Adoring traditions,old and new!

Enjoying a holiday tea at the St. Regis Photo by Victoria Lynn WestonDarlings, I adore tradition, especially during the holidays. I love Christmas music, even when it blasts through malls and office buildings. I enjoy traditional old songs and new classics, such as Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas is You. And, the season would not be complete without Dean Martin’s classic and corny, Baby It’s Cold Outside and Eartha Kitt’s sultry and playful Santa Baby.                   

Magical full-sized gingerbread house Atlanta St. Regis Hotel. Photo by Victoria Lynn WestonMoving around as I have, I learned to appreciate the joy of “minting” new traditions. I cherish all my memories of growing up with traditional New England Christmases. In Montréal, I grew to appreciate the many traditions of that wonderful old city as we celebrated with family and friends. It may be cold, but there a few sights more beautiful than Montreal glittering with holiday lights and fresh snow. I still long for the cozy warmth of afternoon tea at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel on beautiful, bedecked Sherbrooke Street, after an afternoon of shopping with a friend.
Elegant tea nibbles at the St. Regis. Photo: Victoria Lynn WestonThis year, I shared an elegant Holiday Tea with a friend at St. Regis Hotel in Atlanta. We sipped icy champagne as we nibbled on tasty tea sandwiches of chopped egg and smoked salmon. We loved the elegant presentation in the hushed and sparkling white and icy blue room. We felt festive and a bit decadent as we finished off tiny truffles and dainty scones. Even though we had no children, we lingered at the life-sized sugar and gingerbread house. As we were leaving, a mother arrived with two small children. They were as enraptured as we were with the cinnamon-scented dwelling.
Afternoon tea has always been one of my favourite indulgences. If you have never tried it, slip away and sink into the atmosphere of the English ritual, and sip a cup of fragrant brew or a cold glass of bubbly – or both! Or, perhaps take a child to a holiday tea with Santa, and start a new tradition.
My husband and I adored hosting our big holiday parties in Moscow and Toronto.
At times people marveled at the work. But, entertaining a party of any size is easier if you are organized.
I recently went to the beautiful Aria Restaurant in Atlanta. The special tasting dinner was part of the Muir Glen Tomato Vine Dining Tour, featuring special organic reserve tomatoes grown exclusively for Muir Glen under certified organic practices.Aria’s owner, Chef Gerry Klaskala is one of five award-winning chefs from around the country who participated. The tomatoes we tasted are hand-harvested at the peak of ripeness to guarantee exceptional quality and taste, and they are delicious. They are among my favourite ingredients; I adore their rich, sweet taste.
The theme of the dinner was holiday entertaining. “At the holidays, you want to offer your guests the best,” one of the Muir Glen marketing people said. She was right. Often that kind of simple wisdom can make entertaining so easy.
Elegance doesn’t have to be daunting. Chef Klaskala’s party-hosting tips are simple, and will ensure a lovely relaxed evening. He emphasized the importance of cooking and preparing in advance, so you won’t have to worry about the food too much, once your guests arrive. He recommends keeping cocktail and buffet food bite-sized and easy to eat. The main course, “Spicy Braised Angus Beef with Fire Roasted Tomatoes, Tomatillos, Gold Potatoes and Cilantro” would be perfect for buffets, and easy to make in advance.
Another of Chef Klaskala’s ideas that I loved was sending guests home with a prettily-packaged treat. Holiday cookies can be baked or bought, and wrapped in advance.
I also loved the pretty ornaments used as place cards. A name card was attached to a glittering ball at each place setting. The individual printed menus added a nice touch. All these ideas are easy to duplicate.
As a pro, the chef knows that real elegance demands quality, detail, and ease!
Darlings, the holidays are what you make of them. It may sound crazy, but some of my most romantic Christmases have been spent in Bangkok, in the tropical heat. We would spend the evening at the Oriental Hotel at their poolside party. The evening would end with a dancing and a fabulous fireworks display. My husband and I remember fondly two years ago, when we spent the evening at a wonderful Thai restaurant in Atlanta. We had planned an entirely different evening – but ended up at Nan. It was fabulous.  
You can take a friend to elegant tea, plan a skating party followed by a buffet lunch of hot homemade soup and salad, or throw a glittering gathering. But celebrate and create light and warmth in this cold winter month! Make the most of the holiday season, and share with those less fortunate. Let your heart sing!
Happy holidays my darlings, and sparkle plenty! 
Chef Gary Kalaska’s Spicy Braised Angus Beef
with Fire Roasted Tomatoes, Tomatillos, Gold Potatoes and Cilantro
Prep time: 30 minutes
Start to finish: Two hours
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, cut into 1-inch cubes
5 tomatillos, paper skin removed, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 jalapeño chile, stemmed, seeded, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped (2 teaspoons)
2 lb boneless beef chuck roast, cut into 1-inch cubes, fat trimmed
1 teaspoon kosher (coarse) salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 cans (14.5 oz ea) Muir Glen® Harvest Sunset™ organic fire-roasted diced red and yellow tomatoes, undrained
1 carton (32 oz) beef stock
1 lb Yukon Gold potatoes (about 3), peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
¼ cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
1. Heat oven to 275°F. In 5-quart ovenproof Dutch oven, cook olive oil and onion over medium heat 4 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned.
2. Add tomatillos, jalapeño chile and garlic; cook 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add beef, salt and pepper; cook 4 minutes or until beef is browned. Add tomatoes; cook 3 minutes. Add stock and potatoes; heat to simmering.
3. Cover; bake about 1 hour or until no longer pink. Remove from oven; let stand 20 minutes before serving. Stir in cilantro, and serve in warmed bowls.
8 servings (1½ cups each)
Order Reserve tomatoes:
DolceDolce will return with a new issue on January13th, 2012
Happy Holidays!