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Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree


christmas tree

This past weekend we finally had some clear weather to go out and select our Christmas tree.  Usually we walk around looking at all the trees and finally settling on one.  This year, we walked in to the Christmas tree lot and I immediately saw our tree and knew we had found our tree.  I had my husband stay with the tree while I did a quick walk-around to make sure and it was a no brainer.  We found our tree.  It was the perfect height for our home – not too tall as to be overwhelming – and the perfect shape.

The Tiny Dancer had so much fun going to select the Christmas tree. We’ve been hyping it up for the past few weeks and when we got there she ran around the lot looking at all the trees.  This Christmas season has been really fun because it’s the first year that she’s understanding the concepts and getting excited about things.  We’ll be decorating the tree next weekend and I can’t wait to see her excitement then.  Though it will take an army to keep her from tearing up the tree once it’s decorated!  I wouldn’t have it any other way :)

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Yo Gabba Gabba! 2013 Live Tour Dates!


yo gabba gabba 2013 tour

A few weeks ago we went to see Yo Gabba Gabba! in the early kick-off of their 2013 tour.  The Tiny Dancer loved the show and she had a great time.  She let the sillies out, had a party in her tummy and danced up a storm.  There’s nothing better than seeing my daughter’s smile and laughter at seeing some of her favorite characters sing her favorite songs.  Going to see a Yo Gabba Gabba! show makes for great memories (and photos) so if your kids are fans – this would be a great surprise for them!

yo gabba gabba 2013 tour

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Autumn and Thanksgiving Table Setting and Decor


thanksgiving table settingI know we’re on our way out of Autumn and already into the winter holidays but I wasn’t able to share my table decor before Thanksgiving so I want to share it with you now so you can bookmark any ideas you like for next year.

thanksgiving decor

Our home is pretty minimalist and I try to keep decorations festive, yet minimal so it ties into the look of the house. I always try to use seasonal flowers and vegetation for centerpieces. I like to play with lighting by dimming the overhead light and adding candles. Lastly, I like to buy some fabric that fits the occasion/season and I make my own runners – so much more cost effective and you can get exactly what you want.  The best part of holiday decor though, are the special people you share it with.

thanksgiving table setting

Hope you like what we did with the place and I promise to get images of my Christmas decorations up before Christmas!

thanksgiving decor

thanksgiving table setting

thanksgiving decor

thanksgiving table setting

thanksgiving table setting

thanksgiving decor

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Mama’s Kitchen: Holiday Dinner Meal


holiday dinner

Here’s my follow-up to my Friendsgiving Dinner – everything turned out exactly as I had planned and prepping was essential. It also helped that many of the items could be made in advance. I kept the main course of the meal very traditional and made Roasted Turkey Breast, Cranberry Sauce, Mashed Potatoes, Candied Yams, Corn Bread Muffins, Roasted Cauliflower and Broccoli and a Kale Salad. My friends brought Stuffing, Sugar Snap Peas with Squash, Pumpkin Pie, Apple Tart and Friendsgiving Cake.

Any of these items can be made ahead – in fact I made everything ahead except the Turkey Breast and I reheated everything while the turkey was resting. All of the recipes for the items I made are below and would be equally delicious any night of the week in the colder months or for any other winter holiday gathering. For the appetizer recipes, visit my previous post Holiday Dinner Appetizers.

roast turkey breast

Herb Roasted Turkey Breast with Pan Gravy, Inspired by Rachel Ray; Brine recipe from Alton Brown

For the Brine:
1 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 gallon vegetable stock
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 1/2 teaspoons allspice berries
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped candied ginger
1 gallon heavily iced water

For the Turkey:
1 small (golf-ball sized) onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
2 cloves of garlic
12 fresh sage leaves
2-3 sprigs of fresh rosemary, leaves removed from stems
3-4 sprigs of thyme, leaves removed from stems
Large handful fresh flat-leaf parsley (about 1/2 cup, from 12 stems)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for oiling pan
1 teaspoon salt, plus more as needed
6 fresh bay leaves
4 tablespoons butter
2 boneless turkey breast halves, skin on (about 2 to 2 1/2 pounds each) (with my menu since there are many courses and sides I guestimated 5 people per breast).
Freshly ground black pepper

For the Pan Gravy:
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 to 3 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup Brandy
Salt and pepper

The Brine (you can make the mixture ahead)
1. Combine the vegetable stock, salt, brown sugar, peppercorns, allspice berries, and candied ginger in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Stir occasionally to dissolve solids and bring to a boil. Then remove the brine from the heat, cool to room temperature, and refrigerate.

