Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Time Saving Tip - Easy Thanksgiving Meal

This year I've decided to adopt no-muss, no-fuss holiday celebrating.  The focus should be giving thanks, celebrating connections with others and just plain ol' gratitude in abundance.  So to make sure we have things in the perspective (gratitude first, eating second) our Thanksgiving meal will be pretty simple...nothing fancy, just tasty favorites from the past (: 

Here's a run down of our traditional meal...
  • turkey
  • dressing
  • gravy
  • potato salad
  • corn
  • green beans
  • cranberry sauce
  • sweet potatoes
  • deviled eggs
  • fresh fruit plate
  • fresh veggie plate
  • pumpkin pie
  • pecan pie
  • coconut cake
Let me tell ya, that's more carb in a meal than I'd like to see, but it's the holiday so we don't hold back (:  One thing that really helps to save time is making things in advance.  I've already gotten a frozen turkey and he's sitting happily in the freezer waiting for his debut.

The coconut cake and homemade cranberry sauce will be made on Monday and kept in the freezer until Thursday morning.  The dressing (heat and serve), pies (thank you Mrs. Smith) and sweet potatoes will be made Tuesday.  The potato salad, sweet potatoes, deviled eggs, fruit and veggie trays are happening on Wednesday and then finally Mr. Bird, gravy, corn and green beans will be the only items actually cooked on Thanksgiving Day.

I was debating over cooking him ahead of time with a little heat 'n' serve action the day of, but decided the smell of a cooking turkey wafting through the air on Thanksgiving day was well worth the extra effort earlier in the morning.

I usually like to make things from scratch, but this year a few shortcuts are in order to make things easier.  Here are the "recipes" that I'll be using for this year's festivities...
Coconut Cake
  • Sour cream pound cake from the grocery bakery
  • 2 packs of fresh frozen coconut
  • 2 large containers of whip topping (not something we normally use in our house, but okay twice a year)
In a bowl mix 1 1/2 containers of cool whip with 1 1/2 packs of coconut to create the light, airy "frosting."  If you'd like a heavier weight "frosting" simply add a package of cream cheese.  (The other half of the Cool Whip will be used for the pumpkin pie and the leftover half of coconut with be used to sprinkle on top of the cake). 

Spread mixture on each layer and "put the cake back together."  Then frost the cake with the rest of the Cool Whip/coconut mixture and sprinkle on the remainder of fresh coconut.  This is such a simple recipe, but you'll be very pleased with the results.  I've been told it rivals any coconut cake made from scratch.

If you want to make this recipe even easier, simply get a big bowl, crumble the pound cake up and begin making layers.  One layer of crumbled pound cake, then a layer of "frosting," then more pound cake crumbles, more frosting mixture, etc. Top off with the fresh coconut.  During Easter we add strawberries to the mix for a lovely spring dessert.  For Christmas one year I layered in my fresh walnut cranberry sauce for a twist.  YUM!!
Cranberry Sauce
  • 2 packs of fresh cranberries
  • Enough orange juice to just cover the cranberries
  • The rind of one lemon and 1/2 an orange (I prefer to use a microplane)
Add cranberries, orange juice, lemon and orange rind to a pot and bring to a boil.  Keep stirring to make sure it doesn't burn.  You'll begin to hear the cranberries pop...once it becomes a little thicker, reduce the heat and cover.  Let it simmer until it reaches the preferred consistency. Some people like to add sugar but we like things a little on the tart side and simply add a touch of honey.  A cup of walnuts is awesome in this too!  Very simple, but so much better than something you'd get out of a can!
  • 16 oz. package of Pepperidge Farm's Herb Seasoned Stuffing
  • 8 oz box Jiffy Cornbread mix
  • 32 oz of chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon poultry seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon sage
Sauté onions and celery with a pat of butter.  Mix all ingredients, including onions and celery, in a bowl.  Grease a casserole dish and pour in mixture.  Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

Potato Salad
  • 8-10 large potatoes, diced
  • 6 chopped boiled eggs
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 1/2 cup of mayo
  • 1/8 cup of grain mustard
  • 1 Tablespoon of raw honey
  • 1 small jar of pimentos
  • Pepper to taste
  • Sprinkle of paprika
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. (Make sure you have the right amount of salt to season the potatoes as you will not be able to add salt at any other time.)  Add diced potatoes and cook until tender but still firm...about 15 minutes. Drain.

