Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year!

I can’t believe we are saying goodbye to 2011 today!  We will enjoy a smaller New Year’s Eve this year than we did last year.  Suzanne, Kevin and their son will be joining us for Mexican food (ordered in), games and movies. 

I’m in total hibernation mode, so I'm keeping everything simple.  I’m using the same table setting I used for Christmas.   After seeing a beautiful table in Southern Living with blue, silver and green, I decided to make a blue table runner for my Christmas table.  The blue fabric I found has a small bright green stem that is perfect for Christmas. 

I added my green Crate and Barrel chargers and used my beautiful Lenox Butterfly Cloud dinner plates.  The Princess House Fantasia luncheon plates for salad added a sparkly touch, and I added the green glass napkin rings and my favorite green water glasses.

My green trees and mercury glass candleholders and votives finished the look.  I think the blue, green and white table is a winner (if I do say so myself).

I made these Onion Squares for our Christmas cocktail party.  I’ve made them a few times in the past to rave reviews.  For the cocktail party, I substituted whole-wheat pastry flour for half the all-purpose flour.  I won’t make that substitute again. The whole-wheat pastry flour made the dough a little heavy.   The dough is light and airy when using only all-purpose flour, so I didn’t change the original recipe.  The topping is delicious.  The onion and rosemary cook down to an almost jam like consistency, and pair beautifully with the blue cheese.  Caramelized Onion Squares are elegant appetizers to serve at your next cocktail party.

Caramelized Onion Squares with Blue Cheese
Adapted from
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
¾ cup whole milk
¼ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 large yellow onions, halved and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt

1 cup crumbled blue cheese

Preheat oven to 425°F.  Mix flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl and stir to blend.  Whisk milk, olive oil and melted butter in a liquid measuring cup.  Make a well in the dry ingredients and slowly pour milk mixture into the well.  Stir ingredients until just blended and smooth.  On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a 10x13-inch rectangle.  Transfer the dough to a rimmed baking sheet.  Re-shape the dough into a rectangle, and pierce dough all over with a fork.  Let dough rest at room temperature while preparing the topping.

Melt butter with the oil in a large Dutch oven over high heat.  Add onions and cook until the onions are soft and beginning to brown, stirring frequently, about 10 minutes.  Add rosemary, sugar, salt and a generous grinding of black pepper.  Reduce heat to medium.  Continue to cook until the onions are soft and dark brown, stirring frequently, about 20 minutes.  Cool.

Spread onion mixture evenly over dough.  Sprinkle with cheese.  Bake until crust is golden and the cheese is bubbling, about 20 minutes.  Let cool for 10 minutes and cut into squares.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Almond Chocolate Thumbprints

As I mentioned yesterday, I was heading off to my fourth party of the season.  Conny has hosted a cookie exchange for several years (last year she was off in Europe, so we all missed out).  She makes cookies for the exchange, but she also serves some nice savory dishes to balance out the sweet cookies.  A couple of year’s ago, she served Crostini with Mushrooms and Prosciutto  for her cookie exchange.  She keeps all of her December magazines, so she can have party recipes at her fingertips. This year, she had the non-bakers in the group bring the appetizers, and she served Pomegranate Blood Orange Mimosas as her signature drink.  I only saw a quick glimpse of the recipe, but I think this one is close. 

I had a blast last night.  I love seeing everyone’s cookies and hearing the stories behind some of them.   What could be more fun than sipping mimosas, munching cookies and chatting with friends?  If you figure it out let me know. 

My contribution to this year’s cookie exchange was Almond Chocolate Thumbprints.  I found this recipe in The Best of Fine Cooking Cookies magazine.  Thanks to Conny, I now keep all my holiday magazines, and I’ve enjoy flipping through them deciding what I’m going to make.   This is the first year the Almond Chocolate Thumbprints called to me.  I’m glad I finally made them.  I love the sandy texture of these cookies, and the chocolate filling is rich and delicious in these tempting cookies.  The recipe is one of those 3 in 1 cookie dough recipes, so I made a little extra of the Almond Cookie dough to try one of the other recipes.  I’m hoping the Almond Sables will be equally as good.

Almond Cookie Chocolate Thumbprints
Adapted from Fine Cooking
½ cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup whole almonds
1 ½ cups unsalted butter (3 sticks), cut in large chunks and slightly softened
4 teaspoons vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon pure almond extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
¾ cups turbinado (raw) sugar
8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons unsalted butter

In the bowl of a food processor, process the sugar and salt until it looks powdery and fine, 30 to 60 seconds.  Add the almonds, and process until they are finely chopped, 20 to 30 seconds.  Add the butter, vanilla and almond extract.  Pulse until the butter is fully incorporated and smooth, scrapping the sides of the bowl, if necessary.  Add half the flour and process until incorporated, and then add the second half of the flour and process until a soft dough forms. 

