Cooking for 25… Happy belated birthday, Aunt Ginny!

My Aunt Ginny’s birthday party was last weekend, and my mother and I (and several amazing helpers) concocted and executed a menu for 25 people:

Appetizers:

Mini Sandwiches: Egg salad, Tuna salad and Avocado-Cucumber
Onion Dip

Potato Salad (contributed by my lovely Aunt Darlene)
Pasta Salad
Shrimp and Orzo Salad (contributed by my lovely Aunt Candace)
Arugula Salad (my mom made this is and it was far and away the most popular dish; almonds, green apples, fresh Parm, evoo and s&p – adapted from a Whole Foods salad)

Main Dishes:

Chicken-Zucchini Skewers
Poached Salmon w/ Avocado Sauce and Dill-Tomato Sauce

Desserts:

Birthday cakes!

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Tuna Salad Sandwich Rounds (20-24 rounds)

Ingredients:
2 cans tuna in olive oil, drained
3 tbsp mayo
1 large roasted red pepper bottled in oil , rinsed, drained, and finely chopped
Finely grated rind of 1 lemon (I used less)
Salt and pepper
Unsalted butter, softened
24 thin slices whole grain bread (or whatever kind you like; we used a mixture of white and wheat)
Small bunch fresh parsley, very finely chopped

Method:

Mix the tuna and next 3 ingredients in a bowl; season to taste. Chill for 15 minutes up to overnight. When ready to prepare, Scoop salad onto rounds of bread, top with remaining rounds and lightly butter the edges of the sandwiches. Roll in fresh parsley. Stack, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 10-15 minutes before serving.

Egg Salad Pita Pockets (20-24 pitas)

Ingredients:
8 hard-boiled eggs, shelled and chopped finely
4 tbsps mayonnaise
2 tbsps Dijon mustard
pinch cayenne pepper
salt and pepper
24 mini pita pockets (we used a mixture of white and wheat)
unsalted butter, softened
watercress sprigs for garnish

Chicken kebabs

Makes 6-8 kebabs (we quadrupled this recipe… it was epic)

1lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts
4 zucchini, sliced very thinly lengthways
6–8 metal or wooden skewers or sticks of fresh rosemary, lower leaves removed, tips kept on

Marinade
1 handful of fresh coriander
1 handful of fresh mint
3 cloves of garlic
6 spring onions
1 red chili
zest and juice of 1 lemon
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
olive oil

Cut the chicken into 1-inch cubes and place in a bowl. Blanch the zucchini strips in salted boiling water for 30 seconds then drain and allow to cool.

Blitz all the marinade ingredients (except the olive oil) in a food processor, then loosen to a paste with a little olive oil. Add the marinade to the chicken pieces and mix well. Allow to sit for up to an hour. Then weave the zucchini strips in between the chicken pieces on the rosemary sticks or skewers. Grill for around 8 minutes, turning regularly, until cooked.

If you need to keep warm, sprinkle with a bit more oil and cover loosely with foil.

**Recipe from: JamieOliver.com

Poached Salmon with Dill-Tomato Sauce

Sauce (for 1lb salmon)
1/4 cup light mayo
1 tbsp low fat milk
1 tbsp minced fresh dill or 1 tsp dill weed
1 tbsp lemon juice
freshly ground black pepper
1 small tomato, diced

Poaching (in the microwave!)
sprayed or lightly oil-coated ceramic or glass dish
2 salmon fillets
3 tbsps water, if more salmon use more water
1 tbsp butter
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp chopped fresh dill
4 lemon slices
Cover dish and salmon with plastic wrap; poke holes to vent.
Microwave on high for 6-8 minutes, turning 1/2 way through (unless, of course, you have a rotating tray in your microwave). Fish should flake easily with a fork.
Let stand 2 minutes, serve with sauce.
Thanks to my Aunt Ginny for this recipe! So easy and so delicious.

Gemelli with Tomatoes, Olives & Ricotta

Coarse salt
8 ounces gemelli (or fusilli or penne)
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
10 sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons capers, rinsed (optional)
2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 cup grape tomatoes, quartered
1/3 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and halved
1/3 cup fresh basil, torn
Fresh ricotta cheese, for serving

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta, and cook until al dente. Drain. Drizzle with just enough oil to coat, so the pasta doesn’t clump.

