Sunday, January 16, 2011

Sticky Toffee Pudding + Team Appreciation Lunch

I love traditions. For the last eight years I have hosted an annual appreciation lunch for my direct reports to thank them for all of their hard work during the year. This year was no exception. With the challenging economy the last couple years, we have celebrated small wins. In 2010, our company had a banner year. I am in an industry that is an economic leading indicator and quite thankful for having such success in 2010.

{Lisa, me, Debby, Patti, Stefanie, Christine and Amy }

Success is gained by having a team of talented individuals who understand the goals to be achieved and are driven to work hard. With the economy slowly beginning to improve, there is a much more positive feeling at our company. Since the holidays are filled with taking our clients out to lunch to thank them for their business, December is challenging to get the team together during business hours. Thus I typically plan the appreciation lunch for the beginning of January.

During the holidays, I began to contemplate the menu. I typically do not like to repeat any dishes and make a fresh menu each year. Since it is lunch time, I want to make it light but usually I add in a dish or two that is a tad heavier. Oh heck, it is a celebration, so let’s swing out and eat. Nine times out of ten, I don’t need dinner that night, since I am still satisfied from lunch.

The menu this year consisted of some favorites I have made and posted on the blog. Thought I would share the menu with each of you:

Gorgonzola and Cherry Pastry Puffs
Shaved Brussels Sprouts with Parmesan and Truffle Oil Crostini
Caprese Bites

Pear, Gorgonzola and Pecan Salad with Pomegranate Vinaigrette

Hoisin and Orange Braised Short Ribs
Sour Cream Mashed Potatoes

Sticky Toffee Pudding with Handmade Caramel Sauce

Each person arrived separately. With having a shoe free house, the guest slippers were at the front door. My boss Tony arrived with his own personal slippers, since he knew the drill. The appetizers were laid out on the kitchen island along with a bucket full of assorted non-alcoholic beverages. We soon moved to the family room to enjoy the appetizers and each others company.

{Lisa, Amy, Patti and Tony (my boss) }

I created personalized menus for each person and did double duty by having a place card all in one. Each person could also take their menu home to enjoy. We sat down for the salad course and the conversation was moving along nicely. Christine was my helper this year, which makes the serving and clean up a breeze. Throughout the afternoon, I had several helpers and it was so appreciated.

We now went onto the main course of Hoisin and Orange Braised Short Ribs. This is hands down my signature dish and super simple to make. Just a quick tip – try braised dishes when entertaining for a group of 6 to 10 people. It can be made ahead of time, cooks ahead and during the dinner until you are ready to serve. How simple is that?

{Debby, Stefanie and Christine }

The dishes were cleared and now it was time for dessert. During the holidays, while watching Martha Stewart, she had Jane Homby as a guest on her show. Her book is titled - "What to cook & how to cook it". Jane demonstrated how to make her version the traditional British holiday dessert of Sticky Toffee Pudding. I decided to adapt her version slightly and make it for the appreciation lunch.

We also do a small gift exchange as part of the celebration and fun. I think each person walked away with a gift they will enjoy. Since I had done so much canning this year, I gave each person a small bag with a jam, chutney or jelly in it.

I look forward to another amazing year in 2011~

Sticky Toffee Pudding


5 ounces pitted dates (Madjool dates work great)
1/2 cup plus 6 tablespoons (1 ¾ sticks) butter
1 Cup packed dark-brown sugar
4 large eggs
1 t. Vanilla extract
½ t. ground cinnamon
Pinch of ground clove
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
1 t. baking powder
1 ¼ C. flour
¼ t. salt

Place dates in a small bowl and cover with boiling water. Let the dates sit for 5 minutes. Drain the dates and discard cooking liquid. Transfer to the bowl of a food processor; process until smooth. Let cool slightly. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350 degrees. I used a mini bundt pan that made six small cakes and sprayed with cooking spray that had flour added.

Add butter and brown sugar to bowl of food processor with dates; process until smooth.

Add eggs, vanilla, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, flour, baking powder and salt; process until smooth. Spoon batter into prepared pan; transfer to oven and bake until a cake tester inserted into cake comes out dry, 20 to 25 minutes. Spoon sauce over cake and serve with cream or ice cream, if desired.

Caramel Sauce

1 ½ C. sugar
¼ C. water
½ t. lemon juice
1 C. heavy cream

Stir sugar, water and lemon juice in a large saucepan over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat; boil without stirring until the mixture turns deep amber brown. This should take about 9 minutes. Take off the stove and hold over the sink before pouring the cream mixture into the sugar mixture. It will boil and bubble. Once calmed down, add to back to the burner and reduce slightly over medium low heat for about 8 minutes. Chill until thickened. Put into another container and slightly heat when ready to use.


  1. Oh my goodness, what a wonderful food spread..everything looks amazing, including lady's on the photos!

  2. wow what an amazing spread :-) lucky colleagues

  3. Whole dinner looks great, but the dessert I love the most :)Toffee pudding looks just perfect :) And that caramel..

  4. omg..what a feast! The caramel sauce on the toffee pudding is really killing me...

  5. What a fabulous cake and spread amazing I am sure those lucky folks are very happy!

  6. This looks like a wonderful gathering! The food looks appetizing and well prepared. Sticky toffee pudding is the perfect end to this dinner party. The photo's document the fun had! Well done.

  7. What a super meal, Oh to be a guest. Great job on this invetive and tasty menu

  8. Holy caramel heaven! Looks delicious!

  9. How thoughtful of you :) What a great, gracious tradition!

  10. I think I need to move to San Francisco and go to work for you! What a lovely gesture to thank your employees...and such a fantastic menu to boot!!

  11. I bet your colleagues look forward to your appreciation meal every year; I would. You just never run out of ideas, it's awesome! I've never made sticky toffee pudding before and since I'm so into caramel lately, I know I'd love this.

    Have a great week, Lisa. :-)

  12. I just wanted to dive into that pudding (and into the Pomegranate Vinaigrette)!

  13. LOVE this post! How kind and thoughtful of you to do an appreciation nice. That's sooo awesome. The food looks ahhhmazing! Lucky, lucky guests!!

  14. You are so thoughtful, Lisa! This is a very sweet tradition. Made even sweeter by that amazing pudding!

  15. You're so right about success being directly related to the talent of each individual and their ability to work as a team, and what a wonderful way to show your appreciation of them. Everything about this dinner is thoughtful and beautiful, Lisa.

  16. Toffee is one of my favorites. Can't wait to try it cake! :)

  17. Lisa, this looks like such a lovely afternoon! So often, work is so serious that we don't get a chance to enjoy our colleagues and this looks like the perfect lunch to do so. Oh, and I'm certain I could eat an entire bowl of that caramel sauce on my own! :)


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