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La Vie Piquant

La vie piquant—the spicy life!  Everyday is filled with “piquant” moments that are pleasantly stimulation of exciting to the mind.  Whether it is in the form of food, style, design, love, entertaining, or any other inspiring idea or tangible object, “it” should be celebrated!  Here I will be sharing with you simple, beautiful, realistic, doable, and truly re-creatable recipes, entertaining ideas, and home décor pizzazz that will help you interject a little bit of “piquant” into your life – after all, we only live once.  Join me in living la vie piquant!

Buttery Pinwheels

Marc J. Sievers

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Baking with frozen puff pastry doesn’t have to be intimidating! By working carefully, you can make the most of every delicious, flaky layer of this delicate but satisfying freezer staple. My elegant Buttery Pinwheels, crisp and fresh from the oven, can be served at breakfast with jam, at lunch with fresh fruit and a green salad, or at dinner with salted butter.   

They are also perfect to make ahead for entertaining a crowd! Just assemble, refrigerate and bake right before your guests arrive.  Or you can even bake them ahead of time, store them for up to two days in an air-tight container and re-crisp them on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper in a 350 degree oven for 5 minutes – et voila! Watch my video below as I show you step by step how to make these beautiful pinwheels yourself. It’s easier than you think!

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Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.   

  2. In a small bowl, beat 1 egg with 1 tablespoon of water and set aside.  Place 1 sheet of thawed puff pastry onto the baking sheet.  

  3. Cut the pastry into 4 individual squares.  For each square, use a paring knife to cut from each corner toward the center, stopping 1-inch from the center.   

  4. You will have a 1-inch circle in the center of each square, and all of the corners will be cut in half.  To create each pinwheel, lift one half of a corner and fold the point toward the center of the square.  Continuing around the square, fold each of the three remaining corner points toward the center of the square, and gently press all 4 points together to form a pinwheel shape.   

  5. Brush the dough with the beaten egg.  Bake for 16 – 18 minutes, until the pinwheels are puffed and golden brown.

Tip: Before baking, you can sprinkle a bit of Parmesan or Gruyere cheese onto each pinwheel and serve these with a glass of wine or champagne as a fabulous hors d’oeuvre!

Fresh Fruit & Yogurt Platter

Marc J. Sievers

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Who says that entertaining has to be confined to evenings?  I find that low-key morning gatherings for breakfast or brunch are a great way to catch up (and spill the T—not literally!) with friends, but still allows for everyone to have the rest of the afternoon to themselves. Breakfast entertaining should be just as easy and fun as a cocktail party, while being no less delicious!  My Fresh Fruit & Yogurt Platter is a beautiful showstopper that is light, layered with flavor, and quick to assemble.  

Perfect for any time of the year, this delicately sweet dish is made with a variety of berries, but you can switch up the fruit and play around with the color palette—add slices of kiwi and honeydew for fresh green, or slices of pineapple and mango.  Choose what is in season and highlight the freshness and full flavors of the berries, melons, and tree fruits that are perfectly ripe. Serve with your favorite coffee, tea, or fresh-squeezed juices.  This platter also makes for a simple and gorgeous breakfast meal for an overnight house guest.  A fabulous way to start off your day.  Enjoy!  

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Fresh Fruit and Yogurt Platter (serves 6)

 Ingredients 

  • Sweetened Shredded Coconut – ¼ cup

  • Greek Yogurt – 32 ounces, plain

  • Vanilla – ½ teaspoon, pure extract

  • Cinnamon – ½ teaspoon

  • Maple Syrup – 3 tablespoons, Grade A

  • Honey – 3 tablespoons

  • Orange Zest – 1 tablespoon

  • Sea Salt – ¼ teaspoon

  • Granola – 3 cups, favorite store-bought brand

  • Blackberries – 1 cup

  • Raspberries – 1 cup

Directions 

  1. In a medium sauté pan set over medium heat, add the coconut and cook for 3-5 minutes until lightly toasted, tossing occasionally.  Set aside. 

  2. Next, in a large bowl, add the yogurt, vanilla, cinnamon, maple syrup, honey, orange zest, and salt.  Whisk until combined. 

  3. Lastly, spoon the yogurt onto a large platter or low shallow bowl.  Arrange the granola, blackberries, and raspberries over the top.  Sprinkle with toasted coconut.  Serve immediately.

 

Tip:  You can prepare the yogurt up to two days in advance and store it in the mixing bowl, covered with plastic wrap, and set in the refrigerator. 


