Weekly Menu: December 23-29, 2012
Sunday: Taco Night (DIY)
Monday: Christmas Eve Fondue!
Tuesday: Christmas Dinner at Top of the Mark
Wednesday: Leftovers: Tacos
Thursday: Tortellini Soup
Friday: Christmas with family in Sacramento
Saturday: In Sacramento
The holidays are here, the holidays are here! I absolutely love this time of year...so festive and fun, especially since we don't do any traveling and just stay local. San Francisco pretty much empties out during the holidays so it always feels like we have our super festive city all to ourselves! All the time of work doesn't hurt either.

So what are we eating this week?  Well I find that this time of year starts to get a bit heavy with all of the classic, American holiday comfort food so we're breaking things up a bit by starting the week off with a Mexican taco night. Nice and easy but delicious. Then it's time to jump right into one of our favorite holiday traditions...Christmas Eve Fondue Dinner!

We do all three courses...cheese, meat/veggies in broth and chocolate. It's a nice, long, luxurious meal that is perfectly conducive to good conversation with good friends. This year we're having 3 friends who are also in town for the holidays over to join us...but even when it's just the two of us it makes for a very festive and romantic Christmas Eve.
Chocolate Peppermint Bark Cookies

Over the past three years, these cookies have come to mean Christmas to me. Their soft, cake-like texture. Their not-to-sweet chocolate depth. Their perfectly peppermint-y bite. Tastes like Christmas...so much so that I've already made three batches this year!

I first discovered this recipe a few years ago when researching new cookie recipes for my annual cookie party. I'm not typically a big peppermint fan but come Christmas time I all of a sudden can't get enough peppermint bark candy or peppermint stick ice cream. So I was looking for a way to incorporate this strange seasonal craving into my cookie party and stumbled upon this recipe on a blog called 101 Cookbooks.

Since this recipe makes quite a few cookies, feel free to also freeze half of the dough (or even double the recipe and freeze a full batch) so you have it on hand for when guests stop by unexpectedly during the holiday season. Once you have the dough all lined up on the cookie sheets ready to go in the oven, simply pop the cookie sheet in the freezer instead and once the cookie dough balls are fully frozen you can then put them all in a freezer storage bag. Pop right from the freezer to the oven when you're ready to make them...they might need an extra 1-2 minutes in the oven, but no need to thaw first. Will make your house smell divine while they're cooking, which is nice when guests are visiting as well!

The recipe below is almost identical to the 101 Cookbooks original that I first made years ago, but I've adapted it slightly over the years:

Gløgg – Mulled Wine for the Holidays!
Gløgg, or hot spiced wine, is the taste of Christmas in the Henricksen household. It's warmth as we sip it and its spicy-citrus aroma filling the house can only mean one thing...Christmas is right around the corner! While Christian didn't grow up with Gløgg, he is of Scandinavian descent so he's our Gløgg maker and has been for the past 7 years. He's gotten so confident in his Gløgg making abilities that he doesn't even use a recipe anymore...but his general approach, which is delicious, is as follows:
Holiday Cookie Party!

The Henricksen Holiday Cookie Party is a long-standing, fabulous tradition. Christian's mom has been hosting her own holiday cookie party since the mid-90s and I was introduced to it back in 2002 when I started dating Christian.  I thought it was such a fun idea and Christian loves cookies so much that we decided to continue with the tradition for our own little family of friends. It's a fantastic way to gather friends together, sample a dazzling array of cookies and imbibe in festive drinks while listening to the Carpenters croon Christmas carols. Be forewarned though, it's a party that almost guarantees a sugar hangover!


So, what's on the menu?  You'll be happy to see it's super easy and low key!

