Monday, August 26, 2013

It's All About the Music

This blog post is all about the music. But there are actually two parts: cooking music and dinner music.

First is the idea of cooking music (i.e., listening to music while you cook, duh). And why the heck not? It certainly helps make the time go by faster...and better.

If you're like me, you most probably cook alone in the kitchen, concentrating hard and in your own headspace. This is the perfect time to crank it up a notch and fill the room with the music you love. (You might even sneak in a few sways or dance steps along the way!)

Laura Barnett
Photo credit: Graeme Roberts

Of course, you choice of music always depends on your own particular taste as well as your mood. Today, will it be an oldie? An R&B? Classical? Jazz? Country?

Believe it or not, there are specific cooking music CDs out there. For example, there's Cooking Songs by various artists, Home Cooking Music by various artists, and a list of suggested songs by the type of food being prepared compiled by blogger Rachel Wilkerson.

In fact, the popular blog, Food Republic, devotes an entire column to cooking music, appropriately enough called "Music to Cook To." Read it here.

And then there's dinner music.

 Elvis impersonator performing for romantic couple

You're having company over for dinner (or maybe it's a romantic evening for two instead) and you're planning to serve a beautiful meal. But you also want to create a beautiful ambiance. Hence, the flowers on the table, the dim lighting, the candles...and the music.

So what exactly should you play?

Here are some very interesting (and helpful) tips from:

You could always buy a pre-mixed dinner music CD on Amazon, or go ahead and simply create your own. Either way, it will be music to everyone's ears!

What songs/albums do you like to play while you cook or entertain?

(Fun fact: Did you know that several chefs in my book are also talented musicians in their own right? They include Dante Boccuzzi, Brandt Evans, Matt Fish, Steve Schimoler, and the late Sergio Abramof.)

Monday, August 19, 2013

Showers With No Chance of Rain

There are two life-changing events coming up in my family. One is the birth of another grandchild (my oldest daughter is expecting in January!). And the other is the marriage of our son next June. Both events are going to be glorious...and both events will require a shower, which, quite frankly, brings back really great memories.

You see, I've hosted three already: one for my middle daughter's wedding, one for my middle daughter's baby, and one for my oldest daughter's wedding (in that order).

They were all a lot of work, but also a lot of fun and a really big hit (or so I've been told).

That's why I'd love to take this opportunity to share them with you now. Hope you enjoy the pics and even get some ideas -- whether for an upcoming shower you're planning yourself or for a party of any kind!


The invitation actually had a real teabag tucked into a slit in the cup

My husband made this pouring teacup fountain centerpiece for the buffet table

Salads (nestled in curled cucumber slices) were placed at each setting

Homemade Vichysoisse Soup

Variety of tea sandwiches: Black Forest ham, grilled vegetables, chicken salad, and cucumber

Variety of homemade pastries, including Scones, Fruit Tarts, Chocolate Mousse Cups, Petits Fours, Cream Puffs with Grand Marnier Cream, and Chocolate-Hazelnut Grelot

Homemade teabreads included lemon-lavender, lemon-blueberry, orange-poppyseed, cranberry-nut, and banana -- accompanied by Devonshire cream, lemon curd, and various jams, jellies, and marmalades

The beverage table featured many different kinds of tea (of course!) plus hot cider spiked with cinnamon sticks

Each guest favor included a teacup and saucer, miniature jar of apple cider jelly (which my sis-in-law made), and a chocolate-dipped biscotti


The appetizer table included an assortment of cheeses, crackers, fruits, nuts, chutneys, olives, and...

...a variety of sparkling ciders

Soups included Lobster Bisque, Roasted Red Pepper Bisque, and Cream of Wild Mushroom; Sandwiches included croissants with a variety of fillings, including chicken salad, tuna salad, and turkey or roast beef with cheese

The sheet cake was flanked by a tower of 10 different kinds of truffles plus...

...strawberry cups

The favor was a CD soundtrack from the Broadway musical, Mamma Mia!


The invitation

The registry insert card

Yellow-striped tent canopies over white linen tablecloths with sheer runners and toile napkins

Hurricane candle centerpiece is surrounded by lavender plants

The lavender plants were given away as guest favors at the end of the night

The dessert buffet table

Homemade Creme Brulee, Salted Caramels, and Palmiers are in the foreground

Homemade raspberry lemonade

Other beverages included Perrier water, iced coffee, and Champagne

Tower of truffles

These homemade Madeleines contained dried lavender buds

Homemade Cherry Clafoutis

Homemade chocolate-dipped Macaroons

Homemade Fruit Tarts

Homemade Chocolate Mousse and Cream Puffs

Homemade Lemon Pots de Creme with Raspberry & Mint Garnish

An evening view

Set-up for our outdoor movie presentation of French Kiss, starring Meg Ryan

The bride-to-be in her vintage French sundress!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Thai-Style Iced Tea

I'm getting a VIP visit this week. My middle daughter is driving all the way from Charlotte, North Carolina, to visit us. Plus...she's bringing along my three beautiful little grandchildren.

Which means I have a lot to do.

My husband already made the sauce and meatballs. I made the dessert (as usual). And  the crib and highchair are down from the attic. But there's still plenty more.

I've also got a list of exciting things for us to do after they get here. It goes something like this:

  • See the new "Planes" movie with the boys.
  • Take the youngest lady out for a shopping trip.
  • Go to Malley's for ice cream sundaes.
  • Go bowling and maybe even putt-putt.
  • Visit a firehouse for a personal tour. (Our friend is a lieutenant with the Cleveland Fire Department.)
  • Make homemade Frosty milkshakes together. (For the recipe, click here.)
  • Visit the West Side Market.
  • Go to the Murray Hill feast in Little Italy.

That leaves little time for anything else, including (unfortunately) this blog. Which is why I'm gonna make this week's post quick and simple.

I'm sharing a wonderful recipe with all of you. It's for a Thai-style iced tea. And it's for no other reason than it reminds me of my middle daughter. You see, she studied in Thailand for nine months during her junior year in college. When she returned, she had gained a real appreciation for their culture and a real liking for their cuisine -- especially their delicious iced tea.

Hope you enjoy this beautiful version!

Recipe & photo courtesy of Bon Appetit
Makes 8 servings

10 star anise pods
3 T. sugar
1 vanilla bean
15 black tea bags
1/2 c. heavy cream
1/2 c. sweetened condensed milk
  1. Combine star anise pods, sugar, and 1 cup water in a small saucepan. 
  2. Scrape in seeds from vanilla bean; add bean. 
  3. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes. 
  4. Transfer to a large pitcher. Add black tea bags and 7 cups cold water.
  5. Cover; chill at least 4 hours. 
  6. Strain into another large pitcher. 
  7. Stir in heavy cream and sweetened condensed milk until dissolved. Serve over ice.