Dinner was Served

It has been a week since Curt and I were shopping and cleaning and prepping for our Foodie Group dinner. But last Saturday did finally arrive. There were a few minor blips like forgetting the salad forks (my husband suddenly turned into Emily Post as the salad was served) and not spreading the vegetables out on the dinner plates (that remaining empty area next to the potatoes looked like we missed something). But everything tasted good and there was a lot of lively conservation and laughter, so I think it was a success.

We got so caught up in the cooking and plating and serving that I didn’t take any pictures but here is my table setting. It was fun having the dinner on Valentine’s Day.

tableAnd I know I was being coy about the menu last week but now that all is finished, this is what was served.

UntitledThe salad was very good, the potatoes were interesting, the carrots and beets could have been more attractive though they tasted good, the meat was fine but not special and maybe a little overdone. I could have had a 2nd and a 3rd of dessert but restrained myself. But in my opinion, the star of the evening was the chowder. Curt based the chowder on an escargot/mushroom appetizer he had at Le Petit Chatelet when we were in Paris. This restaurant is right next to the famous “Shakespeare and Company Bookstore.” You can get a glimpse of it in the last seconds of Woody Allen’s movie, “Midnight in Paris.”

credit: Paris for Epicureans, 2014

credit: Paris for Epicureans, 2014

In Paris, Curt’s soup/chowder appetizer arrived with a puff pastry on top and was quite amazing.  Hidden under the puff pastry crust was a rich escargot and mushroom chowder.

Escargot en Croute: le Petit Chatelet, Paris

Escargot en Croute: le Petit Chatelet, Paris

We tried doing the puff pastry top but that was pretty much a failure so our version had puff pastry croutons instead. And since snails are not a widely shared taste treat in our group, Curt used side-stripe shrimp and sea scallops instead. It was truly wonderful. Sorry about the lack of photo but here is the recipe we served.

Seafood & Wild Mushroom Chowder after le Petit Chatelet
serves 6

1 quart corn stock
Mushrooms: 1/2 c. Chanterelle, 1/4 c. Morel,
3/4 c. Chicken of the Woods, 3/4 c. Brown Beech  – all cut into bite-sized pieces
1 large shallot, minced
4 large sea scallops, quartered
12 small shrimp, we used side stripe
1 c. heavy cream
3 c. seafood stock (Swanson’s or homemade)
white pepper
salt
saffron, pinch
2 T. flour
2 T. olive oil
2 T. butter
1 dash hot pepper sauce, like Frank’s

Saute chanterelles in 2 T olive oil till tender, add 2 T. flour and cook to make roux. Add 1 T. butter & remaining mushrooms and saffron.  Cook I minute, stirring. Add corn & seafood stock. Stir to incorporate roux. Simmer 20 minutes. (to this point all can be done ahead)

Add scallops, shrimp & hot pepper sauce, cook 5 minutes.
Add cream & 1 T. butter, bring to a light simmer.

Serve with puff pastry croutons & a drizzle of shellfish oil.

For croutons, just buy a commercial puff pastry. Cut dough into 3/4 inch squares and bake according to directions on the box.

Shellfish oil is made by combining a pile of shrimp, lobster. or crab shells in a sauce pan with 1/2 C. grape seed or canola oil, 1Tbs. tomato paste and 1/2 tsp. of smoked paprika.  Saute for 10 minutes.  Remove from heat and let sit until cool.  Strain out the shell bits and reserve the oil for garnish on chowder or soup.

Note: We had corn stock that we made at the end of last summer from fresh corn cobs after we cut off the corn kernels for freezing.

Hope your Valentine’s Day was as fun as ours.

 

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Guests arrive in Twenty-Six Hours

rose2I usually use this blog to talk about the aftermath of a successful meal or dinner party. However, right now I am caught up in the whirlwind of preparation for the Foodies Group dinner this coming Saturday so taking a breath and talking about what’s happening seemed like a perfect break from the action. Tomorrow will definitely be crazier as we get close to opening the door to our guests so you won’t be hearing from me for days.

