BOOK CLUB, Bookclub Menus

Bookclub Menu: “The Forgotten Room”

The romance and elegance of the gilded age era Pratt Mansion and the original two joined hearts of Olive and Harry in “The Forgotten Room” inspired my table. Love letters, a large ruby filigree pendant necklace, artist’s brushes, paint tubes and an imagined mini portrait of Olive were represented. (See the post “The Forgotten Room” Inspired Bookclub Table)

The cocktail and menu were inspired by

Lucy, John and Philip’s generation in the 1920’s.

FROM THE 1920’S ERA: Philp invites Lucy to have a drink with him at a speakeasy. “The cat’s pajamas are the bees knees” was the password at the door of the bar. After a few drinks Philip tries to kiss Lucy. This caused Lucy to feel hideous shame. Philip Schuyler stared at her in genuine consternation. Or perhaps that was just the gin, slowing his wits, wrinkling his forehead. “I never thought – You’re a girl in a million, Lucy. Has anyone ever told you that? You’re the bee’s knees. The cat’s meow.” Grandly, he declared, “You’re the best secretary I’ve ever had.”

The Cocktail

It is our tradition to start with a little cocktail, so I searched for one on pinterest that referenced “the cat’s meow or the bees knees”. I found the recipe below, but it was extremely strong, much stronger that I know my group would appreciate. So much to the original mixologist’s displeasure, I added a lot more honey syrup, some grand marnier and tonic water or club soda to water it down before adding the champagne floater. I also strained the lime juice (not in the original instructions) to remove the pulp. I would suggest you make the drink ahead of time and test taste to ensure the flavors and strength of the drink will not be too overpowering for your guests to talk about the book or drive home safely! My guests said it was very honey forward, and tasty – they seemed to enjoy my doctored version.

Cat’s Meow Cocktail with the Bee’s Knees

Ingredients: (See my notes above for changes made)

  • 2oz (60mls) Appleton 8-year-old rum (I used Bacardi Golden)
  • 0.75oz (22mls) Lime Juice
  • 0.5oz (15mls) Honey Syrup
  • dash Angostura Bitters
  • Top with Champagne

Garnish with a sliver of honeycomb (I made a cocktail pick with little bees).

Add the first four ingredients to an ice-filled shaker, then strain into a coupe. Top with Champagne.

Cocktail picks made with Dollar Tree picks and craft store bees to and the “bees knees” flourish.

https://cocktailsdistilled.com/2021/09/29/new-on-the-bar-cats-meow-a-bees-knees-riff/

I made a pitcher full of the base cocktail before everyone arrived and place it in the refrigerator. This saved time when I was ready to serve and I just had to fill the glasses with the mixed drink and top it with a little champagne.

Soup and Salad

“Defiantly, Lucy ordered lobster Newburgh. If Philip Schuyler wanted a steak, he could have one himself.”

My meeting menu is usually composed of a soup and salad. As a nod to Lucy’s decision to have “lobster” at Delmonico’s, I served a small rich creamy bowl of lobster bisque with a citrus fennel salad as a fresh crispy bite to balance out the richness of the bisque. Each guest received a warm mini baguette straight from the oven.

Lobster Bisque and Fennel Citrus Salad

Lobster Bisque Recipe

https://cafedelites.com/lobster-bisque/

I used the recipe in the above link. In order to form 8 to 10 servings, I bought one fairly large boiled whole lobster and four uncooked tails. I found the lobsters on sale in the freezer section at my grocer discounted to make this affordable. The meat from the claws and larger tail on the whole lobster along with four other tails provided sufficient meat to fulfill the required servings.

I doubled the ingredients in the bisque. I cooked the lobster tails per the recipe and once all of the meat was pulled from the shells, I made the stock/broth with the shells from all of the lobster shells (except the body) along with a carrot, a celery stalk and half an onion.

I followed the recipe exactly up to pureeing the simmered soup. The bisque is so rich that I felt it needed some acid, so I added the zest and juice of one large lemon. I stopped at this pointed (without adding the cream) allowing the pureed soup to cool and then placed it in a sealed container and placed in the refrigerator until the meeting. (Two days later). An hour prior to the meeting, I placed the bisque in a large pot and added two cups of cream and slowly warmed. I placed the butter and garlic in a separate small skillet and slowly warmed (careful not to burn the garlic), then gently tossed the chopped lobster in the garlic butter. I was unable to find fresh tarragon, so I used fennel fronds (from the fennel bulbs used for the salad) to garnish.

The lobster bisque is so rich that I made a light fennel citrus salad to accompany it. Nothing complicated…

Fennel Citrus Salad

2 fennel bulbs (shaved on a mandolin or very thinly sliced)

3 large navel oranges (segmented)

1 bag baby arugula

1/3 cup chopped toasted almonds

Shaved parmesan

Dressing:

2 shallots (finely chopped)

4 tablespoons rice vinegar (or until shallots are covered)

Allow the two ingredients to marinate for about 20 minutes

Whisk in:

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon honey

Vigorously whisk until emulsified

salt and pepper to taste

I found mini single serving French baguettes at Trader Joe’s. I didn’t realize how small they were until I got them home and opened the package (of 6). They are the perfect size for each guest to receive one each and take only 8-10 minutes to warm up in the oven (frozen) or in an air fryer. Since they were hot from the oven, I made little paper napkin cozies to wrap around each so my guests wouldn’t burn their fingers. They’re perfect for one serving without the hassle of tearing or cutting a larger loaf into pieces and everyone having their hands on the loaf.

Chocolate Icebox Cake with Caramel Cream

“They stopped at a street cart for ice-cream sandwiches, Mr. Ravenel teasing Lucy for the dainty way she licked the ice cream from the sides first, so the melting treat wouldn’t drip on her gloves.”

Dessert was inspired by Lucy and John’s day spent together riding the carousel and eating ice cream sandwiches. I chose a vintage recipe from the 1920’s modernized by Zoë François, and served a slice with chocolate dipped strawberry hearts.

This is the chocolate wafer cookies and caramel whipped cream (after an overnight stay in a loaf pan in the refrigerator) before the top coat of vanilla whipped cream is added. The concept is for the whipped cream between and around the cookies should soak into the cookies overnight, softening the cookies into a cakelike texture. While mine set in the refrigerator for a good 12 hours, the cookies were still a little too crispy and make it difficult to cut, but I got exactly 8 slices. Regardless it was still delicious.

Below is the final cake with the vanilla whipped cream outer coat, shaved salted chocolate and chocolate dipped strawberry hearts.

How often do you purchase a container of strawberries 🍓 where every single berry is perfectly ripe and sweet? I always look forward to these beautiful Louisiana jewels from Baglio Farms, LLC in Independence, Louisiana. Simply cut the stem into a “V” to remove and then dip into melted bittersweet chocolate 🍫. Valentine 💘 hearts to simply eat or garnish a dessert.

What’s hanging from the chandelier??? First let me explain that I left the evergreen branches from the holidays there since Olive and Harry’s final days together were during Christmas and New Year’s Eve. My daughter saw this ornament idea that I couldn’t resist (after Christmas).

