Allspice Chronicles

Entertain like a Queen, Think Lean and Live Green! A personal collection of recipes,anecdotes,and good old fashioned advice…

The Art of Greeting: The Five Week Manners Makeover, Step 3

by Danica Waters / photo courtesy of liluinteriors.com

Remember being a little kid and absolutely dreading those first few awkward minutes of meeting someone you hadn’t seen in a long time, or perhaps didn’t know at all?  No matter if the semi-strangers had extended an invitation to an event at their home or if the occasion found them invading your home, one of two things was certain to happen during the greeting process:

1.  You’d be eyeballed up and down like you were some sort of germ-ridden-troublemaker-to-be and summarily dismissed, or;

2.  You’d end up having your cheeks pinched off your face as you were slathered in kisses and lipstick stains,  barraged with a million questions you didn’t know how to answer, by someone you really didn’t know all that well at all.

Not knowing what to do in either instance, you’d visibly shrink there next to your parents, feeling awkward and silent and uncomfortable and wishing to all heck you could will yourself to disappear altogether.  Anxiety amplified as you quickly realized that your own embarrassment was unwittingly embarrassing your parents.   “Say something, silly!” they would admonish, nudging you further into the line of fire. “Don’t just stand there like a bump on a log!  Ha ha ha….!  Kids – I’ll tell you…”

And there you were, feeling like a germ-ridden-troublemaker the rest of the evening.

 

In the words of America’s etiquette expert, Peggy Post, “Most etiquette dilemmas arise when people don’t know what to do. This results in a feeling of uncertainty and, ultimately, a sense that you may do something wrong or offend someone.”  Yep.   And that’s not a happy space for anyone to be in – especially kids.

Now’s the time to practice the Art of Greeting, so that your children can negotiate these awkward moments with confidence and poise now and in the future.

 

Tips to a perfect greeting:

1.  Look the person in the eye and smile!

2.  No mumbling!  Speak confidently and clearly, even if you’re feeling shy.

3.  It’s best to call the person by name:  “Hello, Mr. and Mrs. Humphries / Aunt Matilda / etc.  It’s nice to meet you/see you again.”

4.  Strangers or acquaintances should be greeted with a handshake; if the person is a relative or someone close to you, you should greet them with a hug.

 

How to give a proper handshake:

1.  Right hand to right hand, thumbs up (not a limp, palms-down hand)

2.  Firm grip, but not too tight or too limp

3.  Only two to three “pumps”, then release hands.  No shaking the other person’s arm off!

 

Other tips:

1.  Feeling useful is one of the most powerful confidence builders out there.  If the event is being held in your home, children can offer to help take guests’ coats or show them a secure place where they can put their bags.  Teach them to treat these articles with care.  (If you are attending an event at another home, remind children to say “thank you” when someone takes their jacket.)

2.  If you’re hosting the event, it’s a great idea to review the guest list with your kids in advance.  Letting them know about the personalities and interests of the people coming to the party goes a long way towards helping kids feel confident about their participation in the event.

 

With practice, your kids’ kind, confident greeting skills might even help them avoid lipstick and cheek pinching altogether.

And remember:  keep practicing Basic Table Manners  and The Art of Conversation!

 

 

 

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Nifty Napkin Folds: Basic Silverware Pouch

by Danica Waters

 

The Basic Silverware Pouch is a straightforward, classy way to keep eating utensils easy to grab.  Here’s the how-to:

 

 

 

Step 1:  Lay the napkin face down in front of you

Step 2:  Fold the napkin in half.

Step 3:  Fold the napkin in quarters.

Step 4:  Orient the napkin so that the open corners face the top left-hand corner.

Step 5:  Fold the top layer down diagonally towards the opposite corner.

Step 6:  Flip the napkin over.  The open corners should now be facing towards the upper right-hand side.

Step 7:  Fold the right side in towards the center about a third of the way.

Step 8:  Fold the left side over.

Step 9:  Flip over the napkin pouch, insert utensils, and VOILA!

