Tag Archives: Crate and Barrel

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!

Upgrade your Coffee Table or Dining Room Table

Fran Berger home decor ideas

Make a statement with cool accents and fabulous conversation starters.

A lesson I learned from my mother: if it has dust on it, it’s been out too long. The lesson from that idea may not be what you immediately think. She tended to toss things out and wasn’t very fond of collecting (even silver I’m sad to say). BUT she did like to change out her home décor from season to season so that the whole house seemed to constantly renew itself. Truly, one of the only things that stayed the same was the amazing Chinese Red silk wallpaper she had put on the ceiling in the living room!

The focal point of your living room is your coffee table. It really is the center of the room, you literally sit at it. For that fact alone, it’s probably one of the first things in your whole house that your guests notice. Imagine what happens when you go to a friend’s home and you see this beautiful Fabergé egg on the coffee table. You know the kind – intricate porcelain design – amazing colors. It’s a fabulous egg. It’s gorgeous. But year after year it’s in the same spot and is never moved. It now becomes a boring egg, doesn’t it? What fun is it once everyone has seen it so often that it becomes ‘old news’?

Because it is the center of attention, the coffee table is potentially your best tool for starting conversations. If you want to be a star in home entertaining, this is your stage. At least, it’s one of them. From the time that guests first arrive until the last one leaves; what’s on your coffee table can trigger icebreaker conversations. Sometimes there’s a lull in the conversation but the décor on your coffee table can help keep the ‘buzz’ going.

True story: a friend of mine collects what she calls “stupid stuff” like toys and bobbleheads. It is kinda silly – I have to admit – and I’m not the biggest fan. But there we were at a recent gathering, laughing and giggling over these silly things. It really started off a great evening on the right foot. She’s a terrific cook and always serves some of the best food and drink but I think it even made everything she served taste that much better.

Let me put one big caveat on what I mean by “changing out” your home décor. I don’t mean to say you shouldn’t be attached to certain items in your home, even if they have to be dusted off, from time to time. But, think about what can easily be refreshed which might mean only adding a couple of items but moving what you do love to different spots so that they look new.

I have some examples that can start wonderful conversations. They’re easy upgrades for your coffee table or dining room table: cool accents that will set off just about any room. Watch my video to see them in my home.

Let’s start with what we can call the center attraction. I’m already getting ready for a spring look (it’s been pretty sunny here in Cali), so I looked around and found glass sculptures from Kosta Boda. I fell in love with a piece called “My Wild Life” by master glass artist, Ludvig Löfgren. The pieces are not mass produced – each piece is a unique work of art.

Then I found a collection by Michael Aram that I think complements the room. I selected a piece called Butterfly Ginkgo Centerpiece that’s made from natural bronze and nickelplate. The Ginkgo Biloba or Butterfly Ginkgo is a tree that has leaves that look like butterflies.

I liked the Kosta Boda piece so much that I went back for more and found these colored glass brick candle holders that are especially lovely for tea lights. Remember, design looks best in odd numbers – in this case three, especially candles and candle holders. And if you don’t like the hassle of real candles, I recommend flameless candles from Crate and Barrel.

Finally. A nice ‘coffee table’ book is always a great way to set off a conversation. If you pick a travel book, make it someplace you’ve been or is on your ‘bucket list’. I have books about Italy, India, and places all over the U.S. Other types of books work – depending on your interests: historic photojournalism (e.g., great moments in history), art books, astronomy, architecture, flowers – or even pets, if you have a penchant for cute and cuddly.

The point is – make the centerpiece the center of conversation. That means it should change with your life and the seasons. Your guests will love it. And to be honest, so will you!

Time to Clean out the Kitchen Drawers?

Kitchen Updates

Out with the old tools and the odds gadgets – and make sure you get these must-haves.

It’s true that there’s a list of ‘must haves’ that every good home cook should have at their fingertips. But for me, after twenty years in the restaurant business, I’ve become clutter intolerant. Especially in the kitchen. So that list of must-haves has gotten shorter and shorter. Of course, I have a little story.

