Making Friendsgiving Extra Friendly

I'm all about family, but friends are the family you choose. And Friendsgiving (a Thanksgiving meal between friends) can be an ideal alternative if you're far from your hometown. For one, it's often not as fraught regarding politics, and the group gathers on their own volition, not familial obligation

Oftentimes, the host pulls from a wide variety of friends who are far from their families, ensuring that you'll meet some fresh faces. Another perk is that since this feast is already taking the non-traditional route, why not switch up the menu? I've always wanted to host an Indian-inspired Friendsgiving, with Tandoori turkey, aloo gobi to replace the mashed potatoes and cranberry chutney.

Traditionalists will not be pleased with me, but here it goes: turkey is tasty, but in my opinion, an overrated bird. Less juicy than chicken, less flavorful than duck. So why not switch up the theme altogether?

You could throw a soul food feast, with fried chicken, collard greens, cornbread and sweet potato pie. Or a Chesapeake-inspired seafood boil, with shrimp, corn, crab legs and cornbread. The possibilities are endless. Here are some other ways to make the occasion special:

  • Have everyone take tuns around the table to describe one thing they are thankful for. Oftentimes during the busy season, we're too busy or stressed to practice gratefulness. 
  • Add a signature scent to the dinner, and light candles around the home with seasonal notes, like pumpkin spice, cinnamon apple or orange clove.
  • Bring the outdoors in. Take a little hike around your neighborhood and find things of beauty: waxy, fresh-fallen leaves in yellow or red, pinecones or firethorn branches, dripping with orange or red berries. Run these along the center of your table
  • Create a leftover station ahead of time, with take-out containers decorated with a Friendsgiving-y theme, like a turkey or autumn leaves, with the words Thank you for being a friend. It's a thoughtful parting gift!

So remember, if you find yourself without plans this Thanksgiving, throw your own Friendsgiving! You likely aren't alone, and can gather a grateful little group you don't get to spend as much time with.

Happy holidays!

Richmond Chef Puts a Twist on on a Classic

If it were socially acceptable to eat an entire plate of mashed potatoes, that would be my Thanksgiving meal every year. But I'm an outlier, as the real crowd-pleaser seems to be the pie.

And when it comes to Thanksgiving dessert, people are split into two camps: pumpkin and apple. I always like a twist on a classic, and prefer pumpkin cheesecake to the actual pie. And I'm not alone. Richmond chef Christine Wansleben of Mise En Place also loves a good twist. Her go-to dessert recipe is  Sour Cream Apple Pie, a holiday favorite her family looks forward to every year. It's so delectable, she sometimes eats it for breakfast...with ice cream!  

Like any good cook, she has well-worn baking instructions. And to get us all into the holiday spirit, she's decided to share the recipe with us! Be prepared for a season of hosting by stocking up on these baking essentials from Ladles and Linens!

"It's made with ingredients you already have in your home, and just as good if you use a roll-out pie crust," Wansleben added. The timing couldn't be better - apples are in season. If you're looking forward to holiday baking, visit Mise En Place for  a Soul Food for the Holidays class on 11/22, Cocktail Party Favorites on 12/5, and more!

Fun Ideas for Halloween Candy Leftovers

When it comes to entertaining, it's always better to have too much  than too little. On Halloween, I'd hate to flick off the porch light and miss the kiddos just because I ran out of candy. This means leftover candy, and no complaints here!

I love Halloween candy bark. Always use dark chocolate or semi-sweet chocolate chips as the base, because the candy on top will elevate the sweetness. Simply melt dark chocolate or semi sweet chocolate chips in a double-boiler, a copper pot on low heat or crock pot. Use a spatula to empty and smooth out the melted chocolate onto a cookie tray. Once the surface is level, add in candy corn, M&Ms, candy bar pieces, and pretzels for a salty twist. Let it cool at room temperature, or in the refrigerator. Once it's cooled, break apart and share!

