Category Archives: Family Food Stories

Blue Cheese Dressing

Crudite DisplayCrudité display from client event (photo courtesy Kim Elphinstone)

With the Super Bowl frenzy at fever pitch around these parts, due to the game being played just across the river this year, I debated about adding yet another recipe to the list of those that have been passed around as suggestions for serving to your guests.  Then, this week, I received the photos from a wedding that I’d catered on New Year’s Eve 2013 and realized that one of the platters that I had put together would be a perfect (and easy to compose) addition to any party, including the ones that many folks are planning for tomorrow.  I had created a crudité display so that the guests could nibble on something while they gathered for the ceremony.  To go along with it, I prepared one of my family’s recipes: Blue Cheese Dressing.

Blue Cheese Dressing Recipe cardRecipe card from my file

This recipe came from my mother’s mother, who passed away when my mother was in high school, so I never met her.  The family stories say that she was an accomplished cook, which was something that my mother definitely inherited from her.  We have a few of her cookbooks, with recipes scribbled in the margins, including this one.  My mother fiddled with the recipe herself over the years, as have I.  The little extra of serving easy-to-prepare, homemade dips, like the Blue Cheese Dressing and the Rosemary-Garlic-White Bean one (below), elevates these vegetables to a be a very special snack, so don’t be surprised if you see the kids going back for extra helpings of vegetables when you put this on the table, as happened at this wedding.  Oh, and even after the game is over, this dip might be something to keep on hand for any party or even just to nosh on when you feel a bit peckish.

Rosemary-White Bean-Garlic DipRosemary-Garlic-White Bean Dip (photo courtesy Kim Elphinstone)

Also pictured in the above crudité display is one of my stand-by favorite dips to make: Rosemary-Garlic-White Bean Dip.  I like to call it my “Alterna-Hummus.”  It has some of the same ingredients as hummus, but the white beans give it a slightly different taste while still having a wonderfully creamy texture.  It’s also completely vegan, if you are looking for recipes that don’t use animal products.  You can find the recipe for it here.

Blue Cheese Dressing

Prep time:  15 minutes, best if prepared a few hours in advance or even overnight to allow flavors to develop

Serving size: 1 1/2-2 cups dressing

Ingredients:

1/2 c. Sour Cream

1/2 c. Mayonnaise

1/2 c. Blue Cheese, crumbled (Maytag, Danish, or any aged blue cheese)

4 tsp. Prepared Horseradish (add more to taste, but this should not dominate as a flavor)

Freshly ground Black Pepper (if desired)

Salt (if necessary)

Fresh Chives, finely chopped for garnish (if desired)

Assembly:

Mix all ingredients except black pepper, salt, and chives in a bowl until thoroughly combined.  Chill for several hours or overnight to let the flavors meld together.  Taste before serving to see if it needs the addition of pepper and salt.  Garnish with the chives, if desired to give an extra bit of color and contrasting flavor to the richness of the dressing.

Buon appetito!

KR-KB-in-Kitchen1

To find out more information about hiring me for my culinary and events planning expertise and how I can help you organize your next gathering, please refer to my Chef’s Services page on this website.  You can also read my profile on the chef-for-hire website Kitchit (photo courtesy Kim Elphinstone)

Southern-style Holiday Dinner: Old Bay Deviled Eggs

The Dinner TableThe holiday dinner table

Every family has its own holiday traditions.  Ours revolves around a group meal and present exchange.  Here’s how it rolled out this year.  We actually managed to lock down the date and time for our celebration in near record time.  Then, negotiations started over what would be prepared for said holiday meal.  When I explained this two-step process to a few folks at work and some friends, I got a some odd looks (from those with smaller families) and some knowing nods of recognition (from those who are part of larger broods).  My youngest sister very proactively sent out this proposed very Southern-style holiday menu via email a few weeks out:

Holidays are coming fast!  For those of you dining at the Blake household, how does Ham, potato salad, green bean casserole, and biscuits sound?

