Thursday, December 29, 2011

Food is love.

I had started a holiday post regarding my Mom's always perfect bouillabaisse- it's about the only "holiday tradition" my family really has. It's the most requested meal she makes. It is heaven in bowl. I even included Alton Brown on the fun ...

He gets me every time.

But then the holidays hit and the blog took a (brief) break.

Be it a blessing, or a curse, my birthday falls the day after Christmas. My father's falls on the 28th. There is little break in the celebration gap that falls between the 25th and New Years Eve. The marathon eating ensued. And it all started on the 23rd.

I was under the impression that I would be consuming scorpion bowls on the 23rd with Allie and Casey. A nice double date before the holiday mayhem ensued. Much to my delight, those were not the plans. My crafty husband and my equally crafty tight circle of friends devised a surprise party in my honor. To say I was surprised would be to understate my bewilderment. I never saw it coming. I was flattered and touched. I even teared up. The real brains behind the operation were my Clean Plate Cook Book Club cohorts- Allie and Hannah.

And the spread was beautiful!


It was a wonderful start to the deluge of celebration that lasted the entire holiday week. Mark and I spend most of the holiday with his side of the family. First Grammy and Grampy's house, then off to Reggie and Cecile's. Every house was full of family and amazing food. It was such a joyful Christmas Eve!

That evening my sisters and our significant others met up at my folk's house for the first of our newest tradition. We spent the night there ... I woke up first and made some coffee and Mom followed closely after. Little by little the whole family made their way to the living room. Melody made brioche sweet rolls. Mom had her spin on meat pie waiting in the oven. A few short hours later we had to part ways, but we all agreed that our new tradition was solidified. 

Monday was a lot of fun. We did a laundry run, played some of the new Legend of Zelda game, had a few friends over in the evening ... I threw together some pizzas to feed the large group and by 6:30 everyone was gone! A birthday well spent, if you ask me.

My Dad's birthday is the 28th- Melody and Matt hosted a birthday meal at their new house. I brought garlic mashed potatoes as my offering. Matt made a spiral ham and Mom brought a delicious, fresh cole slaw (no mayo in this one). Our family friends Sue and Pete came along, too. They brought a huge tray of mac 'n cheese. All of this and a delightful antipasto and shrimp cocktail to start? We rolled out the door to go home.

Before we knew it, New Years Eve arrived. Mark and I spent some time with our cousins Brian and Melissa and their son Evan- a NYE tradition for sure. Hannah and Josh hosted us for dinner that night- an amazing vegetable stew that used Coca Cola to temper the tomatoes in its base with a corn bread/Johnny cake along side. Prosecco and St. Germaine was the toast of choice. 

Mark and I rung in the new year at home by ourselves. We were in bed shortly after, grateful for a beautiful 2011 and looking forward to the love and excitement of 2012.

And here we are ... the year is off to a great start. Great meals, walks in the woods, games in the evening. Our lives are full and blessed. January is a busy month for me. The first big event falls this coming Saturday- a 70th birthday party with 70 guests ... poetic, isn't it? Our dear friend Deb is the mastermind behind all of this and working with her to make this party amazing has been satisfying and exhilarating. Mark will be coming along to photograph the whole event. I can't wait to show all of you the photos!

And in other news, I just gave the green light to print our Forever Feasting T-shirts! Check them out:

The photo is small, but the impact is there, yeah? I'm so excited! It's all coming together ... slowly but surely!

I'll keep you updated. Thanks for waiting over a week for a new update. It's been fun, but balanced with a serious cold. No worries, health is on the way, as is a beautiful future!

I hope your new year is off to a magical start. I'd love to hear all about your favorite holiday meals- please share in the comments section!

Happy 2012, everyone!

Monday, December 19, 2011


Behold. The Le Creuset Tagine (or Tajine).

A gift. Of course. From Hannah- who has maintained her Le Creuset connections up until the end of this year. Bless her heart and foresight. This was my birthday gift, given prematurely in expectation that it would come in handy over the holidays. And it certainly has already.

