An African Flare Table Setting

full.table.browns.jpg

After a few months of hosting some less formal events, our most recent dinner party duties gave me the urge to set a more purposeful table. You know I love whimsy, as witnessed in the Brunch Table Setting, but I wanted more structure and a tad more elegance this go around. As I rummaged through my tablecloths and napkins to see what I could find I unearthed just the right ones. A few years ago while traveling in Italy, I purchased a tablecloth from one of the street vendors who brings textiles from Africa. I fell in love immediately with the bold yet earthy tones against the striking graphic print. Perfect choice to grace my table.

To continue on the African theme, I pulled out large hand carved wooden napkins rings that I purchased decades before. Back then, my tablecloth collection didn’t support such a purchase but I knew these would serve me well in the future. (If I only invested my money as well as I invest in “stuff futures”.) These unique napkin rings are among the most prized items I have collected over the years. I love using them because they make an undeniable statement. Who knew that this eclectic acquisition I procured so long ago at a Saks Fifth Avenue sale would be the star of so many table settings.

The face feels so peaceful to me.

The face feels so peaceful to me.

Pulling out the elements to this African Flare table setting. I opted not to use the orange napkins. I wanted to tablecloth to stand out and go with a more neutral napkin.

Pulling out the elements to this African Flare table setting. I opted not to use the orange napkins. I wanted to tablecloth to stand out and go with a more neutral napkin.

It’s evident that the tablecloth has a lot going on, so the flowers needed to be bright, a single color, and single variety. In this case, the simpler the better for the florals. I still wanted them to make a statement but decided not to create a single centerpiece. Another way to create impact is with multiples of the same. I chose all glasses vases to keep it as clean and understated as possible. I didn’t want the vases to be the attraction. I chose varying heights and sizes for visual interest and then just filled them up with white roses.

The purity of white roses is undeniable. Their elegance imparts immediate sophistication.

The purity of white roses is undeniable. Their elegance imparts immediate sophistication.

A statement, indeed.

A statement, indeed.

As I mentioned, the tablecloth print had plenty going on. Now, you also know I’m a big fan of using some sort of runner to focus the eye. So no shocker that I found a large linen remnant in my stock and fold it down the center of the table. I felt it broke up some the pattern and gave the eye a place to pause as well as provided an ideal location for all the flowers and candles. My deeper plot was convincing JuanCarlos that those items would remain at the center of the table during dinner and that we would plate the food instead of family style. For once I wanted my table design to remain in tact while dining. The hostess has to have it her way, at least once in a while.

The runner has golden tones to it that will work well with the gold notes on the plates and chargers.

The runner has golden tones to it that will work well with the gold notes on the plates and chargers.

Without even realizing it, I noticed that the candle sticks also fall in step with an Africa vibe.

Without even realizing it, I noticed that the candle sticks also fall in step with an Africa vibe.

placesetting.jpg

I love using chargers when I set a formal table. It adds a touch of special while grounding the place setting, especially if you are not using a placemat. Sometimes, I use both but there was already plenty going on on this table. The warm tones of the cloth begged for a few gold accents which the plates offered, plus added the sparkle I was looking for.

Besides the African Flare motif, it dawned on me that there was a secondary, underlying theme in the works. That of culling together disparate items collected over decades from various locations. So into the basement I went to dust off the mustard yellow water goblets I snagged at a vintage shop years ago. The tones worked perfectly with the color scheme and nestled up nicely against the white and red wine glasses.

full.table.brown.side.jpg
full.table.browns3.jpg
full.table.browns6.jpg

And there you have it. A more formal table setting with Africa Flare with finds from all over the place that didn’t feel too precious but still gave a sense of elegance. And although this may not be a traditional Easter table, I don’t see why this idea couldn’t grace your table for the upcoming holiday.

Since I pulled together pieces not only from different stores, but from different countries and different decades, I realize that you might not have these pieces in your arsenal. How many of you collect tablecloths, material swags, napkin rings and vintage glasses for decades? (Or maybe you do and were looking for a way to bring them altogether! Someone after my own heart.) But if not, I wanted to provide some help. I did a little bit of research in case you wanted to achieve a similar look. Below are a few links to help you achieve the same look.

