Monday, November 27, 2017

Hutch! Hutch! Hooray! (and HELP!)

I have a huge respect for those of you who read my blog. Respect, and tremendous appreciation. I find all of you to be a caring, clever, creative, and artistic group, each one with his or her own sense of style, many of whom express that style through personal blogs. Because I have such a high regard for each and every one of you, as well as an admiration for the things that you do in your own homes, I'm asking for your help.

I went out on a limb, as I tend to do more often than I care to admit, and bought a piece of furniture, sight unseen. Well, I saw it in the catalog, immediately fell in love with it, and I knew absolutely that it was what I wanted because it managed to replicate a scrapbook full of pictures that I have pinned over the past 10 years. I even saw something similar in Mycroft’s kitchen in an episode of "Elementary."

I knew when I saw this that it was the piece. It was what I wanted. It was what I needed. It was what I had pined for. It was also on sale, a BIG sale, which is why I bought it. It will be arriving next week, and I want your help in decorating it.

Here it is (although I bought one that is black), in all its glory, 75 inches high, by 112 inches wide, by 18 inches deep. I am desperately (as you can well imagine, dish collector that I am) in need of the additional storage space, but I want it to be pretty as well, and I want to be able to change it up with the seasons. As a consequence of this purchase, a lot of things had to be carried downstairs (thank you number two son!), including my baker’s rack, a piece that has been with me for more than thirty years -- historically the first thing that I decorate every holiday season -- so there was a bit of melancholy in carting it out of the room.
The wall on which the baker’s rack stood also held a Windsor bench, a large picture, a bamboo screen, and my menu man. It was just way too busy for me, and a wall that had perplexed me from the day I moved into this house nearly six years ago.

So, tell me what you think. What would you do with a hutch like this? What would you put on top? What would you put in the cabinets with the glass doors? What would you put on the shelves? What would you put in the center bar area? You tell me, and I'll show you what I eventually do. Is it a deal?

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Pictures copyright Pottery Barn.

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Friday, November 24, 2017

Fix it and Forget it Cookbook, Revised and Updated by Phyllis Good, Reviewed

You all know how much I love my crockpot. I have sung the praises of both it and slow cooker cookbooks for years. But, stop the presses! The mother of all slow cooker cookbooks is here! This weighty tome of 700 (that's right 700!) is the must-have book this season for you, and anyone else you know who is pressed, stressed, or otherwise frazzled in their daily life, and deeply in need of the comfort and ease of slow cooked cooking.

You will be amazed at all that you find in this book. From appetizers and snacks, to breakfast foods, soups and stews, main dishes, vegetables, desserts, and even breads and beverages, not to mention those favorite seasonal beverages. (How does Minty Hot Chocolate made with peppermint patties and chocolate malt mix sound?) There are loads of pictures to get your mouth watering, simple and concise instructions, information as to how many servings each dish makes, the prep time, the cooking time, as well as the recommended slow cooker size.
Whether you are serving picky or adventurous eaters, there's something here for you. From simple Barbecued Hamburger Steaks to African Chicken, this book covers all of the cuisines. As for me, I'm going to try the Chianti-braised Short Ribs, having had a similar dish years ago at Olive Garden, and, to date, been unable to satisfactorily replicate it. I'll report.
The end of the book features charts of equivalent measurements, metric equivalent measurements, a list of substitute ingredients, as well as kitchen tools and equipment you really need to have in your kitchen. Consider these tools as possible gifts for the novice cook along with this book, or use one of the kitchen tools as a package tie. How cute would that be?
Whether you're a seasoned veteran, or just learning to cook, this book is for you. There is literally something for everyone in here from simple dishes with very few ingredients, to things that are more complex. From the quintessential comfort dish to the more exotic company meal, you will find it here. I can't express enough how much I love this cookbook. There is one downside, however, which is why it only gets four stars from me. This book is heavy, in fact a bit too heavy for its binding. When I received mine the binding connecting the back cover had broken. That may have been because it was tossed on my porch by a harried FedEx driver, who knows, but it's something to consider. Still, it's not enough for me to not give this the heartiest recommendation. For more information or to make a purchase, click here.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Double Your Pleasure on Thanksgiving!