Gruyère Fondue

Marc J. Sievers

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Back in the 1970’s fondue was all the rage, with bubbling fondue pots being the star at many a chic get-together around the country. While no longer the fad du jour it used to be, I happen to think that an old-fashioned, cozy fondue party is a fabulous way to gather with friends in the middle of a long, cold winter!

My fondue is simple to make; you don’t need any special equipment- just a heavy-bottomed, heat-proof pan that you can set over a small candle or a sterno can. Fondue is traditionally served with a crusty bread, but I also love to pair it with a medley of perfectly roasted potatoes. Did you also know that you can prepare fondue in advance? You can store it in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to three days and reheat in a pan with a few splashes of white wine or heavy cream just before serving. This dish is comfort food and a soirée starter all in one. Add a bottle (or two) of a bold red wine, a big green salad with my French Bistro Vinaigrette, really fun friends and you’re all set!

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Gruyère Fondue

Ingredients (serves 6)

  • Gruyere – 14 ounces, freshly grated

  • Fontina – 3 ounces – freshly grated

  • Flour – 2 tablespoons, all-purpose

  • Butter – 2 tablespoons, unsalted

  • Shallots – ¾ cup, ¼” diced

  • Thyme – 1 teaspoon, finely minced, fresh

  • Garlic – 4 cloves, thinly sliced

  • Nutmeg – ⅛ teaspoon, freshly grated

  • Sea Salt – ¾ teaspoon

  • Black Pepper – 1 teaspoon, freshly cracked

  • White Wine – 1 ½ cups, Chardonnay recommended

Directions

  1. In a large bowl, combine both cheeses and the flour and toss to coat.  Set aside. 

  2. Next, in a medium heavy-bottomed pot set over medium heat, add the butter.  Once hot add the shallots and thyme and cook for 3-5 minutes stirring occasionally until the shallots are translucent.  Add the garlic, nutmeg, salt, and pepper, and cook for 60 seconds, being careful not to burn the garlic. 

  3. Pour in the wine and allow it to come to a boil. 

  4. Finally, add the cheese mixture in small handfuls and whisk briskly until smooth before adding in more cheese.  Repeat this step until all of the cheese has been added.  

  5. Transfer the fondue to a heat-proof pan set over a candle or sterno can to keep warm and serve immediately.  If the fondue gets a little thick as it sits, add a splash of wine.


    A Few Tips to Keep in Mind

  • Make sure to measure the cheese after cutting away the rind for the most accurate measurement.

  • I like to garnish the fondue with a sprig of fresh thyme and a few of the leaves for a simple, but beautiful presentation.


The “Fluffy Henderson” Cosmopolitan

Marc J. Sievers

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While a certain show made the “Cosmo” the libation of the early 2000s, it should be in everyone’s repertoire as a classic cocktail perfect for any celebration. I amped up the festive factor with a delicious rim of confectioner’s sugar that adds a layer of delicate sweetness. Not only is it easy to make at home (everything goes into a shaker!), it requires just a few simple but really good ingredients. Check out my video below to watch me re-create this iconic cocktail and hear the hilarious story of how it got its name!

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Watch my YouTube video: Fluffy Henderson Cosmopolitan

The “Fluffy Henderson” Cosmopolitan

Ingredients (Makes 1 cocktail, expand as needed)

  • Confectioners Sugar – ¼ cup

  • Lime Juice – ¾ ounces, freshly squeezed, plus more for rimming glass

  • Triple Sec – ¾ ounce, Cointreau recommended

  • Vodka - 2 ounces

  • Cranberry Juice – ¼ ounce

Directions

  1. Pour the confectioner’s sugar onto a small plate.  On another small plate, pour just enough lime juice to coat the bottom of the plate.  Place the rim of a martini glass into the lime juice then directly into the confectioner’s sugar, gently rolling it to cover the rim. 

  2. Place the coated rim onto a piece of parchment paper and allow dry for 20 minutes. 

  3. Next, fill a shaker with ice and add the lime juice, Triple Sec, vodka, and cranberry juice.   

  4. Shake for 30-60 seconds.

  5. Strain the cocktail into the prepared martini glass and serve immediately.

Idea: I love making big batches of these for a party!  You can rim glasses up to 3 hours in advance and allow to dry.  Fill a glass pitcher with the cocktail ingredients and let it sit in the refrigerator.  Then when a guest needs a cocktail, simply fill a shaker with ice, fill the shaker, shake, and serve.  Making cocktails at home has never been so easy!


