ACC’s Fave Registry Items for Wedding Season

And so it begins – wedding season.  I am so excited that this year 3 different couples we are friends with have gotten engaged, love is in the air!  Of course that also means showers, registries and combining households.  When Patrick and I got engaged people almost immediately asked where we were registered, as if we had stepped off the beach in Puerto Rico and directly into a Target to start the list.  I know a lot of couples, especially those who meet each other later in life when they are more established, say they don’t need anything so they aren’t going to register.  However, the reality is that people are excited for you and the way they know how to show it is to buy you table linens!  If you don’t register then people will freelance and you will end up with a lot of stuff you don’t need.  Registries have some a long way – you can use sites that consolidate several different stores,  register for travel and other unconventional things.  We registered for a bar for our basement and we use it all the time (thanks Auntie Jan!).

My friends have been asking me what they should register for their kitchen so I figured I would pull some tips together for folks looking to make the most out of their registry and for guests who are struggling with what to buy for their friends and family.  Don’t look for a one size fits all list – every registry is personal to the couple so don’t trust any resource that tells you it has “everything you need.”  The first thing you should do is take stock of what you already have as well as what type of lifestyle you have or plant to have.  Are you big entertainers?  Cocktail enthusiasts?  Cooking shortcut specialists?  This will help you narrow down what direction you should go in.  Then follow some of these themes (I have linked to the items that I registered for and love).

UPGRADE!  This is a familiar refrain in my family as I love to upgrade (sometimes by force) people’s stuff.  I am sure you didn’t wait to meet the love of your life to have coffee cups but do you really like them?  Do they all match?  How about your cookware?  Pots and pans are great for this, especially if you are still using the set you won for free in college.  I love All Clad for saucepans and roasting, Le Creuset for dutch ovens and Swiss Diamond for non stick pans.  Knives are also a good upgrade – your cooking will be so much better if you have good quality knives.

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Small Appliances – The first thing that went on my registry was a Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer.  I had always wanted one, and really could have just bought it for myself, but it always seemed a little extravagant since I already had a hand mixer.  My Aunt Carol got it for me and I use it every single week.  If you don’t have one I cannot recommend it more – it is a counter hog but its such a workhorse and you can buy attachments that make pasta, ice cream, and on and on so you don’t have to buy other appliances.  Other great items are a really nice coffee maker, wine fridge, or food processor.  (This is also a good place to upgrade – how long have you had that toaster??)

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Shop Local – Registering at a small local business not only helps support your community but really gives you the personal touch you lose in the big box stores.  We registered at Hill’s Kitchen, a store you will find me referring to a ton on the blog.  For people who like to actually shop in a brick and mortar store this gives them that option and usually local businesses have unique items you won’t find anywhere else so your registry doesn’t feel as generic.  Leah, the store’s owner, spent a ton of time with us helping us pick out items that were absolutely perfect.  Even better, now when Patrick needs to buy me a present he knows he can head to Hills Kitchen and Leah will know exactly what I like and already have!  I am sure if you ask around in your own town many of your favorite stores are registering people as well.

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Go with the classics – I know a lot of people in my generation think they don’t need fancy china to entertain.  You absolutely don’t need it but once I started thinking about it I really liked the idea of having the same pieces for years and years with all the holidays and family memories attached.  Make sure to pick a pattern that is timeless, we went with Golden Grosgrain by Vera Wang for Wedgewood.  I love the very subtle gold details and how fine the pieces are.  Best of all they go right into the dishwsher, which was a must for me.  I also don’t wait until a holiday to use my china, I pull it out for week night dinners or casual brunches.  Nice heavy flatware is also a good idea – I have 6 place settings for everyday by Laguiole but registered for 12 settings at Crate and Barrel.  Once you start to have larger family meals you will be glad not to mix and match.  Just like with the china, make sure its a classic pattern that isn’t so trendy you will be bored with it in a couple of years.

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Entertaining Pieces – I entertain all the time so glassware, table linens and serving dishes were really important.  Think carefully about how you entertain – if you do lots of dinner parties then tablecloths and linen napkins are a good idea.  Stemless wine glasses work for just about any kind of drink and are easy to store.  Are you the one who always hosts for the big game?  Get a big beverage bucket and a dish for chips and dip.  We actually have two beverage dispensers – they are great for punches for parties or even just water for backyard BBQs.  If you are big into cocktails this spherical ice maker is Patrick’s favorite toy and these shakers are the best.