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Savory Mediterranean Cheesecake

by Danica Waters

 

Who says cheesecake is only for dessert?  This savory Mediterranean Cheesecake is undoubtedly as addictive as its sweeter cousin.  Not too rich, but substantial enough to satisfy, the rich flavor of Parmesan mingles with the mild tang of feta to hit all the right spots for all kinds of partygoers.  Unbeatable as an hors d oeuvre or as an accompaniment to soup or salad, it is also a visual showstopper, guaranteed to rock any buffet table it’s invited to.

 

This recipe is for 1 – 9 inch cheesecake, which will feed a rather large crowd.  Because it freezes extremely well, try making two smaller cheesecakes out of one batch.  Homemade Cracker Bread is a perfect accompaniment, and is also easily made ahead of time so you have one less thing to worry about on party-day.

 

Enjoy!

 

Savory Mediterranean Cheesecake

(Fine Cooking Magazine)

 

1-1/2 C Panko Breadcrumbs

6 Tbsp butter, melted

 

3/4 C butter

¼ C minced green onion

¼ C chopped fresh parsley

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 (10-oz) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry, or enough fresh spinach that has been chopped well and wilted to render approximately 1-1/2 C.

3 – 8 oz packages cream cheese or Neufchatel cheese, softened

¼ C heavy whipping cream

4 large eggs

½ tsp dried oregano

½ tsp dried basil

½ tsp salt

¼ tsp ground black pepper

2 – 2.5 oz cans sliced black olives, drained

1 C grated good-quality Parmesan cheese

1 C crumbled feta cheese

 

Sour cream

Fresh chopped herbs

*

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

 

In a small bowl, combine panko and melted butter.  Press mixture into bottom of a 9-inch springform pan (or use two 5-inch springform pans).  Bake 8 minutes.

 

In a medium skillet, melt ¾ C butter over medium high heat.  Add onion, parsley, and garlic.  Cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until tender.  Add spinach, and cook 2 minutes, stirring frequently.  Remove from heat and set aside.

 

In a large bowl, beat cream cheese, cream, and eggs at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth.  Beat in oregano, basil, salt and pepper.  Divide mixture evenly into two medium bowls.  Stir spinach mixture into one-half of cream cheese mixture.  Pour into prepared pan.  Sprinkle evenly with sliced olives.

 

Stir Parmesan cheese and feta cheese into other half of cream cheese mixture.  Spread cheese mixture evenly over olives.  Bake 1 hour and 15 minutes (for 9-inch springform;  if using smaller pans, adjust time accordingly).  Let cool completely in pan.  Gently run a knife around edges of pan to release sides.  Cover, and chill.

 

Prior to serving, remove cake from springform ring.  Top with a light spread of dairy sour cream, and garnish with a sprinkling of fresh herbs.

 

Serve cheesecake at room temperature with assorted crackers (try homemade Cracker Bread)

 

Note:  Cheesecake can be made up to one month ahead!  Wrap tightly in heavy-duty plastic wrap, and freeze.  Simply let come to room temperature before serving.

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Mediterranean Seven Layer Dip

by Danica Waters / image courtesy of Cornell University

 

By now, we should all be  familiar with the wildly popular Mexican version of a Seven Layer Dip.  This recipe is an equally delicious alternative, featuring the warm, fresh flavors of the Mediterranean for an exciting change of pace.

To round out a Mediterranean hors d’ oeuvres table, try serving this delicious dip along with a platter of Falafel balls, tzatziki, a gourmet selection of olives, and some baklava.

Enjoy!

