December 20, 2012

Holiday Hostess Gift

This holiday season I've cooked for a dozen gatherings but attended very few.  Luckily, this invitation carried the weight of many parties and filled me with inspiration for the entire month.  My very special friend threw a dinner that was put together for Alex's Lemonade Stand.  Suzanne Goin (my culinary idol), Nancy Silverton, April Bloomfield, Giada De Laurentis, Sherry Yard and, drumroll please, Alice Waters all came to her home and prepared our dinner, each serving and presenting a course.  The food was, duh, delicious (Alice's sunchoke and celery root soup with black truffles was the star), the room gorgeous (thanks to Amy's special touches) and the company of the guests was truly delightful.  What I loved the most was the spirit of the evening.  We all wandered back and forth from the table to the kitchen to see the chefs' preparations and to watch them all assisting one another with their dishes.  Really a dream come true.  What does one bring as a hostess gift for such a once in a lifetime experience?  Well I could have driven myself crazy trying to come up with the most perfect of all perfect gifts; instead, I brought my go-to gift: breakfast for the hostess.  Granted, this was a slightly tricked up version with Amy packaging the cinnamon maple syrup and granola for me and using her pretty jars for the fig jam and yogurt.  Alongside the basket of goodies, I brought a sausage & spinach frittata with oven roasted tomatoes (Christmas colors).  Since this party was over the top, so was the basket.  But I also like bringing a dozen fresh eggs, great bacon and a loaf of bread for toast.  If you want to make one thing, I suggest granola and then put yogurt and honey in jars to accompany it (or do as Amelia did and buy addictive granola from The Granola Project).  Depending on your hostess, bloody mary's or bubbly might be on the menu.  Choose your own adventure.  Thank you Judith for such a magical evening.  One that I will never forget.  xx  

The Menu


freshly squeezed orange juice

good coffee


sausage & spinach frittata

homemade yogurt

gingered granola with cranberries

cinnamon maple syrup

fresh fruit

apple spice muffins

fig jam


ginger cookies

chocolate espresso cookies

December 13, 2012

Gingerbread House Class: aka Heaven

 After last year's Swedish Christmas gingerbread house fiasco (I lost a week of my life to the cause), I thought I decided to swear off gingerbread houses for good.  But when Jenni Kayne asked me to help her put together a gingerbread making class for her kids and their friends, how could I say no?  I'M OBSESSED WITH GINGERBREAD HOUSES!!!  This year I baked my own gingerbread from scratch and assembled them with homemade frosting (after last year's glue fiasco).  And because the houses were for Jenni's Hanukkah dinner, the color palette was silver, white & blue.  For the month leading up to the class, I bought any candy in sight that fit the bill.  What struck me most about the experience, from baking to shopping to setting up, was watching the kids decorate their houses.  Some kids went crazy with frosting and quick mosaics, while others were far more methodical in their processes, with a clear plan.  All of the kids started decorating on the roof, while one girl focused on well designed pathways on the ground.  Just watching their creativity and enthusiasm felt really magical--the true feeling of the holiday season.  So thank you Jenni for bringing me out of my gingerbread house retirement.  While this isn't an activity I grew up with, I'm now committed to maintaining it as the best new holiday tradition in my life.  For my gingerbread house recipe, how-to tips and the dinner I made for the parents and kids after class, please check out Jenni's amazing blog Rip Plus Tan.  Happy Hanukkah!
The Menu


rice milk punch


eggplant & butternut squash spreads on crostini

to share

vegetarian lasagna

white beans with rosemary

roast broccoli & cauliflower with lemon

winter greens with artichoke hearts and roasted red peppers


(duh) gingerbread houses

(and chocolate chip cookies)

November 26, 2012

Thanksgiving Leftover Kits

Everyone knows that the best part of the Thanksgiving meal is the day after tradition of the infamous turkey sandwich.  I like mine simple: turkey, cranberry sauce, lots of mayo, plenty of cracked black pepper, on white bread.  It made me sad to think that my guests would be robbed of this ritual so I assembled leftover kits for everyone.  I made extra gingered cranberry sauce & classic stuffing in advance so that I was sure to have enough for all.  With that all prepped, it was easy to add leftover turkey and assorted pieces of pie at the end of the night.  As always, I'm lucky to have Amy as a friend because she elevated the whole kit with wish-bone themed labels, making the kits feel more like a party favor than just your basic leftovers.  The true highlight of the kit was including Wonder Bread.  It's the end of an era and the spongy white bread takes me right back to my childhood.  I literally got the last loaves at Smart & Final (where I picked up my containers & bags, as well) and it was a real treat--thank you Hostess for the memories.