Nathalie Dupree is a genius. It was she, by way of an article by Shelley Hill Young in a recent issue of the North Carolina monthly skirt!magazine, who gave me the idea to make two turkeys on Thanksgiving. Sound crazy? Hear me (and Nathalie) out. I realize my situation is not the same as everyone else's, but I'm sure many of you can relate. I have hosted Thanksgiving ever since my kids were babies, so about 30 years. It was manageable, but never easy. When my mother became ill however, I had to transport the dinner to her house, and then a couple years later when my husband became ill, it started to make sense to me to help myself out a bit by making the turkey the day before. 

There are a lot of good reasons for this. First of all, it is far less stressful to be able to do it at your leisure. Second, it allows advance access to the carcass, after carving, with which you can make stock, and then use that stock in a magnificent gravy. Advanced prep allows you the freedom to tinker with your pan drippings, as well as refrigerate until the fat separates, when it can then be easily skimmed off. Third, having made stock you can then use it when you reheat the turkey by placing your slices of turkey into a large pan, drizzling about a cup of the stock over the top, covering it tightly with foil, and then reheating it. The first time I did this the turkey was the most delicious and succulent that we had ever tasted.

The downside to this is that, when people come to your home for Thanksgiving, they won't smell the turkey baking. I always felt bad about that, because half of the joy of Thanksgiving dinner is to inhale the heady aroma of that delicious roasting bird. 

Nathalie’s solution would achieve both goals -- being able to make the turkey I plan to serve on the day before, and still having that wonderful roast turkey aroma the day of the actual meal. In Nathalie's case, she bought two whole turkeys. In my case, because oven space is at a premium, and I need most of it for doing all of the side dishes, I decided to make a whole turkey the day before, and then make a turkey breast in the crockpot (That I remembered smelled amazing the last time I did it and you can read about that here.) and let it cook all day long on Thanksgiving.

It's too late for you all to make use of this bit of brilliance this year, but keep it in mind for next. Helping to relieve yourself of a bit of holiday stress can lead to the almost unheard of consequence of actually being able to enjoy your own party.
Have a delicious and stress-free Thanksgiving Day!

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Tasty Tip Tuesday - Pasta

Here's a quick little tip for Tasty Tip Tuesday - Pasta. You're probably thinking that there is nothing new about pasta, but I beg to differ. There's pasta and there's pasta, but I like to use pasta that other people don't tend to buy.
I love whimsy in all things, particularly when I'm serving a meal, and using a shape of pasta that isn't a particularly common one adds to the fun.  I recently used one of my favorite pastas, campanelli, in this dish. I love these little scrolls because they hold so much delicious sauce whether you are serving Alfredo, marinara, vodka sauce, or seafood.
I similarly like orecchiette, a wonderful shell-shaped pasta that is ribbed on the exterior side. Every forkful is going to be delicious because the shells act like little scoops to capture all of your wonderful sauce, meat, cheese, or minced vegetables.
When you next make macaroni and cheese, set aside a bit of sauce to stir into ditalini pasta. This is the perfect size pasta for small children who can then easily scoop it up with a spoon or fork.
Lately I’ve been savoring the heartiness of papardelle, as you saw in yesterday’s post.  Use it when you really want to make a statement!
While there is nothing particularly special about rotini, tri-color rotini is another story. It gives color to an otherwise bland dish and kicks things up a bit on the whimsy chart.
Farfalle, a.k.a bow tie pasta is, of course, for those more formal events. (wink)
So, the next time you're planning a pasta dish, don't buy the pasta at your local market, go to a specialty market, one that deals heavily in Italian goods, and pick up something different from what you would usually use. People will notice, and they will appreciate the effort.
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Monday, November 20, 2017

Roasted Vegetable Bolognese

Lately I have been on a real roasted vegetable tear. I’m not just roasting them to enjoy on their own, but also to use in various soups I’ve been making (including my legendary Potato Leek that I serve annually at Thanksgiving). It is amazing the depth of flavor it can add to a dish when you roast them.

After such enormous success, I decided to do the same for Bolognese, i.e. roast the onions, carrots, and garlic that I would normally sauté.

I think this method is much easier than the traditional one.  It is certainly time saving because, once the vegetables are in the oven, I can let them roast while I work on other components of the sauce.

 There are a number of specialty ingredients here, and as I mentioned in an earlier post, every pantry needs tomato and Worcestershire powders, because they are going to add such richness and flavor to whatever you make, without it being watered down by liquid.