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Hopefully for couples looking to start their registry this gives you some ideas.  For guests I usually recommend sticking to what the couple wants (thats why they created the registry right?) but that doesn’t mean you can’t still be creative.  I really love to get one thing off of someone’s registry and then building a gift around it.  If someone asked for a cocktail shaker get them the one they want along with a bottle of St. Germain, a good cocktail book and some cute glasses to match.  Here is wishing you and your friends and family a lifetime of love and happiness!

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ACC Parties: A Classy Cocktail Affair

Happy Valentines day!  This post is a perfect fit for today – romance and cocktails.  This party plan is for a classy cocktail party which I threw to celebrate the engagement of our dear friends, Erikka and Michael.  They are such an amazing couple so I wanted to go the extra mile to make this one memorable which meant dressing up, gold everywhere and thoughtful touches.  One tough issue to tackle as a hostess is either guests who you aren’t super familiar with or guests that don’t know each other all that well.  That was the case here, with family and friends coming in from all over so I wanted to keep the mood light while still making it feel special.  My solution – a make it yourself cocktail bar.  The centerpiece of this party certainly gave me some sleepless nights leading up to the date (are people going to think I am a jerk asking them to make their own drinks???) but it was a hit!  It really encouraged mingling and being engaged in the party and also freed up myself and Patrick to make sure everyone was felt taken care of with food etc.

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Pick a couple of classic cocktails that are relatively easy to make – I went with the  classic martini, manhattans, negroni and vesper.  I printed out the recipes and framed them so even a cocktail neophyte could be their own mixologist.  Then set out everything people will need to make the cocktails – the key here is in the luxe touches.  Instead of setting out giant bottles of vodka and gin I put them out in pretty decanters.  You will also need a selection of liqueurs like vermouth for the martinis.  We also had sparkling wine (my favorite house one of course) for those who didn’t want to do the cocktail thing so I set out casis, framboise and St. Germain as good toppers for the bubbly.  Red and wine wine as well as some beer rounded out the bar.

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Ramekins with all the garnishes needed like stuffed olives, maraschino cherries and citrus twists meant it was super easy for guests to customize their drink.

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Real glasses are a must here, plastic just won’t do.  Shop around to find something that fits your style and budget. I went with these martini glasses from World Market, that were perfect because of the slight bend in the glass they also worked for sparkling wine, almost like a coupe.  I couldn’t help myself and got custom made martini glasses for the happy couple.

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I always like to give out favors and for this party they served a purpose as well.  I found these great mini shakers on a restaurant supply site and got one per guest.  People used them to make their cocktails and then got to take them home to remember all the fun we had.  The shakers set out out on the table added even more metallic glamour.

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If people are knocking back cocktails all night you want to make sure the food is substantial.  I kept with the classic theme and did old school appetizers, just classed up a little.  Pigs in a blanket are always a favorite but made with puff pastry and poppy seeds they have way more flavor than the original.

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Who doesn’t love a cheese puff?  Gougeres are amazing french cheese puffs and best of all they can be made in advance, frozen and then reheated right before the party.  These went FAST.

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The chicken salad veronique cups that I posted a couple of weeks ago were a perfect one bite so people didn’t have to mess around with forks or knives.

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Add a very substantial cheese board, bowls of olives and nuts, and some dips (I made the groom’s favorite with crudite) and people will have plenty to nosh on while they mix and mingle.

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I ordered these beautiful napkins from For Your Party – they are my favorite resource for customized items and they always turn out beautiful.

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Finish off the party with something sweet – I did my Individual Tiramisu because they are a sentimental favorite of the couple.  You could always head to your local bakery and get a selection of cookies, brownies etc to make things even easier.

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It was an incredible night for an incredible couple.  But don’t wait for friends to get engaged to throw this party – this would be a great way to break up the winter doldrums by getting dressed up and shaking some cocktails.  Wishing everyone a very happy Valentines day and congratulations Erikka and Michael!!

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Individual Tiramisu

In keeping with last week’s “mini” theme I thought I would post a great individual dessert you can serve to a crowd.  These were the perfect sweet ending to an engagement party I threw that I will post about next week.  The best part is that they have to be made in advance, so while there are a lot of layers, they are easy to do and can all be made a day before.  I used 8 ounce glasses from Ikea but any small vessel will do, even plastic.  Grab a bunch of these mini spoons and you are good to go.  If you don’t want to do individual tiramisus then just follow the instructions without breaking up the lady fingers and layer in one large pan.  The special couple had a sentimental attachment to this dish but it turned out to be a real crowd pleaser – almost like coffee and dessert in one!

