Thursday, November 29, 2007

Mulled Wine

I just finished planning an informal holiday gathering for I included a recipe for Mulled Wine based on a sample my husband, son Nathan and I enjoyed in one of the wineries in Temecula, California last month. It is easy to make and an appealing option for holiday drinks, especially here where temps can be freezing this time of year. You can use a crock pot, a saucepan on the stove or a well cleaned coffee carafe kept warm on its hot plate. Buy mulling spices ready to use or make your own with this recipe. This is also the time to take advantage of those less expensive wines you might ordinarily pass up.

To 2 bottles of red wine add:

6 cinnamon sticks
12 whole cloves
1/8 t each ground ginger and allspice
1/2 c sugar
zest of 1 ornage
juice of 1 orange

Combine all ingredients and warm over low heat. Do not simmer or boil.
Serve in wine glasses

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Gearing Up For The Holidays

My husband is fond of inviting guests over at the last minute. It was not unusual for him to call on the way home from a round of golf to say he was bringing home some people he had met on the course. Although I usually protested, I knew he wasn't going to change so I just made sure I always had something in the pantry that I could whip up at the last minute.

With the holidays approaching, I always have Athens "Mini Fillo Shells" in the freezer. They don't even need to be baked and are great for appetizers or dessert. They come 15 to a box. Just fill them straight from the freezer. Here are some of the ways I have served them and they are always a hit.

Savory Fillings (hot):
  • Chili (Bush's chili in a jar is great to keep on hand) topped with shredded cheddar and chives
  • Sauteed mushrooms with garlic and a splash of sherry
  • Brie and a dollop of whole cranberry sauce
  • A combination of your favorite pizza toppings, for example, mozzarella, pepperoni, peppers and mushrooms
  • Ham, pineapple and cheddar

Just remember that everything needs to be cut into pieces small enough to fit into the mini shells. Warm filled shells at 350 degrees until heated through, usually only 8 - 10 minutes.

Savory Fillings (cold):

  • Guacamole topped with a dollop of salsa
  • Cooked cocktail shrimp topped with seafood sauce
  • Smoked salmon topped with sour cream, capers, chives and fresh dill
  • Mozzarella cube, 1/2 grape tomato, torn basil and a splash of Italian dressing
  • Mix together one 8oz package cream cheese and one 8oz carton sour cream. Keep in the fridge and when unexpected company shows up, put the amount you need into a small bowl, adding one of the following mixtures:

Roasted chopped almonds, dried cranberries, garlic salt and curry powder to taste.

Chopped dry roasted peanuts, thai chili sauce, lime juice and chives

Chopped bacon, blue cheese crumbles, chopped celery and minced sun dried tomatoes.

Sweet Fillings

  • La Creme yogurt topped with a fresh berry
  • Cool Whip mixed with or topped with lemon curd
  • Cool Whip mixed with crushed pineapple
  • Instant chocolate pudding spooned over a dollop of peanut butter
  • Cool Whip mixed with chopped chocolate and chopped peppermint candy
  • Cool Whip mixed with mandarin orange slices and coconut
  • Assorted fresh melons, berries, grapes

Again, just make sure you chop pieces into sizes appropriate for the shells. Also make certain that any fruit is well drained. You can see that I am fond of using Cool Whip - it's another great product to keep on hand in your freezer!

I always keep a box or two of the mini shells in my freezer. They never fail to impress and only you need to know how easy it all is!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Good Neighbors

My husband is Type A stubborn. That's why he waited for three days after his heart attack to drive himself to the hospital. And that is also why, nine years later when he suffered a stroke, he was able to recover enough to walk again. It is also why he won't give up looking after his lawn.

Now he has no interest in gardening. The flower beds are totally up to me and that's okay. But he will fertilize, treat for weeds and mow his lawn from Spring through Fall, often to the point of exhaustion. That's the Type A stubborn part. He used to be fond of saying,"no pain, no gain" but that kind of thinking only gets him into trouble these days.

