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Thanks to Marge Tudor, with Entertaining At Home, for this cute idea for an Easter centerpiece, one that the kids will enjoy helping you make as well as eat. What’s better than an edible centerpiece!

Supplies needed:

An assortment of Peeps, those of-no-redeeming-social-value marshmallow treats shaped like bunnies, chicks, and who knows what else (I even saw “camo” Peeps this season); skewers (either bamboo or metal, whichever you have works fine);  filler candy (M&Ms or Hershey’s Kisses or Reeses Pieces, or anything else that you can use as the edible equivalent of sand or marbles);and a glass hurricane.

Here’s where the kids get to help. They can separate the Peeps into individual critters. If old enough, they can also impale the little critters on the skewers. Once your “kabobs” are assembled. hold the assemblage of skewers together and have an assistant pour the chosen candy in around the ends of the skewers to hold the kabobs in place. If the candies are wrapped in Easter-colored tinfoil, that will add to the colorful nature of the display and take on the appearance of a floral bouquet.

It is worth pointing out that this can be a very economical though inviting centerpiece. At $.99 a box of Peeps for 3 boxes, and 2 sacks of candies at around $2.50 each, you’ve got yourself an edible thing of beauty. Nothing wasted, or at least not in my family; there would eventually be nothing left except naked skewers.

I hope your kids will enjoy this activity and that they don’t eat too many Peeps!

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I found a great idea for a dessert garnish for the fall/winter season. It’s called “Chocolate Almond Pinecones” and I found it in a publication that used to be put out by Entertaining at Home, “Taste of Home Entertaining: Practical Ideas for Hosting Memorable Parties,” published in 2005. What I like about this garnish besides the fact it is impressive looking is that it tastes great. The recipe mentions that it can be reused on a variety of desserts. Not in my house. It didn’t survive the evening. Once I got a picture of it, it was consumed! So here’s how to make these delicious and attractive garnishes, with acknowledgment to the publication.

almond pine cone 2 002

Ingredients

1 tube (7 ounces) almond paste

4 ounces sliced almonds

1 ¼ cups semisweet chocolate chips

1 tablespoon shortening

almond pine cone 001

Procedure:

1. Shape the almond paste into 6 cone shapes.

2. Insert pointed ends of almonds into the paste to resemble a pine cone.

3. Insert a toothpick into the bottom of the pine cone so that you can elevate the pine cone without touching it.

4. After melting the chocolate chips and the shortening in the microwave, spoon the melted chocolate over the almond paste and the inserted sliced almonds.

5. Allow the chocolate to harden.

I chose to make the “pine cone” look more like a Christmas tree by shaking sprinkles over the chocolate while it was still soft.

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On our recent cruise to Alaska on Holland America’s Westerdam, I was able to gather many good entertaining, floral design, and food preparation tips. We got to experience a tour of the galley, a demo on making chocolate martinis, a talk on chocolate, a talk on flower arranging, and a cooking class with one of the head chef’s on board.

I’m pondering if there would be a way to deduct some of the cost of the cruise as a business expense since I learned so much that will be useful, either in things I can share with my guests at my Entertaining At Home parties, or in blog posts!  Probably not!

First of all, let me highly recommend Holland America as a cruise line choice if you do enjoy cooking or entertaining. They have a whole stage dedicated to their Culinary Arts Center. Recipes we got to observe being prepared were provided to us on nice recipe cards. When we did the cooking class, we each got an apron bearing the ship’s logo and name of the Culinary Arts Center. And to top it all off, anything we got to see demonstrated, we got to eat! The highlight of that was from the cooking class, where we were served Grilled Prawn Bruschetta with Primavera Salsa, Salmon with Lemon Glaze and Rosemary Crumbs, and Grand Marnier Chocolate Volcano Cake!

So to begin, I’ll share with you the easiest tip of all: making a chocolate martini. The trick to this is taking chocolate syrup, pouring a tablespoon or so into the bottom of a martini glass, and then taking a wooden stick and dragging some of the syrup up the side of the glass in a spoke-like fashion. To make it more decorative, take the stick and make circles around the glass, dragging the stick through the spokes of the chocolate that have been pulled up the sides of the glass. This will make a spider-web design.

