Tag Archives: make ahead

ACC Parties: A Spring Menu for Easter

Easter in my family is a big deal and definitely my 2nd favorite holiday (sorry nothing beats Christmas!).  There is something about the little chickies, the pastel candy and all those spring ingredients that make me so happy.  Even if you don’t celebrate Easter the beginning of spring is a great time to gather your family and sit down to a nice meal that celebrates the best parts of the season.  Here is a suggested menu that has a lot of moving parts but actually very little needs to be done the day of, leaving you free to hunt Easter eggs and binge on candy with the fam.  I wanted the table setting to be whimsical, especially with kids in attendance.  I found these super cute carrot utensil holders at the dollar section of Target and paired it with our Vera Wang wedding china, set on chargers that sort of mimic an Easter basket.  Glitter eggs scattered over my homemade seersucker tablecloth and bam, spring is alive.

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I don’t like to have giant flowers getting in the way of conversation so instead I opted for some thyme from my garden staggered down the center of the table in white pots.  How cute is that cabbage serving dish?  I found it for $4 at Home Goods the week before Easter so I knew it had to make it to the table.  I set up our kitchen island as a appetizer and drinks station with a floral Cynthia Rowley tablecloth (also Home Goods!) and some baby’s breath mixed with bells of Ireland for flowers.

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Cheese and Chartucherie Board

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No party is complete without one!  Since both of the aps I was actually making were veggie based I knew I had to get some cheese in here somehow.  Just pick a nice selection and throw some dried apricots or grapes on the plate to jazz it up.

Chilled Sweet Pea Soup with Mint and Cream

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Nothing is more springy that sweet peas (no one needs you know you get em out of a bag!).  This soup is simple and can be made up to two days in advance.  I served it in cute little glasses for sipping but discovered that the texture really wasn’t ideal for that so I would suggest providing spoons for people to eat the soup with instead.  It’s a super light appetizer that adds a nice green punch to the mix.

Za’atar Spiced Beet Dip with Goat Cheese and Hazelnuts

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I had been dying to make this dip since the first time I spotted it in Food and Wine Magazine all the way back in 2012 – goes to show how many recipes I have socked away!.  It’s totally beautiful but I knew it would also be delicious, being the brain child of Yotam Ottolenghi, of Jersuleam (and this post) fame.  Everyone loved the earthy complex flavor and of course the color!

Lamb Kebobs with Minted Yogurt Sauce

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Lamb is the quintessential Easter dish but with grilled lamb kebobs you can make life much easier.  Marinate the lamb up to two days before and then just throw on the grill as you are having appetizers.  I love that it doesn’t hog the oven like a big lamb roast and it also encourages your guests to go outside and enjoy the spring, keeping the grill master company.  This version by Ina is so good though I skipped her sauce and went for my standard mint and yogurt sauce found here.

Make Ahead Polenta

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As described in this post, make ahead polenta can be really done with any kind of polenta recipe you have by just increasing the liquid content.  This was a great side for the lamb and didn’t require me standing over a hot pot frantically stirring the polenta – it was even a hit with the kiddos!

Roasted Asparagus

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Just toss spears with olive oil, salt and pepper and put them on a baking sheet.  During the last 15 minutes of the polenta put the baking sheet in the oven, toss once and voila!  A nice crunchy veggie side with almost zero effort.

Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

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Ok so here is where most of the effort for the meal came in.  I realized when I was planning the menu that I had so many make ahead items that I didn’t really have much to do “day of.”  That can sometimes spell disaster because then I set and reset the table, putter around driving my husband crazy (and myself) before our guests arrive.  So I made an easy layer cake and decided to try my hand at the basket weave frosting on top.  I followed this tutorial from Wilton – it was actually pretty easy once I got the hang of it.  It does take a while and my hand was sort of cramped into a claw for a bit but you can do this first thing in the AM and just keep the cake at room temp (or in the fridge if it’s really warm in your house).  I also got  beautiful edible dried flowers from Terrian and scattered them on top.  I have to say I was really proud of this one but if you don’t have the time or energy a store-bought dessert or even this cake without the fancy pants frosting would be delicious.  Happy Spring to everyone!

