White Bean Soup – A Family Favorite

White Bean Soup – A Family Favorite

Now that it’s starting to cool down a bit in the evenings, we can turn our thoughts to soup. There is nothing quite like a nice, cozy meal to bring family together, and Claire is here to share a recipe from her sister for comforting White Bean Soup. This is the perfect recipe to ease us into soup season. Grab a spoon and come along for story time and soup with Claire!

I have two sisters and I love them like crazy. Like a lot of siblings, we fought a lot when we were kids, but as we got older and less obnoxious, we became much closer. Though we all live far apart now, we speak on the phone often and try to get together as frequently as we can manage with our busy schedules. One of the side effects of our relatively infrequent face-to-face interaction, though, is that my older sister and I came to realize that we probably didn’t know each other as well as we thought we did. In an effort to remedy that, we have been trying to spend as much time together as possible so we can become reacquainted. Over the summer, I got to spend my vacation week at the lake with her, but by the end of my trip, I still wanted more one-on-one time. I found a relatively inexpensive flight to Denver and I planned a long weekend for some more quality time with my big sis, and, let’s be honest here, a break from the California heat.

We managed to pack three parties, three meals out, and several hours of crafting time in just Friday and Saturday, so when Sunday rolled around, we agreed that we needed a day to just sit around. We sat and knit Christmas stockings and chatted. We vented about family frustrations and work. We made plans for this Christmas and next summer, and then when we got hungry, we made plans for dinner. Unlike in California, in Colorado, the weather is actually starting to cool to boots and jean jackets temperatures, so I requested one of my all-time favorites from my sister’s dinner recipe arsenal: white bean soup.

This white bean soup is perfect because it is hearty and filling, but not heavy.

It’s easy to cook, so it fits with a lazy afternoon, and the addition of a simple green salad and some bread or crackers turns it into a good, square meal.

To make this soup, you will need:

  • 2 cans Great Northern Beans, drained
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 leeks, chopped (white and pale green parts only)
  • 1 large tomato, seeded and chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped carrots
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 8 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 3 bacon slices, chopped
  • 10 cups chicken stock or broth
  • 1 tablespoon fresh chopped thyme
  • 1 tablespoon fresh chopped rosemary
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream

White Bean Soup

Heat the oil in a large soup pot. Add bacon and onion and cook until bacon fat is rendered, then add the rest of the chopped vegetables. Sauté until the vegetables are tender, about 6 minutes.

Add beans, chicken stock, thyme, and rosemary. Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce the heat and allow the soup to simmer for 10-15 minutes. Since we are using canned beans instead of dried, there is no need to cook the beans, but simmering time will allow the flavors to deepen.

Next, blend the soup until it is smooth. If you have an immersion blender, you can achieve this step right in the pot. If not, you can use a blender or food processor to puree the soup in batches.

When the soup has reached a smooth, consistent texture, stir in the cream. Season with salt and fresh pepper and serve.

White Bean Soup

Soup is easy, but relationships are hard. They take work and dedication and willingness to be open and listen, but they reward us with a sense of kinship and emotional fulfillment. By the end of my trip to Denver, I felt like my sister and I had both revealed new facets of ourselves. I think I know her better now than I did before, and I hope she feels the same about me. Also, I hope this white bean soup tastes as good when I make it at home as it always does at her house.

Printer-friendly recipe: White Bean Soup

Hostess Gifting Etiquette

Hostess Gifting Etiquette

Do you often find yourself wondering what to take along for hostess gifts? Well, Sarah has all the answers and then some regarding hostess gifting etiquette, plus lots of ideas for different occasions. Someone invite me to a party so I can use all this new-found knowledge. Sarah, teach us all how to be the best guests!

By this point, we’ve basically mastered the art of throwing a good party. But how do we become the best, most thoughtful guests? Host/hostess gifts are a great way to make a good impression on new acquaintances or show a friend your appreciation for throwing and inviting you to a great party. Parties can be expensive, from elaborately decorated Halloween parties to rare wine tasting get-togethers — between offering food, beverages, and entertainment, the costs can add up! Even if everything is already on-hand, the effort of cleaning and preparing to have people over carries a cost as well, an investment of time and effort into providing a great experience for friends and family.

Today, let’s talk about hostess gifts, and when it’s ok to bring something home with you after the party is over.

I grew up in a tight-knit family that often holds parties, and I noticed that my mom and dad usually had something extra packed in the car to bring to the host as a way to say thanks. An extra bottle of wine, a bar sign for the basement, a stack of printed photos, really anything that could be extended with the words, “I thought you might like this.” I internalized the gesture to the point where I almost always have an extra “something” on-hand when I hit the door of a party.

What to Bring

Hostess gifts can fall into two categories. One is something you bring with the intention to share it with everyone at the party (separate from a dish if you’re attending a potluck). The other type of hostess gift is something you select with your host in mind, something they’ll enjoy but that might not be used at that party. It’s important to know your host while selecting a gift — if he’s not a whiskey aficionado, whiskey stones may not be a perfect choice. I belong to a few subscription box clubs, and when I receive something that’s not to my taste – blush, Dr. Who jewelry – I save it without opening it to be used as a gift in the future. Some of these become hostess gifts.

A great many of my friends enjoy wine, so when I see decorated wine glasses in colors or patterns that make me think of them, I pick those up to be used as hostess gifts. My brother and his fiancé recently brought me a functional Underwood typewriter they had picked up at an antique shop because they know I collect old typewriters. I was delighted at something so thoughtful to show they’d been thinking of me. A guest at a party I recently threw brought a box of Keurig coffee, which I thought was particularly thoughtful. He a) knew I owned a Keurig and b) knew people would be drinking coffee the morning after. Even if we didn’t open his box of coffee, it would help replenish what we provided.

