Sunday, November 30, 2008
This year I'm trying something new. Replacing the water at this stage with a mixture of water and alcohol is said to stunt the growth of the stems while allowing the flowers to grow to full size. The point is to prevent the stems from flopping over just as the flowers start to bloom.
You can use either rubbing alcohol (I couldn't find any) or distilled spirits (I found plenty). With booze, mix one part alcohol to seven parts water. The best way to do this is to pour out the water in which the bulbs have been rooting (it will probably be sort of brown and smelly anyway) and replacing it with a solution you have measured carefully. As with people, too much alcohol is not a good thing.
Friday, November 28, 2008
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
It's called Party Pooper Pants. Our hero buys a Plan Your Own Party Kit and takes it from there:
[Speaking to Gary the Snail] The Plan Your Own Party Kit warns that unsupervised parties can lead to disaster. That's why I've taken the liberty of devising a schedule!8:00-8:05: Guests arrive.
8:05-8:15: Opening remarks and general discussion.
8:15-8:27: Craft corner, followed by name tag distribution.
At 8:27, we begin the qualifying rounds for our cracker-eating slash tongue-twister contest.
9:07: Running charades.
9:38: Charity apple-bob.
9:57: Electric jitterbug dance marathon, ladies' choice
At 10:09, things start cooking as I dig into my world-famous knock-knock joke vault!
As might be expected, things don't go so well, with overscheduling being the main problem. (SpongeBob also locks himself out of the house, but this turns out to be a good thing because then the guests can rage on and actually enjoy the party while SpongeBob is eventually arrested and hauled off for attempting to break in.)
Sound good?3:00 Badminton4:00 Cocktails and appetizers5:00 Dinner
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Monday, November 24, 2008
And so I'll share with you the advice I gave to my neighbor this morning (that's what I do after depositing Sophie in the carpool: stand in front of my house and disseminate advice and opinions about food). Cancel the expensive free-range, college-educated, organic bird you have ordered from your fancy butcher and go to Trader Joe's to buy an Empire Kosher turkey. They're of course more expensive than a regular bird but are so much more flavorful and are nearly impossible to overcook to that dry crumbly state. Here's the thing: the kosher process gives you in effect what you would have from brining a turkey. I know brining is all the rage, but don't you have something else you would rather do with that refrigerator space?? Brining is great. I've got pork chops brining in my fridge right now, but brining something as large as a turkey is a pain in the butt.
And don't listen to the New York Time's advice that you should refrain from rinsing your bird. You need to give a kosher bird a good rinse or the pan drippings will be too salty for making gravy.
This is the effect I will be going for.
Last year we were at Husband's Aunt Nancy's for Thanksgiving, and she produced this beautiful and delicious bird by covering the bird with cheesecloth soaked in white wine and melted butter. She covered this with foil for most of the roasting, removing it at the end to brown things up nicely. I have a smaller over that heats unevenly (the downside of having a lovely vintage stove), so I probably won't end up with a bird as uniformly brown. But it will taste good.
If you visit the Empire Poultry website, they also have a very useful glossary, allegedly for food professionals, that includes everything from bagel to Mazel Tov. But they forgot schiksa. That's an important word, right? As in "Good Lord, there's a schiksa in my kitchen!!"
Sunday, November 23, 2008
A couple of weeks ago, blogger and real life friend Gwendomama was up in my neck of the woods for a wedding, after which we took our kids to Six Flags Discovery Kingdom to ride roller coasters, visit Thomas the Train land, and get scared silly by bands marauding ghouls in celebration of the upcoming Halloween. So scared, in fact, that Gwendomama—the master of consumer complaints—(you guessed it) complained. Too scary for small kids, difficult if not impossible at times to push a stroller through. To the effect that she was offered FREE TICKETS to come again for what was hoped would be a more pleasurable experience. Today we took advantage of our free tickets for a do-over trip. The ghouls were gone, the Christmas decorations not completely up, and the park nearly empty, leaving us to walk right onto the best roller coasters limited not by how long we could stand waiting in line but by to what extent our stomachs could hold up. Mine isn't quite what it used to be. Sophie and Gwendomama outlasted me on Medusa, the park's crown jewel, a bottomless coaster from which your feet hang free.
Fortunately I survived to come home and finish the snack I started baking last night for Sophie's class tomorrow. The last time Gwendomama was here, she bought me these fabulous miniature ice cream cones, which I had seen on her blog but was unable to find in stores in my area. Each cone is about two inches tall—perfect for a bit or two, but not much more, of ice cream. She has generously outfitted me with mini cones for the next year or so.
I baked pumpkin bread batter in them (standing them up in a mini muffin pan for baking). If this were a baking project for something other than the class snack, I would frost these with a cream cheese icing, but since we're supposed to keep it relatively healthy (don't tell anyone how much sugar is in that pumpkin bread), I piped cream cheese whipped with a little honey, vanilla, and softened butter on top.
Sophie is very excited to take them. No one, it appears, has ever brought them before.
So can I get back to Thanksgiving now?
Saturday, November 22, 2008
There will be several of her fellow castmates from Das Rheingold who Sophie is excited to see. They got to be pretty friendly during all those hours in the dressing room, in line for hair and makeup, and waiting in lines to do it all over and over and over.
Parents have been asked to bring something. Of course I thought first of opera cake. That would be fun, and Jen, who has made it, could help me.
But instead I made two dozen cupcakes, which are loaded into their double-decker traveling case and ready for a subway ride over to the city.
Kids will lick off the frosting, toss the cakes, never noticing that one half are a delicious chocolate sour cream and the other a yellow vanilla. But not being a big frosting eater, I'm always happy to eat the cupcake my child has licked clean. We work well together that way.