The holidays are right around the corner, so if you plan on baking, you can always press your leftover Hershey kisses into peanut butter cookies to make the holiday classic Peanut Butter Kiss cookies. Peanut fanatics can also swap out Hershey kisses for mini Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.

All you need is a glue gun and styrofoam wreath to make a candy wreath - a holiday or birthday present that will no doubt bring joy to any child (or adult) lucky enough to receive it. If you have an excess of Tootsie Rolls, the brown and orange color scheme make it a perfect autumn wreath to hang up every year. 

And if you still have leftovers, put some aside for a pinata at the next birthday party you throw. Make little baggies of treats and keep them in your car for when you come across someone in need. Halloween candy is always best when it's shared. 

Happy Halloween, from Ladles and Linens!

Anyone with an Instagram account could tell you that last weekend was Halloween party central. While I enjoyed the photos, I opted out. Ladles and Linens' own Sarah Nicholas had invited us out to a house on the bay for a little R&R, and we were in dire need of it.

Turns out I didn't miss the festivities after all, because Sarah brought the Halloween spirit to the bay house! The Ladles and Linens tagline is, "It's always a kitchen party, & everyone's invited!" This weekend, it could not be more evident that Sarah practices what she preaches. I've known good chefs and wonderful hosts, but Sarah makes me wonder if she doesn't skip sleep altogether. I don't know how she does it. 

Where to start? A chocolate skull cake with decadent peanut butter and cream cheese filling? Green mac & cheese and mummy hot dogs? How about the glow-in-the-dark skeleton PJs she bought for the children, including mine?

There was hot coffee every morning. A fully-stocked bar. Keeping with the fall theme, we filled up on her hearty pumpkin soup, with a Thai curry kick.

On a private beach, you can drink to your heart's content. And we did just that, with refreshing vodka cocktails. We kept the spooky theme, with flavors like Monster Mango and Poison Apple

We played Halloween Twister (below) and somehow, she found the time to make "dirt pudding" - chocolate pudding topped with chocolate cake crumbles (to resemble both mud and dirt) with gummy worms as earthworms. Disgustingly delectable!

There were scary movies to watch and spooky books to read. And during the day, there was salt air and warm sun. Readers, I wish you a very happy Halloween! And stay tuned, because next week, I'll share some great ideas on what you can do with your Halloween candy leftovers!

Halloween: Christmas for Creatives!

Halloween is Christmas for creatives. This time of year, I tend to be a little extra, as evidenced by the above photo. I must refrain from looking at Pinterest before bed, else falling down the rabbit hole until the sun comes up. Whether you're throwing a party or want to put a surprise in your kid's lunch, here are a few simple ideas to keep October festive!

Marshmallow spiders: This requires zero cooking, and minimal melting. Simply melt some chocolate, or white chocolate with food coloring, to make any color spiders you'd like. To avoid burning the chocolate, always go with a crock pot or double-boiler. Push pretzel sticks into the marshmallows to mimic legs, dip and swirl these marshmallows in the chocolate, and allow to dry on wax paper. While drying, you can create little eyes by painting a dot of chocolate on white chocolate chips or frosting. If you'd like, you can garnish the spiders with sprinkles.

Well this one is truly disgusting. To avoid gill lines, either boil your hot dogs or cook them in a cast iron skillet. Then peel away the skin on the top to mimic a fingernail, and use a paring knife to mark creases where the joints would be. 

Just when I thought things couldn't be more gross, the rabbit hole just got deeper. This sweet treat requires no cooking, and the flavors are so complimentary! Simply drain a can of lychees, stuff a blueberry in each, secure with a sword and drizzle in a bit of strawberry jam. On a beautiful serving platter, they will disgust and enchant. 

Now, pardon me while I attempt to finish my day without opening up my Pinterest app...again.

Soup Around the World

Finally the chill has setted in, and nothing warms you better than a bowl of soup. Everyone seems to have a good old-fashioned chicken noodle soup recipe, so I'm going global. 

