A Classic Fiddlehead Ferns Recipe

Growing up, fiddlehead ferns were a mysterious food that other people ate. People in Maine, for instance.

Then there were poets:

Fiddlehead Ferns

By Matthew Dickman

(excerpt)

Olive seashells

in the air

you can eat.

The very inner of the inner ear

in the breeze.

Last night my son dreamt

about falling

out of trees.

I had almost forgotten

that we were

simians.

The fiddlehead turns

on itself but only ever in love.

Green cinnamon roll,

a snake too small to hunt

anyone.

Curled in like my son’s

fingers, his fists.

More beautiful than

a spider fern,

spun-in island,

moldy tongue of a hippopotamus,

the eye of the forest.

 And then, there were people in books. (Usually books about people in Maine).

In one novel, a lost girl survived her hunger by munching the curled greenery as she hiked through an endless forest. In others, it was long-limbed, somewhat artsy women who knew the secrets of the river bottom and would bring clusters of the curled tops home to their charming cottages in the woods.

But like mushrooms, it’s not just any frond curled like a violin’s scroll from just any fern. Some are not edible. Some are toxic. However, unlike mushrooms, it seems when people make foraging mistakes with ferns, they tend to get sick rather than facing possible death like with mushrooms mistakes.

Still, not a blunder anyone wants to make.

Unless someone in the know can teach you what ferns you can eat look like–apparently a u-shaped groove in the ostrich fern, and which ones to avoid–perhaps stick to the experts at your local market. 

Here’s what Food and Wine Magazine  has to say:

Where: Fiddleheads can be found in much of the United States as well as Europe, Asia and Canada: In fact, Tide Head, New Brunswick, calls itself the Fiddlehead Capital of the World.

When: May.

What to look for: Small coils that are tightly wound up. Fiddleheads should be a vibrant bright green, unless they are still covered in their brown papery skin. The skin should come off easily when rubbed. Purchase or pick only ostrich fern fiddleheads, as they are the safest for consumption.

Flavor profile: Fiddleheads are sweet like asparagus, grassy and snappy like a great green bean, with a touch of broccoli stem.

Health benefits: Rich in potassium, iron, antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids, fiddleheads are fantastically healthy.

How to eat them: Because ostrich ferns contain a trace amount of a toxin, you should never eat them raw. (Not that you would want to—they are quite bitter when raw.) Cook them for at least 5 minutes. First, prep the fiddleheads by rinsing them and rubbing off any papery brown skin. Then they can be steamed, braised, sautéed, roasted or pickled (after blanching).

Basically, you want to treat fiddleheads like you do asparagus. But for our classic recipe, let’s add some eggs and goat cheese. In the words of writer Catherine Johnson:

Yes, ferns just love to celebrate

All things glorious, green and new.

Until they wind up on your plate

 In a frittata made for two.

Fiddlehead Frittata with Bacon and Chevre- adapted from Salt in My Coffee

Ingredients

  • 1 lb organic red potatoes, chopped
  • 12 ounces fiddleheads, cleaned
  • 4 shallots (or one medium onion)
  • 12 large eggs (or 10 duck eggs)
  • 4 slices thick-cut turkey bacon, cooked and crumbled
  • 8 ounces chopped or shredded cheddar cheese
  • 4 ounces crumbled chevre
  • olive oil, butter, or bacon fat for frying

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  2. In a deep cast iron pan, saute fiddleheads, chopped potatoes, and diced shallots, in a generous amount of butter, olive oil, or bacon fat. Cook over medium-low heat until fiddleheads are fiddleheads and potatoes are tender, and shallots are getting translucent – about 15-20 minutes.
  3. Whisk together eggs and cheese in a large bowl, then add to the pan with the fiddlehead mixture. If you’d like to skip dirtying a bowl, just add the cheese and eggs directly to the pan, mixing vigorously as you crack in each egg.
  4. Stir everything well so that it’s thoroughly mixed, then put the whole thing in the oven. Bake until the center is set, and the frittata is golden brown – about 35 minutes.
  5. Cool slightly, and serve.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to paint a landscape in my charming cottage and then go foraging for fiddleheads.

Happy eating!

Throwing the Perfect Easter Brunch

Spring is a lovely time to entertain. You can pull your inspiration from the greening world around you, from the tulips and daffodils popping up everywhere. Everyone is happier because the long winter, no matter how wonderful, tends to weigh on us as the cold weather settles in and then takes its time winding up. People are happier because spring is on the way. 

Then one day we wake up and we can feel the difference in the air. Time to go outside, spend some time in the garden, put away the puffy coats, and throw a cheerful, springtime brunch.

Here are a few tips to making your brunch an elegant affair.

Tablescaping

The wonderful part about entertaining at Easter is the decorative beauty of the season. Bring in pots of tulips, daffodils, and lilies. Scatter moss and branches and pull out your most cheerful linens. We particularly love our tanager yellow, rosefinch, or blues and greens  for spring.

Vintage dishware in pastels or fresh grassy greens makes a wonderful base for your table.

We particularly love the use of eggs in these tablescaping designs from onekindesign.com. The natural, rustic look with eggs in nests is elegant with the newness and freshness of spring. 

