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Archive for Entertaining

TIP OF THE DAY: Turkey Napkin Fold

Does someone in your family have a crafty streak? Let him or her do the napkin folding for Thankgsgiving dinner.

You can find different looks online, but we like this simple-but-elegant version from Martha Stewart. Here’s how to fold it.

Don’t wait until Thanksgiving to start folding. Test your skills and your napkins in advance. Linen napkins crease and fold well, cotton napkins and even large paper napkins work with many folds; polyester and permanent press napkins don’t fold.

THE HISTORY OF NAPKINS

How do you wipe your mouth and fingers during and after eating? Who doesn’t?

Yet, in the history of civilization, the napkins we know were relatively late to the table (as it were).

According to Melanie e Magdalena, it was a slow evolution, beginning with dough napkins! In ancient Greece, Spartans used lumps of dough to wipe their hands when eating.

What happened to those lumps of dough we do not know, but we’re guessing they were turned into animal food…or bread for people.

Napkins slowly evolved into new forms. Note that they were the property of the well-to-do, not poor citizens who were left on their own. If you closely watch dining scenes in period television and film, you may be able to catch the custom of the time.

  • In Rome, the maapae, was an early tablecloth: a large cloth that covered the surface of where the individuals eating were seated. They were also used to wipe mouths and for wrapping up leftover food to take home.
  • During the Middle Ages, hands were wiped on tablecloths, which evolved into a three-cloth spread over the table, creating a cloth surface 4-6 feet long and 5 feet wide. Over time, a basin with water for hand washing appeared. A servant would drape a cloth over the diner’s arm or shoulder to dry wet hands throughout the meal.
  • In France, a long cloth called a longiere was attached to the side of the tablecloth for communal use.
  • At the end of the Renaissance, in the 16th century, napkins were a part of refined dining. Sizes of napkins varied depending on the event.
  • In the 17th century, the standard napkin was 35 inches wide and 45 inches long (today, it’s 24 x 24 inches).
  • In the 18th century, the napkin size was reduced thanks to the widespread use of the fork by all classes of society. The napkin of the time was 30 inches by 36.
  • Matching linens debut: Around 1740, manufacturers began making matching tablecloth and napkin sets.
  • Paper napkins came to the U.S. in 1887, when John Dickinson, a paper mill owner in the U.K., brought his paper napkins to a company party in the U.S.
  • Paper napkins didn’t take hold in the U.S. until 1931, when Scott Paper introduced its line.
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    Today, the napkin is made in a variety of sizes,and materials (cotton, linen, paper, polyester) and colors to meet every need:
     
    STANDARD NAPKIN SIZES

    Here are today’s standard sizes:

  • Cocktail napkin: 6″ x 6″
  • Lunch napkin: 18″ x 18″ or 20″ x 20″
  • Dinner napkin: 22″ x 22″ or 24″ x 24″
  • Buffet lap napkin: 27″ x 27″
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    Turkey Napkin Fold

    Leaf Napkin Fold

    Thanksgiving Napkin Fold

    [1] A linen napkin can be creased and folded into a turkey (photo courtesy MarthaStewart.com). [2] This leaf fold napkin from Decozilla is a lot easier. [3] It’s a no-brainer to create a simple harvest theme like this (photo courtesy EcstasyCoffee.com).

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Easy Party Cake (Actually, A Torte)

    You probably have favorite easy-to-make party recipes that save you time and energy while treating your guests.

    Today, we suggest one for dessert, from King Arthur Flour. It’s actually a torte, shorter than a layer cake. Here’s the difference between a cake and a torte.

    A tart is something different entirely, with a shortbread crust made in a fluted pan with a removable bottom. Unlike a pie, the shortbread crust enables the tart to stand on its own, without a pan, for a beautiful presentation.

    This fancy-looking recipe is from Becky Sue, the baker, photographer and recipe developer of Baking The Goods. Two layers of dense yellow cake are topped with meringue, cinnamon, and nuts; and filled with rich, pastry cream studded with fresh berries.

