When it is hot and steamy outside, the last thing I want to do is turn on the oven. But that doesn’t mean that delicious food needs to take a backseat! My version of classic Caprese Skewers is easy, breezy and beautiful, exactly what summer should be all about! Flavorful, ripe San Marzano plum tomatoes pair perfectly with a ribbon of fresh basil and creamy little Bocconcini mozzarella. Assembly could not be easier! In this version, instead of chopping basil as you would in a traditional caprese salad, I take a single leaf and roll it like a little cigar and slide it onto the skewer. Follow with the mozzarella, and spritz gently with my secret ingredient, fresh lemon juice! Not what you would expect, but it adds an amazing burst of citrus that enhances the overall freshness of this dish. Finish with a sprinkle of fleur de sel and freshly cracked black pepper, and you have a backyard soirée superstar that will disappear in no time!
Recipes & Entertaining Ideas
Filtering by Category: Entertaining Ideas
Summer just isn’t summer without watermelon making an appearance at a barbecue or endlessly repeating the iconic line “I carried a watermelon” from my all-time favorite summer movie Dirty Dancing! While a beautifully ripe melon is definitely a classic all on its own, it’s a lot easier than you think to kick up the flavor and make it truly something special. My Watermelon & Lime Wedges have a generous sprinkle of flaked sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper to enhance the natural sweetness of this summertime favorite while adding zingy lime zest (I love using a classic rasp by Microplane to get just the bright green part of the lime) for something that is uniquely unexpected and completely delicious! And who doesn’t love food on a stick? Sliding a popsicle stick into the wedges is not only fun, it makes these the ultimate grab-and-go snack, allowing your guests to make their rounds at the party and come back for more!
Contrary to what you may think, having a burst of beautiful blooms on your table does not have to be expensive or complicated. In fact, constructing a high-impact arrangement only requires a trip to your local grocery store! I think it is fun to get creative when it comes to florals and I love the idea of mixing in some fresh herbs with the flowers. There is something so modern and chic about bringing in edible, garden elements as part of the centerpiece for a table setting. Here, I have mixed in some bright green sage leaves with mint and aromatic rosemary. I placed all of the herbs in small drinking glasses filled with water to keep them happy and maintain their color!
The star of this arrangement are peonies that are in their full glory. When you buy peonies at the market, you want to make sure that you buy blooms that are still tight, so as to allow them to open up slowly over the course of a few days. I nestled the peonies in the glasses with the herbs and added a few loose tulip heads in for good measure! For a little mood lighting, I lit a few unscented candles. I mean, doesn’t everyone look better with a little candlelight?
They say that breakfast is ‘the most important meal of the day’. But I also think it can be a perfect casual moment for entertaining, whether you are hosting out-of-town guests or doing an early-morning catch-up with friends! An easy Parisian breakfast is also a way to break out of the boring egg-and-toast routine and do something a little more chic and elevated during a long weekend or any day you have more time to slow down and enjoy the morning. All it takes is a quick trip to your favorite grocery store! Here, I have assembled a few things that are quintessentially Parisian: freshly baked croissants and country bread, ripe strawberries, a delicious berry jam, yogurt in individual ceramic jars and a black tea for a (very necessary) shot of caffeine! Arrange the components on some of your favorite serving platters or a beautiful wooden board for a delightfully French way to start your day, regardless of the season!
Regardless of where I am entertaining, whether at my home in Chicago, or while I am traveling, a beautiful table is always where I begin. When I was in Paris working on my new book, I invited some friends over and decided to set a table that was a little different than what I would normally do at home: something more eclectic and colorful that would be the perfect backdrop to a lively and fun evening! I began to build this table setting with some gorgeous pink hydrangeas (my favorite flower!) that I found at the market. Hydrangeas do not have a scent and I paired them with white unscented candles, so as to not have anything competing with the smell of the delicious food on the table!
When it comes to layering the table, now is the time to bring out some of those amazing and interesting pieces you have collected over the years but haven’t had a chance to use yet. The more colorful, the better! Instead of worrying about everything matching, think about a single color that you want to showcase, like I have done here with pink- the color is highlighted not only in the flowers, but on the placemats and on the small plates I have used in the setting. The only rule here is to have fun with the process and show off your favorite pieces!