You can also appeal to the child’s heart in all of us with small Easter treats at each plate like a golden egg in a loosely gathered nest-like presentation. Who didn’t want to find the golden egg at Easter egg hunts?

If it’s warm enough to have an outside brunch, then by all means do so. Just have a back-up plan in case the weather cools. A pile of lovely shawls and throws is a nice touch, or you can be prepared to move the party inside.

The Menu

Not only are the decorations sensational, but a spring-inspired menu can also be full of the fresh and inviting joys of the season.

Brunches like this tend to have several dishes that people can try. If you choose to go this route, choose carefully. You’ll want to have most of them be simple or make-ahead favorites. 

Check out your local farmers markets and base your menu on the fresh produce you find there. A simple lemony avgolemono soup served with chopped dill or fresh mint can be a luscious addition, or you can go full spring with a creamy soup made from some pureed bright green asparagus.

I always like to have the best fruit I can find on the table, side by side with an array of specialty cheeses. 

A sourdough strata, like this one from Food Network, is made with plenty of vegetables, always appreciated, and can be made ahead of time. Love the addition of goat cheese!

I have to include this asparagus soup recipe from Once Upon a Chef, which is made with parmesan cheese and can even be frozen.

Asparagus Soup with Lemon and Parmesan

By Jennifer Segal

This asparagus soup tastes rich, yet it’s made without heavy cream — just veggies, broth, and a hint of Parmesan puréed to silky perfection.

Servings: 4-6

INGREDIENTS
2 bunches asparagus (about 2-1/4 pounds), bottom ends trimmed
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 medium yellow onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, from one lemon
1/2 cup shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano

Handful fresh herbs, such as thyme, dill, or basil (optional, for garnish)

INSTRUCTIONS

Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until soft and translucent, about 8 minutes. Do not brown; reduce the heat if necessary.

In the meantime, cut the tips off of one bunch of the asparagus and set aside (you’ll use those for a garnish). Cut the remaining spears and the other bunch of asparagus into 1/2-inch pieces.

Add the chopped asparagus to the pot (minus the reserved tips), along with the chicken broth, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Bring to a boil, then cover and turn the heat down to low. Simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the vegetables are very tender.

Meanwhile, bring a small pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the reserved asparagus tips for a few minutes, or until tender-crisp. Drain the tips and then place them in a bowl of ice water to “shock” them — this stops the cooking process and preserves their bright green color. Once the tips are cool, drain and set them aside.

Purée the soup with an immersion blender until completely smooth. (Alternatively, use a standard blender to purée the soup in batches, then return the soup to the pot.) Bring the soup back to a simmer and stir in the lemon juice and Parmigiano-Reggiano. Taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary. To thicken the soup, allow it to simmer uncovered until the desired consistency is reached.

Ladle the soup into bowls, then top each bowl with asparagus tips, Parmigiano-Reggiano, herbs (if using), and freshly ground black pepper.

Freezer-Friendly Instructions: You can freeze the soup for up to 3 months. Defrost the soup in the refrigerator for 12 hours and then reheat it on the stovetop over medium heat until hot. (The soup will freeze best if you add the cheese when reheating.)

Happy entertaining!

Soups: 2 Recipes for the Cold Months

This morning, with bits of snow still on the ground, a cacophony of birdsong flooded my yard–as if it were spring. 

The sound stopped suddenly, and I supposed this talkative flock had rested in our large magnolia before heading to its destination. I’m taking it as a sign that spring isn’t too far off. 

In the meantime, we still have cold days ahead and I mean to make some favorite soup recipes and keep the fireplace roaring. At least until every morning is filled with birdsong!

Sidenote: Here’s a tip for when you eat out or order in: if you get soup from a restaurant that fails to impress, add butter and a squeeze of lemon. The combination brightens a dull diner soup. For vegetable soups, a teaspoon of basil pesto swirled in, and a sprinkle of parmesan on top, is delicious.

Parisian Potage 

This recipe comes from Jaques Pépin. Recently, he posted a video on Facebook where he made a quick variation of this soup by adding potato flakes instead of chopped potatoes. For a quick lunch, give it a try–adding potato flakes to taste. For either recipe, top with grated gruyere. Potatoes and gruyere cheese are soulmates.

1 tablespoon peanut or vegetable oil

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 large leek, damaged outer leaves discarded, split, washed well, and finely minced (3 cups)

1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and held in cold water

4 cups (1 quart) homemade chicken stock or canned low-sodium chicken broth

1 cup water

1/2 teaspoon salt, or more to taste

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley or chervil

1/2 cup grated Gruyère cheese or a dollop of softened unsalted butter (optional)

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Heat the oil and butter in a large saucepan. Add the leeks and cook over medium heat for about 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  2. Meanwhile, cut the potatoes into sticks about 3/4-inch thick and slice the sticks crosswise into 1/8-inch slivers (you will have about 3 cups). The potatoes should be kept in water after peeling, but they should not be washed after they are cut into slivers; this will wash away their starch, which helps make the soup smooth.
  3. Add the stock, water, salt, and pepper to the leeks, then mix in the potato slivers. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and boil gently for about 12 minutes.
  4. Serve the soup with a sprinkling of the parsley or chervil on top and, if you like, the grated cheese or a dollop of butter.

