Tag Archives: entertaining

Soup’s on:: Tomato Basil Soup

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Can you believe we are in our final week of Juice January (well, healthy habits January)?! It has honestly flown by for me, and I hope it has for you as well. For our last week, I am sharing a couple of fun recipes, and this soup is one of them. Winter is a wonderful time to warm-up with a bowl of soup, plus soup is an excellent way to sneak in those extra servings of veggies. Today, it’s all about cream of tomato basil soup because honestly, is there anything better?

Tomato Basil Soup

Serves 8
You will need:
– 1/2 medium onion sliced thin
– 3 tablespoons butter
– 2 tablespoons olive oil
– 1 teaspoon salt
– 1/2 teaspoon pepper
– 2  28 oz. cans crushed tomatoes
– 4 cups vegetable stock
– 1 cup heavy cream
– 1 cup fresh basil chopped
To prepare:
In a large stockpot, heat butter and oil, add onions, salt and pepper.
Sauté until onions are lightly caramelized. Add tomatoes, vegetable stock, cream and basil. Simmer for 45 minutes. Garnish with basil. Serve warm.
Note: The soup may be made creamy by placing it in a blender or using a hand blender if desired. I personally like it a little chunky.
Enjoy!
xx, Annette
Photo by Sara Dubler on Unsplash
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Easy Brunch Cocktail

This is the best cocktail for Christmas brunch, but it's also perfect for any party this season. It's great for a crowd too!

Hi Everyone! It’s Nicole, Annette’s web-manager and friend, and I am thrilled to be guest posting today to bring you a festive holiday cocktail: pear prosecco punch.

In my house, I always make a huge Christmas brunch to enjoy after opening presents. The feast starts with sausage balls & pigs-in-a-blanket (oldies but goodies) and coffee for breakfast while we all tear through gifts. Late morning, I pop everything in the oven, and we sit down to a huge brunch complete with berry French toast, quiche, fruit, and of course, a festive cocktail. There are only three of us every year, but we always manage to have a full-fledged feast. This is the best cocktail for Christmas brunch.

One trick: freeze a bag of cranberries and keep them on hand in your freezer. Warm prosecco isn’t tasty. Frozen cranberries can be used in place of ice to keep your cocktails cold. They won’t water-down your beverage, and they’ll look festive, too!

Pear Prosecco Holiday Cocktail

Let me know if you give this a try! I’d love to hear what you think. Happy holidays!

xo, Nicole

Pear Prosecco Punch
serves 1

You will need:

– 2 oz Pear concentrate (I use Looza)
– 4 oz Prosecco
– Rosemary sprigs & frozen cranberries for garnish

To prepare:

Pour pear concentrate into a champagne or wine glass. Top with prosecco. Add a rosemary sprig and frozen cranberries for garnish.

photos by Nicole Letts

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Holiday desserts:: Walnut Roll

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I know most of you think I am Italian, but my family is Hungarian, and this is a classic Hungarian sweet. It is called Beigli (bay-glee), and it is made with walnuts and poppy seed filling with a yeasted dough. It really has a lovely flavor.

Find the recipe below. While it does take some extra prep and TLC, the end result is worth it, and it will make such a statement on your holiday table. Let me know if you give it a try!

Hungarian Walnut Roll (Beigli)
Prep time: 2 h 35 m Serves 24

For the dough, you will need:
– 1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast
– ½ cup of warm milk
– 5 tablespoons white sugar
– 1 cup unsalted butter, cubed
– 3 egg yolks
– 1 (8 ounce) container sour cream
– 4 cups self-rising flour

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For the filling, you will need:
– 1 cup whole milk
– 3/4 cups white sugar
– 2 1/2 cups finely chopped walnuts
– 1 lemon, zested
– 2/3 cup golden raisins

Egg wash:
– 1 egg
– 1 tablespoon water

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To prepare:

In the bowl of a standing mixer, combine yeast and warm milk. Once the yeast has proofed, add 5 tablespoons sugar, butter, egg yolks, and sour cream in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the dough hook and mix well. Slowly add the flour until the dough comes together. If the dough feels too wet, add a little more flour; if it’s too dry, add milk a tablespoon at a time. The dough should be moist and easy to work with.

Knead on a floured surface until smooth, then form the dough into a ball, cover the bowl with a plastic wrap, and set aside for 1 ½ hours.  While the dough is resting, make the filling. Heat the milk and ¾  cups sugar in a saucepan until the sugar dissolves and the mixture has a syrupy consistency about 5 minutes stirring occasionally. Add the chopped walnuts and stir to combine. Remove the saucepan from the heat; stir in the lemon zest and raisins, and let filling cool.

Once proofed (keep in mind the dough does not have a big rise), divide the dough into three pieces. Roll one piece of dough out on a lightly floured surface to form a long rectangle about a 1/4-inch thick 8’x 10”. Spread 1/3 of the walnut filling on the dough evenly, leaving about an inch of dough at each edge. Roll the dough up to form a log, and press to seal. Place the dough, seam-side down, on a parchment-lined or Silpat lined baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling. Makes 3 logs.

