Tag Archives: entertaining

Seasonal Treats with a Secret Ingredient!

Crisp fall days call for flavorful desserts that warm you from the inside out. There’s no better way to capture the flavor of fall than with dishes that celebrate traditional seasonal favorites like cinnamon, spice and tart, juicy apples.

These desserts are perfect for entertaining, and a secret ingredient makes them quick and easy so you have plenty of free time to work up an appetite and earn an extra bite (or two). Apple butter is more than just a spread for toast; it’s a versatile ingredient that can enhance your favorite recipes. With Musselman’s Apple Butter, made the old-fashioned way for perfect texture and a deep, rich flavor, you can make it simple to satisfy your craving for a taste of autumn at its best.

Find more fall tips and recipes perfect for sharing with your family at musselmans.com.

Caramel Crumble Bars
1          box (15 1/4 ounces) yellow cake mix, dry
1/2      cup butter, softened, plus 2 tablespoons, divided
3/4      cup Musselman’s Apple Butter, plus 3 tablespoons
1          egg
1          package (11 ounces) caramels, unwrapped
2/3      cup walnuts, chopped
2/3      cup flaked coconut, sweetened
2          tablespoons butter, melted

Heat oven to 350 F. Grease 13-by-9-inch baking pan. With electric mixer on low speed, beat dry cake mix and 1/2 cup softened butter until mixture is crumbly. Spoon 1 cup cake mix mixture into medium bowl; set aside. Add 3/4 cup apple butter and egg to remaining mixture. Beat on medium speed until smooth and creamy.

Spread evenly into pan. Bake 20 minutes, or until starting to brown and top is set. Place caramels, 2 tablespoons butter and remaining apple butter in microwavable bowl. Microwave on high 3-4 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds until smooth and melted.

Pour caramel mixture evenly over partially baked crust. If caramel has cooled and set, microwave 1 minute until soft and pourable.

Combine walnuts, coconut and 2 tablespoons melted butter with reserved cake mix mixture. Mix until crumbly. Break up topping and sprinkle evenly over caramel. Bake 16-18 minutes, or until topping is starting to brown. Cool completely before cutting into bars.

 

Easy Apple Pie Bars
Nonstick cooking spray
7          cups Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and diced
1          cup Musselman’s Apple Butter
1 1/2   teaspoons vanilla extract, divided
1/2      cup brown sugar
2          frozen pie crusts, defrosted
1          egg white
2          tablespoons sugar
1/2      teaspoon ground cinnamon
1          cup powdered sugar
2          tablespoons milk

Heat oven to 350 F. Grease 9-by-13-inch pan with nonstick cooking spray. Place diced apples in large mixing bowl. Add apple butter, 1 teaspoon vanilla and brown sugar. Mix until apples are evenly coated. Place one pie crust in bottom of greased pan. Slowly stretch out crust to cover pan’s bottom. Cut some edges off, if necessary. Spread apple filling evenly over crust.

With rolling pin, roll second crust to make it same size as pan. Place second crust on top of apple pie filling and tuck down edges to cover.

To make topping: In small bowl, whisk egg white until foamy and brush over crust. In another bowl, combine sugar and cinnamon, and sprinkle evenly over crust. Bake 50-60 minutes until crust is golden brown. Remove from oven and cool slightly before cutting.

To make glaze: In small bowl, combine powdered sugar, milk and remaining vanilla, and whisk until smooth. Drizzle over cooled bars and serve.

Source: Musselman’s Apple Butter/Family Features

Serve It Up Sassy!: Berry Delicious Summer

Summer means flip-flops, fireflies, and fresh ripe berries!  When you pick the first ripe berry and the sweetened juice pops in your mouth, it’s time to make your favorite summer berry delicious desserts. Blueberry Swirl Pound Cake and a Strawberry Tart are two simple desserts to have on hand for all of your summer entertaining. These berry-inspired desserts are bursting with the sun-kissed flavors of the season.