By this time all of its components were on clearance, so they cost nearly nothing to make. Inside are small replicas of the books my club read in 2022 (the year charm on top) by printing very small images of the cover for both the back and front of each book so that when it flipped is shows the same book cover. A sheet of foam (99 cents) was used to represent the pages. Unfortunately, when folding each little book to push it through the opening of the clear ornament, the paper crumbled. I told my group they look like worn out paperbacks (HA! HA!). Since we only read about 5 books a year, if I would have used thinner foam it would have been easier to insert the little books, but it would have looked like hardly anything was inside and they would have settled too flatly. I gave each of my members one of these at the end of this meeting.

Several years ago, I learned that the legendary chef and long time friend of Julia Child, Jacques Pépin published a book with sketches and art (from his hand) along the edges of the pages. When open faced the left page provides a place for guests to write a note and or sign and the opposite page on the right provides a space for noting the type of gathering and recording the menu. I host several luncheons and dinners each year, so I loved the idea of this book. Prior to each gathering I search for pages with art that in some way relates to our gathering.

Menus: A Book for Your Meals and Memories by Jacques Pépin.

It was fun to find this page with what resembled a vintage looking sketch of a couple that appears to be a bride and groom encircled by a heart. This of course was a great place to record our day for this book.

Our group enjoyed this book and appreciate the talented authors that composed this mind bending, hopeful, love mystery. I hope the ideas shared from this book club meeting with inspire you for your next book club. Remember to follow or subscribe to see future book club, wine club and entertaining inspiration! Thank you for stopping by!

BOOK CLUB, Bookclub Menus

The Forgotten Room (Inspired Bookclub Table)

Is it possible that two souls that are meant to be together, will continue to seek each other out in future generations? If you are a hopeless romantic like me, you will love the way this book explores such a possibility. A beautifully, sometimes purposely confusing (with the mystery not cleared up until the very end), hopeful and romantic tale of the lives of three generations of women (Olive, Lucy and Kate) will take you on such a journey. As we draw closer to Valentine’s Day, The Forgotten Room by co-authors Karen White, Beatriz Williams and Lauren Willig offers a richly complex story of love that reaches far into the next two generations.

Olive withholds the secrets of an unforgettable love throughout her life leaving both her daughter (Lucy) and granddaughter (Kate) searching for answers after her death. Explanations were never provided from the past in regard to a gilded age mansion Olive (accompanied by her little girl Lucy) strolled by to simply stare at and a delicate filigree chain, weighed down by a prodigious crimson (ruby) stone, handed down to daughter and then from her daughter to her granddaughter, each without knowing exactly why it was secretly maintained by her or it’s significance.

Olive and Harry meet and fall in love in 1892. A forbidden love match, common for the gilded age and beyond where “financial status” suproceeds matters of the heart. The novel is peppered with three eras that could have easily inspired the table decor and menu for my book club luncheon, starting with the elegance of the gilded age, to the art deco style of the 1920’s and finally the turbulent aftermath of World War II of the mid-1940’s.

As I tried to imagine a theme for my table, “the forgotten room” in many ways a character all its own, remained a common theme throughout the generations and is after all the title of the book (while not at all forgotten by its characters). The title of the book should have been something like “The Room Where Memories Remain”.

After some thought, I decided the starting place and era of this love story deserved to be the theme. Olive’s first impression of “the room”. . . . . .

when she stepped through the doorway, she lost her breath. Olive turned in a circle, coated in moonlight from the long Palladian windows. The brick walls – they were like a secret garden. She gazed upward at the beautiful dome, a smaller version of the one at the top of the staircase, except this one was paned in clear glass, suspending her in the center of a velvet star-flecked Manhattan night. A beautiful and unexpected gift.

As I brainstormed to put this book club meeting and menu together, I was also in the process of planning an upcoming wine club meeting with a theme of “Starry Winter’s Night”. With the idea of projecting stars on the ceiling and walls of my dining room, I remembered a small projector that plays soft music that my grandchildren had in their rooms (in a turtle form) when they were younger. This one purchased on Amazon, also projects (if desired) a beautiful half moon and cloud and can be changed to different colors. When I recalled the caption of Olive’s first impression of “the room” and how she described the velvet star-flecked Manhattan sky… I realized I could use it for this gathering as well.

It’s not 7 stories tall, but this table lantern was used to represent the Pratt Mansion.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0BJP7QV2S?psc=1&ref=ppx_yo2ov_dt_b_product_details

Placecards:

With a budget in mind, creating inexpensive props and points of interest pushes me to be creative. The mini portrait of Olive was also a recurring part of the story. If I were a graphic designer I could probably execute my ideas with a more professional result, but since I am not, I have to use my own resources of amateur design. I found an image of a gold oval frame online and just snipped it, then pasted it onto a blank Word document page. From there I had to play with sizing the image, including printing it a couple of times to achieve the size I wanted.

I was able to fit four frames on a 8 1/2″ x 11″ page. Next I worked to line up the names of my guests into the center of the frame. I’m sure there was a better way to do this, but I printed a page of frames and then re-fed the paper back through the printer to add the names. Some are slightly off center as in my example. I created the backing of the frame with card stock templates I made and then thread some narrow ribbon (just like a real frame) from the front of the frame to the back folding stand. I also found one sheet of dark floral paper that reminded me of the time period that I glued to the back side to give a finished appearance and hide the taped ribbon. Finally I bought teardrop ruby rhinestones to hot glue to the front (to resemble Olive’s necklace.)

A description of the miniature portrait as described by Kate…

“The woman appeared to be nude, her long dark hair tumbling around her shoulders, her only accessory a filigree gold necklace about her slender, pale neck, a perfect large ruby dangling from the center.

While the book did not provide a photo of Olive, I searched the internet for a portrait of a young, beautiful women with dark flowing hair (released from its hairpins) and bare shoulders attempting to get as close as I could to this imaginary character. I happened upon this glittered Christmas ornament frame over the holidays, with a slot for inserting a photo that perfectly displays the portrait with a gilded age elegance and added sparkle.

Those Pratt family dinners were unquestionably served in the ambiance of flickering candles, and the elegance of fine china, crystal and ornate silver. I placed my candelabra to one side of the table with soft cream lit candles to create a similar ambiance and hung the portrait to bask in the glow of candlelight.

With the help of a craft store filigree gold chain and one of the ruby rhinestones, I created an imagined version of Olive’s necklace and displayed in on this similar era bust of a young girl I purchased from an antique store several years ago.

Olive lowered herself carefully onto the cushions, which were upholstered in silk and threadbare velvel and released a comfortable scent of dusty lavender as she sank among them.”

A red velvet table runner draped across the center of the table was used as the base of my table’s center. A set of old metal keys (similar to the opening page of the book), paint stained artist brushes and tubes of paint with an antique candle snuffer are randomly displayed over the cushion of velvet.

Harry led her to the wall next to the small fireplace, where a pile of angry coals hissed heat into the room, and pointed to three square tiles above the mantel. Olive hadn’t noticed, and them before, and now she wondered why: They were beautiful, full of color, depicting intricate heraldic shields on either side and a central figure of Saint George bearing his crimson white-crossed flag.

