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Delicious Winter Whites: Gourmet Salads & Chic White Platters

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There’s snow on the ground and suddenly I’m feeling drawn to the pure simplicity of white plates and platters.

As far as I’m concerned, there’s no rule that white must be bland. Take this collection of fresh, modern winter white salad recipes by Ignacio Mattos over at Bon Appétit. Seared scallops with avocado and daikon – divine. Grapefruit and white beets – crisply elegant. Barley and cauliflower with burrata – inspired. These combinations are way beyond mashed potatoes or a side of rice.

white platter

We’re often told that color is the surefire indicator for flavor and nutrition, yet these winter white salads prove that white is anything but boring. The photos of these recipes really stand out (go check them out!) because of the food styling on simple, white plates. I could see these salads showcased on round or oval white platters, the hints of color peeking out from underneath fresh citrus and subtle root vegetables.

The best part about both these recipes and white platters? Their simplicity. Just a few ingredients let real depth shine through — the crisp flavors of endive mixed with toasted walnuts — especially when set against a striking shaped backdrop, like a square white plate or rectangular platter.

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Have you ever made a white salad or an entire monochromatic meal? Leave a comment with your favorite pairings and what you think of this white on white theme for your seasonal salad.

white platter with peacock

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Holiday Gift Ideas for Pasta Lovers and Culinary Connoisseurs

Counting down the days until Christmas and still need some gift ideas for pasta lovers on your list? What about your foodie friends? Hard to buy for friends and relations always pose a challenge this time of year, but here are some practical and delicious gifts that are sure to delight those who love to cook (and eat!) on your list.

Here some some Holiday Gift Ideas for Pasta Lovers

Pasta bowls: Ensure that the pasta lovers in your life have pasta bowls that are just as tasty as the sauce and noodle creations they consume. A good pasta bowl should be large enough for a hearty serving of everything from pesto gnocchi to spaghetti bolognaise. Gorky’s pasta bowls are colorful, large (but not overwhelming), and, with an array of bright colors, compliment pasta dishes from all over the world. Pair a set of pasta bowls with a hefty serving bowl for a family gift that’s sure to please. My favorite dish for mixing and serving a large bowl of pasta is Talavera Vazquez’s La Fiesta Bowl.

pasta bowlsPasta makings: Making fresh pasta is actually easier than you might think. Encourage pasta lovers to take their dishes to the next level with the durum and semolina flour that is the base for Italian-style pastas. Orecchiette requires no special equipment and is the base for tasty sauces like this carbonara. If shopping for more adventurous or advanced cooks, go for pasta making machines, specialized cookbooks, or hard-to-find ingredients sourced directly from Italy.

Gifts for Wine Lovers

Wine holders & serving pitchers: Help the wine lover in your life show off the perfect bottle in style with a ceramic wine holder or spacious pitcher. Wine bottle holders make for decorative centerpieces and keep bottles neat; in the hot summers a ceramic wine holder will also keep chilled white wines cool. Ceramic pitchers are another way to casually serve wine and are especially good for reds since having more exposure to the air allows their flavors to deepen. This vino pitcher, a new arrival from Spain, clearly lets people know what’s inside. Pair with a set of vino cups for a wine-inspired gift that’s much more original than another bottle of Pinot Noir.

vino wine pitcher
Wine glass markers:
No one likes mixing up glasses at a party. If your wine lovers like to entertain, the multitude of wine charms, bands, and other glass markers make for fabulous stocking stuffers. Choose markers that somehow fasten to the glass, suction-only markers are more likely to fall off at inopportune moments.

Gifts for Bakers

A specialty class: Many communities have short-term (a couple hours or a weekend) courses on topics like chocolate making, laminated dough (the basis for croissants), French macarons, or breads. Pair the gift of lessons with an appropriate ingredient or tool (quality chocolate, vanilla beans, dough scraper, or a candy thermometer) for a gift that keeps on giving.

baking class
Storage canisters:
If the baker on your list regularly can be found in the kitchen, a stylish canister will brighten the counter and keep essential ingredients at hand. Large or small canisters are perfect for favorite pastas, baking materials like sugar and flour, or even coffee and tea.

canisters from Spain
Need more gift ideas for pasta lovers or others on your list? Check out our holiday gift ideas as well as specialized gift categories for inspiration.

Baking image courtesy star5112.

