Saturday, November 26, 2011

Christingles, Christmas Tingles and a Giveaway from

Thanks to all my followers, existing and new who participated in this giveaway from chose the number 21 which means Christina Gould is my winner.  Congratulations Christina!  Please check back for future giveaways. 

Now that my Thanksgiving dishes are done I think it is safe to start talking about Christmas. I do love Christmas, I just wish that retailers would quit exploiting it by trying to kick start it in October. I know that they are just trying to make a buck, but I can’t help but feel that I’m being a little bit strong armed. Between all of the shopping hype and the Santa Claus images everywhere, the true meaning of Christmas too often gets lost in the melee.

When we lived in England and my children were small, the little village school they attended would host a Christingle service at the beautiful 14th century church at the top of the hill every year. My words cannot express how lovely this little stone church is every day, but during the holidays its beauty defies description.

St. Mary's Church, Plumtree, Nottinghamshire

The Christingle custom began in Germany in 1747 by Bishop Johannes de Watteville as a fresh and lively way to explain the meaning of Christmas to the children in the Moravian church. He gave each child an orange wrapped in a red ribbon with a prayer that read “Lord Jesus, kindle a flame in these dear children’s hearts”, and the Christingle service was born.  In 1968, John Penson of the Children’s Society of the UK brought this custom to the Anglican Church in England. This soon became a well-loved tradition with children eagerly making their own Christingles each year.

To make a modern Christingle you first take four toothpicks and poke them through soft candies or dried fruit symbolizing the bounty of the earth. A red ribbon representing the blood of Christ is then wrapped around the center of a large juicy orange, symbolic of the earth. The red ribbon is then either secured in four equally spaced places by the gumdrop skewers, representing the four seasons of the year, or the ribbon can be tied and the skewers placed higher above it. Finally a hole is cut in the top of the orange where a lit candle is placed celebrating Jesus as the light of the world.

For our service in England our children were then dressed in white robes, their candles were lit and they carefully entered the darkened church singing carols cradling their oranges in their tiny cupped hands.  There wasn’t a dry eye in the house and not a Santa Claus in site. This is one of my fondest memories of Christmas.   Oh yeah, I am happy to say that to everyone's great relief, no one's hair was set on fire during any of Plumtree School's Christingle services.

It has been a long time since my children fashioned a Christingle so I am very thankful for my blog for giving us a reason to relive this beautiful memory. The scents alone from the components of this little project made us smile. If you have a child in your life and feel so inclined, this is a fun and meaningful activity to share with them.

To celebrate the season, I've fashioned a drink that incorporates some of the wonderful flavors that that are so prevalant this time of year.  My "Christmas Tingle" is a blend of cider and orange juice with a hint of cinnamon schnapps. This recipe was recently tested at a holiday high school friend reunion at my house and the college girls gave it three enthuastic thumbs up, so I feel quite confident about passing it on to you.  It is wonderful in both alcoholic and non-alcoholic versions so everyone can enjoy it.

Christmas Tingle

3 parts hard or sparkling non-alcoholic cider

1 part orange pineapple juice

Splash cinnamon schnapps (I used clear Goldschlager so my drink may not be as colorful as yours), or if making non-alcoholic, 1 small cinnamon stick

Fill a large highball glass with ice. Pour cider into glass, top with orange pineapple juice and schnapps; stir well and garnish with an orange slice, cranberries or cherries.

For the non-alcoholic version: Pour sparkling cider into a large ice filled glass, add a splash of orange pineapple juice and a cinnamon stick; stir well.  Garnish with an orange slice.

Now, for my newest giveaway from Wayfair!

As you may recall, in the past I have held several giveaways for CSN merchandise and gift codes. Recently I was made aware that CSN is now rebranding itself, moving its smaller sites into one big site they are calling I really love shopping this site as it has everything from kitchen area rugs, toys and cookware to lighting, pet furniture and baby stuff.