Happy Thanksgiving: Turkey Three Ways

Greg and I hosted our first Thanksgiving this year and I couldn't have had more fun doing it.  Our menu planning revolved around how we were going to cook the turkeys: all three of them.  The decision was to roast one ala Canal House, after a three day dry brine, with lots and lots of sage butter.  The other two were divided into legs and breasts; Greg smoked the breasts and I made turkey confit with the legs (following Suzanne Goin's recipe from Bon Appetit).  I loved all three.  Amy set a gorgeous table and printed invitations, menus & place cards with a wish-bone motif (not to mention, acted like a total show-off with her magazine-worthy fancy pies).  While I played with new ways to make the bird, I stuck with three of my favorite Thanksgiving traditions from growing up.  I look forward to going around the table and saying what we are grateful for, as well as my great grandmother's pumpkin praline pie.  But my biggest thanks and gratitude goes to all of my friends who indulged me with a serious game of Celebrity, followed by the late night crew's round of Apples to Apples.  More than football, my family was all about the board games and I'm lucky to have good friends who are also game to play along.  Hope you all had Happy Thanksgivings as well...looking forward to keeping it rolling throughout the Holiday Season!!
 The Menu



spiced cider margaritas


cheese platter with accoutrements

crudites & relish platter


roast turkey with sage butter

chili smoked turkey breast

turkey confit

rich gravy

gingered orange cranberry sauce

fennel sausage, kale & squash sourdough stuffing

mushroom, leek & cornbread stuffing

buttermilk mashed potatoes

amelia's sweet potatoes

brussel sprouts with pork belly

winter greens with cider vinaigrette

amy's country rolls


amy & david's pumpkin pie, double apple pie, coconut cream pie & chocolate cream pie

 jessica's pumpkin cheesecake

November 16, 2012

Thanksgiving Cocktail: A Harvest Margarita

When my friend Marina requested an apple cider margarita for her party, I was dubious.  My brain flashed to an apple martini (how tacky!) and something far too sweet for my tastes.  But leave it to my husband to know just what I like.  Greg's version is the perfect blend of tart, spice & smoke with just a touch of sweet.  Our friend Jenna has coined it "The Harvest Margarita" which makes it the perfect cocktail to serve for Thanksgiving!  As always, prepare a pitcher (or two, or three) in advance, so that nobody has to play bartender while watching football or cooking the bird.  You can even steep the fresh cider with cinnamon, cardamom & cloves a day or two in advance.  And in the fashion of my mom, I'll also set out a tray of champagne glasses with frozen cranberries & bubbly.  It just wouldn't be a holiday without some tradition!

The Recipe
makes a pitcher of drinks, about twelve

the ingredients

24 oz fresh apple cider
10 cinnamon sticks
15 cardamon pods
a teaspoon or so of cloves
18 oz repesado tequila
6 oz fresh lime juice
3 oz cointreau
3 oz water
a couple of pinches of fine sea salt

to make the spiced cider:  combine cider, cinnamon sticks, cardamon & cloves in a stock saucepan on the stove and bring to a boil.  cover and simmer for 30 minutes.  remove from heat, strain and let cool completely.  

to make the cocktail: stir spiced cider, tequila, lime juice, cointreau & water in a pitcher.

to serve:  pour 4.5 ounces over ice.  enjoy.

tips: apple cider & lime juice can be prepped a day in advance and refrigerated.  the cocktail can be made the morning of and refrigerated.

November 11, 2012

Vegan Thanksgiving For All

When Jenni Kayne and Kate Mulling of The Chalkboard asked me to teach a Thanksgiving cooking class for their new series 'In the Vegan Kitchen', my immediate response was 'Yes!' (and how flattering).  But then I got nervous.  Not only am I not a vegan 'expert', I'd never taught a class before.  Despite years as an actress, I get shy in front of a group (especially knowing there would be a camera involved).  To calm my nerves, I decided to focus on what I do know: the flavors of Thanksgiving.  Nothing says Thanksgiving to me more than my great grandmother's famous Pumpkin Praline Pie (see last year's post for the original recipe).  I started from there and figured out a way to turn half and half and butter into a vegan counter part that was still worthy of my family's traditions;  I think the results are solid!  From there, I created recipes for appetizers, squash soup, brussels sprouts, cranberry sauce, and stuffing.  The key to vegan cooking isn't about using a bunch of strange, new substitute products; for me, it's about focusing on great produce and familiar tried and true techniques.  Amy further alleviated my nerves by designing recipe cards for everyone in the class to take home (even if the recipes sucked, at least they would be presented in a pretty fashion!).  Luckily, the recipes turned out well and the class was a success.  I know that entertaining can be stressful, so I created a Thanksgiving Timeline to figure out how to get it all done!  Jenni set a cozy table with succulent filled pumpkins; read more about the how-to details and table settings on her chic blog Rip Plus Tan.  After the class, we all sat down to enjoy the meal and oohs and ahhs about the mushroom & leek stuffing solidified what I already knew: with enough sage and cornbread, no one will miss the Jimmy Dean sausage.  For all of the recipes, click on the links below!!  Happy (Un)Turkey Day!!

The Menu



crudites with spinach hazelnut dip & carrot tahini dip

to share