Festive Season Guesting 101

If you manage to avoid hosting duties this festive season, you may be dodging some of the hardest work, but remember that being a good guest goes beyond arriving on time and taking your shoes off at the door. This festive season, ensure your host gets to enjoy the festivities by putting these ideas to practice – it may earn you an invitation for years to come.

Make a festive season playlist.  Offer to put together a festive season playlist for the host who will undoubtedly have his or her hands full prepping for the festive season celebration. Try to choose songs specific to the guests, host and overall theme. A good playlist can be a conversation starter for everyone at the party.

Don’t arrive empty-handed. Even if your host shrugs off an offer for help, a gesture of appreciation is always appropriate. It may be a bottle of wine, a seasonal flower arrangement or, better yet, an appetizer or dessert to share, such as this mouthwatering Slow Cooker Banana Cake. This crowd-pleasing cake is made using a Crock-Pot® Cook & Carry Slow Cooker, which has a locking lid and travel clips to help you get to your festive season celebration without making a mess. The 6-quart, removable pot can be used as a serving dish, and is dishwasher safe to make clean-up a breeze.

Stay off your phone. It may seem obvious, but these days, looking at your phone is almost as habitual as breathing, and chances are you don’t mean to appear standoffish or rude by sneaking a quick peek. However, playing with your phone can detract from time you get to spend with family and friends, many of whom you probably don’t get to see often. Tuck away your phone for the party and live in the moment.

Pitch in to help clean. No host likes to be stuck in the kitchen while the rest of the party carries on. After the meal, offer your help to clear the table, put away perishable items and get the kitchen back in order so your host can join the merry-making. If you’ll be opening gifts, grab a garbage bag and collect debris to help keep the mess under control.

Find more festive season recipes and tips at Crock-Pot.com.

Slow Cooker Banana Cake

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 4 hours

Servings: 12

  • Crock-Pot® Cook & Carry Slow Cooker
  • nonstick cooking spray
  • 3          cups flour
  • 1 1/2    teaspoons baking soda
  • pinch of salt
  • 3-4       ripe bananas
  • 2          lemon wedges, juice only
  • 3/4       cup butter, softened
  • 1 1/2    cups honey or 2 cups white sugar
  • 3          eggs
  • 1          teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 1/2    cups almond milk
  • cream cheese frosting
  1. Grease slow cooker with nonstick spray.
  2. In medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt; set aside.
  3. In small bowl, mash bananas and lemon juice together; set aside.
  4. In large bowl, use mixer to cream butter and honey. Add eggs and mix well. Stir in vanilla then milk. Gradually add flour mixture. Once combined, stir in mashed bananas.
  5. Pour into slow cooker. Cover; cook on low 6 hours or high 4 hours, or until center of cake no longer looks gooey.
  6. Uncover and let cake cool. Once completely cooled, frost cake and, if desired, top with sliced bananas and walnuts.

Notes: If adding bananas, do so just before serving or they will brown. If using a non-oval slow cooker, cook 1 hour less on high heat or 2 hours less on low heat. (Family Features)

SOURCE:

Crock-Pot

Popping Up a Winter Wonderland

Edible, handmade festive season decor perfect for gifting

’Tis the season to pop up some festive season fun by creating a scenic winter wonderland that tastes as great as it looks.

Gather the kids and make a hands-on family festive season tradition out of crafting festive, edible decorations. Popcorn is the perfect choice to pop up and eat while trimming your popcorn tree and decking out your creations. At 30 calories a cup, whole-grain, freshly popped popcorn offers a nutritious alternative to traditional festive season party nibbles. Popcorn is naturally low in fat and calories, non-GMO, gluten-free, has no artificial additives or preservatives and is sugar-free.

These clever recipes can help you make edible decor or gifts to give to friends, family and co-workers. Find more creative festive season recipes at popcorn.org.

