Cooking Constantly

whisking egg whites and sugar for meringue with blanched asparagus tips on stand-by

I tried to hijack Christmas Eve this year and was steadfastly diverted. Called the club a few weeks ago and made a 6:30 pm dinner reservation for twelve and told the oldest daughter in Boston on the down low. She was all for it, we thought it would be fun to get out for a little and be fancy.

crab legs at the ready
what the boys want the boys get
check out Winston in the bottom left corner 🙂
not a fan of shots but whatever, it’s Christmas

Once the news started flowing through the ranks I was hit with heavy push-back. Our tradition has been a casual king crab leg kind of thing with lots of clarified hot butter, and the boys wanted in. In our world what the boys want the boys get, and funny, we usually do to. Thinking that when you give and give and give it comes back, maybe not in the way you anticipate but good things always seem to return when you put yourself out there and do things for others. 

And honestly, I kind of feel weird about being out and being served on a sacred holiday such as Christmas or Easter or even Mother’s Day, I always think the staff should be home with their loved ones, so in truth I was okay with keeping with our usual and staying in. 

It did mean I was busy from dawn to dawn, really only stopping for a workout and sleep, two things that are must-dos. I’m also now surrounded by adult off-spring, and they all pitched in to make magic happen. 

Christmas Eve cocktails and such, thank you Mary S for the pink bubbles
I like taking candids
EJ with two oldest grandsons, it can all be a blur…
sliced tenderloin, horseradish cream sauce, garnished with roasted tomatoes and parsley
when cooking I find leather pants are easy to give a good wipe too and sleeveless keeps me out of the sauce yet might set me up for arm burns, and I’ve got a few of those
Baked-Alaska didn’t quite look like Martha’s Tree, it was more like a pancake, we torched it anyway
kind of like an interactive art happening, it was good fun
I like to use simple white votives and small spring of evergreen to embellish the tables

For the food I put together a simple cheese tray garnished with figs and local Amish honey. Shrimp cocktail and gifted salted cashews from the new son-in-law’s parents, all served in the living room with kids on the floor and piled all around, it was divine. We did buffet style for dinner, a platter of those legs, asparagus risotto with truffle oil, sliced beef tenderloin with horseradish cream sauce and garnished with small roasted tomatoes still on the vine. Desert was Baked Alaska; it really didn’t freeze fully and kind of fell on the plate, yet it was delicious all the same. 

game playing after dinner, we never even cleared the cheese tray until later

At the table we played games and then moved into the living again for more games and the ubiquitous opening of all matching PJ’s and the reading of The Night Before Christmas by oldest son, simply magical. 

earlier in the week we had a casual kitchen dinner, pasta and salad. simple bowls of clementines for the centerpiece
I like to use Italian linen napkins, un-ironed. I filled the silver julep cups with sprigs of evergreens a few weeks ago, they don’t need much maintenance so that’s a good thing when you are busy
everyone lends a hand now
young women in the kitchen

Constant cooking and moving and doing is okay by me, I’m blessed by family and a husband that supports all my crazy activity, financially, emotionally, and physically, he truly is a modern day St Nick. 

Christmas Eve dinner table half-set, gold chargers from Wegman’s, $1.99 each
Christmas dinner table, here we used starched white linen napkins
many hands make light work
I always have Elizabeth and Mary design the place cards, here they used a red crayon and glued another sprig of evergreen to go with our theme

We’ve had a constant flow of humans in and out and at our table, and I truly couldn’t be happier. We’re all moving towards a new year and a new decade and I’ll continue to put out food and love from our kitchen. I guess if I had one message from all of this, I would encourage anyone to cook from the heart, and serve those they love. My heart is full, and my hands are raw, and that’s all good and okay. 

Christmas morning PJ’s
Christmas morning kitchen brunch
I started two pots of Beef Bourguignon early in the morning and it simmered all day long
buttered egg noodles underneath
forgot the chopped parsley
sweets for desert

With love and JOY, every day dress. 

It’s Go Time

white wine and glitter tablecloth
red wine lineup
we cooked these gorgeous shrimps in an amazing court bouillon and then plunged them into an ice bath
spinach salad with quinoa, feta, toasted almonds, pomegranate seeds and garnished with red onion

A week ago or two (who really knows what day it is?) dear friend and I hosted a small sit-down three course dinner for sixteen, eighteen including us. We did all the planning, shopping, cooking, baking, and brought in the top guns for serving. I’m really sorry I don’t have photos of the chocolate mousse cake with raspberry coulis and whipped cream, it was divine. The night was beautiful, and we celebrated beautiful women. 

we made the raviolis the day before and froze them on sheet trays lined with kitchen towels
working on the mushroom, white wine, and butter sauce
assembling and plating hand-made hand-cut mushroom ravioli
fourth daughter and friend helping with plating and serving, I always love having young people in the kitchen

My friend and I always feel most comfortable behind the scenes at a party, you can usually always find us in the kitchen. This go round we thoroughly enjoyed the process of creating a special meal for neighborhood friends to celebrate the holiday season. It was a labor of good will and love, and we had an unbelievably good time working and learning together, those raviolis were not the easiest.