For a bit of background ... according to these folks ...

"Traditionally the tajine was used by nomads in north Africa as portable ovens for making stews over charcoal fires. It would sit above an open fire and meats and vegetables or fruit would be cooked slowly over a very low heat."

Well said. My first foray into tajine cooking needed to be vegetarian (for our guest of honor didn't eat the meats). Another helpful tool I picked up this weekend helped me out big time:

photo courtesy of gizmodo

The application. This thing is brilliant. Reference hundreds of recipes, save your favorites, create shopping lists from the recipes you want to use .. this thing is money. So, I found a potato based tagine recipe that called for lots of spices, some lemon, olives, a whole lot of goodness. It slow cooked on the stove top for a few hours and I ladled it over whole wheat couscous. It was one of those nights that made dinner hit the table a bit late, but when we did eat everyone was satisfied. I'm a tagine believer.

A few other recipes that knocked my socks off this weekend? A regular of mine that I never sick of: Herb Biscuits. It's a traditional biscuit recipe, but added to the flour, baking soda, baking powder, butter milk, and butter I threw in some dry ground mustard, thyme and some celery seed. Savory and crumbly, they went great with some over-easy eggs and a hot cup of coffee. SO good! 

And then there was Sunday night dinner. Mom and Dad were out of town, our roommates were watching football at a friend's house, my other sister and her fiance were spending their night preparing for the holiday. I was still planning on a big meal, so we invited some friends over for Southwest Burgers (which I kinda just threw together from what I had in the fridge). I added a chipotle spice blend to some grass fed ground beef and a few splashes of Worcestershire sauce (I add a bit of that to just about every ground beef dish I make- a nice secret ingredient for you that's no secret anymore!). I hand formed the burgers and seared them in a grill pan. I topped them with sauteed mushrooms, onions and jalapenos, then a mixture of cheddar and gruyere cheeses. I broiled them before placing them on sandwich sized scallion focaccias. The condiment of choice was barbecue sauce. If I can say so, they turned out pretty awesome. It had been a while since I had eaten a burger and this recipe helped me use up a handful of veggies I needed to use, as well as the bread. Success, I must say.

This week will be a crazy busy one. Lots of meetings for some new gigs I'm nailing down. Lots of prep for the holidays, seeing family members that we haven't spent time with in months ... The holidays fly by every year. I wish I had a remote control for life sometimes, just so I could hit the pause button when I wanted to. I like to revel in those times when we're all sitting around the table, smiles on everyone's faces, good food on every plate. It is a sight to behold. One that I wish I could linger in just a bit longer than fate or time allows.

I guess if I could live in those moments all the time, they probably wouldn't feel as special when they came around. Such is the gift of the holidays. It's the gift I'm most looking forward to.

I hope all of you enjoy a beautiful holiday season. I know I will. xo

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Testing ... testing ... taste testing.

ServSafe. ::sigh:: What an interesting venture that was. I did as the instructions said, "Read the entire book before you come to class." It was good advice. The whole 6 hours of instruction were meager review for the 13 chapters I forced my way through over the previous week. I'll get my results just after Christmas. I have a good feeling about my score, but I would hate to jinx myself by being overly cocky (which I certainly can be on occasion).

So, seven hours later I was sitting in the Market Basket parking lot thinking to myself, "What the hell am I going to make for dinner?" Mark had requested baked fish. Haddock or something. Normally I'm all about fish baked in butter and Ritz crackers, but I wanted something a bit healthier ... Maybe with a Caribbean flair.

Enter ... the smart phone. I love that damn thing. A little Google and- WAM! Cuban style baked whole fish ... which I altered. I always do that- not out of desire, but out of need. I don't have Spanish style olive oil. And I'm not buying any. Not until a client needs some. For my own purposes? Forget it. Money is tight. Basic olive oil is the only one that makes the cut.

