The great Christmas tree adventure

Black Friday shopping is just not a holiday tradition I can get in to. The only reason at all that I ever get up before dawn is if I’m headed to the beach. Putting up the Christmas tree on Thanksgiving weekend is, however, a tradition I can get behind. And so it was that reason, Dad and I found ourselves on a little adventure the Saturday after turkey day.

Our good friend Patty has been bringing us our tree for many years now. She makes a trip to the mountains of Virginia with her family every year on Thanksgiving weekend and has been kind enough to pick us up a tree also. Since this year we were putting up two trees — one at dad’s house and one at my house — we decided to make the trip ourselves. I was really hoping to make this a fun outing for my husband and I since it is our first Christmas as a married couple, but alas, our schedules are too crazy. Morgan and I are in two different holiday theater productions this year and are practically ships passing in the night.

Luckily, Dad is always up for a road trip so off we went to find Slaughter Tree Farm. The weather on

Thanksgiving weekend was lovely so it was a nice day for the trip, although it took us much longer than we anticipated. While the internet and smart phones are wonderful inventions, they don’t always lead you in the right direction. I typed in the name of the tree farm into my smartphone and off we went. We arrived at the Slaughter Tree Farm alright, only it was their shipping center and office, not the actual location where you pick and cut your tree. If I had been smart instead of relying on my phone, I would have called Patty and gotten the directions from her.

Nevertheless, Dad and I enjoyed the trip and the sights along the way. There are some adorable little shops in Floyd, Virginia, we discovered.

At last we arrived at our correct destination and chose a tree for both of our homes. There were quite a few other families out choosing a tree, but being surrounded by all the lovely trees spread out over the rolling hillsides was much better than battling shoppers on Black Friday.

My husband and I did have some time together on Sunday to decorate our Christmas Tree. Incidentally, it was also our three-month wedding anniversary. In honor of our first year of marriage our tree is decorated in peacock colors, the same as our wedding theme. I love it, although Morgan said he was not aware when we chose the peacock theme for the wedding that it would follow us forever. Perhaps not forever, but it did seem fitting for the first year at least, and especially since I still have lots of peacock feather decorations leftover from our wedding.

Below is a recipe we made a few weeks ago that is lovely for this time of year!
Oreo stuffed Red Velvet brownies (recipe from www.tasteandtellblog.com)

Ingredients

For the brownies
• 1 cup all-purpose flour
• 1½ teaspoons baking powder
• ½ teaspoon salt
• 1 teaspoon cocoa powder
• ⅓ cup butter, melted
• 1 cup packed brown sugar
• 1 egg
• 2 teaspoons red food coloring
• 1 teaspoons vanilla extract

Filling
• 8 oz cream cheese, softened
• ½ cup sugar
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 12 Oreos, roughly crushed (about 5 oz)

Instructions
Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Line an 8×8-inch baking dish with foil or parchment paper, then spray with nonstick cooking spray. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and cocoa powder. In another bowl, mix together the butter and brown sugar. Add in the egg, food coloring and vanilla. Stir in the dry ingredients and set aside. In another bowl, beat together the cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Beat in the vanilla. Stir in the Oreos until evenly combined. Pour half of the red velvet brownie batter into the prepared pan. Smooth with a knife, spoon or offset spatula. Carefully spread the cream cheese mixture over the top of the red velvet batter. Drop the remaining red velvet batter over the top and carefully spread evenly over the top. Bake in the preheated oven until a tester comes out with only a few red velvet crumbs on it, about 30 minutes. Cool completely before removing from the pan and cutting into squares.

Mamma’s cranberry sauce

I mentioned last week how much I love Thanksgiving. I know it has come and gone now, but it is still on my mind. We had a wonderful celebration at my Dad’s house on Thanksgiving with a giant turkey and all the trimmings. With so many bad things happening in the world, it is a blessing to be able to spend quality time with family and friends in a safe and warm place.

Thanksgiving and the holiday season is certainly a time to reflect on what we are grateful for. I am grateful for so many things, but most importantly my dear friends and family.
Thanksgiving is also a little hard for me now. I lost my Momma to cancer just a few days before Thanksgiving in 2013. I know that for many who have lost loved ones, the holiday season can be difficult. The year my Momma died I was so grateful to be surrounded by family and dear friends.

