Saturday, December 31, 2016

Top Ten Posts of 2016

It's time for my year-end wrap-up featuring the 10 most popular posts of 2016. It's an agreeable assortment I think, nicely varied, and it tells me a couple of things. First of all, that you like tablescape blog posts, second, that you like slow cooker recipes. I'm going to be working on more of both of those for 2017. I was pleased to see that Jim's Steak Diane recipe came in at number three. He would have been delighted with this.

Thanks to all of you who visit my blog, I really appreciate having you here. To see the blog post and recipe associated with each of these pictures, click on the title below the photo and it will take you directly to the post. Happy viewing, and have a wonderful New Year.

Slow Cooker Pumpkin Bread Pudding

Cherry Delight

Jim's Steak Diane

Da Vinci Pasta

Cozy Winter Table

Set a Table with a Simple Centerpiece

Cream of Tomato Soup with Pumpkin

Blueberry Croissant Puff

Blue & Yellow Easter Tablescape

Friday, December 30, 2016

Butter Pecan Cinnamon Rolls

These are the cinnamon rolls of your dreams. Not only do they have a wonderful texture, the flavor of cinnamon is throughout, the caramel sticky bun coating is phenomenal, they can be made in the bread machine, and 1-2 days ahead of serving. I offered these on the 27th, but didn't get a chance to eat one until two days hence, and it was still amazing!
I wish I would have been able to take more pictures of these addicting and delicious rolls, but, when setting up a buffet for a bunch of hungry diners, it's hardly appropriate to grab an item off of the buffet, and carry into the next room, for staging and photographing. No, that just won't work.

This picture is the one that I took of the rolls as I pulled them out of the oven, inverted them, and was allowing them to cool.

This was a totally experimental thing for me. I wanted to have caramel rolls on my buffet, because that was something my mother would make very often at Christmas time. I also wanted to make it easy on myself by making a recipe in the bread machine. So, using a variety of different recipes from over the years, I created this one. One thing that I did differently, and this was totally on a whim, was to throw in 1/2 cup of cinnamon chips along with the flour. My thoughts were that they were going to be chopped up by the little blade and dispersed throughout the dough like delicious little cinnamon speckles. What turned out was that they were completely absorbed by the dough, and melted throughout. It gave these rolls a beautiful caramel color, and light cinnamon taste. I've never had a roll like this before, and I will never make it another way again. These were caramel roll perfection.

Here's the recipe. If you don't have a bread machine, that's no problem. Just make the dough as you would make any yeast dough, allow the dough to rise in a warm area until it's doubled in size, then simply punch it down and turn it out onto a floured board, and shape them and fill them as you would any cinnamon roll. Another thing I really liked about these rolls is that the topping is made in the pan before you put the rolls into the oven. So, when the rolls are finished baking, your job is done. You don't have to make a glaze, you don't have to make a cream cheese frosting, you are finished!

I'm telling you, these are absolute perfection!
Butter Pecan Cinnamon Rolls

1/4 cup lukewarm water
1 cup whole milk, slightly warm
1/4 cup shortening (I used Crisco)
1 large egg, beaten
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cinnamon chips
2 1/2 teaspoons bread machine yeast

Place ingredients in bread machine in the order listed. Set to the dough cycle, and press start.

When the dough cycle has completed remove dough to a lightly floured cutting board, punch down, and roll into a 24" x 8" rectangle.


Spread 4 tablespoons melted and slightly cooled butter over the surface of the dough.

Combine 1/2 cups sugar and 2 teaspoons of cinnamon, and sprinkle on top of the butter. Tightly roll up in jelly roll fashion and seal the ends. Cut into 16 1-1/2 inch slices.


In the bottom of a 10" x 10" metal pan, stir together 1 cup of brown sugar, 1/2 cup butter, and 2 tablespoons light corn syrup. Place pan on a stove burner over very low heat, and stir frequently until well blended. Remove from heat, and sprinkle 2/3 cups of broken pecans over your sugar mixture, spreading gently to fill pan.

After the topping has cooled, place the rolls cut side down in the pan. Cover lightly and let rise in a warm place until doubled. This will take anywhere between 30 minutes to an hour depending upon the warmth of your house. When they have risen to double in size, preheat oven to 375°. Bake the rolls for 25 minutes or until done. Remove from oven to a wire rack and cool for 2 to 4 minutes to allow the topping to settle onto the rolls. Invert the rolls onto a rack that has parchment paper or wax paper beneath it to catch the drips, and slowly remove the pan. This recipe makes approximately 16 rolls.

