Keep the Home Fires Burning

… Said the soldier to his wife yesterday:

“Thanks for keeping the home fires burning and for always being happy to see me when I come home.”

Merry Christmas to all the families who keep the home fires burning for their loved ones who are deployed and won’t be home for Christmas. And, thank you to those who serve our country so we can all live free.

Peace on earth, goodwill to men.

Christmas Cranberry Biscotti

I love anything cranberry and anything biscotti. Now, in time for Christmas, along comes cranberry biscotti. It’s so simple to make because it starts with box of Pillsbury Cranberry Quick Bread. I want to hurry and write it in my blog so the recipe can live here in case they decide to not print it on the box anymore.

It’s so good and so easy and I just made two batches to add to my cookie platters.  I reserved two pieces for my morning coffee. I’m going to bed so I can hurry and wake up and enjoy it. Et tu biscotti!

Cranberry Biscotti

  • 1 package (15.6 oz) Pillsbury Cranberry Quick Bread Mix
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup white baking chips
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 cups white baking chips, melted

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Coat large baking sheet with parchment paper. Combine quick bread mix, butter and eggs in large bowl. Stir 50 to 75 strokes with spoon until mix is moistened (dough will be stick). Stir in 1/2 cup white baking chips.

Turn dough out onto lightly-floured work surface. Shape into ball, adding flour as necessary to prevent sticking. Divide dough in half; place on prepared baking sheet. Shape each half into 9 x 3-inch loaf, placing four inches apart. Flatten tops slightly.

Bake 24-28 minutes or until light golden brown. Cool 15 minutes. Cut each loaf into 3/4” slices. Place slices upright on the same baking sheet. Bake an additional 13-16 minutes or until golden brown. Cool 10 minutes. Drizzle with melted white chocolate chips. Freezes well.

 

No-Bake Christmas Cookies

My mom always made these cookies at Christmas. I have no idea where the recipe came from, I only know it as hers. They are easy to make and require no baking. The result is a rich coconut-date-nut ball that everyone loves. You can make them ahead and freeze them. I hope you enjoy them as much as my family does. (My son still thinks there is chocolate in them!)

No-Bake Coconut-Date-Nut Balls

  • 1-1/2 cup chopped dates
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs, slightly beaten
  • ½ cup butter or margarine

Cook the above ingredients in a large saucepan on medium heat until thick…about 10 minutes after the butter melts and all is bubbly. Stir to prevent sticking and burning.

Add:

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 cups Rice Krispies cereal
  • 1 cup nuts

Form into balls and roll in coconut. Chill. Freezes well.

Let Your Table Whisper “We’re Glad You’re Here”

Setting the table for Christmas Eve dinner is never an afterthought for me. I do it even before I start cooking. It’s the whimsical part of creating a festive atmosphere to say welcome to family and friends when they sit down to eat.

I had some fun tonight. I created the centerpiece for the table. I started with a gold mat. I found a gold mosaic bowl from the clearance table at Pier 1 and put a red sparkly candle in the bowl and surrounded it with clear/gold stones and fresh cranberries. I then accessorized the bowl with gold and red Christmas picks, sparkly fruit, punctuated with gold star and snowflake ornaments.

This week as you go along in your travels in stores and around your house, look for things that might make a pretty tablescape.

  • Take a pretty tray or basket, place several votive candles on/in it and accent with some greens and ribbons.
  • Always use candles of some kind for the Christmas meal.
  • If your dining table is a farm-type table or more informal, use a colorful quilt to cover it. Make a centerpiece out of greens from your yard – holly, evergreen, magnolia leaves.
  • Use the gingerbread house your kids made as a centerpiece.
  • Use Christmas ornaments to decorate the table.
  • Weave beaded garland throughout the table for some sparkle.
  • Use various dishes that don’t match with a plain table cloth.
  • Tie napkins with ribbons.
  • Fill a bowl with pomegranates and oranges studded with whole cloves.
  • Use a colorful silky scarf on which to place your Christmas baubles.
  • If you can sew a simple stitch, visit the fabric store and make a table runner(s).
  • Walk through Michaels or A.C. Moore and get ideas. Find some Christmas picks, candles, garlands, anything and get home and put it all together. Sales are going on now.
  • Let your children decorate the table for a complete children’s table. They will feel like they did meaningful work. Let them make place cards.

