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Most Wonderful Time of the Year

It’s amazing how when we were little kids, Christmas could not get here soon enough. We counted the days, made our lists, helped decorate the house, searched for the perfect live Christmas tree and just thought it was the most magical time of year. I still think that but Christmas seems to come faster and faster each year as I get older! There just doesn’t seem to be enough days to get everything done. My mother didn’t work outside the home while we were growing up but there were four kids that she had to raise! Somehow she managed to get everything done, on time, every single year. Even the year we bought our Christmas tree on Christmas Eve! (My Dad was being Scrooge that year and Mom waited till the last-minute to get the tree, for $5! The tree was about 5 feet tall, as tall as her, and about 5 feet wide! It was awesome!) Our house was always decked out from top to bottom inside and out! Dad took care of the outside and Mom worked her magic inside. I have so many happy memories of our Christmas holidays.

Cookie Party 2003 (Lake Worth, FL)

Somehow in our busy busy lives, with computers, tv, smartphones and so on, we have less time to enjoy the simple things in our lives. Every year I try and try to recreate that magic. I decorate, I hope, as Mom would have. I hope I am doing her proud!  I feel you can never have too many decorations! (My husband feels differently.) When I moved to Florida from NY I wasn’t able to take any of my Mom’s favorite decorations. I miss them and her terribly. I know she is watching over me though so I can smile while I decorate in her honor.  My sister and brothers have those decorations right now. We always had a real tree too. Loaded with lights and ornaments and tinsel. Lots and lots of tinsel. I used to have a real tree every year till one of my cats decided to eat the tree and drink the water. Bad. And no tinsel because of the cats either. Again, bad. So I do my best with what I have. (I burn lots of balsam type candles)  I also used to be able to decorate all in one day. No more. Why is that?

Cookie Party 2005 (Hobe Sound, FL)

Is my present under here?

When I lived in NY I started doing Cookie Exchanges/Parties. I loved them. There would be 15-20 of us and we’d all make dozens of cookies and exchange. It was wonderful. When I moved to Florida I tried it a few times. My first one went pretty well. But then when I moved to my present home I just couldn’t get enough people to make it as boisterous and festive and fun as I remember them. Don’t get me wrong we had fun but it wasn’t the same. The idea was to BAKE YOUR OWN!!! A few of my guests brought store-made cookies!  Not the same. And if I had 8 people attending that would be stretching it. And of course not everyone remembered to bring copies of their recipes! This never happened in New York so I was confused about why it was so hard to do here. Come on people, almost everyone has a computer these days, type it up and print it out! Or just make a copy somewhere! Maybe it’s just me, but I miss those simpler days. So from now until Christmas I am going to be doing recipes from those parties. (Recipes that I actually have that is) Plus I’ll also be incorporating other holiday dishes, desserts and cocktails. So starting tomorrow, let the festivities begin! Now if I can just get the house decorated by the weekend! Also feel free to share your own stories if you like and I’ll post them!

Where is Santa?

COMING TOMORROW! Rainbow Cookies!

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Debbie’s Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

Thanksgiving was a great day. We spent it with some wonderful friends, ate, drank and played bocci ball! Living in Florida has its advantages! Our wonderful host Debbie made a delicious butternut squash soup that I had to have the recipe for. It was spicy but not “hot” spicy. Just enough of a bite to it to make the flavors pop! The main spice blend she used in this is Garam Masala. I had never heard of it before so I looked it up. It’s just a basic blend of ground spices that are common in Indian and South Asian foods. I looked up a recipe about making it myself. Lots of whole seeds and roasting and so on. But then I figured I will just buy it premade, otherwise I will have so many whole spices just hanging around my pantry. The basic mix includes cumin, coriander, cardamom, black peppercorns, cinnamon, whole cloves, nutmeg and saffron. LOTS of different spices! So I will just buy a jar of it already made.

The recipe was originally adapted from a recipe from Ina Garten and then Debbie made her own changes and made it her own! The recipe called for 3 granny smith apples but she only had two. She did have a pear, so she added that! Delish! I brought some of the leftovers home and can’t wait to have another bowl! This recipe makes 8-10 servings so feel free to cut it in half if you don’t want to make so much! And for best results make the soup a day ahead of time for the flavors to blend!