2. Early on the day you’d like to eat, combine the brine, water and ice in a large stock pot. Place the turkey breasts in the brine. If necessary, weigh down the bird to ensure it is fully immersed, cover, and refrigerate until you are ready to cook – at least 4-5 hours.

3. Preheat the oven to 450º. Remove the bird from brine and rinse with cold water. Discard the brine. Place the bird on a clean cutting board and pat dry with paper towels.

Preparing the turkey
1. Oil a roasting pan and set it aside.

2. Put the onion into the bowl of a mini food processor. Chop the onion until fine. Add the sage, parsley, rosemary, thyme, garlic, olive oil, and 1 teaspoon salt and pulse until it forms a coarse paste.

3. Put 2 of the bay leaves and the butter into a small pan and heat over medium-low heat until the butter is bubbling. Remove from the heat and set aside.

4. Put the turkey breasts on a work surface. Carefully run your fingers between the skin and the flesh from 1 end, being careful not to pull it completely off, creating a pocket. Season the turkey breasts generously with salt and pepper. Stuff half of the herb paste under the skin of each breast, and spread it evenly under the skin. Transfer the breasts to the roasting pan, and slide 2 bay leaves underneath each one. (The heat of the pan will release the bay leaf oils and flavor the breast.) Using a pastry brush, baste the breasts with half of the bay butter. Place the turkey in the oven and immediately decrease the temperature to 400 degrees F. After 20 minutes, baste the turkey breasts with the remaining butter, and roast for an additional until cooked through, and a thermometer placed in the thickest part of the breast registers 170 degrees F (about 1.5 hours total but go by your thermometer).

5. Remove from the oven, transfer to a platter, cover, and let rest for 10 minutes before carving while you make the gravy.

6. Put the roasting pan over the burner on medium heat. Sprinkle the flour over the pan juices, and cook, stirring, for a few minutes. Pour the Brandy in and scrape the pan to lift the bits that are stuck to the bottom. Pour in the chicken stock, bring to a simmer, and stir until thickened. Season with salt and pepper.

7. Slice the turkey breast on the diagonal, and serve with warm gravy.

cranberry sauce

Cranberry Sauce, Ali’s mom’s recipe, you can make ahead
1 packet of fresh cranberries
1 cup orange juice
1 cinnamon stick
1 piece of ginger
1 cup sugar

1. Combine all the ingredients and let it cook until berries break up.

2. Let cool and refrigerate. Take out of the refrigerator about 20 minutes before serving (when you take the turkey out to rest)

candied yams

Candied Yams, Inspired by Keyshawn’s Mom’s Candied Yams on the Food Network
3 pounds sweet potatoes or yams, peeled and cut into 2-inch cubes
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 stick sweet butter, cubed (The original recipe calls for 2 sticks of butter – I think all you need is 1/2 a stick of butter and will try that the next time I make this).
Dash of cinnamon
Dash of Nutmeg
Dash of vanilla extract

1. Place raw potatoes in large pot, cover with sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla extract and butter and cook over medium heat until potatoes are fork tender (about 20 minutes) but not mushy. That’s it!

baked mashed potatoes

Mashed Potatoes

Yukon Gold Potatoes (these are best for mashing)
Cream
Butter
Salt to taste

I apologize for the lack of measurements but this dish is really a matter of preference. I’m listing the steps and you can make these to your taste.

1. Peel the potatoes, cut them in large chunks and put them in a pot of cold water. Bring the pot to boil and cook until fork tender.

2. Drain the water and put the potatoes back in the hot pot. Add cream, salt and butter in small increments (you can always add more but you can’t take away) and start mashing the potatoes. Repeat this step until the potatoes are the desired consistency and taste. If you like chunkier potatoes then you will use less cream and not mash the potatoes very much. If you like a super smooth consistency you will add a lot more cream and I find that a hand held blender makes the potatoes silky smooth.

3. Once you’ve reached the desired consistency and taste put the mashed potatoes in a casserole dish. When the turkey is resting, put the mashed potatoes in the oven to reheat. If you want, you can bake the potatoes a bit longer and you’ll get a crispy topping – it’s very yummy and a nice complement to gravy!

roasted broccoli and cauliflower

Roasted Cauliflower and Broccoli

1 Head of Cauliflower, rinsed and cut florets
1 Bunch of Broccoli, rinsed and cut florets
3 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper, to taste

1. Preheat oven to 450°.

2. Lay cauliflower and broccoli on a baking tray (I like to line the tray with non-stick foil).

3. Drizzle olive oil, salt and pepper on vegetables and toss.

4.  Bake for 10 minutes and flip the vegetables. Bake for 10 minutes more.

I hope that helps with your future Thanksgiving feasts or Holiday Dinners! Buon Appetito!