Swing open the French door to your patio and layer your picnic table with vibrant summer colors and delicious berry desserts.  We kept our seasonal table casual with red and white checked napkins, bright yellow sunflowers, and mason jars wrapped with twine.  The desserts and sunflower arrangement take a stand as the table centerpiece. Repeating the checkered napkins and single sunflower stem at each place-setting, as well as the white dinner plate emphasizes the easy-to-create table color scheme and décor.  Two white ruffled cake pedestals display the Blueberry Swirl Pound Cake and the Strawberry Tart.

table to benchEven more fun with function, we turned our seasonal bench into our picnic table. Our outdoor bench turns into a half-sized picnic table when the bench back becomes the table top. Every back yard, park and grill master should own one or more of these benches-to-table.  If two tables are put together it creates one regular sized picnic table.  These tables are build to last and can be used for all of your seasonal entertaining, not just for summer. Where do you get one of these bench-to-tables?  Glad you asked.  Boy scouts from troop #135  Sulphur Springs, Tennessee are building these bench/tables to raise money for a once in a lifetime high adventure camp called Florida Sea Base.  The bench/tables are available for purchase with 100% of the proceeds going to the boys attending the High Adventure Camp.  You can contact Doug Bushong, my husband and scout master* for troop #135 to order your very own bench turned table or any boy scout from the troop will be happy to assist you.

Your guests will enjoy the taste bud-tingling blend of blueberries and cream in the baked blueberry swirl pound cake.  The pound cake features a delectable golden crust with a moist tender center that will make this cake your new- go-to dessert for any season. A lightly sweetened blueberry puree is layered in the cake batter and gently swirled before baking.  This pound cake is perfectly wonderful all on its own, but when topped with a handful of fresh picked-ripe berries it becomes a sensational taste of summer.

The Strawberry Tart is a chilled summer pie with show-stopping presentation.  Fresh whole strawberries are de-stemmed and sit pretty with pointed ends up on top of a lemon and whipped cream filling.  The prebaked sweet pastry crust is made with real butter and confectioner’s sugar making every bite of this tart one to remember.  Both desserts are make-ahead with the Strawberry Tart being refrigerated for a few hours.

blueberry pound cake slice with watermarkBaking with berries can be a bit tricky. Blueberries can make your muffins and cake batter turn purple if you don’t coat them in flour first before baking. Coating in flour will prevent the berry juice from spreading into the batter.  Strawberries are almost 90% water and dark fuller berries have a higher concentration of water inside.   This leads to a sticky unexpected soggy baked dish. To prevent a soggy baked dish select berries that are just slightly under ripe, having passed the stage of development where a white ring appears around the hull.  For more information about strawberries and blueberries, how to grow, where to pick and health benefits, check with your local county extension agent or office.  For more entertaining ideas and recipes go to www.lizbushong.com.

Berries are beautiful!  Whether you are picnicking at the beach or in your own backyard go out and play; put on your flip-flops, watch the flickering lights of the fireflies and eat all the fresh berries you can.  This is going to be a berry delicious summer!

blueberry swirl pound cake with watermarkBlueberry Swirl Pound Cake

The Swirl:
1-1/2 cups fresh pureed blueberries
2 tablespoons cold water
1-tablespoon arrowroot or cornstarch
3-tablespoons granulated sugar

Cake Batter:
1-cup butter, softened and no substitutions
3-cups granulated sugar
1-(8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
6 large eggs
1-tablespoon vanilla extract
1-tablespoon crème bouquet* extract
1-tablespoon grated orange zest
3 ½- cups all-purpose flour
1-teaspoon baking powder
1-teaspoon salt
1-cup heavy whipping cream

