An Excerpt from Stirring the Senses ~ "Merry Christmas to all and to all a Fine Feast! "

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Grande Dessert Table- Origins unknown~ You don't need a setting like this to create  an unforgettable holiday party, just your imagination!

"A cocktail party can easily be transformed into the best holiday gathering (in my mind) of all, a grand dessert buffet that usually starts at around 10:00 pm. I love to meet my guests at the door with that champagne cocktail that I just mentioned and I always serve just a few canapés, like a cheese puff or mushroom toast just in case that my guests haven’t had much dinner.

The fun of a party like this is in the dramatic way that you present it! Have all of the candles lit in the room, but keep your guests as far away from the table as possible so that they can see the flickering flames of the candles but not the food. I'd pick a fabulous piece of music to be playing (Tchaikovsky’s Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy or something wonderful like that!) and at about 11:00 I'd throw open the doors and invite everyone to gather at the dessert table.

There are very few things as delightful to the child in all of us, as a heavily laden table just groaning under the weight of an abundance of gorgeous desserts! What follows here is just a
partial list of things that I love, because I am sure that all of you have several specialties that would be just perfect for such an evening!
Make sure that you have a bowl of fresh fruit and lots of whipped cream or zabaglione to go with it!

I always like to have one yummy jam trifle, or maybe two! Trifles are the dessert versions of a layered salad! They look simply beautiful in a cut glass bowl, or better yet, if you’re lucky enough to own a trifle bowl, use it. There’s nothing prettier than layers of ladyfingers and glistening jams, and a trifle in spite of its fancy name is among the easiest of all desserts to create.

For a wonderful gathering such as this, a Bouche de' Noel is a very traditional, delicious chocolate and chestnut and praline dessert. It is a fantastic creation, shaped like a Yule log and fancifully decorated with mushrooms and greens made from marzipan and meringue!

Displayed on your grandmother’s tea service tray and surrounded by holly and fresh greens, this is one of the most beautiful desserts of the season! There are lots of easy recipes for a Bouche de’ Noel, and I think that they are so much fun to make, but if time is short, you can usually purchase a very good one from a specialty baker!

Next, pile those wonderful little cream puffs that you can buy frozen onto any gorgeous platter and have them drizzled with chocolate syrup, raspberry or caramel, and garnished with some mint leaves. You can also simply serve them dusted with
confectioners’ sugar for a snowy effect and serve the sauces on the side in a gravy boat!

You’ll need a rich chocolate mousse, which is guaranteed to disappear immediately as well as the platter of chocolate covered strawberries served alongside of it and if you can find them, the jewel tones of glaceed fruit are so pretty on a holiday table.
The exquisitely buttery French apple tart known as the Tarte Tatin is a fine addition to your buffet and of course, you’ll need one really grand chafing dish dessert like a Bananas Foster served with a simple vanilla bean ice cream!

I would also mound some chocolate truffles into lovely compote, a piece which is traditionally used to serve a spiced fruit or chutney. I might even consider filling those champagne glasses that I spoke of before with a creamy rice pudding, fragrantly dusted with cinnamon, and placed for effect on my silver pedestal cake plate! In fact, make use of all of the things that you own that have pedestals or feet. Along with a liberal use of candlesticks in all materials, shapes and sizes, as well as sparkling pieces of cut and smooth crystal, these pieces will provide height and interest to your table!
The last thing that you’ll need to round out the dessert offering is a cheese platter, with wedges of Brie, Camembert, and some really good cheddar! A Stilton cheese is very traditional cheese to serve right now, and comes directly from England, cloaked in wonderful drama and ritual. I always feature my cheeses on the sideboard with several different bottles of port and Madeira wine.

I have many cordial and small wine glasses that were my grandmothers, and this is what I use them for. Just some assorted good bread, crackers, fruit and you're all set to shine!

For beverages, a coffee bar provides a very festive end to the evening, with an assortment of liqueurs, as well as the traditional offerings of cream and sugar. You could even provide more champagne but with several wonderful choices of liqueur. Don’t forget a nice assortment of non-alcoholic sparklers, or you might want to serve a special non-alcoholic cocktail! My absolute favorite is called “A Partridge in a Pear Tree” and it’s made from sparkling water, pear nectar, a splash of lime juice and then poured into a martini glass filled with crushed ice, then garnished with a piece of candied ginger and a sprinkling of edible gold leaf if you can find it!
The last thing that I would create for the table is a wassail bowl, a gorgeous arrangement all by itself! For this I usually use my silver punch bowl, although a old cast iron cauldron or copper kettle is so pleasing to look at and historically appropriate. If you use copper, please make sure that it has a tin or steel lining so that the flavours don’t react with the metal to cause a bitter taste. I own a large copper soup kettle, and when my punch bowl is filled with eggnog, I use it for the wassail.

My wassail recipe is pretty simple, blending cinnamon stick, clove, allspice, cranberry juice, apple cider, sugar syrup, Calvados and brandy, mixed together and heated through, then served with a slice of sugared apple!

