Tag Archives: Christmas

Servingware

It’s the end of the year and time to think about new beginnings. I resolve to try my best to kick this old blog up a notch, do more writing/submitting , try being more creative in all areas , put more effort into other people’s projects…and the decluttering will be in continuous motion!

I found an opening to a post I had been planning to make, actually, it had planned to be a chapter in my book: On Dishware

Another food-blogger recently introduced a friend on Facebook. The friend wants to start a food blog herself and asked for advice. One concern was what kind of dishes should she chose. My advice? If you are going to buy dishes, I suggest they be plain, preferably, white. I have found out the hard way that not all foods look good or show up well on colorful plates.

I have several types of dishes for everyday, since, dishes break. I have some of these and some of those and a set of another. I have a set of stoneware that I use for “good’ dishes. They are so much a part of holidays that when I tried to retire them to everyday use, my son,(a grown man) , insisted that I not do so; I had to go out and buy another set.
I also have my mother’s set of real china, which has seldom been used; it looks pretty in my china cabinet, but I need to pull that out again . I just haven’t had a real dinner party in some time, it’s been mostly family with kids,(so I use the stoneware!) and most often, I serve buffet-style.

Also, both sets are blue. The stoneware is blue-on-blue patterned and the china is white with gray and grayish-blue flowers. This was fine when my dining room walls had blue in the wallpaper, but now, I have gone to browns and beige and , well, it just seems a bit ‘off’, since they both looked striking with either my blue or white tablecloths; those colors contrast a bit with the more subdued browns. I have had the dish sets for more years than I have lived in the house, so the match with the décor had been a fluke. Do take into consideration redecorating when picking dishware, unless you have the funds to replace everything,(and you don’t become sentimentally attached to dish sets like my son!)

When I was a teenager, I accompanied my sister and  my mother to shop for ‘holiday dishes’. We were in need of a set to use when family gathered at our house for holidays, especially Thanksgiving and Christmas. The department store Mom chose had an enormous selection of dishware and china. She immediately dismissed the high-end priced ones,(by necessity), and the most impractical or the very wrong colors,(she disliked strong patterns, garish colors, and pink).She quickly chose three styles and weighed the benefits of all…and talked, and changed her mind and discussed…this went on for hours. My mother let the patient young man who was our salesman leave us several times to make other sales while she ‘decided’. We learned about the man’s wife, his children,(two daughters, I recall), where he lived and his education. We learned of his dreams and aspirations and finally, my mother decided on a lovely set  in off-white, beige, taupe and brown, with leaves , fruit, acorns and nuts.Its name was  “Random Harvest”. My sister still has many of the pieces, but after all that deliberation, Mom still chose a pattern that was only truly suitable for Thanksgiving!

Holiday–themed dishes are darling, I will be the first to admit. I have many, for almost every holiday; but I have to resist buying any more. I am a recovering post-holiday sale addict. I mean it seriously; it is at dangerous levels. I have bought things I did not need and really could not afford, but they were all so cute and up to 75% off! Now I now stay out of stores after holidays. I will admit for recently ‘falling off the wagon’. I was at a charity thrift store, the kind where I drop things off in donation and to try to declutter but then I go in and buy more things to take out. Anyway, they had THE cutest new set of Easter mugs!( Hey, the money went to feed the needy! And my grandkids will only be little for so long.)
Easter MugsCan you blame me?
The biggest problem, (besides the expense), is where to store seasonal dishes. They take up room, they are often ‘cute-shaped’ so they don’t stack well. Placed in boxes, they are easily broken because they are moved around, heavy things are stacked on them or, if your temperatures fluctuate a great deal, the dishware can easily crack when stored in an unheated garage or storage area. If you do need to store them outside the house or in an attic or basement, you have to find them in cold or hot weather, lug them in, make sure no bugs are in the boxes, wash them…then where do they go until you use them? And there is always the heartbreak of finding out too late that the dishes are ornamental and were not meant for food use,(either the paint or the ceramic has lead or other toxic residue), or that the pattern has come off in the dishwasher. (Lead levels are also a concern when considering crystal or metal serving-ware. Use these only for dry foods and line with a napkin, or line with plastic for moist foods.)