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How Do You Ring in New Year’s? Some Traditions from Around the World

As we enjoyed the last days of 2012, I found myself thinking about the ways that people celebrate New Year’s Eve around the world. Special drinks and foods abound, as do traditions to bring good luck for the new year. From breaking plates (yikes, maybe not these plates) to wearing polka dots, here is a small sample of New Year traditions worldwide.

Mexico is not only home to Gorky Gonzalez’s pottery workshop, but a host of New Year traditions. People eat twelve grapes, one for every chime, at the stroke of midnight. Each grape is supposed to be a wish for the upcoming year. The same custom is found in Spain. Traditional food includes the Rosca de Reyes, Mexican sweet bread that has a coin or charm baked inside. Whoever finds the charm in their slice has good luck for the whole year.

Throughout Latin America, South America, Spain, and Italy, people turn to their underwear for good luck. Those looking for love wear red, while others looking for money wear yellow pairs. People in the Phillipines wear polka dots, a pattern that links to coins and prosperity. They also throw coins at midnight to increase wealth. Hoppin’ John, a dish from the American South, also invokes money for good luck. It consists of rice and pork-flavored black-eyed peas or field peas (which symbolize coins), served with collards or other greens (the color of money) and cornbread (the color of gold). A plate of home cooking that brings good luck – sounds delicious to me!

In Denmark people jump off of chairs at midnight to ensure they fall into good luck. They also smash old plates on their friends’ and neighbors’ doorsteps as a sign of good luck and friendship. Those with the biggest pile of broken plates in the morning are seen as the most lucky because they have so many loyal friends. Being surrounded by handmade ceramics and Gorky Gonzalez pottery here in the Palo Alto pop-up shop, I can’t imagine throwing these plates, no matter how lucky it might be.

For those wanting to get rid of things, in Italy people throw old televisions and other unwanted goods out of their windows. Folks in Ecuador burn portraits or something else that represents the old year as a way to get rid of the past.

No matter where you are, you probably have a tradition or two of your own — Maybe you served your wishing grapes on a cheerful rooster plate or another colorful piece of Gorky Gonzalez pottery, invested in some colorful underwear, or tried a new dish. No matter how you rang in the new year, here’s wishing you health and happiness for 2013.

Champagne image courtesy of maxxtraffic.

Rosca de reyes image courtesy of From Argentina With Love.

Broken plate image courtesy of Kristian Thøgersen.

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Get Personal with the Blue and White Ceramics that Fit Your Style

Do you love the appeal of blue and white ceramics but not sure where to begin when it comes to your home? This color combination is hugely popular for decorating, so it’s really no surprise that the options for blue dinnerware, white dishes, and blue and white serving plates appear to be endless. Broadly speaking you can find blue and white ceramics that fall into the following four categories. Pick the one that suits your aesthetic best and let that guide your choices from blue dishes to white ceramic serving platters.

Abstract Designs

Stripes, zigzags, chevrons, polka dots, and other abstract motifs can feel truly contemporary yet have a timeless appeal. For example, a blue and white ceramic vase makes a great centerpiece for your table, complimenting your serving plates and dinnerware. Geometric designs like the El Mar pattern on this ceramic serving platter have a softer organic feel and set off food to perfection. Pieces with textured patterns, like this teal blue serving platter by Richard Esteban, are also attractive and functional.

Floral Motifs

From small, delicate blooms to bold blossoms, flower patterns are quite popular for blue and white ceramics. Classic and timeless, you can use a singular pattern for these blue and white ceramics or create an entire garden of patterns on your table. Some examples are the blue Las Flores design that edges white dishes and bowls and the abstract floral motifs of this blue and white salad bowl. Another idea? A blue and white pitcher with leaves – it looks great filled with a drink or fresh flowers.

Animals

Whimsical and fun, animal designs can bring a bit of the unexpected to your dining. Choose birds, fish, roosters, or another favorite to enliven your meals. I find that animal serving plates are always a hit as there’s a surprise revealed when all the food is gone.

Handpainted animals ensure plenty of personality as no two are exactly like, such as with this playful blue and white fish serving bowl.

Solid Colors

Of course, patterns aren’t for everyone. But that doesn’t mean white dishes or solid blue dinnerware need to be boring. Pick unique shapes like this long blue serving plate or modern espresso cups. Layering a blue dinner plate with white ceramic dishes of various sizes also gives depth to your place settings. Think too about mixing different shades of blue, from pale celadon to deep indigo. No matter the shade, your delicious meal will certainly stand out.

