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Recipes & Entertaining Ideas

Filtering by Category: Desserts

Pantry Brownies

Marc J. Sievers

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Like the search for the perfect LBD or the best olive oil, finding the ultimate brownie recipe is worth all the time and effort, (and it’s delicious!). My Pantry Brownies definitely make the case to be in the running for the ultimate brownie recipe. Decadent and luxurious, these brownies have a crisp, chewy edge that won over everyone who taste-tested them.  If you don’t like a crisp edge, you can bake them at 325 for 45-55 minutes for a softer edge.  Either way, my Pantry Brownies are sure to be a hit!

While some of the ingredients like Pernigotti cocoa powder, Guittard chocolate chips and European-style butter might not be readily available in your local grocery store, they are worth tracking down!  In fact, when I have ingredients that are harder to find, I buy 2 of them, so I can use what I need and also have a backup.  Once you see the difference that these few luxury ingredients make, you will never go back!

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Ingredients (makes 9 large brownies)

  • Butter – 16 tablespoons, unsalted, European-style, melted and cooled, plus more (not melted) for preparing pan

  • Flour – ¾ cup, plus 1 tablespoon, all-purpose, plus more for preparing pan

  • Milk Chocolate Chips – 1 cup, Guittard recommended

  • Sugar – ¾ cup, granulated

  • Dark Brown Sugar – ¾ cup, lightly packed

  • Salt – ½ teaspoon

  • Baking Powder – ½ teaspoon

  • Cocoa Powder – ¾ cup, unsweetened, Pernigotti recommended

  • Chocolate Syrup – ½ cup, Hershey’s recommended 

  • Honey – 2 tablespoons

  • Vanilla – 2 teaspoons

  • Eggs – 3 extra-large, at room temperature, lightly beaten

 Directions

  1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Butter and flour an 8x8-inch square pan.  Set aside.

  2. In a small bowl, add 1 tablespoon of flour and the chocolate chips.  Toss to coat.  Set aside.

  3. Next, in a large bowl add the melted and cooled butter, remaining flour and the rest of the ingredients.  Stir until just combined (do not over-mix!).

  4. Using rubber spatula, fold in the chocolate chips mixed with flour.

  5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 35-45 minutes, until the center is just set.  These are very fudgy brownies and inserting a toothpick into the center will not come out clean.

  6. Once the brownies are done baking, transfer the pan to a wire cooling rack and allow to cool to room temperature.

Tip: You can certainly serve these brownies warm alongside a scoop (or 2!) or my Vanilla Bean Ice Cream or my Salted Caramel Ice Cream.  In fact, your friends and family will thank you!

Storing: I store my cooled and cut brownies in an airtight container.  Place a piece of parchment between each layer so they do not stick together.

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Farm Stand Peach Ice Cream

Marc J. Sievers

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Regardless of the season, ice cream is always a treat that satisfies like no other. My Farm Stand Peach Ice Cream celebrates fresh peaches in all their glory and it is so easy to make! Peaches are my husband Ryan’s favorite stone fruit and he calls this the perfect combination of ice cream and peach pie. He loves all of my ice cream recipes, but this one is definitely at the top of his list! I believe that simplicity always wins and this recipe is a stellar example of how a handful of familiar grocery store ingredients can be transformed into the most luscious ice cream!

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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

Peach Compote

  • Butter – 2 tablespoons, unsalted

  • Peaches – 1 pound, pitted, ¼-inch diced, skins still on

  • Dark Brown Sugar -  ¼ cup, lightly packed

  • Cinnamon – ¼ teaspoon

Directions

Ice Cream Base

  1. In a medium saucepan 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 granules, it is done.

  2.  Transfer to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap pressing it directly onto the surface of the mixture. Chill until very cold, or overnight.

Peach Compote

  1. In a medium saucepan set over medium heat, add the butter.  Once melted, add the peached, dark brown sugar and cinnamon.

  2. Cook for 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the fruit is very tender and their natural juices start to release.

