Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Six Things You Could Be Doing Right Now to Get a Jump on the Holiday Season

Did you feel that?

There's a chill *just* starting to settle in the air.

Typically, that means I write a recipe post dedicated to some form of stew or some variety of pumpkin sugar-this-or-that, but this year we're going to kick off fall a bit differently.

CUE THE CHRISTMAS MUSIC!

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Just kidding. But really- doesn't it seem like the holiday season creeps up faster and faster each year? One minute I'm debating whether or not it's time to pack up my shorts for the season, and the next minute I'm mulling over options for Ugly Sweater parties.

So, before you're caught off guard by Jingle Bells playing in a department store while you're shopping for a Halloween costume, let me help you get a jump on the most wonderful time of the year.

Here are six things you could (and should!) do before November 1 in order to have a holly, jolly holiday season.

1. Start Making a List (checking it twice can come later)

This is really something I do year-round, but better late than never! I keep a list on my phone of anything that gets mentioned as a "want". Sister posts some ridiculous beauty product on Facebook that she OMG TOTALLY WANTS? Check. Friend longingly mentions a kitchen accessory she's always wanted? Amazon & Save For Later. Little Bro mentions a new show he's obsessed with? Jot it down and start researching fan-gear. Hubs says it would be "really cool" to have a random gadget that you've never heard of? Put it on the list and Google it later. Do you have to get the stuff that people mention? No, but at least this way you have a running list of hobbies and interests that should give you a good starting point for gift-giving. (P.S. This list is useful year round for birthdays, anniversaries, or rando-gifting!)

2. Make Some Bomb-Ass Eggnog

Did you know you can age eggnog? Yeah. Last year for Christmas I made Alton Brown's Aged Eggnog and holy cow was that stuff divine. Ours only matured for a week or two before it magically disappeared. Now would be the perfect time to whip up a batch and stash it in the back of the fridge. Come holiday time you'll have a great cocktail for tree-trimming or spontaneous guests. You could even portion it out into mason jars and give out some holiday cheer to friends and neighbors.

3. Determine Your Travel Plans

This might be difficult in September, but doable by October. Figure out if you're headed to Aunt Mildred's for Thanksgiving, or if your whole family is cruising around the Caribbean for Christmas. The sooner you know where things are happening, the sooner you can schedule time off work, make travel plans, and settle any other arrangements. If you have pets and need to board them over the holidays, you should already know that kennels fill up fast and that setting up a reservation now will guarantee you an easy, breezy, beautiful holiday.

4. De-Clutter

Spring cleaning is for fools. Fall de-clutter is the real deal. Think about it....Thanksgiving leftovers, Black Friday loot, Season's Greetings cards from friends and family, Christmas Cookie swaps, presents, wrapping paper from said presents....the holidays do a number on storage space. Take some time to clean out the fridge (you've gotta make room for that eggnog, anyhow!), donate clothes, throw out junk, and organize that random pile of stuff that's been sitting on your dining room table since March.

5. Get Addresses

If you're planning on sending out Christmas cards, you're going to discover that you need actual, physical addresses. The USPS does not, to my knowledge, accept e-mail address or cell numbers as a valid delivery address. Sorry. Now is the time to start harassing your mother for Great Uncle Skippy's address, and to begin pestering your friends for theirs. People will forget and need to be reminded, so give yourself the buffer time. And please, for your sanity, SAVE these addresses for next year. (Note: if you're doing this step, you might as well also start to figure out your Christmas cards/pictures/etc)

6. Nail Down Your Holiday Recipe/s

Contrary to what most women's magazines say, rich food is a huge part of the holiday season. So please- don't be that person that brings a salad to Thanksgiving, or brings raisins to the holiday cookie swap. This is the time of year for butter, sugar and flavor. Set yourself up with one or two awesome recipes that you can whip up to share- preferably one savory appetizer/side-dish and something sweet. Need some inspiration?

Blue Cheese Crostinis (apologies for the picture quality- those were the dark days of camera phones)

Slow Cooker Cranberry Meatballs

Bacon Balsamic Brussels Sprouts

Burgundy Mushrooms  - bonus, these will make your house smell AMAZING all day

Cinnamon Sugar Pecans - perfect for gift giving, or to keep in a snack dish for munching

Chewy Ginger Molasses Cookies - the best cookie I've ever made

My parting words with #6? If mashed potatoes are your responsibility, make them taste delicious with or without gravy. Don't skimp on salt, pepper, garlic powder, butter, cream cheese (yes! trust me!) and heavy cream (alright, alright- half and half OR whole milk. Touch the skim and I'll ex-communicate you from the holidays.)



