Saturday, December 27, 2014

Easy Entertaining!

Yes, Christmas rolled over us like a double-decker bus filled with overstuffed passengers, but there are still several days of fa la la la la-ing, before the ball drops. (Actually, I've believe the ball is filled with weight loss and tax commercials, so once it hits the ground and breaks open, the party's over.) So, for now, here are two easy and delicious recipes that I made over this holiday, and I will find a reason to use them both all year long! Take a look:

I'm going to name this first one after my son (since he stopped by for dinner one night, took home the leftovers and hid them from his fiance. By the time she got home the next night, all that was left was the waft of prosciutto and wine in the air). Not fair, my boy!

Kyle's Chicken

You'll need 2 packages of THIN chicken breasts
1/4 lb of prosciutto 
a half bag of fresh spinach
an 8 oz package of fresh sliced mushrooms
1 envelope Lipton Recipe Secret's Savory Herb and Garlic
1/2 C White Wine
1/4 C Olive oil

1/2 lemon, squeezed, seeds removed
8 oz shredded mozzarella

Preheat oven to 375
Spray a 13/9" pan with Pam.
Put 2 layers of chicken in pan, layer the prosciutto.

Top with spinach, sprinkle with a little kosher salt and coarse black pepper and then
top with mushrooms.
Whisk together olive oil, wine, lemon and savory herb envelope then pour over everything.
Lay a piece of foil over (not tight) the pan and bake for 30 minutes
Top with the cheese and bake for 5 minutes more.

This is a very simple and impressive casserole.

The next one is a snack, appetizer, game night sensation, or a great accompaniment to a good book and a glass of wine. All the credit here goes to Ina Garten who created this recipe for the Food Network Magazine. She calls it "Caramelized Bacon" for the ultimate happy hour. I call it...

1/2 cup brown sugar, lightly packed (I used the dark variety)
1/2 cup chopped or whole pecans
2 tsps kosher salt
1 tsps black pepper
1/8 tsp of cayenne pepper
2 tbls spoons of pure maple syrup
1/2 lb of thickly sliced applewood smoked bacon

Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a sheet pan with aluminum foil and put a wire rack on top of that. Ground together the pecans and brown sugar in a good processor until both are finely ground.
Add the remaining ingredients and pulse until all are moistened. Cut the bacon strips in half and line on sheets. Then take a spoon and spread the mixture on each piece, covering completely and bake for about 30 minutes. You want the topping bubbling brown but not burned. Remove from sheet immediately and place each piece on a plated topped with a paper towel. This can be made early in the day and then kept a room temperature.

The only thing differently I would do next time is to make a double batch!

So savor the next few days of what's left of the 2014 holidays and enjoy yourself! A long dark winter awaits us and we need to enter it with as much spirit as possible!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Mall Conversations Days Before Christmas...

I think if most women are honest, when it comes to serious Christmas shopping, they like to shop alone. At lease I do. Social shopping with friends is fine, but when I'm on a mission, I need to be solo.

I don't know, maybe I can't talk and shop at the same time. But one thing I can do is...listen! I have become addicted to partial conversations. And snippets of Mall talk the week before Christmas are the best.

Shopper #1 "I need to buy a holiday tablecloth cause now I have to put the extra leaf in. What size is the average leaf?"
Shopper #2 "How should I know?
Shopper #1 "Well you invited the extra people! Did you put any thought into it?"
Shopper #2 "Two people, Ruth, Two people! Not a big deal! I'm bringing half the food!"
Shopper #1 "Then you buy the table cloth, and then take it home with you, since next year it is at your house and you can invite as many people as you want!"
Shopper #2 "I already have a big Christmas tablecloth."

They went into a store before I could hear the rest of that conversation, which had an obvious solution Ruth! Along with half the food, tell her to bring her tablecloth! Merry Christmas to two ladies who had to be sisters!

Observing a young girl, excitingly leaving Santa's lap and then digging her heals in when she got to her parents. "Wait, wait wait! I forgot to tell him something." "Don't worry," the Dad said, "I'll text him." Wow, that has to be a popular cell number.

Shortly thereafter, I was walking behind a couple loaded with bags and overheard this:

Wife - "That is it! I think we are finally done!"
Husband - "Did you get my boss something?"
Wife - "No! Why should I? He is your boss."'
Husband - "Well, I bet you bought your boss something!"
Wife - "Duh...yeah, I did. What are you not getting about the your boss thing?

Ooooh! This isn't going to end well for him.

A little later, as I was sitting down to adjust my purchases, I listened to a boy, about 9 yrs of age, that reminded me so much of conversations I had with my oldest son over grades. I didn't hear the mothers response, but his sentence spoke volumes!"No, what you said was, I would get an XBox if I didn't get a C on my math test. Well, a D is not a C!" You have got to give him an A on tenacity!

My favorite overheard phone conversation (the part I couldn't hear was obvious) "I got it! I had to wait in a long line, but I got it! (Pause) What do you mean you changed your mind? You agreed to pay for half of it! I can't afford this on my own!) Okay, maybe sometimes it is better to shop with other people, especially if you're going in on a gift.

Unfortunately, sometimes, the realization of how difficult this time of year can be for some parents, hits you like a brick to the head. Sometimes, you hear the heart breakers, Listening to a young mother walking past, holding the hand of (I'm guessing) a four year old boy, I observed by her worn shoes and torn coat pocket that Christmas might be a little tight this year. Then, his young but powerful observation moistened my eyes;

Mom - "I told you, Santa can't bring a whole lot this year but he'll do his best."
Son "I guess Santa doesn't like poor kids." Ouch.

Drew, the 5 yr.old diplomat!
Now, on a brighter note, my favorite mall conversation of the season happened between me and my five year old (great) nephew, Drew, the Saturday after Thanksgiving. And it had nothing to do with gifts. Yet his intelligence, presented with such diplomacy, will stay with me always! While is mother, grandmother and baby sister shopped, we walked down to an activity center that was set up in the main mall court to keep kids (and mostly Dad's) busy.

