Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Mikasa Again!

I recently learned that Mikasa, a division of Lifetime Brands, Inc., is bringing back "The Great Dinner Party." As many of you know, it's a website where people who love to entertain and set beautiful tables can share photos of their table settings (all dinnerware is welcome), menus, and recipes with their family and friends and gain inspiration for their next entertaining event.

I thought it would be fun to use my set of Mikasa Parchment dinnerware for you today in celebration of the Great Dinner Party's re-launch.

I've only used the china in one previous tablescape post. It was in the spring, and the centerpiece featured arrangements of (mostly) garden flowers. I followed my natural inclination and made it ever-so-slightly over the top -- lots of shiny silver serving pieces, champagne buckets, layers of lace, clusters of grapes among the flowers. You can see it
HERE or just get the idea from the image below:

Today's version is, well, not exactly casual, but decidedly scaled back. My goal was to strike a balance between earthy and ethereal -- definitely a challenge when the dinnerware is truly elegant, with a beautiful scrollwork design and platinum border.

I think of dishes like these as comparable to "investment pieces" of clothing -- the kind of quality classics that give our wardrobes "good bones" and credibility. Personal style comes from mixing in vintage pieces, heirloom jewelry, and so on.

It's not only accepted, but fashionable, these days to mix couture fashions with fun pieces from thrift and consignment shops. Why not take the same approach to table setting?

Some of my favorite tables reflect a "high and low" approach. What do I mean by high and low? I think it's important to include a variety of heights for interest (candles at multiple levels, for example), but I definitely love to create table settings that mix higher-end items (whether new, vintage, or antique) with very basic things from thrift and discount stores.

Instead of using the Mikasa soup/salad bowls this time, I decided on vintage clear glass salad plates, Duncan & Miller Canterbury (1939-1955). I like the way their scalloped rims and bases repeat the graceful lines of the scrollwork design of the china pattern.

I'll be serving shrimp cocktail appetizers in these timeless, blown-glass martini glasses (from one of my favorite boutiques -- Dollar Tree!).

The Wm. Rogers silverplated flatware is a recent estate sale acquisition. It's easy to tell it's from the 1930s, because of the deco design and the then-popular grille/viande shape (long, graceful handles on the dinner forks and knives, with shorter tines and blades).

Since the sale was almost over, I was able to negotiate the price for the service for 8 (in a beautiful wooden silverware chest) down to only $25! That's less than we'd pay today for an inexpensive set of lightweight stainless flatware.

The "table runner" is an embroidered sheer curtain panel I picked up at a different estate sale. It was still in the original packaging, and I think I paid either fifty cents or a dollar for it. I thought it might help the transition between the formal china and the decidedly un-fancy centerpiece. More on that later ....

I suppose the nice folks at Lifetime Brands liked my previous Parchment table. I received a very kind e-mail from them, and they requested my address, so they could send me a "thank you" gift. Isn't the Parchment coffee server stunning?

They also sent me a set of pretty Parchment water goblets. I had trouble remembering where I put them, so they were a last minute addition to the table. In fact, if you'd like to play "Where's Waldo?," you'll notice that I didn't get the blue Mikasa stickers removed from most of them! I peeled one off, removed the residue with Goo Gone, and thought, "I don't have time for this! I'm about to lose the light, and I want some daytime photos!!!"

I promise I'll get the rest of the stickers off and wash the glasses before guests arrive!

The centerpiece wasn't terribly expensive to create. OK, not at ALL expensive. Two bags of colorful gourds (reduced to 99 cents per bag at Kroger), hedge-apples picked up along the roadside, and a handful of perennial button mums from the garden. I say hedge apples; some call them horse apples or osage oranges. You can read about maclura pomifera
HERE. The tend to exude a milky, sticky sap, so they're not ideal for long-lasting interior use. But I love the color and texture they add!