Thursday, September 15, 2016

Harvest Infused Whiskey and Harvest Fashioned Cocktails

Let's play a round of "Guess What's In the Mason Jar!"

Week 38: Acid - Harvest Infused Whiskey (lemon and blood orange)

Weird lemonade? No.

Sun tea? Wrong.

Sangria? Getting closer.

This baby is full of what I'm calling "Harvest Infused Whiskey"- and no, it's not being infused with pumpkins, corn stalks, or gourds. 

Ingredients (from Thrillest)
  • 750ml Whiskey*
  • 1/4 of a lemon, cut into chunks and seeds removed
  • 1/4 of a blood orange, cut into chunks (yes- you can use a regular orange)
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 vanilla bean, split (but not scraped!)
  • 18 dried cherries
  • 4 dried Turkish apricots, halved 
  • 4 whole cloves
Add all ingredients to a large jar, give a good shake and let steep covered for 5 days. After 5 days, strain and discard solids. 

For the Harvest Fashioned Cocktail (a play on the traditional sugar, spirits and orange of an Old Fashioned):
  • 750ml Harvest Infused Whiskey
  • 3/4 cup honey
  • 1/3 cup peach brandy
  • Orange rind
Warm the honey in the microwave until very liquid. Pour into strained, infused whiskey and add in 1/3 cup of peach brandy. Shake well to ensure the honey is dissolved. Serve on the rocks in a short glass, and garnish with a twist of orange rind.

Note: you can decrease/increase the honey depending on how sweet you'd like this cocktail to turn out. If you don't have honey (or don't want to use honey), you can use sugar- HOWEVER- sugar will not dissolve well in room-temp/cool liquid, so make a simple syrup in a saucepan using equal parts sugar and water, stirring on medium heat until sugar is fully dissolved. 

You can also forgo peach brandy in favor of regular brandy (which you should stock for eggnog!) or more (un-infused) whiskey, but the brandy adds a nice warmth and the peach brightens up the flavors and brings out the apricot. 


*Any whiskey will do, though Revel Stoke makes a Pecan Flavored Whiskey that really amps up the 'warm' fall flavor of this infusion. 







Friday, September 9, 2016

That Time Beef Wellington Almost Made Me Cry

Apparently, Gordon Ramsey is enough of a super-chef that he doesn't even need to be in the kitchen yelling at you in order to trigger a meltdown. In fact, all you have to do is attempt his Beef Wellington and the tears will be on stand-by.

For real though.

Last week, I made Gordon Ramsey's Classic Beef Wellington and Red Wine Sauce. The end result?

 

Hey- not too shabby! But let me walk you through the 24-hours leading up to this.

1. Make grocery list. I need 2 1-pound roasts of beef tenderloin, 16 ounces of wild/mixed mushrooms, and 8 slices of prosciutto, plus beef trimmings for the sauce. Easy day.

2. Go to Byerly's to buy mushrooms, prosciutto and tenderloins. My bill is $75.00. This better be good.

3. Go to Cub to buy the ingredients for the red wine sauce. Ask if they have beef trimmings I could use. No. They use that for hamburger. Okay. Ask what meat out on the floor would be a good substitute for flavorful, fatty trimmings. Shoulder-shrugs all around. Thanks guys. Buy one beef shank steak for $2.50. Buy puff pastry and remaining sauce ingredients. 

4. Get home and wrap beef in plastic wrap to "shape". Open giant bottle of Barefoot Merlot and drink, leaving 750ml so I have enough wine for the sauce tomorrow. Go to bed.

5. Sear beef and set aside. Awesome. Feeling good.

6. Start making mushroom duxelle. Realize I forgot to brush beef with English mustard as soon as it came out of the pan. Couldn't find English mustard, substitute cream-style horseradish. No clean food brush- have to use hands. Whatever. 

7. Back to the mushrooms. Hands are starting to burn. Mushrooms are not. Finish the duxelle and set aside to cool.

8. Start to make the red wine sauce. Feeling back on track. 

9. Begin to wrap the tenderloins. Grab plastic wrap and discover it's too thin. Oh well.

10. Attempt to lay out prosciutto, but it's sliced very thin and is stupid-delicate. Smear on duxelle to "glue" it together.

