Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Dad’s Granola

My Dad’s birthday is this week, and each year I ask him what he would like for his special day.  It’s usually something favorite to eat, sometimes a coconut cake, sometimes a huge pot of cherry preserves reserved for his consumption, and I always take him to the nail salon for a mani-pedi sometime this week.  Today out of the blue he told me he wants coconut granola for his birthday, and so late this afternoon I got busy making up a batch.  We are not going to have a big birthday party, at his request, so I’m thinking of making up a special breakfast tray for him.

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I’ll use the new yellow linen napkin I love, and a Chinoisserie tray.  This looks like the start to a nice breakfast; I think I’ll add add a glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice to this~

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This is a nice little personal tray; no sharing, with a little pot à lait for one~

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This little one holds just enough for a bowl of granola;


and though Dad may not appreciate the detail on the pot, I do; and now that the price of silver has dropped again, I think it’s time to look for a few more of these~


So back to the granola, this is the recipe that he especially loves; I don’t put any dried fruit in it because he prefers fresh: blueberries and strawberries are the current favorites in our house~


I make a batch every two weeks, or more often, if Mom starts to snack on it.  If you have never made your own granola, you should give it a try.  I love being able to adjust the flavors and ingredients, and I love to know exactly what I am eating.  Well, I don’t actually eat much granola, but I make a lot of it….so I’ll say it’s nice to know what your family is eating….


I buy the main ingredients in bulk: organic rolled oats, raw wheat germ, sliced raw almonds and whole flax seed.  The coconut is sweetened and shredded.  I know a lot of people don’t like coconut, so you can omit that; my family loves it, so it goes in every batch.


You can decide if you want to sweeten your granola or not; I use raw agave, and it’s just about time to buy some more from Akram at Thyme of Essence, who sells them in fancy bottles; this is the best agave I have ever tasted, and I love the color in the St. Germain bottle on my counter~


Some oil is used in each batch.  This time I am using about two tablespoons of vegetable oil, but mostly blood orange olive oil (from the Corona del Mar farmers market); orange is a great compliment to the coconut.  I also use wildflower honey from Jonas Farms, my favorite honey of late.


The recipe is really very simple:

three cups of rolled oats (buy organic if you can)

one cup each of almonds, coconut, wheat germ and flax seed. 

Stir to blend. 

Combine 1/4 cup of oil of your choice, and 1/4 cup honey or agave; I stir these over light heat, then add the oil and honey mix to the dry ingredients and stir to combine.  You should mix the oil in as evenly as you can; during the baking mine clumps up a little more.

Spread the mixture out on a cookie sheet, with a silpat or foil beneath.  Going in the oven it will look like this~


Bake at 200 degrees for 1 1/2 hours or until brown; using a spoon, mix the granola around every 20 minutes so that it cooks evenly; if the granola starts to brown before 90 minutes, remove it from the oven.  I find that the cooking times vary depending on ingredients and oil & honey.  I like it lightly toasted, like this:


Let cool, and store in an airtight container. 


This batch turned out great, and as for my Mom (who loves granola with Greek yogurt for breakfast) and the dogs (who beg for granola) it will be hands off this batch…reserved for Dad.  He gave me one clarification though this evening; the granola is not to eat on the day of his birthday, can he have Eggs Benedict, please, on that morning?  Sure, Daddy, anything you want for your birthday breakfast… 

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Huile de Provence & Tarragon Vinegar

In summer, I am constantly using olive oil and vinegars, often in salads or with fish, and frequently over fresh cheeses like the goat and ricotta I showed you recently.  I mentioned a quick drizzle of olive oil on top of several plates….. I can highly recommend using an olive oil which has been infused by you, as a conversation starter as well as an excellent taste at your table.  For a base, I use a lot of Akram’s cold pressed Arbequina oil, but I also use the premium Trader Joe’s olive oil, the one that has the pour spout with it.  I have tried their other brand, and it doesn’t have the flavor I want, but this one is great, especially for $8~


Infused with fresh or dried herbs, olive oil in summer takes on a different taste.  As for herbs, you will find dried blends of herbes de Provence all over France, and in the U.S.  It’s a rather generic name now, for any blend of herbs that are typical of Provence: usually a blend of thyme, savory, oregano, rosemary and other herbs.  In France you will find various blends; in Paris I found a blend with fennel and lavender (for fish) and another “classic” blend.


But if you live in a warm climate where you can grow your own herbs, you can make your own fresh herbes de Provence blends.  Next time you grill a fish or meats, try a little herb on the grill; I often throw generous branches of fresh rosemary into the barbeque or put the fresh branches under fish on the grill.  Today though, I want to show you how to put this great summer flavor into olive oil, and a certain vinegar.  Let’s start with the olive oil: a Provencal style olive oil that you can use to finish fish or grilled vegetables, and also as an amazing dipping sauce for breads.  Here is my mis en scene~


I bought fresh winter Savory for $1 at the Corona del Mar farmers market; summer savory has a lighter flavor, but buy what you can and use slightly less winter Savory if you find it.  Rub the leaves between you fingers and you will smell the fragrance of this often overlooked herb. 

