ACC’s Kitchen

ACC’s 2017 Gift Guide

Somehow this year December just sort of snuck up on me so I was a bit behind the ball on gifts.  Usually I purchase them throughout the year when I find something just right, but on Thanksgiving I realized I had no gift pile started!  If you are in the same boat as me never fear – I have picked out a bunch of fun items at all price levels for friends and family that like eating, drinking and entertaining.  Happy holidays!

For your city dwelling cook – Food 52’s Grow-Anywhere Herb Grow Bar

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This genius bar can be added right under your kitchen cabinets so you can have a thriving herb garden right in your own kitchen, no backyard or window required.

For your preppy entertainer – CB2’s Franklin Double Old Fashioned Glass

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I love anything tortoise and these glasses have that great Ralph Lauren look to them (at a much more reasonable price).  They would be a great way to punch up your table as water glasses or as aptly named – for a delicious old fashioned.  I would love to see these under the tree (hint, hint).

For someone who has everything – William’s Sonoma Outdoor Pizza Oven

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It’s pricey (around $300) but think how much you would save on delivery!  Also a great gift to go in on with other family members.  Our neighbors have a wood fired one and it’s really terrific but this one is even easier as you can hook it up to a propane tank just like a grill.

For the Scandal (or wine) fan – Crate and Barrel’s Camille Red Wine Glasses

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Yes these are the exact glasses that Olivia Pope comes home and swirls red wine in on her pristine cream colored couch (which may be the most unrealistic thing about the show).  I love how delicate they are with the large globe – these have been on my list for years but Patrick knows me well enough to know I would probably break them in a minute…

For the cocktail lover – Mouth’s Mini Gin Gift Pack

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There are so many great craft small batch spirits being made now and Mouth.com has a great selection.  I love the pretty bottles on a bar cart especially these gins made in Chicago.

For the book lover – l’appart or Rasika

 

I love getting cookbooks as I usually don’t buy them for myself – the Rasika Flavors of India book is an exception because I just had to run out and get the book from one of my favorite restaurants.  The book is beautiful and the recipes are a lot less complex than you would think.  David Lebovitz is a terrific American writer who lives in Paris and his new book is a funny and yummy look at his life there.  It also has some great recipes as well.

For your silly friend – Tukernuck’s Buzzed Cocktail Napkins

 

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My friend Hilary LOVES entertaining gifts with funny sayings on them and I have been the lucky recipient of many (some of you may remember the “When I dip you dip we dip” dip bowl I have featured).  These cocktail napkins are a great stocking stuffer.

For pankcake lovers – Stonewall Kitchen’s New England Breakfast Gift

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My Aunt Janice got me this one year and it’s the perfect gift – we all end up feeling like we don’t need more “stuff” but who wouldn’t want yummy breakfast food?  Especially at a time of the year when you are bound to have more guests, this is a great gift from a delicious Maine based company.  Best of all it comes in a great Nantucket style basket you can keep and reuse.

ACC’s Fave Registry Items for Wedding Season

And so it begins – wedding season.  I am so excited that this year 3 different couples we are friends with have gotten engaged, love is in the air!  Of course that also means showers, registries and combining households.  When Patrick and I got engaged people almost immediately asked where we were registered, as if we had stepped off the beach in Puerto Rico and directly into a Target to start the list.  I know a lot of couples, especially those who meet each other later in life when they are more established, say they don’t need anything so they aren’t going to register.  However, the reality is that people are excited for you and the way they know how to show it is to buy you table linens!  If you don’t register then people will freelance and you will end up with a lot of stuff you don’t need.  Registries have some a long way – you can use sites that consolidate several different stores,  register for travel and other unconventional things.  We registered for a bar for our basement and we use it all the time (thanks Auntie Jan!).

