLACE the spice sachet in small saucepan. Add the apple cider or wine. Simmer over medium heat 10 to 15 minutes or until fragrant.

    3. DISCARD the spice sachet. Stir in the vanilla. Serve warm or hot.

    Ingredients For A Party-Size Mulling Spice Sachet

    1. INCREASE the cinnamon sticks to 4, whole cloves to 2 teaspoons, whole allspice to 1 teaspoon and vanilla to 2 teaspoons.

    2. WRAP in cheesecloth and warm in a pot with 2 quarts (8 cups) of apple cider or wine. You can also use apple juice. The difference is that apple cider is a fresh-squeezed product that needs to be refrigerated; apple juice is processed and homogenized to be shelf stable (no refrigeration needed until after the package has been opened).



    TIP OF THE DAY: “Pumpkin Custard” & The First Thanksgiving

    We’ll soon celebrate Thanksgiving, a remembrance of a harvest feast that took place 394 years ago. Pumpkin may have been served at the Pilgrims’ first harvest feast, but it wasn’t pumpkin pie. The pumpkin pie we know and love first appears in cookbooks in the early 19th century.

    After a horrific first winter that saw their community reduced by half, the settlers had yet to construct ovens for baking. Even if there had been butter and shortening to spare, pie crusts wouldn’t have cooked evenly over an open fire.

    But there may have been a pumpkin custard, which could be cooked in its own vessel—the pumpkin shell. Our tip today is: See if you can fit it into your Thanksgiving menu; and if not, enjoy it in advance of the big day.

    Before we go on to the recipe, here are some tidbits from

    The website has a terrific account on the Pilgrims and the first “Thanksgiving” (it wasn’t called that until much later). It expands on snippets taught in school and follows the dual stories of both the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag natives who helped them. The re-enactment videos and photography bring the story to life in a fresh new way.

    If some family and guests have an hour to kill on Thanksgiving Day, send everyone to the site. It will make the feast so much more meaningful.


    The Pilgrims, 102 adults and children, set sail for Virginia on September 6, 1620. The Mayflower was thrown off course by storms, and landed at Cape Cod 56 days later, on November 11th. The party made their way to the settlement they called Plimouth as winter set in, arriving on Christmas Day. Already weakened by their travel voyage, half of the passengers failed to survive the first few months of a bitter winter.




    TOP PHOTO: Pumpkin custard baked in a pumpkin. Photo courtesy Souffle Bombay. BOTTOM PHOTO: A sugar pumpkin, the best size and shape for this recipe. Photo courtesy Art Of The Home.


    During those winter months, it was very difficult to find food and build shelter. Fortunately, the local native people, called Wampanoag, shared their knowledge and helped the colonists survive.

    Ten months after they arrived the settlers had constructed seven cottages, a common meeting house and three storehouses for the food from their first harvest. The Wampanoag Squanto taught the settlers how to plant native crops like corn and squash.

    Our national holiday commemorates the feast held in the autumn of 1621 to celebrate the colony’s first successful harvest. It was considered a harvest celebration, and was not called Thanksgiving. The “thanksgiving” concept was applied in the 19th century by scholars studying that period; and the Thanksgiving holiday, setting the last Thursday of November “as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise,” was proclaimed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863.

    What did they eat? There’s only one surviving written account of the feast, which mentions neither turkey nor pumpkin, although we know both were plentiful locally. There were no cranberries† and no potatoes, mashed or sweet. Here’s what we do know:

  • Waterfowl were plentiful in the Massachusetts Bay area. Men could go out and shoot as much duck and geese as they liked. The women would pluck them and roast them over the fireplaces in their cottages.
  • Children would grind corn into cornmeal which was then made into porridge called samp (think oatmeal made from corn).
  • For their first harvest feast, the Wampanoag leader, Massasoit, sent 5 warriors to hunt five deer as a gift to the colonists. Venison was a favorite Wampanoag food.
  • The duck and venison were likely accompanied by cabbage, corn, onions, squash (including pumpkin) and seafood. Mussels clung to the rocks along the shore—easy pickings.
  • The 1621 feast lasted about a week, spanning several meals and games for both children and adults. Sometimes the Wampanoag and Pilgrims dined together, sometimes apart.
    *The Native Americans probably couldn’t sweeten them enough to be tasty. Instead, they used cranberries for red dye.




