Thanksgiving 2017 was a wonderful celebration. We have about 50 guests at our home every year, and I try very hard to make it special.

I wanted to share some of the pictures from our holiday festivities. It takes a lot of planning and hard labor, but it is worth every minute. We had a magical evening.

I had fun creating an actual “menu” to let everyone know what was being served, so they could choose what they wanted when it was presented to them. This year, I bought a chalkboard and had a calligrapher write the menu on it. How fun did this come out?

This year I choose the color blue as the theme, and designed everything on the table with the color blue in mind.

The flowers were especially beautiful this year, and again I had them designed around the color blue. For the first picture, I used a giant 3-tier dessert rack as the “vase”, which I purchased at Home Goods, as well as the last one, which is a long wooden blue box.I have been collecting single vintage china salad and dinner plates for many years. I wanted each salad and dinner plate to be different. I did not want them to match. I think this makes my table settings very distinctive from most table settings as well as elegant. (I know the first setting on the left is missing a salad plate, but my little nephew was sitting there, so I did not put one down as a “safety” precaution!)And of course there is always my cooking team. They come every year the night before to help, and we have the best time, even under all that pressure. Even my great-niece, Jenna and my great-nephew, Aaron, help. Here they are juicing the lemons. They also juice all the grapefruits, limes and oranges! This is me, my sister-in-law, Shelley, my two nieces, Leslie and Lara, on Thanksgiving morning, up early, no make-up, ready to make Thanksgiving 2017 happen. And we do—with so much love in our hearts! I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

It’s that simple! (No, this actually is not simple:)

Thanksgiving is right around the corner! As has become the norm, I will be entertaining about 50 guests. As you can imagine, it is quite an undertaking. The process has forced me to maintain an organized kitchen, and as a result, I have become a much better cook.

I cook everything. This includes six or seven appetizers, soup, two twenty pound turkeys, 12 large turkey thighs (we are a dark-meat family), short ribs and another mystery dish. This year, I will be making veal stew. I also prepare about six or seven side dishes, including sweet potato pie, cranberry relish, and roasted mushrooms. I change the other three or four to add some unpredictability to my menu. 

How do I do this? Firstly, I spend about an hour making some physical changes to my dining room to accommodate everyone. Then, with the assistance of 3 other family members, I set the table, which takes about 3-4 hours. Making the table look different each year is a challenge so I start planning and coordinating my decor very early. My family helps me bring my vision to fruition.

The trick is to do as much as you can as early as possible. I start cooking and freezing about 2 weeks before the holiday. I buy my nonperishables a week before and my produce two days before Thanksgiving. I also prep early on too. Thankfully, I have family members who help me prep and cook on Wednesday, and we always have so much fun. They sleep at my house so they are here Thanksgiving morning, thankfully, (no pun intended).

So, now you can see how I accomplish hosting  50 guests and staying somewhat sane. Throughout the years, I have learned a few things, the most important of which is that when entertaining, your guests always come first. Thanksgiving is my families’ favorite holiday. I am honored that everyone chooses my home for this annual celebration. It is a blessing that I will never take for granted. Of course, my family did not start out this large. But nieces and nephews are getting married and having children, so it gets bigger every year. I will always find a place for them. No one misses Thanksgiving at my house. For that, I am grateful.

I will be taking the next week off to prepare for Thanksgiving. I wish all of you a very happy holiday!

Happy Thanksgiving!

It’s that simple!

As late afternoon approaches, I am always looking for a snack. I used to reach for a granola bar, until I became more informed about its ingredients. 

Many of the bars claim to have nutritional value, but in actuality, the “natural flavors” listed are chemically engineered sugars manufactured to resemble the designated foods. 

If you are interested in obtaining more information about this, check out “The Food Babe” website. She is passionate about the foods we are eating and their ingredients.

This is why I decided to try and make the granola bars. I know that I am using healthy and nutritious ingredients. These bars are easy to make and so delicious.  Feel free to modify this recipe with any healthy ingredient you enjoy.  I did change a few things, as I noted in the recipe.

This recipe is courtesy of The Perfect Cookie by America’s Test Kitchen. It will make 36 bars ( depending on how you cut them).

Ingredients for Crunchy Granola Bars

7 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup vegetable oil (I used coconut oil)
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup “natural” honey
3/4 cup packed light brown organic cane sugar
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 1/2 cups almonds, peanuts, or walnuts, coarsely chopped 

Preheat oven to 375.

Adjust oven rack to middle position.

Toss oats, oil, and salt together in a medium bowl.

Spread mixture over baking sheet and toast, stirring often, until pale golden, about 20 – 25 minutes.

Gtanola Bars oats on pan

Meanwhile, line an 18 by 13-inch rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and grease foil. ( I used parchment paper, which I extended beyond the baking sheet rims).

Cook honey and sugar in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring frequently, until sugar is fully dissolved, about 5 minutes. 

granola bars honey and sugar in pan

Take off the heat and stir in the vanilla and cinnamon, if using.

Transfer toasted oat mixture to a large bowl. 

Reduce oven temperature to 100. Add honey mixture and almonds (or any nut you are using) to oat mixture and toss until well combined.