I recommend making good soup in bulk, because a few good recipes can last you through the winter. Simply pour into gallon sized bags and lay flat to freeze - they stack and take up minimal space. If you'd rather refrain from single use plastics, Ladles and Linens have all the storage options you need.

Vietnam

The modern-day answer to chicken noodle soup, pho (pronounced "fuh") is loaded with antioxidants and bone broth, which helps with inflammation, joint pain and more. Add some Sriracha and you'll even give a kick to your sinuses. It's perfect for hangovers and the common cold, and in Vietnam it's breakfast. Though the bone broth is time-intensive, it's well worth the wait, so be sure to make a large batch in a stock pot and freeze the leftover homemade broth. Here's the recipe.

Italy

In college, I waited tables at Olive Garden. Though the tips were abysmal, I learned to appreciate a few dishes. No matter how much guff my foodie friends give me, I'll be forever loyal to Zuppa Toscana. Cream-based but not heavy, it has a little kick with the sausage, a healthy serving of kale and potatoes to make it hearty. It's an entire meal in a bowl. Though Olive Garden will never reveal their recipe, this one comes close, as long as you swap the spinach for kale.

France

Everyone adores the gooey goodness of French onion soup, and above is a recipe Ladles and Linens recently shared with readers. The ingredients are uncomplicated, and imagine the delight on the faces of those dining with you as they pull up a spoonful of melted Gruyere.

Now get cooking and don't forget to share photos with us!

 

Dress Your Home for Sweater Weather

Go beyond the gourd when warming up your home for autumn. The changing of the seasons should sweep through your home as it does the outdoors.. Below are ways to delight each of your five senses in a sweater weather kind of way.

Scent

Fill the air with spices using a warm simmer pot. Cinnamon apple is fitting for the crisp air. Fill a pot with cinnamon sticks, apple peels, orange rinds and whole cloves.Bring to a boil, then simmer all day long. Add water as needed. 

Taste

What's better than the scent of a simmer pot? Something baking in the oven. Specifically, a chai pumpkin cake with browned maple butter frosting. It makes pumpkin spice seem basic.

 

Eyes

Always bring the outside in, because this season is focused on what's going on outdoors. White pumpkins have always made a striking statement, but wild things are necessary. Bring in branches with red leaves, Jerusalem artichokes and pine cones. In fact, build a fire and throw a pinecone in it. It glows orange.  

Touch

Throw your windows open and let the fresh air filter through. Your home will feel  crisp and clean. If you're lucky, you may catch the scent of woodsmoke. Throw faux fur and chenille blankets on the couch, pull off  your socks and settle in.  

Hearing

Play Simon & Garfunkel. Trust me on this. 

 

Oh. My. Gourd.

It's harvest time! Pumpkins and gourds of all persuasions are spilling from front porches, window displays and dining tables. And though we have record-breaking heat in the 90s this October, we are willing fall to happen by sheer decoration!

I asked around, and realized that aside from butternut and spaghetti squash, people consider most gourds to be decorative. This isn't the case, and if you want to introduce newer, nuttier flavors into your meals, now is the time!

Take that gorgeous photo at the top. It's delicata squash agrodolce, a much praised recipe sweeping Instagram at the moment. I can't wait to try it and am currently hunting for delicata squash. The marigold and deep green stripes make it an ideal fall decoration, but I wouldn't waste it. Athena Calderone of Eyeswoon created the trending recipe, which can be found here.

My personal favorite is coconut curry butternut squash soup. It's a mouthful, but so simple to make, I don't need to lay out detailed instructions. Take a butternut squash. Peel, de-seed and cube it. Toss with olive oil and roast at 400 degrees in the oven for about 40 minutes or until soft. While it's roasting, chop and saute one large onion in butter, until soft. Toss onions and butternut squash cubes into a food processor with one can of coconut milk, one heaping teaspoon of curry powder, and chicken broth to help the soup puree in the blender. Puree, and add salt, pepper and extra curry powder to taste. It's scrumptious, and freezes well so make it in bulk to save for the winter

Acorn squash is simply addictive when brushed with truffle oil and roasted in the oven. Ladles & Linens' very own Sarah Nicholas and her husband Evan used summer squash in the Sicilian Recipes episode of The Story of Cooking. Haven't seen it yet? Check out all her episodes on Foody TV! 

