Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Happy New Year!

Stuffed Mushrooms

If you are looking for New Year’s Eve appetizer ideas, you can’t go wrong with these stuffed mushrooms. I saw them on the Pioneer Woman’s site, and they looked so good I needed to try them out for myself. They didn’t disappoint! The sausage mixed with the Parmesan cheese and the mushrooms are a great combination. Here is her recipe for Stuffed Mushrooms.

Here are some other ideas…
Chicken Wings with Salsa Verde
Baked Brie with Crudités

Sausage Rolls
Tomato Tart

I will be back next year with some more yummy food. Happy New Year!

PS: Check out my updated recipe list. I have finally updated the list with all of the recipes on my blog.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas Season Dinner Party

I told you a couple of posts ago how I love the all the gatherings during the Christmas season, and how we like to entertain guests in our home too. There just never seems to be enough weekends during December in which to entertain and to be entertained. We did manage to have a small dinner party on Friday before Christmas. I squeezed our party in between two other parties that week, so I had to be ultra organized. My daughter, son and I baked sugar cookies Thanksgiving weekend, and we froze them, so the kids could decorate Christmas cookies during our party. My daughter and her friend helped make the glaze we used to decorate the cookies (they even cleaned-up after the boys!) The kids had a blast decorating cookies, and we had such a fun time visiting with our friends.
The friends we invited love Mexican food as much as we do, so planning the menu was easy. Fine Cooking’s December issue has step-by-step instructions on how to make homemade tamales. My friend Elva (of Elva’s salsa) has told me stories for years about her family making tamales for Christmas Eve, and I’ve always been fascinated by her stories, and have wanted to try to make them myself. So, the weekend before our dinner party, I embarked on my tamale-making mission. Making tamales is definitely a long and involved weekend project. The tamales were good, but if you have a Mexican market in your neighborhood that makes good tamales, buy them there. On the other hand, make sure to make your own refried beans and Mexican rice. Homemade refried beans are vastly superior to anything you can buy in a can, and the Mexican rice below is really delicious. These recipes would be great for a New Year’s Eve celebration.

Refried Beans
Adapted from Cooks Illustrated Entertaining
4 15-ounce cans of pinto beans, drained (you can soak and cook your own beans to equal 6 cups of beans)
1 ½ cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 teaspoon table salt
6 slices of bacon, chopped fine (or you can use 4 tablespoons of saved bacon fat or olive oil)
1 medium onion, minced
2 jalapenos, seeds and ribs removed
1 teaspoons ground cumin
4 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press
4 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro
4 teaspoons of fresh lime juice

Puree 4 cups of the beans, broth and salt in food processor until smooth, about 15 seconds. Add the remaining beans and pulse until the mixture is chunky. Cook the bacon until browned and crisp and most of the fat has rendered. Transfer the bacon to a plate to drain, and set aside. Leave 4 to 6 tablespoons of fat in the pan and add the onion, jalapeno and cumin, and cook until the onion is softened. Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in pureed beans. Reduce heat to medium and cook until the beans are thick and creamy and the flavors have melded, about 4 to 6 minutes. Remove the pan from heat and add the cilantro and lime juice. Taste to adjust the salt, and sprinkle with the reserved bacon. (I didn’t have any bacon left. Thanks kids! But, the beans were delicious without it.) I made the beans on Wednesday night, and they were great reheated on Friday night. Serves 8.

Mexican Rice
Adapted from Cooks Illustrated Entertaining
2 medium ripe tomatoes, cored and quartered
1 medium onion, peeled and quartered
3 medium jalapenos, take out the seeds and ribs of two of the jalapenos, and leave one whole, and mince the jalapenos
2 cups of long grain rice
1/3 cup canola oil
4 garlic cloves, minced or placed through a garlic press
2 cups of low sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 ½ teaspoons table salt
½ cup minced fresh cilantro leaves

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Process the tomatoes and onion in a food processor until smooth and thoroughly pureed. Transfer the mixture to a liquid measuring cup. You should have 2 cups of liquid. Place the rice in a strainer, and rinse the rice under cool water until the water runs clear. Shake the rice to remove all excess water.

