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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.

      

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    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.
     
      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Ways To Cook Fish

    Lent began yesterday, the 40-day period from Ash Wednesday to Holy Thursday (this year on April 2nd). During Lent, observers recognize Christ’s sacrifice by giving up something pleasurable. Around the world, the most common Lenten practice is to give up meat. In the U.S., seafood sales soar during the six weeks of Lent.

    Whether you’re a lent observer, or simply want to eat more healthfully, here’s inspiration from GetFlavor.com, a magazine and website for professional chefs.

  • Baked fish: salmon wrapped in phyllo dough with dill and lemon sauce; quiche; en papillote; Salmon Wellington
  • Cured/pickled/smoked: ceviche, gravlax, pickled herring; smoked bluefish, cod, salmon, trout, tuna fillets; smoked fish pâté
  • Deep-fried fish: battered, tempura or breaded; calamari, fish and chips, fritters, nuggets, shrimp
  • Dips and spreads: pâté, taramasalata, whitefish
  • Grilled fish: whole fish or fillets; kebabs or skewers; cod, sardines, shrimp, snapper, whitefish
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    pan-sauteed-catfish-230

    It couldn’t be easier: Pan-sautéed fish topped with a light salad. Photo courtesy Whole Foods Market.

  • Pan-fried or sautéed fish: Trout, soft-shell crab, salmon or trout patties
  • Poached fish: crab legs, salmon, shrimp cocktail, whitefish
  • Raw fish: carpaccio, sashimi, sushi, tartare, tataki
  • Roasted fish: fillets, steaks, whole fish
  • Steamed fish: fillets, steaks or whole fish; mussels, gefilte fish
  • Stews and casseroles: bisque, bouillabaisse, chowder, cioppino, curry, gumbo
  • Stir-fried and sautéed fish: Asian-style stir fry, blackened, with pasta
  • Specialty: caviar, crêpes, flan, mousse, pancakes, poke, risotto
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    black-bass-porcini-brodetto-scottconant-230

    You can make this nicely-plated restaurant dish. Just place grilled bass or other fish atop a bed of grains or vegetables and surround with broth or sauce. In a pinch, you can make a sauce from a can of creamed soup. Photo courtesy Chef Scott Conant.

     

    BOILING, POACHING OR STEAMING: THE DIFFERENCE

    These three related cooking techniques are both healthful and easy. Here are the nuances:

    Poaching

    Poaching is a gentle cooking method used to simmer foods in a hot, but not boiling, liquid. Water is often used as the poaching liquid but its flavor is often enhanced with broth or stock, juice, vinegar or wine.

    Typically, vegetables (carrot, celery, onion), citrus (lemon, lime, orange), herbs and/or spices are added to the liquid for additional depth of flavor. Chicken breasts, eggs, fish/seafood and fruit are good candidates for poaching.
     
    Boiling

    Boiling is more intense than poaching. Foods are cooked in rapidly bubbling liquid, most often water. Poaching is best suited to foods such as starches and vegetables that can withstand the high heat and the agitation of rapidly moving water.

    Beets, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower hearty greens (collards, kale, turnip greens), pasta, potatoes and rice are some of the most frequently-boiled foods.

     
    Steaming

    With this technique, foods are cooked by steam generated from boiling liquid. Water is most often used because little to no flavor is transferred to the food from the steam. Since there’s no direct contact with water, steaming retains the shape, texture and bright color (e.g., of asparagus or other vegetables and fruits) without becoming water-logged or soggy.

    Steaming also prevents vitamins and minerals from dissolving into the cooking liquid. Fruits, proteins, vegetables and even desserts—cakes, custards and puddings) can be steamed.

    For instructions on each of these techniques, visit CampbellsKitchen.com.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Christmas Tree Napkin Fold

    A few decades back when napkin folds were a staple of fancy entertaining, we bought a book on the topic and created everything from fans to fleurs-de-lis.

    If you’re not familiar with the art of napkin folding, here are 27 basic napkin folds and many more types of napkin folding on Pinterest.

    Napkin folding may seem old fashioned, but every formal dinner table still features crisp napkins. And there’s no better time than Christmas dinner to show off.

    Here’s how to make the Christmas tree napkin fold in the photo, from crafting site Handimania.com.

     
    A BIT ABOUT NAPERY

    Napery is another term for linens used for household purposes, including napkins and tablecloths.

    In wealthy medieval households, there was an “office” responsible for the washing and storage of these items, headed by a naperer who worked closely with other offices.

     

    christmas-tree-napkin-handimania-230

    Fold green, red or white napkins into Christmas trees. Photo courtesy Handimania.com.

     
    These included the office of the laundry, charged with the washing and storage of clothing; and the office of the ewery, which managed the water and the vessels for drinking and washing. In smaller affluent households that couldn’t keep up with the Joneses (or the Lord Joneses), these three functions were managed by the same staff. [Source]

    Crisp napkins were folded in style at the tables of the 19th-century elite and through the early 20th century. The art has been kept alive at certain fine restaurants and catering establishments.

    These days, things are more casual at our home—except for very special holiday dinners. We’ll be folding Christmas tree napkins on the 25th!

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Red Heart Doilies

    mascarpone-230

    Have a heart: Use red doilies on Valentine’s
    Day. Photo courtesy
    MozzarellaCompany.com.

     

    Plan ahead for Valentine’s Day and pick up some small red heart-shaped doilies.

    Use them to present cocktails, crottins of chèvre, individual desserts (panna cotta, cupcakes) and other dishes on your Valentine’s Day table (start with morning toast!).

    Use them for just one course per meal, though: Too much of anything is overkill.

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Deck The Table

    rosemary-tree-230

    This tree can be eaten after the holidays.
    Photo courtesy of
    MiniatureChristmasTrees.com.

     

    Pretty topiary “Christmas trees” made of rosemary, a foot high or slightly taller, are available at florist shops and Christmas tree lots. (The one in the photo stands 18″ tall, including the festive base.)

  • Use them to decorate tables and add fragrance to rooms during the holidays and throughout the winter.
  • Why not augment the Christmas tree with miniature tree emissaries in other rooms?
  • The rosemary, of course, can (and should) be snipped and used to flavor and garnish dishes when the season is over.

    While it looks lovely indoors year-round, you can plant the tree outside. And, it makes a charming holiday gift.

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