  • If you want to be extra thoughtful, bringing a bottle of Irish whiskey to a St. Patrick’s Day party, or another themed gift is a great idea.
  • Gift ideas for the barflies can be wine glasses, whiskey stones, a new flavor of bitters to experiment with, a bottle of something you think they’d enjoy, fancy cherries, a drinking game with any necessary equipment.
  • Cheese boards makes great hostess gifts for your friends who loves to entertain.
  • Gift ideas for bookworms are new journals, pretty pens, fandom-themed accessories or decorations, a book by an author you know they enjoy.
  • Gift ideas for almost anyone include a bottle of wine, a bouquet of flowers, fancy candy, a framed photo or new picture frame, scented candles, Girl Scout cookies.

When to Take It Home/What About Consumables?

So you brought your host/hostess a nice, consumable gift and the party is over. What now? There are a few ways to go from here when it comes to the territory of do you take the rest home? I tend to fall on the side of leaving everything I brought besides my own belongings and whatever cookware was used to transport my dish. I know these things belong to me; I selected and brought them with the intention of taking them home again.

Unless pressed by the host, anything that has been opened stays at the party house. Several things are going to be inconvenient to transport back home anyway (ice cream, half a bottle of wine), and the point of a gift is that it’s given for keeps. Anything unopened depends on how well you know your host, and sometimes, the size of the party. If I bring Girl Scout cookies to a dinner with friends and there is half a box left, I’ll insist on leaving them unless my hostess tells me to take them home. If I bring a nice bottle of port to my best friend’s house and we don’t end up opening it, I’m probably going to take it home. If I bring bags of chips to a big house party that don’t end up opened, I’ll leave them there. I’ll also leave leftover beer in the fridge, and the rest of the bottle of wine. I’ll take home the bottle of gin I brought to make myself (and my friends) cocktails.

As you can see, this leaves a somewhat grey area. Generally, if you don’t know the host very well, bring absolutely nothing that you have designs on taking home. If you know the host very well, don’t just take your unopened whatever and leave — mention that you’ll bring it back next time, or offer to leave it if you don’t mind parting with it. Having a brief discussion can remove any residual guilt of, should I have taken that home?

Presentation also has a lot to do with what’s ok to take home with you. If you wrap a hostess gift in a bag, or hand it to your hostess upon arrival, it’s officially a gift you’re not taking home. If you bring out a bottle of something in the middle of the party for everyone to share, it leans more toward the area of something you take home at the end of the night. These are social cues, and every circle of friends and family is different. Learn to read the parties you attend, as well as the people you’re partying with, to best navigate these situations in the future. Remember that a thoughtful, fun guest is one who gets invited back!

What are your go-to hostess gifts? What are the most thoughtful hostess gifts you’ve received? Who wouldn’t like whiskey stones, right?

New Year’s Party Dishes To Keep You Upright ‘Til Midnight

New Year’s Party Dishes To Keep You Upright ‘Til Midnight

New Year’s Eve is the day on which a lot of us let loose a collective sigh of relief. The holidays are coming to a close and it’s time to party away all the stress that has built up. Do yourself a favor and follow in Claire’s footsteps on this one: make easy, prep-ahead, spectacular party food that will satisfy the crowd without causing you even the smallest amount of stress. We all know and trust Claire’s ability to feed people, but this menu is above and beyond the call of duty! She makes it all sound so easy, and assures me that it is. Claire, help us ring in the New Year!

I love holiday cocktail parties! I love dressing up, I love champagne, and I love finger foods. Christmas and Thanksgiving are great for dinner parties, but a New Year’s Eve party is like the cherry on top of the holiday party sundae. Everyone has been through the holiday wringer by then, and they’re all ready to just throw down.

If you find yourself hosting on New Year’s Eve, the best thing to do is stock up on the booze and put out lots of irresistible food to keep everyone grounded.

My parents and my sister and her family are all going to be here for Christmas, and they are staying on through New Year’s. I get along really well with my family, and we are all really close. Even still, I think it’s safe to expect one or two flare-ups over the course of their stay, and I predict that by the end of it, we’ll all be ready for a little break, so I’m throwing a party to lighten our spirits. I’ve decided that I am going to go easy-route on everything for this thing. I’ve skipped party invitations in favor of a Facebook event invite, and I have a menu planned out that I can do almost entirely ahead of time, so I won’t have to miss out on any actual partying. The name of the game here is to keep everyone… not sober, necessarily, but sober enough that they will still be upright by the time that ball drops. That is why our menu will consist of rich and flavorful meats, cheeses, and breads. The more carbs and lipids your friends and family ingest, the more cushion there is to absorb all that Champagne. So let’s get into it!

This year, I am serving toasted open-face prosciutto sandwiches, spiced lamb in puff pastry, and, of course, a cheese board. With the sandwiches, I think it’s better to keep it simple. You want people to feel comfortable walking around with these, so keep the ingredient list down, and the quality high. Just a thin smear of whole grain mustard, some Gruyère, and a slice of prosciutto on some very good bread is all it takes to have your guests coming back for more.

New Year

The lamb puffs are a recipe of my own invention, and hot damn, am I ever proud of this one.

