Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A "Shell" of a Great Table

 I started collecting dinnerware when I was in Junior High. My mother always set beautiful, elegant tables, and I wanted to move into my first home and be able to do the same. The fact that this was going to be a lengthy and expensive process never once occurred to me.  The first set I collected was Fitz and Floyd Coquilles. For a young girl who worked weekends behind the cosmetics counter at Famous-Barr (now Macy's), it took me a long time to get a full set.  My mother always preached service for twelve so that’s what I got. By the time I did I had not only graduated from High School, but college as well, and was two years into my first (ahem) marriage, at which point the completer pieces and accessories were nowhere to be found, replaced with the next exciting pattern. 

I’ve learned many things over the years.  First of all, if I can get a full set of anything I get service for four.  If I’m feeling flush, I go crazy and get service for eight.  Period.  I don’t have a table large enough to comfortably seat twelve.  Oh, I’ve done it all right, but not comfortably, so eight services are really all I am ever going to need.  Plus, over the years I have learned to layer various patterns to get a multitude of results, and find that I really much prefer this. (You’ll notice the F&F Cape Town pattern figured in here.)  So, in looking at these pictures of attractive place settings of dinnerware, I hope there’s been a lesson learned.  Never, I tell you, NEVER buy service for twelve! 

Dinnerware - Fitz & Floyd Coquilles and Cape Town

Round Wicker Placemats – Pier 1
Bamboo Flatware – Crate & Barrel
Lobster S&P – Stonewall Kitchen
Fish Pitcher – Gift, years ago
Napkins – Pottery Barn

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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Peace 'n Plenty's Ham and Cheddar Rolls

When I was eleven years old my parents bought a house at the lake. A three-and-a-half hour drive from our primary residence, we spent nearly every summer weekend there. Back then, there was little for a young girl to do for entertainment.  Only one strip of activity just south of Bagnell Dam existed.  It was a honky-tonk area called Dogpatch. For an eleven-year-old only child, lake life seemed isolated and lonely. I don't think I truly came to appreciate the lake until my friends turned sixteen and were able to drive down on weekends. As I grew and matured, so did the Lake area. Resorts, shops, restaurants, and outlet malls, all served to civilize the place, turning it into a weekend -- or longer -- trip that I anticipated. I grew up there, and then my two boys grew up there, both learning to swim at an early age, as well as catching their first fish, and zipping along the water in the boat. As new shops and eateries emerged, some soon became our favorites, one of which was a charming café called Peace 'n Plenty. Open for lunch only, they served delicious soups, salads, sandwiches, and wonderful ham and cheddar rolls. Over the years they produced a number of cookbooks, and I bought them all, eager to replicate the meals that I had enjoyed during the summer. These rolls are my favorite of all of the recipes, but as they are a bit arduous to make and have a large yield I tended to overlook it.  Last week, having a taste and longing for the past, I decided to adapt it for the bread machine. Success!   Both boys showed up at the door for their share, thoroughly enjoying the delicious bite of nostalgia. 

Peace 'n Plenty's Ham and Cheddar Rolls
Adapted for the Bread Machine

1/2 cup warm water
1/2 cup whole milk
6 tablespoons shortening
3 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/2 cups wheat flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1-1/2 pkgs. dry yeast (3-1/2 teaspoons)
1 tablespoon baking powder 
2 extra-large eggs

1/2 cup butter, softened
2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
3/4 pound thinly sliced ham, diced
2/3 cup chopped scallions
1 egg, beaten

Place above ingredients into the work bowl of your bread machine in the order suggested by the manufacturer. Set machine on "dough" setting and press "start."  When machine has completed the dough making process (usually 90 minutes), remove dough to a lightly floured surface and roll into a large rectangle. 
 Spread with butter.  Sprinkle cheese evenly over the buttered surface and then top with the ham. Sprinkle scallions to cover.  Beginning at the long end, roll up as tightly as possible, pinching the seam to seal.  Slice into 1" thick pieces.

Grease well (or spray with Pam) two 6-well muffin tins and two small ramekins or custard cups.  Put one 1" piece into each well, squeezing outer edge slightly so that the middle of the roll "pops" up.
Cover lightly with plastic wrap that has been sprayed with Pam. Place in a warm spot and allow to raise until doubled in size 40-50 minutes. 
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brush tops of rolls with beaten egg. Bake for 18-20 minutes until golden. Remove from oven and leave in pan for 5-10 minutes before carefully removing to a wire rack to cool completely. 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Colorful Cowgirl Table Setting

   I love to play with color when the weather warms up.  One afternoon found me searching through all of the colorful fabric that I’d bought, with good intentions, over the years when I stumbled upon this one.  This particular fabric gave me a smile as bold as the pattern, so I thought that today I’d get in touch with my inner cowgirl.  I’m not sure that all of the colors work here as well as I’d hoped they would.  The vases, I think, have to go, but setting tables is about both joy and experimentation.  I had a good time with this one.

