BOOK CLUB, GATHERINGS

“The Undomestic Goddess” Bookclub Menu

Book selection… On a bright and cheery mid-April, Sunday afternoon a group of ten of my reading friends (members of my book club) gathered around my dining room table set with English garden decor and a slightly gourmet luncheon, inspired by our latest book selection “The Undomestic Goddess” by Sophie Kinsella. The light hearted “Hallmark like” story, started with a young female workaholic attorney who after being set up to cover up the bad actions of a Sr. Partner at the firm, flees to the English countryside and is mistaken for an applicant as a professional housekeeper. Samantha has absolutely no domestic skills, but does her best to fake it until she makes it with the help of some very kind and supportive new acquaintances she meets in the fictional Cotswolds-like town far from the hussle and bussle of London.

Nathaniel’s garden and his mother Iris’s cooking lessons lead me consider a special lunch menu with a table draped in the rustic elegance of an English garden. A photograph I found in a back issue of Victoria magazine provided the inspiration I wanted for my table setting. Having always been drawn to shades of soft blues, purples and lavenders for their casual and soothing aesthetics, I had a table runner and linen napkins in my arsenal to recreate the look. I planned to create a floral centerpiece and fill decorated clay pots filled with ferns and flowering plants that would been given as party favors to each of my members.

The Favors: Two kinds of moss purchased from the Dollar Tree in addition to bark from my crepe myrtle, were used to create layers of moss affixed with spray adhesive to terra cotta pots (also from Dollar Tree). I mixed mossy gray and green acrylic paint and then dotted a collage of color to the exterior of each pot with a sponge. Craft glue was used to then affix the bark and flowers pressed and dried in the microwave from my garden. The idea was to create pots that look like they were lying around in a greenhouse for many years. Later the use of a hot glue gun touched up the areas that may have pulled away some from the surface.

I played around with different ways of displaying and arranging the pots on the table,but remembered I wanted that pop of blue and shades of purple, violet and lavender arranged in the center of the table. So I removed several of the posts and displayed them on a small table in the corner to be distributed at the end of the meeting.

Springtime Cocktail:

A Sparkling Blueberry Lavender Bellini

The frozen blueberry puréed spheres were made with fresh blueberries in a small processor. If processed too long it becomes gelatinous as it thaws. If too loose it disburses blue chunks into the drink. I over unintentionally over processed mine (learning experience) and used it as a colorful ice cube substitute that adds a little flavor to the drink, but doesn’t water down the cocktail. It makes the glass frosty and the cocktail stays very cold.

I found this Citrus & Petals cocktail sugar at Homegoods around the holidays and set it aside for a future springtime party. But this pretty sugar idea could easily be created at home. Flower petals can be pressed between paper towels and dried in the microwave in just minutes. The dried flowers retain their brilliant color and when completely dried can be crushed to add to sugar. Lemon, orange or lime zest and dried chopped mint leaves can be set out on a plate overnight or for a few days to dry and also mixed into the sugar.

The rim of a coupe glass is gently dipped in egg white and then into the sugar mixture. I did this the day before and placed all of the glasses on a tray in the refrigerator The egg white dries and sugar and flowers were well attached for the luncheon. (I used a small paintbrush to add some egg white to the front of the glass to attach the tiny fresh flowers.)

I made a blueberry syrup by cooking down one cup of fresh blueberries with 2 tablespoons of water and sugar. Once cooked down I strained out the skins and seeds. After preparing the rims of the glasses with sugar and flowers I stored them in the refrigerator until time to serve.

To serve, I added one tablespoon of blueberry syrup and one tablespoon of lavender syrup, then placed a frozen blueberry disk in the center. Each coupe glass was then filled with chilled prosecco or cava (even sparkling water can be used for a non-alcohol version). The sparkling beverage will cause the blueberry disk to fizz slightly, similar to a bath bomb for a fun afternoon cocktail or drink. (The added syrups may require a gentle stir to mix into the prosecco or water.)

Deep blue, almost purple hydrangeas, white delphiniums, lavender stock and filler flowers that I do not know the name of, helped create a bright centerpiece.

On the Menu:

  • Chicken and Sherry Mushroom Vol au Vent
  • Mixed Spring greens, with dried blueberries, orange segments and toasted chopped pecans with a crème fraîche citrus and herb vinaigrette
  • Mini rainbow carrots with brown butter and a citrus mint marigold gremolata
  • Gentilly berry cake

The recipe was adapted for the link below. This chicken and mushroom filling is also delicious as a sauce tossed in pasta. My adjustments to the recipe included:

  • Finely chopped shallots in place of onions
  • After cooking the shallots and mushrooms down, add a half cup of white wine and simmer down to about 1/4 cup.
  • I then add the flour and cooked for a few minutes
  • Add 1/2 cup of chicken stock letting simmer about 5 minutes
  • After adding the heavy cream, I added a teaspoon of sherry vinegar
  • Chopped tarragon and thyme where the last addition

https://www.chilitochoc.com/chicken-mushroom-vol-au-vent/

It never fails… I get so busy preparing and serving (with the help of a wonderful friend) that I either forget to take pictures or don’t take the picture I really want due to rushing. I usually do a test run so I can decide what I want to add to or omit from a recipe that I’m using. The picture above was from the test. The picture below was the rushed version the day of the luncheon.

We added a couple of law books to the table – to represent Samantha’s career as a Lawyer.

A convenient scene in the book, was when Samantha’s new friends threw her a surprise birthday party. It just so happened that two of the ladies in my group had birthdays on the following two days. So for the dessert course, I purchased one of their favorites cakes, we sliced it up and put a candle on each of their pieces and sang happy birthday.

