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Who can believe that January is nearly over, and our next holiday is just two weeks away? Never fear … with just one task or two a day beginning February 1, you’ll sail through Valentine’s Day on Cupid’s wings.
Here’s your day-by-day countdown to keep on track over the next two weeks. Be sure to add the tasks to your planner.
1 – Add a few touches of Valentine’s Day around the house: a wreath on front door, a collection of red and pink and white candles on a sideboard, or a heart-shaped dish full of fragrant potpourri on your night stand are just a few ideas. The “LOVE” votives shown above are surprisingly easy and oh-so-affordable.
2 – Make a list of the Valentines you wish to send. Purchase greeting cards and children’s Valentines to hand out at school, or use an online service like hallmark.com or Plaxo to send your cards for you.
3 – Not sending greeting cards this year? Schedule e-cards today for delivery on the 14th.
4 – Read Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights, each a perfectly crafted romance. No time to read? Download an audiobook on sites like iTunes and audible.com and listen during your commute or on the treadmill.
5 – Make heart-smart snack mix. Combine 1/3 c. each of three kinds of dried fruits (dried cranberries, diced dried apricots, raisins, or dried cherries, etc.) and 2/3 c. each of roasted nuts and seeds (try a mix of almonds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds). Package 1/3 c. portions in snack-sized zipper bags and stash in your desk, your tote and the kids’ backpacks.
6 – Plan your Valentine’s Day menu and make your shopping list. Purchase non-perishable items today, and the perishables on the 13th. Dining out on the big day? Finalize plans and make reservations.
7 – Plan the table decorations for your Valentine’s Day dinner. Layer red table runners or placemats with silver charger plates, your favorite china, red roses grouped in a small silver bowl and plenty of candles. (Tip: Tie clear votive cups with pink or red organza ribbons and use unscented candles so the scent of your delicious dinner won’t be overpowered.)
8 – Mail Valentine cards. (Remember that first class postage went up a penny on January 28, 2013.)
9 – Purchase chocolates to surprise your co-workers or friends. Indulge in a piece or two of dark chocolate yourself!
10 – Enjoy a bubble bath surrounded by candlelight, perhaps with a glass of wine or Champagne (pink of course!). Or, add an ounce of Chambord® raspberry liqueur to a flute before topping off with bubbly.
11 – Have kids sign their Valentines for distribution at school.
12 – Make heart-shaped mini cakes or Valentine’s Day cookies. Or, try these crisped rice heart treats!
13 – Shop for perishable food items for tomorrow’s meal.
14 – Spend time with your Valentine or host a chocolate tasting party with your girlfriends. A viewing of Pride and Prejudice is likewise in order!Read More
There are times when you know you are going to be busy and stressed. You know it. You can see it coming. It’s happened before. And at those times, it’s prudent to look at the situation and ask, “What can I do to prepare, to minimize stress?”
And so it is with Thanksgiving dinner. If you’re hosting dinner and have decided to make most of the dishes yourself, then you’re going to be busy—really busy—on Thursday. Fortunately, many tasks associated with Thanksgiving dinner can be done ahead of time on either the Tuesday or Wednesday of Thanksgiving week, helping to ease the pressure on Thursday. Here are 9 things you can do today to get started on your Thanksgiving meal.
1. Thaw the turkey. If you’ll be roasting a frozen bird, be sure to allow plenty of time to properly thaw it. The folks at Butterball recommend at least one day for every four pounds for the preferred refrigerator thawing method, or at least 30 minutes per pound if you’ll be using a cold water thawing method. For more tips, visit www.butterball.com.
2. Chop veggies.One of the most time consuming tasks in cooking any meal is prepping the ingredients. The French call it “mise en place” – having all the ingredients measured and ready to go before starting the recipe. If you’re making stuffing and mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving, you can put mise en place in place in your kitchen by dicing the onion and celery (and apple, if you use it) for the stuffing and placing them in airtight containers or zippered plastic bags. Keep them in the fridge until you’re ready to use them. (Add a tablet of vitamin C to the apples to help retard browning.) The same goes for potatoes; simply peel, dice and place in a bowl filled with ice water (so they don’t turn pink). Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. and keep it refrigerated.
