E and me with the Man in Red. It took him longer to warm up to Santa than the picture line allowed, but at least we got a shot this year.
Family, Friends, Loved Ones, and Strangers,
It’s time for our annual family update! First of all, let’s set the tone with some music:
I can’t believe 2014 is coming to a close. It was a quiet year compared to the last few – not with out a few minor bumps, but no major life happenings like a baby (2012), moving (2013), or tons of travel (2013). It’s been pretty quiet and chill, and I’m so very thankful for that, our health, family, and friends.
I’ve been with my company for three and a half years, and I work with some great people on some great products. I still enjoy doing project management work with our creatives and helping out with our prop sourcing for food photography. My team and I are getting it down to a science. My part to play is to source props (via shopping or our massive prop closet) to fulfill the vision of the creative director. I handle everything from dishes to floral to linens to painting/staining/building different surfaces to shoot our dishes on. We also have a recipe developer/food stylist, an editorial team, a designer, and a food photographer that make it all happen for an end result like this:
Image Credit: FarmFlavor.com (Find recipes there, too!)
Mr. J has a new job. He’s back home now to work remotely full time after traveling for his new gig to Maine and Idaho. He’s keepin’ on with all of his hobbies (smoking meats – including 3 birds for all of our Thanksgiving festivities, cards, refinishing furniture, coffee, guitar, disc golf, electronics – he built a clock!, and even found time to start a blog himself).
Mr. J highlight: His team won first place at the fall Hack Nashville this year!
Mr. E is growing at lightning speed and communicating like a grown man. We adore him so much. He loves books, trucks, tractors, trains, and animals. He’s moved up through a couple of classrooms this year, and all that he’s learning is astonishing. He did a great job with his baby signs, and now, he can say pretty much anything. He can count to 10, and he’s working on letter recognition. He even got a certificate in Spanish class! We celebrated his 2nd birthday with a small gathering of family and friends with a Llama Llama Red Pajama theme. Having a 2 year old is both trying and amazing all at the same time!
Mr. E highlight: Llama Llama Red Pajama – 2nd birthday party
Tucker is doing well. He’s holding down the fort and living the high life…even with a little bit of distinguished silver on his muzzle. He loves a good game of tug of war or catch. You can usually find him curled up taking a nap, chewing on a raw hide, or scratching to go outside 🙂
(In case you missed the news, we lost our Oscar in January after an autoimmune disease took him quickly. We miss him dearly.)
Mr. J’s parents moved nearby, and it has been so awesome! They stayed with us in between houses, and we had a great time. E loves having them close, and it’s super helpful when he is sick or we’re looking for a date night out.
My parents are doing well. My dad “retired” this year. He’s still got his hobbies like tree trimming and being a Boy Scout leader. I guess Mom will be teaching til the bitter end, but she’s so talented at it. My brother spent some time in Hawaii and Japan and was promoted to Lance Corporal. We’re so happy to have him home for Christmas since his last visit was at Easter.
We had a lot of fun activities and a few small adventures this year:
- I attended a great food and beverage event at the Omni in January.
- We went to Birmingham/Talladega in May. Mr. J and his dad went to the NASCAR race – Denny Hamlin won (who Mr. J roots for)! Nana, E, and I went shopping and had a great time.
- Mr. J and I took our first trip away from E to Asheville.
- We went to Discovery Park of America twice (once with family and once with friends) in Union City, TN. It’s so nice, and crazy that it’s so close to where I grew up. I highly recommend it!
- We went to the circus, two shows at the Ryman (Pentatonix, have I mentioned how much I love them?, and Lindsey Stirling), Reelfoot Lake, and Random Acts of Science at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville.
- We celebrated our 6th anniversary and my 29th birthday.
- I also mentioned last year that it would be my 10 year high school reunion. It ended up being a great event, and a nice time to catch up with old friends.
- I have also enjoyed attending a regular Vegan Supper Club and dining out and about with family and friends.