We sat down at a little table (literally, the chair seat was about 12" from the floor. Wasn't sure how I was going to get back up), where he started coloring a tree with the green crayon, I picked up the red crayon and started drawing little round circles over his green tree.

Drew - "What are you doing?"
Me - "I'm drawing red berries on the tree. I think it makes it pretty!"
Drew (looks around and then leans in closer to my ear - so know one else could hear!) "Okay, but let's call them apples because berries grow on bushes."
He's five. I'm not. He wins. I continued to put apples on the tree. I colored in silence so I wouldn't embarrass myself again... at least until I had to get up from the chair.

Sadly enough, the place I expected to hear the most conversations, the food court, was where I heard the least. Most people were texting on their cell phones. Heaven forbid we should talk to the person we're sharing a meal with. Happy holidays! And don't forget, the next time you're talking in a crowded mall, someone might be listening...and then go home and write a blog about you!

PS. There is still time to drop a present in the Toys For Tots boxes for all the little kids that think Santa doesn't like them.

Friday, December 12, 2014

These are a few of my favorite things...

Bare branches, red berries. Nothing prettier.
The Christmas season is like a stone dropping in a pond. It starts with a small splash on Thanksgiving, then ripples through the month of December, spreading far and wide, until it quietly dissipates into a deep, cold, dark winter. All that's left are a few needles on the rug.

But while it's here, it can be dazzling, magical and enchanting. Most years. But every year, someone, somewhere is having one that doesn't feel like the others. I was there a couple of years ago. If you're there now, all I can say to you is; hang in there. It will get better.

 And then, there are those (like me again) going through a holiday transition. For me, (and probably at some point, for everyone), Christmas has changed. No longer at the helm of Christmas day activities. With family spread over several states and sons understandably with other families now to juggle into their schedules, I've become the piece of puzzle that needs to be "fit" into the holiday picture. Takes a little getting used to. 

But recently, I read a post on Facebook that made all the sense in the world to me. "As we get older, it's not what we get, or even what we give, that makes Christmas special, it's really the things that can't be bought at all." I so get this. With that said, I gathered a list of things that make me happy during the season that don't require a credit card...because they are priceless:
  1. The sight of a Christmas tree tied to the top of a car heading home. I smile every time I see one.
  2. The sound of the Salvation Army ringing bells on a city street, preferably New York. There are just not enough adjectives to describe this city at Christmas...
  3. ...that being said, I must add the smell of chestnuts burning on street corners. Along with the brief warmth they provide on a cold, windy day. I never tire of this.
  4. Snow flurries. Not a major storm, just light snow falling softly. In A Charlie Brown Christmas (30 minutes that I think defines this season perfectly), Lucy says to Linus, who is sticking out his tongue to catch a flake, "December snow is too early to taste." Not for me Lucy. And it never will be.
  5. A warm freshly baked chocolate chip cookie and the memory of two little boys standing on chairs beside me helping to make them.
  6. A choir. You can play all the Jingle Bell versions you want. A choir will stop me in my tracks every time. 
  7. Okay, this one will sound a little strange, but...bare trees need to be added to this list. I love stark branches reaching into the sky. When I was very young, there was a commercial on TV, where an animated figure, walked into the woods to cut down a tree. When he bent down to get his saw, he heard a bird singing, looked up and realized that the barren tree was still a home for something. He then pulled his saw to his chin like a violin, picked up a broken branch from the ground and played "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen." Then the words "Merry Christmas from CBS" would appear. I looked for it every year. It may have been the start of my fascination and understanding that even bare trees serve a purpose.
  8. A decorated fireplace mantle. Be it candles, fresh greens or little white lights, festive mantels and a warm fire going make a real statement in the holiday dressed home. If I walked into a room with a Christmas tree and a fireplace, I would look at the mantle first.
  9. A hot cup of tea! Okay, it has to be bought, but it's minimal. And the pleasure it gives is immeasurable. Maybe it's an age thing, but tea at night has replaced milk for me. (It could also be that as my sole supporter, I try to keep the thermostat down and a fire going.) Whatever the reason, hot tea is working for me.
  10. I love that this season of "getting" somehow brings out the need to "give" in most. Not just to the people we love, but more importantly, to those we don't even know. The ability to be charitable, is what's best in all of us. It's a gift in itself.
  11. Quiet time. A sign outside of a local church reads "Don't lose the Christmas hush in the Christmas rush".  Which brings to mind, Mannheim Steamroller's version of Silent Night. Be still my heart. This is the best. 
  12. And this year, I love that next year, my first grandchild will be gazing at the lights on a tree. And I love that my youngest son is "officially" bringing a girl into this family that everyone already adores. 
Things do change. We can't control that. But we can learn to adapt. Learn to make ourselves happy. I'm convinced that it truly are the sounds, the sites, the scents of Christmas that make it so special. Light a fire, make some tea, or take a walk in the woods. You won't find what is best about this very special season in your wallet.

The Christmas Hush...

Ironically, as I'm writing this, the movie White Christmas is playing in the background, and Bing Crosby is singing "When you are worried, and you can't sleep, count your blessings instead of sheep." Now there is a list that could go on for a very long time! Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Soup Night...How it all began!

Put on a pot of soup and call a few friends!
Steaming bowls of soup, cold winter nights and friends. Lots and lots of friends and family. Looking back, I'm not sure how many years ago this thing started, but I can assure you it's been awhile. If I remember correctly, (and that's always a question) it originally began easily enough.

For several years, I had worked for a construction/service company which closed down for obvious reasons, during the winter months. Which found me every December, out of the office and into my kitchen. My friends, on the other had to work during this incredibly busy month.