So what do I suggest? What I use more often than not? Glass serving-ware. Many people like silver services; if you have them, fine; go for it for your fancier occasions. No one knows when or why being served on silver platters became standard, but science has learned that silver has an antibacterial effect; it inhibits bacteria and keeps food fresher longer. Most of us don’t have silver and since it isn’t appropriate for casual serving, I also love to use, (and recommend), wood and baskets, in wood, cane, bamboo, straw, or metal.Glass serving-ware

[Examples of some of my serving glassware and crystal]

Glass, with baskets, wood with baskets, these are all you need to set a lovely table for any occasion, be it sit down, buffet or just snacks, and they go with any of your sets of dishes, glass, ceramic or china. They are useful for any holiday or any celebration, sports event or no special occasion. Do you want more of a holiday theme? Use holiday linens, or even paperware, or better yet, mix and match linens/paperware. Mix and match colors: red and browns for Thanksgiving, red and green for Christmas, red for Valentine’s Day, Fourth of July or many festive occasions, green for St.Patrick’s Day ,Earth Day or mix it with any pastels for Easter. With limited funds, try to at least find large, white or beige fabric napkins to line your baskets and wooden bowls when you serve breads, crackers and other dry items. You can add another color or paper napkin layered over the white. If storage is a problem or funds really are low, you can buy large white paper napkins and spread out the more expensive and colorful holiday/event-themed paper napkins this way, as well.
If you are handy with a sewing machine, you can run-up some different colored or holiday-colored liners and napkins, but that is not necessary.

And even if your funds are VERY limited, glass serving-ware is always available in thrift stores. Matching sets are not important; glass goes with glass and glass goes with everything. The same with wood and baskets, just be sure that you can thoroughly clean and sanitize any used item.(Some baskets will fall apart in your dishwasher. At the very least, you must immerse them in a bleach and cleaner solution or spray them with a kitchen cleaner that contains bleach or other antibacterial cleaner. Rinse thoroughly and dry in sunlight. The same applies to used wooden vessels.)

Metal basketsBaskets

[Some metal and natural baskets with wooden servingware]

See, it is easy to set a nice table with what you can easily have on hand for any holiday, or get-together, from a full meal to snacks, without stress, with confidence and pride.

Any questions?

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Lynn Shurr/Dressings;Cajun,Sage, Vegan;Stuffed Pork

I have another treat for you with yet another author guest-blogging! Perfect for the Thanksgiving season, Lynn Shurr has offered to spice up your dinner plates with an easy Cajun-style dressing recipe.
Whether you call it dressing or stuffing,(some people are very picky about that word),it is generally eaten in the U.S. at Thanksgiving, roasted inside our traditional turkeys. It is often the favorite part of the meal,(next to the pies).
After I let you meet Lynn and see her easy recipe, you will see my family’s traditional dressing, which can be stuffed in a turkey or chicken, or a modified version for stuffed pork,(chops or loin).I will even give you a vegan version, all of which can baked and eaten as side dishes.
So without further ado….here’s Lynn! Welcome!

I “met” Tonette on FaceBook through a mutual friend, Jeff Salter. We have authorship in common. She likes to cook. I like to eat. And we sort of look alike.
Writing under the name Lynn Shurr (www.lynnshurr.com), I have lived in Cajun Country for over thirty years, but was born and raised in Pennsylvania. I came to Lafayette, Louisiana, to take a job as a reference/interlibrary loan librarian. Eight years later, I left to run a library system thirty miles south of there. On my farewell cake, the staff wrote, “She tasted bayou water”, a way of saying I liked it here and planned to stay. That was very true. I loved the people, the customs, and the food (a little too much). No one does fried better than a Cajun. Oh, those jumbo shrimp in a light, flaky batter and deep fried, juicy turkeys for Thanksgiving. But, did I learn to cook Cajun? Not really. These folks are “from scratch” chefs, and I never had the time. Great local restaurants supply me with all I could want from alligator pasta to zydeco beans.
Though I don’t cook them, delicious imaginary meals show up in all my books which usually take place in New Orleans or Cajun Country. The newly published Queen of the Mardi Gras Ball, a 1920’s historical, contains a description of a Christmas Eve Reveillon feast. In the mystery/romance, Mardi Gras Madness, the young woman lives over a deli specializing in muffuletta sandwiches and hot boudin sausage. She worries about gaining weight, and no wonder!
However, I have learned even Cajun cooks sometimes take shortcuts, and I have used this recipe from a friend often. Rice dressing goes well with meat, fowl, or seafood, but takes over an hour to cook. A note at the end of the more simple recipe says, “This recipe is really good when you don’t feel like making dressing from scratch”. In other words, my kind of cooking. Tonette, sorry about the canned soup!

EASY RICE DRESSING (Cajun Style)

1 pound ground beef
1 cup uncooked rice (do not use instant rice)
1 can cream of mushroom soup or any cream soup
1 can French onion soup

Combine all ingredients very well. Line casserole dish with foil. Empty contents into dish. Place foil tightly on top of dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 90 minutes. Serve. C’est bon!