At our previous book club, I served champagne and elderflower liqueur cocktails that everyone really enjoyed. So I bought two small bottles of St. Germain Elderflower liqueur and bagged them up as little gifts for the two birthday ladies with balloons.

An English luncheon must have tea. As a nod to London, where Samatha lives and works, I served London tea lattes. Steeped Earl grey lavender tea (fairly strong), lavender syrup and a little honey, topped with foamed half and half and dusted with dried pulsed lavender.

As our meeting adjourned, the next book was announced (that will be hosted by a different member in June), everyone bid adieu with their arms filled with plants, leftovers and some with birthday gifts. Until we meet again, happy reading!

BOOK CLUB, DINNER PARTY, GATHERINGS

An Afternoon with Coco Chanel

Our first book selection on 2022.

Two Thousand twenty-two marks the eighth year anniversary of my Social Writes Book Club. We’ve had a couple of members that have left the group, and few new members creating a strong membership of 11. To begin this new year of reading, it was important to select a book that was both interesting, entertaining, and inspired a theme that was festive and fun.

One late Fall afternoon, I stopped at the local bookstore in search of something new to read. Far behind the larger display of current new fiction, stuck in a small corner, one book’s cover caught my eye. The striking cover sparked my interest and I picked it up then turned it over to read the blurb on the back. Earlier in 2021 I had read “The Chanel Sisters” by Judithe Little that chronicled Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel’s life as a young orphaned girl who would eventually find a path to becoming a famous designer. The book I discovered by chance on this day described Coco Chanel’s life during the war and hinted at her being a spy for the Germans. Intrigued I decided to buy the book and headed home.

The Chanel Sisters: Historical fiction that covers Gabrielle (later Coco’s) life as a little girl brought to an orphanage, where she learned her sewing skills; her life’s journey after the orphanage to seamstress, singer, mistress, hat designer and beyond.

Later that evening I sat to look over the book more closely, the name of the author seemed familiar to me. I searched the internet and the photo I found confirmed my thoughts.

Several years ago, when my book club was just in its second year of inception, I was at a local store waiting for assistance to purchase a fruit tart for my meeting. Pamela stepped up beside me and as we looked at each other with quizzical expressions (wondering if anyone was going to assist us), I explained that I was buying a tart for my book club. I told her we were discussing “A Paris Apartment” by Michelle Gable and I was trying to do as the French do – buy dessert from a local patisserie (or basically from what we had available in Mandeville, Louisiana. )

She responded by saying, “You should read one of my books.” I was taken aback and asked her name, wrote it down and told her I would look for some of her books. She also explained that she was in the process of writing a book set in Paris that would be published in the future (something about The Queen of Paris). Surprisingly, here it was in my hands five years later. Pamela resides here in Louisiana, just a few miles down the highway from me. It was quite interesting how a store filled with so many books would accidently lead me to hers and the memory of this chance meeting and brief conversation.

As I read the book, that I thoroughly enjoyed, I realized that without having read “The Chanel Sisters” by Judithe Little, it would have been harder to understand why Coco would eventually do the things she had to do to survive the war and try to protect her financial future. As a result, I recommended that my group read both books. Overall I find the two books together, cover Coco’s story in a way that explains why she is so determined to succeed and for the most part made unscrupulous choices to to so. She had a unique gift of creativity that even she was unaware of and with all of her difficulties found a way to build an empire that still exists today. What could be more interesting than an afternoon with Coco Chanel?

Setting an elegant table with a formal handmade menu adorned with pearls and Coco’s favorite flower the white camellia because it had no scent to compete with her signature
parfum Chanel No 5.

I wanted a light, but elegant French menu. After some thought I searched for savory soufflés and decided on a brie soufflé. It’s important to test a new recipe in advance to avoid day of the event failures. I also like to add my own twist to the ingredients and confirm the actual portions to determine if I’ll need to double the recipe to ensure I’m not short on servings.

The test bake went well, but I felt the flavor needed a little boost. I remembered I had some white truffle butter in the freezer that I decided to use in place of the salted butter in the recipe. It turned out great. A small bistro salad will be served on the side with warm breaded goat cheese croutes.

The test bake went well.

The recipe that inspired my White Truffle Brie soufflé is in the link below. I added 1/2 tsp of kosher salt to the batter and I used this white truffle butter in place of the salted butter in the recipe. I also buttered the souffle dishes with the truffle butter before filling with the batter.

TIP: The batter can be made ahead and set aside. Whisk the egg whites just before ready to bake and fold into the batter base.

https://www.platingpixels.com/easy-cheese-souffle-brie/

The soufflé will fall quickly, but are still beautiful.
Bistro side salad: spring mix tossed in a red wine mustard vinaigrette, topped
with a few haricots verts and warm panko crusted honey goat cheese.
At the top of the picture a slice of truffle chicken liver pate’ and baguette crisps.

On to the table decor. I used a black table cloth, my Mom’s black and gold bone china and goldware. Champagne flute glasses will be used for the Champagne cocktails of St. Germain’s elderflower liqueur and bubbly garnished with a pale pink rose petal.

A cocktail or aperitif at the ready is important as the guests arrive and Coco would expect champagne. For my cocktail, I’m using a French Crémant with a rose petal and splash of St. Germain Elderflower liqueur.

