This year, Kyle and I celebrated with my parents on Thanksgiving.  While Kyle and I are usually pretty inventive with our cooking and always trying new things or putting twists on traditional meals, this is one tradition we don't mess with.  I've been making the same dishes with my parents for Thanksgiving dinner since I was a child.  Now that Kyle's a part of the family, we chips in too.  After a long day of cooking, we sit down to a comforting meal and are thankful for great food and family.
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A crisp cotton embroidered tablecloth, a few pumpkins and a pillar candle for a centerpiece, and Limoges china and King’s Crown dishes make for an inviting holiday table.
1 & 2 - Making Stuffing: My favorite Thanksgiving dish.  My Mom and I toast both frozen bread that we’ve stored in the freezer over the course of the year as well as fresh bread until crisp.  Then we shred it into small pieces and mix in chicken broth, eggs, sautéed celery and onions, poultry seasoning, thyme, salt, and pepper to taste.  A traditional stuffing recipe that’s been passed down through the generations of women in our family.  A classic and oh so delicious.

3 - Pickle Plate: This is my family’s Thanksgiving snack board while we’re cooking all day: devilled eggs, sweet gherkins, bread and butter pickles, green olives, celery, and carrots.  It keeps you fed and nourished without stuffing your stomach so much that you can’t eat dinner.

4 - Turkey: Look at that glorious bird!  We do stuff the turkey.  Bathing “Tom”, pulling out the neck and giblets, and checking for feathers has been one of my Thanksgiving rituals since I was a little girl.  I also sing “We’re having Turkey tonight!” as I bathe him.  And I make him dance a little in the sink.  It was cute (I think) when I was little.  It’s maybe a little creepy now.

5 - Happy faces on Thanksgiving!

6 - The Sides: We always have roasted Brussels sprouts for Thanksgiving.  I love them.  This year we tossed in a little (okay, a lot) of bacon bits.  I make have gone a bit overboard with the bacon bits, but they lent a nice smokiness and saltiness to the sprouts.  We also had our traditional stuffing and cranberry sauce straight out of the can.  I like it, even though if you’re patient with opening it, you can make the whole mass of gelatin fall out in its complete cylindrical shape.  Not appetizing, yet appetizing.

7- Hot Rolls: Put three small balls of dough (shaped like a clover) in the bottom of a muffin pan; they’ll puff up a lot!  You can make the dough from scratch or cheat and use store-bought dough.  We’ve done both and the latter is so much easier with only slightly better results, that I’m partial to the cheater dough.

8 - The Complete Plate: Fully equipped with mashed potatoes and gravy poured on just above everything = an amazing Thanksgiving meal.

9 - Family Photo: My parents, me, and Kyle, struggling awkwardly with the timer on my camera to take a decent photo.  Seventeen tries later, here is our decent(ish) photo.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 
 
At Trader Joe's we picked up their frozen sweet and sour chicken tempura.  I love sweet and sour chicken, but our local Chinese joint serves just the chicken and sauce.  No fruits or veggies.  Booooo.  So, I grabbed the frozen chicken and sauce and decided to make the rest myself.  Quick, easy, and with results as tasty as Chinese carry-out, this will be my new go-to recipe for sweet and sour chicken when just the chicken and sauce just won't do.

Ingredients:


  • Trader Joe’s frozen sweet and sour chicken tempura (fried chicken pieces with sweet and sour sauce)
  • White rice
  • Olive oil
  • Canned pineapple chunks
  • Colored sweet bell peppers
  • Yellow onion
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Red wine vinegar
  • Sugar
  • Salt and pepper

Directions: 

  1. Preheat the oven according to the chicken tempura package directions.
  2. Pour the water, rice, and salt into the slow cooker and get it cooking.
  3. Slice the onions and bell peppers into thin strips and slice the cherry tomatoes in half.
  4. The oven should be heated, so toss the chicken onto a jelly roll pan and pop into the oven.
  5. Heat olive oil in a large skillet.  Toss in the onion and bell pepper.  Cook until they start to soften.  
  6. Then, add the cherry tomatoes, pineapple chunks, a splash of red wine vinegar, a sprinkling of sugar, and season with salt and pepper.   
  7. Cook until tomatoes start to soften.  Then, fold in the sweet and sour sauce until evenly distributed.  
  8. Pull the chicken out of the oven, pour it into the skillet, and toss with the veggies and sauce.
  9. Take the skillet off the heat.  Plate a bed of rice and top with the sweet and sour chicken and veggies.
  10. That’s it!

