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Steve’s Christmas Casserole

mai-family

Tram used my kitchen to film another cooking segment, this time with the whole family. Steve & Tram’s new home will be finished in late December, so my kitchen is their surrogate TV kitchen until then.

tzz

The last time Tram filmed a cookie baking segment with Zak & Zoey. I had a hair appointment that morning, so I wasn’t home for the filming. Here is a LINK for that. So cute!

no-you-didnt

This time, all four of them were here to make a Christmas casserole and it was so much fun to be a fly on the wall and watch it unfold. Look how adorably skeptical Zoey is of Zak’s cheese grating abilities.

zak-and-cheese

Zak was going to town on that poor block of cheese the entire time … I was dying. Mom, Dad and Zoey were all so focused on their own tasks that none of them noticed what Zak was up to. Late the next day I got a text from Tram saying that she just finished putting the piece together and couldn’t believe what Zak was doing to the cheese. I can’t wait to see how Tram edited it. It will air next Monday (Dec 12th) early morning on (NBC) 12News.

My photos of the food aren’t all that great, since I was too focused on taking photos of the action, but trust me Steve’s family recipe is delicious.

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December 6, 2016   2 Comments

signature cocktail

ginger-bourbon-cocktail

I first created this cocktail for the last class, a Comfort Food themed menu, in my 3-week cooking series at Les Gourmettes. I served it again as my Signature Cocktail on Thanksgiving. If ever there was a Comfort Food Menu – it is Thanksgiving!

single-cube

To me, it’s important to use one big ice-cube for this cocktail, either a square cube or a round ice ball.

large-cubes

I have both types of ice molds, but my round ball mold only makes one at a time, whereas the square mold makes 6 cubes at once. Since I had 16 cocktails to make for the cooking class and 12 more for Thanksgiving, of course, I went with the square cubes.

I did find THIS cool multi-round ball mold on Amazon. I’m adding it to my Christmas list!

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December 5, 2016   No Comments

Thanksgiving 2016 tablescape

happy-thanksgiving

I loved this Thanksgiving. It was such a joy to cook a big meal for more than just our immediate family.

jeff-zoey-marissa-zak

For years it’s just been the five of us; Dave, Marissa, Connor, my dad and me. Every few years, Dave’s mom would join us, which made the six of us. Still, that’s not many people to eat a meal that you go to so much work for.

fall-harvest

Happily, in 2014, Jeff and his parents, Dean and Amy, joined us for the first time. Since my mother-in-law was here too, that took us all the way up to nine people, the most ever at our table! I was over the moon!

friends-and-family

Fast forward to this year. Steve and Tram are in a rental while their new home is being built. Steve’s parents are in town.

linda-and-tram

Add in the twins, Zak and Zoey and there are fourteen of us! I am in heaven.

jeff-and-steve

For the first time in… ever… I am actually cooking for a respectable number of people, thus making the huge Thanksgiving feast worthy of being called a feast. I am in my element!

menu-chalkboard

I mean, it’s the same number of dishes I make every year, but this year it made sense to go to all that work. Love it!!

zak-and-marissa

And, of course, having 2 ½-year-old twins join in the day, makes everything more fun! Zak and Zoey are so adorable, well-behaved and, well, I’m just in love with them and so are Connor, Marissa and Jeff.

z-and-m

I posted a few photos on Instagram and my friend, Sheila, called them Bigs and Littles.

connor-and-zoey

So sweet!

zak-and-con

OK, how about some tablescaping?

visaversa

Since we were at fourteen and my dining room table seats only eight comfortably, we had to eat outside. Not a problem in Arizona, even in November. But just in case it did rain, I flip-flopped the furniture arrangements. Moving all the seating that is under the long covered “fireplace patio” to the open patio area and moving the oblong table that is usually out in the open, to the covered area.

begin

I also brought over the rustic 60-inch wood round table from the other covered patio to create one long table. The photo above is of the two tables under the covered patio and the beginnings of my table arranging. This all took place early on Wednesday morning.

2-tables

At the same time that I was setting this up, I was also cooking; smoking a turkey breast, making bread dough, cranberry-pomegranate sauce, butternut soup and prepping the sweet potatoes and stuffing. So by the time this photo was taken of the finished tables, it was late afternoon.

oblong-table

The oblong table was covered with a tablecloth, since it’s a patio table and not attractive enough for placemats. Not to mention that I don’t have 12 matching Thanksgiving placemats and napkins anyhow.

one-long-table

The two tables were joined by two large green Jarrahdale pumpkins along with a large white pumpkin. Jarrahdale are my favorite pumpkins. I drove all the way Chino Valley to buy some a few years ago when I couldn’t find them locally. Now that they are available a few places, I’ll drive to half a dozen different stores to find them.

