My Last Holiday Party

Well it wouldn’t be December without my holiday party, although this was my last one for reasons I’ll explain.  My Pinterest board shows the menu.  You can see it by clicking here.

I had to make those amazing meatballs again, the ones I served at the baby shower.  They disappeared, again.  I also did some old favorites—goat cheese-stuffed, bacon-wrapped dates.  The Columbia restaurant’s 1905 salad.  And an international cheese board. 

The new dishes I tried.  One was mini stuffed twice-baked potatoes.  Very easy and holiday-bakedtatersvery inexpensive to make.  You buy those little creamer potatoes at the warehouse club in a big bag, bake them in the oven, then scoop out the insides with a small spoon.  The rest of the story is just like full-sized twice-baked potatoes.

holiday-cheeseballAnother new dish was the jalapeno popper cheese ball.  I did not make it look like the football that’s shown on Pinterest, I just did it like a non-sports-related cheese concoction.  It was pretty well-consumed.

I also tried my hand at Cuban sliders.  Basically you take a package of King’s Hawaiian Rolls and you use them to make a pan of ham and swiss cheese and pickle sandwiches.  Then you melt some butter, stir in some mustard and drizzle it holiday-slidersover the sandwiches, then bake and serve warm.  They are equally good when they cool off.

For dessert this year I made a fruit galette.  I made it with apples, holiday-galettepears and blackberries and it was also a big hit.  It was easy as pie (no pun intended… well, maybe a little).  I took a packaged pie crust, I put in sliced apples and pears, with a few blackberries, a little sugar and some lemon zest.  Baked it.  Sliced it.  Served it.  Watched most of it disappear.

I also served a Christmas sangria that was a big hit.  It’s basically white wine with some holiday-sangriasparkling cider, granny smith apples, halved fresh cranberries and sprigs of rosemary.  It was also a big hit.

My best friend came in from out of state for the weekend and helped me with food and clean up.  We had a great time together.

But, I was disappointed in the turnout.  I set the date months in advance and tell people when it is for them to put it on their calendars.  And, without fail this year, lots of my regulars made other plans and then said, “Oh, we have a conflict.”  I wanted to say, “No, you don’t have a conflict.  You don’t want to come to my party so you made other plans.  There’s a big fucking difference.”

And that, my dear readers, is why I’m done hosting a holiday party.  I had the worst turnout in 8 consecutive years.  The people who were there were a lot of fun, and I was honored by their presence, but I just don’t think I want to spend $300 on food and décor next year to have people find “conflicts.”  Either my party isn’t as fun as I thought it was, or the food isn’t as good as I thought it was, or maybe both?  Either way…there’s a certain amount of freedom that comes from knowing I’ve let myself off the hook for next year.

I am, however, a social creature.  So that doesn’t mean I won’t want to do something.  I’ve already decided that IF people request a party or event, I will possibly organize a community dinner, in which everyone brings something and makes a commitment to attending.  I’m not doing days of food prep only to have half the food I make go in the trash.  But we’ll see if there are any requests.

Anyway, I want to wish all my readers a happy everything.  Happy Christmas!  Happy Hanukkah! Happy Kwanzaa!  And of course, Happy New Year!  May the turnout for all your holiday functions exceed your wildest dreams!  Thanks for reading BWAV!

 

 

BWAV Fave: Nuts.com (Try Their Nuts!)

nuts4I don’t remember how I first discovered Nuts.com, but all I can say is I’m glad I did. I *think* I went out looking for pine nuts and stumbled upon Nuts.com, but I can’t remember at this point.  What’s important is that this is one of my very favorite online vendors to do business with!

They not only sell nuts, but also dried fruit, trail mix, candy, grains, baking supplies… a ton of stuff!  I’ve ordered a little bit of everything from there over the last year or so:  various nuts and seeds, brown sugar, dried mango, colored Jordan almonds, and most recently a huge assortment of red and green candy for a holiday “candy buffet” I’m hosting.

I want to give credit where credit is due.  Most importantly, their stuff is always fresh. nuts1 SUPER fresh.  The dried fruits are soft and chewy, the nuts taste like they just came out of a roaster, and the candy is never stale.  They stand behind their freshness guarantee so I know if I ever do get anything that’s not fresh, they will make it right.

What is almost as important is their shipping speed.  They tend to ship your order the same day unless you’re ordering really late.  I am in North Carolina and my orders always arrive in two days.

nuts2Another plus is the quality of their chocolate.  OMG it is absolutely delicious.  It is some of the best chocolate I’ve ever eaten, especially for the price.  Try the “Ultimate Malted Milkballs.”  You will love ’em!

And that brings me to their prices–they are very reasonable.  And, if you order more than $59 worth you get free shipping.  Go ahead and order that much–try a little of everything–and order some sample packsnuts3 which are a great deal to try new foods!  So far with every order I’ve placed over $59, I have also received a free sample pack  of something new to try!

They make custom gift-trays, as well as custom trail mixes.  You really have to see this store to believe it!  I am truly impressed with www.Nuts.com

The Baby Shower: Decor

I’ve shown you the menu, and the party favors, now it’s time to talk about the decor for the co-ed baby shower I just hosted last weekend.

The mom-to-be chose a “rustic” theme for the baby boy’s nursery, complete with lots of navy blue, plaid, and, well… “rustic” stuff.  So, I chose that for the baby shower decor.

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I scoured Etsy for great invitations and found this one from a shop called Minted Press.  Her prices were reasonable and service was quick.  Of course, I okayed this design (and all other major decisions) with the mom-to-be first.  I also checked in with dad-to-be, since it was a co-ed shower!

With a color scheme of navy and khaki/burlap, I set out on a quest.  I found everything navy, khaki and cream that I could find.  I found pom-poms at Just Artifacts, ribbons at Papermart, etc.  I used a 40% off coupon at the craft store to get about 10 yards of burlap so I

A really nice diaper cake from Pinterest.

A really nice diaper cake from Pinterest.

would have enough to craft with, and also decorate with.  I covered my dining room table in burlap, the dessert table in burlap, and the bases of the diaper cakes in burlap so they blended in with the table top.

Let’s talk about diaper cakes!  That is a post all by itself I suppose, but I am a big believer in the diaper cake for a shower decoration.  You can buy them ready-made, or you can make them yourself.  They are very labor-intensive and difficult to maneuver, but making them yourself saves a ton of money.   You then decorate them with gifts for baby:  teethers, rattles, socks, nail clippers, brush and comb, toys, etc.  I’ve included pictures of my cakes in the gallery at the bottom.

A dad's diaper cake (from Pinterest).

A dad’s diaper cake (from Pinterest).

I mentioned cakeS.  Yes, there were two diaper cakes.  One for mom, one for dad.  The dad one, instead of including gifts for baby, included beer and liquor mini-bottles.  Much like the one you see here, although mine did not look nearly this good.  Check out the gallery for a glimpse of the one I made, which included dad’s favorite beer (Dale’s Pale Ale).

I felt like in keeping with the rustic theme we needed to have some tree slices.  I looked all over for them and found that they were quite expensive in most places.  But, hey, you only have to buy them once and they pretty much last forever.  I found mine on Etsy from ScenicCo.  They worked with me on sizes and gave me a very good price on the purchase of several hunks of wood.

I loved the concept of creating a clothesline of baby clothes.  I saw it on Pinterest so I baby5was pretty sure I could pull it off (famous last words!).  I will tell you it was harder than it looks because you’ve got to have sturdy things to tie the line to.   I used Command hooks and the line did not want to stay on them, and then at one point I put too many things on the line and the weight pulled the hooks off the wall and I had to start over.  I finally got it to stay, as you will see in the gallery pictures below.

baby14I also liked the idea of a burlap pennant banners.  I found a package of two on Amazon and glued chipboard scrapbooking letters to them.

The rest of the decor was tissue pom poms baby11and fresh flowers.  I wanted baby’s breath, but couldn’t find a bulk quantity of it locally so I settled on alstromeria flowers in yellow and pale orange, keeping with our rustic ambiance.  All-in-all, I think it blended pretty well together.  You can see the pictures in the gallery below.

 

Disposable plates made from palm leaves.

Disposable plates made from palm leaves.

My favorite unique find–disposable plates that looked like they were made of wood.  Made from pressed palm leaves, these plates were more expensive than paper, but they were so worth it!  I got them from Webstaurant Store, which I’ve written about before.  I got the 8″ plates, as well as a package of platters that were also disposable.

To coordinate with those plates, I got disposable wooden forks.  Again, Webstaurant Store has the best price on items like this.

One thing is for sure, nothing ever looks as good as it does on Pinterest!  But, the mom- and dad-to-be were thrilled, loved the shower, and seemed very content with my efforts.  And that’s all I ever wanted in the first place.

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The Baby Shower: Mistakes Plus Party Favors

Dark blue Jordan almonds from www.nuts.com

Dark blue Jordan almonds from www.nuts.com

The co-ed baby shower I hosted for a dear friend is now in my rear-view mirror and I’ve had time to reflect on what went wrong, what went right.  I’ve already posted about the food.  Now it’s time to post about what went wrong.

First, I spent an hour making up little cellophane bags of colored candied Jordan almonds, tied with curling ribbon, for my guests as party favors.  And then?

I forgot to put them out in the party area.

That’s right.  They were left sitting in my guest room (which, unoccupied, is my party staging area).  I didn’t remember them until all the guests had left.

Second, I underestimated just how long it would take to do everything.  Even though I hustled all day the day before the shower, and, the day of, I still came down to the wire, jumping in the shower at 3:05 with the guests of honor arriving at 3:30.  Thank goodness I can throw on clothes and makeup really fast!  As a result I didn’t get a lot of good pictures of everything.  For instance, I made these cute little bags of Jordan almonds…. oh I already mentioned that.

The shawl pins used for "corsages" for the mom and grandmothers.

The shawl pins used for “corsages” for the mom and grandmothers.

I also I made the mom-to-be and the grandmas special jewelry “corsages” that were really cute if I do say so myself.  They were shawl pins embellished with baby-themed charms, available at FoxiBelle’s on Etsy,  and a little picture frame that said “Mommy” or “Grandma”.  Sadly, I have absolutely no pictures of them to show you.  (I’m just glad I remembered them, and that they didn’t end up next to the damned almonds sitting in the guest  room!)

BUT… I did want to share with you a couple of great sources if you want to make the Jordan almond party favors for your next event.

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Ivory Jordan almonds from www.Nuts.com

Of utmost importance are the Jordan almonds.  You want them to be really fresh, and, if you need them color-coordinated, available in solid colors.  Nuts.com has those, and, get this–they are cheaper than the solid-color M&M’s that are often used for party favors.  Jordan almonds in solid colors are available for $7.99 a pound.  Solid-color M&M’s are $12.99 a pound!  The almonds are much more elegant and “special” than M&M’s, in my opinion.  And the ones from Nuts.com are super fresh.  Order extras so you can munch on them while you make up your little favor bags!

I did almonds in dark blue and ivory (they didn’t have a khaki colored Jordan almond).

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Navy crimped curling ribbon from www.papermart.com

For cellophane bags and curling ribbon, look no further than Papermart.  I’ve talked about them before.  You can’t beat their prices or quality.  The cellophane bags need to be small, otherwise you will spend a small fortune filling them up with candy!  Click here for the bags that I used, and I bought the smallest size available

The cellophane bags I used for Jordan almond party favors. Available at www.papermart.com

The cellophane bags I used for Jordan almond party favors. Available at www.papermart.com

(2.5″x2″x6″).

For curling ribbon, you simply cannot beat Papermart.  Click here for their crimped solid color curling ribbon selection.  You get 500 yards for $1.60!   That is a steal!  And they come in tons of colors to match any decor or occasion.  They also have smooth curling ribbon,  and even patterned curling ribbon.   For my party, I used navy and ivory crimped curling ribbons.

Then, just put about 15 Jordan almonds in each cellophane bag (I mixed the blue and ivory almonds together and put some of both in each bag), tie them up with curling ribbon (again, I used both colors for a more festive look), and you’ve got a very elegant party favor for a baby shower, wedding, or other special event!

In my next post, I’ll talk about the baby shower decor.

The Baby Shower Menu

babyIn my last post I mentioned a meatball recipe that I served at a co-ed baby shower.  I thought today you might be interested in seeing the whole menu (with my modifications, because you know I can’t leave most recipes well-enough alone).  And maybe even some photos?

In addition to the meatballs, I also served my homemade chips and salsa.  Then there were Paula Deen’s famous BLT deviled eggs.  I did modify that recipe some, by substituting about 3/4 of the called-for mayonnaise with sour cream.  I like sour cream better for deviled baby7eggs, it gives them more a twang, and they are less…mayonnaise-y.  I also added just a touch of sweet relish to the recipe for a little more flavor.

There was also fruit salad, but alas, it was not as cute as the picture above.  I was going to make that salad and the grocery stores had NO whole watermelons and NO whole cantaloupes.  So, I settled for a mixture of watermelon, mango, green grapes, kiwi, blueberries and raspberries, finished with a honey-coconut water dressing as described in this fruit salad recipe.  It’s a very simple dressing:   2 teaspoons of honey to 1/2 cup of coconut baby2water (for a large party-sized batch you probably need to double that).  It adds a hint of sweet refreshment to fruits, especially fruits that are out of season and not at their peak flavor.

The baby’s room is being decorated in what the mom called a “rustic” theme, and so we agreed on a rustic decor for the party consisting of lots of navy blue and burlap.  (My next post will be about decorations.)  I found a recipe for little mini cheese balls and I thought, “Hey!  Those look very rustic!”  They were also very delicious and were very fast to disappear.  Definitely a recipe you could make days in advance, and just insert the pretzel sticks the day of the party.  I served alongside some rustic crackers for spreading.

Also somewhat rustic looking were these tortellini skewers.  You boil up some cheese tortellini baby3al dente and gather some olives, basil leaves, mozzarella balls, and cherry tomatoes, and thread them on skewers.  The only problem was I couldn’t find the colored tortellini so mine weren’t as colorful as the ones in the picture.  But, they were still quite tasty, because I marinated the cooked tortellini overnight in Olive Garden brand Italian dressing.  Then I gave the finished skewers a very light drizzle of the dressing just before serving.

baby6Next, I offered up some little finger sandwiches.  These “Lemony-Cucumber” sandwiches were really delicious (would be even better served in the summer when cukes are at their peak).  I have some tips on these, though.   First, use a very good quality cucumber, preferably Kirby or Persian cucumbers.  Remove the seeds if using Kirby.  Slice neatly using a mandolin if you have one, and take care to dry the slices for a while on paper towels.  Also, I recommend what the recipe calls for–a really good quality, hearty wheat bread.  I used Nature’s Own brand, which is good for regular sandwiches, but it just didn’t stand up well to these when it was time to slice them.  Finally, in hindsight I wish I had done two things differently.  One is using Irish butter, which I think would have really enhanced the flavor (see my thoughts on that here.)  The other is sprinkling just a touch of kosher salt on the cucumbers before making the sandwiches, just to bring out their flavor a little more.

Last but not least, since this was a co-ed baby shower, I wanted to offer up one more hearty baby5recipe for the men besides the meatballs.  So, I made this taco crescent ring.  There was not a single slice of it left when the party was over so I am assuming people liked it?  I did not serve it as shown, but simply with sour cream and salsa (who has time for fresh lettuce when you’re prepping all this other food?)   I’ll warn you that it is NOT as “big” as it looks in the picture.  It looks ginormous in the picture but it comes out probably 10-12″ wide when you’re done.  It does not come out as pretty as this picture (thanks, food stylists everywhere, for making the rest of us feel inferior).  I also recommend baking it and serving it from a pizza stone.  The pizza stone bakes the crescent rolls up better than a metal pan, and, keeps it warmer longer during serving.

baby4Finally, for desserts I served cupcakes and marshmallow pops.  What are marshmallow pops?  Marshmallows with a straw inserted in them, then dipped in white chocolate, and decorated with sprinkles, drizzles, etc.  This picture is of very well-done ones that I found on Pinterest.  Mine were not this pretty, but they did look nice enough.  Several pieces of advice on this one.  First, get good paper straws that are both decorative and sturdy.  I bought mine from an Etsy shop called Eve’s Party Market.  They sell tons of different designs to match your party decor and their prices are quite reasonable.  Second, use good white chocolate, not “vanilla bark.”  I used Ghiradelli, which was at my warehouse club for the upcoming holidays.  It was quite affordable and it melted beautifully and it coated the marshmallows very smoothly.  They looked “glazed” when finished.  Third, with chocolate use only oil-based food coloring.  If you try to use liquid or gel coloring you run the risk of ruining the texture of the chocolate.  You can find oil-based coloring in a ton of colors on both Etsy and Amazon.  Fourth, the chocolate is much-improved with a touch of flavoring.  I used cotton candy flavoring (also available on Amazon).  But, I didn’t read it carefully when I started and it was glycerin-based, not oil-based.  So in one batch of melted white chocolate I put too much and it completely ruined the batch.  The chocolate “seized up” and wouldn’t flow smoothly.  I had to throw that away and start over, using only a couple of drops of the flavoring.  So, buy oil-based flavorings made especially for candy making.

I do not make pretty cupcakes, so I didn’t even attempt that.  I had a friend who bakes make a couple dozen for me.  She did 12 chocolate and 12 vanilla, and tried her best to color the vanilla ones “khaki.”  It came out looking like peanut butter frosting, but it was still vanilla and it was delicious and the colors were in line with the rustic party theme!  I have a ton of fancy chocolate cake decorations that a friend of mine gets for me where he works (thanks, John!  xoxox) so I decorated those myself.  You can see those in the photo gallery below.

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Itsa’ Spicy Meatball

meatbalsSo this past weekend I hosted a baby shower for a couple of friends.  It was actually the first baby shower I’ve hosted in my life.  I took it very seriously.  We booked the date in August and I started ordering decorations and supplies and planning things down to the tee.  If you’d like to see the entire Pinterest board, just click here.

What I want to share with you today is one of the recipes from the party that turned out to be a huge hit:  sweet and spicy cranberry meatballs.  I have never seen a pot of meatballs completely disappear, but the slow cooker was filled with about 3 pounds of meatballs, and not a single one was left.  Not one!  

I’ve been to parties where they served slow cookers full of meatballs.  Everyone brags about the fact that the secret ingredient in them is grape jelly.  And they are good, I’ll give you that.  But this recipe?  Oh it is soooo much better than those!  If you’re a grape jelly meatball fan, please give this one a try.

The main base is whole cranberry sauce.  Then you add in some ketchup, hoisin sauce, and an assortment of spices.  The end result is a very sweet, tangy concoction that apparently cannot be resisted.

Now before I post the recipe, I have a secret to confess:  I used store-bought meatballs.  The recipe has you make your own, but I didn’t have time so I went to the local warehouse club and bought a big bag of “Italian style” meatballs.  I wasn’t too sure how those would go with this sweet and tangy sauce, but now I know how they go–fast.  They go very fast.

