Dish Up the Love

Dish up the love this holiday season with time-honored recipes

The heart of the holiday season centers around the bonds created during celebrations and traditions – Thanksgiving dinner, cookie exchanges, Christmas and Hanukkah parties and more. These special moments are often created in and around the kitchen. Whether it’s an afternoon spent making holiday cookies or sitting around the table enjoying Grandma’s famous meatballs, there’s something special about quality time spent together preparing for or enjoying seasonal fare.

A big part of what makes these holiday moments so special are traditional recipes and the memories they evoke – those favorite dishes that have passed from generation-to-generation or friend-to-friend and are always requested at this time of year.

Holiday cooks and entertainers are encouraged to submit their time-honored holiday recipes at WorldKitchen.com/DishUptheLove. For every recipe submitted, Baker’s Secret, CorningWare, and Pyrex will donate $1 up to $50,000 to Feeding America. One dollar helps provide nine meals secured by Feeding America on behalf of local member food banks. Additionally, one grand prize winner will receive a Valentine’s Day trip for two to New York City. Be sure to check out other shared recipes for new menu ideas to try in your own kitchen.

When making your family favorites, or trying out a new recipe, consider the following tips from Antonia Lofaso, Top Chef All-Star and executive chef/partner at-Black Market Liquor Bar &-Scopa:

* Spend more time cooking and less time on cleanup – Reliable and durable baking dishes like Baker’s Secret simplify the baking process, turning the baking marathon into a fun afternoon of family bonding time. And they’re dishwasher-safe, meaning less time spent cleaning up the mess and more time enjoying the delicious baked goods.

* Serve meals family style – Having the entire family around the dinner table during the holidays is special. Serving the food family style makes it easy for the host to participate in the fun with everyone else, and allows all members to take as much food as they want while passing the dishes around the table.

* Reduce prep time – Creating all those wonderful dishes doesn’t have to take all day. Help reduce time by serving those favorite menu items in table-worthy bake ware such as CorningWare. These dishes can transfer seamlessly from oven to table to the refrigerator for storage, and complement your holiday table decorations beautifully.

* Favorite dish will travel- Sometimes the person with the most-requested recipe isn’t the one hosting the meal, and when that happens, Pyrex Bakeware comes to the rescue. Not only can you prep and bake in Pyrex but it’s great for storing and taking on the go.

Lofaso has two favorite recipes she shares with her family each holiday season. They are Italian Rice Balls and Bacon, Brussels Sprout and Goat Cheese Pie, which she’s sharing so you can try it at your next family holiday gathering.

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Italian Rice Balls

Servings: 15 to 18 rice balls

Ingredients:

1 cup Arborio rice (risotto rice)
2 cups water
1 tablespoon salt
2 egg yolks
2 cups grated or shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1/4 cup chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
3 tablespoons chopped sun-dried tomatoes
3 cups vegetable oil
2 cups dried plain bread crumbs
1 1/2 cups cubed firm whole-milk mozzarella cheese

In medium pot, combine the rice, water and salt and bring to a simmer. Cover the pot and let the rice cook for 12 minutes, or until the water is absorbed. When done, spread rice out on a baking sheet. Use a rubber spatula to move the rice around, allowing the steam to escape and the rice to cool.

In a medium bowl, mix the egg yolks and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Add the egg and cheese mixture, parsley, basil and sun-dried tomatoes to the cooled rice. Use a rubber spatula to incorporate these ingredients. It will be very sticky. Put the bread crumbs in a medium bowl.

In a 4-quart pot, heat the vegetable oil to 350 F, verifying the temperature with a candy thermometer. Set up the sheet of rice next to the mozzarella cheese and bread crumbs. Use a 2-ounce ice cream scoop or a 1/4 cup measuring cup to portion out the rice. Roll 1 scoop in wet hands to shape it into a ball. Push two cubes of mozzarella cheese into the center of the ball. Reshape the rice to close the ball around the cheese. Coat each ball with bread crumbs and set on a plate until ready to fry.

Fry 4 or 5 rice balls at a time for 2 to 3 minutes, until they’re golden brown. Remove from oil using a slotted spoon and set to drain on a paper towel-lined plate. Serve with your favorite marinara sauce.

Tip: Purchase firm mozzarella cheese in a block and cut it into cubes.

