How to throw the perfect dinner party {part 2}

IMG_2273Continuing on from part one...how to throw a perfect dinner party!

You’ve sent out the invites and your perfectly interesting guests are drinking cocktails and getting hungry…

Setting the table

I believe in simple, but memorable table settings that are also practical. Don’t overwhelm the table with decoration – you want there to be enough room for food, drinks, and revelry.

Seasonal flower arrangements, colorful napkins, and printed menus add a sophisticated touch.

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Preparing ahead

Think like a restaurant chef – prepare everything in advance, as much as you can. Inquire about guests’ dietary requirements in advance and adjust dishes accordingly.

Keep the oven preheated, water boiling, and all of the toppings prepped and ready to go.

Similarly, chill wine and soft drinks and prepare ice, if necessary.

Make a schedule – when to get the hors d’oeuvres ready, when to put the main courses into the oven etc. Being organized will let you enjoy your own party and spend the most time with your guests!

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Use foolproof recipes

Don’t make something you haven’t made before – it will be equally stressful for you and for your guests to watch you scrambling about in the kitchen.

Pick recipes you are comfortable with and ones that make the most of the season, while still being crowd-pleasers. And, even then, if something goes wrong – project confidence! Plus, you can never go wrong with good bread and butter as a side dish.

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Here is the menu from our recent ramps & rosé soiree:

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Some ideas: Spring pasta, baked avocado, watermelon & feta salad, and banana pudding.

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Don’t overdo it, though my rule of thumb is more food (i.e. tasty leftovers) is better than not enough food. You want everyone to share, engage, and enjoy every bite.

Socialize

Take a little break before dessert – things would have eased up by then and everyone would have gotten to know each other better (if they did not already). Conversation will flow…so don’t rush it.

Finish those drinks, then offer your guests coffee/tea and dessert.

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Sorrel, spinach and pistachio pesto

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I was so excited to find sorrel at the market last week – it’s still not a commonplace ingredient in the US, but I grew up eating it in salads and soups, which are a big part of Eastern European cuisine. In fact, I already wrote about this soup and these sorrel and leek pancakes ages ago.

There are several varieties of sorrel and I was able to get my hands on both the regular “French” sorrel and some redwood sorrel which is especially pretty (that’s it in the photo above).

Fun fact: in French, the word for sorrel is oseille and it’s a also slang for money, likely because of it’s very green color!

If you’ve never tried sorrel, it is quite tart and packs a punch of flavor so, it is best when paired with other nutritious greens or against something creamy. This pesto offers a little bit of both.

Tips: Serve with fresh pasta, eggs, or smeared on toast and topped with some radishes.

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Sorrel, spinach and pistachio pesto

You’ll need:

  • 1 1/2 cups fresh sorrel (I mixed the two varieties, but any will do)
  • 2 cups spinach
  • 1/3 cup shelled, unsalted pistachios
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • salt, pepper

1. Wash and chop all of the greens roughly before combining them with the pistachios and the olive oil in a food processor.

2. Chop/grind to combine, adding a little bit more olive oil, as needed, as you go along.

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3. Taste, season well with salt and pepper.

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Since this pesto doesn’t have any cheese in it, it will keep covered in the fridge for 5-6 days and/or freeze well.

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Mother’s Day desserts

Mother's Day desserts

Happy Mother’s Day!

Remember to treat your mom and have a fabulously indulgent day today.

Head on over to VRAI to read about my adventures with my mom at a candy factory in Kanazawa, Japan (all very Lucy & Ethel). Click to check out our cute uniforms – I wish we had gotten to keep them!

Or – more proactively – make some crepes, cookies, strawberry-rhubarb shortcakes or chocolate macaroons for your mom and enjoy these Mother’s Day desserts together, whenever possible, treasuring these little moments that are oh-so-special.

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Buckwheat crepes with wildflower honey

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Strawberry sugar cookies

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Strawberry-rhubarb shortcake

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Chocolate-topped macaroons

Spring pasta with ramps, porcini and taleggio

spring pasta with ramps

Springtime means many things to many people – for me, it’s when things really rev up and time starts to get away from me while I plead with it to slow down a bit.

I can’t quite believe that it’s May. All the springtime ingredients make me so happy and I’ve been cooking a lot, but have not been writing or sharing enough about it. So, let’s fix that.

First up is this delectable and indulgent spring pasta made with sautéed ramps, porcini mushrooms and creamy taleggio cheese.

And a fantastic treat if you decide to take over dinner duty from mom this weekend for Mother’s Day in the US – just an idea!

Tips: Making your own pasta is dangerously easy, but in a pinch, use your favorite store-bought variety.

