Summer arrived rather abruptly this year when Randy and I drove from our Breckenridge, Colorado home to Dallas a couple of weeks ago. It was 27 degrees with patches of snow still on the ground at 5:45 am as we left Breckenridge. By the time we reached the Texas Panhandle, our car thermometer registered 105 degrees, and still a warm 88 degrees that night when we pulled into Dallas. We went from jackets and gloves to shorts and bathing suits in one day.
One of the advantages of being in warmer weather is the ease of gathering friends together for a casual night of grilling, and that’s what Randy and I did over the weekend. We had invited our good friends Susan and Mark – next door neighbors for 25 years until we sold our Dallas house and moved into a nearby condo last fall – to join us for a relaxed dinner-from-the-grill.
The weather was perfect down by the pool where the grills are located – warm, with a refreshing breeze as we sat in the shade. The four of us sipped margaritas while Randy grilled beef skirt steak and chicken breasts I had pounded and seasoned with a dry rub, plus a metal basket brimming with a colorful mixture of sliced sweet onions, red, yellow, and orange bell peppers, and slivers of jalapeno.
Upstairs, the table was set with a pale yellow cloth, hot pink chargers, colorful striped napkins, two large candles and multiple votives so we could enjoy candlelight at different levels, and a beautiful floral ice bucket our friends had given us as a Christmas gift – the inspiration for my tablescape and now filled with fragrant tea roses. Flour tortillas were heating in the oven, fresh pico de gallo and all the fixin’s for a black bean salad waited in the fridge, as did a bowl of sliced mango and berries to garnish my homemade pound cake, and the kitchen island was ready for duty as a serving area, complete with sticky notes I commonly use as little cheat sheets so I can pre-plan the serving vessels and ensure I don’t forget something on the menu.
We arrived back from the grill and spent a few minutes assembling the black bean and guacamole salads, slicing the meat, topping off our margarita glasses, and filling our plates. As we settled into our chairs, the sun was beginning to set outside the dining room window – proof that timing is everything!
In New Orleans, they’ve been celebrating Mardi Gras with parades and festivals for weeks, but while I’m not quite that zealous – wasn’t it just Valentine’s Day a couple of weeks ago? – I DO have my table set. My table features layers of gorgeous, traditional Mardi Gras colors – emerald green, royal purple, and shiny gold – achieved through the use of fabrics, accessories, glassware, and beads.
A white, cutwork linen tablecloth sets a somewhat sedate foundation, but that’s where the classic style ends. I swirled yards of satiny, deep-purple fabric in the center of the table to provide texture, height, and an instant focal point, and topped it with tall candlesticks and hefty, violet pillar candles. Next, I interwove a brilliantly-hued length of shiny Mardi Gras garland, available in most party stores, over the swirls of purple fabric and among the candlesticks to add sparkle and set the theme for my tablescape. I draped multiple strands of purple, green and gold beads over the fabric, allowing some to tumble onto the white tablecloth for added contrast, and as encouragement for our guests to place them around their necks.
A set of amethyst champagne flutes, given to me by a dear friend, repeat the color theme while guiding the eye upward, adding an additional vertical dimension to this festive tablescape. An easy, inexpensive accent - purple cotton napkins - repeat the celebratory theme, while plates and glassware edged in gold add a bit of glam to my Mardi Gras celebration.
For a step-by-step overview of how I created this Mardi Gras table setting, please check out my newly-launched YouTube video series, Christy Rost Cooks: Celebrating Life & Home. http://www.youtube.com/user/ChristyRostCooks.
Downton Abbey's season four finale will be broadcast this Sunday, February 23rd, and millions will tune in to their local PBS stations to watch the drama unfold. This highly anticipated episode of the historic drama beloved by a record-setting modern-day television audience culminates the season with Cousin Rose's debutante ball. Stunning elegance and noble tradition are in store - with elaborate period gowns, flowers, food, and dancing - as all of the Crawley family's and household's endearing members navigate their various experiences in love and life.
Will Lady Mary leave both suitors with broken hearts? Will Lady Edith quietly leave for Switzerland with her Aunt Rosamund to await the birth of her love child? What exciting elements of surprise await as the American members of the family come to visit?
One thing is certain: a portion of the Crawley family's interaction will take place around a beautifully-appointed dining table, just as it does each week.
Photo credit: ITV, Carnival Films
To heighten the enjoyment as devoted viewers gather for this weekend's season finale, Downton Abbey fans can surround themselves in early-20th-Century elegance by hosting a Downton Abbey Watching Party Dinner. Here’s a little inspiration for a sumptuous and historically-accurate menu to make this Sunday evening's Downton Abbey watching even more flavorful and in-the-moment, plus ideas for creating a special early-20th table setting to completely infuse the gathering with the artistic and design details of this elegant era. Mrs. Pattmore the cook and Mr. Carson the butler would certainly be proud of this Downton Abbey Watching Party!