 

18822245

Bacon, Brussels Sprout and Goat Cheese Pie

Servings: 10 to 12

Pie crust ingredients:

2 sticks (1 cup) cold unsalted butter, cubed
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 cup ice water

Pie ingredients:

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 pound smoked bacon, cut into 1/4 inch pieces
1 pound Brussels sprouts, stems removed and quartered
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup shredded fontina cheese
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup crumbled goat cheese

Piecrust directions:

Combine the butter, flour and salt in a food processor and pulse for 1 minute. Once the butter has been chopped, set the processor to spin and drizzle in the ice water. Blend for no more than 45 seconds. The dough should form a ball in the food processor. Remove the dough, flatten it like a disk and wrap it in plastic. Let it rest in the fridge for at least 20 minutes or up to a day.

Pie directions:

Preheat oven to 350 F. In a 10 to 12 inch saute pan, heat the vegetable oil over medium heat. Add the chopped bacon and cook until slightly crispy. Remove from pan. Add the Brussels sprouts to the pan and season them with salt. Cook in the bacon fat and oil for 4 to 6 minutes, until golden brown and soft. Strain to remove the excess oil. Transfer the Brussels sprouts to plate of bacon and cool in the fridge while preparing the dough.

Remove the dough from the fridge and give it a few minutes to warm up. On a dry, lightly floured surface, press your rolling pin down in the dough, rolling upward and downward. Turn the dough a quart turn and repeat the process all the way around to make a circular shape. You want to have about 2 inches of crust overhanging your pie pan. Roll the crust onto the pin and gently roll the pin across the pie pan, draping the crust into the pan. Once the crust is arranged in the pie pan, roll the pin across the ridge of the pan. This will cut off the excess crust and leave a clean edge.

In a medium bowl, combine the fontina and mozzarella cheeses. Layer half of the cheese on the crust. Top it with the bacon and Brussels sprouts. Layer on the rest of the mixed cheeses so the Brussels sprouts are completed covered. Sprinkle on the goat cheese.

Bake the pie for 45 minutes, rotating it halfway through the baking time. The pie crust will turn a golden brown color. Serve warm or at room temperature.

‘Hot’ chocolate ideas for the holidays

Peppermint may grab the glamour as a flavor of choice during the holiday seasons, but when it comes to sheer staying power in the hearts of the American public, it’s hard to beat chocolate. While many of us consider chocolate welcome and appropriate at any time of year, this most delightful sweet can take center stage during the holidays. Whether you give it as a gift, serve it on a holiday buffet or make it the centerpiece of your seasonal decor, chocolate is always on trend.

Here are some hot ideas for making your holiday entertaining a celebration of all things chocolate:

The (practically) one-size-fits-all gift

As gifts go, chocolate has timeless appeal for any occasion. Many people who might forgo the sweet during the rest of the year, treat themselves to an exception at holiday time. From basic bars in milk or dark chocolate to complex flavors like Platinum, a dark chocolate shell wrapped around pecan praline and caramel, it’s possible to find a chocolate treat that appeals to virtually all tastes.

Sending gourmet chocolates as a holiday gift has many advantages. The chocolatiers at Kohler Original Recipe Chocolates create truly unique, memorable offerings, and online ordering makes it easy to send a one-of-a-kind chocolate gift without the hassle and fuss of wrapping, packing and shipping on your own.

Fabulous feasting

What holiday celebration would be complete without some form of chocolate? As an ingredient or a dessert, chocolate is versatile. Whether you’re using it as a sauce ingredient for a main course or making it the centerpiece of a meal’s finale, you can find a place for chocolate in holiday cooking.

Sweeter decorating

Holiday decorating doesn’t have to start with tinsel and end with twinkling lights. Chocolate also makes a great decorating element. Decorating with chocolate shouts “festive,” and when done right, chocolate decorations can do double-duty as treats or dessert.

Start with creating chocolate tree ornaments. One of the easiest ways to make an ornament using chocolate is to purchase clear plastic ornaments at your local craft store and fill them with colorful chocolate candies.

Another easy option is to tuck colorful chocolates into your favorite holiday centerpieces. To create an illuminating centerpiece, choose a large pillar candle in a festive color. Place the candle atop a round mirror (also available at craft stores), and create a ring around the candle with colorful chocolates, such as Kohler Original Recipe Chocolate Rare Facets. Pleasing-to-the-eye and yummy-to-the-tastebuds these little pieces of artwork look like precious gems in rich hues. When dinner is done, invite guests to partake in the chocolates.

