Notes From Swan's Nest

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This 'N That For Summer

I’ve been back and forth between Dallas, Breckenridge, and Freeport, Illinois so far this summer. My allergies can hardly keep up with my whereabouts, much less my family. For now, Randy and I have traded in the pleasant temperatures and pine pollen (aa- choo!) of the mountains for the Texas heat so we can celebrate his mother’s 90th Birthday. A casual take-out pizza dinner with her Wednesday night after our flight, and a strictly spontaneous get-together for coffee, cake, and an hour of “girl talk” yesterday morning are but a small prelude to the weekend family festivities and next week’s all-important Birthday Dinner in our home.

During the past several weeks, I’ve assisted my own Mother in preparing for a major move from Illinois to Texas (she’s now all moved into her “cottage” in The Woodlands); hosted a luncheon and spirits tasting at Swan’s Nest for female whiskey distiller Troy Ball (Troy & Sons, Asheville, NC); created summertime tablescapes for a Vail HOME Magazine photo shoot and article, transformed our 1898 cabin into an autumn dining destination for an interview with Log Home Living magazine (look for the story in their November 2014 issue); cooked on Aspen television’s “The Lift” on Aspen 82; participated as a celebrity chef in the 5th annual Snowmass Culinary Festival (www.gosnowmass.com); interviewed with The Summit Daily News about cool summer salads; attended to final details for my upcoming October 2 – 12, 2014 Mediterranean Culinary Cruise in partnership with Oceania Cruises and Cruising with the Chefs (www.cruisingwiththechefs.com); and spent every spare moment in my Swan’s Nest gardens planting flowers and trying to keep up with the weeds. And in the midst of all this, my computer crashed, so my apologies to those of you who’ve not heard from me recently.

Each year around this time, I fondly recall summer days spent on Cape Cod when I was growing up, and I guess I had visions of those idyllic, lazy days when Randy and I purchased Swans’ Nest seven years ago, but the reality is that summer days are now as busy as the remainder of the year, with one exception. In the evenings, as the sun begins to lower toward the mountain tops, Randy and I share dinner on Swan’s Nest’s veranda – a relaxing, quiet ritual when time slows down and we celebrate our day over a simple, fresh meal. We open a bottle of wine, watch the hummingbirds as they flit from hanging basket to basket filled with bright pink and purple petunias, enjoy the cool evening breezes, and marvel at nature’s colorful light show when puffy white clouds change into pale orange and pink puffs of cotton candy as the sun dips behind the mountain peaks. We linger over dinner and savor the peace of it all until we get chilled and rush inside to get warm. Even then, we sometimes just grab jackets and head back onto the porch – reluctant to allow those peaceful moments to slip away.

This is why I love uncomplicated summer meals that are quick and easy to assemble, feature fresh, seasonal flavors, and have a “picnic feel” to them. Summer is for sitting on the porch, not standing in the kitchen. For that reason, I’m happy to share one of my summer salad recipes with you. I hope you’ll enjoy it on the porch with your family and friends!

-Christy

White Beans, Arugula and Dill with Tarragon Dressing

2 (15-ounce) cans Great Northern beans, rinsed and drained
3 sprigs fresh dill, chopped
1 small bunch fresh arugula, stemmed and chopped
1/2 cup onion, diced
2 tablespoons tarragon vinegar
2 to 3 drops white wine Worcestershire sauce
1 large clove garlic, peeled
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup olive oil

In a large mixing bowl, gently stir together the beans, dill, arugula, and onion. Set aside.

In the bowl of a mini-food processor, combine the tarragon vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, Dijon mustard, salt, and pepper. Process until the mixture is smooth. Add the olive oil and process until the dressing is creamy. Taste and adjust the seasoning, if necessary. Pour the dressing over the beans. Toss well, transfer the salad to a serving bowl, and serve. If desired, cover and chill 2 hours until cold.

