Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Here We Come a Wassailing

It's the time of year to hang up the lights, find the right Christmas tree and do some shopping. We love these activities but, "Baby, it's cold outside."

In our homes, wassail is a must during the cold weather holidays. We have found that there are a variety of recipes. We haven’t found in our recipe searching any wassails that are not based on apple cider or apple juice and we all know that “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.”

We often serve wassail as a pre-dinner drink and it is also a pleasant alternative to hot chocolate. Wassail is also a fun way to warm up after being out in the cold. Keep it simmering in a crock pot while you are out.

English Wassail

1 gallon cider
¾ cup lemon juice
4 cups orange juice
1 Teaspoon ground nutmeg
3 inch cinnamon stick
½ cup sugar
2½ Teaspoons ground allspice

Combine all the above ingredients in a large pot; bring to a boil. Let set overnight in covered pot; reheat we ready to use. Strain through a cloth (optional).

Citrus Wassail

2 quarts of apple cider
4 cups orange juice
2 cups pineapple juice
2 Teaspoons lemon juice
1 cup brown sugar
24 whole cloves
4 (3 inch) cinnamon sticks
2 large oranges cut in slices

In a large pot, over medium heat, add apple cider, brown sugar, cloves and cinnamon sticks. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, add citrus juices and turn stove down to low and simmer for 10 minutes. Float oranges slices on top of drink.

Cranberry Wassail

½ gallon apple cider
½ gallon of cranberry juice
¾ cup lemon juice
2 cups pineapple juice
18 whole cloves
4 cinnamon sticks
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup brown sugar
1 Teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 Teaspoon ground all spice
½ Teaspoon ground ginger

In a large pot, combine cider, cranberry juice, pineapple and lemon juices; add spices. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes. Serve warm and garnish with a thin slice of orange.

Christmas Wassail

1 gallon apple cider
1 quart orange juice
2 cups pineapple juice
1 cup brown sugar
4 (3 inch) cinnamon sticks
18 – 24 whole cloves

In a large pot, add all the above ingredients; bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.

Cinnamon Candy Wassail

1 gallon apple cider
2 liter bottle of Sprite
24 whole cloves
¾ cup red hot candies

In a large pot, heat apple cider and Sprite. Reduce heat, add red hot candies and simmer until melted. Remove cloves and serve hot.

The smell of wassail simmering in a pot, not only fills the house with a delightful smell, but it also creates an atmosphere of gathering. This warm, comforting drink will help stave off the hunger pains, while the family is preparing dinner.

"Cheers to Life" and making dinner happen in our homes is our toast to you!

We would love to hear from you. Do you have a great wassail recipe you would be willing to share?

Tricks to "Hang In There" Until Dinner's Ready

Today is Alice's 3rd child's birthday--Philip Fulton. He's a wonderful son, terrific husband and devoted father. He's also a talented custom furniture maker (see Mt. Shasta Naturals). Besides she loves and adores him, there's a reason we're talking about him--stick with us.

Our children's birthdays give us pause to reflect--lots of memories come bubbling up, don't they? This morning Alice was remembering when Phil was a little boy. She says he always had the sweetest and happiest disposition. But when he was hungry, he'd turn super cranky. Any children like this in your family?

Because of this issue, we developed a few tricks of the dinner-time trade that would help our little boys "hang in there" until dinner was on the table. These tricks were especially helpful if it was one of those really busy days where we were running late. And that's where we're headed this morning--for all you young mamas out there that might not know how to keep the natives calm while you're scrambling to get the meal made, here's what you do:

First, get the table set as quickly as possible. This sends a silent message that things are under way.

Next, fry some onions. It doesn't matter if they're part of the meal or not. The aroma is what it's all about--the sound of them frying, and the smell of them cooking seems to be very soothing to hungry souls. We'd just refrigerate them for another meal if they weren't to be used right away.

And of course, while the onions are doing their job, you're busy doing yours--scurrying to get dinner together. And that leads us to our last trick. We always had an extra-fast meal idea ready for those days when we just weren't on top of things. We prefer doing things from scratch to increase the health factor, but when you're in a pinch, these will do. So here are 3 ideas you might be glad to have--all revolving around boxed macaroni and cheese (and they all can use those frying onions):

1. Cook the macaroni as directed, drain and add the contests of the cheese packet. Then stir in one can of Italian stewed tomatoes and heat through. If your canned tomatoes aren't Italian, no worries, just add some Italian seasoning (basil and oregano). If we had any leftover cooked ground beef or sausage, we'd add that as well. We'd top the whole thing with grated Cheddar cheese. Make as many boxes and add as many cans as you have people to feed. Serve with a tossed salad and you have a complete hearty meal here. (Again, you can add the fried onions to this for extra yum!)