However you choose to incorporate chocolate into your holiday revelry, it’s hard to go wrong with this time-honored, beloved treat.

Try this great chocolate recipe from the chefs at Kohler’s American Club Resort:

17178748

Chocolate Gingersnap Cookies

Ingredients:

2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1/4 cup molasses
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (or mini chips)
1/3 cup crystallized ginger, finely chopped
1/3 cup coarse sugar (or additional granulated sugar), for rolling

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, salt and all spices. In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light. Beat in egg, followed by molasses, balsamic vinegar and vanilla. Either by hand or with the mixer on low speed, gradually stir in all the flour mixture, mixing only until no streaks of flour remain. Stir in crystallized ginger and chocolate chunks.

Form dough into 1-inch balls, roll in coarse sugar and place on baking sheet. Press cookies gently to flatten slightly and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until browned around the edges.

Makes about three dozen.

Quick & easy holiday meals

The hectic holidays can mean hurried cooks, frantic trips to the grocery store and chaotic menu planning. But it doesn’t have to – with some tried and true solutions for easy entertaining, you can reduce your stress and set up a holiday party guaranteed to impress guests from near or far.

Don’t let cooking and entertaining dim your holiday spirit. Follow these simple tips for making your next holiday meal as easy to plan as it is delicious:

Appetizers – Modern cheese plates are far from boring and are a simple way to add a gourmet touch to your event. Remember to balance tastes, textures and visual appeal to create a memorable cheese plate. A good rule of thumb: include three cheeses with different flavor profiles, such as a soft brie, a sharp cheddar and a crumbly blue like Stella blue cheese.

Fondue – Add an interactive twist to your favorite holiday fare with fondue. Fondue is a fun way to kick off a meal with a variety of appetizer options. Or make it a full meal experience, with multiple courses incorporating fondue as the common element. Buy or rent fondue pots and set up tables or stations with different themes. Cheese fondue is perfect for veggies, fruit and breads. Rich broth-based fondues are great for main courses like meats and seafood. Chocolate, of course, is ideal for dessert when paired with berries, brownies and marshmallows.

Potluck – The holidays are all about bringing people together, and what better way than to host a potluck-style meal where everyone brings a favorite dish to share? The host typically handles the main entree, and then the guests can bring dishes to complement the meal. Ask attendees if they have something in mind, or if they are unsure, assign particular items to ensure your meal is covered. It’s a great way to introduce everyone to new recipes.

Reinvent classic dishes – Think your guests are bored with the same foods year after year? Unlikely, but if you want to add pizzazz to your cooking, you can do so while staying true to the classic recipes you love. Traditional holiday dishes – like mashed potatoes and salads – can be updated in seconds with cheese. Few things can’t benefit from a quick sprinkle of Stella Parmesan, which you can pick up at your local grocery store. Another option is to add a dash of herbs to help bring out the natural flavors of your foods; fresh herbs like rosemary and mint or pantry staples like cinnamon and nutmeg bring bold new flavor to your dishes.

Pairings party – Let your inner foodie shine and impress your friends with a holiday pairings party. Select items that are easy to prepare and pair with complementing drinks. For example, Champagne pairs great with delicate cheeses like brie, ale beers pair nicely with richly flavored cheeses like gorgonzola, and medium-bodied red wines pair well with hard Italian-style cheeses like Asiago. Label pairings appropriately so guest can congregate around the buffet table and sample at will. Their taste buds will dance and the food discussions will be plentiful.

Try these two tasty and simple recipes at your next holiday party:

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European Stella Cheese Fondue
Serves four

Ingredients:
1 cup dry white wine, such as sauvignon blanc or pinot grigio-
15 ounce (3 containers) Stella 3 cheese European Blends-
1 tablespoon cornstarch–
1 tablespoon kirsch or brandy (optional)-
1/4 teaspoon salt-
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

Directions:

Bring wine to a simmer in a heavy medium saucepan.- Toss together cheese and cornstarch in a medium bowl.- Add 1/4 of cheese mixture to simmering wine, stirring constantly until melted.- Continue adding cheese and stirring constantly until all cheese is melted and simmers gently.- Stir in kirsch, if desired, and salt and nutmeg.- Transfer mixture to a fondue pot set over a fondue burner or heating element. Serve assorted dippers with long forks for dipping. Stir warm fondue often to prevent scorching.

