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Category Archives: General Rambling and Such

Delicious Dairy Round-Up and a Giveaway!!

In many ways, I’m an overly trusting person. I’m an optimist by nature and I tend to assume the best in people, almost to the point of foolishness. It’s the way my brain (and maybe my heart?) works and it can be both a benefit and a curse. Because my personal belief system comes from a place of trusting that most people are honest, moral, ethically-minded people, I sometimes fail to ask the questions I ought to ask. And when it comes to the food I feed myself and my family, I really should be asking more questions.

View from The Inn on the Lake – Canandaigua Lake, NY

Like most of us, I strive to feed my family a well-balanced, nutritious diet which is mostly composed of whole foods. I try to stay aware of current findings in nutrition research and I use that information to make the choices I feel are best for my family’s needs. But sorting through the vast amount of information, which is easily accessible in today’s modern technological age, can be positively confusing. You can find a strongly-worded, research-based article full of references and evidence, to support or refute just about any claim. Add that to the fact that as technology changes and new information becomes available, widespread belief systems about what’s healthy or not change. Remember when eggs were bad for you? Or margarine considered healthy? Or fat-free products the ticket to healthy living? It’s a moving target. On top of all of that, you then need to contend with the difference between what medical professionals tell you and what you heard from your neighbor’s best friend’s former schoolmate. It’s absolutely overwhelming, even to a well-educated adult with a background in biochemistry and an avid interest in food.

Canandaigua Lake

Most of us want to do the right thing when it comes to our family’s well-being. But in an age of way too much information, where it’s almost impossible to sort fact from fiction from personal preference, identifying that ‘right’ thing can be downright perplexing. You can’t win. In fact, I stopped trying to win. Ultimately, I end up basing most of our choices on the bits of information which seem the truest and our own personal evidence. If my family appears and feels happy, healthy, and well-nourished, I consider our choices a success. If something isn’t working, we look for the culprit and go after it with our fiercest ninja moves.

Noblehurst Farms in Linwood, NY

For myself and my family, dairy products have always been a part of our diet, which we all enjoy and thrive on…our personal evidence. The kids drink milk, we use it in our cereal, we love ice cream and yogurt, and you might as well crown me the ambassador of cheese. (Make it an extra sparkly crown, please!) Convincing me to like dairy was never an issue. So, when I was invited to attend a NY Dairy Farm to Table event hosted by the American Dairy Association and Dairy Council, which would involve touring an upstate NY dairy farm, followed by eating cheese and drinking wine, along with two uninterrupted nights of sleep in a comfy hotel room, nobody had to twist my arm real hard.

Mama cow and her calf, just a couple hours after the birth, comfortably resting in a clean stall.

I eagerly accepted the invitation, certain it would be an enjoyable (and yummy) experience. What I hadn’t counted on was how positively eye-opening the experience would be and how it would answer so many of the questions I hadn’t taken the due diligence to ask.

I walked into the experience thinking about cheese, delicious cheese. I walked out of the experience feeling absolutely blown away by the level of planning, thoughtful practice, and monitoring, that goes into producing the safe and nutritious milk which ends up on our store shelves and is used in some of our other favorite dairy products. (Yes, I’m thinking about cheese again.) I have a new found appreciation for the animals who provide us with the food that many of us enjoy on a daily basis and for the hard-working farmers who care for those animals in order to get a plentiful supply of that food to our families’ tables.

I’ve tried really hard to prioritize my thoughts, but there are just so many things I want to share with you. So, pour yourself an icy cold glass of milk (perhaps a few cookies on the side for dunking) and stay tuned until the end, where I’ll share links to my top ten favorite Gourmand Mom recipes featuring dairy and an awesome giveaway!

One of the long spacious barns at Noblehurst Farms

We spent the morning at Noblehurst Farms in Linwood, NY. Noblehurst is a large, modern, seven-generation multi-family dairy farm. They care for and milk 1700 cows to produce a daily yield of approximately 15,000 gallons of milk. Most of the milk produced at Noblehurst Farms is sold to Steuben Foods in Elma, NY for yogurt production or Sorrento in Buffalo, NY for mozzarella cheese. Mmmm….cheese.

