Cold Nights and Light Bites

holiday party table


When Blue Ribbon Cooking’s Vanessa and Adam Smith throw a holiday party, it looks like this — good friends gathered around comfy furniture to enjoy drinks, food, and good company. Vanessa, the director and owner of the culinary business, married head chef Adam on Thanksgiving weekend 2016.

“We turned the old Value Village on Capitol Hill into a fine-dining ballroom for over 200 guests. It was amazing!” said Vanessa.

table setupThe two met at work and now serve as a power couple, planning events in Seattle and on the Eastside. When they host their own party, it’s full of the fun things they’ve been cooking up for clients. This year, the menu is stacked with fresh and delicious small bites.

“For the past several years, it has been all about mini elevated comfort foods. I am kind of thrilled to say I think that trend is ending, and people are wanting bites that offer a cleaner, more refined flavor,” she said.

Fresh, simple foods that pack a flavorful punch are proving to be a foodie trend this season. Blue Ribbon Cooking clients have been asking for high-quality ingredients that require little fuss, like the purple potatoes on page 84 and the tuna poke on page 90.

“Old-school glam is also big right now. Think of a really elegant, simple prawn cocktail; a clean and crisp ceviche bite; or a beautiful, tender piece of grass-fed tenderloin wrapped in a great quality bacon. Less sauces, less weight. Let the ingredients speak for themselves. I think the food scene this holiday season is going to be less about indulgence and comfort and more about glamorous, elegant fresh bites,” she said.

Vanessa and Adam

Vanessa and Adam Smith (right)

An appreciation for good food runs in the Smith family. One thing missing from this party is the couple’s 1-year-old daughter, Penelope. While she’s still learning to talk, most of the words she knows are food-related, and the girl’s got taste.

“Her favorite food is flambéed wild mushrooms and tempura-fried-crab stuffed avocados. However, she always requests, even using the correct words at 15 months, what she wants for dinner. Many nights it’s uushi (sushi), but lately she has been asking for Daddy’s homemade butternut squash ravioli,” said Vanessa.

Planning a party of your own? On the following pages we feature party ideas from Vanessa and Adam. And who knows, maybe your kids will try a few bites, too.



Purple Potato Canapés

Purple Potato Canapes topped
with Crème Fraiche and Caviar

Yield: About 12 canapes

1 ½ lbs. Medium to large oblong or oval shaped purple potatoes

2 Tb. Extra-virgin olive oil

6 tsp. Crème fraiche

3 tsp. Caviar (Beluga or your favorite)

1 small Meyer lemon, zested

1 stem Fresh dill

Fleur de Sel

  1. Place potatoes in cold water, and bring to a boil. Boil for 3 minutes. Remove from heat, and allow to sit in water for 5 additional minutes. Potatoes will be able to be pierced by a fork when done: tender but still al dente. Allow to cool, and refrigerate about 30 minutes.
  2. Slice potatoes lengthwise about ¼-inch thick, yielding 4 or 5 slices from each potato. Lightly brush one side of each potato slice with olive oil. Season with salt and freshly milled black pepper.
  3. Serve each potato canapé topped with 1 teaspoon crème fraîche and ¼ teaspoon black caviar. Garnish with microgreens.



 Fondue Three Ways

Fondue is a fun and easy treat to feed your guests at a party. Conversations unfold over bubbly cheese and chocolate. What’s not to like? Find recipes for the goat cheese and lavender fondue

goat cheese lavender fondue for holiday party

Goat Cheese and Lavender

(Makes 4 servings)

