Christmas is definitely in the air, so what better time to start baking cookies? If you have children, this simple action can turn into a wonderful holiday tradition! These Linzer cookies from Ina Garten are festive and elegant enough to also serve at holiday get-togethers, and also make fabulous presents to give away.

Linzer Cookies

3/4 pound unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup good raspberry preserves
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix together the butter and sugar until they are just combined. Add the vanilla. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour and salt, then add them to the butter-and-sugar mixture. Mix on low speed until the dough starts to come together. Dump onto a surface dusted with flour and shape into a flat disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for 30 minutes.

Roll the dough 1/4-inch thick and cut 2 3/4-inch rounds with a plain or fluted cutter. With 1/2 of the rounds, cut a hole from the middle of each round with a heart or spade shaped cutter. Place all the cookies on an ungreased baking sheet and chill for 15 minutes.

Bake the cookies for 20 to 25 minutes, until the edges begin to brown. Allow to cool to room temperature. Spread raspberry preserves on the flat side of each solid cookie. Dust the top of the cut-out cookies with confectioners’ sugar and press the flat sides together, with the raspberry preserves in the middle and the confectioners’ sugar on the top.

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With Thanksgiving barely over and leftovers still smouldering in the fridge, theres no better time to start thinking and planning for the next big day ahead – Christmas!!

Ok, call me a bit of a sadist, but unlike Thanksgiving which really only involves a singular meal (maybe you were even lucky this year and played guest and not chef) , Christmas is so much more, especially so if you have a family with little children.

You know what I’m talking about – stockings, tree, decorations, outfits, parties, pantomimes and presents – to a list which seems to get longer every year! So yes, early preparations for this particular holiday does make good sense.

And since this blog is about chefs and therefore food, I’ll be posting about some of my favourite celeb chefs’ Christmas menus. Depending on your mood, gathering and needs this year, you can decide early on what tickles your fancy most. After all, Christmas is the season for celebration, joy, and splashing out indulgently – as Nigella so rightly reminds us in her Christmas Menu below.

I think the mistake people make most when entertaining is to get too fancy with the food. No one is ever too sophisticated for the basic pleasures of home cooking, and there is something about those old favorites that makes everyone feel a little leap of joy in the heart………The whole point of a feast is that it is unnecessarily abundant
Nigella Lawson

Nigella’s Rustic Christmas Menu

Crab Cocktail
Seasonal Breeze
Perfect Roast Potatoes
Petits Pois � la Fran�aise
Green Bean and Lemon Casserole
Standing Rib Roast
Chestnut Cheesecake

For recipes, start HERE.

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Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year. It’s a time of gathering and renewing family ties. It is about giving and sharing our blessings. It’s also about sitting in front of the fire and talking all night, sharing stories of christmases past and the visits of Santa.

Of course if you are going to be awake all night and talking all night long, while hoping to catch a glimpse of Santa, you can’t do it with a dry throat. This calls for a drink that is meant to be savored with friends while gathered around the tree watching the kids play. It is one of the best nights of the year.

Try Emeril Lagasse’s Chocolatey Christmas Cafe Au Lait. Though cafe au lait is normally a breakfast drink, this drink is perfect even if you drink this before your first meal of the day.

Have a merry christmas everyone!

Emeril’s Chocolate-y Christmas Cafe Au Lait

1 1/2 cups whole milk
2/3 cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
2 ( 2-inch) cinnamon sticks
1 strip orange peel, about 1/2 inch by 3 inches
10 whole cloves
2 to 2 1/2 cups hot brewed strong coffee

1/4 cup cold heavy cream
Ground cinnamon, for garnish
Cocoa, for garnish


In a medium saucepan, whisk together the milk, 2/3 cup of the sugar, and cocoa until smooth. Add the cinnamon sticks, orange peel and cloves and bring to a simmer, stirring, to dissolve the sugar and prevent the cocoa from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Simmer for 2 minutes, then remove from the heat, cover, and let steep for 10 minutes.

In a medium bowl, whip the cream with the remaining 1 teaspoon sugar until thick and frothy, and peaks form. Set aside.

Strain the milk mixture into a coffee pot or carafe and add 2 cups of the hot coffee (2 1/2 cups for stronger coffee flavor, to taste). Pour into cups or small mugs and top each with a dollop of the sweetened whipped cream.

Serve immediately.

While watching the holiday-appropriate “Turkey Challenge” episode of Iron Chef America, in which the contestants were each given the Thanksgiving bird to get creative within the show’s time slot, I watched half-interested as to who was challenging Bobby Flay (yet again) with Alton’s semi-sarcastic drawl in the background.