Seventh generation dairy farmer, Kitty Noble Rudgers, co-owner of Noblehurst Farms in Linwood, NY, (who I should note is currently thirty-six weeks pregnant with the eighth generation of Noble dairy farmers), hopped on a hayride along with Noblehurst’s cow nutritionist and dairy manager to show us how Noblehurst produces those 15,000 gallons each day. We toured their vast property from where they grow the food which feeds the cows, to where they ferment and store the cows’ food, to the digester that turns the cow’s waste into energy which can be transferred back into the power grid. We visited a large barn where many of the cows are housed, the milking parlor, and the barn where calves are born and raised. (I pet a baby cow. He mooed. I considered adopting it.) Afterward, we had the opportunity to meet with the veterinarian who cares for the herd as well as the CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) planner who works with the farm to ensure they are meeting or exceeding all standards for keeping our environment safe.

Young calf, resting with other young calfs.

Everyone we met was open and informative as our small group toured the farm’s operations. Here are a few of the highlights…

  • The vast majority of farms across NY and the nation are family owned and operated. This just makes me feel good when I’m thinking about the food I feed my own family. It sort of makes me think back to a time when every family owned their own cow for their family’s milk and eventually meat. Nowadays, very few people own their cow, but we’ve got these farm families who were born and raised on dairy farms and are now providing the rest of us with delicious dairy.
  • Anyone who’s ever nursed their baby can attest to the fact that comfortable, happy, and well-nourished moms make the most milk. Well, same goes for cows. Comfortable, stress-free, healthy cows produce the most milk, so if for no other reason than profitable business, it is in the best interest of the farmer to take darn good care of their cows. Cows are fed a carefully crafted blend of food which is optimized for their overall health, taste preferences, and milk production. Each cow eats approximately 90-100 pounds of food every day along with a bathtub’s quantity of fresh water. Holy cow…90-100 pounds?!?! I’m rethinking my desire to adopt a cow.
  • All dairy products are antibiotic-free. Sick cows on conventional dairy farms may be treated with antibiotics, when necessary, just as doctors may prescribe them for ourselves or our family members when needed. But milk from these cows is not allowed to enter our food supply. Multiple levels of safety screening occur at both the farm level and production plant level for every batch of milk to ensure that antibiotic-tainted milk does not end up on our store shelves. Loads of milk which test positive for antibiotics are dumped, at great cost to the farm, so it’s not something that anyone takes lightly.
  • The use of artificial growth hormones to increase milk production is a concern to many people, who worry it may enter the milk and cause adverse affects in our bodies. I hear ya! Though the FDA has found no significant difference in the quality of milk from cows treated with artificial growth hormones as compared to the milk from untreated cows, I’d always rather lean towards the side of extra caution when it comes to my family’s safety. The good news is that while use of these hormones is currently still allowed in the United States, most dairy farmers (including Noblehurst Farms) are responding to consumer demand by eliminating the use of artificial hormones in favor of optimal nutrition practices.

Weeeeeeee…a carousel ride for cows!

  • Dairy cows are not over-worked milk machines. In fact, they spend a very small amount of time being milked each day. Cows at Noblehurst Farms are milked three times each day on a rotary carousel milker. They step onto the slow moving carousel, are examined for any signs of infection or health concerns, are sanitized, then hooked up to the milkers. The milkers automatically fall off once the cow’s flow reduces to a certain level. They finish their ride on the carousel, then step off and spend the rest of their day eating their carefully crafted diets and resting on comfortable beds in their stalls. The entire process takes nine minutes. Multiply that by the three milking cycles each day for a total of twenty-seven minutes spent in the milking process. And on average, they get about two months off from milking each year. Doesn’t sound like such a bad deal to me! I nursed my three sons and let me tell you…I spent a heck of a lot more than twenty-seven minutes being milked each day and I certainly didn’t get all of that time for resting and eating in between or the two months of vacation time!
  • Rotary milkers aren’t the only modern technology being used for efficiently milking large groups of dairy cows. We met a pair of local dairy farmers who use robotic milkers. With robotic milking, the cows roam freely and can choose to enter the milking stalls as they wish, as often as they wish. Once in the stall, the robotic milking system automatically cleans the cow for milking, attaches, and effectively milks the cow. It’s even capable of recording coordinates for each individual cow so that it can more easily identify the correct placement of the milkers each time that cow enters the stall! How cool is that?? But the funny thing is that apparently, some cows enjoy this process so much, they choose to enter the stalls for milking many more times than necessary each day! Silly cows!
  • All milk is healthy, wholesome, and nutritious. – Whether you choose organic or conventional milk, whole, reduced-fat, or skim, you’re getting those nine essential nutrients: calcium, vitamins A, D and B12, protein, potassium, riboflavin, niacin and phosphorus. And did you know that whole milk is actually only 3.3% fat?? Personally, I’m a skim milk girl, but if you prefer the fuller body of whole milk, there can certainly be room for it within the framework of a healthy balanced diet.