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Stella Romano Cheese Cheesy Mashed Potatoes
Serves four

Ingredients:
4 medium red potatoes, with or without skins-
4 ounce Stella Romano cheese-
1/3 cup skim milk-
4 tablespoon butter, softened-
2 teaspoon fresh Italian parsley-
1 teaspoon salt

Directions:
Put potatoes in large pot and cover. Bring to boil, then reduce heat to medium and cook until potatoes are easily pierced by a fork, about 20 minutes. Drain water. With potatoes over medium-low heat, add remaining ingredients and mash with a potato masher until smooth.

 

Think outside the chocolate box

The holidays provide a good excuse to bake and eat cookies. Not the traditional chocolate chip or peanut butter cookies that most of us eat during the rest of the year, but those special recipes that have everyone going back for a second taste.

Hosting a cookie exchange is a great way to expose your friends to a wider variety of cookie recipes this holiday season. But before sending out invitations and asking your friends to make their favorite cookie recipe, consider thinking outside the chocolate box for your party this year.

There are tons of ways to make your cookie exchange party unique. Start planning your party right away using a couple of these ideas.

* Make it a themed cookie exchange. Theme parties are fun at any time of year, but take it one step further with your cookie exchange. Invite your guests to follow the theme with the recipes they choose to make. For example, consider hosting a black and white cookie party, explaining to attendees that the cookies must have a black or white element. Coconut, white or dark chocolate candies, nuts and sugar for icing are just several ingredients that fit the bill, and you can find dozens of recipes featuring these items. Or make it a chocolate party, where all of the recipes have a chocolate ingredient in them. Many cookie recipes include nuts, so a nut theme would also be a great idea. In addition to the recipes featuring the theme, also decorate the party room to match. In need of a recipe? The following white chocolate crunch recipe is great for all three themed parties:

 

Hawaiian Host Whole Macadamia White Chocolate Crunch

Ingredients:

1 box, 7 ounces, 18 pieces Hawaiian Host Whole Macadamia White Chocolates
1 cup Rice Krispies
1 cup mini marshmallows
1/4 cup creamy peanut butter

Directions:

Melt chocolate in a microwave oven in 4 quart casserole at 70 percent power for 3 – 4 minutes, stirring periodically, until melted. Stir in peanut butter. Add corn cereal and marshmallows; stir. Pour into buttered 8-by-8 inch square pan or dish. When firm, cut into squares.

* Up the game on the party favors. The purpose of a cookie exchange is to leave the party with a variety of holiday cookies, but you and your guests can have a lot more fun. Ways to think outside the chocolate box include holding a wine pairing with the cookies. Red wine and chocolate go well together, and your guests can determine which pairing works best for their holiday tables. Or indulge by serving some chocolate martinis alongside the cookies. If your group is into games, make up fun names for the cookie recipes everyone brought, or make a unique recipe just for the party, and have guests guess the ingredients in the mystery cookie.

* Introduce unexpected ingredients into the cookie recipes. One of the holiday season’s most popular confections is Hawaiian Host chocolate-covered macadamia nuts that tempt frequent snacking all season long. But chopping up these chocolate-covered nuts and putting them into a cookie recipe will introduce a new surprise to all your guests. Try them in the following butter cookie recipe:

18875310

Hawaiian Host Milk Chocolate AlohaMac Butter Cookies

Ingredients:

14 pieces Hawaiian Host Milk Chocolate AlohaMacs, chop into pieces
1/2 cup butter, unsalted
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar, granulated
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 F. Mix butter and sugars in large bowl until light and fluffy. Add egg and beat, then add vanilla extract. Mix flour, salt and soda, and add gradually to butter mixture. Fold in chocolate pieces. Drop rounded spoonfuls onto greased cookie sheets. Bake 8 – 10 minutes in the preheated oven, until light brown. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes. Then place on a wire rack to cool completely.