    TOP PHOTO: A traditional pumpkin pie, made
    in a pie plate with a crust, didn’t appear until
    the early 19th century. TOP PHOTO: A
    traditional pumpkin pie decorated with small cookies in seasonal shapes. The cookie cutters are available at William-Sonoma.
    Photo courtesy Williams-Sonoma. BOTTOM
    PHOTO: You can also bake the custard in small individual pumpkins. Photo courtesy



    According to some accounts, the English settlers hollowed out pumpkins and filled the shells with milk, honey and spices to make a custard. They baked the filled pumpkin in the hot ashes of the fireplace. You, fortunately, have an oven.

    This recipe creates an impressive dessert that happens to be gluten free. You can also make a savory custard version to serve as a side. Here’s an assortment of savory custard recipes.

    Note that this isn’t “pumpkin custard” but a conventional custard baked inside a pumpkin. You can make a pumpkin custard by adding pumpkin purée to the custard recipe. Here’s one pumpkin custard recipe; there are many others online.
    Ingredients For 4-5 Servings

  • 1 small pumpkin*
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3 large eggs plus 4 egg yolks
  • 1/2 tablespoon vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon of cornstarch
  • Pinch of salt
    *The pumpkin should be 4-5 inches in height and 18 inches in diameter. Sugar pumpkins are ideal, but if you can’t find a small pumpkin, look for other winter squash in this size range (Hubbard, for example).

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 400°F. Prepare the pumpkin as if preparing a jack-o-lantern: Cut off the top leaving the stem intact and scoop out the seeds and pulp. Scoop out enough pulp (pumpkin flesh) for the custard, while leaving a border of pulp to serve along with the finished custard. Place the large bottom portion on a baking sheet. Reserve the top (stem end) for later.

    2. COMBINE the sugar, eggs and vanilla in a mixing bowl and whisk until combined. Add the heavy cream, cornstarch and salt and whisk until fully combined. Pour the mixture into the prepared pumpkin, leaving a 3/4-inch space between the filling and the top of the pumpkin. Bake for 15 minutes; then cover the top of the pumpkin loosely with foil and bake another 15 minutes.

    3. LOWER the oven temperature to 375°F, place the top of the pumpkin on the tray and continue to bake for another 15 minutes. Remove the foil and bake an additional 30 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the custard comes out almost clean.

    4. TURN off the oven, allow the pumpkin to cool for an hour, then place it a refrigerator or in your cold garage, loosely covered with plastic wrap or foil. Allow the custard to set 6 hours or overnight. This is a good recipe to assign to a guest, since if you’re making the rest of the dinner, you (a) have your hands full and (b) your fridge is packed.

    5. TO SERVE: Scoop the custard into dessert bowls, scraping the sides to include some of the baked pumpkin.



    TIP OF THE DAY: Pudding Parfaits

    Pudding Parfaits

    If your crowd is elegant, use finer ingredients
    than crushed Oreos and M&Ms. Photo
    courtesy Gather By Damico | Minneapolis.


    Add a special element to any small party, or even a quiet evening with the family, by putting together a mix and match pudding parfait bar. It’s a popular annual event at our place; and unlike ice cream parfaits, pudding doesn’t melt.

    If you don’t have glass dessert dishes, use juice glasses or wine glasses so people can enjoy their layering talents.

    You can make the pudding or buy it. At different times. we’ve made instant pudding or cooked pudding, even cooked from scratch (mixing and measuring all the ingredients). Sophisticated palates will prefer the cooked variations.

    Here’s what else you need:


    Basic Ingredients

  • Pudding (offer several flavors, e.g. banana, butterscotch, chocolate, vanilla, lemon)
  • Crushed cookies (chocolate chip, chocolate wafers, gingersnaps, grahams, vanilla wafers)

  • Cake and brownie cubes
    Crunchy Or Chewy Layers

  • Granola
  • Nuts (our favorites are pistachios, candied peanuts and spiced pecans)
  • Small candies (candy corn, chocolate chips/flavored chips, M&Ms, mini marshmallows, toffee chips, shredded coconut)
  • Berries or diced fruit
    Creamy Layers

  • Cherry pie filling, fruit purée, fruit curd or preserves
  • Caramel sauce, chocolate sauce, dulce de leche, marshmallow cream
  • Whipped peanut butter (use Jif Peanut Butter Whips or make your own)
  • Whipped cream or other topping

    Customize the ingredients to your crowd and the occasion. If you’d rather have pistachio or maple pudding, team colors, a layer of crushed peanut butter cups or Corn Flakes, and so forth, by all means set them out!



