Sunday, June 22, 2014

A Southern Style Dinner Party

The summer solstice is this weekend, so it was a reason to celebrate with friends!  Time to use fresh rhubarb, strawberries and peonies while they last! 
Biscuit Bar
 French Preserves, Caramelized Bacon, and Artisanal Cheeses
Sweet Tea Brined Pork Loin
Pimento Cheese Grits
French Green Beans with Molasses and Worcestershire
Summer Pavlova
Chocolate Pudding
Yes- two desserts!  It's a southern thing! And I had a lot of sweet lovin' friends around the table!
You really can't beat the taste combination of Callie's Buttermilk biscuits and the Barefoot Contessa's Caramelized bacon.  I invited friends over for dinner  night before last and decided to do a "biscuit" bar for appetizers.  Well, sorta---.  I should have doubled the number of biscuits and just called it dinner!  First of all, if you haven't tried Callie's biscuits-in the frozen section at Fresh Market-  you are in for a treat. The fluffy little bites from heaven can be filled with all sorts of delights.  Last night, we tasted the  renowned French confiture  chef Christine Ferber's black sour cherry compote in black pepper, Rare Birds Peach and Lavender preserves, a delicate brie cheese filled with apricots and almonds, strawberry rhubarb whipped butter  and  the Barefoot Contessa's caramelized bacon.  Divine! 

For the centerpiece of the biscuit bar, we just received these cute dressmaker forms at the shop.
They are perfect for many  displaying needs and they add a little height to the table. I love the feel with the preserves on it- very homey!  Just like biscuits!

A wonderful old footed basket that I found at Grayslake last month, filled with an over sized linen
towel from Williams Sonoma.  Perfect to keep the biscuits warm.

 A decadent strawberry preserves - all the way from the Alsace region of France.

Callie's sinfully good fluffy little biscuits. 


Ina's Caramelized Bacon -  coated in brown sugar, ground pecans, a bit of cayenne, black pepper- yum!  Baked in the oven- easy to prepare. The recipe is in her Foolproof book.


For dinner, I roasted  a pork loin that had been in a sweet tea brine for 24 hours.  My friend, Mariterese made grits with pimento cheese and we sauté French green beans in butter, molasses and worchesterhire. The pork recipe was disappointing, but the grits and dessert were a hit.   .I think the trick to the pork loin is cooking it less time, leaving the center pink.  I purchased the loin from Costco and they tie two loins together to get a large round roast.  I think it would have been better if I had separated them and inserted the thermometer  into the center of a singe loin and cooked to 135 degrees and then let it rest.   I had this pork at Merchant's restaurant in Nashville and it was the best pork loin that I have ever tasted.  So I will definitely try this recipe again.
Here's link to the recipes if you want to try it yourself-

                        It's the end of peony season, so lot's of peonies on the table were placed on the table.

I found these pink glasses while antiquing last year and they are perfect vessels for the peonies.

Hand dyed French seam binding was used instead of napkin rings.

The candles were lit and it was time for dinner!

Dessert was a roasted rhubarb, French strawberry and blackberry pavlova and Gale Gand's chocolate pudding!

The roasted rhubarb and berry pavlova.
I prepared Gale Gand's recipe for the meringue and roasted the rhubarb the day before. Right before serving, the heavy cream was whipped  and piled   on the meringue .  Next the fruit was layered on top and then the fresh mint and pansies were added for garnish.
A very light summer dessert!

And with it- a not so light dessert! 

Gale Gand's Chocolate pudding!

The great thing about this little glass of chocolate decadence is the small amount of sugar in the recipe. For 8 desserts, the recipe only calls for 4 oz. of bittersweet chocolate and 1/2 cup of sugar!
Plus it can be made ahead of time!  It's a keeper!  Next time, a little whipped cream on top would be a nice addition.
My husband just asked me if we had any leftover Callie's biscuits !  Not a one, honey!
So I have promised him more for tonight's dinner. I think I'll work on that biscuit bar concept a bit more- what other savory fillings can I come up with???  Maybe tonight, Fried Chicken Tenders with a chicken  gravy for dipping???  Small sausage patties ?   Anyone have any other ideas? 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Summer Desserts with Chef Gale Gand

Back to our lovely Elawa Farm for a Summer Desserts Class  with the adorable Chef Gale Gand.

First of all, who wouldn't enjoy going to school on this beautiful farm????

But then you add the magical ingredient of the effervescent Chef Gand to the pot and you have a wonderful afternoon in the works!
On the menu for today, a Summer Pavlova with Roasted Rhubarb and Raspberries!!!!
A blueberry rice pudding- yum-

And the most delectable lemon curd that I have ever tasted!

Enjoyed simply by dipping ripe summer strawberries into this delightful confection.
How "summertime" is that?  And so simple too!
How many times in one's life do they get the opportunity to take a cooking class- up close and personal- with a James Beard Award Winner, a Food Network Star and successful restaurateur??????     Plus she is this down to earth, funny, and extremely  talented girl-  an absolutely delightful person!   And she's in our own backyard- teaching often at Elawa Farm.

The summer pavlova was started by roasting rhubarb in the oven with Tahitian vanilla beans, sugar, cinnamon, red wine, and  cornstarch.

Chef Gale whips the egg whites to make the meringue and is showing us the perfect consistency.

This glossy confection of egg whites, red wine vinegar, vanilla, cornstarch, salt, cream of tartar and sugar is ready to be shaped into the lovely base for our dessert

The baked meringue base for the pavlova.
Next, the roasted rhubarb mixture was tossed with fresh raspberries for the fruit topping.

