Foodie Friday: Soupe à l’oignon française

19 Dec
December 19, 2014

A.K.A. French onion soup. I love how it sounds in its mother language. But more than that, I absolutely LOVE the way it tastes! For years, when visiting Paris, for the majority of my lunches and dinners, other than my usual fromage plat (cheese plate), I would order (and happily slurp) soupe à l’oignon…with each bowl hoping to discover the city’s most amazing version that would meet my criteria for rich and comforting flavor.

Here at home, Murph has learned to make the most amazing version, taught to him by an amazing chef bud, and fellow native New Yorker, Chris Devine. This soup, rich in caramelized l’oignon, is so easy to make that Chef Chris talked Murph through the recipe over the phone! All I can say to that is - voilà!

Quite honestly, as we power through the hustle and bustle (maybe frenzy is a better word) of the holidays, as well as the cold and raw days, a bowl of this (phoned-In) French onion soup is so needed and deserved!

Merci Chef Chris! Now I can shop on!

Chris Devine’s French Onion Soup

(4 servings)

2 extra jumbo Spanish onions

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons sweet butter

½ pound Gruyere (or similar dense and hearty Swiss cheese), grated

1-2 teaspoons Worcestershire Sauce

1 32 oz. can of beef stock

4 slices of a baguette, toasted on both sides

Salt and pepper to taste

Oven-proof bowls/crocks

  • Preheat a soup pot (preferably non-stick) on low heat.
  • Peel and quarter onions, then using a large and very sharp knife, slice the onions as thin as you are able.
  • Add oil and butter to soup pot, turn heat up to medium, and add all the onions.
  • Keeping the temperature at medium, allow onions to caramelize to a deep, rich brown, stirring only enough to avoid the onions from burning (you may have to adjust the heat on the stove during this process).
  • When the onion are approaching completion, turn the broiler on in the oven, then add the can of beef broth and the Worcestershire sauce, and bring to a simmer for 15 minutes, then adjust salt and pepper to taste.
  • Place a baguette slice in each of the four ovenproof soup bowls, then ladle broth and onions into the bowls, dividing evenly.
  • Cover each bowl with grated Swiss cheese, dividing evenly.
  • Place soup bowls on a heavy-duty cookie sheet, and place under the broiler.
  • Broil cheese to a bubbly light brown, only a couple of minutes. Be sure to use oven mitts to place bubbling bowls of soup carefully onto plates.

Bon appétit!

Love, Nora and Murph 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Snowflakes for Newtown

14 Dec
December 14, 2014

This week two years ago, I specifically baked a big batch of gingerbread cookies for the undecorated Christmas tree we had just set up (only the little white lights made it up). I liked the idea of making each cookie unique, so I cut them into various snowflake forms and sizes, and decorated them so no two would be alike (as in the real thing).

The following day, the unthinkable happened. The tragic mass shooting at our Sandy Hook Elementary School turned our beautiful peaceful community into a nightmare. I will always remember exactly where I was when I heard the news unfold, and the shock that turned into profound sadness and numbness. Proceeding with the holidays was virtually impossible; there was no holiday spirit to be had.

So it was the week before Christmas, and there stood our beautiful, yet naked Christmas tree in the middle of our hub, with boxes of ornaments stacked high, unopened and untouched. The tray of 2-dozen or so iced gingerbread snowflakes still sitting on the old farmhouse table, in the same spot I had left them over a week ago. Something nudged me to find some string and start hanging them on the tree. And slowly I did – with great care, placing each one onto the end of a branch or into a nook that showed them off beautifully.

When all the snowflakes were hung, I plugged in the tree, and stood back. The simple beauty of the snowflake cookies and the twinkling white lights was just so perfect. This pretty little tree stayed this way until a day or so before Christmas when as a family, together we added only the most precious and beloved family heirloom ornaments…a reminder of what Christmas was really all about.

Love, Nora

Foodie Friday: Major John Gile Holiday Rum Cake

05 Dec
December 5, 2014
This most delicious cake is the work of my dear friend, Dana, who along with her cake recipe is featured in my newest issue of  Nora Murphy Country HouseChristmas in New Hampshire. Since, I’m such a fan of this recipe (and Dana!), I’m so hoping you’ll try it…I have a feeling you’re going to love it!

