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Recipes & Entertaining Ideas

Filtering by Tag: 2015 Q1

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 

Order a signed copy of my cookbook Entertaining with Love!

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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.

Order a signed copy of my cookbook Entertaining with Love!

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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

Order a signed copy of my cookbook Entertaining with Love!

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