Pulse sun-dried tomatoes, vinegar, capers, and garlic in a food processor. With machine running, add oil in a slow, steady stream, and process until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

Toss together pasta, sun-dried tomato vinaigrette, grape tomatoes, olives, basil, and salt. Transfer to serving plates. Top with a scoop of ricotta, drizzle with oil, and sprinkle with pepper.

**Recipe from: Zested (the picture here is prettier than mine… check it out)

Photos:

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It was a wonderful party. I got to see my cousin Anna for the first time in years, and our two new baby cousins were there looking precious and perfect. And my Aunt Ginny, who has been there for me my whole life, was I hope at least a little surprised that we were all there!

New cookware, new recipes: Mac & Cheese and Cajun-spiced Flounder

Fun fun fun! The other day I decided to take a whole evening to cook. Not go to the gym, not clean, not get ahead on work for the next day… just cook. I got to use new cookware and new recipes, and everything turned out wonderfully! Enjoy!

Brian’s mother Diane found the Dutch oven (right) in a hole-in-the-wall shop in Baltimore and bought me one for a gift. I purchased my first and only piece of Le Creuset ware (left) on Rue La La, my daily temptress.

Skillet Cajun Spiced Flounder with Tomatoes (from SkinnyTaste)

(source)

Ingredients:

Olive oil
Flounder fillets (I used 2 large, 8 oz. pieces of fish – any other flaky white fish would do as well)
1/2 onion, chopped
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1/2 green pepper, diced
5-6 medium-sized tomatoes, chopped
Approx. 1 tbsp. cajun seasoning (I made my own: paprika, cayenne, oregano, garlic powder and S+P)

Method:

Heat the oil in a large, heavy skillet large enough to hold all the fish comfortably. I got to use my new Dutch oven!!! Cook the garlic and onion for a few minutes until soft and fragrant.

Add the tomatoes, peppers and spices and saute until the tomatoes and peppers begin to soften, about 3-5 minutes.

Next, add the fish fillets and submerge in the sauce as completely as you can.

Let the fish simmer for 12-15 minutes until done. It will easily flake with a fork.

Enjoy! Here’s the original recipe from SkinnyTaste.com.

Macaroni and Cheese (from What to Cook and How to Cook It by Jane Hornby)

I was SO excited to make this. I’d been staring at the recipe in the cookbooks for over a year and decided it was high time to give in.

Ingredients

1 medium-sized onion
1 bay leaf
3 cups milk (I used 2 cups whole and 1 cup 2%)
1 tsp salt
12 oz macaroni (any tube-shaped pasta will work fine)
1/2 stick butter (1/4 cup)
scant 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
7 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, grated
2 oz parmesan cheese, grated
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
fresh nutmeg (optional)
4 ripe tomatoes, sliced
salt and pepper to taste

Method

Bring a large pot of water to boil for the macaroni. While the water heats up, add the milk, the onion (roughly chopped) and the bay leaf to a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium hit until little bubbles just start to form (see photo). Remove from the heat and let sit and infuse for 10 minutes or more.

Add the salt to the pasta water and then the macaroni. Return to a boil and cook until almost done (8 minutes or so) then drain, reserving about a cup of pasta water.

Once the milk has infused, remove the onion and bay leaf with a slotted spoon discard. Then stir the butter and flour into the milk and cook over medium-high heat, stirring with a whisk until sauce has thickened (the cookbook says 5 minutes, it only took me about 3).

Preheat the oven to 350. Add the mustard, nutmeg (if using, which I did… yay Penzey Spices) and about two-thirds of each of the cheeses to the sauce. Stir well and season to taste. If the pasta has stuck together, add a bit of cooking water to loosen, then pour the pasta and sauce into the baking dish, stirring well.

Sprinkle the remaining cheeses over top and add the tomato slices. Top with a bit more salt and pepper and then bake for about 30 minutes.

Mmmm… Enjoy!

A funny thing happened on the way to this Monday… Salvador Dalí gave outlandish dinner parties; Dozens of chicken recipes from Punchfork and Cooking Light

-o- GOP: Romney v. … Santorum? Gingrich? -o-
I’m sticking with Romney (as is most of professional and popular opinion), but the news this week is still looking at Gingrich and the newcomer, Rick Santorum. And, despite numerous press gaffs, Rick Perry vows to press on.

Here’s The Washington Post‘s take on the state of the race; read NPR‘s article for more. Here’s the AP‘s story on Perry.

-o- Nicholas Lemann’s commentary on Ron Paul -o-
It’s been awhile since I had the time to read The New Yorker, but suddenly I spend hours (and so much money…) on the metro during the week and so have returned to reading it whenever possible.

