Food from the Hart

Posts Tagged ‘how-to guides’

Halloween Fun: Turning the Dial Up on Your Classic Spook Fest

In Celebrations on October 9, 2011 at 5:44 pm

Halloween is often brushed aside as a children’s holiday. Though as we get older it gives seems to give us license to be someone or something else for one evening.  As children, black and orange, witches and goblins, chocolate and lollipops are enough. For most adults, free candy is simply not reason to embrace the holiday.

This year take your typical garish and goolish fright-fest and turn it into an elegant and evil soiree.  A couple easy cocktails, festive hors d’oeuvres, and a lot of black fabric is all your need to turn your small space into a something far from friendly.

It Begins with an Invite

The devil is really in the details when throwing a successful party.  The tone and feeling of the event begins the moment guests receive an invitation.  You can always go the route of sending paper invitations, but and are easy, cost-effective and earth-friendly.  Each site has a number of Halloween-themed designs to choose from. Remember, this isn’t a child’s party.  Pick a theme that matches the scene you are trying to set.

Set the Scene

Halloween is all about over-the-top theatrics. Don’t be afraid to really play up the ambience. Here are some easy tips for creating the perfect Hallows Eve look:

  • Use black as your base color and work from there, adding tiny pops of dark orange, white and gold.
  • Purchase inexpensive black fabric from a craft store and use to cover table tops and wrap lamp shades for a dark and dramatic look.
  • Place groupings of black taper candles along with smaller tea candles around the space. Use as a main source of light once the party begins.
  • Create creepy tableaux out of old books, skulls, crystal balls and apothecary bottles filled with water and orange food coloring.
  • Raid the party supply store for black leaf garland and cobwebs to drape over lamps, bookshelves and tables.
  • Check out the local flower market for black tulips, burgundy calla lilies, and black roses. Use together in flower arrangements to place around.
  • Turn on televisions and have old black and white films playing on mute.  Anything Hitchcock would work brilliantly.
  • Create a spooky music mix with the help of one of I-Tunes pre-set playlists or pick your favorite Halloween jam and plug into Pandora.

What to serve

Let your menu take a cue from your setting.  Small bites, cocktails and devilish desserts are all your need to round out the evening. Here are a few menu suggestions:


Spicy Toasted Pumpkin Seeds

Chicken Leg Lollipops

Skeleton Fingers

Roasted Potato Moons


Monster Eyeballs

Brain Cookies

Bowls of Assorted Candy


Dark and Stormy

Blood Orange Martini


Must Have Pantry Items for Impromptu Entertaining

In Features on March 7, 2011 at 5:15 pm

Entertaining is easy if you have a plan and time to prepare, but it’s those impromptu evenings that truly test your chops as a host.  Keeping a variety of pantry items on hand for these occasions will undoubtably take the stress out of entertaining unexpected guests.  If you keep at least a few of these things in the kitchen you can throw together delicious hors d’oeuvres or a meal in no time.

  • Plain breadsticks
  • Jars of olives, stuffed grape leaves, roasted red peppers
  • Mixed nuts
  • Cornichons or dill pickles
  • Jars of your favorite pasta sauce
  • Few types of pasta like penne, linguine, farfalle
  • Good crackers
  • Variety of chips like tortilla, pita, root vegetable
  • Jars of salsa
  • Jars of mustard (dijon, whole grain, honey)
  • Dried fruit like cranberries, apricots, figs, raisins
  • Chutney / honey
  • Microwave popcorn
  • Dried Italian sausage and salami
  • Biscotti / cookies

Food 911: Bringing Food Back from the Brink of Disaster

In Features on February 16, 2011 at 4:01 pm

It happens to the best of us.  You are preparing for a dinner or party and the soup on the stove is boiling over, the cake in the oven is burning, the sautéed veggies are over cooked.  Complete disaster, right? Wrong. Here are a few easy tricks of the trade to help rescue even the most dreadful kitchen nightmares.

