Favorite Breakfast Recipe – Biscuits and Gravy

Favorite Breakfast Recipe – Biscuits and Gravy

If breakfast is the most important meal of the day, then you better be paying attention, because Claire is about to share the most important recipe of your life! I sing Claire’s praises a lot around here, so it’s about dang time she gives up the recipe for my favorite breakfast of all time – BISCUITS AND GRAVY! She has made these for me every time I’ve gone to visit, and even my picky kid likes them. I have had biscuits and gravy from (at least) a dozen different restaurants, even in a couple in the South, but nobody makes them as good as Claire. Looking over this recipe, I’m a little surprised by how easy this is. I could actually do this, and if I can summon a little of that special Claire Hoenke magic, I bet mine will come out at least half as good (and that would be good enough for me!). Ok, let’s get moving along. Claire, enlighten us, please.

Last year around this time, I made a beautiful and nutritious breakfast for you using beautiful and nutritious spring produce. This is not that post.

This morning I had to take my kids to the doctor. They both needed to have procedures done, and they were going to be under anesthesia so the doctor told me to go home and wait for them to call me. When I got home, I didn’t have to use my purse to block the kids from running out the door. I sat down on the couch, and I didn’t have to worry about my youngest climbing onto my chest and burrowing into my hair. I decided to make breakfast, and I didn’t have to worry about my oldest jumping onto the counter and eating the ingredients. Oh, wait, did I say, “my kids”? I meant my cats, though for real, they are my kids, and it is really weird when they’re not here. I don’t like it.

Breakfast

(His name is Bacon. He is perfect.)

To deal with the discomfort of my weird, empty house, I decided I needed to curl up in the cocoon of some rich, creamy, easy-to-make, unhealthy comfort food. I mean real, serious business comfort food. The thing you always want to order in a breakfast cafe, but maybe you don’t think you should, or you don’t want to be seen eating it in public because you’re already a fat lady eating in public and you already have your own weird food issues and you don’t need that kind of judgement from strangers… ahem… Maybe that last one is just me. Anyway, that forbidden thing for me is biscuits and gravy. Luckily, sausage gravy is so easy to make at home, you never need to order it at a restaurant, which is actually good because it saves you from a lot of disappointing gravies that are really never as good as the recipe I am about to share with you.

Since I’m going for ease and speed, I am going to opt for a simple drop biscuit today. Combine your dry ingredients, cut in the butter, add the milk, drop on the pan, and bake. Bing bang boom. I’m also adding cheese to my biscuits because it’s my party and dammit, I love cheese. I really only make my fancy buttermilk biscuits for company, because they’re always going to play second fiddle to the gravy anyway. Honestly, you could put any bready thing under it and call it a success.

These Biscuits and Gravy make the perfect breakfast – delicious, fulfilling, and surprisingly easy.

Biscuits

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup (one stick) cold butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 cup milk or half and half

Gravy

  • 1 lb pork sausage
  • 1/3 cup flour, divided
  • 4-5 cups milk
  • Hot sauce to taste
  • Black pepper to taste
  • Seasoned salt to taste

Preheat the oven to 400° and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, combine dry ingredients, and then use your fingers or a pastry cutter to cut in the butter. If you want to add in any additional ingredients (cheese, bacon, herbs, etc.), now is the time. Stir in the milk and use two spoons to drop the biscuits in semi-freeform lumps onto the baking sheet. I like mine to be kind of rounded, but with craggy edges so the finished biscuit has a little crunch to it. Bake until they’re golden brown with crunchy bits, about 15 to 20 minutes, and then serve.

Breakfast

While the biscuits are baking, make your gravy. Put the sausage into a heavy pan or skillet and brown it over medium high heat, using a wooden spoon to break the sausage into bits. When it is cooked through, add the flour in two phases, stirring until it is absorbed. Use the spoon to stir the sausage around and cook the flour, scraping the bits off the bottom of the pan, for about a minute or two. Add the milk, and stir, stir, stir while the gravy thickens. If it gets too thick, just add a little more milk. When the texture is right, season with hot sauce, black pepper, and seasoned salt, and spoon it over your biscuits.

breakfast

And just like that, you have a lovely, indulgent bowl of comfort right there to pet your tummy and remind you that your cats are just fine and they’ll be home tonight, and they’ll probably be all goofy and extra-snuggly while the anesthesia wears off. In the meantime, you don’t have to worry about Bacon trying to steal a bite of that sweet, sweet gravy. Sausage gravy brings out the truth in us, as evidenced today by my outing myself as a fat cat lady who eats her feelings. So who does the gravy reveal in you?