Soirée-Sized Cheese Boxes

Marc J. Sievers

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One of the things that I love most with both cooking and entertaining is taking a classic idea and giving it a modern twist! I like to have a cheese plate ready to greet my guests at a party, but I wanted to tweak it a bit this season to make it more special for the holidays. My Soirée-Sized Cheese Boxes are a perfect companion to a glass of bubbles!

Of course, the best part about a traditional cheese board is that it is an easy, no-cook, delicious mix of flavors and textures: hard and soft cheeses, crackers, dried and fresh fruit and sometimes, a little sweetness, like a high-quality dark chocolate (all available at your favorite grocery store!). Think of my Soirée-Sized Cheese Boxes as a chic, updated version of the cheese plate that will wow your family and friends this holiday. You know what’s even better? They can be assembled in advance and kept in the refrigerator!

There’s no rhyme or reason in building these little boxes, so be creative and think about what your guests would love to nibble on as they arrive as well as what would make the most sophisticated presentation.  I started with these adorable and stylish boxes that are available online. I like to use grapes as a base to give some height and to serve as a sweet foundation. Next, layer in other ingredients, like dried apricots and figs, crackers and flatbreads, nuts and cheeses. You can use anything that has great flavor and will complement each other. This a great opportunity to try something new! To round out the boxes I have here, I included two hard cheeses; Pepper Jack and Gruyere, as I am able to cut them into strong geometric forms, and they will keep their shape while in the box. I presented the boxes in an acrylic tray, accented with a bed of beautiful greenery that I also found at my favorite grocery store. It’s simple and sets an elegant tone for the evening.

I love the idea of these boxes as edible and elegant versions of party favors that will be sure to be the life of your holiday soirée!

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Watch my YouTube Video: Soirée-Sized Cheese Boxes

 A Few Simple Tips to Arrange the Boxes

  • If you use a dried fruit with a stem, like the figs I have used here, be sure to remove the stems before placing inside the box.

  • Keep in mind that your guests will eat with their eyes first, so vary the height of the ingredients inside the box. You can use a hard cheese to provide the perfect vertical element for visual interest.

  • Add a fresh sprig of Rosemary or Thyme to each box for a little bit of green for an extra festive (and aromatic!) touch!


Copper Holiday Centerpiece

Marc J. Sievers

While you are planning your holiday soirée, remember the flowers! An earthy and elegant arrangement makes for the perfect centerpiece. I love the rustic charm of a small copper pot as the vessel for a French-inspired collection of roses and greenery, which creates an arrangement that is sophisticated and does not overwhelm the table.

The best part is that all of the fabulous flowers (and herbs!) can be found at most grocery stores. While you are out picking up a few last-minute ingredients, you can also bring home simple florals to recreate this arrangement. I used red roses, spray roses, seeded eucalyptus, and rosemary for this holiday-themed bouquet. To make the arrangement, use small pieces of floral foam that fit snuggly into the container to help stabilize the bouquet. Also, throughout the year, keep an eye out for interesting vessels to hold your other arrangements, like vintage copper pans, porcelain, and glass vases of varying sizes. Florals do not have to be complicated, so be creative and experiment with different blooms and containers. You can adapt them for any season or occasion!

 
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 A Few Simple Tips to Create an Arrangement

  • Fill a deep bowl or stock pot with warm water and place a piece of floral foam on top of the water, letting it fully submerge on its own. This is the best way to ensure it absorbs as much water as possible.

  • To help your arranging go more quickly, organize your florals and remove any undesirable petals, stems, or leaves prior to assembling the arrangement.

  • Cut the stems of the roses on the diagonal to allow the blooms to take in more water while in the arrangement.

  • Add the rosemary the day of your soirée to be sure it is fresh and vibrant in the arrangement. Also, be sure to shave off the tough outer bark at the base of the stem, and slice the stem up the center so that it can take in water more easily.

  • I like mixing spray roses and regular roses together in the same color. This adds contrast and visual interest from every vantage point around the table while maintaining a sophisticated look with a unified color palate.

A Modern Thanksgiving Menu

Marc J. Sievers

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My absolute favorite thing about Thanksgiving is that it’s a holiday all about family, friends and FOOD! Gathering everyone around the table for a fabulous meal is the perfect way to catch up and enjoy the start of the holiday season. While you could go the traditional route and labor over a turkey and stuffing, why not amp up the luxe factor with my take on a modern Thanksgiving dinner?

