Broccoli Cheese Soup

Welcome back to Monday at Got My Reservations. Today I’m introducing my new series which I’m calling Table for Two: Recipes for the Empty Nest.

GotMyReservations Table for Two RecipesWhen I was in the hospital and rehab center for my knee replacement, I was given many menu items that I had rarely eaten over the last forty years of constant food constraints. I had French toast, chicken with noodles, and all kinds of desserts. It was the Boston Creme Pie that put me over the edge. I decided that I was done with dieting, as it obviously wasn’t working, and that I was ready to try a new way of eating. When I came home, I started looking at our favorite recipes and I tried to figure out how I could remake the recipes so that they only made enough for two to four servings. The Table for Two series was born. Continue reading

The Morning After: Downton Abbey Brunch

Setting the table in Downton Abbey style was lots of fun. Hearing from so many of you was wonderful. Having my husband shout at the television last night, saying, “They’re measuring the silverware just like you said!” was even more fun.

GotMyReservations Downton Abbey Tablescape Intro

And so was actually eating at the table.

I will admit that I took down the big candlelabra and replaced it with a five-candle silver candlelabra so that we could actually see each other. Unlike what happened in Downton Abbey last night — remember when they “turned the table”? — my guests were allowed to talk across the brunch table. It’s just not that big.

We removed all the dishes from the staged table in order to serve the brunch plated. Since there were only five of us, it was easy to plate at my kitchen island and serve directly to the table. My husband made a wonderful footman and we had a relaxed couple of hours. We even broke every Downton Abbey rule by keeping the kitchen television on (muted, of course), so Music Man could keep track of the football games. Continue reading

Food Network Star Damaris Phillips Hits the Right Notes in Our Empty Nest

Got My Reservations 25 Days of Christmas 2013 Medium Button15 days until Christmas, and we’re making progress. How are you doing?

Over the last two weeks I have made two recipes from Damaris Phillips’s new show on the Food Network, entitled Southern At Heart. And they were both fabulous.

I’m going to be perfectly frank here; I was not convinced about Damaris when she won Food Network Star this year. Although I liked loved her unfiltered personality, I wasn’t sure that she had what it takes to join Alton, Giada, Ree, or even Guy (not my favorite) on her own show.

She has proven me wrong.

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I like everything about the show. I like how she starts by visiting a local Louisville purveyor to get her special ingredient. I like the guys who have signed on to be taught to cook a special meal for their sweethearts. I like her sass and I like her recipes.

Recipes are where it’s at in the rundown to Christmas.

What is usable and what is not? If you are going to try something new that’s out of your traditional rut, where do you want to go?

Click into photo for recipe.

Beer Mac and Cheese. Click into photo for recipe.

We made the Beer Cheese and Mac and her Curry Cauliflower and Rice casserole in the last two weeks, and they were both winners in the empty nest. I highly recommend that you consider these recipes for your Christmas entertaining. Both have unexpected ingredients that take a familiar recipe to the next level, and that’s why I recommend them.

On the Christmas countdown tally sheet, we’ve ticked off some items. We set up the three new pillow top mattress sets in anticipation of the Christmas Gathering of the Clan, bought a paper towel holder (isn’t it always the mundane things that drive you crazy when people are working in your kitchen?), and talked to the visiting English chef/daughter’s boyfriend about the menu. He says he can make naan bread from scratch. Really??? I’m pretty sure I would buy it from my local Indian market — we live in Chicagoland and we are fortunate that there are actually Indian markets that are likely to be open on Christmas day, but I’m willing to let him do whatever he wants. That’s what I promised, a no-drama mama Christmas. 🙂

How are you doing on your preparations? Do you have your gifts purchased? I’m almost done with that as well; thank goodness for online shopping! Thanks for stopping by to see how Music Man and I are getting ready for Christmas in our empty nest.

Got my bags, got my reservations,
Spent each dime I could afford.
Like a child in wild anticipation,
I long to hear that, “All aboard!”

