Thursday, October 30, 2008

Moist Meatballs, Tender Meatballs

Often, meatballs tend to be dry, heavy and flavorless. I always figured why bother. But I also know that there are a lot of bad ways to cook good things, so perhaps there are great meatballs too. A couple years ago I had some wonderful ones my parents had made for the holidays. Proof enough. My goal this week was to create your everyday meatball with ground beef, nothing too fancy, just ones that would work well with almost any sauce.

Finding 'the' recipe can be interesting and exhausting with stacks of cookbooks and recipe cards scattered on the counter and the computer close to the spinning beach ball stage. In 'The Best Recipe' book by Cook's Illustrated I finally found an answer that worked and made sense.

I love cookbooks that explain 'why'. Cooks Illustrated says that most meatballs are too dense and heavy, hey that is what I said. Meat balls are not round hamburgers. They need to be cooked thoroughly and they require additional ingredients to keep them moist and to lighten their texture and binders to keep them from falling apart. Cooks Illustrated tested with eggs, dried bread crumbs, fresh bread crumbs, ground crackers, bread soaked in milk, eggs, egg yolks, thinned yogurt, buttermilk, beef, veal and pork. They tested with roasting, broiling and pan-frying.

The results were as such: ground chuck has more fat and tends to work better, and 3/4 ground chuck with 1/4 ground pork adds more flavor. Egg yolks have fat and emulsifiers for smoothness. Buttermilk was the choice for creaminess, flavor and ease. Pan frying was preferred because it created meatballs with a rich dark crust and moist texture. So here we go with what worked for me...

cooks illustrated & amber)
Makes 20-28

2 slices white bread crumbs
1/2 c buttermilk
2 egg yolks
1/4 c fresh grated parmesan
1 t minced fresh garlic
2 T minced fresh parsley
3/4 t salt
Fresh ground black pepper
3/4 lb ground chuck
1/4 lb ground pork

1 1/4 c vegetable oil, for frying

Combine breadcrumbs with buttermilk.
Add egg yolks.
Add parmesan, garlic, parsley, salt and pepper.

Add ground meats and mix fairly well.

Using a light touch and a dinner spoon, shape full spoonfuls of meat mixture into 1 1/2" round balls. If you compact them they become dense.
Pour oil into 10" or 11" fry pan to a depth of 1/4".
Turn to medium high and test after several minutes for sizzle.
Fry turning several times, until browned on all sides, approximately 10 minutes.

Transfer to paper towel lined plate to drain.
Keep warm in sauce of choice or serve with a dipping sauce.

These are wonderful with a marinara sauce on spaghetti. This time I served them in a BBQ/bourbon sauce with a buttered wild and whole grain brown rice mix, but they would work with most sauces.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Pumpkin Puffs

This is a very nice treat and so simple. They are perfect in the fall, sitting with a book and a cup of tea by a warm fire. Or in the kitchen with hot coffee and a friend in the morning.

I had these at Trader Joe's once when they were featuring their puff pastry, which happens to be one of the better commercially available ones. I shortened the name because 'Pumpkin Butter Cream Cheese Puffs' is just far too long. And I think Pumpkin Puffs is a much cuter name. I just cut them smaller and added nuts.

4 ingredients.
30 minutes.
That is it.


1 sheet puff pastry, thawed
4 oz whipped cream cheese
1/2 jar pumpkin butter, (12.5 oz jar)
1/2 c walnuts, chopped

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

Cover a large cookie sheet with parchment paper.
Cut puff pastry into 4 strips and then 4 strips crosswise, creating 16 squares.
Place squares evenly spaced onto cookie sheet.
Place 1 t cream cheese onto each square.
Cover with 1 T pumpkin butter.
Sprinkle chopped walnuts over.
Bake for 25 minutes
Cool approximately 5 minutes.

Makes 16 small pastries, 4-8 servings

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The End of Tables

Until next year that is.

Look at how absolutely beautiful this mixture of flatware is. Granted they are antique pieces or close to it, but who says you can't mix new pieces of flatware? Or dinnerware? Or glassware? Play.

This china is stunning. The only thing I would suggest here is detail. Pay close attention to placement of the plates. Match lines or don't match them but pay attention. Plan the setting by seeing if there is a top of the plate. Had all the blue detail been matched up or the layers been blue and white opposite each other, then the look would be more finished. These are small details but that is what makes the difference.

These were the cutest cream and sugar set. You can have fun with things like these. I often use unexpected things for this and salt and pepper and for serving. If you click on 'Diner en Blanc' on the right you will see how I presented salt and pepper this year.

