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Want to create a terror-ific atmosphere at your Halloween dinner table this fall? Unleash your imagination and stir up little home-brewed ambiance by simply renaming your favorite foods. Need some inspiration? Check out our menu below for a terror-ific Halloween dinner your ghosts and goblins will love!

MAINS
Worms and eyeballs – spaghetti & meatballs
Witch’s fingers & slime sauce – chicken strips & ranch dressing dyed green
Barbequed bat wings – chicken wings
Witches’ brew &   Dracula diggers – chili & tortilla chips

SIDES
Grass & weeds with sliced toadstools & witch’s teeth – salad greens with mushrooms & sunflower seeds
Maggots – rice
Rotting teeth – corn
Lizards’ tongues – sautéed red pepper strips or carrot sticks

DESSERTS
Shrunken heads – baked apples
Ghosts – white chocolate-covered bananas
Pond scum – Jello with gummi worms
Bones – bone-shaped meringue cookies

BEVERAGE
Swamp water –  lemonade concentrate, lemon-lime pop & lime  sherbet

For our favorite Halloween dessert recipes, click on our Halloween issue of roomplanners magazine. Or subscribe to our free magazine.

Need another terror-ific Halloween treat this year? This Halloween desert will help set the tone for your fright-night menu. If you wish, let everyone carve their own “shrunken head” dessert or dress their own “ghost”.

BANANA GHOSTS
(Makes 6 ghosts)

3 bananas
6 popsicle sticks
6 oz (200 g) white chocolate or white chocolate candy melts, coarsely chopped, or white chocolate chips
12 chocolate chips

Peel bananas; remove any stringy fibers. Cut bananas in half widthwise. Push a popsicle stick into each half through the cut end. Cover each banana with plastic wrap and freeze until firm, about 3 hours.

Place white chocolate in a microwaveable bowl and heat on High (100% power) for 1 minute; stir. Continue heating, 30 seconds at a time, until white chocolate is mostly melted but a few pieces remain. Stir to melt remaining white chocolate.

Spread or spoon white chocolate over frozen banana halves. Press chocolate chips in place for eyes.

Set banana ghosts on a waxed paper-covered plate and place in the freezer until serving time.

Serving a buffet-style dinner this Super Bowl Sunday?  What seems like an easy dinner party idea can be quite an excercise in logic and organization! Buffet–style serving, especially to a large crowd, can put you at risk of buffet gridlock or other food-serving chaos. So here’s a compilation of the best tips I could find to keep the buffet line moving… and guests coming back for more next year!

1. For a buffet party over eight people, lay food out on both sides of the table, rather than along a one-sided sideboard. For a buffet party over 18 people, repeat the same food dishes on both sides of the table. Remove the chairs around the buffet table so traffic flows easily.

2. Serve drinks in a separate area – a cart, separate table or sideboard will keep drink traffic out of the food lanes. Group bottles of soda or cocktails together with glasses, an ice bucket, small napkins and a bowl of lemons or limes.

3. Better yet, allocate or hire someone to serve drinks. It could be a child or a neighborhood friend. People will have to get up less often and it’s really rather hospitable! Your party will be talked about for weeks!

4. Serve drinks, or make them available, right when guests arrive. It’ll put less pressure on guests to balance plates and glasses in the buffet line.

5. Use large plates and oversized napkins. Avoid flimsy paper plates unless they’re hefty, hearty and able to withstand weight and moisture, at the same time. A large napkin that completely covers the lap (when open) will be appreciated.

6. Avoid serving food that requires a knife; buffet food should really be spoon-friendly or fork-friendly only. Even if you’re not weak at the knees, It can be precarious to balance a plate on them while performing food feats with a dangerous weapon.

7. Place clean plates and cold items at the beginning of the line, hot entries last. Place silverware and napkins at the end of the buffet, rather than at the beginning.

8. Roll a napkin around a fork and spoon, so they’re one item to carry.

9. Use a hot plate or warming tray to keep hot things hot. Buffet-warmers have become a hot item, meaning they’re also more affordable than ever. They also have a polished, restaurant quality!

10. Avoid food that requires time or talent to get from serving dish to plate. A block of cheese can be a thing of beauty, but cutting off a piece with one hand is quite a feat. If using cheese blocks, pre-cut part of the block. And pre-cutting smaller branches of grapes will avoid guests walking off with half of them, without wanting to!

11. Poke a toothpick into items that are tough to pick up, or to pick up without touching everything around them. Or invest in a few small tongs for biscuits or hand-picked items. In an age of killer flus, everyone will thank you.  

13. Label food or ingredients that aren’t easily recognizable, including food with nuts or a choice of sauces or dressings. Better yet, label everything with a folding card or a flag. It’s restaurant-like and helpful. Plus, there’s nothing worse then when people have to smell something to see if they want to eat it. Except, maybe, a guest being rushed to the hospital at halftime on account of a food allergy you didn’t know about.