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Individual Tiramisu (printable version at the end of the post)

Inspiration:  elegant mini desserts
Special Equipment:  24 small glasses and spoons, hand mixer

  • 12 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup marsala wine
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 24 ounces room temperature mascarpone cheese
  • 2 cups of espresso (or 2 cups hot water with 6 tablespoons of espresso powder)
  • 1/2 cup coffee liqueur (like Kahula)
  • 36 lady fingers (found in the Italian section of your grocery store or in the cookie aisle)
  • cocoa for disting

Place the egg yolks, marsala wine and sugar in a heatproof bowl.  In a saucepan add several inches of water and bring to a simmer.  Place the bowl over the water (make sure its not touching) – this is called a double boiler.  Using a handheld mixer beat the egg mixture for 5 to 8 minutes, until the eggs have tripled in volume.  The mixture will be light in color and thickened.

Take the bowl off the heat (carefully) and fold in the mascarpone cheese, trying not to deflate the mixture (room temp is very important here so it incorporates easily).

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Set aside.  In a shallow baking dish combine the espresso and the coffee liqueur.  Break the ladyfingers into a couple of pieces (I broke them into quarters).  Spoon a small amount of the mascarpone mixture into the bottom of the glass.  Dunk two ladyfinger pieces into the espresso mixture, quickly so they don’t fall apart, and pile them into the glass.

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Repeat for 2 more layers and then dust with cocoa powder.  Repeat with the rest of the glasses (I did it in assembly line style which worked well).  Chill overnight and serve.

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Individual Tiramisu

  • Servings: 24
  • Time: 40 minutes, overnight chilling
  • Print

Special Equipment:  24 small glasses and spoons, hand mixer

  • 12 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup marsala wine
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 24 ounces room temperature mascarpone cheese
  • 2 cups of espresso (or 2 cups hot water with 6 tablespoons of espresso powder)
  • 1/2 cup coffee liqueur (like Kahula)
  • 36 lady fingers (found in the Italian section of your grocery store or in the cookie aisle)
  • cocoa for disting

Place the egg yolks, marsala wine and sugar in a heatproof bowl.  In a saucepan add several inches of water and bring to a simmer.  Place the bowl over the water (make sure its not touching) – this is called a double boiler.  Using a handheld mixer beat the egg mixture for 5 to 8 minutes, until the eggs have tripled in volume.  The mixture will be light in color and thickened.  Take the bowl off the heat (carefully) and fold in the mascarpone cheese, trying not to deflate the mixture (room temp is very important here so it incorporates easily).  Set aside.

In a shallow baking dish combine the espresso and the coffee liqueur.  Break the ladyfingers into a couple of pieces (I broke them into quarters).  Spoon a small amount of the mascarpone mixture into the bottom of the glass.  Dunk two ladyfinger pieces into the espresso mixture, quickly so they don’t fall apart, and pile them into the glass.  Repeat for 2 more layers and then dust with cocoa powder.  Repeat with the rest of the glasses (I did it in assembly line style which worked well).  Chill overnight and serve.

Chicken Salad Canapes

I often have a hard timing figuring out what sort of canapés I can serve at parties that are filling.  Most meat based appetizers require them to be warm or are really expensive (think lamb lollipops) but if you are going to be drinking all night I want my guests to have more in them than just cheese!  Here little mini phyllo cups really come into handy.  You buy them in the frozen section of your grocery store and they are already cooked so all you have to do is fill them.  I decided for a recent party to go with chicken salad, most specifically chicken salad veronique, which is a French version with grapes.  It is really delicious as a regular chicken salad served alone or in a sandwich but for this application I cut the chicken and the grapes really small so they would fit neatly in the cups and be easy to eat.  These things went like hot cakes and I am sure your friends will appreciate the “heavy ap” at your next party.

Chicken Salad Canapes (printable version at the end of the post)

Inspiration:  phyllo cups
Special Equipment: none

  • 2 rotisserie chicken breasts (or roast your own)
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons white wine
  • 3 tablespoons chopped tarragon
  • 20 green grapes, quartered
  • 60 phyllo cups – I used the Athens brand

Cut the chicken breasts into small pieces and place in a large bowl.

