Monday, May 30, 2011

Giveaway Update

Due to the continuing problems with Blogger, I have extended the deadline for my Novica giveaway to Monday, June 6, 2011.  Thank you for your patience!


Sunday, May 29, 2011

Let's Get Cooking Together! Steak au Poivre

We celebrated my dad's birthday, yesterday, with a French Bistro inspired dinner.  Without a doubt, the star of the show was this Steak au Poivre.  Traditionally, Steak au Poivre is made with filet mignon, coated in coarsely cracked black pepper, seared on the stovetop in a smoking hot pan then finished in the oven and served with a cognac infused cream sauce.  Our preparation puts a little spin on the dish in that we sear it on the stovetop, but finish it on the grill.  The smokiness of the grill pairs nicely with the black pepper and enables you to prepare enough steaks at one time for a small dinner party.  We also put our own riff on the sauce by using dry vermouth instead of cognac.

This is a perfect dish to make together because one cook can finish grilling the steaks while the other cook prepares the sauce.  Grab a partner (because the whole point is to have fun cooking with someone you love), pour a few glasses of your favorite beverage and turn on some great music. Let's get cooking!

 Steak au Poivre

8 filet mignon steaks, 1 1/2 inches thick
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup coarsely cracked black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil or grapeseed oil
2 shallots, finely chopped
1/2 cup dry vermouth
1/2 cup beef stock 
1/2 cup heavy cream
5 or 6 fresh thyme sprigs, whole
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons capers, drained

Light charcoal grill or preheat gas grill to medium high. 

Rinse steaks and pat dry. Combine salt and cracked black pepper on a small plate or in a shallow dish.   Press each side of steaks into salt/pepper mixture, making sure they are well coated.

Place a heavy skillet over medium high heat and drizzle with oil.  Pan is ready when oil just begins to smoke.  Sear each steak on all sides, about 2 minutes per side, until well browned and crusted.  Remove to a large platter or baking sheet until all steaks have been seared.

Reduce heat to medium and add shallots to drippings in pan.  Saute until tender, then deglaze pan with dry vermouth.  Allow to cook for one minute, then add beef stock, heavy cream and whole thyme sprigs.  Simmer until thickened, then add Dijon mustard and capers.  Keep warm until ready to serve (remove thyme sprigs before serving).

Grill steaks as desired, about three to five minutes per side for medium rare.  Let rest for several minutes after removing from heat.  Serve with pan sauce.

Looking for a wine pairing?  We served a French Bordeaux but Cabernet Sauvignon is another great choice.



Friday, May 27, 2011

Milestones And Comment Difficulties

I can't remember exactly what I thought motherhood would be like before my children were born.  I know I pictured snuggling with cooing babies wrapped in fuzzy blankets, and reading bedtime stories to toddlers in footy pajamas.  I looked forward to first words and first steps and visits from the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus.  I don't think I ever thought it would be easy, but I'm sure I never realised how hard some of it would be.

I never thought about how heart wrenching it would be to leave a crying child behind on their first day of preschool, even if it was the right thing to do.  I didn't think about how badly I would wish to trade places with them when they are sick or how my heart would ache when someone hurt their feelings.  I certainly didn't know how hard it would be to watch them become independent and need me less.  Time goes by so much faster than you think it will.  Somehow, I think all of those parenting books I read when my kids were younger left that information out.

Last night, we passed another one of those bittersweet milestones when my son graduated from high school.  While I was extremely proud to see him receive his diploma, I can't deny that I had a lump in my throat.  I know this is how things are supposed to work.  You raise your children to be able to move on to the adult world the same way you did.  You let them go the same way your parents let you go.  It's the way it's always been and the way it will always be.  Still, it's not easy.

On a lighter note, I took some fabulous pictures that I'm dying to share.  I know you'll never believe that these were not taken by a professional photographer because they are such high quality images, but I swear, I took them, myself.  I really do have a talent for lighting and composition.

Filing in to "Pomp and Circumstance"

Waiting to take their seats
It's been a while since I shared current photos of Mr. Willoughby and myself, so I got a few shots of us dressed for this special occasion.  As an extra added bonus, I added a picture of my daughter.

Me.  Did you notice I always seem to be wearing boots in these pictures?