So, there was some wild caught Cod available, which I nestled in a roasting pan on top of some sauteed onions and peppers with a few bay leaves, smothered the fish in a garlic, oregano and salt paste, then drizzled with a mix of tomato puree and white wine vinegar. I threw a few more onions and peppers on top, poured some white wine on there, then in the oven at 375 until it flaked when I stuck a fork in it. [Such a run-on sentence.] The whole thing came out SO GOOD!

I paired that with some wild rice that I threw a lime vinaigrette on. I also made an easy cabbage slaw with red onions, olive oil, white wine vinegar and an awesome salt and herb mix that Hannah got me as a gift not too long ago. Easy meal. Crazy delicious.

My friends Jeff and Darlene joined us for dinner. What an amazing time we had. Gracious friends, lots of laughter, lots of wine (and Baileys!). It was wonderful to have them over, spend some quality time. It feels like the whole lot of us are in a period of transition. Scary as that is, it's also exciting. The world, it seems, is our oyster. And who doesn't like oysters?! I'm a huge fan.

The weekend is almost here and I'm going to be making a few solid meals for friends. Nicole is visiting from Massachusetts- she just nailed a job as an architect for a new firm in Boston. Her designs are brilliant and this is clearly the beginning of a bright and lucrative future for her. We will celebrate her new venture. Ed will be coming over early on Saturday for breakfast. He's finished his most recent semester at my alma mater (New England College), the pursuit of which has been very successful for him. He requested any dish that involves eggs. Okay, Ed. Game on.

As the new year approaches I've been thinking about how I want to feel at the end of 2012. Hopefully I will still be doing this; updating you on my business ventures and sharing the work I love to do. I'm hoping for more clients. To breathe a sigh of relief, that all of the talk and all of the work paid off. I have a good feeling, but life is what happens while you're making plans... the best I can do is plan for anything to happen at any time. Ha! Good luck with that, right?

At least we can eat well while we wait for the universe to make its next move. Okay, powers-that-be.

Game on.


Sunday, December 11, 2011

Shooting for the (blue) stars

Big gig on Saturday. A full day of cooking for a crowd- a room full of people who were made aware of the menu ahead of time. Curious foodies with amazing kitchens, who watch Hell's Kitchen, subscribe to Cooks Illustrated, have opulent dinner parties, and know food well. I was intimidated, to say the least, as I drove to Lebanon. My purpose was not only to feed some very food aware people, but to use a specific oven range to do all of my cooking: Blue Star. I will admit, it was the best range I have ever had the pleasure of using. That gave me some confidence, but I was in plain site of everyone who would be eating what I made. They asked a lot of questions and they were simply delightful. Bob Gerlack, the owner, may be one of the few people I know who's passion for food rivals my own. We shared recipes all day. A better situation could not have been created by my own hands.

All of this wouldn't have been possible without the help of my friend Katie Farrell. Katie designs kitchens and bathrooms and she excels at this. She also recently turned 30 and I had the pleasure of catering her shin-dig. After that day-long fete, Katie had been gracious in sharing the news of my talents with her co-workers and clients. It wasn't long before Bob called me, curious if I was free to do a customer brunch at their location. I jumped at the chance. We had a great seasonal menu with varied tastes for all palates:

Apple Stuffed French Toast

I made the French toast with cinnamon raisin bread. The egg mixture had some light cream, cinnamon and nutmeg in it. I put them on the griddle and when finished, layered them with the next two elements.

I sauteed some McIntosh apples in unsalted butter and cinnamon. Simple. 

For the syrup, I went super sweet. Equal parts corn syrup (not *high fructose* corn syrup) and brown sugar. Then I added some chopped pecans. Once it hit temperature, I poured it over the toast. Then a layer of apple, then more toast, then more syrup, etc. This was a huge hit and the layers made for a very pretty presentation. Be sure to keep this offering warm, or the syrup might turn to candy!