My sorority sisters made a big difference in how I handled that first Thanksgiving without Momma. Momma’s funeral was just a few day before Thanksgiving when I know people are busy, but so many of my sisters came to the funeral and came back home to spend some time with me after the service.

My home was filled with so much love, as well as good food that many friends and neighbors brought to us. It was a hard day, but I know how much my Momma would have loved seeing everyone and that made it easier.

My little sister in the sorority, Amanda, flew all the way from San Antonio, Texas to be with me after Momma’s funeral and she stayed with me for Thanksgiving as well. She told me she didn’t want me to go to the trouble of cooking, but it actually helped to have something to keep me busy. Her being there that first Thanksgiving without Momma was such a precious gift.

This year my husband and I cooked Thanksgiving at Dad’s house and we were joined by my great Uncle Ken and our good friend David. My Uncle Clip and neighbor Zehra also stopped in to visit with us. Everyone enjoyed the food and couldn’t pick a favorite thing. They said it was all good. As usual, we had enough food to feed a small army. We enjoyed turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans, which I burned the first time around and had to redo, Waldorf salad, green pea salad, macaroni and cheese, gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie and pumpkin cheesecake.

David said the cranberry sauce was the best he had ever eaten. It is, of course, my Momma’s recipe. Years ago when Momma worked at Jostens they put together a cookbook. Our good friend Patty’s sweet potato casserole recipe and my Momma’s cranberry sauce recipe are in this book and I use it every year to make these two Thanksgiving specialties.

I know Thanksgiving has come and gone, but cranberry sauce is a dish to serve throughout the holiday season so I’ll share Mamma’s recipe with you in case you’d like to try it.


Mamma’s Cranberry Sauce
Ingredients:
• 20 oz can crushed pineapple
• 1 large package strawberry jello
• 2 16 oz cans whole cranberry sauce
• 2 cups finely minced celery
• 1 cup crushed pecans
• 1/4 cup lemon juice
• pinch of salt
Directions:
Heat pineapple just to boiling and add jello packet. Stir until dissolved. Add remaining ingredients and stir well to combine. Refrigerate until set. I typically make this night before I plan to serve it. Also, I use one of those electric choppers to do the celery so I can get it really finely chopped. Note: the original recipe called for a 15 1/2 oz can of crushed pineapple and 1/4 cup of water. I can only find 20 oz cans now so I eliminate the water so it will set better. If you find 15 oz cans, add 1/4 cup water to mixture.

Happy Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. Truth be told, I like all holidays. Seeing as I love to eat, however, and that’s the primary activity associated with Thanksgiving, it is on the top of the list. I also love watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

As far as the food, I love all the traditional favorites, of course, the star of the show, the turkey, the mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans, stuffing, cranberry sauce and more. I often make green pea salad as well even though I’m really the only one who eats it and macaroni and cheese, too. And then there’s the pumpkin pie!

While I’m not usually a big fan of leftovers, Thanksgiving is one of the exceptions. I will eat the Thanksgiving leftovers until they are all gone and then I cry for more.

I typically just reheat and eat the leftovers exactly like they were served the first time around, but

many people find creative ways to recycle the Thanksgiving leftovers.
Turkey salad, turkey sandwiches and turkey pot pie are common revamps for the leftover turkey meat. Last year I also used the bones to make some homemade turkey stock.

My friend LeDon makes a special sandwich she calls The Ultimate Leftover Gobbler Sandwich.
LeDon says use slices of turkey topped with bacon, swiss or provolone, lettuce and tomato on a whole grain bread with cranberry mayo (3 tbsp. mayonnaise,1 tbsp. cranberry sauce, a squeeze of lemon juice and freshly ground black pepper) and it will make the post Thanksgiving blues disappear.

My sorority sister Bee told me about a very unique way to use the Thanksgiving leftovers that her husband created.

“Brian makes Thanksgiving pancakes — he takes all the leftovers and smushes them together and fries them up like pancakes. Then we invite all our friends over to eat them. It’s an annual weekend tradition!” Bee said.

