Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Top Ten Posts of 2020

 It's time for my year-end wrap-up featuring the 10 most popular posts of 2020. It's a tasty assortment I think, nicely varied, and it tells me a couple of things. First of all, that you really loved my Easy Homemade Strawberry Ice Cream; that won by a landslide. Second, that despite my having relatively few of them, you really do enjoy my tablescapes. I promise to do better this year!

 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 (shown in descending order of popularity), click on the title below the photo and it will take you directly to the post.

 Happy viewing, and have a wonderful New Year! Here’s hoping, right?!

 Easy Homemade Strawberry Ice Cream


 Air Fryer Breaded Mushrooms


 Pony Pie


 Maraschino Cherry Chocolate Chip Shortbread


 Favazza’s Sicilian Chicken


 Shockingly Easy No-Knead Focaccia


 Valerie Bertinelli’s Lemon Ice Box Cake


 Crack Chicken Noodle Soup


Ziti with Pistachio Cream Sauce


 “Hunting” for Dinner Tablescape


 Chocolate Cream Cheese Pound Cake


 Breakfast Charcuterie: Baked Eggs for One








Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Cheesy Brussels Sprouts Noodle Soup

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 As a consequence of my parents’ insistence that I eat my vegetables, I grew up liking pretty much all of them. Brussels sprouts were one of my favorites then, and continue to be one of my favorites now. Because I like them as much as I do, I tend to accumulate more than I actually need. Such was the case this month, so I decided to do something different with them and was very pleased with the results.

This Cheesy Brussels Sprouts Noodle Soup Is an excellent way to make use of sprouts, in fact you may just want to buy more than you need in order to make the soup. It does double duty as a starter, in which case you would want to use fine egg noodles, and as a main dish, in which case you would want to use medium egg noodles. As a main dish it is hearty and satisfying, and wonderful with a crusty roll.

 Cheesy Brussels Sprouts Noodle Soup

2 T. oil
1 3-oz. pkg.

Melissa’s shallots, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
6 c. chicken stock
8 oz. egg noodles (about 4 cups)*
1 t. salt
1 lb.
Melissa’s Brussels sprouts, cleaned, quartered, and roasted**
¼ t.
garlic powder
6 c. whole milk (Do NOT substitute!)
1½ lbs.
Velveeta***, cut into cubes
Few gratings freshly ground black pepper

Few gratings whole nutmeg

In a medium stockpot melt butter. Add shallots and sauté over medium heat for 3 minutes. Stir in garlic and continue cooking 30 seconds. Add chicken stock and heat to boiling, stirring occasionally. Gradually add egg noodles and salt so the stock mixture continues to boil. Cook, uncovered, for three minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in roasted sprouts and garlic powder. Cook four minutes more. Add milk, cheese, and pepper, and continue cooking until cheese melts, stirring constantly.

 Serve hot with a crusty roll.

* If serving in a cup as a starter or accompaniment to sandwich or salad, use fine egg noodles; to make heartier as a main dish, as I did here, use medium egg noodles.

** Any cruciferous vegetable works here, so you can certainly substitute broccoli or cauliflower for the Brussels sprouts.

** If Velveeta appalls you, you can use an equal amount of grated cheddar. It won’t be as good, but I don’t want you to be appalled.




Monday, December 28, 2020

The Ultimate Lobster Mac & Cheese

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Because this has been such a weird year I decided to get a little fancy for one of the two holiday dinners that I was serving. I try very hard to accommodate everyone’s schedule, so we celebrated “Festivus” on the 23rd. There were just three of us, but we had a lovely time, and the food was delicious. I had baked a ham, made Cheese Peta, and a casserole of Lobster Mac & Cheese. Trust me when I tell you that this is the most money and time that I have ever spent on a casserole, but it was well worth it. It took a good bit of honing to get everything just right, so please do not skimp on ingredients or alter any of them, and please use the cavatappi. My daughter-in-law (whose grandmother is Sicilian) and I agree that it is an underutilized pasta, and we aim to change that. If you’re looking to celebrate a special event, or just treat you and your sweetie, give this a try. It can be baked up in a casserole or spooned into individual ramekins. It also freezes beautifully; when you want to bake it up, put it into the oven cold and bake for 45-55 minutes until hot and bubbly. Delish!