    It really is easy to make; even a novice baker will have no problems. There’s no frosting involved.

    Thanks to King Arthur Flour for sending us the recipe.

    It makes a nice impression at parties and dinner parties. Add candles for a birthday cake.
     
    RECIPE: BERRY BLITZ TORTE

    Prep time is 30 minutes, bake time is 30 minutes, plus assembly (total 90 minutes). The cake makes 8 to 10 servings.

    Shortcuts: Use preserves instead of fresh fruit; substitute instant vanilla pudding for the pastry cream.

    Here are step by step photos from Baking The Goods.
     
    Ingredients

    For The Cake

  • 1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 large egg yolks (save the whites for the topping)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or 1/4 teaspoon fiori di sicilia
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
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    For The Topping

  • 4 large egg whites
  • 3/4 cup superfine sugar* or granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup sliced, blanched almonds
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, optional
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • Garnish: mixed berries, other fruit of choice, chocolate curls
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    *Also called caster sugar and baker’s special sugar, superfine sugar is screened to the finest granulation. Popular in our home because it dissolves easily in cold drinks (iced tea, cocktails, etc.), it also dissolves easily into butter. This creates a fine crumb and a more elegant cake. YOU CAN MAKE YOUR OWN: Superfine sugar is simply table sugar that is ground into smaller grains. Pulse table sugar in a food processor until it’s very fine. Keep the superfine sugar in a separate sugar bowl to bring out when you’re serving iced coffee and tea or making lemonade.
    ________________
     
    For The Filling

  • Pastry cream/crème pâtissière recipe
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    Making The Torte

    Berry Blitz Torte

    Berry Torte Recipe

    fiori-di-sicilia-therosetable-230jpg

    [1] Making the torte. [2] Close-up (photos #1 and #2 courtesy King Arthur Flour). [3] Garnished and ready for prime time (photo courtesy BakingTheGoods.com. [4] Fiori (or fior) di Sicilia—flower of Sicily—is used by bakers to provide an elegant floral-citrus flavor to cake and other foods. Here’s more about it (photo courtesy The Rose Table).

  • Fresh fruit of choice: blackberries, blueberries, raspberries or sliced strawberries
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    Preparation

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease two 8″ or 9″ round cake pans. If using parchment, lightly grease the pans, line with parchment rounds, and lightly grease the parchment as well.

    2. BEAT the butter, sugar, salt, and egg yolks in a medium-sized mixing bowl until creamy. Beat in the vanilla/fiori, milk, baking powder and flour. Spread the mixture in the prepared pans (the batter will barely cover the bottom of the pans).

    3. BEAT the egg whites until light. Gradually add the sugar and continue to beat until the meringue is smooth, glossy, and somewhat stiff (but not stiff enough to form stand-up peaks).

    4. SPREAD the meringue atop the cake batter, and sprinkle with the almonds, cinnamon and sugar. (Note: If you’re using fiori di sicilia, omit the cinnamon.) Bake the cakes for 30 minutes, until lightly browned.

    5. REMOVE the cakes from the oven, allow them to cool for 15 minutes, then loosen the edges and gently turn them out onto a rack to cool completely. If some of the almonds fall off during this process, just sprinkle them back on top.

    6. ASSEMBLE: Place one of the cake layers, meringue side up, on a serving plate. Spread with the pastry cream. Add a layer of fresh berries. Top with the second cake layer, meringue-side up. Serve immediately, or refrigerate until serving time.

     
    THE DIFFERENT CAKE TYPES

    Check out our beautiful Cake Glossary, featuring all types of cake.

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: A Hard Cider Party For Halloween

    Still looking for a Halloween activity?

    How about a hard cider party? It’s adult, it’s fun, and it’s an opportunity to taste and compare more hard ciders than most of us get to do.

    While in the U.S. and parts of Canada, the term “apple cider” is interchangeable with apple juice, in Europe a glass of cider is not kid stuff. It’s an alcoholic drink that that many prefer to beer—and if you look at the explosive sales figures, Americans are also discovering its charms: It’s the fastest-growing alcohol category.
     
