Monday, December 15, 2014

Warm Marinated Olives

Olives are an acquired taste.  One I took a few years to acquire.  But now I love them and recently got chided for eating almost an entire jar of garlic stuffed olives my mom was saving for a special occasion.  Oops!  This hors d'oeuvre is especially Mediterranean and was a perfect snack for my Christmas dinner last year.  It would be equally divine at a holiday cocktail party.  Play around with the olive varieties according to availability at your market; just make sure you have different colors and sizes for visual appeal!

1/2 cup Picholine olives
1/2 cup Moroccan olives
1/2 cup Nicoise olives
1 orange
1 lemon
leaves from 2 springs fresh thyme
1 clove garlic, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

Rinse the olives under cold water to remove any brine.  Pat dry.

Remove half of the orange's zest in long strips.  Do the same with the lemon's zest.

In a bowl, toss the olives with the zests, thyme, garlic, and olive oil.  Just before serving, heat the olives in a medium saute pan over low heat just long enough to bring out their flavors and gently warm them.

Serve in an earthenware crock or dish with small ramekin for discarded pits.

Recipe adapted from the Williams-Sonoma Bride & Groom Cookbook, by Gayle Pirie & John Clark.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Rudolph's Tipsy Spritzer

While I've hosted Christmas Dinner at my house before, last year was the first year I hosted my mom's birthday (Christmas Eve) and both Christmas morning (brunch and gifts) and Christmas Dinner all on my own.  I had an incredible amount of help in the kitchen (thanks, Mama!) and it was a ton of fun to plan a meal and have both sides of our family here to witness the magic of Christmas through our toddler and baby!  The joke is that I'll never want to play hostess again, and while it was definitely a ton of work, never say never, right?!  While I was researching recipes to pull together as my menu, I came across this cocktail that is the perfect signature drink for your next holiday party.  Make up a big pitcher, and I promise your guests will be asking for seconds!

5 cups orange juice
1 20-ounce bottle Sprite 
1 1/2 cups vodka
1/2 cup maraschino cherry juice
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice 
Maraschino cherries
Fresh rosemary sprigs

Stir together all ingredients; serve over ice. Garnish with cherries and rosemary.

Recipe adapted from Southern Living, December 2008.
 Ms. enPlace

Monday, December 1, 2014

This Month: Holiday Cocktail Party

The holiday season is rife with cocktail parties, open-houses, cookie and ornament exchanges, and celebrations galore!  I love to throw a simple cocktail party as opposed to a sit-down dinner.  When you're from a military family, you typical mix with many circles, so this setting is perfect to let your guests mingle and get to know each other.  Also, you don't need to worry if you have enough chairs or matching place settings.  You can set up stations throughout your party space, having areas dedicated to the drinks, sweet, and savory dishes.  My version was simply the appetizers leading up to Christmas dinner, but these can easily be incorporated into a wonderfully sophisticated cocktail party!  Enjoy!

 Spicy Almonds

My Top 5 Kitchen Stocking Stuffers

Can you believe it's December already?  My favorite part of the holiday is planning Christmas gifts for my family.  And my favorite part of Christmas gifts are stocking stuffers.  These are the things you need but they needn't be boring.  Stocking stuffers are fun, creative, and a great way to show just how much thought you've put into the recipient of each gift!  My husband is often at a loss for just which kitchen gadget I might have my eye on, so I often find myself taking pictures while at the stores browsing and texting him the photos, along with the store name, and price.  Sometimes I'll email him with a particular product, often from the manufacturer's website, especially when there's a specific brand I want (examples would be my Emeril pots and pans and Wusthof knives, because I want to have a matching set when possible).  That way he has the exact specs of the product I want, but he has free rein to do research and get the best deal.  Here are a few items on my wish list this year:

Miniature Colander. Perfect for rinsing berries, cherry tomatoes, or beans.  Adorable to fill with other kitchen trinkets for a favorite home economics teacher. Put an ornament hanger on one handle and hang one (or several) from a kitchen Christmas Tree. Find this one at Sur La Table in a variety of colors.

Mini Whisk.  I cannot count the number of times my mom or best friend would come to my house and admonish my lack of this basic kitchen tool.  My reply was always something about how using a salad fork worked just as well, but secretly I was longing for a cute baby whisk.  These are perfect for sauces, beating eggs, and stirring up homemade salad dressings.  I bought one for myself last year, plopped it in my stocking, and used it every day since.  How did I survive before?!

