Monday, January 22, 2018

A Tea Time Centerpiece

A number of you commented on my tea centerpiece when I showed you my "curious" table (that you can see here), so here's a closer look.
I have had this three-tiered stand for about 30 years. I bought it at a darling shop called Oak Tree Furniture on Historic Main Street in St. Charles. I mourned for weeks when that shop closed more than a dozen years ago. My mother and I used to visit it often, and when I spied this at the center of one of their lavishly decorated tables, I knew I had to have it. It has served me well over the years, largely holding greenery and grapes. But, lately, I've been using it as not only a centerpiece, but also a part of the meal. If you have one of those very popular galvanized metal three-tiered stands, you might consider this as well. I love it when a centerpiece does double duty.
Consider using it as an appetizer tray. You can showcase some of your favorite dishes, and fill them with fruits, nuts, cubes of cheese, small, hot baked appetizers, and use the lower level for small bottles of wine.
You can also use it as a salad tray, serving people a beautiful bed of freshly torn lettuce, and allowing them to choose their toppers from what you feature on your stand. You can use croutons, nuts, sunflower seeds, dried fruit, bacon crumbles, cubes of ham, shredded cheese, whatever you can dream up, you can put on your tray.
For holidays such as Valentine's Day, Easter, Halloween, or Christmas, where sweets are always featured, use it as a sweet tray. For Valentine’s Day, you can fill bowls with flowers, conversation hearts, chocolate candies, and heart-shaped cookies. Candy is in abundance at Easter time, so imagine how cute this would look filled with pastel colored vessels overflowing with jellybeans, chocolate eggs, malted milk eggs, or your homemade options.
The tray could be filled with spooky fun for Halloween. Use colors like black, brown, orange, and amber as your vessels, and fill them with all sorts of Halloween candy. The kids and your family will go crazy. At Christmas time, picture greenery, berries, small bowls of Christmas cookies (snowball are particularly popular), holiday candy, anything colorful and delicious. Now, if you don't have a three-tiered tray, my guess is you're going to be running out to buy one. Click below if you don't have one. They are so much fun to play around with.
Mine here is tea themed. It features sugar cubes of white and Demerara sugars, teabags in a variety of flavors, some squares of Ghirardelli chocolate (that taste so good with tea), some almond cookies, bowls to hold the goodies, cups for drinking tea, and a small bottle of spiced rum to warm up the tea as well as the insides of anyone who consumes it.

I hope you enjoyed looking at my tea tray. Let me know what you do with yours if you have one, or what you plan to do with one if it's in your future.

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Thursday, January 18, 2018

Mocha Chip Ice Cream

At the end of last year I made the announcement that I was no longer going to bake. I don't like baking, and life is too short to do things that you don't want to do. This is not to say that I won't be making biscuits, scones, and cookies, because life isn't worth living without biscuits, scones, and cookies; I love them. But, over the years, because I don't enjoy baking, I find that whenever I'm hosting a dinner, 50% of my stress comes from trying to think up a dessert to make, and then actually making that dessert. So, from now on, I am going to patronize some of the wonderful bakeries within a 5-mile radius of my home, of which there are plenty, for my desserts. You're welcome local merchants.

But just because I don't plan to bake does not mean that I'm not going to be serving some delicious homemade desserts of my own. Loads of yumminess can be made without baking. Case in point, this delicious Mocha Chip Ice Cream that is a breeze to assemble, with a decidedly high-end taste, not to mention heavenly!

I used an
ice cream maker, but you really don't have to, you can pour this mixture into a loaf pan and pop it into your freezer. In order to keep the chocolate chips from settling to the bottom, let it freeze for a while before you add them, then fold them in, and put it back into the freezer. This is so good that you are not going to want to share.
Mocha Chip Ice Cream

1 tablespoon espresso powder
1 tablespoon KahlĂșa
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 14-oz can Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

Dissolve espresso powder in KahlĂșa; stir in vanilla. In a medium mixing bowl whisk together sweetened condensed milk and heavy cream, fold in espresso mixture. Pour mixture into your
ice cream maker and process according to manufacturer's directions. During the last minute or two of processing, pour in chocolate chips. Turn out into a freezer safe container, and freeze until firm.

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Tuesday, January 16, 2018

A "Curious" Table

Even though I admit that I am feeling a lot better after my recent bout with the flu, it really did take a lot out of me. It also made me realize, sadly, that I'm not a kid anymore. In my younger days, I used to be able to bounce back rather quickly. These days I'm finding that I can hardly bounce at all! Being down has also put me off my food, if you can imagine that. I've been getting by on big pots of soup in the crockpot, have been drinking lots of juice, and sitting around the house. Pretty dull, right?
So, today, instead of getting a recipe, you're going to get another table setting. I'm sure I'm not going to hear any complaints, I know how you all like table settings, and, truth be told, I like them too.