Then, I responded with a few points of feedback, based upon what I knew to be of some of the guests’ preferences (including those of one notoriously-fussy nephew) and a few of my own.  Here was her response:

Well it is up to you. I was going to pick up ham from honey baked, potato salad from red hot blue, make green bean casserole and biscuits plus I asked R and M to bring appetizer or side dish. If you want to do something different and want to spearhead dinner, I will gladly pass the torch. You just let me know.

Dinner PlateMy dinner plate

I wasn’t even pulling rank as a working chef on her.  It was more just that I know that green bean casserole is a dish that repulses my youngest brother and that his children (in the main not vegetable-eaters) would also not touch it.  Believe it or not, I’m not much of a fan of a huge hunk of ham as part of a meal.  My mother used to fix mustard and brown sugar-glazed ham, boiled potatoes, and corn as a holiday dinner, as one of my sisters liked it.  It is one of my culinary nightmares, still.  After a few more emails, and a suggestion from me that we order Chinese food from our local favorite haunt, I received carte blanche to proceed with re-organizing the menu:

Then we will leave it in your capable hands. Just let R and M know if there is something other than a side dish or appetizer you want them to bring.

Old Bay Deviled EggsOld Bay® Deviled Eggs

So, I took the original food list and revamped it a bit, still keeping it Southern-style and letting everyone contribute a bit to the meal.  Feathers were smoothed back into place, and my father did not have to make good on his threat that if he didn’t like what we fixed, he could just run out to McDonald’s and grab a hamburger.  (I did point out to him that that comment just tore right into my soul as a culinary professional, which he somehow found amusing.)  One of the things that I added to the list was Old Bay® Deviled Eggs.  I mean, what typifies a Southern celebratory meal anyway like a big ol’ plate of deviled eggs, with gleaming whites and smooth, creamy yolks.  Judging by the fact that I was asked to set aside the last remaining two halves for one of the guests, I’d say that they were a hit on our holiday dinner table.  Hopefully, they’ll find a spot on yours as well.

Old Bay® Deviled Eggs

Prep time: 30-45 minutes or so

Serving size:  Allow one whole egg per adult, at least (my nephew eats only the whites)

Ingredients: There’s no specific proportions or measurements that I use for this recipe.  I make these by taste and feel and depending upon the quantity of eggs I’m fixing.

Eggs

Salt

Water

Mayonnaise

Dijon Mustard

Old Bay® Seasoning

Black Pepper

Assembly:

Place a saucepan of water full enough to cover the eggs on the stove and bring it to a boil without the eggs in it.  Then, when the water has boiled, pour a bunch of salt in the bottom of the pan.  You probably need a couple of tablespoons of it at least.  I used a very sad-looking container of good-quality sea salt for these, but any table or kosher salt will do.  Gently lower the eggs into the pan, bring the water back to the boil, and let the eggs cook for 10 minutes in the boiling water.  Remove the eggs from the pan and immediately either dunk them into an ice bath or into a bowl of cold water.

Preparing eggsPreparing the eggs

The eggs I made at my folks’ house this past week, using this cooking method, gave me the easiest-to-peel, hard boiled eggs of my life.  Once cooled, the shells just slipped right off of the eggs.  Cut them in half and pop out the yellow yolks, keeping whites and yolks in separate bowls.

Mixing fillingMixing filling

Mash up the egg yolks with a fork until they are in fine, fluffy pieces.  For this batch I made 8 eggs for 9 adults, which turned out to be just right.  I started off with about 3 tablespoons of mayonnaise and 2 tablespoons of mustard along with 1/2 teaspoon of Old Bay® Seasoning, a sprinkle of salt, and a couple of grinds of black pepper.  Mix this all together and then taste it.  It should be nicely creamy with no one flavor of mayonnaise or mustard or seasoning competing with each other or standing out too much overall.  Keep adding a bit of each ingredient until you get the right proportion and taste.  The consistency should be kind of similar to that of mashed potatoes.

Ready to fill eggsReady to fill eggs

I made the eggs a few hours prior to serving them, so I stored the whites in the refrigerator on their serving plate, and put the filling mixture into a piping bag to put into the egg whites at the last minute.  I’ve served deviled eggs a few times at catered events and learned early on that using a piping bag speeds up the process of getting filling into whites, and it makes them look prettier and more consistent as well.  After filling them, I sprinkled a bit more of the Old Bay® Seasoning on top of the eggs to give them an extra pop of flavor.

