Thursday, December 31, 2009

Ring in the New Year with good luck



People around the world eat special food on New Years. In Spain, Mexico and Cuba they eat twelve grapes, one for each month, at the stroke of midnight. The fruits are a predictor of the year ahead. If the grape is sweet, the month will be good one and if it’s sour, a bad one. Martha Stewart suggests adapting the tradition by threading twelve grapes on a wooden skewer and serving them with champagne. Martha knows best, so I followed her lead as you can see. I used pink grapes as well as green grapes.

I grew up in the south and we always ate black-eyed peas to bring us good luck in the coming year. The peas look like little coins when cooked, so they are thought to symbolize wealth. They also swell when cooked, another sign of prosperity. Our recipe for Southern Black-eyed Pea Caviar includes ham for an extra measure of good luck.

Southern Caviar

Easily doubled or tripled. Very pretty served in silver footed compotes lined with soft lettuce.



1 (15.8 oz) can black-eyed peas, drained & rinsed well
¾ cup cubed ham steak
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Pinch of sugar
Dash of Tabasco and Worcestershire sauce
Salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 tablespoons chopped red onion
1 ½ cups chopped tomato
2 tablespoons chopped scallion including some green tops
2 tablespoon chopped seeded fresh jalapeno pepper
2 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro or flat leaf parsley
Jalapeno slices and cilantro sprigs for garnish (optional)

Place drained black-eyed peas in a bowl. Saute the ham over medium heat in a non-stick skillet until nicely browned, about 5 minutes. Let ham cool for a moment, then add to the peas. Add remaining ingredients and toss gently. Refrigerate for a couple of hours for flavor to develop. Bring to room temperature before serving. Serve with chips for scooping.

This year of blogging has been so much fun and the best part was getting to know each of you. Thank you for your emails, letters, comments and calls. They all bring me so much pleasure that words cannot express. I hope you have a very happy, healthy and prosperous new year and the best life has to offer.


Cheers from My Carolina Kitchen,

Sam & Meakin

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Junkanoo Festival - held on Boxing Day in the Bahamas



Junkanoo is a national festival in The Bahamas, held in the early morning hours of Boxing Day, the day after Christmas. During the Junkanoo parade, a procession of dancers in brightly colored costumes “rush” through the streets, singing and making music on goat-skin drums, cowbells, conch shell horns and whistles.



Today is Pink Saturday and I want to thank Beverly of How Sweet the Sound for hosting this fun event. Please be sure to drop by How Sweet the Sound where you’ll find links to other Pink Saturday bloggers.

The revelers, both young and old, spend all year pasting their costumes together, many of which are made out of cardboard covered in colorful crepe paper.


Spectators join in the celebration, singing and dancing to make it a big street party.


The origin of the word Junkanoo is unknown. Some say it comes from the French word “L-inconnu,” meaning the unknown in reference to the masks worn by the parade participants.


Others believe it was named for John Canoe, an African tribal chief who demanded the right to celebrate with his people during the 16th and 17th centuries after being brought to the West Indies as slaves.


The slaves were given a special holiday during Christmas when they could leave the plantations to celebrate and be with their families with African dance, music and costumes. After emancipation, they continued the tradition and Junkanoo has evolved from its simple origins to organized parades with intricate costumes and music.


These photos were taken at the Junkanoo festival on Green Turtle Cay in Abaco, in the northern Bahamas.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Our favorite family tradition at Christmas - reading "The First Christmas Stocking" written by my husband’s Grandfather in the early 1900's


Every Christmas Eve we read “The First Christmas Stocking,” written by my husband Meakin’s grandfather. Years ago Meakin’s dad gave us his copy of “The First Christmas Stocking” that was crinkly and aging along with some black & white drawings of the story his father had written and told to him when he was a young boy. Meakin can also remember his Grandfather telling him this very same story.



Photo of Meakin and his Grandfather reading “The First Christmas Stocking”


Here’s an excerpt of what Meakin’s Dad told us about Christmas when he was a boy in 1919 and about the story his father wrote - “The First Christmas Stocking.”


On the day before Christmas of 1919 in Peotone, Illinois, Mother had spent the preceding week baking cakes, pies, and sugar cookies in Santa Claus or Christmas tree shapes and especially “Tea Rings” with their filling of brown sugar, cinnamon, butter and currants. They would be a feature of the holiday breakfast, accompanied by butter and lemon dressed salt mackerel which Dad had soaking in a dishpan of water. The Christmas tree which Dad and I had brought home on my sled leaned, snow dusted, against the side of the house. It would not be brought in until I was in bed and, presumably, fast asleep.
The “FIRST CHRISTMAS STOCKING” is a Hoffer family heritage. It was written by my Father in the early years of this century when there was no television, few radios and movies were silent and seldom seen. Consequently story telling was an important means of education and of communication, especially between parent and child. This particular story occupied a special place in our Christmas celebration. After dinner on Christmas Eve we walked to the church for the Christmas pageant. When I returned home there was a sudden rush to get undressed, hang my stocking and get to bed. And when up I went, Dad did too, to lie beside me, to “start the night” and tell me the story of a little boy whose pleasure was in giving, not getting, whose concern was for the happiness and pleasure of others and in that found his own happiness. Dad wanted very much to see this story published. He found an old friend to do the drawings that illustrate the story here. But his dream was never realized.

