Tis the Season

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My guess is that when you hear this phrase you also hear sleigh bells. Sure, it’s mostly associated with winter holidays but quite frankly, ‘Tis the Season can be applied every 3 months: winter, spring, summer and fall. Each one brings about change of all types. From what we wear to what to do. And I believe this is especially true when it comes to the foods we buy and eat.

Decades ago, staying within the season was exactly how the majority of people bought their produce, prepared and ate their meals. Using only what was available at the time of harvest. Times have changed. Consumer demands. Fed EX and other shipping methods enable foods to arrive at our supermarkets all year round. Yet, I find that everything old is new again with an increase in people going back to more ‘ancient’ ways of eating. There is much value to seasonal eating. First and foremost, it provides you with what is the absolute freshest. Then, it’s about keeping in synch with what our bodies need and crave for at a particular time of the season. Think about it. How many times do you jones for a thick, hearty, hot soup in July? How often do your salivary glands thirst for watermelon in February? ‘Tis the season for reason, my friends.

I try my best to buy seasonally, and also try to provide you with recipes appropriate for the season. Full disclosure, I have been known to purchase strawberries in the dead of winter for a dessert or a smoothie. But overall, my goal is eat what’s hot of the presses. Or should I say, pull directly from the ground.

So what’s in season now? A bounty of goodness.

Peaches & Nectarines

I love stone fruits, especially peaches and nectarines. They are sweet, juicy and refreshing all on their own. But you can grill them and serve with ice cream. Or use them to top a crostini to create a wonderful appetizer that is light and clean, but does it’s part to satisfy the appetite. Or check out the salads below that combine a few other items that are also great right now.

Fresh Ricotta Crostini

Ricotta & Nectarine crostini with mint syrup.

Ricotta & Nectarine crostini with mint syrup.

Peaches or nectarines can be used.

Peaches or nectarines can be used.

Corn on the Cob
Who doesn’t love themselves a corn on the cob during a BBQ? Slathered with butter. Or just a good sprinkle of coarse salt… YUM. But I love salads, so here are two that utilize corn, and one actually using peaches, too. A double hitter.

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Corn Salad: Raw & Roasted

Crunchy by way of the 3c’s: corn, celery and cucumber. Soft bites provided by potatoes and chick peas. Zest and zing offered by red onion and lemon. Perfect.

Corn & Fruit Salad

Sweet and refreshing. This salad is ideal for any BBQ.

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Berries: Blueberries, Strawberries, Raspberries and Blackberries

Here is a fresh salad that incorporates not just berries but two of the other in season items, nectarines and corn. This salad not only gives a sweet flavor pop in your mouth but an actual physical pop of the fruit and crunchy corn. The other salad has the blueberries playing off the tartness of citrus.

Summer Salad Full of Fruits
I love all the textures in this one. There is so much, it can be a lunch all by itself.

Butter Lettuce with Orange, Blueberries & Crunch

Fruit in a salad for me is way more interesting than the usual suspects like tomatoes. I feel tomatoes have a higher purpose than salad. That’s not to say that fruit is less than. Quite the contrary.

Fresh Fruit Bark

Something sweet but naturally sweet.

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Tomatoes
Bring it on tomato time. How many seasons have you seen me buying boxes upon boxes, pounds upon pounds of these ruby jewels? So this season won’t be any different. Just a reminder of some of the things you can do with these babies.

Yes that is 100 pounds of Roma tomatoes. I was excited until I got them home and realized just how overzealous I was.

Yes that is 100 pounds of Roma tomatoes. I was excited until I got them home and realized just how overzealous I was.

Oven dried tomatoes   can made a placed in a jar in your fridge, then used for various recipes.

Oven dried tomatoes can made a placed in a jar in your fridge, then used for various recipes.

Luscious linguine with earthy notes from the spinach, salty from the olives and a sweetness that the mighty tomato brings.

Luscious linguine with earthy notes from the spinach, salty from the olives and a sweetness that the mighty tomato brings.

