Family Traditions

Holiday Menu Planning

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Entertaining and menu planning may seem tricky, but the execution doesn’t have to be all that intimidating.  It just takes a lot of thought and timing.  You have to take into account what the dishes are, how many people are attending, and when dinner is supposed to be served (along with a whole host of other things to consider).  But all this planning can be spread out over a whole month.  Now I just had my “Holiday Feast” the other day and here was my schedule.  The day was busy, but I still got to spend time with my guests before dinner and take part in the festivities (i.e. – drink booze).

3 weeks prior:  send out invitations.  Hopefully you will hear back relatively quickly about who can and cannot attend.

2 weeks prior:  finalize menu.  Here’s what was decided:  Roasted pork shoulder, marinated turkey breast, bread pudding with mushrooms and roasted peppers, roasted fennel and carrots, rapini with fried apples,  egg nog, cranberry cheesecake, holiday biscotti, and sugar plums.  Now that I actually see it written out, that’s a lot of food.  Even more so because it was also a potluck.  I will do posts on all this stuff soon with a focus on the more holiday-ish items first.

1 week prior:  finalize attendees, buy supplies and groceries.  Alright so it wasn’t completely finalized and it hovered anywhere between 12 -18.  It finally ended up at 13.

4 days prior:  clean house, iron table linens.  Now cleaning the house is a daily thing, but I did a major cleaning on this day.  I ironed the napkins and prepped them so that I could fold the “birds of paradise” relatively quickly.  I like this fold because it looks nice and is relatively easy to do.

3 days prior:  buy fresh ingredients (fruit and vegetables), make cranberry compote.  The cranberry compote could even be made the week before.

2 days prior:  make cranberry cheesecake, bake biscotti.  Making this now lets the cheesecake set up in the refrigerator for a couple of days.  Just cover it with plastic wrap after it cools.  The biscotti should stay fresh for several days.

1 day prior:  blanche rapini, peel carrots, make sugar plums, assemble bread pudding.  The sugar plums need some time to dry out a little before rolling in sugar.  The bread pudding can sit and all the flavors can marry while sitting in the refrigerator.  Plus the bread can really soak up the custard.

6 hours prior:  roll the sugar plums in sugar, fold napkins, set the table.  At this point, I still didn’t know how many.  My best guess was 12, which was nice because everyone could sit at the table.

3 hours prior:  start holiday music playlist, attend to early attendees, make beer bread, drink beer.  Now we asked folks to arrive at 3:00pm with dinner to be served at 6:00.  Not everyone will show at the start which is fine.

2 hours prior:  attend to early attendees, roast fennel and carrots, drink wine, eat cheese.  Serve appetizer dishes that guests brought.

1 hour prior:  attend to attendees, bake bread pudding, make egg nog, drink egg nog.  Egg nog is usually a big draw because of all the booze 🙂  I use Martha Stewart’s recipe, which has 3 c. bourbon, 2 c. cognac, and 1 c. rum.

30 minutes prior:  light candles on the table, make rapini and fried apples, place fennel in oven to reheat, finalize drink orders, drink more egg nog.  Everything is coming together and all your hard work and planning is paying off.  Hopefully you won’t be too tipsy at this point.

I know this looks like a lot and that you’ll be in the kitchen and not enjoying anyone, but everyone always ends up in the kitchen anyway so you won’t be missing out.  You won’t really be missing out if you prep everything ahead of time.  Just pop into the kitchen to take out the bread and pop some veggies into the oven.  Then you have an hour to play with your guests before the next thing goes into the oven.

Remembering Licorice

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On this day last year, my dog Licorice passed away.  She was 16 at the time and would have turned 17 in February 2011.  Now if you remember a few months ago I had posted about having to put down my dog Moby in September of last year as well (and yes these were the saddest holidays I’ve ever experienced).  His death was from out of the blue, whereas Licorice’s passing was something for which I had been preparing for years.  Given her advanced age and some previous (and current) health scares, her death wasn’t that much of a shock.  But that didn’t make it any less painful.  After all, this was the longest relationship that I’ve had with another living thing aside from family.