To help everyone discover their new site, has offered to give me a one time $70.00 shopping credit* to give to one of my lucky US followers.  You choose an item totalling $70.00 from their site and they will ship it directly to you.  To receive one entry you must be a public follower of my blog and leave a comment saying so. To receive extra entries follow Savoury Table on Facebook, Twitter or sign up to receive my posts by e-mail or RSS feed (just click on the symbols at the top right of my page).  If you vote for my daughter's recipe contest entry for Salmon Croquette Sliders (just a simple click, no registering or logging in) you'll get an extra entry as well. State each entry as a separate comment. I will let choose my winner on Sunday, December 4th around noon mountain time. Good luck!

*Correction from earlier statement of shopping code. 

Friday, November 18, 2011

A French Inspired Lunch at the Omni and a Recipe to Go: Butternut Squash Soup with Frangelico

About a week ago I was invited by Barb of Creative Culinary to join her for lunch at the Meritage Restaurant in the Omni Interlocken Hotel in Broomfield, Colorado. The hotel’s Executive Chef David Harker along with forty-four other Omni chefs and culinary leaders had recently returned from a discovery trip to France and were ready to unveil their new menu, and we were more than happy to be their guinea pigs.

On the menu were some selections from their “Simmer Saute Sante the Flavors of France” feature which is now being offered at most of their locations. Expecting to briefly meet Chef Harker and his staff and then to be left to ourselves, Barb and I were pleased to learn that he would not only be preparing our entree at our table, but would also be staying with us to explain each course to us as it was presented.

Our lunch started off with grilled flatbread with black garlic and fig puree and topped with French Roquefort and grilled apples, served with micro greens . . . divine. After licking our plates, we were presented with a bowl of butternut squash bisque accented with Frangelico. I must admit that I am not a huge butternut squash lover, but the slightly nutty flavor of the hazelnut liqueur was a delicious compliment to the sweetness of the butternut squash, making this one of my favorite dishes of the luncheon.

As if things could possibly get any better, we were then served a decadent buttery serving of foie gras on a crispy toast round with fruit.  No matter how you feel about it, foie gras holds a prominent place in French cuisine and I do know why, because this was delicious.  Next we were served the entrée that Chef Harker had been preparing this entire time, New York Strip Steak with Sauce au Cognac et Poivre Noir. This incredibly tender and juicy prime steak was served with a sampling of crispy duck confit served with roast potatoes and vegetables. Shall I say it again? Divine!

To finish this wonderful meal, we were served an assortment of delicate sweets including absolutely perfect French macarons and a silken pot de crème. Top this with a huge latte and impeccable service and someone could have stuck a fork in us because we were done and totally spoiled. Thank you Chef Harker, your staff and the Omni Interlocken for a completely delightful afternoon.

If you'd like to sample these dishes for yourself, this special menu and two overnight packages are available until the end of the year. The “Simmer Sauté Santé” package will offer guests at select hotels and resorts an exclusive culinary immersion weekend. The “French Toast!” package that is offered only over New Year’s Eve, enabling guests to enjoy an authentic French dinner with Champagne to celebrate the New Year, breakfast with a Champagne cocktail and a late check-out on request. Both packages range from $299 to $700. For availability, menus and more information please click here.

If you can’t make it to the Omni for a special meal yourself, the culinary team was kind enough to forward the squash bisque recipe on to me to make at home. Totally easy to make and really budget friendly, this soup will give you a bit of simple luxury anytime in your own kitchen.  Even if you can’t serve it with foie gras, I am here to tell you from experience that it is also fabulous with a chicken salad sandwich.

Butternut Squash Bisque with Frangelico

1 medium size butternut squash (approximately 3 pounds)

4 tablespoons butter

4 tablespoons golden raisins

4 cups chicken broth

1/4 cup cream

1/3 to 1/2 cup Frangelico liqueur (depending on your preference)

1 pinch nutmeg

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Wash squash well. Split down the middle lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds and pulp, transfer to a bowl and set them aside.

In each squash cavity, place half of the raisins and half of the butter. Turn the squash cavity side down in a large baking dish (This is what the recipe said and a real trick at that, but it can be done. Just don’t worry if half your raisins spill out, it will be ok). Pour 1 cup of the chicken broth over the squash. Cover and place in the preheated oven. Bake for approximately 45 minutes or until it is fork tender.

