Category Archives: Tabletop

That Escalated Quickly

How did I go from Halloween to December in a blink? Seriously, this is the first time I didn’t do a Thanksgiving wrap-up. My apologies.  The good news is everything worked out well.  I made Ted Allen’s deconstructed turkey again but just used an herb butter of my own making – 2 sticks softened, unsalted butter mixed with 1/2 of mixed chopped parsley, chives, sage, salt & pepper  – rubbed under the skin and used a little of it melted for basting.

I used this Serious Eats dry brine, much easier than wet brine. Only difference is I mixed in a little dried thyme and rubbed sage. Used Sally’s Baking Addiction Apple Cranberry Herb Stuffing. A good showing.

If I am making Chex Party Mix, Drummer Boy will walk in the house and say “mmm, smells like Christmas”.  So I thought this an appropriate party favor:

A dessert I meant to make for Thanksgiving but ran out of time, should still be made nonetheless, as it is delicious.  All the ingredients are from Trader Joe’s and it is practically a holiday in a jar.

Winter Spice Trifle

WHAT YOU NEED (all from Trader Joe’s)
triple ginger snaps
5 TBSP cookie butter
4 oz whipped cream
3 TBSP maple syrup
Fleur de sel caramel sauce

Crumble the ginger snaps into the bottom of a jar/glass.  Combine the mascarpone cheese with the cookie butter.  Beat the whipped cream and maple syrup until stiff peaks form.  Melt the caramel sauce in the microwave (top off!) until pourable.  Layer the mascarpone mixture over the cookies, top with whipped cream and drizzle with caramel sauce.   Amounts depend on the size of your jar or glass.  Guitar boy had four of these over the course of a day.  Shhh, don’t tell him it’s cheese!

So on to Christmas.  The tree themes are Rainbow (as a result of me losing the white lights vs. colored lights argument to Drummer Boy).

The ornaments follow the ROYGBIV pattern of the rainbow with admittedly copper/rose gold subbing in for orange.

Front tree is Eat, Drink and be Merry so all food, drink, and music ornaments. It may be a touch too reflective of our lives (hotdogs, donuts and Diet Coke?).  Um, can someone buy me an asparagus ornament?!

See if you can spot my new favorite Christmas tea towel.

That’s right, Batman smells has now been incorporated into our decor!

But yesterday we went to the Christkindlmarket, a very cute German market set up in both Naperville and downtown Chicago. We drank cider and cocoa out of commemorative mugs, ate bavarian pretzels and shopped for ornaments. They had loads of delicately hand-painted Santas, stockings, peaceful nativity scenes and woodland creatures. Beautiful.  So what did we get #momofboys?

That’s right, can you spot the secret Krampus on each tree?  Now I’m being lobbied for an all bad guys tree next year.  Darth Vader ornament, I think you are about to have your moment!

Trying out a few Christmas cookies this weekend.  These Brown Sugar Shortbread cookies were a big hit with the teen crowd.

Making a birthday dinner tonight for mbork of F’ing Ziti (a nod to season one of Sopranos where AJ is mad that Tony’s panic attack made him drop the leftover tray of ziti – if you are over 18 go watch it, it’s a classic).  Really it’s Penne with Two Cheeses from Epicurious, but when I first made it for Aunt Mary and Treasured Guest decades ago, we were watching Sopranos so F’ing Ziti it became.  Adding in Smitten Kitchen’s Perfect Garlic Bread because carbs were requested, so carbs will be bestowed!

Next up – Holiday Pizza Night. Have some homemade favors to share with you but more on that later.

Have a great week everyone!




A Delayed Easter Recap

It’s been a long two weeks. It all started Thursday night (Maundy Thursday – who knew?!) with a work-related ladies poker party. Once we got someone from the Audit Department in there, the rules were official…and then I started to lose. But completely fun nonetheless.


