Thursday, August 30, 2018

Say Cheese! Less Labor/More Flavor -- How to Choose Cheese to Serve For The Holidays; Hostess Gift

Say cheese!

Is it any wonder that the gateway to every happy photo shoot is launched with the admonition to say everyone’s favorite food? CHEESE!

I did come to wonder about how this standard phrase came about. So research shows another happy, cheese formula for smiling when you have your picture taken. According to “It comes from former Ambassador Joseph E. Davies who is quoted as saying “cheese” is guaranteed to make you look pleasant no matter what you're thinking. Mr. Davies disclosed the formula while having his own picture taken on the set of his ‘Mission to Moscow.’ “It's simple. Just say ‘Cheese.’ It's an automatic smile. I learned that from a politician.” And because Ambassador Davies served under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, “It’s reasonable to speculate that it was Roosevelt who introduced the phrase into the language.”

So there you have it. A great American patriot launched a bazillion happy cheese moments.

Therefore, it’s only fitting that in preparation for your upcoming holiday parties - starting with this weekend’s Labor Day, along with other events and personal celebrations, to look to cheese as the go-to happy food to serve. Or to bring as the perfect Hostess Gift.

Cheese may be one of the few edible delights that can be enjoyed straight away; adorned with a palette of flavor compliments from fig to truffles to chocolate, nuts and fruits; added to both savory and sweet recipes; celebrated as a hostess gift, a panache party star - revered at the foodie altar of desire and devotion. And perfect for a picnic!

Can one ever have too much cheese? No, is the simple answer.

Recently, I had the privilege to attend a Murray’s Cheese tasting. For those of you who do know about the iconic Murray’s, indulge me here as I want my readers who don’t have the privilege of shopping in this classic New York, Greenwich Village food emporium, or who haven’t wanted to share their secret online cheese resource, here is the pedigree:

“Established in 1940, Murray's Cheese is a beloved fixture of New York's Greenwich Village. Along with neighboring food destinations like Faicco's, Ottomanelli's and Rocco's, Murray's is part of the rich food history of this formerly Italian enclave. In its 75+ year history, Murray’s has evolved into a world-renowned specialty food destination that offers the finest selection of cheese, meat and grocery items.”

Amen. Visiting the shop is kinda’ like a spiritual experience. Moreover, just like that great American patriot who introduced the smilin’ “Cheese” photo expression, Murray’s too, is all about sourcing local - cheeses, with an added homage to seasonal offerings. According to Murray’s “Hundreds of cheeses are ripening in our stat-of-the-art caves in Long Island City.” Doesn’t get too much more local than that.

This post is about introducing you to new cheese options, pairings, presentations, ways to learn more about this ever-fascinating and enduring food treasure. Plus, tips on how to access the Murray’s Cheeses if you are in a cheese desert!

I can honestly say everything at the tasting was incredible. A discovery. I pride myself on knowing cheese. Long an enthusiast -- a Swiss school student, indulging in cheese platters, raclette, fondue and oh… but the tasting elevated my cheese “game.”

Simply put - Murray’s Cheese offers a constellation of delicious cheese food and pairings that will readily and easily enhance the luxury of your edible lifestyle. Cheese is decadent, sensual, gooey, tangy, tart, spicy…

And the cheeses are so versatile and attractive that they are a natural for making presentations and tablescapes so lovely. Chic or rustic. Cheese looks elegant cut into cubes, stacked on tiered serving dishes or spread out on all kinds of serving trays - silver, wood, or glass -- or on wooden cutting boards. Or slate. A Cheese table decor infuses the imagination so that you can pair up with drinks -- wine or cocktails, candles, flowers, and herbs…

First up, is the Murray’s Cheese holiday offerings.

Cheese is agnostic. Whatever your Holiday is that’s coming up -- Murray’s has a Collection to embrace your celebration:

Featured Holiday Collections
Cave Aged Collection – $90 – Includes: Murray’s Cavemaster Reserve Annelies, Murray’s Cavemaster Reserve Greensward, Murray’s Cavemaster Reserve Project X, Murray’s Blueberry Jam, and Urban Oven Olive Oil Crackers

La Dolce Vita – $120 – Includes: Piave Vecchio, Murray’s La Tur, Taleggio, Gorgonzola Mountain, Murray’s Sopressata Salami, Murray’s Speck, Castelvetrano Olives, and Naturpuglia Taralli Classic Crackers

