Thursday, December 11, 2014

Christmas in Our Kitchen | Talk of the House Blog Tour

Happy Friday everyone!  And welcome, Talk of the House readers!  I was very flattered when Kelly asked me to participate in her Christmas in the Kitchen blog tour!  Kelly's home always looks so incredibly put together and cozy, especially at Christmas! Even better than her decor though, is her kind spirit and genuine heart.  It is a pleasure to be a part of her first blog tour.

As for my kitchen... I like to keep the Christmas decorations to a minimum.  I have a couple rules that I abide by.  The first is to keep it fresh!  I don't mind using a little faux greenery here and there in other parts of the house, but in the kitchen I want to be surrounded by fresh and real decor (greens, berries, citrus fruit).  And yes, this means things die and need to be replaced, but I always pick up a bunch of flowers when I'm at the grocery store, I just make sure they feel more Christmas-like in December.  I also really like the food to take center stage.  I bake a lot this month, both for my family and for others and I like to see a plate of cut-out cookies cooling on the counter or let the smell of ginger and cinnamon fill the kitchen or see a bundle of kraft boxes tied with twine waiting to be gifted to friends and neighbors.  This feels like Christmas to me.  I try to keep the counters free of clutter and knick knacks too.  Since I have such a small kitchen, too much non-essential stuff tends to zap me of inspiration and energy.

^^ Here was our kitchen last Christmas when photographed for Midwest Living, read more here.^^

^^ The open shelves this year.  The only Christmas addition is fresh greens and berries in a couple of the ironstone jars.  Oh, and the bottle brush trees courtesy of Charlie, who said I needed more decorations. :)  He doesn't quite get my less is more aesthetic in the kitchen. Haha. ^^ 

^^ A bowl of clementines and a swag of greenery clipped from the yard is all that is needed. ^^

 ^^ Precious art made by little hands is my favorite kind of decoration. ^^

^^ Can you tell some of these photos were taken on a very dark and overcast day, and others, like this one, were shot in the bright, chilly light of morning^^

Kelly also asked me to share a holiday recipe.  I have so many sweets on this blog that I love to make, but I decided instead I would share an idea for easy holiday entertaining.  Who doesn't love a beautiful cheese board?!  I know there are many inspiration images out there and some how-tos, but I still have friends that tell me theirs look like a disaster when they try to assemble them.  So, I'm going to try break down my method because so many of us want to entertain over the holidays but the thought of pulling something together seems rather daunting.  A cheese board is fast to assemble, always a hit, and makes an impromptu get together so much more likely to happen.  Say a couple hours before school pick up with a few girl friends, or an after shopping, late afternoon, let's have wine and cheese for dinner, sort of affair, or add some bubbly to the mix and lots of candles and bam, you have a cocktail party!    

Step 1: Choose a Wooden Serving Board
You can go big, like this antique bread board, leaving the items more sparsely arranged, or choose a smaller cutting board and have it over flowing and bountiful - both are wonderful.

Step 2: Cheese Selection
Here's my one piece of advice, most people, at least those I'm related to and friends with, aren't cheese snobs, they like to try a little something new but it helps to include some flavors everyone knows and loves.  People like to work their way up to the stinky cheeses. :)  I always have a triple cream brie and a sharp English cheddar.  This time I also had a Gouda, Parmigiano Reggiano, and Cambozola (way more approachable than a Stilton).  I like to point the centers of the cheese wedges to the center of the board.  I typically start slicing one or two of the cheeses, but forgot this time until I put away the camera, again it encourages people to start nibbling, sometimes being the first to take a stab at a wedge of cheese is a little intimidating.

Step 3: Add Little Dishes of Yummy Things
I always have fig spread and honey because they pretty much taste good with every single cheese.  I like to include different sized ramekins and little silver bowls to add some interest.  I have Marcona almonds in the silver bowl.  Adding height with the wine bottles and breadsticks creates a pretty composition. I don't always have space on the board for the wine bottles, but I did this time.  

Step 4: Salty Meats (optional)
I like them, so they usually get added.  The best cheese boards offer a mix of textures and flavors, salty and sweet options and pairings.  I put the prosciutto next to the breadsticks since it tastes great wrapped around one. I also had a dry Italian salami.

 Step 5: Crackers and Fruit
Again, mix sizes and textures.  I had a mix of sweet oatcakes, sesame crackers, and pesto Parmesan crisps.  For the fruit, I added dried figs and dried cranberries and fresh clementines.  The clementines don't pair well with the cheese but they are perfect for dessert, when you want to freshen your palette, plus they look great at Christmas!