    If you like frozen whipped topping but not all the chemical additives, now there’s an all-natural alternative.

    Truwhip is the first frozen whipped topping that is 100% natural and gluten-free. Made from plant-based ingredients, it contains no high fructose corn syrup, no hydrogenated oils, no polysorbate 60, no trans fats and no GMOs.

    It’s also gluten-free and certified kosher (dairy) by OU.

    Truwhip Natural and Truwhip Skinny look just like the other stuff and can be used in the same way:

  • In coffee and hot chocolate
  • As a dessert topping
  • In parfaits sundaes
  • For snacking (cookie sandwiches, anyone?)
    Truwhip Natural has 30 calories, 20 from fat, per two-tablespoon serving. Truwhip Skinny has 25 calories, 15 from fat.

    Discover more at

    In terms of the flavor, to quote one of our tasters:

    “It tastes different from Cool Whip. You kind of get used to all those chemicals.”

    It tastes like what it is: cool, creamy and natural.



    Truwhip Cartons

    Truwip, in Natural (regular) and Skinny (reduced fat). Photos courtesy Peak Foods.




    TIP OF THE DAY: Candy Apple Party

    Is this your year to host a candy apple party for Halloween? Kids and adults alike will love the opportunity to customize caramel and/or red candy apples.

    First send out the invites, then start to gather the ingredients.

    You prepare trays of candy- and or caramel-coated apples, and guests do a quick re-dip and add their toppings. We’ll provide the caramel- and candy-coating recipes in a separate article.


    Select toppings that are small in size or crushed. Big pieces of candy or nut halves can fall off, especially on smaller apple (recommended—see the next section). That’s why we excluded Gummies, Goobers, Raisinets and Teddy Grahams.

  • Candy corn
  • Chopped nuts
  • Granola
  • Mini chocolate chips or full size (how about a mix of
    butterscotch, peanut butter, mint, dark, milk and/or white


    At a candy apple party, every guest can customize an apple (at least one!). Photo with regular and chocolate caramel apples courtesy

  • Mini M&Ms
  • Mini marshmallows
  • Mini Reese’s Pieces
  • Oreo bits or crushed graham crackers
  • Pretzel pieces
  • Red Hots
  • Shredded coconut, plain or toasted
  • Sprinkles
  • Toffee bits

  • 2 slow cookers, chafing dishes, or other warmers for the two coatings
  • Bowls and spoons for the toppings
  • Individual bowls or plates for apple-coating
  • Ice pop sticks for the apples
  • Plates, napkins

    You do the messy part in advance: dip the apples in their first coat: dark, milk or white chocolate or caramel. Photo courtesy



    Choose varieties that are crisp but not singularly sweet (e.g. Delicious). The tartness or acidity of the right variety is a counterpoint to the sweet coating and toppings.

    You also want small apples over large ones. Big apples look more impressive, but smaller ones (typically sold pre-bagged) give you a better ratio of apple to topping. And, you can have more than one!

  • For red candy coating: Baldwin, Crispin, Honeycrisp, Idared, Jonathan, Stayman, SweeTango; secondarily, Braeburn, Gala, Fuji.
  • For caramel apples: The tart Granny Smith is the best variety for caramel apples; the tartness works well with the caramel. But any of the red candy apple types will work if you’re not seeking that nuance.
    TIP: Many supermarket apples have a wax coating that can inhibit the coating from sticking to the apple. If you can’t buy your apples from a farmers market or orchard, remove the wax coating by swirling the apples in a pot of boiling water and wiping them dry with paper towels.



    Set the slow cookers, trays of coated apples and bowls of toppings and other materials on a table or sideboard, ideally on a craft paper covering or tablecloth.

    When the guests are ready to create their apples, let them re-dip and add their toppings. Individual bowls for each person help prevent the toppings from spilling on the table.


    What to serve at your candy apple party? Apple-themed drinks:

  • Apple Beer or Ale
  • Apple Cider
  • Apple Spice Tea
  • Appletinis
  • Apple Wine
  • Apple Seltzer (like Polar)
  • Hard Cider
  • Hot Mulled Wine or Mulled Cider
  • Sparkling Cider Punch


    TIP OF THE DAY: Vermouth & Tapas, For Brunch & Cocktails

    Vermouth is enjoying a renaissance. Vermouth (ver-MOOTH) is a fortified wine—one that includes a base spirit—flavored with a proprietary mixture of botanicals (roots, barks, flowers, seeds, herbs, spices).