Here's my recipe, I hope you like it as much as I did. Seriously, I could have eaten this straight from the bowl with a spoon and forgotten all about the pasta.
Roasted Vegetable Bolognese

1 pound ground chuck
¼ teaspoon Montréal steak seasoning
1 large yellow onion
Handful baby carrots, I think I used 8 to 10
2 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 14.5-ounce cans fire roasted diced tomatoes
½ cup dry red wine
1 cup beef stock
½  tablespoon Italian seasoning
1 Bay leaf
1 teaspoon
tomato powder
1 teaspoon
Worcestershire powder
1/4 cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Place onions, garlic, and carrots onto a sheet pan; sprinkle them with salt, pepper, and olive oil. Mix together with hands making sure that all vegetables are well coated, and roast 35 to 40 minutes until carrots are tender. Remove pan from oven to top of the stove, pour in red wine, and use a metal spatula to stir up all of the brown bits from the bottom of the pan, tossing the vegetables as you do. Pour vegetables into a medium stockpot; add tomatoes, beef stock, and seasonings. Using an immersion blender whisk it all together until desired chunkiness is reached. (If you don't have an immersion blender, you can do this in a food processor and return it to the pan.)
While vegetables are roasting, brown ground chuck in a 9” sauté pan with steak seasoning. Drain on a paper towel-lined plate. Add seasoned ground beef to your tomato mixture, toss in a bay leaf, and cook over low heat for 1-1/2 to 2 hours. Just before serving, remove Bay leaf and stir in heavy cream. Use with your with your favorite cooked pasta.

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Sunday, November 19, 2017

Cranberry Orange Muffins

After more than a decade of absence, I stumbled upon my old recipe for Cranberry Orange Muffins that used to be a staple of the bread bowl at Thanksgiving. I decided to whip up a batch to see if they were as good as I remembered.  As it turns out, they were! They are also forgiving as, midway through, I realized that I didn't have enough orange juice, so made up for its absence with Triple Sec. I think I just may have improved them!
If your holiday baking has begun, you may just want to give these a try. They freeze beautifully and are equally good at the breakfast table as they are Thanksgiving dinner.
Cranberry Orange Muffins

2 cups all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon freshly grated orange peel
1 large egg
3 tablespoons canola oil
¾ cup freshly squeezed orange juice (about one and a half oranges)
1½ cups fresh whole cranberries

Grease and flour a 12-cup muffin pan, or use papers. Preheat oven 375° F.

Sift together flour, baking powder, and soda in a large mixing bowl. Stir in salt, sugar, and orange peel. In a medium mixing bowl whisk together egg with oil and orange juice. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour the liquid into the well. Mix together until just combined. Fold in cranberries.

Using an ice cream scoop, dollop batter into muffin cups (you want them 1/2 to 3/4 full). Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, or until a wooden toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean. Remove from oven and allow cooling on a rack for five minutes before removing them from the pan.

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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Love, Welcome, Serve: Recipes That Gather and Give, Reviewed

I don't know what it is about Southern women and church ladies, but they really seem to know what they're doing when it comes to serving up a good meal. Amy Nelson Hannon, author of the new book Love, Welcome, Serve: Recipes That Gather and Give is both of these things -- Southern, and the wife of a preacher for more than 20 years, so she knows good cooking. She is also the owner of Euna Mae's one-of-a-kind kitchen boutique in Northwest Arkansas. Hannon, who feels strongly about hospitality, believes that cooking for people makes them feel cared for, and with this book, you can care for people in deliciously fine fashion!
A beautiful volume full of stunning photos and taste tempting recipes, it is unique, in part, because of the interesting division of these recipes. Let me explain. Sections are divided up as follows:

Bites That Welcome
Pickled, Tossed, and Chilled
Meats, Mains, and Sturdy Soups
Comforts and Casseroles
Serve Alongsides
Sweet tea, Sauces, and Such
For the Love of Sweets

