Saturday, November 27, 2010

A Tale of Two Thanksgivings

This year, I was lucky enough to celebrate TWO Thanksgivings. Brent had to work on Friday (lucky him), so he was not able to make the 12 hour round trip trek to Ardmore, OK for my family's Thanksgiving. Since I had not seen the entire family in years, I decided to drive up to Oklahoma by myself (OK - I also brought Blazer). Then I drove back on Friday to celebrate Thanksgiving with my hubby! So here is my tale of two Thanksgivings.

(There are LOTS of pictures on this post, but let's be honest - who doesn't like pictures?!)

Thanksgiving #1: Focus on FAMILY

Thanksgiving in Ardmore is full of tradition. Each year, my grandparents make their turkey with sausage on top. I'm fully in favor of this. For appetizers, we have sausage and cold duck (a sparkling wine). Here is my Grampy, Aunt Robyn, Grammy, Mom, and Aunt Susan getting everything ready.
... And here is the feeding frenzy that followed. I mean, seriously, we are grown people. I like the blur in the left part of the picture. I'm not sure who that is, but they are NOT messing around when it comes to appetizers.
We had EVERYONE in the family there (except Brent... sad face). That was a total of 18 people!!! Thanks to my grandfather's handiwork, we all sat at the same (very long) table.
Here's a funny poster my Aunt Robyn made to commemorate the extra long table.
Me with cousins Lee and Melissa
I finally got to squeeze my little cousin-nephew Parker.
Here's my baby with my cousin's baby.
Julia squeezing said baby.
Me and my momma
There were so many people there that we did not all fit in my grandparents' house. Lots of us had to stay in a hotel. The hotel did not allow dogs, which was an issue for me. If you know me at all, you know I am a huge rule follower. But you'll be glad to know that I'll break any rule for my dog. So here is Blazer, looking confused, popping out of the duffel bag that I stuffed him in to carry him in the hotel. Yes, yes I did. Sweet little muffin.
Thanksgiving #2: Focus on FOOD

After hanging out with the fam, I made the 6 hour drive BACK to Houston to:
1) Hang out with my husband
2) Decorate for Christmas
3) Make Thanksgiving meal #2

Tonight, we finished decorating and made our own cozy little Thanksgiving dinner. It was really fun. I made some simple Thanksgiving recipes that I've been wanting to try, but never have been able to because I've never hosted a Thanksgiving. Since it was just the two of us, we made scaled down versions of Thanksgiving favorites. Here's what we ate!
Lemon & Sage Roasted Turkey Tenderloins
Find the recipe here. I used turkey tenderloins instead of a whole turkey, and I used sage instead of rosemary.
Individual Potato Gratins
Find the recipe here. I added Gruyere cheese in between layers and on top. I mean, why not?
Mushroom Dressing
Find the recipe here. I added a 1/2 cup of white wine to the dressing and a layer of grated Parmesan cheese on top.
Lemon & Sage Green Beans
Steam green beans. Toss in 1 T. leftover lemon & sage oil from turkey. Zest lemon on top.
Pumpkin Cheesecake
Find the recipe here.

So that's it, folks! Hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving, too! It's just the beginning of the most wonderful time of the year!


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Stroganoff Faceoff: Part I

If you asked my husband, out of all the
things I cook, beef stroganoff is his favorite. That's a pretty bold statement. It really does not get any better or more comforting than old-school beef stroganoff. What can go wrong with a meal that involves beef, mushrooms, onions, and noodles all covered with a thick, rich, sour cream gravy? Yes, please. I grew up on this beef stroganoff recipe from the original Helen Corbitt cookbook. It's also surprisingly easy and has become one of my "no recipe" meals because you can pretty much just throw everything together. (And I've made it so many times, it's memorized. Sad or awesome? You decide.)