My friends have been asking me what they should register for their kitchen so I figured I would pull some tips together for folks looking to make the most out of their registry and for guests who are struggling with what to buy for their friends and family.  Don’t look for a one size fits all list – every registry is personal to the couple so don’t trust any resource that tells you it has “everything you need.”  The first thing you should do is take stock of what you already have as well as what type of lifestyle you have or plant to have.  Are you big entertainers?  Cocktail enthusiasts?  Cooking shortcut specialists?  This will help you narrow down what direction you should go in.  Then follow some of these themes (I have linked to the items that I registered for and love).

UPGRADE!  This is a familiar refrain in my family as I love to upgrade (sometimes by force) people’s stuff.  I am sure you didn’t wait to meet the love of your life to have coffee cups but do you really like them?  Do they all match?  How about your cookware?  Pots and pans are great for this, especially if you are still using the set you won for free in college.  I love All Clad for saucepans and roasting, Le Creuset for dutch ovens and Swiss Diamond for non stick pans.  Knives are also a good upgrade – your cooking will be so much better if you have good quality knives.

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Small Appliances – The first thing that went on my registry was a Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer.  I had always wanted one, and really could have just bought it for myself, but it always seemed a little extravagant since I already had a hand mixer.  My Aunt Carol got it for me and I use it every single week.  If you don’t have one I cannot recommend it more – it is a counter hog but its such a workhorse and you can buy attachments that make pasta, ice cream, and on and on so you don’t have to buy other appliances.  Other great items are a really nice coffee maker, wine fridge, or food processor.  (This is also a good place to upgrade – how long have you had that toaster??)

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Shop Local – Registering at a small local business not only helps support your community but really gives you the personal touch you lose in the big box stores.  We registered at Hill’s Kitchen, a store you will find me referring to a ton on the blog.  For people who like to actually shop in a brick and mortar store this gives them that option and usually local businesses have unique items you won’t find anywhere else so your registry doesn’t feel as generic.  Leah, the store’s owner, spent a ton of time with us helping us pick out items that were absolutely perfect.  Even better, now when Patrick needs to buy me a present he knows he can head to Hills Kitchen and Leah will know exactly what I like and already have!  I am sure if you ask around in your own town many of your favorite stores are registering people as well.

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Go with the classics – I know a lot of people in my generation think they don’t need fancy china to entertain.  You absolutely don’t need it but once I started thinking about it I really liked the idea of having the same pieces for years and years with all the holidays and family memories attached.  Make sure to pick a pattern that is timeless, we went with Golden Grosgrain by Vera Wang for Wedgewood.  I love the very subtle gold details and how fine the pieces are.  Best of all they go right into the dishwsher, which was a must for me.  I also don’t wait until a holiday to use my china, I pull it out for week night dinners or casual brunches.  Nice heavy flatware is also a good idea – I have 6 place settings for everyday by Laguiole but registered for 12 settings at Crate and Barrel.  Once you start to have larger family meals you will be glad not to mix and match.  Just like with the china, make sure its a classic pattern that isn’t so trendy you will be bored with it in a couple of years.

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Entertaining Pieces – I entertain all the time so glassware, table linens and serving dishes were really important.  Think carefully about how you entertain – if you do lots of dinner parties then tablecloths and linen napkins are a good idea.  Stemless wine glasses work for just about any kind of drink and are easy to store.  Are you the one who always hosts for the big game?  Get a big beverage bucket and a dish for chips and dip.  We actually have two beverage dispensers – they are great for punches for parties or even just water for backyard BBQs.  If you are big into cocktails this spherical ice maker is Patrick’s favorite toy and these shakers are the best.

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Hopefully for couples looking to start their registry this gives you some ideas.  For guests I usually recommend sticking to what the couple wants (thats why they created the registry right?) but that doesn’t mean you can’t still be creative.  I really love to get one thing off of someone’s registry and then building a gift around it.  If someone asked for a cocktail shaker get them the one they want along with a bottle of St. Germain, a good cocktail book and some cute glasses to match.  Here is wishing you and your friends and family a lifetime of love and happiness!