African Theme Textiles/Accessories

Swahili African Modern

Tablecloths

Swahili African Modern

Etsy

Amazon

Urban Outfitters

Urban Outfitters

Table Runners

Etsy

Etsy

World Market

World Market

Napkins Rings

Etsy

Etsy

Overstock

World Market

Williams Sonoma

Williams Sonoma

Napkins

World Market

Urban Outfitters

Placemats

World Market

Williams Sonoma

I hope you found some of these links helpful in sparking ideas how on to mix and match, use blankets for tablecloths or just plain combine an interesting layering of cloths to create an African Flare table setting.

 

How To Set a Brunch Buffet Table & Napkin Pockets

Organization is my thing. I love being prepared, having everything ready to go, having lists and knowing what needs to get done. There’s is nothing more satisfying than checking items off the list and a sense of reaching the finish line. It’s actually a big joke ‘round these parts - “Dana, what’s next on the list?” Laugh all you want, I can take it, but rest assured I will never leave something undone or left at the back of the refrigerator… unless I choose. So, no shocker that pre-thinking the table and platters is part of my to do list. Having a plan of attack makes any job easier. And it’s no different when entertaining. All the same rules apply.

Of course, you’ve read previous posts spouting the importance of pre-pro (that’s short in the TV world for pre-production) in the food prep area, or in culinary terms mise en place. Certainly having all your food prepped is vital but it’s equally important for setting up the final table, all the platters and serving utensils. Decades ago when I entertained, I had one set of dishes and very few serving items. So it was a tad simpler. Now that I have more of everything, I have more options which can be overwhelming. But even if you only have a few items from which to choose, you still need to make those work for you in the best ways possible. That’s why envisioning the entire event can actually shave time and energy in the long run. Ask yourself, what should the table look like and what platters or bowls should be used to make the day of party flow easier? Putting some thought to this prior to is one less task that needs to get done right before guests arrive.

I thought I would share with you a carefree table setting, the platter choices and arrangement that I did for a recent brunch. As a matter of fact, that gathering was originally slated for a Saturday evening but we needed to reschedule. Our new date landed us on a Sunday midday; perfect for brunch.

The Table
No formal table setting for this brunch. Nor a fully covered table. It’s well documented that I love putting a table cloth down, but for this sunny, brunch buffet that felt too stuffy. Whimsy was my main goal. So, I used a small square light blue tablecloth and placed it with the end points on the center of the table, leaving the ends of the table exposed.

blue.cloth.table.jpg

Then for movement and visual interest, I tossed a swath of white sheer material down the length of the table. Thus creating the exact vibe I intended. Both haphazard yet purposeful, it softened the whole table. It actually drew the eye to center of the table. Now I had a landing strip for the food platters.

blue.white.cloth.drape3.jpg
blue.white.cloth.drape2.jpg

Florals
With the variety of food I had planned, I knew there would be a lot of platters occupying space, so I opted for a very simple and small floral arrangement. Using only filler florals that I found at Trader Joe’s, I arranged the three different florals in a color blocking, circular manner to create a bright, burst of life. Total of $9. I placed in the center, and knew that the colors would be the inspiration for for the platter choices.

Bold, bright, contrasting and complimentary colors.

Bold, bright, contrasting and complimentary colors.

Napkins/Utensils/Dishes
There are so many ways to go when arranging napkins and utensils. For more ideas, check out my post Napkin Folding - 5 Basic Folds - Countless Options. Originally I was going to use a simple roll up technique but after letting my mind float about what would make sense for the event I came up with something very different. Since this was going to be a small gathering, just 6 in total, I still wanted the silverware/napkin set up to be an easy grab. Here’s the thinking…

utensil.setup.jpg

I grabbed simple rustic, cotton cloth for napkins for an relaxed Sunday vibe. In my drawer of tricks I found 6 lengths of ties, 3 different colors that all coordinated and played nicely with the overall color theme. Can you identify what these ‘strings’ are from?

ties.jpg

If you guessed the handles from clothing shopping bags you would have been correct. 3 different bags, 2 ties each of harmonious colors. For all those who say, don’t save stuff, I say BooHoo to that. These were perfect in every way. There is an art to seeing the usefulness of an item that you would normally toss away.

