Countdown to A Fabuleux Thanksgiving (Final Days): Tips for A Stress-Free Feast

First of all, I owe you all apology for not posting last week’s timeline action items! Yikes! I had to get the last two blog posts done and then I had some technical difficulties, but I’m going to get you on track. Promise!

One quick note, If you’ve purchased a frozen turkey, hopefully it’s already defrosting in your refrigerator as it takes approximately 6 days before it will completely defrost.

So, without further delay, let’s just get into what you can get done this week to make your Thanksgiving less stressful. . .

Today

Clean the fridge. Use today to clean the refrigerator in preparation for all of the food you’ll be storing after tomorrow’s shopping trip for perishables. Now, is the ideal time to purge any expired food and eat any leftovers. This is critical as you need to ensure you have room for all of the food you’re preparing. Note: If you’re expecting a lot of guests, I would suggest using coolers as extra storage space for keeping food chilled. If that’s the case, dig those out as well. 

Prep your guest rooms. If you’ve having out-of-town guests, use today to get anything that your guests may need or want. I think it’s nice to have snacks and water on the nightstand for your guests. Also, any toiletries they may have forgotten would be welcomed as well. Even place chocolates on the pillows. Small gestures like that go a long way. Your guests will appreciate your thoughtfulness! And speaking of which, have your wi-fi network name and passcode printed on a card or put it in a frame next to the bed or on the dresser. Now, they’ll REALLY appreciate that!

Pull all of your serving and decór items. Work through your menu and pull all of the platters and corresponding utensils out that you’ll need for every single dish. Don’t forget the gravy boat! Also, gather your china, silver, stemware, vases, candles, candleholders, etc. too. Wash everything and set aside, but not before placing a post-it in onto each piece indicating what dish you plan to serve on it. This is also a good way to assess what you have and need. You may have forgotten that Uncle Bobby broke a platter when he was helping you after having one too many last year! LOL! This is a good time to add whatever you need to your list! Amazon Prime is your best friend this week. . .

Make your turkey brine. Check the FL Instagram account for DIY brine tonight. Store, covered, at room temperature.

So fresh and clean. Take your tablecloths and napkins to the cleaners for pick-up tomorrow.

Tuesday

Double-check your lists and go grocery shopping for perishables and any you missed. By now, the non-perishables should’ve been purchased. Check to see if you’ve covered everything on your list. If not add it to your perishables list which you’ll be shopping for next week. What about your decor and equipment? Have everything you want/need? Again, you can order from your new best friend to get anything you need by tomorrow!

Bake your cornbread for stuffing and refrigerate. Instead of buying packaged bread cubes, bake your own cornbread and stash it in the fridge.

Make your turkey stock. Go the grocery store and buy 4 pounds of turkey legs and necks and make your turkey stock. Divide it among plastic quart containers and store in the fridge. You’ll have whatever you need for soup, stuffing and gravy. If you really want to be ahead of the game. . . .

Show off and make your gravy too. Since you have your stock done, why not go a step further and knock out the gravy? Once it’s cooled, put it in quart size containers and place in the fridge.

Brine your turkey. If you’re getting a fresh turkey, pick it up today and brine it.

Wednesday

Remove turkey from the brine. Take your bird out of the brine and refrigerate.

Prep your veggies and herbs. Chop your onions, peppers, celery, herbs, etc. for the stuffing. Store in an airtight container and refrigerate.

Bake your desserts. Defrost your pie crust (if you’ve already prepped and froze it). Bake your pie and/cakes tonight so, you’ll have the oven free tomorrow for the dinner items.

Set your table and the buffet. Get your table set as well as your buffet. Check the FL Instagram account for tips on this tomorrow!

Make any cold side dishes. Today is a good day to make your salad (and dressing if you’re making one from scratch), cranberry sauce (again, if you’re making homemade) and anything else that can be refrigerated.

The Big Day

Morning

Determine your oven strategy. Look at your entire menu and determine which dishes are baked at the same temperature and plan to bake simultaneously.

Make like a caterer. Set-up a breakdown station in your kitchen or your garage/carport. Place a garbage can at the station so you early discard food scraps from plates. Organize soaking stations so the food doesn’t harden on the plates.

About five hours before dinner is served:

Remove the turkey from the refrigerator. This will take some the chill off and speed up the roasting time! Yaaaassss!

Chill beverages. Place any bottled waters, sodas, wine, etc. in coolers to get chilled.

Get the java and tea started. Place coffee in the coffeemaker, fill creamer and sugar bowls, and put fresh water in the tea kettle. This will get you a few minutes ahead of the game when it’s time to serve dessert.

After Dinner 

Take that offer to help. Remember the folks you turned turn when they offered to help earlier? Well, you need them now so, get them to help you clear the table and take dishes o your breakdown station. Have someone else, get the dessert plates, cups and saucers for tea/coffee set-up. Put one of your helpers on dessert duty so you can tend to other things.

Game time snacks. Have a few light things like popcorn, tortilla chips and nuts on hand in case someone wants a few munchies while watching the big game.

Entertain the children. Make sure that you can keep them busy during the festivities. It’s a long day for them. Shucks, it’s a long for the adults! So, if you have space, designate a room for them to play board games, do puzzles/crafts, watch movies or play video games. Maybe have them plan a talent show and they can entertain the guests after dinner. How cute is that?

