It’s hard to believe, but 2013 is drawing to a close! This has been a year full of changes, so I’ve done a lot of reflecting lately. Overall, it has been a good year, but there have been quite a few challenges, and I’m definitely ready to welcome 2014.
One of my favorite traditions at the start of a new year is to serve black-eyed peas. Eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day is a Southern tradition, and the beans are thought to bring prosperity in the new year. Now, you’re supposed to serve the black-eyed peas with greens (to bring wealth), which I usually do, and hog jowl or fatback (to ensure health?!?), which I skip. I’m not Southern or superstitious, so I figure any substitutions I make are okay!
My favorite way to serve black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day or at any time of year is stewed in a crock pot with spicy chipotle peppers, which give the beans a rich, smoky flavor. They couldn’t be easier to make or more delicious to eat.
Spicy Chipotle Black-Eyed Peas
Serves 6 as a Main Dish
1 lb. bag dried black-eyed peas
3 cloves garlic
1 rib celery
1 medium onion
1-2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
6 cups vegetable broth
brown rice, optional
cilantro or parsley, optional
Pick over peas and rinse thoroughly.
Prepare vegetables: peel garlic cloves (leave whole); peel and slice carrots; slice celery; and peel and quarter onion.
Small dice the chipotle pepper.
Add black-eyed peas, vegetables, and diced chipotles (along with a few spoonfuls of adobo sauce) to a crock pot.
Cover with vegetable broth and stir well.
Place cover on crock pot and set to high. Cook for 1.5 – 2 hours or until beans are tender. Optional: remove whole garlic cloves and large chunks of onion.
Season beans with salt to taste. Serve over brown rice, garnished with cilantro or parsley, if you wish, or just enjoy a big bowlful!
Cooked greens are a natural counterpart to the black-eyed peas. An easy way to cook greens (I like kale, collard greens, or a mix of greens) is to saute a few cloves minced garlic in olive oil, along with a pinch of salt and some red pepper flakes. When garlic is fragant add chopped greens and half a cup of broth. Cover and cook until green are tender, stirring occasionally. Yum!
How was your weekend? I’ve been sick since last Wednesday, so mine was super lazy. I did catch up on seemingly every Hallmark Christmas movie ever made though (total guilty pleasure). So, even though I missed Thanksgiving, I did manage to get into the holiday spirit!
My non-stop love affair with my couch also meant I was able to plot out my holiday gift list. I pretty much never buy anything full-price, so scouting out the sales is part of the fun! I’ve found some great Cyber Monday (or Cyber Week, in many cases) deals. Scroll to the end of this post to check them out.
Now that I’m feeling a little better, it’s time to get festive. I love entertaining during the holidays, but I like to keep it simple. When I want to impress my guests the easy way (always!), I serve a cheese tray. It looks super luxurious and decadent but couldn’t be easier to put together.
When I’m putting together a cheese tray, I start with three cheeses:
Soft Cheese: I like double- and triple-cream Bries for cheese plates since they are so readily available (it’s what I used here). Other soft cheeses that I love are St. Marcellin (sometimes hard to find, but so good) or Cowgirl Creamery’s Mt. Tam or Redhawk.
Hard Cheese: I’m partial to aged Gouda (the middle cheese above). It has a rich, caramel flavor, and the really good kinds have crunchy crystals, which are just delicious. I also like sharp aged cheddar or nutty Gruyere.
Blue Cheese: For this cheese tray, I used St. Agur, which is rich, smooth, and creamy. Gorgonzola Dolce and Rogue River Blue are also very good.
It helps to keep these three categories in mind when shopping, but don’t worry about finding the exact cheeses that I used. A well-stocked supermarket or specialty store should have everything you need. Both Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods have great options. Just remember, even if your selection is super slim, it’s cheese. You can’t really go wrong!
Other tips to keep in mind when choosing cheese:
Use a combination of soft, hard, and crumbly cheeses.
Vary the intensity of the cheese you choose. For example, don’t use three stinky cheeses, or your cheese tray will be overpowering.
Shop somewhere with knowledgeable staff. A good cheesemonger will help you navigate endless options. Plus, they’ll let you taste before buying, which is half the fun!
Keep a record of your favorite cheeses, so you can buy them again.
There’s no need to stop at just three cheeses! Add as many as you like to the cheese tray.
Thinly-sliced baguette: Buy the crustiest baguette you can find and slice it thinly on the diagonal.
Fruit (dried or fresh): Fruit balances out the rich flavors of the cheese. I used dried black mission figs, which are a favorite of mine and are perfect at this time of year. Fresh fruit, such as grapes, apples, or pears, is also delicious.
Nuts: Crunchy nuts are a great counterpoint to creamy, soft cheese. I love to use Marcona almonds, but any kind of nut works. Choose your favorite.
Dark Chocolate: I love chocolate on a cheese plate. Look for a super dark chocolate with lower sugar content.
How to arrange your tray:
Place your cheeses first. I like to keep the cheeses separated, leaving room in between for the other tray components.
Add the crackers and bread. Put these at the back of the tray, since they take up a lot of space. You could also place the crackers and bread in a separate basket or bowl.
Fill in the gaps on your tray with fruit, nuts, and chocolate.
Add a fun flourish. This step is totally optional, and I often skip it. I used rosemary sprigs here, which added a fragrant, fresh element to the cheese tray.
