Thursday, November 5

November is about utilizing the bounties of the season to entertain for the holidays

picking apples directly from the trees and spending a day at an orchard can be great fun.  We picked several styles from tangy to sweet to fill our bag!
The jewel-tone colors that seem to magically appear on the vines of many gardens from September through December are a wonder to behold. From unusual pumpkins to full stalks of brussel sprouts, the varieties of produce can give us many ideas for decorating and cooking this season. With the succession of holidays that occur between Halloween and New Years Day, we have ample opportunities to celebrate, and we just may decide to create a meal for friends and family. 

Whether you are cooking a feast for 25 for Thanksgiving dinner, or having a small gathering over for an autumn dinner, attention to detail, creativity and planning are important to make an event come together in a seemingly flawless manner. It can become a whirlwind of activities during the fall and winter season, especially after long lazy summer days, but with the change of the weather comes a barrage of activities that can sometimes leave us feeling a tad overwhelmed. For November, I hope to offer some inspirations and thoughts on how to dress your table and create your meals in a delicious and stylish manner but with an eye toward keeping it less laborious.

The infamous American holiday of Thanksgiving is the quintessential day for "comfort food". The turkey dinner itself can be quite straight forward to pull together, and because of the large selection of dishes, it often becomes an exercise in organizing and timing. When I cook, I like to throw my dinners together with a creative flair, however, Thanksgiving doesn't have to be that kind of meal to be successful. It's been done over and over again by many Americans, each family personalizing the details and accompaniments based upon their family's cultural backgrounds and personalities. I have had comments and posts from many followers on Nest as to the best cooking approach for preparing a Thanksgiving turkey, from deep frying to cooking in a paper bag. The last few years I have brined my turkey in advance of cooking it and find it produces a lovely, moist bird.

Like most families, we have our own unique recipes that have been passed down with each generation, and with new family members, new ideas get tossed into the pot. My grandmother prepared a very classic Thanksgiving dinner right down to her pumpkin pie. All the family would crowd around her kitchen island, laughing, telling stories and watching Gammy prepare her magic. We would pick at the food from time to time as she affectionately swatted our hands away. Gammy lived to be in her kitchen and during the Thanksgiving holiday she was in her glory with her apron wrapped tightly around her waist. It was a three day event to prepare for our Thanksgiving dinner, which sometimes fed up to 25 guests. Gammy would map out the schedule for all the dishes, and rise at dawn the morning of Thanksgiving to get the big bird in the oven. Soon, the savory smells of the turkey began wafting through the house. To say that making my first Thanksgiving dinner almost fifteen years ago for my in-laws was a daunting experience, is putting it lightly. After all, I mostly watched my family cook and loved the food, but had no idea how to put it all together.

I now understand the details of putting the dinner together. I have compiled a good repertoire of recipes over the years for different meals, and like most decent cooks, I have my staples that I no longer need the assistance of a cookbook to prepare-the pages are crinkled and tabbed just in case I forget something. However, like many multi-taskers there is little time to prepare large multi-course homemade dinners and most of my entertaining is a combination of a few home cooked dishes mixed with resources available in this fine city. In the end, the experience is primarily about getting my favorite people together and laughing, sharing a glass of wine, a telling a story or two over a delicious meal. I try to entertain often, and without stress during this hectic holiday schedule.
How to set a beautiful table A few select antique porcelain pieces spruce up your table and bring history to your holidays
This holiday season is a perfect time to pull out your vintage collections of porcelain from the dark corners of your cabinets, dust them off, and let them shine center stage for everyone’s enjoyment. I like to mix and match my antique and vintage plates with modern china. By combining various styles of porcelain and pottery, this layered effect adds special warmth to a holiday table. A beautifully arranged table can set the tone for a wonderful holiday meal. This season is one of the only times I concede that “more is better” in terms of decorating the dinner table. While in the summer months, my style is to let the simple beauties of nature speak for themselves, during the winter holidays I often add vintage table linens and runners, cornucopias of fruit and vegetables as centerpieces, and either a parade of small votive candles or tall candelabras to add that special glimmer and sense of wonder.
A Southern Charm was brought to this elegant dinner party in New York City with interior designer, Barbara Southerland
I am dedicating this month's blog on holiday entertaining to my friend Barbara Southerland. Barbara is a residential interior designer with offices in both Greenville, North Carolina and New York . She has a great eye for beauty and style, and she possesses a fastidiousness to detail that makes her an amazing designer. She invited us over for a holiday dinner and together we set the table for four utilizing many seasonal vegetables and flora to prepare a lovely table. Barbara claims that entertaining for the Holidays is about adding the season's touches, while injecting a bit of glamour to create a warm and inviting mood.

