Category Archives: Holiday

Day 38 – How To Make My Mom’s Lasagna…

Momma Kelly makes the best lasagna in the entire world.  That’s not just my opinion, that’s a fact.  It is perfectly meaty and cheesy and saucy and HOLY CRAP is it good.  It’s been made in very much the same way for many many years, and she has perfected it over time.  The technique, the amounts, how long it bakes, and how long it sits to rest before you eat it.  It all matters.

The one thing that you do have to keep in mind though is that you will never EVER have a lasagna that tastes exactly the same as another.  There are so many variables, the meats, the sauce, the seasoning of the ingredients…it will all vary ,and because of that, your lasagna will never really taste the same.  That’s ok though, if you get the technique down, it will always be good.

The most defining ingredient that has the greatest effect on the success of the whole dish is the sauce.  If the sauce isn’t great, your lasagna won’t be great.  Perfect noodles, perfect layering, and perfect baking will never be enough if the sauce isn’t awesome.  Work on your sauce, add lots of meats, and season liberally.  Let it cook for a while to meld, and if it’s possible, make it a day or even a couple days before you want to make your lasagna.  You will thank me.

The other important thing is to get quality ingredients.  Not to go all Barefoot Contessa  on you, but you want quality cheeses, and pasta along with good tomatoes for your sauce.  It really does make a difference.  We use Tuttorosso and Sclafani brand tomato products…crushed tomatoes, tomato puree, and tomato sauces too…they can be found at your local grocery store.  If you find a good Italian cheese shop you can get everything else you need there, and also find some other delicious treats while you browse like olives, dried sausages, and nutella.  The market we go to is Liuzzi’s in North Haven, CT.  They are straight from Italy, they’ve been doing this gig here in the US for over 30 years, and they totally rock, check them out if you’re in the area.

Wherever you go, whatever ingredients you use, however you make your sauce…be consistent.  Consistency will be what makes your lasagna something that people ask for every holiday and at every special occasion.  Why?  Because they know that even if it’s a “bad” batch, it will still be good.  My mother’s worst lasagna still is better than anything else you will have that night.

In the end I’m really blessed to even be able to talk about all these crazy tips and tricks for this traditional food.  I’m blessed because I have a mother who taught me this.  I’m blessed because I have the ability to carry on this tradition, along with my sisters, into the next generation of our family.  I’m blessed because the family I have been gifted with has a talent for making amazing food, and through that food, creates strong relationships, traditions, and love.  I truly believe that it is the reason everything we make tastes so wonderful.  It’s the reason that every gathering we have is attended by people who are laughing, happy, and have full plates and full hearts.  You want to know what it feels like to be in my family?  Come over on a Sunday afternoon, watch football with us, play with the kids who are running around the house like little maniacs, and EAT.  My parents kitchen feeds more than your belly, it feeds your soul.  Dishes like this remind me of that and will forever remind me of the love that they have taught us and the fullness of spirit that can come from a simple plate of pasta.  So when you are making this lasagna, don’t just think of it as a recipe.  This is a history of my family.  Give it time, give it respect, and above all, give it love.

Momma Kelly’s Lasagna   

Important notes before you get started:

  • It really is a process over a couple of days to get the best result.  Making the sauce, then making the lasagna, then it really helps to let the lasagna sit in the fridge overnight to set.  Then bake it the next day.
  • This lasagna is made in a hotel pan (dimensions are about 20X12).  I don’t know how to make it smaller, that’s just the way it is.  So invite over your family and friends and make it for everyone.  It feeds about 25 depending on the size of your pieces.
  • These measurements are approximations.  We have guesstimated amounts as best we can, but it’s all about feel  and sight and you may have a need for an additional egg, or another meatball in your crumbled meat.  Go with your gut.
  • We make a large pot of meat sauce.  Somewhere around 10 quarts.  The sauce has meatballs, stew beef, pork chops, and hot and sweet italian sausages.  If my mom’s really getting serious, she will also add in pigs feet.  I know, just trust it.  Like I said above, making it in advance helps too.
  • You will have to do some work to find the perfect pasta sheets.  The dried box kind is usually much too thick.  We suggest fresh pasta sheets, but not all fresh pasta is created equal.  Try a few brands and go with the one you like best.  We get a frozen brand from Liuzzi’s that has a mint green and red label.

OK here we go…

3 lbs of lasagna pasta sheets, cooked according to the package

2 lbs of whole milk ricotta

1.5 lbs shredded whole milk mozzarella

3-4 cups grating cheese (this is a serious geusstimate on amount, sprinkle like in the pictures and use however much that takes, we like parmesan and romano blend)

6 eggs

3 lbs of crumbled meat (from your sauce)

Sauce (I have no idea how much, just keep your pot next to you)

salt, pepper, granulated garlic, dried parsley

  • Clear off a counter for assembly purposes.  You are going to need a good amount of space.
  • Warm your sauce on the stove, you don’t want it really hot, just warm enough that the meat is warmed through.
  • Cook your pasta with a little bit of oil in the water, and watch them carefully.  Stir them gently to prevent sticking.  Drain them and put them back in the pot with cool water to stop the cooking.  Set onto the counter, ready for assembly.

