Thursday, December 30, 2021

Top Ten Posts of 2021

It's time for my year-end wrap-up featuring the 10 most popular posts of 2021. 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 Streusel-Topped Pumpkin Loaf; that won by a landslide. Second, perhaps due to the fact that more people are cooking at home than ever, only one of my tablescapes made it into the top 10, despite my having more of them this year than last 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?!

Streusel-Topped Pumpkin Loaf

Mrs. Marlowe-Inspired Southland Cheese Rolls

How to Make Gravy from a Rotisserie Chicken

Winter in the Woods Tablescape

Deviled Ham Cheese Ball

Honey Cornbread

Coconut Sheet Cake

Apricot Scones

Asian Pork Chops for Two

Philly Cheese Steak Sloppy Joes

 Are you as interested as I am in getting a grip on meal planning during the upcoming year? Join me in giving this Meal Planning Kit a try.

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Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Slow Cooker Cauliflower Cheese Soup

Christmas is over, and I am more than ready. I’m glad that I started early on my holiday decorating because I cannot wait to take everything down. I don’t want to see another Christmas cookie; I don’t want to eat another slice of ham. I am craving plain old comfort food, in all of its pasteurized processed glory. This easy and delicious cauliflower cheese soup is a wonderful winter warmer with a side salad, half a sandwich, or all on its own. With everyone home for the holidays, why not whip up a batch?

Slow Cooker Cauliflower Cheese Soup

1 lb. frozen cauliflower florets 

5 scallions, sliced

2 whole carrots, finely diced

2 ribs celery, finely diced

½ c. chopped Melissa’s Fire Roasted Red Bell Peppers 

¼ c. chopped fresh parsley

5 c. low sodium chicken broth*

2 cans cream of celery soup

¼ tsp. seasoned salt 

¼ tsp. seasoned pepper 

1½ lb. Velveeta

2 c. grated sharp cheddar cheese

Place cauliflower, scallions, carrots, peppers, parsley, chicken broth, cream of celery soup, seasoned salt, and seasoned pepper into a 5 to 6-quart slow cooker; stir. Cover and cook on high for 4 hours.

After 4 hours add the cheese, turn the slow cooker to low, and cook for 15 minutes.

Stir to melt the cheese and incorporate. Taste the soup and season as needed.

 *I use Better Than Bouillon 

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Monday, December 27, 2021

Creamy Vinaigrette

With recipes like Potato Gateau with Hickory Smoked Bacon, Onions and Comté and Tarte Flambée (Flatbread with Fromage Blanc, Onions, and Bacon) it might be surprising that the first recipe I chose to make from Gabriel Kreuther’s recently released culinary tome, The Spirit of Alsace Cookbook, was vinaigrette. It’s true. I find that a good vinaigrette can make or break a salad, and a good salad can make or break a meal. I always make fresh vinaigrette every week because it’s so simple. When I saw that Gabriel had a variety of different recipes, I wondered how much different they could possibly be from my own. The difference was a subtle but important one — he adds a small amount of nut oil to finish.

I made his creamy vinaigrette, and absolutely loved it. To make the creamy vinaigrette he adds just a few ingredients to his base vinaigrette as follows.

 Base Vinaigrette

Salt (start with ½ teaspoon, as the vinegar should taste salty)
2½ to 3 tablespoons and sherry vinegar, Sherry, red wine vinegar
½ cup
grapeseed oil or other neutral oil

Combine the salt and vinegar in a mixing bowl and whisk to dissolve the salt, then add the pepper. Whisk in the oil. This can be stored for a week in the fridge.

Creamy Vinaigrette

Whisk 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, 1 tablespoon sour cream or mayonnaise, 2 tablespoons finely minced onion, and 1 to 2 tablespoons water into the vinaigrette base. Allow the
vinaigrette to rest for 20 to 30 minutes so that the onion tempers and infuses the dressing. The dressing should be served the same day it is made.