2. Add a couple dollops of sour cream and leftover cooked veggies to your prepared mac & cheese. The sour cream adds some zip and extra creamy texture. (And toss in those fried onions.)

3. Stir in a small can of chunky ham to your prepared macaroni and cheese. We would also add any leftover veggies--especially diced fresh tomato. This is an effortless entree that works well with your fried onions!

So you can deduce from the above ideas that you'll want to have a few things always on hand--first and foremost, fresh onions for frying, then boxes of mac & cheese, cans of stewed tomatoes, and small cans of ham in the pantry. Having sour cream in the fridge and hamburger and sausage "gravels" on hand in the freezer is smart as well.

We hope these ideas will help you help your little ones "hang in there" until the meal's on the table. And until next time, here's to family dinner made easy, even when you're running a little behind.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Cranberries for Health!

Have you recuperated from your Thanksgiving weekend? We're trying to catch up on laundry, get the houseplants watered, and just generally get organized for the coming month. But we wanted to take a quick minute and pass on an idea:

Earlier in the month we talked about Jeanne's fresh cranberry relish and shared that recipe. Alice made it for the first time and served it at her Thanksgiving dinner, and it was so delicious that everyone said it could be dessert. SO, that's the idea--consider serving it over vanilla ice cream or topping it with sweetened whipped cream as a healthy dessert!

We love this idea because cranberries are so healthy for us. Consider the nutritional benefits of fresh cranberries:
  • Cranberries help with urinary tract infections (thanks to concentrated tannins)
  • Cranberries are high in vitamin C
  • Cranberries are high in manganese
  • Cranberries are high in dietary fiber
  • Cranberries are low in calories (1 cup = 51 calories)
  • Cranberries help reduce bacterial adhesion to teeth, reducing the formation of dental plague
  • Cranberries stop certain disease-causing bacteria from sticking to the stomach lining, thus protecting from ulcer formation
  • Cranberries help protect you from the formation of kidney stones
  • Cranberries aid in the recovery from stroke
  • Cranberries lower LDL (the bad cholesterol) and raise HDL (the good cholesterol)

Fresh cranberries, which contain the highest levels of beneficial nutrients, are at their peak from October through December, so stock up. Fresh cranberries can be frozen for future use. We keep a case or two in our freezer and insert them into our green drinks all year long. But now, we're taking them to a whole new level--cranberry relish will no longer be just a Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner treat. This fresh dish will now go forward as one of our favorite desserts!

Do you have other uses for fresh cranberries? Did you try this relish for your Thanksgiving dinner? If so, how did your people like it? Please take a minute and comment--it's so much fun when we get your perspective and input. Until tomorrow then, here's to family dinner made easy as we insert more fresh cranberries into our meals!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Lots of Tricks With Just One Mix !

Thanksgiving was a blast! Hope it was for you as well. We didn't have a lot of leftovers because everyone took some of everything home, but we had our fill of turkey and all the trimmings. So, after all this planning and cooking for Thanksgiving, our minds are now thinking about fast and easy meals.

We remembered this great basic muffin mix recipe that allows you to make a number of different kinds of muffins using this basic recipe. Having this mix made ahead of time will give you the convenience of a store bought mix with the satisfaction of being homemade. You'll be able to make fresh, warm muffins whenever you want. The recipes listed below all call for 2¾ cups of muffin mix so this mix will easily make several batches of muffins.

After making the Basic Muffin Mix you will have a handy muffin mix on hand. The other recipes will show you how simple it is to makes substitutions. And, of course, you will want to try other substitutions as well.

The Basic Muffin Mix

9 cups of white flour
1 tbsp salt
2½ cups sugar
1 tbsp baking soda
3 tbsp baking powder
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 1/4 cup dried buttermilk or powdered instant milk

Mix the dry ingredients together using a wire whisk. Store in an airtight container.

To bake a dozen muffins:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Spray muffin tin with cooking spray. Measure out 2¾ cups of the Basic Muffin Mix into a large bowl. In a small bowl, beat 2 eggs, 1 cup of water, ½ cup of canola oil or melted butter, 1½ teaspoons vanilla. Add the wet ingredients to the dry mix. The batter will be lumpy (that’s okay, it’s suppose to be). Do not over mix. Fill each muffin tin ¾ of the way full. Bake for 16 – 18 minutes.

In the following recipes, add or substitute the ingredients to the Basic Muffin Mix to create variations.

Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins

1 small package instant lemon
1 tbsp poppy seeds
2 eggs
Substitute ½ cup of the water with lemon juice

Sour Cream Muffins

Substitute ½ cup of water with ½ cup of sour cream

Chocolate Muffins

¼ cup of cocoa
½ cup sugar
1 cup chocolate chips

Carrot Muffins

1 cup grated carrots
½ cup raisins
1 tsp cinnamon
Pinch of nutmeg
1¼ cups dry buttermilk

Zucchini Muffins

1 cup grated zucchini
½ cup raisins
1 tsp cinnamon
Pinch of nutmeg

Pumpkin Muffins

1 cup pumpkin (canned)
1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

For other variations, try adding a ½ cup of dried or fresh fruit, such as blueberries, apricots or mashed bananas to the Basic Muffin Mix.

We're hoping to make life a little less stressful for you and help you get that meal on the table with ease and satisfaction.

Do you have a recipe that helps you get a meal on the table with more ease? We would love to hear from you so we can pass those great ideas on to everyone else. Let us know how these recipes work for you and help us share new ways to make meals more convenient. Until next time, here's making family meals happen at your house.

Friday, November 25, 2011

How to Work With Others in the Kitchen

After key events (such as Thanksgiving dinner), we like to assess how things went and pinpoint what we would and what we wouldn't do again when it comes to hosting another such event. And so we want to share something we've noticed that you might want to think about (if you haven't already).

We start with some questions: Did you have help in your kitchen, getting the Thanksgiving dinner on, yesterday? If you did, how did it go--was there a smooth flow of operations or were people tripping all over each other, were you able to sit down to eat at the time you'd planned, and how did the clean-up go?

And we move to a basic premise: Meals, whatever the occasion, are always easier to execute and more fun to execute when there's help in the kitchen. WELL, that is, if there's a plan to how things are to be done, and clear assignments given to that kitchen help so the plan can be carried out. (If you ask us how we know this is needful, we have to admit that too many times we've worked without this M.O.! Our knowledge is the result of experience.)

So this said, here's how to work smoothly with others in the kitchen (which is what we want--others in the kitchen!):

The day before the event (let's use Thanksgiving dinner as our example), have as much done ahead of time as possible--set the table; set out all serving pieces and utensils;brine the turkey and prepare any other food that can be made early, such as the pies, the fresh cranberry relish, the refrigerator roll dough, the green bean casserole, and refrigerate these items. Then, with your menu in hand, make a list of all operations that will take place in the kitchen on dinner-day. For instance:
  • Making gravy
  • Making tossed salad
  • Baking rolls
  • Cooking potatoes; mashing potatoes
  • Pouring water or other beverages
  • Filling serving dishes with prepared foods
  • Carving and plating the turkey, the ham, etc.
  • Clearing the table
  • Rinsing dishes
  • Loading the dishwasher
  • Washing items by hand
  • Putting washed items away
  • Filling leftovers containers; preparing take-home containers for folks
  • Wiping down the table, counters, stove-top, etc.
  • Emptying the garbage

There may be other operations we haven't thought of, but you get the idea. Then after you've specified what's going to happen in the kitchen, study your kitchen layout and assign work stations, just like commercial restaurants do. Their motivation is to get the food on with as little muss and fuss as possible and as quickly as possible. Pretty much the same goal we have with out dinners, right? Label your stations for the convenience of all helpers. So now you have a salad station, a "filling" station (where food is put into serving bowls, etc.), a leftovers station (where leftover containers are filled and take-home containers are prepared), a gravy-making station (the stove, obviously), and so on. As much as possible, set out all equipment each station will need for that operation to be carried out. (Do we sound like the military or something? We don't mean to...)

After you have work stations pinpointed, ask your helpers what they'd like to do and show them their appointed area to work in. With areas and people organized this way, it's now easy to execute dinner preparations, enjoy happy chatting, and get everything on the table with little chaos and confusion. You've got a smooth flow of operations.

After the meal, what is usually asked? "What can we do to help clean up?" right? And what's often the typical response? "Oh, don't worry about it. I'll take care of it." And you mean it, because the kitchen is a chaotic mess, what with dirty pots and pans everywhere, and now there's the dirty serving and dining dishes to add to the mess. You don't know where to start, let alone tell anyone where they can start.

But by using the same plan for getting dinner smoothly on, you can now get the dinner smoothly off. Assuming you've emptied the dishwasher from your "dinner prep" wash, someone can now rinse dishes, someone can load the washer, someone can be filling leftover containers, someone can be washing things that need hand washing, someone can be drying those items, and so on.

This suggestion is based on the idea that "many hands make light work." If we all do a little, no one needs to do a lot. This suggestion is also based on the idea that folks are willing to forgo a little football watching to help get you out of the kitchen sooner. With good organization, this isn't that far-fetched.

