champagne and flowers

This simple and stunning floral arrangement will beautifully grace your holiday table or serve as a novel hostess gift. It works double-duty as a floral arrangement and a festive drink. Once the flowers have run their course, you can remove the oasis and pop open the bottle of bubbly.

Embellish arrangement with descriptive words for your Thanksgiving table

Embellish arrangement with descriptive Holiday Expressions tags

Surprisingly, this arrangement was made with just three bunches of flowers from my local Pavilions grocery store. The flowers and the Oasis floral foam came to a mere $18. The bottle of champagne (or sparkling wine) adds to the cost, but you can still create an affordable arrangement or gift on a budget. See this list from Gayot for their top Ten Sparkling Wines; all reasonably priced.

Start with three small bunches of florals

Start with three small bunches of florals

 

Alstroemerias in a deep burgundy play well against the Chrysanthemums

Alstroemerias in a deep burgundy play well against the Chrysanthemums


Items Needed

1 bottle Champagne or Sparkling Wine/Prosecco
Oasis floral foam
2 to 3 bunches of flowers
Chrysanthemum (burgundy and gold)
Alstroemeria (deep burgudy)
Fishing wire
Holiday Expressions tags (the ones pictured below are from the Paper Source)

Gently hang word tags from your arrangement with clear fishing wire

Gently hang Holiday Expressions tags from your arrangement with clear fishing wire

Directions
Make sure oasis is soaked in water for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Once soaked, take the oasis out of the water and let drain for a few minutes. Take the oasis and cut the edges so the shape is more circular. The oasis is easy to cut with a sharp knife – think of it as slicing a piece of cake. Once you have the desired circular shape, carefully push it down onto the chamapgne bottle until it is firmly in place. Water may drip down the bottle as you are working with it so keep a paper towel on hand to wipe up any moisture.

Trim corners of the square oasis into a circular shape

Trim corners of the square oasis into a circular shape

Gently push oasis onto top of bottle until firmly in place. Wipe up any moisture that may drip down the bottle while you are creating the arrangement

Gently push oasis onto top of bottle until firmly in place. Wipe up any moisture that may drip down the bottle while you are creating the arrangement

Start filling in around all sides of the oasis, one flower at a time. Be sure to fill in from the bottom as well for a round and robust effect. Keep filling in the oasis, varying the colors and types of flowers. Your goal is to create a round shape that is full. You don’t want to see any part of the green oasis. Once you have everything filled in, make sure you turn the bottle to look at it from all sides.

Start filling in the oasis from all sides, making sure to cover the bottom as well

Start filling in the oasis from all sides, making sure to cover the bottom as well

 

Keep filling in with flowers until you have a full effect and the oasis cannot be seen at all

Keep filling in with flowers until you have a full effect and the oasis cannot be seen at all

If you want to embellish the arrangements with special holiday words (like this version below for Thanksgiving), tie each small card with fishing wire and hang from the arrangement. To keep your arrangement alive, you can spritz with water every other day. This arrangement here lasted over a week.

I love how the fishing wire is invisible, creating a floating look with the word cards.

I love how the fishing wire is invisible, creating a floating look with the Holiday Expressions tags

Bold holiday colors showcase the beautiful arrangement

Bold holiday colors showcase the beautiful arrangement

alice’s stuffing

I love holiday recipes that have a life of their own brimming with history, insight and love. This cherished Thanksgiving recipe was shared by one of my dear friends, Annie-Laurie.

Annie-Laurie married into an Irish family of five, with her husband being the baby and the only boy. From day one, the family scooped her up into their holiday traditions and high-spirited meals. I’ve heard her recount many years of endearing holiday stories…turkey cook-offs, taking turns around the table saying what each person is thankful for, piano playing and singing and a bevy of games from Catch Phrase to Pictionary.

Annie-Laurie’s first Thanksgiving with her husband’s family was 25 years ago. Both of her in-laws have passed on but imprinted onto their family treasured customs that the family shares in, especially during this time of year.

This is Annie-Laurie’s favorite recipe from her mother-in-law, Alice. In reminiscing about Thanksgiving with Alice, she said, “Alice made everything from scratch and she did it so well. The whole meal was ready at the same time. She would always want us to take our time and enjoy it because it took an entire day to prepare. My sister-in-law, Beth, has followed in her footsteps and makes the Thanksgiving meal a treat. Next week we will have Alice’s stuffing and I will savor every mouthful.”

Counterclockwise: Alice's recipe in her own writing. she and husband Jack in the early years. Sitting down to Thanksgiving in the early 80s

Clockwise: Alice’s recipe in her own writing. She and husband Jack in their early years. Sitting down to Thanksgiving in the early 80s.