It doesn’t matter if it’s just two or twenty. It doesn’t matter if you have matching dishes or not. Put your mood and personality into it. Set your table with a spirit of hospitality. It shows.

Tablescaping Tips from Celebrate Home Magazine

This blog post was adapted from my article in Celebrate Home Magazine. Check it out here for pretty photos and ideas. Be sure to click the “Buy Digital: Free” button. (It’s free to download. Don’t click “Read Now,” as you really can’t read it.)

 

A Fork Supper

Having the hospitality gene means you want to welcome as many people as you can to your home for fun, comfort and good food. Inviting more people to dinner than you have seats at the table can be tricky. But, keeping the menu simple, yet tasty, will accomplish everything you want to do with an informal dinner party.

Specs

  • 18 people for dinner
  • One dining room table with 8 chairs
  • One kitchen table with 4 chairs
  • Plenty of seating around the house, except none with tables

Logistics

One way to do this is to have heavy hors d’ouevres and let people mill about. But, I find people can still be hungry after grazing. A casual dinner party calls for a “fork supper” — food that can be served on one plate and eaten with just a fork. That means no cutting, no salad plates, and no balancing multiple plates and utensils on laps.

Forks wrapped in napkins are all that is needed.

Forks wrapped in napkins are all that is needed.

Serve the food buffet style. Provide one dinner plate and one fork wrapped in a napkin. Be on the lookout for good fork supper recipes and file them away for those occasions when you want to invite more people than you have seats at the table.

Menu

Braised Pork with Three Peppers cut into bite-sized pieces seasoned with rosemary, garlic and onions is a tasty and filling fork food.

Parmesan Polenta complements the pork and the polenta soaks up the pungent sauce from the pork.

Green Bean Sauté with fresh beans cut in half are easily eaten with a fork.

Assorted homemade cookies can be arranged on trays and placed around the house with napkins so plates or dessert forks aren’t necessary.

Spirits, soft drinks, coffee

Braised Pork with Three Peppers
Brasato di Maiale ai Tre Peperoni
From The Italian Country Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper
Serves about 8 people, can easily be doubled or tripled.

  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 each sweet red and yellow peppers, cored, seeded, and cut into two-inch pieces
  • 2 large Italian frying peppers (or more sweet red peppers), scored, seeded, and cut into two-inch pieces
  • 2 to 3 large medium-hot fresh chilies, such as Hungarian wax or Cubanelle, seeded and cut into two-inch pieces (adjust the amount of hot peppers to your taste)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 3/4 to 3 pounds boned pork shoulder trimmed of fat and cut into two-inch pieces (I used pork loin)
  • Leaves from 4 six-inch branches of fresh rosemary
  • 1/2 medium onion
  • 3 large cloves garlic
  • 3 oil-packed anchovy fillets, rinsed
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 4 whole canned tomatoes, drained

Lightly film a 12-inch, nonstick skillet with olive oil. Set over medium-high heat. Add all the peppers with a little salt and pepper. Toss just to lightly sear them, about two minutes. Remove them from the pan, leaving the oil behind, and add a little more oil. Once it is hot, add the pork, sprinkle with a little salt and pepper, and brown well on all sides, adjusting the heat so the glaze at the bottom of the pan doesn’t burn, about 10 minutes.

While the pork browns, chop together the rosemary, onion, garlic, and anchovies into one-quarter-inch pieces. Once the pork is half-browned, add the bay leaves. After one to two minutes more, blend in the chopped mixture and finish browning the pork over medium heat, stirring to keep the garlic from burning. The onion should be golden brown.

