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Thursday, 25 January 2007

Share the love this year with a Valentine's Day party.

Whether you're catering to grownup sweethearts or starry-eyed kids, this is your moment to go over the top with the hearts and flowers. After all, it's Valentine's Day!

Tender Trappings

 

  • Cover your front door with red gift wrap, white paper lace doilies and pink hearts.
  • Fill a basket with red, white and pink carnations, each tied with ribbon. Have corsage pins on hand if guests choose to pin on flowers as they arrive.
  • Write "Be Mine" on the bathroom mirror using inexpensive red lipstick. (It will come off with glass cleaner--really!)
  • Drape a white or red tablecloth on the dining room table and sprinkle liberally with paper hearts, conversation heart candies and wrapped chocolates.
  • Be sure to include lots of candlelight, romantic tunes and a little room for dancing.
  • For take-home party favors, fill red glass votive candle holders with candies. Set each in the middle of a square of tissue paper, twist to close and tie at the twist with ribbon.

Love's Labors

 

  • Set up an area where guests can create valentines and decorate white paper lunch bags for stashing love notes. Supply paper lace doilies, cupcake liners, colored papers, glue, double-sided tape, pipe cleaners, buttons, yarn, ribbons, scissors, envelopes, pens, pencils, stamps, inks, etc. (Hint: white and silver ink, pencil and crayon show up beautifully on red and dark pink paper.)
  • Bake heart-shaped cookies in advance and let everyone get creative with candies and icing pens.
  • Rent karaoke equipment and sing silly love songs.
  • Play a game where you stack conversation hearts and award a prize for the highest candy tower left standing. Or guess the number of chocolate kisses in a glass jar, with the winner taking the spoils.
  • For kids, give familiar playground games a Valentine's Day spin. "Simon Says" becomes "Cupid Says." "Red Light, Green Light" becomes "Loves Me, Loves Me Not." "Musical Chairs" becomes "Musical Hearts." An egg race becomes a valentine cupcake race with the confection perched on a spoon. (Hint: don't play this one in a room with carpeting!)

 

Sea of Love

 

  • A pretty bowl of punch makes for easy refreshments. Mix equal parts chilled cranberry juice, cherry juice and lemon-lime soda with a small amount of crushed ice and call the pink concoction Cupid's Love Potion. (If you wish, you could add a splash of vodka for adults.)
  • For kids, pile miniature savory sandwiches onto serving platters and let the little sweeties help themselves. Valentine pizzas might win some hearts, too. And save room for traditional Valentine's Day treats like brownies, cupcakes and cookies.

 

Foods of Love

 

  • While the menu for adults can be more opulent, you still want to keep it simple. Start with beef tenderloin flavored with blue cheese and add some elegant but easy side dishes. Cook a whole loin for a crowd, or do individual filets if you're hosting a small group.
  • Add two easy accompaniments to keep kitchen time to a minimum: make-ahead mashed potatoes and baked asparagus.
  • Top off the evening with chocolate: either a dense, flourless chocolate cake that you prepare the day before, or a platter of homemade truffles.

 

Posted by: AT 08:00 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, 22 January 2007

Tyler Florence in the apple capital of the world.  

Posted by: AT 10:20 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, 10 January 2007
Twenty years ago, flush from a stint in a Paris cooking school, the thought of making a good soup using canned broth was quelle horreur! I was, by all accounts, a bit of a food snob.

Time — or the lack of it — has since cured me of my predilection. I do what I must to feed myself and yes, with apologies to Chef Claude, I often depend on a box of Swanson's organic broth.

Still, making soup is one of my favorite Sunday afternoon pursuits. And right now, this means chicken soup. Really good chicken soup. The kind made with a stock that's almost lush.

Let's get the issue of time out of the way. Making the stock doesn't need to be a two-day process. Unlike brown-beef stock, with its lengthy steps of browning bones and simmering the stock for a minimum of 6 hours, chicken stock can be ready, start to finish, in about 90 minutes. And what a difference it makes.

