Tablescaping….Christmas Eve Dinner Party…2017

I am very taken with the “after” part of a dinner party. Napkins are crumpled, wine glasses with a smudge of red left in the bottom, some candles still burning, others not…empty plates and bowls. I find this all very beautiful for some reason…..But before that part…comes this part……

My holiday table scape always lacks a certain bourgeoisie ode to finery. I do not plan ahead very much….I have no official holiday china, and lord knows what I do have does not match. I was pretty thrilled to find a box of matching wine glasses in one of my props closets to use for Christmas Eve dinner this year. I do, on the other hand, have a fondness for beauty and art and how it can be evident in the small things. Setting the table is the first part of my favorite parts of having a dinner party.

It’s not that I have anything against things that match and pay tribute to the seasons, but just that I am not interested in that sort of thing. To many matching things make me kind of nervous. I feel content and satisfied in a certain amount of controlled chaos when it comes to “things”. The silver might or might not match, the linens napkins were gifted to me, two tables are put together to make one for 8 people, chairs are gathered randomly, there were a few tiny holes in the tablecloth which were covered by a runner and so on.

On December 24th each year Wouter and I host our small family for drinks and dinner. We have a pretty zany-hilarious time without the pressure of gift-giving (we gave that up years ago). We do exchange small items such as homemade cookies or jams on occasion, a pot of Amaryllis or a bottle of wine….so we are not totally Scrooge!

First we have champagne.

I keep the food simple and pretty much make ahead. Italian of some sort…with a really good salad and baguettes all toasty hot and ready for a smearing of softened butter. Chianti & Rose’s during dinner. Jugs of lemon water to temper the alcohol on the table. After dinner coffees and Brandy if you like with holiday cookies and ice cream. This all goes on for a few hours.

We have done “Christmas Crackers”, the British sort with toys and fortunes inside, not the ones you eat, since the “children” were little. Paper crowns and mustaches seem to bring out the best in everyone!

We do not talk about politics or anything that can quickly make us all crazy. This is not a “rule”, but we all seem to leave that behind for the evening. The idea is just to have fun and we do. We are a bit loud with lots of laughing and silliness and music. This year I played part of David Sedaris reading his hilarious “6 to 8 Black Men”.  It is especially funny as we have a Dutch-American family.  If you haven’t heard this story of Christmas in Holland and Saint Nicholas, as well as lots of other things, then you must.

Anyhow….I started this post thinking it would be about one of my favorite parts of any dinner party table…the aftermath! The evidence! The mess! The most artful part of the evening in many ways. What is left  behind after use. The imagery. Almost my favorite part!

Happy New Year Y’all.

 

 

 

 

Be Sweet…Sparkly Holiday Cookies

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Sparkly…Colorful….Shaped cookies. I made these last December and they were such fun. I used a variety of cookie cutters…some holiday and some not…lots of wee animal shapes. I mixed my own decorating sugar color combinations.

Be sweet this December…be kind….make some cookies…share. Peace.

The current issue of “edible Nashville” magazine featured my cookies along with the recipe. This makes my post even easier…you can get the recipe online from edible, or here in this post. Either way you go this is a very delicious simple sugar cookie recipe topped with lots of crunch, sparkly, seasonal colors for your holiday pleasure.

Sparkly Holiday Cookies

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

E.A.T. # 25 Soup Lovers Leftover-Turkey Noodle Soup

I love soup…cold soup in the summer, chili at the first sign of fall and hearty hot soups all winter long. Soups make me feel cozy and safe. Healthy and homey.

It’s as easy as this to make a “soup” lunch or dinner in under an hour. Leftover holiday turkey meat, some vegetables, noodles, broth and herbs are all you need. Gruyere cheese melted on slices of bread round out the meal.

Any noodles you like will work fine. Long spaghetti noodles, or macaroni or you can even break up a few lasagna noodles to toss into the pot. I used some Strozzapreti I picked up at Eataly the last time I was in Chicago. These noodles, somewhat like Cavatelli,  are short, sturdy, rolled and are good for holding juices and sauce.

A leftover over roasted turkey breast from Thanksgiving, a few cans of tomatoes, carrots and onions, broth and herbs are the other basic ingredients.

