Friday, March 14, 2014

Mount Vernon Love Story...The Menu

On Monday, I gave you a look at the buffet table-scape I created for the book club I hosted at my home last Saturday. 

Today I want to share with you the menu.  As I mentioned on Monday, I wanted the table setting to reflect various aspects of the book.  I did the same with my menu.  Often we have a potluck menu, but since I was hosting the club in my home, I wanted to take the opportunity to do something special for the members.  But first, a little background. 
Gerald and I entertain a good bit.  The Washingtons entertained, too.  A lot.  In fact, I read somewhere that from the time they married until he died, they had someone for dinner almost every night.  Many people made their way to Mount Vernon, before and after Washington was president, and as long as you appeared clean and sober, you pretty much got an invitation to dine with the family.  As a result, the kitchen was always on standby to prepare an outstanding meal for any number of people. 

We were able to visit Mount Vernon when we were in Washington D.C. last September.  One of the outbuildings we saw was the smokehouse.  Martha took great pride in her smoked hams.  You can see the inside of the smokehouse and read a little about it on the Mount Vernon website here.

I decided that a spiral cut ham would be the centerpiece of my meal.  After trying several over the years, I honestly believe that Costco's Kirkland brand spiral-cut ham is the absolute best.  (Sorry Honey Baked!)  I doubted that Martha would approve of a honey-glazed ham, so I opted not to use the glaze packet that comes with the ham.  Instead, I just baked it about an hour and a half.  It was delicious!  We had leftovers, so I sent some to my sister-in-law and we had the rest over the next couple of days.

In this picture, you will also see the other items that made up my menu: grits casserole (a Southern staple), a grape salad, garlic pickles and biscuits (sweet potato and regular).  I also offered honey from my father's bee hives and hot pepper jelly for the ham and biscuits.  I think this is a meal the Washingtons would have enjoyed!

After our meal, we discussed the book.  After all, I guess that's the real reason we get together.  (Or at least that's what we say!) 

But getting the chance to relax and just visit is really the highlight of our meetings!

 After our discussion was over, we surprised Sister Joyce Foster with a birthday cake.
Saturday was her 80th birthday!
Her daughter-in-law, Nancy, made a delicious tiramisu cake!
I plan on making it soon, and when I do, I'll share the recipe.
Just in case you're now a little hungry (I am!), I will give you my recipes below.  They are perfect for a breakfast, brunch or luncheon.  Or as I called it "lunch-fest" since we ate at 1:00 in the afternoon.  Regardless of when you enjoy these recipes, I know that you will love them!
Party Grapes
My mother-in-law gave me this recipe not long after Gerald and I married, and we have it a lot on special occasions.  I guess that's why we call it "Party Grapes"!
2 lbs. seedless grapes (I like to use half red and half green)
1 cup granulated sugar
8 oz. sour cream
8 oz. block cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup finely chopped toasted pecans
light brown sugar
Wash and dry grapes.  Mix cream cheese, sour cream and sugar until smooth.  Mix in grapes.  Place in a trifle bowl or other glass bowl.  Sprinkle with nuts and brown sugar just before serving.
Grits Casserole
I think the first time I made this several years ago, I used a Paula Deen recipe.  As usual, I have changed a few things and kind of made it my own.  It is soooo good.
4 cups chicken broth
2 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
2 cups regular grits (quick not instant)
16 oz. grated sharp cheddar
1/2 cup half and half
4 large eggs, beaten
1 stick butter, cut in pieces
8 oz. grated Gruyere cheese
Preheat oven to 375.  Bring chicken stock and water to a boil.  Add salt, pepper, garlic powder and grits.  Whisk until there are no lumps and reduce to simmer.  Simmer about 10 minutes stirring frequently.  Remove from heat.  Add sharp cheddar, butter and milk.  Stir to melt cheese and allow grits to cool slightly.  Add beaten eggs.  Pour into a large 9X14 casserole dish.  Sprinkle with half of the grated Gruyere and bake about 40-45 minutes.  Add the rest of the Gruyere and bake until cheese is golden.  Casserole will rise up a little due to the eggs.  Let it sit about 5-10 minutes before serving.
Sweet Potato Biscuits
Can you even have ham and grits without biscuits?  And what's more Southern than sweet potato biscuits?  My grandmother used to make them, but unfortunately, no one has her recipe.  This one will do, though!  My mama helped out and made the biscuits at her house and I popped them in the oven at the last minute. 
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
2 heaping tablespoons sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup cooked and mashed sweet potatoes
1/2 stick softened butter
2-4 tablespoons of milk (depending on moisture in potatoes)
Preheat oven to 450.  Sift together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.  In a separate bowl, mix sweet potatoes and butter.  Add flour mixture to potato mixture to make a soft dough.  Add in milk, 1 tablespoon at a time, to get desired consistency.  Turn out onto a floured board and knead just a little until it looks smooth.  Roll to a 1/2" thickness and cut with biscuit cutter.  Place biscuits on a greased pan and brush with melted butter.  Bake for about 15 minutes.  Lower temperature of oven if they are browning too fast.
These were delicious, but I wanted to have some regular biscuits in case someone didn't like sweet potato.  I'm gonna let you in on a little secret.  Just between you and me?  The other biscuits were frozen!  I LOVE Mary B's Southern Tea Biscuits.  They are divine.  And they are the perfect little dainty biscuit.  And if you eat four, well that's ok.  They're petite!  You can get them at Wal-Mart or Winn Dixie in the frozen breads section.  Try them.  I won't tell anyone!
Mama's Best Pickles
We have been making these "homemade" garlic pickles for many years, and we absolutely love them!  Between me and mama, one of us always has some on hand in the fridge.  Mama calls them garlic pickles.  I call them "Mama's Best Pickles".  You'll see why...
46 oz. dill hamburger chips
3 cups granulated sugar
1 heaping tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
Drain pickles and place in large glass or plastic bowl.  Be sure to keep your pickle jar and lid.  Mix in all other ingredients.  Stir well and cover with plastic wrap.  Let sit on counter overnight, stirring every once in a while.  Put pickles and juice back in pickle jar and refrigerate.  These will keep indefinitely, but trust me, they go fast!
Couple of notes about these pickles.  When we first started making these, we used whole dills and cut them about 1/4" thick.  This makes them very pretty and old-fashioned looking.  Hamburger chips are just much, much easier.  Second - you MUST use real sugar.  I know it's a lot.  In fact, I think I have cut it down to 3 cups from the original recipe.  I have tried using half real sugar and half Splenda and it just doesn't work.  They will not crisp back up.  Sorry folks.  Just enjoy them with the real stuff.
As always, before we dismiss our gathering, we always announce the book for the next meeting.  The next selection is...  Well, now!  You didn't think I'd actually tell you here and now, did you?  That's a whole 'nother post.  I'll let you wonder a while...


I'm so glad you stopped by my neck of the woods!
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