 Step 6: Add Greenery
Adding a little fresh greenery makes it feel more special occasion worthy!  If you are adding large leaves, then I would actually put those down first and the cheeses on top, but in this case they are just a pretty decoration on the side, so it is easiest to add them last. And that's it.  In all, maybe 15 minutes to set up and that was with taking pictures along the way!

Thanks again, Kelly!!
Be sure to stop by the other homes on the tour as well - some of my very favorite bloggers!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Making Your Christmas Garland Tutorial | Our Entry Decorated for Christmas

We had a really nice weekend, full of Christmas time activities to get us all in the spirit of the season!  On Saturday, we went downtown to see the musical production of The Elf (one of our favorite Christmas movies).  Unfortunately, Charlie stayed home with my Mum since he was just getting over a virus that took him down for a couple days.  That evening was Luminaria in our village (you can read about the tradition here,  here and here), and while we didn't make it down to see Santa this year, we did walk to the Boy Scout tree lot, along the luminaria lined streets, to pick out a beautiful tree and string it full of white lights before Charlie's bedtime.    It just doesn't feel like Christmas until the tree is up, does it?

Sunday I finished decorating the outside of our home.  I don't know why, but I feel a little behind everyone else this year.  I had vowed to stay away from fresh greenery inside our home (broke my promise) and just use it outside.  Our weather is cold and damp this time of year so fresh greens tend to stay green for a LONG time.  I picked up some gorgeous cedar garland for our fence from a local garden shop and about fell over at the price ($115).  I had really hoped to frame our front door this year as well, but there was no way I was spending that sort of money to make it happen.  I decided to try my hand at making my own garland with clippings from our yard and scraps from a tree lot instead.  Cedar and fir tend to stay fresh looking longer than other greens so they make the best garland.  I had access to TONS of fir clippings but no cedar.  I had planned to buy some cedar to weave in the finished garland but I ended up liking it simple.   I love that it looks a little wild and unruly, just like I hoped it would.

^^ the expensive garland on the fence^^
^^ fir springs, magnolia leaves (from our Thanksgiving table) and red berries in our urns^^

^^handmade ("free") garland around our door^^

Since several of you requested a tutorial, I had Andrew  video me explaining and showing the steps.  I figured it was easier that to try take photos and explain it.  (disclaimers (or ideas for drinking games): Andrew has the hiccups and I say "actually"  more than anyone should in a 5 minute time span... and we were interrupted by Charlie so many times that I start to speak faster hoping to get it all in and sound rather winded in the process.... aside from that though, it should be relatively easy to follow... thank goodness my interest in a career in broadcast journalism barely lasted 2 weeks!!)

The garland in the video is now on our mantle -- which I plan to show later in the week. Even though I do have some fresh greenery inside this year, I've done far less than normal.  I just don't want dried up greenery come Christmas morning.  I have more fresh greens that I've left outside to replace indoors when things start to go south. Haha.

Let me know if you attempt to make your own garland.  I really did enjoy the process!!  Or if you have other tips on making your own, please share!  I watched a couple tutorials but then went on to do it my own way because it worked better for me.

DIY Christmas Garland by Nine and Sixteen from tessa on Vimeo.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Our Thanksgiving In Pictures

Welcome back!  Meaning me, actually!  I'm sorry to have disappeared.  For those that follow me on Instagram you might have seen that my computer crashed about a week and half ago.  Magnets (no matter how small) and laptops should be kept far, far away from each other.  Thankfully, I got my repaired laptop today and I'm back in business (sort of, all my files were lost)  Despite the initial shock, most of what I need is blissfully stored in Google docs and Picasa.  I'll survive.  :)

While things have quickly switched to Christmas mode, I did want to pause and capture a few pictures and memories from our Thanksgiving celebration.  As I mentioned before, I hosted this year.  Normally this is one of my Mum's holidays but their 13 year old golden retriever, Emma, tore her ACL about 2 months ago and is still recovering (brave girl).  Between my brother and his family staying at their home, along with all that goes into hosting Thanksgiving, I told her I was taking over the reins this year.  It turned out to be a really relaxing and beautiful dinner.  I made everything except the pies (I picked them up from my favorite local bakery, Frieda's) and the stuffing (my Mum's contribution).  I had planned to share a couple recipes last week along with my schedule but without my computer I couldn't.  Here is a breakdown of the week and our menu, just in case anyone would like to save it for next year (myself included) or copy it for Christmas dinner.