  • Cookies of course...some of your own and a batch from every group of guests!
  • A savory table with decadent cheese & charcuterie platters along with all of the requisite accompaniments such as nuts, olives, figs, etc...
  • A crudité platter
  • Homemade Gløgg (mulled wine)
  • Warm spiked apple cider with homemade whipped cream

But first, let's talk about the cookies.  This is a cookie pot luck, if you will.  So I usually bake 3 cookies and guests are required to bring 1 dish of cookies of their own as well.  It's fun because you often get a peek into their family traditions or discover a fabulous new cookie for your own repertoire. Since we've been doing this for so many years and have many repeat guests, our party tends to get a bit competitive...those who show up with store-bought cookies are ridiculed a bit :)

A Photo Journey through Thanksgiving 2012

I know Thanksgiving is over and everyone is ready to move onto the next big holiday, but with the week of Thanksgiving being my favorite cooking week of the year I thought it was worthy of a couple more blog posts.  This one is simply a nice visual journey through all of the dishes I made this year with some descriptions.

Next week I'll highlight the recipe for Cranberry Pepper Jelly that I make every year. It is fantastic on sandwiches, baked brie, with cream cheese and crackers, etc...  So while most have already made their one turkey of the year there are still plenty of opportunities to enjoy the spicy-sweet deliciousness all year long.

So let's start the photo journey with that one...Cranberry Pepper Jelly. This is almost always the first thing I make, the weekend before Thanksgiving, since it has a 3-6 week shelf life in the refrigerator. I've honestly never liked anything other than canned cranberry sauce (I know, blasphemous!) until I discovered this recipe. Now I'm totally hooked on it's spicy-sweet combination and for the first time ever didn't even touch my canned cranberry sauce this year!

The next thing I make the weekend before the holiday is homemade turkey stock as a base for my gravy. If you don't want to do this you can always use store-bought chicken or turkey stock, but I find that making your own makes a big difference in the gravy and it's honestly very easy. If you're like me, this also means you get a little extra Turkey meat for your leftover soup as well since I refuse to throw away all of the meat on the turkey wings after making the stock.  Just pick it all off and freeze it until your ready to make your soup or other Thanksgiving leftovers.

A couple of days before Thanksgiving I start brining the turkey and prepping all of the veggies that will hold for a day or two.

I find that nothing makes for a juicy turkey like brining it for 2 days in advance...not frying it, not starting it cooking upside down, nothing. I also slather it in herb butter (both on top and under the skin), so that doesn't hurt! My favorite brine that I have found over the years is a beer brine...I use Newcastle which makes this turkey a bit of an expensive date, but trust me your guests will be singing your praises. And we all know that's hard praise to get with so many bad, dry turkey experiences from Thanksgivings past! Make sure the brine is completely covering your turkey...sometimes you have to get a bit crafty with pressure on the bag in certain spots to make this happen.

It's also important to have a great carver on hand day-of so that you can plate your turkey in a beautiful and appetizing way...my husband is a pro at this by now, so I'm lucky here as you can see below.

Weekly Menu: November 18-24, 2012
Sunday: Leftovers: Shrimp & Grits
Monday: Grilled Salmon with Roasted Rapini & Tomatoes
Tuesday: Eat Out
Wednesday:    Leftovers: Frozen Mixed Bean Soup
Friday: Leftovers: Thanksgiving seconds!
Saturday: Eat Out
My favorite cooking week of the year is here! If you've already checked out my Thanksgiving Menu that I posted last week you know that I plan ahead and spread out my cooking over the entire week before. Makes the big day much more enjoyable so I can focus on my friends, family and football. So that means we'll be keeping the cooking for our other dinners this week pretty simple. Leftovers from both last week's menu and soup from the freezer that we cooked a while back and of course those wildly sought after Thanksgiving leftovers.

A SavoryGirl Thanksgiving, 2012

I love Thanksgiving...good friends, family, food, football and fun.  What's not to love? To be honest, though, I didn't always love it...when I was a kid it seemed kind of silly to me how my mom slaved away all day just for one meal. But ever since I've been the cook I totally get it. Yes it can be a lot of work but it's the work of love. All that effort is worth it for the "ooohs and aaaahs" when you walk in with the Turkey. Or watching your husband's face as he takes that first bite of your famous Sweet Potatoes that he loves so much but only gets this one day a year. Personally, I also love the strategy and planning that Thanksgiving takes...and that's the key to actually enjoying this holiday as host. So not only am I sharing my menu, but I am also sharing my detailed cooking and timing plan to get it all done and downloadable shopping lists. That's right, time to start enjoying your own Thanksgiving party!