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  • Pull out about three pounds of mixed meats into a bowl.  Meatballs, sausages, pork, beef, you want some of everything but you will have the most bulk from meatballs and sausage.

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  • Crumble the meat with your hands.  It should look like this:

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  • Mix your ricotta, eggs, and seasonings together in a bowl.  Be generous with your seasoning, you have a lot of cheese there.  It should look like this in the end:

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  • Put everything out on your counter so all is within reach.  Here’s the master at work:

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  • Start by spreading a good amount of sauce onto the bottom of your pan (she’s doing that above)
  • Then gently start laying out your noodles in your first layer, overlapping about 1/3 of the width.

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  • Spread sauce over the noodles.

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  • Sprinkle a few handfuls of grating cheese over the sauce

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  • Evenly sprinkle over handfuls of the crumbled meat.

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  • Then spread out clusters of the ricotta mixture.  Mom uses a fork so that it kind of spreads a little and you don’t have big clumps.  She is working fast here and is annoyed with me taking pictures…just FYI.

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  • You then sprinkle over the shredded mozzarella

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  • Your first layer is done!  Congratulations!  Now layer on another set of noodles.  If you will notice, she is now spreading them out in the opposite direction in the tray.  She also sometimes tears them and makes the middle pieces a little less wide to try to eliminate a too high center and lower edges.  This is an art, she does it without even thinking.  I still struggle with it, so just do your best.

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  • Start all over again, and do two more layers so you have three total.  In the end spread over another layer of sauce and sprinkle on the final grating cheese.

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  • Cover the tray with parchment paper first, then aluminum foil.  Don’t put the foil directly on the sauce, as the acid will cause a reaction with the metal.
  • If you can, put the lasagna in the fridge overnight to set.  If you can’t do overnight, at least let it sit in there for a few hours to firm up.
  • Now pay attention to this!  Take your lasagna out of the fridge, remove the cover, and cut it like you would be serving it.  I know it sounds crazy but cutting it before you bake it makes for a way better piece later.
  • Cover it back up and bake it in the oven at 350 for about an hour or so.
  • When you take it out it will look like this beautiful tray of deliciousness.

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  • DON’T EAT IT!  That’s right, I said do NOT eat it yet.  Let it sit out on the stove top or counter for at least 20 minutes.  This will allow the cheese and noodles to set up and it will keep your pieces from turning into messy sloppy kind of layers that you have to scoop out with a spoon.  Instead they will look like THIS:

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Oh hell yes…drizzle on a little more sauce and sprinkle on some grating cheese and dig in.  Then get ready for the uncontrollable moaning that will then occur.  Enjoy!

 

Day 32 – How To Make a Great New Year’s Day Breakfast…

For the past several years we have gone to a New Year’s Eve party at a local banquet hall with a bunch of family and friends.  They have a ton of food, a DJ, open bar.  It’s a great time.  However, this year we stayed in and had AC with us while his Mom went out for the holiday.  We headed over to my sister Amy’s house so that AC and her kids could all play together and we could have a sleepover, which the kids were very excited about.

Another family joined us as well and we had a really nice evening that was very chill and complete with some board games and reminiscing of old times when we used to have a completely different type of house party before we all had kids!  We had some champagne at midnight, tucked some exhausted but wound up kids into bed and called it a night.  Jay and I slept on the futon in my sisters office and the kids were all asleep on the floor of their bedroom “camping out”.

The next morning, we all woke up and spent a totally lazy day in our pajamas hanging out, playing together, and watching TV.  To kick off that kind of day, we made a kick ass breakfast.  Amy had bought some really beautiful challah bread when she had stopped at the store and also had a quart of leftover egg nog in the fridge that she hadn’t used around the holidays.  That meant one thing…egg nog french toast.  Along with some maple brown and serve sausages and some cut up strawberries and other fruit, it was a great start to the new year.

challah french toast

Egg Nog Challah French Toast

1 loaf of good challah bread that looks like thischallah

1 Qt of egg nog

3 eggs

3/4 cup brown sugar

2 tsp vanilla

few shakes of cinnamon

Slice challah into about 1/4 inch slices.  Mix all other ingredients in a 13X9 baking pan and stir well to combine.  Get a griddle pan hot and melt some butter onto the surface.  Quickly dip the challah, one piece at a time, into the egg mix and then drop onto the griddle pan.  Challah is super soft and I don’t like soggy french toast, so I do not let it soak, I just lightly dip and cook, the egg will soak in, but the bread won’t fall apart.  Griddle until golden brown and cooked through.  Serve with some good maple syrup and more butter!

