Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving 2015

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Family, friends, football, and FOOD. What's not to like about that? It's a day we pause to give thanks for all we are blessed with. I think if we spent more days being thankful the world would be a gentler place. Even in bad times there is always something to be thankful for.

We are expecting 18 today. It bothers me when people are alone on the holidays so we have a hodge-podge mix of family and friends arriving for our early evening meal. It makes for a lively time.
It feels like I've been planning, prepping, baking, and cooking for days! Thanksgiving dinner is one of those occasions where you try to include everyone's favorite food, even if it's not the cook's favorite. My Hubbers will get his canned cranberry sauce, green bean casserole and pumpkin pie. Mom will bring her cornbread dressing, which is what I always look forward to.  There will be a bowl of olives for the kids, some of which inevitably end up on the end of fingers! The menu doesn't change much from year-to-year, people expect the traditional items. We all look forward to the meal, then complain afterwards about how full we are!  Our menu:

Roast turkey (dry-brined)
Dressing (cornbread and sourdough)
Sweet potato soufflé
Green bean casserole
Mashed potatoes & gravy
Orange-glazed carrots
Cranberry sauce (homemade & canned)
Strawberry pretzel jello salad
Yeast rolls (homemade)

My family prefers pies so I've tried to make everyone's favorites such as pumpkin pie, Dutch apple pie and chocolate cream. The dessert station is ready for all the sugary goodness!
I went with a natural look on my tables this year; fresh fruits, pumpkins, squash, a few candles. I didn't have enough transferware plates for the crowd so splurged and bought some Spode Woodland turkey plates.  They blend in well with my existing dishes.

Thank you for visiting my little blog. Your comments always brighten my day!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Kraft Paper Wrapping

I don't like a lot of clutter.  That applies in my decorating and in my storage arrangements. One place I've eliminated clutter is with wrapping paper and supplies. It used to be I was always buying wrapping paper or bags for each kind of gift.  That gets expensive (gift bags aren't cheap!), I'm running to the store at the last minute, and then I'm stuck with half a roll of paper that I may never use again.  Now I apply my Christmas wrapping philosophy to every occasion of gift wrapping. The only kind of wrapping paper I keep on hand is basic brown kraft paper.   Probably 99% of my gifts are wrapped in plain kraft paper or in kraft bags.  I personalize them for the specific occasion with various ribbons, doilies, and other add-ons.  This method saves me space in the closet as I'm only storing a few things and makes wrapping a no-brainer process.  It works for me!

Pinterest (don't you just love Pinterest?) has a lot of gift wrapping ideas for inspiration. I found the idea for this gift there.  I always have paper doilies on hand, both for gifts and for baking presentation.  Folding the doily, adding a sprig of rosemary, and a small stamped-label makes for a cute gift.

This gift was for a 5-year old celebrating her birthday.  Again, a simple doily and a basic pink ribbon and you instantly know the present is for a girl. Using a doily stamp makes for a cute tag and eliminates having to buy a card.

Adding a football ribbon gives a masculine touch to this gift.
I keep a supply of ribbon and twine on this wall organizer, but rolls of ribbon are easily stored in plastic boxes.  I usually stock up when I find a sale.
I'm linking up to Inspire Me Tuesday.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Chicken Stew With Biscuits

We're finally getting some winter weather in my part of California; it's winter to us when the morning temps are in the 40's and we have to wear socks instead of flip flops! We've even had some rain (and snow in the mountains) to help our drought situation. With cold weather, comes spending nights by the fire and comfort food. One of my favorite cold-weather dishes is Chicken Stew With Biscuits from the Barefoot Contessa.  Chunks of chicken in a creamy sauce and veggies, all topped with biscuits, what's not to like about that?  It's a one-bowl dinner, perfect on a cold and rainy night!
The recipe is here. It's very versatile and can be modified for your tastes.  I've tweaked it a little and make it with the following changes:

I like dark meat, my hubby likes white, so I cook a whole chicken, rather than using just chicken breasts

I omit the frozen onions, finding that the sautéed onions are plenty for our taste

I use a package of frozen mixed vegetables, preferring a variety of vegetables, not just carrots
The dish can easily be made ahead.  On the day I made it, I cooked the chicken in the morning.  Once cool, I cut the meat into bite-size pieces.  I made the sauce and assembled the dish in a baking pan and refrigerated until later.  All I did before dinner was make the biscuits, it's really an easy dinner!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Cranberry Apple Shortbread Bars

I love shortbread, and the combination of cranberries and apples, so when this recipe hit my Pinterest feed (oh, how I love Pinterest!), I knew I had to make them! These bars would make a great addition to the Thanksgiving dessert table.  They can be made in advance (store tightly wrapped at room temperature), then just cut and put on a serving platter. I can honestly tell you they are even good for breakfast, with a cup of coffee. I'm sure that negated my Pilates workout!

