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November 30, 2011

Holiday Decor | Our Home for the Holidays | Christmas Decorations

Holiday Decorating

Decorating for the Holidays is a little bit more special for me this year.  Both sides of our family will be here for Christmas... or at least sometime around Christmas to meet the baby.  So, I want our house to feel like the Holidays when everyone (including the baby) arrives.

My theme this year is a 'Handstitched' Holiday.  I've never had a theme for my Christmas decorating, but when I was looking for material for the stockings I found a blanket that looked like a knitted sweater.  It had exactly the look I was going for - cozy and classic.  From the blanket I made a pillow and stockings.  It also inspired my gingerbread cookies.

Stay tuned for the next week to see more details and step-by-step instructions for created your own 'handstiched' holiday.
We drove up to Vermont last weekend to get our Christmas Tree, a Frasier Fur.  Last year we had a fresh Frasier Fur in Kansas City that was shipped in - this year we got our own directly from the farm!  I'll post photos from our trip next week.

I love that the stockings look like they were knitted... even though they were cut from a knitted blanket and sewn together.

Here is a close up of the knitted blanket that became my stockings and pillow.  I'll post the DIY directions later this week.

Mr. Darcy is enjoying his new cozy reindeer pillow.  That is his 'spot.'


I potted paperwhites... they should be in bloom by Christmas!

On the mantle, I perched a faux bird amongst the cedar sprigs... it drives Mr. Darcy crazy!  I think he can smell the feathers.

This was my first attempt at making a gingerbread house - it was harder than I thought it would be, but a lot of fun.  

I "handstitched" these gingerbread cookies to look like the knit blanket.  Stay tuned for decorating how-to!

Fresh cedar draped on our banister - I only use fresh garland and wreaths in our house.  It makes the holidays feel more special with 'real' decorations.

Our packages even have a 'hand-stitched' feeling with yarn, cotton ribbon and stitched burlap.

Ribollita | Rustic Italian Vegetable & Bread Soup | Recipes

Does anything sound better than a warm, rustic bread soup on a cold winter night?  This vegetable soup recipe becomes a little heartier with the addition of bread cubes near the end of cooking.  The bread thickens the soup and soaks up all of that beautiful tomato, vegetable filled broth.  It will warm your bones... finally a comfort food that is actually healthy.

Rustic Italian Vegetable & Bread Soup

1/4 pound of bacon, cubed
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1/2 cup of onions, 1/2 inch dice
2 cups of carrots, 1/2 inch dice
2 cups of celery, 1/2 inch dice
6 cloves of garlic, minced 
6 cups of chicken stock
1 - 28 ounce can of whole tomatoes
4 cups of cabbage, shredded
3 cups of spinach
4 cups of bread cubes
salt & pepper
1/2 cup of fresh basil, torn (plus more for garnish)
parmesan cheese

In a large stock pot, cook bacon in olive oil, then add onion, carrots and celery.  Cook for about 4 minutes until they are tender.  Add minced garlic and cook for one minute.  Add chicken stock (may need more or less depending on desired consistency).  Add tomatoes one at a time, but crushing them (squeezing) into the pot.  Bring to a simmer.  Add the cabbage, spinach and salt & pepper.  Cook for 10-15 minutes.  Add bread cubes.  Simmer for 10 minutes.  Served garnished with basil & parmesan.

November 29, 2011

Holiday Entertaining Guide | Recipes, Party Ideas, Decor, Cookies, Gifts...

My "handstitched" Holiday Entertaining Guide is full of great Entertaining inspiration for the Holidays.  Whether you're hosting a festive Cocktail Party, Elegant Dinner Party or Casual Holiday Brunch, I have recipes, tips and decorating ideas for you in my Holiday Entertaining Guide!

The guide also includes ideas for homemade gifts, cookie decorating tips and the perfect gifts to bring to the Hostess when you're the guest.  Stay tuned for even more recipes, decorations, gift wrapping ideas, centerpieces & tips!

Visit my Holiday Entertaining Guide for inspiration!

