Wednesday, May 5, 2021

A Cinco de Mayo Taco Night

The Cinco de Mayo gods were lighting the way when my dear in-laws, Robert and Barb, came to visit.  I roasted a pork shoulder to make carnitas, and bought fixings for tacos.

Then, there was the more serious topic of how to set the table.  I don't own, unfortunately, a lot of Talavera ceramic . . .

 . . . except for a couple of candlesticks that we picked up in Cabo San Lucas ten years ago, so they became the inspiration for the table.

I relied, once again, on my Dollar Tree blue water goblets to rescue me by picking up the blue . . .

And on the Sferra sunflower-colored napkins with that gorgeous, brilliant yellow.

And the crowning glory, the multi-colored rose bouquet that couldn't have been more perfect for the occasion.

I used my trusted Wedgwood Nantucket Basket dishes, to keep it all casual.  I set out a salad dish that I thought might serve as a nice place to set tortillas, but it turned out that we only used the dinner plate.

Here I am with my brother-in-law, Robert . . .

And sister-in-law, Barb . . . I love these people!  Happy Cinco de Mayo!

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Cooking Inspired by Vivaldi

For the Instrumental Solo Festival during my high school years, I chose to play the 1st Movement of Vivaldi's Concerto in A Minor, where, much to my astonishment, I received a “Superior” rating.  Since then, Vivaldi has held a special place in my heart.  So, when I saw the Four Seasons Pasta recipes in the Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook, a book that was published in the 80s, I knew that, sooner or later, I'd have to try making them all.  But, as so frequently happens, life gets in the way, and I never got around to it.  Until now.  This is it.  This is the year!

Here's La Primavera . . .

Here's the recipe:

2 quarts water
1 lemon, cut in half
1 lb. medium-size shrimp, shelled and deveined
1 pound bay scallops (I used sea scallops)
8 oz. Nova Scotia smoked salmon, thinly sliced and shredded into 2-inch pieces
2 cups mild olive oil
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
1 cup diced ripe tomatoes
½ cup chopped fresh dill
2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Salt, to taste
1 pound linguine

1.  Heat the water and lemon halves in a large saucepan over medium heat to boiling.  Reduce the heat and add the shrimp.  Simmer for 1 minute.  Remove the shrimp with a slotted spoon and cool under running water.  Pat dry and place in a large bowl.
2.  Cook the scallops in the simmering water for 1 minute.  Drain and cool under cold running water.  Pat dry and add to the shrimp.
3.  Combine the oil, lemon juice, tomatoes, dill, shallots, and pepper in a separate bowl.  Pour over the seafood and toss gently to combine.  Let stand covered at room temperature for 1 hour, or in the refrigerator up to 12 hours (warm to room temperature before serving).
4.  Cook the linguine in boiling salted water until tender but still firm.  Drain and toss immediately with the seafood sauce,
6 portions

The salmon, lemon and dill made for a not-so-Italian flavor profile, but it was delicious just the same.  I wish I had taken the time to find the bay scallops, they would've provided a more delicate, seasonal touch.  Then again, would Vivaldi have been able to find those tiny scallops while working in Venice?  I've also discovered that my husband doesn't care for linguine, he prefers a thinner pasta, so the next three recipes will be prepared using good ol' spaghetti instead.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Easter 2021

I've only had my first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to date, so, for now, we continue to take precautions.  This means another Easter at home, just the two of us.

But Spring brings promises of better days ahead, so I put my energy in preparing a nice dinner for my husband and myself.

But first, the table.  I pulled out old favorites that really never get old for me:  The willow chargers, Wedgwood Nantucket Basket dinner plates, Blue Calico salad plates, and willow napkin rings to match the chargers.

We still needed some Easter candy around, even though the boys aren't here anymore, so candy-coated chocolate egg truffles were scattered on the table. 

The sugar-coated gummy bunnies were placed in a little bowl to contain the sugar dust.  My husband is a little boy when it comes to candy, he devours it if it's left lying around, so I had to hide it until this morning.

We had a Honey Baked® Ham, which just needed to be heated, and it was delicious!  My motto is to keep holidays as easy as possible so we can enjoy the day.

Of course, my own rule went out the window when I made this Asparagus Cheese Tart.  I have come to the conclusion that, although I've done a little baking in the past, this is the part of cooking that I like the least.  Dough is still a mystery to me.  I bought commercial puff pastry, and cut it down so that it fit in my porcelain platter.  Then, I made the filling and baked it in the same oven-proof platter. I used Martha Stewart's Asparagus Gruyère recipe.  It was good, but way more labor intensive than I expected, and my husband didn't really care for the cheesy texture, so I don't think I'll be making this one again.  It looked pretty, though. 

I had never made Garlic Maple Roasted Carrots, but they were so delicious that I know it's something that will show up on our dinner table again and again going forward.  I liked leaving the bit of stalk on top, they looked cute.

Simple dinner rolls from our favorite bakery . . .

And a sweet butter lamb rounded out the dinner.

The lamb-shaped butter from Danish Maid has become a fixture at all our Easter meals.  They are so sweet-looking, and the butter is delicious!

