Food, cooking, and the gathering together of family and friends is an essential source of sustenance and life beyond the kitchen and dining table. Consider the role food plays in our all things house that make a home life. Over the prepping, preparing, plating and partaking of a meal we connect with family and friends, build and strengthen personal and business relationships, indulge in the art of expression and discovery, and create delicious and lasting memories. Food for thought.
J. Kenji López-Alt, author of The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science, debunks five common Southern cooking myths over on the Garden & Gun blog Daily Shot. I was surprised to learn… Click on the link below for details.
Hey summer, what’s for dinner? The Places In The Home gang knows the answer to that question. Most evenings our summer appetites lean toward lighter fare, and a what’s on hand chilled summer salad is what’s on the menu.
The temps of those hot summer mornings, afternoons and nights have a way of slowing down the pace as well as the need for heavy dishes.
Who needs or wants to be in the kitchen slaving over a hot stove when there’s a lot of patio sitting, summer sippin’ and outdoor living to do. I defer to Bertand Russell and his brilliant words that fit so well with summer.
“The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.”
My sentiments exactly, Mr. Russell.
To the cupboard and fridge we go for ingredients to make a what’s on hand chilled summer salad.
Baby field greens topped with tuna serve as the flavor foundation. Left over crispy fried bacon from breakfast makes the cut. I spotted a cucumber in the crisper to go with the garden tomatoes and red onion slices. A slice, chop, salt and pepper later it was time to whip up a generous portion of avocado spread. Take a nice avocado, peel, scoop out the meat into a bowl and mash it with a fork. Add a heaping tablespoon of mayonnaise and a generous squeeze of fresh lemon.
The lemon wakes up the flavors with a c’est si bon all its own. Feta cheese crumbles bring more flavor into the mix. Fresh sliced strawberries and fresh chopped Louisiana peaches drizzled with honey round out the melange. I purposely positioned the Feta, fruit and red onion slices on the sides of the salad plates so the diners can incorporate the flavors as desired. Now for what I consider the ultimate dressing discovery of the summer 2015 salad season. There is buttermilk ranch dressing and then there is basil buttermilk ranch dressing. This dressed up take on Hidden Valley buttermilk ranch dressing is the new house dressing at Places In The Home. The the fresh basil and lemon juice produce a bright flavor pairing- a combination perfect for summer. Tangy (that’s buttermilk!) meets fresh meets zing meets damn, that’s good!
Basil Buttermilk Ranch Dressing
¾ cup mayonnaise (I used Duke’s in this recipe)
½ cup buttermilk
1 packet Original Hidden Valley Ranch Buttermilk Recipe
¼ teaspoon fine black pepper
2 tablespoons basil, finely chopped
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Combine all ingredients together. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour before using, allowing flavors to marry.
Hey summer, what’s for dinner? Think summer salads.
The welcome mat at Places In The Home is working overtime. Several of our family members are taking to the spring holiday road, and our house is do drop in central. Good visits begin with good hosting and good hosting begins with a stress free host or hostess. Entertaining is supposed to be a fun for guests and hosts alike, isn’t it? I know I have a much better entertaining experience if I access and assign a theme, go with the entertaining with ease flow and keep the focus on comfortable surroundings, inviting touches and relaxing times.
Texas times and family memories will be a hot topic of conversation. Our company’s travels begin in Texas Bluebonnet country, and with Texas being the common denominator of our family tree, I played it up in theme and setting. Farmhouse chic makes an effortless foundation to build your theme upon.
A simple arrangement of carnations mixed with greenery and placed beside an even simpler arrangement of apples and bananas in a milk glass center bowl provides a nice centerpiece in a farmhouse chic kind of way.
Fresh flowers from the floral department of the local grocery store are my weakness, and when the word clearance enters into the picture my shopping cart runneth over. You really get your money’s worth with carnations. Carnations can last for weeks with an every other day water change and a quick stem trim. I use tepid water, scale back leaves from the stems to prevent contact with the water, and place a couple of drops of food coloring in the water.
From recipes to table setting decor, I like to source from within meaning I like to use what I have on hand. A great home decor clearance sale and dollar store items purchased in bulk can provide all the entertaining with ease elements needed for a well designed themed tablescape.
art, objects, or design considered to be in poor taste because of excessive garishness or sentimentality, but sometimes appreciated in an ironic or knowing way.
Into each case of design and decorating a little if kitchen kitsch is wrong, I don’t want to be right will fall. The method to my madness lies deeply rooted in the from which I came from principle. I picked up several sets of rooster dish towels at the local dollar store back during the holidays knowing full well they would come in handy. Paired with copper napkin rings I found on clearance at Dillard’s a couple of years ago, the dish towels made great dinner napkins.
The Places In The Home gang comes from a long line of hen on nest dish collectors. The women of our family felt no respectable kitchen and/or breakfast room decor complete without the addition of at least one hen on nest dish.
On the menu front I aim to please. Round our dinner table, quality rules over quantity which lines up perfectly with easy menu planning. As long as the iced tea is sweet and I keep the serving sizes in just a bite territory it is all good and tasty. The culinary rule of KISS (keep it salad simple) always applies.
I set up a salad buffet for first course serve yourself ease. Individual Mason jar salads layered with shredded iceberg lettuce, fresh tomato, chopped ham, green onion, Feta cheese crumbles, homemade buttermilk dressing and a dash of kosher salt and fine black pepper were a hit with the just a bite crowd.