Canned is OK when we need to enjoy the family and friends, Lynn! That’s what it’s all about here; as a matter of fact,I will have a recipe below using canned cream of celery soup. If one has the time and inclination, they can make French Onion and Cream Soups, but gee, I don’t expect that to happen a lot! One day I will put up a recipe for homemade cream soups…but not today.
(BTW, we have more in common; my mother is from Pennsylvania and I spent many fun-filled summers there!)

I hope you will enjoy Lynn’s recipe and her books. Lynn is also and artist…she’s a lady of many talents.We might be able to persuade her to come back and share Football Party recipes and ideas in the near future.

 

My family’s traditional Sage Dressing was usually made with giblets, that is, chicken and turkey gizzards and hearts, cooked by simmering them with turkey necks and the liver, parsley, onion and celery, with plenty of salt and a little pepper. Cooked for at least 6 hours,(or for 12 in a slow cooker), this yields a rich broth with can be added to the dressing, used to make the turkey gravy and/or used to make wonderful Turkey Noodle or Rice soup, with or without left-over turkey meat, with or without added fresh, frozen or canned vegetables,(discard the ‘spent’ onions and celery; our  pets usually get to eat the liver). The meat of turkey necks is unique and very tasty; if you have not tried it, it is worth the effort to remove it from the bones.(If it  does not come off readily, you haven’t cooked your broth long enough). The meat isn’t pretty,(dark and in long strings), but it is delicious; family members have been know to fight over it or at least be disappointed when they don’t get any.If you don’t like the idea of giblets, you can mince the neck meat and add it to the dressing
However, most of the family now omits the meat from the dressing. Feel free to try to either way.

Traditional Sage Dressing

2 Tbs. butter or margarine
1 large onion, minced
3 lg. ribs of celery, minced
2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. celery salt
1 Tbs. ground marjoram
2 Tbs. rubbed or ground sage
1 tsp. gr. pepper (preferably white)
¼ cup milk
1/2 cup turkey broth { chicken broth or chicken bullion can be substituted
2 cups minced giblets(optional)
6+ cups cubed white or light wheat bread{Amount will depend on the texture of your bread and the firmness you desire

Melt the butter or margarine. On medium heat, sauté the onion and celery with the herbs and seasonings until tender. Add the milk and the giblets,(if using). Simmer for about 30 minutes. Stir in bread cubes. Place in turkey or chicken cavity and bake. (Cut the recipe in half for a chicken).

The texture will depend on your individual taste.I prefer mine firmer,some like it moister.Remember that baked within the bird,it will become moister, (and tastier), from the meat juices.Add more bread  or more brothto your taste, and adjust the seasonings.Fell free to add more ground sage at this point.

As a side dish, place the dressing in a baking dish that has been oiled or buttered. Dot top with butter. Cover and bake for one-half hour, remove top and bake another 20 minutes.(If you like it very moist, do not remove the cover). This can be microwaved for 20 minutes on high, but remember, it will not firm -up; make it basically the texture you want before microwaving.

Vegan Version: Use margarine and vegetable broth; omit milk,(or use almond, rice or soy milk).
These can be baked, wrapped well and frozen. One is sitting in my freezer as we speak, wrapped in foil and in a zipper close plastic bag.

Make the standard version for Stuffed Pork by first slicing 6 thick-cut pork chops or pork loin sections, (at least ¾ of an inch thick), almost half-way through. Then sear .To sear, heat butter or margarine to very hot,(do not burn butter; add a little peanut or other vegetable oil).DOT NOT COOK THROUGH; and just brown the chops on the outside. Remove from heat right away and keep warm.
Make a half-measure recipe of the standard traditional Sage Dressing, (without giblets and broth):
Increase the amount of pepper. (Option: omit the sage and add ½ tsp. thyme.)
Dressing needs to be dry. Place dressing in the cavities of the pork chops. Place flat in buttered baking pan,(preferably lined with foil or parchment; if there is extra dressing, place it along side of the chops). Mix 1 can of Cream of Celery soup with equal amount of water,(preferably from deglazing the pan) and pour over the chops. [Deglaze the pork-searing pan by adding 2/3 cup boiling water,(unless you happen to have pork broth), and scraping away all the browned particles; use with the soup.] Bake at 375F for about one hour, 20 minutes, depending on the thickness of your chops. Bone-in chops will take longer, but they will remain moister. This can also be made by layering thin chops or loin slices with dressing in between, but it is hard to sear without over-cooking the chops which can make them tough and dry.
This can be microwaved for about 20 minutes on High Power.
Please check the pork for doneness by cutting a section; it must not be pink at all.

