Breakfast on Christmas Morning

December 23rd 2009

jgs christmassparkle  Breakfast on Christmas MorningWe can all remember waking up on Christmas morning when we were little. It’s always magical to wake up with the sun and run in to see what Santa left you under the tree. But we’re the grownups now and while that doesn’t dampen the excitement, it does mean we need to think about making breakfast!

If you’re a planner you can put on a slow cooker of cranberry-orange oatmeal in the slow cooker. Serve it with some toasted pecans and extra dried cranberries on the side. If you normally pour milk over your oatmeal, try using orange juice instead. Another great variation is to make a spiced oatmeal, top with eggnog and freshly grated nutmeg.

If eggs are more your style try making a southwest breakfast casserole that has eggs, sausage, peppers and cheese. It needs to cook for 8 hours, so you can put it together the night before and wake up to a hearty breakfast. You could also cook up a quiche a day or two before and serve it warm or at room temperature with some sliced oranges, pears, and apples.

Of course you can make waffles or pancakes. They don’t take that much time to make from scratch and the varieties are endless. Try making gingerbread waffles or chocolate chip pancakes topped with minty crushed candy canes.

If you want something sweet that’s even easier French toast may be the answer. My favorite holiday variation is to mix the eggs with eggnog and nutmeg.  Then dip the thick sliced bread in. You could also use slices of stollen or panettone to soak up the custard for an interesting twist.

Muffins are always a favorite in my house. I try to freeze a few from my weekly batch so I can just heat up homemade muffins whenever I need them. Gingerbread, cranberry-apple, apple topped with candied walnuts, chocolate-banana, the sky’s the limit. Take a look on foodgawker.com and do a search on muffins. I’m sure you’ll find a few combination you would have never thought of.

Another favorite of mine is breakfast burritos. I stuff mine with scrambled eggs and potatoes mixed with a smokey chipolte salsa. Make sweet quesadillas by spreading the tortillas with nutella and then toast them in your pan. It’s similar to a crepe.

No matter what you make serve it up on your best Noritake dinnerware. You’ll feel elegant even if you’re in your fuzzy slippers.

Posted by Myriam under Holiday Entertaining & Winter Entertaining | No Comments »

Secret Santa Party

December 16th 2009

santa cat Secret Santa PartyShow your friends that you’re thinking of them this holiday season without breaking the bank. It’s nice to buy presents for everyone if you can afford it, but there are ways to spend less money and still have a ton of fun.

The traditional secret Santa requires a little planning but it’s not too late. Each person only buys one present and everyone leaves with something just for them. I like secret Santa because you can match people together and all but assure that everyone’s holiday will be a little happier. Of course you can also leave it up to fate and have people draw form a bag (or you can download a program that duplicates it right on your computer).

Either way you can send out email to let people know who they are buying for. It’s best to have a price range. Usually under 20 dollars, but if someone is making something make sure they take their time into account too. In fact if your friends are crafty you could have a completely handmade exchange.

You can arrange your party around an exchange theme if you want. Exchange ornaments, liquors, funny shirts, anything that you think all of your friends would like. This year I’m focusing on handmade items for my friends. Check out instructables.com or http://blog.craftzine.com/ for great crafty ideas.

Have everyone bring their favorite holiday dish for a nice buffet spread and put out on your bright red Pimento sengware dinnerware to create the perfect table. Ahead of time mix a nice drink with a bottle of sparkling wine and Chambord in a pitcher for a festive red drink. Also grab some lime sparking water and add some cranberry juice for your non-alcoholic alternative that’s just as pretty.

Send out an evite about your little soirée and give all the pertinent details to your friends. No matter how you decide to exchange gifts you will all enjoy celebrating the holidays together.

