Tonight is all about being sparkly and bright! After all, it's New Year's Eve! Be the glitter! Be the sparkler! Be someone's bright something tonight! Smile. Smile a lot. Smile again. Your smile will bring a smile to someone else's face... that's a good thing. Be bright and merry. Happy New Year!
New Year's Eve is tomorrow. Every year, I make Beef Wellington. I prepare the puff pastry the day before. (Yep. That's today.) I shop for the beef tenderloin and pate. I plan the wine and side dishes. I forget the mushrooms... I play out in my head how the preparation will go and then throw the plan out the window since I always have to look up how to make the wine reduction sauce I serve as an accompaniment. There are however, a few basics to making Beef Wellington I will share with you, Dear Readers.
This may mean making the puff pastry or it may mean purchasing it and making certain it is defrosted.
2. Buy the good stuff.
Use good butter. Purchase only a tender cut of beef. (Plan for 4-6 ounces/person.) Buy good mushrooms like portabellas. Buy heavy cream. Buy good wine.
3. Assemble all the parts.
Sear the beef and cook and season the mushrooms so they are cold when you assemble the Wellington.
4. Make the wine reduction.
Pour some wine into a pot and reduce it by half. This way, when you are ready to make your sauce, you're "ready."
5. Have fun.
That wine you bought for the sauce can also sauce you!
Happy New Year's Eve Eve, Dear Readers!
For me, fruitcake was something that shifted about the back of the car as we drove home from my grandparent's house. No one wanted to sit next to it. In fact, we three kids were a little afraid of it truth be told. My parents however adored it! She was very artistic and she made floral patterns on the top with fruits and nuts. My foggy memories are of gleaming red and green cherries that dotted the loaf my grandma had made sometime months before and doused with brandy. I think the cake could have burned in our fireplace and remained unscathed!
Today, my attitude about fruitcake has matured. I now enjoy certain types and I am unashamed to admit it. There is an English Whiskey Cake that is rich and dark and sumptuous I make every year and we nibble on throughout the holidays. I have come to see fruitcake as cake for fruits. The batter should be the vessel for all the goodness like pecans and almonds and dried tart cherries and apricots. Banished are the dreaded (and frightening) green candied cherries but the red variety is welcome in our home and my cake. I don't like to taste alcohol in a cake for fruits. I don't like to taste any one flavor in a cake for fruits. The batter should be rich with spices and a touch of homemade candied peel. The fruit and nuts should be evenly distributed throughout. The cake should be baked to a firm tenderness that goes perfectly with tea, coffee, whiskey or something fortified like Madeira. Are you with me Dear Readers?
The cake for fruits I am describing is not a quick bake. It requires gathering, chopping, toasting, mixing and patience. The cake for fruits I am describing requires loving attention. The cake I am describing is worth the effort.
If you have never attempted a cake for fruits here are a few tips:
1. Take your time. Toast the nuts, plump the dried fruits in alcohol, make the peel... Do not rush the process.
2. Toss some of the fruit and nuts with a bit of flour and fold them in to help them distribute throughout the cake.
3. Bake it a little longer than you think you need to, to be certain it is baked throughout.
4. Cool it completely, wrap it up tight and store it in the refrigerator but serve at room temperature.
5. Give yourself the freedom to experiment and play with flavors.
6. Accept your first attempt or two may not be perfect and settle in to have a good time.
7. Cross reference recipes from books and the internet to fine tune your spice and fruit combinations.
8. DO NOT be upset with your favorite blogger because she did not post this blog until after Christmas. After all, she only just got an oven again...
Share your favorite cake for fruits tips, if you love or hate it and which kind you make.
I cooked today for the first time since Christmas. I made a Creamy Chicken and Rice Soup. The four of us sat about the table and ate quietly. Don't you find soup is just that? Quiet eating? Even the preparation of soup is relatively quiet. There is some chopping and sizzling and stirring but on the whole, the preparation is quiet. Frankly, after the foods of Christmas and those that are still to come for New Year's Eve, quiet eating is just the ticket.
The quiet preparation of soup is so nurturing. The quiet of savoring the broth and soft vegetables and creamy rice until your mouth closes about the chicken and has to work. The quiet reward of seeing my family enjoy the warmth that settles into someone as they eat soup. The joy I feel is quietly savored...
When was the last time you shared a quiet eating experience with your family?
Make a pot of soup or roast a chicken and serve it with something soft and creamy. Gaze upon your tablemates and just enjoy the tenderness of quiet eating.
Every year it's the same. We decorate the weekend following Thanksgiving. We take sappy family pictures by the tree with the Christmas goat. (The goat is actually the world's ugliest reindeer given to us 100 years ago by my dearest friend, Claire. The goat is worn and gets its own entrance music.) Anyway, the ornaments get hung and and some get thrown out. I place the tree topper on the top of the tree and my husband, Russell, and I hang our "First Christmas" ornament together. Other ornaments are found and hung but all traffic comes to a screeching halt when the "special" ornaments are found. You know the ones. The ones your children made or your grandmother painted when you were small or your mother made. The ornaments you collected from places you traveled. The ornaments you made from salt dough and painted when you were just starting out as a couple and were too poor to afford store bought ornaments. (We have only one salt ornament left from those days because our Italian Grey Hound, Mariposa, feasted on our entire collection one Christmas!)