My photo is of the leftovers I brought home. I will swap out the pic once I make it on my own.

INGREDIENTS:

5-6 pounds butternut squash, peeled and seeded

2 yellow onions

3 granny smith apples (or 2 apples and 1 pear), peeled and cored

3-4 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon Garam Masala

½ teaspoon ground ginger

4-6 cups of chicken broth (you can substitute 1-2 cups of Thai Curry flavored broth from College Inn for 1-2 cups of the chicken broth)

4-5 sage leaves, chopped

salt and pepper, to taste

Parmesan cheese, if desired

DIRECTIONS:

1. Preheat oven to 425ºF. Cut the squash, apples/pears, and onions into 1″ chunks and mix in a large bowl with the olive oil until well blended.

2. Spread the squash veggie mixture onto 2 cookie sheets lined with foil (you can spray the foil with cooking spray). There should be a single layer of the mixture.

3. Sprinkle the Garam Masala and ground ginger over the squash mixture; salt and pepper as desired.

4. Roast 40-45 minutes until tender.

5. Heat 4 cups of broth in a large pot. When squash mixture is finished roasting, add it to the pot of broth and cook for 20-25 minutes. Add the chopped sage in the last 10 minutes of cooking.

6. Working in batches, purée the veggie/broth mixture using a food processor, blender or immersion blender. Put back in pot and adjust the broth amount to desired consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Can be served with parmesan cheese as well! (You know we will have it for sure!)

Serves 8-10

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How to Carve a Turkey

Today is Thanksgiving. I am sure most people are spending the day with family, friends, or both. As you remember we didn’t usually have turkey in my house therefore, carving it is a challenge to say the least. So I found this video courtesy of the Food Network with Alton Brown demonstrating his technique for carving a turkey. I’ll be watching the Macy’s parade this morning as I do every single year, no matter where I am. To me, as soon as I see Santa at the end of the parade, the Christmas season has begun! Woo hoo! But before we get to all that craziness let’s have a safe and happy Thanksgiving! Careful with those knives!
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Chinese Chicken Meatball Soup

I’m always looking for a new good soup to try and this is a simple one. Healthy and delicious and fast! This should only take a little more than 30 minutes to prep and cook as long as you have all the ingredients. Soup is always a great “go to” dinner in our house. No matter what time of year it is. Winter or summer soup is a great meal or side dish. This recipe calls for ground chicken breast. If for some reason this turns you off you can always use ground turkey, ground pork or ground beef instead. It also calls for watercress but if you can’t find that or don’t like it you can also substitute kale, bok choy or escarole for it. It will still be delicious! I found this recipe in a Weight Watcher magazine and tweaked it a little, as always.

INGREDIENTS:

48 ounces low-sodium fat-free chicken broth

1 pound ground skinless chicken breast

2 tablespoons hoisin sauce

¼ teaspoon black pepper

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 bunch watercress (cleaned and tough stems removed)

6 scallions, thinly sliced (green and white parts)

pinch of kosher salt

DIRECTIONS:

1. In a large pot or Dutch oven bring the broth and salt just to a boil.

2. In the meantime, combine the chicken, hoisin sauce, garlic and pepper in a medium-sized bowl. Form into 8 (2″) meatballs or 16 (1″) meatballs.

3. Spray a large nonstick skillet with nonstick spray and set over medium-high heat. Add the meatballs and cook, turning often, until browned, about 6-8 minutes. Reduce the heat, cover, and cook for another 5-6 minutes, till they are cooked through. Shake the skillet occasionally to keep them moving and from sticking.

4. Add the meatballs, watercress and scallions to the hot broth. Stir until the watercress wilts. Serve hot!

Serves 4

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Not Your Usual Green Bean Casserole

