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Recipes & Entertaining Ideas

Filtering by Tag: 03

Pumpkin & Apple Spread

Marc J. Sievers

I love filling my refrigerator with lots of fabulous preserves, tapenades, and spreads so I can be ready for a last-minute aperitif and nibble with a friend, neighbor, or even Ryan when I least expect it!  In this case, the newest addition to my refrigerator line-up is my Pumpkin & Apple Spread—an absolutely divine combination of savory and sweet flavors. 

Instead of going through the hassle of using fresh pumpkin, I used canned pumpkin purée instead.  Baking it for a few minutes helps to draw out some of the moisture, leaving you with a thick, luxurious, and spreadable base.  Once the warm purée is mixed with apples that have been sautéed in butter, brown sugar, and other autumn-inspired ingredients, the spread can then be used in so many ways.

My Pumpkin & Apple Spread is perfect for serving alongside cheeses or just piled high onto a cracker with some crème fraîche and fresh thyme leaves.  This brightly-colored spread is also wonderful in the morning on toasted brioche with butter, as a topping for pancakes, or stirred into a hot bowl of oatmeal (trust me, every one of those combinations is fabulous!).  Oh, and don’t forget to warm it up and serve it over your favorite ice cream!


Pumpkin & Apple Spread

Ingredients (makes 2 cups)

  • Pumpkin Purée – 1 can, 15 ounces (not pie filling)

  • Gala Apple – 1 medium, peeled, ½-inch diced

  • Golden Raisins – 1/3 cup

  • Butter – 2 tablespoons, unsalted

  • Light Brown Sugar – 2 tablespoons

  • Cinnamon – ¼ teaspoon

  • Sea Salt – ¼ teaspoon

  • White Pepper – ¼ teaspoon

  • Nutmeg – ⅛ teaspoon

  • Pure Maple Syrup – 1 tablespoon

  • Honey – 1 tablespoon

  • Vanilla – ½ teaspoon, pure extract

  • Black Pepper Water Crackers

  • Crème Fraîche – for garnish

  • Thyme Leaves – fresh, for garnish

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

  2. Spread the pumpkin purée in an even layer (about 9 x 13) onto the parchment-lined sheet pan. Bake for 15 minutes. Set aside.

  3. Meanwhile, in a 12-inch sauté pan set over medium heat, add the butter. Once hot add the apples, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, white pepper, and salt. Cook for 5 to 6 minutes, stirring occasionally.

  4. Transfer the apple mixture into a heat-proof bowl and add the cooked pumpkin, raisins, maple syrup, honey, and vanilla. Stir to combine.

  5. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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Warm Figs with Goat Cheese

Marc J. Sievers

Fresh figs are such a luxury this time of year!  Their normal season begins the first few weeks of June, then they come back to greet us from August through October.  While you can certainly find dried figs year round—they are fabulous to serve with cheeses, in pastas, or just eaten right from the container—fresh figs add such an elegant touch to a party.

In the past, I have written a few recipes using these luscious fruits, but my Warm Figs with Goat Cheese may just become your new favorite way to enjoy fresh figs this time of year!  How can you go wrong with fresh figs drizzled in earthy honey, rosemary, pistachios, and goat cheese?  The aromatic and savory rosemary adds a bit of an autumnal vibe, perfect for the start of this transitional time of year. 

Presentation is very casual as guests can literally spoon the warm figs onto slices of toasted bread.  Or, serve as a salad!  Best of all, you can assemble this dish one hour head of time and allow it to sit at room temperature (no need to take up precious fridge space).  Add the pistachios just before you are ready to bake and then bake as your guests arrive and are greeted by a fabulous and sophisticated aroma that will surely get them excited for what’s to come.

I like to bake and serve this dish in a cast iron skillet or pie plate—from oven to table!  Summer coming to an end isn’t so bad after all!  This is only the beginning of the fabulous fruits of Fall!


Warm Figs with Goat Cheese

Ingredients (serves 6 as an hors d’oeuvre, 4 as salad course)

  • Fresh Figs – 1 pint, stems removed and cut in half

  • Honey – 1/3 cup

  • Rosemary – ¾ teaspoon, finely minced

  • Goat Cheese – 3 ounces, at room temperature

  • Pistachios – ¼ cup, roughly chopped

  • Black Pepper – ½ teaspoon, freshly cracked

  • Sea Salt – ¼ teaspoon

  • *Baguette or crackers for serving as a hors d’oeuvre

  • *Arugula for serving as a salad

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

  2. Arrange the figs cut side up in a single layer in an oven proof dish or cast iron skillet.

  3. Drizzle the honey over the figs and sprinkle evenly with the pistachios, rosemary, salt, and pepper. Crumble the goat cheese evenly over top.

  4. Bake for 5 minutes, or until the cheese begins to soften.

  5. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving.

As an hors d’oeuvre – allow guests to spoon the warm figs onto toasted slices of baguette or simple crackers.

As a salad – arrange handfuls of washed arugula onto salad plates (or onto a large platter for family style) and top with the warm figs.  The honey and natural juices from the figs will act as the vinaigrette.

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Balsamic Roasted Pearl Onions

Marc J. Sievers

There is something very satisfying about simple food that is less about the fuss and all about the flavor.  From the ingredients, to the preparation, to the taste, some of the best-tasting dishes can be the simplest to make.  My Balsamic Roasted Pearl Onions have only five ingredients, take hardly any real kitchen effort, and just roast away in the oven, giving your kitchen an aromatic hint of sweet onions and tangy vinegar. 

Besides my Balsamic Roasted Pearl Onions being so incredibly simple to make, they can be served in a variety of very savvy ways.  Give these few ideas a try:

·         As part of a roasted vegetable platter,

·         As a side with a French Omelettes and green salad,

·         As part of cocktail hour alongside Roquefort cheese, slices of baguette, roasted cashews, and other little nibbles.

If you decide to serve as part of cocktail hour, have some small cocktail forks on hand so guests can pick up each onion with ease.  And make sure to invite guests to savor the luxurious balsamic syrup with pieces of baguette.

