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.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Jalapeño Jelly

I really wanted the picture above to be of my own jalapeño jelly, but it was not to be (wow, I sound melodramatic). I have wanted to make jalapeño jelly for years, but I was never into canning in the past, and it just seemed too difficult. This year, after I canned strawberry rhubarb, strawberry and blackberry jam, I decided to give jalapeño jelly a try. I found a promising recipe that had apples and cranberries in it besides the jalapeños, so I rolled up my sleeves and went to work. The recipe was simple enough. Cut up apples, jalapeños and a bell pepper and cook on the stovetop until softened. Strain the juice, add sugar and boil until you have jelly. Great! I was ready. I did everything correctly except I guess I boiled the jelly too long. So, instead of having jalapeño jelly, I had jalapeño candy. I was disappointed. I am going to try again, but next time I won’t boil the jelly as long (I will also add more jalapeños since the jelly wasn’t spicy enough for me).

We had some friends over for dinner on Sunday night, so I brought home some store bought jalapeño jelly (I decided not to serve the jalapeño candy) and served it with some cream cheese and tortilla chips.
Grilled Haloumi
Here is another quick appetizer. Sandy and Brian served it on one of our camping trips last year, and I just loved it. It is one of the easiest appetizers around. Brian and Sandy grilled the Haloumi on a small charcoal grill. I have grilled the cheese on the barbeque, but I have also used my Panini press to get the great grill marks. Haloumi doesn’t melt it just gets warm and the edges caramelize. We were calling it squeaky cheese because of the noise it makes when you bite into it. Try Haloumi you will like it!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Ground Beef Tacos

Do you have any food traditions? I don’t know if this counts as a food tradition, but every summer while I was growing up my parents would send me to stay with my paternal grandparents for three weeks. My grandparents had, if not food traditions then food rituals. Everyday, they both woke at the crack of dawn to have breakfast at 6am ( I’m sure in the winter they woke before dawn even began to crack). They ate what they called “dinner” at 12 noon, and had “supper” at 5pm sharp. I loved visiting my grandparents! What kid wouldn’t love all of that routine surrounding food? And, the food my grandmother cooked? Well, I loved it as a kid. By the time I was a teenager, I had realized grandma's meals weren't exactly gourmet, but I loved visiting my grandparents, and I loved the precision with which they ate.

I remember very few of my immediate family’s food traditions while I was growing up, but I do know my mom cooked the same foods over and over again. And, I remember if ratatouille was mentioned for dinner, I was in for a bad night. The ratatouille wasn’t horrible, but my parents only served the ratatouille—no bread or pasta to round out the meal. I was always starving after a dinner of ratatouille.

One meal I remember fondly was tacos. My mom ripped open the little spice packet (I’m sure you know which one I’m talking about), browned ground beef, shredded cheese and lettuce, and dinner was served. Dinner can’t get much easier.

I brought this taco tradition to my family, spice packets and all. So, it was with trepidation I decided to try the Cook’s Illustrated recipe for ground beef tacos. I was looking forward to trying the recipe because I love Mexican food, but I worried the recipe wouldn't live up to my expectations.

I shouldn't have worried. The Cook’s Illustrated Ground Beef Tacos far surpassed tacos from a packet. The meat was moist and flavorful without being greasy or salty. We tried the tacos with the fried corn tortillas Cook’s Illustrated recommended. My family liked these tacos much better than spice packet tacos. My son didn’t like the homemade shells (he likes the pre-made shells, and he’s not ready to change.) My husband and daughter both like the fried shells, but they are soft taco lovers at heart. I liked the fried shells, but I couldn’t get passed the “fried” part. I tested the taco meat the next day for lunch with soft corn tortillas, and I could really taste the difference in the taco meat. I think we have a new ground beef taco recipe. Goodbye little packets! Is this recipe as easy as opening a packet of seasoning? No, but it's worth it!

Ground Beef Tacos
From Cook’s Illustrated All-Time Best Recipes

Beef Filling
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 small onion, chopped small (about 2/3 cup)
3 medium garlic cloves minced or pressed
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon dried oregano
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 lb 90% lean or leaner ground beef
½ cup plain tomato sauce (do not use jarred pasta sauce)
½ cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 teaspoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons cider vinegar

8 fried corn taco shells

Assorted toppings
shredded lettuce
shredded cheese
sour cream
chopped tomatoes
sliced avocado

Heat oil in a medium skillet and add the onions and cook until softened, about 4 minutes. Add garlic, spices and salt; cook stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add ground beef and cook breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon until beef is no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Add tomato sauce, chicken broth, brown sugar, and vinegar; bring to a simmer, uncovered, stirring frequently and breaking up meat so no chunks remain, and until the liquid has reduced and thickened but not evaporated completely, about 10 minutes. Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper. Divide the meat evenly among the taco shells, and serve. Pass the topping separately.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Julie & Julia

Devil's Food Cupcakes
Have you seen Julie & Julia? I saw it last weekend with my daughter, and I loved it! The story of Julie Powell blogging her way through Mastering The Art of French Cooking was interesting, especially to me as a blogger. But, the story of Julia Child played by Meryl Streep was my favorite part. I would have enjoyed the story of Julia Child even without Julie Powell’s story. Julia’s relationship with her husband Paul was shown beautifully in the movie. And, Meryl Streep embodied Julia Child. Meryl was amazing in this movie! If you get a chance, go see this refreshing movie.