Several years back, I went to a friend’s home for a dinner party. I volunteered to help out with some of the preparations. Big mistake.  My friend was very proud of her gadgets – she had one thing that automatically chopped veggies, another thing that sliced them, and yet another weird thing that diced. She had drawers and drawers of more things that I seriously doubt she had ever used but maybe once. But here’s the thing: she didn’t have a single peeler that worked. Nada! Worse yet – no sharp knives or any way to sharpen them, which is a little pet peeve of mine. How can anyone cook without sharp knives?  A dull knife is the most dangerous tool in the kitchen.

I’ll admit that the more you cook, the more likely you’ll accumulate a collection of kitchen tools and gadgets that could fill two or three drawers. My mother was like that. She had so much stuff! And some of it was great – but I knew she only used most of it once or twice at a Thanksgiving dinner – while I was still living at home! At some point, you really have to take a cold hard look at some of this clutter and get rid of it.

I’m not talking about tossing out a favorite spoon (I have a short wooden spoon that’s over 20 years old!) or any of the big items like mixing bowls and cookware. I’m talking about the small stuff that fills drawers and clutters the kitchen. Another point – while I’m at it – tools and gadgets don’t last forever. Even favorite peelers eventually get dull and stop working. Worse yet, some tools have been used so much that they’re hard to clean, which is not good.

My solution! Start over. Dump everything that has aged or simply doesn’t work, and replace it with new stuff.

I did that last year. And it was fun. I went to one of my favorite stores – Crate and Barrel – and bought a brand-new set of kitchen tools by OXO. And what did I get? What I call, my ‘Must-Have Five’:

1.        Measuring cups and measuring spoons – yes both. This is one item that I seem to accumulate over the year. Most of the extra cups and spoons I get are from friends who came by to help cook (experienced home cooks often bring their own tools). I like the metal ones – I just feel like I’m getting a better measure from a metal spoon or cup.

2.        I love my wooden mixing spoons. Good ones are keepers. But like all things wood (example: cutting boards), eventually, you’ll have to part with them. You may see me in my videos also cooking with bamboo paddles. At any given time, I may have four or five of each of these extremely handy tools.

3.        Tongs – because who doesn’t need tongs? They’re indispensable for turning meat and veggies in a fryer, broiler, grill or pan. They’re handy for all sorts of reasons. So, I’ll have two or three of these – different lengths. And if you have non-stick cookware, make sure that you get the ones with coated tips so they won’t scratch.

4.        Can Opener – Oh yes. Have you ever tried to open a can without one? I have a funny story I’ll tell you sometime about a friend who went out to the desert with his family without one. But there are so many types! I like the basic hand crank edge opener.  These are the ones that open the can under the ridge so there are no sharp edges on the lid.  They’re easy to clean, and they’re small enough that they fit in a drawer easily.

5.        Peeler – If you cook at home, you must have at least one sharp and functioning peeler. Remember that these gadgets break or dull often. A peeler should be able to peel a raw carrot easily. If it skips or gouges, time to replace. Peelers are also great for making lemon zest that goes with quite a few recipes I know.

Last word – this list does not include what I think of as the essential tools like spatulas, sharp knives, whisk, potato masher, and rubber scrapers. If you bake, you want a good rolling pin. If you grate cheese, a nice box grater is good to have. But please – try to resist buying that electronic chopper on the clearance table. You’ll never use it again. Just sayin.

Holiday Home Entertaining Tip – Stocking Stuffers!

Holiday Stocking Stuffer vert

A fun update for an ancient holiday tradition.

I think one of the most fun and endearing holiday traditions is Christmas stockings. When I was a kid, it was a way to get a lot of candy. By the time I was a teen, the presents I had found in my stocking got a little more sophisticated. One year, I got my first really nice watch. That was a really happy memory.

As far as the history of the stocking stuffer goes, apparently that’s how everyone got their gifts, from the earliest time when the holidays started until about the 1940s. One of the stories I read goes all the way back to the 4th Century when the European legend of the guy we know as Santa Claus first emerged. St. Nicholas, as he is also known, heard about a poor man who didn’t have enough money to take care of his children. St. Nick, being a rather clever man, tossed bags of gold directly into stockings that were hung by the fireplace to dry. BAM. There’s where legend and a centuries-old tradition merge.

While the stocking stuffer became more a thing you did with kids, I think the tradition has gotten a bit more trendy among adults. A friend of mine owns an agency in Santa Monica. He and his wife sew up small stockings for each employee. Then he stuffs the stocking with some candy and the annual Christmas bonus. Nice stuffer! A dance group in New York uses the stocking stuffer as a rather unorthodox way to announce the next year’s list of principal dancers.  Now, that could be either a stocking you want or maybe not!

