There has always been something deliciously spooky about wire baskets. Even the quaintest Victorian type conjures up memories of my Connecticut childhood when small groups of us ventured out on Halloween, letting the owls guide our way down seemingly endless and dark winding drives to the trick-or-treat prize.
Now I love placing something orange (but not too bright) or a dulled red fruit in a wire basket as a nod to the Halloween palette. Something with an irregular shape, a root vegetable perhaps, also looks great in a black wire basket, especially when it’s sticking out through the wire.
I’ve seen black wire baskets in stores and on many websites this season, and am quite fond of the vintage pieces from any century or style: Victorian, art deco, midcentury or shabby chic. Any of these will do.
Since they have a common denominator of black wire, the styles mix well. With their various shapes and sizes, they create a wonderful focal point, either in a row or clumped together on a coffee table, or by the entrance or front steps, where trick-or-treaters or party guests will be sure to spot them.
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Even the most delicious cuisine is enhanced by presentation. Think of it as a backdrop, a stage set that brings your feast to life. What I bring to the party is everything but the food itself. I’ve always been fascinated by how food is presented on tables and settings of all types. In this new weekly column, I’ll be sharing my favorite design snippets and scenarios, based on my adventures as a Food Network designer and an avid connoisseur of style and design. So feel free to indulge here, but with your eyes only.
Think of these as essential presentation elements. The collectible trivet, from the most basic to the highly embellished, protects your counter and table surfaces from heat damage.
When it comes to dessert, I’m not particularly inventive. On the nights when it’s just my husband and me, we stick to the simple things like a nibble of chocolate or if we’re feeling particularly virtuous, sliced apple dipped in a little peanut butter. When I have more than the two of us to satisfy, I tend to gravitate toward fruit crisps or basic brownies. No one ever complains, particularly if I serve them with vanilla ice cream.
Once in a great while, however, I feel the need to up my game a little. Such is the case for an upcoming gathering of my potluck group. We’ve taken most of the summer off from getting together, as nearly every week, someone was dashing off to a distant beach town or jetting across the country to visit family. But with the start of the new school year, people are settling back down and are free for potlucking once again.
The next dinner is this weekend, and I’ve been assigned dessert. Our hostess is from Mexico and since September 15 is Mexican Independence Day, a theme has emerged. I needed something impressive and in keeping with the rest of the meal. Enter Marcela Valladolid’s Banana and Cajeta Layered Crepes. They’re dramatic, thematic and different from anything I’ve ever brought before. I made one crepe as a trial run earlier this week, to ensure that it wouldn’t be a flop for my friends. Happily, it’s delicious and fits the bill for this potluck perfectly. Next time you need a dessert that will wow folks, I highly recommend this one. It’s a bit labor-intensive, but that just makes it perfect for The Weekender.
Before you start layering your crepes, read these tips
This summer, Food Network’s Grilling Central is packed with recipes for the entire family’s taste buds, boasting the best in burgers, dogs, chicken and more all season long. But with so many recipes, where do you start? Each Saturday, FN Dish is giving you a complete menu that is stress-free, and this weekend’s spread is guaranteed to feed a crowd.
If this Labor Day weekend suddenly finds you cooking for a houseful of guests, fear not. We have everything you need to pull off an effortless, enjoyable backyard bash that’s brimming with top-notch dishes. Best of all, our no-fail recipes are a cinch to make, so you can be sure that you, the host, will have as much fun at your party as your guests.
Perhaps the most important part of any summertime soiree is the cocktails, and when it comes to entertaining a crowd, simplicity is key. Now isn’t the time to show off your mixology skills with made-to-order specialty drinks. Instead reach for big-batch cocktails that lend themselves to easy pouring, like Food Network Magazine‘s Red Sangria or Bobby’s White Peach Cocktail. If your guest list includes kids, prepare a pitcher of alcohol-free Mint Limeade, so that they can enjoy frosty glasses, too. Check out Food Network’s roundup of Pitcher-Friendly Drinks for more simple drink ideas.