My Apple and Herb Wellington can be assembled the day before and be baking away in the oven as your guests arrive. Pair it with my Simple Green Salad with French Bistro Vinaigrette. Your home will smell amazing and you will be free to greet everyone with my Fried Blue Cheese Olives and a lovely glass of wine! Save the best for last with my Pumpkin Spice Trifle, a fall-centric version of the traditional English dessert.

Need a refresher on the perfect presentation? Be sure to check out my tips how to set a Thanksgiving table. The full, delicious menu is below. Happy Thanksgiving!  

 

 

A Spooktacular Table

Marc J. Sievers

Recently I returned to the WGN Studios in Chicago for a SPOOKtactuar segment on creating a tablescape perfect for a Halloween soirée!  Don’t let the word “tablescape” scare you, it is easy to re-create this over-the-top look at home with just a quick trip to your grocery store and a few clicks online.  Even my Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting and my Orange Creamsicle Martini use basic everyday ingredients, but have a WOW! factor.  Here are more BOOtiful Halloween ideas and below I’ve included the clip to my Halloween segment on WGN. 

There is also a fabulous contest on my homepage - happy trick or treating!

WATCH: WGN Chicago


Pomegranate Guacamole

Marc J. Sievers

A few weeks ago I mentioned I had been in the kitchen testing guacamole recipes and I just had to share my Pomegranate Guacamole recipe with you (how could I keep this from you?)! This classic recipe with a MJS twist is bursting with fresh basil, red onion, and juicy pomegranate seeds. I love serving this dip on a long rectangular platter with pomegranate seeds casually strewn over the top. Not only is it delicious, but I love the drama of the contrasting colors!


Pomegranate Guacamole

Ingredients (makes 3 cups)

  • Lime Juice – 1 small lime, fresh

  • Hass Avocados – 3 ripe, pitted, flesh removed

  • Red Onion – ½ cup, ¼-inch diced

  • Basil – ½ cup, finely chopped

  • Sea Salt – 1½ teaspoons

  • Black Pepper – 1 teaspoon, freshly cracked

  • Pomegranate Seeds – ¾ cup

Directions

  1. In a large bowl, add the freshly-squeezed lime juice and avocados.

  2. Using two sharp knives in a crisscross action, slice through the avocados in the bowl until they are finely diced but still have some texture.

  3. Add the red onion, basil, salt, and pepper, and gently toss.

  4. Lastly, garnish with pomegranate seeds.


Green Apple Guacamole

Marc J. Sievers

I don’t know about you, but I have been eating guacamole all summer long! The past few months I have been testing guacamole recipes with different ingredients, flavors, and textures to give this classic dip an MJS twist. My Green Apple Guacamole is filled with crunchy green apples, spicy green onion, and of course creamy Hass avocados. As it turns out, green apples not only add fabulous crunch, but also a little bit of tartness that really cuts through the richness of the avocados. A classic, updated - enjoy!


Green Apple Guacamole

Ingredients (makes 3 cups)

  • Lime Juice – 1 small lime, fresh

  • Hass Avocados – 3 ripe, pitted, flesh removed

  • Granny Smith Apple – 2 large, cored, ¼-inch diced

  • Jalapeño – 1 small, fresh, seeded, finely diced

  • Green Onion – ½ cup, thinly sliced, white and green parts

  • Parsley – ½ cup, finely minced, Italian flat leaf variety

  • Sea Salt – 1½ teaspoons

  • Black Pepper – 1 teaspoon, freshly cracked

Directions

  1. In a large bowl, add the freshly-squeezed lime juice and avocados.

  2. Using two sharp knives in a crisscross action, slice through the avocados in the bowl until they are finely diced but still have some texture.

  3. Lastly, add the remaining ingredients and gently toss.


Al Fresco Entertaining

Marc J. Sievers

Hosting an al fresco soirée is one of my favorite things to do when the weather is just too beautiful to stay indoors.  For this years Le Dîner en Blanc Chicago I partnered with Caspari to create the ultimate, portable tablescape perfect for an all-white dinner outside!  Below I have included detailed images, my WGN News segment, and shoppable links (all from behind the scenes!) so you can easily recreate my tablescape for yourself at home or on-location!