Day 31 – How To Be Italian At Christmas…

Everyone has their own traditions around the holidays, it’s true.  But really, nobody does it up like the Italians!  In our family, we celebrate with the classic Italian American Feast of the Seven Fishes.  If you don’t know what this is, here’s a brief recap for you from the end all be all of sources…Wikipedia

The Feast of the Seven Fishes is part of the Italian-American Christmas Eve celebration.  Today, it is a feast that typically consists of seven different seafood dishes. It originates, however, from Southern Italy, where it is known as The Vigil (La Vigilia). However, some Italian-American families have been known to celebrate with nine, eleven or thirteen different seafood dishes. This celebration commemorates the wait, the Vigilia di Natale, for the midnight birth of the baby Jesus.

We have celebrated Christmas Eve in this way, with lots of family and even more fish, for as long as I can remember.  When I was very young, we would gather in the basement level of my Aunt Rose’s house, but for the most part, my memories are of having Christmas Eve at my Uncle John’s house, who lives right next door to my mother.

There is a ton of work that goes into a night like this, which is mostly done by my mother and uncle.  My Uncle Johnny shops for all the fish and keeps the master list for all the things we need to make and all the recipes we need.  My mother has her tasks that she needs to do as well which consist of the stuffed clams, steamed broccolli and getting her butt over to the house next door to start frying at around 4:00.

The menu for the evening is basically this:

First Course

 Shrimp cocktail20141224_163113

Scungilli (sliced conch)and calamari salad (with a red octopus decor that my cousin brought back from a trip to Italy just for the food this night) 20141224_154327

Bacala (salted cod) salad 20141224_163105

Baked Stuffed clams 20141224_125207 20141224_190615

Saples (fried dough balls – we do three kinds – plain, mushroom, clam, and anchovy) 20141224_170009 20141224_170057 20141224_170330

Second Course 

Bacala stew (hearty fish stew with vegetable sand potatoes in a rich red broth) 20141224_154623

Pasta Course

Crab and Lobster red sauce with linguine (made every year by my cousin Christine and brought over on Christmas Eve)20141224_162604

Fourth Course

Assorted fried fish (shrimp, scallops, eel, squid, smelts, and flounder)  20141224_164735 20141224_162145 20141224_154931 20141224_154421 20141224_154344

Steamed broccoli with lemon (I forgot to take a picture so this is a pretty Google picture, but ours totally looks like this)broccoli

Dessert

Birthday cake (the 24th is my cousin’s actual birthday so we sing and have cake), assorted cookies and/or pastries

As you can see, we have more than just seven kinds of fish, but this is the menu that we have been laying out every year for more years than I know.  Suffice to say that we have this down to a science, and now that all of us “kids” are older, it seems to take us less time than it used to because we are able to help get everything done.  Over the years, the list has been slightly altered.  We have changed amounts as people have come and gone, tweaked items here and there, but the way we cook everything, and the vast selection, has not much changed.  We are, for the most part, making the exact same food that the generations before us were making on this day.

I know for me, it makes the holiday feel like home, it makes me remember so many wonderful times, and for a few hours, I can almost tangibly feel the presence of all the beautiful spirits who have passed on sitting right there with us at the table and listening to the organized chaos of 50 people and kids gathered together to share this piece of their family history.  It’s a beautiful tradition that we share with our family and friends, and even though it’s a ton of work, I can’t imagine it ever being any different.

So how do you do this?  How do you be Italian at Christmas?  It’s easy.  There’s only one step really.

Keep traditions.

There is nothing more to it than that.  If there is something that your family does that you love, keep doing it.  Don’t just be a spectator in the event, you have to learn.  You can say you love Grandma’s cooking all you want, but unless you find out how she does it, you aren’t going to be able to make that food when she is gone.  And trust me you will miss it.  My mother and uncle learned all of this from their family and have taught it to us.  Make your kids pay attention, make them get in the kitchen with you.  If nobody learns how to carry on the legacy, then that tradition you love will not be there for long.  You have to want to do it, you have to be willing to learn, and you have to love the people that you are sharing it with because that is the most important thing.  Sharing it with people you love.

If you don’t have any kind of tradition in your family. start one.  It does not have to be elaborate, it does not have to be grand.  I know some people who’s tradition is just one kind of special dessert that they only have on Christmas.  That works, that’s great, and that’s enough.  If you want something a little bigger, find something that you love to do and ask your family to do it with you.  Maybe you decorate a gingerbread house on Christmas, maybe you make cookies, maybe you try to incorporate one new food item you love until you find something that works for you all and takes shape to become a tradition.  Whatever it is, you have to make the effort and don’t give up from one year to the next.

My grandmother’s generation is mostly passed on now, but the things they taught us are still here.  Every year.  We remember them.  Every year.  And we teach something to our kids.  Every year.  That’s how you keep traditions, and in my family that’s how you be Italian at Christmas.