He released her hand and worked the bricks free from the mortar in a single irregular shingle, revealing the cavity within. “You see? There’s a hollow here, as if the builder forgot to put in a few bricks. Well, he didn’t forget. I got to know the architect a little bit, when they were building this place, and he showed me. I guess he like to do that when he designed houses, to put in some little secret. So, if you need anything, if you want to leave me a message of any kind, just put it in here. I’ll find it, I promise.”

Harry revealed a secret hiding place in the wall with loose bricks where he and Olive could leave letters for one another (shown to him by Olive’s father). We can’t have a romantic table without love letters! I recreated the stained letters with a calligraphy inspired font from the two letters written out in the book and then brushed the pages with a mixture of instant espresso powder and water to create a strong coffee. After about 30 minutes I then finished the drying process with a hair blow dryer. Following some examples for following letters from the time period, I folded and sealed the letters with a wax stamp. Two are crumbled, aged and slightly torn at the edges and displayed open on the table and with a few others that are unopened and sealed.

A beautiful heart with thin wooden flower petals I purchased on sale at Hobby Lobby, added a beautiful shot of red and drama to the table for a story that is clearly a matter of the heart.

Narrow dark red velvet ribbon was used to cinch the napkins.

I also used a piece of the dark red velvet ribbon to cinc the excess chain (for the necklace) at the back of the bust. At a glance, it resembles the back of a corset.

With the table set and ready to greet my group and discuss this complex love story filled with surprises and mysteries that require solving all the way to the end, I will pause here. A little note taking is recommended to keep track of all of the twists and clues. I’ve actually created a timeline family tree for each of the main characters to help everyone confirm if they sorted out everything correctly.

My next post will provide the cocktail and luncheon menu for this meeting. So come back soon! Happy reading!

CHRISTMAS, DINNER PARTY, HOLIDAY

Winter’s Night Sunday Supper

What better way to spend a cold winter’s night during this holiday season than to invite a couple of friends over to gather around the table near the twinkling lights of the Christmas tree for a cozy Sunday supper? This gathering was pulled together in a short 48 hours. I reached out to my friends on a Friday afternoon and once they confirmed they could come, I began to pull my plan for the evening together.

I always start with my table decor, It helps me to set the stage for the evening, starting with my basic gold rimmed china dinner plates and gold inexpensive chargers. A few years ago I used a wide roll of dark red velvet ribbon to cut pieces that fold over and under the chargers for an elegant touch. I fold them one on top of the other on the original cardboard roll to store the pieces away to use from year to year. Finally I placed my Lenox “Pomegranate with Mistletoe” salad plates (a gift from a friend many years ago) on top of the dinner plate for a festive pop of color.

I started collecting pieces of silver cutlery this year and had just enough place settings to use for this small dinner party. I also pulled out my special crystal wine glasses that are not used for my wine parties, but deserved a spot at the table for this ocassion.

With a bag of mandarin oranges and a jar of whole cloves I studded patterns on some of the mandarins and then added a plaid ribbon in Christmas colors to complete their look. I created a centerpiece with fragrant evergreen branches (purchased at Fresh Market) placed across the center of the table with a string of jingle bell garland and battery operated twinkle lights. A clove studded mandarin was placed in the center of each plate and some were placed over the evergreens in the center of the table.

A holiday dinner party deserves the elegance of the season. The house is filled with beautiful twinkle lights and colors throughout the house, making it easy to create a warm ambiance that is perfect for an evening such as this. Why not take advantage of the added glow in the house?

For an easy Hors D’oeuvre, I bought a package of endive (also known as chicory) that contained two light green tipped heads and one purple tipped head. I filled the bottom of the green leaves with sushi snow crab salad and the purple with a small ball of Bouisin carmelized onion cheese rolled in pistachio crumbs and topped with a pomegranate seed. A small silver serving tray presented raisin rosemary crackers from Trader Joe’s, a citrus studded English cheese and toasted whole walnuts.

The Hors D’oeuvres were served with a holiday Lambrusco punch from the link below. Hint: I used all of the Autumn simple syrup from the recipe (not just the 1/2 cup per instructions). The syrup is delicious and added a lot of flavor.

https://www.howsweeteats.com/2018/11/christmas-punch/

I also made cocktail ice cubes (using the large square silicone trays) made with pomegranate juice and a little water, filling the tray sections with fresh rosemary, fresh cranberries and pomegranate seeds. One large cube was placed in each glass and the punch poured over and then garnished with a sprig of fresh rosemary.

The Menu

Champagne Citrus Salad

Coq Au Vin with Mashed Potatoes

Sweet soy glaze and Agave Roasted brussel sprouts with pomegranate seeds

Gingerbread Eggnog Custard Tarts

I started with a citrus salad to follow along with the table decor, that unfortunately did not get photographed. The ingredients are as follows:

  • Two navel oranges segmented
  • Arugula and mixed greens
  • Sliced (leftover endive) for cruch
  • Pomegranate seeds
  • Dried Cranberries 1/2 soaked in orange juice to rehydrate
  • finely chopped chives
  • toasted chopped hazelnuts
  • Champagne citrus vinaigrette https://canapesandsoirees.com/citrus-champagne-vinaigrette/

Place the greens and endive in a bowl and toss with the vinaigrette. Divide into 4 to 6 portions in separate plates. Top with orange segments, pomegranate seeds, rehydrated cranberries, and nuts.

For the entree I made a one pot comfort dish, French coq au vin served over rosemary roasted garlic mashed potatoes (achieved by simmering evaporated milk with a few sprigs of Greg rosemary and adding severs cloves of roasted garlic).

The side was roasted brussels (with sweet soy sauce, tamarin, a little agave tossed after cooking) and sprinkled with pomegranate seeds.

https://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/coq-au-vin

Finally we ended the evening with gingerbread eggnog custard tarts. I had a half a bottle of eggnog leftover from my cookie decorating gathering and decided this would be a great way to finish the bottle off. The recipe I used made one full tart with a thick filling. I decided to make individual tarts so the custard was not as deep (thick) as the single tart, but it was still delicious. I also can recommend making just the eggnog custard and serve in little bowls that was also delicious on its own. My leftover custard was poured into small desserts dishes for another day.

Two of my guests had birthdays (one prior to the dinner and one due on Christmas day), so I put a single candle in each of their tarts so we could celebrate their birthdays.

Here’s proof that using what you have for the table and selecting a simple comfort food menu will enable you to throw together a quick festive winter holiday supper for a few of your friends or family in very little time.

However long you keep your Christmas decorations in place… there’s still time for a small gathering even once the day has come and gone.

Wishing everyone a safe and Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Thank you so much for your support! I’m looking forward to new gatherings with new themes and getting my wine club back together in 2023. See you soon!

CHRISTMAS, GATHERINGS, HOLIDAY

Getting Into a Christmas Spirit with a Cookie Decorating Party

A last minute informal invite was sent to a few family and friends to gather on a Sunday afternoon to decorate Christmas cookies, listen to Christmas tunes, nibble on some snacks, and sip Vin Chaud (mulled wine) and eggnog.