Posted by Myriam under Gifts & Holiday Entertaining & Occasions & Winter Entertaining | No Comments »

Make Holiday Cards with Your Friends

December 3rd 2009

christmascard1 Make Holiday Cards with Your FriendsAs you already know, I love to combine things. Almost any chore can be be made fun with a party and friends to work around. In fact, sometimes I even go grocery shopping with friends! Holiday cards can be a tough task for people like me who aren’t so good at getting things into the mail.

Selecting a card can be just as bad. So many boxed cards are geared to specific holiday traditions that aren’t necessarily appropriate for all of your friends. That’s why I’m having a holiday card making party this year.

You’ll need to get a few basic supplies at your local craft store. You can buy paper that is already cut and folded into a card size, or you could buy plain paper and make them in any size and shape you can think of. You can also buy ready made envelopes or make your own.

Pick up a few holiday themed stamps and colored stamp pads. If you have it in your budget, pick up a glue stamp pad and some glitter. It’s awesome to add somebling to your card. You could make paper snowflake cut outs and glue onto your card.

Still not feeling so inspired? Try looking at some of Martha’s cards, which are always breath taking.

This is a perfect party to have your friends bring the kids along. They love to create things and will inspire all your guests – including the adults. Have a sparkling cider or pour sparkling water into a glass half full of cranberry juice for some dressed up drinks for the kids. Go ahead and pop the cork on some champagne for the adults. Have a little Chambord to top the adults sparkly drink for an extra burst of flavor.

You may want to avoid the finger foods or you’ll find grease stains on your beautiful cards. If you think it’s a must, have the finger snacks before or after the card making session. I usually tend to have a cornbread topped chili pie or something thick that you eat with a fork. Of course, the kids should eat before they start making cards no matter what you are serving.

Ask everyone to bring Christmas stamps and you can address the cards and send them all off together in the morning. Have a nice dessert to celebrate your completed cards with. A super quick mousse can be made with a box of silken tofu, and a large handful of melted chocolate chips all blended in a food processor. Add a tablespoon of your favorite liquor and take it to the next level. I promise you, no one will know that it’s a healthy dessert and it takes less time to make than instant pudding!

Posted by Myriam under Children & Holiday Entertaining & Hostessing & Occasions & Party Food & Winter Entertaining | No Comments »

Throw an Ornament Making Party

November 30th 2009

dinnerware ornament Throw an Ornament Making PartyEver since I was in college I’ve hosted an annual Christmas tree decorating party. I’d buy a live tree and all my friends would make ornaments out of things they had around the house. You’d be surprised at how creative you can get when you don’t have the money to run out and buy ornaments. Cotton ball snowmen with felt cut out for their faces, paper cut out snowflakes, fresh oranges with cloves stuck in them all make an unique tree.

Now I have a whole supply of crafting supplies and tools, not to mention access to half price Michaels’ coupons. You can still make popcorn balls, string fresh cranberries, and create paper doll angels. But there’s a wide variety of crafting ideas for you to choose from. You can make ornaments from wire, cereal boxes, silk flowers, beads, yarn, and more. Need some help getting you ideas into reality? Disney’s Family Fun site has a ton of great ornament tutorials. I love the felted wreath one myself.

Decide on a few specific ornaments to make and purchase the supplies ahead of time. It’s a good idea to cover your dinner table with plastic bags and tape them securely underneath. If you will have kids at the party, you might want to put down a drop cloth too. It won’t make you happy if you have red paint on your beige carpet. But with the right precautions, there will be nothing to worry about.

Put on Christmas music to set the atmosphere. If your prefer play a few old Christmas movies or cartoons. Either way it will set the mood for your party. Make a Crockpot full of hot apple cider. Add cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, whole peppercorns, and orange rind to make it taste really special. You can have a nice rum or bourbon for adults to add to theirs if they want. Next year I bet someone will ask you to make it again. It’s always popular at my house during the holidays.

