An overdue handful of shots from this year’s Thanksgiving:
Several nights ago, while watching a Chopped competitor attempt beef stew in 30 minutes, my usually-apathetic husband turned to me and asked if I would make “a better beef stew than that” for dinner this week. So I dug up a recipe I’d previously used for St. Patrick’s Day and modified it. Despite not being huge beer drinkers in our house, a dark stout like Guinness adds a delicious depth of flavor to beef stew. If you’re in the mood for something thick that will stick to your bones as winter settles in, try this stew.
NOTE: I was unable to find boneless chuck, so I went with a beef/lamb stew mix I found at Trader Joes instead, and it worked beautifully!
TIP: The stew will already be rather salty from the bacon and its fat. I recommend tasting before adding additional salt to the dish.
Hearty Guinness Beef Stew
(Original recipe: Williams Sonoma)
3 lbs. boneless beef chuck, cut into 1-1/2 inch cubes
6 thick slices applewood-smoked bacon, chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 yellow onion, chopped
4 carrots, chopped
4 stalks celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 TBSP unsalted butter
6 TBSP all-purpose flour
1-14 oz bottle of Guinness
2 3/4 cups beef broth
2 TBSP tomato paste
1 TBSP minced fresh thyme
1 TBSP minced fresh rosemary
1 bay leaf
1 1/4 lbs red potatoes
Position a rack in the lower third of an oven and preheat to 325°F.
In a large Dutch oven, cook the bacon over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the bacon is crisp and browned. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels to drain and set aside. Pour the fat into a heatproof bowl.
Return 2 TBSP of the fat to the pot and cook the beef, stirring occasionally, until browned on all sides. If necessary, cook the meat in batches to avoid overcrowding. Transfer the beef to a plate.
Turn the heat down to medium. Add the onion, carrots, celery and garlic and cook in the remaining fat and meat drippings, stirring occasionally, until the onion softens.
Stir in the butter and let it melt. Sprinkle with the flour and stir well. Gradually stir in the stock, and then stir in the tomato paste, the thyme, rosemary and bay leaf. Return the beef and bacon to the pot and bring to a boil. Cover, place in the oven, and cook for 90 minutes.
Cut the unpeeled potatoes into 1-inch cubes, add them to the pot, stir, re-cover and continue cooking until both the meat and potatoes are tender, about 45 minutes more. Season the stew with salt and pepper to taste.
Let’s face it; sending holiday cards is fun in theory, but actually doing the work can be exhausting and stressful, especially in the US, where we have a shorter Christmas season. By the time the Thanksgiving dishes are done, we’re already running out of time to get it all completed by Christmas Eve. And that kind of holiday stress just isn’t any fun at all.
However, I still adore sending Christmas cards. So I figured out a way to do it without much stress at all. The key: start early! Since sticking to this timeline, the task isn’t stressful; in fact, it’s rather fun. And being one of the first things I do for my favorite season of the year, they never fail to get me excited for what’s to come!
Late September: take your photos
Nowadays, it’s easier than ever to take and edit your own photos, if you so choose. Whether you hire it out or shoot them yourself, just remember to allow enough time to do any necessary edits in post-production.
- TIP: A great option is a mini session with a professional photographer, in which they dedicate an entire chunk of time to shoot multiple shorter sessions at a staged location for a smaller price tag. Some are in apple orchards or tree farms, others are in studios with beautifully wrapped packages and Santa costumes. If you decide to go this route, start looking in the summer, as many of these highly coveted sessions sell out before fall even starts.
Early October: design your card
I use Tiny Prints (now owned and operated by Shutterfly). Other options are Minted, VistaPrint, even PicMonkey has cards nowadays. Each of these companies offers literally hundreds of design options and price points. Designing can take me awhile, as I have to shop every possible option and play with placement like the designer I am. I give myself a couple weeks to get this part done.
- TIP: There is no rule in which you have to get all of only one type of card. If you love more than one design, order more than one! We typically order at least two options: a traditional card for family members and coworkers, and a more whimsical card for close friends.
Mid-October: place your card order
By ordering early, you’re ahead of the rush, so your order usually shows up quickly. This year, I placed my order on Monday, and they were delivered to me by the following Friday. And I didn’t pay any extra for faster shipping. My goal is always to have my cards, envelopes, and postage in my hands no later than October 31st.