Sweet Potato and Turkey Hash

I love this combination. So simple, but so delicious! I diced some onion and garlic and sauteed that in just a bit of unsalted butter. Then I added cubed sweet potatoes and let them sit and steam themselves for a while. when they were getting close to soft, I threw some turkey breast on the griddle seasoned with salt, pepper and garlic. When it was just about done, I chopped it up and threw it in to the potatoes and let the two make friends for a few minutes. This dish went the fastest and I wasn't too surprised by that.

Pumpkin Bisque

I love pumpkin bisque and it seems like everywhere I get a chance to have some the end result is drastically different than any other I've tried. The formula, however, can be really simple. Some onion and chicken stock, pureed pumpkin and heavy cream. Cinnamon and nutmeg add another level of flavor. For added effect, I mixed up some creme fraiche with more cinnamon and a table spoon of brown sugar. So easy, but so fun to make and even more fun to eat.

Mini Cannolis

My little cheat with these is that I buy the mini shells. I could make them, but they're so labor intensive. Instead, I make the filling- that's the best part, anyway. Ricotta cheese, I add mascarpone cheese, confectioners sugar, some vanilla, and BANG! Filling. I like adding some cocoa powder to a separate batch for a nice chocolaty option. I dumped the filling into two gallon plastic bags so I could pipe it into the shells. These are fun to scarf down with a group of people. They carry well and mean minimal mess- kind of important in a kitchen show room. 

We had Mexican food when I got home. We had some friends over, Allie made chorizo nachos, for which she *made* her own blue corn tortilla chips, and Hanna made a phenomenal maple cake that I couldn't stop eating. My darling husband did the cooking on our behalf and knocked some grass-fed beef quesadillas right out of the park. All of that coupled with LOTS of champagne? That's a great Saturday night. 

It's a beautiful life. I'm thrilled for all of this to really get rolling. Need a chef? Don't hesitate to reach out to me. I love what I do and I love to share it. Great food is meant to be shared.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Little Shoe

photo from the Houston Press

Anthony Bourdain. I'd be remiss if I didn't at least say something about him. Just this once. I've spent a lot of time watching this guy complain about globe trotting for a living- eating lavish meals at elBulli or weaving in and out of street food vendors in South East Asia. I wouldn't want his job. It's a lot of flying and being away from your family, staying in hotels (or motels, I don't know what their budget looks like). Anthony lets his viewers know, in no uncertain terms, that he doesn't always like what he's doing. And in that spirit I understand why American foodies love the guy. He talks like us, eats like us, drinks like us. And if he's uncomfortable, he tells us. I have yet to watch a cook that can complain as well as Bourdain. I like that. At first I found it annoying, but then I thought about the person I would be if I had his job. I'm glad I don't. Traveling is lonely. I've traveled for work. Even with a camera in your face and your meals paid for, it isn't traveling for pleasure. I would bitch a lot, too.

Why does Bourdain come up today? Hannah and I spent a fair amount of time watching his new show ("The Layover") last night. We ooh-ed and ahh-ed over his cynicism. We laughed at the cocky chefs he shared meals with. We admired the food he got to try- the endless amounts of pork he swallowed. Bourdain carries a torch for the armchair chef. He allows us, for a time, to feel like we know exactly what he's talking about. Like we're the ones smoking a cigarette alongside him, staring out over the vast expanse of some exotic landscape while his gritty narration floats over our heads. It's a nice escape. It's food porn at its low-fi best. And I have to watch it when it's on. I can't help myself.

Fun note, I was reminded that Scarpetta means "Little Shoe" in Italian, and is the action of mopping up your plate with a piece of bread. I am a serial scarpettan.

And for dinner last night, I came up with a sweet little dish that satisfied everyone at the table. I'm not sure what to call it. It's like steak and eggs. With cheese. And bread. I'll create a name out of that somehow. Anyways, here's what went down:

Cheesy goodness.