In a large bowl combine honey, mustard, mayonnaise and pepper to create the dressing. Then add the potatoes, eggs, onions, celery, pimentos and gently mix together.  (If you like your potato salad on the moist side, you may need to add a tad more mayo or mustard.) Top with a sprinkle of paprika. 

**Never add salt to the final mixture as it will draw out the moisture of the potatoes and create a puddle of water in the bottom of your bowl**

Deviled Eggs
  • 1 dozen eggs
  • 1/4 cup mayo
  • 2 Tablespoons of mustard (not dry mustard)
  • A dash paprika
  • 1 teaspoon raw honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon celery seed
  • Salt and pepper to taste
After boiling eggs, slice those puppies open, place yolks into a bowl and mash with a fork.  Add mayonnaise, mustard, paprika, honey, celery seed, salt and pepper and mix thoroughly. If the mixture is too dry for you, then add more mayo. Fill the empty egg white shells with the mixture and sprinkle lightly with paprika. 

  • Turkey drippings
  • 1 cup cold chicken stock
  • 1 Tablespoon corn starch
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Place corn starch and 1/4 cup cold chicken stock in a large skillet and mix (I prefer to add stock and corn starch into a small jar with a lid and shake...it mixes much faster).  Pour turkey drippings from your roasting pan into the skillet along with the rest of the chicken stock, salt and pepper (as well as any other spices you love) and heat to a boil.  Immediately reduce heat and simmer to thicken.

So there we go!  An easy, breezy Thanksgiving meal plan that doesn't chain you to the kitchen for an entire day so you can enjoy the real reason for this season (:  

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Sunday, November 7, 2010

Time Saving Tip - Chicken Broth

Here's a tip that I use all year long, but it's a great time saver as the holidays approach. Chicken broth is a staple used in so many of our dishes and there are a variety on the shelves today including organic options, but why buy canned when you can make your own and skip the MSG?

I'm a fan of things pulling double duty and chicken is the perfect example...it's not just the meat ingredient in your next dish, but it can make tons of broth for meals in the future!  When I bring the bird home I immediately give it a rinse, pop it into a stock pot, fill it with water until covered, add celtic salt, pepper, spices of your choice, a tad of butter and veggies (carrots, onions, garlic, celery or fennel).  Bring water to a boil then reduce heat and cover.  The length of time varies based on the size of the chicken, but a good way to judge is when the meat is falling off the bone...then it's ready!  Remove the chicken, debone and place in containers to be stored in the freezer.

Once the broth is cooled, remove the fat off the top and place it in a container to be stored in the freezer for later use, then scoop out any veggies (some people strain the broth but I don't) and pour broth into ice trays.  Yes, I said ice trays.  This is a great way to have stock on hand at any time and in easy portions.  Two cubes equal 1/4 cup.  The photo below was my first attempt years ago.  I forgot to scoop off the fat, so that's why you see a lovely yellow film on some of the cubes (:

It's such a time saver and adds a punch of flavor to any dish!!  During the holidays it's great to pop some of these little guys in with the turkey drippings to make an awesome gravy.  I love to add it to rice instead of using water and usually toss a few cubes in with my stir-fry veggies.  The options are endless!!

So the next time you bring that chicken home, take a few more minutes to make some stock which will save you money and tons of time (:

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Saturday, November 6, 2010

Apothecary Jars for the Holiday Table

I've been wanting to replace the fruit in our apothecary jars with beaded gourds and pumpkins to reflect the fall season but the desire for all things frugal has kept those desires at bay.  Sometimes beaded fruit can be a tad expensive and our large jars would need a good bit to fill them.

On a trip to Walmart for a few essentials I decided to peruse their sale section for any goodies that might be lurking on dusty shelves and sure enough, there they were...the very items I had in mind and they were on sale for $4 a box!  The addition of a couple of green pumpkins and a yellow gourd brought the total just under $10.  Not bad, eh?  For an added "buy me" factor the boxes came tied up in brown grosgrain ribbon and you know a frugal gal can always use ribbon (; SOLD!!