I kicked off the New Year with a very simple table featuring plates from the Old Curiosity Shop pattern. Someone had suggested that I do an entire table with these plates, and that's what I've done today.
I find these plates are best suited for the winter months, but they also work very well when serving tea at any time of the year. 
Today's table is a truly winter one because it is near zero outside, and I decided to make my centerpiece one with a tea theme, because tea and juice have pretty much become my life lately. It's handy to have everything needed right in the center of the table.
I hope you enjoy these dishes as much as I do. What I love about this pattern, as I mentioned earlier in the year, is that each plate has a different image on it, so it's like owning lots of different sets of dishes. I also love transferware and love the color green, so the set was right up my alley.
These can be layered with any color dish in order to make it more or less colorful depending upon the season. I chose to stick with green and white here.
I've provided some close ups so that you can see the interesting detail on each plate. I love the hinges around the cups and the dinner plates. This is truly one of my favorite sets of dishes.
 White Chargers – Pier One
Dinnerware – Amazon, eBay
Flatware – Oneida
Wine Glasses – La Rochere

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Monday, January 15, 2018

Spinach Artichoke Crustless Quiche

Inasmuch as I hate to admit it, I don't seem to be out of the woods with this flu. It seemed to rear its ugly head over the weekend, and my scratchy throat and pounding headache have returned. What a bore! As a consequence, while I am still cooking, I try to make dishes that are as easy as possible, and will stretch over a period of days. I really had a craving for spinach mushroom dip and quiche, so decided to combine the two in the form of a crustless quiche. I love things that are minimal effort, with a delicious result. This was certainly it. And, with a yield of six servings, my weekly menu is planned. 
Spinach Artichoke Crustless Quiche

1 tablespoon butter
1-1/2 tablespoons seasoned breadcrumbs
1 10-oz. pkg. frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1 14.75-oz. jar marinated artichokes (I use Cara Mia), chopped
1 cup shredded Fontina
1 cup shredded Gruyere
4 large eggs
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup whole milk
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 350°F.

Butter a 9-10 deep-dish pie pan or quiche dish, then sprinkle all over with breadcrumbs.

Carefully layer spinach, artichokes, and cheeses over crumbs in pie/quiche pan; set aside.

In a medium mixing bowl whisk together eggs, cream, milk, and pepper.  Pour slowly over the cheeses. Bake until top is golden and custard is set in center, 45-55 minutes. Cool slightly before cutting into wedges.

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Saturday, January 13, 2018

Slow Cooker Baked Potato Soup

Wow! That was some bout with the flu! I am finally, at long last, beginning to feel back to normal. I have a bit of energy, as well as ambition, and I say a hearty welcome to both!

One of the difficult things about living alone is that, when you get sick, you have no one to care for you. You can't feebly ask for a glass of juice from your sick bed. Nope, you've got to get that glass of juice yourself. You also have to make sure that you stay hydrated, and fed, because both of these things are important to recovery.

Well, I may live alone, but I have a wonderful housemate in the form of my trusty crockpot. I got through two weeks of the flu on two big batches of soup, the first I shared with you
here; the second is below. As you can well imagine, when you're sick you don't feel like doing a thing, so the slow cooker comes in particularly handy at these crucial times.

This recipe requires a tiny bit of work in making a roux to add to the soup near the end, but other than that, it's pretty easy to put together. You've probably seen a number of recipes for crockpot potato soup, mine is different in that I leave the skin on the potatoes. Most of the nutrition in a potato is contained in the skin, and when you're unwell (or really at any time), why throw that nutrition away?

This delicious soup got me through my last week of suffering, and now I'm looking forward to making something I can actually chew. Stay tuned!
Slow Cooker Baked Potato Soup

1 3-lb. bag
Melissa’s Dutch Baby Yellow Potatoes, scrubbed and quartered
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
6 slices bacon, cooked and rough chopped
1 tablespoon dried parsley
3 cups chicken broth
4 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup sour cream
Salt and pepper to taste

Place potatoes, onion, garlic, bacon, parsley, and chicken broth into the slow cooker. Season with salt and pepper, and stir to combine. Cook for 6-8 hours on low or 3-4 hours on high, until the potatoes are fork tender.

Once the soup has cooked, melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium/low heat; whisk in flour until completely combined. Gradually add the cream, whisking until smooth. Allow mixture to cook until thickened. Add the milk-flour mixture to the slow cooker and stir to combine.