Coconut and Chickpea Soup

This is a variation of Epicurious’ African Curried Coconut Soup with Chickpeas

INGREDIENTS

2 tablespoons canola oil

1 medium onion (about 6 ounces), chopped

1 medium red bell pepper (about 6 ounces), chopped

1 teaspoon chili garlic sauce

2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped

3 cups low-sodium chicken broth

1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained

1 cup chopped tomatoes, seeded and peeled, fresh or canned (see Cook’s Tip)

1 teaspoon mild curry powder

1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 (14-ounce) can coconut milk (not lite)

3/4 cup cooked white or brown rice

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro 

Asian fish sauce to taste–or about two teaspoons

Juice from a half of a lime, or to taste

PREPARATION

  1. In a medium stockpot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and bell pepper: cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. 
  1. Add the garlic and chili garlic sauce and cook, stirring constantly, 1 minute. Add the broth, chickpeas, tomatoes, curry powder, salt, and black pepper. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer gently, uncovered, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. 
  1. Add the remaining ingredients and cook, stirring occasionally, until heated through, about 5 minutes. Serve warm.

To make a heartier supper, add a cup of cooked, chopped chicken to the soup.

Serve with fresh cilantro leaves and lime wedges. 

We hope you enjoy these recipes. Let us know what you think.

Throwing an Intimate Valentine’s Dinner for Two

At the touch of love, everyone becomes a poet. At least according to Plato, who lived well over two thousand years ago.

There’s something comforting in knowing that love hasn’t changed so very much, despite the passing of centuries. It remains undimmed and unweathered. Perhaps the one constant.

If you are fortunate enough to love and be loved, this is the holiday to turn your thoughts towards poetry. But it doesn’t have to be an exercise in actual word crafting, if that’s not your talent. 

Photo by Modern Glam

A careful arrangement of flowers, a poached pear swimming in cream and cinnamon syrup, a room flooded in candlelight: each is a little poem all on its own. Your offering is even more lovely because it reflects the contents of your heart.

Staying in for a romantic evening lends itself to all kinds of creativity. So make your own kind of poetry.

Set the Scene

First, decide what the ideal romantic atmosphere is for you. Just because it’s Valentine’s Day doesn’t mean you have to decorate with pink and purple heart-shaped doilies and gold foil cupids. Every holiday is your holiday, and it doesn’t have to be anything but what you decide.

Consider where you two first met or where you had your first date. Or use elements from a trip you took together. 

Can any of that be recreated? Perhaps a version of a special restaurant’s signature cake, the music that was playing when you first danced, or what you wore and how you did your hair.

Photo by Maringirl

If you’re avid campers, set up the tent in your living room surrounded by candles. Be careful to keep any pets out of the room because tails easily catch fire when a curious furry creature gets too close. (Or, use deep containers like glass vases or mason jars.) A pine bough placed nearby would add a glorious scent of the outdoors while you’re all cozy inside.

Candlelight everywhere, whether you’re campers or not, is always lovely. Have a fireplace? Turn down the thermostat and let the fire roar.

What to Wear

Just because you’re at home doesn’t mean you have to look like it. Dress as if you’re going out to your favorite restaurant. If you would normally wear make up, do so. Or, wear what your partner loves the most. 

Bring the Best of Yourselves: Plan Ahead

In your efforts to give your Love a beautiful evening, don’t overdo it. Don’t let the frazzle of a five-course meal that needs constant care take away from your date. You’ll want to have calm conversation and not end up napping during dessert.

Choose dishes you can make ahead of time. Dip those strawberries early, make that cake the day before. Buy favorite treats such as foil-wrapped hearts and truffles, and display them in a candy dish.

These Greek Salad Skewers with Anchovy Aioli from Food and Wine Magazine can be made up to four days in advance.

For dessert, why not try a Chocolate Budino with Candied Walnuts?

And here’s a recipe for Cold Roast Salmon with Smashed Green Salad from Epicurious that can be made a day before. 

If you prefer your entree warm, have everything else ready and let that be the only element still cooking. 

Avocado butter is the perfect accompaniment to grilled fish. It tastes rather wonderful melting over a piece of chicken or even a steak, too.

This recipe for avocado butter is from George and Piret Munger of Piret’s restaurant in Southern California. The restaurant itself is, sadly, long gone and their marvelous cookbook out of print. Their farmhouse French food, served amidst bright copper pots and a black and white checkerboard floor, was a memorable experience. 

They served this butter with grilled swordfish steaks marinated in soy sauce, lemon juice and zest, garlic, oil, and dijon mustard. But, like we said, this goes well with any grilled fish. 

Avocado Butter

½ cup butter

½ cup ripe mashed avocado

5 tablespoons fresh lemon or lime juice

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

2 cloves garlic, minced

Salt, to taste

Whip the butter in a small mixing bowl until it is soft and creamy. Beat in the remaining ingredients. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Valentine Cookie Knockouts: Using Marzipan

When travel is a possibility again, and should you find yourself going to Austria, prepare for requests from friends and family asking you to bring back chocolate. 

Those in the know will ask for little round balls of pistachio marzipan dipped in light and dark pralines, covered in dark chocolate. Each is wrapped in foil that’s stamped with a portrait of the musical master himself: Mozart. 

