Everything old is new again

by Don Bingham

The new year is here, and it’s time to simplify, gear back, spend less, enjoy less stress, diet, pay bills and decompress! This can be true for decorating and cooking as well. It was great fun to “gild the lily” and overdo during the Thanksgiving and Christmas season.  Now is the time to clear out, give away, condense to less — and recycle those treasures we already have stored in the attic and closets.

This is a great time for entertaining as well. With all red gone and just the simplicity of winter greens in the house, perhaps intertwined with natural vines and pinecones, the house can be beautifully appointed with just one natural arrangement in that strategic focal point and seen from most areas of the house.

It’s the perfect opportunity to rearrange the furniture, change pictures, turn things at a different angle and purchase that new lampshade. Many will remember the old phrase “a change is as good as a rest” and in this case, freshening things up will give you a new incentive to entertain a small crowd of close friends as you start the new year.

One of our favorite means of decorating is with books and magazines! We all need to read more and January will allow us to peruse the stack of magazines or read a chapter from a book we have had to neglect — curled in our favorite chair with a cup of tea or coffee. Books piled four and five high on a round table with an empty crystal vase in the center is a decorating tip that most can do. It’s no-cost but offers the opportunity to travel, explore, be inspired — all while seated in our favorite cozy spot in the house.

It’s also time for comfort foods, perhaps with a definitive “nod” to no sugars and added preservatives — those foods that are our favorites, the ones that allow us to decipher the herbs and spices, the natural flavors of the dish and are much more “pure” in their presentation, such as stir-fry, stewed cabbage in chicken broth, steamed broccoli with lemon and fresh cut fruits.

Zucchini and grape tomatoes with cilantro is a great exotic-flavored dish that could be a main entre served with crusty French bread — a meatless dish that is full of flavor and satisfaction. If you wish, add one of your favorite soups to this fare and invite four of your dearest friends to dinner and conversation about the coming year and your goals. Antipasto platters are a great conversation enhancer for entertaining. For those who still have the sweet tooth, the Double Chocolate Brownies are a sure pleaser and are very easy to prepare ahead of time and serve simply to your guests.

Whatever your culinary taste may be, take the time to entertain and have company for fellowship and encouragement! You’ve already put away Christmas, the house is in great shape and there’s no need for great expense in decorating. Everyone is ready to see the “normal” decor again. By all means, enjoy the winter with “everything old is new again” entertaining!

Antipasto Platter

Sliced Prosciutto di Parma
Sliced salami, sopressata and coppa
Black or green Mediterranean olives
Marinated mushrooms, artichokes and red and yellow peppers
Grilled eggplant and zucchini with balsamic vinaigrette
Roasted artichoke spread or olivada (black olive paste)
Ripe melon and clusters of grapes
Fresh mozzarella and chunks of Parmigiano Reggiano
Bread sticks and foccacia

Zucchini and Grape Tomatoes with Cilantro

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 medium zucchini (2 pounds), cut into 1/2-inch rounds
1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, halved lengthwise
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 4 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Transfer to a plate and wipe out skillet.

Heat remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in the skillet over medium-high heat. Add zucchini and cover. Cook, stirring occasionally, just until crisp-tender, about 6 minutes. Stir in tomatoes and onions. Cook, uncovered, just until tomatoes are heated through, about 2 minutes. Mix in cilantro and season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a serving dish and serve hot.

Carrot Soup

3 tablespoons butter
5-6 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 onion, thinly sliced
4 cups chicken stock (or canned broth)
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar (or to taste)
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1/2 clove garlic, crushed with salt
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup cooked rice

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large saucepan; add carrots and onions. Cover and cook over low heat until the onions are soft but not brown. Stir in the stock, cover and simmer until vegetables are very soft; about 30 minutes. Puree solids in food processor or blender in small batches, reserving liquid. Return to saucepan with the liquid. Add the sugar and season to taste with the crushed garlic and freshly ground pepper. Add cream and bring to a boil and remove immediately from the heat. Whisk in the remaining 1 tablespoon butter. Garnish with the cooked rice. May be made several days ahead and reheated gently; add the butter at that point.

Tuscan Tomato Soup

1/4 cup olive oil
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
4 carrots, peeled and finely diced
4 stalks celery, finely diced
3 medium onions, finely diced
3 quarts canned tomatoes with juice or
14 large ripe fresh tomatoes, peeled and seeded
1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
6 leaves fresh basil (optional)
Salt and ground pepper

Heat the oil and butter in a heavy kettle. Cook the carrots, celery and onions for about 20 minutes or until very tender. Add the tomatoes and continue cooking over moderate heat for 25-30 minutes or longer. Stir in parsley and basil, season with salt and pepper, cook a minute or so longer and serve hot. Variation: This soup can be strained and thinned with light cream for a more elegant presentation. Stir a teaspoon of Pesto into each bowl of soup and top with a dollop of sour cream.

Double Chocolate Brownies

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut up, plus softened butter for the pan
11 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
1 cup packed light brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup or honey
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for the pan
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips, divided

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350. Lightly butter a 13 X 9-inch metal baking pan. Line bottom and two short sides of pan with 18-inch length of aluminum foil (preferably nonstick foil), pleating the foil lengthwise to make a 9-inch wide strip. Fold foil hanging over two short ends to make “handles”. Dust exposed areas of pan with flour and tap out e

Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Remove from heat and stir in chopped chocolate. Let stand until chocolate softens, about 3 minutes, then whisk until smooth. Whisk in brown and granulated sugars and corn syrup or honey. One at a time, whisk in eggs, then vanilla.
Sift flour, baking soda and salt together. Add to chocolate mixture and stir in pan until smooth. Mix in half of chocolate chips. Spread evenly in pan.

Bake just until a toothpick inserted in center of brownie comes out with a moist crumb, 40 to 45 minutes. Do not overbake. Place pan on a wire cake rack. Sprinkle with remaining 1 cup chips. Let stand until chips are shiny, about 5 minutes. Using a metal spatula, spread melted chips into thin layer over brownie. Cool completely.

Run a knife between brownie and unlined pan sides to release brownie. Lift up on foil handles to remove brownie in one piece. Peel off and discard foil. Cut brownie into 16 pieces. If you wish, cut brownies into bite-size pieces for more servings. (The brownies can be made up to two days ahead and then individually wrapped in plastic wrap and stored at room temperature.)


Recognized throughout the state as an accomplished chef, Don Bingham has authored cookbooks, presented television programs and previously served as the executive chef at the Governor’s Mansion. He is now the director of special events at the University of Central Arkansas.


Don Bingham
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