What I’ve Been Doing Lately…

Oh my goodness…..the last several weeks have been a whirlwind!  I’ve wanted to post so many times; however each time I wanted to write, it was about the surprise party I was planning for Jeff. And, of course, writing about it on the blog sort of ruins the element of surprise!

This year was a big birthday for Jeff – in fact, it was the Big Five-Oh! As in OhmygoodnesshowcanIbeturning50!?!  Although this birthday didn’t seem to hit him as hard as his 30th, he was still a bit mopey…throwing out phrases like, “this is my last shower (cup of coffee, work day, etc.) in my 40’s.”

As hard as this birthday was for him, it was hard on me too!  Just about every single sentence I spoke to him from January 15th through March 4th was a lie!  While that may sound easy [and to some it IS easy], it was pretty difficult for me.  I don’t know which was harder – thinking of the lies or remembering the lies!

And in the midst of the planning were Valentine’s Day (which isn’t that big a deal to us, but has to be acknowledged nonetheless), his actual birthday, class prep, a party for a friend, cooking for a bridal shower my niece Ashley was throwing for a friend [which happened to be the same day of the party], my regular schedule, and – oh yeah, just for fun – another kidney stone!!!  Additionally, I was trying to throw this party with 40 guests without raising suspicion that I was spending money – not easy to pull off when Jeff enters all the financial transactions into the computer!  If nothing else, I thrive on stress….

I’d like to say I took tons of pictures of the food; but that would be a lie.  I took pics of the party set up but by the time the party got underway, I was too involved in trying to surprise Jeff and hostessing.  Incidentally, the surprise part was a bit of a flop; but the party itself was a lot of fun!

Jeff’s good friend, Craig (you might remember him from my Something’s Brewing post) brewed two commemorative beers for the occasion and put together a killer playlist (which he and Jeff refer to as a mix-tape – those of you in my age bracket will giggle at this terminology)!  Having Craig take charge of beer and music was a huge help. That allowed me to focus on food and decorations.  So, I thought about what kind of food (1) goes well with beer; (2) can be prepared ahead and secretly transported to another location; (3) feeds a crowd and (4) is on Jeff’s list of favorite foods (or at least near the favorites list).

Chili bar was the obvious choice.  I decided to make my Chilly Weather Sirloin Chili (with ground beef instead of sirloin cubes as a time saver). After choosing the main food, the rest pretty much fell into place.  Rice, Fritos, Ranch Oyster Crackers (thanks, Ron), toppings (such as cheddar, pepper-jack, scallions, sour cream, and cilantro), a big salad [and not just any salad – MIMI’s SALAD], buttermilk cornbread with Honey-Cinnamon-Cayenne Butter, and for dessert – Jeff’s favorite – his mom’s chocolate cake with peanut butter icing and some s’mores bark for good measure.  Obviously, I needed to add some other beverages – wine for the non-beer drinkers, “middle of the road” beer for the less adventurous beer drinkers, bottled water and soda rounded out the beverage options.

Then came the theme – since it was a chili bar, I found some great printables on Pinterest and took it from there.  I designed the invitation and then created a burlap table banner to “match” the invite.  I also borrowed a previously used table banner reading ‘Aged to Perfection,’ which loosely related to the beer theme.  I wrapped “silverware” in brown bags and tied it with bakery twine, made some 50-related signs that I displayed in beer bottles and copied old photos of Jeff onto velum and wrapped clear candle holders with the velum for fun table decorations.  I used six-pack carriers as Frito “bowls” around the room, I put chalkboard stickers on wine and beer cups so people could personalize them and got paper plates and napkins to match the theme.  Throw in some bandanas and a Chili Bar sign and voila – a party.

Deciding where to have it was another challenge – it’s quite a complex undertaking to throw a surprise party for 40 people where the guest of honor lives!!!  I didn’t even try that.  A few places came to mind, but the clubhouse in my parent’s neighborhood was a great landing-place from a surprise perspective.  The challenge; however, was getting everything there without Jeff knowing.  For several weeks before the party I carted things from our house to my parent’s house – and I mean lots of things.  My parent’s living room was gradually getting smaller due to the pile of ‘party stuff’ I was making.

The day before the party, I prepped the food for the surprise and most of the food for the bridal shower (see above) – with help from a friend, thanks Tammy!  The day of, I had to get up early and head to my mom’s house to finalize the shower food and meet my niece for the food hand-off.  After that, Mimi and I set up the room and prepped the remaining food for Jeff’s party.  In the afternoon I raced home to get ready (there was barely time for a shower and some primping) and then met my sister to start carrying the pile from my parent’s living room to the party venue – thanks Laura!

We met up with Craig (my beer & music hero) and Chris (his lovely wife who was such a big help throughout the party). Then Laura and I raced back to my parent’s house to change our clothes in the living room – laughing and somewhat out of breath.  Then Laura went back to the party venue to greet guests while I waited for Jeff to arrive for our “night out to celebrate his birthday.”  On the way out the door, my mom asked if we could help her by delivering her food to a block party (yes, this was part of the lie to get Jeff to the party).  Jeff [carrying some the of food for his own party] and I walked through the door of the clubhouse and were about 5 feet from the door to the room in which the party was being held when he looked over at me and asked, “do you want me to ACT surprised?”

In that split second I thought about the ramifications of murdering him, but decided that 40 witnesses were too many so I did my best not to strangle him and proceeded to enjoy time with our friends and family.  Although the surprise was not a success, the party was.

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And, as it turns out, so was the bridal shower Ashley hosted.  For that I made Cornmeal Cheddar Scones (my friend Tammy’s recipe), Caramel Macchiato Scones, individual omelets in ham cups and fruit skewers with orange vinaigrette.

As I mentioned, in the midst of all this craziness I was also preparing for some classes. The first class – Perfectly Provencal.  The foods and wines were a yummy tribute to the Provencal region of France.  The menu:

  • Double-Baked Cheese Soufflé w/ Parmesan Cream
  • Grated Baby Beet Salad
  • Seared Halibut w/ Spicy Mussel Aioli
  • Luxe French Potatoes w/ Lavender
  • Tian Provencal
  • Blood Orange Sponge Cake

The second class – Bring a Friend to Spain.  The foods for this were from all different regions of Spain. The menu:

  • Coca (Pizza) w/ Candied Red Peppers
  • Festive Frisee w/ Pears & Honeyed Lardon
  • Comforting Chicken in Almond & Saffron Sauce
  • Smokey Spiced Spanish Potatoes
  • Asparagus w/ Tangerine Vinaigrette & Pistachio Dust
  • Quesada Pasiega (Spanish Catabrian Cheesecake)

Perhaps my favorite event of recent weeks was the Doljanchi for our twin great-niece and great-nephew.  The doljanchi is the elaborate Korean first birthday celebration with a very interesting ritual – the doljabi.  In addition to the doljabi were tables and tables of delicious Korean foods and unmatched hospitality from Justin’s family.  We had a wonderful time and best of all I didn’t have to make anything, carry anything or keep anything a secret!!!!  I was able to be a guest and enjoy a beautiful celebration of two very cool little people who have stolen my heart!

