Kick off your own fireworks with these six do-ahead 4th of July ideas for a summer soirée in red-white-and-blue style!Read More
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!
Filtering by Category: Seasonal & Holidays
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 hand—she 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 table—a 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!
My Favorite Easter Recipes
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!
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
- Orange Liqueur – 12 ounces (Cointreau recommended)
- In a large saucepan set over medium heat, add all of the ingredients except for the Cointreau.
- Bring to a boil, remove from the heat, add the Cointreau, cover and steep for 20 minutes.
- 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.
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
- 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.
- 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.
- Once it is just melted, add the remaining chocolate chips and vanilla bean seeds and stir until it's completely smooth.
- Pour the warm melted chocolate onto the parchment paper and spread it lightly to fill the drawn rectangle on the prepared sheet of parchment.
- 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.
- 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!
Each year as Halloween approaches I get excited for the start of the Autumnal season of holidays and traditions. The weather starts to cool off, spiced apple drinks start to flow (I like mine spiked!), and Halloween inaugurates the holiday celebrations with fun and creativity.
There are many directions to go when decorating for Halloween. From kitsch to all-out ghoulish crypt-keeping, often I am left with piles of decorations in November that immediately need to be stored to make way for Thanksgiving. This year I decided to take a different approach. Less pumpkin tchotchke and no conversion to a full cemetery in my living room. Instead, Halloween this year will be paired down to be sophisticated, chic, and best of all done in minutes!
My inspiration for a sophisticated Halloween theme is to utilize a monochromatic color palate of sumptuous black tones, and then to create focused vignettes in specific areas around the apartment. This keeps the decoration contained and easier to manage and is visually more dramatic.
I also approached my theme with classic easy-to-find decorations in the seasonal aisle in my grocery store and drug store, but layered them in a more curated way. As beautiful as many of the high-end Halloween decorations can be, they have to be stored year after year, and may not fit your style or space the next Halloween. All of my decorations fit in a plastic boot-sized storage container for all holidays (except Christmas, of course).
The simplicity of a monochromatic palate is enhanced with different textures in the same black tones, which adds depth, interest, and a more layered look. Use this visual All-Hallows-Eve photo series as inspiration for your own SPOOKtacular décor! Pick and choose the elements that resonate with you, play some Halloween-inspired tunes (Pandora: Halloween Party Radio is my choice!), and just have fun adding some BOOtiful elements to make your space come alive – if you dare!
Cobwebs, Spiders, and Crows - OH MY!
Everyday Items Get a SPOOKtacular Makeover!
A Centerpiece Worthy of Frightful Screams!
Classic Halloween Icons Perfect for Place Cards or Food Markers!
BOOtiful Halloween Details!
In early December I had the pleasure of traveling to Berlin, Germany with my dear friend Jennifer to celebrate her milestone birthday! Like me, she is a lover of all things Christmas, and the trip was on her bucket list of places to travel. The plan was to stay in the center of Berlin and spend a week visiting museums, restaurants, and of course the Weihnachtsmarkts (Christmas markets) that are situated all throughout Berlin!
A favorite (and very stylish!) market was WeihnachtsZauber at the Gendarmenmarkt. This is one of the most popular Christmas markets in Berlin during the festive Christmas season. Framed by the Französischer Dom, the Konzerthaus, and the Deutscher Dom, a small tent city with more than 1,000 strings of light appears like magic each year in this centrally-located square that house artisans selling handmade ornaments, candles, gifts, and casual food stalls. Besides the many wintry delights at the market stalls, Michelin-starred chefs offer their haute cuisine in heated tents. This market was so enchanting, we went twice!
All of the markets, bars, and restaurants offer different variations of warm Glühwein—based on either red or white wines (I like to use a Cotes du Rhone or Chardonnay) infused with dried spices, honey, and orange peel, which is served warm and typically with a shot of liqueur like amaretto, brandy, or dark rum. After being outside wandering the streets of Berlin this is a very much welcomed drink to help warm your hands and your tummy!
My Warm Winter Glühwein uses a white wine base and infused with aromatics that add incredible flavor and fabulous notes of the wintry holidays. I love having a pot of this on the stove as company arrives—it is a fabulous drink to serve as a welcome, but also makes the house smell so wonderful!
From my kitchen to yours – Happy Holidays!
Warm Winter Glühwein
Ingredients (serves 4)
- Orange – outer peel of 1 orange
- Cloves – 15 whole cloves
- White Wine – 1 bottle (750 ml), Chardonnay, dry variety recommended
- Honey – 4 tablespoons
- Star Anise – 4 whole pods
- Ginger – 2 pieces, fresh, 1-inch each, peeled, thinly sliced
- Cinnamon Sticks – 3
- Sparkling Water – 1½ cups
- Dark Rum – 4 tablespoons
- Orange Liqueur – 2 tablespoons
- Start by inserting the whole cloves into the pieces of orange peels.
