Mini Magic

I did my holiday baking a little early this year since we took a fun Thanksgiving trip to LA (land of sunshine and shopping and family too). The other night, as I was baking my sister Bonnie’s miniature pecan tarts, it occurred to me how many delicious recipes I have for all things miniature.

I make mini quiches, mini grilled reubens, mini cocktail wieners, mini meatballs and mini sausage stuffed wontons. The miniature pecan tart and mini reuben recipes follow below. Both are delicious and you should add them to your party recipes.

Bonnie's Miniature Pecan Tarts

This recipe makes 24 tarts, so I always double it since my husband and son can eat 24 tarts in about 2 minutes.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Blend together 3 oz. softened cream cheese, 1 stick of butter, and 1 cup flour. Shape the mixture into 24 balls about 1” each.

Spray your mini muffin tins with cooking spray. One by one, take each dough ball and flatten it in your hand and place in the muffin tin.

Now you are ready to make the filling. Combine 1 egg, 3/4 c. brown sugar, 1 tbs. soft butter, 1 tsp. vanilla and a dash of salt. Mix all together until smooth.

Finely chop about ½ c. pecans and place a small amount in each pastry. Top with about a tsp. of filling. Bake at 325 degrees for 25 minutes until pastry begins to get golden brown. Only let cool a few minutes and then carefully remove from pans.

*Becky Knows Everything (or in this case Bonnie Knows Everything): Getting these out of the pan is a monumental task. Every Christmas, Bonnie and I call each other to brag about how many we got out without breaking. She always wins. Use a dinner knife around the edges to loosen and gently lift the tarts from the pan. Also, Bonnie lived in Breckenridge, CO for a few years (ski country) and she says these simply will not turn out properly in the high altitude.

Mini Grilled Reubens

If you love regular sized reubens, you will love these too. They are a hearty appetizer so I would not make them before a dinner party, just for a cocktail party. Here's what you need:

One loaf party rye bread
One can drained sauerkraut (do not rinse)
Thousand Island dressing (I use Kraft)
Swiss cheese, cut into small squares to fit bread
½ lb. thinly sliced deli corned beef or two packages Carl Buddig corned beef (but the real corned beef is better)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Butter each bread slice. Use about ½ the loaf - you can always butter more if you need to. Place one slice of bread (buttered side down) on a cookie sheet. Place one slice of corned beef on the bread, folded to fit. Top with about 1 tbs. of sauerkraut, then 1 tsp. of dressing. Place a piece of Swiss cheese that has been cut to fit on top. Top with another buttered bread. Repeat until you fill your cookie sheet.

Bake until bottom bread is toasted - about 5 minutes. Flip each sandwich and toast the other side until cheese is melted and they are heated through.

This is one of my most popular hors d’oeuvres and it fills a large cookie sheet.

*Becky Knows Everything: You can make these early in the day - just run a paper towel under water and squeeze dry. Place towel over assembled sandwiches and cover with foil. Remove covering when ready to eat.


Thanksgiving Memories

Now, this isn’t one of those traditional Thanksgiving memories stories. You know, giving thanks for all we have, eating turkey, sharing potatoes and pie - blah, blah, blah.

No, these are tales of funny things I can remember from years past. When I was in college, my boyfriend Mike (yes, the same Mike) once took me to his home in Appleton, Wisconsin to visit his family. It was the first time he had ever invited me to his house and I was extremely nervous. I wanted so much to make a good first impression so I had washed my hair and set it with those old-fashioned pink plastic rollers, then put a red plaid handkerchief on to hide them. (Pudgie used to set her hair on orange juice cans but she had a lot more hair than me). Mike and I and one of his hometown friends climbed into Mike’s ’69 Mustang (we thought we were so cool) and started off on the trip from Cincinnati to Appleton, about a 9 hour drive. We had driven about an hour when I rolled down my window to get some air, stuck my head a little too close to the window and off blew my head scarf. I was horrified! We still had to stop for lunch and my hair was wet and in rollers and I had nothing to cover my head. Our friend was laughing hysterically in the backseat. I sure wasn’t giving thanks at that point. When I was growing up, wearing rollers out of your house simply wasn’t done. Tacky, tacky, tacky.