For a side, we had a leftover tropical fruit salad from the night before.  It shares many ingredients with the sweet and sour dish, but it paired nicely without being overly repetitive:

Toss together the following ingredients and let sit a few hours to let the flavors meld:

  • Sliced oranges
  • Sliced kiwi
  • Diced onion
  • Chopped rainbow sweet bell peppers
  • Chopped mango
  • Chunked avocado
  • Halved cherry tomatoes
  • Orange zest from ½ orange
  • A drizzle of olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • A squeeze of honey 

 
 
As much as I love this look, the $347 price tag just isn't practical for a lot of people, including me. Anthro is great for inspiration and picking up a few special items every now and then, but purchasing an outfit at this price for every occasion just ain't gonna happen. So, in an attempt to be more practical and to recreate these looks at a lower price with a mix of items from Anthropologie as well as more budget-friendly retailers.

The dress in the original look isn't what I love most about it. It's the color of the dress. These four dresses are all from Target's online collection and are all in the $20-$30 range. The shoes, also Target, are simply adorable with their mint suede and girlish, patent leather, mary-jane strap. The tights, which come in a vast array of colors, are from We Love Colors. I kept the earrings and bracelet from Anthropologie to keep a hint of luxury and romance.

The "save" look is less than half the price of the "splurge" look but retains much of the charm of the original.
 
 
On Saturday, Kyle and I went out for a dinner and a movie.  We went to Vinology in downtown Ann Arbor after a two-year refusal to dine there because of a terrible first experience: we were never served.  After 30 minutes.  Though waitstaff occasionally came by to tell us "someone would be right with us."  We made a reservation.  We dressed up.  We were ready to lay down some cash.  And we never even got to order drinks.  Soooo...needless to say, we weren't too keen on going back when there are some many other great - and dependable - options downtown.  Well, after the two-year moratorium, we decided to give it another yet.  It had a great seasonal menu and large wine selection and we remembered liking the atmosphere from our previous 30-minute fiasco of a visit.  

So dressed in a cozy dress and cardi, off we went, crossing our fingers that we wouldn't be disappointed the second time around:
Flared Caraz Dress: Anthropologie
Cardi: Carson's
Tights: Lane Bryant 
Headband: The Potting Shed (A local boutique)
Well...we absolutely loved it.  And kicked ourselves for not giving Vinology a second chance sooner.  

Let me walk you through our glorious meal:

Cheese Flight:

I love cheese boards and charcuterie plates of every variety.  You get to nibble on a little bit of this and a little bit of that and then pair things together to create glorious flavor mash-ups.  Kyle and I sometimes (embarrassingly) find ourselves reenacting this scene from Ratatouille as we try ingredients on their own and then in combination:
Here's the website description:
· baked fontina in phyllo & red wine pears   
· bourbon smoked maple leaf goat cheese & fig crostini
· michigan triple crème & quinoa cornbread
· aged gouda & walnut-arugula napoleon

The stand-out?  The fig crostini and wrapped goat cheese.  Such a spectacular combination, I'm making it for our next dinner party.  We each paired the cheese flight with a different white wine by the glass.  I had a glass with  notes.  Kyle's had an off dry, easy-drinking Ravenna Reisling, while I had a glass of the Albarino, Desa Nui, with notes of nectarine, mandarin orange oil, and minerality.  

Next...

The Sage Bread Crostini:
This was such a clever and whimsical dish - like Thanksgiving deconstructed and reconstructed on crostini.  There were three different toppings: a green bean puree with crisps mushroom rings on top, reminiscent of green bean casserole; mashed potatoes and gravy for comfort food; and tart cranberry sauce to cleanse the palate.  It was a perfect dish.  So many different flavors and textures, and it truly transported us to the Thanksgiving table in the absolute coolest way.