Sometimes the most flavorful and enjoyable dishes can come from the simplest of ingredients, like pearl onions.  And what a benefit that this is also one of the easiest!


Balsamic Roasted Pearl Onions

Ingredients (serves 2)

  • Golden Pearl Onions – 10ounces, fresh

  • Olive Oil – 1 tablespoon

  • Balsamic Vinegar – 2 tablespoons

  • Sea Salt – ¼ teaspoon

  • Black Pepper – ¼ teaspoon, freshly cracked

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Line a small oven-proof dish with aluminum foil. Set aside.

  2. Bring a small pan of water to a simmer. Drop in the whole pearl onions for 5 minutes to help loosen their skins. Drain the onions. Using a small knife, cut off the ends and peel each onion.

  3. Add the peeled onions, olive oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper to the prepared dish.. Toss to evenly coat.

  4. Roast for 35-40 minutes, tossing 3 times during the cooking process, until the onions are tender and the vinegar has reduced to a think syrup.

  5. Serve hot or room temperature.

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Basil Pesto Risotto

Marc J. Sievers

Risotto is one of my favorite comfort foods, and is probably one of the most versatile things you can make at home.  The base is always Arborio rice—an Italian short grain rice with a creamy and chewy texture—and brought to life with stock and other fresh ingredients.  If in your pantry you have Arborio rice, fresh herbs, left over vegetables (raw or cooked), and a bit of stock or broth, then an easy and cozy dinner can be ready in under 30 minutes (I love that!).  This would also make a fabulous side dish when paired with something like Crispy Eggplant - Oven Style.  

For my Basil Pesto Risotto, I chose to make a version of homemade pesto, swapping out some of the olive oil for heavy cream.  Using all oil made the finished dish too oily, but the addition of heavy cream made the risotto slightly creamy and more elegant.  Because fresh basil and peas are available in most grocery stores year round, take the extra time to make the pesto from scratch, and shuck the peas by hand—you will be amazed at the difference it makes when it comes to flavor and satisfaction!

Happy risotto-making!


Basil Pesto Risotto

Ingredients for the Pesto

  • Basil Leaves – 1½ cups, fresh, lightly packed

  • Garlic – 1 clove, peeled

  • Sliced Almonds – 3 teaspoons

  • Heavy Cream – 3 tablespoons

  • Olive Oil – 3 tablespoons

  • Parmesan Cheese – ¼ cup, freshly grated, Parmigiano-Reggiano recommended

  • Sea Salt – ¼ teaspoon

  • Black Pepper – ¼ teaspoon, freshly cracked

Directions for the Pesto

  1. Place all of the ingredients into the glass jar of a blender and puree until mostly smooth. Set aside.

Ingredients for the Risotto (serves 2)

  • Butter – 1 tablespoon, unsalted

  • Olive Oil – 1 tablespoon

  • Yellow Onion – 1 cup, ¼-inch diced

  • Sea Salt – ½ teaspoon

  • Black Pepper – ½ teaspoon, freshly cracked

  • Italian Arborio Rice – ½ cup

  • Vegetable Stock – 1 ½ cups, barely simmering

  • Basil Pesto – *Recipe above

  • Green Peas – ½ cup, freshly shucked

  • Lemon Zest – ½ teaspoon

  • Parmesan Cheese – ¼ cup, freshly grated, Parmigiano-Reggiano recommended

Directions for the Risotto

  1. Place the fresh (or frozen) peas in a bowl of very hot tap water for 5 minutes. Drain and set aside.

  2. In a small Dutch oven heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat. Once hot, add the onions, salt, and pepper. Cook for 5 – 7 minutes, stirring occasionally.

  3. Add the Arborio rice and cook for another 2 – 3 minutes, until lightly toasted.

  4. Next, pour the hot stock over the onion and rice mixture and bring to a boil. Then reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 18 – 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

  5. Once almost all of the liquid is absorbed by the rice, turn off the heat and stir in the pesto sauce, peas, and lemon zest, and Parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.

Idea:  If you do not have a small Dutch oven, any 10-inch skillet with a tight fitting lid will work just fine. 

Tip:  If you want to make this ahead of time and serve it later, reheat over low heat with a few tablespoon of heavy cream.  This will allow the rice to be warmed through without becoming dried out.

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Radish Tartine

Marc J. Sievers

All over Paris, there are tartines on almost every menu – from little bistros, patisseries, and even some of the more elegant hotel bars.  Some were very complex with layered ingredients, while others were as simple as homemade butter and luscious fig jam.  A tartine is essentially an open face sandwich using hearty crusty bread like a French Boule.  They can be served warm or room temperature, sweet or savory, and the possibilities of flavor combinations and layering are endless!

My Radish Tartine—inspired by a recent trip to Paris farmers markets—is a perfect combination of spicy radishes, fresh herbs, delicate butter, crunchy bread, and it finishes with a bright lemony freshness.  This elegant yet rustic tartine is perfect for cocktail hour when cut into bite-sized pieces, and is fabulous with a glass of dry Champagne.  If you add a simple pile of dressed greens and a cup of homemade soup, a tartine becomes a lighter lunch or even a casual dinner.  While there are no official rules as to what a tartine can be topped with, my rule (and as the French!) is it must be made with fabulous bread and butter!


Radish Tartine

Ingredients (serves 4)

  • Butter – 4 tablespoons, unsalted, at room temperature (European-style recommended)

  • Chives – 1 tablespoon, fresh, finely chopped

  • Dill – 1 tablespoon, fresh, finely minced

  • Lemon Zest – ½ teaspoon

  • Sea Salt – ¼ teaspoon

  • Black Pepper – ¼ teaspoon, freshly cracked

  • Honey – 2 teaspoons

  • Radishes – 1 1/3 cups, diced ¼-inch

  • French Boule – 4 large slices (you can also use Sourdough, Wheat, or Tuscan Pane)

Directions

  1. In a small bowl, add the butter, chives, dill, lemon zest, sea salt, black pepper, and honey. Mix together until fully incorporated. Set aside.

