Friday, October 30, 2015

Good-bye Halloween, Hello Christmas!

Well, it's the end of October, so that means Halloween...right? Wrong! It means Christmas! Yes, we'll get Chloe all dressed up as Elsa tomorrow night and take her trick or treating around the neighborhood and gobble up a few pounds of candy in the process. But then, when that's done, we can get on with the good stuff!


Yes, as Halloween goes whizzing past we officially get the green light to start putting up trees and lights and elfs-on-shelfs, and even to start cranking up the Christmas music playlist in the car!

I know, some of you feel passionately that November 1 is WAY too soon to move into Christmas mode, but to each his own, right? And for me, that means Jesus really IS the reason for the season--which includes Thanksgiving and Christmas and everything in between!

And what could possibly be a more appropriate and proper to kick off to this year's Christmas season than Barney the Pug spreading a little Christmas cheer while he sheds on one of Colette's new Isaiah 9:6-themed Christmas throw pillows!!

So as you get into the holiday swing, feel free to browse & shop the whole pillow set!

And whether it's early or just in time, a very Merry Christmas, to all!


Thursday, October 15, 2015

Super Scrumptious Baked Fontina
Anyone who knows Colette knows that, among her many talents, she is a superb and creative chef. Delictable smells from her culinary creations fill our home and spoil the kids and me daily. But cooking is hard work, especially when feeding our hungry crew! And so I like to give Colette a break from the kitchen sometimes by turning the tables and cooking for and serving her, while she kicks her feet up and relaxes with spa candles and a glass of vino.

Now, at the risk of stating the obvious, my chefly skills are pretty amateurish compared with Colette's, but I do have a couple things I'm pretty good at making and which Colette really enjoys. I'm probably best at homemade pizza, and maybe that's worth another blog post someday. But right now I'd like to describe how just about anyone can make a delicious baked fontina--a dish (actually, probably more of an appetizer/dish) whose WOW! taste will pleasantly surprise when you see just how simple it actually is to make.

The recipe I use is from Food Network chef Ina Garten (i.e., Barefoot Contessa). It's a recipe that Colette discovered and made for us a few years ago, and was such a hit that I now make it every so often for the two of us to enjoy together.

Of course, you can always read and follow the original recipe directions (it's pretty straightforward), but I thought it might be helpful to some to describe in my own words how I make it.

The shopping list for this dish is pretty straightforward, but I can't stress enough how important it is to spend a little extra and go with the freshest stuff you can get for this--it really does make a worthwhile difference in the end product! I buy the necessary ingredients from our local Wegmans grocery store because their bakery is amazing and their cheeses and produce are excellent and fresh...(And speaking of the Wegmans bakery, try their fresh bagels if you can--they are unbelivable!)

So here's what you'll need:
  • 1 & 1/2 pounds of Italian Fontina Val d'Aosta cheese. I'm not a cheese expert by any stretch, but I've learned over the years from Colette (who IS a cheese expert) that cheeses are definitely NOT all created equal! So make sure you get the right cheese and ask if you need to. In the case of this cheese the name will be spelled just like it's written here: "Italian Fontina Val d'Aosta." You may need to go to a higher-end grocery store to find this cheese. At Wegmans the Italian Fontina Val d'Aosta comes in hand-wrapped chunks of approximately 1/2 lb each, so I usually end up getting 3 of these.
  • 1/4 cup of good olive oil
  • 6 garlic cloves. Maybe I'm the only one who needed to look this up to be certain, but just in case I'm not--look here for a crystal clear description of exactly what a garlic CLOVE is. As you can easily imagine, a misunderstanding about garlic anatomy could give your dish an unexpected and near-toxic punch!
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves. You can use pre-packaged thyme if you want, but I think it makes a difference and is worth the effort to buy fresh thyme leaves and mince/cut them by hand (it doesn't take too long- 1 TBSP is not that much).
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary leaves. Same thing on this- mince/cut fresh rosemary leaves if at all possible.
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • A couple of fresh French baguettes (fancy word for long skinny loaves of French bread). I usually get one whole wheat baguette, which Colette prefers, and one white baguette.
Preheat the oven to "broil" and make sure the oven rack is about 5" from the broiler heat.

To assemble the dish, I usually start by preparing the cheese. If your cheese has a rind (the thin layer of "skin" that's sometimes on the edge), just slice the rind off. Then cut the cheese into cubes with about 1" sides.

Place the cheese cubes into a either a ~12" cast-iron skillet or similary-sized no-stick square cast-iron baking dish.

Cut or pull (whichever you find easier) the leaves off the thyme and rosemary and cut into fine pieces. Peel and thinly slice the garlic cloves, and then mix the thyme, rosemary and garlic together in a small bowl. Drizzle the olive oil evenly all over the top of the cheese cubes, then spread the garlic/thyme/rosemary mixture evenly over the whole thing.

Finally, sprinkle the salt and pepper over the top of the cheese and then bake the dish under the broiler for about 6 minutes. You want to cook until the cheese is melted and bubbling and starting to brown. Keep a close eye on the dish while it's cooking--it won't take long to cook, but your baking time may vary depending on your oven and your individual taste preference. We prefer to bake until the cheese is spotted with a nice deep & bubbling brown. Serve the fontina piping hot right out of the oven with the bread.

As for the bread, just slice it and serve it either soft & fresh or--as we prefer--toast the bread slices in the oven. (To do this you just need to arrange them on a baking sheet, brush them with olive oil, and sprinkle them with garlic salt and crisp under the broiler for a minute or 2). You can either dip the bread into the fontina or spoon it onto the bread slices (this seems to work best).

That's it - Hope you enjoy!