Cheese Board

For a busy holiday party, I find it easier to serve an appetizer or cheese board while everyone is waiting for the dinner hour.  When guests arrive, it is very easy to have many types of cheese, nuts, dried fruit, condiments, crusty and multi-seeded bread ready to go. Guests can serve themselves while they enjoy conversation with others and the family.

I usually set up the table earlier in the day or the day before, depending on the guests’ arrival time.  I have the serving dishes ready to go and mark them with post-it notes so it is an easy task to assemble at the last-minute.

This technique has worked for me over the years and keeps me from not having to hunt for a certain platter or dish just as the party is starting.

This past Easter I served a cheese board with four cheeses, complimented with many choices for both sweet and savory snacking.

Here are some photos which included the following choices:

white cheddar cheese with blue seedless grapes, fig jam, and hard salami

mini mozzarella balls with grape tomatoes and fresh basil

black and green olives with small dill pickles

aged cheddar with blueberry honey and candied tangerine slices

Bremner wafers with candied ginger nuts

Gouda cheese with natural almonds and dried cherries

Dill Havarti cheese with crusty bread and multi-grain seeded bread

Carr’s crackers, raspberries and bar cheddar cheese

Chocolate eggs and jelly belly beans

Cherry Pistachio Shortbread cookies

Every Christmas I like to try at least one new cookie recipe, and this year I found a recipe in Yankee Magazine which was especially delicious.  My cookie tray looked quite festive with the red and green colors that this cookie contains. I did chill the dough overnight and baked them the next day.

Here are the ingredients to make the cookies:  2 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 egg, separated, 2 1/4 cups flour, 1/2 cup chopped pistachio nuts, chopped red candied cherries, 1/3 cup white sanding sugar.

In an electric mixer, cream the butter, sugar and salt.  Beat in the egg yolk and mix.  Add flour and pistachios. Blend until combined. Remove dough from the mixer, and hand mix in the cherries.  Divide the dough into 2 1/2 logs about 12 inches long.  Wrap in plastic and refrigerate overnight on a sheet pan.

  

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Using parchment paper or silpat mats, cover the baking sheets.  Brush the egg white over the logs after unwrapping and place on waxed paper.  Sprinkle the coarse sugar over the logs and slice the cookies. Place on the baking sheets and bake 12 to 15 minutes until lightly browned.

Cool and serve.  These cookies can be frozen and kept to serve at a later time.

Snowman Chocolate Bark

From another food blogger (theDecoratedCookie.com) comes this great idea for snowman chocolate bark.  The directions were very easy to follow.  And, the result is very cute. Just perfect for the winter season, especially for children of all ages.

Very few ingredients are needed. To make the bark, I used these ingredients: 16 ounces of Ghirardelli dark chocolate melts, 1 tablespoon shortening, Ghirardelli white candy melts, pretzel sticks, white sprinkles and decors, black and orange icing.

Place a silpat mat on a baking sheet.  Melt dark chocolate chips and shortening in the microwave following the directions on the candy bag.  Spread on the silpat mat to fill as much of the tray as possible.  Arrange the white candy melts into snowmen.  Add the broken pretzel sticks for the arms.  Sprinkle the white sprinkles and decor around the bark.  Decorate the snowman heads with the black and orange icing.

Place the baking tray in the refrigerator to set the bark for at least 30-45 minutes.  At that time, the bark can be removed and broken into segments for serving.  Individual bark pieces could be used as a garnish alongside an ice cream dessert.

Thanksgiving turkey tray

For an afternoon holiday appetizer tray, I found this cute idea on Pinterest. If you haven’t found Pinterest yet, I highly recommend the website as a great way to find ideas for just about anything.  I have tried many great recipes on the site, and have saved more than 11,000 pins so far into various boards. Find me on Pinterest under my name.

Here is my version of an appetizer tray that I served on Thanksgiving day.  It was well received by my family. It was a cute way to serve a very basic appetizer while everyone was waiting for the main event. The relish tray is arranged in the shape of a turkey.

