Tag Archives: entertaining

All In The Details

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After a busy week at work and an epic weekend last week, I’m looking forward to some low-key R&R with Kevin at home. I’m looking forward to seeing Burnt tonight, possibly enjoying some fireside wine at the Wine Cellar at the Lambertville Station (a lovely fall retreat for anyone looking for a quick weekend trip), and indulging in our latest Netflix binge: Louie. I’m also planning to get busy in the kitchen with testing out some Thanksgiving recipes to share on the blog over the next couple weeks. I cannot believe it’s less than 2 weeks away; I am just giddy with excitement for all that food, wine, and cozy clothes to accommodate our expanding waistlines.

Speaking of cozy, nothing says fall for me like plaid. After seeing some adorable plaid details at Allie’s wedding last weekend, I’ve been daydreaming about a festive, plaid spread for Thanksgiving. Recently I’ve talked about my efforts to not play the comparison game and lust after the perfect clothes and homes I see on blogs or Pinterest, but one thing I simply cannot give up is a beautiful tablescape. I’ve always loved looking through Pottery Barn magazines or watching Ina’s show for this reason: admiring the impeccable elegance of a beautiful table that is equally effortless and inviting. For me, a welcoming, well-decorated table is a symbol of togetherness and the anticipation of the great meal and memories that are to come. This is why I’m also so excited to meet with our caterer next year to pick out the flatware and linens for our wedding – sounds trivial, but for me, these little details can really tie together your dinner or event and create more of an experience or emotion, not just another meal. So while my Thanksgiving table probably won’t be this Pinterest-worthy, the comforting and classic look of these plaid tablescapes evoke the feeling that I hope to curate at my own Thanksgiving some day.

Images: 1 // 2 // 3 // 4 // 5 // 6

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Quick & Easy Cheese Board Tips

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I’ve always loved Halloween. My theatrical side loves getting dressed up and taking on the character of someone else. I’m also a total horror nerd: scary movies, haunted houses, Ouija boards, I love it all. As if that wasn’t enough reason to get excited, Halloween has also felt like the unofficial start to the holiday season (as marked by Starbucks holiday cups launching on November 1st and my mom’s Christmas shopping is usually finished by November 5th). So yea, I’m pretty pumped for tomorrow.

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Our plans are still unclear. I was so excited for our first Halloween in the burbs last year, but then we only got 2 trick-or-treaters, so I ended up OD’ing on Milky Ways and passed out on the couch in my sad excuse of a costume (we were Crazy Ira & The Douche from Parks & Rec, which really meant wearing a sweatshirt and backwards hat). So I’m hoping to step up our game this year. We’re thinking Suzy Bishop and Sam Shakusky from Moonrise Kingdom. Thoughts?

DSC_0652What is definitely happening is this festive cheese board. When I have last minute plans, but still want to put something together that seems somewhat personal, I love to do a simple cheese plate. It’s easy and just a few extras will make it seem like you spent a lot more time on it than you really did. And let’s be honest, everyone loves cheese. Here are a few of my tips for throwing together a fun and festive fromage ensemble.

  1. Stick to 3 different cheeses to keep it simple and not overwhelm the guests.
  2. Go for a variety of milks and textures. For example: 1 goat, 1 sheep, 1 cow. Or, 1 soft, 1 hard, 1 stinky.
  3. Pick cheeses that you like and always sample before buying if you can. Don’t worry so much about what pairs well together. If you like it, chances are others will too!
  4. Start the cheeses by slicing or crumbling a few pieces so guests know how to eat it. A big hunk of cheese can be intimidating to go at if you don’t know how to eat it!
  5. Leave cheeses out an hour before serving to get them nice and ripe (even the soft ones).
  6. Keep the accouterments simple and tie in elements from the cheese. For this plate, I added some dried cranberries (for the White Stilton with Cranberries), rosemary (for the Asiago with Rosemary), and some honey (for the fresh goat cheese).
  7. Keep the presentation of the plate more organic and flowing. It’s more inviting and more appetizing if it’s not so rigid looking.
  8. Skeleton hands, spider webs, or little mice (fake ones of course) can add a cheap and easy touch to your spread.

Mustard & Herb Roasted Salmon

For anyone who knows me or reads this blog regularly, you know that I’ve long been infatuated with everything French.  While not everyone may feel the same love that I do for France, there is no question that one thing the French got right is food. So I have to thank the French for one of my favorite cooking terms “mise en place”. “Mise en place” means to put in place; or in cooking, to set up your station with all of the spices, ingredients, and necessary tools before you actually start cooking. Prepping your mise en place saves you so much time: no running around the kitchen or forgetting ingredients at the last second.

Mise en place is especially important when entertaining for others. Being organized and prepared allows you to have minimal work and maximum social time once guests have arrived. Though my  guest count was only one for dinner on Monday (my friend Elana), having everything prepped ahead of time made this recipe for Mustard & Herb Roasted Salmon totally sweat-free.

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First, I prepared the mustard & herb sauce. I chopped up my garlic and herbs (I chopped some extra to toss with the veggies later), measured out the liquid ingredients, whisked that all together and popped in the fridge until I was ready to use later.

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Next, I prepped my vegetables. For this, I trimmed the tough ends of the asparagus and cut a bunch of fingerling potatoes in half. Threw those on a foil-lined baking sheet, drizzled with some olive oil, seasoned with salt, pepper and remaining herbs, then let sit on my counter until I was ready to roast them off.

