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Long, but Good
[Misc] Flowers
I'm exhausted. The problem with things today is that I never feel like I'm ready for it. There was a ton of stuff to do (a lot of which didn't get done), but I worked hard. I was up till 7AM this morning, cooking and cleaning. Then I got about four hours of sleep before I got to start again.

The good news is that it went really, really well. Twenty people came, which is actually a low turnout for New Year's Day. We had a lot of food and everyone stayed a really long time (till about six, so four hours).

We had a lot of help (all four of my mom's sisters were here today and they all helped), but my cousin Nicole, her mom, and I did all the work. They actually showed up to help start at 12 o'clock. I really feel sort of bad, because Nicole got stuck doing some hard stuff (including standing over a pot for at least half an hour and ricing potatoes). I tried to help as much as possible, but I was busy running back and forth trying to do other things, too.

I'm posting the menu with recipes and comments, that way we can go back and refer to it for next year, as well as make notes for what should have been done.

Here's what we had:

Blue Cheese Crisps

1/4 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon grated onion
3/4 cup crumbled blue cheese
1/2 cup cheddar cheese, grated
3/4 cup flour, sifted

Preheat oven 450ºF.

Mix all ingredients well.

Shape into small balls and place on ungreased baking sheet.

Press with fork to form small wafers. Chill 2 hours.

Bake for 10 minutes or until golden brown.

Comments: These weren't very hard to make and they weren't bad (although I just realized I forgot the onion last night). However, they were very rich and I don't think people at a lot of them. All in all, I'm thinking we might leave them off next year.

Source: Razzle Dazzle Recipes

Spinach and Artichoke Dip

2 cups (8 ounces) shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese, divided
1/2 cup fat-free sour cream
1/4 cup (1 ounce) grated fresh Parmesan cheese, divided
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 (14-ounce) can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
1 (8-ounce) block 1/3-less-fat cream cheese, softened
1 (8-ounce) block fat-free cream cheese, softened
1/2 (10-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed, drained, and squeezed dry

Preheat oven to 350°.

Combine 1 1/2 cups mozzarella, sour cream, 2 tablespoons Parmesan, and next 6 ingredients (through spinach) in a large bowl; stir until well blended. Spoon mixture into a 1 1/2-quart baking dish. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup mozzarella and remaining 2 tablespoons Parmesan. Bake at 350° for 30 minutes or until bubbly and golden brown. Serve with tortilla chips.

Comments: I had to use light sour cream and I only used two cloves of garlic, since I bought jumbo garlic. Otherwise, no changes. I put everything together the night before and put it in the fridge, then I popped it in the oven when people arrived. The only changes I would make would be to have a trivet or something to put under the dish (hot) and have a better way of serving the things to dip into it. I used blue and regular corn chips and celery. Sliced bread might have been good as well. Overall, it was an amazing recipe. No changes for next time, except to remember to put the spinach in the refrigerator to thaw the day before. (I cooked it at 50% power in the microwave.)

Also, this site did a great job of explaining how to crush garlic.

Source: Cooking Light via My Recipes.

White Cheese Ball

2 8 ounce packages of cream cheese
1 8 ounce can of crushed pineapple, well-drained
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 medium green onion
1 sm. green pepper

Mix and form into a ball. Refrigerate.

Comments: I made this last night and refrigerated it till today. I used one fat-free and one light cream cheese. The original recipe actually calls for 1/2 cup chopped ham and 1 cup nuts to be mixed into the ball as well, but I left off the ham and just sprinkled chopped pecans over as a garnish. It tasted okay, but I still think that it probably needs something else salty to make up for the lack of ham.

Source: Original recipe from a church cookbook. My mother started leaving out the nuts and I left out the ham.

Spinach Ranch Dip

1 16 oz. container of light sour cream
1 Package of Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing/Dip mix
1/2 of a 10 oz. container of frozen spinach (thawed)

Prepare dip according to package direction, then stir in spinach. Refrigerate before serving (preferably overnight).

Comments: I know, everyone knows this, but I'm still adding it. I decided to tack this on because I had half a package of frozen spinach leftover. It turned out great, but you can also replace the sour cream for plain yogurt. Also, a whisk works great for blending the dip, but a spoon is better for stirring in the spinach. You don't end up having to untangle spinach from your whisk after.

That ends the stuff I set out before the meal. I think it was a really great idea, because a lot of people had to wait at least an hour to eat (mainly husbands). The only thing that took any effort that day was baking the artichoke dip and arranging the plates. Everything was at least sampled, but there was a lot leftover. I'm not sure if that we because there was too much or because of the way I laid things out (though I'm not sure how I'd change it, since I just put everything on the coffee table with plates). Also, they're all very similar, so it might be a good idea to add something different next year. Mom had mentioned sausage balls, but we didn't have the time or the energy to make them. One of my aunts did bring a vegetable tray, which added a bit of variety.

For the actual meal, we had a lot of food. We had a ham (sugar-cured from Cracker Barrel) for the main course. We also had a ton of sides (or even alternative main dishes).

