Thursday, November 25, 2010

Giving Thanks

I have so very much to be thankful for on this beautiful holiday.  First, my mom came through her surgery yesterday with flying colors and she's now settled in at our house for a few days.  It was a special treat that she was home in time to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner with us.  Secondly, when we gave thanks before dinner this evening, we were able to smile and remember my mother-in-law who passed last month and still celebrate the birth of two new members of our family.  We shared the day with my sister-in-law and nephew who safely made the trip from Georgia and my father-in-law who is handling the "firsts" (holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, etc.) without his bride of 53 years with great strength and dignity.

Tomorrow I'll have both of my brothers here to visit!  This is a rare occasion and one that I'm looking forward to with great anticipation.  I only wish my sister could be here as well, but she's currently working out of state.  That would be such a treat for my mom to have all four of her children together.  I hope we can make that happen very soon.

As for the day's feast; of course I cooked like I was feeding an army!  Only seven people for dinner (the least number of people to feed at a holiday gatherng ever in my history), but I had enough food for at least twice that! I just don't know how to scale back for a holiday meal.  Here's the menu:

Herb Roasted Turkey (nearly 19 lbs. and rubbed with a compound butter with roesmary, thyme, and sage with the butter also gently placed underneath the breast skin)
Spiral-Cut Ham with a Mango Chutney/Spiced Cranberry Glaze (10 1/2 lbs.)
Broccoli-Cheese Casserole
Creamy Fried Confetti Corn
Brulee'd Sweet Potato Gratin
Spiced Cranberry Sauce
Cornbread Dressing (courtesy of my sis-in-law)
Mashed Potatoes (courtesy of my sis-in-law)
Mashed Turnips (courtesy of my sis-in-law)
The Best Gravy Ever!

Pumpkin Pie
Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake
Mincemeat pie
Caramel Apple Cake

Lastly, I am so thankful for my extended family, many of which I am so late in getting to know but am enjoying every minute of it - I see our interests and humor resonating throughout our every communication.  We just can't deny our DNA!

To my friends: I have known many of you for most of my life and I am so grateful for the technogically that has made it possible for us to catch up with one another.  To my more recent friends...thank you!  I've not known you that long but you have been put in my life for a reason and I am grateful and so very blessed to call you all "friend."

May God bless you during this time of thanks and beyond!


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Recipe of the Day: Spiced Cranberry Sauce

Spiced Cranberry Sauce

3 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
3/4 cups white sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup orange juice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cloves

Stir all ingredients together in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and boil gently for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Pour sauce into a bowl, cover, and cool completely at room temperature.  Refrigerate until serving.  Makes 2 1/4 cups.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Today was such a great day! I woke up raring to go this morning, hit the cappuccino maker, dragged the teenager out of bed because he had to be at his school at 9 AM for a project, made him a hot breakfast and booted him on his way.  The plan was for me to pick up his girlfriend at 11:30 then swing by and pick him up at noon, but he got finished earlier than expected so we reversed the order.  We then met the hubby at a local waterfront eatery for lunch then headed to our house to just hang for the day.  Do you know what a wonderful feeling it is to have your 16-year-old son and his lovely girlfriend actually want to spend time with you on a Saturday afternoon?  Priceless!

The afternoon turned into a very fun cooking lesson with me showing the kids how to make lasagna.  Actually this was the first meal I ever made for the girlfriend in May or June of '09...the first time she ever had lasagna!  My thought was what a deprived child she was for never having experienced the lucsious layers that make up lasagna.  Trust me, she's an aficionado now! 

Once the lasagna was in the oven, we turned our attention to the sweet side of life.  We set up Santa's Sweet Shop a bit early and that was a good thing.  Once word got out that we were making peanut brittle and peppermint bark, I was getting hounded from friends and family across the country to send some their way.  I'll spend some time in the kitchen tomorrow making fresh batches of brittle and bark (I think that may be the names of my next two dogs!) and getting them ready to ship out first thing Monday morning.  I'll also be making my fresh cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving and a couple batches of pumpkin butter for a lucky few.

And...just as I was ready to sign off on tonight's blog, one of my real-deal award-winning chef friends just chimed in with a, "Did someone say brittle?"  Looks like I'll be shipping to Arizona, as well!  Gulp...this guy's pretty intimidating to cook for, but he's such a dear friend that I know he'll be kind...right, Lee?

