Playing with My Toys

December 29, 2011

Santa brought me a gnocchi board, a scone pan, and a food mill, all kitchen items I asked for and hope to try out in the coming weeks. I also got lots of ornaments for my kitchen tree.  No cookbooks this year, but I didn’t ask for any.

I asked for an apron, because so many of my clothes have gotten ruined with all the cooking I did in the past year, but I asked for one that was just for the top only. Apparently such a thing does not exist and I got what is called a cobbler’s apron – which looks to me like the top to medical scrubs and was pretty hideous. That went back and I am thinking I am going to have to buy a traditional apron, or remember to change into junk clothes before cooking each day.

I got a few nice pieces of cranberry and caprice glass for my collection and a gorgeous vase I saw when we were in NM and which I should have bought, but did not (my mom calls this the museum in her mind – all the things she should have bought, but didn’t).

I got a tree topper to add to my collection. I also got a giant fortune cookie which will be super fun once I break into it!

We have family parties tonight and tomorrow, then New Year’s Eve is our traditional fondue party. Then it will be time to work on taking all the decorations down and trying to resume normal life and get back to work!

What toys did Santa bring you?


Holiday Food Traditions

December 23, 2011

I love hearing about people’s holiday food traditions. In my family, the Christmas menu is pretty much set in stone. First, sometime before Christmas, I make Hal Linden’s Hanukah bread. Christmas Eve we always have a ham and potato latkes (recipe from The New Basics Cookbook by the same gals who wrote the Silver Palate Cookbook), which we started making when TeenMartha was tiny and watched a Sherry Lewis and Lamb Chop special where they sang a song called “Everybody Loves Potato Latkes.” It aired on a Christmas Eve when we were snowed in and we whipped them up and it became a tradition. We serve them with sour cream and homemade applesauce. We usually round out the meal with some grapes, and then have cookies while we watch National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

Christmas morning we always have baked donuts. I got the recipe from one of Dianne Mott Davidson’s Goldie’s Catering mysteries (they are called Galaxy Donuts). They’re made with different grains, baked and dipped in cinnamon sugar. We always have hot chocolate with them.

For lunch, we have a fun buffet. The ham from Christmas Eve comes out, along with marble rye bread and rye bread dip. Mr. MarthaAndMe always gets a summer sausage in his stocking, so we eat that with cheese and crackers and an assortment of mustards. Grapes and tangerines round out the meal. The kids usually get candy in their stockings and eat some of that.

Christmas dinner is at my parents’ house. During the afternoon when we are opening gifts, my mom makes gougere, which is a cheese puff pastry. Dinner is always beef tenderloin. She makes a broccoli wreath (cooked broccoli dotted with cherry tomatoes surrounding a bowl of hollandaise sauce). We also have a salad and potatoes (usually roasted potatoes, but this year it will be twice baked for something different). We have cookies for dessert. This year I bought a tray from an Italian bakery and we are going to try that, along with some I made and some that were given to her. My mom doesn’t make cookies anymore and we like to have something different when we go over there, rather than eating our own cookies again.

When we see my in-laws, they always insist on taking us out to dinner although I would be happy to cook for them. Then we have two other family parties which are usually overloaded with tons of wonderful food. One aunt always makes sticky buns. My mom usually makes a pork roast or some kind of chicken breast dish for one of them. I like getting to sample family members’ cookies!

What are your holiday food traditions?

New Decorations

December 21, 2011

This year I made some changes and additions to our holiday decorations. As always, we have  a tree in the living room with my ornaments and white and pink lights, braided pearl strands and pink bunting. We have a tree in the family room with the kids’ ornaments. I also have a tree in my office with book ornaments.

This year, partly because I now do a lot of my work in the kitchen, I added a kitchen tree, with kitchen themed ornaments. It has blue and white lights. I found all sorts of cute ornaments – knife, fork, spoon, blender, pots and pants, strainer, PBJ sandwich, milk carton, pitcher, tray of gingerbread men, toaster, crate of blueberries, a ravioli, chocolate covered strawberry, and even a Hostess cupcakes – all on eBay! I must admit though I am jonesing for another ornament on eBay. It’s a little oven with cookies baking in it. It lights up AND it smells like cookies baking. It’s going for around $110 though, so I won’t be buying it any time soon. I had the most fun prowling eBay for the ornaments I did buy though!

