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November 8, 2014

DIY | Autumn Centerpiece {with White Pumpkins}

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Have you ever noticed how a tall floral arrangement in the center of your dining table creates a problem? I find it obstructs my guests' views of each other, and interferes with their conversation. Large upright dramatic bouquets certainly are beautiful, but often they're not very practical.

This year we celebrated Thanksgiving a little early. I decided to create a focal point for our table that allowed family members more eye contact with one another, and encouraged easy interaction. Here's how you can re-create this autumn centerpiece that incorporates a little Southwest flair.


Large white oval platter
3 white mini-pumpkins
Package of assorted autumn accents that includes small pine cones, dried berries, and silk oak leaves. (I found mine at Home Goods)
2 packages dried red chili peppers
1 package dried orange chili peppers
Neutral raffia tie

Total cost: Approx. $20, not including platter


1. Sort through the chili peppers and set aside a few of the nicest ones to use as accents. Spread the rest of the chili peppers on the platter.
2. Position the pumpkins, placing the largest one in the center.
3. Place two pine cones together at one end, and then distribute the rest along the sides of the platter.
4. Arrange the colored leaves in the remaining spaces.
5. Put a sprig of dried berries on opposite sides toward each end of the platter.
6. Poke the saved chili peppers in between the pumpkins and at either end as special accents.
7. Tie a small piece of raffia around the stem of the middle pumpkin.

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Photos: e-Mom

November 7, 2014

Recipe | EASY Make-Ahead Turkey Stuffing

The Best Part of Every Holiday Meal!

Everyone agrees that food preparation for festive meals can be cumbersome and complicated. Keeping an eye on the turkey, while juggling several side dishes and two or three desserts, make stress levels sky-rocket!

Asking guests to contribute to the meal pot-luck style is one way to ease the burden. Another way to lessen the load is to prepare everything—including the stuffing—in advance for the freezer. Each dish can be placed in the refrigerator to thaw the night before, and re-heated for serving.


2 boxes stuffing mix
1 small can sliced black olives
1/2 cup chopped pecans or hazelnuts
3 Tbsp dried sage
1-1/2 Tbsp dried thyme
salt & pepper to taste
hot water


Using quantities listed on the back of stuffing box, melt butter in pan and cook onion and celery. Remove from heat. Stir in olives, pecans, dried herbs, salt and pepper. Combine vegetable-herb mixture and boxed bread cubes in a large baking pan. Do not add water. Freeze.

Thaw stuffing in refrigerator the night before you wish to serve. When ready to heat, add hot water according to stuffing box directions. Bake for one hour at 350 degrees F. Or, stuff cavity of a turkey prepared for roasting, and bake the remainder of the stuffing separately.

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Photos: ricksonkee, spexyliciousness, sushisque, threephin (Flickr)

November 5, 2014

Recipe | Texas BBQ Beef Brisket

Outrageous Barbeque in Austin

If you ever have the chance to visit Austin Texas, you're in for a rockin' good time! The downtown core is alive with music and events virtually every weekend. From Formula 1 auto racing to the South by Southwest Film & Music Festival (SXSW), Austin offers plenty of fun for everyone. And great Tex-Mex and barbeque restaurants are everywhere.

Recently, we spent a few days touring the city of Austin with our son. A recent transplant, he walked our feet off! But at every turn, he rewarded us with new culinary delights. We enjoyed bacon breakfast tacos at Maudie's (with salsa for extra flavor); smoked brisket and turkey at Rudy's; and lime-marinated steak fajitas at Lupe Tortilla.

Our favorite meal was Sunday lunch in beautiful Texas hill country just a short drive outside the city. A family-style BBQ restaurant called The Salt Lick serves the best smoked meats I've ever tasted. 

The Salt Lick offers beef brisket, sausage, pork ribs, turkey, and chicken served "cowboy style" on picnic tables. The meat is seared and then slow cooked in a pit over direct heat from live Texas oak. Basted in their Original Tomato-Free Sweet Bar-B-Que Sauce, it's finished with the smoke from pecan wood.

In 2008 The Salt Lick was profiled during an Austin episode of the Travel Channel's show Man v. Food. The restaurant also received a positive review by Food Network chef Bobby Flay. In 2012, it appeared on Adam Richman's Best Sandwich in America which featured a spicy brisket jalapeƱo sandwich topped with habanero sauce.

The Salt Lick restaurant is so popular that they've opened at the Austin-Bergstrom international airport. While waiting to catch our flight home, I couldn't resist buying a bottle of their fantastic Spicy Bar-B-Que Sauce just before boarding. It's the BEST barbeque sauce I've ever tasted, bar none. I plan to keep some on hand for years to come, and fortunately, it's available online.
Try it, you'll love it!

From The Salt Lick Cookbook, here are directions for seasoning, searing, and slow cooking Texas-style beef brisket.

Seasoning the Meat

"To season brisket, you can play with different seasoning recipes. Some people just use salt and pepper. Others use a lot of spices. For the Salt Lick, we keep it to a simple three ingredients: salt, pepper, cayenne pepper. ...When my dad was doing this years ago, he had a method that helped him make sure the quantities were just right.

Also, it’s important that you WAIT to season your meat until your fire is ready. Once the meat is seasoned, you need to immediately put it on the fire. Otherwise the salt in the rub will begin to draw moisture from the meat." Click here for complete (illustrated) seasoning directions (PDF).


Searing and Slow Cooking 

"This is where the time and patience come in. You have to watch your meat, watch your smoker temperature, and watch your smoke. Whatever you do, always keep the thicker part of the meat closer to the heat source. It takes the longest to cook, and you want your thinner meat to cook in as uniform time as possible with the thicker part.

We like to sear our meat at a higher temperature first before letting it slow cook over the fire. When you fire up your smoker, get it to 225 degrees to begin the searing process. We sear the meat for 1 hour and then start the slow cooking process.

Once you begin slow cooking the meat, you will need to bring the temperature to 195 degrees. The rule of thumb is that it takes 75 minutes for each pound of meat that you are cooking. That’s about 17 ½ hours total for a 14-pound brisket."

Click here for complete (illustrated) searing and cooking instructions (PDF).

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Photos: wallyg, mike_mccormick, e-Mom, wallyg, Adactio (Flickr)

September 17, 2014

TOP 13 Football GAME DAY Appetizers

1. Stuffed Mushroom Caps
Delicious Bites to Serve Your Friends

Autumn is here! And with it comes a smorgasbord of food for game day parties. These ideas are the tip of the iceberg, but they've all stood the test of time. If you want to satisfy a crowd of hungry sports fans, you can't go wrong with a few of these favorites on your buffet table.

Click images for recipes.

2. Glazed Pineapple & Sausage Bites

3. Classic Cheese Puffs
4. Five-Star Party Guacamole
5. Mini Swiss Cheese Quiches
6. Beef Tamales
7. Classic Crab Cakes
8. Coconut Shrimp
9. Mini Hamburger Sliders
10. Deep-Fried Onion Rings
11. Beef Nachos
12. Grilled Chicken Dog (The Goomba)
13. Mini Roast Beef Sliders

Photos: RogerFerrer, YehuiEdkMck, ReneeSSuen, kattebelletje, MagalieL'Abbe, NateGray, InterContinentalHongKong, ChristinaBCastro, AcquiredLife, JakartaVenue, TPWBWestEndBistroRitzCarlton, db, gizzypooh (Flickr)

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