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2015-12-01 / Features

Deliciously Dazzling & Decadent December

Edited by Kate Delano
Written by Maggie Anderson, Kate Delano, Carley Mossbrook and Natalia Tyndall
wreath by avant garden

December is one holly, jolly, crazy, nosh-filled month! It’s a month of traditions, rituals, festivities and fun. Whatever your idea of fun — from whipping up a batch of fruitcake friends will beg for to stepping out for a holiday show to sipping a new cocktail to acting out in kindness — we’ve got some tips, tricks and recipes to put the dazzle in your holidays!

say cheese

W hen that Evite pops into your inbox this holiday season, don’t panic over what to bring to the party. One of the easiest appetizers can also be one of the most elegant — a gorgeous and delicious cheese platter. All it takes is a little finesse with cheese pairings and the accompanying fruits or nuts, says Bill Clarke, the longtime owner of The Cheese Shoppe on Calder Way.

Start with a visually appealing platter, cheese board or slate that is large enough to give you room to be creative. Then choose an interesting assortment of cheeses by mixing it up: different textures, colors, sizes and flavors. Have a few staple cheeses that everyone will love (brie is a good choice), add in an unexpected or new cheese (like a goat cheese) and something rich and decadent (think triple crème) and you’ve won half the battle.

Step three is making it look good enough to eat! Arrange all of the cheeses with the cut side facing out, leaving space between each type of cheese. Fill in with fruits like classic grapes or strawberries, perfect pears, sliced apples or even cranberries for a touch of red. “Certain fruit goes better with certain cheeses,” says Clarke. Some of his favorite pairings are French triple crèmes like Saint André or Explorateur with strawberries; Stilton blue cheese with apples or pears (or walnuts!); and goat cheeses with grapes and pears. Add a variety of crackers and baguette rounds and you’re finished.

Clarke carries about 100 cheeses during the holiday season, a couple dozen more types than usual. He says there’s always an uptick in cheese sales for the holidays. “It’s something easy for someone to serve rather than making an appetizer.” While one of the most popular cheeses for holiday trays is horseradish cheese, Clarke suggests five cheeses to brighten up your party platter.

Morbier

A French semi-soft, pale yellow cow’s milk cheese that is traditionally layered morning and afternoon milk, separated by a tasteless ash. Has a rich, creamy and robust flavor.

Fleur Verte

A beautiful, creamy, French goat cheese, coated with dried thyme, tarragon and pink peppercorns that set off the bright white interior and gives the cheese its name. Light, sweet with a tinge of tang.

Fromager d’Affinois

This French double-créme, cow’s milk cheese is luscious. Richer and more delicate than a brie, it goes well with any fruit.

Applewood-Smoked English Cheddar

A fairly dense, semi-hard cheese is smoked naturally over applewood chips, then coated with paprika. The result is a clean, delicate smoke flavor without a chemical aftertaste.

16-Year-Old Black Diamond Cheddar

Made in Canada, this is classic cheddar but a step or two better! The lengthy aging gives it a strong, sharp taste with a surprising touch of sweetness, which comes from the crystallization of the salt.

spirited Spirits

S ometimes we all need a little help to get into the holiday spirit. But this year, lay off the eggnog, put away the peppermint schnapps and get ready to handcraft some cheery cocktails. Sc’Eric Horner, bartender and bar manager at Fuji & Jade Garden, developed these two doggone-good cocktails that evoke wintertime in a fresh, new way.

A master of his craft, Horner uses very specific ingredients, but certain substitutions are acceptable, like Champagne or Sauvignon Blanc to top the Sled Dog or ¼ tsp. turmeric powder for the Loup Garou bitters. “Few substitutions will do” for the Carpano Antica, says Horner. After all, “These aren’t nightclub drinks. These are knock-your-houseguests’-socks-off drinks.”

SLED DOG COCKTAIL

3-inch sprig of Eastern
White Pine needles
5 fresh cranberries
½ oz. simple syrup
(optional, to taste)
1 dash Regan’s Orange
Bitters
2 oz. Junipero Gin (or
Tanqueray No. Ten)
3 oz. white grapefruit juice
Belgian pale ale

Lightly muddle pine needles, cranberries and simple syrup in a 16-ounce pilsner or collins glass to release the aromatics, then fill glass just over halfway with ice. (Alternatively, mix in a shaker and strain into a rocks glass.) Add bitters, gin and juice and shake to mix, then top with Belgian pale ale (such as Ommegang or Duvel). Garnish with additional pine sprig and a straw for sipping!

