Monday, November 30, 2009

Martha Monday--Christmas Workshop

Like her Thanksgiving Workshop, Martha has a Christmas Workshop filled with fun ideas for the holiday.  You can even sign up for weekly emails with craft projects, gift ideas, recipes and more to help you plan the best Christmas celebration yet. 

The workshop segments actually began two weeks ago, but I'm loathe to bust out with Christmas stuff before Thanksgiving. 

Martha also has an entire array of tips and strategies to make it through the season with your sanity intact.

I'll be using some of Martha's tips and sharing some of my own over the course of the season.  This is a wonderful time of year and I intend to enjoy every single minute!  And with all the parties and family gatherings, I'm sure I will. 

But first, I need to get my house ready for Christmas.  Happy holidays!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Table ready

I set the table for Thanksgiving dinner.  Last night. Over four days before my family is due here for turkey dinner.  Can you tell I'm over the moon about hosting Thanksgiving?

The empty spaces on each side will be filled with the kids' seats.  I layered a smaller fall-theme tablecloth over the red tablecloth for visual interest.  How Martha is that?!

And before anyone criticizes my table-setting skills, let me share with you my standards:  each dish and utensil must be clean, and everyone must have a complete set with which to dine.  So, according to my standards, this place setting is an A+.

The china pattern is Noritake's Crestwood Platinum.  I always enjoy any occasion to get the china out.  Best part:  it's dishwasher-safe.  Awesome!

The silver is Lenox Kirkstieff Frosted (I think). 

The paper napkins are Jewel.  10 for $10.00.  Woohoo!

As with all of my Thanksgiving decorations, the centerpieces are courtesy of Diana. 

The gravy boat is at the ready.  I just love that this one specific menu item has its very own dish.  I wonder if the other food stuffs get jealous. 

Finally, the butter will be in a turkey dish.  Because, you know, it's Thanksgiving!

And with that, I think I'm ready. All that's missing is the food and family, and those won't arrive until Friday.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Martha Monday--Thanksgiving Hotline

From today until 6pm CST on Wednesday, Martha's radio show is hosting a Thanksgiving hotline, where you can get your Thanksgiving questions answered by Martha, Emeril, Nigella Lawson, Mario Batali and other celebrity chefs.  Get the details here.

I might call just so I can chat with Martha and invite her to Thanksgiving dinner at my house.  Since it's actually on Friday, she might be free, right?  It's worth a shot!  I'll make extra green bean casserole just in case. 

Finally, for those of us hosting people in our homes for Thanksgiving, Martha has a bunch of tips for making houseguests feel welcome and for making the stay as pleasant as possible for everyone.  Her first tip is to make these so-cute-it's-almost-nauseating pie boxes to package desserts as favors for guests. 

Isn't that too cute?!  And a project for people who obviously have some time on their hands.  I certainly strive to be a domestic goddess like Martha, but in the TMI house, any leftovers are sent home with guests in cleaned out Cool Whip containers. 

Even if Martha herself did come to Thanksgiving dinner on Friday, I would still send her home with green bean casserole in a Cool Whip container.  That's just how I roll. 

Friday, November 20, 2009

An alternative to pumpkin pie... pumpkin cookies, of course! 

Martha has a great recipe for Pumpkin Cookies with Brown Butter Icing.  I made these a few years ago, and they were a huge hit. 

If you need something pumpkin-y for the Thanksgiving festivities, but pie isn't your thing, look no further.  This recipe is it!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Yummy cookies and baking with kids

I made Martha's Oatmeal Raisin Cookies for a recent family gathering.  I got the recipe from her Cookies book, but the same recipe is online here.

Martha's recipe calls for toasted wheat germ, but I used wheat bran.  And I didn't toast it.  Sometimes, I can be a real rebel.

As usual, the Little Guy helped.  His "help" is sometimes difficult to accept, especially when I am doing serious baking, but things go more smoothly when he is given specific tasks to do.  For example: dumping ingredients into the bowl and stirring are things he can handle. 