    A glass of sweet red vermouth with an orange slice or twist was long a fashionable apéritíf for café society*. In Barcelona today, vermouth and tapas are a hot duo after mass, both at home and at the vermuterías that have popped up to serve them.

    Today’s tip is to try a bit of café society at home. Turn it into a brunch or cocktail party with tapas. Use the occasion to get to know vermouth, trying the different styles.

    You don’t have to try them all in one day. We’ve turned our monthly Sunday friends-and-family brunch into a vermouth and tapas event, trying different vermouths and tapas each week. So it doesn’t get burdensome, participants are assigned to bring a bottle (for those who don’t cook) and a variety of tapas (for those who do).

    And we have a great time!



    Red Vermouth

    An apéritif of red vermouth. Photo courtesy Foods From Spain.

    Vermouth evolved from a 16th-century practice in Northern Italy and Germany, where apothecaries would blend extracts of herbs and roots to blend with wine and brandy. This was the way to make bitter medicines more palatable. (Virtually all spirits were first developed for medicinal reasons.)

    The original recipe for red vermouth, and possibly even the name “vermuth,” was invented in Torino, Italy in 1786 by Antonio Benedetto Carpano. The red vermouths of subsequent producers like Cinzano were based on Carpano. Carpano is still a major brand in Italy, perhaps best known today in the U.S. for its Punt e Mes (“Point And A Half”), a sweet and bitter style.

    In the late 19th century, bartenders began to make cocktails with vermouth. The Manhattan and Negroni, made with sweet vermouth, and the Martini, made with dry vermouth, are three that remain popular today. A plain glass of sweet vermouth is still enjoyed as an apéritif in Italy, France and Spain, the three largest producing countries.

    There are a number of different vermouth styles: sweet and dry, red and white, amaro (with added bitters), chinato with added chinchona (quinine) and often gentian (a root), alla vaniglia with vanilla, and others. Vermouth houses typically make a variety of styles.

    While many vermouths are regional and not imported, familiar names in the U.S. include:

  • French vermouths Noilly Prat, Boissiere
  • Italian vermouths Cinzano, Martini & Rossi
  • Spanish vermouths Lacuesta, Canasta Rosso
    Other countries have gotten on the vermouth bandwagon. There are a number of American brands (Atsby, Gallo, Imbue, Ransom, Sutton Cellars, Vya from Quady), along with vermouths from Australia, Germany and elsewhere.


    vermouth with tapas

    Trade the Mimosa and omelet brunch for vermouth with tortilla española and other tapas. Photo courtesy Foods From Spain.



    After Ferran Adría closed the famed El Bulli temple of molecular gastronomy, he opened a vermutería in Barcelona: Bodega 1900, that serves different vermouths and tapas.

    In Barcelona, the trendy food capital of Europe, vermouth is now the midday fashion on weekends. It’s called “la hora del vermouth” (vermouth hour, after “cocktail hour”): good food and drink, good conversation, a good time hanging out with friends and family.

    It’s easy to create your own “la hora del vermouth” for brunch or an all-vermouth-and-tapas cocktail party.


  • Fresh anchovies marinated in vinegar (or you can grill them)
  • Fried green plantains
  • Green olives stuffed with piquillo peppers and anchovies
  • Grilled shrimp with olive oil and lemon juice
  • Marinated peppers and anchovies
  • Manchego cheese with serrano ham
  • Mussels with vinaigrette
  • Oysters and/or clams on the half shell
  • Potato chips, homemade or artisan
  • Pickled vegetables
  • Serrano ham
  • Tortilla espanola, an omelet with onions, peppers, potatoes and sausage (substitute a frittata or quiche)

    For brunch, add a green salad, with fruit salad for dessert (you can marinate the fruits in a bit of sweet vermouth or orange liqueur). If someone wants to make flan, by all means!

    Here’s what the menu at a tapas bar looks like.

    We promise, you’ll love this new approach to brunch and/or cocktails.

    Many Americans recoil at the thought of anchovies, tough, bristly and way too salty. But these are cheap anchovies, typically served by diners and pizzerias. You must try fine Spanish anchovies—practically another species.

