Monday, December 30, 2013

New Year's Eats

It is funny how drastically our plans for New Year's Eve have changed over the years.  While living in DC, we went to a gala each year dressed to the nines.  I loved shopping for a ball gown and getting gussied up.  As we moved away, we had less formal gathering with good friends and now we simply stay home.  Babysitters are hard to come by on NYE and to be honest, it is kind of nice to have a quiet evening snuggled up with the hubs.

2012 NYE Table for Two
One thing that has not changed over the years, however, is our New Year's Day meal.  Being a southern girl, I adhere strictly to the pork, greens, black eyed peas and cornbread insurance policy for a happy, healthy and wealthy New Year.  I am not a superstitious girl but there has only been one year in my whole life where I did not have this meal on New Year's Day.  In 2011 I was in the hospital recovering from a C-Section; and well, I lost my father and my dog later that year.  So I won't make that mistake again!  Fortunately, my sweet son was born in 2010 so I don't associate him with my "terrible awful" year.
Pork = Luck
The more pork you eat on New Year's Day means the more luck you will have.  I pick up a Honey Baked Ham that we can enjoy for the day, use for ham sandwiches later and then finish it off in a yummy soup.  I also use fatback and/or bacon in most of my side dishes to ensure extra luck.
History says that greens equal bills and black eyed peas equal pocket change.
2 pounds fresh collard greens
2 ounces salt pork, diced
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
Break off large collard green stems below the leaf and discard yellow or wilted leaves. Cut out the vein. Wash well by plunging greens into water - rinse several times to get the dirt off.  Drain well and cut in half
Combine 2 quarts of water, salt pork, salt and sugar in a heavy saucepan and bring to a boil.  Add greens; cover, reduce heat and simmer for 2 hours. 
*Serves 4
Black Eyed Peas = Wealth
There are several ways to prepare black eyed peas but I prefer the low country style of serving it as a perlou with rice and tomatoes.  This is helpful since rice is said to bring good health.
Hoppin' John
2 cups cooked black eyed peas (cook according to package)
* don't cheat - canned peas with make this more of a mush
2 cups cooked rice
1 cup chopped fresh tomato
1/2 cup finely chopped scallions
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Grated cheddar cheese to taste and bacon
*Serves 6
Heat the peas and rice separately.  Combine lightly in a sautĂ© pan, sprinkle with chopped tomato and scallions then season with salt and pepper.  Cover and heat through.  Top with grated cheese and bacon.
Cornbread= Gold
I cheat with my cornbread and use the Jiffy cornbread mix.
Why do southerners eat this meal?  It is said that as the Yankees were marching through and raiding plantations, they took everything but greens, black eyed peas and sweet potatoes.  As such, southerners learned to live off these "staples of the south".  While we may be a polite and gracious bunch, we are unforgiving and will never forgive those Yankees for stealing Aunt Boo's silver and the such.  But you can bet your bottom dollar we will serve this meal (or a variation of it) on January 1st as a nod to our ancestors who rolled their sleeves up and carried on after the war of Yankee aggression.  We put more stock in what we eat on January 1 than any other good intention throughout the year.  And this southern belle is convinced of its power.
So now that you know my traditional recipes, let me tell you how excited I am to tell you that this year, I will not be slaving away in my kitchen.  Bring on the Bloody Mary's and football because I have a quick and simple solution.  If you read the other day, hubby got me the Lodge Cast Iron Cookbook (love, love, LOVE him for this).  In it is a recipe for a one pot dish that includes all items mentioned above.
New Year's Day Casserole
How amazing does this look?!?!  Get the recipe here.  I don't usually share recipes before I tried them so be warned.
I wish you all a healthy, happy & prosperous New Year.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Sunday Supper - Chili with Corn Bread and Peppermint Ice Cream

Truth be told, I am not cooking Sunday Supper tonight.  We have so much leftover food to work through so I thought I would share with you my recipes from Christmas Eve.

I make chili every Christmas Eve.  Christmas offers a HUGE holiday meal so we don't want to fill up for the big day.  Chili is quick and easy, which is nice since we have our Church service at 5pm.  I have been on the hunt for real cornbread since I received a loaf of homemade cornbread last Christmas.  But for the time being, we are a Jiffy family.  So all I have to do when I get home from Church is brown the meat, dump all the ingredients into the pot, bring it to a boil and then let it simmer while the cornbread cooks (20 minutes).  VIOLA - Christmas Eve dinner is done.