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Savory is said to be medicinal, and perhaps heal respiratory ailments.  I’m sure it can’t hurt you.  It smells wonderful.  In France this is called Sarriette.


I also set out fresh thyme, rosemary and three sprigs of lavender from the garden, as well as a lemon from our tree.  A few fresh chilis and pink peppercorns rounded out this batch.  You can vary the mix of herbs, and you can also use dried herbs, but for gifting infused oil, the fresh herbs are best.  Wash the herbs and let them dry. 

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The fresh peppercorns from the Savory Spice Store give the finished oil a little bite and a dash of color in the bottle~


And I add a little bit of lemon zest, for the antiseptic properties of the lemon as well as the lemon tang I love~


I used the Provencal wine bottle from Trader Joe’s I showed you a few weeks ago; make sure the bottle is clean (sterilize it in boiling water) stuff the herbs into the bottle, and top off with the olive oil.


Depending on how you layer your herbs, the bottle will look something like this; pretty~

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You could omit the chilis, and use black peppercorns; use what you have and what you love~

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Let this mix sit for about two weeks, up to a month or more, in a dark place away from direct sunshine.  You can filter this and put in a new bottle with fresh herbs if you want to gift the finished oils.


But what is olive oil without a good vinegar?  Each summer for 20 years I have made this bottle of tarragon vinegar; I love it.  If you don’t grow tarragon, which I find rather tender and I have never had luck growing, use a package of organic tarragon from the market for about $3.  Wash it and be  sure it is completely dry.  As for the vinegar, I am free-styling it today, with a mix of Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar, Akram’s Champagne Vinegar, and household vinegar.  Most recipes will tell you to not use household white vinegar, but I use it if I have a base of other good vinegars; otherwise use White Wine Vinegar.  But to fill a bottle with white wine vinegar can be expensive, so I like a blend of what I have on hand.

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You can bruise the leaves a little, and some recipes call for heating the vinegar.  I find the leaves get bruised enough just putting them in the bottle, and I pour the cold vinegar on top~


Today I added just a few pink peppercorns for contrast, and a zest of lemon.  Again, for the antiseptic qualities as well as the color~


Cork the bottle and set aside.


One day later, I smell the amazing aroma of tarragon.  This will go into sauce Bearnaise as well as summer salads~


If you gift this, look for old pour spouts like these, with a cork~


I promise you that gifting a pair of these bottles is  a sure hit with any summer hostess~


Mine would go in the French caddy~


tie a sprig or three of lavender on to these, or maybe a sunflower; you are in the summer mood straightaway.  This would also look nice at a picnic or set on a lunch table, with the pour spouts so diners could pour their own oil & vinegar~


You can strain the oil or the vinegar, and add more fresh.  I love this~~~


Buy two-bottle carriers whenever you can~



Set these up if you can in the next few weeks to enjoy the peak of summer flavor.  Once the oil and vinegar are infused, you can strain the fresh herbs and use these until they run out.


Enjoy, and let me know how you like these~

Friday, July 12, 2013

Cocktail Napkins

There is one entertaining item which is often overlooked, and that is the humble cocktail napkin.  No matter what season, we are constantly using napkins under every kind of beverage: hot, cold, wine or mixed cocktail, non-alcoholic or simple spritzers or flavored waters.  These little napkins do double duty when there is any kind of finger food; it’s a simple way to eat a few bites of an appetizer; even when there are plates and forks, I always set out little napkins.  For a large party with tray-passed foods, you can go through hundreds of napkins.  They contain condensation, manage spills and drips, keep hands clean, present rings on wood tables and prevent the dreaded sound of glass-on-glass contact.  That’s one of my peeves, I hate to hear glasses touch glass tables. So mine are covered, and at a minimum, there are plenty of cocktail napkins. 

It nice to know that there are so many options for little napkins; the easy answer is paper; you can buy them in solid colors, stripes or dozens of styles at the party stores.  In paper they are a great way to extend your theme at an affordable price.  I pick them up wherever I can on my travels; I have Eiffel Tower napkins from Paris on reserve for the Reve launch this summer (yes, still in production), and Swiss napkins from the last stopover in Geneva, as well as chickens, stars & stripes, and solids, in a stack in our bar.  I have had orange ones, pink ones, florals, Chinoisserie and toiles.  Many of these come from the line called Ideal Home Range; you will see this line sold all over, including many fancy grocery stores.  We use a lot of these and they also make great gifts.

