LAGNIAPPE

Weekend Project # 9 : Built in Desk Area Makeover

Before:

On to my built in desk area….let’s get this weekend project started.

I know it wasn’t that bad to start, but I wanted to elevate the appearance of the area to fit in with the rest of my home. The problem is I wasn’t sure how. I usually have to concentrate for a long time on a space and eventually I’ll find something like a picture or fabric that puts the plan in motion.

My walls were freshly painted at the same time as the Master Bathroom makeover. I had an idea for a decorative shade to place over the window to defuse some of the heat of summer or colder temperatures of winter, but finding the right combination of materials like everything in design (on a budget) takes time.

It began with a piece of decorative crown moulding, that with the help of my handyman Tim was formed into a small valance to hang the shade from. Hidden from view I actually used thumb tacks to fasten the fabric to a wood slat affixed behind the moulding. The initial fabric (a curtain panel) did not provide the desired look and several months would pass before the right materials came along (that turned out to be right in front of me the entire time).

Tim painted the valance with the same medium shade Graceful Gray used on the base boards, window and door frames and left it in the garage to dry overnight. Later that evening I went to get something in the garage and went over to examine the painted moulding. It looked so plain and boring. The beautiful carving of the moulding was not at all accentuated.

In a bold move, I tried to think about what I had that I could use to fill in the carved areas and remembered this Metallic Lustre’ paste in my art box of paints and a small bottle of metallic gold model paint from the craft store. Equipped with a small piece of fabric torn from an old t-shift, I dipped it into the lustre’ paste and slowly rubbed it along the top edges of the carvings. When it would fill too much of the area, I would use another piece of the t-shirt to wipe the excess away, leaving more in some areas and less in others. It didn’t work as well on the top wider area, the carving wasn’t deep enough – so here I used a small, thin, pointed brush and the gold model paint to fill in all of the top area. Little by little it created a more interesting aged finish.

Once all of the parts were put together, the fabric wasn’t achieving the look I was hoping for. As I’ve said in the past, patience is required. I decided to let it sit there for a while and give myself time to look around at different materials that would create the casual elegant result I was hoping to achieve. The project was set aside, and more than a few months passed before I was able to redirect my focus on it again.

Recently, I visited a new home decor store in my area. While browsing through the various items there, I was drawn toward two framed prints in black, gray and white hues. While my home is composed of shades of cream, ivory, soft blues, grays and some mustard golds, I am drawn to soft black accents. I purchased one of the framed prints and the shop owner kindly offered to hold the second, allowing me time to figure out where I would use them before committing to the second.

Daphne Home Butterfly

After experimenting with different locations in the house, I decided that I could place one framed print on each side of the built in desk area. With that decision, I now had something to inspire the shade and desk accessories.

I turned my focus toward my breakfast room, inspired by a picture I cut from a decor magazine that I was throwing out. As purchases were made to replace the furnishings there, I posted two chairs and two benches that were being replaced on a Facebook market page to sell the items. The fabric on the benches (below) caught my eye. I’d always liked the fabric purchased to recover the benches and made a remark to my friend when she was at the house, that this same fabric had the sophisticated look I wanted to create the shade for the window by the desk. She agreed.

The fabric on the benches that inspired by window shade for the desk area (this room now also made over).

The problem was that I would have to find new fabric. I originally purchased the fabric from Hobby Lobby about 5 years ago and they no longer carried it. So I started searching online and found it! https://www.onlinefabricstore.net/swavelle-mill-creek-galatia-iron-fabric-.htm. I ordered three yards, with the intension of saving a yard of the fabric to recover the desk chair seat. I also ordered a kit to make large covered buttons on Etsy. https://www.etsy.com/listing/229044822/25-cover-buttons-fabric-covered-buttons?ref=yr_purchases

When the fabric arrived I was a little upset. As I removed the folded fabric from the packaging, it appeared to be a different version of what I had ordered. It was the same pattern, but different colors. Busy with work I set it aside, but every time I passed the folded stack of fabric, thoughts ran through my head of how I needed to figure out what I was going to do. I carried it over to the desk area and held it up to the window trying to convince myself this was better. Then I unfolded the fabric to discover that, it was in fact the fabric I had ordered- It had been folded inside out! While I had a good laugh, it was a great accidental discovery, because I immediately decided I would use the back side of the scraps to cover the buttons that create a nice contrast against the lighter fabric shade.

I spent several hours measuring, trimming, pinning and then ironing the side seams. I then put together a design completely held together with straight pins in order to hang it and look at it for a couple of days. One evening I took the trimmed away side scraps and using the reverse (back) side of the fabric, covered several large buttons to somehow incorporate into the design of the shade. I then slid a button on a straight pin in areas to decide where they should be placed. Black stitching was added to each side of the fabric. (See notations on the photos

During the Christmas season, I found a large wooden spool of black velvet polyester ribbon by Martha Stewart at HomeGoods. I had purchased it when the intention of wrapping Christmas gifts with it, but when I wanted something to outline the fabric I turned to the ribbon. (See note below each photo explaining how the shade and moulding valance were pulled together.)

My mother’s old sewing machine that I rarely used had stopped working, So I brought the fabric to an alterations shop and had the sides stitched with black thread and the opposite edges surged with an ivory thread. With finished edges I laid the fabric out on my dining room table, once again pinning the folds and then hand stitched all of the buttons on. The folded edges also needed some reinforcement due to the weight, so I also hand stitched those areas together.

I then replaced the light fixture in the room, selecting a black drum shade with a bronze interior. The granite counter top that came with the house also limited my color palette, but the colors I chose appear to blend right in.

Black metal ceiling mounted light fixture with bronze interior.

I then brought the remaining fabric and my chair to an upholster to recover the seat cushion. Wall art hung, faux shade completed and also hung, chair recovered and light fixture installed, this weekend project was complete with a touch of sophistication. I had ordered it with a black piping around the bottom edge to match the outlined shade, and when I picked up the chair they advised me they decided to use only my fabric! At this point I wasn’t thrilled, but I went with it for a couple of days. I then decided to look for a black cord that I could glue along the edge with fabric glue. For $2.60, I think it was worth it. I feel like it looks more finished.

After

LAGNIAPPE, SMALL TALK

An Antique Store Stroll

Savoring the gift of time, past and present....

One of my favorite ways to decompress after a stressful week, is to stroll through antique and consignment shops in search of unique treasures. Sometimes I find an item I want to purchase and use when I entertain or add to my decor as an interesting conversation piece. More often, I just love to find unique and beautiful things and try to imagine how they touched the lives they passed through.

Silver bunny salt and pepper shakers.

Perched upon an antique sideboard were these delicate, but elegant silver bunny salt and pepper shakers. As a practicing cook, I’ve learned that your food should be perfectly seasoned before serving, so salt and pepper shakers in my world are truly a thing of the past. It’s also actually considered an insult to the chef when you add salt to their carefully seasoned and prepared dish. Still I know people who will pick up the salt and pepper shaker adding both to their food before they have even tasted it. As I closely examined these I tried to think of an alternative use for them. I wondered if tapered candles would fit into the cabbages holding the glass shakers, but after circling the shop a few times contemplating, I decided to leave the sweet bunnies behind.

Wedgewood – Beautiful . I pulled the price sticker off to take a picture, but some of it was left behind.

There’s something about this three dimensional Wedgewood – what to call it? It’s not a plate, I guess a plaque. It really is charming don’t you think? I imagine an English literature teacher placing it before his or her students and asking them to create a story from what they see in this little work of art, curious what all of the amazing versions would be. Do young people know about the old customs of courtship and proper behaviors of the past to incorporate in their stories? It would make an interesting creative writing assignment.

This beautifully cared for, small cedar chest brought back memories of my high school graduation. Does anyone remember when the local furniture stores gave these to girls when they graduated? This link gives a little history on the tradition that has since disappeared. I have no idea what happened to mine. https://www.causeafrockus.com/2018/07/lane-miniature-cedar-chests/

This crumb sweeper was a unique find and was something I decided would add charm to my dining room dinner parties. With all of the entertaining I do, passing it around to clear the table cloth before the dessert course would add a very Downton Abbey flair to the occasion – don’t you think? One of my friends recently told me that I entertain the way they did in the past which makes each event feel so special, so I suppose that’s why unique items like this appeal to me.

As a fan of Ina Garten, I’ve coveted her little silver bowl that she’s filled with everything from nuts to olives or a special dip. A vendor at a local shop that I frequent (Redoux), searches all year for antique pieces to fill each Christmas season with paper white bulbs (which by the way makes a lovely gift). She always seems to have something I’ve been looking for. This year I found two special items. A silver plated nut bowl similar to Ina’s without little handles and….

For years I’ve admired pictures of little pots de creme cup sets in Victoria magazine, but I had never actually seen a set. I especially liked the little cups with these rosebud tops that fit in with my signature “white” serving platters, bowls and dishes that I use for most of my entertaining. Finding these delicate beauties was like opening a gift I’ve always wanted and never thought I’d have. Stay tuned… chocolate pots de creme will be on my next ladies lunch menu – once the bulbs have finished blooming.

During a recent deep clean and reorganizing session of my closets, I found a white bag and pulled out a past find that I had forgotten about. Approximately 13 years ago, a friend and I had taken interest in the Opera and I found these beautiful mother of pearl beauties in an antique store. They have to be fairly old, because the stitching of the silk lining inside of the velvet bag that held the glasses had worn away. I found a pair exactly the same online, listed by an antique dealer. The description Lemaire Fabt Paris; 1900’s; Edwardian era; French opera glasses by Lemaire are crafted in brass and carefully inlaid with hand carved mother of pearl. There is a cute MOP button that finishes the piece. The mother of pearl has a lovely brown tinge to it and glows with a soft fire of purple blue pink and green when it hits the light.  (They are listed for $550!) I think I paid $50 for mine.

For the love of the Opera, found tucked away
in a case of Highland Road Antiques in Baton Rouge.

Most stores with affordable finds are actually little antique malls, where different vendors rent a small space to display their items for sale. The Copper Rooster in Old Covington (LA) is one that I frequent. There is one vendor there that has a little something I end up purchasing almost every visit (for damage control reasons – I don’t visit that often). Below are some of the special finds that I’ve collected from one particular vender’s booth.

The details of this delicate engraved silver platter with handles
is about the size of a dinner plate and has been used
at many of my gatherings in a number of ways.
The bottom has a small pedestal rather than lying flat, which is also unique.

On another visit I found this ornate silver tray, that while not especially old has the old charm of silver from the past. I’ve used it frequently when entertaining so neither this tray or the one above are hidden away in some cabinet. They have both become very much part of my parties adding just the right amount and sparkle and old world charm.

It wasn’t intentional, but this is starting to look like a set up for an elegant evening ahead!

A true hopeless romantic and love of all things French (as you can tell from the various items I’ve collected), one weekend visit brought me to a set of eight stemless champagne flutes with je t’aime (I love you in French) etched on the outside surface. I took a picture of the set and sent it to a friend of mine who oddly seems to buy exactly the same things I do. She loved them as much as I did, but didn’t want eight glasses. So I suggested I buy them and we split the set. If either of us had an anniversary party or other celebration of love that we wanted to use the glasses for, we could borrow the other four from each other. She quickly agreed.

As I carefully carried the glasses, two at a time to the register, I noticed among a jumble of items on a table nearby – a silver dish for serving caviar. I knew that my friend (“P”) had also told me that she loved caviar and that she and her husband would buy it for special occasions. The price was ridiculously low and I was so excited I had to buy it and surprise her.

Caviar dish and etched flutes.

Later in the year “P” sent me a picture of her table set with the two etched flute glasses filled with champagne and her caviar filled dish as she and her husband prepared to celebrate their wedding anniversary. I reached out to her for a picture of the caviar dish, and she sent me this picture of yet another celebration that included the dish I gifted her.

Etched with Je t’aime (I love you in French)

“P” also reminded me of another gift I had given her years ago, found in a combo antique-consignment shop outside of New Orleans. When you have a friend that has just about everything, it’s hard to think of a suitable gift year after year for birthdays or Christmas. Heck we have enough trouble year after year with spouses or other family members. In my imagination, I would love to find thoughtful, meaningful treasures for everyone in my life. If I can manage to get at least one special item over many years, I suppose that’s all that can be expected of oneself.

“P” and I are both drawn to the same things. We have a special connection in knowing what the other will love and appreciate. I think when you have that kind of connection with someone, it’s easier to find something now and then that’s special (like the caviar dish). “P” and her husband are espresso fans and when I saw these silver plated espresso cups, I thought of her.

A set of espresso cups – well cared for“P” has them looking brand new.

We spent the day together one Friday a few years back on Magazine Street in New Orleans. We had lunch at a great little restaurant and tried Lillet Blanc for the first time (her sweet husband later bought us each a bottle). We strolled through several shops including a large antique mall that for the most part was stacked with so many items it was hard to find things to appreciate. “P” peered into a jewelry case filled with various items and came upon these silver teaspoons with “The Roosevelt New York” stamped on the back. “P” considered purchasing them, but then declined – but I wasn’t going to pass them up. I decided to buy four for the iced tea lovers who come to my parties and mothers tea.

Being a book lover, I couldn’t pass up this special set of Collette stories (at Redoux Home -Market. I found this bronze book end (there was only 1) years ago and it just spoke to me as something special.

