ALL POSTS IN Entertaining

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Halloween is creeping its way around the corner — just 2.5 weeks left. That means it’s time to plan and organize all of my recipes and decor ideas. Erica’s last post about black walls has me dreaming of how I want my house to look for Halloween.

So take a look-see at what has made my Halloween party to-do list so far.

WIW Halloween Party Ideas

Top L to R: Spider’s Nest Luminaries, Metallic Pumpkins
Middle: Mummy Haystack Snacks, Pallet Board Jack-O’-Lantern, Mr. Hyde Halloween Cocktail, Mini Candy Corn Layer Cake
Bottom L to R: Candy Corn Brownies, Candy Bar Cookies, Bat Pillow, Pumpkin Spice Halloween Punch

I always try to stretch the mileage on my seasonal decor, which is why I’ll always go for items like the metallic pumpkins. While they fit right in for Halloween, they are still good up until Thanksgiving. Plus, they are shiny and we love shiny things. The pumpkin spice punch, brownie, and layer cake are also reusable holiday recipes — and trust me — you can never have too much candy corn. My mom always makes the best haystacks. Last Christmas I made about 400,000,000 of them with her. I might get her help on the mummy haystacks. But the pallet jack-o’-lantern is so cool that I just have to make one. I know I only have 2.5 weeks to use it, but those are 2.5 weeks that I’ll have the best jack-o’-lantern ever. And how cool does that Mr. Hyde potion look? I CAN’T WAIT.

I’ll be counting down the days — and staying pretty busy — with all of these recipes and decorations I have to make. It’s almost more fun than the actually holiday (almost).

What potions and party favors will you be serving up on Halloween this year? Have you found any creep, crawly decor ideas? Let me know and share them here!

 

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Topper

Fall always marks the beginning of gift giving season for me. Yummy baked treats for neighbors and fun holiday packages start filing out our door and into the hands of people I love and adore. It’s a season for giving and today I am excited to share a very easy and unique way to dress up holiday gifts for those special people. Hint: It involves leftover lace flowers and spray paint (two of my favorite things). Check it out!

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Acorn

It’s fall! It’s fall! Did you hear? It’s fall. Time for all the yummy fall tastes (insert pumpkins, doughnuts, apple stuff) and fall textures (insert gold leaf, fuzzy blankets, tweed jackets). All year I look forward with anticipation to fall crafts. The rich colors and vibrant festivities just speak to my crafting soul. And nature seems to be totally in on the party too — with red and golden-yellow leaves speckling neighborhoods. Today I’m super excited to be sharing a nature-inspired craft that celebrates all the warmth of fall: gold leaf acorns! These little acorns are the perfect detail for a fall party, or you can do what I did and make them a doughnut topper!

Let’s Get Started

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Some people are really, really tired of pumpkin spice lattes. Me? Not so much. If you love pumpkin but can’t stomach the #PSL, then this Mood Board Monday is for you. Cookies, doughnuts, punch — the possibilities are literally endless when it comes to adding pumpkin pie spice. And if you’re not a pumpkin fan at all? Well, #sorrynotsorry.

Mood Board Monday: Pumpkin SpiceTop, L to R: Scarf, Print, Mug | Middle, L to R: Doughnuts, Stitching, Cookies | Bottom, L to R: Spice, Cocktail, Cake

Come back every Monday for an inspirational mood board. Miss a day? See all the posts here.

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Have you immersed yourself in the season yet? Get ready for peaking foliage, alfresco entertaining and perfect fall fare as we head into the most beautiful time of year.

MORE: Fresh Fall Design Trends

Mood Board Monday: Fall Decorating IdeasTop, L to R: Squash Planters, Pumpkin Cake, Leaf Streamers | Middle, L to R: Foliage, Living Room | Bottom, L to R: Decor, Cocktail, Wall

Come back every Monday for an inspirational mood board. Miss a day? See all the posts here.

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I don’t really care that the calendar says the official start date of fall is whenever the Pumpkin Spice Latte becomes “a thing.” I personally enjoy the flavor throughout all seasons — my post-run smoothie always implores the use of pumpkin. Nonetheless, I do enjoy this time of year when the rest of the world embraces my affinity for the obligatory orange squash.

However, this year #PSL momentum has suffered an early blow with the news that it contains zero actual pumpkin, and is stuffed full of chemicals and unnecessary additives. While some food scientists have objectively defended the drink’s absence of actual pumpkin, some of us are left searching for a more natural alternative to our favorite seasonal swig.