This tapenade is perfect as a sauce, or a dip or compliment that brings a powerful flavor addition to meats, cheeses, and more.

This tapenade is perfect as a sauce, or a dip or compliment that brings a powerful flavor addition to meats, cheeses, and more.

Oven roast tomatoes and serve as a side dish with fish and rice or any other grain.

Oven roast tomatoes and serve as a side dish with fish and rice or any other grain.

White Eggplant App - Greek Style

Here the tomatoes are in a supporting role, but an important one. I love this dish. It can be an appetizer or a side dish and has just zest and zing.

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Freshly sliced tomatoes with pesto. You can’t go wrong with simply slicing them and enhancing with salt and good olive oil or a tad of pesto, or the tapenade from above.

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I could make this post go on forever. The recipes and ideas for using what’s fresh and amazing right now are endless but I hope this jump starts your imagination and your kitchen creations.

Ready, Set, Go!

Off to your local farmer’s market. Sniff, pluck and pick the best and the freshest. ‘Tis the season… that is until the next one.

Ladies Who Lunch

Olivia, my Mom, Elena. The best assistances ever! It goes without saying, good attracts good, and these women are pure good.

Olivia, my Mom, Elena. The best assistances ever! It goes without saying, good attracts good, and these women are pure good.

Last year I had the awesome opportunity to cater a lunch for the lovely ladies of The Women’s Club from my Mom's condo community.  They are a fantastic group of vital women who meet for various occasions. They have a book club. They go to the theatre, take field trips and just enjoy one another’s company.  They regularly host parties and luncheons, and that's where I came in.  My Mom is in charge of organizing one summer luncheon each year.  After hearing about the one she organized last year, I asked if she wanted me to help her cater the upcoming one. My Mom is an amazing woman who is always willing to help others and give of herself. So, naturally I wanted to do something special for her and for her friends.  This particular luncheon is usually a casual one serving up typical summer fare, like sandwiches and potato salad and such. My goal was to up the ante a bit, and so I embarked in creating a menu that they might enjoy.  I sat down with my Mom and her friend, Elena, who helps her with this event.  As luck would have it I was just coming back from working a catering event in the Hamptons and had some leftovers with me.  Call it fate, kismet or just plain damn good luck that I had this nibbles for them to try. It was almost like a wedding tasting. As I pulled out dish after dish for them to taste test, we took notes, jotted down what they liked, what I could slightly change and what I could add, all taking into account the likes of their group.  It was great to have both my Mom and Elena providing valuable feedback so we could tailor the luncheon to offer up some delicious dishes. And so the menu was set, and the plan hatched. 

Tomato Mozzarella Puff Pastry Tartlets

Tomato Mozzarella Puff Pastry Tartlets

Main
Tomato Mozzarella Puff Pastry Tarts
Arugula & Parmigiano Reggiano with Lemon Vinaigrette
Egg Salad
Chicken Salad with Grapes, Apples & Walnuts served with Romaine boats
Turkey Breast & Swiss Cheese Roll Ups
Asian Slaw with Peanut-Tahini Dressing
Israeli Couscous with Sautéd Zucchini & Roasted Tomato with a Roasted Garlic Dressing
Cucumber Salad
French Baguettes

Desserts
Peach Cobbler with Whipped Cream
Lime Zest/Raspberry Filled Cookies
Mini Cheesecakes
Watermelon

Normally they use throw away plastic tablecloths and paper dishes. It was a hard sell at first, but I convinced my Mom that using cloth tablecloths and real dishes would make it feel special. As you all know, I HAVE tablecloths. Enough, in fact, to cover the buffet table and all the seated tables.

The luncheon was held in the condo’s clubhouse, which meant we had to set the room up with tables and chairs for 30 guests. They showed me their usual set up, but in traditional Dana fashion I rejiggered the entire space. Thankfully, I had the help of my Mom, Elena and Olivia.  Especially since I decided that we would seriously need to move most of the furniture around. They were very willing and accommodating to my suggestions. Moving the seating area that was directly in front of the fireplace gave way for a perfect place to set up the main buffet table, front and center. It was August, so no need to have access to that. With this new placement, we were able to better utilize the entire space and the built-in counters next to the fireplace. Which is where I placed the plates, napkins and utensils for a better flow.

