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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 Holidays Category

Be it Christmas or Festivus, whatever you’re celebrating this year will be more special with a  little sparkle and light. We had our friend and prop stylist extraordinaire Penelope Bouklas help us prepare for the holidays. Follow suit with mercury votive holders and use them to infuse your dinner with candlelight or as alternatives to flower vases. Outsize glass candy and cookie jars are a great way to display shiny ornaments, and do break out from the usual reds and greens if you’re feeling less traditional — as you can tell, we love pinks and silvers in everything from our glassware to our Croteaux Vineyards sparkling rosé. And, if you’re opting out of a tree, there’s still room for presents in nooks and corners, and an evergreen wreath to bring the outdoors in and scent the air. We loved these twinkle lights sans the usual green or white plastic strings — they’re demure and perched onto wire for a pared down and elegant look.

If you’re skipping the pre-made cheese platter from the deli (and we suggest you do), take a look at some of our very classic but always festive finger foods—perfect because you can make them all in advance.

Brie en croûte, courtesy of Tara, who had to play food stylist and photographer on this one!

BRIE EN CROUTE
Buttery puff pastry and oozy cheese? It just never gets old.

All-purpose flour for dusting surface
1 sheet puff pastry, thawed according to package instructions
1 (8- to 9-ounce) brie
1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon heavy cream
Pinch salt
Serving suggestion: Crackers, dried fruits, fruit jams

– Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

– Lightly dust a work surface with flour and unfold the thawed puff pastry. Set the cheese round in the center and make sure you have about 4 inches of pastry around it so you have enough to wrap it. Roll it out as needed.

– Fold the pastry over the cheese, pressing to seal. Place the cheese seam-side down on the prepared baking sheet. Whisk the egg yolk, cream, and salt together in a small bowl then brush over the cheese. If you have scraps of dough you can cut them out into decorative shapes and press them onto the cheese, then brush them with the egg-cream mixture.

– Bake until the pastry is golden brown, 15 to 10 minutes. Let cool at room temperature for about 15 minutes before serving.

– You can assemble the cheese up to 2 days in advance. Keep it in the refrigerator, wrapped in cling film. Brush with egg-cream wash before baking.

SPICED NUTS
Makes about 3 cups
These nuts have a candy-like coating that shatters when you bite into them. You can use any type of raw unsalted nut, but we prefer a mix.

2 large egg whites, at room temperature
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups mixed raw and unsalted nuts
1 ¼ cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon Aleppo pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

– Adjust 2 oven racks to the upper- and lower middle positions. Preheat the oven to 300°F. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.

– Whisk the egg whites, orange juice, and salt in a medium bowl. Add the nuts and toss until evenly coated. Transfer the nuts to a colander set in the sink and allow to drain for 5 minutes.

– Meanwhile, in another medium bowl, whisk together the sugar and spices. Add the nuts and toss until evenly coated. Divide the nuts evenly among the 2 prepared baking sheets and spread them into a single even layer. Bake the nuts until they have a crisp shell-like coating, 30 to 40 minutes.

– Transfer the baking sheets to cooling racks and cool the nuts completely. Break the nuts apart and serve them immediately or store them in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 10 days.

RED LIPSTICK MARGARITA
Makes 1

One of our favorite drinks from “Winter Cocktails”

For the Blood Orange Sour Mix  
Makes about 3 cups
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup water
3 tablespoons finely grated zest and 2 cups fresh juice (strained) from about 6 blood oranges
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

For the Cocktail
1/4 cup kosher salt
1/2 lime
2 ounces tequila
1 ounce ginger liqueur
2 tablespoons lime juice or Blood Orange Sour Mix

For the Blood Orange Sour Mix: Rub sugar and zest together to release the oils. The sugar will look damp and barely any strands of zest will remain. Combine water and sugar in small saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring, until sugar is completely dissolved. Cool syrup to room temperature, then stir in citrus juices. Refrigerate for up to 1 month in an airtight container.

For the Cocktail: Scatter salt over a small plate or saucer. Rub the rim of the glass with the cut lime to dampen. Dip glass into salt, shaking off excess.