Remove the squash from the oven and cool. Scoop out the pulp from the squash shells and transfer to a large saucepan. Place the squash shells, raisins and the liquid from the baking dish in a large pot with the remaining chicken stock; simmer covered over low heat for approximately 20 – 30 minutes.  Ok, don't anyone tell Chef Harker I said this, but at this point if you don't have any Frangelico, you could substitute it by stirring in a tablespoon or so of peanut butter towards the end of the cooking time.  It won't taste exactly the same but pretty close.

Strain squash shell broth into the saucepan with the pulp; puree with an emersion blender or in the bowl of a countertop blender. Return to the saucepan and add the cream and Frangelico. Place back over medium heat and reheat to piping hot. Add the nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste.

Garnish with a drizzling of cream, crème fraiche or sour cream. If using cream, beat just a bit to thicken so it floats on the top instead of sinking. The taste is the same, it is just prettier.

Makes approximately 6 cups which easily serves 4

Have a happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

New Found Freedom and Fantastic Festival Food: Natchitoches Meat Pies

I talk to my daughter at university probably three times a day. No, I don’t make her, I am just that fun. She calls me first thing in the morning to let me know she’s alive (I do insist on this one). She calls me at lunchtime because she’s wondering what I'm up to, then she calls me at night to let me know that she’s all buttoned down and going to bed. Then we start all over again the next day. She’s a good girl and I love her more than I can say. Thank goodness for cell phones and her good taste in the people she wants to talk to.

When I was her age there were no cell phones. If my parents couldn’t find me when I went underground they’d either have to hire a detective or wait it out. When I think about what they must have gone through worrying about me it makes me realize how spoiled I am always (well, almost always) being able to contact my kids when I want.  

When I was in my early twenties my newly found, all-grown up freedom and I went to Natchitoches, Louisiana (pronounced NACK-uh-tush) with a group of friends for the town’s annual Christmas Festival of Lights.  In all the excitement I forgot to call my parents and tell them I was leaving town, so by Sunday night when I got back home to Houston the National Guard was on high alert. Man, they were mad!  Now that I have a couple of children of my own, I know how frantic they must have been when I forgot to call and tell them I’d be gone for three days. Oops!

The weekend started out when one of my friends somehow got the keys to his family’s weekend house in Louisiana. As I remember it, it was a rustic little place on the edge of a swamp nestled among the cypress trees with the snakes and alligators. We had planned a wonderful weekend of drinking, dominoes and festival making. The only kink in this plan was that the septic tank was broken so there was no working bathroom in the house. Not good a good situation with four women who are drinking beer. Since we all refused to go outside and use the restroom in the bushes (see photo below), we spent most of the weekend driving to the closest gas station with a public toilet.

Louisiana's outdoor restroom attendants

Since every time we turned around we were running to town anyway, we spent a lot of time hanging out at the festival eating. You might be familiar with the town and this festival and not know it. The movie Steel Magnolias was filmed here and the festival they show in the movie is this one. They have every Christmas scene you can imagine fashioned from lights and placed on one side of the Cane River which runs through the center of the historic part of town. The fireworks show which is on the opening weekend of the celebration, is so spectacular that even the fluorescent yellow nacho cheese sauce that I sat in in my new wool coat to watch them couldn’t kill the fun.

Like many festivals around the country, the food here is delicious mainly because it has been perfected  over the years by generations of amateur home cooks. Even though great food abounds, the one dish they are most proud of and famous for is their meat pies. They love them so much that they even have their own separate celebration for them in September.  These pies are made from a simple recipe of ground beef and pork with Cajun flavors wrapped in a soft dough and deep fried. How can you go wrong with this combo?

Those meat pies were so good that I have never forgotten the flavor and have planned on making them for years now. Well, this is the year and I'm happy to tell you that they were really simple, the hardest part being rolling the dough, but even at that not a deal breaker. This recipe made 16 pretty large pies but I think it would also be great to downsize them a bit and make 24 smaller ones for party appetizers. This is really a great base to expand on or change.  I could see where this recipe could be easily altered to make Mexican, Asian or Italian versions, so I hope you’ll have fun experimenting with it. I know I will.