Cheesey Creamed Spinach

This dish is inspired by an incredible meal Patrick and I had when we were in Chicago last summer (you can see more about our trip here).  Of course we had to hit up one of the city’s steak houses and Bavette’s Bar and Boeuf did not disappoint.  Dimly lit, with strong drinks and large steaks it was everything we could want right down to the amazing creamed spinach side covered in melted cheese.  The minute I got home I wanted to start figuring out this recipe but being that it was July in DC I had to wait for the temps to drop for this ultimate comfort food classic.  It took a couple of tries but I think this version comes pretty close.  For anyone who has ever cooked with fresh spinach you know how much it wilts down.

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Make sure when you drain the spinach after its been cooked that you really press as much water out as possible so your finished product isn’t all watery.  I used my Crate and Barrel pasta pot with the colander right in it which was perfect because I would really press on the spinach to get it dry.  This dish would also be really cute done individually for a dinner party.  I am mildly obsessed with these Staub mini roasting dishes which would be perfect so that everyone gets their own cheesy crust.  Probably goes without saying but this is the perfect dish to serve alongside a steak and a large glass of red wine.  I hope to get back to Bavette’s at some point but for now this should hold us over.

Cheesy Creamed Spinach (printable version at the end of the post)

Inspiration:  Bavette’s Bar and Bouef
Special Equipment:  none

  • 2 pounds baby spinach
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 large or 2 small shallots, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • 1/2 cup grated gruyere cheese

In a large pot of boiling salted water cook the spinach for 30 seconds, then drain in a colander squeezing out any excess water.

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In a saucepan or skillet with high sides melt the butter over medium low heat.  Cook the garlic and shallots for 3 minutes until softened.  Add the nutmeg and flour and stir so that everything is combined.  Cook for another minute until the flour is incorporated then whisk in the milk.  Cook for another minute or two until the mixture begins to thicken.  Stir in the spinach and the cream and allow to cook for another minute or two.  At this point you can cool and refrigerate for several days.

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If you are going to serve it right away, preheat your broiler and pour the spinach mixture in a baking pan.  Sprinkle it with the gruyere and place the pan under the broiler for 2 to 5 minutes until the cheese is melted and bubbly (watch closely so it doesn’t burn).  Let it cool for several minutes then serve.

Cheesy Creamed Spinach

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Time: 15 minutes
  • Print

Special Equipment:  none

  • 2 pounds baby spinach
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 large or 2 small shallots, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • 1/2 cup grated gruyere cheese

In a large pot of boiling salted water cook the spinach for 30 seconds, then drain in a colander squeezing out any excess water.  In a saucepan or skillet with high sides melt the butter over medium low heat.  Cook the garlic and shallots for 3 minutes until softened.  Add the nutmeg and flour and stir so that everything is combined.  Cook for another minute until the flour is incorporated then whisk in the milk.  Cook for another minute or two until the mixture begins to thicken.  Stir in the spinach and the cream and allow to cook for another minute or two.  At this point you can cool and refrigerate for several days.  If you are going to serve it right away, preheat your broiler and pour the spinach mixture in a baking pan.  Sprinkle it with the gruyere and place the pan under the broiler for 2 to 5 minutes until the cheese is melted and bubbly (watch closely so it doesn’t burn).  Let it cool for several minutes then serve.

St. Patricks Day Dinner Party

As I have explained, St. Patrick’s day is a big deal in our house.  This year it is going to be even more awesome as it falls on a Friday and my sister in law Sara will be in town to celebrate.  DC watch out!  Last year I pulled together this fun little dinner party to celebrate.  Hopefully the menu and pictures inspire you for this Friday. Sláinte!

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Decorating the table is easy for this one – anything green or gold works!  I used my favorite gold flatware and gold and black votive candles.  I just so happen to have several mini beer mugs (don’t you??) that I used to hold a sprinkling of baby’s breath down the middle of the table.  Paired with green linens and a rattan charger for contrast it was a super easy table to pull together.  For additional green, Bells of Ireland and Babys breath in a large vase at the end of the table.