I especially love when I purchase something that finds a little story attached to it years later. Most of the antique stores I frequented decades ago are now gone, but some hold a memory connected to an item I found there, much like the little corner in the Copper Rooster. Two purchases occurred at a little shop in Harahan, LA. One is this imperfect chest that houses my teacup collection (now used for my annual Remembering our Mothers Tea) and the other….

See the story of how my tea cup collection began in the post https://socialinteractionsandparties.wordpress.com/2019/03/23/annual-tea-in-remembrance-of-mom-2018/

purchase was a set of four soup bowls and plates. After examining each cup and plate to check for any chips or cracks, I asked the shop keeper if she could discount the price. Shops are less willing to give a discount these days, but back then the norm was 10% if you asked and usually covered the tax.

One of a set of four – soup bowl with plate.

Instead of responding to my question, she asked me one. “Do you mind if I ask, what will you do with those?” I explained to her that I love to entertain and I intended to use them. “Oh,” she said, “they were my mother’s and I just want to sell them to someone who will love them as much as she did.” With that I did receive the discount, but kind of felt bad about it.

Years later when I would host my first Mothers’ Tea (in remembrance of my and some of my friends’ mothers who have passed) I served a soup each year in those same bowls. As I shared the story of the little conversation that was attached to this purchase I hoped that their previous owner’s spirit was with us, feeling remembered and know that I have indeed loved her bowls as much as she did.

Note: The items collected or gifted over the years have past lives attached to them filled with memories. New life has been given to each item with my own story of how they became a part of my life, or someone I care about, and live on in my celebrations or decor. Small shops are in need of your patronage. Support a local antique or consignment shop near you and search with fresh eyes to discover your own special treasures that can become part of your own celebrations and memories.

The Copper Rooster

Lee Lane in Old Covington, LA

My favorite little spot inside.

A little of old, new, craft, reproductions, home decor and more.

Mandeville, LA

LAGNIAPPE

A Year Long – Weekend(s) Project: Breakfast Room Makeover

A Christmas Present to myself in 2020….

My inspiration magazine photo.

For years I’ve imagined my breakfast room with a comfy banquette, but as with all things it took time to figure out the design I wanted and for several years I just hadn’t seen anything that inspired me. One weekend, I decided to sift through a stack of decor magazines with the intention of tearing out any pages of interest and tossing the rest, when I found the breakfast room design in the photo to the right. I realized I couldn’t stop looking at the picture, and knew that this was the inspiration I had been waiting for to update my breakfast room.

No, my room isn’t shaped exactly the same, and while I would love to have the beautiful hard wood floors shown in the inspiration photo, they’re not in my current budget – so my tile floors would remain. Also my windows reach almost to the base board, so I can’t create a permanent banquette that attaches to the wall (nor did I want to). I decided I wanted something free standing that would be easier to clean around and to rearrange the seating when necessary. Knowing how expensive something with tufting would be for a permanent version like the one in the photo, I knew I’d have to be patient while searching for something similar, but on a friendlier budget.

Tufted benches.

My patience paid off. I looked at these benches for weeks worried the color wouldn’t be right. Described as beige they are exactly the same creamy off-white of my dining room chairs and were exactly what I wanted. I ordered one to make sure it was right and then immediately ordered the second one the same day the first one arrived concerned their stock would eventually be depleted.

Two chairs that I purchased years ago at T. J. Maxx, that have been used for additional seating when a larger group had to sit around my dining room table, would now replace the dark gray chairs that were previously used. Without realizing until I had all of the chairs and benches together, both the benches and chairs have the same curved back design. (I’m always surprised when things like this happen naturally without my realizing it until after the items have been put together.

Meanwhile, I had to figure out how to soften the art on the walls. Deciding to repurpose the current botanical art I had previously put together with store bought frames and a book of botanical prints, I originally considered using a combination of cream and gray paint to achieve a distressed look to the black frames. Later I considered a mat gold might be better; but when I got to the craft store and searched for gold I found this champagne color that I decided was much prettier. It has a more subtle and softer finish than the gold.

This was truly a weekend project all on its own, because it took the entire weekend to search through the book for the best pages to replace the prior prints and then choose the best combinations of two. Meanwhile I sprayed two frames at a time with a couple of coats of paint. When they were all repainted, I selected the two prints that looked best together, for three sets of two frames. Once finished, the final decision was where to hang them.

The original frames were distressed black with red/orange botanicals.
Frames were sprayed with Krylon Colormaster “Champagne” and
images with shades of blue, lavenders and greens replaced the red versions.
Waiting on the table to arrive!!!!

As I said, a plan takes time and patience. As you can see not everything happens all at once. I found the inspiration picture early in the year before trying to put my own design into motion. Time passed from the Fourth of July, to Labor Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving and now Christmas was here as is evident from the red ribbon hanging on the lantern light fixture.

The art had been updated and placed on the walls and …… I finally found a table online back in November, hopeful with an expected shipping date of December 8th that it would be here well before Christmas. I instead received an email just two days prior that it was on back order and that it now would not be shipped until December 18th. Coming from New Jersey, it’s expected arrival date was somewhere between Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

At this stage, once again all I could do is wait. The room looked so plain that I added some much needed greenery. Live plants seem to thrive in this window and not only improve the air quality since I spend so much time in the house these days; but gave the room a much needed pop of color, warmth and contrast.

While I really love the soft slate blue roman shades in the inspiration picture I wasn’t willing to part with my woven wood shades and drapes. So the drapes were brought to the dry cleaner for some freshening up, I steamed them after they were re-hung and there they would stay.

I forgot to mention a Labor Day sale purchase. For at least six years a two toned chest in a pricy furniture and home decor catalog would catch my eye. I had torn out the page and pinned it to my bulletin board. When browsing through a local furniture store for a table (during a Fourth of July sale) I found a similar two toned chest that was on sale. I seriously looked it over, but knowing I was trying to focus on the table purchase, I passed on the chest.

Two months later, still searching for a table (Labor Day weekend), I went back to the store, having been told they get new things every day. As I passed the chest that was in the same spot, a tag hung from it and several other pieces throughout the store, with a “Manager’s Special Price” tag that was 50% less than the previous sale price and knowing the price of the version I originally spotted in a catalog, I knew this piece couldn’t go down much more in price. So I bought it!

Multiple ideas had tossed through my mind on what to do with this large bare wall in my kitchen for several years. The two tone chest captures the same style of the table I had ordered and beautifully displayed my collection of white serving platters, bowls and dishes.

Chest before the lights were fully installed and waiting on the table.

I purchased LED tape lights that connect with just the right length cords and reached the distance between each shelf. My handyman Tim drilled holes in the back just big enough to feed the small connectors through, the wiring hidden behind the chest and taped down against the back side out of sight. The two toned wood compliments my cream painted walls and the dark wood cabinets of my kitchen in a way I never expected.

It’s also another really rewarding experience when you step back and look at the entire area and discover that other little things came together on their own, like the way that the backsplash tile is two toned like the furniture and also similar to the tufted pattern in the bench.

Finally two very kind delivery men arrived with the table and my breakfast room was complete before 2020 came to an end. Finishing a room after all of the searching and waiting feels like such an accomplishment when it’s finally complete.

My final item for this open living area is a new sofa. Something that is very hard to imagine in a room from a catalog or online site. Measurements will have to be taken and careful calculating to find the right style and fit. Once again, I’ll have to find something to inspire me and then start my search in the New Year. For now, this project is complete.

CHRISTMAS, HOLIDAY, TRADITIONS & TEA

T’was the Teddy Bear – Jingle Bells Tea

The New Orleans Roosevelt Hotel (formerly The Fairmont Hotel) hosts an annual event called Teddy Bear Tea during the holiday season. It’s a very elegant festive celebration with a traditional afternoon tea, and activities that include Santa visiting the tables around the room, and taking pictures with children; Christmas stories are read, there are an array of Christmas lights in the halls, a beautifully made enormous gingerbread house along with other activities and each child receives an annual teddy bear.

A friend of mine has taken one granddaughter to this event for several years, and as the number of granddaughters increased (now currently 6 in all) they’ve attended as group to the festive event. This year, as with all things 2020, my friend decided she wanted to try to recreate some of the sparkle and charm from the event closer to home and called me to help her brainstorm possible venues. Within less than 10 minutes I had given her enough ideas and inspiration to convince her she could host a Teddy Bear Tea in her home. And so the story begins…..

T’was the month of Christmas and throughout the world, gathering was discouraged, not even for little girls. An annual holiday tradition, shared with their Nana, would have to be rethought with some magic from Santa. A call was quickly made, to one of his elves and suddenly ideas were flowing in delves. Nana didn’t want fancy, stuffy or bore; she wanted pretty and playful activities galore.

The Elf scratched her head and wrinkled her nose, conjuring memories began to flow. Remembering a cookie decorated with little hands, icing, sprinkles and sugary sand. Little cupcakes topped with fairies, or mini cheesecakes filled with cherries. Mini sandwiches rolled like candy, or tiny Christmas Tree pizzas would be quit dandy.

Inspiration found on Pinterest

On to the pantry, the Elf searched through her cutters and found the large teddy bear that was used and worn more than others. These cookies were made since her own daughter was little, then decorated with icing, sprinkles and shared giggles.

With icing and sprinkles all in their places, the bears 🐻 would come alive with their wardrobe and faces. With small candy eyes and a large chocolate chip nose; or a variety of options from their heads to their toes.

While the tradition is a tea, only hot chocolate will do, and she’d just seen a version that was festive and new. Filled with mini marshmallows, and hot chocolate mix, these hot chocolate bombs would be just the right fix. All that is needed, is the perfect sized cup, to pour hot milk over then drink it right up!

Hot Chocolate bombs.
Nana’s selection of cookies, sandwiches, mini cup cakes, fruit and a hot chocolate bomb.

When the weekend arrived, the elf decided to bake, knowing the difference her effort would make. Teddy bears ready and snowflakes for sweets – Nana could add to her basket of treats. Tightly wrapped and ready for the day, all Nana had to do was whisk them away.

Looking for ribbon, the Elf searched a box – that rattled and clattered as she opened it up. As she peered inside what she found made her glow, “I can make jingle bell necklaces with little red bows!” How special the day is going to be, the girls will surely be tickled with glee!

As the time grew nearer the ideas were still spinning, small pieces of wrapping paper had the Elf grinning. Carefully she began to trim right away, creating a bed where the bear cookie would lay.  Repurpose, repurpose, repurpose I say, it’s so much better than throwing away!

The table set and the bears at the ready, the girls would be thrilled to meet their new Teddy! Nana read Christmas stories and they played fun games, then decorated their cookies giving each one a name. Filled with giggles, sugar and memories; their decorated cookies and brand new teddies, the day was such fun, yes a great success – now Nana was left to clean up the mess! But the day was lovely with it’s new rendition and I believe Nana has a new tradition.

As the girls returned home with their teddy bears in tow, dreaming of presents, Christmas trees and snow; relaxed and snuggled warm in their beds, joyful memories of their day with Nana would dance through their heads. With the young girls happy and dancing with cheer, we wish a Merry Christmas to all and Happy New Year!

The End.

CHRISTMAS, GATHERINGS, HOLIDAY

White Christmas (with a Splash of Red):Ladies Lunch

Three more of my friends gathered with me on a Sunday, for an afternoon lunch. All of my gatherings require a little bit of a theme and then a menu. I decided on a White Christmas theme, attempting to make all of the food in shades of white. I wanted to serve a 2020 Beaujolais Nouveau – so I decided to call it a “White Christmas Lunch with a Splash of Red.”

Often I create a list of options for the menu, while also trying to create images in my head of what I might be able to use for the table decor. I chose to use white snow globes surrounded my mini snow globe ornaments (Martha Stewart that I found at Homegoods); artificial garland, a string of battery operated clear globe lights with etched snowflakes and when I was picking up the ingredients for the menu I found a bouquet of Star of Bethlehem flowers that I tucked into the garland. My table seats 8, but to practice safe distancing, I placed two at each end and two in the middle of each side of the table.

I placed a mini snow globe ornament into small cupcake holders with some crinkled paper and then slipped it into little cellophane bag that was set by each place setting as a favor for everyone to take home.

When everyone arrived, we toasted 2020 goodbye with is 2020 Beaujolais Nouveau that was very good and then sat at the table to say a blessing and enjoy the memo I had prepared.

The Menu: 4 servings

Dessert

The dessert course had to be started a day ahead for the refrigeration process needed to set the various layers. What you’ll need.

  • 1 quart of prepared eggnog ( I just purchase one from the dairy department)
  • 1 envelop of unflavored gelatin
  • 2 tbsps. water (separated)
  • 1 jar of prepared caramel sauce
  • 1 tablespoon liqueur or brandy, rum (optional)

To create the layers I made half of the eggnog panna cotta for the first layer. In a small bowl mix 1 1/8 tsp. of gelatin with 1 tablespoon of water. Place in the microwave for 15 seconds. This will liquify the gelatin (stir to mix and ensure well dissolved). Place one cup of eggnog into a microwave safe bowl and warm for 30 seconds. It just has to be slightly warm, don’t let it get hot. Using a fine strainer, pour the dissolved gelatin into the warmed eggnog and mix well. Pour equally in four glasses (I used this dessert coupes that were my mother’s). Place in the refrigerator for 3 hours or until set.

Using a good caramel sauce, place four to five teaspoons into small microwave safe bowl and warm 15 seconds. I mixed in a tablespoon of a French pear liqueur, but brandy or dark rum, or Frangelico liqueur are also options. Spoon even layers of the loosened caramel over the set eggnog layer. Refrigerate 3 hours.