Natchitoches Meat Pies

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 pound 80/20 ground beef

1 pound ground pork (I tried it with pork sausage and it was great)

1 bunch green onions, finely chopped

1 small bell pepper, finely chopped (green is more traditional but you can use any color that you like)

1 large garlic clove, crushed

1/4 teaspoon dried thyme (my own addition)

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)

Salt and black pepper to taste

4 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for preparing surface

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 cup shortening

2 eggs, beaten

1 cup milk

Pour vegetable oil in a large frying pan set over medium high heat; brown meat in oil. Add the onion and bell pepper; cook, stirring frequently until vegetables are soft, approximately 5 minutes; add garlic and sauté for 1 minute longer. Add thyme, red pepper flakes and salt and pepper to taste before sprinkling 1 tablespoon of the flour you borrow from the dough ingredients over the meat; stir well.  Remove from the heat and set aside until ready to use.

Sift the remaining flour, salt and baking powder together into a large bowl or in the bowl of a food processor (this makes quick work of this step); process or cut in shortening by hand until it looks like cornmeal. Stir the eggs and milk together before slowly mixing into the flour mixture; mix well to form a soft dough.

Divide the dough into 16 equal portions. Dust a clean dry surface with flour. Roll each dough portion into a ball. Place each ball on the floured surface one at a time before rolling it into circle about 6 – 7” in diameter. Spoon approximately 2 heaping tablespoons of the meat mixture onto one side of the circle, leaving a 1” clean edge all around. Brush edges with a little warm water. Fold the circle over the meat mixture matching the edges, forming a semi-circle. Fold the edges in half up towards the meat leaving a 1/2" edge. Press the edge with the tines of a fork to crimp. Repeat with the remaining meat and dough.

Heat deep fryer oil or pour enough oil into a medium size frying pan to come up to a 1” depth in the pan; heat over medium high heat. When the oil is hot and shimmering place 1 – 2 pies in the pan and fry to a golden brown on each, approximately 3 minutes or so. Remove from the heat and drain on paper towels. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A Steaming Hot Bowl of Blasphemy: Shortcut Pho Bo

I run with a pretty tough crowd.  I run with a very talented bunch of food bloggers. Don’t believe me that it's tough? Well, these are the kind of people that grind their own cornmeal, brew their own vinegar, smoke their own bacon and make their own cheese. Scared yet? They are also masters of HTML codes, camera shutter speeds, ISO settings and social media platforms. Try hanging out with them for a while. If you don’t already have an inferiority complex, you’ll acquire one soon enough. 

I don’t know for sure, but I’m willing to bet that most of them don’t even own a can of condensed soup or a cake mix. I have to admit that I don’t own much condensed soup either, but I do secretly love a Sock-It-To-Me Cake made with a Duncan Hines Butter Cake Mix or a spoon bread casserole made from a box of Jiffy Cornbread, so shoot me. I don’t normally use these shortcuts, but sometimes a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.

The other day I was close to my favorite Asian market and stopped by to buy lots of stuff that I don’t need. They had beautiful fresh Thai basil and some paper thin rib eye steak so I was inspired to make pho. For those of you who haven’t had a pho restaurant (pronounced “fuh”) pop up in your neighborhood, it is really no more than simple Vietnamese noodle soup.

Pho Saigon Pho Bo

Pho bo (beef noodle soup) is traditionally made with stock from slowly boiled beef bones, star anise, ginger, onion, cloves, cinnamon and garlic, you can usually order it with anything from very thinly sliced rib eye and flank steak to tripe and tendon. Pho ga (chicken noodle soup) is made the same way but with the one obvious difference.  The flavorful broth is then poured over a generous helping of rice noodles and is served with a plate of your choice of sliced jalapenos, basil, cilanatro, chopped green onions, lime wedges and bean sprouts for garnish. We just love the stuff.