What blue and white ceramics are your favorites for the table? Do you use blue dinner plates, white serving bowls, or a mixture of these colors? Leave a comment below and let us know!

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Entertaining with Originality

Last weekend I went to Portland to visit some good friends who were actually among the first of the couples to register with Emilia Ceramics about 4 years ago. They have a beautiful house full of all sorts of unique touches, including an extensive collection of Emilia Ceramics. Upon entering the house, you’re immediately greeted by 3 such statement pieces: A colorful zigzag ginger jar by Talavera Vazquez, a one-of-a-kind vase by Capelo (stay tuned, I’m about to receive the Capelo pieces I hand-picked while visiting Mexico in June), and a sophisticated planter by Tuscia. Of course I felt right at home in the midst of all this beautiful ceramics… but the best part was seeing how my friends have made these pieces their own by incorporating them into their charming home.

The night I arrived, my friends prepared a beautiful dinner for us, including chips and salsa (served in the las flores serving dish and dip bowl) and a delicious gazpacho, which we ate in blue and white mugs, by Ceramiche Bartoloni.

The relaxed blue and white pattern on these Italian mugs was the perfect compliment for the bright orange soup. The main course was slow-roasted pork tacos, which were absolutely delicious. In fact, they were so good all the guests wanted the recipe. Turns out, it’s from an amazing blog I’ve just now discovered, The Amateur Gourmet. You have got to try these tacos… and I can personally attest to the fact that they look and taste their best when served on Emilia Ceramics!

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5 Ways to Create an Instant Café Experience with French Coffee Mugs

Did Bastille Day make you long for France? It did for me! I keep thinking about my favorite French experiences and near the top of that list is whiling away the morning or afternoon at a sweet Provençal café. From croissants to French coffee bowls, here are my top tips for creating your own French café experience, no matter where you are or what time of day it is.

  1. Pick the cup to suit your drink. Whether you love strong espresso or equal parts coffee and cream, the right vessel makes all the difference. Tiny espresso cups allow the ideal amount of crema to cover the shot for the best taste possible. Like American style coffee? Then treat yourself to a polka dot mug for your brew. And for you hot chocolate and tea lovers, there’s nothing better than French coffee bowls for capacity.
  2. Try using a saucer. At a café in France, every beverage is served on a saucer that holds a tiny spoon, perhaps a lump of sugar, and a small sweet. French coffee mugs with saucers do the same at home, giving you an easy way to transport your cup to your favorite chair or seat on the patio. The saucer also provides protection for your table and won’t go missing the same way a coaster always seems to.
  3. Eat fresh. In France people usually pick up croissants or pain au chocolat from the local boulangerie or pâtisserie when they are only a few hours old. This makes for flakier pastry that tastes even better with a coffee at the local café or breakfast table. While you might not have a bakery right down the street, pair the contents of your French coffee bowl with the freshest breakfast possible, from fruit that’s in season to treats you picked up from the bakery the night before (shhhh, we won’t tell anyone).
  4. Pick up a newspaper. When traveling in Provence, I always see people reading their favorite newspapers at cafés, particularly in the mornings. It’s an easy way to slow down and truly savor what’s in your French coffee mug, whether it’s your first or fifth cup of the day.
  5. Don’t neglect the details. From interesting sugar cubes to those tiny spoons, the right details make your French coffee mug feel even more authentic. Recreate a French breakfast with Nutella or jam spread on toast or a croissant; then dip it into your French coffee bowl and enjoy the delicious results. Whether it’s a playful polka dot mug, gently steamed milk, or a cheerful cream and sugar set on the table, these little details will make any cup of espresso, coffee, or tea seem like someone else made it for you.

Interested in more coffee rituals? Check out our Pinterest board for coffee and tea lovers and let us know what you think.

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The 4 Blue and White Ceramics We Love for July 4th and Beyond

Even though July 4th was on a Wednesday this year (an awkward time in terms of making it into a three- or four-day weekend), there were still plenty of parties to be had. Whether a causal potluck or a huge barbeque with all your friends and family, it’s likely that you spent the 4th with good people eating good food.

So what does that have to do with blue and white ceramics? Well, with all the serving plates, trays, and platters that entertaining requires, blue and white ceramics are a natural fit. Add some red accents and you have an instant patriotic spread of tasty treats, no matter the kind of occasion or food that you’re serving. The red, white, and blue also works perfectly for that French Bastille Day party you might have on July 14 (there’s still time to plan one!).