I made a few loaves of sourdough bread yesterday. I like to do that a couple times a week. Fresh bread goes a long way in our house. I took one of the loaves and cut it in half and dug out the insides. I had some left-over beef roast that I cubed up, then I added some Gruyere and Parmesan, some thyme, a few eggs mixed with a splash of milk, salt and pepper. I mixed it all together with the insides and poured all of that back into the bread shell and sprinkled some more cheese on top. Baked it at 350 until the egg was done, then broiled it a bit to make the top golden brown. Man alive- it was SO good! I paired it with a baby greens salad with some shaved carrot, dressed with lemon juice and olive oil. Oh, and a frosty pint of Highlife. 

The other half of the bread I did pizza style and used up some chicken that needed to get eaten. Tasty, but not as good as its counterpart. It was a good food night, for sure. It's no street food from Singapore, but it works for me. I don't need to eat the native dish of Fiji. I want to eat the food that comes out of my fridge. I want to my own native food. I'm satisfied with the food I can create and I'm happy to watch others get thrown around the planet. I'll live vicariously through them.


Eat well, ya'll. Love. xo

Monday, December 5, 2011

May every day be a feast

I've spent most of my day letting various home professionals into our mechanical room. Propane specialists, water tank installers. It's put a slight kink in the way I normally operate on a Monday morning. Our current visitor won't be done working until 2, so I've been biding my time with ServSafe studying, playing with Bear and making a few loaves of bread. For having so much energy, Bear has really been great about waiting for a run. I can't say I've been as good- slightly annoyed, for sure.

We had a great family weekend, which I'm sorry to see end so quickly. My sister Melody found her wedding dress, we had a full house for Sunday family dinner at my folk's place, and we celebrated Grammy's 80th birthday. It was my mother-in-law's idea to throw a dinner party for Grammy. She's had a really long year and we all agreed she needed a day to be waited on. We had a great menu:

This is a Bon Appetite recipe that I will do differently next time. I already altered the recipe as I found it to make it a bit easier on myself. I omitted some ingredients and added others. All in all, I'd say it came out alright.

It tasted a lot better than it looks. I swear.

Appetizers were bacon wrapped scallops and chicken livers. Livers are rare for me, but I was happy for the change. Bacon makes everything taste awesome and liver is no exception.

After that came a family favorite: Beet and Red Potato Salad. It's the easiest thing in the world to make.

Peel and cut a few roasted beets (they take about 40 minutes or more to roast, with a brush of oil on them).
Cut and boil some red potatoes, so they are good for biting, but not so mushy they fall apart.
Mix together with some olive oil, cracked black pepper and a heaping helping of Gorgonzola cheese. It's a perfect mix. Sweet beets with salty, tangy cheese ... a little starch and that's a meal in itself!

I also roasted some squash and did a basic greens salad (dressed with lemon juice and olive oil and shaved Parmesan). My bread came out horrible. Not enough rise; I rushed it in order to get to Grammy's on time. Small sacrifice, I guess. I had made the mistake of going out the night before and sleeping in an hour later than I had intended the next morning. I was scrambling the entire day. It was well worth it, though. I got to hang out with my Cook Book Club gals, Allie and Hannah. When we get together there's always a little too much food and a little too much wine. The result is a lot of fun. They keep me on my toes and make me want to be a better cook.

Dessert was a home-made trifle. I had every intention of making the chocolate cake for it from scratch, but I'm glad I didn't. I took Devil's Food Cake and layered it with home-made vanilla whipped cream and Grammy's chocolate pudding recipe. I threw in some chocolate chips for a little flair. I think the whole thing turned out alright. More like a chocolaty bread pudding, but scrumptious for sure.

Despite the hurried frenzy on my end, dinner was enjoyed. Would I have done some things differently if I had the chance? Of course. I was glad for the practice run with family. These valuable meals that celebrate the ones we love are crucial to our well being. I was so happy to help provide some great memories that we can all share. That's really what this whole venture is all about. I want everyone to get to feel like that.

So, the week is starting off sluggish, but it's bound to pick up. I have a big gig on Saturday, thanks to my friend Katie and her being a huge cheerleader of mine. Glad I have that gal in my corner.

I hope all of your have a fantastic week. Hang in there- the weekend will be here before you know it!