I did polish the silver flatware before I set the table, but I resisted the urge to make the candleholders shiny. The warmth of the tarnish somehow seemed to work well with the colors of the gourds and flowers.

OK, I have to include a disclaimer here. I normally would NOT have the cups and saucers on the table until time for the dessert course. And I definitely wouldn't put the napkins under the plates and martini glasses! It reminds me of the old magic trick -- you know the one ... the tablecloth is snatched from underneath the china, crystal, and silver on a beautifully-set table (with disastrous results, unless executed perfectly!).

I wanted you to see the cups. Which meant the napkins wouldn't fit to the left of the forks. Plus, the color of the napkins makes the lines of the Canterbury plates easier to see in the photographs.

I think this table's going to rely heavily on the ambience only candlelight can create ...

Lifetime Brands also gifted me with the sugar bowl and creamer. I was truly appreciative!

I seem to remember that cocktail forks go to the right of the spoons (the only forks that go on the right). But don't you think they look prettier this way? Since I didn't have cocktail forks that matched the flatware, I went with a totally different pattern that has a decidedly Victorian look. I think it's better to make "mix-and-match" obviously intentional. "Almost matching" can tend to look rather sad.

The champagne flutes are from Goodwill. It was a 50% off day, so the total cost for all 8 was only $4! The simple glass bud vases are also thrifted -- 25 cents each.

Since the table was nearing overload space-wise, I put the Duncan & Miller Canterbury candleholders on the bar. The scalloped rims around the bases of the candles repeat the shapes of the plates and serving pieces.

The candleholders' shapes remind me of both flames and ocean waves. Those designers of the depression/elegant glass era definitely knew how to create timeless, beautiful objects.

I literally dumped the gourds from the bags and stuck in the hedge-apples wherever they'd fit. The flowers practically arranged themselves. I rather like the way the informal combinations of objects from nature and the tarnished silver create an interesting juxtaposition with the formal dinnerware and elegant stemware.

I felt really fortunate to find the Canterbury iced beverage glasses at a local antiques shop last week. It's one I rarely visit, because they specialize in mostly Victorian furniture and almost never have "smalls." I saw the dusty glasses sitting on the counter and inquired about them. The owner said he found them at a yard sale somewhere, and he'd take $2 each for them. Oh Happy Day!!!

Yes, I took a lot of photos by candlelight ...

And, purely by accident, a "blue hour" reflection taken from the sunroom.

I hope you've enjoyed your visit!

I'll be serving "tied up" chicken -- filleted chicken breasts and thighs, pounded flat and rolled with thinly-sliced ham and mozzarella cheese, secured with cotton cording, and sauteed in half olive oil/half butter, with white table wine poured in at the end to create a subtle, tantalizing sauce (naturally, the strings are removed before serving).

Side dishes: sauteed "skinny" green beans (in butter again), white rice with enough saffron rice mix added to provide color and flavor (but without providing too much sodium) ... with butter (hey, Julia Child never skimped on the butter ... or the wine!). Viva la Julia!

The way I make shrimp cocktail is HERE. The salad will include greens and veggies that aren't in the cocktail.

Dessert? Hmmm ... still deciding. What would you suggest? I've been known to make what guests say is a truly tasty Tiramisu. It'll wake you up and relax you at the same time!

Rumors claim that tiramisu was created in the town of Siena for Duke Cosimo de Medici. The other main story is more racy and alleges that tiramisu, which translates to “pick-me-up,” was used by ladies of the evening to revitalize their stamina. Both tales bear some truth in that layered cakes have been around for a long time and that the eggs, sugar, and caffeine in tiramisu are energizing.

Well, I already have lady fingers in the freezer waiting to be transformed into a treat for the bon vivants among us. But I could always return to my Southern roots and bake you a sweeter-than-honey pecan pie.

