Saturday, November 28, 2009

That's the Spirit! The 10 (Unbreakable) Commandments of the Holiday Cocktail Party

Attention all you cosmo swilling hipsters: The chic cocktail party is back in a big way! While it’s true there are a few modern twists to consider, the cocktail party seems to be enjoying a renaissance of sorts. And what better time to throw one than with the festive holiday season upon us?

The cocktail party is a great way to entertain a large group without breaking a sweat. They’re much easier to pull off than a dinner party and so much more fun! While cocktail parties are meant to be more loose and casual than a sit down affair, there are a few key things to remember that will guarantee your soiree is a smash.

Commandment #1: Send invites early!

At least 3 weeks before your party if possible. It’s a busy season for everyone and you want to give your friends (and yourself) time to plan. Cocktail parties, unlike those wild college keggers, have a beginning and ending point, usually about 2 hours in length between 6PM and 10PM. Be sure to specify times on your invitations.

Commandment #2: Invited guests: pay attention!

If you have been invited to a holiday party and have been asked to RSVP, DO IT! The sooner the better. As a host there is nothing more maddening than not knowing how many people are actually coming to your party and having unexpected last minute arrivals. While the old adage “the more the merrier” is always true, be a gracious guest and let the host know in advance that you’re coming. That way there will be enough food and drinks for you and your entourage.

Commandment #3: Use some decorating cents!

You don’t have to spend a fortune or 3 days decorating for a party, but you want it to look like you put some effort into it. Start by clearing away the clutter (that’s what closets are for!) to make way for guests. Decide on a place to stash coats and bags as guests arrive. Fresh flowers are always a good idea. Create a festive mood by choosing a lively color scheme for table tops, plates and napkins. Streamlined strands of inexpensive white lights add a beautiful touch to a room. Don’t forget the bathroom! Scented candles, an elegant bottle of hand soap, extra toilet paper and a basket of high-quality napkins or paper towels make guests feel pampered.

Commandment #4: Lighting is everything!

You’d be surprised how many people forget about this all important detail. There are a few simple things you can do to transform your living room into party central: Invest in inexpensive dimmers for your lamps. If that’s not an option, try pink light bulbs. Don’t laugh! You’ll look hotter, trust me. Man discovered fire so take advantage of it! Candles are a quick way to lend a warm glow to a party. Try placing loose clusters of votives around the room. Remember, there’s a reason why bars are dark and swanky lounges have so many candles everywhere. It’s sexy, makes everyone look better and no one wants to feel like they’re partying in a supermarket!

Commandment #5: Music moves your party!

So do put some serious thought into your soundtrack. A few days ahead put together your iPod playlist or make mix cds. Keep the energy up and don’t be afraid to mix genres, but make sure the mood of the songs blend well together. See to it that the music isn’t too loud or too soft. You don’t want guests screaming to talk to each other. On the other hand, make sure they’re not straining to hear “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer,” either. Which reminds me: Christmas music is fine, but please don’t play it all night long. We’ve all been forced to listen to it in every retail store since late October, so give your guests a break.

Commandment #6: Break the ice!

Make sure your guests have a drink in their hand no more than five minutes after they arrive. For many, socializing with a room full of strangers can be more stressful than being Sarah Palin in that recent Oprah interview! The simple act of holding a drink gives them a “prop” and something to do with their hands. As the host it’s your job to ease them in by introducing them around to those they haven’t met and point out an interest or a hobby they may have in common.

Commandment #7: Keep ‘em moving!

The entire point of a cocktail party is to mingle. To encourage that behavior, set up your bar and your buffet table on opposite ends of the room (or in a different one all together). That way you don’t end up with traffic jams and a huge cluster of people in one spot. Also, sitting down is a “no no!” To keep the energy up and the party moving only provide half as many seats as you have guests. Besides, we all look thinner and more elongated when we stand.

Commandment #8: No more than a mouthful!

This may sound obvious, but since it’s a cocktail party (which implies: drink in hand at all times) you only have one hand free for noshing. To that end, make sure that the food you choose to serve can be eaten accordingly. You’d be shocked at how many would-be-hosts never consider this detail. I actually went to a cocktail party once where the host served a spiral cut ham! Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all about a good Honeybaked, but there weren’t even eating utensils provided. Hello! Think it through, people. The rule is simple: One-handed, bite size (okay, maybe two bites!) morsels that can be handled gracefully while sipping a festive Pomtini (see recipe below).