November 28, 2011

Holiday Dinner Party Menu | Recipes for Christmas Dinner Party

When you're entertaining for the holidays, it is so, so important to make it easy.  Yes, it must, of course, be amazing and special, but make sure it is something that is simple!  Sound like a challenge?  This menu is both.   This was THE most popular menu I prepared as a caterer - which I loved because it was soooo easy.

Holiday Dinner Party

Hors D'Oeuvres 
Petite Crab Cakes with Red Pepper Remoulade
Baked Brie with Caramelized Pecans & Crackers


Beef Tenderloin with Warm Blue Cheese Cream Sauce
Roasted Truffled Potatoes
Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta

Poached Pears in Wine & Spices
Coffee with Whipped Cream

Beef Tenderloin may sound intimidating, but it is really the easiest thing you can make for a crowd at a dinner party.  Top it with a blue cheese cream sauce to make it even more special.  Both of the sides, Roasted Truffled Potatoes and Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta, are roasted in the oven on baking sheets at the same temperature just before dinner, making them so simple to prepare.

All of the menu items in this menu can be prepped ahead of time, then put in the oven during cocktail hour.  All you'll have to do before dinner is slice the beef and put everything onto platters or plates.  Below I've included the timeline I would use for this party.  It always helped me to have it written out for me ahead of time, so everything would be on auto pilot during the party.

6:50 pm : Preheat oven to 500 degrees
7:00 pm : Guests Arrive!  Cocktails & Light Hors D'oeuvres
7:15 pm : Beef Tenderloin - goes into 500 degree oven for 20-25 minutes
7:35 pm : Check/Remove Beef Tenderloin
7:35 pm : Lower Oven heat to 425 degrees
7:40 pm : Truffled Potatoes go into 425 degree oven for 15-20 minutes
7:45 pm : Brussels Sprouts go into 425 degree oven for 10-15 minutes
7:50 pm : Slice Beef Tenderloin
7:55 pm : Remove Potatoes & Brussels from oven
8:00 pm : Plate & Serve!

Truffled Potatoes | Roasted Truffled Potatoes for Holiday Dinner Party | Recipes

Roasted Truffled Potatoes
serves 6

Easy and Elegant!  Add a special touch to your roasted potatoes for the holidays.  This is a great side dish to serve with Beef Tenderloin (get the recipe here!) for a Holiday Dinner Party.

3 pounds of red or fingerling potatoes
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1/2 tablespoon of sea salt
1/2 tablespoon of cracked pepper
2 tablespoons of truffle oil

Heat oven to 425 degrees.

Slice potatoes into wedges (about 6-8 from each potato).  Place them on a baking sheet.  Drizzle olive oil, salt and pepper over them.  Toss to coat.  Roast in the oven for 15-20 minutes until the potatoes are tender and beginning to brown.

Remove from oven.  Drizzle truffle oil over the potatoes.  Serve.

Blue Cheese Sauce for Beef Tenderloin Recipe | Holiday Party Recipe

Blue Cheese Cream Sauce
with Beef Tenderloin

A decadent Blue Cheese sauce is a great way to make your sliced Beef Tenderloin (get the recipe here!) special for a Holiday Party.  I'm not a huge Blue Cheese person, but I LOVE this sauce.  It is based on a Barefoot Contessa recipe - you won't believe how simple it is!

3 cups of heavy cream
1/2 cup of blue cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup of parmesan cheese, grated
1 teaspoon of sea salt
1 teaspoon of pepper
2 tablespoons of parsley, minced

In a heavy saucepan, heat cream on medium-high heat until it is boiling.  Boil for 15-20 minutes until it has thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon.  Remove from heat.  Stir in blue cheese, parmesan, salt, pepper & parsley.  Serve warm.

Boil the cream until it has thickened.  You can tell it is thick enough when it coats the back of the spoon.

Crumble the blue cheese and grate parmesan cheese. 

I made a small batch, and poured the cream over the cheese to melt it - it worked beautifully.

Beef Tenderloin Recipe for Holiday Dinner Party | Holiday Party Recipes

Beef Tenderloin is the most classic of holiday fare.  I can not even begin to count how many Beef Tenderloins I have prepared over the years... maybe 100's.  It is the perfect entree for a dinner party, and sliced thinly as an hors d'oeuvres, it is the perfect special item at a cocktail party.  Elegant, easy, impressive... everything you want at a Holiday Party. 