 

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Mama’s Kitchen: Holiday Dinner Appetizers


prosecco cocktail

Since either my mom or my husband’s mom hosts Thanksgiving I never had the chance to make a Thanksgiving meal – until last year. I started an annual tradition called “Friendsgiving” where I host a meal the weekend before Thanksgiving for all of my friends since we are usually with our respective families on the actual holiday. We had a great time last year and this year was even better. I made some adjustments based on last year’s dinner and even accepted some help – that says a lot from a control freak like me!

I didn’t want to serve the same thing as last year but there’s only so much leeway for a traditional Thanksgiving meal so I kept the main course the same (for the most part) and switched up my starters. I made citrus and fennel marinated Castelvetrano olives and two savory tarts (mushroom and zucchini) all accompanied with a Pomegranate Prosecco cocktail. These starters were a hit and were gone within minutes of putting them out for guests. The great thing about these is that they are super easy to make and are great for any holiday gathering from Thanksgiving to Christmas to anything in between.

citrus and fennel marinated olives

Citrus & Fennel Marinated Olives
Inspired by the olives at Cane Rosso SF and recipe adapted from Warm Marinated Olives from Fine Cooking

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbsp fennel seeds
Zest of 1 orange in strips
Zest of 1 lemon in strips
2 cups Castelvetrano olives

Heat the oil, fennel seeds and citrus zest in a small pan over medium-low heat for 3 to 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Place the olives into a bowl, add the olive oil mixture and toss to coat. Let it cool, then cover and refrigerate, stirring occasionally, for at least 2 days and up to 1 week. Take out of the refrigerator twenty minutes before serving. Right before serving toss the olives and grate some fresh orange and lemon zest over the olives. Make sure you have a bowl out for pits.

zucchini savory tart

Savory Zucchini Tart

I posted this zucchini tart recipe once before and loved it. I’m reposting it for you below:

Adapted from Zucchini Tart with Lemon Thyme and Goat Cheese by Fine Cooking

Ingredients

1 sheet of puff pastry, defrosted
1-1/2 lb. zucchini, trimmed and sliced into 1/8-inch-thick rounds
Freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
8 oz. Boursin cheese (I used garlic & herb flavor), brought to room temperature so it’s easy to spread

Unfold the puff pastry and roll out a little bit.

In a colander, toss the zucchini with 2 tsp. salt and drain for 30 minutes. Gently squeeze the slices with your hands to release excess water and transfer to a medium bowl.

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 400°F. Toss the zucchini with 1 Tbs. of the olive oil and pepper to taste. Spread the cheese over the dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border. Arrange the squash rounds in tightly overlapping concentric circles all the way to the edge of the dough. (The rounds will shrink as they cook.) Drizzle with 1 Tbs. olive oil and bake until the zucchini is golden-brown, 40 to 50 minutes.

mushroom savory tart

Savory Mushroom Tart

I loved the zucchini tart above that I decided to try something similar with mushrooms. I followed the same basic recipe as the zucchini tart and I found another recipe to make the mushrooms. This was very popular with the guests.

Adapted from Zucchini Tart with Lemon Thyme and Goat Cheese by Fine Cooking and Savory Mushroom Tart from Fine Cooking

2 Tbs. butter
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 lb. crimini mushrooms clean, trimmed, and thinly sliced
2 Tbs. finely chopped shallots
1 Tbs. fresh thyme leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup dry white wine (something you would drink)
1 sheet of puff pastry, defrosted
8 oz. Boursin cheese (I used garlic & herb flavor), brought to room temperature so it’s easy to spread

In a pan, heat the butter and olive oil over high heat. When the butter is foaming, add the shallots and mushrooms, and stir. When lightly browned add the salt, pepper and thyme and cook for another minute. Add the wine and cook until all the liquid has evaporated. Set the mushrooms aside.

Unfold the puff pastry and roll out a little bit.