Repeat the first step creating a 2nd eggnog layer. Refrigerate 3 hours or more until set.

I wanted to create a snowflake on the top, and years ago I saw a snowflake created on the top of of cocktail with a stencil and cinnamon. Unfortunately the I thought of this idea two days before. I searched online for a template, but it was too late to order. So I printed one and cut out the sections with a small pair of manicure scissors. Using a mixture of Chinese Five Spice and Nutmeg – I laid the stencil over the glass and sifted the spices over the pattern. It didn’t give me as clean of a snowflake as I’d hoped for but it was still pretty. I added white edible pearls to dress it up.

Mini Cheese Plate

On to the small cheese plate. While at Whole Foods, I browsed through the cheese case and noticed a sign the indicated all of the gouda cheeses were 50% off. A gouda with black truffles caught my eye and a small block of it would be only $3.00. So I bought it and a small log of honey goat cheese. Once home I allowed the goat cheese to come to room temperature while finely chopping some dried cranberries, pistachios and crystalized ginger. When the goat cheese had softened, I rolled and slightly pressed it into the ingredients, then wrapped it in clear plastic wrap and then refrigerated it over night so it would firm back up. When ready to serve slice in to 1/4 inch disks and place on small plates with the other cheese (cubed). The pack of endive I had purchased had both green and purple endive, so I used a few of the purple leaves to add color and a few green grapes. Everyone had small ramekin with garlic bread toasts to eat with the cheeses.

White Velvet Soup with Gremolata

The soup doesn’t have much of a story. Giada made it on of her shows several years ago and I’d made it once for a cocktail party served in tiny bowls. With my White Christmas theme, and unusual ingredients of parsnips and fennel , I knew it would be a light soup everyone would enjoy that’s delicious. Find her recipe in the link below.

https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/giada-de-laurentiis/white-velvet-soup-3157615?_branch_match_id=420210008448251395

Winter Salad with Warm Dijon Lump Crab Dressing

I started layering this salad in a large bowl, but quickly realized it would be prettier to layer it on each individual plate. I put the list below in the exact order that I used to layer the veggies.

  • 1 Napa Cabbage (sliced in ribbons and split into four – the first bottom layer)
  • 1 or 2 green endive (cut the end off and separate leaves; I placed each under the cabbage about 4 per plate so the pretty edges of the leaves would be visible)
  • 1 bunch of watercress ( cut the top leaves with a short stem remaining off and gently spread over the Napa Cabbage)
  • 1 Fennel bulb (cut the top fronds off) split bulb in half and cut the core out; use a mandolin or very sharp knife make paper thin slices of fennel and scatter over the items above.
  • 1 jar or can of artichoke hearts (drain and pull some of the individual leaves off and scatter over the salad. I used pieces from two for each plate)
  • Small bunch of green grapes ( slice two or three grapes into thin disks per plate and scatter over the salad).
  • 1 small granny smith apple (Slice off two sides and julienne -tiny sticks. I then dip them quickly into a small bowl with water and lemon juice to prevent browning. Sprinkle over the salad.
  • Micro greens (optional -alfalfa sprouts are also an option – sprinkle over).
  • Grape seed oil (drizzle a very small stream over each salad (a fruity olive oil can be used also)
  • White balsamic vinegar (sprinkle a small stream over each salad)
  • 1/4 cup of toasted pine nuts – sprinkled over each salad
  • a pinch of Maldon sea salt flakes over each (or kosher salt)
  • See below for warm crab dressing

For a delicate salad a light sprinkle of white balsamic vinegar and a drizzle of olive oil (or grape seed oil) is all you need. No heavy complicated dressings. The salad above could easily be served ending here, but to further elevate and top with a little white decadence I used this warm crabmeat dressing.

Chef Kevin Graham’s Hot Crabmeat Dressing

Chef Kevin Graham was at one time back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, the chef at the Windsor Court Grille Room in New Orleans. Everyone raved about the excellent food served at the hotel restaurant. He published a book of recipes created for the Grille Room that I purchased and I’ve made this dressing for special occasions several times over the years.

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 shallot, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
  • (I added a teaspoon of honey)
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
  • salt to taste
  • Freshly ground white or black pepper
  • 4 ounces of white crab meat

Heat oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallots and garlic, saute about 2 minutes or until tender. Whisk in mustard, vinegar, honey and cayenne. Season with salt and pepper. Fold in crabmeat and cook for a few seconds until heated through. Spoon over the stack salad greens.

I found an instrumental winter music station on YouTube with images of snow falling that I played in the background, I had put my Christmas tree in the dining room this year so while surrounded by the tree with all of it’s trimmings, twinkle lights, snow globes, and candles flickering, my friends and I enjoyed a quiet, relaxing afternoon lunch while visiting and catching up after this long year of separation. I can’t think of a better way to spend the afternoon. Whether your Christmas is white or tropical (like ours often are in the South), may it filled with the spirit of Christ, joyful hope for the new year and truly be bright! ❄️

CHRISTMAS, HOLIDAY, TRADITIONS & TEA

Our Christmas Cookie Tradition

Homemade cookies delivered to my neighbors last year.

As a young girl in a military family, we moved almost every year until I was in the 4th grade. We then lived for a few years each, in both northern and southern California before Dad finally retired from the service. Military families often live far away from family and miss out on the annual traditions or routines that usually form from being near them. We didn’t have Christmas Eve’s at Uncle so in so’s or alternated Christmas Day dinners at each of our grandparent’s houses. Christmas was usually just dinner for the four of us, Mom, Dad, my brother and I.

Having missed out on holiday traditions with other family members as a kid, it was important to me that my daughter have family traditions when she was growing up. I was inspired by my ex-husband’s large family, who routinely celebrated different holidays throughout the year their own unique way with a large family picnic for Easter and a Christmas Eve gathering every year that I made sure she attended.

In preparation for Christmas, three families that resided in homes all on the same street gathered in the late afternoon on Thanksgiving Day to pick a family member’s name from a bowl. On Christmas Eve there was a party at one of the three homes along with traditional food and a gift exchange. My food memory from those parties so many years later were Grammy’s shrimp balls, at the time made by a beloved Aunt nestled in a chrome insulated container that I couldn’t wait to see arrive and placed on the table.

Another tradition that took place for several years involved a group of family members that got together in early November and drove across Lake Pontchartrain to a Christmas tree farm. Each family would select their tree, pay for it and tag it. The Friday after Thanksgiving, everyone would make the journey back to the farm to cut the tree down, wrap it up and bring it home. The following Saturday night I would host a tree trimming party for friends and family. When I think back to the small townhouse living room I had back then and the number of people that would cram inside, I’m not sure how we did it, but everyone eagerly attended year after year.

These were the days long before computers, so with a few library books and a typewriter, I typed all of the lyrics to 36 Christmas carols. I cut out and taped some images and drew others to some of the pages. I then organized the pages so that after I made photocopies and folded them in half, they would form a little song book. The children would sit in front of their decorated tree and sing a few Christmas carols.

While I didn’t ask my guests to bring an ornament, I received some beautiful versions that have become treasured classics -handled with special care as they are hung on my tree all of these years later. Year after year, as I unpack them from their layers of bubble wrap or tissue, the memories of those parties come rushing back.

Both my daughter and granddaughter received a nutcracker ornament the first time I took them to see the Nutcracker Ballet. The boys, not as interested in the ballet, received their nutcrackers in their early years of tree decorating.

Whenever a party includes children it’s imperative to have an activity to keep them entertained, especially in a small home. Upstairs I had an open loft that didn’t have any specific purpose, but offered enough space to place two folding tables with chairs. For the first party I baked cookies formed into various Christmas themed shapes such as candy canes, bells, and trees. I then purchased a variety of sprinkles and colored sugars and cans of white frosting that I used food color to make green, red and yellow. The kids sat at the tables with their plastic knives and dipped into the cans of frosting to slather on their cookies and then sprinkle with various candy decorations having a ball! I would convince them to allow the cookies to dry, and then ask them to come downstairs to decorate the tree and sing Christmas carols. We then wrapped their cookies in cellophane bags for their journey home.

In the years that followed, I found a large Teddy Bear cookie cutter. I thought that something with a larger surface, maybe rolled out a little thicker, would be easier for the kids to handle. I could not have imagined not only how much they would love it at the time (as they left with bears loaded down with chocolate or vanilla icing and about a pound of various candies), but years later one of the mothers told me her daughter still remembers decorating those cookies and she’s now in her late 30’s.

While I haven’t hosted a tree trimming party for years, I do bake a variety of cookies to box and deliver to my neighbors.

Now I have grandchildren, but they live one State over and with jobs and school schedules I don’t see them as much as I would like. While they often come home for Christmas, it’s usually after the tree has been decorated, so starting with my first grandchild, I have baked those same Teddy Bear cookies and mailed them with tubes of icing and various sprinkles so she could decorate her cookies when she decorated the tree with my daughter and her husband. Now with three grandchildren, every year I’ve sent the cookies and the kids have followed the tradition of a night of cookie decorating. Last year I asked my granddaughter who was at the time just days from her 11th birthday, if I should keep making the Teddy Bear cookies and she immediately said “Yes! Nana, it’s a tradition!”

For the past two years, their little family has stopped by on the Saturday after Thanksgiving on their way home from visiting their grandparents in Alabama to decorate my tree. This year while Mom and Dad enjoyed a college football game, we played Christmas music and shared an evening of decorating my Christmas tree and then gathered around the table to decorate two new cookie shapes – a large Christmas Tree and the popular red truck with a Christmas Tree (that the boys decided to make blue.) Of course by the time we had finished the Christmas tree cookie, my littlest demanded it was time to eat his snowflake cookie. (I mean a little boy can only hold out for so long!)

Packed in those same cellophane bags, ready for the journey home, somehow all of these years later, I’ve managed to re-create a similar tradition with my grandchildren. Whether in their own home or here with me, I hope that like those other small children who once attended my tree trimming parties years ago, they will remember these moments as our “Christmas cookie tradition.”

Nana’s Cookie Recipe

2 sticks (1/2 cup each) of unsalted butter (room temperature)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla paste (or) pure vanilla extract
1 tbsp pure almond extract (yes 1 tablespoon)
The zest of one naval orange (the entire orange – no white pith)

Sift together and set aside:
3 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp kosher salt
(for a chocolate dough add 1/3 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder)

Mixing bowl and mixer – add room temp butter and 1 cup of sugar and mix until creamy and smooth; add egg, extracts and zest. Mix until combined.

Add dry ingredients ½ cup at a time on low speed to avoid powder flying everywhere, and then mix on medium until the dough forms into a ball.

Split dough into two square disks and wrap in clear plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 1 hour.
Note: if refrigerated longer (or overnight) dough will have to be taken out and sit for a while before attempting to roll out. It will be too stiff. For optimum results work dough 1 hr after chilling.

Clear a shelf as much as possible to fit a full cookie sheet into the refrigerator. (I usually try to move around items all to the same height that I can set the tray on top level).

Pre-heat oven 375 degrees.

Place one disk of dough between two pieces of plastic wrap (this prevents the dough from sticking to the counter and the rolling pin, with no flour dusting or mess to clean up) and roll out in one direction, turn clockwise and roll again to about ¼ inch thickness. A good trick is to put chop sticks on each side of the dough and roll the rolling pin over the chop sticks for thickness to be even. (If too thin when decorating the cookies will break and the edges could over bake).

Remove the top layer of plastic and dip the cookie cutter into flour before pressing into the dough to cut each shape for a clean cut and transfer cut cookies to a parchment paper or silicon sheet liked cookie sheet. Once the sheet is filled, pop it into the refrigerator for about 7 minutes. (This helps the cookie keep its shape without spreading – if too warm the dough will spread).

While the cookie sheet is rechilling. Pull together the dough scraps into a disk and roll between plastic wrap again. Same process as above and place on a second lined cookie sheet.

Place the first re-chilled sheet in the oven with timer on 15 minutes – chill the 2nd sheet for 7. When the time for the 2nd tray is up, the first tray is half way through its baking process, turn it around and add the 2nd tray. When the timer goes off for the first tray – remove and reset timer for 7 more minutes for the 2nd tray. Cookies should be slightly golden.

Let tray cool for 5 minutes and then transfer to a cookie rack to completely cool. Repeat with the 2nd tray when timer alerts.

Repeat with all of the remaining dough.

Cookies must be completely cooled before decorating.

Cookies can be stacked into an air tight container up to a week – if you want to decorate at a later date. Once decorated, they are still good for a week and stay pretty fresh if sealed in a good container.

Note: Recipe used for: Annual Teddy Bear cookies for tree trimming parties; various holidays for grandchildren’s classes, cookie decorating with grandchildren and gifts to neighbors; 2019- Teddy Bear dropped for Red truck with Christmas Tree.

Other flavor options tested:
• For those with nut allergies – omit almond extract and increase vanilla to 1 ½ tsp.
• Lemon or Lime zest in lieu of orange
• Shown above -Add 1/3 cup of cocoa powder to dry ingredients for a chocolate cookie (any more dries out the dough).
• Powdered dehydrated raspberry or strawberry (1/3 cup) to dry ingredients for a pink cookie – great for Valentine’s Day heart cookies.

SMALL TALK, THANKSGIVING

Gifts of Gratitude

Thanksgiving is only a few days away and there is still time to show gratitude to those who have helped us throughout this complicated year. My family has been very grateful to the group of kind and caring nurses, care partners and managers that have worked diligently to care for our Dad who is in an assisted living and memory care residence. The staff has followed guidelines all year to protect themselves and our loved one from the coronavirus.