- Next, in a medium sauce pan set over medium heat, add the wine, honey, star anise, ginger, cinnamon sticks, and the orange peels dotted with cloves. Allow to come to a simmer, reduce the heat to low, cover and barely simmer for 30 minutes.
- Using a slotted spoon, remove all of the dried spices and orange peels. Set aside to use as garnishes.
- Lastly, stir in the sparkling water, dark rum, and orange liqueur. Gently reheat and serve warm.
Tip: I found that adding in sparkling water at the end gave this warm cocktail a slightly effervescent finish and lighter texture.
Idea: You can also make this in advance by following steps 1,2, and 3. If you plan to serve it later that day, just leave it to cool on the stove top. Before serving, gently reheat over medium heat, and add the sparkling water, rum, and orange liqueur. If you want to make it and store it, allow it to cool completely, transfer it into a container, and refrigerate for up to 1 week. Before serving, gently reheat over medium heat, and add the sparkling water, rum, and orange liqueur.
Thanksgiving for me has always been a favorite holiday as it mostly takes place around a table filled with family and friends, sharing stories and while making more great memories! While the food is always special, and bit more decedent (more butter!) on the day, one of my favorite parts is setting a festive table.
A great Thanksgiving table doesn’t have to be as complicated to create as the Thanksgiving meal itself, or take as much time. A beautiful table is the perfect complement to a hearty and flavorful meal, creating a warm and inviting environment. I love mixing textures, patterns, and autumnal colors to help bring together a rustic and elegant tablescape.
A layered table filled with different textures instantly creates a visually interesting and cultivated table—and truth be told is even better when everything isn’t so “matchy-matchy”. I love mixing different metals like copper mirror-finish stemless glasses (for water), hammered gold flatware, pressed glass amber chargers and salad plates, casual stoneware dinner plates, and a rustic low centerpiece of dried twigs (from the grocery store!), pinecones, and fresh orange tulips (in floral water tubes)! All of these elements add interest and complexity and help create a table filled with textures that work together—even though they are all different.
I love using traditional damask tablecloths as a backdrop to most of my tablescapes. This sets the backdrop elegantly, setting the stage for even the most modern table. Mixing in damask napkins in complimentary tones keeps everything fresh and new (again, not so matchy-matchy, but complimentary). Patterns are also found in the design of the plates, silverware, and even the ridges in the goblets. All of which provide visual diversity.
Classic autumnal colors like orange, wheat, amber, and other warm tones are all brought together with the help and balance of a neutral dove grey, copper, and bright green (from the tulips). I love using bold tones against neutral tones—it warms the neutral colors and helps the bold colors really pop!
While this is a quick course in creating a fabulous Thanksgiving table, these are not “rules” so much as guidelines that apply also to everyday living and holiday entertaining. If you are feeling curious, here is a link to all things Thanksgiving!
From my table to yours, happy Thanksgiving!
Some furnishings provided by Mikasa.
When I began testing this recipe for my new cookbook Table for Two: Cooking and Entertaining for You and Your +1, the combinations of ingredients seemed endless (and they really are!). I finally settled on a selection of fresh herbs, apple, fragrant fennel and onions. To give it even more “body”, I added Gruyère cheese that I diced into very small cubes. This prevented the filling from getting too heavy with melted cheese, and instead created pockets of gently melted Gruyère that added the right amount of richness to the finished dish. Keep in mind, this recipe does make two larger portions, so I like to serve it alongside a salad dressed in my French Bistro Vinaigrette.
What I love most about this recipe is that you can interchange the fresh herbs and filling and have it adapt to be season specific. During the fall and winter, I like to use fresh sage and rosemary (a perfect vegetarian main course for the holidays!), and replace the parsnip with butternut squash. In the spring and summer, I love using basil and chives, and replace the apple with zucchini.
Like this recipe, so many other recipes from Table for Two are adaptable to help make entertaining as easy, elegant, and as truly delicious as possible, for you and your plus one!
Apple & Herb Wellington
Ingredients (serves 2)
- Olive Oil – 3 tablespoons
- Fennel – ¾ cup, ½-inch diced
- Yellow Onion – 1 medium, ½-inch diced
- Parsnip – 1 medium, peeled, ½-inch diced
- Pink Lady Apple – 1 medium, ½-inch diced
- Thyme – 2 teaspoons, finely minced, fresh
- Sea Salt – ¾ teaspoon
- Black Pepper – ¾ teaspoon
- Garlic – 2 cloves, finely minced
- Parsley – 3 tablespoons, finely minced, Italian flat-leaf variety recommended
- Whole Cashews – ⅓ cup, rough chopped
- Golden Raisins - ⅓ cup
- Parmesan Cheese – 2 tablespoons, freshly grated, Parmigiano-Reggiano recommended
- Gruyère Cheese – 3 ounces, ¼-inch cubed
- Frozen Puff Pastry – 1 sheet, thawed overnight in the refrigerator
- *Egg Wash – 1 extra-large egg lightly beaten with 1 tablespoon of water
1. Start by preheating the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a half sheet pan with parchment paper. Set aside.
