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Recipes & Entertaining Ideas

Filtering by Tag: Holiday

Soirée-Sized Cheese Boxes

Marc J. Sievers

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One of the things that I love most with both cooking and entertaining is taking a classic idea and giving it a modern twist! I like to have a cheese plate ready to greet my guests at a party, but I wanted to tweak it a bit this season to make it more special for the holidays. My Soirée-Sized Cheese Boxes are a perfect companion to a glass of bubbles!

Of course, the best part about a traditional cheese board is that it is an easy, no-cook, delicious mix of flavors and textures: hard and soft cheeses, crackers, dried and fresh fruit and sometimes, a little sweetness, like a high-quality dark chocolate (all available at your favorite grocery store!). Think of my Soirée-Sized Cheese Boxes as a chic, updated version of the cheese plate that will wow your family and friends this holiday. You know what’s even better? They can be assembled in advance and kept in the refrigerator!

There’s no rhyme or reason in building these little boxes, so be creative and think about what your guests would love to nibble on as they arrive as well as what would make the most sophisticated presentation.  I started with these adorable and stylish boxes that are available online. I like to use grapes as a base to give some height and to serve as a sweet foundation. Next, layer in other ingredients, like dried apricots and figs, crackers and flatbreads, nuts and cheeses. You can use anything that has great flavor and will complement each other. This a great opportunity to try something new! To round out the boxes I have here, I included two hard cheeses; Pepper Jack and Gruyere, as I am able to cut them into strong geometric forms, and they will keep their shape while in the box. I presented the boxes in an acrylic tray, accented with a bed of beautiful greenery that I also found at my favorite grocery store. It’s simple and sets an elegant tone for the evening.

I love the idea of these boxes as edible and elegant versions of party favors that will be sure to be the life of your holiday soirée!

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 A Few Simple Tips to Arrange the Boxes

  • If you use a dried fruit with a stem, like the figs I have used here, be sure to remove the stems before placing inside the box.

  • Keep in mind that your guests will eat with their eyes first, so vary the height of the ingredients inside the box. You can use a hard cheese to provide the perfect vertical element for visual interest.

  • Add a fresh sprig of Rosemary or Thyme to each box for a little bit of green for an extra festive (and aromatic!) touch!

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A Thanksgiving Table

Marc J. Sievers

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

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

Textures

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

Patterns

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

Autumnal Colors

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

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

From my table to yours, happy Thanksgiving!


Some furnishings provided by Mikasa.

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Simmering Winter Potpourri on WGN

Marc J. Sievers

During the winter, I love to have a pot simmering on the stove filled with quintessential seasonal aromatics that make my home smell welcoming and festive.  Just before Christmas, I had the pleasure of showcasing some last-minute decor ideas on WGN News and this (along with a few others!) was a hit in the newsroom!  My Simmering Winter Potpourri does just the trick!  Things like cinnamon, orange, rosemary, and even Balsam branches gently release their fragrance in spiced apple cider and fill the air with the most wonderful scent.  The best part is all you need to do is add more apple cider or water as needed and your home will smell like a wintery wonderland!  

Happy Holidays - from me to you!   


Simmering Winter Potpourri

Components

  • Apple Cider – 2 cups

  • Water – 3 cups

  • Orange – 1 large, sliced ½-inch thick

  • Rosemary – 3 springs, fresh

  • Balsam Branches – 8 small springs

  • Cinnamon Sticks – 3

  • Cloves – 10, whole

Directions

  1. Add all of the components to a saucepan and bring to just under the boil. Then, reduce the heat to simmer. Allow the aromatics to simmer throughout the day or evening, adding more water and apple cider as necessary.

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Deck Your Home with All Things Jolly!

Marc J. Sievers

During the holidays, time can play a huge roll when it comes to finishing the little details.  Use the ideas I’ve created here to help set the mood for a festive soirée and still have time to bake those 21 dozen decorated cookies you planned on giving out to your friends and colleagues this year (remember that idea you got after a bottle of wine and endless hours on Pinterest?!).

I believe that each and every day should be festive, stylish, and simple.  When I am coming up with holiday décor ideas I try to use easily-found components, concepts that do not take hours to complete, materials that are budget friendly, and most importantly ideas that won’t take an entire weekend to finish.  This year, I wanted to add a bit of holiday cheer to everyday items commonly found around the house, your local grocery store, and maybe a quick trip to a craft store (don’t worry, I promise no glitter!).  And since I live in a mid-rise, I also wanted to highlight holiday ideas that don’t require “storage” after—making them perfect for a smaller space to add a festive touch!