Day 30 – How To Keep The Magic And Wonder In Christmas…

We all know how it goes.  Shopping, cooking, family, wrapping, travel…it all quickly adds up and can make for one freaking stressful time of year.  However, it’s also one of my absolute favorites and I’m not just saying that.  I love Christmas more than any other holiday by far.  My Dad also loves Christmas and some of my most wonderful memories are of all of us decorating the tree, or going to the candlelight midnight mass.  When we were little, we would lay in front of the huge speakers in the living room and read the jacket of the Sesame Street Christmas record (yes kids, I mean vinyl here).  He still has it by the way, and puts it on for us every Christmas…and we know every word.

There’s just something about Christmas that touches my heart.  We are Christian, so church and the message that holds is a large part of the season for us, as it is for many people.  However I don’t feel you have to be religious to appreciate the magic of the season.  Seeing the children get so excited about Santa, driving around looking at all the beautiful lights, and teaching them to help others, that is magical too.  The warmth of the house, the lights from the tree, the beautiful music, the family time, it all adds up to a feeling of fullness and wonder.  It also reminds me of how blessed we are in this life and makes me try a little harder to do a little something extra for those who aren’t as fortunate.

No matter what your feelings are about the holidays, here’s a few things to remember if you are trying to keep some of that wonder in your home and your heart this year.

  1. Decorate –  You don’t have to go crazy here.  Although if you love it, go for it.  My brother in law is a decorating fool when it comes to Christmas.  He has lights outside and puts up the tree right after Thanksgiving.  Every surface is covered in holiday something and I’m surprised the dog doesn’t walk around with a wreath around her neck and a piece of mistletoe hanging off her tail.  We aren’t quite that enthusiastic about decor in our house, but I absolutely need to have a tree.  Sitting in the living room and looking at the lights and ornaments that are from when I was little or were made by the kids just makes me happy.  Whatever it is for you, make the house a little more festive.  A tabletop tree, a little candle in the window, or a lighted snowman in front of your door.  It all makes the season feel special.
  2. Watch those cheesy movies –  Yes, I’m serious.  All those cheesy, ridiculous specials and holiday themed movies that play on a constant circuit.  Watch them.  Some of them suck, but some of them are just too damn fabulous and will make your eyes well up and feel like an idiot, Christmas gold there people.  You also have to watch the classics like National Lampoons Christmas Vacation (which is playing right now actually as I write this ) and Elf and The Polar Express.  They are awesome.  They just are.  Do it.
  3. Listen to Christmas music –  There is nothing quite as beautiful and emotional as listening to the floating pure voice of Andrea Bocelli singing effortlessly the melody of “O Holy Night” along with a beautiful orchestra.  I think that this might be what you hear in heaven.  Music has a way of getting into those parts of our heart that we don’t allow ourselves to often feel.  For me, it makes the holiday real.  When I walk into my parents house and my Dad has on the Christmas music (which he is often singing along with). I know the holiday is here.
  4. Talk to a child –  If you ever want to really know what the season is about, talk to a kid.  The amazingly pure answers you get will remind you of what’s important.  They talk about baby Jesus like he is their friend, they get so excited about the possibility of seeing Santa, and they remember those crazy traditions like putting up a certain ornament or leaving carrots for the reindeer.  Kids make the holiday better, just to have that infectious excitement and magical outlook on the day makes everything just more.  They also distract you from the fact that you want to beat your husband for forgetting the one present you asked him to grab off the counter.
  5. Eat –  Yeah I know, most of you are sitting there and thinking “hello, I know this one”, but at Christmas you need to really commit.  Drink the 500 calorie thimble full of egg nog, eat those candy cane truffles, gorge yourself on the prime rib and eat two helpings of Mom’s mashed potatoes.  I may think it at other times of the year, but I never EVER have thought, “wow I wish I hadn’t eaten that” at Christmas.  Food, and decadent, rich, fat filled food at that is part of what makes the holiday special.  Take a break from the restraint, eat what you want, and enjoy it.  Don’t think about what it means tomorrow, and just have a good time, eat the food you love and save room for dessert!
  6. Give –  There are so many people for which Christmas is hard.  Really hard.  At our church we participate in a program with the Covenant to Care for Children organization where our church has “adopted” a DCF social worker.  Throughout the year we try and provide her and her case families with things that they may need and may have a hard time getting otherwise.  At Christmas, we ask what the children might want, and then create a giving tree that church members can choose from and buy gifts for.  Everyone loves it, and often we have to go back and get additional names to care for all the people who want to contribute.  Knowing that these gifts are going directly to these local kids and will be responsible for giving them a gift of light and hope at Christmas just makes me feel good.  The past couple years I have chosen a child who has been close in age to AC to remind me that much more of the need that is out there.  Something about relating it to our own kids brings it closer to home.  If you have the opportunity, and you are able to, try and give something during this time, or at any time during the year.  The need isn’t only now, but the opportunity is never easier to find than at the holidays.
  7. Take a moment –  Through all the insanity, take a moment.  Give yourself a brief reprieve from wrapping presents and checking off lists to just be.  Sit there, listen to the music, appreciate your tree, or drive through a festival of lights.  Look at your family and friends, and appreciate all you have.  There are times that I just sit in the kitchen at my parents house, when we are in the throws of full blown holiday chaos, with about 10 conversations going at once, a ridiculous amount of food on the counter, and the cocktails flowing freely and feel a rush of pure emotion at being so incredibly blessed to call this group of crazy, loud, messy, loving, and truly wonderful people my family.  As I look around at what we have, I take the time to pause, say a small word of personal thanks, and show them all that I love them very much.  I look at those little faces lighting up with joy and breathe in the smells that make the house a home.  In those moments, that is when I feel the wonder, that is when I feel the magic.  I wish all of you glimpses of those moments with those you love this year.