I was living in Gainesville, Fl when I rescued her.  I just fell in love with her gigantic bat ears; she later grew into those.  She was black lab mix with a barrel chest, skinny legs, and pointy ears.  Definitely an odd duck for a lab.  But she was a sweetie, unless you tried to mess with her food.  Moby learned that lesson quickly.

Happy Sweet Sixteen!

Towards the end, her health started to fail.  There was a big scare when she was about 13 when she couldn’t move, spewed out fluid from both ends, and couldn’t eat a thing.  It lasted over a week and I was at the point where if I didn’t see any improvement, I would have to really consider the worst.  At the time she was on so many meds and I was up pretty much every hour administering some kind of medication.  Eventually I worked out a medication schedule that also included flipping her on her opposite side, changing / washing her bedding 3 or 4 times a day, and cleaning her as best as I could.  But she made it through and lasted a few more years.

The last few months of her life became more of a struggle.  She wasn’t able to walk around on her own; only her front legs had any kind of strength.  Also, she had started to get some skin infections and problems with discharge from her eyes.  Her weight dropped and her breathing became more labored.  Not the best quality of life.

Daisy and Licorice want some cake!

But there are lots of happy memories, with birthdays being some of those memories.  This is from her Sweet Sixteen.  I couldn’t afford to buy her a car, but she got a cake baked with love!  Thankfully Licorice, Moby, and Daisy all got a chance to take part in the celebration.  This was taken from Food, Fun, and Facts.  For a little added treat, I added a cream cheese frosting and some gummi bears.  It was her Sweet Sixteen, after all so I thought a little extra treat was in order.  Here’s what you need:

  • 1 c. whole wheat flour
  • 1 t. baking soda
  • 1/4 c. peanut butter
  • 1/4 c. cooking oil
  • 1 c. shredded carrots
  • 1 t. vanilla
  • 1/3 c. honey
  • 1 egg

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Coat a ring mold with cooking spray.

2.  In a mixing bowl, combine the flour and baking soda.  In another combine the remaining ingredients.  Add the flour combination and mix quickly.

3.  Transfer to prepared mold and bake for 30 – 40 minutes.  Allow to cool slightly before transferring to a serving plate.

Notes — serving suggestion is to frost it with some cottage cheese and top it with some carrot pieces. . . like I mentioned earlier, I frosted this one with a cream cheese frosting and topped it with some gummi bears.

Nantucket Cranberry Pie

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The holiday season is time for cranberries.  And whenever we see some fresh cranberries, we must bake something!  Usually it’s some Cranberry Bars with a nice cream cheese frosting.  But we tried something new this time.  This recipe was taken from the Tasty Kitchen.  It’s a little bit different from what you may consider to be a “pie”.  Honestly, I think it’s closer to a cobbler than a pie, and it was made in a cake pan.  So, really it’s kind of an upside down cake.  Actually it’s closest to a buckle, which is one of the many types of cobblers (I should do a post on the different types of cobblers).  But the recipe calls itself a “pie” and who am I to make a pie conform to my definitions of what pie should be?  Well, it’s tasty, whatever the name is.  Plus it’s very simple to make so you can have a nice dessert in about an hour!

Here’s what you need:

  • Butter, for greasing the pan
  • 2 c. (heaping) cranberries
  • 3/4 c. pecans, chopped (measure, then chop)
  • 1 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 2/3 c. sugar, divided
  • 1 stick butter, melted
  • 2 whole eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 t. almond extract
  • 1/4 t. salt
  • 1 T. (sanding) sugar

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2.  Butter and 9-in. cake pan.  Add cranberries to the bottom of the pan.  Sprinkle on chopped pecans, then sprinkle with 2/3 c. sugar.

3.  In a mixing bowl, combine flour, 1 c. sugar, melted butter, eggs, almond extract, and salt.  Stir gently to combine.

4.  Pour batter slowly over the top in large “ribbons” in order to evenly cover the surface.  Spread gently if necessary.

5.  Bake for 45 – 50 minutes.  5 minutes before removing from the oven, sprinkle surface with 1 T. sugar for a little extra crunch.

6.  Let cool and slice into wedges.  Serve with ice cream or whipped cream.

Remembering Moby and celebrating Daisy

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Yes, my dogs wear sweaters. But it does get cold and snowy here.

