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Recipes & Entertaining Ideas

Filtering by Category: Seasonal & Holidays

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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A Modern Thanksgiving Menu

Marc J. Sievers

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My absolute favorite thing about Thanksgiving is that it’s a holiday all about family, friends and FOOD! Gathering everyone around the table for a fabulous meal is the perfect way to catch up and enjoy the start of the holiday season. While you could go the traditional route and labor over a turkey and stuffing, why not amp up the luxe factor with my take on a modern Thanksgiving dinner?

My Apple and Herb Wellington can be assembled the day before and be baking away in the oven as your guests arrive. Pair it with my Simple Green Salad with French Bistro Vinaigrette. Your home will smell amazing and you will be free to greet everyone with my Fried Blue Cheese Olives and a lovely glass of wine! Save the best for last with my Pumpkin Spice Trifle, a fall-centric version of the traditional English dessert.

Need a refresher on the perfect presentation? Be sure to check out my tips how to set a Thanksgiving table. The full, delicious menu is below. Happy Thanksgiving!  

 

 
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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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Red, White & Blue - Six Festive Ideas to Do Ahead of Your Summer Soirée!

Marc J. Sievers

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Entertaining during the summer should be all about ease, simplicity, and should include things that can be done ahead of time for your soirée! 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 ideas for a summer soirée in red-white-and-blue style!


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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!


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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.


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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!


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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.


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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!


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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!

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An Easter Extravaganza!

Marc J. Sievers

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! 

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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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Cointreau Winter Cider

Marc J. Sievers

During the winter, when the temperatures are just freezing, is actually my favorite time of year to entertain at home.  People tend to stay a bit longer, the food is very comforting and hearty, and everyone can relax and have a really good time!  When my guests arrive, I offer them a hot cocktail to warm them up and make them feel right at home – and it gives me time to put the finishing touches on dinner.  My Cointreau Winter Cider is filled with aromatic spices, lime juice to cut the sweetness, and has an orange boozy kick from Cointreau (that is sure to warm you up!)!  Best of all it can be made in advance so there is no mixing or shaking individual drinks – which leaves more time for me to enjoy the soirée, too!


Cointreau Winter Cider

Ingredients (serves 8)

  • Apple Cider – 32 ounces

  • Fresh Lime Juice – 6 ounces, freshly squeezed

  • Cinnamon Sticks – 2, plus more for garnish if desired

  • Star Anises – 2, whole

  • Cloves – 2, whole

  • Oranges – 2, thinly sliced, plus more for garnish if desired

  • Granny Smith Apple – 1, cored, thinly sliced, plus more for garnish if desired

  • Cointreau (orange liqueur) – 12 ounces

Directions

  1. In a large saucepan set over medium heat, add all of the ingredients except for the Cointreau.

  2. Bring to a boil, remove from the heat, add the Cointreau, cover and steep for 20 minutes.

  3. Fill heat-proof glasses or mugs with hot cider, garnish with extra cinnamon sticks, and serve.

Tip: If you would like to make this in advance, after the cider is finished steeping, remove the fruit and spices, and store the finished cider in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.  When you are ready to serve, gently re-heat the cider in a medium sauce pan over medium heat and serve hot.

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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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Enter If You Dare: Halloween-Inspired Décor

Marc-Ryan Group

Each year as Halloween approaches I get excited for the start of the Autumnal season of holidays and traditions.  The weather starts to cool off, spiced apple drinks start to flow (I like mine spiked!), and Halloween inaugurates the holiday celebrations with fun and creativity.

There are many directions to go when decorating for Halloween.  From kitsch to all-out ghoulish crypt-keeping, often I am left with piles of decorations in November that immediately need to be stored to make way for Thanksgiving.  This year I decided to take a different approach.  Less pumpkin tchotchke and no conversion to a full cemetery in my living room.  Instead, Halloween this year will be paired down to be sophisticated, chic, and best of all done in minutes!

My inspiration for a sophisticated Halloween theme is to utilize a monochromatic color palate of sumptuous black tones, and then to create focused vignettes in specific areas around the apartment.  This keeps the decoration contained and easier to manage and is visually more dramatic.

