InStyle Parties
InStyle Parties
by the Editors of InStyle
Oxmoor House (October 2017)

InStyle Parties: The Complete Guide to Easy, Elegant Entertaining All Year Round is a great resource for those who like to entertain. We all need a little guidance sometimes, or just some new ideas. The book starts with a general guide to invitations, food and drinks, setting the table (serving pieces to linens) and the atmosphere (flowers, music, lighting).

There is a wide variety of party ideas including dinner, holiday, occasions/themes, and summer. Each suggests an invitation design, décor, menu, and even an activity. They provide recipes for everything and sneak in shortcuts if you don’t have time for the full deal.

Since the Super Bowl is almost here, I chose to bake the brownies from the “Game Day Fiesta” section of the Occasions & Theme Parties chapter. I have to admit, I haven’t made a lot of brownies in my time. Most were probably from a mix–gasp! These were from scratch with three kinds of chocolate (semisweet and unsweetened bars plus cocoa) and were marvelous.

The hardest part is cutting out the football shapes, and the recipe doesn’t give much guidance here–cut 10 (4-inch) football shapes. After I was disappointed by my freehand attempts, my husband looked up the exact proportions of a football and made a more precise pattern. 2 1/2 ” x 4″ is the correct size.

It’s still a challenge to cut out the shapes. Being careful not to disturb the crunchy top of the brownies (as much as possible) gives the best results.

Recipe: Football Brownies

Football Brownies - InStyle Parties
Photographer, Victor Protasio; Prop Stylist, Claire Spollen; Food Stylist, Emily Nabors Hall

Excerpted from INSTYLE Parties by the Editors of INSTYLE. Copyright © 2017 Oxmoor House. Reprinted with permission from Time Inc. Books, a division of Time Inc. New York, NY. All rights reserved.

Serves: 10
Hands-on: 30 minutes
Total: 3 hours, 40 minutes (includes cooling)

12 ounces semisweet chocolate baking bar, chopped
3⁄4 cup unsalted butter
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate baking bar, chopped
3 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2⁄3 cup all-purpose flour
1⁄4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1⁄2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup powdered sugar
1⁄2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 to 2 tablespoons whole milk

Make the brownies: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line the bottom of a 13- x 9-inch baking pan with parchment paper, and lightly coat with cooking spray. Place the semisweet chocolate, butter, and unsweetened chocolate in the top of a double boiler. Bring the water in the bottom pan to a light boil over medium. Cook the chocolate mixture, stirring often, until melted and smooth, about 10 minutes. Cool slightly, about 10 minutes.

Whisk together the sugar, eggs, and vanilla in a large bowl. Add the chocolate mixture to the sugar mixture, stirring until smooth. Sift together the flour, cocoa, and salt. Stir the flour mixture into the chocolate mixture until fully incorporated. Spread the batter in the prepared pan.

Bake at 350°F until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs, 32 to 35 minutes. Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack, about 2 hours. Turn the brownies out onto a baking sheet; cut 10 (4-inch) football shapes, reserving the scraps for another use.

Make the icing: Whisk together the powdered sugar, vanilla, and 1 tablespoon of the milk in a medium bowl until smooth. Whisk in the remaining milk, 1 teaspoon at a time, to the desired consistency. Spoon the icing into a piping bag or a ziplock plastic bag with 1 corner snipped. Pipe the football stripes onto the brownies. Let the icing set before serving, about 20 minutes.

Thank you to Time Inc. Books, from whom I received a review copy of this book.


These Seckel Pears from Red Jacket Orchards, NY, showed up as part of my Local Roots NYC fruit share.

Seckel Pears for cupcakes

Pears with spices seemed like a good match for a fall cookout, so I got to baking. Recipe below! You can use 2 or 3 regular-sized pears or several small pears as I did.

Baking Pear Cupcakes

They are somewhat hefty because of the chunks of pears, but moist and not too dense.

Pear Cupcake

We had Blue Pig Apple Cider Sorbet on the side, which was a nice pairing.

Recipe: Pear Cupcakes

Makes 1 dozen cupcakes

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/8 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups pears (peeled and diced)

Preheat the oven to 350° F, and line your pans with cupcake liners.

Beat the butter and sugar on medium until creamed. Add the egg, then the vanilla extract.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, and salt.

Slowly add the flour mixture on low-medium until just combined, then mix in the diced pears.

Scoop into pan with a ice cream scoop or your preferred method, filling cups about 2/3.