 

Mediterranean Seven Layer Dip

Serves 8

1-1/2 6-inch pita pockets, cut into 12 wedges, tops and bottoms separated  to make 24 wedges in all
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), rinsed and drained

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons water

1/8 teaspoon pepper

1 cup loosely packed baby spinach, thinly sliced (about 1 1/2 ounces)

1/8 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled

2 Tbsp red onion, finely chopped

2 Tbsp Kalamata olives, finely chopped

1/2 medium tomato, finely chopped (about 1/3 cup)

1/4 medium cucumber, peeled and finely chopped (about 1/3 cup)

1 tablespoon snipped fresh mint

1/2  C crumbled feta cheese

 

Make Pita Wedges:
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Arrange the pita wedges in a single layer on a large baking sheet without overlapping the wedges. Lightly brush each wedge with olive oil; bake for 5 minutes, or until lightly browned and slightly crisp (the pita wedges will crisp more as they cool).  Sprinkle with kosher salt and black pepper to taste.

 

Make Seven Layer Dip:
Meanwhile, in a food processor or blender, process the chickpeas until coarsely chopped. With the food processor running, slowly pour in the lemon juice and process until blended. Add the water and pepper. Process until smooth.

Arrange the spinach on a serving plate. Gently spread the chickpea mixture on top, leaving a border of the spinach. Sprinkle the oregano over the spread. Arrange the tomato on the spread. Top, in order, with the cucumber, onion, olives, mint, and feta.  Serve with the pita wedges.

Tip: The pita wedges and chickpea spread can be made up to one day ahead. Store the pita wedges in an airtight container at room temperature. Cover and refrigerate the chickpea mixture. The remaining ingredients can be chopped and stored in the refrigerator up to 8 hours in advance, but the dip shouldn’t be assembled until right before serving.

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The Art of Table Conversation: The Five Week Manners Makeover, Step Two

by Danica Waters / image credits at bottom of page

Now that we have a week of practicing basic table manners under our belts, it’s time to add Step 2 to the etiquette arsenal.  One of the most frequently overlooked aspects of having great etiquette is the art of making conversation.

Table conversation is magic.  This is the place where children get to know adults as real people rather than basic authority figures.  This is where the family stories are told, where children learn about themselves, and about life.  Of equal or greater importance, this is your opportunity to get to know them.  The ability to maintain a healthy table conversation, rather than responding in uncomfortable monosyllables or completely monopolizing the entire conversation, is a skill that will serve them for the rest of their lives.

 

Here’s a quick review of the most basic rules of conversation etiquette:

 

1.  Don’t talk with your mouth full.

In the event someone asks you a question while you’re mid-mouthful, simply smile and indicate silently that you’ll need a minute to finish chewing.

 

2.  Don’t speak too loudly, or too softly, either. 

Practice good table speaking volume, and talk about whether any of your guests have hearing problems, so everyone can be aware and act accordingly.

 

3.  Speak to people on both sides of you, and directly across the table.

Talk to your children about how they’d feel if the people they were sitting next to at the table never acknowledged or spoke to them.  Manners are about making everyone feel comfortable and welcome.   To that point, take some time to consider who your children will feel most comfortable around.  Some people simply make kids want to shrink, or they encourage impish misbehavior at the table.  This is where seating arrangements can come in very handy.  Have your kids help make the place cards!

 

4.  Practice the art of small talk.

A great way to make enjoyable conversation is to know in advance about the interests, talents, or experiences of your guests.  Let your kids know that Uncle Bob once went on a jungle safari “back in the day”, or that ancient Aunt Gertie won a Blue Ribbon at the State Fair for her knitted saddle warmer.   It will give them a conversation-starting advantage.

Also, if small talk is a challenge, try picking up a conversation game like Table Topics at the local bookstore.  It’s a great way to get folks talking, laughing, and sharing at the dinner table.

 

5.  Choose appropriate topics to speak about.

You don’t want to embarrass anyone by divulging personal family issues or speaking about things that are not appropriate for table conversation.  Discuss in advance what topics would be best kept off-limits at your event.

 

6.  NO RUDE NOISES!

Not. Even. One. Single. Teeny. Tiny. One.  Not from you, not from me. I don’t care if you heard that a loud, voluptuous burp is considered a “two-thumbs-up” to chefs in Arabic countries.  It’s not true, and we’re not there.

 

TIP:  Make up an emergency code word for etiquette emergencies. 