As part of my planning and searching for items to set the table, I found and purchased some Chanel ribbon. Originally I thought I would use it to tie the napkins, but due to the small amount I had (2 yards) and the number of guests I would have 11 – it pained me to think of cutting the ribbon into such small pieces. That’s when I came up with the idea of forming the linen napkin into a “Little Black Dress”.

Cinched high at the top with black and white ribbon and then tied tightly in the back, the ends formed into loops to create a bow, with a flat backed pearl in the center –
creating a “Little Black Dress”.
The backside with a little bow. Turn the napkin over and slide hand inside of the bottom to fluff out the skirt into a little black dress.

With my two yards of Chanel ribbon still in tack, I searched for ways to use it. Then I remembered my small form mannequin that I use for my annual mothers’ tea. After all – Coco was a seamstress who became a designer. Of course there would be form mannequins! I draped the ribbon from bottom to top and tied the ends into a bow. I made a small white flower with gift bag tissue paper (like her favorite camellia) and pinned it to the center. I also repurposed a necklace with a small spool of thread, scissors and soft pink rose that fit in perfectly. Finally it had to be draped with pearls to be truly Coco.

An afternoon discussion about Coco wouldn’t be complete without Coco Chanel quotes. I found and wrote out several, on these gold embossed Eiffel tower cards with pink borders (tucked away in my stationary drawer for several years) and sealed each into their envelopes with ribbon and a wax stamp. Each of my guests will pick an envelope to open and read a quote to the rest of the group.

Coco Chanel’s infamous quotes.

A simple, inexpensive square glass vase was given a Chanel No. 5 label on all four sides for the entire table to see from all angles and filled with lush pale pink roses for a pop of color.

French architectural paper luminaries I found several years ago at Tuesday Morning were each $1.49. I had tucked them away with my stationary knowing one day they would be of good use for one of my parties. On this day they will make their debut.

I use place cards to help mix up the group at the table, otherwise the same people always sit together. Sitting next to someone new encourages everyone to become familiar with one another. I dug through my stash of supplies (little finds that attract my attention and I somehow feel I will use in the future) and found these little tote bags with a white flower that I’ll pretend is a white camellia for Coco’s sake, and two pages of gold letters.

First I had to open the package of letters and spell out everyone’s name to ensure I had enough letters. One name (Stephanie) was shortened to Steph in order to complete the names of my other guests. I then centered the little tote bag on to the same soft pink cardstock I used for the menu and underlined the name with the pearls also used on the menus. Calligraphy or hand written names would be appropriate to the era, but I had these letters and decided to add a little golden glam to the table.

Champagne with elderflower liqueur and a rose petal.
I only drink champagne on two occasions,
when I’m in love and when I’m not.” -Coco Chanel

Time for dessert….. Strawberries are plentiful during the month of February in the south. Not so far from where I live is a town considered the Strawberry Capital (Ponchatoula, Louisiana). Strawberries are often associated with champagne, so I decided to make a champagne sabayon to pour over fresh strawberries and then lightly brûlée the sabayon just before serving. The sabayon can be made early in the day or the day before and placed in the refrigerator until ready to serve. The recipe I referenced is below.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/recipes/champagne-sabayon/15061/

Fresh strawberries with champagne sabayon.

One can’t have a French luncheon and not serve chocolats français. As luck would have it, stores like Homegoods have a variety of chocolates from various parts of the world in stock for Valentine’s Day. When I saw this box – I grabbed it!

A plan can be made, but never set in stone. The Saturday prior to our luncheon I drove to Trader Joe’s about 45 minutes from where I live expecting to find beautiful fresh roses and an edible flower I could use for the salads. I was there before the doors opened only to find mixed floral bouquets as the only available option. There were other items I hoped to purchase while I was there that were also unavailable. The cashier explained that the winter storms that blew through Texas the two days before had delayed their trucks. I spent a few hours going to every grocery store and even some florists to find they also had not received shipments. So I had to pivot – the word we’ve heard used so much over the past couple of years.

Afraid I wouldn’t find the pale pink roses I wanted, I bought two bouquets of pale pink tulips. Many years ago I learned a trick for how to make tulips last longer. On the left the tulips lay on their side after arranging. Pretty, but if left this way they would continue to extend out and not look so attractive.

As soon as possible, I had been taught to trim the ends and place the bouquet into a jar of cold water and refrigerate overnight. The next day, using a straight pin, prick a horizontal hole through the stem just below the flowerbud. For some reason this encourages the water to come up to heal the hole. The following morning notice what happened in the picture on the right. The tulips are all standing up straight.

My diligence paid off and I finally found one slightly shabby bouquet of pale pink roses for the table, but no one knew the difference. They were too busy savoring their champagne cocktails, white truffle brie soufflés, bistro salads with truffle chicken liver pate’ and finally strawberries with champagne sabayon and chocolats français with a rich cup of coffee discussing the life and legacy of Gabrielle Coco Chanel.

What a lovely ladies lunch we had! It was so fun to gather everyone together again. So looking forward to the next 📖!

Don’t forget to wear your pearls now and then. As Coco said: “Dress shabbily and they remember the dress. Dress impeccably and they remember the woman.”
DINNER PARTY, GATHERINGS, HOLIDAY, New Year's Eve, WINE CLUB

Wine Club: Toasting to the New Year with an Asian Theme

The past two years have been filled with social distancing, masking, pivoting, and mountains of challenges and uncertainties. Depending on your field of work, like mine, it also may have been and continues to be stressful. Like most of you, I was ready for an escape from it all, and wanted to host a holiday gathering with my wine group of friends before the year ended. When fielding date options, the majority of my group were only available for New Year’s Eve.

