Nutty About Nutcrackers


photograph by Robert Shomier via sfgate

Ever since my daughter was little, she has loved the Nutcracker Ballet. She continues to enjoy watching this seasonal ballet with delight.


photograph via christmasspirit

My son also loves nutcrackers. His collection has grown over the years and they adorn our house during the holiday season.


photograph via thepaleomom

Snacking on nuts, enjoying a ballet, or decorating with nutcrackers remain a part of our holiday celebration.  This year, nuts will also be enjoyed in a new way.

Recently, I started the Paleo diet. Actually, I feel so good eating this way, that I do not consider this a “diet.” It is more like a lifestyle change.

This recent dietary change came up in a conversation with a co-worker as our office prepared for their annual Thanksgiving potluck. One friend mentioned they were bringing a Paleo-friendly recipe they discovered on detoxinista.  Once I tried it, I was hooked.

Image photograph via detoxinista

Megan’s Grain-Free Pumpkin Bars via detoxinista

½ cup pumpkin puree
½ cup almond butter
⅓ cup honey
2 eggs
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice*
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
Preheat oven to 350F and grease an 8″ x 8″ pan generously with coconut oil or butter. Combine all of the ingredients in a medium bowl, and mix well until a smooth batter forms. Transfer the batter to the greased pan, and bake at 350F for 20-25 minutes, or until the edges are golden brown and the center is firm. Allow to cool completely in the pan, then cut and serve! Glaze these bars with Megan’s Maple Pecan Glaze.


I was surprised that this recipe did not contain any flour or butter. The key ingredient was almonds! Surprise! Almond butter works as both the flour and the butter.

Image photograph via thehealthyfamilyandhome

Although you can find a great almond butter recipe on detoxinista, here is another great Paleo almond butter recipe posted on thehealthyfamilyandhome.

Karielyn’s Homemade Almond Butter via thehealthyfamilyandhome

3 cups organic raw almonds (soaked overnight and dehydrated)
1 tablespoon organic coconut oil

Soak almonds overnight. In the morning, rinse and dehydrate 24 hours (or until completely dry. Put almonds and coconut oil in food processor. Process. It will go through different stages–flour, ball-shaped, smooth. Stop periodically to scrape the sides. Once the butter is creamy, store in an airtight container.

Although nuts should be eaten sparingly on the Paleo diet, I love that occasional treats are still an option.

I hope you go a little “nutty” too this holiday season!


Childhood Comfort Food

There are some foods we enjoy that become synonymous with home. Two family favorites that I have enjoyed since childhood include a simple variation on a classic recipe.

Image mini stuffed meatloaf

Recently, a friend from work commented that she hated meatloaf.  I told her I had a recipe that I thought just might change her mind.  When I shared a slice of this meatloaf, my friend agreed that stuffing the meatloaf with ham and cheese made all the difference.

I have made this for so many years, that I don’t really have a recipe.  The following ingredients are approximations.



ground beef, 1 1/2 – 2 lbs
2 eggs
1 medium yellow onion, diced
garlic salt
1 – 1 1/2 package(s) of Nabisco saltine crackers
sliced ham
favorite cheese (mozzarella, cheddar, colby-jack, etc.)


Put a medium sized package of ground beef (1 1/2 – 2 lbs) in a large glass or metal bowl.  Add 2 eggs and 1 medium yellow onion, diced.  Add about 3-4 dashes of garlic salt. Crush 1-2 palms of oregano between your fingers as you add it to the mixture.

In another mixing bowl, crush 1 package of saltines with your hands.  Slowly add saltines to the meat mixture as you mix thoroughly with one hand. The secret is to add just enough saltines to hold the mixture together without adding too much density.  You may add more or less saltines depending on your volume of meat. 


Place part of the meat mixture in a loaf pan pressing upward on the sides creating a bowl shape.


Place sliced ham in the middle followed by cheese.  Finish the filling with additional layers of sliced ham.


