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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

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!!

Sweet, salty, crunchy, gooey, toasty, buttery, sticky, porky, beefy, cheesy: you can have all of these flavors and textures at once if you like when you have breakfast.  And what’s not to like?  Forget a rushed bowl of cereal and come to the diner with us.

A toasted bagel with lox is one of the most impeccably balanced food combinations. Make sure you start with a good bagel and lox or smoked salmon, and have the appropriate condiments when assembling one: fresh dill, cream cheese, capers, red onions, and lemon wedges.

Steak and eggs, if you’re feeling like extra-ravenous! Pick a quick-cooking steak like strip, flat iron, hanger, or skirt. Allow to meat to come to room temperature (pull it out of the fridge 30 minutes before cooking). Pat the meat dry with paper towels, season it generously with salt and freshly ground pepper on both sides.  Head 2 teaspoons vegetable in a large skillet over high heat and add the steak to the pan when it starts to smoke. Add the steak and cook it for 1 to 2 minutes, then turn it and let it cook on the opposite side for about 30 seconds. Continue flipping the steak for 4 to 6 minutes total for medium-rare, longer if you prefer it more done.

For the seasoned potatoes seen alongside, get ready to raid your pantry. To serve 2, scrub 2 russet potatoes and cut them into 1-inch chunks. Place them in a medium saucepan, add 1 tablespoon salt, and add enough cold water to cover by about 2 inches. Bring the water to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium and boil the potatoes until they’re fork tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Drain the potatoes and let them stand to dry out for 5 minutes.

In a small bowl, combine 1 tablespoon paprika, 1 tablespoon garlic powder, 1 tablespoon onion powder, 2 teaspoons ground black pepper, and 1 teaspoon dry thyme leaves. Melt 4 tablespoons unsalted butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the potatoes and season them generously with the spice mixture. Cook, shaking the pan and tossing the potatoes occasionally until they’re golden and crisp. Season with salt to taste.

Pancakes. From the box to greatgrandma’s recipe, I’ve griddled it all, but this recipe adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook is the one that I keep coming back to. They’re buttery and light and so delicious you might even pass on the syrup.

RUTH’S PANCAKES

Makes about 8 pancakes

1 cup whole milk
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons plus ½ teaspoon vegetable oil
1 stick (4 ounces / 8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking soda
4 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt

– Whisk together milk, eggs, and 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in a medium bowl, then whisk in the butter. Stir together the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt in another medium bowl. Whisk in egg mixture until just combined. Heat ½ teaspoon oil in a large nonstick skillet* over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Working in batches, pour 1/3 cup measures of batter into the skillet and cook until bubbles have formed on the top and broken, 2 to 3 minutes. Flip pancakes with a spatula and cook until undersides are golden, 1 to 2 minutes more.

-Serve with maple syrup. Keep pancakes warm in a preheated 200°F oven on a baking sheet if you want to make all of them and serve at once. I much prefer using an electric griddle to make pancakes. It makes for more even ones, and also, if you’re the cook, you get to eat with your crowd and not alone at the very end of the meal!

Diner DeluxeThese waffles have a bit of crunch with the addition of cornmeal. I call for 1 stick of butter, but you can add up to 2 of them: the more butter in the batter, the crispier the waffle. Keep the waffles warm in a preheated 200°F oven directly on the racks while you make the rest. Freeze the leftovers for a weekday breakfast.

WAFFLES

Makes 4

 Whisk together in a large bowl:
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup medium grind yellow cornmeal
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon granulated sugar

Whisk together in another bowl:
3 large eggs
1 stick of butter, melted and cooled
1 ½ cups milk

– Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the wet ones. Gently whisk them together with a few swift strokes. Cook waffles according to your griddle’s instructions and serve with butter and syrup or fruit syrup.

Fried eggs seem to be a mystery to many, but they’re really very easy to make. Heat a tablespoon of butter in a medium nonstick skillet. Once melted, crack in an egg or 2 and season them with salt and pepper. Cook the eggs until the egg whites are opaque and set and the yolk — well, if you like a runny egg, serve it when the whites are done, but if you prefer a firm one, let them cook a while longer, until you start to see the yolks firm up.

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