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Thanksgiving in my Kitchen

squirrel with orange

It’s that time of the year….but don’t let it become a burden. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Most people don’t find that a surprise because I love to cook….but actually it’s my favorite because I love to watch my family and friends enjoy and be comforted by the food I prepare. I love to rekindle childhood memories with special recipes…I love to create new memories with special people and new recipes. Now don’t mistake my excitement and enthusiasm for a stress free Thanksgiving. I do find it very stressful…..but I also have a few tried and true tricks up my sleeves to get myself through it.

First of all the best advice I have is if you are a person who does not enjoy the planning, prepping and preparing of food….don’t do it. Bring the meal in. Just because your guest may think you should cook it all yourself that doesn’t make it pleasurable….and that just doesn’t make for a good holiday. There’s nothing wrong if you don’t enjoy cooking such a celebrated meal. Try making it a pot luck, try buying a smoked turkey which has already been cooked, or if you must cook it yourself, prepare dishes you are comfortable with and enjoy making.

Now if you are like me and could spend all day in the kitchen the following are some of my tricks of the day.

  1. When planning your menu keep in mind that if you are serving more than 8 guests that the serving size of each dish will be less than if you are serving only a few guest. So when preparing your side dishes there is no need to expand or double the recipes. With so many options, people take less of each.
  2. Turkey size, plan on 1 pound per person. This will give you plenty for your guest and some leftovers. (Remember to look for those grocery store sales. I got my 10 pound turkey for only $5.00. How? Well most markets will give you big discount on your turkey if you buy a particular dollar amount in groceries. In my case I only had to spend $25 to get a turkey at 49 cents a pound. Take advantage of this) Don’t forget your turkey may take 5 to 7 days to defrost and should be defrosted in the refrigerator.
  3. Make a list of every ingredient you will need to prepare the dishes on your menu. Include staples as you may need to pick more of them up. SHOP EARLY! Don’t wait until the days before the holiday….it’s crazy in the markets and you don’t need that added stress.
  4. Do all of the cutting, dicing, chopping and assembling the weekend before Thanksgiving. Then freeze your sides to be finished on Thanksgiving day. (That’s what I’ll be doing this weekend. It makes Thursday run very smoothly. This is my schedule for Saturday and Sunday: Saturday – chopping and dicing of all veggies for the stuffing, toasting of the stuffing bread, assembling and baking my graham cracker ginger snap pie crust, then I freeze it to be used on Wednesday night when I will make my pumpkin pie. I will bake my beer bread and corn bread and freeze these also. On Sunday – sauteing my mushrooms and onions then assemble the green bean casserole and freeze, to be cooked on Thursday in the crockpot. I will make my cranberry sauce and baked mashed potatoes and freeze them also. Now on Thursday I will bring everything to room temperature and finish the baking process in the oven. But the key: No assembly required and no unnecessary dirty dishes.
  5. Ask people to pitch in. Whether they bring a side dish, the dessert or bring the beverages, it all helps to relieve the stress. (Here’s the help I’m receiving. My Daughter-in-Law will be making, in my kitchen, upon her arrival a corn pudding. Mark’s niece will also be cooking when she arrives and she is making our macaroni & cheese. Mark’s sister’s are also pitching in. One will bring a dessert, the other beverages.
  6. Create a cooking and oven timeline. How long will each dish take to finish off in the oven or on the stove? What serving dishes and utensils will be needed? Get them out and set aside. Now schedule each dish as to when it should be in the oven, how long it has to cook and when will everything be done. DINNERTIME!
  7. Last piece of advice……set the table or tables early. Set everything, including the silverware, glassware and decorations. Now cover it with a clean sheet. This will keep your beautifully set and decorated table clean and in place until the special day.

I hope my tips will help you relax and enjoy this wonderful holiday. Remember, if this is your first Thanksgiving…it’s do-able, it can be enjoyable and remember it’s just family and friends so it’s no problem.