The past week has been taken up with the heavier cleaning, like the floors. But that is good, because if I didn’t invite guests over every other month or so, I’d just put off the major clean up and clutter purge till spring. And it’s not like the dust is an inch thick but the papers, books, magazines, mail, etc. really starts to take over tables, counters, chairs, the floor.

Another big project this week was the shopping. I think we went over our recipes 5 times, bought the meat last Friday, did a big shop yesterday and still found out this morning that we were out of honey. So while I finished dessert prep, Curt made a final run to the grocery. When he got home he mentioned it was a good thing we picked up our flowers yesterday because today every mother’s son is buying flowers for Saturday…oh didn’t I mention, we chose Valentine’s Day for our dinner. But it will be fun and I have a color theme to work with, those red roses in the opening banner will give you a hint.

stockThis morning Curt was already working on his fish stock for the chowder, and even I, the non fish lover, thought it gave the house a nice bistro-like fragrance.

shrimpOnce I finished my breakfast it was my turn in the kitchen. I don’t do much food prep when we have these dinners; I’m the ambience and logistics manager, but with Curt doing five dishes I said I would take on dessert. At first, there was a lot of lobbying for tiramasu. After all it is Valentine’s Day and that is a luscious sweet. But I discovered the new cookbook we are using, Plenty More by Yotam Ottolenghi did not just have wonderful vegetable dishes but also desserts.dessertI found one that could be made ahead and assembled just before serving. Perfect. Consequently, my food contribution is already complete.

cherreisNow all I have left today is the vacuuming, tomorrow is the table setting, the bathroom, dishes from food prep, a shower, the wine, the appetizers……wheh! I need a nap just thinking about it. How did we ever do these dinners when we were working fulltime? And where did those dirty dishes come from?

cleanBtw, if it seems like I am being coy about what we are serving, I am. It really isn’t a big secret but it is fun to surprise our friends and I believe they might read this before arriving tomorrow.

Between Holidays

Between Christmas and the New Year I love to work on jigsaw puzzles. I bought one this year and put it under the tree for me (no one else quite has my passion), but I was surprised by my sweetie with two more puzzles. I’m set for the winter or at least until mid-January. You see, I get a bit fanatical when it comes to jigsaw puzzles. Once one is on the table, ready to go, I can’t keep my hands off of it. I visit it many times during the day and in the evening while watching television I continue to put pieces together.

The first one I tackled this year was a picture of candy wrappers. I started Sunday during the Green Bay Packer division championship game. This was a good choice as the game was exciting but turning over 1000 pieces was boring. Turning the pieces is the worst part of doing a puzzle.

The Turning of the Pieces

The Turning of the Pieces

And of course they didn’t all fit on the table so box lids and cookie trays had to be added.

End of Day One

End of Day One

By the end of Day One, I had all the damn pieces turned over, the border done and a few of the major color blocks in.

Day Two had me visiting the table often. So by the time my back gave out and my eyelids wouldn’t stay up I had made some significant progress, in spite of a MAJOR puzzle faux-pas. If you have worked a jigsaw puzzle you know that one of the keys to the solution is the cover art on the box. Unless you have a specialized puzzle that warns you ahead of time that this will be 3D when you are done, or not a rectangle or whatever, you take it on faith that the cover picture represents the completed puzzle. With this one I kept finding colors and words that didn’t match up with the box. Okay, a bigger challenge than I originally thought. Onward!

End of Day Two: more major blocks of color take shape.

End of Day Two: more major blocks of color take shape.

 

Plus a few ready to be added on Day Three

Plus a few ready to be added on Day Three

Day Three. Major push day. I am totally hooked. The cover trick is making me a bit crazy but it’s not enough to dampen my spirit. Instead I am ready to conquer this sucker. Mid-day I pull up a chair, plug-in an audio book and attack. By the end of Day Three I am seeing major light at the end of the tunnel, except for that squirrelly spot in the upper right and a few spots in the middle.

Day Three. Woo-hoo!

Day Three. Woo-hoo!