Earlier in the day, I cut and prepared the vegetables and then just before serving, arranged them on the tray.  It was easy and fun.  And also encouraged raw vegetable eating instead of other more caloric snacks!

 

Valentine brownie

Chocolate desserts have to be the ultimate choice for Valentine’s Day.  Sometimes making a favorite recipe in a special serving dish can make the dessert seem extra special.

I have found over the years that I prefer to make my own Valentine’s Dinner.  I control the ingredients and the timing of the meal.  I can set the table with special dishes and even save some money.  I love to cook and by taking the time to make a nice meal for my husband, I show him how much I really care about him.

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And, usually if I set the menu with his favorite dishes, I cannot go wrong. This year, I made a couple of different desserts to celebrate the day.  I did not serve this dessert for our special dinner, but had it for him to enjoy at another time.

This brownie recipe was featured on the blog back in 2013, but is one of my all time favorites by Martha Stewart.  If you have not tried it yet, give it a try.  It can be frosted with your favorite chocolate icing, or simply use powdered sugar or whipped cream to accompany.

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Here is the recipe:  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Next, place a double boiler or glass bowl over boiling water and melt one stick of unsalted butter with six ounces of bittersweet chocolate.  Remove the bowl from the heat and gradually beat in 1 1/2 cups of sugar with an electric mixer.  Then, add three large eggs and 1/4 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder.  Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 plus 2 tablespoons of flour and mix well.

Pour the mixture into the selected baking dish.  Bake for 35-40 minutes until firm without crumbs.  Test with a cake tester.  Cool at least 15 minutes before cutting or cool completely before icing with chocolate frosting.

Appetizer shells

For years I have used Athens Mini Fillo Shells for many different types of appetizers, both sweet and savory.  Recently, I realized that I could save some money by making my own shells from the company’s phyllo dough which is packaged in sheets. By using this product, I was able to make a very large quantity of the shells all at once and freeze them for a variety of celebrations.

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The steps are very easy and the process works perfectly.  One package of dough makes over one hundred shells.  And, what is even better, a variety of shell sizes can be made from one package.  To make the shells, purchase Athens Fillo Dough in sheets.  Next, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Coat muffin tins with cooking spray. Using about five sheets at a time, keeping the rest of the sheets covered while working, layer the sheets using cooking spray between the layers.  I just use a light spray between every couple.  There is no such thing as a mistake during this process.  Either cut in squares or circles and place into the muffin tins.  Push the layers of dough firmly into the spaces so there will be room for toppings and fillings later when making the appetizers.  Bake in the oven for 8-10 minutes based on your oven’s heating.  Watch until the edges are golden brown.  Cool after baking.  Store in plastic containers in the freezer with layers separated by waxed paper.  These shells will last for several months frozen.

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When ready to bake the appetizers, just pull from the freezer and place on cookie sheet. Fill with desired toppings and bake to cook the filling, usually 10-15 minutes.

So easy, time-saving, and cost effective.  Instead of purchasing the Athens pre-made shells, this technique allows me to have shells ready made at any time of year.

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Baby–it will be cold outside

One of the newest trends in entertaining has been the beverage bar.  It has evolved from the classic tea service, to a coffee bar, and now encompasses hot chocolate or other warm drinks for the winter season.

Even though our Michigan winter temperatures have not been as cold as past years, I decided to get my beverage bar together for the holidays.  I chose a portion of my kitchen counter and devoted it to some toppings, flavors, and just fun coffee and tea selections.  Under the counter are drawers devoted to flavors of tea, coffee, tea pots, serving ware for beverages, and other accessories.  Of course, whipped cream, milk, honey, and chocolate syrups are also available one step away.

One of the best parts of assembling a beverage bar is putting together a list of recipes for guests to try different types of drinks.  Some require marshmallows, syrups, heated or frothed milk.  A selection of different types of ceramic mugs or glassware should also be available nearby.

If you do not have room for a whole beverage area every day, be sure to set one up for your holiday entertaining parties, and watch how much fun everyone has making their selections.