  3. Transfer the mixture to a heatproof bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold, preferably overnight.

Assembly

  1. Once the mixture is very cold, add it to an ice cream maker and follow manufacturer’s directions.  About 2 minutes before the ice cream base is finished churning, add in the chilled peach mixture and allow it to be fully incorporated into the ice cream. 

  2.  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: https://www.cuisinart.com/shopping/appliances/ice_cream/ice-21

 

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Assembled Parisian Dessert

Marc J. Sievers

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Fabulous desserts do not always have to involve a long list of ingredients or an even longer list of steps to create. My Assembled Parisian Dessert comes together quickly, without sacrificing an ounce of what we love when we just want something delicious and sweet! It’s also a great way to show off any beautiful platters that you wish you used more often! The star of this recipe is fromage blanc, a soft creamy cheese from France.  It is low fat but still has a luxurious texture and delicate flavor, making it a perfect pairing for fresh strawberries and butter cookies. It is also fun to experiment with the fromage blanc; you can add fresh herbs for the summer or add cinnamon for a bit of warmth in the fall. It is an incredibly versatile French cheese and I know that once you give it a try, it will become a staple in your kitchen!

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Ingredients (serves 6)

  • Fromage Blanc - 8 ounces, at room temperature

  • Honey – 3 tablespoons

  • Fleur de Sel – ¼ teaspoon

  • Dark Chocolate - 2 ounces, roughly chopped, plus more for garnish, 72% Cacao recommended

  • Butter Cookies, for serving

  • Fresh Strawberries, for serving

  • Mint, for garnish 

Directions

  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the fromage blanc, honey, Fleur de Sel and dark chocolate. 

  2. Transfer to a serving bowl, sprinkle the top with more chopped chocolate and place it on a serving platter.  Serve with butter cookies, strawberries or even pound cake.  Garnish the platter with fresh mint.  Serve at room temperature.

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Triple Berry Flag Cake

Marc J. Sievers

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One of the things I love most about summer is that it comes with no shortage of opportunities to get together with family and friends al fresco. Another thing I love is being able to bring something delicious to share! Packed with strawberries, raspberries and blueberries, my Triple Berry Flag Cake embodies the very essence of summer. Beautiful berries are everywhere and this cake allows you to use all of the berries from your garden or that you picked up at the farmer’s market or farm stand. While it looks complicated, this dessert is simply a classic “sheet cake” made from my Lemon Pound Cake and bursting with fresh strawberries and blueberries baked inside, a crème fraiche-infused buttercream and finished with a festive (and easy!) step-by-step iconic decoration of fresh blueberries and raspberries on the outside that will impress your guests all season long!

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Triple Berry Flag Cake

Ingredients (serves 20-25 people)

Cake

  •  Flour – 3 cups, all-purpose, plus more for preparing the pan

  • Sea Salt – 1 teaspoon

  • Baking Powder – ½ teaspoon

  • Baking Soda – ½ teaspoon

  • Butter – 16 tablespoons (2 sticks), unsalted, at room temperature, plus more for preparing the pan

  • Sugar – 2 cups, granulated

  • Vanilla – 2 teaspoons, pure extract

  • Lemon – 2 large lemons, zested and juiced

  • Honey – ¼ cup, clover honey preferred

  • Eggs – 4 extra-large, at room temperature

  • Buttermilk – 1 cup, at room temperature

  • Blueberries – (1) half-pint

  • Strawberries – 1 pound, hulled, ¼-inch diced

Buttercream

  • Cream Cheese – 1 pound, at room temperature

  • Crème Fraiche – 8 ounces, at room temperature

  • Butter – 1 pound, unsalted, at room temperature

  • Sea Salt – ¾ teaspoon

  • Vanilla – ½ teaspoon, pure extract

  • Confectioners Sugar – 1 pound, sifted

Cake Decoration

  • Blueberries – (2) half-pints

  • Raspberries – (3) half-pints

Directions

Cake

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Butter a half sheet pan (18” x 13” x 1”).  Line the bottom of the pan with a piece of parchment paper.  Butter the top of the parchment paper.  Lightly dust the entire pan with flour.  Set aside.