Day Four was trips to the store for on various errands, some straightening up around the house, etc. but in between the necessities of life I would wander over to the puzzle and put in a piece here, a piece there. By evening I had maybe 35 pieces left and those went fast.

Day Four. Done!

Day Four. Done!

So tonight is New Year’s Eve. The puzzle will go back in the box and I will eat, drink, make merry…watch a movie, bang some pots at midnight but no puzzling…well, maybe tomorrow.

For those of you who would like to compare the box to the finished piece, here is a scan of the cover. 10 candies from the box weren’t in the puzzle, 11 different candies were in the puzzle and 3 were in completely different locations.

Cover of box

Cover of box

It’s Halloweeeeen!!!!!

paprpunkies

“By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes”
Macbeth -William Shakespeare

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I love that quote for so many reasons. It is said by the witches in Macbeth who evidently can detect evil in the crackling of their thumbs. How marvelous. It’s like knowing something is going to happen because the hair on the back of your neck (or your thumbs) is standing up. Or that shivery feeling you have when it’s night and you’re curled up in bed reading a Stephen King novel and… you suddenly need to either get up and turn on another light or put the book down and pull the covers over your head.

Ray Bradbury used this quote for the title of his book, Something Wicked this Way Comes.  The story, about a nightmarish carnival coming to a small Midwestern town during the month of October, is a beautiful mix of horror and fantasy.  And it is one of my favorites, not just because it is a wonderful story but how can you not love characters named William Halloway (born one minute before midnight on October 30) and Jim Nightshade (born one minute after midnight on October 31)?  So Halloween being my favorite holiday, yeah, I like this book alot?

So with the best holiday upon us I have just finished my traditional carving of the pumpkins. They are my wards against the dark, against the bumps in the night. They are the sentinels that will guard my door when the wall between the spirit world and our world becomes thin and the spirits can cross over more easily.

Seriously, it’s just fun. Here are this year’s Pumpkin Jacks! Stand strong fellows!

And those guys up top? Paper pumpkins I made for a local group of 3rd and 4th graders.

Morning after Trick or Treat

Morning after Trick or Treat

I love Halloween!

I love Halloween!

Three Punks

Three Punks

Glow Little Glowworm

fwTonight is the night America shoots off millions of dollars worth of fireworks. I’ve always enjoyed the fireworks displays on the 4th even though it’s been years since we have gone to the city center to see the “big show”. We did it on a regular basis when Nathan was little. For many years a friend of ours lived just a few blocks away from the mouth of the Fox River where they shot them off. We would park at her house then walk over with our lawn chairs and sit in a parking lot behind a warehouse.  A couple of years we should have brought umbrellas because the incoming shrapnel was pretty impressive. Huge chunks flying out of the air, and some of them still hot, practically landed in our laps. My son brought home some impressive souvenirs. Other years we would drive down to a park on the bayshore to the east of the city and watch the fireworks over the water. That was pretty cool because they would reflect in the water thus giving us a double show.

As we all got older, Curt wasn’t much interested in going out so it was just Nathan and I, parking along the road or going out on a pier near the University.

Then there was our roof phase. We live on a hill about four miles from the bay of Green Bay. There are no houses or buildings across from our house, just a big field and some trees. We can see a pretty wide expanse of the horizon. Even from the ground we can see fireworks in the air from all the little towns up and down the shore. But up on the roof of our house we could also see over the trees and see Green Bay’s big fireworks’ show.

Tonight, around 9:30, after we returned home from a friend’s house the explosions and the fire in the sky was in fine form. The trees here have gotten pretty tall over the years and I am getting a little old for roof sitting so I thought I would just take a walk down our road and see what I could see.