Looking to prepare for your next summer fête? Then look no further than these party-ready blue and white ceramics. They make any occasion just a little more festive.

  1. Footed ceramic serving platters: These serving plates literally take the cake, showcasing the delicious frosted creation you (or your favorite bakery) created for the occasion. Footed platters give your spread height and save space on your table or buffet. The blue and white background of this ceramic serving platter by Tuscia d’Arte adds an ornate note to cakes, pies, or even just a pile of cookies. The simple lines and ivory glaze of Poterie Ravel’s footed ceramic serving platter is also striking filled with desserts or a pile of fresh fruit.
  2. Unusually shaped food trays: Who says a serving tray needs to be rectangular? A variety of dinner platter shapes makes any party much more interesting, whether you group foods by type or color. The petal shape of this ceramic serving platter by Richard Esteban stands out, making it great for a selection of canapés or an entrée (like that whole chicken right off the grill). Another popular serving tray is the long platter from Gorky’s Gogo collection. The deep blue and shape looks perfect with raw vegetables surrounded by delicious dips or holding crackers and bread slices.
  3. Round serving plates: The handles on this teal cheese platter make it a blue and white ceramic that’s easy to carry out to your backyard picnic table. Use this kind of serving tray for hamburger fixings, after dinner cheeses, or as another way to showcase those mini cupcakes your guests can’t resist.
  4. Blue and white ceramic bowls: Of course, serving platters only get you so far. Blue and white ceramic bowls, whether small (for dips) or large (for a tasty salad) are another essential. The festive print of this blue and white ceramic salad bowl makes it a real winner, even if it’s just holding the chips.

Fireworks image courtesy of bayassa.

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Summer Recipes to Fill Your Favorite Bowls

In these carb-conscious times, pasta bowls seem to be a true indulgence. That pile of pasta with a delicious sauce, from a homemade Bolognese to pesto to primavera, is delicious, but perhaps too heavy during the hot summer months. So what do you fill your favorite ceramic pasta bowls with in this season of swimsuit conscious eating?

From salads to ice cream, the fresh produce of summer just begs to fill up even the biggest ceramic pasta bowl. Here are some recipe ideas to get you started celebrating the season, no matter what bowl type or size you have.

Mini bowls. Little bowls are perfect if you’re having a Mexican-inspired feast (now that I’m back from Mexico, I can’t stop eating food that reminds me of the trip).

These bowls hold spices, cheeses, and dips for taco parties or just chips and salsa. I often fill a small bowl with guacamole – fresh lime juice, salt, chopped tomato, avocado, and some spice makes for a simple, pleasing dip that disappears quickly!

StrawberrySmall bowls. These bowls beg to be filled with ice cream sundaes, but if you’re trying to eat a little healthier, then turn to the fruits of summer. (Though check out these ice cream pies if you want to get truly decadent). Something like strawberry shortcake is always a winner, especially if you go heavy on the strawberries. These strawberry and cream biscuits by Smitten Kitchen would fill up a bowl nicely along with whipped cream and maybe even more berries on top.

Pasta bowls. For those who can’t resist the lure of pasta, something unusual like nettles makes for an inspiring summer dish. This recipe by 101 Cookbooks has feta, almonds, and garlic to accompany the green (though kale or spinach would also work) and looks great in a large serving bowl. Green summer salads, full of fresh tomatoes, zucchini, sprouts, and other seasonal delights are a lighter choice for lunchtime that’s also bowl-friendly. And then there’s classic potato salad… or a new twist on it: I love tzatziki, so this potato salad recipe seems perfect to try out at my next cookout.

Have any summer-inspired favorite foods that fill up your bowls? Post your recipes below and enjoy!

Strawberry image courtesy of Manchester-Monkey.

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The Versatility of Blue and White Serving Trays and Platters

Blue and white ceramics remain a popular choice for home decor. From serving plates to mugs, dinner platters to vases, the color combination is crisp and cool. With such easy elegance, it’s understandable that people often chose blue and white ceramics for entertaining. Whether it’s serving your family dinner or serving fancy hors d’oeuvres at a party, blue and white serving plates and food trays can dress up or down to fit the occasion. Here are some of my favorite blue and white ceramic serving platters and ways to use them. What ideas fit your lifestyle?

