Nov 24, 2010

Denise featured on Simply Delicious Living!

 Recently, Maryann Ridini Spencer from Simply Delicious Living interviewed me about The Food Stylist's Handbook. She visited me and Cindie at Jon Edwards' studio where we showed her how to style some of her food for the camera. Jon also gave Maryann tips on lighting and composition.

Simply Delicious Living is a fun and entertaining journey serving up simply delicious recipes and dedicated to everything home, hearth and joyous living. Maryann demonstrates and offers easy-to-follow, time-saving, healthy recipes, inspired ideas for creating fabulous, memorable entertaining experiences with family and friends, tips on how to make your home environment a special haven and creative “inspirations” for exceptional, joyous living. Simply Delicious Living is seen on Time Warner Cable On Demand® throughout Southern California and at

Nov 23, 2010

My Tattoo

Even Mama Mandy has a tattoo!

 I am sixty years old.  I don’t mean “forty is the new sixty”, I mean a real, un-airbrushed sixty.  I start with that for two reasons. One, I never thought I get this old and two, in order to prove that I have enough life experience to write about tattoos.

When I was a kid, I had an uncle that was covered with tattoos. His were the first tattoos I can remember. Uncle Buddy’s best tattoo was the hula girl on his shoulder that he could make “dance”. I’d been a hula girl in my Bluebird summer program but I sure didn’t dance like that. The naughty part was Miss Hula had misplaced her coconut shells. Yeah, she was topless in 1959.  I couldn’t take my eyes off of her.

When I would ask my mother why uncle Buddy had those magical tattoos, she always replied, “If there was trouble to find, my brother found it.”  Uncle Buddy had given a teacher a hot foot (if you have to ask what that is, stop reading now), wasn’t much of a student and loved boats. It was a natural fit that he joined the Navy before he finished high school. The tattoos came from his ports of call. 

Years later, he’d tell me that his tattoos reminded him of that exciting time during the war.  My father had gone to war also but had enlisted in the Air Force. When I asked my mother why didn’t daddy have any tattoos, she’d give me one of those I’m-only-saying-this-once stares and say, “Because your Father was an officer.” 

When I was 27, I was going through a war of my own. I was getting divorced from my high school sweetheart, and decided that part of my new found freedom was doing exactly as I pleased. Janice Joplin had a tattoo and so would I. There was only one tattoo parlor in the small town I lived in, however the tattoo artist was a man named Lyle Tuttle, who had been famous in San Francisco for years. I imagined he must have given both my uncle and Janice their tattoos.

When I arrived for my appointment, Lyle’s exact words were, “ Don’t get many customers like you.”  “Well what kind of people do you usually get?” I asked. “Sailors, rock stars, degenerates…” Oh my, this was better than I hoped for. Maybe it was my Gucci bag or my Calvin’s that set me apart? Who cares, I got my tattoo.

It only hurts a little when the needle pricks the skin, and leaves only traces of blood droplets.  There is outlining and then filling in the colors.  It took about two hours. Where is my tattoo?  Sexy enough for a lover to enjoy, but nowhere the PTA could see. I wasn’t a member of the PTA, but at 27 I didn’t know what’s around the corner, so I planned ahead. I could end up in the suburbs again.   My first day of my tattooedness, I was told to keep the bandage on and to not shower.  I couldn’t wait to see it. 

I stopped by my parents on the way home. My mother had bought me some new clothes.  I think she figured if I was going to be divorced, she’d step right back in and dress me again, and trust me, she was also plotting my next wedding.

Privacy in an Italian family is never a high priority on the list. It most likely is never on the list to begin with, so as I am trying on my new wardrobe, my mother bursts through the bathroom door. She sees the bandage and screams, “ You’ve been stabbed, that lazy bastard husband stabbed you!”  
Oh dear.  “Mama, Randy didn’t stab me, I got a tattoo.”

“Let me see it!” There was an audible gasp. I was glad I’d gone with a tasteful rose, and not my first choice, a bloody heart with a knife through it, reading “Expect no mercy.”
A warning for the next soldier….

“Do me a favor Denise”, she sighed calmly as she gingerly replaced the bandage, “don’t ever show or tell your Father.”  “Okay mama, I promise.”

“But, really, mama, don’t you think it’s pretty?”

“I think I’d rather you’d been stabbed.”
It’s seems to me like it’s been decades since that day. And it has. There’s a tattoo parlor
on every corner in Los Angeles. Movie stars have tattoos of their kids, whether from their vagina, adopted or surrogates, instead of writing their children’s birth date in the family bible. Tattoos are art, imagination, whimsy, and freedom.