– Place tequila, triple sec, and lime juice or sour mix in shaker. Shake vigorously and strain into ice-filled glass. Serve.

 

CLASSIC PATE  
Makes 2 (8-ounce) ramekins
This is classic elegance and easier to make than you ever thought. Look for organic chicken livers in the poultry section of the market.

For the Pâté
10 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 shallots, very thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
1 pound chicken livers, trimmed of fat and membranes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 tablespoons dry sherry or port
2 tablespoons heavy cream

For the Jelly
2 tablespoons water
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons dry sherry, port, or unsweetened cranberry juice
1 teaspoon unflavored powdered gelatin
1 tablespoon sugar
Pinch ground allspice
Serving Suggestion: Toast points or crackers

For the Pâté : Melt 8 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and thyme and cook, stirring, 1 more minute.

– Increase the heat to medium-high. Add the livers and season them with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 4 minutes until the livers are browned on all sides but still pink in the middle. With a slotted spoon, transfer the livers to a plate (if some shallots remain in the skillet its alright).

– Add the sherry and cook, scraping the skillet, until it’s almost completely evaporated, about 2 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat. Scrape the skillet contents and the livers with any accumulated juices into a food processor and pulse until smooth. With the machine running, add the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and cream and process until combined. Taste and adjust seasonings.

– Divide the mixture between 2 (8-ounce) ramekins and cover with plastic wrap, pressing it directly onto the surface of the paté. Chill for 2 hours and make the jelly.

For the Jelly: After 2 hours, combine the water and 2 tablespoons of the sherry in a medium bowl. Sprinkle the gelatin over it and allow the mixture to stand for 5 minutes.

– Bring the remaining port, sugar, and allspice to a gentle simmer over low heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved.  Stir into the gelatin mixture until completely dissolved. Cool to room temperature and pour over the pâté, then return to the refrigerator and allow to chill until the gelatin is set, at least 2 more hours.

– The completed pâté can be made 5 days ahead and kept refrigerated. It can also be frozen for up to 2 weeks and thawed out in the refrigerator.

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.

Get ready for fireworks! This 4th of July we’ll be making hot dogs with a little more than just ketchup and mustard. We can’t decide which is our favorite. Tell us what you settle on!

 

POTATO SALAD WITH HOMEMADE RANCH DRESSING
Serves 10

Fresh, fresh, fresh! We’re getting ready to perk up basic potato salad with a series of recipes, but we couldn’t wait and broke this one out for the weekend festivities. No more powdered spice mixes or bottled dressings! This dressing is all fragrant herbs. Take note of the 2-step dressing process: your potato salad will have more flavor than ever.

4 pounds new potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1 ½ inch cubes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup mayonnaise
1 garlic clove, finely minced
1 bunch dill, chopped (about 1 cup)
½ cup cilantro leaves, chopped
½ cup parsley leaves, chopped
Worcestershire sauce
Fresh lemon juice

– Place the potatoes in a large pot and add enough cold water to cover them. Add 1 tablespoon salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the head to medium and simmer the potatoes until fork-tender, 12 to 15 minutes. Drain the potatoes and spread them in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle them with the vinegar and oil and gently stir them with a rubber spatula.

– While the potatoes are cooling, whisk the buttermilk and mayonnaise together in a medium bowl. Whisk in the garlic, dill, cilantro, and parsley and season with salt and pepper. Add Worcestershire sauce and lemon juice to taste.

– Pour about half of the dressing over the potatoes and stir gently to combine — while warm, the potatoes will absorb the dressing.  Reserve the rest. When the potatoes come to room temperature, transfer them to a large bowl and refrigerate until chilled. When ready to serve, add the reserved dressing to the potatoes and adjust seasoning, as food tends to lose flavor when cold.

