Fruit Tart from French Gourmet

Fruit Tart from French Gourmet

You may think you had your fill of pie during the Thanksgiving but wait! Christmas is coming, and New Years awaits. And what would the holidays be without pies on the table?

Many of those pies aren’t pies at all because they only have a crust underneath. Pumpkin pie is really a tart, as is pecan pie and all those scrumptious cream pies. “The pies baked by the English settlers in the 17th century would have been fully encased in a layer of pastry called a coffin, which was often too thick and hard to eat,” writes Bee Wilson in a recent column for the Wall St Journal. “The coffin’s role was simply to protect the ingredients inside as they cooked, like a casserole dish.” She explained that pie wasn’t just a dessert, but a substantial dish filled with dried fruit and lots of seasonings.

The word pie is derived from the Latin word pica, meaning magpie, a bird known for her habit of collecting an assortment of odds and ends in her nest. Not so very different, the thinking goes, from the way medieval cooks assembled ingredients for their pies. Early recipes also call for an astonishing range of anatomical bits and pieces to be minced together with suet, oats and vegetables. The word haggis turns out to be an alternative name for magpie. In fact, haggis, a mixture of sheep innards—heart, liver, and lungs—mixed with oatmeal, fat, and spices and ideally cooked in a sheep’s stomach, in so much a part of Scottish tradition that the poet Robert Burns wrote an Address to a Haggis in 1786.

Haggis

Haggis

Did you know that a haggis is a bird with a strange gait and vestigial wings—like an ostrich—found on the highlands of Scotland?

Haggis, a bird of the Scottish Highlands

Today, a pie isn’t just any dessert. When you bring a pie to a holiday event, it shows you care. The crust is all buttery, flaky goodness and it’s special crimping depicts time, attention, and talent. The ingredients inside are carefully selected and placed into the rolled crust for maximum effect. “Rest for at least an hour,” say the instructions. Does that mean that the cook gets to rest too? You should. You deserve to rest on your laurels!

Happy Holidays to you and yours,

Lois Joy Hofmann

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About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page.


Layering a buffet table works well for many reasons. This technique makes the best use of limited space—ideal for a condo, apartment or yacht. It establishes an inviting “come-to” zone where guests can freely help themselves again and again. Besides, we all know that three-dimensional buffets are always a better way to display yummy foods, condiments and desserts!

For many years, I considered using this approach for our annual Parade of Lights holiday party; this year I finally took the plunge. First I researched the subject by surfing YouTube, where I found professional chefs and party-planners dispensing advice. Then I scaled it all down to suit my needs.

Here’s what I learned:

Take a good look at the table or surface you will use. Does the location allow for walking around or past it without guests bumping into each other? Can you move it to a better location? I decided that I didn’t have sufficient room in my condo for walking around the dining table, so I decided to push it near the wall, leaving a milling-around-and-line-up area for guests.

Buffet table with tablecloth and tree skirt over risers.

Determine a party theme and color scheme and for your venue. Because my party is held in mid-December, an obvious choice was a Christmas theme. I chose shades of red and green, with a little white for contrast. I love flower arranging! Using fresh flowers and greens purchased at Wholesale Flowers, I made six bouquets, all using the same basic scheme.

Search for items to use for layering; you probably have them in your home. I selected a riser from my linen closet and used stacks of books for the rest. This was a good solution for me—I always have to find somewhere to stash books during a party! Then I selected a large green tablecloth and used a burgundy-red tree skirt for contrast. 

Table set-up.

Place one table covering flat on your table, then add stacking materials.  Cover with the top cloth (or tree skirt in my case), bunching it up like the professionals do. I scattered a few evergreen branches to peek out of the “valleys” between the risers, added three matching small arrangements—short so they won’t obscure the view of the food—then placed a tall bouquet back by the wall. Voila! I was all set.

To eliminate last-minute chaos, place a note on each dish that describes what will go into it.  I placed another stack of serving dishes in the kitchen, for use by those bringing appetizers. I placed a three-tiered stand on the counter, to fill later and replenish the buffet after the parade of boats had gone past our balcony.

Buffet table set against wall.Lois with guest at buffet table.

The layering plan worked out well. I would use it again! Layering made good use of limited space and I thought it made the table more appealing. Of course, I did need some “muscle men” afterwards to put the table back in place!

Have you used buffet layering techniques? How did they work for you?

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page.