Commandment #9: Make your party DIY!

Have bottles of wine at the ready, along with beer and sodas (for the designated drivers) chilling on ice. Set up the bar with pre-made pitchers of your party’s signature drinks (I always choose 2 and keep more on standby), along with a big bucket of ice, cocktail shakers and drink garnishes. This is a great way to get guests involved in the party and not get stuck playing mixologist all night. Just be sure to replenish pitchers and ice as they dwindle. Multiply number of guests times 3 to determine how many glasses you’ll need.

Commandment #10: Be a guest at your own party!

This is perhaps the most important commandment of all. It’s show time so no more stressing about the little details! You’ve invited people you love. You’ve taken care of every detail. Everything looks amazing. Take a deep breath before you open the door to your first guest. Pour them (and you) a well-deserved cocktail and go mingle. Happy Holidays!

Sugared & Spiced Nuts

Serves a party

1 ½ pounds whole, unsalted almonds (or your favorite nut)
½ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup water
½ tablespoon dried grated orange peel (available on spice aisle)
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
Pinch of nutmeg

In a large, heavy skillet over high heat, combine the sugar, water, orange zest, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and nutmeg. Bring to the boil and stir until sugar dissolves. Add the nuts to the pan and stir to coat evenly. Continue to stir until all the liquid has evaporated. Spread nuts on a parchment lined sheet pan and allow to cool.

Cheeseburger Sliders

Makes 24

2 (11 ounce) packages refrigerated crusty French bread dough (Pillsbury brand)
1 large egg yolk plus one tablespoon water lightly beaten, for egg wash
2 tablespoons sesame seeds

2 to 3 tablespoons good olive oil, for pan searing
2 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons steak sauce
1 ½ tablespoons Montreal Steak Seasoning
1 ½ pounds ground sirloin
6 slices deli-style sharp cheddar cheese, each cut into 4 equal squares
4 small plum tomatoes, thinly sliced
Green leaf lettuce, torn to fit the burgers

¼ cup good quality mayonnaise
¼ cup ketchup
Kosher salt & freshly ground pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and set aside. Cut each package of bread dough into 12 equal pieces and roll each piece into a ball about the size of a “golf ball.” The elasticity of the dough makes it a bit of a struggle to keep it round. You may have to beat it into submission. Don’t be afraid to show it who’s boss. Place the newly subservient dough on prepared sheet pan and brush with the egg wash and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake in the center of the oven for 22 to 24 minutes until golden brown. Remove to a rack and cool completely.

Preheat olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat until hot.

Meanwhile, to make the burgers, whisk together the egg yolks, steak sauce and grill seasoning in a medium bowl and add the ground sirloin. Gently combine with your fingertips being careful not to overwork the meat. Using approximately 2 tablespoons of the meat mixture, carefully roll into meatballs and press between your palms to flatten into a small patty. Pan sear until cooked through to desired doneness, about 3 minutes on each side. Place a piece of cheese on each patty and tent loosely with a piece of foil to melt cheese.

To assemble the burgers, cut each bun in half crosswise and place a teaspoon sized dollop of the special sauce on the bottom of each. Top with the hamburger patty, tomato slice, a piece of lettuce and the bun top. Skewer each mini cheeseburger with a festive toothpick to hold together and serve immediately.

Ham & Fontina Mini Frittatas

Makes 24

Nonstick (butter flavored) cooking spray, for muffin pans
¼ pound smoked deli ham, finely chopped
¼ cup Fontina cheese, finely grated
3 tablespoons fresh chives, chopped
8 large eggs
2 tablespoons heavy cream
Kosher salt & freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Spray the muffin pan(s) lightly with nonstick spray. In a small bowl lightly toss together the ham, cheese and chives. Fill each muffin cup with the ham and cheese mixture dividing evenly. In a 4 cup glass measuring cup, whisk together the eggs and the cream and season with salt and pepper. Pour the egg mixture into each cup until just even with the rim. Bake until frittatas are set, 10 to 12 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Chicken Satay with Spicy Peanut Dipping Sauce

