Monday, April 14, 2014

Happy Easter

Snow is in the forecast for tonight.  I can hardly believe it to be true!!  Oh well, I'm getting out of town for a vacation in New England.  The Baker and the dalmatian will be here to shovel if necessary.  I'm hoping they'll be enjoying seeing the grass greening, the trees leafing out and flowers popping their pretty heads out of the ground.

This haughty hare
joins me in wishing each of you
a joyous Easter
a happy spring!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Roasted Cauliflower Soup

Have you heard that one can't just throw ingredients into a pot and make a good soup?  That one must follow recipes if the outcome is to be successful?  At some point after I stood before a soup pot for the first time and yesterday, I heard or read or was advised of this theory.  Well, it isn't so!  Some of our best soups have been put (thrown?) together with what is in the vegetable crisper.  Even when I use a recipe for a soup, I rarely follow it completely.

The inspiration for roasted cauliflower soup came with having picked up a lovely smallish cauliflower at the market and having absolutely nothing for it to accompany for dinner.  It was also an evening that required a light and fast meal.  Corn muffins and a salad rounded out a perfectly respectful dinner supper before heading out to a meeting.  The soup was made earlier in the day so cleanup was a snap!

Roasted Cauliflower Soup (Serves 4)

1 medium head of cauliflower (about 3 cups), separated into largish florets
1 medium onion, cut into four pieces
3 cloves of garlic
2 Tbsp olive oil
3 cups of chicken stock
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup of whole milk

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

1.  Toss the cauliflower, onion and garlic with the olive oil.  Set the garlic aside.  Roast the vegetables for ten minutes then add the garlic, roasting for another five minutes or just until all begins to turn a golden brown.  Be careful not to burn!
2.  Place all into a large soup pot, add the chicken stock and salt and pepper to taste.  Cover and cook over medium low heat for about 30 minutes or until the vegetables are soft.
3.  Using an immersion blender or food processor, blend until completely smooth.
4.  Return to the pot and, over low heat, add milk to thin out and to taste.  I usually add the whole cup.


Monday, April 7, 2014

Ham, Cheese and Vegetable Strata

We have had a number of fine weather days and I'm being cautiously optimistic that they'll continue.  We spent some time in the yard over the weekend.  Winter's snow and bitter cold left some damage.  Lots of bushes have browned leaves that need selective pruning.  Nothing that a few big pots of hardy pansies won't perk up until it is safe to put out the tender plants of summer.  But, oh that sunshine!!  I stood by the garden gate and turned my face to it and it felt good!!  There were sounds of buzzing saws around the neighborhood.  I even heard what sounded like a lawn mower but can't imagine what that was all about.  The best part--neighbors strolling by and greetings exchanged.  We're all pale survivors of a brutal winter!

I was inspired to bring out the chicks,  bunnies and colorful eggs and decorate for spring and Easter.  For once, I didn't have to put away snow people.  Just opening the blinds was enough of winter decorating---more than enough.  

Today I'm sharing the recipe for a delicious strata that I made when my sister and family joined us for our first Thanksgiving in Charleston--at least thirty years ago.  It is on a recipe card but I'm fairly certain it came from Southern Living.  I was looking for something I could easily put on the table for brunch before the turkey went into the oven.  This dish was perfect.

Through the years, it has been my go-to brunch dish, especially for Easter.  Add a bowl of fruit, assorted muffins and you can make twelve diners very happy.

The photo is before it went into the oven.  Things were a bit hectic when it came out and it was completely devoured before anyone thought of getting a finished photo!!

Ham, Cheese and Vegetable Strata

10 slices of day old white bread, crusts removed
12 ounces of baked ham, chopped fine (about 2 1/2 cups)
6 ounces sharp cheddar, grated (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 cup scallions, including part of the green top, thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups finely chopped red and green peppers
8 large eggs
3 cups milk
1 1/2 tsp dry mustard
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
1/2 tsp paprika

Butter an oblong baking pan and arrange the bread in overlapping rows.  Evenly sprinkle with the ham, cheese, peppers and scallions.  Beat the eggs with the milk, dry mustard, pepper and paprika.  Pour the mixture over the ingredients in the baking dish.  Cover tightly and chill at least an hour to overnight.

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Bake the dish 45 to 50 minutes until puffed up and golden. Test with a knife in the center that should come out clean.  Remove from oven and let stand, uncovered 10-15 minutes before serving.


Thursday, April 3, 2014

Home Again, Home Again

My sister and I have a tradition.  When I visit, I make sure I get a flight that delivers me around noon.   She picks me up and we head over to Nordstrom's at the Florida Mall.  Shopping is not on our mind.  Eating is!  We head straight for the cafe, paying no attention to the stylish clothing and accessories along the way.  After a bowl of their sinfully delicious crab bisque, we share...

...a light dessert.
(There were two forks involved!)

I peeled off layers of clothing and we sat by the pool
waiting for our other sisters to arrive.
The snow that was falling when I left Chicago was fast forgotten.

"Floridians put salt on margaritas, not sidewalks",
my sister texted me on one of our snowiest winter days
back home.  I think I prefer it that way myself!!

My brother-in-law is as competent in the kitchen
as he is in the operating room!!
This turned into a delicious dinner 
of filet mignon in a wine and mushroom sauce.