Heat oil on high in a heavy Dutch oven with a tight fitting lid for about 1 to 2 minutes. Drop a couple of grains of rice in the oil, and if they sizzle, the oil is ready. Add the rice and fry stirring frequently until the rice is light golden and translucent, about 6 to 8 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium, add the garlic and jalapenos and cook until fragrant, about 1½ minutes. Stir in the pureed tomato mixture, chicken broth, tomato paste and salt. Increase the heat to medium high and bring to a boil. Cover the pan and transfer to the oven. Bake until all the liquid is absorbed, about 30 minutes. Stir once after 15 minutes. Stir in the cilantro and serve. (I forgot to add the cilantro, but the rice was still good.) If you would like the rice to be less spicy, remove the ribs and seeds of the third jalapeno as well. Serves 8.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Candy Dipped Snowmen and Reindeer

Are you looking for something easy, fun and festive to do with your kids on Christmas Eve? These Candy Dipped Snowmen and Reindeer are for you. They really couldn’t be easier. I found the idea in an ad for CandiQuik candy coating in Woman’s Day Last Minute Christmas magazine. I have never seen CandiQuik in any store near me, but I love the idea, and I found other candy coating at Michaels. I whipped up some royal icing, added different colors, melted the candy coating, and we were ready. The kids really enjoyed making these candy dipped cookies, and I had fun too since they weren’t too complicated. The snowmen are cute, but I really like the reindeer.

Candy Dipped Snowmen
1 package Nutter Butter cookies
2 14 ounce packages vanilla candy coating pieces
1-2 batches royal icing (assorted paste food colorings)
candy coated chocolate pieces (we used M&Ms)

Melt the candy coating. Dip cookies into the candy. Place the dipped cookies on parchment paper. Add the M&Ms when the candy has partially set. When the candy coating has dried, decorate.

Candy Dipped Reindeer
1 package Nutter Butter cookies
2 14 ounce packages chocolate candy coating pieces
1 batch royal icing (I used some from the snowmen)
candy coated chocolate pieces (M&Ms)
pretzels twists broken in half

Melt the candy coating. Dip the Nutter Butters into the candy coating. Place the dipped cookies on parchment paper. Add the M&M noses and pretzel antlers when the candy has partially set. Add the white royal icing eyeballs when the candy coating is dry. Use a toothpick to add some of the chocolate candy coating as pupils.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas Party Appetizers

I love Christmas, even with the stress of shopping, the crowds, and the extra work the season entails. I like the shopping and baking, but most of all, I like the gatherings. Les and I enjoy entertaining friends and family in our home, but I love to be invited to friends’ homes during Christmas time. We are lucky to have friends who enjoy entertaining, and do it well. We were invited to some great parties this year, including a couple of cocktail parties, a cookie exchange and an ornament exchange. I have eaten some delicious food in the last couple of weeks.

Barb and Rob had a wonderful cocktail party with “potluck” appetizers. Les and I really enjoyed ourselves at their party. Rob had lemon drop, hypnotic, cosmo and orange martinis waiting for us when we arrived. I brought stuffed peppers and spicy green bean/salami roll-ups. Sandy brought this impressive shrimp dish. I think these shrimp were the hit of the party (I didn't bring my camera, so I don't have a picture).

Conny made Crostini with Mushrooms, Blue Cheese and Bacon for her cookie exchange party, and they tasted like mushroom stroganoff. The crostini was the perfect appetizer to counter all the cookies we were munching on. The mushroom and blue cheese crostini were so good, I had to make them for Les to try. He was impressed! The only change Conny and I made to the recipe was to use bacon instead of prosciutto. I just browned the chopped bacon, and then removed it from the pan and drained the fat, but did not clean the pan. I added the three tablespoons of butter and continued the recipe as written. I stirred in the bacon when the recipe said to add the prosciutto.
Shannon invited me to a girls’ ornament exchange party this year, and I had a great time. Shannon is the “hostess with the mostess.” She served pomegranate martinis along with a fabulous spread. She served something similar to this delicious Blue Cheese and Bacon dip along with some other wonderful appetizers. The food was great, but the best part of the evening was the ornament exchange. Everyone brought a wrapped ornament, so we drew numbers, and then everyone got to pick a wrapped ornament to open. Shannon warned me this part of the evening would get a bit “cut-throat” since the a guest with a higher number could steal an unwrapped ornament from a guests with lower number. Shannon was right, the stealing does get a bit intense, but it was great fun!

Chris and Bernie invited us to a cocktail party last weekend. Les and I were both supposed to attend, but Les didn’t feel well, so he stayed home. Chris and Bernie are also wonderful hosts. Their house was very festive, and the company was especially merry. I had a great time. I put together these fig blue cheese and walnut crostini. Melissa gave me some homemade fig jam for Christmas, so I spread it on toasted baguette and topped it with a little blue cheese and a toasted walnut half. I like having some recipes on hand where I only need to assemble the ingredients.
Here is a sneak-peak of my Christmas table setting...