2. In a medium sauté pan set over medium heat, add the olive oil. Once hot, add the fennel, onion, parsnip, apples, thyme, salt, and pepper. Cook for 10-12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until very tender, but not brown.
3. Add the garlic and parsley and continue cooking for another 1 minute, being careful not to burn the garlic. Transfer to a medium bowl to cool for 5 minutes. Once cooled, stir in the cashews, raisins, and both cheeses.
4. Next, on a lightly floured surface, roll out the thawed puff pastry dough to be roughly 12x14-inches. Cut the dough in half creating 2 pieces measuring 12x7-inces.
5. Divide the filling evenly onto half of each piece of dough, leaving a ½-inch border. Brush the border with egg wash*, and fold over top the other half of each side of the dough. Using the tines of a fork, seal the edges by of the dough by pressing the tines lightly into the dough. Do this on all three sides or each packet. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet.
6. Brush the tops with egg wash*. Using a small knife, cut three slits on the top of each packet.
7. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the pastry is puffed up and golden brown.
8. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes before serving.
One of my dearest friends, Linda Marie Clark, lives in California and is an award-winning photographer and exceptional watercolor artist. She also happens to be an amazing cook! We met about four years ago after she found my cookbook on Amazon.com and started painting my recipes. It was so incredibly flattering, especially considering her talent!
Having chatted with her for a few months via email at first then telephone, I decided to invite her to Chicago for a visit. And now, a few years later, we talk every few days, we started a stationary line together, and our friendship has blossomed.
Linda loves to photograph in her garden in California. A few weeks back she sent me a text with a photo of a beautiful salad she made after a visit to her local farmers market. It was filled with fresh tomatoes, sweet corn, and spicy basil! She also captured the moment perfectly at sunset in her garden. Her photograph (and salad!) was just too stunning not to share with you! Linda’s Tomato Salad has made it onto my table three times already this summer and is always a crowd-pleaser!
Linda's Tomato Salad
Ingredients (serves 2)
- Sweet Corn – 2 ears, shucked
- Heirloom Tomatoes – 1 ½ pounds, 1-inch cubes
- Basil – ¾ cup, rough chopped
- Olive Oil – ½ cup
- Balsamic Vinegar – ¼ cup
- Sea Salt – ¾ teaspoon
- Black Pepper – ¾ teaspoon
- Parmesan Cheese – ¾ cup, large shavings, Parmigiano-Reggiano recommended
- Bring a large sauce pan filled with water to a boil. Add the ears of corn and cook for just 3 minutes. Remove the corn for the water and cut the kernels off the cob.
- Next, arrange the cubed tomatoes down the center of a serving platter. Scatter the corn evenly onto the tomatoes.
- Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle evenly with basil, salt, pepper, and Parmesan cheese.
- Serve alongside a basket of crusty bread.
There is something so satisfying about making a big batch of really good pasta salad. It can be so simple, just a few tosses of fresh ingredients while the pasta is hot, and you have an easy and incredibly flavorful dish. I will admit that pasta salads were not my favorite as a kid—they always seemed to taste bland, and like the refrigerator. No good! But I have since solved the flavor challenge.
This recipe actually came about from a recent trip to Hawaii. Ryan and I were visiting our best friends for a milestone birthday. But, the day we were flying back to Chicago, they both got stuck at work. Before we let ourselves out of their apartment to go to the airport, knowing that they were going to be home very late, I wanted to leave them a surprise dinner in their refrigerator!
After a few minutes, I found everything I needed to create a Pesto & Arugula Pasta Salad. Best of all, it only took 15 minutes and we were out the door and our friends had an easy and delicious dinner waiting for them. Needless to say, they were very happy to come home after a very long day to a ready-made meal that kept perfectly well! This is easy summer “cooking”, at its best!