Since the group would be small, it gave me the opportunity to use some of my collected sterling silver and vintage (looking) ornaments in the decor that added an elegant charm reminiscent of photos in the stacks of back issues I have of Victoria magazine.

With less than a week to plan, I searched throughout my home and Christmas boxes for things I may have forgotten I had to use for this quickly pulled together gathering. I also tried to imagine how I would set up the table comfortably for everyone to have room to eat while decorating their cookies.

I found my retro Santa mug that my mother made in her ceramics class in 1968. When my daughter’s family comes to stay with me over the Christmas holiday, we’ve used the mug to leave cookies and milk for Santa. I thought it would make a cute centerpiece container to hold culinary tweezers and some brushes for edible gold powder. The mug, surrounded by small bowls with various sprinkles and dragees were placed on a clear plastic lazy susan for easier access to everyone. Two layers of inexpensive plastic red tablecloths were used to protect the table.

Half rimmed baking sheets from Tuesday Morning were used to decorate each cookie. A folded piece of parchment paper placed inside. The rimmed baking sheet provides a clean surface and captures sprinkles when used. The piece of parchment can be folded and helps pour the sprinkles back into the bowl (all to control mess). The rectangle gold plates on the side are from the Dollar Tree.

I baked one per guest of three different cookie shapes, a gingerbread person, a snowflake and a detailed back view of a vintage car. I didn’t want all of the cookies to be too difficult since this was a first attempt at decorating for most of my group. However while the open freestyle cookie would seem the easier version, it took some coaxing to get everyone to tackle them. I shared photos of different snowflake cookies from instagram for inspiration.

The car cookie is very detailed, but provides exactly what you need to do. Simply coloring in the spots like a coloring book with crayons. Time consuming, but already thought out. The task of these three cookies provided just the right amount of time for a little gathering.

I used the scraps of cookie dough to cut out small stars, and place a drop of icing on each for a sample taste.

In lieu of pastry bags and mixing and coloring icing, I’ve always used the Betty Crocker or generic Walmart icings with one pointed tip that is snipped off with a pair of scissors. When I first started decorating cookies with my grandchildren, these icing tubes were only $1.98 each. They gradually moved up to $2.98 and this year they had increased to $5.00 each. I was thrilled when I found the white, red and green at a nearby Dollar General for $3.00.

While at the Dollar General (this was only my second visit there in nine years), I found these reindeer socks and luckily there were 6 – exactly enough to give as favors. So I rolled each one up and tied with some green garland ties (Michaels) and a jiggle bell (pack of 9 from Dollar Tree). I also made with jingle bell necklaces with some narrow ribbon.

I placed a copper bowl at each end of the table and filled each with one red, green, white and lavender (that I had left over from Halloween) tube of icing. On the side I had another bowl with one tube of chocolate, and other leftover Halloween colors of black and orange to share. I also found a box with four very small tubes that included yellow and blue for $3 at Dollar General that included in the share bowl.

I purchased a bouquet of evergreen branches at the grocer and laid those in the center of the table. I then nestled the bowls of icing and lazy susan over the evergreens. I used a string of battery powered snowflake bulbs to drape around the center.

Happy with the table, I moved on to the flowers and food, that were displayed on my kitchen island.

Referencing a couple of cute ideas from instagram, I made stacked Christmas tree turkey sandwiches with black truffle mayo.

Adapted from Gretchen’s post “She Keeps a Lovely Home” – I found water crackers in the pantry, purchased cherry tomatoes sliced in half), a yellow bell pepper (for small ornament tops); Boursin caramelized onion and herb spreadable cheese, and a few sprigs of dill to make these little festive small bites.

Icebox pecan and blue cheese crackers (a Martha Stewart recipe I’ve used for years), usually rolled into a log and sliced – updated by rolling out and cutting with a cookie cutter shapes of stars and small snowflakes to add to the cheese board. The stars are sprinkled with a little crushed pink peppercorn. (Must be made ahead and refrigerated for 24 hours before baking so prepare!)

https://www.marthastewart.com/1072363/blue-cheese-pecan-icebox-crackers

An easy small bite of mini cocktail sausages, wrapped in store bought pie dough (cut into strips with a pastry cutter with scalloped edges), brushed with egg wash and sprinkled with everything bagel seasoning (or sesame seeds would also work). Baked at 450 degrees (f) for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden.

I also made a quick batch of sweet and spicy pecans the day before. The cheese board had raisin rosemary crackers from Trader Joe’s, my pecan blue cheese homemade crackers, a cranberry cheese from England, a Black truffle sheep cheese, a honey goat cheese rolled in chopped dried cranberries and crystalized ginger and a small bunch of black seedless grapes.

For dessert, I found this Flourless Chocolate Chestnut cake. Regrettably, I’ve never eaten chestnuts. I was in New York just before the holidays on two occasions and didn’t grab the chance to try roasted chestnuts! A mistake I will not make again. This cake was light while also being rich with a truffle like texture and not too sweet. It was very lovely and everyone was a fan.

https://www.oliveandmango.com/chocolate-chestnut-cake/

My Vin Chaud was so well liked that I was making a second batch while the others were decorating cookies! Toss in a few fresh cranberries for garnish. (Note to self- make a double batch next year!)

Before departing with their wrapped up cookies, we did a small toast to the holidays and a festive day with a chilled glass of eggnog topped with a fresh grating of nutmeg!

None of us, including me, are professional bakers. Our decorated cookies prove to be homemade and we could not be prouder of them. They represent an afternoon well spent, a first attempt by some who may have been previously intimidated by the idea of decorating cookies and a lot of fun. (I think this will become a new annual tradition).

P. S. My 89 year old mother-in-law REALLY loved the cake and left with some to take home … and the star cookie samples. Happy Holidays!

CHRISTMAS, GATHERINGS, HOLIDAY

Setting the Table (For the Christmas Season- Red & Golds)

A Vintage Nativity found in a local antique store for $15; faux or fresh evergreen branches, a silk rose with gold and red velvet ribbon purchased many years ago and a Dollar Tree gold tone jingle bell hot glued to a mini clothespin.

It’s that time of year when the boxes of Christmas decorations are pulled out of the attic or storage and the decorating begins. I’m sure like me, you have some items in those boxes that you’ve either held on to year after year, or some vintage items passed down from family members, that may or may not make the cut for this year’s displays.

This is a perfect time to look through those collected items to create your Christmas tablescape. This issue is to show you that making the table look beautiful doesn’t have to cost a lot, and that you can use things you already have to make a creative display for everyone to enjoy.

Same dishes, same napkin fold, added white glittered church ornament from the Dollar Tree.

The examples in my photos all have the same white tablecloth with gold polka dots, plain white gold rimmed china plate, a gold charger (from the Dollar True); gold tone flatware and gold rimmed glasses. Below each photo is a description of what was used to create each presentation.

The only important thing to remember, is to keep the centerpiece area low so that your guests can see and converse easily. Candlestick or votives are also a beautiful alternative to the battery twinkle lights, but in my situation I have an air conditioning vent that blows over my dining room table and usually blows the wax all over the place. So I only use candles that have a glass cylinder around them to protect my tablecloths or when I don’t need to have the a/c on – weather permitting. In the south we never know if it’s going to be hot or cold for Christmas. Always consider your elements in your room and ways to prevent small disasters.