Beat the egg with the tablespoon of water to make an egg wash. Brush the loaves with egg wash and let rest for 1 hour in a warm place. After the dough has risen, brush it again with egg wash and put the baking tray in the refrigerator for 30 minutes (this will give the dough a shiny finish).

Preheat an oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).

Bake the loaves until they’re a deep golden brown, about 35 to 45 minutes.

Cool and slice into 1 inch slices.

xx Annette

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Homemade Salted Caramel Candies

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Hi Everyone! It’s Nicole, Annette’s web-manager and friend, and like many of you, I am counting down the hours until Christmas vacation. This year, thanks to the pandemic, I was hoping to lean into a relaxing holiday season. Ironically, while parties and gatherings have been canceled, I have still found myself wrapped-up in the usual holiday bustle. I’m truly hoping that by next week, I can take a welcome break from my computer, settle in with some holiday movies, and relax.

One of the things that I’m hoping to do during my holiday nesting is bake something…anything. As a cookbook author and entertaining expert, Annette has a ton of recipes in her repertoire. I asked her for a suggestion, and she sent over Martha Stewart’s homemade salted caramel candies, a recipe she has successfully made before.

I love this suggestion for two reasons: caramels will last well beyond the expiration date of a cookie, cake or pie, and I can also package them up for friends and neighbors. Who doesn’t love a sweet porch surprise?! I’m hoping to try these homemade salted caramel candies next week. Let me know if you do too!

xo Nicole

Homemade Salted Caramel Candies

You will need:
– Vegetable oil, for baking sheet
– 2 cups heavy cream
– 2 1/4 cups sugar
– 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
– 1 1/4 cups light corn syrup
– 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
– 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

To prepare:
Lightly brush bottom and sides of a 9-by-13-inch rimmed baking sheet with oil. Line with parchment, leaving a 2-inch overhang on long sides; lightly brush parchment with oil.

Bring cream, sugar, butter, and corn syrup to a boil in a large saucepan over high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat to medium-high; cook, stirring occasionally, until caramel reaches 248 degrees on a candy thermometer, about 15 minutes.

Immediately remove caramel from heat, and stir in salt and vanilla. Pour caramel onto baking sheet, and let stand, uncovered, at room temperature at least 8 hours and up to 1 day.

Lifting by parchment overhang, transfer caramel to a large cutting board. Cut into 3/4-by-1 1/4-inch pieces; wrap each piece in waxed paper or cellophane.

Recipe by Martha Stewart.

Photo by Heidi Geldhauser

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It’s the Little Things

This year more than any other, I think that the holidays will be about the little things. We will all be staying home, and cooking for a small crowd. What better time to try new things, like new recipes, and new ways to make your table setting really special? Below, I’m sharing a few ways to really make the holiday season special.

Flower Arranging:
How about honing your flower arranging skills. I personally love combining grocery store flowers and pumpkins and gourds, with branches and herbs I forage from the garden every year. It’s a great time to use an unexpected vessel, like an old pitcher or a soup tureen.

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Here are some easy tips on flower arranging:

While it might seem like a daunting task, arranging your own flowers can be simple yet stunning, and honestly, nothing gives me more pleasure than to arrange flowers for my own home or parties. If you follow a few easy steps, you’ll be arranging your own flowers in no time!

When beginning the design process, I start with what’s available at my local market (and even Trader Joe’s!), and I try to select a strong color theme. Selecting just one color flower, but choosing several varieties in that same color, is an easy way to pack a punch without a lot of thought. It honestly cuts way down on the stress, especially if you’re not quite ready for combining colors.

Step one: clean the bottom of the stems, and make a fresh cut.

Step two: place all the fillers in your container. For this arrangement, I’ve chosen a pitcher for my container, and Queen Anne’s Lace and Baby’s Breath as fillers.

Step three: add in your larger blooms. Be sure to work your way around the vase or pitcher. Either move around the table as you work, or spin your container to make sure your stems are even.

Step four: step back and fluff your arrangement as needed. Try to change the water every 2-3 days, and cut the stems on a diagonal every few days, too. This will keep your arrangement fresh and pretty! You can add the gourds and pumpkins around the table, maybe add a few smaller vases as well strewn around the table. More is more and more is better.

Making a Charcuterie Board:

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Create a special Charcuterie Board for your family. I usually prepare this as lunch. It’s super fun to design and even more, fun to eat. You can nibble while your main course cooks. Great if you’re watching games or working on a puzzle.

Setting the Table:

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This is R. Woods Tablescape small but lovely

I think that setting the table with a glass of wine in hand the night before is always fun. I like to put on some festive music and take my time.

Some of my go-to affordable table sources are Zara Home, Ikea, and Pottery Barn. Every year I try to buy some little addition to my table. This year I bought more candlesticks just to make the table even more glowy and happy. I also ordered some new colorful table wares from my friend potter Rebecca Wood, she also offers Ikebana Floral Lessons if you’re interested.

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This a table from the Zara Home Collection

My takeaway message is to make it special even if this year is so much different than every other year. Count your blessings and stay safe. Next year will be a big year to celebrate all the sacrifices we made. Keep the faith and keep your distance. And use this extra time to learn a craft and next year you’ll be a decorating pro. Happy Holidays.

xx Annette

 

 

 

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