Things People Brought:
Sweet Potatoes
Green Beans
Broccoli Casserole

Things We Made:
Mashed Potatoes

5 pounds russet, Yukon gold, or long white potatoes
2+ tablespoon salt, plus more to taste
2 and a half cups milk, or cream
10 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 + 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 + 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1. Peel and cut potatoes into 1 1/2-inch-thick slices. Place in a medium saucepan. Cover with cold water; add 1 tablespoon salt. bring to a simmer. If using a potato ricer, fill another saucepan with water; place over low heat. Keep potatoes at a low simmer until a knife slips in and out easily. Drain potatoes in a colander. Place milk in a small saucepan over medium-high heat.
2. If using a potato ricer, place a heat-proof bowl or top of a double boiler over a pan of simmering water. Press hot, drained potatoes through ricer into bowl.
3. Stir potatoes with a wooden spoon until smooth, about 1 minute. Using a whisk, incorporate butter. Drizzle in hot milk, whisking continuously. Add pepper, nutmeg, and salt to taste; whisk to combine. Serve immediately.

Comments: I found this recipe ten years ago and we've made it every New Year's dinner we've had at our house. It needs a lot of comments. First, I think potato ricers are the only way to go, because the potatoes are much fluffier. However, the original recipe also has instructions for using a mixer. The original recipe also calls for 2 pounds of potatoes, but since we're serving a lot, I just buy five pounds and multiple everything by a factor of 2.5.

We always use cream, since it's a special occasion and we always make sure to use unsalted butter. We never use the full amount of cream and they still turn out very cream. I just noticed a tip that said to use 3/4 cup of cream for stiffer potatoes, which would come out to 1 and 7/8 cups. We also leave off the nutmeg, since I can never find it.

Source: Martha Stewart Living

Black-eyed Pea Casserole

1 6 ounce packages long grain and wild rice mix
1 Package of Veggie Crumbles
1 medium onion, chopped
1 small green peppers, chopped
1 can (15-1/2 ounces each) black-eyed peas with jalapenos, rinsed and drained
1 can (10-3/4 ounces each) condensed cream of mushroom soup, undiluted
1-1/3 cups shredded cheddar cheese (plus more to top)

Preheat oven to 350°.

In a large saucepan, cook the rice mixes according to package directions. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, cook the veggie crumbles, onions and green peppers over medium heat until the crumbles are thawed.

In a large bowl, combine the peas, soup, rice and veggie crumbles mixture. Transfer to two greased 2-1/2-qt. baking dishes.

Cover and bake at 350° for 20-25 minutes or until heated through. Uncover; sprinkle with cheese. Bake 5 minutes longer or until cheese is melted.

Comments: This one had a lot of variation from the original recipe, some by accident, others by design. The original recipe was for twice this amount, so I cut everything in half but the cheese (I wasn't thinking) and the black-eyed peas (I should have had two cans, but messed up). Also, I wasn't able to find black-eyed peas with jalapenos, so I just used a can of black-eyed peas and added some chopped jalapeno from a can.

Overall, the mistakes worked out well. It wasn't quite dry, but if I had used less cheese and another can of beans, it would have been. It had a good flavor, but I plan to try to find black-eyed peas with jalapenos next year.

Source: Modified from Taste of Home.

Classic Baked Macaroni & Cheese

Kosher salt
6 Tbs. unsalted butter
1 medium onion, finely diced
6 Tbs. all-purpose flour
1 Tbs. Dijon mustard
1 quart whole milk, heated
1 large sprig fresh thyme, plus 1 tsp. chopped thyme leaves
1 bay leaf
8 oz. (2 packed cups) grated extra-sharp white Cheddar
4 oz. (1 packed cup) grated Monterey Jack
1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp. Tabasco sauce
Freshly ground black pepper
1 lb. elbow macaroni or other small pasta, such as pipette or small shells
2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil; more for the baking dish
2 cups fresh breadcrumbs
1-1/2 oz. (1/2 lightly packed cup) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Heat the oven to 400°F and put a large pot of well-salted water on to boil over high heat.

Meanwhile, in a 5- to 6-quart Dutch oven or other heavy-duty pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onion and 1/2 tsp. salt and cook, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, until softened, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the flour and cook, stirring, until slightly darker, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the mustard.

Switch to a whisk and gradually add the milk, whisking constantly. To avoid lumps, go slowly at first, whisking until the mixture is smooth before adding more milk. Once about half the milk is in and the mixture still isn’t very thick, you can add the rest more quickly.

When all the milk is in, switch back to the spoon and stir in the thyme sprig, bay leaf, and 1/2 tsp. salt. Let come to a bare simmer, and cook, stirring frequently, for 15 minutes to meld the flavors (reduce the heat to medium low or low as needed to maintain the bare simmer).

Discard the thyme sprig and bay leaf. Add the Cheddar and Jack cheeses, stirring until melted, and then add the Worcestershire and Tabasco. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Keep warm, stirring occasionally.

Cook the pasta in the boiling water until al dente. Pour into a colander and shake it a few times to drain really well. Add the pasta to the cheese sauce, and stir until well combined. Generously season to taste with salt and pepper. Lightly oil a 9x13-inch baking dish and spread the pasta in the dish.