Football fiesta

Okay, so the Superbowl has passed, but my favorite sport’s season is in its heyday — yes, March Madness is right around the corner! A bowl of chips and salsa, some wings, maybe these delicious looking mini pigs in a blanket, and drinks – you’re ready to go. Causal and sturdy pieces are best for displaying all your finger food options, like this blue and white ceramic serving platter. The festive motif fits perfectly with any party (and won’t break easily if it gets knocked off the table in all the excitement).

Ladies’ tea party

Maybe you have a book club or just a group of girlfriends that like to get together regularly. I love grown-up tea parties with a giant teapot and delicious snacks to go along with it. This blue and white ceramic serving plate looks divine with a stack of scones ready for butter and jam, cucumber sandwiches, or petit fours. Make sure your guests have plenty to drink with sizable blue and white mugs instead of tiny teacups.

 

Elegant hors d’oeuvres

Wine and cheese parties are a perennial favorite, either to celebrate a special occasion or just to try some new vintages. This gorgeous new teal blue platter by Richard Esteban cries out for a tasty array of fromage from mild chèvre to Camembert. And when it comes to canapés or other finger foods, Richard’s large blue serving tray is a sure winner with its unique petal shape and vibrant hue.

 

Do you have other ideas about ways to use your favorite blue and white ceramics? We’d love to hear them, so please share with a comment below!

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Chevrons and Zig Zags: Designs with Staying Power

Lilies on Chevron
Bold, graphic, and classy, the zig zag pattern and chevron craze is definitely not just a 2011 phenomenon. From shower curtains to rugs, and pillows to chevron ceramics, (like lamps and flower vases), there are many ways to incorporate this great print into your life and home in a way that doesn’t feel trendy. Here are some of my favorites:

Chevrons in your hands: The many iPhone cases out there are truly staggering, but these great zig zag, stripe, and other patterned cases featured on Look Linger Love are a class above. You can even get them personalized! How’s that for stylish and unique?

Zig Zags on the wall: I saw this clever chevron wall treatment featured on Made By Girl as Jen transitions to apartment living. Even if it’s a rental, why not invest in a statement with great wallpaper (there are so many removable options on the market now) or a stunning accent wall? Green Your Decor has a fabulous list of other places to make chevrons vertical: curtains, shower curtains, and even paintings are flexible ways to enliven a space large or small.

Chevrons good enough to eat: That’s right, edible zig zags are here. This pattern looks stunning on a modern wedding cake by My Sweet and Saucy. The grey on white is subtle, the overall effect clean.

Illuminating zig zags: Why let the walls have all the fun? A zig zag ceramic table lamp, like this black and white lamp by Talavera Vazquez, is a fun and practical piece. Whether by the bed or in the living room, you’ll literally enlighten your current décor. If chevrons are too much, try a striped ceramic table lamp or a patterned blue and white lamp.

DIY chevrons: My newest blog discovery, The House of the Smiths has a lot of great DIY tutorials, and I love this one about making a chevron rug perfect for spring. Who knew zig zags could be “beachy”?! Like to knit? This Missoni-inspired chevron pattern by Zakka Life is fun for a scarf or blanket. With a stencil or tape, you can make almost anything chevron.

Zig zag patterned home décor: Whether a large blue zig zag ginger jar or chevron blue vase, I love combining the boldness of zig zags with the subtlety of blue and white. Chevron pillows, chairs, and rugs represent great textile versions of this combination, like these examples by Platinum Blonde Life. Chevron tall vases, zig zag wine bottle holders, ceramic canisters, and even planters are all ways big and small to join the fun.

What’s your favorite way to use chevron or zig zag patterns? Leave a comment and let us know.

Yellow chevron image courtesy of maureen lunn.

iPhone case image courtesy of Look Linger Love.

Chevron cake image courtesy of My Sweet and Saucy.

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Top 5 Gifts for Pasta Lovers

spaghetti al sugo
Spaghetti with a hearty tomato sauce, fettuccini alfredo, delicate handmade raviolis, gnocchi in sage butter… how can you resist the temptation of pasta? Ubiquitous in Italy, pasta comes in a variety of sizes, shapes, and colors which makes it possible to never have the same meal twice.

