Friday, December 20, 2013

Peppermint Dip, Pine Cones, and Other Party Favorites

Well, here we are.  The merriment of the holiday season is officially at its peak as of this weekend.  So, for all of you who are hosting or attending get-togethers and parties this weekend, I've decided to post a couple of themed recipes for you to try out.

The first one is something I had been thinking about off and on since last year's holiday season, and this year, with the help of my eldest niece, we gave it a go.  I served it at our annual family Grinch Party, and my sister took some to another gathering - it was a hit at both events!

Peppermint Candy Cane Dip

8 oz. cream cheese (softened)
12 oz. vanilla yogurt
4 candy canes (crushed)
5 oz. Andes Peppermint Crunch Baking Chips
Chocolate graham crackers for dipping

Ok, this one is pretty quick and easy.  Place the cream cheese into a medium bowl.  Whip it a little to get the lumps out.  Once smooth, add in the yogurt and blend well.  

In a small bowl, melt the Andes chips in 20 sec. intervals in the microwave - stirring between each one.  Repeat until chips are melted with a smooth consistency.  Add the melted Andes to the cream cheese mixture and blend well.  Add 3 of the crushed candy canes and stir until evenly distributed. Transfer the dip to a decorative bowl and add the last crushed candy cane bits on top.  Serve with chocolate graham crackers.

This second recipe was sparked by a picture I came across on the internet.  I think it was originally from Pintrest, but I've since seen images on Food Network as well as Southern Living with same idea, but different recipes, so I can't be sure where the original idea came from. 

The image was of a cheese ball that was sculpted to resemble a pine cone, and then covered in whole almonds to accentuate the representation.  I know, genius right?  So, I took a family cheese ball recipe, altered it a bit, and went to sculpting.  This time, not just one, but BOTH of my awesome nieces jumped in to help!

Pine Cone Cheese Spread

8 oz. cream cheese (softened)
14 oz. sharp cheddar cheese spread
2 oz. dried beef (shredded)
1-2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce (to taste)
1/4 cup diced white onion (optional)
6 oz. whole raw almonds
3 tsp. poppy seeds
Rosemary to garnish (fresh sprig or dried)

Mix the cheese together in a medium bowl until thoroughly blended.  Add in the dried beef, Worcestershire, and onions (if using).  You may also substitute onion powder if you like the flavor, but not the texture of onions, or go without entirely - fix what YOU like.  

Sculpt the cheese spread into two large pine cones on a flat tray.  Wipe away any smudges of cheese that may have happened on the tray with a damp paper towel (or several if you are as messy as we were).  Ok, next, sprinkle the poppy seeds over both cheese sculptures.  Start at the tip of one of the pine cone shapes and layer the almonds on to resemble the scales of a pine cone.  Repeat with the other one until evenly covered.  

I meant to pick up a fresh rosemary sprig to lay in between of the pine cones to resemble a fresh pine tree twig, but I forgot.  However, I did have some dried rosemary on hand and decided I could pass it off as dried/fallen pine needles and sprinkled some in the middle of the tray.  It turned out to lend a nice accentuating flavor to the cheese spread that I did not expect, nor do I think I would have gotten the same volume of flavor with the fresh sprig, so I'm glad I tried it.  Feel free to use which ever one you would prefer.  If you are feel bold, you could even crush some up and add it to the cheese ball as you are mixing in the other ingredients?

Serve with a variety of snack crackers.  We used Garden Herb Triscuits, classic Townhouse, some sesame crackers, and another Wheat Thin type snack cracker (I can't remember exactly, I've slept since then).  Bread stick snacks, broken-up flatbreads, pita chips, bagel chips, etc., would all be fantastic with this spread.

If you have not tried this recipe for Creme Brulee Cheesecake Cookie Bars from Bettie Crocker, you are SERIOUSLY missing out!  Seriously, these things are so addictive rich and decadent and delicious!  

So many holiday recipes for sweets have nuts or peanut butter in them.  The only reason I even found this recipe was because I stumbled across it looking for a delicious seasonal treat for my friends with nut allergies, and I am so very thankful.  Please keep them in mind as you make and bake goodies for others this holiday season.  Or just make this, because everyone will love it, without the burden of peanut-induced anaphylactic shock. Everyone wins!  YAY!

I hope you all have a very safe and happy holiday season!

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