One of my favorite winter lunches is enjoying a good bowl of hot soup while catching up on my reading or looking at art books or magazines. We all need some time to be quiet and alone,  letting our thoughts wander and weave about randomly. I find this is when I work things out in my head or absorb and develop new ideas for projects. Try it.

This is more of an “idea of soup” than an actual “must follow” recipe. Use what you like and what you have on hand. No rules, just tasty ingredients. It really is as Easy as This….Stay warm.

Soup Lovers Leftover-Turkey Noodle Soup

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: very easy
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Ingredients:

  • 2-4 cups chopped or shredded turkey or chicken meat
  • a splash of olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 4 carrots, peeled and chopped or sliced
  • 3 cans fire-roasted tomatoes with juice
  • 4 cups low sodium/fat chicken broth
  • fresh thyme leaves or any herbs you prefer
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 cups short pasta noodles such as cavatelli, macaroni or strozzapretti

Directions:

  1. Cook the pasta noodles very al dente in a pot of salted water, drain and set aside.
  2. Add a splash of olive oil to a soup pot and heat over medium high heat. Toss into the pot the chopped  onion and carrots. Cook until onions are transparent.
  3. To the pot add the tomatoes and chicken broth, turkey or chicken meat, fresh thyme leaves and other herbs, salt and black pepper. Bring to a low boil. Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking.
  4. Right before serving add the al dente pasta noodles to the hot soup. Serve with slices of good bread toasted with Gruyere cheese on top.

Stay cozy and warm.

teresablackburnfoodstyling.com    foodonfifth.com

 

 

 

Dark Chocolate Chai Pound Cake

One day a few months ago while grocery shopping and perusing the baking aisle I ran across a chocolate cake mix that had chai tea or chai flavoring in the mix.  I got a bit obsessed with the idea of chai and chocolate in a cake. I made this cake combining loose leaf chocolate chai to a good chocolate pound cake recipe I had…all easy and homemade for the Holidays.

 I prefer pound cakes that are dense & moist, cut into thick slabs to be enjoyed with a cup of coffee or tea…sometimes toasted.  No icing, please.

There are thousands of chocolate pound cake recipes on the internet and in cookbooks, but this one is simple & straightforward. The generous addition of finely ground up “Chocolate Chai Loose Leaf” from Firepot Nomadic Teas makes one fine cake. A combination of organic cardamom, coriander, ginger, black pepper and cloves as well as cacao nibs says it all. I used a mortar and pestle for grinding the chai, but an electric coffee grinder works as well.

I dust my cake pans with cocoa powder when I’m making a chocolate cake of any kind. The more dark chocolate goodness, the better.

Thick slices…toaster ready.

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Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup good quality cocoa powder + extra for dusting loaf pan
  • 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons boiling water
  • 2 tablespoons loose leaf chocolate chai (use any loose leaf chai you like)
  • 2 sticks softened butter + extra for greasing baking pan
  • 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 9 x 5 loaf pan generously with butter. Dust generously with cocoa powder. Set aside.
  2. Whisk flour and salt together in a mixing bowl.
  3. Put 3/4 cocoa powder in a glass or metal bowl and while whisking, drizzle in the boiling hot water. Whisk until smooth.
  4. Grind the loose chai using a mortar and pestle or electric grinder until somewhat fine, but not powdery.
  5. Using a stand mixer with paddle attachment beat the 2 sticks butter and sugar together on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Scrape down sides of mixer as needed.
  6. Add in the vanilla extract and cocoa-water mixture and beat until combined on medium speed.
  7. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Again scrape down sides of bowl as you need to.
  8. Turn mixer to low-speed and add flour-salt mixture just until blended. Remove mixer bowl and using a rubber scraper scrape down sides of bowl and blend in any remaining flour.
  9. Add the ground chocolate chai to the batter and blend well. Scrape batter into the prepared loaf pan, smoothing the top.
  10. Bake for about 45-55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool baked cake on a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes or so. Remove cake from pan and set on wire rack to continue to cool if you can wait long enough! The aroma of the chocolate and chai combination is fantastic.