This time last year was the start of a very sad period in the household.  After a very quick, very sudden, very severe illness, one of my dogs named Moby had to be put to sleep.  He was 10 years old, but he definitely didn’t act like a senior dog.  He was always active; he’d chase squirrels all day in the backyard if you let him.  Which made it that much more difficult.  One day, he’s running around chasing leaves, two days later he’s gone.

He was rescued from a shelter in Mason, MI where I found him sitting in his own filth.  Sitting at the front of his pen, his face was just pressed against the gate, and he was just looking down at the ground.  All the other dogs in the place were barking and yelping for attention, all except for him.  He clearly was not used to being in a place like that.  So how could I turn away the saddest puppy in the place who was covered in his own crap?  Of course, he would celebrate his new freedom by throwing up into the middle console of my truck on the drive home.

Moby didn't like Daisy at first, but they worked it out eventually.

He was a member of the family for over 10 years and I wasn’t ready for him to go.  I had spent years trying to prepare for when Licorice, who was the elder dog at the time, would pass away (Licorice died later on in the year on December 13 at the age of 16, so my holidays just plain sucked last year).  But this wasn’t supposed to happen to Moby.  That was definitely a horrible day for us.  I was at the vet for hours listening to him howl in pain; even morphine couldn’t ease his suffering.  So on September 27th of last year, we said goodbye to our little buddy.  I was a mess for months; even know I can’t help but get emotional as I’m writing this.  What made things even worse, I ended up forgetting Daisy’s 1st birthday which happened to be two days later on the 29th.

As is a tradition in this house, all the puppies get a special cake or meal on their birthday.  I know that they probably have no clue as to what’s going on, but it’s important to me to celebrate it.  So this year we’re making sure to celebrate Daisy’s 2nd birthday with one of Moby’s favorites.

This recipe for the “Very Berry Drooly Dreams” cupcakes was taken from the Three Dog Bakery cookbook.  This cookbook is actually a very good resource if you do like to bake goodies for your furry friends since it contains a nice list of non-dog-friendly ingredients.  I’m sure everyone knows about chocolate and onions being toxic to dogs, but did you know that macadamia nuts could have adverse effects on the digestive and nervous systems of your pooch?  Grapes / raisins also contain toxins that could damage the kidneys if eaten in sufficient amounts.  Just a couple of facts that might be useful for folks out there.  Anyhoo, here’s what you need:

  • "Very Berry Drooly Dreams" cupcakes

    1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour

  • 1 c. quick rolled oats
  • 1 T. baking powder
  • 1/4 c. canola oil
  • 1/2 c. honey
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 c. low-fat sour cream
  • 1/2 c. skim milk
  • 1 c. berries, fresh or frozen and thawed

1.  Preheat the oven to 375 F.  Coat a standard muffin tin with cooking spray.  Set aside.

2.  In a large bowl stir together the flour, oats, and baking powder.  Set aside.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the oil and honey.  Add the eggs, one at a time, then the sour cream and milk.  Gradually add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix until just combined.  Fold in the berries.

3.  Fill the muffin cups about 2/3 full and bake for 30 minutes until a tester comes out clean.

4.  Cool on a rack until room temperature before serving.  Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.  You can freeze them, where they can keep for a couple of months.  Just thaw before serving.

Labor Day with the family

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Batten down the hatches!!!  My parents and my brother are driving up from Florida to visit me for Labor Day.  Plus I got some other cousins and aunts and uncles coming in from about an hour away.  Lord help!  It’s not that I don’t want them to visit — it’s the planning that can be tricky.  And figuring out a menu isn’t going to be easy.  Maybe I can talk my cousin into bringing something to help with the menu.  What would be nice is having a whole roast pig, but since that ain’t gonna happen I’m going to have to improvise.  And too bad my grill just busted.  Good thing there’s still the trusty Smokey Joe. . . and as a side note, here’s what the Department of Labor says about Labor Day.