Use this vinaigrette for a tomato or endive salad. Again, as with all vinaigrettes, the addition of just a little nut oil adds great nuance to the dressing’s flavor.

In the case of both the base and the creamy variety, instead of using a whisk, I used a
small high-speed blender. That little gadget will emulsify salad dressing like nobody’s business.

Disclaimer: I received a complementary copy of The Spirit of Alsace Cookbook as a part of the Abrams Dinner Party Program for 2021-22.

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Thursday, December 23, 2021

Christmas Quiche

This quiche, that I have named Christmas Quiche came about as a result of an online shopping error. I know that I am not the first person to confuse individual quantities with package quantities when grocery shopping online. That’s how I ended up with three packages of zucchini rather than simply three individual zucchini. These past weeks I have eaten more zucchini than I have eaten in a lifetime. In an effort to not waste, but successfully get rid of the last one that remained in a tasty way, this quiche was born.

I decided to call it Christmas Quiche because of the lovely red and green coloring of the vegetables. It would also make an excellent addition to either Christmas dinner or brunch because it is delicious enough for everyone to enjoy, a painless way to get in a serving of vegetables or two, and is vegetarian so as to please those in your crowd who don’t care to eat meat. Your guests are going to love you for this one.

Christmas Quiche

 1 (9 inch) unbaked deep-dish pie crust

1 T. olive oil

1 3-oz. pkg. Melissa's shallots, sliced

4 large cremini mushrooms, sliced

1 medium organic zucchini, cubed

1 c. shredded Gruyere cheese

¼ c. chopped parsley

½ c. chopped Melissa’s Roasted Red Bell Peppers

3 large eggs, beaten

½ c. whole milk

½ t. Italian seasoning

½ t. salt

¼ t. freshly ground black pepper

½ c. shredded sharp cheddar cheese

 Preheat the oven to 400°F.

 Bake pie crust for 10 minutes; set aside to cool slightly.

 Reduce oven heat to 350°F.

 Heat olive oil in a 10” sauté pan over medium/high heat. Cook and stir mushrooms, zucchini, and shallots until soft and slightly seared, 6-8 minutes; set aside.

 Whisk eggs, milk, Italian seasoning, salt, and pepper together in a medium bowl.

 Spread Gruyère cheese in the bottom of pie crust. Layer vegetable mixture over the cheese and top with the parsley and red peppers. Pour egg mixture over all. Sprinkle remaining cheddar cheese over the top.

 Bake for 40 to 45 minutes until center tests done. Cool 10 minutes before serving.

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Tuesday, December 21, 2021

"Pining" for Christmas Tablescape

   It’s Christmas week, can you believe it?! With our weather fluctuating between 75° and 36° highs, it’s hard to get a grasp on just what time of the year it actually is.

I am in love with nature and the color green, so when these pine cone plates became available, I pounced on them. Both beautiful and educational, each one is different, and provides both the common and Latin name for the tree they represent as well as illustrations of the seed, greenery, and both mature and immature pine cones.

The pine cone salad plates (from Creative Co-Op) pair nicely, I thought, with the pine branch and pine cone-edged dinner plates that I got from Pottery Barn a couple of years ago. Both of these get a wonderful punch of color from the green edged, Italian chargers underneath from Roma New Works.


The wicker placemats set on top of my favorite checkered tablecloth on which I put a rustic table runner that I got from Pottery Barn this year.

The centerpiece of lighted greenery and frost-laden pine trees provides a nice backdrop for the Pottery Barn twig reindeer in both full-size and miniature as candle holders.

 The pine cone flatware is from one of my favorite places to shop for flatware, Cabela’s.

The “Fa La La” napkins with their text in muted gold are similarly from Pottery Barn, and brighten the table with a bit of sparkle.

The green water glasses were my mother’s. I love the jewel-toned depth of color here. The mugs are by Maxcera, and are in the “Postcard Owl” pattern. I found them appropriate because while they feature an owl on the front side, there is a lovely pine cone image on the back that I found suitable for this table.