Next time, I hope to make the meatballs from scratch, but just know that you can get away with using a good quality store bought meatball!

Here are the ingredients:

Meatballs
  • 2 pounds ground beef
  • 22 saltine crackers crushed
  • 1/3 cup dry minced onion
  • 2 eggs beaten
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 teaspoon garlic powder
Sweet and Spicy Cranberry Sauce
  • 1 can whole cranberry sauce 14 oz. can
  • 1/4 cup quality hoisin sauce like Kikkoman or Lee Kum Kee
  • 1/4 cup ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons Franks Buffalo Hot WINGS Sauce to taste*
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar

And here are the instructions:

Preheat oven to 400F degrees. Place a baking rack on top of a baking sheet. Set aside. (If you don’t have a baking rack, line baking sheet with parchment paper.)

  1. In a large bowl, combine all of the meatball ingredients, mix until well combined. Roll meat mixture into desired meatball size**. Place meatballs onto prepared baking sheet and bake for 5 minutes, or until lightly browned.
  2. Meanwhile, add all of the Sweet and Spicy Cranberry Sauce ingredients starting with just 2 teaspoons hot wings sauce to a bowl and mix to combine. You can add more hot sauce to taste at the end of cooking.
  3. Line the bottom of your slow cooker with meatballs, then a layer of Sweet and Spicy Cranberry Sauce, then the remaining meatballs followed by the remaining. Sauce. Gently stir meatballs an hour after cooking.
  4. Cover and cook on low heat for 2 hours. Taste and stir in additional hot wings sauce (I use a total of 2 tablespoons which is spicy) Keep warm until serving.

Again, as I mentioned, I didn’t make the meatballs by hand.  I just dumped all the ingredients in on top of frozen meatballs and stirred occasionally as they cooked.  No worries about “layering” your meatballs or mixing the sauce in a separate bowl.  Why dirty up a bowl you’ll have to wash when it’s all going to combine in the slow cooker anyway?  Ain’t nobody got time for that!

Oh, one more thing.  The photograph above shows the meatballs on toothpicks.  Don’t do that.  They are best served hot, and that means straight out of the slow cooker.  It’s not as elegant of a look, but we must preserve food quality over appearances, right?  So put the slow cooker out on the table with a big spoon in it and be prepared to watch meatballs disappear!

A Lobster Pasta Conconction

Mario Batali's Fettuccine With Lobster, Tomatoes, And Saffron: I was perusing a cookbook from ABC’s “The Chew” and ran across a recipe that I apparently overlooked for the two-plus years I’ve owned the book.  It sounded so good I decided to splurge and try it:   fettuccine with lobster, tomato and saffron.

I never cook with lobster.  I think I’ve bought one fresh lobster in the grocery store in my entire life.  But, it sounded so good I had to give it a shot.  I decided to go for it, and when I got to Harris Teeter much to my surprise lobsters were on sale for $7.99 a pound (instead of their regular $14.99 a pound).  I felt a LOT better about making it after I saw that two 1.25 pound lobsters totaled about $45 before the discount was applied.

The recipe calls for potatoes in it, and I just couldn’t figure out why anyone would eat potatoes with pasta.  Can we say carbohydrate overload?  So, I left out the potatoes.  I also found that the recipe called for no seasoning, and left much to be desired in terms of taste as a result.  I had to add quite a bit of salt and pepper to make it sing.

Mine didn’t look like the one in the picture because I used the substitution of one can of San Marzano tomatoes, and I wasn’t sure how to include those, so I pureed them and it made a rich red tomato sauce.  My son had seconds and everyone loved it so I’m sticking with that approach.

Here, for your dining pleasure, is my version of this recipe, scaled down for three people with enough leftovers for one or two more servings:

Ingredients:

  • 2 1-to-1.25 pound lobsters, steamed (have the fish monger do this) and cooled
  • 2 T. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium Vidalia or other sweet onion, cut into 1/8″ julienne
  • 2 stalks celery, cut into 1/4″ dice
  • 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 15 ounce can of San Marzano whole peeled tomatoes, pureed
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • Pinch of saffron
  • 1 pound fettuccine
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh chives

Directions:

  • Bring a large pot of water to boil and add 2 T. salt.
  • Remove the lobster meat from the shells and cut into 1/2″ pieces.
  • In a large saute’ pan, heat the olive oil until smoking.  Add the onion, celery and garlic and saute’ until golden brown, about 6-8 minutes.
  • Add the tomatoes, wine and saffron and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.
  • Drop the fettuccine into the boiling water and cook to 1 minute less than package instructions.  Just before it’s done, carefully ladle 1/2 cup of the pasta water into the pan with the sauce.
  • Add the lobster to the tomato sauce in the pan and toss through.
  • Salt and pepper to taste (this step is really important!)  IF you like spicy food, add 1/2 t. or more of crushed red pepper to the sauce and simmer for a few more minutes.
  • Drain the pasta in a colander and add it to the pan with the sauce.  Add the chives and toss to combine thoroughly.
  • Serve in pasta bowls.

Food Anti-Porn

Everyone is always talking about the joys of great food porn.  I love it myself.  But what some people don’t realize is that floating around out there on Pinterest are images that are just the opposite of porn:  they are anti-porn.  So disgusting, they will make you think twice about eating another bite of anything.  And, it just so happens that I have a Pinterest board dedicated to such…delicacies.

Click here to see the board.

Admittedly some of the posts on there reflect my personal dislike of cauliflower, but there are lots of vintage photos of culinary delights you have surely never seen!

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Serrano Steak: A Super Simple Savory Serving

Sorry for my excessive use of the s words, but this recipe was stupendous and extremely simple!

Now that I’m taking some time off for the summer and have time to cook, I’m getting more Hello Fresh boxes.  We had this recipe tonight and it was absolutely delightful.  I wanted to share it with you.

Worried about whether beef is good for you or not?  Check out this post and learn all about the health benefits of beef!

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Chimichurri: It’s What’s for Dinner

I thought I’d share a few recipes with you today to maybe get us talking about food and cooking again?  I love those boxes from Hello, Fresh, but dang if our schedules can get synced!  Every week that I have time to cook and want a box, they have recipes that feature things I don’t eat, like broccoli and salmon.  Yuuuuuuuuuuuck.   When they have cool looking recipes, I am traveling or busy and can’t order the box.

I do, however, keep an eye on their recipes.  It’s always an option to print them out and make them at home, which is what I’m going to do with my latest craving, and that’s for something with chimichurri sauce.

If you have never eaten chimichurri sauce, you don’t know what you are missing!  It is so flavorful, and super easy to make.  It’s a South American condiment with a parsley or cilantro base.  Some recipes call for both parsley and cilantro.  From there, recipes vary regarding ingredients.  I’ve seen recipes that include garlic, chili peppers, cumin and shallots.  Then you need a liquid (usually vinegar) and an oil to make it all blend together.  You just put the ingredients in a food processor and whirl them into this amazing sauce that is bursting with a fresh taste and vibrancy you just don’t get anywhere else.

For a great chimichurri sauce recipe, look to Bon Apetit Magazine by clicking here.

You can use chimichurri on steak, chicken, and even on vegetarian dishes if you’re not a meat fan.   Here are two recipes from Hello, Fresh that are particularly appealing and that I’ll be making in the next few days.

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The Happy Hour Bridal Shower Outcome: Success!

The Happy Hour Bridal Shower that I co-hosted for a friend at work has finally happened, and I wanted to share the results.

Everything went great!  There was plenty of food and drink, and all the ladies seemed to enjoy themselves.

Here’s a gallery of the results:

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As with all things, a few plans changed along the way…

  1. No balloons.  I decided with those big pom poms we had enough “aerial” decor.
  2. No penis cake.  Couldn’t find anyone to bake one!
  3. I changed up Paula Deen’s deviled egg recipe.  I used sour cream instead of mayonnaise because I didn’t have any mayo in the house and didn’t feel up to making any.  I also added a good blob of dijon mustard to it for a little twang.  I still wasn’t happy with how they turned out, they tasted bland to me, but they got rave reviews from the party goers, with people even asking if they could take home some of the extras.  Not an egg was left when the party was over!

Finally, the candy in the condom game was a big hit, everyone thought it was funny.  And, the bride guessed the correct number of candies in it!  FYI, a standard condom will hold about 65-80 cherry sours.  If you go past that it’ll break.  Trust me on this one.

Hot & Sour Soup: The Answer

EM0632-6_Hot-and-Spicy-Soup_s4x3.jpg.rend.sni12col.landscapeWhen I was in high school my friend’s family owned the best Chinese restaurant in Athens, Georgia.  It offered the most amazing hot and sour soup and I have never been able to find anything like it since.

If you don’t like hot and sour soup, I understand.  I can tell you why you don’t like it:   because the hot and sour soup in most restaurants has three major issues.

One is that it is over-globbed with corn starch and left to congeal on a buffet line for hours and hours.  Yuck.  The real test of that is if you buy some, bring it home, and refrigerate it.  When you take it back out of the fridge, if you can slice it with a knife?  It’s got too damned much cornstarch in it.  Soup is supposed to be liquid, not solid.

Another problem is that most of these soups forget the sour part.  The sour has to come from either vinegar or citrus juice, and it brightens up the flavor.  Hence the name, hot AND SOUR.  I find that most Chinese restaurants just don’t bother to put the sour part in the soup.   You couple that with the high gelatin content, and it’s just disgusting bland goop.

Finally, the soup in most Chinese restaurants looks like it contains all the crap that didn’t belong in any other dish.  There are little things floating in it that nobody can recognize, and that most of us just aren’t sure about eating.  This is suspect.  And, even if it’s good stuff, who has time to drive to a specialty market to buy it all?  I need a soup that contains things I can buy at a regular grocery store.

I started making my own hot and sour soup 25 years ago, when I got a cookbook from The Frugal Gourmet.  He is not a very well-known chef anymore because he got caught up in a child molestation scandal and his career never recovered.  But he did have a pretty good recipe for hot and sour soup.  I got rid of that cookbook years ago because out of 200 recipes the hot and sour soup one was the only really useful one.  It was good, but it still wasn’t the same as my favorite Chinese restaurant that my friend’s family owned.

I recently got a hankering for some good hot and sour soup, and decided to search for a recipe that would yield some delicious results.  I found a simple easy to follow recipe from the ragin’ Cajun himself, Emeril Lagasse.  Who, as you know, I love.  

The recipe is here (with my modifications in parentheses).  I encourage you to try this if you’ve never liked hot and sour soup before.  I promise you that you will after you make it!

Ingredients

  • 2 ounces dried shiitake mushrooms (I used one ounce, which was more than enough)
  • 10 cups chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh ginger
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 3/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1/4 pound very thinly sliced and julienned pork loin or tenderloin (I used double this amount for a heartier soup, and to replace some of the tofu that I left out.  You could also use some shrimp, those are delicious in this soup.)
  • 6 to 8 ounces tofu, cubed or crumbled  (I left this out.  I don’t buy tofu.  It’s kinda’ nasty)
  • 1/4 cup lime juice (use Nellie & Joe’s brand, or, freshly-squeezed)
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch (I used 2.5 tablespoons, because I was deathly afraid of creating a gelatin mold out of my soup.  See previous comments)
  • 3 tablespoons mushroom flavored soy sauce (who the hell buys flavored soy sauce?  I just used Kikkoman)
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • Hot chile oil, for drizzling
  • 2 tablespoons thinly sliced scallions

Directions

Combine shiitake mushrooms and 3 cups of the chicken stock in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat and let stand until mushrooms are tender and broth is flavorful, about 30 minutes. Remove mushrooms and discard stems. Thinly slice caps and reserve. Strain broth through a fine mesh sieve, combine with the remaining chicken stock and set aside.

In a medium saucepan heat the vegetable oil and, when hot, add the ginger, garlic and crushed red pepper; cook for 2 minutes, or until fragrant. Add the chicken stock and reserved shiitakes and bring to a simmer. Cook for 30 minutes. Add the pork and tofu and stir to combine. In a small bowl or cup, combine the lime juice and cornstarch and stir until smooth. Whisk the cornstarch mixture into the hot soup and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Add the soy sauce and sesame oil and serve the soup, drizzled with hot chile oil, to taste, and garnished with some of the sliced scallions.

A Happy Hour Bridal Shower

A gal from my office is getting married, and two of us offered to throw her a bridal shower.  I wanted to show you what we’re doing!  As with all my events, I started the planning with a Pinterest board.  You can see it by clicking here.  

Format and Theme

We decided on a Friday afternoon, happy hour time just after work ends.  That way people can stop by on their way home and have a drink, unwind, and celebrat

v1

Fruit kabobs

e her upcoming nuptials.  I have that day off so I can work on preparing everything during the day, and, my son’s girlfriend is available to help me since she also doesn’t work or have class that day.

Our theme is a lingerie shower.  I personally wouldn’t want one of those, because I’m not a lingerie person, but she seems to be loving the idea and this is all about her!

Color Scheme

We chose pink and white for two reasons.  One, pink is her accent color in her wedding.  Two, it’s Valentine’s day and the stores are FILLED with pink and white stuff that’s cute and romantic and affordable!

Food Menu

Since we are not trying to feed people lunch or dinner, we decided on three sweet and four savory bites for the event:

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Pretzel rods dipped in colored white chocolate with sugar pearls

Sweet:  fruit kabobs, chocolate covered pretzel rods, and cake (hopefully in the shape of a penis if we can find someone to bake it for us.  My co-host owns the penis pan.  I didn’t ask her why.  Haha!).

Savory:  deviled eggs, tomato and cheese crostini, finger sandwiches, and nuts.

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Paula Deen BLT deviled eggs.

The sweet items–I chose fruit kabobs because I own a BUNCH of packages of skewers and it just made sense to put them to good use.  Plus everyone at this event is over 40 and probably watching their carbs so fruit is a good choice.

The pretzel rods I saw on Pinterest

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Tomato and cheese crostini

were just too cute.  I went to Michael’s last week and for Valentine’s day they had all the candy melts and candy decorations on sale plus I had a coupon for an additional 20% off.  So, I got the candy melts and little sugar pearls for about $6 total. I can make the white chocolate a nice pink color with a dab of gel food coloring.

The savory items….my favorite deviled egg recipe is Paula Deen’s BLv5T Deviled eggs.  The last party I served them at they were a huge hit.  They are very “bridal-shower-y” in my opinion and unique.

The tomato and whipped feta cheese crostini is another favorite from a previous party.  It’s a Barefoot Contessa recipe that is always a huge hit.  Plus it’s something you can serve “deconstructed”–put the cheese mixture in a dish, then put the tomato and pine nut mixture in another dish, and serve that alongside a platter of toasted bread slices.  People can make their own (which also has the advantage of not getting soggy in advance).v7

Finger sandwiches in the shape of hearts. Who doesn’t love heart shaped stuff at a bridal shower???  My co-host is making those, not sure what she will put in them but I’m sure whatever she chooses will be great.

And, finally, we’ll have some nuts of some sort for an easy, high-protein munchy.

Drinks

We are going to serve a pink alcoholic punch that I love to make.  The recipe is from Giada DeLaurentis and it is absolutely lovely both in color and in flavor.  The recipe is super simple and it’s always a crowd pleaser.

Decorationsv1

I love those tissue paper pom poms that are so popular!   So I went to www.papermart.com to buy tissue paper to make them, and I found that they sell ready-made pom poms for about $1 to $1.50 apiece.  What a deal, and no trying to figure out how to make them myself!  I ordered pink and white ones in a range of sizes.

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Pink tulle chair decorations.

Also from Papermart, I ordered some rolls of pink tulle to tie on the chairs in my dining room.  I think that looks so festive, and their rolls of tulle are super inexpensive!

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A little bit of sparkly ribbon on the straws makes them look so festive!

I have pink and white paper straws, which will go great with the pink punch!  I love this idea I found on Pinterest of tying a little slash of ribbon to each straw.  Definitely going to do that.

As with all my events, I went to Dollar Tree and stocked up on disposable platters, bowls, etc.  They have plastic ones that look like cut crystal, and silver ones that look like metal.  They even have some metal trays that are only $1.00 and very elegant looking.

I also grabbed tons of heart shaped doilies since the stores are full of those around Valentine’s day!

I have some pink and white silk gerbera daisies in my craft stash.  I’m planning on putting those in vases and jars, for a touch of feminine color.

8cee5588da43ad0194fab581530d7e9aFinally, I saw this idea on Pinterest to tie pictures of the couple to balloons.  I thought that was very clever and I’m going to try to pull that off, too.

Entertainment

I know some people love shower games, some people hate them.  I went to the v8bride and asked, she said she was fine either way.  I told her about this game I saw on Pinterest that I just loved.

You fill a condom with gum balls or other candies that you can count, and then the game is for everyone to guess how many candies are in there.  Then, for additional fun, you can gather all the guests in a circle, then have them pass the condom from person to person using only their knees, and no hands.  This sounds like fun after everyone has a few glasses of that alcoholic punch!

Other than that, I think the entertainment will consist of watching the bride open her gifts, and, sharing good conversation.

I took lots of pictures of the actual event to share.  Click here to see them.

A Great Place to Shop: Webstaurant Store

In a previous post about party planning, I mentioned the Webstaurant Store.  They sell all things for restaurants, from little ketchup packets to large scale kitchen equipment.  I first mentioned them because they sell great plastic and disposable catering supplies, if you’re going to host an event.  But, they have a lot more Capture3to offer and I’ve discovered it to be a treasure trove of stuff for the kitchen and for the craft room.

They also sell “smallwares,” which are basically kitchen tools, gadgets, and cookware. And, their price for nice commercial grade cookware is cheaper than buying Calphalon at Bed Bath and Beyond!   I have just ordered my first frying pan from them.  It was $35.  I’ll report back to you on how it does.

I also got a serrated bread knife that cuts through bars of soap (for making homemade laundry detergent) in short order.  The knife was a Capturewhopping $7 and it’s better than some high-end knives I’ve bought before.

They sell “disposables,” which are things like those little papers cups that restaurants serve tartar sauce and ketchup in.  Those are great for crafting purposes, and they are also great for use as little “prep bowls” in the kitchen when you are setting up to make a complicated recipe.  Put a pinch of this and a teaspoon of that in each little paper cup, then you’re ready to roll just like a professional chef!

They ship super fast.  Most orders I’ve placed in the morning ship by the afternoon.Capture1

They have a very cool program that pays you to review their products.  If you post a written review you get $2 in store credit.  If you post a photograph of the product you get $4 in store credit.  And, if you shoot a video review of the product, you get $10 in store credit.  If you do all three, yes, you get $16 in store credit. They process those credits usually within 24-48 hours, and then you have a nice little balance in your store account to place your next order.