Teresa Blackburn    http://www.teresablackburnfoodstyling.com    http://www.foodonfifth.com

Pear, Maple and Nutmeg Cornmeal Cake + Kitchen Tools #1

Pear, Maple and Nutmeg Cornmeal Cake all dressed up with a dollop of vanilla Greek yogurt is an easy, alternate idea for Holiday celebrations that will be much appreciated by those looking for something naturally sweet without using a lot of granulated sugar. Rich, almost caramelized, pears with nutmeg then generously drizzled with maple syrup while hot out of the oven is good for a few days warm or cold.

I like how the maple syrup pools in the pear.

There is nothing quite like freshly grated nutmeg. Do you have one of these graters, or a nutmeg grinder? They are inexpensive and will become one of your most used kitchen tools if you, like me, find the jarred ground nutmeg somewhat pale in aroma and flavor. Whole nutmeg grated is a much used spice at our house. Wouter adds it to his meatballs and always in his wonderful mashed potatoes. Just a hint is often all that is needed. This cake recipe calls for a generous amount and is just the thing paired with real maple syrup.

Notice how I grated the nutmeg onto a sheet of parchment paper? Parchment is another “kitchen tool” that I use every day for measuring flour onto, lining cake pans or sheet pans so I don’t have to scrub them so much….small pieces are good for using like this instead of another dish to wash! Can you tell washing dishes is not my favorite thing?

Melon ballers in various sizes are great for coring apples and pears, making melon balls of course….or butter balls.  It was so easy to core the pears to create a bowl to hold all that tasty maple syrup using this small melon baller.

See that wee paring knife? It is my go-to knife for so many jobs in the kitchen…I finally bought a good one that has a thin blade that sharpens well. It was not the cheapest nor the costliest, but it fits my hand just perfect and came from E. Dehillerin in Paris. I picked it up at our local Willliams-Sonoma.

So that’s four kitchen tools….nutmeg grater or grinder, parchment paper, melon baller and paring knife….basics…not trendy…forever useful, especially for these days of seasonal baking.

Warm, aromatic cake drizzled with Vanilla flavored Greek Yogurt. Yum.

Pear, Maple and Nutmeg Cornmeal Cake

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 stick butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 4 ripe, but firm pears, halved, cored and peeled
  • 3/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, divided
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup 2 percent milk
  • 1/2 cup real maple syrup, divided + extra for serving
  • 2 large eggs, lightly whisked
  • 2 cups vanilla greek yogurt, whipped for serving

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Brush a 9″ round x 2″ deep cake pan with 1 tablespoon of the melted butter.
  2. Add 1 tablespoon of the melted butter to a cast iron or other heavy skillet. Set over medium heat. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons sugar over the butter.
  3. Place pear halves in a circle in the bottom of the pan, cut side up. Sprinkle cut sides with 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg. Cook for 5 minutes.
  4. Turn pears over with cut side down. Sprinkle with another 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg. Cook pears until most of the liquid has evaporated and cut sides are beginning to lightly caramelize, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat.
  5. Place pears, cut sides down, in the prepared 9″ round cake pan.
  6. Quickly whisk together remaining 1/4 ground nutmeg, flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
  7. Whisk in milk, 1/4 cup maple syrup, eggs and remaining melted butter just until smooth. Pour mixture over pears and bake until golden brown, for about 20-25 minutes. Test with a wooden pick inserted into the center of the cake. Remove from oven and using a skewer make a few random holes over the entire cake surface. Drizzle with remaining 1/4 cup maple syrup. Let cake cool on a wire rack while syrup soaks in for about 15 minutes. Carefully invert onto a serving plate.
  8. Cut cake into 8 wedges with each person getting a pear half, drizzle with another bit of maple syrup and add a dollop of vanilla greek yogurt.  (This cake keeps well for a few days and is deliciously seasoonal either warm or cold.)

(This recipe is adapted from a recipe by Ruth Cousineau from Gourmet Magazine February 2008 that I clipped and saved. I tweaked a few things to make it easier to make. Thanks Ruth for the inspiration.)

Teresa Blackburn    http://www.teresablackburnfoodstyling.com   www.foodonfifth.com

 

Orange, Garlic and Thyme Roasted Turkey Breasts

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“An empty stomach is not a good political advisor.” Albert Einstein

Eating well takes a bit of time and thought. Usually, for me, more thought than time. These “Orange, Garlic and Thyme Roasted Turkey Breasts” are easy and quick to prepare and cook.  Lots of juicy oranges full of vitamin c, plump garlic cloves, a bit of olive oil, thyme leaves and a pinch of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper…basics that I keep on hand all the time…made this dish all the more easy.