When I saw that it wasn’t Mario and that it was two affable ladies – a blonde in bright pink and a diminutive brunette with funky glasses, it got my attention. I realized after a while, that it was the Two Hot Tamales, also known as Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger.

The most interesting dish of the show by far was the Hot Tamales turkey (yes, turkey) ice cream, which used the bourbon Wild Turkey, and (regretfully) turkey stock. As one of the judges aptly put it, high marks for originality, low marks for the proteiny taste. Much as I like Mary Sue and Susan, I have to say that they reached a little too much here – who on earth would eat a poultry-flavoured ice cream? I must say that the presentation was beautiful though, a chocolate ball crust in a chocolate turkey-shaped basket.

Their other dishes beat Mr.Flay’s multi-turkey breast renditions (all the same, different sauce) by a mile I thought, with things like turkey meatball soup and a scotch egg which looked absolutely scrummy. You don’t get to see of the humble scotch egg on television much, and I have to say that the last time I saw one was at a garage shop in a UK motorway.

Sadly, it was a tie (the injustice!!), and even if Alton said that that was “rare” for the show, I should really email them and say that the last time I watched it was also a tie.

But anyway, one good thing was that I got to see the Two Hot Tamales again, who I hadn’t seen in years and had actually forgotten about in the sea of the new breed of Celeb Chefs (or dare I say media whores?). Now you know who I’ll be blogging about next.

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And more Thanksgiving tips from your favourite chefs…..

the Hearty Boys
Remember WHY your guests are there. Sure, we all want the food to be glorious and the table setting to be stunning….but we’re talking real life here. When things go awry, your family will just be glad to be together and your friends will probably be thrilled to have something to hold over your head for the next 15 years. That being said, when you plan your menu, don’t be overambitious and bite off more than you can chew. Plan on dishes that can be at least partially prepared one or two days in advance

Michael Chiarello
If you sit down for even a few minutes ahead of time to write down all of your dishes and the ingredients you need, you will actually get to be a guest at your own party. Ask yourself what can I do two days ahead, or even one day ahead? Also, don’t be embarrassed to ask for help.

Nigella Lawson
Keep the sides to a minimum, but make sure you have a lot of each. You need to create a mood of welcoming plenty, but too many pots on the stove will not help you feel hospitable. Make a homemade cranberry sauce�it’s easier than you think and will make everyone feel you’ve made a real effort. What’s more, you can make it in advance.

Paula Deen
Do as much as possible the day ahead. Casseroles are great because you can cook and freeze them ahead of time and just pull them out and heat up at the last minute. Serve things that can be eaten at room temperature.

Robin Miller
Take a deep breath, enjoy yourself and don’t try anything too complicated. Most people enjoy simple holiday foods. And, don’t forget to delegate!!

Sandra Lee
Make as much as you can ahead of time and freeze it. Thaw it in the fridge overnight and heat just before serving. Let guests bring the more labor-intensive and baked dishes. Don’t panic! Perfection is overrated, and anything is fixable.

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After the trick or treating is over, its time to start thinking of the holiday season, which is now really starting to creep up on us. For Americans all over the world, one of the biggest holidays, Thanksgiving, is marked on the calendar, a time when the word “preparations” means something rather large and daunting – especially for us mere mortals and not mini-Marthas.

So here I’ve found some of the best advice from Celeb Chefs which should ease some of the holiday aggro you most probably are experiencing now. So take their advice and get ready for a stress-free Thanksgiving.
Bobby Deen
Start early, have a plan, know how many you’re cooking for. Try frying your turkey this year and have fun with your friends and family�that’s what it’s all about.

Dave Lieberman
Don’t make too much and get your relatives to help. Delegate.

Ellie Krieger
Get as much done as you can ahead of time so you can relax and enjoy the company!

Emeril Lagasse
Don’t panic. Plan ahead and do your shopping in advance.

George Duran
Invite mom over.

Giada De Laurentiis
Do a Potluck�assign a dish to everyone so that you don’t have to do all the work yourself. And don’t be afraid to let your guests help out in the kitchen and with other loose ends. It makes them a part of the meal, while also taking off some of the workload.

Guy Fieri
Test run a turkey in your oven with the recipe you’re going to use a week ahead of time, making sure you track time, temp and method. Everyone can always use some extra turkey and if you do end up blowing the turkey deal on the big day, you already had some the week before and it won’t be so traumatic. Make real cranberry sauce�it is so worth it.

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To compliment your Halloween cocktails, here’s another recipe from Emeril that fits the bill for a spooky celebration – Torched Pumpkin served with a tasty Asian dipping sauce. Fiendishly good!