I truly enjoy giving little gifts from the heart, but this year my full-time job has really consumed a lot of my time and energy (so grateful for my job); and slightly exhausted my usual thoughtfulness that seems to come in small bursts these days. I realized I hadn’t formed a plan as of yet, for the little gifts I wanted to give the staff – so when the weekend arrived I hit the stores in search of “a little something” to say thanks.

First I had to reach out to one of the managers to get a head count to prepare for. She told me there were 12 including herself (and I later found out this did’t include the 5 nurses that I later had to make another trip for). Make sure you ask questions to get all of the information you need. I certainty didn’t want to leave anyone out.

I was in Homegoods and found these Christmas Tree scented candles that really do smell like a fresh cut tree. The refreshing, familiar scent brought the feelings of Christmas straight to my heart. Now as you know if you’re a Homegoods shopper, the digging and searching began praying the entire time that I would find three boxes of four that could easily make into 12 individual gifts. I was so excited (and grateful) when I found the three boxes I needed.

I didn’t want the packaging to look too “Christmasy” and while I was in line browsing through what I affectionately call the “booby trap” area, I found two sets of six bags in a simple black and white pattern with elegant green velvet ribbons. The pattern looked familiar to me, and I left the line to go back to the wrapping paper area where I found the matching tags.

Back home, I pulled out some gray tissue paper from my stash, and repurposing the ribbon on the box of candles (I folded in half and cut and then folded the two pieces in half again and cut to form 4 pieces of ribbon); I tied the gray tissue paper over each of the votives and placed them inside of one of the bags.

I then wrote a small note, creating two columns and sizing so that when cut I could use a glue stick to attach the note on the back of each card and tuck it into the bags. It took a little time, but I then carefully placed all 12 into a cardboard box and sealed it shut and was off to the Sr. Living Residence.

When I arrived, the manager that had given me the number of her staff happened to be at the front desk. I waved her over to the door, and asked her if she could please assist my Dad to distribute the little gifts during the week. It makes him happy to give little gifts to others. So she said she’ll be back on Tuesday, and she’ll get him ready in his mobile chair and guide him around the building to say Thank you and give his gifts of gratitude.

A true gift is one that comes from the heart and lets someone know how much you appreciate them. Another is allowing a beautiful elderly gentlemen enjoy the thrill of giving.

FRIENDSGIVING, SIMPLY ELEVATED

Fall Friend Lunch #3

A couple of weeks had passed since my last small lunch gathering, so it was time to invite two more friends over for a Sunday afternoon lunch. One of the ladies invited had other plans, but Pemmie and I took advantage of our time alone to catch up, something we haven’t had a chance to do for several months.

I’ve tried to make each luncheon a little unique with a slight adjustment to the table setting and menu. For this lunch I used the succulent adorned tiger pumpkins I made to create the fall table decor and I found some interesting purple hydrangeas that had been sprayed black for Halloween weekend that I mixed with some chartreuse chrysanthemums, peach alstroemeria and magnolia leaves for my crock vase.

My delicious French pear liqueur had it’s final after lunch sipping today and my friend had a contact in France to get a fresh bottle sent for future gatherings.

To create mini cheese boards I used small wooden plates to arrange a couple of slices of brie, manchego and blue cheese with grapes and berries over a small magnolia leaf. Some grocers or delis have a container in their cheese section filled with small pieces of cheese for sale that is just enough for 2 servings so that you don’t have to purchase a larger than needed block of cheese.

I love the sweet richness of pears, so once again I used them for my dessert. Years ago on an episode of Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten did a “Barefoot in Paris” season. I’ve made clafoutis a few times with dark cherries, but this version with pears shared by Chef Daniel Rose has become my all time favorite. The only difference in his version and mine, it that I add about a teaspoon of Chinese Five Spice to a half cup of powdered sugar to sprinkle on top for a little added spice. https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/clafoutis-aux-poires-3240468

Lunch included a re-appearance of my cafe’ purchased Autumn crunch salad with apple cider vinaigrette .

The cooler temps put me in the mood for homemade chili, but I didn’t want to serve chili for this ladies lunch. I found a soup recipe that included all of the flavors of chili and a smokey crunch created from chopped salted smoked almonds.

This healthy, hearty soup was made with butternut squash and lentils as the main ingredients. https://reciperunner.com/creamy-red-lentil-butternut-squash-soup/

Note: I used French green lentils instead of red (because it’s what I had in the pantry. I used chicken stock, added red chili flakes and the zest of a lime. When warmed and ready to serve, added diced avocado to the center of the bowl. Serve the soup with a quarter of a lime to be squeezed over the bowl and stirred in when ready to eat. Pemmie commented that the lime brought a fresh pop to the warm spices.

Soup served with lime and autumn crunch cafe’ salad.
Pemmie brought a fresh crisp wine.
Next day leftovers served in a wider bowl, the cubed avocado is more visible, topped with Greek yogurt or Crème Fraîche.

While this is the third lunch, I still have a few more friends to invite over for their afternoon lunch. When time permits I hope to carefully plan a couple of Christmas themed luncheons for the remaining ladies. Stay tuned….

HOLIDAY, LAGNIAPPE, THANKSGIVING

Dollar Store Elevated Pumpkin Decor

Dollar Tree purchases artificial succulents.
Craft store spray adhesive.
Dollar Tree moss, craft store 99 cent rolls of ribbon and glue gun.
A variety of colors makes a cheerful presentation.
The finished pumpkins can be used as table decor or placed on end tables,
in the bathroom for a touch of fall. The three of these will
be favors for my next small lunch gathering with friends.
A medium sized pumpkin can handle the larger succulents.
The succulents look very real. At the end of the season the pumpkins will not last forever, but the succulents can be pulled off and stored away to reuse next year.
HALLOWEEN, HOLIDAY

What to do about Halloween in 2020 -Treat or Trick?

A tradition of baking and shipping homemade holiday cookies to my grandchildren started approximately nine years ago. My granddaughter attended a Pre-K3 class, and starting with Halloween followed by Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day, Christmas, ending with Easter, I baked, iced, individually wrapped and boxed cookies for her and her classmates. Four years later my middle Grayson came along, and when he started his Pre-K-3 class, my cookie duty doubled, requiring cookies for both his and his sister’s classes. Another four years passed and my youngest grandson arrived, but fortunately for me, the schools would no longer allow baked goods for the students due to the variety of gluten and nut allergies. I say fortunately because I’m not sure I could have made it through the baking and decorating of nearly 100 decorated cookies.

Now the cookies I send are just for the grandkids (and their parents) with a few extras to share with friends or co-workers. I’m no pastry chef, just a Nana trying to make her grandchildren happy. This year as I rolled, cut and baked my traditional cookie shapes, an idea formed that may inspire parents with a safe way to make Halloween fun and playful during this Covid 19 time we currently live in.

My trick or treaters usually receive one of my “crackers” filled with candies and plastic toys. Fashioned after the English Christmas cracker, I used the center roll from toilet paper, and wrapped the cylinder with Halloween tissue paper (it could be as simple as orange or black solid tissue paper from the local dollar store). Each end of the paper cinched with a piece of ribbon and usually a little black spider ring. The kids just loved getting something different that they got to unwrap when they got home.

This year, a great twist would be to fill the crackers with a “trick” like dried beans that are the same weight as candy, or a “treat” actual candy. Then hide the filled crackers around the house or yard and send the kids out to look for them (just like an Easter egg hunt). Some could be filled with a plastic spider, or other creepy crawlers that would result in a special prize, like a box of cracker jacks, a large chocolate bar or other fund prize.

Create a prize board with images of the “special” critters so that they know that just because the cracker is light in weight it may bear a big prize.

With this idea in mind, as I cut out and decorated the cookies I made one skeleton different from the others, two ghosts that faced the opposite way and were covered with orange and black sprinkles and a brown bat. All of the cookies were wrapped as shown below. Something like cookies could also be hidden and whomever found the “different” cookie could get a prize a special prize. (Sticker books, a small toy, etc.

The idea is simple and easy so that it’s suited for all ages. A scavenger hunt would be a great idea, but create more work to create clues and smaller children would have a harder time solving the clues, but if your children are old enough hiding items around the house hidden away and found by reading a special clue (i.e., “I’m dizzy from spinning round and round “- a stuffed animal hidden in the dryer; “I’m simply going to freeze if you don’t find me!” something in the freezer.)

I hope these ideas will inspire you to create a simple, but fun alternative for your children or grandchildren this Halloween. Start saving and ask your neighbors for help saving those toilet paper rolls and have a safe, fun and HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!

FRIENDSGIVING, FRIENDSGIVING, GATHERINGS, SMALL TALK

Autumn Luncheon with Neighbors

French Pear Liqueur from Alsace almost gone! Turns out it’s liquid Gold because I tried to order online and it can’t be shipped to my State. On the list if I get back to France!

Nearly everyone we know is experiencing some form of stress in 2020, from health concerns of a family member, to financial restraints, home schooling children, and more. Here in the South alone, our anxiety level has been on edge as we have waited out multiple hurricanes and tropical storms. As we try to slowly and carefully gather with small groups of friends once again, I extended an invitation to three of my neighbors for a late afternoon autumn lunch.

Setting the table I tried to create some space between each chair.

One of the ladies has been taking care of an ailing family member for a long time, and I thought she could use a day out of the house; another recently put her house up for sale and will be moving away within a month; and the third organized a neighborhood bunco group several years ago that brought us all together and has been one of my closest friends for nearly seven years. While my work life has been extremely stressful and busy, I find my joy in spoiling others. So this, my second Autumn luncheon was scheduled more than 14 days since the fondue and was limited to three guests.

A French Country theme works well in the Fall, and I prepared a Fall inspired menu that was partially prepared by me and partially purchased. I made the roasted carrot ginger soup a day ahead (most dishes taste even better the next day) , the poached pears and palmier I prepare the morning of the lunch; and I purchased the Autumn salad at a local cafe’.

The Autumnal salad was a new item on the menu that I had tried the weekend before, filled with roasted beets and sweet potatoes, red quinoa, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, golden raisins, spring greens and frisee, green apples, small broccoli florets, radicchio and topped with alpha sprouts. Tossed in an apple cider vinaigrette, it couldn’t be more perfect. There were so many ingredients that it was just more feasible to purchase two salads that I split four ways.

MENU

  • Apple Pie Wine
  • Roasted Carrot Ginger Soup with Crème Fraîche, Gremolata and Fried Shallots
  • Autumnal Salad
  • Poached Pears and Crispy Palmier
  • French Pear Liqueur
  • Hot tea (Chai or Apple Cider herbal)

Pears Poached in Apple Cider & Apple Brandy

Adapted from Martha Stewart – my own little changes are listed below the photos. https://www.marthastewart.com/341355/poached-pears

2 1/2 cups of apple cider and 1/2 cup of Calvados (Apple Brandy)
For a little crunch I made palmiers to serve on the side. Another idea was to finely chop some crystalized ginger and pistachios and fold into slightly softened vanilla ice cream and then place back in the freezer. A small scoop on the side of the pear.

Roasted Carrot Ginger Soup

Ingredients:

2 lb bag of carrots (peeled and chopped into 1 inch pieces)

2 macintosh apples (peeled and cubed same size as carrots)

fresh ginger (1 tablespoon grated)

1 lemon zest the entire lemon ( juice see below)

salt and pepper

1 garlic bulb sliced in half horizontally

2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 cup of coconut milk

1 quart vegetable stock

1 large yellow onion (thinly sliced)

Juice of 1/2 of the lemon)

1 small fresno pepper chopped

2 large shallots (thinly sliced on a mandolin)

1 cup of canola or vegetable oil

Gremolata (optional)

Creme fraiche

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Drizzle a baking sheet with about 1 tbsp. olive oil. Place cubed carrots and apples, grated ginger, lemon zest, 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper into a large bowl. Drizzle with about a tablespoon of olive oil and then stir or toss with hands until everything is coated evenly. Pour onto the oiled baking sheet and spread into on even layer. Nestle in the halved garlic bulb and drizzle with a little olive oil. Bake for 20 minutes, then remove the the oven and toss with a spatula (turning carrots and apples over). Return to the oven and bake another 20 to 30 minutes until carrots are tender.

Meanwhile, add the thinly sliced onion and place is a small non-stick pan. Over medium heat slowly saute’. Add small amounts of water as they begin to dry or stick to the pan. Watch carefully until golden brown making sure not to burn. May take up to 20 minutes or more. Set aside.

Remove carrot tray from the oven. Let cool for about 15 minutes.

Carefully squeeze the softened garlic over the cooked carrots and dispose of all of the husks. Deseed and finely chop the fresno pepper (a 1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes is an option). Depending on the size of your food processor, you may be able to puree everything at one time or you may have to divide the ingredients into small portions and puree in batches. If making in batches try to use equal parts of carrot, apple, caramelized onions and fresno pepper. Add 1/2 cup of vegetable stock and puree. Continue to add stock 1/2 cup at a time until you reach the consistency that you prefer. Pour each batch into a medium saucepan to reheat. When all of the batches are complete and transferred to the pot, add the juice of 1/2 lemon and 1/2 cup of coconut milk to add a little richness. You may of course add as little or as much as you would like according to your taste. Just remember to taste as you add. Salt and pepper to taste.