6 ounces sourdough bread, cut into 1- to 1½-inches chunks

8 ounces (about 2 cups) red or black grapes

2 tablespoons olive oil

3/4 cup dry white wine

1 tablespoon dried lavender blossoms

1 cup (8 oz.) fresh goat cheese

Freshly milled black pepper, to taste

2 Bosc pears, rinsed, cored, and sliced

  1. Spread bread in a single layer in a 9- by-13-inch pan. Bake in a 450 degrees oven until lightly toasted, 5 to 7 minutes. Place in a small bowl.
  2. Toss grapes with olive oil, and broil on high until skins begin to blister. Remove from oven, and set aside.
  3. Meanwhile, in a 1- to 2-quart pan or fondue pan over high heat, boil wine and lavender until reduced to 1/4 cup, 6 to 8 minutes.
  4. Reduce heat to medium-high, add chèvre, and stir until boiling, about 4 minutes. Add pepper to taste. Set pan over a candle or on an electric warming tray.
  5. Use forks or thin wood skewers to spear toasted baguette cubes, Bosc pears, and blistered grapes and dunk them into fondue.

Cabernet sauce for holiday party

Cabernet Sauvignon Dipping Sauce

Serve with seared steak, flambeed wild mushrooms, and pearl onions.

mexican chocolate fondue for holiday party

Mexican Chocolate

Serve with churros, homemade pomegranate marshmallows, and fudge brownies.

1¼ cups whole milk or heavy cream

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoon chili powder

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

½ teaspoon almond extract

12 ounces Mexican chocolate, broken into pieces



Fudge brownies, cut into ¾-inch cubes

Churros (recipe above)

  1. In a medium saucepan, whisk together the milk, butter, chili powder, and vanilla and almond extracts. Heat over medium heat until the mixture just simmers.
  2. Remove from the heat, and stir in Mexican chocolate until completely melted and smooth. Serve in a fondue pot with churros, homemade pomegranate marshmallows, and fudge brownies.




fry stack

Beef Tenderloin Medallions Wrapped in Pancetta topped with Pomme Frites

Yield: 8 Medallions


4 Tb. Olive oil

12 oz. Tenderloin steak

8 each, 1 inch wide, 5-6 inches long, thin slices Pancetta

8 each, 4-5 inch long Knotted bamboo toothpicks

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

For the Pomme Frites:

2 cups Canola oil

1 small Russet potato

Fleur de sel

Freshly ground black pepper

2 Tb. Minced fresh parsley

  1. Cut Tenderloin into 6-1 ½ oz. pieces. Wrap each piece of steak with one strip pancetta, covering the sides, but leaving the top and bottom exposed, and hold in place by pinning each with a knotted skewer. Season the top and bottom of each medallion with salt and pepper, and set aside.
  2. Pour 2 cups canola oil into a small sauce pan and heat to 325⁰F.
  3. Wash russet potato under running water and pat dry. Slice the potato into ¼ inch thin slices, then slice them into ¼ inch widths. Then crop them to 2 ½ -inch lengths. The final product should look like matchsticks (a.k.a. “allumette”). For the first fry, deep fry potatoes in the oil for 3 minutes. Be sure not to overload the pan, or the oil could dip below the desired temperature. Remove the potatoes using a slotted spoon, and place them in freezer. Raise oil temp to 375⁰F.
  4. Heat a cast iron skillet on medium-high heat with 4 Tb. Olive oil until shimmering. Place half of the medallions in the pan, turning them over once, about 2-3 minutes per side. Remove them from the pan and set aside. Repeat with the remaining medallions.
  5. Remove potatoes from freezer. Carefully place half the potatoes in the hot oil and fry until golden brown and crispy, about 1-2 minutes. Remove frites, transfer to a colander or bowl, season with salt, pepper, and minced parsley. To plate, carefully take a large pinch of pomme frites and place them on top of each of the medallions.



Introducing Savory Macarons

Savory macaronsThese savory macarons are made with black truffle, foie gras, smoked salmon, wasabi-infused mascarpone cheese — then painted with gold leaf. “I love French macarons, so I am so excited about the savory versions we have been making lately. I think both the black truffle and foie gras savory macaron and the wasabi and house-smoked salmon macaron are so beautiful and exciting,” said Vanessa Smith of Blue Ribbon Cooking.