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Posted by on November 22, 2013 in Holidays, Thanksgiving, Tips

 

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Lavender infused Sugar

Lavender infused sugar

Lavender infused sugar

It’s always good when you are surrounded by Lavender blooms. I love this time of year. So instead of buying edible Lavender grow your own plant. It’s easy, it will come back year after year and there are so many delicious ways to use the flower buds. Here is just one of my favorite ways to use Lavender.

Ingredients:

  • 1 TB Lavender flower buds
  • 1 cup sugar

Remove the Lavender flower buds from their stem by gently stripping them with your fingers. I like to store them in a glass canning jar. In a small air tight glass container add the lavender and sugar, shake well and place the lid on the container. Let them sit for 2 weeks, shaking a couple of times. Using a sieve pour the lavender sugar mixture out into the sieve. The sugar should fall through the sieve and the lavender buds should remain in the sieve. Discard the lavender and your sugar is ready to use. Sugar flavored this way has a wonderfully delicate lavender flavor and scent. Great in cold or hot teas and fabulous in coffee.

Lavender flower buds

Lavender flower buds

storing lavender

storing lavender

 
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Posted by on June 26, 2013 in Tips

 

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Thanksgiving is fast approaching…

Thanksgiving is fast approaching…have you finished your menu planning?

I suggest moving your turkey from the freezer to the refrigerator to de-frost tomorrow, Sunday. I know people say you only need 2 days for this, but I have always found it takes at least 3 if not 4 days in the fridge to de-frost fully. I promise by de-frosting fully you won’t have an internal frozen surprise on Thanksgiving.

Are you starting to feel the stress? How do you get everything done when you have to work Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday? Start preparing now. It’s the weekend and the perfect time to start making your Thanksgiving Day favorite dishes.

Many things can be started over the weekend. Try chopping, slicing and sauteing all of your vegetables now. Cool them thoroughly then into a freezer zip lock baggy and into the freezer or refrigerator until Wednesday night. Roast your bread for the stuffing, place in a baggy and store in your pantry. Measuring spices can be a headache while you are in the midst of cooking on Thanksgiving Day, try pre-measuring them and store in a snack size zip lock baggy with the recipe name well-marked on them. Then you just need to pull them out and add when needed. Making sweet potato casserole, go ahead and bake those potatoes, then you just need to warm them before assembling the casserole. I always assemble my Southern Green Beans this weekend, place in a zip lock bag, it’s now waiting for the crockpot in the freezer. This weekend is a great time to pre-bake your pie crust if needed. You can wrap them in plastic and freeze, then use directly from the freezer with your pie fillings.

If you work a bit this weekend, assembling everything on Wednesday night, then you will have more time to visit and cook at your leisure on Thanksgiving Day. Whatever you do, don’t forget to find ways your guest can assist you. This way you’re not alone in the kitchen and you won’t be the only one participating.

My suggestions: Don’t worry about appetizers, you want everyone to have an appetite for your meal. Do you really want them to fill up on dips and chips or nuts and then only eat a few bites of the turkey? Set up the drinks as self-serve, away from the kitchen. Dress your table Wednesday night at the latest. Set out your serving dishes and utensils in advance so you’re not searching for them at the last-minute. I always make a timeline of what goes into the oven or crockpot at what time. This ensures I don’t miss something and everything comes together at the same time. Utilize your microwave to bring dishes to room temperature or get a jump-start on the cooking process in the oven. Remember it’s just a meal with family and friends, not the end of the world.

 
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Posted by on November 17, 2012 in Thanksgiving, Tips

 

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Freezing Summer Treasures

Well today is the last day of Summer. So did you all get the delights of summer put up so you can enjoy their fabulous flavors in the dead of Winter? I DID.

There’s nothing better than to have snow on the ground and the smell of a fresh summer peach pie in the oven. Or how about the surprised faces of your Thanksgiving guests when the corn you serve them is Fresh Summer Sweet Corn? Would a hot bowl of  homemade tomato-basil soup, made with summer vine ripened tomatoes and garden fresh basil hit the spot after shoveling the walks clear of snow?