Different napkin fold topped the same gold tone jingle bell. A red velvet wired ribbon wrapped around the charger. Centerpiece same evergreens with gold and red vintage glass ornaments and golden tree place card holders purchased at Homegoods.

Faux evergreen branches work just fine, but fresh branches can be picked up at the local hardware store and Christmas tree lot for free. Yes – places like Home Depot have a large wood bin next to the tent where the trunks of trees are being trimmed, with free fresh branches for the taking.

Berry branched napkins (from Homegoods), an embroidered Christmas cocktail napkin and Christmas ornament (frame) that a name or picture of your guest can be inserted as a place card. (Wouldn’t it be fun to have photos of everyone on Santa’s lap as a child?)

I often use place cards, just to mix up my group. The same people tend to sit together and I want everyone to visit with a family member or friend they haven’t seen in a while.

For the centerpiece, I used my small collection of Hallmark 1980’s village buildings, a clay timber cottage that was a gift from a friend who sent it from Germany, same faux evergreens, a couple of small red glass ornaments and three sets of battery operated mini string lights. I also swapped out the tablecloth for a muslin and gold stitched version and a table runner with a Christmas village, both from Homegoods.

To elevate this village landscape one step more, I snipped a few roses from my knockout rose bush and tucked them randomly into the evergreen branches.

Evergreens and lights remained, Spode round gift box tied with red ribbon, topped with the knockout roses, a trumpet ornament and two large instrument ornaments.

A string of multiple sized gold toned jingle bells added to the evergreen.

Clipped jingle bell on top of cocktail napkin.

Changed out the jingle bell clip for that silk white rose with gold and red velvet ribbon and clipped the jingle bell to the floral arrangement.

One last version, a golden angel playing a violin and an angel wing ornament. My book club read a Christian fiction novel a few years ago that was filled with angels. I found these wings on sale at a local gift shop after Christmas and bought one as a favor to give each of my members.

With a rose bud.
Without a rose bud.

I could probably find many other ways to use this same place setting. If your collection includes items of the same color tones, you can easily mix and match items, tuck in pops of color and create themes. With a little thought, you can use the same items for years to come in different ways and no one will ever know it isn’t new. I hope these example inspire you to create your own beautiful Christmas tables.

FALL, FRIENDSGIVING, GATHERINGS, HOLIDAY, SIMPLY ELEVATED, THANKSGIVING

Autumn Crunch Salad with Fig Balsamic Vinaigrette (Simply Elevated)

This Autumn Crunch Quinoa Salad with Fig Balsamic vinaigrette could be the new healthy and colorful addition you’re looking to add to your Thanksgiving or Friendsgiving menu.

A combination of simple healthy ingredients with the flavors and colors of fall with the bonus of a satisfying crunch. Just a little chopping is involved, then toss together in a large bowl. Sprinkle with seeds and dried fruit just before serving. I used mini syrup pitchers from World Market for individual servings of the vinaigrette.

To create this colorful salad I used the following.

  • Cook per package instructions, 1 cup of multi colored quinoa and set aside to cool to room temperature

  • One Napa cabbage (sliced into 1/4 inch ribbons and then in half for smaller pieces)
  • 3 heads of endive (I found a multiple color package at Trader Joe’s) slice into 1/4 in ribbons.
  • 1 small head of radicchio (sliced into 1/4 inch ribbons
  • Rainbow carrots, 2 of each color – shaved into strips with a vegetable peeler
  • 1 container or bag of mini arugula

Toppings:

  • 1 package of diced pancetta (cooked in a pan until crispy & then drain fat)
  • 1/3 cup pomegranate seeds
  • 1/3 cup pepitas (pumpkin seeds) toast in a dry pan until slightly golden
  • 5 or 6 dried figs (chopped into 1/2 in slices) *** if fresh figs are available -sliced fresh figs would be lovely with this instead of the dried figs
  • Shaved parmesan cheese

Once your quinoa is prepared and cooled set aside in a bowl. Serve separate from the actual tossed salad.

Toss all of the vegetables together in a large bowl.

Prepare the vinaigrette.

Balsamic Fig Vinaigrette

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp fig butter, jam, or preserves
  • 1 tbsp pomegranate molasses
  • 6 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tsp dijon mustard
  • 2 tbsp honey or agave
  • 1/3rd cup olive oil (I used Kalamata olive oil)
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Directions:

In a small bowl whisk together fig jam, vinegar, salt and pepper until thickened and creamy. For more sweetness add more honey or fig butter, if too thick you can add more olive oil. Vinaigrettes take a little tasting and adding here and there to reach your desired flavor. Salt of course always amps up the overall flavor.

Whisk until thoroughly combined and you won’t have to worry about the ingredients separating. Serve on the side to prevent greens from getting soggy.

If serving individually a few edible flowers on the side will add an additional pop of color and whimsy. I plant several viola plants in my herb garden just for this purpose.

FRIENDSGIVING, GATHERINGS

Figgy Plum Friendsgiving 2022

This year, my party planning was thrown off by a kitchen island renovation, and it’s taken me a little while to channel my creative energy and get back to entertaining. It seems this has also been the year that most of my group (including myself) scheduled a much needed vacation after the long pandemic concerns, making it harder to get the group together. Fortunately, we’ve all settled down and I’ll have a full table of guests for this year’s Friendsgiving.

Each year I try to draw from a fruit and/or a color that inspires my table decor and menu. Last year apples were the theme. This year I was inspired by the bouquets of purple, burgundy, maroon, blush, plum, and cream flowers at the market and chose to create a “figgy plum” themed table and menu.

I tend to pick fruits, flowers or vegetables that are in season for about two weeks before my scheduled party and then they are nowhere to be found the actual week of my event! A good plan always requires a little flexibility, but I was thrilled to find a few plums the week before and fresh figs the day before my event. The universe has been kind and given me everything I imagined.

Colorful place cards and this plum cut glass candle by Rachel Zoe were part of what dressed up my table.

Braided placemat, gold charger, Royal Stafford pheasant dinner plates (England), black “cmg” bowls (Portugal), purple table runner and cloth napkins all from Homegoods.

A week prior to the scheduled event, I stocked up on what I could find and stored everything in the refrigerator (including flowers). I could only find small plums (but dark black plums were nowhere to be found) and plumcots. As an alternative, large seedless black grapes provided that moody dark plum color I wanted to achieve. Figs are so perishable I had to wait until the day before the luncheon to purchase them.

THE FLOWERS

These copper bowls with floral oasis (hot glued to the bottom) and chicken wire were used for the centerpieces. The bowls had an original tag on the bottom from Thirstystone for $33.00 each, but at Homegoods they were $6.99 each. Always love a Homegoods deal!

THE TABLE DECOR

Silver bowls collected from antique stores and Rachel Zoe plum colored cut glass with citrus scented candles from Homegoods. (The breakfast table.)