And then...for our entrees:

Juniper Roast Pork: 
Kyle ordered the pork and now wants to make an oxtail and fruit pie of his own.  The rich and starchy pea puree and lentils were brightened with fresh mint, and the pork was cut thin and was perfectly tender.  Kyle only let me have two bites, so I can't recall all of the details.  I just loved that puree and lentils.

As for me, I ordered the duck:

Smoked Duck Breast:
Holy duck!  This was a beautiful plate.  See that vegetable gratin the duck is laying on?  So incredibly delicious.  The duck ravioli sits on a bed of creamed cabbage.  What a revelation!  Lots of creaminess on the plate but balanced with the poached pear.  And see that dark sauce pool behind the duck?  Yeah, that's chocolate sauce.  Oh, how incredible my life was for the duration that I consumed this meal.

Also, they have a "last of the bin" wine list at steep discounts.  We shared a bottle of Merlot from Bordeaux, France for a price we could easily afford.  Cheers to that!

Kyle and I raved about it all night and the next day and will probably bore anyone we talk to in the next few days with a detailed account of our feast.  Definitely one of the best meals we've had.  Tristan in Charleston, South Carolina still holds a tender place in my heart.  It was, after all, our special honeymoon dinner, and those chocolate ribs and that Four Vines Zinfandel that we buy whenever we spot a bottle won't soon be forgotten.  Then there's Alligator Soul in Savannah with its chef's tasting menu, crafty cocktails, and exotic meats.  And we do love our very local Common Grill with the best bread in the universe and tasty seafood dishes.  But Vinology, you so exceeded our expectations, and that's not because of how low they were after our first visit.  Attentive, helpful service; creative, seasonal dishes; and a foodie's dream dinner.

Then we went and saw Flight...  It was an intense, nail-biting first 15 minutes...  The remainder of it was solid...  We enjoyed it...  Just not as much as dinner!  
 
 
Love those shoes! Granted, the "save" version still costs nearly $300, but when the shoes cost $178 on their own, it's understandable. With my 15% off coupon, however, the overall outfit cost falls to a still expensive $260.
 
 
I love buying presents. Picking a theme, whether a color scheme, personality type, room in a house, etc., and then "curating" a set of items to make a perfect present is fun for me and special, I hope, for the recipient. As the holidays approach, I'm browsing Amthropolgie with friends and family in mind. Admittedly, I'm also piecing together gifts I'd love to receive. I always feel like I've put together a great gift if it's something I'd love to open myself. While I also plan on putting together some $50 sets, these first few collections cost approximately $100 each:
This jewelry box, though tiny, makes a lovely and romantic keepsake box. I can see storing my wedding jewelry or pink, silver, and gold pieces in the box. The earrings have a sweet, antique vibe and are a perfect pair with the box.
This would make for a great engagement or wedding gift as well. The illustrations in this cookbook are gorgeous and the design of each page is quirky and crisp. The gold tumblers dress up an otherwise classic cup, and the napkins are just too cute.
Glasses for milk, dessert plates for cookies, and a couple of other treats to sweeten the overall package. I'm all about mixing the patterns and colors of my table settings. The candle - which I own - smells like a freshly baked cookie, but could be easily swapped out for a cookie or cupcake cookbook. Anthro also has some whimsical cookie jars, but that would require upping your budget significantly. Consider baking the recipient a batch of cookies and giving them as part of the gift. Ask friends and family to write out a favorite recipe on some of the cards and leave a few blank for the recipient to fill out themselves as they come across some keepers.
 
 
This latest look showcases a color combo that I'm loving night now. The bright red and aqua blue might seem out of season, but the velvet, lace, and satin fabrics give it a festiva feel. My favorite piece in the outfit? Those drop earrings. Love love love.
 