Milking machines on the rotary milker at Noblehurst Farms

I loved dairy prior to this experience. It would have put a serious damper on my love affair with cheese to have observed anything other than the remarkably well-designed, efficient and sustainable production they’ve got in place at Noblehurst. Instead I walked away feeling more confident than ever about the dairy products I feed myself and my family. Seeing it all firsthand, I am reminded to be mindful of where our food comes from. It’ll be hard not to think about those adorable and generous cows every time I enjoy some delicious cheese!

In honor of this awesome experience, I’ve put together a round-up of some of my favorite recipes featuring delicious dairy! Give them a try!

Spicy Bacon Mac and Cheese

Cannoli Ice Cream

Mixed Berry Mousse with Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta

Quadruple Berry Muffins

Creamy Bacon Mushroom Soup

Three Cheese Fondue

Aged White Cheddar and Broccoli Soup with Chorizo

Spiced Fruit Bread Pudding

Bacon Cheddar Drop Biscuits

Strawberry Cheesecake Ice Cream

Want to win this???

GIVEAWAY TIME!!!

The American Dairy Association and Dairy Council is offering a gift bag of dairy-themed items for one lucky reader! It’s an awesome bag of goodies, including a cow print apron and oven mitt, a gorgeous wooden cheese board, cow cheese spreaders, a cow wine cork, little squishy cow toys, a sturdy cow-print lunch bag, and a Taste of New York cookbook! To enter, simply leave a comment on this post telling me your favorite cheese or favorite use of dairy products. The contest will close on Saturday, November 3 at 12:00pm EST, at which point a winner will be randomly selected. One entry per person, US mailing addresses only, 18 years or older please. 

Good luck, friends!

The American Dairy Association and Dairy Council hosted the NY Dairy Farm to Table event. As part of this event, they provided me with accommodations, compensation towards travel expenses, a gift bag of dairy-themed goodies, and a delicious evening at the NY Wine and Culinary Center. I was under no obligation to the ADADC, Noblehurst Farms, or any other agency to write this post or in any way share my experiences.

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How to Juggle Cooking and Kids

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I’m often asked, How do you do it? How do you cook all of that yummy stuff with the three boys running around?

Well…sometimes it’s not so easy. Sometimes it feels downright near impossible. And sometimes I don’t even try. We pick up some prepared salads or sandwiches from the grocery store, order a pizza, or I give the kids what I call ‘snack dinner’, which is essentially a random collection of snacky type things like a mozzarella cheese stick, cup of yogurt, handful of grapes, or some carrots sticks and dip. (Snack dinner happens to be the boys’ most favorite meal.)

But I do cook a lot and I’ve developed a repertoire of strategies which I employ to get the job done. Perhaps they’ll work for you too…

Involve the Kids

Strategy 1 – Involve the Kids

I love cooking with the kids. It’s an activity which is bursting with very natural learning opportunities, plus it teaches kids about foods and flavors and makes them more willing to try out new things. Best of all, when they’re engaged in helping you, they’re not off doing other sorts of mischief. You can read a bit more about involving kids in the kitchen in my special section devoted towards cooking with kids.

Dance Party!!

Strategy 2 – Kitchen Dance Party

Sometimes, getting the kids involved in the meal preparation just isn’t logistically possible. When that’s the case, I initiate kitchen dance party. I have an ipod dock sitting on my kitchen counter. We cue up my running mix and pump the volume. And then we dance our butts off while I tend to whatever I’m whipping up that day. All three boys come running when Ice, Ice, Baby starts pumping through the kitchen. Who doesn’t love a song which includes lyrics about a pound of bacon??

Serve an Amuse Bouche

Strategy 3 – Serve an Amuse Bouche

In fancy restaurants, they often serve an amuse bouche. Amuse bouche translates literally to ‘mouth amuser’. It’s usually some small bite-sized hors d’oeuvre of the chef’s choosing; a little blini topped with smoked salmon and caviar or a tiny cup of seasonal bisque or a bite of perfectly-cooked truffled risotto. The entire idea of an amuse-bouche makes me absolutely gleeful. It’s like a bonus course, a little surprise. And it helps makes the time between ordering your food and the arrival of your first course more pleasant. In the home, an amuse bouche may buy you the time you need to cook the actual meal. Of course, I’m not serving salmon, truffles, and caviar to my children. A handful of cherries, scoop of cereal, or a strawberry spinach smoothie usually does the trick…it just needs to be something which keeps them busy and adds a bit of nutritional value to the coming meal.