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I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t somewhat tired from the flurry of activity over the last several weeks.  However, reviewing it all has reminded me how truly lucky I am.  I have a great husband (who is older than me), family and friends who are quick to ask “what can I do” when I say I’m throwing a party (AND THEY MEAN IT), three beautiful littles who bring joy and hope for the future to our family, and so many people with whom Jeff and I can enjoy life…one bite at a time!

Tubtrug! Gesundheit

I recently attended a meeting of the Rudy Gelnett Memorial Library Food for Thought Cookbook Club.  If you’re wondering about the evening, read my post entitled Food for Thought.  Today, however, I am referencing my time with that group for a different reason.

GS Box in Sunlight

Today, I opened a box from Gardener’s Supply Company. Stay with me – you know I have a tendency to SEEMINGLY get sidetracked; but if you hang in there long enough, I usually bring it back around!

Why am I telling you about opening a box from Gardener’s Supply in conjunction to a reference to a cookbook club?  Well, while at the meeting of the cookbook club one of the members, Mona, began taking the dish she had made out of an interesting carrier that I hadn’t seenGS Box before.  At least I thought I hadn’t seen it before until she told me about it and then I realized I had seen it before, just not in the context of a food carrier.

The carrier she was using is called a Tubtrug and is from…..drumroll please….Gardener’s Supply (GS).  GS bills it as “one of the most useful gardening tools.”  Among other things, GS recommends using it for:

  • mixing soil
  • rinsing vegetables
  • repotting plants
  • feeding the dog (depending on the size of your dog and the size of your Tubtrug you could bath the dog in a Tubtrug)
  • stashing mittens and/or hand tools
  • soaking your tired feet

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So in my many journeys through the GS catalog I have seen the Tubtrug, I just never thought of using it as a food carrier until I saw it in action and realized just how practical it is for the task.

I transport food quite a bit and I’ve had my fair share of spills and mishaps in my car – in fact, I had a run of several autos that were cursed with the smell of spilled milk and believe me if you’ve ever spilled milk in your car in the summer you know you DO cry over spilled milk.  But, I digress…..

I purchased the shallow 4-gallon Tubtrug – which measures 15″ in diameter at the top and is 6 1/2″ deep – perfect for many platters and bowls.  If something spills in it, you can easily rinse it out in the sink or with a hose AND you can buy a lid for the shallow 4-gallon Tubtrug – so I did.  The Tubtrug is flexible, but when you put the lid on it, it is less so – more sturdy and steady.  AND, Tubtrugs come in many sizes and colors.

Tubtrug & Lid

Tubtrug & Lid

I can envision using it not only to transport food, but also as an icy server for cold drinks at a picnic, as storage for large quantities of fruits from the market or for when I need a REALLY big bowl of chips!  I’m sure I’ll find many additional kitchen uses for my Tubtrug and will keep you posted if there are any especially great ones.

I suspect I might need to buy one or two more for in the garden as well. And I can envision them being great storage bins around the house too.

A quick search of ‘Tubtrug’ on Pinterest showed me the following uses for the Tubtrug:

  • toy storage
  • cleaning supply storage
  • mudroom storage (a different color for each family member)
  • laundry basket
  • pet toy storage
  • baby bathtub
  • hamper
  • tub toy storage

Do you have a Tubtrug?  How do you use it?

Thanks, Mona, for the suggestion.  I cannot wait to deliver a meal to someone just so I can use my new Tubtrug!!!

A Day Away Travel

Recently, I had the pleasure of teaching a class for some travel writers from MATPRA, the Mid-Atlantic Public Relations Alliance.  They were visiting central, PA to learn about all it has to offer travelers and they made several stops throughout the area, including the Kitchen Shoppe & Cooking School.

We had a fun morning, of course – I mean what’s more fun to me than cooking, eating, and entertaining? Not much!

For MATPRA’s visit, I made:

Bittersweet Chocolate Cinnamon Buns

Bittersweet Chocolate Cinnamon Rolls with Coffee Cream Glaze

Frittata

Roasted Tomato, Pesto & Goat Cheese Frittata

Napoleon

Pear Napoleon with Ginger Thyme Pastry Cream

Check out what Mary K. Tilghman from A Day Away Travel wrote about her experience:

Cooking Lessons in Carlisle

Thanks, Mary!  I hope you’ll visit us again at the Kitchen  & Cooking School when you’re in the area!!!!

Hillbilly Cherry Pitter and Delicious Cupcakes

Last Saturday my sister hosted a baby shower to celebrate the impending birth of my great-niece, Kendall (I can’t wait to meet her).  In preparation for the shower, my sister (Laura), my mom (Mimi), my niece (Vanessa) and I gathered together to make tons of cupcakes for the shower.

In the days leading up to our cupcake-fest, we all scoured recipe books, websites, blogs, and, of course, Pinterest for cupcake ideas.  We compared our top picks and decided on two recipes: Lemon Cupcakes with Raspberry Icing (inspired by Lemon Cupcakes with Blackberry Buttercream from Tide & Thyme) and Double Chocolate Cherry Cupcakes (inspired by Double Chocolate Cupcakes with Cherry Mascarpone Frosting from American Heritage Cooking).

In both cases, we used the cake recipe “as is;” however we had to adapt the icing recipes because the weather was predicted to be hot and humid – two enemies of buttercream frosting!!!!!  So for the icing, we used Wilton’s High Humidity Buttercream recipe as the base.

Because we wanted the icing for the lemon cupcakes to be less purple and more pink, we added puree’d and sieved raspberries and additional 10x sugar to the Wilton recipe.  For the chocolate cherry cupcakes we added half the cherry compote (that is included with the cupcake recipe) to the Wilton recipe. In both instances, we used Nielsen-Massey Vanilla Bean Paste rather than clear vanilla extract.  I love the pure vanilla flavor and the specks of vanilla seeds you can see in your baked goods that result from using the vanilla bean paste.  However, if you want your icing (or other baked goods) to be pure white; then clear vanilla extract is the way to go.