In the world of good manners, there’s a lot to remember, and even with lots of practice, kids sometimes get ahead of themselves.  That’s why it’s a good idea to develop a code word or phrase or signal system you can use with your children in the event they get a bit too excited or forget their manners at the table.  With practice and teamwork, a simple phrase like “My, I am looking forward to that PIE” and some direct, meaningful eye contact can easily and effectively curb behavior without the public embarrassment of a point-blank reprimand.  This method makes kids feel “partnered in” rather than feeling belittled, and it works beautifully most of the time.

 

Given that etiquette accidents do happen, be sure to discuss with your kids ahead of time how to react to others’ faux pas.  As hysterical as it might happen to be, if someone else at the table accidentally slips up, no laughing.

 

Not even if

dear, sweet, ancient Aunt Gertie

lets out a post-champagne

BELCH from the BOWELS of BEELZEBUB.

Not one peep.

image #1 – crowd at dinner table courtesy of www.squidoo.com

image #2 – burping cartoon image courtesy of www.thedailyloves.files.wordpress.com

 

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Nifty Napkin Folds: Basic Buffet Roll

by Danica Waters

With Holiday buffets lurking around the corner, today’s lesson in nifty napkin folding is the incredibly simple, sturdy, straightforward Basic Buffet Roll.

Enjoy!

 

Nifty Napkin Folds:  Basic Buffet Roll

 

Step 1:

Lay napkin face down in front of you.

 

Step 2:

Fold one corner down to meet the opposite corner, forming a triangle.  Position the triangle so that the open corners face away from you.

Step 3:

Place your utensils along the bottom and in the center of the long side of the triangle.

Step 4:

Fold one end in to cover the utensils.

Step 5:

Fold the opposite corner in to completely cover utensils.

Step 6:

Roll tightly from bottom up.

Voila!  You’re done!

 

While this fold holds just fine on its own, you can tie a bit of decorative ribbon, raffia, or other decorative on each roll to dress it up a bit.

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Baked Bananas With Cardamom and Cream

by Danica Waters

Most everyone has the “Three B’s” lying around their pantry:  Bananas, Brown Sugar, and Butter.  Cardamom, maybe not so much.  But it’s worth a wee trip to the grocery store to score some cardamom pods;  they’re inexpensive, and given the depth of flavor they add to this heavenly little dish, you won’t want to leave them out.
These warm caramelized baked bananas are delicious served all by themselves; however, they would go smashingly well served over vanilla ice cream, as well.  Served with crepes and a smear of unsweetened cream cheese, they’ll be the hit of your holiday brunch.

Enjoy!

 

Baked Bananas With Cardamom and Cream

 

4 firm bananas

4 – 6 Tbsp brown sugar

¼ C unsalted butter

4-6 cardamom seed pods, husks removed and black seeds crushed

¼ C Toasted diced pecans, or more, if desired (optional)

½ C heavy cream

 

Preheat the oven to 450.  Place 2 Tbsp butter in a large baking dish and place in oven until butter melts.  Carefully remove dish from oven and swirl melted butter to coat bottom of dish thoroughly.

 

While butter is melting, peel and cut the bananas diagonally or vertically into 3/8-inch slices.

 

When butter is ready, sprinkle pecans over bottom of prepared baking dish.  Place banana slices on top and sprinkle with 2 Tbsp brown sugar.  Bake 5 minutes.

 

Remove bananas from the oven, immediately sprinkle with the crushed cardamom,  remaining brown sugar, and butter.  Place back in oven until butter and brown sugar have melted, approximately 1 min.

 

Remove from oven.  Divide banana slices equally among individual dessert plates.  Pour a bit of cream around the slices and serve immediately.

