3 garnishes

The holidays are a time when you probably do more cooking and entertaining than any other season of the year.  Family and friends gather together and it always seems to center around food.  You set a pretty table and prepare your favorite recipes to welcome your guests.  But why stop there?  Garnishes can add a special treat for the eyes and the palate and make a huge impression on the people at your table.

Here are three of my favorite garnishes to enjoy during the holiday season.

BRAIDED GREEN BEAN GARNISH

braided beans

If your mother ever told you not to play with your food, she surely wasn’t talking about this fun and interesting garnish.  Border a platter with them or drape them in a curve on the edge of individual plates.  You’ll amaze your guests, and maybe your mom too!

You’ll find Chinese green beans at some grocery vegetable counters in lengths of 12 inches or more.  Ours came from Albertson’s.  These beans have a slightly different texture than traditional green beans and can over-cook quickly, so check them often.

    DIRECTIONS

    1.  Wash and slice the ends off the green beans. 

    toothpick

    2.  Boil water in a pan large enough to immerse the beans without breaking them.  When the water comes to a full boil, remove it from the burner and immerse the beans, curving them around the inside of the pan.   Let them sit covered for two minutes.

    3.  Remove and run the beans under cool water until they are comfortable to handle.  Dry them with paper towels.

    4.  Stick a toothpick through the top of three beans to hold them together, then begin braiding the entire length.  Secure the bottom of the beans with another toothpick.

    5.  Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.

    oiled beans6.  Brush the beans with olive oil and sprinkle with salt.  Line them up on the baking sheet.

    7.  Place the the beans in a 450 degree oven and bake until tender, 5 to 15 minutes depending on their density. 
    Serve warm.

      What You’ll Need

      • 3 Chinese green beans per braid
      • Extra Virgin Olive oil
      • Kosher salt
      • Toothpicks

       

      RADISH MICE

      plate of radish mice

      These creatures are bound to make your guests smile, especially the young ones.  Slip them on their plates when they're not looking.  For the cutest mice, shop for radishes with very long tails.

       

      DIRECTIONS

      1.  Thoroughly wash and dry the radishes.  Shave a little slice off one side so the radish will sit flatly on a plate without wobbling.  This will be the bottom of the mouse.

      2.  Cut back the greens leaving a small stub which will act as the nose.

      3.  Cut two pieces of toothpicks for the eyes.  Snip close to the sharp end, which will allow you to pierce the radish easily.  Cloves may also be used for eyes.

      radish mouse4.  Once the eyes are in place, cut 1/8” wide slits above and slightly off to the sides for the ear placement.  The length of the slits will be determined by the size of the ear pieces.

      5.  Using a new radish, slice two 1/8” rounds for ears.  Stick the ears in the slits above the eyes.  They should fit snugly.  Make adjustments if necessary.

      What You’ll Need

      • radishes
      • toothpicks

       

      CHOCOLATE LEAVES

      chocolate leavesCoeur a la creme dessert

      Chocolate leaf garnishes can be used in so many ways.  Make them the focal point of your favorite desserts, or surround a bouquet of raspberries with them.  They're just as impressive when a single leaf accents an individual dessert plate. 

      Make the leaves in white or dark chocolate.  Mix white chocolate with food coloring to whip up your own custom colors.   Prepare a big batch of leaves to keep on hand in the freezer and enjoy throughout the holidays.

      Mix different kinds of chocolate to create interesting flavors - semisweet with bittersweet, etc.  It’s not necessary to buy an entire silk plant.  Look for single stems.

      DIRECTIONS

      1.  From a silk plant, cut 8 - 12 leaves with stems attached.  Look for silk leaves that are life-like with deep veins and have realistic dimension to them.  The veins will leave deep impressions, making a more interesting looking chocolate leaf.  The leaf should also have body and not lie completely flat.

      2.  Wash the leaves and dry them in a towel.  Damp leaves will be difficult to work with, so be sure the leaves are completely dry before you begin.

      3.  Put aside a flat tray or plate large enough to hold the leaves.

      4.  Melt 1/3 cup of chocolate chips in a microwave oven at 30 second intervals on power 4.  Ovens vary so watch the chocolate carefully and stir often.  Do not let it overheat or become too liquid.  When it reaches the perfect consistency, some of the chips will be completely melted and a few will still be vaguely formed.  Remove them from the oven.  They will continue to melt.  Let the chocolate rest on the counter for 5-8 minutes.  Even when you’re making a big batch, do not melt more chocolate at one time.  It will only stiffen as you work with the leaves and become unstable.  Chocolate that has been melted in the oven cannot be reheated to make more leaves because the consistency changes.

      5.  To form the leaves, slather the back side of a silk leaf with chocolate using a mini spatula or the backside of a spoon.  Begin in the center of the leaf and work outwards to the edges.  Do not cover the stem.  (This is a very messy process so try not to worry about cleaning up until the leaves are done.)  If the chocolate at the outer edges of the leaves is too thin, it will break easily later when you separate the silk from the chocolate. 

      6.  Place each coated leaf on the tray.  When the tray is full or you’ve used all your leaves, put the tray in the freezer for about an hour.

      7.  Have a flat plate ready for storing the chocolate and set it in the freezer to chill. 

      8.  When the hour is up, separate the silk from each chocolate leaf by tugging gently at the base of the stem.  When you find a place that lifts easily, use it as a starting point to work around the outer edge of the leaf.  Lift off the silk.  After it is separated, put the chocolate leaf on a plate in the freezer.  Avoid handling the chocolate as much as possible.   Once frozen, the leaves can be stored in bunches in the freezer.  But handle them gently to avoid cracking.

      9.  Thoroughly wash  and dry the silk leaves.  Store them in a ziplock bag.  If they begin to fray around the edges after repeated use, replace them with new leaves. 

      What You'll Need

      • chocolate chips
      • silk plant stems

      The dessert pictured is Coeur a la creme.