Monday, December 30, 2013

Pasta Bar For a Crowd!

Four Parties in Six Days!
What was I thinking?
Yep....counting:
 Christmas Eve.... 
Christmas Day....
A Cocktail/Fondue Party...
 and finally a Pasta Buffet yesterday...
There was lots of celebrating here at Sweetwater!
We had lots of fun through it all....
(but I do have to admit that I am a bit tired of cooking)


I had never attempted a pasta buffet before.... 
there were some moments when I wasn't sure it was going to work....
but we were pleasantly surprised at how smoothly it all went.
In fact....this might just become a go to menu for future gatherings!

The menu was simple:

Kale Salad
Caesar Salad
French Bread
Spaghetti Sauce Bolognese
Swedish Meatballs in Gravy
Alfredo Sauce w/chicken-broccoli-roasted peppers
Fettucini and Wide Pasta Noodles

 Various Desserts and Sweets contributed by the guests
Swedish Rice Pudding w/Lingonberries


Recipes Tricks and Tips

  • Best recipe for chicken strips for the Pasta:  Buy them.....Already cooked....in a package....  The texture and taste of the already prepared chicken strips from CostCo were more than acceptable when covered with sauce!








  • DON'T blanch your broccoli ahead of time....I thought this was smart and did it to save time....except I left it in the pan with the cover on and ended up with mushy over cooked vegetables....won't do THAT again!






  • Cook the pasta ahead of time and keep it in the oven with the absolute lowest temp....in fact...I kept turning the oven off to just have the tiniest bit of heat.  The pasta was in those aluminum catering trays.   A little pasta water poured over the pre-cooked noodles brought them "back to life" when it was time to put the pasta on the table.  (a warming tray kept the temp "lukewarm")  This also allowed an easy replenishing of the pasta when needed.





This Sweet Kale Salad from CostCo is a new favorite at Sweetwater.  It comes with all the fixings. Just pour into a bowl...add the dressing and "stuff" that is included and enjoy!  It was simple enough to make a second batch when it ran low during the party....maybe people thought a little crunchy greens would make for something "healthy" given the decadence of all the pasta!




  • The Bolognese sauce was "almost homemade" by using prepared Spaghetti sauce with meat and spices added.  I really made this for the kids....but the "big" kids seemed to enjoy it too!






  • I sort of stressed out about finding the "perfect" Alfredo Sauce that could be made ahead!  This recipe worked very well....in fact the teenage boys at the party told me they thought this would be great for their own sports "Pasta/Carbo loading parties....which I took as a "high compliment"
Do Ahead Alfredo Sauce
1/2 cup real butter
3 TBSP Cream Cheese *nuefantel worked fine
2 Cups Heavy Cream
1 Cup grated Parmesan  (store brand cheap stuff worked fine)

Melt the butter, cream cheese and cream in a saucepan,
Add the cheese and stir until it is completely incorporated.
Cool and keep until you are ready to heat it up in the microwave and put in the crockpot to serve.
YES....it is that simple!
Simple....but rich, rich, rich and YUMMY!
This sauce stood the test of sitting for more than 4 hours on the buffet without losing texture or taste!
It is definitely a KEEPER!

  • Mr. S decided that pouring frozen bags of prepared meatballs and adding mushroom soup and beef broth would NOT do for this buffet.  He painstakingly prepared meatballs from SCRATCH using a recipe from his mom's Swedish Woman's Cookbook!  I have to say they were delicious!  (maybe I can convince him to write a guest post and share the recipe with you some day!)

  • Add some crusty sliced bread and butter.....A bowl of nice Parmesan Cheese and you are DONE!

The party was lots of fun and there were plenty of entertaining activities!
....the Vikings WON the final game in the Metrodome....Surprise!
....The Packers pulled off a last minute victory.....amazing!
....the slide show on the computer of hundreds of digitized slides of the family history going back 50 years made for some wonderful trips down memory lane!
Now.....I am going to heat up some of the leftover Cider.....start a fire.....and read a good book....
ALL DAY.....since it is 10 below zero outside and I don't have anywhere to be!
Have a Great Day!

