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"It's so beautifully arranged on the the plate – you know someone's fingers have been all over it." – Julia Child

Posts from the Desserts Category

Shoes. Sweaters. Pajamas. Toiletries. Check, check, check, and check. Your overnight bag is packed and you have your directions mapped out or your train or plane ticket printed, but The Gift for people hosting Thanksgiving dinner? Ugh. What to bring to your family’s or friends’ gathering? Booze is a given, and, now, you cannot be That Person Who Brings Salad. Oh, you know what I’m talking about. And, have you noticed? It’s never even an interesting salad, with say, kohlrabi and a horseradish dressing, but the worst offender: bagged and chopped romaine with tasteless out-of-season grape tomatoes and bottled LO-CAL dressing.

You can always choose to impress with a pricey present, but a thoughtful homemade addition to the meal can be even more noteworthy.These bite-sized treats travel well and can be tucked into the desserts table, or kept in their wrappings and enjoyed by the hosts once all the party and its stresses are over.

SPICED AND SALTED HONEY-CASHEW BRITTLE
Makes 1 sheet of brittle (approx. 9- by 11 inches)

Prep note: Brittle seems daunting, but its success relies more on having equipment ready than on being skilled. Be sure to have a candy thermometer (available at most supermarkets) and that your baking sheet is prepped.

For the Brittle
Cooking spray
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups (about 9 ounces) roasted and salted cashews

For the Chocolate Drizzle
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
Maldon salt
Aleppo pepper
Ground cardamom

– Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly coat it with baking spray. Set up a small bowl filled with water and a pastry brush next to the stovetop.

– Combine the sugar, honey, and water in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring with a heatproof rubber spatula until the sugar is dissolved. Allow the mixture to come to a boil and (with the damp brush) brush the sides of the pan where the sugar mixture makes contact with it to dissolve any granules of sugar.

– Cook the sugar mixture until it registers 300¨F on a candy thermometer (hard crack stage), 6 to 8 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, and with the spatula, stir in the butter, salt, and baking soda. Stir in the cashews and immediately pour the mixture onto the prepared baking sheet. Quickly spread the brittle out to the thickness of 1 cashew and cool completely.

For the Chocolate Drizzle: Once the brittle has hardened, melt the chocolate in a small bowl in the microwave (try 30 seconds at a time, stirring in between zaps) or in a small saucepan on the stovetop. Drizzle the melted chocolate over the brittle and sprinkle it with salt, Aleppo, and cardamom. Chill for 10 minutes, then break up into shards.

– Brittle will keep in an airtight container for up to 1 week. *Refrigerate if you live in a warm place to prevent the chocolate drizzle from melting.

MEXICAN WEDDING CAKES
Makes about 42 cookies

These snowy cookies are crumbly and nutty and not too sweet. You might want to make a double batch and save some for yourself.

1 cup roasted and salted pecans
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature (about 60°F)
6 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar, plus 1 cup for coating
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Orange zest for sprinkling (optional)

– Pulse the pecans in a food processor until finely ground.

– Beat the butter, confectioners’ sugar, and granulated sugar with an electric mixer on low speed until combined, then increase speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Add the vanilla and beat to mix.

– Stop the mixer and add the flour, salt, cinnamon, and ground pecans to the butter. Beat on low until the mixture is cohesive, scraping the sides and bottom of the mixing bowl as needed.  Beat just until a dough forms. If the dough seems too soft to handle, refrigerate it for 20 to 30 minutes.

– Adjust 2 oven racks to the upper and lower middle positions and preheat the oven to 350°F. Line 2 baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper.

– Using a 1-tablespoon (1/2-ounce) ice cream scoop or a 1-tablespoon measure, scoop out the dough, dividing it among the 2 prepared sheets. Bake the cookies until just golden on the sides, 15 to 20 minutes, alternating the sheets’ positions halfway through baking.

– Transfer the sheets to cooling racks, cool the cookies on the sheets for 10 minutes, then cool them completely on the racks.  Cookies will keep in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

MINI NUT PIES
Makes 24

These are a dainty alternative to classic pecan pie — try them with pecans, walnuts, or even a mixture of cocktail nuts. You’ll need a mini-muffin tin and a biscuit cutter about 2 1/4 inches in diameter.

1 package puff pastry or pie dough, thawed
All-purpose flour for dusting surface
Baking spray
2 large eggs
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup dark corn syrup
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup walnuts or pecans, chopped and toasted

– Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 350°F.

– Roll the dough out to about 1/8-inch thick on a lightly floured surface. Stamp out 24 circles with a 2 1/4-inch in diameter biscuit cutter and press them into a mini-muffin tin. Lightly coat the whole thing with baking spray.