1. Burnt Food

While burnt and crispy are desirable characteristics for Crème Brûlée or even some rice and stews, for the vast majority of culinary creations burnt equals bad.  But this common kitchen emergency is fixable.  First, remove the saucepan from heat.  Carefully pour the contents to a fresh saucepan, do not scrape any of the burnt bits into the new pan.  Add a pinch of sugar to mask any lingering burnt flavor. However, if you burn onions or garlic the only solution is to toss it and start over.

2. Over-Cooked Vegetables

In the event you over cook or sauté your veggies immediately drain them and throw into a blender or food processor.  Add a touch of salt, pepper, butter and mix.  Now you have a beautiful veggie purée. You can also add a little heavy cream or stock and turn the veggies into a soup.

3. Over-Baked Cake

Don’t chuck it! Cut the cake into 2 inch cubes and use instead of bread in bread pudding.  Or poke holes in the cake and soak in a plain or flavored simple syrup.  You could even add a little liquor like rum or amaretto.  Serve the syrup soaked cake with fresh fruit and ice cream.

4. Too Spicy

The best way to cut the heat is to add sour cream, crème fraîche or plain yogurt.  If your dish is still packing too much punch, serve with lots of crusty bread, potatoes or rice to help mellow the spicy flavor.

5. Too Salty

I like to suggest you season food a bit at a time through the cooking process rather than trying to add all the salt at once.  In the event you end up with something that taste like a salt lick or sea water, try adding acid like lemon juice or vinegar.

6. Stale French Bread or Dinner Rolls

This is so frustrating.  You buy a baguette the day or two before a dinner party and by the time guests are arriving you realize the bread is hard as a rock.  Don’t fret.  Heat the oven to 250 degrees F.  Throw a little water on the bread and wrap in aluminum foil.  Cook for 10 minutes or so. The steam should bring the bread back to life.

10 Tips for Stress Free Entertaining

In Features on February 6, 2011 at 10:05 am

Entertaining often seems like a great idea until you realize how much you have to do to prepare and how little time you have to prepare in.  These 10 easy tips will help take the stress out of planning your next party – giving you more time to enjoy!

1. Make a Plan

Clearly define the occasion or purpose, number of guests, and dishes you want to serve.  Also choose a party format – cocktails, sit down dinner, potluck.

2. Write it Down

Once you have a plan put it on paper.  Seeing it visually will help to organize your thoughts and preparation. Detail what steps you need to take to execute each dish.  Start with what will take the longest and move from there.

3. Choose your Menu Wisely

Think about what is realistic in the kitchen space you have.  Try to mix do-it-ahead dishes with ones that need to be made day of.  Also think about cooking methods.  Don’t choose three baked.

4. Stick to What you Know

A dinner or cocktail party isn’t the best time to try out a new recipe.  Prepare something you’re comfortable with and save the recipe testing for another evening.

5. Lists are your Friend

Now that you have a menu, make a list of the ingredients to purchase.  Include the quantities of each.  This will save you time and ensure you don’t over or under buy.  Before you leave for the grocery store give your pantry a once over and check off anything you already have.  This goes for non-food items like paper towels, garbage bags, dish soap, aluminum foil, and plastic wrap as well.  Make sure you have enough before the party starts.

6. Clean as you Go

As you’re working through the prep list, clean! After each dish is complete wash what you’ve used.  You want to start the party with a spotless kitchen.  It’ll keep you sane as the party ramps up and will certainly impress your guests!  Everyone loves to believe even the most complex dinner was whipped up in mere minutes.

7. Empty the Dishwasher

Make sure that you have an empty dishwasher before the party starts.  There’s nothing worse than having to unload in the middle of courses while dirty dishes pile up in the sink.

8. Tidy the Bathroom

Empty the trash can, clean the sink, organize toiletries.  Leave extra toilet paper easily accessible and put hand towels out.  It’s also nice to light a candle in the bathroom.