Printer-friendly recipe: Biscuits and Gravy

Football = Butcher Block Co.

Football = Butcher Block Co.

There’s a lot of talk about The Big Game… certainly a relevant and timely subject to blog about.  But having already blogged about great game-day appetizer recipes or tips for entertaining guests for the big game, I really wanted to do something fresh and unique.  But how do you connect the culmination of football season to the biz of butcher blocks?  Well thanks to some creative writing by my son, Mathew Grodsky, he has cleverly laminated these two subjects together.

Loyal readers, Superbowl 50 is right around the corner! A day that revolves around two major sports franchises bumping heads while the rest of us huddle around our television screens. Why have we become so enamored with football? There are many theories but a likely one is because the struggle that these teams face to rise up as the cream of the crop every season speaks to us as Americans. It is relatable to us because we strive to be the best in our endeavors every day. A warning, this blog is not a series of inspirational metaphors on American work ethic. Instead, it’s about “relatability”.

While it’s easy to get caught up in the euphoria that comes with America’s greatest sporting event, let us not forget that football relates to ButcherBlock Co. in, oh, so many ways. Seriously.

If you think about it, football players devote themselves to being masters of their craft in an effort to be superb in their profession. They are truly elite athletes whose commitment through long labor hours is all fueled by their passion for the game. Similarly, creating butcher block requires skilled craftsmanship, a devotion to long labor hours, and a fiery passion. At Butcher Block Co. our John Boos craftsmen have created an elite line of products. See where I’m going with this?

Superbowl 50 is a showdown between the Denver Broncos and the Carolina Panthers. Many speculate that this will be the final game for Broncos’ seasoned quarterback Peyton Manning as he has struggled to find his rhythm this year and has looked a bit overused. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As it relates, seasoned butcher block may look worn but it still retains its great character, integrity and strength while appearing worn as a result of years of love and use.

Nevertheless, Manning should be entering this game with high confidence given his team bumped off the New England Patriots, a team shrouded in controversy due to the deflate gate scandal of last year when footballs were allegedly made flatter than a butcher block countertop.

Denver’s strong side linebacker, Von Miller, is a fifth-year linebacker and three-time Pro Bowl selection whose 49 career sacks represent the sixth most in the NFL by a player through his first four seasons. Wide, thick, and sturdy atop a set of broad legs, ButcherBlock Co. features John Boos’ largest AA block built just like Von Miller, and certainly just as durable.

Denver had seven penalties against the Patriots in the championship game against New England. Going forward, they will need to avoid silly penalties such as having 12 men on the field. Every football fan knows there are only 11 players allowed on the field per team while ButcherBlock Co. allows customers to select 11 differently sized team-mates for the Boos AA block.

If the Broncos are to have any success in this game against Carolina, their offensive linemen will need to protect Manning in the pocket; if they do it right then Manning should resemble an island because no one should be around him – preferably he’ll resemble a Catskill Craftsmen Island with drop leaf, allowing him extra space in case he needs to drop back and throw a Hail Mary.

The Broncos certainly have their work cut out for them as their opponent is fired up and on a scoring hot streak. In Sunday’s NFC championship game between the Panthers and the Arizona Cardinals, Carolina quarterback, Cam Newton, proved he could air mail long bombs down the field to his wide receivers seemingly without consequence. That kind of superb “shipping” was something the Cardinals failed to duplicate, but seems to be right out of the Butcher Block Co. playbook given their offer of  free shipping on all furniture purchases!

The Panther’s head coach and former Chicago Bears defensive coordinator, Ron Rivera, has led his team to a nearly perfect season. He should be feeling pretty proud these days considering the Bears put him on the chopping block in 2006 – not to be confused with the chopping blocks at ButcherBlock Co. which include a plethora of affordable options. So if you ever have a defensive coordinator that needs to be fired you can simply pull out the chopping block.