  2.  In large bowl sift together the flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda.  Set aside.

  3.  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.

  4.  Turn the mixer to low speed and add the vanilla, lemon juice, lemon zest, honey, and the eggs one at a time, allowing each to fully incorporate.

  5.  Next, add the flour mixture and buttermilk alternately, beginning and ending with the flour mixture.

  6.  Scrape down the sides and bottom of the mixing bowl.  Gently fold in the berries.

  7.  Transfer the batter into the prepared pan.  Tap the pan on a flat surface to release as many air bubbles as possible.

  8.  Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean.

  9.  Remove the pan from the oven, allow the cake to cool in the pan for 10 minutes.  Then, turn the cake out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Buttercream & Assembly

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, add the cream cheese, crème fraiche, butter, salt and vanilla.  Turn the mixer to low speed and gradually add the confectioner’s sugar.  Raise the speed to medium-low and mix until smooth.   

  2. Place the completely cooled cake onto a large serving platter or board. 

  3. Spread half of the icing on the top of the cooled sheet cake. Using a toothpick, outline the flag on the top of the cake. Fill the upper left third corner with blueberries. 

  4. Put the remaining buttercream in a pastry bag fitted with a large star tip and pipe two rows of white stripes.  Place 2 rows of raspberries below the piped row to create a red stripe. Alternate rows of buttercream and raspberries until the flag is completed. Pipe small stars on top of the blueberries.

Tip: If you are brining this cake to a party, after the cake has cooled completely on the wire rack, simply place it back into the sheet pan, decorate it and then transport it and serve directly from the sheet pan.  This will ensure this show-stoping cake can be your signature summer pot-luck dessert all season long!

Trick: The sheet cake can be made up to two days in advance.  Once the cake has cooled completely, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and store it in the refrigerator. 

Summer Tip: On a hot day you may have to periodically place the finished buttercream into the refrigerator for 5-10 minutes so it stays firm and easy to use while you decorate the cake. 

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Lemon Pound Cake

Marc J. Sievers

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I love a decadent, extravagant dessert. But sometimes, there really is nothing like a wonderfully simple cake that can quietly take center stage all on its own. My Lemon Pound Cake has been my go-to pound cake recipe for the past 15 years!  It is a version of a recipe I found in an old cookbook that belonged to my nana.  I updated it when I was learning to bake by adding fresh zingy lemon and more salt. Perfect for an everyday treat or for any special occasion, you can serve my Lemon Pound Cake with an elegant sprinkle of fresh berries, a dollop of luscious whipped cream or any of my homemade ice creams (Salted Caramel, anyone?). 

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Lemon Pound Cake

Ingredients (makes 2 loaves)

  • Flour – 3 cups, all-purpose, plus more for preparing pans

  • Fine Sea Salt – 1 teaspoon

  • Baking Powder – ½ teaspoon

  • Baking Soda – ½ teaspoon

  • Butter – 16 tablespoons (2 sticks), unsalted, at room temperature, plus more for preparing pans

  • Sugar – 2 cups, granulated

  • Vanilla – 2 teaspoons, pure extract

  • Lemon – 2 large lemons, zested and juiced

  • Honey – ¼ cup, clover honey preferred

  • Eggs – 4 extra-large, at room temperature

  • Buttermilk – 1 cup, at room temperature

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Butter and flour 2 (8 ½ by 4 ½  by 2 ½ -inch) loaf pans.

  2. In large bowl sift together the flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda.  Set aside.

  3. 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. 

  4. Turn the mixer to low speed and add the vanilla, lemon juice, lemon zest, honey, and the eggs one at a time, allowing each to fully incorporate. 

  5. Next, add the flour mixture and buttermilk alternately, beginning and ending with the flour mixture.

  6. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the mixing bowl and transfer the batter evenly between the prepared pans.  Tap the pans on a flat surface to release as many air bubbles as possible. 

  7. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the loaf comes out clean. 

  8. 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.  Slice and serve warm, or at room temperature.