    Tender Spanish anchovies and boquerones, white anchovies, are imported canned and available fresh in May and June.

    They are a classic Spanish tapa. Boquerones are lightly pickled in vinegar and olive oil. Lightly salted and smoked anchovies are only distantly related to the over-salted anchovies too many of us have had.

    They are truly delicious. Try them: La Tienda is an importer of fine Spanish foods, and the photos of anchovies on their website will change your mind, even before the first bite.

    *Café society was the precursor of the jet set, and what more recently has been called the “beautiful people.” Beginning in the late 19th century, these wealthy individuals and celebrities gathered in fashionable cafés and restaurants in New York, Paris, and London. As a social group, they attended each others’ private dinners and balls, vacationed at the same elegant resorts, and so forth. In New York City, café society would hang out at El Morocco, the 21 Club and the Stork Club. American journalist Lucius Beebe (1902-1966) is generally credited with creating the term “café society” in his weekly column in the New York Herald Tribune, which ran in the 1920s and 1930s.



    TIP: Create A Guacamole Party Bar

    /home/content/p3pnexwpnas01_data02/07/2891007/html/wp content/uploads/guacamole sabrinamodelle calavocomm 230

    Guacamole with crispy bacon and shredded
    cheddar. Here’s the recipe. Photo and recipe
    courtesy Sabrina Modelle | The Tomato Tart
    via California Avocado Commission.


    National Guacamole Day is September 16th, and we wondered: If there are salad bars and frozen yogurt bars, cereal bars, baked potato bars and chili bars*, why not a guacamole bar? Who doesn’t love the opportunity to customize their foods?

    Individual bowls and an array of ingredients enable each person to start with a base of smashed avocado, and pile on the fixings. They can then be mixed in or eaten as is—a mountain of flavors and textures.

    Whether for a general party or drinks, we like to include a crunchy salad base, to make a more substantial dish. We prefer shredded cabbage, a.k.a. coleslaw mix. You end up with “guacamole coleslaw” at the bottom of the dish.

    To encourage creativity, mix some non-traditional items (bacon? mint? pineapple?) with traditional ones.

  • Avocado: mashed, smashed or diced†
  • Cheese: crumbled cotija, goat cheese, queso blanco, queso fresco or queso oaxaca; shredded cheddar or jack
  • Diced veggies: bell pepper, carrot, cucumber, green and/or red onion, jicama, radish, tomatillo, tomato/sundried tomato
  • Seasonings: cayenne, chili powder, cumin, garlic powder and/or minced garlic, hot sauce, lemon and/or lime wedges, paprika, salt/seasoned salt, Worcestershire sauce
  • Heat: chile flakes, minced chipotle and jalapeño‡
  • Herbs: chives, cilantro, mint, parsley
  • Salad base: arugula, chicory, escarole, iceberg, radicchio, romaine, shredded cabbage, watercress
  • Toppings: bacon, corn, crushed pineapple, diced mango, olives, salsa, sour cream or plain yogurt, toasted nuts

  • Chips and dippers: celery sticks, crostini (toasted or grilled baguette slices), endive leaves, pita chips, tortilla chips, flatbread
  • Drinks: beer, white wine (Sauvignon Blanc or other crisp, medium-body white wine), white sangria
    Set the dishes on a table or buffet in this order: bowls, salad, avocado, veggies, heat, seasonings and toppings; include serving utensils with each option.

    At the end of the table, place the forks and spoons for blending and napkins, and dinner plates for the individual bowls and chips. Place large bowls of chips or other dippers on the tables.
    *More food bar ideas: Breakfast & Brunch Bar, Lunch & Dinner Bar and Dessert Bar.

    †Hass avocados are preferred. While other varieties are larger, the Hass variety is creamier, a desired characteristic for guacamole.

    ‡To accommodate those who just like a little heat, have two bowls of jalapeño: one minced and served as is, one with the heat-carrying seeds removed before mincing.



    Mesoamericans cultivated the avocado, a fruit which had grown in what we now call Central America for millions of years. The conquering Aztecs‡‡ called it ahuacatl; the “tl” is pronounced “tay” in Nahuatl, the Aztec language. Guacamole was compounded in a molcajete, a mortar and pestle carved from volcanic stone.