This is my favorite time of year, and I want to take as much time as I can celebrating and entertaining my friends, family, and clients—with my simple ideas here you will be able to join the party and deck your home with all things jolly!

My original article was written for FW: Chicago Magazine - Holiday Edition


Tinsel Bowl:

This crystal bowl filled with mini LED battery-operated lights and silver tinsel is a must for part of your holiday décor this year!  The effect of the sparkling crystal against the shiny tinsel, all illuminated with tiny lights adds a “WOW!” factor to any table, sideboard, or entry.  The same concept can be done in any clear vessel—so use your imagination!  Imagine multiples of these down the center of your dining table for a dinner party – I’ll bring the champagne!


Ribbon Napkin Rings:

A simple white cotton napkin gets a festive and glamorous makeover with the addition of tartan plaid ribbon, tied in a big bow, then adorned with a sprig of fresh rosemary and crystal chandelier prisms (which I found on Amazon.com).  At the end of your dinner party (or buffet), encourage guests to take the crystals home to adorn their tree—an instant take-away bobble—and enjoy for years to come!  


Peppermint Hurricanes:

Plain glass hurricanes and unscented white pillar candles turn into a winter wonderland with peppermint candies and regular coarse Kosher salt—all available at your local grocery store!  Fill the bottom ¼ full of peppermints then pour spoonfuls of coarse salt over the candies.  Not only does the salt take on a snow-like effect, it also helps to stabilizes the candle base.  Place these all over your home to instantly add a bit of holiday cheer to any room or table.


Silver Tray with Cards

A silver tray filled with holiday cards set either atop a coffee table or under your Christmas tree is probably the chicest way to both display and contain all of those “fa la la” greetings!  If you don’t have a silver tray (I find mine at flea markets and thrift stores) a decorative bowl or even a large platter will work just fine.  


Bow-Tied Flutes:

Transform everyday stemmed glassware with the addition of tiny red velvet bows to add instant holiday cheer!  These charming little bows already come with a twist-tie closure, making the application just a few twists away (martini, anyone?)!  Best of all, after your soirée, you can either save the bows for next year or use them to decorate packages!  


Cinnamon Bundles:

Easily found at your local grocery store, cinnamon sticks tied in little bundles with velvet ribbon are the perfect addition to the doorknob of a powder room, as package ties, around a wine bottle for a host/ess gift, or even hung throughout your Christmas tree to add a spicy scent (especially if you have a faux tree).  A little spice, and everything nice!

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Fruit Conserve

Marc J. Sievers

A holiday dinner in my family would not be complete without jellied cranberry sauce (with the can lines!) in a little crystal dish on the table!  While I still love that sentiment and tradition, I have upped the game with my Fruit Conserve.  My version of “cranberry sauce” is brimming with flavorful ingredients like dried figs, golden raisins, dried cherries, and currants – just to name a few!  I have even added a few tablespoons of Grand Mariner, an orange liqueur, to add a little more depth of flavor – it is the holidays after all!  What I love the most about this recipe is it can be made up to three days ahead of time and stored in an air-tight container in the refrigerator.  Allow it to sit for 20 minutes at room temperature before serving.  Leftover conserve is fabulous when warmed through and served over vanilla ice cream or even on crackers with slices of Brie.  A triple-duty recipe, perfect for this time of year!

This recipe is part of “An Autumnal Feast!  A Collection of Recipes from Watermarc – Art & Appetite”.  Explore the other recipes in this series:

Happy cooking!


Fruit Conserve

Ingredients (serves 6-8)

  • Water – 1 cup

  • Sugar – 1¼ cups

  • Fresh Cranberries – 1 bag (12 ounces)

  • Honey Crisp Apple – 1, peeled, cored, ½-inch diced

  • Bosc Pear – 1, peeled, cored, ½-inch diced

  • Orange – 1, zested, seeded and ½-inch diced

  • Lemon – 1, zested, juiced

  • Grand Marnier – 3 tablespoons

  • Cinnamon – ¼ teaspoon

  • Course Sea Salt – ¼ teaspoon

  • Golden Raisins – ½ cup

  • Dried Black Mission Figs - ½ cup, rough chopped

  • Zante Currants – ½ cup

  • Dried Cherries – ½ cup

Directions

  1. Start by placing the water, sugar, and cranberries into a medium-sized saucepan set over medium heat. Cook for 5 to 10 minutes, or until the cranberry skins open.