Festive Popcorn Trees

Yield: 10 trees

  • 10        cups air-popped popcorn
  • 1          bag (10 ounces) miniature marshmallows
  • 2          tablespoons butter
  • 1          teaspoon vanilla extract
  • nonstick cooking spray
  • green decorating sugar
  • blue decorating sugar
  • 1          tube white frosting with decorating tip
  • small, colorful candies (such as sprinkles and miniature silver dragees)
  1. Place popcorn in large bowl.
  2. Place marshmallows and butter in medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir until marshmallows are melted and mixture is smooth. Remove from heat.
  3. Stir in vanilla extract.
  4. Pour mixture over popcorn in bowl. Toss well to coat popcorn evenly.
  5. Line baking sheet with foil.
  6. Spray hands with nonstick cooking spray then scoop up about 1 cup popcorn mixture.
  7. Shape mixture into cone, keeping base flat to form tree.
  8. Sprinkle tree with decorating sugars; place tree on baking sheet.
  9. Make nine additional trees.
  10. Pipe frosting on trees to make garland then decorate with sprinkles and silver dragees, as desired.

Serving suggestion: Place each tree on sugar cookie and decorate serving tray with shredded coconut to resemble snow.

Notes: For best flavor and color, start recipe with unflavored white popcorn. You can make your own colored sugar by adding food coloring to sugar then stirring in bowl or shaking vigorously in sealed container. Add additional food coloring for more intense tones.

Festive Season Popcorn Snowman

Yield: 5 snowmen

  • 1          package (1 pound) large marshmallows
  • 1/4       cup (1/2 stick) butter or margarine, plus additional
  • 1          teaspoon vanilla
  • 10        cups popped popcorn
  • sprinkles (optional)
  • licorice (optional)
  • gum drops (optional)
  • cinnamon candies (optional)
  1. In large saucepan, melt marshmallows and 1/4 cup butter.
  2. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.
  3. Let stand 5 minutes.
  4. Pour over popcorn and stir mixture.
  5. Butter hands well and form into balls.
  6. Decorate with sprinkles, licorice, gum drops and cinnamon candies, as desired.

Festive Season Wreath Popcorn Treats

Yield: 8 wreaths

  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 3          quarts popped popcorn
  • 4          tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter or margarine
  • 3          cups miniature marshmallows
  • 3          tablespoons lime gelatin dessert mix
  • small red candies
  • jellybeans
  • red fruit leather
  1. Lightly spray large mixing bowl with nonstick cooking spray and place popcorn inside.
  2. In medium saucepan over low heat, melt butter. Stir in marshmallows and gelatin dessert mix until marshmallows are melted and mixture is smooth. Pour over popcorn and mix until coated.
  3. Spray hands with cooking spray and press firmly to form into 9-inch logs then bend to form wreaths.
  4. Place wreaths on wax paper. Press candies and jellybeans into wreaths as decorations; cut fruit leather to make ribbon and add.
  5. Serve immediately or wrap individually in plastic wrap for storage. Add ribbon tie to plastic wrap as decorative closure.

Tip: Soak saucepan before cleaning.

Chocolate Popcorn Reindeer

Yield: 8 reindeer

  • 8          cups unsalted, unbuttered popped popcorn
  • 2 1/2    cups mini marshmallows
  • 1/2       cup chopped dark chocolate or dark chocolate chips
  • 2          tablespoons butter or light olive oil
  • 1/4       teaspoon salt
  • 16        pretzel sticks
  • 16        eyeball candies
  • 8          red candy-coated chocolate candies
  1. Place popcorn in large mixing bowl.
  2. In saucepan set over medium heat, heat marshmallows, chocolate, butter and salt, stirring often until smooth. Toss marshmallow mixture with popcorn until well combined.
  3. Scoop 3/4 cup popcorn mixture into ball. Repeat with remaining mixture to make eight balls total. Place each ball in paper muffin cup liner.
  4. Insert pretzel stick on each side of ball to resemble antlers, attach two eyeball candies for eyes and red candy for nose. Let cool completely.