Watch: WGN News Segment featuring Caspari and Le Dîner en Blanc 


Store-Bought Food

Baguette
Olives
Cashews
S&P Potato Chips
Peppadews
Rosé
Champagne
Sparkling Water



Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

Marc J. Sievers

The old saying, "I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream!" is exactly what you will be shouting from rooftops once you make my incredibly luxurious (yet so easy) Vanilla Bean Ice Cream!  There are some recipes that use a handful of really good, flavorful, and fresh ingredients, that result in what I call "heritage recipes." These recipes embody the essence of home cooking and will make an appearance at your table for decades to come.  My ice cream recipe certainly falls into that category!  It uses just four ingredients, takes only minutes to assemble, and is the epitome of what vanilla bean ice cream should taste like, with fresh cream flavored with vanilla and a hint of briny sea salt.

Whether you plan to serve this vanilla bean ice cream on top of a slice of pie, a French apple tart, galette, or by just itself (drizzled with salted caramel sauce, my favorite!), you will be moved to scream for ice cream from rooftops from now on!

Watch: Another #MJSmoments on YouTube.  Subscribe to my YouTube channel by clicking here!


Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

Ingredients (makes 1 ½ quarts)

  • Heavy Cream – 3 cups

  • Sugar –⅔ cup, granulated

  • Vanilla Bean Paste – 2 teaspoons

  • Fleur de Sel – ½ teaspoon

Directions

  1. In a medium sauce pan set over medium heat, add the heavy cream, sugar, vanilla bean paste, and fleur de sel. Stir until the sugar is dissolved.

  2. Transfer to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap pressing it directly onto the surface of the mixture. Chill the mixture in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, or until very cold.

  3. Once the mixture is chilled, add it to an ice cream maker and follow manufactures directions.

  4. Scoop out the ice cream into a freezer-proof container and freeze for 2 hours.

Tip: I love the ease and simplicity of the Cuisinart Ice Cream Maker.

Try my other favorite ice cream recipes here:


4th of July Soirée - Six Festive Ideas to Do Ahead

Marc J. Sievers

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Entertaining during the summer should be all about ease, simplicity, and should include things that can be done ahead of time for your soirée—even for hosting a party on the Fourth of July!  For any holiday-themed event food is a fun (and easy!) way to bring it to life.  But, keeping it simple and stress-free is important.  These six do-ahead ideas can be done with simple items found easily at the grocery store, craft store, and even items already in your own pantry that will bring the party to life!

Kick off your own fireworks with these six do-ahead 4th of July ideas for a summer soirée in red-white-and-blue style!


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Champagne or wine glasses get a festive makeover with streaming ribbon

Red, white, and blue ribbons tied with a simple knot onto the stems of glassware is an effortless transformation with a dramatic effect!  Make sure the tails are extra-long!  As your guests hold their glasses the ribbon cascades for a stunning look, especially when multiplied across the backdrop of the party.  Matching-patterned cocktail napkins will pull this look together.  Use this simple idea to accentuate those savvy cheers-worthy moments!


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Get organized right from the beginning

Once you have decided on your menu, choosing the right serving dish is a helpful and time-saving next step.  Write on a sticky note with each of your menu items and label each serving piece with the corresponding sticky note.  This is also helpful during prep the day of the party when a guest asks, “Where should I put the veggie burgers?” All they have to do is look for the labeled platter!  Your food table is planned, organized, and ready to go.


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Create a color-pop platter

Having platters and other serving pieces for every holiday can be an expensive investment, not to mention a storage overload.  Instead, use acrylic rock crystals (they are typically used as filler in vases or scattered around a table) to punch-up an everyday white platter!  Choose a combination of colors (two or three—four or more is a bit overwhelming) that captures the colors of your theme.  Then, simply use a hot glue gun to affix the faux gems to the rim of a heat-proof platter.  You can do them in a pattern, a cluster, or arranged as section dividers on the platter.  After the party is over, the acrylic rocks just pop off leaving behind your simple white platter ready for the next holiday!


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Candles are key

Hurricanes had height, light, and a bit of drama to any décor.  Use the same acrylic rock crystals as the color-pop platter idea to create hurricanes on theme with your holiday look!  Place your candles in the hurricanes.  Mix together the three rock crystal colors, in this case red, silver, and blue.  Pour the rock crystals around the candles in each hurricane, about half way up the height of the candle.