SUN DOG COCKTAIL

3 drops Bittermens
Burlesque Bitters
3 drops MoonDog Loup
Garou Bitters
1 oz. Carpano Antica
Formula Sweet Vermouth
½ oz. simple syrup
2 oz. Absolut Ruby Red
grapefruit vodka
1 oz. Knudsen’s 100%
Cranberry Juice

Stir with ice for about 10 seconds. Strain into a 12- ounce martini glass over an ice sphere (ideally), crushed or cubed ice. Garnish with whole kumquat or orange twist.

Sharing kindness

Spread some cheer this season with a Random Acts of Kindness Holiday Countdown. Write 24 acts of kindness on numbered tags — from as simple as “smile at a stranger” to as specific as “give a plate of cookies to an elderly neighbor.” Swag an attractive ribbon and attach the tags using clothespins. Remove a tag each day in December, and do that good deed with a smile! themakerypa.com

Holiday Class ics

If you can’t make it to Rockettes’ Radio City Christmas Spectacular, don’t despair. There’s plenty of holiday cheer in Happy Valley during December, including these 10 holiday classic shows and performances. (And it’s easier to park, too!)

Dec. 1
Vienna Boys Choir
$19-$38. EisenhowerAuditorium. cpa.psu.edu

Dec. 3
It’s Christmas with John Berry
$25-$45. The State Theatre.thestatetheatre.org

Dec. 11-13
Centre Dance’s TheNutcracker
$10. The State Theatre.centredance.org

Dec. 12
A Charlie Brown Christmas
$8. The State Theatre.fuseproductions.org

Dec. 12-13
Performing Arts School of
Central Pennsylvania’s TheNutcracker
$25. Eisenhower Auditorium.pascp.org

Dec. 13 & 16
The Pennsylvania CentreOrchestra and the OrpheusSingers’ Messiah
$20-$25, $5 forchildren. Two locations.centreorchestra.org

Dec. 16
Rudolph the Red-NosedReindeer: The Musical
$25-$50. Bryce JordanCenter. bjc.psu.edu

Dec. 16-19
The SantaLand Diaries
$15-$30. Penn StateDowntown Theatre.fuseproductions.org

Dec. 20
Bolshoi Ballet’s TheNutcracker
$8-$10. The State Theatre.thestatetheatre.org

Dec. 23
It’s a Wonderful Life
$4. The State Theatre.thestatetheatre.org

Have Your Fruitcake — And Want to Eat It, Too

Fruitcake

— the butt of holiday jokes — can actually be the star of your dessert table. “Most people are used to really dry fruitcake and candied gummy fruit, which makes it overly sweet,” says Sam Doan of The Bacrey at Ardry Farms. She made a few changes to secure fruitcake’s place solidly in the 21st century — using dried fruit, replacing brandy with bourbon and adding almond extract.

For the fruit
1/4 c. bourbon, brandy or rum
3/4 c. golden raisins
3/4 c. currants
1 c. pecans, toasted and chopped
3/8 c. candied ginger, chopped
1/2 c. dried apricots, chopped
1/2 c. dried sour cherries, chopped

For the cake
2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1 3/8 c. granulated sugar
5 large eggs, room temperature
1 1/2 Tbsp. light corn syrup
2 Tbsp. bourbon, brandy or rum
1/2 Tbsp. almond extract
zest of 1 small lemon
1/2 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. salt

Add all dried fruit, nuts and candied ginger in a bowl. Pour alcohol over mixture; stir to combine. Cover and let macerate for 24 hours. Spray/butter and flour two 9” x 5” loaf pans. Cream butter and sugar with a paddle attachment in a stand mixer until light and fluffy, about three minutes. At medium low speed, add eggs one at a time. Add the syrup, bourbon, extract, lemon zest and juice; beat for one minute until thoroughly combined. In a separate bowl, sift together flour and salt. With the mixer on low, slowly add flour to batter; mix until just combined. Gently fold in the macerated fruit. Pour batter into two pans. Bake at 325ºF on center rack, about an hour to 1 hour 15 minutes until a tester comes out nearly clean. Cool in pans on a wire rack; remove when cool to the touch.