The bars are not overly sweet.  The sweetness is mostly in the crust.  The cranberries add a little tartness.  The recipe only calls for 1/2 cup sugar in the filling and I wondered if that would be sweet enough, as cranberries are very tart. I was happy with the end result, they were plenty sweet. And, yes, there is a lot of butter in this recipe.  It's shortbread, lots of butter and sugar!
I made these on a day when I was watching my 10-month old grandson.  In between feedings, diaper changes, and playing, I got them done.  I made the filling ahead of time and left at room temperature until I was able to bake the bars.

Cranberry Apple Shortbread Bars

2 cups unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
4 cups all-purpose flour
4 cups (one bag) fresh or frozen cranberries
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon minced ginger
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 medium peeled and chopped apples (I used Granny Smith)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Line a 13x9-inch baking pan with parchment paper so that some of the paper hangs over the side.

Beat butter and sugars on high speed until light and fluffy; mix in vanilla until well-combined.

Stir in flour, just until combined.

Press half of the dough into prepared baking pan (I found using an offset spatula was easier than my hands).  Bake for 25 minutes, or until edges are golden brown.  Shape remainder of dough into a disk and wrap tightly with  plastic wrap; chill in refrigerator.

In a heavy-duty saucepan, combine cranberries, sugar, water, cornstarch, ginger, and nutmeg.  Cook, over medium-heat, stirring occasionally, until fruit has formed a thick jam-like consistency, about 8 minutes (cranberries will be very soft and some still whole). 

Remove from heat and fold in chopped apples.

Pour fruit filling over baked crust.  Using remainder of refrigerated dough, drop large crumbs over fruit layer so that the layer is covered with dough. 

Bake for 35 minutes, or until edges are very lightly golden brown and top feels firm.

Cool completely.  Holding edges of parchment paper, remove from pan and cut into bars before serving.

(Recipe adapted from Keep It Sweet Desserts).
Yes, I couldn't resist and had to sample before cutting into bars!

Monday, November 9, 2015

Pocket Mattress Runner

Something they want, Something they need,
Something to wear, Something to read.

Last year I ran across this gift giving guide and immediately implemented it in regards to Christmas shopping for my grandchildren.  Having a theme kept me very focused with my shopping and, as they were all getting similar items, I avoided (hopefully!) jealousy issues between the kids. I’m doing the same this year.

For the “something to read” gift, this year the granddaughters are getting a package with a Barnes & Noble gift card, a new book for their reading level, and a small clip-on reading light. In addition, I made each of them a pocket mattress runner.  The pocketed runner goes between the two mattresses and hangs down the side of the bed.  They can keep their current reading book there, a small stuffed animal, diary, etc.

To make the runners (my girls have twin-size beds), I cut felt 55” long and 15” wide.  I appliqued a flower on one end and folded up 8”, then stitched closed with a ¼" seam. To add a little more decoration, I used my pinking shears along the cut edges.  I wish I would’ve added some rick rack across the top of the pocket, but too late for that now! An additional pocket could easily be placed on top of the big pocket so there are two places to stash things.

They didn’t take long to make and will be a cute addition to their Christmas gift!  Felt is inexpensive so these weren't costly to make.  If the girls end up using them a lot (felt isn't the most durable fabric!), I will make the next ones with some quilted fabric and bind the edges.

I am linking up to Inspire Me Tuesday.


Friday, November 6, 2015

Sewing Advice

This is from a Singer sewing machine manual in 1949:

Prepare yourself mentally for sewing.  Think about what you are going to do. Never approach sewing with a sigh or lackadaisically.  Good results are difficult when indifference predominates.

Never try to sew with a sink full of dirty dishes or beds unmade. When there are urgent housekeeping chores, do those first so your mind is free to enjoy your sewing. When you sew, make yourself as attractive as possible. Put on a clean dress.  Keep a little bag full of French chalk near your sewing machine to dust your fingers at intervals. Have your hair in order, powder and lipstick put on.  If you are constantly fearful that a visitor will drop in or your husband will come home, and you will not look neatly put together, you will not enjoy your sewing.

Well, all I have to say is it is a good thing we are not in 1949! While I confess to making sure the bulk of my household chores are done before sewing (ask anyone, I'm uptight about my housekeeping!), I sure don't worry about my dress, hair, or lipstick! Heck, I spend many an hour at my sewing machine, unshowered, and in my pj's!  My poor Hubby, the things he has to witness!

I have been spending a lot of time in my sewing/craft room lately. I've made a few pillows and mattress pocket runners. Now I'm getting ready to jump in, feet first, into the world of quilting.  With the exception of some rag and jelly quilts, neither of which require any piecing techniques, I've done no quilting. But I've fallen in love with this quilting book, have all my materials and scraps of fabric ready to go.

If you come by my house you can expect to find me in my special room, knee-deep in fabric and thread, probably with a puzzled expression on my face, as I attempt to learn to make small pieces of fabric come together in a colorful quilt block.  What you won't find is me with perfect hair and makeup or in a nice dress! And what is French chalk anyway? Aren't you glad we aren't in 1949 anymore?