Hosting a cookie exchange is a lot of fun, and when you think outside the chocolate box, you can take the fun to a whole new level. So start planning your party, find some unique cookie recipes and get started with your holiday baking. For more recipes or to order chocolate-covered macadamia nuts online visit www.hawaiianhost.com.

 

 

Holiday entertainment survival guide

The countdown to this year’s holiday season has begun. Department stores have decked the halls. Families are scheduling trips to visit far-away loved ones. And hosts everywhere are stressing about entertaining family and friends during this frantic season of peace and good will.

To ease stress, the Kansas City Steak Company has put together a holiday entertainment guide to help you weather the storm and come out with host-of-the-year honors. Here are a few tips.

Stock the freezer and pantry with can’t miss meals that delight every time

Every host has some go-to recipes that are crowd pleasers. Be sure to stock your freezer with some family favorites leading into the holiday season. Whether you’re planning a glorious Christmas Eve feast or an impromptu holiday party, you’ll have everything you need to delight your guests.

A succulent prime rib roast is always a great go-to meal. It’s easy to prepare, doesn’t require a lot of fuss and never fails to impress even the pickiest eater. A flavorful beef tenderloin roast is another easy fan favorite. You can also check out a few other special holiday meals from companies like the Kansas City Steak Company to stock your pantry with foods your family and friends will love.

Don’t forget to add in a few appetizers, side dishes and a dessert or two to your freezer stash. When time is limited, stocking the freezer with time-saving, delicious go-to items is the way to go.

Add a few special items to make your holiday table sparkle

From colorful holiday runners and napkins, to large platters and serving bowls, it’s a great idea to pull out your holiday items and place them in an easy-to-reach location during the holiday season. Candles add a special ambiance to holiday parties, so keep a few of your favorite scented votives and pillars on hand and you’ll have a special glow.

And don’t forget to buy a few non-perishable foods that add elegance to any holiday spread: olives, crackers, holiday cookies, spiced nuts – whatever your family and friends enjoy, stock up and they’ll be ready whenever you need them.

Consider a potluck meal this year

Potluck dinners can take a lot of stress off your plate and are a great way to create memorable meals anytime – especially during the holidays. Usually the host takes care of the meal’s entree. Guests could bring their favorite salads, breads, desserts or whatever you need to round out the meal. It’s a great way to spread out costs, reduce stress and entertain in style.

Prepping the holiday bar

Impromptu and planned holiday gatherings often mean you’ll want to offer a variety of beverages. Stocking your bar with a few bottles of your favorite wine, beer, vodka, whiskey and some mixers means you don’t have to make a last-minute trip to the store when you’d rather be visiting with friends.

Welcome guests with festive holiday music

Few things say, “Happy Holidays,” like the tunes that define the season. Tune into one of the stations in your area that plays holiday music 24/7 from Thanksgiving through Christmas. Or download some favorites onto your iPod and let the music waft throughout your home.

Stow away a few extra gifts for unexpected guests

It happens every year. Someone stops by to deliver an unexpected holiday gift and you haven’t included that person on your gift list. Whether it’s a box of special chocolates, scented candles or even a box of succulent steaks, you’ll be prepared for any occasion by having extra gifts on-hand.

Making your home “guest-ready”

A clean home is a happy home – and a reflection on you. Take a few moments to walk through your home before guests arrive. Check the bathrooms to make sure they’re well-stocked. Add a few extra hangers to your closet. Remove excess clutter. Taking a few minutes before guests arrive to tidy up will mean that much less you’ll have to clean after the party.

Take time to savor the special moments and memories

There is no perfect holiday gathering, so remember to laugh and love and move on. Advanced planning will help you survive some of the usual holiday entertaining stresses, but learning to let the little things go can go a long way to helping you see that this time together is precious.

DIY: Holiday Decorating

As the holidays roll around, it’s natural to want to spread good tidings and cheer with festive decorations like wreaths, candy canes and Santa Claus figurines. But this year, instead of digging out the same old holiday decorations, why not create some new looks that will last the entire winter season, even after you put away the gift wrap and ornaments?

Stimulate the senses

Nothing says winter like the fresh smell of pine and the soft, warm glow of candle light. Repurpose simple glass bottles into an outdoorsy candlescape with Krylon Natural Stone Textured Finish spray paint. Available in eight colors, like Olivine, it goes on easy and gives you the natural beauty of stone and an elegant, professional-looking appearance. Once dry, wrap artificial garland with pinecones around the bottle’s neck or let the garland cascade down the bottle. Place pine tree-scented white taper candles in the bottle openings, light and enjoy for a fresh look and smell that will stimulate your senses well into 2014.

