Category Archives: Party

Biltmore Inspirations 40% Off Sale

With the recent announcement that Biltmore Inspirations will be closing on December 15, 2012, this is your chance to purchase  our fabulous home decor, gourmet food and wine accessories from the full product line at a deep discount.  All merchandise (with a couple of exceptions) is on sale NOW at 40% off.  Download the online catalog on my website.   View all of the current specials highlighted here.

I am still conducting parties and can assist you directly with placing any orders.  There is no longer a minimum amount required for hosting a party to receive the great hostess benefits! Enjoy  great rewards with free party food, your selection of hostess gifts and discounted items by scheduling a party before the end of November.

Thanks so much for your past support and happy shopping!

Fall Bundles through OCTOBER

Holiday Gifts 2012

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Filed under Decorating, Food, Holiday, Hostess Gifts, Party

Ten Best Pie Crust Secrets

Handmade Pie Crust

My mother and grandmother were excellent pie bakers from eastern Kansas.   Every fall once the leaves started floating off the trees, they would spend long afternoons making multiples of pie crusts.  The crusts were placed in the freezer so they would be ever ready for pie baking when unexpected visitors came to call.  Our weekly routine on Sundays was to always have pie after a big fried chicken dinner (really lunch, we called it dinner).  And of course, on holidays, we would be treated to a buffet of scrumptious pies. 

They were not afraid of pie dough, or using lard in the pie crust.  Every flavor you could imagine came from their kitchens.  Pumpkin pie, apple pie, pecan pie, cherry pie, coconut cream pie, lemon pie, chocolate pie, rhubarb pie, raisin pie, and my all-time favorite, pineapple pie.

I missed the chance to personally quiz my family members about the secrets to making the best pie crust in the county.  But in my quest to learn the formula of creating fabulous pie crusts I found two other Pie Making Masters (Bob Waldo and Susie Hale) who helped me perfect my skills in pie baking.  Here’s the best pie making tips they shared: 

1.  You must use lard, also known as “shortening”.  Real lard from a pig farmer is best.  If you don’t have access to a farmer or butcher shop, use Crisco All-Vegetable Shortening.  Some bakers prefer to combine lard with a little butter.  Experiment and see what you like the best.

2.  Use a good brand of All-Purpose Flour.  King Arthur brand is my favorite. 

3.  Make certain ALL ingredients are cold when mixing.  Yes, put the flour, as well as the lard, in the refrigerator first to chill it down.

4.  Use ice cold water when mixing into the flour and lard.  For super flaky crust, mix until the dough is the size of small peas.  And, don’t  over mix or the pie crust will not be flaky.

5.  Handle the dough as little as possible.  Using a fork instead of your fingers keeps the dough cooler. 

6.  A clean, label-free wine bottle works in a pinch if you don’t have a rolling-pin. 

7.  Consider using a pie crust bag when rolling out the dough.  This is a reusable round plastic pouch with a zipper.  It offers a tidy way to roll out a ball of dough into a perfectly round pie crust.  I found mine at this quaint country village of cooking stores Cockrell Mercantile Company near Lee’s Summit, Missouri, for less than $5.00. 

8.   After the dough is mixed well, chill for at least four hours or even overnight.  This ensures that the gluten strands have time to settle down and relax.  This actually makes your pastry dough easier to roll out and cuts down on any shrinkage during the baking process.  Chilling also allows the available moisture to find its way back into all parts of the dough.  It’s worth the wait to have soft easy to roll out dough, so plan ahead. 

9.  Use a great pie dish.  I prefer Biltmore Inspiration’s Pisgah Baking Dishes.  Pies turn out beautifully in these dishes and the ruffled edge not only gives you more crust, it helps to prevent the crust from burning.  Oven, microwave and dishwasher safe.  The Single Baking Dish 11.25″Dia x 2.7″H $35.98, and Set of Two:  8.5″Dia x 2″H and 20″Dia x. 2.25″ $45.98. 

10.  Top the crust with a dab of cream.  Add a sprinkling of sugar before placing in the oven.  Bake and enjoy!

King Arthur Flour offers several great recipes for pie crust on its website. 

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Filed under Desserts, Farmers Market, Holiday, Party, Recipes

Color Inspiration for Holiday Entertaining

I’ve been thinking about the upcoming holidays and the traditional color schemes for  entertaining this time of year: black and orange for Halloween; gold, cooper, brown for Thanksgiving; and red and forest green for Christmas.  This year I want to incorporate something new, something more trendy so I looked at the 2012 fall fashion colors.  The Pantone Fall 2012 Colors include a bright shade of purple (the fashion trade refers to it as rhapsody, sugar plum, and gothic grape).  I like a little darker shade — more plum and mulberry is more my style.  I’m going to mix up the color wheel by combining olympian blue with ultramarine green (really the shade of billiard tables) together in what I hope turns out to be a smoky teal green.  I’ll add a touch of rose smoke and flashy pink flambe’ for fun, and I’ve found my color scheme for entertaining this season.