  The Ultimate Lobster Mac & Cheese

8 c. water
2 8-oz. lobster tails in the shell
8 oz.
3 T. butter
3 T. flour
2 c. whole milk
1 ½ c. heavy whipping cream
1 T
. lobster base

6 oz. Gruyere cheese, grated

6 oz. white cheddar, grated
1 - 2 t. salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Few gratings
whole nutmeg
3-4 T. dry sherry


1 c.
Panko breadcrumbs
2 strips bacon fried and finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
½ c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 T. butter, melted

Preheat oven to 375° F.

Combine topping ingredients in a medium mixing bowl; set aside.

Bring water to a boil in a
medium stockpot, add lobster, and boil 5-6 minutes until the shell is pink and the meat is cooked through. Remove lobster with tongs; reserve water. Return lobster water to a boil and cook pasta until al dente, 6 to 8 minutes; drain.

Combine milk and heavy cream in a
medium saucepan. Heat until simmering, but not boiling. Whisk in lobster base.

In the same pot that you used to cook the lobster and pasta, melt butter and then whisk in flour. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, whisking constantly. Continue to whisk as you add the hot milk/cream mixture and cook for a minute or two more until thickened.

Remove from heat and add the cheeses, 1 teaspoon of salt, pepper, a few gratings of nutmeg, if desired, and sherry. Add cooked cavatappi and lobster meat, and stir well. Place the mixture into a 2-quart casserole dish and scatter topping to cover. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until the sauce is bubbly and the topping is browned.



Friday, December 25, 2020

Christmas Dining 2020

Merry “Social distancing” Christmas! Here is my table for this year. If you think it doesn’t look particularly like a social distancing table, let me explain that there will be only two of us dining, one on either end. All of that empty space just bothered me, so I decided to set places for people who weren’t there. If it sounds crazy to you, it probably is, what about this year hasn’t been?

The plaid tablecloth is from Williams-Sonoma; the vine and greenery placemats, from Pier One.

On top of the placemats are Portugal majolica geranium leaf chargers topped with red Waechtersbach plates. The plaid salad plates are also from Williams-Sonoma. They are topped with red truck and tree appetizer plates from Pottery Barn. The polka dot napkins are also from Pottery Barn, the flatware from Cabela’s.

In keeping with the red truck and tree theme, place card holders are from Pier One, the centerpiece, a red truck with a rather tipsy looking Santa is something I’ve had for quite a while.

The red cups and saucers are Waechtersbach in their “Christmas Tree” pattern.

The green glassware is Villeroy & Bach, we each have been supplied with our own bottle of Perrier water.

You’ll also notice, in keeping with the theme, I have an adorable red truck and tree set of salt and pepper shakers.

Dinner will be my Slow Cooker Roast Beef with Red-Eye Gravy, along with mashed potatoes, green bean casserole a simple salad, and freshly baked croissants. For dessert, I ordered a peppermint pie from Oberweis that I will drizzle with my Mocha Fudge Sauce.

Dinner is simple, but will be delicious and comforting. After all we’ve been through this year, comfort is something we desperately need.

 No matter what you are doing for Christmas, I hope it is enjoyable for you, your friends, and family, and that you’re all staying safe.






Thursday, December 24, 2020

Festive Chocolate Pecan Slices

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People often ask me where I get inspiration for my recipes. Sometimes it comes out of the blue, sometimes it’s more obvious, like it was a couple of days ago when a large bottle of sprinkles fell out of the pantry and hit me in the face. I don’t know about you, but I don’t much care for being hit in the face by a container of anything, so I made it my business to make use of those sprinkles.


The result turned out to be delicious. These cookies are a combination of a number of recipes that I’ve made in the past, and they are winners! They would have been much more seasonal had I used Christmas sprinkles, but I didn’t happen to be hit in the face with them (read: didn’t those on hand). Use whatever kind you like or have handy; adjust seasonally so that you can make them year round. This is an easy recipe, you can hold them over in the fridge for a day or two if you’re pressed for time, and they slice like a dream.