You all know by now that I love to cook and hopefully you agree that I am a pretty good judge of recipes as well...therefore I can almost guarantee that my menu below is going to be delicious. I've been hosting large Thanksgiving dinners for years now and I can proudly say I haven't had a dud yet (knocking on wood as I type!). Some of the dishes below are old favorites but many are new.  Since I have a bit of a smaller crowd this year I'm keeping appetizers more simple than usual (and yes one leans Mexican!) but otherwise this year's menu is pretty typical of a SavoryGirl Thanksgiving. You can also check out my previous SavoryGirl Thanksgiving Menu, if the one below doesn't suit your fancy.

Last year the Pancetta Crisps, Succotash, Kale Salad and Cranberry-Pepper Jelly were big hits out of the new additions...one of which is making a repeat performance this year along with the turkey brine recipe and my ever-present sweet potatoes.

Keeping it Simple for the 4th…

The Fourth of July has been one of my favorite holidays for as long as I can remember...but the funny thing is that it's one of the few holidays that I love that isn't all about the food for me.  Thanksgiving?  Definitely about the food.  Christmas Season? Cookie Party,  Fondue and Roast Beast. Easter?  A delicious brunch.  New Year's Eve?  Osso Bucco. New Year's Day? Black Eyed Peas.  You see, the thing that keeps me up the night before most holidays is child-like excitement over what I'm going to be cooking and/or eating the next day.  Of course it's about family and friends (and let's be honest...presents) as well but food always plays a central character on holidays for me and it has since I was a child.

The Fourth of July, however, was always a bit different.  I grew up having a big family picnic in a local park every Fourth of July...so it was the one holiday where my mom and I weren't cooking at home and weren't responsible for the entire meal.  Sure we'd make a few nice dishes to bring along but other members of the family chipped in too so it was casual, easy and really more about being in the park and hanging out with family that we really only saw on this one day a year.  Well, it was also about my Aunt Nixa's amazing Puerto Rican rice that she made every year...but I've yet to wrangle that recipe from her!

Weekly Menu: February 12-18, 2012
Sunday: French Chicken in Vinegar Sauce with with Pepper-Spiked Polenta
Monday: Slow Cooker Confetti Split Pea & Smoked Sausage Soup
Tuesday: Valentine's Day: Mussels South of Two Borders with salad, bread and chocolate-dipped strawberries
Wednesday: Leftovers: French Chicken
Thursday: Leftovers: Split Pea Soup
Friday: Eat Out
Saturday: Leftovers: frozen vegetarian cassoulet from last week
This French Chicken recipe is one of our all-time favorites...of course it doesn't hurt that it's served over creamy and delicious polenta either!  The key to making this chicken amazing is to use high quality aged basalmic vinegar.  It should be the thick and syrupy kind, not the thin watery kind we all grew up using.  Once you use the good stuff, you'll never go back, I promise!

We've been on a slow cooker kick lately since we've both been really busy...this week it's a split pea and smoky sausage soup. Christian doesn't love split pea soup, but I do...so I keep trying to find a recipe that he will fall in love with as well!  For Valentine's Day we like to keep it simple and intimate at home.  Last year we had a really nice dinner with tomato-cilantro mussels, salad, bread and chocolate dipped strawberries so to be honest we're just going to do the same thing again this year!  Switching it up to a new mussels recipe, but otherwise pretty much the same deal.  If it ain't broke, don't fix it, right?

We're finishing off the week by reaching into our freezer for some leftovers from last week.  Nice and simple but still homemade.  Just how we like it.  Happy Valentine's Day everyone....I hope you have a great day filled with laughter and love!
Chocolate Dipped Strawberries

Valentine's Day is right around the corner, which means you need some sweet treats to celebrate with your loved ones!  One of my favorites for the holiday is chocolate dipped strawberries.  Light but decadent and a rare enough to feel special...well at least we don't eat them very often, not sure how much chocolate dipped strawberry eating goes on in your house! Now, there are plenty of fancy and sophisticated recipes for chocolate dipped strawberries, but this is my DIY version.  Easy enough to make on short notice with ingredients we often have in the house.  Okay, so maybe not everyone tends to have a stash of chocolate chips on hand at all times, but we do for some reason.  He he!