Gremolata (optional) – this is a mixture of herbs (parsley, cilantro, thyme, sage) finely chopped, finely grated parmesan, toasted chopped nuts, and lemon zest. I even used some of the carrot tops (greens). Nut options can be pine nuts, pistachios, walnuts or other nuts can be added. A gremolata adds a little color and herbaceous freshness to the top of the soup.

Lastly, slice two large shallots on a mandolin (or slice very thinly with a sharp knife.) Place 1 cup of canola or vegetable oil to a medium saucepan and heat. Add the shallots and cook with an occasional stir until golden brown and crispy. Place fried shallots into a sieve or strainer to drain the oil. Sprinkle with kosher salt.

To serve place the heated carrot soup in a bowl, either swirl a small amount of creme fraiche (or sour cream or greek yogurt) over the surface. I placed my creme fraiche into a condiment squirt bottle, but you can use the tip of a spoon or even a zip bag and make a small cut in the bottom corner to apply the cream. Top with gremolata and then fried shallots.

The table was also dressed with a couple of pumpkins and a crock vase filled with sunflowers and hydrangeas. The napkins wrapped with twine and a crocosmia stem in bright orange.

I always have some kind of little take home favor for my guests. I found these miniature mums that were wrapped in Halloween paper that had a plastic coating. I removed one of the wraps and used it as a template to shape some gift wrap I had to recover each. I used a small tube of glue, to attache bot together, re-wrapped the little pot and tied with black gingham. I then cut out one of the gold bees and glued it over the ribbon knot. Trimmed the ribbon edges and placed one at each place setting. I also make pumpkin bread loaves that I wrapped and sent everyone home with.

A few hours later, we had enjoyed an afternoon of sharing the year’s experiences, offering support for each other’s future and a satisfying meal.

I found this apple wine at Fresh Market.
Served ice cold was, light ,crisp and slightly sweet. A lovely afternoon drink.

I have several friend between my wine club, book club and mother’s tea groups. So in few weeks I’ll be hosting yet another small luncheon for another 2 or 3. See you soon!

FRIENDSGIVING, GATHERINGS, WINE CLUB

🍁🍂 Travel Memories Gathering🍁🍂

We drove past many fields of Sunflowers and grapevines. We also were introduced to Crémant a pleasant, sparkling, refreshing wine from Alsace, France.

🍁I think we would all agree that the year 2020 has really thrown us off course. Whatever our routines may have been in the past, nearly everything has been forced to change. The routine that gives me the most pleasure and provides the content for this blog, is planning “social interactions and parties” for my family and friends. Social distancing obviously put a serious halt to all of those gatherings for several months, but as the “phases” allow us to slowly move forward and restrictions begin to slightly relax, I finally sent my first invite for a small gathering.

🍁Just one year ago (in early September 2019) when life was clearly different than it is has been this year, I met two of my friends in Europe for an unexpected adventure. We spent one week visiting a castle in Southern Germany; medieval towns in Alsace,France and the Swiss Alps of Mürren, Switzerland. What better way to shake off our 2020 blues, than to recreate some of the food and wine experiences from our trip and gather to talk and recall special moments of this memorable time we spent together. Our best memories pictured below:

German Salad with edible marigolds.
Cornichons, capers and pearl cocktail onions;
French Pear Liqueur brought back from Eguisheim, France,
that tastes like sweet caramelized pears to sip with dessert.
Store bought truffle mousse, charcuterie meats, garlic toasts.
I found this truffle mousse (pate’) in the cheese section at Whole Foods. It didn’t have much of a truffle flavor, but was still very good and filled two ramekins.
A traditional Swiss fondue made with Emmethal and Gruyere cheeses, garlic, white wine & kirsch, served with roasted (rather than boiled multi-colored potatoes and toasted baguette cubes (see link at the end for the recipe ).
Napkins reminiscent of a French country kitchen and colorful rooster place mats.

🍁I needed this gathering to be relaxing for myself as well as my gal pals. So while I prepared the salads and the fondue, I took shortcuts here and there and bought items prepared, like the pate’ and this Black Forest cake, that while not like the original version we enjoyed in the Black Forest of Germany, was light after all of the cheese, bread and potatoes and still recalled the memory of that day.

After removing the fondue pot, I placed two large pieces of cake on a platter in the middle of the table and we grabbed forkfuls with a cup of coffee and an occasional sip of our Pear Liqueur cordial.

🍁”Where should we go when we can safely travel again?” asked on of my friends. Spain was suggested…. they’ve both been there – I haven’t. Once again, I’d be thrilled to just go along for the adventure!

Recipes and planning can be found on my 2019 Friendsgiving post https://socialinteractionsandparties.wordpress.com/category/friendsgiving/

Images from our European Adventure can be found on my Travel Journal category posts https://socialinteractionsandparties.wordpress.com/2019/09/30/the-spontaneous-traveler-bonus-edition/

SIMPLY ELEVATED

Quick Carrot Cake or Lemon Pistachio Cookie

A few months ago I shared my German Chocolate inspired cookie made with a box of cake mix. I’ve continued to experiment with making quick boxed cake mix cookies. Here’s a carrot cake and a tart, but sweet lemon pistachio cookie.

Carrot Cake Cookie

  • 1 box of carrot cake mix
  • 2 eggs scrambled before adding
  • 1/3 cup of canola or vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup pecans (toasted) shop 1/2 and keep the best whole pieces to top off the cookie
  • 1/4 cup toasted coconut (place in skillet on low heat and watch closely tossing until golden – it can burn quickly)
  • 1 container cream cheese frosting

Preheat oven 350 degrees F.

Place pecans on sheet pan and place in the oven for 10 minutes to toast. Remove and allow to cook for 5 to 10 minutes. Select about 20 or so whole pecans and set aside. Chop the rest.

In a medium bowl place 2 eggs and scramble well, add cake mix and oil and mix with a spatula until the ingredients are well combined and form a thick cookie dough. Add and mix in chopped pecans. Use a 1 1/2 tablespoon scoop to form dough balls and place about 2 inches apart on a silicon or parchment line sheet pan. Bake 20 – 25 minutes depending on your oven. Check at a shorter time and allow more if needed.

Remove from the oven and allow to cook 5 minutes and then transfer to a cookie rack to completely cool. Once cooled top with cream cheese frosting and toasted coconut. Place one whole toasted pecan in the center.

Lemon Cookie

  • 1 box of lemon cake mix
  • 2 eggs scrambled before adding
  • 1/3 cup of canola or vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup of candied lemon peel (chopped)
  • 1/4 cup chopped pistachios
  • 1 container lemon frosting

In a medium bowl place 2 eggs and scramble well, add cake mix, add the chopped candied lemon peel and oil mixing with a spatula until the ingredients are well combined and form a thick cookie dough. Add and mix in chopped pecans. Use a 1 1/2 tablespoon scoop to form dough balls and place about 2 inches apart on a silicon or parchment line sheet pan. Bake 20 – 25 minutes depending on your oven. Check at a shorter time and allow more if needed.

Remove from the oven and allow to cook 5 minutes and then transfer to a cookie rack to completely cool. Once cooled top with lemon frosting and chopped pistachios.

So if you need a quick something sweet at the end of a meal, picnic or just for a snack, find a flavor that works for you or try them all!

SIMPLY ELEVATED

A Crunchy Snack or Sprinkle (Granola)

Repurpose a small jam jar and fill it with granola as a gift.

Several years ago a friend brought me a jar of this homemade granola. She and her husband had recently discovered this granola in Aspen and apparently was given the recipe. So they made some at home and gifted me a large jar of the finished product as well as the recipe. This is the best granola I’ve ever had, and I’ve lost count of how many batches of it I have made and also gifted.

It’s great as a crunchy snack, but I also enjoy a sprinkle of it on my morning yogurt bowl to give it a little crunch. It’s also very good on ice cream or frozen yogurt. I’ve even sprinkled a small portion on grilled peaches.

TRIPLE CREEK RANCH GRANOLA

  • Preheat oven 350 degrees F.
  • 2 large sheet pans (sprayed with cooking spray)
  • 4 quart sized jars
  • 1 -21 oz container of Old Fashioned Oats (plus one cup optional)
  • 2 cups sliced almonds
  • 2 cups walnuts or hazelnuts (coarsely chopped)
  • 2 cups pecans (coarsely chopped)
  • 2 cups shredded sweetened coconut
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 2 cups maple syrup
  • 1 cup canola oil *** careful here only 1 cup all others were 2
  • 2 cups of dried cranberries (or raisins, chopped dates, your own dried fruit choice)

1) In a very large bowl combine oats, all nuts, coconut, brown sugar and cinnamon.

2) In a large measuring cup or bowl combine syrup and oil.

3) Pour syrup over the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly with a wood spoon or rubber spatula until the dry ingredients are evenly coated with the syrup – oil mixture.

4) Using a 1/2 cup measuring cup place four scoops of the mixture on to the prepared baking sheet. Spread the mixture into an even thin layer. (Place two sheets into the oven at a time. ) Put stove timer on for 7 minutes. Pull baking sheets out one at a time and stir granola around that will still be wet. Put the timer on again for another 7 minutes. Check again. When most of the moisture is gone remove the trays from the oven. (Watch closely because it can go from under done to overdone in seconds. Every oven is different.) It will continue to dry and crisp as it cools. Put 1/2 cup of dried fruit on top of the hot granola and toss with wooded spoon or spatula. Scrape the sheet with a metal spoon or spatula in one direction and then the other. This clears the sheet from sticking while also helping the granola to help the dried fruit plump up.

5) When the granola has cooled down to slightly warm, I used a canning funnel to scoop the granola into quart sized Mason Jars.

6) Re-spray your baking sheets. Mix the remaining ingredients together thoroughly. The liquid tends to settle in the bottom. If it looks really wet, try adding another cup of oats. Again scoop out four 1/2 cups of the mixture on two the trays and spread out thinly. (Follow the instructions in Step 4 on timing.)

The recipe fills 4 quart sized canning jars.
Sprinkle a handful of granola on a morning yogurt bowl to add a little crunch.

One of my friends asked if there was a way to reduce the sugar without changing the texture. Previously I had not diverted from the original recipe that I was given. So to accept her challenge I did a small test with the remaining ingredients I had and below is a lower sugar version.

This version fills a quart sized canning jar:

Preheat over 350 degrees.  Spray a large sheet pan with cooking spray.

Dry ingredients:

½ cup chopped walnuts

½ cup chopped pecans

½ cup sliced almonds

½ cup sweetened shredded coconut

1 tsp. cinnamon

1 cup of rolled oats

¼ cup light brown sugar

Wet ingredients:

½ cup maple syrup

¼ cup canola oil

Omit dried fruit or you can add ½ cup of 50% lower sugar dried cranberries or chopped dates that have healthy natural sugar. Dried apricots have the lowest amount of sugar.

Mix dry with wet ingredients until the dry is well coated, if too dry a little more canola oil. Spread thinly on the prepared sheet pan. Spray the top of the granola (I used butter flavored spray). Place timer on 7 minutes, using a spatula stir and slightly flip the mixture around, but recreating a thin layer.  Return to the over with timer on 7 minutes.  Remove from the oven stir and scrape back and forth.  Add dried fruit and stir /toss again. Allow to cool -then store in tightly closed jars such as canning jars.

Dried dates have healthier sugars and other nutritional properties. Chopped dates have a white dusting of cornstarch (no sugar) to keep them from sticking together due to their sticky texture when cut.
The color may be a little lighter and the texture a little crispier due to less sugar.
Wrapped and ready for Kelly!
SIMPLY ELEVATED

A B & B (Bed & Breakfast) Morning

Recently, I purchased an Apple Watch, and a few times throughout the day, a gentle “ding” invites me to b r e a t h e. The new decade of 2020 started with the usual fireworks and resolutions, and then like a tornado swiftly upended our lives with a life threatening virus, quarantines, home schooling, working remotely from home and running out of simple things like toilet paper! So many unexpected challenges have formed new routines in our lives; created a mixture of emotions and concerns; and forced us to find new creative ways to stay home, but still experience some of the pleasures of life that had to be put on hold. Pausing to b r e a t h e throughout the day, could not have come at a better time.

Staying close to home has become a necessary norm, and finding ways to make life at home more comforting and fulfilling has resulted in planting gardens, renovating homes or “nesting” with a renewed interest in making our home life more cozy and comforting. Since traveling is not currently an option, memories of past soothing travel experiences come to mind, like waking up to a specially prepared breakfast at a lovely B & B in the Napa Valley. While I can’t remember the entire menu, I do remember being served my very first red wine poached pear that was an unexpected beautiful change for a mid-morning breakfast.

So how about creating a B & B style breakfast for you and your family that makes the weekend feel a little more special?

Long before there was the Food Network and Pinterest, I would tear recipe pages from magazines and organize them into categories (a hard copy version of Pinterest) into a three ring binder. Later when I had a special occasion to cook for, I would reference my binder of ideas and make notes in the margins of adjustments I made. If the recipe was good, I’d keep it. If not is was pulled out and thrown away. Interestingly enough most of these recipes can be found on the internet now and I can also “pin” them.

