Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Cornmeal and Ricotta Waffles with Candied Bacon

It's the last day of 2013, and it's the second week of my paid vacation. That, alone, is a lot to be thankful for. For 20 years, I was self-employed and while I loved the idea of being my own boss, being able to take a vacation was as scarce as snow falling on the Central Coast of California (where we live).  I count my blessings that I took a leap of faith, and applied for a job at a school district, in 2006-- and got it!

Not only do I love working with high school students, and a great staff of teachers-- I also have the benefit of paid vacations (and health benefits and a pension). Craig and I feel very thankful that we take at least one vacation, per year, that involves checking into an airport and flying to places like Yellowstone, Maui and parts of Canada. Still, I cherish the time times when school is closed for Fall, Winter, Spring and a month-long (unpaid) Summer Break. I'm more than happy to be at home-- I call it "practicing for retirement".

This Winter Break, my husband is also spending time at home, and I am loving it. My son, who rents a room from us, works nights-- so we really don't see him very often.  Both of "my men" have been loving that I'm around to make them breakfast, and they are always thankful and appreciative.  I had leftover ricotta cheese, that I wanted to use before it went bad. Then,  I remembered a recipe for Cornmeal & Ricotta Waffles that I made a year ago. I found the photos on my hard drive, and I realized I never posted it, because I didn't like the shots I took of the plated waffles ( Perfectionists Bloggers, isn't that such a disappointment when that happens?)

I haven't bought pancake/waffle mix in years.  Honestly, homemade waffles take about 10 extra minutes to measure and whisk together.  I think they taste so much better-- and, please, don't get me started on those frozen waffles that take up valuable real estate in your freezer!  

The dry ingredients you will need are cake flour, corn meal, baking powder and salt...

 This morning, I also wanted to make my boy's beloved "Candied Bacon" to go with these waffles.

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Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Best and Most Perfect Prime Rib that you will ever make!

For our Christmas Eve Dinner, this year, I took a detour from our more traditional German menu. At first, a few of my family members were disappointed-- until I said I was going to make Prime Rib.  It's pretty unanimous that Prime Rib is something my entire family loves to eat.  My husband-- not so much. He says that Prime Rib has a "rubbery texture".

Okay. I'll bite. I've made the mistake of ordering a Prime Rib Dinner at a restaurant that doesn't specialize in this expensive cut of beef. I agree. I've had some less-than-stellar prime rib that's tough and chewy.. 

There's a restaurant that is located not too far from our home. They make a Prime Rib dinner that costs $35.00-- not including a good bottle of wine, tax and tip.  I find myself craving this dinner every few months. It's Prime Rib perfection-- just the way I love it.  I like mine medium rare...pink, please and thank you. I don't want all kinds of herbs and heavy doses of garlic. This place uses only salt & pepper...  and they aren't shy with the salted crust. O.M.G.  The crust is crunchy, and perfectly seasoned.  It's a dinner ecstasy, that only a Prime Rib lover can understand.

Making your own prime rib at home can be a little bit scary.  I say this, because it's an expensive cut of meat. Granted, it's not quite as expensive to buy as a quality grass-fed Filet Mignon.  Today's prices for a prime rib runs at about $16.00 per pound, and up.  This 3-rib Prime Rib roast cost about $80.00. I would hate to ruin this beautiful roast by overcooking it!

A few years ago, I tried the method of roasting a Prime Rib at very high heat, and then shutting off the oven.  It was a dismal fail, even though I didn't open up the oven for anything in the world. It was raw.  So dinner was delayed, and side dishes kept warm.  All turned out okay, but I wanted to see what other methods there were.

America's Test Kitchen came through with their version of "The Best Prime Rib".  This method is a bit different, in that we cut off the bone, and set it aside.

The fat cap is scored and two tablespoons of coarse salted is rubbed in.  The roast is set right back, on top of the bones, and then set into the refrigerator to dry age for at least one day-- up to four days. (Here, I've tied the roast together to dry- age, but that step isn't necessary.  I **ahem** didn't read the directions right.)