  2. Next, toast the bread slices in a toaster until lightly golden brown.

  3. While the toast is still warm, spread the butter mixture evenly onto each slice and arrange 1/3 cup of diced radish on top of each slice. Sprinkle with more sea salt and black pepper to taste.

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Paris-Inspired Strawberry Country Cake

Marc J. Sievers

On a trip to Paris in April I traveled with my friend Holly and she was very excited to visit a little salon de thé (tea lounge) named Mamie Gâteaux (granny cakes) in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood, and I was happy to oblige.  Most of the salon de thés I had visited before had been filled with glamorous desserts and gleaming silver tea pots.  This particular salon was rather different.  It was very rustic and country, and filled with the most casual and effortless cakes, pies, and muffins that were served on simple china and festooned with antique baking accoutrement.  Each dessert looked as if my Nan had loving baked it in her tiny kitchen.  As one dessert would sell out the kitchen would send out another one—different than what had sold out—looking even better than before! 

After I returned home to Chicago I was desperate for a simple cake, like the kinds I saw at Mamie Gâteaux.  There was something charming about those no-frills French desserts that I wanted to recreate here.  They were not overly sweet, or piled on with frosting, or done to death with marzipan.  They were, in two words, simply delicious.  They were simple, taking the best advantage of just a few basic baking ingredients.  And they were delicious, transcending the simple, with no need of complex technique or tricks, into nibbly crumbs that were satisfying, comforting, and encouraged savoring.

The French believe in cooking and baking with the best ingredients.  You start with the best and the techniques of French cooking have been developed to enhance those pure flavors.  You can taste it in something as simple as a French baguette—by French law it contains only four ingredients:  flour, water, yeast, and salt.  And yet those four ingredients in the hands (and oven) of a French boulanger transform into something truly delicious.

In my longing for a simple cake I kept the French approach in my mind—keeping it simple, and using the best ingredients.  One of my favorite (and simplest) recipes in my repertoire is my pound cake.  And as the French do, I decided to introduce a fresh fruit.  Pound cake can be a fabulous canvas on which to highlight a special flavor.  One of the best fruit flavors that can stand on its own, and serve both the sweet and tart parts of the palate, is strawberry.

Strawberries are just coming into season and with the start of our farmer’s markets in Chicago, I thought this would be the perfect way to bring together all the elements of my inspiration:  French gateaux, delicious ingredients, and a simple approach.  The result is my Strawberry Country Cake.  It is a twist on a classic pound cake, brimming with perfectly ripened strawberries from my local farmers market and flavored with lemon zest, vanilla, and buttermilk.

My Strawberry Country Cake is just lightly sweet and relies on the strawberries to do what they do best, making it a wonderful dessert to serve with tea (perhaps a Lady Grey with lemon) or to end a dinner party (paired with a glass of dry Rosé).  This is my new favorite cake—a cake that will always remind me of the casual and country essence of Mamie Gâteaux in Paris.


Strawberry Country Cake

Ingredients (serves 6-8)

  • Flour – 1 ½ cups, all-purpose

  • Kosher Salt – ¼ teaspoon

  • Baking Powder – ¼ teaspoon

  • Baking Soda – ¼ teaspoon

  • Butter – 1 stick, unsalted, room temperature

  • Sugar – 1 cup, granulated

  • Vanilla – ¾ teaspoons, pure extract

  • Lemon Zest – 2 teaspoons

  • Honey – 2 tablespoons

  • Eggs – 2 extra-large, room temperature

  • Buttermilk – ½ cup, room temperature

  • Strawberries – 1 pound, hulled, ¾ inch chopped

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

  2. Lightly butter and flour an 8x8 square pan. Set aside.

  3. Next, in a large bowl sift together the flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Set aside.

  4. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.

  5. With the mixer turned to low speed, add vanilla, lemon zest, honey, and the eggs one at a time, allowing each to fully incorporate.

  6. With the mixer running on low speed, add the flour mixture and buttermilk alternately, beginning and ending with the flour.

  7. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the mixing bowl. Gently fold in the strawberries and transfer the batter into the prepared pan. Tap the pan on a flat surface to release as many air bubbles as possible.

  8. Transfer the pan into the oven and bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean.

  9. Once you have removed the cake from the oven, allow it to cool in the pan for 20 minutes. Run a sharp knife around the edges of the cake, then turn the cake out (very carefully to prevent the cake from breaking) onto a wire rack to cool completely.

  10. Transfer to a serving platter, top with whipped cream, and serve.

Vanilla Whipped Cream

Ingredients

  • Heavy Cream – 1 cup, very cold

  • Sugar – 1 tablespoon, granulated

  • Vanilla – ½ teaspoon, pure extract

Directions

  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, add the heavy cream, sugar, and vanilla.

  2. Gradually increase the mixer speed to high and whip for 1-2 minutes, or until it thickens.

Idea:  When transferring the cake from the pan and onto a cooling rack then onto a serving platter – do so extremely carefully.  The cake is very heavy in weight from the fresh berries and can break easily.  To get the cake out of the pan, rest the cooling rack directly over the baking pan and invert completely – the cake will easily release from the pan.  Follow the same process to transfer the cake to a serving platter.

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Rosé Sangria with Peaches & Rosemary

Marc J. Sievers

My recipe for Rosé Sangria with Peaches & Rosemary has been brought to life with vibrant watercolor by my friend and artist Linda Marie Clark. This recipe and watercolor was part of the Watermarc – Art & Appetite special edition Summer Series 2014.

As the temperature rises in Chicago (and I hope where you are, too!), my desire to sip summer cocktails is in full swing!  To me, a summer cocktail, in this case my Rosé Sangria with Peaches & Rosemary, is refreshingly light with a sweet and savory love affair.  It is a drink filled with fresh sweet peaches and spicy rosemary that come together and marry-nate in a perfectly blush-colored wine.  You can serve either by the glass for yourself as you take a bubble bath to cool off and relax, or make ahead of time for a humid summer’s evening cookout where only a crisp chilled cocktail will do. 

