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Recipes & Entertaining Ideas

Filtering by Category: Kitchen Tips

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! 

Order a signed copy of my cookbook Entertaining with Love!


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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Small But Mighty Kitchen!

Marc J. Sievers

My kitchen is my workshop, my office, and my playground!  I spend a great deal of time in my kitchen recipe testing for my new book (coming later this year!) and my blog La Vie Piquant, and of course creating all kinds of dishes and desserts for cocktail and dinner parties.  I have put a lot of thought and love into my kitchen, to make it both functional and inspirational.

Recently, I had a few renovations done to further improve the look and feel of my small but mighty kitchen!  In fact, I’m so excited about the updates that I kicked off Series 4 of From My Kitchen to Yours with a webisode dedicated to giving you a tour of my mighty little kitchen and some of the thinking and purpose behind my design choices.  This is my real kitchen in my apartment in Chicago.  No studio or sets involved!  This is where I do all my creative development for my books, blog, and professional services.  Watch the webisode below, and here I include a few more ideas and detail that didn’t make it into the webisode.

While I didn’t outline each and every detail of my new kitchen, I think that ones that I highlighted are really ideas and concepts that can work in any kitchen, regardless of the size.  When you spend as much time in the kitchen as I do, having a space that is as customized to fit your needs is essential.  The kitchen, for me, has never been a place for the latest trendy things—it is a place that artfully combines the functional and the beautiful.  Timeless tools, like a food mill for example, will always have a place in my kitchen, along with cozy details that reflect my tastes and personality.  (Did you catch the photograph above the doorframe?  That’s my Nan’s kitchen where I first learned to cook.)

Here are some of the highlights I mentioned in my webisode, as well as some additional design ideas:

Under-Cabinet Lighting

This small details adds instant warmth to any kitchen.  It also offers a lovely glow during dinner parties, particularly if your kitchen can be seen or is open to the dining room.  I opted for LED lighting that simply plugs into any standard wall outlet—no electrician needed!

Peg Board

My board is the “work horse” of my small kitchen.  Not only do I store some of my most-used kitchen equipment, but it also holds items that are either bulky or hard to store.  For me, having things out in the open reminds that I have them (and to use them!).

Refrigerator

Even though my refrigerator is just a standard size and design, I have customized it to suit my needs.  I changed the function of the crisper draws by removing them completely and lining the base with a rubberized mat to store bottles of Champagne, white wine, and other bottles.  Now, instead of fresh produce disappearing into a drawer to be forgotten, all of my fresh vegetables, herbs, and fruits are stored in line-of-sight on the shelves, making it easier to “shop” my own refrigerator. 

That works only because I also organized all the other “stuff” that shares the shelves with my produce, grouping bottles of condiments and other items in clear refrigerator-safe plastic bins.  This saves me from the unwieldy mess that can happen with refrigerator shelves, and the dreaded “lost bottles” or “mystery cheese” that are only ever found again then they break, stink, or you move.

No Microwave

My microwave was positioned directly over my stovetop and was what I stared at all day when in the kitchen cooking—it drove me CRAZY!  So, I had it removed and installed a decorative (but functional) glass shelf in its place.  First, that got the hulking beast of a thing out of my face, and opened up the space.  It also allowed me to free up my limited counter space from the myriad little things that seem to multiply, like salts, pepper, oil, etc.  Now, I store things I use almost every day when cooking:  Salts, pepper mills, a timer, Cognac, and more.  I replaced the microwave with a much smaller model and moved it to the top of the cabinets.  This works for me since I don’t use my microwave very often.  I drilled a small hole in the top of the cabinet to feed the power cord through and plugged it in to the existing power source inside the upper cabinet where the old unit was plugged into.  One the best visual and functional changes to the kitchen.

Baking Center

I purposely segmented my kitchen into areas for different types of cooking:  Savory and sweet.  It also helps when Ryan and I are in the kitchen together.  A planned space is a harmonious space!  My baking center is where I store all of the baking accoutrements, ingredients, pans, and flat sheets of parchment paper.  I store all of my chocolate-based ingredients and nuts and dried fruits in small plastic bins.  This allows me to pull down the bin and riffle through it looking for exactly what I need without making a mess of the entire cabinet every time.

