Our crackerjack weather people have coined the phrase “polar vortex” and they seem quite keen to use it. I could understand its meaning back in January when the air dipped to a chilly 5 below zero. But at the end of a balmy fall when we go down to 32 (brrrr- 32!!!) it seems less apt. All of this is to say that it’s finally getting cold and I am ready to make some chili.
Category Archives: Entertaining
Soup season has arrived. As I write this, I am staring out the window at a bleak, rainy day and craving a bowl of soup. I like to make soup year round. Even in the heat of summer, if someone is sick I go out, get a chicken and make soup. But with the air finally turning downright cold, I can drag out the soup pot and put it to use! I have a counter full of winter squash from my CSA, so squash soup is first on the menu. I never make the same thing twice but it is hard to go wrong with a load of butter and some caramelized vegetables. My one best soup trick, learned from my hero, Marcella Hazan, is to cook the vegetables in butter, olive oil, or best of all, rendered pancetta fat. I start all my soups off with onions, carrots and celery. Today I am using pancetta, but after the holidays, I might use olive oil and sparingly at that! For a winter squash soup, I dice up a little Granny Smith apple and throw that in with the squash for a fresh tart flavor.
Once the vegetables start to turn golden brown, add in the broth and any aromatics you may like. I am partial to garlic and fresh thyme in my squash soups. Let it bubble gently for a while, stirring every half hour or so. Once everything is nicely cooked, either puree it or leave it chunky. Then into the bowl, with a garnish of something creamy and crunchy if you like and voila, dinner!
I would suggest that you take it outside to enjoy around your Fancy Fire Pit, but around here it is getting a little cold for that. My latest idea, though not novel, is to put it in little cups and serve as a portable first course at a dinner party. Either way, it is nourishing and delicious.
Happy Souping! Joy
A Bowl of Pasta
I know there are lots of people out there who shun pasta. They are gluten-free, or have a gluten sensitivity, or just plain avoid the stuff in the name of weight control. But I, for one, adore a delicious bowl of pasta and I’ll take it any and every way. Let me just say at the outset that I am not a skinny girl, never have been, and maybe this love affair is the reason. What is a few extra pounds when you can eat Spaghetti alla Vongole, Rigatoni alla Bolognese, or the simplest of all, Spaghetti Olio Aglio (pasta with olive oil and garlic)? The current favorite in our family is something my son came up with and we call it, obviously enough, Sam’s pasta. It is simple and satisfying. Gently cook 4-5 chopped cloves of garlic over low heat in copious extra virgin olive oil for a minute or two. Dump this over a pound of cooked spaghetti and add in fistfuls of chopped parsley, basil and chives. Yum!
Yes, pasta is easy and cheap, but there is also the one bowl wonderfulness of it. If you sautee or roast up vegetables, you don’t need a salad and though I will admit to sometimes serving bread to clean up any last bits of sauce from the bowl, that is strictly carb excess. I recently foraged in my garden (okay, my one tomato plant), pantry and fridge and in less than a half hour, I had a bowl pasta with vegetables and herbs that was fresh and delicious.
It this hasn’t already convinced you to start the water boiling, there is also the portability. Spoon your creation into a generous, deep bowl and take it outside to enjoy in front of the fire or the sunset. A bowl of penne with the last of the summer vegetables sounds like a perfect meal to me, and I will be enjoying mine with a glass of wine and a fire in front of my Fancy Fire Pit.
I can’t wait for dinner! Joy
Minestrone for Marcella
Though it is forecast to be quite warm and summery this week, I looked at the vegetables in my fridge and decided it is a good day for Minestrone soup. Perhaps this was precipitated by the sad news that Marcella Hazan, the queen of Italian cooking, died yesterday. The soup that I make, and have been making for 20 years, is based on her recipe.
When I was pregnant with my first child, 21 years ago (yikes!!), I had the incredible good luck, que fortuna, to move to Milan, Italy for my husband’s job. We arrived in Italy with our dog, a few suitcases, my chef’s knives and a copy of Marcella’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. I figured that this was the only reference I would need to navigate the food markets and learn to make delicious Italian food. And indeed, in the three years we spent in Italy, in addition to having two children and learning to speak the language, I learned to think about food like an Italian and cook it too. My babies gnawed on a thick rind of Parmesan cheese instead of teething biscuits and Spaghetti Carbonara is still always requested on birthdays and special occasions.
