Keep your party simple
As the host, you want to enjoy it too – there’s nothing worse than being stuck in the kitchen all night. Make big pots of mulled wine or cider and keep them gently ticking along on a very low heat; leave out a stack of mugs and cups so guests can help themselves. The same approach goes for food: avoid fiddly nibbles and instead prepare piles of toast and chopped vegetables so everyone can tuck into easy cheese fondue or classic chicken liver parfait.
There’s loads that you can do before the big day to ensure that everything runs smoothly. Make yourself a list and tick things off as you go. Checking simple things – like you have the right kitchen kit [link to other story] – will save you time later on. One slip up I hear about a lot, is people not having a roasting tray big enough for their bird – or that actually fits in their oven. Sort that out well in advance.
Make your own crackers
This will get the kids in the festive spirit – and keep them occupied for a few hours! They’ll love choosing different treats to hide in the middle and getting creative with the designs for the outside. Check out our step-by-step guide and craft patterns from the lovely guys at Jamie Magazine.
Declutter your kitchen
Get all your festive fare stashed away in your cupboards, put the decorations up and out of the way, then have a scout round the kitchen and think about what you actually need to have on the worktop. You should only have the equipment you’ll use, so get rid of anything that will just get in the way, including that flashing Santa…
Get the kids cooking
I love cooking with my girls and you can’t beat that proud smile on their faces when they see the results of their hard work. Check out the blog my foodie team have written, it’s full of inspiring ideas to get the kids cooking, including a brilliant gingerbread house.
Prepare for unexpected guests
I can’t remember the last Christmas when I wasn’t surprised by the extra visitor or two. Get ready to impress by having food prepped and on standby. Knock up a jar of chocolate mix ready for epic hot chocolate, have cookie dough in the freezer ready to slice and bake off, while a scoop of marathon semifreddo in a cone will keep any kid happy.
Think of the veggies
Don’t forget your vegetarian guests, because they deserve a bit of love too. Check out our delicious meat-free options, guaranteed to go down a storm with veggies and meat-lovers alike. Why not take a break from those hearty roasts and have a meat-free day or two this festive season? It’s good for you and for the environment.
Love your leftovers
Leftovers are one of my favourite things about this time of year because it’s a chance to get inventive and make the most of them. Embrace those uneaten roast veggies and that last lonely wedge of Christmas pud – pull out a gorgeous pan of bubble and squeak, followed by a Christmas pudding sundae and knock everyone’s socks off. With a bit of thought, the possibilities are endless.
All the lovely site users from the southern hemisphere will agree that you can’t beat cooking outdoors. It may be on the chilly side in the UK, but I’ve been known to get my mates up and huddled round my wood-fired oven to tuck into a hearty breakfast on a frosty winter morning. Sometimes when you’re still feeling the effects from the night before, that blast of fresh air is the best way to go.
Remember that so much of Christmas is about spending good time with your nearest and dearest and having fun! Delegate the big jobs, and get the kids helping you out on smaller tasks. If everyone chips in and does their bit you’ll have dinner on the table with minimum stress and, most importantly, a room full of happy, well-fed faces.
Top 10 Tips For The Perfect Grazing Board Platter
A grazing board is all the fashion these days when it comes to entertaining it seems. Back in the day, we called it a cheese board or a cheese platter, or just dip and nibbles - showing my age! You got some cubes of cheddar, a few slices of cabanossi and crackers. Done.
For me, a grazing board is the same theory as a cheese platter - just a fresh, pimped up version! More than a cheese board, more than a charcuterie board, it's a lovely array of little bites that look so inviting, you don't know what to try first!
On to my tips for creating your own fabulous grazing board!
Surprisingly high in calcium, which is required for healthy bones and teeth and a good source of folate. Red cabbage is richer in vitamin C and protective anthocyanins than the green varieties making them helpful for maintaining skin health and potentially lowering the risk of heart disease.