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Cookie Exchange

I was invited to a cookie exchange for last Friday night. I was excited to attend. I made cookie dough on Wednesday night, and baked some of the cookies on Thursday night. I was baking more cookies on Friday morning, when I got the news a dear friend passed away early Friday morning from complications due to leukemia. I was devastated to learn of Monique’s death. She was the most spiritual, loving and giving person I know. She was a wonderful wife and mother to three young children. I am deeply saddened by Monique’s death.

In light of everything, I couldn’t decide if I should go to the cookie exchange. Another friend of mine reminded me that Monique would have wanted me to go to the party, and she was right. Monique loved food, cooking and baking. She would have appreciated a party dedicated to food. I decided to attend the party, and I’m glad I did. Being around the laughter and joy of supportive women was a balm to my sadness. Monique would have enjoyed the party. I will always miss you Monique!

Here are the cookies I brought to the cookie exchange (the one’s I didn’t burn when I received the sad news). I enjoyed both cookies, but my favorite is the molasses crinkle.

Molasses Crinkles
From Best of Fine Cooking Cookies
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1 ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon table salt
½ cup unsalted butter
1 cup dark brown sugar
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1/3 cup molasses
1 large egg
granulated sugar for rolling

At least 3 hours before baking, in a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, ginger cinnamon, cloves and salt. With an electric mixer, beat butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the oil until blended. Scrape the bowl, add the molasses and the egg, and beat until blended. Wrap the dough and refrigerate for 3 hours.

Once the dough has chilled for three hours, preheat the oven to 375°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Measure the dough into tablespoon-size pieces and roll each piece between your palms to form 1-inch balls. Roll the balls in granulated sugar, and place the cookies two inches apart on the cookie sheets. Bake until the center of the cookies is barely dry about 9 to 10 minutes. Don’t over bake. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Makes about 36 3-inch cookies.

Dark Chocolate Crackles
From Best of Fine Cooking Cookies
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
¼ teaspoon table salt
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
2/3 cup natural unsweetened cocoa, sifted if lumpy
2 tsp. finely grated orange zest
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
3 large eggs
½ lb bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled until barely warm
¾ cup chopped bittersweet chocolate
1/3 cup granulated sugar; more as needed

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line 3 to 5 cookie sheets with parchment paper. Whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Using a stand mixer, beat the butter, brown sugar, cocoa, orange zest and vanilla until well combined, about 4 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time beating briefly between additions. Add the melted chocolate and mix until melted chocolate and mix until blended, about 1 minute. Add the flour mixture and mix on low speed until almost completely blended, about 1 minute. Add the chopped chocolate and mix until blended, about 15 seconds.

Shape the dough into 1¼ inch balls. Don’t refrigerate the dough or you will have a difficult time rolling it into balls (don’t ask how I know). Roll the balls in the granulated sugar and set on the baking sheets about 2 inches apart. Bake until the cookies are puffed and cracked on top about 11-12 minutes. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes, and them transfer them to a wire rack. Makes about 5 dozen cookies.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Garlic-Lime Chicken with Olives

I have another quick weeknight meal to share with you. This time of year I struggle with getting a healthy meal on the table. I know I need help when I see the KFC commercials and think to myself that looks like a good solution. Not!! It is a solution filled with fat and sodium. Just what my family doesn’t need. I’ll admit I do get take out occasionally, but I like to reserve it for emergencies only. I want to put a healthy meal on the table as often as possible, and this is one of the recipes that makes sitting down to a family meal a little easier.

Garlic-Lime Chicken with Olives is a Robin Miller recipe I found on the Food Network website. She created the recipe knowing she was going to use the chicken for two more meals. I’ve made this recipe a couple of times using only one pound of chicken for one meal, but this time I decided to see how the chicken faired as leftovers. We ate the chicken one night and I used the leftovers for tostadas with Elva's Salsa, and I still had enough chicken left to have some on my salad for lunch one day.

I enjoyed Garlic-Lime Chicken with Olives, but I really liked having the chicken already prepared for another meal. My family liked this chicken the first night, and they really liked the chicken on the tostadas.