Transfer mixture to prepared sheet and press firmly into even layer with a greased metal spatula.

Granola bar transferred to baking sheet

Bake bars until golden, 35 to 30 minutes, rotating sheet halfway through baking. (set your timer).

Let bars cool completely, in sheet on wire rack for 15 minutes, then cut them into 36 pieces. 

Let cool completely, then remove individual bars from sheet with spatula. 

Bars can be stored at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.

It’s that simple!

I am a big fan of making a meal out of the ingredients in my pantry and refrigerator. That is the origin of this recipe. A recipe should be used simply as a guide. Unless you are baking where it is imperative to follow every detail, feel free to change an ingredient if you do not have it. You might be surprised by the results! Your “new” recipe may become a family favorite.

I know you may roll your eyes when you read how long it takes to roast these peppers. They do take a while, but if you happen to have a jar of roasted red peppers on hand, use it! I had the red peppers in my refrigerator and needed to use them before they became inedible. Roasting red peppers is not on my list of favorite things to do. But, the result was worth the effort.

This recipe is delicious and, once the roasted peppers were cooked, came together easily. You can always add some Parmesan-Reggiano cheese to top it off. That would make the dish even more delicious!

This recipe will serve 4-6 people who will be ecstatic that you had these ingredients in your pantry!

Ingredients for Fusilli with Roasted Pepper, Garlic and Lemon

3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
3 red bell peppers, roasted and cut into slices
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 package fusilli pasta
1 tbsp. butter
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 tsp. kosher salt, plus 2 tbsp. more for pasta water
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 450.

Cut the red peppers in half and discard the seeds. Place them cut-side down on a baking sheet that has been lined with parchment paper. 

Roast peppers for about 20-25 minutes, or until the skins are charred and wrinkled. 

Let cool. Cut them into 1/2-inch slices.

Meanwhile bring  a pot filled with water and 2 tablespoons of kosher salt to a boil. 

Add the pasta and cook 2 minutes less than the directions on the package.

RESERVE 2 CUPS OF PASTA WATER! Drain the rest. Set aside.

In a large skillet, heat 3 tablespoons of the extra-virgin olive oil. 

Add the breadcrumbs and cook until lightly browned.

Fusilli breadcrumbs

Stir in the garlic. Cook for one more minute.

Toss in the lemon juice and zest, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. 

Add the roasted red peppers, stir to combine.

Fusilli red pepers lemon juice

Pour in the pasta and 1/2 cup of reserved pasta water. 

Keep adding small amounts of pasta water and stirring until you reach the thickness of the sauce you desire.

Fusilli with pasta -done

Serve warm or room temperature.

It’s that simple!

Julie's flower

My choice of cookware is enameled pots. I started using them many years ago. They can be pricey, but they are so worth it. You can now find them in stores like Home Goods at more reasonable prices. I started my collection slowly, buying one or two pots a year, and now I am hooked. I rarely use my stainless steel pots anymore for a number of reasons.

They burn easily and are very difficult to clean.

The enamel pots, on the other hand, clean easily, and rarely require overnight soaking.

In addition, enamel pots are made from a cast-iron or steel base and then coated with porcelain enamel to give the pan a smooth, non-stick surface. This coating is made from natural clay that has been baked and glazed to make it very hard and durable.

I have found that stainless steel pans are a poor conductor of heat, and, as a result, food tends to cook unevenly. They also contain some elements that may interfere with the taste of the food.

Enamel pots, however, combine the heat distribution benefits of iron with the non-stick properties of enamel. Foods cook more evenly and do not contain properties that interfere with the taste of the food.

Buy one for yourself. I know you will notice the tremendous differences between the stainless steel and the enameled pot. I think you are going to be hooked too!

This recipe has turned a beet-hater like me into someone who actually enjoys them. The sweetness of the dark brown sugar combined with the tartness of the orange juice makes the beets as wonderful as popping a piece of candy in your mouth. I used golden beets for this recipe, but you can use the red ones as well. 

I hate to peel beets (don’t forget to put on gloves), but I love this recipe enough that I would gladly peel them again. It is scrumptious and worth every minute. Peeling and steaming the beets take the majority of the time required  for this recipe. Once the beets are done, the process goes quickly. Take a look at this recipe; how is that for short and simple? 

This recipe is courtesy of eating and will serve 6 people who will be popping them into their mouths like bonbons!

Ingredients for Brown Sugar-Glazed Beets

3 cups peeled, steamed cubed beets, 1/2 to 1-inch cubes
3 tbsp. dark brown sugar
2 tbsp. orange juice
1 tbsp. unsalted butter
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Place beets in a steamer in a pot with 2 inches of water. Steam on high heat for 15-20 minutes. 

Brown Sugar Beets in pan steaming

Combine brown sugar, orange juice, butter, kosher salt and pepper in a large nonstick skillet.

Brown Sugar beets sugar and orange juice

Cook over medium heat until the sugar and butter are melted and starting to bubble.

Stir in the beets and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated and the beets are coated with glaze, about 6-8 minutes.

Brown Sugar Beets in pan with brwon suagr and orange juice

Serve warm.

It’s that simple!

Jenna eating corn