Still not convinced football relates directly to ButcherBlock Co.? Well, this year the Superbowl will take place on February 7th, 2016. That’s 76 years to the day that Walt Disney’s second feature length film “Pinocchio” premiered in New York City, therefore solidifying the fact that this day could be about the magic of wood… and equally relatable to wood’s elemental contributions to ButcherBlockCo.’s finest butcher block furniture and accessories.

Yeah, I may be reaching here. But we can all look forward to great blocks at both the Superbowl and Butcher Block Co.!

John Boos To Build 100,000 Sq. Ft. Butcher Block Products Wood Plant in 2016

John Boos To Build 100,000 Sq. Ft. Butcher Block Products Wood Plant in 2016

Boos & Co. Renews Its Century-Old Commitment to Central-Illinois

No other business in the small town of Effingham, Illinois (population: 12,500) has been in operation longer than John Boos & Co. Founded in 1887, the company manufactures kitchen furniture and equipment for residential and commercial use. They’re most famous for their eponymous butcher blocks, as well as countertops, islands, tables, carts and cutting boards made of butcher block.

But soon, all these Boos wood products will be manufactured in a new facility. On December 15, the Effingham City Council will meet to consider selling to Boos a 15-acre parcel appraised at $300,000. It’s owned by the city and located near Boos’ corporate offices and modern metal plant situated at 3601 South Banker Street in Effingham. Production of stainless steel work tables, cabinets, sinks and shelving began there in 2011.

According to Vic Jansen, Director of Manufacturing for Boos & Co., “The wood plant is located at 315 South First St., and the outlet store is located at 507 East Fayette Avenue. But after the move it would all be together, except being separated by Thies Avenue. First we’d like to get the land secured.” Boos expects to break ground on a 100,000 square-foot facility by spring; sooner if weather permits.

Mark Shook, President of Boos’ online dealer Butcher Block Co. (website: https://butcherblockco.com), explained that, “It’s a smart move for Boos to opt for a greenfield project. That way they can invest in state-of-the-art manufacturing equipment that expands their capabilities, enhances flexibility and lowers costs. Plus, by shortening the physical distance between departments they can improve internal communications. This should boost innovation and shorten the time it takes to develop and bring new products to market.”

John Boos butcher blocks and cutting boards are used daily by such celebrity chiefs as Mario Batali and Emeril Lagasse. They’re featured regularly on food and cooking-oriented channels, including The Food Network. Professional chefs also employ them at such famous restaurants as The Border Grill in Santa Monica and New Orleans’ Bayone Restaurant. The company’s factory outlet and showroom in Effingham is open to the public daily.

Since 2006, Butcher Block Co. has been selling products designed for home and commercial kitchens. The company offers for sale butcher block cutting boards, carts, islands and tables, but is best known as a destination site for premium custom wood countertops.

For more information please visit: http://johnboos.com and https://butcherblockco.com.

Contact:

Kathleen Grodsky

[email protected]

website: https://butcherblockco.com

phone: (877) 845-5597

Record Fires and Budget Constraints Trap U.S. Forest Service in a Catch-22

Record Fires and Budget Constraints Trap U.S. Forest Service in a Catch-22

More than Half of Budget Goes to Fighting Fires, Hindering Restoration that Helps Prevent Fires.

The U.S. Forest Service, an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, manages nearly 200 million acres of public land that produces 20% of the nation’s clean water supply, and stewards sustainability efforts across more than 600 million acres of forestland. Its mission is “to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands” by battling wildfires and administering restoration, watershed and wildlife programs. (source: http://www.fs.fed.us) Restoration efforts are particularly critical since healthy forests are better able to withstand stress brought on by drought, changes in climate and wildfire.