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December 2, 2016   5 Comments

birthday and flowers

I had fully intended to post my Thanksgiving tablescape today but I can’t let the opportunity slip by without wishing my most loyal follower, most frequent commenter, my best friend, one of my two favorite people in the world, my beautiful (inside and out) daughter – a Happy Birthday!

birthday-girl

Marissa Lynn, I love you to the moon and back! Ever since you’ve lived away from home, basically since your freshman year in college, my favorite thing about Thanksgiving has been that it is so close to your birthday. You always come home for Thanksgiving, which means I always get to celebrate YOU!

velvet-queen-sunflower

Since flowers are a traditional birthday gift, I’ll  keep with the Thanksgiving posts and show a few photos of the Thanksgiving centerpieces I made. How gorgeous are these Velvet Queen Sunflowers!

thanksgiving-centerpiece

They really do look and feel like velvet. I found them at Trader Joe’s and went crazy over them.

pumpkin-tureen

I used my orange and green pumpkin soup tureens as the vessels for the flowers. I then set those, along with their lids, atop wood slabs that were set on top of dyed and natural burlap runners.

green-tureen

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December 1, 2016   3 Comments

sweet potatoes make the best leftovers

Sometimes it seems as if sweet potatoes are the ugly stepchild at Thanksgiving dinner. The dish that is expected but not overly anticipated or appreciated.

sweet-potato-buffet

I remember looking forward to them when I was a kid, but today we eat them more than just once a year. Sweet potatoes are in fashion all year long. Then there are sweet potato fries, which are offered and ordered nearly as often as their French fry cousins. If you’re like me, you select them over potato fries more often than not.

I have to admit that this was the case with this dish at our Thanksgiving buffet. Most guests took a small portion for their plate, but chose to fill up on the stars of the day; the turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and gravy.

And that was just fine with me. These maple roasted sweet potatoes made great leftover dishes for breakfast (sweet potato hash with eggs) lunch (added to a turkey taco) and dinner (part of a black bean chili or puréed and added to risotto).

multi-color-potatoes

When shopping for the sweet potatoes, I bought three varieties for a pretty trio of colors.

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November 30, 2016   No Comments

new Thanksgiving recipes… for next year

I don’t know how other bloggers get recipes up for the holidays before the holiday! I suppose I could write up this recipe and date it to post in early November 2017, but that seems like much more forethought than I ever want to have to think about!

applewood-smoked-turkey

Instead, I’ll post this and another Thanksgiving recipe, along with my Thanksgiving tabelscapes this week and remind you about them next year, that sounds more reasonable and realistic to me.

bags

Two Notes: The first concerns the brine bag in this recipe: While shopping, I was in a hurry and could not immediately find a brine bag at the grocery store. Instead of asking for assistance, I spotted slow-cooker liners and thought, “They’ll work!”

Yeah, not so much! The liner was a smidgen too small. I could barely gather it all up and seal the bag. I was paranoid about the bag opening and leaking, so I put it into another bag. I still wasn’t secure in the leakage possibilities, so I put that into another bag. By then, I’d used 3 of the 4 bags in the box, so I thought, “What the heck!” and put all that into another bag! All ended well, as the four bags held and not a drop escaped.

My advice – for peace of mind – search out and use a true brine bag!

brine-mix

Second: I was at Cost Plus World Market the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and I found a yummy brine mix. I used 1 ¼ cups of it in place of the salt, peppercorns and Italian seasoning in the recipe below. If you come across a good looking mix, you can do the same or just follow the recipe as written.

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November 29, 2016   1 Comment

Thanksgiving and some tips

I know that I’ve been a slacker when it comes to posting lately. Things are finally getting back to normal around here and to be honest, I’m just enjoying the calmer feeling.

entry

With Thanksgiving two days away, I’m loving focusing all my time and attention on the big day. Next week, I’ll return to blogging on a more regular basis.

recipe-index

In the meantime, I want to remind you about the Complete Recipe Index, over there on the top left. Click on it, scroll to “Holidays” and click again. Then, scroll down to “Thanksgiving.” It is there that you will find over 45 recipes for not only the feast but also recipes using the leftovers after Turkey Day.