Recipes aren’t just instructions on a page; they connect families and friends to the past the present and the future. A special recipe holds purpose and love and the ability to tell a family’s story from generation to generation. The love of those we miss comes alive with each ingredient we add and with each bite we take. Ask your friends about their favorite family recipes and you will be sure to not only get a delicious new dish to make but insight into the love of family that connects us all.

Alice’s Stuffing is meant to cook inside the turkey. See below for a second version that omits a few ingredients and cooks outside of the bird.

Fresh, cubed bread, ready to be mixed with fresh ingredients

Fresh, cubed bread, ready to be mixed with celery, onions and herbs

Ingredients
1 cup butter or margarine
2 cups diced celery
1/2 cup chopped onions
1/4 cup chopped parsley
2 1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp poultry seasoning
1/2 tsp pepper
16 cups lightly packed fresh bread cubes
3 eggs lightly beaten

Fresh, wholesome food

A simple recipe using the freshest ingredients

Directions (about 40 minutes before adding to the turkey)
In a large saucepan over medium heat, in hot butter or margarine, cook celery and onions until tender, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add parsley, salt, poultry seasoning and pepper; mix well. Stir in bread cubes and eggs and mix well. Makes enough stuffing for one 8 to 11 pound turkey.

Use a pretty casserole dish for stuffing that bakes outside of the turkey

Use a pretty casserole dish for stuffing that bakes outside of the turkey

Crumbly Bread Stuffing
For stuffing cooked outside of the turkey, prepare as above but use only 3/4 cup butter and omit the eggs. Cook in a lightly buttered casserole dish on 350 degrees for about 25 to 30 minutes.

 

sweet potato soufflé

I asked a few of my best friends for their favorite family Thanksgiving recipe. My friend Lisa, always supportive of everything her friends do, sent me this recipe from her husband’s southern Georgia family. I made the dish (fluffy sweetness and savory scrumptiousness all in one bite), took pictures and sat down to write about it. It took me back to how Lisa and I became friends.

It was my first day of second grade at a new school. I was sporting a Dorothy Hamill pixie cut and wearing a light blue puffy jacket from JCPenney (my sister and I had matching ones). I was assigned to a square table of four with Lisa sitting next to me. She showed me where the drinking fountain was and we have been friends ever since. We survived the many adventures of grade school and then, all girls Catholic high school. We have shared the stages of life that only lifelong friendships can – homecoming dances, football games, big 80s style hair, cramming for exams, parties, sneaking out, graduation, college, concerts, careers, trips, marriage, babies, birthdays, book clubs, cooking clubs, illness, death and everything in between.

Friends since age seven... All the beautiful (and not so beautiful stages)...

Friends since age seven… All the beautiful (and not so beautiful stages)…

Friendships are like good recipes. They bring comfort, fulfillment, love and deliciousness to your life every day. This recipe is as good as the girl it came from (thanks, Lis!). Lisa adjusts the recipe for her son’s food allergies so you can also enjoy the same yumminess in a Gluten free and Dairy free version.

Ingredients
3 cups sweet potatoes, baked and mashed (approximately two large sweet potatoes)
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup evaporated milk
1 stick butter, softened
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Crumbled topping of pecans, brown sugar, flour and butter

Crumbled topping of pecans, brown sugar, flour and butter


Topping
1 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup flour
1 cup brown sugar
1 stick butter, melted

*For a Gluten Free and Dairy Free version use the following:
Non-dairy butter (Earth Balance)
Gluten Free flour
Vanilla Almond milk (in place of the evaporated milk)

Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix together sweet potatoes, sugar, eggs, evaporated milk, butter and vanilla until well blended. Pour into a buttered casserole dish. Mix the pecans, flour, brown sugar and melted butter and sprinkle over the entire top of the sweet potato mixture. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes.

Golden brown and cripsy crust just out of the oven

Golden brown and cripsy crust just out of the oven

You can make the Sweet Potato Souffle a day ahead. Cover tightly and refrigerate. To serve, simply bring it to room temperature and bake. The souffle also makes for great leftovers.

Use a large sweet potato and leaf-shaped cookie cutter top embellish soufflé on your Thanksgiving table

Use a large sweet potato and leaf-shaped cookie cutter to embellish soufflé on your Thanksgiving table with “Sweet Potato Leaves”

organic broccoli soup

Our friends at Red and Honey have a fun feature called Sunday Night Soups. Given that it’s a football Sunday in November, please enjoy this re-post from Cashmere Apron and check out the link to Red and Honey for their super yummy soup suggestions.

Soup is one of those meals that warms your heart and soul. When the human body gets sick, it is soup that it craves. It is a true “comfort food” that makes you reminisce of cold winter nights and family meals together. I love how you can make this soup so quickly and fill your loved one’s stomachs with loads of pureed vegetables. I try my hardest to purchase organic products when making this soup and have replaced the original heavy cream with fat-free cream. It is a simple recipe that can help you get through the middle of a busy week. Let’s face it, we are all making our Thanksgiving To Do lists and no one has time for burdensome meals. If you have an extra hungry mouth to please, just add a chopped salad or a nice piece of crusty bread.