Wall Mounted Knife & Spice Rack

Because counter space is limited and a true commodity in my kitchen, I try to keep as much off the countertops as possible!  I mounted a magnetic knife strip to the wall, opting to get rid of a clunky knife block.  I also did the same with spice racks.  Even my utensil crocs are taller, narrow, and have a small footprint.

Upper Cabinet Storage

Since my cabinets do not go all the way to the ceiling, I have utilized that precious space for storing glass jars with dried grains, beans, large appliances (like a small microwave, convection oven, Champagne/party tub, etc.), and bottles sparkling and still water.

All Food, No Dishes

Only one cabinet has mugs and everyday drinking glasses in it, otherwise I made a conscious choice to store only food and equipment for preparing food in the kitchen.  That way the kitchen is fully functional as the place for food prep and cooking, and the dining room is fully functional with all of the dishes and glassware at the ready in the cabinets and buffet that are located right near the dining table.  At first, it felt like I was breaking some sort of kitchen rule.  But, once I realized that it was functionally awkward to do it any other way, it just made sense and works so well.

Décor Updates

I had the countertops replaced with a light quartz and changed the wall color from a dark chocolate brown to a lighter French gray.  I kept the blond cabinets as the wood tone softens the space while keeping it airy.  My signature color is orange (have you noticed around here?!) and so I chose to paint the peg board orange and let the color peek through the utensils, pans, and equipment.  It gives a lively energy and really makes the peg board a fun focal point that’s part of the ambiance and design of the kitchen.  But, I didn’t use the orange any other place.  In small spaces it is easy to overdo it.  And on that note, I removed many of the decorative bobbles I used to have on the walls.  Over time it started to feel a bit cluttered and became a bit heavy.  With the new lighter French gray, I decided to pair everything down to what is most meaningful to me.  The uncluttered look helps when I get whipped up into a frenzy in the kitchen and don’t feel overwhelmed.

Lastly, I had the tile floors redone to match the wood floors in the rest of the apartment.  The darker floors actually soften the space and make it warmer without making it feel smaller.  In fact, by having the wood of the apartment extend into the kitchen it actually feels more cohesive and connected, and even a bit larger.  It is amazing how updating just a few square feet of space can have such a dramatic effect.

Over-Head Lighting

I mentioned the under-counter, but I also updated the lights in the ceiling with “daylight” toned LED lights and put them on dimmers.  When I really need bright light in the kitchen I can crank them up and see what I need to see, without additional heat.

Little Adjustments

My kitchen, like everyone else’s, has its quirks.  One of which is no dedicated ventilation.  So, I bought a tower fan that hides just outside the kitchen.  When I’m baking or using all the burners at once, it slides over and circulates the air wonderfully.  A little addition that has made an enormous difference.

I also have a very shallow sink (the dishwasher is below it) with no possibility of a sprayer.  So, I found a fabulous Italian spring-mounted faucet with a sprayer built in!  And lastly, I softened the door frame (which has no door) with an asymmetrical curtain, which can be drawn to close off the space visually if I ever want to during a dinner party.

I hope these design ideas and tips that I’ve developed for my kitchen are useful and you find some inspiration for taking a fresh approach with your own space.  I’m always curious and trying to innovate, so if you have your own ideas please share them in a comment below!

Happy kitchening!

Order a signed copy of my cookbook Entertaining with Love!

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Simmering Winter Potpourri on WGN

Marc J. Sievers

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

Components

  • 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

Directions

  1. 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.

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A Perfect Place Setting – Casual or Formal

Marc J. Sievers

Setting a table for a brunch, luncheon, or dinner is one of my favorite things to do. It allows me to be creative with colors, textures, and style. While there are a few rules when it comes to laying a properly appointed place setting, there are also chic and easy ways to make a time-honored tradition both fresh and new without compromising on etiquette.