Friday, December 27, 2013

Fur Real Problems at Sweetwater


Hope you all had a wonderful Christmas!

We seem to be dragging....I mean extending....the celebration out over a long enjoyable week of one party after another.

We had a mid-day Brunch here for just our family on Christmas Day.
We sat in the beautiful sunshine in the living room to open gifts!

ARGHHHH.....the cat hair was floating through the sunlight...
It was on everyone's clothes....
It was EVERYWHERE!
And I thought I had done a good job cleaning!!!
Glad it was JUST the immediate family.....
although I think I heard the Sweetwater Son say:  "that is just gross"!


Have you seen these toys....it was one of the requests for our Adopted Christmas Family!
The toy really looks "FUR-REAL" and after seeing all the cat hair that is collecting at Sweetwater....

Maxine and Marvin better watch out!!

Anyway....we are having a couple of gatherings for a bunch of people in the next few days....
I knew I needed to spend some serious time getting rid of the cat hair....




I spent a few minutes researching for some magic formula.....this link has a couple of things that might be interesting if you have a "fur-real" situation at your house.




Tips For Cleaning Pet Hair from furniture!





As for me....I just bonded with the vacuum cleaner for an hour or two.....it was sort of therapeutic :)


I washed all of the throws from the couches.....the lint trap told it's own story!

Now if I can just catch the REAL  FUR-Real kitties at my house....I will use the furminator on them!









You have a Nice Day!

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Freedom Friday  Sincerely Paula  

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Traditional Swedish Rice Pudding


Mr. S is 100% of Swedish Heritage!
There are a lot of holiday food traditions that go along with that Swedish Heritage!


Grandma Marion in the Christmas Eve Kitchen!
I can't tell you how many Christmas Eve afternoons I spent in the kitchen with my Mother-in-Law learning the ins and outs of Swedish holiday food!

The other tradition:  Dinner was served at 5PM SHARP!
It was always interesting to see if the "boys" would get back from their drive around the countryside (subtext.....sharing some liquid Holiday Cheer) in time for dinner!

So....I know how to make Lutefisk.....but I never do!

I know how to boil a Swedish Potato Sausage and I even have the recipe should I want to stuff some pig innards some time! 
 (Probably NOT)

I make a wicked white sauce....no brainer....!

And even though I can make the powder sugar covered tea cake cookies....I let my brother-in-law make them as his are almost identical to Grandma Marion's!

The one staple of the Swedish Holiday Smorgasbord that I always make.... 

Rice Pudding with Lingonberry Sauce!

Here is the recipe in the Swedish "Women's" Covenant Cookbook!
Mr. S is always sure to comment about a recipe from this cookbook:  "That should be good because so and so always brought the best food to church!"

Anyway....you can see that I needed to put a mark by the recipe we like as there are several competing recipes in the book!

I use the ingredients listed but don't go into the elaborate way of putting the pudding together!
Sweetwater Rice Pudding

2 1/2 Cups Cooked White Rice (I cook mine in the rice cooker ahead of time)
3 Eggs beaten
3 Cups mix of Skim Milk and Half and Half (because we never have Whole Milk)
1/2 Cup sugar....although I think I always add a bit more because people like it sweeter)
1tsp Vanilla
dash salt
1/2 tsp Cinnamon
1/4 tsp Nutmeg
1 Whole Almond

Preheat oven to 350
Beat the eggs, milk sugar and spices together
Add the cooked rice and stir to mix well
Put in center of the oven on a baking pan filled with water.
Bake until center is set....about 40 minutes...
Halfway through....push the whole almond into the center of the dish....

Why the almond?...tradition has it that the person who finds the almond in his/her serving will have good luck for the whole year!