Barbara has the luxury of tapping into both her Southern hospitality and New York ideologies when planning her dinner parties. Originally from North Carolina, Barbara has the "good bones" of unique hand me down family heirloom silver and crystal mixed with her collection of antique Quimper pottery and some everyday items, which all makes the right tonic of ingredients to put together a beautifully set table for an intimate dinner gathering. This table utilizes the fresh produce found at the farmers market, including pomegranates, squash, apples, pumpkins and clementines to create a cornucopia centerpiece complete with green foliage. Barbara then adds the touches from her collection of accessories to set the tone for a lovely evening.

How to prepare delicious food...

My children are on a first name basis with "fennel" and "endive" as well as various cultural fare from Indian to Japanese. It has become good family entertainment to watch our favorite chefs on television in shows like The Iron Chef. This is such a great time to tap into all these resources to help us entertain in a spectacular manner, while educating our palate, but without having to do it all from scratch. Most chefs today are not simply sharpening their knives in the kitchen at the end of their shifts, but have their hands in organic gardening, focusing on bringing fresh, seasonal ingredients to the table in a creative manner, and are involved in educational and community programs to enlighten the public on fresh and healthy eating. 

In California, chef Alice Waters has been instrumental in bringing vegetable and herb gardens to the public school systems. The days of bland and processed foods seem to be behind us as a nation as many chefs around the country are spreading their cutting edge approaches to eating. We are fortunate to have many resources at our disposal to find out how to obtain, prepare and eat all kinds of delicious, fresh and gourmet foods.
taking tips from cookbooks,
blogs & other resources

I have followed the Silver Palate series of cookbooks since the 1980s when they were first published. These two ladies - Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins- wrote this series of books before the current wave of chefs today - they were ahead of the curve in terms of their stylish approach. I was saddened to hear of the loss of Sheila Lukins this past August. The first two books they wrote have great staple recipes and can still be found at most bookstores. I used their Onion Soup Les Halles recipe from their Good Times cookbook, page 265 for my party below. It is one of my favorite dishes.
Additionally, I believe every cook should own at least three of Julia Child's cookbooks-the How To Cook, which is a thick basics book for almost every dish, and her two volume, French Cooking I & II.

Chef Daniel Barber
Chef Daniel Barber has paved the way for many chefs in the area when it comes to bringing farm fresh ingredients to the table. He does this with a keen artistic approach. Daniel, together with his brother and sister inlaw, David and Laureen Barber, own two Blue Hill restaurants; one in Manhattan (in Greenwich Village) and the other at the Stone Barns at Blue Hill in Pantico Hills, New York. The Barber's visions have created an amazing culinary experience on a beautiful farm at Stone Barns. Blue Hill at Stone Barns opened in 2004 within the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture. It is a working year-round farm and educational center just 30 miles north of New York City. The farm sources from the surrounding fields and pasture, as well as other local farms in the Hudson Valley. I have known the Barber family for many years and before they were restaurateurs, their love for food and farm permeated their lives and their home. The vision for their restaurants seem to be rooted in the beautiful farm that their grandmother left to them in the Berkshire Mountains, the original Blue Hill. I encourage you to eat at the two restaurants. At Stone Barns the culinary experience may even rival the aesthetics of the beautiful farm and surrounding properties. The unique space they have created is worth a trip -the silo within the restaurant is stunning! Although it can be quite tough to get a reservation due the growing popularity of the restaurant, it is well worth the wait and may help to inspire you. Their website is beautiful as well -