‘Mise en Place’ for Penne ala Vodka

Strategy 4 – Cook in Parts

I rarely cook a meal from start to finish all at once. I cook in parts, when the opportunities present themselves. If the kids are playing independently, I hop into the kitchen and chop the onions for a tasty penne ala vodka. Then I stick them in a baggie in the fridge. A little while later, while the baby’s napping, I may measure the cream and chop the prosciutto. When the boys are eating lunch, I grate the cheese. In the culinary world, chefs use the term mise en place, which essentially translates to ‘everything in its place’. It’s basically referring to the process of prepping and gathering all of your ingredients prior to cooking. It’s a good practice to get into whether you have kids or not. Gathering and preparing everything before you get started will save you a whole lot of scrambling around while you cook. I prepare my ‘mise en place’ in little bits all throughout the day so that when dinner rolls around, I just need to put it all together.

Melon Sangria, Anyone?

Strategy 5 – Put on Your Blinders and Charge Onward

Sometimes everything else fails and you just need to plug along. In fact, just this morning, as I was preparing a cake for a pool party potluck we’ll be attending tomorrow, I had a nightmarish cooking experience. I tried our dance party tactic, which worked for a while, until my 5-year-old threw himself head and hands first onto the floor in an attempt to do some sort of headstand type move, which he clearly has no business doing. While performing this ambitious maneuver, he managed to injure his hand, which resulted in the immediate need for icepacks, pretend bandages, and snuggles. I then moved onto to the ‘amuse bouche’ strategy in an attempt to get the cake in the oven. In this case, I gave everyone a scoop of the peanut butter chips I was using in the cake. The baby ate a few and then abandoned his peanut butter chips in favor of clawing at my legs and screaming at me to pick him up. The dog wasted no time and immediately stuck his tongue into the baby’s snack bowl. I threw the now slimy snack bowl into the sink, picked up the baby and held him on my hip while I continued preparing the cake batter. At this point, I realized that in my distracted state, I’d almost forgotten to add the cocoa to my chocolate cake. As I moved to the pantry the grab the cocoa, commotion ensued in the living room. Turns out that my three-year-old had found his favorite shoes outside, put them on, and proceeded to spread dog poopy all over the house and his toys. I stopped again to clean the mess, then thoroughly washed my hands in scalding hot water and proceeded to finish the cake with the baby on my hip. Sometimes you just need to charge onward.

And when all else fails, a glass of melon sangria usually helps…for you, not the kids, silly goose!

Nutella and Strawberry Stuffed French Toast with Raspberry Coulis

I’m going to become an Irish step-dancer. Stop laughing… I’m serious. Well, that’s assuming I can find a dance teacher to take on this 35-year-old mess of incoordination, with zero dance experience, but a whole lot of passion.

It’s just always been one of those things for me. I regret never having done it as a child. Years ago, I told my husband that if we ever had a girl, I’d be signing her up for lessons as soon as she could walk, so I could live vicariously through her. He was smart enough not to argue with me on that plan. But since it seems we’re destined to create a big brood of boys (and they’re much more interested in busting ghosts than dancing), it looks like I’m gonna need to live this dream for myself. Probably best that I fulfill my own dreams anyway, rather than pushing them on my kids, huh?

I’ve contacted a few local Irish dance schools and have yet to find anyone offering adult beginners classes at a time and location I can get to, but I’ve not given up hope yet. This middle age mom is ready to show Michael Flatley who the real lord (rather, lady) of the dance is. Stay tuned…

We had a lovely Valentine’s Day around here, filled with enough delicious goodies to throw me off my diet for at least the rest of this week. Oh, but it was worth it. So worth it. I surprised my loves with this special breakfast, which had everyone oohing and ahhing with each bite. For a weekday breakfast, it’s surprisingly easy to pull off. Simply prepare the ‘sandwiches’ the night before, wrap them in plastic wrap, and refrigerate. This will actually help firm up the Nutella, which will make the sandwiches easier to dip in the morn. You can cut the sandwiches into any shape or not cut them at all…though the scraps make a really nice snack with a glass of red wine…just sayin’.

Nutella and Strawberry Stuffed French Toast with Raspberry Coulis

Ingredients

For the French Toast:

  • 8 slices white bread
  • 1/2 cup Nutella
  • 4-6 large strawberries, sliced
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/8 cup milk
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 tablespoon butter
For the Raspberry Coulis:
  • 3/4 cup raspberries
  • 1 tablespoon sugar

Directions

Spread each slice of bread with a thin layer of nutella. (Fight the urge to spread it too thick.) Place the sliced strawberries on four slices of the bread, then place each of the remaining four bread slices on top to make four nutella-strawberry sandwiches. If desired, use a cookie cutter to cut the sandwiches into creative shapes. If preparing ahead of time, wrap the sandwiches in plastic wrap and refrigerate. Eat the scraps.