Lingonberry Sauce


If you don't know what a lingonberry is....it is sort of a tiny little cranberry that is even more tart.          You can buy them frozen in our Minnesota grocery stores during the holidays.  
They are really a crimson treasure!


To prepare the sauce.....mix the frozen berries and the juice in the container with half a container of water.

Add a 1/2 cup of sugar.....bring to a boil and simmer for about 45 minutes on low.

Pour in a glass container (so you can see the gorgeous color)

Refrigerate!



The sweetness of the pudding and the tartness of the Lingonberries are a perfect pairing!

Source
Here's wishing that YOU find the almond in YOUR rice pudding....or what ever else will bring you good luck!



And....I am sure the little Tomtem will be watching over you tonight!
 Merry Christmas from Sweetwater!


Monday, December 23, 2013

Decking the Halls-Sweetwater Style!

Christmas Decor Sweetwater Style is all about NOT spending a fortune on beautiful decorations!
I didn't say that I don't spend ANYTHING....but many of my favorite decor items come from....
GOODWILL or as I prefer to call it
Boutique Bon Volanté!

Here are a few of the items gathered from there!


I love Fitz and Floyd....these are all from Bon Volanté....the Sweetwater Daughter has been really lucky...she found the cookie plant and Holly Berry Bowl for less than $5!


If you read Sweetwater Style on a regular basis...you know I collect old Silverplate from GW!
I have this pair of Silver Loving Cups....they are perfect for the poinsettias...
The Holiday Crackers are the perfect color....so nobody gets to crack them and get the goodies!
I think they look great with the bowls of red Christmas balls...
I have bought them over time at GW too!
The pretty red runner is actually 4 place mats I bought for $.99 each (yes....GW)


The mantel decor this year really is all Goodwill!
I just started layering all kinds of sparkly foliage and fruits....
they have been collected from GW over time!
I found some gilded Magnolia leaves and the sparkling grapes this fall....
the wreath has been around for lots of years...


I know I told you about the pears...I laugh when I think that I hesitated buying them because they cost a whopping $7... I just bought some REAL pears for that same amount of money and they don't even look that good!  
The little copper Jingle Bell wreath goes beautifully with the other copper accents. 
I am always on the look out for "special" ornaments that are under a dollar...these are a couple I found!
The strand of glass berries are strung on some thick wire...that makes them easy to arrange.  I wonder how much they would cost in a "real" boutique?


The basket of greens got some illumination when one of the strings of lights was half unlit....no one can see the tangle of unlit bulbs under the greens!
The little twig tree was a find at Bon Volanté (although I did pay $8)...but I knew it would be perfect with the wire chicken!


There aren't  8 of these Reindeer prancing along the bookshelf
.....but they are silver and they were cheap!




Don't you love this little golden "gift box cage"?
It was sitting on the shelf a couple of summers ago....with the ornaments and everything!

The only problem with my favorite boutique....
you can't really order online!
You actually have to go out in the cold and the snow!!!

Now.....I am off to do some last minute shopping.....even though...
the weather out there is frightful!




Have A Wonderful Day!










Thursday, December 19, 2013

Oh Christmas Tree!

 I have a confession to make.....
a really big confession from someone who loves  to decorate for Christmas as much as I do!
Are you ready?
Here it is.....my secret shame!
I really DON'T LIKE CHRISTMAS TREES!!!

Oh....we always have a tree....but really.... I could take it or leave it!
It is the other decorating all over the house that I REALLY like....

This year the temperatures went below zero the first week in December....
It was easy to convince me to wait to go get a tree....

But...Last Saturday,
we realized that we had better get ourselves out there to get one before they were gone....
it was lucky that we did....because the pickin's were slim!!!

Back in the day.... cutting our own Christmas tree was an all day event.....but that was back in the day!
Now....Mr. Sweetwater Scrooge and his Scroogy wife were out of the house and back home with our $25 dollar Home Depot tree in less than an hour!

But I do have to say that our little bargain tree turned out pretty well!