We moved immediately into Good Friday Pizza Night with a visit from Grandma and our Duxbury Guilfoiles.

duxThen onto, of course, The Block’s Easter Egg Hunt on Saturday.

egghuntsignHere they come.


And there they go.

egghunt2Remember that scene in the movie Parenthood where Rick Moranis’ kid knows French and Steve Martin’s kid is all “he likes to hit things with his head” with a bucket on his head?  Yeah, well, welcome to my world.

bucketheadEaster was a lot of the same food as seen in past Easter posts.


Hint: Pasta Blanco is just plain butter noodles but thanks to Uncle Tom I learned how to class the joint up a bit. But there was the addition of this Crunchy Spring Salad from The Kitchn.


Super bright and springy. I added thinly sliced carrots too for color.  Of course, we busted out some new desserts. Well, there were three planned, and two more showed up. As it shall be. I mean really, there are 30 people, you need at least 5 desserts right?


If you need something simple, this Chocolate Toffee Trifle from Or So She Says is super easy as you used boxed cake mix and Heath pieces.

dessertBunny Garden Pudding (bottom right) is just bunny Peeps in Smitten Kitchen’s Best Chocolate Pudding Ever in graham cracker tart shells.  Some of the bunnies fainted from the deliciousness.

And lest we forget a new cocktail!  Grapefruit Daiquiris from How Sweet It Is are delicious, not too sweet and would be fantastic if the weather here ever warms up (to quote my friend Laura T. with respect to this weather – “Mother Nature, I think you are drunk”).


Table favors were teeny, tiny succulents from Mountain Crest Gardens in bunnies.


And my new purple highball (yep, I said highball) glasses from Crate and Barrel.


And then, of course, our own McNamara/Guilfoile/Kuhn Easter Egg Hunt with these fabulous ladies.



mollyEgg won’t fit.


But D don’t care.


And all the cousins in a selfie taking process (which makes for a better picture when they don’t know we’re watching).


I don’t mean to bring the post down, but we ended on a sad note Monday when my step-father Jim passed away.  What can you say about a guy that has five daughters and marries my mom who has four more?

McGovern wed

Only that he was a strong, strong man who loved us all very much.  We will miss you Jim.

And so we don’t end that way, and now this.


And this is picture of me trying to write this blog post tonight with “help”.


We’re going to a trivia contest fundraiser this weekend that involves TV related costumes (which was NOT disclosed to me in advance of me writing the check).  So you have those pictures to look forward to.

Have a great rest of the week.


Thanksgiving to Christmas in 37 Hours

Well another Thanksgiving in the books. This one with the oven going berserk three (3) times while turkey was in. First, beeping uncontrollably until we had to throw the breaker.  Second, decided to go into Sabbath mode (who knew?!) where it holds only the last temperature so that people don’t have to turn on the ovens during Sabbath.   Except the last temperature was now about 40 degrees lower than it needed to be to finish the turkey.  And finally, one more combo beeping/Sabbath mode until the breaker was thrown again.

Thankfully the turkey was at a safe temperature to remove to rest, so I shoved those stuffings in before my oven taught me any new religious holidays and told everyone NOT to open the oven doors until I was sure the stuffing was cooked. There is clearly a curse on me related to ovens as this is the 4th oven in 16 years in houses. Each one pulling antics like this until we gave up/it stopped working.  Perhaps I should have heeded the warning from the gypsies after all.


Made a cheese turkey. Because we all need a cheese turkey in our lives.


Did the deconstructed turkey again but used the Martha Stewart Bacon Herb Roasted Turkey Breast recipe and just put the butter mixture under the skin of each piece.  Did the Pumpkin Cornbread Sausage stuffing from last year and Pioneer Woman’s Thanksgiving Stuffing for the traditionalists. Made the cranberry sauce from my practice Thanksgiving post, Ina Garten’s Honey Orange Glazed Carrots and mashed and sweet potatoes. And buttered noodles, because my kids still eat no food.


