Saturday, December 25, 2010

Colorful Christmas Menu

I thought I would share my Christmas menu and some preparation tips with you! Our spread was so colorful and the flavors balanced well.

One of my favorite cooking shows is Food Network's "Cooking for Real" with Sunny Anderson. I used two of her recipes this year: Turkey with Pan Gravy and Garlic Green Beans. I didn't have any sage for the turkey, so I just substituted thyme and more rosemary. It was the juiciest turkey meat I've ever had--well worth the time it took to brine it in the fridge. And the seasoned rub and olive oil basting gave the whole bird such a lovely golden finish. The Garlic Green Beans were tasty and fresh; I found them less heavy than the traditional goopy green bean casserole.

Not wanting the turkey neck and giblets to go to waste, my husband made Cornbread Dressing, a Southern Living recipe (see top photo, far left). I have to commend him for being resourceful, even when we didn't have all the ingredients on hand. He made do, and it turned out great.

For me, another go-to resource for recipes is Better Homes and Gardens. I tried their Sweet Potatoes with Toasted Pecans and Creamed Corn Casserole. I liked the creaminess of the sweet potatoes along with the crunch of toasted pecans on top. Also, both these recipes lent themselves well to pre-holiday prep. The corn casserole took up no oven space by cooking in the CrockPot throughout the morning, and I whipped up the sweet potatoes the day before and had them stashed in the fridge awaiting the oven.

Forget the canned sludge! I made fresh cranberry relish for the first time, using this recipe from the Closet Cooking blog. I might not include the orange peel next time (it was a little bitter for my liking), but I loved the texture of the relish and the brilliant color.

Lastly, for dessert, I opted for the classic pumpkin and pecan pies. I used Whole Food Market's Old Fashioned Pecan Pie and the simple recipe from the back of Libby's canned pumpkin. Admittedly, I made a shortcut by using Pillsbury pre-made crusts, but I needed all the timesavers I could get with a 4-month-old and 2-year-old underfoot and a long list of other to-dos! :) The pecan pie was good but different than one made from Karo syrup. It used honey and maple syrup instead, so it was healthier and not as sugary.

COOKING TIMELINE (to eat by 12:30 pm, Christmas Day)
Dec. 21:
Go grocery shopping

Dec. 22:
Brine the fresh (not frozen) turkey and leave in fridge for up to 3 days

Dec. 24:
- Bake pies
- Make cranberry relish
- Prepare sweet potatoes to refrigerate overnight
- Assemble spices for the turkey rub and leave on counter
- Set out all your other ingredients in stations, along with serving dishes
- Set the table in advance

Dec. 25:
- 7:00 am: Pull turkey out of the fridge and do prep for roasting, allow to rest at room temp
- 8:00 am: Assemble creamed corn casserole and turn on slow cooker, set to 4 hrs on high
- 8:30 am: Put turkey in the oven
- 10:45 am: Turkey comes out of oven
- 10:50 am: Toast pecans for sweet potato casserole (10 min)
- 11:00 am: Put cornbread dressing in oven, side by side with sweet potato casserole
- 11:30 am: Make green beans
- Noon: Make pan gravy from turkey drippings; cornbread dressing comes out of oven; add marshmallows to sweet potato casserole
- 12:15 pm: Take out s.p. casserole; carve the turkey
- 12:30 pm: Call everyone to the table, say a prayer of blessing and serve one tasty meal!

  • Whenever possible, use a food processor to do your prepwork for you. I despise chopping onions and never get them finely diced because tears are streaming down my face by that point. A food processor takes care of this job for me and takes a fraction of the time.
  • Make a habit of growing herbs in your flower garden, windowsill or the like. It's such a cost-saver and handy in a pinch when you have to make a substitution.
  • Don't throw away the turkey carcass/bones. Put them in a dutch oven, fill with water and simmer for one hour to make turkey broth to freeze for later use. No need to buy broth at the store!
Whew! I'm done, folks. Hope this helps you out for next year. Merry Christmas to all...and to all a good night!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

No-Sew Advent Calendar

Repeat after me: "Tacky glue is my best friend." Seriously, I got this entire project completed with just one bottle of that adhesive awesomeness. I own a sewing machine but (tsk, tsk) I haven't learned to use it, so I rely on glue and iron-on tape to get the job done on most of my crafts.

  • 1 - 22x34-inch fabric of your choice (I chose one with polka dots which made for less guesswork and tedious measuring on the rows for the calendar and when folding over the edges to glue to the back! Just follow the row of polka dots. Could work the same way with a striped fabric.)
  • 1 - 9x12-inch light blue felt and scrap felt pieces cut for the manger scene (forest green for hills, brown for barn structure)
  • 25 - 3x3-inch felt squares for the pockets (5 rows of 5)
  • Stencil-cut numbers for Advent pockets (1 through 25)
  • 1 - dowel rod trimmed to 22 inches
  • Ribbon to tie on each end of dowel rod for hanging
  • Tacky glue
  • Fabulous Foam Self-Adhesive Nativity Shapes (500-pc from Oriental Trading; $7.99) There are two sizes of nativity shapes that come in this pack. I sorted them and, using the larger ones, I will have enough pieces now for eight years! Sheep, stars and palm trees all made double or triple appearances in the Advent calendar to have enough to fill up 25 pockets.

A foam sticker peeks out of one of the pockets. Tip: Use a stencil flipped over to trace the numbers in reverse on the felt. When you go to cut them out, any pen marks on the back will be hidden.

Tip: Using 9x12 sheets of pre-cut felt, you'll have enough 3x3 pieces cut out from 3 sheets to make 24 pieces. Use some excess felt of another color to make your pocket for Day 25...Christmas!

Here's what it looks like hanging from a door using a wreath hanger.