Express your appreciation for the hostess with something elegant and homemade.
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If you want to take something more personal than a bottle of wine to a party, present your hostess with something from the heart-and your own kitchen. Here are some ideas:
Chocolate Basket Filled with Strawberries
chocolate squares or cubes (dark, milk and white)
strawberries or fruit of your choice
1. Place chocolate cubes or squares in a plastic sandwich-size zipper bag and submerge in a pot of hot water to melt the chocolate.
2. Cover a small soufflé dish, custard cup or a larger bowl with a flat bottom with aluminum foil, making sure to fan the foil at the bottom to catch the excess chocolate.
3. Cut a small hole in the bottom of the zipper bag and use it to drizzle the chocolate over the aluminum foil with a circular motion until the surface is covered completely. Pipe a good amount around the bottom for support.
4. Place in the refrigerator until the chocolate hardens. Carefully peel the aluminum foil from the chocolate. Tip: Don't oil the foil.
5. Fill the chocolate bowl with strawberries or fruit of your choice.
¼-cup egg whites (about 2 large)
pinch of salt
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 tablespoon powdered sugar mixed with ¼-teaspoon egg white to form a sugar paste
unsweetened cocoa powder
1. Preheat oven to 150 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using an electric mixer, beat egg whites and salt for one minute to blend.
2. Combine two tablespoons sugar and two tablespoons powdered sugar. Add to egg whites in three additions, beating for 20 seconds after each. Continue beating until meringue is stiff and glossy.
3. Transfer mixture to a pastry bag fitted with a ½-inch plain tip. Pipe about 15 half-inch to 1-inch domed rounds onto the prepared sheet for mushroom caps. Smooth the top of each with a damp finger. Pipe about the same number of half-inch to 1-inch-high peaked mounds onto the prepared sheets for stems. Bake until meringues are dry and beginning to color, about 1¾ hours. Cool completely.
4. With a small knife, cut a small hole in the bottom of each mushroom cap. Dip the peaked end of the stem in sugar paste and push it into the hole in the mushroom cap. Repeat with remaining stems and caps.
5. Dust with cocoa powder before serving
Tip: The mushrooms can be prepared a day in advance. Store in an airtight container, and don't dust with cocoa powder until you serve them.
chocolate squares or cubes (milk, dark and white)
1. Place the chocolate squares or cubes in a plastic sandwich-size zipper bag and submerge in a pot of hot water.
2. Once the chocolate has melted, cut a small hole in the bottom of the zipper bag.
3. Place a spoon on the edge of a cutting board so it will be level while you pour the chocolate. Once the spoon is full of chocolate, give it a light tap to distribute the chocolate evenly. Repeat with remaining spoons.
4. For added decoration, use white chocolate to drizzle over the milk- or dark-chocolate spoons.
Dried Fruit Potpourri
1. If you have a dehydrator, dry the fruit in it; otherwise place the sliced fruit in the oven at 200 degrees for as long as 24 hours. In the microwave, it takes about an hour at 30 percent power.
This easy houseplant lives for only a few years, but you can raise its "pups" to be as beautiful as the mother plant.