PTX at the Ryman
Food Blogger Dinner at the Omni
Burnout at Talladega
Discovery Park II
10 Year Reunion
“If you’re happy and you know it.”
Discovery Park I
On behalf of all of us at Chez Ary, I hope that everyone in your household is happy and well. Best of wishes for a wonderful holiday season!
Betty Becca, Mr. J, & E
The tradition lives on: Holiday update from 2013, 2012, and 2011.
Is your elastic holding up? I hope you’ve saved room for dessert and other goodies (hello, after-dinner drinks) today! Oh and leftovers…which might be as good as the first act.
Grandma’s Pecan Pie from The Wetherills Say I Do
Pumpkin Sheet Cake with Pumpkin Cream Cheese Frosting from My Cooking Spot
Gluten-Free Apple Berry Crumble from Twin Stripe
Paleo Pumpkin Pudding from Wit Wisdom Food
Cranberry Almond Coconut Bars from Love & Flour
Torched Marshmallow Pumpkin Pie with Olive & Sinclair Chocolate from The Local Forkful
Poached Pears with Salted Maple Caramel Syrup from Home at Six
Sweet Potato Pie from Think Fruitful
Nutella Pumpkin S’mores Tart from bethcakes
Gluten-Free Acorn Squash Spice Bars from I Cook. I Eat. It’s Life.
Drunken Pecan Pie Bars from The Speckled Palate
Butter Pecan Cupcakes from The Speckled Palate
Slow Cooker Cranberry Apple Cider from A Savory Feast
Cranberry Bourbon Granita from Feast + West
Cheesy Potato Croquettes from Hello Little Home
Leftover Stuffed Egg Rolls with Cranberry Dipping Sauce from Cake ‘n’ Knife
Freezer-Friendly Turkey and Rice Casserole from Betty Becca
Stuffed Crescents with Thanksgiving Leftovers from My Cooking Spot
I don’t know about you, but I’ve had a blast this week. I’m proud to share this experience with such talented people from far and wide (10 states across the U.S. + Canada!). Aren’t you glad you didn’t have to drive or fly all that way for all of this delicious food?
I made this casserole last year, and it was almost better than the real deal on Thanksgiving day. And the best part is that you can easily freeze it for later. It’s a delicious, hearty dish (and a little break from the flavors of Thanksgiving, if you’re burned out). I served this to my toddler, and he gobbled it up…so it’s even kid-friendly, too!
And since I mentioned the smoked theme, the turkey I’m using was smoked, but it’s not as big of a deal in a casserole format. There’s enough going on that the smoke flavor doesn’t really come through. I’m sure however you cooked your turkey (or chicken – if it’s another time of the year – or heck, rotisserie, anyone?), will work – and taste – just fine.
Freezer-Friendly Turkey and Rice Casserole
2 cups prepared grain of your choice (white or brown rice, quinoa, barley, etc.)
Around 1 cup leftover turkey (or chicken), shredded or chopped in bite-sized pieces
1 cup frozen veggies (peas, carrots and peas, spinach, vegetable medley, etc.)
Here’s where you create your own destiny. If you have leftover gravy (you’ll need about a cup), then throw it in with 1 tsp of Italian seasoning and some salt and pepper. This element binds the casserole together and makes it creamy and delish!
If you don’t have any leftover you can make this recipe for “cream of” soup sub, or for a for a dairy-free version (like I used in what’s pictured):
2 T olive oil
2 T all purpose flour
1 cup chicken stock
1 t Italian seasoning (or herb blend of your choice – I bet Ms. Dash would be good, too)
Scant 1/2 t salt (I always under-salt things I know my toddler will be eating. You may want to add a bit more)
Freshly ground pepper
Optional: Add 1/8-1/4 (or more – to taste) of mild curry powder for a completely different taste profile from Thanksgiving. Curry is so warming and comforting, and I love to add it to dishes like this (chicken noodle soup, chicken pot pie, etc.)
