Monday, December 23, 2013

Menu Plan Monday - Christmas is Coming!

Recently I've been planning my meals in blocks and that has really simplified life. This week, of course has a couple of special meals that must be planned to the nth degree so there you are!  Here are my Christmas menus - with wines so I can remember what they were next time -- and my plans for other days.

Italian Christmas Eve

Polenta  Parmesan
Ratatouille (I know, it's French!)
Broccoli (steamed) w/ shaved parm and almonds
Baked cod
A nice Chilean Chardonnay  - Copa del Rey 2009

Later, by the fire:
Peppermint ice-cream (Blue Bell of course) and Christmas cookies

Traditional English Christmas

A Tempranillo, Casajus Bebera del Duero 2009
Prime Rib (cooked in our Big Easy)
Mashed Potatoes
Yorkshire Pudding
Horseradish Sauce (really just sour cream and horseradish)
Candied long Carrots
Roasted Brussels Sprouts w/ Balsamic Vinegar &  Pancetta
and toward the end of the meal, St Michelle Select Harvest Riesling (2012)
Tennessee Stack Cake

If you've never had Tennessee Stack Cake - you must have it now. Run, do not walk to your kitchen. This year, I'll be using apple-butter Alli made last year. Oh yum.

We will also be eating:

Black Beans and Rice over Spinach
Crock-pot Chicken Tikka Masala with Jasmine Rice
Turkey Sausage and Peppers with Polenta
Florentine Omelettes with Ratatouille (since I have it on hand!)

I linked up with OrgJunkie for this Menu Plan Monday.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Sweet, Simple and Affordable Teacher Gifts

We have a lot of teachers to gift and while we sometimes have a good idea for someone, it's nice to come up with something generic we can give to lots of people. This fits the bill: Hot Chocolate Truffles.  You drop a truffle in a cup of hot milk, stir it up and viola! You have the richest, most lovely cup of hot chocolate.
I found a recipe and then adjusted it to my taste. I saw a recipe for regular truffles that tasted like Mexican Hot Chocolate and borrowed the spices from that recipe to make a batch of Mexican Hot Chocolate Truffles too!  Here is our final recipe:

  • 2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 4 oz good dark chocolate (at least 70% cacao), chopped fine
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup  sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • Cocoa powder, crushed candy canes, instant espresso powder powdered sugar, mini marshmallows, sprinkles etc. for rolling
Using a double boiler, combine all ingredients except vanilla. Heat, stirring, until smooth. Right when it looks really terrible and hopeless, it is just about to come together.  If you don't have a double boiler, do what I do and use a bowl instead.  When smooth and shiny, stir in the vanilla and put the bowl in the fridge for at least 1.5 hours to firm up.

When firm, use a 2 tablespoon scoop to place it on wax paper on a sheet pan. Freeze for 1 hour or more.

Remove the balls from the sheet; roll in your hands to smooth, and roll in toppings.  We mix our espresso powder and our cocoa with powdered sugar because these are not overly sweet.  We shape our espresso ones like coffee beans.

Mexican Hot Chocolate Version:
Follow all the directions above but add to the hot mixture:  
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 3/4 tsp. cayenne
We roll these in red sprinkles so you can tell them from the others. (And as you can see, I write on the freezer tray so I remember these are different!)

PS -- When I had them all done, I found this cute presentation with a stir stick included.  May do that the next time!  

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Thanksgiving Hits and Misses

I am so thankful for my family. How great a gift a family is! My parents were finishing up their stay; we are already missing them so much as they went home yesterday. We had a wonderful couple of days with my brothers Guy and John here from Chicago. We hadn't seen them for 4 years since they have been living in London. To quote Sunshine, "We don't get to see Guy and John that often so I forget how much fun they are!" It was fun and it was a blessing.

We started the day with Pepper's yummy caramel rolls. Guy and John made a wonderful paper bag turkey (stuffed with popcorn) for the Littles. Pepper made an adorable crudite tray.  It was fun to have some cute Pinterest touches on the day!

We tried some wonderful new recipes; one by me, two by the Barefoot Contessa, one by Paula Deen and then all our tried and true favorites. Almost everyone helped with cooking in some way but Mamaw, Pepper and I did the bulk of it. We ate:

Dressing - The Best EVER (my new recipe)
Turkey (a pre-ordered fresh natural turkey that was super moist thanks to the prep and cooking but, frankly, a little tough)
Mashed Potatoes
Sweet Potato Puree (Barefoot Contessa) with candied pecans (contributed by Pepper)
Roasted Brussels Sprouts (Barefoot Contessa)
Pumpkin Pie (made by Mamaw, of course, and perfect!)
Fresh Apple Cake (Paula Deen)

I think we'd have liked the sweet potatoes if they weren't so orangey. We will cut the orange way back next time. We loved the cayenne in them, though! The Brussels Sprouts, on the other hand, were sublime. Oh, my goodness! The apple cake was a huge hit, too; it has such yummy apple flavor and was super moist. This apple cake will make a great addition to our New Year's brunch.

So, in the end, we were thankful for the food, too.  Here are a few assorted pictures.