Best of all – you get drunken’ peaches to eat, with a little extra zing, or serve them over cold ice cream for dessert.  Even the rosemary can be used in a white wine cream sauce over simple egg fettucine noodles for a light supper.

As the summer really heats up, have this recipe on standby so you are always ready with a fabulous summer sipper!  


Rosé Sangria with Peaches & Rosemary

Ingredients (serves 4-6)

  • Rosé – (1) 750ml bottle

  • Triple Sec – ½ cup

  • Italian Sparkling Wine – (1) 750 ml bottle, chilled

  • Honey – 1 tablespoon

  • Ultrafine Sugar – 1 tablespoon

  • Peaches – 4, pitted, cut into 8 wedges

  • Rosemary – (6) 4-inch sprigs, fresh

Directions

  1. Pour the Rosé and Triple Sec into a large glass pitcher.

  2. Add the honey and sugar. Stir until completely dissolved.

  3. Next add the peaches and rosemary. Chill for 3 hours.

  4. Before serving, add the entire bottle of chilled sparkling wine to the pitcher. Serve immediately.

Tip: For a “milder” libation, simply switch out the sparkling wine for an unflavored sparkling water. 

Idea: Have fun with different fruit and fresh herb combination: Orange & rosemary, strawberry & basil, lemon & thyme. 

A little something extra: Sangria is typically a chilled drink served in Spain and Portugal during the summer months – consisting of wine, fruit, a brandy or liqueur, and sweetener.  The honey used in this recipe adds a subtle sweetness without making it “sugary”.  Red, white, and rosé wines can be used in recipes – each variety offering unique flavors and richness. 

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My recipe for Rosé Sangria with Peaches & Rosemary has been brought to life with vibrant watercolor by my friend and artist Linda Marie Clark. This recipe and watercolor was part of the Watermarc – Art & Appetite special edition Summer Series 2014.


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Lavender Lemon Shortbread Cookies

Marc J. Sievers

One of my favorite things to do at home is have a pot of tea with Ryan on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.  Throughout the years I have collected antique silver and porcelain teapots, sugar bowls, creamers, and other accessories to create my own special and unique tea service at home.  I have also done a good job at building up my tea selection and always keep a little tin of cookies or biscuits on hand to enjoy, as the English do so well.

When I want to make something homemade for a special treat my go-to recipe is my Lavender Lemon Shortbread Cookies!  They are buttery and crisp, and have such a well-rounded flavor that pairs perfectly with black tea (my favorite is Earl Grey Lavender) with honey and cream.

Whether you enjoy a cup of tea on the go (wrap a single cookie in parchment), set an elaborate table for tea time (serve these on a silver platter), or just want to eat scrumptious shortbread (these also make fabulous gifts), these are perfectly versatile and delicious.  I hope you love them as much as I do.  Now, if only I had a bigger tin!  Hats on, pinkies up, its tea time!


Lavender Lemon Shortbread Cookies 

Ingredients (makes 12 cookies)

  • Butter - 1 stick, unsalted, at room temperature

  • Sugar - ⅓ cup, granulated

  • Vanilla - ½ teaspoon, pure extract

  • Sea Salt - ⅛ teaspoon

  • Honey - 2 tablespoons

  • Lemon Zest - 1 ½ tablespoons

  • Flour - 1 cup + 2 tablespoons, all-purpose

  • Lavender - 2 tablespoons, dried, lightly chopped

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment set to medium speed, mix together butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.

  3. Add the vanilla, sea salt, honey, and lemon zest and mix until well incorporated.

  4. Next, with the mixer running on low speed, add the flour and lavender. Mix until the dough comes together,

  5. Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and gently shape into a flat disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

  6. Remove the dough and place onto a floured surface.

  7. Roll the dough out to 1/4-inch thickness and use a fluted edged cutter to cut out cookies. Gather excess dough and repeat process of rolling and cutting.

  8. Place cookies onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Place the pan into the refrigerator for another 15 minutes.

  9. Remove from the refrigerator, place into the preheated oven and bake for 14-18 minutes, or until the edges begin to turn a light brown.

  10. Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

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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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The City of Lights - Paris!

Marc J. Sievers

The City of Lights – Paris, France – in my opinion should be called “The City of Inspiration”!  Having just spent eight glorious days there eating, shopping, and of course enjoying some fabulous French wines, I brought home a million (and one!) food, décor, and style ideas.  The weather was mostly sunny, the air was filled with smells of freshly baked bread, and the gardens and trees were just starting to get their Spring buds—it was the perfect backdrop for my first trip with my husband Ryan to celebrate our third wedding anniversary with great friends. 

Since I have been home (for about 8 grueling American days) I have been going through the almost 1,200 photos that I took during my trip — everything from street vendors, patisseries, bistros, flowers and of course the Eiffel Tower and Versailles.  In the coming months, sprinkled amongst my regular posts, I will be sharing Paris-inspired posts, each filled with original recipes, décor ideas, and style concepts that will take you on a virtual vacation and impart some Parisian flair into your everyday living.  Grab your beret!  Our first stop is Ralph’s!

Ralph’s is Ralph Lauren’s second restaurant—the first was RL in Chicago—which opened in 2010 in the romantic Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood in Paris.  It was also the backdrop to our anniversary dinner!  RL in Chicago is our “go-to” restaurant whether we are grabbing a quick lunch, aperitif, or a cozy dinner, so the only place we could imagine creating a lasting memory for our anniversary dinner on our first trip to Paris was Ralph’s.  The moment we stepped out of the taxi (at a very un-Parisian early 7:00pm) we knew we were in for a stunningly beautiful evening.  As we walked through the heavy double outer doors, through the stone vestibule, and into the swoon-worthy inner courtyard, I couldn’t help but to stop and peak through the windows on the world-famous designer’s Paris flagship boutique.