But two recent phenomena possibly linked to global warming – record droughts in the West and wildfire seasons that start earlier and last longer– are causing the agency to exhaust money allocated to fire suppression each year, necessitating the transfer of funds earmarked for restoration that make forests more resilient to wildfire. Whereas spending on fire suppression accounted for 16% of total agency spending in 1995, it represented 52% of the agency’s $6.5 billion budget in fiscal year 2015. The end result is a classic catch-22. Insufficient clearing and restoring of forestland allows for fire fuel to build up, exacerbating the vicious cycle and endangering American lives and property. According to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, “Development close to forests has also increased the threat to property, with more than 46 million homes in the United States, or about 40 percent of our nation’s housing, potentially at risk from wildfire.” (source: http://www.fs.fed.us/news/releases/statement-secretary-tom-vilsack-ongoing-devastating-wildfire-season)

The Wildfire Disaster Funding Act of 2015, sponsored by Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, could remedy the catch. It proposes treating wildfires more like other natural disasters and should restore the agency’s capacity to protect against future wildfires, not just combat them. Specifically, the bill calls for adjustments to spending limits for FY2016 through FY2025 to ensure adequate funding for wildfire suppression operations. Moreover, the legislation would require the President’s annual budget to include the average costs for wildfire suppression over the previous ten years. On January 22, 2015, the bill was assigned to a congressional committee for consideration.

Another way the USDA hopes to restore tens of millions of acres of forests and watershed is through the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration program authorized in the 2009 Omnibus Public Lands Management Act. The program encourages collaboration and community involvement and seeks to leverage public and private resources to improve ecological, economic and social outcomes. Just this month USDA issued a progress update showing that the program, now encompassing 23 projects across 15 states, has treated more than 1.45 million acres of forest to reduce wildfire risk and has generated more than 1.25 billion board feet of timber sales. For more information, see the CFLR 5-Year Report: http://www.fs.fed.us/restoration/documents/cflrp/CFLRP_5-YearReport.pdf

The information herein was compiled by Butcher Block Co., an online seller of wood countertops; butcher block kitchen islands, carts, tables and workstations; and wooden cutting boards and knife blocks (https://butcherblockco.com). BBC salutes the U.S. Forest Service and USDA for their sustained progress in the face of natural and budgetary challenges.

For more information please visit: https://butcherblockco.com

Contact:

Kathleen Grodsky
[email protected]
website: https://butcherblockco.com
phone: (877) 845-5597

Upcycling – Creative Reuse!

Upcycling – Creative Reuse!

Last year I blogged (Reuse, Reduce, Recycle. Every day.) about how I could do better recycling in my own household. I am happy to say that I implemented nearly all of the action items I identified last year. I still believe that everyone, doing their small part, can truly make a difference and help save our environment. I am very pleased to know that my recycling mentality has rubbed off on my son, Ben. He is an Industrial Design student at ASU and has a love of invention and building things in the workshop. Fortunately his dad taught him a great deal over the years about woodworking. My son decided this summer that he was going to “make all the furniture for my new apartment at college”. Given he qualifies as a starving college student, he set out to design and make furniture on the cheap. He did not know it at the time, but the type of work he was embarking on had a name – Upcycling. Or as I like to call it, Creative Reuse!

Upcycling, or Creative Reuse, is a great way to reuse materials and reduce our carbon footprint.

The phrase, “one man’s junk is another man’s treasure” is so apropos. Ben did not have to look far to discover all sorts of valuable materials just lying around our neighborhood and community. Some of the materials were truly just trashed, while others may have found their way to scrap yards. But he certainly created new, high quality furniture from unwanted or useless materials. Here is his summer Upcycling portfolio…

Blog Upcycle
Bar-Height Kitchen Table
Restaurant Bathroom Door found at a local second-hand furniture store.
Iron panels from scrap yard
Black iron plumbing  pipe(new)

Blog Upcycle
Bar Stools
Aluminum Wheels from his old car. No takers on Craig’s list. These aluminum wheels were just too cool to take to the aluminum recycling center.
Steel Pipe from scrap yard
Fishing Boat Seats (new) and very affordable.
Blog Upcycle
Bed
Restaurant Bathroom Door from a local second-hand furniture store
Aluminum Panels from scrap yard
Aluminum I-beams from old patio awning
Landscape Lights destined for recycling center
Wood (new)
Blog Upcycle
Coffee Table
Used wood pallet
Stakes (for concrete forms)
Blog Upcycle
Living Room Chair
Beams from our neighbor’s old patio awning, discarded in a bulk trash pile
Sturdy Lawn Chair with new cushions
Thread rod
Blog Upcycle
Light
Cam shaft from his old car
Old transmission gear donated from local mechanic shop
Aluminum drafting lamp (new)
Blog Upcycle
Wall Hangings
Corrugated aluminum sheet
Poster (new)
Wood pallet
Extra Christmas lights

November 15th is America Recycles Day. It takes very little effort to do the right thing, so do your part…  Reuse, Reduce, Recycle and Upcycle!  Do you have a great Upcycling project?  Please share with our readers.