The first box included silk leaves and beaded pumpkins in two different sizes.  Close up they aren't that impressive, which is probably why they were only $4, but they'll be just fine buried among other items inside glass.

The second box contained pears, pomegranates, an apple, berries, pine cones and green leaves.  Of the two, this was my favorite...so many textures and warm colors, plus these items had a realistic quality, unlike the bright orange pumpkins.

I already had quite a few large pine cones left over from previous holiday decor projects and they helped to top off the tallest jar.  Right now these filled and happy guys are just hanging out on the table waiting for their next layer of love...can we say burlap?

Some branches, leaves and candles should finish things off.  I've been pondering over place setting ideas and can't wait to see everything together!  I'll make sure to post photos of the finished product once the holiday draws near (;

Thursday, November 4, 2010

White Dinnerware Entertaining for the Holidays

The holidays are fast approaching and that usually means family and friends gathering around the table.  If you're anything like me, thoughts of ways to make the meal special are already roaming about which probably includes tablescape ideas. We like to keep things simple and frugal...white dinnerware, cloth napkins, natural elements and of course candles (:

White dishes and bowls give the option of switching it up every year instead of being stuck with several sets of dinnerware in various hues and patterns.  Allow your natural elements and linens to be the communicators of difference. One year the colors could be blue and chocolate and the next year green and taupe with only a minimal investment.  Napkins and cute place cards only cost a few dollars, but dinnerware can be quite a bit more. Isn't this sweet little pumpkin much more interesting than turkey printed plate? These are the pumpkin gifts I made this year for our neighbors and they also make the perfect place card.

If you really have your heart set on those new dishes with just the right pattern, think of purchasing only a few pieces to add to your white collection.  Layering the different styles can make that one little plate of color really pop!

Simplicity not only means elegance at its best, but it can be a lifesaver during our busiest times.  Why clutter the schedule with worries of fancy arrangements and endless table chachkies?  Stick with a neutral palette and then add simple touches of color.  Now, just to get those wheels turning, here's an idea for Christmas...

So, as you plan your Thanksgiving celebration celebration keep it simple and enjoy the day.  Remember...cherished moments are made in the time you spend with those you love.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Cell Phones, iPhones and Texting

I went to a birthday party over the weekend and as with most birthdays, there was a flurry of activity.  Children running about, jumping inside giant bouncy houses and of course playing the ever so popular game of "catch me if you can!!"  Amongst the happy voices and screams of sheer delight I noticed a group of women sitting around one of the tables.  Normally such a thing would not catch my eye, but these women weren't chatting or even watching the children play...they were texting.  Eyes fixated on tiny screens and fingers furiously typing away...and the looks on their faces?  I call it the text glaze. 

What is so captivating about these little devices?  Why do they have such a hold on our society today...am I the only one who finds this strange? When did a chunk of plastic with wires become more important than relating to others?

Then you have the phone calls...an ever present conversation that starts in the car and continues as one rolls about doing errands with no thought given to others sharing the same space.  The clerk behind the counter or waiter in the cafe becomes an object and of course why would we communicate with an object?  Is the conversation really that important that the phone call can't wait until you're in a private space? {sigh}
When we fill our days with emails, chats, calls and texts, we miss out on those times of true connection.  Holding someone's hand, listening to a friend share her story as you look into her eyes and just being present relates to the soul in a way that no electrical gadget can. 
This journey of simplicity has opened my eyes in oh so many ways.  Clearing out the mindless minutia makes way to enjoy the abundance of grace in each moment. Little by little steps have been taken to reduce, simplify and streamline and one of the things I decided to pare down was my mobile phone.  Gone are the days of unlimited minutes, texts and web access. I have a home phone and one of those little "disposable" mobiles used only for emergencies and much to my surprise it's been a freeing experience!  If someone wants to reach me, they can call the house.  If I'm not there, they can simply leave a message. 
When did we become an all access society?  I remember the days when there weren't answering machines and we managed to make it through the day just fine.  Taking a break allows peace to move in and thankfulness to thrive.  We begin to see ourselves and others more clearly.  So as this Thanksgiving holiday approaches, try releasing some of those complexities that take you away from appreciating the moment.  You may be surprised at the peace you find (:

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