We knew there was a surprise for us later that week.
The suspense was rewarded with the best seats in the house for

La Nouba

I think it was the best I've seen.
When you think Cirque can't get better,
it does!

The week passed quickly.
The weather improved in the midwest.
It was time to come home.

Now to get busy and check out what's going on in your world!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A Modern Baby Shower by Skype--Part 2

After all the fun of planning baby Dora's shower,
it was time to actually welcome the guests.

Sweet baby's breath.

The soon-to-be parents 
were with us in photos and spirit.

Ellen mixes our Kir Royale.

The ham and vegetable strata before going into the oven.

I wish I could have better captured this bowl 
of jewel-like fruit prepared by Ellen.  It made it easy to forget just how cold it was outside!

The Baker prepared a sour cream coffee cake
to accompany delicious muffins 
prepared by Jane and Sheila.

Mom-to-be, Bonnie's favorite dessert is Derby Pie.
Diana found a recipe for Derby-like pie 
and it was a beautiful offering--
not too beautiful to cut into though!!

Gathering around the computer to spend time
with Bonnie and Colin.

I think this rather blurry photo is a favorite of mine from the day.
The men came back from having lunch out just as we started to Skype.
Can you tell by the smile on his face that this is
Grandpa Jim?

And, at the other end of the party,
Here is Bonnie with her lovely bouquet.
(Note to self, clean computer screen next time.)

Bonnie and Colin open presents.

You can click on any of the photos for a better view.

This one is certainly worth the click to see 
the puzzled look on Colin's face!!

He did say later that he'd had a swaddling session using a plastic doll.
He's in for a big surprise!!

We all had a grand time and can't wait until baby Dora arrives!!

I'll share the strata, coffee cake and pie recipes with you soon.

First, I'm off to sunny Florida with my sisters.
Andrew and Oliver will be in charge of fending for themselves.
They'll do a great job!

Monday, March 17, 2014

A Modern Baby Shower by Skype--Part 1

My dear friend, Jane, is going to be a first-time grandmother in a few weeks.  Of course, we wanted to welcome baby Glendora Jane with a baby shower.  Our only problem was a geographic one.  Little Dora will be welcomed into the world over a thousand miles away.  Aha, Skype!  In consulting the internet, we found we weren't the only ones with this idea.  However, we decided to go with doing it our way.

We consulted with the expectant parents and decided on a date.  The presents would be mailed to them a few weeks ahead of time.  Although we weren't able to send all the brunch food, the mom-to-be's favorite dessert was available to be ordered for them online--Derby Pie.  Flowers were also sent along with bags of mints.  We wanted them to feel a real part of the event. The guests would come to my house for brunch.  After brunch, we'd gather around the computer and enjoy seeing the gifts opened.

Of course, the four shower hostesses and Jane would need planning sessions.  We are awfully good at planning by meeting via e-mail, phone and at lunch(es).  I had seen a number of banners used at parties and showers.  We came up with the idea for a banner of sweet baby dresses on a clothesline.  This meant a trip to pick out appropriate papers and embellishments.  What fun we had cutting and adorning the precious little dresses.

Jane hanging the dresses so they will be seen by the parents while Skyping.

Aren't they sweet?

All in a row.

Flower arranging in Mint Julep cups.

Little bags of pastel mints for each guest.

The table.
The underlay white cloth is a hundred years old.
I wonder how many babies have been welcomed by feasting
on this beautiful cloth?

I'll be back soon with the guests, the food and the Skyping.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Irish Lemon Sponge Pudding

Spring-like weather arrived for us on Tuesday.  The temperature climbed to fifty degrees and snow melted fast.  Wednesday we were back to winter with an all-day snow.  It piled up on even the tenderest branches and clung to them even in the strong winds that blew through the area.  The gales were so strong that many traffic lights were still snow-covered yesterday.  Covered to the extent that one couldn't tell if they were red or green in some instances.  That was a bit worrisome!!  

 Our grocery store had Meyer lemons this week.  I was so excited that I scooped up a bagful without a clear purpose in mind.  The snow kept me in so I pulled out my citrus file and looked through recipes.  This lemon sponge pudding (which I've shared with you before) was the third dessert ever from my kitchen.  It followed brownies (of course) and strawberry shortcake.  Somewhere along my culinary route, I saw a similar recipe that called it an Irish dessert--at least, I think I did.  It was enough for me to put it on our St. Patrick's Day menu alternating with Whiskey Pudding.  This year, with those Meyer lemons in the house, it is going to be the lemon sponge pudding.

Happy St. Patrick's Day to all!!

Irish Lemon Sponge Pudding recipe from a smudged 3 x 5 index card 

3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp butter, softened
1 Tbsp grated lemon peel
3 eggs, separated
3 Tbsp flour
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 cup milk

1.  Lightly butter a 1 1/2 quart casserole-type dish and preheat the oven to 350.
2. Cream together the butter and sugar, add the lemon peel.
3.  Beat in the three egg yolks well.
4.  Stir in the three Tbsp of flour alternating with the lemon juice and milk.
5.  Beat the egg whites until stiff and fold into the batter.  Spoon into the prepared dish.
6.  Place the dish in a pan deep enough to hold it and allow for a hot water bath of about an inch.
7.  Bake until set, about 1 hour.
8.  Serve immediately or chilled.