– Beat the eggs in a large bowl, then whisk in the sugar, corn syrup, vanilla, espresso powder, and salt. Divide the mixture evenly among the dough-lined muffin tin, and top with the nuts.

– Bake until set, about 30 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack. Cool 10 minutes, then, with a wooden skewer or paring knife, gently pop the mini-pies out of the tins and onto the cooling rack. Cool completely and store, refrigerated for up to one week. You can also freeze the pies for up to 1 month and reheat them in a 300°F oven.

GINGER CAKE
This cake is moist and really spiced, packing quite a bit of fresh ginger in addition to the usual allspice, ground ginger, cloves, and cinnamon.  It’s meant to be baked in a 9-inch springform pan, but you can divide the batter among smaller vessels, filling each with batter about halfway up the sides.  When using smaller vessels, arrange them on a rimmed baking sheet for easier handling.  Click HEREfor the recipe.

Strapped for time? Order your packaging supplies at Paper Presentation.

And, if you’re looking to get festive and giving your room a quick makeover, try  Tempaper, temporary wallpaper!  The luxe gold and peacock feathers pattern featured in this post is one of our favorites.

Well, it’s that time of year again: a time we love and hate all in the same breath.  As we say goodbye to summer and hello to fall, the days get shorter, the air grows cooler, and we squeeze in as much outdoor fun as we can. Watching the leaves change and soaking in that gorgeous fall sunlight is always more fun with your friends. So we decided to have a few people over to enjoy a warm fire, hot cider, and delicious food. Carving pumpkins, roasting marshmallows, and toasting pumpkin seeds are just a few of the nostalgic activities that took place. Lucky for us, one of our favorite prop stylists, Penelope Bouklas, joined us and turned our gathering into a photo-worthy event.

HOT SPICED APPLE CIDER

  • 4 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 tablespoons whole allspice berries
  • 2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
  • 2 tablespoons whole cardamom pods, crushed with the side of a knife
  • Rind of 1 orange
  • 1 quart apple cider
  • Pinch of salt
  • Cheese cloth

– Toast the spices in a large saucepan over medium heat until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Wrap the spices in cheese cloth. Add the orange rind, cider, spices, salt and simmer over low heat for 30 minutes to allow the spices to infuse. Strain the cider and serve with optional garnishes.

Optional Garnishes:

  • Orange rounds
  • Whipped cream with orange zest and freshly ground black pepper

*Can also be enjoyed cold!

A little Jiffy Pop is always fun & super easy!

TATA’S CHILI CON CARNE

Serves 6 – 8

  • 1 pound ground beef  (black angus)
  • 2 (35-ounce) cans whole peeled tomatoes
  • 1 (15-ounce) can each of butter beans, red beans, and Great Northern beans
  • (or any combination of beans you like)
  • 2 to 3 ears of corn, shucked and removed from the cob, or 2 cups frozen corn
  • 2 to 3 large cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 red poblano peppers, chopped
  • 2 jalapeño peppers, 1 choopped and seeded, 1 sliced with seeds
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons cumin
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • Salt and pepper to taste

– Rinse and drain the beans and set aside

– Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium – high heat. Add the meat, salt, and pepper. Cook until browned, 5 to 7 minutes.  Once browned, add the poblanos, jalapeños, onion, garlic, cumin, & chili powder. Cook over medium heat for 5 minutes, scraping the pot with wooden spoon as needed.

– Crush the tomatoes by hand as you pour them into the pot. Add the beans and corn. Stir together & bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer covered for about 1 hour.

Optional Garnishes:

  • Dollop of crème fraiche or sour cream
  • Chopped scallions
  • Shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • Toasted pumpkin seeds

SKILLET CORNBREAD

Makes 1 (10-inch) round, serves 4 to 6

  • 1 cup medium-grind yellow cornmeal
  •  1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  •  1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 large eggs
  •  ½ cup sour cream
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup frozen or fresh corn kernels
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 6 scallions, chopped
  • 1 poblano pepper, roasted and chopped
  • Suggested garnishes: butter, honey, cheddar cheese

– Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 400°F.

– In a large bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk the eggs, sour cream, and milk together in a separate bowl. Whisk into the flour mixture. Stir in the corn.

– Heat the oil and butter over medium heat in a 10-inch cast iron skillet until shimmering. Add the scallions and chile and cook until softened, about 3 minutes. Stir in the scallion-poblano mixture into the batter then into the skillet skillet. Bake until the cornbread is golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Transfer skillet to cooling rack and cool at least 10 minutes before serving with suggested garnishes.

– Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container. Reheat in a preheated 350°F oven for about 10 minutes. Alternatively, cut slices and butter both sides. Cook in a nonstick skillet over medium heat until crisp and heated through.

FIRESIDE S’MORES

  • Graham Crackers
  • Bar of good dark or milk chocolate  (we used Ghiardelli 60% Cacao)
  • Large marshmallows
  • Sticks for cooking over the fire

– Place a marshmallow on the end of a stick and heat it over the fire, paying careful attention not to burn it. (Unless you like it burnt!)  Meanwhile, warm 2 graham crackers with 1 piece of chocolate on the edge of the fire. Depending on your fire pit, you’ll need to find a good steady spot to get indirect heat. Once your marshmallow is cooked to just right, put your s’more together like a sandwich and enjoy!!

Strawberry Vodka Cocktail & Chocolate Madelines

I think of myself as “ladylike,” but truth be told, I’ve been known to sit on filthy floors at Penn Station, curse like a sailor, and engage in a number of other activities that would not be characterized as demure. I think that goes for Tara as well, though I suspect the dirty floor situation is a María del Mar Exclusive.

What happened?! Remember when women wore hats and little white gloves and skirts and crossed their ankles? Remember those up-do’s and perfect lipstick? When did we start wearing Uggs (I admit to being a chronic offender) and dressing in sweatpants to travel?

Modernity has its freedoms: No corsets! No girdles! No nonsense! I did grow up somewhere where it was a major violation of code to leave your house without makeup, a proper blow-out, and an impeccably pressed linen outfit. While it made for a very decorous procession down the aisles of the supermarket, it was a terrible chore.

Balance, I say! Most of the time you’ll find us wearing utilitarian uniforms—trousers, chambray button-downs, flats, and fine, yes, UGGS—but once in a while, especially now that spring has graced us with its presence, you might spy us in a dress and heels and pucker-up-perfect lipstick: I adore it! I love feeling like the vision of women I had when I was painstakingly buttoning up Barbie’s pink double-breasted suit (which had a sparkly underpinning and a tulle lining under the pencil skirt). When it comes to dining, a lady sits and eats daintily and sips.

When it comes to a modern-day lady, a meal might entail half a bottle of wine and forkfuls of food between retouching and typing. Balance? What we often write about: going about your daily business of rushing everywhere, sandwich hanging out of your mouth, takeout coffee spilled down your front, and then, occasionally, sitting down to sip and take tiny bites out sheer enjoyment and wanting to make the moment last rather than trying to fit an Emily Post ideal.

In thinking of these brief respites we came up with a new tea party idea that combines the ombré spectrum of our femininity. There are indeed dainty chocolate bites, but instead of tea, strawberry vodka and bubbles. Take a seat, and, do, DO! take your hat and glove off. Crossed ankles optional.

Processed with VSCOcam with g3 presetAn excerpt from one of my favorite books, courtesy of Abuela Muriel: “Good Housekeeping Party Menus and Recipes” 1958 edition.

CHOCOLATE MADELEINES

Recipe adapted from Epicurious

Yields about 18

Baking spray
8 ounces bittersweet (60 – 70% cacao) chocolate, chopped
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
½ cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon pure vanilla or almond extract
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ cup heavy cream
1 ounce (¼ stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
Confectioners’ sugar for dusting

– Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 375°F. Place a standard or silicone Madeleine baking pan (these come in different indentation numbers) on a baking sheet (for easier transferring in and out of the oven) and lightly coat with baking spray.

– Set up a double-boiler by adding about 2 inches of water to a small saucepan. Bring the water to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to a simmer. Place the chocolate in a metal or glass bowl that will fit over the saucepan—when using a double-boiler, the bowl should never make contact with the water as it is the hot vapor that will allow gentle heating. Stir the chocolate until it is melted and glossy. Remove from the heat and allow to cool about 5 minutes.

– Meanwhile, with an electric mixer, beat the eggs, egg yolk, sugar, extract, and salt in a medium bowl until pale yellow in color and tripled in volume, about 5 minutes. Stir in the melted chocolate.

– With a soup spoon, spoon the batter about ¾ of the way up each Madeleine mold. Bake 8 to 10 minutes until set and puffed. Transfer the baking sheet to a rack and then, the molds directly to the rack.

– Cool Madeleines for 10 minutes, then gently turn out of molds and continue cooling. Dust with confectioners’ sugar and serve.

STRAWBERRY BLUR

Let us note that store-bought fruit-flavored vodka is not our go-to, but “Sorbetta”, LiV Vodka’s strawberry liqueur is the exception to the rule. Smooth, bursting with strawberry flavor, and just sweet enough, we like to add it to a chilled glass of prosecco or drink it straight.

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