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Recipes & Entertaining Ideas

Filtering by Tag: 2015 Q2

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, plus more for preparing pan

  • Kosher Salt – ¼ teaspoon

  • Baking Powder – ¼ teaspoon

  • Baking Soda – ¼ teaspoon

  • Butter – 8 tablespoons, unsalted, room temperature, plus more for preparing pan

  • 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-inch 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. 

Order a signed copy of my cookbook Entertaining with Love!


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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