You can use the stocking stuffer for just about anything – as part of your regular holiday celebration or your annual Christmas office party. Whatever you do, think about the people who will receive the stocking.

Don’t just automatically add candy and snacks – especially among adults. Unless that’s what the receiver would normally eat. Maybe a theme for the stuffers would be a nice twist to the tradition.

For instance, what if you stick with individual hobbies and interests?  If someone you know loves to cook – then think about small and handy gadgets that they would like. Or maybe one of those gourmet cooking sauces. I find plenty of ideas at Crate and Barrel and Williams-Sonoma.

If you’re giving to someone who loves to travel, how about small travel conveniences like personalized luggage tags, organizer bags for cosmetics, little travel bottles that can go through security. I go to the Container Store for those ideas.

Maybe you’re a do-it-yourselfer. In that case, perhaps a gift that comes from you – like something you’ve made. Back to the friend who sews stockings for his employees. He got the idea from his wife when she used to dance in the Nutcracker for a regional ballet troupe. She sewed elves for each of her fellow dancers. About 100 of them. Now that’s commitment.

Unless you have a knack for sewing (or knitting), you’ll probably have to buy the stockings. I’ll make it easy. Try these from Amazon. They have all kinds of styles, colors to choose from – some are funny, some are traditional, and some are knitted socks!

I think stocking stuffers can be a fun alternative to the typical wrapped present. It keeps the whole activity of gift-giving simple and fun for everyone.

How to Prevent a Holiday Party Nightmare

Candle Holders from Pottery Barn

Five things you can do RIGHT NOW to prepare for any holiday gathering – for the rest of the year!

The whole group was coming to my party. I was so happy that I found myself literally grinning from ear to ear every time the doorbell rang. People were in such a great mood and everyone was engaged in conversation. The atmosphere in the room was lively, people were laughing, it couldn’t have been better. But then, to my horror, I realized that I wasn’t ready. Worse than that – nothing was ready!

I had no drinks to serve.

My dining room was a mess.

None of the food was ready.

I was in a complete panic. Then I suddenly realized something else that stopped me cold in my tracks. I was still in my swimsuit and I reeked of sun tan lotion! And, even worse than that, I had an inflatable swim ring around my waist? Whaaaaaat? Seriously? I don’t even sit out in the sun much less use suntan lotion or an inflatable swim ring!

That’s when I woke up and sat bolt upright in bed.  It was all a horribly bad dream. I laughed. Of course. If you’ve ever wondered what a nightmare looks like to a home entertainment expert, this would be it. I’d been so busy this summer. I’d been up north, back east and in between. With that kind of schedule, who has time to think about the holidays?

But now, I am. In fact, part of this blog was written right after that silly dream – well, let’s call it what it was – a nightmare, okay? Now, this is my warning to all my fellow home entertainers – the time to prepare is NOW.  The holidays are literally, right around the corner. As a friend of mine is fond of saying: The trick to preparation is getting prepared now.

There are FIVE simple things you can do – today – to get your home prepared for the holidays.

ONE: Start with easy-to-do accent changes: change out the couch throws for heavy knit ones and add a few accent pillows that say, “here come the holidays” like this pillow and this one from Crate and Barrel. You don’t have to start with the ‘jingle bells’ thing just yet, but nice warm colors will help set the mood just right.

TWO: Think about the “welcome beverage” you will be serving at your parties.  Bring everything into the seasonal spirit with sparkling wines; Gruet and Schramsberg are always favorites in my home! And don’t forget the pomegranate seeds. Then stock up on beautiful reds, like these bottles from Long Meadow Ranch or Davis Estates. Speaking of bottles, don’t forget to put your favorite vodka (Chopin anyone?) in the freezer.

THREE: Remember your candles. My summer setting is always ‘white and bright.’ It’s time now to change up to softer colors to match the couch throws and pillows. Keep those simple candles (for fall white or ivory) but change out the holders to pewter, silver or soft gold.  The softer color of metals create a softer light – like these from World Market or Pottery Barn.

