Saturday, December 24, 2016

Cinnamon French Toast for a Crowd

I wasn’t going to post this weekend, but I just couldn’t pass on the opportunity to share one last dish for your Christmas brunch buffet. Think of it as a public service announcement – it’s so good. This Cinnamon French Toast Casserole is easy to prepare – make it the night before and pop it in the oven in the morning – and it’s always a hit with kids and adults alike. More importantly, I wish you and your family a very joyous, safe and the happiest of holidays. Enjoy!

Cinnamon French Toast Casserole
Serves 9

1 16 oz. loaf cinnamon swirl bread, cubed
6 eggs
1 ¾ cups milk
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ cup unsalted butter
½ cup brown sugar
¼ cup chopped pecans
Maple syrup

Coat a 9" x 13" baking dish with cooking spray, and add the bread cubes.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, cinnamon, vanilla, cloves, nutmeg and salt.  Pour the mixture over the cubed bread, pressing the bread down gently so it absorbs the egg mixture.

In a small saucepan, melt butter and whisk in brown sugar until melted.  Add in pecans and pour over bread. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

A Journey Through the Holidays

Yesterday someone asked me if I had all my holiday stuff wrapped up. My first thought was to reply, “Huh? I have a million things to do over the next 10 days – wrapping, food preparation, straightening the house, holiday parties, never ending grocery runs – you name it.” But instead, I smiled and replied, “I look at this time of year as more of a journey.”

A journey that seems to begin earlier each year. 

From that first Christmas card written and mailed to the packing away of the tree and trimmings, it’s not over till it’s over.

Don’t misunderstand me. I love this season. Really. But it is tiring – I’m sure you can agree. 

It's just that some days I feel as if I need a giant organizational flow chart on the wall to pull it all off.

So why do we bother?

Because we are givers and love to see the joy these tasks bring to our friends and loved ones.

So, here’s to joyous pre-holiday preparations, a very Merry Christmas, a festive New Year’s Eve, and a well-deserved nap.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Cranberry Muffins with Orange Crumble Topping

Whether you'll be hosting a holiday brunch buffet for a crowd or cooking up a Christmas breakfast for your family, make it easy on yourself and whip up a batch or several batches of these scrumptious sweet and tart muffins a week or so ahead of time. Freeze them now, thaw them the morning you need them, and then set them on the buffet. Easy. Peasy.

Cranberry Muffins with Orange Crumble Topping
Makes 1 dozen
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
2 large eggs
½ cup butter, melted and cooled
½ cup milk
½ cup sour cream

¼ cup sugar
¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons grated orange zest
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon butter, melted

Heat oven to 400 F. Grease and sugar a 12-cup muffin pan; set aside.

Prepare topping. In a small bowl, combine sugar, flour, orange zest and cinnamon. Add melted butter, stirring until crumbly. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add cranberries, stirring to combine.

In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs, butter, milk and sour cream. Add egg mixture to flour mixture, stirring just until dry ingredients are moistened. (Batter will be lumpy; do not over mix.) Evenly divide batter among muffin cups. Evenly divide topping over the batter. Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan for 10 minutes. (Recipe adapted from Christmas Cottage 2011)


Monday, November 28, 2016

Cooking for a Cause

I finally got it, and I only had to drive 1,250 miles to the nearest Cavender’s Boot City in Amarillo, Texas to get it. Lucky for me that drive also came with a much-needed vacation in New Mexico.

As the Spur Stirs - The Art of Bringing A Western Family, Friends and Food Together, by Jacqueline Cavender, is a beautiful cookbook featuring recipes from Cavender’s family, friends and friends of friends. 

Twenty years in the making, this cookbook was a labor of love for Cavender, an idea she dreamed about while spending time with her mother who was battling cancer.

This book is not only packed with delicious recipes for all occasions, it was created to help those affected by cancer or cystic fibrosis as proceeds from its sales are donated to the American Cancer Society and Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

As the Spur Stirs is loaded with great ideas for entertaining. 

This Baked Pizza Dip is just one of many quick and fabulous appetizers in the book that’s perfect for holiday parties, the rest of football season, or a New Year’s Eve celebration.

Baked Pizza Dip
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
14-ounce can pizza sauce
4-6 green onions, chopped
1 ½ cups shredded mozzarella cheese
2 small cans sliced black olives
Chopped pepperoni

Layer the cream cheese, pizza sauce, green onions, mozzarella cheese, olives, (I added fresh mushrooms) and pepperoni in a pie plate. 

Bake at 325 F for 25 minutes. Serve with slices of crusty bread.

P.S. the boots at Cavender’s are pretty fabulous too!