I have ten guests (eleven including myself). I can sit ten tightly at my dining room table, but not eleven – for more comfort I’m setting up three, myself and two of my helpers) at the breakfast table on the other side of the room. We are up and down so much from serving and taking dishes away, that it’s less disruptive to the main table and easier if we are together. None of these events could succeed without the loving help of my sister team of Lanie and Caryl.

While we were sitting at a separate table there were no shortcuts when decorating it. I wanted my two friends (also my guests) to enjoy the same beautiful rich colors of the flowers, fruits and candle just like the others. So the breakfast table had all of the same elements.

Silver plated antique store finds – bowls and creamer filled with large black grapes and figs.

THE PLUM FRENCH BRANDY SANGRIA

French brandy with plums, cinnamon sticks and star anise.

Three to five days before the event, start the plum brandy. I used an extra large mason jar that could be sealed tightly. Place one plum and one plumcot (sliced into wedges), two cinnamon sticks and two star anise into two cups of French brandy (I used Trader Joe’s). Store in the refrigerator to macerate.

  • Plum brandy (above chilled)
  • 1 bottle of Rioja or other red wine (chilled)
  • 1 25 oz bottle of sparkling water (chilled)
  • 2 to 3 cups of chilled apple cider (chilled)

One day before serving, mix all of the ingredients and divide into two large jars or pitchers. Place half of two sliced plums, two sliced plumcots, a handful of black grapes (halved) into each container and allow all of the ingredients to macerate for at least 24 hours.

One hour prior guests’ arrival prepare the glasses: Fill each with sliced plums, pomegranate seeds, blackberries, black seedless grapes, fresh rosemary. When the guests arrive as host you can fill each glass with sangria or allow guests to fill their own glass.

Optional : One hour prior to your guests arrival, pour both containers into a beverage dispenser so guest can self serve and refill their glasses.

THE CHARCUTERIE BOARD

A nibble board for guests to enjoy with their sangria while waiting for everyone to arrive. It’s always a good idea to have a little something to eat while drinking alcohol.

From left to right caperberries, Mini basque sheep’s cheese, deli meats, Spanish manchego cheese, blackberries, cornichons, soft blue gorgonzola, and Trader Joe’s pumpkin cranberry and fig olive crackers.

FIGGY PLUM MENU

AUTUMN CRUNCH SALAD WITH QUINOA

WITH FIG BALSAMIC DRESSING

The recipe will be shared in an upcoming edition of “Simply Elevated”.

ROASTED SWEET POTATO AND FIG SOUP WITH CRAB

Those who are familiar with Erin French of The Lost Kitchen will recognize this method for serving soup. The bowls were set out across my kitchen island filled with a mound of fresh Louisiana lump crab, microgreens, edible flowers, a swirl of lime creme fraiche and a parmesan crisp. After the salad course, a bowl was placed in front of each guest with instructions to wait for the soup to be poured.

The soup that was prepared two days before was reheated. The juice of a lime was added and some heavy cream. The hot soup was ladled into a white pitcher and poured into each bowl at tableside (Erin French style).

The recipe for this can be found in the most recent Simply Elevated post (Fall Soup)

DESSERT: PLUM, FIG AND FRANGIPANE TART

WITH FRESH WHIPPED CREAM

To end the meal, I made simple puffed pastry tarts cut into squares filled with frangipane, fig butter, sliced plums and one slice of fresh fig with the corners pulled together over the top. All were prepped before everyone arrived and placed in the refrigerator until the soup course was served.

During that course the trays were pulled from the refrigerator, brushed with egg wash, sprinkled with chocolate sea salt and baked 25 minutes. Fresh from the oven each placed on a plate, dusted with a mixture of powdered sugar and Chinese five spice with a side of fresh Chinese five spice whipped cream.

This very low sugar fresh fruit dessert was a great way to end our fall themed menu, featuring the end of season plums and figs while filled with gratitude for another year of books and wine shared with these special friends in a celebration of Friendsgiving.

FALL, FRIENDSGIVING, SIMPLY ELEVATED

Fall Inspired Soup: Simply Elevated

The first weekend in November, I will be hosting my annual Friendsgiving luncheon for ten guests. Inspired by the warm fall colors of a floral bouquet with shades of plum, burgundy, purple, and cream, I decided on a Figgy Plum menu. Figs and plums are both at the end of their season, naturally just before my scheduled date. I managed to find some plumcots, a few plums and dried figs to make this menu work.

A couple of days before my scheduled luncheon, I’ve made the soup, stopping after the purée process. I will add the cream and lime after rewarming just prior to serving.

Roasted Sweet Potato & Fig Soup with Crab

This recipe will serve 4 to 6 depending of the thickness you choose and the size of the bowl.

4 medium sized sweet potatoes 

1 medium onion (sliced) 

1 head of garlic (pre- roasted) **

Olive oil

4 – 6 dried figs (chopped)  – if you can’t find dried figs, a ½ cup of fig preserves can be substituted

4 -6 cups chicken or vegetable stock

1 teaspoon kosher salt (or more to taste)

Ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (spiciness to your liking)

½ cup heavy cream or half and half

2 large limes

Crème fraiche (1 container about 4-6 oz)

1 plastic condiment squeeze bottle with screw on top

Parmesan (crisps) can be purchased or made *** see link below for recipe (can be made ahead)

Lump crab meat (optional)

Fresh edible flowers, microgreens and/or fresh herb leaves such as flat leaf parsley or mini Thai basil leaves (optional)

This recipe requires some time, but results in added flavor.  I keep a jar of garlic confit (**garlic cloves roasted in olive oil until sweet and soft) in my refrigerator that helps speed up the process and I caramelize my sliced onion is a non-stick pan on the stove.  But if you don’t have roasted garlic and would rather not caramelize the onions on the stove you can do the following.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit

Drizzle olive on lightly on to a rimmed, foil lined baking sheet. ( If everything does not fit in one even layer, a second prepared sheet can be used).

Cut sweet potatoes in half lengthwise and place face down on the tray. Pierce each potato on the skin side several times with the point of a knife.

**Place a head of garlic into aluminum foil, drizzle generously with olive oil and tightly close and seal the foil around the garlic, place on baking.

Peel and slice the onion into about ¼ inch slices and spread (one layer) on baking sheet.

Lightly drizzle everything with olive oil.

Bake for 25 minutes and check onions (they may require stirring to ensure roasting or they may be golden enough. If golden remove and place in the blender –waiting on the rest of the ingredients and to limit dirty dishes).

Continue to bake potatoes and garlic for another 15 to 20 minutes. ( Time may vary based on size of potatoes and differences in ovens, until potatoes are soft when pricked and garlic is soft.)

Meanwhile – prepare Crème fraiche

Zest one lime onto a board (or turn the microplane upside down and zest, the zest will remain on the microplane to easily slide into the opening of the squeeze bottle)

Scoop the Crème fraiche into a small zip bag.  Cut one of the bottom corners, twist the top tightly and press contents like a pastry bag into the squeeze bottle. (easier method than using a spoon to transfer to the bottle.)

Cut the lime in half and add the juice of one half of the lime.  Reserve the other half for later.