Ingredients
4 Tb butter, room temperature
2 pounds fresh, organic broccoli, small chop
1 large organic onion, medium chop
1 large organic carrot, small chop
Salt and pepper to taste
3 Tb all-purpose flour
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup cream (I used fat-free)
Garnish with sliced scallions, bacon bits, cheddar cheese

Directions
Melt buter in a heavy-medium pot. Add broccoli, onion, carrot, salt and pepper and sauté until onion is transparent. Add the flour and cook for one minute or until the flour is a blonde color. Add stock and bring to a boil.

Simmer uncovered until the broccoli is tender, about 15 minutes. Pour in cream. With an immersion blender, puree the soup. Add salt and pepper, to taste. Can add more cream if you want. Serve with the garnish of your choice. Serves:4

 

pistachio torte

This year in particular, it seemed like “pumpkin fever” took hold before I could finish licking the Labor Day barbecue sauce off my fingers. If an item wasn’t pumpkin flavored, it was pumpkin infused, laced or scented from bagels to pudding to chocolate and beer.

If you happen to be on pumpkin overload and want an alternative for your Thanksgiving dessert table, try the Torta Di Pistacchio. This particular recipe is from a cooking class at one of our favorite Italian restaurants, Canaletto Ristorante Veneto. And by “cooking class,” I mean that we sat at a beautifully set table and watched two talented and highly entertaining chefs whip up three delicious courses. Our job was to drink wine, converse and eat. The chefs always finish the meal with a dessert and an appertif sized-glass of homemade limoncello, an Italian liquer.

Limoncello pairs perfectly with the torte to finish off your meal

Limoncello pairs perfectly with the torte to finish off your meal

This Thanksgiving, if you want to forego the traditional, serve this beautiful torte with chilled Limoncello to cap off your holiday.

Ingredients (sponge cake)
7 whole eggs
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup flour
1 1/2 ounces cornstarch
1/4 Tb baking powder
1/4 Tb vanilla extract

The torte displays beautifully on any table

The torte displays beautifully on any table

Ingredients (filling and topping)
3/4 cup pistachios, chopped
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup Mascarpone cheese
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate, grated finely (I used a zester)

The rich creamy filling softens the cake layers

The rich creamy filling softens the cake layers

Bagna mixture (to wet the sponge cake before frosting)
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. Triple Sec
Fresh mint, if desired.

Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine eggs, vanilla extract, and sugar until the mixture becomes fluffly and rises to almost double. Mix the flour, baking powder and cornstarch together in a separate bowl.

Very slowly, incorporate the flour mixture into the fluffy egg mixture until well mixed. Pour batter into a springform pan and bake for approximately 20 minutes. *The sponge cake will rise into a fluffy dome but will settle down once it cools.

Assembling the cake
Cut the sponge cake into three even layers. I used a perforated bread knife and it worked fine. Don’t worry if your layers aren’t perfect – that’s why we have filling/frosting.

Combine the water, sugar and triple sec in a glass bowl to make the Bagna. Wet the sponge cake layers with the Bagna using a pastry brush. Be sure to cover the entire surface of each layer.

Mix the heavy cream, Mascarpone cheese and sugar in a blender until firm. Gently blend in the grated chocolate until mixed. Spread the cream in equal parts on the three layers, one on top of the other and save some for the top. Finish the top of the sponge cake with the creme, pistachios and chocolate shavings. Add mint for aesthetics if desired.

Top the torte with pistachios and chocolate zest and embellish the sides with fresh mint

Top the torte with pistachios and chocolate zest and embellish the sides with fresh mint

Serves 8-10

Buon Appetito

Compliments of Chef Moises Mendoza and Antonio Guarracino

Canaletto Restaurant, Fashion Island Newport Beach, California

And if you’re curious, check out this list of best and worst pumpkin items this holiday season.

caramelized garlic tart

Whenever I buy a new cookbook or rip through a fresh- in-my-mailbox magazine, I dog ear pages like crazy, making notes left and right. I have a laundry list of creative endeavors I aspire to accomplish. I often find, however, that I get sidetracked – it’s an ongoing problem I call multi-tasking max out.

I recently rifled through the robustly colorful cookbook, PLENTYnamed by Amazon Editors’ as a “Favorite Book of the Year” for 2014. The award winning chef and food writer, Yotam Ottolenghi has been described as “the man who made vegetables sexy.” I wanted to find something scrumptious to make for a Labor Day party and this tart was the ticket. While there are PLENTY of steps to making this light puff of a pastry, the process is simple. Just allow enough time for preparation and avoid cramming it in between Sunday Church, football, laundry and walking the dog.