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Spring pasta with ramps, porcini, and taleggio 

You’ll need:

  • fresh fettuchini
  • 1 bunch ramps, washed and dried well
  • 1 1/2 cups porcini mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/2 cup grated taleggio cheese
  • olive oil
  • salt, pepper

1. Bring a pot of salted water to boil. Add in a little olive oil.

2. While the water is coming to boil, chop the ramps roughly and slice the mushrooms. Sauté the mushrooms with a few tablespoons of olive oil. Add salt and pepper and season well.

3. Add the ramps to the mushrooms in your sauté pan and cook lightly.

4. Cook pasta – fresh pasta will cook in a matter of minutes so make sure to keep it a little al dente!

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5. Drain the pasta and add it to the ingredients in the pan – if it’s large enough – or back into the pot and mix to combine.

Top with finely grated cheese and serve immediately with a perfect savory spring bite.

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Rhubarb and blackberry pie with pink peppercorns

rhubarb and blackberry pie

It’s almost the weekend – hooray! The weather forecast is looking positive and greenmarkets (to pick up more lilacs and ramps), a crawfish boil and jazz at Threes Brewing are on the agenda.

My favorite thing to do on a weekend morning – besides sleeping, of course, closely followed by drinking coffee, as we know – is baking. It’s that rare activity that’s both indulgent and productive at the same time. It provides you with a great start and a delicious breakfast. And, oh yes, it makes people quite happy.

This is a pie made for eating – a bright berry and rhubarb medley lit up by light maple syrup and pink peppercorns. All in a wholewheat crust.

Serve with a dollop of thick greek yogurt and see everyone come running to your kitchen table.

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Rhubarb blackberry pie with pink peppercorns

You’ll need:

  • for the crust:  use this recipe, my favorite, substituting in wholewheat flour for the AP.
  • 2 cups fresh blackberries
  • 1/2 cup fresh blueberries
  • 1 cup fresh, chopped rhubarb
  • 1/4 cup light maple syrup
  • 1 packet vanilla sugar
  • 2 T pink peppercorns, lightly crushed

1. Make the crust first so that you can freeze it before baking, for extra crispness. This can also be done the day before etc. In fact, it’s a great thing to have around in the spring and summer months for both sweet and savory baking!

Roll out, shape in pie pan, and freeze for at least 1-2 hours before baking.

2. Preheat oven to 375F. Cook berries and rhubarb in a pan with maple syrup and pink peppercorns.

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3. Spoon the berry filling into the pre-frozen pie crust. Sprinkle with vanilla sugar.

4. Bake for about 30-35 minutes, until filling is bubbly on the bottom and the crust is crispy.

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Serve warm with greek yogurt or ice cream.

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VRAI Magazine’s First Anniversary

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Happy Anniversary, VRAI!

It’s been a privilege to work with a group of such talented and dedicated writers, bloggers, editors, and creators.

After a year of hard work, now comes the best part – finding a fun way to celebrate.

Head on over to VRAI to read about my Top Five places for a very special occasion in NYC, each offering something completely different to help you mark an anniversary, birthday or an everyday accomplishment.

{p.s.} And make sure to enter all of the celebratory giveaways – mine is a $50 Whole Foods gift card to help you get inspired and start cooking with all the wonderful spring ingredients! Enter through the form below or over on the VRAI site.

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In celebration of the VRAI Magazine Anniversary, here’s your chance to win a $50 Whole Foods Gift Card.

To enter, use the Rafflecopter form: HERE This giveaway is open to all legal residents of the US , Canada and the UK and you must be 18 years of age or older. For all the ways to enter and for the Terms & Conditions, please see the Rafflecopter form.

Ramps and Fried Eggs

IMG_2194 The sight of sunshine streaming through my window means that we’re ready to welcome spring and make ramps & eggs, my favorite most un-recipe recipe ever.

Okay, you get to make salsa verde but that’s the only step-by-step part of this dish, which is a marriage of my two global favorites – green shakshouka and baghali ghatogh. You can add potatoes or gigante beans to the eggs, if you’d like, for some extra substance for the zingy sauce.

Love this for a spring weekend brunch! Let the ingredients shine and say hello to warm weather and freshly grown and picked ingredients – some of my favorite parts of this time of year.

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Fried eggs and grilled ramps

You’ll need:

  • 3-4 eggs
  • 1 bunch ramps, washed and dried well
  • salsa verde (recipe used here)
  • olive oil
  • salt, pepper
  • optional: boiled new potatoes or cooked gigante beans

1. Make the salsa verde first, using your food processor.

2. Heat a large pan and grill the ramps – with no oil – on medium-low heat.

3. Add a little bit of olive oil into the pan and break the eggs in one by one. Season with salt and a fresh pepper.

4. Spoon in salsa verde into the eggs and lower heat slightly. Add in the potatoes or beans here, if you’re going to use them. Let the sauce cook down a little bit, taste for salt.

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Serve immediately with some crusty bread and strong coffee (or maybe that’s just me this morning!).