A rich source of beta-carotene which your body makes into vitamin A, which is important for eye and skin health. The darker in colour the carrot, the more beta-carotene it contains. Carrots are also a good source of potassium – needed to regulate fluid balance in the body – and, like most vegetables, are low in calories. Research shows that cooked carrots are beneficial for your health – cooking aids your absorption of carotenoids.
10 Best Party Dip Recipes
The Super Bowl is right around the corner but these 10 dips have you completely covered for all of your entertaining needs. From slow cooker to stovetop, bacon to french onion dips, you can’t go wrong here. You just can’t.
1. French Onion Dip – Everyone’s favorite French onion soup is transformed into the cheesiest, creamiest dip of all time. One bite and you’ll be hooked. [GET THE RECIPE.]
2. Baked Broccoli Parmesan Dip – The broccoli just makes this healthy and guilt-free, right? [GET THE RECIPE.]
3. Cheesy Bacon Spinach Dip – No one will ever turn down a bacon dip with melted cheese. DUH. [GET THE RECIPE.]
4. Beef Enchilada Dip – This meaty, cheesy enchilada dip comes together in just 15 minutes. Boom. [GET THE RECIPE.]
5. 10 Minute Nacho Cheese – Super easy and completely made from scratch (no Velveeta)! It’s cheesy, sharp, smoky, unbelievably velvety and just SO GOOD. [GET THE RECIPE.]
6. Shrimp Scampi Dip – Shrimp scampi in cheesy, creamy dip form – need I say more? [GET THE RECIPE.]
7. Bacon Corn Dip – You won’t even need the chips here. [GET THE RECIPE.]
8. Restaurant Style Salsa – This chunky, restaurant-style salsa comes together in just 5 minutes with the help of a blender. How easy is that? [GET THE RECIPE.]
9. Crab and Artichoke Dip – Crab. Artichoke. And two types of cheeses. Done. [GET THE RECIPE.]
10. Slow Cooker Spinach and Artichoke Dip – Simply throw everything in the crockpot for the easiest, most effortless spinach and artichoke dip ever. Easy peasy. [GET THE RECIPE.]
Top 10 Holiday Food Safety Tips
Cooks across the country are making plans for holiday feasts that include everyone’s favorite dishes, from cornbread stuffing to pumpkin pie. Friends and families are invited, and excitement is in the air. Food safety is probably not the first thing you think about when planning a holiday dinner. But to keep your gathering from being memorable in the wrong way, it's important to take steps to protect your guests from food-borne illnesses.
While the U.S. food supply is one of the safest in the world, some 76 million people get sick from food-borne illness every year, according to the CDC. And food safety can be a special challenge during the holidays. Not only is it cold and flu season, but the menu may includes more dishes than there is room for in the refrigerator or oven.
"It takes skill, timing and organization to pull off a healthy holiday meal with all the dishes that need to be kept at proper temperature so bacteria won’t have a chance to grow," says food safety expert Missy Cody, PhD, RD, head of the nutrition division at Georgia State University.
Further, most guest lists include people who are especially vulnerable to food borne illness -- older people, young children, pregnant women, or anyone with a compromised immune system. And your menu may include food offerings from friends and relatives that have traveled for hours or have been kept at room temperature for extended time. ("Advise your guests to put piping hot food into a container before they leave home and when they arrive, be sure to refrigerate promptly or reheat to 165 degrees Fahrenheit," says Cody.)
To make sure your holiday dinner is not only delicious but as safe as possible, WebMD asked the experts for their best holiday food safety tips. Here are their top 10 suggestions:
- Have a master plan. Chefs do it, and so should you. Consider your refrigerator, freezer and oven space, and how you'll manage to keep hot foods at 140 degrees or higher and cold foods at 40 degrees or below. If you need to use coolers, make sure you have plenty of clean ice and check it frequently to be sure the ice hasn't melted. "Whatever you do, don’t rely on the natural outdoor temperature on the porch to keep foods at proper temperature" says Cody.