I also approached my theme with classic easy-to-find decorations in the seasonal aisle in my grocery store and drug store, but layered them in a more curated way.  As beautiful as many of the high-end Halloween decorations can be, they have to be stored year after year, and may not fit your style or space the next Halloween.  All of my decorations fit in a plastic boot-sized storage container for all holidays (except Christmas, of course).

The simplicity of a monochromatic palate is enhanced with different textures in the same black tones, which adds depth, interest, and a more layered look.  Use this visual All-Hallows-Eve photo series as inspiration for your own SPOOKtacular décor!  Pick and choose the elements that resonate with you, play some Halloween-inspired tunes (Pandora: Halloween Party Radio is my choice!), and just have fun adding some BOOtiful elements to make your space come alive – if you dare!

Happy Halloween!


Cobwebs, Spiders, and Crows - OH MY!

Everyday Items Get a SPOOKtacular Makeover!

A Centerpiece Worthy of Frightful Screams!

Classic Halloween Icons Perfect for Place Cards or Food Markers!

BOOtiful Halloween Details!

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Warm Winter Glühwein

Marc J. Sievers

My Warm Winter Glühwein - Inspired by a recent trip to Berlin, Germany for a grand tour of the Christmas markets! Napkins: Britten Couture Home. Cup & Saucer: Cassandra's Kitchen.

In early December I had the pleasure of traveling to Berlin, Germany with my dear friend Jennifer to celebrate her milestone birthday!  Like me, she is a lover of all things Christmas, and the trip was on her bucket list of places to travel.  The plan was to stay in the center of Berlin and spend a week visiting museums, restaurants, and of course the Weihnachtsmarkts (Christmas markets) that are situated all throughout Berlin!

A favorite (and very stylish!) market was WeihnachtsZauber at the Gendarmenmarkt.  This is one of the most popular Christmas markets in Berlin during the festive Christmas season. Framed by the Französischer Dom, the Konzerthaus, and the Deutscher Dom, a small tent city with more than 1,000 strings of light appears like magic each year in this centrally-located square that house artisans selling handmade ornaments, candles, gifts, and casual food stalls.  Besides the many wintry delights at the market stalls, Michelin-starred chefs offer their haute cuisine in heated tents.  This market was so enchanting, we went twice! 

All of the markets, bars, and restaurants offer different variations of warm Glühwein—based on either red or white wines (I like to use a Cotes du Rhone or Chardonnay) infused with dried spices, honey, and orange peel, which is served warm and typically with a shot of liqueur like amaretto, brandy, or dark rum.   After being outside wandering the streets of Berlin this is a very much welcomed drink to help warm your hands and your tummy!

My Warm Winter Glühwein uses a white wine base and infused with aromatics that add incredible flavor and fabulous notes of the wintry holidays.  I love having a pot of this on the stove as company arrives—it is a fabulous drink to serve as a welcome, but also makes the house smell so wonderful!

From my kitchen to yours – Happy Holidays!


Warm Winter Glühwein

Ingredients (serves 4)

  • Orange – outer peel of 1 orange

  • Cloves – 15 whole cloves

  • White Wine – 1 bottle (750 ml), Chardonnay, dry variety recommended

  • Honey – 4 tablespoons

  • Star Anise – 4 whole pods

  • Ginger – 2 pieces, fresh, 1-inch each, peeled, thinly sliced

  • Cinnamon Sticks – 3

  • Sparkling Water – 1½ cups

  • Dark Rum – 4 tablespoons

  • Orange Liqueur – 2 tablespoons

Directions

  1. Start by inserting the whole cloves into the pieces of orange peels.

  2. Next, in a medium sauce pan set over medium heat, add the wine, honey, star anise, ginger, cinnamon sticks, and the orange peels dotted with cloves. Allow to come to a simmer, reduce the heat to low, cover and barely simmer for 30 minutes.

  3. Using a slotted spoon, remove all of the dried spices and orange peels. Set aside to use as garnishes.

  4. Lastly, stir in the sparkling water, dark rum, and orange liqueur. Gently reheat and serve warm.

Tip: I found that adding in sparkling water at the end gave this warm cocktail a slightly effervescent finish and lighter texture.