Cutting the bread cubes was the job for we kids on Christmas and Thanksgiving Eve. Even the littlest was kept busy with a butter knife, cutting away at the slices of bread and filling a large pot with it. My mother always made the largest turkey she could get her hands on, never less than 23 pounds, so we cut a LOT of bread.(She once found one that was 34 + for Thanksgiving and a 36+ lb one for Christmas. Even though the oven was large, it would not completely shut. It took my strong uncle to barely lift it out of the oven, hot and stuffed). Since the dressing is cooked on the stove, she would ask us if we’d like pieces of the covered bread, the pieces that she deemed to large to do the finish product justice. Even though we always ate well, we had been smelling the dressing cooking and the soup and all sorts of goodies for days, so yes!, we wanted the dressing. After a couple of years my brother caught on and used to tell me to purposely make some bread pieces too big so that she would pull more out and give them to us!

Pitfalls and Parties/Savory Bread Rolls

These easy bread rolls can be made with meat and cheese or as vegan- vegetable.They eaten warm or cold.

I know that the thought of hosting puts fear into many people. I may have jumped into telling you what to serve instead of how to serve guests.
When I had dinner parties, showers or receptions, I found that some people were downright intimidated by my offerings. You may have seen a buffet and thought, “I could never do that!” You probably can, but you don’t have to. Hosting can be fun, rewarding and make everyone think you are something, or it can stress you out, make you swear ‘Never again!” and make everyone think you are a witch, (and it wasn’t even a Halloween party.) You can make offerings short and simple, or pull out all the stops. We will approach all of these, and let you decide which is appropriate and when.  It may take me several postings, but I will try to give you tips and hopefully, some confidence.

 

Plan as far ahead as possible and do whatever you can as far ahead as possible. When you find the confidence, it will come easier each time. You will not only know the pitfalls and learn from your mistakes,( you will make mistakes), but you will have things in mind and on hand that you need, whether it be figuring out what to serve to where overnight guest will sleep. We’ll talk about it all upcoming in this blog.

 

You can over-do a good thing.

The first shower I threw was for an expectant mother. I made homemade cake with homemade filling and decorated it with blue and pink flowers. I molded flavored candy in bootie, rattle, baby bottle, (etc.), shapes in pink and blue. I made Madeline cookies dipped in pink and blue icing. I made finger sandwiches, nut cups and tea; I made coffee with all the amenities .I put up pink and blue streamers, made pink and blue sock dollies. I had several games, one of which was a basket filled with small baby items which I had the guests look at for 30 seconds and whoever remembered the most, got a prize; the mom got the items. It was something, I can tell you. But I did several things wrong:

#1. For whatever reason, when I have asked schools or churches to use their facilities, my group has been bumped at the last minute for someone else. Something about me and my plans seem to scream “Expendable”! Try to have your affairs in your home or pay for a site. In the occasion of the baby shower, I was supposed to have use of a school cafeteria. I was bumped for an Irish step-dancing class. As big as a book-lover as I am, I hated  but was desperate enough, to ask to use the school’s library. The library was on the third floor; the stairs leading directly to it were closed so the dancers’ bored-and-waiting siblings would not wander the school. So I had to all the food, decorations, gifts, etc, across the school, up one flight, across again, up another flight, then across the school again. I had to carry the hot coffee and tea from the cafeteria in the same pattern, very carefully and very slowly.

#2.I just plain over-did it.

I did not hear, “Oh, how lovely” or “How nice”. What I heard was, “I can’t believe how much you did”, to the point that a week later at another function I heard, “I kept telling Jim, (Julie, Bob), that I couldn’t believe how much you did”. It looked like I worked hard. Hosting should never look like you worked hard, and I want to see that you work as little as possible when pulling off your parties. I was not a close friend of the mom-to-be; I had taken it upon myself for the group from the school, but it may not have been my place, which may have added to the discomfort level of the others.

Don’t be too eager to please; only host when appropriate.

#3. I presumed on help.

Now, you should have everything under control, I mean, things happen. But if you accept help, make sure it is something that you can do without, or have a back-up plan. A friend of the mom’s volunteered a special punch. I planned on it; she changed the type without telling me.  What she made did not go with the food I had and the guests drank it because it was too warm for the coffee and tea. I felt stressed; it was a problem as the taste combinations were really being off.

AND I failed to be sure that some of those who attended, (whom I had always stayed to help), would/could stay there to help me. So I ended up doing the hallway-stair set-up marathon in reverse, by myself.

 

On the other hand, for years afterward I hosted a Christmas piano recital in my home for several years running, which were always a huge success.