Serves 4

½ cup coconut milk
1 tablespoon fish sauce (nam pla or nuoc nam, available on Asian aisle of grocery store)
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
2 teaspoons sambal (hot chili paste, available on Asian aisle of grocery store)
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, finely grated
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 pound chicken tenders
Bamboo skewers, soaked in water

1 cup smooth natural peanut butter, well stirred
½ cup chicken stock
1/4 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons tamari soy sauce
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, grated
2 teaspoons sambal (hot chili paste)
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon dry roasted unsalted peanuts, chopped, for garnish

In a medium bowl combine the coconut milk, fish sauce, lime juice, sambal, brown sugar, cilantro, ginger, turmeric and season with salt and pepper. Pour marinade over the chicken tenders in a heavy gallon sized Ziplock bag, which in my opinion is the easiest and best way to marinate meat. Marinate for at least 30 minutes at room temperature, or even better for several hours in the refrigerator. The longer the meat swims in the marinade the more flavorful it will be.

Meanwhile, in a small bow, whisk together the peanut butter, chicken stock, rice vinegar, brown sugar, tamari, ginger, sambal and turmeric. Garnish with chopped peanuts.

Preheat an indoor grill pan or outdoor grill to high.

Thread the chicken tenders onto the bamboo skewers and grill until chicken is cooked through, about 2 to 3 minutes per side. Serve immediately with spicy peanut dipping sauce.

Salt-Roasted Shrimp with Scampi Dip

Serves 8

1 (4-pound) box rock salt
16 uncooked, unpeeled large shrimp
1/3 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, chilled, diced
Kosher salt & Freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon Italian parsley, chopped

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.

Spread salt in 13x9x2-inch baking dish. Arrange shrimp in single layer on top of salt. Roast shrimp on salt until just opaque in center and shells are pink, 6 to 7 minutes. If you're unsure of the shrimps doneness, simply cut into one and be sure that it's lost its glassy middle.

Bring the wine, lemon juice, and garlic to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat until liquid is reduced to 1 tablespoon, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Add a few pieces of butter; whisk until creamy. Return pan to low heat. Add a few more pieces of butter; whisk until smooth (do not let mixture boil). Continue whisking in butter, a few pieces at a time. Stir in parsley; season with plenty of salt and pepper. Let stand while shrimp finish cooking.

Transfer sauce to bowl and serve shirmp on a fresh bed of rock salt for presentation.

Smoked Salmon Blinis

Serves 8

1 package of good quality smoked salmon, thinly sliced
1 package frozen blinis (available at gourmet markets and in SoCal, Gelson’s)
½ cup crème fraiche or sour cream
Fresh dill or chives, chopped, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Arrange the blinis in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake according to package directions for 4 minutes. Allow the blinis to cool slightly and top each one with a small dollop of crème fraiche, a piece of smoked salmon and garnish with a sprig of fresh dill. Serve immediately.


Serves 1

3 ounces good vodka
3 ounces pure pomegranate juice
1 ½ ounces triple sec
1 ½ ounces freshly squeezed lime juice
2 tablespoons simple syrup*

Pour vodka, pomegranate juice, triple sec and lime juice into a cocktail shaker. Tumble in a handful of ice and shake vigorously. Strain into a chilled martini glass and let the party begin!

*Simple syrup is incredibly, well, simple to make. Combine 1 cup of granulated sugar with 1 cup water. Bring to the boil, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Allow to cool and store in the refrigerator.

Green Apple Martini

Serves 1

3 ounces good vodka
3 ounces Apple Pucker
1 ½ ounces sweet & sour mix
1 ½ ounces 7-Up
Green apple, thinly sliced, for garnish

Pour vodka, Apple Pucker, sweet & sour and 7-Up into a cocktail shaker. Tumble in a handful of ice and shake vigorously. Strain into a chilled martini glass and float a thin slice of green apple on the top. Cheers!

Caramel Apple Martini: Add 1 ½ ounces of caramel flavored syrup to the mix before shaking.

For a little extra color add a splash of grenadine syrup after straining into the glass, but don’t stir! Otherwise, you’ll just end up with a mottled mess. The syrup will settle to the bottom and add an extra layer of color and flavor. Garnish with a maraschino cherry.

