Mediterranean Kebabs

lilacs

The lilacs are finally in bloom! I could bury my nose in their wonderful scent all day long!

This week’s dish can’t even be defined as a recipe, it’s more like a set of instructions!

A few weeks ago I was going to book club and instead of a green salad, I wanted to do something that was a little bit out of the box, was delicious, and the most important thing, I had about 15 minutes to put it together! So I created these vegetable kebabs, which can be used as an appetizer or in place of salad for dinner. Veggies, a little bit of cheese, and the flavor of fresh basil, they even make for a wonderful for lunch! Once you have everything chopped and ready to go, it really is done in 15 minutes!

I made mine with chunks of European cucumber, a baby mozzarella ball, a piece of fresh basil, and grape tomato sliced in half. I topped with some salt and pepper and a little drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. I thought a sprinkle of balsamic vinegar could be a good addition, too. I kept the order the same and made two rounds on the skewer. The skewers I have are six-inches long, just the right size, since these aren’t going on the grill.

You can make these with pieces of meat (think salami, spicy ham), different veggies (red, yellow, and orange peppers would be great!), with or without cheese, even fruit. Think about what flavors will go with what vegetables. Basil is the perfect herb since it is flat. I can’t think of another herb that would work quite as well, can you?

I have a potluck dinner to attend later on this week and will be toting these along. I think the kebabs are going to be made a lot in the coming months—a no-cook meal, they are perfect for those evenings when it’s too hot to turn on the stove!

 

Photo-skewers

MVK’s Endorsement of the Week
As I sat down wondering what I would endorse this week, my mind wandered to my adventures this past weekend. It’s garage sale season, and you will never know what kind of cookbooks you will find!

photo-coookbookI found this cookbook by local food writer, Andrea Chesman. I have a couple of her books and the recipes are always great. The book was in perfect condition and I paid $1 for it! (The price was .50, but since it was for the historical society, I said they could keep the change, big spender that I am!) So now that it is warmer weather, get out and check out some book sales! You may never know what gems you will find!

 

My Vermont Kitchen Gets Out of the Kitchen! Plus a Christmas Cookie Recipe

Chris isn't in Vermont anymore!

Chris isn’t in Vermont anymore!

I mentioned right after Thanksgiving that the month of December was crazy, and that’s no lie. Between work during the week, the weekends have been devoted to traveling, so I’ve been getting out of the kitchen and having other people cook for me, which I admit has been quite the treat!

But before I get to my travels, I thought, since it tis the season, I’d bring you my favorite Christmas cookie recipe. Apologies in advance to my longtime readers, who see me haul this out every year, but to be honest, if I have time to make just one Christmas cookie (or eat one!) during the season, these are it. I can think of nothing better than butter, sugar, and walnuts. So for my new readers, this is my hands down favorite Christmas cookie. No need to pull out the cookie cutters and they are hardly fussy.

This is a family recipe that I think everyone in my family has made at one point or another in their cooking lifetime. The original recipe calls them Butter Fingers, but to be easy, we always formed them into little round balls, hence their “new” name. I recommend a nice cup of coffee or tea with a cookie or two. They are moist and yummy, and like all older recipes, the directions are sparse!

butterball2
Butterballs
14 Tablespoons butter, softened
4 Tablespoons confectioner sugar
2 cups flour
1 cup ground nuts (I usually use walnuts, but pecans are good, too)
2 teaspoons vanilla and 1 teaspoon water, mixed

Mix and shape with hands. Bake at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes. Watch to make sure they don’t get too brown. When cool, roll in confectioner sugar.

* * * *

A really bad hair day, but I'm very happy!

A really bad hair day, but I’m very happy!

Last weekend I took the bus down to New York to meet up with my friend, Jana, who lives in Seattle. Besides going to museums and walking through Central Park, we ate at some pretty spectacular places, most which might not make it on your radar, so I thought I’d give a little synopsis in case you find yourself in the Big Apple in the near future and are looking for something to eat!