As I dream of fall parties, the perfect holiday table for me will be set with a  tablecloth in an almost rose smoke color called Acorn Contour (from BBJ Linens) around $33.00.  Next I’ll add pink flambe’ handmade fabric runners.  Each mat will drape across the table and serve as individual placements (so you’ll only need one runner for every two guests.)  Pick up fabric at a discount online, at Hobby Lobby or any fabric store and make these simple runners yourself.

For an over-the-top tablescape, I’ve chosen Biltmore Inspirations’ Lotus Leaf Platters to serve as the charger plates for each place setting.  Because these platters are so big, bold and beautiful, I won’t be removing them before serving dinner, even though etiquette books dictate otherwise.  Each gorgeous platter measures 12″L x 18″W x 2.5″H and retails for $69.98/each.  With six to eight of these on the table, this will make a dramatic statement.

Lotus Leaf Tableware

On top of each charger, guests will find a brightly colored braided fuchsia placemat with wavy design. Each mat measures 15″ in diameter.  Found online at Gifted Solution (4 for $16.00).

For serving dishes, I’ve incorporated Biltmore Inspiration’s Pisgah Baking Dishes.  The color of these dishes resemble the soft smoky teal-green Blue Ridge Mountains in Asheville, North Carolina, the corporate home to both the Biltmore Estate and  it’s newest division, Biltmore Inspirations.  The single large baking dish measures 11.25″Dia. x 2.75″H and serves  as the dinner plate ($35.98).  The smaller baking dish 10″ Dia x. 2.25″ will be used for any first courses ($45.98 set of two that includes a 8.5″Dia x 2″H dish).  Perfect for serving soup or salad.

Pisgah Baking Dishes

Pisgah Baking Dishes

Each of the Pisgah Baking Dishes are separated by an eggplant colored linen napkin that measures 21″ x 21″ at $10.00/each.  This one’s called malbec from Linoto.   A great color for dabbing those Cabernet wine stains off your lips between courses.

I envision the table to be decorated with similar colored fresh farmer’s market produce.  Purple cabbage, purple potatoes, dark kale, Chinese eggplant, asparagus, and leafy green Brussels sprouts should be ideal.

Other decorative centerpiece details include Biltmore’s new Pisgah Canisters ($59.98 for set of two).  Same beautiful blue-green color as the baking dishes.  The large measures 4.5″Dia x 13.125″H, and medium 5″Dia x 8.625″H).

Pisgah Canisters & Pedestal Dish

Biltmore’s Pisgah Canisters & Pedestal Dish

French Market Buckets

Biltmore’s French Market Buckets

Centered on the table are Biltmore’s French Market Flower Buckets $99.98 set of two (large 8″Dia. at top x 6″ Dia. at bottom x 18″ H. and medium 7″Dia. at top x 4.5″ Dia at bottom x 14″H) filled with silk hydrangeas, chrysanthemums, and other favorite flowers and greenery.

A pair of Biltmore’s Courtyard Lanterns (large 5.75″W x 5.75″D x 13″H $42.98 and small 4″W x 3.5″D x 8″H set of two for $32.98) holding mulberry colored pillar candles completes the tablescape.

Biltmore’s Courtyard Lanterns

Ideally, guests this season will include precious little friends wearing matching velvet dresses and jackets and deep eggplant colored bows in their hair like this one.

The finished table setting should bring lots of ooh’s and ah’s to this year’s festivities.  What do you think?

Autumn-Inspired Tablesetting from Biltmore Inspirations

Festive Tablescape from Biltmore Inspirations

Biltmore products can be ordered at my website.

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Filed under Decorating, Holiday, Party, Tablescapes

Countdown to Christmas – Tips for Hosting & Cooking for a Large Crowd

With Christmas only a few days away, many of you will be hosting a large number of family and friends this weekend.  I’m sharing some last minutes tips on how best to prepare for the large crowd that you’ll be entertaining.

The first step is to plan your menu(s) ahead.  It’s not to late to consider each and every meal that you’ll be hosting. Write the menus  down on paper, allowing you to see at-a-glance how well each item goes together, if it is a balanced and colorful menu, and giving you an overview of how much time you’ll need for the preparation.  Start with the arrival date of your first guests. Consider the type of meal or snack you’ll serve when you guests first arrive.  Then, plan your holiday feast, and any breakfasts or lunches for those guests who are staying longer than the main meal.  Think seasonal items when creating your menu, which you’ll find most readily available and less expensive at this time of year.  Consider items that can be cooked ahead, stored or reheated easily to make your hosting job go smoothly.