- Cook to proper temperature -- and use a thermometer. There is simply no other way to determine that food has been cooked enough to kill bacteria. "Turkeys, stuffing, side dishes, and all leftovers should be cooked to at least 165 degrees and kept above 140 degrees during serving to be sure that any potential bacteria is destroyed," says Karen Blakeslee, MS, of the Kansas State University Food Science Institute. "Remember the golden rule: Keep hot food hot and cold food cold."
- Refrigerate leftovers within two hours of preparation. Leaving food out too long is one of the biggest holiday food safety problems. "It is so easy to linger around the table, but when food sits outs for more than two hours in the danger zone -- above 40 degrees and below 140 degrees -- it is prime for bacterial growth," says Blakeslee. Adds Cody: "Store leftovers in 2-inch deep, shallow containers and make sure the refrigerator is not over-packed and there is plenty of air circulating around the food so it can be properly cooled." Blakeslee suggests cutting the meat off the turkey to allow it to quickly cool to proper temperature, as well as make it easy to store.
- Properly defrost your turkey, or buy a fresh one. "If you choose a frozen turkey, allocate 24 hours per 5 pounds to defrost in the refrigerator, and whatever you do, don’t defrost the bird on the kitchen counter," says Blakeslee. In light of drought conditions in certain areas of the country, defrosting the bird using frequently changed cold water seems wasteful. But it is safe (albeit time-consuming), as long as you change the cold water bath every 30 minutes.
- Wash your hands thoroughly and often -- before, during, and after food preparation. "Simply washing hands is one of the easiest ways to minimize bacterial contamination and keep your food safe," says Blakeslee. Wash with hot water and soap, up to your wrists and between your fingers, for approximately 20 seconds.
- Wash all fresh produce. Wash even prepackaged greens, to minimize potential bacterial contamination. Make sure kitchen counters, sponges, cutting boards, and knives are all well scrubbed.
- Reheat leftovers to 165degrees. Filling a plate of food and popping it into the microwave for a few minutes may seem safe enough. But, says Cody, you really need to use a thermometer to make sure all the food is reheated enough to kill bacteria. "Microwaves heat in an uneven manner, so let the covered food sit for a minute or two to let the heat destroy any bugs, then check the temperature all around the plate." she recommends.
- Keep guests (and sticky fingers) out of the kitchen. "Holidays occur during cold and flu season, which further compounds the fact that about half of all people have staph aureus bacteria on their fingertips," says Cody. "So it is important to prevent anyone from picking at the food while it is being prepared," She suggests serving simple appetizers to give guest something to nibble on until the meal is ready.
- Serve only pasteurized apple cider. Most juices, including apple cider, are pasteurized to destroy any harmful bacteria. While you can buy unpasteurized juice, it will contain a warning that it can cause serious illness in vulnerable people. "To be on the safe side, serve pasteurized cider at your holiday gatherings," says Blakeslee.
Be egg-stra careful with eggs. Many eggnog recipes call for uncooked eggs, but Marcia Greenblum, RD, MS, of the Egg Nutrition Center says "to be perfectly safe, you need to use pasteurized eggs or cook the eggs yolks lightly with the sugar (recipe below) to be sure you kill any potential salmonella bacteria." She also advises that eggs be kept refrigerated until ready for use and always cook egg products to 160 degrees. See below for a recipe for cooked eggnog.
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic members: Journal one serving as 1 cup 1% milk.
1 quart 1% milk, divided
- In large saucepan, beat together eggs, sugar and salt, if desired.
- Stir in 2 cups of the milk. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is thick enough to coat a metal spoon with a thin film and reaches at least 160 degrees.
- Remove from heat. Stir in remaining 2 cups milk, and vanilla.
- Cover and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, several hours or overnight. Just before serving, pour into bowl or pitcher.
- Garnish with nutmeg, if desired. Serve immediately.
Per serving: 88 calories, 3 g total fat, 1 g saturated fat, 29 calories from fat, 110 mg cholesterol, 119 mg sodium, 154 mg potassium, 9 g carbohydrate, 6 g protein.
Recipe reprinted with permission from the American Egg Board.