  2. Next, add the apple, pear, orange, zests, and lemon juice. Continue cooking for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

  3. Finally, off the heat, add the raisins, currants, cherries, figs, cinnamon, salt, and Grand Marnier. Allow to cool and place into the refrigerator to set.

  4. Serve slightly chilled.

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Baguette Stuffing

Marc J. Sievers

Like many of you, stuffing is one of my favorite parts of a Thanksgiving meal!  Instead of preparing a stuffing from a bag (boring!), my Baguette Stuffing only takes a few steps and the result is just delicious and fabulous!  The combination of French bread and rye bread gives this dish a real depth of flavor, along with all of the fresh vegetables, herbs, and of course butter!   This recipe is as equally wonderful with almost-ripe pears.  Simply substitute the apples for pears and follow the same cooking directions.  You can also change the cashews for almonds, or even pecans.  Your traditional bread stuffing is about to get a major flavor makeover!

This recipe is part of “An Autumnal Feast!  A Collection of Recipes from Watermarc – Art & Appetite”.  Explore the other recipes in this series:

Happy cooking!


Baguette Stuffing

Ingredients (serves 6-8)

  • French Baguette – 24-inch, cut into ¾-inch cubes

  • Dark Rye Bread – 1 pound loaf, cut into ¾-inch cubes

  • Butter - 12 tablespoons, unsalted

  • Celery – 5 stalks, ½-inch diced

  • Onions – 2 medium, ½-inch diced

  • Granny Smith Apples – 2 medium, ½-inch diced, peeled, and cored

  • Garlic - 4 cloves, finely minced

  • Flat Leaf Parsley – ½ cup, roughly chopped, fresh

  • Rosemary – 3 teaspoons, finely minced, fresh

  • Thyme – 2 teaspoons, finely minced, fresh

  • Sea Salt – 1½ teaspoons

  • Black Pepper – 1½ teaspoons, freshly cracked

  • Vegetable Broth – 3 cups (low sodium preferred)

  • Raw Cashews – 1 cup, rough chopped

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.

  2. Place the bread cubes on a sheet pan and toast them in the oven for 10 minutes.

  3. Meanwhile, in a large sauté pan set over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Once melted, add the onion, celery, apples, garlic, parsley, rosemary, thyme, salt, and pepper. Sauté for 15 minutes, tossing occasionally, until the mixture is soft.

  4. In a large bowl toss the bread, onion mixtue, vegetable broth, and cashews.

  5. Transfer to a 3-quart baking dish. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes.

  6. Remove the foil and bake for another 20 minutes, or until the top is golden brown.

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Salted Caramel Krispie Squares, An Old Favorite, Revamped!

Marc J. Sievers

Pressing them onto a parchment lined sheet pan will allow you to cut them in any size desired. If you need to make a larger batch, simply lay down the appropriate sized sheet of parchment directly onto your kitchen counter. Remember, it's best to allow these to set for at least 1 to 2 hours before cutting them into squares.

Pressing them onto a parchment lined sheet pan will allow you to cut them in any size desired. If you need to make a larger batch, simply lay down the appropriate sized sheet of parchment directly onto your kitchen counter. Remember, it's best to allow these to set for at least 1 to 2 hours before cutting them into squares.

As a kid the classic Rice Krispie Treat always made an appearance during the holidays, birthdays and sometimes just because nana loved her grandchildren!  Whatever the occasion the little pillows of crunchy sticky marshmallow squares were gobbled up in less time than it took to melt the butter!

Recently I was planning a cocktail party and I wanted to serve my guests something from their childhood that would invoke some fun memories, as well as pair well with champagne (yes, champagne!) and could easily be enjoyed in bite-sized morsels.  Since I love salted caramel I thought that would be the perfect flavor to revamp this old favorite and give it a bit of sophistication (well, as much as marshmallows and cereal can get)!  I hope these Salted Caramel Krispie Squares add the perfect touch of whimsy to your next soirée!


