CULINARY CHRISTMAS: Caterers teach how to make gifts that are edible and unforgettable

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Pam Cooley dips into a butter candle alongside Candy Adkins of Greenfield, who attended Cooley’s workshop on holiday cooking and gift-giving at the Hancock Public Library.

NEW PALESTINE — ’Tis the season to give and receive yummy gifts.

Local caterer Pam Cooley taught how to do just that at a pair of holiday workshops Dec. 5 at the Hancock County Library’s Sugar Creek branch.

Cooley and her son, Aaron Zych — who helps run Culinary Adventures with Pam — gave step-by-step tutorials on how to create everything from gingerbread play-dough to chocolate-covered wine bottles, as well as appetizers and desserts.

“Who doesn’t love to receive something yummy at the holidays,” said Cooley as she shared tips on making a variety of gifts during two one-hour workshops.

Anyone can run to the store and pick up a present, she said, but taking the time to create something edible is a sure way to make your gift stand apart.

Zych showed the crowd a loaf of beer bread shaped like a gingerbread man, with a side of homemade whipped honey butter.

S’mores caramel popcorn and chocolate peppermint whoopie pies were also on the list of homemade treats in the recipe booklet guests got to take home.

At the end of the session, they got the chance to sample a number of the recipes themselves.

“This is just fantastic,” said Candy Adkins of Greenfield as she dipped a cracker into a lighted butter candle Cooley had made.

“I want to try making one of those,” said Adkins, who sported a festive holiday sweater for Tuesday’s event.

In addition to gifts, Cooley and her son also shared how to make impressive appetizers for holiday gatherings, like maple caramel bacon bites and red velvet banana bread.

They also shared tips on how to package homemade edible gifts in festive ways, like gifting peanut butter fudge molded within cookie cutters topped with a festive bow.

“You get points for presentation,” said Zych, who said you don’t have to spend a lot to make gifts look festive.

“We’re very frugal,” chimed in his mom, who said they often shop at Dollar Tree and Walmart for simple yet attractive bowls, boxes and bows.

Cooley is also a big fan of shopping at thrift stores for second-hand serving dishes and glassware, which she said are perfect for gift giving or entertaining at home.

“It’s cool to think that these beautiful glasses once belonged to someone’s grandmother,” said Cooley as she held up a single serving of charcuterie inside a wine glass.

Charcuterie and butter boards were among the list of things she and her son suggested serving for holiday parties.

“Who doesn’t love a good charcuterie board,” asked Zych as he showed guests a platter of meats and cheeses arranged in the shape of a Christmas tree.

His mom showed the audience how to create eye-catching roses out of salami by folding six or seven round pieces over the edge of a ramekin or other small dish.

Butter boards and butter candles are also great for entertaining, she said.

“Just add a variety of herbs and spices and spread it onto a board, then surround it with bits of cracker and bread,” she explained.

To create a butter candle, Cooley suggested packing flavored butter into a paper cup and inserting a food-safe wick in the center before freezing, then peeling off the cup when ready to light and serve. Guests can dip bread or crackers right into the melting candle, she said.

She and her son also shared tips on how to make mulled wine, including a list of spices which can be packaged and attached to a bottle of wine as a gift.

Zych shared tips on how to make cranberry-orange mulled wine in a crockpot with a mixture of red wine, orange juice, cranberries and species.

“It’s not only delicious but it makes your house smell amazing,” he said.

Cooley said cooking for the holidays has always been a family affair, since all six kids in her blended family help with her catering businesses.

“They all started out up on my counter learning how to crack eggs before they could hardly walk, so cooking for the holidays has always been a family tradition for us,” she said.