Of course you recognize Mr. Willoughby
My daughter

Don't you love family photos?

Comment Difficulties

I've been reading your blogs, but I've been having trouble commenting on some of them.  I haven't had an issue with blogs where a new windows opens for comments, only those that have a comment box at the bottom of the post.  It never shows me as signed in.  When I click on "Google Account", it takes me to the sign in page.  After I sign in, my comment still shows up as anonymous and won't post.

Is anyone else having this problem?  I would appreciate it if you could email me and let me know if you are or if you have a solution.  I don't know if it's just me, or if it's a Blogger issue.


There is still lots of time to enter my Novica giveaway.  You can find more information, including the rules for entering, right here.  If you are having trouble leaving your entry (see above), please feel free to email me and let me know.  I'll be happy to add your name to the giveaway.


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Let's Get Cooking Together! An Elegant Party Menu

I'm posting our "Cooking Together" feature a little later than intended this week, but I hope you'll agree that it was worth the wait.  It is a complete menu for an elegant dinner party, from the main course through dessert.  It may look complicated, but with two cooks and a little time management, it's not difficult (see checklist and tips at bottom).  We served this to celebrate my mom's birthday, but it would also be nice for an anniversary or engagement dinner.  It has a lovely presentation.  You can expect to serve 8 - 10 guests generously.

Here is the menu: 
Click to enlarge.

Grab a partner (because the whole point is to have fun cooking with someone you love), pour a few glasses of your favorite beverage and turn on some great music. Let's get cooking!

Herb Roasted Pork Loin

For the pork:

1 4 lb. boneless pork loin, rinsed and patted dry
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon olive oil, divided
6 rosemary sprigs
8 large thyme sprigs
8 sage sprigs
8 savory sprigs
2 shallots, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard

For the sauce:

1/3 cup dry vermouth
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 3/4 cups chicken broth
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350°.  Season pork with salt and pepper. Place roasting pan over burner (if your roasting pan is large, you may need to straddle it over two burners), then heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat. Brown pork on all sides, then transfer to a large plate.  Insert roasting rack in roasting pan and place half of herbs down the middle of the rack. 

In a small bowl, stir together shallots, garlic, mustard, and 1 tablespoon oil.   Using the back side of a spoon, rub over top and sides of roast (careful, roast will be hot), then place roast, fat side up, on top of herbs. Roast 1 hour. Toss remaining herbs with remaining teaspoon oil and arrange on top of roast.

Continue roasting 5 to 15 minutes more, until internal temperature reaches 140° to 145° (temperature will rise 5 to 10 degrees as it rests). Transfer pork to a cutting board and let rest 15 to 25 minutes.

While the pork is resting,  remove rack from pan and discard herbs. Place pan across 1 or 2 burners on medium heat. Add vermouth and mustard and deglaze by boiling, stirring and scraping up brown bits, until reduced by half. Add broth and simmer 3 minutes. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a 2-cup measure. If you have more than 1 1/2 cups, boil to reduce; if less, add water.

Melt butter in a heavy medium saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and cook, whisking, until lightly golden, about 3 minutes. Whisk in vermouth mixture and simmer until slightly thickened, about 3 minutes.  Serve on the side.

Caramelized Shallot Mashed Potatoes

6 tablespoons butter, divided
4 shallots, sliced thin
3 lbs. Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
1/2 teaspoon pepper (or to taste)

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in medium skillet over medium heat. Add sliced shallots and cook until tender and brown, stirring often, about 20 minutes. Transfer shallots to small bowl. Add milk to skillet. Set aside.

Meanwhile, place peeled and cubed potatoes in large saucepan. Add enough cold water to pan to cover potatoes by 2 inches. Bring to boil, reduce heat to medium, and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. Drain. Return potatoes to pan and stir over medium heat until dry, about 1 minute. Add remaining 4 tablespoons butter. Bring milk in skillet to simmer, scraping up any browned bits. Add hot milk to potatoes and mash. Stir in caramelized shallots and season with salt and pepper.

Parslied Carrots

1 lb. baby carrots
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons fresh parsley leaves, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest

Place steamer basket in large saucepan and add water until it reaches bottom of steamer.  Place carrots in basket and cover.  Steam over medium high heat until carrots are tender, 20 - 25 minutes.