So where does the Hillbilly Cherry Pitter come in?

The day before we assembled to bake, I grocery shopped for ingredients.  The list included fresh cherries and I was able to find some gorgeous specimens.  My challenge was that I don’t own a cherry pitter.  364 days a year not owning a cherry pitter does not even register a blip on my radar.  In fact, most years I don’t even buy cherries.  It’s not that I don’t like them…..but I digress.

You’d think working in a beautiful kitchen store that sells over 10,000 kitchen items (at least 6 of them being cherry pitters) would mean I got in the car and drove to work to make a purchase…..but I knew I wouldn’t use it very often and remembered my rule of thumb – “don’t buy a tool or gadget if you can’t think of more than one use for it.”  So I went with the old “necessity is the mother of invention” theory and made my own cherry pitter.

Now, it took a little modifying and a suggestion from Jeff – but I got it “up and running” in short order.  What did I use?  An empty beer bottle and the cover to my instant read thermometer!!!!

I set the beer bottle in the sink (I found this gave me better leverage), took the stem off the cherry, set the cherry on top of the bottle, cupped it with my fingers and thumb, and lightly pressed on the top of the cherry with the cover to the instant read thermometer.  With just the right amount of pressure, the pit went into the bottle and I repeated the process with all the cherries until they were done.  Every now and then I ran the cover to the instant read thermometer under running water to dislodge any cherry flesh that was stuck.  In case you have an inquiring mind, the beer bottle held the pits for approximately 5 – 6 lbs. of cherries.

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The cupcakes turned out beautifully.  The lemon cupcakes were so light and fluffy, which can be attributed to the long beating time.  And the double chocolate cupcakes were dense and richly chocolate – they were the smoothest cupcakes I’ve ever seen pulled from the oven.

Once decorated, fit perfectly into the pink and gray theme of the shower.  And when they were displayed on the pink and “gray” tiers of our home-made cupcake stand with the custom-made picks, they were gorgeous.  Of course, as with any recipe, the final test is the taste.  The speed with which the cupcakes vanished was a hint; but when we finally sat down to enjoy the cupcakes at the shower we found that they were quite delightful.

A few snaps of the cupcake making and the shower:

It was fun to listen to different comments that were made throughout the shower – one person “absolutely loved” the raspberry icing, another liked the surprise inside the chocolate cupcakes, someone thought there was too much icing on the lemon cupcakes (but I’m sure my icing-loving sister would argue that point to the death), another person’s only complaint was that they ate too many, etc.

For me, even better than the physical cupcake outcome, was the opportunity to (1) spend a day baking with my family (which, of course, included lots of laughs, a few mishaps, a nice lunch, and uninterrupted time together) and (2) celebrate the upcoming addition to our family….we couldn’t be more excited to meet Kendall and to watch Ashley and Jason embark on their journey into parenthood!!!

Great Partnerships: Pizza & Beer and MmmMmmMmm & Alter Ego Brewing Company

I am soooooooo excited about my class this coming Sunday (1/19) that I almost can’t contain myself!  Have you ever been involved in something that just feels RIGHT?  That’s how I feel about this class!

I get excited about each of my classes. I really do, I’m not just saying (writing) that! I love having the opportunity to share my passion about cooking and food I have prepared with people.  But I do believe the Pizza Pizzazz! class on Sunday at The Kitchen Shoppe & Cooking School will be truly memorable.  You see, I am partnering with the wonderful folks from Alter Ego Brewing Company for the class.  Together, we will be presenting an interesting, flavor-packed menu paired with some truly remarkable beers!

Now I may sound a bit cocky about Sunday, but please do not mistake my confidence for ego (no pun intended).  And I AM confident because this past Sunday Jeff and I had dinner at our house with Brandalynn & Theo from Alter Ego Brewing Company and together we worked out the beer pairings for class. We had a wonderful time getting to know one another, tasting food and beer combinations, tweaking our pairings and making sure we were in agreement on serving order.

Alter Ego Brewing Company (AEBC) is a small-batch artisanal brewery that will be opening this summer in Harrisburg, PA.  AEBC’s version of their story is a much better narrative than I ever could have written about them!  The only thing I will add is that when you meet Theo & Brandalynn you will have no doubt about their passion for what they do or their fun-loving personalities!

The menu for the class:

  • Light & Lemony Fennel Salad
  • Roasted Potato & Goat Cheese Pizza
  • Ballpark Pizza
  • White Pizza with Asparagus & Egg
  • Asian Chicken Pizza
  • Espresso Panna Cotta

I toyed with whether or not to include the names of the beers that will be paired with the menu items above, but I decided against it.  That would ruin the unveiling in class and the part of me that loves a little drama simply won’t allow it!  So I would encourage you not to miss Pizza Pizzazz!

Here are a few teaser pics of the food and beer from our dinner with Theo & Brandalynn:

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Not only will you leave with 6 great recipes, but you will taste 6 delicious beers that were hand-selected (or is that tastebud-selected) to pair with the food.  Can you think of a better way to spend a Sunday afternoon than having someone else cook for you, being waited on, drinking delicious beer, and spending time with people who have a passion for what they do?  I sure can’t.

There are still a few seats left for Pizza Pizzazz!  To register, simply click here or call The Kitchen Shoppe & Cooking School at (717) 243-0906 or toll-free at (800) 391-2665.  I truly hope to see you there!!!!!

Monday MmmMmmMmm and Class Recap

I LOVE breakfast for dinner! And tonight Jeff made it so it was even better!  And the pancakes were savory, so now we’re 3 for 3!

When I left work tonight I got stuck in traffic – there was a disabled tractor-trailer blocking one lane of the road and things were rrrrreeeeeaaaaallllllllllyyyyy backed up.  So I called Jeff to let him know that I would probably get home later than he would.  Since he had a meeting at church tonight, I suggested that he have some leftover pasta and I told him I would make a sandwich for myself later.

Little did I know he already had a plan cooking in his head!  When I got home he was working on batter for cornmeal pancakes to which he added some sautéed veggies (onions, peppers, spinach, kale) and cheese.  While he was making the batter he was also heating a pan – when the batter was done he spooned some into the hot pan and went to change.  I kept an eye on the pancakes, turning them before he returned.

