Friday, December 23, 2011

A Modern (and Adult) Take on Holiday Traditions

Cropped screenshot of Rosemary Clooney and Bin...
I love the holidays.  But being that for the last nine or so years there has been no "kids" in our family, Christmas can get pretty boring.

Have no fear, the Curtis clan is here!  Over the course of the last nine years, my family has come up with a new set of holiday traditions we enjoy that don't just involve watching little ones open gifts.  Now that we do have a little one in the family, it is pretty fun to do the Santa thing, but our other traditions still exist.

  1. Shortbread with peppermint coffee.  Every year, I get out pounds of butter and make a GIANT batch of shortbread for us to enjoy with our peppermint coffee.  Shortbread is so easy to make, and granted, it's seriously fattening, but hey, it's only once a year!
  2. Port and chocolate.  Apparently, my family loves food and drink.  So we follow up every dinner with a small glass of port (our favorite is Chateau Bianca, Dallas, Oregon) and a piece of fine chocolate.  This tradition started with my grandma, whose French grandfather used to serve port on the evenings of special occasions.  We would sit in the living room with port and listen to stories about our Great-Great Grandpa and the tradition just sort of stuck.
  3. Elf Bowling.  This is a new tradition.  In fact, we are headed "elf bowling" tonight.  On the 23rd of December, we dress up in our favorite "elf" costumes (usually Christmas pajamas and a Santa hat, but this year it has turned into a sort of masquerade with my husband decked out in capris and jiggle bells, and my brother dresses as a D*ck in a Box).  Once all dressed up, we hit the local bowling alley for a little competitive elf bowling.  I do not know why dressing like an elf and bowling is so just is!
  4. Touring the World.  My brother, sister, father, and I are quite into beer.  Maybe it's because there are 13 breweries just in Bend alone (making it the No. 1 microbrew per capita capital of the U.S.), or maybe it's just that we like to pretend we know what we're talking about when we drink.  Either way, this tradition started about seven years ago when I picked up one of those "Beers from All Around the World" 12-packs from World Market.  We had fun saying, "We've just landed in Japan" as we collaboratively sucked down a Sapporo. But now that we are a little more beer savvy, we realized those beer kits are just cheap macrobrews that taste like dirt.  So, instead, we head to the specialty markets and pick out our own twelve beers, each from a different country, and enjoy tasting something new as we "tour the world."  Hard to admit, but after seven years, we are running out of beers to try!
  5. Stockings on Christmas Eve.  We used to do the whole sha-bang on Christmas day, but it's almost too overwhelming.  So a couple years ago, while trying to figure out what to do on Christmas Eve, we decided to open our stockings a day early.  You know, you just appreciate floss so much more when it's the only thing you open that day!
  6. White Christmas.  OK, OK.  Other than my husband, the men in my family hate this tradition.  But every year, on Thanksgiving night, we cuddle up with a glass of wine and watch White Christmas.  It reminds us of my Grandma who is no longer able to travel to see us for the holidays, and it lets us bring a little "piece" of her to every holiday celebration.  A night of White Christmas just wouldn't be complete without talking about how "Bing Crosby would beat his kids," (says my Dad); "Did you know their shoes were two sizes too small but they had to wear them anyway," (me); and "Oh, yeah, tell the fat one she's hungry and needs to go eat a sandwich in the middle of the night," (all the women). 
  7. Christmas Pajamas on Christmas Eve.  Ever since we were kids, my mom has insisted that there's nothing better than a new set of pajamas to wear on Christmas Eve.  But now I see there are two advantages to new Christmas Pajamas on Christmas Eve: 1) Looks good for pictures/video; 2) Elf Bowling (see item No. 3).
  8. Ten Dollar Limit.  What's the point of buying expensive gifts for each other when you are old enough to buy yourself anything you want?  But...put a $10 cap on the gift giving, and all of a sudden things get pretty interesting!  For example, this year, I contemplated making my brother a mini-me of "D*ck in a Box" using a Ken doll and mini present confetti from the craft store.
  9. Home Movies.  This is one of my favorite traditions.  My dad would always get out the 8MM film and play old Christmas movies to Christmas music as we hosted our Christmas dinner.  It gave people sitting on the couch something to watch, brought back memories of Christmases past, and was just something sentimental to do.  But the 8MM proved to be a huge pain for my dad, so five years ago, we transferred the film to DVD's.  Maybe the best Christmas gift ever.
  10. Cinnamon Rolls on Christmas Morning.  What's delious and easy to heat up on Christmas morn?  Why, Cinnamin Rolls of course.  I look forward to their sweet smell every Christmas morning. Click here for my recipe.
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Friday, December 9, 2011

7 Days of Thanksgiving Recipes - Sage Sausage Stuffing

My husband helps with the stuffing every year because he's the only one that won't eat it while he's cooking it.
Whoow!  It's been a long seven days of recipes.  Last one. This is a modified version of my mom's recipe.  I highly recommend stuffing half in the bird and cooking half in the oven to let your guests choose juicy or crunchy.  I knowing stuffing the bird is now considered "taboo", but seriously?  Is there anything better?