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Coffee cake with Crown Maple and bacon

coffee cake with maple bacon

I am an avid cake eater, as we know, yet not a lover of baking complicated cakes that take you all day to prepare. Because, well, they disappear much faster than that, don’t they?

This coffee – as in, made with actual coffee – cake is still stunning and special but also deliciously easy.

Use your favorite bundt pan for this cake – the nooks and crannies are wonderful for catching all the bits of the maple glaze. Pour liberally – the more dark amber syrup, the better. I used Crown Maple, my favorite, from Maldava Farms right here in New York.

We are sort of a little past the trend of “bacon on everything!“* though I am not quite sure why… you can never have enough of it, and the addition of savory flavor gives this coffee cake that little bit extra and lifts it to being acceptable for breakfast, which is something I think we can all celebrate.

p.s. {if you agree, please, vote for this recipe this month on the Crown Maple website and social media!}

Note: *if you do not eat bacon, it is easy to omit from the recipe. You can substitute in toasted pecans as a topping or even use both.

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Coffee cake with maple and bacon

You’ll need:

  • 100 g unsalted butter, melted
  • 2/3 cups raw sugar (you can substitute in 1/2 cup maple sugar)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup creme fraiche or sour cream
  • 2/3 cup AP flour
  • 1/2 t vanilla extract
  • 1 t baking powder
  • 1 T ground coffee (dissolved in 1 T of hot water)
  • Crown Maple Dark Amber syrup
  • crispy fried uncured maple smoked bacon, diced

1. Preheat oven to 325F.

2. Cool the melted butter slightly. Strain the coffee through a filter, cheesecloth or just a paper towel.

Whisk together all of the ingredients in a mixing bowl.

3. Grease your bundt pan well and pour in the batter (it will be thick). Shake the pan a bit to spread the batter out evenly.

4. Bake for  45-50 minutes until the cake is set and baked through in the middle. It will be very airy.

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Let cool – about two-thirds of the way – before inverting (use this time to cook the bacon!)

Using a pastry brush, glaze the still warm cake with plenty of maple syrup and top with crispy bacon.

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Japan travel {part two}

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It’s always difficult coming back to regularly scheduled life programming after a trip, but real life seems particularly hard after two weeks in Japan.

For one, full-bloom spring is still quite far away here in New York, and there is not even a whiff of cherry blossoms in the air.

Everything seems excessively loud and even a little abrasive compared to the soft-spoken nature of the Japanese so, that is also an adjustment.

I am no longer having fish for breakfast – that part is actually pretty okay by now – and my soup bowls no longer contain intricate engravings or pickled sakura flowers.

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I’m glad to be back in my own bed after these weeks on the road that took us a little bit all over the place, but I do miss the geranium pillows.

We finished strong with kimono silk painting, chopstick gold leaf plating, and mochi making at the Murakami candy factory in crafty Kanazawa.

I found everything about Japanese culture absolutely fascinating and appreciated how it made me re-focus on the beauty of simplicity.

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Tips for travel in Japan & what I got right/wrong:

  • It’s true that almost no one outside of large hotel staff speaks English – come prepared with essential Japanese phrases, it’s always appreciated!
  • Although we enjoyed some exquisite kaiseki meals, the best food I had was at a simple izakaya (pub).
  • Stay at a ryokan, at least for a few nights, and embrace the entire experience.
  • The concerns I had read about – phones not working, not enough wifi, limited ATM access – were all pretty much unfounded.
  • Train travel in Japan is a point of pride and a true pleasure. It makes a busy itinerary more than doable. Plus, train stations are a treasure trove of local products.
  • Staying at a Buddhist temple is not for everyone but I recommend it as a truly unique experience – from the vegan meals to the early morning service/meditation with the monks.
  • My favorites parts of  ‘sightseeing’ were the activities: ikebana class, sushi making, our candy factory internship, kimono painting, chopstick plating etc. It’s really one of the best ways to familiarize yourself with a culture.

And yes, I am eager to see Japan covered in fall foliage but, boy, those cherry blossoms… you must see it in spring, at least once – it’s full of magical moments. So grateful for the chance to capture them.

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Postcard from Japan {in progress..}

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I feel so desperately behind on life, but wanted to stop by and wish a Happy Easter and Passover to you, if you are celebrating, and say thank you for all the kind comments.

Leaving for Koyasan tomorrow, having gone to Tokyo, Hakone, Kyoto, Nara, and Hiroshima, and feeling so grateful and a little overwhelmed by all the new impressions and experiences that abound.

I want to write a much longer post about all of the things that were and were not as I thought or was told they would be & about all of the many wonderful surprises that we have encountered along the way. 

But… in short just for now, the beauty of the cherry blossoms on a sunny or a rainy day is beyond anything I could have imagined.

As ever, much, much more over on instagram.