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Black Velvet

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Guinness is essential for a St. Patrick’s day feast, but for those of you who are not a big fan or who want to class it up a bit may I suggest the Black Velvet.  Half Guiness, half Champagne (or in this case Cava) you use the back of the spoon to pour the two which creates this amazing layered effect.  Also the cava brightens up the Guinness making for a lovely drink.

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I served these with an Irish cheese board that included Dubliner cheddar, a Irish whiskey washed cows milk cheese, some fig jam, candied walnuts and a Cashel blue cheese from County Tipperary.

Brown Butter Soda Bread

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I make this every year without fail.  It is hands down the best soda bread recipe I have ever tried and even better, it makes two loaves!  The browned butter gives it a nutty rich taste and the rosemary adds a freshness.  If you have never baked bread, this is where to start as it requires no kneading or pans and is practically impossible to mess up.  Make sure to pick up some good Irish butter to serve it with.

Boston Lettuce with Buttermilk Dressing

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You have to have some green right?  I love beautiful Boston lettuce (some call it bibb but not this Bostonian!) as its so tender and light.  You can serve it whole like I did which makes it look like you plucked it right from a beautiful Irish garden, or cut into wedges for individual servings.  Drizzled with this buttermilk dressing its a great fresh start to the meal.

Patrick’s Irish Stew Pot Pies

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This stew that I posted last St. Patrick’s day is delicious all on its own but my boy looooves pot pies so I figured it would be the perfect opportunity to combine the two.  Also a great excuse to use my cute little shamrock cookie cutters!  Make the stew in advance, then just put into individual bowls.  Defrost some puff pastry, you will probably need 2 sheets for 4 pies.  Cut out circles slightly larger than the top of the bowl.

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Brush the edges of the bowl with egg wash and then top with the puff pastry.  You will need to cut slits in the top to let steam escape or you can use a cookie cutter like I did to make a shamrock hole.  Brush the top of the puff pastry with the egg wash and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Bake for 30 minutes or so until golden.

Guinness Ice Cream Floats

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No real recipe needed here – just scoop your favorite vanilla ice cream into a tall glass and top with as much Guinness as you would like.  Drizzle on some chocolate sauce and you are in business!  All of these dishes are pretty easy so even when St. Patrick’s day falls on a weeknight you can impress your friends.  Happy St. Patricks!

Stuffed Shells with Chicken and Spinach

Continuing with the make ahead theme these cheesy rich shells are just what Santa ordered for Christmas Eve dinner.  Make them several days ahead and then just pop them in the oven when people get hungry.  This dish also makes a great gift for a neighbor or friend that has extra family in town and no time to cook!  I give you several sizes that work for this recipe – you can chose to make one mega dish or several smaller ones to share or make throughout the week.  The shells are pretty rich with the bechamel sauce and all the cheese to I would only estimate 3 or 4 shells per person with a nice Caesar salad on the side.  There are a bunch of steps to this (might be the longest directions I have ever written) but since you can do it in advance no one needs to see you sweat.  Also sometimes its nice to bury yourself in the kitchen for a little alone time!

Stuffed Shells with Chicken and Spinach (printable version at the end of the post)

Inspiration:  feed a crowd
Special Equipment:  a large baking dish or several smaller baking dishes

  • 12 ounces jumbo shell pasta
  • 2 rotisserie chicken breasts, shredded
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 shallots, chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced or grated
  • 2 pinches of red pepper flakes
  • 4 ounces of diced pancetta
  • 1 pound baby spinach
  • 8 ounces ricotta cheese, room temperature
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  • 8 ounces grated mozzarella cheese
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 4 tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Follow the directions on the pasta box and cook the pasta slightly al dente (the Barilla brand actually tells you how long to cook it for a baked pasta versus just serving them as pasta – if yours doesn’t just cook it a couple minutes shy of done).  Drain and spread the shells out on a baking sheet to cool.

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Once cool, toss any broken pieces.  In a large skillet heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the shallots, garlic, red pepper flakes, and pancetta to the pan and saute for 5 minutes or until the shallots are softened and the pancetta has cooked.  Start adding the spinach in large handfuls to the pan.