You know that I love flowers for entertaining, but there is something so earthy and elegant about a table garland made with fresh herbs and colorful vegetables! The markets in Paris are stocked full of fresh produce and it was the perfect inspiration for a table arrangement for a gathering of friends for the evening. The fact that everything can be bought from your favorite local grocery store or farm stand (or picked that day from your garden) makes this fabulous for an impromptu dinner party or just an innovative way to add some color to a regular weekday meal. This is so easy to arrange! I placed a small head of lettuce in a bowl with some water (to keep it crisp) and put some asparagus and herbs into simple water glasses. I rounded out the garland with gorgeous heirloom tomatoes in a basket and a beautiful head of radishes on a vintage silver tray. A show stopping baguette wreath was the finishing touch to bring a bit of Paris to the table!
Even when I am traveling, I always find time to entertain. When I was in Paris last month working on my new book, I invited some friends over for a casual kitchen picnic. After recipe testing all day long, cooking was not on the menu! I made things easy for myself and bought some gorgeous and deliciously French bites that I knew would be instant crowd-pleasers, like a couple of sweet and savory tarts, mini quiches, fresh fruit and super-luxe truffle potato chips. I wanted to make sure that I had a variety of flavors and textures on the table, but also kept in mind what would make it easy for my guests to help themselves throughout the evening. The best part? You can recreate this with items from your favorite grocery store! Most supermarkets have prepared food sections that offer a great selection of delicious picnic-ready components, like tarts, salads and olives. Pick up a few condiments, like fig preserves and dijon mustard, grab a fresh baguette, some fresh flowers and of course wine! Most definitely cannot forget the wine!
When I pick up my fresh flowers for the week, I love to mix them into interesting and modern arrangements that are simple, chic and completely unexpected. While in Paris working on my new book last month, I found these gorgeous, long-stemmed Dutch tulips and some fabulous eucalyptus branches at one of my favorite florists in the city, the incredibly stunning Adriane M Fleuriste in Saint-Germain-des-Près. You could easily find both of these at your local grocery store! Eucalyptus is a go-to of mine throughout the year, because I can get a voluminous, dramatic effect without spending a lot of money. Using the eucalyptus as a foundation, build the arrangement by placing the branches in a vase filled with warm water. There is no rhyme or reason for the placement of the branches, which is half of the fun (the more wild looking the better!). For the tulips, be sure to cut the stems on a diagonal, to allow the blooms to drink in as much water as possible. Then place the tulips around in the vase to complement the eucalyptus branches. Et voilà! A beautiful Grocery Store Flowers Made Fabulous arrangement, perfect for entertaining or for an earthy and elegant everyday moment just for you.
Next up in my Grocery Store Flowers Made Fabulous series, is how to deconstruct a mixed flower bouquet to create several beautiful, monochromatic arrangements. I am not a fan of the typical mixed flower bouquets that are available in grocery stores - I love the all of the vibrant colors, but I find that they are not as elegant. It is quick and easy to take one of these bouquets and create gorgeous, one-of-a-kind arrangements!
First, when you are looking at all of the bouquets in the store, make sure to select the biggest bundle of flowers that is available. This will yield the widest variety of blooms to work with. Once you get the flowers home, find a large workspace that will give you enough room to spread out and separate the blooms into single-color groupings.
After you have divided all of the the flowers into groups, use a pair of shears to cut each stem on the diagonal. This will allow the flower to drink up as much water as possible. Use your desired vessel as a guide for trimming the stems. I like to use small bistro glasses with a bit of warm water for these arrangements, as they are perfect for scattering the bouquets around the house or down the center of a table. Regardless of the season, fresh blooms always add that “little something” to brighten up the day!
