Friday, November 30, 2012

Foodie Faves: My Sprinkles Cabinet

The holiday season has landed on my calendar with a thud. It’s not even December and already I’m knee-deep in Christmas cookies. But in this kitchen that I designed myself (at least mostly), the cookie-making and cookie-decorating are so much easier, I really look forward to the process.

Back in New Jersey, when I first got into the sprinkles mania, decorating cookies meant several trips down to the basement where I kept the box with my collection of cookie cutters and two more really large and heavy plastic bins for the sprinkles and icing. Halloween cookies – for which I have only half a dozen shapes and use little more than white and black and yellow and orange – required the same effort as Christmas cookies, for which I have nearly 20 shapes and use as many colors as I can manage.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Taste of Holiday Greens
What’s cooking? Pasta with Kale and Bacon

There’s nothing quite so disheartening as coming up with what you think is a totally new idea and discovering that half the world already knows about it. But that will not stop me from telling you about my latest Kitchen Goddess creation. It turns out that my ego can withstand this assault.

Ever since we arrived in Texas, I’ve been trying to branch out from the endless parade of dinners featuring broiled chicken, broccoli, and rice, or some variation on the broccoli/rice bit. It was a perfectly satisfactory dinner for all those years when our sons were at home and I was still working; in fact, it was more than satisfactory. But once you get the kitchen of your dreams, you really need to branch out.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Please, Not the Jingle Bells Just Yet

Whew. The long weekend of thankfulness is over, leaving me with that bittersweet gratitude that it only lasts the four days. One son left Saturday to drive back to St. Louis where he’s in his third year of medical school and had to be ready bright and early this morning for pediatric rounds. The other son left today, taking his wife and baby on the airplane back to New Jersey.

I cleaned up last night from the 25 people we invited over yesterday afternoon. I’m not sure why I thought I had to pile more entertaining on top of the family visits, but I couldn’t resist the temptation to show off our 10-month-old granddaughter.

And now the house is finally quiet. I’ve gathered the towels from the bathrooms, noting with amazement – but not for the first time – how many my sons manage to use in such a short period. I’ve put away the high chair and the stroller and the Pack ’n Play, gathered up the handful of items the new parents inadvertently left behind, and reassembled my desk and computer from its temporary occupation by my older son.

Then I made lunch of the party leftovers (dip, chips, and gazpacho) and ate it stretched out on the couch while I watched reruns of “Castle.” It felt almost like a vacation, at least until tomorrow when I have to start on a double batch of Christmas cookies for the neighborhood holiday party.

So as we gird our loins for the rest of the holiday season, I have an easy, healthy, and delicious recipe for pasta with kale to get you started. But not until tomorrow. I told my husband we’re going out to dinner. I hope you will have the good sense to do the same.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Napkin Folding and Other Obsessions

I’ve been obsessing this week, and that’s not good. I can’t even concentrate on what to serve for Thanksgiving because I can’t decide what the table should look like.

Of course, it’s my own fault. In addition to my wedding china and the good china I inherited from my grandmother, I’m sort of a dish junkie, with sets of plates I inherited from my mother and plates I just couldn’t resist from catalogues or estate sales here and there. These random sets of plates – wood, pottery, glass, porcelain – weren’t expensive, which is how I convince myself that buying them is a good idea. And while I’m not necessarily a napkin junkie, I do think I may have more than my share. Also of glasses. These are just little weaknesses I have.

So I started experimenting. Here’s my first pass. I found the garland at Party City, and – on the theory that everything looks better with some glitter – I picked up gold glitter hair spray and used the entire can on the leaves. The candles are artichoke shapes – more fun than pumpkins, and better color. And I stuck in some cool water glasses I bought in Italy this fall. I like using these napkins on a large scale on the plates.