I decided to create napkin pockets by stacking a knife, fork and spoon together. The equivalent to a 3 way spooning situation. Then I placed them in the center of the folded napkin and gathered up the material around it like a flower petal.

Using the string, I tied them together about 3/4 ways up to create a flower like pocket.

Next… how to corral them. I remembered I still had a basket with leftover pinecones in it. Perfect for an organic feel.

napkin.basket.jpg

I kept the pinecones stacked on one side and lined the napkin ‘florals’ in the basket placing it next to a stack of white dinner plates for a grab and go station.

dishes.table2.jpg

Serving Platters
This is really where the menu plan meets the serving plan. Think about your menu. Think of the amounts of each item you plan to serve, then pull some platters and see what works and looks good together. Once I have a good sense, I then place them in the position on the table to review the flow.

Wanting to bring color and pizzaz to the table, I pulled out my most colorful, playful platters. The round fish plate would be for salmon burgers, the blue fish bowl for the relish, the long rectangular for the mini buns and purple cake stand for the traditional Spanish tortilla.

Wanting to bring color and pizzaz to the table, I pulled out my most colorful, playful platters. The round fish plate would be for salmon burgers, the blue fish bowl for the relish, the long rectangular for the mini buns and purple cake stand for the traditional Spanish tortilla.

Create Stations
I like culling food items that go together in a ‘station’. This is accomplished simply by huddling them on a board, tray or platter and use smaller bowls within. Given that I had a few offerings for the guests to create their own yogurt parfait, a yogurt ‘station’ was a must. I chose a small wooden board for a rustic feel, then to invite color and whimsy, I chose two different bowls in the similar color scheme. One for yogurt and one for granola. Instead of cereal bowls, I stacked glass, stemless martini glasses for yogurt parfaits. Toss some fruit around and you now have a Yogurt/Granola Station.

Whole Table
Place all the platters, boards around the table to make sure there is good flow and visual interest. Move them around until it feels right to you. I kept most of the platters toward the center leaving room if our guests wanted to sit at the table to eat. We all opted to pile our plates and eat by the fireplace in the living room.

Sure it’s lots of color, and different styles but the blues and hues unite them.

Sure it’s lots of color, and different styles but the blues and hues unite them.

platter.setup2.jpg

The end result should be an inviting burst of tantalizing offerings that entice your guests to continue wandering around the table to pick and nibble away.

brunch.table.full.jpg
Bruce and Maryann eyeing the offerings and creating a sumptuous plate of good bites.

Bruce and Maryann eyeing the offerings and creating a sumptuous plate of good bites.

Our guests did just that. Hopefully, this inspired you to create your own buffet table scape. I guarantee that having all the platters and the table pre-set will be a blessing not a chore.

Side note: I didn’t mention beverage station, but we always have one. If you look over MaryAnne’s right shoulder in the photo above you get a glimpse of the sparkle of glassware. We have a credenza that we use to house all the glassware and beverages as a self serve station. If you don’t have a credenza, add a small folding table, or carve out some space on your main buffet table. The idea is to have all the beverage items together to make it easy for your guests to serve themselves.

It’s springtime folks, Brunch is served!

 
DP-stirredwlove-ID1.jpg

3 Dips a Dipping...

3dips.final.jpg

Life with an obsessive buyer.

Well, I guess that’s the view from hubby, JuanCarlos’, seats. I buy things; be it material scraps, vintage dishes, glassware, and even food ingredients with big ideas. Sometimes with no specific ideas at all, I just love how they look and I’ll figure it out later. Maybe that is what I should have called this blog. Buy it Now - Figure it Out Later.

In the looking good category, I’m often tempted by the olive bar at specialty stores. Or the condiment and cheese aisles. Who wouldn’t? They are stocked with alluring foods. So, it’s no wonder that when you open my fridge you will encounter jars and containers of what JC likes to call stragglers. Annoying stragglers, to be exact. We differ greatly in our view points. I love having these food items around because they come in handy in a pinch. On the flip side, my husband finds these types of jars, containers and “dangling participles’ quite annoying. The main reason: he doesn’t have much use for these ingredients, hence the questioning as to why we need so many of them. Which often leads to him needing to shift, maneuver around and rejigger them in the fridge. Of course, I see the absolute need for these, but I’m willing to consider his point of view; me as condiment hoarder for the ‘just in case’ moment.