For this B & B style breakfast I’m using Martha Stewart’s Nectarine Pancake recipe below, but I’ve added my own twist -using white peaches instead of nectarines and a blueberry sauce with crispy prosciutto. https://www.marthastewart.com/909613/nectarine-pancakes

Blueberry Syrup

  • 3 cups of fresh blueberries
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar (varies on sweetness of berries and your preference)
  • zest half of a lemon
  • juice of half of a lemon

Place all of the items above in a medium saucepan over medium heat bringing contents to a gentle boil. After about 5 minutes carefully taste for desired sweetness. I usually start with 1/4 cup of sugar depending on the sweetness of the blueberries and add a little more if needed. Lower the heat to a gentle simmer, cover and let simmer, stirring occasionally for 15 to 20 minutes. The berries will soften and deflate but still have their shape with a syrupy sauce. Remove from the heat and transfer to a bowl, set aside to cool.

On to the pancakes. Obviously there are different stone fruits you could consider for these pancakes. I’ve always made them with peaches, white peaches to be specific are my favorite. A tip is to make sure the fruit isn’t too ripe or it will fall apart while cooking. These pancakes create a nice thick batter that isn’t runny and they form up very nicely every time.

The recipe shown here is directly from the link provided on Martha’s website with notes in bold of my personal adjustments.

Ingredient Checklist

  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1 1/2 cups low-fat buttermilk
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (I used vanilla paste that is filled with vanilla bean seeds)
  • 1 tablespoon butter, melted, plus more, softened, for skillet and serving
  • 2 tablespoons safflower oil ( I used canola oil)
  • 2 nectarines, peeled and thinly sliced (about 2 cups) ( I used two white🍑peaches and I didn’t peel them. I just sliced a small thin layer from the bottom and then cut 1/4 in. rings around the pit until getting to the top of the peach)
  • I also added the zest of 1/2 of a lemon to the batter
  • I served my peach buttermilk pancakes with the blueberry syrup and fresh blueberries, garnished is a sprig of mint and crispy prosciutto.

Directions

Instructions Checklist

  • Step 1 Whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Whisk together buttermilk, eggs, vanilla, melted butter, and oil. Whisk egg mixture into flour mixture.
  • At this point I let the batter rest in the bowl and preheated the oven to 400 degrees p fahrenheit. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper place the thinly sliced prosciutto, pancetta or applewood bacon on top. (Bacon may take longer to crisp.) Place in the oven for 20 minutes until crispy, about the time it takes to cook the pancakes.
  • Step 2 Heat 1 tablespoon butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Working in batches and adding more butter as needed, pour in 1/3 cup batter per pancake. Place 2 to 3 nectarine slices on top of each pancake. Cook until small bubbles form on surfaces and undersides are golden, about 3 minutes. Flip, and cook until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Serve with butter and syrup.
  • MY method: I tried pouring the pancake batter into the skillet and then putting the peach ring on top and it didn’t make as pretty of a pancake. So I put the peach ring into the butter and oil pan and poured the pancake batter over it.

Measuring Tip: I’m not sure who to give credit to for this, but I would not be surprised if it was Martha Stewart. I was a faithful student who watched every show that aired originally once a week on PBS and then later The Martha Stewart Show until most recently her “Martha Knows Best” garden show on HGTV. If there’s anything you want to cook, plant, build or craft you can always count that Martha’s version will not fail you.

Recently I found myself teaching my 4 year old grandson how to measure dry ingredients when baking some chocolate chip cookies. So here’s the tip…. baking is very precise and you have to fill your measuring cup (in this case with flour) not by scooping, but by using a scoop or spoon to gently fill the measuring cup. Over fill the cup (over your flour container) and use a chop stick to level it off. Keep the chop stick in your flour container for future use.

The batter is so great that even though the cakes linked together, I was able to easily separate them and still achieve crispy golden brown edges.

Serve with both fresh blueberries and the blueberry sauce.

Traveling introduces us to new and unusual experiences and foods. If you’d like to try something different to drink with this B & B breakfast, you could prepare my favorite, a chai tea latte. However, I found this box of concentrate to make a London Fog Latte at (Walmart) that I saw as an opportunity to serve something different. A London Fog is Earl Gray tea and a touch of lavender, served with warm milk.

Sources for purchasing an aerator – online or Bed, Bath & Beyond.

Fill a mug a little less than half way with the tea concentrate. In a large heat proof measuring cup (or separate mug) fill half way with milk of your choice. Put both mugs in the microwave for 1 1/2 minutes. I have a battery operated aerator that when held along the top of the heated milk will create a lovely frothy foam. Pour the heated milk and froth into the cup of headed tea concentrate. (If you don’t have an aerator or don’t like the milk frothed, but pour the two together. I have culinary lavender, so I sprinkled a tiny amount on top.

While you may not be able to get away, you can treat yourself and those you love to a colorful B & B style breakfast that celebrates summer’s seasonal fruits and berries to make any weekend extraordinary rather than ordinary. Introduce some unusual and different food experiences at home just as you would during your travels to make staying home feel a little more adventurous.

SIMPLY ELEVATED

Roasted, Spicy, Garden Tomato and Shrimp Soup

My good neighbor (and friend) presented me with a small bowl of five greenish Roma tomatoes from her garden before heading out of town for a short get away. I placed the tomatoes in a small pottery bowl on a shelf where the morning sun gently ripened the skin from a green to a rich red. It took just over a week, so I had plenty of time to think about what I would transform them into. Hw to make a meal simply of tomatoes? Soup!

Roasting tomatoes creates a texture somewhere between that of a fresh tomato and a sun-dried tomato, and concentrates as well as sweetens the flavor. I decided to roast the garden tomatoes along with some grape tomatoes that were starting to wrinkle, along with sliced onions and garlic to create the base of my soup that can be served in a few different ways.

ROASTED SPICY GARDEN🍅TOMATO AND SHRIMP SOUP

Yields 4 to 6 servings

  • Sheet pan
  • Olive Oil (approx 3 tablespoons)
  • 5 Roma or vine ripened tomatoes (halved)
  • 1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes
  • 1 medium yellow or white onion sliced
  • 1 head of garlic sliced in half (through center cloves)
  • 1- 2 small (about 3 in.) red Fresno or Serrano pepper
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup vegetable or chicken stock
  • Fresh Basil (chiffonade: stack and roll leaves like a cigar and make thin slices)
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup heavy cream (optional)
  • Red chili oil (optional)
  • kosher salt & fresh ground pepper
  • 8 oz. medium peeled and deveined shrimp (optional)
  • a splash of white balsamic vinegar (optional – white will not change the beautiful color of the tomato and brings down the acidity of the tomatoes.)

Pre-heat oven 400 degrees F.

Place halved Roma or vine ripened tomatoes, grape or cherry tomatoes, sliced onion, and garlic on a sheet pan and evenly drizzle each area of the tray with approximately 2 to 3 tablespoons (total) with olive oil. Sprinkle from high above with about 1 teaspoon salt (helps salt evenly distribute) and freshly ground pepper. Roast in the oven for 25 to 35 minutes.

Place the roasted vegetables in a blender or food processor. Add 1/2 to 3/4 cup of vegetable or chicken stock and puree (amount depends on your desired thickness). Slice one red chili pepper and remove seeds. Tomatoes are very delicate, so I personally did want to blow away their sweet flavor with too much heat, but when it comes to spicy it’s a personal preference. My advice is to add a little at a time and test the flavor until it reaches your desired spiciness. Add chilis to the puree and blend until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste and a splash of white balsamic vinegar.

Heres where to options begin. The puree at this stage can be served in few ways.

  • Option 1: 🍅 Serve at room temperature or transfer to a medium sauce pan to warm on a medium low heat; garnish with fresh sweet or spicy basil and a small drizzle of red chili oil. ( I use an eye dropper to disburse small droplets over the surface)
  • Option 2: 🍅 Warm soup (from above). Add a 1/4 to 1/2 cup of heavy cream. Stir to blend evenly. Garnish with chiffonade basil.
  • Option 3: 🍅 Follow option 2, and then add peeled and deveined medium shrimp and poach at a gentle simmer until shrimp curl (cooked). Add 1/4 cup basil and stir. To serve garnish with fresh basil, red chili oil droplets and (optional) a couple of slices of fresh red chili (to your heat preference).

Leftover soup can be refrigerated and rewarmed up to a few days. Perfect for a light but filling lunch, especially on a rainy day! I hope you give it a try and enjoy!

SIMPLY ELEVATED

My Brother’s Favorite Dinner

A couple of weeks into this year’s quarantine, due to the limitations of restaurant and fast food options – I decided to play private chef to my brother for a while and make him a few home cooked or hand prepared items each week. Fortunately the simplest to prepare, turned out to be one of his favorites. So much so, that when he plated the items, he snapped the photo above to send me a quick thank you. In honor of his birthday (this week) I thought I would share one of his favorite easy dinners.

Caramelized Baby Bella Mushrooms, with nutty short grain brown rice.

HOW TO COOK MUSHROOMS: Being a cooking show junkie for several decades now, one of my chef mentors gave advice on the proper way to cook mushrooms that I’ve never forgotten. All you have to do is try this method once, and you’ll never forget because they taste so good! See below: makes approximately 2 servings

  • Lundberg short grain brown rice 1/2 cup
  • Chicken stock (or add a tablespoon of chicken broth seasoning base or bouillon to water) 1 cup
  • 1 pint of baby bella mushrooms (wiped clean with a paper towel and then thinly sliced)
  • 2 tablespoons of butter
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • salt and pepper and (red chili flakes optional)
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1/4 cup of chopped chives or scallions ( just the green part)
  • optional in the photo I had some left over oven roasted grape tomatoes I added for color

Place rice and stock (or water with bouillon) in a rice cooker or pot and cook according to instructions. Brown rice takes longer to cook than white so this may take about 45 minutes or longer so this will have to be made ahead of time. When finished move to a medium sized bowl. (This Lundberg rice has a delicate nuttiness and firm chew like no other brown rice I’ve found, that gives this dish it’s special flavor.)

(A technique I learned years ago from one of my many cooking show mentors on cooking mushrooms.) In a medium skillet heat olive oil and butter, add sliced mushrooms. Try to separate and flatten each on one side against the pan surface. Do not stir! Allow the mushrooms to caramelize on one side. It takes about 5-7 minutes. Turn the skillet around every few minutes for even caramelization of all of the mushrooms. Turn over one of the mushrooms to check, if there is a golden brown color, it’s time to flip them. Allow the mushrooms to slide down to the end of the skillet away from you and then toss to flip. You have to do this with confidence, but if it doesn’t work out, just use a fork to flip over each mushroom to the other side and allow the opposite side to achieve the same golden brown color. If the pan seems to be too dry you can add a little more olive oil and butter. (The butter will burn if not paired with olive oil. )

Sprinkle with salt and pepper (and red chili flakes if desired) from high above the skillet for even distribution. (No stirring) and added chopped fresh thyme. Cook for about 2 minutes and then remove from the heat. Pour over the prepared brown rice. Add chopped chives or scallion greens and gently toss.

Oven Roasted Red Snapper in Foil

In the mid 1980’s I used to subscribe to a magazine long since gone called Cuisine. I can still remember the images of a boneless chicken breast nested between two sheets of foil topped with thinly peeling strips of carrots and herbs that I prepared for one of my first dinner parties. Years later I use the same simple technique to gently cook fish.

This version can be used per serving or one large piece of fish could be shared by two. If you do not live in an area with fresh fish, you might be surprised to find out that this fish was purchased at Walmart. I’ve been happily surprised to learn they have expanded their fresh fish options to include snapper. (I also cook fish this way to make fish tacos.)

  • 1 5 to 6 ounce piece of red snapper (or other flaky fish)
  • 2 pieces of aluminum foil sheets
  • Cooking spray
  • salt and pepper
  • olive oil
  • 1 lemon (zest and then slice into disks)
  • fresh celery leaves
  • 1 carrot (strips made with peeler)
  • sliced red bell pepper (optional – as seen in the full plate photo)

Pre-heat oven 375 degrees F. Spray one side of the two sheets of aluminum foil with cooking spray and lay the fish – skin side down on to the sprayed foil sheet and move to a baking sheet pan. Drizzle the top of the fish will a little olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and the zest of the lemon. Slice the lemon in half and make 2 to four round lemon disks to lay on top of the fish (save the other half of the lemon and set aside). Top with celery leaves and strips of carrot. Place second foil sheet on top of the fish. Fold the edges of the two sheets together forming a tight seal all the way around. Place baking sheet in the oven for 20 minutes.

Allow the packet to rest when removing from the oven for about 5 minutes. Carefully open to allow the hot steam to release from the packet by either cutting open with the slice of a knife or unwrapping. Slide onto a plate allowing all of the juices to remain with the fish to serve. Squeeze the juice from the remaining half lemon over the fish just before serving.

Finally, I simply placed a package of fresh sugar snaps peas in the microwave (time according to the package) and that was his green vegetable side. I did give him this meal for his birthday this week – so Happy Birthday Brother!

WINE CLUB

Sunset🌅Sipping Wine Party (while social distancing)

The recent worldwide quarantine caused this “social interactions” hostess to take pause from the usual planning of gatherings with family and friends. As we all tucked away in our homes in what felt like the longest “time out” ever, the demands of my regular full-time job excelled and continues to require long work hours. Grateful for my job, I was not among those who had time to reorganize and meditate during the quarantine. What time I had on the weekends, I made the usual masked trip to stock up on groceries, and then returned to continue my quarantine with cooking (see Simply Elevated category), clean and launder. Suddenly the weekend had evaporated into thin air and it was Monday again.