The MVP: Most Valuable Platter – $135 – Includes: Murray’s Cave Aged Gruyere, Clothbound Cheddar, Humboldt Fog, Grayson, Point Reyes Blue, Prosciutto San Daniele, Wild Boar Salami, Castelvetrano Olives, Jan’s Farmhouse Crisps, and Z Crackers Sea Salt & Olive Oil Crackers

Truffle Lover’s Collection – $180 – Includes: Truffle Parrano, Truffle Burrata, Da Rosario Truffle Honey, Cypress Grove Truffle Tremor, Murray’s Truffle Mousse Pate, Creminelli Tartufo Salami, Pipcorn Truffle, and Fabrique Delices Black Truffle Butter

Cocktail Accoutrements – $265 – Includes: Murray’s Preserved Walnuts, Wood’s Cider Milled Boiled Cider Syrup, Black Cherry Confit, Be Home Onyx Bottle Opener, Promitivizia Muglio Pinecone Bud Syrup, Divina Blue Cheese Stuffed Olives, Queen Majesty JalapeƱo Tequila & Lime Hot Sauce, Be Home Cocktail Shaker, and Murray’s Grapefruit Vinegar

While they’ve only highlighted five gift collections above, be assured Murray’s has countless gift collections on their website. If your friends and family like cheese, meat and specialty grocery items, they’ve got you covered! For more information about Murray’s curated gift collections, please visit: And if you enter your email - you’ll get 10% off the order.

Build Your Own Gift

While Murray’s Cheese offers fantastic curated gift collections, they understand that sometimes you want to put together a customized gift infused with your own flare. Therefore, these cheese hospitality masters have made it super simple to execute both online and in their New York City stores (Bleecker Street & Grand Central Market).

Murray’s sources its cheeses from all over -more than 300 cheeses just in their cases alone.

I asked what the top holiday cheese gifting holidays are. The answers are kinda’ surprising. But not. Mothers Day, Christmas and Valentine’s Day - which alone is up 70%. Self-Gifting is up too. In an era of Selfies - that makes sense!

If you choose to purchase via the online route, the expert Murray Cheesemongers will cut, wrap, fill and ship your package according to your exact specifications. Combine your favorite cheeses, meats, specialty grocery items, homeware, apparel, and more to create the perfect gift for your friends and family.

If you live in New York City and opt for an in-store shopping experience, they sell gift boxes in both of their New York City stores, where you can hand-pick items to fill it with - so much fun customizing the gift to make it a completely personalized gift option. The perks of shopping in-store include: being able to speak with passionate mongers who are extremely knowledgeable about the 300+ cheeses they carry, you can sample as many cheeses as you’d like (oh that alone is worth the gifting!), and you can turn the process of building a friend or family member’s gift into a special shopping experience.

For more information about our Build Your Own Gift option, please visit:

I had to ask: What’s trending in cheese?

Answer: Cheese with truffles. What a perfect gift! Also, Truffles and honey and cheese. And Truffle popcorn. Of course these would be trending! Salt and cheese is a seductive pairing. Moreover, this is a wonderful food presentation to serve with champagne, for example. Many readers - and myself included - have looked for a superior, elegant match to champagne or prosecco. This works.

And the hits keep coming. Cheese is increasingly served as a pairing with craft cocktails. Think blue cheese stuffed olives.

Murray’s offers a variety of Cheese Collections. The samples at the tasting highlighted the flavors, foods, and textures that amplify and enrich the cheese experience.

Featured Catering Platters
American Farmstead Cheese Platter – Includes: Sweet Grass Dairy Green Hill, Cypress Grove Humboldt Fog, Murray’s Select Cabot Clothbound Cheddar, Pleasant Ridge Reserve, and Point Reyes Blue

Small Platter (serves 10-12): $135

Large Platter (serves 15-20): $160

Charcuterie & Antipasti Platter – Includes: Prosciutto di Parma, Sopressata, Mortadella, Dry Salami, Spiced Chorizo, Herb-Marinated Bite-Size Mozzarella, Italian Mixed Olives, Cornichons, On-the-Stem Artichoke Hearts, and Whole Grain Mustard

Small Platter (serves 10-12): $135

Large Platter (serves 15-20): $160

Cheese Puffs – All-butter puff pastry with handfuls of grated Grana Padano
1 platter (serves 15-20): $30

Bacon Wrapped Dates – Stuffed with Marcona almonds and Bucheron cheese
1 dozen: $30

Murray’s CaveMaster Reserve - I can’t help but love this. In no small part because of the pedigree - the history. See, Murray’s cave-aging process was the first in New York City. This is the high end of the cheese platters, featuring “Herbaceous Hudson Flower, roasted peanutty Cornelia, caramelly Tarentaise, snacky Bandaged Cheddar, and savory Barden Blue. Ahhhh - true luxury.