Monday, November 21, 2016

Get the Party Started - Holiday Hors d'oeuvres

The gathering season is upon us, and chances are you’ll be hosting a get-together or two over the holidays. The following hors d’oeuvres are substantial enough that your guests will feel satisfied but not overly full. Pair them with an assortment of cheeses and some colorful veggies and you’ll have a meal that’s just right. Happy hosting!

Sausage Polenta Rounds

Meatless Stuffed Mushrooms

Each time my Mom serves these hearty hors d’oeuvres, she is asked what type of meat is in them. Surprisingly none! 

Instead of discarding the mushroom stems, they are diced and mixed with spices to create a savory filling. Makes 6 appetizers.

Meatless Stuffed Mushrooms

6 large white mushrooms
2 tablespoons butter
¼ cup onion, diced
½ teaspoon minced garlic
Salt to taste
Italian bread crumbs
Parmesan cheese, shaved

Snap off the stems of the mushrooms. Set aside. With a teaspoon scoop out a bit of the mushroom cap to create a larger hole for the stuffing. Dice the stems and extra mushroom scooped from the cap.

In a frying pan, melt butter. Sauté onions until they begin to soften. Add garlic, salt and diced mushroom pieces and sauté until soft. Add bread crumbs and heat until mixture thickens. 

Fill each mushroom cap with stuffing. Top with Parmesan cheese shavings. Bake at 425 F for 20-25 minutes or until mushrooms are soft and cheese forms a crust.

Tangy Cranberry Meatballs

This recipe has been in my family for years.  I can remember my grandmother rolling hundreds of these scrumptious little meatballs for her parties. Just a warning – they go fast! Makes approximately 4 dozen meatballs.

Tangy Cranberry Meatballs

3 pounds lean ground beef
2 eggs
1 cup unseasoned bread crumbs
Salt and pepper to taste
3 tablespoons chopped parsley

12-ounce jar Heinz Chili Sauce
14 ounce can jellied cranberry sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
Squeeze of a lemon

In a large bowl, combine meatball ingredients. Roll into 1 inch balls. Bake at 350 F for 15 minutes or until no longer pink. Drain on paper towels.

In a saucepan, combine sauce ingredients and cook over medium heat, stirring to break up cranberry sauce. Add meatballs and simmer 30 minutes.

Sausage Polenta Rounds
I was excited to find pre-cooked polenta at a local grocer, it sped up the process considerably. Also, feel free to spice things up a bit by using sweet, mild or hot Italian sausage.

Sausage Polenta Rounds

¾ pound bulk Italian sausage
1 cup marinara sauce
24-ounce tube pre-cooked polenta
Olive oil for frying
Grated Parmesan cheese
Fresh basil for garnish

Heat oven to 350 F. In a frying pan, cook sausage until no longer pink. Stir in marinara sauce. Set aside.

Slice polenta into ½ inch thick rounds. With a spoon, gently scoop out a bit of polenta from the center of each round, creating a shallow well. In a frying pan, heat 2 tablespoons of oil and cook polenta rounds a few minutes per side, in batches of 5-6.

Transfer polenta rounds to a baking sheet. Fill wells with 1 tablespoon of sausage mixture. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Bake for 10 minutes or until polenta is slightly brown and cheese has melted. Garnish with basil leaves.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Wonderment and mystique abound at The Raven

For Kateryna VanHeisch the dream of opening her own home décor store was realized when she established The Raven back in 2002. The fine consignments shop, located at 1225 Cerrillos Road in Santa Fe, NM, specializes in antiques, vintage, and new home furnishings and accessories.  

A pair of saints and crystal chandeliers hang peacefully over a bed at The Raven.

Just one step into The Raven gives you a feeling that you’ve stepped into another time or a far-away land, appropriately so as VanHeisch travels the world to hunt for one-of-a-kind and rare treasures to add to her shop’s collection. 

Rustic lanterns cast a serene glow around the shop.

As my husband and I meandered through the store, we both agreed that we felt a certain spiritual aura around us as if each piece was begging us to ask for its story.


The statue is a copy of Michelangelo's Moses in cast iron.

When VanHeisch opened her first store, she only had about 1,000 square feet to work with. “It was very crowded,” she laughed. 

Her current location is 11,000 square feet and is layered from floor to ceiling with upholstery, light fixtures, rugs, wall hangings, candles, furniture and garden accoutrements including urns and statues.

A French field cross sits among urns and garden decor. 

Two years ago, VanHeisch rebranded her shop from Recollections, its original identity when she acquired it, to The Raven. “I wanted a name that was more unique and more me,” she said. 

A 19th century plaster Virgin Mary watches over the French corner in the shop.

The new name also reflects her love of animals which is evident inside the shop where an assortment of birds flutter about in a mammoth vintage metal bird cage. 