Lightly beat the eggs with the milk and salt. Melt a bit of the butter in a nonstick pan over medium heat. Dip both sides of each sandwich into the egg mixture. Place the dipped sandwiches in the hot pan and cook for a few minutes on each side, until golden brown. The nutella will become warm and melty. (It’s easier to carefully flip the sandwiches using a fork and your hands, rather than a spatula.) Sprinkle with powdered sugar, if desired.

For the raspberry coulis, puree the raspberries with the sugar. If desired, pass the mixture through a fine sieve to remove the seeds.

Diet  Update: Avoiding the scale like the plague this week and enjoying my valentine’s day chocolates. Will be back on track next week…promise!

Thanksgiving Burgers

Three of the Most Embarrassing Moments of My Life:

1. The time in elementary school when one of my best friends took the opportunity to announce my crush to the entire class. Amy likes Anthony, my pal announced to her fully-attentive audience, leaving me red-faced and fumbling for words. If only I could have come up with some clever retort, like So’s your face or Your mama dresses you funny! Except that we all wore matching plaid uniforms… You can bet I kept my crushes to myself after that.

2. The time in high school, when, during a class exercise involving a map of Europe, I replied “Switz” in response to a question about SwitzERLAND. Hey…it said Switz on the map and none of the other countries were abbreviated. I wanted to crawl into a hole when the teacher responded, “Switz? Do you mean Switzerland?” Ummmm, yeah. The correct answer would be Switzerland…not the mysterious land of Switz; home to Switz cheese and Switz watches!

3. The time in college, when I discovered I’d been walking down Main Street with the back of my skirt tucked into my pantyhose. Yes, that really happens…to me, apparently. I only discovered my wardrobe malfunction after trying to decode the odd looks I’d received from my employer, who’d been standing on the porch of  the local bar and restaurant I’d worked at, as I passed by with my tushie on display. For goodness sake, quit ogling and tell a modest girl she’s half dressed in the middle of town!

Oh, and did I mention that I started high school with a face covered in poison ivy? Yeah, for real.

I was never meant to be one of the cool kids anyway. If I were a food, I’ve always been more of a lima bean than a cupcake. I like unicorns, cried at the end of Battlestar Galactica, and won a bridge-building contest in my honors physics class (cause I’m cool like that). I trip over my own feet with concerning frequency and somehow manage to miss my mouth while drinking, more than I’d like to admit. I’m a clutz, a germaphobe, and a neat-freak.

It’s ok. I happen to like lima beans.

Knowing what you know now, are you sure you still want to hang out with me? Would you still like me if I told you that seeing the Christmas decorations currently on display in my local Target makes me giddy with excitement? There is no too early for Christmas stuff in my book. It’s coming and I can’t wait. And somewhere in between now and my favorite holiday, there will be Thanksgiving!

If you’re having a hard time waiting for that Thanksgiving meal, try this tasty burger on for size! The patty combines all the flavors of the turkey with the stuffing. Served on a doughy potato bun and topped with gravy and cranberry sauce, this turkey burger (with a twist) gives you a burst of Thanksgiving flavor with every bite!

Enjoy!

Thanksgiving Burger

Ingredients

  • 1 pound ground turkey
  • 1/2 pound bulk breakfast sausage
  • 1/3 cup celery, finely diced
  • 1/3 cup leeks, finely sliced *
  • 1/2 cup dried apples, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon poultry seasoning
  • Fresh ground pepper
  • 6 potato buns
  • Turkey gravy, homemade or store-bought
  • Cranberry sauce (jellied or whole berry), homemade or store-bought
* Click HERE to see my photo guide on how to slice leeks.
Directions
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Using your hands, combine the turkey, sausage, celery, leeks, apples, salt, poultry seasoning, and pepper until well blended. Form into six patties. Place the patties onto a lightly greased baking sheet (a little vegetable or olive oil will do the trick). Cook for about 12 minutes, until fully cooked (internal temp of 165 degrees). Place each cooked patty onto a potato bun. Top with warmed gravy and cranberry sauce.

