Sharing holiday tips

 From adding a touch of seasonal color to tabletops and kitchen curtains to reviewing the finer points on the healthfulness of cranberries, the annual Prairie County Homemakers Fall Potpourri offered a variety of seasonal tips in creating a festive setting. Cabin Creek homemaker Eileen Nielsen presented fall decorating ideas and food tips during this year’s annual homemaker affair, held earlier this month in the basement of the Presbyterian Community Church.

Pick a theme that harmonizes with the season, Nielsen told the dozen or so homemakers gathered for the afternoon event. Using colored ribbon or string, cookie cutters can adorn kitchen cabinets as they hang from their knobs, Nielsen explained. For her kitchen, Nielsen shared that she uses copper cookie cutters. With a variety of shapes available, she interchanges the cookie cutters to complement the seasons of the year.  
Demonstrating a quick and easy window treatment, Nielsen created prairie-point like folds with seasonal dishtowels, hanging them on a window mid-section rod. The pattern created by the triangle-shaped dishtowels and a white curtain, for example, fashion a creative seasonal décor’ that’s easy to change throughout the year or remove at the end of the holidays. Christmas ornaments can also be used as window treatments.
Nielsen concluded her presentation by outlining the health benefits of cranberries — a popular holiday side dish. Suggestions when preparing several holiday menu items were also shared. A sampling of Chicken Apple Salad, Pumpkin Angel Food Cake and Whipped Cream with Ginger and Turtle Candies were among the dishes served.
The following recipes and information were provided in handouts given to those attending.
A holiday fruit with sass, crimson red cranberries adorn holiday tables in a variety of ways. Although fresh cranberries are only available October through December, cranberries can be enjoyed year-round as juice, sauces and relishes.
Choosing cranberries
Although cranberries are almost always prepackaged, look for firm, plump berries with a deep red color. Avoid shriveled or soft berries.
Store cranberries
Fresh cranberries can be stored in the refrigerator for several months or in the freezer for a year. Remove any shriveled, pitted or soft cranberries before storing.
Prepare cranberries
Wash cranberries in cool water before using. When using frozen berries for recipes other than salads and relishes, thaw and drain beforehand. If the cranberries will be cooked, they can be used frozen.
Cranberry equivalents
• Traditionally, fresh cranberries are sold in 12-ounce bags, the equivalent of about 3 cups of berries.
• Finely chopping 12 ounces of cranberries will yield about 2 1/4 cups of chopped berries.
• One serving of cranberries is 1/2 cup fresh cranberries, 1/4 cups dried cranberries or 3/4 cups 100 percent cranberry juice.
In Season: Cranberry Cuisine
• Fresh cranberries have a pocket of air that allows them to bounce and float.
• To chop cranberries quickly and easily, use a mini-chopper or food processor. Be sure to pulse on and off to get evenly sized pieces. A meat grinder can also be used.
• When making cranberry sauce, cook the cranberries just until they “pop.” Cooking them longer will make them mushy and quite bitter. Adding 1 teaspoon butter or oil will help prevent them from boiling over.
Go beyond cranberry relish and try rich read cranberries in other parts of the meal.
• Toss a few fresh cranberries into a salad.
• Combine with other sweeter fruits to create fruit desserts like crisps, cobblers and pies.
• Stir dried cranberries into cooked cereals, add to your favorite snack mix, or add to quick breads.
• Mix cranberry juice with your favorite mineral water for a refreshing beverage.
Nutrition and health highlights of cranberries
• A kissin’ cousin to blueberries, red cranberries are a very tart berry that provide an array of health and nutritional benefits. Fresh cranberries, supply the most benefits cranberries have to offer — Vitamin C (Fresh cranberries only) and dietary fiber.
• Once thought of as folklore, studies have now confirmed that cranberries can indeed help prevent urinary tract infections. The action of proanthocyanidins, a compound found in cranberries, prevents bacteria from sticking to the lining of the urinary tract. This means that bacteria cannot stick around to reproduce and cause an infection, but instead are flushed out.
• Emerging science also suggests that the proanthocyanidins’s “anti-stick” effect may help prevent gingivitis and peptic ulcers. The same theory applies: By making it hard for bacteria to stick to tissues, the bacteria responsible for gum disease and peptic ulcers can’t hang around long enough to produce an infection.
• Cranberries are packed with antioxidants, which neutralize free radical damage to cells, Cranberries rank among the highest in levels of antioxidants for all fruits and vegetables. Antioxidant activity is linked to reducing the risk of a number of chronic diseases and the effects of aging.
Pear (or Apple) Chicken Salad
Prep/Total time: 15 min.  
6 cups spring mixed salad greens  
1 medium ripe pear, sliced 
1-1/2 cups cooked chicken strips
1/4 cups crumbled feta cheese
1/4 cups dried cranberries
1/4 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons orange juice
2 tablespoons white wine 
1-1/2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon grated orange peel
1/8 teaspoon salt
Dash pepper
On four salad plates, arrange the greens, pears, chicken, feta cheese, cranberries and nuts. In a small bowl, whisk the dressing ingredients; drizzle over salads. Serve immediately. Yield: 4 servings
Turtles in a Pretzel Tree
Prep time: 25 min (ready in 35 min.)
24 small pretzel trees
24 vanilla caramels, (Rolos) unwrapped
3/4 cups milk chocolate chips, melted
24 pecan halves, toasted*
1) Heat oven to 300 degree F. Line extra-large cookie sheet with foil; spray foil with cooking spray. Arrange pretzels 1 inch apart on cookie sheet. Top each pretzel with 1 caramel.
2) Bake 5-8 minutes or just until caramels begin to melt.
3) Remove cookie sheet from oven. Spoon about 1 teaspoon melted chocolate onto each caramel; immediately press 1 pecan half onto each. Place cookie sheet in freezer until candy is set, about 10 minutes. Peel candies from foil.
Note: * To toast pecans, spread on cookie sheet; bake at 350 degrees 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden brown. 

Published Nov. 23, 2011

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