Add the rest of the meat on top to seal the bowl shape.  Press downward around the outside edge creating a dome shape.


Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Place the loaf on a middle rack and bake about 50-60 minutes. Check your meat with a thermometer to be sure it is fully cooked.


Spread a thin layer of ketchup on the top while the loaf is still hot. Let the loaf cool about 5 minutes before slicing.

Additional Notes:

Gluten free crackers, such as Late July Organic Round Saltines are available on Amazon.


You may also want to try making mini-loafs as pictured above.  Simply cut a slice of cheese.  Cut the slice in half lengthwise and stack the cheese. Wrap the cheese in layers of sliced ham.  Take your meat mixture and fold it around the cheese/ham log.  Place on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for about 40-50 minutes.  Test with a thermometer to ensure the meat is finished. Cool for 5 minutes.

Another family favorite is stuffed hotdogs.

Image photograph via amyskitchen4

When I was growing up, my Mom used to make stuffed hotdogs.  It has become a family favorite for my children too.  Pure comfort food!



1 package Ball Park Beef Franks, or your favorite brand
mashed potatoes
cheddar cheese (or your favorite sliced cheese)


Boil the hotdogs. Prepare mashed potatoes.  Remove the hotdogs from the water with tongs. Slice the hotdog lengthwise without cutting through to the backside.  Open the hotdogs like a book and place the hotdogs in a 9×13 pan. Generously spoon mashed potatoes on top of the hotdog.  Sprinkle or layer your favorite cheese on top. Place pan in 350 degree preheated oven until cheese melts (about 7-10 minutes).

You don’t have to be a child to enjoy these recipes. The next time you want comfort food, I hope you’ll consider stuffed meat loaf or stuffed hotdogs.

Lavendar Harvest

There is so much in life to be thankful for and the recognition of our blessings should be a daily habit.

Image photograph via Aubergine Photography

Recognizing all that we have and enjoy is one way to add happiness and contentment to our lives. Being grateful takes quiet reflection–something often overlooked in our contemporary world.

Perhaps that is why Thanksgiving is such an important holiday.  Whether or not you live in the United States or not, Thanksgiving reminds us to gather together and formally celebrate the richness of our lives.

Imagephotograph via Momtoob

I love the fall, so it’s natural to find inspiration in harvest and seasonal colors.

Imagephotograph via countrybouquetfloral

This simple bouquet was created using a rich palate of natural hues–orange protea, kale, purple beautyberry, orange twigs, crabapples, artichokes, blackberries, lavender, grass, rosemary and leaves.

Lavender adds a subtle earthy taste to poultry.  Years ago, I discovered William-Sonoma’s Herbs of Provence–a lavender seasonings which combines natural flavors from Southern France.



This earthy seasoning contains a blend of thyme, basil, savory, fennel and lavender. It is a must-have for our family’s Thanksgiving feast.



This Herbes de Provence Roast Turkey recipe annually graces our Thanksgiving table.


1 fresh or thawed frozen turkey, about 16 lb.

1 yellow onion, quartered

2 celery stalks, cut into 2-inch lengths

3 or 4 fresh flat-leaf parsley sprigs

2 to 3 Tbs. herbes de Provence

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

4 to 6 Tbs. (1/2 to 3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted


Let the turkey stand at room temperature for 1 hour. Do not leave the turkey at room temperature longer than 1 hour.Position a rack in the lower third of an oven and preheat to 425°F.
Remove the giblets and neck from the turkey and reserve for making gravy, if desired.
Rinse the turkey inside and out with cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Place the onion, celery, parsley and 1 Tbs. of the herbes de Provence in the body cavity, and season with salt and pepper. If desired, truss the turkey with kitchen twine. Brush the turkey with some of the melted butter. Sprinkle with the remaining herbes de Provence and season with salt and pepper.
Place the turkey, breast side down, on a buttered roasting rack in a large roasting pan. Roast for 30 minutes, basting with some of the remaining butter after 15 minutes. Using 2 pairs of tongs or heat-resistant kitchen gloves or mitts, turn the turkey breast side up and reduce the oven temperature to 325°F. Continue roasting, basting with the remaining butter and pan juices every 15 to 20 minutes, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast, away from the bone, registers 165°F, and into the thigh, 175°F.
Total roasting time should be 3 to 3 3/4 hours.Transfer the turkey to a warmed platter, cover loosely with aluminum foil and let rest for about 20 minutes before carving. Serves 12.
Williams-Sonoma Kitchen