Outside the shop, neighborhood pigeons feast on seeds that VanHeisch scatters around for them. “I refer to them as my flock,” she said. “I’m also a fan of Edgar Allan Poe and the name evokes a sense of mystery to me.”

Kateryna VanHeisch (seated) and her team at The Raven from left: Rachel Stephens,
 India Hearne and Caroline Adams.  

It truly is the mystery that sets this shop apart from any other I’ve ever seen. 

For more photos and a glimpse into the magical world of The Raven,visit

A decommissioned candelabra from a church.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Black and White Bean Chicken Chili

It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood! Fall has really kicked into high gear, and I’m taking every opportunity I can get to head outdoors and walk in the crisp, fresh air. I’m also starting to transition into making more cozy meals like soups, stews and chili.

It seems like it’s always a few weeks before Halloween when I start craving a steaming bowl of chili and a cozy fireplace. 

A few years ago, I whipped up a batch of this Black and White Bean Chicken Chili for a community chili cook off. And low and behold, it was voted the People’s Choice! For real…

Black and White Bean Chicken Chili   
Serves 6
2 cups cooked chicken, diced or shredded
1 small onion, diced
Salt to taste
2-3 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground chipotle chile powder
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 cups chicken stock
15-ounce can black beans, drain most of liquid
15-ounce can cannellini beans, drain most of liquid
11-ounce can whole kernel corn, drained
6-ounce can tomato paste
Monterey Jack cheese
Fresh cilantro for garnish

In a large pot, combine chicken, onion, spices and chicken stock. Cook over medium heat for 10 minutes. Add beans, corn and tomato paste. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes or until thickened. Garnish with Monterey Jack cheese and chopped cilantro.


Tuesday, September 27, 2016

A Natural Transition

There’s a definite nip in the air, and it arrived just in time for the first week of fall. I’m betting that it won’t even reach 70 degrees today, but that’s okay. It’s been a hot and humid summer, and I’m ready for open windows, cozy sweaters and cowboy boots!

Over the past years, I’ve used many color combinations in my fall decorating – pumpkin and eggplant, pumpkin and sage, and my favorite pumpkin and turquoise. While I love rich color, I decided to go with a more natural or tone-on-tone combo this year. 

The great thing about this palate is that it can be used in any style of home - traditional, contemporary, country, and of course, farmhouse. Here is how I incorporated the tone-on-tone look into my home.

Texture plays a key role in my tablescape. A combination of linen, rattan, metals, and natural elements provides richness to the space.

Golden preserved leaves and amber glassware provide a subtle pop of color.

A birch bark pumpkin, embellished with pinecones, leaves and acorns, takes center stage on the dining table while resting atop an oversized sea grass charger.

A touch of whimsy is brought in with miniature ceramic owl salt and pepper shakers.

Napkin rings created from vintage metal buttons bring a sense of nostalgia to the table.

On the buffet, a chipped, concrete urn corrals white and green pumpkins and gourds.

Stacked single-hued dishes topped with white pumpkins add dramatic appeal.

Mini cotton topiaries provide natural texture while flanking each end of the dining table.

A simple white bowl is adorned with colorful mini pumpkins and natural Spanish moss.

Hope you enjoyed the tour. Happy fall!  

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Italian Zucchini Gondolas

Zucchini are cropping up all over these days at farmers markets, roadside stands, and in your neighbor’s garden, which if you are lucky, you may have been a recipient of some. But now what? What do we do with of this beautiful summer squash? The answer is simple, just think beyond the bread, zucchini bread that is.

Italian Zucchini Gondolas

Zucchini are super versatile fruits that can be used in sweet or savory dishes. And they are low in calories, high in vitamin C and have more potassium than bananas. 

Here is a recipe that I came up with to help use up these late-summer bloomers.

A few varieties of zucchini are available at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market.

Italian Zucchini Gondolas
Enjoy a taste of Italy without all of the carbs. This dish can be prepared using mild, hot, or sweet Italian sausage or low-fat turkey sausage. Serves 2 as a main dish or 4 as a side dish. 

2 links Italian sausage or turkey sausage, casings removed
1 cup of marinara sauce
½ cup diced onion
2 medium zucchini
Olive oil for brushing
1 cup Italian blend shredded cheese
1 cup tomatoes, diced
Fresh basil 

In a skillet, break up and brown sausage and onion until sausage is no longer pink. Drain. Stir in marinara sauce.

Slice zucchini in half lengthwise. With a spoon, scrape out the seeds, creating a well for the filling. Brush both sides of zucchini with olive oil. Spoon ¼ of sausage mixture into each half of zucchini. 

Bake covered at 400 F for 20-25 minutes or until soft. Top with cheese, tomatoes and basil and bake uncovered for 5 more minutes.


Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Fast Forward

In the newspaper and magazine world, working on articles and features ahead of the current calendar month just comes with the territory. Due to print and distribution deadlines, I'm currently working on pieces for October and November, and I'm already planning what I'm doing for December.

Pumpkins fill a rustic, handmade wooden box found at The Butter Barn.

Don't misunderstand me, it's always great to be ahead of the game, but sometimes it can get a little confusing in the real world. It is still August, right?

This gorgeous twig and wheat wreath anchoring the other end of my mantel was found at HomeGoods.

With that said, can anyone blame me for the pre Labor Day fall decorating mode that I fell into this past weekend?

A tad early for Jack, but he pulls his weight on the other side of the mantel.

Oftentimes, I feel that my internal clock is set to fast forward. 

For example, it's still 88 degrees and muggy as heck, but  I'm dreaming of pumpkins and cozy sweaters and fireplace evenings and soup.

Fall napkin rings in the works. 

Soup? Well, maybe not soup. But definitely chili.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

It's Chile in the Air

Red, Green, or Christmas? For those not familiar with this question, it’s commonly asked at restaurants throughout New Mexico and refers to your choice of chile. Red chile, green chile or both aka Christmas. Now that we have that straight, you also should know that the chile harvest season is in full swing in New Mexico. But just because we are halfway across the country, doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate these delectable fruits here in the Midwest.

Chiles are available in many varieties and degrees of hotness – mild, medium, hot and hotter. 

Roasting them brings out the depth of their flavor but can also tame some of their heat, resulting in a smoky, bold-flavored food to use in sauces, stews, casseroles, or simply as a topping for cheeseburgers, breakfast burritos, pizza, and so on. 

The sky's the limit.

The below recipe for Green Chile Chicken Casserole was one of my very first blog posts. 

If you look way back, you will see that I was just a beginner in the photo and layout department. So here is an updated post with a few tweaks to my original recipe.

If you have difficulty locating fresh chiles around these parts, you can substitute canned chiles which are available at most grocery stores. 

Or, place an order at and roast your own.

Green Chile Chicken Casserole

The green chiles are the star of this warm and cheesy dish, which can easily be doubled or tripled to feed a crowd. Sprinkle it with diced tomatoes, black olives or cilantro and top with a dollop of sour cream. Serves 4-6.

2 cups cooked chicken, shredded or diced
⅓ cup roasted green chiles, seeded and chopped
10 ½ ounce can cream of chicken soup
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon chili powder
⅛ teaspoon black pepper
½ cup milk
1 ½ cups shredded Mexican cheeses
Eight 6-inch corn tortillas, torn into 5-6 pieces each

In a medium bowl, combine chicken, chiles, soup, spices, milk and 1 cup of cheese.
Spray a 2-quart baking dish with cooking spray. 

Spread ⅓ of the tortillas over the bottom. Top with ⅓ of chicken mixture. Repeat then repeat again. Top with remaining ½ cup of cheese.

Bake at 350 F for 30 minutes or until brown and bubbly.


Tuesday, August 2, 2016

An All-American Finale

The school bus will be headed around the corner soon, but don't give up on summer just yet. There's still plenty of August to go, and then there's September. Give summer the end-of-season finale it deserves by celebrating with All-American style.

Show your patriotism this Labor Day with red, white and blue decor. Arrange colorful fresh flowers in a woven basket, and add a bit of bling with sparkly star picks.

Try this easy as pie, or easier than pie, Cherry Balsamic Galette. It will surly bring smiles to those who are lucky enough to get a slice. Don't forget to top it with a scoop of creamy, vanilla ice cream.

Cherry Balsamic Galette
1 refrigerated pie crust, room temperature
1 ½ pounds tart cherries, pitted and halved
3 tablespoons flour
⅓ cup sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ tablespoons balsamic vinegar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg
Coarse sugar for sprinkling

Heat oven to 375 F. On a parchment lined baking sheet, unroll pie crust. Set aside. In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar and salt. Add cherries and stir to combine. 
In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar and vanilla. Pour over cherry mixture and combine.
On a parchment lined baking sheet, unroll pie crust. Add cherry mixture to the center, leaving a two-inch border around the edge. 
Fold edge up and over the filling, creating pleats all around. 
Whisk egg with 1 tablespoon of water and brush onto crust. Sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 40-50 minutes or until crust is golden brown. (Recipe from Jennifer Ruple)

Decorate some mason jars with pre-printed burlap ribbon, wrap some jute, or garden twine, around the top, and then garnish with little star stickers. 

Use them to hold silverware, straws or sparklers.

Remember to enjoy the sun, warmth and greenery, and hang on to summer as long as you can!