Mozartkulgen is a traditional favorite and a popular souvenir of the city of Salzburg. After touring the Sound of Music sites, the cathedrals, the fortress, the marionette theater, and Mozart’s birthplace, no one wants to miss picking up a box or two of Salzburg’s famous delicacies.

Marzipan for Valentine’s Day

With Valentine’s Day around the corner, I’ve been thinking about marzipan–which is a sugared almond paste. Godiva, apparently, sells chocolate-covered marzipan hearts for the holiday, but going by the public outcry online, the coveted creations are hard to come by. 

Frosted Heart Shape Cookie recipe by Delish

Frosted heart-shaped cookies make an excellent gift, especially when they’re handmade and beautifully decorated. Although fondant allows you to be more intricate with your creations, it doesn’t add anything to the deliciousness of your baked goods. A simple powdered sugar and butter frosting tastes much better on top of the perfect crisp sprinkle cookie.

Now I’ve used marzipan twisted into braided bread and as an ingredient in cake, but I’ve never considered putting it into a cookie recipe before. But it makes sense. Marzipan is an excellent replacement for fondant because it has a lovely flavor .

This year, make your favorite sprinkle cookie recipe, but  substitute the vanilla with almond extract. This will mirror the taste of the almond paste in the cookie. Also keep in mind that people often flavor marzipan. Orange is a particular favorite.

You can purchase red or pink marzipan, or make your own recipe like this at Partylicious. You’ll need to use a gel food coloring, like you would if you were using fondant. Once you have the mixture rolled out, use a smaller (than you used for the cookie base) heart-shaped cookie cutter to make the marzipan hearts. Carefully place them on the cookies before the frosting dries out. 

If you’d like the traditional chocolate/marzipan combination, use chocolate frosting. Pink or red on top of chocolate frosting with some sprinkles around the edges would make a lovely presentation. 

East Marbled Fondant Valentine’s Day Cookie Recipe

Tips For Making Marzipan from Partylicious:

  1. If you mix it too long and it starts to get oily and shiny, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and let it cool for 15-30 minutes.  It should start to reabsorb some of the oils. Add more powdered sugar while rolling out the marzipan until it is a consistency you feel comfortable working with.
  2. You can color marzipan with gel food coloring the same as you would fondant.
  3. When rolling it out, use a slip mat or parchment paper lightly covered in powdered sugar. This helps the marzipan to not stick.
  4. Keep wrapped tightly in plastic wrap when not using. The marzipan will dry out if uncovered too long.
  5. Keep stored in the refrigerator when not using.
  6. You want to use this very soon after you make it. It will keep in the fridge 1-2 days.

After some searching, I was able to find another site that also came up with the idea of topping sprinkle cookies with marzipan. This recipe comes from Canada.They don’t frost the cookies first. Instead, they brush honey on the cookies to attach a marzipan layer and then decorate the marzipan with sprinkles, gold leaf, and non pareils.  Check out the recipe at Canadian Living for more inspiration.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Delicious English Holiday Recipes

When we think of a traditional Christmas celebration, we tend to think of caroling, wrapping and unwrapping packages, the holly and the ivy, mistletoe, special family moments and food we only get to eat once a year. Basically, a scene straight out of “A Christmas Carol”.

Charles Dickens didn’t invent Christmas, however, but he certainly gave it a much-needed resuscitation. 

According to the Guardian, “Britain’s newly urban population didn’t have much energy or opportunity to celebrate it, thanks to the extremely un-festive combination of long hours of unregulated industrial toil and displacement from the rural communities they’d grown up in.” 

Apparently not the only one who tried to give Christmas a jumpstart, “Dickens was the most successful of numerous cultured Victorians keen to revive the season.”

Since we get our idea of Christmas from Dickens, why not try a couple of traditional English recipes?

Christmaspudding

Christmas Pudding

First off, as you probably know, a traditional Christmas pudding is more of a soft, fruity cake than a gelatinous mass with marshmallows or whipped cream on top. This classic recipe is from Saveur, and is served with whipped cream.

Yield: makes 2

Ingredients

  • 2 cups quality assorted raisins
  • 2 cups brandy
  • 1 12 oz. quality assorted candied fruits, such as pitted apricots, cherries, melon and citrus peel, cut into thin strips
  • 5 tbsp cold beef suet or butter, diced
  • 1 34 cups fine day-old bread crumbs
  • 1 cup blanched almond meal
  • 14 cup dark muscovado sugar
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 2 tbsp shredded unsweetened coconut
  • 2 tbsp finely grated peeled carrot
  • 12 tsp finely grated lemon zest
  • 14 tsp finely grated orange zest
  • 1 pinch ground cinnamon
  • 1 pinch freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 egg
  • 12 tsp dark treacle or molasses
  • 13 cup Guinness stout
  • 2 tbsp fresh orange juice
  • 34 tsp fresh lemon juice

Instructions

  1. Macerate raisins in brandy for 1 hour. Drain, reserving 13 cup of the brandy. Preheat the oven to 450°.
  2. Put raisins, candied fruits, suet or butter, bread crumbs, almond meal, sugar, flour, coconut, carrots, zests, cinnamon and nutmeg into a large bowl and stir well. Combine egg and treacle or molasses in another bowl. Stir in beer, juices and reserved brandy, add to fruit mixture and mix until evenly moist. Pack half the batter into each of 2 greased 2 ½-cup glazed-ceramic or glass bowls (about 3″ deep × 5″ wide). Cover each bowl with 2 layers of wax paper, then foil; secure with twine. Put bowls on a rack set in a wide deep pot. Add boiling water to the pot to reach 2″ up sides of bowls. Cover pot and steam puddings in the oven, replenishing water as necessary, for 4 12 hours.
  3. Remove bowls from the pot and let cool. Store puddings in a cool, dark, dry spot (or refrigerate) for at least 1 day and up to 2 years. If storing for longer than 1 day, replace covers. Reheat puddings by steaming them, still covered, for 1 hour. Unmold onto plates.