Using a fork or potato masher, mash potatoes until chunky.

Stir in the cheddar and sour cream. Taste for seasoning. Continue cooking the soup on low for 30 minutes or on high for 15 minutes. Serve, garnished with additional cheddar and bacon.

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Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Slow Cooker Flu-Fighting Chicken Enchilada Soup

As I mentioned in the last couple of blog posts (that I struggled to produce), I was down with the flu for a couple of weeks. Every morning as I lie in bed unable to right myself, I cursed the ineffectiveness of flu shots. I get a flu shot every year; the last two years I've also gotten the flu. What’s with that?

I’ve gotten wiser over the past couple of years, namely when I feel a sore throat coming on (always a flu precursor), I know what’s ahead, and spring into action making a big pot of soup in the crockpot. Boy, was I glad that I did, because I ate this soup five days in a row. It was a struggle to eat at all, but I knew the importance of this, and, day after day when I could barely put one foot in front of the other I was so glad that I had this waiting for me in the fridge.
It improves with age, it seemed to anyway, but who am I to judge, really? My sense of taste was shot after a while.

This is easy to put together, essentially you just throw everything into the crockpot. I'd like to say that it makes the house smell spicy, warm, and wonderful, but having had absolutely no sense of smell you can’t prove it by me. There's a lot of good stuff in this soup, with the chicken, the tomatoes (that I seemed to crave), chicken stock, and warm spices. One day, when I was feeling particularly ambitious, I served the soup over a scoop of rice, and it made a very hearty and satisfying meal. When you're down with a cold or the flu, all you want is comfort, and this is comfort in a bowl.

Slow Cooker Flu-Fighting Chicken Enchilada Soup

1 28-oz. can crushed tomatoes
3 cups chicken stock
1 16-oz. can kidney beans, drained
1 15.5-oz. can black beans, drained
1 15-oz. can creamed corn corn
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 T. chili powder
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
3/4 tsp. ground cumin
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. dried cilantro

Mix all ingredients together in slow cooker. Cook on low for 5 hours. At the end of the cooking time, remove the chicken from the crock pot, shred and return to the pot. Serve topped with a squeeze of lime juice, and garnish as you see fit. For a heartier meal, serve atop a scoop of rice.

Monday, January 8, 2018

The Remedy

This is a post from three years ago, that certainly bears repeating. I imbibed a good bit of this stuff during my battle with the plague and it really did help.
I remember my mother telling me once, after emerging from a rather debilitating bout with the flu, that she felt so bad she thought she'd have to rally to die. Oh, boy, do I get that. Things started going south for me about a week ago. I'm talking way south. Like Antarctica south. What began as sniffles blossomed into a colossal headache, clogged sinuses, and sleepless night after sleepless night of relentless coughing. I plowed through boxes of tissues, drank gallons of tea, and watched a lot of Hallmark movies. I went from having my authoritative, sexy, big girl voice, to having the voice of a cartoon character, to no voice at all. In my late night bouts with delirium I started thinking aboutThe Waltons.  Yep, momma, daddy, John-Boy, the lot. I began to think about the Baldwin Sisters and the recipe, which ultimately reminded me that I had a recipe of my own.

It's an old folk remedy, but since I'm an old folk, umm, person, I can probably claim it as well as anyone. It's a cough calmer consisting of three common ingredients: honey, lemon, and gin.  My recipe makes 8 doses, and unlike the chemically-laden cough suppressants sold in drug stores, you can take this as often as needed.

There is actually science behind this combination. Gin is an effective expectorant. Lemon provides vitamin C that may strengthen the immune system. Honey has been found to be an effective cough suppressant.  Both lemon and honey have antimicrobial properties (significant ability to inhibit the growth of microbes that can cause infection). Nothing can shorten the duration of a cold, but this can treat the symptoms.

Not fond of the taste of gin?  Me neither, and I'm not all that keen on honey, but when these three ingredients come together, the taste is rather extraordinary and it goes down smooth. It is NOT, I repeat, NOT intended for children or anyone who has issues with alcohol. It is soothing, cough calming, and can help you sleep. 

Cough Remedy
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice*
2 tablespoons good (local if you have it) honey
2 tablespoons gin

Stir ingredients together until the honey completely dissolves and is incorporated. Store in refrigerator until needed. Can easily be doubled, tripled, etc.

1 tablespoon = 1 dose

*I use my own home grown (a potted tree that I recommend everyone own) Meyer Lemons. If you don't have your own, please use fresh, organic lemons. I suggest