To me they are very personal. To each his own.  I work with cookbook writers who are grandmothers that have tattoos.   In my circle of friends, I know everyone from rappers to Lutherans with tattoos. For crying out loud who’s to know, maybe the Pope has a tattoo.  If he does, I hope it’s the thorny crown; I love that kind of visual…

Recently, a friend of mine was pulled off of a Delta flight because he has the word “bomb” tattooed on his knuckle. It comes from a childhood nickname. Now, granted my friend is heavily tattooed, big and a tiny bit scary looking if you don’t know he’s a teddy bear, but he also carries a $1200.00 Louis Vuitton bag. Do terrorists really spend $1200 bucks on a bag?    The word “bomb” made another passenger nervous.  My friend has 140,000 flight miles with Delta from this year alone and yet, the decision was made to remove him from that flight. To me? That’s a customer service dilemma, not a security issue.

My question is are we handling our freedom with the hard won dignity we’ve fought for, or are we as bad as the maniacs we are afraid of?  I think my uncle Buddy would have some choice words on this.

Nov 17, 2010

Logan: An Ann Arbor Culinary Must. Review by Mrs. Mandy

Logan is family owned and has just ranked as one of "America's Top Restaurants" in the 2011 national Zagat guide.  If what I'm about to tell you doesn't inspire a trip to Logan, this distinction must! 

Anyone who's known me for more than five minutes knows that I have mad love for my hometown, Ann Arbor, Michigan.  Minus the Winter, it is the perfect place, in my humble opinion.  Great music venues, bookstores, shopping, yoga, movie theatres and yes, great food, all wrapped up in a cozy, tree lined hamlet.

The last time I visited, a dear friend took me to Logan for my birthday lunch.  I am embarrassed to say that I had passed by Logan many times, having no idea what I was missing.  With institutions such as Zingerman's and The Earle, and the quite decent (although the service and acoustics leave much to be desired) Cafe Zola right across the street from Logan, my full belly didn't give it much thought.  That will NEVER happen again.

An intimate, quiet dining space that is at once elegant and comfortable greeted me.  The service was attentive, yet casual.  I already knew what I wanted because I'd perused the menu online before arriving (good foodie):  Roasted asparagus sandwich with sauteed mushrooms and gruyere cheese.  Sold.

My lunch companion ordered gnocchi for her entree, but first we started with fresh corn chowder and a shaved fennel salad.  The chowder was super light and tasted like amplified corn on the cob, with bright chopped chives on top, bursting with mellow onionness.  The fennel salad was a revelation.  I told my friend I was not a fennel fan, and she encouraged me, like a good mama, to try a bite.  I LIKE FENNEL!  Or, at least, I like this fennel.  Shaved so thin you can see through it, mixed with shards of earthy cheese and tossed in a lemony vinaigrette, I could have eaten the entire plate, but I was polite and shared.

Then, the sandwich arrived.  Back to Zingerman's for a moment.  No love lost for my cherished Zingerman's, but this sandwich owned any sandwich I've had there.  Maybe comparing pastrami to roasted asparagus enveloped in sherried mushrooms and bubbling gruyere is like apples and oranges, but I don't care.  One thing that sets apart the Logan experience is the attention to detail.  I am someone who appreciates when the chef takes the time and truly shows the love with each component of a dish.  In the instance of their perfect sandwich, the bread was perfectly toasted and lightly slathered with vinaigrette, the mushrooms sauteed to perfection in a sumptuous sauce, the asparagus was seasoned and roasted so that it was hot, a tiny bit crusty and tender, but not mushy, and the cheese was melted and plentiful without overwhelming the veggies or bread.

I loved this meal so much, I ordered it again, times two for my mom and I to inhale on her first day home after a successful knee replacement surgery.  She ate half her sandwich, all of her house made potato chips, and promptly fell into a blissful sleep while I finished my sandwich.  And hers.

The Making Of The Perfect Sandwich
 I promise you an exquisite dining experience.  Off you go.

Nov 7, 2010

Marianne's Peeling Potatoes without a Peeler. And Has A Tater PUPPET.

Okay, thank GOD for dear friends.  I got this link sent to me from a fabulous Prop Mistress that I met in Nashville with this message:  "Her puppet reminded me of cute you!"

Of course I watched, mostly because I love Dawn Wells and worked with her several years ago on a pilot when a new network (geared toward aged baby boomers) wanted to build a show around her. Turns out Dawn can cook and is funny and smart and yes, it's hard not to call her Marianne.