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Making Your Own Compound Butter

Possibly one of the easiest way to impress your friends and family is to “make your own butter.”  No I am not advocating churning butter by hand, just taking regular butter and making it more awesome by adding lots of flavor.  This is an easy way to perk up winter veggies, just toss with compound butter after you roast or steam squash or root veggies.  Here are some ideas to get you started but really everything goes better with butter to just use this to get started and let me know what you come up with.

Blue Cheese Butter:  As evidenced by the picture above blue cheese can actually turn your butter blue but its so delicious you won’t notice.  PERFECT for on top of a steak you can also use it on top of a backed potato.

Herb Compound Butter:  This is by far the most versatile version.  I use it to flavor and baste my cornish game hens in one of my most popular recipes.  Its great slathered on bread or added to steamed or roasted vegetables.  The best part is you can use whatever herbs you have handy and in whatever combination you would like.  Sage and rosemary go great together as do thyme and parsley but the sky is the limit.

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Roasted Garlic Butter:  Make a bunch of roasted garlic and combine some with butter and you have a great addition to mashed potatoes, pasta, or cream sauces.  This is great for shortcut garlic bread as well – just toast up crusty bread, spread on roasted garlic butter and season with salt and pepper.

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Cinnamon Butter:  Salt is really key here – combine salt, cinnamon and butter together and put it out for a pancake bar, to top an English muffin or with scones.

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Chipolte Butter:  Finely chop some chipoltes in adobo and add to butter to create an instant sauce for vegetables.  A nice light side for taco night the butter will melt right away when added to roasted asparagus or green beans.  Its also great on top of carne asada or corn on the cob.

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Thanksgiving Recipe Roundup

For those of you who didn’t come up with your Thanksgiving menu months ago (better known as sane people) I decided to post some ideas from the A Capitol Contessa archive to inspire you.  I also included a couple of vegetarian main dishes if folks in your family don’t do turkey.  This year we are having a small group, just 4 people, but for a special meal you should always go all out on the table.  I based my table around antique “turkey plates” that were my grandmother’s.  They don’t have turkeys on them, actually they show scenes of Boston, but since they were used every Thanksgiving, my mom, aunts and uncles started calling them the turkey plates and it stuck.  My own wedding china, Vera Wang for Wedgewood, goes really nice on top as a salad plate.  To add some texture I used these Pier 1 Rattan Chargers (on sale now!) and tortoiseshell napkin rings.  To add some sparkle I used my favorite gold flatware set from Target and my new Gem Toned glasses from Pottery Barn in Amber.  Thanksgiving is definitely were you want to use a tablecloth instead of place mats to catch errant gravy drips.  I used a neutral beige once (similar here) – now all I need is flowers, a pitcher of water and lots of wine and my table is all set.  If you are having an even smaller Thanksgiving for 1 or 2 people I am posting a great weeknight turkey dish on Thursday that would work well.  Next week we will be dark for the holiday but when ACC returns it will be all holidays all the time!

Drinks and Appetizers

The Fall A-Way Cocktail

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Mascarpone Blue Cheese Dip

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Caramelized Onion and Goat Cheese Crostini

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Vegetarian Mains

Roasted Cauliflower and Farro

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Pumpkin Lasagna

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Sides

Roasted Carrots with Vadouvan Yogurt Sauce

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Over the Top Mashed Potatoes

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Lemony Brussel Sprouts

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Holiday Salad

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Roasted Onions

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Desserts

Individual Apple Crisps

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Peanutty Oatmeal Cookies

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ACC’s Kitchen: Favorites from Trader Joes

Hello wall of cheese!  I hope most of you are lucky enough to live near a Trader Joe’s – I can hardly contain myself that one is actually opening in walking distance from my house!  For anyone who has survived a Trader Joe’s parking lot then you know how amazing that is.  The reason those parking garages are like the Hunger Games is that once you get hooked on Trader Joe’s you just want more.  I will admit that it is not the best store for everything – the produce can be iffy, same with the meat selection and you won’t be finding rolls of Bounty or boxes of Lucky Charms here.  However, for life’s important things – cheese, wine, croissants and fresh flowers – TJ’s is the best.  Shopping there can be a bit overwhelming, especially at peak times, so it’s easy to pass right by terrific items if you don’t know what to look for.  I have seen a couple articles on the best TJ items, all which left out some of my favorites and then my dad introduced me to their chocolate croissants which I had been missing for years!  Clearly it was time to share A Capitol Contessa’s Best of TJ’s to hopefully help you get out of there with all your limbs attached and a cart full of goodies.