The ONLY negative thing about beef stroganoff (as far as I can tell) is that it is not healthy in the least. It calls for almost a whole container of full fat sour cream. And DON'T you go trying to use low fat or fat free sour cream either. Been there... done that. It curdles. As Alton Brown would say, that is NOT good eats! You have to embrace the full fat sour cream and go for it. You won't ever, ever regret it.

A few months ago, I found a HEALTHY version of beef stroganoff in Cooking Light. I tore it out and placed it in the binder, but I secretly knew I that I would never make it. I goes against all I hold dear, and quite frankly, a healthy version seemed somehow offensive. However, I came across it again a few weeks ago, and I decided to hold a "stroganoff faceoff" - original version vs. healthy version. I'm going to give it a fighting chance. Who knows? I may be pleasantly surprised.

To start my little experiment, I made the original, ridiculously delicious version last night. My husband was a very, very happy man. Want to experiment with me? Make the original version for your family. Then next week, we'll make the healthy version. Sounds like a plan to me.

Beef Stroganoff (the original!)
From Helen Corbitt, 1957

Olive oil, salt, pepper
1 lb. sirloin steak
1 yellow onion, diced
1 large container of white mushrooms (or 2 small containers)
1 1/4 cups beef stock
3/4 container full fat sour cream (about 12 oz.)
2 heaping T. flour
1 t. nutmeg
Chopped parsley

Cut the sirloin into small, thin strips. Heat olive oil in large skillet over high heat. Add a pinch of salt & pepper. Quickly sear the steak and remove from pan. (Steak will not be cooked all the way through. This is OK because it will cook more later.)
Add sliced mushrooms and chopped onions to the pan. Saute until golden brown. Add a pinch of salt & pepper.
Return steak to pan and add 1 1/4 cups beef broth. Simmer on low for 10-20 minutes, depending on how much time you have.

In a small bowl, mix 12 oz. sour cream with 2 heaping tablespoons of flour, a generous dash of nutmeg (approx. 1 t.) and a generous pinch of Kosher salt. The nutmeg sounds weird, but it is a MUST HAVE. It gives the sauce the most amazing flavor. Don't leave it out.

Add sour cream mixture to skillet and stir to combine. Simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let gravy thicken for 5-10 minutes.
Serve on top of egg noodles (I love "No Yolks") with chopped parsley and a sprinkle of salt. Prepare to be IN LOVE with beef stroganoff. You won't believe that you were able to live without it.

Check back next week for Stroganoff Faceoff: Part II. I know you'll be on the edge of your seat in anticipation.


Friday, November 19, 2010

Restaurant-Worthy Weekday

I love to make meals that look and taste really fancy on random weekdays. They feel special, but really… they are super easy to make. I always ask Brent, “How many other men do you think are getting maple glazed salmon on a Monday?” He always responds, “Not very many, I'm sure” and that makes me smile. On the flipside, though, it’s kind of a curse. I make things like this and then Brent doesn’t want to eat out. You really can't get something fresher in a restaurant, and at home you can eat it in your PJs while watching 19 Kids and Counting.

There are so many recipes that are truly easy and quick to make and taste better than what you get at a restaurant at a fraction of the cost. On Wednesday, I made maple glazed salmon, dill & tomato cous-cous, and roasted asparagus. The preparation time was about 15 minutes and the cooking time was about 15 minutes. The result was AMAZING. You should make this restaurant-worthy dinner combo this week and then there will be a few more men eating well on a Tuesday :-)

Maple Glazed Salmon (adapted from Cooking Light)
2 t. paprika
2 t. chili powder
1 t. cumin
1 t. brown sugar
1 t. Kosher salt
Fresh Salmon
Maple syrup

Preheat oven to 410 degrees. Combine all spices (paprika through salt) in a small bowl. Rub on salmon and let sit for 15 minutes on a foil lined baking sheet. Bake for 12-15 minutes. Brush top of salmon with maple syrup and broil for 1 minute.

