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Archive for Entertaining

TIP OF THE DAY: Create Ice Cube Art (Designer Ice Cubes)

We have long made “designer ice cubes” for cocktails and non-alcoholic drinks by:

  • Adding fruit to the ice cube for sweet drinks.
  • Adding herbs to the ice cubes for savory drinks.
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    You simply fill the ice cube tray with water and drop a piece of fruit or an herb into each compartment. Here’s our original article.

    We also use two techniques that don’t dilute the drink:

  • Freeze juice or other liquid into ice cubes; for example, tomato juice or bouillon for a Bloody Mary, pineapple juice for a Piña Colada, coffee ice cubes for a Black Russian or Irish Coffee.
  • Use frozen fruits or vegetables. You can buy them or make them.
  • For sweet drinks, whole strawberries or melon balls are our go-to fruits.
  • For savory drinks, use larger vegetables like broccoli or cauliflower florets instead of frozen carrots and peas or corn, which are small and will defrost quickly. You can also freeze thick cucumber and zucchini slices.
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    WHAT’S NEXT?

    The artiest ice cubes yet, from Let’s Mingle Blog. We just love the look, and have so much fun mixing and matching the ingredients.

    Ingredients

  • Fruits, vegetables, herbs and whole spices of choice
  • Liquid of choice: water, flavored water, coffee, tea, juice or soft drink*
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    Preparation

    1. FILL the ice cube compartments one-third or halfway with your liquid of choice: coffee or tea, juice, water, etc. Place the trays in the freezer until the ice is partially frozen (fully frozen is OK, too).

    2. ADD the fruits, herbs, spices, whatever, and return to the freezer for 20 minutes or more, so the fruit will stick and not float to the top.

    3. TOP with the final layer of liquid, and freeze fully.

    Here’s the entire article from Let’s Mingle Blog, with many more design ideas.

     

    Designer Ice Cubes

    Fruit In Ice Cubes

    The best-looking ice cubes we’ve seen, from Let’s Mingle Blog. Read the full article.

     
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    *For example, cola ice cubes for a Rum & Coke.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Christmas Crudites, A Gingerbread House Alternative

    Vegetable Christmas House

    Veggie Lodge

    Chocolate Holiday House

    [1] A good-for-you Christmas treat. [2] Start here (photos #1 and #2 courtesy Green Giant). [3] A chocolate house, made with molds from King Arthur Flour.

     

    How about a vegetable cottage instead of a gingerbread house?

    Created by Green Giant; we found it on

    It was originally posted on Green Giant’s Facebook page.

    Here’s the rub:

    The bloggers who re-posted provided the ingredients, but instructed the reader to “Click here for the directions From Green Giant’s Facebook Page.”

    Alas, clicking all those links delivers a “Page Not Found.”

    Conspiracy: Maybe there never were directions! At best, we have some step-by-step photos.

    So you’ll have to put it together yourself. Or delegate it to someone who likes to build.

    If you’re a great food crafter, please make it and send us the instructions.

     
    RECIPE: VEGGIE LODGE

    Ingredients

  • 6 8″ carrot logs (1 front, 5 back)
  • 8 5″ carrot logs (lodge sides)
  • 8 3″ carrot logs (front)
  • 1-1/4″ logs (by front door)
  • 4 1-1/2″ carrot logs (window opening)
  • 3 7″ carrot log rafters
  • 16 6″ roof celery stalks
  • Foam core board gable measures 8″x 6: x 6″
  • Carrot coins for stone path
  • Slice of turnip for window
  • Toothpicks & cream cheese mortar to fasten the cucumbers and celery
  • Bamboo skewers to stack chimney mushroom “stones”
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    For The Surroundings

  • Artichoke “evergreen trees”
  • Broccoli floret “bushes”
  • Boiled baby potatoes
  • Hard boiled egg Santa snowmen (recipe)
  • Cremini mushrooms (brown tops) for more shrubbery
  • Yellow/red cherry or grape tomatoes
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    For The Dip

  • 1 large red bell pepper or other dip holder
  • Dip of choice
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    Ingredients
     
    Or, ditch the healthy house and make this chocolate version from King Arthur Flour.

     
    CAN YOU FOLLOW THESE PHOTOS & BUILD THE LODGE?
     
    Veggie Lodge Preparation

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Pairing Wine & Cake For A Dessert Party…Or Just Dessert!

    Want a dessert party that’s different?

    How about a wine and cake tasting? As with any other food and wine, the right pairings enhance the enjoyment of both components.

    So as not to stress the budget, you can make it a co-op party, assigning different cakes and wines to the participants.

