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Holiday Entertaining

  • A Fall Hot Dish Recipe

    minnesota phrasesAs you all know, I live in Minnesota. And, as most regions of our country do, we Minnesotans have certain ways of saying and doing things that are unique. When I first moved here 11 years ago, I heard some of these for the first time, and let me tell you, they ARE definitely unique.

    Phrases like "up north", a place that everyone headed to come the weekend. So many people that I met were going there, and I honestly thought it must've been a phenomenal town!

    Another oddity is how natives drag their o's out....as in Minnesooooohta. It doesn't take long to pick up this midwestern accent and not even realize it.

    meatball hotdish

    Then there's the hot dish, otherwise known as a casserole, popular at not just church potlucks, but come fall, in homes across the state. Hot dish recipes come out of the woodwork this time of year, and I've got one of those today that'll warm you right up, Gnocchi and Meatball Bake. You're going to just love it.

    Italian spices are a big favorite in our house, and this recipe is a solid staple on our fall menu. When you combine homemade meatballs, potato gnocchi, tomato sauce and cheese, well, what's not to like about that? It is a real winner.

    You can find the full recipe and instructions here.

     

    Photo credit:  Minnesota phrases

     

     

  • Christmas in July

    Lady LibertyHere in the states we are, of course, getting ready to celebrate Independence Day. Summer here in Minnesota seems to have finally arrived, albeit a much cooler version than we're used to. Some of my southern friends are always shocked when they hear me say that it got into the 90's, even low 100's, as if in Minnesota we are in a perpetual winter. Hahahaaa, well, many of us here wonder sometimes if the thermometer will revive again, but it always does even if it's a bit lazy like this year.

    Snowball Water BalloonsI'm intrigued by this idea of celebrating Christmas in July. Apparently some people miss the snow and cold (clearly they live some place that doesn't get much!), and when it's really hot outside, celebrating Christmas brings relief.

    While I don't think I'll be looking for any relief from the warm weather anytime soon, I have to admit that throwing a Christmas in July party is a pretty interesting idea, and could be lots of fun. Think picnic, badminton, and "snowball" fights. :)

    Hallmark gets in on the action too. What started out as a way to promote their new ornaments turned into a movie marathon that families around the world look forward to! Truth is, Christmas in July is pretty much a marketers dream come true. :)

    So, if you are in the states, however you celebrate the 4th of July tomorrow, go ahead and add a little Christmas to it. Throw a Santa hat over the back of the chair, decorate a tree with the red, white and blue, and if you want to take it to the limits, plan a gift exchange. If you hail from another land, you can get in on the action too since Christmas in July goes clear to the middle of the month.

    Merry Christmas in July!

    Photo Credit:  Lady Liberty, Water Balloons

  • Cranberry Centerpiece

    gift wrappingWhen I was little I remember my mom teaching me, painstakingly so, how to wrap presents. She would clear off our huge dining room table, get her sharpest knife out of the drawer and have that grin on her face like she was about to create something magical.

    She was patient and taught me simple ways to measure how much paper I needed so there'd be no bulky look. She used no scissors, but instead would crease the paper with her fingernail, then slide the sharp knife in between the paper and swish, swish, swish, the piece was cut.

    I thought, wow, this could be called art! She showed me how to fold the corners and to use minimal tape but at the most strategic places so as not to detract from the package. And, then came the bow.

    It was all a pretty lengthy process, and once when I asked her why we take so much time to wrap, she said that the wrapping is part of the gift, it is a sacrifice of time and a thing of beauty. I never ever forgot that.

    cranberry centerpieceNow, we aren't wrapping any presents today or learning how to do it (altho that's a great idea for a future post), but rather emphasizing that some things that may seem unnecessary or that border on obsession really make a difference. Whether it's wrapping gifts, hanging just the right curtains or choosing a striking centerpiece, it all matters. ENTER: a cranberry centerpiece!

    To make something elegant or jaw dropping beautiful or unique does not necessarily require great expense. If you have time (your most precious commodity), you have it all save a few simple craft tools: foam balls, hot glue and cranberries!

    I think you know what to do. Have fun. :)

     

    Photo credit

  • Cranberry Margaritas, Yes Please!

    margaritaIt's Friday right before a holiday weekend. You might be going out of town, but if you aren't you are a little irritated that I just reminded you, lol. Like me, you are likely trying to stay focused on getting that last little bit of work done so you can truly relax on Monday. I know that's what I'm up to today!