Ah, 'tis the sweet life, indeed!

Peppermint Bark

24 ounces milk or dark chocolate bark coating
24 ounces white bark coating
1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract, divided
20 pieces peppermint candies, crushed & sifted

Line a large sheet pan with wax paper and spray with a non-stick coating.  Melt milk/dark chocolate over a double boiler (or a tempered glass bowl over a pan of simmering water).  Add 1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract.  Por mixture onto sheet pand and smooth until even.  Refrigerate until solid.

Repeat the process with the white bark coating; melt until smooth, add 1/4 teaspoon peppermint flavoring, then pour over the set milk/dark chocolate layer.  Smoothe until even then sprinkle the sifted peppermint candy bits over the warm white bark, adding larger pieces of peppermint candies toward the end.  Gently press the candies into the warm bark then refrigerate till set. 

Break into bite-sized pieces for serving.  This makes a great gift which can be put into a holiday gift tin or some of those beautifully decorated cellophane gift bags.  Maybe try some decorated/themed Chinese take-out boxes to present in.  Have fun!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A Pinch of This and a Dash of That

This has been one busy week for me which is why I'm so behind on my blog.  It's not that I didn't have anything to say - it's me, after all - but I just didn't have the time to sit down and share it.  Along with all the day to day activities that go along with parenting and just life in general (dentist, guitar lessons, driver's ed classes, chemistry tutor, gym, dealing with critters in the attic, etc.) we've been trying to get the Christmas decorations up before Thanksgiving.  Yes, I like to take one holiday at a time and have always been adamant about not bringing out the Christmas decorations until Thanksgiving weekend, but with my mom having surgery next week I had to strike while the iron was hot.  On a high note, on Tuesday we made a quick trip to Orlando to meet my beautiful new great-niece who was born last Saturday.  My brother is the proudest grandpa around!

With Thanksgiving just next week I've been dragging out my countless cookbooks looking for inspiration.  There's really no point because everyone would have a fit if I don't crank out the same old menu I present year after year.  No new "fancy" stuff and I'd better include at least one favorite dish for everyone around the table.  Nothing wrong with tradition, I suppose.  I guess that's why I felt like I was suffering from recipe ADD while pouring through these cookbooks, I knew I couldn't really change my Thanksgiving menu so my eyes kept darting toward something new and exciting.  Turkey...pumpkin...stuffing...ooooh, shiny object!!!  That would explain why I've been in the kitchen experimenting all week, just trying to indulge my creative side. 

Do you have your passport ready?  I've been all over the world this week in the kitchen and was really happy with all the results.  It was to the Pacific Northwest for Salmon with Lemon Butter Caper Sauce; Vietnam for Bahn Mi (spiced pork sandwiches with pickled vegetables); The American South for Pulled Pork BBQ Sandwiches with Cole Slaw and Spicy Sweet Potato Fries, Italy for Pasta Fagioli, and a trip to Candy Land for Peanut Brittle.  That last trip was a bad one and we almost needed a peanut brittle intervention!  However, I do want to know why when the question, "What happened to all the peanut brittle?" was posed all heads turned and looked at me?  Okay, guilty as charged. 

I also found myself happily fielding a lot of cooking questions this week; How do you cook fresh pumpkins? How do you make fresh pumpkin pie? Do you have a recipe for fruitcake? Do you know how to make rice pudding? Do you have a recipe for a recipe exchange? Can my daughter have your Pasta Fagioli recipe?  Want to try a new broccoli recipe? Do you ship, haha?  My goal in the upcoming week is to answer most of these questions and provide what recipes I can.  For now, though, I'll start with my Pasta Fagioli recipe for Karl's daughter.
Serves 4-6
2 ounces pancetta, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 small onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes, or more to taste
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped
2 bay leaves
32 ounces chicken broth
2  19-ounce cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
14 ounces San Marzano tomatoes, crushed by hand
1 piece Parmesan cheese rind
½ cup Parmesan cheese, reserved
1 cup small pasta shells
1 bunch kale, stems and ribs discarded, leaves chopped
Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
Heat a large pot to medium heat and add the pancetta, cooking until just crisp and golden in color and the fat has rendered, about 8 minutes.  Add the onion, carrots, celery, garlic, red pepper flakes, and rosemary and cook until the onions are translucent, about 5-6 minutes.  Stir in the tomatoes and chicken broth then add the bay leaves, Parmesan rind and beans.  Cover the pot and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes.
Uncover the pot and bring the mixture back to a boil over high heat.  Add the pasta and cook until al dente, about 8 minutes.  Add the kale and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 5-6 minutes more.  If the soup is too thick, thin with some water or more chicken broth. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Remove the bay leaves and Parmesan rind.  To serve: ladle into individual soup bowls and top with a sprinkling of the reserved Parmesan cheese.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Lemon Tree Very Pretty