Get prepared for Christmas. While you have so many hands on deck, get those nephews to pull your Christmas decór from the attic or the garage so you easily access it for decorating in the coming weeks. Hey, you just fed them a delicious meal so, don’t feel bad about putting them to work! Ha-ha!

Enjoy your family and friends. That’s what this season is about so, take the time to enjoy them! Yes, the dinner is important and of course, you want things to be just so, but it’s the love of those people around the table that means the most. Don’t get so caught up in the details that you miss that.

Remember to also check the Fabuleux Living Instagram page (@fabuleuxliving) as I’m sharing some other tips there as well! Don’t want you to miss anything!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mandarin Orange Olive Oil Cake

I’m not going into a lot of pomp and circumstance about this cake, not that it doesn’t deserve it. I just want to get this recipe to you pronto. Plus, we’re only days away from Thanksgiving so, we have no time to waste. So, here’s the skinny. . .I have one of the best cake recipes ever in the form of this Mandarin Orange Olive Oil Cake. You’re like huh? Did she say olive oil in cake? What the what? I know, but you must trust me (yet again) on this one. You’ll love this aromatic cake—it’s scrumptious!

Together with Whole Foods, I’ve prepared this divine cake to add to your Thanksgiving dessert table. As I mentioned, I shopped at the new Riverdale Park, MD store and purchased lovely Satsuma mandarin oranges from their wonderful produce department and grabbed some Whole Foods 365 extra light olive oil and eggs. The result was beyond amazing!

Let me begin by telling you that I’d never heard of olive oil cake until earlier this year. I don’t know about you, but when I think of olive oil, I think of savory dishes, not dessert! However, while perusing the web, I found a fellow blogger’s take on Maialino’s (a NYC Italian restaurant) recipe. It was insanely good! It was the sweetest surprise. . . literally! It was the moistest cake I’ve had that doesn’t have one drop of butter in it! The crumb is so incredibly tender. If 40 is the new 30, then olive oil cake is the new pound cake! Seriously. It’s that good!

This uncomplicated and refined cake is a crowd pleaser. It will not disappoint. I’ve baked Maialino’s recipe (and tweaked it) countless times since I discovered it back in April. The consensus? Everyone loves it and so do I! You’re talking to the girl who loves to bake with butter and I’m telling you, this cake is amazeballs! It’s healthier to bake with olive oil because it contains monosaturated fat, compared with butter’s saturated fat. And since olive oil is a natural emulsifier, it improves both the moisture and texture of the cake.

By the way, in case you’re wondering, the olive oil taste is very subtle. However, it’s important to use extra virgin olive oil because anything stronger will be too peppery and grassy which is fine in salad dressing, but not necessarily good for the flavor in cake. Whole Foods’ 365 extra virgin olive oil has a nice, light flavor that balances out the citrus very nicely in this cake.

And guess what? I have an early Christmas present for you. . .This olive oil cake, like other oil-based cakes, only requires you to whisk the dry ingredients in one bowl, whisk the wet ingredients in another, and then combine the contents of the two bowls. You’ll have this cake in the oven in 5 minutes—that’s not an exaggeration. It’s in the oven for an hour and voilá, you’ll have a slice of heaven on your plate! Here’s another jewel—this cake can be made ahead as it will keep for up to 3 days and will still be incredibly moist! Merry Christmas!

About Satsuma mandarin oranges. . . .They’re a citrus fruit whose origin is Japan and they’re typically available in the fall and winter months. The flesh is extremely juicy and they are considered the sweetest of all the citrus varieties though they offer a degree of acidity. They caught my eye because they still had the leaves on them. Aren’t they gorge?

The mandarins also reminded me of my great-Auntie, the entertaining maven in my family. She used to make the tallest three-layer mandarin orange cake with Cool Whip frosting. It was so insanely good! My Auntie passed away this past June so, this cake is an ode to her as this will sadly be our first holiday without her.  It’s a deconstructed version and I’ve elevated it a bit with the fresh whipped cream and honey-mandarin orange compote, but she is definitely the inspiration. I think she’d be proud . . .

Mandarin Orange Olive Oil Cake 

Yield: 8 to 10 servings         Cook Time: 1 hour

 

INGREDIENTS

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 3/4 cups sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 1/3 cups extra-virgin olive oil

1 1/4 cups full fat buttermilk (or whole milk)

3 large eggs

1 tablespoons grated mandarin zest

1/2 cup fresh mandarin juice (from 2 to 3 mandarins)

Fresh whipped cream

DIRECTIONS

Step 1

Heat the oven to 350° F. Oil, butter, or spray a 9-inch springform pan. (If you don’t have a springform, use two 9-inch cake pans and start checking for doneness at 30 minutes.)

Step 2

In a bowl, whisk the flour, sugar, salt, baking soda and powder. In another bowl, whisk the olive oil, milk, eggs, mandarin zest and juice. Add the dry ingredients; whisk until just combined.

Step 3

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 1 hour, until the top is golden and a cake tester comes out clean. Transfer the cake to a rack and let cool for 30 minutes. Serve with honey-mandarin orange compote and fresh whipped cream.

Honey-Mandarin Orange Compote: Peel 3 to 4 mandarin oranges. Remove pith from the mandarin segments. Repeat. Place in a bowl. Drizzle in 1 to 2 teaspoons honey. Let sit for 5 minutes, then stir gently.