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I was happy that they allowed me to move around furniture so we could set up the buffet table for maximum access. I placed a menu on the table with all the offerings. You can also place cards in front of each dish as a way to identify the food.

I was happy that they allowed me to move around furniture so we could set up the buffet table for maximum access. I placed a menu on the table with all the offerings. You can also place cards in front of each dish as a way to identify the food.

When setting up a buffet table, think about the flow. Think about how people will reach for the food items and make sure you place them accordingly. Set higher items in the back, and group foods together. Bread near the items like the Egg Salad and Chicken Salad, condiments close to the cold cuts, for example.

It’s important to lay the food items out in a way that makes it easy to reach, pretty to look at and in a order that makes sense.

It’s important to lay the food items out in a way that makes it easy to reach, pretty to look at and in a order that makes sense.

Make sure you have utensils for each dish and have any condiments close by.

Asian Slaw   gives a nice spice to all the other dishes. And you can’t go wrong with a few cold cuts.

Asian Slaw gives a nice spice to all the other dishes. And you can’t go wrong with a few cold cuts.

Make your platters look pretty. Arrange the food so your guests feel that you took time and care in preparing the meal. It makes them feel special, as they should.

Chicken Salad with Fruit & Nuts     is a perfect summer dish. Great with lettuce leaves or on rolls, or just plain by itself.

Chicken Salad with Fruit & Nuts is a perfect summer dish. Great with lettuce leaves or on rolls, or just plain by itself.

Israeli Couscous  , it’s fluffy and light but satisfyingly filling. The oven roasted garlic and tomatoes give this dish it’s depth of flavor.

Israeli Couscous, it’s fluffy and light but satisfyingly filling. The oven roasted garlic and tomatoes give this dish it’s depth of flavor.

Peppery Arugula Salad with shaved Parmigiana Reggiano. It may be a simple salad but with just a few ingredients, it is a fresh, flavor punch.

Peppery Arugula Salad with shaved Parmigiana Reggiano. It may be a simple salad but with just a few ingredients, it is a fresh, flavor punch.

Lime Zest Cookies   with Raspberry filling. Tart and sweet and delicate.

Lime Zest Cookies with Raspberry filling. Tart and sweet and delicate.

Mini   Cheese Cakes  . Use the base recipe for the pie but instead of using one pie crust, use crushed graham crackers with melted butter and press into mini cupcake tins. Then fill with batter and bake. These are perfect two bite treats. Champagne grapes give a tart pop.

Mini Cheese Cakes. Use the base recipe for the pie but instead of using one pie crust, use crushed graham crackers with melted butter and press into mini cupcake tins. Then fill with batter and bake. These are perfect two bite treats. Champagne grapes give a tart pop.

We used my Soothing Blues theme but gave the tables a vibrant color pop with small centerpieces using Ribbon flowers accented with white hydrangeas cut from my garden.  Simple but striking. The best part was showing Elena, who was reluctant in arranging the flowers, just how easy it is to create a floral arrangement with impact. Hesitant at first, her confidence grew once I showed her color blocking and explained that simpler is better. And with that she finished the rest beautifully. The key; do what looks good to your eye and it will look good to others.

I had to convince them away from paper plates. These outdoor reusable plastic plates were still casual but a tad more special.

I had to convince them away from paper plates. These outdoor reusable plastic plates were still casual but a tad more special.

Strong contrast creates a striking floral arrangement.

Strong contrast creates a striking floral arrangement.

Some featured more fuchsia with white accent. Some reversed.

Some featured more fuchsia with white accent. Some reversed.

It was so lovely to be welcomed into their group and serve them food that they enjoyed.  Everyone seemed to have a good time and loved the food offerings.   

Ladies on the buffet line
Ladies waiting for the buffet
Chatting after a little dessert.

Chatting after a little dessert.