SOURCES: Marcia Greenblum, MS, RD, director, nutrition and food safety, Egg Nutrition Center. Missy Cody, PhD, RD, head of the Division of Nutrition, Georgia State University. Karen Blakeslee, MS, food scientist, Food Science Institute, Kansas State University. CDC. Partnership for Food Safety Education web site: "Safe Food Handling."
Top 10 tips for creating a dinner party menu
People often tell me they think the most difficult part of entertaining is determining what to serve. Growing up in a household with dinner parties once a week – sometimes even more often! – I learned a lot from my mom, the consummate hostess. Over the years, I’ve honed my techniques, learned from others, and also learned from my own mistakes. I often get asked to provide guidance for putting together a dinner party menu – what dishes to pare together. Here are my top 10 tips:
- First and foremost . . . don’t stretch yourself. Delicious over impressive works every time.
- Determine the theme (if any) and tone of the party – casual, elegant, French, Mexican, etc. Use that as a guide to put together your menu.
- Think about the setting – buffet or plated? Will guests sitting around a table or on chairs and couches – or standing? If at a table, will platters/bowls of dishes be passed at the table? Don’t serve a dish that’s complicated to eat based on the setting. Nobody likes to cut a big steak with a plate balanced on his/her lap. My rule is if people are not sitting at a table, I serve food that doesn’t require a knife, just a fork.
- Politely ask in advance if guests have any dietary restrictions. There are ways to work around every need and request.
- In general, a dinner party menu should include:
- Appetizers – I usually keep them on the lighter side – one hot, one cold at most sometimes just one and a bowl of nuts or chips
- Main dish
- Two side dishes (one vegetable, one potato/rice/grain, or sometimes two vegetables)
- Depending on the tone of your party and/or the richness of the main dish, I often add a first course of a light soup or salad. Salad can also be a side dish, just make sure you have enough room on the table for salad plates/bowls along side your dinner plate if serving it that way
You will find more entertaining inspiration in our Menus section. Here is an example of one of my favorite menus to serve (all the recipes are in our cookbook, A Well-Seasoned Kitchen ® ):
Top 10 tips for a stress-free Christmas
C hristmas Eve is on a Monday this year which is about as inconvenient as you can get for food shopping. My guess is that most shops will be open over the weekend but anyone leaving everything till the Monday morning is asking for trouble. The only answer is to get organised well in advance. Here is a checklist of things to do NOW rather than in the 48 hours before the feast. Don't say you weren't warned.
1 Start tasting now
Start now, rather than on 23 December, to find your favourite smoked salmon or trout. Taste everything you can, bearing in mind that each smokehouse uses a slightly different recipe. The smoking time and the wood over which it is cured will all leave their mark on the fish and give a subtly different flavour. Now that so many sides of smoked salmon come ready packed it is almost impossible to get tastings in the way you can with ham or cheeses, so buy the smallest amount of each over the next few weeks and keep a note of which ones you like best. Then get your order in as quickly as possible.
2 Buy the pudding
I can eat this fruit-laden plum pud at any time of year, rain or shine, but it has to be said there are some seriously disappointing versions about. The more organised cooks will have made theirs already, but truth told, most people still buy them ready-made. There is little reason not to as there are some expertly made ones on the market. Devotees of a lighter pudding, more deep gold than black might like to keep an eye open for The Carved Angel Christmas Pudding made to Eliza Acton's recipe and one of the best I have come across. Those who prefer a darker recipe should pick up one from the Village Bakery in Melmerby. Both are available by mail order.
3 Bake the cake
Even if you cannot bear the thought of messing around with marzipan and icing you will probably enjoy making the cake itself. You basically throw all the ingredients together. It sounds off-putting because of the length of the ingredient list and a cooking time that is measured in hours rather minutes. Yet when all is said and done nothing is simpler than making your own. Now is the time to make your Christmas cake in order to give it time to mature. So get out the baking tins and the brown paper and fill the kitchen with the second best cooking smell of all (the first being toast).