(I’m sorry for the lack of photographs. I tried taking a photo at the first restaurant, it turned out terrible, so I decided to go without. But the pictures and flavors are in my mind and memory, I just wish you all could enjoy them!)

We started late Saturday afternoon by walking to East Harlem and we went to El Paso http://elpasony.com/ (1643 Lexington Avenue) for a late lunch. I was famished; I’d been on the road since 7 a.m., so my three tacos: chirizo, cecina [salted beef], and asada [grilled beef] were spectacular. Also incredible was the guacamole (probably the best I’ve ever had in a restaurant!) and house-made totopos (tortilla chips). Next time I could just order that and be very happy. I should have taken the traditional route and tried one of their specialty margaritas instead of my usual vodka martini. This was a  wonderful restaurant if you want authentic Mexican food, as my sister-in-law would say. The service was wonderful and the food incredibly delicious. What more could you want?

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I read that this year’s tree had FIVE miles of lights on it! I thought I might be disappointed, but I wasn’t, despite the crowds!

From here it was a train ride to Rockefeller Center to see the Christmas tree along with two million other people, and a walk down 5th Avenue. We decided to stop in at a lovely Italian restaurant, Mozzarella & Vino (33 West 54th Street). I decided to have a glass of Italian chardonnay, which was lovely. After sitting and chatting for quite some time, we decided we were hungry again and decided to have another bite to eat. Since mozzarella is half the name of the restaurant, they obviously focus on cheese, so we ordered a tasting platter of three different cheeses with some bread: mozzarella, burrata, and a smoked mozzarella. I’ve only read about burrata cheese in cooking magazines; the outer shell is solid mozzarella while the inside contains both mozzarella and cream; in other words, heaven. I am going to have to seek this out in Vermont. Yet again, I could have ordered and eaten this entire appetizer by myself and been perfectly content. Next time!

rtr-300x225Lots more walking and we were getting tired. Near Times Square and getting cold, we made our way to the subway. Walking past Carnegie Hall and lots of old New York landmarks, I was cold but excited to see these places in person. And then it was right in front of us: The Russian Tea Room (150th West 57th Street)! Almost my entire life I’ve heard about this restaurant, through books and movies. When my book club read Anna Karinina and I was hosting, I went to their website to see what they served so I could cook an authentic Russian meal. Even though they were closing in 30 minutes, we  had enough time to have a cocktail and nightcap at the bar. Stolichnaya martini for me (of course, I had to be authentic and it’s my vodka of choice!) and Irish Coffee for my friend. It would be exciting to be there on New Year’s Eve, but their $500 per person for the six-course meal is a bit cost prohibitive!

Sunday morning, dark and gray, but after a brisk walk through Central Park, we made our way to a nice coffee shop for breakfast. Apologies, I didn’t pay attention to the name, but the breakfast burrito was delicious and held me through a late morning and afternoon of museum walkings until a slice of New York veggie pizza late afternoon. Then dinner was mecca: Mario Batali’s Eataly (200 5th Avenue in the Flatiron neighborhood).

Like I said, bad photos, but this is what greeted us at our table.

Like I said, bad photos, but this is what greeted us at our table.

Mario isn’t my favorite celebrity chef, but he does have a connection with Italian cook Lidia Bastianch, so I was still excited. I’ve never been to a place like this; it’s a market, but also a sort of cafeteria. Over here is the antipasto section, the shellfish area, the fish area, the pizza and pasta area over here. So diners choose what and where they would like to eat. After walking all over Manhattan and two museums that day, we were pooped, so standing at the antipasto area was out of the question. We chose to take the elevator up 14 stories to eat at their brew pub, Birreria. We spent about 15 minutes trying to decide what I wanted to eat because everything looked delicious! And it was. We had a grilled portobello with whipped burrata (again!) with small raw beets and a house-made pork and beef sausage with braised red cabbage and speck. (This was the second time we saw speck on a menu, and I investigated what it was, because I had never heard of it before. Click on the hyperlink. Trust me, it’s delicious.) Our waiter was wonderful and I’m still trying to place who he reminds me of, although we confirmed our paths have never crossed, and it was a perfect ending to a perfect day.

