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Ornamental Magic

December 18, 2015

Busy days at our house - felt ornaments, salt ornaments,
felt & crystal ornaments, crystal and clay ornaments, straw stars,
and pine cone ornaments

Next week?  It's cookie time!!!


Today's Special

December 10, 2015

First Week of Advent

December 9, 2015

This past weekend was a busy one indeed!  It was the first week of Advent, on December 6th it was St. Nicholas Day, and on December 8th it was the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.  Here in Austria, it was a four day weekend. The annual Christmas Market in Hall was busy as usual... many of the local crafts people and self made food purveryors were out in full force!  I wish I had taken more pictures but I was busy devouring a bag of freshly roasted chestnuts.

After the market, getting a Christmas tree was next on our list.  We have bought our last two trees from this same spot in Hall.  The seller is so nice... and the trees are too!  He remembered us again this year and gave ALL of the candy he had to the girls... stuffing their pockets full!  We shared a shot of some holiday schnapps (?) and he gave us a bouquet of these red berry plants.  Not sure what they are called... He even had real mistletoe for sale (which I had never seen in real until moving here...)!


Time to get the tree home!  

Once home, the tree was put up and we started making decorations for it.    We make ornaments for the tree each year... with the exception of the hand blown glass ornaments we got from New York City.  These were the start of our ornament collection.  Then, we had two sets of salt ornaments.  This year, we decided to make traditional straw ornaments (popular in the German and Swedish culture).  Here's a few quick tutorials here and here and here to get you started!

The two little pine cone men are supposed to be Saint Nicholas... a school project by El & Lil.

This weekend was big on holiday cheer - from the outings, to the activities, to the music - and it lasted the whole weekend... so, what better way to change it up than with a seasonal flip flop meal of BBQ chicken, homemade barbecue sauce with fish sauce (!), baked beans, and Bavarian potato salad?!  A total fusion meal of three cultures if I ever saw one!

* BBQ Sauce from My Humble Kitchen - Better than store bought over here, by far!

* BBQ Chicken from Bowl of Delicious - Because, sometimes a Southern girl craves barbecue wherever she is!!

* Bavarian Potato Salad from - So much better than the one with mayonaise, IMO!


Fresh & Fruity

December 4, 2015
Physalis, Pomogranate, Avocado, Orange, Cucumber & Bibb Lettuce Salad


December 3, 2015

Last week, it was Thanksgiving back home in the States.  Looking at all of the pictures from friends and family, it sure made me homesick.  I miss the collective good cheer that comes along this time of year... Everyone is frantic... getting the house in order... getting the kitchen stocked with all of the traditional staples.  Traffic, lines at the store, lines everywhere for that matter - all in chaos.  But, everyone takes it in stride, hopefully... because family members are coming home.

Here in the Alps, far away from the chaos,  I couldn't be with my family back home... but, I felt ready to share a bit of what America was celebrating on Thanksgiving with my European friends.  Inspired by this concept of 'Friendsgiving', I searched for all of the ingredients to make a traditional Thanksgiving meal.  

Ready, Set, Go!

We went to five different stores to find the quinntessential ingredients that make Thanksgiving, well, like Thanksgiving - pecans, green beans, fresh cranberries, sweet potatoes, regular ole potatoes, and a huge turkey.  

First item on the menu - dessert!  

As you can see from my picture above, I was successful in my search... missing only one thing - pumpkin puree!  So, no pumpkin pie this year!!  But, because I found fresh cranberries and because I love lemon curd, I decided to go fruitier this year and made Mini- Cranberry and Lemon Curd Tarts.

For the cranberry curd, I used this recipe from The New York Times.  My only comment on the finished product was that the color of the cranberry curd was not near as cranberry red as the original photo.  I used this same recipe (minus the straining and eggs) to make the Cranberry Sauce.  While you're stirring, here's a bit of history of the cranberry on the Thanksgiving table.

While the cranberry curd was cooling, I made a batch of lemon curd and some Pate Brisee from Michel Roux. 

It can not be a Thanksgiving dinner without sweet potatoes.  They smell sweet and lovely, are flexible in sweet or savory dishes, and are healthy for you!  This year, I chose this recipe from My Baking Addiction... because I don't like my sweet potato dish overly sweet (otherwise, I'd make them into a Sweet Potato Pie!) and I prefer my dish to be more of a balance of sweet and savory (so, I halved the sugar in this recipe).

My husband found pecans still in the shell at Munich's Viktualienmarkt, a foodie's heaven.  So, the pecans were freshly shelled and chopped and the brown sugar was direct from America... seriously dark and brown, this brown sugar from Dixie Crystal is the real deal.  Soft mashed potatoes topped with sugar, nuts, and spice - everything nice!