Being super excited after finally finding the proper noodles from the hundreds of thousands of noodles they had there, I headed home to get cooking, forgetting all about those slowly boiled bones at the root of its goodness. After arriving home and making the grand announcement, “I will now make the best pho you have ever eaten everyone!” the bone thing struck me. Bummer!

By this time it was 5 pm, my family was hungry and we were all set on pho, so I pulled out one of my favorite shortcuts, beef bouillon. Not saying a word to anyone about my predicament, I added the bouillon to a pot of water along with some seasonings and spices, simmered it for awhile and voila! This pho tasted just like the authentic stuff that the stone faced Vietnamese man at Pho Saigon serves us. Hmmmm, could it be that he uses shortcuts too? After tasting his and mine I’m inclined to think so because they are identical.

I am now going to pass my recipe on for shortcut pho and let you decide if you miss hours of stewing and stirring. My easy version here can be ready in less than an hour, so please forgive me once again my talented blogger friends, but I think this is a recipe that even the purists will have to admit is pretty good.

Pho Bo (Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup)

As you can tell, my soup looks a little bit cloudy and no matter how hard I tried I could not get rid of it.  I chalk this up to the meat sitting in the broth overnight before I could photograph it.  If you serve this right after you cook it you shouldn't have this problem.  Trust me though it is still delicious cloudy or not.

8 ounces rice stick noodles, plus warm water for soaking

6 cups water

2 tablespoons beef bouillon powder or granules

2 - 3 star anise (I have used 1/8 teaspoon anise seed which works well too)

2 large garlic clove sliced into fourths

1 medium size onion, cut into fourths

1 – 1” piece of cinnamon stick

1 – 1” piece of fresh gingerroot, sliced into 4 - 6 pieces

2 cloves

1 pound very thinly sliced beefsteak (if slicing by hand, slice partially meat partially frozen with a very sharp knife)

1/2 pound fresh beansprouts

4 sprigs basil (Thai or Italian are both good)

4 large green onions, thinly sliced

2 large fresh jalapenos, thinly sliced

1 small bunch cilantro

Sriracha chili sauce

Hoisin sauce

Soy sauce

Prepare noodles according to package directions. My noodles required soaking in warm water for 1 hour before boiling so read the package directions carefully to avoid eating at midnight.

Pour six cups of water in a large stockpot. Add beef bouillon, anise, garlic, onion, cinnamon stick, gingerroot and cloves. Bring to a low boil, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 30 minutes or so. Remove the spices with a spider or slotted spoon and discard; keep warm and set aside until ready to use.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add the soaked noodles and boil for 1 – 2 minutes or until soft. Drain noodles and rinse. Divide the noodles equally among 4 large bowls.

Just before serving, add desired amount of the steak into the broth for a medium well doneness. Pour over the noodles. If you prefer rare to medium rare steak add the meat to the broth once it has been poured over the noodles and immediately before serving.

Serve piping hot with the remaining ingredients on the side to add to the soup as you like.

Serves 4

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Celebrating Three Years and One Hundred Posts with Star Olive Oil Ice Cream and Salted Caramel Sauce

This is a pretty special post for me. Just a hair over 3 years and 100 posts ago I started writing this blog on a whim. Remembering how much I missed recipes from home while I was living in the UK, I thought I’d adapt some new and forgotten American style recipes for those living there now and my English friends who wanted to try something new. My goal was to feature recipes that are not only accessible and delicious but something that would push readers into their kitchens and want to follow me on my cooking journey.

So here I am all this time later, still trying to find that perfect post and that perfect dish that will rock the home cooks world. Well, I may never find it, but I’m having a great time trying. I hope you’re having a good time too, because it is you and your comments that keep me cooking and writing. Over the last 3 years you have seen me laugh and cry through teenager trouble, the loss of a dear friend, anniversaries and vacations just to name a few. I can’t thank you enough for hanging in there with me.