Shrimp Cocktail Bruschetta and a Dinner Party Plan

About a month ago, two of my favorite people in the whole world ran off to a funky little motel in the Catskills and secretly eloped. (This place looks seriously cool! You can check out some of the wedding photos on the Roxbury facebook page.

I was ecstatic when I heard the news. And then, almost instantly, my mind went into dinner party mode. If there were ever a perfect reason to throw a dinner party, this was it.

Don’t you just love the idea of a dinner party?? Good food, plentiful drinks, amazing company… I love every bit of it; planning the menu and decor, preparing the meal, presenting each course, coming up with a few special touches… It’s something that I wish we could do more frequently.

But with three little kids (including a teething four-month-old, who’s fully convinced that sleep is for suckers), it’s hard enough to get a simple macaroni and cheese dinner on the table on any given day of the week. The thought of preparing an elegant, five-course plated dinner for ten is a bit overwhelming even to consider. It can be done though. It just requires a little careful planning.

A carefully crafted menu is the most essential component of any successful dinner party (aside from your guest list, that is). For our feast, I wanted to use fresh, seasonal foods which would bridge the transition from summer to fall. In order to spread the preparation throughout the week and keep things as simple as possible during the party, I wanted to serve dishes which could be easily reheated without any loss of quality. And then the big thing… I wanted to be able to sit down to enjoy each course with my guests. I mean, who wants to spend the whole time in the kitchen while your guests are laughing at the table (and threatening to eat the cupcakes prematurely)??  My goal was to create a menu where each course could be effortlessly completed and served within ten minutes of the previous course.

Here’s what I came up with…

Sunrise Champagne Cocktail

***

Shrimp Cocktail Bruschetta on Toasted Baguette

***

Heirloom Tomato and Goat Cheese Tart in a Pine Nut Crust with Balsamic Reduction

***

Seared Scallops over Sweet Potato Bisque with Applewood-Smoked Bacon

***

Braised Beef Short Ribs in a Fig and Red Wine Reduction

with

Creamy Brie Mashed Potatoes

Roasted Asparagus

***

Pumpkin and Nutella Wedding Cupcakes with Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting

Aside from the anti-sleep demonstration, which my four-month-old staged throughout the entire party, the dinner went off without a hitch. Preparation between the courses was a cinch and everyone enjoyed the meal.

Interested in hosting your own simple and elegant dinner party? Here are a few little tips:

Start with a signature drink; something fun, unique, and fitting for the event. We were celebrating a wedding and what wedding celebration is complete without champagne?? My Sunrise Champagne Cocktail is a simple twist on a classic Bellini. Fill champagne glasses a little more than halfway with champagne. Top with passionfruit juice. Finally, drop about 1/2 teaspoon of grenadine into the glass. The grenadine will fall to the bottom and disperse, creating a beautiful layered color effect…an effect which happened to match the layered colors of the bride’s wedding dress. Coincidence? I think not.

As guests arrive and mingle, have some little hors d’oeuvres available. Keep ’em light though. You don’t want your guests to overfill their bellies before dinner. And, you don’t want to be busy in the kitchen fussing over snacks as your guests are arriving, so keep it easy. The shrimp cocktail bruschetta I served during our party is an ideal option. It takes the concept of a tomato bruschetta on toasted baguette and combines it with chunks of fresh shrimp and the flavors of cocktail sauce. Simply arrange on a platter and set out for your guests to enjoy. You’ll be free to greet your guests and enjoy a cocktail as you focus on preparing the first plated dinner course.

For the first plated course, serve something cool or at room temperature. It will make it easier to get things started. I served the heirloom tomato and goat cheese tart I recently shared with you. You can prepare and freeze the crust a week or more ahead of time. It takes only a few minutes to finish the tart on the day of your party. Pop it in the oven just as your guests begin arriving. It will make your house smell delicious and will be ready in perfect time for the first course. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature with a drizzle of balsamic reduction.

Serve a soup as part of your second course. They’re easily reheated and offer a ton of options depending on the season. I served my seared scallops over sweet potato bisque with applewood smoked bacon. The bisque can be completely prepared a few days ahead of time. Refrigerate the bacon pieces and freeze the bisque to keep it fresh. During the party, you’ll only need to quickly sear the scallops and reheat the bisque and bacon before serving. Within 5 or 6 minutes, the second course will be ready to serve.

The main course should typically be the heaviest item on the menu. Try to plan something which gives you flexible timing. I served braised beef short ribs in a fig and red wine reduction. This dish is an ideal main course, since it actually does best when prepared a day ahead of time and can be reheated and held until you’re ready to serve. Preparing a day before allows the sauce to chill, making it easier to remove the excess fat which will rise to the surface. You can then adjust the seasoning of your sauce and slowly reheat the short ribs, keeping them hot and ready in the oven until it’s time to serve.