 

After that huge Thanksgiving meal, you don’t want anything too heavy. This cake is the perfect bite (even without the compote and whipped cream). This cake stands on its own!

Couldn’t get the lighting right on the previous shot so (sorry!), had to do a close-up so you could see the tender crumb and the hints of zest! Yummy!

 

Bon appétit!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Sides Have It!: Creamy Confetti Corn & Lemon Butter Haricot Verts

Thanksgiving is all about the turkey. You know, I get it. It’s is the star of the show, but would it be the same without its co-stars aka the side dishes? I don’t think so. I mean turkey is good, but the side dishes make it great! So, today, I’ve partnered with Whole Foods to bring you not one, but two incredibly delicious and simple side dishes—creamy confetti corn and lemon butter haricot verts—that are great for the holidays and beyond!

I haven’t shopped in Whole Foods in a while, but there’s now a brand spanking new one in Riverdale Park, MD (the first store in Prince George’s County—woo hoo!). Just a few miles from my home, I immediately walked in the beautiful and spacious store and exhaled. I immediately remembered what I’d missed most once I walked through the doors—the beautiful produce department. It’s the next best thing to a farmer’s market!

In addition to the gorgeous vegetables and fruits I used for today’s recipes (as well as tomorrow’s), I used Whole Foods’ 365 products and they didn’t disappoint. Check out everything I purchased in the photo below.

Creamy confetti corn is something that you’ll prepare long after the holiday season because it can accompany any entrée. What else is there to love about this dish? First and foremost, it’s one of those one-pan wonders that we all need in our lives especially during the busy holiday season. Two, it’s prepared with half & half and cream cheese. Last, but certainly not least, it’s topped with crumbled bacon. OMG!

So, you may ask where the confetti comes in? Good question—it’s the beautiful red, green and orange peppers sprinkled throughout this dish. All of these flavors meld together and I’m telling you, it’s a party in your mouth. I’m doing my happy food dance! Hence, the need for confetti!

Oh, and the bonus? You can make this creamy confetti corn dish two days before Thanksgiving and place it in a baking dish and warm at 325 degrees for 15 minutes on the big day! Insert more happy dancing here!

Creamy Confetti Corn

Yield: 8 servings              Cook Time: 30 minutes

 

INGREDIENTS

8 slices bacon, chopped

2 16-ounce packages frozen yellow corn kernels

¾ cup chopped onion, white, yellow or red

1 ¼ cup chopped peppers, red, green and orange

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese

½ cup half & half

2 teaspoons sugar

salt and pepper, to taste

 

DIRECTIONS

Step 1

In a large nonstick skillet, cook the bacon until golden and crisp. Drain the bacon on a paper-towel lined plate and discard all the bacon grease except for 2 teaspoons.

Step 2

Add the corn, onions and peppers and cook over medium heat for 6-8 minutes. Add the cream cheese and half & half, stirring until the cream cheese melts and the mixture is evenly combined.

Step 3

Stir in the sugar, salt and pepper. Add more salt and pepper to taste, if needed. Serve warm topped with the reserved bacon.

*****

Side dish number two is definitely a staple on the dinner table—green beans, but these are haricot vert which is French—”haricot” (bean) and “vert” (green). Unlike regular green beans, these are more tender and cook a little quicker. I think they’re more refined and elegant too so, they make a nice presentation as well.

Personally, I’ve never been a fan of green bean casserole and this dish is much brighter and lighter than the Thanksgiving staple because of the fresh lemon and the tomatoes (which are optional). This recipe is so simple you can pull it together in ten minutes! Who doesn’t need that on Turkey Day?

Lemon Butter Haricot Verts

Yield: 8 servings               Cook Time: 10 minutes

INGREDIENTS

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

3 tablespoons finely chopped shallots

3 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

1 ½ teaspoons grated lemon zest

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

2 lbs. haricots verts

1 cup grape tomatoes, halved (optional)

1 teaspoon sea salt

cracked black pepper, to taste

 

DIRECTIONS

Step 1

Stir together all ingredients except haricot verts and grape tomatoes in a bowl until combined well.

Step 2

Cook beans in a large pot of boiling salted water (1 tablespoon salt for 6 quarts water), uncovered, until al dente (crisp-tender), about 6 minutes, then drain.

Step 3

Place the butter mixture in a skillet on medium heat. Add the haricot verts to the pan until coated with the butter about 2 to 3 minutes.

Step 4

Toss the grape tomato halves into the pan until they blister, another 2 minutes or so.

Note: You can make this dish even lighter by replacing the butter with olive oil.

Ta-da! Just like that, two side dishes done! These recipes are perfect because they don’t require use of your oven which is prime real estate when you’re preparing a huge holiday meal. In addition, I think that holiday plates could use a burst of color which both the creamy corn confetti and the lemon butter haricot verts certainly are!

I hope these two lovely side dishes grace your Thanksgiving table and become new favorites for you and your family!

 

 

 

Let It Whip!: The Simplicity of Making Fresh Whipped Cream

Fresh whipped cream is ev-er-y-thing! I mean everything! I know I say this often, but you’ll never buy it from the store again once you’ve made your own. It’s the truth! You won’t. With very little effort, you can have fresh whipped cream in a matter of minutes AND just in time for Thanksgiving!