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Thursday, December 29, 2016

Boxing Day Brunch

While most people tend to celebrate the holidays on either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, for the past 10 years I've been celebrating Boxing Day on December 26th. 
There are many reasons for doing so, the biggest one, I suppose, is that it's very convenient to get everyone together on the day after Christmas, rather than try to work around so many families and schedules in order to have a gathering on the 24th or 25th. The Boxing Day celebration has become a tradition in my house, everyone is happy to be beyond the stress of the holidays, they've gotten their gifts, they've relaxed, and now they can get together for conviviality and a great meal.
 I've been mixing things up a lot this year, doing things differently, in order to make new traditions in what will be Chapter 3 of my life. In the past I've always had a Boxing Day dinner. This year I decided to have a Boxing Day brunch. Prior to her passing, my mother had always been the queen of the Christmas brunch. She served brunch on Christmas morning every year of my life. When she passed away, it left a tremendous void. I wasn't sure that I'd be able to fill her shoes, but have been told by all of the attendees, that I did it in spades. The tree candle holders here are very special. My dad made them, and my mother painted them. She used them for years, and now I am honored to have them as my own.
I tried to pay homage to both my mother and husband, by serving some of their dishes. I honored Jim, who hailed from New Jersey, with a New Jersey Coffee Cake; I served my mother's Raspberry Cream Cheese Coffee Cake as well. The other recipes were all new. A lot of people, I'm told, would in no way feel comfortable serving a meal of all new recipes to a crowd, but I'm fearless, so I dove right in.
I knew it was a success when the children in the group went back for seconds on green beans. Have you ever heard of children getting seconds on the vegetable? Huge success! I also developed a new potato casserole that got thumbs up all around, based on the ubiquitous party potatoes, but so much better. 
This post is to give you a look at the two tables that I set for the brunch; in the upcoming week, I'll be providing you with the recipes.
Stay tuned, follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or sign up to get email notifications of my blog. You are not going to want to miss any of these delicious recipes.
Happy New Year!

(As a side note, I'd like to mention that the little rocking chair by the tree was my dad's when he was a little boy. He used it, I used it, and now my granddaughter gets to use it. The Santa pillow is one that I stitched, and my mother sewed together. Lots of family memories here.)

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Saturday, December 24, 2016

Slow Cooker Loaded Chicken Bacon Potato Soup

In case you all haven't noticed, I've started a new trend (my own personal trend, but I hope it catches on), in my weekly "Sip Some Soup Sunday." Every Sunday I post a new recipe for a seasonal soup. Because tomorrow is Christmas Day, I decided to post a soup recipe one day early. This is yet another one of those recipes that I was curious enough to try, but surprised at how good it was. You're probably asking yourself why I would bother to try a recipe that I didn't think was going to be particularly good. The answer to that is simple: ease!

Now don't get me wrong, this soup sounded really good to me, but it didn't sound nearly as good as it turned out to be. Yet again, this is a soup that only gets better in the fridge, so it can be made 1 to 2 days ahead of time, and still be thoroughly enjoyed. It's a chilly night, and, having had a lovely Christmas Eve lunch with my dad and number two son, I'm all snuggled in for the evening with a fire in the fireplace, cocoa in my cup, and Christmas movies on the TV. Happy Christmas Eve to all of you whatever you're doing.
Slow Cooker Loaded Chicken Bacon Potato Soup
Adapted from The Magical Slow Cooker

1- 1.5 lbs. boneless chicken breasts or thighs
½ of a 3-lb. package Melissa’s Baby Ruby Gold Potatoes
scrubbed and halved
1 cup diced white onion
6 slices cooked bacon, rough chopped
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
12 ounces cream cheese

Place the chicken, potatoes, onion, bacon, salt, pepper, garlic, and stock into the slow cooker. Cover and cook on LOW for 8 hours. Remove the chicken to a plate, and dice or shred; set aside. 

Add a few ladles of the broth and potatoes to a blender or food processor (or just pull out some of the solids, and use an immersion blender directly in the slow cooker); add the cream cheese, and blend all until smooth. Return this mixture to the slow cooker with the rest of the soup, add the chicken and stir. 