If anyone were to ever ask me what the one thing that can always be found in my pantry or refrigerator, the answer would definitely be lemons.  I love them!  As I was admiring my Meyer lemon tree this morning and the number of beautiful yellow globes waiting to sacrifice themselves for my enjoyment, I began wondering what I was going to do with all of them.  So I threw this question out there for my friends, "If life hands you lemons, make...?"  I got the expected answers; lemonade, a picatta dish, limoncello (very expected from this particular friend), furniture polish, wait...what?  Well, he was right.  Besides being delicious in both savory and sweet dishes, lemons have so many other uses that we may not think about.  Need your cutting board cleaned? Rub it with half a lemon and some course salt then rinse.  Sore throat?  Mix lemon juice with some warm water and honey and you've got a soothing fix for it...bourbon optional.  Heck, when I was a teenager here in Florida, we'd rinse our hair with it for a more blonde effect.

My fondness for this sour yet sunny delight started early when I used to just grab a lemon slice and siphon the juice right out of it.  Okay, I'll admit that at times I just did it for effect.  Oh the looks on the faces of the adults around me!  Perhaps they enjoyed the look of my scrunched up little face just as much.  Whatever the motivation, the taste stuck with me and has become one of my favorite ingredients to use in the kitchen.

I think my best bet for using up this particular crop of lemons is to preserve half of them to be used in the future, then use the other half over the upcoming holidays to add a little zip to liven up my recipes.  Preserved lemons are typically found in Moroccan cuisine, but they can be used to stir into tuna or chicken salad, vinaigrette, marinades, stews, etc. and are very easy to make. Here's a quick recipe for you:

Preserved Lemons
  • 10-12 lemons, Meyer lemons do best because they are sweeter and the rind is thinner
  • 6 lemons for juicing
  • kosher coarse salt
  • Large glass mason jar

Wash and dry 12 lemons. Quarter the lemons, yet leaving the lemon in tact at the stem. Basically, you want to cut, leaving 1/2 inch of the bottom of the lemon uncut.

Sprinkle 1-2 tablespoons of coarse salt inside the lemon and reshape the fruit. Repeat with remaining lemons.
Juice six remainder lemons.
Place about 3 tablespoons kosher salt in the bottom of mason jar. Add a layer of salted lemons, then sprinkle kosher salt, ten another layer of lemon. Repeat until the jar is 3/4 full. Add lemon juice to fill jar, leaving a little space to account for the lemon juice that will come from the salted lemons.
Seal jar and store at room temperature. Place upside down every few days. Allow lemons to remain in jar for about a month before use. Lemons are ready when rind in soft.

They'll keep in the refrigerator for about 6 months.

Always rinse lemons before use. 

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


I got the nicest surprise this evening when my humble little blog got shared with 3845 new people thanks to Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain Resort and Spa sharing it on their Facebook page after I did a radio call-in session with two of my very dear friends, Chef Beau MacMillan of elements restaurant, located at the Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain Resort and Spa in Paradise Valley, AZ and Chef Lee Hillson of T. Cook's restaurant, located at the Royal Palms Resort and Spa in Scottsdale, AZ.  Also a huge thanks to Heidi Lee who reached out to invite me to surprise my friends on her radio program.  I am so blessed to have such amazing people in my life who may seem like icons to others (rightfully so) but who are just friends to me.  I don't know what I did to deserve these people in my life, but I'm extraordinarily thankful.  By the way, that goes for every friend I have.  You all are a blessing to me and I am so grateful for your friendship!  Thank you all!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Fun With My Foodie Friends