 

GRILLED FRANKS’N’BEANS
Makes about 6 cups beans

Sure, you can buy canned baked beans, but these are sparkler-dazzling. Also, you probably have most of the condiments in the recipe lurking in your pantry already. Make them a couple of days in advance and reheat them in a cast iron skillet or a disposable foil pan right on your grill when you’re ready to serve. Add a little water to the beans if you need to loosen the sauce up a bit.
For the Beans
1 tablespoon lard or vegetable oil
2 slices smoked ham, cut into cubes
2 slices bacon, chopped
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
6 tablespoons molasses
1 cup ketchup
3 tablespoons brown mustard
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
¼ cup water
4 (15.5-ounce) cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
– Heat the lard over medium-high heat in a Dutch oven or other large pot until shimmering. Add the ham and bacon and cook, stirring, until crisp and brown. Add the onion, season lightly with salt and pepper, and cook until translucent, about 7 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute. Add the tomato paste and brown sugar and cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Whisk in the molasses, then the ketchup, mustard, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, and water.

– Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and stir in the beans. Cook until the sauce is thickened and the beans are warmed through, about 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, and adjust with vinegar and Worcestershire sauce, if desired.

For the Franks
Franks, of your choice
Hot dog buns
Brown mustard

– Grill the franks outdoors or cook them on a grill pan, or even a standard skillet with a pat of butter, until they’re nicely browned.  Place them in the buns and top them with baked beans and mustard.

L.A.-STYLE BACON-WRAPPED HOT DOGS
Serves 6

I can’t get enough of this recipe. My soon-to-be sister Whitney took me to downtown L.A. years ago and introduced me to these hot dogs. They were cooked on a bunsen burner on a sheet tray, right there in the middle of a busy street. There was a huge bowl of fresh guacamole on a cooler in the front, surrounded by bottled Jarritos sodas. Bacon-wrapped, grilled, topped with charred onions and jalapeños, and topped with creamy guacamole, you’ll have a line of customers at your own grill. Oh, and, yeah, there are chicharrones in the guacamole.

For the Hot Dogs and Jalapeño-Onion Topping
6 jalapeño peppers
Vegetable oil
1 yellow onion, sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 hot dog sausages
¼ cup cornstarch
6 slices bacon
6 hot dog buns
Mayonnaise, for serving

– Set a grill or grill pan to high. If using a grill, set a large cast iron skillet on the grill to preheat. You can also use a grilling basket. Drizzle the jalapeños with oil and set them directly on the grill, if using. Season the onions with salt and pepper, and drizzle with olive oil.  Cook them in the preheated cast iron or on the grill pan, stirring occasionally, until caramelized. Transfer to a serving platter.

– Roll the sausages in cornstarch. Wrap 1 bacon slice around each sausage: the cornstarch will glue them together. Cook the hot dogs in the skillet until the bacon is crisped and browned.  Tuck the sausages into buns spread with mayo, and top with the onions and jalapeños. Serve with guacamole.

For the Guacamole
Makes about 3 cups

4 ripe avocados, pitted
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ yellow onion, finely chopped
1 jalapeño pepper, ribs and seeds removed, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
Juice of 2 to 3 limes
Worcestershire sauce
Pork cracklings, crushed

– Scoop the avocado flesh into a medium bowl and season with salt and pepper. Mash with a potato masher or a large fork to desired consistency. With a rubber spatula, fold in the onion, jalapeño, garlic, and cilantro. Stir in the lime juice and a dash of Worcestershire sauce. Adjust seasonings, top with the cracklings, and serve.

ITALIAN SAUSAGE AND PEPPERS
Serves 4

4 bell peppers in assorted colors, seeded and sliced
1 large onion, sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil
4 fresh Italian sausages
4 sturdy rolls, split in half

– Set a grill or grill pan to high. If using a grill, set a large cast iron skillet on the grill to preheat. You can also use a grilling basket. Toss the peppers and onions together in a bowl, season with salt and pepper, and drizzle with olive oil.  Cook them in the preheated cast iron or on the grill pan, stirring occasionally, until caramelized. Transfer to a serving platter.

– Poke the sausages a few times with a fork and lightly coat with oil. Grill until lightly charred and cooked through. Transfer them to a cutting board and cut the sausages into thick slices.

– Brush the insides of the rolls with oil and grill them just long enough to toast.  Stuff the rolls with the peppers and onions and sausage. Serve with banana peppers and pickled vegetables if desired.

This was our tiny guest at the shoot: Paloma. Little but with a dinosaur appetite! Yes, this is a very kid-friendly post.

 

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