As a caterer, I loved to serve beef tenderloin at dinner parties because it is so easy.  I could prepare it before the party in minutes with the butter and seasoning, it would go into the oven 45 minutes before dinner, then I would slice it just before it was served.   

To make it really special, serve it with this warm blue cheese cream sauce - it is so, so easy.

Be sure to clean your oven before the party - heating it to 500 degrees can really get it smoking!

Beef Tenderloin
serves 10 for dinner, or 25 canapes

5 pound beef tenderloin, trimmed & tied
4 tablespoons of butter, softened
2 tablespoons of sea salt
2 tablespoons of cracked black pepper
Blue Cheese Cream Sauce

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.

If it has not already been done by your butcher, trim the fat off of the tenderloin.  Tie the tenderloin together with twine, every 3 inches, folding in the 'tail' (the end that gets really narrow) so the beef is all the same size around. 

Spread the softened butter on the entire tenderloin, then coat in salt & pepper.  Place the tenderloin on a baking sheet or in a roasting pan.  Place in a 500 degree oven for 20-25 minutes, depending on the size of the beef.  Watch it carefully, a little too much time can make it too done.  If the beef is much larger, it could take 30 minutes.  Check the temperature with a meat thermometer - it should read 135-145 degrees.

Remove from the oven, then cover with foil.  Let it rest for 15 minutes.  Slice in thick slices and serve.

November 26, 2011

Cocktail Party Menu | Festive Cocktail Party Recipes for the Holiday Recipes

Cocktail Parties are the most popular way of entertaining during the Holidays.  When I envision the perfect Holiday Cocktail Party, I think about a bustling house all lit up with twinkle lights and candles, festive music, a special menu, fun cocktails and big glasses of wine or champagne.  When I was catering, I loved to take a minute and observe the ambiance of what we'd created - There is something so magical about how a house feels during a great holiday cocktail party.

Here are some of my tips for planning the menu for a Festive Holiday Cocktail Party : 

A Mini Meal

When I'm planning a cocktail menu, I like to think about it the same way I think about the menu for a dinner party.  I start with the 'entrees,' typically proteins like seafood and beef, and I pick 2-3 options.  Next, I think about side items - items that will compliment the entrees... cheeses, vegetables, starches.  I like to have items that are both filling, and easily eaten in a bite or two.

Here is my formula for putting together a Cocktail Party Menu :

- Seafood (1-2)
- Meat (Beef, Pork or Chicken) (1-2)
- Cheese & Vegetables (2-3)
- Sweet (1-2)

Think Sauces, Not Salsa

As with a dinner party, everything on the menu should go well on a plate together and taste great with a glass of wine - even the sauces.  Although tempting (and everyone does it...) try to avoid serving salsa type dips for the holidays - it doesn't go with much else than a margarita.  That being said, if you're having a very casual Christmas Open House and there'll be kids and soda - then salsa and cheese dip it is.  However, if you're having a festive Holiday Cocktail Party, stick to a menu that will be more complimentary with a cocktail.  Glad I got that off of my chest.  Whew!  Moving on...

Not Hot, Not Cold, Just Right

Another thing to consider is how the food will be served and what temperature it will be at its best.  Because I don't like the look of chaffing dishes, I like menu items that are best at room temperature.  If I do want to serve something that is best hot, then I do them passed around on a tray right after they come out of the oven.  It doesn't have to be a 'fancy' party to do passed hors d'oeuvres, you can think of it as a way to make the rounds to say hello to everyone and offer them bite of something special... I even do it at the most casual of events.  

 Holiday Cocktail Party Menu

Artisan Cheese Platter with Berries and Flatbreads
Gingerbread Cookies

Crab Stuffed Mushrooms (passed) : These are so good!  They are creamy - similar to a Crab Rangoon filling.  

Beef Tenderloin with Horseradish Canapes : Such a classic.  They are a great filling option to have as your 'entree.'

 Roasted Shrimp Cocktail with Lemon Caper Cream Sauce : Better than the classic.  The roasting with salt and pepper gives it a rich flavor that is really nice with the Lemon Caper Cream Sauce (made with Sour Cream!)