    Select five or so pairings for a group of 10-12; more for a larger crowd. We made all of the cakes as sheet cakes, easy to cut into squares or slivers. It’s tough to cut thin slices of layer cakes.

    Place each cake on a platter with a place cards or index cards to identify them and provide cake/pie servers so people can help themselves, and further cut the squares for smaller tastes.

    We set everything on a buffet: the cakes with the matching wines and wine glasses behind them, plus serving plates, forks and napkins.

    Re the cake/pie servers: It’s nice to have a server for each cake. You can borrow from friends, use metal spatulas and other items you already have, or buy this inexpensive set of five for $11.99.

    These pairings were created by Alice Feiring, an award-winning wine writer and book author; and sent to us by Amara.com, an elegant lifestyle website.

    Alice has provided explanations for why these pairings work (the “Why,” below). If your crowd is interested, you can print the information index cards underneath the name of each cake and wine pairing.

    CAKE & WINE PAIRINGS
     
    1. APPLE CAKE & WINE

  • Wine Type: Off-dry sparkling wine, such as a demi-sec Vouvray from the Loire region of France.
  • Why: Off-dry sparkling wines with a hint of apple or lemon are a perfect pairing.
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    2. CARDAMOM CAKE & WINE

  • Wine Type: Pear cider (an off-dry hard cider also called perry).
  • Why: Pears and cardamom accent each other so well in recipes; the same pairing translates to wine. You can also try this pairing with other spice cakes.
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    3. CARROT CAKE & WINE

  • Wine Type: Ice cider, similar to ice wine, but made with apples instead of grapes.
  • Why: Carrot cake has spicy flavors and creamy frosting, both of which pair well with the intensity, acidity and honey notes of ice cider.
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    4. CHEESECAKE & WINE

  • Wine Type: Aromatic wine, spicy and exotic, such as Gewürztraminer from the Alsace region of France or from Germany.
  • Why: Aromatic wines stand up to dense cheesecakes. The low alcohol level is right for the creaminess.
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    5. COCONUT CAKE & WINE

  • Wine Type: Sparkling, white, gently sweet desert wine, such as Moscato d’Asti from Italy.
  • Why: The light sweetness of a sparkling desert wine complements the less sweet coconut.
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    6. FLOURLESS CHOCOLATE CAKE & WINE

  • Wine Type: Oxidized, fortified wine such as Madeira from Portugal.
  • Why: Fortified wines that have been exposed to heat develop a complex muted, caramel-like saltiness—think toffee, dried fruit and orange rind—which complement the ground nuts in the cake.
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    Carrot Cake

    Cheesecake

    Coconut Cake

    Flourless Chocolate Cake

    [1] Carrot cake with cream cheese frosting and filling (photo courtesy Harry & David). [2] A classic cheesecake (photo courtesy Cinderella Cheesecake). [3] Coconut layer cake (photo courtesy Taste Of Home). [4] Flourless Chocolate Cake (photo courtesy David Glass).

     

    Strawberry Shortcake

    Pineapple Upside Down Cake

    Nacho Cheesecake

    [5] Strawberry shortcake (photo courtesy G Bakes). [6] The retro Pineapple Upside -Down Cake (photo courtesy King Arthur Flour). [7] A savory cheesecake (Nacho Cheesecake photo from Taste Of Home; the recipe link is at #12).

     

    7. LEMON POPPY CAKE & WINE

  • Wine Type: Apple mint vermouth (look for Uncouth Vermouth Apple Mint)—semisweet and fragrant.
  • Why: The bitter from the vermouth accents the almost fruity snap of the poppy seeds.
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    8. OLIVE OIL CAKE & WINE

  • Wine Type: Sparking white wine, like a slightly sweet Malvasia Dolce Frizzante from Italy.
  • Why: The aromatic lightness of a slightly sweet sparkling wine matches the dense olive oil without being overpowering.
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    9. ORANGE-CHOCOLATE CAKE & WINE

  • Wine Type: Dry amber (orange) wine, spicy with notes of orange blossom. Look for amber wines from France, Italy and Australia—they’re relatively new in the U.S.
  • Why: The juicy, slightly tannic wine supports the strong cake flavors without undoing the power of the chocolate orange combination.
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    10. PINEAPPLE UPSIDE-DOWN CAKE & WINE

  • Wine Type: Sweet white wine such as a Jurançon Moelleux from France—unctuous with good acid and lemon/peach notes.
  • Why: The tropical flavor from the grape, petit manseng, especially from the Jurançon, marries the syrupy fruit. Its extreme acidity keeps the match fresh”.
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    11. STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKE & WINE

  • Wine Type: Sparking rosé.
  • Why: The berry fruitiness of sparkling rosé echoes the fragrant strawberries in the cake.
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    12. SAVORY CHEESE CAKE & WINE