In an effort to keep the peace around the holidays (at least that is what I’m telling him), I decided to make him happy and clean the fridge from condiment craze. Yet, we all know the real reason. I’m a serial something from nothing, experimentalist. I can’t help myself from looking at ingredients and seeing what they could be. And what perfect timing, as we look down the barrel of the final few holiday parties and gatherings left in the year, a trio of dips comes in handy. Dips are not just useful for dipping, but great to spread on sandwiches, or on the base of pizza or stuffed breads, dollop on a salad or tacos, or dang near anything else you can think of.

main.setup.jpg

Here are 3 dips for dipping. Or spreading or whatever you want to name them, for use in whatever way you choose.


Avocado & Sour Cream Dip

Ingredients
1/2 c avocado, cubed
1/2 c sour cream
1/4 c scallions + 1 T for topping
1 garlic clove, rough chop
1 T parsley
1 t lemon juice
1/2 t salt
1/4 t pepper

avo.setup.jpg

Instructions
In a mini blender, buzz up the parsley, scallions and garlic first. Then add the avocado and sour cream. Add lemon juice, salt and pepper. Buzz again and taste for seasoning. Easy, breezy.

Chop up the scallions and garlic first. It helps to blend them up better.

Chop up the scallions and garlic first. It helps to blend them up better.

Chunks of avocado give it a creaminess.

Chunks of avocado give it a creaminess.

Fresh parsley and lemon give this dip a zip.

Fresh parsley and lemon give this dip a zip.

Avocado & Sour Cream dip. Creamy and tangy.

Avocado & Sour Cream dip. Creamy and tangy.

Roasted Pepper & Goat Cheese Dip

Ingredients
1/2 c marinated roasted red peppers
2/3 c goat cheese
1/4 c walnuts, roasted

Instructions
Roast the walnuts for 8-10 minutes in the oven or in a saucepan on the stove. Then using a mini blender, buzz up them up into small pieces. Remove from blender, then add the peppers and goat cheese and blend until you have a chunky consistency. Add the walnuts back in, and blend only until full combined, or you can simply stir them in. Taste for seasoning. Since I bought the marinated roasted peppers there was no need to add any additional seasonings.

Goat cheese makes it creamy and tangy. Peppers makes it sweet.

Goat cheese makes it creamy and tangy. Peppers makes it sweet.

Walnuts give a crunch. A wonderful combination.

Walnuts give a crunch. A wonderful combination.

Gorgeous bright color, full of tang, sweet and crunch.

Gorgeous bright color, full of tang, sweet and crunch.

Olive & Feta Cheese Dip

Ingredients
1/2 c oil cured black olives
1/2 c green olives
1/2 c feta cheese
1/4 c scallions, rough chop
1 garlic clove, rough chop
1/2 c parsley leaves
1/4 c olive oil
1 t lemon juice

The set up for something special.

The set up for something special.

Instructions
In a mini blender, buzz up the parsley, garlic and scallions. Add the black and green olives and buzz until it creates a paste. Add olive oil and lemon juice and blend until combined. Then add the feta cheese. Since the olives and feta have enough flavor and salt content, this dip should not require any additional seasoning. But always taste to see if you need more lemon juice or oil.

Toss the scallions, garlic and parsley in.

Toss the scallions, garlic and parsley in.

Buzz it up until coarsely chopped.

Buzz it up until coarsely chopped.

Add the olives. Then the oil, lemon juice and feta.

Add the olives. Then the oil, lemon juice and feta.

Olive tapenade with feta is a hearty dip, perfect with boiled potatoes for dipping.

Olive tapenade with feta is a hearty dip, perfect with boiled potatoes for dipping.

Bright, crunchy and super green string beans are a fresh and delightful addition to this platter.

Bright, crunchy and super green string beans are a fresh and delightful addition to this platter.

New and fingerling potatoes are the perfect size and consistency for dipping. They also make for a hearty bite.