Make a gorgeous cheese plate

cheese plateSmith advises, “Choose colorful cheeses, or roll your cheeses in fresh herbs or spices. Dried, candied, or dehydrated fruit really brings winter cheeseboards to life. Always include some sort of spiced nuts and olives to introduce different textures and colors. Curl or roll cured meats to give a rose flower effect … it helps with height and texture instead of leaving them flat. Fresh herbs are a must for garnish.”




Horchata Rice pudding

Horchata Rice Pudding and Churro Cigars

Horchata Rice Pudding

Yield: 8 servings

1 cup Arborio rice, rinsed

½ cup White sugar

2 cups Almond milk

3 cups Vanilla rice milk

1 cinnamon stick

¼ tsp. Freshly ground nutmeg

1 Vanilla bean, split in half

  1. In a large saucepan, combine all ingredients and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat.
  2. Cook, stirring constantly until the rice turns very soft and achieves a thick, pudding-like consistency, about 40 minutes. Be careful not to bring to a full boil.
  3. Remove the cinnamon stick and vanilla bean pod before serving.



1½ cup water 

½ teaspoon salt 

1 tablespoon sugar plus additional for dusting 

1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil 

11/2 cup all purpose flour 

1 teaspoon baking powder 

Oil for frying 

  1. In a small saucepan over medium heat, whisk together the water, salt, sugar, and olive oil. Bring the mixture to a boil, then remove it from the heat.
  2. Stir in the flour and baking powder, mixing with a wooden spoon until it forms a ball.
  3. Heat about 2 inches of oil in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat until the oil reaches 375 degrees.
  4. While the oil is heating, transfer the dough to a cloth pastry bag or heavy-duty plastic bag fitted with a large star tip.
  5. Squeeze 3 to 4 inches of dough into the hot oil. Repeat, frying 3 or 4 pieces of dough at a time. Fry the churros, turning them once, until golden brown and crisp, about 2 minutes per side.
  6. Transfer the cooked churros to a plate lined with paper towels to drain.
  7. Roll churros in the additional sugar. Serve.



tuna poke

Tuna Poke Salad in Hand-Crafted Wonton Flowers

(Makes 8 servings)

Frying oil

8 wontons

½ pound raw ahi tuna, cut into 1/2-in. cubes (about 1 cup)

1½ tablespoons soy sauce or tamari

1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

2 scallions, sliced ¼-inch

2 tablespoons diced red onion

2 teaspoons toasted black sesame seeds

Juice from ½ lime

  1. Heat about 3 inches of oil in a heavy-bottomed medium pot over medium-high heat until the oil reaches 375 degrees. Place a wonton in a large ladle, and cup a second smaller ladle into the first ladle, creating a cup-like shape with the wonton. Immerse this into the oil carefully until the wonton is crispy and flower-shaped. Set on a paper towel to cool and drain.
  2. Toss tuna with soy sauce and toasted sesame oil. Lightly mix in scallions, red onion, and sesame seeds.
  3. To serve, place about 2 tablespoons poke salad in each wonton. Top each with a light splash of fresh lime juice just prior to serving.