Lastly, I want to share with you a few video segments I filmed with my friend and 12News anchor, Tram Mai. They are part of a “how to” series the station has run. Some are in my cooking and entertaining wheelhouse, a couple of the others, um … not so much, but I gave it a good college try. What I think will prove to be my favorite segment, “Setting a Proper Table” will air on Thanksgiving morning, I’ll post a link, after it airs.

pickles

Homemade Pickles

grill-pizza

Grilled Pizza

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November 22, 2016   1 Comment

careening out of control

You know that feeling when you are, or you think you are about to, fall down a flight of stairs?

That “heart-pounding, can’t catch your breath, your world is spinning completely out of your control” feeling.

Yeah, that pretty sums up how I’ve felt for the last two weeks. I’d say since my birthday, things have felt like they are constantly getting away from me and I’ll never catch up.

fall-festival-truck

For instance, my birthday was Thursday the 27th, on Sunday the 30th, we had our neighborhood Fall Festival. I was in charge of it. I was in charge of it two years ago too but it didn’t feel like as big a job as it was this time. Granted, my committee was larger and more available in 2014, but this year it felt like a two-woman-show when it should have been a ten-woman-production. I worked for weeks leading up to it and for 16 straight hours on the day of.

nail-drama

As if being bone-tired wasn’t bad enough, I tore, chipped and cracked three fingernails of my 2-day-old, absolutely perfect, best-ever manicure! The photo shows the left hand before and after with the index fingernail ripped clean off. On the right hand, if you look close, you can see the tear in the middle finger and by the end of the day, the ring finger was broken off too.

zz

The next morning, Halloween, I was up with the sun to get everything “Festival-related” cleaned up and put away and get ready for our traditional Halloween pizza-grilling festivities. Trick-or-treating with Zak and Zoey was so much fun!

calendar

My continuing birthday-celebration-mode complicated things further, as I had lunch and dinner dates still lined up the week after. Not that I’m complaining! I am not! I’m touched and love being loved by my friends and family, but this year, the timing took its toll. Yes, that is a screenshot of my calendar for the week. It may be too small to read, but you get the idea.

class

The next day was the first night of my 3-week cooking classes at Les Gourmettes. Shopping, prepping and teaching occupied all hours from dusk to dawn on Tuesday.

vote

Add to that, on Thursday morning, Connor and I went to take part in early-voting and waited for 2 hours! I don’t have time to sit for 2 hours! But we did and we voted.

The one thing that had weighed especially heavy on me was a charity dinner I was cooking for guests at the Frank Lloyd Wright Price House on Saturday night. It was five courses; a signature cocktail, 3 appetizers, soup, salad, main course with two sides and dessert for a total of 10 recipes, most of which had three components to each dish. For instance, the dessert was a bread pudding with sautéed apples and crème anglaise and the soup had an avocado cream garnish and cheese puffs. Thankfully, my friend and colleague, Kim Howard spent a good part of the morning in the kitchen with me. Thank you, Kim!

flw-door

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November 7, 2016   7 Comments

Halloween Pumpkin ideas

fun-pumpkins

I saw two cute pumpkins on social media and I just had to do them both.

pumpkin-2

For each project, you need to get yourself a nice big pumpkin.

cut-top

Cut out the tops.

seeds

And pull out all those seeds.

cleanout

Once they’re all cleaned out, you’re ready to go.

the-laziest-carving

The first is the Lazy Man’s Jack-O-Lantern. My friend, Bridget, posted it on Facebook and it is right up my ally!

little-eyes

I always struggle with decided what sort of face I want to make. With this, there’s no thinking involved. Just use a skewer to poke out two little eyes.

score-mouth

Use the same skewer to score out a mouth…

cut-mouth

…going deeper and deeper until you’re cutting it out. And that’s all there is to it. I think it’s adorable.

lit-up

You gotta admit – he’s pretty cute when he’s lit up.

box-wine

I found cool pumpkin #2 on the HGTV Instagram page. You’ll need your cleaned out pumpkin, a box of wine and some permanent markers for this one.

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October 30, 2016   4 Comments

TV hacks, tips, etc.

My dear friend, Tram Mai, morning anchor on 12News, and I have filmed several little segments for her morning show recently. The first one aired yesterday.

12news

Tram sent me a LINK. This one is all about how to easily peel soft fruits.

Future clips include proper table setting, how to grill pizza, a homemade all-purpose cleaning solution, packing hacks, and more.

Thank you for all the sweet birthday wishes yesterday! I want to tell you that I kept my word and didn’t complain about the heat for the rest of the day yesterday … but today is a new day and the photo below says it all!

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October 28, 2016   3 Comments