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Thursday, December 26, 2013

Vegetable Ragu with Creamy Mascarpone Polenta

The Christmas preparations are over, for the year. Last night, I polished off the last (small) slice of Peppermint Cream Pie and I felt like a glutton. It didn't help that a certain "someone" bought a box of custom packed box of my beloved See's Caramel Chocolates. Said person is fully aware of my weakness for caramel. His name is Craig Santa. For the sake of politeness, I felt obliged to indulge in one two three of them.

This morning, my pancreas was giving me a "what for", and I am feeling a bit guilty.   That must explain why I have an urgent craving for vegetables.  I want need  a break from heavy cream, fresh baked rolls and decadent overly sweet desserts.

I created this recipe a while ago, and forgot to post it. It was inspired by a dish that my husband ordered at a restaurant up in the Napa Valley area-- an obscure town, whose name I can't even remember won't mention.  It was a busy restaurant that specialized in their polenta.  I stupidly ordered a soup, which was bland and tasteless, and served by a surly waiter (which is why I won't say where this place is).  My husband ordered the Vegetable Ragu with Creamy Polenta.  He offered a taste of it, and I was smitten. I was also experiencing a mean case of food envy.

When we returned home, I made it my personal mission to try and recreate the dish, and I think I succeeded. It's so easy to make, that I'm going to just share a pictorial.  For those of you who need a recipe, you'll find a recipe card at the end of this post.  Ready? Here we go:

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Monday, December 23, 2013

Last Minute Christmas/New Year's Menu Ideas for Busy Cooks

 (Photo credit: Epicurious)

Tomorrow night is Christmas Eve, and it's the "Big Night" for my family. We celebrate with most of Europe, with the whole family gathering for dinner. We head off to church together, and come home for dessert and then we open our gifts. The next morning, we sleep in, call each other, thank each other for our gifts.  Game over. Christmas Day has always been uneventful for me, as I gather all the Christmas paper and choose which bows and gift bags can be recycled for next year. It's a good morning to watch "It's a Wonderful Life" and stay in my pajamas for most of the day.

 (Since I've published this post, I need to update that the Prime Rib Dinner turned out to be stellar. You can view the recipe/directions by clicking here.)

My husband finds this to be very odd, since he's born and bred from the Midwest. To him, Christmas Day is when the true celebration begins. So, I'm adding a new tradition of making Christmas Day Brunch for just the two of us-- unless my son doesn't have to work at the restaurant.  Any gifts that have his name on it, are reserved to be opened on Christmas Day

I'm very grateful to be on vacation, and that I have three days to unwind from work prepare for our Christmas Eve Dinner.  Of course, I've managed to pin all kinds of recipes for cookies, cheesecakes, macarons, and cakes. I have most of the ingredients to prepare all of said recipes....but, let's get real.

Full-time working people don't have that kind of time!

Last weekend, I  made  Peanut Butter Chewies, which were gone in 24 hours. I made a big serving of White Chocolate Chex Mix, which disappeared before I could even photograph it in a festive bowl. Bah!

Maybe you're like me? Time is always at a premium, and you want to keep things "real" and simple. You're fretting or undecided on what you could make. Here are a few tried & true recipes that aren't terribly difficult to make.

I never truly found out how to spell this appetizer that my mother made for us. She call is "Cherve" or "Sharvay" or... heck, I don't know how it's spelled  All I can tell you is that it's cream cheese & butter with paprika and chives-- and if I don't make this as an appetizer, and serve it with crackers, or sliced baguettes, there are some very sad family members.

This is the time of year when I can buy organic duck breasts at Whole Foods. It's a decadent and pricey treat, but making it at home was much easier than I imagined it would be. It's also a lot less expensive, and is perfect for a New Year's Eve dinner for two (or three, because my son adores duck).

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Saturday, December 21, 2013

Peanut Butter Chewies (No Bake Cookies)

Has it really been three weeks since I've posted a new recipe? That's so frustrating, to me. For five years, I've posted a recipe at least once a week-- sometimes more. It seems that ever since my June knee surgery, I've had setback after setback.  Then, it seems that my food blogging mojo disappeared. I guess I just needed to take a few steps back, and let go of my guilt. I still love the world of Food Blogging and the many friends and followers I've made.  But my priorities have shifted to family, work and physical therapy three times a week. (my new knee is doing so much better now, thank goodness.)  That's not to say that I plan to disappear. I'm just taking a little break. 'Nuff said.