First, decide how informal or formal you want your table to be. I keep a printed version of the charts below tucked away with my napkin rings, making it easy to reference when it comes time to set the table.


Informal Table Setting


Formal Table Setting


Next, it is onto selecting my accoutrements for my tablescape. Here are a few of my most-used ideas and tips when it comes to selecting the details for the table.

Dinnerware, Glassware & Linens

  • Simple clean-lined white plates are the best for showing off your cuisine. Remember, expensive does not always mean better. You can find white dinnerware just about everywhere and on any budget, including discount stores, flea markets, and garage sales. Some of my most-treasured finds are from thrift stores and flea markets.

  • I also love collecting antique mismatched china! It’s perfect to incorporate with my all-white dinnerware for a touch of whimsical elegance.

  • Use different patterns of vintage flatware to create a more informal feel.

  • Simple clear glassware and stemware is perfect for all types of parties. It allows the colors of wine and cocktails to become part of the table’s décor. Of course, crystal stemware is also perfect. It will add a bit of sparkle and glamour to any party, even the most casual!

  • When hosting a cocktail party, buffet, or potluck choose one type of glass for all beverages, including water. I love using stemless flutes. They are elegant, add height to a table or buffet, and best of all fit into the dishwasher more easily than a traditional stemmed glass. Of course, stemless does not apply to coffee and tea service.

  • If you are planning to serve a full complement of beverages, plan to use 3 to 4 glasses per guest, including a glass each for a cocktail, red wine, white wine, and champagne.

  • Always choose a natural fiber like cotton or linen for napkins, tablecloths, and runners. When something has a stain or spill you can easily pre-treat and launder at home.

  • Choose colors like crisp white or a delicate cream or ivory for your main set of linens. You will always be prepared for any party no matter the theme or style. You can easily dress up plain linens with ribbons, flowers, and other adornments.

  • Table runners, patterned or colored napkins, and plate chargers are fabulous ways to add color (and glamour!) to your table. Having more than one set of linens is a great way to add vibrant color and interest to your table and will pair perfectly with monochromatic napkins, tablecloths, placemats, and plates.

  • Avoid unnecessary stress by pre-pressing linens as soon as they have been laundered. I have a dedicated drawer and a small shelf where I store my ready-to-use linens.

  • While you may have a desire to insert a perfumed sachet in with your clean stored linens, it is not ideal. Any added scent to your linens will interfere with the scent of your food.

  • Always plan on having available double the number of napkins per guest. After dinner give each guest a new napkin for dessert. Nobody enjoys wiping their mouth with a soiled napkin.

  • For a rustic feel use over-sized, new, clean dishtowels for napkins or placemats. Choose ones that will fit the theme of your food and colors.


Table, Flowers & Service

  • A fabulous host or hostess sets the table the night before! You can take your time to make sure all of your details are in place, and you will have time to fix or work around any problems you might discover (a torn tablecloth or wax-encrusted candle stick). Doing so the night before also allows extra time in case you are running a tad behind in the kitchen (we all do!).

  • Flowers are a must for any soiree! Buy flowers and arrange them one or two days in advance of your soirée with warm tap water. This allows the blooms to relax and open which will make your arrangements appear fuller and more natural the day of your gathering.

  • Cut the stems on the diagonal to allow them to drink the most water. Change the water daily to keep your arrangements fresh and vibrant.

  • Buy flowers with little to no scent for the dining table or sideboard. You never want the scent of flowers to compete with the aromas of your food. Keep heavily scented flowers for the guest bathroom or foyer.

  • A flower arrangement set on your dining room table during dinner should be no more than eight inches tall. You want to create a low-lying display, something that can easily be “peeked” over so guests can converse with one another naturally.

  • Instead of placing one flower arrangement in the center of the table try placing three or five (use odd numbers) smaller arrangements in a single row going that spans the entire length of the table.

  • If you only have taller vases place a larger arrangement at each end of the table and sit guests between them. Fill in the middle of the table with candles, rose petals, potted herbs, or big bowls fresh produce.