Merry Christmas to you all!

 

Day 28 – How To Give A Great Gift…

Tis the season for making lists, looking for deals, and trying to find the perfect something for the special people in your life.  I know from experience that there are times when Christmas shopping can get out of hand.  I’ve been totally guilty of spending more than I should and making myself a little stressed trying to find that one perfect thing.  However, as I’ve gotten older (yes, I just said that) I have come to realize that the perfect gift doesn’t have to be expensive, it doesn’t even have to be bought at a store.  The only thing that is important is that the gift shows you have thought about the recipient and not just given them the great deal you saw on the sale rack, that by the way, they will never use.

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Here’s a few pointers on how to get a great gift, no matter who you are shopping for, and no matter when you are shopping…it’s not only Christmas that matters!

  1. Make a list –  I know that this has nothing directly to do with the actual gift buying, however making a list is super important.  You can make a list however works best for you, but for me it has to be something I can take with me.  If you make the list on your computer or on the chalkboard in the kitchen you can’t go back to it when you happen to find yourself at the mall and see the buy two get three free deal.  I’ve used the notes app on my phone and there are a million actual Christmas shopping list apps you can use too.  In the end I always go back to a piece of actual notebook paper with a pencil.  I know it’s old school, but it is just easier for me.  I’m able to group the list as I want, I can write and erase and can see everything at one glance as opposed to scrolling through pages on my phone.  Having the list also shows you the volume of who you have to shop for and can curb your spending when you see it all laid out.
  2. Remember who you  are buying for –  There’s a big difference between buying for your partner and buying for the grab bag you have to do at work.  What does the person like?  Do they have hobbies?  Are they foodies (hint hint)?  Are they emotional or are they funny?  Basically, you want to give them the same feeling when they open a gift that you want to feel when you open a great gift.  One of the best presents I gave was to each of my immediate family members the Christmas after my first nephew was born.  I made everyone custom picture books from Shutterfly.  Not only were they awesome to open and see everyone paging through and crying or laughing, but adding personal touches for each of them within the picture captions made it so special.  These were not super expensive, but they really took some time and effort to make, and it paid off.  For me, I love getting restaurant gift cards for places I haven’t been to so I can try them out.  I also absolutely adore getting home made items.  Fudge, cookies, hot chocolate mix, soups, the list goes on.
  3. To buy, make, or donate –  This leads right into whether you should buy, make or donate.  Trust me on this one, the price doesn’t change much.  Even if you make things, you still have to buy everything you need in order to cook so don’t think you will save a ton of cash most of the time.  The reason I like to make gifts is because I feel like sometimes it is more personal.  That and I really love to try new recipes and want to share them with people when they work out.  My sisters and I have been making gifts forever.  For a lot of years we would take a weekend and make Christmas candy.  We’ve done everything from chocolate drizzled caramel corn to crunchy peppermint bark.    Recently I’ve been trying some other options like canning a bacon jam and an onion compote.  Last year I even canned soups, they were my favorite.  The gifts also don’t have to be food.  If you have a hobby or passion, go for that as well.  My mother in law makes awesome soaps and sells them all over the place at fairs and events.  I love getting them for gifts because we use them all year long, they smell amazing, and we never have to buy soap!  Incidentally, if you’d like to get some yourself you can visit her Lovely Lathers facebook page, I highly recommend it.  The other truly thoughtful option is to donate to a cause that the person loves, in their name.  Sometimes in life we just have too much crap.  Rather than struggling to figure out what else you can give a person who has everything, make a donation.  Have an animal lover?  Donate to your local shelter.  Know someone who has had experiences with rare disease?  Donate to One Breath, One Hope Inc!  I hear their CEO is hot, and also writes this amazing food blog.  Huh.
  4. Set limits –  Jay and I do this every year.  We set limits as to what we will spend on each other in order to keep it under control.  Otherwise he knows I will spend way too much.  I admit, it’s totally because of me that we do this, I’ve owned it.  However, I do this in some fashion with almost everyone on my list.  I have mental numbers in mind for each person.  I may go over or under a bit if I find something really great, but it at least gives you an idea of how much you are going to spend and helps you to stay on track.  If you find that your list is growing and you need to scale down a little, then you have the ability to take a little money away from here and there in order to make up for it.  The biggest thing to remember is to spend what you can, not what that person will spend on you.  This year, Jay and I have had a bit of a rough patch.  What that means is that presents will be smaller and our love and appreciation of all the support we have received will be bigger.  I’m not worried about what that means, because presents are not the reason we are seeing each other on Christmas.  Ok, maybe it is a little.  But it’s not the main reason.  As long as everyone has a little something to open from us, I’m happy.  The best thing is that we all get to be together and make more of those memories that make us rich in other ways.
  5. Give joyfully –  Don’t give just because you have to.  Be happy about giving and it will show in your gift.  There is nothing worse than opening a gift and having no freaking clue what the person who gave it to you was thinking.  I’ve gotten some pretty rough gifts.  And each time it’s because the person didn’t really care.  They had to give a present because we were on their list, but all that mattered was that there was a check next to our names.  That sucks, and don’t think people won’t know.  They will.  If you really don’t want to shop for a person at least take a minute to get them something that anyone could use, like a gift card or even something practical like new sheets or towels.  Don’t get the person who doesn’t ever drink a big bottle of bourbon, or the person who is allergic to nuts the box of candy that has peanuts all over the top.  The only think those kinds of gifts show are what an asshole you are.  Don’t be that guy.
  6. Make it pretty –  Half the fun in a gift is the presentation.  I will be the first to say I hate wrapping.  Mainly because I royally suck at it.  My savior during the holidays?  Gift bags, dollar store baskets and LOTS of tissue paper.  Seriously, they are the godsend for people who can’t figure out how to cut the right size paper for that box.  The Christmas Tree shop has awesome packages of gift bags in tons of sizes, even your local pharmacy stores like CVS or Rite Aid have some good deals.  And of course there are always the big box stores like Target.  Put the gift in the bag, fluff up some tissue and tie a bow with some wide width ribbon and you look like you actually meant it to look that awesome.  The other totally easy thing to do is wrap within the gift you have.  Making a breakfast gift set?  Get a big mixing bowl and put everything from pancake mix to a whisk and spatula in it with some tissue paper pieces tucked in.  It will look pretty and be practical. Score!