About a week ago I was invited by fellow blogger Barb Kiebel of Creative Culinary to join her and the folks from Star Fine Foods for dinner and a tasting of their wide range of olive oils. I was quite happy to join them as I have been cooking with their products for several years now. I find the ones I have tried to be not only delicious but quite affordable as well. I most often use their light olive oil and balsamic vinegar for my everyday cooking, but also infuse their extra virgin oil with herbs and spices for dipping, and of course for making homemade salad dressings.

The evening was wonderful and our dinner was over the top delicious. The chef from Ototo restaurant here in Denver and his staff artfully designed each course incorporating Star products into every one. From the first course to the last, and each one in between (oh those pistachio encrusted lamb chops), their creative dishes garnered oohs and aahs throughout the dining room. Great ingredients skillfully prepared are a thing of beauty. Thank you Star for a wonderful evening.

As with every great party I’ve attended, the gift bags were the cherry on top of a wonderful evening. Bursting with an assortment of Star’s oils and a jar of their colossal olives known as cannonballs (my new addiction), we were warned to hold them from the bottom or suffer slippery heartbreak on the way to our cars. Thankfully mine made it all the way home without so much as a drop spilled so I now have plenty of oil to play with.

We’ve already dipped our weight in rustic bread into green pools of deliciousness, so it is time to do something a bit different. Stepping out of my box and finally having an excuse to use my new sale priced ice cream freezer, I’m going to recreate part of our dessert on this wonderful evening, Olive Oil Ice Cream with Salted Caramel Sauce. Ototo paired theirs with a hazelnut soufflé but I really don’t feel like this dessert needs anything more than a little sauce for interest, if that.

 Olive Oil Ice Cream

I know that this recipe sounds a little bit strange, but I am encouraging everyone reading this who owns an ice cream freezer to make it for your next dinner party, because it is a stunner. It does have a distinct olive oil flavor that confused my senses at first, but I quickly settled into loving it. It is without a doubt the creamiest, densest, smoothest ice cream I’ve ever eaten. Pair this with some salted caramel sauce (recipe follows) and you have an incredible dessert that will impress your guests. Don’t worry; all the ingredients are very affordable and widely available.

1 cup sugar

2/3 cup heavy cream

2 cups half and half

6 egg yolks

1 teaspoon vanilla extract (I love Mexican vanilla)

2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Place sugar, cream and half and half in a medium size heavy gauge saucepan over medium high heat. Bring mixture to a simmer.

Place eggs in a medium size bowl, beat well. Slowly add approximately 1 cup of the hot mixture to the egg yolks while whisking vigorously. Slowly add the egg mixture back to the milk mixture in the saucepan. Bring the mixture back up to a boil before reducing heat to keep at a simmer. Cook for 8 – 10 minutes or until thickened to the point that it will coat the back of a spoon.

Remove from the heat and add the vanilla and olive oil. Pour the mixture through a fine mesh strainer to remove any egg solids. Transfer to a covered jar or container with a lid. Refrigerate 12 – 24 hours.

The next day, place the ice cream mixture in the freezer bowl of an ice cream freezer. Freeze until it is creamy. If needed transfer ice cream to a freezer container and leave to freeze for a couple of hours until firm.

Makes a little less than a quart.

Salted Caramel Sauce

1 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup water

2 tablespoons light corn syrup

1/2 teaspoon instant coffee

1 teaspoon hot water

1 cup heavy cream

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 – 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt (I keep the salt on the light side so I can sprinkle more on top, but feel free to add more to taste if you like)

Place the sugar, water and corn syrup in a medium size heavy weight sauce pan set over medium high heat. Stir occasionally and bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat to medium. At this point stop stirring and just let the mixture boil using a wet pastry brush to brush down any crystals that accumulate around the edge of the pan. Cook until mixture is a medium brown.

In a small bowl, combine the instant coffee with the hot water; stir well and set aside.

Remove the sugar mixture from the heat and slowly whisk in the cream, butter and salt (do this step carefully as the sugar mixture will bubble up). Whisk until everything is completely combined.  Add the coffee; stir well.  Serve while warm or at room temperature.

Makes approximately 2 cups.

I love sprinkling a little Murray River Salt over the top, but Kosher salt will work too.