We have come to expect the traditional bowl of chips at a party. But let’s face it: that can get boring. You do not need to completely abandon the salty, crunchy deliciousness of potato chips, but you can make them a lot more interesting! My Salt & Pepper Potato Chips with Blue Cheese from my second cookbook, Table for Two, will immediately amp up the flavor factor at your next get-together and leave your guests wanting more! I love the addition of Stilton and the fresh zing of the lemon zest in this easy and elegant dish. For a party of two, this pairs perfectly with a glass of very dry champagne or bold red wine. Cheers!
Salt & Pepper Potato Chips with Blue Cheese
Ingredients (serves 2, expand recipe as needed)
Salt & Pepper Potato Chips – 4 ounces, store-bought
Stilton Blue Cheese – 2 ounces, crumbled
Chives – 2 tablespoons, fresh, finely chopped
Lemon Zest – 1½ teaspoons
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
In an 8-inch cast iron skillet, or other oven-proof serving dish, add half of the potato chips. Then evenly scatter over the chips 1 ounce of blue cheese, 1 tablespoon of chives, and ¾ teaspoon of lemon zest.
Add another layer of potato chips and the remaining blue cheese.
Place in the oven for 4-6 minutes, or until the cheese is melted.
Remove from the oven, and sprinkle with the remaining chives and lemon zest. Serve hot.
Tip: Any brand of Salt & Pepper potato chips will work for this recipe. Using a cast iron skillet allows this dish to go from oven to table, just remember to use a trivet to protect your tabletop.
I love a simple but luxe little bite to serve with cocktails or even as a wonderful quick snack. My Crostini de Brie was inspired by a similar dish I had in a cozy French bistro in Milwaukee. It’s crunchy, melty, savory and a bit sweet- everything you want to nibble on with a chilled glass of champagne!
This is the perfect recipe to keep in mind as you hit your local farmer’s markets. Fresh baguette and arugula will be on hand, and the wide variety of locally-harvested honey (try a flavored variety, like truffle or orange blossom) will be showcased beautifully in this fabulously chic hors d’oeuvre. If you are looking for something new to wow your guests with, give this a try!
Crostini de Brie
Ingredients (serves 6, expand recipe as needed)
Baguette – 6 pieces, sliced ¼ inch thick on the diagonal
Unsalted Butter – 12 teaspoons, unsalted, at room temperature
Brie – 6 pieces, sliced ¼ inch thick
Honey – 6 teaspoons
Black Pepper – 3 teaspoons
Fleur de Sel – 1 ½ teaspoons
Arugula – for garnish
Preheat the broiler on the highest setting. Line a half sheet pan with parchment paper. Set aside.
Butter both sides of each baguette slice with 1 teaspoon of butter. Set aside.
In a large sauté pan set over medium heat, toast the baguette slices on each side until lightly toasted and golden. Place onto the prepared half sheet pan.
Next, top each slice with brie. Drizzle each slice with 1 teaspoon of honey. Place under the broiler for 60 seconds until slightly melted but not runny. Keep an eye on them, they will burn fast!
Remove from the broiler, sprinkle evenly with pepper, Fleur de Sel and arrange on a serving dish. Garnish each crostini with a few leaves of arugula and serve warm.
No doubt you have spent many evenings enjoying an Aperol Spritz al fresco (or at your favorite hotel bar!). I know I have! But have you ever considered Aperol as the star of a martini? My G&A Martini brings together the bright, citrus flavor of Aperol, the herbaceous layers of The Botanist gin and with the wonderful fizz of champagne to make for a refreshingly chic take on the most classic of cocktails. If you are looking for something new to greet your guests with at your next party, you can serve the G&A Martini alongside my Puff Pastry Pinwheels sprinkled with a bit of Gruyère cheese. For a larger crowd, take a page from the European entertaining playbook and present each drink over ice in small bistro glasses! Cheers!
The G&A Martini
Ingredients (serves 6)
Gin – 6 ounces, Botanist recommended
Aperol – 9 ounces
Triple Sec – 3 ounces, Cointreau recommended
Orange Juice – 3 ounces, freshly squeezed
Champagne – (1) 750ml bottle, chilled
Rosemary – 6 sprigs, for garnish, fresh
Orange Slices – 6, for garnish
In a tall pitcher, stir together the gin, Aperol, triple sec and orange juice. Set aside.