Day 26 – How To Re-Invent Leftovers…

Every two years my parents have a kick ass Christmas party and invite a ton of people to come eat, drink and be very merry in their home.  It’s always a good time.  The house becomes full of friends and buzzes with the sounds of old stories, new events, and laughter.  This year was no exception and we had a night filled with love and holiday spirit.

My parents are both retired (I hate them) and so they were able to do a ton of prep for the party during the week, but we all came together Saturday morning and rallied in the kitchen to finish up the prep, start cooking things in the ovens and get plating.  We pounded out the food as the day went on, and everyone had plenty to eat, cocktails and conversation.  As the night wound down, we could see that we had more leftover food than we had planned on, it happens often at the Kelly house.  We put everything away for the night and on Sunday my sisters and I went back and divided up some of the food for everyone to take home.  Not only was it a great weekend, but we had a good start on the weeknight meals thanks to my parents party!

I know some people don’t enjoy leftovers, but I love them.  We always ate them at our house and my Mom would make kick ass reinventions of the food that was in the fridge.  Today I made the classic leftover dish in my family.  Pot pie.  My parents had roasted a couple turkey breasts that they then sliced for little sandwiches.  We took home about a pound of it along with some leftovers from the veggie plate, namely carrots and celery.  With a few pantry staples and a quick run to the store when we were out doing some errands, we had the makings of a great turkey pot pie.

This turkey pot pie is a complete meal with lots of big chunks of veggies and a topping of stuffing that Jay asked for specifically!  It is semi homemade in that I take some help from the grocery store premade items.  If you’d rather make everything yourself, go for it.  But on a Monday night, premade crust and some canned goods were the way to go for us.  It takes a couple steps to make, but is totally worth it.  This recipe made two large pies, we ate one for dinner and wrapped and froze the second for a quick dinner another night in the future.  Enjoy!

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Stuffing Topped Turkey Pot Pie

1 pound cooked turkey, cut into pieces
1 small bag of baby carrots, cut into bite sized chunks
1 small bag of celery, cut into bite sized chunks
2 medium sized onions, large diced
1 can of corn
2 cans cream of chicken soup
1 cup milk
2Tbsp butter
salt and pepper to taste
2 tsp dried rubbed sage
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 package of your favorite stuffing mix, prepared according to the directions.
2 premade, unbaked pie crusts

Melt the butter in a large, high rimmed frying pan, saute the onions, carrots, and celery, salt, pepper, and dried herbs until they are just softening.  Stir in the turkey, canned corn, canned soup and milk and stir until combined.  Simmer for a couple minutes.  While the mix is cooking, make the stuffing. according to the package.  Place the pie crusts onto a cookie sheet and ladle in the pot pie ingredients evenly across the two pie tins.  Place the stuffing over the tops of the pies and gently pat down to adhere the stuffing to the pie.  Bake at 375 for about 30-45 minutes or until they are browned and bubbling.  Let cool slightly before cutting and serving.

I served one pie for dinner, the other I let cool, then wrapped in plastic wrap and tin foil and stuck in the freezer to be used another night for a quick meal.