Over the years, I have change the soup recipe a little. I leave out the Parmesan cheese rind (though it gives a delicious creaminess to the soup) and sometimes I skip the potatoes to make it lighter. But I still make it the way Marcella instructs, sauteeing onions, carrots and celery in a little olive oil and adding the vegetables one at a time, cooking them in the oil to caramelize them and give the soup richness and depth of flavor. It goes without saying that a steaming bowl of Minestrone makes a perfect Indian Summer dinner, eaten outdoors on this lovely last day of September. I am going to have mine with a glass of Chianti, sitting in front of my Fancy Fire Pit, and drink to Marcella. I did not know her, but she taught me much about cooking like an Italian and for that I am grateful.
Back to Work!
It was a long, hot summer, but sadly, it is over and I find myself in September, facing the first day of fall. The children are back in school and I need to get back to writing! I am not sure if anyone actually missed my blog posts but I am back at it, so cry no more. Along with the fun I had this summer, I did quite a bit of work and spent some time in Chicago at a trade show. I took my 20-year old son with me and he was very helpful indeed. He is a great schmoozer and salesman, so trade shows are a natural for him. It was also great to be able to spend some time alone with him, something in very short supply.
We rolled out our newest design at the show, the Onda. It was a big hit! It is a curvy, graceful fire pit which would be gorgeous in any garden. I am making one for my own garden, just in time for the cooler evenings of autumn. Though my children love to light up the fire pit in the heat of the summer, I prefer these beautiful September evenings for toasting marshmallows and toasting friends around the fire.
I plan to start this week. Happy Fall! Joy
Christmas is Coming!
I am sure I don’t need to tell anyone what is patently obvious- from the songs on the radio to the frantic emails from every store under the sun, and the garden shops filled with tightly wrapped trees and holiday wreaths. Christmas is coming! I myself will be joining in the fun by lighting a Fancy Fire Pit at Windy-Lo Nursery in Natick and lighting two Fancy Fire Pits to serve up s’mores at the Marion Christmas Stroll. And though it is certainly not a stocking stuffer, a fire pit makes a fabulously original gift! If you celebrate Hanukkah, like I do, it gets into the whole Festival of Lights theme. Give your family a fire pit on the first night of Hanukkah and light a fire in it for the remaining seven nights, so you can enjoy the fire while feasting on sufganiyot or latkes! Every year I pull out a couple of recipes for sufganiyot, which are jelly doughnuts, but I have never actually made them. Maybe this is the year, though I would prefer mine stuffed with chocolate ganache, like a Hanukkah pain au chocolate. Either jelly-filed or chocolate, a homemade doughnut and a cup of tea would make a lovely treat after a long day of shopping. Happy Holidays, Joy
Snowy Day, Rainy Night
I made the monumental mistake of spending last Wednesday on the road, driving from coastal Massachusetts , where I live, to the Litchfield Hills of Connecticut. I had no expectaion of anything other than rain or maybe some wet snow and boy was I surprised to drive into a blizzard. One minute it was raining and a little blustery and then next, there was an inch of snow on the roads and traffic was crawling along. It was a very long day spent listening to books on tape in my car.
I did have lots of time to think and plan. I neglected to pack any car snacks and was starving so mostly I thought about food and dinner parties. I love to plan and throw parties of all kinds. When my children were small, I loved doing their birthday parties. One year, clearly suffering from post partem brain freeze, I baked and decorated huge doll shaped cookies as party favors and attached a cookie cutter in the shape of each child’s first initial. Plus, I ignored the very good rule of one guest for each year of your child’s life. That would have made 4 guests but I think there were more like 15.
Thankfully, my children are much bigger now and have no interest in the kind of party I might plan for them. They do have some interest in the adult parties I plan, but I digress! I am hoping the weather will hold for another week or so by which mean brisk and cool but not cold and snowy! If it does, I will have drinks and snacks around the Fire Pit before we move inside to dinner. The pile of leeks from the CSA will be turned into little fritters served with creme fraiche and the winter squashes will be roasted and stirred into a warming risotto served in smallish bowls or maybe even coffee cups. And sticky toffee pudding with a side of softly whipped cream will make a delicious dessert. Thanksgiving is next week!! I can hardly believe it and I can’t wait to make (and eat) turkey!