With pasta so popular, it’s no surprise that Tuscia d’Arte’s spaghetti canister is a consistent top seller. Functional and decorative, keeping this stylish spaghetti canister fully stocked means you have a quick and simple dinner always on hand (ideal for those days you don’t want to think about cooking). This spaghetti canister also holds its own as a decorative element on a kitchen counter, or pairs beautifully with other canisters holding your essential dry goods.

As the holiday season approaches I’ve started thinking about creative gifts for my “hard to buy for” friends. Since so many people love pasta, it’s the perfect starting point for a useful and delicious gift, no matter the reason.

Here are my top five gifts for pasta lovers:

1. Pasta. While the boxed stuff is good for everyday, why not indulge your favorite pasta lover with handmade, fresh noodles? I love the pasta from Lucca Ravioli here in San Francisco. Their ravioli has incredible seasonal flavors like pumpkin or turkey and is always tasty. You can also find dried artisanal pastas at specialty markets if fresh isn’t easily available in your area.

2. Spaghetti canister. Fill it with quality spaghetti or fettuccini for a practical gift. The Tuscan Fruit spaghetti canister is perfect for anyone who loves Italian ceramics, Tuscan style, or just appreciates the fusion of art and food in their kitchen.

3. Pasta machine. Since fresh pasta is so delicious, why not make your own? From the manual to state of the art electric versions, pasta machines roll out dough to the perfect noodle thickness. Use cutters to make noodles or take the sheets to create ravioli and tortellini with your favorite flavor combinations.

4. Pasta bowls. The best part about pasta is eating it. A pasta serving bowl (I love the yellow and turquoise one pictured above) makes for the perfect presentation. Or try a set of individual pasta bowls that are large enough for a hearty portion of noodles and sauce. I like mixing and matching for more personality at the table.

5. Kitchen accessories. Pasta needs the right accouterments from a solid colander to spoon rest for your sauce spoon and pasta claw. A large pepper or cheese grinder, salt and pepper shakers, or a spice rack ensures perfect pasta seasoning. A wine bottle holder keeps a favorite bottle handy to compliment any pasta feast.

Now I’m hungry for some pasta myself. What’s your favorite pasta dish? Post a comment to let us know!

 

Spaghetti image courtesy of Dèsirèe Tonus.

Pasta maker image courtesy of Jeff Kubina.

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Simple Accents for an Italian Table

Writing about tabletop trends last week, I got to thinking about pieces that have transformative powers. While some Italian ceramic lovers fill their table with entire sets of dinnerware, I have found that a few smart accents can make a striking effect. For instance, a small, but colorful Italian pitcher, used to serve wine or display a floral arrangement, gives the table instant Italian style.

If subtlety is your goal, it’s smart to chose Italian ceramic pieces that are both beautiful and useful. Some of my favorites are the Venetian Fruit Butter Dish and the Limoni Salt and Pepper Shakers. These are two Italian pieces that never get old and always make me happy. They may be small, but they definitely have the power to transform your table and your mood.

An Italian butter dish is the perfect mix of function and charm. Keeping butter at room temperature makes it ready to spread — perfect for breakfast toast or dinner breads. I also like using an Italian butter dish as a way to bring soft cheeses to the perfect consistency before a party. The cover means I’m not tempted to taste before my guests arrive!

Of course, no Tuscan villa is complete without the right spices — And no Italian meal is complete without salt and pepper, which brings the best out of meat, pasta dishes, and vegetables. Italian salt and pepper shakers keep the essentials handy at the table or in the kitchen. I love the dish that the Limoni salt and pepper shakers come with too – it’s an easy way to keep the pair together when it comes time to pass them. These Italian salt and pepper shakers are so cheerful and bright that they can make any table feel like it’s in the Tuscan hills.

There are many other Italian accents with the power to introduce a subtle Tuscan feel to your kitchen or dining room: spoon rests, wine bottle holders, and cream and sugar sets. Practical decorations such as spaghetti canisters add charm to your countertop while keeping ingredients in easy reach. And I love the solidity of an Italian utensil holder, large enough to hold an ever-increasing collection of spoons, whisks, and ladles.

Another great thing about small Italian ceramic accents? They make great gifts! Italian butter dishes, salt and pepper shakers, and other kitchen accessories are a perfect house warming, birthday, engagement or anniversary gift. Whether for an Italian ceramic lover, a chef extraordinaire, or a general collector of beauty, these pieces add the perfect touch of Italy to any table.