 Because this table isn’t overtly Christmassy, I plan to use it to take me into the New Year, and a couple of days beyond. After which, this will be replaced with a more wintry tablescape.

Merry Christmas to all of you! Try to relax and enjoy.

 This post is linked to: Tablescape Thursday


Sunday, December 19, 2021

Southern Living 2021 Annual Recipes: An Entire Year of Recipes, Reviewed

Someone told me recently that, with all of the recipes available for viewing online, they no longer buy or have a desire to own cookbooks. While I certainly got their point, I have to say that I disagree. I cannot tell you how many times I have spotted a recipe online that I had planned to make, bought the ingredients, and then lost track of it, never again to be found. It’s for this reason (and many more) that I appreciate Southern Living coming out with a book of their best annual recipes, Southern Living 2021 Annual Recipes: An Entire Year of Recipes. If you are the same, you will no doubt appreciate their offering for 2021.

In my opinion, this book is worth owning for the dips alone. I am an avid fan of dips and spreads because of their versatility. You can use them as suggested (as a dip), as a potato topper, steak topper, sandwich spread -- the uses are endless. I tried a couple recipes from this book, and will be sharing them with you later because they are far too good to keep to myself. I have found that during the holiday season, nothing serves me more than having a delicious dip on hand to serve straight from the fridge, at room temperature, or bubbling hot from the oven. 

Obviously this book is more than just dips. There are recipes for every taste and inclination. This comprehensive book that includes an entire year of recipes between its colorful covers divides each section by month so that you can fix seasonally appropriate dishes, cocktails, and desserts. I love this idea!

Top rated recipes are pointed out at the very beginning of the book for your convenience. In my experience, top rated recipes are always winners, so you can make these with confidence. I can personally vouch for the Slow Cooker Chipotle Brisket Sliders. Delicious and crowd pleasing!

Vegetarians and vegans can rejoice. There are quite a few recipes that will suit them, including Tabatha Brown’s Vegan Mac & Cheese. If you’re a big fan of comfort food, there are plenty of offerings here, breakfast ideas, pasta, greens, seafood, and delicious baked goods.

Another thing I found particularly appealing about this book is that various recipes include suggestions for a variety of choices of ingredients to allow you to customize the dish the way you would like best. An example of this is a recipe called The Do-It-All Casserole with four separate variations including onions and Parmesan, mushrooms and thyme, pimento cheese, and buffalo ranch. I plan to try all four.

For those of you who are fans of dessert, pie in particular, there is an entire chapter on pie that includes “Five Tips from a Pie Pro,” great advice for a beginner. Among the pies in this chapter are Gingered Sweet Potato Pie with Pecan-Crumb Crust, Black Walnut-Buttermilk Pie, and Apple Pie with Rye Crust and Cider Caramel. Chocolate lovers, there is a chapter for you as well.

It is no exaggeration to tell you that every time I open this book I find something new that I want to cook or bake. For a year of prize winning, fan favorite recipes, this book is for you.


Disclaimer: I received a complementary copy of this book from Abrams books as a member of their 20 21–22 Abrams dinner party.

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Friday, December 17, 2021

My 2021 Christmas Card

It is, once again, the time of the year where I share my annual Christmas card. (I have shared a number of my cards with you here, here, and here.) This year marked some big changes, one of the biggest was that the lanai that I had built in 2017 (and that you can read about here) was torn down and replaced with a four-season room, now referred to as “The Conservatory.” Suitable, I thought, considering my love of the mystery game “Clue!” coupled with the fact that it is loaded with plants.


 I spend every morning out in this room working on various pursuits, basking in the sunshine coming in from being surrounded by walls of windows, and gigantic skylights overhead. For that reason, I knew as soon as it was completed, that it was going to house the Christmas tree this year. I took a photo of it on the evening after Thanksgiving, and thought it suitable for this year’s card. So, without further adieu, here is the card, front, inside, and back, as well as the collaged envelopes in which they traveled.