The Classic, Cheese Platter of the Month and more…

Looking to bring excitement to your next wine tasting or cocktail party? This is not your “father’s cheese platter!” Murray’s cheese platters are serious show stoppers. Cheese is presented in all its glory accompanied with dried fruit, Marcona almonds, grapes, bread and crackers; just unwrap and get your cheese on. “Whether you are feeding a group of seasoned curd-ophiles or fromage new-comers,” Murray’s has a selection of platters for whatever crowd you are entertaining. Cheese elevates every occasion - it’s easy too to set out cheese and homegrown pairings. What to do with all those tomatoes and basil from the garden?

If you just can’t bear the thought of choosing cheeses, no worries. Be happy. Murray’s has a catering coterie that will take care of everything.

For more information about Murray’s Catering department, please visit:

Educational Public Classes
At Murray’s they say there’s only one thing they love more than cheese - sharing that passion for cheese with you. Therefore, they’ve designed educational events to offer a myriad of ways to get your cheese on, from Cheese 101 to Mozzarella Making to Wine & Cheese pairings, there’s a class for everyone. Murray’s staff was showcasing how to make mozzarella during the tasting and I couldn’t have been more impressed: taste and culinary authenticity. Do it.

If you’re ready to take it to the next lactic level, enlist in our Murray's Cheese Boot Camp, a three day intensive weekend full of everything you could ever want to know about cheese and then some. The classes can be a great team-building company event.

No matter who you’re buying for – a class with Murray’s Cheese makes a perfect gift. It's an experience.

For a full list of classes, please visit:

Cheese Towers

Expertly curated arrangement of cheese wheels stacked and adorned with flowers, fresh fruit, and/or other decorations. It’s the perfect showcase of taste and style. Not only will your tower dazzle guests visually, but each unique wheel of cheese will become a perfectly balanced cheese plate and a delicious part of your special day.

Murray’s cheese towers are completely customizable and can be made for any size party from ten people to hundreds of people. Make a wedding, engagement party, birthday party, bachelorette party or any gathering with friends and family that much more special with one of our cheese towers. I love this!

You can select one of Murray’s signature towers or make it your own by choosing the color palate or cheese types you wish to complete your special occasion with. For more information about our cheese towers, please visit:

More About Murray’s Cheese
Murray’s opened a second retail location in Grand Central Terminal in 2002. Murray’s businesses also include a wholesale team that sells to 600+ restaurants and hotels, an E-commerce business, year-round educational programs, a full-service restaurant, Murray’s Cheese Bar, private events, catering and state-of-the-art cheese aging caves in Long Island City, New York.

Follow Murray’s on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (@murrayscheese) or visit their website: You can order online and pick up at retail, too.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Patriotic Tablescape Design Spans the Summer Season - Here’s How To Get the Look - with 'Portraits in Pies'

Patriotic Summer Tablescape Design Spans the Summer Season Incorporating Homegrown Portraits in Pie Pastries for a Sweet Red, White, and Blue Display
One could be forgiven for thinking that an American patriotic tablescape for Memorial Day or Independence Day is pretty easy or simple to do.

After all, the red, white, and blue colors are a given.

And if you wanted to “slip in” a Bastille Day celebration - (that also marks my wedding anniversary. Don’t start - I’ve heard all the related jokes for years!) - this too totally works for an easy transition to mid-July.

And now that we’re into August, I realize that with a few tweaks, the patriotic tablescape can sail right through to celebrate Labor Day, making the look a true summer investment in your tablescape designs.

Independence Day Tablescape
I have many reasons to celebrate Independence Day: July 3rd is my now 93-year old Mother’s birthday! It’s one of my godchild’s birthdays - and Marissa ever so frequently visits us all for the attending celebrations.

And our Garden State country house sits on a perch over the marina that looks back at Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Rockaways, and Long Island -- and the town produces a spectacular fireworks display as part of the annual Fireman’s Fair fundraiser.

