Tag Archives: entertaining

‘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:

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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.

 

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.

Unique & nutty twists on holiday recipes

With the holidays fast approaching it’s time to enjoy some of the season’s tastiest foods. Small twists can turn a traditional dish into a holiday classic.

The good news is it’s simple to add a fresh twist to holiday favorites with easy additions like Fisher Nuts.

Chef Alex Guarnaschelli, an Iron Chef and expert on Food Network , says that nuts are one of the most versatile ingredients to use when reinventing dishes. Here are her top five tips for cooking with nuts:

1. Cranberry sauce with a tiny grate of orange zest and a handful of toasted almonds stirred in at the last minute puts a simple but tasty twist on a staple Thanksgiving side dish.

2. Want rich, thick gravy with no lumps? Thicken gravy with ground nuts instead of flour. Simply separate a little of the gravy in a bowl and blend with ground walnuts until smooth. Then just whisk it back in the pot with the remaining gravy.

3. Spruce up holiday side dishes by stirring in some toasted pecans or almonds. Top gratins with a thin layer or stir a handful into sauteed or braised vegetables. The nuts bring out the earthy flavors of vegetables, adding richness without making dishes too heavy.

4. Stir together melted semi-sweet chocolate and a handful of chopped pecans or walnuts. Add a pinch of cinnamon and roll into bite-size candies. It’s an easy way to have something different than a pie or cookies for the holidays. Plus it’s gluten free.

5. Make nuts part of any season by toasting them in a little warm olive oil over medium heat. When the nuts are toasted and coated in the oil, stir in any fresh herb (for example, rosemary for winter or basil for summer) and allow the herbs to gently crisp up and meld with the nuts. Serve as is with a pinch of salt.

These five tips can help you transform traditional holiday fare into instant classics. To “wow” guests, try this tasty recipe from Chef Guarnaschelli at your next gathering:

Twice Baked Sweet Potatoes with Pecans

Sweet potatoes are at their best when combined with something sweet. This recipe blends flavors reminiscent of a cinnamon-infused pecan coffee cake topping and pairs them with sweet potatoes for a change from the more traditional marshmallow topped casserole. Plus, it’s perfect for busy cooks because the potatoes can be microwaved in just 15 minutes. (Prep Time: 25 minutes. Cook Time: 15 minutes Yield: 8 servings)

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Ingredients:

4 large sweet potatoes, about 3 pounds
1/2 cup melted unsalted butter, divided
1 teaspoon orange zest, packed
3/4 teaspoon salt, divided
3/4 cup Fisher Pecan Halves, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 375 F.

2. Pierce sweet potatoes all over with a fork. Microwave on high for 15 minutes or until completely cooked through. Let rest 5 minutes or until cool enough to handle.

3. Topping: Meanwhile, combine the pecans, flour, sugars, cinnamon and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Stir to blend. Mix in 1/4 cup butter. The topping should form sandy clumps. Refrigerate.

4. Split the potatoes in half lengthwise and scoop out some of the flesh inside. Arrange the sweet potato “halves” on a baking sheet. In a medium bowl, combine the sweet potato flesh with the remaining 1/4 cup butter, orange zest and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Spoon the filling back into each potato half and top with the topping on a baking tray. Place the tray in the center of the oven and bake until the topping browns, 15 to 20 minutes.