Our freezer is full to the brim with Indiana Sweet Corn, Vine Ripened Tomatoes from our garden, diced Yellow and Purple Onions from our Amish friend’s garden. Fresh Summer Peaches, Summer Yellow Squash, Zucchini and Peppers from a local farmer. I don’t want to forget all the fresh basil given to me from a generous neighbor.

So all I can say is, Hello to the Fall Season and bring it on Winter my taste buds are covered.

Freezing Suggestions: Indiana Sweet Corn: Mark removed the husk from the ears of corn, blanched the corn cobs for 3 minutes, then into an ice bath they go until they are cool to the touch. Then he shucked all the corn from the cob, placed in quart size freezer zip lock baggies, squeezed out as much air as possible, sealed and into the freezer. Vine Ripened Tomatoes: I washed the tomatoes well, quartered them, into gallon size freezer bags and into the freezer.(As they defrosted the skin will peel right off) Diced Onions: Mark trimmed and diced, into quart size freezer bags and into the freezer. Fresh Peaches: I peeled them using a vegetable peeler, removed the seed, sliced, into gallon size freezer bags and into the freezer. Summer Squash & Zucchini: I peeled, cubed them and stored in quart size freezer bags. Peppers: I washed them thoroughly, removed the stem and inside membrane, chopped, froze in quart size freezer bags. Fresh Basil: I removed each leaf from the stem, gave them a good washing by floating them in a sink full of cold water. Placed on paper towels to dry, placed in snack sized zip lock baggies then those baggies were put in a gallon size freezer bag and into the freezer they go.

 
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Posted by on September 21, 2012 in Tips

 

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Can you remember the apron? Do your children know of the kitchen apron?

This little diddy was found on a table card in one of my favorite restaurants here in Evansville Indiana. The St. Joe Tavern is known for its fried chicken, where you are bound to find a wait to get a table in this 50 person joint.

The apron was good for many, many purposes.

I don’t think our kids know what an apron is. The principal use of Great Grandma’s apron was to protect the dress underneath. Because she only had a few, it was easier to wash aprons than dresses and they used less material, but along with that, it served as a potholder for removing hot pans from the oven.

It was wonderful for drying children’s tears, and on occasion was even used for cleaning out dirty ears. From the chicken coops, the apron was used for carrying eggs, fussy chicks, and sometimes half-hatched eggs to be finished in the warming oven.

When company came, those aprons were an ideal hiding place for shy kids. and when the weather was cold, Grandma wrapped it around her arms.

Those big old aprons wiped many a perspiring brow, bent over the hot wood stove.

Chips and kindling wood were brought into the kitchen in that apron.

From the garden, it carried all sorts of vegetables. After the peas had been shelled, it carried out the hulls.

In the fall, the apron was used to bring in apples that had fallen from the trees.

When unexpected company drove up the road, it was surprising how much furniture that old apron could dust is a matter of seconds.

When dinner was ready, Grandma walked out onto the porch, waved her apron, and the men knew it was time to come in from the fields to dinner.

It will be a long time before someone invents something that will replace that ‘old-time apron that served so many purposes.

REMEMBER: My generation’s Great-Grandmas used to set their hot baked apple pies on the window sill to cool. Grandma had air condition and was able to let her pies cool inside. My mother’s generation was busy working outside of the home to bake a homemade apple pie, my generation of women generally use ready-made pie crust and our daughters and great grand-daughters set theirs on the counter to thaw.  This generation would go crazy trying to figure out how many germs were on my Great Grandma and Grandma’s apron.

 
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Posted by on June 23, 2012 in Places to eat, Tips, Uncategorized

 

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Early Spring is upon me….