Add oil to small skillet on medium heat. When oil begins to warm, add flour and whisk often until it starts to bubble for a minute or two. Add stock in small increments, letting sauce thicken after each addition. Season with remaining ingredients.
To prepare the casserole:
Mix all ingredients together and pour into a small casserole dish. You can top with cheese or breadcrumbs or both, if desired. From here, you can bake at 350* for 20 minutes or until heated through and bubbling or freeze for later, if you’re absolutely sick of the tastes of Thanksgiving. Hopefully, this format will change up your leftovers enough to trick you into a few more meals, but if you can’t bear it, then it will hang out waiting for you – a tasty, warm, healthy — and easy — meal come December or January.
Notes: Amounts can be adjusted depending on how much Thanksgiving fare you have to repurpose. The version shown is dairy-free using the second option/recipe for sauce noted above. It’s got extra breadcrumb topping from the mushroom entree from yesterday – an herby, garlicky mixture with day-old bread run through the food processor (This option won’t freeze as well though. It’s best to freeze the casserole plain and add something on top later when you heat it up). When reheating, preheat the whole dish with the oven, and cooking time may take a little longer. If you’re not planning to go the freezer route, 1-2 chopped hard-boiled eggs are good in it, too. My mom puts eggs in her gravy so that’s what would be in there if I’d used leftovers. Eggs don’t freeze as well though so plan accordingly.
#BlogsgivingDinner continues today with entrees, salads and side dishes. I may have to have a few Thanksgiving dinners this year because all of these dishes sound AMAZING! Here’s the menu today:
Pomegranate & Goat Cheese Salad from Feast + West
Persimmon & Pear Salad from Wit Wisdom and Food
Roasted Butternut Squash & Gorgonzola Salad from Hello Little Home
The Perfect Thanksgiving Turkey from My Cooking Spot
Roasted Turducken from The Speckled Palate
Herb Crusted Pork Tenderloin with Orange-Cranberry Reduction from Home at Six
Beer Brined Turkey with Bacon Gravy from Cake ‘n’ Knife
Smoked Mushroom Steaks with Herbed Bread Crumbs (Vegan) from Betty Becca
Turkey, Apple & Sweet Potato Pot Pies from Love & Flour
Creamy Pumpkin Apple Pasta from My Cooking Spot
Mushroom Spinach Farro from Think Fruitful
Bacon and Cornbread Stuffing from Chez CateyLou
Sweet Potato Crunch from I Cook. I Eat. It’s Life.
Blue Cheese & Bacon Mashed Potatoes from A Savory Feast
Sausage Stuffing from the Wetherills Say I Do
Butternut Squash Grits from Homespun Seasonal Living
Thanksgiving Wine Pairings from Twin Stripe
(Psst…don’t forget to keep an eye out for the hashtag – #BlogsgivingDinner as you make your way around social media today.)
Every couple of months, I attend a vegan dinner party. It’s always a great time, and I never miss the meat on my plate. The dishes are always so fantastic – almost as good as the company. The first time I went, I took these Smoked Mushroom Steaks, and they were a big hit. Mr. J says this is not really something you’d go through the trouble to smoke on its own — it’s a good thing to throw in with whatever meat you’re smoking because it doesn’t take very long, but considering the reactions at the dinner party, I think it might be totally worth the effort. Depends on who you ask? All my veggies in the audience say, “‘ells yeah.”
I know. I know. Thanksgiving is about the turkey. But this is for your loved one(s) going meatless this holiday to have something totally hearty, crunchy, herby, garlicky, and full of flavor – on purpose, just for them, to enjoy, for this special day. Not just sides with sides on the side. Something delicious to hold its own as a main entree. Capisce?
If you don’t have a smoker, you can brown these babies up in a skillet (cast iron would do the trick in this role). Just don’t forget Julia’s tip to not overcrowd the pan (I only know this from watching Julie and Julia).
3 portobello mushroom caps, cleaned and cut in 1/2″ slices
Brush with olive oil and season with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.