Pancake Batter

Pancakes on the Griddle

In a matter of minutes we were sitting down to a delicious and nutritious dinner AND Jeff was able to get out the door on time.  I’ll be honest, sometimes the best thing I can do to get dinner on the table is stay out of the way!!!!  I really appreciate it when someone else cooks for me – it makes a Monday MmmMmmMmm even mmm mmm mmm-ier!

While we were eating I was reviewing yesterday in my head.  I taught a class entitled ‘Holiday Brunch for Overnight Guests’ at the Kitchen Shoppe yesterday and I had a great time.

Although I’ve enjoyed all the classes I’ve taught so far, I had a really great group of people yesterday and they made it a lot of fun for me!  I hope they had as much fun as I did!!!  They asked a lot of good questions, interacted with one another, shared tips and ideas, and really seemed to enjoy the food (which, of course, makes me happy).

The menu for class was:

  • Bloody Mary with Roasted Tomatoes
  • Mozzarella, Prosciutto and Arugula Pesto Bruschetta
  • Holiday Baked Egg Casserole
  • Bacon & Green Onion Studded Potato Pancakes
  • French Breakfast Puffs
  • Fruit Skewers with Orange Vinaigrette

The hands-down favorite seemed to be the French Breakfast Puffs, which are yummy light muffins that are rolled in melted butter and cinnamon sugar and served warm.  I first had these on  a trip to Cape Cod.  They were made by The Cottage Street Bakery and have been a family favorite ever since.  I’m glad I got to share them with my class.

The following is a picture of the buffet I set for class yesterday:

Brunch for Overnight Guests BUffet

I hope the folks who came to class will use some of the recipes for the holidays and that they will think of me when they do.  I will surely remember what a good time I had with them the next time I make one of the recipes I served in class.

What are some of your favorite things to serve to overnight guests?

Monday Recipe Love MMM Your Review Leftovers

I know it sounds confusing……but it’s really not.  It’s a Monday Mmm Mmm Mmm, Recipe Review and Love Your Leftovers post all rolled into one!!! Except….oh, no….the holiday weekend has messed me up…..Jeff just reminded me, IT’S NOT MONDAY.  Ugh….Ok, so it’s a Tuesday Mmm Mmm Mmm, Recipe Review and Love Your Leftovers post!!!

Coming up with new and creative ideas for dinner can be just as difficult for someone with a passion for cooking, eating and entertaining as it is for the Average Jane or Average Joe.  Sometimes the creativity just isn’t there and/or sometimes you just don’t feel like cooking.  But when you’ve got leftovers on hand and you’ve just tried a RRREEEAAALLLYYY good recipe, it’s a bit easier.

On Sunday Jeff and I went the home of our friends Lu and Mark for a cookout.  A bunch of folks gathered for an impromptu celebration of Mark’s birthday. And of course, when friends get together you can count on two things – at least with our group of friends – lots of laughs and some darn good food.

Lu made an appetizer platter with a few new-to-her recipes including Pickled Deviled Eggs and Pickled Brussel Sprouts – both mmm mmm mmm.  I made an Ina Garten / Barefoot Contessa recipe that I recently wrote about when our friends Barb and Scott invited us to their lovely home for dinner.  The recipe is Crostini with Whipped Feta and Tomatoes…….I raved about it when Barb made it and my friends raved about it when I did too!

crostiniLu and Mark also grilled hot dogs and hamburgers on the grill, Maureen and Andy brought their yummy mac and cheese, Ev and Jeff brought peach cobbler, and Tim and Jack ran out for glazed donuts when everyone was talking about the Luther Burger craze.  Luther Burgers are allegedly named for Luther Vandross and are cheeseburgers served on sliced glazed donuts.

Well, my assessment of the Luther Burger – five M’s – MMMMM!

But I digress……

Tonight I was stumped about what to make for dinner, so I did what all self-respecting cooks do when they don’t know what to make….I stood in front of the open fridge hoping inspiration would jump out at me….and it did. I spied the container with the leftover whipped feta, a package of chicken, the leftover marinated tomatoes and a head of broccoli Jeff picked from the garden yesterday.

Here’s what I did:

1. I cut the chicken into cutlets – with my palm on top of the chicken piece and my knife parallel to the cutting board I cut on a very slightly downward angle (to avoid the knife going into my hand).  Then I pounded the cutlets, breaded them (first in seasoned flour, then in egg wash, and finally in seasoned bread crumbs), shallow fried them and set them on paper towels to drain.

2. I ran out to the garden to pick a few extra tomatoes and followed Ina’s recipe to make some extra marinated tomatoes.

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3. I made the pesto with some arugula, spinach, the broccoli, lemon juice, lemon zest, parmesan cheese, pine nuts, olive oil, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper.  I tasted it for seasoning and then set a pot of water on the stove to boil so I could cook the pasta.

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4. While the water boiled and the pasta cooked, I spread the remaining whipped feta onto the cooked chicken cutlets and placed them in a 250 degree F oven to stay warm and for the cheese to soften.

Chicken with Whipped Feta

Just after I drained the pasta and mixed in the pesto, I heard the garage door go up.  Jeff’s timing is exceptional – particularly when food is involved!  While he changed, I plated our food – the pesto pasta next to the feta smeared chicken, which I topped with the marinated tomatoes.  We both raved dinner and Jeff complimented me on taking Ina’s Crostini recipe and adapting it for a main course.

Chicken with Whipped Feta and Tomatoes

As far as the recipe goes, Barefoot Contessa’s Crostini with Whipped Feta and Tomatoes gets 5 M’s out of 5!


It is easy to make, takes only a few ingredients, yields incredible flavor, pleases a crowd, adapts well to other preparations and holds well for leftovers!!!  So, whether it’s Monday or Tuesday, I hope you love your leftovers, try a new recipe and end up with an MmmMmmMmm!!!!!

 

Dinner Mmm

Barefoot Contessa Tomato Crostini with Whipped Feta

Ingredients

  • 6oz good feta cheese (crumbled)
  • 2oz cream cheese (at room temperature)
  • 2/3 cups good olive oil (divided)
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice (freshly squeezed (I also used the zest of one whole lemon))
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons shallots (minced (2 shallots))
  • 2 teaspoons garlic (minced (2 cloves))
  • 2 tablespoons good red wine vinegar
  • 2lb ripe heirloom or cherry tomatoes (1/2 inch dice)
  • 3 tablespoons fresh basil leaves (julienned)
  • 20 - 25 diagonal baguette slices (toasted)
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts (toasted)

Directions

1. For the whipped feta, place the feta and cream cheese in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse until the cheeses are mixed.
2. Add 1/3 cup of the olive oil, the lemon juice, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and process until smooth.
3. For the tomatoes, up to an hour before you're serving, combine the shallots, garlic, and vinegar in a medium bowl. Set aside for 5 minutes.
4. Whisk in the remaining 1/3 cup olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.
5. Add the tomatoes, stir gently, and set aside for 10 minutes.
6. Stir in the basil and taste for seasonings.
7. To assemble the crostini, spread each slice of bread with a generous amount of whipped feta. With a slotted spoon, place the tomatoes on top. Put the crostini on plates and scatter with the pine nuts. Sprinkle with extra basil and serve.

