Category Archives: Entertaining

Candied Pecans- marvelous gift

This is one of my top three most popular holiday food gifts. People are already asking me when my candied pecans will be ready.  To me, this is the most perfect recipe. It’s not too sweet, the coating isn’t too hard like some recipes. It’s perfect.

You can substitute rum extract for the vanilla, too. It’s amazing. Enjoy!

Candied Pecans

3 cups pecan halves

½ cup sugar plus 1 tablespoon

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 egg white

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Mix together sugar and cinnamon and set aside.

Whisk together egg white and vanilla extract. Place pecans in a large bowl and add the egg white mixture. Toss to thoroughly coat the pecans. Then add the cinnamon sugar and stir until all the nuts are coated.

Spread pecans out on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper (very important). Bake for 15 minutes. Give the pecans a good stir and then bake 15 more minutes.

Be sure to cool the pecans completely before you package them or they will become soft. Store in an airtight container.

Give Me S’more Love

S’mores are gooey goodness.

While many people consider them a summer ritual, for me it’s fall fare. I am far more likely to sit around a campfire when the temperatures cool off than I am on a hot summer night.

There is something so simple and special about a toasted marshmallow sandwiched between two graham crackers with chocolate. I love it. When I was a kid, I made basic S’mores but today I get creative with this treat. There are different flavored marshmallows on the market, a variety of graham crackers to choose from, different chocolates (I’m partial to dark chocolate), and my imagination.

If you’re only familiar with a traditional S’more, try a few of these ideas:

Use a cinnamon graham cracker topped with apple butter or pumpkin butter instead of chocolate and then add the toasted marshmallow.

Use pumpkin flavored marshmallows in the fall and pair it with white chocolate.

Create a S’more ice cream sandwich with a little vanilla ice cream, toasted marshmallow and a big drizzle of fudge sauce and caramel sauce. This is lovely! Eat it like a sandwich or use the graham crackers as a spoon.

Use Ritz crackers instead of graham crackers for a salty kick. A little date jam or spread is great with the salt.

A thin slice of brie at room temperature with the chocolate and toasted marshmallow is excellent.

Use a chocolate graham cracker, dark chocolate and add a slice of strawberry on your S’more sandwich.

After you toast your marshmallow, roll it in shredded coconut and drizzle dark Hershey’s syrup on instead of using a square of chocolate.

smore-coconut

One of my favorite S’mores is Peanut Butter Banana because the peanut butter cuts the sweetness and adds richness, and I love bananas and chocolate.   Add a slice of candied bacon and call it “The Elvis.”

Use a variety of nut spreads on the graham cracker like almond or cashew; or skip the chocolate and use Nutella instead.

As you can see, there are so many combinations.

Aside from good old-fashioned S’mores, I wanted to share a few other S’more themed recipes like my  Easy S’more Bars. The name says it all. I start with a box of cake mix, mix it with eggs and butter and then spread it in a pan. I top that with chocolate and marshmallows and bake it. That’s easy!

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You can serve this dish warm or room temperature, see my notes in the instructions.

And finally, The S’mores Fondue is so decadent, quick, and perfect for a party. If you don’t have a flame to toast your marshmallows but still want the spirit of that dessert, this is the recipe for you. The fondue takes less than 10 minutes to make (it has only two ingredients) and then you dip graham crackers and marshmallows in the melted chocolate and it’s heavenly. If you don’t have a fire pit, live in an apartment or just don’t want to deal with fire, this is a great option.

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I hope this gets you out of your S’mores comfort zone and you enjoy these recipes.

Peanut Butter Banana S’mores

10 graham crackers

5 tablespoons smooth peanut butter

10 thin slices of banana

5 large marshmallows

5 large pieces of dark chocolate (or your favorite chocolate)

Spread the peanut butter on only one side of the graham crackers and then top each with two slices of banana.  Set aside.

Toast your marshmallows to desired doneness and then sandwich one on a graham cracker. Add chocolate and close it to make a sandwich. Eat and enjoy. It’s messy so have a napkin handy.