Garnish with sour cream, shredded cheese, additional bacon, sliced green onion, avocado chunks, salsa, or cilantro.
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Friday, December 23, 2016

Chocolate Shortbread

If I've said it once I've said it at least a dozen times, I am not a baker. I do it, but I don't particularly like it. That said, I do have the most wonderful recipe for chocolate shortbread cookies. It wouldn't be the holiday season without a warming cup of tea (Hot Cinnamon Spice by Harney & Sons is my new favorite), and a delicious cookie to sink my teeth into.
I didn't get a chance to make cookies around Halloween, so figured why not use my new owl cookie-cutter and make chocolate shortbread cookies to go with my mug of tea? My own personal Happy "Owl-idays." :-)
What I like about this dough is that it is easy to make, tastes delicious, and rolls out like a dream. In addition to making the cutout cookies with the owl cookie cutter, I also decided to give my late husband's springerle rolling pin a try, and much to my surprise, it worked! I couldn't believe how well this worked out, and how quick it was to make lots of cookies.
Chocolate Shortbread

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1-2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup Hershey's Special Dark Cocoa
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350°F.

  Combine butter, powdered sugar, and vanilla in bowl. Beat at medium speed, scraping bowl often, until creamy. Add flour, cocoa, and cinnamon; beat at low speed until well mixed.

Roll out dough on lightly floured surface, one-half at a time (keeping remaining dough refrigerated), to 1/4-inch thickness. Cut with the cookie cutters of your choice. Place 1 inch apart onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake 8-10 minutes or until set. Cool 1 minute on cookie sheet. Remove to a wire rack to ool completely.
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Thursday, December 22, 2016

A Coastal Christmas

This holiday season has been an unusual one for me. As anyone who has experienced the loss of someone close knows, the first of every holiday following this loss is a difficult one. In some ways, it's better, because the stress and burden of care has been lifted. In other ways, it's painfully sad, and I struggle for a new normal. I am treating myself well this year, indulging myself more than I probably should, but I have been finding much enjoyment in the peace and quiet and new traditions that I am beginning for myself.
One of my coping mechanisms is to do everything different this year than I have in the past. I live differently now than I used to, so decorating has changed to fit my new lifestyle. One thing that I am particularly enjoying this year is my coastal Christmas tree in the bedroom. Years ago when my boys were young, I used to put up a Christmas tree in every room of the house. At that time we had a nine-room house, so yes, that meant nine Christmas trees, 10 if you count the small one in the powder room. This year I have but two, but am planning next year's Christmas tree for my English hunt theme office. I already have a very large collection of English hunt ornaments, and these ornaments deserve their own tree.
 But this year I'm relaxing and enjoying the sparkly coastal tree in the bedroom, set on a timer so that I can fall asleep with the lights on, and enjoy the beginning of what will become a new tradition.
 With few exceptions, all of the ornaments on the tree come from Pier 1 (I told you I indulged myself.). I found that the tree was lacking in a few areas, so I grabbed the two bathing beauties that you first saw in this table setting, and put them onto the tree. I think they look perfect here, and give the tree a bit of whimsy.
 I love the soft colors, they go very well with the bedroom,  I'm getting quite a kick out of the Adirondack chair ornaments with the wreaths, and am enjoying the little bottle ornaments with the beach glass inside.
 The burlap poinsettias are from purchases that I made last year, the starfish interspersed around the tree have been in my beach collection for many years, beginning back from my college days when I spent the summer in Florida taking a geology class.
 I hope you are enjoying the season as much as I find myself enjoying it. Take time for yourself, relax, and enjoy, the New Year will be here before you know it.
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Wednesday, December 21, 2016

"Hatched" Eggs

We are into the holiday countdown, and I don't know about you, but I have entered panic mode. My big party is the day after Christmas on Boxing Day, so I have one more day to prepare than you do, but that doesn't mean that I'm any less frantic than you are. Sometimes the simple things can save the day, which is why I'm going to share this simple and delicious recipe for hatch salsa-infused deviled eggs. Aren't you loving the cuteness?!

If you're looking for a quick addition to your Christmas buffet, these "Hatched" Eggs are it. They are a cinch to put together, adorably seasonal, and will be inhaled by your guests. While the garnish may look a bit complicated, it's made easy through the use of a simple drinking straw and a few leaves of parsley. They're cute, delicious, and always get a lot of positive comments from appreciative diners.
"Hatched" Eggs

Six hard cooked large eggs
2 tablespoons
Melissa’s Hatch Chile Salsa
2 tablespoons juice mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Grey Poupon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste

Melissa's Fire Roasted Sweet Red Bell Peppers
Fresh parsley

After eggs have cooled, slice in half, remove the yolks and set the white part aside. In a mini blender or food processor, place the yolks along with the salsa, mayo, mustard, salt and pepper to taste. Blend thoroughly. Spoon mixture into egg whites, or pipe it into the eggs with a pastry bag. Use a drinking straw to cut small rounds out of the roasted red peppers. To garnish, top with roasted red pepper "holly berries" and a leaf or two of parsley.
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Sunday, December 18, 2016

