Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A Very Chili Halloween

The evening air is brisk, darkness is falling earlier and earlier, and the leaves are in full transformation - for Halloween is just two days away. 

Whether you’ll be romping the neighborhood with your little goblins or divvying out the tricks and treats,

Halloween is a ghastly good time for all. 

But don’t let the insanity of rushing home from work and the whole dinner thing spoil your haunt. 
Since you know well in advance that you’ll be snitching the available edibles from the bag or the bowl, why not kick off your week of sugar highness with something healthy.

A big pot of chili can be prepared the night before and will certainly ward off any ghoulish hunger pains before or after the big event. 
Plus, chili is always better the second day after all of the spices and ingredients have had a chance to meld.

Here is my long-time recipe for chili - I even won a people’s choice award once.  
I love that it’s really simple, has lots of chunkiness to it, and you can vary the degree of hotness just by amping up a few of the spices.

Chili con Carne
1 ½ lbs. lean ground beef or turkey
1 cup chopped sweet onion
1 cup chopped bell pepper, any color
¾ cup water
1 can condensed tomato soup
2-3 tablespoons chili powder
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
A few glugs of hot pepper sauce
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 oz. can of green chiles
28 oz. can of diced fire roasted tomatoes, undrained
6 oz. can of tomato paste (Hunt’s)
2 cans of dark kidney beans, drained

Brown beef or turkey and drain.  In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, add all ingredients, except beans.  Stir well and bring mixture to a boil. 
Reduce heat, then simmer for 1 ½ - 2 hours, stirring occasionally.  Stir in beans toward the end and simmer until they are heated.  Makes six, 1 ½ cup servings.

The house is decorated; dinner is all set – now for my costume.  Hmmm….

 I know!  I’ll be a Cowgirl this year…J

Have a frighteningly great week!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Say Cheese!

Nothing signals the start of the entertaining season better than October.  With its chilly evening air and earlier nightfall, the whole month just exudes coziness to me.  It’s time to invite some friends, light some candles, and pour some wine. 

For these types of gatherings, I like to serve casual, no fuss foods.  A beautiful cheese platter with a variety of items is that perfect food.   It’s one that you can arrange in advance, giving you more quality time to spend with your guests.  Why spend your evening hovering over a hot stove or secluded in the kitchen? 
Cheese is elegant and satisfying and is best served at room temperature, so it can remain on the buffet for the duration of your event. 

To build your cheese platter, start with a pretty plate, tray or cutting board.  Then choose your cheeses – four or five will do.  Try a goat cheese with herbs, Gouda or a Spanish Manchego, Camembert or a French Brie, a blue such as Roquefort, and a Cheddar.
Choosing cheeses from different countries also offers something fun to talk about while comparing flavors.

Of course these are just suggestions.  Don’t be afraid to experiment.  There is no wrong way to serve cheese.  If you don’t like a particular cheese, feel free to use one that you do.  A variety of flavors, textures and milk types is the key. 
You could also create a theme platter with cheeses from one geographical area such as Italy, France or Wisconsin.  It may be helpful to label the cheeses as guests may not be familiar with all of the varieties on the plate. 

Building a Cheese Platter
Arrange the cheeses toward the corners of your platter, and then fill in the spaces between with some of the following accoutrements.

Cured meats
– salami, prosciutto, pepperoni

Dried or fresh fruits
to add sweetness and complement the cheeses - dates, red grapes, figs, sliced apples and pears

– a mixture of your favorites or stuffed varieties will do
Add something crunchy for texture and contrast to the cheese – almonds, pecans or spiced pumpkin seeds

Crusty breads and crackers – water crackers, baguettes and specialty breads are the perfect vehicle to move the cheese
Garnish your plate with what’s in season – fresh herbs, leaves or edible berries

Serve your cheese at room temperature – let it stand for approximately 30 minutes to an hour
Remember - you can do no wrong.  Just think flavor, texture and variety.   And don’t forget the wine!

Have a great week!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Ghost Story

Do you believe in ghosts?  

I don’t think artist Georgia O’Keeffe did, or at least she wasn’t bothered by them while spending a good portion of her life at Ghost Ranch.  Located in the north central region of New Mexico, just outside of Abiquiu, Ghost Ranch is where O’Keeffe would travel from New York every year for rejuvenation and transformation as well as to paint many of her famous pieces of the area’s landscape.  

She referred to Ghost Ranch as the “best place in the world.”

I was able to experience what makes Ghost Ranch so mesmerizing just a couple of weeks ago while on vacation.  
My husband and I traveled about an hour from Santa Fe to spend the day at the ranch where we could hike and enjoy the incredible scenery. 

With its vivid red rocks vistas, cliffs and canyons, it was easy to see why Ghost Ranch’s 21,000 acres has served as inspiration for so many artistic endeavors including the photography of Ansel Adams and as the backdrop for many movies...
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,
City Slickers with Billy Crystal,
And the Lone Ranger starring Johnny Depp, just to name a few.

But why the name Ghost Ranch you ask?  Legend has it that long ago the canyon was inhabited by cattle rustlers.  Trying to hide their stolen goods from nosy neighbors, they started rumors that the canyon was haunted by evil spirits. 
The area became known as Rancho de los Brujos or Ranch of the Witches, later evolving into Ghost Ranch.

Our day trip to the ranch included a 3-mile round trip hike up to Chimney Rock, supposedly a hike suited for all levels of hikers. 
Not being used to the altitude and the heat of the sun, and yes, being a bit out of shape, I was rather overwhelmed for the first half of the trip up. 

Did I see or feel any ghosts along the way?  I did not; however, I did feel an incredible sense of peace and tranquility as we climbed toward the summit. 
Perhaps it was the spirituality of the land that I and many others have experienced that empowered me to make it to the top. 

Have a great week!

Monday, October 6, 2014

A Touch of Turquoise

I'm back, and I really missed you.  I was busy nurturing my inner Cowgirl while on vacation in the great American West.  But now I’m back in the Midwest just in time to celebrate the beginning of my favorite season.  

The leaves are turning, and we have pulled out our sweaters and boots in full force – it was downright chilly this past weekend. 
Alas, nothing will stop us Midwesterners from pumpkin picking, warm cider, and apple fritters. 


Having come straight from The Turquoise Trail in New Mexico, I wasn’t quite ready to let go of the beautiful hue of turquoise from my mood just yet...
...so I used it as inspiration for my fall tablescape.


I believe that turquoise is a magical color.  It’s strong and bold.  
It plays nicely with others but can stand on its own.  
It’s a calming color that can soothe your spirits and warm your soul. 
A Native American artist I know referred to it as “Medicine”.


To bring that peaceful feeling into my home, I’ve added a few touches of turquoise to my table.  
A richly toned vase filled with flowers,
Some vintage mason jars for candle holders,
And a ribbon of burlap through each place setting.


Ahhh, I’m feeling better already…..must be the medicine.


Have a great week!