That’s all there is to it. Mix your favorite martini drink and strain it into the chocolate decorated glass. Here are a couple of the martini recipes they gave us. Thanks to Holland America for sharing these recipes.

Lightning Fast Chocolate Martini

3 oz Premium Vodka

1.5 oz. Chocolate Liqueur or Crème de Cacao

Double Chocolate Chocolate Martini

3 oz. Premium Vodka

1.5 oz. Chocolate Liqueur or Crème de Cacao

2 tsp. Chocolate Syrup

Chocolate Orange Martini

3 oz. Premium Vodka

2.5 oz. Chocolate Liqueur or Crème de Cacao

1 oz. Grand Marnier

Chocolate Hazelnut Martini

3 oz. Premium Vodka

2.5 oz. Chocolate Liqueur or Crème de  Cacao

1 oz. Frangelico Hazelnut Liqueur

Chocolate Espresso Martini

0.5 oz. Cold Espresso

2.5 oz. Premium Vodka

1.5 oz. Kahlua or Sabrosa coffee liqueur

1.5 oz. chocolate liqueur or Crème de Cacao.

For all of these recipes, pour all listed ingredients into a cocktail shaker packed with ice. Shake vigorously for 8-10 seconds. Strain into an ice chilled martini glass and enjoy.

Since I’m a tea-totaller, I’m looking for suggestions as to how to use this  presentation idea with a non-alcoholic drink. Any ideas? Let me know in a comment below. Thanks!

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One of the best training sessions I attended last week at the 2009 Entertaining At Home E-Fest (National Conference) was Melissa Evan’s presentation on “Entertaining On a Budget.”  I’m going to share with you the ideas she presented, with my “take” on the subject.

We all know that people are entertaining more in their homes, which in itself saves money over going out. Home entertaining can still be expensive, but with these suggestions it doesn’t have to be. Following these suggestions will save money and increase the quality of the experience. That’s a good value proposition!

The first suggestion Melissa had was to not use disposables for the party. Skip the paper plates, cups, napkins, utensils, etc. Go green. This will give you the satisfaction of being good for the environment while elevating the quality of the experience. No one ever commented on the elegance or style of paper plates. If you have ever entertained using disposables, you probably experienced the price shock. They may be disposable, but they are not cheap. So instead of spending that money which will be thrown away in the trash at the end of the event, use “the good stuff.”

You may already own enough place settings for your party, but if you don’t, there are alternatives. Do you have a couple of dinnerware patterns that can be mixed and matched?  If you need to make purchases to have a sufficient number of place settings, think about where you could find inexpensive dinnerware. You could go so far as shop at yard sales, flea markets, and on e-Bay. Consider mixing and matching based on a color, such as Delft blue, or a pattern, such as polka dots, or a theme such as floral. Another approach is to go with a neutral, such as white, for your basic stock and then add smaller pieces in the more colorful or patterned pieces.

Even more neutral than white is clear. Stock up on clear glass plates over time and you’ll have dinnerware that can be used any season, any party. This idea came from a blog put out by Real Simple magazine. http://simplystated.realsimple.com/celebrations/2008/11/decorating-on-a.html.

For glassware, if you don’t own enough nice stems yourself, one solution is to make it part of the fun–ask each guest to bring their own ____ glass, whether a martini, wine goblet, etc. But if you are considering investing in stemware, let me recommend you consider silver goblets. They are beautiful and don’t break when dropped. My set of 12 has lasted 32 years of marriage so far.

For your napkins and tablecloths, instead of buying paper, at least consider making your own napkins if you don’t already have cloth napkins. Home made napkins would probably be limited to a less than formal occasion, but if you were having a dinner on the deck, there’s no reason you couldn’t cut out squares of fabric, stitch around the edge, and “fray” the edge threads. Suggestions for fabric sources include the dollar bins at the fabric store, old sheets, or even new sheets.