Tip: Eyeball candies can typically be found in baking aisles of supermarkets or bulk food stores. (Family Features)

SOURCE:
The Popcorn Board

Increase Kitchen Efficiency With Ease

As the festive season approaches and the calendar begins to populate, it’s important not to allow the stress of entertaining large groups to become a burden. Below are four tips to help organize a kitchen and host with ease, creating a functional space for family and friends to enjoy.

Plan in advance

Set aside time early in the week to plan the menu, from simple appetizers to the main entree. Grocery shopping apps, like AnyList, allow the whole family to share and build lists together — which can help avoid any last-minute trips to the grocery store. Also, try to identify dishes that can be prepared in advance so more time can be spent away from the kitchen when guests arrive.

Maximize storage and counter space

Optimize counter space by designing small stations for easy access to the necessities. A coffee bar “nook” complete with Keurig cups and mugs can help kick-start a busy day. Storage near the fridge should be stocked with foil and containers, ideal for packing up leftovers after a large party. Reserve the island counter for meal prep and the cabinets below for serving ware and glassware storage.

Keep all staples in arm’s reach

Cooking can be made simple by organizing the essentials. Keep similar tools together, such as bakeware and cookie sheets in one drawer, and pantry staples in another. Spices and herbs should be alphabetized and stored near the stovetop to effortlessly add flavor. For those with design in mind, opt for open shelves to showcase dishes and small kitchen accessories, such as succulents and cookbooks, while keeping everything within reach.

Simplify kitchen cleanup

Cleaning is often the most time-intensive chore in the kitchen, but if designed right, can be a breeze for home entertainers and kids alike. The Delta Foundry Kitchen Faucet complete with ShieldSpray Technology, available at the Home Depot, offers laser-like precision to contain splatter, meaning less soaking, scrubbing and shirt swapping. (BPT)

The Best Festive Season Gifts of 2016

(BPT) – Spending time with friends and family is a big part of what makes the festive season so special. Celebrating with loved ones and exchanging gifts is a time-honored tradition. But before the wrapping paper can be ripped away in a flurry of sparkling shreds, you first need to find the right gifts for all the people on your list.

Don’t fret about discovering the perfect present. The experts at BJ’s Wholesale Club offer their predictions for the hottest gifts of the festive season for loved ones of any age. 

Toys

Both kids and kids-at-heart adore unwrapping a gift to discover a neat new toy just for them. This festive season, give them something that will make them squeal with delight. For example, a Giant Keyboard Playmat is great fun for the entire family. Creativity sets let little ones’ imaginations take flight. A 70-inch Jumbo Plush Dog is absolutely snuggle-worthy as it sits next to the tree. Learn more about BJ’s exclusive Top 10 Toys at www.bjs.com. 

Technology

Technology items top festive season wish lists for people both young and old. TVs and smartphones are sure to please, but if the budget is a bit more frugal, you’re not out of luck. One of 2016′s most-wanted gifts is wireless headphones. Whether sleek in-the-ear headphones or on-the-ear options that provide an incredible audio experience, it’s a gift that will be used constantly. Look for top brands like Bose, Skullcandy and LG that give you a secure, comfortable fit without sacrificing audio quality. 

Gift baskets

The smell of cookies, the taste of freshly roasted nuts, the crunch of caramel corn – food is such a memorable part of the festive season. For the person who has everything, gift baskets are guaranteed to please. From savory baskets featuring delicious foods like pretzels, cheese and sausage to sweet baskets with chocolate, cookies and candies, you’ll find something for everyone on your gift list this year at BJ’s.

 Outdoors

Bikes and other riding toys are always a hit as festive season gifts. Whether you get the next size bike for your growing child or purchase a rocking horse for your little one just finding her balance, it’s a great gift that continues to give long after the festive season is over. In addition to bikes, trikes, scooters, powered-riding toys and wagons all make great festive season gifts. 