Watch the video.  It's cute, it's got a tip, it's brought to you from my friends at the IDAHO potato board and, wait for it, there's a PUPPET TATER!

How could I not know about this?!  Or more to the point, where is mine...?

I'm calling  Don Idiorne (aka Dr. Potato) as I finish this post!

Nov 5, 2010

Tiffany Strawberry Styling

Tiff on her own. Working the set. Being an awesome food stylist!

We are so proud!

Tiff learned that hot lights and chocolate do not play well together. And the crew often will keep trying to eat the product.

Ready for their close-up.

The berry graveyard. Here crewie crewie...

Nov 4, 2010

Tastefully Small Savory Bites, by Kim Hendrickson

Mrs. Mandy here.  Have you ever wanted to make super cute hors d' oeuvres but didn't know how?  You will feel quite empowered after perusing Tastefully Small Savory Bites.  With over 50 delicious recipes broken down into categories (meat, seafood, veggie, pastry...), you are sure to find something to please every palate.

One thing I've learned from the book (and from catering) is making adorable little bundles of culinary joy is time. consuming.  It would be fun to pop this book in the mail to those clients who scoff at prices...not easy (or cheap), being a food genius.

I decided to have a few foodie girlfriends over last night and tried out Kim's Polenta-Stuffed Baby Bellas on them.  They were gone in under eight minutes, and they looked pretty awesome!  I don't think I'm ready for roast beef roses just yet, but I may get there soon.

Following all the directions...

Keeping them warm on top of the stove, waiting for my guests to arrive...

Plated, drizzled with balsamic syrup, ready to be inhaled.

Nov 2, 2010

Date Change: Catering Seminar in Oregon, March 2011

Denise is at it again!  She just loves to teach this course to up and coming caterers and other food pros.  It really can make a huge difference in your bottom line if you know how to price, and work, smart!  Denise gives it all away, folks, so don't miss it.  Two-day intensive for only $395. 

Click here to learn more and to register.  Hope to see you there!

Nov 1, 2010

Tips for an Effortless and Lovely Thanksgiving Table

 You’ve got the menu. You’ve got your culinary plan in place. Why not add a stunning, festive yet simple table to further impress your guests? In honor of the publication of our latest book, Perfect Table Settings: Hundreds of Easy and Elegant Ideas for Napkin Folds and Table Arrangements, we are sharing some easy, creative ideas that will make for an unforgettable table.

Use cloth napkins. There is no better way to class up your table. If you’re new to the game, try buying 100% cotton in a neutral color. You can use these all year round, and while cotton will warrant a bit of ironing for company, they are perfectly fine for everyday use and choosing cloth instead of paper is great for the environment!

Try your hand at napkin folding. If you are buying napkins for this purpose specifically, make sure to choose square napkins, and the bigger the better (dinner size is what you’re looking for). Here are a few simple folds that will blow your guests away…we recommend #56, 58, 60, 64 or 70.

Quiet the table with a “silence cloth”. Some tables already come with a pad, which is used underneath the tablecloth and serves both to protect the table and muffles noisy plates, glasses, serving pieces. I’m sure your family’s “spirited” conversation is noisy enough…just like mine! Tip: if you don’t have a pad, you can cut a piece of felt to fit or simply use one or two beach towels. Just make sure the surface is even, you don’t want any gravy boats tipping over.

Worried that your table may be a bit snug? Pre-plate the food, rather than passing “family style”. While this creates a bit more time in the kitchen preparing plates, it saves time washing all the serving platters after the meal is over. Additionally, you now have control over how the plate looks so feel free to garnish or fuss to your hearts content. Tip: Instead of asking each guest “white or dark?”, “gravy or no gravy?” I simply ask the whole table at once if anyone has a special request. If not, everyone gets the same plate, then I tell them they are welcome to help themselves to second (or third, or fourth) helpings in the kitchen. Once I sit down to my meal, I am no longer the chef!

Get the tablecloth right. How many times have you come home from Cost Plus World with a beautiful tablecloth only to discover that it’s so short it looks like a bikini ruffle, or it’s so long your terrified your guests will get their legs tangled and dinner will be on the floor. Denise will provide a simple chart that fool-proofs buying the right table cloth, all you need to do is measure your table.
Edible place cards. Decorate a cookie (use a pumpkin or turkey cookie cutter) with cake decorating gel with each guest’s name on it. Feel free to cheat with a store bought cookie as well and just add the name. Guest’s LOVE this personal touch at the table, and the place cards are entirely recyclable!