Garlic-Lime Chicken with Olives
Adapted from Robin Miller's recipe at
Cooking spray
3 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 cup diced onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon molasses
2 teaspoons Worchester sauce
1 ½ teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
½ cup pitted and sliced kalamata olives

Preheat oven to 400° F. Coat a large roasting pan with cooking spray. In a large bowl, combine chicken, onion, garlic, lime juice, molasses, Worcestershire sauce, cumin, oregano, salt and black pepper, and toss to coat. Transfer the chicken to the prepared pan and pour over any remaining marinade. Arrange the olives over and around the chicken in the pan, and roast for 30 to 35 minutes until the chicken is cooked through. Serve some of the chicken right away, and reserve the remaining chicken for another use.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Quick, Easy Chinese Chicken

With the holidays fast approaching (when did that happen?), I like to have some easy recipes to rely on for quick weeknight meals. I found this recipe for Quick, Easy Chinese Chicken in Cooking Light years ago. I ripped the recipe out of the magazine, so I don’t know exactly how old it is, but there is an add for a Jane Fonda exercise VHS video, if that gives you an idea.

Quick, Easy Chinese Chicken is a standby for me. I can put this recipe together in minutes, it does take 45 minutes in the oven, but I can use that time to accomplish something else. This was my daughter’s favorite meal until Creamy Baked Penne came along to bump it off, but both my kids are happy when I tell them we are having Chinese Chicken for dinner. This is also my go-to recipe to take to a sick friend. It keeps well, and freezes well if my friends end up with too much food.

Quick, Easy Chinese Chicken
Adapted from Cooking Light
6 to 8 boneless skinless chicken thighs
¾ cup ketchup
½ cup firmly packed brown sugar
¼ cup low-sodium soy sauce
2 Tablespoons white vinegar
1 Tablespoon dried minced onions
½ teaspoon garlic powder

Preheat the oven 375°F Place the chicken in a 1½ quart baking dish. Combine the next 6 ingredients and pour over the chicken. Bake for 45 minutes. Serves 4.

Monday, November 16, 2009

French Dinner Part II

You can’t have a French dinner party without, well, dinner, so it is high time I told you about my French dinner. I love Ina Garten’s Food Network show and I love her cookbooks. She really has a great style. Her Barefoot in Paris cookbook has been an inspiration to me, and I have wanted to try her Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic for over a year. So, once I bought my inspirational napkins, I decided to make Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic with mashed potatoes and green beans.
We started dinner with radicchio fennel and walnut salad. I had made this salad once before when I had my “comfort food” dinner party. I served it with a delicious onion tart. This time I served the radicchio salad by itself. I liked the salad the better first time. I think the onion tart cut the bitterness of the radicchio in the salad. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy this salad, but I like it better with the onion tart.
Radicchio, Fennel, and Walnut Salad
Adapted from Festive Occasions Cookbook by Chuck Williams and Joyce Goldstein
2 small heads radicchio
2 small fennel bulbs
6 Tablespoons toasted walnut oil
3-4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup toasted walnuts

Trim the radicchio and separate the leaves, and wash well if the leaves are sandy, and dry well. Remove the stems from the fennel and cut the bulbs into quarters. Remove the hard center cores and any discolored outer portions. Slice the fennel thinly. Combine the walnut oil, olive oil and vinegar in a small bowl and whisk. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Marinate the toasted walnuts in ¼ of the vinaigrette for 15 minutes. Toss the Radicchio, fennel and walnuts in the remaining vinaigrette. Divide among six plates.

Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic
Adapted from Barefoot In Paris by Ina Garten
3 heads of garlic, about 40 cloves, peeled
12 bone-in and skin-on chicken thighs
salt and pepper
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
2 Tablespoons olive oil
3 Tablespoons Cognac or Brandy, divided
1 ½ cups dry white wine
1 Tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 Tablespoons heavy cream

Dry the chicken with paper towels. Season the chicken with salt and pepper on both sides. Heat the butter and olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Sauté the chicken in batches skin side down first about 3 to 5 minutes per side or until nicely browned. When the batch is done, remove the chicken to a plate, and continue with another batch until all chicken has been browned. Remove all but 3 tablespoons of oil in the Dutch oven, and then put it back on the heat. Add whole garlic cloves to the pot and lower the heat. Sauté the garlic for 5 to 10 minutes turning it often and cook until evenly browned. Add two tablespoons of brandy and the wine, and return to a boil scraping up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Return the chicken to the pot with any juices and sprinkle with the thyme leaves. Cover and simmer over the lowest heat for about 30 minutes or until all the chicken is done. Remove the chicken to a platter and cover with aluminum foil to keep warm. In a small bowl whisk together ½ cup of the sauce and the flour and then whisk it back into the sauce in the pot. Raise the heat, add the remaining tablespoon of Cognac and the cream, and simmer for 3 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour the sauce and garlic over the chicken and serve hot.

