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.


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