Yep, that’s two can shaped cranberry lumps. That my kids will eat.  And Bobby Flay’s Fall Sangria. I liked it, but I didn’t love it. It definitely has a lot of fall flavors and is very pretty.


Did the tables with this cute runner from Kitch Studios,

Lots of fall colors, cute teensy vases from POSH (that’s like Fishs Eddy to you New Yorkers), flowers buried in fresh cranberries, and of course, chocolate turkeys.


A good time was had by all.

DSC_0144Especially this dapper gentleman,


Who Skunk the Cat could not bring himself to acknowledge.


Someone just needs to be the cutest thing in the house all the time. #selfabsorbedcat

For dessert I wimped out (new job people! No time for baking). And besides, when I have the head baker from Pastries So Tasty living next door, I’m not going to do apple and blueberry pies any better. But I can pour cheese and caramel popcorn into a bowl like nobody’s business. Just like the Pilgrims did.


No one complained. Packed up leftovers in these containers I made with Avery labels at their design site.


Super easy to use, I highly recommend it. There’s lots of pre-made designs to choose from or you can design your own (FORESHADOWING!!!).

So that was Thursday.  By Friday at 3:00, this was happening


Theme on this tree (family room) is red, gold and music.

DSC_0176 DSC_0168 DSC_0180Front room skinny tree is decked in green and silver,

And the basement tree is an homage to the upcoming Star Wars VII movie. I assume you all have your tickets already like we do. Right? *crickets*   #Nerdfoiles


We made the garland using Avery labels and silver cord. I’m telling you, it is ridiculously easy. You’ll see this again in upcoming posts (MORE FORESHADOWING!!!!).

And finally, The Simp…..sons Christmas Village.  “Um, Dasher, Dancer….Prancer, Nixon…Comet, Cupid…Donna Dixon?”  “Sit down Simpson”


Jealous, much?

I hope everyone gets to enjoy the beginning of the holiday season. I’ll be back with some treat ideas in the near future. With labels!!


What’s Black and White
and Orange ALL over?

It’s that time of year.  When we spend two solid days decorating for a holiday that will occur only between the hours of 3-7 on October 31st. Time to task ratio seems a bit off here.

Not to worry – we’re going to carry this season from pumpkin carving today to a Thursday in-costume band concert all the way to a Saturday Halloween Pizza Night (Saturday wha??? – how will the Earth stay on its access)?   So more to come on those fronts.

In the meantime, I may have obtained just a couple other Halloween decorations (hello bin number 13!).  Let’s review some favorites, shall we. We shall.

FIrst up, Darth Vader pumpkin. #Nerdfoiles. And yes, that is Vampire Mr. Burns standing behind him.


These cute Day of the Dead/slightly Jack Skellington skull earrings that I picked up in Denver.


And, our friend Kazza was thoughtful enough to think, “Hey, while their wine has a Halloween holder, I don’t think it has a Halloween costume!”.  And now this.


Then there’s this flaming pumpkin that I got last year at 80% off, but didn’t open the box and just put it in storage. Oops, guess what, light didn’t work and I’m welllll past the return date. No worries, thanks stick on pumpkin strobe light!


Since that pumpkin was so bummed out that his light didn’t work, I accidentally went to Homegoods and bought him some friends. Say hello to his leeeeettle friends (name that movie).


And though I’ve had these bat plates from Pottery Barn for a while, they look good with the new dishes I got last year.

final1445532610611Here’s hoping for some good trick or treating weather. I’ll be back with the post-Halloween update. For now, enjoy the spooky lunar eclipse picture from a few weeks ago that I took with my tiny blogging camera. Yay science!

final1445531975228Have a great week everyone.


Happy New Year 2015!

I took a few days off between Christmas and New Year’s Day and now I’m more tired than I was on 12/24.  Between pizza nights, delayed family flights, the boys first Bulls game:

And then New Years Eve and Guitar Boy’s New Year’s Day birthday brunch, you’d think I’d be too tired for new recipes or tablescapes. But no, the party Must. Go. On.