Sandy made these fabulous cream puffs with chocolate for dessert. I don’t have her recipe. Yet…

Monday, November 9, 2009

French Themed Dinner Party

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I love themed parties. From my son’s birthday parties, (Star Wars, Pokemon, Get Smart) to our fundraising cocktail parties (Tiki, Fist Full of Cocktails), I just love themed parties. I think themed parties are easy. Once I decide on a theme, everything else seems to fall into place. You might think I’m crazy (Wow, I just went back to my college days with that phrase), but I even like to have a theme for dinner parties. I don’t always have a theme, but I like it when I do. The first time I hosted a dinner club, my theme was comfort food, and I followed that up with a Cuban inspired dinner.
I chose French country for my latest dinner party theme. It might have been the movie Julie and Julia that inspired me to have a French themed dinner, but I really think it was the napkins I purchased. I love these napkins, although they do feel a bit like you're wiping your mouth on the couch, but the colors are perfect, and they inspired me to create a dinner party around them. I know, I know…but we all have our inspirations.
I think I was able to pull together a credible French table. Maybe not a typical one, but I think it had a French feel. I’m lucky my mother-in-law had some beautiful china she passed to me. This set is Melrose from Grindley, which I thought worked nicely with my table.

Check out the bird candle holders—aren’t they hilarious? And, I really scored with my glassware purchase. I love the depression glass look of these glasses.
As for dinner on Saturday night, we invited two families to join us, but Tammy and Tom had a sick kid, and didn’t want to share the wealth. We missed them, but appreciated the decision. So Sandy and Brian and the kids joined us on Saturday night for our French dinner. Sometimes I get so wrapped up in how many people I can invite over, that I forget how fun it is to just have one or two families join us. Les and I had a great time with Sandy and Brian. The evening was fun, intimate and relaxing.

I started us off with some tapenade, toast and Brie. We nibbled on these snacks while dinner finished cooking. My son loved the tapenade. He is still snacking on the leftovers!

Adapted from Ina Garten’s recipe on
½ pound good black olives, such as kalamata, pitted and diced
3 tablespoons capers, drained and rinsed
6 anchovy fillets, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
3 Tablespoons good olive oil
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh parsley leaves
1 baguette, sliced and toasted

Combine the olives, capers, anchovies and garlic in a food processor fitted with a steel blade, and pulse 3 times. Add the olive oil, lemon juice, mustard, thyme and parsley and process until chunky. Serve with toasts.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Fully Loaded Bars

Near the end of “Girl’s Night In,” our hostess brought out three desserts. All three desserts were delicious, but for the life of me, I can’t remember two of them. Not because they weren’t good—They were all delicious, but because the Fully Loaded bars took center stage on my taste buds and in my brain. I liked the sweet and salty combination so much; I had to make them myself. I love making these bars (and eating them). The bars are easy to make; in fact, the most difficult part is unwrapping the caramels!

Fully Loaded Bars via Betty Crocker

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Speaking of Hor d’oeuvres…

I have a friend who has a “girl’s night in” every summer in her backyard. She asks everyone to bring either a bottle of wine or a hor d’oeuvre. Her backyard is beautiful. The weather is beautiful. The company is great. I look forward to this party every year. I usually opt to bring an hor d’oeuvre. One year I brought this brie dip, and another year I brought some Giadia’s red pepper aioli. This year I couldn’t decide what to bring, so I brought two different hor d’oeuvres. Both chorizo puffs and sun-dried tomato pesto palmiers looked good to me.