 

Serves 4

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Green Beans Sauteed in Olive Oil

by Danica Waters / image courtesy of www.moosecrossinggardencenter.com

 

There are lots of recipes for sautéed green beans out there in the wild blue yonder.  Most of those recipes invite a whole lot of other ingredients to the party: tomatoes, wine, garlic, cream of mushroom soup, etc. – the list goes on and on.  It seems that somewhere along the way, we forgot that the good ol’ green bean can hold its own on the dinner table; its simple, spectacularly fresh flavor doesn’t need a lot of help as long as it’s treated properly.  Allowed to simply be itself, the green bean has all sorts of great things to offer:  Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Manganese, and a full range of beneficial B Vitamins, carotenoids, and antioxidans are but a few of its virtues.

 

This recipe is simple.  It features fresh green beans sautéed in a bit of extra virgin olive oil until crisp tender, and sprinkled with kosher salt and fresh lemon juice.  Exquisite!  .

 

An excellent accompaniment to Chicken with Tarragon Cream Sauce, these green beans go well with French and Italian cuisines, in addition to fish, poultry, and vegetarian dishes.  This preparation is so delicious, it might have you looking at that grayish green been casserole on the Thanksgiving menu in a whole new light.

 

Enjoy!

 

Green Beans Sauteed in Olive Oil

(serves 4)

 

1 lb fresh green beans, washed, trimmed, and patted dry

2-3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Juice of ½ a lemon

Kosher Salt to taste

 

Prepare beans, be sure they are thoroughly dry to avoid splatter when they are added to the oil.

In a wide, shallow sauté pan or frying pan, heat olive oil until hot but not smoking.  Add green beans and cover; allow to cook for about a minute.  Beans should be lightly browned, but not charred – keep your eye on them.  Remove cover and allow condensation to run back into the pan; turn beans and cook another minute.  Once beans are browned a bit on all sides, add 2 -3 Tbsp water to the pan.  Reduce heat to medium and allow to steam until beans are bright green and crisp tender, approximately an additional 3 -5 minutes, depending on your preference.

 

Remove to a serving dish; squeeze fresh lemon juice over beans and season with Kosher Salt to taste.  Toss well and serve.

 

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Chicken With Tarragon Cream Sauce

by Danica Waters (image courtesy of www.organicsoul.com)


If you are a stranger to cooking with Tarragon, here’s a fantastically foolproof way to get acquainted.   (Trust me:  you’ll be ever so happy you did.)

Called the “King of Herbs” in France, Tarragon is the primary flavoring of many of the sauces that form the foundation of fantastic French cuisine, such as béarnaise, rigavote and tartare.  It contains highly aromatic volatile oils which are unfortunately lost when the herb is dried; therefore, it is best to use Tarragon immediately after cutting from the stem, and after the cooking process to ensure the purity of its flavor.  While some heat will help to release its essence, be sure it is only exposed to heat for a brief period of time.

 

Because it’s best used fresh, Tarragon makes a spectacular addition to any kitchen herb garden; however, it does not perform well when started from seed.  Cultivated by cuttings and root divisions, it makes a spectacular living heirloom gift for family and friends. Got a Harry Potter fanatic on your gift list?  Here’s a tip:  Tarragon used to be referred to as little Dragon Mugwort.  Legend has it that, because of its dragon-like root structure, Tarragon was supposed to cure bites and stings of venomous beasts.  As a matter of fact, in France, Tarragon is called Herbe au Dragon.  Just think:  with a small pot, a Tarragon plant, and a fancy label, you’ll be giving a gift that will excite the imagination as well as the palate!  Score!  Be sure to give your Tarragon full sun and well-drained soil and it will happily enhance your finest potions… uh…recipes for years to come.

F.Y.I, of the two most common varieties (Russian and French), French Tarragon is the most widely used in culinary endeavors, primarily because it is a bit richer in flavor than its cousin, whose inferior flavor tends to the bitter side.  French Tarragon, on the other hand, has a sweet, oh-so-slightly tangy flavor with licorice (anise) overtones; it pairs beautifully with chicken, fish, vegetables, and eggs.  Happily, it happens to be the star of this incredibly easy to make, elegant, and over-the-top delicious recipe.

 

Enjoy!