At first I couldn’t quite imagine what that would be like, but the more I thought about it, it sounds pretty amazing. Potato cakes made from leftover mashed potatoes is a favorite dish of mine, so why not make extraordinary potato cakes using some turkey and stuffing mixed up in the potato mixture and then fried. Bee said to use the left over gravy and cranberry sauce as the “syrup” for these Thanksgiving pancakes.

If you are really wanting to spice things and try adding a different flavor to your turkey day remains, my sister Amanda, who hails from New Mexico, recommends Green Chili Turkey Enchiladas. In New Mexico green and red chilies are common ingredients in cooking. I’m not sure that here in North Carolina we can get our hands on the same type of green chilies, but using the canned green chilies might work. Give it a try and let me know what you think!

Green Chili Turkey Enchilada Casserole (recipe adapted from food.com)
Ingredients:
• 1 lb shredded cooked boneless turkey meat
• 1 can diced green chilies
• 1 can cream of mushroom soup
• 1 can cream of chicken soup
• 2 soup cans of milk (or water)
• salt
• garlic
• 2 dozen corn tortillas
• 2 cups shredded cheese (colby, munster, jack or mixture)

Directions:
Combined all ingredients except turkey, tortillas and cheese in a large sauce pan over medium heat.
After sauce mixture has simmered for about 5 minutes, begin assembling in a large casserole dish. Add a layer of sauce, a layer of tortillas, a layer of turkey meat, a layer of cheese and repeat. Bake in 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes. After 10 minutes of cooling down, it is ready to be served.

Favorite cookbooks and holiday eating tips

12377884_10103189612028748_2444698459911756451_oIsn’t there a saying about we all end up turning into our mothers at some point in time? If not, there should be. I remind myself more of Mamma every day. I remember as a child Mamma spending hours looking at cookbooks. She’d read them cover to cover almost like a novel. I used to think that was silly, but now, I do the exact same thing.

The holiday season has been a busy one for my husband and I as we were both in Christmas plays in the area. At last I had some free time last week to begin menu planning for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day dinners. I have many cookbooks in my collection, but I have three that I love to reference for holiday cooking. All three were gifts and so they are even more special to me. The first is the Hershey’s cookbook. This is a great book for desserts to make year-round. My next favorite is called “Sweet Serendipity” and features desserts from the famous Serendipity 3 restaurant in New York City. My godmother gave me the book one year for Christmas as a remembrance of the times she and I went to New York together. It is one of my very favorite cookbooks. There are beautiful pictures and funny stories in the book of the many celebrities who have frequented the restaurant over the years.

My godmother and Dad share a birthday so last week Morgan and I made them Mad King Ludwig’s Chocolate Cake from the Serendipity cookbook. It is a German chocolate cake which is Dad’s favorite. They both declared it the “best German chocolate cake they had ever eaten in their lives.”

Another favorite holiday cookbook of mine is called “Christmas from the Heart of Home” by Susan Branch. The book was actually a gift to Mamma in 1991 from her dear friends Don and Mary who love Christmas about more than anyone I know. It is a beautiful book full of decadent recipes and fun ideas for decorating and making the holiday season extra special.

Tucked inside this particular book, I found a very funny email someone had sent me almost 10 years ago. I don’t know who originally wrote this piece so we will credit it as Author Unknown, but here are some very hilarious rules for holiday eating!