A bowl of steaming wassail is a wonderful aromatic welcome into your home, and if you’ve got a wonderful foyer, put the bowl there surrounded by masses of fresh greenery and berries “to drive the cold winter away” as the front door opens!
You may be wondering what to serve all of this on, and I’ll bet that we can find some holiday china right now in your cupboards!

You're wondering how?

Many of us have inherited stacks of Royal Copenhagen or Bing and Grondahl collectible Christmas plates. However, because traditionally they are hanging on the wall, no one ever knows what else to do with them, so they sit year after year gathering dust, when really they are the best holiday appetizer/ salad/dessert plates ever made! They are just the right size, and they can go into the dishwasher without any problem at all.

Handcrafted in such lovely wintry shades of cobalt blue and soft white, they are just begging to be given the honour that they deserve! I know of no better way to make them happy then to heap them full of delicious food.
Just an aside here, one of the most commonly asked questions about fine china is “Can I put my formal dishes in the dishwasher?” The answer is a resounding yes, and as a matter of fact, almost any plate made within the last 25 years is dishwasher safe.

It’s not the dishwasher that ruins your good dishes; believe it or not it’s the soap! Use about half of the amount of soap
recommended, and make sure that you let everything, especially the gold trim cool down, before you remove your dishes. That’s all that’s needed, and what this means is that there’s no excuse to not use the lovely things that you own. Beautiful food presentation is a feast for your eyes and uplifting to your spirit, and it’s so easy to make anything look wonderful when you put it on a silver tray or a beautiful service plate.

I’ve always gotten such pleasure from bringing out lovely old things, and inventing new uses for them. Old silver with monograms, glasses with initials, linens with fancy embroidery... all of these things make up your shared personal history. Old silver that has a beautiful hand engraved monogram is a treasure. I practically cried every time someone would bring a set of it into the store to have the engraving removed. You can’t get monograms like that anymore; very rarely do you find an engraver with that skill.

Once it’s gone, it’s gone for good, and bringing this bit of history into the party atmosphere connects the past with the yet unknown future, and lets your guests feel like they’ve been welcomed into a home that’s emotionally rich and very special!
Having said all of this, I realize that I’ve left out the three most magical ingredients that I know of to create a wonderful holiday party.
First, make sure that you have a gingerbread house, lots of undecorated cookies and bowls of frosting, candy and plenty of children around to decorate and eat them!

Next, a gift for each woman and child is a lovely reminder of your friendship and a continuation of such a special evening,how about several narcissus bulbs for fragrant midwinter blooms or a votive candle to light the New Year?
And last but not least, my personal favorite, LOTS OF MISTLETOE FOR KISSING UNDER!"


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Which came first... Sex or Truffles?

This review was originally printed in my favorite Perfume Blog Perfume Smellin Things!


The first time that I fell in love with the glorious taste of fresh truffles was when my husband and I were enjoying a gorgeous meal at Cafe' Boulud in NYC and I ordered the roasted chicken with truffle sauce. As I ordered, the darling young waiter looked at my husband with a knowing eye and gave me a fairly flirtatious wink. When he brought my order he placed it in front of me with a huge grin, removed the silver cloche with a flourish and handed my husband an extra sauce spoon. A sauce spoon is essentially a completely flattened tablespoon fitted with a little notch in the bowl. Its sole raison d’etre is to recover every delicious bit of a sauce! I’m of the opinion that it’s one of the most brilliant pieces of flatware ever made, the other being the silver cloche!
I say that because as soon as the cloche was removed, the most remarkably concentrated scent filled the air which is the sole reason to use one. It’s all about the theatre, a culinary sleight of hand used purposefully to gain your attention , disarm you and then send your senses reeling. I closed my eyes and bent down towards my plate. Gorgeous slices of lemony roasted chicken lay before me and the herbs that had been used, some thyme and a bit of sage were still clinging to the crackling, buttery skin.
There were beautifully roasted potatoes and a simple haricots vert’ with a julienne of fennel and feathery dill and make no mistake the French truly know what to do with a vegetable to bring out its richness without destroying its essential nature. The potatoes were soft on the inside, yet crispy on the outside and the beans were crisp yet totally tender. The entire meal was incredibly bright, beautiful and lush, but it was the sauce that brought me to my knees.
It was a simple sauce, made from pan juices, a beurre blanc and a bit of white vermouth. That alone would have been wonderful, but there were generous slices of black truffle laced throughout and it was impossible to miss the unmistakable lustiness that permeated the dish. I was completely disarmed and so was my husband. Eating it became an quite an act of foreplay, slowly savoring, sauce spoons touching but just barely. Bread was used to sop up what the sauce spoons couldn't touch and at that moment I realized that resistance was futile. I won’t even begin to talk about the cab ride back to our hotel.......
The truffle is renowned for it's supposed ability to excite the sexual appetite and there’s quite a simple reason for smells just like the best kind of sex. I know that you understand…it’s the kind that your mother warned you about! Sweaty and raunchy with almost obsessive foreplay that lasts for hours kind of sex. The kind of passion that you can only have with someone that you’re absolutely not supposed to be playing that way with or someone that you’re so comfortable with that anything can and does go.
French Perigord Black or Italian white, it’s your choice how you’re seduced. Say what you will of their rarity and the absurdity of their price but really how much fun is the thought of having an ingredient to cook with that is hunted by pigs and dogs alike and can barely be reproduced outside of a gorgeous forest somewhere in Europe? The concept is so very romantic...the image of a truffle hunter out in the woods with his dogs searching passionately for this fairly common looking bit of culinary treasure. The truffle is technically a fungus and grows underground in the company of some very specific types of trees. There are efforts to reproduce them here in this country, but truthfully that might ruin the pleasure for me. I’m a bit of a forager at heart and I love their scarcity and the fact that I can only get them fresh several times a year. All things taste best in their season and truffles are not the exception to that rule. They are the most fabulous when they are fresh and that is beginning in the month of October and sometimes stretching well into February.
Lately it seems that everyone is having a love affair with the truffle and you can find them served fresh during the season in some really great restaurants. Be sure to know what you’re ordering otherwise you might be in for a huge surprise when you get the check. Last October when Jim and were in New York for the weekend we stopped at what is possibly the most pretentious of w York restaurants for lunch called Nello, located on the upper East Side. Nello is quite fabulous…a place to see and be seen if you’re into that sort of thing and ridiculously pricey. I go for the Bellini’s which are absolutely wonderful and because the whole scene just cracks me up every time . I think (although many wouldn’t agree with me) that the food isn’t their top priority, but affectation is and they do that beautifully. Two years ago when sitting outside under the awning happily sipping away, I watched in amusement as a waiter brought a huge glass cloche filled with fresh truffles to the table of a woman who was obviously there on a date. She chose her truffle (her truffle!) and he came back a short time after with plate after plate of wonderfulness. It was one of the most incredible things that I’ve ever seen and smelled even better than it looked. It was the perfect New York people watching experience!