New and fingerling potatoes are the perfect size and consistency for dipping. They also make for a hearty bite.

Did you see how easy it was to whip up not one but three dips? These were just one of those days when pulling ingredients out and seeing what works together creates ramekins full of goodness.

In my defense of stocking our fridge with these awesome ingredients, we had one of those ‘just in case’ moments when we needed to bring appetizers to a party. Perfect timing, I’d say, as I just finished making these dips and they were picture ready for the party. Pure evidence that having dangling participles in your fridge isn’t a luxury or a nuance but an absolute necessity. I feel redeemed and justified in my condiment collecting craze.

A colorful medley.

A colorful medley.

Fresh and inviting. So, go ahead and invite someone over. Pop some bubbly and dip away.

Fresh and inviting. So, go ahead and invite someone over. Pop some bubbly and dip away.

Post Note: While I was in North Carolina visiting my nieces, my youngest niece made all 3 of these dips for us to snack on. Then we brought the leftovers to my oldest nieces newly purchased townhouse, which we helped her moved into. These dips were the perfect snack as we unpacked, unwrapped and set up her new abode. Everyone loved them. I guess these 3 dips a dipping are even more handy that I originally thought.!

Monday Night Dinner - Shared with Friends

full.meal2.jpg

In today’s world of hustle and bustle, technology and device driven social contact, there is one aspect (well, probably many) of our new reality that makes me truly long for days of yore.
Connection. Real, soulful, personal connection.
I miss those times when getting together with loved ones was easy, almost expected on a regular basis. When weekends were spent visiting friends and family, and not traveling in a car for hours to watch a little league, or spent in front of a computer trying to catch up on work. Nowadays, it takes calendars, a team of coordinators, pie charts and graphs and law firm to find a date that matches up for everyone. When I was younger, we had our midday meal at my grandmother’s house every Sunday in Brooklyn. It was known and expected and it was a comfort and joy to gather all together. When we moved out to Long Island, everyone then drove out to us for the day. We were a family, and friends were always welcome to join.

I long for those days. I’m not saying every Sunday but I do yearn for time spent enjoying a meal with people I love in a chill atmosphere just so we can catch up. I fully recognize some of the reasons why this has become difficult. People move further away from one another. Jobs and schedules are more demanding. Kids have extracurricular activities that require more time and attention. But I guess this new paradigm of life is what irks me. We put so much more emphasis on things that cause us stress, and less on carving out time to hang with people we care about. I know I might get some backlash about the kids’ activity portion. It brings joy, etc. But when did sports and violin practice consume 75% of a kids free time? When do they have time to socialize and be kids? Now, that is a whole other topic. But, you all get where I’m going.

 

So given that long diatribe, it completely warmed my heart that when my friend Tecla’s dad was back in NYC visiting from Tuscany, JuanCarlos and I were top of his list to visit. High on the list!! We were tickled Parmesano Reggiano. We made a date for a Monday night and as we were deciding where to meet, it was a no brainer to invite them to our home. Unfortunately, our dear friend Scott, Tecla’s hubby, was unable to join us, and he was missed.

tecla.babbo2.jpg
 

A simple meal is all that’s needed, since the purpose of the visit was spending time together. We did add an appetizer and soup because we wanted the evening to last longer. More time requires more food. Well, at least that’s my thinking.

Here is what we served, and the elegant, simple table setting we served it on.

Appetizer & Soup

Eggplant rounds with roasted tomato & goat cheese

Sliced eggplant dusted with flour, quick sauté, then placed on a baking. Top each one with a spoonful of roasted tomatoes (sauce), a dollop of goat cheese, some thyme leaves and drizzle of olive oil. Bake until cheese melts.

eggplant.rounds.jpg

Seafood Soup

This is the perfect starter on cold night. A light fish broth chock full of shrimp, monkfish, calamari and beans.

Simply sauté garlic, onions and parsley. Stir in cannellini beans to add a bit heartiness. Then add fish stock and bring to low rolling boil and add the fish. Cover and lower to a simmer until the fish is cooked through.

The same wine we enjoyed with Tecla’s dad in Italy on a visit to the winery. Perfect with the pork and the cake!