Tips for Holiday Eating
1. Avoid carrot sticks. Anyone who puts carrots on a holiday buffet table knows nothing of the Christmas spirit. In fact, if you see carrots, leave immediately. Go next door, where they’re serving rum balls.
2. Drink as much eggnog as you can. And quickly. Like fine single-malt scotch, it’s rare. In fact, it’s even rarer than single-malt scotch. You can’t find it any other time of year but now. So drink up! Who cares that it has 10,000 calories in every sip? It’s not as if you’re going to turn into an eggnog-aholic or something. It’s a treat. Enjoy it. Have one for me. Have two. It’s later than you think. It’s Christmas!
3. If something comes with gravy, use it. That’s the whole point of gravy. Gravy does not stand alone. Pour it on. Make a volcano out of your mashed potatoes. Fill it with gravy. Eat the volcano. Repeat.
4. As for mashed potatoes, always ask if they’re made with skim milk or whole. If it’s skim, pass. Why bother? It’s like buying a sports car with an automatic transmission.
5. Do not have a snack before going to a party in an effort to control your eating. The whole point of going to a Christmas party is to eat other people’s food for free. Lots of it. Hello?
6. Under no circumstances should you exercise between now and New Year’s. You can do that in January when you have nothing else to do. This is the time for long naps, which you’ll need after circling the buffet table while carrying a 10-pound plate of food and that vat of eggnog.
7. If you come across something really good at a buffet table, like frosted Christmas cookies in the shape and size of Santa, position yourself near them and don’t budge. Have as many as you can before becoming the center of attention. They’re like a beautiful pair of shoes. If you leave them behind, you’re never going to see them again.
8. Same for pies. Apple. Pumpkin. Mincemeat. Have a slice of each. Or, if you don’t like mincemeat, have two apples and one pumpkin. Always have three. When else do you get to have more than one dessert? Labor Day?
9. Did someone mention fruitcake? Granted, it’s loaded with the mandatory celebratory calories, but avoid it all cost. I mean, have some standards!
10. One final tip: If you don’t feel terrible when you leave the party or get up from the table, you haven’t been paying attention. Reread tips; start over, but hurry, January is just around the corner.

Sacred creativity

Today’s stones are the stones of protection for the creative spirit.

  • Goldstone (top center) for sunshiney, sparkly creative energy
  • Snowflake Obsidian (right) for energy clearing and protection
  • Lapis lazuli (bottom) the queen stone for power
  • Smoky  Quartz (left) for transmuting negative energy
  • Snakeskin Jasper sphere (center) for releasing what does not serve

A chili round-up

I may have mentioned that I love soup. A friend reminded me this week that in addition to being soup season, it’s also chili season. I personally see soup and chili as two totally separate types of food. Yes, they are similar, but I think chili is just an entity all to itself.

Chili is one of those dishes that has a common thread of how it is made, but everyone adds their own little twist to it. Beans, beef and tomatoes used to be the basic items used to make a chili, but now “white” chili is a thing, a dish without tomatoes and typically including chicken, so you see how versatile a dish like chili is. The only real commonality when it comes to chili is that it is a hearty dish that is perfect to serve up on a cool fall day.

Not every dish that cooks prepare is a dish that inspires bragging rights, but chili is definitely one of those dishes. There are chili competitions and in general, cooks just always seem proud when they talk about their special chili recipe.

Some people will say their chili recipe is a secret. The Emergency Services director for my county recently won the annual county employee chili cookoff every year since its inception four years ago, and he won’t even give you a hint as to how he makes his chili. Luckily, I have several friends who were gracious enough to share their recipes with us, or least give us a general idea of how they prefer to make chili.

My friends Gary and Bridget both said they don’t really have a recipe, they just throw it together.

“My recipe is as the spirit moves me, but constants are no beans (rarely), and I pick up some inexpensive steaks like chuck eye or especially marked down steaks that have to be sold that day,” said Gary. “I hit them hard with a dry rub of chili seasoning (cayenne, chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder, salt/pepper, etc.) then grill them to medium rare. Cut them bite size and that is my meat with the seasonings cooked into every bite. Onions, peppers, sauteed. Beef stock. Sometimes tomatoes, sometimes not. Thickener and whatever else I need to pitch from the fridge.”

My good friend Bill has a very involved chili recipe that he makes for the Super Bowl every year.

“This is the chili I make for the Super Bowl. I think the Super Bowl deserves its own special chili like Thanksgiving deserves a special turkey,” Bill said. “It’s more involved than most chilis and the ingredients can be a bit pricey but it makes a huge amount. I make it in a big lobster pot. It won’t fit in my 8 quart crock pot. (at least 15 to 20 servings).”