Color works wonders

Another easy way to excite the senses during a drab, gray winter is with pops of color. For a decorative display that lasts all season, avoid the red and green color combination associated with Christmas and branch out with more contemporary choices like teals, blues, purples and pinks. Metallics like silver and gold are also a great way to glitz up the season without looking like the North Pole in overdrive. Try Krylon’s ColorMaster Metallic in Gold to spice up old ornaments, vases, frames, centerpieces and more in no time at all. Group spray-painted ornaments or pine cones in a hurricane vase or glass bowl and display on the mantel for added ambiance to any living room.

Deck the halls

Looking for a way to display the abundance of holiday cards from friends and family? Repurpose an old window shutter to create a unique display. Start by spray painting it with a festive shade, such as green or burgundy, which adds a touch of holiday spirit. Once dry, hang the shutter in the kitchen or entryway and place holiday cards in the slats of the shutter for a creative way to stay organized. Once the holidays have passed, you can still use the shutter to display birthday cards, thank you notes, party invitations and more all year long.

Outdoor decor

The inside of the home isn’t the only space you can be creative. Make a lasting statement before houseguests even step inside your home by focusing decorative attention to the outside. Line walkways and driveways with lights or faux miniature pine trees, and place white flameless candlesticks on each windowsill to add a simple touch of holiday spirit without going overboard. Prop a vintage snow sled outside the front door to welcome guests.

So, this year instead of the same decorations, consider some fun and easy ways to re-beautify them into pieces that you’ll be proud to display throughout the winter season. For more product or project ideas, visit www.krylon.com.

Healthy, reduced-guilt holiday desserts

The holidays are right around the corner and so are the rich, indulgent foods that adorn many dessert tables. Sweets of the season tend to be rich in flavor but also calories and fat.

Still, you don’t have to deny your cravings this holiday season. It is possible to create satisfying, sweet treats that are healthier options than traditional holiday fare. With these quick nutrition-savvy tips, enjoying decadent desserts has never tasted so good.

Infuse fresh flavors

Start your baking with all-natural ingredients and incorporate seasonal fruits and vegetables, such as apples, pears, sweet potatoes, pomegranates and pumpkins. These, along with super foods like walnuts and soy, are excellent choices to increase the nutritional benefits, and enhance the flavor, of baked goods.

Try fresh variations to old classics to give your homemade desserts a gourmet twist. Add a dash of vitamin A-rich chili powder for a bold take on dark chocolate brownies or tarts. Experiment with exciting combinations like lavender and lemon for a bright, unique flavor and a healthy dose of iron, plus vitamin C. Mix antioxidant-rich basil and cinnamon to produce a powerful taste sensation with added health benefits.

Make smart swaps

When deciding on a recipe for your next holiday gathering, take a look at its nutritional value, as not all desserts are created equal. To create reduced-guilt baked goods use alternative ingredients, such as egg whites instead of whole eggs or whole wheat flour instead of white flour. Apple sauce is also a clever way to introduce moisture into cakes rather than using oil.

A reduced-fat pumpkin pie – which can be made by blending pumpkin with healthier ingredients, like egg substitute and non-fat milk, may be significantly lower in calories and fat than pies made with full-fat ingredients.

As an added bonus, the leftover pumpkin pie ingredients, plus a few extra items likely on hand in your kitchen, can easily yield a low-calorie smoothie. This smooth, frozen treat is the perfect way to enjoy the fruits of your labor while baking for company.

Add a smooth finish

Don’t discount chocolate. In addition to being delicious, dark chocolate with at least 70 percent cacao contains heart-friendly antioxidants. Make a festive fondue platter with warm dark chocolate and sliced fruits like bananas, pineapple and strawberries.

Similar to a traditional fondue table, by creating a variety of dips and glazes, you and your guests can indulge in a sinfully good concoction that is still light on calories. For dips, opt for a Greek yogurt base that is high in protein and sweeten with natural ingredients, such as agave nectar and honey. A cinnamon glaze made with soy milk and tofu will please your palate – even if you follow a vegan diet.