Using a small scoop to measure the dough, roll the dough into one-inch balls.  Roll the balls into the turbinado sugar and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Press your thumb into each ball, dipping your thumb in flour as needed.  Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours or preferably overnight.

Remove the cookies from the refrigerator, and arrange them 1 inch apart on a parchment lined cookie sheet.  Preheat the oven to 325°F.  Let the cookies sit at room temperature while the oven preheats.  Bake the cookies for 10 minutes.  Gently press the center of the cookies with the tip of the handle of a wooden spoon to redefine the depression. Rotate the cookie sheet and continue to bake until the tops of the cookies are lightly colored and the bottoms are golden brown, another 8 to 10 minutes.  Transfer the cookies to a wire cooling rack and let cool completely. 

Make the filling while the cookies cool.  Add the chocolate and butter to a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan with barely simmering water.  Stir until the chocolate is almost melted.  Remove from heat and continue stirring until the mixture has completely melted and is smooth.  Spoon the filling into the depression of each cookie.  Makes about 5 dozen cookies.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Italian Chocolate Spice Cookies

The hall is decked, the cookies are baked and the candy has set—it’s time to entertain and be entertained!  I’m in the middle of a delightfully busy time.  I attended a couple of women only parties.  One of the girl parties was an ornament exchange, which I look forward to each year.  The other party was new to me this year, but it was lovely.  And, tonight I’m going to a cookie exchange.  In between the ornament and cookie exchanges, Les and I threw open the doors of our house, and had a cocktail party Saturday night.  We worked hard all day to get ready for our cocktail party, but all the hard work paid off.  Les and I had a great time at our own party.  I love when that happens!  We have a really fun group of friends who enjoy a good party, and as every hostess knows, the guests make the party.

I invited everyone to bring a dish to share, so we had some wonderfully delicious food.  I served cranberry salsa, sweet spicy nuts, caramelized onion squares (I’ll share the recipe later), double-decker fudge, brown sugar spice cookies and Italian chocolate spice cookies.  The Italian chocolate spice cookie recipe was given to me by a friend years ago (Hi Vicky!).  Les likes these cookies with a cup of coffee (sometimes for breakfast).

I have to tell you, though the Italian chocolate spice cookies were delicious, they were overshadowed a bit by the fudge, a beautiful apple pie, and a spectacular croquembouche. I had no idea Sandy and Brian were toiling over such a stunning dessert.  I should have known something was up when they were late, but I couldn’t believe my eyes when Brian paraded the croquembouche through the kitchen to the dining room where he placed it with the other desserts. (I did steal it away for a few minutes, so I could snap a few pictures.)  Sandy and Brian are fearless in the kitchen.  They have made most of the cover desserts from Fine Cooking’s holiday issues, and lucky me, I’ve even gotten to taste a few!  

If you are looking for a show-stopping desert, check out Fine Cooking’s croquembouche, but if you are looking for an unassuming but tasty chocolate spice cookie to share or enjoy with coffee, try these Italian Chocolate Spice Cookies.  Vicky and her mom used to make dozens of these spicy sweet cookies to share, so the original recipe made 10 dozen.  I cut the original recipe in half, but you can easily double it—just use a big bowl. 

Italian Chocolate Spice Cookies    
Printable Recipe
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ cup cocoa powder
1¼ teaspoons cloves
1½ teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg
1½ teaspoons allspice
1½ teaspoons cinnamon
1 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
½ cup raisins
1 package chocolate chips
2 eggs beaten
1½ teaspoons vanilla
½ cup melted Crisco
½ cup milk

1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon milk (may need more)

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Put all dry ingredients into a large bowl, including nuts, raisins and chocolate chips. Mix until well blended. Make a well in the flour mixture and add eggs, vanilla, Crisco and milk. Mix the ingredients (works best if you use your hands). The dough will be sticky. Using a small scoop to measure the dough and roll into little balls and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 10 minutes. Cookies will be a little soft when they first come out of the oven. They will get a little firmer when cool.