Summer Centerpieces

Summer is great for so many reasons – warm weather, swimming, picnics, fresh produce from the garden, vacation, kayaking, and the list goes on and on.  One of my favorite things about summer is the abundance of flowers and plants in the garden that I can use to create centerpieces for the table.

Over the years I have purchased and received as gifts some beautiful vases, but the funny thing is….my “go to” containers for centerpieces are typically recycled containers – jelly jars, mason jars, wine bottles, juice glasses, etc. I’m not sure why, but I much prefer a casual feel to a more formal one when decorating a table.  I also prefer shorter containers to taller ones – especially for a sit-down dinner because I find that tall centerpieces often impede conversation.  I save my taller vases/vessels for buffet tables.

With the idea of summer centerpieces in mind, I gathered some of my favorite containers and headed out into my yard to create a few centerpieces with what I have on hand.  I hope the ideas below spark your creativity.

Miscellaneous Containers for Centerpieces w BorderCenterpiece Containers w Border Continue reading

Entertaining Successes and Failures

Last Sunday – Mothers Day – I spent the day with my mom, my sister and my two nieces.  It was a wonderful day.  We began the first leg of our trip at 11:00 a.m. (ok, 11:05 – I was running late).  We traveled to Millersville (through A LOT of traffic) to pick up my younger niece, Ashley.  I was (and still am) quite surprised at how much traffic there was in Millersville on a Sunday – clearly someone needs to do some traffic studies for the town, but that’s a rant for another day.

We didn’t even get out of the car at Ashley’s apartment – she met us in the driveway and we set of for Vanessa’s apartment in West Chester.  Although we did our best to arrive on time, we were about 45 minutes to an hour late.  But the good news for Vanessa – our hostess for the day – was that we were famished when we arrived!  Hungry guests make for great meals.

Mothers Day was the first time Nessa hosted the family for a holiday (I thought about writing “minor holiday;” but I don’t want to offend any moms, least of all my own) and she did a terrific job with brunch.  She served mimosas, which are always an excellent choice for brunch, a delicious egg casserole, yogurt and granola, fruit salad, and muffins – blueberry and chocolate chip.  The food was beautifully displayed on the dining room table with white plates, colorful napkins and bright yellow tulips.

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Souper Bowl MMXIII

Souper Bowl MMXIIIJeff and I and a group of our friends have changed Super Bowl Sunday into Souper Bowl Saturday!  At least we did this past Saturday evening.  No players were injured and the lights didn’t go out, but there was some trash talk!

Veggie & Ricotta Frittata

On this dreary, gray, drizzly morning (almost afternoon), I am reflecting on our competition over a wonderful veggie and ricotta frittata.  Just thinking about all the soups is making me feeI a little warmer.  But I am longing for another cup of coffee, so hang on a moment please…….

OK, I’m back and caffeine is once again flowing through my system. Ahhhhhh!

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Food Journal

I realized today that even though I’ve only been Blogging about food since September of last year; I’ve been Jlogging about food for a lot longer!

Front Cover w FlowersI’ve spent the majority of the day committing to paper recipes for a class I am teaching in a few weeks; and, as often happens when I am thinking about things I’ve made in the past, I pulled out my food journal.  It will come as no surprise to those of you who have read past posts that I got sidetracked!  My self-diagnosed ADD kicked in AGAIN and with a smile on my face I traveled down memory lane.

My food journal is a beautiful brown-leather covered volume that I swore I would keep in pristine condition – I vowed to only write in it in my best handwriting.  Ahhh, the best laid plans…… A few of the pages began neatly – with legible printing; but over time they have become splattered and spilled upon and you can see some days where my passion for what I was recording overtook my desire to write neatly!  That’s how passion goes….

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A Crackerjack Event

Last week was so much fun….I spent the majority of it preparing for a party I catered for our friends Lowell and Nancy on Saturday evening. They were welcoming some friends from our church into their neighborhood.  Lowell and Nancy are such gracious hosts and some of the most generous people I have ever met – they’re quite inspiring.  So it was my pleasure to cater the party.

We met a few weeks ago to talk about the menu, decor, buffet placement, etc. I then worked out a menu, which Nancy and I tweaked along the way, and last Tuesday I did all the grocery shopping I could do in advance.  On Wednesday food prep began and by Saturday afternoon, Jeff was helping me unload the car at Lowell and Nancy’s beautiful home.  Their house overlooks a lake, which made working in their kitchen a pleasure. The view from the window over the sink is spectacular!

Between 2:30 and 4:00 I got the bar, the dessert table and the appetizer buffet set and then at 4:00 I began putting the finishing touches on the food.

Nancy and Lowell chose a nautical theme and I had great fun coming up with ideas for the bar and buffets. Jeff agreed to tend bar, so I wanted him to have a nice space to work.  I created the bar using a 4 foot table; two vases with sand, rope and shells; a piece of reclaimed wood; and some other decorations including a string of battery-operated lights.  Everyone at the party commented on the bar.

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It’s the Holiday Season – Whoop-De-Do or Whoop-De-Don’t?

“Chrismas makes you feel emotional,
It may bring parties or thoughts devotional
Whatever happens, whatever may be
Here is what Christmas time means to me…..”

It’s true – Christmas does make me feel emotional.  Sometimes in a good way and sometimes in a not-so-good way. I was reading an article on mercurynews.com earlier today that included a quote by author Sophia Dembling.  The quote about Christmas read, “it’s the most extroverted time of the year.”  I can really relate to that….particularly being an introvert myself.  The article went on to quote Dembling as saying, “I don’t want to check out of it entirely, but it can just completely overwhelm you, and then you get crabby.”

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It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas – Friday

Ooohhhhh, what a fun and productive day we had yesterday!

My friend Holly, who has a Costco membership, was gracious enough to accompany me and my Mom, Mimi, there so that we could buy some things for our Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve.