Anyway, we finally get near Appleton and I begged Mike to stop at a gas station so I could use the restroom to fix my hair and makeup. There wasn’t much begging involved since Mike didn’t want me to meet his parents and family looking the way I did either. I pulled myself together and pretty soon we were pulling into his driveway. The visit went well, except for the actual Thanksgiving dinner which was chicken NOT turkey and there was no cranberry sauce either. Not everyone has the same traditions!

The next tale is shorter and happened about 20 years later. We were living in Seattle at the time and shared holiday dinners with two other families we were quite close with. This particular year it was Marilyn’s turn to host Thanksgiving and even though she had been married a long time she had never made a turkey. Her childhood memories of growing up in New Orleans included her mom rising at 5am on Thanksgiving morning to put the turkey in the oven. Marilyn did the same thing – she went out and bought a big bird and got up at 5am to put the turkey in. We were scheduled to arrive at 4pm for pre-dinner festivities. Well, of course you know what happened – the pop-up timer on the turkey popped at 8:30am, about 8 hours before we were dining and Marilyn was hysterical. We did reschedule dinner for noon, but it was the driest bird I ever ate.

The next time it was Marilyn’s turn to host Thanksgiving she decided on a Mexican menu with tortillas and fajitas and a bunch of stuff I didn’t recognize. Of course Carol and I knew nothing of this plan so we arrived with our sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie to share. Really crazy.

To all of you, have a blessed and peaceful Thanksgiving. I hope you get to spend the day with people you love and eat all the delicious food you desire – and then sit down while the men clean up the kitchen. Well, a girl can dream.

Photo from Country Living


Mike Loves Potatoes

Sounds like a dippy idea for a blog, right? But the truth is my husband loves potatoes of any kind as long as they meet a few of his conditions. They must be in some type of sauce or have gravy or have some sort of topper like cheese or cream. Something simple like a plain baked potato with butter just won't do. Sour cream is a necessity and creamy mashed potatoes are his favorite. I think mashed potatoes topped with cheese and bacon would thrill him. I recently came across a new recipe for scalloped potatoes and I am sharing it with you. He loved it, but if you are hoping for something healthy you need to check a different blog!

Sensational Scalloped Potatoes

4-5 large baking potatoes or russets, peeled and thinly sliced
3 green onions, sliced
4 oz. Colby Jack cheese, shredded
2 c. whipping cream
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. pepper
¼ c. parmesan cheese, grated

Slice potatoes thinly and rinse in cold water. Pat dry.

In a casserole dish (I use my large quiche dish but a glass pie pan will work too) layer the potatoes, Colby Jack and onions. Sprinkle each layer with the salt and pepper. Pour on the cream and top with the parmesan cheese. Put the dish on a cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour and 15 minutes until the potatoes are tender and the top is brown, bubbly and beautiful. YUM!

*Becky Knows Everything: I know, I know - everything is good when it has whipping cream and cheese on it, but did you notice there is no BUTTER? I just lost the respect of Paula Dean, the Butter Queen.


Thanksgiving Centerpieces

Today in my local newspaper there were photos and an article about Thanksgiving table centerpieces and I just had to start writing. The table styling was done by a local designer and it was the kind of design that makes me nuts. Of course anyone can lay a walloping big horn of plenty cornucopia thing spilling fruit in the middle of a table or line the table with a ton of pumpkins and a giant floral piece, but come on! We all know the practicality is this - you need a place to put all of your wonderful food AND you need to see the person sitting across from you (even if you aren’t wild about them). Ultimately, these huge centerpieces have to leave the table when you sit down to eat, so what is the point of having them? As a young bride I purchased a large pumpkin tureen and filled it with flowers for the center of my table. Not only was it hugely expensive to fill, but the minute the food was ready I had to take it off the table. Now it sits on my table in the fall everyday BUT Thanksgiving!