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Take-out containers filled with make-ahead recipes

Doing as much ahead of time is key to keeping your soirée simple and stress-free.  After all, you want to enjoy the party, too!  A delicious and easy-to-make summer pasta salad is the answer.  Pasta salads taste better when you make them in advance and allow the flavors time to meld together.  Since you are already in the kitchen making a fabulous summer pasta salad (like my Pesto & Arugula Pasta Salad!), why not do one more small step to package it up in individual servings using take-out containers, also dressed with ribbon tails.  This is the easiest way to pack food for large groups without having to worry about serving bowls and utensils, spoons, and forks—just include a set of to-go chopsticks for each guest!  Best of all, the container, ribbon, and chopsticks are all recyclable, making clean-up easiest of all!


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Ribbon napkin rings

Do you have a drawer filled with mix-and-match napkin rings?  Where do their counterparts go?   It’s like the tabletop equivalent of socks “eaten” by the dryer!  Ribbon is the go-to solution when you need to add a bit of flair to a tablesetting, BBQ, or picnic.  Wired-edge ribbon is a perfect substitute for dedicated holiday napkin rings.  Instead of owning a set of twelve red- white-and-blue glittered star napkins rings to use once (maybe twice) a year, buy a spool of glittery star ribbon as a perfect alternative!


A Royal Wedding Breakfast!

Marc J. Sievers

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When WGN News asked me to design a segment for the ultimate watch party for the royal wedding of Price Harry & Megan Markle, I happily said "yes"!  Since the royal nuptials are being broadcast live from London, coverage begins in some TV-land markets as early as 2am - YIKES!  I thought A Royal Wedding Breakfast soireé was the perfect way to gather with friend on Saturday morning and watch the festivities unfold (and a perfect excuse to stay in your jammies!).  Below I have included detailed images, my WGN News segment, and shoppable links (all from behind the scenes!) so you can easily recreate my Royal Wedding Breakfast for yourself at home! 

Trader Joes

Toasted Crumpets with Mascarpone and Strawberry Preserves

Buttery Croissants filled with Scrambled Eggs & Spinach

Vanilla Bean Yogurt with Dehydrated Raspberries, Fresh Blackberries, & Granola

Vosges Chocolates

Lemon Raspberry Petit Gateaux

Rosé BonBons

Chocolate Truffles “Les Fleus” Collection

Loose Leaf Tea

Earl Grey Rose

Earl Grey Lavender

Offray Ribbon

1/8” in colors Wine, Lemongrass, Silver, Ivory, & Pink

Caspari

Paper Table Cover in “Gold”

Flower Tubes

Plastic Water Flower Tubes


An Easter Extravaganza!

Marc J. Sievers

For me, Easter has always been a very festive and colorful holiday!  Growing up my entire family would get together to cook, color eggs, hide eggs, and all of us little ones would get fabulous baskets filled with toys, coloring books, and candy from a local shop that opened in the 1920's called Priscilla's Candies.  Priscilla's was in Lawrence, MA along a quintessential main street lined with other small shops, including a Woolworths (where I would go with Nan for an ice cream at the counter).  My cousin Christine worked there during high school and college and learned to make everything by handshe even handmade candy canes!  Sadly the shop closed in 2011, but has left generations of us with some of the most vivid and sweet memories!

Priscilla's also had magical window displays (thanks Christine!) which is where my inspiration came from for this year's Easter tablea deconstructed Easter basket!  Instead of flowers, I decided to create a tablescape that was designed with all the elements found in an Easter basket:  Green grass, jelly beans, foil covered chocolate eggs, little toys, even chenille chicks!  The center piece was tall curly willow branches adorned with speckled eggs.  Recreating this at home is very straight-forward (I promise!) and can be sized to fit nearly any table.  Best of all, almost everything I used was from a local grocery store or drug store.  Below I have included detailed images, my WGN News segment, favorite Easter recipes, and shoppable links so you can easily recreate my Easter extravaganza for yourself at home! 


Festive & Fabulous Last-Minute Holiday Ideas

Marc J. Sievers

I love the last few days leading up to Christmas, there is a frenetic buzz in the air, everything seems to smell like peppermint and cloves, and the decorations on the streets and in the windows are like no other time of year!  I was asked by WGN Chicago for my top tips on some last-minute holiday ideas and I think I came up with a few you are going to absolutely love - and best of all you can find everything at your local grocery store!  Below is the clip for you to watch and hopefully get inspired to some festive cheer to your home this time of year!  Here are the recipes for my Cointreau Chocolate Ganache and Cointreau Winter Cider.  Sending love, hugs, and well wishes from my home to yours - Happy Holidays! 