For Thanksgiving we are going to a friend’s house and when I asked what I could bring, I was asked: “How about that green bean casserole thingy? Thanksgiving wouldn’t be complete without it!” I said ok and searched for the usual recipe. Growing up in my house was very different when it came to Thanksgiving. Why? Well it wasn’t until we were all much older that we started to actually have a turkey for the Thanksgiving dinner. I’m not joking. I never really remember Dad carving a turkey. Ever. I do remember us having a huge tray of lasagna though. Every year. And sometimes a ham. But never a turkey. It was usually lasagna. When we started dating and then had to do the two house thing for the holidays we all discovered how different things were out there! Nobody had lasagna! I was flabbergasted! I don’t know why we didn’t have turkey, maybe Dad hated carving? I don’t know. But once we started experiencing the ‘normal’ Thanksgiving foods I was introduced to the green bean casserole. And for some reason it is rarely served any other time of year! Why? Again, I don’t know. So of course I have never made it before. This is a first. But I also didn’t want to do the same ho-hum basic green bean casserole. So I scoured the magazines and internet. I then took a little bit of each recipe that I found and it’s now something new. I am making it Thursday so I won’t know how it tastes until then. I will report back though for sure. And I will remember to take a picture before we eat it!  And have no fear everyone, I’m still using those french-fried onions. My husband insisted on it. I have to keep remembering, change is good. It will be fine. Thanksgiving will still be a food fest. Happy Eating!

**Ok, the green beans were a hit! Very tasty and full of crunchy goodness! The water chestnuts and almonds are a nice change from the ordinary. I also lowered the oven temp to 350 degrees, because the onions got a little too well done, but still really yummy! I’m also thinking next time maybe a little hot sauce added to it would be good also.


INGREDIENTS:

3 packages (9 ounces or so each) of frozen French-style green beans

3 tablespoons butter or margarine

1 (10.5-10.75 ounce) can cream of mushroom soup, undiluted (I am using the 98% fat-free kind)

3 ounces cream cheese, softened (I am using light cream cheese)

1 cup french-fried onions

1 (8 ounce) can sliced water chestnuts, chopped

¼ teaspoon garlic salt

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

1½ cups shredded cheddar cheese (I am using 2%)

1 (2½ ounce) package slivered almonds

paprika

DIRECTIONS:

1. Cook green beans according to package directions, drain.

2. In a large pot or dutch oven melt the butter. Add the soup and cream cheese and cook over low heat, stirring constantly until cream cheese is melted and mixture is smooth. Remove from the heat.

3. Stir in the green beans, 2/3 cup of the french-fried onions, water chestnuts, garlic salt, pepper, and cheddar cheese.

4. Spoon the mixture into a lightly greased 1¾ quart casserole dish. Top with the almonds and remaining french-fried onions. Sprinkle with paprika.

5. Bake at 350º, uncovered, for 45 minutes.

Serves 8

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Mulled Wine (or Moldy Wine as my husband calls it)

For years I thought my crockpot was used for heating up wine. No joke. When I got my first crockpot back in 1991 I had used it for years, to heat wine! It was perfect for that! Mulled wine that is! Ever since I tried mulled wine at Pindar Vineyards during their December weekends serving Mulled Wine & Cookies, I was hooked! I figured, how hard could it be to do it at home! It wasn’t hard at all. This recipe is simple. You can even cheat and buy mulling spices in the store already prepared, but I like to know what is in my spice mix. So I make it myself. And the crockpot is perfect for warming it up and keeping it warm without boiling it! You do NOT want boiled wine. Yuck! And what is better on a cold fall or winter day than a nice warm cup of spicy delicious wine, with cookies! Pindar Vineyards is in my opinion the best vineyard/winery in the U.S. Maybe I am biased because my BFF and college roomie Rose works there and we’ve gotten to know the winery and all of their wines quite well over the years. Or maybe they just have fantastic wines! Yes, they are on Long Island in New York. Long Island is loaded with wonderful wineries and everyone should go visit, even in the off-season. But stop in Pindar, in Peconic, out on the north fork of LI and say hello to Rose and the crew there! (Hi Rose! Hi Terry!) We always make a stop in when we go back for a visit. Always!

Ok, now on with the recipe. Simple remember. Don’t over think it, just make it. The weather is perfect for a glass right now!

A great red wine from Pindar!

Even Sluggo loves Pindar & Rose!

 

 

INGREDIENTS:

1 bottle red wine (any kind you wish but a dry one is best)

2 cinnamon sticks

2 whole cloves

1 whole nutmeg

4 (2-3″) strips orange peel

4 (2-3″) strips lemon peel

3 tablespoons sugar

DIRECTIONS:

In a crockpot or saucepan, combine all ingredients. Bring to a simmer, about 10-15 minutes. Serve warm in mugs or heat-resistant glassware. Garnish with a cinnamon stick or slice of orange!