We have had an unusually warm Fall. By this time in November the leaves should be a memory. By last weekend, still half of the trees were holding on to their leaves. We had filled four leaf bags from the front yard before we left for California the last week of October. We filled another four bags when we returned in November and I had just purchased another 35 bags to fill on the weekend. And 35 bags may not have been enough. We had a lot of leaves and Al had blown them all to the front curb. We hadn't even started to tackle the back yard. Al was out there every day, blowing leaves into the curb pile. In the process he suffered an angina attack which compelled me, naturally, to remind him that he just can't do what he used to do, and which compelled him, naturally, to agree until the next time he goes out to work in the yard.

Come Saturday, we were preparing for a day filling those dreaded bags. Mid morning the doorbell rang and one of our neighbors was offering to remove the leaves for us. Al was politely refusing the offer and I was politely refusing Al's refusal. Fortunately, the neighbor and I won out. Now this neighbor is a true blessing. In addition to the offer to remove the leaves at the curb, he also got up on the roof and removed the leaves there. Then he borrowed a gigantic leaf blower and, along with Al, removed all of the leaves from the back yard. Another neighbor and his very young son joined them in the afternoon and whoosh! the leaves from the curb were disposed of as well.

The men at our end of the street used to gather forces every Fall for a cooperataive leaf blowing/removal effort that would clean up the whole cul-de-sac. As neighbors moved away and some neighbors, like my husband, "retired" from such physical activity, the tradition has been abandoned. That's what happens in the aging of a neighborhood.

We are forever grateful for the generosity of neighbors who show up ready to pitch in and help, especially when we can no longer reciprocate. So I do what I can: I bake them apple pies! And Al is out in the yard again today, blowing more leaves into yet another pile by the curb!

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Family Reunion November 2007

I hadn't seen my relatives in California since my mother's funeral back in 1994. When I was very young, I spent a week with them every summer. Because it was a week away from home for me, I have vivid memories of the daily events of that time. Stacey (third from the right) was just a baby. I remember her first birthday and Auntie Claire's chocolate chip angel food cake...sooo good. Sharon (second from the right) is a year or so older than I am and Stephanie (far right) a year younger. These are the daughters of my mother's brother.

I remember details like seeing baby Stacey sitting on her little potty every morning while we brushed our teeth and combed our hair. There were chores to do every morning and piano lessons to practice (even on vacation!) And hot cocoa for breakfast! That was a real treat.

Sharon once tried to get me to walk across the rafters in the garage of the new house they were building. She was very persuasive but either she relented in time or I smartened up.

We played endless games of badminton in the back yard. We were playing badminton when Uncle Phil came home and told us that Marilyn Monroe had died.

I had my one and only water skiing experience with them; they instructed me to "just hang on." I guess I took them literally because I fell (naturally) and then swallowed half the lake before letting go!

I remember eating dinner on tv trays in the family room. Barbecued chicken, cottage cheese and pineapple salad. Chopped olive sandwiches for lunch. Lots of pink lemonade.

Our families gathered every year for Thanksgiving. We ate in the kitchen apart from the grown-ups and had a tradition of of searing pieces of turkey over the centerpiece candle flame. This was a clandestine activity, of course! I really don't know if our parents realized what we were up to but I do remember a lot of whispers and giggles coming from that kitchen table!

Grandma Vi always made the sweet potatoes. She called them Sweet Potato Tipsy. Just in case my cousins don't have the recipe, here it is:

6 sweet potatoes (or 2 large cans)
1/3 c butter
3T brown sugar
1/3 c half & half or whole milk
2-3T sherry

Bake sweet potatoes until done if using fresh. Remove skin, mash & whip, adding butter, sugar, milk and sherry. Turn into a greased casserole and bake at 350 for 30 minutes. Can be made a day ahead and refrigerated overnight. Bring to room temperature before reheating.

I still make this every year, often adding a pecan crumble topping. Grandma Vi also made a cranberry molded salad or a lemon/lime pineapple jello salad. I stopped making those salads in the 70's. I wonder if my cousins remember them?