Traditional-English-Trifle-9-660x440

Traditional English Trifle

This trifle recipe comes from That Skinny Chick Can Bake

Ingredients

  •  10 ounces pound cake (I used a Sara Lee frozen pound cake)
  •  1/2 cup seedless raspberry jam
  •  12 ounces fresh raspberries (reserve a few to garnish the top of your trifle)
  •  2 cups heavy cream
  •  1/2 cup sugar
  •  6 egg yolks
  •  1 teaspoon vanilla
  •  2 tablespoons Grand Marnier
  •  1 1/4 cups heavy cream
  •  1/4 cup powdered sugar
  •  1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  •  Sliced almonds to garnish, if desired

Instructions

  • Cut the pound cake into bite-sized cubes. Spread some jam on half the cubes and place in the bottom of a trifle dish. Spread jam on the rest of the cake and set aside.
  • Sprinkle half the Grand Marnier, then half the raspberries over the cake layer.
  • Make creme anglaise by heating the 2 cups of cream in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Beat together the egg yolks with the sugar until thick and pale yellow. Set aside.
  • Just before the cream starts to boil, remove from heat. Very slowly drizzle some of the hot cream into the sugar/yolk mixture while beating or whisking constantly.
  • Return the mixture to the pan and cook over low until mixture thickens and can coat a spoon. For the smoothest texture, do not allow it to boil. Run through a strainer if desired. Allow to cool before adding to the trifle.
  • When the creme anglaise is cool, pour about half in the middle of the trifle, then layer more cake, sprinkle with the rest of the Grand Marnier and raspberries, then the rest of the creme anglaise.
  • Whip the 2 cups of heavy cream with the powdered sugar and vanilla until soft peaks form. Smooth whipped cream over the top of the trifle and garnish with raspberries and almonds, if desired.

That takes care of dessert for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day! We hope you have a lovely, lovely day.

Happy holidays!

“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.”

Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

3 Holiday Tablescaping Elements That Use Glass Etching

Setting a beautiful table where friends and family can gather is a gift. 

During the holidays, this gift becomes profoundly beautiful, turning our special moments into memorable events. The food, the setting and the company are all particularly important. 

A simple way to take an elegant table and turn it into a work of art is to align your setting with the season. It doesn’t take much effort to reflect the winter wonderland that’s all around us in the colder months. Add a little shimmer and shine, candles and maybe a few rustic elements to mirror a woodsy winter scene, such as pine cones and perhaps a garland.

Our tablecloths in pewter would be perfect for a frosty table setting, or one in linnet green if you want a background with an evergreen vibe.

One crafty way to personalize a holiday table has been around for years, with the modern version starting in the 1800s. It’s the art of etching and it’s particularly well-suited for entertaining during special occasions, and it’s easier than you think. 

How it Works

Etching allows you to alter glass surfaces to create your own designs. You’re creating art on the surface of glass by applying abrasive substances. The removal of glass causes the rough surface and translucent quality of frosted glass.

Basically, you take a sheet of vinyl with an adhesive back, sketch your design and cut it out. You then keep the sheet with the negative space, peel off the adhesive and stick it to the glass surface. Apply etching cream, available at craft stores, and allow it to set for several minutes.

Wipe away the cream, wash it off, and you have a new frosted glass design.

But be aware that etched glass is permanent! Also, don’t include the children in this process. The caustic nature of etching cream limits the possibility of making this a family project.

Here are a few ways to use the method for your tablescaping.

1.Personalized Goblets

What makes this accent fun is each guest gets their own goblet with their name frosted onto the glass. Use plain goblets, nothing with too much scrollwork or design elements already in play. 

With lettering, you’ll probably want to choose some vinyl stencils with an appropriate font, unless you have excellent penmanship and the ability to cut out tiny details with perfect accuracy. Cursive lettering is especially nice for a special occasion.

Of course, the personalized goblet’s main function is as an elegant place card, without taking up any extra space on your table. But the personalization will also allow your guests to mingle without becoming confused over which drink is theirs. The goblets will also make the members of your party feel like an important part of the night’s festivities since you took the time to etch their names into the place settings.

Don’t be tempted to alter your great-grandmother’s crystal goblets or anything that has a special place in your heart or family traditions. 

Pick up an inexpensive set from a chain store and you won’t regret your arts and craft moment.

2.Other Placeholders

If you don’t love the idea of goblets as a placeholder, you can also pick up a pack of small oval or round mirrors at a craft store that you can etch for your guests and will catch the light nicely on your table. Or, a personal favorite, order and etch some glass ornaments that also serve as a present for each of your guests. For example, a star or a glass reindeer ornament placed artistically near each place setting adds a lovely touch and is a meaningful memento of the evening.