Monday morning, with a few flakes of snow in the air, we decided to take a historic walk through Harlem, which was exciting and educational. But it was getting to be late morning, we hadn’t eaten and we were hungry. So our trusty guidebook took us to Amy Ruth’s, and I couldn’t have been more happy to be here for my last meal in the city. A traditional “soul food” restaurant, a description I sort of dislike, but this was it–and it was incredible. Each meal was named for a famous African American; I ordered the President Barack Obama (fried chicken with cheesy grits and collard greens) and Jana ordered the Rev. Al Sharpton (smothered chicken and waffles), with fresh, moist cornbread to start. For me, fried chicken will always be on the menu for my last supper; growing up my birthday dinner request always was fried chicken and chocolate cake. And with all due apologies to my dad, this fried chicken, eaten at 11:30 in the morning in Harlem, was the best fried chicken I’ve ever eaten.

The chicken was able to tide me over until Massachusetts. My bus driver surprised me by stopping at a store so us weary travelers could stop and pick up something to eat. Needless to say, the stale roast beef and cheddar sandwich was my least favorite meal of the weekend.

There are a million other restaurants in New York, I’d love to try them all, but to be honest, if I went back to these restaurants, I’d be happy as a clam!

Cilantro Pesto

I can hear the “boos and hisses” already! I know that some eaters absolutely despise cilantro, avoiding it at all costs, but bear with me! Admittedly, I didn’t like cilantro for many years, but through time it has become a favorite herb, although one that is used sparingly. It always seems when I buy a bunch, though, it always ends up forgotten in the bottom of the veggie bin until I discover it as a black, slimy mess. But this recipe solves this problem!

I became familiar with cilantro pesto several years back from a colleague of mine. And while I was skeptical, I was a convert after that first bite. You make this just like its Italian counterpart, but to me, the flavor has a little zing to it. A squirt of lemon juice at the end was perfect. And I think a lot of the cilantro “flavor” is lost with the mixing of the nuts, garlic, and cheese. I added some green beans when I was cooking the pasta which added a nice crunch. I find taking the leaves off the stems a bit tedious, but you can take off just the woody end pieces, as the more delicate stems are edible. With the farmers market booming and overflowing with fresh garlic, veggies, and herbs, now is a perfect time to try this out!

Helpful Kitchen Hint: If you are gluten-intolerant, you can use this pesto on meat, fish, or even as a dip with veggies or chips!

Of course, the real test is with the eater of the house, a self-confessed cilantro hater. I put out two different kinds of pesto, cilantro and basil. When I went to clean up the kitchen, guess which one was gone? He will say it was because he was starving, but I think it’s because he liked it!

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Cilanto Pesto
2 medium garlic cloves
1 cup, lightly packed cilantro leaves
3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 Tablespoon warm water
½ cup shredded parmesan or Asiago cheese
1 Tablespoon pine nuts (or walnuts or almonds), toasted if desired
1 squirt fresh lemon juice

This recipe is all in the blender. Add the garlic cloves down the chute with the blades set at chop. Add the cilantro, oil, water, and cheese, and pulse until it is a thin paste. Add the pine nuts and lemon juice. Pulse until it all comes together. Add a little more water or oil if it is too thick.

No Time For Cookin’!

It has been absolutely gorgeous for the past two weeks! Nary a cloud in the sky, warm days, cool evenings lend themselves to long walks and late dinners. So needless to say I’ve been out of the kitchen and taking advantage of the beautiful weather! So enjoy these photos and I’ll be back next week with a new recipe, because of course, it’s springtime in Vermont, and the growing season is just beginning!