Pesto & Arugula Pasta Salad
Ingredients (serve 4-6)
- Fusilli – 1 pound, cooked al dente
- Pesto – 7 ounces, store-bought
- Grape Tomatoes – 2 pints, halved
- Parmesan Cheese – 1 cup, Parmigiano-Reggiano recommended
- Baby Arugula – 2 cups, washed and dried
- Green Onions – ½ cup, thinly sliced
- Basil – ⅓ cup, rough chopped, fresh
- Parsley - ⅓ cup, rough chopped, fresh, Italian Flat-Leaf variety recommended
- Red Pepper Flakes – ½ teaspoon
- Lemon Zest – 1 small lemon, zested
- Sea Salt – 1½ teaspoons
- Black Pepper – 1 teaspoon, freshly cracked
- After the pasta has been cooked and drained, and while it is hot, place it into a large bowl.
- Immediately add all of the ingredients to the hot pasta and toss until evenly mixed.
- Serve warm, at room temperature, or cold.
Tip: You can make this in advance and store it in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Before you serve it, check to see if it needs more salt, pepper, and even another handful of fresh arugula or basil mixed in. I have noticed that as food sits in a cold temperature, some of the flavor “disappears”. After all, who wants bland food?!
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One of my favorite memoires as a child was making s’mores! Whether it was a beach bonfire in Maine or by a campfire in New Hampshire, they still are one of my favorite indulgences. I can remember also making them with my nan over the stovetop, using a fork as a “stick” to toast the marshmallow over the open flame – yikes! Grandmas will do anything for their grandchildren to make them happy.
Now that I am well into my adult years (I call it “adulting”), I still make s’mores whenever there is a fire pit, bonfire, or even a charcoal grill. On Ryan’s parents’ farm – regardless of the season – we always make a huge fire and sip wine and make these ooey-gooey treats!
I typically don’t buy or use specialty kitchen equipment – especially things that take up precious cupboard space. However, there are two items that I cannot live without: My ice cream maker and small kitchen torch. Though they have very specific functions, they are what make my S’mores Ice Cream possible! And not just possible, truly incredible! The flavors from the homemade milk chocolate ganache, crusty and chewy toasted marshmallows, all enrobed in a velvety vanilla ice cream base will make the purchase of these two new kitchen accoutrement well worth every penny!
In fact, homemade ice cream is simpler that you think! It really is just about using a few quality ingredients like cream, sugar, vanilla, and salt. The hardest part is waiting the 25 minutes while the machine “does its thing” until you have the most luxurious ice cream, ever! Take a peek at my Salted Hot Chocolate Ice Cream, too!
S'mores Ice Cream
Ingredients (makes 1 ½ quarts)
Ice Cream Base
- Heavy Cream – 3 cups
- Sugar – ⅔ cups, granulated
- Honey – 2 teaspoons
- Vanilla – 1½ teaspoons, pure extract
- Fleur de Sel – ½ teaspoon
- Heavy Cream – ¼ cup
- Milk Chocolate Chips – 4 ounces
- Fleur de Sel – ⅛ teaspoon
- Mini Marshmallows – 3 cups
- Graham Crackers – 10 full sheets, broken into small and medium pieces, plus more for garnish
- Milk Chocolate Chips – 7.5 ounces
Chocolate Ganache & Marshmallows
- In a heatproof bowl set over a pan of barely-simmering water, add the heavy cream, chocolate chips, and salt. Stir until just melted. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.
- Place the mini marshmallows onto a half sheet pan. Using a small kitchen torch, toast the marshmallows until well-toasted. Set aside to cool.
Ice Cream Base
- In a medium sauce pan set over medium heat, add the heavy cream, sugar, honey, vanilla, and salt. Stir until the sugar is just dissolved, about 5 minutes. You can tell the sugar is dissolved by rubbing a bit of the cream between your fingertips. If there are no granulates, it is done.
- Transfer to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap pressing it directly onto the surface of the mixture. Chill until very cold, or overnight.
- Once the mixture is very cold, add it to an ice cream maker and follow manufactures directions.
- Once the ice cream base is finished, transfer to a large bowl and quickly fold in the cooled toasted marshmallows, graham crackers pieces, and chocolate chips.
- Then, fold in the cooled chocolate ganache.
- Transfer to freezer containers and chill until firm.
- To serve, garnish with more crumbled graham crackers.
A well thought out menu can really make a soirée seem effortless, regardless of the time of day, theme, or occasion. Instead of trying o make everything yourself (there is really no “knead” to make homemade baguettes!), I think a smart host/ess should always have a few tried-and-true store-bought secrets up their sleeve and at the ready.
I rely on few favorite brands that I have tested and know how to work with as ready-made components to enhance my menus and cut preparation time to a much more manageable proportion of my overall prep time. With certain useful combos, and easy and elegant recipes, I make my guests feel welcomed, special, and most importantly I get to enjoy my own party without being on constant catering duty. I keep flowers simple, the music light and airy, and set the table the night before.