Tip: Because this recipe makes two loaves, I can keep and enjoy one now and store the other wrapped tightly in plastic wrap in the freezer for another time.  Allow the frozen loaf to sit at room temperature (unwrapped) for 2 hours before serving. 

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Salted Caramel Ice Cream

Marc J. Sievers

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I scream, you scream, we all scream for anything with salted caramel! Few desserts are as decadent as my homemade Salted Caramel Ice Cream. Making your own ice cream is much easier (and quicker) than you think and you don’t need to bother with trying to make the caramel from scratch, as your favorite store-bought brand of Fleur de Sel caramel sauce works perfectly! I love this straight from the ice cream maker - it has such an elegant texture but also maintains a soft, velvety consistency while in the freezer.  You can serve this (with confidence!) completely solo for dessert, or it can also be paired with a fabulously rich Store-Bought Cake Made Fabulous!

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Salted Caramel Ice Cream

Ingredients (makes 1 ½ quarts)

  • Heavy Cream – 3 cups

  • Dark Brown Sugar – ⅓cup, lightly packed

  • Vanilla – 2 teaspoons, pure extract

  • Fleur de Sel Caramel – 10 ounces, favorite store-bought brand

  • Fleur de Sel – ½ teaspoon

 Directions

  1. In a medium saucepan set over medium heat, add all of the ingredients. 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 manufacturer’s directions.

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

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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

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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:

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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! 

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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!  

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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!

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Cointreau Chocolate Ganache

Marc J. Sievers

A really good chocolate ganache is a fabulous recipe to have in your arsenal of quick and easy desserts because once it is made it has so many uses.  It can be used to glaze shortbread cookies, rolled into truffles, served warm over ice cream, used for chocolate covered strawberries, glazing cakes and cupcakes, or even whipped in a stand mixer until light and fluffy to use as a ganache frosting!  My Cointreau Chocolate Ganache is flavored with orange liqueur and Cognac, adding sophisticated (and boozy!) flavor of sharp orange and the warmth of Cognac, both of which happen to pair perfectly with dark chocolate.  Best of all, it takes just a few minutes to make and instantly makes even the simplest garnishes feel special and soirée-ready!


Cointreau Chocolate Ganache

Ingredients (makes 2½ cups)

  • Dark Chocolate – 1 pound, finely chopped, 72% cocoa preferred

  • Heavy Cream – 1 cup

  • Honey – 4 tablespoons

  • Sea Salt – ¼ teaspoon

  • Vanilla – ¾ teaspoon, pure extract

  • Orange Zest – 1 ½ teaspoons, finely zested

  • Cognac – 2 tablespoons (Remy Martin 1738 recommended)

  • Orange Liqueur – 3 tablespoons (Cointreau recommended)

  • Shortbread Cookies – store-bought (Walkers brand recommended)

Directions

  1. In a heat-proof bowl set over barely simmering water, heat the dark chocolate, heavy cream, honey, and salt until just melted, stirring occasionally.

  2. Remove from the heat and add the vanilla, orange zest, Cognac, and Cointreau. Stir to combine.

  3. Drizzle ½ of each shortbread cookie with just enough chocolate to coat it. Set each coated cookie onto a paper baking cup that has been flattened. Garnish with more orange zest if desired. Allow the ganache to set at room temperature for a few minutes before serving.

Tip: Stirring the ganache as it cooks with help make it shiny when it is used as a glaze, making for a professional and dramatic presentation.  The ganache will stay fresh in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to one week.  

Idea: Once the shortbread cookies set, do not refrigerate.  Store them tightly wrapped at room temperature.  

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Warm Chocolate Pots with Grand Marnier & Cherries

Marc J. Sievers

Warm Chocolate Pots with Grand Marnier & Cherries from the desserts chapter of my cookbook Table for Two: Cooking and Entertaining for You and Your +1.

When it comes to making desserts at home, I try to keep the recipe easy and elegant – and always with a twist!  My Warm Chocolate Pots with Grand Marnier & Cherries is the perfect dessert for the finale of a casual weeknight meal, yet special enough for a weekend soirée with a glass of Port or Champagne!