Festive Chocolate Pecan Slices

1 stick (1/2 c.) butter, softened
1 c. dark brown sugar
1 large egg
1 t. vanilla extract
½ t.
almond extract
1 ½ c. flour

⅓ c. Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa Powder
¼ t. espresso powder
½ t. baking soda
1 c. finely chopped pecans*
1 c. sprinkles

In the work bowl of your stand mixer, beat together butter and sugar until fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Beat in egg, vanilla, and almond extracts.

In a medium mixing bowl combine flour, cocoa powder, espresso powder, baking soda, and pecans. Add to sugar/butter mixture, beating until it forms of stiff dough.

Spread sprinkles onto a work surface. Separate dough into thirds and shape each into a 2-inch diameter log. Roll each log in sprinkles, coating well. Wrap logs in plastic wrap; refrigerate at least one hour, or up to overnight, until firm.

Preheat oven to 350° F. Cut logs into 1/4-inch thick slices and place on ungreased baking sheets about 1 1/2 inches apart. Bake 13 to 15 minutes or until firm and lightly browned. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

 *I used my mini Ninja chopper.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

The Holiday Hutch

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My mother was a great lover of Christmas. Every Christmas morning for my entire life, she treated the family to a most excellent Christmas brunch. Christmas has never been the same since she passed away. As a consequence, these past years it has taken me longer than usual to get into the holiday decorating mood. I still haven’t fully embraced it, but, giving myself a break this year and allowing myself to decorate half as much as I usually do, has made the task less daunting. I decided to limit myself to fewer rooms than normal, focusing on the kitchen and dining areas where I tend to spend the most time. My goal was to use things that I had not used in the past.

The plates, mounted on stands, were a new purchase last year.

 The green lantern has a red mate that I am currently using to decorate my two-tier tray. Both of these belonged to my mother.

Similarly, the stack of Santa luncheon plates, a long time family favorite, belonged to her as well. They sit on top of black square dinner plates by Rachael Ray, which sit on top of Portugal majolica leaf chargers.

The two sets of salt and pepper shakers are vintage, and from her collection. My aunt (her younger sister), tells me that she gave her the Mr. and Mrs. Snowman salt and pepper shakers many years ago for Christmas. Mother has always been a fan of Christmas, and buying her lovely holiday tableware for gifts was always welcome.


The teapot and cups and saucers are Waechtersbach in their “Christmas tree” pattern. Two other cups are on my two-tier tray. I love the set. It is so cheery, and always gets a lot of admiring comments from family and friends. That warmer really works. Is there anything better than a cup of hot tea and a freshly baked cookie on a cold afternoon?

My tree is finally up, a small one (my mother’s, are you detecting a theme here?), The gifts are wrapped, and the cards are mailed. Now it’s time to bake cookies and work on two Christmas dinners that I will be serving this year to very few people.

I hope you have some lovely and heartwarming plans in place as well. It’s going to be a weird one, but let’s be thankful they we're all here to celebrate.


Monday, December 21, 2020

My 2020 Christmas Card


In addition to this blog, I also have an  Etsy shop where I sell mystery and literary jewelry. Someone asked me once what made me decide to make mystery jewelry. My answer was simple, because no one else did. I have been an avid mystery fan for as long as I can remember, and was always keenly interested in wearing jewelry that reflected this lifelong interest. Unfortunately, there was none to be found. That’s when I bought a book, some tools, beads and charms, and set out to make myself a bracelet. The rest is history.

It is for the same reason that I started designing my own Christmas cards. Christmas is a special time of the year. A time for us to reflect on what we have, and what we may have lost during the past year. I have shared a number of those cards with you here and here.

This year’s card is one that I have been formulating for some time. I have been a Sherlock Holmes fan for decades and, as such, it has long been an interest of mine to create my own unique Sherlock Holmes card. I came up with the text first, and then the graphic. 

Unfortunately, Shutterfly enlarged the picture making it too big for the cover of the card. Because I procrastinated (as I am wont to do) there was no time for a do over. Here, for your amusement, is my 2020 holiday card. The fact that it didn’t turn out the way that I wanted it to pretty much sums up the entire year, doesn’t it?


Merry Christmas to you and yours. Now on to 2021!