Next, gather together all of the recipes and make a detailed shopping list.  Be certain to check your pantry and refrigerator for items you already have on hand.  When I am shopping for a large quantity of groceries, I take the time to put my grocery list in order separating out the produce, meats,  canned goods,  dairy, bakery, etc.  This makes the grocery shopping process go much quicker once I enter the store.

If you have guests bringing dishes,  suggest a specific recipe or two (or at the very least, be specific about the item such as a “green bean side dish”) in order to ensure that your entire menu will complement well with the potluck items.

Consider the seating arrangements and whether or not you have enough tables, chairs, tablecloths, napkins, candles, china, glassware and cutlery.  If not, consider borrowing items from a friend or relative?  Make arrangements for a family member to help out by picking up and finding a storage space in your garage for these items a few days in advance until you need them.

Decide where to stack the dirty dishes before the party starts.  Try to keep the mess in one area of your kitchen. If the party is formal, you may wish to hire extra help for serving and/or washing the dishes.  For less formal parties, ask students and older children, or even your guests, to pitch in with specific instructions on what they need to do.  Make certain you have plenty of trash bags and dish towels for cleaning up after the meals.

Arrange to have your home cleaned in advance of the celebration.  This eases your mind and allows you to focus on the meal preparation and your hosting duties.

Purchase your alcoholic beverages in advance, getting advice from the retail store liquor expert or sommelier on what best suits the type of menu you are serving.  Ensure that you have plenty of extra ice and refrigerator space, or coolers for chilling beverages in advance.

Cooking in quantity does not necessarily mean quadrupling your recipes.  Review the recipes carefully, and if necessary, cook in smaller batches and freeze or set aside in advance.  A general rule is keep your recipe quantities for preparation of servings at no more than 12, and repeat the cooking process if you need larger quantities.  Most casserole dishes or saucepans will work best at these amounts.

Ensure that you have enough oven space, or stove top burners.  If not, consider using your neighbor’s kitchen, or borrowing a portable convection oven, electric oven, or incorporate your grill for a portion of the meal.

Set up a specific area for the bar, keeping glassware and bottles well out of reach of scampering children and pets.  Incorporate wine and beer openers, straws or stirrers, ice containers, and garnishes (lemons, limes, etc.) if using.

Consider parking and if your street has enough space for the guests you are expecting. As a courtesy to your neighbors, you may want to give them notice that there will be extra traffic on your street during your festivities.

Allow plenty of extra time for reheating and cooking the meals.  Have a written plan in advance of what serving dishes and serving utensils you will use.  Set these aside so that when the food is ready, your dishes and utensils will be close at hand.

Most importantly, give yourself permission to relax an hour  before the party so that you will enjoy the celebration as much as your guests will!

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Filed under Food, Holiday, Party, Tablescapes

Cranberries: What to do with all of that leftover sauce!

Zinfandel Cranberry Sauce

Tomorrow is the day we add dollops of cranberry sauce to our plates of turkey.  Whether the turkey is roasted, deep fat fried, smoked or baked in a bag, this traditional condiment adds a flavorful acidic touch to the fat laden Thanksgiving meal.

The cranberry’s botanical name, vaccinium oxycoccos, literally means “cow.”  Food historian Alan Davidson, author of the Oxford Companion to Food 1999, says that cows (vacco) enjoy eating cranberries and that is how cranberries got their name!  Cranberries historical significance in America dates back to the 1864, when General Ulysses S. Grant ordered that it be served to the troops during the siege of Petersburg.  Although it was the Native Americans who first noticed the natural preservative powers of these berries, it was when they began socializing with the Pilgrims in 1672, that cranberry pies and tarts started showing up on the Thanksgiving table.

There are many recipes for cranberry sauce.  I created this recipe because it uses a delicious bottle of one of my favorite wines, Zinfandel.

Zinfandel Cranberry Sauce Recipe

1 (12 ounce) package cranberries, fresh

2+ cups of red Zinfandel wine (choose one with lots of spiciness)

½ c. balsamic vinegar

1 T. Vietnamese cinnamon

1 c. white sugar

1 T. black peppercorns

1 t. whole cloves

In a non-reactive saucepan, combine the cranberries, wine, balsamic vinegar and cinnamon.  If you’re unsure about how sweet the sauce will be, begin with one-half c. sugar, add more to taste.