    When the Spanish conquistadors arrived in 1519 under Hernán Cortés, they heard ah-hwah-cah-tay as “aguacate,” the spelling and pronounciation they adopted.

    The name guacamole comes from Mexican Spanish via the Nahuatl “ahuacamOlli,” a compound of ahuacatl [avocado] + mOlli [sauce]. The chocolate-based mole sauce comes from that same word, mOlli.

    Ahuacatl means “testicle.” Aztecs saw the avocado as resembling testicles and ate them as a sex stimulant. According to Linda Stradley on the website, for centuries after Europeans came into contact with the avocado, it carried its reputation for inducing sexual prowess. It wasn’t purchased or consumed by anyone concerned with his or her reputation.


    Guacamole On Spoon

    Custom-blending guacamole is not only fun; you get exactly what you want. Photo courtesy McCormick.

    American avocado growers had to sponsor a public relations campaign to dispel the myth before avocados could become popular. After then, their dark green, pebbly flesh also earned avocados the name, “alligator pear.”
    ‡‡The Aztecs, who probably originated as a nomadic tribe in northern Mexico, arrived in Mesoamerica around the beginning of the 13th century.


  • Avocados been cultivated for over 10,000 years.
  • Avocados have more potassium that a banana, plus many other health benefits (here are the 12 health benefits of avocado).
  • Leaving the pit in to keep it from browning doesn’t really work.
  • The largest-ever serving of guacamole weighed 2,669.5 kg (5,885.24 lbs), created by the Municipality of Tancítaro Michoacan in Tancítaro, Mexico, on April 4th 2013. But how many tortilla chips were needed?
  • During festivities for the last Super Bowl, 104.2 million pounds of avocados were consumed nationally, mostly as guacamole.


    PRODUCT: Watermelon “Keg” Tap With Watermelon Agua Fresca

    A melon tap turns any large, seedless watermelon into an punch bowl, ideal for filling with watermelon-based beverages. Simply hollow out the melon, insert the tap and fill it with your beverage of choice. In addition to a refreshing drink, you give guests the fun of dispensing their drinks from a watermelon. (In the fall, you can do the same with a pumpkin.)

    For starters, fill your watermelon “punch bowl” with watermelon agua fresca. It’s a memorable finale to the summer.

    Agua fresca is Spanish for “fresh water.” In culinary terms, it refers to sweetened, fruit-flavored water. Like lemonade, it is noncarbonated and nonalcoholic.

    But you can keep a bottle of spirits next to the melon dispenser for guests who’d like a shot or two. May we suggest watermelon vodka? You can find watermelon-flavored vodka from Smirnoff, Three Olives, Pinnacle (Cucumber Watermelon), UV (Salty Watermelon) and others.

    The tap in the photo is the PROfreshionals Melon Tap, $9.99. It includes “feet” that insert into the bottom of the melon to keep it stable. Another variation, from Final Touch, is designed to look like a beer tap handle. It’s $19.99.


    /home/content/p3pnexwpnas01_data02/07/2891007/html/wp content/uploads/watermelon kegger goodcook bradshawintl 230

    Turn a watermelon into a punch bowl. Photo of PROfessionals Melon Tap courtesy

    This agua fresca recipe was created by Cheeky Kitchen for Good Cook. Of course, you can also serve the drink from a standard pitcher.


    Ingredients For 8-12 Drinks

  • 6 pounds seedless watermelon, cubed
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons agave or honey
  • Fresh mint for garnish
  • Optional: gin, tequila, vodka
  • Ice

    1. SLICE and discard a 2” piece from the top of a large, seedless watermelon. Carve out the red melon flesh from the inside of the watermelon and cut into large cubes (they can be as free-form as you like, as they’ll soon be puréed). Place in a large bowl and set aside.

    2. PREPARE the melon for serving by ensuring it can stand upright. Slice a small portion from the bottom of the melon to make it more stable. Place the tap about 3 inches from the bottom of the melon and push it through the rind to the inside. Set aside.

    3. PURÉE the watermelon flesh and all other ingredients in a blender in small batches, as needed. Pour the beverage into the prepared watermelon. Press the melon tap to dispense the drink into large glasses filled with ice.