Deviled Eggs with Old Bay

Buon appetito!

Kitchen Witch Tip:

I know there’s some differences of opinion about adding salt to the water in which the eggs are cooked, but this is the method I learned in culinary school as well as in the catering prep kitchen, where we did lots and lots of deviled eggs.  This way seems to work when I’ve had to produce batches of them myself.  Also, another tip is to use “old eggs,” ones that are a few days old and are not right off of the farm, as they are easier to peel.

A Family Wedding in Virginia

A big hug for the happy couple from the minster

In the midst of all the volunteering, culinary school courses and exams, events coverage, and other things that make up my hectic life, this past weekend, I traveled down to Virginia for a family wedding.  My youngest sister tied the knot with her beau of almost five years.  The ceremony was low key, taking place at the home that they share in the Piedmont area of the state, not far from the Blue Ridge Mountains.  A long gravel driveway brings you up to their doorstep.

BBQ Dinner at weddingBBQ dinner plate at the wedding

This was a chance to gather together the various members of our two clans as well as to sit around and chew the fat, literally, while catching up with family and friends whom I don’t get to see all that often.  We’ve often relaxed around piles of steaming crustaceans at our formerly annual crab fest where my aunt, her son, then girlfriend/now wife, and various friends assorted other relatives, and soon-to-be in-laws would rotate around the dining room table at my parents’ house vying for their spot at the bounty.  It wasn’t until I was much older that I realized that this hanging out thing is pretty integral to our family, so I was glad to see it take place as an important component of celebrating their wedding day, which I never should have doubted as the happy couple is very into eating and cooking together.

Steamed Crabs at the wedding feast

As small children, we would listen to our parents and older relatives tell stories about their childhoods while sitting not so patiently, waiting to be released to go play.  On Sunday, it was much the same, with batches of crabs coming out of the steamer followed by piles of molten hot shrimp, all sprinkled with Old Bay and a few glugs of whatever beer was open at the time, creating a wonderful seaside aroma.  Everything was dished up on newspaper-covered, garbage bag-lined folding tables much the same way as we’ve always done it.  As usual, at least in my family, there were kids running around and dogs sniffing after table scraps while the melodic snap-crack of shells took place and people hollered where was the melted butter in which to dip their tender crabmeat or for someone to bring them another beverage.

The wedding cake

Even the wedding cake symbolized some of this same enjoyment of life and food and family.  The bride and groom are both avid boaters and fishers, hence the decorations on top of the cake.  The cake itself was baked by the groom’s sister, who works in a bakery, and when it came time to carve it, the groom allowed his nephew and my niece to cut their own pieces of cake, which were as large as you can imagine a child would make them.  In something that I can only guess was either an accident or a huge stroke of genius, the chocolate cake was incorporated into the vanilla part as a separate layer, blending a traditional white wedding cake with a groom’s cake, much like the coming together of the two families.

A slice of the wedding cake

With very fully tummies and a wonderful afternoon of memories, we bid farewell to my sister and her new spouse.  This was not, I should add, before my newest brother-in-law hauled me into the kitchen to talk about the latest recipes that he is cooking and with which he’s experimenting.  My sister is his avid food critic and recipe evaluator, a role that I know that she enjoys and relishes.  I wish for them every happiness as well as many, many more delicious meals to share.  Hopefully, I will also have the pleasure of partaking in some of them as well.  Someone has to pick up the mantle of hosting those family crab feasts, and their wedding banquet proved that they are definitely up to that task.

Shoes were optional – apparently

Buon appetito!

Happy National S’mores Day!

S'more2The Classic S’more

Happy National S’mores Day everyone!!!  The invention of these campfire treats are attributed to the Girl Scouts and date from publication of theirs from 1927, according to Wikipedia.  In a post back in 2006 that I wrote about making s’mores when I was at my parents’ house, I mentioned that I couldn’t recall when I’d eaten my first one of these.  They just seemed to be part of the fabric of camping and having bonfires.