3.Centerpiece

There is nothing quite like candlelight to bring a magical glow to a dinner party. The soft romantic light brings a traditional warmth to your gathering and reflects off of your glassware, filling the creative space like starlight.

You can double the effect with a mirror or similar reflective surface under the candles, like a wintry, frozen lake. You can also mark the importance of the occasion by etching your own design around the edge, and perhaps including the date and family name. 

Instead of a surface for candles, you could choose a glass container for flowers, Christmas crackers, Christmas pudding or other holiday fare. If you have a family crest, by all means, etch away. Use your imagination and your artistry.

Happy Holidays!

How to Create the Perfect Tablescape For Your Next Dinner Party

Throwing a dinner party is an art form all on its own. It’s an act of creation that can fill the hearts of your guests with warmth and memories for years to come. This kind of hosting takes finesse, taste and generosity.

But it doesn’t have to be difficult. 

In fact, if you’re at ease and comfortable during the party, your guests will also be relaxed. A few simple touches create a beautiful space that you and your guests can enjoy together. This kind of artistry promotes conversation and makes your delectable meal taste even better. 

The Lighting

The time and the season should greatly influence your dinner plans. If you’re throwing your get-together during the summer, there should be an abundance of natural lighting you can use to your advantage. If you’re inside, keep the curtains open and let the light pour in to reflect off the elements on the table. Consider using shimmering glassware or perhaps deeper, colored glass like cobalt blue or lemon yellow.

Have candles nearby that you can light when the sunlight fades to create an atmosphere of intimacy.

If your party is during colder months, adjust your lighting to suit the mood your striving for. You can use lower lighting from electrical sources and light candles, or keep the chandelier cheerfully blazing. 

For Starters: Food That Decorates

When your guests begin to gather, consider having a platter with fruit and cheese available while they wait for the rest of the guests or for dinner to be served. 

Nothing creates a more lovely tablescape than dusky grapes spilling over themselves, surrounded by pears, apples and berries. Leave the cheese in wedges with small knives so guests can cut their own portions. Small plates your guests can hold while mingling with each other is a necessity!

Even if it’s nothing more than water, make sure to have drinks available for thirsty guests. 

Linens

For Boho chic and charm, mix and match our hand block print linen tablecloths and napkins. You can achieve a softer, more subdued table with colors like pewter or sparrow, or use one of our more neutral tablecloths to mix with any of our napkins in more vivid colors.

A festive, vibrant look is easily achieved with a “Here Comes the Sun” tablecloth in cardinal red or tanager yellow. Match with napkins in a complementary color

Decorative Touches

Heaps of blossoms or an interesting arrangement of greenery is a lovely focal point. Think less centerpiece and more of a natural touch to bring out the beauty of your table. If you’re using the fruit platter as the decor idea, you can leave that front and center with a few blossoms tucked here and there for contrast. 

However, if the appetizer proved popular and was decimated by your hungry guests, remove the platter.

A runner of flowers or greenery that curves down the center of the table is a lovely style. You don’t need to spend a lot of money to achieve this look. You can also use accents from the seasons like pine, mini pumpkins, or small eucalyptus branches interwoven with simple white blooms. 

The benefit of a runner is you can easily place food around the decoration, or arrange the runners around serving dishes, and no one’s view is blocked from anyone they want to talk to—which is a common problem with tall centerpieces.

The Art of the Dinner Party

As life gets busier and we tend to be more isolated from each other, throwing a dinner party is an act of love. In addition to your beautiful tablescape, have some soft music playing that doesn’t interfere with the conversation but does promote a mood of friendship and serenity. 

Consider choosing a menu that can be made in advance as much as possible. This way you can mingle with your guests and make them feel welcome and relaxed. 

Be sure to find out any food allergies your guests may have or any expectations. They may think you know they’re vegan. They may be wrong.

Nothing spoils a dinner faster than not being able to serve one or more guests, so be prepared. If people can’t eat, the tablescape won’t make up the difference, no matter how elegant or charming. 

Best wishes for a fabulous party!

5 Fall Dinner Recipes Your Guests Will Love

Autumn may be the loveliest time to host a cozy supper. The fiery heat of summer is fading and the air is gentler and the light is golden. 

Outdoor entertaining is still an option and has the advantage of flickering candlelight as the sun sets sooner. As the air cools, insects make themselves scarce and we can enjoy each other’s company without suffering the presence of theirs.

It’s perfect.

It’s also a wonderful time to hit the Farmers Markets and snag some seasonal gems. You’ll get the freshest, brightest vegetables and also be supporting your local farmers. Here are several of my favorite recipes that you’ll love.

Pesto

Pesto gives a powerhouse boost of flavor to your recipes, whether you’re adding a dollop or featuring it as the main ingredient. Take a regular soup and add some pesto and you have a dish that everyone in the family will be begging for seconds!

It’s also a fairly simple process to make your own pesto at home.

Easy Homemade Basil Pesto and Pasta

This pesto is rich in flavor and super easy to make, especially during late summer / early fall when you have loads of fresh basil in your garden. 