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Easy S’more Bars

Serves 12-16

1 yellow cake mix

1 stick unsalted butter, melted

2 large eggs, beaten

2 cups chocolate chips

2 1/2 cups mini marshmallows

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Pour the cake mix into a medium bowl.  Melt the butter in the microwave and the pour it into the bowl. Add the beaten eggs and stir until combined. Coat a 13×9 inch pan with cooking spray. Spread the mixture in the pan using your hands to spread it out and press it down. Try to make it as even as possible. Sprinkle the chocolate chips and mini marshmallows over the top and bake it for 30 minutes. Cool completely before slicing.

Note: This dish is incredible warm out of the oven but it doesn’t slice well. If you are serving family and don’t care how it looks, you can serve it warm while the chips are melted, just know it will fall apart. It’s amazing with a scoop of vanilla ice cream when it’s warm though.

For proper bars, you must cool the dessert completely before slicing.

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S’mores Fondue

Serves 10

½ pint of heavy whipping cream

2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

1 bag or large marshmallows

1 box of Graham crackers

Sticks to skewer the marshmallows

This dish comes together quickly so you want everything ready for serving. It takes about 7 minutes total and then it’s ready to serve. I have fondue equipment, but if you don’t you can use forks to skewer the marshmallows or even wooden skewers.

Pour the heavy whipping cream in a medium pot and turn the heat to medium. When the cream just starts to form bubbles around the edges, stir in the chocolate chips.  Stir until the chocolate has melted and it is smooth. It will look and smell incredible. Immediately transfer it to a serving bowl. Surround the dish with marshmallows and graham crackers and serve.

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A Fourth of July Cake the Crowd will Remember

Heavenly. That is how I describe this cake. First, I took Vanilla Oreo’s and lined the bottom of a pan. Then I topped those with sweet shredded coconut. I whipped together cream cheese, vanilla and powdered sugar and then blended that with a package of cheesecake flavored pudding and a package of white chocolate pudding and whipped topping.

The result is sweet, creamy, light and refreshing. This is a cake your family will remember this holiday weekend.

There’s a funny little story that goes along with this cake that I shared in my column this week. Here it goes:

One of the joys of being a parent is passing on traditions.

I was so excited to write this patriotic desserts column because I planned to create them with my 3-year-old daughter Bella.

Growing up, every holiday was festive in our home.  The traditional American flag cake was a Fourth of July favorite.  Typically, we’d make a white cake topped with whipped cream and then decorate it with blueberries and strawberries but since I was writing a column, I wanted to create something special.

I came up with a Flag Sheet Dessert which was inspired by coconut cream pudding and dirt cake (a Halloween tradition).

I thought my daughter would be excited to help me but after placing two blueberries, she was done. I finished the cake.

But the kicker was when I proudly displayed the finished product and she looked at my flag and told me I had done it wrong. The background should be blue and the stars white so she told to make it again with cream on top this time. She even picked up a flag napkin I’d been using as a prop to prove she was right. I laughed my head off.

During my photo shoot, she grew jealous of the attention I was paying to the desserts and came over and tried to sit on my lap, then took the red dish cloth I was using and placed it on her head like a hat to make me laugh.

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The day didn’t turn out as I expected, but luckily the desserts did.

 

Flag Sheet Dessert

Serves 12

1 package Vanilla Oreos

1 cup sweet shredded coconut

1 (3.4 ounce) package cheesecake flavored pudding

1 (3.4 ounce) package white chocolate pudding

1 package cream cheese, softened

1 cup powdered sugar

3 cups milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 (8 ounce) carton whipped topping, divided in half.

½ cup fresh blueberries

1 pound strawberries

First, line a 9 x 13 inch pan with vanilla Oreos. Then sprinkle shredded coconut over the cookies.

In a small bowl, beat together the cream cheese, powdered sugar and vanilla.

In another bowl, whisk together both pudding mixes, milk and half of the container of whipped topping.