3. Break bread. Tearing up a loaf or two of bread was one of my tasks as a child on Thanksgiving morning. But, this is one task than may be done up to two days in advance; slightly stale bread works better for stuffing anyway. Keep the bread chunks right in the mixing bowl you’ll use to mix up the stuffing, cover with plastic wrap and keep it on the countertop.
4. Make cranberry sauce.I swear by homemade cranberry sauce! It’s so easy, and once you make it you’ll never go back to the canned variety—at least not for holidays. Lucky for busy Thanksgiving cooks, this is one dish that gets better with a little age on it, so make it now to enjoy on Thanksgiving. Use the recipe right on the package of fresh cranberries; I add some cinnamon, orange juice and zest, and maybe even a splash of Grand Marnier.
5. Bake pies. Because your oven will get a workout on Thanksgiving Day, bake pies at least one day in advance. According to the USDA, anything made with milk or eggs—such as pumpkin pie—must be refrigerated to help stall the formation of bacteria. Cool the pies on a wire rack, cover with plastic wrap and store in the fridge overnight. For more holiday food safety tips, visit www.fsis.usda.gov.
6. Select serving dishes and utensils. Assess your menu as well as your supply of serving dishes and utensils and choose an appropriate dish for each menu item and set them side. It’s also a good idea to put a sticky note in each dish indicating what goes where. If you’re serving buffet style, arrange the dishes on the buffet table, to ensure adequate space and flow.
7. Set the table. Here is another time-consuming task that can take precious focus away from the kitchen and your guests on Thanksgiving Day. Set the table completely—linens, place settings, cutlery, centerpiece, candles—on Wednesday evening.
8. Set up the bar area. If you’re having more than a few people over, it’s a good idea to dedicate an area for beverages. It could be a countertop in the kitchen, a sideboard in the dining room, or even a card table set up in the family room. Pick a spot and set out glassware appropriate for the beverages you’ll be offering your guests. If you’re serving wine, set out the red wine and a corkscrew, as well as a bucket to keep the white wine cold.
9. Make dips and spreads for hors d’oeuvres. My mom’s entertaining advice rings true to this day: if your guests have something to sip and something to nibble, they’ll happily wait for dinner. Once the bar is set up, mix up an easy dip (like the old standby onion soup mix dip) or a tasty spread like a garlicky, salty olive tapenade. When guests arrive, set out the dip/spread with some raw vegetables with cheeses and crackers.
For an hour-by-hour breakdown of Thanksgiving Day cooking tasks, download the Thanksgiving Countdown.
Happy Thanksgiving!Read More
This “Monster Mix” party mix is an easy, quick and inexpensive treat for a Halloween get together. Or, portion the mix into treat bags or mason jars to give to teachers, coworkers, or party goers as a party favor.
In a large mixing bowl, combine:
3 c. Golden Grahams cereal (“mummy scabs”)
2 c. mini marshmallows (“ghost poop”)
2 c. candy corn (“goblin teeth”)
1 c. semisweet chocolate morsels (“witch warts”)
Serve immediately, or store in an airtight container and use within two days. (The marshmallows lose their fluffiness and the cereal loses its crunch after that.) Yield: 16 servings.
To get the look shown, I used small mason jars ($1.49 each at World Market) and cut scraps of Halloween fabrics into 6-inch squares with pinking shears to cover the lids. Screw on the collar and finish with a ribbon or a piece of twine (use what you have!). To download the printable (and adorable!) labels, right click on the photo of the label below and choose “save image as.”Read More
From the Entertaining for Busy People blog …
It’s a throwback to more formal times for sure, but using placecards to seat your guests at Easter dinner is a fun way to encourage conversation and add some color to the table. Here are three super easy creations.
Dyed egg: Write the name or initial of the guest on a dyed egg (you already have them on hand; why not use them?). Place the egg in an egg cup or, as here, a liqueur glass. Or, look for paper egg stands where you purchase dye kits.