Garnish:
Buttercream Orange Glaze
Fresh strawberries, blueberries, & mint

Preheat oven to 325. Coat 12-15 cup Bundt pan with shortening and coat with flour.
Blueberry Swirl: In small mixing bowl, whisk together cold water and cornstarch until smooth. In small saucepan, stir together blueberry puree, 3 tablespoons sugar and cornstarch mixture. Bring to a boil over medium high heat stirring constantly. Boil blueberry mixture until thickened, set aside and let cool.
Cake:  Measure flour, baking powder and salt in medium bowl. Set aside. Beat butter and sugar with a mixer at medium high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add softened cream cheese and beat until creamy. Add eggs one at a time, beat well after each addition. Add extracts and zest, beat to combine. Gradually add flour and cream, alternating with cream, beginning and ending with flour, beat just until combined.
Spoon 1/3 batter into prepared pan, spoon 1/3 blueberry swirl over batter, repeat layers ending with batter. Using a knife, swirl batter, but not too much. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean. Let cool in pan 10 minutes. Invert cake on cooling rack cool completely before glazing.
Buttercream Orange Glaze: In a small bowl, whisk together 1 3/4 cups confectioner’s sugar, 2 tablespoons melted butter, 1-tablespoon heavy cream, 1 teaspoon orange extract. Drizzle over cake. Garnish with individual blueberries on top of cake. Serve with fresh strawberries, blueberries and mint sprig per serving.
Yield:  8-10 servings.  *Crème bouquet can be found at the Gazebo in Kingsport, TN or online.

Berry Delcious! (1)Strawberry Tart

Crust:
1 ¾ cup all purpose flour
1 ¼ cup confectioner’s sugar
1/2-teaspoon salt
½ cup butter, shredded and chilled
2 egg yolks
1 tablespoon chilled water
2 tablespoons strawberry jam- melted

Lemon Cream Cheese Filling
1-3-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1-tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon fresh grated lemon zest
¾ cup sugar
1 cup heavy whipping cream + 2 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar
1 ½ pounds fresh strawberries, stemmed
¼ cup current jelly
1 tablespoon orange juice

Prepare crust:  Sift flour, confectioner’s sugar and salt together in a medium bowl. Grate butter and place on parchment then pop into freezer for 20 minutes. Add chilled butter to flour mixture, combine with hands or forks until crumbs resemble breadcrumbs. Mix egg yolks and water together, sprinkle over flour mixture to make soft dough. Knead a few seconds, flatten dough into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate 30 minutes.

On floured surface, roll dough to ¼” thickness. Press dough into bottom and sides of an 8-inch tart pan. Line crust with aluminum foil and add pie weights or dried beans to foil. Chill another 30 minutes.  Preheat oven to 400. Bake tart shell for 15 minutes. Remove foil and weights and bake additional 5-8 minutes. Remove from oven and brush baked shell with melted strawberry jam. Set aside to cool.  (Crust recipe will make two-8-inch tart shells).

Filling: In food processor, process cream cheese until fluffy. Add lemon juice, lemon zest, and sugar. Process until smooth, scraping down sides of bowl. In medium bowl, whip cream to soft peaks, add confectioner’s sugar, beat to firm peaks. Fold cream cheese mixture into whipped cream. Spoon filling into one tart shell. (Double filling ingredients recipe if making two tarts.) Cover filling with plastic wrap and chill 3 hours. Just before serving, arrange whole strawberries, pointed ends up, over the entire chilled tart in concentric circles. In microwave proof glass, add currant jelly and heat 12-15 seconds until melted, stir in orange juice. Remove from heat and let cool about 2 minutes. Stir jelly occasionally to prevent film from foaming. Spoon or brush warmed jelly mixture over berries and serve immediately.
Yield:  8-9 servings

Liz Circle 2013 smallHelping you Make a Statement, Make it Sassy and Make it Yours!®
Liz Bushong is an expert in the three-dimensional art of entertaining. She transforms simple dining occasions into beautiful and memorable moments by adding a touch of her own “sassy” style. For the past several years Liz been entrusted to decorate the White House for several Holidays. She is a featured monthly guest chef/designer on Daytime Tricities, Daytime Blue Ridge and other television shows. Liz is the author of the Just Desserts and Sweets & Savories cookbook as well as a contributing writer for VIP SEEN and Bella Magazine. For more information about Liz go to www.lizbushong.com/www.serveitupsassy.com.