For Easter, I love hosting a casual brunch filled with some homemade things, some store-bought things, and some easily-assembled things. This year, Ryan and I will be spending Easter with his parent’s on their farm. Rather than have a complicated and labor-intensive menu, we decided a brunch would be an easier idea. Because the farm isn’t surrounded by big grocery stores and specialty food markets, I wanted to plan a menu that included things that were easy to make, had that WOW! factor, and could easily be transported from Chicago to Iowa.
Whether you celebrate Easter or not, I hope my brunch menu inspires you to host a wonderful soirée (with lots of bubbly!) filled with family and friends! Happy Easter!
Easter Brunch Menu
French Savory Tart with Onions & Gruyere (make ahead)
Simple Green Salad with French Bistro Vinaigrette (make ahead)
Baguette with Salted Butter (store bought)
Chocolate Bunny Platter (store bought)
Fresh Orange Juice (store bought)
Sparkling Water (room temperature)
It is no secret I love to entertain at home! From menu planning, to setting the table, or spending time in my kitchen, I will find any excuse to throw a soirée! While I certainly have a few tricks up my sleeve to ensure my guests are always having a fabulous time, my #1 tip is to never make everything yourself. I like to choose two or three different dishes to prepare, then rely on favorite store-bought brands, bakeries, and gourmet markets to round out my menu. It’s the simplest way to ensure that I have fun at my own parties!
They say the dessert is what people always remember from any party. A really good dessert is always something I like to pay special attention to. Whether I am making it myself or heading to one of my neighborhood bakeries, I make sure to always have something that will WOW! everyone – myself included! That is exactly what my Sparking Raspberry Sorbet will do at your next party—it will bring that perfect WOW! factor. This particular dessert relies on simple components; really good Champagne, really good store-bought Raspberry Sorbet, and the most flavorful homemade Four Berry Sauce.
Besides being a perfectly elegant dessert for any occasion, it is one of the easiest desserts to assemble. Once you make the Four Berry Sauce (which uses frozen berries and can be stored in the refrigerator), it all comes together in just a few minutes! I love to serve this in a small coupe, small bowl, or even in a martini glass. Bottoms (and spoons!) up!
Four Berry Sauce
Ingredients (makes 1 ½ cups)
- Frozen Berry Medley – 1 pound (raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, & blueberries)
- Raspberry Preserves – 2 tablespoons
- Raspberry Liqueur – 1 tablespoon, Chambord preferred
- Lemon Zest – 1 teaspoon
- In a small saucepan set over medium heat, add the frozen berries, preserves, liqueur, and lemon zest.
- Cook for 10-15 minutes, until the berries have released their juices and are very tender, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat.
- Place a fine mesh sieve over a glass bowl. Transfer the mixture into the sieve.
- Using the back of a wooden spoon press the mixture through the sieve.
- Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled.
To Serve: Layer this luscious berry sauce in a small coupe with a single scoop of raspberry sorbet and ¼ cup of very dry, chilled Champagne. It is a perfect dessert for a grown-up celebration, very elegant presentation, and just an all around fabulous surprise for your guests.
Tip: If you don’t have raspberry preserves, you can substitute strawberry, blueberry, or blackberry. The pectin in the preserves is what will thicken the berry sauce slightly.
If you have never made homemade ice cream, you are in for a real treat! A few months ago, I was making my Velvety Hot Chocolate from my first cookbook Entertaining with Love, and while I was measuring out the ingredients it occurred to me that they were very similar to the base ingredients for my ice cream recipe. After a bit of tweaking (and lots of taste testing!), my Salted Hot Chocolate Ice Cream was churning away in my ice cream maker, ready for its close-up!
This is by far the best and most luxurious chocolaty ice cream I have ever had, let alone made myself! The texture is similar to a velvety mousse—light, airy, and incredibly silky. The flavors are so rich and intense, from using really good ingredients (particularly the chocolate and cocoa powder), and my secret ingredient: Fleur de Sel caramel sauce. Rather than make your own caramel sauce for a few tablespoons, I like to use a good store-bought one. In fact, my favorite jar is from Trader Joe’s (also where I buy my chocolate bars by the pound).
For the ultimate ice cream enjoyment, allow each scoop to sit at room temperature for a few minutes and you will be able to taste the flavors much better than it being ice-cold. The most perfect chocolate ice cream is calling your name – enjoy!
Salted Hot Chocolate Ice Cream
Ingredients (makes 1 quart)
- Milk Chocolate – 4 ounces, finely chopped
- Dark Chocolate – 4 ounces, finely chopped
- Cocoa Powder – ¼ cup, unsweetened
- Heavy Cream – 3 cups
- Vanilla – 1 teaspoon, pure extract
- Fleur de Sel Caramel Sauce – 3 tablespoons, good store-bought variety
- Fleur de Sel – ¼ teaspoon
- Cinnamon – 1/8 teaspoon
- Dark Brown Sugar – 2 tablespoon
- In a medium sauce pan set over medium heat, add the heavy cream, brown sugar, caramel sauce, and both chocolates. Whisk until the chocolate is just melted.