With the date decided, I found myself now trying to figure out how to host a party on a Friday, after a full eight hours of work. For a couple of days my mind spun with ways to put everything together the weekend prior, and a simple way to have food and spirits, when the idea of a large tray of sushi came to mind. I thought of all of the special heavy meals enjoyed over the holiday season, and thought that an Asian themed party might be a nice change in cuisine to end and begin the years, while allowing me to order and pick up fresh prepared sushi with no worries of cooking, keeping warm and so on.

Chinese Lanterns to greet my guests.
A Sake and Plum wine tasting.

I shared my idea with the group and asked everyone to bring an Asian dish and a wine or possibly Asian beer that they would like to drink at the party. I would supply a couple of bottles of sake to taste and a plum wine. The selection of options were minimal, and I have no knowledge of sake, but the bottles I did find were nearly sold out, so I took that as a sign they were at least considered acceptable. Below are the notes I found on each.

Tyku Junmai Ginjo (black bottle) drops the sweet grain and banana of the Junmai for classic Ginjo flavors of melon and pear. However, overall aromatic and flavor intensity takes a hit. Fortunately there’s enough sweet melon flavor on the finish to save it from tasting bland. Like the Junmai, what’s here is good but the sake tastes too simple and too gentle.

Tozai Junmai Nigori Snow Maiden Sake and fresh with a lovely ricey and fruity combination. Flavors of honeydew melon, raw pumpkin, and radish. Creamy texture and full body. Try with spicy foods, crab, pork, or spicy tuna poke.

Gekkeikan Black & Gold California – This versatile sake has a smooth, mellow flavor and can be enjoyed warmed, room temperature or chilled. Serve from this traditional “”tokkuri”” container that was used when purchasing sake in the old days. Full-bodied with hints of honeydew, papaya, anise and roasted nuts. Well balanced, finishes long and smooth. A great sipping sake.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-S3C3jWlHvk

One evening I searched through Pinterest for some inspiration, and found this Youtube video of how to fold a napkin to look like a kimono. I remembered I had these floral paper napkins and thought the print was perfect for my Asian theme. The embossed textured borders folded nicely and provided texture and interest to the finished fold. I used the kimonos as placeholders for the chopsticks, with my purple linen napkins just beneath.

I had just enough time to order two sets of painted black wooden chopsticks that pulled together a place setting of purple, greens, blacks and golds (inspired by the sake bottles). While looking through the flower selection at my local Fresh Market, I found one lone package each of purple and a variegated green/purple chrysanthemum that were the perfect colors and looked very much like the flower on my kimono napkin. It never fails that I’ll find exactly what I want two weeks before the party and then can’t find a single replacement the week of the party. Fingers crossed I’ll find the same lovely version again, or I’ll have to figure out an alternative.

One of the comforting traditions of Japanese restaurants are the small fragrant steamy hot towels (called an oshibori) they hand out along with the menus. My best friend and I often had lunch at one such place and each time we were so tempted to wipe our faces in addition to our hands, which would have resulted in destroying our makeup. Always a lovely surprise to me when the tray of steamy towels arrived and I’ve prepared to do the same for my guests.

Japanese restaurants often provide a small hot towel called an oshibori. This is to wipe your hands but not your face. You may see some Japanese wiping their faces with their oshibori, but sometimes this is considered bad form. If you must use your oshibori on your face, wipe your face first, then your hands.

While searching for chopsticks I also found these vellum gold trimmed chinese floating lanterns. I don’t have a lake or a swimming pool to float lanterns in, but I thought they would be lovely, lite and simply placed all across the front lawn. (Below is just a quick test I tried before Christmas to see how they would look.) The package of 20 will create a warm, celebratory scene for greeting my guests. I also placed a few on the table.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B011OURNTU?psc=1&ref=ppx_yo2_dt_b_product_details

Asian meals traditionally end with fortune cookies. A friend of mine made large versions years ago for Christmas gifts dipped in chocolate and sprinkles, so I thought they shouldn’t be that hard to make. I learned they were a bigger challenge than expected, but somehow I got through and used red ribbon for a pop of color with a New Year’s wish for each of my friends. The first recipe I tried was an epic fail, so I went to my trustworthy mentor Martha Stewart. The technique takes a little time to master and leaves the baker with slightly burning finger tips, but eventually I got the hang of it and filled a bowl with the number I needed.

My modest effort at fortune cookies are individually wrapped with red ribbons and stacked in a large bowl to serve to my guests.

The next addition were paper glittered 2022 eye frames that I wrapped around the bottom of the lanterns on two sides and placed New Year’s crackers at each place setting.

Bowls and spoons set up for Thai Coconut Shrimp Soup
Thai Coconut Shrimp Soup with cilantro and thai basil blossoms.

While there will be wine and sake, we will still have bubbly for midnight.

To crank up the party atmosphere I strung lights on the wall with a Happy New Year banner that can also be used as a backdrop for taking pictures. I’d like to order black, gold and white helium filled balloons to rest along the ceiling in the dining room, but that may be a challenge to pick up prior to the party (remember I’m working that day), but if I can make it happen – I will.

All I have left to do is order my platter of sushi for pick up on Friday afternoon. My guests are bringing items some of which are potstickers, chicken satay, spring rolls, edamame salad and a couple of other items that haven’t been shared with me yet.

Photo by Anton Mislawsky on Pexels.com

A friend from our group has offered to come help me with some ideas for an Asian charcuterie board. I found only one example on Pinterest that included sugar snap peas (that would be good in a little sesame oil with black sesame seeds), thinly sliced pickled cucumbers, edamame, pineapple, mandarin segments, dumplings with dipping bowls of peanut sauce and soy sauce, and some Thai spiced potato chips. We’re looking to see what we can find to make our own version.