For the soak, either put the alcohol in a spray bottle and spritz cakes, or use a pastry brush to apply the alcohol, adding up to ½ c. alcohol to each loaf over the course of a few hours or up to two days, making sure the liquid doesn’t pool. Keep cakes in a container or seal them in a bag between soakings.

Doan notes that storing cakes in the fridge drastically extends their shelf life. “I’ve eaten this cake a month after baking and it has still been delicious.”

Regifting 101

While digging out holiday décor, one can’t ignore the box of misfit gifts collecting dust amid. You know, the box that houses the really unfortunate gifts received over the years, like the coral-and-mint striped sweatshirt Aunt Janet gifted you last Christmas or the bug vacuum Grandpa insisted would be useful.

Though you can’t be saved from receiving unneeded or downright ugly gifts, there is a lifeline for repurposing them — the rules of regifting.

The guidelines aren’t complicated, nor should they be ignored if you’re hoping to avoid Grandma’s glaring disappointed look or an awkward discovery by your gift receiver. Follow these rules of regifting, as outlined by etiquette gurus The Emily Post Institute and Jodie R.R. Smith of Mannersmith.

WHO: For obvious reasons, do not regift an item that was given by someone close to the receiver.

WHAT: The item must be new and unopened. And don’t regift items that the original giver put a lot of thought into, like a handmade gift.

WHEN: Only regift when it is practical or in the realm of thoughtfulness, like when a friend’s coffeemaker just broke and you have an extra or you have two copies of the same book by a favorite author.

WHY: Knowing and understanding the etiquette of regifting avoids awkward confrontations or hurting someone’s feelings.

LAST RESORT: Still stuck with that unwanted gift? Hold on to it for the next time you need a gag gift or for a White Elephant Party.

Holiday Pet Dangers

Dressing up your pooch like Rudolph complete with antlers or making kitty wear a Santa sweater may be a fun part of the holidays, but while it’s fun to include your pets in all of your holiday activities, you need to remember there are dangerous plants, toys and unhealthy foods and drinks lying in wait for your furry friend. Here are five tips from the ASPCA . Tie Up That Tree Make sure that your tree is securely anchored so it doesn’t fall onto your pet, especially when a curious cat tries to climb it. And watch that tree water — stagnant tree water may contain fertiliz­ers or bacteria, which can cause nausea or diarrhea.

Poisonous Plants Holly can make pets nauseous, throw up or have diar­rhea. Mistletoe can cause gastrointestinal upset and cardiovascular problems. And many types of lilies can cause kidney failure in cats if ingested. Be sure to avoid all of these.

Go Tinsel Free Kittens love anything sparkly, but tin­sel can lead to severe prob­lems if it’s eaten by a curi­ous cat. Health problems could include an obstruct­ed digestive tract, vomit­ing and dehydration.

Shocking Christmas lights With lights everywhere, all of the attendant wires can look like a fun time to kitty and some dogs. But chewing on wires can de­liver a dangerous electrical shock so keep an eye out.

Zip Meds Away Make sure visiting guests keep their medicines zipped securely in their suitcases or locked up somewhere out of paws’ reach.

Latke Love

Of all of the months, there is nothing like December for fabulous foods, especially foods that are the centerpiece of family traditions and feasts. Like latkes, the food star of Hanukkah — the Jewish festival of lights taking place Dec. 6-14 this year. Latkes, along with the other Hanukkah staple of jam-filled donuts called sufganiyot, are cooked in oil, symbolically recalling the miracle of one-day’s oil burning bright for eight nights in a temple in ancient Israel.

While potato latkes have just a few ingredients, debate abounds about the best style — flat and crispy or thicker with a soft inside — as well as about every ingredient therein, from the perfect amount of onion to the need for baking powder to the best oil to fry the latkes in.

We talked with Lynn Schlow of State College about her husband, David’s, “famous” latke recipe. The Schlows are in the flat and crispy latke camp, and Lynn says it’s all about getting the oil right. “David says you must use peanut oil, and you must fry them in very hot oil, fry them fast and deep.”

And while the latkes are delicious eaten plain, the two traditional toppings are sour cream or applesauce. But Lynn says there are other options. “We always make brisket with latkes. My husband’s family is German Jews and they put gravy on them. But my grandfather, who was Polish, put sugar on them.”

Regardless of the toppings, these light and crispy latkes are geshmak!