Lamb Puffs

  • One pound ground lamb
  • One sheet puff pastry, thawed
  • Three tablespoons panko
  • Three tablespoons milk
  • One shallot, diced small
  • One egg, beaten
  • Fresh ginger
  • Cinnamon
  • Turmeric
  • White pepper
  • Ground coriander seed
  • One teaspoon kosher salt

In a small bowl, combine your panko breadcrumbs and milk. In a medium bowl, combine lamb with the shallot, a couple of shakes each of your dried spices, salt, and the milk mixture. As with many of my own recipes, I didn’t pay very close attention to how much of each spice went into the bowl, but I’d say approximately 1/8 tsp each. Then grate about an inch of peeled ginger into the bowl, and mix it all together until just combined. You can use a fork, but I think you get a better mix if you just go in with your hands.

Roll the puff pastry out on a lightly floured surface until it is about 10 inches across and 14 inches long, and then cut it length-wise into three evenly-sized strips. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and lay the pastry out on the sheet. Portion your meat mixture into thirds, and spread each one out in about an inch-wide stripe down the middle of each piece of pastry. Fold the sides over the meat and use the beaten egg to help seal it. With the pastries seam-side down on the baking sheet, cut small diagonal slits at one inch intervals along the top of each one and brush the tops and sides with the egg. If you are going to serve them right away, set the pan in the freezer to chill for thirty minutes before baking. If you are making them ahead of time, tightly wrap the entire sheet in plastic wrap before freezing. They will keep for up to two weeks in the freezer, and there is no need to thaw them before baking.

New Years When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 425°. Bake the chilled or frozen pastries until they start to puff up, about 15 minutes, and then reduce the heat to 350°. Continue baking until the meat is cooked through and the pastry is golden and completely puffed up, about another 25-35 minutes. Transfer them to a cutting board and let them cool slightly, and then use your cuts as a guide to slice the pastries into one-inch pieces. Eat the ends yourself, because you want to keep a uniform look on your serving platter, and anyway, let’s face it, you just deserve it.

New Years For dessert, I am going super simple with a classic icebox cake and Champagne Jell-O shots. The Jello-O shots are so easy to make, and the wow-effect to work ratio is definitely in your favor. I used this recipe but there are actually dozens of recipes out there, and I’m sure they all work just fine.

New Years I will say one thing about these, though; don’t scrimp on the Champagne. Since it’s basically just Champagne and gelatin, you absolutely need to use a Champagne (or prosecco or any sparkling wine) that you would enjoy drinking on its own.

New Years The real dessert star here is the icebox cake. If you’ve never made one, get ready for your new favorite cake to make. The ingredients are as follows: Nabisco’s Famous Chocolate Wafers and homemade whipped cream. That’s it. I like to kick mine up a notch, and I fold some booze into the cream. It really elevates this simple dessert to a new level, and it’s so easy.

Icebox Cake

  • One or two boxes of Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers
  • Two pints heavy whipping cream
  • Two tablespoons powdered sugar
  • One to two tablespoons vanilla or liqueur of your choice

In a large bowl, combine cream, sugar, and vanilla or liquor. I used Boulard Calvados, which is a really lovely apple brandy, but limoncello, Irish cream, Drambuie, or really any liqueur you prefer will work here. Whip the cream to stiff peaks. Carefully stack the wafers using layers of cream to bind them. I made mine in a ring shape for a round platter, but you can shape it any way you like, even including that ultimate holiday dessert classic, a yule log. When you’re done stacking and shaping, use the whipped cream to cover the outside of the cookie log.

New Year

There should be a little bit of leftover cream, which you should cover and reserve. Loosely cover your cake in plastic wrap and set in the fridge to chill for at least four hours, and up to 24. The wafer cookies absorb moisture from the cream and puff up, so when you are ready to serve, use the reserved cream to cover up any cracks in the cream or places where the chocolate has bled through. To get the layered effect, cut the cake at a deep angle so that the knife goes through several cookies. I like to serve my icebox cake with some kind of topping, like some Luxardo cherries or this incredible homemade cranberry ginger jelly.

New Year

Happy New Year, from my kitchen to yours! This holiday season, let’s remember that the real reason we get together is not to get lit and embarrass ourselves in front of everyone we know. Enjoy your drinks responsibly, and when your family is about to push you over the edge, try to focus on the love. If that fails, just remember that you can always shut them up with a big mouthful of cheese!

Printer-friendly recipes: New Year’s Party Dishes

Seasonal Rosemary Cocktails

Seasonal Rosemary Cocktails

I don’t know about you, but a nice stiff drink always helps me get through the holidays! Sarah W. (already known for her holiday-appropriate drink pairings) is kind enough to share with us a fabulous recipe for a simple ingredient that will jazz up your seasonal cocktail game. I sure am glad it’s almost 5 o’clock, because these gorgeous cocktails are calling my name. Pour us all a drink, Sarah!

Oh man, guys. It’s officially holiday season. I love gift-giving, I love decorating, I love putting up my Christmas tree well after Thanksgiving… and I love seasonal flavors. I am a sucker for anything cranberry-flavored or festively-named when I go out in the winter. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that when it comes to craft cocktails, this year everyone’s talking rosemary. Which is such a good idea; it pairs with almost any fruit flavor you can think of for winter – apples, cranberry, citrus – and is also a great seasoning for poultry, so your drink goes with your turkey dinner.

But let’s go further than simply garnishing a drink with a cute little Christmas tree-like sprig, and get that amazing (and strong) flavor into our seasonal cocktails. I’m talking simple syrup.