Which also meant that they had to do their holiday shopping on weekends, while I was doing mine on Mondays when everything was less crowded. So after gathering at a local watering hole one Friday night listening to them grumble about mall madness the next day, I made this offer. "Look, I'm making a big pot of chicken soup tomorrow, so on your way home, stop by and have a bowl." And from there it grew into an awaited annual tradition, one that I love.

Through the years, we've lost a few friends while blessedly gaining some new ones. But however it happens, each year the chairs around the table seem to multiply. This year, my house was bulging at the seams! What I love most about this gathering is its casualness. No fancy holiday dresses or heels. Jeans and sweaters are the required dress. I stood in the kitchen this year, and looked around and found laughter, smiles and sometimes intense conversation among all of the faces I treasure, which reinforced my feelings of how special this night is.

And the menu? So easy! Prepare a few homemade soups in the days leading up to this special night and then order a sandwich tray (locally known as hoagies). This year, along with the Italian, turkey and roast beef variety, the tray included Buffalo chicken cutlet hoagies with blue cheese mayo, that were a huge hit. I know this because every time I went to reach for one, someone else's hand was there, and then they were gone.

This year's menu consisted of Maryland Crab and Sausage soups (kind of like Italian wedding soup but with sausage instead of little meatballs), and a fabulous Butternut Squash soup, made by my friend Judy. Once I pry the recipe from her, I will definitely post it.

Kitchen Clatter has posted the Maryland crab recipe before, and it has since become one of the most requested recipes, so I am glad to have it appear again. Short history of this fabulous soup is that years ago, I was working in Annapolis, Maryland, where I found this recipe written on an old apron, hanging in a crab shack. I copied it down on a paper napkin that I keep to this day.

So, make some soup, call some friends and have the easiest holiday gathering you can image. The laughter and memories will warm you for the very long winter to come!

Maryland Crab Soup
2 quarts and 1 cup of beef broth         3 cups mixed vegetables
1 cup chopped celery                          1 tsp Kitchen Bouquet
1 cup chopped onion                           3 cloves of minced garlic
1 Tbsp parley leaves                            1 lb lump crab meat
1 qt chopped tomatoes                        8 tsp of crab seasoning
3 cups of chopped cabbage                 A few drops of hot sauce                                           

Combine all ingredients in a large stock pot except the crab meat and seasoning, bring to boil and then simmer for 1.5 hrs. Then add crab meat and seasoning and simmer for another half an hour.
Important Note: I usually add an additional 1/2 lb of crab claw meat (less expensive than lump meat) as well because it has a lot of flavor. 

Sausage Soup:

2 tablespoons good olive oil
1 cup of minced yellow onions1 cup of sliced carrots
3/4 cup of diced celery
1 12 oz can if diced tomatoes with juice

2 pounds of chicken thighs (removing skin from half the package)
2-3 qts of water
1/4 cup of freshly grated Locatelli (or your favorite Parmesan cheese)
1 stalk of escarole, cleaned and chopped (Do not use spinach, it is just too strong)
1 lb of Italian Sausage, browned and crumbled
About 1/2 lb of fresh mozzarella (pearl size, if you can find it) 

Start by just slightly "sweating" vegetables in the olive oil.  Add the chicken and tomatoes, then add enough water to cover about 2/3 of pot. Season with salt or add 3 chicken bouillon cubes (as I do) after it reaches a soft boil. Lower heat, partially cover, and let it simmer for about an 1.5 - 2 hrs. When finished, drain all ingredients through colander into clean pot. Pull some meat from the skinned thighs and add back to broth. Discard remaining ingredients. Bring broth back to soft boil, add chopped escarole and cooked and drained sausage, and let simmer another 20 minutes or so.
Pasta! While you can add any type of noodle that you prefer, the traditional pasta for this dish is Anici de Pepe. They are like tiny little balls that, if spilled, will take forever to clean up! Cook about 3/4 of the box in salted water, drain and add to soup. Cooking them directly in the broth is doable, but adds a starchiness that you just don't need. Just before serving, while soup is still in the pot, stir in the mozzarella cheese.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

And so it begins...

They're coming! By planes, trains and automobiles! Millions will gather their belongings and be homeward bound. Home. I don't think that any other holiday epitomizes that word quite like Thanksgiving does. The celebration of the harvest, a gathering among family and friends, before a long winters song keeps us inside. Yes, Christmas is bigger, bolder and brighter, but there is just something about the amber hues of Thanksgiving that speaks to me.

And speaking of being spoken too, many readers dressed me down last week about whether or not to encourage guests to bring a dish to Thanksgiving dinner. I just assumed that everyone felt like me. Anything brought is something I don't have to make. I was wrong. Some Thanksgiving host are very territorial when it comes to their kitchens. As one reader told me "it's my party, I'll provide the food." So be it...but not at my house.

Both sisters are bringing food, one, favorites her kids like, and the other, things her family likes. It's all good with me. My daughter in-law is bringing the green bean casserole, and my almost daughter in-law is making an apple pie. My sons and nephew will stand out in the cold and deep fry a spicy turkey, while I stay warmly inside roasting the traditional bird.

My young nieces and nephew will be sampling the candy dishes while waiting for the after dinner treasure hunt to begin. It's a family affair. It's not "my" Thanksgiving, it's just at my house. And when I was looking for a place to live a little over a year ago, the ability to have all of my family on Thanksgiving was always foremost on my mind. Especially since my sons, regardless of how many people are here, demand a sit down one continuous table! We somehow make it work.

I have learned to appreciate all of the chaos that goes with observing a day of gratitude. And Lord, there so many things to be thankful for this year. My oldest son and his wife are having a baby in late Spring. And, my youngest son just got engaged. I am grateful to not only love both of the women in their lives, but to like them as well. Good girls, these two. So much to look forward to!