Indoor play

Want to find something fun for inside the home? Get kids away from the TV screen with amazing toys that inspire indoor play. Play kitchens are fantastic choices for toddlers and elementary-aged children. Dress-up outfits let your kid be a doctor, chef, cowboy and more. Building block sets are created to suite kids of virtually every age. Finally, indoor tents and tunnels are great for kids, and even mom and dad will want to get in on the fun.

With these great gift ideas, festive season 2016 will be unforgettable. Save time and money when you find everything on your gift list at BJ’s. To locate the club nearest you, visit www.bjs.com.

‘Tis the Season for Creating Dazzling Festive Season Tables

Laughter, joy, happiness — ’tis the season for family and friends to come together around the table, celebrating all the warmth of the Festive Season. Really want to wow your guests at your next gathering? It’s as easy as mixing Christmas past with Christmas present.

Mix your everyday patterns with festive motifs to create a dazzling Festive Season table.

Mix your everyday patterns with festive motifs to create a dazzling Festive Season table.

“The Festive Season is the best time to use the patterns you love, whether that’s your everyday pattern, a family heirloom, a Christmas favorite or all of the above,” says Keith Winkler, product marketing manager for dinnerware retailer Replacements, Ltd. “Take time to pull out the platter you inherited from your grandmother, or look for a way to blend in Aunt Rose’s vintage teapot. It really doesn’t matter whether you’re planning a casual dinner or a glitzy party, using heirloom patterns is more than a great conversation starter with your guests — these pieces bring tradition and family to your table.” 

The festive art of mixing and matching 

Perhaps you’ve read the buzz about the hot tabletop trend designers refer to as “mixing and matching.” Turns out, it goes beyond trendy. It’s pretty much an art.

“Mixing and matching is a way to bring all your favorites together to create a gorgeous table,” says designer Julie Robbins. “If you’re going to create a beautiful, festive look, be brave and bold; step away from using all the same colors and patterns and dare to blend all types of designs to create sparkle and magic. One of the easiest ways to start is by taking one of your favorite patterns and giving it Festive Season flair.”

We asked Robbins to share her inspiration in creating one of Replacements’ main displays for the Festive Season.

“I really wanted to capture the spirit of the season by building on an everyday pattern I really love, so I started with Constance by Bernardaud,” Robbins says. “It’s a beautiful green, yet it’s also a cool, neutral pattern that refreshes everything you mix with it. I paired it with Grenadiers, a Festive Season favorite also by Bernardaud, which is a crisp, clean Christmas pattern but at the same time very festive and whimsical with toy soldiers around the edge. And to tie it all together, I mixed in a gold-trimmed ruby charger as the base to anchor the setting in traditional seasonal colors.”

If you’re still uncertain how to create the look you want for Festive Season, Robbins suggests starting with a neutral colored dinner plate, then layering a Christmas-themed salad plate in a floral, plaid or graphic motif. You can even serve a different course with each pattern. And don’t feel like you have to stick with traditional Festive Season colors — pairing cool blues with silver creates a lovely icy effect you can use throughout winter. 

Add a dash of sparkle

Dare to let your Festive Season table reflect your personal style.

Dare to let your Festive Season table reflect your personal style.

While mixing and matching patterns captures seasonal spirit, sparkle adds a burst of magic and elegance. Robbins suggests incorporating metallic finishes, whether that means using platinum or gold trimmed crystal, or perhaps ornate flatware and serving pieces.

“Using both silver and gold pieces on your table not only evokes the traditional spirit of the Festive Season, these metals reflect light, creating a glamorous twist,” adds Robbins. “Vintage silver is very popular this year, but rather than polishing it shiny bright, leave some patina to keep the heirloom quality of the pattern.”

Another way to create sparkle: consider an eclectic mix of candles on your table. By combining crystal and silver votives, candlesticks or an odd candelabra, you can create a centerpiece that looks beautiful during the day and adds a warm glow to a winter night.

Still need help getting started? For a quick cheat sheet, sneak a peek at Replacements’ favorite holiday patterns on the company’s website, replacements.com.