Simple syrup, like bitters, is one of those things that seems like a fancy bar ingredient that would be impossible to make or use properly at home. But, because I’m nothing if not an over-reacher, I wanted to try my hand at crafting some seasonal cocktails with it. I’ve seen bottles of simple syrup go for eight bucks at the grocery or liquor store. Not my style. I did the tiniest bit of research, and wouldn’t you know it, simple syrup is made by boiling equal parts sugar and water. Eight bucks for sugar water! Armed with that knowledge, I decided to steep mine with rosemary for a unique flavor that would hopefully elevate my homemade attempt at seasonal craft cocktails.

Simple syrup only keeps for a few weeks, which can be a concern if you don’t drink very often. So in one of my brightest moments of clarity to date, I’ve devised three seasonalcocktails – whiskey, gin, and vodka – that will almost guarantee you use a whole batch of simple syrup at one party. Rosemary has strong flavor. Each cocktail uses ¼ ounce, and a batch of simple syrup yields about a cup. Eight ounces in a cup, do the math – this syrup should make you 32 drinks, so plan your holiday shindig guest list accordingly! So let’s get to the crafting of these actually pretty easy holiday cocktails.

Rosemary Simple Syrup

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 4 sprigs rosemary

Every recipe using rosemary I saw online told me to smack the sprigs of rosemary against my palm to release the flavor. I felt a little silly, but I did this.

Throw your ingredients into a small saucepan and bring to a boil.

Let boil 5-8 minutes, then remove from heat.

Fish out your rosemary sprigs. If they’ve fallen apart at all, you can run the syrup through a sieve, but I didn’t have any problems just removing the rosemary and pouring my syrup into a mason jar. You can use a clever little glass bottle, or any number of syrup storage devices. Anything that seals and fits in your fridge. Let cool. Simple syrup can be made ahead of time and stored so it’s not piping hot from the pan while you’re trying to mix cocktails.

Seasonal Cocktails

Thorny Winter Sun

  • 1 ½ oz. Vodka
  • Juice of 2 clementines (about 2 oz.)
  • ½ oz. Lemon juice
  • ¼ oz. Rosemary simple syrup

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake. Pour into a new glass, add 2 large ice cubes, and garnish with a sprig of rosemary.

Seasonal Cocktails

Cranberry Patch

  • 2 oz. Whiskey  (use good whiskey/bourbon – you can really taste it in this drink)
  • ½ oz. Sweet vermouth (the red bottle)
  • ½ oz. Cranberry juice
  • ¼ oz. Rosemary simple syrup

Combine all ingredients in a lowball glass. Stir for about twenty seconds. Add ice if you like it. Garnish with a sprig of rosemary.

Seasonal Cocktails

Rosemary Twinkle

  • 1 ½ oz. Gin
  • ½ oz. Sweetened lime juice
  • ¼ oz. Rosemary simple syrup
  • Club soda to top
  • Brûléed apple slice to garnish*

Combine gin, simple syrup, and lime juice in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake. Pour into a highball glass and add ice. Top with club soda and give a gentle stir. Garnish with a sprig of rosemary and a slice of brûléed apple.

*Brûlée your apple! I used a honeycrisp apple, Seasonal Cocktails the very best of autumn harvest (in my opinion). Slice your apple and remove seeds and core. I cut a tiny notch into mine to help it grip the lip of the glass. Press cut edges into sugar, then fire with a brûlée torch (or broil for about five minutes). Let cool a few moments so the sugar sets and doesn’t drip, then stick on the edge of your glass. This looks really impressive, tastes really good, and isn’t difficult. If your sugar gets a little bit burned, the sweet and tartness of the apple does a really good job covering it up. This is a garnish you can serve with confidence!

Seasonal Cocktails

I hope these cocktails make your next holiday gathering as legendary as the party I’m throwing in my mind right now. Happy holidays to all, and if you devise any rosemary cocktails of your own, let me know about them!

Printer friendly recipes: Seasonal Rosemary Cocktails

 

Thanksgiving Recipe Roundup

Thanksgiving Recipe Roundup

Thanksgiving is just a week away! Are you ready? I’m always ready for my favorite holiday, and this last week of anticipation can be brutal. This year I’m trying to focus that energy into making some awesome side dishes to share with my family, and I know just the place to find the perfect recipes – our very own blog! I am thankful for our extremely talented guest bloggers who have shared so many amazing dishes over the past year. Everything I’m bringing to the table this Thanksgiving comes from one of our posts. I bet you can find some inspiration here, too!

Here is a collection of some of our most favorite recipes and tutorials for Thanksgiving. You’re sure to find something to be thankful for in this roundup of delightful dishes!

So, what are you bringing to the table this Thanksgiving? Did we inspire some great ideas? Let us know what you are thankful for this season and share with us your favorite Thanksgiving recipes.

All of us at Butcher Block Co. are thankful for you, our wonderfully supportive customers. Have a happy, relaxing Thanksgiving!

Halloween Wines Are Spooky Good!

Halloween Wines Are Spooky Good!

I feel like Halloween is really sneaking up on us this year. Can you believe we’re halfway through October already?! I haven’t given a single thought to decorating, costumes, or candy (yeah right…I love candy!). I’m not going to be prepared, but Sarah W. is here with something that will at least get me into the right frame of mind: Halloween wines! Themed booze just has a way of setting the mood! Sarah, spook us into the Halloween spirit!

Greetings from the crypt. It’s getting close to Halloween, which means candy, costumes, and limited edition wines, if you are anything like me. The perfect glass of wine helps me plan my costumes, resist that candy, and hopefully tastes good, too!