As time goes on, there are a few more aches and pains at the end of a long Thanksgiving day than there were the year before, but for the most part, I'm thankful to be here, standing and able to pull it off. (Although I will admit, my bed at the end of the day feels pretty damn good!)

Each year, the night before Thanksgiving, when the house is quiet and sparkling clean, I light a fire, make some tea and turn off the TV for a few moments. It is in this solitude that I can look past any challenges from the past year, and acknowledge the good in my life. I once read that "You can count your money, you can even count your assets, but until you learn to count your blessings, your not as successful as you think you are." That said, I am a very successful woman.

Photos by GoggleImages

Sunday, November 16, 2014 bring or not to bring!

Recently, I had breakfast with my new soon to be daughter in-law Melissa, and my son Kyle. It was great (especially since my son was paying). While we were eating, Melissa, almost hesitantly, asked quietly "Jo Ann, would it be okay if I made an apple pie to bring on Thanksgiving?" Okay? Kyle chimed in, "if you don't mind, I want to make a coconut custard pie." Mind? Are you kidding me? I'd be happy if somebody brought the turkey!

I will never understand why some Thanksgiving Day host feel it's an intrusion for someone to bring a dish of, well, anything. Recently I was talking to a lady in the grocery store who faces a similar situation. She and her family are going to her mother in-law's for the 12th straight year. "She is kind of a plain-ish cook. Nothing fancy, no great culinary stretches. Turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes. I would love to bring a vegetable casserole. But she would be furious." I. Don't. Get. This!

My Dad, who was the Thanksgiving Day chef for many years, had the mantra "If you know someone who has no place to go, bring them here". So, from time to time, there was an unrelated someone at the table. And, if that someone wanted to bring a favorite dish they knew from years passed, it was encouraged. It's everyone's holiday, not just the host's.

I had an aunt who didn't like anyone to bring food to her house for gatherings. (I suspected that she didn't want anything to overshadow her creations.) And heaven forbid you baked something!  She would reluctantly hold out her arms to take the offering while simultaneously rolling her eyes. So when I hear the question,"what can I bring?", I answer with a smile "anything you want." I will accept it graciously and display prominently. With that in mind, below is a recipe that I found on Pinterest and posted on Facebook for my family and friends to see. It looks wonderful! And I promise, I would not be insulted if anyone brought it!

Creamy Sweet Potato Casserole


 onion, chopped
oz.  (3/4 of 8-oz. pkg.) PHILADELPHIA Cream Cheese, cubed
can  (14-1/2 oz.) chicken broth
cup  packed brown sugar
lb.  sweet potatoes (about 6), peeled, thinly sliced
 RITZ Crackers, crushed
cup  chopped PLANTERS Pecans

oven to 350ºF.
COOK onions in large skillet sprayed with cooking spray on medium-high heat 5 to 7 min. or until crisp-tender, stirring frequently. Add cream cheese, broth and sugar; cook 5 to 7 min. or until cream cheese is melted and sauce is well blended, stirring frequently.
PLACE potatoes in 13x9-inch baking dish sprayed with cooking spray; cover with sauce.
BAKE 45 min. Combine cracker crumbs and nuts; sprinkle over potatoes. Bake 10 min. or until potatoes are tender

Thursday, November 6, 2014

A Letter to My Grandchild In Waiting...

Welcome little one. The very thought of you has unleashed a level of love in me that I wasn't sure existed. And even though you are now tucked inside the warmth and protection of your Mom, the anticipation of your arrival has given so many of us a feeling of exhilaration, a feeling of hope. You will be loved.

And what a start you'll have! I may be a little bias here, put your parents are amazing. I've especially learned this past year, that your father will back his love for you with support that is unwavering. You will always feel his hand gently on your back, as he guides you forward. I pray you inherit his strength and drive to get things done. And your mother...beautiful, smart, inquisitive and engaging. She will pass her love of reading and thirst for knowledge onto you. Along with her passion for Halloween, shopping and, most importantly, the beach. You would be wise to pay attention to this special lady.

And as for your grandparents, well, we will be like the second string, standing on the sidelines waiting for you to need us. Forgive us if we rush the field with every accomplishment you make. A first smile, a first step, the first glimpse of recognition, will send us over the edge. I know the love that is welling within me for you, I've seen the love in the eyes of your other grandparents when holding your cousin Grace, so be assured that everything I just said, is an absolute given.

Now, as for your uncles, aunts and cousins, well, let me put it this way, you won't be able to ramble through this loud, sometimes rowdy group, without tripping over outstretched arms waiting to gather you up! They are a fun bunch, this lot, on both sides. Family gatherings will be an adventure.

There is so much that I simply can't wait to share with you. But I can be patient while you grow and thrive in the most miraculous environment you'll ever experience. But when I can, when the time comes, I will hold you in my arms and whisper everything I know for sure into your ear. It won't take long. Because the first rule is, for "sure" is not always for "certain". As a matter of fact, my new love, it's all pretty much a crap shoot. Which is why the family that surrounds and supports you is so important.

Because of all of the love from your parents and family, life will be good for you, little one. But it won't be perfect all of the time.  But that's what gives it texture. How you handle it, is what defines your character. When ever I'm a little overwhelmed, I find looking out of my bedroom window at the glimmering stars against a dark sky reassuring. They've been there for tens of thousands of years. And nothing I do, accomplish or screw up, can ever change that. To me, it's a clear motivation, and absolute directive, to take chances. You can't always say goodnight to the moon. Rainbows come and go. But even when obscured by clouds, the stars are always there.

And so the journey begins...

I pray, my grandchild, that you are blessed with the ability to dream, and the want to achieve. I wish for you the inner quality to blend kindness with tolerance. But above all, it is my greatest hope that the love in your life is mixed generously with laughter! It is an unbeatable combination.