Music and lyrics by Bud Green, Les Brown and Ben Homer (1944)

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Calico Baked Beans for Christmas Entertaining

Got My Reservations 25 Days of Christmas 2013 Medium Button17 days until Christmas! Did you have a busy weekend? We sure did here in our empty nest — music, shopping, decorating galore! That’s when a good crockpot recipe is just the thing, and today I’m sharing one of the best.

When your days are so busy that you don’t have time to cook, and when you need a potluck dish for a crowd, Calico Baked Beans are sure to be a hit. I shared this special crockpot recipe for entertaining a crowd last year. Please click here for the best hearty bean and meat stew that you will encounter all season!

Got My Reservations -- Calico Baked Beans

Click into photo for the recipe.

We were so busy decorating that I didn’t get time to take any good photos for this week’s posts, but I intend to remedy that soon. I snapped a few for Facebook, but we have some wonderful things to share with you WHEN they are totally finished and photographed. Thanks for joining us for 25 Days of Christmas in the Empty Nest.

Got my bags, got my reservations,
Spent each dime I could afford.
Like a child in wild anticipation,
I long to hear that, “All aboard!”

Music and lyrics by Bud Green, Les Brown and Ben Homer (1944)

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BOOK CLUB PICKS FOR 2014

19 Days of Christmas! The countdown continues as we prepare ourselves for Christmas and a new year of reading with our book club.

Got My Reservations 25 Days of Christmas 2013 Medium ButtonThe first Monday of most months, our book club meets to share a meal and discuss a book that we have read during the month. The first Monday in December is extra special, however, as it is our planning meeting and often, the first Christmas party of the season. For the past few years, we have met at the home of a member who is a wonderful cook, and we all look forward to Mary’s cooking as much as we do making our reading choices for the following year.

The book club began many years ago in our church, and has continued steadily through hundreds of book discussions. We are co-ed, with several married couples in the group, but we also have many people who are single or come without their spouses. We meet in members’ homes, where we share a simple meal our hosts have prepared, followed by book discussion. Everyone chips in $5.00, which usually covers the host’s food costs. We take turns moderating the discussion, and usually choose to moderate the book that we have recommended to the club. There is wine available, but unlike so many jokes about book clubs, our meeting is actually about joining together in community to discuss a book. We have too many people in the club — about 22 people attend each meeting — but we love our group so much we can’t bear to break it up into smaller clubs. And so we continue from year to year, loving books and loving each other. Continue reading

Pumpkin Delight Tablescape

It’s that time of year — time for the Pumpkin Delight Tablescape. I’m not all that fond of orange, but I managed to find a vision for pumpkin time that I could live with.

GotMyReservations-Pumpkin Delight Tablescape Intro

The Pumpkin Delight Tablescape adds fall elements in an eclectic mix of formal and informal tableware.

For the first time in my life, I have a dining room table and chairs that I ordered exactly the way I wanted them to be. I’ve been the lucky beneficiary of many a hand-me-down table, and for this I am grateful, but I figured that I deserved the dining room set that I wanted, not what my relatives wanted. My Amish-made oak table and chairs are crafted in Illinois and are sturdy as well as beautiful — and with all the leaves in the table it will seat twelve. Yay! Continue reading

The Sunday Review: Palladian Days by Sally Gable

Carl and Sally Gable were looking for a summer home in New Hampshire, but ended up buying a historically-protected villa in a small town outside of Venice — the Villa Cornaro. Built by Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio in 1552, the Villa Cornaro is considered one of the most beautiful buildings in the world. It is owned by Americans who fell in love with Italy, with Palladian architecture and with the Villa Cornaro. Palladian Days: Finding a New Life in a Venetian Country House is based on Sally Gable’s diaries about the process of buying a home in Italy.