Mix powered sugar and milk to make a thick glaze. Dip the top of the cookies in the glaze and let dry. Makes about 5 dozen cookies.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Chocolate Butterscotch Double-Decker Fudge

It must be close to Christmas since I’ve made my grandma’s double-decker fudge.  My dad insists my grandma made this fudge by mistake when she didn’t have enough chocolate to make a full batch of fudge.  I have my doubts.  My grandma didn’t have a reputation as a good cook, so I think the things she did well are even suspect.  No matter how she came up with her double-decker fudge, I loved it as a kid, and it always makes me think of Christmas.  I try to make it every year.  This year I’m going to package it up and give it away as teacher and hostess gifts.

I made two batches this year.  My family, though secretly delighted, thought I was crazy making so much fudge.  How soon they forgot last year’s debacle! 

Christmas time last year, I had plans to give fudge as teacher and hostess gifts too.  I made one batch of double-decker fudge.  I scored it, covered it tightly and left it on the counter while I went to work.  When the kids and I got home, we noticed the foil I left covering the fudge was now suspiciously on the floor.  The glass dish was still on the counter, so I thought we had dodged a catastrophe.  But, on closer examination, I saw a dog’s tongue-width groove etched in the butterscotch layer.   The whole batch had to go into the trash!  Thank you, Chipper!

I’m afraid I’m scarred by the whole incident, so I went a little overboard this year, and made two batches of fudge.  I have also placed a dog-proof barricade in front of the fudge, so we don’t have a repeat of last year. 

Chocolate Butterscotch Double-Decker Fudge
Adapted from the original Fantasy Fudge recipe.
Chocolate Fudge Layer
3 cups sugar
1½ sticks of unsalted butter
2/3 cup of evaporated milk
12 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate chips
7 ounce jar marshmallow cream
1 teaspoon vanilla

Butterscotch Fudge Layer
3 cups sugar
1½ stick of unsalted butter
2/3 cup of evaporated milk
12 ounces of butterscotch chips
7 ounce jar marshmallow cream
1 teaspoon vanilla

Line a 13x9 inch baking pan with aluminum and spray with cooking spray, set aside.

Add the butter, milk and sugar to a heavy 2 ½ quart sauce pan, and bring to a boil stirring constantly.  Once the mixture reaches a roiling boil, boil on medium heat for 4 minutes still stirring constantly, so the mixture doesn’t scorch.  Take the mixture off the heat and stir in the chocolate chips.  Once the chips have melted, add the marshmallow cream and the vanilla, and stir until completely combined.  Pour into the prepared pan.

Repeat with the butterscotch chips (using a clean sauce pan).  Pour the butterscotch mixture directly over the chocolate layer. 

When the mixture has set slightly, score the top into one-inch increments.  Once the fudge has completely set, cut using the score marks.  Store in an airtight container.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Chewy Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies

My daughter had her wisdom teeth removed Friday.  She is recovering nicely, thank you, though the soft diet is getting her down a bit.  I stayed home from work Friday to administer medication, fluff pillows, and run out for milkshakes (to be eaten with a spoon, of course), but since my daughter slept most of the day, I had time on my hands.  What did I do with all that time?  I baked Christmas cookies! 

I mentioned in my Thanksgiving post that my mom didn’t like the holidays, but she did like to bake cookies, or maybe she just liked to eat the cookies.  Either way, I do have good memories of baking Christmas cookies with my mom.  She had some tried and true recipes, but she always let me look though her cookbooks for new cookies to try.  We had some winners and some losers, but I always had fun. 

I have a collection of Christmas cookies I like to bake now, but as in years past, I always look through books and magazines for new cookies to try.  I save the Christmas cookie magazines I buy, so I have a few years worth of magazines to inspire me.  Each year, I’m drawn to different cookies. 

As I’m moving my family toward a healthier diet, I decided to see what King Arthur Flour’s Whole Grain Baking cookbook has to offer.  There are some intriguing whole grain recipes in the book, but I’m a sucker for oatmeal cookies, so I chose their chewy oatmeal cookies to try.  I added my own take on the cookies, and they are going to be delicious in my Christmas cookie line-up.  Are they healthy?  Probably not with a stick and a half of butter, but I do like the whole grains in the cookies.  Chewy Cranberry Oatmeal cookies are a sweet, tart and spicy combination that I’m glad I tried this year.