Aren’t these the most engaging chapter titles? When I'm looking for comfort food in a cookbook, I’m often forced to endlessly page through in search of comfort. Here, Hannon has made it simple by allowing comfort its own chapter. I like that. Similarly, if a side dish is what you’re seeking, just turn to that chapter. In addition you’ll find helpful sections on gratitude, and another on recipes for homemade items that you can make to give.
The beginning features helpful sections on things such as what ingredients will yield the best results in cooking (for example real lemon juice, not the bottled stuff), what constitutes a well-equipped kitchen, and what you will need to have the definitive well-stocked pantry.
(I am making this for Thanksgiving. I’ll report!)
Being a southern cookbook, there are recipes I come to expect, and I wasn't let down. You will find Fried Green Tomatoes (with Zesty Cream Sauce), Roasted Red Pepper Pimiento Cheese, as well as one of my favorites, Shrimp and Grits. The Smoked Pulled Pork had my mouth watering, as did the Pork Tenderloin with Parmesan Garlic Cream. The Salmon Croquettes with Cajun Alfredo Angel Hair Pasta is on my list to make next week.
The Comfort Food section offers up Cottage Pie with Puff Pastry (It looks phenomenal!), as well as Creamy Baked Spinach Ravioli, both of which are in my future.

My guess is that there is not a recipe in this book that you aren’t going to want to try; simply paging through had me ready to head to the kitchen.
This is a wonderfully engaging book with each recipe fronted by a comment from the author, easy-to-read lists of ingredients, concise instructions, and mouth-watering photographs. Equally appropriate for the novice cook or for the seasoned veteran like me, everything here is sure to please. Treat yourself or a friend, or treat yourself and a friend. This is a must-have.

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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Blazing Fall Tablescape

This is a very simple tablescape. There is no big, flashy centerpiece. There is no layering of plates. The star here is color -- bold, vibrant, color. Despite its simplicity, isn't this fabulous?
The centerpiece is nothing more than a pumpkin tureen. I’ve used it in various forms over the years as you can see here. 
Today as I was setting a table for a pizza party with my son and his family, I wanted to keep it simple. My grandchildren appreciate a nice table, but they don't quite get the point in stacked plates and a lot of cutlery. They will one day, but in the meantime, I try to keep things simple when they come for a visit.
While digging for the tureen in the “belly of the beast,” I happened to come across these darling little pilgrim hat treat holders that I bought years ago at Williams-Sonoma on clearance. The idea at the time I suppose, was to use them at the Thanksgiving children's table filled with goodies. In giving them a careful assessment I thought, Egad! It is going to take a lot of candy to fill these things, so I came up with another idea. Don’t they look great? I love the whimsy here. And it gives the table a nice flash of gold, and look of fun.
Having successfully retrieved the tureen, I placed it at center table along with the surround of bittersweet that was a part of a shop display.
The plates are a new addition this year. I know, I know, I do not need new plates. I know that. Honestly, it's a sickness, when I see something this gorgeous I just can't resist.
I don't think I've seen colors quite so bold. I also liked the fact that the edge of the plate is little wavy, so it's different from the average plate.
An additional justification to my purchase was assuring myself that, because this is a sunflower design, I will be able to use these from midsummer all the way until late fall.
Simple can be fabulous, as I've shown you here. A nice simple centerpiece (that can double as server for soup), gorgeous fall plates, a whimsical holder for napkins, some autumn flatware, and the table is set.

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Monday, November 13, 2017

Jezebel Sauce

I have to make a confession. What initially attracted me to Jezebel Sauce was the name. I mean, come on, how can you resist a name like that? So, knowing that it had so many uses, and that I had all of the ingredients, I decided to make it. There are a variety of recipes for Jezebel Sauce available, but I find this one suits me the best. It is served, primarily I believe, atop a brick of cream cheese surrounded by crackers or crudites. But I find it does amazing things to a ham, chicken, cheese, or turkey sandwich. In fact, the first time I made this I only made half a batch, and I was sorry that I did. Now I keep it in my refrigerator at all times. I suspect is going to be the "go to" sauce for corned beef come St. Patrick's Day, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

This is a festive and fun sauce, with a clever name, lots of flavor, and a pleasant kick. You can adjust the amount of mustard and horseradish to suit your taste. You need to make this; it is going to turn your dishes into something extra special that will have all of your guests talking.
Jezebel Sauce

½ cup orange marmalade
½ cup apricot preserves
2/3 cup apple jelly
1 tablespoon Creole mustard
1 tablespoon Gulden’s spicy brown mustard
3 tablespoons grainy mustard
½ cup prepared horseradish
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper

Mix all ingredients together in a medium bowl. Put into a sealed container and store in the fridge. It keeps indefinitely. Excellent when used on top of a brick of cream cheese as an appetizer, or as a sandwich spread. It's particularly good on turkey, chicken, ham, or cheese. It also makes an amazing dipper for fried shrimp. You also might consider stirring it into egg or ham salad for an added punch.

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