Candy carrot: Cut orange tissue paper into 8 inch squares. Place a scant handful of jelly beans or chocolate candies in the center of the paper, gather into a loose cone shape and tie with green curling ribbon. Cut a piece of green paper and a piece of velum into leaf shapes; write the guest’s name on the velum leaf. Layer them together, punch a hole and attach to the ribbon. Curl the ends of the ribbon for carrot tops!
Bunny buddy: Who can resist a solid chocolate bunny on Easter? Simply write the guest’s name on a white tag (available at office supply stores) and tie the tag to the bunny’s neck with curling ribbon. Your guests can take their treat home to enjoy later, or indulge (ears first, of course!) right at the table.Read More
St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Saturday this year, and it will be a premium day for entertaining. The theme and menu practically plan themselves! If corned beef and cabbage isn’t your style, how about a new twist – serve up corned beef sliders topped with cabbage slaw. For music, tap into an online music service such as Pandora and call up a Celtic station to add some Irish ambiance. And for dessert, try one (or both!) of these cupcake ideas, each topped with a decadent Irish Cream Cheese Frosting. (Note: these cupcakes are for grown ups only!)
Irish Stout ‘n Chocolate Cupcakes
The addition of a stout beer adds a chewy texture to these deep, rich goodies.
2 c. all purpose flour
2 c. sugar
¾ c. cocoa powder
1 t. baking soda
½ t. salt
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
1 12 oz. bottle stout Irish beer (such as Guinness)
1 t. vanilla extract
¾ c. sour cream
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 24 muffin tins with paper liners.
In a large bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda and salt. In a separate bowl, combine the butter, beer and vanilla. Add eggs, 1 at a time, whisking after each addition. Whisk in the sour cream until smooth and well combined. Add the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients a little at a time, stirring until completely combined. (Batter will be somewhat thin.) Fill the muffin tins ¾ full and bake for 24 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.
Spiked Irish Spice Cupcakes
1 box yellow cake mix (plus ingredients called for on the box)
1 ½ t. cinnamon
½ t. ground ginger
¼ t. ground nutmeg
¼ t. ground cloves
1 c. Irish whiskey, divided
Preheat oven directed on the cake mix package. Line 24 muffin tins with paper liners. Prepare the mix as directed on the package, except:
- Stir the spices into the dry mix before adding the wet ingredients.
- Substitute ½ c. whiskey for ½ c. of the liquid called for on the package.
Fill the muffin tins and bake as directed. Cool on a wire rack. With a bamboo skewer, make several holes in the top of each cupcake. Using a pastry brush, brush each cupcake generously with the remaining whiskey. Allow to set at least 15 minutes before icing with the Irish Cream Cheese Frosting.
Irish Cream Cheese Frosting
1 8 oz. package cream cheese, softened
¾ c. Irish cream liqueur (such as Bailey’s)
5 to 6 c. powdered sugar
In a large mixing bowl, with a hand mixer on medium speed, beat the cream cheese until it’s fluffy. Add the liqueur and beat until well combined. On low speed, add the sugar one cup at a time until everything is incorporated and the frosting is fluffy and holds its shape. (The frosting will be soft.)
To ice the cupcakes, first allow the cupcakes to completely cool. Fit a gallon-size plastic zipper bag into a 2-cup measuring cup, folding the top of the bag over the sides of the cup. Fill the bag with frosting and gather the top of the bag, remove excess air, then zip it closed. Work the frosting down into one corner of the bag, then snip off the corner, about ¼ inch. Frost each cupcake with a swirl of frosting, keeping it away from the edge of the cupcake. This frosting will spread a bit on its own to the edge of the cupcake. (Frosts about 30 cupcakes.)
To decorate the cupcakes, make shamrocks from green melting chocolate (available at craft stores). Melt about ½ c. of disks in a microwave-safe dish according to the package directions. Fill a sandwich zipper bag with the melted chocolate; snip off the corner and pipe shamrocks on a piece of parchment paper. (Hint: Use my Shamrock template under the parchment paper to keep the shamrocks somewhat uniform.) Green decorating sugar may also be used as shown. Or, melt and swirl together green and white melting chocolates; allow to harden; and use a vegetable peeler to create chocolate shavings.Read More