Certainly, if time allows, the stock can be made a day in advance and chilled for degreasing the next day.

But I've discovered a time-saving trick that let's me make both stock and soup on the same day. Although a lot of the chicken's flavor is in the fat, I often remove the skin from the breast and leg/thigh pieces before cooking so that degreasing the finished stock is less of an issue. When the chicken is cooked, usually 35 minutes for cut-up pieces to 45 minutes for a whole bird, I remove it and continue to simmer and reduce the stock for about 20 minutes. When my hands can stand the heat, I remove the meat from the bones, which not only add flavor but a bit of the lush quality that separates canned broth from homemade, and add the bones to the stock for its final reduction.

Some cookbook authors suggest freezing bones from both raw and cooked poultry to be used later for stock. It's a good suggestion but requires a certain level of organization and awareness that presently escapes me. I would most likely forget this well-intentioned plan, only to find the package loaded with freezer frost two years later.

So I begin with a fresh chicken fryer, either whole or cut-up, adding coarsely cut (and quick to prepare) vegetables, salt and a few black peppercorns. Cover with cold water by about 2 inches and simmer away. Très simple, correct?

With this master recipe in hand, the variations for chicken soup are endless. Evidently the human race has always had a need for a bit of soul soothing, which may explain why so many cultures have their own interpretation of chicken soup. Close your eyes, spin a world globe and place your finger at random. You'll discover a golden Sopa de Pollo from Cuba that's hearty with noodles or Brazil's Canja thickened with white rice and seasoned with ground cumin and bay leaf. Mexico's Sopa de Tortilla uses crisply fried shreds of corn tortillas for both flavor and texture. There's creamy Waterzooi from Belgium and a number of soups from China that are seasoned with fresh ginger, green onions, dried chilies, soy sauce, sake or sesame oil. And let's not forget the hearty chicken soup loaded with egg noodles that American moms, Jewish or otherwise, have been feeding their children for decades.

Sure, the box of Swanson's will always be a staple in my pantry. But for the best bowl of chicken soup, nothing beats a homemade stock.

 

CeCe Sullivan: csullivan@seattletimes.com

 

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

Posted by: AT 04:24 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, 03 January 2007

It's really mostly charcoal grilled, with a few chunks of hickory thrown in, but it sounds better that way. Rubbed with rosemary, garlic and salt and pepper and put in the Weber Bullet (without the water pan) for 2 and a half hours (it was a 2.5 pound piece of leg). The Weber keeps the fire a foot and a half or so away from the meat, so it slow roasts with some good smoking. I don't follow the rules exactly, but it still turns out juicy medium rare, with a good crisp skin and a little smoke ring.

In the background is a lump of this Cheesy Bread Pudding. I cut the recipe in half, and it still turned out really good.

A note on Prof Wiviott's Master the WSM Smoker in 5 Easy Courses: As I alluded above I didn't follow the rules, but this wasn't smoking, it was semi-hot grilling. I use natural chunk charcoal and chunks of hickory to build a fire that gets the Weber heated up to a little over 300 - 325F. I wouldn't cheat on his rules if I was smoking something. His main rules are using a pure, clean fire, no briquettes, no leftover coals, no fluid. However I did cheat when starting this and most fires - I'll use a few briquettes and what's left in the grill to start it. I'll admit to having some lighter fluid, but usually can find a few twigs in the yard (oak and grape vine twigs, not anything funky) and I was a boy scout so I can start a fire without it. One piece of advice I have learned the hard way - wood chunks can be mildewy, and the bark should be trimmed off, or you'll get horrible smoke. I used to think you could burn off the mildew, but that doesn't work unless you let it burn all the way down. My last bag was pretty bad so I sniff each piece carefully before throwing it on the fire.

Posted by: AT 10:11 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
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