Finishing a look with the chair is often easy and just adds that something extra. I draped the napkins over the chair backs like over the arm of a waiter. The table with the camel hung bells and carvings. And the Christmas table made covers of the nutcracker. Even an inexpensive floral pick from a craft store can be bent around a piece of the back. They can also be bent into napkin rings.
Now, the piece de resistance...

A huge, probably 3" tall, vase, totally filled with handmade chocolates as a centerpiece and out of the top of that came these beautiful red roses wrapped with a black bow. Are you kidding me? You would have to pick my tongue up off my lap. I love this woman.

I hope you enjoyed these photos this past week and perhaps found some of the tips helpful. If you didn't take time to read them, go back and do so. There really is a lot of great info. I have learned a lot in the last 10 years working on this event from all the designers and from my own trials and successes. And I am still amazed at what is created every year. Remember if you have questions, leave a comment and I will help however I can. Be creative, think outside the box, paint, glue, sew, mix, match, and color outside the lines.
Back to baking and such tomorrow.

Friday, October 24, 2008

You Got More Tables

Take a moment and notice all the lovely detail in this plate. It doesn't matter if it is your style or not, just learn to appreciate all the leaves and roses and swirls and colors.

In this photo you can see more pieces. Lots and lots of detail. Charger, dinner plate, cup and saucer, bread and butter, napkin ring, and glass. Keep reading, there is an amazing point to this. Now prepare to be humbled.

EVERY item on this table that is any form of glass was HAND PAINTED by the lady who designed this table. Teapot, vase, creamer and sugar. In four different base colors. Wow!

This table was so lovely. It just felt like fall, like dinner at the 'manor', dinner where everyone dressed and spoke of world affairs, dinner that was served by the staff. Everything was formal.

The centerpiece was full and gorgeous but I could not do it justice here and I did try. But this horn, OMG! Beautiful! The silver holder angles this direction in order to put the horn in proper position. It holds gorgeous feathers.
Being me, I am going to assume the horns just fell off some animal who lived a long healthy and happy life out in the wild.

One more day of tables and tips, then it is back to baking and such. I have a great tip for moist meatballs that I will share with you then.

If you haven't seen my table yet and are interested, just click on 'Diner en Blanc' in the links on the right. If you have any questions drop me a comment.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

You Want More Table Ideas?

These are the most lovely wine glasses, the stems are encircled with a fine gold paint. They sort of shimmered. Quite possibly this could be done to inexpensive glasses for an evening with wire, though you may have to use a tiny dab of glue at the ends to hold the wire. Or, gold paint if you have a steady hand, abstract if you don't.
The charger and dishes are not of the same style, period, country, anything except for the gold. But they somehow work. Try different items together, then add something that does tie them together like fabric, flowers, flatware, glasses, just play.
I love this tailored tablecloth. It is like one you would have made for a side table in a living room. So why not in the dining room?
I believe these pieces are all antique. I myself am halfway there. But look at the depth of color in the flatware! And the milky translucent green of the dishes. Gorgeous! A simple napkin and some raffia and it feels like you are at Grandmas.
Ann is the wonderful woman in charge of this event. She is a collector. Of everything I think. Can you guess her theme? Thread? No. Sparkles? No. You'll see.
I absolutely adore the thread cases, almost enough to start sewing.
This year her theme was project runway and she used these lovely drawings. But like the calendar pages, the ideas are limitless. How about your children's drawings when they were little. They would be so excited and proud. Or recipes. Or poetry. Or music.
And look at the napkin fabric and the tape measure used as a napkin ring. Fun, fun, fun.
Remember my tips about clear plates? Here is an example.
These faux candle abras are so fun and glitzy. They could be used other than Halloween. But what could you use that is pretend? Flowers? Jewels? Famous paintings? The list is almost endless. How about glamming up everyday items? Look back at the candle abra I made, the pearls really made a huge difference.
There is something about simplicity. I am only speaking of the dishes and the flatware here. Choose a beautiful curve in dinnerware, sort of like the curve of a womans body. Look for color that is uncommon, has depth, is inspiring. Dinnerware is like art for the table.
This flatware is older I am pretty sure, but the lack of color makes it extremely versatile and yet formal because of the detail in the handle.

There are a few more days of tables and tips.
Until tomorrow...

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

More Tables and Tips

This was probably my favorite plate at the table setting luncheon. It is just so lovely. You don't always need a whole set. Sometimes a mix is more interesting, although I would have used a dinner plate with a color from the salad plate instead of white, but the gold charger works very well.

This might be uncomfortable for some peoples religious beliefs, but for others, just go with me here. These religious pieces are beautiful, perhaps use them for Easter or Christmas. Or anything in your house that is different and you would never consider be placed on a dining table, try everything, be different.