Read the fun and fascinating commentary “Enemy of the State” here.

-o- Salvador Dalí gave off-the-wall parties -o-
Well, yeah… I have personally visited the Salvador Dali museum near Barcelona, Spain, and I would never have imagined otherwise. Check out the video below of one of Dalí’s dinner parties. I  wish I could see the full menu!


(image from Photos of Spain)


(image from my trip to Spain in Fall 2007)

View the video of the party here on Foodista.

-o- 10 most popular stories on TheNewYorker.com this year -o-
I really enjoy reading The New Yorker. Thanks to the sensitivity and generosity of my mom, I’ve had a subscription for a few years now. Though I have gotten very into the headline-based news gathering Twitter offers me, I still cling to “knowing a lot about a few topics” as a worthy pursuit. The New Yorker offers that, with features by regular and constantly improving writers such as Jeffrey Toobin and Malcolm Gladwell.

Among this year’s most popular stories: “The Tweaker” by Malcolm Gladwell, November 14, 2011 (“the real genius of Steve Jobs”) and “Looking for Someone” by Nick Paumgarten, July 4, 2011 (“Sex, love, and loneliness on the Internet).

Here’s the collection.

-o- Fantastic Collection of Chicken Recipes on PunchFork -o-
On top of my list to try: Buffalo Chicken Grilled Cheese Sandwich and Grilled Chicken with Spinach and Melted Mozzarella.

Check out the whole gallery.

Also, get some of the featured chicken recipes in the January/February issue of Cooking Light below. Find all of the recipes from this issue here.

-o- Balsamic Chicken
-o- Chicken and Rice
-o- Chicken and Rice with Mushrooms
-o- Chicken Enchiladas
-o- Chicken Piccata
-o- Chicken Pizza
-o- Chicken Quesadillas
-o- Chicken Spaghetti
-o- Chicken with Olives and Lemons
-o- Chicken with Pepperoni-Marinara Sauce
-o- Chicken with Root Vegetables
-o- Chipotle Chicken
-o- Creamy Chicken and Mushrooms
-o- Green Curry Chicken
-o- Maple-Brined Chicken with Sautéed Brussels Sprouts
-o- Maple-Mustard Glazed Chicken
-o- Moroccan-Style Chicken Tagine
-o- Sautéed Chicken with Olive Tapenade
-o- Sautéed Chicken with Onion Jam
-o- Sautéed Chicken with Warm Bacon Vinaigrette
-o- Spicy Chicken Quesadillas
-o- Szechuan Chicken Stir-Fry

-o- 6 Startups to watch this year -o-
Where would my weekly post be without a Mashable mention? Here are the 6 companies to watch in 2012, according to Sarah Kessler:

-o- Skillshare (website)
-o- Zaarly, Taskrabbit or something similar (Zaarly website | Taskrabbit website)
-o- LevelUp (website)
-o- Dwolla (website)
-o- Eventbrite (website)
-o- Codecademy (website)

How many of these have you heard of? Can you guess what they offer?
If you are part of a startup company, what is your new idea, and why does it deserve a place on this list?

Read Kessler’s article here.

-o- Where does the Nook stand in the eReader game? -o-
The New York Times looks into the eReader market and reports that, according to its sources, Barnes & Noble holds around 13 percent of the market. That’s certainly more than I would have guessed, considering the number of die-hard Apple fans and the fact that Amazon.com is a giant, and the Kindle was around first.

Read the article here.

-o- Nature’s Weirdest Events -o-
BBC Nature‘s  list of eerily strange natural events.

Among them: the tongue-biter, or Cymothoa exigua, one of hundreds of an isopod or louse which attaches itself to a fish’s tongue after entering through the fish’s gills.

Ceratothoa imbricata in Blacktail (c) Nico Smit
(image via BBC)

-o-  Random House’s collection of “Best of 2011” Book Lists -o-

Random House collected dozens of the year’s “Best of” lists in one place! Here’s the loot.

New Year’s Eve Dinner – Brie, Asparagus, Curried Chicken Bites, Salmon and Orzo with Olive-Mustard Butter

-o- Brie, Baguette and Strawberries -o-

No explanations needed here. We are on a budget, so we bought Simply Enjoy brand brie from Giant, and found it delicious. With baguette slices toasted into crostini and a few ripe strawberries, we had a very romantic first course for our 2011 New Year’s Eve dinner.