The dessert was a cheesecake from Costco, which was truly delicious:  Creamy, smooth, and not overly sweet.  To make it even more wonderful, I paired it with some homemade strawberry coulis, and fresh blueberries.  It was divine!  I don't think I'll ever make a cheesecake again as long as I live near a Costco.

And, when dinner was done, we were left with the crowning glory of Spring, this wonderful daffodil bouquet.  Happy Easter to all!

Monday, March 29, 2021

Immersive Van Gogh

In a rare case of being in the know, while my usual modus operandi is to be a year or two behind, I was able to get tickets to what has fast become the hottest show in town:  Immersive Van Gogh.

I wasn't sure what to expect, or in which ways we would be immersed in Van Gogh's art . . .

And, frankly, neither Van Gogh, nor Impressionists in general are my cup of tea . . .

Though, naturally, I recognize their importance . . .

But the show truly blew me away!

I had never paid close attention to his brush strokes . . . 

Or his frantic use of color . . .

And there were the sunflowers, which I love . . .

And the lovely music, which at one point, inspired a guest to start some yoga poses . . .

The soundtrack was inspired, ranging from classical, to impressionist to the modern French chansons, including the incomparable Edith Piaf and her “ Non, je ne regrette rien. ”

It was marvelous.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Chicken Noodle Soup

Here's la soupe au poulet et nouilles —

Chicken Noodle Soup, elevated to something magnifique . . .

by merely serving it on the dashing Lion's Head Soup bowl . . .

And then, for dessert, Lime Mousse, from the Silver Palate Cookbook.  This is part of the standard repertoire in the Cheney household, and we never seem to tire of it — plus I got to use up the leftover limes from last Sunday's Irish Whiskey Mules.  Bon appétit!

Friday, March 19, 2021

Tea for One with a Zeppola di San Giuseppe

Zeppole (pl.) are Italian pastries that are sold on the days leading up to St. Joseph's Day — today, March 19th.  It's basically a light-as-air fritter, filled with custard or cream, and topped with a variety of fruit compotes, or a maraschino cherry.  

Before we moved to the 'burbs we lived in a predominantly Italian area of Chicago, and we had so many marvelous bakeries surrounding us that their loss was acutely felt when we moved to our new home.

My husband took the day off today, and drove to the old neighborhood to pick some up for us.  So this special treat deserved a proper pause in my morning to truly savor it, because after today, the zeppole will disappear until next year.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

St. Patrick's Lunch with the Sheep

When I think of Ireland, I think of green fields and beautiful women, like Maureen O'Hara in The Quiet Man.  I think of quaint accents, pastoral settings, and . . . sheep.

For the last couple of years I've begun collecting them, and now I seem to have acquired a small flock.

These are called Irish Galway Sheep from Colin's Creatures.  Colin goes all over the world studying sheep.  Besides the Galway, he reproduces other kinds as well, like the Cotswold, Dorper, Shetland, and many others.  They are made of porcelain, castable stone, and imported woven fur, chosen to best imitate the sheep.

Baby lamb is sticking close to mama.

There were only five of us this year, composed of those in our “pandemic pod.”  There's a light at the end of the tunnel, but we still need to keep safe a little bit longer.

Plaid napkins in the Irish National Tartan pattern, an Etsy find.

I gave these mini books with Irish blessings away as favors in a previous St. Pat's luncheon, but I had a new guest, my friend Fran, and she had never received one, so I set one out for her.

Irish Mules!  Who knew?  Simply substitute some Irish Whiskey for Vodka for an Irish twist.  I used Tullamore D.E.W Irish Whiskey and Rachel's Handcrafted Ginger Beer, along with freshly-squeezed lime juice.  They were delicious!

Here's the basic recipe:
  • 4 oz. ginger beer
  • 1½ oz. Irish whiskey
  • ½ oz. freshly-squeezed lime juice
  • 1 T. sugar (optional) - I didn't use any because Rachel's Ginger Beer is already sweetened
  • Ice, for serving
  • Fresh mint, for garnish
  • Lime rounds, for garnish
In a chilled copper mug measure out the ginger beer, vodka and lime juice.  Add ice and stir with a cocktail spoon.  Garnish with lime rounds and mint and serve immediately.

We served Shepperd's Pie, and, unfortunately, as it frequently happens, I got so busy that I forgot to take pictures of the food.  Friends sent me their pictures afterwards.

I'd never made Shepherd's Pie before, so I spent a few days researching it beforehand.  Alton Brown's recipe was wonderful.  Everyone loved it and I highly recommend it.

And for dessert . . . Apple Pie!  It just so happens that March 14th is Pie Day (π Day - 3.14).  Served with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream.  The pie came from Jarosch bakery, my favorite crack dealer.

Walkers Shortbread Cookies in the shape of sheep.

A pot of gold at the end of a rainbow hung from the chandelier.

The Irish Whiskey Mules were so good that we hardly touched the wine.  They were so refreshing!

Friends Angela and Leo, and my own husband, also a Leo, wore funny hats, and they insisted that we needed to as well, so I photoshopped a bow on my head, and a beret on my friend, Fran.  You'd have to have been there.  

Happy St. Patrick's Day!  May the road rise to meet you and all the rest!