Halloween has been a lot of fun my whole life. Growing up, my family lived six houses down from the town square, so there were a lot of houses packed closely together, which made for excellent trick-or-treating. My mom used to go through 20+ bags of candy, turn her light out, wait for my brother and me to get home, and then make us go through our buckets for candy we didn’t want so she could keep handing treats out to kids at our doorstep. The first year in my house, I bought 15 bags of candy and hoped it would be enough – I thought Halloween was always the way it was growing up. I barely got through seven bags, and ended up bringing the rest in for my coworkers the following Monday. Lesson learned! Having some grown-up treats helps pass the time during the lulls. That’s where the wine comes in!

I rounded up three Halloween-themed wines and put them to the test.

Some were more trick than treat, but I’d say these three are a fairly well-rounded bunch, with something for every red wine drinker. I’ve found that Halloween wines tend to most often be available as a red, since that’s, you know, blood and guts and Haloween-ish. If you’re hosting the neighborhood parents, whip up a cheese board so you have something to snack on while you’re waiting for the kids to return with your candy (that’s how that works, right?).

Apothic Dark

Apothic has been coming out with limited editions Halloween Wine regularly now – this is a great thing. Apothic is great at blending wines – the original Apothic Red is the go-to wine for my closest friends and me when we get together for a wine night. It’s guaranteed at least half of us will bring the same bottle. Apothic Dark has a heavy, rich taste that is somehow more muted than the original. There’s a smoky undertone at the finish that is almost bitter. There’s a sweetness that is hard to pinpoint, but some kind of dark fruit flavor is involved. I was strongly reminded of a merlot when drinking this, which isn’t my favorite varietal. But it’s certainly smooth and drinkable, with any dryness coming at the end, almost after you swallow. This one won’t give you heartburn. You want to drink Dark with the middle and back of your palate – bringing this forward in your mouth makes it taste more acrid.

Rating: 3 spooky ghosts

Halloween Candy Pairing: 3 Musketeers Strawberry or Raspberry M&Ms – a fruit/chocolate combo balances this out

Rest in Peace

Halloween Wine This wine is a new one to me, and I was possibly most excited for it since red blends are my favorite. This is the most sour of the three, and although the tasting notes on the bottle mention boysenberry and raspberry jam, I didn’t find this very fruity or jammy. Maybe for a moment as this first hits your palate – there’s definitely a brightness to it that sharpens to a spice as you drink. Leather, cedar, tobacco, pepper, and black tea are also mentioned, and these are the flavors I can definitely taste. The taste of pepper and black tea is more noticeable to me in this wine; it lingers on the back of your palate. The consistency is thin, while the flavor is robust, somehow. I understand the notes on leather and cedar, even if they’re hard to explain. There are definite earthy notes, which is surprising for such an acidic wine. This one grows on you the more you drink it.

Rating: 2-1/2 black cats

Halloween Candy Pairing: Dark chocolate – a midnight Milky Way would mellow this one out

Vampire

This is a Cabernet Sauvignon, not a red blend, Halloween Wine a fact that I noticed when I got home. Vampire has a juiciness to it that is a) extremely appropriate given its name and b) very hard to describe in terms of drinking wine. Maybe it’s best to characterize the juiciness by the absence of smoke, bitterness, or sourness. Tasting notes on the bottle suggest blackberry, dark cherry, and oak. I am not hit over the head with the fruit level, but it’s tangibly there, while the oak doesn’t dry this up to an undrinkable level. This is a wine for storytelling and deep conversations. It’s mellow enough to drink a lot of without noticing how much you’re drinking, with dryness coming right as the wine hits the middle of your mouth. This is another one to taste with the middle and back of your palate. This also finishes with some slight bitterness, but not enough to be off-putting if you’re a regular red wine drinker.

Rating: 5 werewolves

Halloween Candy Pairing: Red Vines licorice

 

Is your house busy with trick-or-treaters on Halloween? What’s your favorite limited edition anything? Should they make more Halloween-themed white wines? I could only find one, and it didn’t look good to me, so I passed.

Friends Luncheon – Feeding Friendships One Dish at a Time

Friends Luncheon – Feeding Friendships One Dish at a Time

Leading up to my visit to Claire’s, I was so excited for all the delicious food, but I had no idea our little friends luncheon was going to be so grand! Working on a fabulous meal together was the perfect way to catch up with out-of-town friends. I can’t wait for our next get-together! If you are thinking of planning a friends luncheon of your own, read on for some fabulous recipes and tips from Claire.

At this point, I think my love for hosting has been fairly well established, so for me, nothing beats having friends over for a weekend stay. I enjoy all parts of the process, from the planning stages up. I gleefully plot out a menu and a rough list of possible activities, carefully tailoring each visit to my guests’ particular tastes, and being sure to plan for several hours of doing nothing at all in order to establish a truly vacation-y vibe. Also, depending on the previous night’s activities, sometimes sitting around doing nothing is exactly what we need.

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of hosting several friends at once. Andrew and Meredith drove down from San Jose, and Candi made the trek up from Phoenix with her 9-year-old son. I made the long haul to several grocery stores.

For a get-together like this one, I like to keep the fare simple, but impressive. I planned the weekend menu around dishes that wouldn’t take too many ingredients, and that wouldn’t clash with each other on my cooking surfaces. My guests rolled in late Friday evening, so I threw together a basic cheese board with fresh bread, and we sat around it munching while we caught up. Saturday morning, I made buttermilk biscuits and sausage gravy, and since we had such a heavy breakfast, we decided to make our next meal a late luncheon.