But that was just playing, as we’ll have five for dinner, and I only have four of those ochre plates and the water glasses. Ah, well.  So I went for a simpler setting, using pottery that I have plenty of, with different candles and my standard wine glasses. It seemed nice, but in the end not fallish enough. This is another fun way to do napkins: just roll them all the way across on the diagonal, then tie them into a single knot.

In search of inspiration, I went outside, where I noticed that the possomhaw holly was covered with bright red berries and hadn’t yet lost its leaves. I cut off a couple of big branches and – after much struggle and a fair amount of cursing – managed to get them stable in a big glass bowl that I then filled with cranberries. It’s gorgeous on my dining room table, so I set it with my wedding china and alternating dark and light green napkins, with beaded napkin rings. Added an assortment of large foil leaves I had in my workroom, and I think this will do nicely.

In the middle of all this table arranging, my cousin called and said she’d love some napkin-folding ideas, so here goes.

The most basic technique is just to fold them in half and roll them, then tie them with some cool ribbon. The ribbon I’ve used here is copper, and was almost nothing at Michael’s, since all their Thanksgiving stuff is now on deep discount. I had some sweet-gum tree spurs (from a fall stroll in NJ years ago) that I spray-painted gold, and have tucked one into each knot. By the way, it’s a good idea to always have spray paint on hand, in gold and silver and copper – you can never tell when it’ll come in handy, or what you might want to paint. I once spray-painted the trim for some curtains.

Here’s a fun folding technique that produces a nice fan effect that stands up. Start by laying the napkin out flat and making two soft pleats – like a Roman shade. Here’s the first:

And here’s the second:

Then working in the direction perpendicular to those folds, pleat the entire napkin like an accordion.

 Stuff the thinner end of the accordion fold into either a glass or a napkin ring.

Here’s a fold that adds a bit of formality, and works really well with a napkin that’s got a strip of color along one edge. Start by folding the top and bottom to meet in the center.

Then fold each end toward the center.

Fold the right end over to reach about 2 inches from the left.

Do the same thing again with the new right end. I like laying this style of fold on the plate.


Now that you’re a pro at napkin folding, here’s one that resembles the Sydney Opera House. This is an elegant shape, but only works with a dinner-sized napkin, and is best with napkins that have some stiffness to them. Start by folding the napkin in fourths, like so:

With the corners of the napkin pointing toward you, fold the napkin in half along the diagonal, to form a triangle with the corners pointing away from you.

Turn the left and right ends of the triangle down, so that the folds meet in the center and the napkin shape resembles a kite.

Tuck the bottom parts of the kite underneath and, with one hand pinching the bottoms together, lift the napkin corners – which are now a the top of the kite shape – to stand up individually. Set the folded napkin on the plate.

 So here's how my kitchen looked at the end of this activity. Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Foodie Faves: Thanksgiving Favorites

I know it’s not Friday. Does it count that I started this post on Friday?

I’ve been consumed with thoughts of Thanksgiving lately, as, I’m sure, have many of you. We’re all trying to decide which of our many fabulous recipes to cook. But maybe you’re tired of the same old same old. Maybe you’re just hankering for something new and delicious. Or maybe, in spite of having paid assiduous attention to this blog, you have missed a few of the posts. Maybe you were sick that day, or had to rearrange your closet, or feed the cat.

Well, good news – the Kitchen Goddess has come to the rescue! In accordance with the theme of Friday Faves, herein you will find a nice, tidy list of the Kitchen Goddess’s favorite Thanksgiving recipes, with links to the original posts where they appeared. Here goes:

First, you must remember that every good celebration can use a little alcohol. Even better if it’s champagne. So in my house, we like to kick things off with Champagne Cosmos. Lighter and a bit less alcoholic than your basic Cosmo, these are bound to make even grumpy Uncle Larry thankful.

You’re on your own with the bird, but here’s a great stuffing recipe that, because of the fruit, will help keep the bird moist: Cornbread-Sausage Stuffing with Apples and Grapes. As it happens, I hardly ever stuff the turkey, preferring to cook the stuffing separately, in which case I guess we should call it dressing. Stuffing or dressing, this one is the bomb, as my son would say.