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From this…

As you add the spinach use tongs or a spoon to fold the spinach into the shallot mixture.  The spinach will start to wilt and you can continue to add until it all fits in the pan.  This should take about 3-4 minutes to get it all wilted down.  Once it is wilted, crank up the heat to medium high and cook off the liquid the spinach has released for about 6 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Take off the heat and reserve.

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..to this!

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees, if planning on cooking the shells right away.  In a large bowl combine the ricotta, egg, lemon zest, half the mozzarella cheese and salt and pepper.  Add the chicken and the spinach mixture to the bowl and stir to combine.  Now that your pasta shells have cooled they are ready to be filled.  I use my hands but use a teaspoon if that helps.  To make sure I have enough to fill all the shells I divide the filling mixture in 4 and then fill a quarter of the shells and then continue until they are all filled.

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In a saucepan heat the butter over medium heat.  When it is melted add the flour and stir with a whisk until combined and the flour has cooked, for about a minute.

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Slowly pour in the milk while whisking so there are no lumps.  Increase the heat to medium high, just until the milk starts to bubble.  Then lower the heat to medium low and stir constantly until the sauce thickens and can coat the back of a spoon, about 5-6 minutes.  Stir in the nutmeg, salt, pepper and 1/3 of the grated Parmesan cheese.

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This recipe makes one very large tray of shells in a 9 x 13 pan, a medium sized 9 x 13 and a 7 x 5 pan, or two 9 x 9 pans.  It all depends on how tightly you pack in the shells and how many people you want to serve at once (for these pictures I have a 9 x 13 pan and a 7 x 5 pan which served a family of 4 and a family of 2 respectfully – with leftovers).  Once you have selected your pans spread a thin later of the sauce on the bottom of the pan.  Then fill the entire pan(s) with the shells, open side up.  Top with the rest of the sauce and then sprinkle on the other half of the mozzarella and Parmesan cheese.

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Cover the pans with tin foil.  If you are making the shells later, let the shells cool completely and store in the fridge for several days before baking.  If you are baking them right away bake the shells covered at 375 degrees for 30 minutes, then take off the tin foil and bake for an additional 10 minutes.  Allow to cool slightly before serving.

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Stuffed Shells with Chicken and Spinach

  • Servings: 8
  • Time: 1 1/2 hours
  • Print

Special Equipment:  a large baking dish or several smaller baking dishes

  • 12 ounces jumbo shell pasta
  • 2 rotisserie chicken breasts, shredded
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 shallots, chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced or grated
  • 2 pinches of red pepper flakes
  • 4 ounces of diced pancetta
  • 1 pound baby spinach
  • 8 ounces ricotta cheese, room temperature
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  • 8 ounces grated mozzarella cheese
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 4 tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Follow the directions on the pasta box and cook the pasta slightly al dente (the Barilla brand actually tells you how long to cook it for a baked pasta versus just serving them as pasta – if yours doesn’t just cook it a couple minutes shy of done).  Drain and spread the shells out on a baking sheet to cool.  Once cool, toss any broken pieces.  In a large skillet heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the shallots, garlic, red pepper flakes, and pancetta to the pan and saute for 5 minutes or until the shallots are softened and the pancetta has cooked.  Start adding the spinach in large handfuls to the pan.  As you add the spinach use tongs or a spoon to fold the spinach into the shallot mixture.  The spinach will start to wilt and you can continue to add until it all fits in the pan.  This should take about 3-4 minutes to get it all wilted down.  Once it is wilted, crank up the heat to medium high and cook off the liquid the spinach has released for about 6 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Take off the heat and reserve.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees, if planning on cooking the shells right away.  In a large bowl combine the ricotta, egg, lemon zest, half the mozzarella cheese and salt and pepper.  Add the chicken and the spinach mixture to the bowl and stir to combine.  Now that your pasta shells have cooled they are ready to be filled.  I use my hands but use a teaspoon if that helps.  To make sure I have enough to fill all the shells I divide the filling mixture in 4 and then fill a quarter of the shells and then continue until they are all filled.