- TIP: Online printing companies always – ALWAYS – have sales and promotional offers running. Sometimes, it’s as simple as adding your email to their email list, but it’s super easy to get a percentage off your order. Bottom line: never pay full price. If there isn’t a sale now, there will be another soon. Pay attention!
- TIP: Pay a little extra to have the company print your return address on the envelopes. The cost isn’t very high, and it’s definitely worth the extra sanity and hand cramps later.
- TIP: Consider splurging on the custom photo stamps. We always do this for two reasons. A) People LOVE it! It’s the thing we get the most feedback on, and it’s so easy! And B) No having to remember to get postage at the grocery store or standing in line at the post office. This way, my stamps are shipped directly to me. DONE.
The first three weeks of November: stuff, stamp, and address your cards
By breaking up this time-consuming task over several weeks, it never seems too daunting. This year, we’ll send a total of 80 cards, but I will only stuff, stamp, and address 5-6 cards each night, giving myself a break over the weekends. That small handful takes me fifteen minutes a day, tops, which I usually do while I’m relaxing after dinner anyway. It barely feels like a to-do list item at all.
The day before Thanksgiving: send out all your holiday cards in the outgoing mail
This timing means your cards will arrive to most of your recipients on the first day or two of the Christmas season. Not only will they be a pleasant holiday surprise to your loved ones, but YOU’RE DONE! You haven’t even served the Thanksgiving turkey yet, and your Christmas cards are completely finished. It’s a great way to kick off the season ahead of the curve!
Now, if only I was any good at hand lettering…
It’s officially autumn, which means it’s baking season around here! ((squeal of delight))
I knew I wanted to make something with apples. Since my husband loves apple crisp and cookies, I figured I couldn’t go wrong with this Pinterest recipe. The base cookie is slightly different than the oatmeal cookies I’m accustomed to, but that’s not a bad thing. It’s perfectly sweet and strong against the apples. I also recommend using a mixture of honeycrisp and Granny Smiths for the filling.
Tip: While you need to press a well into each cookie immediately out of the oven, do so in the muffin tin and keep them there until they’re fully cooled. Otherwise, the sides will break.
Apple crisp cookie cups
(Original recipe: Delish)
1 1/4 c. brown sugar (divided)
3/4 c. granulated sugar (divided)
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened (plus more for cooking apples)
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1 3/4 c. old fashioned oats
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
3 large or 6 small apples, peeled, cored and finely chopped
2 tsp. cornstarch
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
In a large mixing bowl, combine butter, 1/2 cup granulated sugar and 1 cup brown sugar. Beat with mixer until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla and mix until evenly combined. Add flour, oats, baking powder, cinnamon and salt, and stir until just combined.
Cover 2 regular-sized muffin tins with butter. Using a medium ice cream scoop, scoop dough into muffin tins, press down with a spoon to create cups. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the cookie cups are golden brown and set. (Don’t worry if the cookie cup centers rise.)
While the cookies are still warm, make the cups. Spray the bottom of a small shot glass with cooking spray and press it down into the center of each cookie to create cups. Let cool, then transfer to wire cooling racks.
Meanwhile, melt about 2 tablespoons butter in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add apples and sauté until beginning to soften. Add the remaining sugars, nutmeg, cinnamon and cornstarch and cook until soft and caramelized.
Spoon the apple filling into the cups. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Autumn is slowly creeping up on Seattle, which means it’s slowly making its appearance throughout our house. Decorating for fall is one of my favorite pastimes, mostly because it means it’s only a few more months until Christmas!
I’ve never been a huge fan of rosemary, but the photos of the original post were just so mouthwatering, I had to try it. I’m so glad I did, because this is delicious! I’ll be adding not just the full salad recipe to my regular rotation, but also the vinaigrette and most especially, the method of cooking the chicken. And yes, I added garlic. Because garlic.
Tips: Make sure you use fresh rosemary and take the time to mince it finely; it better distributes the oil and makes a killer sauce. And make sure the chicken gets that nice brown crust on it; you’ll be licking the drippings, I promise you!
Rosemary Chicken, Bacon, and Avocado Salad
(Original recipe: How Sweet Eats)
4 slices thick-cut bacon
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, thinly sliced
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, finely minced
1 tsp garlic powder
6 cups spring greens
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1 large avocado, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, minced
salt and pepper to taste
Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add the bacon. Cook until it’s crispy and the fat is rendered. Remove the bacon and place it on a paper towel to drain any excess grease. Chop into large chunks once cooled.