Always up for a challenge, in 1977 I decided to find a book binder to see if they could make copies of the story for a Christmas present from us to all of our family members. When they said yes, I begin to painstakingly re-type the story on an old IBM Selectric typewriter with the rotating ball (there were no personal computers or word processing programs available at the time) and took it, along with the drawings, to a very seedy (read unsafe) part of downtown Houston to the book binders, selected an elegant dark green leather cover with gold lettering for the title, ordered copies, and said, “Call me when it’s finished.”

Meakin’s father was thrilled when he saw the finished book. He wrote in the inscription in 1977:

Many times in the last twenty years that my Dad has been gone I have wished I could tell him of some of the wonderful things I’ve seen or done or just lived through. This is one of those times. Now, thanks to Meakin and Sam, here it is. If not for all the world to see, at least for me and my children, their wives and husbands, their children and their children’s children.” James J. Hoffer, New York City, 1977.
Here is “The First Christmas Stocking.” By the way, Meakin’s dad just celebrated his 97th birthday in November. He still lives at home, cooks most of his own meals, reads the New York Times every day and does their crossword puzzles. And on every Christmas Eve he gets out his copy and reads this story.


The First Christmas Stocking
By Doc Hoffer
Away up north a long time ago
There lived a young lad with the Eskimo.
He had a reindeer but he had no sled
So he hitched it to an ice cake instead.
He carved toys of ice and had lots of fun
But they soon melted when exposed to the sun.

One day a ship got fast in the ice
And our little boy thought it would be nice
To take a look at this strange sight;
He wanted to go out that very night.

The men on the ship did not like to stay
So they hitched up their dogs and hastened away.
So Kris Kringle, for that was his name,
Went to look the thing over; you’d do the same.

He found it deserted and much to his joy
There were all kinds of tools that would please any boy.
He found lots of wood and pieces of metal
Lead for his soldiers and an old iron kettle.

He made a sled to hitch his deer to.
He made lots of toys like you’d like to do.

He soon had so many he thought ‘twould be fun
To give each little boy and girl some.

So he hitched up old Prancer and started away
With a pack on his back just ‘fore Christmas Day.

When he got there, there were Indians around
And just a few settlers were then to be found.

The Indians chased him and scared him you see,
He wished he was back home, take it from me.
He urged on the deer and imagine the shock
When it made a quick turn and the sled hit a rock.
He flew right up into the air
And lit on top of a cabin right there.

He crawled down the chimney to get away
From this bunch of savages this Christmas Day.
When he got in the room ‘bout ready to die
He found lots of stocking hung up to dry.

There were small ones and large ones, short ones, too.
Says Santa, “Now here’s what I’ll do.
I’ll fill each sock from top to toe
Then if the Indians are gone, for home I’ll blow.”
So he put in soldiers and swords and guns,
Wooden horses and toys for the little ones.

He peeked out the door and his deer was still there
So he jumped in his sleigh and sailed through the air.
He had such fun he said in his glee
“I’ll be back next year with more presents, you see.”



So he worked the whole year as hard as he could
And comes back each year as Santa Claus should
He’s old and gray, his beard is white
But he comes back each year all right
For all children he brings nice toys
For he still loves good girls and boys.


I apologize for the change in print size and the spacing. For some reason Blogger had a mind of its own today and gave me fits with this post and I've re-done it several times with equally strange results. Do you ever have this problem? It's very frustrating. Oh well or c'est la vie as the French say. 

Happy holidays, Merry Christmas and Joyeux Noel everyone.






Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Cheese Logs – an easy appetizer to have on hand for drop-in guests


Have you ever eaten something at an office party that you thought was great, asked for the recipe, then never got around to actually making it? Well, these cheese logs are one of those recipes. Years ago Mr. Collins, a gentleman in our office, brought his wife’s cheese logs to our Christmas party. They were a hit and of course I asked him if Mrs. Collins would share her recipe. She confided hers came from an old Southern Living magazine.