You Fon-don’t Want to Miss This Apple Cider Fondue

You Fon-don’t Want to Miss This Apple Cider Fondue

Fondue is one of my favorite things in the world because it involves melted cheese, and Claire is one of my favorite people in the world because she always has cheese and is always willing to share (I mean, there are plenty more reasons I love Claire, but let’s cut to the chase here).  So it should come as no surprise to you that the following post has me crying at my desk. This combination of cheese plus Claire plus Fall flavors could not possibly equal anything less than spectacular. This is the kind of dish that makes it worth cleaning your house so you can invite people over. You don’t have to invite people over, but maybe cut the recipe down if you plan on keeping this to yourself (two pounds of cheese is a little much, even for me). Also, go ahead and clean your house anyway. I’ll pass this onto Claire now, so she can fill the cheese-shaped void in your heart.

I love cheese. I mean, I really, really love cheese. I know loving cheese is sort of obvious, like loving bacon, but I still feel the need to openly state my affection for cheese. Before I moved to California, I used to be a cheesemonger. My cheese shop was attached to the deli in a local grocery store, and they brought me in to imbue the department with my passion and excitement for cheese and international cuisine. I was always sampling something out, engaging with my loyal customers, and bringing new people into my cheese fandom by virtue of my sincere love for cheese in all its many forms. After the first 6 months or so, I started searching for new ways to sample cheeses to my customers, and it was at that moment that my department started stocking fondue pots. It was autumn. It was miserable outside. It was meant to be.

But there was a problem! Traditional fondues are made with alcohol, and my grocery store most definitely did not grant me permission to open bottles of booze behind the deli counter. I had to craft a new recipe for a fondue that would strip out the alcohol, but still be good enough to boost cheese fandom and sales. After just a couple of tries, I managed to put together a recipe that kept the traditional Swiss cheeses, but eliminated the wine and kirsch, and it was an instant hit. I handed out recipe cards, and sold through entire wheels of Gruyère and Emmentaler cheese in the span of two hours.

Fast forward several years to my kitchen in California. It’s raining outside. The temperature has dropped a full 20° in the last three days, and it is finally starting to feel legitimately autumnal here. It’s making me flash back to those days in the cheese shop, and I am just craving hot, melted cheese.  Luckily, my cheese shop recipe is so etched on my brain, I just throw a couple extra items on my grocery list, and I know I’ll be eating gooey, melty, soul-warming cheese in no time, and you can too.

My Apple Cider Fondue is kid-friendly since it contains no alcohol, but maintains that smooth and creamy texture required to be a great fondue!

Apple Cider Fondue Fondue

  • 1 lb. Emmentaler cheese
  • 1 lb. Gruyère
  • 2 TBS cornstarch
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 cup apple cider
  • juice of 1 lemon

Our base here is going to be Emmentaler cheese. If you’re unfamiliar with it, Emmentaler is what I refer to as the granddaddy of Swiss cheese. It is what all deli cheeses known simply as “Swiss” are trying to be, but they will never be as sweet and buttery as true Emmentaler. On top of that, we need something slightly nuttier to enrich our flavor, so we turn to our best friend Gruyère. I use approximately one pound of each cheese. Start by cutting off the thin rind and coarsely shredding all of the cheese into a big bowl. Next, gently mix 2 tablespoons of cornstarch into the cheese until it is evenly distributed. Press a clove of garlic and smear the inside of a pot with it so that the pot is completely covered in garlic juices. Pour 1 cup of apple cider and the juice from one lemon into the pot and bring it to a boil. Add in a handful of the cheese mixture and stir until it is melted. Gradually add in the rest of the cheese, stirring until it is a uniform texture.