So, my love, until we meet, I remain,
Your waiting

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Not So Sweet Success!

Easy and fresh!
In my last post, I mentioned that for the most part,when it comes to Thanksgiving, my family members are traditionalist. They pretty much like things to be the same year after year. It was an observation more than an accusation, and the next day I learned how observant I am!

In an effort to curb my intake of sugar, I was trying a little experiment. I remembered a spread in a magazine last November that pointed out which menu items had the most sugar. I was surprised to see that a portion (a mere 1/4 cup) of cranberry sauce had 21 grams. A whole sweet potato only has nine (unless you serve it candied, then a small serving jumps to 41 grams of sugar. Yikes!)

So, you can see where I'm going with this. There is no way to reduce the sugar in store bought cranberry sauce. The only alternative is to make it from scratch at home. I used a a recipe from the Splenda website. (Please no lectures on artificial sweetener choices. I try not to use them at all, but when I need to, this is my choice.)
The "canned stuff"

Anyway, I posted on Facebook that I was making homemade cranberry sauce for the very first time and was really surprised at how easy it was. That is when the text and emails started coming:

"You're not really going to serve that on Thanksgiving, are you?"
"No disrespect, but we are bringing the canned stuff."
"The pilgrims didn't have Splenda."
No they didn't. But if we are going to celebrate like the pilgrims, after dinner I'm going to have to kill most of you and then steal your land! So relax, everyone. Trying this recipe was for me. I love cranberries, in anyway, shape of form. I was trying to find something that worked so I could enjoy them more often.

And, it was actually really good! Now, I'm only including the recipe below if you, or someone coming for dinner, is a diabetic or someone watching their sugar or caloric intake. (Not that anyone in my house is watching calories on Thanksgiving). It only takes about 20 minutes to make, not including the cooling time, and is totally worth the effort for someone at your table who may need it. It can also be made days ahead of time so it won't interfere with the manic mayhem of that particular
Thursday morning.


  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1 cup SPLENDA® No Calorie Sweetener, Granulated
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 3 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
  • 1 medium orange, peeled, seeded and diced

    1. Combine the arrowroot (or cornstarch), SPLENDA®Granulated Sweetener and water in a medium saucepan, stirring until SPLENDA® Granulated Sweetener and cornstarch dissolve. Stir in cranberries and diced orange. Bring mixture to a boil, stirring often, over medium-high heat; reduce heat, and simmer, stirring often, 5 minutes or until cranberry skins begin to pop and mixture begins to thicken. Set aside to cool. Cover and chill at least 3 hours.
    2. Serve cold or warm over your favorite roasted meats.
    So, in the next few weeks, there will be plenty of recipes in this space that may or may not be part of our holiday menu. But before any of you point your text messages my way, I promise that everything that is usually there, will still be there! ALONG, with a few new surprises. 

Saturday, November 1, 2014

It's November! Start Your Ovens!

This says November...
The beginning of November is so much better to me than the end of December. This is where it all begins. This is where, for one month out of twelve, I get organized.  I actually make lists. Lots of them, as a matter of fact. I start buying non-perishables on sale, flour, sugar, spices, etc.

I start making soup stocks to freeze in small containers. They are perfect for nights like this, rainy and cold. A day where the bloom is certainly off the mums. After running around all day, to have homemade soup waiting at the end, simply warms the soul.

If I put into the whole year, what I put into November, well, life would be infinitely better. The problem is January. I, and most of the people I know, go into hibernation mode, and my organizational skills are reduced to making sure to rotate the cushions on the couch so they wear evenly under my butt.

But, that's months away. For now, there is shopping, coupon cutting, listing, eating, menu planning, recipe clipping, event planning, over eating, sheet changing, trips into the city for special goodies your guests will be looking for.

My family members are traditionalists. Everyone has their favorites and everyone of them are expected on the table. But each year, I try to add something new, something different. As we are a two turkey family, one roasted, one deep fried, last year I introduced a buffalo-style gravy for the fried bird (traditional gravy is always made for the roasted turkey...the one that I eat), anyway, I'm not sure it went over well. So I will eliminate it this year and begin my search now for something that adds the wow factor.

Thanksgiving isn't just a holiday at my house, it's an event. And I savor every day that leads to it. So, over the next three weeks, Please stay the journey with me. Share the recipes, the stories, the excitement of getting the holiday season started.

Kitchen Clatter reaches the military bases of Afghanistan to the hills of Beijing, to every corner of the United States. I love getting emails from so many people who can relate to its content. I enjoy seeing your recipes and reading your family stories.

We are 76K plus readers strong and growing. So many have watched KC start as a family blog and drift into a food blog. For a brief while we took a fun-filled road trip into wedding blogging. So many of you offered support when I felt obligated to share with you a painful divorce. And then celebrated with me while I experienced the joy of independence. Soon, we will turn a new chapter. But for now, it's November and I am so ready to get this party started!!

I guess what I am really saying friends is, join me...and come home for holidays!

 Photos by ImageGoggle 

Sunday, October 19, 2014


An Autumn Sunday, onions, carrots and potatoes. Nothing better!
Unless you were married for 40 years to a man who didn't eat beef, you just can't appreciate the anticipation of a Sunday roast. That divorce freed my culinary senses like nothing else.

My ex had gout, so he couldn't eat leafy vegetables or mushrooms, and he didn't like pork! So, I became the queen of turning poultry into  meat loafs, chili, meatballs and BB'd pulled turkey long before it was popular! As a matter of fact, I became so skilled at disguising a chicken in dishes typically made with beef, that I wanted to open a restaurant called "The Fowl Cow"!

No? Well, anyway, I picked the perfect, cool, fall Sunday afternoon to make a beef eye roast, and surround it with onions, carrots and potatoes. This aroma is second to none. And, as luck would have it, my son Kyle called to say that he would be around the corner from me to watch football with some buddies and was then coming over for Sunday dinner! Perfect!