In a saucepan heat the butter over medium heat.  When it is melted add the flour and stir with a whisk until combined and the flour has cooked, for about a minute.  Slowly pour in the milk while whisking so there are no lumps.  Increase the heat to medium high, just until the milk starts to bubble.  Then lower the heat to medium low and stir constantly until the sauce thickens and can coat the back of a spoon, about 5-6 minutes.  Stir in the nutmeg, salt, pepper and 1/3 of the grated Parmesan cheese.  This recipe makes one very large tray of shells in a 9 x 13 pan, a medium sized 9 x 13 and a 7 x 5 pan, or two 9 x 9 pans.  It all depends on how tightly you pack in the shells and how many people you want to serve at once (for these pictures I have a 9 x 13 pan and a 7 x 5 pan which served a family of 4 and a family of 2 respectfully – with leftovers).

Once you have selected your pans spread a thin later of the sauce on the bottom of the pan.  Then fill the entire pan(s) with the shells, open side up.  Top with the rest of the sauce and then sprinkle on the other half of the mozzarella and Parmesan cheese.  Cover the pans with tin foil.  If you are making the shells later, let the shells cool completely and store in the fridge for several days before baking.  If you are baking them right away bake the shells covered at 375 degrees for 30 minutes, then take off the tin foil and bake for an additional 10 minutes.  Allow to cool slightly before serving.

Classic Cheesecake

A couple weeks ago Patrick and I were having his boss over for dinner on a Friday night and I was trying to figure out a delicious yet special meal that I could serve after a full day of work.  Make ahead was a given, and since she is from New York it hit me – have cheesecake for dessert!  Somehow in the years we have been together I have never made my cheesecake for Patrick and now I have a feeling it will be requested often.  It is the perfect holiday item – the ingredients are super simple, it’s pretty hands off, it actually needs to be made in advance, lasts for days and is almost universally loved!  It is also a great dessert to bring to a family holiday meal or an office party, as transporting it in a springform pan means that it can’t really get crushed.

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What a springform pan looks like in case you don’t have one

This is a pretty simple version with just a few twists thrown in to amp up the flavor.  I put orange zest and juice in the cheese mixture as I think the citrus helps keep the filling from being one note.  Also I like to add bourbon to the sour cream topping but since it’s not cooked off if you want you can just use vanilla extract.  While this cheesecake takes a little while to make and then you have to chill it, the actual hands on time is so minimal you could easily do it when you get home one night and then serve it the upcoming weekend.  Thursday I will post a stuffed shells recipe that can also be make in advance – pair the two and you can feed a huge crowd this season with zero hassle!

Classic Cheesecake (printable version at the end of the post)

Inspiration:  everyone’s favorite made easy
Special Equipment:  9 inch springform pan

  • 6 ounces or 1 1/3 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 1 cup, a 1/4 cup and 2 tablespoons sugar, divided
  • 6 tablespoons melted butter
  • 16 ounces of cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • 3 eggs, room temperature
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 2 teaspoons bourbon

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees.  Spray your springform pan with cooking spray or grease with vegetable oil.  In a medium bowl combine the graham cracker crumbs, a 1/4 cup of the sugar, and the melted butter.  The consistency should be like wet sand.

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Using your fingers press the mixture into the bottom of the springform pan, trying to keep it as consistent as possible.  Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, or a hand held mixer, combine the cream cheese and 1 cup of sugar until smooth.  Add the orange juice and zest along with one of the eggs and mix to combine.  Add the last two eggs, and a pinch of salt and combine, making sure to scrape down the sides.  Pour into the pan over the crust and put in the oven (I put the springform pan on a baking sheet to make it easier to take out of the oven.)

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Bake for 1 hour.  When the hour is up turn off the oven but do not remove the cake, instead open the oven door and leave it ajar for 30 more minutes.

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In a small bowl combine the sour cream, the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar and the bourbon.  Spread evenly on top of the cheesecake and return it to the cooling down oven for another 30 minutes with the door ajar.

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Take the cheesecake out of the oven and allow to completely cool.  Then cover the pan with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for at least 3 hours or up to 2 days before serving.