*Bench/table: Doug Bushong-Scout Master-Troop #135 –Sulphur Springs, Tn.  E-Mail: dbushong17@gmail.com 

Welcome Spring!

As the ground awakens from the wintertime slumber, tulip and daffodil stems push through the soil about to burst open with colorful fresh blooms.  Bright yellow forsythia bushes and cherry blossom branches begin to pop open profusely with small breathtaking delicate flowers. The scent of sweet hyacinths and greening new grass alert our senses that spring has arrived.  In the early morning hours, we listen to chirping robins singing their joyful songs as they gather twigs to build their nests. Bunnies can be seen here and there as they hop across the fresh new lawn.
What says “Spring” better than flowers?  Whether you are hosting a luncheon or Sunday family dinner, a lovely springtime arrangement of your favorite floral can take center stage on your dining room table.  For an easy, breezy centerpiece, embrace your spontaneous spirit and head to the floral department of your local grocery store or favorite greenhouse.  Most merchants will showcase potted tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, primrose, moss, ivy and many types of ferns that you can place in a basket for a stunning and simple centerpiece.
Spring Table-top Arrangement-www.lizbushong.comTo create a springtime centerpiece for your table, gather some of the season’s best blooming potted bulbs, primrose, and ferns. Place three to five potted blooms at different levels inside a plastic lined basket at various heights. There is no need to remove the plants from the pot. Cover and tuck moss over the potted flowers and between spaces inside the basket. A good mix of flowers would include two to three colors with different textures and heights. Leafy green ivy and low-packed ground cover with reindeer moss will add to the fullness of the arrangement. For a bit of whimsy, add a small bird sitting on a faucet with a dripping water crystal. An empty bird nest would also be a great touch to this spring arrangement.
After the flowers are spent, you can plant the bulbs in your garden for next spring. A note about tulips, you can plant Gladiolas and Dahlias this spring for flowering this summer. In September, plant tulip and daffodils for next spring. Spring bulbs should be planted in the fall or early winter because they require a long period of cool temperatures in order for them to flower.  In the fall, it is important to get the bulbs in the ground before the ground freezes. They need time to develop strong roots. You could also plant bulbs in individual containers as the merchants do forcing the bulbs to grow.
JJ posing with arrangement- www.lizbushong.comMy sweet bunny JJ was excited about spring too! He is an adorable New Zealand white bunny with red eyes. JJ allowed me to take a few photos of him checking out the floral arrangement while I was putting it together. He looked out the window, chewed a few willow branches, smelled the flowers by standing on his hind feet, and finally lay down beside the finished arrangement.
With spring’s earliest blooms, you can celebrate everyday dining with ambiance that is fresh and vibrant. Royal blue, bright yellow, and shades of green create a beautiful springtime palette. Evoke this palette with white and cobalt blue square plates and accessories. Yellow tightly rolled napkins look like flowers blooming as they stand in water glasses. For a take home favor, a small cobalt blue vase with a single rose sits pretty at each place setting. To continue the color scheme of cobalt, yellow and white, the Lemon Almond mini tart greets each individual guest at their place setting for an after dinner dessert. The crust is made with ground almonds and filled with a tangy lemon curd-type filling then baked to perfection. When serving this dessert, add a dollop of fresh whipped cream and lemon zest.
Invite springtime into your home with this creative and fanciful setting that boasts this season’s vibrant scents and colors. You don’t have to be a green thumb to enjoy the beauty of the season. Bring the outdoors in with a beautiful potted arrangement. Like a breath of fresh air, after the morning dew, breathe in the cool breeze of this new season with a living arrangement that will linger in memories.