To keep things easy during the party, do whatever little preparations you can ahead of time. On the side of the short ribs, I serve creamy brie mashed potatoes, which can be fully prepared a day ahead of time, and roasted asparagus, which take only a few minutes in the oven. Get your asparagus ready for roasting by washing, cutting, and arranging on a baking sheet earlier in the day. Before roasting, toss in a bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper. Then simply pop them into the oven.

For dessert, serve something which can be made ahead of time and requires little or no preparation during the party. I served pumpkin-nutella cupcakes with cream cheese frosting. They made a beautiful centerpiece on the table and were ready to eat when the time came. This meant that I could sit back and relax once the short ribs were served…Well, I would have been able to sit back and relax if the aforementioned anti-sleep demonstration weren’t still underway. Alas, what can you do?? He’s lucky he’s so stinkin’ cute!

Recipes for the short ribs, creamy brie mashed potatoes, and cupcakes will be coming up soon! For now, let me whet your appetite with this simple and delicious shrimp cocktail bruschetta!

Shrimp Cocktail Bruschetta

Ingredients

  • 6-8 plum tomatoes, seeds removed and finely chopped
  • 2 cups shrimp, deveined, cooked, and chopped
  • 3 green onions, chopped
  • 3 teaspoons prepared horseradish
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Tabasco, to taste
  • 1 French Baguette, sliced
  • Olive Oil

Directions

Combine tomatoes, shrimp, green onions, horseradish, lemon juice, worcestershire sauce, salt, and tabasco. Adjust seasoning as desired. Refrigerate until serving. Brush the slices of baguette with olive oil. Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake in a 375 degrees oven until lightly toasted. Serve shrimp bruschetta topping with toasted baguette slices.

It’s Officially Christmas Season!!!

I’m back! After a few days of celebrating with family and visiting with friends, we’ve made our way back to our cold and snowy home. It’s nice to be home.

Thanksgiving morning was spent snuggled on the couch, under a blanket with the boys, while my Dad took his place in the big, green recliner. As the rest of the family slept, we tuned in to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. I enjoyed each musical performance, as my Daddo predictably ranted about how the parade has been taken over by Broadway. The kids watched with wide eyes, as the unimaginably large Spongebob and Spiderman balloons made their way between the buildings and they danced along when the music moved them. And then, the moment we were all waiting for arrived. Santa made his way down 34th street. The Christmas season has officially begun.

I’ve mentioned my intense love of the Christmas season before. My anticipation for the entire season is so overwhelming that I physically ache with impatience. It’s beyond the point of normal Christmas spirit. It’s taken all of my self-control to restrain the Christmas in me up to this point. But, now that we’ve seen Santa in the parade, we can officially begin celebrating without shame. It’s time for twinkling lights and glittery ornaments, fresh baked cookies and holiday menu planning, gift wrapping and ribbon tying. Break out the silver bells. This girl is ready to ring in the season!

While the children ran around causing mischief in my childhood home, my dad and I began the holiday countdown by watching a nearly constant marathon of perfectly corny Hallmark Christmas movies. We laughed and we cried at the stories of angels, love, and Christmas miracles. During the commercial breaks, I completed my holiday shopping online, snuggled under a blanket with a cup of hot cocoa in hand and a warm crackling fire burning to my side. It was the perfect way to begin the season.

Thanksgiving dinner at my Grammy’s was predictably delicious. We enjoyed our traditional feast of antipasto, fruit cocktail, stuffed shells, a full turkey dinner, and bountiful dessert buffet. We all left thankful for the delicious meal and quality time spent with family.

New recipes coming up tomorrow and stay tuned for the first Christmas cookie of the season! But for now, take a look back at my Four Variations on Thanksgiving Leftovers for a few ideas on how to finish up the turkey day leftovers filling up your fridge.

Apple Cinnamon Rangoons

I was seated on a comfortable bar stool set up against a large granite island countertop in the most bright and beautiful kitchen. I was eating a mouthwatering salad of mixed greens, lobster, and avocado, dressed in a fresh vinaigrette. It was course two of a nine course tasting menu. On the other side of the island countertop, dressed in a dalmation print apron, was Chef Patrick O’Connell, busy at the stove, artfully crafting the most perfect dishes. Then it occurred to me. I’m sitting in the kitchen at The Inn at Little Washington and Patrick O’Connell is personally preparing me a nine-course tasting menu. That’s when I realized that I was probably dreaming. But I took another bite of lobster and then proceeded to share a story with my new pal, Patrick, about how the cast of The Hills randomly stopped by my beach house one afternoon to use the bathroom. He laughed and then told me of his encounter with the cast of Jersey Shore. Mind you, I neither have a beach house, nor have I ever even watched The Hills, let alone met the cast. I took another bite of my salad.