Photo by Rathnahar Sriom on Pexels.com

There is no need to buy fireworks because folks in my neighborhood put on an incredible fireworks display every year that we can simply step outside among the chinese lanterns and enjoy. I’m so looking forward to bringing in the new year with the company of friends, good conversation, laughter and of course good food.

Happy New Year everyone! We are all ready to feel the joy again in our lives and share time together to form new memories. Blessings and joy to you and yours!

Photos from the actual party.

Asian nibble boards with sake tasting bottles.
Sesame sticks, red chili crackers, pickled carrots and
asian pickled cucumbers, sesame sugar snap peas.
The food was amazing and plentiful, in the far back, forward, chicken satay, potstickers, spring rolls, a variety of sushi, krab salad, asian stuffed eggs, edamame salad, teriyaki salmon bites, pork tenderloin.

My neighborhood fireworks – photo taken with a drone.

FALL, FRIENDSGIVING, GATHERINGS, WINE CLUB

How Do You Like Them Apples ? Friendsgiving Brunch 2021 (Back Together Again)

It’s time to start gathering again! This time of year comes and goes far too quickly. I love the Fall season so much and by mid-month some are already pushing for Christmas, but I want to give the season it’s fully deserved time. While the holiday is generally meant to celebrate the history modeled on a 1621 harvest feast shared by the English colonists (Pilgrims) of Plymouth and the Wampanoag people, for most of us I believe it’s a time to show gratitude and appreciation for all that we have, friends, home, health, faith and more.

I am grateful for so much in my personal and professional life, and so happy to once again gather with friends who support all of my creative ambitions, with a Friendsgiving brunch.

Setting the Table

Little boutonniere like bouquets made with a magnolia leaf, fresh sage, chamomile and spray roses were created for each place setting and guests took them home at the end of the brunch.

A combination of succulents, spray and country roses and eucalyptus (and later a couple of apples- I wanted crab apples but couldn’t find any this year) were arranged around brass candlesticks to create a fragrant and feminine centerpiece. Everything was just laid on the table with no water source the morning of the brunch.

Inspired by Erin French of The Lost Kitchen, I decided to use an apple theme for my menu and included one of her recipes.

Cocktails and Nibbles

Simple apple cider bellini. Reduce 3 cups of apple cider to 1 1/2 cups. Let cool and refrigerate overnight. When ready to serve fill each glass 1/4th to 1/2 with reduced cider and top off with prosecco, champagne, crement or other sparkling white wine.

An apple tasting tray of each apple used in the dishes being served.

For most of my younger years I had only eaten a red delicious apple, the only kind my Mom ever purchased. As I studied foods and flavors years later I saw an article in a magazine that featured a description of multiple apple varieties. There are no apple tree farms in Southern Louisiana, so we are limited to the varieties that appear in various grocery stores.

One year I purchased one of each variety and compared their flavors, finding the most amazing flavors and never buying a red delicious apple again. With that memory, I decided it might be fun to create a tray with each of the apples used in the dishes in the menu, giving my guests a similar experience hoping to inspire each to try new varieties on their own afterwards.

From left to right, Lucky Seven Grain Bread(Artisan bread from Rouses)
toasted with olive oil and sprinkled with a pint of kosher salt, Baked Lemon Ricotta,
a small dish of Apple Butter (Dickinson’s), Golden Berries, Marcona Truffle Almonds,
Soft ripened cheese from Germain,France, Italian truffle cheese, and Chicken Liver Pate’.

For the “nibble boards” a term borrowed from Erin French (my most recent found source of inspiration), almost everything was purchased from Trader Joe’s, hence my Trader Joe Nibble boards.

The cup is filled with Fried cheese stuffed kalamata olives
(in Trader Joe’s frozen food section – and very very good!)

Salad Course

For the salad I used Erin French’s roasted buttercrisp squash with apple slaw. My local Fresh Market has the largest variety of squash and I’ve been experimenting with several over the past couple of months. One buttercrisp squash about the size of a cantaloupe three to four pounds was sliced into ten wedges, enough to serve all of my guests. The link below provides Erin’s recipe. My only additions were a little apple cider vinegar and pomegranate seeds for color and crunch. My slaw was made with four apple varieties, pink lady, granny smith, golden and honey crisp. My recommendation would be to pick a variety of sweet, tart and crisp versions and also consider the colors of green, yellow and red. The skin remains on the matchstick pieces and adds color. Erin and I ALWAYS decorate with edible flowers. The small yellow flowers (top left)are tarragon blossoms. I planted a couple of tarragon plants a couple of months ago and they have been blooming as if it were Spring!

https://www.today.com/recipes/roasted-buttercup-squash-apple-slaw-recipe-t141064

The squash is easy to bake as instructed and served at room temperature and the slaw tossed in it’s dressing with the arugula holds up well. I plated these about 45 minutes before serving and everything held it’s texture. (My guests could not stop talking about how delicious this was. Thank you Erin!)

Entrée

The entrée and dessert courses were both contributions from two of my guests. My work hours have been long and stressful and in order to pull this event off I needed to accept offered help and take a few shortcuts.

Apple and cranberry stuffed pork loin with Trader Joe green bean casserole bites.