Soak a mixture of apple and hickory wood chips (about 4 cups) in water for 1 hour and strain before using. Cook mushrooms in an upright smoker preheated to 225* for 30-45 minutes.
Herbed Bread Crumbs
Now to jazz this whole thing up for turkey day, I decided to add an herbed bread crumb topping that will have your tastebuds riding all the way to the top floor. I guess you can use the store-bought kind of bread crumbs, but that’s totally elevator music instead. Anyway, start with stale bread (you need about 1 cup for this recipe – guess and test), and pulverize it to bits in your food processor.
Bread – hanging out and getting stale
Next, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to a skillet on medium heat. As it heats up, add 1 clove of minced garlic and 1 tsp of Italian seasoning (or herb mixture of your choice). Here’s where you’re going to be hanging out for a minute. It doesn’t take long, but you’ve gotta be there. You’re cooking, and you’re doing stuff. But stay put. Just for this part. Let the herbs and garlic hang out for a minute and do their thing. You don’t want the garlic to brown, but you want it to cook a little bit. Stir, stir, stir. Add your breadcrumbs (about 1 cup), and don’t panic. It’s going to look gloppy and gloopy. And totally wrong. Is there enough oil? Was my bread stale enough? This is never going to work (yes, it is). Stir, stir, stir. Keep everything moving. Then, you’ll notice things are changing. This is starting to look…and smell…appetizing. Keep stirring for a few more minutes until everything is toasty, and you’re done! Woo!
Place the mushroom steaks on a serving platter and top with the breadcrumb mixture. Make a sign that says, “If you’re not vegan, do not touch!” Just kidding.
Note: I don’t add salt and pepper to the breadcrumbs because the mushrooms are well seasoned before their trip to the smoker, and I didn’t want to overdo it. The photo shows the mushroom steaks served over a bed of quinoa and spinach. #SoYum
I’m so happy to be participating in the #BlogsgivingDinner Progressive Dinner Party this week! I met the sweet organizers at Food Blog Forum Asheville, where this whole thing came to life. These gals have done an amazing job organizing this event, and I know all of my comrades are going to come up with some tasty dishes to turn your Thanksgiving on its head! Read on to see all of today’s recipes and stay tuned all week! There are 20 awesome blogs sharing 52 recipes. I hope you’ll find some new bloggers to love on and some new dishes to try as well!
Susannah from feastandwest.com, me, and Meghan from cakenknife.com
The idea is based on the old-fashioned progressive dinner party, in which you’d eat each course at a different guest’s home. Each blogger is bringing one or more dishes to the party on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday of this week, so be sure to stop by each one and get some inspiration for your own Thanksgiving meal.
Today’s courses include cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, and soup. We’ll be posting to social media with the hashtag #blogsgivingdinner, if you want to follow along there, too.
Carolina Apple Sidecar from Think Fruitful
Bourbon Cranberry Lemonade Fizz from bethcakes
Krupnikas Ginger from I Cook. I Eat. It’s Life.
Cured Meat Platter from Wit Wisdom and Food
Baked Camembert with Cranberry Walnut Crust from Cake ‘n’ Knife
Ginger Cran Apple Chutney from Love & Flour
Brandied Grapes with Cheese from Glamour Girl Gourmet
Shrimp Sweet Potato Mousseline from Home at Six
Cranberry Goat Cheese and Butternut Squash Crostini from The Wetherills Say I Do
Maple Pecan Baked Brie from My Cooking Spot
Sassy Salmon Dip from Betty Becca
Baked Brie with Cranberry Chutney from The Speckled Palate
Butternut Squash Crostini from Chez CateyLou
Gluten Free Holiday Cheese Board from Twin Stripe
Butternut Squash Soup with Cornbread Croutons from Club Narwhal
Creamy Wild Rice Soup from Hello Little Home
Pumpkin Soup with Bacon Roasted Chickpeas from Feast + West
You’ll notice a theme in all of my recipes for this event…the smoker, and that’s because my husband does a *bomb* job (hello, 1990s) with everything he puts in it. We worked together to bring you three tasty delights, but you don’t have to have a smoker to make these incredibly tasty dishes. I’ll give you tips on how to make all my dishes without if you don’t have smoking equipment (or for hints on how to get the smoked flavor in a variety of ways you can just go here). I promise it’s all worth it for the flavor you get in the end though if you go the smoking route!