chickpea puree

Moroccan Lamb Tajine

Yield: About 12 appetizer portions

1 can Garbanzo beans

3 cloves Garlic, chopped

1 stick Cinnamon

2 Tb Olive oil

1 lb. Lamb shoulder, cut into 1’’ cubes

1 large Yellow onion, diced

2 Tb Ras-el-Hanout spice blend

1 Tb Minced peeled ginger

1 can Diced tomatoes

4 cups Chicken broth

½ cup Pomegranate seeds

Mint leaves for garnish

  1. Heat oil in a tajine or heavy stoneware pan over medium-high heat.
  2. Season lamb with salt and pepper, and a half tablespoon of the Ras-el-Hanout spice blend.
  3. Working in batches, sear lamb cubes in pan, browning all sides, about 3-4 minutes per batch. Transfer seared lamb to a medium bowl.
  4. Add the onion to the pot, reduce heat to medium, season with salt and pepper, and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. Add chopped garlic, remaining Ras-el-Hanout, and ginger. Cook, stirring for 1 minute, then add diced tomatoes and lamb.
  5. Bring to a boil, add 2 ½ cups broth, and then return to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, leaving a small gap for steam to escape. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until lamb is tender, about 2 hours. Stir in chickpeas and simmer for about 10 minutes.
  6. Remove pot from heat. Let cool for 10 minutes. Carefully lift out lamb cubes and set aside.
  7. Pour all other ingredients into a blender, working in batches, if necessary, and puree until smooth using the leftover broth to reach a thick yet creamy consistency.
  8. Put a small amount of puree on a serving dish, place a lamb cube on top, and garnish with pomegranate seeds and mint leaves.




Gorg cheesecake

Gorgonzola Cheesecake with a
Candied Pecan, Rosemary Brown
Butter Crust, Garnished with
Savory Red Onion Jam

Yield: One 9-inch cheesecake

For the crust:

1 ½ cups Graham cracker crumbs

2 Tb. Chopped rosemary leaves

½ cup Crushed candied pecans

½ cup Butter

½ tsp Kosher salt

½ tsp Freshly ground black pepper

For the filling:

4 (8 oz.) packages cream cheese, softened

½ cup Crumbled gorgonzola

½ cup Sugar

½ cup Sour cream

2 tsp. Vanilla extract

5 large Eggs

Red onion jam:

2Tb. Olive oil

2 lbs. Red onions

1 cup Dry red wine

¼ cup Light brown sugar

1 Tb. Chopped fresh thyme

2 Tb. Balsamic vinegar

¼ tsp. Kosher salt

½ tsp. Freshly ground black pepper

  1. Preheat oven to 475⁰F.
  2. Crust: Place butter in small sauce pan on medium high heat. Bring butter to a boil then reduce heat to medium. Simmer until the milk solids have caramelized and the butter has turned golden brown and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Remove butter from the heat, and immediately add rosemary leaves. As you wait for the butter to cool slightly, mix together the graham cracker crumbs, crushed pecans, salt and pepper. Slowly add the butter and rosemary to the cracker-pecan mixture, mixing to combine. Line a 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper and lightly coat with baking spray. Press crust mixture into the bottom and halfway up the sides of the pan. Wrap the bottom of the pan in aluminum foil, then place pan in the oven to toast the crust, about 2 minutes. Cool the pan slightly, and place in refrigerator as you prepare the filling.
  3. Filling: Place cream cheese, sugar, sour cream, and vanilla in a bowl and blend together with electric mixer. Mix until smooth and creamy. Start adding eggs, one at a time, scraping down sides of bowl in between every other egg. Stir in gorgonzola crumbles with a wooden spoon until just incorporated.
  4. Place a large pan filled with ½ inch of hot tap water in oven. Remove crust from refrigerator and pour the filling into the pan. Carefully place cheesecake into water bath. Bake for 12 minutes, then reduce oven temperature to 325⁰F and bake until top of cheesecake turns golden and only the very center jiggles slightly when delicately jarred, about 1 hour. Remove from water bath to a wire rack to cool. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours.
  5. Red onion jam: Heat oil in medium skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add onions and cook until softened and translucent, about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add in wine, sugar, thyme, vinegar, and salt. Bring to a boil , then reduce heat to low, and let simmer until liquid becomes thickened and syrupy, about 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Season with fresh ground pepper.

 The Cocktails



Prosecco Pear Smash

2 Pears

6 Thyme Sprigs

Juice from one Lemon

4 Tbsp. Thyme Simple Syrup (1/2 Cup of Sugar, 1/2 Cup of Water, bring to a boil, remove from heat, add thyme sprigs, stir, and let cool.  Chill until ready to use.)