Using slotted spoon, remove carrots to a large bowl.  Add butter, chopped parsley and lemon zest.  Toss until butter melts.

Chocolate Cobbler

This will look runny when you place it in the oven.  As it bakes, a layer of brownie will rise to the top and a layer of gooey chocolate sauce will form on the bottom. 

1/2 cup butter
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup white sugar
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 1/4 cups boiling water

Vanilla gelato (or ice cream)
candied walnuts (available next to ice cream toppings in supermarket)
Fresh, whole strawberries

Preheat the oven to 350°. Melt butter in an 9x13 inch baking dish while the oven preheats.

In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, 1 cup sugar, and 3 tablespoons cocoa. Stir in milk and vanilla until smooth. Spoon batter over melted butter in the baking dish.

In small bowl, stir together the remaining 1 1/2 cups of sugar and 1/2 cup cocoa powder. Sprinkle evenly over the batter. Slowly pour boiling water over the top of the mixture, do not stir (mixture will be runny).

Bake for 45 minutes in the preheated oven, until top is set.  Let cool slightly.  Cut into squares, but do not remove from pan. 

To serve, place a square of cobbler with chocolate sauce in a margarita glass (or bowl if you prefer).  Add a small scoop of vanilla gelato and top with two or three candied walnuts and a fresh strawberry.  Serve immediately.


Wash, peel, and cube potatoes.  Place in pan with cold water, cover and set aside.
Prep steamer with water and carrots.  Cover and set aside.
Rinse all herbs with cool water and set on tea towel to dry.
Have one cook rinse, dry and season the pork while the other cook preps shallots (2 finely chopped, 4 thinly sliced), garlic, parsley and lemon zest.
While one cook browns the pork, the other cook can mix together the ingredients to spread on the roast.
When the roast has been in the oven for approximately 45 minutes, start boiling the potatoes, caramelizing the shallots and steaming the carrots.
Once the roast has finished cooking is has been set aside to rest, one cook can prepare the sauce while the other cook finishes the mashed potatoes.
One cook can add the butter, parsley and lemon to the carrots while the other slices and plates the roast.
The Chocolate Cobbler can be made ahead of time and warmed slightly before serving.


  • If your guests are late, or you need to keep the roast warm for a while, do not leave it in the oven in the roasting pan or the drippings you need for the sauce will cook away.  Instead, transfer to a different baking dish and cover with foil.  Reduce oven temperature to 250°.  Prepare sauce according to recipe, transfer to a covered oven proof dish and keep warm in oven.
  • We made the cloverleaf rolls from scratch, but I did not include the recipe here.  You can use your favorite white bread recipe or purchase premade rolls.  If you choose to make them from scratch, get your dough made and set aside to rise before beginning the checklist tasks. 
  • If you plan to serve coffee with dinner and/or dessert, don't forget to set up your coffee maker ahead of time so you can just flip the switch when you're ready for it.
  • We printed copies of the menu on white card stock and gave them to each guest as they arrived.  It makes a nice keepsake.
Questions?  Comments?  Let me know.

Have you entered my Novica giveaway today?  Click here for more information.


Monday, May 23, 2011

Longer Weekends And A Giveaway!

Weekends are never long enough, are they?  Whether I have a million things to do or just want to relax and do nothing, the time goes by far too quickly.  It makes me wonder who came up with the idea that, of the seven days in any given week, only two should be reserved for the weekend.

I'm proposing that we change the calendar.  We'll add a day, to make a total of eight days per week.  Then, we'll split the days equally into "week days" and "weekend".  To clarify, that means every week will have a four day weekend.  What do you think?  Would this work for you?  The only problem I can see is that the year will be longer by 52 days, so that will eventually mean Christmas will fall in the middle of hot summer weather.  We could solve that problem by dividing the year into 46 eight day weeks,  but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.  I guess we'll need to come up with a name for that extra day, too.  I'm leaning toward "Slackday", but I'm open to other suggestions.

This weekend, being only two days long, was full of yard work for Mr. W and I.  We were only able to accomplish about half of the tasks on our list (we did manage to squeeze in some time to soak our feet in the hot tub).  If we had had those two extra days (Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Slackday), we could have gotten so much more done.  I would have had time to post the giveaway I've been promising instead of making you wait until today.