Fabric is a great way to cover a table with something BOLD.  If you like fabric as much as I do – a real puzzle, I suppose, since I don‘t sew – you might consider going through your stash to see what you can come up with; consider layering or cross-crossing narrower pieces.  Go crazy!  You’re the boss. 
Since summer is casual, I thought it would be fun to put the napkins and flatware in the coffee mugs. 
Some patterns, such as this one, run just one way.  When used on a table, the people sitting along the side will be looking at the women sideways, but then, come to think of it, don’t most men look at us women sideways?!

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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Wild Mushroom Sauce

I love steak season, don’t you?  Firing up the grill, sitting at the patio table under the umbrella, sipping a cocktail while listening to it sizzle on the grill.  To take your summer masterpiece from delicious to over-the-top sensational, here is a wild mushroom sauce that will impress even your snootiest guests.  Earthy and exotic, I could eat this with a spoon!

Wild Mushroom Sauce
Adapted from

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup finely chopped shallots
2 ounces portobello mushrooms, sliced
2 ounces crimini mushrooms, sliced
2 ounces shiitake mushrooms, sliced
2 ounces morel mushrooms, sliced
1/2 cup red wine
½ cup water
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Sauté shallots briefly, then stir in all of the mushrooms. Sauté until tender and translucent, about 3 minutes. Pour in red wine, and simmer for 3 minutes. Stir in demi-glace and water, and simmer for 6 minutes, or until sauce has thickened.  Season with salt and pepper, as desired.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Shirley's Pasta Salad

In yesterday’s post, that you can read here, I told you about my mother’s recipe box, adding that I had planned on sharing many recipes from this lifetime collection.  The first recipe came from her best childhood friend and maid of honor at her wedding. Her name was Shirley Fick, and she was quite an accomplished and experimental cook. 
My parents’ wedding picture.  Shirley is on the left, my parents are on the right.  Norbert Cook was the best man.  I have no idea as to his culinary prowess.
This dish made a big impression on me back in the seventies. It was the first time that I had ever eaten cold spaghetti.  Boy, did I think this was exotic. Tender crisp vegetables, Parmesan cheese, and al dente pasta, when combined makes for one delicious dish!  
Here is the recipe straight from the recipe box.
Light and refreshing, a tempting appetizer, or satisfying summer meal, it seems to be a hit with everyone who tastes it.  The first time I made it, years ago, I thought it was a lot of work. My organizational and knife skills have improved greatly since then, and I can pretty much have it chilling in the fridge in around 40 minutes. I think it is delicious hot or cold. 

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Monday, May 20, 2013

My Mother's Recipes

 This is my mother's recipe box. Or, rather, this was my mother's recipe box. It is still very difficult for me to think of her in the past tense. This is the one thing, more than anything else, that I most wanted after she passed away. It is no ordinary recipe box. My father made it, I painted it, and my mother filled it with decades of culinary history. I had considered cleaning it up, and touching up the paint, but thought that I would leave it exactly as it was when it sat on her counter now that it has taken up permanent residence on mine. 
This box was just one of the many craft items that my mother and I made to sell at our annual holiday bazaars, a tradition that began in the seventies and lasted for two decades. We always enjoyed doing crafts. She was the seamstress, I was the stitcher and painter, and for a while, my aunt joined us contributing her extensive designs of dough ornaments. As we became more experienced and mature, so did our offerings. Looking back at the early pictures makes me wonder how we managed to sell anything, much less sell out in the course of mere hours.
Here was are, ca. 1977, l-r me, my mom, my aunt.
Here is an assortment of our handmade items.
 In addition to selling our handmade wares, we spent two days prior to the sale (always held the first weekend in December) baking cookies, candies, cakes, pies, breads and sweet rolls. When I look back on these energetic and productive days, I wonder how we ever did it. 
The secrets to a lot of our sought after baked goods are contained within this box. One day I invited my aunt and cousin over for lunch and to sort through the recipes.  It was like taking a walk back in time as each of us had own our memories of different recipes and how and when the prepared dish had been served. 

I'm going to share both recipes and memories with you here on the blog beginning tomorrow. Tell me about the recipes from your past that have the most meaning for you.

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Sunday, May 19, 2013

Strawberry Mango Spinach Salad

It’s strawberry season!  Does that excite anyone else as much as it does me?  There is just nothing like a good, fresh, local strawberry.  In celebration of this welcome, but brief season, here is a recipe for a colorful and delicious springtime salad.

Strawberry Mango Spinach Salad

¼ cup sugar
¼ cup canola oil
½ teaspoon Kosher salt
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/8 teaspoon poppy seeds
4 cups fresh spinach
¼ pound fresh strawberries, quartered
½ Melissa’s organic mango - peeled, seeded, and cubed
¼ cup sliced red onion
½ cup slivered almonds, toasted

Place the sugar, oil, salt, poppy seeds, and vinegar in a jar with a lid. Seal jar, and shake vigorously to mix.

In a large bowl, mix together spinach, strawberries, mango, and onion. To serve, toss with dressing and sprinkle with almonds.

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