Downton Abbey Season Four Watching Party Menu
Photo credit: jedecouvrelafrance.com
Gougères - Light and airy, savory Gruyere cheese puffs make the perfect appetizer or accompaniment to a soup course. The cheese is stirred into classic choux pastry just before the pastry is piped onto parchment paper and baked.
Note: Gougères are the light and airy French cheese puffs that Downton Abbey character Alfred baked as he prepared for his entry to culinary school in London.
English Trifle - For ease of serving and maximum visual impact, serve this very-British dessert in graceful champagne coupes. Cubes of sponge cake or lady fingers, usually splashed with sherry or Grand Marnier, are layered in the coupes with fresh berries, vanilla custard, and whipped cream; then garnished just before serving with a swirl of whipped cream and grated dark chocolate.
Beef Tenderloin - from my latest book Celebrating Home
Few entrées compare, much less surpass the opulence of a fillet of beef tenderloin. Its melt-in-your-mouth tenderness, flavor, and elegance on the plate can transform any gathering into a signature event.
|1||3-pound fillet of beef tenderloin|
|1||tablespoon olive oil|
|1||teaspoon smoked sea salt flakes|
|Freshly ground pepper mélange|
|1/4||teaspoon Kosher salt|
|3||large cloves garlic, peeled and minced|
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Tie the roast with string so it roasts evenly. Place it in a roasting pan, brush with olive oil, and season the meat with smoked sea salt, pepper mélange, and kosher salt. Sprinkle the top of the meat with minced garlic and roast it in the oven 40 minutes or until a meat thermometer shows 140 degrees for rare and 160 degrees for medium rare.
Remove the meat from the oven, cover it lightly with foil, and set it aside 10 minutes to rest. Carve the meat and serve with pan juices.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
The Essence of Elegance at the Downton Abbey Table
An exquisite presentation of an early 20th-Century table setting with Downton Abbey style:
Late-19th century and early-20th century china and silver.
My mother's delicate, etched wedding crystal from 1949, reminiscent of the Victorian era.
My grandmother's floral china, Haviland 25th Anniversary cream soup cup and saucer, and silver from the 1880s to 1920s found in antique stores.
Antique damask napkin, contemporary cutwork tablecloth reminiscent of the Downton Abbey era.
Here’s to Downton Abbey and another opportunity to gather around the table!
The sweetest day of the year is Friday, February 14th – Valentine's Day. This year, I'm "going pink", from my table setting to a heart-shaped cake frosted in soft-pink, cream cheese buttercream with white accents. This simple, yellow two-layer cake is the perfect finale to a romantic dinner for two, a family Valentine celebration, or an intimate gathering of friends.
This year’s tablescape is based on “treasures” I’ve found in antique stores and house sales, and heirlooms passed down through our family. The table setting started with a length of inexpensive pink cotton fabric purchased several years ago, then draped with a very sheer, white-on-white tablecloth that adds caché to the table and allows the pink to show through. Large, white beaded placemats from a Breckenridge estate sale anchor each place setting, and oversized, square, embossed ironstone plates I discovered in Fredericksburg, Texas substitute beautifully for chargers. On the chargers, I layered gold-rimmed, white china dinner plates given to me by my mother, and antique, gold-rimmed Limoges salad plates that I found in one of my favorite Denver antique stores, featuring a delicate pink floral pattern and an exquisite scalloped edge.
Elegant, Waterford crystal champagne flutes in royal amethyst, my birthstone – a gift from a dear friend – look especially glamorous on this pink table when paired with simple wine glasses and delicate, etched Fostoria crystal sherry glasses that had been part of my mother’s wedding crystal.
A mixture of intricate, antique silverplate flatware from the 1880’s and 1890’s beautifully complements my grandmother’s silver salad forks. Since my husband Randy and I purchased Swan’s Nest, our Breckenridge, Colorado home built in 1898, I’m always on the hunt for silver flatware from the late- 19th and early-20th century – pieces that very well could have been used during the many elaborate gatherings hosted in our home by the gold baron who built Swan’s Nest as a wedding gift for his bride. How romantic is that!