Yield: 6 servings

This 'N That For Summer

I’ve been back and forth between Dallas, Breckenridge, and Freeport, Illinois so far this summer. My allergies can hardly keep up with my whereabouts, much less my family. For now, Randy and I have traded in the pleasant temperatures and pine pollen (aa- choo!) of the mountains for the Texas heat so we can celebrate his mother’s 90th Birthday. A casual take-out pizza dinner with her Wednesday night after our flight, and a strictly spontaneous get-together for coffee, cake, and an hour of “girl talk” yesterday morning are but a small prelude to the weekend family festivities and next week’s all-important Birthday Dinner in our home.

During the past several weeks, I’ve assisted my own Mother in preparing for a major move from Illinois to Texas (she’s now all moved into her “cottage” in The Woodlands); hosted a luncheon and spirits tasting at Swan’s Nest for female whiskey distiller Troy Ball (Troy & Sons, Asheville, NC); created summertime tablescapes for a Vail HOME Magazine photo shoot and article, transformed our 1898 cabin into an autumn dining destination for an interview with Log Home Living magazine (look for the story in their November 2014 issue); cooked on Aspen television’s “The Lift” on Aspen 82; participated as a celebrity chef in the 5th annual Snowmass Culinary Festival (www.gosnowmass.com); interviewed with The Summit Daily News about cool summer salads; attended to final details for my upcoming October 2 – 12, 2014 Mediterranean Culinary Cruise in partnership with Oceania Cruises and Cruising with the Chefs (www.cruisingwiththechefs.com); and spent every spare moment in my Swan’s Nest gardens planting flowers and trying to keep up with the weeds. And in the midst of all this, my computer crashed, so my apologies to those of you who’ve not heard from me recently.

Each year around this time, I fondly recall summer days spent on Cape Cod when I was growing up, and I guess I had visions of those idyllic, lazy days when Randy and I purchased Swans’ Nest seven years ago, but the reality is that summer days are now as busy as the remainder of the year, with one exception. In the evenings, as the sun begins to lower toward the mountain tops, Randy and I share dinner on Swan’s Nest’s veranda – a relaxing, quiet ritual when time slows down and we celebrate our day over a simple, fresh meal. We open a bottle of wine, watch the hummingbirds as they flit from hanging basket to basket filled with bright pink and purple petunias, enjoy the cool evening breezes, and marvel at nature’s colorful light show when puffy white clouds change into pale orange and pink puffs of cotton candy as the sun dips behind the mountain peaks. We linger over dinner and savor the peace of it all until we get chilled and rush inside to get warm. Even then, we sometimes just grab jackets and head back onto the porch – reluctant to allow those peaceful moments to slip away.

This is why I love uncomplicated summer meals that are quick and easy to assemble, feature fresh, seasonal flavors, and have a “picnic feel” to them. Summer is for sitting on the porch, not standing in the kitchen. For that reason, I’m happy to share one of my summer salad recipes with you. I hope you’ll enjoy it on the porch with your family and friends!

-Christy

White Beans, Arugula and Dill with Tarragon Dressing

2 (15-ounce) cans Great Northern beans, rinsed and drained
3 sprigs fresh dill, chopped
1 small bunch fresh arugula, stemmed and chopped
1/2 cup onion, diced
2 tablespoons tarragon vinegar
2 to 3 drops white wine Worcestershire sauce
1 large clove garlic, peeled
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup olive oil

In a large mixing bowl, gently stir together the beans, dill, arugula, and onion. Set aside.

In the bowl of a mini-food processor, combine the tarragon vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, Dijon mustard, salt, and pepper. Process until the mixture is smooth. Add the olive oil and process until the dressing is creamy. Taste and adjust the seasoning, if necessary. Pour the dressing over the beans. Toss well, transfer the salad to a serving bowl, and serve. If desired, cover and chill 2 hours until cold.

Yield: 6 servings

A Summer Gathering

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!

A Mardi Gras Table Setting

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.

-Christy

Downton Abbey Season Finale Watching Party: A Menu To Do Mrs. Pattmore And Mr. Carson Proudly!

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.

Ingredients:

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!

-Christy