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Valentine’s Day – Keeping it Simple

Valentine’s Day – Keeping it Simple

This Valentine’s Day I wanted to relax and not spend all my time in the kitchen, but I still wanted to eat well and we did not want to try and eat out.

Today we are having a late lunch of steak and salad. Later we will have snacks and finger foods – sharp cheddar, pepper jack, black olives, strawberries, popcorn, etc.

The steaks are amazingly quick and easy and when paired with just the salad, not too heavy. Plus, we’re eating our biggest meal early enough that it won’t make us sleepy for the rest of the evening.

I am pairing a shiraz with the steaks and pinot grigio with the snacks.

We also have individual, heart shaped chocolate cakes (I very rarely do desserts). These were a last minute thing from the grocery store.

Breakfast of All Saints

Breakfast of All Saints

I have been meaning to post this since November. I thought I better get off my butt and post it now because some of you will probably think this is perfect for Valentine’s Day.

Halloween is my favorite holiday, and we had a very nice celebration last year, but one day is just not enough for such a great holiday. So, we decided to have a special breakfast the next day. Catholics celebrate All Saint’s Day the day after Halloween. That’s a long story that I explained very briefly in the Halloween, 2005 issue of the newsletter before it became a blog. Here is the breakfast:

Chocolate Covered Brie and Strawberries
More strawberries or raspberries or both

The extra berries go in your glass with the champagne. We used raspberry champagne, and it was wonderful!

Chocolate Covered Brie and Strawberries

6.5oz goat brie wheel (or wedge)
16oz frozen strawberries (thawed)
2 cups semi-sweet choc (1 package)
¾ cup heavy cream
2 or 3 cloves garlic
1 ½ teaspoon butter
French bread

Slice garlic and place on a small baking sheet. Cover garlic with the butter (cut into small pieces or slices). Broil on top rack until the garlic browns. Watch it very closely; this only takes a couple of minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.

Place the brie in the center of a pie dish (I leave the rind, but you can try to cut it off if you want). Surround with the strawberries and their juice.

Melt chocolate chips and cream together in a double boiler stirring constantly (be sure to scrape the sides and bottom as you stir). Add garlic and butter to the chocolate and pour over brie and strawberries. Serve immediately with hunks of bread.

New Year’s Black Eyed Peas and Greens

New Year’s Black Eyed Peas and Greens

Black eyed peas are traditionally eaten on New Year’s Day to ensure good luck throughout the year. This was a tradition in my family, but I didn’t like black eyed peas so I would eat just one. Greens and pork are also traditional New Year’s food eaten for good luck. They were not a part of my family’s tradition, but it’s never too late to start. Bacon, ham, and sausage are the only types of pork that I cook.

I thought about cooking some other type of pork for New Year’s, but bacon was such a natural choice with greens, and kept the meal pretty light, which is exactly what I was going for. The plan was to eat this shortly after midnight, so for dinner we had fried chicken tenders with no sides. I was going for easy finger foods that wouldn’t be too filling, but would keep us from going hungry all night waiting for our special meal.

1 pound bacon
1 bunch red chard (or any greens)
3 or 4 large cloves garlic
Black eyed peas

I cooked the black eyed peas from scratch. To do this soak for at least eight hours, drain, rinse, and simmer for a couple of hours until soft. For this dish I did not season my black eyed peas. You could use canned.

Cook the bacon and save the grease. I use a broiler pan and cook mine in the oven at about 400 degrees. You can cook the bacon in the skillet you plan to use for the greens.

Pour the bacon grease in an iron skillet and heat on med-high. Slice garlic and add to grease. Rinse and cut up greens. I just lay them down and chop all the way across in one to two inch sections. Some stem is OK. Put the greens in the skillet. Cut up the bacon into bite sized pieces. I hold the whole bunch of bacon in my hand and cut it up with kitchen scissors. Add bacon to the greens and toss to coat the greens in the grease and garlic. Cover and reduce heat or turn off and let the greens wilt to your desired consistence. I like mine a little on the crisp side. Remove to a large bowl and toss with drained black eyed peas.

Tips and substitutions:

This dish can be served immediately or reheated in the skillet. If you want to reheat it, I recommend putting the black eyed peas in at the last minute so they don’t overwhelm the other flavors. They can be added just before reheating or added cold after the rest is heated. I did not want to cook this late at night during our celebration, so I cooked it ahead of time.

I used all the grease from the bacon. You don’t have to do that if it freaks you out. You can use less grease or you can substitute with butter or olive oil. If you substitute the grease it will drastically change the flavor, though. You might try using a little bacon grease and mostly some other kind of oil to help maintain the flavor.

I used “hardwood smoked” bacon this time and it was very delicious. The flavor was in the grease and influenced the flavor of the entire dish. I did not realize I had picked up flavored bacon until I smelled it cooking and looked at the box again. It was the brand I normally buy, and I hadn’t noticed (I was in a hurry at the store). The ingredients for the flavoring are pretty questionable, but it is so yummy that I am going to have to search for some with natural flavorings.

Don’t Fear the Potluck

Don’t Fear the Potluck

Today I am going to a Father’s Day get-together that happens to be a potluck. I used to find the whole notion of a potluck intimidating and disturbing on so many levels.

For one thing, I wasn’t always a good cook, or more honestly, I didn’t cook at all.

Then there was the double standard with these events. Females were expected to prepare and bring a dish. Males got a free pass. That just put me off altogether.

Basically, the word “potluck” implied all sorts of things to me that it really doesn’t have to mean. I suspect I’m not alone in this. Somehow the movie Parents comes to mind as I try to describe my feelings here, “leftovers to be,” but I digress…

Once I warmed up to the idea of participating, the next hurdle was figuring out what I should take and how much of it. Who wants to take food to a party just to discover that 10 other people brought the same thing or something very similar? Does everybody need a serving of my contribution or what?

Then there’s the question of transporting the food. Will my dish be lost forever? Do I take it in something disposable or in the most appropriate container?

I’m no master of etiquette, but experience has taught me a few things.

Hosting a lot of people can be very expensive and way too much work if you try to do everything yourself. A potluck isn’t a scary thing like a Tupperware party, it’s more like BYOB, only the last “B” should usually be food. OK, I can’t stress this point enough. In a nutshell, a potluck is the adult version of BYOB. So, here’s the gist of it – potluck = BYOF. That’s it. It’s really that simple.

If you need a further breakdown this might help:

The host usually provides the “main course” or core food. In any case, it doesn’t matter much what type of food you take.

You don’t have to take enough for everyone to get some of your dish – if everyone did that and there were 25 people attending, everyone would have to eat 25 servings of food.

You don’t really have to cook the food yourself. If you don’t feel comfortable preparing a dish for other people, it’s OK to buy something and bring it. If you feel funny about that, transfer it to your own container. If it’s really good and people start asking for your recipe, well, I leave it up to you to handle that dilemma, but I recommend telling the truth. The asker will appreciate the tip just as much as if you gave them a personal recipe!

On the other hand, if you don’t cook, you can always ask beforehand about bringing other items such as beverages or even paper plates and cups. Remember, the purpose of a potluck is to make the event possible by lightening the load on the host. You can still contribute, even if cooking isn’t your forte. Just ask how.

At the end of the day, you can get your container back. When you’re ready to go home, just ask for it. Any remaining food can be transferred to another container or you can take it with you. It is not uncommon for the leftovers to be dolled out to guests as they leave.