Fondue

And that’s it! If you have a fondue pot, warm it before putting the cheese into it. If you don’t have one, a crock pot or electric skillet set on low will work. Serve your fondue with whatever you want covered in hot cheese. I like cubes of bread, veggies, pretzels, apples, or sliced kielbasa, but get creative! Half-way through our pot, we decided that we would like to coat our apple slices in fondue, and then wrap them in a slice of salami, and that was a good choice! Honestly you can’t go wrong here. Fondue does not keep well, so I recommend inviting friends to share it because you have to eat it all in one go, and nothing goes better with cheese than company!

Fondue

Gruyère a little rich for your blood? You don’t have to miss out on the melty, cheesy fun! I made an adorable and delicious riff on Charles Phoenix’s cheeseball recipe for my office potluck, and he was a total hit. Simply cover a block of Velveeta in cream cheese and set it in an electric skillet with a can of Ro*Tel. I shaped my Velveeta into a ghost for Halloween and named him Ghosty, but with Thanksgiving coming up, a turkey with a carrot and celery stick tail fan might be in order! Velveeta is surprisingly pliable, so again, get creative! This recipe is a great showpiece for a party, because watching the ball melt is half the fun.

Fondue

Printer friendly recipe: Apple Cider Fondue

Halloween Roundup – Spooky Foods and Superstitions

Halloween Roundup – Spooky Foods and Superstitions

Halloween is more than just costumes and candy – there are tons of spooky foods and stories to share, too! We love trying new recipes and hearing new scary stories, so if you’ve got some to share, send them our way! And, check out our roundup of past Halloween posts, plus a few extra superstitions we’ve come across since last Halloween.

Last Halloween we compiled this fun list of food-related superstitions, and they were so interesting, we decided to dig up some more!

  • Salt sure seems to carry some bad luck. Besides the well-known superstition about spilling salt, in many cultures it is also considered bad luck to pass salt hand-to-hand. So if your dinner guest asks you to pass the salt, make sure you set it on the table in front of them instead of putting it directly in their hand!
  • Chinese legend has it that for every grain of rice left in your bowl, you will get a freckle or mole on your face! I wonder if you can leave one piece strategically behind to get that Marilyn Monroe look.
  • Refrain from eating peanuts at any type of performance – supposedly it gives the performers bad luck. This one has to be completely debunked by now because of circuses, right?
  • Don’t sit at the corner of the dinner table or you will be single FOREVER! Oh, the horror! Too bad the corner seat is the most convenient for sneaking scraps to my cats… (P.S. Today is National Cat Day!)
  • In Italy, if you spill alcohol, you are supposed to dab a bit of the spilled sauce behind your ears to bring good luck. I don’t know about you, but I’d prefer to keep the booze gods on my side, so I will be adopting this one for sure. Plus, smelling like champagne is never a bad thing.

Speaking of wine, grab a glass of spooky Halloween-themed vino and get ready to carve your pumpkins. We’ve got some handy tips and tricks for making a fabulous jack-o-lantern! Finish off the night with these to-die-for (ooh spooky!) Deep Fried Pumpkin Pie Bites if you’re not too full of candy!

Happy Halloween from all of us at Butcher Block Co.! We hope you have a frightfully good time with many treats and minimal tricks!

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.

Fall Baking: Stirring Up Memories

Fall Baking: Stirring Up Memories

It’s time to start gearing up for Fall Baking and I couldn’t be more excited! It’s still too hot here to use the oven, but all the local bakeries are breaking out their fall-themed goodies and it just makes me feel better about life. In a week or two I’ll be able to use my oven in the evenings, and I think I’m going to start my fall baking with these Oatmeal Lace Cookies that Claire is about to share with us. When I showed the photo to my son, he said, “I wish we lived at Claire’s house.” Me too, buddy, me too. Not only do these cookies look and sound fabulous, but Claire has managed to capture that fall feeling in her words. Let’s all cozy up to the fire and have Claire tell us a story.