Always be ready with extra food:

My sons were homeschooling at the time and they were studying with the same piano teacher as some of their homeschooled friends. The piano teacher had stopped having Christmas concerts but I decided that the kids needed to gain confidence and show off their skills, so every December we had our own little recital with their friends, the parents and a few adult guests.

I made my batches of Christmas cookies, candies and bread early, and froze either some of the dough or some of the finished goods for Christmas; (I did this up to a week in advance; the candy, maybe earlier.)

The day before the recital, (or the day of, if I held it on a weekday evening instead of a weekend afternoon),

I took the coffee table out, gathered every chair I could find and even a bench, (on which I put a folded quilt), and made several layers of seating in the living room behind the piano. We do not have a large living room; everyone understood when they sat knee-to knee at times.

While people gathered, I had Christmas music playing softly in the background on a CD. And I had small gifts for the performers.

Just before everyone arrived I made tea and coffee and spread them out on my dining table with the goodies for after the recitals. The children did whatever made them comfortable besides playing the piano; some sang, one played the guitar, one read a poem as well.

After one of the afternoon recitals a few of the guests lingered. I could see that the cheese ball and few other non-sweets were gone and the folk looked hungry. Fortunately, I was ready. I knew that I had savory bread roll-ups in my freezer. I pulled them out, warmed them in the microwave them and they were a hit, as expected. These are so handy and good. Make more than one type at a time. Slice, wrap well and freeze. These are great for snacks, late company, late-night movie watching, brunches and are our family’s traditional holiday morning breakfast. They are easy to get ready, are not messy, are a little special and will hold you over while you are waiting to eat a big mid-day meal. Guests will be impressed with the taste, the heartiness and the fact that you have them ready with next to no effort when you need them.

 

Savory Bread Roll-ups

 

If bread making is your thing, make basic dough. If you have a bread machine, pull it out. If not, use frozen bread dough, (thawed, of course).

Roll into a rectangle about ¼ inch thick on a floured surface. Brush with melted butter or margarine. Spread fillings (recipes to follow), to within two inches from all sides. Fold in the short sides; roll up from one long side to another, Pinch ends and press to close. Place on a cookie or baking sheet, which has been brushed with butter or margarine,(or lined with parchment paper); curve bread roll  if necessary. Slice or snip slits through top layer about 3-4 inches apart. Cover with clean kitchen towel , waxed paper or foil; let rise to double in size in a warm spot. Uncover and brush with melted butter or margarine. Bake at 325F for about 45 minutes- 1 hour, or until the bread is thoroughly browned.(Do not cook at a higher temperature; the middle will not bake).

Meat Filling Suggestions:

Chopped roast beef, or shredded roast beef lunch meat with shredded medium–to sharp cheddar cheese; (a little prepared horseradish sauce optional).

Shredded ham with mild cheddar cheese

Shredded turkey (or turkey lunch meat) with pepper jack cheese

Pepperoni or salami with mozzarella or provolone cheese

Cheese Filling Suggestions:

Any cheese, preferably with sautéed onions

Soft cheeses, (cream cheese, Neufchatel, mascarpone) with herbs and or dried vegetables:

[ Italian blend, or basil, parsley and marjoram;

Southwest blend or any favorite chili powder, (chipotle, mesquite, etc), cumin,for example]

Mixed with red or green salsa

Seeded,(poppy, pumpkin, caraway, sesame)

Mixed with red hot sauce

Mixed with sautéed vegetables; onions

Any favorite cheese spread, (pimento cheese, onion dip, avocado)

 

Vegetable Filling Suggestions:

Sautéed or caramelized onions

Hummus,( regular or vegetable, or mixed with seeds)

Sautéed vegetable combinations, (mix & match): onions, tomatoes, peppers, artichoke hearts, asparagus

Dehydrated vegetable flakes, (available often mixed in supermarkets or separate, (tomatoes, peppers), usually in specialty markets

Drained, mashed white beans (canned or homemade) with onions or garlic; chives, parsley, white pepper; dehydrated vegetables

Experiment and enjoy!

Note: Sometime after I posted this Fae, of “Fae’s Twist and Tango” posted a lovely alternative: use puff pastry instead of bread dough.Fae ‘s post with her version of fillings can be seen  here: Fae’s Savory Braided Puff Pastry.

If you have not visited Fae’s blog, please do!She not only has lovely recipes, but  photos and fascinating  stories from her many travels.

Thank you for letting me share this, Fae!

And please join me and fellow writers on a shared blog: “Four Foxes, One Hound” here, on WordPress.Four Foxes, One Hound