Dill & Tomato Cous-Cous (adapted from Cooking Light)
1 box Parmesan flavored quick cooking cous-cous
Handful of chopped fresh dill
1 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered
¼ cup finely chopped red onion

Follow directions on cous-cous package to prepare Parmesan cous-cous. Toss in a bowl with fresh dill, cherry tomatoes, and red onion.

Katie's Roasted Asparagus
1 bunch asparagus
Olive oil
McCormick Grill Seasoning
Zest of one lemon
Splash of soy sauce

Preheat oven to 410 degrees. Cut tough ends off asparagus and arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with foil. Drizzle lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with grill seasoning. Toss to coat. Roast for 8-10 minutes. Remove from oven and toss with a splash of soy sauce and lemon zest.

The garlic bread was homemade (by Whole Foods). It came free with the salmon for some reason. It had a lot of butter and it was REAL good. We just ate a small slice :-)


Friday, November 12, 2010

Book Bonanza

Is is possible to drown in books? Or maybe to be knocked unconscious by an avalanche of falling books? If so, I might be in danger. I'm a librarian, an English teacher, and a reading specialist, so it makes good sense that I have a lot of books in my life. But this week I realized just how much my life revolves around books. I'd call it a book bonanza for sure. My arms have gotten quite toned from hauling stacks and stacks and boxes and boxes of books around! Everyone should be so lucky! Take a look:

Let's start at home. Here's my bedside table. Sometimes I don't even have room for my nightly glass of water.

Here's my desk at school. Most people probably have a few books on their desk. I have EIGHT (count 'em) STACKS of books on and around my desk!!

This week was our Scholastic Book Fair. So in addition to managing the library, I was running this bad boy. It was like a book cave! I also felt quite like I worked at Barnes & Noble all week.

One library is CLEARLY not enough, so here is my classroom library with about 600 books.

...aaaaand here are the, oh, 15 boxes full of books waiting to be entered into the library.

I mean... seriously?!
So as you can see, I am surrounded by books pretty much ALL.THE.TIME. And usually, I love it :-) This week with the book fair and all the books I've been entering into the library, I've been on a book high. I keep pulling books and setting them aside because I want to read them. I've got a towering stack that I seriously can not WAIT to read. Good thing Thanksgiving break is coming up. I've been trying to work hard today to get things done so I can have lots of reading time this weekend. I'm still reading "Bright Young Things" (see previous post), but as soon as I finish, I'm going to tackle these little lovelies. I've posted them in order from little kid to big kid.
Book club, anyone?????

"Candymakers" by Wendy Mass caught my eye right away in Barnes and Noble last week. Quick: What does this book remind you of?
Willy Wonka, right?? I can't believe how similar it is. It looks like pure fun. I've read two other books by Wendy Mass that I LOVED: "A Mango Shaped Space" and "Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life," so I'm sure this will be equally as good.

How fun does this look? It's a mystery / treasure hunt book where you as the reader have to solve all kinds of puzzles while you're reading.
At first glance, this book isn't my type, but it has won some awards, and I've seen it on lots of lists lately. It's a monster book about a kid who watches Food Network all the time and wants to be a chef.
"Return to Sender" intrigues me because I think it will be one I can recommend to my kids. It's about a boy whose family hires illegal immigrants to work on their farm. He becomes friends with one of the immigrants, and the story tells of the complex moral and personal issues that arise. It won the Pura Belpre Award for Hispanic American literature. This book's cover just grabs you, right? This book is described as "an opulent, surreal world of strange beauty, sudden horror, and lush romance". Sounds good to me!
I've read several Libba Bray books - most notably her "Great and Terrible Beauty" series. This one is definitely for a high school audience. Booklist calls it: "an unforgettable, indefinable fantasy adventure." As I'm reading about it, I can't really explain what it's about either. Something about mad cow disease and hallucinations... who knows. But I'm pretty sure it will be good. It won the Printz award.
I might be the only person who hasn't read "The Help" yet. Everyone from my mother-in-law to my colleagues have urged me to read it. I'm getting to it! Looks and sounds amazing.