My mother bought this – I’m not sure why

Like Red Velvet Cake, a few years ago, S’mores seemed to take on a new lease in life.  Bars and restaurants had mini burners so that you could custom make s’mores as dessert or snack at your table.  My mother bought a s’mores kit and a rotating marshmallow fork for toasting (really).  I haven’t seen those things back again in the house, although I suspect that maybe one of the kits escaped and is lurking in the back of a refrigerator somewhere.

S’more Bakery – making s’mores

Then, when I was at Smorgasburg last year I came upon the table for S’more Bakery.  They do several different combinations of marshmallows and cookies, bruléed to order if you want to feed your childhood-inspired craving on the spot or packaged up in take-away form so that you can make them at home, which in my case would mean toasting the marshmallows over the open flame of a gas stove rather than over smoldering charcoal.  Each time I see them, I really, really want one, but I’ve just never been a die-hard, fanatical fan of s’mores, as many of them as I’ve had over the years.

My faith in s’more-dom was restored however, at the Pie Party Live food blogger gathering last year.  Nestled among the piles of fruit pies, tarts, empanadas (hand pies), British meat pies, quiches, and other pie-like creations, was a pie that had people raving about it.  Allison Kave of First Prize Pies had worked her baking wizardry on the classic campfire treat and presented to everyone the S’mores Pie.  For me, it was love at first bite.

A bite of S’mores Pie

Every taste that you remember from those childhood treats is there but somehow made better.  Underneath the toasted top of the pie is a layer of gooey, melted marshmallow.  Breaking through that browned layer reveals a rich, velvety chocolate interior all supported by a graham cracker crust.  It’s sort of like s’mores grew up but still wants to keep a bit of that same impish spirit that made you try to get the younger campers to go on snipe hunts in the dark.  These new entries to the s’mores family might not make me long for days swatting off blood-thirsty mosquitoes or fearing bumping into water moccasins or copperheads, but First Prize Pies‘ or S’more Bakery‘s confections would be fantastic ways to salute National S’mores Day.

Buon appetito!

Clearing Out Your Parents’ Kitchen

With the new year, there’s the feeling of needing to clear out the clutter and have a fresh start.  The same goes for getting the kitchen in order to begin everything on a good note.  Of course, I’d like to say that I did that for myself, especially when I opened up the freezer today and saw all the things I’ve crammed into the slots in the door, remnants of various cooking projects.  Nope, instead, I tackled my parent’s fridge, cupboards, and downstairs freezer unit when I was in Virginia during the holidays.

I’m not even sure that I know what “Corned Beef Broth” is!

My excuse is that my parents really do need to get a new computer and set up wi-fi, which would keep me occupied with my laptop and all the work that I’d planned to do when I was at their house during the Christmas weekend.  Waiting for pages to load on their creaky desktop (an antique by modern standards) is worse than watching paint dry or timing the races of the centipedes that invade the basement, so I end up searching for other things to do to keep busy while waiting for the other members of my family to show up so that I have nieces and nephews to play with.

If the writing on the label has worn off…

To be clear, I did sort of have my dad’s permission when I did this.  At least, he kind of supervised me.  I would say things like, “Really, you will use this frozen buttermilk that has been here for four years?”  “Well, now that you mention it, probably not,” he’d reply.  I also like to throw words in there such as “food poisoning” and remind him that he now has grandchildren to consider when hanging on to old food.  By contrast, he feels I’m too hung up on things like expiry dates, which he thinks companies just put there to make you buy more goods.

When was allspice 69 cents?  Made in Baltimore, yeah it’s way over 15 years old.

The real reason behind all of this cleaning and reorganization is actually a very sad one.  My mom suffered a series of strokes a little over two years ago.  She is now fed via a tube in her stomach and can’t really talk anymore.  She has round-the-clock care and is confined to a bed, although she is at home where we can all see her and try to interact with her.  My father has gone back to his bachelor eating patterns: toast and omelet for breakfast, sandwich for lunch, grilled chicken and salad for dinner, with the occasional can of soup thrown in there for a bit of variety.

If it had mold on it or had reached its expiry date, it got tossed out.