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 400°F. Spread the cheese over the dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border. Arrange the mushrooms over the cheese and bake until the puff pastry is golden-brown, 15 to 25 minutes.

pomegranate prosecco cocktail

Pomegranate Prosecco Cocktail
Adapted from Pomegranate and Cranberry Bellinis by Giada de Laurentis and Sparkling Pomegranate Cocktail from Fine Cooking
3/4 cup water
3/4 cup sugar

2 750ml bottles of Prosecco (since it’s for a cocktail use something under $10), chilled
1 160z bottle of Pom (I used Pomegranate Cranberry flavor to tie in the cranberry flavors of the dinner), chilled
2 limes, thinly sliced
1 pomegranate – seed only

Combine the water and sugar in a sauce pan and bring to a boil over high heat until the sugar is dissolved. After boiling for one minute, set aside, let cool and refrigerate for later use.

Right before serving add the Prosecco, simple syrup and Pom juice into a punch bowl. Garnish with lime slices and pomegranate seeds. Save some pomegranate seeds to garnish each glass too. Serve immediately. Salute!
roasted butternut squash soup
Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

For the first course I made a roasted butternut squash soup but I broke two rules…(1) I tried a new recipe for the first time for guests; and (2) I had never tried the recipe from that source before. The recipe for the soup came from a blog that was cited on the Fine Cooking blog so I thought it would be ok. Also, I’ve cooked enough that I could look at an ingredient list and guess that something will be tasty. I will admit I was not the biggest fan of this soup. It was way too thick and had too much of a smokey flavor from roasting the leeks for my taste. Recalling how in My Big Fat Greek Wedding the mom “fixed” the Bundt cake by adding a flower pot to the center, I “fixed” my soup by watering it down with apple juice which served two purposes – it liquified the soup and added a bit of sweetness which I felt it needed. I will probably not make this soup again but I’m showing you a pic because it did look pretty and the guests all liked it.

Stay tuned for the rest of the recipes tomorrow.

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Thanksgiving Hang Over


thanksgiving toddlers

Ah, Thanksgiving is over, I’m probably a few pounds heavier and I can get back to blogging. I’m playing catch up today and there’s lots to update you on from tried-and-tested recipes that are perfect for any holiday gathering this winter (and that you can bookmark for next Thanksgiving) and some pictures of my Thanksgiving holiday decor (that you can pin to remind you for next year). In the mean time, I’ll leave you with these photos which are a glimpse of the fun we had at her school Thanksgiving pot luck.

thanksgiving toddlers

thanksgiving toddlers

thanksgiving toddlers

thanksgiving toddlers

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Holiday Dresses for Toddler Girls – 2012 Edition


blue christmas dresses Clockwise from top left: Macy’s, Little Marc Jacobs, Janie and Jack, Gymboree

I love this time of year because as I look into the season’s new offerings of holiday dresses, I’m actually also secretly shopping for my Tiny Dancer. This year was difficult as there were so many cute dresses to choose from. You can go for traditional colors like red or white, you can get your little ladies their very first little black dresses or you can get festive and go for something metallic. Whatever you (or your little ladies) choose, I’m sure they will look adorable. Oh, and I did find my Tiny Dancer a dress – I went with the red Polo dress pictured below.

green christmas dresses Clockwise from top left: Gymboree, Janie and Jack, Crazy8

polka dot christmas dressesClockwise from top left: Macy’s, Jason Wu for Neiman Marcus x Target, Stella McCartney, Stella McCartney, crewcuts by J.Crew, babyGap

black christmas dressesClockwise from top left: Carters, Old Navy, Zara, Zara, Zara

black and white christmas dressesClockwise from top left: Rykiel Enfant, Macy’s, Dior,  Janie and Jack, Janie and Jack

red christmas dressesClockwise from top left: Nordstrom, Macy’s, Polo, Laura Ashley, Alex & Alexa

silver christmas dressesClockwise from top left: Old Navy, Old Navy, Burberry, Macy’s, Nordstrom

purple christmas dressesClockwise from top left: Gymboree, Macy’s, Children Salon, crewcuts by J.Crew

white christmas dressesClockwise from top left: Chloe, babyGap, crewcuts by J.Crew, Janie and Jack, Marchesa for Neiman Marcus x Target, Old Navy

plaid christmas dressesClockwise from top left: Children Salon, Gymboree, Gymboree, Crazy8, Janie and Jack

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Disney It’s a Small World by LeSportsac Collection


lesportsac disney its a small world collection

If you’ve read this blog then you probably know we are a family of Disney lovers. And one of my favorite things about Disneyland is “it’s a small world”. It was my favorite as a kid and not that I have a little girl of my own we enjoy “it’s a small world” as a family.