If you need more smoker info…this is our bible. See, it’s well-loved.
I don’t even know where to start with today’s recipe. It. is. BEYOND. SO good! I was almost going to skip this round, when Mr. J said, “Are you crazy!?!? You have a delicious appetizer at your finger tips.” And he was sooo right. Your Thanksgiving guests deserve this appetizer to get the eating party started. Put on your stretchy pants, and let’s get to it! Here’s the shortie version of how we prepare the salmon (toddler shark not included):
Buy a quarter salmon fillet or half of a flank for the amount shown above. You can have a nice salmon dinner with veggies and quinoa, and then use the leftovers to make the dip. Set salmon out of the refrigerator 20ish minutes before cooking for it to come up to room temp. Brush with olive oil and season as desired. We use kosher salt, freshly ground pepper, and a spice blend meant for salmon.
Soak apple wood chips (about 4 cups) in a bowl with water for 1 hour before smoking and strain the water before using. In an upright smoker preheated to around 225*, smoke salmon for 45-60 minutes until the salmon temps internally at 145* (or flesh is opaque and flakes easily with a fork – FDA).
Sassy Salmon Dip
Adapted from thetasteplace.com
2 cups cooked salmon*
1 (8 oz.) package cream cheese (softened or not – I blitz mine with a blade in the food processor)
1 T lemon juice (I’ve used both bottled and fresh)
1 T finely chopped onion (or grated if you don’t have a food processor)
1 clove garlic, minced (or rough chopped for food processor)
1 T horseradish sauce (Mine is Publix brand. This is like mayo mixed with horseradish. Straight up horseradish is fine too, but you’ll need a smaller amount. The source recipe says 1 t.)
1/2 t salt
A few shakes of hot sauce (to taste). I use Frank’s and about 5 shakes.
1/t T dried dill or 1 T of fresh
1 heaping T of dried parsley or 3 T of fresh
Freshly ground black pepper
In the bowl of a food processor** fitted with a blade attachment, mix all ingredients except for salmon, until well combined. Transfer to a serving or storage bowl (one with an air-tight lid), and incorporate the salmon gently by mixing by hand with a spoon. As you stir, the salmon will break into smaller pieces, leaving you with a good texture in the end. Cover and refrigerate at least one hour – or up to overnight – before serving for flavors to combine. Serve with crackers or cucumbers…just try not to eat it with a spoon.
Notes: I have made this dip dairy free with the Tofutti brand cream cheese replacement, and it was dandy good.
This post contains NO affiliate links or sponsorships. Just sharing what we love.
*Of course, I recommend smoked, but I guess you could get your cooked salmon any old way. Like in a skilled, grilled, leftover from a restaurant, etc. But just keep in mind that the better your salmon tastes going in, the better your dip will taste in the end (GIGO). The source recommends day-old smoked salmon, to give the flavors a chance to set, so keep that in mind as you prepare for this recipe. Another beautiful thing…make it ahead to have one less thing to do on feast day.
**If you don’t have a food processor, make sure your ingredients are in good shape going in. The cream cheese will need to be soft, and the garlic and onion will need to be minced/shredded. Put everything in a bowl and stir, stir, stir, stir, stir, stir, stir (the old fashioned way), until everything is combined. Then, add the salmon. Rest. Drink some water. Enjoy your dip. The end.
On Saturday, I hosted a delicious country breakfast for one of my favorite mama-friends and our families. Our sons are 1 day shy of exactly 1 year apart, and they’re both approaching birthdays very soon. The husbands were along as well to talk about world events, smoked/grilled meats, and various and sundry sporting events.