Last year I featured a friend’s cheese ball on my blog that was rich, creamy and delicious. This year I searched for something similar to have on hand during the holidays. On the Food Network the Barefoot Contessa made Cheese Straws with purchased puff pastry. Parmesan and Gruyere cheese that looked tempting, especially considering cheese straws are one of my all time favorites. Giada de Laurentiis, also on the Food Network, whipped up a quick batch of Prosciutto Bread Sticks with Parmesan cheese and wrapped in prosciutto in minutes that also looked good. But what I was really looking for was something I could make in advance, keep in the refrigerator to have on hand for drop-in guests. I always keep a bottle of champagne in the wine refrigerator and some Crème de Cassis in the cabinet so we could quickly fix a French Kir Royale by adding a teaspoon or so of Cassis in a flute and top it with champagne for a festive drink. Add a bowl of grapes and voila, you have a spur-of-the-moment appetizer.

That’s when I remembered Mrs. Collin’s Cheese Logs. I flipped through my files and, after a little searching, found her recipe. It appeared easy, no baking was involved, could be kept in the refrigerator wrapped for up to a week, so I decided to give them a try. Her cheese logs call for chopped pecans, so for fun I mixed the nuts into one of the cheese logs as the original recipe called for and, for a change of pace, I rolled the other log in the nuts to form a crunchy exterior. Mrs. Collins used a yellow cheddar cheese, but I wanted a sharper flavor and chose a New York State sharp white Cheddar. In retrospect, next time I think I’ll use the yellow cheddar called for in the original recipe for appearance sake more than taste. As you can see, these are rather white. I also felt the paprika added an extra bit of taste that was missing from the one I rolled in nuts. Spanish smoked sweet paprika (Pimenton) would also be nice. Here’s Mrs. Collins original recipe.


Mrs. Collin's Cheese Logs
It’s important to grate the cheese by hand. I find that the pre-grated kind doesn’t blend well with the other ingredients.

1 pound medium to sharp cheddar cheese, hand grated, then brought to room temperature
3 – 6 oz packages of cream cheese, room temperature
3 large cloves of garlic, pressed
1 cup chopped pecans
Hungarian paprika

Mix the two cheeses, garlic and pecans either by hand or gently in a food processor. Form into three balls, then roll into logs. Roll the logs in paprika and chill well before serving with crackers of your choice. Makes three logs.

Friday, December 11, 2009

A Bay Leaf Wreath – one of our favorite holiday decorations & perfect for the hard to please person on your list


It's Pink Saturday and Beverly of How Sweet the Sound, our hostess for Pink Saturday, has asked us to post about our favorite holiday decoration and to tell why it is special.

I’m sure you’ve had a hard to please person on your Christmas gift list from time to time. I know I sure have and I well remember the very person who always topped the list – my husband’s father’s late second wife Wanda, which would make her my stepmother-in-law if there is such a word. At the time she and my father-in-law lived in New York City and could buy anything imaginable whenever they pleased. Both were gourmet cooks and most especially Wanda. My husband referred to her as, “the best darn cook in the world that I’ve ever seen that wasn’t a professional.”

The trouble was at that time I didn’t know Wanda well, but I sensed that she could be hard to please. I’d met her once, earlier in the year during the fall, when my husband and I had flown to the city and stayed with them. I was a manger in the Saks Fifth Avenue store in Houston and, as a part of the trip, I had planned to go to the store and work with my buyer while we were there.

Before we left home Wanda called. “Sam, I thought you might want to know that in New York we don’t wear white shoes in the fall.” I was flabbergasted. I hadn’t worn white shoes since I was a small child and colored them pink, much to my mother’s horror. My entire career has been in fashion merchandising. Did she think I was some kind of country kid?

I wanted to reply that I planned on bringing my little Diane von Furstenberg wrap dress to wear with a soft shade of chestnut brown Bruno Magli sling-back pumps that look nice with my Vuitton bag, but I was so taken back by her call that I think I stuttered something like, “Thanks Wanda. I’ll keep that in mind when I pack.”

This is a time in life that thankfully I had been raised with good manners, because if I could have found a tacky pair of white heels, I would taken them to New York City and put them on in her apartment right before I left for Saks and asked, “Wanda, what do you think? Do I look all right?"

So now you know Wanda was hard to please and it’s time to buy a Christmas gift for her and my husband’s Dad. Knowing their love of cooking, I began flipping through the Williams-Sonoma catalog looking for ideas. How about monogram glasses – no, we got them that last year. Here’s a cute wooden acorn twine holder – nope, they gave that to us last year. I turned the page to find the fresh Bay Leaf wreath, shipped directly from the grower in California. We had gotten a bay leaf wreath for ourselves the previous year and were pleased with its elegant look and continued to use the leaves in cooking well into the year. Perfect. A bay leaf wreath it would be.

I worried that the wreath didn’t come gift wrapped, but I placed the order anyway and crossed my fingers she would like it. About two weeks before Christmas the phone rang.

“Sam, this is Wanda. UPS just delivered a bay leaf wreath.” Oh my, she’s going to tell me she doesn’t like it or, worse yet, she has two already and this will make three and they have a tiny apartment….