My friend Lanie (who also loves to cook and has restaurant experience) made this Jazz and Fuji apple – cranberry stuffed pork loin. I think I heard there was a little fig jam, hazelnuts and some other special secret ingredients in the stuffing. It was absolutely delicious and a perfect addition to the menu and there wasn’t a single piece left!

Dessert & Mulled Cider Wine

Lanie also made an apple cider white mulled wine, with a spicy ginger liqueur that we served with dessert.

A week prior to the brunch I attempted to make apple cider donuts for the first time. I don’t have a fryer and I NEVER fry. The dough was too wet and I had trouble controlling the temperature of the oil – the house spelled for days after. It was an epic fail! Donut maker, I am not and I rarely fail when I try to follow a recipe.

I decided a better alternative was to support a local donut business that makes a multitude of small flavored donuts. I employed one of my guests to order a couple dozen apple cider donuts and asked that they not place them in the finishing cinnamon sugar. I wanted to rewarm the lot before serving and then toss in the cinnamon sugar myself.

I already had a large bowl of cinnamon sugar left over from my failed attempt at donut making. I added two teaspoons of Chinese Five Spice (my favorite substitute for cinnamon) and mixed the sugar thoroughly. We were advised to rewarm the donuts in an oven or air fryer – never in the microwave, so I placed them on a tray (to serve 2 per guest) and hoped to make them more “dessert like” my slicing all of the donuts horizontally in half and spreading one side with apple butter before sandwiching the two halfs back together. I then placed the tray of donuts in a preheated in oven at 350 degrees for ten minutes. When warmed through I rolled the donut gently in the sugar mixture and placed on a saucer with small mini dessert forks.

The party may be over, but the memories will remain and the joy I saw in my friends as they hugged and caught up with one another, along with their praises for everything we served as always made all of effort worth it. I am forever grateful for their enthusiasm and encouragement and cannot express how happy I am to be able spoil and entertain again.

To all of my wonderful followers – Happy Thanksgiving! I’m so thankful for your support as well!

GATHERINGS, SIMPLY ELEVATED, SUMMER

Say Ole’ on Memorial Day With a Corny Small Bite

My Margarita on the Rocks – Floral Arrangement

It’s May and that means it’s time for my neighbor’s Annual Memorial Day Weekend Fajita party. A tradition started years ago in a different home and State, they carried on each year (with a skip of a year now and then for circumstances like COVID) inviting friends and some of their neighbors over for a late afternoon of margaritas, sangria, and fajitas. As hosts they supply the margaritas and fajitas, and those who attend make contributions to the party of appetizers, sides and dessert.

Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

Over the years I’ve tried to bring something that doesn’t conflict with the hosts’ menu, but hopefully will compliment it. I’m always searching for ideas and inspiration for everything I do and prefer to create something different and a little unexpected. I’ve even created a designated Pinterest board for future inspiration or reference since ideas present themselves at different times of the year.

In the past I’ve contributed with dessert items like margarita cup cakes https://www.browneyedbaker.com/margarita-cupcakes-cinco-de-mayo/ , and margarita ice cream sandwiches http://myrecipes.com/recipe/margarita-ice-cream-sandwiches(opens in a new tab) In more recent years, I moved on to corn….

Fajita time!

A few years ago, Mexican Street Corn became all the rage and my childhood born love for corn made me want to share this yummy treat with everyone.

Canned corn was a common side at nearly every dinner when I was growing up. I used to tease that my Mom made us all into starchy vegetable junkies. Corn was served next to rice, mashed potatoes and pasta, breaking all of the rules I had learned about creating a nutrient rich, balanced meal in home economics. One of the first times I invited my parents over for dinner as an adult, I set the table nicely and prepared a lovely well balanced and colorful meal of roast beef, mashed potatoes and bright green haricots verts with toasted almonds to give that fresh pop of green I was taught should be on every plate. My Mom would always “fix” as she called it, my Dad’s plate, with a serving of each item. When she set the plate on the table in front of him, he looked up at her and said, “Where’s the corn?” That’s how bad the corn situation was in my family. A couple of days later Mom called and said, “Your Dad just told me he really liked those green beans you made. How do you cook them?”

Photo by mali maeder on Pexels.com

In her later years when we had grown out of our picky eating phases (which by the way was nothing compared to the chicken nugget, french fry obsessions of young children these days) Mom cooked what southerners call “smothered” corn that we all loved and that I try to recreate for my brother whenever I’m cooking family dinners. “Smothered” usually means cooked with chopped vegetables, like onion, red or green bell pepper and celery until the flavors blend into a delicious mouthwatering treat. It was hard to imagine that corn as we knew it (from the can with a little butter or margarine back in those days) could be made to taste so good.

The month of May is the perfect month for corn. Bins at the grocer and farm stands are filled with the just harvested fresh green husked cobs of yellow, white and multicolored sweet corn. Another great tip is that usually the week of Memorial Day, the cobs go on sale for 25 cents each, making it a thrifty item to serve at a party.

Mexican Street corn is a fun way to elevate the corn on the cob and is simple and delicious.

What you’ll need: (Remember that I’m all about using what you have)

  • Small to medium husked corn on the cob (the number depends on how many you are serving)
  • Olive or canola oil and brush
  • Crema Mexicana (Mexican sour cream); or sour cream or Mayonnaise (I used an olive oil based, but any kind will do – it’s mostly a sticking agent)
  • Chili powder, chili chipotle power, or lime chili powder
  • Limes (zest and juice will be used) 1 small per cob.
  • crumbled, cojita or queso cheese or freshly grated parmesan
  • fresh cilantro chopped

As a cooking show junkie, I’ve picked up a few really helpful tricks that come in handy (if I remember them). One trick is to create a natural organic handle, from the bundle of husk pulled away from the cob to hold the corn when eating. The other is an easy and fast way to remove the silky strands.