11.  Lay beef on duxelle and roll up. Feeling good. 

12. Unroll from plastic wrap and discover I've rolled the whole thing wrong. Duxelle has burst through the prosciutto. 

13. Heart starts to sink. Maybe I can rewrap if I just peel the prosciutto away? Stupid-thin prosciutto is having none of it and falls apart in my hands. Heart sinking rapidly. 

14. Okay. What if I salvage the duxelle and get more prosciutto? Try to separate prosciutto from duxelle. It's like a clingy ex and just dissolves into the duxelle. Heart thoroughly sunk.

15. The red wine sauce seems to be doing well, but it's hard to tell while I'm laying on the kitchen floor in defeat, desperately trying to get my older sister on the phone to ask her what I've become.

16. Pull myself together. Don't have time to go back to Byerly's. Go to Cub and get packaged prosciutto which is sliced even THINNER. What. the. fudgesicle. 

17. Grab tenderloin. Slap on salvaged duxelle, coat in scraps of idiot prosciutto, smother in plastic-wrap and throw in the fridge.

18. Be extra attentive when I take out the second tenderloin and reserved Byerly's prosciutto. Spend 5 minutes mentally wrapping the tenderloin before actually doing it. This one works. Throw it in the fridge with it's Franken-brother. 

19. Open another bottle of wine. Pour a drink. 

20. Take out puff pastry to thaw. Finish up red wine sauce.

21. Forget about puff pastry and realize it's too soft. Toss in freezer to re-firm.

22. Forget about puff pastry and realize it's frozen again. Set on counter to thaw again.

23. Roll out puff pastry. 

24. Somehow manage to roll both wellingtons without issue. Place in fridge.

25. Preheat oven, take out wellingtons and coat in egg wash. Make little decorative marks. Have another glass of wine. 

26. Wait for wellingtons to cook while my husband wines about being hungry. Glare at him until he changes his tune and pours me more wine. 

27. Take out the wellingtons and let them rest. Transfer to cutting board and slice.

28. Burn my hands. 

29. Beef is medium instead of rare/medium-rare. Goddamnit. 

30. Drown the wellington in red wine sauce. Drown myself in red wine. 


What I Do When My Husband Is Gone





My husband has been away a lot this year for various Navy-related reasons. There haven't been any long deployment-stints to deal with, but rather a smattering of one or two week trips that have become frequent enough that I've developed a pattern of activity in his absence. We're coming up on another week of temporary Navy-Wife-Table-for-One-Syndrome, so for everyone who has ever asked "what are you going to do while he's gone?", this list is for you.




Order Pizza

Yeah. This happens within the first two days of him being gone because my husband is always opposed to pizza while I, meanwhile, could eat it every day. In fact, that's usually what I do when he's gone. I order a giant pizza and live off of it for the week. #NoShame

Do My Social Rounds

I don't want to sit at home by my lonesome every evening while my husband is gone, so I try to fill up my card with friends that I haven't had the chance to see in a while. (And then in the morning while I'm trying to get ready for work while chugging Gatorade and aspirin, I'm reminded why I don't see some of these people regularly....)

Clean

I love my husband, but he's a trash tornado. I don't know how he does it. When he's around, I can spend a day cleaning and within 30 seconds of him being home there's suddenly a sink full of dishes, a random stain on the counter, dirty clothes on the couch and 10 different crumpled receipts on the coffee table. HOW. When he's gone, I'll spend a day cleaning and then get to enjoy a tidy house for the entire time he's away. It's a beautiful thing while it lasts.

Watch the Chick Flick

I have a standing watch list on Netflix and Amazon Prime that I dip into only when my husband is gone. I get to be the stereotype: cozy couch, ice-cream, wine, sappy movie, ugly cry.

Have a Weekend Getaway

I LOVE long drives by myself. I get to belt out Disney tunes, drink as much Diet Coke as I want, and NOT have to stop for my husband's unusually small bladder. My favorite weekend road-trip is a quick 2 hour drive to visit my lovely friend, Katie G. Maybe it's due to the nostalgia of college days past, or maybe it's because she spoils me rotten and there's typically a bottle of wine waiting, random gifts, and plenty of "You ROCK!" conversation to enjoy all while lounging in a hot tub. Come to think of it, I don't know why I don't do this every weekend.....

Miss Him

Of course I have to end this list with something cliche and lovey-dovey. I do try and have fun when he's gone, but at the end of the day everything that I do is always better when he's part of it. That's probably why I love the guy so much- trash tornado and all.