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Creamy Tomato Soup

Now that the weather is finally cooling down a little bit here I am starting to think of soups more. Yes, even in sunny and warm south Florida our winter’s get cooler and soup is a welcome meal. Now, I was never a big fan of tomato soup but my husband likes it but I am willing to give it a try. This recipe sounds very  good and is pretty easy to make. It makes 10 cups and serves 6. If you want to freeze it for later or make a double batch freeze it before you add the half-and-half. Just add it when you defrost it to use again. When you reheat the soup don’t let it boil either or the half-and-half will curdle. I love sweet things so this soup is great for me. But if you don’t want it too sweet just reduce the sugar in it. This soup is great with a nice crusty loaf of bread or crackers. Make it a delicious meal for dinner or lunch. Top it off with some parmesan cheese also if you like, you know we will! You can also cut the garlic in half as well if you don’t like too much garlic. I of course added more than the recipe originally called for.

Photo is for illustrative purposes only!

INGREDIENTS:

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium sweet onion, chopped

1 carrot, peeled and chopped

1 bay leaf

2 garlic cloves, minced

2-3 tablespoons brown sugar (or brown sugar substitute)

Pinch of ground cloves

3 cups reduced-sodium vegetable broth

2 (28- ounce) cans crushed tomatoes

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup half-and-half (you can also use fat-free to save some calories)

DIRECTIONS:

1. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the onion, carrot and bay leaf and cook over medium high heat, stirring occasionally until the vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring for 1-2 minutes. Add the brown sugar and cloves. Stir until vegetables are well coated.

2. Add the vegetable broth and tomatoes, bring to a simmer. Cover and reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes.

3. Remove the pan from the heat. Remove and discard the bay leaf. Puree the soup with an immersion blender or in a regular blender until smooth. You may have to do it in batches until it’s all blended.

4. Add the salt and pepper. Slowly pour in half-and-half, stirring constantly. Serve right away or refrigerate until ready to serve. Remember not to let the soup boil when reheating or the cream will curdle!

Enjoy!
Makes 10 cups: Serves 6.

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Dinner at Sapphire Grill (Savannah, GA)

Our friends Lori & Mike have told us about their friend’s restaurant, Sapphire Grill, in Savannah, GA for a while now. We always said if we were ever to get up to Savannah we’d check it out. Well on the way home from Charleston we took a detour and decided to have dinner at Sapphire Grill before heading home. We arrived in Savannah on Sunday at 5:15pm. Found the restaurant and discovered they didn’t open till 6pm for dinner! So we made a reservation for 6pm. We were looking forward to meeting the owner/chef Chris Nason. But as luck would have it Chris was off that night. Either way, the restaurant was incredible. Great decor, brick walls, low lights, candles, full bar, very classy. It reminded me of a small intimate New York City type restaurant. The service was impeccable and the food was incredible! Besides the regular menu and ala carte menu they were also offering a “4 course sampler dinner” for $45 a person. We each decided to go for that. We had a choice of 3 appetizers, 3 entrees, 2 salads and a dessert. We were also given a loaf of crispy HOT bread and olive oil for dipping. The olive oil had a great salt/pepper mixture in it as well. Incredible!

I of course didn’t get pics of the food as I forgot the camera in the car. But I had the following: Appetizer: Champagne Poached Lobster on tomato/spinach. Salad: Caesar salad with an anchovy confit on top of four large crispy croutons. Entree: Wild Atlantic Salmon over polenta, with grilled asparagus. Dessert: Mini chocolate gateau with lavender vanilla ice cream. Everything was incredible! My husband had: Appetizer: Large Diver Scallop atop “forbidden” black grits. Salad: Caesar salad. Entree: 7 oz. sirloin with thin crispy french fries made to look like a tic tac toe board and roasted cherry tomatoes. Dessert: Mini chocolate gateau as well. We were also allowed to choose several sauces to go with our meal and we chose Sweet Soy & Wasabi, Truffle Butter, and Jalapeno Tartar! All were delicious!

All the portions were small but perfect. Just enough food, we were not overly stuffed and didn’t feel hungry afterwards. This was great since we still had to drive another 6 hours to get home!