Lemon Almont Tart-white ruffled plate -wwwlizbushong.comLemon Almond Tart|www.lizbushong.com

1 unbaked almond crust recipe-chilled 1 hour
1-1/4 cups granulated sugar
2 Tablespoons   all purpose flour
1/3 cup lemon juice from concentrate
3 large eggs
½ cup butter, melted, no substitutes
1 teaspoon lemon zest, optional
Garnish:  lemon zest, mint or parsley leaf, assorted berries

Almond Tart Crust Recipe
¼ cup slivered almonds
1 cup all purpose flour
¼ cup granulated sugar
½ cup butter, softened, no substitutes
1 egg
1 teaspoon lemon juice from concentrate
In food processor, process almonds until ground. Add flour, sugar and butter, process until crumbly. Add egg and juice, process until dough forms a ball. Wrap dough in plastic wrap, chill one hour.
Prepare Almond Crust, press pastry into lightly greased 4-4” tart pans with removable bottoms. Set aside. In large mixing bowl, combine sugar, flour and lemon juice. Beat to combine. Add eggs, one at a time, beat after each addition.  Add melted butter and mix to blend. Pour into Almond Crust shells. Bake at 325 for 30-35 minutes or until set. Cool on wire rack.
To Serve: Remove sides and bottom of tart pan,  top cooled tart with fresh whipped cream, fruit, or mint leaves.
Yield:  4-4” tarts

Liz Circle 2013 smallHelping you Make a Statement, Make it Sassy and Make it Yours!®
Liz Bushong is an expert in the three-dimensional art of entertaining. She transforms simple dining occasions into beautiful and memorable moments by adding a touch of her own “sassy” style. For the past several years Liz been entrusted to decorate the White House for several Holidays. She is a featured monthly guest chef/designer on Daytime Tricities, Daytime Blue Ridge and other television shows. Liz is the author of the Just Desserts and Sweets & Savories cookbook as well as a contributing writer for VIP SEEN and Bella Magazine. For more information about Liz go to www.lizbushong.com/www.serveitupsassy.com.

Create a Cozy and Clutter-Free Kitchen

Clutter can disrupt the flow of any home, bringing unwanted stress and frustration, especially in the kitchen. As one of the most prominently used rooms, maintaining a clutter-free environment will create a happier and healthier space for your family to enjoy. Here are a few tips to help you achieve and maintain a fully functional, chaos-free kitchen.

1. Look better, feel better. Whether you’re entertaining friends or just hanging out with family, hosting others at your house is fun, but can also be stressful. Even if it’s last night’s dinner dishes or wine glasses from your latest soiree, allowing clutter to pile up in the sink can negatively impact the look and feel of the entire kitchen. 

To make cleaning easier, find the best faucet to meet your cooking and entertaining needs. Try installing the Lindley pulldown kitchen faucet from Moen. Its traditional style creates an impressive focal point at the sink and increases performance with its high-arc pulldown spout and multi-function spray. Plus, the Spot Resist stainless finish resists fingerprints and water spots, keeping your faucet looking cleaner, longer. In addition, it comes with a coordinating soap dispenser to get one less item off your counter, which will make keeping the sink area clean and clutter-free a snap.

2. Organize chaos. Unused items, like the waffle maker that you desperately desired 10 years ago (but have yet to use), needs to go. To make some space in your kitchen, grab three boxes: one for garbage, one for donations and one for belongings you want to keep. Allocate a few hours and begin organizing. While separating items, ask yourself when did you last use this? With the exception of holiday-specific dishes and tools, if it’s been longer than a month, donate it or throw it away. Once everything is in a box, find the best spot for items you’re choosing to keep.

3. Get creative. Many kitchens suffer from countertop overload. This is where too many kitchen appliances and miscellaneous items, such as mail, phone chargers and car keys, seem to find a home. The solution to clearing this area is simple – get creative. Dish towels are infamous for cluttering countertops. They don’t have a designated home and therefore, are carelessly strewn about. Establish a special spot for this kitchen necessity: mount hooks, towel rings or towel bars, on the side of an upper cabinet, the end of the island or in another kitchen work space.