Yesterday afternoon I had the unique opportunity to call in on a radio show and surprise two of my chef buddies in Arizona.  The show is called Into the Soup and is hosted by the very energetic and totally cool, Heidi Lee.  She can be heard on Saturdays between 2-3 PM (AZ time) on Talk Radio KNFX 1100 AM and she's in the television studio on Thursdays between 9-10 AM on AZTV7.  Check out her website at www.intotheSoup.  I can't wait for my next trip to Arizona so I can hang out with her in person!.com

This all started a few days earlier when she noticed on Facebook that I was friends with these two chefs.  Since she was going to have them both in the studio at the same time, she thought it would be a blast to have me call in and surprise them.  I emailed her a little bit of a background with these two guys - okay, she called it a tome because it was more that just a little bit of background - so she was able to set them up and bring me on the air to answer a particular question that really only I would know the answer to.  It worked like a charm and we had the most fun few minutes I've had in a while!  Thank you Heidi!

So, who are these two chefs, you might ask?  Only two of the most talented, genuine, and down-to-earth people on the planet.  Chef Beau MacMillan and I met about 5 years ago when I was in Scottsdale to check out a celebrity chef golf tournament.  I work on a celebrity golf tournament here in Florida and we'd been trying to tap into the celebrity chef circuit to see if we could add to our event.  I was walking the course as a spectator and kind of had to stick with one particular group of golfers because to get too far ahead of them was inviting a drive to the back of the head.  Beau came over and struck up a conversation like he'd never met a stranger in his life.  When I told him about the event I work on and who the host of the event was (a player for the Boston Red Sox) Beau nearly swallowed his tongue and at that moment his thick New England accent got ever more pronounced.  It was around that time that I realized where I knew him from.  He's the guy who just beat Bobby Flay on Iron Chef America!  And he's a die hard Red Sox fan?  Perfect!  I called him a few days later and invited him to golf in our event and the rest is history.  You can catch him on Food Network as he was the host/mentor on The Worst Cooks in America and he can be seen on The Best Thing I Ever Ate.  His award-winning restaurant, elements, is located in Paradise Valley, AZ at the Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain and isn't to be missed if you're in the area.  It's got the best view of the valley, to boot!

Enter Chef Lee Hillson.  Once Beau came and golfed in our event and visited the charity it benefits, the Space Coast Early Intervention Center which is a non-profit pre-school for children with disabilities, he was smitten and wanted to do more.  He recommended doing a charity dinner and wanted to bring two other chefs friends with him, one of which was Lee Hillson.  His charming and outgoing personality immediately stole the hearts of all who met him and also garnered him an invitation to golf with us.  Lee is also an Iron Chef America competitor who lost by just one point.  Frankly, I think he got hosed!  His also award-winning restaurant, T. Cook's, is located at the beautiful, Mediterranean-inspired Royal Palms Resort and Spa in Scottsdale, AZ.  This is arguably the most beautiful property in the whole area and his Sunday brunch is not to be missed.  My son dreams about Lee's Eggs Benedict made with his house-cured prosciutto.

It has been my honor and privilege to call both of these men my very dear friends and I look forward to seeing them in January, then vacationing with them and a whole bunch of other friends next summer in Napa Valley.  Thanks, you guys!  My life is better because you're in it!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Life Is A Test!

Just when I thought the healing process could begin after losing my mother-in-law just three short weeks ago, I accompanied my mom to her doctor's office this morning only to be handed the diagnosis of cervical cancer.  Her doctor had suspected as much about 3 months ago but put her on a progesterone regime to see if that would fix the issue.  It didn't.  She now has Grade 1 cancer cells which will only get worse without a hysterectomy.  Mom is 76-years-old and I'm worried about this kind of major surgery at her age.  I'm confident that the surgery will fix everything and that nothing has spread, but it's still quite the ordeal to face.  My home will soon become her place for recovery and I'll need to be available to her 24/7. 

I'm trying my best to be strong, but the holidays are looming and I have a major fund-raiser I'm knee deep into that's due at the end of January.  Yeah, I'm feeling incredibly overwhelmed and I hate the fact that I'm showing my weakness, but one can only take so much!  Having said that, I'm culling a few of my commitments.  I need to focus on my family and, maybe for the first time in my life, myself.  I need a break and am going to take it at the first opportunity.

Thanks, friends, for listening and letting me vent a bit!