Off for a walk!

A blood-red trillium along the trail of Mount Abe.

A blood-red trillium along the trail of Mount Abe.

Green!

Green!

The Canada geese have returned!

The Canada geese have returned!

The light this year is incredible. I wondered what the heck was in the back seat of my car, but it's the reflection of the house in the window.

The light this year is incredible. I wondered what the heck was in the back seat of my car, but it’s the reflection of the house in the window.

My Vermont Kitchen Goes on the Road!

My Vermont Kitchen took a week off from cooking and got out of the kitchen! A trip to Florida at the end of the month was just what the doctor ordered. Although it was cool by Southern standards, it was of course warmer than Vermont. Upon our return, the sugarhouses were in full swing, as is mud season; a symphony of birds can be heard in the meadow each morning, and I discovered crocuses, tulips, daffodils, and buds on the lilac bushes in the garden! Spring will soon be here!

In the meantime, I took some food pictures from some of my adventures. Yes, I was a crazy woman taking pictures of food amongst the regular shoppers! Farms stands pop up in Vermont and upstate New York probably the earliest being late May, so a trip to Tommy’s vegetable and fruit stand in Holiday, Florida, was mecca for me. The colors were vibrant and everything looked gorgeous and delicious. Next was a trip to Goral Polish Deli, where shoppers buying early for their Easter dinners, and me wishing I had another suitcase to fill with all the delicious food found on their shelves. We picked up pierogies and kielbasa for dinner. Yum! I don’t have a market of this sort locally so I was in heaven, checking out all the different jars and packages of delicious-looking foods. And finally, a trip to the Greek Festival here at home. The Saturday before Easter, a local Greek Orthodox church celebrates the holiday with a pastry and food festival. I always make a quick trip into town to pick up a box full of pastries to have with my morning tea and to share, since I don’t bake a lot at Easter.

So enjoy the photos and next week I’ll be back with another recipe. Spring is in the air, so I’ve said goodbye to root vegetables, heavy meat dishes, and comfort foods– winter is finally over!

Aren't these ruby-red strawberries gorgeous! They were delicious, too!

Aren’t these ruby-red strawberries beautiful? They were delicious, too!

I thought this display of beefsteak tomatoes was gorgeous!

I thought this display of beefsteak tomatoes was gorgeous!

I love beets and was very jealous of the price!

I love beets and was very jealous of the price!

Look at the price--and size!--of the cabbages!

Look at the price–and size!–of the cabbages!

A colorful display of oranges.

A colorful display of oranges.

Pecans! I did think about filling an extra suitcase full of these nuts!

Pecans! I did think about filling an extra suitcase full of these nuts!

A trip to Florida isn't complete without some cajun boiled peanuts!

A trip to Florida isn’t complete without some Cajun boiled peanuts!

I couldn't resist taking a photo of these beautiful peppers.

I couldn’t resist taking a photo of these beautiful peppers.

You know how much I love Brussels sprouts, I thought these were beautiful.

You know how much I love Brussels sprouts, I thought these were beautiful.

I was fascinated with the different kinds of tea.

I was fascinated with the different kinds of tea.

I loved the jars of garlic shoots.

I loved the jars of garlic shoots.

I love pierogies, but I liked the sign for frozen cavier.

I love pierogies, but I thought the sign for frozen cavier was interesting!

All sorts of delicious fish.
All sorts of delicious fish.

The gorgeous Easter display.

The gorgeous Easter display.

And yes, I did want to buy a butter lamb for my Easter dinner!

And yes, I did want to buy a butter lamb for my Easter dinner!

The various kielbasa hang from the store's wall.

The various kielbasa hang from the store’s wall.

The meat case.

The meat case.

This year's Greek pastries, baklava, ouzo cake, and various cookies.

This year’s Greek pastries, baklava, ouzo cake, and various cookies.

Happy 100, My Vermont Kitchen!