Then beat together the cream cheese mixture and pudding mixture. Spread it over the bananas. Top it with the last half of the whipped topping. Cover and refrigerate 2 hours or more. This can be made a day in advance but shouldn’t be decorated until the day you are going to serve it because the strawberries may bleed into the topping.

Easy Entertaining Ideas this holiday season

I love entertaining. I don’t like stress.

So when I throw a soiree, I try supplement with what I call “cheater” products.

I am talking about store bought items or super easy recipes. I always have a couple of dishes that are the star of the meal (homemade and decadent), but I also serve five or six items that take no time at all.

For example, I always serve good quality olive oil and vinegar as a dipping sauce with French bread. That takes one minute to assemble, but is another offering on the table.

What impresses people at a party is delicious food, but also variety. Variety is key.  As a host when you offer an array of dips, you ensure everyone will find something they love.

One thing about store bought food is I don’t present it as store bought (of course, I am honest when people ask). But if you open a veggie tray and leave in the container, it’s not as enticing as if you put the vegetables on a platter, place the Ranch dip in a little bowl, and then buy a horseradish dip, maybe some hummus, or even split the Ranch dip in half and add 1 teaspoon of dried dill to the second batch to make it different.

Again, it’s all about variety (and taste and presentation).

Another perk to not serving something in its original container is you can keep the leftovers. If you serve mustard in its jar, then every time someone dips into it they are introducing new bacteria to the mustard which will make leftovers spoil faster if you try to keep them. Also, leaving a dip on the counter for the duration of the party and then refrigerating it for later is not the most sanitary idea.

I only put out half of what I have and then keep the rest in the refrigerator as needed.

I also like to use smaller dishes for serving which enables me to fit more on the table. A Dollar Tree or thrift store is a great place to find inexpensive dishes for a holiday party.

I have some “staples” in terms of entertaining, but I am always trying new products, too. So if you are looking from some excellent products that will impress your guests and keep the stress off you, then here are a few of my recommendations:

Wind & Willow is a company based in Mt. Vernon that sells in 6,000 retail locations nationwide. The products are awesome. The company makes easy dips, cheeseballs, dessert balls, soup mixes etc. The Roasted Red Pepper Dip is one of my absolute favorites.  I serve it with vegetables and crackers. If you are watching your carbs, the dip has less than 1 carb (even after it is assembled). All you have to do is mix it with mayonnaise and sour cream and chill it for a few hours before serving. I make it a day in advance because I think it brings out the flavors and is one less thing I have to do on party day. Another wonderful product from this company is the Tiramisu dessert ball. You can visit www.windandwillow.com/ to see where the products are sold near you.

 

Harry & David Charred Pineapple Relish is incredible mixed with a log of chevre. I mix one-third of the jar with a 4 ounce log of chevre and serve with tortilla chips. People always ask for this recipe. The goat cheese just gives it this zing. The relish is slightly spicy.  Another excellent product from Harry & David is the Onion and Pepper Relish, which is served over a block of cream cheese. Find the closest outlet to you or order online: www.harryanddavid.com

 

I discovered Robert Rothschild Raspberry Honey Mustard about 10 years ago and it remains my favorite honey mustard.

Rothschild mustard credit Robert Rothschild company

 

The mustard is on the pricey side ($6-$8), but I serve it with a $1 bag of pretzels, so it’s not too expensive overall. If you have leftovers of the mustard, spread it on a chicken sandwich with arugula and sharp cheddar cheese (you can also made mini sliders for your party using that same recipe). Another idea for leftovers is to use it as a salad dressing on a salad of spinach, chicken, goat cheese, candied pecans, and strawberries and raspberries. It’s fantastic.

This Christmas tree has four ingredients and takes minutes to assemble.

 

Green salsa and goat cheese Credit Juliana Goodwin (2)

First, I cut a block of cold cream cheese on a diagonal so it makes two right angle triangles. Then flip one of the triangles over to put the two together to make a tree shape. Generously cover the block of cream cheese with pesto sauce. Add a piece of a pretzel rod to make the base of the tree (just break off a piece). And thinly slice a desired amount of sundried tomatoes to make garland and string those across the tree. This step is optional; you can simply serve the pesto tree.  I use this recipe for different holidays –  a spider web at Halloween or a football field for the super bowl. No matter when I serve it, people love both the flavor and presentation. My favorite store bought pesto sauce Giovanni Rana because of its flavor and vibrant green color. It’s refrigerated so it’s fresher than a jarred variety. Serve this dip with French bread and crackers.