People work up an appetite creating ornaments, so you’ll need to make some snacks. A tray of finger sandwiches is always a welcome sight. Make sure to include something for vegetarians, and make a few lettuce wraps if you have any friends with a gluten allergy. You can use the same fillings in the lettuce wraps. Bib lettuce or iceberg hold up the best as a wrap. They will all look beautiful arranged on a Noritake holiday plate. Assorted bar cookies are another winner. Peppermint brownies and cranberry blondies are beautiful additions to your spread. Your table will be all dressed up for Christmas as well.

Posted by Myriam under Decorations & Holiday Entertaining & Hostessing & Winter Entertaining | No Comments »

Don’t Forget the Centerpiece

November 24th 2009

sm fallcenterpiece Dont Forget the CenterpieceThanksgiving is growing nearer and I’m confident that you have your menu ready. You’ve already arranged to get extra chairs, folding tables, and even silverware if you need it. But have you put any thought into your table centerpiece yet? Don’t get me wrong, the food is the focus of this holiday, but it’s always nice to add a special touch on the table as well.

You can go the traditional route and have some Indian corn cobs, or a basket filled with the season’s beautiful winter squashes. Of course, whatever you pick needs to go with your table linens. You could try a tall rectangle glass vase filled with autumn leaves and pine cones. You could get a square glass vase and fill it with popcorn and a pillar candle. You can even get colored popcorn for a more unusual display. Remember, if you add anything in with a candle; make sure what you add not flammable.

Another vase idea is to find some branches in your own backyard and put them in a large vase. You can add in some flowers as well, to make it a spectacular addition to your family’s meal. Hollow out mini pumpkins or gourds, then add a votive inside. They are delightful candle holders.

Don’t forget about your houseplants. They can go on your favorite Noritake dish surrounded by leaves or mini pumpkins. Use a cake plate to raise it up from the table. Doing this gives any center piece more dimension, and catches the eye more readily. Fresh flowers are always a welcome sight on the table. Try for warm orange colors if you can find them. Also don’t be afraid to get some poinsettias early and use them as well. The white ones are my favorite to have before the Christmas holiday kicks in.

Big trifle bowls of apples, pomegranates, and pears is another dynamic center piece. Plus it’s one you can eat for dessert too! A bowl of citrus can be pretty too, especially when you add in some kumquats and satumas. My favorite functional ‘center piece’ is sliced oranges, limes, and lemons in big glass pitchers of drinking water. It add great flavor and is amazing to look at too.

Try mixing and matching some of the ideas above to create your own master piece. You could create a vase of white roses in a clear vase lined with kumquats. Or add a houseplant into the center of a bowl of Indian corn. Mix dried leaves in with mini pumpkins and pears. The possibilities are truly endless.

Posted by Myriam under Decorations & Fall Entertaining & Holiday Entertaining & Thanksgiving | 1 Comment »

Be a Calm Holiday Hostess

November 20th 2009

dinnerware peppermint candy 1 Be a Calm Holiday HostessThe holiday season is starting and you may already be stressed out. It seems that the holiday season starts earlier every year. My parents said that because the end of the year just seemed to sneak up on them. Now, it’s from going into Lowe’s and seeing Christmas decorations up. And that’s before Halloween even starts!

The stores are marking down prices now to get the jump on Black Friday sales. The congestion in Costco makes my weekly errand something I won’t do on the weekend anymore. I hate being bumped into, but even worse is when someone actually hits you with a cart!

The hard part is really enjoying the holidays instead of letting them sap your energy. In the midst of taking care of everyone else, you really must take some time for yourself. A 5 minute coffee break isn’t going to do the trick. In fact, now is the perfect time to limit your caffeine intake. Too much caffeine, sugar, or even alcohol can actually make you more stressed out. They may seem to give you a burst of quick energy, but you will pay the price of being even more exhausted later.

Try cleaning up your house a little each day instead of in a marathon the day before your big holiday party. Make a batch of holiday cookie dough each week, and freeze most of the dough to easily bake an assortment for visitors. Depending on the type of cookie, you can even roll them out and put between sheets of wax paper. That way you don’t have to make 5 batches of different cookies at one time.