-o- Curried Chicken Bites with Lemon-Dill Yogurt -o-

First, prepare the yogurt so you can cover and chill. Mix 1 cup plain lowfat yogurt, 1 cup finely shredded peeled, seeded cucumber (with as much moisture removed as possible), 1/2 tsp. lemon juice (resist the urge to add more), and 1 tsp. dried dillweed in a small bowl. Cover and keep chilled until it’s time to serve the chicken bites.

Ingredients:
1 1/2 lbs. chicken breasts or tenderloins, cut into 1-in. pieces (*note: you will end up grinding this; I suppose you could buy ground chicken, but the recipe I used for inspiration called for grinding your own and I did like being able to remove most of the fat)
1/4 cup onion, finely minced
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/3 cup fine, dry breadcrumbs
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. curry powder
1/2 tsp. salt (or to taste)
1/2 tsp. ground red pepper (cayenne)
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper

3 tbsps. flour (optional)
2 tsps. vegetable oil
1/4 tsp. paprika

Method:
Add half of the chicken pieces to a food processor bowl. Pulse until pureed. Place in a large mixing bowl; repeat with remaining chicken. Add onion and garlic. Add the egg slowly, stopping when it looks wet enough. Mix together with a wooden spoon or your hands.

Mix together the dry ingredients (breadcrumbs and spices, minus the paprika). Add to chicken mixture. Mix well (I used my hands).

Shape the mixture into 40 (or so) 1-in. balls. If you are cooking them right away, dredge in flour (optional) and place half of the bites in a glass pie dish. Microwave for a few minutes, mixing halfway through. Fry over medium-heat in 1 tsp. vegetable oil and 1/8 tsp. paprika. Repeat with remaining bites.

If you want to freeze them (which I have been doing, because they are rather labor-intensive), skip the flour step and simply coat wax-paper-lined baking sheets with cooking spray. Spread the bites onto the sheets; coat with more spray. Freeze for an hour or so, then transfer to a cooking-spray-lined freezer bag. When you are ready to cook, microwave for a few minutes as directed above, then proceed.

Serve with yogurt.

Inspiration: Spicy Chicken Bites with Cucumber Dip, from the CookingLight Five-Star Recipes: The Best of 10 Years (1996).

-o- Simple Roasted Asparagus -o-

See the recipe for my favorite way to eat asparagus – simply – here. All you really need is good salt, freshly-cracked black pepper and a bit of olive oil.
You can see Brian’s favorite asparagus recipe, Roasted Asparagus with Balsamic Vinegar and Tarragon, here,  featured as part of a weekend dinner menu.

Preheat the oven to 425 when you put the water on to boil for the orzo. When you add the to the boiling water, reduce the heat to 400 and add the salmon. Depending on your oven, stove, etc., everything should be finished around the same time!

-o- Roasted Salmon and Orzo with Olive-Parsley Butter -o-
Serves 4 

Ingredients:
4 salmon fillets, about 6 oz. each, skinned
8 oz. orzo pasta

*I made double the amount of olive butter and froze half for future use. If you want to do the same, double the amounts below and roll the unused butter into a log and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Use within a month.
1/4 cup salted butter (1/2 stick), room temperature
6 Kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 a medium shallot (about 2 tsps.) minced shallot
2 tsps. chopped fresh parsley (or more, to taste)

Method:
Put a pot of salted water on to boil. Cook the orzo according to package directions and return to the pot.

To make the butter, put the butter, olives, mustard, shallot and parsley into a food processor. Process until smooth.

Coat a baking sheet with olive oil. Sprinkle both sides of the salmon fillets with good-quality salt and pepper. Place in the preheated oven and roast for 12-14 minutes, until just done in the center.

Add half of the butter to the orzo, toss well to coat. Place a small dab of the butter on each piece of salmon and garnish with fresh parsley and/or whole olives.

Enjoy!

Inspiration on Epicurious.

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A funny thing happened on the way to this Monday… Dean Obeidallah’s “If Only” 2011 Headlines; Words that should never make it to 2012

-o- Dean Obeidallah’s “The 2011 I Wish Had Happened” -o-
A satiric list of headlines that would have been extremely hilarious had they truly populated the papers last year. Of course, some of these are scarily not that difficult to imagine. My favorites include: “Texas Gov. Rick Perry Forgets His First Name” and “Sarah Palin announces her candidacy for president of the United States.” Enjoy!

Read the full CNN Special column here.