While I’m thinking about turkey, I must add a note about my favorite cranberry sauce: Cranberry Sauce with Pinot Noir. OMG, ladies and gentlemen – this stuff will make you swoon. Just be sure to use a decent Pinot. The Kitchen Goddess’s rule is that if you don’t want to drink it, you don’t want to cook with it.

Thanksgiving is such a carbfest, and I really object on so many levels to those sweet potato recipes with the marshmallows. If you like sweet potatoes, here’s one that’s not so teeth-clenchingly sweet: Sweet Potato Ginger Soufflé. It’s also light (though not as light as, say a chocolate soufflé – remember, it’s made with sweet potatoes), and you can assemble it ahead of time, cover it with Saran Wrap, then on the big day, take it to room temp and bake.

More carbs, I know, but somehow it’s not Thanksgiving without rolls. Or maybe you’ll want to make them for the day after, when you can stuff them with leftover turkey and dressing. Here are two choices:  Cochineal Biscuits (without yeast) and Aunt Marcy’s Yeast Rolls (with yeast, duh). Both are outstanding.

At last, some greens. Green beans, that is. And the best way I’ve ever had them is here: Roasted Sesame Green Beans. In fact, I made some just a few days ago, and they were so good, I’m making a larger batch tonight.

You need a salad, and one of my favorites for this sort of meal is avocado and grapefruit sections over watercress or spinach or arugula. Dress it with my best Poppy Seed Dressing or, for less sweetness, this Honey-Lemon Dressing.

Ah, dessert. My Aunt Marcy’s Pumpkin Chiffon Pie has been lauded the world over. Well, maybe not the world, but absolutely every time I have served it. Absolutely. Light and airy, it delivers the pumpkin taste without the cement-like texture of the traditional pies.

Start your engines, everyone! Oh, and don't forget the candles.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Risotto Triumphant
What’s cooking? Tomatoey Risotto with Shrimp

Whew. The election’s over, and thank goodness, because I don’t have any ironing left. While we ground our way through the state-by-state assessments, I managed to press 7 shirts, 6 pairs of pants, 2 sets of king-sized sheets, and 3 dishtowels. I’m not sure which was the more exhausting activity – the election or the ironing – but I’m glad to see the end of both.

The more exciting news is that the Kitchen Goddess has once again outdone herself, in a very creditable job of replicating the risotto with shrimp I had in Ravello last month. Unlike our politicians, risotto is very companionable – it makes friends with just about anything you throw in with it. It’s best if you don’t get too crazy with the number of additions, but I’ve made amazing dinners of butternut squash risotto, shrimp and asparagus risotto, wild mushroom risotto, lemon-herb risotto, Parmesan cheese risotto, and of course, plain old risotto with some extra butter on top. It’s a really filling dish – and gluten-free for those of you who care – so all you need to add is a salad, or a nice green veggie.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Days of Wine and Fishes -- Amalfi Coast, Part 2
What’s cooking? Fettuccine with Zucchini Sauce

Ravello, from below
My taste buds are slowly readjusting to Texas produce and flavors – which aren’t bad, mind you – but in my quiet moments, I read over my notes from the delectable dishes we had only a month ago in Italy, and I keep thinking it shouldn’t be so hard to reproduce at least some of the tastes.

One of my favorite spots on the coast is Ravello, a tiny town (population 2,500) in the hills above Amalfi. It was founded in the 5th century, as a refuge from the barbarian invasions; in more recent times, it’s been a refuge for artists (M.C. Escher and Joan Miró), composers (Richard Wagner, Edvard Grieg, Leonard Bernstein), and writers (Virginia Woolf, Tennessee Williams, Graham Green, Truman Capote). But you must only visit Ravello if you’re in decent physical shape, because you park your car at the lowest point in the town and walk up, ...and up and up.