Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Pause a Moment - Send a Card.

We are full speed ahead into the Christmas hustle and bustle.  Traffic is crazy.  Stores are busy.  People are rushing to finish their Christmas shopping. 

Tonight a friend posted a picture to Facebook and gave me a moment to pause and think, 'what a great idea'.  Upon checking, the original address was incorrect as Walter Reed Medical Center does not have the capability to properly screen the cards.  

This program is actually sponsored by the Red Cross and cards need to be postmarked by December 7 and mailed to:

Holiday Mail for Heros
P.O. Box 5456
Capitol Heights, MD  20791-5455

No glitter cards, must be signed but no return address or photos.

It really doesn't cost too much, just a postage stamp and a card.  So I am hoping that some of my Facebook friends, Twitter followers and blog readers take the opportunity to add one extra Christmas card to their lists.

Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays!!!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Another Thanksgiving Down...

Thanksgiving dinner was a raving culinary success this year.  All the holiday dinners ultimately turn out wonderful, but this year I really don't know what happened. Normally, on a typical holiday morning, there is complete chaos in my kitchen.  Because of my son's food allergies, I cook the entire meals myself.  Oh, the in-laws may bring over a pumpkin pie (for themselves), but appetizers, the main dinner and even desert is my job.  The menu is pretty much the same.

Appetizers around 1:30 include:

pickled peppers
shrimp in lemon, olive oil with spanish and black olives
My Grandmothers fritatta (omelet)  - recipe previously posted
Antipasto salad

Dinner around 5:00 includes:

Turkey with Gravy
Ham (this year's recipe - crock pot - is at the end of this post.)
Butternut Squash
Sweet Potatos/Yams
Green Bean Cassarole
Cranberry Sauce


Pumpkin Pie
Apple Crisp Pie - recipe previously posted

But this year, things went smoothly - too smoothly.  In fact I posted the following status on my Facebook page at 11:30 am Thanksgiving morning...

"I'm very afraid...every year Thanksgiving dinner turns out wonderful, however there are several hours of chaos prior to the actual meal. Today things are going eerily smoothly. Hope there are no surprises later!!"

And at 12:00, I got my surprise.  My in-laws pulled a stunt with my husband and decided not to come.  So, my 22 pound turkey, 9 pound ham and all the fixings would be served to my husband, my two sons, my daughter and myself.    And, it was the best Thanksgiving we had ever had!  The food was fantastic, we made lemon drop martinis (recipe for that was also previously posted on my blog), and we watched movies all afternoon!  Don't worry, they got their leftovers, but for Thanksgiving dinner we were actually drama-free!

As I began the morning's preparations, I realized that I would not be able to fit both the turkey and ham in the oven.  I once tried a crock pot ham, but it had turned out dry, perhaps because it was a spiral ham.  As a matter of fact, I spoke with a girl in the butcher shop at the market who suggested to stay away from the spiral ham and recommended an inexpensive smoked ham.  I googled crock pot ham and found a recipe with mixed reviews.  They were mostly high ratings, but one gave me pause.  It was not rated highly as the person used a smoked ham and said it turned brown.  I decided to proceed anyway.  The recipe called for the  ham and brown sugar, but I also used 1/2 can of crushed pineapple.  Pretty simple!

I spread a generous layer of brown sugar on the bottom of the crockpot and put the ham, cut side down on the brown sugar.  I spooned out about 1/2 of a large can of crushed pineapple over the top of the ham and then with a plastic glove, I pressed several handfuls of brown sugar onto the sides of the ham.

The recipe called for 8-9 pound ham and stated to cook for 8 hours on low.  My crockpot runs hot, so I decided on 6 hours.  When I noticed the liquid boiling after about 3-4 hours, I lowered to warm for about an hour and when it stopped boiling for a bit, I put back on low.  

We took the ham out of the crockpot when time to serve and it was brown on the cut side, but only for one slice.  The ham wound up being the juiciest, most succulent ham we had ever had.  

I had tried a spiral ham several years ago in the crock pot and it had dried out, but this was fantastic.  Have you tried ham in a crock pot?  I know I will never make an oven ham again!!

Friday, November 16, 2012


Tis the season... 

The holidays are upon us in full force.  Grocery stores are stocked up with fresh and frozen turkeys, hams, and all the fixings.  Department stores already have their Christmas trees lit and decorated with aisles full of wrapping paper, gift bags, and hundreds of decorations.  One of the local radio stations has switched to 24 hour a day Christmas music.  My tradition has always been to begin the Christmas season after Thanksgiving.  The day after Thanksgiving to be exact.  

Up until about 15 years ago, I never cooked Thanksgiving dinner, we had always gone over to my sister's house.  However, once I married my husband, I began taking over the holiday cooking for my in-laws due to my mother-in-law's declining health.  I would cook Thanksgiving dinner for the in-laws and then my husband and I would have desert with my family at my sister's home.  Keeping full control of the holiday cooking became a necessity during the past decade due to my sons' food allergies.   I could not take the risk of a dangerous ingredient migrating into a dish that someone else prepared.