Stock up on cream, coffee, tea, and cocoa. This way you won’t run out. More people will just be dropping by to visit. Sharing time with close friends is the best way to get the holiday spirit.

Take a half an hour or so each morning, to do whatever your favorite things are. Simply read the paper with a nice mug of tea, or take a walk. Getting fresh air and exercise is a perfect way to de-stress yourself. It doesn’t hurt to start the day at your calmest. In fact, it can make you more tolerant of the stresses that may surround you during the day.

It goes without saying that getting the proper amount of sleep can make a world of difference. Running around can cause you to eat too many fast food meals. Make sure you have salads prepared ahead of time to take to work. Make slow cooker soups and stews, so you can have dinner waiting for you. There’s nothing better than a home cooked meal after a long, tiring day. Pull out your good Noritake dinnerware. Serve yourself up a bowl of comforting slow cooker baked potato soup. You may find these new good habits outlast the holidays.

Posted by Myriam under Holiday Entertaining & Hostessing & Winter Entertaining | No Comments »

Turkey Alternatives for Thanksgiving

November 17th 2009

dinnerware turkey Turkey Alternatives for Thanksgiving

Sometimes a tradition seems like a perfect fit, but it’s always ok to stretch your culinary muscles. Some families do ham instead of turkey, but I want to get you thinking about a few main dishes that are less ordinary. In fact, they’re so delicious you’ll want to serve them all year round.

One reason to skip the turkey this year is to avoid all the leftovers. If you are just a couple or small family, you’ve probably had enough of turkey sandwiches and tetrazzini to last a lifetime. While you can always freeze turkey for another time, you could choose something less expensive and put that money towards holiday presents.

You could stick close to the usual theme and cook up some turkey cutlets. Rachel Ray cooks up some Turkey Cutlets with Corn, Sage and Prosciutto Stuffing. Or try Bon Appétit’s Turkey Cutlets with Brussels Sprouts and Dried Cranberries to pack all the flavors of the holidays into one dish.

Make a vegetarian traditional dish, stuffed winter squash. You could use your favorite stuffing, add your favorite sausage (meaty or veggie), apples, and celery in butternut or acorn squash. Take a look at this recipe to get a few ideas, Acorn Squash Stuffed with Wild Rice, Hazelnuts and Dried Cranberries.

Pot pie is an American favorite. You can fill it with minced poultry meat or leave it just veggies. Add in a cream sauce, cheese, or mushroom gravy to top your filling and sandwich it in 2 pie crusts. Meat loaf is another cheap and easy option. This Turkey Meatloaf with Mushrooms and Herbs is a step above the everyday meatloaf.

Make a stew in a pumpkin, a seasonal risotto, or try a pumpkin lasagna out. You don’t have to be without gravy for your mashed potatoes. You can even buy organic turkey gravy in the soup section of Whole Foods, and you can make mushroom gravy with no meat drippings. Why not try some stuffing muffins to go under all that tasty gravy? You can eat a couple and then freeze the rest for another meal.

Don’t forget your side dishes. If you do lasagna or pot pie, you will need to skip the mashed potatoes. But you can still make an assortment of vegetables, and without spending all that time on the turkey you’ll have time to make some new favorites. Add a spinach salad, cooked greens, Brussels sprouts to the traditional sweet potatoes and green beans. It’s your Thanksgiving. Start some of your family’s traditions this year.

Posted by Myriam under Holiday Entertaining & Seasonal Entertaining & Thanksgiving | No Comments »

Plan Your Way to an Easier Thanksgiving

November 13th 2009

dinnerware pumpkin with autumn corn Plan Your Way to an Easier Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is coming up fast, so you need to start thinking about it now. No matter how busy you are now, it will only seem worse the closer to turkey day that you begin. Making a plan isn’t doing all the work at one time. You will be making a chore list to make your life easier.