Capture2I’ve just ordered my first food item from there.  They sell cashew pieces in five pound bags for about $30, and that’s much cheaper than the $11 a pound I was paying for “fancy” whole ones from www.nuts.com (which is a great place to buy nuts, but we eat those cashews like crazy and don’t require “fancy” ones just for household snacking).  Click here for my roasted rosemary cashew recipe, which is why we need five pounds of cashew pieces in the first place!

I’ll write a post later on all the craft supplies I’ve found there and what I use them for.

I highly recommend taking a look at Webstaurant Store before you shop for kitchen (or craft supplies again.  The only thing I need to warn you about is their shipping and handling charges, which on the surface seem pretty steep.  Those charges seem steep because we’ve all come to love our Amazon Prime free shipping, and, we expect web retailers to offer us free shipping on a daily basis.  Just keep in mind that this is still a commercial supplier, and they are primarily catering to businesses that expect to pay shipping and handling charges.  I find that their prices are low enough even after I factor in shipping and handling that I’m still getting a good deal.

Orlando for Christmas: My Review

As I mentioned a couple of months back, we decided to spend Christmas in Orlando.  It mickey-mouse-iconwas a place to go, we got a great deal on the hotel if I agreed to go to a Hilton Vacation Club time share presentation, and, well, like I said, it was a place to go!  Here is my review of Orlando for Christmas.

First and foremost, it was GREAT family time.  I got some time with my son and his girlfriend, and that was what counted the most.  To that end, it was a wonderful trip.  We had lots of nice meals together, and enjoyed time just relaxing in the hotel room together, too.  Good conversations were had in the car while traveling.

On the way to Florida we stopped off to see my parents and that was also good.  Mom’s dementia is getting progressively worse so I spend every moment I can with her, and I treasure our time together.  Had lunch with a friend from middle school even, and that was also a wonderful experience.

Now, the family time was the best, most important part of the trip.  But I’ll confess that I was underwhelmed with Orlando.  Let me start by saying I’m deathly afraid to even look at my bank balance.  Holy crap that place was expensive!  If  you are planning a trip to Orlando, here’s what you do to budget.  First, figure up what you can afford to spend.  Triple that amount.  Then add $250.  You’ll still come up short.  (Hahah?  I’m not joking!)

Day 1, December 23:   We arrived at the hotel.  Valet parking was $25 a day (self-parking was $18!).  Internet service was $20 a day.  So much for the “great deal” on the hotel room!

That evening we had reservations at the Orlando Melting Pot.  It was delicious!  A really fun experience cooking fondue at the table. I would love to eat there again and try some different combinations of food.  The kids really enjoyed it and got to try some things like duck that they had never had before.

Day 2, Christmas Eve:  I sent the kids to Magic Kingdom while I did the time share presentation.  They really enjoyed the park, although it was super crowded.  They closed the park because it was at capacity!

The time share presentation was P-A-I-N-F-U-L.  My gosh that guy tried hard to establish a rapport with me but I just didn’t feel it and I really didn’t like him.  He was too busy telling me stories about his family and his parents’ “old fashioned” time share and he kept reassuring me this was not going to be high pressure.  So much that I was starting to feel pressure.  I walked away without buying anything, as I knew I would.  With a child in college and a deadbeat ex-husband who won’t contribute to the cost, there’s no way I was going in debt for a time share!

That night we met in Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney) and had a nice dinner at Wolfgang Puck’s Cafe, which was absolutely amazing.  And, amazingly expensive.  I ordered the scallops and there were two on the plate.  Two.  The service was outstanding and we do love ourselves some of that there fine dining.  So, it was money well-spent I suppose.

Day 3, Christmas Day:  We decided to go to Epcot.  So did everybody else. Especially people who didn’t believe in making their children mind.  I was also appalled at how adults acted in some of the exhibits.  Cutting in line, and, some of them justified it by looking at my son, who had waited patiently in line for an activity, and saying, “Come on, let my kid go first.”  It was obnoxious and I’m glad I wasn’t standing right there or I’d have said something that would reach “Showing My Ass” proportions.

The food in the World Showcase was really good, but again, very pricey.  We went to “France” and I had my first glass of “real” champagne.  It was $13.  We had a package of six French macarons–$10.  A small cheese plate–$10.  Lobster bisque–$8.  A ham and cheese sandwich–$10.  A croissant–$3.  It ended up being a $50+ “snack” (but it was really good).

We poorly planned the trip because we didn’t know any better.  The lines were long and there were no Fast Passes available for the rides. If we had bought tickets early we could have gotten a Fast Pass and avoided long lines.  Some of the best rides had 2 hour waits, and I don’t stand in line 2 hours for a 3 minute ride (unless the ride involves George Clooney’s lap).  Oh, and every one of the nice restaurants was booked solid, no reservations available.  I had no idea we needed to make dining reservations at an amusement park until it was too late.   I have since created a Disney travel planning Pinterest board in case we ever go again.  Click here to see it.

I think I mentioned there were a lot of unruly unsupervised children?  It was also 90 degrees and about 90% humidity.  My son caught people cutting in line and he got royally pissed.  We finally had enough of the place by around 4:00 p.m.  We went back to the hotel.

I suggested that we go to the nice steak house in the hotel for one last nice dinner, until I checked out the menu.   Entrees were $70-$85.  And it was the kind of place where everything was a la carte, so a salad would have been another $15-$25, a baked potato would have been $10-$15, etc.  We instead ordered room service (dinner for three, including a burger, a club sandwich, and a huge homemade cheese pizza, was $55–what a bargain!) and crashed.

Day 4:  December 26:   We met some people on a cruise eight years ago, and they live in Florida.  We arranged to meet them for brunch on our way out of town and that was a real treat!  Then, we got to fight traffic of unbelievable proportions. Apparently everybody else had the same idea we did–to get the hell outta’ Dodge!

So, here is my overall evaluation of the trip:

THUMBS DOWN TO:

  • Orlando’s ridiculous food and beverage prices.
  • Children with no self-control and no manners.
  • Parents who allow aforementioned children to go without proper discipline.
  • Time share presentations (seriously, did I agree to do this again???)
  • Disney on Christmas–it’s just too damned crowded!
  • Whatever I spent (which I still haven’t officially added up yet, but for three days in Orlando I know it was at least $1,500!)

THUMBS UP TO:

  • Good quality time with my son and his very sweet, charming girlfriend–this was the best!
  • Being away from home on Christmas and doing something different.
  • Seeing old friends.
  • Delicious food and drink.
  • Time with my Mommy.
  • Being home again!

Saxenda: An Update

I recently wrote about Saxenda, a new weight loss drug my doctor gave me.  I’m 47 years old, have thyroid issues, fat3and I’m insulin resistant with a family history of Type II diabetes.  The likelihood of me losing weight on my own has gone down over the years as a result of these conditions.

I weighed on October 30 at my annual check-up.  I was 186 pounds.  There, I said it.  Publicly.  I was over 200 pounds a few years ago after my thyroid went bonkers.  I took some of the weight off and kept it off, but I’ve held steady at between 180 and 186 for the last three years.  I never seem to be able to lose weight, even though I always feel like I’m watching what I eat and that I’m more often-than-not depriving myself of what I really want.

Well, I’m here to report that, so far, Saxenda is working like a charm.  I weighed this week, just about five weeks after I started taking it, and I’m down ten (10!!!!) pounds!  I can see it in my face and neck a little bit, and I can definitely tell it in how my jeans are fitting.  I’m so encouraged to finally have some success!

The downside–I just cannot eat much at all unless I lay off the Saxenda for a day or two beforehand.  Otherwise if I have more than a few bites I get horrible heartburn and acid reflux.  I sometimes end up having to throw up to feel human again.  That’s because Saxenda causes the stomach to empty slower than normal–a little food goes a LONG way.  So, I just have to make adjustments in the medication if I have a special outing or meal planned.  For instance, when we go to Orlando for Christmas we have reservations at Emeril’s restaurant.  I will definitely not take my Saxenda for two or three days beforehand!

fat2As I mentioned before, there were some digestive issues when I first started taking it.  It gave new meaning to the phrase from “The Bucket List” Jack Nicholson said–“Never trust a fart.”  I am pleased to report that those side effects went away after a couple of weeks.  Whew.

All-in-all I am pleased with how it’s working.  I’m still living off doctor’s samples and waiting on my insurance to approve the prescription.  That’s going to be the next hurdle.  The last time my doctor prescribed something for weight loss they denied it because I wasn’t fat enough.  I’m guessing that’s what’s going to happen this time, and I’ll have to fight with them about that.  Ya gotta’ love health insurance these days.  But that’s another rant for another day!

Holiday Party 2015: The End Result

Gallery

This gallery contains 11 photos.

I wrote a few weeks ago about my Holiday Party 2015 food plans.  I just wanted to share the results and show you the “real” pictures versus the stock photos I found on Pinterest. Everything went off without a hitch … Continue reading

Dessert Shooters: The End Result

I recently wrote about my plans to make dessert shooters for my holiday entertaining.  I posted lovely stock photographs of what they were supposed to look like, but wanted to follow up with shots of “the real thing” along with a report on how they turned out.

Let me say both recipes were DELIGHTFUL in terms of basic fillings.  The key lime was my son’s personal favorite (“Mom, please be sure to save me some of that”-kinda’ favorite).  I ended up skipping the layer of lime curd because I was just too tired to make it after cooking for four days.  Also, the little cups were so tiny that making a second layer seemed almost impossible.  I also decided if I was going to add a fruity layer it should be raspberry, just for visual interest and a little spark of contrast in the flavors.  But I didn’t get around to doing it!

The students at my taco night devoured the chocolate mousse, which was super smooth and creamy and light.  I held back the key lime for my holiday party which is tonight.  The only problem I had was the room was pretty warm and that caused the whipped cream to lose its peaks and sort of flatten out after I squirted it into the little cups.

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Chocolate chili mousse dessert shooters.

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Now, the decorations were sort of an unexpected surprise.  Edible glitters, little chocolate curls, chocolate gems, etc., were compliments of a friend of mine who works for a company that makes those.   That wonderful man hooked me up big time when I asked for a few to make these same desserts for my friend’s wedding, which is coming up in March.  He send me five boxes of assorted chocolate decorations that are just to die for, plus the edible glitters.  They really put the finishing touch on these!  Thank you, John!  xoxox

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Key lime dessert shooters with red and white chocolate gems.

Anyway, they aren’t as pretty as I’d like them to be, mostly because by the time it was time to fill the cups I was tired, the party hadn’t even started, and I just needed to get them done.  Plus, I realized I was running really short on key lime filling and I didn’t have nearly as much as I needed, which was frustrating.  I will take a much more careful, measured approach when I do my friend’s wedding desserts to make sure they are much more elegant.

Recipes Sometimes Need Fixin’: Rosemary Roasted Cashews

ina

Ina’s cashews, as depicted by a food stylist.

My holiday party menu includes Ina “The Barefoot Contessa” Garten’s Rosemary Roasted Cashews.  I thought the concept of them sounded very delicious and I wanted to put them on the menu for the upcoming event.  Being one of those recipes you can make days in advance, I decided to go ahead and make them tonight (Sunday), for next Friday’s party.

This is one of those times that I have to just say “Ina, what was your barefooted brain thinking….????”  As soon as I started making the recipe, I noticed some problems.  And, after I finished it I went back to see that it got a 1.5 star rating out of 5 stars.  Please tell me why I didn’t check that out before?!?

 

Let me start by showing you HER version of the recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 4 c. raw cashews
  • 2 tbsp. coarsely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 2 tsp. dark brown sugar
  • 2 tsp. Kosher salt
  • ½ tsp. cayenne (ground red) pepper

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. On 18-inch by 12-inch jelly-roll pan, arrange cashews in single layer. Roast 10 to 12 minutes or until nuts are toasted and heated through.
  3. Meanwhile, in large bowl, stir together rosemary, butter, sugar, salt, and cayenne until combined.
  4. Add hot cashews to bowl with rosemary mixture; toss until nuts are well coated.

Problem #1:  Very few places sell raw cashews by the CUP.  Maybe Ina finds them that way at a fancy gourmet shop in the Hamptons, but the rest of us poor common bastards have to buy them by the 1 pound bag at Trader Joe’s.  So why not just say “1 pound” of cashews?  Coincidentally, the bag’s label says that the bag contains 3 and 3/4 cups.  So whatever.

Problem #2:  The butter she calls for is not specified to be melted.  Step 3 says to stir together the butter,rosemary, etc.   You can’t stir and combine unmelted butter, Ina.  Even I know that.

Problem #3:  How is 1 tablespoon of butter going to coat a POUND–er… 4 cups–of cashews???

Problem #4:   You’re putting in 1/4 as much cayenne pepper as you are salt?  REALLY????  That is one metric buttload of pepper, Ina.

Problem #5:  Do cashews really get done in 10-12 minutes?  Uh…. no, they don’t.  Not at the called-for temperature.

What I immediately did to the recipe was double the butter called for, and, I melted it.  I combined it with the other ingredients and created a lovely sauce that I drizzled over the nuts and then I stirred them together vigorously until they were all thoroughly coated.

I did fall for her recommendation on how much cayenne pepper to use and I regret doing that.  I like hot food but dang these things are hhhhhhoooootttttt!!!!!!  I could cut the cayenne in half next time.

My finished product... not as pretty as her picture but they're still pretty good. Hot enough to give Satan indigestion, but still pretty good1

My finished product… not as pretty as her picture but they’re still pretty good. Hot enough to give Satan indigestion, but still pretty good!

So, here I am officially publishing MY recipe for Rosemary Roasted Cashews, and, it goes like this…

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. raw cashews
  • 2 tbsp. coarsely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
  • 2 tbsp. butter, melted
  • 2 tsp. dark brown sugar
  • 2 tsp. Kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne (ground red) pepper

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. In a 9×12 roasting pan, arrange cashews in a shallow layer.  Roast 7 to 8 minutes, then shake them around in the pan.  Roast another 7 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, in small bowl, stir together rosemary, melted butter, sugar, salt, and cayenne until combined.  Put it in the microwave for 30 seconds to make sure the sugar thoroughly melts and combines with the butter.
  4. Remove cashews from the oven.  Pour the butter mixture over the cashews in the pan and stir vigorously to combine until nuts are well coated.

The Newest Weightloss Drug: Saxenda

download (1)I’ve struggled with my weight my whole life.  After I had my son 18+ years ago, I never lost all my baby fat.  And, after I turned 40, my thyroid went bonkers and I gained even more weight.  I am 5’6″ tall and got well over 200 pounds at my heaviest.

The weight just doesn’t come off anymore.  My doctor says I am insulin resistant–and that makes sense because diabetes runs in my family on my dad’s side.  She says that’s one reason I have trouble losing weight. The funny thing is as much as I write about food I don’t eat that much. I’m not much of a snacker–I don’t sit around eating chips and candy all day or anything like that.  Yet my ass remains at about 185 pounds and has been stuck there for years.

Part of me wishes I could just accept it and say “This is who I am,” but I can’t.  I look better at 140 or 150, and the older I get the more I’m worried about how my skin is losing its elasticity.  I would hate to lose the weight and have all my skin stay stretched out, and those days they are-a-coming.

I’m trying something new I wanted to tell you about.  It’s called Saxenda and it’s a daily injection I take.  I’ve been on it almost a month and I have to say I think it’s working saxendaaccording to how I feel and how my clothes are fitting.

Saxenda is also marketed under the brand name Victoza.  Victoza is for Type 2 Diabetes.  But, it also has the very pleasant side effect of weight loss.  As it was explained to me, it causes your stomach to empty much slower than normal, which keeps you from eating as much.  Your food intake goes down, and, that results in weight loss without you suffering or feeling deprived and hungry.

Okay, so here’s the bad news.  If you’re used to eating a certain portion size, you better adjust those expectations as soon as you start taking Saxenda.  Where a Quarter Pounder or Big Mac once did the trick, now you’re only going to be able to eat a small size hamburger.  If you don’t?  You’re going to hurl.  Quickly.  That’s because there’s just no room in your stomach for that much food.  So, I liken this medication to a pharmaceutically-induced gastric bypass.  Everyone I know whose had gastric bypass gets sick if they eat one or two bites too much, and that can happen here, especially when you are getting used to the medication.

The dose can be cranked up from .6 to 3.0, and you’re supposed to increase it slowly every week.  Start with .6 daily for a week, then in week 2 go to 1.2, 1.8 in week 3, etc.  I have worked my way up to 3.0 and it makes it very easy not to eat.  It also makes it very hard to keep food down if I consume a lot of liquids.  I was in New Orleans this week and did a little bar hopping on Bourbon Street. By the time I got to dinner I could only eat 2 or 3 bites of food since I’d drank several beverages.  That was a huge disappointment for me since we were dining at Emeril’s restaurant.  I wish I had laid off the medication for a few days before going to New Orleans just so I could enjoy the food there more.  But, alas, I did not. So, I spent a lot of time wishing I were hungry, and, a fair amount of time throwing up due consuming too many liquids.

It’s Thanksgiving tomorrow, and I did not take my Saxenda shot today.  Nor will I take it tomorrow, just because I want to be able to enjoy the food that we’ll be eating.

There is one other unpleasant side effect I encountered that I better warn you about.  When you first start taking Saxenda, for goodness sakes, uh….. how do I put this?  I know…do NOT trust a fart.  I shall not share with you the details of what happens, just take my word for it and let’s leave it at that!

So what about taking a shot every day?  How is that?  Well it’s not too bad.  The needles are very tiny, and short.  They pierce the skin pretty  painlessly, although I will say there are some places on your body that are less sensitive than others.  I usually do my lower abdomen, below my naval, because I find that to be the least sensitive area.  I’ve tried arms, legs and various portions of my abdomen.  The lower abdomen seems to be the easiest and least sensitive zone, but  that could vary depending on how you’re made and how sensitive your skin is.

The studies done so far show that it does help take off and keep off weight better than diet and exercise alone.  I hope I get results out of this, but if I don’t maybe it’s just time to decide I can live with myself just the way I am?   I’ll keep you posted on how it works….

Just Shoot Me

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Key lime dessert shooters.

I am obsessed with the idea of doing dessert shooters this year for the holidays.  Instead of making a whole pie or cake, I can make these little 2 ounce mini versions of dessert that I think we’ll all enjoy, and, they will be easier on the waistline.

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Little 2 ounce dessert shooter cups. Don’t they look like mini trifle bowls?

I’m getting these little 2 ounce cups from the Webstaurant Store.  They are rather elegant looking, I think.  And some disposable tasting spoons that look like they are made of silver.  Fewer dishes to wash means a happier me after the party is over.  This kind of stuff doesn’t “go bad” and will keep in the pantry forever, so I can use them for future parties, too.