4 Get stuffing
As the Christmas meal is so important it is essential that nothing should go wrong. Why? Because if it does no one will ever let you forget it, bringing up your little misdemeanour for the next 10 Christmases. So now is the time to check out your recipes and make certain they are the right ones. Try out a few recipes for stuffing the bird till you find the perfect one.
5 Pot up your mincemeat
One of the best bits of Christmas has to be the mince pies, and the home-made versions are better than anything you will find in the shops. Mincemeat is not difficult to make, especially if you use ready-made suet. Dig out the old Constance Spry Cookbook or whatever recipe you use and get it potted up ready for those scrummy little tartlets. And if you are not going to make your own, then now's the time to stock up on the ready-made brands.
6 Check the cheese
You do not want to be left hunting for a decent Stilton or Vacherin at the eleventh hour. By giving the subject a little thought now you can make certain that your fromage is &agreve point. Place an order with your local cheesemonger or somewhere that does mail order. Most cheese shops are set up to send even smaller pieces by post just don't expect them to thank you for phoning 24 hours before the feast. You do not want to present some over-chilled supermarket offering for those who say no to pudding.
7 Get the goodies in
Many of the sweet bits and bobs that get passed round at Christmas will come to no harm on the shelf for a few weeks and they can be bought now rather than in the last-minute scramble. Think Turkish Delight, those oblong-shaped packs of sticky dates, sugared almonds, sugared fruit jellies, marrons glacé, panettone, hazelnuts, brazil nuts, walnuts, crystallised fruits, orange peel dipped in chocolate, whole candied peel and the kids' selection boxes.
8 Mail order
Christmas catalogues have been coming through the door thick and fast. In the past I have always been impressed with any food I have ordered via mail order. Anything you are planning to buy this way should be ordered now. That even means the fresh provisions such as poultry, cheeses, cakes and bread. The earlier you order the more chance you have of getting what you want.
9 Get the bird
Whatever bird you are having it is worth talking to your butcher or game dealer about it now. Turkey is easier, but anyone having a fancy for goose, duck, capon or our more unusual feathered friends shouldn't take any chances. The point is to avoid both disappointment and a queue. Most butchers will expect you to get your wish-list in at least a week before - that way you just produce your crumpled raffle ticket from the depths of your purse to claim your chosen bird rather than fighting at the counter.
10 and don't forget.
. tin foil, clingfilm, string, muslin (for cooking the pudding), greaseproof paper, lemons, cream, brandy butter, chestnuts, parsnips, crackers, champagne, that extra special wine to have with the turkey, icing sugar, clementines and liqueur chocolates for Gran.
Cooking with kids at Christmas: top 10 tips
Children can get wildly enthusiastic about cooking any time of the year. So add a Christmas theme to the mix and you may start to wonder why you ever let your energetic, highly spirited children loose in the kitchen… But if you do a bit of preparation and follow these pointers, you’ll be one step ahead. So relax, enjoy it and maybe you’ll even be willing to do it again next year.
Find the right Christmas recipe
Think about your child’s age and ability when picking a recipe an almost no-cook option such as salted peanut and honeycomb rocky road, straight-up easy mince pies, little-hand-friendly chocolate truffles, or for the more advanced, Christmas advent biscuits. Once you’ve narrowed down a few options ask which one your child wants to make so they’re involved from the get-go.
Stock up on sprinkles
Children often find decorating the most fun part of cooking, so remember to load your decorating arsenal (if you’re short on time skip the cooking bit altogether and just decorate rich tea biscuits). Chocolate chips become snowman eyes, while icing sugar snow, red and green writing icing, festive coloured sprinkles and star cutters all help to create edible Christmas magic. Take care not to use anything that could be considered a choking hazard, though.
Allow heaps of time
Factor in extra time and then some. Weekends are a great time to cook with kids, as you can set aside a few hours to really give it your all: dig out Christmas decorations, put on some Christmas carols and channel your inner calm, creative Mary Berry.
