Merry December everyone! I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving and ate lots of turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and pie. We had a very different Thanksgiving this year. Normally my parents house is bustling with people - so full that my dad has made a plywood extension for the already eight foot dining room table. With four kids and their three spouses, aunts and uncles, grandparents and cousins, my parents house used to get crazy. But this year everyone was spread about, doing different things. It was just Phil, my parents and myself for dinner - weird! It was kind of nice, we actually had conversations that started and ended - unlike those of holidays past where a conversation is started but quickly interrupted and never finished. We made very retro dishes this year (because my mother and I thought - hey! Why not? Its just us!) with baked sweet potato and whipped marshmallow topping, green bean casserole with fried shallots and sautéed mushrooms, port wine cranberry sauce and apple sausage stuffing. It was simple and classic American - but it was dang good!
But now, now its time to think about Christmas! As Americans, we try our hardest to give Thanksgiving the time it deserves - we wait to put up our Christmas tree until the weekend after Thanksgiving, we don't decorate our houses with the pretty twinkling lights, and (my dads biggest rule) we don't play Christmas music until after the fourth Thursday in November. That means this year, we really only have 25 days of Christmas. TIme to get crackin' kids!
This blog has helped me (by way of force at times…) achieve some of the little things I have always wanted to do. During this time of year, one of those things has been wreath making. My mom used to make garlands and wreaths for around our front door. She made it look so effortless (or I was too busy playing with my barbies to notice how long it actually took her…) and they always turned out beautiful.
I thought it would be fun to have some of my girlfriends and my sisters over for a little lunch and wreath making workshop to kick start the Christmas spirit. I will take any excuse to throw a party and have my favorite people over to chat and laugh and eat while simultaneously making a huge mess. I clipped lots of holly from our front yard, some juniper and pine as well as boxwood. We used pre-made grapevine wreaths, but there are lots of good tutorials (like this one) if you are feeling ambitious and would like to make your own. Also, alternatively, you can use green florist wire to make a wreath - my friend Sini over at My Blue and White Kitchen just posted a beautiful how-to on wreath making using wire. Go check it out here!
For lunch, I really wanted to highlight the flavors of the season, so I used a lot of pine simple syrup and chopped pine sprigs in the dishes. Did you know that you can eat pine?! I had no idea until I saw this syrup in a local shop and was immediately intrigued. I was then given a bunch of frozen pine tips that were picked last spring by that mighty talented chef I mentioned in my last post. A pine-y menu it is!
(I understand that many of you won't have or won't be able to find these pine flavored things - but you can easily use Rosemary. It will have a stronger flavor, but will still work beautifully. You could even make a rosemary simple syrup by boiling water, letting the rosemary steep in it like tea, removing the herb and adding 1/4 cup of sugar and allowing to boil down to a syrup. Yum!)
Next spring I am putting pine gathering and pine simple syrup making on the to-do list, so that this time next year you will all have stock piled syrup in your cupboard and pine in your freezers!
I would also like to congratulate Nicole M. on being the winner of last weeks giveaway of the J.Q. Dickinson salt, the apple cider caramel and the candied nuts! Hurray!
In other news…I turn 30 on Tuesday. Yikes. Expect a cake recipe up on the blog next week…because, yes, I will make my own birthday cake. Because I am 30.
A note: Okay, because I am using pine in both of these recipes, I want to remind you that you have to be careful when eating foods that you have gathered. Like I said above, I received this pine from a chef that I trust, so I know its not poisonous - pine is edible BUT there are lots of coniferous trees that can be easily confused for pine that are toxic…Juniper being one of them. So PLEASE be careful. Also, collecting pine in the spring is best because it is tender and sweet and easy to cook with…not hard and needle-y like it would be in the winter. If you don't have frozen spring pine, use rosemary! A delicious alternative to poisoning yourself.
• Chestnut Soup •
adapted from Wolfgang Puck's recipe
makes 6 servings
• 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
• 2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
• 2 celery stalks, chopped
• 1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
• 2 cups cooked chestnuts (from one 14.8-ounce vacuum-packed jar)
• 1 cup ruby port
• 1 thyme sprig
• 2 teaspoons chopped pine needles
• 3 cups chicken stock or low-sodium broth
• 1/2 cup heavy cream
• Salt and freshly ground pepper
Melt the butter in a medium sauce-pan.
Add the carrots, celery and onion and cook over moderately low heat, stirring, until softened, about 10 minutes.
Add the chestnuts and cook for 4 minutes.
Add the port, thyme and pine and cook over moderately high heat until the port is reduced by half, about 4 minutes.
Add the stock and bring to a boil. Cover partially and simmer over low heat for 30 minutes.
Add the cream to the soup.
Puree the soup with an immersion blender, or puree in batches in a standard blender. Return the soup to the saucepan and bring to a simmer. Season with salt and pepper and serve.
• Pine Vinaigrette •
• 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
• 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
• 1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
• 2 tablespoons pine simple syrup
• 1 teaspoon chopped pine needles
• pinch of sea salt
Whisk all ingredients together in a bowl.
Let stand for five minutes, and whisk again.
Dress salad as desired - with as much or as little as you want. Will stay in the refridgerator for one week.
• Pear and Pine Winter Salad •
makes 6 servings
• 3 cups baby arugula
• 4 oz pecorino cheese
• 1 medium ripe pear
• 2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
• drizzle of pine vinaigrette
• 1 teaspoon chopped pine needles
Using a mandolin (or a very sharp knife) cut pear into paper thin slices.
Toss arugula with a splash of vinaigrette in a bowl. Take about a half cup and place on a plate.
Top arugula with three or four slices of pear, a few shavings of pecorino, a teaspoon of toasted pine nuts and another small drizzle of dressing. Top with a sprinkle of chopped pine needles.
listening to: Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy by the Boston Pops Orchestra