Sunday, December 24, 2006

A Dressy Tablescape

It is Christmas Eve night and I have finally finished my dining room table. This year, instead of a tablecloth, I opted for something different. I bought a white matelasse twin comforter (T.J. Maxx) that I used as my tablecloth. I found a beautiful gold throw with boulle fringe at Target, and I placed it on top of the comforter. The throw could be placed at an angle or crunched up in the middle of the table, but I decided to lay it flat. I made these napkin rings last year out of beads from the craft store threaded onto stretchy plastic string. It's very easy. You can perfectly match them to your china.

I bunched tuille onto the middle of the table and placed the candles I covered with paper (from a previous post) on top of it. Then I interspersed a beaded gold garland with the candles. It is actually a look that could be used year round.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

A Great Heritage

I know you are probably thinking that this is some famous movie star like James Dean or a political legend like Ronald Reagan, but, no, that's my dad. He was an absolutely amazing man. I admired him so very much and I never lacked for his admiration toward me. He never did anything but help me and build me up. He never criticized me or let me give in to what I perceived as my limitations. He had a great sense of humor and it would make my day to make him laugh. He started from humble beginnings and worked his way up to own a very successful business. As I have said about him in a previous post, he was humble and unpretentious. His success never affected that. He disliked people who were phony, and who liked to show off what they had, or who liked to boast about their accomplishments. He was totally not impressed with it. I am just like him in that regard. There were just more important things in life than that. Like being a good daddy. And he was that.
My mom and dad were a very handsome couple. That era was so cool. Who nowadays would wear high heels or a coat and tie to walk out on a rock in the middle of a creek?
My mom was a precious lady. She was remarkably beautiful. She also had an amazing voice. She sang in school choirs and church choirs and could bring the house down with her perfect high notes. She sang from her heart and blessed many people with her voice. She was a stay at home mom and was very attentive to my brother and me. She was a great cook and seamstress, and she instilled the importance of leading a godly life in us. She also never criticized me or berated me, even when I messed up, and that was quite a few times. She always believed in me and was very proud of me.
I miss my mom and dad so much. There is no substitute for the unconditional love that comes from a parent. I wish they were both here now, because there are things I'd like to talk to them about. I just wish I could hug them and tell them how much I love them. As many times as I told them I loved and appreciated them, it still doesn't seem like enough. I owe them such a debt of gratitude.
This is Gil's sweet dad. What a great man. He was also a successful businessman. He owned a cabinet shop for 36 years and was a master craftsman. He could be a little gruff at times, but he never was with me. He would always wink at me with both eyes three times. He was a man of great integrity, like my dad, and the two of them really admired one another. Gil takes after him in so many ways.
This is Gil with his mom and dad. His mom was a really unique, generous, funny person. And very talkative. (So THAT'S where Gil gets it.) There was never a dull moment with her. She created many fond memories for Gil and his brothers and sister because she was so hospitable. She often had their friends over from out of town or for dinner. The stories I've heard about it always make it sound like they had  a lot of fun.
Gil went through a tough time for a few years, and what is probably the most memorable about his mom and dad was how they loved him through it. They never gave up on him and continued to pray for him until he came back to God. They didn't condemn or judge him. And he has done nothing but serve God since. Gil's dad was a perfect earthly example of God's forgiveness and unconditional love.

This is me with my mom. You can see on her face how much she loved me.
I encourage all of you, if you still have your parents, tell them you love them. Spend time with them. Enjoy them this Christmas. You will not have them forever. I would love more than anything to tell my mom and dad again what a good job they did. I will be able to one day.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Chocolate Truffles

I combined several recipes for chocolate truffles and added several unique ingredients to come up with what I liked best. There are several ingredients that are purely optional if you don't want to use them. I added a peanut butter and chocolate mixture called Dark Chocolate Dreams by Peanut Butter & Company, which is a sandwich shop in Greenwich Village. I know that sounds cool and artsy, but I bought it at Target.

Chocolate Truffles
16 oz semi-sweet chocolate
(you can use an 8 oz bar of baking chocolate combined with 8 oz of morsels if you want to)
2/3 cup heavy cream
5 tbsp butter
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup confectioners sugar
1 tsp kahlua (opt)
2 tbsp marshmallow creme (opt)
2 tbsp chocolate peanut butter (opt)

Melt chocolate with heavy cream in the top of a double boiler over medium heat. Be careful not to scorch it. Whisk in confectioners sugar until well-blended. Add butter and stir until melted. Add vanilla and any remaining desired ingredients. Pour into a bowl and chill at least 3 hours or overnight. When the bowl is removed from the refrigerator, leave it out for about an hour to allow to soften. Roll into small balls (this is VERY messy!) and roll into various toppings. Chill until ready to serve. Yield: about 46 truffles

Melt together in a double boiler:
I chose chopped pecans, chopped pistachios, cocoa, and mini morsels. I chopped the nuts in my food processor. The M & M minis actually didn't work well. I also rolled a few of them in white sprinkles.