I embrace the big party. There’s no doubt it’s an incredible amount of work to get the gardens and the house in order; it’s all done for love of mother, family, and friends.

We are blessed to be able to share such an incredible Gotham skyline view and offer homegrown food and drink - and to salute Mother and country. Does it get any better?!

Every year, I look to keep many elements of the festivities consistent. Folks like tradition.  I ask guests to bring a covered dish and what they’re drinking.
Bill and I provide the Hostess Drink, Chicken, Burgers, Hot dogs, Apps and Snacks, Wine, Beer, and Dessert -- that is always homemade ice cream and some kind of birthday treat.

Having made red velvet cupcakes last year -

tiered on cake stands -
Meringue treats - in the process of getting "dressed" 
and a parfait of sorts - meringue with berries the year before that - was colorful and tasty.

In order to delight our guests, this year - I knew I wanted something different and special. I also wanted to incorporate the food into - or make it a key element of - the Tablescape Design itself.
That was a bit of a challenge. For a minute or two. Ha.

Mother makes some terrific cherry pie -- and treats Bill on many occasions throughout the year. It’s his favorite. So what’s more American than a Mom-inspired Cherry Pie?

A suite of red, white, and blue summer pie desserts - made in individual serving sizes!

I wanted the seasonal berries to shine through the pie shell top that I would create using a star-designed crust topping.

While I was still pondering how I’d actually make this display dessert, I happened to be sharing my party thoughts with my artful friend - and garden design client - Angie. Angie is a polymath: she and her family hail from West Virginia where both she and her husband Eric were pharmacists; having moved to the Garden State rather recently - Angie has taken up photography - taking it to astonishing, take-your-breath-away heights to have become an extraordinary photo-storyteller-with at least two Bella Grace Magazine cover shots to date.

(See what I mean about being a storyteller? Those images could launch a novel, a film, and oh-so-many cocktail conversations…) That’s her daughter, Kandice, on the right.

So when Angie said, “I’ll make a cherry pie for you for the party,” quickly adding - “I’ll make two Southern Cherry Pies.” I seized the offer. I also think she didn’t know what she was in for. (grinning.)

On the other hand, her beautiful and charming daughter is a pastry chef working at an award-winning bakery. So all in all - I was in good hands.

Baking Portraits in Pies / Tartlettes with Angie

Together with Angie I discussed my idea for the look of the “portraits in pie” creations.
I was dreaming of seasonal cherry and blueberry “tartlettes” with a star-shaped crust top - allowing the color of the berries to shine through.

And ultimately to transfer the baked berry tartlettes to crystal glasses (supplemented with faux crystal I’d ordered just in case we needed more.) Easy right?!

The day before the big party was our girlfriend bake off. Angie had pre-prepped a lot of the ingredients:

-- pitting all the cherries (! wow) and the dough ingredients.

We did have to call in the pastry professional, Kandice, at one point, in order to determine the size of the bottom crust that would be cut, baked, and fit in as anchor in the crystal glasses. Things were heating up :)
Such attention to detail makes one respect the pastry artist all the more.

It was truly a fun and interesting process. I learned so much.
Because I could never quite master the art of rolling out dough - it’s always eluded me how to get the consistency just right - it was especially educational. Hope you agree.

Just the right amount of flour, lard, water -- ice cubes! And more.

Here's the ultimate tip on how to roll out the dough successfully: 
Here, you see how Angie cut out the rounds for the bottom of the tartlette - and then the star top. Pin-pricking both.

And then, just like that - or so it seemed - (it was, in fact, rather late by the time we finished and cleaned up) -- but we had our masterpiece!

I put all on a tray and set in the big commercial refrigerator we have.

Tablescape Finishing Touches

The next day - I joyfully laid out the tartlettes on the table with all the other tablescape elements I gathered from our garden, including the “siren of summer:” blue macrophylla and Lady in Red hydrangea and red roses.

In addition, I perused my growing inventory of tablescape decor inventory. What to add? What will complement the overall design?
The faux ice added a glamorous touch -- and later I saw how it delighted Mother!

The blue glass vases held the hydrangea.
I use mini blue and white chinoiserie vases and place cards for a variety of holidays - works for a spring table - and here for Independence Day.
I also have these very pretty blue after-dinner cordial glasses that I think my sister gave me -- and they are the perfect petite vases for single-stem blue and red hydrangea displays - grouped on a mirror disc.
(Maybe I should bring back those after-dinner cordials? I do love a digestif… I’ll save that for another post..) 