When we get home, it will be back to Thanksgiving prep. The silver is polished, and it's time to work on table linens.
Friday, November 21, 2008
Can't Hillary be called something else? Administrative Assistant of State? No. ThingyMaBobber of State? That would be Sophie's choice, but no. Head, Vice President, Treasurer? No, no, and no.
How about Barack-Takes-Care-of-the-Economy-I-Take-Care-of-the-Rest-of-the-World General Asskicker? I think it's better than Secretary.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
This year I'm branching out from my standard bread, onion, celery, and apple dressing to a chestnut pear (for the vegetarians) and a chantrelle mushroom Italian sausage (for the omnivores). I can wing the latter, but I wanted to give the former a test drive before the real dinner.
I discovered the key is having a good chestnut peeler on hand (this one easily bribed with a glass of iced peppermint tea).
The dressing is good, and I will use the recipe—with a few modifications from the original, of course. I use chiabatta bread instead of white and tear it into small pieces and let sit for a few days, turning occasionally so it dries out evenly. I used homemade chicken stock that I always have in good supply, but for Thanksgiving I'll use vegetable stock since there will be a vegetarian present. I'll buy the stock since I won't have time to make it immediately beforehand and I don't think vegetable stock holds it flavor well in the freezer. And I'll kick up the flavor a bit with some fennel added to the celery and onion.
CHESTNUT PEAR DRESSING
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 ribs of celery, small dice
2 medium onions, small dice
1 head fennel, small dice
2 tablespoons fresh thyme, minced
1 teaspoon fresh sage, minced
1 tablespoon flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 to 2 pound chestnuts (I prefer Italian)
chiabatta bread, torn into small pieces to total about 8 cups
1 1/4 chicken or vegetable stock
4 unripe pears, Bosc or Anjou, diced
salt and pepper to taste
Prepare chestnuts: Using a sharp paring knife (or a chestnut knife if you're lucky enough to have one) score each chestnut with an X. Place chestnuts in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake at 400 degrees for about 25 minutes. The flesh should be tender and golden, and the skins should peel off fairly easily. Chop nuts coarsely. This can be done several days in advance and the chestnuts stored covered in the refrigerator.
Reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees.
Combine herbs, chestnuts, and bread in a large bowl.
In a skillet, melt butter. Add celery, onion, and fennel; cook, stirring until translucent, about 10 minutes. Add to bread mixture in bowl. Add stock, 1/4 cup at a time until bread becomes moist. Add pear. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Combine well and transfer into a Dutch oven. Bake covered for about 1 1/2 hours. Remove lid and continue to cook until top browns slightly.
What's your favorite dressing recipe? Do you always make the same kind or do you mix it up?
Coming up soon: table linens, centerpieces, candleholders . . . the fun keeps coming.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
I'm not a rum drinker, but there's nothing Husband likes better than this on a chilly northern California evening. Many recipes for hot buttered rum include melted vanilla ice cream. This is a slightly less rich version.
This recipe provides a batch to keep in a jar in the refrigerator. How long it lasts depends on how much you entertain. I keep a jar on hand throughout the season. It's ready to offer in only the time it takes to boil water.
HOT BUTTERED RUM
In a table top mixer, combine
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened to room temperatureMix well, adjusting spices to taste. I've also added small amounts of ground cardamon, ginger, and/or clove.
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg
To serve, place two heaping tablespoons in a mug, add a short (or two) of rum, and fill the rest of the mug with boiling water. Garnish with a cinnamon stick and piece of orange peel.
Hold up to chin and inhale. . . .
Some of it is admittedly a little too traditional for me. I mean, really—would you send a boy out the door in this?
You might as well pin a sign on the little guy "Kick my ass and push me down in a mud puddle."
But some of it looks like Sophie's style. She thoughtfully circled this top, which I think might be perfect for a Christmas card picture. It would work with jeans, black leggings, or her red corduroy pants.Holiday red: check. Toile: check. Monogram: check.
Here's the question: Which headband? (You can get these monogrammed too, but then I couldn't borrow it.)
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Alex and her husband Tim are the proprietors of the Kensington Marmalade Company, which specializes in organic preserves using fresh locally grown produce and a minimal amount of sugar. The products are insanely good. One of my favorites is Stafford's Picnic Jam. Can you think of any words that go together better than picnic and jam? Picnic jam is a marmalade that includes Eureka lemon, Meyer lemon, Valencia orange, bay, rosemary, and juniper berry—sweet and savory. Eating it makes me feel like I'm on a picnic. You should really go to their website and order some at once. It is also available at a few high-end food shops in the bay area (listed on their website) and every Sunday at the Kensington Farmers' Market.
Alex says the two best ways to eat marmalade are with a fork and a spoon, but she is forever coming up with ways to eat and cook with marmalade. For lunch she spread thick crusty bread with Picnic Jam, melted brie over the top, and served this open face.
So I got to thinking, wouldn't this make a nice appetizer in a smaller version using baguette slices? The MIL is fortunately game for trying out almost anything, so I served it before our dinner on Sunday night (along with the pear rosemary martini).
She liked it, it's easy and quick to prepare (the baguette can be slice the night before and wrapped in plastic), and it's now on the menu.
Marmalade Brie Toasts
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Slice a fresh baguette as thinly as possible.
Spread each slice with marmalade (I highly recommend the Picnic Jam).
Layer each slice with brie or other soft cheese.
Bake in oven for about five minutes or until cheese melts. Serve warm.
Stay tuned for my test run of a new stuffing recipe and exciting table setting updates.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
4 oz. pear vodka4 oz. regular vodkajuice of one Meyer lemona few tablespoons of rosemary syrup, to tastecandied rosemary for garnish