- Remove from the heat and whisk in the vanilla, cinnamon, salt, and cocoa powder.
- Transfer to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap pressing it directly onto the surface of the mixture. Chill until very cold.
- Once the mixture is very cold, add it to an ice cream maker and follow manufactures directions.
- Scoop out the ice cream into a freezer-proof container and freeze for 2 hours.
Whenever I really want to make a great culinary impression on someone, I bring them my homemade chocolate truffles! While truffles look (and taste) like they take days to make (who has time for that?!), they actually take under an hour to create, and use the simplest of ingredients. The real difference in taste and texture is made with very good quality ingredients, especially the chocolate.
There are endless flavor combinations for truffles, but one of my favorites are White Chocolate Truffles with Candied Pecans. The white chocolate has such a delicate vanilla flavor on its own and is enhanced with Butterscotch Schnapps—a light booziness that rolls around on your tongue with a rich delight. The crunch of chopped candied pecans is what makes this particular truffle even more flavorful and delicious!
The creamy white chocolate ganache with the sweet crunch of the chopped nuts is a perfect flavor and texture combination. Very rarely does it get any better—or any easier—than this! Don’t take my word for it, make them and taste for yourself!
White Chocolate Truffles with Candied Pecans
Ingredients (makes 20-22 truffles)
- White Chocolate – 8 ounces, rough chopped
- Heavy Cream – 1 ½ tablespoons
- Butterscotch Schnapps – 1 tablespoon
- Sea Salt – ⅛ teaspoon
- Vanilla – ¾ teaspoon, pure extract
- Candied Pecans – ¾ cup, rough chopped
- Place a heat-proof bowl over barely simmering water. Add the heavy cream and chopped chocolate and stir with a wooden spoon until completely smooth.
- Remove from the heat and add the salt, vanilla, and Schnapps. Stir until completely incorporated. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour, or until firm.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Scoop rounded Tablespoon-sized portions of chocolate and place each one onto the lined baking sheet.
- Gently roll each one into a ball and immediately roll through the chopped candied pecans.
- Place in the refrigerator to set. Serve at room temperature.
During the winter, I love to have a pot simmering on the stove filled with quintessential seasonal aromatics that make my home smell welcoming and festive. Just before Christmas, I had the pleasure of showcasing some last-minute decor ideas on WGN News and this (along with a few others!) was a hit in the newsroom! My Simmering Winter Potpourri does just the trick! Things like cinnamon, orange, rosemary, and even Balsam branches gently release their fragrance in spiced apple cider and fill the air with the most wonderful scent. The best part is all you need to do is add more apple cider or water as needed and your home will smell like a wintery wonderland!
Happy Holidays - from me to you!
Simmering Winter Potpourri
- Apple Cider – 2 cups
- Water – 3 cups
- Orange – 1 large, sliced ½-inch thick
- Rosemary – 3 springs, fresh
- Balsam Branches – 8 small springs
- Cinnamon Sticks – 3
- Cloves – 10, whole
- Add all of the components to a saucepan and bring to just under the boil. Then, reduce the heat to simmer. Allow the aromatics to simmer throughout the day or evening, adding more water and apple cider as necessary.
During the holidays, time can play a huge roll when it comes to finishing the little details. Use the ideas I’ve created here to help set the mood for a festive soirée and still have time to bake those 21 dozen decorated cookies you planned on giving out to your friends and colleagues this year (remember that idea you got after a bottle of wine and endless hours on Pinterest?!).
I believe that each and every day should be festive, stylish, and simple. When I am coming up with holiday décor ideas I try to use easily-found components, concepts that do not take hours to complete, materials that are budget friendly, and most importantly ideas that won’t take an entire weekend to finish. This year, I wanted to add a bit of holiday cheer to everyday items commonly found around the house, your local grocery store, and maybe a quick trip to a craft store (don’t worry, I promise no glitter!). And since I live in a mid-rise, I also wanted to highlight holiday ideas that don’t require “storage” after—making them perfect for a smaller space to add a festive touch!
This is my favorite time of year, and I want to take as much time as I can celebrating and entertaining my friends, family, and clients—with my simple ideas here you will be able to join the party and deck your home with all things jolly!
This crystal bowl filled with mini LED battery-operated lights and silver tinsel is a must for part of your holiday décor this year! The effect of the sparkling crystal against the shiny tinsel, all illuminated with tiny lights adds a “WOW!” factor to any table, sideboard, or entry. The same concept can be done in any clear vessel—so use your imagination! Imagine multiples of these down the center of your dining table for a dinner party – I’ll bring the champagne!