Chewy Cranberry Oatmeal Cookies
Adapted from Whole Grain Baking from King Arthur Flour
¾ cup unsalted butter (1½ sticks)
1 ¼ cup dark brown sugar, tightly packed
3 tablespoons dark corn syrup
¾ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ginger
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 1/3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 ¼ cups whole-wheat pastry flour
2 cups dried cranberries
1 cup chopped walnuts, toasted

Preheat oven to 350°F, and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In the bowl of a stand mixer add the butter, sugar, corn syrup, baking soda, baking powder, salt cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, vinegar and vanilla, and beat with the paddle beater until creamy.  Beat in the egg.  Add the oats, flour, cranberries and nuts and stir to combine.  Using a small ice cream scoop, drop the dough onto the prepared baking sheets.  Bake cookies until they begin to brown around the edges, but are still soft in the center, about 12 minutes, rotating the baking sheets about halfway through.  Remove the cookies from the oven and let rest on the cookie sheet for 5 minutes, and then transfer the cookies to a rack to cool.  Makes 4 to 5 dozen cookies. 

Friday, November 25, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

I know I’m a day late wishing you a happy Thanksgiving, but I was a little busy yesterday, and I didn’t even host dinner!  I’m sure I’ve told you that my dad’s wife Lynn loves to host Thanksgiving, and I’m am happy to let her.  I do have my tasks though.  This year I made a spiced cranberry sauce from, these mashed potatoes, green beans with shallots and lemon and Artichoke-Fontina dip.

I usually have a dinner party in the fall, so I like to set a fall table.  This year, I used my burlap table runner (who knew how versatile a burlap runner would be?) and topped it with a square of brown floral fabric I found in the clearance bin at the fabric store.  I just squared it up and turned under the edges.   I added the straw pumpkin and flower arrangement in a copper container Lynn gave me a couple of years ago, and I added a couple of ceramic pumpkins I bought at Marshalls.  I also added some pumpkins I bought at a blown glass pumpkin patch I attended this year.
I had never attended a glass pumpkin patch before, and I was amazed at all the beautiful pumpkins available.  The pumpkins are so beautiful, especially with the sun glinting off of them!  If you are near Palo Alto the first weekend in October, be sure to check out the blown glass pumpkin sale.

Last week, I was having a discussion with a friend at work, and she said that Thanksgiving wasn’t a time to try new recipes.  She thinks that Thanksgiving is a time to embrace traditional recipes, and she was going to make dishes her mother had made.  Thanksgiving is obviously a time for tradition, otherwise why would so many people be eating the same meal on the same day?  But, I think there are ways of changing up the Thanksgiving meal without changing the traditions of the meal.  My mother never liked the holidays, so I don’t have many memories of traditional Thanksgiving dinners (my memories are more likely to be of the bad Thanksgiving dinners we had, like the one we had at the Queen Mary.  Blech!)    

Lynn usually tries a new recipe or two for Thanksgiving, but they never veer far from tradition, and they are always delicious.  This year, when Lynn asked me to make the traditional cheeseball, I asked if she would mind if I made something a little lighter.  She had no objections, so I decided to make Artichoke-Fontina dip to serve with vegetables.  I’ve made artichoke dip before, and I was a little worried this dip would be more of the same.  I shouldn’t have worried. 

This dip is a different artichoke dip.  The fontina cheese, garlic and capers give this artichoke dip a complex flavor not found in a traditional artichoke dip, and the parsley adds a freshness that is also missing.  We gobbled the dip up with vegetables, but my family liked the dip with crackers better.  Serve it with both veggies and crackers so your guests can decide how healthy they want to be.

Artichoke-Fontina Dip
Adapted from Holiday magazine (from Redbook)
2 14 oz. artichoke hearts, drained
8 oz. fontina cheese, cubed
4 oz. reduced-fat cream cheese
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 Tablespoons capers
2 garlic cloves, crushed
½ teaspoon hot pepper sauce
Preheat the over to 350°F.  In the bowl of a food processor, pulse artichokes, garlic, capers and parsley three to four times.  Add the cheeses and the hot pepper sauce and pulse until completely combined.  Spread the mixture into a oven safe dish and bake for 25 minutes, or until starting to bubble and lightly browned on top.  Serve warm with crackers or cut-up vegetables.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Winter Vegetable Stew with Moroccan Flavors

Do you have a favorite cookbook?  I collect cookbooks, and if you had asked me the same question a couple of months ago, I probably would have chosen one of my slick cookbooks with fancy pictures on each page.  I’m fond of William Sonoma cookbooks (mostly for the pictures).  But, I’ll tell you a secret.  I usually only try a couple of recipes out of any cookbook.  I lose interest in a cookbook before trying more than one or two recipes.  With all the recipes from books, magazines and online, I’m not very loyal to any one source. 