World Table Roasted Salsa Verde is one of the best commercially made green salsas I’ve ever tried.

Green salsa and goat cheese Credit Juliana Goodwin (1)

 

So many green salsas are too salty, too limey or too thin. This one is perfect. It’s slightly spicy so I mix it with a block of chevre and serve it as a dip (about ½ cup to 2/3 cup of green salsa). An alternative if you don’t like goat cheese is to pour the salsa over a block of cream cheese. I’ve served it both ways and it has been popular. It’s available at Walmart stores.

You may not think of pomegranate and guacamole as going together, but they pair beautifully. A friend of mine made a pomegranate guacamole a few years ago and I fell in love with.

Guacamole Pomegranate tree credit Juliana Goodwin

 

This is simply store-bought guacamole decorated with pomegranate seeds (also known as arils). It’s pretty and delicious.  I used an open Christmas cookie cutter to make the shape of the tree and filled it with pomegranate seeds. You could use any shapes. You can buy a pomegranate or simply purchase the POM arils which is the easiest way to go. If you decide to buy a pomegranate, leftover pomegranate arils are excellent in sparkling wine or moscato. You can also hallow out the shell of the pomegranate and serve a dip in it. In terms of guacamole, I recommend Holy Guacamole or the Aldi’s variety.

Pomegranate Guacamole Credit Juliana Goodwin

With these dips, you can throw together a party in no time. Happy holidays.

Last Minute Halloween Ideas

The past three weeks have been insane! I’ve been working like crazy. I finally handed my first cookbook off the publisher and it should be printing soon. Aside from that, I’ve taken on a ton of food writing this month. The holidays are good for food writers, but I’ve neglected my column. So here are some last minute Halloween ideas for your party tonight.

For me, creativity is key when celebrating. I don’t want to spend a ton of money, so I immediately hit a dollar-type store before I do any other buying. Then I supplement with merchandise from bigger retailers. It’s amazing what you can find for $1 to use for a party.

One of my favorite finds was a bag of plastic assorted spooky rings (a mix of spider, skulls and bats).  I use the rings around the stem of a wine glass to decorate it; use them to top cupcakes; glue them to a sturdy toothpick (the plastic variety) to skewer meatballs or fruit;  use them to decorate food plates (just be sure it’s obvious this isn’t edible).

ring wine charms

rings

You can also dangle plastic spiders from the ceiling on dental floss; place them in cobwebs; or cut a sliver into a pumpkin or winter squash and have the spiders climbing all over the pumpkin, which is how I serve one of my recipes this week.

An idea I saw online was to freeze ice in plastic gloves and then use those to chill punch. You can also fill plastic gloves with candy or popcorn to serve.

I like to add a splash of food color to drinks. I’ve found that a few drops of food dye to Moscato doesn’t seem to affect the flavor. I’ve tried other dry wines and it does change the taste; I think this works in Moscato because the wine is sweet. Just empty a bottle of Moscato into a pitcher and add 3 drops of red dye and 6 drops of yellow and stir. You can adjust the color as needed with more dye.

orange moscato

I’ve also added food dye to margaritas and it doesn’t change the taste either. If you serve orange margaritas, rim the glass in green salt and place a spider ring on the stem of the glass.

Take your favorite hummus recipe and spread it on a plate (store-bought is fine). Then buy a jar of roasted red bell peppers and puree 1 of the pepper without liquid. Place in a piping bag and make a pumpkin face on the hummus or a scary face. You can add a celery stick to the top of its head to look like a stem.

The flavor of the roasted pepper is great with hummus. It can be a little runny, so if you want to make a bloody looking creature this will serve you well.

Hummus with roased red pepper