HGTVGardens answered our prayers with their very own Pumpkin Spice Latte recipe. It is far more nutritious, uses fewer ingredients and contains actual pumpkin (WOO!). Plus, I would bet my yearly fall-flavored-grocery budget that this recipe is more affordable.

PSL

Makes 1 PERFECT #PSL:
1/2 to 1 cup milk (I use vanilla almond milk)
2 tablespoons canned pumpkin
1 to 2 tablespoons of natural maple syrup or sugar (try brown sugar or black strap molasses if you’re really in the mood)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice
1 to 2 shots of espresso or 1/2 cup of coffee (the stronger the better in my opinion)
whipped cream for added #nomnoms

Here is all you have to do:

Whisk together milk, pumpkin and sugar in a saucepan set on low, stir until the mix is steaming. Remove the mix from heat, stir in the vanilla extract and spice and whisk until frothy. Next step, pour your new heaven-sauce mixture into a large mug, add the espresso, and enjoy. Guilt-free, chemical-free and “waiting-45-minutes-in-line-while-you’re-already-late-for-work”-free.

A latte isn’t enough for you? Click here to see every pumpkin idea, recipe, and tip our editors have to get your fix.

Have your own favorite latte recipe? Share it with us, or tell us your thoughts on the #PSL.

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The unofficial end of summer is (sadly) here (sad face). It feels like we were just talking about ways to start up the grill for summer cookouts. As another season approaches, it seems only right we close out the most carefree time of year with a few refreshing concoctions. Whip up these cool and colorful drinks by Cooking Channel’s Alie Ward and Georgia Hardstark as you soak up the long weekend.

Izze Cocktail Recipe

Photo + Recipe: IZZE Sparkling Juice

Vanilla Clementini

Throw it back to childhood snow cone days with this adult version that’s also a martini. (!!!)

Ingredients

1 1/2 ounces vanilla vodka
1/2 triple sec or orange liqueur
3 ounces IZZE Sparkling Clementine
2 cups finely-crushed or shaved ice
2 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk

Instructions

In a glass, combine vodka, triple sec and IZZE Sparkling Clementine and stir lightly. Pour over shaved ice and top with a drizzle of sweetened condensed milk. Serve with a spoon (and be prepared to make seconds).

Yield: 1 serving

Izze Cocktail Recipe

Photo + Recipe: IZZE Sparkling Juice

Grapefruit Lavenderita

Put a spin on the Paloma with a dash of lavender.

Ingredients

2 ounces lavender-infused tequila
1/2 Campari
3/4 fresh-squeezed lime juice
6 ounces IZZE Sparkling Grapefruit

Instructions

Add first three ingredients to a tall glass filled with ice and stir. Pour IZZE Sparkling Grapefruit over and stir. Garnish with a fresh lavender blossom and tell someone that you got them flowers.

To infuse tequila, add one tablespoon of dried lavender flowers to 8 ounces of tequila and let sit for 1 hour. Strain and store tequila in a sealed jar or bottle.

Yield: 1 serving

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Steak Frites

Steak frites may be the perfect meal. Think about it; rich beefy goodness paired with salty crunchy potatoes and topped with a delectable sauce. What is there not to love about that? In my opinion, this combo is great any way it’s prepared, but this version is currently my favorite way to cook up the classic. I took advantage of a super sale on primo beef from my local butcher and picked up center cut filets rather than my beloved strip. The filets are pepper crusted on one side and drizzled with a savory red wine sauce to complement the cut. I upgraded from sticks to circles and fried up a crispy potato chip that easily swabs the plate picking up every last drop of precious sauce. The meal is completed by adding a quick green salad of peppery baby arugula and sliced green onions that are lightly dressed with olive oil, red wine vinegar and a pinch of salt (no recipe needed, just make it to personal taste). This is really a dinner (or lunch) for two, so it’s okay to spend a little extra on your steak and be a little indulgent as you take on this culinary classic.

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Everyone is talking about coconut oil — the benefits, the uses, the reasons to have it at home, at work, etc. I’m an advocate for the superfood and love having it in my medicine cabinet as well as in my pantry. Beyond that, I can’t get enough of coconut water and milk, especially in my smoothies. So let’s just give a round of applause for coconuts! What’s your favorite way to use this fruit?

Mood Board Monday: CoconutsTop, L to R: Santa Fe Dry Goods, Flickr, My Baking Addiction | Middle, L to R: Justina Blakeney, Celebrations at Home, Vintage Blog | Bottom, L to R: Roxana’s Home Baking, Free People Blog, Honestly Yum

Come back every Monday for an inspirational mood board. Miss a day? See all the posts here.