All this changed when I purchased Fast & Fresh Vegetarian by Marie Simmons.  I’ve shared Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Black Bean Chili and White Bean and FennelCrostini, but I’ve made 10 other recipes from this book, and I’ve liked them all (this has to be a record for me). 

My favorite recipe so far, has to be Winter Vegetable Stew with Moroccan Flavors.  The stew is filling and tasty.  The sweetness of the butternut squash and the root vegetables marry nicely with the Moroccan spice mixture.  The cinnamon and cayenne pepper add a nice heat to the stew.  I served the stew over some quinoa.  My son didn’t eat it (he has an aversion to the texture of squash), but Les and my daughter have been asking for it again. 

If you are looking for some delicious vegetarian recipes or are just trying to find some new vegetable side dish recipes, you should check out Fast & Fresh Vegetarian.  By the way, there aren’t many pictures in this book, but it doesn’t bother me because the recipes speak for themselves.

Winter Vegetable Stew with Moroccan Flavors
Adapted from Fast & Fresh Vegetarian by Marie Simmons
¼ extra virgin olive oil
2 cups diced (½ inch) onions
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon cumin
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
freshly ground black pepper
2 cups chopped (½ inch) peeled butternut squash
1 cup chopped (½ inch) carrot
1 cup chopped  (½ inch) turnip
1 cup chopped (½ inch) parsnip
1 cup coarsely chopped fresh tomatoes
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 fresh lemon cut into 4 wedges

Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium low heat and add onions.  Cook until the onions are golden, about 10 minutes.  Add the garlic and the spices including the salt and a good grinding of black pepper.  Cook, stirring for 1 minute.

Add the squash, carrot, turnip, parsnip, tomatoes and ½ cup of water.  Cover and cook over medium low heat until the vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes, adding more water if the mixture looks dry.  Taste and add more salt if needed.  Add the cilantro.  Serve with the lemon wedges.  Serves 4.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Atomic 60s Part II

As I promised, I’m sharing a few appetizer recipes from our Atomic 60’s party. First, though, I’m going to share a couple other pictures from the party. As usual, I was able to snap a few pictures as the first guests arrived, but once the party got started, I set my camera down and didn’t pick it up again until much later. I missed a bunch of good pictures trying to be a good hostess. Who knows, maybe someday I’ll just decide I want to be a good photographer!

I love how everyone got into the theme of the party this year.
Our party-planning group.

Les and I

Looks like girl's night!

Shannon in a great outfit!

Brian mixing up drinks.

Sandy made Date and Linguica Rumaki for the party, and I think this was one of our appetizer stars! It is such a tasty and fun vintage appetizer

Date and Linguica Rumaki
Printable Recipe
Madjool Dates, pitted
Linguica Sausage, sliced in fat matchsticks
Bacon, sliced in half crosswise

Stuff the madjool dates with a slice of linguica. Wrap the date with the slice of bacon and secure with a toothpick. Place on a broiler pan and bake in a 350° oven for 20 to 30 minutes or until the bacon is fully cooked. Serve warm or at room temperature.

The cheese ball recipe was handed down to me from my mom, and like the grasshopper pie, I’m sure it was actually served in the 60s. I make this cheese ball about once a year for some party or get together. Everyone always loves it, and it brings back  childhood memories for me. I even remember the wooden platter my mom served the cheese ball on.

Cheese Ball
Printable Recipe
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
½ cup unsalted butter, softened
4 oz. blue cheese, at room temperature
¼ cup chopped green onions, whites and light green parts only
1½ cups chopped walnuts

Mix together cream cheese, butter, blue cheese and green onions until fully combined. Shape into a ball and roll in the chopped walnuts. Serve with butter crackers like Ritz.

A friend gave me this crab corner recipe after she served them at a party I attended. I’ve lost touch with this friend, but she photo-copied the recipe, so I know she got it from Pauli Powers. Thank you Pauli Powers whoever you are. You came up with a great cheesy do-ahead crab recipe. I made these the week before the party, and I cooked them right before serving them. Crab Corners were easy and popular with our guests.

Crab Corners
Printable Recipe
4 English muffins, split in half
1 can crab
1 jar Old English cheese
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 teaspoon garlic salt
½ cup butter
dash of Tabasco sauce

Mix together the crab, old English cheese, mayonnaise, garlic salt, butter and Tabasco sauce. Spread crab mixture on the English muffin halves. Place muffins on a sheet pan, and put the sheet pan in the freezer until the muffins are fully frozen, about 4 hours or overnight. Remove from the freeze and cut the muffin halves into quarters. Place muffin quarters in plastic freezer bags and back into the freezer until ready to bake.