Fill a large cocktail shaker half full with ice. Pour enough of the drink mixture into the shaker to almost fill it. Shake the cocktail for a full 30 seconds and strain into martini glasses.
Top each martini with 4 ounces of chilled champagne. Garnish each glass with a sprig of rosemary and fresh orange slice. Serve cold.
I absolutely love having fresh flowers at home. What I do not love is breaking the bank for a beautiful arrangement! It is entirely possible to assemble gorgeous floral moments with blooms from your favorite grocery store, and I want to show you how to make a classic rose cluster using roses that I bought from my neighborhood grocer!
For this cluster, I chose a similar color palette and three colors of roses: Pale pink with lime green, ivory, and a soft pink/peach. One of the varieties was a spray rose to add a different size and texture. All you need are flower shears, green floral wire, and a simple glass cylinder (my go-to vessel - they are easy to find, blend into any table setting, and are small enough to arrange multiples down the center of a table, place on a side table, etc.).
This is the perfect time to be creative! If you prefer a monochromatic story, as I have shown here, select blooms that are in a similar color palette. For a more daring arrangement, shake it up a bit and choose a variety of hues for an eclectic centerpiece. Happy arranging!
A Few Simple Tips to Arrange the Cluster
For a table setting, I think flowers should not be taller than 8-10 inches. Measure your arrangement using my technique in the video.
Cut stems at a diagonal when arranging. I like to change the water and re-cut the stems daily to ensure my flowers stay fresh.
Who says that entertaining has to be confined to evenings? I find that low-key morning gatherings for breakfast or brunch are a great way to catch up (and spill the T—not literally!) with friends, but still allows for everyone to have the rest of the afternoon to themselves. Breakfast entertaining should be just as easy and fun as a cocktail party, while being no less delicious! My Fresh Fruit & Yogurt Platter is a beautiful showstopper that is light, layered with flavor, and quick to assemble.
Perfect for any time of the year, this delicately sweet dish is made with a variety of berries, but you can switch up the fruit and play around with the color palette—add slices of kiwi and honeydew for fresh green, or slices of pineapple and mango. Choose what is in season and highlight the freshness and full flavors of the berries, melons, and tree fruits that are perfectly ripe. Serve with your favorite coffee, tea, or fresh-squeezed juices. This platter also makes for a simple and gorgeous breakfast meal for an overnight house guest. A fabulous way to start off your day. Enjoy!
Fresh Fruit and Yogurt Platter (serves 6)
Sweetened Shredded Coconut – ¼ cup
Greek Yogurt – 32 ounces, plain
Vanilla – ½ teaspoon, pure extract
Cinnamon – ½ teaspoon
Maple Syrup – 3 tablespoons, Grade A
Honey – 3 tablespoons
Orange Zest – 1 tablespoon
Sea Salt – ¼ teaspoon
Granola – 3 cups, favorite store-bought brand
Blackberries – 1 cup
Raspberries – 1 cup
In a medium sauté pan set over medium heat, add the coconut and cook for 3-5 minutes until lightly toasted, tossing occasionally. Set aside.
Next, in a large bowl, add the yogurt, vanilla, cinnamon, maple syrup, honey, orange zest, and salt. Whisk until combined.
Lastly, spoon the yogurt onto a large platter or low shallow bowl. Arrange the granola, blackberries, and raspberries over the top. Sprinkle with toasted coconut. Serve immediately.
Tip: You can prepare the yogurt up to two days in advance and store it in the mixing bowl, covered with plastic wrap, and set in the refrigerator.
One of the things that I love most with both cooking and entertaining is taking a classic idea and giving it a modern twist! I like to have a cheese plate ready to greet my guests at a party, but I wanted to tweak it a bit this season to make it more special for the holidays. My Soirée-Sized Cheese Boxes are a perfect companion to a glass of bubbles!
