Set the Table

They say that you eat with your eyes first.  So vamp up the visuals by setting a beautiful table for your fabulous feast.  With some simple strategies, you can take any tabletop from dull to decadent.  Here are some of our favorite ways to doll up yourdécor.  Choose one or two, or use them all together.

  1. Tealights.  Who doesn’t have a bag of tealights hanging around?  Grab some regular glasses of different heights and pour a touch of water in each one (to keep the wax from sticking to the glass- makes cleanup a breeze).  Place as many tealights as will fit in each glass and stagger across the center of the table for a multi-height centerpiece in minutes.
  2. Use festive fabric.  Make a runner out of an old scarf or tapestry.  Fold the fabric into a long rectangle and lay across the center of the table.  Or, if you have two, use them as long placemats for either side of a rectangular table, leaving the center clear for your other decorations.  Keep the look casual by laying the fabric in a gathered and random way.  Fill in the pockets with candles, flowers, fruit.
  3. Give the table a little lift.  Make “risers” out of regular kitchen items like pots and pans, or boxes of dry goods from the pantry.  Lay your first table cloth on the table.  Then, place your “risers” in a staggered row across the center of the table, varying heights to create interest.  Cover the risers in another cloth, gathering the excess at the bases to make a beautiful pool of fabric.  When you present the dishes on the table, the varying heights will offer extra interest.
  4. Flowers, greens and goodies.  A little nature goes a long way.  Find inexpensive flowers at the local florist or grocery store and separate bouquets into small arrangements.  Using vases or glasses that you already have, make arrangements of varying heights.  White carnations look like a million bucks and greens from your yard are free!  You don’t need to break the bank to help your table sparkle.
  5. Colorful fruits in clear containers give a punch of color to a dull setting.  Use vases, glass mixing bowls or serving bowls.  Lemons and limes are cheap and beautiful and can turn into delicious beverages (lemonade, margaritas) after the centerpiece is gone.
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A Piece on Pizza

A Piece on Pizza
If you don’t like pizza, there’s something wrong with you.  It’s the perfect canvas for any culinary expression from savory to sweet, plus it’s cheap, quick, and easy to make yourself.  No wonder Wolfgang Puck made a mint on it.  It’s so versatile yet calls out to each of our inner child.
Ourfive year old son Lyric often talks about how nice a Pizza Tree would be and he loves to help me make the pizza dough. Lyric gets as excited as a puppy after its owner gets home when the timer goes off. Its truly like Pavlov.Here’s a simple, solid recipe that holds up well to variation.  It will keep for up to three days, but if you know you won’t be using it for a while, freezes just as well.  I make 3-6 dough balls at a time and that lasts about two weeks in our house, but we eat a LOT of pizza.  Remember that it takes a day to rise properly.This recipe makes enough for one 16-18” pie.

11 ½ oz (by weight) all-purpose flour
1 heaping tsp dry active yeast
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp sugar

6 ¼ oz warm (not hot) water

– Thoroughly mix dry ingredients in a medium bowl.
– Add water and mix until evenly distributed.  Dough should be springy to the touch and not stick to the sides of the bowl.  Add small handful of flour if necessary.
– Squeeze all the air pockets out of the dough ball.  Grasp it in both hands and roll your knuckles together, then turn the ball 90 degrees and repeat several times.  Don’t do it too much or the dough gets tough.
– Lightly coat the dough in vegetable oil and cover loosely with plastic.  Set it in the fridge for 24 hours or freeze immediately.  When using a frozen ball, set it out for 3-4 hours, then 20 more in the fridge.
– To cook, lightly dredge the ball in flour and hand toss or roll with a pin for a thinner crust.  Diameter should be about 16” round or half sheet pan if rectangular.  Place on a high quality cookie sheet or pre-heated pizza stone.  Top with your choice of sauces, meats, veggies, and cheese.  (I like my pepperoni on top so it gets crispy).
– Bake in a pre-heated oven at your highest setting for 6-10 minutes, rotating once and checking once a minute after six minutes to avoid a burnt crust.
– Remove from pan and let cool 2-3 minutes before cutting to allow the cheese to set a bit.

Serves 1-6 depending on your hunger level.

 

10 Things to do with a Baguette

Mmmmmm…Bread.  Who doesn’t drool over a toasty, crusty piece of delicious bread?  It is cheap and versatile and can be put to use in so many different ways.  Here are our 10 favorite things to do with a baquette:

  1. French toast!!  In a shallow bowl whisk 3 eggs, ¼ cup of milk, ¼ teaspoon of cinnamon, ¼ teaspoon of vanilla extract and a dash of nutmeg.  Dip slices of baguette into the mixture coating both sides thoroughly and remove allowing the excess to drip back into the bowl.  Place pieces into a hot buttered skillet, turning until both sides are beautifully brown- about 2 minutes on each side.  Serve with butter, maple syrup, fresh fruit, whatever you want!
  2. Pizza…Cut baguette in half lengthwise and pull out some of the soft middle to make a little “boat”.  Brush bottoms lightly with olive oil, spread a generous amount of tomato sauce on top of each piece of bread and cover with shredded cheese and your favorite pizza toppings.  Place pizzas on a foil lined cookie sheet and bake in 375 degree oven for 20-25 minutes.
  3. Bread Pudding.  Ridiculously delicious no matter how you do it.  You can make it sweet for dessert or breakfast or savory as a side dish for dinner.  This is basically a baked version of French toast and the options are endless.  Check out some recipes online at:  http://www.epicurious.com.
  4. Chocolate bread.  Seriously.  Need we say more? Cut the baguette lengthwise and lay pieces of semisweet chocolate on top.  Toast until the chocolate has melted and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and a little sea salt.  Warning:  This is highly addictive.
  5. Paninis.  Not as tricky as they’re made out to be.  Simply grilled, pressed sandwiches and the baguette is perfect for it, you just have to turn it inside out.  Slice the bread lengthwise and place your favorite sandwich meats and between the crusty outside pieces of bread.  Melt butter in a large hot skillet and place the sandwiches, bready side down in the pan.  Use another heavy pan or pot to weigh down the sandwich.  Cook for about 3 minutes on each side.
  6. Bruschetta.  There are literally a billion things you can do with this.  Get creative.  Slice bread into ¼ inch pieces and toast with olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic and toast until crispy.  Cool and top with anything you like.  Some of our favorites:  mozzarella, tomato and basil (classic!); goat cheese, fig and balsamic; roasted eggplant, onions and peppers with hummus…the list could go on.
  7. Ever hear of panzanella?  Well, now you have…it’s a delicious Italian bread salad and it easy and versatile.  Cut bread into ¼ inch chunks and add tomato, cucumbers and onions.  Dress with vinaigrette, salt and pepper.  Done!
  8. Learn how toast was supposed to be.  Cut off a piece of baguette and slice it in half.  Spread with butter and toast in the toaster oven, regular oven, or on the grill. Simple.
  9. Make your own croutons.  With day old baguette, cut into 1” squares and drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper (for extra love add garlic, thyme, rosemary, parmesan, red pepper flakes, or any other tasty flavor).  Place in a 350 degree oven for 10-15 minutes or until crunchy and toasted.  Add to salads and soups.
  10. Breadcrumbs.  Cut stale bread into small chunks and get out the old food processor.  Add a little salt and pepper, your favorite seasonings like thyme, oregano, rosemary, garlic powder, etc…Whir quickly in the processor and there you have it.  Homemade seasoned breadcrumbs.  Keep in a Ziploc in the freezer until ready to use.