When the Sweetwater Daughter and I did the themed tree for the charity event, the Sweetwater Son asked me why I never do that for the tree at Sweetwater!

HMMMM.....I decided that this year I would SHOW HIM!
Now...He has a whole collection of Nutcrackers that I have given him through the years....
When he moved into his own house....
I made him take all the "good" (expensive) ones for his own decor!

That left me with the ones that are LESS than GOOD!
HMMMMM.....what to do?


One of the things we learned from the designers at the charity tree festival
 was that big items on a tree have a WOW factor....
 Nutcrackers are big items....so I decided to use them!

Now....wiring those babies into the branches was a bit of a challenge...
and of course Mr. S had a LOT of advice and warning about tipping over the tree!
I did it ANYWAY....and I love the way it looks!



Then....I had these plain black gift boxes that I salvaged from the teacher lunchroom at school when we were cleaning it out....I had some off white ribbon to tie on them all (24 in all) and some clusters of gold ornaments were another element!

Last week I scored a bag of red beads at GoodWill....yards and yards and yards of them for $5!  These are draped as a garland all through the branches....

So there you have it....a rare "themed" tree at Sweetwater!
I have to admit...the Sweetwater Son had a point....I actually LIKE this tree!
And...it hasn't tipped over.....YET!


Monday, December 16, 2013

Thrifty and Simple Last Minute Gifts

source






This is the last week before Winter Break for me.....and probably for your kids too!
If you are PREPARED....you have all of your teacher gifts ready to send off with the kiddos...
If you are NOT PREPARED.....this post is for YOU!









HOSTESS/TEACHER GIFT EDITION



Wild Rice Soup 

Buy a bag of wild rice and print out the recipe for this delicious soup.
Put the recipe and the rice in a cute bag....Done!
All for about $5....or less if you repackage the rice into several packages!

Ingredients

  • 6 Tbsp butter
  • 1/4 c minced onion 
  • 1/2 c flour
  • 3 c chicken broth
  • 2 c cooked wild rice
  • 1/3 c minced ham (optional) 
  • 1/2 c grated carrots
  • 3 Tbsp chopped almonds (optional)
  • 1 c half & half
  • 2 Tbsp dry sherry (optional)

How to make it

  • In a large sauce pan, saute onion in butter until translucent.
  • Blend in flour.
  • Add broth and cook, stirring.
  • Bring to a boil for 1 minute and then stir in cooked wild rice, ham, carrots, and almonds.
  • Simmer for 5 minutes.
  • Blend in cream and sherry.
  • Salt and pepper to taste.



Spiced Candied Walnuts!

I have been making these all Fall....and realize that as yummy as they are...
Source
they would be an super simple but elegant gift! 

I get my walnuts super cheap at CostCo!

California Walnuts.org
I have some fun little plastic take-out containers....hmmmm....guess I will have to share!


Home Made Bath Salts
There are even some packaging ideas included!

I warn you though....you will end up making the recipe for yourself!!!











 
 Decorated Match Boxes
This time of year....everyone has candles and fire places to light..
why not do it in Holiday Style?



The examples here are not "Christmasy", but I bet you can figure out how to make them in a Holiday Style!








Small Tool Kit

One of the best "teacher gifts" I ever received was a set of basic tools in a plastic box....oh so many years later....it is still in my desk at school and gets used on a regular basis....the tools don't have to be spendy....they will work for the jobs that always come up in the classroom!  You could use this idea.....but do a sewing kit too!



Donate A Book to the Library 



I am not saying this because I am a librarian!!!
Every teacher appreciates having books added to the school collection. Or....to the classroom.



Write a Heart Felt Note!

This is a totally FREE option and I speak from experience when I tell you that a note from you or your child expressing some specific thing that you appreciate about the school and the classroom.  A funny story that your child has shared with you is also fun!  

There you have it.....something for anyone on your list.....or....you could always opt for the Starbucks Card....that never fails to please!!!

Have A Great Day!

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Twelve 0"Eight