In a medium bowl, toss the breadcrumbs, Parmigiano, olive oil, chopped thyme, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1/4 tsp. pepper. Scatter the crumbs evenly over the pasta.

Bake in the center of the oven until the crumb topping is golden, about 15 minutes. Let rest for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

Comments: This is incredibly labor intensive, but it's worth it (especially if you can get someone else to do the labor). As you can see from the ingredients, the flavor is really complex and while it's definitely cheese, it's not overly so.

That said, there were also changes on this. First, I used regular cheddar cheese, not white. I also used a Colby-Monterey Jack cheese, since that was all I could find. (I plan to try to find both for the next time I make it.) Second, we didn't have kosher salt so we used regular table salt.

We followed the directions on the topping, but there was way too much. We only used about half of what we made and it still made it a little on the dry side. Next time, I think we either need to work on making it creamier (more milk?), use less topping, or both. I may not have packed the cheese as tightly as I should. I also think that the topping needs more Parmesan cheese.

Also, on the recipe reviews, someone mentioned using panko instead of bread crumbs. That might be worth a try.

Source: Fine Cooking

Barb's Broccoli-Cauliflower Salad

1 head fresh broccoli, diced
1 head cauliflower, chopped
1/2 red onion, diced
3/4 cup sunflower seeds
1 cup creamy salad dressing
1 1/2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1/4 cup white sugar

1. Combine the cauliflower, broccoli, onion and sunflower seeds or pecans.
2. Whisk together the salad dressing, vinegar and sugar. Pour over salad and toss to coat. Refrigerate and allow to chill before serving.

Comments: I was also able to make this last night. Chopping the vegetables takes a bit of extra effort, but it's good. I used the Vidalia Chop Wizard my mother bought a while back and I'm still not sure whether it made it easier or harder. I had to slice everything first anyway. Still, it made all the pieces uniform in size, which was nice.

I just realized that I was only suppposed to use 1/2 of a red onion, but I used a whole onion. I think it turned out fine. I used poppy seed dressing. I made a mistake and accidentally poured part of the dressing directly onto the vegetables, rather than mixing it. That might account for why it was so sweet. Also, the original recipe calls for twelve slices of bacon. I think I may need to figure out something to substitute for that, rather than simply omitting it. My aunt's friend loved it, though, and when I mentioned that I thought it was too sweet and might change dressings to creamy Italian, she said not to mess with perfection.

Source: All Recipes

Absolute Mexican Cornbread

1 cup butter, melted
1 cup white sugar
4 eggs
1 (15 ounce) can cream-style corn
1/2 (4 ounce) can chopped green chile peppers, drained
1/2 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1/2 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9x13 inch baking dish.
2. In a large bowl, beat together butter and sugar. Beat in eggs one at a time. Blend in cream corn, chiles, Monterey Jack and Cheddar cheese.
3. In a separate bowl, stir together flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt. Add flour mixture to corn mixture; stir until smooth. Pour batter into prepared pan.
4. Bake in preheated oven for 1 hour, until a toothpick inserted into center of the pan comes out clean.

Yet another mess up! This time, we used cornmeal mix instead of cornmeal (I couldn't find the cornmeal until after I needed it). Also, I used the Monterey/Colby blend again. Since I apparently can't read, I also bought diced Jalepenos instead of chiles. I was all for using half a can anyway, but my aunt and Nicole talked me into using about 1/4 of a four ounce can.

The recipe turned out okay. It was a little crumbly and very sweet and moist. Still, I think I'll make sure to get chiles next time.

Source: All Recipes

We also had deserts that people brought. Here's what I remember:

Oreo Cake
Butterscotch Heaven
A Berry Cobbler

I think that's about it. Overall, the preparations that morning took about 4 hours. I would have been a lot easier if I had made the macaroni and cheese and the black-eyed pea casserole the day before and baked them before the meal.

I felt really bad about the mac and cheese because Nicole got stuck doing it. She just made the mistake of starting it and ended up doing all of it. I was basically her sous chef and spent the time getting ingredients ready for her as much as possible.

It was a good day. I like to cook, especially with people. I also like having people really enjoy what I make (which is why I did a more complicated and time consuming menu). It was also nice to have everyone hanging around, but we really did have too many people trying to help. (Three main cooks, plus three other people pitching in.) Next year, we definitely need to figure out a more efficient way of using the people we have.

We brought in two folding tables and chairs (12 chairs total). I added a couple of holiday table clothes (non-matching, unfortunately) and some light candles as centerpieces. Next year, we need to figure out a better placement of the tables, even it if means moving some sunroom furniture around.

Nicole and I probably weren't the best conversationalists at dinner, since we basically spent the time deconstructing what we made. It wasn't bad, though. I'm very excited because I was able to make a meal where I was able to eat everything except for the ham, yet everyone still enjoyed it.

Not a bad day, all in all.

(Edit: Sorry about the messed up tags on the original, but I did say I was tired. ;-))