The particular window I peek through first was the jewelry salon, where sitting atop a fireplace mantle were two ornate Chinese ginger jars filled with dozens of red roses.  They took my breath away.  These two simple components—materialized on a truly grand scale—were somehow going to come back to Chicago with me!  For months I had been struggling with just how to finish the sideboard in my dining room—no longer!  As I tucked that idea into the back of my mind, walked through the courtyard, and stepped into the “magazine worthy” restaurant, the simple and elegant theme of the red roses continued at the bar, on every table with small clusters in simple glass vases, and even fifteen feet in the air by way of towering mantle pieces crowned with velvety red roses.  I felt as though I was in a chic and fabulous dream!  The rest of the evening was filled with champagne, laughter with close friends, scrumptious food, and lasting memories that I will cherish for years to come.




Inspiration is about seeing something that impresses you in a way that you want to create your own interpretation of it and adapt into your own style, scale, and budget. Inspiration is about being inspired—motivated by something, based on a particular example, feeling, or flavor, and is not about copying or duplicating. Inspiration comes in many forms and from countless sources and well-executed inspirational experience will incorporate details you love and want to pay homage to. - MJS


TIP: When arranging small clusters of roses, arrange them at least 3 days before your soirée. This will allow each bloom to open up and become more full.  Change the water everyday and re-cut each stem ¼ inch to ensure the flowers stay fresh and drink as much water as possible.  

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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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Panko Brioche French Toast

Marc J. Sievers

Growing up, classic French Toast was my breakfast of choice.  My Nan always obliged and not only did she make it for me but for the rest of her grandchildren.  Her recipe was simple yet full of flavor.  I decided to turn up the flavor and add a crunchy and crispy outer layer with panko!  It browns beautifully with the butter and adds that extra sumptuousness that makes breakfast worth getting out of bed.

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Golden Raisin Bread

Marc J. Sievers

When life gives you golden raisins make them into bread—isn’t that how that “famous” saying goes?  Or perhaps that was something to do with lemons, which in this case you can also add to bread!  Needless to say, those two ingredients are the stars in my newest recipe for Golden Raisin Bread.

While I did not start with the intention to make this exact recipe, it just evolved on its own, and turned out to be what I now consider as one of my top ten recipes of all time.  And yes, I realize that is a huge statement!

When I headed into my kitchen last week I began testing an Irish Soda Bread recipe, in anticipation of St. Patrick’s Day.  I spent almost two days reading through recipes from my library of cookbooks, and scouring the internet for articles and reviews of recipes that seemed noteworthy.  I wanted to make sure my recipe stayed true to the original roots of Irish Soda Bread, at which point I stumbled upon the official web site for The Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Breads.  I found it to be absolutely fascinating!

As I read through the history of this iconic bread, I learned that traditional Irish Soda Bread has just four ingredients:  Buttermilk, flour, salt, and baking soda.  Any deviation from that simple formula would not only make it not authentic, but it would also change the flavor, texture, and appearance.   Instead of trying to “re-create” an historic tradition, I decided to take the base ingredients, add other flavorings, and try to create something new and different, but grounded in the theme of an Irish Soda Bread.

After scrumptious taste-testing and almost eight loaves of bread later, my Golden Raisin Bread was finished!  I transformed the classic recipe with additions like lemon zest, brown sugar, and golden raisins—a simple bread loaf became something perfect to serve at breakfast (toasted with raspberry preserves), at teatime (accompanied by clotted cream), or even as part of a bread basket with lunch or dinner (salted butter, anyone?!).

The texture is somewhere between a biscuit and a scone, the lemon zest adds a lovely brightness, and the golden raisins add both sweetness and a fabulous texture.  The entire recipe is prepared using a big bowl and rubber spatula—no electric mixer, no rising, no fuss.  All of the ingredients are readily found at your local grocery store, and from start to finish takes less than 60 minutes—making it the perfect bread to bake on a whim!


Golden Raisin Bread

Ingredients

  • Flour – 4 cups, all-purpose, plus 2 tablespoon

  • Baking Soda – 2 teaspoons

  • Cream of Tartar – ½ teaspoon

  • Fine Sea Salt – 2 teaspoons

  • Dark Brown Sugar – 4 tablespoons

  • Buttermilk – 2 cups, cold

  • Eggs – 1 extra-large, plus 1 extra-large yolk, at room temperature

  • Lemon Zest – 2 teaspoons

  • Golden Raisins – 2 cups

  • Butter – 2 tablespoons, unsalted, melted

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

  2. In a large bowl, sift together 4 cups of flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, salt, and brown sugar. Set aside.

  3. In a small bowl, combine the remaining 2 tablespoons of flour and raisins. Toss to coat. Set aside.

  4. In another small bowl, combine the buttermilk, eggs, and lemon zest. Lightly beat to break up the yolks.

  5. Next, add the wet mixture into the dry mixture. Using a rubber spatula, fold everything together until it is just combine.

  6. Add the raisins and fold them into the dough.

  7. Dump the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead it a few times until it forms a round loaf, roughly 9-inches around by 3-inches high.

  8. Place the loaf onto the prepared sheet pan. Using a serrated knife, cut an “X” into the top of the loaf. Brush the top and sides of the loaf with the melted butter.

  9. Bake for 50-60 minutes until golden brown. The loaf will have a hollow sound when you tap the top.

  10. Remove from the oven, and allow to cool on a cooling rack. Serve either warm or at room temperature.

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Roasted Cauliflower Soup

Marc J. Sievers

Winter is in full swing in Chicago—as it is in so many other parts of the country!  We’ve had snow, the wind whipping off of Lake Michigan, and the result for me has been a craving for a big bowl of piping hot soup.

It was just a few days ago that I got the craving for roasted cauliflower florets with bleu cheese sauce for dipping (a favorite snack of mine!), and I decided to make the roasted florets into a soup.  I wanted a soup that would be satisfying, creamy, and filled with fresh vegetable flavors.  I happened to be out of fresh Rosemary and Thyme, so to flavor the soup I turned to my bottle of Herbes de Provence—and I am glad I did! 

My Roasted Cauliflower Soup has beautiful flavor from the dried herbs, including a light floral taste from the lavender.  And since I had two slices of Max Poilane bread left from my loaf, I made those into Butter Croutons to have float atop my luxurious Roasted Cauliflower Soup.  Ryan opened a bottle of chilled Rosé, I filled two huge bowls full of soup, and we watched some old episodes of The French Chef as we enjoyed the snow fall that evening.  It doesn’t get better than this!


