Friday, December 27, 2013

Happy New Year

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Homemade pita!

Ah, another year over.  It was an interesting one.  Here are a few highlights.  In January I made homemade pita bread with some Greek chicken.  Christina was back at school and called and scolded me for not making this when she was home.  I made it again a few weekends later when she came home, and it did not disappoint!

In February I made a new friend.  I made cookies for her KD daughter and we chatted for over an hour at my kitchen table.  We wondered out loud how we went so long not knowing one another?!  She has become a great friend, a great walking partner and we share an occasional beer over Bachelor/Bachelorette shows.  Don't judge, that's our job!  Maybe in 2014 she and I will hike a canyon or two....

In March I jumped up on my soap box about my little criminal.  You can read it here, but sadly, almost 10 months later, she is still going through our very slow court system.  Oh well.  I try not to think about this episode, it makes me lose faith in people.

In April I shook off the winter doldrums by making some of the prettiest cookies ever.  A colorful shower,  Ole Miss engagement platter, which I was nervous about since they are red, white and blue,  but were very pretty.  My new friend from February?  Her parents both turned 80 in April and I was thrilled to make 80 candle cookies for Geez and Gumps!  And the month was topped off by a Southern party combo....Sip and See/Piano Recital. Some pretty cute cookies for my friend from Pure Barre!

In May  I opened my heart to you.  You'll enjoy it, really.  I made a jillion cookies, all designs, and they were pretty fun, and we ate hot dogs four ways.  They were memorable and delicious!

The All American Dog

In June I made more graduation cookies, and cookies for my favorite store.  Ironic, as I am working the liquidation sale at said store right now.  Sad.  But more on that later.

July is my favorite month.  The Fourth, my and Christina's birthdays, the hottest, longest days of the year...Ahhh,  But, in trying to keep my resolutions, my first stage play was produced.  I am a playwright.  Pretty cool seeing your words come alive on stage.

In August, I didn't blog much, but what I did was yummy!  We traveled quite a bit, but at home we ate the most delicious Turkey Burgers, my favorite BLT Salad, and my sister wanted Hobbit Cookies, so I obliged and garnered a new group of fans, and became a One Ring fan myself.

September is the start of college football, and I posted some Sooner cookies that I had neglected to post the year before!  But I also had a revelation in September.  I needed a project.  Since I was 10 months from my big 5-0, I decided to start blogging my favorite, most influential, funny and iconic chefs that have shaped me.  So it began, with my Mom,  the founder of my workplace, Chuck Williams,  Dinah Shore, Deborah Madison and the Sussman Brothers.  I have to make a recipe I have never made, and it has been one of the most enriching projects ever.  So much good food!

My Mom and Sookie

October.  We were pretty busy following our favorite Millsap Major digging on the VB court, so my few blogs were all about the 50 chefs.  Ina,  The Silver Palate and Paul Prudhomme.  Sadly, there were no bat or witch cookies, and trick or treating was a bust.  November rolled in with a vengeance.

This is the time of year that I put my head down and dive into the holidays.  I decorate early so I can enjoy it, I did blog Giada,  and I made a few cookies.  But really, I work the holidays, I know there was a turkey.  You know November can be sort of blurry.

We had a great volleyball season....lots of cookies!

And then the wind was knocked out of me in December.  My Williams Sonoma store is closing.  We got the news a week into December.  In the height of my 17th Williams Sonoma Christmas.  It was devastating.  Once the shock wore off, I looked at it as an opportunity.  New possibilities.  Who knows.  I know I need to write, and bake, and write a play, and visit my parents.  I hope to work at the Outlet here, and keep my fantastic discount since I am nowhere near finished shopping!  There is a new business on the horizon and a new city for my son.  He was just leaving home when I started this blog.  I wrote about how sad I was to leave him on his college adventures, but now I am thrilled (and a little sad) for his grown up adventures.  So here's to 2014.  Here's to new adventures, new friends, travels, opportunities and to anyone who takes time to read this, I hope you enjoy what I have to say as much as I enjoy putting it down for you!  Be safe and we will see you in the New Year!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Catalan Caganer

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I bought this charming nativity in a little Catalan village called Figueres.

So, the year winds down.  And what a year.  A graduation, a job loss/change, a new city for my son, and an untimely death of a special relative.  So when I put up my nativity I bought in Figueres Spain, I most definately put in my Caganer.