Cointreau Winter Cider

Marc J. Sievers

During the winter, when the temperatures are just freezing, is actually my favorite time of year to entertain at home.  People tend to stay a bit longer, the food is very comforting and hearty, and everyone can relax and have a really good time!  When my guests arrive, I offer them a hot cocktail to warm them up and make them feel right at home – and it gives me time to put the finishing touches on dinner.  My Cointreau Winter Cider is filled with aromatic spices, lime juice to cut the sweetness, and has an orange boozy kick from Cointreau (that is sure to warm you up!)!  Best of all it can be made in advance so there is no mixing or shaking individual drinks – which leaves more time for me to enjoy the soirée, too!


Cointreau Winter Cider

Ingredients (serves 8)

  • Apple Cider – 32 ounces
  • Fresh Lime Juice – 6 ounces, freshly squeezed
  • Cinnamon Sticks – 2, plus more for garnish if desired
  • Star Anises – 2, whole
  • Cloves – 2, whole
  • Oranges – 2, thinly sliced, plus more for garnish if desired
  • Granny Smith Apple – 1, cored, thinly sliced, plus more for garnish if desired
  • Cointreau (orange liqueur) – 12 ounces

Directions

  1. In a large saucepan set over medium heat, add all of the ingredients except for the Cointreau.
  2. Bring to a boil, remove from the heat, add the Cointreau, cover and steep for 20 minutes.
  3. Fill heat-proof glasses or mugs with hot cider, garnish with extra cinnamon sticks, and serve.

Tip: If you would like to make this in advance, after the cider is finished steeping, remove the fruit and spices, and store the finished cider in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.  When you are ready to serve, gently re-heat the cider in a medium sauce pan over medium heat and serve hot.


Strawberry White Chocolate Bark

Marc J. Sievers

Whenever I travel I like to bring home food and entertaining inspiration from some of the world’s most extraordinary stores.  When I was in Berlin in early December, I was shopping in the candy department at KaDeWe (it is an entire floor!) and came across a beautiful bar of white chocolate with dehydrated strawberries.  I snapped a photo and continued on.  After getting over my jet-lag, I headed into my kitchen in Chicago and I recreated my version using white chocolate chips that are readily found in all grocery stores and freeze-dried strawberries from Trader Joe's.  After a few batches, the addition of vanilla bean seeds and French sea salt where the magic ingredients!  The vanilla added depth of flavor to the chocolate and the salt took it from a sweet treat to an elegant homemade candy - a truly winning combination!


Strawberry White Chocolate Bark

Ingredients (serves 8-10)

  • White Chocolate Chips – 20 ounces

  • Vanilla Bean Seeds – 1 teaspoon

  • Fleur de Sel – ¾ teaspoon

  • Freeze Dried Strawberry Slices – 1 ounce

Directions

  1. Using a pencil, draw a 9x11-inch rectangle on a piece of parchment paper. Turn the parchment paper over and place it onto a half sheet pan. Set aside.

  2. Add three quarters of the white chocolate chips to a heat-proof glass bowl. Place the bowl in the microwave and heat on high for exactly 30 seconds. Using a rubber spatula, stir the chocolate, return it to the microwave, and heat on high for another 30 seconds. Continue to heat and stir in 30-second intervals until the chocolate is just melted.

  3. Once it is just melted, add the remaining chocolate chips and vanilla bean seeds and stir until it's completely smooth.

  4. Pour the warm melted chocolate onto the parchment paper and spread it lightly to fill the drawn rectangle on the prepared sheet of parchment.

  5. Next, while the chocolate is still warm, evenly sprinkle over the fleur de sel. Arrange the freeze dried strawberry slices to fill the entire chocolate surface.

  6. Allow to sit at room temperature for 3 hours to set. Break into pieces are serve.

Tip: In addition to the whole slices of strawberries, I also use the “strawberry dust” at the bottom of the bag.  It adds even more flavor to each bite of chocolate bark and also looks fabulous!  


Watch: Store-Bought Cake Made Fabulous!

Marc J. Sievers

The word “zhush” means to make something exciting or more attractive, or to make it more fabulous (at least, that is how I use it!).  In this case, it is all about saving time by making a plain, simple, store-bought cake fabulous!  When I don’t have the time to make a cake from scratch (or don’t want to be bothered), I like to buy a small simple chocolate cake with chocolate buttercream to zhush up and turn it into something I am not only excited about serving, but also eating!  Grocery store bakeries are usually filled with cakes ranging in size and cost.  My approach for a Store-Bought Cake Made Fabulous is to buy the simplest and most delicious cake I can find.  Instead of relying of those pre-fab decorated cakes, focus on quality, and use these simple options to dress up even the most unassuming store-bought cake!