The same wine we enjoyed with Tecla’s dad in Italy on a visit to the winery. Perfect with the pork and the cake!

Main Course
Pork Roast
Oven roasted Heirloom Carrots
Oven roasted Butternut Squash with Brown Butter Sage
Quinoa with scallions

 
Photo credit: Tecla Palli-Sandler

Photo credit: Tecla Palli-Sandler

uncooked.pork2.jpg
Roasted Pork
Roasted vegetables & Quinoa
 

Cinque colore salad with oil cured olives

I’ve taken the traditional tri-colore salad and amped it up with a few more colors by way of citrus fruits and oil cured olives. I used both the juices from the grapefruit and oranges then added lemon, lime and zest whisked with olive oil, salt, pepper for the dressing. Fresh, bitter, sweet, sour, peppery. This hit all the right notes.

citrus.salad.cu.jpg

Dessert
Gluten Free, Dairy/Egg free chocolate tart. This is not my recipe. Nor did I make it exactly as the recipe stated, but this came out chocolatey, rich and delicious. I made a slightly altered version of Brandi’s Chocolate Espresso Fudge Cake. I didn’t have chocolate to shave over top so I created my own decoration with a random almond sliver swirl. I must have been channeling crop circles.

chocolate.tart2.jpg

Table Setting & Decor
It was a Monday night so there was not a ton of time for a formal table setting. It was more of a last minute task. So no time for ironing meant no tablecloth, and a need to display a napkin that no one would notice the wrinkles. Deep green colored velvet placemats kept with a winter warm theme. White dishes and gold charger popped nicely off the deep color mats and made it feel rich and elegant, but not pretentious. Just the right touch to make our guests feel special, yet not a lot work for me.

single.placesetting.green.jpg

The heartiness of my cabbage floral arrangement, plus elements from my Fall themed arrangement lasted long enough for me to arrange them at the end of the table with some candles to warm up the setting.

CabbageFinal4.jpg
Table setting with green velvet placemats, gold chargers, white plates and a soup bowl with gold trim.

Table setting with green velvet placemats, gold chargers, white plates and a soup bowl with gold trim.

There is nothing more satisfying than making a meal that nourishes the body and the soul, and sharing it!

tablesetting.green.jpg
Tecla and her dad, Paolo serving up food stirred with love.

Tecla and her dad, Paolo serving up food stirred with love.

JuanCarlos talking about the state of… If you want to know, you’ll have to join us for dinner.

JuanCarlos talking about the state of… If you want to know, you’ll have to join us for dinner.

JC.Tecla.Babbo.jpg

We had such a great night. We all love food, travel, family, and living life richly. So conversation was a flow as we enjoyed a simple meal together. Cherishing the time we each carved out for one another in our busy schedules, and realizing that anything worth enjoying takes a little effort. I’m glad we all made the effort. And even happier that we were on Paolo’s list during his short visit. Our turn next… in Italy!!

I hope that with all the rush of the holidays you, too, can carve our time in your schedules to share a meal, laughter and love with the people you love. Dig in, fork first!

Paolo, aka Babbo, digging into chocolate heaven.

Paolo, aka Babbo, digging into chocolate heaven.

 

5 Appetizers That Impress & Relieve Stress

DP.JC.722014.dec.holidays.jpg

Let’s face it, it’s not only during the holidays when we need easy appetizer ideas. Handy dandy, simple offerings are in demand throughout the year. These 5 appetizers can certainly be used anytime, but will surely be useful right about now.

Now when it comes to navigating entertaining, we can be the driver of our own roadmap. It’s up to us to take control. It can be as elaborate as a sit down plated meal with several courses. Or as simple as making a salad, a vegetable and protein. Or even simpler (and better!) a huge bowl of pasta. But it is up to each host/hostess to decide whether to make it complicated or easy. Admittedly, there are times when entertaining calls for a little more pizzazz. And I would venture to say that the holidays definitely require a little more brio. Believe it or not, adding an appetizer to any meal can elevate an evening. I always want my guests to feel special, whether it’s a weeknight meal, an weekend dinner or a big party celebration, and I’ve found that serving appetizers somehow ups the ante and makes any event feel special. But please, let’s not confuse special with hard and stressful.