I am so excited to announce that Novica has again given me a $50 gift card to award to one lucky winner.  If you're not familiar with Novica, they work in association with National Geographic to bring the work of talented artists and artisans around the globe to the rest of the world via the internet. Shopping their website is a unique experience as you can view information about each artist along with the works they create.  It gives each item a very personal feeling.  In the Keepers Of The Arts section, you can watch videos of the artists at work.

Whether you are shopping for yourself or looking for a gift for someone else, you'll be able to find something special and one of a kind.  You can shop categories like Corporate Gifts, Eco Friendly, and Gifts For Dad or click on something specific like Jewelry and Apparel to find necklaces, rings, bracelets, earrings and clothing.  Don't miss Home Decor to browse rugs, clocks, bookends and more.  If you'd like to search items by the country they are created in, you can do that, too.

If you have a favorite artist, you can view all of their works in one place.  I am in love with the blown glass created by artists Javier and Efren from Mexico.  I own a beautiful set of margaritas glass they created and am anxiously awaiting the set of dessert goblets I ordered a few days ago.

Dessert Goblets by Javier and Efren
You can do more than shop on the Novica website.  In Microfinance, you can learn how to support artists with a loan that will earn you an extra 15% toward Novica purchases.  If you're looking to start a new full or part time career, learn all about becoming a Novica consultant at Novica Live!

I just can't say enough good things about Novica.  From the wonderful opportunity they give artists by making their work available for purchase, to the excellent customer service they provide.  I am so pleased to work with them again.

Now that I've got you all excited, you probably want to know all about the giveaway.  Here we go:

Entry Rules
1. You must be a follower of This Stop Willoughby, or become one.

2. You must click on the Novica Corporate Gifts link, browse items in that category, and then come back and leave a comment on this post telling me about one of your favorites.

3. You may leave an additional comment (one per day) telling me about a favorite item from any category.

4. If you would like to earn a bonus entry, mention my giveaway on your blog along with a link to this post. Please be sure to leave a comment (with link) letting me know that you've done so.

5. This giveaway is not limited to the United States. If you have followed the above rules, you're eligible as long as Novica can ship to you. Certain exclusions may apply to some items.

The deadline for entries is Monday, May 30, 2011 at 5:00 pm Eastern Time. The winner will be drawn randomly and announced shortly thereafter. One entry per day as well as one bonus entry allowed. Please be sure to include a way for me to contact you should you be the winner of this giveaway. If your email is not linked to your blog, please include it in the comment you leave here. If I am unable to contact the winner, a different winner will be drawn at random.  The prize will awarded in the form of an electronic gift card.  You do not have to share your mailing address with me if you are selected as the winner.

Good Luck!!


Thursday, May 19, 2011

A Little Sad, A Little Funny And A Giveaway!

At one time we had a house full of family pets. We had a dog, two cats, three hermit crabs and dozens of fish. Now we have none. I wasn't terribly attached to the fish or the crabs, but it was difficult to lose Molly, our 17 year old dog, when she died six years ago. Shelley, our 16 year old calico cat, was hard, too, when we lost her 3 years ago. Most recently, our 21 year old cat Chester curled up, went to sleep and never woke up. I still think I hear him plodding up and down the stairs at night. I miss him.  I miss all of them.

We don't want to get any more pets. Not right now, anyway.  Luckily, we have a yard full of wildlife to enjoy.
  • In a shrub near the back porch we have Momma, the mother robin. The four tiny blue eggs in her nest just finished hatching yesterday. She gets upset if we get too close, but we can sneak a peak in the nest when she leaves to find a meal.
  • In the overhang of the porch roof, a mother black bird is also raising a family. They're not in a spot where we can see them, but we can hear the babies chirping for their mother when she leaves. 
  • A sweet little hummingbird has decided to make our Honeysuckle her favorite hangout. After sipping on a few flowers she likes to kick back on the interior branches of the shrub. She doesn't seem to mind company, we're able to get within a few feet from her perch without spooking her. 
  • My favorite of all is the baby bunny we've named Dandelion. He lives under the wood pile on the side of the garage. At least a dozen times a day he ventures out to eat and explore. His favorite food seems to be dandelions (hence, his name).
We've also had purple finches and gold finches on the feeder, adult rabbits chasing each other through the hedges and a pair of pizza eating raccoons who raid our garbage cans.