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Favorite Recipes to Fill Ceramic Salad Bowls

I love parties. Throwing them, going to them, it doesn’t matter. A friend’s potluck bash got me thinking recently about all the things I could make to share with a crowd. Making food for parties is totally different than cooking for yourself. For example, I wouldn’t be apt to make a dip to eat myself, but if some guests are coming over, I might make some humus, guacamole, onion dip, or fresh salsa to go along with pita or tortilla chips. I also love the excuse to pull out some Mexican or Italian ceramic chip & dip dishes and class up the entire experience. Dip bowls are just too appealing to pass up!

But what about uses for other Italian serving dishes? A ceramic salad bowl is versatile for lots of dishes from salads to soups to pasta. This tortilla salad recipe from 101 Cookbooks looks delicious and would be great served in a huge ceramic salad bowl. I love salads that use something besides lettuce for the base, whether beans or unusual greens.

Italian serving platters are great for meat dishes, appetizers or even desserts. A juicy roast, delightful canapés, cookies… I’m getting hungry! I find that when you have all these Italian serving dishes around you start looking for more excuses to use them. It makes daily meals just a little more gourmet as a result, just as with any other exciting new kitchen tool.

But back to the potluck dilemma. With all my Italian bowls in the kitchen, I was finally inspired to make a pesto pasta salad. Fresh basil from the farmer’s market really makes it a taste sensation, especially with fresh broccoli and squash. The empty bowl at the end was a testament to the fact that I’d made the right choice. Try my friend Andy’s recipe below and see what you think for yourself. It’s great on pasta both hot and cold; you can use any leftovers to make delicious omelets or jazz up scrambled eggs.

Pesto Recipe

2 cups fresh basil leaves

2 garlic gloves (lightly crushed)

1/2 cup olive oil

2 Tb pine nuts

1 tsp salt

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

2-3 Tb freshly grated pecorino cheese

Blend first 5 ingredients in a blender or food processor. Incorporate cheeses by hand when blended.

I’d love to know what recipes you use to fill your ceramic salad bowls – please post comments with recipes or links to good cooking websites you like!

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Tuscan Utensil Holders Get the Kitchen Organized with Style

A good friend of mine had a housewarming party last week and I racked my brain to think of what to give her and her boyfriend. I knew their new apartment is tiny, so I didn’t want to get something that would just be decorative. A cool objet d’art looks great in the store, but isn’t very functional. Besides, they’re trying to cut down on clutter to keep their small place feeling spacious. I thought about a bottle of wine or flowers, but those ideas felt mundane and impersonal.

And then inspiration struck – they both love Italy and cooking, why not a Tuscan utensil holder? Practical, stylish, and meaningful – it’s the perfect trifecta for gift giving I think.

When it comes to where to a find a Tuscan style utensil holder, of course, I have an inside edge. It’s an item with rising popularity at Emilia Ceramics and no wonder. Here are some reasons a Tuscan utensil holder is a great gift:

  • Variety

Tuscan utensil holders come in a wide variety of styles and colors, which allows them to fit in with any kitchen. The different sizes work for holding everything in one or having a mini collection to divide tools by types. Solid construction means that they won’t tip over easily, which isn’t always the case with other kinds of utensil holders.

  • Holds Tools…

There are so many kitchen gadgets that are too big or inconvenient to stick in a drawer from whisks to ladles and spatulas. But a sturdy Tuscan utensil holder can hold items you use often, keeping them within easy reach on the counter top.

  • …And More

Of course, a Tuscan utensil holder can be used for other things besides your kitchenware. They look stunning with a big bouquet of flowers, for example. And depending on size, the utensil holder may also work as a wine bottle holder, keeping a chilled bottle of wine cold on the table.

  • Stylish Sophistication in the Kitchen

Useful doesn’t have to look utilitarian. Traditional inspired designs like those by Tuscia d’Arte blend function with form, adding a splash of color and life to any space. With different designs and forms, you can find a Tuscan utensil holder that works with any kitchen décor, from a small city apartment to a large rambling farmhouse.

My friends loved their Tuscan utensil holder and immediately put it to use on their counter. It seemed like it had always been there, making it truly the perfect gift.

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Oh, Glorious Italian Food!

In Italy, meals are truly an art form. The traditional Italian meal can be anywhere from three to six courses, incorporating a vast array of dishes and tastes into one delicious feast. It’s no wonder that Italian serving dishes are a vital compliment to this eating experience.