We started our conversation out by mentioning assessing--let's do some today. What would YOU do again, and what would YOU do differently next time? Take a minute and comment with your thoughts and suggestions. We're all in this together, and together we can help each other do things much easier. And until tomorrow, here's to making family dinner easy as we master the art of working with others in the kitchen.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanks-Giving!

We're assuming most of you are busy today with what matters most--your loved ones, good friends, and the fun of cooking for them. And we are as well. But we wanted to take just a minute to chat about the importance of continuing the classy art of thanks-giving. Gratitude is one of the most attractive qualities a person can ever cultivate. Joseph B. Wirthlin said: "Gratitude is a mark of a noble soul and a refined character. We like to be around those who are grateful. They tend to brighten all around them. They make others feel better about themselves. They tend to be more humble, more joyful, more likeable.”

You probably know people like that, and don't you love 'em? Researcher and counselor, Vaughn E. Worth, PhD, also has thoughts on gratitude that you'll also relate to:
  • When we recognize that God cares about us and provides for us, we feel a deep sense of His grace, which leads to feelings of energy, hope, peace, and cheerfulness.
  • Feeling and expressing gratitude promotes feelings of well-being and can help us lead fuller, richer lives.
  • Gratitude is a coping response to challenging or difficult circumstances—it can have a profound effect on perspective, completely determining or altering the way we look at and handle our experiences.
  • Current case studies and research show that cultivating and practicing gratitude can reduce symptoms in cases of mild to moderate depression and anxiety. Practicing gratitude can also lead to increases in optimism, vitality…and greater satisfaction with life. Grateful people tend to generate more positive memories, reminding them of the good in their lives. Those with higher levels of gratitude are viewed as more empathetic and supportive, more forgiving, and more likely to assist others. Grateful people also report feeling less envious and more generous with their possessions…thus they enjoy better quality relationships.
  • Gratitude also helps in coping with adversity…those who try to feel greater levels of gratitude report fewer physical complaints, more time spent in physical exercise, and better sleep duration and quality.
So why not make thanks-giving a way of daily life? Some things to do:

· Make a gratitude visit: Think about someone who has been kind, has done something for you, or in some way positively impacted your life in whom you have never properly thanked (parents, teachers, coaches, friends, employers, church leaders, etc.). Write that person a gratitude letter, specifically explaining what they’ve done for you and the results their kindness has had in your life. This effort will not only boost your own feelings of gratitude, but it will also encourage the people you reach out to, to continue in beneficial service to others, knowing that their service is gratefully received.

· Create a Gratitude Catalog—a comprehensive list of all your blessings. Many of these may have already appeared in your gratitude journal. After listing the obvious, drill down to “smaller” blessings such as running water and indoor plumbing, fresh air, electricity, air conditioning, protection under the law, etc…try to remember blessings you haven’t previously listed and also include things that don’t at first appear to be blessings: pain (a signal your body needs some attention), a hard experience (can teach patience and wisdom), a wrong committed by another towards us (can teach us forgiveness), and so on.

·Eliminate ungrateful thoughts. Jeffrey Holland said, “No misfortune is so bad that whining about it won’t make it worse.” So replace negative thoughts with grateful thoughts and problem-solving strategies.

· Use and share gratitude language: write notes of appreciation on a regular basis. Say “Thankyou” habitually (to loved ones, cashiers, postal workers, folks who move so you can scoot by them, the guy that lets you in on the freeway, etc.); write letters of commendation to sales peoples’ supervisors praising their work and expressing your appreciation.

· Play the “things I don’t want that I haven’t gotten” game and then be the force for helping others get what they DO want (attention, recognition, validation, inclusion, etc.).

· Deliberately enjoy the journey (so you want to lose 25 lbs, how fun is it to be 5 lbs lighter—where you are right NOW? So you want the baby potty trained—how nice is it to have a baby healthy enough to be trained to do ANYTHING? etc.).

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Two Impressive Pies

We love traditional Pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving, but we also think it’s a good idea to have a couple of different kinds of pies to choose from. That way you can please everyone.

If you haven’t finished your pie making and you are looking for something a little different. Check these recipes out! We highly recommend them!

We want to enjoy our Thanksgiving feast, whether large or small. Remembering, the most important part of the day is keeping a spirit of gratitude! If you have the pies made today, tomorrow will go so much smoother.

Creamy Coconut Custard Pie

Jeanne’s daughter got this recipe from her husband’s grandmother, Maxine. It’s delicious and you can’t help but want more.

1 cup flaked coconut
3 eggs
14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1 1/4 cups hot water
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 pie shell

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Toast ½ cup of coconut and set aside. Bake a pie shell for 8 minutes. Let cool slightly. Meanwhile in a medium bowl, beat 3 eggs; add sweetened condensed milk, hot water, vanilla, salt and nutmeg. Mix well and add remaining ½ cup of coconut. Sprinkle with toasted coconut and bake for 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake an additional 25-30 minutes until knife comes out clean when inserted into center of pie.