For the next several hours, we sat around laughing and digesting, and remembering why we all had so much love for each other, while planning out our friends luncheon.

I settled on making a roasted pork tenderloin, because it can be easily sliced into small servings, and it’s a fairly simple cooking process. We also had a trio of artichokes, another cheese board (because there’s no such thing as too much cheese), and one of my favorite crowd-pleaser recipes, tomato pie. For a dinner party, I usually like to have everything basically ready by the time my guests arrive. In a sleepover scenario like this, though, it’s much more fun when everyone hangs around the kitchen and helps, so I planned around each of my friends’ kitchen strengths. Andrew quickly got to mixing cocktails while I pulled ingredients out of the fridge. Candi, who, incidentally, is a fire wizard, went out to the patio to get the grill going while I started prep on the artichokes. Mer tested the cocktails and cheeses for quality control.

Friends Luncheon

For the artichokes, I squeezed a couple of lemons into a big pot of boiling water and dropped them in, then threw in the halved artichokes. After about 15 minutes, I checked them to make sure they were done, and then gave them to Candi. She slathered them in a mix of olive oil, lemon juice, kosher salt, and pepper, and finished them on the grill to char up the edges a bit. We put them on a platter with bowls of butter and mayo for dipping.

Our friends luncheon was coming together nicely, but surveying our progress, I realized that we were missing a key ingredient: dessert! Luckily, I had just bought a giant box of strawberries, so I put Candi to work hulling those while I threw together a shortcake. My recipe of choice comes from my grandma’s copy of Cross Creek Cookery, by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, and it is pure perfection.

While the shortcake cooled and the oven was still hot, Andrew took a break from mixing cocktails to work on the pork tenderloin. He put together a mixture of dried herbs and spices from my pantry, rubbed down the tenderloin, and threw it in a hot skillet. After he got a good sear on all sides, he put the skillet into the 450° oven and let it roast for about 18 minutes. Then he covered the pan in foil to let the meat rest while we prepped the tomato pie.

At this point, our friends Jess and Ian showed up. My husband and Ian loaded Candi’s son into the car and headed out to play some disc golf, and not a moment too soon, because Andrew’s cocktails were starting to catch up with us. Our 90’s hip hop dance party heated up while we waited for timers to ring.

When the tomato pie finally came out of the oven, we were ready to get to the grub. We put everything out buffet style, set out plates and silverware, and sat around the table inhaling the fruits of all our hard work. In our case, the tomato pie was maybe a little darker around the edges and the pork just a little more done than planned. That’s just what happens when you ignore the kitchen timer because you’re in the middle of a dance-off. Anyway, the best foods are flavored with laugh-attacks.

Friends Luncheon

Tomato Pie

  • 1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
  • 4 or 5 tablespoons whole grain mustard
  • 8 oz Gruyere cheese, sliced or shredded
  • 2 tomatoes, sliced
  • 1/2 cup to 1 cup fresh basil, coarsely chopped

Preheat your oven to 400°. On a lightly floured surface, roll the puff pastry out to desired size; I like to fit mine to a stoneware baking tray, but any cookie sheet or pizza stone will work. Bake the pastry for about 15 minutes, until it is golden brown, but not quite done. Spread the mustard evenly over the pastry, then layer on the cheese, basil, and tomatoes. Pop back into the oven and bake until the cheese is melty and the tomatoes are cooked, about 10 more minutes.

Friends Luncheon

Strawberry Shortcake

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Pinch nutmeg
  • 1 egg, well beaten
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1 1/2 quart strawberries
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • Half pint of heavy whipping cream
  • Dash of vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon sugar

Butter a round cake pan and set it aside. Preheat the oven to 400°. Mix the first five ingredients together and sift. Cut the butter into pieces and quickly work it into the flour mixture with your fingers. Add the egg, and then milk. Mix quickly and turn the dough into the cake pan and pat it into shape with the flat of your hand. Bake the shortcake for 20 minutes and then turn it onto a cooling rack.

Set aside a few of the largest strawberries to top the finished cake, and cut the rest into pieces. An hour before you’re ready to eat, add the brown sugar. Let the berries sit in the bowl for about an hour in a warm place, stirring occasionally to make sure they are macerating evenly. Cut the shortcake into two layers and butter each cut side. Pour the cream, vanilla and 1 tablespoon of sugar into a tall bowl and whip until stiff peaks form. To assemble, stack the cake layers together with strawberries and juice between and on top. Top with whipped cream and decorate with reserved berries.

Friends Luncheon

Printer friendly recipes: Friends Luncheon Recipes

Breakfast with Spring Produce

Breakfast with Spring Produce

Breakfast is the greatest creation of humanity.  Because I am Breakfast a grownup (ha!), I can have breakfast whenever I want. I can also take a road trip to visit my amazing friend, Claire Hoenke, who just so happens to be the Goddess of All Things Breakfast. The first time I visited Claire, she made the world’s best biscuits and gravy, and I may have proposed marriage. The last time I stayed at Claire’s, I had driven up as a surprise for her birthday (planned by her husband, who is obviously the luckiest man alive), so she didn’t have any special ingredients stocked away to spoil me with.  Somehow Claire managed to whip up an absolutely delightful breakfast feast without waking me up.  I finally stirred when the scent of bacon, potatoes, sautéed veggies, and perfectly fried eggs became so overpowering my brain decided that maybe I could be a morning person. What I am trying to convey to you is that Claire is the best hostess and also the best at breakfast, so you should listen to everything she says. I am so excited that she is sharing some of her delightful self with us today. I think I’ve gone on long enough, so I’ll pass the mic to Claire now.