Layering the whipped cream on the meringue base.

Arranging the fruit and edible floral garnishes on the dessert.

And voila!  A beautiful summer dessert- sure to impress your dinner guests!

A light, yet decadent ending to a meal! 
Gale recently opened her newest restaurant venture in Chicago called Spritz Burger.
Spritz Burger, is a collaboration with The Hearty Boys, (Dan Smith and Steve McDonagh) who won Food Network’s reality competition “The Next Food Network Star”, season 1. The menu  features vintage seltzer cocktails, house-made sodas including Gand’s cinnamon-ginger-vanilla root beer, grass-fed burgers, and desserts by Gale. Spritz Burger serves dinner Tuesday through Saturday with a fabulous brunch on Sunday and is family friendly, fun, and modern. It opened this past spring and is located  in the LakeView neighborhood on the north side of Chicago.
I can't wait to try it!
Chef Gand is the author of  numerous cookbooks, including two of my favorites, "BRUNCH" and "JUST A BITE".   She has just recently published her newest book, "LUNCH!".   I browsed through it last night and I was inspired !   Simple, yet thoughtful recipes are given in this photo filled  gem of a book.  There are several that I can't wait to try- Fried Chicken and Waffle Sandwiches,  Mexican Chicken Salad, and the Chocolate Pudding in a Jar.
You can purchase her new book here.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Peonies- Late but still Beautiful

Three weeks late for the party, the peonies have finally bloomed.  Their blooms are glorious this year,       I just couldn't resist buying a large bouquet from Elawa Farm to enjoy for the weekend.

I love the way they look in this old galvanized olive basket- such a contrasting effect.

Perfect for the screened in porch.

Huge flowers with countless petals.

A single blossom for the kitchen  table.

A small bouquet for the side porch breakfast  table.

A silver trophy full of white peonies for the dining room buffet.

And just a few more blooming in the garden.

Look at all the different shades of pink on this blossom.

Peonies are one of  the most beloved flowers. I wish their growing season was longer.
So enjoy them while we can!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Strawberry and Rhubarb Jam Class presented by a RARE BIRD!

On Sunday afternoon, Jill and I spent a delightful afternoon making preserves at Elawa Farm with Chef Elizabeth Madden, the founder and owner of Rare Bird Preserves. I asked Elizabeth how she came up with the name "Rare Bird Preserves".   She said her grandmother called her that name and it just stuck!  Elizabeth made the class was interactive, fast paced and extremely informative.  She is a pioneer in developing new flavor combinations in the Jam and Jelly world, so it was fun to hear her viewpoint.  She practices making her preserves in small batches in a traditional copper jelly pot.  She does not use commercial pectins.  Instead she uses natural pectin from fruits such as lemons or green apples.  For our class, she placed 3 quartered and peeled  ( the pith was still on the lemon) lemons in a muslin bag to create the pectin for the jam.
Start with the ripest berries you can find!  The best are from the local Farmer's markets. The redder, the better!  Hull them with a pastry tip with sharp points on the edge. Then quarter the berries.

Wash and chop the fresh rhubarb.

Elizabeth uses less sugar than many jam makers.  First we mixed the chopped fruit with the sugar in the mixing bowl.  8 parts sugar to 10 parts fruit for this recipe.

Next, all the fruit and sugar was placed in the copper jam pot along with the pectin bag.

Elizabeth securely ties the pectin bag, so that the lemon's seeds don't fall out into the preserves.

Continuously stirring, so the mixture does not burn.  The larger pan allows the moisture to evaporate faster, causing the mixture to thicken.

 The test to see if the jam is ready-  a "curtain" of gooey goodness forms on the wooden spoon's edge.

 Second test to see if the jam is ready for the jars-  dollop a spoon full on a frozen sheet pan.  If the dollop  "wrinkles" when pushed by your index finger, it is ready!

Take the jars from the 225 degree oven and get ready to fill them.
They have been in the oven for at least 10 minutes to sterilize them. (not the lids!)
Elizabeth adds lemon zest and a bit of sea salt to the cooked fruit.

Each is filled  up into the neck of the jar.
Each is stirred with a skewer to remove any air bubbles before the lid is placed on the jam.

Once the lid is sealed, the center "button" will pop inward.
With the leftover rhubarb, we made a simple syrup with rosemary and rhubarb. Perfect to add to sparkling water for a refreshing summer drink.  ( I'll bet this would be great in a  margarita too!)

This morning I opened this delicious concoction to taste it!  With a perfect consistency, it was like eating fresh strawberries from the field.  I think it would be a great glaze for grilled chicken too!

Look at the beautiful color -


I always have Rare Bird Preserves in my pantry. They are wonderful accompaniments to charcuterie and cheese trays and desserts.  My two newest favorites are Peach Lavender and Cranberry Clementine.  I tried the Cranberry Clementine mixed with a little mayonnaise and put it on a smoked turkey sandwich.  Deelish!   People tend to think of preserves as a breakfast item.  However, a generous spoonful  of Peach Lavender Preserves on a grilled fresh peach with a dollop of whipped cream- a delightful summer dessert. Garnish with a sprig of fresh lavender for a truly gourmet presentation! 
You can purchase her preserves in specialty food stores, in the cheese section at Whole Foods or directly from her website.
If you are in the Chicago area, Elizabeth  will be teaching future classes at Elawa Farm. More info on their website at  This class exceeded my expections and was so much fun.  I can't wait for the Farmers Markets to start- I'm ready to make jam!!