I shared a fresh whipped cream recipe in my post for Strawberry Shortcake awhile back, but today we’re going to make it the star because let’s be very clear, it IS! Whether, you’re putting it on dessert, waffles, pancakes, fresh fruit, hot chocolate or coffee, fresh whipped cream is the perfect addition. Fresh whipped cream is creamy, light and airy—something you simply can’t get from a can or a tub.

Although I bake from scratch, I know everyone doesn’t. *gasp* It may not be your jam so, if you must buy a dessert from the store *clutching my pearls*, please elevate it with fresh whipped cream! That will certainly take it to the next level and almost make anyone forget that the dessert isn’t homemade. Almost anyway. LOL!

Here are some tips for making perfect fresh whipped cream:

Cream matters. The kind of cream is important. You want to use whipping cream (30 to 35 percent fat) or heavy cream (36 percent fat minimum). Pasteurized is better than ultra-pasteurized because it will whip up easily and hold peaks better. If you can only find ultra-pasteurized, you’ll still get a decent whipped cream—no no worries.

Chill. Not you, silly—your large bowl (preferably metal) and whisk/beaters. The colder the cream is, the quicker it will whip and the loftier your peaks will be. Make sure that your cream is well-chilled too. Room temperature cream won’t incorporate air.

Pump up the volume. Whipping cream will whip up to three times in volume. So, one cup of whipping cream will yield about 3 cups of whipped cream. Keep this in mind especially if you only need a small batch. I don’t know why you would. . .I’m just sayin’.

Slow and steady. Whipping cream is simply a matter of incorporating tiny air bubbles into a fatty liquid. The science of it all, is that the fat molecules align with the air bubbles, hence making them stable. The bubbles then cling to each other, forming a thick foam. Using a lower speed to begin your whipping prevents the cream from getting warm too quickly and you’ll build up smaller bubbles, for a more stable foam.

Wait for the sweet stuff. Add sugar once the cream has thickened up some. Same with any other additions or flavorings. Speaking of sugar, for the best results, use confectioners (aka powdered sugar). Why not regular granulated sugar? Well, confectioners sugar contains a bit of cornstarch which helps the cream hold up longer after its whipped and it also dissolves faster. Also, granulated sugar can make whipped cream grainy which is not what you want.

Let it whip! Now, that you’ve added the sugar or other flavorings, you can increase the speed. Whip the cream until soft peaks form. How can you tell when you have soft peaks? It will be thick enough to hold its shape yet still be fluffy and billowy. If you overbeat it, you’ll soon have butter on your hands. That’s another blog post. . .

That’s it. Two ingredients and you have fresh, light whipped cream on your table literally in a matter of minutes. If you really want to get fancy, here are a few additions you can make (all measurements are based on 1 cup whipping cream):

Chantilly or Almond. For vanilla-scented cream, add 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract and 1 teaspoon sugar. Some say vanilla is a must for whipped cream in general. Sometimes I add it and sometimes I don’t, but if you want a subtle vanilla taste, then this is perfect. Almond is another delicious option just replace the vanilla extract with almond extract and increase sugar to 1 tablespoon.

Maple. Add 2 tablespoons of PURE (the real deal) maple syrup instead of sugar and 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla. This one screams fall.

Cinnamon. Simply add 1 tablespoon sugar and 1 teaspoon cinnamon. Another one that’s perfect for the season.

Bourbon. To prepare this decadent spiked whipped cream, add 1 tablespoon bourbon to the whipping cream along with 1/2 teaspoon sugar and 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract.

The last three variations are perfect for Thanksgiving desserts like pecan pie, sweet potato pie/cake, pumpkin pie and apple pie. I hope you consider adding fresh whipped cream to your holiday dessert menu this year. You can’t deny that it’s definitely up there as one of the easiest recipes ever. So, even if you’re not a baker, you can dazzle your guests by whipping up this recipe. Simplicity at its finest (and most delicious)! How fabuleux is that?

Bon appétit!

 

 

Countdown to A Fabuleux Thanksgiving (Week 3): Tips for A Stress-Free Feast

We’re two weeks from Thanksgiving, folks so now it’s time to get this train moving. This week we need to make our lists and check them twice! Oh, by the way, some tips will be on the Fabuleux Living Instagram page (@fabuleuxliving) so, make sure you check there for little nuggets that are too short for a blog post, but still awesome things to have in your Thanksgiving preparation arsenal! Let’s jump right into what you should be doing this week, you hostess with the mostest!

Week 3

Confirm your headcount. Hopefully, this week, your family and friends have told you whether or not they plan to join you for dinner. If not, make another push and finalize your list so you can proceed with planning.

Divide and conquer (the grocery list). You will not get all of the shopping done at once nor do you want to. Why? Because you’ll have to go back to get the perishables Thanksgiving week. So, thoroughly scan your menus and create two lists—one non-perishables and one perishables (dairy and produce). Before you shop, look through your cabinets, fridge, pantry and china closet (for platters, serving pieces, etc.) to see what you already have on hand as not to duplicate anything.

Shop. Head to the grocery store and purchase all of the non-perishables—canned goods, spices, flour, sugar, extracts, seasonings, etc.—anything that won’t spoil, buy it. Next, head to stores like my personal fav Homegoods or Bed Bath & Beyond for your serving pieces and any equipment you don’t have as well.