    WHAT IS HARD CIDER

    When apples are pressed and bottled, you have apple juice—also called apple cider in the U.S., although in other countries apple cider refers to hard cider.

    Hard cider is made from fermented apple juice; over a few months, the sugars in the juice turn into alcohol. As with craft beer, each brand has a distinct flavor profile and alcoholic content, generally from 3% ABV (alcohol by volume) or less to 8.5% or more.

  • Hard cider uses a different blend of apples than apple juice. In fact, many more apple varieties are used to create a fine cider. The import Magners Irish Cider is made from 17 varieties of apples!
  • Pears are also turned into cider, called perry in the U.K.
  • The juice ferments for eight weeks after the apples are pressed. The cider then matures or several months, and afterward is blended, filtered and carbonated. The result is a drink with the carbonation and alcohol of beer and the flavor of apples.
  • Many cider apples are sour, and can’t substitute for eating apples.
  • Like wine, cider it has a relatively high concentration of antioxidants; it’s naturally gluten-free and is less filling than beer.
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    PLANNING YOUR CIDER PARTY

    Beyond Halloween, you can also have a cider tasting during Thanksgiving cocktail hour, for Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and other celebrations.

    1. INVITE friends today: Halloween is eight days away.

    2. PLAN the number of ciders based on the number of people. If you’re serving 8 or more different ciders, estimate one bottle per four proper.

    3. PARE the list. There are many different styles of cider, and ciders from different countries (England, France, Ireland, Spain and others). Each country has its own preferred style, as you’ll see in the Top Artisan Ciders section below. You can’t try them all in one night—but you can have subsequent tastings to try the rest.

  • We recommend sticking with American cider brands for the first event. You want to try a good representation of artisan ciders. There are so many different types of local cider: dry , sweet, barrel-aged, At the next event, you can taste the winners against the Europeans.
  • Similarly, save the barrel-aged, flavored ciders (apple pie, cherry, honey, raspberry, orange, etc.), ice cider (like ice wine, it’s pressed from naturally frozen fruit), perry and spiced ciders for next time.
  • Look for Angry Orchard, Crispin, Strongbow and Woodchuck, for starters; they’re national brands. You can create an entire tasting just by gathering up the different expressions of each brand. For example, Angry Orchard features Apple Ginger, Crisp Apple, Green Apple, Hop’n Mad Apple, Stone Dry, plus a fall seasonal cider, Cinn-Full Apple.
  • Artisan ciders tend to be distributed in the limited area where they are produced—not just because small companies lack sales and marketing heft, but because each brand needs to go through approval of each state liquor authority. It’s daunting, but we’ve listed some highly-rated ciders below.
  • Do not mistakenly pick up a flavored apple beer, like Redd’s Apple Cider. These beverages are artificially flavored, and don’t belong on the same table as cider, an all-natural drink.
  • Do have some apple cider (apple juice) for designated drivers. If you buy a few different kinds, they can have their own “tasting.”
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    4. PLAN the eats. You can serve hard cider with any snack or food you’d serve with beer, but the sweetness of cider allows you to serve it with desserts, too.

  • For snacks: charcuterie and hearty cheeses.
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    Angry Orchard Cider

    Crispin Cider

    Woodchuck Hard Cider

    Strongbow Cider

    [1] Angry Orchard, owned by Boston Brewing Company (parent of Samuel Adams beer), is the nation’s #1 cider brand (photo courtesy Boston Brewing). [2] Crispin makes a variety of styles, as well as perry (pear cider) under the Fox Barrel brand (photo courtesy Crispin Hard Cider Co.). [3] Woodchuck, another popular national brand (photo courtesy Fletcher6 | Wikipedia). [4] Strongbow cider is produced by Heineken (photo courtesy Heineken USA).