Saturday - Grocery shopping for bulk of staple ingredients.  This way I avoided the weekday crowds.

Monday - Picked up turkeys (1 big bird for Thanksgiving dinner, 1 smaller bone-in, breast for left-overs.)

Tuesday - Picked up flowers. Set table. Made cranberry sauce (this recipe). 

Wednesday - Made glazed onion relish (recipe at end of this post), cooked turkey breast (this recipe), blanched French green beans, covered and stored in fridge. Pick up apple and pumpkin pies.

Thursday - Made turkey (a combination of two recipes, I will share if anyone is interested), made gravy (the BEST recipe, at the end of this post.  worth the effort and time.  promise.), finished the onion relish with almonds and sherry vinegar, warmed green beans by tossing them with sautéed shallots and olive oil, roasted the caramelized butternut squash and made mashed potatoes.  Set up cheese board for appetizers.  Whipped cream before dessert.

^^ I loved our table this year.  Set with magnolia leaves, seeded eucalyptus, pinecones and clementines.  Long tapers and white plates are from Williams-Sonoma, white pillars from Ikea.  Block print napkins from a local store, wine glasses and water goblets are La Rochere, runner from Pottery Barn. ^^

^^ Children/cousin table was set more simply with handmade kraft paper "Mayflower" place cards.  DIY instructions here.  Fabric from Ikea was used for a tablecloth and paper napkins. ^^

^^ If you haven't tried Cambozola cheese, you must.  It's a brie and gorgonzola combination.  I prefer it to traditional Stilton.  I could eat the entire wedge! ^^

^^ I still make the herb roasted turkey recipe I grew up with from an old Bon Appetit magazine.  I make a few modifications though, the cooking temp is lower and I add 1/2 cup of white wine to bottom of roasting pan.^^

^^ My Nana's old gravy boat. ^^

Hope all of you have much to be thankful for this year and enjoyed a celebration among family and friends.

Recipe | Glazed Pearl Onion Relish
(adapted from Bon Appétit)
2 pounds pearl onions
1 cup dry Sherry
1/2 cup raisins
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup water
2 TBS butter
1 tsp fresh thyme
2/3 cup slivered almonds, toasted
4 tsp Sherry wine vinegar

Bring pot of salted water to boil.  Add onions and cook for 3 minutes to loosen skins.  Drain and cool slightly.  Cut root ends from onions and squeeze onion at stem.  (note - this part is every bit as tedious and time consuming as it sounds.  You can skip by using frozen, peeled, pearl onions.  For special occasions though, use fresh because it just tastes better.)

Combine peeled onions through thyme (save almonds and vinegar till later) in a heavy medium to large skillet.  Bring to boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer till liquid evaporates and onion caramelizes, stirring often.  I removed lid after 45 minutes and let liquid finish evaporating over medium low heat.  Season with salt and pepper.  Can be made up to one day in advance.  Before eating, warm relish in skillet, add vinegar and almonds.

Recipe | Best Homemade Turkey Gravy
Turkey giblets and neck
2 TBS butter
1 celery stalk, cut up
1 medium carrot, cut up
1 medium onion, peeled and quartered
1 tsp salt
8-12 whole peppercorns
1 bay leaf
4 cups chicken broth
1/3 cup flour
turkey drippings, at least 1/3 cup

Wash and dry neck and giblets, then brown them in butter on all sides in a medium saucepan.  Add everything else, except the flour to the pan.  Bring to a boil and reduce heat to very low and simmer for 2-2.5 hours, until you have 2 1/2 cups of broth left. Remove turkey parts and discard. Strain broth, pressing vegetables in a sieve.  Set aside.  When turkey is removed from roasting pan set drippings in a measuring cup in a bowl of ice water.  Once the fat separates (it will rise to the top, the oily looking liquid) skim it off.  Add 1/3 cup of the remaining drippings + 1/3 cup flour to the saucepan and whisk over low heat for a minute to cook the flour. Remove from heat and gradually whisk in the broth.  Add any additional drippings if you have them.  Continue to whisk over low heat till thickened, about 5-10 minutes.  Will be the best gravy you've ever had.  :)   

^^ Gathered around watching Andrew's latest Thanksgiving Day film! One of my favorites so far!!^^