While I was lost in my thoughts, I heard her say, “I’ve never heard of a bay leaf wreath. It’s absolutely gorgeous; in fact I’ve never seen anything like it before. I adore it and I know Jim will too. Thank you and Meakin so very much. What a nice surprise. How long do the leaves stay fresh?”

“You’re very welcome, Wanda. I’m thrilled that you like it. Yes, we used our leaves until they began to dry up later in the year. If you leave it inside, it will last longer than if you put it outdoors.” Whew. I finally pleased her. I just about broke my arm patting myself on the back that year, but these kinds of things only happen once or twice in a lifetime for me – pleasing the hard to please.

Williams-Sonoma has been shipping bay leaf wreaths to happy people for thirty-five years, so if you’re looking for a lovely gift for someone that is hard to please, or even hard to buy for, I recommend this gorgeous holiday wreath. We hang one in our home each year on our early American chest on frame and I think it’s one of the most beautiful decorations we have. Every time I look at our wreath, I think of Wanda and how thrilled she was that year.

Be sure to visit Beverly at How Sweet the Sound to see what other bloggers are featuring as their favorite holiday decoration. Happy Pink Saturday everyone and enjoy the holidays.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

German Gluhwein


Many years ago my husband and I celebrated Christmas in Germany. While we were strolling through the Marienplatz in Munich at the Christmas Market, known as Christkindlmarkt, we noticed that everyone seemed to be drinking a warm wine from cups. My husband asked a gentleman, in his best German, “Was ist das?” or what is that.

Gluhwein,” the man answered, except to our ears it sounded like “glue-something.” Not easily intimidated, my husband asked other passersby, hoping we could understand what they were saying. It continued to sound like glue, so he finally went up to a street vendor selling this glue-sounding drink, mumbled his best pronunciation and pointed to people that were drinking it. We were served a delicious warm drink that we later learned was Gluhwein.

The easiest way to make Gluhwein is to buy the German spice bags, which we brought home with us from that trip, and heat them in red wine. However, that was many years ago and I’ve run out of my stash of spice bags. Fortunately we don’t live very far from Helen, a lovely German town in north Georgia, and it’s worth a trip there to get them. If you can’t find the bags, here is our version of the mulled wine.

German Gluhwein
This recipe was translated by a friend from a German cookbook, written, of course, in German.

1 cup water
½ to ¾ cup of sugar, depending on your taste
1 quart of red wine, such as a Merlot or Shiraz
1 stick of cinnamon
4 lemon slices, plus more for garnish if you wish
4 cloves

Make sugar syrup by heating the water and sugar in a saucepan. Bring to a boil to dissolve the sugar. Add remaining ingredients and return to a boil. Remove from heat and discard cinnamon stick, lemon slices and cloves and serve warm. Garnish with fresh lemon slices if you wish. Serves 4.

Be sure to check out Cathy's Gluhwein at Wives with Knives. We both love Gluhwein and her photographs, as well as her blog, are gorgeous. She was able to purchase Ghuhwein at a Holiday market at a German American School. She lives in Oregon and German stores and deli's there also have it, so keep an eye out if you don't want to make your own.

Portions of this post were taken from the Archives.


Friday, December 4, 2009

Childhood Christmas Memories


Beverly of How Sweet the Sound is our hostess for Pink Saturday and this week she’s asked us to post about our childhood memories of Christmas.

I grew up in Warren, a small town in southeastern Arkansas, and my family had a jewelry store where I worked at Christmas from the time I could barely see over the counter until I left home after graduating from college to pursue my own career. My grandfather Weiss left Kansas at the turn of the century and arrived in Warren on a horse-drawn buggy after riding the Cotton Belt Railroad to the end of the line in a nearby dusty Arkansas town. On arrival in 1905 he found three newly established lumber mills and decided that they would insure a growing town, so he took his diamond ring and used it to finance his dream of owning his own jewelry store. He was also an Optician and a fine watchmaker and it wasn’t unusual in that day for a jeweler to be an Optician as well. A few years later he married my grandmother Turner, a local girl. Her grandfather was one of the original pioneer families that came directly to the Arkansas territory when their ship landed from England in the early 1840’s at Charleston Harbor in South Carolina. My father followed in my grandfather’s footsteps and was an Optometrist as well as a jeweler. His store was a fixture on the square in Warren for seventy-five years.

Weiss Jewelry was considered to be a Guild Jewelry store, meaning it sold fine jewelry such as diamonds, watches, gem stones, clocks, sterling silver, leaded crystal, fine bone china, Dresden Porcelains, as well as novelties and top quality costume jewelry. During the roaring twenties the store stocked brilliant comb sets that flappers desired and brides counted their friends by the cut glass wedding presents they received from Weiss Jewelry. During the Great Depression my grandfather saved every silver dollar that was spent in his store, knowing the sacrifice the person made to part with such a valuable coin during hard times to buy a loved one a special gift.