This is how they looked:
For gifts, I like to place them in small gold candy cups and put them in a small box. This box is made by Wilton and I actually found it difficult to fold properly. It ended up working, but did not turn out as perfectly as I would have liked:
Then I tied the boxes up with ribbon and put stickers on them. You can keep these refrigerated like this until you are ready to give them away. This recipe should make enough to fill 9 little boxes.

Monday, December 18, 2006

It's the Thought that Counts

Christmas is a great time to show our appreciation for those who help us throughout the year. I gave our mail carrier some poppy seed cake, cash, and a note of thanks. You don't have to do anything really big. The smallest things can mean alot.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Sweet & Sour Meatballs

This is a recipe that I got from one of my great aunts many years ago. You can keep it warm in a crock pot or a saucepan. The basic meatball recipe could be used for a variety of other dishes, such as spaghetti.

1 lb ground chuck
1/2 cup dry breadcrumbs
1/4 cup milk
2 tbsp finely chopped onion (opt)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp Worchestershire sauce
1 egg
Combine ingredients, using your hands. Shape into desired size balls. Bake at 400 for 20-25 minutes. Drain on paper towels before adding to sauce. Yield: 4 servings

1 jar grape jelly
1 jar chili sauce
Combine and heat in a saucepan or in a crockpot. When jelly is dissolved and sauce is well-blended, add meatballs.

I made the meatballs on the right. My cousin Dana made the ones on the left. Hers look better. And they are lined up perfectly.

I nearly tripled the ingredients and it made 70 meatballs. They have a very tangy, interesting flavor.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Chicken Casserole

I recently had this wonderful chicken casserole at a birthday party for my sister-in-law, Karen. I asked for the recipe and was thrilled to get it. It has a unique flavor because it has several different crunchy ingredients in it. I tweaked it a little by reducing the mayo and substituting some of it with sour cream. I wanted it to look festive, so, after baking it, I garnished it with a wreath made of fresh parsley and a bow I cut out of a red bell pepper. I hope you enjoy it!

Chicken Casserole
2 cups cooked chicken breast, cubed
1 cup finely chopped celery
1/2 small onion, finely chopped
3 tbsp butter
1-1/2 cups cooked rice
1 can water chestnuts
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
1 can cream of chicken soup
salt and pepper to taste

1 tbsp butter, melted
1/2 cup crushed cornflakes
slivered almonds

Saute celery and onion in butter until tender. Combine all casserole ingredients and place in a greased 2-1/2 quart baking dish. Sprinkle with topping and bake at 350 for 30 minutes.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Best Cornbread Dressing

When I say that this dressing recipe is the best, I am not boasting about me. It's the recipe itself, and it was my mom's anyway. It is so good that my husband avoids other dressing because it usually pales in comparison. It is not difficult at all to make, but it does require a few steps. You can divide it over a couple of days if you need to. The basis for it is cornbread, of course, which is better made from scratch.

Cornbread Dressing

1 recipe cornbread muffins (recipe follows)
1 large loaf white bread
5-6 stalks of celery
1 onion
5 cans cream of chicken soup
1 can chicken broth (I use about 1/2 of it)
4 eggs
1/2 tsp sage (too much of this is gross)
salt and pepper to taste

Prepare cornbread. Run cornbread and loaf bread through food processor until fine crumbs. Chop onion and celery coarsely and saute in about 3 tbsp butter until tender. Run through processor until finely ground. Combine all ingredients. The consistency should be very creamy. Pour into a large baking dish (or two small ones). It can be frozen at this point. Bake at 350 for 30-40 minutes. Yield: about 15 servings

1 cup self-rising cornmeal (not cornmeal mix)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 stick butter, melted
1-1/2 cups buttermilk
2 eggs
Combine ingredients. Pour into a greased muffin tin. Bake at 450 for 20 minutes. Yield: 12 muffins

You can bake your cornbread the day before and put it in the refrigerator to save one step.
This is how coarsely I chop the onion and celery. It does better if you saute before processing it instead of after.
Here are all the ingredients. Cornbread crumbs, loaf bread crumbs, sauteed onion and celery, soups, etc. Use a huge bowl to mix it together. I add a little dry, then add some soup, and repeat, so I don't end up with alot of dry bread crumbs at the bottom of my bowl.

The texture should look like this. Add more chicken broth if it looks too dry.