A friend recommended Hors D’oeuvres by Eric Treuille and Victoria Blashford-Snell. I love this book! It is set up in a way so you can mix and match—If you don’t like the filling of a certain recipe, you can exchange it with another recipe. I think it is the potential of this book that I love so much. That being said, I didn't change the recipe much.
Chorizo Puffs
I love working with patachou dough. It is easy and delicious. I usually make traditional “cheese puffs” with Gruyere cheese, but chorizo makes most anything taste good, so I couldn’t resist this recipe. I did add some cheddar cheese to change the recipe up a bit.
1 cup all-purpose flour
¾ cup water
½ teaspoon salt
3 Tablespoons butter
3 eggs
¼ lb Spanish (cooked) chorizo, casing removed and finely chopped.
½ cup cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 350°F. Place water, salt and butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring the mixture just to a boil and remove from heat. Add the flour to the pan, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until combined. Return the pan to the heat and beat until the mixture is smooth and pulls away from the sides of the pan, about 1 minute. Remover the pan from the heat and beat in the eggs, one at a time, making sure that each egg is thoroughly incorporated before adding the next one. Beat until the mixture is smooth, glossy and slightly sticky. Stir the chorizo and cheese into the pastry. You can then drop the dough in teaspoonfuls onto a greased baking sheet, or you can do it like I do and put the dough into a zipper bag, cut a small hole on the corner of the bag, and pipe the dough onto the greased baking sheet. Bake until golden, about 30 minutes. Makes about 35.

Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto Palmiers
6 sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained (reserve oil), and finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 Tablespoon reserved oil from sun-dried tomatoes
3 Tablespoons grated Parmesan Cheese
1 sheet of puff pastry
1 egg yolk beaten with 1 Tablespoon of water
Preheat oven to 400°F. For the pesto mix tomatoes, garlic, reserved oil and 2 tablespoons Parmesan until well combined. Roll the pastry to 6X14-inch rectangle. Trim uneven edges with a sharp knife. Spread the pesto evenly over the pastry. Roll up ends tightly to meet in the middle of pastry. Refrigerate until firm, about 20 minutes. Brush with beaten egg on all sides. Cut crosswise into ½ -inch-thick slices. Place slices on a greased baking sheet. Bake until crisp and golden, 10 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining Parmesan when hot from oven. Cool on a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature. Makes 20.

Monday, October 19, 2009


I love dinner parties where everyone brings something. I love tasting all of the different dishes guests bring, and gaining inspiration from all of the dishes for future dinner parties. Lucky for me, Tammy and Tom invited us to a dinner party on Saturday night. They were brave hosting 12 adults and 11 kids. We had great weather, so we sat around the outdoor fire with our plates in our laps scarfing up the delicious food (okay, maybe it was just me scarfing while everyone else ate politely). We stayed outside all evening enjoying the beautiful fall weather.

I said I would bring appetizers to Tammy’s shindig. Appetizers can be tricky. I don’t want to bring too many appetizers or bring appetizers that are too filling. I would hate to spoil everyone’s dinner, but since parties usually start with an alcoholic beverage, I like to give guests something to eat too. I usually have one or two appetizers, but since there were so many adults and kids coming, I decide to bring three appetizers. I have to thank Lisa from A Dinner Party for her appetizer ideas. I am pretty sure I saw the recipe for the spicy green bean rolls from her, but I can’t find it now. I know I found the stuffed pepper and the sausage roll recipe from her, since she just had an appetizer party.

I love the green bean rolls and the stuffed peppers, because both of them only need a little assembly and they are ready. The sausage rolls needed a little more attention, but they were also easy to make. My daughter helped me make the green bean rolls and I did the stuffed peppers and the sausage rolls, and we finished assembling the appetizers in an hour. I baked the sausage rolls right before we left, so they would still be warm when we arrived.

I think I was successful in my choices, because there were only a few stuffed peppers left, and it didn’t seem like I ruined anyone’s appetite.

Stuffed Peppers
From Lisa at A Dinner Party

You can find these peppers in the olive bar at the grocery store. The store near my house even had them stuffed already, but I like to stuff my own.

Peppadew peppers
Blue Cheese
Break the blue cheese into chunks, and spoon the chunks into the peppadew peppers.

Spicy Green Bean Rolls
From Lisa at A Dinner Party (at least I think so)

I jar spicy pickled green beans
1 package thinly sliced salami
Are you ready? This is difficult. Roll one piece of salami around one spicy green bean and secure with a toothpick.