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups packed fresh basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan
  • 1/2 cup (4 oz) pine nuts
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

 Put all of the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and blend till smooth but still a little chunky.  

Prepare 1 box of your favorite pasta – I prefer fusilli because it holds the pesto in the curls to give you a sensational flavor with each bite. 

Toss the warm pasta with all of the pesto.  Add more olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.  Sprinkle parmesan cheese on top.

Garnish with a cluster of basil leaves tucked in at the edge of the pasta, and a few sliced grape tomatoes for a pop of color, if you’d like.

 *The pesto can last in an airtight container for a week but I prefer to use it all at once so it’s super fresh. 

Minestrone Soup

This is a basic minestrone recipe, but you can use any vegetables you have on hand. Feel free to substitute chicken broth for vegetable, if you’d prefer. 

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup diced leeks, white part only
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 1 large carrot, diced
  • 1 cup diced zucchini
  • 8 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 14-ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • Pink salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 15-ounce can cannellini beans
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1 cup cooked elbow macaroni
  • 1 spoonful of basil pesto per bowl, depending on taste
  • 1/4 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. When hot, add onions and stir until softened. Add the garlic, and stir for a minute. Add the rest of the vegetables through the carrot, and stir occasionally until all are softened about five minutes.

Add the rest of the ingredients through the seasonings. Cook, partially covered, until all the vegetables are soft, about twenty minutes.

Add pasta, beans, and peas and cook for a few minutes longer.

Ladle the soup into bowls and swirl in the basil pesto, only going in one direction. Don’t stir it completely into the soup so a green thread of pesto shows.

Top with a sprinkle of parmesan cheese and basil, for a gorgeous presentation.

Roasted Vegetables 

Remember what we said about the farmers market? Roasting brings out a vegetable’s sweetness and flavor. 

You’ll want to choose vegetables that will cook together and finish in about the same amount of time. Root vegetables work particularly well together, but really, you can make almost any vegetable work. 

Simple Roasted Vegetables

Ingredients:

  • 2 lbs vegetables like squash, parsnips, carrots,
  • 2 medium red, quartered
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Pink salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/3 cup thyme leaves, stripped from their stems for garnish

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Peel and cut the vegetables into equal-sized pieces, about 1-in chunks. Toss the vegetables and thyme in olive oil in a large bowl and season generously with salt and pepper.

Spread the pieces out in a single layer on sheets or shallow baking pans so that the vegetables don’t touch. Roast until the veggies are browned and just tender, about 45 minutes or so. The time will depend on your vegetable choice.

Toss veggies with additional olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with thyme for a lovely presentation.

Roasted Vegetables in Phyllo

Speaking of a beautiful presentation, you can chop up those cooled, roasted vegetables and serve them in phyllo dough cups. You’ll find phyllo dough in the frozen section of your market.

Ingredients:

  • Vegetables from the previous recipe, chopped small
  • Several sheets of phyllo dough, thawed
  • 3/4 cup shredded cheese such as Swiss, Havarti, or Gruyere 
  • Olive oil for brushing

Stack 5-7 sheets of phyllo, depending on how thick you want the vegetable tarts. Any other sheets you’re using, keep under a damp cloth.

Brush each sheet carefully with the olive oil. Take each little stack and push them into an oiled muffin tin slot. Add 1/4 cup of vegetables and sprinkle with cheese. Fold over the phyllo dough towards the middle. The vegetables will be mostly covered.

Repeat the process so you have 12 vegetable tartlets. Bake at 350 degrees until the phyllo dough is browned, about thirty minutes.

If you’re using a tart cheese like feta or goat cheese, don’t use thyme when you roast the vegetables, Instead, mince a handful of fresh dill and fold into the vegetable mixture with the cheese before you scoop it into the phyllo cups.

Serve warm.

Chicken

A few touches can make a simple chicken dish into an extraordinary feast. Here, dates and green olives make this delicious main dish memorable.

Rustic Farmhouse Chicken

This recipe was inspired by The Silver Palate’s Chicken Marbella, which I first came across in 1991! It’s been a favorite over the years and I have adapted it to make it my own for ease of prep and ingredients. This is great for a crowd and the prep the night before makes it stress-free. 

Ingredients:

  • 8 – 10 skinless, boneless chicken thighs
  • 1 head of garlic, peeled and finely pureed (I use a garlic press)
  • 1/4 cup dried oregano
  • 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped fresh Medjool dates
  • 1/2 cup pitted Spanish green olives
  • 1/2  cup capers with a bit of juice
  • 6 bay leaves
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley

 

In a large bowl combine chicken thighs, garlic, oregano, vinegar, olive oil, chopped dates, olives, capers and juice, bay leaves, salt and pepper. Cover and let marinate overnight in the refrigerator.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Place chicken in a single layer in a 9×13 pan and spoon all the ingredients from the marinade over top, distributed equally. Sprinkle brown sugar over the chicken pieces and then pour the white wine over top and around the chicken.

Bake for 45 – 50 minutes, basting frequently with the juices from the pan. The chicken is done when a clear yellow, instead of pink, juice flows from the chicken when pricked. Transfer the chicken, olives, capers, and dates to a platter and moisten with some of the pan juices. Sprinkle parsley on top and serve the remaining sauce from the pan in a gravy boat.