Pick petite portions

Anyone with a sweet tooth can attest to the desire to eat with abandon during the last course. However, controlling portion sizes – whether cutting thinner slices of cake or splitting a piece with a friend – is an important part of smarter holiday indulgence.

Better yet, stick to smaller servings by getting creative with the end product. When baking a pie, lose the top crust. Or, instead of a pie, try a bite-size tartlet. Encourage sampling by making mini-muffins and cupcakes rather than their oversized counterparts.

Making a few small changes to your ingredients and your intake will lower calories, provide some unexpected nutritional benefits and keep you satisfied all season long.

Experience the flavor of Vietnamese cinnamon

Cinnamon may be the world’s most popular baking spice, but all cinnamons are not created equal, and in the foodie world, Vietnamese cinnamon has emerged as the most prized of the bunch.

The bunch, by the way, includes an array of cinnamons and cassias, all from evergreen trees of the Cinnamomum genus. Some are from Indonesia, others from China, Sri Lanka or Mexico.

Dark reddish/brown and lushly aromatic, Vietnamese cinnamon is favored for its distinctly sweet, peppery, spicy flavor. Less tannic and more robust than its relatives, it delivers a powerful taste whether used solo – as in those gooey rolls or spirally bread – or in combo with other spices – in a curry or pumpkin pie spice blend, for example.

All that potency comes from an extraordinarily high volatile oil content – the highest of all the cinnamons about 1 to 6 percent, compared with .5 to 2.5 percent in other cinnamons. The high oil content also helps the flavor disperse fully; there’s no mistaking what spice you’re dealing with when you taste a dish seasoned with Vietnamese cinnamon.

Tips for using Vietnamese cinnamon:

Browse any assortment of baking recipes and you’ll find cinnamon in the ingredients lists for cakes, muffins, breads, cookies, pies, bread puddings, cobblers, crisps, and pastries. It also has a special affinity for fruits, such as apples, apricots, cherries, pears, bananas and citrus.

Cinnamon’s warm flavor also shows up in plenty of savory dishes – soups, sauces, chutneys, catsup, pickles, fish, meat and poultry glazes, as well as many ethnic recipes. Its pungent sweetness also enhances grains and hearty vegetables like carrots, squash, potatoes, beets and onions. In most savory dishes, cooks prefer Vietnamese cinnamon over other cinnamons because of its ability to hold its own alongside other lively ingredients.

When using Vietnamese cinnamon to spice a beverage – a hot cocoa, an eggnog, hot cider, coffee or tea – you might start by stirring it into your prepared beverage just a bit at a time. Once you nail your preferred amount, you can add it directly – right into your coffeemaker basket along with your ground coffee, your mulling cider pot or your tea blend, for example.

Vietnamese cinnamon also partners well with other spices like cloves, nutmeg, cardamom, ginger, allspice and black pepper.

Here are a few places you might not have considered using cinnamon:

* Soups, stews and chili
* Peanut brittle
* Popcorn seasoning
* Spice rubs for meats
* Grilling marinades for fruits
* Rice and tapioca puddings
* Chocolate cakes
* Spiced nuts
* Granola and muesli

Here’s a recipe that shows off the vibrant flavor of Vietnamese cinnamon:

Poached Cinnamon Cheese Pears

4 large pears
3/4 cup pear juice
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cinnamon stick
2 tablespoons golden raisins
4 ounces softened cream cheese
1/4 teaspoon Vietnamese cinnamon powder
3 tablespoons slivered almonds

Slice pears in half lengthwise and core. Place in a saucepan. In a small bowl combine juice, honey, vanilla extract, cinnamon stick and raisins; pour over the pears. Cover and simmer about half an hour, until pears are just tender. Place pears on a serving platter. Blend together cream cheese, leftover cooking liquid and cinnamon powder. Spoon some of the mixture atop the center of each pear, sprinkle with almonds, and serve.

Makes four large servings.

For a collection of seven savory recipes with cinnamon from various publications, visit www.theKitchn.com. Vietnamese cinnamon is available through Frontier Natural Products. They offer their organic Vietnamese cinnamon (5 percent oil) in one-pound bulk bags as well as 1.31-ounce bottles. This brand won the Gold Star Award from the restaurant industry publication Sante Magazine, who deemed it “a standout.”

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