FOUR: If you have a mantel or fireplace, change décor but keep it light and simple. If you have centerpieces or runners for your coffee table and dining table – it’s time for a change. Think “autumn leaves.” Like this basket setting from Pottery Barn.

FIVE: Maybe this is on the top of everyone’s mind, but the music list is always good to figure out long before the guests arrive. Time to put away Elvis and bring back Frank. Well, maybe it’s the opposite for some folks, but you get the idea.

Want to go the distance? I even change out some of my framed pictures – ones of my family and friends on easel backs and some on the walls. Store away the pictures of beach parties and put up the ones of camping trips in autumn and ski trips to the alps. You’d be surprised how this simple switch will change the “feel” in your home.

The point of this exercise – don’t wait until the week or days before the first holiday party. Start now and set the canvas. You can add the finishing touches later. Besides, you’ll have plenty of other things to worry about before your guests arrive. Everything you do now will look like you really took time to plan things out. Taking these steps now will also help you enjoy your party that much more and you won’t be waking up from a nightmare like I did!

Have fun!

Give your flowers a reason to SING!

Your Table Top: turn ordinary into extraordinary with unusual flower containers.

Don’t you love to wander in a flower garden during full bloom? It’s such a peaceful experience, but it also draws you closer to nature. That’s why we cut flowers and bring them into our homes, to bring some of that beauty inside.

But, if you’re taking the time and effort to cut the perfect blooms why settle for simple vases? I mean, if you’re going to accent your home with flower arrangements, why not try something different for containers like watering cans, milk bottles, pitchers, or small bowls?  In my world, if it can hold water then it can be used as a flower holder.

Blame it on a streak of creativity that I’ve taken with me over the more than twenty years of owning restaurants – I always ask myself, how can I turn ordinary into extraordinary?

What do you get from putting flowers into something other than a vase – even a very beautiful crystal vase? I think you get something memorable. You get questions and conversation! You make it fun for you and your guests.

There is no limit to the types of containers you can use for cut flowers to add interest to a centerpiece or arrangement on any table in your home. I look for textures, color, and different materials to compliment room décor or to spice up a theme.  The sky is the limit.  Pay attention to the size and shape of the container when you cut the stems.  You can even use very large blooms in a low container by just keeping the stems short.  Sometimes you might want to bunch flowers very tightly to fill a container to the max or sometimes a single flower makes just the right statement.

Depending upon the theme of the evening dropping just daisy heads into a large shallow container filled with water and adding floating lit tea lights could be just the perfect centerpiece to add some drama to your dining table.  You can even use this technique in several smaller shallow containers for a centerpiece.  Any flat bloom will work!

Speaking of mood, what you do depends on what you’re trying to achieve. And it doesn’t require that you get very elaborate. For instance, you can use votive candle holders and glass hurricane candle holders as bud vases. You can get very nice ones from Crate and Barrel.

I’ve used Ball Mason jars too. You know, the jars with screw-on lids that people use when making jams. They work well as impromptu containers for an informal setting, like a dinner al fresco. Put a bunch of wild flowers in them or a bunch of small daisies or even just a large bunch of leaves.  Ball Mason jars are available all over but I got mine from World Market.

I have several different water pitchers that I always use as flower “vases” – glass, white ceramic ones, but my favorite is this one of a kind pewter one from Arte Italica. They have so many to choose from in all types of materials.

I’ve even used a very tall glass cream pitcher that I purchased for $2 at an estate sale. It makes a gentle statement with a single rose or daffodil.

Don’t get me wrong. I think nice vases can be an elegant touch, but the point is don’t limit yourself. Get creative.  When it comes to flowers to accent your home, anything can be used to hold them.

Let your imagination go, and have fun!

The Right Way to Enjoy Al Fresco Dining

al fresco dinner ware

Dining outdoors – perfect for longer, warmer nights.

Days are getting longer and the nights are warming up – a perfect combination to dine al fresco with friends or a significant other.  It’s more than simply eating outside or just two Italian words that mean “in the cool air” – it’s a whole experience when done properly.  It’s creating the perfect table setting, candle-lit ambiance, just the right amount of casual and, of course, the perfect menu.

Many people think of white paper plates and red solo cups when they think of having a picnic, but for me, it’s always more than that.  Whether it’s dinner in the backyard by the pool or in the park with a big group of friends or perhaps a concert at The Hollywood Bowl, it’s important to make every dining occasion special but also worry-free!