I missed the company of friends and entertaining. Always on the look out for inspiration for my wine club themes, I saw “The Kutchers” Ashton & Mila appear on several morning and entertainment shows, to share their idea behind Quarantine Wine and their partnership with Nocking Point wines. The entire story can be found online, but the point that drew me in was that 100% of the proceeds of sales would go to various charities for those in need during the quarantine. How could I have a 6 year old wine club and not contribute in this way? The bottles sold in sets of two, with the idea of keeping one and sharing (giving one) to someone else to share during the quarantine. The only problem is that the demand (orders) were so high, that Nocking Point had trouble getting the bottles shipped out quickly enough. It took about 2 months for me to receive my shipment of 6 bottles, but the wonderful news is that they raised over reported $1 million for some important causes.

Dollar Tree plastic wine glasses that actually have the feel of glass, the stem stores into the top and screws together. It’s a perfect outdoor wine glass.

Equipped with the wine, I knew that life would not immediately go back to the way we once knew it and that gathering elbow to elbow at my dining room table again was far into the future. Outdoor entertaining seemed like the best option once some of the quarantine orders were lifted, but not having a great outdoor space, I found a local State Park along the river, perfect for a Sunset Sipping gathering.

Let’s Get together for a
Sunset 🌅 Sipping at the River

Knowing as the quarantines were lifted, everyone’s calendars would begin to fill with family obligations and vacations – I decided to email everyone hoping the majority would be available meet the following weekend.

THE MENU

CHEESE BOARD: PINOT NOIR pairs well with cheddar and manchego cheeses.

Quarantine wine is a pinot noir that turned out to be a nice enjoyable drinking wine. For this cheese course, instead of just buying a couple of chunks of cheese, I wanted to find something to make with one of the recommended cheese pairings. I found this recipe on Pinterest https://www.theflavorbender.com/cheesy-thumbprint-savory-cookies-bourbon-tomato-jam. The link provides step by step instructions.

In my interpretation I did not have bourbon, so I played off of the apple cider vinegar and used Calvados (Apple brandy) that was delicious. My only warning is that since the recipe is in grams and ounces that required an online conversion calculator to use cup measuring. I had to make a little adjustment to the amount of cheese and butter in the original recipe due to butter seeping from the cookie while baking. The quality of cheese chosen could also make a difference in the result of the savory baked cookie.

Sharp Cheddar & Pepper Jack

My Version of the recipe https://www.theflavorbender.com/cheesy-thumbprint-savory-cookies-bourbon-tomato-jam

Follow the directions per recipe link –

  • 2 sticks of butter (room temperature)
  • 1 cup of sharp cheddar grated (make sure to buy good quality cheeses)
  • 1 cup of pepper jack grated
  • 1 deseed jalapeno chopped finely
  • 1 large spring of fresh rosemary chopped finely
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 egg (place in a bowl and scramble before adding to mixture).
  • 1 cup of all purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup semolina

Note: I used a lower quality cheese to save on the cost. As a result the butter seeped out of the cookie. I had to increase my oven temperature to 375 F and after the first 20 minutes, move the cookies to a fresh cookie sheet to finish baking another 10 minutes. I then moved the cookie to a rack to cool and crisp and they were not at all greasy, but recovered perfectly. I share this in case you as the baker experience a similar situation.

Process grated cheese, jalapeno and rosemary until a smaller pieces, but not smooth. The butter salt and sugar are hand blended with a wooden spoon or spatula. Add the scrambled egg for better blending and then mix in the cheese and herbs using spoon or spatula until it forms a dough.
With flour dusted hands form a ball and place in a bowl (cover with plastic wrap) and refrigerate for 1 hour.
Using a 1 1/2 inch scoop or tablespoon measure, form balls of dough. Use your thumb or a one teaspoon measure to press an imprint in each ball. Fill the indenture with apple brandy tomato jam.
Example of how the butter oozed from the cookie. See note above with ingredients to help cure- but if this happens to you just bake longer keeping an eye on them and you may have to move them to a clean baking sheet and continue back until golden.
Move to a cooling wrap to crisp up.

SMALL BITES

  • Turkey Thai Lettuce Wraps
  • Grilled shrimp in chimichurri sauce
  • Stuffed mini sweet peppers
  • Eggplant caponata on toasted bread
  • Cucumber salsa and chips
Turkey Lettuce Wraps adapted from Gordon Ramsay’s beef lettuce wraps. https://www.gordonramsay.com/gr/recipes/chilli-beef-lettuce-wraps/ My variations were ground turkey and butter lettuce. I also had the option of mini soft taco tortillas.
Grilled Shrimp with chimichurri sauce. See the link for great tips for achieving the best grilled shrimp. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uQYodZLOZTw

I selected a spot beneath moss draped oak trees that created a tunnel view of the sun shining over the river in the distance. I set up a folding table and asked my guests to bring their own chairs. Tip: Tie the corners of the tablecloth into knots to keep edges from touching the ground – learned this when a large black ant made its way to the top of the table.

We formed a large circle facing each other while sipping wine and catching up with great conversation. On this mid-June summer evening we were cooled by an occasional comforting breeze that contributed to the perfect comfortable evening.

DESSERT – WATERMELON PORT SORBET WITH

CUCUMBER AND MINT SIMPLE SYRUP

The temperature high of the day was 91 degrees, so I knew I needed a cold and refreshing dessert to end the evening. I found this version of watermelon sorbet (in the link below) incorporating port wine that I felt would be the perfect finale for a wine club party. My wonderful neighbors gave me a couple of cucumbers from their garden earlier in the week and I had an idea to make a mint simple syrup with cucumber as a side relish to provide a fresh crunch. https://www.recipegirl.com/watermelon-sorbet/

Cucumber with mint simple syrup, fresh mint leaves and edible violas for garnish.

Cucumber Mint Relish: Peel cucumber, slice in half, scoop out and discard the seeds. Dice into 1/4 inch pieces. Chopped 2 tablespoons of fresh mint and mix into the diced cucumber. For simple syrup in a medium sauce pan add 1 1/2 cups of sugar to 1 1/2 cups water. Heat on medium until the water is warm enough to dissolve the sugar. Turn off the heat and add 1/2 of mint leaves and (optional a 1/4 inch of fresh ginger). Let steep for 30 minutes and then remove mint leaves. Pour the cooled mint simple syrup over the cucumber. Refrigerate over night and when serving the sorbet, spoon some the cucumber along the side of the scooped watermelon port sorbet, drizzle with simple syrup and garnish with fresh mint and edible flowers (optional).

I had everyone sign a bottle of the Quarantine wine to store away in my wine fridge.

As the time of sundown approached we walked as a group toward the river catching the final stages of the setting sun in the horizon. Grateful for our health, our friendship and this beautiful evening together, as a group we have shared a lot of fun memories. While our world has been forever changed in 2020, we all hope for a clearer vision to embrace what truly matters most in life for our futures.

The sun now set, creatures of nature began to emerge. In the front pond, a small alligator popped its head from the surface, crickets began to chirp in song and as we made our last trip toward our cars with the table and chairs, someone sighted fireflies flickering in the woods as if saying goodbye. A perfect ending to a wonderfully enjoyable warm summer evening.

SIMPLY ELEVATED

Three Cobs of Corn 🌽 Chowder & Grits

The final days of May, healthy plump stalks of corn fill the bins at the grocery stores priced as little as four for a $1.00. Fresh corn is sweet with a delicate crispy crunch and there are a number of ways to create a summer salad, soup, main dish or side that can be served at an elegant lunch or afternoon barbecue.

Corn recipes usually combine simple ingredients allowing the corn’s sweet tender crunch to be the star. Grilling corn enriches its flavor and sweetness in the same way that oven roasting other vegetables such as butternut squash, asparagus, tomatoes and broccoli elevates theirs.

Grilling corn outside results in a delicious char that can be slathered with a lime zest mayo, sprinkled with chili spices, grated parmesan cheese and chopped cilantro for a delicious cob of Mexican Street Corn at a barbecue.

An example of a delicious corn side made with simple ingredients is grilled corn grits. My first experience with grilled corn grits was at Zea’s Rotisserie. Regardless of what protein anyone at our table ordered, the preferred side every time was their delicious Corn 🌽Grits. How simple?

  • 2 cups of heavy cream
  • 2 cups of water
  • 1 cup of yellow corn grits
  • 1 stick of butter (sliced into tablespoons)
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 large corn on the cob
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil

Place cream and water in a medium sauce pan and bring to a boil. Add yellow grits, salt and pieces of butter. Simmer until thickened, stirring occasionally to avoid sticking to the bottom of the pot. Once thickened turn off the heat. Grits will continue to thicken as it sets.

Cut both ends of the husked corn cob off. Place in the microwave for 2 minutes Allow to cool for a few minutes. It will be very hot, carefully remove the husks and silk. Brush the corn with olive oil and either place on a grill and lightly char or if you do not have a grill, use a non-stick skillet on your stove with medium-high heat. Drizzle skillet with olive oil and place the corn in the pan as one side browns, turn the cob until all sides have the desired light browning each side. Remove the pan from heat and allow corn to cool enough to handle. Cut the kernels from the cob and stir into the cooked grits. (While there are all kinds of techniques for cutting corn from the cob, I find that the least messiest method is to lay the cob its side and slice a row with a sharp knife. Turn to the now flat side and cut another side and continue to rotate until all sides have been removed.

Corn🌽Chowder (with Shrimp)

Corn chowder, with or without shrimp is quick and easy. The recipe card below provides a list of ingredients. The fresno chili is optional and for a little heat you can use red chili flakes as an alternative. An alternative for coconut milk it evaporated milk.

SEAFOOD STOCK

Seafood stock can be purchased in the grocery store or it can be made with the shells peeled from the fresh shrimp. Wash the peels in a strainer, fill a soup pot or dutch oven with a quart of water, an onion quartered, 2 stalks of celery, a large carrot cut in half, 1/4 tsp. of peppercorns, 1 tsp. of kosher salt and the shells. Bring to a boil and then simmer for one hour. Carefully strain out the shells and vegetables into a heat proof pitcher (for easy pouring) or large heat proof bowl. Discard the shell and vegetables. If the is cloudy you can strain again through cheese cloth.

CORN🌽 CHOWDER RECIPE BELOW

  • 1 medium onion diced
  • 2 stalks of celery diced
  • 1/2 fresno chili (seeds removed) minced (or red bell pepper)
  • 1 tablespoon each olive oil and butter
  • 5 stalks of corn (for a larger batch – I’ve made the chowder with as little as 2 stalks) cut the ends off and microwave 2 to 4 minutes. Allow to cool and remove husk & silks.
  • 1 lb. of peeled and medium deveined shrimp (retain shells for stock)
  • 1 large potato or two medium, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes.
  • 1 qt. box of seafood stock (or make stock from recipe above)
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk or evaporated milk
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
  • Chili oil ( or 1/4 tsp. red chili flakes)

In a medium sized soup pot, drizzle olive oil and 1 tbsp. of butter over medium heat, add onion, celery, chili and or bell pepper, and corn kernels. Saute’ until onions are translucent and veggies slightly tender. Add potato fresh thyme, and stock. Bring to a boil and then simmer until the potatoes are cooked (about 20 minutes), but not mushy. Add milk, cream, salt, pepper and shrimp. Simmer until the shrimp are coral in color, season with additional salt and pepper if necessary to taste. When serving drizzle with a small amount of chili oil (optional).

Corn 🌽season varies per region. Here in Louisiana our season is May to July. So grab some corn from the produce section or farmer’s market and experiment with this delicious sweet and crispy vegetable before it ends!

SIMPLY ELEVATED

A Decadent Dessert Cookie

For the past couple of months I’ve been preparing meals for my brother who was home alone during the quarantine. The thought of him eating sandwiches everyday during such an emotional and stressful time, bothered me. So I started cooking a few meals that included some of his favorite comfort foods and a little something sweet to help him get through the week.

Inspired by a Texas Sheet Cake cookie recipe I found, that was made with a box cake mix, I dug through the pantry and decided to let the idea inspire me to create something with the ingredients I had. I don’t usually have boxed cake mix in my pantry, but I found a box of German chocolate cake mix tucked away in the back. I’d never made cookies with boxed cake mix before, but I followed the additions of egg and oil per the Texas Sheet Cake cookie recipe and then with that as my base I used the ingredients usually found in a German Chocolate cake to create this decadent cookie.

The Ingredients:

Preheat oven 350 degrees F

  • 1 box of German Chocolate Cake Mix
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup vegetable or canola oil
  • 8 oz. bitter sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup pecans
  • 1 cup shredded coconut

Two baking sheet pans line with parchment or silicone sheets.

Place the pecans in a single layer on a separate baking sheet and place into the pre-heated oven for 10 minutes to until toasted and fragrant. Set the pan aside when finished and allow to cool before finely chopping.

While the pecans are toasting in the oven, place the shredded coconut into a stainless steal skillet over low-medium heat. Watch the coconut very closely as it toasts. It will take a few minutes to begin to brown, but will suddenly burn if not watched closely. Gently toss or stir around during the toasting process. When the coconut is a light brown remove from the heat and set the pan aside to cool.

In a medium to large bowl whisk the two eggs until blended. Add the oil and whisk until well combined. Pour the cake mix through a sieve and sift all of the lumps from the mix over the egg and oil mixture. Use a spatula to mix everything together until all of the dry and wet ingredients are combined. The mixture will be very thick (like cookie batter). Using a 1 1/2 inch scoop, form balls of dough and place on the lined cookie sheets.

I used desiccated coconut that is unsweetened and has a straw-like consistency. (But you can use any shredded coconut). In order to create smaller pieces I rolled pinches of the coconut between my fingers to crumble. I then rolled the cookie dough balls into the toasted coconut and returned them to the baking sheet. When both trays of cookie dough balls are prepared, bake for 25 to 30 minutes.