Of course, the best part about a traditional cheese board is that it is an easy, no-cook, delicious mix of flavors and textures: hard and soft cheeses, crackers, dried and fresh fruit and sometimes, a little sweetness, like a high-quality dark chocolate (all available at your favorite grocery store!). Think of my Soirée-Sized Cheese Boxes as a chic, updated version of the cheese plate that will wow your family and friends this holiday. You know what’s even better? They can be assembled in advance and kept in the refrigerator!
There’s no rhyme or reason in building these little boxes, so be creative and think about what your guests would love to nibble on as they arrive as well as what would make the most sophisticated presentation. I started with these adorable and stylish boxes that are available online. I like to use grapes as a base to give some height and to serve as a sweet foundation. Next, layer in other ingredients, like dried apricots and figs, crackers and flatbreads, nuts and cheeses. You can use anything that has great flavor and will complement each other. This a great opportunity to try something new! To round out the boxes I have here, I included two hard cheeses; Pepper Jack and Gruyere, as I am able to cut them into strong geometric forms, and they will keep their shape while in the box. I presented the boxes in an acrylic tray, accented with a bed of beautiful greenery that I also found at my favorite grocery store. It’s simple and sets an elegant tone for the evening.
I love the idea of these boxes as edible and elegant versions of party favors that will be sure to be the life of your holiday soirée!
A Few Simple Tips to Arrange the Boxes
If you use a dried fruit with a stem, like the figs I have used here, be sure to remove the stems before placing inside the box.
Keep in mind that your guests will eat with their eyes first, so vary the height of the ingredients inside the box. You can use a hard cheese to provide the perfect vertical element for visual interest.
Add a fresh sprig of Rosemary or Thyme to each box for a little bit of green for an extra festive (and aromatic!) touch!
While you are planning your holiday soirée, remember the flowers! An earthy and elegant arrangement makes for the perfect centerpiece. I love the rustic charm of a small copper pot as the vessel for a French-inspired collection of roses and greenery, which creates an arrangement that is sophisticated and does not overwhelm the table.
The best part is that all of the fabulous flowers (and herbs!) can be found at most grocery stores. While you are out picking up a few last-minute ingredients, you can also bring home simple florals to recreate this arrangement. I used red roses, spray roses, seeded eucalyptus, and rosemary for this holiday-themed bouquet. To make the arrangement, use small pieces of floral foam that fit snuggly into the container to help stabilize the bouquet. Also, throughout the year, keep an eye out for interesting vessels to hold your other arrangements, like vintage copper pans, porcelain, and glass vases of varying sizes. Florals do not have to be complicated, so be creative and experiment with different blooms and containers. You can adapt them for any season or occasion!
A Few Simple Tips to Create an Arrangement
Fill a deep bowl or stock pot with warm water and place a piece of floral foam on top of the water, letting it fully submerge on its own. This is the best way to ensure it absorbs as much water as possible.
To help your arranging go more quickly, organize your florals and remove any undesirable petals, stems, or leaves prior to assembling the arrangement.
Cut the stems of the roses on the diagonal to allow the blooms to take in more water while in the arrangement.
Add the rosemary the day of your soirée to be sure it is fresh and vibrant in the arrangement. Also, be sure to shave off the tough outer bark at the base of the stem, and slice the stem up the center so that it can take in water more easily.
I like mixing spray roses and regular roses together in the same color. This adds contrast and visual interest from every vantage point around the table while maintaining a sophisticated look with a unified color palate.
Hosting an al fresco soirée is one of my favorite things to do when the weather is just too beautiful to stay indoors. For this years Le Dîner en Blanc Chicago I partnered with Caspari to create the ultimate, portable tablescape perfect for an all-white dinner outside! Below I have included detailed images, my WGN News segment, and shoppable links (all from behind the scenes!) so you can easily recreate my tablescape for yourself at home or on-location!
Watch: WGN News Segment featuring Caspari and Le Dîner en Blanc
S&P Potato Chips
Entertaining during the summer should be all about ease, simplicity, and should include things that can be done ahead of time for your soirée—even for hosting a party on the Fourth of July! For any holiday-themed event food is a fun (and easy!) way to bring it to life. But, keeping it simple and stress-free is important. These six do-ahead ideas can be done with simple items found easily at the grocery store, craft store, and even items already in your own pantry that will bring the party to life!