There are so many fantastic unbreakable options now.  Crate and Barrel has an entire selection of beautiful rustic melamine (plastic!) in several colors that all coordinate well with bowls, plates and service pieces in different patterns (also melamine).  Add their “glassware” made from different polymer materials unbreakable glasses in all shapes including stemmed wine glasses and margarita glasses. You’ll have the basics for a colorful, fun and worry-free table setting. Yesterday, on my video, I showcased other options from Williams Sonoma. Use woven placemats in a coordinating color with a white linen napkin and colorful napkin ring to complete the look.  All you need now is simple flatware (really only a fork and knife), and you’re set.

Candlelight is important to set the mood.  Hurricane lamps with candles (include some citronella candles – to keep away the flying insects) to set around.  Make sure that the top of the candle is lower than the top of the hurricane lamp otherwise even a small breeze will blow out the flame.

Create simple centerpieces for height and color. Keep it casual.  You can use flowers, but then you need to worry about vases with water that can tip over.  Some of my favorite centerpieces are just twigs with small flowers (cherry blossom branches, birch branches, manzanita branches, etc.).  And sometimes it’s even simpler than that – just a large bunch of green – even Magnolia leaves in a big enough bunch are casual and beautiful.  You don’t need water – just a fun container.

Plan the menu appropriately for wherever you will be dining and how far you will be traveling to get there.  If you’re in the backyard, your menu can include hot food straight from the kitchen or BBQ. If you’re traveling (even around the corner to the park with friends) plan a menu that only includes food that can be served room temperature – salads, grilled in season vegetables (asparagus, artichokes, broccolini, et cetera – look at the farmer’s market for ideas). Veggies can easily be added to a plate of cold pasta salad to add color and flavor, along with cold sliced roast and cold fried chicken – you get the idea.  Don’t forget an easy batch cocktail – margaritas, negronis or keep it simple and bring wine.  And don’t forget the wine-opener.

One last safety note – warm evenings and nights also bring bugs. I hate bugs, but I especially hate mosquitos that can be a real pain (literally). Some of your guests may be uncomfortable about dining outside without some protection. Remind your guests to wear their preferred insect repellent lotions (et cetera) or ask them what they prefer and bring some just in case they forget. I also burn Tiki torch fuel that’s spiked with citronella – it seems to do the trick. Start them up about an hour before your guests arrive and you’ll be bug-free for hours.

You may enjoy this so much, you’ll make it a regular event all summer!

Don’t take your Cutting Board for granted!

Thinking about cutting boards today

Cutting board safety tips – there’s a reason that chefs do the things they do.

 

When I owned my restaurants we followed some pretty strict guidelines when it came to food preparation.  Many of the guidelines are written by state regulators. Most of them though are common sense things, like cutting boards.

The fact is – anything that your food touches can be somewhere that it can pick up contamination of some kind. For instance, if you cut up raw chicken, would you use the same cutting board to slice a tomato? Well, if you do and you don’t rigorously clean the board before you start slicing the tomatoes the danger from cross-contamination – the bacteria that naturally occurs in chicken meat – to anything else is extremely high.

But, it might surprise some people that raw, unwashed fruits and vegetables can also carry bacteria. I’ve seen people take raw, unwashed carrots, cut the tops off of them on the cutting board, then place those same carrots that are now washed and peeled back on the same cutting board to slice. Not a good idea.

Cutting boards need to be washed thoroughly and constantly.  Let’s start with our choice of boards.

Wood, Plastic, Glass?

The choice of material can help control the risk of cross contamination.

For a long time, nearly all cutting boards were made of wood. Traditionally they are made out of hardwoods like maple that have a very tight grain and won’t score (scratch) easily. Some people like softer woods like cypress which are less likely to dull knives. Good wood cutting boards tend to be more expensive, are heavy and require quite a bit of care to keep them like new.  You need to carefully wash your wooden board after each use with soap and water and thoroughly dry – regularly oil it with food grade mineral oil, and never put it in the dishwasher.

Plastic or silicone boards also have their advantages and disadvantages. Some people don’t like plastic because it can score from your knife cuts and perhaps trap bacteria but I like that I can put mine in the dishwasher to sanitize.  I replace my plastic boards before knife damage chips away at the surface.