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Sweet Potato Salad

Falling somewhere between appetizer and side dish, this unique tasting salad is a welcome alternative to mayonnaise-laden versions offered at backyard barbecues. The tender sweet potato slices tossed with a lime-based dressing and fresh herbs, then topped with crispy tortilla strips and queso fresco offer a combo of flavors that are bound to get the conversation going at any gathering. The recipe easily doubles to accommodate more people and you can make the recipe to serve with grilled chicken for a colorful and interesting weeknight dinner.

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Insta-Grahams

Here is the s’mores modern rival. A hands-on tasty graham cracker-based treat that is perfect for a digital age. This hybrid is a clash of s’mores and the classic baked graham cracker toffee. These easy breezy snacks are loaded with kid-friendly toppings and only take a few minutes to assemble into creative iPhone-sized pieces. The variations are pretty much endless and only limited by imagination.

White Chocolate Selfie Insta-Graham

My nephew Uri with his Insta-Graham titled “White Chocolate Selfie.”

Norm’s Notes: Let Me Take a Selfie

When I visit my sister, I cook. I cook a lot! Feeding this crew is no easy task. She has five handsome young sons and one awesome husband who I’m lucky to call my brother-in law. I love the challenge of feeding this many people balanced meals and it is my pleasure to give them a break from the stove and add some variation to their usual diet.

The boys all love to watch me simmer away in the kitchen and I’m constantly in search of things that the party of five can all help make. So during my most recent weekend visit, almost on cue, serendipity stepped in and brought us the Insta-Graham. The creation was a true family affair. My sister provided the initial concept, the boys gave the flavor combos and names, and my brother in-law captured all of the fun on camera.  The three flavors are just the beginning of what you can do. Try out a variety of topping combinations to make your Insta-Graham into a one of a kind “selfie”. Don’t forget to add #Insta-Graham.

Peanut Butter Parfait Insta-Graham

My nephew Fabian is excited to chow down on his “Peanut Butter Parfait Insta-Grahams.”

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Sausage, Onion, and Potato Hash

If sitting on a sunlit patio in early hours of the day, while sipping hot coffee, reading the paper and eating a sensible breakfast sounds appealing, then I’ve got the ideal meal to match the mood. Awaiting is a home-style breakfast spread that features a smoky Sausage, Onion and Potato Hash. The robust flavor of the sausage permeates potatoes that are peppered with hints of sweetness from sauteed red onion and bursts of spice from fresh jalapeno. This morning meal is  tailored for cooks who want to be the one who “gets it while it’s hot,” and I’ve included some wonderful hints on how to assemble a hot cooked breakfast and join in on the fun around the table.

Norm’s Notes: Breakfast of Champions

My biggest issue with cooking breakfast is its à la carte nature. Pancakes, waffles, toast, eggs and many more often have to be made to order which often means the cook is the last to partake in the meal or the food quickly cools while guests wait for the cook to finish and to come to the table. In order for one to finally make it to the table and actually sip coffee sitting down, the number of hot cooked items has to be reduced. In this meal I made the hash the only hot cooked item, kind of; but it’s not complete on its own, the meal needed filler. So, I took a page from classic diner menus and added fresh tomato slices sprinkled with salt and pepper, fresh cut fruit and hard boiled eggs. Hard boiling eggs is a great way to include them in the meal without having to don the skills of a short order cook.

Begin by assembling a platter of sliced fruit, sliced tomatoes and shredded lettuce before starting the hash. Start boiling the eggs at the same time you begin cooking the hash so that they’ll be slightly warm when you’re ready to eat. Once the hash is finished and eggs are cooked, peel and cut the eggs and arrange them on the lettuce. Drizzle them and the tomatoes with a little olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Don’t worry about transferring the hash to a platter. Just bring it to the table, place on a trivet and serve out of the skillet. It will help keep the hash warm throughout the meal, and reduces the amount of dishes you’ll have to clean later. Now all you need to do is serve the coffee and enjoy your wonderful breakfast.

Egg and Fruit Platter

Arranging the fruit, eggs, and tomatoes on a platter, in rows, cuts down on the amount of bowls and plates that you need to carry to the table. Adding a bit of shredded lettuce to the platter separates the savory tomato and sweet fruit. It will also act as a bed for the eggs, keeping them from rolling around on the platter and absorbing any of the fruit juices.

In case you need a refresher, here is how I boil eggs.

Place 6 eggs in a large saucepan and cover with cold water until fully submerged. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and boil 1 minute. Remove from heat, cover with lid and let stand 7 to 10 minutes. (Less standing time means a more tender cooked yolk.) Drain. Rinse with cold running water until cool to the touch. Peel eggs and slice into quarters.