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Classic Cheesecake

  • Servings: 8
  • Time: 5 1/2 hours with chilling time
  • Print

Special Equipment:  9 inch springform pan

  • 6 ounces or 1 1/3 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 1 cup, a 1/4 cup and 2 tablespoons sugar, divided
  • 6 tablespoons melted butter
  • 16 ounces of cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • 3 eggs, room temperature
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 2 teaspoons bourbon

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees.  Spray your springform pan with cooking spray or grease with vegetable oil.  In a medium bowl combine the graham cracker crumbs, a 1/4 cup of the sugar, and the melted butter.  The consistency should be like wet sand.  Using your fingers press the mixture into the bottom of the springform pan, trying to keep it as consistent as possible.  Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, or a hand held mixer, combine the cream cheese and 1 cup of sugar until smooth.  Add the orange juice and zest along with one of the eggs and mix to combine.  Add the last two eggs, and a pinch of salt and combine, making sure to scrape down the sides.  Pour into the pan over the crust and put in the oven (I put the springform pan on a baking sheet to make it easier to take out of the oven.  Bake for 1 hour.  When the hour is up turn off the oven but do not remove the cake, instead open the oven door and leave it ajar for 30 more minutes.  In a small bowl combine the sour cream, the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar and the bourbon.  Spread evenly on top of the cheesecake and return it to the cooling down oven for another 30 minutes with the door ajar.  Take the cheesecake out of the oven and allow to completely cool.  Then cover the pan with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for at least 3 hours or up to 2 days before serving.

How to Build a Bagel Bar

The holiday season is officially upon us.  I had my entire house decorated Friday by about noon but I am nuts.  I was at the White House yesterday and the army of volunteers are still putting up their decorations (check out my insta for a pic!) so if you haven’t gotten around to it, don’t feel bad.  For this crazy season I thought I would post things that are perfect for making ahead, ideas for simple but elegant entertaining and of course cocktails to get you through.  This bagel bar is a great combo of all three and daytime entertaining is ideal for the holidays.   Question: who doesn’t love a #sundayfunday brunch?  Answer:  the person who has to wake up early to cook!  I love hosting people for breakfast and brunch as seen here and here but sometimes it can be a real “scramble” getting everything ready in the morning.  Have a bagel bar means just a bunch of arranging and yes I guess some cooking making bacon but come on, we cannot skip the bacon!  Everything else can be prepped a head of time so all you need to do it pop the bubbles and enjoy the day.

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Step one:  Night before order the bagels – these beauties are the thing holding up the whole party so you don’t want subpar bagels and you certainly don’t want to show up at the bagel place to discover that they are out of the best flavors.  I like to order from Bullfrog Bagels on H Street here in DC.  If your bagel place doesn’t have online ordering just pick up the phone and place the order directly with them.  I would budget a bagel per person even though I find that most of my friends only really eat a half once they load up on the other goodies and toppings.  However, no one ever wants to be skimpy and any leftovers can be frozen.  Get a mix of plain, everything and sesame (the most popular flavors) and then grab whatever looks good – I love salt bagels in case anyone is inviting me to their bagel bar!  Now that the bagels are pre-ordered that means just popping out to grab them first thing in the AM or getting a helpful friend or spouse to do it for you.  If you want to save even more time go ahead and order cream cheeses with the bagels, if not stay tuned for how to spruce up plain old spreads.

Step two:  Night before bake some sweets – brunches are built on the two pillars of salty and sweet.  The bagels and their toppings have you set for savory so you need to provide some sort of dessert/sweet option.  If you order your bagels from a true bakery go ahead and grab some sweets there but I like to at least have my hands in something for this party.  This last time around I made Ina’s Ultimate Ginger Cookies but my cookies Banana Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies would be perfect for brunch instead.