Major John Gile Holiday Rum Cake

Cake Ingredients

1-¾ cups all-purpose flour
1-½ cups granulated white sugar
1 box instant vanilla pudding mix
½ cup crushed walnuts
½ cup unsalted butter
¼ cup cornstarch
4 teaspoons baking powder
4 large eggs
3 tablespoons + 1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¾ cup whole milk
¾ cup dark rum
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 orange (sliced and baked in the oven for decoration on the top of the cake)

Rum Syrup
½ cup unsalted butter
½ cup water
¾ cup granulated white sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup of rum. You can also use whiskey. We used local rum from Flag Hill Winery, to have a local spirit in the cake.

Directions
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Grease and flour a Bundt pan, and sprinkle crushed walnuts into the bottom of the pan. Set aside.

In the base of a mixer, cream the 1 ½ cups granulated sugar and the ½ cup butter. Add the 3 tablespoons oil, flour, cornstarch, baking powder, and kosher salt combining until evenly distributed. (Mixture will look like fine crumbs.) Stir in the pudding mix.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, rum, vanilla extract, and remaining vegetable oil. Add to the dry mixture and mix until well incorporated. The batter will be smooth, thin, and will pour easily.

Pour into the prepared Bundt pan and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until a tester inserted into the cake comes out clean.

Let cool in pan for 10 minutes, then invert onto a rack. Let cool for 20 to 30 minutes.

While the cake cools, prepare the rum syrup.
In a large saucepan with high sides, combine the butter, water, granulated sugar, and salt. Cook over medium heat until the butter completely melts and the sugar dissolves. Let reduce slightly, keeping an eye on it so it doesn’t boil over. Remove from the heat and stir in the rum (it will bubble).

Wash and dry the Bundt pan. Place baked orange slices on top of cooled cake and invert the cake back into the pan. Pour the hot rum syrup glaze all over the cake and let soak for 8 hours (overnight). In morning, invert the cake back onto a serving platter.

To store: Keep covered for 1 week at room temperature.

Enjoy!

Love, Nora

 (P.S. – For more of Dana’s personal and heirloom holiday recipes please go to:

Big fat wreaths

03 Dec
December 3, 2014

To kick-off December I’m starting with wreaths and keeping them green. Maybe I’ll dress them up as we get closer to Christmas, but for now I’m loving the entrances to Connecticut Country House simply adorned. Just because they’re simple, doesn’t mean they need to be skimpy. I personally prefer big fat wreaths!

Last week was busy enough prepping for Thanksgiving, so I couldn’t resist an effective shortcut when it came to getting wreaths up at my 2 main entrances. On my way into the store to pick-up my turkey, I also picked up a couple of 22-inch unadorned Balsam wreaths at the whopping cost of 7.99 each.

When I got home, with clippers in hand, I pruned one of my boxwood shrubs (one that needed pruning), and snipped a nice big bouquet of sprigs at least 8-inches in length. As the wreaths are held tightly together with wire,  I simply tucked boxwood cuttings into the wired base.

My skimpy 7.99 wreaths quickly evolved into lush, pricier-looking wreaths.

Now I need to go back and get some more!

Happy decorating!

Love, Nora

Dana and the Major John Gile House

01 Dec
December 1, 2014

I’d love to introduce you to my dear friend Dana Schwartz and her 1763 Major John Gile House, in Nottingham, New Hampshire. When Dana called to tell me all about the fabulous house she had found, it sounded too good to be true! And then she followed up with photos of the amazing details from her new old house, I couldn’t wait to see Dana and her fabulous find for myself. I also felt that the Nora Murphy Country House readers would want to visit  as much as I did.  So when it came time to plan the next Holiday magazine, it was only natural to head north and visit Dana!

You see, Dana and I met a few years ago at Ethan Allen, where Dana held the position of Director of Web. We realized quite quickly that we must be long lost sisters from different mothers (I always say this jokingly) since we loved all the same things: antique houses, flea marketing at The Elephant’s Trunk, entertaining, gardening, and totally immersing ourselves into our homes. All in all, Dana is a kindred spirit and a fellow country house lifestyle lover.

Dana is a woman very much in her career life. Defined by innovation and modernism, she also adores a more simple, rustic way of life – a bit of a contradiction for her. She cherishes everything old (feeling like an old soul herself) and finds this to be the perfect balance to a busy career.