The above photo was not meant to be a featured photo.  I had dipped some of these cookies in melted chocolate, and loved the balance of milk chocolate and peanut butter (you could use dark).  The sun had set, and I decided to photograph some finished shots the next day.  Only, the cookies were gone when I returned with my camera in hand. Apparently, the male mice of the house, had gotten into the chocolate dipped cookies and I didn't have time to melt more chocolate. So, here they are "plain Jane" and non-food styled-- but these are freakin' good, is all I can say.

I say this because I like peanut butter-- especially slathered on warm toast and homemade jam.  I like Reese's peanut butter cups.  But, I don't looooooooooooove peanut butter, the way that my men do.  A few years ago, one of my students gifted me with a plate of these cookies.  It was love at first bite. They were chewy, and gooey, and sweet and as addicting to me as Rice Krispie Treats.  I kept asking for the recipe, but quit asking because she never produced it.

So, I did a google search for "peanut butter, corn flakes, cookies" and I found the recipe on Karo Syrup's website.   I found the recipe! I changed the method of making them, which worked out well for me:

Pour six cups of cornflakes in a large bowl...

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Sunday, December 1, 2013

Chanterelles with Sage, Roasted Pork Tenderloin & Polenta

I made this dinner for Date Night at Home, the weekend before Thanksgiving. I figured that most people would be frantically searching for Thanksgiving recipes, so I decided to wait to share this menu (which consists of three separate recipes) for a time when most of the turkey leftovers and fixin's were gone.  Craig and I just returned from a 1000 mile round-trip, by car, to Northeastern California to be dinner guests at his family reunion.  We had a great time, and it was such a treat for me to be a dinner guest.   At last, I can sit down and share this delicious dinner that we both enjoyed:

When I was a kid, I refused to eat mushrooms. My mother (bless her soul) would add canned mushrooms to some of the dinners she cooked for us ungrateful kids. Bleccccccch. I just couldn't bond with the rubbery texture (which my brothers couldn't either), and I swore I wouldn't eat a mushroom for as long as I live.  Every so often, my mother would torture us with bowls of Canned Cream of Mushroom soup. Gross.

Fast forward to my adult years, when my palate grew less fussy and I discovered that fresh mushrooms are a whole different animal-- especially when sauteed with lots of butter, wine and garlic.  Suddenly, I couldn't get enough of eating mushrooms.  I finally learned how to make homemade Cream of Mushroom soup, which remains my #1 favorite soup.

My husband doesn't share the same enthusiasm for mushrooms that I do.  The only exception is that he does like Cremini Mushrooms (which are baby Portobellos).  He feels that the more common white button mushrooms are boring... tasteless.  I do agree that Cremini Mushrooms have a lot more flavor, and I like their darker color.  Still, he doesn't get as excited about them as I do.

I've never cooked Chanterelles, and have always wanted to.  Last year, I spotted some at Costco and hesitated buying them.  A few days later, they were all gone, and I never saw them  again.  This year, I spotted them and immediately snatched a package of them.  I was so excited to try these wild mushrooms, though my husband was a bit more dubious.

They're interesting looking, and some were almost the size of my hand!

Because they grow in the wild, I had to carefully wash them to remove debris of conifers, dirt and "woodsy" debris. NOTE: Rather than wiping them with a damp cloth, please don't judge, but I rinsed the mushrooms, carefully checking for dirt or debris. I then gently shook the water off, and patted them dry with paper towels. It worked just fine.  I debated making soup with them, but I wanted to taste their meaty flavor.  I considered making a risotto, but I also wanted some kind of protein.  Think, think, think...

I had read that Chanterelles and sage are a perfect pairing. Fortunately, my husband planted a few healthy sage plants in our garden and I began to formulate a plan.  I decided to sear and roast a pork tenderloin, and to serve it atop creamy polenta and then the mushrooms.

I tried to cut the mushrooms into pieces about 2" in size, and I chopped some fresh sage.

I began to saute' the mushrooms in a little olive oil and  butter, and let them cook for aobut 4-5 minutes. I then added a generous splash of white wine, the chopped sage (you could use parsley, instead), and couple cloves of fresh garlic.