Breakfast Spread

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Sparkling Hibiscus Cooler

Lately, the use of my porch has bordered on abuse. In the search for the slightest reason to park on the swing or rocker, I’ve come to notice that a beverage is always near and this rosy concoction has been my latest companion. It’s laced with the flavors of fresh ginger and lime, but it’s the addition of sparkling mineral water that truly heightens the level of refreshment. Enjoy sipping it slow in a heavily iced glass that stands for a minute or two. The intentionally tart brew needs no accent, but if you must garnish, a simple lime twist does the trick.

 Norm’s Notes: Ice Ice Baby

I am a recovering ice nerd. I have molds on molds and trays on trays that capture simple water and transform it into a sublime luxury. I still love shattering a few cubes for a slushy drink or using whole chunks for the slow dilution of a cocktail, but after all of my experimentation I made up my mind that the bagged stuff from the grocery store is best. Blasphemy? I don’t think so. The folks who make that stuff know what they’re doing and I find clean filtered water frozen into consistent pieces works best for me. Maybe I’ve become lazy or more efficient in my years, but gone is the quest to make the “perfect” ice cube. Although I still freeze up a tray of large cubes for a Manhattan from time to time, more often than not, I’ll dip into the bag of pre-made crystals and go on about my way.

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Peach Cornbread Slice

The fragrance of ripe peaches is as sensuous as Number 5. They draw you into their presence and urge you to fit just one more in the bag. Once the juicy flavor grenades are brought home, usually two fates await. They will be quickly devoured within the first few days or left to sit around with the best of intentions, ultimately lending themselves to over ripening. Here is an option for what to do with peaches that are on the verge of too ripe: bake up a rich cakey peach cornbread. The recipe uses up a lot of pantry staples keeping the need to go shopping for ingredients to a minimum. It’s slightly sweet, making it able to be served with a smear of creamy butter for breakfast or topped with whipped cream for dessert.

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Island Style Lunch

Maybe it’s the afternoon showers cooling temperatures from oppressive to pleasant or the fact that I’ve watched three surfing documentaries this week, but I’ve craved the tropics. My desperate grasp for a taste of island life has led to a bit of over purchasing, leaving my counter piled high with mangoes and limes. (Don’t judge. They were really cheap and I couldn’t resist.) Now, to use up the bounty, I’ve been eating them with just about every meal. Mango-lime smoothies in the mornings, mango sprinkled with lime juice and chili powder for a snack and my personal favorite, mango slaw with lime dressing to go with lunch or dinner. The slaw recipe is the highlight of the excessive purchase and inspired a lunch/dinner meal where it pairs with marinated short ribs and white rice. The short ribs showcase a salty sweet marinade and cook up quickly on the stove-top or grill, while fragrant hot cooked rice rounds out the plate and balances the robust tropical flavors. The menu is suited for a sensible lunch gathering with a few friends and maybe a few beers. It’s refreshing, yet filling, but won’t leave you so full the rest of the day is unproductive. Enjoy.

Marinated Short Ribs

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Happy Bastille Day everyone! I must admit, I’m feeling pretty nostalgic. I was lucky enough to watch the fireworks erupt behind the Eiffel Tower on Bastille Day last year (take me baaack), so I’m having a serious case of wanderlust today. Even if we can’t all go to Paris to join in traditions like watching the fireworks or attending the Military Parade on the Champs-Élysées, we can certainly celebrate this historic day in our own way here in America. Here’s a few HGTV takes on La Fête Nationale traditions:

Bastille Day Ideas: Red, White and Blue Decor
All Things Blue, White, and Red
Remember all those cute Fourth of July decorations you put so much thought into two weeks ago? Good news: Bastille Day gives you a reason to re-use your festive red, white and blue pieces. Just remove anything involving stars and stripes and voilà — your home is ready for French festivities.

MORE BASTILLE DAY IDEAS

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I’m once again suggesting you take the party outsideCrafternoon style this time! My good friend Whitney threw a wonderful crafting party in Washington Square Park last week. The event was a hit and I highly recommend throwing your own crafting party in the park, or any outdoor venue you prefer. After staking out a perfect spot in the shade, the afternoon was comprised of great friends, delicious food, adorable puppies, lots of pictures and beautiful paper flowers. While bringing craft supplies outdoors may seem counter-intuitive, the open setting gives you ample space to create. (Plus it’s so nice to be out in the fresh air during these hot summer days.)