Dana grew up living outside of New York City, and her family’s vacations were always a northern destination: Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont. As an adult, she settled in New York’s Westchester County and spent much of her time commuting into the city. With life being so busy, she welcomed a few transitions into country life – first, renting a quaint little boat house in South Salem, New York, and then purchasing her first antique home on a lake in New Fairfield, Connecticut (this new old house needed work and turned into a 7-year labor of love!).

When Dana was ready to make her next career move, she knew in her heart that she needed to head further north into New England, and found the perfect grand historic house – the 1763 Major John Gile Homestead on 3 acres nestled on a quiet wooded road. The moment she stepped in the house, it felt like home. Now as the head of Ecommerce at ECCO Shoes (a global family-owned company in New Hampshire), Dana knows that this move ended up being the perfect balance to a more relaxed way of living. She’s found just the right place to thrive – a beautiful part of New Hampshire with mountains, lakes and the seacoast – not to mention she happily moved to one of the antique capitals of New England!

Her children are her two beloved newfoundlands, Tugboat and Barkley. Tug and Barkley have taken wonderfully to the old, worn and wonderful wide board wood floors of The Major John Gile House. They go with the flow and enjoy living in antique homes…especially if they’re nestled by a fire. Dana is in the process of writing a children’s book, Tugboat and Barkley take New Hampshire, the story of embracing change and never being scared of it – all from a dog’s perspective.

More power to you Dana!

To read more about Dana and her fabulous New Hampshire country house, go to our newest issue, A New Hampshire Christmas 2014: www.NoraMurphyCountryHouse.com

Love, Nora

Happy and very grateful

27 Nov
November 27, 2014

I love Thanksgiving. I love the “one for all, and all for one” spirit of the day. I’ve always felt very blessed each holiday season, but this Thanksgiving even more so.

Earlier this week, driving home I was unfortunate enough to be in a car accident…but very fortunate to shakily walk away with only a headache. I thank the dear Lord, as well as the old girl, my Volvo wagon, for keeping me safe.  Sadly she was not so fortunate, and may have given up her life for me,  and may need to be totaled.

What got my attention (big time!) was when I went to take some key things out of my car before it was hauled away. My wonderful, trusty vintage picnic basket (my stylish catch-all) that I keep in the back seat, was smashed to smithereens! I thought, how did that happen? You know, until something like this happens, you really don’t think about your mortality.

So this Thanksgiving, as I’m very busy getting ready for this holiday, I’m also very busy counting my blessings…and one of them is you.

Thank you so very much for joining me on this Country House  journey…for all your love and support. It truly means the world to me!

Wishing you and your dear family and friends a very blessed and happy Thanksgiving!

Love, Nora

Foodie Friday: An encore performance

22 Nov
November 22, 2014

Some traditions are hard to improve upon, and our Thanksgiving Day turkey with dressing happens to be one of those things. Why mess with a really good thing?

Connecticut Country House Roasted Turkey

One turkey; brand and size of your liking (we here at Country House prefer a fresh, organic bird if at all possible; just order a few days ahead of time from your butcher)

¼ cup of olive oil

Ample kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

1 bag of croutons

½ large onion

2 sticks washed celery

6-8 leaves fresh sage

1 stick of sweet (unsalted) butter

½ cup milk

¾ pound of loose sausage

6-8 slices of thick cut, smoked bacon

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees

Take the shrink-wrap off of the turkey in the kitchen sink. Find and reserve the turkey neck and giblet for later. Rinse the turkey very well with cool water, both outside and inside both the neck and abdomen cavities. Place the turkey inside an oiled roasting pan. Place a 1” rack inside the roasting pan first, this helps the bird cook more evenly. Using your hands, massage the olive oil well all over the outside of the turkey. If you have a helper, rotate the bird as the other person liberally salts and peppers the outside.

For the stuffing, cook the sausage in a non-stick pan, breaking it up into small pieced as it browns, then reserve. Place the stick of butter in a large frying pan on low heat. Finely chop the onion, celery and sage leaves, then add to pan with butter. Cook them on medium/low heat for about 5 minutes until soft but not browned. In a large bowl, dump the croutons (we use the bag that says it will stuff a 15-18lb. turkey).  Drizzle the onion mixture, sausage, and milk evenly over the croutons. Using your hands (make sure the other ingredients have cooled sufficiently), thoroughly mix the stuffing well.

