Variations on a theme: creative tips for using cream cheese and whipped cream

All cheeses taste better served unchilled, except for soft, unripened cheeses such as cottage cheese or cream cheese. It usually takes 20 minutes to an hour at room temperature to bring out the rich, distinctive flavor and texture.

Fold a condiment such as prepared mustard or horseradish into whipped cream cheese to create a delicious accompaniment for meats. This type of flavored cream cheese tastes especially good with roast beef or cold meats such as corned beef and ham.

Mix small canned shrimp, chopped celery, and seasoned salt into cream cheese to serve on crackers, bread sticks, or finger sandwiches.

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You can make a festive, light frosting for a cake with whipped cream stabilized with gelatin. Soften 1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin in 1/4 cup cold water. Heat mixture to dissolve gelatin. As it cools, whip 1 cup whipping cream and sweeten to taste.

Fold cooled gelatin mixture into cream to make enough icing for a two-layer cake. Refrigerate frosted cake until time to serve.

To keep eggnog cold in the punch bowl, float a ring of frozen eggnog. Fruit garnishes frozen into the mold add a bright touch. Place the pieces of fruit and carefully add eggnog to cover; freeze. Then fill mold with eggnog and freeze.

Whipped cream can come in more than the basic flavor. Make Chocolate Whipped Cream for dessert crepes, waffles, or chocolate milk shakes. Stir 2 tablespoons each of cocoa and confectioners' sugar into 1 cup whipping cream. Chill 30 minutes. Whip until stiff. Fold in 1/2 teaspoon each almond and vanilla extract. Yields 2 cups.

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