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These are organic turkey breasts which are a bit more expensive, but there is definitely enough for leftovers for lunch sandwiches or a pot of soup the next day. Two meals out of one.

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I thinly sliced garlic cloves,  rubbed the skin with olive oil and added a generous dusting of dried thyme leave to both sides all nestled into a roasting pan with freshly squeezed orange halves left in the pan for more flavor.

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Roasted and sliced orange roasted turkey breasts, along with a salad and crusty baguette (from Dozens Bakery if you live in Nashville) and a glass of your favorite wine is a good dinner to ease into fall.  This could be good for Thanksgiving Dinner for a small gathering of family and friends. Just double or triple the recipe.

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Serve sliced with all the juices and cooked oranges.

Orange, Garlic and Thyme Roasted Turkey Breasts

  • Servings: 2-4
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Ingredients:

  • 2 organic turkey breasts
  • olive oil
  • a few small oranges like Little Cuties,  or tangerines will work
  • 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • a generous tablespoon dried thyme leaves
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

  1. Wash turkey breasts and pat dry. Rub skin all over with olive oil. Place skin side up in a roasting pan.
  2. Squeeze the juice from about 3 oranges into pan. Cut another 2 or 3 in half and snuggle around turkey breasts to bake along side.
  3. Generously scatter dried thyme leaves over each breast. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  4. Add thinly sliced garlic cloves over top of each breast. Roast for about 1 hour, at 350 degrees,  or until a meat thermometer inserted into the breast reads 160-165 degrees.
  5. Serve in a deep dish or pan sliced with all the juices and cooked oranges.

Note: double or triple this recipe for a larger group…this is a great buffet entree for the Holidays.

Teresa Blackburn     teresablackburnfoodstyling.com   www.foodonfifth.com

 

Goodbye Summer Italian-Style Bread and Tomato Stew

It is officially fall, but we are lucky enough to still find some good tomatoes at some of our man Farmer’s Market locations. Our days are very warm and even though the calendar shows us one thing….it’s still late summer here in Nashville. We are all looking forward to cooler days while still enjoying our garden flowers and meals outdoors. Here is my recipe for “Bread and Tomato Stew” or “Pappa Al Pomodoro”. Simple to make, rustic in appearance and an homage to the last of our local tomatoes.

 Cherokee Purple tomatoes. They are my favorite tomato and I’m a little sad to see the end of them, but always looking forward to next summer’s bounty.

Good rustic, crusty bread from Dozen Bakery Nashville, local homegrown Cherokee Purple tomatoes, basil from my garden are the basic ingredients.

Tomatoes cooked down with leeks, onions and garlic, olive oil, wine and water ready for the bread cubes to be added. The bread soaks up the juice and all the flavors meld. A generous grating of good parmesan cheese and a glass of chilled wine are all you need….and love.

Bread and Tomato Stew Italian Style

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped leeks, white parts only
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
  • 6 thinly sliced garlic cloves
  • 2 cups dry white wine
  • 2 1/2 to 3 lbs good tomatoes, cored and chopped (peel if skins are tough)
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 1/2 cups cubed day old rustic bread
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • a chunk of good Parmesan Cheese and a grater for serving

Directions:

  1. Saute leeks, red onion and garlic in olive oil until softened over medium heat.
  2. Turn heat to medium high and add wine. Reduce by half.
  3. Turn heat down to medium and add chopped tomatoes and half the basil leaves and the water. Bring mixture to a low boil then turn down to simmer for 10 minutes. Stir every now and then.
  4. Add in cubed bread, tossing to coat with tomato mixture and cook for 15 minutes. Add more water if necessary.
  5. Add sea salt and black pepper to taste and cook for 5 minutes adding in the remaining half of the basil in just before moving off heat. Stir to combine all ingredients. The finished dish should be somewhat soupy but stew-like. Add more liquid if desired. I always make this “fork edible”.
  6. Serve with a generous grating of Parmesan and a nice chilled Italian White wine.

Teresa Blackburn     http://www.teresablackburnfoodstyling.    www.foodonfifth