Even though I’m sad to say goodbye to summer, the outside light this time of year is always incredible.

One hundred posts. I can’t believe it! To think when I began this blog, it was the winter of 2011, I was stuck indoors with a March blizzard, and my first post was my lunch, Matzo Ball Soup. In 18 months, I’ve brought you pies, soups, book reviews, more soups, salads, and everything in between. You read about me creating the best apple pie for a pie contest (I didn’t win),  my Julia Child 100th birthday dinner (the electricity went out), and tips for cooking and hosting a (somewhat) stress-free Thanksgiving dinner. You’ve been inside the kitchen with me when it’s been so hot I can’t even look at the oven and so cold I want to get in the oven! Through the seasons I’ve tried to bring you recipes that are the essence of the months, while being on the healthy and easy side for each meal.

I try to bring you the best of the best. But believe me when I say, dinner at home isn’t always delicious or homemade; many a dinner is just spaghetti and canned sauce! And while this sounds lovely, there have been gaffs through the months and with that I say, mea culpa. Like when I gave a recipe for bean soup, and completely left them out of the recipe. Or when I gave a grave error in measurements for matzo balls. Or when my pie crust was a heart attack in a pie plate; in this case, too much butter.

Some weeks I wonder what in heaven’s name I’m going to write about. Other weeks I have too many recipes on my plate (no pun intended!). I wonder with each upcoming season if I’m going to have enough creative energy to keep going, have enough recipes to fill a season. But at the end of last winter, I drew up a list of about ten recipes I have yet to write about. So the possibilities are endless indeed.

I thought in celebration for old fans and new readers, I’d give you my best ten recipes that I’ve posted throughout the months. I had a fun time selecting recipes to highlight, and came up with a list longer than ten! But I chose to go with some old-time favorites, family recipes passed down, and some that are my own. A lot of these are the top ten from my house that make the rotation whichever month we’re in.

So thank you so much for reading, commenting, and sticking through my creative cooking process! Here’s to 100 more!

Appetizers
Baked Artichoke Dip
: Wherever I take this dip, it is always a hit! A bit on the fussy side, but it’s definitely worth the work!

Soups
Creamy Cheesy Cauliflower Soup à la Irene
: I’ve made more soups than I can shake a stick at, but since we’re getting into fall, this is a perfect weeknight supper soup that is warm and comforting.

Salads
Gigi’s Chicken Salad
: This is a summertime staple in our house. Adding some walnuts adds some great protein, too.

Main Dishes
Scallops with Tomatoes and Olive Vinaigrette
: Whenever scallops go on sale, this is on the menu! It is a great and simple dinner which can also be made for a special occasion.

Pesto: I make a batch of this about once a week in the summer and place it in small containers to freeze for a pinch of summer in the colder months.

Vegetarian Spring Rolls: While all the chopping and slicing gets a bit old, this is so healthy and delicious, it’s worth the work when you bite into one of these!

Side Dishes
Farro with Brussels Sprouts and Beans
: I had forgotten about the recipe, but when I saw it, I’m happy we’re getting into Brussels Sprouts season!

Desserts
Crumbly Peach Pie
: I make this at least once a summer. The butter, sugar, and nutmeg is heaven on a plate. And only one crust to make!

Miscellaneous
Pickles
: Check out my friend Deb’s recipe for quick pickles and dilly beans and make some before this summer’s crop is gone!

Granola: Forget store-bought granola, make your own! That way you know what you’re eating, a healthy blend of grains and nuts. I’m sure it’s a bit on the high calorie side, but just a little bit in yogurt is all you need.

Farro Salad with Chicken and Summertime Herbs

No, this isn’t a spinach leaf, it’s a basil leaf! I couldn’t resist sharing. It made for a tasty batch of pesto that evening!

If you are a longtime reader, I’m sure you’ve noticed a couple of things; I love to make soup in the winter and salad suppers in the summer! So please bear with me, for yet another salad that can be made ahead of time in these lazy, hot days of summer!