    When you get home from work, won't you join me by throwing on some comfy clothes as we sit outside with a glass of this?! Ohh la la!! Technically called a Christmas Cranberry Margarita Cupcaketini, it is refreshing just looking at it, isn't it?! Definitely not just for Christmas! I think it's pretty near perfect for a day like today.

    I like traditional things that have a bit of a twist, and this cupcaketini meets the criteria. Instead of salt on the rim of your glass, this recipe says to use sugar. It's also great if you want to stick to the salt, I think it will be equally good, just different. And you will be defending the honor of margarita tradition and that's a good thing. :) You can find the recipe here.

    If you don't imbibe, there is a great alternative too.  Simply replace the alcohol components with sparkling water and regular orange juice! Just make sure you put it in a glass capable of holding sugar or salt on the rim.

    Happy sipping now and at Christmas dinner!

  • Oh Those Cranberries

    cranberry feta

    After my post yesterday about the tartness of an unsweetened cranberry, I began looking around for some other ideas of what to do with these beautiful little red nutrient bombs. There had to be a way to use them in cooking that didn't involve adding a bunch of sugar, I reasoned. And, I reasoned accurately. :)

    Unbelievable how many ways there are to use unsweetened cranberries. How has this escaped me all these years? They say that need is the mother of invention, and that when the student is ready the teacher appears.....loosely applied, I guess I just wasn't ready to find all these cranberry treasures until now! But, now that I have, I have to share.

    First up are these adorable cranberry pinwheels. Oh la la! What if to our sour, pucker-face cranberries we add a bit of green onion, a bit of cream cheese and some feta, mix it all up together and spread it over a tortilla? Talk about a nutrient bomb, these are also a flavor bomb!

    You can find the recipe and instructions here. No more puckering with cranberries, but prepare yourself for a barrage of inquiries as to how on earth you made such a heavenly treat.

    Bon apetit!

     

    Photo credit

  • In Honor of Chocolate Chip Day

    frangoI may have mentioned a time or two that I am a big fan of chocolate mint meltaways. Marshall Fields used to sell what they called Frango Mints, a much beloved confection in Chicago around the holidays. Also, anyone who filled out a credit card application would receive a free box! Stories were told about people filling out fake applications in order to get more free boxes of Frango Mints! They stopped making them in 1999 and 6 years later Marshall Fields was acquired by Macy's (and some have never gotten over their bitterness!).

    Macy's has tried to mimic the well loved chocolates, but how can you even come close to a candy that is hand made on the 13th floor of its originator? I have had the Macy's version, and it's not half bad, but Frango Mints will always be remembered as the folkloric taste of Chicago.

    magic mint choc barkPerhaps second best to the long lost 13th floor creation is something we can make in our own kitchens. I don't think there are many ingredients that, when combined with chocolate, top mint. Am I right? Caramel comes close. Peanut butter a close third. But, mint remains clearly at the top. We can recover some of the magic of those scrumptious, melt in your mouth, chocolates with today's recipe for Magic Mint Chocolate Bark. Okay, we can at least try. :)

    So, in honor National Chocolate Chip day, you can find the recipe for this tasty treat here. Happy May 15th to you!

    Photo credit:  Frango, Bark

  • An Old Fashioned Christmas | Here We Come A-Wassailing

    We're continuing this week with our theme of an old fashioned Christmas, and I can't believe how much fun it's been to write and plan out the stuff I'm sharing with you! I'm all for chic and modern decor and even incorporating that into Christmas, but there is something so comforting and familiar about simplifying our Christmas celebrations down to how it'd been done years ago.

    awassailingToday we're talking about a-wassailing. What the heck is that, you ask? Good question! We get our practice today of going house to house singing Christmas carols from this old world tradition. But it was much more than dressing warmly and going out singing.

    It was well known that around the Christmas season, the wealthy were significantly more generous. So, often scores of beggars and orphans would dance through the streets of England, and offer to sing songs and tell of future blessings if the householder would give him a drink of wassail . . . hot ale or beer with apples and spices.

    wassail

    It was just alcoholic enough to warm fingers and toes from the cold! Of course, you don't need the alcohol to create the perfect hot beverage for a cold winter evening.