14. Serve desert, tea and coffee on a tray or rolling cart you can bring to your guests. Once guests are settled in place, sometimes it’s an effort for them to get up again (… and risk losing their prime seat location!).

15. Create an abundant-looking table.  Avoid unforutnate gaps by taking the leaf out of the table, grouping food at one end, drinks at the other, or placing a large floral or food display arrangement at the center or end of the table. Also, vary the height of items on the table. Add a large centerpiece, or place some serving plates higher than others. (An easy way to do this is to pile books under select plates, then cover the entire table with a tablecloth).

A few final ideas…

Lay out out the serving table plan ahead of time, even the night before. Place post-it notes where things will go; it’ll be one less thing to think about on the day of the party… and help out those who want to help you in the mad rush right before dinner is served.

If, or when, you’re in the market for new dining room furniture, consider a buffet or sideboard rather than a china cabinet. They’re versatile if you like buffet-style eating and make a great place to serve drinks. Also, look for one with a marble top; they’re plentiful these days and perfect for buffet parties – they can handle heat and are easy  to clean!

Big games = big appetites!

Excelling at spectator sports is hard work! Armchair athletes can work up a hearty appetite cheering on their team. Chili, sub sandwiches, pizza, wings and nachos are fan favourites for noshing while coaching from the sidelines, analyzing plays and critiquing the refs’ calls.

Bring your A game and score a touchdown this Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 7th) by serving Pulled Pork on a Bun. Pork roast bathed in a rich barbecue-style sauce cooks lazily in the slow cooker freeing you up to catch all the antics on the big screen, from the singing of the National Anthem through to the final whistle.

Once the pork has cooked, the tender meat is easily shredded by pulling it apart with two forks (hence the name!). Serve it and the flavourful sauce piled high in warmed buns.

You’ll want to put the recipe for Pulled Pork in your play book.  It’s a crowd pleaser no matter which Bowl or Cup your armchair quarterbacks are watching!

Sports Speak! Want to sound like a sports commentator, coach, player or just a die-hard fan? Learn all the lingo by checking out this great list of sports cliches!

Pulled Pork on a Bun
Makes 6 to 8 servings

1 tbsp (15 mL) vegetable oil
2 medium onions, finely chopped
1 tbsp (15 mL) chili powder
1/2 tsp (2 mL) black pepper
1 cup (250 mL) chili sauce (e.g. Heinz)
1/4 cup (60 mL) packed brown sugar
1/4 cup (60 mL) cider vinegar
1 tbsp (15 mL) Worcestershire sauce
1 boneless pork shoulder, trimmed of fat (about 3 lb/1.5 kg)
6 to 8 Kaiser, onion or cheese buns, halved and warmed

In a skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onions; cook, stirring frequently, until softened. Add chili powder and pepper; cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add chili sauce, brown sugar, vinegar and Worcestershire sauce. Stir to combine, and bring to a boil. Remove from heat.

Place trimmed pork in slow cooker insert and pour sauce over. Cover and cook on Low for 10 to 12 hours or on High for 6 hours, until pork comes apart readily.

Lift out pork and place on a cutting board; using two forks, pull the meat apart in shreds. Return meat to the sauce and keep warm until ready to serve.

To serve, spoon shredded pork and sauce into buns.

Recipe Source: Adapted from The 150 Best Slow Cooker Recipes by Judith Finlayson, Robert Rose Inc., 2001

Tips:
* Add 3 to 6 minced cloves garlic, if desired. Cook along with onions.
* For a smoky flavour, add 1 tsp (5 mL) liquid smoke when you add the Worcestershire sauce.
* Accompany the Pulled Pork with any of the following: veggies and dip, pickles, potato chips, coleslaw, sweet potato fries, or potato fries.

 

Pilsner glass, by Ritzenhoff, with art-decorated theme

Seems drinking beer out of a can or bottle is becoming practically medieval.

But wait a minute… didn’t all those medieval taverns in Europe serve beer in a mug?

Yes, Americans are being influenced by long-standing European trends to pour beer into a glass or mug. But not just any vessel will do… the right glass is starting to matter, at least to some. The thinking goes that the shape of  the glass enhances specific aromas or characteristics of the beer, just like specific stemware shapes enhance specific varieties of grapes. 

A number of glassware companies got on board with this trend about 2 years ago. But the news here is that sales are

Mikasa's Brewmasters Collection, a set of four glasses for Pilsner, Wheat, Stout and Ale beers. Sales from 2008 to 2009 more than tripled.

brisk and growing, even in a slow economy… including multi-packs that include up to four different types of beer glasses. For those of you with a hard-to-buy-for male in your life or a bridal gift dilemma in your future, beer glasses may be just the thing. 

So how did this happen, some beer drinkers might be asking. And why?

More people entertaining at home. Seems no one can afford to eat out and save for retirement.

Pressure on beer drinkers by newly educated wine drinkers to belly up, or come to the party, so to speak, with a little more sophistication. Savvy wine folks are clearly embarrassed setting their carefully-selected wine glass down next to a beer can.