Place the peppercorns and cloves in a small piece of cheesecloth and tie shut.  Add to the pot.  Bring the berries to a boil, then reduce to medium-low.

The cranberries will cook completely in 20-30 minutes, bursting and turning deep red.  In the last few minutes of cooking, taste for sweetness and stir sugar in more as desired.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool.

Remove the spices.  Store in a clean jar.  Can be kept for several weeks in the refrigerator.

What to do with the leftover sauce

This sauce is great on Thanksgiving Day, but usually there is an abundance of leftovers.  Here are 15 ideas on ways to use up the sauce:

  • Add 1/2 cup to pancake batter to make cranberry pancakes.
  • Mix with cream cheese and smear on a fresh bagel for breakfast.
  • Place a block of cream cheese on a plate, top with Zinfandel Cranberry Sauce, and serve with crackers for a quick and tasty appetizer.  Or, alternatively, warm a block of Brie cheese in the oven, and top with the sauce.
  • Mix with a tablespoon of cream cheese, and use as a spread for your favorite chicken or turkey sandwich.
  • Using freshly ground turkey, chicken, or pork, make Cranberry Meatballs substituting cranberry sauce for tomato sauce.
  • Mix with a tablespoon or two of orange juice and use as a glaze for a pork roast, or grilled pork chops.
  • Add to a homemade muffin mix, along with a 1/2 cup of walnuts.
  • Add to your favorite BBQ sauce to baste over baked or grilled chicken.
  • Cube baked sweet potatoes and mix with toasted walnuts and minced parsley.  Add cranberry sauce to a few tablespoons of olive oil and drizzle in mixture to make a healthy salad.
  • Mix a few tablespoons with Extra Virgin Olive Oil and red wine vinegar to create a tangy salad dressing.
  • Puree with cream cheese to make a cranberry dip.
  • Using your favorite type of milk (whole, 2%, rice, soy or almond), add 1/4 cup with a sliced banana, 1 T. honey or agave juice, and ice to turn into a cranberry smoothie.
  • Make a quesadilla using cooked shredded turkey or chicken, chopped kale, your favorite cheese, cumin, and chili powder placed in corn tortillas.  Sauté on both sides until warm.  
  • Warm sauce in microwave and drizzle over vanilla ice cream for a delicious dessert.
  • Add to homemade apple pie, or pear crisp, recipes for a festive twist on dessert.

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Filed under Appetizers, Holiday, Party, Recipes, Salads, Sauces, Wines

Seven Great Gift Ideas to Give a Hostess

Beginning this week, we look forward to being invited to gatherings to celebrate Thanksgiving, and next month, Christmas.  It is always appropriate to give your hostess a thank you gift for being included in these holiday festivities.  I enjoy finding something that I think the hostess will like.  Although it may be tempting to grab a random gift from the grocery or wine store shelf, think ahead this year and order a few hostess gifts that offer something more thoughtful.

Biltmore Inspirations offers several very reasonably priced options for inexpensive gifts (less than $20, plus shipping and handling.)  All of these items are inspired by something within the Biltmore House, America’s largest home, located in Asheville, North Carolina.  Check out these ideas and visit this website to place an order: Biltmore Inspirations Website.

Damask Kitchen Towels

Damask Kitchen Towel Set.  An elegant set of two coordinating designs red/cream striped and waffle-weave with the Biltmore Breakfast Nook’s damask emblem.  18 “W x 28” L.  Set of two $19.98.

Olmsted Oak Spreaders

Olmsted Oak Spreader Set.  These oak leaf and acorn design spreaders showcase three finishes in three colors.  Dishwasher safe.  4.75” L .  Set of three $19.98.

Fleur-de-Lis Wine Stopper

Fleur -De-Lis Wine Stopper.  Add a little sophistication to your wine bottle.  This decorative stopper features a graceful fleur-de-lis anchored by a ring of beads.  Hand wash.  1.5” W x 4.25”H.  $14.98.

Celebrate Wine Stopper.  Another festive wine stopper is perfect for the wine connoisseur host or hostess (picture not available.)  The word “Celebrate” appears on one side, and “Inspire” on the other . . . the perfect sentiments for any gathering.  Hand wash.  1.75”W x 4” H.  $14.98.

Fleur-de-Lis Wine Glass Charms

Fleur-de-Lis Stem Charms.  Each charm has a fleur-de-lis with a different color beaded ring for a fun, easy way to help guests personalize their wine glasses.  Hand wash.  1”W x 2.75”L.  Set of 4.  $19.98.

Celebrate Cocktail Linen Napkins

Celebrate Cocktail Napkin Set. Ring holiday cheer into your everyday décor with festive cocktail napkins.  9” square.  Set of four for $19.98.