Slow Cooker Beef Stroganoff Soup

I don't know what it's like where you are, but here in the Mississippi Valley it is cold. When I woke up this morning it was 2°, the windows were frosty, and there was nothing I wanted more than to have a nice pot of soup simmering away in the Crockpot. I grabbed my recipe for beef stroganoff, deciding to adapt it for slow cooking so that it could cook all day long while I began frantically to clean, wrap gifts, finish writing cards, and otherwise involve myself in anxiety-inducing holiday preparations.

This is a stick-to-your-ribs, hardy, one-dish-meal bowl of soup. It works very well in the slow cooker, but can also be made on top of the stove, simmering until the beef is tender. It only gets better with age, so if you're looking for a make-ahead meal, this could be it. Make it either on the stove top or in the slow cooker, and then put it in an airtight container in the refrigerator where it will keep for 2 to 3 days easily, so you'll have it on hand whenever you need it. With all of the last-minute hustle and bustle, there's nothing I like better than having something in the fridge that can be warmed, enjoyed, and is oh, so satisfying.
  Slow Cooker Beef Stroganoff Soup

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1-pound beef sirloin, trimmed, sliced diagonally into strips
1 teaspoon Montreal Steak Seasoning
8 ounces sliced crimini mushrooms
1 8-oz. pkg. Melissa's White Pearl Onions, blanched and peeled
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
5 cups beef stock
2 handfuls dried wide egg noodles
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1/2 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Dried dill
In a 10” skillet, melt butter over medium-high heat. Place meat in a bowl, toss with steak seasoning until well coated. Empty bowl into skillet and stir fry until browned. Place meat in the bottom of your slow cooker. Top meat with mushrooms, onions, and garlic. Stir together tomato paste, Worcestershire, and beef stock. Pour over beef and vegetables. Cook on low for 5-6 hours. During the last half hour, add the noodles and parsley. In a small bowl whisk together the sour cream and flour. Whisk in 1 cup of the hot soup; pour mixture back into the pot. Cook for 10-15 minutes more.
Serve in pasta bowls and sprinkle with dill.

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Saturday, December 17, 2016

Dining in the Northwoods

If you've been paying any attention, you probably noticed that I am very much into “serene green” when it comes to table settings. Both my Halloween and Thanksgiving tables were in calming tones of neutrals and greens.
My interest in these colors, and the feelings they evoke, have continued into December.
I am absolutely in love with the Northwoods look, and the associated colors, and I'm getting on board with the whole antlers thing that seems to be very popular these days. This table is the result of all of my new likes and interests.

I absolutely love this table because it works not only for the entire month of December and Christmas, but will also carry me through until spring. I love the image of greenery and pine cones, and had a great time gathering things to create this table.

Now I did treat myself to a number of new things this year, including the darling pine cone salt-and-pepper shakers, and this wonderful set of pine cone flatware from Cabelas.

Old favorites also made the cut. The Moose Lodge cookie jar centerpiece and wooden pine trees belonged to my mother, and I think of her every time I use them. My fellow diners also seem to get a kick out of this cookie jar, because every side seems to offer up something interesting and different to look at.
I paired this with some of my old favorite reindeer candle holders that I got from Pier One quite a few years ago and love to this day.

I’ve also used a new Pottery Barn addition this year in the form of antler napkin rings. Aren't these the cutest? Pottery Barn was again my source for the “Fa-la-la” napkins for this table. If I decide to add a bit of color, I also have a set of red napkins with white polka dots that look equally nice. They'll be making an appearance on my Boxing Day table this year.
The Villeroy & Boch glassware is a summer acquisition that works well here; mugs are from Williams-Sonoma.

I decided to use my Christmas tree treat jar in a different way this year, filling it with spearmint green leaves and using it as a table decoration. It really helps get the little ones to eat their dinner, when they see what awaits them for dessert. It's also fun for the adults as well, who seem to enjoy the spearmint leaves as much as the kids do.
The plates with the pine cones and greenery are from Pottery Barn last year.

The salad plates with the raised pine cone image are from Amazon this year. I really love these because they go with pretty much everything.

I'll be doing variations on this theme throughout the month of December as I host different people for coffee, breakfast, lunch, and afternoon tea.Stay tuned to see how this table evolves.

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