Cut the top end of the cob off. Then place the husked cob into the microwave for one minute. Carefully remove (may be hot)from the microwave. Gently pull a few of the longer outer pieces of husks (remove)to be used for wrapping around the husk bundle. Form the husk bundle by gently peeling back the green husks without disconnecting from the cob. The silk threads will come together and softly pull away to discard. Gently gather the husk bundle and pull husks away from the end of the corn cob. Take a piece of the reserved husk fold lengthwise into a band. Tie and knot the piece of husk around the bundle. This forms a natural handle for holding the cob to eat after grilling and seasoning with the street corn ingredients.

Photo by Engin Akyurt on Pexels.com

On to the grilling. Brush each cob with olive or canola oil. A wonderful smoky charred flavor is best created on an outdoor grill, but the same charring can be made indoors on a grill pan. The husks will slightly begin to dry from the heat of the grill so slightly spraying with a water mist and keeping off the fire is best. If the husks slightly whither, just push the tied band up to hold the bundle together.

Brush on a mixture of mayo and sour cream (whatever variation you’re using from the list), sprinkle with chili powder, zest a fresh lime (the green part only) and then squeeze lime juice over the toppings. Sprinkle with grated cheese. Garnish with freshly chopped cilantro.

The Mexican Street Corn was a hit the first time I made it. So much so that our hosts said they would make it the following year. Oddly the year that followed, for some reason the harvest was poor; the corn was dry and not tasty at all. When no corn was served, some of the regulars in attendance approached me asking “Where’s the corn? I was looking forward to the corn!”

This year I’m making a different version of Mexican Street corn, in form of a bite sized fritter or cake like the image below. Same ingredients with a little flour for binding before forming into cakes and gently frying until golden brown.

https://www.thismomsmenu.com/street-corn-fritters/

Looking for a popular full flavored side or small bite for your weekend get together? These in season fresh corn ideas are a real winner!

Platter decorated with colorful flowers for a Mexican touch.
(This is what the fritters look like when they stay together.)
If some of the fritters don’t hold together, just fill a bowl. It’s still a delicious side!
BOOK CLUB, GATHERINGS

The Fifth Avenue Story Society- Outdoor Book Club on a Sunny Afternoon

Book selection: The Fifth Avenue Story Society by Rachel Hauck

A week ago we experienced an incredible winter storm that set records throughout the deep south. As we shivered through temperatures as low as 18 degrees (an uncommon occurrence in our parts); none of us would have imagined that just a week later, we would have a warm, sunny but breezy, eighty degree Sunday afternoon, to gather on a friend’s back yard deck, and talk about our latest book club read, while enjoying a late lunch.

After several brittle cold days, the sight of daffodils and hyacinth in pastel pinks and lavenders
brought hope for the coming freshness of Spring.

My friend and neighbor offered to host this month’s meeting, having a cozy outdoor space for our small group to gather. The characters of “The Fifth Avenue Story Society” took turns bringing take out food each time they met in the small back room of the historic library. One of those take out items was pizza, so my friend and her husband decided to make two homemade pizzas for our day. One deep dish Chicago style pizza and a margarita pizza, so I offered to help with a light salad and dessert.

For this outdoor gathering I found colorful large oval shaped paper plates with matching napkins at Tuesday Morning that were the right size and strong enough to hold the pizza. For the dessert I used clear plastic stemmed parfait cups from the Dollar Tree and disposable silver utensils.

No Recipe Salad

1 Napa Cabbage sliced into 1/2 rings; 3 white and 1 purple endive sliced into rings, 1 12 oz. package of frozen artichokes (cooked per package) -leaves pulled from the quarters -sprinkle with salt and pepper and squeeze 1/2 lemon over all; pull leaves individually and place in bowl with greens; 1 jar of sundried tomatoes in olive oil (drain & spread over greens; 3 cups of arugula; using the tomato jar, add 1/8 cup of white balsamic vinegar, to the tomato oil and 3 for 4 tbsps. olive oil and 1/2 lemon juice and 1/2 tsp. salt 1/4 tsp pepper shake and adjust salt and pepper to taste. Gently toss all ingredients in a large bowl – dot top with colorful edible flowers.

Pizza while delicious and comforting, is also heavy and I didn’t want a dessert with any type of pastry crust or cake. I wanted something light and knowing it would be a warm day, something cold. I found a no bake cheesecake recipe for inspiration, and used the filling part of the recipe, but the other layers were of my own creation.

No bake cheesecake berry layered dessert.

Yields (8 )1 cup servings. Steps require to make one day ahead of serving.

  • 1 cup of biscoff crumbs (created in small food processor or place in a zip lock bag and crush with a rolling pin)
  • 6 to 8 biscoff biscuits
  • 1/2 stick of butter melted and slightly cooled
  • zest of 1 of an orange (divided in half)
  • (1) 8 oz bar of light cream cheese (room temperature)
  • 1 teaspoon Grand Marnier
  • 1/4 cup of sugar
  • 1 cup of fresh whipped cream
  • 1 1/2 cups of diced fresh strawberries ( reserve 1/2 cup)
  • 1/2 cup fresh blueberries
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons agave nectar sweetner
  • 1 tablespoon grape oil
  • pinch of salt and 3-4 grinds from pepper mill
  • 1/4 cup chopped salted pistachios
  • edible flowers (optional)

The bottom crust layer: Process 1 cup of biscoff biscuits in a food processor until crumbly. Add the zest of 1/2 an orange and 1/4 cup of melted butter and process until the ingredients pull together. Distribute equal amounts into the bottom of each dessert cup and press down with the end of a wooden spoon or muddler to form a crust. Refrigerate for 1 hour.