Mini Cookies & Milk Shots

Serves 12

1½ cups cold milk
Assorted mini cookies (Oreo, Nutter Butters, Milano, Chocolate Chip, etc.)

Fill 2 ounce shot glasses with milk and place on a tray next to mini cookies. The perfect sweet ending to a holiday cocktail party.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Beauty of the Feast: How to Cook Thanksgiving Dinner at Competition Level, even if you Burn Water!

Thanksgiving conjures up two thoughts for me: one of warm, fuzzy splendor and one of sheer panic. The first: a beautiful feast lovingly prepared and spread out on gorgeous, crisp linens, the turkey itself the regal, bronzed centerpiece of a relaxed and wonderful day spent with family and friends, while the aroma of perfectly spiced pumpkin pie floats through the house. It’s too idyllic for words, like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting.

Then, of course, the record scratches in the soundtrack of my mind and I quickly come crashing back to reality and remember what it’s really been like so many Thanksgivings before: Me, standing in the midst of chaos, panic-stricken, with giblet gravy splattered across my shirt, the smoke alarm going off, me trying to cook (or rather, trying not to burn) a picture-perfect meal for a house full of eager and hungry guests. All the while I’m fending off hyperventilation and a full-blown anxiety attack that leaves me teetering on the verge of a nervous breakdown, wandering the streets, all wild-eyed and whacked, babbling incoherently about mashed potatoes gone horribly wrong! It’s enough to make me vow never to put myself through that again. I need a stiff drink just thinking about it!

But inevitably the next year rolls around, and like childbirth (so I’m told) I forget the agony of the past, telling myself it wasn’t quite as bad as I remember. After all, no one was hurt! And before I know it, I find myself pondering this year’s Thanksgiving menu once again. This time, however, unwilling to let history repeat itself, I’m applying an altogether different plan of attack.

Like so much in life, the key to a successful Turkey Day lies in planning ahead. So this year I’m starting early in both the planning and preparation. I'm not doing an entire turkey, instead, I'm sticking to the breast. It's everyone's favorite anyway. Then, on the day of, there is little more to do than roast the turkey breasts, light a few candles, and eat myself into a tryptophan-induced coma. My game plan is simple as long as I (and you) remember three things:

1) Choose a foolproof menu that can (mostly) be made ahead
2) Let go of impossible standards of perfection, and
3) Always remember, it’s not life or death so make it fun.


Cranberry Kir

Union Square Café Rosemary Cashews

Wild Mushroom & Barley Soup
Herb Stuffed Turkey Breasts with Pan Gravy

Savory Herb & Gruyere Strata

Vanilla-Scented Cranberry Sauce

Steam-Sautéed Green Beans with Caramelized Shallots

Yukon Gold & Sweet Potato Gratin

Pumpkin Gooey Butter Cake with Cinnamon Whipped Cream

A (Mostly) Do-Ahead Thanksgiving Day for Eight

Up to one week ahead:
Order the turkey breasts from the grocery store or butcher. Shop for nonperishable food items, beverages, and decorative elements like candles. Make rosemary cashews and store in an airtight container. Don't eat them all! Make iPod playlist for guests.

2 days ahead:
Pick up the turkey breasts and other groceries; make the soup and the cranberry sauce.

1 day ahead:
Caramelize shallots, wash and trim green beans, make Savory Herb & Gruyere Strata, Whip Cream, set table.
Thanksgiving morning: Choose a sassy outfit for yourself. Take a deep breath and relax. You can do it!

2 hours ahead:
Prepare, stuff, and roast turkey breasts. Bring cranberry sauce to room temperature.

1 1/2 hours ahead:
Make potato gratin; bake along with the strata while turkey breasts are resting.

30 minutes ahead:
Gently reheat soup.

15 minutes before guests arrive:
Turn on music, light the candles, pop the champagne cork, put out cashews, and steam sauté green beans.

The rest of the day:
Relax and give thanks.

Cranberry Kir

2 bottles good-quality champagne, well chilled
1 Bottle of pure cranberry juice Fresh cranberries for garnish

Fill a tall champagne flute 3/4 full with champagne. Top off with a splash of cranberry juice and garnish with cranberries. Cheers!