Mushroom Sausage Turkey Stuffing (1/2 in the bird)


1 Lb of Fresh Mushrooms, sliced
1 Lb of Sage-Flavored Sausage

1/2 Loaf of 12-Grain Bread of Bread of Choice, cubed
2 TBSP Olive Oil
2 TBSP Butter
2 Shallots, chopped
2 TBSP Garlic, minced
1/2 Onion, chopped
6 Celery Stalks, sliced
1/4 C fresh Parsley, chopped
1/3 C Mixed Fresh Herbs (sage, thyme, oregono, rosemary; light on the sage and rosemary because they can be overwhelming), chopped
1-1/2 C Walnuts
1 1/4 TSP Sea Salt
1/2 TSP Pepper
3 C Chicken Broth


Brown Sausage in a pan.  Drain and set aside. Add Butter and Olive Oil to a large pan or wok and heat over Medium-High Heat.   Stir-fry Garlic, Shallots, Onion, and Celery.  Add Mushrooms.  Add Parsley, Herbs, Salt, Pepper and mix well.  Add Sausage, Walnuts, and Bread Cubes.  Toss in pan until bread is slightly crispy.  Add Broth and mix well.  Add half to your bird, and reserve the other half in an oven-safe dish to bake later.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Lettuce Wraps (Like PF Changs)

This is the recipe I most often get asked for by others who have had it at our house. While it is a great recipe for game night, a light lunch, or Asian dinner, my dad wanted to give it a try as a lunchtime appetizer for Thanksgiving. The only problem is, we filled up on delicious appetizers and had to push back dinner.

The lettuce wraps have a lot--I mean tons--of ingredients.  But the good news is, they are super simple to make once you mix everything together.  I suggest making extra "Special Sauce" and saving it so you can make more lettuce wraps anytime on the fly.

Lettuce Wraps (like PF Changs)


The Guts:
3 TBSP High-Temperature Oil
2 Chicken Breasts (boiled or sautéd; you can also opt for pork or beef).
1 C Water Chestnuts
2/3 C Mushrooms
3 TBSP Chopped White Onions or Green Onions
1 TSP Minced Garlic
1 Head of Soft-Leafed Lettuce (like Butter or Arugula)

Special Sauce:
1/4 C Sugar
1/2 C Water
2 TBSP Soy Sauce
2 TBSP Rice Vinager
2 TBSP Ketchup
1 TBSP Lemon Juice
1/3 TSP Sesame Oil
1 TBSP Hot Chinese Mustard
2 TSP of Water
2 TSP Garlic Chili Sauce (To taste; if you have a sissy mouth, don't add any.  If you like the fire, add the whole 2 TSP.  This stuff is HOT!)

Stir Fry Sauce:
2 TBSP of Soy Sauce
2 TBSP Brown Sugar
1/2 TSP Rice Vinager


Boil or sauté your chicken breasts, beef, or pork.  Chop into small pieces, about the consistency of taco meat.  Slice your water Chestnuts, Mushrooms, Onions, and Garlic.

Mix together Stir Fry Sauce.

Add High-Temperature Oil to your wok and heat over high heat.  Add Chicken, Water Chestnuts, Mushrooms, Onions, Garlic and Stir Fry Sauce and stir fry until soft on inside, crispy on outside.

Mix together Special Sauce (I use a mason jar so I can shake it up well and save the excess for later).

To make wraps, take a piece of lettuce, add the meat mixture, and top with special sauce.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

7 Days of Thanksgiving Recipes - Herb-Roasted Turkey

Ok, so it's pretty hard to screw up a turkey, right?  I mean, isn't it 20+ pounds of poultry bliss no matter which way you cook it?  The answer is probably yes, but I choose this recipe from BHG just because the presentation looked amazing.  I guess I do judge books by their cover, but luckily it worked out for me this time.  The turkey was moist and delicious.  I only have three "lessons learned":

  1. Thaw the turkey out more than 24 hours in advance when you buy a 23lb turkey so that you don't have to wait to cook it.
  2. Use an apple (not an orange like I did--the Rhine has a weird flavor) to "cork" the butt of the turkey where you put the stuffing.  
  3. I know you aren't suppose to stuff the bird with stuffing, but seriously, how good is stuffing from the bird?  Like anyone is counting calories at that point.  Reserve the fat-saving ideas for another day, but on Thanksgiving, just enjoy the damn stuffing from the bird!
Herb-Roasted Turkey 


1 Whole fresh free-range turkey
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
15 fresh sage leaves
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 onions, quartered
1 apple, quartered
2 cups dry white wine
2 cups unfiltered apple juice


1. Rinse the turkey inside and out; remove giblets and neck from body and neck cavities.

2. Loosen skin of turkey breast. Place 2 Tbsp. butter and 4 sage leaves under the skin of each breast. Season turkey cavity and skin with salt and pepper. Place 2 rosemary sprigs, 1 onion, half the apple, and 4 sage leaves in breast cavity. Pour wine and apple juice in roasting pan; add remaining onion, apple, sage, and rosemary. Place turkey breast-side down in pan. Cover; refrigerated overnight.