With May, June, and July graduations, weddings, and festivities comes the celebratory ritual of culinary and social interaction and entertaining, the dinner party. Bob Ryan is a larger than life fictional character from the HBO series Entourage. Portrayed by Martin Landau, Bob Ryan is a lovely idea of a man.
He is well spoken in the language of ramble, but what he has to say is about the art of dining is worth a listen. Bob will have no part of stressful topics being discussed before, during, or after dining. Ambiance is key in the art and aid of proper digestion, a priority high on his list of dinner party ideas.
Bob Ryan reasons that proper digestion is an important part of the dining experience. Fictional or real, the wise old owl has got a point. What if I was to tell you a rich cup of Louisiana coffee or tea, fine wine, accent lighting and great music is Bob Ryan 101 at Casa Places In The Home. In the immortal words of Bob Ryan, “Is that something you might be interested in?”
From menu to music to the personalities of the diners, you’ve got to put some thought into it. Much like the perfect wine pairing, getting it right enhances the flavor of the event. I don’t believe it is terminal if the music or the wine selection doesn’t perfectly fit with a course, but it can feel like there’s been a death when we are paired with bad dinner guests. There is an art to accomplishing that particular pairing- a social sommelier, if you will. In case of social emergency, make sure the wine is flowing and hope the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
If the quickest way to a person’s heart is through their stomach, music is the shortest route to their soul. A casual meal goes well with the greatest hits of whatever decade you have the fondest memories from. A romantic meal naturally slows down the pace of life, speeds up the pace of the heart, and goes well with a smooth groove. Music makes the mood, and no respectable formal dinner party is complete without the music.
Your crowd doesn’t have an Appetite for Destruction?
There’s a lot to be said for the advice offered up from a fictional character in a cable series. Palatable peace existing in perfect harmony in the name of digestion is at the top of my dinner party ideas list.
And yes, Bob, that is something I am very interested in.
When it comes to selecting a French onion soup recipe, I find I am beginning to feel like the character Albert in The Birdcage.
Albert, brilliantly played by Nathan Lane, convincingly explains his mispronunciation of Armand’s surname in a context I find myself relating to. “Oh yes… Coldeman. The “d” is silent in America. It’s Cole D’Isle au Man, or Cole of the Isle of Man, in France, where Armand’s chateau is, Cold-e-man in Greece where Armand’s work is, and finally the vulgar Coleman in Florida where Armand’s home is, so actually, we don’t know where we are until we hear our last name pronounced! Ahahahahahahaaaaa!”
I feel his exaggerated pain, and let me tell you why. We live in Louisiana where we are heavily influenced by Creole and Cajun French. Our son attends university in Canada where we are influenced by Quebecois French. Actually, we don’t know where we are until we taste the food, the “who cares where we are as long as it is French” food! Ahahahahahahaaaaa!
Tonight’s menu will allow me to exercise my multilingual culinary skills. You’re definitely speaking my language when you’re talking French Onion Soup. I know where to go for the best French onion soup from coast to coast. My son’s friend holds the title in Canada. I have my own recipe met, mastered and magnifique. Cafe Bellagio and Mon Ami Gabi in Las Vegas both serve a fantastic French onion soup. I know the latter is a chain, but one taste of the French onion soup and you’ll understand! I would love to be on the Las Vegas strip right now watching the Fountains of Bellagio while enjoying French onion soup goodness. Since I’m not, I’ll bring a pinch of Paris, a dash of Creole, and a smidgen of Canada to the Places In The Home family table.
French Onion Soup
2 Tablespoon butter
2 teaspoons olive oil
6 medium onions thinly sliced
1 teaspoon Creole seasoning
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
2 bay leaves
½ cup white white or sherry
2 quarts (8 cups) low sodium beef broth
French bread baguette
8 slices Gruyère cheese
For Creole Seasoning
1/3 cup paprika
3 tablespoons dried oregano
3 tablespoons ground black pepper
2 tablespoons dried basil
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoons cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon granulated onion
4 teaspoons dried thyme
4 teaspoons granulated garlic
Heat butter and olive oil in a Dutch oven over a medium- high heat. Add sliced onions and bay leaves to the pan, saute for 5 minutes or until tender. Sprinkle sugar and Creole seasoning over onions, stir to incorporate.
Cook onions and company for 30 minutes or until softened and reaching a caramelized stage. Add sherry and bay leaves to onions. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes. Turn heat back up to medium-high and add beef broth. Allowing broth to heat through, reduce to simmer, and continue to simmer for 15-20 minutes in order for ingredients to marry and live happily ever after. Remove bay leaves.
Slice French bread baguette and place on a baking sheet. Place under broiler until slices reach a light golden brown.
Place crocks, ramekins, or oven proof bowls on a large cookie sheet. Fill each with 1 cup soup. Place one slice French bread in each bowl and top with 1 cheese slice. Broil on high until cheese is melted and browned. Serves 8.
Directions for Creole Seasoning
In a medium bowl combine paprika, dried oregano, ground black pepper, dried basil, kosher salt, cayenne pepper, granulated onion, dried thyme and granulated garlic. Stir to combine. Can be stored in an airtight container for up to three months.
The Paris influence is this wonderful soup, and to that I say merci beaucoup. The Creole influence is the addition of the Creole seasoning. We put it on everything here in Louisiana. Give a try, shâ. The Canadian influence? That’s the best part! Our son is home to enjoy this dish with us tonight! Bienvenue, Bon Appétit and C’est si bon!