Union Square Café Rosemary Cashews

1 pound dry roasted whole cashews, unsalted
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 Tablespoons fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Spread the cashews out on a sheet pan and toast them in the oven for about 6 minutes until they begin to smell nutty and take on a bit of color. Meanwhile, in a large bowl combine the melted butter, salt, chopped rosemary, brown sugar, and cayenne pepper. Stir to combine. When the cashews come out of the oven toss them thoroughly with the butter mixture to coat. Serve warm.

Wild Mushroom & Barley Soup

Serves 8

2 ounces dried porcini mushrooms
3½ cups hot tap water
¼ cup good olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
2 ribs celery, diced
1 fresh bay leaf
1 pound crimini mushrooms, cleaned* and sliced
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped
Kosher salt & freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
1 quart beef stock
½ cup pearl barley
¼ cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped

In a medium bowl, soak porcini mushrooms in hot water for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, in a large stock pot or Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat and sauté the onion, carrots, celery and bay leaf until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the crimini mushrooms and the thyme. Cook until the mushrooms soften and give off their liquid, about 5 or 6 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Fish the porcini mushrooms out of the soaking liquid with a slotted spoon and chop roughly. Strain the liquid through a fine mesh sieve or a piece of cheesecloth to catch any grit that has collected on the bottom of the bowl. Add the soaking liquid to the pot along with the beef stock and barley. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a gentle simmer until the barley is tender, about 40 minutes. Stir in the parsley and serve immediately.

*Never run mushrooms under water. They’re like little sponges and will soak up all that liquid and become waterlogged. Simply wipe them with a damp cloth, or dust them off with a pastry brush.

Herb-Roasted Turkey Breasts with Pan Gravy

Serves 4

1 small onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 lemon, zested
12 fresh sage leaves
Large handful fresh flat-leaf parsley
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for oiling pan
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
Freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
6 fresh bay leaves
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 boneless turkey breast halves, skin on (about 2 to 2½ pounds each)

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 to 3 cups chicken stock
Kosher salt & freshly cracked black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh sage, chopped

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Oil a roasting pan and set it aside. Put the onion and the lemon zest into the bowl of a food processor and blitz until fine. Add the sage, parsley, olive oil, and 1 teaspoon salt and pulse until it forms a coarse paste. Place 2 of the bay leaves and the butter into a small pan and heat over medium-low heat until the butter is bubbling. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Place the turkey breasts on a work surface. Carefully run your fingers between the skin and the flesh from one end, being careful not to pull it completely off, creating a pocket. Season the turkey breasts generously with salt and pepper. Stuff half of the herb paste under the skin of each breast, and spread it evenly under the skin. Transfer the breasts to the roasting pan, and slide 2 bay leaves underneath each one. (The heat of the pan will release the bay leaf oils and flavor the breast.) Using a pastry brush, baste the breasts with half of the bay butter. Place the turkey in the oven and roast for 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes, baste the turkey breasts with the remaining butter, and decrease the oven temperature to 400 degrees. Roast for an additional 25 to 30 minutes, until cooked through, and a thermometer placed in the thickest part of the breast registers 160 degrees.

Remove turkey breasts from the oven, transfer to a platter, cover, and let rest for 10 minutes loosely tented under foil before carving. Meanwhile, to get on with the gravy, place the roasting pan over the burner on medium heat. Melt the butter and sprinkle the flour over the pan juices, and cook, stirring, for a few minutes to make a roux. Add the wine, and scrape the pan to lift the bits that are stuck to the bottom. Cook for a minute to burn off the alcohol, then, while stirring, pour in the chicken stock. Bring to a simmer, and stir until thickened. Season with salt and pepper and add the sage. Slice the turkey breast on the diagonal, and serve with warm gravy.

Savory Herb & Gruyere Strata

Serves 8

¼ cup unsalted butter, plus more for buttering pan
2 shallots, sliced
1/2 cup dry white wine
6 large eggs
2 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon white pepper
2½ cups Gruyere cheese (about 10 ounces)
2½ cups Swiss cheese (about 10 ounces)
¼ cup fresh chives, chopped
¼ cup fresh sage, chopped
¼ cup fresh marjoram, chopped
1 pound loaf of day old French bread, cut into ½-inch pieces

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Liberally butter a 7x11 inch glass baking dish and set aside. Saute shallots in butter until soft. Add wine and simmer for about 3 to 5 minutes to reduce the wine. Set aside.