-o- Lake Superior State University’s List of 2012-Forbidden Words -o-
A group of what I assume are students from Lake Superior State University created a list of words and phrases that, in their opinion, should be terminated along with 2011. Some of my favorites: “Baby Bump”, because it makes pregnancy seem like something “hip” and “in”; “Pet Parent”, used to identify humans who have decided that members of other species can be their children; and “Thank you in advance” which, I have to admit, I have actually used before, and I agree with their sentence of the term. It essentially removes the choice from the person from which you are asking a favor and assumes they will do it for you no matter what. Rude, for sure.

Find the full list here.

-o-  Epicurious‘ List of Food and Wine Events this year -o-
Joanne Camas collected a list of food and wine events happening in the U.S. in January 2012. Among those that look particularly enticing: A Wine and Cupcakes Weekend in New Jersey and a Charleston Mixologist Competition.

Find the full list here.

Also from Epicurious, food photography tips (for all the other bloggers out there like me, wishing their food looked as good as it tasted!)

-o- The Washington Post‘s list of advice for budget-conscious resolutions -o-
Every year,  one of the most common New Year’s resolutions is to be more frugal, to save more money, etc. Margaret Webb Pressler has come up with some insightful tips for those serious about keeping more of their money. Among those that resonated most strongly with me: UNSUBSCRIBE from all those coupon/deal sites you love such as RueLaLa, ideeli and yes, even Groupon; Use more loyalty cards (Rite Aid is among those stores which offer serious discounts to cardholders).

Read the full column here.

-o- Ron Paul still garners (somewhat reluctant) media attention -o-

Here’s the Posts Politics coverage on Paul’s “apocalyptic” campaign speeches, which they theorize resonate with votes more due to the dismal nature of the moment that the attractiveness of the man himself. Here’s Michael Gerson in their Opinions section on “what if?” Paul were to actually get the GOP nomination.

-o- Top 25 Most Shared Stories in 2011 -o-
Where would my weekly “news” posts be without Mashable? Here, Mashable Social Media collected a list of the top 25 shared stories in December 2011. Number One: Damn You Auto Correct Reveals 9 Funniest Texts of the Year.

How many can you guess correctly? Find them all here.

Also from Mashable: their Top 10 Biggest Stories of 2011.

Three yummy salads: Beet and Goat Cheese, Chicken Caesar and Caprese in miniature

For Brian’s birthday, we invited his family and my family to our apartment for a little party. I stressed sooo much over the food but it ended up being delicious! I served three salads at the beginning of the evening. They all went over very well and were relatively easy to prepare. Enjoy!

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-o- Caprese Skewers -o-
serves 10-12

Ingredients:

1 pt. cherry or grape tomatoes (any color)
25-30 fresh basil leaves (I purchased a fresh plant and mined the leaves)
1 lb. boccacini (mozzarella balls)
2 tbsps. extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
sprinkling of kosher salt
sprinkling of freshly cracked black pepper

Method:

Slice the tomatoes in half (I found it easiest to slice them horizontally through the middle). Slice the boccacini in half. Wash as dry the basil leaves. Collect all the ingredients and a bunch of skewers/toothpicks (I used 4 in. toothpicks, but you could also use long wooden skewers and serve the mini salads in tall glasses, or small party toothpicks).

In a pie dish, combine the oil, vinegar, salt and pepper.

You can begin with either a folded basil leaf or a piece of mozzarella, but you want the tomato halves to be last so you can stand the finished product up on a plate. Assemble the skewers, moving them to the oil and balsamic mixture as they are completed, and then to a platter.

Drizzle the remaining dressing over the platter. Either serve immediately or chill for up to two hours, covered.

Finished Product:

Inspiration: Mel’s Kitchen Cafe’s Caprese Skewers

-o- Caesar Salad with Grilled Chicken and Sourdough Croutons -o-
serves 10-12

Ingredients:

2 large chicken breasts
1 1/2 heads Romaine lettuce
1/2 loaf sourdough bread, cubed
3 oz. fresh Parmesan cheese

Your favorite Caesar dressing (or make your own! I didn’t – I used Ken’s Lite Creamy Caesar – but here’s one I considered: I’mTopsyTurvy’s Creamy Caesar Dressing)

Method:

Sprinkle chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Marinate in about 2 tbsps. of Caesar dressing in the fridge for 30 minutes or so.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350. Toss the sourdough bread cubes with 1 tsp. of olive oil on a baking sheet. Toast in the oven for about 15 minutes or until just hard, tossing occasionally. Remove and set aside.