Growing up, Mother put spaghetti in her chili.  This is evidently a Kentucky tradition but it is not one I carry on.  I do however, put Frito's in my chili.  Don't laugh - it is amazing.  I learned this trick when I lived in DC.  There was this great dive called Hard Time CafĂ© that offered different styles of Chili from around the country.  Frito Pie was a southern variation that I fell in love with.....and so, it stuck with me.  The crunch and the saltiness of the chips add a nice yet unexpected touch.  Try it - you'll like it!

Frito Pie (aka Chili)
1 pound ground chuck
1 can (15 ounce) kidney beans, undrained
1 can (14/5 ounce) diced tomatoes, undrained
1 can (10 ounce) diced tomatoes with green chilies, undrained
1 envelope chili seasoning mix (I use McCormick classic)
1 1/2 cup of water
*4-5 servings
**If you double the recipe, double everything BUT DO NOT double the chili packet unless you like it spicy enough to knock your socks off.  I personally like a hint of hotness to my chili but don't want my nose running and certainly don't want to break a sweat.

Layer a bowl with Fritos, ladle the chili over the chips and top with sour cream and shredded cheese.

For dessert we enjoy peppermint ice cream.  You can buy this in the store during the holidays but it is equally fun to make and festive for Christmas.  It accompanies the Hot Chocolate Bar wonderfully!

Peppermint Ice Cream
3 cups cold heavy cream
1 cup cold whole milk
1 cup super-fine sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
4-5 drop red food coloring, if desired
1/2 cup crushed peppermint candy, about 4 candy canes
*makes a pint
Whisk cream, milk, sugar, peppermint extract, food coloring and peppermint candy together in a large bowl until sugar is completely dissolved.

Pour into the frozen bowl of an ice cream maker, and freeze according to manufacturer's directions. It usually takes about 20 minutes. Ice cream will be soft set.
Pour into a large freezer proof container, cover with plastic wrap and freeze until solid, about 2-3 hours.
Enjoy this chili recipe on the next cold night - you'll be glad you did! And the peppermint ice cream is a special treat that the kiddos love to help make.  Both are sure to be a hit at your house.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Most Wonderful Time of The Year

I cannot believe Christmas has come and gone.  Mother is en route back to Atlanta and we will head to Winston-Salem tomorrow to visit with Brian's father and his side of the family.  I only have to work a few days next week so I am excited to have another week to relax.  Here's a sneak peek at some of our Christmas fun.

 Harrison was up and at 'em early....and not pleased to see Spencer slumber the morning away.
Finally tearing into the loot
A Clark Family Christmas Tradition eggs, Sara Lee butter streusel coffee cake and bacon
Speaking of eating - I acquired two new fabulous cookbooks.  The hubby gave me a Barefoot Contessa book I was missing and The Lodge Cast Iron cookbook. My brother-in-law gave me another Barefoot Contessa cookbook as well so I now have the entire collection.  I think it is time Ina invites me to the Hamptons to cook with her.
It is going to be a yummy New Year!

Friday, December 27, 2013

Christmas Eve Traditions

I hope everyone had a very Merry Christmas!  We have enjoyed the last few days being close together as a family.  My mother is in town from Atlanta and here is a glimpse of how we spent Christmas Eve.
Christmas Cuties ready for Church
Posing with Grammie
and then with Nana
Rest assured, what Santa doesn't bring, the Grandmother's will!
We threw a going away party for Alphie and packed a bag of treats for his ride home with Santa
and enjoyed our traditional Christmas Eve chili with cornbread

we finished the meal off with my Peppermint Ice Cream

Left cookies for Santa
which the wee one tried to steal.....lil' ol' crook
Listen to Daddy read 'Twas The Night Before Christmas
And settled in for a long winter's nap.............
Recipes to follow later.  I'm off to try and put my house back together!!!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Cookies and Cocoa

A new tradition - cookies and cocoa - was born today as we prepared cookies for Santa. We look for any excuse we can find to make use of our Hot Chocolate bar so we enjoyed some yummy cocoa as we made cookies for Santa......and of course, we had to sample our treats.  I do believe Santa will be pleased.



We can barely contain the excitement!


Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas Cheer

We kicked off our two week Christmas vacation with H's Christmas Party for his class last Friday, which I was thrilled to help plan.