Don't know about you, but MY absolute must on the menu - Green Bean Casserole.  I love this stuff! I chose Smitten Kitchen's take on this comfort food.

This year, I figured out how to prep the green beans - getting them to the 'almost like out of a can' texture but still retaining the green bean color.  One year, I cooked them too long and the beans looked DOA (dead on arrival!). 

So, lately, I've noticed that if I steam/boil/saute green veggies in a shallow frying pan rather than a tall stock pot, the green color remains.  I'm guessing this is because the veggies lie over a wider area and the steam doesn't hang around for longer than necessary (like it does in my stock pans).  I am getting similar results when I do this with broccoli.  Yay for me!  I also use a bit of chicken stock as the cooking liquid because this gives the beans some taste... When the beans were done, I was eating them non-stop right out of the collander! 

Dusting the sliced onions, pre-fry, with flour was a good idea.  The golden slivers of onion were also light and crisp.  The mushroom sauce was easy peasy... I wanted more in the end, so I made another batch of the sauce without additional mushrooms.

Next up - stuffing.  For some, this is a must have item on the menu.  As a child, I didn't dig stuffing very much because it came with my most hated childhood vegetable - celery.  Good thing I've gotten over my distaste of celery... right after my first pregnancy.  Man, did my pregnancy put my taste buds on a loop de loop.  I even like green bell peppers (my other hated childhood vegetable) now!

I found this recipe from Bon Appetit - and none too soon!  I had been scouring the web looking for a good stuffing recipe.  There were some some made with corn bread, some with oysters, some with fruit, some with meat.  I liked the simplicity of BA's Simple Stuffing recipe... but, it was even a little too simple for me and I had to add in some kielbasa sausage.  The bread I used was two fold.  I used a bag of dried, pre-diced Kaisersemmel bread croutons (popular here in the Bavarian Alps for making Knödel) for mostly the bottom. And, I mixed in about eight slices of torn, day old Hüttenbrot, a thickly sliced sandwich bread, mostly on the top for that 'rustic' look.

Last, but not least... the turkey.  My husband ordered the turkey from a specialty shop in Viktualienmarkt.  It was huge! 19lbs!  It was farm-raised and organic... and it tasted like no other turkey I've ever tasted.  But, I'll get to that later.  First things, first.

I was a bit stressed at the thought of cooking a turkey for four (or more!) hours... which meant somehow doing all of the other dishes the day before.  But, I came across this genius idea from Mark Bitten.  Apparently, there was a way to cook turkey on the big day without having to monopolize all of precious oven real estate... and, I had done it before!  

So, with the help of my husband who cut out the back bone and flattened the sternum, I got all of the now 18 lbs of turkey flat onto a deep baking tray.  I didn't have a wire rack for the turkey to lay on... so, I chopped up a bunch of aromatics - carrot, leek, garlic - and used the veggies as the 'rack'.  I oiled down the bird with olive oil, salted it generously, and slathered herb butter under and on top of the skin.  Lastly, I made a woven blanket of bacon and covered the breasts.  Then, I set it aside to marinate for an hour while it came to room temperature.

The bacon comes from Tyler Florence's recipe - Maple-Roasted, (Bacon Wrapped) Turkey with Sage Butter.  I'd made this once before for a previous Thanksgiving in New York City.

One of the reasons why this method of butterflying the bird is genius is because with the neck bone and freshly removed back bone, I was able to brown them and toss them into the oven to roast with additional aromatics... getting a head start on collecting as much turkey drippings as possible so that I could make a most flavorfuly gravy!  And, the aroma!  Heavenly! 

The turkey tasted incredible.  Really.  Something was different about this turkey.  It wasn't dry at all.  It was so flavorful.  It tasted like a seriously good turkey.   Was it because it was a 'happy' turkey?  I think the recipe and preparation was only a small part of it... I think something else made this turkey turn out so good!

So, finally, a day later, my early preparations were finished, my turkey was resting, the gravy was finished, the casseroles warming in the oven, and my friends were arriving.  Freshly roasted chestnuts and prosecco were passed around the room.   Thirteen of us sat down to enjoy this Friendsgiving feast.  It was a great success... with tons of leftovers!

Additional items on the menu - a lovely Pomegranate and Physalis green salad and a Poppy Seed Mousse.  New to me were the Physalis fruit and the mousse.  Both were a delightful addition to the evening's menu!  Thank you, Tanja!

. . .

All of these years, I know how my mom felt as she hurried about the kitchen getting all of the many dishes ready... and I know how warm it made her heart feel to see all of her loved ones sitting down together to enjoy a special meal... because the people at her table that evening, like those at mine, were the people most near and dear to her.