3.  Remove turkey from refrigerator; let stand 1 hour at room temperature. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. 

4. STUFF THE BIRD and then pull the skin over the cavity and seal shut with an apple.  

5. Skewer neck skin to back. Tuck drumsticks to tail using kitchen string. Tuck wing tips under the back.

6. Roast turkey, covered until it "pops," basting the juices frequently. Uncover the turkey for the last 10-30 minutes before it pops (check out this timetable for cooking and thawing instructions).

7. Remove turkey from oven; spoon pan drippings on roasted turkey. Transfer turkey to a cutting board (reserve pan drippings for making Gravy). Let turkey stand for 30 to 40 minutes before carving (temperature of turkey will continue to rise 5 to 10 degrees), and the meat will firm up for slicing.

7 Days of Thanksgiving Recipes - The Best NY Cheesecake

This was by far the best dessert I've ever personally made.  I partly believe that's because I love cheesecake, and so I make it well, but the other part I give sole credit to my Father-in-Law's recipe.

(The Best) New York Cheesecake


Graham Crackers
Butter (softened)
Brown Sugar

3 Eight ounce packages of softened cream cheese or neufachatel cheese
1 C Sugar
1 TSP Vanilla
4 Egg Whites (beaten stiff)

1 Pint Sour Cream
2 TBSP Sugar
1/2 TSP Vanilla


Make the graham crust with a combination of ground graham crackers, butter, and brown sugar.  Press into the bottom of a spring pan and bake at 350 for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix cream cheese, sugar and vanilla until smooth and well blended.  Fold in beaten egg whites.  Place over cooled graham crust and bake for 5 minutes at 475.

While baking, mix together sour cream, sugar, and vanilla.  Remove cheese cake from oven and top with sour cream topping.  Cool to room temperature and then refrigerate.  Serve topped with choice of fruit (I used cranberry topping) or sliced almonds.

Friday, December 2, 2011

7 Days of Thanksgiving Recipes - Orange-Spiced Cranberries


Cranberry and Orange Sauce

1 (12-ounce) package fresh cranberries
2/3 c sugar
1/2 navel orange (with skin), cut into 1/2-inch piece
1/2 c dried cranberries
1/4 tsp salt


In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine all ingredients, stirring frequently, until sauce is thick and cranberries pop, about 10 minutes.  Let cool to room temperature, or store in fridge up to two weeks.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

7 Days of Thanksgiving Recipes - Homemade Green Bean Casserole with Fried Shallots

This was a fan favorite: Creamy Green Beans with Crispy Shallots (it was in the November issue of Better Homes and Gardens, but I modified the shallots).  It's a homemade take on the Green Bean Casserole.  Everyone loved it and you can make it a day ahead of time.  Here's how:

Homemade Green Bean Casserole with Crispy Shallots (modified)

2 pounds fresh green beans, trimmed and cut in 3-inch pieces
6 tablespoons unsalted butter (3/4 stick)
1 white or red onion, diced
1 pound button mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups milk
2 teaspoons sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 gratings of fresh nutmeg
Canola oil, for frying
9 shallots, sliced crosswise in 1/4-inch rings
1/2 cup cornstarch, sifted
1/2 cup of seasoned breadcrumbs
garlic salt (to taste)
2 eggs

1. Lightly grease a 2-quart baking dish; set aside.  
2. Bring a large saucepan of salted water to boiling. Prepare and set aside a large bowl of ice water. Cook green beans in boiling water about 2 minutes, just until bright green; drain and place in ice water to cool rapidly. Drain thoroughly.
3. Meanwhile, in very large skillet, melt 2 Tbsp. of the butter over medium heat. Cook and stir onion in hot butter about 3 minutes, until soft and translucent. Add 1 Tbsp. butter; turn heat to medium-high. Saute mushrooms about 4 minutes, until golden. Transfer onions, mushrooms, and beans to a large bowl.
4. Make the homemade cream of mushroom soup: In the same skillet, melt remaining 3 Tbsp. butter over medium heat; stir in flour. Stir constantly, about 2 minutes, until flour turns light brown. Slowly pour in the milk; cook and stir about 4 minutes, until thickened. Stir in salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Remove from heat; cool completely. Pour cooked sauce over bean mixture; stir to coat evenly. Spoon into prepared baking dish.
5. Bake at 350 for 40 minutes.  Cover, refrigerate up to one day ahead of time. 

6. Meanwhile, mix in a small bowl: cornstarch, breadcrumbs, salt, pepper, garlic salt. Meanwhile, for topping, pour 3 to 4 inches of oil into a deep heavy saucepan. Heat oil over medium-high heat until sizzling. Working in batches, separate shallots into rings; toss with egg, then coat with cornstarch/breadcrumb mixture, shaking off excess. Carefully add to hot oil. Fry for 2 minutes (each batch), until golden and crisp. Remove with slotted spoon; drain on paper towels.  Set aside in tupperware and store at room temperature until ready to cook.

7. When ready to cook, bake casserole for about 30 minutes at 350, until sauce bubbles around edges.  Top with fired shallots and bake remaining five minutes.