Let's make cooking and entertaining fun and stress-free
Author: Jenn Mandell
Born and raised in NYC. Professional Chef and Owner of Grazie Restaurant for 27 years. Follow my insider tips on recipes, entertaining and fabulous food finds. I'm married and a mother of 2 children ages 16 and 22 and I believe that food should be fun and bring friends and family together.
Lasagna was one of the first dishes I learned to make. I ate a lot of lasagna when I was in college and working late in restaurants. I found it very helpful to make a big lasagna and then refrigerate or freeze it in portions that I could heat up whenever I was hungry and had no time to cook. Lasagna is a great one dish meal and pairs perfectly with a simple salad.
When I got married and had children I continued to make lasagna on a regular basis. I typically make lasagna on Sundays when I never quite know if my kids will have a friend stay for dinner or my Dad may call and want to have dinner. If you make one big lasagna in the afternoon you will have enough for 6 hungry people. If you have fewer people just save it for another night. Lasagna reheats perfectly.
So let’s not overcomplicate this recipe but I insist that you make the lasagna with béchamel and not ricotta cheese. It makes the dish so creamy and delicious. When I was in Italy years ago I had the best lasagna and the owner of the restaurant told me to always make béchamel for your lasagna so since then I do. Try it and you will see why. You can also add pesto or ground beef to this recipe so consider this Lasagna recipe a base for whatever else you would like to add. If you would like to add ground beef and make it lasagna bolognese all you have to do is brown the ground beef, drain the oil and add the tomato sauce to the beef before layering the lasagna. When adding pesto you should mix it with the béchamel or the tomato sauce. You only need a tablespoon or so. I hope you enjoy. Share your comments!
The night before Thanksgiving is the perfect time to set the table. You will have much too much to do on Thanksgiving to worry about setting the table. Doing it the night before will allow you to make sure it looks great. The most important thing to remember when setting a table is that it is important to have different levels of height, particularly with candlelight. I like to use taper candles or pillar candles and also use lower votives so that the light reflects off of the centerpiece at different angles.
If you are setting a square or round table I like to use one arrangement in the middle and surround the arrangement with candles and other decorative items. Rectangle tables should have two or three arrangements down the middle so it is more linear. The centerpieces can vary in height on a rectangular table if you are using three or more. The goal is for the setting to be interesting and tell a story. Why are we at the dinner? What is the occasion? In my restaurant I believe that people eat with their eyes. It is very important to set the mood for the meal that is about to be served. First pick your color scheme and then decide what you would like to incorporate. Flowers are always nice but also try and use some things that are different like fresh fruit, nuts or herbs. You can also add a little sparkle by using crystal or glass beads. Have fun with it but make sure you remember to save room for the food.
This year I decided to keep my Thanksgiving table very natural. I wanted to bring nature inside. Since we will be hosting a much smaller dinner than in typical years I wanted a more intimate setting. Something that evoked the beauty of close family. Since I live in NYC I wasn’t able to go outside and find branches to use but I was lucky enough to have some sent to me by Wholesale Magnolia in California. I used silver dollar Eucalyptus branches and magnolia branches in my arrangement. Wholesale Magnolia also sells beautiful wreaths and garlands. It is a beautiful way to bring a natural holiday feel into your apartment or house. I surrounded the branches with tiny pumpkins, gourds and pine cones. I chose pillar lighting surrounded by sparkling glass acorns and bronze votives to complete the look of Fall. I placed a small pinecone on each napkin to carry the look across the entire table. You should always place something decorative on each napkin, it can even be a sprig of rosemary.
Cranberry sauce is a staple at the Thanksgiving table. Some people like the jellied cranberry sauce while others prefer a more homemade, chunky sauce full of plenty of whole cranberries. I love the homemade kind of cranberry sauce. I cook the cranberries just long enough so that most burst and turn into sauce but still enough remain whole to give the cranberry sauce some texture.
I add port wine and orange juice to my cranberry sauce so there are a few flavors dancing around the dish. You can add more or less sugar depending on how sweet or tart you like your cranberry sauce. I like it a tad more on the sweet side because I feel that it balances out the flavor of the turkey and stuffing.
Cranberry sauce can be made several days in advance and kept in the refrigerator. I take out the cranberry sauce an hour or so before dinner so it is not too cold when served. I like it chilled but not cold.