Idea: You can also make this in advance by following steps 1,2, and 3.  If you plan to serve it later that day, just leave it to cool on the stove top.  Before serving, gently reheat over medium heat, and add the sparkling water, rum, and orange liqueur.  If you want to make it and store it, allow it to cool completely, transfer it into a container, and refrigerate for up to 1 week.  Before serving, gently reheat over medium heat, and add the sparkling water, rum, and orange liqueur.

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A Thanksgiving Table

Marc J. Sievers

Thanksgiving for me has always been a favorite holiday as it mostly takes place around a table filled with family and friends, sharing stories and while making more great memories!  While the food is always special, and bit more decedent (more butter!) on the day, one of my favorite parts is setting a festive table.

A great Thanksgiving table doesn’t have to be as complicated to create as the Thanksgiving meal itself, or take as much time.  A beautiful table is the perfect complement to a hearty and flavorful meal, creating a warm and inviting environment.  I love mixing textures, patterns, and autumnal colors to help bring together a rustic and elegant tablescape.

Textures

A layered table filled with different textures instantly creates a visually interesting and cultivated table—and truth be told is even better when everything isn’t so “matchy-matchy”.  I love mixing different metals like copper mirror-finish stemless glasses (for water), hammered gold flatware, pressed glass amber chargers and salad plates, casual stoneware dinner plates, and a rustic low centerpiece of dried twigs (from the grocery store!), pinecones, and fresh orange tulips (in floral water tubes)!  All of these elements add interest and complexity and help create a table filled with textures that work together—even though they are all different.

Patterns

I love using traditional damask tablecloths as a backdrop to most of my tablescapes.  This sets the backdrop elegantly, setting the stage for even the most modern table.  Mixing in damask napkins in complimentary tones keeps everything fresh and new (again, not so matchy-matchy, but complimentary).  Patterns are also found in the design of the plates, silverware, and even the ridges in the goblets.  All of which provide visual diversity.

Autumnal Colors

Classic autumnal colors like orange, wheat, amber, and other warm tones are all brought together with the help and balance of a neutral dove grey, copper, and bright green (from the tulips).  I love using bold tones against neutral tones—it warms the neutral colors and helps the bold colors really pop!

While this is a quick course in creating a fabulous Thanksgiving table, these are not “rules” so much as guidelines that apply also to everyday living and holiday entertaining.  If you are feeling curious, here is a link to all things Thanksgiving!

From my table to yours, happy Thanksgiving!


Some furnishings provided by Mikasa.

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Apple & Herb Wellington

Marc J. Sievers

When I began testing this recipe for my new cookbook Table for Two: Cooking and Entertaining for You and Your +1, the combinations of ingredients seemed endless (and they really are!).  I finally settled on a selection of fresh herbs, apple, fragrant fennel and onions.  To give it even more “body”, I added Gruyère cheese that I diced into very small cubes.  This prevented the filling from getting too heavy with melted cheese, and instead created pockets of gently melted Gruyère that added the right amount of richness to the finished dish.  Keep in mind, this recipe does make two larger portions, so I like to serve it alongside a salad dressed in my French Bistro Vinaigrette

What I love most about this recipe is that you can interchange the fresh herbs and filling and have it adapt to be season specific.  During the fall and winter, I like to use fresh sage and rosemary (a perfect vegetarian main course for the holidays!), and replace the parsnip with butternut squash.  In the spring and summer, I love using basil and chives, and replace the apple with zucchini.

Like this recipe, so many other recipes from Table for Two are adaptable to help make entertaining as easy, elegant, and as truly delicious as possible, for you and your plus one!