Farro seems to be the golden child of grains these days; both Cooking Light and Eating Well recently had a few recipes on different farro salads. Gone are the days when I received a quizzical look when I asked if it was available at the coop. This grain is high in protein and delicious; I’ve used it a couple of times before, here and here, but in case you’ve missed it, it’s like a large grain of barley, but without the barley flavor. It’s an easy grain to cook with and I find it incredibly versatile; you could add it to salads, soups, you could even add some fruit and eat it for breakfast! But, while being the golden child, it is not a gluten-free grain, so if that is the route you would like to take, quinoa can certainly be substituted for this dish.

So on that note, I decided to create my own salad with a little bit of chicken, a few vegetables, and some fresh herbs I bought at the farmer’s market. (I even snuck in some dill; we’ll see what the dill hater of the family thinks!) This time of year, you can add whatever protein and vegetable you like. Some beans or cheese for  vegetarian version, and I thought about fresh zucchini or summer squash would be tasty, too; it will be delicious any way you make it yourself! I did find the olive oil and vinegar were absorbed after sitting for a few days; an easy problem that can be solved with a dash of the two before serving.

Farro Salad with Chicken and Summertime Herbs
1 ½-2 cups farro, cooked (substitute quinoa if you’re making this gluten-free)
1 cooked chicken breast, chopped
1 small shallot, minced (red onion or scallions could be substituted)
½ cucumber, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1 cup or so, fresh green beans, snapped in half
3 large basil leafs, chopped
2-3 Tablespoons fresh parsley, minced
1-2 Tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
1-2 Tablespoons olive oil
3 capfuls champagne vinegar (or another light vinegar–white wine or rice)
Salt and pepper, to taste

In a large mixing bowl, add the ingredients and mix together, adjusting to taste!

* * * * *
Marion Cunningham: A Tribute
I was very sad to hear about the death of cook and award-winning food writer, Marion Cunningham, last week. I am always inspired by people who take on the second phase of their life with gusto; a stay-at-home mother, Cunningham overcame agoraphobia and alcoholism at age 50 and began her cooking career with the famed James Beard. New York Times writer, Kim Severson, wrote a lovely piece in memory of her friend and this true champion to the home cook. You can find the story here.

It’s Sugaring Season!

When the calendar turns to March, that means three things in Vermont: mud season, March madness, and sugaring time. The roads are marked with muddy tracks from the trucks carrying the squatty tanks used for collecting sap, so you know they’ve been up in the muddy hills. Cold nights and warm days is the best recipe for getting the sap running. Although, they’ve said the recent 70-80 degree weather we had for two weeks and nights in the 50s may be trouble for the industry, as many sugar shacks already have closed their doors for the season. But their open house weekend was popular, where tappers still served up sugar on snow (in this case for this winter, probably shaved ice) with a pickle on the side. That is just what we expect this time of year.

I always have a jar of maple syrup in the fridge. I’ll buy a half-gallon which can take months to use, sometimes even more than a year. I will divide it into glass jars, and put the remaining jars in the freezer. It lasts forever and thaws out quickly. And unlike other frozen foods, it loses nothing in the freezing process.

Since I always have maple syrup on hand, I am lucky in that I can add it to most anything; it’s sweetness always lends a distinct flavor. Past recipes include this salmon sauce recipe here and my granola recipe here. But of course, the best way to really get the flavor of the syrup is on pancakes.

I know pancakes lend no redeeming nutritional value whatsoever to your day, they are almost total carbohydrates, but sometimes you just get a craving for them! About once a year I’ll get the urge to whip some up on a lazy Sunday morning, usually in March. The mornings are getting brighter, the birds are chirping, and it’s getting warmer out. I’ve been using the below recipe I found in Cooking Light for years. I always feel a little better with a bit of whole wheat flour combined with the white. So in honor of sugaring season and my nephew’s tenth birthday, whose favorite food is pancakes (we took him to lunch, and his was five silver dollar pancakes!), I thought I’d bring you this recipe for pancakes, for breakfast, brunch, or an upside down day!