Patrick took a piece of foie gras out of the fridge and raised the heat on the skillet. Course three would be foie gras. Fantastic. In the background, I heard an unusual roar and a thump. I turned my attention to a woman who’d entered the kitchen and was standing on the opposite side of the island countertop. Clearly she was an acquaintance of Patrick. She was flipping through the pages of a scrapbook. Feeling right at home, I began flipping through the pages with her; pictures of a grandson. I heard the pop and sizzle of the foie gras hitting the hot pan. And then that strange roar and thump again.

Patrick began preparing my plate, with a perfectly petite mound of baby watercress and a drizzle of a thick, dark sauce. Is that a cherry-balsamic reduction? My mouth was watering. Roar and thump. I opened my eyes. Roar and thump; the sound of the garbage truck passing down my road. I quickly closed my eyes, pressed them tightly together, desperate to return to The Inn at Little Washington. Come on! The foie gras was almost ready! I tried to will myself back into that dream. No such luck. Moments later, a small voice, magnified by the effects of the baby monitor, called to me, Mommy, I’m done with my nap, followed by the sound of small footsteps as he ran to exit his room.

You owe me seven more courses, Patrick O’Connell, starting with that foie gras!

Back to reality… Today’s recipe is the brainchild of three hungry minds. It began with a discussion of an apple cinnamon cream cheese, which my sister enjoys at the bagel shop near her office. Within moments, we’d developed a fully formed idea for a decadent treat, which we named Apple-Cinnamon Rangoons. Think crab rangoons, but take away the crab and throw in some cinnamon apples instead. Pure genius. I’d have made them that very moment if I wasn’t missing the essential cream cheese and too lazy to run down to the grocery store. But I made these little babies yesterday and boy are they spectacular! They’re a tad tedious to assemble, but the result is well-worth the small labor. Make sure you make these when you have a crowd of people around to help you eat them. Or trust me, you will eat them all yourself.

Cinnamon-Apple Rangoons

Ingredients

  • 2 medium Granny Smith Apples, peeled, cored, and diced
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp Butter
  • 1 Tbsp Brown Sugar
  • 1 tsp Cinnamon
  • 2 Tbsp Water
  • 4 ounces Cream Cheese, chilled and cut into cubes (approximately 1/2″ each)
  • 40 Wonton Wrappers*
  • Vegetable oil, for frying
  • 1/8 cup Sugar, for sprinkling
  • 1/4 teaspoon Cinnamon, for sprinkling

*My grocery store carries Wonton Wrappers in the frozen foods section. Some grocery stores carry them near the refrigerated produce. Defrost before using.

Directions

In a skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the diced apples. Stir and cook for a minute or two. Add the brown sugar, cinnamon, and water. Stir until the brown sugar  begins to melt and coat the apples. Cook for a few minutes until the apples are tender, but not mushy. Cool before using.

Set up a work station with the cinnamon apples, cream cheese cubes, defrosted wonton wrappers, a small bowl of water, and a large piece of wax paper.

To Assemble the Rangoons:

Place a cube of cream cheese in the center of a wonton wrapper.

Place a small spoonful of the cinnamon apples around the cream cheese.

Use your finger or a pastry brush to wet the edges of the wonton wrapper with water. Fold the wrapper in half, over the filling, to create a rectangle.

Use your finger or a pastry brush to wet one corner of the rectangle. Fold the corner down to form a diagonal edge.

Turn the wonton wrapper over and fold down the opposite corner, to form a triangle packet. Place the prepared rangoons onto the wax paper.

**It’s not absolutely necessary to fold the wonton in this manner. You can create any type of packet, even as simple as folding the wonton wrapper in half diagonally.

Repeat until you’ve used all of the filling.

To cook, heat about 1/2″ of vegetable oil in a skillet. Get it good and hot. Add a few of the rangoons and cook for a minute or two on each side, until golden brown and crispy. If they seem to be cooking too quickly, turn down the heat. Remove the rangoons from the oil with a slotted spoon and place on a paper towel to remove excess oil. Sprinkle the hot rangoons with a mixture of the cinnamon and sugar. Serve hot.

Makes about 40


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