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Prepping the salmon was super quick: just place on a foil-lined baking sheet, season with salt and pepper, and refrigerate until ready to cook.

About 30 minutes before I knew Elana would arrive, I turned up my oven to 425 degrees to preheat. In the vegetables went to roast on the bottom shelf of the oven. (Side note, roasting your vegetables is such a low-maitenance way to give your veggies so much flavor when you’re pressed for an easy side dish.) After 10 minutes, I rotated the pan with the vegetables, spread a generous dollop of the herb-mustard sauce over each salmon filet, put the salmon on the top shelf in the oven, and continued to roast the veggies and salmon until the potatoes were fork tender and the salmon was just cooked (about 12 minutes). Not only was the meal delicious, but was prepared and enjoyed all while we caught up on the weekend’s festivities without having to break a sweat. Now if that isn’t cooking with French “je ne sais quoi”, I don’t know what is!

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Mustard & Herb Roasted Salmon adapted from Giada de Laurentiis

serves 2

Ingredients:

2 salmon filets

1 garlic clove, minced

1-2 sprigs rosemary, leaves removed and finely chopped

several sprigs thyme, leaves removed and finely chopped

1 tbsp dry white wine

1 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp Dijon mustard

2 tbsp whole-grain mustard

kosher salt

freshly ground black pepper

lemon wedges for serving

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a small, rimmed baking sheet with foil and spray with cooking spray.

2. Whisk together garlic, herbs (reserve a little extra if tossing with veggies on the side), wine, oil, Dijon, and whole-grain mustard. Set aside.

3. Place salmon filets skin-side down on the baking sheet and season with salt and pepper.

4. Spread a hearty dollop of the herb-mustard sauce on top of each filet. Roast the salmon until just cooked though, about 12 minutes. Let sit 2 minutes before serving. The extra herb-mustard sauce is great to dip the roasted vegetables in if you’re making them!

Lessons from Ina: How easy is that?

I have a mental list of recipes that I’ve always wanted to try, but haven’t had the guts to. As easy as Ina makes it look, that double-layer chocolate cake really can’t be that simple. There are several factors that might shy me a way from a certain recipe: too many ingredients, need for particular (or expensive) cookware, patience. This is why I rarely blog about baking; because I don’t have any more space in my apartment to house five different cake pans and I don’t have the patience to follow a recipe word for word.

While I don’t see myself getting over my baking phobia any time soon, I will brave more savory recipes when I’m feeling adventurous. Some feared recipes that I’ve been able to cross off my list: frittatarisotto, braised short ribs. The funny thing is, every time I’ve finally attempted one of these dishes, I’m always surprised at how easy and not scary it is.

So this past Friday evening was the perfect occasion to give lasagna a go. I was having some friends over, so I wanted to serve something that I could prepare ahead of time and just heat up before they arrived (Ina’s number one rule when entertaining: never serve something that will keep you over the stove while guests are waiting hungrily). Lasagna has always been hallowed ground for me. Gaga makes lasagna every Christmas Eve, so I’ve always felt that lasagna was her territory, not to be toyed with. Luckily, this lasagna was for friends, so I didn’t have to live up to the decades-old expectations from family and could play with the recipe as needed.

While I tend to use recipes more for inspiration (see above, re: lack of patience), I do stick closely to a recipe when trying something for the first time. So who better to go to than the Food Goddess Herself: Ina. While there was no one part to the recipe that was particularly difficult, it was a bit time consuming between cooking the sauce, pasta, and actual cook time. But all good things come with a wait, right?

Right. So, so right. The lasagna was incredibly cheesy, with so many great flavors – tanginess from the goat cheese, butteriness from the mozzarella, and a fresh, herbiness from the basil. We all went back for seconds and thirds, and yet somehow managed not to feel heavy and weighed down at all. A great dish to feed a crowd or impress your friends, yet relatively simple. As we shoved our faces, cheese oozing down our chins, I couldn’t help but think (in the words of Ina): Now, how easy is that?

Ina Garten’s Lasagna with Turkey Sausage

serves a crowd

Ingredients:

For the sauce:

2 tbs olive oil

1 medium yellow onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 lb turkey sausage, casings removed

1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes

1 (6 oz) can tomato paste

1/4 cup chopped fresh flat leaf parsley, divided

1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves

Kosher salt

Pepper

For the lasagna:

1/2 lb lasagna noodles

15 oz ricotta cheese

4 oz creamy goat cheese, crumbled

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for sprinkling

1 egg, lightly beaten

1 lb fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced

1. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute more.

2. Add the sausage, breaking up with the back of a wooden spoon and cook until no longer pink, about 10 minutes.

3. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, 2 tablespoons of the parsley, basil, salt and pepper. Simmer, uncovered, over medium-low heat until thickened, about 15-20 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, fill a large bowl with the hottest tap water. Add the noodles and let sit in the water for 20 minutes. Drain.

5. In a medium bowl, combine the ricotta, goat cheese, Parmesan, the egg, the rest of the parsley, and salt and pepper. Set aside.

6. Ladle a third of a the sauce into a 9-inch by 13-inch baking dish, spreading over the bottom. Layer  half the noodles, half the mozzarella, half the ricotta and one-third of the sauce. Repeat. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese to lightly cover the top. Bake for 30 minutes in a 400-degree oven, until bubbling. (If serving later, refrigerate as needed, but allow to come to room temperature for about an hour before putting in the oven. This is what I did and it worked out great!)

Lotsa layers!
Cheesyliciousness
In the words of Ina, how bad can that be?