Chef Colin Ambrose
Chef Colin Ambrose has a fresh perspective on food. Colin is the chef and owner of year-round restaurant Estia's Little Kitchen and executive chef and managing partner at seasonal restaurant The Old Stove, both located in the Hamptons in Long Island, New York. Colin believes in cooking with farm fresh ingredients that are in season. I have had the privilege of eating at both of his restaurants in Sag Harbor and Wainscott, Long Island as well a meal prepared by Colin in his home. He has that rare ability to creatively pull together a great dinner with seeming ease. He makes it look simple, yet many of us who have tried to pull off this feat while chatting with guests will testify, it can be complicated. Colin has a natural intuition for creating delicious food, which may help to explain the popularity of both of his restaurants. Check out his recipes and updates on his website - EstiasLittleKitchen

I chatted with Colin about a relatively simple salad that can be made in advance using the bounties of the season. When he makes this salad, he looks for 2 specific apples, one soft for baking and one crisp and sweet for a match-stick cut that would compliment a sharp cheddar sliced the same way.
"A crisp, sweet apple tells it's own story, a good baker will be softer, rounder and less assertive on the first bite. In time, if you live near the trees you'll know which one produces the best results from an oven or on the breakfast table. If you don't know the tree let the first bite guide the menu. "
Apple and Camembert Harvest Salad
by Colin Ambrose
  • 1 crisp sweet capple
  • 1 good baking apple
  • 1 small wheel camembert
  • 1 small piece sharp white cheddar
  • 10 stems flat leaf parsley
  • 1 lemon
  • 1/4 cup apple cider
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Remove the core from the apple, don't peel it, but remove core with a thin knife top to bottom. Place the apple on a small baking sheet and pour 1/2 cup of water on the sheet then wrap with foil. Place in the oven @ 400 for 25 min. or until soft butstill firm. Remove and chill. Just prior to service slice the crisp apple into thin match sticks and place in a bowl. Then slice the same amount of cheddar to the same size and combine. Remove the baked apple from the fridge and slice into thin wedges, then place a slice of camembert on each plate. Top each slice of cheese with a quartered baked apple slices and then top the apple slices with a smaller piece of cheese (from the rind cut). On the opposite side of the plate create a pile (2 tablespoons)of the crisp apple/ cheddar matchstix. Garnish with parsley stems and touch the parsley with drops of vinaigrette. To make Vinaigrette combine the juice of 1 lemon with apple cider and olive oil, pour into a squeeze bottle and shake.You'll have lot of extra apple cider vinaigrette so keep cold for your next fall salad
And, finally, a cookbook recommendation for a worthy cause...
a new book just published with tips on entertaining at home with New York's stylish hostesses
A very dedicated group of women from the Society of Memorial Sloan-Kettering have collaborated with Florence Fabricant, an award-winning food writer and contributing New York Times columnist, to author this amazing book. It is over 250 pages of beautiful pictures serving up a compilation of recipes and tips for year-round special occasion entertaining. Please check out the contribution of my friend Elizabeth Fuller's "Whirl-Away Chocolate Cake". It was her great-grandmother's recipe, and it looks both delicious and a fun project to do with children!