I have no idea what this thing is called and it came from a tent and awning gift shop. I am sure you all frequent those often. It fits the top of a wine bottle and holds two candles and is gorgeous. Sacreligious? Probably. Oh well, just behave extra good. And please cut off the red plastic. I personally loved this.

What a fun way to present breakfast on a Saturday morning cartoon fest. You don't even have to get up. Just set this up the night before and buy small cartons of milk and juice and sleep for another hour. Happy kids, happy you.

Love this flatware. Fun. And probably cheap. Sorry it is hard to see. This table was adorable but very full of stuff, I have no idea where they ate lunch.

This was made using a rub on and then placed on black paper. If you are a stamper, you know what I am talking about. If not, get some help. Not that kind of help. Stamp craft help. These were placed on black branches and were beautiful.

Why not use a statue? Remember, think different. This would be very fun out on a patio table.

More cork ideas. Although I feel the mix is wrong. Instead, use grapes, grape leaves, grape vines, bottle openers, etc.

The placement of this formal dinner utensils is very pretty. Why follow the rules? If you go back to my table post, I broke the rules also and I liked it better. It is sort of like coloring. You have to know how to color in the lines, but you do not have to do it. Live a little.

If you are interested in my table and have not seen it, it posted on 10-17-08 and is titled 'Diner en Blanc'.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Ideas For Tables

There were so many lovely ideas on each table that I wanted to share some of what I felt were the best. So, enjoy...

These are just used corks and from what I could tell, they were hot glued together and then sliced for the place card. These could be used around candle holders or vases. Or cut in half length wise and glued onto something to make a place mat. Or sliced crosswise and in the same manner turned into coasters. Instead of place cards, you could use the persons photo, or any photo. How about a smaller vase of flowers placed inside a larger vase and the corks placed in between the two? Or, or, or...
Made into napkin rings. Use your imagination.

I love the festiveness of these napkins, they truly make the table come alive. Almost any fabric that you love will work, the more wow, the better. And double napkins are really fun.

How about Autumn leaves on small branches? Or Christmas tree pieces. Just make sure they are safe, I am not sure if there is a poison issue or not but an online or garden shop search should have the answers. Watch craft stores for clearance items and you can find great deals to use, but most likely for next year. Silk and dried work great. You could use leaf garlands and create napkin rings.

I saw this flatware at Ross or Big Lots, etc., and thought it was a little tacky, but when I saw it on the table it was nothing but fun. Use them with textured fabric for a natural and rustic look. And just keep you eyes out for inexpensive fun flatware. Flatware is sort of like jewelry as accessories, they can really dress up a table and expensive is not always necessary.

These were chair back covers made out of felt. Wouldn't they make wonderful pillows? The same could be done for any holiday. I think these would be so cute as shams. Or hell, make toaster covers and tea pot cozies. And toilet roll covers. And place mats. The list of fun and tacky goes on.

This would look great on a shelf of under the tree. Excess is sometimes the perfect festive look.

Color, why are people afraid of color? How fun for a birthday party. But there are other things that could be hung on a table cloth. Silk flowers or buttterflies. Cans and bells for a bridal shower sort of like what is tied onto the newlyweds get away car. Ties for fathers day. Feathers. Look around with a very, very open mind and then twist it all up in your head until you smile. We can all be more creative if we are just taught how to think a little differently.

Now, back to simple. I love love love the simple triple fold of this napkin. Clean and elegant.

If you are interested in my table and haven't yet seen it, the post is 10-17-08 and titled 'Diner en Blanc'.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Tables Tables Tables

This was my favorite table this year.
This is why...
How can you go wrong with a photo of cowboys tushies for a place mat? They used calendar pages for this with clear plates. And this was definitely the seat I would have picked to sit at.

Photos don't do justice but this gives you an idea. There were cowboy hat cookie favors, bronze statues, signed team photos, copenhagen, barbed wire (possibly rubber), and a cowhide tablecloth.
The denim jackets and such were on the backs of every seat and I believe the contestant entry number is also the place card for who sits there.

And how cute are these guys? I wish I was 20 again. You could get in a lot of trouble with them and probably not regret a thing. These are the boys they write songs about.

This table was so fun and creative and I always like that the best.

This table is done by my friend Kay and she always does an exquisite table. It is my other favorite.

Her glass plates are from Target and she added a gold camel decal. And her napkin rings were brass bell bracelets which she gave as favors to her guests.
Yes this is a huge metal camel. This is what Kay does. She does "Wow".

The seat cushions were gorgeous.
And the umbrella was so cool. I could just picture having a picnic in the desert with a sheik underneath this.

My table is posted on 10-17-08 and titled 'Diner en Blanc' if you are interested and haven't seen it yet. I have never been concerned about having the best table. Everyone has different taste. My goal is to give my best.