I let the mushrooms cook for about 8-10 minutes, and set them aside on very low heat (to keep them warm).

I didn't photograph how I made the polenta, but my method is very quick and easy.  If you've never had polenta, I think of them as "Italian Mashed Potatoes".  I suppose you could say that polenta is similar to grits. I use yellow corn meal, because I always have a box of it handy.  (At the end of this post, you will see a printable recipe card, where I share how much water, milk, cornmeal and Parmesan cheese I add.)  It takes no more than 10 minutes for me to make Quick Creamy Polenta and I keep it warm, by covering the pot and turning the burner to low. 

I used one pork tenderloin, simply seasoned with salt & pepper. I carefully seared the pork tenderloin in an oven proof skillet, then finished roasting it at 425F for about 20-25 minutes.   While the pork was resting, I made a quick pan sauce with some Boiled Cider, chicken stock, and a splash of white wine.  (I include measurements and directions with the recipe card).

This dinner was on the table, with candles and a glass of white wine, in less than an hour.  I have to say, that it looked pretty enough to be served at a restaurant-- for a fraction of the cost. 

TASTING NOTES:  There are really three different recipes, that I've plated for our dinner. Polenta is something we love, as a change of pace from mashed potatoes or rice.  I love the creamy texture and the flavor of the Parmesan.  Pork tenderloin is one of our favorite meats, because it's so tender.  (Chicken breasts could be another good substitute for this meal.) The Chanterelle mushrooms-- well... my husband really liked them. In fact, he went back for seconds!   They have a meaty texture, but I didn't find them to feel rubbery.  The sage, and the apple pan sauce went together perfectly, with the flavors of Fall.  This dish could easily be made vegetarian by eliminating the pork and doubling up on the Chanterelles. For the sauce, use vegetable stock, instead of chicken.
NOTE: If you can't find Chanterelles (which typically in season from late Summer to early Fall) this dish would be good with Cremini or Portobello mushrooms.  I would like to try this with Morels, (which are also a bit scarce for me to find) or a variety of wild mushrooms that I always see at our grocery store.  

I do trust that all of you had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday, with friends and family-- and wonderful food.  I missed being able to write a post, to celebrate my five year Blog Anniversary (which was on November 29th).   I'll make up for lost time, later on this week.

I always post a printable recipe card at the end of each recipe post. If you cannot view it, you might be using an older version of InternetExplorer. You should be able to view my recipe cards with Safari, Mozilla, Google Chrome and Internet Explorer.
If you still can't view the recipe card, all of my recipes are stored on Key Ingredient, by clicking here.

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Sunday, November 17, 2013

Biscoff-Pumpkin Spice Spritz Cookies

I just downloaded another book on food photography and food styling. I have a small modest collection of special plates, napkins and props. Just a few. Storage, in my small kitchen, is at a premium. My husband made, for me,  a little "set" using some tiles and wood (to hide my tile kitchen counter), and I even have a Tunsten light set. In theory, I should be able to shoot photos during winter, when natural light is at a premium-- given that I don't get home from work until dark, during the Fall/Winter months.

Alas, time isn't my friend, when it comes to setting up a shot. The sun was going down, dinner time is just around the corner, but I wanted to write down this recipe, lest I forget how I made it. So much for setting up a small decorative ceramic turkey,  some food props, a fancy plate and a color-coordinated napkin-- oh, and the milk bottle with the colored striped straws. "set up" that looks like the front page of a food magazine. In my case, ain't gonna happen. The desire is there, but the time isn't.

What you will get, should my lackluster photos inspire you to do, is to be glad that you baked these cookies. Stat.  I'm so behind with all the trendy ingredients that go viral on food blogs. Biscoff Spread is so "last year". I know. I've been trying to think of a way to use this ingredient in a way that not everyone else has. Good luck with that, because when I get an idea for a recipe, someone else already has. Sigh. (Oh, and Trader Joe's sells Cookie Butter, which is a clone of Biscoff spread.) As far as I can tell, nobody has made spritz cookies with Biscoff, so I'm claiming them!