Keep in mind that you don’t even need to use a tray. A wood cutting board is another option.
What goes hand in hand with cheese? Wine, of course! I like to serve white wine with cheese. Sauvignon Blanc is my favorite, but an unoaked Chardonay works, too. Sweeter wines, like Riesling, or even Champagne can also be good. You can also try serving red wine, but avoid strong reds with lots of tannins, because they’ll overpower your cheese. Pinot Noir or Sangiovese are a great options.
OK, on the Cyber Monday Deals (many of which are good all week)! I think there is something for everyone your list here:
Julep: save up to 80% on amazing gifts and more in the Julep Secret Store (normally available exclusively to subscribers!) through 12/3. My pick: the Trophies set, which includes 4 full-size polishes perfect for the holidays (and only $14.99!).
C. Wonder: enjoy 40% off site wide + free ground shipping on orders of $75 or more with promo code GIFTS40 (valid 12/2). My pick: the Cashmere Tres Chic Intarsia Gloves or anything from the Monogram Shop would make great gifts!
Ruche: get 30% off new arrivals, plus check out their 4 sales buckets – under $20, under $15, under $10, or under $5 (valid through 12/3). My pick: the Willow Creek Plaid Scarf (only $8.50!).
BonLook: up to 50% off eyewear plus free shipping (valid 12/02). My pick: the La Marquise has a fun, slightly retro shape and where else can you get prescription glasses for $79?
Lucy: save 30% off the Perfect Core collection + free shipping (valid 12/2). My pick: the Perfect Core Pant works for yoga and so much more!
The Limited: get 50% off full-priced items plus free shipping with code JINGLE (valid through 12/3). My pick: the Colorblock Halter Top, which would be perfect for a holiday party paired with skinny pants and killer heels!
Alternative Apparel: Choose your Cyber Monday deal! Buy 2, get 1 free: leggings with code LEGSB2G1; tees/tops with code TEESB2G1; dresses with code DRESB2G1; or hoodies with code HOODB2G1. My pick: the Dolman Pullover Eco Fleece Hoodie, which adds a little style to a casual basic.
Lulu & Georgia: take 30% off with code THANKS30 (valid through 12/2). My pick: the Only Happy Thoughts Print or the Thomas Paul Jackie Sunglass Case. I love both too much to choose!
Art.com:for ONE DAY only, save 40% on all orders with coupon code CM2013 (valid 12/2 from 12:01am PST to 11:59pm PST). My pick: this Elephant giclee print would look beautiful as part of a gallery wall.
Home Decorators: today is the last day for Home Decorator’s “12 Days of Deals”! Get 10% off everything, plus free shipping – no exclusions or limits (valid 12/2). My pick: get something big and heavy that would cost a lot to ship otherwise, like the Custom Rockford Sofa.
Harry & David: take 10% off $49, 15% off $79, or 20% off $199 with code HOLIDAY (through 12/2). My pick: the Rogue Valley Gift Box, combines gourmet cheese from the Rogue Valley with fresh pears (you can even add wine and chocolate), very apropos for today’s post!
Target: save during Cyber Week with new daily doorbuster deals now through 12/7. My pick: the Easy-Bake Ultimate Oven for your favorite little baker!
Starbucks: save $25 on any $60+ purchase and receive Free Shipping on $35+ orders (valid 12/2 only). My pick: the Salted Caramel Hot Cocoa Mix, which would make a great stocking stuffer!
Amazon.com: shop Cyber Monday Deals all week and literally something for everyone. There’s too much here to pick a fave!
Kohl’s: get 20% off everything site wide with the code CYBERWEEK (valid through 12/4). My pick: Kohl’s has logo apparel for every sports team/fan, including my husband. I’d get him a Wisconsin Badgers Hoodie.
Paper Source: is one of my all-time favorite stores, and they have lots of great sales going on right now. My pick: a custom address stamp for your friends who just moved.
Cost Plus World Market: save 20% and enjoy free shipping on $100+ with code CYBERSAVE (valid 12/1 – 12/2). My pick: a set of Vintage Brooch Stoppers (along with a bottle of wine, of course) would make a great present for a gal who likes a little bling with her wine!
Gaiam.com: save 20% on your order, plus get free shipping with code: SHOP20AFCY13 (valid through 12/4). My pick: add vibrant color to your couch with a hand-knit sweater pillow.
Hancock Fabrics: has lots of great sales running through 12/4. My pick: the Hancock Curvy Sewing Machine, which would make any crafter very happy!
Walgreens: has great sales on photo gifts. Print those Thanksgiving pics now!
Novica: get $10 Off $50 with code ARTISAN10; $15 Off $100 with code ARTISAN15; or $25 Off $150 with code ARTISAN25 (valid through 12/3). Plus, free shipping! My pick: any woman would be happy to receive a luxurious, artisan-crafted Alpaca Wool Patterned Shawl.
Walmart: has a Cyber Week sale with deals through 12/7. My pick: your favorite Instagrammer who’s ready to graduate from point-and-shoot will love the Canon EOS T3 12.2MP DSLR. It comes with two lenses, SD card, camera bag, and bonus coupon for 2 canvas prints – pretty much everything he/she will need to get started!
What is your favorite kind of cheese? Let me know what I should try next!