When I visit them, I’m usually the one who fixes dinner, which was also one of my chores when I was in high school.  One of my younger sisters told me a few years ago that her main memory of me from that time before I left for college was that of me preparing the evening meal almost every day.  I don’t recall that, but I do know that I learned to make large batches of lots of things to feed everyone, which became a challenge when I moved out on my own.  All my recipes were scaled for a family of 8!

O.K., this really hurt to throw away the wine…and this wasn’t even all of it.

So, I do consider the kitchen as part of my domain when I am back home for a visit.  I take pleasure in planning menus that everyone in the family will enjoy eating, no small challenge with a group as large as ours.  It also gives me a chance to pull out cards from my mother’s recipe box and attempt to decipher her instructions.  When I’m there, I like to give my dad a break from his usual menu rotation so I fix things like the big pan of lasagna or a large batch of spaghetti and meatballs which make enough to feed the assembled crowd and give him some leftovers.

That Giant Food logo is pretty old.

My mom had been an adventurous cook, something I think she passed on to her children.  It’s no wonder, then, that I found a vial of rose water, a jar of saffron, and a canister of tandoori spice shoved in the back of one of the cabinets.  She was always trying out new cuisines and flavors which, although the dishes weren’t always winners, I have come to admire.  From her, I learned about the basics as well as the thrill of trying something new, whether or not the results came out exactly right.  She knew how to make hearty, filling meals to satisfy a passel of hungry kids.

Does that say “1998” or “2008”?

I guess this extra care, as intrusive as it can be, is part of the rite of transition when we start to look after our parents, but I certainly wasn’t ready for it when it happened.  About four extra bags of trash later, my father had had enough of my little cleaning project and forbade me from pulling anything else out of the food storage units in the house.  I think he might have been afraid that I was going to declare that his beer had “expired” as a way of explaining the extra empty bottles that appeared when my brother and I were left to our own devices when he’d already gone to bed.  At the same time I’m really glad that I don’t have to second-guess the last time the oatmeal was refreshed.

Does anyone want a cup of tea?

Buon appetito!

Cheese, Meat, and Chocolate Fondue for Christmas Eve

This was our holiday table yesterday for the annual family gift opening gathering.  It is roughly around Christmastime, I have to add, because we try to have our big meal when the maximum number of people are in town.  This is a bit of a challenge when you come from a family that includes 6 children, 5 in-laws (or S.O.s), 7 grandchildren (and counting), parents, aunt, and adopted family.  Last year’s dinner had us trying to fit 13 people around a table made originally for about 8-10.  This year, we had 8 adults, a toddler, and a newborn, so it was less of a squeeze to bring everyone together.

When the emails started going around after Thanksgiving about how to coordinate this year’s get-together several ideas were suggested.  Due to scheduling, we were going to be having a lunch rather than the usual dinner, so no one wanted to fix or eat something as complex and heavy as the Roast Beef with Yorkshire Pudding and Horseradish Sauce, although I would happily eat that for breakfast, if faced that dilemma.   My brother’s best friend’s wife (they joined the family drawing years ago) suggested having fondue, which wasn’t voted down by anyone when I asked them.

As a child of 70’s era parents, I remember fondue night fondly.  The dark red pot would be put in the middle of the dining room table bubbling away with a sea of molten golden yellow liquid inside of it.  We would each be assigned a different color wooden-handled fondue fork and have to wait our turn to load up cubes of French bread on our plates.  Spearing a piece of the bread and then dunking it carefully into the cheese, making sure not to knock off anyone else’s bread while pulling your fork out of the pot, twirling it just so to make sure to have maximum gooey dairy coverage in each bite, made dinner a fun and interactive evening.

Once in a while, we’d have a meat fondue, too, but I don’t remember eating it that many times.  It might have had to do with the fact that it involves very hot oil being put on the table and, having lots of smaller children around, my mom realized the safety factor wasn’t in her favor with that dish.  We did, however, usually have chocolate fondue, in addition to the cheese.  This meant that we also got to eat Entenmann’s butter pound cake, a special, special treat, as my mother baked all of our sweets and we rarely got to eat anything store-bought or processed, unlike my schoolmates.  My mother served this fondue with cut-up bananas as well, which might have made her feel better as we were ostensibly eating fruit for dessert in addition to all the chocolate and cake.