Season the chicken with the rosemary, garlic powder, salt, and pepper. In the same skillet, over medium-high heat, add the chicken and cook until golden and crisp on both sides, about 5 to 6 minutes per side. Remove the chicken and let it rest a few minutes.
While the chicken rests, make the vinaigrette: whisk together the mustard, oil, and vinegar. Whisk in the rosemary and a pinch of salt and pepper.
Toss the greens with the tomatoes and some of the vinaigrette. Top with the sliced chicken, the bacon, and the avocado. Finish with another tiny drizzle of the vinaigrette.
One of my husband’s favorite meals is – and always will be – simple, classic grilled cheese and tomato soup. It was one of the first meals I wanted to master when we began cutting out preservatives. I found a base tomato soup recipe years ago and have been tweaking it ever since. This is the result; a thick, rich bisque, loaded with basil. Because basil.
One of the shortcuts I take without shame is using canned tomatoes. Removing tomato skins can be frustrating and not always worth the effort, considering canned San Marzano tomatoes from Italy have lower acidity. I recommend the consistency and quality of the Cento brand, available at most grocery stores.
This recipe freezes well. I frequently double it, serve two servings for dinner, and freeze the six remaining quarts as individual servings for later, making it just as easy to grab as a can of Campbells.
Tomato basil Parmesan bisque
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 – 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes
1 – 14 oz can of whole tomatoes in tomato juice
2 cups of chicken stock
1 TBSP dried basil
1 tsp of salt
1 tsp of sugar
1/2 tsp of fresh ground black pepper
1/3 cup of heavy cream
1/4 cup fresh basil, julienned
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated
Combine garlic, tomatoes, chickens stock, dried basil, salt, pepper, and sugar in a medium sauce pan. (Add the whole tomatoes one at a time, squeezing each into the pan to break them up.)
Simmer the soup on a medium heat for 20 minutes.
Pull off the heat. Puree soup with an immersion blender until all the tomato chunks have become smooth. Stir in heavy cream and julienned fresh basil.
Return sauce pan to the stove. Simmer until heated through.
Stir in Parmesan cheese and adjust salt and pepper to taste before serving.
(Note: if any of your tomato-based dishes taste overly bitter – from marinara sauce to salsa – it’s likely the acidity level of your tomatoes. Try adding a little sugar to counter it.)
I grew up with many trips to the American diner, Denny’s. Their grilled turkey and bacon sandwich called the Super Bird was one of my favorite late night meals throughout high school. While I haven’t frequented a Denny’s in quite some time, I found an excellent copycat recipe for those nights I’m madly craving diner food.
These are especially good with oven fries. If you’re looking to achieve that very particular Denny’s taste, the order in which you stack the elements of this sandwich actually matters. Whenever I randomly throw this together, it doesn’t taste right, so follow the recipe: bread, cheese, turkey, bacon, tomato, bread.
These are sublime as a midnight snack, late at night or early morning, when you’re starving after a long day, right before you pass out in bed. For the best taste, indulge in the butter and salt. These are totally worth the extra squats the next morning.
Copycat Denny’s Super Bird
(Original recipe: Food.com)
3 -4 slices deli turkey
2 slices bacon
2 slices swiss cheese
2-3 slices beefsteak tomatoes
2 slices sourdough bread
Cook bacon and set aside.
Heat some butter in non-stick pan over medium heat. Grill the turkey breast in a stack until the meat is golden brown on both sides. Remove and set aside.
Butter bread lightly on one side of each slice, Place one piece in the hot pan, butter-side down.
Place a slice of Swiss cheese on unbuttered side, put turkey on Swiss cheese, sprinkle lightly with salt.
Place bacon strips on turkey. Stack tomato on top of bacon. Top off with remaining sourdough slice, unbuttered side toward tomatoes.
When golden brown, flip entire sandwich.
After 2 minutes, remove from heat. Serve sliced into 3 equal size pieces.
My husband and I don’t ever spend much on cheesy souvenirs, but we’ve been known to bring home less traditional momentos. The newspapers from the days we were there. Travel magazines in the local language. Art we can frame and display in our home. Practical items we can use everyday, like paper notepads or reusable grocery bags. Specialty food or drinks from the region. Travel-related goodies we can use elsewhere, like passport covers or luggage tags. And almost always: a Christmas ornament. What about you?