This year, I haven't made anything with pumpkin. I adore pumpkin, but I don't like the way pumpkin cookies turn out. They have a fluffy, biscuit texture, and I prefer a crunchy cookie. If it has a chewy center, even better.  In my last post, I shared the Butter Spritz Cookies, using my new OXO Cookie Press.  I wondered if I substituted half the butter for Biscoff spread, and added some pumpkin spice, if the cookies would work out okay.

I wanted an excuse to use the "Turkey" Disk that came with the OXO Autumn Disk Set.   It takes a little bit of patience to press the level, on the cookie press, until the first cookie dough comes out. It's usually a bit wonky, so I just scrape it off and toss it back into the bowl of dough.

I can fit 20 cookies per cookie sheet. The turkeys are kinda cute!

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Monday, November 11, 2013

Spritz Cookies/Swedish Butter Cookies

For the most part, I've kept my kitchen gadget addiction under control. That is, until I started to see a few blog posts about OXO's Cookie Press. It's been many years since I've made Spritz Cookies. Partly, it's because my 30-year old metal cookie press became separated from some of it's parts. I bought another one, made of clear plastic. I forget the brand, but it broke the first time I used it. Plus, the cookies were okay. But I didn't find them to be anything special.

So, I caved and I bought the cookie press. The cookie press comes with recipes, but I found  an America's Test Kitchen recipethat I wanted to try, first.  A basic spritz cookie recipe is very simple-- butter, sugar, egg, salt, vanilla and flour.  America's Test Kitchen recipes usually have some sort of "twist", and so far, any recipe I've made of theirs turns out great. This recipe was no exception.

You don't have to buy a cookie press to make Spritz cookies! You can use a piping bag with a star tip. I will say, though, that cookie presses are easy, fast and a bit of fun to use. 

ATK's "twist" is that they use only the egg yolk, and one tablespoon of heavy cream.  Once the egg yolk and heavy cream are whisked together, I added one teaspoon of pure vanilla extract.

Two sticks of softened butter, a pinch of salt and sugar are beaten until fluffy.  Then the egg/heavy cream mixture is added and mixed until blended.

2 cups of flour is gradually added, and then you scrape the dough until it's all gathered in the mixing bowl. This takes minutes! The key is to have the dough soft, so it can squeeze through the press.

I liked ATK's tip of shaping the soft dough into a "log", which drops into the cookie press cylinder.

I decided to choose the "Sunflower" disk.  This cookie press using a lever that you press down on. It works great!  See?

Yes, you'll get a few deformed cookie shapes. All you have to do is scoop them off the baking sheet, and toss them back into the bowl of dough. (Or, you can pop them into your mouth. Hey, I've eaten raw cookie dough all my life, and have never gotten sick!)

Whatever you do, do not set the cookie dough on parchment paper, nor should you grease the baking sheet. You'll get frustrated. Trust me, the cookies won't stick. I promise.

I also made an almond version of cookie dough, by adding 1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract and 1/2 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract.  I decided to add some coarse sugar on top, for texture and I use the "Daisy" disk for this version.

For Christmas cookies, I have some red and green coarse sugar. This batch is purely for practice!

I baked the cookies at 375F and rotated them half way between baking times-- which turned out to be ten minutes for a slightly golden edge.  I found that it was ideal to loosen each baked cookie after a few minutes and then to let them cool for a few more minutes. Then, I moved them to a cooling rack.

One more thing-- don't press cookies onto a warm cookie sheet! Let the baking sheet cool completely.  I was able to put them into the freezer to speed up the process, as I have three cookie sheets and wanted to move things along.

Each batch of dough yielded about 5 dozen cookies.  I stored them in an air tight container and the next morning they were exactly the same as when they were freshly baked.

TASTING NOTES:  These cookies are anything but ho-hum.  The vanilla version was buttery and crispy, with a really tender crumb. My son's eyes lit up when he tasted them. He said they were just like eating potato chips-- you can't eat just one!   I'm a big fan of almond flavored sweets, so I favor the almond version.  I have plans for other flavors-- like chocolate, and adding lemon zest for a citrus variation. I've got a few other ideas, I'll keep under wraps for now.

While these cookies are considered a traditional Christmas cookie, I think they are delicious anytime of year-- especially with tea.

My next recipe, using this Cookie Press will be some savory cheesy crackers (er, "biscuits).  You will be the first to know how they turned out!