  • Wine Type: Savory cheesecake is an appetizer or first course rather than a dessert; or it can stand in for the cheese course or a dessert for people who don’t like sweets! Look for a Carignan, Grenache, Syrah or blend. Check out these savory cheesecake recipes:
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    Blue Cheese Cheesecake
    Basil, Lobster & Tuna Cheesecake Recipes
    Nacho Cheesecake Recipe
    Provolone & Corn Cheesecake

  • Why: Deep red wines are a great match for the sharp cheese flavors.
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    MORE DESSERT & WINE PAIRINGS

    Here are THE NIBBLE’s recommendations for:

  • Pairing Desserts & Wine: everything from crème brûlée to mousse to pie
  • Pairing Ice Cream & Wine
  • Pairing Chocolate & Wine
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    HAPPY NIBBLING!

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Turkey Napkin Fold

    Does someone in your family have a crafty streak? Let him or her do the napkin folding for Thankgsgiving dinner.

    You can find different looks online, but we like this simple-but-elegant version from Martha Stewart. Here’s how to fold it.

    Don’t wait until Thanksgiving to start folding. Test your skills and your napkins in advance. Linen napkins crease and fold well, cotton napkins and even large paper napkins work with many folds; polyester and permanent press napkins don’t fold.

    THE HISTORY OF NAPKINS

    How do you wipe your mouth and fingers during and after eating? Who doesn’t?

    Yet, in the history of civilization, the napkins we know were relatively late to the table (as it were).

    According to Food Reference and Melanie e Magdalena, it was a slow evolution, beginning with dough napkins! Ancient Spartans first used small lumps of dough to wipe their hands when eating. This led to using baked, sliced bread to wipe the hands.

    Napkins slowly evolved into new forms. Note that they were the property of the well-to-do, not poor citizens who were left on their own. If you closely watch dining scenes in period television and film, you may be able to catch the custom of the time.

  • In Rome, the maapa, was an early tablecloth: a large cloth that covered the surface of where the individuals eating were seated. They were also used to wipe mouths and for wrapping up leftover food to take home, a custom of the host (making it the original doggy bag). Each guest supplied his own mappa.
  • In the Dark Ages (now called the Early Middle Ages), the napkin disappeared along with many other elements of Roman civilization. Hands and mouths were wiped on whatever was available: the back of the hand, the sleeve, or [back to pre-napkin times] a piece of bread.
  • During the Middle Ages, some amenities returned. Hands were wiped on tablecloths, which evolved into a three-cloth spread over the table, creating a cloth surface 4-6 feet long and 5 feet wide. You can see an example in this painting, made during between 1464 and 1467.
  • In the late Middle Ages, the communal napkin migrated from the table to the arms of a servant, and was reduced to the size of a modern bath towel. Over time, a basin with water for hand washing appeared. Throughout the meal, the individual would wash his hands, and the servant would drape the cloth over the diner’s arm or shoulder to dry wet hands throughout the meal. In France, a long cloth called a longiere was attached to the side of the tablecloth for communal use.
  • By the 16th century, the end of the Renaissance, napkins were a requirement of refined dining. A large napkin was used at the table, and a smaller napkin was used at events where people stood while eating.
  • By the 17th century, the standard napkin was approximately 35 inches wide by 45 inches long, a jumbo size that accommodated people who [still] ate with their fingers (today, dinner napkins are 24 x 24 inches). However, when the fork was accepted by royalty in the same century, the napkin fell from use among the aristocracy and neatness in dining was emphasized.
  • In the 18th century, the napkin size was reduced thanks to the widespread use of the fork by all classes of society. The napkin of the time was 30 inches by 36. Napkins followed fashion: When the fashion for men became stiffly starched ruffled collars, they were protected with napkins tied around the neck. When shirts with lace fronts came into vogue, napkins were tucked into the neck or buttonhole or were attached with a pin.
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    Turkey Napkin Fold

    Leaf Napkin Fold

    Thanksgiving Napkin Fold

    [1] A linen napkin can be creased and folded into a turkey (photo courtesy MarthaStewart.com). [2] This leaf fold napkin from Decozilla is a lot easier. [3] It’s a no-brainer to create a simple harvest theme like this (photo courtesy EcstasyCoffee.com).