I used the blue Williams & Sonoma charger plates to anchor the tablescape look with the red, glittery placements underneath (so need those placements with an antique wood table).

I added Seashells -- the country house is on the water, after all. Along with sea shell napkin rings - sans napkins. I just wanted the hardware accessory look.
Red balls from Christmas added a bold pop of glamour, lipstick red.

I added mirrors for dimension and day and night sparkle. An LED light-changing spray with mirrored base that I had from another seasonal tablescape design sparks excitement and balanced design. The mirrors also amplified the crystal glasses embracing the tartlettes.

I recommend you make sure the tablescape is magical in both day - and night. Soft lights are romantic and add a moody atmosphere.

At the same time, I was cleaning out part of the pantry the afternoon of our girlfriend bake-off and rather than toss the spent Cracker Jack boxes and ice cream cones, I repurposed them for the Tablescape.

I stopped short of composting the old ice cream cones - (I find them a marvel of simple baking “engineering.”)
I thought I could do something with them - and then I hit upon using them as a kind of vase -- making it look for all to see - that a flower on top would make it look like a scoop or two!
Not finding anything on my Google search as to how to create a carnation flower ice cream cone - I created it on my own. (The search suggested adding water but I thought that would deteriorate the integrity of the cone.)
Therefore, I used those floral tubes one used to get in florist-delivered bouquets of yore where individual stems were inserted in a tube. Whew. It worked! I put white carnations in the “ice cream cones” in a clear glass vase, inside the cone. Three “scoops” achieved just the right look.

I also added crystal bowls filled seasonal, local blueberries and tart cherries - for display and later - after we sang happy birthday - to add to the tartlettes and homemade vanilla ice cream dessert. 

More than a few guests commented how delicious those cherries are. I know. I get them from the NYC Union Square Greenmarket grower, Red Jacket.   Bill loves their Tart Cherry juice.

Of course, adding just the right amount of mini Old Glory flags to the tablescape and entry hall, is a crowning finishing touch.

The primary or main goal of incorporating the dessert and the homegrown fruit into the tablescape was a happy harmony.
I was able to get to glamorous and elegant yet maintain the patriotic holiday and birthday themes. 

Enduring Tablescape Design that Spans the Calendar

Later in July, I hosted a “Ladies Who Lunch” - with cherished clients and friends.

To refresh the tablescape I simply added some glam blue-colored leaf dishes and white shell decor accessories I found on sale. 

Now, for Labor Day, I’ll add some seasonal updates. I’m thinking happy sunflowers, red pepper bushes and ripe tomatoes from our garden. We can cruise into harvest with the patriotic, red, white, and blue - with a few modifications.

We’re blessed to host two very special houseguests for the second year in a row. I’m looking forward to a Labor Day tablescape that will be our family and friends’ gathering “hearth” for dinner and breakfast.

Stay tuned.

Tips for Summer Tablescape with Patriotic Theme
Key to any stunning tablescape is to bear in mind you’re telling a story. Ask yourself - what story am I telling my guests?

  • Start with a clean slate. Determine the kind of look you want to achieve: Elegant, Glamorous, Country, or Crafty?
  • Determine if you will use place-mats, tablecloth and/or chargers - build the look up 
  • Red, white, and blue are the colors you’re working with - look to complement and highlight.
  • Provide a look that transcends day and transitions to night. Twinkling lights or light displays (LED), tea lights - many of which can be programmed or set to a timer. Easy. 
  • Add whimsy and delight with accessories. You can theme these for the holiday. Store-bought or repurposed items from pantry and memory to add fun…
  • Use mirrors, trays, cocktail coasters - to amplify the accessories and lights
  • Employ cake stands (Martha Stewart has a variety of sizes and looks to add to any table decor) Using various heights “elevates” the look and adds interest 
  • Items from the garden (or store -- the florist or even the grocery store). Fresh flowers, fruits, vegetables. Leaves too. Succulents are terrific looking and easy to maintain. 
  • Contact me! And we can work together to create a fantasy tablescape...
Enjoy your tablescape design and relish your good fortune to host family and friends and enjoy the bounty of special, seasonal homegrown food and drink. 


And thank you, Rachel Watkinson for taking photos of the party tablescape!  I was so tied up getting the last-minute preparations that I would have lost the moment.  Hugs.