The twist comes from (first) a generous “splash” of Grand Marnier, which is an orange liqueur that adds a bit of warmth and depth of flavor to chocolate, and (second) the dried cherries add some sweetness and give it fabulous texture.  My Warm Chocolate Pots require zero (and I mean zero!) special kitchen equipment, and is easier than pie (I mean it!) to prepare.  The recipe uses simple ingredients from your local grocery store (in fact, you probably already have everything on hand!), and from start to finish it takes less than 20 minutes – making this the ultimate dessert to easily have at the ready when entertaining! 


Ingredients (serves 2)  

  • Semi-Sweet Chocolate – 3 ½ ounces, roughly chopped

  • Butter – 4 tablespoons, unsalted, plus more for preparing ramekins

  • Grand Marnier® – 2 tablespoons

  • Sea Salt – ¼ teaspoon

  • Powdered Sugar – ½ cup

  • Cocoa Powder – 1 tablespoon, plus more for dusting

  • Vanilla – 1 teaspoon, pure extract

  • Eggs – 1 extra-large, AND 1 extra-large egg yolk

  • Dried Cherries – ½ cup

  • Flour – 3 tablespoons

  • Candied Orange Peel – for garnish (optional)

Directions

  1. Start by pre-heating the oven to 425 degrees F.

  2. Butter the interior of two ramekins (6 to 8 ounces each) and place on a baking dish. Set aside.

  3. In a heat proof bowl, over barely simmering water, melt the chocolate and butter, stirring occasionally until just melted. Remove from heat.

  4. Next, to the chocolate, add the Grand Mariner®, salt, powdered sugar, cocoa powder, and vanilla. Whisk until blended.

  5. Slowly whisk in the eggs.

  6. Toss the cherries with the flour, then stir into the chocolate mixture.

  7. Lastly, evenly divide the batter into the prepared ramekins. Bake for exactly 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to stand for 2 minutes. Garnish with cocoa powder and candied orange peel. Serve warm.

Tip: You can actually make these ahead of time!  Bake and allow to cool completely.  Then, wrap each one tightly with foil and place in the refrigerator.  When it's time to serve, remove from the refrigerator 30 minutes prior.  Discard the foil and warm in a microwave for 45 seconds.  Dust with cocoa powder and serve immediately.

Idea: You can also swap out the Grand Mariner for Cabernet Sauvignon.  I like to add 1/8 teaspoon of cinnamon to give it a little extra zing! 

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S'mores Ice Cream

Marc J. Sievers

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

Chocolate Ganache

  • Heavy Cream – ¼ cup

  • Milk Chocolate Chips – 4 ounces

  • Fleur de Sel – ⅛ teaspoon

Add-Ins

  • 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

Directions

Chocolate Ganache & Marshmallows

  1. 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.

  2. 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

  1. 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.

  2. Transfer to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap pressing it directly onto the surface of the mixture. Chill until very cold, or overnight.

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

Assembly

  1. 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.

  2. Then, fold in the cooled chocolate ganache.

  3. Transfer to freezer containers and chill until firm.

  4. To serve, garnish with more crumbled graham crackers.

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

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Old Fashioned Banana Muffins

Marc J. Sievers

I think there is something so incredibly delicious about old fashioned recipes that have been re-tested with updated ingredients!  Sometimes, it can be as simple as just amping up the flavor using more of the dominant ingredient in a recipe, which in this case is fresh bananas.

When I was growing up, banana bread was one of the first recipes I learned to make from start to finish from my Nan.  She always kept bananas in her pantry to make her grandchildren toast with butter and sliced bananas—to this day it is still my all-time favorite breakfast concoction!  Inevitably, there were always overly ripe bananas in the pantry that would always magically turn into the most delicious banana bread.  I even included my version of “You’ll Go Bananas Bread” in my first cookbook Entertaining with Love.