Also, I may be the only person ever to have not read this. I came across it in the library the other day and was intrigued by this classic novel set in turn of the century Brooklyn. As you can see on the cover, the NY public library selected it as a "book of the century"!
Whew. That's a lot. I have a sickness. And, I know I've got others I want to read soon, too! Two more just popped in my head, but this post is already long enough. Got to save some books for next time!

What do YOU want to read? ...and do you want to come help me organize books? :-)


Saturday, November 6, 2010

Fancy Plate

When Julia and I were kids, my mom used to make us something for lunch called "Fancy Plate". Fancy Plate was basically everything leftover from the fridge and pantry on one plate. Maybe a little lunch meat, a little fruit, a little leftover pork, a little leftover vegetables, some spaghetti, and maybe a cracker or two. We used to hate leftovers, so mom called it "fancy plate" in the hopes of getting us to eat it. And we did :-) We even started to ask for it.

So, blogger friends, I hope that same trick will work on you too :-) Here's my blogging version of Fancy Plate. A little of this... a little of that. Enjoy!!

Luxe Fans... It's Your Lucky Day!
If you're a reader of the blog, you've heard me talk about the Luxe series by Anna Godbersen, and many of you have also become hooked just like me. I have been desperately hoping that Anna Godbersen would write another saga in the Luxe series. She still hasn't, but every time I go to the bookstore, I hope against hope and look on the shelf *just to be sure*. Today, when I made the rounds through Barnes and Noble, look what I found!!! A NEW book by Anna Godbersen!!! It's not "The Luxe", but it's oh-so-similar. It's called "Bright Young Things" and it's set in New York City in the 1920s. Yes, please!! I can't wait to dive into this one, like, tonight. Go get it and read it with me!
Embracing the Bootie
...the shoe, that is! I've long loved the mini boots, but I never thought I could wear them. (I'm not very cool, if you haven't noticed.) But it seems that EVERYONE has a bootie on lately, and they look so dang fashionable, I had to find one that would work for me. I had a gift card from my birthday (Thanks, Wendy & Luke!) so I ventured to DSW to find the perfect bootie. I found the BCBG Paris "Maxine". See me rocking the bootie below. Blazer gave them two paws up.

31 Workouts in 31 Days Recap
The good news: I worked out more in October than I have in any other month, ever. The bad news: Technically, I didn't complete the challenge. If you take a look at the sidebar, I was doing awesome. I only had to invoke a technicality one time. There was a day where I had to write a 20 page midterm paper for my grad class, so working out just wasn't going to happen. However, I did a few boot camps that were over an hour long, so I counted one of them as two workouts. There were a ton of days when I really didn't want to work out, but I did! I was doing great - up until the last three days... when I got sick. Of course! It was like God was saying, "Great job. Yay, you! You're so disciplined and in control! Oh, wait... nope... I'm in control!" I'm talking I was flat on my back, couldn't move, chills and fever, crying to myself kind of sick. Working out was not exactly a priority! So, I failed. I didn't finish the challenge. However, I do feel stronger, lighter, and more apt to keep up my workout routine in November and beyond! Maybe I'll try the challenge again another month...

Christmas Candles on Sale!
Bath and Body Works has all of their three-wick candles on sale right now! There is an in-store coupon you can use for $10 candles! I picked up all of my Christmas favorites: fresh balsam, winter candy apple, frosted cupcake, and spice.

Cozy Socks
Lounge lovers - meet the cozy sock. I am obsessed with this super soft, fuzzy, warm sock. You can get them at Bed, Bath, and Beyond, Old Navy, and lots of other places. Whenever I'm home, I literally live in these things. Fashionable? Probably not. Essential for winter weekends? Absolutely. Make sure you buy more than one pair.

Hope you liked the fancy plate :-) Have a great wekeend.


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