Some of the women who have written and donated to the book include -Wendy Arriz, Muffie Potter Aston, Chesie Breen, Mary Davidson, Elizabeth Fuller, Eugenie Niven Goodman, Leslie Jones, Coco Kopelman, Heather Leeds, Nicole Limbocker, Daisy Soros, Kathy Thomas, and Barbara Tollis.
Whirl-Away Chocolate Cake By Elizabeth Fuller 

My friend Elizabeth has generously shared her recipe with me - it appears in the book on page 154.
Makes 12 Servings 
1 ½ sticks (6 ounces) unsalted butter, softened 2 ½ Cups sifted all-purpose flour 1 ½ Teaspoons baking powder ¾ Teaspoon Baking Soda ½ Teaspoon Salt 1 ½ ounces unsweetened chocolate 1 2/3 Cups sugar 3 large eggs 1 Cup cultured buttermilk 1 Teaspoon vanilla extract Use a little of the butter to grease a loaf pan 9 by 5 by 3 inches. Dust the pan with a little of the flour. Put the remaining butter into the bowl of an electric mixer. Whisk the flour in another bowl with the baking powder, ½ teaspoon of the baking soda, and the salt. Place the chocolate, the remaining ¼ teaspoon baking soda, 1 tablespoon of the sugar, and 2 tablespoons water in a small saucepan. Place over low heat and heat until the chocolate melts. Stir. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. In a large bowl, beat the butter with the remaining sugar until light. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Stir in the flour mixture in three additions alternating with the buttermilk. Stir in the vanilla. Remove one third of the batter to another bowl and stir the melted chocolate mixture into it. Alternately, drop generous spoonfuls of the white batter and the chocolate batter into the pan. Use a table knife to cut down through the batters in a zigzag motion to mingle them without thoroughly mixing them. The top is lightly browned and a cake tester comes out clean. Remove from the oven, cool, and then remove from the pan. *a note from the authors
there were no microwave ovens in great-grandmother’s day, but now the chocolate, baking soda, sugar and water can be combined and microwave on high for about a minute, just until the chocolate melts. Effectively marbleizing the cake means not overdoing it-cut down into the batter and zigzag back and forth just a few times. Less is better than more. Just in time for the Holidays, this book will make a great gift. 

Park Avenue Potluck Celebration and can be purchased on their website at
published by Rizzoli New York - can also be purchased at or -

I prepared a Saturday night dinner while taking into consideration all the advice I culled from the experts above and utilizing local fresh vegetables, (the apples for the tart we had hand picked from the local orchard earlier in the day). It feels right to use the produce that is freshest during the season. For autumn and early winter notable ingredients include apples, onions, leeks, greens, carrots, squash, pumpkins and corn. To keep it less labor intensive I turned to one of my staple recipes, originally learned from the Silver Palate- "Onion Soup Les Halles". Over the years, I have tweeked the recipe a bit, but ultimately it is the same idea of onions, carmelized and cooked down with a bit of cognac, white wine, a bit of sugar and thyme. It takes a few hours of stewing, but can be made a day before or the morning of, and it makes a perfect appetizer for this busy season. Once heated up, I add homemade croutons and gruyere cheese in oven ready bowls and warmed for a few minutes. During this course we sat around the kitchen, casually drinking the soup, while sipping our wine before we sat for the rest of our meal. For a salad, I combined mixed greens, walnuts, beets, aged goat cheese with my version of a simple, Parisian dressing - white wine vinegar, some aged balsamic vinegar, mustard, salt, pepper and herbs de provence, and good olive oil. The main course was a slow-cooked roast beef. Once the meat was done I pureed the sauce in the pan of leeks, onions, garlic, mustard, and beef stock. I roasted half carrots drizzled with honey and thyme. I made Barefoot Contessa's buttermilk biscuit recipe. For dessert I prepared an apple tart. I saved a little time by using a ready-made made philo dough from Citarella (but, after all, I did handpick the apples straight from the tree earlier in the day). I rolled thinned the dough, formed a square with a pizza cutter, layered some wider strips on the edges of the square to create a crust and baked (putting a square weight in the center to keep the dough from rising). Once mostly cooked, I took it out of the oven, layered several types of apples (thinly sliced) with cinnamon, a touch of butter, vanilla, and brown sugar, and then I brushed a paste of orange marmalade cooked down with water and squeeze of lemon on the crust of the tart and on top of the apples and baked again for 15 minutes or until apples were cooked but firm.
helpful hints