Our tree has seen many revelations too. Russell's and my favorite trees were the ones decorated solely by our girls when they were little. The tree would be completely bald save for the areas they could reach. Most of the ornaments ended up in the front, lower third of the tree and it was beautiful! It's a miracle the tree never tipped over! As the children grew, so did the height and placement of the ornaments. Russ and I never moved a single ornament, ever. My mother came to visit and was appalled at our tree. Given her perfectionist nature, she thought "Santa" should disperse the ornaments but Santa appreciated excellent decorating technique when he saw it. Now my mother looks back fondly on the Grube Family Christmas trees and gets nostalgic for those times as we do.
All across the world, these warming traditions are happening. Warming traditions remind me of the days when there were only a few television networks. Remember those days? ALL the country watched the Lawrence Welk Show, then Wild Kingdom and then The Wonderful World of Walt Disney every Sunday. We suffered through the commercials and everything. Our family (along with most families) gathered about the television, shared fruit my father would slice and cuddled in close to each other. This was our family Sunday tradition. It seems so simple but simple is highly underrated I think. Simple should be channeled and relished. Simple is really not all that simple...
Please share your "simple" warming traditions in the comments section.
Rest and Recovery
Christmas is such a joyous time! It's time for toasting and roasting and roasting and toasting and toasting and roasting.... On and on until our hearts (and tummies) are bursting! As the proud owner of a VERY sensitive tummy, I have been feeling all the toasting and roasting rather keenly. I have even been experiencing a touch of the bursting... What to do? What to do? Well, Dear Readers, what else is there to do except slam face first into "Rest and Recovery" mode.
Lets be realistic. The holiday season is not great for our tummies. We cook and bake and bake and bake some more. We mix, slosh, pour and toss back all manner of yummy beverages. We nibble and nosh. We gorge... There is no shame in it but the piper must be paid.
Create and stick to a workout routine which will help with digestion and relaxation.
Drink warm lemon water and/or drink ginger tea or eat ginger chews for same reasons.
That's it! I'm done with the advice. See? Wasn't that painless? I DO NOT believe in a life of deprivation. I certainly believe now is the not the time for moderation. I don't believe in cutting calories or fat during special times like the holidays; in fact, I believe that is ridiculous. Just be smart and relax into the bursting... When you have a special meal, I say indulge! What I try to do is eat smart the time leading up to special meal so if I know it's dinner, I have sensible foods all day so I can relax and indulge. I do my workout. I drink lemon water. I hope for the best and know bursting will be involved. If all else fails, carry antacids!
Please share any tips you have for settling tummies in the comments section. Enjoy!
Christmas time is here! The music of my oven, Igi, humming away is in the air! You know the little tree in the Charles Schultz "A Charlie Brown Christmas?" The droopy little fir in need a lot of love? Yep. That one. Well, think of ingredients like droopy little firs in need of love. Cooking is after all, a loving act in the same way as decorating a tree for Christmas is a loving act. We hang bobbles and tie bows onto the tree's branches. We wrap it in a skirt and place presents about its base. We wait in anticipation of what is to come...
Cooking is like that don't you think? We purchase yummy ingredients like standing rib roasts, organic potatoes and green beans. We lovingly prep the ingredients. We massage good flavors into the meat like herb salt and sliced garlic. The potatoes get dressed up with fresh rosemary. and we robe the green beans in sour cream and cheese. Wine is chosen. Desserts get planned and made. The table gets set. We count backwards on the clock so our dinner is perfectly timed to have all the sides finished as soon as the roast is cooked, rested and carved. We light candles and say a prayer. We share our love with each other and are better for it; just as the little tree is suddenly a dynamic, glowing masterpiece at the end of the film. The tree 'just needs a little love' says Linus. Don't we all?
Christmas time and going to the movies are synonymous. Movies release during the holidays and people take time away from busy schedules to go see them. Movies take us away from the hustle and bustle of traffic and crowded stores and hot kitchens. Movies take us to far away galaxies and transport us to other worlds. Movies suspend reality, make us laugh and cry and can satisfy or disappoint. We root for heroes and cheer when the bad guy gets his just desserts. We live vicariously through the activities in movies be they travel, romance, eating, bravery or humor. Sometimes movies are just the ticket to uplift a spirit and soothe us when we are stressed. Sound like anything else you know? Yep! FOOD! Food can suspend reality, make us laugh and cry and can satisfy or disappoint. That is one of the reasons I enjoy both movies and cooking.
I hope you take the time, Dear Readers, to suspend reality over the coming few days to help you relax and soothe your spirit.
Chance of Sprinkles
Today, our oldest daughter, Alyssa, and I played in the kitchen together. We made Savory Three Cheese Crackers and biscotti flavored with maple, brown sugar, pecans and homemade candied orange peel. We decided to make the dough for a slice and bake penguin cookie I saw in a Food Network email but decided to improvise a bit. Improvisation is one of my favorite things to do because it involves creativity. I added a bit of brown sugar to the dough and increased the vanilla extract. I went hunting about for the decorating details the recipe required like white and red chocolate melts, I found white and pink so pink. We read the assembly directions and Alyssa and I decided to veer off coarse again. Alyssa said, 'All those Japanese decorating online videos I watch are coming in handy Mom. I got this!' Alyssa rolled and pinched little orange beaks and feet. She made a channel down the middle of each roll and carefully began to create the beginning of a penguin face. Next, Alyssa made a dapper violet jacket and draped it over the penguin's shoulders. (We did not have black gel coloring called for in the recipe.) After we bake the little guys tomorrow we will dip the cooled treats in pink melts to create beanies. We think there will be a chance of sprinkles too.