Order your turkey. If you’re preparing a fresh turkey, call your grocer or butcher and place your order pronto.

Make your pie dough. “Gift “your guests with pies made with flaky and buttery crusts made from scratch. They will feel so loved knowing that you went the extra mile and made pie with homemade crust. Prepare the crust and freeze it (forming it into discs) and you simply defrost it in the fridge overnight.

Get your biscuit or rolls going too. While you’re rolling in the dough (LOL!), you should prepare your biscuits or rolls too. Whatever recipe you’ll be using, instead of popping it in the oven to bake, you’ll just cut (biscuits) or form balls (rolls), place on baking sheets and put in the freezer for 30 minutes. Next, remove them and put in freezer bags. They’re ready to bake on Thanksgiving Day! No need to pop a can or buy frozen bread full of chemicals when you can have fresh homemade bread! That is a such a pro move!

You can do all of this over the weekend and just think of how much time you’ll save the week of Thanksgiving! I’m telling you, doing these things will makes things less crazed for you (and make you feel like such a rockstar). It’s all about the preparation. That’s the key. If you’ve prepped, you won’t have to resort to last minute things like store-bought pie crust and bread. Tackling it early also helps you to put your best meal on your table for your guests. I mean just look at all of the prep you’ll get done this weekend alone—more than half of the shopping will be done, turkey ordered, and you’re on the road to having homemade pie AND bread on your table. How fabuleux is that?

 

 

 

 

Countdown to a Fabuleux Thanksgiving: Timeline for A Stress-Free Feast (Week 4)

Photo Credit: Southern Living

Goodness gracious! Today is November 1. Tomorrow, we’re nearly four weeks away from Thanksgiving Day! Wow, where has the year gone? No, seriously. It’s crazy, but I’m not going to harp on that because the clock is ticking. . .

I know you’re like, “Angela, this is too early. Come on, it’s just November 1. I’m taking off the week of Thanksgiving so, I’m good to go.” I’m sure you are, but this year, I have a little help for you whether you’re a novice or a seasoned cook to ensure that you have a fabuleux Thanksgiving feast! The holidays are hectic, but my weekly timeline and delicious recipes will take some of the anxiety out of preparing for the meal that kicks off the holiday season. Today, let’s get rolling with the “Countdown to A Fabuleux Thanksgiving” series! We have T-minus 22 days until the big day!

Week 4

Invite guests. Contact family and friends to get a headcount so, you can plan accordingly. Whether you’re calling people, emailing or sending smoke signals, have your guests get back to you by next week. This is imperative so, you can get the ball rolling. People will ask what they can bring and you should let them even if it’s something as simple as ice or much-needed like folding chairs. Your guests want to contribute so, allow them to do so! Don’t be a hard head.  I’ve learned this over the years. . .

Set the tone (and parameters). Give some thought to the kind of meal you’d like to have. Do you want something casual? Formal? Buffet or sit down? Think about what direction you want to go in and then you can take it from there.

Start planning your menu. Are you going with a traditional meal or do you want to add a little twist this year? Trying new recipes? Get your creative juices flowing and craft your menu. Pull out your cookbooks, print recipes from the web and set them aside to use as a guide for your grocery shopping list.

Keep it simple. Planning your menu can get out of hand and the next thing you know you have three meats, five side dishes and six desserts. Oh yeah. That’s real—especially for those of us with Southern roots. Don’t do it! You know I’m talking to you. Dial it back significantly. Write the menu, walk away from it and then edit it. You’ll thank me on Thanksgiving Eve when you’re not in the kitchen at midnight. Sidebar (but related). . .we live in a culture of excess and waste. We throw away a lot of food so, relaxing on the menu offerings is a mindful thing as well especially when so many don’t have anything to eat.

Be a realist. You have the perfect menu, but honestly ask yourself if you can handle it all on your own. That’s a real question and I think this is where the stress comes in because we tend to take too much on. This is a moment to be honest and figure out what you can do and enlist some help on the things you need assistance with. Next, determine what can be outsourced aka purchased from the store.

Easy does it. Repeat after me, every dish doesn’t have to be an over-the-top gourmet dish. This is another thing I’ve learned over the years. One year, I decided to make a crown rib roast for Christmas. It was beautiful, but have I done it again? Nope. Why? It was too much for my family (except for me and my Mom). I know we want to color outside of the lines, but during the holidays, stick with the tried and true traditional dishes. In the words of the O’Jays, “gots to give the people what they want”!

Make a list of the supplies you’ll need. Do you have all of the pans, serving pieces, china, platters, glassware, tables, seating to entertain? If not, make note of what you need and purchase, borrow or rent it from your local party store. If you purchase, consider eBay or secondhand shops because you can find some great deals! One tip, remember that china doesn’t have to match, especially if you’re using vintage pieces, it’s quite charming to mix and match pieces.

Get your house in order. Entertaining isn’t about just the food. You’re welcoming guests into your home whether for the afternoon/evening or for the weekend. This is the time to start thinking about refreshing your guest rooms if you’re having visitors from out-of-town. Buy bedding, tablecloths and towels. Shop for any décor items too such as candles, vases, a fall wreath and welcome mat. Also, get anything repaired now because handymen (and maid services) will be swamped in the next few weeks with requests from other hostesses!