See that red cap hiding behind the fence???
 This strange addition to a nativity may be offensive to some.  However, in the Catalan region of Spain, it is quite commonplace and has been around since the 17th Century.  Children love to search the nativity for the hidden Caganer.  Mine, is a traditional Catalan man, and yes, he is doing a Number 2.  You see in many cultures, poo, is a sign of good luck as it fertilizes the earth and ensures a good harvest for the coming year. is exactly what you think.
He's hiding out of respect for the birth of Christ, but he is in all the nativities in this part of Spain!

All over Barcelona and the surrounding region, you find these little figurines for sale.  The most popular is the traditional Catalan man, but you can find many famous politicians, soccer players, celebrities and even Elvis.  I would have bought him had I found him!  But I bought the traditional fellow, and every year he is hidden behind a little fence in my nativity.  His defecating is a reminder that no matter what may have transpired this year, it lays the groundwork for the success of the coming year.  Out with the old and in with the new.  So, to you, a very Merry Christmas and a blessed and prosperous New Year.  See you on the other side.  Stick around, we have about 40 chefs to cover before I turn 50!!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

My New Chapter For 2014

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Anyone who cooks and shops knows this is the uniform of Williams Sonoma.
 The Christmas season is that one time of year when you just don't want any curve balls.  Many of us have so much on our plate that we tend to get through the parties, the shopping, the work schedules and the day to day with our head down.  Often, it seems, I look up, and the New Year is here.  This Christmas season, a curve ball came.  It hit me square in the chest.

My Williams Sonoma family and I were told that our store would be closing.  The close out sale starts next week.  Breathe.

This was not some job for me.  This is my second family.  We are a cast of characters that have been together for over 16 years, this is my 17th Christmas with WS.  Hopefully some of us will be placed at the local outlet.  For some, this will be the end.  That's when my chest hurts.  I don't want to leave. To put this in perspective: When I started, Christina was in Pre-School, today she is halfway through Junior year of COLLEGE.  See what I mean.  Breathe.

I made these for a corporate visit last year.
I have really only ever had 3 jobs since I graduated from college.  Proctor and Gamble, Bristol Meyers, and this.  My selling, stocking, display building, truck unloading, cooking class instructor, job.  It has defined me for so many years.  People stop me in the supermarket, in line to vote, and at other stores, "Aren't you the gal from Williams Sonoma?"  People ask me for dinner ideas, how to cook things and bridal registry tips.  I have had customers come in looking for Pernigotti Cocoa and Neilsen Massey vanilla because "the blog" said it would be the best for her cookies.  She was referring to my blog!  I have helped the same old gals with their Christmas shopping and their packages for years.  I have waited on Steve Harvey, Ginnifer Goodwin, Steven Segal, Loren Roberts and countless local chefs.  I remember when Justin Timberlake and then girlfriend Brittany Spears shopped our plaza, although they were obviously not into cooking (they skipped our store).  And of course I met the man, Chuck Williams, whose dream I worked in.

Grande Cuisine.  Most people don't know what this symbol means.

I don't know what will happen.  We go day to day.  But when I was all teary talking to Christina, she said, "Mom, look at it as a new chapter".  She's right.  (Hopefully not a whole new book!)  But it is a new chapter.  It's going to hurt long after the doors are locked and a new business opens there, but it also feels okay, sort of.  It feels great to know I have worked side by side with so many amazing people.  I have learned so much about business, cooking, retail, and people along the way.  I learned people will surprise you everyday if you open your heart.  I have been hurt too, that goes hand in hand.  The unhappy customers (one made me cry), the thief, the snotty brides (few and far between, but my land, mean!).  But when you hold a job, any job, heck, even a marriage for 16+ years, there is something you just can't walk away from.  And that is the imprint of all those years and all those people.  I am a better person because of every single day I worked there.  My new chapter is unnamed as of yet.  But it's mine, and I will do my best to make is as good as the last, long one.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

50 Chefs For 50 Years, #11 Richard Sax Part One, Farmer's Market Veggie Soup

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I admit the color isn't appealing, but this soup is amazing on a cold day!