Photo of Weiss Jewelry circa 1930’s with my grandfather in the foreground and my father in back with customers

Every July my father went to the Dallas Merchandise Mart to purchase for the Christmas season. He took great pride in decorating his windows for Christmas and the Santa above, shown on my mantle at home, is a perfect example of one he might have chosen for his windows. He also had exquisite taste and wanted each present from his store to represent an elegant gift. It had to be wrapped (at no cost to his customer of course) in expensive foil paper, tied with a gorgeous bow, and be a thing of great beauty for the giver to present to the lucky recipient. A gift from Weiss Jewelry was meant to stand out among all of the others. As a young person, I was a junior bow maker and later, as a teenager, I “graduated” to the back-up gift wrapper.

The jewelry business has an unspoken rule about gifts, much like a confidentially agreement with a lawyer or accountant. For example, if Doctor So-in-so comes in and looks at an expensive diamond watch, the jeweler would never say, “Your wife Helen would love that.” Just as your accountant knows your income, your jeweler knows about the other woman. Confidentially is a lesson I learned at an early age.

If any of you have ever worked in retailing, you know that it’s made up of very long hours and hard work during Christmas. I remember going to the post office on Christmas Day with my father after we had opened our own presents at home to see what had arrived a bit late that needed to be gift-wrapped and delivered by us at the last minute to a waiting customer. During the season my parents were always exhausted and, as a child, Christmas just meant hard work and long hours to my family. My parents missed the rounds of holiday cocktail parties and social events. My mother decorated our house on Thanksgiving Day, took my sister and myself to the big city the next day to shop for our gifts, and worked at the store for the remainder of the season. On Christmas day right after dinner, she took our tree down and put away all of the Christmas decorations.

“Why don’t we leave our tree up like other families do?” I asked my mother one year. “They don’t take theirs down until after January first.”

“I guess I’m just sick of seeing it, Sissy,” she said. “I’ve had enough of Christmas.”

I said I would never follow in their footsteps, but of course I did. After college I went into a management training program of a large Federated Department store in Texas and worked long and tiring hours just like my parents. At Christmas time all I could think of was going home and putting my feet up because they were killing me and I was exhausted. As a young bride, it’s amazing my husband put up with me. From the day after Thanksgiving until early January I was either at work or asleep.

All through my childhood I promised myself that when I grew up, if I didn’t work in retailing at Christmas, I would throw the biggest, most elaborate party I could and invite all of my friends. And I would also keep my Christmas tree up until January like everyone else did.


Photo from the Martha Vick website of the exterior of the mansion

Many years later my husband Meakin and I lived in Vicksburg, Mississippi. It was in the late eighties, with my retail career was behind me and a job with more civilized hours, we decided it was time to have our first “big” Christmas cocktail party. We had just remodeled a darling but tiny cottage on Confederate Avenue in the old Civil War Military Park. Although it was lovely, it was much too small to host a cocktail party of the size I had in mind. I was fulfilling a dream and my list consisted of at least fifty people. Fortunately two of our friends had a beautiful home that specialized in hosting big parties and they were both gourmets themselves. Our friends Bill and David owned The Martha Vick House, a gorgeous one story Greek Revival antebellum mansion on Grove Street that they had lovingly restored. Dating back to 1830, it was built by Martha, the daughter of the city’s founder, Newett Vick, and constructed of beautiful hand-made pink bricks with plaster covering the inside walls. I thought it was the perfect setting for the big cocktail party of my dreams.

Vicksburg is a black-tie kind of town and Bill and David know how to throw a big bash. Out comes their huge set of antique Havilland fine bone china and gobs of brightly polished sterling silver. They set up an elaborate buffet table in the dining room complete with lots of silver candlesticks holding tall glowing tapers. A florist friend artfully composed a gorgeous holiday creation for the center of the table. The food that evening included a large footed, ornate cut glass bowl overflowing with jumbo Creole shrimp that had marinated in a garlicky paprika Remoulade sauce. A large holiday ham glazed with bourbon and brown sugar sat high on a pedestal on a large silver tray with sliced freshly roasted turkey breast below it accompanied by homemade biscuits for making your own sandwich, a bowl of spicy pickled Black-eyed Pea Caviar (here’s my version) surrounded by dark party ryes, Tuzzi dip (a cheesy, spicy sausage mix) with crispy chips, asparagus spears decoratively placed on a tray with an aioli dipping sauce in a small Paul Revere silver bowl, a generous platter of Vicksburg tomato sandwiches (no party in Vicksburg was ever considered complete without tomato sandwiches and homemade mayonnaise) and piles of decadent, rich crème puffs and tiny pistachio wafers, both handcrafted by Bill. I'm sorry I don't have a photograph of our Christmas buffet, but below is a spring dinner party in the dining room of the Martha Vick House so you can get a feel for the dining room and see the lovely antique china and glasswear.