Now it’s full tilt go time. I’m currently in the kitchen again getting Christmas Eve dinner together for twelve, Christmas morning brunch, and doing a special Beef Bourguignon for tomorrow evening for ten. Wishing you all many festive warm meals with those you love.

Merry Christmas.

Cutout Crazy

a small selection of my many cutters

I used to bake about a zillion different cookies, now at Christmas time I’ve narrowed down the repertoire to just three: cutouts, thumbprints, and Noel nut balls. Over the years the cutout recipe has evolved to No Fail Sugar Cookies, found at Kitchen Gifts, a great resource for unique cutouts hand shaped in the USA, cookie recipes, and baking and decorating tips. 

brides and bouquets I made for Caroline’s showers

The bride cookie for Caroline’s wedding showers was one of my favorites. To get clean edges I always chill the cutout shaped dough on the cookie sheets before baking. When frosting I always outline the cookie with royal icing piped from a pastry bag with a #2 tip. I then flood the entire surface, usually with simple white frosting, let it harden a bit and then decorate simply or with abandon.

large snowflakes, a little messy, it’s busy right now
I always outline first with a pastry bag of royal icing using a #2 tip
flood the entire surface with white icing

The large snowflakes I made just this week are simply one-color frosting, white, and embellished with colored sanding sugar. 

sanding sugar in the background

If your weekend plans include baking, enjoy.  

No Fail Sugar Cookies

This recipe is GREAT when using complex cookie cutters.  The dough holds its’ shape and won’t spread during baking.  
Make sure you let your oven preheat for at least 1/2 hour before baking these or any other cookies.

6 cups flour 
3 tsp. baking powder 
2 cups butter 
2 cups sugar 
2 eggs 
2 tsp. vanilla extract or desired flavoring (I like almond myself)
1 tsp. salt

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add eggs and vanilla.  Mix well. Mix dry ingredients and add a little 
at a time to butter mixture.  Mix until flour is completely incorporated and the dough comes together. 

Chill for 1 to 2 hours (or see Hint below) 

Roll to desired thickness and cut into desired shapes.  Bake on ungreased baking sheet at 350 
degrees for 8 to 10 minutes or until just beginning to turn brown around the edges.  This recipe 
can make up to 5-dozen 3” cookies.

HINT: Rolling Out Dough Without the Mess — Rather than wait for your cookie dough to 
chill, take the freshly made dough and place a glob between two sheets of parchment paper.  
Roll it out to the desired thickness then place the dough and paper on a cookie sheet and pop it into the refrigerator.  
Continue rolling out your dough between sheets of paper until you have used it all.  By the time you are finished, the 
first batch will be completely chilled and ready to cut.  Reroll leftover dough and repeat the process!  An added bonus 
is that you are not adding any additional flour to your cookies.

A few of my personal tips: use the best ingredients you can get your hands on, King Arthur flour, organic unsalted butter, free range eggs, Nielsen-Massey pure vanilla extract. Reroll the dough only once and scrap the rest. Make a huge batch of royal icing using an entire bag of confectioners’ sugar and 4 egg whites so you have enough to fill a pastry bag for outlining and a good supply for flooding. Rolling out the dough between parchment or waxed paper and refrigerating as above is genius, highly suggest. 

Every day dress, cutout crazy. 

This time of year Champagne makes everything better

breakfast scramble

scallions, greens, eggs, butter, bacon, cheese

On most mornings my two collegiate daughters and I try and get in as many greens as we can by way of scrambling them into our eggs. We start with sliced scallions and sauté them in butter until softened. Next comes shredded or chopped spinach, swiss chard, or whatever leafy thing we have on hand. Here you see some leftover crumbled bacon and grated gruyere. It all makes for a great wake-up and is scrambled up and dished out usually after a morning workout. Toast with mashed avocado and sliced tomatoes rounds things out nicely. 

eggs, greens, diluted orange juice

Yesterday while in Chicago I hit the gym early, walked to my meeting downtown, and had the breakfast that was provided. Not my usual, it was cheese pastry and sweetened yogurt with granola and a few berries, yet really anytime I am served I am most appreciative and simply go with the flow. 

picnic food

at the grill and table is set, Winston looking at the camera
the roasted fennel was a big hit, roasted red onions are great on sandwiches the next day
roasted zucchini with thyme, garlic, salt and pepper
marinade had apricot preserves, fresh ginger, garlic, scallions, soy sauce, so good…

Quick post: holiday weekend and wishing everyone a happy, safe 4th of July. You know I love food, yesterday we had a little kick-off gathering and I did some roasted vegetables, a big green salad with a simple vinaigrette, and some great barbecued chicken.

part of the easy buffet

I also did some marinated grilled flank steak, second son thought that was a nice switch-up. Baked off a bunch of blueberry pies, no photos, we were busy enjoying one another’s company.

Happy 4th.