Apple & Herb Wellington

Ingredients (serves 2)

  • Olive Oil – 3 tablespoons

  • Fennel – ¾ cup, ½-inch diced

  • Yellow Onion – 1 medium, ½-inch diced

  • Parsnip – 1 medium, peeled, ½-inch diced

  • Pink Lady Apple – 1 medium, ½-inch diced

  • Thyme – 2 teaspoons, finely minced, fresh

  • Sea Salt – ¾ teaspoon

  • Black Pepper – ¾ teaspoon

  • Garlic – 2 cloves, finely minced

  • Parsley – 3 tablespoons, finely minced, Italian flat-leaf variety recommended

  • Whole Cashews – ⅓ cup, rough chopped

  • Golden Raisins - ⅓ cup

  • Parmesan Cheese – 2 tablespoons, freshly grated, Parmigiano-Reggiano recommended

  • Gruyère Cheese – 3 ounces, ¼-inch cubed

  • Frozen Puff Pastry – 1 sheet, thawed overnight in the refrigerator

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

Directions

1.     Start by preheating the oven to 400 degrees F.  Line a half sheet pan with parchment paper.  Set aside.

2.     In a medium sauté pan set over medium heat, add the olive oil.  Once hot, add the fennel, onion, parsnip, apples, thyme, salt, and pepper.  Cook for 10-12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until very tender, but not brown.

3.     Add the garlic and parsley and continue cooking for another 1 minute, being careful not to burn the garlic.  Transfer to a medium bowl to cool for 5 minutes.  Once cooled, stir in the cashews, raisins, and both cheeses.

4.     Next, on a lightly floured surface, roll out the thawed puff pastry dough to be roughly 12x14-inches.  Cut the dough in half creating 2 pieces measuring 12x7-inces.

5.     Divide the filling evenly onto half of each piece of dough, leaving a ½-inch border.  Brush the border with egg wash*, and fold over top the other half of each side of the dough.  Using the tines of a fork, seal the edges by of the dough by pressing the tines lightly into the dough.  Do this on all three sides or each packet.  Transfer to the prepared baking sheet.

6.     Brush the tops with egg wash*.  Using a small knife, cut three slits on the top of each packet.

7.     Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the pastry is puffed up and golden brown.

8.     Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes before serving.

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Linda's Tomato Salad

Marc J. Sievers

One of my dearest friends, Linda Marie Clark, lives in California and is an award-winning photographer and exceptional watercolor artist.  She also happens to be an amazing cook!  We met about four years ago after she found my cookbook on Amazon.com and started painting my recipes.   It was so incredibly flattering, especially considering her talent!

Having chatted with her for a few months via email at first then telephone, I decided to invite her to Chicago for a visit.  And now, a few years later, we talk every few days, we started a stationary line together, and our friendship has blossomed.

Linda loves to photograph in her garden in California.  A few weeks back she sent me a text with a photo of a beautiful salad she made after a visit to her local farmers market.  It was filled with fresh tomatoes, sweet corn, and spicy basil!  She also captured the moment perfectly at sunset in her garden.  Her photograph (and salad!) was just too stunning not to share with you!  Linda’s Tomato Salad has made it onto my table three times already this summer and is always a crowd-pleaser!

Happy Summer!


Linda's Tomato Salad

Ingredients (serves 2)

  • Sweet Corn – 2 ears, shucked

  • Heirloom Tomatoes – 1 ½ pounds, 1-inch cubes

  • Basil – ¾ cup, rough chopped

  • Olive Oil – ½ cup

  • Balsamic Vinegar – ¼ cup

  • Sea Salt – ¾ teaspoon

  • Black Pepper – ¾ teaspoon

  • Parmesan Cheese – ¾ cup, large shavings, Parmigiano-Reggiano recommended

Directions

  1. Bring a large sauce pan filled with water to a boil. Add the ears of corn and cook for just 3 minutes. Remove the corn from the water and cut the kernels off the cob.

  2. Next, arrange the cubed tomatoes down the center of a serving platter. Scatter the corn evenly onto the tomatoes.

  3. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle evenly with basil, salt, pepper, and Parmesan cheese.

  4. Serve alongside a basket of crusty bread.

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Pesto & Arugula Pasta Salad

Marc J. Sievers

There is something so satisfying about making a big batch of really good pasta salad.  It can be so simple, just a few tosses of fresh ingredients while the pasta is hot, and you have an easy and incredibly flavorful dish.  I will admit that pasta salads were not my favorite as a kid—they always seemed to taste bland, and like the refrigerator.  No good!  But I have since solved the flavor challenge.