Coconut Cupcakes
The pictures I’ve posted are the last two batches of cupcakes my daughter made from Martha Stewart's Cupcakes before school started again. I’m afraid it will be awhile before she has the chance to bake again. I am sad my daughter doesn’t have the time to bake right now, but my diet is relieved. Both cupcakes were delicious and rich. My son loved the dark rich Devil’s Food Cupcakes, and I loved the Coconut Cupcakes.

Have a good Labor Day weekend!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Chili for a Crowd

You would think summer was over with all the soup and chili I have been craving lately. I had been craving Chili for a Crowd ever since my friend Shannon brought it to a dinner in the park (the last one before school started). I helped myself to a bowl with all the fixing, and I loved it. The chili has a complex flavor I have never tasted before in a chili. Shannon got this recipe out of the Silver Palate Cookbook, but she says that she uses this recipe as more of a spice guide than a true recipe. Sometimes she adds different beans sometimes she adds beer instead of the wine the recipe calls for. So, I felt free to try out my own adaptations when I made it. Of course I had to order a copy of the Silver Palate Cookbook from Amazon. I never owned a copy of my own. I did own a copy of the New Basics Cookbook by the same authors, but I got rid of it in order downsize my cookbook collection when we moved, but I had never made anything from it.

My cookbook came, so I could finally try the recipe on my own. The title is certainly correct. The recipe in the book could feed an army! I was trying to cut it down 75% but I started to get confused with the spice math, so I decided to cut it down 50% to save the top of my head from exploding. I served it for dinner one night, and I froze the rest for another meal.

I made the recipe my own by adding some green chilies for interest, and I used more tomatoes and beans than the recipe called for, and I added a bottle of beer instead of the ¼ cup of burgundy the recipe called for. I did add the whole olives, but I don’t recommend it. The olives tasted funny after they had been in the chili for a while. If you would like olives have them as a topping.

My friend Melissa tasted it (I had it for lunch on Tuesday) and she immediately pictured it as the meat topping on nachos. She told me today she has been craving nachos ever since she tasted the chili.

Chili for a Crowd
Adapted from the Silver Palate Cookbook by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins

¼ cup olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1lb sweet Italian sausage (removed meat from the casings)
4lbs ground chuck
2 ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 can tomato paste
1 ½ Tablespoon minced garlic
¼ cup cumin
½ cup chili powder
¼ cup Dijon mustard
2 Tablespoons salt
2 Tablespoons dried basil
2 Tablespoons dried oregano
56 oz Italian plum tomatoes
14.5 oz can of fire roasted diced tomatoes
2 6 oz cans diced chilies
1 bottle of beer
2 tablespoons lemon juice
¼ cup chopped parsley
¼ cup chopped fresh dill
4 cans of beans (I used 2 cans of kidney beans and 2 cans of black beans)

Heat the olive oil in a very large heavy pot and add the onions and cook until tender. Crumble the Italian sausage and the ground beef into the pot and cook over medium heat until the meat is well browned. Scoop out as much of the fat as possible. Turn the heat to low and stir in the black pepper, minced garlic, cumin, chili powder, mustard, salt, basil and oregano. Add the drained tomatoes, beer, lemon juice, dill, parsley and beans. Stir well and bring to a boil then lower the temperature and simmer for 20 minutes.

Top with: sour cream, chives, olives, shredded cheese and tortilla chips. Makes about 20 servings.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Florentine White Bean Soup

So, we have been back to our school routine for over a week now, and I realize now I was deluding myself when I thought my life would be easier once school started. One or both kids have something going on each night of the week, so I haven’t exactly been relaxing. I have managed to have a home-cooked meal on the table for the last couple of nights. Not a major feat, I know, but still comforting, and with any luck, I can keep it up!

Tonight I made these paninis with Florentine White Bean Soup. I have been trying to use up some of the food in my pantry, and I had a couple of cans of cannellini beans, so I knew I wanted to make a white bean soup. I have seen a few different recipes in magazines and on the web, but I chose this recipe from my William-Sonoma cookbook Food Made Fast: Soup cookbook. I was tempted by the 30-minutes from start to finish the recipe promised. The recipe lived up to its promise. The soup took me almost exactly 30 minutes.

I enjoyed the flavors of the soup, but what I enjoyed most was the smell. The only way I can describe the smell is to tell you it smells like my favorite Italian restaurant where you walk through the kitchen to get to your seat. My daughter and husband loved this soup. My son who usually loves soup didn’t even try it. The little bugger! At least he ate his sandwich.

Florentine White Bean Soup
Adapted from Food Made Fast: Soup from Williams-Sonoma

2 Tablespoons olive oil
4 oz pancetta chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon dried oregano
1 ½ Tablespoons tomato paste
6 cups chicken broth
2 cans cannellini beans
2 cups baby spinach, chopped
Salt and Pepper to taste

In a large saucepan heat the oil and add the pancetta. Cook the pancetta until lightly browned about 5 minutes. Then add the onion and carrot and cook until soften about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and the oregano and cook until fragrant about 2 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste mixing well, and add the broth and beans. Bring the soup to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer and add the spinach. Cook the soup until the spinach is wilted about 10 minutes. Taste the soup and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper and serve.


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