Now, I had a reason to um...for lack of a better term, beef things up. My first thought brought me back to Sunday dinner's at my Dad's. In his younger years, Dad was a butcher and most likely why he always seemed to buy the best cuts of meats. And when I think of dinners at his house, a roasted beef was always accompanied by either a cucumber salad, or coleslaw. Just as roasted pork was always served with a side of applesauce. If his famous homemade chicken soup was on the stove, then you knew there would be chip steak sandwiches, potato chips and pickles as well. If you knew one thing on his menu, you knew the rest of the meal. My old man had parings down to a science.

It could be why I can't eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (which I love) without a bowl of vegetable soup (another specialty of his). Although, that may have actually started with a school lunch thing, but no matter, it's coupling is a favorite of mine. All of those things were flooding my head as I drove to the store for coleslaw fixings.
Anyone coming to Sunday dinner deserves a special treat!

So many of our memories are tied to meals. The flavors, the aromas, the conversations...the family. It was worth the trip to the grocery store, even on a weekend, which I usually avoid at all cost.

After all, it is Sunday, 56 degrees, the leaves swirling in circles, and a nice cut of beef marinating at home. The only thing that could make me smile more is the thought that somewhere, a woman is standing in her kitchen, thinking "I can't believe I'm making another chicken." Score!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Two Sisters, A Saturday...And the Reading Terminal

It's fall! Start your ovens! And fall Saturdays are meant to be spent at markets and festivals gathering the goods to supply your autumnal culinary adventures. Or, at least, make a good pot of soup. Either way, it's time to get cooking. And since I'm lucky enough to live less than 15 minutes from the oldest indoor farmers market in the nation, my plans were set.

My sister Betty is a Realtor,  who I know is working hard to stoke her bank account before the slower holiday months set in, so I was not sure if she would accept an invitation to accompany me across the river. But I mentioned Reading Terminal, she was in, and we were off!

There are almost 80 food vendors inside the terminal and there is absolutely nothing you can't find. Every culture is represented and every stand is packed. Take a look at just a sample of what this grand market has to offer. Step inside with me!

What I love most about the terminal is that everyone standing in line with you is so willing to share what they are going to do with their purchases. A lovely black woman was standing next to us at one of the many butcher stands. Her daughter was coming home from school for the weekend and requested ox tails for dinner. Betty asked her how she cooked them, and from what she described it was very similar to the Italian dish of Osso Buco. This place is a virtual melting pot of culinary visions.

As I was scoping out a place to eat lunch, a couple approached me. "We're from Kansas and it's our first time here. Where should we eat?" What? Where should they eat?

"You are standing next to Hershel's East Side Deli, which has the best pastrami sandwich in the city. Across the isle is Dinic's  amazing roast pork and beef sandwiches. Behind you is Salumari's which has a great Italian hoagie. And, across the seating area is Spataro's where you can get an authentic Philly cheese steak"  There are healthy options too, but you're in the Reading Terminal so...why? "The best advice I can give you is to find the longest line and get in it! Locals know what they like, and they'll wait for it!"

Or they can order an olive hoagie! New Orleans may have Muffalattas, this is better! 

Iovine's Produce is one of the market's oldest produce stands. Although there are many more, this vegetable veteran stand get's my money ever time I go.

My grandmother made the best meatballs. She only used a mixture of beef, veal and pork. It is really hard to find now in supermarkets. But not at the Terminal. I am hosting a dinner next Saturday. Since meatballs and sausage are on the menu, this trip was needed!

This vendor takes his olive oil's under lock and key!

You can't go into Philly and not stop at Le Bus or the Metropolitan Bakery for bread!

These "personal" size baguettes provided both Betty and I with... 

 Dinner! Ah! Martin's Italian Sausage with...

...a fabulous tomato salad. This Amish farmer directed us to his best tomatoes and corn!

And of course a stop for some great chocolates for may fall candy dishes! And my guests!

Most famous for their Cannoil's, Betty had to stop at Termini Bros. for a cheese cake topped with cinnamon! So good!

I love this market! I love the smell, the sounds, the feel of it. But I think most, I love the people in it. Everyone is there to find their cooking treasures. The scents and taste of what makes our homes a place where family and friends want to be. They are always willing to share their culture, their recipes, as am I.

The Reading Terminal is over 100 years old. And that may be the very best part. A walk through the doors is like stepping back in time. Nothing frozen or packaged, just fresh meats, breads and vegetables. What you want, they way you want it. Can't get any better!

Photos by Jo Ann Phelps

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Power in One...

I'm going to take a short break from all of my favorite fall recipes to make an observation. Its' not an "OMG" moment. Not even a "gee, I never thought about that." But more of a "oh, that never occurred to me" moment in time. Let me go back to yesterday afternoon.

I was outside placing some autumn decorations around my yard and porch. I had made the rounds over the past couple days of some of my favorite farm markets and landscape yards to gather my fall haul, and I was ready. A few weeks ago, I actually assembled a small cart that was difficult because what looked beautiful in a catalog, shipped to me as a pile of wood, a bag of bolts, with no directions. There was nothing to do but to lay all the parts across the basement floor and treat it with the same methodology of assembling a 1,000 piece puzzle. While, of course,  adding a great deal of sweat and questionable language. But I finished. There were two parts that were left over. Guess they weren't too important because the cart's outside and they are still in the basement.

Anyway, I was rather enjoying my exterior designing when two elderly neighbors walked over. "You, young lady, are an asset to this neighborhood." I'm not young, just younger than they are. I live in a 55 and older community that is kind of in transition. Our development was built about 30 years ago and some of the original residents have, um....moved on, so to speak, or in with their children or onto Florida. Meaning, that a lot of units are once again filled with us "young" ones. The streets and courts are alive each evening with people walking, biking, talking...and decorating.
A complete puzzle solved!