Here in Southwest Indiana Early Spring came about a month early and now is fully upon us. It’s just a beautiful way to be ushered into the warmer weather with all of these delicate flowers. Sadly it will also be coming to an end to open the window to full Spring and all of the blooms it too has to offer. I have yet to get my herb garden under way, but it’s now #2 on my project list, still working on #1 sprucing up my hostas and flower gardens to help them along this Spring transition. I hope everyone has had a wonderful and productive week and have plans to enjoy good company and tasty food this weekend. Here are more of those Food Terms from our beloved Betty Crocker, I just love these things.

cafe au lait – Coffee served with hot milk.

canape – A tiny piece of fried or toasted bread topped with cheese, meat or sea food.

caramelize – To melt granulated sugar over medium heat to a golden brown syrup.

chantilly – A dish in which whipped cream is one of the ingredients. Name derived from that of a castle north of Paris.  (Very Cool!)

charlotte – A gelatin dessert containing flavored whipped cream, molded in a form lined with sponge cake strips or ladyfingers.

chill – To allow to become thoroughly cold.

chop – To cut in fine or coarse pieces with sharp knife or chopper.

chowder – Thick soup made of fish and/or vegetables, cooked in milk. (Yummy!)

chutney – A spicy, somewhat sweet relish, made from several fruits and vegetables. Originally from India and served mainly with curry. (I can’t wait until summer so I can make and post my chutney, but I think it originated in the deep south, not India.)

coddle – To simmer gently in liquid for a short time.

cracklings – The crisp residue of fat after the lard has been cooked out of it. (Love it, but still don’t understand it, and still want to learn how to make and cook with it.)

cut in – To incorporate fat into a flour mixture using a pastry blender, a fork, or two knives.

Have a great weekend everyone, I’ll be back on Monday posting more of my recipes from my kitchen.

 
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Posted by on March 31, 2012 in Tips

 

Random Cooking Tips

Everyone that fly fishes will recognize the gentleman in the photo with me. But for those of you that have no idea who he is, let me introduce you to Lefty Kreh, one of the most famous and sweetest Fly Fishermen of all. I was honored to meet him at Trout Fest in Townsend Tennessee a couple of years ago.

Now here are some tips I found on the Food Network. Just love all the odds and ends you can learn from that channel. You will find that channel on the entire time I am doing my Thanksgiving Dinner prep. I’m not watching it, just listening to them, it’s so inspiring. I am always reminded that anyone can cook like them, even me and you.

Butterflying poultry lets it cook through quickly and evenly. To butterfly a chicken or turkey: put the bird breast side down on your cutting board. With a heavy chef’s knife or kitchen shears, cut out the backbone, then flip the bird over and press down with your hands to flatten. (Or do as I do and buy it already butterflied or ask the butcher to do this for you.)

Chili too spicy? Dilute it with water; or simmer a whole, peeled potato in it; or serve it with a nice tall glass of milk and hope for the best. Remember that it’s always easier to add heat than take it away, so start slow till you know what works for you. I’ve tried the potato trick when I over salted soup before, it worked great. Then I just froze the potatoes that had absorbed all that salt, believe me it was salty so I had quite a few potatoes used. I froze the potatoes and used them later for mashed potatoes. It worked great for both.

Check the seasoning – When you’re making hamburgers, meatballs, or homemade sausage check the seasoning by pan-frying a small patty of the meat. I have used this tip a lot while trying to document my recipes for this blog. Before I would just eyeball everything, most of the time they were great, but a few times the taste wasn’t what I planned for.

Give them time to mellow – When you’re making dip or salsa, give them time to mellow. Most dip and salsa taste much better after being given a change to mellow out in the fridge for a few hours. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the dip and let it sit for a while in the fridge before serving. If you don’t place the plastic wrap directly on the surface condensation will form, that may not hurt your dip or salsa, but it can’t help either.

Searing or Grilling Meat – When searing or grilling meat, don’t move it. If you have to pry it from the pan or grill grate, it’s not ready yet. Once it develops a nice crust, it will release from the pan on its own. I have to admit this lesson was a hard one for me to learn. But once I gave in all searing and grilling in our house has been successful. I have also found this lesson has help me fry the perfect fried egg for breakfast.


Well that’s it for me today, hope everyone has a wonderful weekend. I know we will. After the last couple of days and all of the tornadoes it will be so nice to putter around the house doing chores and not have the fear of a terrible storm on my mind. Please keep all those people who weren’t as lucky as us during those storms in your thoughts as you enjoy your weekend. See everyone on Monday. Enjoy your eats this weekend.

 
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Posted by on March 3, 2012 in Tips

 

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