I love cooking for my friends. Welcoming people to my table gives me a sense of fulfillment like nothing else does.

While I adore hosting dinner parties, anyone who has ever spent the night at my house knows that breakfast is where I really shine.

And why not? What could be better than waking up to the smell of fresh bread and a hot griddle? Starting my morning with a hearty meal is the best way to guarantee a good day. For me, nothing beats bacon and eggs with buttermilk biscuits, or waffles with pools of butter and syrup… until spring rolls around. When the ground starts to warm and the first plants of the growing season start popping up, my appetite shifts and I crave something different.

Breakfast Around this time of the year I find myself flashing back to spring in my childhood home, huddled with my friends in my parents’ vegetable garden. As kids, my sisters and I spent all spring and summer in the back yard, and when we got hungry, we would head for the garden. I can remember the feel of the cold dirt under my bare feet, the smell of the mint, and the sweet crunch of the sugar snap peas between my teeth. There is nothing like fresh veggies right off the stem. Alas, as an adult who seems to have inherited none of her parents’ magical green thumbs, the best I can do is head to the farmers’ market with a basket on my arm.

Waking up the morning after a particularly successful trip to the market, the piles of fresh green things always call to me from my fridge. “Cook me! I’m healthy and tasty and sweet! I’m some kind of crazy gift from the earth!” and I am not one to ignore the food voices in my head. This recipe is perfect because it can be made to order. Whatever fresh produce is at the local market this week is what belongs in this dish, and it’s that kind of simplicity that appeals to the barefoot kid in me. This time, I am using:

  • Half a bunch of asparagus, cut Breakfast on a diagonal into 1” pieces
  • White and pale green parts of 2 leeks, thinly sliced
  • 3 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • A small fistful of watercress
  • ¼ cup of basil, torn into ½” bits
  • ¼ cup mint, torn into ½” bits

Depending on where you call home, you might be lucky enough to find fresh fava beans, ramps, or spring onions at your market, and those would be perfect in this dish. Spring peas are also well worth the work of shelling, and fresh escarole would take this dish to a whole new level.

In addition to your produce, you will need:

  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar
  • 2 or 3 ounces of Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano
  • 4 eggs
  • Good, crusty bread

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a medium sauté pan. When the oil starts to shimmer, turn the heat down to medium-low and toss in the asparagus and leeks. Cover the pan and cook for about 2 minutes, until the asparagus just starts to get tender. Add the scallions and garlic and cook for another 2 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally. Add the mint and basil and cook until the asparagus is very tender. Add the watercress and toss until it’s just slightly wilted. Season with some kosher salt and divide the greens into four bowls. Breakfast

Meanwhile, bring about two inches of water to a boil in a large saucepan. Reduce the heat to bring the water down to a simmer and add the vinegar. Crack an egg into a small bowl, and then gently slide the egg into the water. Once the white is opaque, repeat the process with the next egg, and so on. Poach the eggs for about 3 minutes each until the whites are set, but the yolks are still runny.

Breakfast

Using a slotted spoon, transfer each egg as it finishes onto a bowl of greens. Drizzle each serving with olive oil and some grated or crumbled cheese. Serve with slices of bread and soak in the goodness!

Breakfast

Wait; it gets better…

Breakfast Are you still breathing? Want to meet me at Claire’s for breakfast? If you’re not up for the trip, print off the recipe and give it a go at home using goodies from your own garden or local market!

Printer friendly recipe:  Poached Eggs with Spring Veggies

March Madness: Recipes & Tips to Make Your Party a Slam Dunk

March Madness: Recipes & Tips to Make Your Party a Slam Dunk

March Madness is upon us! I don’t understand the bracketology or even the enthusiasm, but I’m certainly not going to judge you if you’re into it…mostly because I’m a nice person, but some of it has to do with wanting you to share your game snacks with me. Thankfully, Sarah Buchanan is back and willing to share some tips and recipes to make your March Madness parties successful. I’m going to sit on the sidelines now and pass this to Sarah. (Get it? I crack myself up.)

It’s the time of the year when the madness strikes – March Madness. Fully grown adults will gather around TV sets, scream at refs and at athletes barely out of high school, and feverishly track wins and losses on brackets drawn on huge pieces of paper in the conference room at work.
Before I moved to California, I lived in North Carolina, where college basketball is its own special kind of religion. UNC, NC State, and Duke are the big three, and if you’re a North Carolina native, you probably have a favorite you’re passionate about. Or you could be like me, the fourth kind of NC basketball fan, the ones who may or may not have a preference between State and Duke, but are known as the ABC Fans: Anyone But Carolina.

March Madness games provide a great excuse to get your friends together for sports and food and…more food.

If you’re the host of one of these get-togethers, below are some tips (and recipes!) to make sure your March Madness party is a slam dunk. (Sorry.)