  • set your table the morning of the event before the busy day takes hold of your time, during this quiet time you can take an extra few minutes to plan the table according to the meal you will serve.
  • keep an idea of a menu in your head, leaving yourself open to substitutes depending upon what is fresh at the market when you arrive.
  • Try to make at least one or even two of the courses ahead when you are not busy, and they will be ready for heating up.
  • Create an area near your guests for cocktails and drinks, even if it is a small gathering because guests can re-fill their drinks at their leisure. Be sure to cut up lemons or limes, put ice in a container, a pitcher of water in addition to what you will serve as a cocktail. I have a vintage glass and faux bamboo bar cart that I set up with all the accoutrements, and in addition to the signature drink will usually have wine, as well as lemonade or cider for the children.
  • Set cloth linens, napkins and napkin rings whenever possible because these little details dress up even a casual dinner and make it feel special. I sometimes mix and match colors and designs of porcelain and pottery and linens to make the table interesting. For a casual dinner, I will roll up new dishtowels and tie them with raffia to use as napkins for a nice touch.
  • organize yourself so you have time to spend with your guests-I made the onion soup and biscuits and compiled the salad (without dressing) before they arrived. My only concern was to keep watch of the meat and carrots in the oven when the guests had arrived. I found delicious goat cheese and marmalade crostini from the infamous Artisinal Cheese restaurant in Midtown Manhattan-they have a wide selection of cheeses in their vault, but these appetizers came frozen, so I simply popped them into the oven as guests arrived for a nasty snack.

  • Dinner Menu
    quick tastes with a glass of wine - goat cheese and marmalade crostini
    appetizer - onion soup au gratin
    salad - medley of three lettuces (frisee, radicchio, endive) with goat cheese, roasted beets and walnuts w/white wine vinegar dressing
    main course -slow roasted beef with gravy, baked buttermilk biscuits & oven roasted carrots with honey glaze and thyme
    dessert -apple tart with orange glaze

    Happy Nesting
    XO Tamara


    Anonymous said...


    Thanks so much for reviewing Park Avenue Potluck Celebrations. I hope your followers enjoy it. We have a wonderful Thanksgiving menu in the book. I love your November posting - your photographs are beautiful and inspirational. I hope I can make my Thanksgiving table look as good as yours! I am going to try the centerpiece of local produce - it looks wonderful!


    Anonymous said...

    Thanks for the wonderful photos and text. I enjoy reading your blog each month, and this one may be my favorite! I will be hosting a thanksgiving dinner this year, so some of the recipes will come in handy. Keep up the good work. kindly, Arianna

    Anonymous said...

    Hope to check out Stone Barns soon and I have heard great things about the restaurant - thanks for another great blog post. Happy Thanksgiving - love the photographs of the apples!!! The Brooklyn Designer

    TheCluelessCrafter said...

    Feelings of nostalgia are flooding through me. As a little girl, I always helped my mother arrange (style, perhaps?) a cornucopia of utter visual delight. As you said, she has her traditions, namely these wonderful ceramic turkeys that were once used to hold spirits. Each year they trot onto the table.

    Makes me sad that this year I will not be celebrating with them. Alas, when you get married, you must share your abundance with others;-)

    Thanks for tweeting me, by the way. I too posted a rather humorous take on my hunt for abundance in Central Park. . .

    Tamara Matthews-Stephenson said...

    Dear TheCluelessCrafter - I am happy this month's NEST brought you nostalgia, encouraging photos and words and helped brighten your day-although sad to be apart from family on holidays, hold onto those memories and cherish them. I just went to your site and enjoyed reading all your beautiful entries-you are a great writer! xo tamara

    Anonymous said...

    Looking forward to December