  • Matching linens debut: Around 1740, manufacturers began making matching tablecloth and napkin sets.
  • Paper napkins came to the U.S. in 1887, when John Dickinson, a paper mill owner in the U.K., brought his paper napkins to a company party in the U.S.
  • Paper napkins didn’t take hold in the U.S. until 1931, when Scott Paper introduced its line.
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    Today, the napkin is made in a variety of sizes,and materials (cotton, linen, paper, polyester) and colors to meet every need:
     
    STANDARD NAPKIN SIZES

    Here are today’s standard sizes:

  • Cocktail napkin: 6″ x 6″
  • Lunch napkin: 18″ x 18″ or 20″ x 20″
  • Dinner napkin: 22″ x 22″ or 24″ x 24″
  • Buffet lap napkin: 27″ x 27″
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    TIP OF THE DAY: Easy Party Cake (Actually, A Torte)

    You probably have favorite easy-to-make party recipes that save you time and energy while treating your guests.

    Today, we suggest one for dessert, from King Arthur Flour. It’s actually a torte, shorter than a layer cake. Here’s the difference between a cake and a torte.

    A tart is something different entirely, with a shortbread crust made in a fluted pan with a removable bottom. Unlike a pie, the shortbread crust enables the tart to stand on its own, without a pan, for a beautiful presentation.

    This fancy-looking recipe is from Becky Sue, the baker, photographer and recipe developer of Baking The Goods. Two layers of dense yellow cake are topped with meringue, cinnamon, and nuts; and filled with rich, pastry cream studded with fresh berries.

    It really is easy to make; even a novice baker will have no problems. There’s no frosting involved.

    Thanks to King Arthur Flour for sending us the recipe.

    It makes a nice impression at parties and dinner parties. Add candles for a birthday cake.
     
    RECIPE: BERRY BLITZ TORTE

    Prep time is 30 minutes, bake time is 30 minutes, plus assembly (total 90 minutes). The cake makes 8 to 10 servings.

    Shortcuts: Use preserves instead of fresh fruit; substitute instant vanilla pudding for the pastry cream.

    Here are step by step photos from Baking The Goods.
     
    Ingredients

    For The Cake

  • 1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 large egg yolks (save the whites for the topping)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or 1/4 teaspoon fiori di sicilia
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
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    For The Topping

  • 4 large egg whites
  • 3/4 cup superfine sugar* or granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup sliced, blanched almonds
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, optional
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • Garnish: mixed berries, other fruit of choice, chocolate curls
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    *Also called caster sugar and baker’s special sugar, superfine sugar is screened to the finest granulation. Popular in our home because it dissolves easily in cold drinks (iced tea, cocktails, etc.), it also dissolves easily into butter. This creates a fine crumb and a more elegant cake. YOU CAN MAKE YOUR OWN: Superfine sugar is simply table sugar that is ground into smaller grains. Pulse table sugar in a food processor until it’s very fine. Keep the superfine sugar in a separate sugar bowl to bring out when you’re serving iced coffee and tea or making lemonade.
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    For The Filling

  • Pastry cream/crème pâtissière recipe
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    Making The Torte

    Berry Blitz Torte

    Berry Torte Recipe

    fiori-di-sicilia-therosetable-230jpg

    [1] Making the torte. [2] Close-up (photos #1 and #2 courtesy King Arthur Flour). [3] Garnished and ready for prime time (photo courtesy BakingTheGoods.com. [4] Fiori (or fior) di Sicilia—flower of Sicily—is used by bakers to provide an elegant floral-citrus flavor to cake and other foods. Here’s more about it (photo courtesy The Rose Table).

  • Fresh fruit of choice: blackberries, blueberries, raspberries or sliced strawberries
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    Preparation

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease two 8″ or 9″ round cake pans. If using parchment, lightly grease the pans, line with parchment rounds, and lightly grease the parchment as well.

    2. BEAT the butter, sugar, salt, and egg yolks in a medium-sized mixing bowl until creamy. Beat in the vanilla/fiori, milk, baking powder and flour. Spread the mixture in the prepared pans (the batter will barely cover the bottom of the pans).

    3. BEAT the egg whites until light. Gradually add the sugar and continue to beat until the meringue is smooth, glossy, and somewhat stiff (but not stiff enough to form stand-up peaks).

    4. SPREAD the meringue atop the cake batter, and sprinkle with the almonds, cinnamon and sugar. (Note: If you’re using fiori di sicilia, omit the cinnamon.) Bake the cakes for 30 minutes, until lightly browned.

    5. REMOVE the cakes from the oven, allow them to cool for 15 minutes, then loosen the edges and gently turn them out onto a rack to cool completely. If some of the almonds fall off during this process, just sprinkle them back on top.

    6. ASSEMBLE: Place one of the cake layers, meringue side up, on a serving plate. Spread with the pastry cream. Add a layer of fresh berries. Top with the second cake layer, meringue-side up. Serve immediately, or refrigerate until serving time.

     
    THE DIFFERENT CAKE TYPES

    Check out our beautiful Cake Glossary, featuring all types of cake.

      

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