Roasted Cauliflower Soup

Ingredients (serves 4 as main course, 6 as soup course)

  • Cauliflower – 2 heads, just florets

  • Olive Oil – 6 tablespoons, divided

  • Sea Salt – ½ teaspoon

  • Black Pepper – ½ teaspoon, freshly cracked

  • Butter – 2 tablespoons, unsalted

  • Carrot – 1 large, peeled, and ½-inch diced

  • Yellow Onion – 1 small, ½-inch diced

  • Garlic – 4 cloves, finely minced

  • Herbes de Provence – 1 teaspoon, dried, lightly crushed

  • Vegetable Stock – 4 cups

  • Half and Half – 1 cup

  • Green Onions – 3 stalks, trimmed, thinly sliced

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

  2. Place the cauliflower florets onto a sheet pan and toss with 4 tablespoons of olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast for 30 minutes, until lightly browned and tender.

  3. Meanwhile, in a large heavy-bottomed pan set over medium heat, add the butter and remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Once hot, add the carrots and onions. Cook for 10-12 minutes, stirring occasionally until tender.

  4. Add the garlic and Herbes de Provence and cook for another 1-2 minutes more, being careful not to burn the garlic.

  5. Add the stock, raise the heat to high, and bring to a slow boil. Then, reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat.

  6. Add the roasted cauliflower. Using an immersion blender or food processor, pureé the soup until smooth and thick. Stir in the half and half. Reheat over medium heat until just heated through.

  7. Garnish with green onions and croutons. Serve hot.


Butter Croutons

Ingredients

  • Bread – 2 slices, cut into ½-inch cubes

  • Butter – 3 tablespoons, unsalted

Directions

  1. In a medium sauté pan set over medium heat, add the butter. Once melted, add the bread cubes. Toast for 5-10 minutes, tossing occasionally, until lightly brown.

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Champagne Party - #BFF Style! for VRAI Magazine

Marc J. Sievers

Love is in the air at The Sievers!  Each year Ryan and I celebrate St. Valentine’s Day with a quiet home-cooked meal in an intimate vignette set up in our own home.  We typically watch a Disney movie (Cinderella is my all-time favorite!), enjoy a decedent dessert, and pop a bottle of really good wine.  We love being in love!  This year we are going to do something different by hosting a cocktail party to celebrating with our BFF’s.  It will be an evening filled with delicious nibbles, fabulous Champagne, and lots of laughter.  Not only will our soirée be memorable, it will be filled with completely store-bought items from my local grocery store.  This night will be about being with friends and not being in the kitchen (well, except to get more Champagne!).

A successful party is not measured by how many items you make from scratch, but rather how much laughter fills your home!  For my St. Valentine’s Day cocktail party I designed the evening around a completely over-the-top salty and sweet nibbles tray and glamorous rosé bubbles bar.  Let me walk you through the Champagne bar:


The Bubbles Bar

  1. Start by selecting your Champagne flutes. I like to use a different design for each guest to reflect their personality and to help them remember with flute is theirs. Use a tray—I chose silver—to set the flutes on. This will make even the simplest glassware feel more special, while also adding a bit of sophistication and sparkle to your bar area. A tray will also “contain” the flutes and help to visually organize your bar top and keep things from looking “strewn about all willy-nilly”—I use this professional entertaining phase all the time.

  2. Next, choose your favorite Champagne. I prefer a Brut Rosé which is flavorful, complex, and dry, making it both versatile with food and delicious by itself as an aperitif.

  3. I prefer to set out only one bottle of champagne at a time in a small ice-filled bucket. Opening a bottle of champagne has such a celebratory feel about it, so I like to do it in front of everyone. This also allows each bottle to stay as fresh as possible.

  4. Candles, candles, and more candles! I have a collection of candle holders that range in size. I love mixing them and using different heights to get a more dramatic feel.

  5. Paper cocktail napkins are the perfect way to help carry through a theme. I found the most “romantic” tray I had and used that to hold heart-themed napkins.

  6. Finally, I scatter crystals all around the flutes, Champagne chiller, and bar top. They really do add a depth of glamour, and they reflect the flames of the candles.


The Nibbles Tray

  1. Start by selecting your tray or platter. I love this silver spinning server for cocktail parties. It has many different sections which makes arranging food so simple. Guests can spin the tray for easy self-service regardless of where they are sitting on the sofa.

  2. Next, it’s time to shop! I went to my local grocery store and chose things that were different in texture, flavor, and color. For this party, I wanted to create a completely over-the-top selection of nibbles, while still trying to incorporate very recognizable St. Valentine’s Day-themed foods. I choose things that are salty, sweet, and savory. My go-to items are:

  • Gruyere

  • Freshly baked baguette

  • Strawberries

  • Chocolate Truffles

  • Salt & Pepper Potato Chips

  • Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar (for dipping)

      3.  Lastly, set out small plates and napkins.  A vase of scent-less flowers (as to not compete           with your food) finishes out the look.  Et voila—it’s party time!

Idea: If you don’t have a spinner server try using small bowls set atop a tray or just a large platter. 

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"Spiker" Double Layer Nachos - A Crowd Favorite!

Marc J. Sievers

A few days ago on my Facebook Page, I asked you to tell me what #GameDay vegetarian recipe you would LOVE to indulge in - and boy oh boy did you have some delicious ideas!  The winner would receive a signed copy of my cookbook Entertaining with Love and I would create the winning dish and name it after the them - how FUN!  Kristin from PA won with her suggestion of vegetarian nachos.  Below is my recipe from "Spiker" Double Layer Nachos (a play on her last name!).  The nachos are very fresh tasting with sauteed garlic-corn, fabulous cheeses, and a spicy ranch sauce!  You can make them in under 20 minutes with all ingredients you can easily find at your local grocery store, or you may even have them in your pantry!  I hope you enjoy!!!  