So the question is how to make them, and I think I’ve figured that part out, which I’m going to share with you here today.  My plan is to make two kinds–a key lime and a chocolate chili.  I love chocolate with chili in it and it will be something unexpected!  Here’s how to do each one:

Key Lime Dessert Shooters

Because these cups are plastic, the dessert has to be no-bake.  My plan is to layer the cups with graham cracker crumbs and butter, filling, lime curd and whipped cream.  Here’s the recipe for all that:

Graham Cracker Crust

  • 2 cups of graham cracker crumbs, finely ground.  (My favorite brand is Trader Joe’s, they have an amazing taste!)
  • 1/2 cup of finely ground roasted pecans OR cashews.
  • 1/2 stick of butter, melted
  • 1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix thoroughly.  The mixture should be like the consistency of wet sand.  Put a spoon full in the bottom  of each shooter cup, and gently  tamp it down with a muddler to make a nicely packed crust.
Filling
  • 12 oz cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 3 tbsp Nellie & Joe’s key lime juice
  • finely-grated zest of 2 limes
  • 4 ounces of whipped cream

Topping

  • 1 can aerosol whipped cream
Combine these ingredients and beat on high speed until light and fluffy.  Taste… if it’s not limey enough add in more lime zest!  Put filling in a piping bag (you can use a ziplock bag–just cut the corner of it off to pipe the filling) and fill each cup about 3/4.  Sprinkle in some more of the crust mixture to create a layer of texture, then add a dollop of the canned whipped cream on top.  You can garnish with green sugar if you like, or, some finely shaved lime zest.
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Chocolate Chili dessert shooters.

 

Chocolate Chili Shooters

The approach to these will be very similar to the key lime shooters.  I’ll be creating a cookie crust layer and a chocolate mousse layer, then topping it with whipped cream.

 

Chocolate Cookie Crust

  • 2 cups of chocolate wafer cookie crumbs, finely ground.
  • 1/2 stick of butter, melted
Combine ingredients in a bowl and mix thoroughly.  Put a spoon full in the bottom  of each shooter cup, and tamp it down with a muddler to make a nicely packed crust.
Chocolate Chili Mousse Filling
  • 6 oz semi sweet chocolate (3/4 cup if using chocolate chips)
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 3 egg whites
  • 2 TBS sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon of ground chilis (I am not sure if I will use adobo or chipotle, but definitely will not use anything like habanero or ghost pepper!)

Topping

  • 1 can aerosol whipped cream

Melt chocolate in a double boiler over medium low heat. Once melted, remove chocolate from heat to cool.

While the chocolate is cooling, whip the cream to stiff peaks. In a separate, large bowl, whip the egg whites to soft peaks. Then, with the mixer running, slowly add the sugar and continue to whip to medium peaks.

Add the chili powder and about 1/4 of the whipped cream to the melted, cooled chocolate and stir vigorously until combined and completely smooth.

Add the chocolate mixture to the egg whites and fold in gently. Add the remaining whipped cream to the chocolate and egg white mixture and gently fold to incorporate.

Put the mousse in a piping bag (you can use a ziplock bag–just cut the corner of it off to pipe the filling) and fill each cup about 1/2 way.  Put a layer of cookie crumbs in, then another layer of mousse, more cookies, then top with a squirt of whipped cream.  Garnish with finely shaved chocolate or even mini chocolate chips.

You’ll notice I’ve posted pictures of shooters I haven’t actually made yet.  Click here to see the “real” finished product!

Yet Another Turkey-Free Holiday

downloadI don’t like turkey very much.  I mean, if it’s all there is I’ll eat a little, but I don’t crave it.  I don’t sit around all year daydreaming about Thanksgiving turkey.  When the ads for them start I actually make this face where I jack up my top lip on one side–kind of like I just smelled an unexpected and absolutely raucous fart.  So, turkey is not on the menu at our house for Thanksgiving.  Here’s what are we doing instead for our turkey-free holiday.

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Apparently I’m not the only cat on the block who dislikes turkey–I found this graphic online and just had to include it in this post!

We’re a tiny family of two people, my son and I.  He has a girlfriend but she is spending the Thanksgiving holiday with her family since they are letting her go to Orlando with us for Christmas.   So, we only have to please the two of us.  Every year we usually do something special for our meal, and this year’s selection is crab.  Alaskan king crab legs, crab cakes, and arugula salad.  That’s the menu!  That’ll be plenty for the two of us, and we both love crab meat.  We’ll feast on that Thanksgiving day, then on Black Friday we’ll have his girlfriend over for another feast of, tentatively, crab alfredo.  Here’s everything you’ll need to join us in a turkey-free holiday!

Buying Crab

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A Maryland blue crab.

Lump crab meat typically comes from Maryland blue crabs.  I get my lump crab meat from Blue Crab Trading.   The reason I do that is because the crab meat you can find in North Carolina and in most grocery stores across the country is all pasteurized, and that’s not as good as fresh crab meat.  Pasteurized means it’s been cooked already, and that definitely subtracts from the flavor.  In a pinch it will do, but I’d much rather have fresh.  And hey, it’s only once a year.  Fresh is more expensive (fresh lump crab meat is about $32 a pound, jumbo lump crab meat is about $43 a pound, claw and backfin meat is typically about $22 a pound), but again, it’s just once a year.

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Could this be a photograph of the actual king crab I’ll be eating for Thanksgiving dinner?

The crab legs come frozen from Alaska, and the ones I ordered are from the king crab.  Blue Crab Trading had the colossal size king crab legs on special so I ordered 4 pounds of those.  The colossal ones average about a pound per leg.  Dang that’s big.  I’d hate to see one of those king crabs coming at me underwater, even though I know they are not dangerous!

For a less expensive option, you can get snow crab legs, which are smaller and more labor-intensive to work with in terms of extracting the meat.

Two pounds of lump crab meat, four pounds of crab legs, plus shipping and handling and everything was $195.  That’s a lot to spend, but it will make at least two meals (or maybe I should say feasts?)  And, I’m not doing a ton of sides or snacks–like I said, it’s crab, it’s salad, and that’s the fare for Thanksgiving.  The salad will cost me about $10 to make.  So, I’m splurging on crab.

How to Prepare King Crab Legs

King crab meat is so sweet and luscious on its own that all you really need to do is cook the legs.  No seasoning required, no fancy preparation necessary.  A butcher taught me a few years ago that the easiest way to prepare them is to roast them in the oven.  You don’t have to dirty up a big stock pot for boiling, and that’s always a good thing if you hate to wash dishes like I do.  I’ll thaw the legs in the refrigerator, then roast them in a 400 degree oven for about 6 minutes.

I’ll serve the crab legs with some melted butter (Irish, of course!).  No, I don’t do clarified butter.  What a buncha’ work just to be fancy about it, and I’m not about that kind of effort.  But, if you want clarified butter, here’s the recipe, just click here.

We also love love love good homemade cocktail sauce.  This is my favorite recipe from Alton Brown at www.foodnetwork.com:

1 (14 1/2-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained
1/2 cup prepared chili sauce
4 tablespoons prepared horseradish
1 teaspoon sugar
Few grinds fresh black pepper
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
Sprinkle Old Bay seasoning

Combine all ingredients in a food processor.  If it’s not spicy enough, add more horseradish one half teaspoon at a time until you get enough fire in it!

What to Do with Lump Crab Meat:  Crab Cakes

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Paula Deen’s crab cake.

My son specifically requested crab cakes, and I am happy to oblige.  I love a really good crab cake!  My very favorite recipe is from Paula Deen.

1 pound crab meat, picked free of shells
1/3 cup crushed crackers (recommended: Ritz)
3 green onions (green and white parts), finely chopped
1/2 cup finely chopped bell pepper
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 egg
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 lemon, juiced
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon salt
Dash cayenne pepper
Flour, for dusting
1/2 cup peanut oil
Favorite dipping sauce, for serving

I strongly recommend four things here:

  1. Use the Ritz crackers, don’t substitute any other crackers for this!
  2. Use red bell pepper instead of green for a sweeter taste and for a nice splash of color in the mixture.
  3. If you have time, make homemade mayonnaise.  It is so much better than the stuff from the jar, and you can see my recipe for it here.
  4. Don’t skimp on the oil–buy peanut oil and use it.  Don’t fry in anything else.

In a large bowl, mix together all ingredients, except for the flour and peanut oil. Shape into patties and dust with flour.

One thing to note is that the mixture is going to be very loose, because it is mostly crab meat.  Some crab cake recipes are so full of breading and fillers that you end up with about 50% crab and 50% breading.  Not this recipe–it is all crab, with just enough cracker crumbs and mayo to hold it all together.  If you are having trouble getting the cakes to stick together, refrigerate the mixture until it’s very cold and then shape the patties.  If you’re still having trouble add a couple of tablespoons of cracker crumbs to tighten up the mixture.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When oil is hot, carefully place crab cakes, in batches, in pan and fry until browned, about 4 to 5 minutes. Carefully flip crab cakes and fry on other side until golden brown, about 4 minutes. Serve warm with preferred sauce, which for us is will also be cocktail sauce as described above.  You could also use tartar sauce but I prefer a nice homemade remoulade.  Click here for a tartar sauce recipe. Click here for a remoulade recipe.  In both cases, again, I recommend homemade mayonnaise.

What to Do With Lump Crab Meat:  Crab Alfredo

My son wants us to have a second Thanksgiving dinner with his girlfriend the day after the holiday, and I’m all for doing that.  He suggested a crab alfredo, and I’m good with that!  All that requires is to make a nice Alfredo Capturesauce, then gently fold in some of the crab meat.  Here’s a sweet recipe for that from Chef Geoffrey Zakarian:

Bechamel Sauce:

4 tablespoons butter
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Pinch grated nutmeg
2 cloves
2 1/2 cups whole milk, warmed
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Fettuccine Alfredo:

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
12 ounces dried fettuccine
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup thinly sliced shallots
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1/4 cup finely minced fresh parsley

For the bechamel: In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium flame. Add the flour and whisk until the texture of wet sand is achieved. Lower the heat to low, add the nutmeg and cloves and cook for 2 minutes. Slowly whisk in the whole milk and bring the sauce to a simmer. Cook for 3 minutes, season with salt and pepper and set aside.

For the fettuccine alfredo: Bring a large pot of water to a boil and season with salt. Add the pasta and begin to cook.

Meanwhile, in a large saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Cook the shallots and garlic until soft, about 4 minutes. Add the bechamel sauce, along with 1 cup of the pasta water.

When the pasta is 80 percent cooked, add it to the saute pan and simmer until the sauce is thickened and the pasta is al dente. Toss with the cheeses and parsley, and season with salt and pepper.

This recipe makes four servings, so I suggest 3/4 to a full pound of crab meat for it.   Gently fold it in so you don’t break up the crab meat lumps, and simmer for another 2 to 3 minutes until the crab is done.  (If you’re using pasteurized crab meat, you just have to get it warm, since it’s already cooked).

Arugula Salad

13993With all the rich crab meat, we need some lighter fare!  My son is not crazy about salad, except for arugula salad.  He loves it, so I serve it to get some vegetables in his stomach.  I’ve grown rather fond of it myself.  It’s easy to make, and unlike iceberg lettuce it has some nutritional value to it.

You’ll need:

  • shallot vinaigrette salad dressing
  • 1 package of baby arugula
  • 1 package of Campari tomatoes, cut into fourths.
  • 1/2 cup of pine nuts
  • croutons
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta or goat cheese, or, finely shaved parmesan cheese

To make the vinaigrette, finely mince a large shallot.  Combine with the juice of two lemons and a teaspoon of salt.  Add 1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar or champagne vinegar, several grinds of fresh black pepper, and then whisk in 1/2 cup of very good olive oil.   Make this at least 24 hours in advance so the flavors have time to blend.

Toast the pine nuts in a dry frying pan over medium heat, just until they are fragrant.  Be careful–they burn fast!  Don’t take your eyes off the pine nuts while cooking.

To make the croutons, preheat the oven to 200 degrees.  Get some day-old bread, cut it into cubes.  Put the bread in a gallon ziplock bag and drizzle in some good quality olive oil.  Put in a generous amount of salt (maybe 2 teaspoons) and fresh ground black pepper.  You can also add 1/4 cup of finely minced herbs (rosemary and parsley would be good, but you can  use anything) and/or a couple teaspoons of granulated garlic.  Close the bag and shake like crazy to get the oil spread around and the seasonings distributed.  Spread them out on a cookie sheet and bake in the oven for 30 minutes.  Check them to see if they are nice and dry and crispy.  If not, bake for another 15 minutes and check again.  Keep baking until they are to your liking.

Assemble the salad:

Toss the arugula with enough of the dressing to coat all the leaves.  Put it on a serving platter or in a bowl.  Top with the tomatoes, pine nuts, croutons, and cheese if you have opted to include cheese.  I usually don’t include because my son isn’t crazy about cheese (which makes me wonder if he’s really mine?)

So there you have it… our Thanksgiving menu!  I hope you enjoy these recipes as much as we do.  There is the possibility that I will include a dessert, but that is yet to be determined….

AFTER-the-FACT NOTE

I am pleased to report that everything turned out great.   The only “complaint” is that I bought entirely too much crab meat for two people and now I’ve got to get creative about how to use it up before it gets old.  The crab alfredo was a huge hit, it was really delicious and rich and my son and his girlfriend absolutely loved it.  I did end up doing dessert, making the key lime dessert shooters described here.  They turned out amazing, although I think a sprinkle of coconut in the layers might be a nice addition next time.

 

Nellie & Joe’s

lime-hero1I cook a lot with lime juice.  And I do love to use fresh citrus when I cook.  There is nothing quite as appealing as the smell of fresh lime zest!  I also bartend with a lot of lime juice, as I love mojitos and I love vodka and club soda with lime.  But, it takes a lot of limes to make a large quantity of lime juice, and I don’t really feel like squeezing pounds and pounds of limes every month to extract the juice that I need.

So, I’d like to share with you my lime juice secret.  There’s a particular brand on the market that I swear by, and you will too once you try it:   Nellie & Joe’s Key Lime Juice.

Nellie & Joe’s is available on the fruit juice aisle of most grocery stores, or you can order it online by clicking here.  You’ll typically find two brands of lime juice in the store:  “ReaLime” and Nellie & Joe’s.  I’d tell you to buy a bottle of each and taste the difference but that’d just be a waste of your hard-earned money.  Trust me on this one…. Nellie & Joe’s is the only one to buy.

The company offers great dessert recipes on their website.   Me being the key lime pie freak that I am I have my personal favorite recipe for piekey lime pie, and it’s from Emeril Lagasse at Food Network.  Where lime juice is called for use Nellie & Joe’s, and of course I have to modify the recipe to suit myself…. my modifications are noted.

1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup granulated sugar
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick butter) melted
2 (14-ounce) cans sweetened condensed milk
1 cup key lime or regular lime juice
2 whole large eggs
1 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 tablespoon lime zest
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

In a bowl, mix the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and butter with your hands.  (My modification:   to the crust also add 1 cup of finely ground roasted pecans or cashews, and, 1/2 tsp of ground cinnamon).  Press the mixture firmly into a 9-inch pie pan, and bake until brown, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature before filling.

Lower the oven temperature to 325 degrees F.

In a separate bowl, combine the condensed milk, lime juice, and eggs. Whisk until well blended and place the filling in the cooled pie shell. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes and allow to chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.

Once chilled, combine the sour cream and powdered sugar and spread over the top of the pie using a spatula. Sprinkle the lime zest as a garnish on top of the sour cream and serve chilled.

And Then There’s Taco Night

downloadEvery semester I make dinner for my students just before final exams.  It’s a fun thing I love to do, and they seem to enjoy it.  I guess college kids never turn down free food, but I’ve developed quite a reputation for my Mexican food fare so they often come with heavy appetites ready to indulge.

It has also become a tradition to do taco night the night before my holiday party.   The reason is simple–I only have to get the house really clean ONE time, and I get double duty out of it.  I also get double duty out of some of my food prep.  For instance I will make seven-layer dip for Taco Night.  I will also make chips and salsa for Taco Night, and, I will serve all of those things at the holiday party the following evening.  One prep, double-duty.

A taco/nacho bar is SUPER easy to set up and prepare.  You can use store bought chips and salsa if you like, but homemade are better and you can click here to find out how to make the salsa  and you can click here to find out how to make the chips.   Beyond that, the only real “cooking” there is to do is to make the meat.  I always do two types of meat:  ground beef and shredded chicken.  It’s a piece of cake to make both.  Just use one pound of each type of meat for every six people you are expecting.  30 people?  You need five pounds of ground chuck and five pounds of chicken breasts (boneless and skinless).

  • To prepare the ground beef, get a box of taco seasoning mix from your warehouse club.   I suggest this because the little individual packets are expensive and taco seasoning will last for approximately 37 years in a cool dry place.  You’ll use it up eventually, plus you’ll need it for seven layer dip if you’re making that!  Brown the meat, then add the seasoning mix and water according to directions.  Simmer.  You’re ready to serve.  You can make this a day or two (or even three or four) in advance and keep it refrigerated, then just reheat.
  • To prepare the chicken, you really need to plan on a day of marinating.  Put about three pounds of chicken in a gallon ziplock bag and to that add:   1 cup of lime juice, 1/2 cup of tequila (use the cheap stuff), TONS of garlic (I would literally suggest about 10 or 12 cloves, finely minced.  You can use a couple tablespoons of granulated garlic if you prefer) and about two tablespoons of salt.  Mix vigorously and let it soak for 24 hours.  Then if possible grill it over charcoal if weather permits.  If it doesn’t, brown it in olive oil about five minutes on each side, then roast in an oven until the meat reaches a temperature of 160 degrees.  DON’T OVERCOOK IT.  You want the chicken just done enough to kill the bacteria, and if you overcook it the chicken will be dry and tasteless.  Once the meat is cool to the touch shred it with two forks, discarding any of those funky rubbery tendons and things that come in chicken breasts.

So, you’ve got meat, chips and salsa.   What’s left?

Tortillas.  Buy good flour and corn ones at your local Mexican market.  Get fresh ones.  They make a huge difference.  Get 2 to 3 per person.  An hour before the party wrap them in packages of 10-15 with aluminum foil.  Wrap them TIGHTLY, and put them in a 250 degree oven to get and stay hot.  Remove and serve as needed.

Then, I suggest refried beans, queso, guacamole and fixin’s for the tacos/nachos.  Here’s how you do those…

Refried Beans

I confess that I have never made these from scratch . Why?  I don’t like them that much.  I’m NOT going to soak dried beans, boil them, then refry them, just to say I did it.  I either buy my refried beans from my favorite Mexican restaurant or I get canned ones.  I try to buy the canned ones from the Mexican market in town, and get an authentic Latin brand.  When I prepare the beans I empty the cans into a big pot, and add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of salsa for every can of beans I use.