Rudolph PB&J's
served with sliced strawberries & grapes and string cheese
Fun for everyone....
.....even the class turtle, Swimmie.
Nana arrived on Saturday to a bunch of silliness,
family games,
Hot chocolate and an attempt to build a Ginger Bread House.
The presents are wrapped so all that is left is to bake cookies for Santa.  Happy Christmas Eve Eve!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Sunday Supper - Mustard Marinated Flank Steak

Mustard Marinated Flank Steak
First off, let me just say that my late, two-time nominee for the Pulitzer Prize (photography) father is probably rolling over in his grave with my horrendous pictures.  Secondly, don't let the picture fool you - this meal was fantabulous!
I seem to be cooking my way through Barefoot Contessa recipe's lately and decided there were still some untried meals from my latest acquisition, Fool Proof. So when the hubby said he was in the mood for steak and potatoes, I tried her mustard marinated flank steak.  The Dijon Mustard marinade is so flavorful with the meat.  I paired it with her spinach with feta and pine nuts recipe also from the same cook book (and then cheated with the Country Crock carton of loaded mashed potatoes). 
After the 2 hour marinade (which took no time to assemble) the meal only took 15 minutes to whip together.  How's that for a super yummy and easy Sunday Supper?
Hope y'all have a great week!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Brunch with Santa

The first Sunday in December is undoubtedly one of my favorite days.  Our Church hosts the Hanging of the Green service where the youth group accompanies both the traditional choir and contemporary praise band in decorating the Sanctuary.  Following Church, we enjoy our annual Brunch with Santa.  This is such a sweet event made even more special by our special guest, Grammie.  And it is just fun getting dressed up in our Christmas outfits (you know this Mama looks for any excuse to get multiple wears out of the wee one's holiday clothes).

Ready for Church in our Christmas finery.

Santa is under strict orders to bring a Mickey Mouse Clubhouse set and RoboKnight from Power Rangers
2013 Christmas Card photo - guess I should order those........
As much as the boys like sitting on Santa's lap, nothing beats Grammie's affection.
Ice cream and candy canes....lunch of champions
Showing off their loot from Santa - El Chupacabra from Planes for H
and Caillou Fire Station for S
Now.......if it will stop raining so we can go get our tree!!!!!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Polar Express

I shared with you a few days ago that our friendly Elf On The Shelf, Alphie, returned from the North Pole and brought The Polar Express movie and book.  Well, last Friday, Alphie snuck H & S their "first gift of Christmas" into their Advent Activity pouch, which was a trip on the Polar Express!

They were over the moon excited when the realization sunk in that THEY were going to RIDE the POLAR EXPRESS to the North Pole and see Santa.  It was such a fun adventure and I must admit, I might have been just as excited as the boys!  We picked S up early from school and hit the road for the two hour drive up the mountain to Bryson City, NC.  After a quick dinner at McDonalds, the boys changed into their PJ's and off we went to the train depot.
A wet start but excited to board The Polar Express
Daddy and Harrison settle into their seats
Mommy and Spencer do the same
We splurged for First Class seating and had these adorable treat bags waiting for us
Shortly after departure, the conductor punched the boys commemorative golden tickets
The waiters danced down the aisle throwing freshly baked chocolate chip cookies to the children
Followed by mugs of Hot Chocolate
Another perk of First Class was the commemorative mugs, which were cleaned and packaged up for us prior to leaving the train
All this sugar made for an exciting sugar high......
....what goes up, must come down
Drunk on cocoa
And then - we pulled into the North Pole
And got excited when who should board the train but......
Santa himself!
To give all the girls and boys their own silver bell from his sleigh!
We sang Christmas Carols on the way back to the station
And were in for a surprise when we got back.  We no more got off the train when it started raining cats and dogs.  We were soaked and could not see a THING driving down the mountain.  So we pulled off into a Best Western.  Fortunately, the hubby knew weather would be bad and packed a bag.  After a quick bath/showers and warm clothes, we watched Christmas movies on TV and conked out.
H clutched his golden ticket the whole way home.  Both boys have slept with their ticket and their silver bell every night since.
I cannot say enough wonderful things about this excursion.  If you have a train depot near you that offers this adventure, please book it for your wee ones.  We have adopted the four gift rule from Santa - they will get something they need, want, something to read and something to do from the Big Guy this year.  The Polar Express was our "to do", which is why we splurged for the First Class tickets. 
I will say, if you do the Bryson City adventure, book the first car (we were in the second car which wasn't as nice as the first car - but that is just me being a snob) and be sure to be on the right side of the train.  We were on the left, and as such, were on the opposite side of the North Pole.  While we could see across the train, the boys had trouble seeing over heads.
It's beginning to look and feel like Christmas.  The excitement in the air at our house and I hope it is at your home too.