I haven’t figured out what to put on the top of this tree yet. Some people have suggested a chef’s hat, but I’m not a chef, so I don’t like that. I was thinking maybe a little doll’s apron tied around the top, but am not sure what that would look like. Any ideas?

Teen Martha and I went to a Christmas tour of homes and I loved how some people had ornaments hung in their windows. If you look in the background of the kitchen tree photo, you can see I have my 12 days of Christmas ornaments in the windows, but I wanted to do something else. I realized I had 3 blue star ornaments that would be perfect in the big window over my sink, so Mr. MarthaAndMe hung those for me. Next year, I am going to do something on the shelf above it as well – maybe a grouping of reindeer with some that cottony stuff that looks like snow drifts.

At the tour of homes, I also loved decorations people put on the backs of their kitchen chairs. Next year I’ll be doing that too. I haven’t been able to find what I want to do it this year.

And just a note here that my kitchen walls really are not the color they look like in these photos! They are a very, very pale subtle green but somehow they look horrible and neon in these photos!

Moving on to the dining room, I’ve added to my tree collection this year with several new ones, and I also bought a white sparkly runner to put them on so they pop more.

In case you didn’t know, I don’t do red for Christmas. Pink is my Christmas color. I do cranberry in the family room. The kitchen is blue themed so I am going with decorations in blue in there.

I have had the same Christmas dining room centerpiece my entire married life. It was time for a new one. Not an easy task with my color scheme. I bought this 60% off at Michaels and had to do some work on it. It had some awful brown roses in it I pulled out. I added more pink poinsettias, some gold accents, and put it in a shiny mercury glass vase I got at TJ Maxx for $19. I am THRILLED with the results!

In the living room I have my display of tree toppers on the mantel. This collection has grown as well, so I thought I would share it with you. I also found some fabulous vintage pink curly-que garland at an antique shop, so I’ve replaced the pink bunting on the mantel with that. I also bought pre-lit garland this year because I got tired of seeing all the wires from the lights I wrapped around the garland.

Again, the colors of my walls just look horrible in these photos for some reason!

Decorating for Christmas is so much work, but I just love it so much! The hardest part for me is I spent so much time and put so much thought into and we never have a single person come over to see it (neither set of parents is interested in coming here for Christmas), so at least I get to share it with you!

Martha Mondays: Chocolate Mint Crackles

December 19, 2011

This week was my pick and I chose Chocolate Mint Crackles from December Living (I am in love with the cover of this issue by the way). I was excited about these cookies. Every year I make cut out, gingerbread cookies, chocolate chip and then one or two other types, one of them usually something new. I was hoping this one would become a favorite.

The cookies were easy to make. I hated them though. The recipe calls for “mint extract.” I had mint extract and peppermint extract in my cupboard. I went with the mint. Yucky. I thought they tasted like spearmint chewing gum. If I make them again, I will use the peppermint extract, which I think will taste right. I just could not get past the mint taste. The cookies were pretty. The only one in the house who likes them is Dude Martha, so they’re all his. Did you try these? What did you think?

This is our last Martha Mondays until January 9, however, I do have some posts coming up between now and then, so be sure to pop back in. I’m looking forward to trying some great new projects with all of you in the New Year. I’m so happy to have all of you to cook with – thank you for joining me as we try new things! Happy Holidays to my Martha Mondays players, and to all my readers.

Have You Tried…Tomato Paste Tubes

December 16, 2011

This is one of things where I find myself asking “what took them so long?” My fridge has long been a wasteland of tomato paste cans with one tablespoon scooped out, the rest left to die. I never use an entire can and it seems every time I need some, I have to open a new can since the old one has become an alien life form. These great new squeeze tubes let you use just as much as you want without creating waste. I paid $2.99 for a tube. And they contain only tomato paste and salt – no nasty preservatives! Love ’em.

Scallops with Citrus Sauce

December 14, 2011

This is a recipe I make very often because it’s just so easy, but it also tastes really complex like you spent a lot of time on it!

I start with making the sauce. In a saucepan combine 1/2 tbsp butter, 1 cup orange juice, salt and pepper to taste, 1 tbsp tamari or soy sauce and 1 tbsp lemon juice. Bring to a boil then reduce to medium and cook until it is reduced to a syrupy sauce, about 15-20 minutes. Set aside.