Photo of a spring dinner party in the dining room from the Martha Vick website

At the time we belonged to a private club in town, so we hired two of the bartenders we knew from there to tend bar. It was great because they knew what everyone’s favorite cocktail was - who wanted their martini extra dry or up, who drank scotch & soda, and which lady loved gimlets. This was in the day that people had cocktail parties at home. Today many people entertain their friends in a bar or restaurant after work and everyone comes casually dressed and drinks wine or beer. It also seems that no one has their own special drink anymore. I truly miss these kinds of cocktail parties. There’s something special and elegant about getting all dressed up and sharing cocktails and chit chatting with your friends at home (even if it is someone else’s home) that you can’t duplicate in a restaurant or bar. But - the very best part of this particular party was all we had to do was arrive on the night of the party dressed and ready to celebrate.


Photo of a cocktail party from the Martha Vick website

During that same period of time one of my recipes won the National Catfish Contest. Our friend Laurin, the Foods Editor of the local paper, called requesting an interview and pictures for the paper. As we visited, she said, “Sam, I assumed you didn’t know how to cook because you and Meakin always throw catered parties.”

Well Laurin, I think catered parties are the very best way to have a big cocktail bash for fifty or so of your best friends and I highly recommend it for a busy lifestyle, even if you do know how to cook. All you do is arrive a wee bit early, have a cocktail and relax with the owners Bill and David. When the door bell rings, greet your friends warmly while dressed in your finest black-tie attire standing beside the lovely marble top table in the foyer with a huge Christmas tree loaded lights twinkling in the background.


Photo of the foyer during Christmas from the Martha Vick website

But this is the most important part - have fun yourself instead of rushing around refilling the buffet or heating food in the kitchen. Mingle with your guests and enjoy the scrumptious food that someone else has prepared. After your last guests leaves, have a nightcap and discuss your plans for next year’s party and forget the dishes. Now that’s my kind of cocktail party. I consider it my childhood Christmas dream come true.

For additional ideas on how to throw a cocktail party, including how to stock the bar, Southern Accents can tell you everything you ever wanted to know. If you are ever in Vicksburg, Mississippi, The Martha Vick House is open for tours 364 days a year (closed for New Years Eve when they throw their own bash for friends).

Please be sure to drop by and say hello to Beverly at How Sweet the Sound where you’ll find links to other Pink Saturday bloggers and read about their childhood memories of Christmas. Happy Pink Saturday everyone.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Shepherd’s Pie – a great way to use leftover turkey


We typically have more leftovers from Thanksgiving than we know what to do with. Turkey sandwiches made with breast meat are one of our favorites, but the leftover dark meat is always a dilemma. Last year we made Turkey Hash (recipe in the archives) with a fried egg on top and it was delicious. Other years we’ve make a Turkey Curry, but this year we were in the mood for something different. I found a classic recipe for Shepherd’s Pie in The Fannie Farmer Cookbook and substituted the dark meat from our turkey for the lamb, added a dash of sherry to the gravy, included corn and green peas, topped the mixture with the traditional mashed potato crust, but added a sprinkling of good Gruyere cheese at the end. Note, if fresh rosemary is not available, substitute dried thyme. Dried rosemary, in my opinion, can taste like dried twigs. A classic Shepherd’s Pie calls for leftover lamb or beef, but we thought the turkey gave it a current twist on a classic. It is an earthy, comfort food type of dish and would be good with other vegetables, such as carrots.

Currently the Food Network is featuring quite a few recipes for Shepherd’s Pie on their website. They’ve switched up ingredients and have used some creative twists. For example, one uses cornbread for a topping; another contains sweet potatoes. They are taking this classic, to quote them, from “familiar to fabulous.”


Shepherd’s Pie
Adapted from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook

2 cups chopped cooked turkey meat, preferably a combination of light & dark meat
Olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 large clove garlic, peeled and chopped
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary (do not substitute dried rosemary) or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
¼ to ½ cup beef broth
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Dash of dry sherry
1 cup cooked corn kernels
1 cup cooked small English peas
4 medium potatoes, cooked and mashed (about 3 cups)
½ cup freshly grated Gruyere or Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Sauté the chopped onion in a small bit of olive oil in a non-stick pan over medium-low heat until soft and beginning to brown. Season the onions with salt and pepper, then add the garlic and rosemary and cook a minute or two more. Remove from heat and set aside in a large bowl.

Chop the meat in a food processor until finely minced, but not turned into a paste, and remove from the processor and add the meat to the cooked onions and garlic.