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Thanksgiving Preparation

Thanksgiving is only three weeks away. Yikes! Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays.  I call it the 4-F Holiday for family, friends, food and football! I’m hosting again this year, should have 10 in attendance.


We all look forward to the annual Thanksgiving meal and, like most families, the menu doesn’t deviate too much from year to year. For whatever reason, Thanksgiving is not the time to try new things, we must keep to the traditional food items or the family starts to revolt!  There must be pumpkin pie on the dessert table and canned cranberry sauce for my picky husband!

It’s a labor-intensive holiday with so much of the dinner coming together at the end.  It can get quite hectic in the kitchen trying to get the turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy, and the multitude of side dishes, all on the table at the same time. This doesn't count getting the house in order, the shopping and table setting. I’ve learned there is plenty I can do ahead of time (even weeks ahead) to make it a little less stressful. It's supposed to be a day of celebration and thankfulness, not a day to be worn out and stressed out! I thought I’d share my tips with you and would love to learn your tips, too.

Get a  confirmed guest list:  Once I know the number of people attending I can determine if I need additional seating and tableware as well as knowing how much food to plan for.  If I need additional items to accommodate people, I reserve with our local party supply store or make arrangements to borrow from friends and family.

Prepare a menu:  With a menu in place I can begin grocery shopping.  I can also delegate parts of the meal.  The hostess doesn't have to do it all!  Thanksgiving is more of a potluck-style meal, anyway, so don’t be afraid to ask your guests to help.  Mom always brings the homemade rolls, other guests contribute some side dishes or appetizers.  If your guests don’t cook, have them bring a bottle of wine or sign them up for dish washing duty!

Decorations:  I like to set a pretty table, though my family doesn’t really care, it’s all about the food to them!  Days in advance, I get the linens out, make sure they are clean and ironed. I order flowers a few weeks in advance, opting to have them delivered to save me from running another errand.  I compare my menu to my serving dishes, often putting labels in a dish so that people helping me know what goes where. I set the table(s) the night before.

Shopping:  Again, using my menu, I go through the list of ingredients needed and compare to what is in my pantry.  Many grocery items can be bought ahead of time (flour, sugar, spices, canned goods, etc.)  The stores often have these products on sale now and raise the prices during the hectic Thanksgiving week. I put my husband in charge of getting our beverages. By buying ahead, all I have to buy immediately before Thanksgiving are my perishables.

Meal preparation:  There are many parts of the Thanksgiving meal that can be made ahead. I buy turkey wings, roast them, then make stock and freeze it (recipe here). Pie dough can be made ahead of time and frozen into discs. The night before you want to bake a pie, just put the frozen discs in the refrigerator so they thaw. Some pies, especially something like an apple pie, can also be prepared and frozen, all you then have to do is bake it! I have friends who prepare a make-ahead gravy and freeze that.  Ina Garten has a great recipe. Cranberry sauce can be made a few days ahead.  Veggies for the dressing and side dishes can be prepped and stored in Ziploc bags.  In the weeks before the big day, don’t throw away stale bread; cube and toast it, then store it so it stays dry (or freeze) to use for your dressing.

Plan ahead and make things as easy as possible, so you can enjoy the day with family and friends. The Christmas season, and all the madness that goes with that, officially starts the next day.  There are only 7 Mondays until Christmas!  Double-Yikes!



Monday, November 2, 2015

Taco Soup (aka Busy Day Soup!)

I love to cook and bake, can spend all day in the kitchen chopping, stirring, kneading. But I have a career.  I have a home to maintain.  I'm a Mom, a Nana.  I sew and do other crafty things. Some days dinner just has to be quick! Today was one of those days, a late afternoon client appointment had me coming home later than normal. Thankfully, I had planned for this, had all the ingredients necessary to make this soup. Within an hour of walking in the door, I was in my comfy clothes, soup and cornbread done, most of the dishes washed. An added bonus is that my Hubbers loves soup, he really loves this one, so I have a happy Hubby in the house tonight, too! (He wasn't thrilled with the butternut squash pasta I served him a few days earlier.)
This is an easy soup to make; brown some ground beef and onions, throw in a few cans of ingredients.  It's not gourmet fare, it's simple but good. While the soup was simmering,  I mixed up some cornbread and got it in the oven. All-in-all, a very easy dinner!

Taco Soup

1 pound hamburger (I use extra lean)
1 small onion, diced
32 ounce can diced tomatoes
16 ounce can kidney beans
16 ounce can chicken broth
1 small bag frozen corn
1 package taco seasoning

Shredded cheddar cheese
Sour cream
Sliced black olives
Tortilla chips
Chopped green chilies

In a large pot, saute the meat and onions until browned, breaking with a spoon to get small pieces.  Add tomatoes, kidney beans (including liquid), chicken broth, corn and taco seasoning mix. Bring to boil, then simmer for 30 minutes.  Top with garnishes of your choosing.