These are some of my favorite additions to zhush up a store-bough cake:

Edible gold leaf which you can easily find online and also in silver, adds a bit of glamour to fresh raspberries!  The same would be true for using strawberries, blackberries, or even blueberries.  Choose something that will complement the flavor of both the cake and frosting you choose.

Simple store-bought salted caramel makes a truly decedent addition to the top of a cake!  Once you start slicing, the caramel oozes down into the cake and makes each and every bite scrumptious.  I usually keep a little extra on-hand to serve alongside the cake.  For added fabulousness, you can also heat up the caramel and pour it over the cake as you present it!  Or, add a touch more of flaked sea salt for crunch. 

Colorful edible flowers which are typically in the produce department of grocery stores, makes for a very casual yet elegant effect.  I love dusting them with a bit of powdered sugar to help sweeten them (they are VERY earthy tasting) and to add a bit of texture and contrast.  This is especially elegant on larger rose petals!

Homemade whipped cream is also a wonderful decoration for almost any flavor of cake!  I like to use a piping bag fitted with a large round tip (or start tip) and pipe around the base of the cake when the cardboard disk meets the serving plate.  To make homemade whipped cream you need:

Homemade Whipped Cream

Ingredients

  • Heavy Cream – 1 cup, very cold
  • Sugar – 2 tablespoons
  • Vanilla – ¾ teaspoon, pure extract   

Directions

  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, add the cold cream.  Turn the mixer to medium-low and begin whipping the cream.  Once it starts to thicken, add the sugar and vanilla.
  2. Raise the speed to high, and whip it until it thicken and begins to forms medium peaks.  I like it to still be a bit “soft” as the texture is much creamier.

Tip: Don’t overbeat, or you will end up with a very stiff whipped cream and it will not have any fluidity to it and will also turn into butter!


Cointreau Vinaigrette

Marc J. Sievers

Like so many of you, I like to have different vinaigrettes on-hand in the refrigerator.  A simple salad, when done really well, adds great texture and color to a meal, whether for lunch or dinner.  Salads have been know in my house (and clients, too!) to be an impromptu addition when I am having timing issues in the kitchen (or, when I drain the pasta into the sink without a colander - I blame it on the wine!).  My Cointreau Vinaigrette has a wonderful balance of sharp orange zing from Cointreau, and the freshly squeezed orange juice adds a bit of sweetness.  It is rounded out by the fruity olive oil, blending all of the flavors.   A perfect pairing, indeed!


Cointreau Vinaigrette

Ingredients (serves 6)

Cointreau Vinaigrette:

  • Orange Liqueur – 1½ tablespoons (Cointreau recommended)
  • Olive Oil – ⅓ cup
  • Honey – 2 tablespoons
  • Orange Juice – 3 tablespoons, freshly squeezed
  • Sea Salt – ¼ teaspoon
  • Black Pepper – ¼ teaspoon, freshly cracked

Salad Components:

  • Arugula – 5 ounces
  • Hazelnuts – 1 cup, lightly toasted
  • Goat Cheese – 3 ounces, crumbled
  • Parmesan Cheese – large shavings, for garnish (Parmigiano-Reggiano recommended)
  • Strawberries – 1½ cups, hulled, then thinly sliced
  • Parsley – ¼ cup, fresh, finely minced, Italian flat leaf variety recommended
  • Sea Salt – ½ teaspoon
  • Black Pepper – ½ teaspoon, freshly cracked
  • Orange Juice – ¼ cup, freshly squeezed

Directions

Cointreau Vinaigrette:

  1. Place all of the ingredients into a jar with a tight-fitting lid.  Shake vigorously for about 60 seconds.
  2. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before dressing a salad.

Assembly:

  1. On a large serving platter, arrange the arugula, hazelnuts, goat cheese, Parmesan cheese, strawberries, and parsley.  Evenly sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  2. Next, evenly drizzle the salad with freshly squeezed orange juice.
  3. Add just enough Cointreau Vinaigrette to lightly coat the salad.  Toss tableside just before serving.

Tip: I like to serve more vinaigrette in a small pitcher or gravy boat on the side and let guest add more vinaigrette to their salad if they prefer.