The first order of business is to order a turkey if you want a fresh one. You can try local farmers to see if they still have any organic ones. They may cost more, but the taste is worth it. If you’re not interested in a fresh turkey, go ahead and buy a frozen one. Don’t wait too long, or you may find yourself without a turkey on the big day!

Make a menu plan for the big day. If you are having guests bring something, make sure that they tell you what they want to bring now. This way you can fill in any holes yourself. A typical menu would look something like this:

  • wine – I suggest a mix of red, white and rose to give everyone something they’ll like.
  • soda, sparking water, juice
  • slow cooker pear delicata squash soup or other winter squash soup
  • field green salad with chopped apple and dried cranberries
  • turkey
  • cranberry sauce
  • stuffing
  • mashed potatoes
  • green bean (regular or in casserole form)
  • sweet potato (baked or in casserole form)
  • creamed corn
  • dinner rolls
  • pumpkin pie, pecan pie, or another of your favorite desserts

Make a shopping list so you don’t find yourself running out to the store at the last minute. Include baking supplies, seasonal vegetables, stuffing mix, and add some Indian corn and mini pumpkins to decorate your table with. Order the list by each store you need to go to make it easier.

Make a list of anything you may need to rent or borrow from friends. I always borrow a few extra chairs and a card table myself. Think about silverware, serving platters, and dinnerware too, are you sure you have enough? Now is a perfect time to bring out you best Noritake plates, and your best silver.

The day before give the bathroom a thorough cleaning and vacuum and mop all the floors. Go ahead and make your pie(s) and soup if it will reheat well. You can even begin to set your table if you don’t have cats that are likely to nap on your clean pressed linens. Take your frozen turkey out of the freezer and put in the fridge for the night. Chill the white and rose wines.

You can setup to have a separate kids table, like the one we all knew growing up. If you do it separate or together cover the tables with matching tablecloths to add some extra ambiance to your dinner. Make a center piece by scattering the Indian corn and mini pumpkins on various places on your table. Go ahead and put wine glasses and coffee cups on the table, so you have less running around to do during your dinner party.

The morning of Thanksgiving cook the Turkey, stuffing, and other dishes that need to be made the day you eat them. Set the table early if you didn’t set it the night before. Open the red wine to breathe. Go ahead and open the chilled wines as well and put them in an ice chest to keep it cool.

Most importantly take a half hour before your guest arrive and enjoy the feeling of having everything ready before the last minute!

Posted by Myriam under Decorations & Holiday Entertaining & Hostessing & Seasonal Entertaining & Thanksgiving | No Comments »

Halloween Dinner All Grown Up

October 25th 2009

dinnerware spider4 Halloween Dinner All Grown UpI had my big Halloween extravaganza last night, the annual Gothic dinner party. I invited 12 people for a total of 13 including me – a perfect number for Halloween. Everyone comes dressed in black, and a few guests add makeup and accessories to create a costume as well. The table was covered with a black table cloth that was accented with small gold one to cover the center of the table. The only lights in the room were witch hat string lights and candles everywhere (especially the dinner table). The lightning machines behind the graveyard scene covering the windows looked like a spooky storm, complete with thunder sounds. Like I’ve said before, setting the scene is one of the most important parts of a successful Halloween party.

I love the new rolls of Halloween scenery you can buy this year. Various scenes that are 4 feet tall and the rolls have 50 yards of it. I covered one entire wall with a spooky forest theme at the top with a graveyard scene below. It’s an amazing effect, since it’s on one of the biggest walls in the room.

Over the front windows I have scary ghosts panels and when the lights are on inside, you see the ghosts and tombstones glow outside. It’s a great effect inside and out. I found some spider web lace panels at a fabric store and used that as sheers for the remaining windows. Add as many jack-o-lanterns as there are surfaces, a raven with blinking red eyes, and obligatory skeleton and you’ve created your own haunted house.