"Each season, we wait to see what you are going to do outside," the lovely gentlemen continued. His wife had moved in to examine the cart and its contents. "My, my. Where did you buy that?" You can imagine my pride when I answered her question. They both stood motionless as I explained how I ordered it online then ended up building it myself.

"Amazing," the woman said nodding her head. "You do all this and you live alone." Now I was the one standing motionless. She continued, "I use to do this kind of stuff when I had kids at home, but no more." I looked over at her plain front door. "Why, did you stop?" She bent over to smell the Chrysanthemums, "it's just the two of us now. We don't have the company that you do. What's the point." It was a statement, not a question, but I answered it anyway.

"The point is, it's your home." But I stopped myself from going further. After all, these people have lived decades longer then me. Who I am to tell them...well, anything, so, I softened my approach. "I do have a lot of family and friends in the area, but I have to tell you, I do this for me."

Too warm for a fire, but the mantel is ready for fall!
She smiled and patted my shoulder, "you have more energy then I do." She may be right there, but I have always enjoyed seasonal decorating. It just makes me happy.

When I moved here alone at the end of last summer,with fall fast approaching, there was a split second, a mere instant in time, that I too thought, "what's the point?" But I quickly realized that doing things the way I liked to, the way that made me the happiest, was crucial to my survival. And there was no looking back!

Not all of the neighbors in my community feel the way the couple next door does. So many doors and porches are full of Autumn's splendor. Corn stalks, wreaths, pumpkins and gourds are more the norm than the exception. And it's not just us "young" ones!

Both the inside, and the outside of my home are ready for fall. In the coming months, there will be many people in and out of my front door. But truth be told, even if I lived in the deep of the woods, where my only neighbors were the deer eating the Indian corn, my porch would be decorated. It's who I am...and it doesn't occur to me to be anything less.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Applesauce Bread & Fall...Perfect Together!

Apples, apples, apples! This fruit has history! I mean, after all, wasn't it used in a famous garden as a means of temptation? Well, let me tell you, I'd have taken a bite! A big bite! It is my favorite fruit, snack, companion of pork, and of course, dessert. And as days grow cooler and shorter, the waft of apples baking in any form, offers the most perfect aroma from the kitchen.

Of course, my love of this fruit may be tied to a memory that is so clear in my mind it seems like yesterday. It involves an annual trip on a mid-fall Sunday, when my kids were little.The whole family, including grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc, would gather at a local farm, climb on wagons pulled by tractors, and trek into the orchards in search of the perfect apples. All the kids would scamper up the branches and go for the one that always seemed just out of reach. My Dad, known as "Pop" to his grand kids, would stand in the middle of the clan with a pocket knife, peeling apples for the little ones around him. Once back at the stand for weighing, the aroma of hot apple cider donuts would entice us. A perfect day every year. Now, my boys are men and that particular orchard is a housing development, but the memory lingers like a warm apple pie. 

This month, apple trees in the northeast are starting to pop with this sweet/tart/tangy/red/green/golden bounty, and throughout Autumn I will post some amazing recipes, but for today, I am going with applesauce bread, which is always my first go-to fall baking endeavor.When I make the switch from ice tea to hot tea, applesauce bread is the perfect accompaniment. I have tried several recipes, but what I love about the one below is that it uses so little added sugar, and is still very sweet in flavor. The recipe is hand written on a well worn note page, and not sure where I got it, but it's at least 20 years old and absolutely worth keeping. And trying!!!

Applesauce Bread


So moist!
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup applesauce
2 large eggs
1 cup raisins
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour an 8 by 4 by 3-inch loaf pan.
Cream the butter and brown sugar. Add the remaining ingredients except the raisins and nuts. Mix well until blended. Stir in the raisins and nuts. Pour into the loaf pan. Bake for 60 to 65 minutes.


Monday, September 1, 2014

September...And so it begins!

Yes, it will be 88 degrees today with humidity that hits you like a throat punch. And yes, tomorrow will be 94 degrees. But it doesn't matter to me because it's September. If I could, I would send you a bouquet of bright yellow, freshly sharpened pencils. Along with a brand new notebook where all the
pages are fresh, crisp and blank, along with a challenge to fill the pages, to make your mark!

I know that September is the ninth month of the year, but for some reason to me it's a renewal. Not just the start of a new school year, but after months of down time, days lacking a schedule, and meals on the fly, September challenges us to get organized, to get our acts together. It's a motivator! Once the wreckage of summer is gone, the days of September clean up good! Like fresh linen waving on a clothesline, they become unflappingly clean and crisp.

I saw the promise of September in the eyes of my nieces and nephews in the "back to school" photos posted on Facebook, which I share with you. I can only image that there are so many challenges in teaching young student these days. It's a wonder how teachers keep kids focused who live in a bedazzled world of  fast-action video games and the internet. And yet, in each photo, the excitement  of going back to the unique environment that they get to call their own, is evident. A room of peers, friends in the making. Drew, Lauren, Abby, Fallon and Cole, I am excited for you! Carpe Diem! You will learn what that means, so pay attention.

And what else does September bring us? The start of everything "apples" I am an apple snob. I eat them almost year round. Now, I can celebrate all the varieties in their freshest splendor. From Jonathon's to Jazz, from Galas to Pink Ladies, they are all starting to put on a show at local markets. Still a little too early for my favorite Winesap's (they debut in October), I will be sharing many recipes from slow cooked pork loin with apple glaze, to the best ever Applesauce bread with Kitchen Clatter readers over the next several weeks.

Which is another reason to love September! It is the official start of cooking season. While the long, warm days of summer brought us outdoors to the grill, fall brings us back indoors where we're no longer afraid of the oven competing with the air conditioner!