  • Agua Fresca recipes: horchata (creamy almond), lychee, mango and pineapple
  • Apple-Cucumber-Lime Agua Fresca Recipe


    TIP OF THE DAY: Pairing Ice Cream & Wine

    We’ve written extensively on pairing wine with desserts, from apple tart and chocolate cake to cheesecake and tiramisu. There’s a brief mention of two sweet wines that go with ice cream: Nigori saké, a sweet, milky style, and Pedro Ximénez* dessert sherry.

    But the problem with those limited ice cream and wine pairings is that ice cream comes in many flavors, and you wouldn’t pair the same wine with chocolate ice cream as with strawberry.

    So since then, we’ve devoted lots of time to pairing wines with ice cream. The recommendations are below, and also include pairings with sorbets.


    How alien is the concept of wine and ice cream? So much so that we couldn’t find a photo of a dish of ice cream together with a glass of wine “for love or money,” as the expression goes. The closest we got was a bowl of rum raisin ice cream, over which Pedro Ximénez sherry had been poured as a sauce.

    It is widely thought that ice cream and wine just don’t mix. One reason given is that the butterfat from the cream dulls the palate; but foie gras too is even fattier and sweet wines are splendid with it. The other reason is that the coldness of ice cream numbs the palate, and this can be true.


    /home/content/p3pnexwpnas01_data02/07/2891007/html/wp content/uploads/px sherry BodegaJoseDeLaCuesta 230

    Pedro Ximénez, a sweet sherry, goes well with chocolate, ice cream and numerous desserts. Photo courtesy Bodegas José De La Cuesta Pedro | Spain.

    However, if you wait at least 10 seconds to sip the wine, following a spoonful of ice cream, your palate can be “primed” for wine. Use sorbet instead of ice cream and avoid the butterfat issue altogether.
    The Tradition Of Sweet Wine For Dessert

    Sweet wines date to ancient times. The finest wines in Rome were sweet white wines. Bonus: The higher the sugar content, the more a wine can withstand aging, temperature shifts and transportation; so sweet wines held up better.

    Also, then as now, sweet wines pair with any course, depending on the particular dish. Today, wine connoisseurs pay big bucks to attend dinners where different vintages of Chateau d’Yquem, the priciest sweet wine (it’s a Sauternes from the Bordeaux region of France), is poured with every course.
    The Tradition Of Sweet Wine For Dessert

    For centuries at refined dining tables in Europe, dessert consisted of a glass of sweet wine, alone or with fresh fruit. A glass of Port with cheese is another time-honored tradition. Wherever a sweet wine is made, you can bet that it is enjoyed at the end of dinner.

    We respect that tradition: A glass of Sauternes with sweet summer apricots or peaches is divine; ditto with Port and Stilton or other blue cheese. Over time, we’ve switched our guest menus away from serving a substantial dessert after a big meal (including a cheese course), to a dish of sorbet and a glass of dessert wine.

    More recently, we’ve been inviting friends to an “ice cream social”† to try different wine and ice cream pairings. It’s a delightful occasion, and we highly recommend it. Consider it for adult birthday parties.
    *Pedro Ximénez, pronounced him-AY-nez and also spelled Jiménez and various other ways, is a white Spanish wine grape used to make fortified wines like sherry. It’s also the name of the sweet dessert sherry made from it. Pedro Ximénez is often abbreviated as PX. The identity of the original Pedro Ximénez and his relationship to the grape is lost to time.

    †Ice cream socials—parties where people came to eat ice cream— were popular events in the U,S. They date back to the 19th century before freezers, not to mention electric ice cream makers (i.e., they were a laborious undertaking, and thus a real treat). Some churches and communities still give them, but today it’s an easy party to throw at home. Here’s how to have an ice cream social.

    While we’ve paired specific sweet wines with specific ice cream flavors, below, you first need to seek out what your local wine stores stock. Explain the specific ice cream flavors you’d like to serve and see what they recommend from their inventory. You can bring them this list, to make the selection process easier.