Whether you’re dining a deux in front of the hearth, or celebrating Valentine’s Day family-style, selecting a color theme and thoughtfully creating a table setting with your own found treasures adds enjoyment and significance to this very special day. For added sweetness, serve my Pretty-In-Pink Valentine Cake.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Pretty-In-Pink Valentine Cake
At high altitude, add 1 extra teaspoon of vanilla and bake the cake on the middle rack. The addition of a small amount of all-purpose flour will help stabilize the cake batter as it bakes.
|3/4||cup unsalted butter, softened|
|1 1/4||cups sugar|
|2 1/4||cups sifted cake flour|
|1/4||cup all-purpose flour|
|1||teaspoon baking powder|
|1/8||teaspoon cream of tartar|
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In the large bowl of an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 8 minutes. Add egg yolks, beat well, and stir in the vanilla.
In a large bowl, stir together cake flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, and salt. Gradually beat the flour mixture, alternately with the milk, into the creamed mixture to create a thick batter.
In a medium bowl, whip the egg white with an electric mixer until it foams, add the cream of tartar, and whip until soft peaks form. Gently fold the egg white into the cake batter until it is well blended.
Grease two 9-inch heart-shaped cake pans and line them with parchment paper. Spoon the batter into the pans and bake 22 – 25 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean when inserted into the middle. Cool the cakes on a wire rack 20 minutes, remove them from the pans, and cool them completely. Frost with pink Cream Cheese Buttercream.
|1/2||cup unsalted butter, softened|
|2||ounces cream cheese, softened|
|8||cups sifted confectioners’ sugar|
|1/3||cup plus 2 tablespoons milk|
|1 1/2||teaspoons vanilla|
|2||drops pink food coloring|
In the large bowl of an electric mixer, cream butter and cream cheese. Gradually add confectioners’ sugar, alternately with the milk, beating until the frosting is thick and fluffy. Stir in the vanilla. Reserve 1 cup frosting for garnish, and stir pink food coloring into the remaining frosting. Frost the cake in pink and decorate with the reserved white frosting.
To make the Valentine in the center of the cake, lightly press a heart-shaped cookie cutter into the center, pipe tiny stars around the edge of the imprint, then fill in with additional stars. Using a piping bag fitted with a small, plain tip, top each tiny star with a dab of pink frosting.
This year’s Super Bowl game promises to be one of the best in years. The Denver-area hype in support of the Broncos has been nothing short of amazing, and I have high hopes for my adopted home team. My husband Randy and I will be watching the game with a large group of friends in the comfort of a neighbor’s media room, and I have no doubt the game day buffet will be overflowing with hearty fare and tasty snacks brought by guests.
I’m taking a large pot of Beef Burgundy for the hungry ones. I have to make and photograph the recipe today for a Summit Daily News article that will be published in the next week or two, so it only makes sense that I “share the wealth” and bring this hearty French stew to the game.
But, I wanted to share with you one of my favorite Super Bowl recipes – Grilled Smothered Flank Steak Sandwiches. This easy-to-make, game-day sandwich is packed with zesty flavor, thanks to a spicy dry rub I massage into the meat before grilling, then topped with sweet caramelized onions and a tangy lime-cilantro dressing. Serve these sandwiches with a steaming pot of your favorite beans, a crisp green salad, and chips with guacamole and salsa. Then gather in front of the television and cheer for your favorite team. Go Broncos!
Grilled Smothered Flank Steak Sandwiches
|2-3||large sweet onions, peeled and sliced|
|1||tablespoon olive oil|
|2||pounds beef flank steak, trimmed|
|2||teaspoons kosher salt|
|1 1/2||teaspoons cumin|
|3/4||teaspoon garlic powder|
|3/4||teaspoon onion powder|
|1/2||teaspoon cayenne pepper|
|1/2||teaspoon coriander seed, crushed|
|1/4||teaspoon freshly ground black pepper|
|Juice of 1 lime|
|1||package hoagie rolls|
Preheat the outdoor grill. Preheat a large skillet over medium heat, add olive oil, and sauté the onions, stirring occasionally, until they are caramel-colored, about 20 minutes. Remove them from the heat and keep them warm. Whisk together the lime-cilantro dressing (recipe below) and set it aside.
In a small bowl, stir together the salt, cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne pepper, coriander, and black pepper. Rub the mixture over both sides of the meat and grill it to your desired degree of doneness. When it is done, transfer it to a cutting board and squeeze lime juice over the meat. Carve the meat thinly at an angle.
To serve, split the rolls in half lengthwise and spoon lime-cilantro dressing into the roll. Top with slices of flank steak and caramelized onions.
|2 1/2||tablespoons freshly-squeezed lime juice|
|1 1/4||teaspoons Dijon mustard|
|Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste|
|1/2||cup canola oil|
|2||tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped|
Whisk the lime juice, mustard, sugar, salt, pepper, canola oil, and cilantro together in a small bowl until the dressing is well blended.