My favorite season is fall. That might be an odd choice for a California girl, given the lack of seasonal change here, but it’s really just a holdover from growing up in Michigan. It’s not just because it means that my favorite holidays are around the corner. There’s something about autumn that just carries in the air in Michigan, and that feeling just gets infused in everything. When I first made the move out here, it was early spring. It was beautiful, and I spent the summer at the beach, so I barely missed my home state. By the time October rolled around, though, it was still beautiful and sunny and warm outside, and intense homesickness started to set in. I missed the crisp, cool air and the changing leaves. I missed wearing cute sweaters, and drinking fresh apple cider from the orchard up the road. I missed the fall.

One day that first California fall, I was walking home from work, lost in thought about apple pie and hay rides and colorful gourds. I was starting to feel a little bit overwhelmed by the thought that I might never see a real autumn again. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a gust of cool wind picked up behind me, and I heard the sound of dry leaves skittering across the pavement. The wind blew in a little spiral around me, sending my hair flying, and a shiver went through my body. It was like Mother Nature had seen me struggling, and sent me a hug. That sound, that breeze, just transported me back to autumnal Michigan, and I understood just how closely my memories are bound to my senses.

I decided that day that just because it was still 88 degrees outside didn’t mean that I couldn’t throw myself headlong into my favorite season inside. I went home and started my fall baking, and I made my own autumn.

Since then, I have never looked back. When my friends back home start posting pictures of themselves in hats and sweaters, and I feel that pang of jealousy, I just close the curtains to block out my next-door-neighbor’s palm trees, and I throw myself into reviving those autumnal memories. I have started on my Christmas knitting, so I can have the touch of wool on my hands. I’ve been planning out my Halloween costume, and giggling at the prospect of frightening my neighbors’ children. And, of course, I’ve broken out my fall baking supplies, to surround myself in sweet, autumnal aromas.

I’ve decided to start my fall baking slowly and simply this year, so I’m making an oatmeal lace cookie with a chocolate ginger drizzle. The golden color and crispy snap of a lace cookie is a delicious analogy for dry leaves, and the crystallized ginger on top gives these rich treats the perfect, autumnal kick. Of course, the best way to really enjoy a thing like this is to share it with loved ones, so I’ve also decided to get into the gift-giving season early this year. I’m packaging these up in cellophane and seasonal ribbons to give to my California friends. Maybe we’ll even share them over mulled cider.

Oatmeal Lace Cookies with Chocolate Ginger Drizzle

Ingredients: Fall Baking

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter
  • 2¼ cups light brown sugar, packed
  • 2¼ cups rolled oats
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 5 ounces dark chocolate
  • 2 tablespoons crystallized ginger, minced

Preheat your oven to 375º F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicon baking mats and set them aside. Heat the butter and brown sugar in a 2-quart saucepan over medium heat, stirring frequently with a wooden or silicon spoon, until the butter has melted and the mixture is smooth. Stir in oats, flour, salt, egg, and vanilla.

Drop teaspoons-sized mounds of cookie batter onto the prepared baking sheets, leaving at least 2 inches between each cookie to allow them to spread. Do not give in to the temptation to make bigger mounds or to put more than six or eight on a sheet, or your cookies will all run together, and you won’t get those nice, crispy edges. Bake for 5 -7 minutes, watching closely to prevent them from over-baking. The cookies should be golden brown, with dark edges. Allow them to cool on the cookie sheet for about a minute before you move them onto racks to finish cooling.

Fall Baking

When all of the cookies have completely cooled, lay them out onto sheets of parchment paper. Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Transfer the melted chocolate to a resealable plastic bag and snip the very tip off of one of the bottom corners to make a hole. Holding the bag about 5 inches above the cookies, drizzle the chocolate back and forth in a zigzag until the cookies are covered to your preference. While the chocolate is still soft, sprinkle the ginger over the cookies, and then allow them to set for a couple of hours.

Fall Baking

Any cookies that you don’t give away to friends should be stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry spot, but they’re so tasty, I doubt they’ll stick around for very long. Some of the ginger that doesn’t get stuck on a chocolate line will obviously fall off of the cookies, but I scoop those bits up and put them in the container with the cookies because the more ginger aromatics, the better. I want to open that Tupperware and feel transported! And then I want to just eat those ginger bits!

Fall Baking

Do you love fall baking? What seasonal traditions get you the most excited? What costume should I wear for Halloween?

Printer friendly recipe: Fall Baking – Oatmeal Lace Cookies

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