When making any purchases to complete your needed number of place settings, always keep in mind the “cost per use” of the item. If you only use an item once or twice a year, that’s a high per use cost, even if the item is relatively cheap. If it is a higher priced item, but you use it every day, the cost per use goes way down. So how can you justify purchasing nice dinnerware or serving pieces? Think about other ways you can use the item. For example, beautiful dinner plates can be used to decorate the walls of the kitchen or dining room, or displayed atop the kitchen cabinets, or at the very least illuminated in the china cabinet.  Pretty glassware can double as dessert bowls. Imagine an individual trifle served in a wine goblet, or a serving of mousse piped into a martini glass garnished with chocolate shavings, raspberries, and mint leaves.

If you need any other convincing to ditch the disposables, just remember how easy they are to spill or knock over and the ensuing messes that could be avoided using good dinnerware and glassware.

During this session at our National Conference, I got several other ideas for budget entertaining, wchich I will be sharing with you over the next few weeks. I hope you find them helpful and inspirational. Here’s to making every day an occasion!

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In Persia, an ancient tradition for the first day of Spring involved growing a platter of grass. Let me show you how adapting a cultural practice from a country half way around the world can provide you a versatile centerpiece that can be used with any number of theme parties and can even be used as a series of educational lessons for your kids.

Persian Grass with Farah Robinson

The plate of grass is called “sabzeh.” It represents one of the symbols of spring. Families in Persia begin 2-3 weeks before Naw Ruz to grow the grass. When the grass is tall enough, a ribbon is wrapped around the grass and the sabzeh joins six other items on the “haft’sin” table, each of the 7 items start with the letter “s” and each symbolizes the themes of light, abundance, happiness, and health.

I asked a Persian friend of mine to tell me how to grow the grass. She did more than that, she grew the grass for me. These are her instructions on how to grow the grass. First, use either wheat seeds or lentils.She said wheat seeds can be found in Middle Eastern grocery stores. Soak the seeds in water for a couple of days, rinsing the seeds a couple of times a day.

Prepare a plate for the seeds, something flat and round, like a pie plate.  Place some paper towels in the bottom of the plate. Generously spread the seeds over the paper, several layers of seeds thick. Water the seeds and the paper. It is not necessary to place the plate in bright sunshine, though some light is preferable.

Rinse the seeds a couple of times a day. This is to keep everything fresh and not decaying. Eventually you will have a stand of grass. Persian tradition is to wrap a colorful ribbon around the grass.

I suggest that this stand of grass could be used as a centerpiece for several theme parties.

Obviously, it would be appropriate for a party with a spring theme. I show it here was butterflies. If the grass were transferred to a lovely piece of china with an English Garden motif, that would enhance the theme.

Persian grass springPersian grass golf 2

Again, with a spring theme, the grass would work perfectly for an Easter party.  Lay some Easter eggs on the grass. That would be much more appealing than the fake Easter grass.

Another theme party where you could use the grass would be a golf party. Stick a tee in the grass and scatter about some golf balls.

An especially appealing thing about this project is that it is one that the kids can easily help you with. Let them help rinse the seeds, watch the growth of the seeds, and tie the ribbon around the final growth. And you could easily turn it into a science lesson (germination), a geography lesson (where is Persia and what is it called today), and a comparative religions lesson (which religion does this tradition stem from–Zoroastrianism!).

Do you have some other suggestions for either theme parties where we could use the grass or educational lessons that could be taught around the growing of the grass? Please add them as a comment at the end of this post. Thank you.

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yarn 1In a previous blog, I showed several ways and suggested several others that you could use a tall hurricane lantern for things other than holding a candle. Two of my loves are color and knitting. So how is this for combining both into a unique way to decorate your home, bringing a touch of whimsy and more than a smidgen of color to a mantle, a dining room table, or a sofa table.

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Mario Batali Peerless Peeler. http://lindamccormick.eahweb.com/Catalog/Spring2009/ -- page 78.

Mario Batali Peerless Peeler. http://lindamccormick.eahweb.com/Catalog/Spring2009/ -- page 78.

(more…)

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