Bake for 20 minutes, turning pans halfway through.

Cool in pans for 5 minutes, then remove and cool completely on a rack before frosting with vanilla buttercream or your choice!

Frosting Recipe

I baked chocolate cupcakes for a chocolate lover’s birthday. I wanted a silky ganache frosting, but it didn’t exactly turn out that way.

I used some milk chocolate and some semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted with heavy cream. After chilling, I whipped this chocolate-y concoction with some vanilla extract and a touch of powdered sugar.

Note that the window is small for the perfect whipped ganache. Mine went from liquid to overwhipped (that interesting “texture” you see pictured above wasn’t intended) in the blink of an eye. I didn’t have time–or supplies–to start over, so I rolled with it. Still tasted good!

Chocolate Cupcake

I’ll let you know next time I give this frosting a shot!

Some whipped ganache recipes, if you want to try:

Your Cup of Cake
Martha Stewart

Chocolate Cupcake with milk
Nothing like a fresh, cold glass of milk with a chocolate cupcake!
Fruit: a Savor the South cookbook
Fruit: a Savor the South® cookbook
Nancie McDermott
University of North Carolina Press (March 2017)

As a southern girl myself—I grew up in northern Louisiana peach country—I was delighted to receive a review copy of Nancie McDermott’s Fruit, part of the Savor the South Cookbook series.

There are so many good ideas in this book. McDermott covers blackberries, cantaloupe, plums, figs, mayhaws, grapes, pawpaws, peaches, persimmons, quince, strawberries, and watermelon. She provides recipes from desserts to salads to main courses.

McDermott introduces each section with lush descriptions, history of the fruit, and fond memories of her own. She also includes information about where and when each fruit grows and the ways it is commonly used.

I look forward to trying many more of these recipes as I come across the various fruits here in New York or while visiting family down south. Reading through this book reminds me of childhood flavors–and makes my mouth water!

Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie

When I got fresh rhubarb with my farm share one week, I knew I had to try the strawberry-rhubarb pie recipe!

I found some good strawberries to pair with the farm fresh rhubarb which I chopped into 1/2 inch chunks as instructed. I hulled the strawberries, cutting larger ones in halves or thirds.

Strawberries and Rhubarb

I’d made the dough earlier, keeping it in the refrigerator until about 15 minutes before making the pie. (McDermott includes a pie dough recipe, or use your own!)

Making Pie - rolling dough, filling

I used cornstarch rather than flour (the recipe gives you this choice), as I was concerned it might be runny. It did turn out with more liquid than I’d have liked. I think my rhubarb and strawberries were especially juicy, it’s not a reflection on the recipe.

Though it wasn’t the most gorgeous pie I’ve ever baked once sliced, it sure did taste good! The tart rhubarb with strawberries is just such a perfect pairing. This is another treat that also can’t go wrong with a scoop of ice cream.

Find this and many other wonderful recipes in Fruit. Thank you to The Trina Kaye Organization for providing a review copy of this cookbook. Learn more about the series at

Want more rhubarb? Check out my Rhubard Cupcakes with Candied Rhubarb Knots.

Attending a July 4th party where some guests avoid wheat, I got a chance to delve into the world of gluten-free cooking. Using fresh summer fruit seemed a no-brainer, so I opted to make a berry crisp.

A crisp is about as simple a baked dessert can get. It usually involves fruit topped with some sort of crumbly crust or pastry, often involving oats, and is a perfect summer dessert, especially topped with vanilla ice cream.

I made sure my rolled oats contained no gluten and bought some gluten-free all purpose flour from Trader Joe’s. (I’ll try actually baking with it sometime soon.) See the recipe below.

gluten-free berry crisp

Recipe: Berry Crisp

Makes 12 servings

12 cups fresh berries (strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, etc.)
1/2 cup white sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 1/2 cups rolled oats
1 cup flour blend (gluten-free flour works great)
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cold and cut into pieces
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F, and grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.

Mix together the berries, white sugar, cornstarch and cinnamon until evenly coated and pour into the 9-by-13 dish.

Combine the oats, flour, brown sugar, salt, and butter using your hands or a pastry cutter (or both!) until the dry ingredients are well incorporated with the butter. Some lumps are fine. Add evenly over the berry mix.

Bake about 45 minutes, until the topping is browned and the filling bubbling. Cool 10-15 minutes. Serve alone or with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.