    France’s vintners produce a wealth of sweet wines:

  • Banyuls, a fortified red wine (Roussillon, France)
  • Champagne Sec, the sweetest style of the sparkling white wine (Champagne, northeast France)
  • Bonnezeaux, white wine (Anjou, Loire Valley, France)
  • Maury, red wine (AOC†, Roussillon, France)
  • Muscat de Rivesaltes, a fortified white wine (AOC, Roussillon)
  • Muscat-de-Beaumes-de-Venise, white wine (AOC†, Rhone Valley, southeast France; not to be confused with the dry red AC wines labeled Beaumes-de-Venise, formerly known as Côtes du Rhone Villages)
  • Sauternes, white wine (Bordeaux, southwest France)
  • Vin de Paille, white wine (Jura, France)
    Dessert wines from other countries include:

  • Amontillado Sherry, fortified red wine (Spain)
  • Brachetto d’Acqui or Lambrusco, slightly sparkling red wines (Italy)
  • Black Muscat, red wine (California and elsewhere)
  • Ice-Wine/Eiswein, red and white (Austria, Canada, Germany, New Zealand and elsewhere)
    *AOC, an abbreviation for appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC), “controlled designation of origin,” is an official designation that assures that a product was produced in the specified region according with specific ingredients, according to traditional techniques. The analogous word in Italian is denominazione di origine controllata abbreviated, DOC.


    /home/content/p3pnexwpnas01_data02/07/2891007/html/wp content/uploads/nigori sake takarasake

    Nigori saké is unfiltered, creating a cloudy, or milky, appearance. The style is brewed to be sweet. Photo courtesy Takarasaké.

  • Late Harvest Wines (made the world over from Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Semillon, Viognier, Zinfandel and other red or white grapes)
  • Madiera, fortified red wine (Portugal)
  • Moscato d’Asti, sparkling white wine (Italy)
  • Moscatel de Setúbal, red wine (DOC, Portugal)
  • Muscat, red and white (grown in many locations in Europe, Australia, U.S. and elsewhere)
  • Nigori Saké, milky white and sweet [the name means cloudy] (Japan)
  • Pedro Ximénez Sherry [abbreviated PX], fortified white wine (Spain, Andalusia region)
  • Reciotto de Valpolicella, red wine, very raisiny (Amarone, Italy)
  • Ruby Port, fortified red wine (Portugal)
  • Sparkling Shiraz (Australia) or Lambrusco (Italy)
  • Sweet Madiera (Bual or Malmsey), fortified red wine (Portugal)
  • Tokaji (Tokay) 5 Puttonyos‡, white wine (Hungary)
    ‡Puttonyos is the Hungarian word to denote the level of sugar in wine; the comparable word used in the U.S., France and other countries is brix.


  • Any flavor of ice cream matches with its corresponding liqueur (e.g. raspberry with raspberry liqueur) or complementary liqueur (e.g., chocolate ice cream with coffee liqueur, peach ice cream with raspberry liqueur)
  • Apricot ice cream, Bonnezeaux, Sauternes, Vin de Paille
  • Berry ice creams match with Champagne, Muscat, Nigori Saké
  • Butter pecan, maple walnut or other nutty ice cream with PX Sherry, Sweet Madiera
  • Caramel or dulce de leche ice cream with PX Sherry or Sweet Madeira
  • Chocolate ice cream with Banyuls, Nigori Saké, PX Sherry; or Brachetto or Lambrusco with bittersweet chocolate ice cream
  • Chocolate chip ice cream should be matched to its base flavor: chocolate, coffee, mocha, raspberry, vanilla, etc.
  • Coconut ice cream with Late Harvest Semillon, Nigori Saké, Sauternes, Beerenauslese (or the pricier Trockenbeerenauslese)
  • Coffee or mocha ice cream with Amontillado Sherry, Nigori Saké, Madeira, Ruby Port
  • Floral ice cream—Earl Grey, jasmine, lavender, rose—with Ice Wine
  • Ginger or pumpkin ice cream with Sweet Madiera
  • Mint ice cream with Nigori Saké, Madiera or Late Harvest Zinfandel
  • Rum raisin ice cream with PX Sherry or Reciotto de Valpolicella
  • Stone fruit ice cream—apricot, cherry, mango, peach, plum—with Muscat-de-Beaumes-de-Venise
  • Vanilla ice cream with Nigori Saké, PX Sherry, Sauternes, Sweet Madiera, Vin de Paille (bonus: Scotch also works!)

  • Serve the wine in a glass.
  • Drizzle it over over the ice cream.
  • Soak dried or fresh fruit in the alcohol overnight and use it as an ice cream topping, along with a glass of the wine.

    You can use the same wines and liqueurs as with the analogous ice cream flavors; or with a sweet sparkling white wine. For citrus sorbets (grapefruit, lemon, lime, orange—not represented in the ice cream list), pair with the sparkling wine or the matching liqueur.



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