    There are dozens of recipes for wassail, or hot spiced or mulled cider, and most grocery stores will carry a single serving packet of the spices to make it easy. This is one very simple holiday tradition that is just so worth incorporating .... that of putting a kettle of mulled cider on the stove and allowing the aroma to fill the entire house. When folks come to your door, whether they come a-wassailing or bringing a plate of Christmas cookies, invite them in for a hot cup of wassail. It is just so welcoming and special!

    And, if you'd like to sing along with the song "Here We Come A-Wassailing", you can find the video here!

     

    Photo courtesy:  carolers, wassail

     

     

     

     

     

  • A Very Vegetarian Christmas ~ Cocoa Brownies with Raspberry Sauce

    This is going to be the last post in the series I've been doing over the last couple of weeks about lots of great ideas for a Vegetarian Christmas Meal.  We've covered appetizers and soups and salads and of course, the main course. All vegetarian. All interesting. All delicious. Yesterday we brought you a yummy Kahlua Chocolate Fondue, and to wrap everything up I've got one more dessert idea. Not only is it a ubiquitous dessert, this recipe includes a special, secret ingredient that makes it healthy and gluten free.

    black bean browniesChristmas cookies are pretty much a given if you're hosting a group of people for Christmas. So are certain kinds of pies. And, usually you'll have a favorite family dessert recipe that, let's be honest, Christmas would just not be Christmas without it. But, today I bring you brownies. Not your ordinary brownie if there is such a thing. These are simply amazing, both in taste and in concept. You will probably not want to tell your guests what the secret ingredient is in this recipe until after they've tried it and start raving. Then, and only then, can you tell them that these are Cocoa Black Bean Brownies!

    Stay with me. I know black beans are not really considered a dessert ingredient, but I promise you that you'll be simply amazed at how tasty they are.

    You can get the recipe and directions here. I serve these with a dollop of whip cream on top too. Mmmm. Is it Christmas yet?

  • A Very Vegetarian Christmas ~ Dessert!

    For the last couple of weeks we've been running a series here on the Merry Stockings blog with lots and lots of ideas for a vegetarian Christmas meal. We've covered it all, everything from appetizers to soups to some interesting salads, and of course the main course. Now there is just one part missing from this amazing spread . . . . DESSERT!!

    We're going to wrap up this series with a couple of great dessert ideas for the finishing touch on our vegetarian meal. Most desserts are already vegetarian, but most decidely it'd be much more difficult to make them vegan. Not impossible tho. We'll stick to the vegetarian kind, and have I ever got a couple of great options for you!

    fonduThe very first time I had fondue in a large party setting was at my sister's wedding. They rented out an entire Italian restaurant, and besides the wedding cake there was a chocolate fondue, complete with strawberries, pineapple, marshmallows and so much more. Now, that was delicious. But, today's recipe is even better because it includes . . . kahlua!

    So, yes, this is more of an adult dessert, but if you have children that you're hosting, you can leave it out. Or make a separate one for the kiddos. Either way, a chocolate fondue is always a hit. Just about everyone loves chocolate and when it flows from a fountain, well it's just fun.

    You can get the recipe and instructions for this Kahlua and Cream Chocolate Fondue here. I'm sure you're going to love every last drop.

  • A Very Vegetarian Christmas Meal ~ Broccoli Cheddar Quinoa Pie

    I'm going to tell you a little secret. I have never really liked broccoli that much. I know. It's good for me. It's green. It's loaded with phyto nutrients and all that jazz. I used to get my boys to eat broccoli for lunch by telling them they were eating trees. All they knew is that trees are really big and that they would get big if they ate these tree-like broccoli florets. Seriously, they would gobble them down. I was so happy not to have to finish the leftovers on this one.

    broccoli cheddar quinoa pie

    But, my taste buds have matured. First I tasted the very popular broccoli bacon salad at a picnic, and couldn't believe I was actually eating broccoli! Then I ventured into pouring cheese sauce all over it....equally yummy. Then I did the unthinkable. I actually ordered it at a restaurant steamed, plain. And, I actually liked it. If I can overcome childish taste buds, so can you.

    Today's entry for our very vegetarian Christmas meal won't take much coaxing tho. Just look at that piece a pie, would you? I can't imagine that tasting bad, and I'm here to tell you that even the carnivores you host at your Very Vegetarian Christmas Meal won't blink an eye at this dish without meat. It is really that good.

    It is thoroughly vegetarian. It is also gluten free. And of course it's not that hard to make and it's delicioooo. You can find the complete directions on how to make this fantastic dish here.

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