The boys playing at our last brunch in June, where my son is taking a toy away from a baby
Back in June, we had brunch at their house, and I had big shoes to fill. As I was trying to decide what to make, I decided to stick with what I know – good, ole country breakfast. The deciding factor was the delicious products I received from Southern City Flavors a week or so ago. I knew these local tastes would complement my menu beautifully. Here are my notes from the night before the breakfast that served as my cooking guide (basically the entertaining recipe for 2 mamas + 2 papas + 2 toddles) – with links to the recipes I used. My friends were arriving at 8:30 so I started prepping at 8-ish.
Pre-heat oven to 475* for biscuits.
Stone Ground Grits from Southern City Flavors – cooked in chicken stock
I cooked 2 cups of washed grits with 4 cups of stock and 2 cups of water. I started the grits first since they have a 20 minute cooking time. Here’s the tutorial I used to find out the process behind “washed” grits the label mentions. (Note: I had a LOT of grits left over so half of this amount would have been plenty. But that just means I’ll be cooking up grit bowls for my breakfasts this week. They have been amazing!)
I made the grits and eggs without any seasoning because both toddles are lactose intolerant, and I like to keep things salt free for them, too. But I had a toppings bar of herbs, spices, butter, various cheeses (including shredded Colby jack and cheddar and blue cheese crumbles), and salsa. The adults trashed up our servings for sure, as you can tell by my photo above.
Biscuits – For two of us, I usually make a half batch, but since I had 4 adults this time, I made a full batch. The oven was beeping that it had reached temp just as I was about to pop these babies in the oven. It is really not hard to make fresh biscuits, and the canned kind can’t compare (#alliteration :P).
Local biscuit toppings including Fig Jam and Sweet Potato Butter (how good does that sound!?!)
Biscuits and local toppings
Sausage gravy – a double batch of this recipe was just right. Check out my sausage trick below –
It’s an age old problem: 1 lb of sausage is too much to use at once for a single person or small family, and it’s impossible to cut up frozen sausage. So here’s my trick for freezing sausage for use in smaller portions. I take a 1 lb package and cut it in quarters, wrap with plastic wrap, and freeze. Then, I can use as much or as little as I need. To thaw, I will either move it to the fridge ahead of time or defrost in a glass bowl in the microwave. I used 2 frozen bits (about half a pound) from the freezer for the sausage gravy.
Eggs – 10, scrambled at the last minute.
I think it’s ok to start the eggs after the guests have arrived. It only takes a couple of minutes, and they will be fresh, hot, and delicious!
Fruit – My friend brought pineapple and cantaloupe
I have several quarts of ta-may-tuh juice from my mom so we had to make up a Bloody Mary or two.
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Southern City Flavors was generous enough to send over samples of their delicious products for me to check out, and my review is 100% my own. Input Bettybecca at checkout to save 25% through 11/30/2014. Their story of cooking with family and friends really resonated with me, and I hope you will check them out today!
Thanks to Mr. J, the blog has a new look. If you keep up with me through a reader, please click through to take a look.
I spent a few (amazing!) days last week in Asheville, NC, at Food Blog Forum. This is my second time to attend this event, and I enjoyed every minute. The itinerary was packed full of incredible food, “money-can’t-buy” experiences, new friends, beautiful vistas, and great tips and tricks for blogging. I hope to share more soon about the trip and event, but in the mean time check out Instagram for all of my pics.
For the conference, I finally got some business cards, and I really loved how they turned out. I just ordered some simple ones and added washi tape. I have lots of customization options, and I’m really excited about them. Here’s a sneak peak:
Finally, we’re gearing up to celebrate birthday #2. I can’t believe it, and I’m not entirely sure I’m ready for what this year will hold (I hear it can be a bit “terrible” 😉 haha). But there’s always a balance of absolutely precious moments in the mix. Here’s a recent pic and a hint at the theme of our party:
Until next time – Happy Monday, friends!