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I leave stacks of them around the drinks areas, and like to double them up;  I find that guests often pull one for wiping their hands and the other stays under the glass.  I like to coordinate colors and textures; we had pink Chinoiserie toile with a coordinating pink and green floral for Mother’s Day, and now, chickens and black & white stripe~

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I have been really happy to see the resurgence of cloth cocktail napkins.  When I lived in Paris, the family that lived below had dozens of crystal glasses in the same pattern in different forms, as well as several hundred matching white scalloped-edged cocktail napkins, all of which were used on a regular basis for les cocktails; if you had a cocktail party in Paris, you had cloth napkins; I went to many, and no one ever had paper napkins.  When I left Paris, I came home with 100 of these same white cotton scallop edge cocktail napkins, just like my friend Karen had, the ones we used all the time.  It was tough to track them down, but 100 was modest for a party of 30,I figured.  I still use these, 20 years later.  My family thought they were fussy at first, and hesitated to use them, but now they use them without a thought, and they have always cleaned up fine, through lipstick, fruit juices and sauces.

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I have linens stashed away now that I need to sell for my friend L.  She and her Mother of the Bellodgia fame and with the best taste, bought these in Belgium long ago. These cocktail napkins are finished with the finest Belgian lace and still have their original stickers~

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No one makes lace like this today; this set is ivory, and the needlework is amazing, not to mention the original price~

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There are many online sources for cloth cocktail napkins, but I often prefer to see before I buy.  Today I went to Crate and Barrel to see some of the samples they had online.  You can see their range of napkins HERE.   As soon as I walked in the door to the store though, I picked up one of these: a linen napkin in Mustard, which I swear matches the one I have in Beaune that is also linen, the last one a store in Beaune had in stock 5 years ago.  I have hunted for this napkin in this shade for five years!  I brought it home, but will go back to buy more right away.  This is the yellow that looks amazing with the Napoleon III chinoisserie that we have in Beaune.  If you have seen our living room in the Romantic Homes Christmas shoot you also know I love this color of yellow; it’s a very happy and clear yellow. AND it goes great with sterling and vermeil~


it looks great on a tea service, with silver and white and the amber of sugar stirs~

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I’d like to see these napkins tied with navy, but in summer, golden yellow and hot pink is one of my favorite combinations~

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And I will be hosting Dad’s 82nd Birthday party next week, so I think I will use the yellow napkins and the French curtain rings.  I love this look; very pretty yet still casual and fine for a man’s birthday.  These napkins are not on the website, but they come in various colors in the store.  If you love turquoise blue, go see these.  They are 21” square, 100% linen, made in India, fine quality and with mitred corners.  They look like what I would buy in France, but for $7 each. Compare to Matteo or Libeco at $24 and this is a great deal.  Can not go wrong with linen napkins.


So back to the cocktail napkins, I was thinking of a lighter grey, but the only ones in linen are this color, which is called Brindle.  I have used the French cotton napkins you find all over France for many years and still have many of them, but the cotton tends to stain.  None of my linen napkins ever stain, ever.  I was tempted by the beautiful ocean blue and a lime green, but this color goes with everything, and I thought, if I were in France which one would I buy.  This one, definitely.  I would be able to use these with all white flowers, as well as deep amethyst shades, lavender, yellow or pink.  They will go with everything else I have.

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I particularly love how they are set off by white, and pinks.

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I can see us using these for tea or breakfast too; they also have the nice mitered corners and so well sewn~

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they really go neutral when I put other pieces with them.

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If cloth beverage or cocktail napkins were ever “out of style,” I’d say they are definitely in style now, and affordable.  There are some that are coaster size, like 6” square.  I like this size, which is 10” square, the same size as the paper napkins I buy, the same size as the unfolded Paris napkin here, and the same size as the Crate & Barrel napkin, here folded up~


There are lots of great monogrammed cocktail napkins online; Tina from The Enchanted Home blog showed a great source HERE this week.  I tend to buy white or neutral, since my family is really pretty messy at meals and I can successfully launder shades of white and neutral.  I can think of plenty of friends who would love the monogrammed ones, and who would be able to keep them clean, but that’s probably not for me.


And as an extra bonus, these cocktail napkins happen to pair beautifully with the Italian linen napkins that my friend L gave me to sell or find a home for…um, I am pretty sure that home will be here….


I am not sure I can allow my family to eat on this magnificent Italian table cloth.  Maybe we will use it for coffee one day.


Maybe I will just take some photos and put them back away….I love the contrast of the Brindle napkins with the taupe trim of the Italian ones….ahhhh…


Do you use cocktail or beverage napkins in paper or cloth?  If not, would you consider them?  Personally they are something I can’t live without, even when we have a Sunday meal outside.  I’m loving these yellow and taupe ones, now it’s just a question of how many I should buy.  I always have to buy a few extra since every now and then the party gets going and a napkin lights on fire or something.  You’ll see them in the next few weeks in action here.  Have a wonderful weekend~