Whisk eggs, cream, salt and pepper in a large bowl, add shallot wine mixture. Combine the cheese and herbs together. Add all but 1 cup cheese to the egg mixture then carefully fold in the bread pieces. Allow to stand a minimum of 1 hour in the refrigerator, or up to overnight.

Pour mixture into prepared pan and sprinkle with remaining cheese herb mixture. Bake bread pudding until golden and puffed, about 40 minutes. Cool 10 minutes.

Yukon Gold and Sweet Potato Gratin

Serves 4

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup whole milk (scant)
1 large garlic clove, peeled and crushed
3/4 teaspoon. kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
3/4 pound Yukon gold potatoes
3/4 pound sweet potatoes or yams
1 1/2 cups heavy cream

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Liberally butter the bottom of a rectangular baking dish with half of the butter and set aside. Place a small saucepan with the milk, garlic, salt, pepper, and nutmeg over low heat while you set about peeling and slicing the potatoes. A mandoline is perfect for this, but I usually opt for a really sharp butcher knife, mostly because I'm too lazy to drag out and wash any extra equipment. Slice the potatoes about an eighth of an inch thick, discarding the smallest slices. Don't wash the potatoes after slicing them the surface starch is indispensable.

Evenly arrange the potatoes in the bottom of the baking pan, one overlapping row at a time. Layer the following row about a third of the way over the previous row. Alternate rows of sweet and Yukon gold potatoes. Continue until the baking pan is neatly paved. It should look something like a shingled rooftop.

Bring the milk to a boil, fish out the garlic clove, and pour the milk over the potatoes. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and bake in the middle of the oven for about 15 minutes until most of the milk has been absorbed. Meanwhile, set the cream over low heat and bring to a boil. Pour the cream over the semi-cooked potatoes and dot the entire surface with the remaining butter.

Continue to bake, uncovered, for another 20 to 25 minutes until the potatoes are golden brown and spotted with darker, crisp areas. The potatoes will be dotted with thickened cream, especially between the slices.Allow the gratin to rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Vanilla- Scented Cranberry Sauce

Serves 8 to 10

2 cups freshly squeezed orange juice
1 cup sugar, or to taste
2 whole vanilla beans, split lengthwise, seeds scraped out
2 (12 ounce) bags fresh cranberries

In a medium saucepan combine orange juice, sugar and vanilla beans, stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Add the cranberries and bring to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer until berries pop, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature. Fish the vanilla bean out and scrape the seeds into the sauce and mix well. Discard the bean. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Steam Suateed Green Beans with Caramelized Shallots

Serves 8

3 tablespoons good olive oil
6 large shallots, peeled & thinly sliced
2 1/2 pounds fresh green beans, cleaned and trimmed
1/3 cup water
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
Kosher salt & freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

In medium skillet, heat oil over low heat. Add shallots and cook, stirring frequently, for 15 minutes or until soft and deep golden brown. Don’t rush this part. It really does take about 15 minutes to develop the sugars and caramelize the shallots. Trust me, your patience will be rewarded. They key to success is low and slow.

Meanwhile, as the shallots are cooking away, get on with the green beans. In a large saucepan over high heat, combine the green beans and water. Cover saucepan with a tightly fitting lid and resist the urge to lift the lid and peek until steam begins to escape around the edges of the lid, about 5 minutes. Remove lid and sauté until beans are crisp-tender, about 2 more minutes. Remove from heat, drain and toss with the butter, caramelized shallots and season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Pumpkin Gooey Butter Cake with Cinnamon Whipped Cream


1 package Butter Recipe Golden cake mix
1 large egg
8 tablespoons unslated butter, melted


1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1 (15-ounce) can solid pack pumpkin
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1¾ cups confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg


2 cups heavy cream
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon of cinnamon, or to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine the cake mix, egg, and butter and mix well with an electric mixer. Pat the mixture into the bottom of a lightly greased 13 by 9-inch baking pan. To make the filling: In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and pumpkin until smooth. Add the eggs, vanilla, and butter, and beat together. Next, add the confectioners’ sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and mix well. Spread pumpkin mixture over cake batter and bake for 40 to 50 minutes. Make sure not to overbake as the center should be a little gooey. Serve with fresh cinnamon whipped cream.