Fresh Pear Crumble Pie

If you haven’t tried making a pie from pears you are missing out. The orange juice and spices make this pie a bit unique.

1 – 9 inch pie crust (unbaked)
¾ cup of flour
6 large pears cored, peeled and sliced, add;
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
½ cup white sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon salt
¼ cup butter
3 tablespoons frozen orange juice concentrate

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large mixing bowl combine the pears, orange juice, and lemon peel. Toss lightly with hands. Arrange the pear mixture into the pie crust.

In a separate bowl; combine flour sugar, cinnamon, ginger and salt. Cut in cold butter until crumbly; sprinkle evenly over pear mixture. Bake for 40 minutes or until the pears are tender. Cover the edge of the pie with tin foil if the edges are browning too quickly.

Happy Thanksgiving from your friends Alice and Jeanne! We would like your suggestions on what you might have done differently on this special day and also what you felt went well, that you would recommend to others. Let’s help each other figure out how to make dinner hour happen more successfully and often in our homes. Bon Appetite!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Linger Longer at the Thanksgiving Table With More Than Great Food!

Alice talked about it last year at this time, and we're talking about it again: HOW do we get the family to linger longer at the Thanksgiving dinner table? This is a meal that takes hours, if not a couple days, to prepare. We set the table with extra care and creativity. We anticipate the Norman Rockwell dining experience we've seen in the picture. But what really happens for most of us? We sit down, say Grace, and snarf, gobble, snarf--the meal's over! Talk about anti-climatic! Couldn't we just spend a little more time at the table enjoying the meal and each other? Does anyone relate to this?

Well, our friend and co-writer of the monthly cooking newsletter we work for, Megan Anderson, does. Today we share her perspective and ideas on this subject:

"Sometimes we get so caught up in the food prep and the entertaining of family and friends, that we forget about what this holiday is for: Gratitude! So let's not just plan the meal, let's plan some fun ideas to help keep gratitude in the forefront during our Thanksgiving, and maybe extend the length of the meal!

"Many of these ideas are things that my family did growing up...and my mom was always great at coming up with ways to keep us all together and close as a family. She got everyone at the table involved in games focusing on thankfulness...See if they wouldn't be a good way to get your family to focus on gratitude, as well as linger longer at the table...

"Before everyone sits down for the big dinner, put a slip of paper under each plate with a topic on it. Then, during the meal, ask everyone to pull out their piece of paper and say something they are thankful for that follows their topic. Little ones will love the surprise of something under their plates, and it will help the adults remember to be grateful too!

"Possible topics would be: something outdoors, some kind of food, something in a specific color (this one can be challenging!), something family related, etc. You can vary the difficulty for adults and children as needed.

"A game that we played all the time growing up - and still play every year! - is the ABC gratitude game. Someone starts with the letter "A" and says something they are grateful for that starts with an "A", then the next person has to say something they are grateful for that starts with a "B", and so on until all the letters are used up.

"You can play this game a few times during the meal since the letters will fall to different people each time. For an extra challenge, play it once the correct way, and then play another round starting with the letter "Z" and going back down to "A"! This is fun, gets your creative juices flowing, and encourages conversation around the table.

• "Lastly, this is a game that you can start as early in the month of November as you want, or start on Monday of Thanksgiving week. Get a pumpkin and using construction paper, or whatever other supplies you have on hand, design a turkey head and several large pointed ovals for feathers.

"When someone in the household thinks of something they are grateful for, they can write it down on the feather. Tape it to a wooden kebab skewer and stick into the pumpkin to create the turkey's tail feathers! See how big your turkey's tail feathers can get before Thanksgiving Day! Then, on Thanksgiving, your family's gratitude turkey becomes the table's centerpiece. You can then take turns reading off the feathers during the meal. This is a great way to keep the gratitude going for more than just a day and the conversation going during dinner, and is an easy way to create your centerpiece for the table as well!"

We'd love to know how YOU get your family to linger longer at this very special meal on this very special day, so please take a minute to comment. We're all in this together, and so let's share. Isn't life grand--no matter our situation or challenges, there is always so much to be grateful for! And we want you to know how grateful we are for you, our readers. Until next time, then, here's to family dinner made easy as we enjoy a feast and fun this Thanksgiving day!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Helping You Relish the Day

There seems to be at least one thing every year that gets forgotten at the Thanksgiving dinner table. Like you, we go over our menu and then our grocery list and if we are lucky we remembered the forgotten item before we sit down to eat dinner. Jeanne used to forget the cranberry sauce. It actually never bothered her, because it wasn't something she was crazy about. That is, until a few years ago when she had a cranberry relish that tasted like a bit of cranberry heaven.

