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Monday, December 27, 2010


So, here it is, Christmas day. I have been working on this day forever, it seems. How I love Christmas. I almost thought I would be spending it on my own as everyone seemed to be on overload this year. But at the very last moment, we all rallied and Denise and Caroline came to celebrate. I was delighted.

I planned to serve an Italian brunch so I was hoping they would come late morning, hungry. There was not supposed to be gift giving, but there was. Here is Carline with the traditional yearly ornament. This year's design was taken from pictures I have seen in Scandinavian stitchery books and patterns. I will blog it at some point this coming week.

I am actually modeling the hat that Caroline made for me. I really love it. I have never been a hat person except for a few years following my drastic loss of weight in the eighties. Here in Portland Oregon, however, because of the nature of the weather and the fact that I do not drive, I find myself always wearing hats. I have loved Caroline's hats but never thought I would wear one because they are small and fitted and I love my hats big and loose. So, she designed me one of her wonderful hats big and loose. It is a quiet blue herringbone wool with a luscious turquoise silk lining and it is stitched with turquoise threads. Very nice. Very me. I am known for putting in surprising linings in my garments. This is so in keeping with my nature. It is perfect.

The table is full of goodies we have gotten. There are two bottles of wine I received from women at work. Some wonderful body products from France. A new car stereo for Denice. You can almost see the ice cream maker in the back. I am wearing my new apron.

I wish you could see it better, but there is the cake. Caroline made her bourbon fig cake. Oh my gawd. If I were inclined to keep bourbon in the house, I would make this cake. i should just offer to buy one from her from time to time. Without the nuts of course. It was so moist. Come to find out, it requires one cup of bourbon and she accidentally put in two cups. OOPS!

This is the kitchen before the cooking begins. We decided to open gifts before brunch, even though they both arrived hungry. So they went out to the car while I prepared the first course. I forgot to take a picture so you will have to imagine.

First course : My Italian Breakfast
In a pan, I heated to a simmer some artichoke basil tomato sauce and added some stewed diced tomatoes. I chopped some fresh basil leaves. When it was properly cooked, I added two eggs and then I sliced some fresh mozzarella and laid them on top. Then I immediately covered the pan and went out to fetch the girls. By the time they came in, took off their coats, poured wine, and settled down, the breakfast was ready. the eggs were just done. You don't want to over cook them. You want the yolks to be still runny. I also sliced baguettes and toasted three slices each.

It was an ample brunch, but it was the first course and they had not eaten yet so I was comfortable serving that size. Caroline called the dish "Eggs in Purgatory". I had not known that name. I had just seen a chef make that dish on an Italian cooking show a couple of weeks ago and copied the recipe down. Eggs in Purgatory. i wonder what other recipes come from purgatory?

This is the second course: Rustic Spinach and Cornmeal Soup

You heat 4 cups chicken broth and keep it to the side.
In a large pot, you mix 1/2 cup coarse cornmeal with 2 Tb flour and begin mixing in the hot broth, always stirring after each addition until it is smooth. Add in also 3Tb butter and 2 cloves crushed garlic early on.

Before serving add in 6 oz baby spinach leaves. I took the time to remove the stems. I really don't like stems. You don't really have to. It is just a thing with me. I cooked it for a few minutes until the spinach was wilted and the smell of garlic was coming through. If the soup thickens, you can add more broth, or heat water and add a bit of water.

I didn't add any salt as I find broth is generally pretty salty on its own. I sprinkled a bit of Parmesan before serving.

Third course: Butternut Squash Gnocchi w/Sage butter and Fish w/ Chive butter

Bake the squash in the oven till soft. Scoop out the flesh, puree, then measure out 1 cup.
Cook 1 Russet potato till soft. Press through sieve and cool completely. 2 cups.
Mix squash and potato in a bowl with 1/2 C of grated Parmesan

Beat 1 egg w/ 1 1/2 tsp nutmeg & 1tsp salt & add to mixture.
Gradually add 1 & 3/4 C flour until smooth. Knead lightly. Divide dough into eight pieces. Roll into logs, cut into pieces and shape with fork. Refrigerate until ready to boil, at least 1 hour.

Cook in boiling water 15 to 17 minutes. Chill on baking sheet again until ready to cook and serve.

Heat 1/2 cup butter and add 2 Tb chopped sage. I always add more. I love fresh herbs. Toss in the gnocchi and cook until the gnocchi is done through it all looks beautiful.

Put in a warm oven until the fish is done.

In the same pan:

Heat another piece3 of butter. Add a handful of thinly sliced chives. cook until the butter is well heated. Add:

Six pieces of huge scallops
1 Lb wild fresh cod cut into the same size pieces as the scallops.

Toss into the butter and let the fish cook but watch carefully. You don't want to overcook. You want this fish to be very light and to melt in your mouth. So when you put your tongs to the fish, you want it to bounce. Very important.

Take the gnocchi and place on your dish, then the fish. make sure you scoop the herbs and butter left in the pan and drizzle it on everything. It makes a wonderful sauce.

I made the gnocchi the night before. I really struggled with this. I have seen Mario Battali make gnocchi many times. Mine was not at all coming out like his. This recipe was not a good one. I measured it out perfectly. It just did not work. I made enough pieces to serve, and then I threw the rest of the dough out, I am afraid. I am going to look for more recipes and am going to try to perfect it. By golly!!!

Course 4: Roasted Brussel Sprouts and Grapes

1 1/2 Lb Brussel sprouts cleaned and cut in half
1 Lb grapes, picked over
3 Tb good olive oil
2 cloves garlic minced
2 Tb Lemon Thyme leaves chopped top bring out the flavor
S & P

Toss all together. Place on baking sheet with the sprouts turned cut side down.

Bake at 375 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes until your knife goes into the sprouts easily.

This is really an easy one and very delicious. I didn't cook the entire amount as I was only serving small portions. I wish I had bought more. I would have loved to have had leftovers.

I wanted to make 5 courses, but it was getting late, and they just wanted to end with desert, sit for awhile and then go home to bed. OK. Se we ate cake. What a wonderful cake as I already talked about. i managed to get some leftover.

What they missed as the last course was a roasted root vegetable dish.

Sweet potatoes
Baked int he oven tossed in olive oil with S & P

Then there was a dressing:
Oil and vinegar
Fresh parsley
Dijon mustard

Served over arugula leaves.

Oh well, I get to eat these vegetables myself.

A nice day being together. They sat on the sofa while I cooked and served. No real cleanup as I kept it all cleaned as I went along and I served them on little dishes one course after another. We started around 11:30 or so and ended around 6:30? I love dinners like this. I find it mush more appealing than serving a dinner all at once. I love the little bites over a long period of time. you get to really taste every little thing, every morsel, every herb and spice. Nothing gets lost in the vast offering of a loaded table.

After they left, I was content. And I knew they were happy. Caroline apologized about being grumpy. You know, I never saw it. I just thought she was the sweetest little thing. And Denise had a complicated week or more. It was so nice to be able to just make them sit and let me take care of everything. Very satisfying. And of course, they thoroughly enjoyed that. And to me, that is how it always should be with guests and a hostess. You are in my house, let me take care of everything.

Deep breath. Great breath.

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