Image photograph by Marcus Nilsson

This year, I’d like to try Roasted Pears with Blackberries, Ricotta, and Lavender Sugar.

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 tablespoon dried lavender blossoms

6 unpeeled pears (such as Bosc or Bartlett), quartered, cored

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 12-ounce package frozen blackberries

1 cup fresh whole-milk ricotta cheese, crème fraîche, or vanilla ice cream


Grind first 2 ingredients in processor until lavender is finely chopped. DO AHEAD: Lavender sugar can be made 1 month ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.

Preheat oven to 425°F. Generously butter large rimmed baking sheet. Toss pears, lemon juice, and 3 tablespoons lavender sugar in large bowl. Transfer pears, 1 cut side down, to baking sheet. Roast 20 minutes. Turn pears, placing other cut side down. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon lavender sugar; roast 20 minutes. Turn pears, skin side down. Preheat broiler. Sprinkle pears with 1 tablespoon lavender sugar. Broil until pears begin to caramelize, about 8 minutes. Arrange berries around pears; sprinkle with 1 tablespoon lavender sugar. Broil until berries begin to release juice, about 5 minutes.

Divide pears, berries, and juice among bowls. Top with dollop of ricotta and serve.

Bon Appetit, March 2011

Johnny Would Have Been Proud

Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, apples were plentiful and synonymous with home. I have fond memories of Halloween parties with “Bobbing for Apples” and “Snap Apple” fun. Although those games are no longer part of my family’s celebration, we still enjoy other apple traditions.


Photograph by Kim Fearheiley

A family friend owns an orchard.  He annually shares his fresh homemade apple cider with us.  Fresh apple cider is richly delicious.  The fresh apples make all the difference in the world.  Fortunately, I found a recipe from Laura Sampson that only requires tools already found in most kitchens.


 photo and recipe via heywhatsfordinnermom

Hot Spiced Apple Cider
3-4 pounds apples
water to cover+more because the juice will be too thick
cheese cloth for draining
sugar or honey to taste
1 long or two short cinnamon sticks
1 star of anise seed pod if you like the flavor
1/2 a lemon, sliced
2-3 whole cloves

wash the apples and roughly chop leave the core and peels and such
cover with water and bring to a quick boil
reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes or so, adding water if it gets too thick
wet the cheese cloth and fold over to make a square several layers thick
place it over a large bowl
pour the apples sludge in and tie up the corners
lay a cooling rack over the top of the bowl and place cheese cloth full of apples on top
let drain for 4-6 hours

taste the juice, it should be thick and tart
add water until it is drinking consistency
put in a large lovely pan, you’ll be serving out of it
add sugar or honey if it needs it and all the spices
warm gently until ready to serve add water to keep it the right consistency
I’ve kept this warm on the stove for several hours before serving it


photograph by Darla Wireman via bakingdom

Another annual treat is apple pie.  We have tried several delicious versions, but the Caramelized-Apple and Pecan Pie found in November 2008 Bon Appetit was a big hit with family and friends.  It is the most requested apple pie between Halloween and Thanksgiving.