Close the squeeze bottle tightly and with finger over the pointed top hole, shake until well combined.

Squeeze onto a piece of the foil to check consistency and determine if loose enough to swirl on top of the served soup. (It should not be watery just loosened to easily squeeze out. If too watery, place in the refrigerator the it to firm up a little).

Next:

Remove roasted potatoes, garlic and onions if still on the sheet, from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature (or cool enough to handle)

Using a teaspoon scoop the flesh from the skins and place in the blender with the onions.

Squeeze the soft roasted garlic from their skins on to the foil (to ensure no skins get into the pulp) and then place the roasted garlic pulp into the blender

Add chopped dried figs, some of the stock and puree. 

Add salt, black pepper, red pepper flakes.  Process.  Add additional stock to achieve the thickness you prefer and continue to season to taste.

Pour the pureed vegetables into a large pot and simmer to warm to preferred temperature, stirring frequently to avoid sticking to the bottom on the pot. When completely warmed until fully combined. Here’s where I recommend tasting the soup and adding any additional salt if needed.

Add the juice of the remaining 1½ limes just before serving.  Taste for seasoning and taste make sure there was enough lime to brighten the soup up.

Parmesan crisps: (optional – serve with the soup or a side salad)

Parmesan Crisps Recipe | MyRecipes

To serve:

Ladle pureed soup into bowl

Squeeze a swirl of lime crème fraiche

Stick in a parmesan crisp

Add 1 ½ tablespoons of crab (float on top)

Garnish with edible flowers and microgreens or fresh herb leaves

To serve Erin French style: (The Lost Kitchen)

A wider shallow bowl would be required for this presentation (rather than a cup sized version).

Swirl lime crème fraiche into the bottom of the bowl

Place small mound of crab to one side / sick parmesan crisp into the crab mound

Garnish with edible flowers/ microgreens/herbs

(Place bowls in front of each guest)  Pour pureed soup from a pitcher into the bowl until just below the crab mound.)

I will share the rest of our Friendsgiving Menu in my next post, until then enjoy this beautiful Fall weather wherever you may be! Thank you for stopping by!

FALL, GATHERINGS, TRAVEL JOURNAL

Fall Foliage Weekend Getaway (State of Georgia) 2022

Autumn or Fall is my favorite time of year. It’s the most colorful and inviting of all seasons filled with an intense kaleidoscope of every shade of orange, mellon, paprika, cantaloupe, peach, pumpkin, squash, yellow, gold, red, plum, eggplant, chocolate and evergreens that can go on and on in description forever as far as the eye can see. The air is lighter, crisp and cool, with invigorating breezes that encourage outdoor activities and road trips to encircle ourselves with all of its beauty and comfort.

I grow excited at the first cold snap that encourages me to pull out my cozy sweaters and boots, only to be disappointed a couple of days later when the temperatures rise again causing me to abandon them feeling teased by a temporary glimpse at Fall such as it is in the South.

In mid-October I enjoyed a wonderful long weekend visiting family in the northern suburbs of Atlanta. The weather cooperated with cold crisp nights and mornings that then comfortably warmed as the day progressed. I was introduced to the beautiful Georgia mountains where the color was in its early stages of transforming, pleasantly advancing slightly more each day. We visited several of my cousin and her husband’s favorite wineries (I’ll call research), an apple orchard, several antique shops and a grist mill with a lovely burbling creek that powers it.

Their favorite wineries included a beautiful landscape with a relaxing environment, a selection of wines to try by the glass or in a sample flight, and live acoustic guitar and vocalist playing country or classic rock.

The view was often reminiscent of parts of California (where I grew up) that I ‘ve missed so much. Mountains in the distance are not something seen in southern Louisiana and offer lovely weekend drives for recharging and fresh air.

The Nora Mill and Country Store was a quick stop on our way to Helen, Georgia for their Octoberfest that begins in late September and continues throughout the entire month of October. We arrived on an early Sunday morning, hoping to beat the crowds that were sure to arrive as the day progressed. We enjoyed an outdoor lunch and before leaving I had to have a piece of authentic black forest cake!

Authentic Black Forest Cake

On my list of things I wanted to do during our visit was antique shopping. My cousin and her husband enthusiastically and successfully I might add, helped me in my quest to start a silver spoon collection, I call tasting spoons. What is a tasting spoon? Those of you who may be a fan of Ina Garten, may have seen the container of silver spoons on her counter that she uses to taste the seasoning of her food during it’s cooking process. I planned to search through Paris flea markets one day to start my collection, but having not made that trip yet, I decided to look for spoons from the various places I’ve traveled.

The second spoon (these are all tablespoons) from the left was recently purchased in a shop not far from where I live. The rest of the spoons were found mostly by my cousin’s a husband who was on a mission to send me home successfully equipped. The most interesting of those he found is the last one on the right and below, found in a shop across the street from the grist mill. Once back in the car, I had a closer look and noticed that it looked like arms wrapping around the back to the front.

A tag was attached to help locate information about the pattern, Fraget Plaque Russian, however a quick internet search lead to the pattern where one site calls it Gargoyle.

In another search I found several for sale, but none with the exact same symbol in front of the Fraget name. One stated: “For those who don’t speak French, the pattern name – Peau de Lion – simply means Lion Skin which is what is being portrayed on the flatware and hollowware in this pattern. It was supposed to recall the lion skin worn by the mythical Hercules. The pattern was designed by Charles Rossigneux to be shown at the 1867 Paris Exposition. It was created by several companies though I think that Christofle and Fraget (Russia & Poland) were more prolific than Gorham. I have seen the Christofle and Fraget examples and I noticed that there are some small but definite differences in their versions of the pattern.”

Any way you look at it, it is an interesting find and great conversation piece.

The beginnings of a tasting spoon collection.

While the landscape of the Georgia mountains brought back memories of parts of California, the charming quaint mountain towns reminded me of New England.

Dahlonega

Our first day of sightseeing started in Dahlonega where we ate at a really cute Mediterranean restaurant Capers on the Square where we enjoyed a bowl of Greek chicken, lemon and rice soup that I’m trying to recreate and add to my weekly soup rotation.

There were several cute shops and antiques stores that we also searched through and found a couple of spoons to add to my collection.

***Dahlonega is a small city in northern Georgia. Tasting rooms offering wines from regional vineyards cluster around 19th-century Public Square. Dahlonega Gold Museum, in the 1836 courthouse, chronicles mining in the area from the discovery of gold in 1828. Consolidated Gold Mine includes an underground mine from around 1900. Waterfalls, including towering Amicalola Falls, dot the mountains of north Georgia. Dahlonega, the seat of Lumpkin County, lies about sixty-five miles north of Atlanta in the Blue Ridge province. The town is closely associated with Georgia’s gold history; its name derives from a Cherokee word referring to the yellow color of gold.***

From the airport my cousin drove me to the little town of Marietta (Marietta Square) where we had lunch at Taqueria Tsunami (very good) and then strolled around the square stopping into the first of the antique shops during my time there.