Happy Fall, Joy
Partying around the Fire Pit
It feels a bit unseemly to be talking about parties when so many people up and down the Northeast are suffering real hardship and are worrying about when the power will come back on and how to stay warm. My son is on his way home this morning from PA where his school has been closed until Monday. I am so happy to have him home, even under these difficult circumstances and I can’t wait to do some serious cooking! The food he loves is hearty and warming and works as well to fill a young man’s belly as to feed a crowd at a late fall party around the fire pit. We are lucky enough to have both lights and heat here in MA so I can turn my attention to getting a fire going outdoors in my fire pit and cooking up some delicious beef stew. Now that it is finally getting cold, cooking stews and soups is so satisfying. I love to serve Bouef Bourgignon on my best china at a fancy dinner party, but it is equally great served over noodles in large pottery bowls while sitting around a blazing fire. Start your outdoor party with pizza topped with caramelized onions and gorgonzola cut into small wedges, and finish with a bowl of warm gingered pear crisp topped with vanilla ice cream. You will not win any awards for the best low calorie meal, but you will surely have some very happy guests! Happy Weekend! Joy
There is a basic contradiction between eating treats in the summer and having to wear a bathing suit, at least for me. When I even think about ice cream, I gain a pound. But lucky for me, I cannot eat dairy, so I came up with a homemade fudgesicle that is delicious, non-dairy and nearly healthy. I am still not too excited to get into that bathing suit, but truth be told, I don’t really swim so I am able to avoid it pretty easily. I can swim, of course, but I don’t like being cold and here in New England, you cannot get into the water without getting cold. For this week’s heat wave I will sit by the pool in a nice little sun dress and eat my fudgesicles. It is too hot to light the fire in our Fancy Fire Pit but if you fill up a kiddie pool it makes the perfect foot soak!
Fudgesicles Makes 4 pops
- 1/4-1/3 cup granulated sugar, depending on how sweet you like them
- 1 1/2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- pinch kosher salt
- 1 1/4 cups light coconut milk
- 2 tablespoons semi sweet chocolate chips
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Mix together sugar, cocoa, cornstarch and salt in a small bowl and set aside. In a heavy saucepan, melt chips over low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon. Stir in dry ingredients and coconut milk and cook, stirring constantly, over medium heat until thickened. This will take 5-10 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in vanilla and let cool slightly, stirring occasionally to prevent a skin from forming on the top of the mixture. Pour into pop molds and freeze until firm, about 2 hours.
Run molds under warm water to loosen pops and serve! Here is to summer heat and treats! Joy
Feasting in front of your Fire Pit
I have recently rediscovered Middle Eastern food. Hummus seems to be ubiquitous these days with all kinds of strange flavors available in the grocery store. But aside from that and tabbouleh, there are many other delicious and interesting salads and dips. There is, of course, baba ghanoush, a creamy dip of roasted eggplant, tahini and olive oil with some spices thrown in. These three staples are often served with a slightly bitter arugula salad and a salad made of cucumber, tomatoes and onion dressed simply with oil and lemon juice or with a minty yogurt dressing.
These small plates, called mezze, are served together and meant to be eaten with flat bread. With a big basket of warmed pita bread, you barely need a serving utensil or a plate. It makes perfect snack food to eat when entertaining outdoors around a fire pit. Arrange all the little plates and bowls on a large platter or tray and set it next to your fire pit. Your guest can snack on it while drinking chilled Chardonnay and enjoying the fire. For me, this is a meal. But if you feel you need something more substantial, follow the salads with a simple marinated grilled chicken or lamb kabob. In the Middle East, they would make lamb, either ground and formed into a ball shaped around the skewer or cut into cubes, marinated and grilled with onions and pepper.
I encourage you to try making hummus from scratch. It is very easy and much more delicious than the store bought variety. What follows is a very basic recipe. You can change it as your taste dictates, adding more garlic or a teaspoon of cumin and a pinch of cayenne pepper, if you like.
- 1 can (15 oz) chick peas
- 1 clove garlic, smashed, peeled and minced
- 1/4 cup tahini
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3 tablespoons water, or as needed
Put all ingredients except water into the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth. Add water as necessary to make a smooth, creamy dip. Serve with vegetables or warmed pita bread. Makes about 2 cups.