I’m dreaming of a warm Christmas

Conch shells in Key West

Oh, the weather outside in the Yadkin Valley region is lovely. And I hope it stays this way until summer. I’ve been hearing a lot of people say they can’t get in to the Christmas spirit because it’s not been cold enough. Well, bah humbug I say to that. People in Florida still celebrate the season, don’t they? And I bet they get right on into the spirit while still in their shorts and sipping on a rum runner.

As I may have mentioned, I can’t stand cold weather. Yes, snow is pretty. Yes, a lot of holiday music is all about a “White Christmas” and “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” and all of that. I get it. And, honestly, I don’t mind a pretty snow once in a while if it comes on a day I don’t have to worry about driving in it.

I’m very much still pining for my wonderful days in Key West on my honeymoon earlier this year though and so this weather suits me just fine.

I’m perfectly in the holiday spirit of the season, even if it is 70 degrees. Last week Dad and I made two of our traditional holiday treats. We made homemade Chex mix and peanut butter crackers dipped in white chocolate.

I even watched the movie “White Christmas” while we were cooking. My favorite scene actually is when they are still in Florida and going to see the Haynes sisters perform. Of course, the “Sisters” number is classic with those gorgeous blue fans, but I also love the number “The Best Things Happen While Your Dancing.”

So, if the warm temperatures are keeping you from getting in the holiday mood, I suggest watching a good Christmas movie and baking some holiday treats to help get you in the spirit.

An easy and delicious treat to make is putting peanut butter between two Ritz crackers and then dipping it in white chocolate. The combination of salty and sweet is just divine. We make these every year.

We also love homemade Chex mix. It’s easy to make as well. The Chex cereal box likely has the recipe on it this time of year, but here is my version.

Kitsey’s Crispix Mix

Ingredients
• 1 box Crispix cereal
• 1 package colored goldfish snack crackers
• 1 package garlic bagel chips, crushed
• 1 can cocktail peanuts
• 3/4 of a large bag of Rold Gold pretzels (I like a lot of pretzels, but adjust to the amount you prefer. I use the stick shaped or the heart-shaped if I can find them.
• 1 stick butter, melted
• 2 tbs. Worcestershire sauce
• 1 1/2 tsp. seasoned salt
• 3/4 tsp. garlic powder
• 1/2 tsp. onion powder

Directions
Combine all snack items into a large pan. Add Worcestershire and seasonings to melted butter and stir to combine. Slowly drizzle butter and seasoning mix over the cereal mix and stir gently with a large spoon or spatula to coat mixture well. I typically sprinkle a little additional Worcestershire and seasonings on mine at this point because I like it seasoned really well. Bake in a 250-degree oven for a total of one hour, every 15 minutes shake or stir mix to continue distributing the seasoning mix.

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.

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.

An Easter banquet

“Life’s a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!” ~ Auntie Mame

As we all know, there are certainly some bad things in life. There are many who really do struggle to have enough to eat for their families. Countries are at war with one another and many of you may have sons, daughters or loved ones who are serving in those war-torn places. There is cancer and other illnesses, not to mention robberies and shootings going on, sometimes in our very own backyards. Yet, despite the many difficult things we face, life overall is still pretty grand. The point Auntie Mame was trying to make with her statement about life being a banquet, I think, is that we have to wake up every morning and choose to see the good things in life. (Note: If you haven’t seen the movie Auntie Mame, the 1956 Rosalind Russell version, stop reading this and just go watch it!)

Speaking of banquets, I am still practically full from the tremendous spread we enjoyed at my home a few weeks ago on Easter Sunday. Eating great food is something I love to do, but it’s even more special when you get to share it with loved ones. I was blessed to have a houseful on Easter Sunday. My dad, fiancé and I were joined by my great-uncle, a very dear friend of mine from Durham and my beloved next door neighbors.

We got up early and started to work putting together a terrific meal which included some of the
traditional side dishes like deviled eggs, mashed potatoes and green beans and corn and we tried out a few new recipes as well. My house guest, Keitcha, and fiancé Morgan helped to prepare the meal along with me. A coconut cake was first to go in the oven, followed by the ham which Morgan glazed with a combination of brown sugar, Dijon mustard and some of my homemade peach preserves.

While Morgan worked on the cake, Keitcha and I put together a lovely green pea layered salad. It’s an old standby recipe, but it’s one of my favorites and so easy to do. Start with shredded lettuce in the bottom of your dish. A lovely glass punch bowl makes a great display. I do admit I sometimes cheat and buy the pre-shredded lettuce, but luckily Keitcha’s knife skills were much better than my own. On top of your lettuce layer, sprinkle a little salt and cracked black pepper then add a mixture of one cup of mayonnaise and one cup of sour cream. Next layer your green peas, shredded cheddar cheese, diced green onions and top with crumbled bacon. Let it chill in the fridge for a good hour or more before serving. I also sometimes like to add a layer of fresh spinach in there.

After the salad was ready, we put together an orange fluff fruit salad with orange jello, pineapple tidbits, mandarin oranges, cool whip, cottage cheese and miniature marshmallows. I am sad to report I could not find the pastel colored marshmallows the recipe called for, but the plain ones were just as good. Uncle Ken was really a fan of this dish.

My personal favorite dish of the day is a recipe that is aptly called “Homicidal Maniac (Mac) and Cheese.” This recipe comes from one of my very favorite books “The Sweet Potato Queen’s Big Ass Cookbook and Financial Planner.” If you have not read any of Jill Connor Browne’s books about the Sweet Potato Queens, just stop what you are doing right now and go get a copy. They are hysterical and she has some terrific recipes which I use frequently.

The mac and cheese recipe from the Sweet Potato Queen’s book is fantastic because with just a little prep work, the entire dish can be done in the Crock Pot. I love my Crock Pot. In addition to three different kinds of cheese, the recipe also calls for bacon and anything with bacon in it, goes right to the top of my “to eat” list.

We also tried a new asparagus dish at Easter, although I think with the myriad of other deliciousness, it nearly got overlooked. This is another simple recipe that just takes a little patience to put together. Roll out a thawed sheet of puff pastry, spread with cream cheese and cut into narrow strips. Wrap the cream cheese-coated pastry around a piece (or two if they are small) of fresh asparagus. Next, beat one egg and use a basting brush to coat each cozily wrapped asparagus in the egg wash. Sprinkle each pastry rolled asparagus with fresh grated Parmesan cheese. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes. I’ve also seen a variation of this which includes prosciutto, yum!

We all ate until we were stuffed. We had to wait several hours before we could even find room for coconut cake! Everything we ate was delicious, but best of all was the time shared with dear friends and family.