Flowers

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Starting here since they are usually right by the door.  I love having fresh cut flowers in my house especially when it starts to get cold and nasty out but it’s an expensive habit.  TJ’s doesn’t have the biggest selection but the quality is good and the prices cannot be beat.  I like to grab a couple bunches of a single flower so it looks really bountiful – I will usually go with the alstroemeria (also known as Peruvian lilies), roses, tulips or hydrangeas.  If you like a little more variety they have mixed bouquets as well.  Grab some flowers and add them to your cart and they will bring a sense of clam as you enter the breach.

Produce

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As I mentioned, this is certainly not TJ’s strong point.  I have often found a giant pile of avocados just to discover that every single one is almost liquid inside.  Same for pre-washed lettuce – just don’t, the odds are about 99% that once you get home it will already be rotten.  However, there are a couple of notable high points where TJ’s gets it better than most grocery stores.  Jalapenos for instance, TJ’s sells them in plastic clamshell boxes so you get about a dozen or so and they are big, spicy and are always in good shape.  Perfect for making jalapeno chips.  Also terrific (random I know) are their bags of green scallions.

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I find that even in the best grocery stores often green onions are tiny, or totally limp, or half rotten.  The ones at Trader Joe’s are really good and keep for a while in the bag (pro tip – add a paper towel to the inside of that bag before you put it back in the fridge and they will last even longer).  You can sometimes get lucky with other fruits, veggies etc but these are the two that really stand out to me.  I am going to skip the meat section entirely because unless you are in a pinch and just need to grab chicken breasts there is really nothing to recommend there.

Refrigerated Dips and Pastas 

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I have never had a hummus from Trader Joe’s that I didn’t enjoy, and look at all the different varieties they have!  Great for taking into work as a snack (and yes they sell snack size too), their dips are also great for parties.  If you are hosting a ton of people grab their white bean spread or spicy hummus and just keep them in your fridge for back up.  Also delicious their fresh pastas that can be found right next to the hummus.  Don’t skip the Chicken Pot Pie Ravioli.

All the Cheese

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Now we are about to get serious.  If you go into Trader Joe’s for one thing and one thing only, make sure it’s a visit to their cheese wall.  For someone who makes a lot of cheese boards and has what some might qualify as a cheese problem, Trader Joe’s is the solution.  Extremely reasonably priced cheeses and a huge selection.  My favorites are the Dubliner Cheddar (which you will not find cheaper anywhere, ever), St. Andre, a brie like cheese, the Drunken Goat, Trader Joe’s brand Feta Cheese in Brine, their Goat Gouda, their fresh mozzarella…I could go on and on.  It’s a great place to grab cheeses that can get pretty pricey elsewhere like grueyre as they are sold in sealed packages so last for a long time until you have a french onion soup emergency.

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Also right next to the cheese is a deli meat display.  Please skip past all the sad looking pre-sliced turkey and go right for the prosciutto.  I like this brand in the picture better then their own Trader’s Joe brand but either way they are both very inexpensive and another great staple to have in your fridge (grilled cheese with prosciutto emergencies are a real thing too).

Nuts and Dried Fruit

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Make sure to hit the nut aisle before the holidays – the prices are out of this world.  I buy in bulk and then make my famous spiced nuts as gifts for people all season long.  I also make sure to have a bag of roasted and salted cashews on hand for any impromptu happy hour.  TJ’s also has a great selection of dried fruit like cranberries, apple chips and crystallized ginger.