A Beautiful Cover Always Grabs My Attention

A beautiful book cover always grabs my attention

With Thanksgiving looming, the versatility of the Carmelized Garlic Tart can double as an elegant #thanksgivingappetizer or #thanksgivingvegetariandish. The tart can be made a day ahead and then reheated before serving. I love recipes that allow for something special and beautiful on the plate without requiring you to sweat it out in your heels and party clothes minutes before your guests arrive.

Ingredients
13 oz all-butter puff pastry
3 medium heads of garlic, cloves separated and peeled
1 Tb olive oil
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 cup water
¾ Tb sugar
1 tsp chopped rosemary
1 tsp chopped thyme, plus a few whole sprigs to finish
4 ¼ oz creamy goat cheese (such as chevre)
4 ¼ oz hard, mature goat cheese (such as goat gouda)
2 eggs
6 1/2 Tb heavy cream
6 1/2 Tb crème fraîche
black pepper

Directions
Have ready a shallow, loose-bottomed, 11-inch fluted tart pan (I bought a new pan from Bed, Bath & Beyond by Wilton). Roll out the puff pastry into a circle that will line the bottom and sides of the pan, plus a little extra. Line the pan with the pastry. Place a large circle of greaseproof paper on the bottom and fill up with baking beans or pie weights. Leave to rest in the fridge for about 20 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the tart pan in the oven and bake blind for 20 minutes. Remove the beans/weights and paper, then bake for 5-10 minutes longer, or until the pastry is golden. Set aside. Leave the oven on.

A light and golden crust ready to be filled with scrumptiousness

A light and golden crust ready to be filled with scrumptiousness

While the tart shell is baking, make the caramelized garlic. Put the cloves in a small saucepan and cover with plenty of water. Bring to a simmer and blanch for 3 minutes, then drain well. Dry the saucepan, return the cloves to it and add the olive oil. Fry the garlic cloves on high heat for 2 minutes. Add the balsamic vinegar and water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer gently for 10 minutes. Add the sugar, rosemary, chopped thyme and ¼ teaspoon salt. Continue simmering on a medium flame for 10 minutes, or until most of the liquid has evaporated and the garlic cloves are coated in a dark caramel syrup. Set aside.

 

Garlic caramelizing with fresh herbs, sugar and balsamic vinegar

Garlic carmelizing with fresh herbs, sugar and balsamic vinegar

To assemble the tart, break both types of goat’s cheese into pieces and scatter in the pastry case. Spoon the garlic cloves and syrup evenly over the cheese.

Carmelized garlic+syrup+cheeses make the filling

Carmelized garlic+syrup+cheeses make the filling

In a separate bowl whisk together the eggs, creams, ½ teaspoon salt and some black pepper. Pour this custard over the tart filling to fill the gaps, making sure that you can still see the garlic and cheese over the surface. Reduce the oven temperature to 160 degrees and place the tart inside.

After light, whipped custard is poured into the shell with the filling still showing through

The light, whipped custard is poured into the shell with the filling still showing through

 

IMG_5456

Warm from the oven, browned and golden

Bake for 35-45 minutes, or until the tart filling has set and the top is golden brown. Remove from the oven and leave to cool a little. Then lift the bottom of the tart pan away from the side and trim the pastry edge if needed. Lay a few sprigs of thyme on top and serve warm.
As a reminder, the tart can be made a day ahead and reheated before serving.

Slice and serve

Slice and serve

Recipe from PLENTY, by Yotam Ottolenghi.

spider web elixer

Halloween morning has broken with fluffy gray clouds and temperatures more in line with fall. Here in Southern California, it has not been below 74 degrees since May. I heard that stat on the news yesterday and couldn’t believe it. I am soooooooooo ready for boots, scarves, jeans and hats. I am going to enjoy this micro dip in temps and ignore the forecast which takes us back into the 80’s next week.

We are celebrating in the neighborhood tonight on Christi’s very long driveway. Our beach chairs are out and the ping pong table is set-up with mounds of candy ready to be thrown into pillowcases of trick-or-treaters big and small. We have a “gourmet” menu planned of pizza, salad, apps and spirits. I am looking forward to a RELAXED and EASY Friday night Halloween as we pump up every kid in the neighborhood with their annual sugar fix.

If you are in need of a Halloween themed drink, whip up a pitcher of our favorite “Spider Web Elixer.” The drink is simple to make and can be creatively styled with black licorice and candy corn or orange and black jelly bellys. Happy Halloween 2014. Wishing you a GHOULISH good time! ♥

Ingredients
3 parts vanilla vodka
1 part black anise-flavored liqueur (recommended: Sambuca)
1 part espresso
Black licorice and candy corn for garnish

Directions
In a cocktail shaker, combine all ingredients except the licorice with ice and shake to mix. Serve in a cocktail martini glass with a black licorice straw.

 

Recipe from Sandra Lee