Pour in the vinegar. Simmer it down to nothing while scraping up all the glaze from the bottom of the pan. Add the water, tomatoes, and the peppers, adjust the heat so the liquid bubbles slowly, cover, and cook 50 minutes, or until the pork is tender, stirring occasionally. Taste sauce for seasoning. Serve right away with polenta. Or refrigerate it overnight and reheat to bubbling before serving.

Parmesan Polenta

This is from my friend Loraine who reads cookbooks like novels. This is so easy and is made in a crock pot and can be served hot right from the crock pot. Serves about 10.

  • Vegetable oil spray
  • 7-1/2 cups water, plus extra hot water as needed
  • 1-1/2 cups polenta
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 cups grated Parmesan cheese (4 oz.)
  • 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter

Coat slow cooker (crock pot) with vegetable spray. Whisk water, polenta and 1-1/2 teaspoons of salt, all together in slow cooker. Cover and cook until polenta is tender, four to six hours on low.

Stir in Parmesan cheese and butter, season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve.

This dish can be held on warm setting for one to two hours before serving; loosen with additional hot water as needed before serving.

Shopping for polenta:

The ‘real deal’ is labeled as either ‘polenta’ or ‘traditional polenta’ and it is nothing more than a bag of coarse-ground cornmeal with a very even grind and no small floury bits; it is often sold in clear bags so you can inspect it. Don’t be tempted to buy coarse-ground cornmeal without the term ‘polenta’ clearly listed on the package, as it often includes a portion of fine, floury bits that will make the polenta taste gluey.

[From editors at America’s Test Kitchen. Slow Cooker Revolution. Brookline, MA: 2011.]

Loraine says:

Read package labels carefully — no instant polenta. Bob’s Red Mill sells polenta and you can find it in some large grocery stores. It’s clearly marked ‘polenta.’

Green Beans with Lemon and Pine Nuts

My friend Melanie introduced me to this recipe from Epicurious.com. She says “it’s tasty yet light.” She also says you can substitute almonds for pine nuts as pine nuts have gotten “wickedly expensive.”

  • 1-1/2 lb green beans
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts toasted
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated fresh lemon zest
  • 4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

Cook beans in a 4-quart saucepan of boiling salted water until just tender, about 5 minutes, and then drain well in a colander. Transfer to a bowl and toss with nuts, parsley, zest, oil, and salt and pepper to taste.

Cooks’ note: Green beans can be cut six hours ahead and chilled, wrapped in dampened paper towels in a sealed plastic bag.

 

It’s All in the Pan, Margaret

Stump du NoelI sent a photo of my Stump de Noël to my friend Margaret and her response was, “Beautiful. I never had the nerve to make one. Wow!”

For the “stump cake” (which I began to fondly call it), it’s all in the pan — specifically a good Nordic Ware® pan made in Minnesota. This particular pan was made by the company specially for Williams-Sonoma. The label on the pan said, “Bake a classic holiday cake in an enchanting woodland shape.”

The stump cake is a takeoff of the legendary Bûche de Noël. The French version is a sponge cake baked in a jelly roll pan and filled with butter cream. The cake and cream is then rolled into a “log” and decorated to look like it is hanging out in the forest (except it’s on your table).

The recipe for this cake came with the pan, so I won’t share it because it is particular to this pan and I’m not sure it will translate into another type of pan. However, if you feel you have the nerve, there are many Bûche de Noël recipes on the Internet like this one from the Food Network. There is also a YouTube video that makes yule-log making look like child’s play. The woman who gives the lesson (we never see her face, only her chocolate-covered hands), acts like she whips these logs up at the drop of a hat.