First, NYE

Made Salmon Pizza as an appetizer for the first event


and Smoked Salmon Dip for the second event:


Thanks to the Borkowskis and Harrisons for a great New Years Eve!

While our absolute favorite breakfast/brunch place is Blueberry Hill in LaGrange (Hi Mr. Chris!), occasionally Kevin and I find ourselves without the boys and the capability of going to brunch at a place that isn’t entirely waffle-based. When that happens, we will go to Prasino in LaGrange

And Kevin always gets the same thing – lox and bagel. Always. Because that way, he knows he will like it. He’s very exciting like that. But, ah ha! they changed it, and now they create it into almost a salad and stands out from your standard lox and bagel. So, inspired by this recipe at SpoonForkBacon, I set out to re-create what Prasino did. It worked as both a pizza and appetizer.


Salmon Pizza (or Prasino bagel breakfast in pizza form, inspired by Spoonforkbacon)

1  can refrigerated pizza dough (or make your own if you are not yeast-adverse as I)
6-8 oz smoked salmon/lox
½ cup crème fraiche
2 TBSP chopped fresh chives or 1 TBSP dried
1/3 cup very thinly sliced red onion
Zest of a medium lemon
2 TBSP chopped fresh dill
1 ½ – 2 cups arugula (depending on how much you like arugula)
1 hard boiled egg, chopped
Cracked pepper
Sea Salt

Cook pizza crust per instructions completely as if the toppings were on it (it’s not going back in the oven), trying to get it as thin as you can. Cool completely.

Spread crème fraiche over top of the cooled crust. Scatter chives over the crème fraiche. Scatter sliced onions evenly over the crust. Top with salmon sliced on the diagonal.Take the little pieces and fill in anywhere there isn’t salmon. Sprinkle dill all over followed by lemon zest. Top with the arugula, chopped egg and cracked pepper to your liking and a sprinkle of sea salt.

Eat for dinner with a nice Prosecco or cut into squares for an appetizer.

Keeping the appetizers thematic (yes, it’s a word), I made this Smoked Salmon Dip from thekitchn.


Now, on to NYD

Did my standard egg casserole from Epicurious, natch. Did a Donut Croquembouche in lieu of a cake for Guitar Boy’s 11th.

Here is his fiery tower of donuts before:


And after:


Made the Gingerbread Granola from prior post but used gluten free oats and worked just as well.  Served over vanilla yogurt.

Also – Epiphany!  We were at Blueberry Hill before Christmas and a woman came in and picked up 5 pounds of cooked bacon for a party she was having.  Five pounds!  At 12 slices a time in the oven and 5 in the microwave that would take about 2 hours at home and a ton of grease to cook that much bacon. And you only have to order it from them 15 MINUTES IN ADVANCE. Done and done forever. Because bacon.

And of course, we’ll need a Breakfast Sangria!


Definitely use either a grapefruit or lemon sparkling water otherwise I don’t think the citrusy kick would be strong enough. But those were some boozy grapefruits!

Bought some 2015 party horns at Target and used them to contain individual silverware sets on the table. By the way, did you know that Target sells both upstairs party horns AND basement party horns? So glad I bought the latter *wink*.


As party favors, I bought inexpensive, little plastic bottles and made Happy New Year labels (filled with either Nerds or mini M&Ms). You can now make labels right here on the Avery label site – just enter the item number of whatever labels you have and they’ll give you a lot of options. It’s really easy.


Here’s everything we made as set forth on my favorite Christmas gift – a menu board!


Here’s to a happy and healthy 2015 for everyone.  May 2015 find you:





And surrounded by friends and family.


Remember, resolutions start only on Mondays!

A Time to Give Thanks

As far as my young children are concerned, Thanksgiving is just a small step between Halloween and Christmas. A step where people eat “gross” food (except for canned, jellied cranberry sauce – that apparently is acceptable). So we were trying to make it more meaningful last week and in talking about what we are thankful for, the main thing the boys agreed we are thankful for is:


Skunk, our cat.   Sure, we love our family and friends.  Happiness and health – good things as well, both boys agreed.  But survey says what we are most grateful for is our cat.   That, and Xbox.