Sausage Rolls
From Lisa at A Dinner Party

2 sheets puff pastry, thawed
4 links of uncooked sweet Italian sausage
zest from one lemon
1 Tablespoon fresh thyme (you can use 1 teaspoon dried)
1 egg beaten
Preheat the oven to 450°. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Remove the sausage from the casing, and place in a small bowl. Mix in the lemon zest and the thyme being careful not to over mix. Slice each sheet of puff pastry in half horizontally. Roll ¼ of the sausage mixture into a log and place in the center of one piece of the puff pastry. Have the sausage overhang the pastry by about ¼ inch. Fold the top and bottom of the pastry over the sausage and crimp the pastry together with the tines of a fork. Brush the rolls with the beaten egg. Then, using a sharp knife or kitchen shears cut the pastry into ½ inch slices. Repeat with the remaining of the sausage and puff pastry. Place the sausage rolls on the baking sheets, and bake for 10-15 minutes or until puffed and golden.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Fist Full of Cocktails Part II

Sandy and Brian’s backyard looked magical on the night of our fundraising party. We were lucky with the weather. It was a hot day and a warm evening, and we don’t get many of those in our area. Les was wondering why we couldn’t have had this kind of weather for the tiki party last year when we were shivering in our Hawaiian shirts and shorts. This year he was dressed in jeans and a long sleeved shirt (Oh, the irony). We set out the tabletop heaters in case the evening got a bit chilly, but we never needed them. Our guests really got into the theme this year digging western wear out of their closets, and coming ready to have a good time. You can plan the best party ever, but you need great guests for a great party, and we had them!
We consider our party a cocktail party, and my friend Melissa who came to help us out, said that it is only cocktail party because we don’t offer any utensils. Everything on the menu is considered finger food, so we can squeak by with no utensils, but this year we really pushed it. I told you about the menu items we passed and set on the tables in my last post. We also offered some other more substantial food on Sandy and Brian’s large patio table. We put out brisket sandwiches, ribs (Paula used a different recipe, but this one is close), tequila lime chicken wings, jalapeno corn bread, watermelon triangles, veggies and dip, and (this is where we pushed it) bean shooters. What are bean shooters you ask? Well, we served beans in small paper cups, so you can shoot them into your mouth and without using a fork. My daughter came up with the idea when we were trying to decide the menu for our party. We knew we weren’t going to offer utensils, but we wanted to offer baked beans, so she came up with bean shooters. I’m not sure they worked since everyone kept asking for silverware, but we thought it was a cute idea, and we didn’t have any leftovers.
For dessert, we passed squares of Texas sheet cake (I think Sandy used another recipe, but the recipe I linked to is close to the recipe she used). We also passed squares of apple pie bars. I found the recipe for the apple pie bars in Food and Wine and I thought it was perfect as written, so I didn’t change a thing.
We had a great time planning and throwing “A Fist Full of Cocktails,” and we have already started thinking about next year’s menu!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Fist Full of Cocktails

We held our Fist Full of Cocktails fundraising party on Saturday, and everything went well. We had 53 guests who each paid $50 to attend, and I am pretty sure we had 53 satisfied customers. We painstakingly planned the menu down to every detail (I am joking about the painstaking—we had a great time getting together to work on the menu, since it usually also involved food).

We decorated Sandy and Brian’s backyard with a western/Mexican theme.

We set up the bar, and we were ready for our guests to arrive. Did I forget to mention we did a little cooking? Well, we did a lot of cooking! Lucky for us, everyone came with a good appetite, and no one said they were on a diet. I kept bringing food out, and guests kept eating. I love when that happens!
We started everything off by setting spiced nuts along with Paula’s black-eyed pea salsa on the cocktail tables (See how cute the nuts are in the margarita glass?). Once everyone started arriving, we passed jalapeno poppers, veggie empanadas, and chorizo quesadillas. We also passed crackers with pepper jack cheese cut into the shape of small cactus. The cactus shape with thanks to a cute cookie cutter Sandy bought.
I told you about the veggie quesadilla I tested for the party that didn’t make it to the menu, well it was because Sandy’s empanadas had almost the same filling. She used piecrust circles and filled them with corn, black beans, zucchini and red pepper. The empanadas were delicious. I needed to come up with another quesadilla idea, so I remembered the queso dip I made a few months back. I decided to deconstruct the dip and turn the ingredients into a quesadilla recipe. I loved these quesadillas, and my family including my son liked these quesadillas too. Our guests gobbled them up, so I assume they liked them too.

Chorizo Quesadillas
2 links of Mexican chorizo
1 poblano pepper
3-4 cups shredded pepper jack cheese
½ cup sliced green onions
½ cup chopped cilantro
8 6-inch flour tortillas
vegetable oil

Broil the poblano pepper until the skin is black, and place the pepper in a paper bag for 10 minutes. Take the pepper out of the paper bag and peel the skin. Cut off the stem and remove the seeds, and chop the pepper in small pieces. Remove casings from chorizo and cook crumbling the sausage into small pieces until cooked through. Brush vegetable oil on a grill or skillet, and add one tortilla. Top the tortilla with ¼ of the cheese, chorizo, onions and cilantro, then place a second tortilla on top of the mixture. Once the bottom tortilla has browned, flip over and brown the other side. The quesadilla is done when both tortillas are browned and the cheese in the center is melted. Cut into wedges and serve. Makes 4 quesadillas.