The Lush's Blush blog
Cranberry beans


Bill’s Super Bowl Chili

Ingredients:
• 1 lb. dried small red beans (soak 8 hours or more in cold water or use quick soak method)
• 2 chicken bouillon cubes dissolved in about a cup of Merlot (for cooking beans)
• 1 tsp. garlic powder (for cooking beans)
• 1 tsp. onion powder (for cooking beans)
• 1 tsp. olive oil (for cooking beans)
• 2 pkg. (1 lb. each) pork sausage (I use 1 mild and 1 hot.)
• 2 1/2 lbs. low fat ground beef (ground chuck is best)
• 3 cans beef broth or 6 cups homemade beef stock
• 2 cans tomato sauce
• 2 cans water (I use liquid from reconstituting ancho chilis.)
• 3 cans petite diced tomatoes
• 2 T minced garlic
• 3 T ground cumin
•3 T dried oregano
• 3 T ground chile powder (or more, use New Mexico chile powder if you can find it. At Wal-Mart, it’s in the Hispanic foods section)
• 3 dried Ancho chilis (They are in the Hispanic section at Wal-Mart and Compare Foods in Winston-Salem.. Soften them up in merlot or whatever wine you’re drinking while you are cooking. You do have a glass of wine handy, right? Then use the wine/liquid instead of water to rinse the tomato sauce cans.)
• 2 T dried chipotle chile powder (Use only 1 T. for milder chili .Available at Whole Foods. Otherwise get chipotle peppers in a can from the Hispanic aisle and mince)
• 1 T. cayenne pepper (use 1 or 2 tsp. for milder chili)
• 2 T dried parsley
• 2 large or 3 small onions, diced small
• 1 lb. white mushrooms, cut in quarters
• 1 T olive oil
• 1 to 2 cans black beans (optional, rinse beans and drain in colander)
• 2 cans black olives, drained and cut in half lengthwise
• salt/pepper to taste
• 1/2 cup chopped cilantro (optional) plus additional cilantro or parsley to garnish

Directions:
Put soaked red beans in saucepan with enough water to cover. Add bouillon cubes dissolved in red wine, garlic powder, onion powder, and olive oil and bring beans to a gentle simmer. Cook about one hour, until barely tender. (The small amount of olive oil prevents the “foam” that comes when dried beans are cooking. You can omit if you prefer.)
While beans cook, in very large frying pan, brown pork sausage well, breaking up with turner as it cooks. Remove from pan, and place in large soup pot. Next brown ground beef well, breaking up with turner, and place in soup pot. Add beef broth, tomato sauce, water, diced tomatoes, garlic, ground cumin, dried oregano, chile powder, Ancho chopped chilis, cayenne, chipotle, dried parsley, and bring the soup pot ingredients to a gentle simmer.
Wipe out frying pan and add 1/2 T olive oil. Add diced onions and saute 5 minutes, until softened but not browned. Add to chili. Add more olive oil if needed and saute mushrooms 5 minutes. Toss on a little wine and simmer a bit. Add to chili.
When beans are barely tender add to chili, along with cooking liquid. Add olives and canned black beans. Rinse the beans first. Let chili simmer on low several hours. Add cilantro if desired last 15 minutes of cooking time. Taste for salt/pepper and serve hot, with cheese, sour cream and cilantro, if desired.

 

My sorority sister Jamie shared a favorite recipes she recently found online for a healthy and hearty version of chili.
“I’ve made this chili with squash instead of the canned pumpkin. I used an acorn squash that I roasted and then pureed. You can use the canned pumpkin too. I’ve done it both ways and it’s very easy and fast in the slow cooker. Very very satisfying and hearty and nice sweet flavors of fall. I had an abundance of farm apples. I did it once with ground meat and once without. It’s great with a dollop of sour cream,” Jamie said.