Ribbon Napkin Rings:
A simple white cotton napkin gets a festive and glamorous makeover with the addition of tartan plaid ribbon, tied in a big bow, then adorned with a sprig of fresh rosemary and crystal chandelier prisms (which I found on Amazon.com). At the end of your dinner party (or buffet), encourage guests to take the crystals home to adorn their tree—an instant take-away bobble—and enjoy for years to come!
Plain glass hurricanes and unscented white pillar candles turn into a winter wonderland with peppermint candies and regular coarse Kosher salt—all available at your local grocery store! Fill the bottom ¼ full of peppermints then pour spoonfuls of coarse salt over the candies. Not only does the salt take on a snow-like effect, it also helps to stabilizes the candle base. Place these all over your home to instantly add a bit of holiday cheer to any room or table.
Silver Tray with Cards
A silver tray filled with holiday cards set either atop a coffee table or under your Christmas tree is probably the chicest way to both display and contain all of those “fa la la” greetings! If you don’t have a silver tray (I find mine at flea markets and thrift stores) a decorative bowl or even a large platter will work just fine.
Transform everyday stemmed glassware with the addition of tiny red velvet bows to add instant holiday cheer! These charming little bows already come with a twist-tie closure, making the application just a few twists away (martini, anyone?)! Best of all, after your soirée, you can either save the bows for next year or use them to decorate packages!
Easily found at your local grocery store, cinnamon sticks tied in little bundles with velvet ribbon are the perfect addition to the doorknob of a powder room, as package ties, around a wine bottle for a host/ess gift, or even hung throughout your Christmas tree to add a spicy scent (especially if you have a faux tree). A little spice, and everything nice!
One of my favorite things about writing recipes is surprising readers and my guests with complex flavors by using everyday ingredients! My Apple Salad with Croutons made its television debut on WGN TV Midday News: Lunchbreak and the star of the dish was my simple and incredibly flavorful homemade vinaigrette!
I made the vinaigrette with cinnamon, honey, and apple cider vinegar as my secret ingredients. All of those flavors are classic combinations with apple, and the addition of tart cranberries, intense Blue Cheese, nuts, and crunchy croutons creates a layered and complex salad with wonderfully everyday ingredients. A match made in food-flavor heaven! In fact, I served this same salad on Thanksgiving Day, and the entire platter was devoured with guests actually asking for seconds – of salad!
Apple Salad with Croutons
Ingredients for Salad (serves 8)
- Granny Smith Apple – cored, and thinly sliced
- Honey Crisp Apple – cored, and thinly sliced
- Lemon - juice of 1 lemon
- Apple Cider Vinegar – 1/3 cup
- Honey – 1/3 cup
- Cinnamon – 1 teaspoon
- Sea Salt – ½ teaspoon
- Black Pepper – ¼ teaspoon, freshly cracked
- Olive Oil – ¼ cup
- Dried Cranberries – ½ cup
- Pistachios – ½ cup
- Candied Pecans – ½ cup
- Blue Cheese – 4 ounces, crumbled
- Arugula or Spring Mix – 8 ounces
Directions for Salad
- Start by placing the cut apples in a large bowl of cold water. Add the lemon juice, and allow to sit until ready to serve.
- Meanwhile, mix vinegar, honey, cinnamon, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil, whisking vigorously. Set aside.
- Drain the apples.
- Arrange the greens down the center of a big platter. Add the apples, dried cranberries, pistachios, pecans, and blue cheese on top. Drizzle evenly with the vinaigrette.
- Serve immediately.
Ingredients for Croutons
- Demi Baguette – cut into ½-inch cubes
- Olive Oil – 3 tablespoons, unsalted
- In a medium sauté pan set over medium heat, add the butter. Once melted, add the bread cubes.
- Toast for 5-10 minutes, tossing occasionally, until lightly brown.
My Pumpkin Spice Trifle is one of my all-time favorite desserts to make during the holidays! Filled with the most flavorful Spiced Pound Cake and luxurious Pumpkin Orange Pastry Cream, this trifle will be a fabulous addition to your holiday soirée. While there a few steps for each component, a majority of them like the pound cake and pastry cream can be made up to three days in advance and stored in the refrigerator. Then, all you need to do is make some Vanilla Whipped Cream, and then assemble the trifle!
You can also assemble this dessert in individual glass bowls or parfait glasses. Simply follow the same assembly instructions but for each individual dish. The dessert can sit out for a couple of hours, making it a perfect seasonal dessert for entertaining. This is one of those desserts that you and your guests will always remember – and ask for year after year!