The waiter, Gerome, was wonderful. Very attentive and fixed our napkins every time we got up from the table. We were made to feel very welcome and enjoyed every minute.

The restaurant is located at 110 West Congress St. in Savannah. It’s actually directly next door to Paula Deen’s restaurant! I recommend everyone giving it a try when in Savannah. The restaurant also has a third floor that I am guessing is for private parties or overflow.

Next time I will take pics of the food for sure! (The restaurant photos are from their website)

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Road Trip to Charleston, South Carolina

Ok I am finally back to my routine after being away for four days on our little vacation to Charleston, SC. What a great time. Lots of fun and sightseeing and eating of course! Charleston is definitely one of the most friendly cities I have ever been too! Can’t wait to go back!

Our first night there we had dinner late since we arrived pretty late and were starving. We found a great little restaurant called TOAST. They have a full bar and serve breakfast all day long as well as having a regular menu. So of course I look over the menu and see one of the dishes I wanted to try while in Charleston. Shrimp and Grits! Yummm…It was a huge serving. Sautéed shrimp, tomatoes, peppers, onions, and sausage with garlic, deglazed with white wine and served with thyme cream sauce over grits. So good! I ate almost the entire bowl.

The next morning we went back to TOAST for breakfast. Had to try what they were famous for! They are the Home of the Bottomless Mimosa! Couldn’t pass that up! They weren’t kidding either. We must have had our glasses filled up at least 4 or 5 times!

For breakfast I had “Eggs Meeting Street”: A fried green tomato topped with a crab cake, poached egg, and Lowcountry rémoulade sauce, served with cheese grits. I also had a cup of She-crab soup, my other must have on this trip! Everything was incredible! The biscuit was huge!

The next day after walking around sightseeing we stopped in a local sports bar called TBonz. Just wanted to have a few drinks and a snack! Lets just say we never made it to dinner that night! We were so full from the snacks there was no way we could eat dinner. I think my body has also gone into a junk-food carb coma! At TBonz we sat at the bar and made friends with a local named Bruce. What a riot. He looked like a shorter older version of Sam Elliot, mustache and all! I’m just saying…For drinks my husband had a couple of Hurricanes and I had two Peach Ice Picks made with Firefly Sweat Tea Vodka and peach iced tea and I think some kind of whisky. Don’t remember really but I had two of them and they were very good!

Our snacks consisted on Bleu Cheese Potato Chips: Homemade potato chips topped with warm bleu cheese that they put under the broiler to melt the cheese! OMG! It was so decadent and delicious! I’m making them for our Super Bowl party next yer!

Our other snack was Lowcountry Crispy Calamari: Hand battered rings of succulent calamari golden fried, served with homemade marinara and Thai sauces! Again incredibly delicious! Look at the presentation!

Another night we found this awesome rooftop bar called the Library Rooftop Bar and Restaurant in the Vendue Inn. We had a couple margaritas while enjoying the view.

The view was incredible. After a couple of drinks we walked back to our car and called it a day. On our way home we stopped in Savannah, GA and had dinner at a restaurant that our friends recommended.  They know the owners and have been talking about it for a while so we figured it was a no-brainer. The restaurant is called Sapphire Grill. More on that tomorrow!

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Charleston Cocktail

I am going to be in Charleston, SC for a few days and thought I’d look into a drink associated with the city. I found the Charleston Cocktail. It uses Mandarin Napoleon Orange Liqueur. I had never heard of this so I did some research. It is a Belgian orange liqueur made from cognac and flavored with essential oils that are extracted from fresh Sicilian tangerines. If you can’t find the Mandarin Napoleon Orange Liqueur you can substitute Grand Marnier or Cointreau for it. This cocktail is a great drink for sipping while sitting on the porch on a nice warm day. I am looking forward to trying it while there or making it on my own when I return! Cheers!

INGREDIENTS:

3.5 ounces Mandarin Napoleon Orange Liqueur

3.5 ounces cherry brandy

6 ounces lemonade

DIRECTIONS:

Pour the Mandarin Napoleon and cherry brandy into a Collins glass half-filled with ice cubes. Top with lemonade, to taste, and serve.

Makes 2 drinks

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