Canned Goods

There is usually one aisle next to produce that has various canned goods, condiments and the like.  I am a snob when it comes to oils and vinegars so I usually skip past those.  The canned beans and coconut milk are good and cheap but not really any better then what you get at a regular store.  What are great are these Yellow and Red Roasted Peppers.  Not only do I like that they use two different color peppers (presentation is everything!) but they are nicely charred, and are a great deal.  Another terrific pantry staple to turn into crostini or pizza topping.

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This aisle or perhaps the end of it, is usually where all the seasonal stuff is.  When fall hits I head straight to Trader Joe’s and buy all the pumpkin everything.  That Pancake and Waffle mix is incredible and I will be posting a recipe next week for a dip to go with their Pumpkin and Cranberry Crisps that would be perfect for Thanksgiving.

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Sweets

A lot of the stuff at Trader Joe’s is meant to support a healthy live style, organic, etc etc but they also have some really dangerous treats scattered around the store.  My friends Debbie and Toby introduced us to these Dunkers that are just awesome with coffee.  Usually they are in the frozen food aisle.

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Also in the frozen aisle are their incredible self rising croissants.  On a recent visit to my dad’s house he opened my eyes to these babies and as soon as I came back I had to get them.  They are sold frozen but you have to make sure to plan in advance as they rise over night.  Take them out of the packaging and place them on a baking sheet the night before and viola, the next AM they have tripled in size and are ready to bake off.  20 minutes later it’s like you have a French cafe right in your own kitchen.  They have plain mini ones, my favorite the chocolate ones and my dad’s favorite the almond ones.  They are the perfect thing to make when you have overnight guests.

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Unfortunately they didn’t have any of my favorite sweet treat last time I visited – the Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramels.  They usually carry them around Christmas, though this year they also did a pumpkin version for fall.  SO good – make sure to stock up this December to last you through the first nasty snow storm.

Wine and Beer

Now that you have all that cheese you are going to need wine to go with it.  Again low prices and a pretty diverse selection though you can run into some duds here.  The craft beer selection is always solid and usually features whatever is local (in DC is its a good spot to pick up Port City or DC Brau beer).  For wine I usually go with the Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc or the Rabbit Ridge Allure de Robles but there are also some nice Italian reds and French roses.  Avoid the 2 buck chuck and go for those with the “staff pick” signs and you should be good.

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I am always on the look out for new great Trader Joe’s products so make sure to leave your favorites in the comments section.  I looked like a total ass taking pictures in the store but I do it all for you dear readers!  Luckily I had a couple nice bottles of wine and a whole cart full of cheese to help get over my embarrassment…

House Wine Part Deux – Rose and Sparkling

This is part two of a post I  did on choosing your own house wine back in May of last year.  It is still one of my all time most viewed posts (even though back then my photographs and formatting were a little struggles!).  People really responded to the idea of keeping on hand some classic, go with anything wines that were affordable.  It makes life really easy and entertaining a breeze if you know you have a half case of a favorite red and white in your basement that you can pull out at any time.  Well since that post I have finally settled on a house rose and a house sparkling so I wanted to share those with you as well.  Perfect summer sippers, they are a great addition to your “house” collection.

 

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If I had unlimited funds, for sure my house sparkling wine would be Veuve Clicquot.  It is my favorite champagne, so much so that we visited their caves while on our honeymoon.  However, until I win powerball, the Vueuve is going to have to wait for special occasions.  Luckily I stumbled across a terrific cava that is light and crisp with just the right amount of bubbles.  Dibon Cava Brut Reserve can be drank on its own or mixed in a cocktail or mimosa.  I have found some of the cheaper sparkling wines really must be mixed with something but this one stands on its own.  The price point cannot be beat – I have found it for as low as $9 a bottle, usually its around $11-12.  I have seen it at Wegmans, Total Wine and even Harris Teeter.  For folks that are on Capitol Hill you can also find it at P&C Market on Lincoln Park.  Even better, it has a very similar color label to that of Veuve so if you just sort of squint your eyes you can pretend its the real thing!  No really, having a couple of bottles on hand is great for the impromptu brunch or when something unexpected comes along that you want to celebrate.  Add this to your house collection and you won’t have to wait for New Years to be popping corks.