 

Chicken With Tarragon Cream Sauce

(Serves 4)

 

5 Chicken breast fillets, cut into ½ inch slices and lightly seasoned with white pepper

2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 Tbsp fresh chopped fresh French tarragon

1 C cream or half-and-half

1 Tbsp lemon juice

Salt and pepper to taste

 

Prepare chicken breast fillets and lightly season with white pepper.  Heat a large, shallow frying pan over high heat, add the oil, and stir to coat the pan.  Add the chicken, in batches, and cook each batch over medium heat for 3-4 minutes, or until chicken slices are golden brown.

 

When all the chicken is cooked, return all of it to the pan and stir in the chopped tarragon.

 

Add the cream and bring to the boil; boil for three minutes or until sauce is slightly thickened.  Add the lemon juice and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.  Serve with buttered egg noodles and a crisp salad.

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The Five-Week Manners Makeover

by Danica Waters (photo credits at end of post)

Aahhhh…. Autumn.  Blustery late-October winds send the last leaves scattering and Christmas holiday merchandise creeps steadily onto Store-Shelves-Near-You.

This is an exciting time of year; with the onset of winter holiday festivities, you find yourself considering travel plans and gift lists, mulling over menu options and guest lists. And then, at the dinner table one night, the chilly mists of anxiety waft over you as you realize that the family table etiquette you thought you’d whipped into shape long ago has not even remotely recovered from the long, lazy, finger-licking days of summer.

 

Finger-licking indeed.

You watch for a minute or two with a bit of a sickening feeling accompanying your current state of disbelief.  Yes, you really did see Johnny lick his fingers after using them to pick up a long green bean and nibble it from the bottom up.  And yes, you really are watching little Katy blow air in and out of a limp macaroni noodle that has had all the cheese sucked off of it.   Eeesh.


The Five-Week Manners Makeover

There’s just enough time from now until Thanksgiving to give the whole family a manners makeover.  Since most major holiday celebrations involve lots and lots of time around a table, practicing basic table manners is the best place to start.

Week 1:  Focus on Table Settings and Basic Table Etiquette

Explain the placement of table settings and let them practice setting the table properly at mealtimes.  You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how quickly they’ll learn with a little practice!  To brush up on the correct way to set a table, feel free to visit the following videos, compliments of The Emily Post Institute and Howcast:

 

Basic Table Setting

 

Formal Table Setting


 

Review the Other Behavior Basics:

1.  Wash your hands before coming to the table.

2.  Put your napkin in your lap.

3.  Don’t start eating until everyone at the table has been served, or until the hostess eats.

4.  Hold and use your utensils properly.

5.  Say “please” and “thank you” when food, seasonings, or condiments are passed.

6.  Food is usually passed from right to left to avoid confusion; however, observe what’s happening and act accordingly.

7.  If you happen to be overlooked for something, no reaching across someone else’s plate; quietly ask for something to be passed.

8.  Chew with your mouth closed; don’t talk with your mouth full.

9.  Wait to be excused from the table; offer to help clear dishes from the table.

10.  Always remember to thank the cook!

 

It’s their party, too. 

Kids learn better when they are involved and treated as an integral part of the big picture.  Rather than teaching manners as “Rules-That-Must-Be-Followed”, explain that using good manners helps make everything more special.  Then get them involved in the creative and planning stages of the event.  Entrusting them with responsibilities, such as folding fancy napkins or making personalized place cards for all the guests, gives them a personal stake in the overall success of the event.

Practice makes perfect.

Every mealtime presents another opportunity to make something good even better.  Use the extra time afforded on weekends to practice something a bit more formal.

And remember: kids aren’t the only ones who need reminders and repetition. (Just sayin’.)

 

 

 

 

 Photo Credits:

table image:  www.photoshopessentials.com

girl licking fingers:  www.chocolates-made-easy.com

boy scratching head:   www.mombuzz.com

boy eating spaghetti: www.parentsconnect.com

man eating spaghetti: www.deathandtaxesmag.com

 

 


 

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