This recipe actually came about from a recent trip to Hawaii.  Ryan and I were visiting our best friends for a milestone birthday.  But, the day we were flying back to Chicago, they both got stuck at work.  Before we let ourselves out of their apartment to go to the airport, knowing that they were going to be home very late, I wanted to leave them a surprise dinner in their refrigerator!

After a few minutes, I found everything I needed to create a Pesto & Arugula Pasta Salad.  Best of all, it only took 15 minutes and we were out the door and our friends had an easy and delicious dinner waiting for them.  Needless to say, they were very happy to come home after a very long day to a ready-made meal that kept perfectly well!  This is easy summer “cooking”, at its best!

Watch: Pesto & Arugula Pasta Salad


Pesto & Arugula Pasta Salad

Ingredients (serve 4-6)

  • Fusilli – 1 pound, cooked al dente

  • Pesto – 7 ounces, store-bought

  • Grape Tomatoes – 2 pints, halved

  • Parmesan Cheese – 1 cup, freshly grated, Parmigiano-Reggiano recommended

  • Baby Arugula – 2 cups, washed and dried

  • Green Onions – ½ cup, thinly sliced

  • Basil – ⅓ cup, rough chopped, fresh

  • Parsley - ⅓ cup, rough chopped, fresh, Italian Flat-Leaf variety recommended

  • Red Pepper Flakes – ½ teaspoon

  • Lemon Zest – 1 small lemon, zested

  • Sea Salt – 1½ teaspoons

  • Black Pepper – 1 teaspoon, freshly cracked

Directions

  1. After the pasta has been cooked and drained, and while it is hot, place it into a large bowl.

  2. Immediately add all of the ingredients to the hot pasta and toss until evenly mixed.

  3. Serve warm, at room temperature, or cold.

Tip: You can make this in advance and store it in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.  Before you serve it, check to see if it needs more salt, pepper, and even another handful of fresh arugula or basil mixed in.  I have noticed that as food sits in a cold temperature, some of the flavor “disappears”.  After all, who wants bland food?! 

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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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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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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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White Chocolate Truffles with Butterscotch Schnapps

Marc J. Sievers

Whenever I really want to make a great culinary impression on someone, I bring them my homemade chocolate truffles!  While truffles look (and taste) like they take days to make (who has time for that?!), they actually take under an hour to create, and use the simplest of ingredients.  The real difference in taste and texture is made with very good quality ingredients, especially the chocolate.

There are endless flavor combinations for truffles, but one of my favorites are White Chocolate Truffles with Candied Pecans.  The white chocolate has such a delicate vanilla flavor on its own and is enhanced with Butterscotch Schnapps—a light booziness that rolls around on your tongue with a rich delight.  The crunch of chopped candied pecans is what makes this particular truffle even more flavorful and delicious! 

The creamy white chocolate ganache with the sweet crunch of the chopped nuts is a perfect flavor and texture combination.  Very rarely does it get any better—or any easier—than this!  Don’t take my word for it, make them and taste for yourself! 


White Chocolate Truffles with Candied Pecans

Ingredients (makes 20-22 truffles)

  • White Chocolate – 8 ounces, rough chopped

  • Heavy Cream – 1 ½ tablespoons

  • Butterscotch Schnapps – 1 tablespoon

  • Sea Salt – ⅛ teaspoon

  • Vanilla – ¾ teaspoon, pure extract

  • Candied Pecans – ¾ cup, rough chopped

Directions

  1. Place a heat-proof bowl over barely simmering water. Add the heavy cream and chopped chocolate and stir with a wooden spoon until completely smooth.

  2. Remove from the heat and add the salt, vanilla, and Schnapps. Stir until completely incorporated. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour, or until firm.

  3. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

  4. Scoop rounded Tablespoon-sized portions of chocolate and place each one onto the lined baking sheet.

  5. Gently roll each one into a ball and immediately roll through the chopped candied pecans.

  6. Place in the refrigerator to set. Serve at room temperature.

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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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