Look at those beautiful leftovers!

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Day 19 – How To Make The Perfect Cup Of Hot Chocolate

Over the weekend we were able to get to see my best friend Sara and her family.  They live about an hour away so we don’t get to see them as much as I’d like but when we do, it’s like no time has gone by.  Sara and I met in college and haven’t looked back since.  You know that meme that you see everywhere “You’ll always be my best friend because you know too much”, that’s us.  We’ve been through a lot together and have stuck with each other for about 15 years.  We were each others maids of honor, went out to the clubs in college, and have cried together over all of life’s twists.  She’s in it for the long haul now, I’m not letting her out at this point.

This weekend, Sara, her husband Mel, and their three kids were decorating the house for Christmas.  We went over and helped them trim the tree and I got to make a big pot of hot chocolate for us all to sip on while we were getting in the spirit.  The kids did a great job with the tree and we ordered some yummy chinese food later to top off the night!  It was a really great day.

The absolute perfect cup of hot chocolate is sweet, but not too sweet, hot, and rich with some whipped cream on top.  For me, that perfect cup is the actual recipe from the box of Hershey’s Cocoa.  You can find it here as well.  My Dad used to make this hot chocolate for us when we would go sledding outside or when it was a really cold day.  Whenever I taste it, I’m transported back to my parents kitchen.  It makes me warm and happy and all fuzzy inside.  I was so happy to be able to share it this weekend with these people I love.  Try it for yourself and maybe you can start your own new tradition!  Don ‘t forget to really go for the gold and use whole milk and canned whipped cream, it makes a world of difference.  Enjoy!

hot chocolate

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup HERSHEY’S Cocoa
  • Dash salt
  • 1/3 cup hot water
  • 4 cups (1 qt.) milk
  • 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Miniature marshmallows or sweetened whipped cream (optional)

    Directions

    1. Stir together sugar, cocoa and salt in medium saucepan; stir in water. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a boil. Boil and stir 2 minutes. Add milk; stirring constantly, heat to serving temperature. Do Not Boil.

    2. Remove from heat; add vanilla. Beat with rotary beater or whisk until foamy. Serve topped with marshmallows or whipped cream, if desired. Five 8-oz. servings.

     

    Day 18 – How To Enjoy Thanksgiving Morning…

    In the Montana house, our tradition on Thanksgiving morning is to get up, turn on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and make Pillsbury cinnamon rolls.  I started doing this quite a few years ago when  I had moved out of my parents house and missed having a fun breakfast with my family while we watched the parade.  Cinnamon rolls are super easy, no stress, decadent and the perfect kick off to a day filled with eating an exorbitant amount of rich food.

    Right now I’m siting here with Jay watching the Rockettes, talking about the game plan for the day, digging into my heavily frosted cinnamon roll, drinking a hot cup of tea and thinking about how thankful I am.  This has been a trying year for us.  Life happens and things go wrong, change, grow, and try the very fiber of our patience and limits of control.  However, along the whole journey, we have stayed a team.  I have been constantly reminded that we are stronger together than we are apart and that the love we have for each other, for AC, and for our family are rare gifts that I try to never take advantage of.

    On Thanksgiving morning people may think it’s cliche and overrated to read about what everyone is thankful for, but I have to say I love looking on my Facebook news feed and seeing all the positive postings, love, and gratitude listed there.  It makes me happy to see, for even a couple hours, the goodness and kindness in people.

    So my advice to all of you…take some time to reflect this Thanksgiving morning.  Have something super yummy to start the day, kiss your loved ones, enjoy something as timeless and beautiful as the parade and remember that in all our lives there are things to be thankful for.

    Today, I’m thankful for Jay who loves me more than I deserve sometimes, I’m thankful for AC for showing me the beauty of a child’s love, and for his Mom who lets me be such a big part of his life, I’m thankful for my parents who raised us amazingly, to my sisters who are my best friends in the world, for my many, many family and friends who love me no matter what and for the sister of my heart Sara and her family who have showed me the face of true dedication and perseverance.  I love you all…

    And of course I’m thankful for the gift of amazing food…make these cinnamon rolls for your holiday mornings and enjoy the smell, taste, and spirit of the day with the people you love.  I love these cinnamon rolls, they are not homemade but they are delicious, and of course I make some additional frosting because seriously, the amount they give you just isn’t enough.  At all.

    Doctored Up Pillsbury Cinnamon Rolls

    1 can pillsbury grands cinnamon rolls with cream cheese icing

    4 oz cream cheese

    1 Tbsp butter

    2 Tbsp powdered sugar

    1 tsp vanilla

    Preheat the oven to 350 and place the cinnamon rolls into a baking dish.  I use a round cake pan.  Bake according to the instructions, until golden brown.

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    In a microwave safe bowl, place the cream cheese and butter and microwave for about 15 seconds at a time until they are softened and you can combined them until smooth with a whisk.  Add in the premade frosting into the bowl and whisk together.  Then add in the powdered sugar and vanilla and combine until smooth.  This makes a super thick and really creamy frosting for the rolls.

