Tag Archives: bon appetit

Enjoy Al Fresco Dining – Even in Winter!

Fran Berger, Home Decor

What a great opportunity – to cozy up with warm drinks, hot food, and close friends.

The Italians love dining outside so much that there’s a term for it in Italian – Al Fresco; dining in the fresh air. Dining ‘al fresco’ with friends can even be more fun than dining inside. But maybe your first reaction is, “Fran? It’s winter.” And my response will be, “Yes!”

There’s something about serving meals and hanging out with friends and family outdoors that sometimes makes it feel so much more intimate than indoors. Maybe it reminds us of camping (or our idea of camping if you’ve never been) and being closer to nature. Cold weather can open up a great home entertaining opportunity that you can’t overlook.

Even if you don’t have a home with a backyard – you can entertain outside on your deck or patio. Yes, even in the winter when it’s cold! In fact, I think that a bit of cold weather makes the experience that much more intimate. And just so we’re very clear – I’m talking about “cold” weather that encourages people to huddle under blankets around a fire pit; not a freezing chill that turns lips blue! It’s only fun if no one is shivering!

If you don’t have a backyard where you can have a covered fire pit or outdoor fireplace, you can always get some outdoor gas heaters for warmth and hurricane candle holders for atmosphere. Spread groups of the holders around your deck using real candles. Make sure that the hurricane candle holders are a couple of inches taller than the actual candle – that way they won’t blow out. Vary your sizes and make your groupings odd numbers. Varying sizes of odd numbers of candles always looks more pleasing to the eye.

You’ll also want patio furniture with cushions and blankets for warmth. Find colorful and soft blankets that are washing machine safe. Get blanket sizes that encourage couples to wrap up together. All types of outdoor blankets are available – even fun faux fur!

After you warm up your guests on the outside, time to warm them up from the inside with hot beverages like your favorite hot chocolate. Or…

You can try this recipe from Bon Appetit for a hot apple cider with Calvados apple brandy – which is really tasty.

Another “cuddle to be warm” drink is hot buttered rum with 8-Year Old Bacardi or Myers Dark Rum. The recipe includes a way prepare a mix that you can use later.

If your plan is to serve dinner, then warm their hearts with big stoneware mugs filled with a hearty vegetable soup or steaming beef stew. Williams-Sonoma posted this fabulous (and taste tested) recipe for a beef stew that takes about 2 hours to cook – about 1 hour and 30 minutes in an oven. Their recipe serves 6, but it’s easily doubled or tripled for larger gatherings. I also suggest that you take the “variation” on the recipe and replace the 1-1/2 cups of beef stock with the same amount of a bold red wine. But, you always want to cook with wine that you’d be happy to drink so make sure it’s one you enjoy. Wine adds so much rich flavoring to the stew, and since the alcohol cooks off, everyone can enjoy it.

I also suggest that you use multi-colored carrots (they add color and fun) and add some crunched up bacon along with the potatoes and mushrooms. Serve it with thick slices of warm crusty bread and you’ve got the start to a wonderful evening!

How to host an EASY and fun Super Bowl Party

Fran's Super Bowl Tips

Two big tips and one great recipe idea for #Superbowl #SB52 – Good Food, Good Friends, Great Times.

I have hosted a ton of Super Bowl Parties at my home and, I’ve been a guest at quite a few of them as well. I’ve tried doing it a lot of different ways but a casual affair like this should always be fun – for everyone. And that calls for my “go-to” Super Bowl party plan – a tiny bit of variety along with an easy setup. Everything is set up with what a friend of mine calls a ‘quick snap’: one cup, one napkin, one plate (or bowl), and you’re back to the game.

It goes without saying that we want cold beverages that go best with whatever it is that’s on the menu. I think a good set for the icebox will include sodas, beer, and bottled water. But don’t forget your friends who like mixables. I’ll keep it simple this year – I’m serving Mexican food so we’ll be mixing margaritas with Casa Sauza Tequila Reposado, Jose Cuervo Salt, and a big bottle of 1800 Tequila Margarita mix. But for those of us that like our tequila “neat” (no mixers or even ice!) it will be Don Julio 1942.

And to go with that margarita or sipping tequila, a favorite recipe from bon appétitChili con Queso – basically a layered dip with taco meat, queso (cheese!), with guacamole, sour cream and pico de gallo on the side. Watch me cook up this easy recipe on video.

Check out the bon appetit website for the full recipe. This is an easy one, but there’s always room to make a few things better. These are my recommendations:

  • Make sure that you read the recipe through. I often go over a recipe two or three times just to make sure that I didn’t miss anything.
  • Chop and cut everything ahead of time (mise en place – or ‘everything in its place’). You can usually put all the wet ingredients that will be added at the same time in one bowl, all the veggies that are added at the same time in one bowl, and any dry ingredients (spices, etc.) that are added at the same time in another bowl. Fewer bowls equals less clean up!
  • I “seed” my tomatoes – simply pull off the seeds from the middle of the tomatoes before I chop. It adds less water to the finished product. The recipe doesn’t call for it, but I like to do it anyway.
  • Use Kosher Salt as it is less ‘salty’ than table salt and easier to control. It comes in a big box and can be found in any grocery store.
  • I used sharp cheddar cheese instead of mild for more flavor.
  • I used finely shredded cheeses because they melt almost instantly.

Now, if you’re only using your taco chips for something light like a simple salsa dip then any of the thin fresh tortilla chips will work, BUT if you want to dip into this layered Queso, you will need a thicker chip that won’t break.  You can make your own, but why go through the bother and mess when really all you need is a sturdy chip like Mission Tortilla Triangles.

Finally – my tip of tips for entertaining at home – don’t use china for a casual get together like the Super Bowl.  But, you do want to use something much sturdier than regular paper plates so they will hold up well under the weight of the food. If you’re dipping into this Queso, arm yourself with sturdy stuff that will not fold up on people’s laps. I like the disposable bowls, plates, cups, and utensils by EMI Yoshi.  I’m even using platters from them for the chips. They look really great and you can find them on Amazon.

May the best team win!