  • For main courses: chicken, pork, sausages, soups, stews, fondue (you can substitute hard cider for wine in most recipes and drink rest of the cider along with the meal).
  • For dessert: Apple desserts pair beautifully. We like bread pudding, cobbler or crisp (the difference), pie and apple-topped cheesecake.
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    TOP ARTISAN CIDERS

    Here are some of the nation’s top-rated artisan ciders: Brand, variety and style. “Crisp/Dry” is the most common style. “Funky” refers to a style popular in France, with [what we really enjoy] barnardy aromas. They can also be crisp and dry. Off Dry/Semi-Dry is the classic English style: sweetness of fruit followed by a dry finish.

    Dessert ciders are sweet, like dessert wine; although off dry/semi-dry and crisp ciders can also be paired with desserts.

  • CALIFORNIA: Bonny Doon, Querry (sweet)
  • MASSACHUSETTS: Bantam, Wunderkind (off dry/semi-dry)
  • MICHIGAN: Virtue Cider, Lapinette (funky style)
  • NEW HAMPSHIRE: Farnum Hill, Extra Dry (crisp/dry style)
  • NEW YORK: Bellwether Hard Cider, King Baldwin (crisp/dry style), Doc’s Draft, Original Hard Apple Cider (off dry/semi-dry), Eve’s Cidery, Darling Creek (off dry/semi-dry), Redbyrd Orchard, Starblossom (funky style), Wölffer Estate, 139 Dry Rosé Cider (off dry/semi-dry)(
  • OREGON: E.Z. Orchards, Cidre Dry (funky style), Reverend Nat’s, Revival Hard Apple (crisp/dry), Traditions Ciderworks, Riverwood (off dry/semi-dry)
  • TEXAS: Argus Cidery, 2013 Perennial (funky style), Austin Eastciders, Gold Top (funky style)
  • VERMONT: Eden, Sparkling Cider, Dry (off dry/semi-dry
  • VIRGINIA: Foggy Ridge Cider, First Fruit (crisp/dry style)
  • WASHINGTON: Snowdrift Cider Co., Orchard Select (crisp/dry style)
  • WISCONSIN: AeppelTreow, Appely Brut; Bellwether Hard Cider, King Baldwin (crisp/dry style)
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    TOP PICK OF THE WEEK: Babeth’s Feast Frozen Gourmet Food

    If you can’t cook or want to entertain but can’t be both cook and hostess, you can still serve a feast in your own home—no assistance necessary.

    As long as you can turn on the oven, you can serve a splendid repast any meal of the day, thanks to Babeth’s Feast gourmet frozen foods.

    You can serve them the day they arrive, or put them in the freezer for future feasting

    THE FEAST BEGINS…

    Elisbeth, founder of Babeth’s Feast, discovered premium frozen food while living in Paris. French people shop daily for fresh ingredients to cook.

    But they also frequent frozen food specialty stores. Elegantly prepared frozen foods enable them to serve more elaborate meals, just by turning on the oven.

    To eat at home and entertain friends in style, she began to purchase frozen hors d’oeuvres by the dozen to host effortless cocktail parties. On weekends, she created elaborate brunch buffets from frozen breakfast pastries, meats, soups, quiches and desserts.

    She became a champion of the power of flash-frozen foods to provide the flavor, quality, connection and convenience that busy people need.

    To these prepared foods she added her own salad and wine, and friends never suspected the food was ready-made. These Sunday gatherings became known as “Babeth’s Feast.”
     
    …BUT NOT IN THE U.S.A., UNTIL…

    Upon moving to New York, Elisabeth was chagrined that no elegant frozen-food store could be found. She—and the entire European expat community—really missed that easy option.

    Ordering in just couldn’t compare, and calling a caterer was cost-prohibitive.

    Wanting the ease, the spontaneity and the quality selection, Elisabeth/Babeth decided to bring a premium frozen food store to her new hometown. After careful sourcing and extensive recipe development, she opened Babeth’s Feast, a shop on the Upper East Side.

    And on the Internet.