Additionally, we emphasize taking turns when it comes to stirring.  That way, the heavy mixing actually gets done.  Here, the Little Guy lets the Big Guy step in for a minute.

Now, I'm not sure if it's the recipe with, or in spite of, all the "help," but the cookies turned out so deliciously yummy.  Seriously.  These are hands down the best oatmeal raisin cookies I've ever made.  They spread out quite a bit when baking, so I was worried they would be crisp.  I needn't have worried.  The cookies were soft and chewy, every last one of them.

Make these cookies.  Do it now.  You'll thank me for it later!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

My Thanksgiving marching orders

Our Thanksgiving is actually spread out over three days. 

That's right, TMI-ers...three complete Thanksgiving meals in three days.  I'm preparing for a turkey coma that could last me well into December! 

I am only hosting one of those meals, but I am contributing to the other two.

For the Big Guy's family, I've been asked to bring apple pie.  Obviously, I'll be using Martha's recipe. For the other Thanksgiving, I'll bring pumpkin pies and green bean casserole.  And since it's a cousin's birthday, I've offered to make whatever he wants for dessert (no word yet on what that may be). 

Maybe pie?  Could be pie.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Martha Monday--Thanksgiving Menu Planning

Thanksgiving is only 10 days away! For those of us Marthas-in-training who are hosting people for the holiday dinner, now is the time to plan our meals and make the shopping list. 

If you need help planning the menu, Martha has done the work for you.   

We'll be hosting my family for the Big Meal, and I have my menu all planned out:

Roast turkey (brined the Martha way, of course)
Mashed potatoes and gravy
Sweet potatoes
Green bean casserole (it's just not Thanksgiving without this dish!)
Herbed carrots
Cranberry sauce (from a can, just the way I like it)
Rolls and butter

You'll notice I left out stuffing, soup and salad.  Stuffing just isn't very popular in the TMI household, and I don't want to waste valuable stomach space on soup and salad when there's a huge turkey and sides waiting to be devoured.  I can have soup and salad any old day...why bother with it on Thanksgiving?

And for dessert, we'll have pecan, pumpkin and Martha's apple pie

What's on your Thanksgiving menu? 

Friday, November 13, 2009

Fall fun

Several weeks ago, I mentioned that I was going to try to get out and enjoy fun fall activities as much as possible before cold weather drove me indoors.  Amazingly, between housework, exhaustion and mandatory events, I accomplished this goal.

Here's what I've been up to...

For my birthday, my family and I trooped out to Buckley Homestead in Lowell, Indiana to see a recreation of the Legend of Sleepy Hollow.  We had a great time!

At the Yorkville Labor Day Fest, I enjoyed my very first deep-fried Twinkie. YUM!

At the Aurora Fall Fest, we checked out a petting zoo (among other things) at Phillips Park. The Little Guy really enjoyed this.  I tried to sneak out a rabbit in my big green purse, but the Big Guy was on to me.  He has a strict "1 animal only" house rule.  Drats!

For the Little Guy's birthday, we took a bunch of family over to Blackberry Farm.  I had a blast on the carousel.  Okay, truthfully, as you can see by my facial expression, I was really dizzy and trying to make the best of it.  Those kids just don't get tired of going around and around, do they?  The Little Guy and his cousin must've ridden on the carousel a dozen times.  Crazy kids!

Most recently, the TMI household headed out to the Red Oak Nature Center for some hiking and cave exploration.  No dizziness involved here.

It was great to get that bunch of fall fun in before the weather got too cold.  These memories will help me make it through the cold months ahead.  Or at least until I can get my hands on another deep-fried Twinkie. 

Thursday, November 12, 2009

My Thanksgiving decorations

Thanksgiving doesn't lend itself much to decorations, other than fancy centerpieces and placecards, but I don't let that deter me.  Take a look at my Thanksgiving decorations on the mantel, courtesy of family friend Diana.

First up is a lovely Pilgrim couple.  He's holding a turkey, and she's holding a cornucopia.  I want to make a short movie with them, but so far the dialogue just isn't working. I'll keep you posted.