In fact, my fall hosting calendar is already taking shape with an "Appetizers Only Girls Night" planned, and a long promised Italian meal for the friends of my sons that helped move me in! And, it will be perfect timing!

Fallon & Cole
As farmers markets will soon be brimming with the harvest from a type of summer that, at least locally, as been a growers friend. Mild temps and just enough rain to keep things going. As a matter of fact, last week, as I past a farm that I go passed early every morning, it was the first time I had seen the irrigation system spraying man-made rain through the air.

September. The subject of so many songs and poetry, is upon us. It, like all autumn months do, speaks to me. Join me in its' celebration! Now, I just couldn't end without re- posting an easy, three ingredient cookie recipe that my niece Beth introduced me to last year. It quickly became a favorite of where ever I brought it. It smells like fall. It taste like fall. Amazingly easy, amazingly delicious. Let get's this season started!

  • 1 box Spice Cake Mix
  • 1 15oz can of pure pumpkin 
  • 1 cup of raisins 
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  • Grease cookie sheets
  • In large bowl, stir together the cake mix, pumpkin and raisins until well blended
  • Drop by rounded spoonfuls onto prepared sheets
  • Bake 18 to 20 minutes
  • Allow cookies to cool five minutes before moving to wire racks

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Contentment...A Year in the Making

Most blogs take me a couple of hours to write, re-write and edit. This one took a year. It's been almost 365 days since I had to close the door of the house where my family made a life for 19 years. Fifty two weeks since I locked the door, handed the keys to a new family, climbed into a rental truck and not look back. There were probably tears, but I most remember how hard my heart was pounding in my chest as I pulled onto the road. And it's a busy street. A road so heavily traveled that for the past 19 years, it was usually hard to get out of the driveway...but strangely, not that day. The life I knew was gone and there was no traffic to stop me from pulling onto the highway. Solo.

Tiger lamps! And a window covered with furniture!
A year later, the why's, the who's, the how's, and the fact that there are still more questions than answers, don't hold the relevance they once did. I've moved on. I moved up, I've moved mountains. I once read "You'll never know how strong you are, until strong is your only choice." I held onto that thought for so many anxious days and sleepless nights. When the thought of living on my own for the first time ever was too overwhelming, I would whisper to myself "stay strong."
NEVER cover a window!

Months before the old house sold, I had planned and paid for a trip to Maine with my friends. As it happened, the trip ended up being less than 14 hours after I made settlement on my new home. As my sons and friends were unpacking the truck, I was literally rifling through boxes for clothes to pack into a suitcase. In practicality, the timing couldn't have been worse. In reality, the timing couldn't have been better. Climbing into a car full of friends for seven days of laughter, lobster and wine was apparently just what I needed. Like an astronaut looking back on an earth getting smaller, distance gave me the perspective I needed to let go of the pain, the worry, the anger...and to exhale.

My home, my colors!
...And I've been breathing it all in ever since. First up? Making this new place, a place to call home. It was so important to me to create a home base for my sons. Both of them out of the house, with lives of their owns, I wanted them to walk in and feel the warmth of the many holidays and Sunday dinners that they knew in the house that they were raised. Breaking up a home was not my choice. But creating one was now my responsibility. I also wanted to make an investment that would one day be passed onto them. And this may have been even more important to me then them, but it gave me purpose. And that was all I needed to get started!

Wallpaper, linoleum floor, old appliances...all had to go! 
In short, the place I was trying to create this haven in was ugly. There is no other word. Jungle green walls stained with the outline of spears that they had removed. The carpet was nasty. Black and pink wallpapered kitchen with outdated appliances, and a poster of a Native American Indian glued to the wall over the sink.

Now, I'm an earth tone kind of girl. Always have been, always will be. So, first order of business was to get busy with the warm hues of creams and taupe, hardwood floors, and oriental carpeting. I'm not a designer, but I knew what would be me happy. And more importantly, make me content.

And with all that needed to be done, what surprised me the most was my ability to do things that I never thought I could do. I think there is an undiscovered ability in all of us that lies dormant until necessity calls for it. And trust me, it was called for! First off, to get rid of the house-wide jungle motif, every room had to be painted, and I hate painting. I tend to do it fast so I'll finish quickly. The end result is never good, and I end up looking like I had painted the Sistine Chapel. But, I learned to take my time and just get through it. My sister Betty, who has a very steady hand, painstakingly did all the trim work while instructing me to slow down on the walls. (Keeping her quiet was my other motivation to do it right!)

Wall down, granite countertops, tiled backsplash!  Home!
As many readers who followed the transformation know, I created a basement workshop and supplied it with tools and such. I watched YouTube instructional videos for everything from hanging blinds to taking down a wall.

The cost of renovation was quickly eroding my portion of the equity from the house we sold, and I had to learn the "how-to''s of home ownership best I could. I took a few carpentry classes at Home Depot and hired contractors only when I absolutely needed to (such as anything to do with electric). There is still work to be done, but it is mostly limited to bathrooms that not many see, and I need to replenish my funds before I continue.

Looking back, my need, my almost obsessiveness, with working day and night to get this place to reflect my taste, probably had more to do with me, then making it appealing for my family and friends. I'm sure of it now. I had to leave a home I loved, and I just couldn't live in one that I didn't. And now I do. Actually, I may be too comfortable here. Sometimes, I find myself making excuses to stay in. With so much help from family and friends, several gallons of paint, the warmth of wood flooring, and a kitchen I can really cook in, I'm home. I am grateful for this in every way possible.

Now, this next year will be all about breaking out! I have always told my boys to trust their instincts. That 99% of the time, that special inner being is right. Well, my instincts are telling me that there is something on the horizon. Something just outside of my comfort zone! Something that will force me to inhale, catch my breath, and whisper the two words that got me here.

 "Stay strong."