Ingredients (makes 12 - 15 individual treats)

  • Butter – 8 tablespoons, divided

  • Marshmallows – 50, regular sized

  • Salted Caramel – 6 tablespoons, good store-bought caramel

  • Vanilla – 3 teaspoons, pure extract

  • Milk Chocolate – ⅔ cup, roughly chopped

  • Puffed rice cereal – 6 cups, Kellogg's® Rice Krispies® brand recommended

Directions

  1. Start by lining a sheet pan with parchment paper. Set aside.

  2. In a large saucepan, melt 7 tablespoons of butter and marshmallows over low heat. Stir constantly until completely melted. Remove from heat.

  3. Next, add the vanilla, caramel, and cereal. Combine until the cereal is well coated.

  4. Transfer the cereal mixture onto the parchment-lined sheet pan. Rub the remaining tablespoon of butter between your hands (cook's best tool!) and gently press the mixture until it is 1-inch thick. Set aside.

  5. Lastly, melt the chocolate in a heat proof bowl set over simmering water. Once completely melted, transfer into a small pastry bag fitted with a small round tip and evenly drizzle it across the cereal mixture. Set aside to cool completely (1 to 2 hours).

  6. Cut into desired size and serve.

Try serving the bite-sized treats in a silver bowl for a bit of holiday glamour! You can also place 4 to 5 treats into glycine bags, tie with a festive ribbon, and give one to each guest to take home!

Try serving the bite-sized treats in a silver bowl for a bit of holiday glamour! You can also place 4 to 5 treats into glycine bags, tie with a festive ribbon, and give one to each guest to take home!

Tip: The treats will stay fresh for up to 3 days in an air-tight container.

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Pear & Orange Punch

Marc J. Sievers

Thank you to Crate&Barrel for all of the beautiful wired-edged ribbons and packaging supplies!

Thank you to Crate&Barrel for all of the beautiful wired-edged ribbons and packaging supplies!

I was recently asked by Crate&Barrel to host the ultimate cookie swap!  I created a custom punch for the event and shared some of my favorite ways to package holiday baked goods for gifting.  The turnout was amazing!  I served over 20 gallons of my Pear & Orange Holiday Punch, wrapped over 1,000 cookies and had an audience of over 500 people!

A traditional cookie swap is simple: Invite friends and family, and have each person make enough of one kind of cookie to share. At the party you taste the treats, then trade and package them in creative and unique ways!  Everyone leaves with finished gifts—and plenty of new recipes.

I have hosted many cookie swaps in my day and have some tried-and-true tips that will make your next party a success!


  • Start by sending out invitations to your guests, which should also explain the cookie swap concept.

  • Ask each guest to bring one kind of cookie and indicate how many dozen.

  • Create a theme to your party! Ask guests to bring all types of chocolate cookies, sugar cookies, or even decorated cookies.

  • Ask your guests to bring copies of the recipes to hand out at the party.

  • I like to make a small assortment of savory tea sandwiches to counteract the sweetness of the cookies.

  • Serve my Pear & Orange Holiday Punch!

  • Remember, be creative and have fun with the packaging supplies. I supply clear glycine bags, an assortment of holiday ribbons, and even food-safe paper shred. Stickers, seals, and labels are also great additions.

  • Cookie swaps are meant to be casual and social, do remember to play holiday music!

  • My BEST tip is, have FUN! This is also an event for you to enjoy!

The next time you host a cookie swap, incorporate my tips, tricks, and punch recipe to ensure a great time is had by all!


Pear & Orange Punch

Ingredients

  • Pear Nectar – 4 cups, bottled

  • Orange Juice – 8 cups, natural

  • Club Soda – 4 cups, cold

  • Orange – 1 whole orange, ¼-inch sliced

  • Rosemary – 5 sprigs, fresh, on stem

  • Cranberries – 1 bag, frozen, whole

Directions

My Pear & Orange Holiday Punch is being served to hundreds of waiting guests!

My Pear & Orange Holiday Punch is being served to hundreds of waiting guests!

  1. Begin with well-chilled ingredients. First, pour the club soda into a large pitcher. Next pour the orange juice into the pitcher, and then the pear nectar. Stir gently.

  2. Next, add the orange slices and whole rosemary sprigs to the pitcher, followed by the frozen cranberries. Stir the pitcher and allow the orange slices, rosemary, and cranberries to stay at the surface. Stir occasionally to keep the fresh juices well-mixed.

  3. Provide punch glasses for your guests and enjoy the merriment!

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