You can make your Thanksgiving table look beautiful and festive without going overboard. The photo below from Country Living is a great example. Individualize each place setting instead of doing a large central piece. I like to place a votive in an autumn styled votive holder (I have tiny wrought iron ones with leaves) at each place setting so there is pretty candlelight but not a gigantic candle. Please use unscented candles at dinner so they don't compete with the food. Give each guest a favor next to “their” candle, like a colorfully wrapped chocolate turkey or personalized pumpkin cookie. At each end of the table you can have a small, SHORT floral arrangement in a clever container like a wineglass or pitcher or vase – use orange tulips cropped short, any type of fall mum or my favorite natural look, bittersweet. Just make sure they are small and you can see over them. Don’t even try that trick of hollowing out small pumpkins. I did that one year and every variety of squash I tried was SO HARD that I needed a knife and saw to make a holder. Go to Michael's or Tuesday Morning or HomeGoods and buy a cute fall holiday votive holder. They can look colorful and interesting and you can spend your time perfecting that pumpkin pie!!

I will be writing more about Thanksgiving dinner soon since it is coming up so quickly. Creamed onions, anyone?

Photos from Better Homes & Garden and Country Living


Window Treatments and Beyond

Recently my wonderful sister-in-law Shelly, (also known as Sherry) asked me for some design advice. She wants to update the window treatments in a few areas of her home, specifically in the kitchen over the sink, in the dining room (which features a window seat) and above some French doors that open to a patio.

Since Shelly and my brother live in Arizona, I asked them to take some photos of the windows and provide accurate measurements so that I could get a feel for each space. I asked for not only length and width but depth, the distance from the floor to the ceiling and the distance to adjacent walls or cabinets. This gave me a much more complete picture in my head to start working.

Let’s concentrate on the kitchen today. Currently they have a gathered valance that has seen better days. The window is centered between two rows of cabinets and does not have room above for either a fabric treatment or an alternative. Since Shelly does not sew and doesn’t want a custom treatment, the options are to go with ready-made or come up with something else. Unfortunately so many of the ready-made treatments look alike and have very little originality. They are gathered or poofed or swagged or whatever. So, lucky for us, I always have an idea. Here is what I suggested:

1. Don’t use fabric. Hang a shelf there instead. There are very nice wooden shelves out there that are reasonably priced from stores like Pottery Barn
. They can also be ordered online from places like Exposures or Ballard Designs. The shelves come in lengths from 2feet and up. They are made to look like wooden crown molding – some are very decorative, some are very sleek. I recommend a white painted version, with a lot of depth so you can actually use it for display. The shelf is a great place for some plants or some treasures you like to look at every day, like Grandma’s teacups or even something one of your grown children made long ago. You get the idea. Even a mini collection of brass teapots will work.

2. No more cleaning. By losing the fabric you won’t have to constantly take down the treatment, wash and re-hang it – but you will still have to dust the treasures once in a awhile. All of my friends know how much I LOVE to dust and clean. Stop laughing all of you.

Photos above from Pottery Barn

3. Hang a row of plates in this space. The plates can be individually mounted on plate hangers and hung in a row, or buy a cool horizontal plate hanger from a place like HomeGoods (talk about treasures galore). You can even buy the plates there too. If you have any heirloom plates or a special theme you enjoy, let that be your guide. My personal favorite is the French toile look – I have a few plates and platters hanging in that pattern in my own home. The plate hanger shown below is from Fine Home Displays.

4. Go natural. Again, by losing the "everyone-has-it" fabric idea you can be creative. Buy a natural swag made of curly willow or twigs and put a small loop on either end and just hang it on two nails or hooks in the wall. “Decorate” it with silk greenery like trailing ivy or grape ivy and then add some faux fruit (wires in very easily) or even faux flowers, although that would be my second choice. If you don’t feel you have the creative chops to do this yourself, you can always go to a local florist and have them make one up for you – yes they all will work with dried flowers too. Or, go to a silk plant shop or even to Michael's where they have custom designers to work with you. Just be sure to take your measurements or a photo of an idea.

5. If you go with a natural treatment or even with the shelving at the holidays you can customize it to make you smile. String lights on the swag or display your Santas on the shelf. Remember to buy a shelf with a lot of depth – some are very narrow and only meant for plates.

OK, there are a few ideas for all of you. I personally can’t wait to get to Arizona and see some finished results!!


Vermont Vacation

My neighbor Carol grew up in a large Victorian home in Montpelier, Vermont. This is the state capitol in case you are geographically challenged like me. Did you know Concord is the capitol of New Hampshire? My husband likes to quiz servers at restaurants to see if they know their state capitols.