This makes approximately enough to divide between 2- 13 x 9 inch baking dishes. I am going to freeze this and I'm not going to bake it until Christmas Day, but when it is baked, it should be golden brown on the top and creamy inside.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Aunt's Corner - Betty

This a recipe of that belongs to my Aunt Betty. She lives in Atlanta. She has a husband, Wayne, a daughter, Dana, a son-in-law, Brian, and a son, Glenn. I used to love to go to Atlanta to see her when I was little. It is still fun to go spend the night with her. I used to lay on the floor in the next room and read, as well as eavesdrop, while she and my mom talked. I have always thought she was really smart and really funny. She sings very well and her choir just completed a CD. She and Dana drove to Birmingham the other night and listened to the CD on the way here. The best part is that Aunt Betty played the alto part along with it on a kazoo. Dana said it was ALL THE WAY TO BIRMINGHAM. We had a get together for all the girls in our family and she brought kazoos for everyone, and we played Christmas carols together in three part harmony. She used to be a singing treadmillist. Now she is a praying treadmillist.

I love being around her and I admire her very much. Here is her recipe for frozen cranberry salad:

Frozen Cranberry Salad
1(14oz) can sweetened condensed milk
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 (16oz) can whole cranberry sauce
1 (20) oz can crushed pineapple (drained well
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
12 oz Cool Whip (1-1/2 (8 oz) containers)

Combine condensed milk and lemon juice.
Mix in cranberry sauce, drained pineapple, and nuts.
Fold in Cool Whip.
Spread in 13 x 9 dish.
Freeze until firm.
Remove from freezer 5 minutes before serving.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Reindeer Sandwiches

My friend Tammy requested that I post Reindeer Sandwiches and several friends have asked me to post fun things to make with their children. I found several different ways to make reindeer sandwiches, but I played around with it until I came up with what I liked the best. It's very easy!

You will need:
loaf bread
your choice of spread for filling
M & M minis

First, I started out with two pieces of bread. I used whole wheat, but you can use pumpernickel if you want a darker reindeer. I cut the bread into triangles like this:

Then I spread my desired filling onto the bread. I used a dark chocolate peanut butter spread and marshmallow creme, but you can do peanut butter and jelly, or whatever you want.
Then put the two halves together and put pretzels in the upper corners for his antlers. You could use large pretzels, but I just used two small ones on each side because that was what I had on hand. I found red and green gumdrops (Smith's -Mt Brook) and cut them in half for the eyes and nose, like so:
I placed the gumrops for the eyes, cut side up, because it's sticky, and I placed an M&M mini on top of each eye. This adds a little personality because you can make his eyes look in any direction. I placed his nose sugar side up.This is how they turned out:
The gumdrops fall off, of course, when the sandwich is picked up, but it makes a cute presentation.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Reindeer Cookies

This is like a companion post to the Reindeer Sandwiches. It uses some of the same ingredients.

You will need:
Peanut Butter Slice and Bake Cookies (or you can make cookie dough from scratch)
M&M minis
small pretzels

Slice about a 1/4 inch slice of cookie dough and shape into a ball. Make a sort of teardrop shape, with the small end rounded. Lightly press the pretzels and M&M's into the dough. They look like this:
As you can see, they are very imperfect looking. They puff up after they bake. I baked them at 350 for 9 minutes. Before they were cool, I pressed a gumdrop (which I cut in half) into the warm cookie for the nose. Be sure to let them cool before removing from the cookie sheet.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Strawberry Santas

This is an adventurous project, but the results are well worth it.

Strawberry Santas
15 large strawberries
1 can chunk pineapple
1-8oz block cream cheese, softened
1/2 c marshmallow creme
mini chocolate chips
fancy toothpicks

For starters, I couldn't find fancy toothpicks. They are the ones with the curly plastic on the top that you see in sandwiches. I ended up a little frustrated, but a kind salesperson at World Market pointed me to these cool Christmas picks (which were also 1/2 price) and I liked them much better than what I was originally looking for. Very fancy.

Wash and drain the strawberries and thoroughly drain the pineapple on paper towels. Cut the leaves off of the top of the strawberry and cut about 1/3 off the bottom. The bigger the strawberry, the better the result. The bottom eventually becomes his hat. It is basically an upside down strawberry with the top 1/3 sliced off. Spear the pieces together as shown. They look a little like tiny aliens at this point.

Poke small holes in the pineapple where you want to eyes to go (I used a pick to do that with), and poke the chocolate chips into the holes. It is slippery and some of them will fall out, but just keep trying. They will eventually cooperate. Let them know who's boss.

Then, beat the cream cheese and marshmallow creme together and put into a decorating bag with a small tip. Pipe around it to form the fur on his hat, his hair, and his beard and mustache. Chill for at least 2 hours before serving. Aren't they cute?