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Step three:  Night before prep the fixings – here you can really be creative.  What do you like on a bagel?  What would look pretty and colorful?  What is in season?  What is in my fridge that I want to get rid of?  Valid questions all.  For this bagel bar I went pretty traditional – I had lox, radishes, red onions and horror of all horrors, cucumbers.  One of the few things in the world I DO NOT EAT but here is where being a good hostess kicks in.  Its my understanding that some people actually like these thing and actually the green was a nice addition to the plate so what the hell.  Slice everything thinly and store in plastic bags in the fridge.  If tomatoes are in season they are also a nice addition as well as thinly sliced fennel.  For cream cheese I wanted to have a nice selection so I had plain as well as three flavors.  Flavoring cream cheese is incredibly easy – just blend finely chopped herbs or veggies in with the cream cheese.  The key is to have room temp cheese so that everything blends well.  I find that the paddle attachment in a stand mixer is the best way to do this but good old elbow grease and a spatula will work as well.  Just add in fixings until you get the flavor you like.  For this party I did scallion, honey and walnut and a veggie cheese made with carrots and celery.  Fill small bowls or ramekins with your custom or store bought cream cheeses and cover with saran wrap so they are ready to go.

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Step four:  Morning of make bacon and coffee – ok so yes you do have to do some work here but its truly minimal.  Patrick makes the coffee in our family so that’s one less thing I have to do but get it set up the night before and all you have to do is push a button.  The bacon you should do in the oven as I taught you here so you can do a huge batch at once.  Put as much as you can on baking sheets at 400 degrees for 15 minutes then drain on paper towels and done.

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Step five:  Morning of set up bar – dual meaning here.  You want to set up the bagel bar and the booze bar morning of.  Slice those bagels and arrange them prettily in a basket or on a tray.  Do not make your guests navigate the hazzards of slicing their own bagels – your friends will thank you.  Pull out the prepped fixings from the fridge and set them out as well to come to room temp (except the lox which should be set out right before).  Grab your toaster and set that out as well so people can toast if they want to (do you have toast tongs?  If not this is a great excuse to get some).  Also set up the bar so your guests can grab their own drinks.  I put out sparkling water as well as sparking wine (my house cava of course), some red and white wine, sodas and a variety of juices.  Glasses and an ice bucket and you are all set.

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This bagel bar is the perfect brunch for after a family event like a graduation or recital as you only need a few minutes of prep before your guests arrive and everything is served room temperature.  Pretty presentation and thoughtful homemade touches will make your guests feel special while you can catch some extra zzz before the party.

Blue Cheese Mascarpone Dip

 

If you read my post last week about my favorite items from Trader Joe’s, then you know I am a sucker for everything they make with pumpkin in it.  Last time I was there I saw these Pumpkin Cranberry Crisps (a seasonal cousin to their awesome Raisin Rosemary Crisps).  I grabbed a container of their mascarpone cheese knowing that the rich buttery flavor would make for a great base for a dip.  Once I got home I realized I just so happened to have a small piece of blue cheese that I got as a remnant at Righteous Cheese.  Whip them together with some cream and you have a super rich, unbelievably easy dip.  This is a great one to make if you happen to have a small piece of blue cheese left over – also any other pungent cheese would work, I was thinking Humboldt Fog would be even better.  Add as much or as little of the secondary cheese as you would like.  Since this isn’t a super flavorful dip you want to pair it with these crisps or something else like an everything bagel cracker, that has a lot of flavor.  This would be a great one to set out at Thanksgiving as you can make it several days ahead and will only take about 1 minute of your time to pull together.

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Blue Cheese Mascarpone Dip(printable version at the end of the post)

Inspiration:  a cheesy pairing for my pumpkin crisps
Special Equipment:  none

  • 8 ounces mascarpone cheese, room temperature
  • 1 to 2 ounces blue cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup whipping cream
  • salt and pepper

In a medium size bowl combine the mascarpone and blue cheeses with the cream (I used a hand mixer, a spatula or food processor would work as well).

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Season with salt and pepper.  Can be stored in the fridge for up to 3 days – take it out of the fridge 30 minutes before serving.  Pairs nicely with Trader Joe’s Pumpkin and Cranberry Crisps.

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Blue Cheese Mascarpone Dip

  • Servings: 1 1/2 cups
  • Time: 1 minute
  • Print

Special Equipment:  none

  • 8 ounces mascarpone cheese, room temperature
  • 1 to 2 ounces blue cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup whipping cream
  • salt and pepper

In a medium size bowl combine the mascarpone and blue cheeses with the cream (I used a hand mixer, a spatula or food processor would work as well).

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