To get back to the story of our lunch, my husband asked for the specials and was told that there was a wonderful truffled pasta available which of course he ordered immediately. I realized the potential for disaster as soon as the cloche was lifted. Before him was the most amazing bowl of fresh angel hair pasta dressed with olive oil with a touch of salt and approximately 1 cup of shaved fresh white truffles dancing on the top. At that moment I took a deep breath and watched him devour it with total abandon.
I got to taste approximately one forkful and trust me it was mind blowing. I’ve never tasted anything like it…it was fresh truffles and pasta, it was perfect. He would have licked the bowl clean if he could have and when the check came we laughed and all took bets. The cost of that plate was a ridiculous 250.00! Would I do it again? Absolutely! Watching him enjoy it as much as he did was totally hot….
We are simple creatures and the truffle Goddess understands the obsessive ends to which we will go to feed our passions well. Truffles are rare and that is one of the reasons why a fine fresh truffle will cost you a small fortune. Give in to temptation once in your life because it's completely worth it.
Infusing them in a fine fresh olive oil is fun and produces an oil with a wonderful flavor or if you place one in a jar of fresh arborio rice for a few days you will soon be able to make a risotto absolutely fit for Venus herself.
You could also get a glass canister and a few very fresh organic eggs and put the truffle in with the eggs. Believe it or not the incredible aroma will permeate the shells and the scrambled eggs that you make will be divine. Just remember to cook them slowly, with lots of butter in a double boiler. This way the scent will not be lost, the eggs will be creamy, yet fully cooked and the little bits of the truffle that you've chopped and whisked into the eggs will be nothing short of decadent. No chives, no cheese…just a bit of sea salt and a touch of pepper. Nothing else. Do this just once in your life because I promise…. once you have eaten your way through a plate of creamy truffle studded scrambled eggs you will never want to eat them plain again! All that’s needed to complete this breakfast are some toast points and a really good glass of champagne.
Breakfast in bed anyone?
Since that first roasted chicken, I've spent a lot of time searching for truffle products, because I love them and my husband has an appetite for them that is never satisfied. You can get a wonderful truffled salt, truffle butters and many different kinds of pate's and infused oils. In the absence of a fresh truffle you can do what Isabel Allende suggests in her book “Aphrodite. “ In the absence of enough money to afford the real thing, but desiring to make a lasting impression on her new lover, she was taught by her grocer to chop up several black olives very fine and rinse them to remove any traces of the salty brine which she then placed in bowl to which she added some very good truffle oil and let them sit out overnight. I have tried this myself and it’s a very fine suggestion. The olives will begin to completely smell and taste of truffles and you can use them in the same way. How about some truffled mashed potatoes? Salmon with black truffle sauce? Clouds of ricotta gnocchi with the aforementioned olives , truffle oil and fresh parmesan? Fresh asparagus dipped in truffle mayonnaise and slowly eaten with your fingers? Oh my God I’m getting hungry!
Which leaves me to one last thought. A little bit of that white truffle oil dabbed in all of the right places tends to leave my husband just a little bit breathless.
The moral of this story? Don’t ever be afraid to play with your food…..
Silver Cloche photo from Christofle Paris
Nellos courtesy of AOL Travel
Truffle Pasta Photo : Beth Schreibman Gehring- All Rights reserved