While the cookies are baking, place the bittersweet chocolate chips into a microwave safe bowl and heat for 30 seconds, two times. Stir with a rubber spatula. Let the chocolate sit for a few minutes and then continue stirring until all of the chips have melted and smooth.

Remove the cookies from the oven when baking is completed and place on a wire rack to cool for 15 to 20 minutes. When completely cooled, spread the melted chocolate on the bottom of the cookie and sprinkle with chopped pecans. When all of the cookie bottoms have been covered with chocolate and pecans – drizzle some of the remaining chocolate over the top side of each cookie using the corner of the rubber spatula. Allow the chocolate to set over night.

I slipped four of the cookies into a clear cellophane bag and tied it with twine and presented the package to my hair stylist the following morning. Later in the day she sent me a message saying she brought the cookies home and “Kevin is loving the cookies! He said they will never see tomorrow!” They are rich and crunchy from the toasted pecans and coconut and not overly sweet. Give them a try and let me know what you think!

SIMPLY ELEVATED

Restaurant Night at Home – Stacked Salad & Clafoutis for Dessert

Whether you have a special occasion to celebrate, want to make a special dinner, planning a romantic date night or just treating yourself to a special evening alone, there’s no reason you can’t make simple ingredients into something beautiful and delicious.

You’ve probably seen it before, but it’s easy to forget that you can present simple ingredients in a fun and impressive way. The only special equipment or tool you’ll need is a ring mold with a circumference of 3 to 4 inches, depending on how large or small you want to make your individual servings, with a 2 inch side edge.

If you don’t have metal ring molds, you can make ring molds, with a piece of cardboard – cut 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 inches long and 2 inches wide. The 1/2 inch portion is to overlap and tape into a ring. Cover the cardboard ring with foil or plastic wrap. (Make a ring for each serving.)

Place each ring on a plate or wide open bowl the size of a luncheon (salad plate -see first image below.) Fill each ring mold beginning with the heaviest or most dense of items you have to form a strong foundation. Carefully select and build each layer inside the ring until you reach the top. Use the back of a spoon and press down gently on the top layer to push the layers closer together. Cover the filled ring mold with plastic wrap and leave in the refrigerator until ready to serve (at least 30 minutes).

Bottom layer should be the heaviest and firmest ingredient. In my stack I’ve used farro.
Make the colors of each layer different and bright. Next layer shrimp salad, chopped grape or cherry tomatoes and cucumbers with fresh basil; avocado and sprinkle the top with grated boiled eggs.
Garnished with sunflower micro greens, edible flowers and watercress leaves.

Serve with a filet of fish, steak or chicken and you have a restaurant style dinner.

When ready to serve the salad, gently remove the ring mold and while being careful not to add too much liquid (the wetter the ingredients the harder it is to hold the ingredients into a stack), top with grated boiled egg, micro greens or fresh chopped herbs and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and white balsamic vinegar or a little lime or lemon juice.

To an umami flavor, I roasted grape (or cherry) tomatoes with a little olive oil in the oven at 400 degrees F for approximately 20 to 25 minutes. Cool and then place into a small food processor or blender to puree with a little olive oil until smooth enough to pass through a squeeze bottle or pastry (zip) bag and drizzle to garnish the plate. I also used watercress leaves, but any small leafy greens or spring mix will work and an edible flower (optional).

The ingredients for the stack can be a multitude of variations. The shrimp salad could be replaced with blue crab in a delicate vinaigrette. A sushi version, with sticky sushi rice, snow crab salad, avocado, edamame and any of your other favorite sushi ingredients might be. It could be a combination of BBQ like ingredients, like potato salad, coleslaw, etc. Chicken salad, topped with other veggie stack options. Cobb salad ingredients stacked. The only so called “rule” is to place the heavier layer on the bottom and consider color and delicacy as the layers are stacked. No special cooking skills required! Have fun and impress someone or yourself tonight with your own stacked salad!

*****BONUS IDEA – CLAFOUTIS FOR DESSERT*****

Clafoutis is an easy light dessert that you don’t see on menus. It’s a combination similar to a dutch baby pancake (light) and custard with fruit. My clafoutis was made using the recipe from the link below, and in lieu of pears I had fresh raspberries and added orange zest and a teaspoon of orange liqueur . It’s important to not add too much fruit. Traditionally it is made with black cherries that you can find in season during the summer months and you can add a little kirsch (cherry liqueur) if you have some. The full recipe can be prepared and placed in the baking dish and set aside. Preheat the oven and set the baking time – place the pan in the oven to bake while you eat dinner. It’ll will be freshly baked and ready to serve right on time. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve! https://nationalpost.com/life/food/cook-this-daniel-roses-pear-clafouti-from-ina-gartens-cook-like-a-pro

Per Google definition: Clafoutis, sometimes spelled clafouti in Anglophone countries, is a baked French dessert of fruit, traditionally black cherries, arranged in a buttered dish and covered with a thick flan-like batter. The clafoutis is dusted with powdered sugar and served lukewarm, sometimes with cream.

With limited space in restaurants these days, why not create your own cafe’ style dinner at come. All you need now is a little candlelight and some relaxing music.

SIMPLY ELEVATED

Summer Squash Picnic Pizza 🌼 and Veggie Chips

It’s that time of year when neighborhood gardens that were planted a couple of months ago, have begun to bear fruit. One day this week when I opened my mail box, I found two medium zucchini and two medium yellow summer squash left by one of my neighbors. If you’ve ever grown summer squash, you know it’s harvest is abundant and it can be hard to find new ways to cook it.

My first idea was to create some thin roasted chips for a healthy snack. So I pulled out my mandolin and started slicing. I searched around on Pinterest for different methods of making chips and hoped to achieve a delicate thin crispy chip, with a slight crunch similar to a thin potato chip.

Summer squash contains a lot of moisture that must come out in order to get a crispy texture. As instructed (in the link below) the slices of squash were laid between two layers of paper towel and pressed until most of the moisture came out. (My tip: make several single layers of sliced squash between paper towels and let them sit overnight up to 24 hours). The recipe in the link below involved olive oil, salt and a lot of time in the oven. The end result was delicious, with that potato chip slight oiliness, but its 90 degrees in the South right now and the heat of a gas oven going for hours isn’t a highly desirable method. So after leaving the remaining slices between the layers of paper towel for 24 hours, I gently pulled them up (they stick to the paper towel) and returned them loosely to their original spot. I then put one layer (with paper towel on top and as well) in the microwave and used 30 second intervals (about 6 or 7 times – combined total of 3 to 4 minutes) checking after the first 4 intervals. The chips were not only crisp but retained more of their color along the edges.

https://www.tablefortwoblog.com/zucchini-chips/ (recipe followed.)

Within hours or the following day, they may be a little soggy again – you can stack the chips loosely on the baking sheet and return them to the oven to crisp up at the same temperature, checking over time, or the back to the microwave.

Picnic🌼Pizza

After about 4 rounds of chip making I still had a bowl of uncooked thinly sliced squash and was ready to find something else to do with it. Once again, I searched through Pinterest for recipes using summer squash and noticed several pizza recipes. I had invited some gal pals to meet at a local park for a little picnic and decided to make mini picnic pizzas inspired by the recipe at this link. https://thismessisours.com/summer-squash-and-ricotta-galette/

Using one tube of thin refrigerated pizza crust, stretch the dough over a piece of clear plastic wrap or waxed paper to prevent sticking to the counter. The dough is rectangle shaped, so I decided that rather than one large pizza, I wanted to make individual pizzas. The dough could be cut into four rectangles, but I wanted round pizzas. Using a saucer and a pizza cutter (or knife)- cut three free formed circles about 1/2 inch away from the edge of the plate. The dough can be further stretched once cut if necessary. As you can see above, the circles are far from perfect.

Following the recipe from the link above, I combined the ricotta, parmesan, shredded mozzarella, fresh thyme, rosemary and peppers. I did not add any salt and found the cheeses had sufficient salt without adding any more. After tasting the baked pizza, I think the addition of fresh lemon zest to the cheese mixture would have brightened the flavors a little more. Using a small offset spatula, spread a couple of tablespoons of the cheese and herb mixture in the center of the dough leaving the edges clear.

Roll up the edges of the dough, top the center cheese spread with a handful of the thinly sliced squash, and a drizzle of the garlic infused olive oil from the recipe. Brush the edges of the dough with the olive oil and sprinkle grated parmesan over the crust edges and squash. Sprinkle with some of the thyme leaves.

The scraps of dough were rolled into long logs and then tied in a knot. Brushed with garlic infused olive oil, sprinkled with a little garlic powder and grated parmesan.

The recipe’s recommended bake time is 35 to 45 minutes. The smaller pizzas baked a little faster. If making the smaller version like I did, I would recommend setting the first bake for 25 minutes (result shown below). Remove the pizza from the oven and sprinkle with pine nuts. I also added a small amount of shaved parmesan. Return to the oven and bake another 10 minutes.

First bake, with addition of pine nuts and shaved parmesan.

For picnic packaging, loosely wrap each hot pizza in aluminum foil. Place a large cloth napkin or tea towel beneath the stacked foil wrapped pizza’s and tie the opposite corners together. This holds in the heat for quite a while for transport. I used a mini sealed box with a spray of water to transport the violas that were used to garnish the pizza at the picnic.

Garnished with violas just before serving.

After two months of staying home due to COVID-19, I met with a couple of my gal pals for a “social distancing” picnic at a quiet park. We each took a corner of the picnic tablecloth, nibbled on our food and enjoyed a couple of hours of company and conversation.

As the summer heat draws nearer, pack a picnic basket, find a shady tree and enjoy the company of friends for an afternoon and pray you’ll never take for granted the simple pleasure of sharing time with the people in your life. Bring along a picnic pizza and crispy chips!

SIMPLY ELEVATED

Meatball Biscuits

A few weeks ago I made Molly Yeh’s version of these meatball stuffed buns for my brother. My only adjustments to her recipe was substituting ground pork for ground turkey and then adding a finely chopped adobe pepper (for the can) to the meatball mixture to give a little kick of flavor and using provolone slices instead of mozzarella. My brother went banana’s over them. So when I made them a second time, I decided to change up the flavors a little, using the flavors of ginger, garlic and hoisin sauce. These could easily make a great kid’s hand held meatball sandwich for Memorial Day Weekend,

Adapted from :https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/meatball-stuffed-biscuits-8058902

Turkey Meatballs: (makes approximately 18 to 20)

1 lb of ground turkey

1/2 cup of dried breadcrumbs

1 tsp of grated fresh ginger

1 grated clove of garlic

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes

1 egg

2 tbsp. hoisin sauce

Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and preheat over 350 degrees F.

Gently mix and combine all ingredients in a medium to bowl until well combined. Try not to over work or meatballs will be tough. Wet hands and using a 1 tbsp. scoop (or by hand) roll into balls and place on foil lined baking sheet. Place in the oven and bake for a total of 30 minutes, turning the meatballs over at half way point. When cooked remove and allow meatballs to cool to room temperature. They can also be made ahead and refrigerated.

While you can make your own favorite meatballs recipe, any meatball will actually do. You could even take a short cut by purchasing pre-made meatballs. Italian or breakfast sausage are also options (formed and pre-cooked into a meatball).

Preheat the over 350 degrees (F)

2 -9″round pans or 1- 9″ X 9″ square pan (spray lightly with cooking spray)

Two 8 count packs of refrigerated Grand biscuits (any kind you choose)

1/4 cup of hoisin sauce

16 slices of either provolone or mozzarella cheese

Cilantro or Italian flat parley leaves

Water

Remove the biscuits from the can. Taking one biscuit at a time, flatten and stretch out creating a one inch boarder around the meatball. Brush with hoisin sauce (careful not to put too much or the biscuit may get too wet.) Cut a slice of cheese into four and stack 2 pieces over the hoisin sauce. Add the meatball to the center and pull and pinch the sides of the biscuit over the meatball sealing it. Place each meatball stuffed biscuit with the sealed side down into the pan.

If desired, dip your finger in a little water and touch the top of each roll. Place a fresh cut cilantro or flat parsley leaf on the top of each and gently press into the dough. (I made the mistake twice of placing the herb on top of the bun after the 30 minute bake and it didn’t stick to the bun and dried as you’ll see from the finished version. The better method is to press them into the dough in the beginning. This of course is optional.

Place into the pre-heated oven and back for 30 minutes.

Add your parsley or cilantro leaf with a little brush of water before baking.

Topping:

4 tbsp butter melted

1 whole garlic clove, peeled and smashed

1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

Everything Bagel seasoning (or toasted sesame seeds)

Mauldon Salt (flaky) or kosher salt

While the biscuits are baking, place the butter and peeled, smashed garlic clove into a small pot. Heat until the butter is melted and stir the garlic around in the warmed butter to gently release some of its flavor.

Brush the partially baked biscuits with the garlic infused melted butter. Sprinkle with grated parmesan cheese, salt flakes and everything bagel seasoning (or toasted sesame seeds). Return to the oven and bake for 10 minutes.

An inside view of the completed stuffed biscuit. When serving, serve with a side of slightly warmed hoisin sauce for dipping or topping. Below I cut one open and spooned a small amount of sauce inside. Served fresh is best, but I’ve been advised they rewarm well if placed back in the oven or toaster oven for about 10 to 15 minutes.