The day began at my house at 9:00 am……my mom met me there for a quick bowl of savory oatmeal and a cup-a-joe.  Next we met Holly at her house at 10:00 and the day was officially under way.

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Behind the Scenes: Dinner for 14 – The Day Of

Guests arrive in 65 minutes….I can’t wait to tell you all about prep today and the dinner!!! Stay tuned……..

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OK, it’s Monday morning.  Yesterday was a day of complete and utter laziness.  I didn’t get out of my pajamas until 5:00 p.m.!  But it sure felt good…..

 

This morning I want to update you on the prep schedule for the day of the dinner and tell you about the dinner itself.  I’m sitting in my office with a cup of coffee, a glass of Naked Green Machine juice, a bottle of water (I don’t THINK I’m dehydrated, but maybe I am since I feel the need to have so many beverages on the desk) and a bowl of oatmeal.  There’s nothing like a filling, nourishing breakfast to get your day started right!

 

Saturday morning – the day of the dinner – started early – my eyes opened and my mind began spinning at 6:45 a.m.  By now I know myself well enough that I don’t even try to go back to sleep when my mind is spinning; so I got out of bed and started planning the day.  I consulted my schedule and began penciling more specific steps for each task.

The schedule called for:

  • Pick up chairs
  • Pick up dishes
  • Get a little extra sleep!!!!! Yeah!
  • Set table
  • Set appetizer buffet
  • Set dessert buffet
  • Set bar
  • Make filling and fill macaroons
  • Sweep floors just before everyone arrives
  • Spruce up powder room
  • Make rolls
  • Cook chicken
  • Put finishing touches on all food
  • Primp and pamper and perhaps take a cat nap

I added:

  • Finish cooking pork
  • Make Creme Anglaise for Tiramisu
  • Cut greens from pine trees for dining table, powder room, and buffet tables
  • Roll salami and cheese appetizers
  • Arrange food on serving platters
  • Heat Madeira wine sauce and ladle into gravy boats
  • Get coffee pot ready
  • Set coffee cups at end of bar
  • Definitely take a nap (I even went so far as to schedule the nap from 1:30 to 3:00 p.m. and then work the timeline backwards so I wouldn’t miss the nap)

Jeff woke up around 7:30 and we had a quick breakfast and set to work.  He started making the Creme Anglaise and I started making the filling for the macaroons.  Both were flopping, but we didn’t let that deter us.  Jeff started over and I just altered the recipe until the filling was the consistency I wanted – of course, I ended up with about 400 gallons of it (I see a chocolate peppermint trifle in our future)!!!!

It’s funny, Jeff and I have been entertaining since we were married many years ago (it will be 20 years in August 2013).  We have gotten significantly better at it!  We used to argue and fight and be harried all day and exhausted when our guests arrived; but now that we use a schedule and we work together instead of at odds, it’s much, much easier.

I love the day of an event….setting the table, tweaking the details, smelling the food…..it just fills my soul and releases my creative muse!  They say the devil is in the details; but to me, it’s not the devil – it is surely God!

 

 

By 1:30 I was ready for a nap – at least physically.  I lay down on my bed and tried to fall asleep; but I couldn’t stop myself from mentally going through the list and anticipating how the dinner would progress.  I realized that I had overlooked an important detail.  I didn’t plan any wine glass markers and people would be spending a lot of time uttering, “Is that my glass?”  So as I tried to nap, I was plotting how I could make wine glass markers that fit into the white and silver theme.  I wanted them to be festive, but not take a lot of time.  Because I was determined to lay quietly until 3:00.

I’m glad I persisted in napping, because I finally fell asleep and I know my body and brain needed rest.  But when I woke up, I hopped into the shower, dried my hair and then headed to my craft supplies to start on the wineglass markers.  I needed a little help with executing my idea, so I hollered for Jeff.  He came up to my office and was shaking his head….not surprised, but still amazed that the clock was ticking and I was just starting a new project.  He helped and we got them done in record time.  And they turned out to be a good conversation starter and an attractive way to keep glasses organized!

After the wine glass markers were complete, I finished getting myself ready and headed back to the kitchen.  Jeff hopped into the shower while I set the nibbles out on the appetizer table and just before the guests were set to arrive we had all the food heating and we each had a glass of wine in hand.  Just when I thought things couldn’t get any better, Jeff gave me a gift!  Now all I have to do is decide when I want to go to the Hygea Salt Room for a little rest and relaxation!!!!  Thanks, honey!!!!

Click here for more photos of Saturday’s preparations.  And stay tuned for a description of the dinner!

 

Behind the Scenes: Dinner for 14 – Day 5

We are preparing for dinner for 14 at our house tomorrow evening.  Today was Day 5 of the preparation schedule.

I have three things to say emphatically:  1) I am sooooo incredibly lucky to have the husband I have – he took the day off today to help me clean and prep.  I completely understand that not many husbands would do that and so I want to publicly thank him for being such a terrific guy!  2) I am also incredibly glad I got more done yesterday than was on my list.  In addition to the things on the list, I also prepped all the ingredients for the food I needed to make today and it was a HUGE help!  And finally, 3) I RRREEEAAALLLLLLYYY wish I had a cleaning person (or perhaps a magic wand).  As much as I love cooking; I loathe cleaning!  But I will admit, now that the house is clean I am really happy.  It smells like a combination of clean and yummy right now!

I never did get my walk in with my fuzzy gals yesterday, but I certainly got my share of exercise going up and down the steps and wrestling said fuzzy girls in the shower before getting into bed last nigh!

The following are pics of the progress from yesterday.

Tree is Decorated - All 12 Feet of It!

Tree is Decorated – All 12 Feet of It!

Tiramisu….step by step:

Potato Stacks w/ Gruyere, Caramelized Onions & Roasted Garlic:

After a hearty breakfast of savory oatmeal and copious amounts of coffee, Jeff and I got started on our list.  On the agenda for today:

  • Pick up chairs (did not happen, but will get them tomorrow)
  • Cleaning – every room is sparkling at the moment – if only it would stay that way!!!
  • Make potato stacks – no, Mark, not curly fries!
  • Stuff and partially cook pork roast (and chicken breast for those allergic to pork)
  • Hang pictures (didn’t happen yesterday, but done today)
  • Iron napkins
  • Make vinaigrette
  • Roast butternut squash
  • Laundry (in order to make sure what we plan to wear tomorrow evening is clean)
  • Make iced tea
  • Fill nail holes and touch up paint in dining room

We can check  everything off the list – and then some.  I also finally found a way to display some ornaments I’ve been wanting to display for the last few years and created and embossed a printed note for each place setting.