Back at the 50 chefs, and I have just about 7 months to finish.  Yikes!   This one is pretty relevant to me.  Back in 1994, I was given one of my all time favorite books.  Classic Home Desserts by Richard Sax.  305 recipes, all desserts, all so thoroughly researched.  Historic recipes, friend's recipes, some of his own personal favorites.  So why, you are wondering, am I making soup?  His last book which was published after his death, is where the soup recipe comes from.  The book is called Get In There And Cook.  So, if you read my blog, ever, you know this chef made an imprint on me.  He was a prolific writer, so respected in his field, and went to culinary school after he had been an high school English teacher.  The courage to pursue your dream.  Powerful stuff.

I am also the owner of The Cookie Lover's Cookie Book, which is okay.  I love Rose (she is coming up).  Richard's is a small book, and I really dislike cookbooks in the miniature.  But it is a 20 degree December day, and we needed soup.  So I started at Richard's last book.  But I will be back to bake a dessert, you can count on that. So lets get to the soup.

Generally speaking, I am not a big recipe follower for soup, but to honor this man, I decided to try my very best.  I wanted no meat, and this fit the bill perfectly.  I have also made his Pasta e Fagioli from this same book. My notes make it very clear I veered off the path on that one!  But I apparently liked it, and it is a popular blog post.  This soup is packed with flavor, and blending part of it makes it creamy and satisfying.

Where the magic happens...

Farmer's Market Vegetable Soup
adapted from Richard Sax

2 T olive oil
2 medium onions peeled and diced
3 leeks, trimmed and cleaned well, then sliced
6 carrots, peeled and sliced
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground thyme
1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon
2 russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
36 oz. vegetable or chicken stock (I used both)
3/4 cup half and half
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1 can fire roasted tomatoes (my idea, I really wanted a little color and acid)
Fresh spinach...however much you like!

Sweat the onions, carrots, leeks, garlic, salt, thyme, pepper flakes and tarragon over low heat for about 10 minutes.  Stir often.  Add the potatoes and broth and bring to a simmer until the potatoes are cooked.
Using an immersion blender or a blender, puree up to one half of the soup and put back into the pot.  Add the cream, nutmeg and tomatoes.  Do not boil again, heat gently until ready to serve.  Add spinach just before serving to wilt.  Season with salt and pepper as desired.

So, I did change up the quantities a little.  Three onions is a lot of onions, and leeks here come in 3's so what to do with that last one?  The carrots were scrawny and I like them, so I doubled it. And the spices are sort of an eyeball guess.  Soup is not a is an art.  So I am creating my own version from his work.  Simmering, the aroma is fantastic and the soup is perfect following an ice storm!  So, as it appears the cold has settled in early and will likely stick around, it's going to be soup season for awhile.  What are you waiting for?  Get in there and cook!  (Thanks Mr. Sax!)

Friday, December 6, 2013

Peppermint and Browned Vanilla Butter Holiday Chip Cookies

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Chunky, Buttery, Pepperminty....
Yes, I should be rolling out graduation cookies, snowmen and gingerbread houses.  But I needed something quick and festive.  These would be perfect for the jolly, fat man for sure!  You need to make the  browned vanilla butter ahead, but then they come together pretty fast.  I use the Ghiradelli Chips which are a little big, and I love the massive feel they give these cookies.  I also used the M & M Chocolate Peppermint, but I did notice a new white chocolate available.  You could use whatever your family loves!  I sort of adapted these after a Secret Recipe Club from way back, but this is a more manageable size and I love peppermint and vanilla together!

Mix and Match your favorite flavors!

In a small saucepan melt over medium low heat,

2 Sticks Unsalted Butter

Let it simmer gently (be careful of splatters), and the color will slowly change.  You can smell and taste the difference long before it gets brown.  Sadly, if it gets too brown, it tastes burnt.  Turn off the heat and when it no longer is bubbling, add

1 Tablespoon Vanilla Paste

Stir in, and carefully pour the mixture into a jar or shallow dish and chill until firm enough to make cookies.

One of my favorite Christmas gifts...the cake stand.

1/2# browned vanilla butter (that you just made!)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 Cups Flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 pound assorted chocolate chips, chocolate candies, whatever you like!

Cream butter and sugars.  Add egg and vanilla and mix in.  Add dry ingredients and mix in until no flour is visible.  Stir in the chips and things and drop onto cookie sheets covered in parchment or Silpats.  Bake at 350˚ for about 12 minutes.  Switch the pans from front to back and top to bottom midway in baking.  Cool on rack.  Makes 3 dozen big cookies.
What are you waiting for?!  Get in there and bake!

These old Santa cups are just a tad creepy....