Monday, December 18, 2017

10 Bad Guest Behaviors Your Hostess Will Never Confront You On

I host a LOT of parties, large parties, big dinner parties, cocktail gatherings, themed parties, happy hours, small intimate dinners. One of my favorite things in life is to indulge my culinary creativity crafting special food and drink menus and invite people over to mingle, eat, drink and have fun.

I enjoy the work of creating these meals and gatherings and spend a lot of time on the menus and planning. The word is my parties are tons of fun and no one ever leaves hungry. 

I especially delight in the mix of diverse people. I don't care where you come from, what you do for a living, what language you speak, what you wear or how much you eat or drink. Nor do I expect guests to help me prepare food, serve or clean up. I just want you to enjoy the food, cocktails, and special mix of great people.  

However, over the years I have had more than a few unfortunate experiences where some guests behave in ways that mostly unintentionally cause stress for me as a hostess. 

Ninety-eight percent of my guests are well mannered and lovely. However, grrrrrrr...there are the 2% that makes me want to stop what I am doing and throw a plate of appetizers against the wall. 

That's the last thing anyone needs when trying to pull a party together. 

Friday, December 15, 2017

Juniper Shallots in Red Wine

Here's a Christmas side dish with sexy flavors that takes just a half hour to make. It's vegetarian to boot.

Shallots are pan fried in oil and butter then simmered in sweet red wine with crushed juniper berries. That's it. Season with salt and pepper and bring it to the table.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Dinner Rolls Christmas Tree

What's more festive on your holiday table than this tree-shaped cluster of dinner rolls?  This recipe is not only festive but so simple to make. There is an hour and a half rise time to consider but the rest is easy and fun to create. 

This recipe is a pantry cleaner. I used up lots of little baggies full of seeds and nuts. Leftover pepitas, sunflower seeds, pistachio dust, everything spice mix, fennel seeds, sunflower seeds and applewood smoked salt all became toppings for the rolls. 

I started out with a specific topping idea, originally wanting to use up some homemade everything mix. When I started pulling ingredients out of my cabinets, I suddenly lost my dang mind and created a crazy quilt of toppings. 

Monday, December 11, 2017

Christmas Ball Cheese Spreads Appetizer

How cute are these for your holiday party? 

For the cheeseball flavors, ( came up with artichoke parmesan (the snowball), sun dried tomato chive (polkadot decorated ball) and spinach, almond paprika (cheeseball with the tree cutouts).

The recipes are separated below so if you only need to make one or two of them for your size crowd, you can do that. 

The best part about making these is the fun you can have while creating them. I just used up what I had on hand. A convenient option to use up leftover ingredients in your kitchen. Swap out the nuts, spices and veggies for what you have on hand. 

I used mini cutters to create festive shapes and removed three toppers from three Christmas ornaments to use as decoration on top of the cheese balls. You can use small pretzel loops as well. 

Friday, December 8, 2017

Pistachio Meringue Christmas Cookies

I always believe pistachios class up the joint. Maybe it's because of their gorgeous color and exotic taste. Maybe it's just because I love them. They were a natural go-to for me for a Christmas cookie. 

So here you have it. The caboose on this season's Christmas cookie recipe train is this pistachio meringue recipe.

This simple but sophisticated cookie recipe features luscious ground pistachios folded into whipped egg whites. Simple ingredients. Big flavor.

 I tried piping them onto the baking sheets with a star tip to make them all fancy looking but I found the amount of ground pistachios in this recipe weigh the mixture down. Consequently,  the cookies come out flat and not poofy, like traditional meringues.

"Poofy" is a technical baking term. Just so you know. 

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Espresso Cinnamon Stars (Zimtsterne)

In what seems like eons ago, I remember on one of my first Christmas time trips to Germany ogling zimtsterne / cinnamon star cookies in the windows of German bakeries. They were so perfectly pretty and I couldn't wait to try them.

What followed was bitter disappointment. I expected a sweet rush from the smooth white glaze and was surprised with how flavorless and not sweet they were. What I thought was a sugar glaze on the cookies was mostly egg white.  

This was one of my first experiences with German baking which generally contains about 1/3 less sugar than American baking recipes.  My palate adjusted eventually. However, I wanted to try making a version of zimtsterne this holiday season while packing more flavor and sweetness into the cookie. 

Monday, December 4, 2017

Orange Cardamom Hazelnut Kipferl

Our Christmas cookie parade continues today with this twist on the traditional Austrian Christmas Kipferl. 

For those of you not familiar with Kipferl, they are traditional Austrian vanilla Christmas crescent-shaped cookies (Vanillekipferl) made with almond flour.

For this version, I swapped out the almond flour for hazelnut. I added orange flavor and cardamom for sexy holiday flavor. 

What I love best about these cookies is how easy they are to make. No chilling the dough, no cookie cutters.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Rosemary Marzipan Rollout Christmas Cookies

I'm kicking off December with a parade of holiday cookie recipes. And of course, I did not forget the glitter. The glitter is optional (I used lime green edible disco dust on these) and way too much for most people.

Sparkle aside, the co-stars of this recipe are the raw marzipan and the chopped fresh rosemary needles mixed into the dough. Both give the cookies gorgeous seasonal flavor. Marzipan is dead easy to make yourself and takes less than 10 minutes. I've included a recipe below.

I encourage you to get creative this season with your cookie shapes. Find some unusual ones to use. I found this one in a bag of miscellaneous cookie cutters at a local Goodwill store. 

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Unique and Traditional at the Christmas Market in Nuremberg, Germany

Nuremberg is a beautiful medieval city in Bavaria I have visited several times. This was my first trip there in December and I was excited to experience the city's world-famous stunning Christmas market first hand. The market draws over 2 million visitors each year and dates back to the 17th century. Open December 1 until December 24th from 10 am to 9 pm., the market closes at 2 pm on the 24th. 

There are four features I found that set Nuremberg's Chriskindlesmarkt apart from so many others I have visited in Germany.

Monday, November 27, 2017

My Top 10 Tips When Visiting European Christmas Markets

Christmas market by Lake Geneva in Montreux, Switzerland
For almost 20 years, during holiday times, I have roamed the Christmas markets of  Germany and many in France, Belgium, Holland, Switzerland, and Austria. After years of sampling regional specialties and purchasing lovely local gifts, I've also learned visiting Christmas markets is a mini-history lesson on the city itself. 

Discovering the holiday traditions and uniqueness of each city makes the visit and purchases a more meaningful experience. 

Harbor Christmas Market on a ship floating on the Rhine river, Cologne, Germany
When I visit a Christmas market, I usually spend the entire day in that city, traveling by train roundtrip from my home in Germany or where I am staying. Over the years I have developed a routine on planning a Christmas market visit from what to pack to how to shop.  
Scenes from Christmas market in Maastricht, Holland
Of the local specialties offered at a Christmas market to buy or to eat, some are specific to Christmas. That's a good thing to research before you go. You may not want to eat or buy what on offer but most have an interesting history that is connected with the soul of the city. Knowing a bit about the soul of the city makes the visit a richer experience.