How I plan out what appetizers I will serve depends on my mood, and it can swing full pendulum, from easy breezy all the way to ones that require a day of prep, cook time and time in plating. For me, it all comes down to how much experimenting I want to do, and how much time I have to play. But that’s just me. I like trying new things and being adventurous. But sometimes, I need speed and simplicity. Luckily, in my experimenting I have come up with a few apps that don’t take a ton of effort, and really please my guests.

Here are Apps that impress AND relieve stress.
(Disclaimer: In no means are these appetizers magical or medicinal in their ability to relieve stress. It’s soley their ease, and delicious impact that creates a stress free zone! Well, I might consider that magic.)

Shaved Parmigiano with Roasted Peppers & Hazelnuts

This is as easy as using a flick of the wrist. That is, one that is holding a vegetable peeler. Simply shave slices of Parmigiano Reggiano. Roll roasted pepper strips up into rosettes or twirls. (A good jarred kind is the way to go. Even I admit, roasting your own peppers is more work than it’s worth. This is definitely one time when homemade doesn’t make sense!) Arrange the platter as you like. I like all the peppers in the middle with the cheese acting like a moat. Then generously sprinkle with chopped hazelnuts. It seriously could not be simpler.

Shaved-Parm-w_Red-Peppers.jpg

Platter of Crunch - Fennel Bites & Cucumber Carrot Roll Ups

I always like having a platter with a fresh offering. Not only does it help to refresh the palate but it’s a satisfying treat for the vegetarians. Create a platter full of fresh vegetables. You can use whatever you like but I love big chunks of fennel drizzled with olive oil, course sea salt and pepper. Ribbons of English cucumber plain or rolled up with carrot shreds. The carrots were marinated in a basil balsamic vinaigrette. Check out the recipe here.

My method for platter arrangement is color blocking. I think this looks inviting. Do what pleases your eye and your palate.

Fresh fennel, cucumber and carrots are refreshing and crunchy.

Fresh fennel, cucumber and carrots are refreshing and crunchy.

Fresh Ricotta with Herbs & Oven Roasted Tomatoes

Well, if you took my advice in late summer and roasted a bunch of tomatoes and stored them away, then this one is as easy as opening that container. (Now you understand why I suggest this because the tomatoes can be used in so many ways.) But if you don’t have any roasted tomatoes in your freezer, making a fresh batch is not difficult. Click for The Great Tomato Caper post. For the rest of the dish, simply buy fresh ricotta and spoon it into a bowl creating a nice mound. Generously sprinkle course sea salt, freshly cracked pepper, chopped basil and drizzle with good olive oil. Arrange the roasted tomatoes around and serve with crusty bread.

This combo of sweet tomatoes with fresh creamy ricotta is one that will keep your guests coming back for another smattering.

This combo of sweet tomatoes with fresh creamy ricotta is one that will keep your guests coming back for another smattering.

Sauteéd mushrooms & polenta chips

This one takes a bit more time, but you can actually do some of this ahead of time. I’ve served this appetizer several different ways. Click here for the recipe. In this version I made the polenta squares thinner so they act more like a cracker. Your guests can make their own little bite with as much or as little sauteéd mushrooms as they want. Heck, if you also serve the Ricotta dish, guests can top their polenta squares with mushrooms and a bit of ricotta!

Polenta.Mushroom.Bites.jpg

Dry Cured Meat & Arugula Platter

This seriously could not be simpler than buying and arranging. Pick up your favorite dry cured meat and serve it up with some spicy baby arugula. Guests can roll up the meat with some zest greens for a crisp, salty bite. I love keeping it simple and rustic by serving it right on a wooden board.
Some dry cured meats that I like to serve: Bresaola, Prosciutto or Serrano ham, Capacollo, Mortadella, Coppa.

Cured.Meat.Platter.jpg

I hope these few ideas help keep your stress levels down this holiday season. I really don’t like that I keep repeating that, but it is true that the holidays, and entertaining can be just that - intense. I’m here to help in any way I can, because for me, gathering together with the people you love, serving them food you all love is a glorious thing. And something for which we can all be grateful.

Stirred with love, these apps are just as easy as the ones we download on our phones!