"Spiker" Double Layer Nachos

Ingredients (serves 6-8)

  • Black Beans – (1) 15 ounce can, rinsed and well drained

  • Black Olives – (1) 2.25 can, pre-sliced, drained

  • Manchego Cheese – 2 cups, freshly grated

  • Fontina – 2 cups, freshly grated

  • Green Onions – 1 cup, thinly sliced

  • Jalapeno – 1 small, fresh, seeded and finely minced

  • Garlic – 3 cloves, finely minced

  • Avocados – (2) large, peeled, ½ -inch diced

  • Lemon Juice – ½ lemon, freshly juiced

  • Frozen Corn – (1) 10 ounce bag, thawed

  • Olive Oil – 2 tablespoons

  • Sea Salt – ¾ teaspoon

  • Black Pepper – ¾ teaspoon, freshly cracked

  • Butter – 2 tablespoons, unsalted

  • Buttermilk Ranch Dressing – ¾ cup, favorite store bought variety

  • Hot Smoked Paprika – ½ teaspoon

  • Cayenne Pepper – ¼ teaspoon

  • Chipotle Powder – ½ teaspoon

  • Cumin – ½ teaspoon

  • Lime Juice – ½ lime, freshly squeezed

  • Tortilla Chips – (1) 14 ounce bag, salted

Directions

  1. Start by pre-heating the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

  2. In a small bowl, toss the diced avocado with lemon juice. Set aside

  3. In another small bowl add the buttermilk ranch dressing, lime juice, paprika, cayenne pepper, chipotle powder, cumin, and chili powder. Stir until combined. Set aside.

  4. In a medium sauté set over medium-high heat, add the butter and olive oil. Once hot, add the corn, salt, and pepper. Cook for 3-5 minutes. Then add the garlic and continue to cook for another 1-2 minutes, being careful not to burn the garlic. Remove from the heat and set aside.

  5. Place half of the tortilla chips in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet. Evenly top with half of each of the cheeses. Then evenly top with half of the beans, olives, green onions, jalapenos, corn, and drizzle with ¼ cup of the ranch mixture. Bake for 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and build another layer of chips, cheese, the remaining ingredients, and ¼ cup of the ranch mixture. Bake for another 5-8 minutes, until melted and gooey!

  6. Sprinkle with more salt and pepper to taste. Remove the nachos with the parchment paper onto a large cutting board. Serve immediately.

Idea:  Serve the fresh avocado and remaining ranch sauce in small bowls on the side.

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Soup Tureen Floral Arrangement for VRAI Magazine

Marc J. Sievers

Architects and designers call it “adaptive reuse”—I call it savvy uses for what you already own.

Did you make a New Year’s resolution?  I did, and for once I think I can actually stick to it (unlike that “use less butter” one I made two years ago).  This year, I have vowed to shop less for home décor and kitchen accoutrements and to find new and savvy uses for things I already own but that do not get used every day.  I have a complete and utter love (or obsession, if you ask my husband) for all things entertaining related.

Each day, as I walk by one of my china cabinets (I may have six—shhhh!), there is a beautiful French soup tureen that just begs to be used.  Pure white porcelain with lion head details and an elegant profile—it is probably one of my favorite pieces.  Upon a closer observation, it is just a bowl, a vessel that can hold anything, not just soup!  I was planning a dinner party a few days ahead and wanted to surprise my guests with an arrangement for the coffee table (where cocktails would be served) that wasn't my normal low-lying flower ball.  Since soup was not on the menu, I imagined my tureen could be my “vase”!  My thought wasn't even complete, but I bundled up and headed out to my local grocery store in search for my favorite flower—white hydrangeas.

  1. Cut a piece of floral foam (oasis) to fit the size of your tureen (or other vessel). It does not have to completely fill the interior, but should be large enough to rest securely on the base of your container.

  2. Fill your kitchen sink with tepid water. Place the foam on top of the water and allow it to gradually soak up water, until it is completely submerged. Gently remove the foam from the water and place it into your vessel.

  3. Cut the stems of your blooms, on a diagonal, to the desired length. This will ensure each bloom can drink the most water.

  4. Arrange flowers as you would in a vase, pushing each stem into the foam to the desired depth.

  5. Add small amounts of water to the foam daily to ensure flowers are kept as fresh as possible.

**TIP:  Floral foam is very forgiving.  If you don’t like the shape you created using the flowers, gently pull the flowers out and start again!

If flowers are too fussy, try these other ideas:

  • Line a tureen with a linen napkin and use as a bread basket

  • An elegant fruit bowl

  • A cache pot (think how elegant an orchid would look!)

  • An ice bucket with silver tongs for cocktail parties

  • A silver tray filled with canapés set on top adds height to a food table or buffet

  • As a punch bowl filled with my Pear and Orange Punch

  • As a serving bowl – pasta, mashed potatoes, and of course soup

My original article was on VRAI Magazine - January 2015

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Triple Chocolate Cookies

Marc J. Sievers

Developing new recipes allows me the opportunity to experiment with all kinds of ingredients.  Whether they are from my local grocery store, a gourmet food shop, or even an ethnic market, the possibilities and combinations are endless.  Sometimes navigating your way down the aisles and seeing the amount of variety there is when it comes to brands, packaging, and price (we have all had those “YIKES!” moments), can be a bit overwhelming.  Usually when I am testing a recipe that has a star ingredient, like chocolate, I go straight for the best quality I can find but still in my price range.  The outcome – my Triple Chocolate Cookies – so incredibly luxurious in both texture and taste that I have had to stop keeping some of the ingredients in the house because I can’t stop making (and ultimately eating!) them.