I use about 12 sea scallops for this one. In the summer I like to grill scallops, but in the winter, I pan fry them. When you cook scallops you want to first make sure you rinse them well to get rid of grit. Then you want to peel off the little muscle on the side. Then it’s very important to completely dry them so they will caramelize.

For this recipe, I get the pan very hot and melt 1/2 tbsp butter and 1/2 tbsp olive oil. Then I drop in the scallops (which have been seasoned with salt and pepper). Be sure you have a big enough pan, so there is about an inch or so between the scallops. If you don’t, they will boil in their juices instead of caramelizing. Cook about 2-3 minutes, then flip. Cook until cooked through, another 2-3 minutes.

Remove the scallops and pour the sauce into the scallop pan. Heat the sauce, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom. Serve with the scallops. This is good served over rice too.

Martha Mondays: 12/19 and schedule

December 12, 2011

Next week will be our last project of the year (how did the year go so quickly?). We’ll start back up again on 1/9  (schedule below). It’s my turn to pick and I’m going with Chocolate Mint Crackles (page 203 of December Living). If you need the recipe, let me know.

Martha Mondays schedule:

1-9 Elizabeth March Designs

1-16 Megan’s Cookin’

1-23 Sassy Suppers

1-30 Perfecting Pru

2-6 Tiny Skillet

2-13 Sweet Almond Tree

2-20 I need to skip this week

2-27 MarthaAndMe

Martha Mondays: Chicken and Dumplings

December 12, 2011

Ana at Sweet Almond Tree chose Chicken and Dumplings for this week. I grew up eating chicken and biscuits. I’ve had chicken and dumplings at The Cracker Barrel, but those are rolled, flat dumplings. I actually have the recipe for those and have made it from time to time. I don’t think I’ve ever had drop dumplings before, so this was a new thing to try. This was essentially like making chicken soup, or the base for chicken and biscuits, except I normally don’t use turnips and parsnips. When I make chicken and biscuits, I thicken it with flour. This remains thin, like a soup. The dumplings were easy to make and puffed up so prettily in the pot. It was almost like eating matzoh ball soup in a way, but the dumplings are lighter than that. We really enjoyed this. I would definitely make this again as alternative to chicken soup or chicken and biscuits. It was better the second day, since the broth thickened a bit from the dumplings.

Chicken Vegetable Lasagna

December 8, 2011

I have a recipe for this from the January issue of Paula Deen’s Magazine for chicken vegetable lasagna and I’ve been meaning to try it. My freezer has been looking kind of bare lately, so it’s definitely time to make and freeze some meals so I can just defrost on busy nights (of which there seem to be more and more lately). I made this but changed it up a bit to suit the ingredients I had in the house and to make it a bit easier. I found Paula’s instructions to be too complicated, so I simplified it. Here’s my modified recipe:

1 tbsp olive oil

1 small zucchini, thinly sliced

12 baby carrots, chopped

1 8-ounce package of mushrooms, thinly sliced

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 package frozen spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry

1 tsp basil

1 1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp pepper

15 ounces cottage cheese

2 cups grated Parmesan-Romano mix (this is now sold in my store in a pre-shredded package)

2 eggs

1 1/2 jars spaghetti sauce (24 ounce jars)

9 lasagna noodles

24 ounces mozzarella cheese

2 grilled chicken breasts, chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 and spray a 4 1/2 quart baking dish. Soak the noodles in hot water while you prepare the veggies. They will soften and you don’t need to boil them (thank you Ina Garten!).

Cook veggies in the oil until softened. Add salt, pepper, and basil.

Mix cottage cheese with eggs and Parmesan/romano cheese.

Mix chicken with half the mozzarella.

PLace 1/2 cup spaghetti sauce in the bottom of the pan and top with 3 noodles. Layer sauce, veggies, cottage cheese, chicken, and mozzarella. Repeat for next two layers.

Bake for 45-60 minutes until bubbly. Allow to stand for about 10 minutes before slicing.

TeenMartha even liked this and said she was really surprised she did (she doesn’t like zucchini, mushrooms, or spinach). It was a big hit. And now I’ve got several meals worth in the freezer from the leftovers. I really liked this – traditional lasagna flavors, but with chicken and lots of veggies!

Martha Mondays: 12/12

December 7, 2011

Ana at Sweet Almond Tree has chosen Chicken and Dumplings for next week’s project.

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