    Whether for fancy entertaining or simpler dinners for every day, you can dine as if you had a cook. (You do: Babeth and her team.)

    A selection of 300 dishes span breakfast, brunch, lunch, cocktails and dinners.

       

    Babeth's Feast Brunch

    Babeth's Feast Appetizers

    Brunch with your favorite dishes, and no effort except heating. [2] Fine hors d’oeuvres with cocktails couldn’t be easier (photos courtesy Babeth’s Feast).

     
    The recipes range from popular crowd pleasers and kid pleasers to more sophisticated foodie fare.

    And it’s proof that you can’t tell the difference between flash-frozen foods and made-from-scratch (we challenge you, Gordon Ramsay!). They deliver flavor, quality and convenience to fine dining* at home.

    So claim full credit for yourself, or let guests in on your secret. Babeth endorses both options.
     
    ______________
    *It doesn’t have to be “fine.” There are plenty of choices for people who prefer mac and cheese, burgers and fries.

     

    Babeth's Feast Dinner

    Salmon Dinner

    Did you make this rack of lamb dinner? Or this family-friendly salmon? Sure you did: You turned on the oven, didn’t you? (Photos courtesy Babeth’s Feast).

     

    WHAT WE ATE

    We received the gift of an entire feast for THE NIBBLE team:

  • Hors d’oeuvre, four types warm from the oven
  • Carrot and coconut soup (so popular, it’s currently sold out)
  • Sea bass with miso sauce
  • Rack of lamb with red wine sauce
  • Desserts: chocolate soufflé and lemon tart
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    For dinner alone, there are 15 meat and poultry choices, 10 fish and seafood choices, numerous sides from prepared vegetable dishes (Butternut Squash Crumble, Cauliflower Gratin), 10 different types of potatoes, 13 plain vegetables and 11 grains.

    Desserts are individual portions, from American favorites like lava cake, chocolate soufflé and lemon meringue tartlets, to French pastries like Opéra Gâteau.

    There are dairy-free, gluten-free and vegetarian options.
     
    Can’t decide?

    There are samplers in every category with the three best-sellers.

    You can get servings for one, for a group, and kids portions.
     
    HOW TO ENJOY YOUR OWN BABETH’S FEAST

    NYC store: 1422 3rd Avenue between 80th and 81st Streets, Manhattan

    Website: BabethsFeast.com

    Phone: 1.877.968.3327

    See more food photos at Facebook.com/BabethsFeast.

     
     
    GIVE THE GIFT OF BABETH’S FEAST!

    It’a a terrific gift for birthdays, anniversaries, new baby parents, new movers, and anyone who’d enjoy fine dining at home.

    Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Valentin’s Day, and other times when you want to spend time with people instead of the stove.

    And as a holiday gift?

    Just yesterday, as we were describing Babeth’s Feast to a friend, she said: “Give me the URL. [The adult kids] send us Omaha Steaks every year for Christmas and we’d like something else.”

    And yes, we’d like MORE!

      

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    TIP OF THE DAY: Oktoberfest Party Beer Tasting

    Dogfish Head Punkin Ale

    Soft Pretzels Recipe

    [1] Pumpkin ales and beers can be found from late September through year-end, “while supplies last” (photo courtesy Dogfish Head Brewery. [2] Bake a batch of soft pretzels to go with the beer (photo courtesy Taste Of Home).

     

    We received this beer menu from Empire City Casino, in the suburbs of New York City, part of their Oktoberfest celebration:

    1. Spaten Lager
    2. Spaten Oktoberfest
    3. Goose Island Oktoberfest
    4. Franziskaner Hefe-weisse
    5. Coney Island Freaktobefest
    6. New Belgian Cranberry Pumpkin
    7. Two Roads No Limits Hefeweizen
    8. Captain Lawrence Pumpkin
    9. Victory Fest Beer
    10. BitBurger Pilsner
    11. Bells Best Brown
    12. Southern Tier PUMPKING
    13. Warsteiner Oktoberfest
    14. Badass Apple Cider
    15. Atwater Blueberry Cobbler
    16. Dogfish Head Pumpkin Patch
     
    They’ll be served with German-inspired foods, from brats and soft pretzels to schnitzel hoagies.