David Schlow’s Latkes
10 large Russet (baking) potatoes, peeled
1 medium onion, peeled
3 large eggs
½ c. matzo meal
salt and pepper to taste
peanut oil

Grate the potatoes and onion in a food processor or by hand. In a large bowl combine eggs, grated potato, grated onion and matzo meal. Add salt and pepper to taste. Heat about a half-inch of peanut oil in a frying pan or electric skillet. Spoon out a rounded tablespoon of the mixture, pressing them flat with the back of a spoon. Fry the very thin latkes until they are crisp; then flip and fry the other side. Add more oil as necessary. Place on paper towels, briefly, to cool. Eat them by hand as soon as they are cool enough to not burn your fingers.

Use Your Noggin

T hough pumpkin spice has taken over autumn’s palate, one flavor still reigns supreme in December: eggnog. The drink comes to us from England — or possibly medieval Europe — where milk, sugar and eggs were whipped, mixed with spirits and served to the aristocracy. These days, ‘nog, which gets its name from the Middle English “noggin” or small drinking cup, is for the masses. But if you want to extend eggnog beyond its borders, here are three ways to rethink the quintessential holiday flavor.

EGGNOG SOUFFLE

Modeled after the famous seasonal dessert at New York City’s 21 Club, this fluffy souffle imparts all the eggnog flavor without the liquid weight. Souffles may seem daunting, but even if you fail, you’ll still have a delicious dessert, just without all the dramatic height.

To make an eggnog-flavored souffle, follow a master recipe like Julia Childs’ but cut the butter into the flour before adding it to the pan, where the milk is boiling with cinnamon and nutmeg. You can also add spiced rum to the milk mixture. Add vanilla after incorporating the egg yolks to round out the holiday twist on a French classic. Joyeux Noel!

EGGNOG AFFOGA TO

From the Italian for “drowned,” affogato is as simple as it gets — and all the better for it. A scoop of gelato, a shot of espresso and presto! A dessert is born. To bring it into the holiday season, use eggnog ice cream, available at both Meyer Dairy and the Penn State Berkey Creamery throughout the month.

Or make your own! Since eggnog contains the same ingredients as ice cream, the transition is simple. Add ½ c. heavy cream, 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon, 1/4 tsp. nutmeg and 1½ Tbsp. dark rum to 2 c. eggnog — then add that mixture to your ice cream maker and go! Buon Natale!

ROMPOPE (MEXICAN EGGNOG)

With the addition of almonds, cinnamon and lemon, eggnog gets punched up courtesy of our neighbors to the south. Legend has it that the first rompope was made in the 17th century by nuns in Puebla, Mexico, but the drink has reached many Central and South American countries since then.

To make rompope, follow a basic cooked eggnog recipe, adding two cinnamon sticks and the rind of one lemon as you boil the milk. Add 2/3 c. almonds ground with 2 Tbsp. sugar to the egg yolks and sugar. Pull out the cinnamon sticks and lemon peel before chilling and serving. Feliz Navidad!

Handmade Holiday

H ere is a sweet, family-friendly project to help occupy little hands during snowy days and winter break, suggested by the folks at The Makery (themakerypa.com), a new art and craft studio in downtown State College.

Happy Holiday Gnomes

Supplies
Fabric scraps
Embroidery floss
Hand-sewing needle
Felt scraps
Polyfil stuffing

Dry rice or beans
Large wooden beads
Tacky glue or glue gun
Sharpies
Miscellaneous trim
Buttons

1

Trace a circle around a small bowl on a fabric scrap and cut it out. Using embroidery floss and needle, stitch around perimeter of the circle with a simple running stitch.

2

Holding each end of the embroidery floss, slightly gather the fabric circle to create a small pouch. Fill pouch with about 2 Tbsp. of rice or beans (for weight) and fill remaining space with Polyfil. Finish gathering the fabric circle into a pouf and tie a knot to close.

3

Tacky glue or hot glue wooden bead to the top of the pouf. Cut felt in a triangle shape for your gnome’s hat, then wrap the felt triangle into a cone and secure with glue along one long side. Attach felt cone to your gnome’s head (the wooden bead) using glue.

4

Draw a happy face on your gnome using Sharpie markers.

5

Dress up your gnome using buttons and a ribbon for a scarf. Or add a festive holiday flag with a toothpick and paper. Get creative!

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