Get the menu
We’ve gotten to that time of summer when even those of us who are most dedicated to the act of cooking are ready for a bit of a break from the kitchen. Thankfully, with summer produce approaching its absolute zenith, it’s possible to eat incredibly well without spending hours by the oven or the stove.
This time of year, I eat open-face tomato sandwiches for breakfast. For lunch, I toss cucumber, corn, tomato and basil together, add a little salt and olive oil and call it done. Dinnertime calls for big salads made with quick-cooking grains or pasta and lots of vegetables. If I’m feeling ambitious, I’ll call a friend with a grill and invite myself over for a cookout.
In past years, I used a lot of quinoa in dinner salads, but after a plaintive request from my husband for a little variety, I started scanning blogs and websites for something new. The answer came in the form of a recipe from Giada De Laurentiis. She combines large couscous grains with grape tomatoes, red pepper, torn spinach, mint and a smoked paprika dressing. The finished product is both familiar (it is essentially a riff on the classic pasta salad) and different enough to be entirely appealing.
Before you start simmering your couscous, read these tips
Each night, you set your table with the expected: plates, glasses, utensils and maybe a few napkins if you’re feeling particularly ambitious. You need them; they bring food and drink to your lips in a socially acceptable, functional way. But this lineup is as zero-frills as it gets, and sometimes your table might require a little something extra. When entertaining the masses or just enjoying the ambiance of your own dinner table, going for a range of unique table toppers is undoubtedly a must.
But what should grace the top of your table? Entertainers of the world: Avert your gaze to Food Network Magazine‘s master list of stellar tabletop ideas, all fit for summer. Ranging from green, reusable party goods to custom napkins, this list ensures that your table goes from undeniably sparse to thoughtfully filled.
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Having beautifully folded napkins at your table is an easy way to make a big impression on your guests when hosting a party. They can make your table look really sophisticated and they don’t require spending a lot of time or money. The French napkin fold is one of the more classic ways to fold a napkin that is simple, as well as utilitarian — it creates the perfect pocket into which you can tuck your silverware. Check out this easy first step (pictured below), then click through our French Napkin photo gallery to find out how to finish off this traditional fold.
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You’ve juiced the lemons for your lemonade and into the trash the peels go. If you’re a lover of all things DIY, you know a DIY tabletop opportunity was just missed. This summer, as you’re setting the table for your next summer-lovin’ soiree, keep in mind that the freshest tabletop ideas may be as close as your kitchen counter.
Instead of stacking the table high with pricey candlestick holders, high-maintenance flower arrangements, you name it, use something that’s already in your kitchen: vibrant, colorful fruit. With some ingenuity and bare-bones expertise, you can transform a rind, peel or even the fruit itself into a stellar centerpiece.
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For the last 10 years of their life, my grandparents ate at the same restaurant nearly every night. It was located across the street from their apartment building and served as the de facto dining room for many of their neighbors as well. My grandmother liked it because the waitresses all knew her by name and would bring her a glass of iced tea the moment she sat down. My grandfather kept going back because it appealed to his frugal side.
When you ordered off the dinner menu, in addition to being served your entrée, you also got bread, a cup of soup, a salad, two sides, dessert and coffee. All told, it was enough food for two or even three meals and Grandpa Sid saw that as a great bargain.
Each night, they’d eat their soups and salads, poke at the entrée and sides a bit and then move on to the real showpiece of the meal: dessert. Little Pete’s always had at least a dozen pies, cakes, custards and pastries on offer, along with four flavors of ice cream. When I was young, I thought it was paradise.
Before you start sifting flour, read these tips
One of the most stressful parts of planning a party is deciding how much food to buy and make. You don’t want the food to run out too quickly and have lingering hungry guests, but you also don’t want your fridge to be teeming with leftovers. We took popular summer parties — like a barbecue or a cocktail hour — and broke them down into every element to help you determine, from drinks to condiments, exactly how much of everything you need to buy for the perfect shindig.
Rules to Plan By
Each adult will consume 1 pound of food total; children, about 1/2 pound. The more options you have, the less you need of each; decrease the main course portion sizes by 1 to 2 ounces if served on a buffet.
Guests will always eat — and drink — more at night than during the day.
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