Glass cutting boards are beautiful, won’t scratch or crack and are easy to clean.  BUT, food tends to slip on a glass surface and are also more likely to move around under the pressure of your chopping so the possibility of cutting yourself is a problem. But the worst part about glass boards is that they will dull your sharp knives faster than you can say this sentence!

The Verdict

Some food safety researchers recommend a mix of wood and plastic. I use my wood cutting boards for bread only – that way I don’t ever worry that bacteria is lurking on the surface.  It really depends on personal preference and how careful you are with proper cleaning and care, but obviously, the safest method is to use different boards for different foods.

When I’m cooking I use plastic only. For several reasons. You can buy different colors of plastic boards for different types of food – which all but guarantees that you’ll prevent cross contamination between raw proteins and other foods.  For instance, I use green for vegetables, red for meat (beef, veal, et cetera), blue for fish and white for chicken and other poultry.  This is the rule that’s always followed in restaurants.

Places like Crate and Barrel carry plastic boards that come in all sorts of colors. These boards are kind to your knives, fairly light weight, can be washed with soap and water easily, and if needed they can be soaked in bleach or a vinegar sanitizing solution to keep clean. Another important plus – especially for restaurants – plastic boards are cheaper than wood and can be dumped in the recycle bin when you’re done with them.

Be safe!

Serving Caviar for a Tasting?

Champagne-Caviar-Tasting_orig

Handy tips for serving caviar at your next event.

 

When you own restaurants, as I did for more than twenty years, you learn quite a bit about serving all kinds of different food. Caviar is a little unusual in its own way. Serving can be tricky, but the effort is well worth the work.

Remember that caviar is basically cured (salted) eggs from sturgeon, a white meat fish. The sturgeon flesh is also very edible, usually found in stores canned or frozen, but the big value are the eggs. For that reason, because fresh caviar is so delicate, you want to keep it unopened for no more than 8 days in the coldest part of your refrigerator – ideally at 28-32 degrees. If the tin is opened, don’t keep it for more than 2 days.

You want to be especially careful with unpasteurized caviar which is the freshest and the best tasting and truly the one you want to spend your money on.  So, buy it close to the date of your party and only what you think will be eaten.  If there’s any leftover use it as a garnish on an omelet the next day!

When serving, you want to keep caviar cold. I place the smaller serving dish into a larger dish that is filled with ice. This will chill the serving dish and keep the contents cold for a few hours. Just a little warning, you do NOT want the caviar to warm up on the table or it will spoil. Also, never use a sterling silver spoon with caviar. You won’t like the taste of the caviar if you do. You want to use wood or glass for the serving dish; mother of pearl, horn or bone for the serving spoon. You can even use plastic as an absolute last resort, but maybe not for the nice party you just laid out!

When it comes to serving, there are a couple of options – it can be served plain if you prefer or as a garnish on other foods. Some people are happy with just a dab of real butter, and some lemon juice on a cracker. But I serve my caviar with blini and pumpernickel or rye cocktail size bread, with sieved egg yolk, sieved egg white, minced red onion, minced chive, and crème fraîche.  A perfect bite!

It’s important to remember that there’s actually all kinds of “caviar.” My favorite Italian restaurant Sfxio in Beverly Hills serves Truffle Caviar Pasta. They import “truffle caviar” (truffle oil in the shape of caviar) from Italy and serve it on house made fresh pasta. It’s delicious and it’s their most popular dish.

Truly the best recommendation is one that I’ve done myself. Not long ago I hosted a tasting party that featured my favorite Champagnes and vodkas with the best osetra caviars from Petrossian.

For the Champagne or sparkling wine, we served Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame, Ruinart Blanc de Blancs and Gruet Sparkling from New Mexico which is my go-to sparkling for informal gatherings. Don’t forget nice glasses for your beautiful bubbles.  Two favorites are the Reidel Veritas collection for simple wide tulips or the Mulle Nuits crystal flute from Baccarat.

Now let’s say that you want an alternative for Champagne, like a vodka. I like vodka distilled from potato. There are three that catch my eye for flavor and body. My favorite vodka is Luksusowa, a popular brand imported from Poland. You can make a real statement with Chopin from the Podlask Wytwornia distillery also in Poland.  Or you can serve another favorite, Ultimat, which is actually a blend of wheat, rye and potato vodkas!