To Bake: Preheat the oven to 450°F. Place frozen crab corners onto a sheet pan, and bake for 10 minutes or until they are golden brown and bubbly.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Dessert First

We held our yearly school fundraiser a couple of weeks ago.  Les and I, with two other couples, offered spots to our cocktail party during the school’s silent auction.  The first two years we had a tiki party at our house, and for the last two years, we had “A Fistful of Cocktails” at Sandy and Brian’s place.  David and Paula bowed out this year, since it was just too much with David’s travel schedule.  We suckered talked Kevin and Suzanne into joining us this year.

The theme for our party this year was Atomic 60s!  What is Atomic 60s?  We defined Atomic 60s as the early 60s before the hippy movement started.  Think Mad Men.  We had a great time planning this party.  We kept to traditional cocktails like Screwdrivers and Cuba Libres, but it wouldn’t be an Atomic 60s party without Martinis! We served gin and vodka martinis (We also served flavored martinis. Flavored martinis weren’t period, but we were trying to make our modern guests happy.)
We researched party food appetizers from the 60s, and to shake the party up a bit, we set chairs and coffee tables up living room style (we even dragged an old sofa out to the pool deck).  Some of the seating areas had fire pits instead of coffee tables.  The evening got a bit cool, so the fire pits were very popular.  Les also pulled out our teardrop trailer and pink flamingos for fun props.

The guys wore short-sleeved white dress shirts and skinny ties on party night.  Sandy, Suzanne and I all dressed up in little black dresses, and we tried to do our hair and make-up in an early 60s style.  I cheated a little by having my make-up done at Beauty 360, and the girl doing my make-up did a great job.  I looked a little like Shirley McClain!  I was most impressed by the guests who came dressed up in a 60s style. Having them participate made everything more fun!
We served some fun appetizers and I will share the recipes later.  When it came to dessert, we decided to make Bundt and pineapple upside-down cakes and a Jell-O mold.  I was trying to decide what type of Bundt cake to make, when inspiration hit, and I remembered my mom serving grasshopper pie at some of her parties.   I also remember I wasn’t allowed to have a piece of her pie since it had alcohol in it.   I did some research on traditional grasshopper pies, and I tried three different recipes using three different techniques. My family was happy to taste test grasshopper pie recipes for me (I obviously am not as squeamish as my mom)!   I settled on a recipe using marshmallows to stabilize the filling.  I liked the taste and texture of the marshmallow mixture the best.  The filling was fluffy and taste was crisp with mint.  And, if you can believe it, I found my mom’s recipe after I had done all the testing.  Which one did she use?  The marshmallow pie of course!  Here is my mom’s recipe for Grasshopper Pie.

Grasshopper Pie
20 Chocolate sandwich cookies
3 Tablespoons butter, melted
½ cup milk
3 cups miniature marshmallows
¼ cup crème de menthe
¼ cup clear crème de cacao
1 ½ cups whipping cream

Preheat the oven to 350°F

Place cookies in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the cookies are ground to a fine crumb.  Pour in the melted butter and pulse until combined.  Press the cookie mixture into a 9-inch pie plate.  Bake the crust for 10 minutes.  Remove from the oven and cool completely.

Heat the milk and the marshmallows in a small saucepan until the marshmallows are melted.  Pour into a large bowl and cool completely.  Once the mixture is cool, add the crème de menthe and crème de cacao.

In a medium bowl, beat the whipping cream until stiff peaks form.  Fold the whipped cream into the marshmallow mixture and pour onto the cooled cookie crust.  Freeze for at least 4 hours or overnight.  Remove from freezer 10 minutes prior to serving. 

Monday, September 5, 2011

White Bean and Fennel Crostini

I had some girl friends over for a jewelry party on Friday night.  Jewelry has now joined the likes of Tupperware, Pampered Chef and a host of other products offered as a in-home sales product.  A friend of mine is stylist for one of these jewelry companies, and I promised her I would host a party.  You know me; I’m always up for hosting a party, and helping Joanne was a great excuse for a party!

I had to make this party easy on myself since I chose to have the party on what seemed to be the busiest week I’ve had since before summer ended.  I served some easy pre-made appetizers, but I knew I needed to add at least one homemade appetizer. 

I had made this White Bean and Fennel Crostini a couple of weeks ago as a test for my family.  Everyone liked the appetizer, but my son loved it.  He kept coming back for more saying, “This bread stuff is really good!”  High praise!  The white bean spread tastes a little like aioli without the extra fat, so it fits right into our new way of eating, and I knew my girl friends would appreciate a healthy option.