For this new take on my old fashioned recipe, I really focused on making the banana the star (without any unnecessary extra ingredients or tricks), and created my Old Fashioned Banana Muffins!  These little muffins give you wonderfully aromatic banana intensity and flavor, and the texture is deliciously gooey with huge pieces of whole banana.  I think this may be the best banana muffin I have ever had!  Don’t take my word for it, make these yourself.  In fact, they are so delicious, I often give a big basket filled with them as a hostess gift for breakfast the next morning! 


Old Fashioned Banana Muffins

Ingredients (makes 16 muffins)

  • Flour – 2 cups, all-purpose

  • Baking Powder – 1½ teaspoons

  • Baking Soda – ¾ teaspoon

  • Sugar – 1⅓ cups, granulated

  • Fine Sea Salt – ½ teaspoon

  • Cinnamon – 1 teaspoon

  • Honey – 2 tablespoons

  • Vanilla – 1½ teaspoons

  • Milk – ½ cup, whole

  • Eggs – 2, extra-large, at room temperature

  • Butter – 1 stick plus 2 tablespoons, unsalted, melted and cooled

  • Bananas – 4, very ripe (1 mashed and 3 diced ½-inch)

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line each well of a standard muffin pan with a paper baking cup.

  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with a paddle attachment, add the flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Turn the mixer to low speed and mix for 3 minutes until fully blended.

  3. Next, with the mixer still running, add the honey, vanilla, milk, eggs, cooled melted butter, and mashed banana. Mix until just combined.

  4. Using a spatula, fold in the diced bananas.

  5. Using a 2¼-inch metal scoop, scoop the batter evenly into each well.

  6. Bake for 23 to 25 minutes, or until the edges are brown and the tops are golden.

  7. Remove from the oven, place each muffin onto a cooling rack to cool.

  8. Re-line the muffin pan with another 4 paper baking liners, and follow the scooping and baking instructions above for the remaining batter.

  9. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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Easter Brunch Menu

Marc J. Sievers

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! 

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Easter Brunch Menu

French Savory Tart with Onions & Gruyere (make ahead)

Roasted Carrots with Basil & Dark Chocolate (day of)

Simple Green Salad with French Bistro Vinaigrette (make ahead)

Baguette with Salted Butter (store bought)

Chocolate Bunny Platter (store bought)

Champagne (chilled)

Fresh Orange Juice (store bought)

Sparkling Water (room temperature)

Grocery Store Flowers Turned Fabulous


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Herbes de Provence Chocolate Truffles

Marc J. Sievers

 

The dried spice blend Herbes de Provence is such a fabulous ingredient to have on hand!  This South of France signature seasoning is a blend of aromatic spices such as lavender, basil, rosemary, thyme, oregano, tarragon, parsley, fennel seed, marjoram, and sage.  Traditionally, it is used to flavor meats, poultry, and vegetables, however, I have used it in soups, breads, and now as the star (yet unexpected!) ingredient in my Herbes de Provence Chocolate Truffles!  I just love how the savory blend of herbs compliments the intensity of the dark chocolate and natural sweetness of the heavy cream – a match made in confectionary heaven!  Serve these sophisticated chocolates with a bold red wine, very dry Champagne, or alongside a cheese plate for an exciting twist!


Herbes de Provence Chocolate Truffles (makes 12-14 truffles)

Ingredients

·       Dark Chocolate – 6 ounces, finely chopped

·       Heavy Cream – ½ cup

·       Butter – 2 tablespoons, unsalted, at room temperature

·       Herbes de Provence – 2 teaspoons, dried

·       Cocoa Powder – ⅓ cup, unsweetened (Pernigotti recommended)

Directions

  1. In a small sauce pan set over medium heat, add the heavy cream and Herbes de Provence. Bring to just under the boiling point, then turn off the heat and allow to steep for 5 minutes.

  2. Meanwhile, place the chopped chocolate and butter into a large glass bowl. Set aside.

  3. Bring the heavy cream infusion back up to just under the boiling point. Using a fine mesh sieve strain the mixture over the chocolate, pressing down on the herbs with a wooden spoon making sure to extract all of the cream. Stir until completely smooth. This creates the ganache base.