  1. Serve several snacks and appetizers rather than trying to plan and execute a full blown dinner if you’re having more than three people over. You don’t want to be running around, checking the casserole, stirring the beans, and making the salad while the game clock is counting down and everyone else is having fun. Choose some easy to make snacks, and if you really want to have a meal, order some pizzas to go with your snacks!
  2. Make sure that you have everything you need beforehand. Check your stock of drinks, napkins, plates, ice, snacks and ingredients, and cups. You don’t want to have to run out of your own March Madness party to pick up ice in the middle of the game.
  3. Consider making it a potluck. You provide the pizzas and plates and entertainment; your guests provide the apps and drinks. This is a much less stressful way to have a party, and most of the dishes will go home with their owners at the end of the night. Win-win! Just make sure you have your guests let you know what they’re bringing so you don’t end up with 15 cheese plates. (Although, I suppose there are worse things…)
  4. Have fun! Parties are no time to stress out. If you spill a drink on the rug or end up with dip on the armchair or inadvertently give your dog a mohawk in the colors of your favorite team, it’s okay. You’re having a get-together to enjoy your friends and the madness of March, so enjoy yourself, take pictures, and scream at the TV. Have a ball. (Again…sorry.)

Here are a couple of easy recipe ideas for your March Madness party. (Easy is important when you’re whipping up treats for several people!) Feel free to dye the dip the appropriate team color.

Fiesta Ranch Dip

  • 1 packet Hidden Valley Fiesta Ranch Dip (you can use less for a less intense flavor)
  • 1 10-oz. can original Rotel, drained
  • 16-24 oz. sour cream
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • Tortilla chips and/or crunchy veggies like carrot or celery sticks

In a medium bowl, mix together sour cream, Rotel, and ranch packet (start with half and taste before adding more). Stir in cheese. Chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour before serving. Serve with chips and/or veggies.

March Madness

Nutella Grape Bites

  • One bunch of green grapes (use roughly 50)
  • One container Nutella
  • 1 cup chopped pecans (or almonds, or walnuts, or peanuts, or…)

Wash grapes and dry thoroughly. Dip one end of each grape in the Nutella, then gently roll the grape in the pecans. Spear each grape with a toothpick and serve.

March Madness

What’s your go-to dish for pleasing the crowd on game day?

Printer friendly recipes: March Madness Appetizers

Cookie Swap! Impress with These Monster Cookies!

Cookie Swap! Impress with These Monster Cookies!

It’s officially Cookie Swap season! Sarah W. is back with a fantastic recipe  for Monster Cookies! Gather your friends and family for a fun night filled with sweet eats. These giant treats are perfect for a cookie swap. I’m going to keep mine all to myself, though! Teach us how to cookie, Sarah!

Cookie Swap

Are you having a good holiday season? Did you get invited to a cookie swap and just throw your arms up in the air with a big dramatic sigh because making cookies is THE WORST? Well stop worrying, and step away from the bakery section of your grocery store (although cookies made by Grandma Grocery Store are always a good backup. I have taken them out of the plastic package and put them in my own Tupperware containers to claim ownership in the past, and I am NOT ashamed).

I love to bake, truly. Stealing a swipe of batter from the beater, the whole house smells good, getting creative with a recipe and tweaking it to make it special — these are all things I love about being in the kitchen. But my lack of patience ends at the oven. My favorite things to make are cakes, brownies, bars. I am willing to spend an hour mixing things together in the right order for the right amount of time, but once that’s done, I would like to put ONE thing in the oven and be DONE.

I discovered my “cookie fatigue” moment comes when the third batch hits the oven, so this recipe is great because using two large cookie sheets at a time, it made two quick batches for me. If you check your peanut butter and mix-ins, these are also gluten-free — there’s no flour!

These Monster Cookies will impress everyone at your holiday Cookie Swap! Give them a try!

 

Ingredients (I quartered this recipe so it fits in a stand mixer – you’re welcome!):

  • 3 eggs
  • ½ lb brown sugar Cookie Swap
  • 1 c white sugar
  • ¼ tbsp. vanilla extract
  • ¼ tbsp. light corn syrup
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • ¼ lb butter (1 stick)
  • ¾ lb peanut butter (approximately 1 heaping cup)
  • 4 ½ c oatmeal
  • ½ bag chocolate chips
  • ½ bag M&Ms (I used a combination of peanut butter and regular M&Ms — use your favorites!)

Yields 20-25 cookies

Directions:

Preheat your oven to 350°F.
Add the ingredients in order. I turned my mixer on after adding the peanut butter and mixed the ingredients well for a minute or so (Note: I made batches with both crunchy and creamy peanut butter, and the crunchy held the cookies together better.). Be sure to scrape the sides of the bowl — this is a looser batter than standard cookie dough at this point.

Add the oatmeal, and make sure your mixer’s lid is locked down before you turn the mixer on. I swear these are called “Monster Cookies” because even with the lid locked, the machine bumps and moves like the dough’s trying to escape!

Add the chocolate chips and M&Ms after the oatmeal is thoroughly incorporated, and let your mixer run on low for a few minutes. Some of the M&Ms will break, and that’s ok.
Cookie Swap
Cookie Swap Using an ice cream scoop or large spoon (MONSTER cookies), space these about 6-8 per cookie sheet. The resulting cookies will be about the size of your hand. They don’t spread a great deal, so use the back of the scoop to press them down slightly. In this picture, the cookie on the bottom left is flattened “appropriately”, according to my husband, who made these with his mom every year growing up.

Bake for 12 minutes — no more, no less. Give them 2-5 minutes to cool on the cookie sheet before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. My hand is in this picture to show the scale of these suckers.
Cookie Swap
These taste amazing warm, and are best served with a big glass of milk! Monster cookies are perfect to make with little kids because there are a lot of dry ingredients to dump in, the ice cream scoop is easier to manage than something small and fiddly, and they don’t have to be pretty. They might not be the prettiest cookies on the block, but they sure are some of the tastiest!