Because this recipe is not cooked, it is super easy! This recipe incorporates apples, oranges and a little lemon juice giving it a unique taste. This is one of the recipes you can make a day or two before Thanksgiving and check it off your list--in fact it gets better as it sits.

The only drawback is that it doesn't last as long as cooked or bottled sauce.This relish will only last 3-5 days in the refrigerator. It's so yummy though, you will use it all before it spoils.

By the way, we hope you aren't preparing the Thanksgiving meal all by yourself. Family
members and friends should be participating. A happy host is not an overworked host! Everyone loves to feel like they are contributing to the feast. Ask them to do a side dish, rolls or a pie. Assign a few things out. Everyone will enjoy the day more, especially you!

Now, this is an easy recipe that you will want to hang on to. It has a beautiful red color after it sits in the refrigerator for a day. The citrus and apple really add to the flavor. Give it a try and see if it isn't the best Cranberry relish you ever tasted.

1 (12 ounce bag of fresh cranberries)
1 large apple (tart or sweet)
1 large orange (peeled)
1 half lemon (Juiced)
1-2 cups sugar (depending on how sweet you want it.)

This recipe can be done in a blender or a food grinder or processor. Cut the apple and orange into quarter sections. The idea is to blend all the ingredients together and let the flavors incorporate while sitting in the refrigerator. Don't be disappointed at the color when it is first blended, after it sits for awhile it will turn a beautiful red.

This would be a smart dish to prepare on Tuesday or Wednesday. We love those make ahead dishes, it makes the Thanksgiving day go by so much smoother. Store the relish in a airtight container in the refrigerator until the appointed hour!

This recipe will not only give you the best cranberry sauce ever, it will help make Thanksgiving dinner easier at your house.

Now don't forget the Cranberry Relish!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Just a Sunday Night Thought...

Would you agree that your kitchen is the heart of your home? Ours is and pretty much, always has been. We've had experience raising our families in small and big spaces, but no matter the size, the kitchen was the activity center of the day to day life.

And no matter the size, it's the place where we come together for cooking, eating, meeting, and enjoying. Building an environment that can do all of these things efficiently is a challenge--especially if the space is on the small side. And then there's the fact that kitchens tend to evolve over time, getting filled with cherished pieces side by side with the newest gizmos.

With this in mind, it's SO wise to be sure we truly are filling kitchen space with cherished stuff--things we really do like, use, need, want, and have room for. And it's SO wise to keep the work surfaces free as much as possible. Those with smaller kitchens might have to get a little creative and inventive for this to happen. But it's worth the effort. It's so much easier to get a meal on when there's ample counter space on which to prepare the food.

Anyway, we were just thinkin' about ya, and how we'll all be doing come Thursday's big dinner. Now could be a good time to take another look at our counters and see if we can clear them a little, by putting some things in other places, or maybe even getting rid of a few things.

You've probably heard the old saying, "No matter where I serve my guests, it seems they like my kitchen best!" And what 's especially wonderful is if we, the cooks, like our kitchens best as well. Then we've got a real good thing goin'. Talk to you tomorrow!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Gourmet Potatoes

Some people call them "taters," some call them "spuds," but a potato by any other name is still a potato. With Thanksgiving and Christmas around the corner, more than likely you will be serving potatoes as one of your side dishes.

Potatoes are actually good for you. Most of the calories come with all the ingredients we add to them. A medium baker is between 130-160 calories. It's all the fixin's we put on them that make them so high in calories. But, we can't imagine Thanksgiving without potatoes. We are going to give you some tips that will help you make perfect potatoes.

How to tell if a potato is going bad: If they are wrinkly and soft they have definitely gone bad. A friend told us if they are sprouting not to eat them, but if we find a small amount of sprouts and the potato is firm, we cut the sprout off and use them anyway. Some people will tell you not to eat them if they have a green color in the skin. The green is actually chlorophyll which is normally good for you, but in a potato it means that a toxin called solanie is starting to form and this toxin is not good for you. However, most people cut the green off and use it anyway. If there is an abundance of green, we would throw it out!

Potatoes should be stored in a dark, dry place. This will keep them fresh longer. Check them out at the grocery store before you buy them. If the potatoes are in a bag that you can’t see through ask the produce people when they received them at the store and if they are good. Don’t buy potatoes that have been pre-washed. The protective coating is gone making them more susceptible to spoilage.

