Friday, November 20, 2009

Favorite Thing: Members Only -- a gift that keeps on giving

What to get for the kid who has everything? Or the art lover? The train fanatic? For anyone who loves a fun, local adventure? Why not give the gift of a membership, whether it is a year long pass to the local zoo, museum, aquarium, or even a series of classes at an art or music studio? Holiday gift giving does not need to be about more stuff; it can be about creating memories and giving yourself a reason to set aside some time to have fun. When Santa's sleigh is feeling weighted down with material goods, think outside the box and treat your loved one to something special that will last the whole year through.

Cheap and Cheerful wants to know: Have you ever gifted a membership or outing? Did you use any creative packaging to present your gift? Please share.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Cheap and Cheerful Cooking: Not Your Average Green Bean Casserole

You know you love it, even when it's made with the Campbell's soup from a can. But why not go for this relatively no fuss version by Alton Brown.


For the topping:
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons panko bread crumbs
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Nonstick cooking spray

For beans and sauce:
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1 pound fresh green beans, rinsed, trimmed and halved
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
12 ounces mushrooms, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup half-and-half

Preheat the oven to 475 degrees F.
Combine the onions, flour, panko and salt in a large mixing bowl and toss to combine. Coat a sheet pan with nonstick cooking spray and evenly spread the onions on the pan. Place the pan on the middle rack of the oven and bake until golden brown, approximately 30 minutes. Toss the onions 2 to 3 times during cooking. Once done, remove from the oven and set aside until ready to use. Turn the oven down to 400 degrees F.
While the onions are cooking, prepare the beans. Bring a gallon of water and 2 tablespoons of salt to a boil in an 8-quart saucepan. Add the beans and blanch for 5 minutes. Drain in a colander and immediately plunge the beans into a large bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Drain and set aside.
Melt the butter in a 12-inch cast iron skillet set over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms, 1 teaspoon salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms begin to give up some of their liquid, approximately 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and nutmeg and continue to cook for another 1 to 2 minutes. Sprinkle the flour over the mixture and stir to combine. Cook for 1 minute. Add the broth and simmer for 1 minute. Decrease the heat to medium-low and add the half-and-half. Cook until the mixture thickens, stirring occasionally, approximately 6 to 8 minutes.
Remove from the heat and stir in 1/4 of the onions and all of the green beans. Top with the remaining onions. Place into the oven and bake until bubbly, approximately 15 minutes. Remove and serve immediately.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Cheap and Cheerful Chatter: The Rule of Three

Before I explain "The Rule of Three", I give full credit to my friend Bridget from Baltimore for planting this idea in my head last holiday season.

In addition to the lovely tradition of Santa Claus, Christian churches celebrate the birth of Jesus on Christmas Day. According to Biblical tradition, three magi (or wise men) visited Jesus shortly after birth and presented him with three gifts -- gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

If Jesus got three birthday gifts, why can't Santa pick just three gifts for each child?

The story is working well here at Casa Ferrara. Three gifts from Santa, a few from Mom and Dad, plus all of the fun things from aunties, uncles, and grandparents = MORE than enough stuff.

Emply the Rule of Three this year and let me know how it goes!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Cheap and Cheerful Chatter: Santa's Little Secrets

Santa has been busy here in Sacramento. With great sales already in progress, I've started gathering gifts for Christmas morning. Since my family does read the blog, I am not going to give away too many specifics but I will share some secret sources for great "stocking" gifts.

1. Scholastic Books Clubs: You can get super cute, holiday themed paper backs for $1 or $2 from the October and November Book club flyers. I normally get about $20 worth of books to have on hand for sending to friends, cousins, or to take as a hostess gift for a party held where little people live. Since these are books that normally retail for $4.99 and up, my savings is substantial.

2. Michael's Dollar Bins: I've found adorable stationery, magnets, notepads, rubber stamps, and stickers for $1 and sometimes 2 for $1.

3. Airline Miles: We don't travel much but we do earn some miles each year. These miles tend to expire in December or January. When we have enough miles to "buy" magazine subscriptions, we share the wealth with others. Nothing fancy, just treating a friend to a year of reading.

4. Shop on December 26th or 27th of the year before for great ornaments, cards, tissue and gift bags. I got great wooden ornaments for $2 each last year that will make perfect hostess gifts during this year's party season.

Cheap and Cheerful wants to know: What are your "Santa secrets"?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Favorite Things: J. Crew Pajama Pants

My husband's pair of these pajama bottoms is ten years old. They are just now looking "broken in". At $39.50, they aren't cheap but they will last forever. Plus, who can resist the pair pictured? You can even add a monogram! If my husband's pair wasn't still in such super shape, he would be getting these for Christmas. Maybe in another five years?


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