Palladian Days: Finding a New Life in a Venetian Country House

I fell in love with the book based on its cover — very Edith Wharton and all that — and found it to be an interesting look into the world of Americans learning to care for an Italian treasure while also learning to live in another culture. Unlike Tim Park’s sardonic view of Italy and Frances Mayes’s romantic love affair with Italy, Sally Gable’s prose is elegant, precise, and matter-of-fact while still offering a passionate vision of the expatriate dream of owning a villa in Italy. It’s just that most of us don’t own and live in an international monument.

As I read this book, I couldn’t help but think money pit, money pit. I’ve renovated a number of homes in my day, and I know that the amount of money the Gables have poured into this property must be astounding. Carl I. Gable is a retired lawyer and businessman, and Sally Gable is a retired church musician, and Mrs. Gable is pretty reticent about talking about money in her stories. Although most of the restoration had already been done by the villa’s former owners, Richard and Julia Rush, I found it unrealistic how she often glossed over what must have been very difficult decisions. The fact that they both sit on some very prestigious boards of directors gives us a glimpse into why they don’t seem to worry very much about what things cost. I don’t know exactly why this bugged me, but it did.

Click into the photo to see the recipe for creamy butternut squash risotto

Click into the photo to see the recipe for creamy butternut squash risotto

Sally Gable also includes recipes and a discussion of risotto that had my tastebuds drooling. I do love a good memoir with talk about food!

Photos of Villa Cornaro, Piombino DeseThis photo of Villa Cornaro is courtesy of TripAdvisor

A visitor to the Villa Cornaro tells Sally that she is lucky that she and her husband share a passion for the same thing — renovating, restoring, and living in an architectural treasure. As she reflects on this comment she says:

How fortuitous, how unlikely, that we both find in our villa, in Venice, in Italy a source of such infinite fascination.

Villa Cornaro has been the cornerstone of it all. Like a great athletic coach, the villa is at once a disciplinarian, a trainer, and a motivator.

You can step into new stages and play new roles, the villa whispers. Find your hidden pools of strength, open yourself to see art with fresh and wider-ranging eyes, examine whole new palettes of color in your everyday life, vault past barriers of language, culture, and habit.

All to better care for me, my villa tells me (247).

Villa Cornaro

Click into the photo for more information about Villa Cornaro.

The Gables open their house to visitors and also host local events in the gardens. If you cannot get to Venice to see Villa Cornaro anytime soon, perhaps you are able to visit a Palladian style architectural treasure in the United States, Drayton Hall near Charleston, South Carolina, that is said to have been based on the Villa Cornaro. Thomas Jefferson admired Andrea Palladio’s work and used another building, Villa La Rotanda, for the design of his home at Monticello.

You can also visit The National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. which tells “the stories of architecture, engineering, and design.”

Got my bags, got my reservations,
Spent each dime I could afford. 
Like a child in wild anticipation, 
I long to hear that, “All aboard!”

Music and lyrics by Bud Green, Les Brown and Ben Homer (1944)

Food Styling Remix: Seafood Cobb Salad

I really struggled with the title of this post. I feel as though it should be Adventures in Food Styling rather than highlighting the Seafood Cobb Salad that I remixed and then photographed twice for my home kitchen. Whatever the title, I’m baring it all today in the hopes of helping you to be a better food stylist by learning from my mistakes.

GotMyReservations--Seafood Cobb Salad Closeup

Seafood Cobb Salad Remixed and Rephotographed

We are always looking for what we call “Joe’s Fish” when we travel — the local seafood restaurant that offers wonderful seafood at reasonable prices that only the locals know about. Recently on our trip home from Ohio, we were determined to take the time to find a good lunch place near Indianapolis. By using my Yelp app on my phone, I found Mitchell’s Fish Market in Carmel, Indiana, and we were in luck! While not exactly Joe’s Fish, Mitchell’s is a supper-club style chain with excellent seafood and meat options on the menu.

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My out-of-focus photo shows you how Mitchell’s styled this Seafood Cobb Salad.

I ordered the special salad of the day, a Seafood Cobb Salad, and a lobster tail. As I do, I took a photo of the plate, but my iPhone seems to be having some issues with focusing. Maybe I’m doing it too quickly; I only include it to show you the original styling of this presentation.

