December 30, 2010

Auld Lang Syne

Hooray! Tomorrow is New Year's Eve!

It's supposed to be very chilly here in Denver (high of 19, low of-2), but since this is a pretty date-specific celebration, the show must go on.

In case you too are headed to a party, I've pulled together some of options for easy appetizers. If there is no recipe link, then the recipe is basically just the ingredients I've listed in title.

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Easy Greek Dip with homemade pita chips

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Bruschetta with fresh tomatoes, olive oil, salt and pepper

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Spiced Ginger Cashews

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Phyllo with pesto, sun-dried tomatoes, and Parmesan

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Greek-Style Potato Skins

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Puff pastry with fresh whipped cream and strawberries

Blackberry Cobbler in a Jar

This year, I'm planning on making homemade Snickers and a ginger simple syrup you can add to a glass of champagne.

Cheers to a wonderful 2011!

December 29, 2010

A long December

This is my second post of the month (the first post was 28 days ago). Clearly I've been doing other things...with all the holiday fun/travel/stomach bug/parties/etc. I've let the blog slip. But no longer!

Even though it's four days past Christmas, here's few shots of our house decorated for the season.












Hope you had a wonderful holiday!

December 01, 2010

DIY Designing: Cork Board

This is the perfect time of year for this DIY project. Why? Because (hopefully) you're celebrating often and drinking lots of wine!

I've been collecting corks for quite some time now to make this cute board. Mama was even sending me some out to Colorado so I could wrap this project up. Originally I had planned to make this to hang in the kitchen. But then I moved to Colorado and into a house with very few interior walls on the first floor. So now it's going in my office. Yay!

1. Gather corks.

Cork Board 005 Medium Web view

Lots and lots of cork.
Cork Board 006 Medium Web view

2. You'll also need a frame of sorts. I used a frame that no longer had any glass in it. Want to know why there's no glass? Because I was drinking a glass of wine on my birthday and accidentally knocked the glass off the table. Seem like a loss? At least I got a cork out of it!
Cork Board 003 Medium Web view

3. Take the time to lay out your pattern. More than likely you'll have several corks of the same brand, and you surely don't want a cork board with two brands side by side.
Cork Board 008 Medium Web view

4. Now we come to the incredibly not fun part: gluing more than 100 corks one by one onto the board with hot glue. Don't try to glue more than one cork at once. Evil things happen.
Cork Board 011 Medium Web view

5. Keep gluing until you are done. Which will take a while.
Cork Board 009 Medium Web view

6. Then hang on the wall.
Cork Board 012 Medium Web view

And months of collecting and hours of gluing later, you've got a darling cork board.

P.S. Coming soon! The reveal of my new home office. Just need to sew the curtains, and we're good to go!

November 28, 2010

Last post about Thanksgiving

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This is my last post about Thanksgiving this year. I promise.

All the planning was worth it. The meal was great, I wasn't stressed, and we ate just 3 minutes after the schedule time (4:00). Here's some of the highlights.

The table
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Antipasti. I also made stuffed mushrooms with spinach, blue cheese and bacon, but somehow they weren't photographed.
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The dry-brined turkey! The meat was very flavorful and moist, and the skin crisped up to a perfect brown.
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The butcher
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The sides
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Biscuits (that didn't brown. Blaming the altitude for that one).
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Happy guests!
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Pumpkin cheesecake
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Hope you had a wonderful and delicious holiday, too!

November 23, 2010

Tips, Tidbits & Tricks: Countdown to Thanksgiving

The countdown is on! These tips will help keep you sane on the big day.

- If you haven't done your shopping already, go soon! Stores get more and more crowded as the holiday approaches.

- Make dishes ahead of time. Good choices: mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, casseroles. You can even make the gravy ahead of time. Just warm over low heat, adding more stock if too thick.

- Have your side dishes ready to pop in the oven as soon as the turkey's out to rest. It can rest up to 30 minutes, giving you plenty of time to warm the potatoes through, bake off the rolls, and saute some green beans.

- Things always take longer than you think. So just know that going in, then try not to stress. A stressed-out hostess makes everyone else at the party tense and unhappy. So don't let that be you.

- Set up the table the night before. That way you aren't scrambling to find more wine glasses or serving pieces while you are cooking.

- Create a plan of attack. Make a list of all that you need to do, the time it takes, and work backwards.

- Keep things easy with store-bought appetizers. You'll free up time and counter space. Cheese and crackers, olives, and nuts are delicious paired with a Thanksgiving cocktail.

- Take butter out of the fridge early in the day so it can soften. Mmmmm....butter.

- If the turkey's browning too fast, simply cover the breast with aluminum foil.

- Fill the sink with hot, soapy water so cutlery and small dishes can soak once you finish the meal.

- Relax. Your Thanksgiving will be great! Especially if you brined your turkey and riced your potatoes.