Caramelized-Apple and Pecan Pie
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 stick(s) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
5 tablespoon (about) chilled orange juice, divided
1 large egg white, beaten to blend

1 1/2 cups (packed) golden brown sugar
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, diced
3 Albemarie Pippin apples or Fuji apples (1 1/2 to 1 3/4 pounds), peeled, quartered, cored

3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
1/4 cup light corn syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cup coursely chopped pecans, toasted

Blend flour, sugar, and salt in processor 5 seconds. Add butter.  Using on/off turns, blend until butter is reduced to small pea-sized pieces.  Add 4 table spoons orange juice.  Blend, using on/off turns, until moist clumps form, adding more juice by teaspoonfuls if dough is dry.  Gather dough into ball; flatten into disk.  Wrap in plastic and chill at least 1 hour.  DO AHEAD:  Can be made 1 day ahead.  Keep chilled.

Brush inside of crust with enough beaten egg white to coat.

For apples:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Whisk the following:

Brown sugar and butter in large oven proof skillet over medium heat until butter melts, sugar dissolves, and mixture comes to boil.  Boil 1 minute, whisking constantly.  Remove from heat.  Arrange apples, rounded side down, in syrup.  Bake 15 minutes; turn over.  Bake until just tender, about 20 minutes longer.  Transfer apples to paper towels to cool slightly.  Whisk syrup in skillet until smooth.  Cool slightly and reserve.  Maintain oven temperature.

For filings:
Mix sugar, flour, and salt in small bowl.  Place eggs in medium bowl.  Gradually whisk in reserved syrup from apples.  Add corn syrup, vanilla, and sugar mixture; whisk until smooth.  Stir in pecans.  Pour filling into crust.  Arrange apples, rounded side up, atop filing. (We place the apple slices like a pin wheel in the center and create circles of apples until it reaches the crust.)

Bake pie until filling is set in center,  covering edges with foil if browning too quickly, about 1 hour 20 minutes.  Transfer to rack and cool completely.  DO AHEAD:  Can be made 1 day ahead.  Cover loosely with foil and let stand at room temperature.

If you don’t have time to make either of these time consuming recipes, but your still hungry for spiced apples, try a baked apple.


Grandma’s Baked Apple
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Wash and scoop out the core from the top of the apple. Fill apple with 2 tablespoons brown sugar and 1 tablespoon butter. Place in shallow baking dish and sprinkle with cinnamon and nutmeg. Bake for 15-20 minutes until tender.

With all this fun, Johnny would be proud!

Fall Feast

Fall 2013 Domino_Brittany Ambridge_Soulful Feast_1

2013 Fall Domino, photographs by Brittany Ambridge

In “A Soulful Feast,” Chef Mawhinney delivered a beautiful meal.

Fall 2013 Domino_Brittany Ambridge_Soulful Feast 3

Cauliflower Gratin

1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup flour
2 cups whole milk
1/2 onion, minced
1 whole clove
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup grated Gruyère
whole nutmeg for grating
1 head cauliflower
8-9 large brussels
1 1/4 cups breadcrumbs
Make a roux by melting the butter in a saucepan over medium heat.
Whisk in the flour to form a paste with a wet-sand consistency.
Add the milk while whisking continuously,
making sure to work out any lumps of roux.
Add the onion, clove, and bay leaf, and reduce to a low simmer,
stirring often, for 10 to 15 minutes,
until the sauce is smooth and the flour is cooked out.
Remove the saucepan from heat and discard the clove and bay leaf.
Whisk in the cheese and season with salt if necessary.
Grate some nutmeg over the sauce and stir in.
Cut the cauliflower into 1″ florets and place in a bowl.
Grate the brussels sprouts with a box grater
or finely slice with a knife and add to the cauliflower.
Mix to combine, and season with salt.
Add the cauliflower mixture to a baking dish
and pour the cheese sauce over the mixture.
Top with breadcrumbs and place in a 375° oven
for 10 to 15 minutes or until the sauce starts to bubble
and the top begins to brown.
Remove from the oven and
let cool several minutes before serving.
Fall 2013 Domino_Brittany Ambridge_Soulful Feast_2
Visit A Soulful Feast for more recipes.