Use 1 15 ounce can of beans for every four to six people.

Queso

Queso is critical for good nachos, plus it makes a great munchy while people are waiting for you to serve the food.  My recipe for queso is very simple:  one pound of Velveeta, one can of Ro-tel diced tomatoes.  Melt in a crock pot to combine and stir.  It’s not the most authentic queso, but it works for a crowd and it’s easy.  Figure on one batch for every 6 to 8 people.

Guacamole

Guacamole MUST be made fresh, and it must be made properly.  You cannot buy this stuff in the grocery store and expect it to taste right.  My recipe for guacamole is here.   I would make it so that I used one avocado for every 3 to 4 guests.

Fixins

Everyone likes different things on their tacos.  Here’s the master list of what to provide:taco-bar

  • Sour cream
  • Diced tomatoes
  • Diced onions
  • Shredded lettuce
  • Cilantro
  • Minced jalapenos
  • Shredded Mexican cheese
  • Crumbled queso fresco
  • Sliced or chopped black olives

So there you have it…. how to set up your very own taco/nacho bar for a crowd.  Enjoy!

Holiday Party 2015: Your Thoughts?

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Dessert shooters. I wonder how hard it will be to make mine look like this?

Well, it’s time again.  Time for me to plan my holiday party for my office pals.  I love doing it.  I look forward to it all year long, but don’t really start the serious planning until November 1.   The evites have gone out already and now it’s time to think about menu items.

I wanted to just start fresh this year.   Every year I do certain “standard” items and this year I just refuse to do them.  So, take a look at my Pinterest board and see what you think. Keep in mind it’s a work in progress but as I am writing this I’ve tentatively decided on the following:

Rosemary Roasted Cashews for a unique munchable.

Fig and walnut cheese ball for something both sweet and savory.

1905 Salad for some delicious veggies (I usually do veggies and dip but this year I can’t stand the thought of doing that again).

Individual 7-layer dips with homemade chips and salsa.  I am ordering the cutest little 2 ounce disposable shot glasses for these!

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Deviled egg bar. How many cool toppings can I come up with for these?

A deviled egg bar, where people can build their own deviled eggs!  I will make a couple of fillings and put them in the eggs, these will be pretty bland and basic, then put out toppings–bacon, chives, capers, olives, cheeses, peppers, etc–that people can top them with.  I got the idea from a recent episode of “The Chew.” I thought it was kind of different, and unique, and best of all pretty cost-effective.  Eggs are super cheap compared to most proteins, and the amount of various toppings required will be miniscule.

Mini grilled cheese sandwiches.  Again, very cost effective and I can always fancy it up by adding some ham and calling it “mini croque monsieur.”

Finally, for dessert, I’m going to make some dessert shooters in those little disposable shot glasses (hey, I have to buy a case of 240, so I might as well use some of them).   I love key lime pie, I think it’s the best thing ever!  So one will be a no-bake key lime pie concoction, with layers of graham cracker and lime coulee.  The other will be something chocolate, and I’m thinking about going out of my comfort zone and doing maybe a chocolate mousse with a hint of chili in it.  Layer that with whipped cream and maybe some toffee bits?

What do you think?  Will you come to my party?

 

 

Pan Seared Steak–Oh This is a Good One!

OMG this one was to die for.  I gave my son about 2/3 of the meat since he’s a growing boy.  I warned him not to waste a bite of it, so he eventually got full and gave me two slices of the meat back.  I devoured them.  This is one recipe I will make again.

The Witch’s Tips for the Best Results

  • If you have some fresh thyme, strip the leaves off a few stems of it and toss with the potatoes and onions. Some chopped fresh rosemary or even parsley leaves (Italian parsley) would work.
  • Pull the meat out of the fridge an HOUR before time to cook.  Get it to room temperature to ensure a thoroughly even cooking temperature.
  • Have your pan absolutely smokin’ hot when you put in the meat.  You want that lovely sear on it.
  • Use a microplane if you have it to grate the garlic down to a wonderful paste.  This is preferable to chopping or mincing it.
  • Use Irish butter in place of regular butter in the pan sauce.  You won’t regret it!

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Butter-Basted Chicken with Caio e Pepe Mashed Potatoes and Thyme Roasted Carrots

I have to share this recipe with you!  It looked a little bland to me when I got it from Hello Fresh, but it ended up being one of the most delicious recipes I’ve ever tried.  Really great comfort food!

The biggest pointer I have for this is to cook the carrots for HALF the suggested time.  They will come out with a little “bite” to the texture.  I hate mushy vegetables and prefer them to have a little firmness to them.  My other suggestion is that you use Irish butter for this.  It really makes a difference in the flavor!   560aa82e79a23c30058b4567_Page_1

 

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A Year of Meatballs

baked-italian-meatballs-tsriI like good homemade meatballs with my pasta.  I prefer homemade to those tasteless things you buy in the frozen foods section.  Homemade taste better and you know exactly what’s in them if you make them yourself.

I came home from work after a VERY long day on Friday, and I needed to get in the kitchen to make something for dinner.  I also needed to get in the kitchen to relax.  I made myself a lovely cocktail, turned on “The Chew” and I set out to use up the pounds of ground beef and Italian sausage I had bought earlier in the week at my warehouse club.

What I didn’t realize is just how many damned meatballs that much meat would make.  It was three hours later that I finally finished, and when I did I had a year’s worth of meatballs for the freezer.  I thought you might like my recipe?

A Year’s Worth of Meatballs

  • Olive oil
  • 4 small onions, or 2 very large onions.  Can be white, yellow, or sweet onions.  Diced small.
  • 8 cloves of garlic, minced very fine
  • 1 tablespoon of crushed red pepper (omit if you use hot Italian sausage)
  • 4 pounds of ground chuck (80/20)
  • 4 pounds of mild or hot Italian sausage, removed from its casing
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups of Italian breadcrumbs
  • 2 cups of freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup of finely minced fresh Italian parsley
  • 2 Tablespoons of fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 teaspoon of fennel seeds
  • Kosher salt (or sea salt) and black pepper

Steps:

  • In a large skillet, heat the olive oil to medium.  Put the onions in and salt them well.  Saute the onions until they are soft and just starting to get some brown color to them.  Add the garlic and red pepper (if you are using it) and saute for one more minute.  Remove from the heat and let cool.
  • In a very large bowl, combine the beef, sausage, eggs, breadcrumbs, cheese, parsley, thyme, fennel and cooled onion and garlic mixture in a bowl.  Add a reasonable amount of salt and liberal dose of black pepper to season.  Get down in there with your hands and mix thoroughly.  Really work it over with your hands so all the ingredients combine.  This will take awhile!
  • Make a small “test” patty of the meat and cook it in a skillet over medium heat until it’s cooked through.  Taste it.  You will probably find that it needs more salt.  Add more salt to the meat mixture if you need it.
  • Now it’s time to make’a’da meatballs!  I like to use a small 1″ ice cream scoop to portion out the meat so the meatballs are all approximately the same size.   Then I round out their shape with my hand.  You can use a full size ice cream scoop if you like and make them really big, if you prefer.  Or you can freestyle the size and just measure out the meat with your hands.
  • As I make them I put them in large disposable aluminum pans.  The food service tray (full pan size) works great, and I use three of them for this size batch.  You can layer them by separating your layers with waxed paper or aluminum foil.  Make all the meatballs first before cooking any of them.
  • Clean out the large skillet and put more olive oil in it.  Heat it to medium heat.  Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
  • In batches, brown the meatballs on all sides.  If they start to turn black or dark brown really fast your pan is too hot, lower the heat.  If they aren’t browning after a few minutes your pan is too cold, turn the heat up a notch or two.
  • Turn each meatball at least twice so you get browning on three sides.  Once brown on the outside, remove them from the pan and put them back in the disposable aluminum pan.
  • When you have a full pan of meatballs, put them in the oven for 5 to 7 minutes to finish cooking the inside.  Do NOT overcook them!  They are going in the freezer and when they come out they will be reheated which will finish cooking them, so it’s better to leave them a little undone rather than over cooking them, which will dry them out.
  • Let the meatballs cool, then put them in a gallon freezer bag or container.  Use two containers if you have to.
  • If you have neighbors you like, take them a small batch.  (Don’t waste these little gems on neighbors you don’t like).  Oh, and keep a few out for dinner tonight and serve with some marinara sauce over pasta.  Freeze the rest!

Steak Sauces from Scratch

lead-new-saucesSo after showing you how to cook the perfect filet mignon, I promised to follow up with some sauces suitable for such an amazing cut of meat.  Here we go!

Red Wine Sauce

This recipe is from Giada deLaurentis on www.FoodNetwork.com.  Click on the title above to access the original recipe.

  • 6 Tablespoons of cold butter
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 2 1/2 cups dry red wine

Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onions and saute until tender, about 5 minutes. Season with salt. Add the garlic and oregano and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Whisk in the wine. Simmer until the sauce reduces by half, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat. Strain the sauce into a small bowl, pressing on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard the solids in the strainer and return the sauce to the saucepan and bring back to a slow simmer. Cut the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter into small 1/2-inch chunks and whisk in the sauce a little at a time. Season the sauce, to taste, with salt and pepper.

Bordelaise Sauce

I found this recipe on the Saveur website.  Click on the title above to access the original post.
1 cup red wine
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 shallots, finely diced
1 bay leaf
6 tbsp. demi-glace
2 tbsp. canola oil
1 tbsp. chilled unsalted butter, diced
1 tbsp. finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary
1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

In a 2-qt. saucepan, combine wine, thyme, shallots, and bay leaf. Reduce wine over medium-high heat until almost completely evaporated. If using a gas stove, tip pan to ignite wine; this will aid in evaporation. Discard the thyme and bay leaf; stir in demi-glace. Cover, remove from heat, and set aside.   Sauce the steak: Return saucepan to medium heat. Whisk in butter. Remove saucepan from heat; stir in parsley and season sauce with salt and pepper.

Bearnaise Sauce

From Tyler Florence on FoodNetwork.com, this sauce is absolutely delicious!  If you top the steak with lump crab meat, this sauce, and some lightly steamed asparagus, you have “Filet Oscar.”  I also personally like a squeeze of fresh lemon stirred into this sauce just before serving.

1/4 cup chopped fresh tarragon leaves
2 shallots, minced
1/4 cup champagne vinegar
1/4 cup dry white wine
3 egg yolks
1 stick butter, melted
Salt and pepper

Make the bearnaise reduction first. In a small saucepan, combine the tarragon, shallots, vinegar and wine over medium-high heat. Bring to a simmer and cook until reduced by half. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

Blend yolks and bearnaise reduction together. With the blender running, add 1/3 of the butter in a slow steady stream. Once it emulsifies, turn the blender speed up to high and add the remaining butter. Season with salt and pepper and set aside in a warm spot to hold the sauce.

Now, I want to say one last word about a steak sauce many people are familiar with:  A-1.  I for one love A-1 on steak.  I love the taste of it.  And yes, I catch hell from my foodie friends who say that’s a crime against the filet.  Well, sometimes I don’t have time to make a sauce from scratch and sometimes I just crave A-1 and want to eat it.  I’m 47 years old and if I want A-1 on a filet, by damn golly that’s what I’m going to have.  So, if none of these sauces appeal to you, grab a bottle of A-1 and knock yourself out.  Or, trye one of these other ten sauces I just found as I was finishing up this post….CLICK HERE to see ten more sauces!

The Perfect Filet

omaha-filet-mignonFew things are better than a delicious filet mignon.  If you buy a good cut of meat and cook it properly, you can almost cut it with a fork.  Sometimes you can cut it with a fork.  But, how do you get it cooked to perfection?

I have studied this subject and done a lot of trial and error, and what I’ve concluded is that Gordon Ramsay does it better than anyone.  You may or may not enjoy watching him cook, but the man knows how to make a steak.  So, I follow his general approach to cooking steaks and I have reasonable success.   I’ve added a couple of my own twists to his method, and  I find that this method yields the most rave reviews from my dinner guests.

First, assemble all the tools and ingredients you need:

  1. A thick filet mignon.  I prefer them about 1” thick to 1.25” thick, but sometimes they come much thicker.
  2. A heavy frying pan, preferably a cast iron skillet.
  3. A set of good tongs with a good grip on them.
  4. Good quality olive oil.
  5. Irish butter (you can use regular butter if you don’t have Irish butter, but I think Irish tastes far superior and I recommend keeping some in your kitchen.)
  6. A spoon
  7. A spring of fresh thyme, rosemary or both.
  8. Seat salt and fresh cracked black pepper
  9. Instant-read meat thermometer
  10. Oven broiler

Steps:

  1. Remove steak from the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature for an hour. This will ensure that the interior of the steak cooks properly.
  2. Heat the oven broiler to 550 degrees.
  3. Generously salt and pepper the steak on both sides, pressing the salt and pepper grains into the meat.
  4. Heat frying pan to medium-high heat on the stove top.
  5. Put at least a tablespoon of olive oil in the pan and swirl it around, coating the pan thoroughly.
  6. Here’s where the science of cooking turns into an art form that takes practice.
    1. Put the steak in the pan and hear that SSSSSSSSSSSSIZZZZZLE.
    2. Let it brown on that side without disturbing it for at least two minutes, preferably three.
    3. Turn the steak to the other side.
    4. Apply a tablespoon of butter to the steak and let it melt. Put the fresh herb sprigs in the butter and leave them there.
    5. Let that side brown for two or three minutes. Meanwhile, use the spoon to baste the steak with the butter and juices from the pan.
    6. Using your tongs, pick up the steak and rest the steak on its edge in the pan and render (cook away) any fat along the edge. Rotate the steak as needed to render all the fat.
  7. Check the internal temperature of the steak. You want it …
    1. At 120-125 degrees for rare (bright red in the middle, slightly warm center)
    2. At 130-135 degrees for medium rare (brown at the edges, but still bright pink in the middle and warm throughout)
  8. If the steak isn’t as done as you’d like it, put it under the broiler for 2 minutes then check it again, but be careful. It will go from medium rare to medium well before you can blink an eye.
  9. Baste the steak one last time then let it rest on a cutting board for 10 minutes before serving. This ten minute rest period allows the meat to reabsorb juices (if you cut it immediately a lot of the juice will run out, leaving the steak drier than it should be).
  10. If you want a sauce to serve with this, I have several recommendations that I’ll share in another post. One option—the simplest solution–is to just spoon the buttery goodness from the cooking pan and drizzle it over the steak.

Now, notice that I did not

  1. Marinate the steak. Nor did I mention seasonings like “Montreal Steak Seasoning” or some fancy concoction of herbs and spices.  Marinades and complicated seasonings are what you use to disguise the flavor of bad meat.  The filet is and should be the star of the show.  Salt, pepper, butter and a sprig of fresh herbs is really all you need to prepare this wonderful cut of beef.
  2. Give you instructions for cooking the steak past medium rare. The filet is the leanest cut of beef, with very little fat in it.  This steak does not lend itself to being cooked to medium or beyond because it becomes tough, dry and tasteless.
  3. Discuss a charcoal or gas grill here. It’s very hard to maintain the moisture in the steak cooking on the grill.  When I’m doing a filet I almost always choose the frying pan over the grill.

The only problem with filet is it’s super expensive, sometimes $25 a pound or more.  My advice is to watch for sales on whole tenderloins and then have your butcher cut it into individual steaks.  I buy mine at the local warehouse club where they are $14.98 a pound in packages of four steaks.  Good luck and watch for a future post on steak sauces!

Chicken & Nectarine Panzanella… YUM!

downloadAs you know, I subscribe to Hello Fresh.  It’s a meal service that’s just amazing in terms of great recipes and fresh ingredients.  Last week they sent a recipe that I loved so much I want to share it with you here.

This is a wonderful salad that may not sound that appetizing on the surface but when you put all the flavors and textures together?  Oh WOW is it something special!  Even the raw zucchini ribbons are delicious and I’m not a big zucchini fan.  My only advice is don’t skip any of the ingredients, because they all go so well together.  Plus it’s chock full vitamins, minerals, fiber, and all kinds of good things your body needs.  Enjoy and let me know what you think!

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Ten Pounds of Chicken…What to Do?

I went to the grocery store to get ingredients for dinner.  In an effort to try and watch my pennies, my goal when I arrived at the store was to only buy what was on sale.  The stor1e had ten-pound bags of chicken leg quarters for $4.90.   I thought that was a pretty good deal, so I bought a bag.  Then today I was stumped as to what to do with the chicken.  Here’s the story of my quest to use up 10 pounds of chicken….

I pulled out several of my favorite cookbooks by Anne Burrell, Emeril Lagasse, and The Chew.  I flipped back to the index of each book and looked at chicken ideas.  Very few recipes lent themselves to grilling or roasting leg quarters.  But, I did find two in a cookbook written by Emeril.  That man never disappoints me when it comes to food!

Both recipes are from his grilling cookbook, and what I love about them is that they are beyond simple, and, highly flexible.  You aren’t bound by the grilling restriction–the marinades he prescribes lend themselves to also to oven roasting, if you cannot grill.  The marinades are also super simple–just blend, marinate, and enjoy.

The first recipe I chose was Cilantro-Tequila grilled chicken.  It goes like this:

Ingredients:

  • 2 (1-ounce) packages cilantro leaves
  • 5 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 shallot, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 serrano pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon toasted cumin seeds
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup tequila
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 chicken leg quarters (or 6 pieces chicken thighs and legs, bone-in and skin-on)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Fresh cilantro sprigs, for garnish
  • Lime wedges, for garnish

Directions:

Combine the first 10 ingredients in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth, stopping to scrape down the sides as needed. Place the chicken pieces in a baking dish or zip-top plastic bag and pour the marinade over the chicken. Marinate for 2 hours, or up 4 hours, turning occasionally to coat.

Preheat the grill to medium.

Remove meat from marinade, discarding the marinade, and pat the chicken dry with paper towels. Lightly season the chicken pieces with additional salt and pepper on both sides. Place the chicken on the grill and cook for 8 to 10 minutes on the first side. Turn and cook an additional 8 to 10 minutes. Turn chicken, as needed to keep from burning and to get grill marks until chicken is cooked through and tender, about 25 to 30 minutes total for thighs and legs and 35 to 40 minutes for chicken leg quarters. (An instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the chicken should register 165 degrees F, when fully cooked through.)

Remove chicken from the grill and let stand for 5 minutes before serving. Garnish chicken with fresh cilantro sprigs and lime wedges before serving.

My Recommendation for a Side Dish:

This dish is amazing with a jasmine rice flavored with lime and lemon zest and lots of butter (who doesn’t love butter?) Another option would be fried plantains drizzled with lime juice.

The second recipe I chose was for Filipino-Style Adobo Chicken.  This one is even easier than the one above!