Today was old fashioned school day for my daughter's fifth grade class.  The kids dress like Laura and Albert Ingalls and they hold class in the one room school house we have in town.  To make it as authentic as possible, the teacher has the students do their work on slates.  They also get to try using quill pens and ink to practice Victorian style penmanship.  When my daughter came home from school, she still had the feather with her.  She told me she hadn't been able to write very well with it.  "It takes practice," I said.  "Is this what you used when you were in school or did they have regular pens by then?" she asked me. 

Do I really look that old?  I'm 43 not 143!

We've had a lot of rain over the past few weeks which has caused our perennials to grow like crazy.  A few days ago, I had to adjust the plant that grows up a post in our backyard.  Later, I was telling my husband about it, but I couldn't think of the name of the plant.  It's a climbing plant that develops large purple flowers and I'll bet some of you already know what I'm talking about, but I just couldn't come up with the name Clematis.  A few hours later, it popped into my head, or at least I thought it did.  "Chlamydia!  That's the name of the plant in the yard," I said. 

I hate when I confuse the names of plants with the names of venereal diseases.

I have a fabulous giveaway to announce, but you'll have to wait a little longer.  Trust me, it's a great one!  Come back tomorrow for details!


Sunday, May 15, 2011

Let's Get Cooking Together! Chimichurri Grilled Chicken

I know, I promised I would post some fantastic recipes and then I disappeared for a few weeks.  Well, I'm back now and ready to cook.  Grilling season is upon us, so it seems fitting to start with a recipe for grilled chicken.

If you make grilled chicken from time to time, you know the trick is to cook the chicken thoroughly and still end up with a juicy and tender result.  You probably also know that it's not always as easy as it sounds.  About a year ago, we made the most beautiful chicken.  We followed a recipe that called for marinating it and then brushing it with a sauce while it cooked.  It looked and smelled great when we took it off the grill, but we were disappointed to find it rubbery and nearly flavorless.  Using a brine, as this recipe does, makes all the difference, so don't be tempted to skip that step.  The chicken only needs about an hour in the brine (a little more or a little less than an hour is fine), so you can prepare the rest of the recipe, get your grill heated up and prep your side dishes in that time.

Grab a partner (because the whole point is to have fun cooking with someone you love), pour a few glasses of your favorite beverage and turn on some great music.  Let's get cooking!

Chimichurri Grilled Chicken


2 quarts water
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder

Chimichurri Sauce

1 cup loosely packed fresh parsley leaves
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
3/4 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
juice of one small lemon

4 pounds bone-in chicken pieces

Rinse chicken pieces in cold water.  In a large bowl, combine brown sugar, salt and garlic powder.  Add 2 quarts water and stir until dry ingredients are dissolved.  Immerse chicken pieces into brine.  Cover and refrigerate for one hour.

Finely chop shallot and garlic cloves and place in the cup of your food processor along with parsley, salt, black pepper, chili flakes, oregano, olive oil, red wine vinegar and the juice of one small lemon.  Pulse several times, until well blended but not pureed.  Set aside.

When chicken has nearly finished brining, light charcoal grill or preheat gas grill to medium high heat.  Remove chicken from brining liquid but do not rinse.

Place chicken on heated grill.  Baste with Chimichurri sauce every ten minutes or so, turning pieces each time to ensure even cooking.  Chicken is done when it reaches an internal temperature of 160°.

Remove chicken from grill and let rest briefly before serving.  Discard any unused Chimichurri sauce.

Just a few quick thoughts about cooking together.  You can divide the tasks for this recipe (or any recipe) any way you like.  For example, the person with the better knife skills can do the chopping while the less experienced cook does the measuring.  On the other hand, it may be a good opportunity for the less experienced cook to improve their ability to use a knife.  As long as the emphasis is on having fun (and safety, of course), you really can't go wrong.

Mr. Willoughby and I have such a great time cooking together, we hope to inspire you to cook with someone you love.  We had couples in mind when we decided to make Cooking Together a weekly feature, but there is no reason you can't cook with your mother, father, sister, brother, son, daughter, best friend, weird uncle, crazy aunt or your next door neighbor.  We would love to hear from you if you try this recipe.