Don’t fret if you’re on hostess duty—you’ve got this! Now, I’m not going to lie and tell you that hosting a holiday meal isn’t daunting. It is, but that’s where planning and getting into the nitty-gritty of the details come into play. By getting a jumpstart on things, you’ll be able to be a guest at your own fête! Thanksgiving 2017 will be one of your best (and less stressed) yet!

 

 

 

Creamy Stovetop Mac n’ Cheese

It’s Friday Eve and I’ve just finished preparing AND eating my favorite meal in the entire world—macaroni and cheese (aka mac n’ cheese). I prepare this recipe two to three times a month because 1) I love macaroni and cheese (pasta is my favorite savory dish), 2) it’s quick and 3) I love macaroni and cheese. That’s not a typo. It stands to be repeated! The other important point is that it’s quick. You can have this meal on your stove and in your belly in less than 20 minutes. I know I say this often, but you’ll never buy a box of “that” orange processed stuff ever again once you try this recipe!

You all know I love sweets, but macaroni and cheese is the other dish I would want if I were on a desert island. Seriously. I love it that much. When I was a little girl, my mother used to prepare it and she’d give me a little bowl of the elbow macaroni with just butter, salt and pepper while she baked the rest because I just couldn’t wait for it. That was the best little taste! Ummm, ummm! Let’s be very, very clear, I prefer baked macaroni, but when I don’t have time to shred cheese, crack eggs, make a cheese sauce, etc., this is a good runner-up.

Macaroni and cheese wasn’t something my mother made during the week. It was reserved for Sundays or holidays. That’s it. I’m of the same ilk. And now that my son is away at college, a dish of baked macaroni would just go to waste. In comes, this creamy and delicious stovetop macaroni—a one dish wonder. If you’re a single girl like me or if you’re a Mom with little ones, this is one recipe you’ll want in your hip pocket.

Of note, you can use whatever cheeses you like. I had sharp cheddar (which is a mac n’ cheese must for some zing), parmesan and American on hand so, that’s what I used for this recipe. However, feel free to use what you like. Gruyère and Colby Jack are great too. It’s all a matter of your taste. So, back to the American cheese. I know cheese purists would frown upon the use of American, but it helps with the creamy and gooey factors especially in this stovetop version. I don’t use it when I prepare baked mac n’ cheese, but for this stovetop version, it ups the ante. Okay, get off your computer and get to your kitchen to bake a quick version of the ultimate comfort food!

Creamy Stovetop Mac n’ Cheese

Yield: 4 to 5 servings        Cook Time: 17 minutes

1 ½ cups elbow macaroni

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

4 tablespoons flour

1 ½ cups sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

½ cup parmesan cheese, shredded or shaved

4 slices of American cheese

3 cups half & half

Salt and pepper (preferably white), to taste

Step 1

Place the elbow macaroni in a saucepan. Add just enough water to cover the pasta. Add a few drops of olive oil (or vegetable oil) and salt the water generously. Boil the pasta for 7 minutes until it’s al dente. Drain and place in a bowl. Reserve a ¼ cup of the water for later use.

Step 2

In a large Dutch oven or saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk to combine, then cook for 1 to 2 minutes, whisking constantly, until the mixture is a light golden brown color and begins to emit a nutty smell.

Step 3

Reduce the heat to medium-low and slowly whisk in the half & half until smooth. Simmer until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes, whisking occasionally.

Step 4

Add the cheeses a little a time, whisking well after each addition ensuring that it is fully melted before adding more. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Step 5

Add the drained pasta to the cheese sauce and stir to combine. Slowly, add the reserved pasta water to the pot a little at the time to loosen the sauce if it’s too thick. Note: You may not need all of the water, but you’ll want to “feel” it until it Continue to taste as you may need to add more salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Things Cooks Know

  • When preparing a white or light sauce, use white pepper instead of black pepper. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, but my mother always said that you don’t want black specks in your macaroni and cheese. I tend to agree. However, use what you have. Black pepper is fine and won’t ruin the dish.
  • That reserved pasta water is liquid gold because of the starch. Don’t throw it out! It will make your cheese sauce silky and rich. As a matter of fact, this works in any of your pasta sauce recipes.
  • Half & half is just that—half milk and half cream. Hence, it will make the sauce thicker and richer than using milk.
  • Make sure you salt the water AND the sauce. I know you think that’s overkill, but it’s not. I’ve learned the hard way and again, as my mother says, bland macaroni is THE worst. Just do it—add the salt. Trust me and my Mama! LOL!

Doesn’t that look simply glorious? Gooey and creamy just the way mac n’ cheese should be!

 

 

 

 

Hot Spinach Dip and Fried Tortilla Chips: The Tailgate (and Party) Appetizer


It’s fall, ya’ll! *insert cartwheels, flips and woo hoos* Summer isn’t my favorite season, but it’s kinda sorta sad to see it go. I will miss the longer days, BBQs (although I grill in the fall too–I’m just sayin’) and festivals, etc. However, one good thing about summer’s end is that it’s football season! My son plays football for Virginia Tech so, my mother and I hosted a tailgate before the game Labor Day weekend. As, we’re tailgating throughout the season, I will be sharing some of my favorite tailgate recipes with you. First up is hot spinach dip with homemade tortilla chips. Trust me, you’re sure to score with this on your menu and the reason why is because of those three little words that you just glossed over in the last sentence–homemade.tortilla.chips.