What happened was very surprising and unexpected, I saw nature’s fireworks – fireflies.  Certainly not as many as I would see when I was a kid, but definitely Fireflies! So cool! There were about 10 to 20 all along the road in the ditch and the nearby field.

credit: Interpolations

credit: Interpolations

I haven’t seen fireflies in years. I had heard that pesticides and loss of habitat and light pollution have caused a great decline in their numbers. When I was a kid living in Chicago the night was filled with “glowworms” in July. My Dad would punch air holes in the lid of a jar for us and then my sister and I would run around, catch the fireflies and put them in the jar. It was our  little “lantern.”

credit: jamelah e./Flickr

credit: jamelah e./Flickr

So tonight, seeing those little lights flickering in the grass just brought all those memories back. It was just wonderful. But I hope catching all those fireflies wasn’t one of the causes of their decline, I don’t remember us letting them go.

Ma’s Canned Pears

Canned Pears

Canned Pears

Last week was Easter and we regaled you with our salmon and pork chop duel. However I neglected to finish off the post with the dessert we had that day. Desserts are rare around here. The only time we really get serious about dessert is when we have guests. For the most part our desserts are never interesting enough to share. I’ll get some Ben & Jerry’s sorbet and add a cookie or two. Or maybe it will be a bowl of fruit with agave syrup drizzled on top but this was Easter and we wanted to do something special. Curt remembered we had some canned pears dated 2010, still within a safe time frame.

We do not have pear trees but Curt’s folks had a pear tree which was very prolific. Curt’s Dad, Harold, always had a huge garden and Curt’s Mom, Jane, was a canner. In the fall when everything was getting ripe there was always a flurry of jars and lids and rings and hot water baths and pressure cooking going on in her kitchen. This had lessened over the years because the four kids had grown up and moved out a long time ago so there weren’t as many mouths to feed. Also in her last years Jane developed some dementia so it wasn’t  a wise idea to have her coordinating the incredible process of peeling and coring and blanching and fire and water that resulted in a pantry stocked with fruit and vegetables. However, they still couldn’t see all that good produce go to waste and probably together still did a few quarts of chowder and dill pickles. Harold died in August 2010. Curt’s sister, Mary, moved in with Mom until a suitable living arrangement could be found. In the meantime the garden kept ripening and the trees kept producing their fruit. The pear tree was loaded. Jane insisted on canning the pears and Curt’s sister had no choice but to join in, supervise and basically do it all since Jane was becoming increasingly forgetful.

The following April (2011) Jane, the canner joined Harold, the gardener and the children cleaned up the estate and divided up the more recent canned food, which included the pears.

When we opened the sealed jars last week, the pears were firm, had good color and taste. Curt wondered if, like a pineapple upside-down cake, there might be a pear equivalent and sure enough the internet came through again. Thus I give you:

Caramel Pear Upside Down Cake (modified from a modified recipe)

Ingredients:
1/2 C dark brown sugar
1/4 C unsalted butter
2-3 ripe pears, peeled, cored and sliced (or a pint and a half of Jane’s canned pears)
1 C flour
2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1 C granulated sugar
3 medium-sized eggs
1/2 C plain yogurt or sour cream
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 C vegetable oil

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9″ cake pan, then put a round piece of parchment paper in the bottom.

In a small pan, melt the butter and brown sugar over a medium heat. While the butter and sugar are melting, arrange the pears in the pan. Once the butter and sugar are melted, carefully pour over the pears.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. In a bowl, beat the eggs, sugar, yogurt, vanilla and oil. When the wet ingredients are well combined, gently mix them into the dry. Do not over mix.

Pour the batter over the pears and caramel topping. Bake for 45-50 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean from the center.  Allow to cool in the pan completely.
cake

Now the tricky part. When cool, place a plate on top of the pan and turn it over to release it from the pan. Peal off the parchment paper. If for some reason a pear sticks to the paper, gently remove and place it back where its supposed to be. No one will know the difference. Ours didn’t stick!

Wa-La!

Wa-La!

Serve each slice with a dollop of whipped cream. Thanks Jane and Mary, the cake was delicious.

Let’s Eat! Sunday Dinner Follow-up

The wait is over. Here is what we did with the salmon, the loin chop and the rest of the meal.

My Mom is ready to eat.

My Mom is ready to eat.