Whole Wheat Buttermilk Pancakes
From Cooking Light, April 2002

¾ cup all-purpose flour
¾ cup whole wheat flour
3 Tablespoons sugar
1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups low-fat buttermilk
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
1 large egg
1 large egg white
Cooking spray
¾ cup maple syrup
3 Tablespoons butter

1. Lightly spoon flours into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl, stirring with a whisk. Combine buttermilk, oil, egg, and egg white, stirring with a whisk; add to flour mixture, stirring until just moist.

2. Heat a nonstick griddle or nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray over medium heat. Spoon about ¼ cup batter per pancake onto griddle. Turn pancakes when tops are covered with bubbles and edges look cooked. Serve with syrup and butter. (Yield: 6 servings (serving side: 2 pancakes, 2 Tablespoons syrup, and 1 ½ teaspoons butter)

• I use this recipe for the pancake recipe only, I don’t normally measure out my maple syrup and butter. I also oil the skillet instead of using cooking spray. It adds more calories, but I don’t use cooking spray on my cookware.
• Buttermilk always comes in a quart container, but it normally takes forever to use up. You can freeze it by the cup in freezer quart bags and just defrost!

A Few Tips for the “Big Day”

I’ve been a cook for two and a crowd, as well as  a guest on Thanksgiving Day. A couple of years ago, after a hiatus from cooking Thanksgiving dinner, I had to step it up to plan, organize, and cook a meal for seven. I developed some advice to make each holiday meal a little bit easier and thought I’d share them in advance of Wednesday this week.

Of course, you feel like a juggler to make sure everything goes smoothly; your guests are enjoying themselves with something to drink and a little something to nibble on so they aren’t dying of hunger in the living room, while the cook is in the kitchen, stirring items on four burners and balancing a turkey! Of course, the goal is to have everything–and everyone–ready to go before the meal gets cold. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t. But when you sit and relax with a nice glass of wine and a delicious dinner, everything will taste delicious, so in the end it really doesn’t matter!

Some tips may seem elementary, although to me they made the actual battle of getting everything ready at one time much easier than in years past. I have to admit, some of these aren’t original, just things I’ve collected through the years that work for me.

• On Wednesday, take out your china and all serving bowls and utensils and assign dishes to each one. This saved a lot on the “what bowl is the stuffing going into” questions when you have some ravenous people who are hovering in the kitchen and want to eat soon! I made labels of the side dish and put them inside each bowl or plate, which I found helped me out immensely in the long run. All china and the linens were also cleaned and ready to go, so I didn’t have to do with the table anything Thursday morning except set it.

• A time-table. I took my menu, figured out how long the turkey was going to cook, what I had to do when it came out of the oven. So I had everything down to the time, “9 a.m., turkey in the oven; at 12:45 see if it’s almost done and start the potatoes” etc. For me, this allowed me to easily whisk around the kitchen and wasn’t as frazzled as I could have been, and allowed for everything to be done pretty much at the same time. This method also would be good for any meal you’re cooking while entertaining, as I have a habit of kind of forgetting things once the door opens and the guests arrive!

• A small, old-fashioned relish plate as an appetizer. So many times I’ve made a couple of appetizers, which fill up your guests before the big meal and usually aren’t particularly healthy. How about some carrots and celery sticks, a bowl of black olives, and cornchicons? No dip, that would add extra calories and fill you up. This was just a little light something to tide everyone over before dinner. Sliced fennel with a little bit of olive oil and salt and pepper is another tasty treat.

• This goes without saying, but prepare some items the day before or even two or three days before. Squash can be made Monday or Tuesday, as can rolls, which can be frozen until Thursday morning. Make and bake your pies late Wednesday evening, that way you’re not trying to find space in the oven with your turkey.