Unlikely Candle Holders

I like to use candles in unusual ways. This is an old iron muffin pan that I use for a candle arrangement at Christmas. I just placed a few sprigs of greenery around each candle. They eventually melt down and conform to the the shape of the pan. When they are used up, I let them cool, and they pop right out.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Candles and Cranberries

I got this idea several years ago from my cousin, Connie. It is very inexpensive and it is quite beautiful for a table setting or for a gift. All you need is fresh greenery, fresh cranberries, a wide-mouthed glass container, and a votive candle.
First, fill your container about halfway full with greenery. I use what's in my yard, but you can also use clippings from your Christmas tree. Then pour water over that, almost to the top.

Pour cranberries on top of that. Place the votive candle in the middle of the cranberries. I got these votives 6/$1 at Michael's and they actually have a pretty decent cinnamon smell. It doesn't have to be a floating candle. This is what it should look like:
The container HAS to have a wide mouth or else the votive and cranberries will be too crowded. You can use a Ball style jar and put cute fabric on the lid, screw the top on tightly, tie a bow around it, and give it as a gift, either by itself or with a gift basket. Two of the jars in this picture are Ball jars.

This project is a very quick and easy way to add a nice, natural touch to your Christmas table.

Greenery for Your Mailbox

I love to decorate my mailbox with fresh greenery for Christmas and I like for it to be a little over-the-top-looking. I have NO floral arranging skills, so if I can do it, anybody can. I use oasis that is in a floracage holder. I soak it in water first, then wire it to my mailbox. I start with the large greenery, in this case, magnolia leaves, then fill in with the smaller ones.
I like to add stems that have red berries on them, so I chose several that would stick out in front of the magnolia leaves. I filled in with a wispy pine to help cover the wires.The last thing I added was nandina because I love the red leaves.

Believe it or not, I used 3 garbage bags full of greenery. Sometimes I add a bow, but it doesn't usually need it. What I like best about this is you can be totally creative with no actual rules. Have fun with it!

Monday, December 04, 2006

Poppy Seed Cake

This is a delicious and easy recipe that I have had for years. It freezes well and is great to do ahead.

Poppy Seed Cake
3 cups self-rising flour
2-1/2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1-1/2 cups milk
1-1/2 cups oil
1-1/2 tsp vanilla
1-1/2 tsp almond extract
1-1/2 tsp butter flavoring
1-1/2 tbsp poppy seeds

Mix all ingredients together, beating for about 2 minutes. Pour into 6 greased mini-pans (only about 2/3 full) and bake at 350 for about 30 minutes. Pour glaze over cake while still hot.

1 c sugar
1/2 c orange juice
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp almond extract
1/2 tsp butter flavoring
Stir together and pour over cake.

When I pour the glaze over the cake, I pull the cake slightly away from the sides to allow the glaze to run all the way down:

You can also do these in a muffin tin. I used a mini bundt pan and they turned out nicely. They ended up looking better upside down. I found these cute ceramic loaf pans at Michaels for $1 each. After they cool, you can wrap them neatly with plastic wrap and give them as gifts.

We are going to our next-door neighbor's for an open house tonight and I wanted to take her a nice hostess gift. I bought a monogrammed tea towel (at Smith's in Mt Brook) and wrapped it around the cake. I added a small bag of mints and some peppermint bark candy. I always like to use pretty ribbon to tie everything up with. I used a plain tag from the craft store and added peppermint stickers. This is what it looked like:

The only problem with this cake is resisting the temptation to eat all of it yourself! Enjoy!

Sunday, December 03, 2006

A Christmas Tree for your Kitchen

I started decorating a Christmas tree for my kitchen several years ago and I have really enjoyed it. I have some new ornaments as well as some unlikely and sentimental ones. Williams-Sonoma carried miniature kitchen tools a few years back, and that's what actually inspired me to start it. It adds a nice cozy atmosphere to my kitchen and it has been fun to buy new ornaments for it.

I have bought several miniature coffee and teacups, like this one:
I got this ornament at Hallmark this year:

I am VERY sentimental. I have Gil, Amby, and Zac's silver baby cups and I polish them every year and put them on the tree. I also have Amby and Zac's baby spoons and forks that I tied on with red ribbon.
My favorite ornament is one I bought from Hallmark several years ago. I love the detail. It connects to the lights and it looks like the oven light is on. There is a pan of cookies in the oven, a pan on top of the stove already decorated, tiny jars of sprinkles, and even a Mr. and Mrs. Santa salt and pepper on the top.

Just some ideas for you to make your kitchens even cozier this season. Or, you could start collecting for next year!