9. Get the Music Going

Turn the music on prior to guests arriving.  It’ll not only help calm any last minute party prep stress, but will set the mood when guest come in.

10. Stay Cool

95% of the success of a party is the attitude of the host.  If you’re relaxed and having fun you’re guests will follow.  Remember, it’s just a party!

Art & Science Behind Stocking Your Bar

In Features on February 4, 2011 at 3:46 pm

Stocking your bar before a party can be tricky.  There’s no definitive formula, but here are some tips to help keep you on track.

Do What You Can Ahead of Time

  • Purchase all your liquor and wine in advance.  It will cut down on party day stress. You might even consider having it delivered if you live in an area where that is available.
  • Cut and organize your garnishes like lemons, limes, olives, cherries, onions the day before.  Store them in plastic bags and pop them in the fridge.

Alcohol Fun Facts

  • One bottle of wine is equal to 750 mL or 24.4 fluid ounces.  There are about 5 servings in a bottle.  Most bartenders recommend 1/2 bottle per person.
  • One fifth of liquor is approximately 750 mL or 25 fluid ounces.  There are about 13 two-ounce shots in each bottle.  It’s safe to say a fifth will serve 12 people.
  • At a dinner party, assume guests will have one drink before dinner, two glasses of wine with dinner and one drink every hour after that.
  • For a cocktail party, assume guests will have two drinks in the first hour and one to one and a half drinks every hour after.

The Art

  • Think about the profile of your guests.  Do they like wine? Any big beer drinkers? Prefer vodka over whiskey? You know they love to party.  Adjust your bar set up accordingly.
  • Consider the season, time of day and day of the week.  In fall/winter, guests are more likely to go for red over white. Spring/summer will be the opposite. Afternoon parties lend themselves to lighter consumption, stock up on wine and beer over the hard stuff.  Friday and Saturday night parties will often last longer than Monday night affairs.
  • When purchasing mixers like soda, juice and tonic water, opt for liter bottles instead of cans.  This saves you money, cuts down on waste, and will reduce your clean up time.

The Science

The table below should help you plan for your next party.  Keep in mind this is just a guide, feel free to adjust based on you and your guests preferences.

BEVERAGE 6-10 11-15 16-20 21-24
Red Wine 

4 bottles 7 bottles 10 bottles 12 bottles
White Wine 

4 bottles 7 bottles 10 bottles 12 bottles

1 case 2 cases 2-3 cases 3 cases

1 fifth 1-2 fifths 2 fifths 3 fifths

1 fifth 1-2 fifths 2 fifths 3 fifths

1 fifth 1 fifth 2 fifths 2 fifths

1 fifth 1 fifth 2 fifths 2 fifths

1 fifth 1 fifth 1 fifth 1-2 fifths


Five 2-liter bottles Six 2-liter bottles Eight 2-liter bottles Eight 2-liter bottles

How Much Food Do You Need for a Dinner Party?

In Features on February 3, 2011 at 12:54 pm

Working out how much food you need for a party can be tricky.  I like to err on the side of having too much rather than too little.  There’s nothing worse than running out of food with hours left to go!  While estimating food quantities isn’t a science I think this easy table should help get you in the ballpark.

It’s also good to keep in mind who your guests are.  If you know you know certain individuals love salad or dessert, try to take that into account and adjust your portions accordingly.  The same goes for if you know people you’ve invited don’t eat a particular item like meat or cheese.

Another way to ensure you have enough to eat is to increase the number of choices you offer.  For example, for a party of 12, instead of doubling an entree recipe, make two different ones.  This is a great way to go if you know you have guests with dietary restrictions.

This table is based on recipes that serve 6 people.  However, you can adjust any recipe accordingly.  For example, if your recipe for a side dish has a yield of 4 and you have 8 guests coming, multiply by 1.5 to make the appropriate amount. And remember, it’s never a bad thing to have leftovers!