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It took a while to finally nail down my house rose.  To me a good rose is dry, slightly fruity and light in color.  It should be drinkable on its own but also have enough acid to be paired with food.  Finding all that with an affordable price was not easy until I found Famille Perrin Reserve Cotes du Rhone Rose.  It has nice subtle berry flavor but is also really crisp.  Many of you are familiar with Cotes du Rhone reds from France and this family run vineyard produces those as well.  However, with their rose they use stainless steel tanks to give it a lighter body.  I often find this at World Market – if you wait until their White and Rose sale that they have several times a year you can pick one of these up for as low as $7 a bottle.  With the chic French label and its drinkability people will never know you could buy a whole case for less than $100.  I really like this rose paired with French cheeses of course but it also really pairs well with light summer foods like my summer Chicken and Rice Salad dish or my corn risotto.  Also since France has finally gotten on the screwtop train this becomes the perfect picnic wine.  If you already have a sparkling wine and rose that you really love no worries – these are just my favorites.  Either way make sure to stock up and your summer will be spent sipping stress free.

 

One Whole Year for A Capitol Contessa

It is really hard to believe that a year ago I was celebrating with my friends and family the launch of A Capitol Contessa (and Cinco de Mayo).  One year, 139 posts, over 3,500 visitors and a zillion pictures later I feel like I have learned so much.  The pictures from some of those first posts are truly horrifying, why so small??  I have gotten way better at the technical aspects, though my food photography could still use some work.  I have learned the hard way that the best dinner parties are often the hardest to capture for the blog -too much wine and too much fun means forgetting to photograph whole courses or pics that are less than stellar.  My friends have gotten so good about holding back and waiting while I take pics – all of you are so generous and supportive, eating my experiments, helping come up with ideas and cheering me on.  I love knowing that friends and family far away are making the same food as me and enjoying it even if we cannot be together.

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What??  How did this possibly turn into Osso Bucco?

My process has evolved a bit but its still hard for me to be consistent with writing things down as I cook.  Years of throwing things in the pan and eyeballing everything is tough to break.   In the coming year I hope to post more entertaining ideas and build up my recipe collection.  I would love to have some guest bloggers and already have some volunteers so be on the look out for those posts.  I love highlighting local restaurants and shops and hope to discover new gems to share with you all.  I also want to conquer homemade pasta once and for all – it’s my white whale for some reason!!

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My last attempt…FAIL

What would you all like to see?  Please send me a note through the website or on social media.  Inspiration has been coming from a lot of different sources but the best by far is my readers!  I also hope to increase that readership so please share A Capitol Contessa with anyone who loves to cook or host.  Also please sign on and follow me on Instagram or Twitter.  I am still getting the hang of this whole social media stuff but I try to keep my content fresh and different on the various platforms so you don’t see the same post 4 different times.  For my part I promise to keep testing, testing, testing so that anything of mine you try, you know it will be a home run on the first shot.  Honesty is my policy – even if it means sharing the less glamorous side of food blogging.  How about this photo-interruptus?

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I have some great stuff lined up for the summer – a rum tasting party, wedding registry suggestions and lots of grilling recipes.  I am also going to do some follow ups to your favorite posts like Pick Your Own House Wine, my gluten free and make ahead dinner party plans, and of course Nutty’s French Toast.  I hope you all have had fun following along with me on this ride the last year.  I love to hear that a post inspired someone to just go home and cook.  Remember, no one is perfect – not even Ina or the sainted Julia.  So keep cooking and try not to burn anything!  Cheers to another year – XO, Alex

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yep this happened

 

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