The Great Pumpkin Spice Debate

Love it or hate it, pumpkin spice is here to stay. What started as a seasonal treat from Starbucks has turned into a market-driven phenomenon. From benign products like pumpkin spice candles and pancakes, to the extreme, such as pumpkin-spiced Spam, facials and deodorant, it's everywhere. 

Years ago, an astute food writer mentioned that pumpkin itself isn't a very tasty vegetable. In fact, it isn't used in many recipes as is. The mild flavor is dominated by cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice, then baked into pies.

But I'm not sure that even matters to pumpkin spice fanatics. Because for many, it's more than a novelty latte at the coffee shop. It means an end to humidity and the unending bikini selfies on Instagram. It means cool nights by a bonfire, apple picking, cashmere sweaters and changing leaves. What began as a flavor has become an idea.

Besides, what's Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie? It's also a great source of beta-carotene, fiber and vitamins B, C and E. And if a burning pumpkin spice candle doesn't make you feel a little warm and fuzzy, it's an economically-sound way to gage whether or not you're dead inside. 

 

Can Turmeric Cure the Blues? Five Spices & their Surprising Health Benefits

So a man with a bun on his head walks into a coffee shop. "Turmeric latte," I predicted. He ordered a turmeric latte. Our small group had a laugh, but turns out the joke was on us. What seemed like an insufferable hipster trend is actually a health tonic backed by science. Below are five spices that can boost your health!

Turmeric

Turmeric is a powerhouse for reducing inflammation; an obtuse term used to describe many ailments, such as arthritis. This also includes the brain, where inflammation is linked to both Alzheimer's and depression. Turmeric can can fight cognitive decline and help lift your spirits, according to an 18-month study. More recently, a Johns Hopkins study found that a combination of curcumin (a chemical found in turmeric) and a chemotherapy drug was more effective at shrinking drug-resistant tumors than using chemotherapy alone. Time to up your Indian curry intake, and order that man bun special!

Cinnamon

People with Type 2 diabetes can rejoice that a dash of cinnamon can help reduce blood sugar levels. It's also a heart-healthy spice, reducing high blood cholesterol and triglycerides. So add a dash to your coffee, shredded wheat; or your next cocktail!

Ginger

Ginger reduces nausea, and I can vouch for this one. I lived off chewy ginger candies during my pregnancy (our announcement is pictured above). I didn't merely crave ginger - I needed it to function. In addition to pregnancy or medication-induced nausea, you can take ginger before flying or long car rides to fight motion sickness. It can be enjoyed in a tea, stir fry dishes, ground into salad dressings or candied. 

Garlic

Unfortunately, the hardening of the arteries is normal as we age. It's called atherosclerosis and occurs as fatty deposits build up on the inside of our artery walls. It can be made worse with smoking or high blood pressure, making us susceptible to heart attacks and strokes. The good news is, researchers have linked garlic intake with keeping blood vessels flexible, especially with women! So put extra garlic in all of the things! Guacamole, marinara sauce, sauteed veggies and roasted turkey were never hurt by a little (or a lot) extra garlic. Just pop a mint before you kiss the cook! 

Cayenne

They say to avoid spicy foods if suffering from ulcers. Strangely, cayenne pepper has been linked to reducing them! Consuming it restricts the growth of an ulcer-causing bacteria (Helicobacter pylori or H. pylori), by reducing excess stomach acid and increasing blood flow. Cayenne pepper is also loaded with capsaicin, a natural pain-killer. It reduces the amount of pain signals that are sent to your brain, helping with arthritis, nerve damage and muscle pain. So add this kicker to your marinades, casseroles and soups.

Now pardon me while I try to convince myself that a trip to Cinnabun is actually good for me....