Cheese-Stuffed Pepper Christmas Tree

This festive kale tree decked with cheese-stuffed mini chile pepper lights is the perfect centerpiece for your next holiday party. Your guests can help themselves to the chile peppers with a quick tug of a bow.
  • Level: Intermediate
  • Total: 1 hr 15 min
  • Active: 1 hr 15 min
  • Yield: 20 peppers
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Ingredients

8 cups popped popcorn

20 multicolored mini sweet peppers with stems (about 1 pound) 

1 pound chevre goat cheese, at room temperature

4 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, chopped

1 clove garlic, finely grated

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 large bunches curly kale, such as red Russian, stems trimmed flush with the leaves

Directions

Special equipment:
one 10-foot-long piece unflavored, unwaxed dental floss; a sewing needle; a chopstick; a pastry bag fitted with an 1/8-inch round tip, 30 feet of narrow decorative holiday ribbon, such as curly ribbon (1/2 inch wide); one 12-foot-long piece of wider decorative holiday ribbon (less than 1 inch wide); one 24-by-6-inch Styrofoam cone; a gold foil-covered 12-inch cake round
  1. For the popcorn garland: Thread 10 feet of unflavored, unwaxed dental floss through a sewing needle. Knot one end of the floss. Thread the needle through the softer part of each piece of popcorn, avoiding the harder shell. (Threading through the shell may cause the popcorn to break.) Slip off the needle and knot the other end of the floss to make a popcorn string.
  2. For the pepper garland: Poke a hole in one side of a pepper with a chopstick about 1/2 inch from the stem end, taking care not to pierce through the other side of the pepper. Twist the stick to slightly widen the hole. Repeat with the remaining peppers.
  3. Mix together the goat cheese, thyme, garlic, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a medium bowl until combined. Transfer to a pastry bag fitted with an 1/8-inch round tip. Carefully pipe the cheese filling into each pepper through the hole; do not overstuff the peppers or they may split. Refrigerate until ready to use. (This step can be done a day ahead.)
  4. Separate the kale into small, medium and large leaves. Using the largest leaves, start at the bottom of a 24-by-6-inch Styrofoam cone and begin to cover the cone with the leaves stem-end up. Overlap each leaf slightly and secure with a toothpick through the widest part of the stem, leaving about 1/2 inch of the toothpick showing. Work your way up the cone in rows, going from the larger leaves to the smaller leaves and overlapping the leaves and rows slightly, until only about 1 row of the cone remains exposed. To make the last row, position the kale leaves stem-end down, forming the top of the tree and covering the tip of the cone. Cover any thin areas or exposed Styrofoam with the remaining leaves. Chill until ready to decorate. 
  5. Cut twenty 18-inch-long pieces of narrow decorative ribbon. Tie each piece around the stem of a pepper in a secure knot. 
  6. Wind a 12-foot-piece of wider decorative ribbon around the tree, starting at the bottom and working your way up. Attach a pepper to the wider ribbon on the tree using the narrow ribbon to tie a decorative bow, so the pepper dangles from the wider ribbon (it should be secure but also be easy to untie and remove). Continue with the remaining peppers, spacing them about 6 inches apart on the wider ribbon. As you're working, hook each pepper bow to a toothpick end for support, adding additional toothpicks if necessary, until the tree is covered on all sides with the peppers. Decorate with the popcorn strand. Carefully transfer to a gold foil-covered 12-inch cake plate. 

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