Friday, December 18, 2020

Madame Quiche’s Quiche au Fromage

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I believe that there is beauty in simplicity, or at least that’s what I used to tell my parents when I would get a less than stellar mark on my report card. Nonetheless, it is often true, and you will find no better example of that than in this simple and delicious quiche, a close representation of the ones sold by Madame Quiche every Saturday at the Louviers market in France. Her quiches are so delicious that many have tried to copy them. This recipe, from a 1999 issue of Gourmet magazine, is the one that I use. If you want to make it even simpler, use store-bought piecrust, roll it to fit a 10-inch pie pan, and blind bake it as described below. Once you’ve tried this one, you will kick all others to the curb.

Madame Quiche's Quiche au Fromage
One recipe for basic pastry*

6 large eggs

2/3 c. heavy cream

1 c. whole milk (WHOLE! Absolutely nothing else will do, I mean it!)

Pinch of salt (1/8 – ¼ t.)

Few gratings of freshly ground black pepper

8 oz. Gruyère, Emmenthal, or other Swiss-type cheese

¼ t. freshly grated nutmeg

 Roll out the pastry to fit a 10½” pie plate. Crimp the edges, poke the bottom with a fork or the tip of a sharp knife, and place the pastry in the freezer for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 425°F. Line the pastry with aluminum foil and pastry weights and bake in the bottom third of the oven until the pastry is golden at the edges, about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and remove the aluminum foil and pastry weights. Return the pastry to the oven to bake until the bottom is golden, an additional 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and reserve.

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the eggs, cream, and the milk until thoroughly blended. Season with salt and pepper, then add the cheese and stir until it is blended. Turn the mixture into the pre-baked pastry, and spread out the cheese evenly over the bottom. Sprinkle the top with nutmeg and bake in the center of the oven until the filling is golden and puffed, and is completely baked through, about 30-45 minutes. To test for doneness, shake the quiche - if it is solid without a pool of uncooked filling in the center, it is done. You may also stick a sharp knife blade into the center of the filling and if it comes out clean, the quiche is baked through. Remove the quiche from the oven and serve immediately.

 *If you want to make it easy on yourself, use store-bought pastry, roll it between two pieces of parchment paper to fit a 10-inch pie pan, and blind bake as mentioned above.



Thursday, December 17, 2020

The Festive Two-Tier Tray

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I don’t know about you, but I have not been able to get into decorating at all this year. I’ve done it, finally, but it wasn’t an easy path. I started out small with my two-tier tray. You know, that ubiquitous tray that we all seem to have. Generally, I don’t like getting what other people have, but in this case I have enjoyed this more than I thought I would. It’s great fun to see how others style theirs, so I’m going to show you how I styled mine.

A fun purchase that I made last year was the Santa butter dish that I found at Pier One. Isn’t it adorable? Then it occurred to me that I don’t host a holiday brunch, or generally anything else that calls for a butter dish on the table, so it found its way to the stand. Who knows? I may use it to brighten my breakfast table for one Christmas morning.

The Rae Dunn “Nibble” Plates are favorites. I love that they fit on this tray, and are so versatile. They are topped with MacKenzie-Childs Courtly Check Flatware.

 The Waechtersbach cups and saucers are always cheery in their “Christmas Tree” pattern.

 The Santa napkin ring, part of a set of 12 (and that I now see has been rather haphazardly patched), belonged to my mother. She bought these sometime back in the 80s, and they always beautifully held the napkin at our Christmas brunch. The Red Lantern lurking in the background was my mother’s. Its green made livens my hutch.


What is it about red trucks with wreaths on the front that we all find so appealing? Is it because it represents a simpler time? Perhaps it makes us all think is that we are living in Bedford Falls. This red truck, also from Pier One, is actually a place called holder. I use it on my holiday tables; I have also used it as a marker for various dishes on a buffet. I thought it looked cute here.


 In keeping with the red truck mode, I am completely in love with this cute set of Red Truck and Tree Salt and Pepper Shakers.

I love spicy candles, and this one is one of my favorites. Not to worry, I do remove it from the tray when I bought it. On top of the candle is a little toothpick holder that I found irresistible. It is from a local shop called Oma’s Barn. I’ve written about Oma’s in the past,

here and here. It’s a wonderful, magical kind of place. Once I bought this little snowman, I decided to never serve a holiday meal without condiments, mini meatballs, or other type of food that needs skewering. He always elicits a smile. Here's hoping that your decorating s going far better than mine!