This cranberry sauce also makes a great gift for friends around the holidays. You can jar it and wrap a ribbon around it before dropping it off at a friend’s house.
Carrots are rich in beta carotene, vitamin K1 and potassium. They also taste great and are beautiful to serve as a side dish. The bright orange color brightens up any dinner plate. I particularly like to serve glazed carrots with chicken or turkey which is why I am sharing this recipe a week before Thanksgiving. The other great thing about this glazed carrot recipe is that you can make it a day or two ahead of time and warm it up in the microwave or in a covered dish in the oven and they will be perfect.
The trick is to roast them in a hot oven so that they become caramelized. I add Tumeric to my recipe because I love the way the yellow Tumeric brightens the dish even more plus Tumeric is so good for you so I try to add it to my cooking whenever I can. So here you have carrots AND Tumeric in the same dish. It’s like a power dish of YUM!
My family loves Caesar Salad. There are many caesar salad dressing recipes out there, some are thick others are thinner. I do not like the dressing to be thick like mayonnaise but I do like it to be creamy. The trick is to whisk the egg, mustard, anchovies and garlic together before slowly adding the oil while continuing to whisk. Caesar dressing should have lots of flavor. Do not be concerned with the anchovies in the recipe, they are there to add salt and a different layer of flavor. I like to use anchovy paste instead of fillets. I think that it blends better in the dressing and is much easier to work with. The anchovies will not make the dressing fishy, they are essential in making a true authentic caesar salad.
It is much better to make your dressing rather than buying one in a bottle. The freshness of the ingredients adds to the overall flavor of the dressing. Caesar dressing has quite a few ingredients but most of them are probably already in your pantry. I always keep garlic cloves, anchovy paste, eggs and parmesan cheese in my fridge. You can always whip up something to eat as long as you have these staples in your refrigerator.
This Caesar dressing recipe will work well with romaine lettuce but I love it with warm brussel sprouts. I serve the Warm Brussel Caesar Salad as a side dish at dinner but you can also serve it as an appetizer. You can make the dressing ahead of time and keep it in your refrigerator for up to 5 days. Just store in a glass jar.
I love Fall in New York City. One of my favorite things to do is take a long walk through Central Park, around the reservoir and end up on 59th Street and Fifth Avenue. Central Park is such a beautiful spot in NYC. The juxtaposition of the tall buildings with the greenery of the park is so special to look at. Watching the seasons change in the park is incredible. The view changes according to the time of year but each view is equally as beautiful as the others.
On Sunday I was lucky enough to stroll through the park with my daughter Olivia. The weather was just warm enough and we knew that after the the long walk we would be ready for a delicious brunch before a little midtown shopping. It is so nice to escape the noise of New York and be able to take in a little nature and peace and quiet. The sky was so blue and I just loved the way it reflected off the water of the reservoir.
After our walk, we had brunch at Benoit on 55th Street owned by celebrated Chef Alain Ducasse. Benoit is so beautiful; creamy walls with bright red accents and brass fixtures give an elegant Parisian feel to the dining room. There is also a very nice separate bar area that is currently closed but is definitely worth a visit once it reopens again. The brunch menu at Benoit has a nice variety of brunch and lunch items. I chose the Eggs Norwegian: Poached Eggs with Smoked Salmon and Hollandaise Sauce. I always order the hollandaise on the side so the eggs aren’t soaked in sauce. Olivia ordered Croque Monsieur; open-faced grilled cheese with béchamel. We of course had to have french fries as well. The Croque Monsieur was delicious, the cheese was browned perfectly on top which added the perfect crunch to the creamy béchamel. I love Sunday brunch, it always feels so luxurious to linger over a meal in the middle of the afternoon.
After our delicious, leisurely lunch Olivia and I decided to head over to Zara on 51st and Fifth. We were both in the mood to buy something new. Zara has a great line for Fall. Lots of gray and beige. Beautiful, easy to wear, Fall clothing. Liv was feeling chilly so she decided to check out the hats. She happens to look terrific in hats so it was difficult to choose. Which one do you like better?
They also had some very pretty scarves for the Fall and Winter. My favorite was the blue cashmere or the gray knit. I think either would make a great gift for the Holidays. We left with some bags full of goodies to try on at home since the dressing rooms are currently closed at Zara. They also have a great website to order online. Returns are very easy as well. All in all a great day in NYC.