Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Having babies around certainly added a new dimension to our happy crew. Good friends can always go with the flow though, and Chloe and Payton were passed around, coddled, fed and changed by every single one of us at some point throughout the night. As the 7 of us (Joe couldn't come) took turns on baby duty, I couldn't help but notice the truth behind the saying, "It takes a village to raise a child." Holy handful. It would be a lot easier if Chloe and Payton had five "moms" instead of one and they all lived in one giant hut.
Erin and hubby, Grant, had anticipated the chaos, though, and as former servers at the esteemed Boar's Head Inn in Charlottesville, they broke out some old tricks to make dinner easier. The day before Erin had plated the tossed salad and wrapped each individual plate in saran wrap so it was ready to pull out and serve at meal time. She'd also pre-made a delicious Apple Balsamic Vinaigrette, which was the perfect winter dressing.
Grant prepared two types of creamy risotto - one with shrimp and one with sausage. He garnished each risotto with vegetables julienne to add simple color.
Dessert was peppermint sundaes served in Christmas mugs and topped with crushed candy canes and homemade glazed sugar cookies! Charming presentation, and a delicious, festive taste.
Kudos to the McElwains for pulling off a wonderful dinner and night of friendship while juggling baby Chloe. If I'm ever in their shoes, I can only hope to be as graceful!
I'd been to the Hotel many times since it's close to Virginia Tech. We spent the day walking around Roanoke's downtown square, and grabbed lunch at Trio Bistro Bar Bottle off the main square. We sat in the bar, which was bright and airy with floor-to-ceiling windows on two walls. Trio had several dishes with fried green tomatoes! Ah! A fried green tomato BLT, Caribbean spiced green tomato soup, and fried green tomatoes as appetizers. Yep, I was officially back in the South. And loving it.
Back at the Hotel, we took a bunch of family pictures in front of the massive Christmas tree before we were seated for dinner. My brother, sister and I had given our parents a night's stay at the Hotel the night before, so they'd already staked out the good photo opps.
The Regency Room did not disappoint. For Christmas Eve, the chefs had prepared a gourmet buffet that was truly a feast for the eyes. Our family shared a bottle of wine and must have done at least three toasts over the course of our meal. The most famous dish, though, is the Hotel Roanoke's signature Virginia Peanut Soup. For those who've never had Peanut Soup, it is truly a Southern dish and is best made from Virginia peanuts. It tastes like pureed peanut butter. It's kind of a rite of passage for Virginia guests and hosts.
A pianist entertained us throughout the evening before we rolled ourselves out of the Hotel for the two-hour drive home. It was a beautiful afternoon and evening in celebration of our wonderful parents! Here's to another 30, mom and dad!
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Finally, December came, and I left my agriculture rotation and moved into Home Ec. Woo hoo! And wouldn't you know it, the week we were supposed to bake Monkey Bread, we got the biggest snow storm in five years and missed an entire week of school. We never got that time back in Home Ec, and my shot at a batch of Monkey Bread of my very own was lost.
Until this Christmas! My mom, never forgetting my disappointment and subsequent longing for Monkey Bread, bought me a Monkey Bread baking mold so I could make my own. I tackled it tonight.
Please note, the baking mold came with two recipes: one for the "Working Woman", which was meant to be quicker and simpler, and the "Gourmet Chef's" recipe. I had all the ingredients for the latter, so I thought I was up to the challenge.
Well. After four hours of mixing, rising, kneading, rising, rolling, rising, and finally baking, I finally got to taste my very own Monkey Bread. While my final product looks nothing like the delectable photo on the box, it does taste good. Simply put, Monkey Bread is sweetened bread dough rolled into 1/2 inch balls, stacked and caramelized with brown sugar, cinnamon and chopped pecans. You cook the stacked dough balls in a sort of bundt cake pan, so it should form a tower that you can invert onto a plate when it's done baking. Mine just fell apart when I tipped the mold upside down to dump out the dough.
Next time I'll use the "Working Woman's" recipe, which calls for refrigerated biscuits instead of made-from-scratch dough and should save me about three hours. But today, with nothing but a collection of Gregory Peck classics and the smell of 6th grade memories, I owed it to my 11-year old self to start at the beginning.
Working Woman's Recipe (from Tumbleweed Pottery):
- 4 cans of 8 buttermilk refrigerated biscuits
- 1.5 cups light brown sugar
- 1.5 sticks butter, melted
- 1.5 tsp cinnamon
- 3/4 cup pecans, chopped
On low heat mix butter, brown sugar, cinnamon and nuts together until sugar is dissolved. Spray Monkey Bread Pan (or 9-inch tube cake pan) with non-stick cooking spray. Quarter biscuits and dip in sugar mixture until well coated. Place biscuits in pan and pour remaining sugar mixture over biscuits. Place in cold oven and turn to 350 degrees. Bake 45 minutes. After removing from oven, carefully release edges and center with a knife. Invert onto a serving platter and serve warm.
Along with a beautiful vintage pearl and diamond ring that has nothing to do with food (incredible!), Joe furthered my culinary promise with a subscription to Wine Spectator, and the 75th anniversary edition of "The Joy of Cooking", which he deems the true marker of any respectable cook. Guess that means he thinks I've got potential ;) I can't wait to get to know sweet cicely, irish moss, epazote, and more!
Since I had the whole day to myself, I decided to try out all my new gadgets without anyone around. Hand mixer - can I just say, what an upgrade. I treated myself to an after dinner coffee from my personal French press, which was as charming as I'd hoped it would be.
I currently am on the third and final rising stage of the Monkey Bread, but I'll do a separate post on that. There's a gourmet cooking store in Charlottesville that I like called The Happy Cook, and that's exactly how I feel! Cheers to cooking and wining in 2009!
Friday, December 19, 2008
Long story short, our attendance was more "compact", shall we say, than last year, but we love all our wonderful friends who remained flexible in their schedules and were able to attend. Mostly, we have a holiday part to show off our tree, courtesty of Whole Foods. How yuppie white-bread is that? Yikers. But it's easy to get to downtown.
This year Joe made a carrot and strawberry tart, topped with goat cheese and plum chutney. I made turnip fries (which I'm always struggling to perfect), assorted cheeses and olives, prosciutto and cantaloupe, french bread and olives, and endless rounds of champagne. As if that's a surprise.
It was an intimate group, but Joe and I always love to entertain our dearest friends and show them a good time. We thank all for coming, and since Joe is passed out on the sofa (post call and too much champagne), I'll thank all our guests for making our holiday special once again. Happy holidays to all from #105!