1 Bottle of Prosecco or your favorite bubbly 

  1. Peel and chop 2 pears  
  2. Muddle the pears with the thyme simple syrup and lemon juice until all of the pear juices have been released.  (You can also muddle right in the glass if you prefer to have bits of fruit in your cocktail!)
  3. Shake with ice in a cocktail shaker.
  4. Pour over crushed ice evenly between two glasses.
  5. Top off with prosecco and garnish with extra pear slices and thyme sprigs. 
  6. Serve immediately.


white russian

Salted Caramel White Russian

Caramel sauce


Salt flakes

1 oz Russian Standard Vodka

¼ oz Irish Cream

3 oz of whole milk

  1. Take the caramel sauce and use a teaspoon to slightly drizzle it in the glass, while slowly turning the glass so you get a nice swirled effect.
    Fill the glass with ice.
  2. Next, add your liquid ingredients to your cocktail shaker, along with a few cubes of ice. Shake well and strain in to the glasses over ice. Garnish with a spring of rosemary and sprinkled salt flakes.



Chai Spiced Sangria

1 (750 ml) bottle of dry red wine

1 orange, sliced into rounds

1/4 cup brandy (optional)

1/4 cup honey or sugar

8 whole cloves

2 cinnamon sticks

2 star anise

4 inch piece fresh ginger

10 Whole cardamom pods

8 whole peppercorns

3 whole allspice

garnishes: candied orange and lemon slices, cinnamon sticks, and star anise

  1. Combine all ingredients in a non-aluminum saucepan, and bring to a simmer (not a boil — you don’t want to boil the alcohol out!) over medium-high heat.  Reduce heat to medium-low, and let the wine simmer for at least 15 minutes or up to 3 hours. Strain, and serve warm with your desired garnishes.
  2. You can also place the oranges, cloves, cinnamon, and star anise in a cheesecloth. Then simply strain and pull out the bundle when ready to serve.


Set a Perfect Table

By Lauren Foster / Photos by Jeff Hobson



Hayley Francis

When it comes to the perfect tablescapes, Hayley Francis has real skills. As the trend and design manager for The Mine, a fine furnishings company based in Kirkland, she’s always keeping tabs on stylish ways to decorate. “My mother and grandmother were both huge interior design buffs, so I’d like to think it’s something that has been passed down in the family,” she said. Inside her own home, Francis put together two tablescapes — one that’s moody with darker hues, and another that’s bright and bohemian. While each of the looks brings a different feel to the tablescape, she used a number of the same pieces in each to show that you can mix and match to create your own perfect holiday table.

moody table for holiday party

1. The Moody Table 

This winter season, we’re seeing lots of jeweled-toned colors, and dark and moody hues, and I’m loving it. Particularly the mysterious darker shades of blues and reds, so naturally I geared toward a magenta color for one of the tablescapes because it brings in a tone of red, which naturally — especially alongside an amber hue (the amber water glasses) — brings out a holiday feel without being too literal with, say, a Christmas tree. It’s a look that you could use for a Christmas dinner, or just throughout the fall and winter months. I use tortoise tumblers as Champagne glasses, because why not? Don’t be afraid to break the rules.


boho table for holiday party

2. The Boho Table 

We’ve been seeing a minimalist trend continue to rise with continued use of plant life, so I pulled a rather simple tablescape that would be easy for anyone to set, and brought it to life with a loud, standout piece — the ice bucket — and the use of greenery and persimmons. The orange in the persimmons brings out the amber in the water glasses as well as the agate in the napkin rings, which gives it a fresh vibe that can be used throughout the holiday and winter seasons. I used the tortoise tumblers here to hold tea candles.



About Blue Ribbon Cooking

The team at Blue Ribbon Cooking is passionate about bringing people together with fabulous food. Their specialty is family-style catering that highlights culinary trends and fresh ingredients. They cater events for both private and corporate clients. Learn more at

is the managing editor at 425 magazine. Email her.
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