Once home, I was determined to remake this delicious salad. I gathered together the makings of the original salad — two lobster tails, a can of crab, one pound of shrimp, two hard-boiled eggs, and a pound of bacon. Yes, the ingredients were expensive, but I made enough of the meat mixture to separate into frozen packets for at least four more servings. I spent a long time looking for the right recipe, but finally just created my own. I cooked the bacon until it was crisp but not crunchy, boiled the lobster tails for seven minutes and then immediately put them in ice to stop the cooking. I opened the can of crab, and thawed the precooked shrimp and pulled off the tails. I chopped it all into bite-size pieces. Pretty darn easy.

Most lobster roll recipes call for a mayonnaise-heavy dressing, but I tried lightening it up a little by adding a fat-free raspberry vinaigrette to some mayo. That worked nicely, giving the dressing a slightly sweet taste that was not overpowering. I put the salad on a bed of red-leaf lettuce and started taking photos.

This is where we get into the food styling fail. This is actually the BEST photo I got of the bunch.

GotMyReservations -- Seafood Cobb Salad Food Styling

  • To start with, the layers of the salad would have been prettier in a clear bowl, like this photo from Rachael Ray’s web site.
  • The egg is dominating the photo, rather than the seafood salad, and it’s not cut very carefully.
  • The deep red edges of the lettuce fade out without proper lighting and just look black — not very appetizing.
  • The plating of the seafood is not done carefully; it looks tossed on (as it was).

 

So what’s a girl to do? Remake the salad and buy a new lens.

With purchased lobster roll salad and more carefully thought-out styling, I rephotographed the salad with my new 50mm/f1.4 lens. What a difference!

First I tried it in a clear bowl a la Rachael Ray. My new Monet tea towel made a nice backdrop.

GotMyReservations--Seafood Cobb Salad Remixed Food Styling

 Then I tried it in the white bowl again. It’s amazing what a good lens and some careful food styling will do to essentially the same photo, isn’t it?

GotMyReservations--Seafood Cobb Salad Food Styling in White Bowl

What’s the moral to this story?

Both salads were very tasty; it’s pretty hard to screw up lobster. The bottom line is that in food photography, good equipment makes a difference, but it’s important to thoughtfully style the photograph before you use that fancy lens!

To Visit:

Mitchell’s Fish Market, 14311 Clay Terrace Blv., Suite 100, Carmel, IN  317-848-FISH

I’m linking up today at Open House Party Thursdays sponsored by No Minimalist Here. Be sure to stop by and visit some of the creative bloggers sharing their work!

Got my bags, got my reservations,
Spent each dime I could afford. 
Like a child in wild anticipation, 
I long to hear that, “All aboard!”

Music and lyrics by Bud Green, Les Brown and Ben Homer (1944)

Broccoli-Cauliflower Swiss Cheese Soup: On the Menu Monday

I didn’t set out to make this beautiful cheese soup. It just kind of happened.

GotMyReservations -- Broccoli-Cauliflower Swiss Cheese Soup

I had a lovely small piece of steak thawing, and I thought about making beef stroganoff. I love everything about beef stroganoff, from the tender seared beef to the sweet sauce with a touch of sherry and cream. With perfectly browned mushrooms added to the mix, this recipe has been one of my staples for years.

Sounds fabulous, right?

But there’s a catch. We’ve been trying to do meat on the side and include lots of veggies on our plates. We’re not eating much white food either, and our list of no white food such as potatoes, bread, and rice includes the obvious noodles that would complement the beef stroganoff. Even if they’re whole wheat, they are still a healthy dose of carbohydrates that we are trying to avoid in our diets.

What is meat on the side?