Get out all the equipment you’ll be using in advance. If your child is five-years-old or more, they’ll probably benefit from the maths side of weighing and measuring out ingredients. If you’re cooking with younger kids then prepare all your ingredients in advance to avoid boredom and knocked over bags of flour.
Safety and hygiene
It’s a good time to teach kids about why we wash our hands before, during and after handling food, why we keep workspaces clean, tie back long hair and don’t pick our nose.
If your child needs to stand on a chair to reach a work surface, then make sure it’s rock solid stable. Talk about hot ovens and hobs, steam coming out of the kettle, why only adults should use knives and put a stack of teaspoons in a mug to encourage hygienic tasting over general licking.
Give kids precise things to do and let them get it wrong
Read through the method and assign kids tasks. Things like tapping a sieve over a bowl or using cookie cutters help develop hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills. Let them get it wrong and have another go, even though it can be excruciating to watch. That’s to say, don’t be tempted to intervene and do it all yourself. For kids that can read you can get them to read out the method to the tune of Good King Wenceslas.
Talk about where ingredients come from
Cooking is a great opportunity to teach your kids about where food comes from, before it reaches the supermarket. It’s also an opportunity to practice a variety of animal noises in the middle of your Christmas carols.
You can be a bit proactive about this: putting newspaper on the floor, covering your recipe book in clingfilm or putting a printed out recipe in a plastic sleeve, wear aprons or dress everyone in old clothes.
But mess is inevitable, it’s best dealt with at the end, and everyone should muck in. A reminder that Father Christmas only brings presents to helpful children can come in useful here.
Remember to praise
Your child might be doing something incredibly easy, but it could be their first time doing it, and for them it’s probably not as easy as it looks. So remember to say well done and ‘ooh lovely’, smile and nod.
The end product won’t look much like the glossy magazine photo, but whatever your kid has made it’s their special creation and they’ll be so chuffed to hear you’re impressed with their efforts.
Take time to enjoy what you’ve made
Make a lovely fuss and take time to create a special setting to enjoy what you’ve made set the table with Christmas decorations, switch on the Christmas tree lights, take a photo, invite granny over, the neighbours, cuddly toys.
12 Fresh Homemade Pasta Recipes
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Top 10 Best Last-Minute Christmas Desserts
Christmas bring us an obligation to have a perfect dinner table and the table is not perfect at all without a delicious dessert. But, we always have less time than we usually need for preparing everything like we have wished. So, we did a little researching and we found thousands of fast and easy ways to make a fantastic desserts and there are many recipes for different kinds of pies, cheesecakes, bars, tarts, cookies, brownies and many more. Here is the perfect list that we prepared especially for you: top 10 best last-minute Christmas Dessert ideas. Come on, try and make some of these recipes and forget about the problems that you had earlier because everyone will be delighted and of course, no one will notice that these are last-minute festive desserts! Enjoy!
Choc-Honeycomb Ice-Cream Cake
Recipe via taste.com.au
Strawberry Santa Clause
Recipe via stayathomemum.com.au
Impossibly Easy Grasshopper Cheesecake
Recipe via bettycrocker.com
Candy Cane Brownies
Recipe via canadianliving.com
No-Bake Peanut Butter Chocolate Squares
Recipe via lovemaegan.com
Nutella Pastry Cookies
Recipe via cookiesandcups.com
Raspberry Tuxedo Mini Cheesecakes
Recipe via nlrockrecipes.com
Sopapilla Cheesecake Bars
Recipe via bunsinmyoven.com
Raspberry and Almond Tart
Recipe via bloglovin.com
Easy Pumpkin Rolls
Recipe via recipeideas.lolpixie.com
Because the dough is so thin, ravioli take only 1-2 minutes to cook in ample boiling salted water. If you cook them for too long, they may start leaking and the pasta will become too soft (no longer al dente).
When draining the ravioli, be careful not to break them. For this reason, I prefer to lift the ravioli out with a strainer and gently lower them into the sauce rather than using a colander. However, this method is only suitable if you work quickly and for a limited amount of ravioli, as otherwise the ravioli will overcook while you are fishing them out of the pot.