  • If your budget is a bit tight opt for hand-made tissue paper flowers that can be made in a variety of colors and sizes. They can also be stored and reused. Not only are you saving money, but being green as well!

  • Antique silver trays and bowls are my signature entertaining trick! Both useful and beautiful, you can find them at garage sales, flea markets, and online. I like to buy many different sizes and shapes enabling me to always have the perfect shape every time. It is amazing what they will do to elevate your party and add instant style and sophistication! Perfect for serving canapés to cocktails, side dishes to desserts, they will fast become your “go-to” soiree item!

  • Use small glass or silver serving bowls for all condiments. Never put plastic bottles on the table. Not only will they detract from your tablescape, but nobody wants to read labels during a party.

  • I love using beautiful wired edged satin ribbon for napkin rings. Simply tie it into a bow around the napkin, then place a sprig of fresh thyme, rosemary, or a small stemmed flower in between the ribbon and napkin.


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Readying Your Home for Spring Entertaining

Marc J. Sievers

While it does not feel like Spring in Chicago, I am already thinking about the coming season of fabulous brunches, luncheons, and dinners when I can take advantage of the dazzling fresh delights that will be available from the farmer’s markets in my neighborhood.

To be ready for a Spring of fun events and soirees with friends and family, it’s time to plan for a little refreshing of my entertaining spaces and accoutrement.  This is an opportunity to shake off what now seems like the heaviness of holiday entertaining for something cleaner, brighter, and lighter.

While the idea of doing a little Spring refresher to your entire home might seem a bit overwhelming, I like to put the primary focus on my kitchen, living room, and dining room to ensure that when I am in the mood to host a fabulous dinner or even a last-minute party set at a moment’s notice.  Below I have outlined a few of my top ideas to help you get started.


Kitchen Refresher

  • Start by removing everything from your refrigerator and freezer. Clean the inside of each using an all-natural surface cleanser.

  • Go through each product and toss anything that has expired (or has mutated). Make a list of things that your discard so that you remember to re-buy them the next time you are at the grocery store.

  • Wipe down each can, jar, box, container, etc. with a clean damp cloth to remove any residue that may have spilled down the sides or gummed up the bottom of the container.

  • Reorganize the shelves on the refrigerator door with products that go together. Keep the jams and jellies together, condiments together, vinegar-based things like pickles and olives together, etc. This makes “shopping” your refrigerator easy.

  • Use the drawers of your refrigerator for stacking both still and sparkling varieties of bottled water, flavored sparkling waters, cocktail mixers, and cans of soda.

  • Use food-safe acrylic trays to store and organize little items that don’t stack well, such as cheeses, tubes of tomato paste, smaller jars, or anything small that can easily get lost in the back of the “abyss”, I mean refrigerator.

  • If you buy fresh vegetables often, store them lying flat on shelves. Place anything that comes in plastic containers (like berries or packaged tomatoes) in glass bowls. This puts all your fresh produce in clear view and will help encourage you to cook what you have bought.

  • Toss all ice cubes that were made more than 30 days ago. Old ice can easily ruin a drink. Use the old cubes to water your plants by placing a few in each pot—it’s like time-release watering.

  • If something in your freezer isn't clearly marked with a description and expiration date, discard it.


Dining Room Refresher

  • Check each cloth napkin for stains, holes, and frays. Do the same with tablecloths, table runners, and placemats. Either repair the item(s) or donate what is not longer useable.

  • Check your candle sticks for any left-over waxy residue. To remove wax, scrape away excess wax, then apply heat with a blow dryer set to medium heat, wiping off the wax with a soft cloth (lint free) as it softens. Wash the area with hot, non-abrasive soapy water to remove any left-over residue.

  • Check your stemware and flatware for any water spots. To remove water spots, dip a small cotton ball into white vinegar. Gently rub to remove the water spot. Wash the area with hot, non-abrasive soapy water to remove any left-over vinegar.