Soap Dispensing Dish Brush. Refills for this beauty are a staple in my stocking. I hate kitchen clean-up, but it's a necessary evil. Make life easy by having a dish brush and liquid dish soap all in one place. No more burning your hands in hot water. Also, I've found that this particular brand holds up well to big messes (think cheese sauces and rice cooked to the bottom of a pan) so you don't have to replace the brush quite as often.

Mini Chopper.  I like Kitchen Aid appliances, so this is my model of choice, but I had a Cuisinart version until the housing for the blade cracked in two places, allowing me to justify buying what I really wanted.  Yes, I have put more than one mini chopper in my shopping basket at Target, ready to buy it only because I wanted a Kitchen Aid one that matched my other countertop appliances (which are, in fact, stowed in my cabinets) only to chide myself for buying a duplicate of something I already have.  Don't tell my husband, but I may have purposely overused my Cuisinart chopper so it would hurry up and break so that my want could turn into a bonafide need!

Cookie Scoop.  In a fit of laziness a few Christmases ago, I bought a cookie scoop.  My cookies were never uniform in size because:  (A) I used a tablespoon and my finger to scoop out the dough and (B) after scooping out three dozen cookies I'd get bored and just make ginormous cookies.  Enter the cookie scoop.  Instant reduction in time  from cookie dough to oven to belly!  That was justification enough, especially when my husband saw just how quickly he could have warm gooey chocolate chip cookies.  I bought one for my mom's Christmas stocking, and I don't know if she's used it yet, but when she does, I know she'll be forever grateful...

Monday, November 17, 2014

Vanilla-Pear Muffins

I saw this recipe online and knew I needed to buy the entire cookbook.  I also knew I needed to make these muffins for Christmas morning.  Our family tradition is to have muffins or bagels with coffee and tea while the kids marvel over their gifts from Santa (we don't wrap those) and we all open our stockings.  While we're opening stockings, a breakfast casserole is typically baking away in the oven, and we'll eat breakfast before tearing into the wrapped gifts under the tree.  These are fabulous.  They're a little time-consuming when you have excited toddlers, so feel free to make them ahead and reheat just before serving, like I did.

For the topping:
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons chopped walnuts
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

For the muffins:
2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup canola oil
3/4 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4-5 firm, ripe pears, peeled, cored, and coarsely chopped
1 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat the oven to 350.  Grease a 12-cup muffin pan with butter.

Make the topping.  Combine all ingredients in a small bowl.  Stir and set aside.

Make the muffins.  Whisk together the eggs, oil, buttermilk, and vanilla until blended.  Add the flour, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking powder, and salt, stirring until just evenly moistened; the batter will be lumpy.  Fold in the pears and walnuts until evenly distributed.

Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin tin, filling them level with the rim.  Sprinkle the topping over the muffins.  Bake until golden, dry, and springy to the touch, 20-25 minutes.  Transfer to a wire rack and let cool 5 minutes before turning out.

Serve warm or at room temperature, with butter.

Recipe adapted from Williams Sonoma Bride & Groom Cookbook, by Gayle Pirie & John Clark.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Grapefruit Brulee

I think all brunches should include some fruit.  And, when you're hosting four family meals in two days, fast and easy is the name of the game.  These grapefruits are just that, in addition to tasty, elegant, and a fun twist on a breakfast staple!  Cutting around the rind and between the membranes before you assemble makes eating easier on your guests and gives extra space for the sugar and spice to make its way into the fruit (ya know, just a tip!).

1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
3 or 4 ruby red grapefruits

Preheat the broiler.  Position an oven rack in the top third of the oven.

Combine the sugar and cinnamon in a bowl.  Stir to ensure even distribution.

Halve each grapefruit.  Sprinkle cinnamon-sugar evenly on each grapefruit half.  Place under the broiler about 5 minutes, until golden and bubble.  Watch closely; these will go from perfect to burned in the blink of an eye!

Serves 6-8.

Recipe adapted from The Comfort Table, by Katie Lee.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Hot Mama Bloody Marys

Nothing says brunch like a Bloody Mary.  I'm not sure why; they just seem to go together.  I'm not a huge fan of them, but my husband and father-in-law are, and they're a festive drink with Christmas colors.  Oh, and they also scream Southern so for my Southern Coastal Christmas Brunch, they were a perfect fit!  I should have made a double pitcher of these; they were gone in a hurry! 

1 46-ounce bottle spicy tomato juice (like V8)
1 1/2 cups vodka
juice of 1 lemon
2 teaspoons horseradish
1 teaspoon celery seed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Tobasco, to taste
celery stalks, to garnish

Combine all ingredients, except celery stalks in a large pitcher.  Stir and adjust to taste.

Pour over ice (or not), garnish with a celery stalk, and serve.

Recipe adapted from The Comfort Table, by Katie Lee.