4. De-stress your life. It happens to all of us: your significant other informs you last minute you’re having guests for dinner, and the chores you need to complete before their arrival seem endless. To make this experience less stressful, spend 15 minutes each day maintaining a clean and orderly kitchen. Place dirty dishes in the dishwasher, wipe down the countertops, sweep the floors, put away toys and tablets and file mail. Simply staying on top of these little tasks will make it easier to accommodate unexpected company and allow you to enjoy their visit.

Hosting a Dinner Party

Some might call the dinner party a lost art, but gathering family and friends around the table to eat great food, drink fantastic wine and enjoy each other’s company is the perfect way to celebrate. Creating an elegant, effortless evening to remember is easier than one might think.

Perfecting the dinner party is about putting people at ease and creating an environment that encourages conversation and laughter – the two most important elements of a successful dinner party. So, instead of trying to impress guests with fancy culinary skills or decorating prowess, focus on five simple tips:

1. Light can be the life of the party

From glowing centerpieces to sparkling votive candles, elegant party lighting is always a bright idea. Candles set the mood and create ambiance – and allow your guests to truly shine.

2. Let the wine flow

The right wine can perfect the moment and no dinner party would be complete without it. Greet guests with a bright and beautiful sparkling rose and keep it flowing during the cocktail hour. During dinner, offer one red and one white wine.

3. Of course dessert is a food group!

Dessert is the perfect way to end an amazing meal. Leave your guests floating on air with angel food cake topped with a Prosecco-infused frosting.

4. Don’t let guests leave empty-handed

Giving guests a little something to take home when they leave extends the good vibes. Say goodnight in a unique way by sending guests home with a bottle of wine or votive candle to re-create the magic in their own home.

New Image365. Remember to breathe

If you’re having fun, your guests will too. Take a deep breath and, while you’re at it, give your red wine a little air, too. Aerators open up the aromas and flavors, making every sip better.

Quick, simple holiday entertaining tricks

The holidays are that special time of year when we open our homes and welcome guests from far and wide. It is a chance for us to connect with old friends and family we may not have seen since the previous holiday season.

If you’ll be hosting holiday guests this year, you know there are plenty of preparations to be made. While the main course and the sleeping arrangements may require some additional thought, you don’t need to get bogged down in the decorations. Follow these tips to create a beautiful holiday motif in just a matter of moments.

* Dress up the curtains. Wrapping paper and Christmas print ribbon only appear once a year, so when they do make the most of them. Use some of that print ribbon and wrap it around your curtains to make festive, holiday bows. This will bring your furnishings into the holiday spirit and give the room a more complete look.

* Serve a festive snack. The main course may be extravagant, but there’s no reason the snacks have to be laborious. This year, offer your guests Wheat Thins Holiday snacks. These better-for-you hexagon-shaped snacks feature festive imprints, including snowflakes, a gingerbread man, a bell and a candy cane. Plate them on a holiday platter and serve them with a garlic dip, a spinach artichoke dip or another of your own creation for a fun, unique snack. Share your entertaining ideas for Wheat Thins Holiday snacks on Twitter @WheatThins.

* Dress up your house plants. Why should the tree get all the attention? If you have plants in your home, decorate them with festive ornaments of their own.

* Create a sparkling centerpiece. A centerpiece doesn’t have to be a large, dramatic thing. For a simple, yet elegant centerpiece, place vintage ornaments on a cake stand and surround them with holly leaves or evergreen twigs.

* Place your wishes in a wreath. Create a touching piece that will engage and entertain your guests. Hang an unadorned twig wreath from a wall. Then supply your guests with small, blank cards and markers to write on and ask them to write a message about the season or the upcoming year on the card before adding it to the wreath. Your guests will enjoy creating their own messages as well as reading the messages of their fellow event attendees.

* Create decorations from candy. If you’re looking for simple decorations to adorn your house with, fill tall, slim drinking glasses with candy canes for a festive, yet elegant appearance. Tie a red ribbon around each glass to complete the look.

Preparing your home for that holiday get-together doesn’t have to mean hours of decorating. With these simple tips you’ll be able to showcase your Christmas spirit and spend your newly-found free time enjoying the season.

‘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:

17981787

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.

17981925

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.