While some may not associate northern Georgia as a place to enjoy the Fall foliage (at least I was completely ignorant to this location), it was a lovely way to enjoy the changing leaves, drink a little wine, listen to some great music and do a little antique shopping. I checked in with my cousin the following weekend and it does not appear that they have reached the peak of their season yet. She’s hopeful to see more color this coming weekend (the last in October) when her Dad is coming for a visit. It was beautiful, relaxing and a budget friendly way to enjoy nature and the magic of Fall.

My first buckwheat pancakes made with flour from Nora Mill Granary (purchased at Grist Mill & Country Store in Helen, GA). I used buttermilk in place of milk in my batter. These pancakes have no sugar – just a slight sweetness from a teaspoon of molasses. Drizzled with maple syrup and sprinkled with sweet pomegranate seeds they are light and tender. Perfect Fall🍁🍂🥞morning breakfast!

BOOK CLUB, Bookclub Menus

Book Club Meeting: “The Master Craftsman” by Kelli Stuart

Vintage Fabergu00e9 egg illustration by The British Library is licensed under CC-CC0 1.0

Our Social Writes Book Club selection for October 2022 was made by Pemmie. “The Master Craftsman” by Kelli Stuart is a beautifully written historical fiction novel highlighting Peter Karl Fabergé and his jewellery firm House of Fabergé, in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Commissioned by the Imperial family, Karl supervised the many designers and craftsmen, including two women as they created the over fifty elegant jeweled Easter eggs from 1885 to 1917. The first egg of 1885 delivered to the Russian Tsar Alexander III was given to his wife Maria Feodorovna as an annual gift and continued later by Tsar Nicholas II.

Stuart injects an intriguing current day treasure hunt for a missing coveted egg that reconnects a daughter and her mother with her estranged father, who orchestrates the hunt from his deathbed. A last attempt to connect with his daughter during the limited time he has left. Unexpected twists and turns concludes with the true treasure of all in hand.

Pemmie will host this meeting for our group, and while the plan will be hers, I shared that Russian black bread and chai appeared in the book more than a couple of times. I’m always seeking for food notes in our books in order to introduce myself and group to the flavors and traditions within the stories we read. A small attempt to erect a little life from the pages.

I found a recipe (in the link below) and told Pemmie I would give this bread a test bake, a little excited to see how it turns out. I’m a baker, but bread is not one of the techniques I’ve frequented. Fortunately this was basically a low maintenance version where the stand mixer did all of the kneading. (A bread machine would have simplified the process even further. ) I did not divert from the recipe, but I have noted a couple of tips from my experience.

https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/7034/russian-black-bread/?utm_source=pinterest.com&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=social-share-recipe&utm_content=20220916&utm_term=7034

The hardest part of the process was finding the flours and caraway seeds. My pantry is filled with more things than the average person might have, but these ingredients were not among my inventory. I really didn’t want a five pound bag of bread flour either. After stopping into three or four different grocers, I found a one pound sack of both the bread and rye flours and a reasonable priced jar of caraway seeds. I tried to borrow some dark Karo syrup from a neighbor (needing only 2 tablespoons), but they didn’t have any. Karo syrup is one of those ingredients like molasses that ends up being used once and then the bottle sits in the pantry for years. (Much like this bottle of caraway seeds will also.)

The recipe was extremely simple, adding all ingredients except for the softened butter to the mixing bowl and using the dough hook, kneading for 10 minutes. Then the softened butter is added for another 5 minute kneading (again with the dough hook). The recipe didn’t warn what to expect of the finished dough, but I will say that it’s very sticky. It also didn’t rise as much as I thought it would.

BAKING TIP: Sometimes you learn a tip from a baker and if you don’t bake frequently, it’s easily forgotten when you decide to take a stab at baking again. This is a tip I remembered. When removing the paper from your softened stick of butter, fold the sheet (butter side) together and store in a zip bag in your refrigerator. When a recipe calls for greasing a bowl or pan, take out the buttered sheet at the beginning of the baking process – the butter softens quickly. Use the remaining butter from the sheet to grease your bowl or pan and while not wasting the small amount that remained on the paper.

The softened butter wrapper’s remaining butter used to grease the bowl and loaf pans.

TIP: I didn’t get a double rise out of my dough. It was more like a single rather than double rise of the original dough. I even let it sit in a warm oven for another 30 minutes (the recipe started with 1 hour so my total was 1 1/2 hours) and then when I prepared to cut the dough into two, placing half in each loaf pan, I had to use more than a sprinkling of bread flour to handle it. Make sure your hands are dusted as well as the surface. The dough is sticky. The second proofing didn’t look like it had much of a rise, so again I left the loaf pans in a warm oven (170 degrees F) for another 20 minutes to get the slight rise in the picture above. It filled the loaf pan more than rose.

While I was concerned that the bread would be a flop, it turned out beautifully. I should have used the bread splitter tool that I bought a year ago (that I forgot I had). The split would have formed at the top rather than the side, but it still turned out great.

After allowing it to cool for about 10 minutes, I used a serrated bread knife to slice a piece and was thrilled to see the airy soft texture and knew it was well baked. (Hopeful Paul Hollywood would agree- but not necessarily give me a handshake! Lol)

A warm steamy cup of chai latte’ (my favorite by the way) was all I needed to complete the black bread and chai experience. The black bread has a bitter slightly sweet note that comes from the combination of the small amounts of brown sugar, corn syrup, unsweetened cocoa powder and apple cider vinegar. The carraway, fennel seeds and rye flour add the savory note reminiscent of rye bread. Interesting ingredients and flavor.

One of my taste testers drizzled it with honey. The blogger said it was good with cheese, but didn’t state what kind of cheese. For now I’ve carefully wrapped up the second bread and placed it in the freezer until our meeting in early October. We will rewarm it on the day of the meeting and let everyone choose their own way to savor it.

While chai tea would be a good choice, I also found this chai cocktail made with chai and Russia’s beloved volka. The addition of Kahlua (a coffee flavored liqueur) creates a cocktail take on the dirty chai, where coffee is added to the tea with milk. My book club gals love a fun cocktail.

Use the leftover concentrate, by warming a half cup of concentrate and separately a half cup of milk – then foam the milk with a frother and top the concentrate in a mug for a chai tea latte. It’s the perfect fall morning drink with a big spicy morning inside hug. It’s my favorite!

In lieu of the chai syrup recipe in the link, I used the chai tea concentrate sold by most grocers in a quart carton by Oregon Chai , but there are other versions by Tazo and a small bottle that works perfectly sold at Trader Joe’s that works just fine and does the same job. If you don’t have a bottle of Kahlua – liquor stores like Total Wine, sell smaller bottles that will provide the amount you need and not leave you with a bottle that will sit around for years to come unused.

Cocktail recipe in the link below.

https://www.halfbakedharvest.com/vanilla-chai-tea-white-russian/

The rest of Pemmie’s plan will be a surprise, even to me, which adds an excitement and energy to the day filled with good conversation, laughter, food and spirits!

Pemmie’s table setting, not just because it is Fall, but because Russia is one of the biggest producers of sun flowers!

Bird’s Milk Cake (Ptichye Moloko)

https://momsdish.com/recipe/210/birds-milk-cake