Serving tip for vodka – keep the bottle in the freezer until you’re ready to serve. Put it in the deepest recesses of the freezer for at least three days. The vodka won’t freeze but will get a little thicker and taste a great deal better than just chilled. Find some fun shot glasses at a resale shop for a vintage look or use these plain ones I found at Crate and Barrel.

I think it’s time to party!

What kind of Champagne Glasses?

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Easy hints and tips for the “right” champagne glass for your party.

It’s a little joke between wine drinkers that the best glass for wine is always the one that you’re holding. No matter if it’s one of those little plastic cups hosts might use to serve at a casual backyard gathering or the elegant stemless glasses that they use at your favorite café bar, when you love wine, and you’re drinking a good one, especially Champagne, it almost doesn’t matter how it is served.  But, even if you’re OK at the moment with the plastic cup in your hand, you always want to know how the wine you want to offer should be served.

For example – what if you want to host a caviar and Champagne tasting party like I did a few days ago. What glasses do you set out for something like that?

First, the good news: there is no shortage of places to go to find them and no shortage on selection. Second, there are three glass types for serving Champagne: flute, coupe, or tulip wine glass. If you can’t find a tulip shaped glass, then a white wine glass will do very well.

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The Fluted Glass

The flute glass (with its tall narrow shape) is the traditional shape for champagne. The shape of the bowl helps encourage a lot of bubbles to rise to the surface and show off the fine effervescence of bubbles. But there’s more to Champagne than just bubbles. I may use fluted glasses for young wines, but not for a good vintage.

The ‘problem’ with the flute is that it tends to short-change the experience a little, especially if you want to drink a good vintage Champagne. The small top of the flute doesn’t allow much air space for the aroma to collect and enhance the flavor. Because there is so little of the surface exposed to air, the flute limits your ability to thoroughly appreciate the aromas and flavors that the winemaker worked so hard to put in your glass.

There’s always the novelty of the coupe glass. They are elegant looking, and some of them are even fantastic works of art. I have a set of very simple crystal ones with tall stems from Iittala. This glass style was popular back in the early 20th century – think flapper girls, glossy hair, and the Charleston.  The coupe was originally designed to showcase a Champagne style that was also popular then – a sweet bubbly dessert wine – which is fine if that’s what you want to do. However, it’s not right for the style of Champagne that is produced today.

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The Coupe Glass

I think that the coupe is a little like the flute glass – there are just some things it doesn’t do well. It can’t capture the beauty of the Champagne, especially the ones that are currently being produced. The wide shallow bowl doesn’t let the bubbles develop as they would in a taller glass, so they come to the large surface quickly, burst and are all gone before you’ve finished your glass.  But the worst problem is the large surface area at the top of the bowl means that too much air meets the wine and both bubbles and aroma (and much of the taste) are lost quickly.

That’s why experts – the connoisseurs of wine – have moved away from the flute glass and novelty coupe for enjoying fine aged sparkling. They want to enjoy what the winemakers put into the wine.  By using the proper glass, you get to showcase the artistry of the wine: the aroma, the palate, and the look. That’s why if I’m serving an excellent aged sparkling wine, I want my guests to enjoy it from either a wide tulip shape or a white wine shaped glass.

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The White Wine Glass (alternative for the Tulip Glass).

The tulip glass gives you just enough length and surface area so that bubbles can burst at the same time. When it is filled to no higher than two-thirds full – you’ll have plenty of room to capture those aromas at the top of the glass. The wider bowl allows more room for the aeration of the wine. The flavors develop better when the narrower rim captures and holds those aromas in the glass for you to enjoy.  If you can’t find the tulip shape, then a white wine glass will suffice. Tulip glasses are similar enough in shape to a white wine glass, only wider at the bowl and slightly narrower at the top.

Last, but not least, I have a few suggestions for your party. There are three brands of Champagne/sparkling wine that I love and will always recommend:  Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame (a bold style for a strong statement), Ruinart Blanc de Blancs (for a big impression on your guests) and Gruet Sparkling from New Mexico (my go-to sparkling for those informal gatherings).

For glasses, I recommend three – the Baccarat Crystal flute, the Iittala Crystal coupe, or a simple white wine glass from Crate and Barrel.

Enjoy!