I made the stump cake for the office holiday party. I have to admit, I had a lot of fun making it, especially the decorating part. When it came out of the oven, my son, looking mesmerized, commented, “It really does look like a stump!”I baked the meringue mushrooms (which people fought over), garnished it with rosemary sprigs and cranberries (click here for the how-to on garnish), cut fresh holly and magnolia leaves from my yard, and used moss as a backdrop. One person thought the woodland scene was a centerpiece and was shocked when I cut into it. The accolades made it all worth it.

So, Margaret, get up the nerve, it’s not that complicated to make a Bûche de Noël, especially after you watch the YouTube lady do it.

I dusted my meringue mushrooms with cocoa.

I dusted my meringue mushrooms with cocoa.

Joyeux Noel!

The Dietician Chef: Eating Healthy During the Holidays

We all sat in our chairs giving full attention to Emily Doerman, registered dietician, who was about to give us tips for surviving the holidays without gaining weight. Like any good workshop presenter she first engaged her audience by asking: “Who had to go and put on elastic-waist pants after you ate your Thanksgiving dinner this year?”

A few hands timidly went up. We braced ourselves for the lecture from the dietician. Instead of a scolding we got something like this: “Thanksgiving is the one day of the year when it is acceptable and actually expected in some cases to overindulge. Eating like that just one day a year is not all that damaging to your waistline. However, proclaiming that you are so full multiple times per month, or per week, will have a negative effect on your waistline and weight. “

She gave the example if your stomach holds four cups of food and you continually eat five cups of food, your stomach will stretch and you will gain weight. Conversely, she said you can also shrink the size of your stomach by eating less.

Whew! No scolding, no food police, no finger pointing. Emily provided us with a reasonable approach to eating. She stressed moderation and said “moderation is not about eliminating foods from your diet, but watching how frequently you consume them. If you eat dessert once a week, that is moderation. If you eat dessert once a day, that is NOT moderation.”

Emily’s Holiday Party Tips

  • Eat before you go; don’t arrive at a party starving.
  • Don’t starve yourself during the day to save up your calories to use at the party.
  • If you arrive at the party hungry, fill up on fruits and veggies before moving on to other foods.
  • Scope out what types of foods are available before you begin eating.
  • Let your taste buds have high standards; if it tastes mediocre, don’t eat it.
  • Split something high calorie with a friend.
  • Enjoy the people you are with, not just the food.
  • Say no firmly if you don’t want a food that is offered.

Other Interesting Tidbits

If you are with someone who has two slices of pizza (or whatever the food), you will also have two (or three or whatever the amount).

If you eat in front of the TV, you will associate TV watching with eating and are more likely to snack when watching TV. If you have a cookie every day at 3 p.m., chances are that will be a habit that will be hard to break.

Get the book Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think by Brian Wansink.

Don’t forget to exercise. Even 15 minutes a day is beneficial.

Here’s the Fun Part

Emily is also a chef. After getting her degree and doing an internship to become a registered dietician, she went to the International Centre for Culinary Arts, Dubai. She said when she’s in the office counseling patients about nutrition there is a lot of calculations and planning specific eating programs for various health concerns like high cholesterol or diabetes. (She sees patients in her father’s internal medicine practice.) But she wanted to put all her textbook learning into action in the kitchen and make it relevant to her lifestyle.

With a quick change into her chef’s jacket she showed us how to make a tomato sauce. Did you know when you are cooking you should taste something seven times? We counted her taste tests as she sampled her sauce.

Did you know there is a proper and precise way to peel and slice an onion? You have no idea how intricate and practical that is! We also sampled her Kobacha Squash Quiche and her Cranberry Almond Oatmeal Bars.OnionEmily

Nutritious and Delicious is the name of Emily’s website where she writes a great food blog. Yesterday’s posting was Pecorino Truffle Oil Mac and Cheese. She starts out by saying, “Be warned, this is not a healthy recipe. But man is it good!”

Check out Emily’s website. I think you will see a lot of hospitality oozing from this delightful dietician chef.