The Perfect Baked Potato

Let’s talk baked potato. Most people would agree that a russet is the best variety for baking. You probably have been given a lot of advice on how to make the perfect baked potato. Our idea of perfection is light and fluffy on the inside and crispy on the outside. This won’t happen if you are wrapping your potatoes in aluminum foil, unless you are rubbing them with a little oil and some salt. Wash the russet, dry it, rub it with oil, pierce it and cook it on the rack in the oven or on a cookie sheet at 425 degrees for about 1 hour. Sometimes it will take longer depending on the size of the potato. If you want the potato evenly browned you might want to flip it over after the first 30 minutes. If you don’t, the bottom gets a little browner than the top. If you are in a hurry, pierce the clean potato, microwave for 3 to 5 minutes, brush with some oil and bake at 425 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes or until the potato when squeezed feels soft.

The Perfect Mashed Potato

We usually get asked at Thanksgiving to make the mashed potatoes.The art of making perfect mashed potatoes is to: Use the right potato, a russet or a Yukon (fresh and firm). Cut them into uniform sizes, about 2 inch cubes. This helps them cook evenly. The third thing is to not hold back on the butter and cream.

Some of you are saying how unhealthy it is to use large amounts of butter and cream, but we're telling you there is a reason we get asked to make the mash potatoes! Besides, it's Thanksgiving! We don't have hearty mash potatoes every day.

Here is a good easy recipe: 1¼ pounds of potatoes, 2 teaspoon salt, 4 Tablespoon butter and ¾ cup cream, half and half or evaporated milk.

Scrub potatoes, cut into about 2 inch squares. In a large pot, add potatoes, water to just cover potatoes and 1 Teaspoon salt. Cover pot and cook on medium low heat for 20 to 30 minutes or until the potatoes are very tender when pierced with a fork. When potatoes are done, drain the water off in a colander. Return to the pot; keep on heat for 1 to 2 minutes, on low heat so the potatoes will dry and not be gooey. In the same large pot or large mixing bowl, beat potatoes with an electric mixer while adding butter and salt. Add cream a little at a time. Mix just until smooth and fluffy.

The Perfect Roasted Potatoes

Roasted potatoes are a wonderful side dish.

Scrub potatoes well. You don't need to peel these. Boil the potatoes whole for 3 to 5 minutes. This speeds up the process and helps with the finished texture. Remove and run cold water over them to cool them so you can handle them. Cut in strips and place on a cookie sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and herbs. Cook at 375 degrees for 12 to 18 minutes until crispy. This process helps the potatoes to be mealy on the inside and crisp on the outside. We love Italian seasoning or lemon pepper. Some people like Rosemary or seasoning salt. Use whatever you like. If adding cheese, do this just a couple of minutes before removing from oven.

Enjoy eating those potatoes, taters, spuds or what-ever you call them. A great potato side dish is sure to please and keep them coming to the dinner table. Tomorrow let's talk about sweet potatoes and how they can keep the family at the Thanksgiving dinner table.

We would like to know how you like your sweet potatoes or yams. Comment on the blog, so we can share your ideas. Here's family dinner made easy as we serve up gourmet potatoes.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Perfect, Lumpless Gravy

From the perfect turkey, we move to the perfect gravy. What's a holiday meal without gravy slathered all over everything? Like Alice's husband, Rich, often says, "Gravy is one of the cornerstones of life."

So do you love gravy too? And are you like most family cooks, using the same recipe your mom and grandma used? When it comes to favorite and tried-and-true recipes, a gravy recipe is usually on the list. But something we've found, particularly in newer cooks--gravy-making seems scary. It was for Alice. She always turned that job over to her mom when the family got together for dinners. It was the lumps--those scary lumps--it just seemed easier to let mom do it.

Her mom passed away several years ago and now Alice is on her own, gravy-wise. If you're one of the newer cooks, or if you feel on your own--gravy-wise, too, here are some tips to turning out a perfect gravy every time. They've taken the scariness (and the lumps) out of the deal for Alice and we think they will for you as well:

Simple pan gravy is also known as reduction sauce. That's what most pan gravies are--the juices that are left in the pan after food has been cooked have been reduced. Usually wine or broth is added to the meat drippings. Good cooks know to scrape up the cooked meat pieces that are left behind on the bottom of the pan. Then this mixture is cooked down and allowed to thicken on its own. Sometimes a little butter is added at the end to add a bit of flavor and a glossy finish. This is the easiest way to make gravy and you really can't go wrong with this approach.

But if you want a heartier and thicker gravy still, then a thickener such as cornstarch, arrowroot, flour, or dairy products would be added.The methods differ for different thickeners, but they all basically begin with the simple pan gravy described above. It's difficult to give an exact recipe, since it will depend on the amount of seasoning on the meat and its fat content. However, gravy-making is different from baking--measurements don't need to be extremely precise. Eye-balling things usually works.