Smiles and good conversation. And yes to regular dishes but plastic cups just made more sense.

Smiles and good conversation. And yes to regular dishes but plastic cups just made more sense.

There is a simple joy in sharing food. In creating an atmosphere where people feel loved by your efforts.  Remember, no matter what we do in life, whether it be the words we speak, or the food we make, the flowers we arrange, or the door we hold open, when done from a place of purity then the world is stirred with love. Thank you to my Mom, Elena and Olivia, and to Rhona and the entire Women's Club for welcoming me to your luncheon last year.  Here’s to all of you, hoping you enjoy these memories and share many more happy adventures and good eating together!

And for the rest of my readers, I hope this brings about inspiration on how and what to serve for Ladies’ Summer Lunch. Ok, Men are welcome, too! In fact, all are welcome. Stir it with LOVE!

If you are interested in my Private Chef services, please contact me directly: dana@2fishinc.com And please feel free to pass along my info. Thank YOU!

Versatile Summer Crunch Salad

I think it is safe to say that summer has finally arrived here in the Northeast. We wait long and patiently. I’ve finally put away my heavy sweaters and traded cozy fireplace nights with dreams of warm days and cool nights. I also started dreaming up dishes that cool the palate and refresh during those toasty days. Chalk it up to another one of those times when I just started pulling whatever I had to create a salad for lunch. Now remember, salad is a term that sums up any combination of food that is cut up in small pieces, and can be served cold, room temp or even warm. Think about it; a salad can be of fruit or lettuce. It can be potato or pasta. Bean or tabouleh. You get the picture. The word salad is probably one of the most versatile words I know in the culinary world. So why not create a versatile salad, one that can be used in a variety of ways.

Here goes. As you know from other salads I’ve made, I cut each ingredient in ways that combine well for that particular salad. Some items sliced, others diced. In this salad, in order to create a chunky bite- ful, cut all the veg to approximately the same size.

The line up: Fennel, red onion, scallions, mini bell  peppers, English cucumber, celery.

The line up: Fennel, red onion, scallions, mini bell peppers, English cucumber, celery.

Ingredients

1 English cucumber, seeds removed, cut in cubes
7 mini bell peppers*, seeds removed, cut in pieces
1 heaping c fennel, stalks & bulb, cut in chunks
2 scallion, sliced
1/4 c red onion, diced
3 celery stalks, cut in pieces

* If you don’t have the mini peppers, use one regular sized red pepper

Dressing
3 T fresh lemon juice
1.5 T fennel fronds, minced
1/4 c olive oil
1/2 t salt
1/4 t black pepper

I feel silly even writing the title ‘Instructions’ and giving a step by step since all this is chop and dress. Maybe I should just leave it at that. Chop. Whisk. Dress.

For some salads I leave the seeds in an English cucumber. For this one, no seeds. I use a demitasse spoon to scrap the seeds because it’s the perfect size. Then I cut down the center lengthwise and then cut cubes.

For some salads I leave the seeds in an English cucumber. For this one, no seeds. I use a demitasse spoon to scrap the seeds because it’s the perfect size. Then I cut down the center lengthwise and then cut cubes.

Chop all your vegetables and place in a bowl. As I mentioned, for this salad, the key is chopping everything into bite sized chunks. That helps to create the crunch factor.

Cucumbers

Cucumbers

Mini bell peppers

Mini bell peppers

Red onion

Red onion

Scallions

Scallions

I used both the fennel stalks and the bulb, chopping them in chunky rounds.

I used both the fennel stalks and the bulb, chopping them in chunky rounds.

For the dressing, just whisk together all the ingredients and pour over.

Super simple, fresh mix of lemon juice, fennel fronds, salt, pepper and olive oil.

Super simple, fresh mix of lemon juice, fennel fronds, salt, pepper and olive oil.

Pour and mix and sit and think of all the ways you will use this salad.

Pour and mix and sit and think of all the ways you will use this salad.

Chunky, crisp, refreshing with lots of flavors mixed up in every bite.