Number of Guests










Small Bites 

1x 2x 3x 4x
Dips & Spreads 1x 1.5x 2x 2.5x

1x 1.5x 2x 2.5x

1x 2x 3x 4x
Side Dish 

1x 1.5x 2x 2.5x

1x 2x 2.5x 3x

1x 1.5x 2x 2.5x

1x 2x 3x 4x

Snowed In!

In Features on January 12, 2011 at 2:16 pm

Snow, wind, cold.  Not a recipe for a get together, but celebrate the weather and relax with one these classic cold weather dishes.  Consider the snow day a excuse to check out of the “real world” and have a party for yourself!

Veal Blanquette with Mushrooms

Individual Chicken and Root Vegetable Pot Pies

Ratatouille with Farfalle

Check out a few other ways to pamper yourself and celebrate being stuck inside.

Set the Scene– Even if it’s just you, light your candles and dim the lamps.  The low light will mellow the mood, helping you relax and make the most of your day home.

Grab a Warm Drink– Try kicking up the classic hot chocolate or herbal tea with a little liquor.  Any of the Godiva liquors taste wonderful in Cocoa and Rum goes beautifully with hot tea.

Take a Nap – How often do you get to curl up with a cozy blanket and close your eyes in the middle of the day? There is no better way to rejuvenate your mind and body.  To maximize your nap time try turning off the TV and opting for a good novel.





Party Etiquette: How not to Anger you Neighbor

In Features on January 10, 2011 at 5:19 pm

Apartment dwellers all know what it feels like to try to get some sleep while your neighbor is throwing a rager next door.  It’s not fun and it certainly doesn’t engender any neighborly love.  Next time you have a shindig that has the potential of getting a little loud, take heed of these three simple rules and stay in your fellow resident’s good graces.

1. Heads Up Goes a Long Way: Always give any neighbors you share walls with an advanced warning you’re planning on dancing the night away.

2. Wine and Food Make Everyone Happy: The day of the party drop off a small care package with ear plugs, a bottle of wine, something baked or even chocolate along with a hand written note apologizing in advance for any noise.  It’s always a good idea to include your phone number in case of a volume emergency.

3. It’s the Thought that Counts: If all else fails, you can always invite them to your party. Not all neighbors are created equal so choose wisely if you do this!

Top 5 Must Haves for Small Space Entertaining

In Features on January 6, 2011 at 3:16 pm

Welcome in 2011 with these must have items that will help you throw great parties throughout the year.

1. Battery Operated Candles 

How many times have you gone to bed after a party and realized you left candles burning? Now you don’t have to worry about it! These amazing little guys provide the same light and ambiance that real candles do without the fire hazard.

To purchase check out:, 6 for $4.50

2. Plain White Serving Platters 

Okay, I know this sounds basic. But everyone needs at least two large plain white serving platters.  They can make everything from a cheese platter to take-out look elegant and can add visual interest to your table.

To purchase check out:, $10-$40

3. Tray Tables 

I know this sounds weird, but trust me, tray tables can be a small space entertaining lifesaver! Next time you have a party and need an instant bar or buffet table, pull out your trays, throw a table cloth on and wham! you have an stylish and space saving place to put food and drinks.

To purchase check out:, Set of 4 $39.99

4. Wine Decanter 

This is a must! Not just because decanting wine makes it taste better, but if you don’t want to buy expensive bottles for your next get together pour the budget wine from the box into a decanter and your guests will never know the difference. Plus, they look great on the table!

To purchase check out: Crate &, $3.95

5. Evite  / Paperless Post Account

Evite’s are so much more fun than a invite on Facebook.  With hundreds of personalized themes, this free tool has a ton of useful features and is great whether you are throwing a birthday bash or a small intimate dinner.

To sign up go to:

For another paper free, savvy way to invite guests to your next shindig, check out Paperless Posts. These invitations show up in your email and look just like fine stationary! You can event customize your envelopes. Only downside, they will cost you, but it sure beats snail mail!

To sign up go to:, 30 invitations for $5.00

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