  • Fill in any minor scratches, dings, and dents in your dining table with a matching paint pen.

  • Reorganize your china cabinets, hutch, and other storage. Not only will this help remind you of what you already have, but you will easily identify what gaps you may have in serving pieces, dinnerware, etc. (which means a shopping trip!).

  • Clean as you go! If you move something take the opportunity to clean it, and its shelf or space, before you put it back.


Living Room Refresher

  • Thoroughly vacuum your sofa, side chairs, and other upholstered furniture to remove any dust, crumbs, and debris. Use this time to re-stuff any sagging cushions, decorative pillows, etc.

  • Clean your draperies either by hand or by enlisting the help of a trusted dry cleaner. Freshly laundered draperies can really make a room look crisp and clean.

  • Discard any out-of-date magazines that you are no longer interested in. Keeping a selection of in-season magazine for guests to peruse while relaxing and enjoying a cocktail is a fun way to spark conversation either before dinner or after dessert.

  • Evoke the season change with fresh flowers, lightly scented candles, and even a new throw for your space.

  • Re-merchandise any displays of accessories on top of your coffee table and side tables. Do the same to your book cases, and other displays you may have curated in your space. This will liven up a room and help you “re-love” what you already own!

My original article was published on VRAI Magazine - March 2015 

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How to Roast Garlic

Marc J. Sievers

If you have never eaten or roasted garlic before you are in for a real treat!  When garlic is slowly roasted it takes on a slightly sweet flavor making it perfect to cook and bake with.  I love to use roasted garlic in pasta dishes, breads, and in my Roasted Garlic & Mascarpone Spread!  You can even enjoy roasted garlic on it’s own right out of the oven (after it cools a bit of course!), served to guests individually on small plates with canapé or appetizer forks during a dinner party or cocktail soirée!  Enjoy!


Ingredients (makes 12 heads of Roasted Garlic)

  • Garlic – 12 heads, medium size

  • Olive Oil – 1 ½ cups

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

  2. Start by cutting ½ inch off the top of each head of garlic.

  3. Place each head of garlic in the well of a muffin pan. Drizzle evenly with olive oil, making sure to rub the olive oil into the tops of the garlic cloves.

  4. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 30 - 40 minutes, until the garlic is gold brown.

  5. Remove the garlic from the oven and allow to cool for 20 minutes.

  6. Use a small fork remove each garlic clove from the skin.

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Top 10 Kitchen Organizing Tips

Marc J. Sievers

Today, I decided to reorganize what was behind door 1, 2, 3 and beyond… my kitchen cabinets!  While most find this task to be daunting, I   find it to be very helpful and energizing.  For perfectly organized and well-stocked cabinets, follow my 10 simple tips:

My baking center in my own kitchen is organized with items I use most frequently in the front, while other items are towards the back.


Marc's Top 10 Tips!

  1. Arrange your kitchenware by frequency of use, with everyday dishes on an easy-to-reach lower shelf and special occasion pieces up above.

  2. Create a “cooking zone” around the stove, storing pots and pans as close to the range as possible. Keep spices, olive oil and cooking wines next to the stovetop.

  3. Organize your food pantry shelves by grouping in categories.

  4. Don’t load kitchen cabinet space with recipe books. Relocate them to a dedicated cookbook library someplace close by, like a window sill (away from the sink) or even a small bookcase tucked into the corner.

  5. Instead of storing flour, sugar, baking essentials and dry goods in their original packaging, use large, glass canning jars as storage containers. Not only are they functional, but they also add some rustic charm to your kitchen décor.

  6. Use decorative baskets to hold less-used items on top of your cabinets.

  7. Use decorative hooks on the inside of your cabinets for hanging aprons and dish towels.

  8. Prevent spills by housing spillable or sticky food items on an easy-to-clean lazy susan.

  9. Stow essential kitchen tools like wooden spoons, rasps, and spatulas in large utensil crocs on top of your kitchen counters. This will leave room for more delicate items in your kitchen draws.