• Instead of putting all the dishes on the table, finding room among the arms and elbows, I set up the kitchen table as the buffet table, people could fill their plates and return to an uncluttered table. I found this to be a much nicer to eat, as you weren’t surrounded by people plus dishes!

With all the great tips I’ve cultivated through the years, there is one thing I’m going to continue to work on–being in the kitchen less and enjoying my guests more. I always find when entertaining, as I am always the cook, that I am tucked away in the kitchen, but don’t get to enjoy our guests until dinner time.

If you have any great tips, I’d love to hear them, and add them to my repertoire!

Happy Thanksgiving to one and all! I hope everyone has a glorious meal and something to be thankful for this year!

Odds and Ends, Bits and Pieces

Here is a compilation of a collection of different subjects I’ve been observing and working on, but none would make an entire article. So I thought if I bring them all together it could make one article, and it has!

Favorite New “Foodie” Podcasts
I’ve been listening to the women of “Dishing Up Nutrition” for a couple of months now, and it’s really changed how I eat and the way I look at food. All the hosts are employees of Nutritional Weight and Wellness clinic, that has offices around Minnesota, and offers classes and nutritional counseling. Topics range from nutrition to lose weight to how food affects your moods and menopause. I thought I knew a lot about nutrition, but it turns out I’m learning more!

Another new podcast I recently discovered is the “Dinner Party Download.” Geared toward those who entertain, it is an interesting, short mish mosh of facts, recipes, and jokes. It’s the same format every week; it starts out with the “ice breaker,” a joke, then “Side Dishes,” an interview with a journalist who pulls out a quirky story from the week’s news for you to talk about at your next dinner party. From there, it goes to a historical tale and then a bartender creates a cocktail to honor it! An interview with a “celebrity,” past interviews have gone from Broadway legend Elaine Strich to director Erroll Morris, to chef Gabrielle Hamilton. They always end the interview with two questions (for dinner party fodder, of course): What question are you tired of being asked? My answer: What do you do? I despise parties where everyone just talks about their work. Tell us something not a lot of people know about you? My answer: I’m ambidextrous!

Leftover Beans? Roast Them!
I opened a can of chickpeas a couple of weeks ago to put on my salads for lunch. That lasted one day. On Sunday, I found the container in the back of the fridge and decided I had two choices: toss them or eat them. I’m on a one-woman crusade this year to use up food instead of feeding the rabbits, so I have seen roasted chickpea recipes and since I had some chicken already in the oven, I thought I’d pop them in as well. I took a pie pan, added the beans, a little olive oil, a dash of cumin and coriander, and a spritz of lemon. I cooked them at 325 degrees for about 30 minutes or so, checking on them periodically to make sure they didn’t burn. They were tasty little bites and I thoroughly enjoyed them for snack the next day! I think this method can be used for any leftover bean with different spices. I thought they’d be great side to a cocktail buffet, like nuts!

In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite, by Melissa Clark
I wrote about this once before, but now that I have the cookbook, I can speak with more authority. For anyone who likes to read cookbooks or enjoys cooking, Clark is for you. She is a breath of fresh air; unlike some cooks, she admits her mistakes and sometimes doesn’t want to cook. Dare I say she reminds me of myself; she will have something and try to find a way to make it at home, at times more cheaply. I admit I probably won’t try many of the recipes, but I am thoroughly enjoying reading them and about her adventures in the kitchen.

Root Beer Floats
I’ve never been one who really loves ice cream. In the summer, it is definitely homemade pies and shortcake that I love. But a couple of weeks ago following a day at the lake, we found ourselves desiring something sweet in the afternoon, but the cremee stand was unappealing. A stop at the supermarket and we went home to create our own root beer floats! The best is when the ice cream melts and you have a creamy, root beer concoction to slurp. Oh, and straws are required!