Tomorrow’s list includes:

  • Pick up chairs
  • Pick up dishes
  • Get a little extra sleep!!!!! Yeah!
  • Set table
  • Set appetizer buffet
  • Set dessert buffet
  • Set bar
  • Make filling and fill macaroons
  • Sweep floors just before everyone arrives
  • Spruce up powder room
  • Make rolls
  • Cook chicken
  • Put finishing touches on all food
  • Primp and pamper and perhaps take a cat nap

I am looking forward to quality time with our friends and to kicking off the holidays in a festive way.  I can’t wait to show you pictures of the evening!

Behind the Scenes: Dinner for 14 – Day 4

If you’ve been reading you know Jeff and I are hosting dinner for 14 at our house on Saturday evening.  I want to give you a behind the scenes look at entertaining during the week leading up to the dinner.  I didn’t blog yesterday, but you didn’t miss much….mostly it was prepping for a meeting for my consulting work, but there was also some shopping for the party.

I’ve been wanting to add two half sheet pans to my kitchen inventory.  The dinner on Saturday gave me the perfect reason to buy them – I will need lots of sheet pans to heat food on the day of the dinner; so I went to the restaurant supply and bought those.  Also, since we just repainted the powder room, I wanted to get some new hand towels.  Check!  And finally, until yesterday we didn’t have enough white cloth napkins; but now we do.  And a great surprise was that I had a gift card for the store at which I found them! Bonus.

That leads us to today.  Things are heating up in terms of party prep.  As I write, I have a tray of macaroon cookies in the oven and two trays on the counter waiting to be baked.  The macaroons I am making are the bite-sized French macaroons, not the coconut ones. Several months ago, my Aunt Pam visited and brought me a macaroon cookbook.  I’ve been looking for a reason to learn to make these and this party gives me one.  Although there are many yummy recipes in the book, I am adapting one for the holidays.  I am using the recipe for the chocolate macaroon cookies, but I am making a white chocolate peppermint filling.

Also on the schedule for today:

Jeff –

  • Work
  • Last minute grocery run
  • Help decorate the tree and house
  • Hang new photos in dining room
  • Bathe dogs
  • Make tiramisu

Jan –

  • Make macaroon cookies
  • Make macaroon filling
  • Photos for blog post
  • Write blog post
  • Select serving dishes and utensils for Saturday dinner
  • Iron cloth napkins
  • Decorate tree and house
  • Help with tiramisu
  • Make rosemary cashews

I have to tell you how good the house smells right now – so chocolately! Mmm mmm mmm!!!! And as I peek in the oven, I am thrilled with how great the cookies look.  The “frilly foot” that is present when macaroons are made right is starting to form on the bottom of the cookies.  Yeah!!!!!  I must admit that I did a test run on Tuesday evening so that I would know what to expect when working on these today.  And boy did I learn a lot from the test.  I learned that I needed to pipe smaller circles onto the trays in order to get the right finished size.  And I learned that I needed a firmer batter than I had on Tuesday.  I would highly recommend not making a brand new recipe on the day of an event unless it’s a recipe that is very similar to one you’ve made previously.  You never know what can go wrong, but a test run can give you a chance to make adjustments as necessary and can give you a boost of confidence!

The first tray of macaroons is out of the oven cooling.  The second tray is in the oven baking.  And the third tray is still resting on the counter.  As you can see from my list above, I have a lot to do today so I’d better get to it.

Just one final note.  Don’t make your days before an event so busy that you don’t have a chance for a little fun, some nutritious meals, and reasonable bed-times.  The last thing you want on the day of your event is to be so tired you can’t enjoy yourself.

I started my day with a warm bowl of oatmeal.  I’ve got Christmas music on the radio getting me into the spirit and I’m going to try to fit a walk with my two favorite furry girls into the schedule today.  It’s easy to get to “party overload” – I know, I fell prey to it many times in the past; but over the last several years I’ve mellowed and learned a thing or two about entertaining.

With the proper planning you CAN be an “unflustered” hostess!!!!

Behind the Scenes: Dinner for 14 – Day 2

This coming Saturday evening Jeff and I are hosting dinner for 14 at our house.  If you read Behind the Scenes: Dinner for 14 – Day 1, you know we are working from a daily schedule to prepare for the dinner on Saturday.  This morning I made myself a warm and healthy breakfast.  I made steel cut oatmeal and topped it with a tablespoon of low-fat peanut butter, a sliced banana, a tablespoon of dried peaches, a teaspoon each of chia seeds, ground flax seed, pepitas, and sunflower seeds.

While eating, I reviewed our schedule for the day, which looks like this….

Jeff –

  • Work
  • Buy Hooks for pictures
  • Shop at BJ’s with Mimi
  • Buy Wine/Beer

Jan –

  • Prep for consulting meeting on Wednesday
  • Photos for blog posts
  • Write blog posts
  • Laundry
  • MM&L Bible study

As you can see, the schedule at the beginning of the week is light in terms of party prep.  Things will really begin to pick up on Wednesday; but throughout the day on Monday and Tuesday Jeff and I will both be thinking about our tasks, developing our mini plans of attack, and thinking of things we may have forgotten.  Also, if there is extra time during the day (hahahaha – when is there ever extra time?), we can look ahead on the schedule to see if there is anything we can complete ahead of schedule.  The more we can get done in advance, the less there will be to create stress the day of the party!

But for today, getting tasks out of the way that will impede progress later in the week is what we are concentrating on.  So far, so good!

Behind the Scenes: Dinner for 14 – Day 1

This coming Saturday evening Jeff and I are hosting dinner for 14 at our house.  I realize that scares some people, but it absolutely energizes me.  I love all the activity in the days leading up to the dinner almost as much as I love spending time with friends around my table!