    While we don’t gamble, we do drink craft beer; and we’ve had only one beer on the list. The solution was simple:
     
    HAVE AN OKTOBERFEST CRAFT BEER TASTING PARTY

  • Craft brews with fall themes offer many choices.
  • For cider devotees, have an “Oktoberfest” cider tasting with fall-themed ciders: Angry Orchard Crisp Apple, Hop‘n Mad Apple Ginger, Cinnful Apple; Woodchuck’s Just Like Apple Pie, and others.
  • For Halloween, focus on Halloween beers and ciders.
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    While the original Oktoberfest in Munich runs for two weeks, through mid-October, you can hold a party anytime in October.

     
    Unlike the beers at the Munich Oktoberfest, which represent just six breweries, you can try all the craft beer you can find, along the themes of:

  • Fall beer styles: brown ale, Dunkelweizen, English pale ale, harvest ale*, Märzen/Oktoberfest beer
  • Fall flavors: cranberry ale and kriek, nutty brews, pumpkin beer and ale
  • Halloween beer: It’s all in the name and the label design: Black Death, Ichabod, The Fear, Ghost Stories, Howling Wolf, Krieky Bones, Wytchmaker, Zombie Dust, etc.
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    ________________
    *Harvest ale is not a defined style of beer, but a common name for different beers brewed for fall harvest celebrations and general consumption.

     

    HOW TO PLAN THE OKTOBERFEST PARTY

    1. DETERMINE THE ATTENDEES. Then determine how much beer you need. If you’re not buying all the beer yourself assign a brand to each person. The easiest way to do this is to have attendees scout out options and let you know what they’d like to contribute.

    Provide juice glasses or 4-ounce disposable cups. The idea is to taste smaller amounts of 10 beers, not to drink 10 bottles of beer.

    2. DECIDE ON THE FOOD. Brats, sauerkraut, soft pretzels (recipe) and mustard will do the trick. If anyone asks if they can bring food, German potato salad, Blaukraut (red cabbage sauerkraut) or a dessert (see #4 below). Or, they can bake soft pretzels. Here’s more about Oktoberfest food.

    3. BUFFET OR SIT-DOWN? The choice is yours. Be sure to have soft drinks, a non-alcoholic cider or punch, or other alternative to keep blood alcohol levels down.

    4. DECIDE ON DESSERT. Easy-to-make or -find desserts include the Berliner (a jelly donut sprinkled with powdered sugar), Black Forest cake, carrot cake, cheesecake here’s a no-bake pumpkin cheesecake), Gugelhupf (Bundt cake—here’s an apple streusel Bundt cake recipe), Lebkuchen (spice cookies—gingerbread is fine, along with a gingerbread dip), Linzer cookies or torte, pfeffernüsse (spice cookies with black pepper), strudel, stollen (fruitcake) and our favorite German treat, chocolate-covered marzipan.

    5. PLAY GERMAN MUSIC. See if anyone already has Oktoberfest music (there’s plenty of it on Amazon). Polka music, which originated in Bohemia (the modern Czech Republic), will also work. If you’d prefer German rock, here are the Top 10 German rock bands.

    6. BONUS: Consider a small prize for the best German folk clothing: Lederhosen or a dirndl skirt and apron.

    Some German mustard or Weisswurst†, perhaps?
     
    ________________
    †Weisswurst is the famous Bavarian white sausage made from ground veal and pork.

     

    Freaktoberfest Pumpkin Ale

    Samuel Adams Cranberry Lambic

    [3] Freaktoberfest Pumpkin Ale adds a layer of flavor with espresso beans (photo courtesy Coney Island Brewing Company). [4] You can even find cranberry beer, like this lambic from Samuel Adams (photo courtesy Boston Brewing Company).

     

      

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