White Bean and Fennel Crostini
Adapted from Fresh & Fast Vegetarian by Marie Simmons
1 clove garlic
1 teaspoon fennel seed
kosher salt
1 15 ounce can cannellini beans
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
¼ cup minced red onion
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper
1 baguette, sliced and toasted
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, snipped

Combine garlic, fennel seed with ½ teaspoon salt in a mortar and crush into a paste with the pestle.  If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, you can finely chop the garlic and the fennel and combine with the salt and crush with the back of your knife to create a paste.

Combine the garlic mixture, white beans and olive oil into the bowl of a food processor and blend into a course puree.  Add the red onion, vinegar and ¼ teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper.  Add more salt if needed.

Spread each toast piece with the white bean mixture and top with rosemary and a drizzling of olive oil. Serve. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Black Bean Chili

I can’t believe summer is almost over.  We’ve had a fun and busy summer with not one but two great vacations.  We took a two-week trip through Oregon and Washington in June, and we took a trip to Disneyland the first week of August. (I know we are spoiled). 

My daughter starts her senior year in high school this week, and I’ve been living my life in denial (both that summer is over and that I’m old enough to have a senior in high school), but reality came crashing back at 2 am last Sunday morning when I remembered I still needed to order my daughter’s school books and tackle my 6th grade son’s forever-long school supplies list.  I got back to sleep by telling myself that nothing could be accomplished at 2am.  I woke feeling sad, but I had to face the fact summer was almost over, so Sunday morning I ordered my daughters books and Les and I took our son to buy his school supplies.

Sunday afternoon I was in need of something to take my mind off my end-of-summer blues, so I headed into the kitchen to try a new recipe.

Since last October, I have been slowly been overhauling my family’s diet to a more Mediterranean diet (less refined grains and sugar and more whole grains and beans).  We have been doing well with it, even on vacation in the Northwest and Disneyland (my chocolate covered frozen bananas, ice cream and caramel apples not withstanding).  I bought Fast & Fresh Vegetarian by Marie Simmons right before we left for Disneyland, and I was itching to try some of the recipes. 

Les and my daughter enjoyed Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Black Bean Chili, although the chili was a little too spicy for my daughter.  My son even liked the spicy chili, but he wouldn't touch the sweet potato.  I liked the combination.  The chili was spicy, but I thought the spiciness went well with the sweet potato and the cool yogurt and avocado.

Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Black Bean Chili
Adapted from Fast & Fresh Vegetarian by Marie Simmons
4 small sweet potatoes or yams, scrubbed and cut in half lengthwise
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, separated
½ small onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 15 oz cans black beans, rinsed and drained
1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes
1 chipotle chili in adobo, chopped (more or less to taste)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Plain Greek yogurt
Juice from one lime
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1 avocado, sliced

Heat a large baking sheet by placing it in the oven and preheating the oven to 450°F for 10 minutes.  Brush cut sides of sweet potatoes with one tablespoon of the olive oil.  Remove the hot pan from the oven, and place the sweet potatoes cut side down on the baking sheet. Roast for 15 minutes.  Turn the potatoes with a spatula and continue to bake for another 10 minutes or until the potatoes are tender when pierced with the tip of a knife. 

While the potatoes are roasting, heat the remaining tablespoon of olive and the onion in a large Dutch oven or skillet.  Cook the onion on medium-low heat until tender and golden, about 8 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook for one minute, and add the chili powder and cumin to bloom for about 20 seconds.

Add the black beans, tomatoes, ½ cup water, chipotle chili and salt and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 15 minutes.

Mix yogurt, lime juice and cilantro in a small bowl.

Assemble the potatoes by scraping the flesh of the potato with a fork and topping the potato with the chili and the yogurt mixture.  Add the sliced avocado and serve.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Apple Cheddar-Cheese Cake

I was pleased to host a prayer group dinner for some of my girl friends last Friday night. My friend Barb who moved to Tennessee last year is visiting and joined us too! I love hosting this group for dinner. Everyone is so appreciative and we have such a good time. Barb slid back into the group like she had never left!

Camille asked me to host this dinner months ago while she was helping Barb plan her visit, and I agreed happily. But at the beginning of the week, I was overwhelmed with all I had going on. I didn’t know how I was going to accomplish this dinner. But, as the week went on, things got easier, and it became a joy to work on the dinner! I shopped, set the table and prepared a couple of dishes Thursday night, so when Friday came, I was really excited to host my friends!