If you missed the recipe the first time, here it is again:

While I can't lay claim to being an accomplished cook, I grew up surrounded by those who were. My father's sister published a cookbook filled with recipes she loved, lettered in her own hand, illustrated with drawings she'd done, and seasoned with stories of her childhood and her (my) family. I've tried a number of pie crust recipes, but hers is among the simplest and most reliable.

Plain Pastry

2 c. sifted enriched flour
1 tsp salt
2/3 c. shortening
5 to 7 T. cold water

Sift together flour and salt, cut in shortening with pastry blender or blending fork till pieces of fat are the size of small peas.

Sprinkle water a T. at a time over part of mixture. Gently toss with fork. Push to one side of bowl. Sprinkle next T. of water over dry part. Mix lightly and push to moistened part at side. Repeat until all is mositened.Gather up with fingers; roll into ball.

For double crust pie divide dough for lower and upper crust. Form each in ball lightly and roll 1/8" thick on lightly floured surface. If edges split, pinch together. Always roll from center out to edge. Use light strokes.
Makes enough pastry for one 10" or 9" lattice top pie or one 8" or 9" double crust pie.

For the filling, I did what I often do. I read various recipes, picked and chose from each what sounded appealing, and then merged them into one.

Here's what I used:
3 eggs, slightly beaten
1 c. corn syrup
1 c. sugar
1/4 c. butter
1/8 t. salt
1 T. cornmeal (I used 1.5)
1/2 c. coarsely chopped pecans

Mix together all ingredients, stirring in chopped nut meats last. Pour into 9" pie crust. I added a layer of pecan halves on top for beauty and toasted nutty goodness. I didn't measure, just placed them in circular rows until the top was covered.
Bake in hot oven (450 degrees F), ten minutes. Then reduce heat to moderate oven (350 degrees F) and continue baking until a silver knife blade inserted in center of filling comes out clean.

Other recipes say to cook for 40-45 minutes at 375 or at 300 for an hour. Probably any method would work. I should have used a ring of aluminum foil to protect the rim of the crust for the last 15 minutes or so to prevent excess browning. Otherwise, it turned out well, not runny or syrupy sweet (a miracle considering the list of ingredients!).

It's best consumed soon after baking (or microwave on high for about 15 seconds just before serving). Top warm pie with a scoop of vanilla or caramel praline ice cream and, if true decadence is desired, add whipped cream (atop, or instead of, the ice cream) drizzled with zig-zag lines of caramel syrup. A drizzle of coffee liquor is an even more sure-fire hit!

Try not to think about calories; focus on the health value of consuming good ol' Southern pecans!

No less an authority than the Georgia Pecan Commission states:

"Pecans are an excellent source of oleic acid, a fatty acid found in abundance in olive oil and other monounsaturated fats. These fats have a protective effect on the blood, lowering total blood cholesterol and preserving the good HDLs that help combat heart disease.In addition to improving cardiovascular health, pecans contain hytochemicals and are believed to be helpful in fighting some cancers, including colon and stomach cancers, according to Frank Sacks, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

The nuts have also been proven to be effective for diabetics, especially those placed on low-fat diets. The fiber in pecans is mostly insoluble, which has been linked to reduced cholesterol levels and shown to be helpful in warding off colon cancer. The pecans also contain an abundance of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber (see nutrient values chart).Comparing fat and calories with other nuts, pecans fall right in the middle with 189 calories per ounce. However, only 1.5 grams of the pecan's fat is saturated.

Please join Susan of Between Naps on the Porch for Tablescape Thursdays. And watch for the launch date of Mikasa's "The Great Dinner Party!"

P. S. I have a great recipe for buttermilk yeast rolls. I let the electric breadmaker mix the dough and do the first rising. Then I take it out and form it into cloverleaf rolls that, after the second rising and being in the oven for a few minutes, absolutely melt in your mouth. Well ... as long as you add a big ol' pat o' butter while they're still hot from the oven!

Let me know if you want the recipe, OK? It can be made somewhat healthier (ugh) if you substitute whole wheat bread flour for half the white.

Have a great week!