I made 110 jalapeno poppers for Fist Full of Cocktails. I was worried we would be having jalapeno poppers for days, but they were gone by the end of the evening. I am finding it hard to give an exact recipe for these poppers. It is really more of a ratio. I used about two pounds of bacon, 55 jalapenos and 36 ounces of cream cheese.

Jalapeno Poppers
From Pioneer Woman
Bacon slices, cut into 1/3 pieces
Cream Cheese

Cut jalapenos in half and scrape out the seeds and the ribs with a spoon. Just a word of warning: If you don’t want your eyes and fingers to burn, wear safety glasses and gloves. Fill the jalapeno halves with cream cheese and wrap with bacon slice and secure with a toothpick. Bake in a 375° oven for 20-25 minutes or until the bacon is browned. You don’t want the pepper to become soggy, so you can turn on the broiler if the bacon isn’t cooking fast enough. Just watch them carefully.

Fist Full of Cocktails to be continued…

Monday, September 21, 2009

Grilled Vegetable Quesadillas

I am sharing another recipe with you that didn’t make it onto the Fist Full of Cocktails menu. These quesadillas were delicious, but there is something similar on the menu, so we needed to go in another direction. Les and I loved these quesadillas, and I am going to put them on my list of "go to" appetizers.

Grilled Vegetable Quesadillas
2 ears of fresh white corn
2 small zucchini, sliced lengthwise
1 red bell pepper, stemmed and seeded and sliced in quarters
ancho chili powder
½ cup chopped cilantro
4 cups pepper jack cheese, shredded
8 6-inch flour tortillas
Canola oil

Sprinkle the corn and zucchini with ancho chili powder. Preheat a gas or charcoal grill and, grill the corn, zucchini and red pepper. Grill the zucchini and red pepper until softened, and cook the corn until it is lightly charred.

Cut the corn off of the cob, and cut the zucchini and red pepper into small pieces. Mix together. Heat a large skillet (I used my electric griddle). Brush oil on the pan and place a tortilla on the heated pan. Place 1 cup of cheese on the tortilla, and add ¼ of the vegetables on the cheese. Sprinkle with the cilantro, and place the second tortilla on top of the mixture. Once the tortilla on the bottom is browned, flip the quesadilla over, and brown the other side. The quesadilla is finished when both sides are browned and the cheese is melted. Remove the quesadilla from the pan and slice. Makes 4 quesadillas.

Here is a picture of the quesadilla that did make it onto the Fist Full of Cocktail menu. I will share this recipe after the party.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Whiskey Sour

We are less than two weeks away from our “Fist Full of Cocktails” (FFOC) fundraising party. This will be the third year we have gotten together with Sandy, Brian, Paula and David to donate a cocktail party for our kids’ school. For the last two years the party has been at our house, and it was a tiki themed party. Planning the parties was almost as fun as having the parties themselves. This year the party is at Sandy and Brian's and we decided on a western theme (hence the play on Fist Full of Dollars).

We came up with some fun drinks for the tiki parties. We set the bar high, so we knew we needed some good drinks for FFOC. The real drink menu is hush-hush, but I can give you one of the drinks we aren’t going to make. It is not a bad drink (I won’t share those with you). It’s a little hands-on for a large party. If you’re only going to make a couple of drinks, this recipe for whiskey sours is great.

I saw Ina Garden make this drink on her show The Barefoot Contessa, and I have been wanting to try it ever since. Ina’s original recipe was really, well, sour, but once my eyes uncrossed and the stinging behind my ears stopped, I really enjoyed the drink. The flavor the fresh squeezed juice gave the drink was really fresh and delicious, but I wanted to tame the sour a little. I increased the sugar syrup and the whiskey, and that did the trick.

Whiskey Sour
Adapted from Ina Garden

1 cup whiskey
2/3 cup sugar syrup
¼ cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
½ cup fresh squeezed lime juice
Ice cubes
Maraschino cherries

Mix the whiskey, sugar syrup, lemon and lime juices together. Pour into glasses filled with ice and garnish with maraschino cherries. Makes 4 drinks.


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