Next up is a tom and hen (is that the appropriate terminology?) salt and pepper shaker set.  I have yet to actually use them for salt and pepper.  They're just too cute, so they stay on the mantel.

I love this Waterford turkey.  Whoever thought of crafting a turkey out of crystal is a genuis.  A true visionary.  Seriously, it's a crystal turkey!?!

Finally, I have this turquoise color glass set.  The large turkey is actually some kind of dish (maybe a candy dish?) and the smaller turkey looks like it could be a taper candle holder.  The blue color blows my mind.  Seriously, turquoise color turkeys?!?

Finally, this last piece of turkey-themed decoration comes from the Little Guy. 

It's not crystal, and it's not turquoise, but it's still a work of art to me. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Thanksgiving family fun

Last year, the TMI household hosted 20+ for Thanksgiving.  It was a blast!  I started things off with a fun family project.  In the foyer, I hung two large sheets of paper (Post-It makes large easel-size sheets that are like giant sticky notes) with the caption "Welcome, family and friends! Happy Thanksgiving!"

I then posed a question:  "What are you thankful for?  Share your blessings with us!"
I left a few markers on a table near the paper, and drew my own little hand-turkey with a message to get things started.

As you can see from the pictures, everyone got involved.  Most peoploe gave the usual "friends and family" response, but the illustrations provided even more insight into what people were grateful for:  football, turkey and wine.

And pumpkin pie, which is most definately a blessing!

And no, I am not responsible for the drawings of turkey or pie. Though I am exceedingly grateful for both.

If you are hosting Thanksgiving this year, then I encourage you to include these super big post-it notes on your shopping list.  Hang a few on the wall, leave out some markers, and let your guests express themselves through hand-turkey drawings.  Because nothing says "I'm thankful" like a heartfelt hand-turkey.  Gobble!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Martha Monday--Martha Stewart Center for Living

On her blog last Friday, Martha asked all of her readers/followers to donate one dollar to the Martha Stewart Center for Living.  The Martha Stewart Center for Living is located at Mount Sinai Hospital, and focuses on the care of older patients.  The Center is dedicated to Martha's mother, Big Martha. 

A fundraising gala for the Center is scheduled for tomorrow.  As the original driving force behind the Center, Martha remains involved and that is evident with the gala.  The event is being held at MSLO headquarters in New York City, and Martha is auctioning off several amazing experiences to raise money for the Center. 

Check out the online auction...

You can bid on a guest appearance for the Martha Stewart Show (value: $10,000).  How about a tour of Martha's gardens, led by Martha herself, followed by lunch with Martha?  There are several auction items involving Martha, and all of them would be a phenomenal experience.  You can also bid on consultations from your favorite departments at MSLO, including weddings, interior design, cooking and even a paid internship.  Wow!

The most popular item is the chance to have your next dinner party hosted by Martha Stewart...wouldn't that be amazing?  Sadly, I won't be bidding on any of these things.  Nearly all the items are too rich for my blood, and the ones that are within my reach (two seats at a "Cheese 101" class at Murray's Cheese valued at $100) are just too far away. 

But if you win the dinner party, please think of me when you're making your guest list. 

Thanks, and happy Monday to all my TMI readers!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Martha's banana bread

Martha's banana bread...moist, delicious and a great fall treat. 

The ingredients are fairly straight-forward.  Instead of using fresh bananas, I used frozen bananas. 

Warning: banana tangent starts now.

Did you know that you can freeze bananas in their skins?  It's true!  This is a great solution for overripe bananas that you don't want to toss, but can't use right away. Simply freeze the bananas, and then use them later for baking. 

Before using, allow the bananas to thaw in the fridge.  To get the banana out, simply cut off the top and squeeze the contents into a measuring cup. 

The bananas do get a bit watery, so it's best to put them in a seperate bowl at first. That way you can pour out some of the liquid before adding the bananas to the larger mixture.  Obviously, bananas stored this way are really only good for baking. I wouldn't recommend trying to peel and eat it like you would a regular banana. 

Banana tangent over. 

As you can see, the Little Guy helped. 