November 22, 2010

Tips, Tidbits & Tricks: The Sides

For many, the turkey takes a backseat to all the delicious sides ... mashed potatoes, dressings, green beans, rolls. Yum. There is a limitless number of sides you could make for your Thanksgiving meal, so I'll just go through my favorites since I am the one writing this. Feel free to share your favorite side in the "comments" section!

For a fun twist on Thanksgiving, you might want to make side dishes that go along with a Thanksgiving theme (like my Italian-flavored feast). Go Southwest with a turkey seasoned with cumin and chilies, jalapeƱo cornbread dressing, cranberry chipotle relish, and mashed potatoes with green onions and queso fresco. Or go with an Cuban twist and flavor your turkey with lime, cumin and garlic seasonings and serve with congris, fried plantains, yucca, and Cassava bread.

Mashed Potatoes (aka My Favorite Food):

Image: Make Life Delicious

- If you want fluffy potatoes, you MUST use a ricer or a food mill. I am pretty relaxed about my gadgets and don't have many one-task-only trinkets lying around, but a ricer tops my list of must-haves. When you prepare mashed potatoes in a mixer, the beating releases a starchy gel called amylose. And it yields gummy potatoes.

Ricing yields a lighter, fluffy potato because you aren't developing that amylose. Just stir in melted butter, salt and warm milk after ricing, and you've got a perfect potato.

- You can make mashed potatoes ahead of time. For my brother's wedding, I was in charge of the mashed potatoes for the mashed potato bar at the rehearsal dinner. Now, I couldn't just whip 25 lbs. of raw potatoes into creamy, buttery mashed potatoes on the spot, now could I? So I made them the night before (which took hours, by the way) and just put them in a 9x13 casserole dish. Just dot with a few pats of butter and bake for about 35 minutes at 350 (or whatever your oven is set on) and they'll be just as delicious as if you just made them. [Author's note: if you use a mixer instead of a ricer, I cannot guarantee how good they'll be the next day. So you should just get a ricer and not worry about it.]

- Some nice add-ins: caramelized shallots, chives, buttermilk (use in place of whole milk or half-and-half), sour cream, roasted garlic, herbs, cheeses, wasabi. Honestly, I like mine plain. Why mess with perfection?


Image: Woman's Day

- Use the drippings from roasting your turkey to make gravy. EXCEPT if you brine or dry-brine your turkey. The drippings will be too salty, so just use a couple of teaspoons in the gravy for good flavor without all the salt.

- Make the gravy like you would any bechamel or white sauce. Add equal parts flour to fat (meaning 4T of flour to 4T melted butter, drippings, etc.). Whisk to get all the lumps out, then let cook for about 2 minutes over medium heat to get the raw flour out. Slowly whisk in chicken or turkey stock. I like to add just a little to start and whisk to make sure that the gravy gets lumpy. Then whisk in the rest. Once you've added all the stock, simmer rapidly for a few minutes until the gravy reduces to desired thickness.

- I realize that isn't a very exact gravy recipes, but it doesn't need to be. If it's too watery, increase the heat to reduce it down, or you can whisk in beurre maniƩ (paste made with equal parts flour and butter beat together). If it's too thick, just whisk in some more stock. Season as you go. You'll be fine.

Green vegetables

Image: Key Ingredient

- I love roasting vegetables, so try tossing together broccoli florets, olive oil, salt and pepper and spread out on a baking sheet. Roast at 400 (or whatever your oven is set on) for about 25 minutes. Finish with shredded Parmesan and lemon juice. Other vegetables that are delicious roasted: asparagus, sweet potatoes, carrots, any root vegetable.

- You can sneak greens into other dishes, like I am doing with my Italian Chard Stuffing.

- A lightly-dressed green salad is a nice foil to all the rich flavors.

Cranberry sauce

Image: My Recipes

- It's incredibly easy to make your own. And you can flavor it however you like. Basic idea: pour one bag of cranberries in medium saucepan. Add 3/4 cup liquid, some sugar, and a pinch of salt.

- Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and cook until saucy and most of the cranberries have popped.

- Chill. Can be done a few days in advance (like today!).

- And that's it.

- Variations: use pomegranate juice in place of the water, add a cinnamon stick (remove before chilling), add some orange zest and a splash of Grand Marnier.


Image: Fravelicious

- Either make your own or buy them.

November 21, 2010

The Turkey: A Photo Adventure

As I mentioned in Tips, Tidbits & Tricks: The Turkey, pt. II, I am making Fine Cooking's Fresh Herb and Salt-rubbed Roast Turkey. Here's a little photo adventure of my own Thanksgiving progress.

You may be in awe that I am starting my cooking 4 DAYS EARLY, but this turkey needs to sit in the fridge for 4 days, so start today (or tomorrow if you like living on the edge and only letting it dry brine for 3 days. Crazy!).

Here's the recipe so you have it. You'll want to make it once you see how easy it is to whip up. Plus, you don't get more make-ahead than 4 days before Thanksgiving!

herbs 2

loosen skin

loosen skin even more

herb it up

herb it up even more

salt the cavity

salt the skin

bag it