For the Winter 2012 collection, LeSportsac teamed up with Disney to create a collection featuring handbags, totes and accessories that combine the bright aesthetic of LeSportsac with inspiration from the mid-century artwork of Disney artist Mary Blair who created the whimsical look of the “it’s a small world” ride.

Disney It’s a Small World by LeSportsac collection includes five seasonal deliveries, each inspired by a specific country. In addition to celebrating a country, each delivery will be anchored with a Signature Tote and a colorful print that pays tribute to the unique facades and architectural works of Disney’s “it’s a small world” Theme park attraction. The collection kicks off with a celebration of Tahiti that includes two graphic totes and a range of 12 styles in two vibrant prints.

You can find the Disney It’s a Small World by LeSportsac collection on LeSportsac.com.

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Book Review: “French Kids Eat Everything” by Karen Le Billon


french kids eat everything

I wouldn’t call the Tiny Dancer a picky eater but I wouldn’t say that she eats everything. She loves fruit and some veggies so I can’t complain. She definitely doesn’t live on a carb/cheese diet though that does play a big part in her diet. After reading Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman, I was intrigued by how well French children ate. Shortly after I wrote my review for Bringing Up Bebe I heard about French Kids Eat Everything – a book devoted solely to how/why French kids eat the way they do.

I reached out to the publishers for a copy to review and they sent a copy to me. French Kids Eat Everything is the story of author Karen Le Billon’s move to France with her family. While abroad, she took up the challenge of broadening her children’s palettes and adopting the French method of food training and eating.

french kids eat everything

Growing up as a first generation child of an Italian family I saw many similarities in the way French and Italian children are brought up (there are differences too). Mainly, the emphasis on cooking whole foods, taking time out to savor a meal, eating together as a family, and incorporating vegetables and fruit in every meal were a big part in how I grew up, and I have been trying to convey the same lessons to the Tiny Dancer. But there were many aspects I didn’t know about such as the “no snacking rule” and the “try everything once” rule.

In French Kids Eat Everything, Karen Le Billon breaks the French method down into ten rules. She also gives helpful tips and hints to incorporate these methods in the U.S./Canada where the cultural difference sometimes work against you. I found this book highly informative and hearing Karen Le Billon share her personal errors and trials gives this book a human touch and makes you realize that it’s ok to make mistakes along the way.

You can purchase French Kids Eat Everything by Karen Le Billon on Amazon.com.

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Mama’s Kitchen: Italian White Bean & Escarole Soup


Italian White Bean & Escarole Soup

It’s soup season and I love trying out new soup recipes because I make soup at least once a week in the fall/winter so I like to try and mix it up a bit. I definitely have my family stand-by recipes like my Nonna’s Lentil soup and my Mama’s chicken soup. I also love that you can make a big batch, freeze the left-overs and have a quick dinner on busy nights at the ready.

This week I tried Italian White Bean & Escarole soup. I actually made this soup in about 30 minutes on a busy week night and was so happy with the results. It’s not one of those soups that is better the next day – it was very tasty that night. The original recipe I based this off of was a bit more involved because it included homemade croutons. Instead, I just toasted some bread for dipping and for eating with cheese and olives. I also skipped the pancetta and parmigianno to make the soup a bit healthier but feel free to add them in – I’m sure they add an extra level of flavor.

Italian White Bean & Escarole Soup
Adapted from Fine Cooking – Escarole Bean Soup with Croutons

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion (6 oz.), diced
1 Tbs. minced garlic
1 medium to large head escarole (about 14 oz.), trimmed of outer leaves, 2 inches of root end cut off, leaves sliced across into 3/4-inch wide strips (to yield about 9 to 10 cups), thoroughly washed
1 tsp. coarse salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 cups low-salt chicken stock
1 cup cooked cannellini, navy beans, or other white beans (I used cannellini)
1 Tbs. fresh lemon juice

1. Heat the olive oil in a pot over medium to medium-high heat.

2. Add the onion and sauté until the onion is softened and browned, about 12 minutes.

3. Next, add the garlic, stir, and sauté until fragrant, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Then add the escarole and stir thoroughly to coat the leaves. Season with 1/2 tsp. of the salt and a few grinds of fresh pepper. Add the stock, stir well, and bring to a boil; cover the pot, lower to a simmer, and cook 8 to 10 minutes.

4. Afterward, uncover the pot, add the beans, and simmer another 2 to 3 minutes. Add the lemon juice and turn off the heat.

Buon Appetito!

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