Kick off your own fireworks with these six do-ahead 4th of July ideas for a summer soirée in red-white-and-blue style!
Champagne or wine glasses get a festive makeover with streaming ribbon
Red, white, and blue ribbons tied with a simple knot onto the stems of glassware is an effortless transformation with a dramatic effect! Make sure the tails are extra-long! As your guests hold their glasses the ribbon cascades for a stunning look, especially when multiplied across the backdrop of the party. Matching-patterned cocktail napkins will pull this look together. Use this simple idea to accentuate those savvy cheers-worthy moments!
Get organized right from the beginning
Once you have decided on your menu, choosing the right serving dish is a helpful and time-saving next step. Write on a sticky note with each of your menu items and label each serving piece with the corresponding sticky note. This is also helpful during prep the day of the party when a guest asks, “Where should I put the veggie burgers?” All they have to do is look for the labeled platter! Your food table is planned, organized, and ready to go.
Create a color-pop platter
Having platters and other serving pieces for every holiday can be an expensive investment, not to mention a storage overload. Instead, use acrylic rock crystals (they are typically used as filler in vases or scattered around a table) to punch-up an everyday white platter! Choose a combination of colors (two or three—four or more is a bit overwhelming) that captures the colors of your theme. Then, simply use a hot glue gun to affix the faux gems to the rim of a heat-proof platter. You can do them in a pattern, a cluster, or arranged as section dividers on the platter. After the party is over, the acrylic rocks just pop off leaving behind your simple white platter ready for the next holiday!
Candles are key
Hurricanes had height, light, and a bit of drama to any décor. Use the same acrylic rock crystals as the color-pop platter idea to create hurricanes on theme with your holiday look! Place your candles in the hurricanes. Mix together the three rock crystal colors, in this case red, silver, and blue. Pour the rock crystals around the candles in each hurricane, about half way up the height of the candle.
Take-out containers filled with make-ahead recipes
Doing as much ahead of time is key to keeping your soirée simple and stress-free. After all, you want to enjoy the party, too! A delicious and easy-to-make summer pasta salad is the answer. Pasta salads taste better when you make them in advance and allow the flavors time to meld together. Since you are already in the kitchen making a fabulous summer pasta salad (like my Pesto & Arugula Pasta Salad!), why not do one more small step to package it up in individual servings using take-out containers, also dressed with ribbon tails. This is the easiest way to pack food for large groups without having to worry about serving bowls and utensils, spoons, and forks—just include a set of to-go chopsticks for each guest! Best of all, the container, ribbon, and chopsticks are all recyclable, making clean-up easiest of all!
Ribbon napkin rings
Do you have a drawer filled with mix-and-match napkin rings? Where do their counterparts go? It’s like the tabletop equivalent of socks “eaten” by the dryer! Ribbon is the go-to solution when you need to add a bit of flair to a tablesetting, BBQ, or picnic. Wired-edge ribbon is a perfect substitute for dedicated holiday napkin rings. Instead of owning a set of twelve red- white-and-blue glittered star napkins rings to use once (maybe twice) a year, buy a spool of glittery star ribbon as a perfect alternative!
When WGN News asked me to design a segment for the ultimate watch party for the royal wedding of Price Harry & Megan Markle, I happily said "yes"! Since the royal nuptials are being broadcast live from London, coverage begins in some TV-land markets as early as 2am - YIKES! I thought A Royal Wedding Breakfast soireé was the perfect way to gather with friend on Saturday morning and watch the festivities unfold (and a perfect excuse to stay in your jammies!). Below I have included detailed images, my WGN News segment, and shoppable links (all from behind the scenes!) so you can easily recreate my Royal Wedding Breakfast for yourself at home!
Toasted Crumpets with Mascarpone and Strawberry Preserves
Buttery Croissants filled with Scrambled Eggs & Spinach
Vanilla Bean Yogurt with Dehydrated Raspberries, Fresh Blackberries, & Granola
Loose Leaf Tea
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!