NOTE: OXO did a great job with developing this cookie press  I like the press down lever (as opposed to my former "twist" handle). I also like that this is dishwasher friendly. OXO did not choose me to receive this cookie press for free (I wish).  I'm not being paid to promote this product. My opinions are truly my own!

I always post a printable recipe card at the end of each recipe post. If you cannot view it, you might be using an older version of InternetExplorer. You should be able to view my recipe cards with Safari, Mozilla, Google Chrome and Internet Explorer.
If you still can't view the recipe card, all of my recipes are stored on Key Ingredient, by clicking here.


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Thursday, November 7, 2013

My favorite Thanksgiving recipes

I just got my broken camera lens back from the "Canon Hospital", so I've been unable to photograph any new recipes for the last couple of weeks. This weekend, I plan to make some new recipes. In the meantime, I've decided this is a good time to share some of my favorite Thanksgiving recipes-- since the holiday is less than three weeks away!

I enjoy Thanksgiving, and I'm thankful that I have family to celebrate it with. But, last Thanksgiving, I let both of my bachelor brothers know that Thanksgiving 2013 I was not going to be cooking or baking.  I just need a break from slaving away in the kitchen for two days.  Standing for hours at a time took it's toll on my arthritic knee. Now that I have a brand new one, I'm still in the process of healing-- and my knee isn't as painful as it once was. Whew! Since I'm, pretty much, the sole cook and baker  I've found ways to make a few of our favorite Thanksgiving dishes ahead of time.

This "Make Ahead Turkey Gravy" is a lifesaver.  This recipe can be made a few days ahead of time (or weeks, and you can freeze it). I reheat it in a small crockpot, which frees up my stove-- plus, I don't have to hassle with making gravy, once the turkey is ready.   If you're on the guest list, and have been asked to bring one dish-- make this gravy!  Delicious!

Another time saver is this "Make Ahead Mashed Potatoes".  Personally, I think Yukon Gold Potatoes are the tastiest choice.   I add an egg, which gives extra richness to the spuds-- oh, and cream cheese, and heavy cream, and butter. Yes, these are rich and decadent.  Once in a while, just go for it!

When it comes to bread rolls, I just can't deal with store bought. These Golden Pull Apart Buns are tender, and perfect with turkey and gravy.

Would you believe that I made these Dinner Rolls in an hour? I wouldn't lie about such things. These are really easy to make-- even for a beginner bread baker. Oh, and I made a whole wheat version, too!

 I absolutely adore yams. I'll pass on stuffing any day. I have a hard time deciding which recipe I love the most-- these Candied Yams...

 ...or this "Sweet Potato Casserole".  This has a layer of marshmallow creme and a pecan streusel. Dessert or side dish? You decide.

 One Thanksgiving, I made these Sausage Stuffed Mushrooms. They were a big hit with my family.

I don't have two ovens, and it's hard to juggle the roasting of The Bird, and baking the stuffing, the bread and side dishes.  We made a grilled turkey on our Weber (Cook's Illustrated).  Not only did this method free up my oven, it also delivered a moist turkey with a beautiful browned skin.   We loved it!

 Fortunately, everyone in my family loves pumpkin pie. I love Libby's Pumpkin Pie recipe. But this year, I tried a recipe from King Arthur Flour. There's a secret little ingredient that gave the pumpkin a little kick, but nobody could figure out what it was...until I told them. 

I'm surprised at how many people proclaim that they can't make a pie crust to save their life. Funny thing is, I'm not a big fan of pie crust, but I think they're fun to make.

I'll be making this "Pumpkin Roll" again. It makes an impressive looking dessert, and it's super easy to do.

If you truly don't like pumpkin, then this Apple Brown Butter Tart is a delicious Fall alternative for your holiday table.

This Thanksgiving, my husband and I will drive to Northern California, right near the Nevada border to spend the holiday with his sister and two cousins-- who are flying in from various parts of the country.  No, I won't be cooking.  We're eating out.

Though, I think I'll be making a miniature Thanksgiving dinner at home with just the three of us-- my husband and my son.  Just a quiet day to be thankful for what we have-- and that I can take it easy.

I'm looking forward to playing with some new kitchen toys gadgets tools that I just bought. Just wait and see!

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