Melt the butter in a non-stick pan and stir in the flour. Cook for a few minutes until smooth and blended. Slowly add the beef broth. Stir and cook until the gray is thickened, cooking at least 5 minutes to get rid of the raw flour taste. If necessary, use an additional ¼ cup of broth if your sauce is too thick. Add a dash of dry sherry and cook a minute or two more. Add the meat mixture along with the corn and peas; stir to blend, and add salt and pepper to taste.

Spoon mixture into a casserole or individual soup dishes. Spread the mashed potatoes on top and cover to the edge of the casserole. Make a crisscross design with a fork. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the meat is bubbling hot and the potatoes are browned. Top with the cheese and bake a few minutes more until cheese melts. Serves 4 to 6.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Bahamian Sweet Potato Pie – a great stand-in for Pumpkin Pie for the holidays


One year when we lived in the islands I couldn’t find canned pumpkin for pumpkin pie at the grocery store, so I substituted freshly cooked and mashed sweet potatoes for the pumpkin and it quickly became our favorite “pumpkin” pie. It can fool most tasters and when people compliment you on your pumpkin pie, just smile and say thanks. I’ve read this year that canned pumpkin is in short supply, so it is an excellent time to give this Bahamian Sweet Potato Pie a try. Feel free to use cooked or canned pumpkin in you like. In case you’re wondering, the Bahamians do not, of course, celebrate our American Thanksgiving, but they were always pleased to be invited to our home to share our Thanksgiving feast.

I adapted this recipe from a wonderful island cookbook, Gourmet Bahamian Cooking by Marie Mendelson and Marguerite Sawyer from Green Turtle Cay in Abaco, The Bahamas. Their recipe was Molasses Pumpkin Pie. They called for one-half cup of light molasses, but I used half molasses and half maple syrup. My liquor of choice is Myers Dark Rum, but a good Bourbon works well also.


I’m sure you’ve seen the fall piecrust cutters on the cover of the Thanksgiving edition of the Williams-Sonoma catalog or in their stores. There are four patterns: bay leaf, maple, acorn and oak leaves. I’m not a great baker and especially not the best pie decorator, but thanks to these cutters my pie looked very pretty. I was even able to hide the inevitable crack that always seems to occur somewhere. At Williams-Sonoma's website there’s even a video showing you how to use them. You can make them in advance, freeze them on a sheet pan covered with parchment paper, and remove from the freezer in time for them to thaw before you need them. I’m also told they are attractive on a wheel of brie, for instance, all during the year, so they aren’t just for the holiday season. You could also use them to decorate a Beef Wellington. They would also make a nice gift because it's not often you can find such a fun "foodie" present for under twenty dollars.

We’ve been traveling the last couple of weeks and just returned home after putting 2000 miles on the car along with helping my husband’s father celebrate his 97th birthday. My pie baking has been more last minute this year than I had wished and this was posted much later than I had originally planned. I hope that each of you have a wonderful holiday season and a happy Thanksgiving.

Bahamian Rummy Sweet Potato Pie
Adapted from Gourmet Bahamian Cooking by Mendelson & Sawyer

1 9” unbaked pie shell for pie itself
Separate 9” unbaked pie shell for fall pie crust decorations, optional but nice
3 eggs, slightly beaten
1 ½ cups freshly cooked and mashed sweet potato
1/3 cup sugar
1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup molasses
¼ cup maple syrup
1 can (12 ounce) evaporated skimmed milk
¼ cup dark rum or bourbon
1 beaten egg with 2 tsp. water for egg wash for the pastry leaves if using

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. (If you plan to make the decorative leaves, roll out the second crust and cut the leaves according to the package decorations and place them on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper and set aside in the refrigerator.)

Fit the unbaked pie shell in a pie pan. In a large bowl, beat the eggs slightly. Add sweet potatoes, sugar, and seasonings; blend well. Slowly add the molasses, maple syrup and evaporated skimmed milk, stirring until well mixed. Add liquor. Pour into the pie shell.

Baked in a preheated 425 degree F oven for 15 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F. (If using the decorative leaves around the edges, remove the pie from the oven and decorate the edges. Brush the leaves with an egg wash (1 beaten egg mixed with 2 teaspoons water) Bake the pie for 40 minutes longer or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack. Yield: 6 to 8 servings.

If you want to decorate the top of the pie with the leaves, brush remaining leaves with egg wash and bake on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper in a 375 degree F oven for 10 to 15 minutes, taking care not to burn them. When pastry is cooled, decorate the top of the pie with the leaves.