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In a medium bowl wish together the mayo, sour cream, white wine, tarragon and salt and pepper.

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Add 3/4 of the mixture to the chicken along with the grapes.  Stir to combine and then add as much of the remaining dressing as necessary.  The salad can be made several days in advance and stored in the fridge.  When you are ready to serve, use a teaspoon to fill the cups with the salad.

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Chicken Salad Canapés

  • Servings: 60
  • Time: 5 minutes
  • Print

Special Equipment: none

  • 2 rotisserie chicken breasts (or roast your own)
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons white wine
  • 3 tablespoons chopped tarragon
  • 20 green grapes, quartered
  • 60 phyllo cups – I used the Athens brand

Cut the chicken breasts into small pieces and place in a large bowl.  In a medium bowl wish together the mayo, sour cream, white wine, tarragon and salt and pepper.  Add 3/4 of the mixture to the chicken along with the grapes.  Stir to combine and then add as much of the remaining dressing as necessary.  The salad can be made several days in advance and stored in the fridge.  When you are ready to serve, use a teaspoon to fill the cups with the salad.

Bolognese Sauce

I usually plan dinner parties weeks in advance – tinker with the menu, what wines to serve, what kind of tabletop I want to have etc until I settle on exactly the look, taste and feel I want.  However, there is something to be said for spontaneity and this sauce and the dinner party it spawned is a good reminder to me that I should trying to be less planned.  I have been working on my bolognese sauce for a couple of years, trying to meet my husband’s exacting standards.  I had been getting pretty close so when our good friend Dave was staying with us for the weekend I thought it would be a good way to try out the latest incarnation.  We were having a bunch of people over to watch the Patriots so the notoriously long cooing sauce could just sit and bubble away while the game was on.  Well smelling the sauce for a couple of hours drove my friend Baker to distraction – he offered up a deal.  Could he and his fiance Erikka stay and have dinner with us if he provided fresh pasta??  That was much too good for me to pass up and so suddenly a dinner for 3 because a party of 5 with a fresh pasta lesson to boot.  I was able to round up a nice salad to start and figured out some sort of dessert with what I had in my pantry.  Baker schooled us all on making pasta by hand (something that I am determined to conquer this year).

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It was one of the most fun nights in recent memory and the sauce was just perfect with the fresh pasta strands.  This sauce would actually be good on cardboard so if you don’t have fresh pasta just used boxed like I had planned to.  This makes a ton and freezes really well so you too can have an impromptu dinner party!

Bolognese Sauce (printable version at the end of the post)

Inspiration:  fresh pasta in the house!
Special Equipment:  none

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced or grated
  • 5 ounces chicken livers, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon chopped thyme leaves
  • 1/2 pound ground beef
  • 1/2 pound ground lamb
  • 1/2 pound ground pork
  • 6 ounce can of tomato paste
  • pinch of red pepper flakes
  • parmesan rind (optional)
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • parmesan for serving
  • pasta (fresh or dried) for serving – its also great as pizza sauce!

Add the olive oil to a large pot and heat over medium temperature.  Add the carrots, celery, onion and garlic to the pot and season with salt and pepper.

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Cook for about 8 to 10 minutes, until the vegetables are softened but not browned.  Add the chicken livers and the thyme and increase the heat to medium high.  Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until the livers no longer look raw.

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Add in the ground beef, pork and lamb and cook until no longer pink, breaking up the pieces with your utensil occasionally, about 5 to 7 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper, then add the tomato paste, pepper flakes and the parmesan rind (if you have one).  Cook the tomato paste for a couple of minutes until it is totally incorporated with the rest of the sauce.  Add the red wine, stir to combine, and then stir in the cream.

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Bring to a simmer and then turn down the heat to low and cook for 2 hours at a minimum, 3 to 4 hours if you have the time.  If at any time the sauce looks a little too dry you can add in a splash of wine or cream to loosen it up.   Remove the rind before serving. This sauce keeps well in the fridge for several days or in the freezer for several months.

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Bolognese Sauce

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Time: 3 to 5 hours depending
  • Print

Special Equipment:  none

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced or grated
  • 5 ounces chicken livers, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon chopped thyme leaves
  • 1/2 pound ground beef
  • 1/2 pound ground lamb
  • 1/2 pound ground pork
  • 6 ounce can of tomato paste
  • pinch of red pepper flakes
  • parmesan rind (optional)
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • parmesan for serving
  • pasta (fresh or dried) for serving – its also great as pizza sauce!