This recipe can be served warm or at room temperature.

Serves 4-6 people

The pesto pasta also goes well with the chicken. Serve with a salad and loaf of crusty bread, which can soak up the juices from the rustic chicken.

We hope you enjoy these recipes and the company you keep. Put on some pleasant music, light the candles and create some lovely memories around the table with the people you love.

Bon appetit! 

Cozy Blueberry Crisp

blueberrycrisppan

Cozy, you might ask?  Yes, indeed, every bite of this blueberry crisp is pure cozy, comfort for me.  All summer long I love making berry crisps with whatever fruit I have on hand, mouthfuls of warm delicious fruit with a sweet crisp oat topping.

Blueberrycrisp1

My favorite go to is a blueberry crisp – blueberries are packed with nutrients so while this is dessert you can feel still really good about eating it.  Eat it on its own, pair it with vanilla ice cream, or greek yogurt.  When there are leftovers, I love it with vanilla or honey greek yogurt the next morning.

Blueberrycrispyogurtspoon1

Ingredients:

  • 6 cups fresh blueberries
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1 lemon – for lemon zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Topping:

  • 1 cup oats
  • 1/4 cup butter softened
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 375 F.  Prepare casserole dish (2 qt baking dish, 9″x9″ or similar) by spraying with coconut spray or pam.

  1. Grate the rind of the lemon to get 3/4 teaspoon of zest plus squeeze half the lemon juice.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, toss the blueberries with the lemon zest, lemon juice, sugar, 3 tablespoons flour, vanilla and cinnamon.  Place in your prepared dish.
  3. Combine the butter, oats, brown sugar, flour and cinnamon until crumbled.  Sprinkle over blueberries and press down slightly.
  4. Bake 35 – 40 minutes or until the top is golden brown and the fruit is bubbly on the sides. Cool slightly and serve warm by itself, with a vanilla ice cream or greek yogurt.

Enjoy!

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Carrie Allen created this site as a way for people to share stories about things they love.  She loves chasing quiet, authentic moments and sharing them with her family and friends.  Read more about her inspiration here. 

More joy, more laughter, more love

Collectively, we are all going through a difficult time right now.  When things get difficult, regardless of what is at the root of it, I think the only salve is to create opportunities for more joy, more laughter and more love.  Connections are a basic human need.  We need each other.  For me, connections at the table with an amazing meal, simple or complex with friends and family all around, is grounding and lifts my spirits.

Think of your most memorable meals throughout your life.  Chances are there was delicious food, coupled with emotions and connections.  Perhaps there were tears, or belly aching laughter, mixed with love, friendship and contentment. To be sure, stories were told. Memories were created.

Since I am a trained artist, I approach entertaining, setting the table, menu creation and cooking all with an artist’s sensibility. I love layers, whether I am painting or setting the table.  Layers of colors, textures, flavors and sensations.  In fact, I created the term “Luxe Farmhouse” for August Table specifically to mean layers of rustic charm and simplicity mixed with elements of surprise, whether it’s a glint of shining metal and something sparkly and luxe, or a burst of intense flavor paired with a simple staple.

This weekend, try to connect with others.  Meet outside and bring your masks, practice social distancing for sure.  Studies are showing that it’s far less likely that you will get COVID-19 if you are outside, where there is a breeze.  If meal prep is not something you want to do right now, you can buy simple ingredients and assemble them in a beautiful way, or simply just buy a loaf of bread, cheese and grapes.  Break bread with others.  It’s been too long cooped up in our homes without connections.

Inspiredbythis

Photo by Inspired by This

Wishing you love, laughter and joy this weekend,
Carrie

33D3287D-7494-4CBE-894B-A02DF7A5768D

Carrie Allen created this site as a way for people to share stories about things they love.  She loves chasing quiet, authentic moments and sharing them with her family and friends.  Read more about her inspiration here. 

 

Cocktail Spotlight – Todd Maul

With the warmer weather and eating outside more often, I like to mix things up and make fun cocktails when possible.  With this in mind,  I asked my friend and super mixologist Todd Maul what he’s been drinking during quarantine.

Todd

Todd’s been drinking two drinks – a Mai Tai and a Negroni.  His recipes are below!  I hope they inspire you too.

ToddMaulcocktail

Mai Tai Recipe


Todd says the trick to a good Mai Tai is finding a good orgeat recipe.

  • 2 1/2 ounces of rum – he recommends equal parts dark and aged
  • 1 ounce fresh squeezed lime juice
  • 1/2 ounce orange clement shrub – triple sec works too
  • 1/2 ounce orgeat syrup

Mix all the ingredients and enjoy with a garnish like the one pictured above!

Negroni Recipe

Mix equal parts:

  • Gin
  • Campari
  • Sweet Vermouth
  • finish with an orange twist

According to Todd, the trick to this drink is matching up your vermouth with your gin.  Use a softer vermouth, Lustau or Dolin, with less aggressive gins.  Use Carpano Vermouth with more aggressive gins.

 

As always, please drink responsibly, stay healthy and be well.

33D3287D-7494-4CBE-894B-A02DF7A5768D
Carrie Allen created this site as a way for people to share stories about things they love.  She loves chasing quiet, authentic moments and sharing them with her family and friends.  Read more about her inspiration here.