But for today's conversation, let's work on the basic gravy used for turkey, mashed potatoes, or rice. This is called a roux (pronounced roo). A roux is a mixture of equal parts of oil, butter, or fat renderings and flour. It's cooked for 3 to 5 minutes over low heat to remove the raw flavor of the flour, then liquid is added, which thickens the flour mixture into gravy. The roux method is the safest, because it's the least likely to produce lumpy gravy. Here's a basic roux gravy recipe; we'll call it turkey gravy:


2 Tbsp fat (oil or fat left in the cooking pan; we usually just use butter)

2 Tbsp flour

1 C liquid (the drippings out of the turkey roaster and chicken broth, if needed)

Decide how much gravy you need, and look at how much fat or oil is remaining in the pan drippings. This is the most crucial part of a roux gravy. Adjust the fat or oil amount up or down to suit your needs according to the basic formula.

Remove fat from the pan and if you don't have enough, add butter. Stir an equal amount of flour into the hot fat and cook at least five minutes. Add corresponding ratio of liquid slowly to the roux while stirring. It should immediately begin to thicken. Bring to a simmer while stirring to avoid lumps. Adjust seasonings. At this point you can continue cooking the gravy to make it as thick as you desire. Alice's mom always added shreds of the cooked giblets to increase the amount and thickness of the gravy.

The liquid used can be a strong broth, milk or heavy cream, depending on how rich and decadent you want the finished product. If it needs thinning, just add a little more broth. Unless your meat was highly seasoned, you will generally need to add a little salt and pepper to taste. Easy does it on this part--adding tiny amounts and tasting as you go is the safest way to do this. Keep in mind that the gravy will thicken upon standing, so resist the urge to speed up your gravy by adding additional flour.

One of the beautiful aspects of gravy is how it dresses things up and can even save the day. Say the turkey breast turns out dry as sawdust (which won't happen if you follow our PERFECT TURKEY advice from yesterday). This used to be common for Alice. So she'd just slather that gravy over the meat and voila--palatable turkey!

In closing, as always, we ask for YOUR favorite gravy recipe or tips? What are your thoughts on, and uses for gravy? We're all in this together, so let's share--please comment. In the meantime, here's to family dinner made easy as we master the art of perfect, lumpless gravy!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Perfect Turkey

If you don't find turkey irresistible, you have probably never tasted a brined turkey. Brining a turkey has put security into cooking the turkey for us--we know it will turn out juicy and have a wonderful flavor.

Brining is soaking the turkey in a salt water solution with or without spices added. The turkey meat absorbs the liquid during this process.The brining also acts as a cushion for the breast meat so the turkey meat cooks evenly. The results are that you will have the tastiest turkey ever! It may seem like too much work but it actually doesn't take long, since most of the preparation is done the night before.

Brining can be done in a large plastic bag (you may want to use two bags for extra strength) or you can use a five gallon bucket. If you don't have room in your refrigerator, place the bagged turkey in a cooler packed with ice and leave it in the garage overnight. We prefer putting ours in a large plastic bag, tied tightly and put in the refrigerator. Brining a turkey is typically an overnight process but some people believe that brining for as little as 4 hours will do the trick.

There are several stores that sell brining spices, most of them high end cooking stores. The great news is that you can make your own. This is a sample of just one of the many recipes. Making your own will save you money and you can control the content. Here's what you
do, fellow turkey lovers, for the best turkey you will ever eat.

1/2 gallon of vegetable or chicken broth (canned)
1/2 cup sea salt
1/2 gallon of water
1 Tablespoon rosemary
1 Tablespoon sage
1 Tablespoon Thyme

1. In a large cooking pot, combine broth, sea salt, rosemary, sage and
thyme. Bring these ingredients to a boil, remove from heat

2. Remove any "innards" from the turkey, wash and dry. Place it and the brine in a large bag and or bucket and let set overnight in the refrigerator; let cool to room temperature.

3. Remove the turkey before cooking and drain off excess brine. Rinse it in cool water.

4. Cook the turkey as desired. The turkey will cook about 30 minutes faster because of the juices that are released by the brine. (Water and juices are heat conductors.) The dripping from this turkey will make awesome gravy!

5. If you want extra flavor fill the cavity of the turkey with tied, fresh herbs and a half a lemon, or you can baste the turkey with herbed or plain butter.

One more little tip: make sure your turkey is setting on a rack in the roasting pan, keeping it off the bottom of the roasting pan. This will insure the turkey is also roasted evenly on all sides. The brining process will truly give you a SCRUMPTIOUS TURKEY! This turkey will get family running to the table, making for a fabulous dinner hour! And THAT'S family dinner made easy!