Everyone enjoyed the lunch and was, I think, a bit surprised at how well it worked out to have a meal as low-stress and quick to throw together as this one was.  After the present-swap and exchanges of good cheer, about half of the group left to continue their holiday celebrations at their next destinations.  Clean up was a snap as well, which as cook-in-chief made this meal a winner for me, too.  The two main dish fondues (meat and cheese) as well as the dessert fondue (chocolate) and a green salad, which not everyone touched, amply fed the assembled mass.  It even got me thinking that maybe next year I should ask Santa for my own fondue pot and start inviting folks to come over to dinner for some spearing and dunking fun.*

Swiss Cheese Fondue

(after a recipe from BBC Good Food from March 2000)

Prep Time: 15-20 minutes

Serving Size: 6-8 people as part of main course

Ingredients:

1 Tbsp. Cornstarch
2 Tbsp. Kirsch
1 large Garlic clove, peeled and cut in half
1 2/3 c. dry White Wine (I used Pinot Grigio)
1 tsp. fresh Lemon Juice
12 oz. Gruyère cheese, freshly grated
12 oz. Emmental cheese, freshly grated
1 pinch freshly ground Black Pepper
1 pinch freshly ground Nutmeg
1 Baguette, cut into 1-inch pieces

Assembly:
Prep all ingredients and set out before putting everything together. Combine cornstarch and Kirsch and set aside.

With the fondue pot turned off, rub cut side of garlic along side the base and sides. Discard garlic clove. Pour the wine and the lemon juice into the fondue pot and turn on heat.

Bring mixture to a simmer over low heat and then start adding in cheese by the handful, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon. Stir until all the cheese is melted completely and the mixture bubbles slightly. Pour the cornstarch/Kirsch mixture into the fondue pot and add pepper and nutmeg.

Continue to stir so that the cheese does not stick to the bottom of the pot while the mixture is thickening. Once the mixture has become thick, which takes about 5 minutes or less, turn the heat to low and call everyone to the table. Dish up the bread cubes and start dunking them into the cheese fondue.

Meat Fondue

Prep Time: 5-10 minutes

Serving Size: 6-8 people as part of main course

Ingredients:
1 c. Vegetable Oil
1 ½-ish lb. Top Sirloin of Beef, sliced into thin pieces across the grain
¼ Yellow or White Onion, sliced (optional)

Assembly:
Heat oil in fondue pot until it is very hot, which takes about 2-3 minutes. Test by putting a piece of meat on a fondue fork and letting it cook. Let oil continue to heat up if it is not cooking the meat fast enough.

When ready, call everyone to the table. Let everyone put one or two slices of meat onto fondue fork. Place in pot and cook 15-20 seconds for rare and around 45 seconds to a minute for well-done. If desired, place a piece of onion on the fork with the meat for additional flavor.

Chocolate Fondue

Prep Time: 5-10 minutes

Serving Size: 6-8 people

Ingredients:
2/3 c. Heavy Whipping Cream
2 4-oz. Chocolate bars, 60% cocoa (bittersweet)
1 Tsp. Chambord, Cognac or Brandy
2 Bananas, sliced into ¼-inch rounds
1 Apple, cut into ¼-inch slices
1 Pound Cake cut into 1-inch cubes

Assembly:
Heat cream and chocolate together in fondue pot over low heat.  When thoroughly combined, add in Chambord, Cognac or Brandy.  Round up everyone and tell them to start digging in by dipping slices of banana, apple and pound cake into the chocolate.

*As compensation for allowing me to take photographs during the family meal, I was told that I needed to give an acknowledgement to my sister for her fabulous hand-modeling in the various dipping pictures.  Thank you, too, to the fondue equipment suppliers for the meal, including said sister as well as my brother’s best friend’s family.  Also, thank you to my father for chauffeuring me around to pick up all the ingredients for the meal, but that was mostly because he didn’t trust me with his car.  As he pointed out, “You drive, what, maybe once a year?”

Buon appetito e buona festa a tutti!