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    Remove the cinnamon rolls from the oven and ice them with big spoons of the frosting while they are hot.

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    Serve them up and enjoy your first sugar rush of the day to get you going!

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    Day 17 – How To Make Perfect Cranberry Sauce…

    Ok, I’m coming clean.  I don’t very much like cranberry sauce.  Not the kind in a can or the kind I make at home.  However, homemade cranberry sauce is so easy it’s ridiculous.  I started making it myself a few years ago and have messed with a few recipes here and there including a bourbon one.  This sweet apple one though always gets the best reviews from everyone.  It’s sweet, tangy, and tastes just like fall.  Don’t be ashamed however if you still want the jellied stuff in the can, my father loves it and even though I make this kind he always wants some of the canned stuff anyway!  This year give this recipe a try, if you like cranberry sauce you will love it…

    Sweet Apple Cranberry Sauce 

    1 12 oz package of fresh cranberries

    2 medium sized apples, peeled and diced

    1/4 cup water

    2-3 Tbsp lemon juice

    1 cup sugar

    dash of salt

    couple shakes of cinnamon

    In a medium sized sauce pot, pour in all the ingredients, stir to incorporate, and cook over medium heat.

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    Stir every couple minutes.  Cook down until most of the cranberries have burst, the apples are soft and the sauce has thickened.

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    Remove from the heat and let it cool.  Pour into pretty glass jars and bring as a hostess gift, or store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

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    You can use this sauce on a ton of things besides turkey, stir it into some yogurt, pour it over some vanilla ice cream or top off your oatmeal with a spoonful for a warm morning breakfast!

    Day 16 – How To Make An Easy And Awesome Turkey…

    With Thanksgiving just a blink away, everyone is talking about how to make the best turkey.  This makes me laugh a little because for me, I think the turkey is the absolute easiest part of the whole day.  Does it take the longest, yes, but there is really nothing to be scared about when it comes to cooking this bird.  Here are a few tips, and the exact way that I cook turkey and chicken at home almost every time I make them.

    1. Get the right size – Pick a turkey that is the right size for the group that you will be having.  There is no reason to have a 25 lb turkey if you are having 5 people over for dinner.  A good rule is to figure about 1.5 – 2 lbs per person.  So for a dinner party of 10 people,you would want about a 20 lb bird or two 10 lb ones.
    2. To stuff or not to stuff – Honestly, I never stuff my turkey with bread stuffing.  It just makes it take too freaking long to cook, almost an hour longer than normal.  However, I do always throw in some quartered apples, onions, and carrots into the cavity.  It adds flavor to the meat and helps keep things moist.
    3. To brine or not to brine –  Ok, so here’s my feeling on brining.  If you have the space in your refrigerator to leave a brined turkey in there for 1 – 2 days, then go for it.  I however have too much other stuff in there to allow for this.  Brining does make for a great turkey, however, you can get a really great bird without it too.
    4. Don’t overcook –  A dry turkey is the worst.  However, remember it’s not the end of the world if yours ends up a little on the saw dust side.  There is always gravy!  Here is a great little chart from Real Simple magazine that shows the breakdown per pound.  

    Perfect Roasted Turkey (or Chicken)

    This recipe is for a 14 – 16 lb. bird, if you have a much larger turkey just up the ingredients.

    14 – 16 lb. Turkey (whole bird, or just the bone-in breast)

    1 medium apple, quartered

    1 medium onion, quartered

    1 large carrot, quartered

    1 stick of butter, room temperature

    salt, pepper, granulated garlic, dried herbs

    Unwrap and rinse off the turkey and remove the giblets and neck.  Transfer it to a large roasting pan, tuck the wings underneath the back, and pat the skin dry with a paper towel.  Use your finger tips to separate the skin gently from the meat as far back as you can get down the body.  Stuff the cavity with the onion, apple and carrot, just shove them in and get them to fit as best you can.

    In a bowl incorporate the butter and salt, pepper, garlic, and whatever herbs you like.  I like to use parsley, sage, and thyme.  You can also add lemon rind or fresh herbs if you would like, but this is one place where I really think dried works just fine.  Be generous with the salt, when you think you have added enough, add more.

    Now the messy part begins.  Grab little handfuls of the butter mix and push it under the skin spreading it onto the meat of the breast.  Smooth it out as much as you can, then also slather some on top of the skin and over the legs.

    That’s it.  I promise, it will be awesome.

    Bake it off in the oven at 325 for about 3.5 – 4 hours or until the internal temperature reads 165 degrees.

    NOW…the next thing is the most important part.  LET THE BIRD REST.  When it’s done, pull it out of the oven, tent it with foil and let it rest for 20 minutes.  The juices will redistribute into the meat and will not end up all over your cutting board.

    Carve it up and enjoy with all 500 of your side dishes!

    For those of you who might not be the best carvers as well, here’s a great little video on just how to do that from the always awesome Alton Brown.