For years, I’ve been preparing this spinach dip for family and friends. It’s always one of the most requested things I prepare. Even though I tire of making it, I must admit, it’s a crowd pleaser. Why, you ask? It’s creamy, cheesy and flavorful and it’s served with tortilla chips you fry yourself (do not, I repeat, ever buy tortilla chips from the store). Ummmm…..I mean, need I say more? Don’t get me wrong the dip is amazing, but the chips? They are the piece de resistance! Please take my word for it and then whip up this recipe so you can see for yourself, okay? They are everything. The bomb.com. The cat’s meow. Okay, you see what I’m saying. . .

As I mentioned, if you need to bring a dish to a party (or a tailgate), hot spinach dip and fried tortilla chips are perfect. First, it’s not time consuming at all to prepare. It can actually be made ahead, frozen and baked whenever you’re ready to serve it (I’m actually freezing the rest since I just need enough for me today as I watch his game on TV). It will also keep in the fridge up to two days before you’re serving it. Hence, making entertaining a breeze! I actually prepared it on Friday and baked it on game day that Sunday for our tailgate and it was perfect! The other plus is that it’s inexpensive to make so, that’s a bonus too.

I love spinach dip because I’m a cheese lover. So, this dip is right up my alley. Whenever I go to a restaurant, I typically have it as an appetizer if it’s on the menu. Sometimes it has artichoke in it which I don’t care for, but if you like it, feel free to add it. Crab can also be added if you’d like. I’m preparing it without either and it’s just as tasty so, no worries. The other thing is you can add whatever cheeses you want too. Honestly, you make this dish your own so, feel free to add your favorites.

As far as the fried tortilla chips, peruse the international aisle at your local grocer for “legit” tortillas that are less processed. Even better, if you have a Latino market nearby, grab some from there. I tend to use flour most of the time, but today I used corn tortillas as that’s what I had on hand. They are going to be crisp like the kind you get in a bag whereas flour will be soft and chewy. A quick tip, if using flour tortillas, do not make them ahead. They are best when you prepare them and serve immediately. However, the corn ones have more staying power so, you can make those before your guests arrive and they will travel better if you’re taking them to a party or tailgate as we did a few weeks ago.

Whether you’re a college or NFL football fan, this hot spinach dip and fried tortilla chips are a winner! So, let’s get ready for some footballlllllllllll!

 

Hot Spinach Dip and Homemade Tortilla Chips

Yield: 8-10 servings                        Cook Time: 35 minutes

INGREDIENTS

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 small onion, finely chopped (optional)

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 pounds fresh spinach, cleaned, stems trimmed and chopped

2 cups half & half

8 ounces cream cheese

2 cups shredded mozzarella

2 dashes of hot sauce

sea salt and black pepper, to taste

Tortilla Chips

12 small flour or corn tortillas, cut into 6 triangle wedges (like pie)

1 cup canola or vegetable oil

sea salt, to taste

 

DIRECTIONS

Step 1

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a Dutch oven or large skillet, heat oil over medium. Add onion and garlic; cook until lightly browned, 5 to 8 minutes.

Step 2

Add spinach to the skillet. Saute until spinach is wilted. Drain, pressing to release all excess liquid.

Step 3

Slice cream cheese and add to spinach. Whisk in half & half until cream cheese begins to melt, about 5 minutes. Next, add hot sauce, smoked paprika and 1 1/2 cups mozzarella; stir to combine until cheeses are melted and the mixture thickens. Season with salt and pepper. Pour into a lightly oiled 8×8 glass or ceramic baking dish; sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup mozzarella.

Step 4

Bake until bubbly and golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes.

Step 5

While the dip is baking, prepare the tortilla chips. In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium high heat.

Step 6

Cut each tortilla into six triangle-shaped wedges.

Step 7

Heat the oil on medium high heat until a small piece of tortilla placed in the oil sizzles. Note: Do not allow the oil to get so hot that it smokes. If it does, move the pan off the heat immediately and allow it to cool.

Step 8

Place a paper towel onto a large plate and have several other paper towels ready. Place a handful of tortilla triangles into the hot oil, in a single layer. Use metal tongs to distribute the tortilla triangles so that they aren’t overlapping and so that all sides get coated with oil. Fry until the chips just begin to color and they are crisp. Tip: Do not overcrowd the pan and do not take your eyes off the pan because these chips cook in record time.

Step 9

Remove from skillet and place onto a plate covered with paper towel. Sprinkle with sea salt, cover with another sheet of paper towel. Repeat until all chips are cooked (place paper towels between each batch).

Step 10

Chips are best when hot/warm so, time the chip preparation about 10 minutes before the dip comes out of the oven.

Look at all of that browned cheesy deliciousness! OMG!

I’m goin’ in! LOL!

Bon appetit!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Icebox Lemon Pie in a Praline Crust and Fresh Whipped Cream

I know pumpkin spice lattes are back on the menu and all, but I’m just not ready. Don’t get me wrong, I love all that comes with fall, but it doesn’t officially begin until next Friday so, I’m going to pass on that latte until then. Thank you very much. Now, although fall is my favorite season, I must admit that I love summer food. I really do–especially summer desserts. They are the best so, indulge me and allow me to savor the last week or so of summer. Pleasssssseeeee! Okay. . .now, that we’re on the same page, let’s dive right into this icebox lemon pie which is summer (albeit the last days) on a plate!