Add the olive oil to a large pot and heat over medium temperature.  Add the carrots, celery, onion and garlic to the pot and season with salt and pepper.  Cook for about 8 to 10 minutes, until the vegetables are softened but not browned.  Add the chicken livers and the thyme and increase the heat to medium high.  Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until the livers no longer look raw.  Add in the ground beef, pork and lamb and cook until no longer pink, breaking up the pieces with your utensil occasionally, about 5 to 7 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper, then add the tomato paste, pepper flakes and the parmesan rind (if you have one).  Cook the tomato paste for a couple of minutes until it is totally incorporated with the rest of the sauce.  Add the red wine, stir to combine, and then stir in the cream.  Bring to a simmer and then turn down the heat to low and cook for 2 hours at a minimum, 3 to 4 hours if you have the time.  If at any time the sauce looks a little too dry you can add in a splash of wine or cream to loosen it up.   Remove the rind before serving. This sauce keeps well in the fridge for several days or in the freezer for several months.

A Warming Dinner Party

Long weekends are perfect for hosting dinner parties – you have multiple nights you can host and plenty of time to cook, set up and recover.  I used this menu recently on a cold night and it was perfect to shake off the winter blues.  Light some candles, stoke the fire and settle in for a nice night with friends.

Chile Oil-Marinated Goat Cheese

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Easy to make and needs to be made in advance is key when thinking about snacks before dinner.  This checks both boxes – I served the goat cheese with a baguette, some crackers and sliced soppresata along with a couple of bottles of bubbly to start the night off right.

Roasted Prime Rib with Thyme Marsala Sauce

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I had never made prime rib before and man is that hunk of meat intimidating!  Especially when you pay good money for something you really want it to turn out well.  First time was a total hit.  This Giada recipe is easy to follow and delivered a perfectly cooked prime rib with a delicious crust and the sweet and savory sauce that went alongside.  Even if you are a prime rib expert this is one recipe worth trying.

Mashed Potatoes

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Had to give my boy mashed potatoes alongside the prime rib.  Use your favorite recipe or if you want to take it up a notch go with my Over the Top Mashed Potatoes.

Balsamic Brussels Sprouts

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Posted earlier this month, these sprouts are a quick and easy side that can come together as you make the sauce for the prime rib.

Dark Chocolate Terrine

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Another new to me recipe from the real Contessa that is crazy good.  I could drink the orange sauce straight and be happy but the rich frozen mousse-like terrine is to die for.  Definitely don’t forget to sprinkle with sea salt before serving.  So just head to the grocery store tonight and you can easily host this fabulous dinner party for your friends this weekend.

Making Your Own Compound Butter

Possibly one of the easiest way to impress your friends and family is to “make your own butter.”  No I am not advocating churning butter by hand, just taking regular butter and making it more awesome by adding lots of flavor.  This is an easy way to perk up winter veggies, just toss with compound butter after you roast or steam squash or root veggies.  Here are some ideas to get you started but really everything goes better with butter to just use this to get started and let me know what you come up with.

Blue Cheese Butter:  As evidenced by the picture above blue cheese can actually turn your butter blue but its so delicious you won’t notice.  PERFECT for on top of a steak you can also use it on top of a backed potato.

Herb Compound Butter:  This is by far the most versatile version.  I use it to flavor and baste my cornish game hens in one of my most popular recipes.  Its great slathered on bread or added to steamed or roasted vegetables.  The best part is you can use whatever herbs you have handy and in whatever combination you would like.  Sage and rosemary go great together as do thyme and parsley but the sky is the limit.

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Roasted Garlic Butter:  Make a bunch of roasted garlic and combine some with butter and you have a great addition to mashed potatoes, pasta, or cream sauces.  This is great for shortcut garlic bread as well – just toast up crusty bread, spread on roasted garlic butter and season with salt and pepper.

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Cinnamon Butter:  Salt is really key here – combine salt, cinnamon and butter together and put it out for a pancake bar, to top an English muffin or with scones.

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Chipolte Butter:  Finely chop some chipoltes in adobo and add to butter to create an instant sauce for vegetables.  A nice light side for taco night the butter will melt right away when added to roasted asparagus or green beans.  Its also great on top of carne asada or corn on the cob.

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