2 pounds yellow pumpkin, peeled and seeds removed, cut into 1/2-inch by 3-inch strips
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups dark beer
1 tablespoon Emeril’s Essence, plus more for dusting, recipe below
Vegetable oil, for frying
For the sauce:
1/2 cup soy sauce
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 to 2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1/4 cup thinly sliced green onions

In a heavy, deep saucepan, heat the oil to 360 degrees F.

In a bowl, whisk together the flour, beer, and Essence. Dip the pumpkin strips into the batter, letting the excess drip off. Fry in the oil until golden, turning to brown evenly, about 2 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with salt and Essence.

For the sauce: In a small bowl, combine soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, honey, sesame oil, and green onions.

Serve hot with the sauce.

Essence (Emeril’s Creole Seasoning):
2 1/2 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon dried leaf oregano
1 tablespoon dried thyme

Combine all ingredients thoroughly and store in an airtight jar or container.

Yield: about 2/3 cup

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Halloween isn’t just for the kids. How about having a ghoulish little cocktail party while the kids are out trick or treating? Bloody Mary’s make the perfect fit for a Halloween celebration for obvious reasons, plus its always a great drink to have on your repertoire of cocktails for any day of the year.

So here are a couple of the best recipes from two celeb chefs Bobby Flay (Mesa Grill) and Emeril.
The Mesa Grill’s Bloody Mary

16 ounces tomato juice
3 ounces vodka
2 dashes hot red pepper sauce
1 dash Worcestershire sauce
2 jalapenos, sliced
Pinch celery salt
Pinch black pepper
1 lemon, juiced
Celery spears, for garnish

Combine all ingredients, except celery spears, in a small pitcher, pour into large glasses filled with ice and garnish with celery spears.
Emeril’s Bloody Mary Mix

3 cups tomato juice
3 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
1 tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce, or to taste
1 teaspoon minced garlic
3/4 teaspoon hot sauce, or to taste (recommended: Tabasco)
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Premium vodka
Small jar pickled green beans
Small jar pickled okra

In a blender combine the tomato juice, lemon juice, lime juice, horseradish, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, and hot sauce and process until smooth. Transfer to a nonreactive container and add salt and black pepper, to taste. Refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, at least 2 hours and up to overnight. When ready to serve, fill each glass with ice.

Add 1 ounce of vodka to each glass, then fill the glass with the bloody mary mix. Stir well, and garnish each glass with a pickled green bean and a pickled okra.

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Happily married to her husband Jeffrey for 38 years, this divine steak with a bernaise sauce was from the “Wedding Anniversary” episode of the Barefoot Contessa. Accompanied by rosemary roasted potatoes and string beans with shallots, this simple but heart-warming meal was also winningly combined with shrimp with cocktail sauce as its starter.

Strangely enough, this menu could very well be my husband’s idea of “the perfect meal” – so thanks to Ina, I now have our next anniversary menu mapped out, but probably with the addition of mushrooms!

For the Sauce Bernaise:

1/4 cup Champagne or white wine vinegar
1/4 cup good white wine
2 tablespoons minced shallots
3 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon leaves, divided
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3 extra-large egg yolks*
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted

6 (1-inch thick) rib eye steaks
Olive Oil
Coarsely ground black pepper

For the sauce, put the Champagne vinegar, white wine, shallots, 1 tablespoon tarragon leaves, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until the mixture is reduced to a few tablespoons. Cool slightly.

Place the cooled mixture with the egg yolks and 1 teaspoon salt in the jar of a blender and blend for 30 seconds. With blender on, slowly pour the hot butter through the opening in the lid. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of tarragon leaves and blend only for a second. If the sauce is too thick, add a tablespoon of white wine to thin. Keep at room temperature until serving.

Season the steaks liberally with salt and coarsely ground black pepper on both sides. Heat a thin layer of olive oil in a large saute pan over high heat until it’s almost smoking, then sear the steaks on each side for 1 minute. Lower the heat to low and cook the steaks for about 7 to 10 minutes, turning once, until very rare in the middle. Remove to a plate, cover tightly with aluminum foil and allow to sit for 10 minutes. Serve with the bernaise sauce on the side.

Note: To make the sauce in advance, prepare an hour before serving and allow it to sit in the blender. Before serving, add 1 tablespoon of the hottest tap water and blend for a few seconds.

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Chef and restauranteur Daniel Bouley had a reputation to live up to. After catering to over 400 weddings and big events, he had to pull out all the stops for his own wedding. So the celebrity chef threw the Grand Party of all Parties — an event that lasted five days and featured the finest food and wines (some from their own birth years). The photo above shows one dinner in a dried-out moat. How romantic!