I kept the menu really simple. I served vegetables and hummus as an appetizer, and grilled salmon, quinoa, roasted asparagus and a delicious salad (I will share it with you soon) for dinner.

For dessert, I bought an apple cake at the store, and it wasn’t until the next day when I realized I should have made this rustic Apple and Cheddar-Cheese Cake from Cake Keeper Cakes. The cake is very easy, and would have been a snap to whip up the night before. My daughter made this cake for our family, and we all enjoyed it. It is not a very sweet cake, and it is definitely rustic, but it would have been the perfect ending for my prayer group dinner. Oh well! Next time.

I kept the table simple. I used my burlap table runner for the last prayer group dinner where I paired it with the black and white toile table runner. This time I used my square of red and white toile (left over from my 4th of July table) with the burlap runner.

You have seen these cute salad plates from the Valentine’s table I did. I knew they would look great for summer too!
I placed salad plates on top of the Mikasa English Countryside white plates and brown straw placemats. I used plain wine glasses and water glasses, and my mother-in-law’s pretty silver.

I saved some of the still nice white flowers from 4th of July and added some sunflowers in a white pitcher for my centerpiece and I added my new white candlesticks from Pier One to balance the centerpiece.
Apple and Cheddar-Cheese Cake
Adapted from Cake Keeper Cakes by Lauren Chattman
Printable Recipe
½ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
¼ cup whole-wheat pastry flour
½ cup yellow cornmeal
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup unsalted butter, softened
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
6 tablespoons milk
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
1 large Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and cu into ¼-inch pieces

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9-inch round cake pan and dust with flour. Combine the dry ingredients, flours, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt, in a medium bowl.

Cream butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl with an electric mixture for about 3 minutes, or until light and fluffy. With the mixture on medium low speed, add the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides of bowl after each addition.

With the mixture on low, add ½ of the flour mixture. Add the milk and then the flour mixing until just combined. Stir in the cheddar cheese and apple.

Scrap the batter into the prepared pan smoothing the top with a spatula. Bake the cake until it is golden brown and when a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake, comes out clean, about 30-35 minutes.

Let the cake cool in the pan for about 10 minutes. Invert on a wire rack and then turn it right side up on the rack to cool completely.

If you are looking for more table inspirations, please check out Between Naps on the Porch where you will find some great table settings.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Chocolate Toffee Bark

Happy Summer!

Summer has been slow to come to us this year.  We've only had a few days over 80°F.  And, to make matters worse, we vacationed in Olympic National Park in Washington where, if you believe most of my pictures, we were on a winter vacation.  It wasn’t quite as bad as my pictures would lead you to believe, but I told my family we were going to vacation somewhere warm next year!  I’m thinking of booking a trip to one or two of the national parks in Utah.  Maybe we will be assured of warm weather then.

The 4th of July was quiet for us this year.  We usually throw a big party on the 4th, but Les had to work, so we held a smaller barbeque on the 2nd.   Our friend Janet invited us over to their place to see the fireworks on the 4th, so my son and I headed over after dinner to join them, and it was great fun! 

The neighbors put on an impromptu fireworks display in the street before the big fireworks started, and Janet brought out these delicious sweet treats to tempt us away from our diets.  I tried to resist, but I love toffee, and these had some of the same flavors.  I’m pleased to say, Janet sent me home with the recipe, so I could make them myself.

I can’t believe how easy this chocolate toffee bark is to make, but they taste like you’ve been making candy for hours.

Chocolate Toffee Bark
Adapted from

12 to 16 whole graham crackers
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks)
1 12 oz bag semi-sweet chocolate chips
chopped pecans, toasted

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Line a 15 X 9 baking sheet with parchment paper.  Grease the parchment paper or spray with non-stick cooking spray.  Line the baking sheet with graham crackers breaking crackers as needed to cover the baking sheet completely.  

In a small saucepan, melt butter and brown sugar over medium heat.  Stir constantly until mixture boils and thickens.  The mixture should have a caramel texture.  Pour the caramel mixture over the graham crackers and spread so it covers the crackers completely.

Place graham cracker and caramel into the oven and bake until the mixture bubbles, about 2 to 4 minutes.  Remove from the oven and sprinkle chocolate chips over the top.  Place back into the oven to soften the chocolate chips, about 1 minute.  Spread the chocolate chips over the caramel, and sprinkle with chopped pecans.  Place the baking sheet in the freezer for at least an hour or until the mixture is completely cool.  Remove from the freezer and break into pieces.  Keep bark in the refrigerator to keep the chocolate firm. 


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