Merry Christmas to all!


Wednesday, December 15, 2021

White Christmas Margarita

 I decided that I was going to wrap presents today. I got out all of my supplies, turned on some Christmas music, and thought this called for a seasonal cocktail to make it truly authentic. I have long wanted to try my hand at making my own version of a White Christmas Margarita. After numerous attempts, tastes, and a short nap from too much tasting, I ended up with this delicious, rather potent, seasonal cocktail.

White Christmas Margarita

½ (14-oz.) can
unsweetened coconut milk
6 oz. silver tequila
4 oz. triple sec
1/2 c. Sweet & Sour Mix
2 T. sugar
2 c. ice
Fresh cranberries or pomegranate seeds, for garnish
1 lime, sliced into half rounds for garnish
Lime wedge, for rimming glass
Sanding sugar, for rimming glass

In a
high-speed blender, combine coconut milk, tequila, triple sec, sweet and sour mix, sugar, and ice; blend until smooth.

Rim glasses with lime wedge and dip in sanding sugar, coating well. Pour into glass and garnish with lime and cranberries. 

Serves 4.

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Monday, December 13, 2021

Olive Salad & Muffuletta Sandwich from Napoleon House

If the tedium of every day lunches has gotten you down, have I got an answer for you! If the Muffuletta sandwich (using the recipe from the Napoleon House in the French Quarter of New Orleans) doesn’t change your attitude about lunch, then nothing will. Their unique choices of meats are topped with an incredibly flavorful olive salad that is so good I could eat it with a spoon, and have. Because I was making a sandwich for one, I didn’t bother with the large round loaf, generally associated with muffaletta sandwiches, I just used a slice of rustic bakery bread, layered everything on, topped it with the olive salad, and slid it into the oven. That’s right, they bake their sandwich, unlike other recipes where they are served cold. They also use pastrami in lieu of the traditional mortadella. This inspired substitution as well as the warming of the the sandwich enhances all of the wonderful and diverse flavors making it the perfect sandwich to enjoy on a winter’s day.

Napoleon House Muffuletta

As seen in Louisiana Cookin’

 Yields: 2-4 servings

 1 (9-inch-round) seeded muffuletta bun or Italian seeded bread, halved

Extra-virgin olive oil

4 slices ham

5 slices Genoa salami

2 slices pastrami

3 slices provolone cheese

3 slices Swiss cheese

⅔ c. Napoleon House Olive Salad (recipe follows)

 Preheat oven to 350°F.

Brush bottom and top half of bun lightly with oil. Layer ham, salami, pastrami, and cheeses on bottom half of bun. Top with Napoleon House Olive Salad, and cover with top half of bun. Wrap in foil.

Bake until thoroughly heated, about 20 minutes. Unwrap, and cut in half or quarters.

 Napoleon House Olive Salad*

 1 c. pimiento-stuffed Spanish queen olives, chopped

½ c. canned chickpeas, drained and coarsely chopped

½ c. pickled vegetables, drained and coarsely chopped

⅓ c. canned artichoke hearts, drained and coarsely chopped

¼ c. cocktail onions, drained and coarsely chopped

¼ c. green bell pepper, finely chopped

1 T. capers, drained and chopped

½ t. Melissa's minced garlic

¼ c. extra-virgin olive oil

2 T. red wine vinegar

1 t. dried oregano

½ t. ground black pepper

 In a large bowl, combine olives, chickpeas, pickled vegetables, artichoke hearts, onions, bell pepper, capers, and garlic. Add oil, vinegar, oregano, and pepper, stirring to combine. Cover and refrigerate for at least 8 hours. Will keep refrigerated for up to 1 week.

 *To make things easier on myself, I dumped all of the salad ingredients into a food processor, and pulsed a couple of times. What a time saver, and as you can see from the picture, it worked perfectly.

Yields: 3 cups

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