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/4 cups plus 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon soy saie
  • 1/4 cup minced garlic
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 8 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs  (I substituted 4 chicken leg quarters)
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • olive oil, for brushing
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

Combine 1/4 cup of the vinegar, 3 tablespoons of the soy sauce, garlic and bay leaves in a resealable plastic bag.  Add teh chicken and turn to coat them evenly.  Seal the bag and marinate the chicken for at least 4 hours in the refrigerator.

Preheat a grill to medium.

Combine 1 cup of the remaining vinegar, the remaining soy sauce, and the honey in a 1 quart saucepan.  Bring to a boil and immediately turn down to a simmer.  Continue to cook until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon and is reduced by half (11-13 minutes).  Stir in the remaining 1 tablespoon of vinegar. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.

Remove the chicken from the bag.  Discard the marinade and pat the chicken dry with paper towels.  Brush the chicken with olive oil and season it with salt and pepper.  Place the chicken on the grill and cook, turning frequently until it is just cooked through and a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the the thigh (without touching the bone) registers 165 degrees farenheit.

Transfer the chicken to a platter and drizzle the vinegar-soy sauce mixture over it and serve.

My Recommendation for a Side Dish:

This marinade is light, slightly sweet, and salty.  It would lend itself to something a bit rich, like a roasted sweet potato or a buttery white rice.

Sexy Chicken Revisited: Try it Today!

sexychicken-736508Almost a year ago I wrote about a recipe I affectionately call “Sexy Chicken.”  It’s a Mario Batali recipe and I simply love it.  Everyone I’ve served it to loves it, too, and raves about how flavorful it is.   You can view it by clicking here.  If you haven’t tried it yet, it’s a GREAT Sunday dinner dish and very easy to make.  I just wanted to follow up with a few additional pointers.

I made it last night and used skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs and it was FAR better than when I’ve made it using the boneless skinless thighs.  My son commented on how good it was.  The chicken skin and bone add a depth of flavor you’re just not going to get with boneless chicken filets.

The recipe in the Chew’s cookbook calls for “yellow” onions.  I have made it with those, and I have made it with Vidalia sweet onions.  Both varieties are delicious, so use what you have.  I just would not recommend using red onions, as those are very strong and will also turn your dish sort of a putrid purple color.

I couldn’t find any pomegranate seeds in my grocery store, since those fruits are out of season.  I substituted pomegranate infused dried cranberries and it was good!  Not as good as fresh pom seeds but still gave it that little sweet blast of flavor that makes this dish so delicious.

I recommend serving it with a nice fluffy rice.  Trader Joe’s has a brown rice medley that contains brown rice, black rice, and radish seeds.  I made that with chicken stock instead of plain water and salted it liberally.  It was a nice combination with the savory chicken.

Finally, if you’re looking for saffron, I suggest Amazon.  They have a 5 gram container for about $30, and that’s a LOT of saffron.  It’s much cheaper to buy it that way than it is to buy it in the grocery store.  Trader Joe’s also has saffron at a reasonable price.  Do NOT try to make this dish without saffron!  I know it’s expensive but a little goes a long way and it has a unique flavor that you’re going to want.

Now get in that kitchen and make some sexy chicken!

 

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Vacation Food

2015-08-14 05.55.34I am on the last night of my week-long vacation in the Outer Banks of NC.  It’s our last night and we have ordered pizza.  As I reflect on the week, I thought I would share with you what we did for food.

As we prepared for the trip here, I planned meals as follows:

Breakfasts:  I had a cold cereal and a granola.  If people wanted anything else they were on their own.

Lunches:  I brought sandwich bread, luncheon meats, and American cheese.

Dinners:  The goal was to make meals easy as possible, but also to bring as few things as possible from home, and, to have good food that people enjoyed. Lasagna, burgers and hot dogs covered the first three nights as main courses, and I made a huge batch of pasta salad that made a great side dish when someone wanted something extra.

Our first night (Saturday) we had hot dogs for dinner.  Those were easy and required nothing more than buns, ketchup and mustard.

Sunday night we cooked up the lasagna I had pre-made.  I also brought a container of baby arugula from the grocery store’s produce section.  I made a vinaigrette dressing at home, and put it in an old olive jar I had saved.  (My advice to you is to save olive, jam and pickle jars for just such occasions as these…they are great for traveling, leak proof, sturdy, and disposable.)  I tossed the dressing in with the arugula in the container the arugula came in and used it as impromptu salad bowl.  Not a bite was left.

Monday night we grilled burgers.  I bought pre-formed patties from the butcher section of the grocery store.  All I needed was salt and pepper on those, plus of course buns, ketchup and mustard. I did bring American cheese, but no tomato, lettuce or onion.  (That would have been too much work).

By Tuesday those of us who love seafood (me, my son, and his girlfriend) were ready to eat some serious ocean critters and get away from the regular fare I had brought on the trip.  We found a place that sold steamer pots filled with fresh seafood that you could take back to the beach house and cook up fresh.  We asked them to put the shrimp on the side so we could cook those separately because my son’s girlfriend is allergic to shrimp  We brought home a pot filled with mussels, clams, lobster tails and crab legs.  Knowing that my niece and her boyfriend didn’t eat ocean fare, I had some chicken on hand for them.  I marinated it in Trader Joe’s Soyaki sauce and they grilled up those kabobs on the grill.  It was an awesome feast (and by then Paddy had left and that tension was over with, so there was a somewhat celebratory and festive mood in the air).

On Wednesday my niece and her boyfriend wanted to take us out to eat for dinner to thank us for bringing them on the trip.  We went to Fuji, a Japanese hibachi steakhouse and had an awesome feast of fried rice, vegetables, and various proteins (mostly chicken and steak).  They left the next morning and then there were just the three of us (son, girlfriend, and me).

Thursday morning as my niece and her boo left town, we all went to a favorite destination for breakfast:  Biscuits ‘n’ Porn.  It’s a convenience store with one small rack of porn magazines and a booming biscuit business.  Every kind of filling and topping you can think of for biscuits, they have it.  And I must say that the biscuits are amazing.

That evening I still had some chicken left to cook, and we had all the shrimp left from Tuesday night that still hadn’t been cooked.  It was definitely an eat-at-home kind of evening, which led up to Friday, which was our last day at the beach.

My son’s girlfriend enjoyed the biscuits from Thursday so much that we agreed to go back to Biscuits ‘n’ Porn for another round of intense carbohydrates.  That afternoon, I treated the kids to all-we-could-eat crab legs at Dirty Dick’s Crab House.  We all love crab legs and it seemed like a nice and fitting “last hurrah” before we ended our vacation.  I’m pleased to report that both my son and I hate ate 2.5 pounds of crab legs each.  The girlfriend only ate one pound, but that’s okay.  We love her anyway.  <burp>

And now I sit here, it’s Friday night about 9:00 p.m.  I have packed up the kitchen stuff already, plus I don’t want to cook anymore, nor do I have the supplies to make anything.  So, we figured a delivery cheese pizza would tide us over until morning, as the crab legs are starting to wear off.  We have feasted quite well this week and I’m sad to leave.  This has been a great trip.

But maybe I need to grab one of those steamer pots on the way out of town?

 

 

Lasagna: The Ultimate Travel Food

Better-Than-Ever-Cheesy-Meat-Lasagna-47437When we rented the beach house for our family vacation, I planned on feeding everyone most meals at the house.  I planned my menus and prepared food and and hauled things with us and it worked out pretty well.  One of the most popular dishes was lasagna.  I wanted to share my recipe with you.

The beauty of lasagna is it can be made ahead of time, it travels well and bakes up beautifully in any oven.  Most people like it and it’s quite easy to make.  Here’s my ingredient list:

Ingredients

  • 1 pound of hot Italian sausage.
  • 1 box of Mueller (or other brand) oven-bake lasagna noodles (this saves you the step of boiling the noodles)
  • 2 jars of Mario Batali marinara sauce (it’s expensive but SO good…. alternatively if you have homemade sauce you can use that.)
  • 16 ounces of ricotta cheese
  • 16 ounces of shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • 8 ounces of shredded parmesan cheese
  • Salt and pepper (about a teaspoon of each)
  • Heavy pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 cup Fresh basil and/or fresh oregano, chopped fine

 

 

Steps:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium skillet, saute the sausage until it’s brown and cooked through. Drain the fat from it and set it aside.

Beat the eggs with a whisk then stir them in to the ricotta cheese, half the mozzarella, half the parmesan, the salt and pepper, and the cayenne pepper.  Stir all together until thoroughly combined.  Stir in the fresh basil and/or oregano.

Use a disposable steam pan liner (12-13/16″ l. x 10-7/16″ w. x 2-1/2″ d).  Spray it thoroughly with nonstick cooking spray.  Then start building your lasagna.  Put down a layer of the marinara sauce.  Put three or four noodles on top of that, Put a layer of cheese mixture (use about 1/3 of the cheese mixture), a sprinkling of sausage (about 1/3 of the sausage), a layer of sauce  (about 1/3 of a jar), then another layer of noodles.  Repeat this two times, finishing off the top layer of noodles with a layer of sauce and the remaining mozzarella and parmesan cheeses.

Cover the lasagna with aluminum foil.  Bake at 350 degrees for an hour.  Remove the foil covering and let it bake an additional 15 minutes until the top is golden and bubbly.

The Perfect Scrambled Egg

eggsI have mentioned before that I have one child… but really I have two.  There’s a young lady who is my son’s age, and she was his first girlfriend when we moved to North Carolina.  They were both 12 years old and just so stinkin’ cute together!  While their relationship didn’t last long (I guess by middle school standards maybe it did?), she has been like a daughter to me ever since.  Right now I have the pleasure of having her stay with us for a few weeks before she goes off to college.

I woke up at 3:00 this morning for no apparent reason, and, just as I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes, she and a friend came home from a party.  It was fun sitting in the living room listening to them talk and giggle about their adventures, and it seemed logical that I should offer to make them some breakfast.  So I set out making bacon and scrambled eggs at 3:30 a.m.  Which got me to thinking–how do you make the perfect scrambled egg?

Here’s how I quickly make scrambled eggs at 3:30 a.m.   First, I cook a bunch of bacon.  Then I drain most of the grease out of the pan, but I leave enough to flavor the eggs.  Next, I break a few eggs in the hot pan and stir them up quickly, adding some salt and pepper along the way.   I know I’m supposed to beat them ahead of time, but I’m just too lazy at 3 a.m. and my diners aren’t that fussy.  (As her friend put it, “If she’s cooking, I’m eating.”  That’s an easy crowd to please…)  But, those are not exactly the best scrambled eggs I can make.

I recently stumbled upon a treatise on scrambled eggs that I thought I would share with you.  It’s from Rachel Ray and I think it’s a very comprehensive study of the various ways to make perfect scrambled eggs.  Several chefs offered up their secrets to making perfect scrambled eggs, and it seems there is more than one way to skin this cat–er, chicken.  I hope you find it helpful in your cooking adventures.

Wally Joe (chef, partner and general manager of ACRE restaurant in Memphis, Tennessee)

In an 8-inch nonstick pan, melt ½ tbsp. butter over medium-low heat. Crack 3 eggs into the pan and wait for them to set just slightly. Season with salt and pepper, then stir the eggs with a silicone spatula until they’re soft, creamy and not entirely cooked through, about 2 minutes.

Tom Colicchio (chef/owner of Craft restaurants, Heritage Steak and ’wichcraft, as well as the executive chef of Topping Rose House in Bridgehampton, New York)

In a bowl, whisk 3 large eggs until foamy. In a round-bottomed chef’s pan, melt about 2 tbsp. butter over medium-low heat.  Add the eggs and whisk constantly until they start to cook, then switch to a silicone spatula. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes, then remove from heat. Add a pat of butter and season with salt and pepper.

Michael Ruhlman (author, whose food reference books include The Elements of Cooking and Ruhlman’s Twenty. The second of his single-subject technique-focused cookbooks, Egg, comes out in April)

In a bowl, use a whisk, handheld mixer or immersion blender to whip 4 eggs until uniformly mixed and pale yellow in color. In a double boiler, melt 1 tbsp. butter. Add the eggs and ¼ to ½ tsp. salt. Using a silicone spatula, stir gently and continuously for 30 seconds. Then stir every few seconds until the first curds form, about 1 minute. Lift and fold the curds into the liquid egg in the bottom of the pan. Continue to fold and stir until the eggs are about two-thirds cooked, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the top pan and stir until the curds appear to be sauced by the runny egg.

Anne Burrell (host of Worst Cooks in America on Food Network and is a best-selling author. Her second cookbook, Own Your Kitchen, was published in 2013)

In a bowl, using a fork, beat 4 eggs with 4 tsp. water and a healthy pinch of salt until it’s a homogeneous mixture. In a nonstick skillet, heat 2 tsp. EVOO over medium-low heat. Add the eggs and cook slowly, stirring occasionally with a silicone spatula. Cook until eggs are no longer runny but still really soft.

Linton Hopkins (chef/owner of Restaurant Eugene and Holeman & Finch in Atlanta)

In a bowl, whisk 4 eggs with an honest pinch of salt. Add 2 tbsp. butter to a cold 8-inch nonstick skillet. Cook over medium-high heat until the butter foams but doesn’t brown, about 1 minute. Add the eggs and, using a wooden spatula, gently stir the eggs for about 30 seconds, making sure to scrape the edges and the bottom of the pan; this will ensure that the eggs do not cook too quickly from direct contact with the hot skillet. Then gently fold the eggs, creating big, soft curds. When the eggs are halfway cooked, about 1 minute, turn off the heat (this will prevent the eggs from overcooking and keep them moist), and continue folding until eggs are done to your liking. The total cook time should be 2 to 3 minutes.

Marc Murphy (chef-owner of Benchmarc Restaurants, which include Kingside, Landmarc and Ditch Plains in New York City, and he has appeared regularly as a judge on Chopped, Iron Chef America and other culinary shows)

In a bowl, season 6 eggs with 1 tsp. salt, ½ tsp. pepper and a sprinkle of fresh Parmesan cheese. Whisk until the whites and yolks are just blended. In a nonstick skillet, heat 2 tbsp. butter over low. Add the eggs to the skillet and, using a silicone spatula continuously stir eggs until just set, 4 to 6 minutes. About 1 minute before eggs are done, remove from heat so they don’t get too dry, and keep stirring for about 20 seconds.

Gordon Ramsay (Michelin-starred chef and owner of restaurants around the globe. He has five top-rated television shows that air in more than 200 countries and is the author of 27 books, including his autobiography, Roasting in Hell’s Kitchen)

Curious how the tough-talking Ramsay whips up his perfect scrambled eggs? Watch him in action right here.

Rachael Ray

Watch how our magazine’s leading lady scrambles up her flavor-packed eggs!

Michael Mina (award-winning chef and founder of the Mina Group, which has more than 20 restaurants across the United States)

In a bowl, whisk together 8 eggs. Add the eggs to the top of a double boiler set over boiling water. Use a silicone spatula to gently stir the eggs. Don’t be too aggressive—you want to let the eggs form into small curds as they cook. (You can add all sorts of fun ingredients during this stage, such as crème fraïche, chives, cheese, etc.). Cook the eggs until they’re soft and very moist, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and season with sea salt and pepper.

Frank McMahon (chef of Hank’s Seafood Restaurant in Charleston, South Carolina)

In a bowl, whisk 6 eggs with a pinch of salt and pepper. In a 12-inch nonstick skillet, combine 2 tbsp. unsalted butter and 2 or 3 oz. whole milk over medium heat. Bring the milk mixture to a boil and immediately add the eggs, stirring to combine. As the eggs begin to set, use a silicone spatula to gently push the mixture back and forth using a snowplow-like motion to form fluffy egg mounds. Just before the eggs are completely set, remove the skillet from the heat. (The eggs will continue to cook off the heat.)

 Elizabeth Falkner (James Beard Award–nominee and executive chef at Corvo Bianco in New York City. Her second cookbook, Cooking Off the Clock, was published in 2012)

In a bowl, whisk 4 eggs, a pinch salt and 2 tbsp. heavy cream. Heat an 8- or 10-inch nonstick skillet over high for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add 1 tbsp. butter and immediately turn the heat down to low. Add the eggs to the skillet and cook, stirring with a silicone spatula for 15 to 20 seconds. Add 1 tbsp. butter, a few cranks of pepper and another pinch salt. Continue to cook for about 20 seconds, until the eggs are still runny, but are setting up on the edges. Remove from the heat and stir the eggs for another few seconds.

Ludo Lefebvre (chef and owner of awarding-winning restaurant Trois Mec in Los Angeles)

In a bowl, beat 4 eggs. Season with salt and pepper. In a small saucepan, melt ½ tbsp. butter over low heat. Add the eggs and, using a wooden spatula, stir constantly, using a figure-eight motion, until the eggs start to get a little thick, about 5 minutes. Add 1 tbsp. cold butter and stir until melted. (This will stop the cooking and add extra creaminess to the eggs.)

(Final note–I have tried this last trick of adding cold butter to the eggs and it does provide a lovely finishing touch.  I highly recommend using Irish butter, which has a depth of flavor that regular butter just doesn’t offer.)

 

 

The Gordon Ramsay Insult Generator

I do love to watch Gordon Ramsay cooking shows.  Yes, he’s a bit of an ass (“arse” in England) but the boy knows how to cook.  He’s also got a smokin’ hot body and some wicked eyes.

But I digress.

Anyway, I’m sharing this little meme just because it’s funny as hell.   What’s your Gordon Ramsay insult?  Post it in a comment!   (P.S.  Mine is “Shut the fuck up you lazy dick.”  Not bad.  Not bad at all.)10983214_10153464834956840_1504239669550620891_n

 

Cauliflower, Part Deux (a.k.a. STOP IT)

Awhile back I wrote about cauliflower and how people are finding new uses for it.  They’re trying to turn it into food that someone might want to eat.  I’ve noticed that lately pinterest is just brimming with dozens of new and gastrically offensive ideas for this so-called wonder food.  I couldn’t resist sharing a few of them with you.  (My comments are noted below each of these delightful photographs.)

DISCLAIMER:  I am not responsible for any vomiting that results from reading this post.

Alfredo sauce is made with butter, olive oil, and cream.  It is not made with cauliflower.  I'm pretty sure any self-respecting Italian person would put a contract out on your life for screwing up a perfectly good sauce like this.

Listen, Chef Boyardee, Alfredo sauce is made with butter, olive oil, and cream. Those things taste nothing like cauliflower, and vice-versa. It does look like it could be a suitable substitute for wallpaper paste, though.

Tortillas are made with flour or cornmeal.  They are not, under any circumstances, made with cauliflower.

Tortillas are made with flour or cornmeal by sweet little Mexican people who have done nothing wrong. Why must you offend them so?

No.  For it to be pasta, you have to put PASTA in the dish.  (Okay, so this one isn't cauliflower, it's made with zucchini, but what kind of childhood trauma causes people to screw up perfectly good things like a pasta dish by leaving out the main ingredient????