If you are watching Food Network Star, you know that bright and bubbly Nikki Dinki was eliminated. I’m sad to see her go, but at least I have the consolation of being able to follow her lovely blog, Nikki Dinki Cooking. Her prospective show for Food Network would have focused on using meat as a side dish rather than as the main dish, and her recipes are creative and yummy. When I ran across her recipe for Cheddar Cauliflower + Squash Soup, I knew I had a winner for our meal.

Of course, I had to remix the recipe. To contrast with the beef, I wanted a lighter cheese, so I bought Trader Joe’s mix of Swiss and Gruyere. TJ’s didn’t have the cut-up squash that they sometimes carry, so I grabbed a bag of mixed broccoli and cauliflower. With a box of baby bella mushrooms to saute and serve with the beef, we were all set to go. At the last minute I realized that the milder Swiss cheese would need sherry and nutmeg rather than the spicy mix in Nikki’s soup, so I also grabbed a bottle of dry sherry and practically ran to the checkout.

GotMyReservations -- Broccoli-Cauliflower Swiss Cheese Soup Title

Nikki’s recipe is really easy to make and with the substitutions, it was perfect with the beef. I highly recommend this recipe, whether you make it Nikki’s way or mine.

I’m linking up to Metamorphasis Monday at Between Naps on the Porch and Martha Mondays Link Up Party at Watch Out, Martha! Be sure to visit some creative and inspiring bloggers to get more ideas!

Got my bags, got my reservations,
Spent each dime I could afford. 
Like a child in wild anticipation, 
I long to hear that, “All aboard!”

Music and lyrics by Bud Green, Les Brown and Ben Homer (1944)

Monday, Monday — Can’t Trust Myself with a Refrigerator Filled with Leftovers

It’s Monday and it’s Twinkie Day — but not in my house. It’s leftover week at the Farm.

Thankfully, Twinkies are not one of the things that float my culinary boat.Unfortunately, there are too many other foods that do, and many of them are residing in my fridge right now.

2008_12_4-Leftovers2

I threw myself a birthday party on Saturday with about thirty of our closest friends attending. They are more like family than friends — we love each other, we fight with each other, we confide in each other, we travel together, and we raise each other’s children and grandchildren as needed. And we love to eat — thus the loaded refrigerator.

In the privacy of my own kitchen after everyone has gone and Music Man has gone back to work, I can go back to the leftovers and savor them.

The Metro Potato Salad from Mariano’s — red potatoes with the skins still on, dill, eggs, finely chopped celery for crunch, a little vinegar for acid and lots and lots of mayo. Heaven. I have to portion it out carefully so that I don’t eat two cups of it at one sitting.

The hot wings are happily congealed in all their greasy goodness in Tupperware. I made them from some leftover frozen wings and some leftover roasted chicken from another party. Nobody ate the legs and the wings at the other party, so I bundled them up and froze them. I knew they’d make a good quick appetizer for another event and there they were in my freezer when I needed them. I put some fresh BBQ sauce on them and threw them in the crockpot and we were in business. At five or six pieces per sitting, I’ll get four happy meals out of those leftovers. Can’t help but smile when I think about it.

And then there’s the veggie cassoulet. It was an experiment which I’ll share later on this week and boy, is it good. There’s at least five servings of beans left in the fridge, too. Mmmm…

The leftover cheese is almost gone already — I needed a quick jolt of fatty protein after church yesterday, after all — and the rest of the vat of iced tea I’m finishing as I write. I took the leftover cookies to church, so they’re not around to tempt us, but we’ve still got fruit salad for an army. When I say army, I probably mean two sixty-something adults who live on fruit salad this time of year. It won’t last long, either.

Got My Reservations -- Grilled Beef

We grilled up all the leftover shish-ke-bob meat last night and froze it on trays so that it can be pulled from the freezer in individual batches; I envision salads topped with marinated chicken breast pieces, beef stroganoff, and maybe some pork-fried rice coming out of those leftovers. There’s a lot that can be done with leftovers — try this fab recipe from my archives.

Leftovers a la Pastitsio

I read somewhere that people are entertaining at home again. Maybe leftovers are why.

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