As a post script I wanted to share with you that there must be something in our house that doesn't like Thanksgiving. Last year the septic system backed up and we had to call one of our guests and ask if we could bring everything to her house to cook and also would she mind we dined there also. An embarrassing moment, but thankfully our friend said yes and even invited us to spend the night. This year the dishwasher is on the fritz. C'est la vie. I hope each of you have a wonderful Thanksgiving.
Sam

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Caffé Rel – the best bistro in Franklin, North Carolina


You’ve heard the old adage “you can’t judge a book by its cover”. Well you can’t judge a restaurant by the building it’s in either. Caffé Rel is a perfect example. Located in downtown Franklin in the Hot Spot, a busy gas station on East Main Street, you’ll find Caffé Rel, one of the finest bistros in the mountains of western North Carolina. Don’t let the gas station location fool you because Chef and owner Richard E. Long (hence the name Rel) apprenticed at the highly selective Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia and went on to enjoy a prestigious career running elite restaurants in Pennsylvania. He serves a variety of upscale dishes with complex sauces that you would normally expect to find only in a fancy, pretentious restaurant. Chef Long says at heart he’s a saucier and can make a sauce out of anything. Just have one taste of the Louisiana crawfish tails in a leek cream sauce fired with a fine French cognac and you’ll realize he knows his sauces.



Not only does Chef Long turn out upscale food, he is also an expert at running what’s called in the restaurant business “the front of the house.” He personally handpicks and trains his peppy waitstaff who are dressed in typical French bistro outfits – a white shirt with tie and black trousers. More often than not when you arrive, you’ll be personally greeted by Chef Long himself wearing his dark beret and clogs. He modeled his restaurant’s ambience and décor after one of his favorite cafes in Paris. As you enter a black chalk board announces the daily specials and beyond, under glass, you can see the array of European style desserts, including beautiful tortes and cakes.



After we were seated at a cozy high top and ordered a glass of wine, our attention turned to the menu. My husband asked me, “What are you going to have today?”

“Oh, I haven’t decided,” I said. “Last time I had the Brandied Chicken Livers as an appetizer and they were great. I love their Charleston Shrimp and Grits, but the Bourbon Breast of Chicken Old Tennessee looks interesting with a mushroom bourbon sauce. Or the Lavender Shrimp sautéed with shallots, leeks and deglazed with white wine and served with a country cream sauce sounds good too. But it’s raining today; maybe I’ll have the French Pot Roast. Have you decided?”

“You know I love lamb, so I’m thinking of the Lamb Lollies with the shallot Madera sauce for an appetizer, but their homemade bisque sounds good too,” Meakin said.

About this time the waitress came to take our order. “I can’t decide,” I told her.

“I just tell people to close their eyes and point,” she said. “You can’t go wrong.”



For an appetizer my husband chose the homemade Blue Crab Bisque, a house favorite with shallots, garlic, leeks, thyme, butter and cream, and finished with freshly shredded Parmesan. It was served with slices of a warm baguette and a stewed tomato and olive oil bruschetta for dipping that we shared.



For his entry he ordered one of the daily specials, or as the French would say, the plat de jour, - Pan Seared Scallops with baby bok choy served on a bed of coconut rice with a curry sauce.



I finally settled on French Pot Roast covered with a rich brown wine sauce with piped parsley potatoes served with lightly stir-fried, crisp seasonal vegetables on the side.



Notice the detail with the garnish of match stick carrots and the beautiful orchid that comes with every entrée.



If you want something lighter, they offer a long list of salads, including an Asian Chicken Salad, a house specialty with a homemade sesame dressing. At lunch they also serve a variety of classic sandwiches, all accompanied with homemade potato chips (their version of flat fries).

As we sat and enjoyed our lunch with light jazz playing in the background, we reminisced about our favorite bistros in Provence and lingered over an espresso. When it was time to go we inquired about the location of the restrooms. I was feeling very French and in my head I was saying, “Ou sont les toilettes?” when I heard the reply. “Oh, they’re in the Hot Spot next door.” D’accord, no problem.


As we walked through the curtain covered glass door from the restaurant into the gas station, we felt as if we had entered a whole other world. We looked head-on at the ice machine and the stark black walls in the convenience store complete with bright red stripe trim and neon lights. Dolly Parton was warbling “Jolene, Jolene, I’m begging of you, please don’t take my man” on the loud speakers. Couples seated in plastic booths overlooking the gas pumps were eating hotdogs purchased from the vending machine while other people were standing in line at the check out counter to pay for chips and soft drinks. Just when we thought we were in France, voila, in a split second we were back in small town American in a typical loud and busy convenience store.

It’s time to go home, but we’ll be back. Luckily for us, we only live an hour away. We always schedule our semi-annual visits to the Periodontist in Franklin around lunch at Caffé Rel. Located at 457 East Main Street, Franklin, North Carolina, 28734. (828) 369-9446, they’re open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and take no credit cards or reservations. But don’t worry, the 16 tables turn quickly and if you do have to wait for a minute or two, it’s well worth it. Where else can you eat a fine meal and fill your car with the best priced gas in town all in one stop?


A bientot Chef Long and Caffé Rel; see you again soon.