Celebrate Wine Gift Bags

Celebrate Wine Bag.  Set of two white and red Celebrate wine bags.  These will make two perfect hostess gifts for any social engagement.  6.5”W x 12.4”L.  Set of two for $19.98.

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Filed under Holiday, Hostess Gifts, Kitchen, Party

Host a Fall Wine Tasting Party

Now that school has started and summer vacations have come to an end, September is a great time to gather your girlfriends together for an evening of fun.  Consider hosting a wine tasting where you can casually catch up and learn something new about wine too. If you don’t know much about wine, don’t be intimated by your lack of knowledge. I’ll provide some tips below to make your event a success. And, once your friends are all together, you’ll find the most important thing is to enjoy the experience and have fun!


Biltmore Inspirations offers several ways for you to easily host a wine tasting party. As an Independent Consultant to Biltmore Inspirations, I am  available to lead your event in Greater Phoenix, or one of the cities I frequently travel.  If you live somewhere else, one of my teammates from Biltmore can support you; just contact me and I’ll help you make the connection.  Hosting a party through Biltmore is very easy for the hostess. We provide delicious free food samples, recipes for the appetizers you’ll make, and wine and food pairing guidelines for selecting the wines.  We even provide your grocery list (items are less than $20 for a party), making party planning effortless.

Biltmore has a full line of products from their Wine Cellar Collection that can add to the party.  From Reserve Wine Label Coasters to glassware, decanter, to wine stoppers, there’s many products available that can enhance the wine tasting experience.  Guests will have the chance to add these items to their personal collections during the party.

Alternatively, if you want to try the tasting on your own, consider purchasing this Just Add Wine Tasting Kit where you’ll learn to enjoy wine in three easy steps: Swirl, Sniff, Sip.  This kit includes all of the essential wine tools in a leather box, plus a user-friendly instructional DVD, tasting notes and wine scoring sheets to help you identify the characteristics of fine wines.  All you need to add is wine and friends.  The box measures 5.75″W x 6.5″D and retails for $49.98.  This kit makes a great holiday gift as well and you can purchase it online here.


This will depend upon the number of guests, but generally I recommend 4-6 different wines.  If you offer more than that, it can get confusing.  You can serve a choice of wine varietals that pair well with the food you are serving, for example:  Chardonnay with Blanched Asparagus Spears and Biltmore’s Smokey Mountain Mustard Dip, or Zinfandel with Biltmore’s Hot Chipotle Raspberry Sauce drizzled over Brie Cheese. Or, theme the party and just serve one varietal (such as a Pinot Noir) made in different regions of the world.

The ideal amount per pour per person is 2 ounces to taste.  Each 7.5 ml bottle contains 25 one-ounce pours, or enough for a little over 12 tastes.  Remember to provide a wine tasting bucket for guests who may not wish to drink their entire samples.


When tasting wine, you don’t want heavier wines to overwhelm your senses and distort the tastes of lighter wines. So at your wine tasting party, have your guests taste the lighter wines first and the heavier, drier wines last.

Serve in this order:  Sparkling wines first, white to red, light to dark, dessert wines last.

Once the tasting begins, remember the most important thing is that tasting wine is different from drinking wine.  You drink wine for pleasure, and at a wine tasting, the purpose is to become more knowledgeable about the wine by comparing one wine to another.

Start by Swirling – Swish the wine around in the glass five to six times to aerate the wine.  To ensure you don’t spill it, place your second and third finger in a “V” around the stem of the glass.  Hold your thumb on the top of the foot of the glass. Then, rotate your hand in a clockwise fashion several times.

The Nose Knows – Take a big whiff of the wine and allow your nose to truly smell the scents of the wine.  Can you describe what you smell?

Take Teeny Sips – Do not fill your mouth full with wine, but take a tiny sip and hold it on the tip of your tongue in the front of your month. Make note of what you are tasting?  Describe what you taste.

The Slow Slide – Allow the wine to slide back slowly over your tongue – this area is called the mid-palate; and you’ll experience a very different set of flavors here.

Flavor Savor – Finally, swallow, or spit, and then pause for a moment to savor the last swirl of the wine.  This is the aftertaste or finish.

Jot down your preferences on a tasting note card allowing a score from 1-5 (5 being the highest) for color, intensity, aroma, taste, body/ tannins, and finish.  Then, mark a total score of how much you like it.  Be sure to keep the notecards on the wines you liked the best for future reference.

A wine tasting is a great way to explore the differences of wines and to create a memory-base of the types of wines you most enjoy.

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Filed under Party, Wines