  10. Once decluttered, empty space is extremely tempting to fill in with more “stuff”. Remember, every inch of your cabinet does not have to be filled!

Now… GO!  Good luck, and add your comments below to let me know how you do it!

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Bobby Flay in My Kitchen!

Marc J. Sievers

...and the Best Home Cooks of Chicago are Marc and Ryan Sievers!

First, let me start by trying to express just how excited Ryan and I are to have competed on Food Network's Bobby's Dinner Battle and been chosen as the Best Home Cooks of Chicago by Bobby Flay!  It was a fantastically fun and enlightening adventure for us and the reward for our teamwork and dedication was spectacular!

Marc and Ryan in their Chicago kitchen, strategizing on a dinner party menu with a speakeasy theme for  Bobby's Dinner Battle: Battle Chicago  hosted by Bobby Flay on Food Network.

Marc and Ryan in their Chicago kitchen, strategizing on a dinner party menu with a speakeasy theme for Bobby's Dinner Battle: Battle Chicago hosted by Bobby Flay on Food Network.

As Ryan and I were reminiscing about the challenges and different stresses in the heat of the kitchen for Bobby's Dinner Battle I realized that, though there was a lot of action and drama, we have actually be through similar experiences when there weren't any cameras rolling (so far minus a celebrity chef and competitors!).

The winner's trophy at home in our (cleaned!) kitchen.

For Bobby's Dinner Battle we had to conceptualize a dinner party based on a theme, with a time constraint for shopping (with a budget), and get our food ready for the table, before our doorbell rang.  We had to impress.  This was no small feat to do with TV cameras chasing us around, but equally is no small feat in everyday life.  Just because most kitchen's don't have a red blinking clock counting down doesn't mean it doesn't sometimes feel like it's there, stressing you out before your dinner party guests arrive.

I host dinner parties and cocktail parties, both personal and for clients, on a weekly basis and I am constantly looking for ways to save time and reduce stress while keeping the experience elevated and a cut above the rest.  As a result I have definitely discovered some useful tips, tricks, and no-nonsense rules of entertaining that I live by!  Here are just a few of my "words of entertaining wisdom" I have up my sleeve (or in my apron pocket) to get your prepared for your next gathering!


  • Choose a theme! Having a theme for your party, and the food you serve, is essential. But, don’t go overboard! Try not to be too literal with your tablescapes. Add smaller details that will evoke your theme's sentiment. By keeping it simple (which is not the same thing as barren), it will always be chic and stylish!

  • Plan a fabulous menu! Choose your dishes to compliment the occasion or theme of your event and balance between starters, side dishes, and the main course. Serving a filling main course? Then prepare fewer and lighter complimentary side dishes. Planning a decedent dessert? Then less is more when it comes to extras like hearty breads or heavy starters.

  • Set your table the night before. One of the easiest tricks to save yourself stress on the day of your party is to have set your table the night before. You can take your time to make sure all of your details are in place, and you will have time to fix or work around any problems you might discover (like a torn tablecloth or wax-encrusted candle stick). This trick will leave you more time on the day of the party for other details, or to just relax.

  • Plan your serving dishes. Decide what serving dishes you are going to use before you even begin cooking. Use sticky notes to organize and help you remember which menu items are going to be placed in which serving dish. This is especially helpful for buffet-style food tables.

  • Bottoms up! My number one secret is to have a glass of champagne or white wine (red will stain your lips) before the start of the party as a toast to a job well-done and to relax a bit! Also, for the first hour or so I will be greeting and catching up with guests as they arrive and it's hard to hug and shake hands with a glass in my hand!


These simple words of entertaining wisdom just skim the surface of what I have included in my cookbook Entertaining with Love!  I promise by following these, and the other rules outlined in my book, you will be sure to have a well-organized and successful party that is fun and you actually enjoy!

Cheers!

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Autumnal Risotto

Marc J. Sievers

I have to admit, I love being in the kitchen and testing recipes (while enjoying wine!). It is my way of escaping the crazy outside world; where I can be creative with flavors, both savory and sweet. And I simply adore cooking for Ryan, as he does for me!