On the table I used regular dinner plates as base plates, water glasses, wine glasses, and a full set of silver for the evening. It’s important to have as much done ahead of time as possible. Each guest brings a dish and I have a multitude of slow cookers ready to keep each course warm until we’re ready to serve it. This year I broke my cardinal rule of starting off any dinner party with an empty dishwasher. Don’t make my mistake. It’s a beautiful thing to fill up your dishwasher as you clear each course. It makes end of the evening clean up a breeze.

Black and grey is a great color scheme to theme your Halloween table. Check out the Noritake Black Pepper or Stone Charcoal patterns. If you’re looking for some cool dishes for your Halloween party it’s a perfect place to start.

Here’s my Halloween dinner menu:

  • A shot of pomegranate liquor to start out the meal in an ice skull

  • Tossed mixed greens with an orange vinaigrette decorated with berry ‘eyes’

  • Spicy tomato soup garnished with radish-olive eyes

  • Dead Man’s Ribs and Veggie Loaf Coffins

  • Whole Cauliflower cooked in a tomato olive sauce as a bloody brain

  • Spooktacular Mashed Potatoes – I left out the eggs, used coconut milk and earth balance to make it vegan

  • Gluten Free Corn Muffin Bats and Ghosts

  • Gluten Free Brownies

  • Meringue Bones stuffed with raspberry jam

  • Vegan Apple Crumb Pie

  • a liberal amount of a sparkling Sauvignon blanc and Devils punch

I hope that my party menu inspires you to have your own Halloween soirée this week.

Posted by Myriam under Fall Entertaining & Halloween & Holiday Entertaining & Party Food & Table Setting | 1 Comment »

Halloween Dinner Ideas

October 13th 2009

dinnerware pumpkinsoup Halloween Dinner IdeasYou can go with any theme for your Halloween dinner party, but it just won’t be complete without a few dishes to remind you of the holiday. From mummy hot dogs for a kids party to ribs served on a platter with a carving knife stabbed into a fake heart – they all create an atmosphere your guests won’t soon forget.

I throw a fancy Gothic dinner party. I have my guests dress up in all black or a dressy costume. Each guest chooses a dish to bring from a list of recipes. I make sure there are recipes that everyone can make.

You can create a buffet using ordinary crockpots to keep the food warm, and allow for people to arrive at different times. I do a big sit down dinner with multiple courses. Of course, you have to count on your guests a little more, but the results really shine.

It takes some planning to have each course ready when you want it. After all, you want to be in the party not in the kitchen all night! If you want to do a little bite (amuse bouche) to start your meal, try something cold that you can have plated up in the fridge. Do the same with your salad course, plate it up, and put dressing in the serving bottle you want to use.

Keep your soup hot in a crockpot and ladle out in small bowls you set up nearby the minute you want to serve it. Have your main course cooked ahead of time, and you can pop it in the oven to warm up as you eat the soup or salad. If you have a room temp dessert plate it up and cover with a dish towel until you are ready. Or if it’s a chilled dessert, try and prepare it in individual serving dishes to speed up your time in the kitchen.

Make sure you have enough plates to serve on ready ahead of time in the kitchen. Nothing will slow you down more than stopping to wash dishes for your next course. Pick up a few thermal carafes, and make your coffee and tea while you are heating your main course. It’ll be hot and ready to serve when bring out the dessert. Also have sugar and creamers ready to make coffee service a breeze.

I set my table so that all the silver for the night is already in place. Set a water glass, wine glass, and coffee cup just like a restaurant would do and you’ll have less to haul from the kitchen. Make sure your dishwasher is clean and empty before the party starts, then you can put your dirty dishes straight in for an easier cleanup.

Have I got you thinking about your Halloween dinner? There are a ton of  ‘clipped’  Halloween recipes saved in the Halloween recipe notebook on Evernote. Happy party planning!

Posted by Myriam under Fall Entertaining & Halloween & Party Food & Recipes & Table Setting | No Comments »

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