Chunky, crisp, refreshing with lots of flavors mixed up in every bite.

So why is this versatile? Because it can be the base to bigger salads or to fill out a lunch plate as I did. I grilled up some asparagus, sliced some avocado and spooned a heaping of this crunch salad for a satisfying lunch.

Then the next day I included it on a lunch plate for JuanCarlos which featured salmon, arugula as a base with the crunch salad on top alongside some store bought tabouleh. Now that is a lunch for a king. King JuanCarlos.

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But in case you need a few other ideas:

  • Add chick peas, or make it a multi bean salad adding black beans and cannellini

  • Add tuna and stuff the whole kit and kaboodle into a pita

  • Cook up some pasta shells and toss them all together

  • Use the full leaves of Boston or Romaine and fill them with this mixture

Ok, you get it. That’s a start. I trust you will come up with a few of your own. For now, start with the base and build from there. Salad: versatile no matter how you dice it.

Happy Summer!

 

Easter Ideas - A Story From Past Posts

Some traditional Italian Easter appetizers.   Pizza Rustica   , fresh tomatoes and burrata, crisp fennel/olive oil.

Some traditional Italian Easter appetizers. Pizza Rustica , fresh tomatoes and burrata, crisp fennel/olive oil.

Here comes that bunny hopping down the lane. Chocolate and candy and weird marshmallow treats will fill grass lined baskets, for the strangest mash up of a religious holiday and spring rituals. Forget the odd Cadbury egg which oozes some strange goo from its center, or those spongey artificial colored bunnies. Let’s talk real food. Nutritious, delicious food. If you find yourself hosting this holiday clash of traditions, I’m here to help with some ideas. As we know, Easter marks the coming of Spring and all things fresh and new. But I believe revival is just as good as new, if not better. So, instead of overwhelming you with new recipes, why not resurrect a few from past posts to parse out some suggestions to guide you through the food choice conundrum.

Let’s start at the very beginning… A very good place to start. Appetizers. Here are few.

3 Dips a Dipping

Given that there are 3 distinct dips/flavors and 3 different hearty veggies for dipping in the recipe, you can serve just this for an appetizer and be done.

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5 Appetizers That Impress

This post featured 5 different appetizer options that fill the tummy and impress your guests. Pick one or two and call it a day.

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Smoked Trout Cucumber Bites

Crisp and refreshing, these are as easy as slice, scoop and top.

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Salad Course
Moving onto the next course, salads are ideal for an Easter dinner because it marks the freshness of spring. So, why not start the meal with salad first before you even bring out the main course. Here are a few ideas, including the one where I plated the salad and encouraged, (alright, maybe ‘forced’) my guests to eat it first. It worked, they ate it up.

Citrus Bowl Salad - One by One

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Graped Up Bibb Salad

A fresh salad that offers crisp fennel and hint of sweet pop from grapes. Easy and delicious.

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Pretty in Pink Salad

For a super special salad that serves both as an appetizer and salad course, try this gorgeous salad that features figs and burrata. This one will really wow your guests.

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Main Courses

Lamb is the Easter/Springtime king of meats. It is traditionally served for this holiday. But…

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…if you feel like doing what we have done a few times, switch it up and serve other meats. Here are a few ideas.

Oh So Yummy Osso Buco

This is hearty and with a sauce that makes it feel luxurious. Serve it with polenta or pasta and your guests will feel like royalty… well fed royalty.

A Belly Full of Pork
This is another hearty alternative to lamb that offers a rich sauce that can also be served with a starch such as potatoes, pasta or polenta.

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Roasted Lemon Sole
For those who may not eat meat, serve a lemon sole, simply roasted with parsley, onions and tomatoes. It’s light but makes a satisfying fish dish.

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Of course, the blog is filled with lots of other recipes and ideas, including table settings and flowers. Please browse, search and reminisce from past posts to help you plan a wonderful holiday meal to enjoy with your guests. Hosting is about sharing. Sharing food, drink, laughter and above all LOVE.

Happy Easter

 
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Monday Night Dinner - Shared with Friends

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.