No. For it to be pasta, you have to put PASTA in the dish. Okay, so this one isn’t cauliflower, it’s made with zucchini, but what kind of childhood trauma causes people to screw up perfectly good things like a pasta dish by leaving out the main ingredient????

This is nothing more than pure gastric fuckery. What did pepperoni ever do to you that you feel the need to punish it so with this kind of preparation?

 

Cauliflower chopped up into little rice-sized pieces is NOT.  RICE.  How dare you.

You have just insulted 2 billion people in China.

stopit6

It’s not POTATO salad if there are no potatoes in it. The people of Idaho should put a contract out on the life of whoever dared to suggest this. For the love of all that is good and decent in the culinary world, STOP IT. STOP. IT. NOW!!!

 

Types of Cheesecake

250px-Baked_cheesecake_with_raspberries_and_blueberriesAfter writing about my cheesecake recipe, I was pondering the different types of cheesecake that are out there.  The most commonly-noted variety is, of course, New York-style.  But are there others?  Yes!

I went poking around for an explanation of the various types and found this list on Wikipedia.  I thought it might interest you:

The United States has several different recipes for cheesecake and this usually depends on the region in which the cake was baked, as well as the cultural background of the person baking it.[14] These cheesecakes are typically baked before serving.

Usually, cheesecake is made from cream cheese, eggs, and egg yolks to add a richness and a smooth consistency. It is baked in a special 13 to 15 cm (5.1 to 5.9 in) tall springform pan in many restaurants. Some recipes use cottage cheese and lemon for distinct texture and flavor or add a drizzle of chocolate orstrawberry sauce to the basic recipe. A list of some variations of cheesecakes in the US is below:

  • New York–style cheesecake relies upon heavy cream or sour cream. The typical New York cheesecake is rich and has a dense, smooth, and creamy consistency.[15] Sour cream makes the cheesecake more resilient to freezing and is the method by which most frozen cheesecakes are made. However, a lavish variant uses sour cream as a topping, applied when the cheesecake is cooked. It is mixed with vanilla extract and sugar and replaced in the oven, essentially making the cheesecake twice-baked.
  • Pennsylvania Dutch–style cheesecake uses a slightly tangy type of cheese with larger curds and less water content, called pot or farmer’s cheese. it can be found in Amish, Mennonite, Ex-Amish, and German-American communities throughout southern Pennsylvania. It can also be found in Amish communities through the US, and sometimes in other countries with Amish communities such as Canada, Mexico, and Russia. This cheesecake is not very common outside of these communities.
  • Philadelphia-style cheesecake is lighter in texture, yet richer in flavor than New York–style cheesecake. This cheesecake is rare. New York–style cheesecake is commonly eaten in Philadelphia, where this variant is from. However, it still can be found in specialty bakeries throughout the city.[citation needed]
  • Farmer cheese cheesecake is the contemporary implementation for the traditional use of baking to preserve fresh cheese and is often baked in a cake form, along with fresh fruit like a tart. This version is very similar to Central and Eastern European recipes that use Quark/Farmer’s Cheese. Most communities that make this have a large amount of people of Eastern or Central European descent.
  • Country-style cheesecake uses buttermilk to produce a firm texture while increasing acidity to extend shelf life. This can be found is some rural communities throughout the country. Outside of rural communities, this cheesecake is quite uncommon.
  • Chicago style cheesecakes are firm on the outside and have a soft and creamy texture on the inside. They are popular in Chicago. These cheesecakes can be found outside of Chicago as well, and some frozen cheesecakes are Chicago-style. In addition, Trader Joe’s sells frozen Chicago-style cheesecake made by a bakery in Chicago.[16]

Cheesecakes represented as being “New York style” are the most common variety in the United States; the term has considerable prestige. However, increasing distance from New York City itself tends to decrease the accuracy of the label, with cheesecakes made further from the city decreasing in density and richness and increasingly over-sweetened by New York standards. The genuine article is most likely to be found at Jewish-run delicatessens in large urban areas and high-end restaurants that make a point of serving gourmet-quality food.

Savory cheesecakes are also made, often for an hors d’oeuvre or served with accompanying salads.

Chili!

chiliAs I’ve mentioned, my mom is not well.  She can’t really cook anymore, and, my dad never really learned how to cook.  I’m headed to visit them tomorrow and promised my dad I would bring a big batch of chili for him.   I want to share the recipe here.  As usual, it’s one I found online and then I sort of made it my own.

Emeril Lagasse is, in my estimation, the finest celebrity chef there is.   Michael Chiarello and Gordan Ramsey are ‘prettier’ to look at, but bite for bite Emeril has my heart.  I’ve never used one of his recipes and had anything but success.  I’ve never eaten at one of his restaurants and been anything but “wow’d.”  So, when I look for a recipe to start making something with, I always go to www.foodnetwork.com and search for Emeril’s creations.

This chili con carne recipe is from Emeril.    As usual, I could not leave it alone and I had to put my own spin on it, so those substitutions are explained in parentheses after the ingredients.

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon bacon fat or vegetable oil (I used good olive oil)
  • 1 1/2 pounds ground beef
  • 2 cups chopped yellow onion
  • 1 cup chopped green bell pepper (I left this out, my dad hates bell pepper)
  • 4 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon Essence, recipe follows
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano (I did not have Mexican oregano, I used regular dried oregano)
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 (15-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes (I used Hunt’s Petite Diced canned tomatoes, which are very easy to use and require no prep work–just dump them straight into the pot and avoid all that squeezing and breaking!)
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 cups water  (I used one 12 ounce bottle of beer and then one 12 ounce bottle of water, just to give it to enough moisture to simmer for awhile and cook down).
  • Optional:  one can of dark red kidney beans, if you like beans in your chili.

Directions

Heat the oil in a large, heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add the meat and stir with a long-handled wooden spoon to break up the pieces. Cook, stirring, until the meat is brown and cooked through, about 5 minutes. Add the onion, green bell pepper, garlic, chili powder, Essence, salt, cumin, oregano, and cayenne, and cook, stirring, until soft, about 4 minutes. Put the whole tomatoes in a large mixing bowl and squeeze them with your hands to break them into pieces. Add the squeezed tomatoes and their juices, the tomato paste, sugar, and water to the pot. Stir well and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent the chili from sticking to the bottom of the pot.  If you are adding beans, stir them in just five minutes before serving.

I’ll have to let you know how my family likes it, but I tasted of it and thought it was awesome!   I’ll be packing a cooler tomorrow to transport it to Georgia.

UPDATE:  My family loved the chili and raved about it!  Great success!!!!

Cheesecake

cheesecake-a-symbol-of-single-lifeMy mother is in her late 70’s and has dementia.  As a result of her poor memory, she forgets to eat and has lost a lot of weight over the years.  There’s one thing she loves, and that’s cheesecake.  So, I recently made one for her to get some calories down her throat!  If you love cheesecake, I’m going to share the recipe I used in case you’d like to try it.

Cheesecake varieties are endless–and everyone seems to think they have the best recipe.  I personally like the recipe supplied by Emeril Lagasse on www.foodnetwork.com.  It’s a good basic cheesecake that you can do other things with if you so desire.   It goes like this:
Ingredients

  • 1 cup graham cracker crumbs
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar, plus 1 1/2 cups
  • 2 1/2 pounds cream cheese, softened
  • 1 lemon, zested
  • 1 orange, zested
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 5 eggs
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped from inside of pod and reserved
  • 1 teaspoon bourbon

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Butter the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan. In a mixing bowl, combine graham cracker crumbs, butter, and 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar and mix well. Press onto bottom of springform pan and bake until golden, about 8 minutes. Set aside to cool. When completely cooled, butter the sides of the pan.

Lower oven temperature to 350 degrees F.

In a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer, combine cream cheese, 1 1/2 cups sugar, zests, and vanilla and beat until light and creamy. Add the flour, then the eggs and yolks 1 at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add the sour cream, vanilla bean seeds, and bourbon and mix until smooth. Pour mixture into prepared pan. Wrap the pan in foil and place in a roasting pan. Fill the roasting pan with enough hot water to come half way up the sides of the pan. Bake for 1 1/2 hours.

Transfer cake to a cooling rack and let cool completely. Refrigerate cake overnight before serving.

Variation

I was craving a fruity cheesecake when I made this one so I made a raspberry coulee to swirl in the batter before baking.  You could do the same thing with mango, blueberry, or any other fruit you have on hand.  I found the recipe for coulee on another website:

Take 6 ounces of raspberries and puree them.  Strain out the seeds and solids, and to the strained liquid add 2 tablespoons of sugar.  Heat over low heat until sugar has melted and sauce has thickened.  Let it cool.

Drizzle on top of the cheesecake batter, then drag a toothpick or skewer through it to make the “swirl” effect.  Then bake as directed.

What are you Drankin’?

In the south we sometimes end up pronouncing “drink” as “drank.”  It’s just how that southern drawl thing works!  Anyway, for those of you who enjoy the occasional alcoholic drink (drank), I’d like to invite you to see my Pinterest board called “Bartender…Pour Me a Drank.”  Just click here to be magically transported there.   You’ll find almost 200 (as of today, and I’m always adding more) recipes for everything from basic cocktails to party punches to Jello shooters.  YUMMY!  Next time you’re craving something unique and different to drink, I bet you’ll find some inspiration here!

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A Throwaway Event

I want to tell you how to make your next party or shindig a breeze in terms of cleanup.  (You might want to also check out some of my other posts regarding entertaining, including one one entertaining for large groups. Just click here.)  Two years ago when I planned the wedding that didn’t happen, we were having the celebration on a charter boat.  And, we were catering the food ourselves.  So, to make things easy I figured out how to make absolutely everything we carried with us in terms of dishes and servingware to be 100% disposable.  Every serving platter, every dish, every utensil–completely throwaway.

What I’m about to say is not going to be popular with environmentalists, so I’ll apologize in advance for showing the world how to make a 100% disposable catered event that is also lovely.  I ultimately used all the supplies I bought for the wedding for a party I threw at my home, and tested them out for reliability and performance.  They worked like a charm.

For any party or event you’re going to need several things, which I will address in turn:

  • Serving bowls and platters
  • Serving utensils
  • Individual plates & napkins
  • Individual utensils
  • Individual beverage cups (unless everything you are serving is in an individual can or bottle)
  • Table covers

Serving Bowls and Platters

1

A silver plastic platter from Dollar Tree

You will need platters for serving individual canapes and other pieces of party food.  And, bowls for things like dips, salads, etc.  For my money the best bet is your local Dollar Tree store.  Yep, they have clear plastic serving platters and bowls that are great, and, they are only a buck!  They also have silver colored plastic platters, as well as divided platters.  You can shop in store or buy online.  Buying online does require you to purchase a case of something or else you pay a handling fee.  My advice is to shop early because not every store has every item in stock when you need it.

If you need fancier wares, the BEST place to shop is the Webstaurant Store.  They have an entire section of their site dedicated to “Disposables” and you can find everything from punch bowls to serving platters here.  Shop carefully because they have lots of items in the other categories that I’m about to cover and you’ll want

Disposable plastic serving bowls from Dollar Tree.

Disposable plastic serving bowls from Dollar Tree.

to order everything at once to save on shipping and handling.

Finally, there’s your local warehouse club (Sam’s, Costco, etc.).  My town only has Sam’s Club, so that’s all I’m familiar with.  They have some disposable serving platters and bowls, but truthfully I haven’t seen anything very fancy or eye catching at these places.  Your’s may be very different, so check them out!

Serving Utensils

You will need serving spoons, forks, tongs, and possibly spatulas and/or cake servers, depending on your menu.  This is where the local warehouse club often comes in handy.  I have found nice bulk packages of large serving spoons at Sam’s Club that were super cheap and very handy.  I’ve also found packages of tongs there, but then again I’ve found packages of tongs at Dollar Tree, too.  And yes, Webstaurant Store sells those, too.  Your best bet is to figure out which types of utensils you need and then comparison shop for price.

Individual Plates & Napkins

There is NO shortage of paper plate sources.  There’s all the places I’ve mentioned above, plus Party City and your local grocery store.  But, if you’re looking for really nice quality plastic, “pretty” plates,  I recommend Webstaurant Store.  They have some nice options that come in all shapes and sizes, although color choices are usually limited to black and white.  They have options that are plastic, but that look like real china!  I have also seen some fairly fancy options for durable plastic plates that look like china at Sam’s Club.

Fancy plastic plates from Webstaurant Store

Fancy plastic plates from Webstaurant Store

8

Personalized napkins in a variety of shapes and sizes from The Knot’s Wedding Shop.

For napkins, again, you have lots of options.  If you are hosting a really special event I recommend getting some affordable personalized napkins from The Knot’s wedding shop.  Although they specialize in weddings they have the ability to print anything you like on your napkins and you have a ton of color choices.   I’ve used these for party napkins, dinner napkins, and even disposable guest bathroom hand towels.  Best of all?  Their prices are REALLY cheap!

Individual Utensils

You again have choices here, for knives, forks, etc.  My personal preference on the wedding was to make everything a finger food, and to provide mini forks for eating cupcakes and other messy foods.  The mini tasting forks were too cute and very affordable from Webstaurant Store.  You can also usually find packages of full-size cutlery at your local warehouse club that have a silver finish which adds a sense of elegance to your affair.  Clear plastic utensils are available everywhere.

Individual Beverage Cups

You only need to buy cups if you’re pouring beverages (rather than providing canned or bottled beer or soft drinks).  In this instance I do think your best best

Little plastic disposable square shot glasses from Webstaurant Store.

Little plastic disposable square shot glasses from Webstaurant Store.

is Webstaurant Store.  They have tons of options that are pretty and practical.  They even have little disposable square shot glasses that are so fun!

 

Table Covers & Other Goodies

Table covers are a must in most circumstances.  They sell disposable ones at Dollar Tree, and at Webstaurant Store.  But, there’s another place to try:   Linen Tablecloth  These people sell VERY affordable solid color tablecloths that will last wash after wash.  They are useful at home and for a variety of intents and purposes.  Yes, I know this is supposed to be a 100% throwaway event, but here’s the ONE thing I would suggest pricing for reusable quality.  You can get a great tablecloth for under $15 that you can use again and again and again.  They also sell cloth napkins by the dozen at prices that almost rival those of paper disposable napkins.

In the process of planning the ultimate disposable shindig I even made disposable cupcake stands.  If I can round up the pictures of those I will post them in another article and share them with you.

Conclusion

Meanwhile, just know that as much fun as I know it is to bring out “The Good Dishes” we all have lurking in the cabinets, it’s also quite liberating to have an event that requires just a couple of Hefty bags for a complete event cleanup.  The next time you are overwhelmed with the thought of all those dishes and utensils for a party or dinner, give my way a try!

 

Basic Rules for Great Food

I had a conversation with a friend today about making a pesto.  And it occurred to me what makes a great pesto–fresh ingredients.  You wouldn’t use that pre-ground parmesan cheese from a can and dried basil leaves from a jar.  That got me to thinking about basic rules of good cooking.  People who have had my cooking and love it always want to know my secrets.  So, here you have them!  If you want to make really great food at home, these are some of the rules you’ll adhere to afaithfully.  I know some of you know these already, but they bear repeating and remembering.

And please, forgive me if I sound like a food snob.  I’m not trying to be one, I’m just giving you the unvarnished truth about what makes really GREAT food!  Here we go…

1.  Fresh, fresher, and freshest–that’s what you want!

Grab your food as CLOSE to the source as you can.  This is the #1 rule for good food and if you don’t follow anything else I’ve said here, follow this one.  (Actually most of my following rules are variations of this one!)

For instance, a bag of frozen cherries has gone through tons and tons of steps to get to your freezer, whereas fresh cherries were simply picked, washed and packaged.  The fresh ones have more vitamins, and more importantly, more flavor.

I have always hated peas. And asparagus.  Recently I was at a cooking lesson at a nice hotel and they served us a vegetarian dish made with peas and asparagus.  I gave it a shot and really LIKED the peas (still not wild about the asparagus).  Why?  They were actually FRESH peas, and not from a can or a freezer bag.

2.  Only ice should be frozen.

Freezing changes the texture and taste of most things.  Since protein is often the most expensive part of the meal, and the “star” of it, I’m particularly averse to frozen meats and fish.  I would take a fresh cut of sirloin any day over a frozen filet mignon.  This rule is even more important when we’re talking about delicate fish and seafood.  Frozen shrimp lose a lot of flavor, I don’t care what anyone says.  Their texture also changes.  If you can’t get fresh, frozen will do, but try to get fresh whenever possible.

cIn my freezer at home you find almost NO raw ingredients.  Why?  I’d rather buy them fresh as needed.  I do freeze fresh herbs that I grow, if I have a bumper crop of them, because they do okay in soups and stews later without losing flavor.   I also freeze citrus zest for later use, as it doesn’t lose anything by being frozen.

You may be wondering what’s in my freezer?  Ice, of course.  Frozen pizzas (DiGiorno, they are awesome compared to other brands), edamame (which is hard to find fresh, and, it is okay once heated up), ice cream, and the occasional frozen entrée like a Lean Cuisine or something.  But, I have to say that my love of cooking has far exceeded my desire to take the easy way out at meal time, so I rarely eat frozen entrees anymore.  Finally, I freeze my red Italian sauce that I make in huge batches.  It freezes well and doesn’t lose anything in the process of being frozen and then thawed.  My son loves that sauce and it’s a big messy endeavor to make it so when I do make it, I make a HUGE batch and freeze it.

3.  Dehydration sucks the flavor out of most things.

Dried herbs are crap, period.  Only when specifically called for in a recipe written by a well-known chef do I use dried herbs.  Otherwise, I always use fresh herbs.  Yes, they cost more.  When possible, grow your own and then they cost practically nothing!

The exception to this rule is sundried tomatoes.  They are quite tasty in their dehydrated state.  Mushrooms are always better fresh, but bsometimes it’s hard to find the varieties you need in the fresh produce section.  In that case dried mushrooms will do.

Of course, there’s dried and dehydrated fruits, like raisins and figs.  Those are okay when called for in a recipe.  But, if a recipe calls for FRESH figs, or FRESH grapes, then the dried versions are a no-no.

4.  Cheese should be good quality.

Good cheese does not come in a can or a cardboard box.  Parmesan should bought in a chunk and hand-grated as you need it.  That yellow stuff in the Velveeta box is not cheese–just read the ingredient label.  I remember a time when they used to sell it on the grocery store shelf, but for some reason they moved it to the dairy case.  My guess is people started asking what the content was that allowed the cheese to survive indefinitely without refrigeration?  Notice you don’t see it in any shape or form in your deli counter’s fresh cheese selection?  That’s because it’s NOT CHEESE.  I think it’s a petroleum product.  Don’t use it unless you are making queso dip that specifically calls for it.