I doubled the recipe, and it made enough for 24 muffins and one loaf of bread.  I added pecans to the muffins.  Bake the muffins for 25-30 minutes.

The bread turned out great, and the muffins were ideal.  I was able to store them in the fridge, toss a few into the microwave for 30 seconds each morning, and take them in the car with me for a quick breakfast. 

Overall, I thought this was a great and easy recipe.  No frills and no fuss.  And when you're baking with the Little Guy, that's always a good thing.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Cream of cauliflower soup

The days are getting shorter, the temperatures are dropping, and we're almost to that time of year when all you want to do is eat a bunch and then sleep for four months straight.  That's how you feel, right?  Right?

Am I the only one who wants to be a bear and hibernate every winter?

At any rate, it's time to break out the comfort foods of soups, breads and hearty casseroles to help us all make it through the season.  And recently, I found a new comfort soup to add to my repertiore.  Taste of Home has a wonderful Cream of Cauliflower soup recipe. 

For the most part, simply follow the directions online.  I added more carrots and celery than the recipe called for.  More vegetables are good!

The instructions do not mention how to chop the cauliflower.  I did some of it in the food processor, being careful not to chop too finely.  To make sure I had some good-size bites of cauliflower, I also chopped some by hand. 

My only word of caution regarding the recipe is to be careful when you are mixing the butter, flour, milk and whipping cream mixture.  The directions say to bring the mixture to a boil, stir and cook for two minutes or until thickened.  In my experience, the mixture got extremely thick in about a minute, so be sure to stir the entire time and stop before it turns into cement.

From there, add the creamy mixture to the larger soup mixture.

The recipe states to cook the soup for 10 minutes after adding the cream mixture, for a total of 40 minutes cooking time.  I'm sure I let this simmer for well over an hour, and it was fine. 

This soup was delicious.  I liked it, the Little Guy liked it, and Mom2 liked it, so the recipe was a definite winner.  The recipe makes a large batch, which is great for easy lunches.  It reheats very well.  The TMI household is giving this recipe 4 stars--give it a try!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Martha needs a new proofreader

Recently, I tried to make Martha's Peanut Butter Cookies from her Cookies book.  And I found a mistake in the instructions. 


Things started out well enough.  I got out all the ingredients, made the dough according to the instructions, and popped my cookies into the oven.   This is where things went wrong.  Horribly, horribly wrong.

Do you see what that says?  "Bake cookies...about 25 minutes."  Now, before I put the cookies into the oven, I thought that baking time sounded a bit long.  Most cookies of this nature only take 10-12 minutes to bake.

"Don't be silly," I told myself.  "This is a Martha recipe, and Martha would never steer you wrong."

Well, I'm sure you can guess what happened next.  At the 15 minute mark, I had some overly crispy cookies. Some even had burned edges.  And before you even ask, my oven is calibrated just fine, thankyouverymuch.

That screaming you hear?  Yeah, that's me. 

I lost almost an entire round of cookies.  Because these cookies were for a family birthday party and there wasn't time to make another batch, I salvaged all the cookies I could by drizzling candy melts over the top.  That makes it look a little better, right?  And the candy coating offsets the extreme crispiness.

I will say that for the second round of cookies, I decreased the baking time to the standard 10-12 minutes and they turned out fine.  Very tasty, in fact. 

Because Martha is my idea of perfection, I'm going to blame this snafu on the staffer that wrote the recipe, or whoever was in charge of proofreading, or maybe the book publisher.  But I can't pin this on Martha herself.

(Alert: huge dramatization ahead)

Because if I did blame this on Martha, my world would fall apart.    And I just can't handle that right now.  Sniff. Sob. Sniff.

(Gratuitous dramatization over)

Admitting to myself that Martha made a mistake wouldn't be that bad, but it would lead me to question other beliefs and convictions I hold dear, such as the laws of gravity, the values of democracy and that Steel Magnolias is one of the best movies ever made.

(Personal note to Martha ahead)

Martha, you clearly need a new field editor and/or baker for your test kitchen.  This Martha-in-training is the perfect woman for the job.  You can count on me, Martha!  Call me!