Wash, dry and chop lettuce. Set aside.

Heat a grill pan or a frying pan over medium-high heat. Coat with cooking spray. Grill the chicken for 6-8 minutes on each side or until done. Let cool and slice.

Just before serving, toss the lettuce with the dressing. Add the croutons and chicken and toss again, gently. Top with shredded or shaved Parmesan.

Serve with more cheese alongside.

Finished Product:

 

-o-  Roasted Beet Salad with Wilted Greens, Hazelnuts and Goat Cheese -o-
serves 4-6

Ingredients:

Salad:
6-8 medium beets, greens attached
3 tbsps. hazelnuts, chopped
2-3 oz. fresh goat cheese, crumbled
3/4 – 1 lb. mixed greens (or baby spinach, or arugula, or whatever you like!)

Dressing:
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 tbsp. minced shallots
1 tbsp. white wine vinegar
1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1/4 tsp. salt

Method:

Salad:
About two hours before you want to serve the salad, preheat the oven to 350. Separate the greens from the beets, leaving the top intact; wash the greens and set aside. Wrap the beets loosely in foil with a few drops of oil in each packet. Roast for about an hour until tender and the skins peel away easily when you rub them with your fingers.

When cool enough to handle, peel and chop into bite-sized chunks. Set aside.

Toast the nuts in a pan over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes. Watch carefully; nuts burn easily! Remove and set aside. In the same pan (and with a splash of water, wine or chicken stock if necessary), wilt the beet greens. Let cool slightly.

Toss the young greens with the dressing (method below). Top with the wilted greens, the beets, the crumbled goat cheese and the hazelnuts.

Dressing:
Combine all ingredients in a Mason jar and seal tightly. Shake to combine, taste and adjust if needed. Store in the fridge and shake again before serving.

Note – you may not need all the dressing. Start out with half and add if necessary.

Finished Product:

 

Inspiration: The Kitchn’s Roasted Beets and Sauteed Greens with Hazelnuts and Goat Cheese

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Last Christmas, I gave you my heart… and the very next day I had to wait a whole year for it to come again!

And now it’s here! So I thought I’d revisit last year’s memories to get myself in the mood again (because in D.C. is it unseasonably warm).

Last Christmas Eve, Brian and I took our Dinah kitty and our Bean cat to Baltimore to spend Christmas Eve with Brian’s parents, his sisters and their partners. Brian’s sister Renee and her husband Ryan hosted a Christmas Eve dinner (which Renee’s husband’s family also attended) for which Cristin and I roasted several root vegetables and created an extravaganza of winter veggie goodness. Renee roasted a pork shoulder that got raves all around. There were also simple but perfect roasted potatoes of which I’m ashamed to say I likely ate the majority.

After dinner and gifts, Brian and I drove with our incredibly unhappy kitty cats to my parents’ house in the Philadelphia area. The drive was stressful, but in the morning we awoke to stuffed stockings on the feet of our beds and this beautiful display downstairs:

Our kittens were very naughty and wanted most of all to play within the branches of the tree; in their defense, it was the first tree they had ever seen. (This year Brian and I have a tiny little baby tree that I love if only because it’s our first one together.)


A few days later, we traveled to Washington D.C. to spend a few days enjoying the holiday atmosphere there. We saw a fabulous performance of Candide, ate scrumptious food, and walked the National Mall.

We also visited the ICE! How the Grinch Stole Christmas exhibit at the National Harbor. This is part of a Christmas tree made entirely of Christmas-themed marshmallow Peeps:

And this is Brian and I acting out the scene from the story in which the Grinch and Max take the sleigh to Whoville to steal Christmas; in hindsight I wish I had been the Grinch!

This and several other scenes were crafted entirely of ice and took dozens of artisans weeks to craft the two tons of ice into the 15000 square foot exhibit. It was cold, but fun!

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This year, we are doing things a bit differently. We are having a Christmas dinner Friday evening and then spending Christmas eve with my family in Pennsylvania. There we will probably see a movie that we all tried but couldn’t agree on, eat at a restaurant, and then get in our pajamas and watch Santa Claus Is Coming to Town! narrated by a Clay-mation version of Fred Astaire.

Christmas Day we will eat brunch with my dad’s sisters, brothers, nieces and nephews and then have dinner with Brian’s mother’s sisters, brothers, nieces and nephews.

I am so looking forward this family-filled season and I wish you all a wonderful holiday month!