The salmon was marinated in charmoula sauce and then cooked on the grill.

salmon w/ charmoula

salmon w/ charmoula

Charmoula is a tart marinade for fish which we use on eggplant. Today we used it on fish.

CHARMOULA

1 clove garlic
1 tsp.sweet paprika
pinch hot paprika
3/4 tsp  ground cumin
3 Tbls finely chopped cilantro
3 Tbls finely chopped parsley
3 Tbls fresh lemon juice
1/2 C extra virgin olive oil

Whisk  all of the ingredients together and drizzle about half over the salmon. Reserve the remainder for the table. Let salmon sit 30 minutes. Curt grilled the salmon on a plank.

Fresh from the grill

Fresh from the grill

Along with the salmon we had asparagus, roasted tomatoes, deviled eggs and cheddar popovers. I was the  person assigned the starch for the meal and I naturally started thinking potatoes, rice or pasta. But sitting in Barnes and Noble, drinking coffee and browsing magazines I came upon this popover recipe. Too cheap to buy the magazine, I scrounged through my purse for a piece of paper and copied it out.  Popovers are a bit scary for me because I never think they are going to poof up but these poofed fine even if they weren’t as cheesy as I would have liked.

Hot popovers

Hot popovers

CHEDDAR POPOVERS

4 large eggs and 2 egg whites
1 3/4 C  milk
1 1/2 C  flour
3/4 tsp salt
1 C  finely grated xtra sharp cheddar
2 Tbls butter

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Put empty popover pans in the oven.

Meanwhile whisk together eggs, whites, milk, flour and salt. Stir in cheddar, set aside.

After the pans have been in the hot oven for about 10 minutes, remove pans, brush cups with butter and put in batter. Return to oven. Bake 25 – 30 minutes. Cut a small slit in each popover and return to oven for an additional 10 minutes. Remove, serve hot. Good as is, better, spread with butter. ( Note: With the cheese my popovers were pretty brown after the initial 25 minutes so I turned off the oven for the additional 10 minutes. Also I had to loosen them with a knife to get them out of the pan so put in plenty of butter of maybe a non-stick spray)

But where you ask is that huge smoked pork loin chop? It was fully cooked so a quick heat through in a pan had it ready in minutes. Truth be told, Curt was going to put it on the grill with the salmon but he forgot. Lucky  for him it didn’t take long on the stove. It was great and plenty leftover for a second meal.

Leftovers for sure.

Leftovers for sure.

How was your Easter dinner?

Rabbit Food or What to Have for Easter Dinner

Holiday dinners. Thanksgiving is always turkey. Christmas is always lasagna. But there are no expectations for Easter around here. Easter may be a high church holiday, pretty major for Christians in the scheme of things but for us it has never been a family gathering kind of day. When our son was little it was fun to color the eggs and hide them with the baskets and other goodies. After church we would find out if we were clever or if everything was discovered in 5 minutes. Usually one or two eggs found good hiding places. And of course it was very important that Dad (who usually was the designated Easter Bunny) remembered where he stashed everything.  You don’t want to find one of those hard-boiled eggs 6 months later.

Well my son is grown and for the last couple of years it has been impossible for him to get home. This year it will be my mother and a friend for dinner. We are not ham eaters for the most part. I like ham but no one else was ever interested and buying a big ham that only I would eat was impractical to say the least. Our fallback is usually chicken.

About a week ago Curt spotted some sockeye salmon in the grocery and knowing that my Mom enjoys salmon he bought some, not thinking of Easter because I don’t eat fish. Okay, I will have a piece of perch now and then and I like scallops and shrimp but those are really not fish. But the more we thought about what to have the more the salmon seemed to be the obvious choice.

salmon2

Three of the four diners would have a wonderful time. I would just ignore them and eat the asparagus and the cheddar popovers and the deviled eggs…unless…I could find an easy to prepare single serving of something just for me.