A microbrewery trend, including a host of independent American brewers making their own beers and an infusion of European beers and Belgian ales.

Some seriously savvy marketing by European beer makers, including giving away specifically shaped glassware with their logos on them, along with how-to-pour information on the back of the bottle.

Pilsner glass, Crate and Barrel

Beer education sites such as www.beeradvocates.com and www.beertaptv.com, and beer-centric magazines such as Cheers.

If you’re not up for spending the money on… or allocating an entire shelf to a complete varietal collection of beer glasses, opt for a Pilsner glass. It’s the top seller and a good all-round choice.

This was just one of the amazing trays of Christmas squares and cookies at our family gatherings this year.

From left to right…. Christmas fruit cake… date squares (a.k.a. matrimonial cake)… coconut with glace fruit and nut cookie (grandpa’s favorite)… Russian tea cakes… Ghirradelli chocolate brownies… shortbread with rhubarb jam centers.

It was tough to know what to eat first! Thanks to my mom and sisters for another great Christmas slaving over the hot stove so the family could eat non-stop for 3 days in a row.  (I just blew in from out-of-town to enjoy their superb menus and recipes!)

Hard to believe, but this Norman-Rockwell style Christmas village is a display on my sister-in-law’s dining room buffet table. I coudn’t resist snapping a few photos this year.

Connie collected each of the village buildings over the years, enough to fill the entire length of her buffet cabinet. The skating rink with skaters on the far right (below) can be switched on to rotate and play Christmas carols!

She uses a white table cloth to simulate the snow (it really works!). Set against the dark taupe wall  in her dining room, it’s quite dramatic.

Enjoy a few more photos!

   

Another simple idea for your Christmas table… place a small holiday ornament or sprig-like decoration on each plate. Ornaments that combine fruit, satin-covered balls and/or greenery work well.

If using an ornament like the ones I used here (with a stem) use a wire cutter to cut the stem shorter.

You could use matching ornaments on each dinner dish at your Christmas table, or mix it up a little and use coordinating, but not matching pieces…

For more holiday ideas, click on Christmas table settings tab (under tags) on the left hand column.

For home decorating ideas, visit www.roomplanners.com.

Happy Holidays!

Here are a couple easy cheesy savoury truffle appetizer recipes I demonstrated at the Thyme to Cook kitchen store in Guelph, Ontario a few weeks ago. Serve these at a party and it’s rather like each guest has their own mini cheese balls!

Ham and Cream Cheese Truffles

(Makes about 2 dozen 1-inch/2.5 cm truffles)

1 (250 g) pkg cream cheese, softened
1 cup (250 mL) shredded Cheddar cheese
½ of a 156 g can of Flakes of Ham or 1/3 cup (75 mL) finely chopped ham
1/4 tsp (1 mL) garlic powder
2 green onions, sliced
Finely chopped walnuts or pecans (about 1 cup/250 mL) for coating truffles, if desired

In a medium bowl, stir together cream cheese, Cheddar cheese, ham, garlic powder, and green onions until well blended. Cover and refrigerate mixture for several hours until chilled.

Using mini ice cream scoop, melon baller or teaspoon, shape mixture into 24 (1-inch/2.5 cm) balls. Roll balls in nuts until coated. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Tips:
* Cheese truffles can be made any size you wish. You can shape them with your hands if desired but they don’t have to be perfectly round.
* Roll truffles in chopped fresh parsley, shredded cheese, or toasted sesame seeds or fine bread crumbs.
* Poke pretzel sticks into cheese truffles for easy serving.
* Serve with crackers.
* Mixture can be shaped into one large cheese ball, if desired.

Sun-dried Tomato Cream Cheese Truffles

(Makes about 2 dozen 1-inch/2.5 cm truffles)

1 (250 g) package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup (125 mL) grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup (50 mL) minced sun-dried tomatoes in oil (well drained)
1 to 2 tbsp (15 to 30 mL) chopped fresh basil
Chopped fresh herbs or grated Parmesan cheese (about 1 cup/250 mL) for coating truffles, if desired

In a medium bowl, stir together cream cheese, Parmesan cheese, sun-dried tomatoes and basil until well blended. Cover and refrigerate mixture for several hours until chilled.

Using mini ice cream scoop, melon baller or teaspoon, shape mixture into 24 (1-inch/2.5 cm) balls. Roll the balls in herbs or cheese until coated. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Tips:
* Cheese truffles can be made any size you wish. You can shape them with your hands if desired but they don’t have to be perfectly round.
* Use an herb paste instead of fresh basil, if desired.
* Poke pretzel sticks into cheese truffles for easy serving.
* Serve with crackers.
* Mixture can be shaped into one large cheese ball, if desired.

Saw these Christmas windows displays at Berdorff Goodman in Manhattan this week.  Apparently foxes eat well. Check out their Christmas dinner dishes!