I’m not a huge fan of lemon meringue pie. Let’s be clear, I’ll eat it, but it’s not my favorite. So, a few years back, I was on the hunt for a lemon pie recipe and found this one, but decided to add Priester’s pecan meal to the crust to take it to another level! Made in Alabama, Priester’s pecan meal is made of pecans that have been finely ground to a crumb that’s perfect for pie crust (oh and fried chicken too). Of course, you can grind the pecans yourself, but if you want to take a shortcut, ordering this meal is the way to go. If you’re allergic or don’t like pecans, just omit it from the recipe altogether. This lemon pie is just as good without it so, no worries!

The absolute best thing about this lemon pie is that it only takes 25 minutes to prepare. The refrigerator or as they say in the South, the icebox, will do the rest of the work! What you’ll also love about this recipe is that much like its sister, key lime pie, this pie only takes a few ingredients, but packs a lot of punch. The combination of tartness and sweetness is just right. I know this doesn’t make sense, but somehow it’s refreshing and light even though it has egg yolks and sweetened condensed milk in it. If you’re counting calories like me, don’t spaze because a small slice is all you’ll need. Although, I dare you to stop there! IJS #savorsummer

Icebox Lemon Pie in Praline Crust with Fresh Whipped Cream

 Yield: 8-10 servings     Cook Time: 25 minutes    Total Time: 4 hours and 55 minutes

1 cup graham cracker crumbs

½ cup pecan meal or 1 cup pecans finely ground (optional)

3 tablespoons granulated sugar

¼ cup unsalted butter, melted

6 egg yolks

2 (14-oz.) cans sweetened condensed milk

1 cup fresh lemon juice (5-6 lemons)

1 cup whipping cream

2 tablespoons powdered sugar

Garnishes: lemon slices, fresh mint leaves

Step 1

Preheat oven to 350°. Stir together first 3 ingredients; add butter, stirring until blended. Press mixture on bottom and up sides of a 9-inch deep-dish pie plate. Bake 10 minutes. Let cool completely on a wire rack (about 30 minutes).

Step 2

Whisk together egg yolks, sweetened condensed milk, and lemon juice. Pour into prepared crust.

Step 3

Bake at 350° for 15 minutes. Let cool completely on a wire rack (about 1 hour). Cover and chill 4 hours.

Step 4

Beat whipping cream at high speed with an electric mixer until foamy; gradually add powdered sugar, beating until soft peaks form; dollop over chilled pie. Garnish with lemon slices and fresh mint leaves, if desired.

Bon appétit!

 

 

 

 

“Pitcher Perfect” Strawberry Lemonade

The “dog days of summer” are here, folks! Can you believe it’s August already? I can’t. Well, whether we believe it or not, the hot, sultry days of summer are upon us. No worries though because I have one delicious way to quench your thirst. Lemonade, but not just regular lemonade, strawberry lemonade!

Ahhhhhh, lemonade, that cool refreshing drink! Lemonade and summer just go together like cookies and milk, coffee and cream, biscuits and gravy. . .you know what I’m saying! LOL! A glass of cold lemonade makes me think of summers on the front porch with my Grandma Jones in Prattville, Alabama. My grandparents had a screened in porch (love-love) in the front of their house and I’d love to sit on it with my grandmother. We’d sit out there and watch cars whiz by often with something cold to drink in hand. Sometimes she’d be shelling peas or just relaxing and enjoying the lazy summer day. My Grandma Jones wasn’t a woman of many words, but she was very sweet and kind and spending time on that porch with her is a memory that I hold dear. Those hot summers in Alabama with my family were wonderful times! The good ol’ days. . .*le sigh*

So, lemonade and summer (and a porch—preferably screened in) go hand-in-hand! If you like lemonade, then you’ll LOVE strawberry lemonade! This strawberry lemonade is the perfect beverage to cool you off and give you a reprieve from a sweltering hot day. Of note, the strawberries can take over this drink so, it’s key to make sure you have a good balance of both the lemon and the strawberry flavors. Sometimes I add more fresh lemon juice because I don’t want it to taste like strawberry punch because it is lemonade, after all! This recipe is a great base but, of course, you can tweak it to your taste.

I know this goes without saying, but you can easily double this recipe if you need to make it for a crowd. This recipe suits me fine because it’s just me, but no one is stopping you from making more! One quick tip—make sure the lemons are room temperature. That will make it easier to squeeze the juice from them.

The tartness of the lemons with the sweetness from the strawberries is a winning combination. Summer never tasted so good!

Strawberry Lemonade

Yield: 1 ½ quarts Prep Time: 10 minutes Cook Time: N/A Total Time: 10 minutes

 

INGREDIENTS

1 pint of fresh strawberries, trimmed and halved

1 1/2 cups fresh lemon juice (5-6 lemons)

1 1/2 cups sugar

3 cups water

 

DIRECTIONS

Step 1

Purée strawberries in a blender until smooth. Force mixture through a fine sieve into a bowl to remove seeds. (Note: This is optional. I tend to like the seeds in mine, but if you’d prefer it without, then definitely do this step.)

Step 2

Stir strawberry purée, lemon juice, sugar and water in a pitcher until sugar is dissolved. Taste, then add more sugar if desired.

Serve over ice!

Bon appétit!

Cheers! Here’s to a great remainder of the summer!