This recipe is part of “An Autumnal Feast! A Collection of Recipes from Watermarc – Art & Appetite”. Explore the other recipes in this series:
- Curried Pumpkin Soup
- Baguette Stuffing
- Brown Butter & Basil Mashed Potatoes
- Fruit Conserve
- Savory Beet & Farrow Cake
- Mulled Wine
Pumpkin Spice Trifle
Ingredients (serves 8)
Pumpkin Orange Pasty Cream
- Half and Half – 2 cups
- Egg Yolks – 6 extra-large, at room temperature
- Butter – 1 tablespoon, unsalted, at room temperature
- Granulated Sugar – ¼ cup
- Dark Brown Sugar – ¼ cup, lightly packed
- Pumpkin Purée – ½ cup (not pie filling)
- Cinnamon – ½ teaspoon
- Orange Zest – 1½ tablespoons, finely grated
- Vanilla – 1½ teaspoons, pure extract
- Honey – 1½ tablespoon
- Fine Sea Salt – ¼ teaspoon
- Cornstarch – ¼ cup
Spiced Pound Cake
- Butter – 2 sticks, unsalted, room temperature, plus more for preparing pans
- Eggs – 4 extra-large, room temperature
- Flour – 3 cups, all-purpose, plus 2 tablespoons
- Baking Powder – ½ teaspoon
- Baking Soda – ½ teaspoon
- Kosher Salt – ¾ teaspoon
- Buttermilk – 1 cup, at room temperature
- Vanilla – 1½ teaspoons, pure extract
- Honey – ¼ cup
- Sugar – 2 cups, granulated
- Golden Raisins – 1 cup
- Cinnamon – 1 teaspoon
- Cloves – ½ teaspoon
- Allspice – ½ teaspoon
- Nutmeg – ½ teaspoon, freshly grated
- Ginger – ½ teaspoon, dried
Vanilla Whipped Cream
- Heavy Cream – 2 cups, very cold
- Granulated Sugar – 2 tablespoons
- Vanilla Extract – 1 tablespoon, pure extract
- Fleur de Sel Caramel – 5 tablespoons, store-bought
- Gingersnap Cookies – 9 ounces, lightly crushed
Pumpkin Orange Pastry Cream
- In a medium heat-proof bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, both sugars, pumpkin purée, cinnamon, orange zest, salt, and cornstarch until smooth. Set aside.
- Next, in a medium-sized sauce pan set over medium heat add the milk and heat until just under the simmering point.
- Remove from the heat and, very slowly, add the hot milk to the pumpkin mixture in small amounts while whisking constantly.
- Return the mixture back to the sauce pan and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly for 7 to 9 minutes, until very thick. Do not be alarmed when the mixture turns lumpy.
- Remove from the heat and add the butter and vanilla. Whisk vigorously until smooth, about 2 minutes.
- Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the custard. Refrigerate until completely cool, or until ready to use - up to 3 days.
Spiced Pound Cake
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly butter and flour (2) 9x5-inch loaf pans and set aside. Toss the raisins with 2 tablespoons of flour and set aside.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
- With the mixer turned to low speed, add the vanilla, honey, and eggs one at a time, allowing each to fully incorporate. Turn the mixer off.
- Next, in a large bowl sift together the remaining flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger.
- With the mixer running on low speed, add the flour and buttermilk alternately, beginning and ending with the flour. Then, scrape down the sides and bottom of the mixing bowl and fold in the raisins.
- Transfer the batter evenly between the prepared pans. Tap the pans on a flat surface to release as many air bubbles as possible.
- Bake for 45 to 60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the loaf comes out clean.
- Once you have removed the loaves from the oven, allow them to cool in the pans for 10 minutes. Then, turn them out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
Vanilla Whipped Cream
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, add the cold cream and whisk on low.
- Gradually raise the speed of the mixer from low to high, making sure the cream does not splatter out of the bowl.
- Once the cream begins to thicken, add the sugar and vanilla. Whisk until it forms stiff peaks, or about 1 to 2 minutes.
- Cut the pound cake into ½-inch thick slices.
- Place a layer of cake in the bottom of a 2½ to 3-quart glass serving bowl, cutting the pieces to fit as necessary. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of caramel. Top with a layer of the pastry cream, then a layer of whipped cream, then sprinkle with crushed gingersnap cookies.
- Repeat the same process 3 more times. The completed trifle will have 4 glorious layers.
A Helpful Preparation Timeline
- First, bake the Spiced Pound Cake - up to 3 days in advance.
- Then make the Pumpkin Orange Pastry Cream - up to 3 days in advance.
- When you are ready to assemble, find your favorite trifle dish, have your store-bought components ready, and then make the Vanilla Whipped Cream.
- Assemble the Pumpkin Spiced Trifle and serve!