Since we cannot show our appreciation and thanks to the folks at the Microsoft corporation, we instead agreed with the boys that if we are thankful for Skunk, we should show our thanks during this season by donating to the shelter that saved him.   So the boys gathered up their tooth fairy and the occasional chore money and we took it over to the shelter (Mom and Dad augmented the donation).


The shelter couldn’t have been more gracious. Getting out of there without another kitten may qualify as a Thanksgiving miracle.


But enough about giving thanks for the things we should, let’s talk about giving thanks for the little things that make Thanksgiving easier or more fun.  After all, this blog is about tabletops and recipes, written at night by someone who works 12 hour days sitting behind a desk and really isn’t physically fit or mentally competent to be offering any kind of life advice.  If you want to read some truly uplifting and spiritual discussions about how to live your life, I suggest you try my sister-in-law’s blog at Everyday Faith.

But as for me, on with the material possessions!

Serving Platter/Carving Board

This carving board from Cost Plus World Market:


Isn’t it pretty?  I most often use it as a cheese board but this year will use it for the turkey.  And right now it’s $29.99 and, if you still have the Sunday Chicago Tribune around from 2 weeks ago, there’s a coupon in there for 10% off.   THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE.   It’s a newspaper.  Yes, on paper.  Yes, we still get one.


Given that I have two boys who feel bad about eating animals (but won’t eat beans, kale, spinach, cheese or any other protein or iron based food – so chicken nuggets it is!),  I’m not sure how they’d feel about breaking a turkey’s furcula (look it up!).   But hey, tradition, so I had them make a bunch of these fun clay wishbones from Oh Happy Day.  Added bonus, everyone who comes for Thanksgiving can make a wish.


By the way, I told Guitar Boy and Drummer Boy  that I think Turkey’s Furcula should be the name of their band someday “THANK YOU CHICAGO  – WE ARE TURKEY’S FURCULA – GOODNIGHT!!!”   They did not agree.

Salted Butter on Little Plates

I read this story at TheKitchn about salting butter. Now I don’t usually use butter on bread, but Faith Durand’s story about how this simple act – slicing butter and sprinkling smoked salt on it – would transform people’s opinion on bread and butter moved me to action. And I can tell you, it totally works, everyone comments on it. You know, because we need to find a way for Americans to eat more bread and butter. I’m a patriot really.

I use this smoked salt from Williams and Sonoma.


 And I serve on little plates.  Such as these.  From TJ Maxx/HomeGoods.   I know.


Chocolate turkeys:


Because I can.   WorldMarket, Dylan’s Candy Bar and Godiva all have some.

Turkey – to heck with tradition

After seeing 3 or so articles from chefs about how we are all suckers for cooking a turkey whole, where the breast is done and dry way before the dark meat was fully cooked, I decided to try the turkey in parts. You show everyone the turkey for like 1 minute and then take it back to the kitchen for slicing, so why all the hype about a whole turkey? *shaking fist at Norman Rockwell in heaven*

The practice turkey from House Beautiful turned out well. The whole turkey, white and dark done to perfection, in 1 ½ hours.

However, we thought it needed a little something-something. So Thanksgiving turkey will be some combination of these two recipes from Epicurious: Deconstructed Holiday Turkey with Sage Gravy or Citrus Sage Roast Turkey Breast.

I’ve made the latter turkey breast before in testing out the stuffing recipe (see below), but kind of think brining could help. I’ve also pre-made the gravy (wha?!) because TheKitchn told me I could. We’ll do a gravy taste-test on Thanksgiving to see if TheKItchn was right. Mmmmmmh, gravy taste-test.

I’ll let you know how everything turns out afterwards – in between cleaning up Thanksgiving and putting up Christmas.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!