Entertaining friends, family, and clients is something that truly brings me joy. Surprising people with little details, thoughtfully crafted tablescapes, and rustic food is my life’s passion and interest. Ever since I was a little boy growing up alongside my nana (Ms. Rita Madonna Hillard-Berube) poking about the china cabinets, cupboards, and pantry to set the table or to help cook was, and still is, where you can find me!
The holidays in our 3rd floor walk-up apartment were always bountiful, festive, and magical. The tinsel clad tree in the living room, the electric candles in all 18 windows, the stockings and Christmas cards hung around the doorways, and the constant ebb and flow of family and friends – and the food that seemed to (and still does!) go on forever. Nothing was fussy, perfect, or over-calculated. Everything was infused with love – the key ingredient.
As I look back to the parts of the holidays (and birthdays, card nights, and other celebrations) that stuck with me, the main theme was always every inch of our Farley Street apartment was utilized. The kitchen table was piled high with hors d’oeuvres, the tiny kitchen counter was set up with drinks, the coffee table had dips (Bugles and Shrimp dip, to be exact), cookies, fudge, and so on. That was the key to keeping the festivities moving about, encouraged mingling, and ultimately allowed for what seemed like a never ending party! Now, fast forward to present day. I am 33 and still following in nana’s footsteps: Cooking and entertaining for friends and family but with a Marc Sievers twist!
The iconic Christmas cookie – seen in every grocery store, specialty food shop, and home cook’s kitchen in America – is still one of my favorite components this time of year. Buttery, crisp, and covered in course sanding sugar, my Vanilla Christmas Cookies are the closest I have gotten to the memories of my childhood. They are fuss-free, and the ingredients (including the colored sugars) can be found at your local grocery store. For a slightly more elegant look (as elegant as sanding sugars can be!), I found matte silver and gold Wilton sanding sugars at my local crafts store.
For my annual Christmas party, I wanted to create a focal point for my coffee table that would double as part edible and part décor. Setting up vignettes like I mentioned above really allows your guests to mingle about your entire space, or at least the space you want them in (serving in the powder room is not something I have tried, yet!). A quick trip to my corner pharmacy (I still love those “seasonal” aisles), I found an adorable iron ornament tree, which I used to hang my Christmas cookies on – take that “cookie platter!” As guests indulge in the festive cookies, keep a tray of extra cookies strung with ribbons on hand to refill the tree, and a separate tray piled high with cookies (arranged in another area of your entertaining space) minus the ribbons for those “cookie-aholic” guests (that’s me!).
This holiday season while you are entertaining, make sure you too are enjoying this marvelous time of year. Focus on a few things and do them really well – it’s better to have fewer components if they are delicious, well thought out, and filled with love! Thank you for taking a walk down memory lane with me, I hope that my memoires sparked some of your own. From my home to yours – I wish you the merriest of Christmases and the brightest year ahead!
Rolled Vanilla Cookies
Ingredients (makes 2-3 dozen cookies)
Flour – 3 ½ cups, all purpose
Baking Powder – 1 teaspoon
Fine Sea Salt – ½ teaspoon
Butter – 2 sticks, unsalted, at room temperature
Sugar – 1 ½ cups, granulated
Eggs – 2 extra-large, at room temperature
Vanilla – 2 teaspoons, pure extract
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment add the butter. With the mixer set to medium speed, add the eggs one at a time, allowing each to fully incorporate. Gradually add the sugar and then the vanilla.
Set the mixer to low speed and gradually add the dry ingredients. Mix until just combined.
Dump the dough onto a lightly floured surface, divide the dough in half, shape each half into a flat disk, wrap each one in waxed paper, and chill for 1 hour.
Working with one disk at a time, roll the dough on a lightly floured surface to 1/4-inch thick. Cut the dough with festive cookie cutters. Place the shapes on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Sprinkle with colored sugars. Using the end of a chopstick, make a hole in the top of each cookie.
Bake for 6-8 minutes, until the edges are lightly browned.
Remove the cookies from the oven, and allow them to cool completely on a cooling rack.
Once cooled, string ribbon through each hole and hang.
Repeat the above process until all the dough has been baked.
My original article was published on VRAI Magazine - December 2014