Flash back to Wednesday and a day trip to Wausau,Wisconsin (about 100 miles one way) to an art museum. Between here and there is a great meat market called Nueske’s. Their applewood smoked bacon is nationally known. Curt wanted to stop to pick up some wieners and a smoked duck breast. Inside, this place smells incredibly good and it was obvious what most people eat on Easter because there was a bunker full of hams, which the clerk said she had filled three times already that day. However they were all huge so I bypassed the bunker and that’s when Curt called me over to the deli case. There they were, in all their porky goodness, smoked pork loin chops.

chop

Dinner is now complete. No rabbit food on our table we are all carnivores and proud of it. Watch for the follow-up post to see how it all worked on Sunday.

No Love Lost, Just Feathers

Valentine’s Day morning. Love is in the air.

A thump! The beating of two hearts in perfect unison?

Below our window, in the snow……an explosion of feathers.

an explosion of feathers!

Blood in the snow…..

dove2

But where are the star-crossed lovers?

hawk

Cuddling under the tree? Sorry, a Cooper’s Hawk and a Mourning Dove do not make good bedfellows. But I’m guessing the hawk will be loving his breakfast. Be happy as a hawk today.

We get Crafty

Tis the season to be crafty or so I gather from my friends who all seem to be on Pinterest. I am not sure what Pinterest is because I fear it may be another one of those computer time suckers and I let the computer suck too much of my time now. So for now, I am steering clear. However, on our own both Curt and I got crafty this holiday season. It’s probably because we are cheap or maybe that we have some extra time on our hands  (those extra hours I didn’t let the computer suck up!) but for minimal money we came up with some nice decorations.

First was the wreath. We have a large wall in our dining/porch area which usually has a large photograph on it and it has been the place where our Christmas tree usually stands. The picture goes into temporary storage. I have been trying to get away with not having a tree so last year I cut red dogwood, put it in a big vase, with lights and balls on it and called it my Christmas tree. Oh the whining! Mostly from my son -who doesn’t live at home but visits on the holidays- and my mother – who just comes over for Christmas Eve. My mother was so distraught last year she stopped at St. Vincent DePaul and bought a 3 foot fake tree and brought it along. It was one of those trees I affectionately call, toilet brush trees. Lovely. So this year we decided to substitute a big wreath for the tree. We would need one between 28 -36 inches in diameter to look good on this wall. I checked shops in town, too small for anything with natural materials, too fake for anything of any decent size. I checked online. A 36 inch wreath with natural plants would cost me between $50 – $80 before shipping. Curt to the rescue. He first bought a base wreath made of grapevine at a local craft store ($6) and some artificial red berries ($4). Then he walked around our yard and cut red dogwood, grapevine, juniper, yew and arborvitae branches. Stuck the dogwood into the base wreath and wired on the greens and berries. Voilà!!!

Wreath detail

Wreath detail

wreath

My turn. I had recently been to a friend’s house and she had a star made of grapevine hanging in her tree. It looked so natural and rustic and I like the idea of having subtle decorations hanging in trees outside. She had purchased this one but by the time I started searching for items like this they were pretty much sold out already. I forget I have to start planning my Christmas decor about a month before Halloween. Crafty Curt suggested wire stars. To accomplish this in a relatively simple way he made me a board with 5 nails positioned in the 5 points of the star. One for a 4 inch star, one for a 5 inch star and one for a 6 inch star. Then just like you draw a 5 point star with a line, I wound wire around the nails.

Star making board

Star making board

So I got all excited, made about 8 stars right away and hung them outside. And ran inside, looked out……and you couldn’t see them at all! Wire stars, even 6 inch wire stars just disappear in all the black sticks and twigs of the tree. Back to the drawing board or rather back to the piles of craft supplies I have amassed over the years where I found a ball of raffia. So back outside,  I collected all the stars, roughly wrapped them with raffia and hung them back up. This time they were visible and what’s great is they will look fine through the winter. Chickadees perched near by make them look even cuter.

star2s

star1

star3

Are we worthy of Pinterest?

And as to the issue of having a tree this year… will the wreath be a sufficient substitute?  Could we put the gifts on a table under the wreath? No. I caved. I  went out and got a real 3 foot tree just in case my mother is working on her own craft project with toilet brushes.