  4. Place the ganache into the refrigerator to firm up, about 2 hours.

  5. Place the cocoa powder into a shallow bowl. Using a 1-inch scoop or tablespoon, scoop out balls of ganache and place onto a sheet pan lined with parchment paper.

  6. After you have scooped all the ganache, roll each one by hand into a ball and then roll each truffle through the cocoa powder to coat.

  7. Arrange on a serving platter, or place into an airtight container. Truffles can be stored for up to 4 days in the refrigerator.

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Sparkling Raspberry Sorbet

Marc J. Sievers

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

Directions

  1. In a small saucepan set over medium heat, add the frozen berries, preserves, liqueur, and lemon zest.

  2. Cook for 10-15 minutes, until the berries have released their juices and are very tender, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat.

  3. Place a fine mesh sieve over a glass bowl. Transfer the mixture into the sieve.

  4. Using the back of a wooden spoon press the mixture through the sieve.

  5. 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.

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Salted Hot Chocolate Ice Cream

Marc J. Sievers

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, Pernigotti recommended

  • 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

Directions

  1. 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.

  2. Remove from the heat and whisk in the vanilla, cinnamon, salt, and cocoa powder.

  3. Transfer to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap pressing it directly onto the surface of the mixture. Chill the mixture in the refrigerator until it is very cold.

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

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

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Fig & Cream Scones

Marc J. Sievers

Scones may be one of the easiest things to bake, and with endless flavor combinations!  They can be savory or sweet, and are the perfect addition to a brunch, afternoon tea, or even as a dessert warmed through with a scoop of ice cream.

The process of making scones is really combining just a few simple ingredients and then adding a signature flavor—in this case, dried figs.  Dried Black Mission Figs are a pantry staple in my house.  I love to serve them with cheese boards, as a nibble with drinks, in pasta dishes, and especially in my Fig & Cream Scones.

For this recipe, I increased the salt slightly as it helps to balance the natural sweetness of the figs and cream.  If you really want to up the flavor factor, serve these with English Clotted Cream (or unsalted French butter) and fig preserves – pure heaven!

Happy cooking!


Fig & Cream Scones

Ingredients (makes 8 scones)

  • Flour – 2 cups, all purpose, plus 1 tablespoon

  • Sugar – 1 tablespoon

  • Baking Powder – 1 tablespoon

  • Fine Sea Salt – ¾ teaspoon

  • Butter – 12 tablespoons, unsalted, very cold, diced

  • Eggs – 2 extra-large, at room temperature, lightly beaten

  • Heavy Cream – ½ cup, very cold

  • Dried Figs – 1 cup, diced ½-inch, Black Mission variety preferred

  • *Egg Wash – 1 extra-large egg lightly beaten with 1 tablespoon of water.

Directions

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

  2. In a small bowl, toss the diced figs with 1 tablespoon of flour and set aside.

  3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, add the remaining 2 cups of flour, as well as the sugar, baking powder, salt, and cold butter. Mix on low speed until the butter resembles the size of peas.

  4. With the mixer still running on low speed, add the cold heavy cream, lightly beaten eggs, and figs. Mix until just combined. The dough will be very sticky.

  5. Place the dough onto a lightly floured surface and gently pat the dough into a disc.

  6. Using a well-floured rolling pin, roll the dough into a square, roughly ¾-inch thick. Cut the square into quarters, and cut each quarter in half, as a triangle.

  7. Place each scone onto the prepared sheet pan and brush with egg wash*.

  8. Bake for 20-22 minutes, until the tops and edges are lightly brown.

  9. Remove from the oven, and transfer to a cooling rack to fully cool.

Tip: If you don’t have a stand mixer, use a pastry blender to quickly break the butter into pea-sized pieces.  Then, add the cold cream, lightly beaten eggs, and figs.  With your hand slightly cupped quickly work the liquid and figs into the flour.  Follow the remaining direction numbered 5 through 9.

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