Italian food has a lot of personality and variation by region. For example, Northern Italian food tends toward risottos and polenta, though pasta is still popular, according to Life In Italy. Liguria is home to pesto, a worldwide (and personal) favorite. In Lombardy minestrone and osso bucco reign, while in the Vento, seafood and wild fowl are the stars. It’s a pretty good bet that whatever grows regionally will be served on local Italian platters.

Now that I’ve gotten you hungry, why not start planning an Italian style dinner party. Now that it’s summer and staying light later, slow down and enjoy a long evening, savoring a leisurely meal just as they do in Italy. Italian serving dishes are the perfect way to showcase your meal. Presentation might not be everything, but I can attest to the fact that it definitely makes the meal taste better.

Whether you prefer white serving platters or something a little more colorful, let’s break down the courses to see what Italian serving dishes work best for each part of the meal.

  • Aperitivo and Antipasti: A little alcohol prepares the palate while small snacks get your stomach ready for the feast ahead. Sliced cheese, meats, or peppers are all good ideas, especially when served on handmade Italian serving dishes, like a Blu Limoni Rectangular Plate.
  • Primo Piatto: For the first course, pasta, risotto, polenta, gnocchi or soup are traditional. An Italian ceramic pasta serving bowl makes everything from spaghetti to tortellini look gorgeous for your guests.
  • Secondo Piatto or Piatto di Mezzo: This second course showcases meats, whether seafood, meat, poultry or game. For the less meat inclined, an omelet or a cooked cheese or vegetable dish are all great options.
  • Contorno: A side dish of cooked vegetables, salad, rice, noodles or polenta is a perfect compliment to the second course. Ceramic Italian platters or a statement making salad bowl ensure your side won’t be overshadowed.
  • Formaggio & Frutta: Usually served in sequence, cheese helps the body digest and fruit cleanses the palate. A decorative footed platter makes apples, cherries, or peaches even more appealing.
  • Dolce and Caffe: Save room for dessert and the obligatory espresso to finish up the meal.
  • Digestivo: A liqueur like grappa, Amaro, or Sambuca finishes off the feast.

Spaghetti photo courtesy of Bejie Ordonez.

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How Tuscan Food & Decor Can Whet Anyone’s Appetite

Local flavors are key to any cuisine, but if you’re lucky enough to have eaten in Tuscany, you know that it’s full of delicious traditions that are hard to explain if you haven’t tasted them yourself. One of the things I love best about this region of Italy is that simplicity fuses with elegance, both in flavor and presentation of even the most basic dish. It’s no wonder that Tuscan décor inspires so many kitchen designs – who wouldn’t want to emulate the flavor and decor of a region with food that tastes this good?

Aurora Baccheschi Berti discovered the beauty of Tuscan cooking and decorating while vacationing in Tuscany in the 1970s, never realizing she’d ultimately move there, she explains in The Telegraph. She and her husband fell in love with and bought the castle of Vicarello, moving there in the early 1990s and embarking on ten years of restoration work to make it into a true home. I love the way she describes finding “a whole new approach to cooking, where the honest flavours of locally produced ingredients lend even the simplest of traditional dishes an unexpected elegance.”

Obiously emulating true Tuscan décor would be so much easier if we were  surrounded by the land, people, and colors themselves. This is a place where art is living, in a very real sense. Plates, bowls and platters are beautiful but also practical, a philosophy I have always shared.

Just reading the description of the food in this article makes me want to be in Berti’s kitchen. She tells how a local friend and mother figure inspired and taught her to make tortelli: “Using 20 eggs, she would make one immense sheet of pasta – large enough to cover my huge kitchen table. She never measured or weighed a single ingredient.” Perhaps needless to say, her cookbook My Tuscan Kitchen sounds like it’s packed with delicious recipes.

So how to bring some of this Tuscan delight into your own kitchen? The rich blues, greens, and golds that dominate the Tuscan landscape add to any décor. A signature of Tuscan ceramics is their playful motifs: fruits, flowers, animals, and whimsical, comedic characters like those on the traditional harlequin plates. Decorators can give you more professional advice perhaps, but I say it should have a homey vibe, one where you can tell that surfaces and objects are used and loved. Kitchens are where not only food is made but people gather – serving homemade food from a beautifully-painted platter, enjoying coffee from a colorful mug, even using a simple spoon rest as you cook can bring out the Tuscan flavor in your food, your hospitality, and your home, no matter its dominant décor.