We've lost some family members over the past 10 years.  My mother-in-law's two sisters have died, her nephew would rather spend Thanksgiving with his friends and not the family, and my brother-in-law's girlfriend goes with her family.  On my side, my father passed away 9 years ago.  With his passing, my own family's dysfunctional natures fully manifested, causing some insurmountable rifts and hurtful betrayals.  We no longer go to my sister's house for desert. 

In spite of the family dynamic changes, I do have so much to be thankful for.  My husband, children and I are blessed with good health.  We love each other and have a strong nuclear family.  We have a comfortable home.  My in-laws have always been there for us, in spite of the health challenges they face daily.  I have wonderful friends that treat my sons as part of their families.  My daughter has grown into a beautiful, self-sufficient, hard-working young woman.  My sons are thriving in school and love to learn.  

So this week, I prepare for our Thanksgiving feast which will consist of my grandmother's frittata (recipe below), antipasto, turkey, ham, baked yams, butternut squash, stuffing, cranberry sauce, gravy, apple crisp pie and pumpkin pie.  

My grandmother (on my father's side) made a frittata, or omelet, as we used to call it, for Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Before she died, many many years ago, she gave me the recipe and I have been making this for over 20 years.  It is not a cholesterol friendly or low calorie dish, however it is delicious.  I guess a little piece once of twice a year won't necessarily kill us!

My Grandmother's Italian Omelet


Pepperoni - 1 stick  (cubed)
Sausage (I used garlic & cheese flavored) - 1 pound (cooked and cubed - I grill  it to get as much fat out as possible)
1/2 pound of thick sliced ham cubed (about 2-3 slices)
1/2 lb Ricotta cheese
4 tablespoons parmesan or romano grated cheese
ground pepper to taste
1 dozen large eggs
2/3 cup water
chopped parsley to taste

Preheat the oven at 375 degrees, with the cast iron skillet**  preheating as well.  Generously grease pan with oil prior to preheating.  You should see a little oil freely sliding around in the pan. (I use canola oil.  My grandmother used to use shortening!)

**While this can be cooked in a large baking dish, it tastes so much better cooked in a large cast iron skillet.  Make sure the skillet is properly seasoned by coating generously with oil, place it in a 350 degree oven for an hour.  1/2 way through, turn pan over on a large enough pizza sheet or cooking sheet to catch the oil as it bakes into the pan.  Also, be sure to use potholders and caution, as the cast iron gets terribly hot.  Let it cool for several hours and wipe down with clean paper towel - do not wash with soap.  Season at least a day before making the omelet.  

Placed cooked and cut up sausage, cubed ham and pepperoni in a large bowl.  Add the ricotta cheese, grated cheese, ground pepper and chopped parsley.  Mix well.  

In another bowl, beat the eggs with the water.  Once beaten, add the egg mixture to the meats and cheeses.  Mix all together.  Pour into the preheated cast iron skillet or baking dish.  

Bake approximately 35-45 minutes or until the center is set.

If using the cast iron skillet, place a serving dish on top of the pan and flip omelet out of the pan while it is hot to prevent it from setting and sticking to the bottom of the skillet - 


I wish you all and your families a very Happy Thanksgiving and a safe, happy and fun Holiday Season!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Be Diligent. Be Careful. Food Allergies are Dangerous.

Living with my sons' food allergies has been a daily challenge for the past 11 years in my household.  We carry epipens, have blood tests and allergy scratch tests every couple of years.  I spend hours at the grocery store each week, studying labels, even calling companies just to verify an ingredient or lack of one if there is any question whatsoever.  My sons NEVER eat out.  I have prepared virtually every meal they have ever eaten since they were born and suffice it to say, feeding my sons has become a routine, an everyday thing, without much thought.  I admit I have recently been lax with carrying epipens during mundane, daily errands.   

We know a few people here and there that are allergic to foods, mostly peanuts.  As a matter of fact, my sister-in-law's brother who lives in Milan, Italy has lived with food allergies most of his life.  I'm not sure what exactly he is allergic to but I believe it may be nuts.  He is younger than my sister-in-law which puts him in his early to mid 40's.  Last week he died from anaphylactic shock.  He evidently ate something that caused his throat to swell, called for help, but help arrived too late.

This was a shock to me.  But it was also a reminder as to how severe the consequences of these allergies can be.  Some people still think that you can just take some Benedryl or other antihistamine and that solves the problem.  But no, the reality is, you can die. 

Those of us struggling to deal with food allergies must always be diligent.  Make sure epipens are current and not expired and always make sure to carry them with you, even when just going out on a quick errand to the store.  Continue to read labels on every product purchased, as companies frequently change ingredients or process products in plants where other allergens are present.  An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.