Caramelized Onion & Goat Cheese Tartlettes : People love this.  It is surprisingly simple with great flavor... it is also impressive looking. 

Petite Cream Puffs topped with Fudge : Bite-size, store-bought with a little chocolate icing embellishment.  Enough Said.

November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope everyone has a bountiful Thanksgiving - We have so much to be thankful for!

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity…. It turns problems into gifts, failures into success, the unexpected into perfect timing, and mistakes into important events. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow."

November 23, 2011

Potted Paper Whites Hostess Gift Idea

Potted Paper Whites
hostess gift ideas

Paper Whites are my favorite Holiday flower.  It is really a Spring bulb that is grown indoors for the Holidays.  When fully grown, they're tall and elegant with white blooms and smell amazing.  Instead of a regular pot, I planted the bulb in a decorative bowl.  I covered the top of the soil with patches of moss - much more elegant than exposed dirt.  To package, I set the bowl down into a cellophane bag and tied it with natural twine.  I attached a printed tag to it so she'll know what to expect!

I used this vintage bowl from Anthropology instead of a flower pot.  I think this bowl would look great on the breakfast table when it the flower is in bloom.  Fill the bowl with potting soil.  Oh yes, that is Mr. Darcy's nose... checking out the dirt.

 Plant the bulb in the dirt, with the top poking out.

Tear the moss into small pieces that fit around the bulb.

To package, put the bowl into a cellophane bag (you can buy in my online store!) and tie the top with natural twine.

Finally, I made a label and printed it out onto cream cardstock.

Hostess Gifts | Unique Ways to Wrap Wine for a Hostess Gift

 Custom Wrapped
 Wine is always a great gift.  When buying for a gift or a party, I like to buy bottles with pretty labels that coordinate with my event... I know, not the best way to buy wine!  To avoid bringing a bad bottle, here is a way to easily jazz up your wine bottle to make it appropriate for whatever your occasion.

I cut out a piece of kraft wrapping paper that wrapped all the way around the bottle and attached it with double stick tape.

You can use any paper - wrapping paper, cardstock or just white paper. 

I did the same with the satin ribbon, using double stick tape to secure it in the back. 

  For the label, I printed it out then rolled it through my Xyron sticker maker.  These would also be great customized with a message from you or your family.

If you don't have a Xyron, you can just double stick tape or glue it on.


November 21, 2011

Monkey Bread | Homemade Gift Ideas for the Holidays

Monkey Bread has been a family tradition of ours since, well... my entire life.  On Christmas Eve, we would come home from Granny's house and make the Monkey Bread for the next morning (as you'll see from the instructions, it only takes minutes to make).  Waking up on Christmas morning to the smell of yeast bread rising is such a good memory.  Even now as 30-year-old+ adults, Monkey Bread is still a Christmas tradition.

My Mom made Monkey Bread from frozen Rhodes Dinner Rolls.  She rolled them in butter, cinnamon and sugar, put them in a bundt pan and let them thaw and rise over night.  When we woke up in the morning it went into the oven for 30 minutes.  The gooey, warm rolls were too much to resist... we were licking cinnamon and sugar off of our fingers before we were done opening presents!  They are our annual Pre-Christmas morning Brunch snack... an appetizer.   

This holiday season, share your Monkey Bread with your friends, neighbors and co-workers as a homemade gift.  I baked this Monkey Bread in a disposable baking bundt pan (available in my store, 4 for $14) and wrapped it in cellophane and satin ribbon.

Monkey Bread
a christmas morning tradition

1 package of frozen uncooked yeast rolls (Rhodes brand)
1 stick of butter, melted
1 cup of brown sugar
2 tablespoons of cinnamon

Spray a bundt pan with non-stick spray.  Melt the butter in the microwave.  In a separate bowl, combine the brown sugar and cinnamon.  Roll the frozen rolls in the butter, then in the sugar mixture.  Place all of the coated rolls in the bundt pan.  Place a towel over the pan of rolls and place it in a warm spot over night to rise.

Rolls should have doubled in size in the morning.  Bake them at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes until golden brown.

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