The second layer: Place cream cheese, 1 cup of diced strawberries, 1 teaspoon of Grand Marnier and 1/4 cup sugar into a blender and blend until well combined and smooth. Transfer to a bowl using a rubber spatula to scrape all of the mixture from the blender. Gently fold in one cup of fresh whipped cream. Fill cups with equal portions (I used a 2 tablespoon scoop to distribute to each cup over the biscoff crust.) Smooth top layer with the back side of a spoon. Gently tap the cup on the counter covered with a folded tea towel (to avoid breaking the cup) to remove air bubbles in the filling. Refrigerate overnight.

Berry topping: Preheat oven 400 degrees. Drizzle grape oil on to a small rimmed baking sheet. Add reserved 1/2 cup of diced fresh strawberries and 1/2 cup of fresh blueberries, and agave, pinch of salt and black pepper. Roast for 20 minutes. Cool to room temperature and then scoop roasted berries and all of the juices into a small jar or bowl and set aside.

Top layer crumble: Place 6 to 8 biscoff biscuits into a zip lock bag and seal. Gently crush with a rolling pin or wood spoon to create small pieces (not full crumbs), open the bag and add the reserved orange zest and chopped salted pistachios – seal bag and shake to mix ingredients.

To assemble: Just prior to serving, top the set cream cheese dessert cups with the roasted berries and their juices, then sprinkle each with the biscuit pistachio crumple. Top each with an edible viola (optional).

In this time of quarantines and hibernation, our sunny, breezy afternoon together was just the right dose of social gathering needed to add a little light to our week. As the trees and flowers begin to show the first signs of green buds and fresh blooms, the comfortable warmth of Spring is just around the corner and a great time to safely gather with a small group of friends on a beautiful day.

GATHERINGS, HOLIDAY, LAGNIAPPE, SMALL TALK, WINE CLUB

Let the Music Play….

Photo by Ylanite Koppens on Pexels.com

Whether the table is set for my wine club, book club, mothers tea, Friendsgiving or any of the many other entertaining dates I’ve planned, the one thing you can’t see in the party pictures is the music!

I usually begin experimenting a week or two prior to the scheduled event in search of the best music selection I can find, in search of background melodies that don’t overpower the conversation, but like a subtle soundtrack in a movie, creates the appropriate mood and ambiance for the gathering. Until recently I chose the Pandora App where the variety of options or countless for nearly every theme you can dream up. Simply search with the theme, such as Italian love songs, Mardi Gras music, French Cafe’ or the individual name of a favorite artist. As technology advances, so do the options. Amazon’s Alexa and Echo players or Google Play can provide musical options from Pandora, Spotify or their own musical programs with a simple verbal request.

In the recent year as I visited small shops in our area, the sound of classic French music, smooth Jazz or piano instrumentals caught my attention, and when I would ask what was playing I was informed over and over again that it was YouTube music. Videos created into various music themes that can be played up to 10 hours has become another favorite. I originally streamed the music from my TV, but Google or Alexa will play the music if requested also.

The point of entertaining (dinner party, wine party etc.) is to have shared discussions and conversations. So I choose music that isn’t distracting, but provides a soothing background for the evening at a soft audible level. Below are some suggestions/examples of options I’ve made part of my party planning.

Capri – Italian White Wines Night

For an Italian themed night: (Capri) Andrea Bocelli Radio, Italian Summer Radio, Italian Cooking Music Radio, or Italian Traditional Radio. Romantic Venice, Italian Restaurant Music

Christmas Cocktail Party

Holiday/Christmas Cocktail Party– Jazz Holiday Radio, Diana Krall (Holiday) Radio, Michael Buble (Holiday Radio), Nat King Cole (Holiday) Radio, Vince Guaraldi Trio (Holiday) Radio, Christmas Radio.

Derby Themed – Bourbon Barrel Aged Reds

Derby Theme : Kentucky Derby Radio, Frank Sinatra Radio

Symphony of Whites (Wines) – Austria, Germany

Symphony of Whites (Wine): Classical Dinner Party Radio, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Radio, Antonio Vivaldi Radio, and many more.

Holiday Dinner Party: Acoustical Guitar Christmas, Jingle Bells (Frank Sinatra (Holiday); Christmas Bells (Instrumental – Classical)

French Cafe’ themed small luncheons.

French Bistro Theme– French Cafe’ Radio, Edith Piaf Radio, French Cooking Radio; Spotify : French Cafe’ Lounge Music, French Romantic Music, French Bistro Music, French Mornings-Emily in Paris Vibes, French Jazz Cafe’

Rio De Janeiro Carnival– Brazilian Radio, Tango Radio, Spanish Guitar

Romantic Valentine Theme- Classical Piano Love Songs, Country Love Songs Radio, Diana Krall Radio, Michael Buble Radio, Chris Botti Radio, Romantic instruments

Mother’s Tea – I play a lovely song in honor of remembering our mothers just before starting to help focus our thoughts and hearts in the right place. “I Remember You” by Trisha Yearwood; “Supermarket Flowers” by Ed Sheeran.

Whatever your party, theme or no theme, while preparing the list of things to do, include a selection of soothing musical entertainment that is sure to enhance the enjoyment of your event.

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! ❄️

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/