These cookies are filled with rich Pernigotti Cocoa Powder, Guittard Milk Chocolate Chips, and French Président Butter.  While most of my posts and recipes encourage you to shop at your local grocery, this recipe is one I highly recommend you splurge on these few ingredients.  If your local grocery doesn't have these particular brands, you can easily find them online and have them shipped directly to you, even the butter


Triple Chocolate Cookies

Ingredients (makes 12 cookies)

  • Flour – 1 cup, all-purpose

  • Sea Salt – ½ teaspoon

  • Baking Powder – 1 teaspoon

  • Baking Soda – ¼ teaspoon

  • Cocoa Powder – ¾ cup, unsweetened, Pernigotti recommended

  • Dark Brown Sugar – 1 ½ cups, lightly packed

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

  • Honey – 1 tablespoon

  • Vanilla – 2 teaspoons, pure extract

  • Butter – 1 stick, unsalted, at room temperature, Président (or another European-style) recommenced

  • Unsweetened Baking Chocolate – 4 ounces, finely chopped

  • Milk Chocolate Chips – 11.5 ounces (1 bag), Guittard recommended

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line a single baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.

  2. In a medium bowl sift together the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and cocoa power. Set aside.

  3. In another medium bowl whisk together the brown sugar, eggs, honey, and vanilla until there are no lumps from the brown sugar. Set aside.

  4. In a small microwave safe bowl add the butter and unsweetened chopped chocolate. Microwave on half power for 1-2 minutes, stirring occasionally until just melted and smooth.

  5. Add the melted chocolate mixture to the egg mixture and whisk until completely combined.

  6. Toss the chocolate chips in the flour mixture. Fold the flour mixture into the chocolate mixture. Allow the dough to rest for exactly 20 minutes at room temperature.

  7. Using a 2 ¼-inch scoop, scoop the dough onto the prepared baking sheet. Only 6 cookies will fit per baking sheet, per baking cycle.

  8. Bake for 18 - 20 minutes until just set, rotating the sheet tray once halfway through baking time.

  9. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack to finish cooling. Repeat above steps to finish baking the other 6 cookies.

Idea: These cookies can be served warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce drizzled over top – a truly decedent treat!

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Rolled Vanilla Cookies

Marc J. Sievers

Entertaining friends, family, and clients is something that truly brings me joy.  Surprising people with little details, thoughtfully crafted tablescapes, and rustic food is my life’s passion and interest.  Ever since I was a little boy growing up alongside my nana (Ms. Rita Madonna Hillard-Berube) poking about the china cabinets, cupboards, and pantry to set the table or to help cook was, and still is, where you can find me!

The holidays in our 3rd floor walk-up apartment were always bountiful, festive, and magical.  The tinsel clad tree in the living room, the electric candles in all 18 windows, the stockings and Christmas cards hung around the doorways, and the constant ebb and flow of family and friends – and the food that seemed to (and still does!) go on forever.  Nothing was fussy, perfect, or over-calculated.  Everything was infused with love – the key ingredient.

As I look back to the parts of the holidays (and birthdays, card nights, and other celebrations) that stuck with me, the main theme was always every inch of our Farley Street apartment was utilized.  The kitchen table was piled high with hors d’oeuvres, the tiny kitchen counter was set up with drinks, the coffee table had dips (Bugles and Shrimp dip, to be exact), cookies, fudge, and so on.  That was the key to keeping the festivities moving about, encouraged mingling, and ultimately allowed for what seemed like a never ending party!  Now, fast forward to present day.  I am 33 and still following in nana’s footsteps: Cooking and entertaining for friends and family but with a Marc Sievers twist! 

The iconic Christmas cookie – seen in every grocery store, specialty food shop, and home cook’s kitchen in America – is still one of my favorite components this time of year.  Buttery, crisp, and covered in course sanding sugar, my Vanilla Christmas Cookies are the closest I have gotten to the memories of my childhood.  They are fuss-free, and the ingredients (including the colored sugars) can be found at your local grocery store.  For a slightly more elegant look (as elegant as sanding sugars can be!), I found matte silver and gold Wilton sanding sugars at my local crafts store. 

For my annual Christmas party, I wanted to create a focal point for my coffee table that would double as part edible and part décor.  Setting up vignettes like I mentioned above really allows your guests to mingle about your entire space, or at least the space you want them in (serving in the powder room is not something I have tried, yet!).  A quick trip to my corner pharmacy (I still love those “seasonal” aisles), I found an adorable iron ornament tree, which I used to hang my Christmas cookies on – take that “cookie platter!”  As guests indulge in the festive cookies, keep a tray of extra cookies strung with ribbons on hand to refill the tree, and a separate tray piled high with cookies (arranged in another area of your entertaining space) minus the ribbons for those “cookie-aholic” guests (that’s me!).

This holiday season while you are entertaining, make sure you too are enjoying this marvelous time of year.  Focus on a few things and do them really well – it’s better to have fewer components if they are delicious, well thought out, and filled with love!  Thank you for taking a walk down memory lane with me, I hope that my memoires sparked some of your own.  From my home to yours – I wish you the merriest of Christmases and the brightest year ahead!


Rolled Vanilla Cookies

Ingredients (makes 2-3 dozen cookies)

  • Flour – 3 ½ cups, all purpose

  • Baking Powder – 1 teaspoon

  • Fine Sea Salt – ½ teaspoon

  • Butter – 2 sticks, unsalted, at room temperature

  • Sugar – 1 ½ cups, granulated

  • Eggs – 2 extra-large, at room temperature

  • Vanilla – 2 teaspoons, pure extract

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

  2. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

  3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment add the butter. With the mixer set to medium speed, add the eggs one at a time, allowing each to fully incorporate. Gradually add the sugar and then the vanilla.

  4. Set the mixer to low speed and gradually add the dry ingredients. Mix until just combined.

  5. Dump the dough onto a lightly floured surface, divide the dough in half, shape each half into a flat disk, wrap each one in waxed paper, and chill for 1 hour.

  6. Working with one disk at a time, roll the dough on a lightly floured surface to 1/4-inch thick. Cut the dough with festive cookie cutters. Place the shapes on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Sprinkle with colored sugars. Using the end of a chopstick, make a hole in the top of each cookie.

  7. Bake for 6-8 minutes, until the edges are lightly browned.

  8. Remove the cookies from the oven, and allow them to cool completely on a cooling rack.

  9. Once cooled, string ribbon through each hole and hang.

  10. Repeat the above process until all the dough has been baked.

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