Leaving the turkey in the roasting pan, stuff the neck portion of the bird first. Don’t be shy, push the stuffing vigorously into the cavity, then use cut down wooden skewers to secure the skin flap over the stuffing. Flip the bird over and repeat with the large body cavity; I find that pushing with a closed fist is very efficient at getting the most stuffing in the turkey. Don’t worry if stuffing/sausage falls into the roasting pan, it will enhance the gravy. When done stuffing, drape the bacon over the bird evenly, situate your turkey on the roasting rack; in the middle of the roasting pan…and in she goes!!

General rule of thumb for turkey is 15 minutes per pound. In the first hour or so the bacon is rendering it’s fat; so no basting is really not needed. After that, baste with your basting liquid (see gravy) every ½ hour or so. If you see that the breast or drum sticks are browning too early, you may cover them with tin foil to slow the cooking.

Some ovens cook faster than others, so check the bird at least an hour before the time estimated for the turkey to be done. Thermometer placed in the breast, looking for 165-170; in the thickest part of the thigh, 175-180 degrees.

Once done, place the turkey on a large cutting board with a “moat” on the borders to catch the juice that will run out. Remove the stuffing right away and place tin foil on top to stay warm. Cover the turkey with tin foil as well and let rest at least 15 minutes. Take this time to bask in the glow of admiration of your hungry guests, who are busy “nibbling”.

Enjoy your turkey!

Love, Nora

Photography by Darryl Arbesman

Ring around a napkin

19 Nov
November 19, 2014

Our Holiday 2014,  A Country House Christmas in New Hampshire e-magazine is due out right after Thanksgiving(!!).

But until then, I must scoop this holiday issue by sharing with you just one of the beautiful little things that my dear friend Dana (the lady of the New Hampshire country house) created and shared with me.

Dana very simply crafted napkin rings by looping copper wire (found at your local hardware store), and stringing fresh cranberries, bay leaves, and oven-dried oranges onto it. Easy. Beautiful. Unique.

This may just be the perfect touch to your Thanksgiving table…Why wait for Christmas?

Love, Nora

(P.S. For tips on drying oranges and apples: http://www.connecticutcountryhouse.com/2013/02/scentsational/)

Winter’s eye candy

17 Nov
November 17, 2014

I came upon these photos that I took last year of some very gorgeous Amaryllis I was growing…and realized that if I want to repeat this for the new year, I’ve got to get going and pot them up now!

Depending on the variety, it can take 6 to 10 weeks for an Amaryllis bulb to bloom. I love having something so stunningly beautiful growing and showing itself off in the winter months.

Amaryllis bulbs like snug pots. I fill a clay pot half way with good organic potting soil, insert the bulb so it’s halfway planted, and fill in with a little bit more of the soil. Water well, and place in a sunny spot.

They’re just so beautiful.

Love, Nora

 

 

 

Ghost stories

31 Oct
October 31, 2014

I’ve always loved a good ghost story. I’ve culled together quite a collection of paperbacks that tell stories about New England’s hauntings. Little did I know I could write a book on my own experiences….because little did I know twelve years ago, when we moved into our new old house (c.1767), that we would be co-habitating with a 200+ year-old dead guy (and company).

Yes, it’s true. I wish it wasn’t, but it is what it is. Friends who are sensitive to this sort of thing have felt the undeniable energy that circles from the dining room with the big cooking fireplace through the parlor and back into the hallway and stairwell.

The “presence” in the back hallway and stairwell is where quite a bit of the unexplained occurs.

Back when we first moved in, I could smell apple pie baking in the middle of summer. One night, after turning off the lights and trying to get to sleep, we were startled by the loud sound of someone (an adult someone) falling down the stairs – right outside our bedroom. Our son Conor was fast asleep in the bedroom right across from us. Murph and I were so startled, and such cowards, that we quickly pulled the covers over our heads and pretended that we didn’t hear that!

Since then, there’s been a man’s voice coming from that direction, as well as a glimpse from my peripheral vision of a tall blonde young man with a white high collared shirt walking into the parlor. My knees buckled at that one.

One of my sensitive friends says she sees/feels the presence of two people – one large burly gentleman in a heavy coat, and a younger man. She said that they don’t really understand what I’m doing (they must be referring to my obsessive re-styling of the place) – but that they like it! I’m so glad.

….to be continued.

Happy Halloween!

Love, Nora