The key to successful entertaining is planning.  So yesterday was Day 1 of the process – the day Jeff and I sit down to plan.  When we plan we make multiple lists.  To produce our lists we ask ourselves (and each other) several questions, including:

  • What projects do we want to complete around the house before the event?  In this case, we [actually I] wanted to paint the powder room.  It hadn’t been painted since we moved in and had only one sprayed-on coat of builder grade paint; so it badly needed to be spruced up.  Fortunately on Black Friday I convinced Jeff to take the pedestal sink and toilet tank out of the room so I could paint while he was out for the evening.  That was one project we could check off our list before the planning even began!
  • What do we want to do in terms of cleaning?  We take a virtual walk through each room and write down specifics for this question and the previous question.  For example on our list for this week:  “Master Bedroom: patch holes and touch up paint (Jeff recently hung a flat panel t.v. on the wall and there were some holes from the old connections), dust ceiling fan, dust and vacuum.”
  • Is there anything (besides groceries) that we need to borrow/purchase for the event?  For our dinner on Saturday, I want to set the table with a silver and white theme so I am borrowing china from my mom.  And I don’t have enough white napkins so I am going to buy a few more.  (White cloth napkins are always a good investment – they can be used for almost any occasion).
  • What are we going to serve?  We plan the menu from appetizer to dessert, including beverages.  We try to do some easy recipes and some more complicated recipes with a balance of items that can be made ahead (in part or in full) and items that need last-minute attention.  That way we’re not wearing ourselves out in the kitchen on the day of the party!
  • After we ask ourselves all the questions above, we lay out a schedule for each day of the week leading up to the event – writing in the tasks we will do each day.  We also include in our schedule personal appointments and work so that we don’t over-schedule on any of the days.
  • Finally, we put together our grocery list so that when one of us does the shopping (typically our approach to entertaining is “divide and conquer”) we know exactly what we need.  We begin with the list we made of the things we going to serve.  We look at each recipe and determine if we need to multiply it and, if so, by how much.  One of use usually reads off the necessary ingredients while the other is in the kitchen looking to see what we have vs. what we need. We also consider if an ingredient will be used in multiple recipes and, if so, we calculate the total of the ingredient we will need overall so that we’re not trying to do these calculations while we’re shopping.  Finally, I get a little crazy and arrange the grocery list into categories so that all like items are together – for example, all dairy products in one section of the list, all produce in another, etc.

Once the planning is done, there is no guessing what we should be doing – we have a schedule, we know who will do each task, and we can operate individually and efficiently!  Of course, sometimes we forget things and we have to revise the schedule; but after many years of working together, we have a system that works really well for us.

Day One – Sunday, 11/25 – Planning – Check!  We are off and running…

Thanksgiving Dinner

Thanksgiving dinner is my niece Ashley’s favorite meal of the year and my second-favorite meal of the year.  Enjoying it yesterday was an excellent reminder of why we love this meal so much.

My sister – Laura – offered to host Thanksgiving dinner this year.  An interesting choice for someone who gets so stressed out about entertaining, but she did an amazing job!  The food was wonderful, the ambiance was festive yet relaxed, and the company couldn’t have been better!

As most families do, we have some family traditions when it comes to Thanksgiving foods – and they never disappoint; but we also try new things each year, which keeps the meal fresh and exciting.  This year was the perfect mix of standards and new introductions.

The standards:

  • Turkey & Gravy – It’s not always made by the same person every year.  This year, since my sister’s family hosted the meal, she (Laura) made the turkey.  It was really good….please understand, I do not really like turkey very much – I love chicken, but turkey doesn’t thrill me.  If I were a turkey lover, which I am not, I would probably say it was fantastic; but a rating of ‘really good’ from me when it comes to turkey is like a perfect score from someone else.  It was golden and juicy and flavorful – not a bit dry!

  • Mashed Potatoes – Laura’s Thanksgiving mashed potatoes do not fall into the low-fat category by any stretch of the imagination.  But they do fall into the delicious category!  If I could describe them with only three words, I would choose smooth, rich and decadent!
  • Stuffing – Or is it filling?  Or is it dressing?  I can’t tell you which category it officially falls into (I truly don’t think there is a formal distinction), but Laura’s Sausage & Cranberry Stuffing is out of sight!  It is moist and flavorful in the center of the pan and toward the edges of the pan it gets crispy and golden….what could be better than that?

  • Corn Pie – The recipe goes back quite a ways into our childhood and it is one of my favorite things about the Thanksgiving meal.  This year, in addition to the corn pie I also tried a new corn recipe (see below).  It was truly delicious, but I think – perhaps it’s tradition – I still like corn pie for this meal.

  • Laura’s Cranberry Sauce – My sister’s recipe – which I have never seen – is just the perfect cranberry sauce.  It’s quite tart and refreshing – in my opinion, it is just the right complement to all the heavy, fat laden side dishes that are typically served on Thanksgiving!
  • Jeff’s Cranberry Applesauce – Even though we have Laura’s Cranberry Sauce, Jeff makes this applesauce each year as a labor of love for Ashley. Each year he remembers how much she likes it, so he starts with fresh apples and lovingly turns them into a yummy side dish that is equally as good served warm or cold.  It is another light and refreshing offering that balances nicely with the other flavors in the meal.
  • Pumpkin Pie – My dad is not someone who bakes a lot.  In fact – unless I am mistaken – the only time he bakes during the year is Thanksgiving.  But based solely on his pumpkin pie you would swear he is a world-class baker!  The nut crust is absolutely incredible – flaky and rich…..mmm mmm mmm.  The filling is luscious – the perfect balance of pumpkin and spice with a hint of sweetness.  He makes one pie “with” and one ” without” every year. The with and without refers to the bourbon.  I usually have the “without,” but everyone who eats the “with” usually raves about it!

The New Introductions:

  • Gulliver’s Corn – I know it’s overkill with the Corn Pie, but I one of the Kitchen Shoppe visiting instructors, Diane Phillips, was telling me about the recipe and I was so intrigued I just had to give it a whirl.  She makes something called Gulliver’s Corn, which is quite rich and which my nieces agreed tasted kind of like macaroni and cheese. Although the more traditional part of me thinks Corn Pie belongs at Thanksgiving, this dish was delicious and I will definitely make Gulliver’s Corn for other meals.

  • Salad du jour – I’m not sure how salad fits into the Thanksgiving meal for other families, but for our family it’s usually a marginal player; however this year it was one of my favorite things!  My mom made a terrific salad – lettuce was the base, but it was topped with a huge array of fresh fruits, some cranberry chipotle cheese cubes, and toasted pepitas.  It had a light vinaigrette and was a great accompaniment to everything else on the buffet.

I think over the years my sister has convinced herself that she’s not good at entertaining, but she actually is!  We had a great tasting and great looking meal, a nice selection of drinks – from wine and beer to a new chocolate bourbon, lively conversation, a break between dinner and dessert, some family game time, a chance to spend time catching up with family, and even a little Big Bang Theory!  If you ask me Laura was only missing one thing yesterday – confidence in her own ability!  Remember, entertaining is not a competition – if it is you are hosting the wrong people – and in my Entertaining Survival Guide I recommend that as the entertainer you should do the best YOU can do!