Whether you host a big crafting event or just a get-together with a few close friends, this summer party idea is great for guests of all ages. Here are a few tips to make your own Crafternoon a success:

Throw a Crafting Party

Photo: Courtesy of Whitney Penn

Pick a Convenient Craft
Make sure you pick a DIY project that is nature-friendly — in other words, nothing that requires excessive materials, cleanliness, or, of course, electricity.  Whitney cleverly chose paper flowers for her party craft, which fit both thematically and logistically. The craft itself was simple and the components were easy to transport. Plus, if the petals got a little crumpled or dirty, it just made them seem more realistic.

More paper flower crafts: Fourth of July Wreath, Wedding Bouquet

Other easy outdoor crafts: Coiled Wire Ring, Felt Bowls, Friendship Bracelets

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Crispy Chicken

Here is a skillet supper that truly uses one pan to create all the components of a great meal. Crispy Chicken Breast Filets, flattened to quicken the cooking process, are paired with sweet corn medallions, bulb onions and fresh tomatoes. It’s a delicious party menu that utilizes peak seasonal ingredients to keep the flavor high and costs low. Outside of the pan, I’ve also included a dessert of Cherry Cream Pie which is a revelation in contrast to the recipes found on the back of cream cheese packets.

Norm’s Notes: Seasoning Salt and Blends

In today’s culinary world, salt and pepper reign as the undisputed kings of flavor enhancement. The numerous variants of sodium chloride and pungent berries are prized among cooks who often adjust and combine different types to meet specific uses. However, store-bought seasoning salts and blends, popular with most home cooks, often get no love. Since many peoples’ cabinets are littered with half full cylinders of them, I think salt and pepper elitism needs to be addressed.

Seasoning salts and blends are great because they will go with just about anything you can think of, quickly enhancing the taste of foods with little effort. The main problem is many of the seasonings lose potency and pungency over time. So that seasoning you bought for that one recipe you made, for that thing, two years ago, may be past its prime. A good rule is if you haven’t used it within the current calendar year, it probably needs to be discarded, but check the expiration date to be sure. My advice is to use seasoning salts and blends often and boldly. Shake a bit on fresh cut veggies, salad, eggs, grits or anywhere you would use salt and pepper or hot sauce. If anyone sticks their nose in the air about your love of seasoning salt and blends, smile at them, shake on more, and enjoy.

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If you like pina coladas and getting caught in the rain,” then National Pina Colada Day was made for you. And how perfect that it falls in the dog days of summer when nothing seems more refreshing than a cold, tropical cocktail in hand. So “put the lime in the coconut and drink it all up,” I say. But if you’d rather skip past the drinks and head straight to dessert, then try these pina colada baked doughnuts or pina colada key lime pie. Both look exceptionally sinful.

Strawberry Pina Colada Pops

Photo and recipe courtesy of Cornelia Guest

 Spiked Strawberry Pina Colada Pops

Ingredients

3 cups fresh pineapple, cubed
1/3 cup unsweetened coconut milk
1/2 cup water
3 tablespoons sugar
1/3 cup rum
1 cup strawberries, sliced

Instructions

Puree all ingredients (except strawberries) in a blender until smooth. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve and discard solids. Add strawberries, pour into ice-pop molds and freeze for 30 minutes. Insert sticks and continue to freeze overnight. For best results, leave ice pops in the freezer for at least 24 hours.

10 More Recipes to Try

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Watermelon Salad with Quick Pickled Jalapeno

Whether you’re lugging home a 15-pounder to slice into wedges or grabbing a pre-cut version, my guess is that your watermelon will generally be served plain. May I recommend you add some intrigue to your melon by pairing its sweet succulent flesh with the fruity spice of jalapeno and acidic tang of lime? The Latin-inspired combination transforms plain ol’ watermelon into a complex dish with loads of sweet and spicy flavor. These 3 recipes are all paired with fresh jalapeno and lime to provide a few more interesting ways to enjoy summer’s unofficial fruit.

Norm’s Notes: Pick a Pepper

I don’t know if it’s because of drought or my selection habits, but most of the chiles (especially jalapeno) I’ve had this year are really, really spicy. Although I generally like spice, sometimes there is such a thing as too hot. If you are in the same boat and want to keep the heat of chiles to a minimum, remove the seeds and inner white membrane with a sharp knife. Doing this will not only reduce the heat level, but will help bring out more of the chiles’ fruity flavor. Also, thinly slicing or finely dicing the peppers helps to evenly distribute the spiciness in a dish, allowing for a more predictable heat level and giving a peppery pop of flavor to each bite.

Delicious Recipes

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