 
Dress: Dress Barn
Cardi: Lane Bryant
Tights: Lane Bryant
Boots: DSW
Earrings & Necklace: Macy’s
Belt: Anne Klein
I bought this green dress over the summer at an outlet for $10.  It really does pay to buy staple items in the off-season because you can get them for such a bargain.  The dress has an adjustable buttoned cowl neck and short sleeves and is relatively shapeless.  The dress gets an upgrade with an open cardi in a lighter shade of green cinched with a belt.  It was an outfit thrown together at the last minute on my way out the door, but once out, that received several compliments.  The only thing I might add to top it off is this adorable feathered headband from Anthro:
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Fay Feathered Headband - $32
 
 
Now that we’re moving into the winter months, I’m cooking with red meats I haven’t cooked before.  Last week it was rack of lamb.  More recently I made filet mignon steaks wrapped in bacon.  Using ingredients from Trader Joe’s, I put together a meat and potatoes meal that was hearty and tasty.

Bacon-Wrapped Filet Mignon Steaks: Wrap beef tenderloin in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.  Take out of the fridge and slice through the tenderloin – wrap still on – into 1.5-inch thick steaks.  Season with salt and pepper and wrap each with a slice of bacon.  Heat olive oil in a pan and cook steaks, making sure to sear all sides and the bacon.

Pan-Sauteed  Asparagus: Take Trader Joe’s frozen asparagus spears and cook in butter, salt, and pepper – tossing frequently – until soft and browned.

Mushroom Mashed Potatoes: Boil russet potato chunks in salted water until tender.  Meanwhile, sauté sliced baby portabella mushrooms in butter, garlic, salt, and pepper until soft and brown.  Mash potatoes with cream, mushrooms, and a handful of grated or chunked cheese.

Salad: Dark,leafy green with sliced tomatoes, apple-balsamic pickled shallots, and herbed goat cheese.
Every week or so, I change up my table settings and centerpieces.  I collect vintage linens and like mixing and matching them to create different looks.  The smartest décor purchases I’ve made are those that I can change with the seasons.  I have large glass hurricanes that allow me to swap out the fillers (corks, dried flowers, garlands, ornaments and bulbs, pebbles, potpourri, etc.) and candles with the seasons.  

 
 
I just cooked my first rack of lamb!  I didn’t use a recipe, I only overcooked it a little for our tastes, and it was a moderate success!  Easy too.

Ingredients:

Rack of lamb
Fresh thyme
Fresh mint
Whole garlic cloves
Lemon
Olive oil
Butter
Baby potatoes
Brussels sprouts
Dark, leafy greens
Cherry tomatoes
Shallots
Red wine vinegar
Apple balsamic vinegar
Herbed goat cheese
Salt and pepper

Step 1: Marinade the rack in olive oil, zest and juice from ½ a lemon, crushed garlic cloves, fresh mint, fresh thyme, and salt and pepper.

Step 2: Slice Brussels sprouts and baby potatoes in half.  (I used the potatoes whole, but they didn’t crisp enough for me, so I’d slice them in the future).  Toss with EVOO, salt, and pepper, and pop in the over to roast at 400 degrees.
Step 3: Heat olive oil in a pan and sear the lamb, marinade, and herbs until the skin starts to brown and crust.  Add butter and baste the meat until it’s brown and crisp all around.
Step 4: Pop the lamb into the over in an oven-safe dish with all of the juice and herbs from the saute pan.  You’re doing this to finish cooking the lamb and to keep it warm.  Check it after 20 minutes or so for doneness.  Once it’s nearly done, leave it out to rest for a few minutes so that when you slice into it, it doesn’t bleed on the plate.

Step 5: Make the salad!  Toss dark, leafy greens with halved cherry tomatoes, herbed goats cheese crumbles, and sliced shallots pickled in red wine vinegar.  Add a splash of olive oil and apple balsalmic vinegar with a sprinkling of salt, and you’re all set!  
Step 6: Once the roasted veggies and crisp and brown, you’re ready to plate.  Slice the lamb rack into individual portions and top with a dollop of mint jelly.  Pair the meal with a bold red.  Zinfandels are a good choice, as are Noirets.  We drank a Noiret from Sandhill Crane Vineyards with strong peppery and mint flavors.

Enjoy!