Luckily, another aunt and uncle (also from Florida) came in for a visit a few weeks ago so the meal they had here was essentially a trial run.  But since there’s gonna be more people, I’m going to need to expand a bit.  I do want to make some stuff focused on local goods and made in Michigan things, but I also want to make some things that I know they’ll like.  I did find some Labor Day ideas at Grilling.com, Martha, and Yum Sugar.  So here’s what I might end up doing (which I hope to post on these new ones soon):

Roast pork shoulder

Sautéed green beans with mushrooms

Ratatouille

Grilled corn

Fresh Lumpia

Bibingka

Zucchini Ribbons with Garlic Confit

Empanadas

Steamed Mussels with Glass noodle

Koegel’s viennas

Something with Rhubarb (probably a Raspberry and Rhubarb tart)

San Miguel

Oberon

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Of course all this planning might just go out the window, so I’m going to wait until the last minute to do any shopping.  There’ll probably be a trip to Windsor in the making.  Or maybe a quick jaunt to Toronto (if I’m lucky)!

National Fried Chicken Day and My love of Chick-Fil-A

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I love Chick-Fil-A!  For those in the know, you understand the love.  What is extremely difficult for me is not having a Chick-Fil-A anywhere nearby!  It’s ridiculous actually.  How is it possible to not have one anywhere in this state?  I lived in Maine before here, and that state didn’t have one either.  I really need to rethink where I might live next:  requirement #1 — Chick-Fil-A; requirement #2 — ocean coastline.  It’s surprising that I’ve managed to survive all these years without it.  Every other state in the Big 10 has one, so why not here?.  Actually I lied; there is one in this state.  But it’s not a real one — it’s part of the cafeteria at Oakland University in Rochester, MI.  You can’t even order anything; you just grab what’s available and take your tray to the cashier.  It’s better than nothing though.

However, there is one in Toledo, OH.  But there is something about having to cross state lines to get some chicken that seems kinda wrong.  Like bad-addiction wrong.  It’s different if you’re going to Toledo for some other reason and you just decide to stop by Chick-Fil-A for a snack.  Totally legit!  But just for the food?  (Did I mention that there is also a Waffle House in Toledo?)  Of course, that doesn’t mean that I haven’t done it.  Sometimes, in a moment of weakness, you just fall off the wagon, drive to a totally different state, and order some sandwiches, fries, and a couple of 120-nugget platters.  It’s not like I ate those all by myself; there was a party involved (well, at least that’s the excuse that I use).  But after spending some years growing up in the south, that chicken is a staple of life.  To me, it’s like a part of home.  And what’s wrong with a little taste of home?

I do have tomorrow off, though.  Now, I’m not a Jedi, but I foresee a road trip in my near future.

Bibingka — Cassava and Coconut Custard

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Here’s a recipe that is always a staple at pretty much all of my big family get-togethers.  I was trying to track down a recipe so that I could list it on the blog, but there was just a problem of getting everyone on the same page.  So luckily I was able to finally find one that was relatively simple (some recipes involved lots of different tropical fruits and cheese, which was a little weird to me — in my experience, SE Asia isn’t big on the whole cheese thing).  You will need a food processor though, but I guess you could grate the cassava by hand.

This recipe I found on the Saveur Magazine website.  From the picture in the article, this looks pretty close to what is done in my family, but I think the family recipe has some macapuno in it (here’s a link to a blog that nicely describes what macapuno is).  The topping is different, too.  The one my aunt makes is a lot more caramelized on top, almost like the topping on creme brulee, but softer.  Now, I did make one change to the recipe, mainly for time constraints.  I was making this for a party and I wanted to do most of the prep ahead of time so I mixed the batter together the night before and put it in the oven just before dinner was served.  Worked out great for me!

Here’s what you need:

  • 1 1/2 c. sugar
  • 2 T. unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 t. salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 14-oz. can coconut milk
  • 1 1/2 lbs. peeled cassava, cut into chunks
  • 1/3 c. heavy cream

1.  Preheat the oven to 350.

2.  In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine the sugar, salt, butter, eggs, and coconut milk.  Whisk until smooth.  Set aside.

3.  In a food processor, chop the cassava pieces until it is finely shredded.  Stir into the egg mixture, and pour the combined mixture into a 9″ x 13″ baking dish.

4.  Bake for 40 minutes until set.  Baste with the heavy cream, and then bake for another 40 minutes until browned.  Let cool for 15 minutes before slicing and serving.

Notes — I think I might put in a little citrus zest in the next batch.  I’m still trying to get closer to what my family version of the delicacy is, so maybe I’ll add some macapuno.  You should be able to find some macapuno preserves in any good Asian grocery.