The
Homegrown Tomatoes


Jamie’s Healthy and Hearty Chili in a Slow Cooker
Ingredients:
• 1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin puree
• 4 pitted dates
• 2 tablespoons Miso Master brand “Mellow White Miso” dissolved in 3 cups hot water OR 3 cups organic vegetable broth
• 1 teaspoon coriander
• 2 teaspoons cumin
• 2 tablespoons lime juice
• 2 tablespoons organic extra virgin coconut oil (such as Barlean’s)
• 5 cloves garlic, chopped
• 1 large yellow onion, chopped
• Unrefined sea salt, to taste
• ½ pound pastured ground beef (optional)
• 2 apples, chopped (keep the skins on)
• 3 celery stalks, chopped
• 1 red bell pepper, chopped
• 3 tablespoons medium-grind corn flour
• 2 large cans (29 ounces each) BPA-free black beans (such as Eden Organic), rinsed and drained

Instructions
In a high speed blender, add the pumpkin, dates, ¼ cup of the miso mixture (or vegetable broth), coriander, cumin and lime juice; process until smooth and creamy. Pour the mixture into a 5 or 6 quart slow cooker. Add the remaining 2 ¾ cup of miso mixture (or vegetable broth) to the slow cooker. Turn the slow cooker onto low heat and cover with a lid.
Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and onions and sauté 3 to 4 minutes. Season with salt to taste. Add the pastured organic beef (if using) and saute until no longer pink. Add the apples, celery and chopped red bell pepper and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. Season with salt to taste and stir in the corn flour.
Transfer the mixture to the slow cooker. Add the black beans. Cover with a lid and cook on low heat for 1 hour 30 minutes. Let chili sit for at least 20 minutes before serving. Add more salt if necessary. Serve warm.

The Lush's Blush blog
White Chicken Chili

If you are looking to branch out and try a white chili, here is my favorite version, adapted from a recipe I found at CookingClassy.com.

White Chicken Chili
Ingredients:
• 1 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts (Or you can use a pack of chicken tenders, which is what I normally use.)
• 1 medium onion, diced
• 1 tbsp olive oil
• 2 large cloves garlic, finely minced
• 2 (14.5 oz) cans chicken broth or 3/4 of a carton of chicken broth
• 1 (4 oz) can diced green chilies
• 1 1/2 tsp cumin
• 3/4 tsp paprika
• 1/2 tsp dried oregano
• 1/2 tsp ground coriander
• 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
• 1 (8 oz) pkg cream cheese, cut into slices
• 1 can fire-roasted corn
• 2 (15 oz) cans Great Northern or Cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
Serve with your favorite chili toppings such as shredded cheese, crumbled tortilla chips or sour cream.

Directions:
Season chicken with salt, pepper and a dash of Tony Chachere’s creole seasoning. Heat olive oil in a dutch oven or large pot over medium-high heat. Once oil is hot add chicken and saute until browned. Remove chicken from the pot. When meat is cooled, either shred with a fork or cut into bite-sized chunks and set aside. In the meantime, add diced onion to the pot and saute until golden brown. Add garlic and saute for around 30 seconds. You don’t want to burn the garlic. Next add back in the cooked chicken pieces, chicken broth, green chilies, cumin, paprika, oregano, coriander, cayenne pepper and season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring mixture just to a boil then reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes. Stir in beans and corn. If preferred, you can mash or use a food processor to puree 3/4 of one of the cans of beans to make the chili thicker and creamier. Or if you are lazy like me and/or like a more soupy chili just dump the beans on in. Next add cream cheese and stir until melted (it will break down in little bits and will appear to look like separated cheese, but it will eventually melt). Simmer until ready to serve. I have also done this dish in the Crockpot. You can add the raw chicken to the bottom of your slow cooker and add all of the other ingredients other than the cream cheese and cook on low for about six hours. When you get home for work, pull the chicken out of the mix and shred with a fork then add the cream cheese, once it’s melted, you’re ready to serve.

The Lush's Blush blog
Yellow-eyed beans

In the mood for chili, but don’t have a lot of time, try this quick chili recipe from my friend Leighanne.

Leighanne’s Quickie Pumpkin Chili
Ingredients:
• 2 cups chicken stock
• 1 can of fire roasted tomatoes
• half of a 15 oz. can of pumpkin (more or less to taste)
• 1 can of corn
• 1 can of kidney beans,
• chili powder, salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:
Blend chicken stock, tomatoes and pumpkin together with an immersion blender or hand mixer. Combine pureed mixture in a medium sized pot with corn, beans and seasonings and simmer until heated through. The trick to making it really yummy? A big ol’ dollop of jalapeno pimento cheese. (I recommend the Palmetto brand of pimento cheese which comes in jalapeno or regular.)