Anyway, years ago the mansion was sold and eventually a developer came along and wanted to turn the remainder of the estate into condos. So Carol and her siblings purchased the land and the caretaker’s cottage to use as a getaway home. Carol generously offered it to Mike and me and we invited Adrienne and Jimmy to come along for a weekend adventure.

So, a few weeks ago Mike and I took off for Montpelier. It is about a 7 hour drive, the first 3 of which are on the interstate. It is the last 4 hours that get you. All narrow, windy 2 lane roads, double yellow no passing lines everywhere and you are not on any one road more than 20 miles. Even MapQuest had a time with this one, shooting out 2 full pages of directions. Jim and Adie were coming from Boston, a more doable 3 hour drive.

Anyway, we stopped in the famous Saratoga Springs for lunch and it was such a beautiful day – all the leaves were shimmering in the sun and it was mild in temperature. And all along the highway there were tons of colorful pumpkin patches. We got to Montpelier late in the afternoon and explored the town and had dinner. I also found a large grocery store and was able to stock up.

Let me tell you about the house. It is 220 years old and has been updated – I mean it has plumbing, heat, a stove, hot water and all the essentials. It is really a charming cottage, very near the village. The only real problem was there was only one TV and it was in the bedroom Adie and Jim were using. I actually went without TV for THREE DAYS. I know, boo-hoo.

Adie and Jim arrived very late on Friday and on Saturday morning we all took off for Burlington, a beautiful ski area and the location of Vermont College. Burlington has a really nice downtown shopping area with a great farmers market. Jim and Mike explored Lake Champlain while Adie and I shopped and then we all met for lunch.

Saturday night Adie and I cooked dinner, and then we all played Taboo. It was a lot of fun. It is so nice to be a parent with grown children you really like that are married to people you also really like. Mike and I were sure lucky to get Stephanie and Jimmy.

Sunday, we went to a brunch Carol recommended. The New England Culinary Institute is located in Montpelier and the students put on a brunch each weekend. It was fantastic – a pasta station, carved meats, specialty omelets, salads and fruit, wonderful breads and desserts to die for. The rest of the trip was spent enjoying the local shops and the beautiful scenery. “Leaf peeping” really is an art!


Rosemary Roasted Chicken

Everyone needs a good, basic roast chicken recipe. I have perfected this one over many years and it always turns out great. You will need a roasting pan with a rack and nice basting brush to get started.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

In a small bowl combine the ingredients below and then set mixture aside.
One lemon, both the zest and the juice
Rosemary (fresh if possible, just remove the leaves from 3 stalks and chop) or 1 tsp. dried
One clove garlic, chopped
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. pepper
3 tbs. olive oil

You will need a 5-7lb. chicken. I know there are special roasting chickens out there (which are great), but a whole, uncut broiler/fryer works just as well and is usually less $$. Remove the bag inside the chicken and discard. Before you all write to me and complain that the innards can be used for stock or soup, I already know that – but they are too gross for me.

Wash and dry the chicken and pull out any stray feathers. You need to rinse inside and out and then dry the chicken well or it will not brown properly.

Now, pull up the breast skin and rub about 1 tbs. of the rosemary mix on the breast. Do both sides, reaching as far down the breast as possible to coat thoroughly. Next, try to pull up as much skin as you can on the thighs and do the same thing. Pour remaining mix over the top of the chicken and massage it in.

Tie the legs of the chicken together, I use twine or fishing line. Turn wings under the chicken to create a “perch.” WASH YOUR HANDS!!

Place bird in the oven and bake about 20-25 minutes per pound. Baste often with the juices. The chicken is done when you can pull the leg away from the thigh and the juices are clear. Ignore that annoying pop-up timer thing. It always pops up long before the meat is done.

When the chicken is done, remove from pan, pour interior liquid from the cavity into the sink and rest on a carving board about 10 minutes. Be sure to cover with foil. Carve when ready.

*Becky Knows Everything: After I make the chicken, I often cool and refrigerate the meat for sandwiches. The breast meat is so tender and flavorful from the rosemary mixture. Or, serve warm and make gravy, potatoes, and dressing and pretend it’s Thanksgiving!