I thought it would be festive to post a recipe inspired by Fall, and the perfect addition to your Autumn table!  I created Autumnal Risotto and it is full of warm flavors and hearty ingredients! It is a “kitchen friendly” recipe (meaning minimal complexity, time, and mess) that I know you will love!

Read on for your ingredients list and how-to:


Autumnal Risotto

Ingredients (serves 6)

  • Yellow Onions - 2, chopped

  • Apple (Gala) - 1, peeled, cored, ½-inch dice

  • Garlic - 3 cloves, minced

  • Olive Oil - 2 tablespoons

  • Butter - 1 tablespoon

  • Roasted Butternut Squash - 1½ cups

  • Kosher Salt - 2 teaspoons

  • Black Pepper - 1½ teaspoons, freshly cracked

  • Rosemary - 2 teaspoons, freshly minced

  • Thyme - 2 teaspoons, freshly minced

  • Vegetable Stock - 4 cups, hot

  • Arborio Rice - 2 cups (un-cooked)

  • Spiced Apple Cider - 1 cup

  • Heavy Cream - ½ cup

  • Parmesan - 1 cup, shredded

Directions

  1. Start by combining both the vegetable stock and spiced cider in a medium sauce pan, and bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer.

  2. In a medium-sized heavy-bottomed stock pot melt the butter together with the olive oil. Sauté the onions, apples, salt, and pepper over medium heat until the onions are translucent (about 8 to 10 minutes), and stir occasionally.

  3. Add the roasted butternut squash, minced garlic, rosemary, and thyme, and continue to cook for another 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.

  4. Next, add the dry rice and stir until well coated and slightly translucent (about 2 minutes). Stir in 1 cup of the HOT stock mixture and simmer gently, stirring occasionally.

  5. After the stock has been mostly absorbed into the rice, add another cup of stock and let simmer and absorb. Continue this same process until the rice is cooked (about 18 to 22 minutes). When taste-testing the rice it should have a bit of a “bite” to it and be slightly al dente.

  6. Stir in the heavy cream and shredded Parmesan cheese. Remove from the heat, cover the pot, and let stand for just a few minutes before serving. Enjoy!

This recipe calls for roasted butternut squash.  It is simple and easy, here's how I did it:


Roasted Butternut Squash

Ingredients

  • Butternut Squash - 4-pounds, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch pieces

  • Olive Oil - 4 tablespoons

  • Sea Salt - 1 teaspoon

  • Black Pepper - 1 teaspoon, freshly cracked

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

  2. In a large bowl, add 4 tablespoons of olive oil, salt, and pepper.

  3. Add the squash and with a large spoon, toss until coated,

  4. Place squash on a baking sheet and roast for 40 to 45 minutes,

  5. Halfway through, toss the squash pieces with a spatula to ensure even roasting and browning,

  6. Remove from oven and let cool, the squash should be aromatic and lightly caramelized.

 The roasted butternut squash can then be stored in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.


Tip: My Autumnal Risotto will serve 6 people when accompanied by a crusty baguette and baby arugula salad (or a salad of your choice).  I recommend a classically themed balsamic vinaigrette for the salad (which you could enhance with a splash of citrus, like orange).  A fantastic wine pairing would be a Rombauer Vineyards Red Zinfandel (my guests really loved the peppery bold wine with the savory and slightly sweet risotto).  You may also serve the Autumnal Risotto as a delicious warm side dish.

Idea: Leftovers may be kept in the refrigerator.  When re-heating, do so on the stove over a low-medium flame adding ¼ cup of either heavy cream or vegetable stock.  You may choose to add more or less, depending on the amount you are re-heating.  You are looking for a creamy (but not wet) consistency.

I told you it was “kitchen friendly”!  Autumnal Risotto is the perfect recipe for an elegant dinner party or a casual Saturday lunch.  Your guests will crave your cooking again and again!  Luckily, I will be posting more knock-out recipes for you to try!  Have a great week everybody!

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