5.  Buy local.

Let’s take a test.  You have a choice in the grocery store between two tomatoes.  Once is perfectly red, round and gorgeous in terms of color and shap.  The other is not so pretty, it’s kind of oblong and has a few little blemishy knob looking thingy’s on it.  Which one do you choose?

Answer:  Ask your produce manager where the tomatoes came from.  If the less-beautiful one was grown ten miles away, and the pretty one was imported from Mexico, I’d go with the locally grown one every time.  The ones from Mexico were likely picked green and then ripened with chemicals in transit.  The local one not only will likely be chemical-free and tastier, but you’ll be supporting your local farmer and reducing your carbon footprint to boot.

6.  Can most of the cans (and jars and bottles).

Canned and jarred food is normally pretty bad.  You don’t consider SPAM a real meat delicacy, do you?  How about Vienna sausages and potted dmeat?  No, not good.  Canned peas and green beans are just disgusting.  If you’re going to not have fresh peas and beans, then at least get frozen ones, they are a lot better than the ones that have been sloshing around in a can for months (or years).

There are a few things that come in a can or jar that are okay to use when called for.  These include:

  • tomatoes (fresh is still best in most recipes)
  • refried beans (it’s a hassle to soak and cook fresh beans, unless you’re a huge bean lover)
  • pimentos (when making pimento cheese these are an absolute must)
  • pickles and olives and capers (that briny goodness is a must in many dishes)
  • anchovies (nasty looking little creatures but they are a must-have in cesar salad dressing and some pasta sauces)
  • minced garlic (they sell jars of this stuff pre-minced and while I still prefer to use fresh garlic, in a pinch or for a large quantity that you don’t want to chop fresh, this stuff will suffice)
  • condiments (mustard, ketchup, chili sauce, etc., although truth be told these are also best made fresh, but sometimes you don’t have time to make everything!)

7.  Don’t overdo it.

When it comes to cooking time, I’m convinced that less is more for most things.  Meat is better medium rare than any other way.  I’d rather it be rare than medium well, because I can always throw it back on the heat for a few minutes, but once you have cooked it to medium well, you can’t “uncook” it.  You want to cook pork and chicken to the correct temperature for safety reasons, but you don’t have to go beyond that temperature!   See the chart here for some temperature guidelines.

eShrimp–omg–these are one of the most overcooked foods on the planet.  Shrimp are done within 3 to 4 minutes in most cases, but some people will cook them until they curl up and turn to little pieces of rubber.  STOP DOING THAT.  As soon as the flesh is opaque, the shrimp is done!

Vegetables are great when tender-crisp, and not so great when they are cooked to the point of being mushy.  I have entirely too many teeth in my head to want to eat mushy food!  Don’t overcook your veggies (in addition to the texture getting icky, you also lose a lot of nutrition when overcooking).

Hard-boiled eggs are another thing most people overcook.  If you want to know how to make a perfect hard-boiled egg, follow Martha Stewart’s instructions by clicking here.

8.  Butter–there is no substitute

Margarine is nothing but an oil product.  It might be a little lower in cholesterol than butter, but the taste is not worth the difference.  Always use real butter.  Always.

9.  Be an olive oil snob

Canola oil is canola oil is canola oil.  Same goes for peanut oil and grapeseed oil and most other oils.  But when it comes to olive oil, there are vast differences in quality and taste.  Read up on olive oils here.   Honestly, though, this is one of those things where price is pretty indicative of quality.  The stuff you buy at the grocery store that’s pretty affordable?  Probably not going to be very good.  I recommend shopping for the best quality oils online at Eataly.

10.  Be leery of cooking instructions

When you are cooking things like breads, cakes, etc., just remember that the cooking instructions were made using someone else’s oven and kitchen.  Your oven is different.  Your altitude is different.  So, set the timer for three minutes earlier than called for in the recipe.  Check it carefully from then on and make sure you don’t overcook it!

I have also noticed that most dried pasta packages call for cooking times that are a bit excessive.  You end up with pasta that is past the point of al dente if you follow those instructions to the letter.  To be safe, shave 20 to 25% off the cooking time, then test the pasta for doneness by taking a bite of it.  Make sure it’s to your liking!

So there you have some basic rules.  Now, the real question–do I follow all these rules 24/7?  Of course not.  Sometimes I’m in a crunch for time, or I can’t get to the store, or something is just not available or in season and I have to make do with what I have.  Hey, it’s just one meal and not every single thing you make can be perfect and gourmet-quality.  But, in your quest to make the best food possible, I do recommend following these guidelines whenever possible.

Bon appetit!

 

Summertime Blues…

summertime-bluesAnd here’s a post about absolutely nothing.

For five years I worked a full-time job and owned a business.  I sold the business at the first of this year and have slowly backed away from it as the new owners took over.  It’s summer and I’m not teaching any classes, so I suddenly have all this free time on my hands and nothing to do.  Well, nothing to do that I want to do.   There are tons of household chores I could be doing, but I’d rather not.

Dating is in a lull right now.  I had a fantastic date a few weeks ago with someone, and I really thought it went well.  I never heard from him again so apparently he disagreed with my assessment of our date.  I started talking to a couple of folks last week who seemed promising, and in spite of light banter and generally pleasant conversation that could not possibly have offended anyone, they have suddenly stopped responding to my messages.  I assume they have found someone more interesting, and that’s fine.  But it just seems kind of ironic and somewhat cruel that I now have lots of free and flexible time, but have no one to help me while it away.  It’s a good thing I’m comfortable being alone or I’d be climbing the walls!

I’ve got all these nifty art supplies I’ve been collecting for years.  I sit down to make something and have no inspiration.  I guess I’m going to have to decide on something to create and “just do it,” but that seems rather forced and contrived.  If you’re interested in taking a look at my inspiration seeds, check out my Mixed Media board on Pinterest.  There I have pinned all kinds of neat ideas for art that I’ll probably never create, but it’s nice to dream.  I’ve invested in a couple of new technique books to give myself some new direction. Maybe I’ll find a project in there?

I’m doing a lot of cooking since we’re in the house all day every day.   I made this amazing shrimp dish yesterday called Green Dragon shrimp.  I got it from “The Chew” and it was really good.  I would make it again, but would add more jalapeno for sure.  I also would remember not to dump salt from a container into the marinade, but rather add it in loving little pinches.  Something about trying to pour salt always goes wrong for me and I end up with waaaaaaaaaaay more than I planned on.  We should be able to rehydrate from last night’s salty shrimp within a week or so.

What are YOU doing this summer?

Spicing it Up with Magnets

As I have learned to cook a wider range of dishes over the past few years, I have acquired a lot of herbs and spices.  They were cluttering up 2015-04-29 11.15.39my cabinets something fierce!  I wish I had taken a “before” picture of my cabinets to show you, but I didn’t.  Anyway, I just wanted to share with you what I did to fix the problem: I went to the interior cabinet and pantry doors with magnets and metal containers!

I have seen this done on some cooking shows, but never had the nerve to try it or invest in the supplies.  But at the point I broke a bottle of turmeric on the counter because the cabinet was so full that I couldn’t fit one more bottle up there?  I decided I had to take action!

It’s simple–you buy heavy duty self-adhesive magnet strips and put them on your doors.  Then you put your spices in the metal containers and label them.  Stick ’em up there and you’re done!  It does take a little rearranging to make things fit as they should.  You’ll notice that between the fourth and fifth rows of containers there’s a gap–that is so they don’t bump the shelf in the cabinet.

I bought my tin containers at PaperMart.   I bought the 8 ounce size because spices and herbs are usually sold by weight, not volume, and they take up more space than their weight suggests.  Two ounces of a powdered or dried substance is, by volume sometimes as much as 8 ounces.   These tins cost $1.19 apiece in a case of 24.  I ended up having to have 48 tins to hold everything!  They are great gift containers and 2015-04-29 11.26.15organizers, though, so it’s okay if you buy a few too many.

The lids on the tins were very loose.  I knew what was going to happen…sooner or later they were going to wiggle off the containers and spill turmeric everywhere (again!)   With my fingers I squeezed the edges of each lid sort of inward and that tightened the lids right up, leaving them secure.

The magnetic strip came from Custom Magnetic Spice Rack.  One package of 3″ wide, 42″ long, was just enough to hang 12 spice tins.  Their shipping and handling charges are pretty high there so I recommend making sure you order enough to start with–I did not and had to pay a second shipping charge to get the rest of the magnetic strip I needed.

I labelled my spices with my Brother pTouch label maker that I’ve had for years.  You can do that, or use any self-adhesive label you have.  They even make clear labels that will run through an inkjet printer if you want to get really fancy.

That’s all there is to it.  And now, I can reserve my shelves for really small containers of spices that don’t justify a whole 8 ounce tin, specialty bottles and one-time purchases, and of course all my hot sauces.

 

And The Crowd Roars… Entertaining a Crowd

As I have gotten more experience in the kitchen I find that entertaining for a large group is actually a joy rather than a chore.  I simply love doing it!  I know it can seem very intimidating to cook for 20 or 30 or even 50 people, but trust me, it’s not so bad once you get the hang of planning.  Here, I’m going to share my tips for entertaining a crowd.

Plan, Plan, and then Plan a Little More

The reason I am rarely stressed out about entertaining large groups is because I plan every detail down to the letter.  This takes laying things out on paper and really defining what you’re going to do, and how you’re going to do it.  I keep checklists of things to buy, and things to do, and I religiously add to those lists as I think of things that will be needed.

My favorite app for list making and checklists is Wunderlist, by the way.  It’s free and it’s a life saver for event planning!

Define “A Crowd”

How many people are you entertaining?  I recommend if it’s your first time to cook for a crowd that, if at all possible, you stick to a group of 10 to 15 people.  Of course, you may not have that luxury–your boss has just nominated you to host the office Christmas party for 40 coworkers?  Jump on in, the water is fine!  But, if you can get some practice with a smaller group first, you’ll have a chance to build your confidence.  No matter what, you need to have an idea of the maximum number of people you could end up with at your event.

I recommend taking the maximum number of people and then figuring on about 60 to 75% of that number realistically showing up to the party.  Unless you have very firm RSVPs from everyone on your list, you’ll find that people forget to show up, they have other things come up, they get sick, etc.  When I plan on 50 people I almost always, without fail, end up with about 30 people.  I still plan on food and beverages for 50, but I make sure that all the food and beverages are things that I like and will use the extras of after the party.

Getting the Equipment You Need

A lot of people are intimidated by entertaining a crowd because they don’t have enough chairs, tables, dishes, etc.  Don’t let that stop you!  You can rent virtually anything you need!

Google “party and tent rentals” in your2015-04-17 17.24.49 hometown and you’ll find the place that rents everything.  You can rent tables, chairs, chafing dishes, popcorn makers, cotton candy machines, and just about anything else you can think of!  As you start planning your event, find the rental company and get their number in your phone so you can call with questions and get prices on what you need to rent.

The rental companies will deliver, by the way.  Delivery costs extra and is typically about $50 to $75, but it’s really worth it unless you have someone in your life with spare time on their hands and a large truck to haul things.  You’ll be glad you paid for delivery when, the day after the event, you watch the rental company drive away after picking up all their stuff.

Seating

Unless you are purposely trying to get people to stay only for a few minutes and leave, you need a seat for every person.  You can beg and borrow from friends to have enough chairs or you can rent them.  Renting is easier and more reliable than hoping people will remember to bring chairs to your event!

Most chairs are about $1.50 each to rent, but fancier chairs can run $2.50 to $4 apiece.  In the photograph you’ll see white chairs that were $1.50 each to rent.  I could have gotten black ones for .75 cents each, but I wanted the look of white.  Tables are usually $10 to $15 each.

You can also rent table cloths in a myriad of colors for any theme.  In the photograph you’ll see I have five different colors of table cloths to go with a Mexican Fiesta party theme. Each table cloth was $11 to rent.

Outdoor Cover

If your party is going to be outdoors, watch the weather at least a week in advance.  If it looks like rain, call that rental place back and rent a tent!  Get sides (walls) on the tent, too, if the weather looks severe.  There is nothing worse than having everyone huddled under a tent with wind-driven rain pouring in underneath–trust me on this one!  You will need a tent that can accommodate all the tables and chairs, plus tables for serving food.  If you want dancing at your event you can even rent a dance floor to go in that tent!  The rental company can help you determine which size tent is best for your event.  Just remember that larger tents are fewer in numbers and may book up in advance, so you’ll need to make the call about a tent several days in advance of your party.

Hot Food Hot, Cold Food Cold

A disposable chafing dish costs about $10 or $15.

A disposable chafing dish costs about $10 or $15.

Unless you want food borne illnesses to go home with your guests, you will need to keep foods at their proper temperatures.  Hot foods need chafing dishes, cold foods need to sit on top of ice.

If it’s a fancy formal event you’ll want to rent “real” chafing dishes from the rental company.  Otherwise, most warehouse clubs and party stores sell disposable chafing set-ups that work just fine.  Just make sure you buy extra cans of fuel to power them and keep things warm.  You can reuse the wire frame on these several times and buy replacement foil pans very inexpensively from that warehouse club.

To keep things cold, I like to find a large container that I can fill with ice and then put the dishes on top of the ice.  My favorite containers for this are from Oriental Trading Company.  They sell what’s called an “inflatable buffet.”  They cost about $10 each and if you’re gentle with them you can reuse them a time or two before they spring a leak.

Inflatable buffet from Oriental Trading Company.

Inflatable buffet from Oriental Trading Company.

Be creative with your ice containers!  A big galvanized tub, a large deep serving bowl, and just about anything that won’t leak can be used as long as it’s clean and fits with your party theme.  The rental company may have options for you, too, so be sure to ask.

Speaking of keeping things cold, you are going to need beverages.  If it’s a casual event you can use clean coolers you already have.  You can probably borrow coolers from friends, too.  The rental company will likely have large coolers or containers that you can rent if you need them.  Just be sure to choose containers that go with the style of your event.  If it’s a casual outdoor barbecue then good ‘ol coolers are fine.  If it’s a formal event, you will want to find a more elegant option.

Portion Sizes:  Food

Determining how much food to buy is probably the single biggest concern when entertaining a crowd.  You want to have enough, but you don’t want to have so much that you are eating leftovers for weeks.

For appetizers and finger foods, figure on about two or three pieces of each item per person.

Bloody mary shrimp shooters are kept cold on a tray of ice.

Bloody mary shrimp shooters are kept cold on a tray of ice.

For veggie and dip platters I plan not per person but by the size of the bag that items are sold in at the warehouse club.  One bag of carrots is usually enough for any size crowd, as is one container of celery, one package of cucumbers, etc.  If you are buying pre-made trays that really will depend on the size of the tray you are buying–most grocery stores that sell these will tell you approximately how many people each tray will serve.  Unless you’re entertaining a bunch of vegans no one is going to complain or be upset if the vegetables and dip run low so don’t stress about this one too much.

The most expensive option on your menu will be meat and protein.  If you are serving an actual meal, figure on about one pound of meat feeding three people. If you are entertaining 30 people, then you need about 10 pounds of steak or chicken.  If your crowd will be all or mostly male, a safer rule of thumb is one pound of meat for every two people, in which case you would want closer to 15 pounds of meat for a crowd of 30.  When in doubt, err on the side of having a little too much.  If your event is a mid-afternoon event or a cocktail party that does not involve a full meal, I would figure on five people per pound of meat.

Here’s a tip about meat–I marinate meats two days in advance to make sure they get maximum flavor.  Gallon ziplock bags are my best friends when I’m entertaining and I make sure I have plenty on hand.  I put about three pounds of meat in each bag and add marinade.  I keep those bags in a cooler with ice.  I don’t like to put them in my refrigerator in case a bag leaks.  Just before the party I grill up what I think I will need and transfer the prepared cooked meat to the chafing dishes.  If we start to run low I grill a little more.  Any leftover bags of meat are saved to cook a fresh family meal with the next day.

Portion Sizes:  Beverages

If your event is alcohol-free, figure on two cans/bottles of soda per person.  If you’re using 2 liter beverages figure on 16 ounces of soda per person.

Since most people like to bring something to a party, I usually make all my parties “BYOB” and that way each person gets the beverage they want and I don’t have the worry or expense of providing alcohol.  But, if I’m going to provide alcohol I have to take into consideration the crowd I’m entertaining.  Typically a worst-case scenario is four beers or glasses of wine per person.  Most people won’t drink that much, though.  And, some people will drink no alcohol, so it kind of balances out.  The best tip I can give you for stocking alcohol for a party is this:  only buy things that YOU like and will drink later.  This way if you buy too much it doesn’t go to waste!

Dishes and Serving

I have a wide selection of lovely party plates and platters.  I have mexican-themed terra cotta dishes for serving salsa, and I even have tropical-themed serving platters in the shape of–yes–Hawaiian shirts.  They are all so much fun and I am glad I have them.  I also never ever use them.  After I entertain 30, 40 or 50 people, there is one thing I can tell you for sure:  I am tired.  The last thing I feel like doing is hand washing all those dishes!   My experience has been that disposable plates, cups, etc., are a lifesaver in this regard because all I need to do is grab a couple of large trash bags for clean up and I’m done in short order.

If I were hosting something really fancy, like a wedding reception, I would probably not go the disposable route.  I would rent plates, cups, etc., and let the rental company worry about washing those dishes after they have been used!  But, to date I have never hosted anything that fancy and I probably never will.  Even if I do, there are still some really nice disposable options out there.

I planned to cater my own wedding reception back in 2013,  and in the process I found some neat disposable options.  First, I discovered the Webstaurant store online.  They have so many lovely disposable plate, cup and silverware options that look really nice!  The other place I found was the local Dollar Tree store, which typically has a wealth of disposable serving options that look lovely and won’t break your budget.  Finally, my local warehouse club has some pretty nice looking disposable plates and silverware that are also viable choices.  I literally had the entire wedding reception planned out and ready to go using all disposable items!  It was a really cool plan if I do say so myself–too bad I picked the wrong person to marry.  hahah

By the way, I mentioned before that you can buy the disposable chafing dish pans.  These are outstanding options to use for baking up hot appetizers and foods! Instead of using your cookie sheets or other pans, use the disposable ones.  You’ll be so glad you did when you have fewer dishes to wash after the event!  If you don’t have those disposable pans, at least line all your cookie sheets and other pans with aluminum foil to make cleaning up after the event just a tad bit easier.

Please see my post on how to host an event that entirely “throwaway” in terms of plates, cups, etc. for more specific.

Now Back to Planning

I know I’ve already said this, but planning is really critical to making your event a success.

You need a firm menu on paper that you’re committed to serving.  I’ve written about this subject before.  From that menu, create a shopping list.  Make sure at least two weeks in advance you have ordered any supplies you need to order from online.

Choose a day to do your event shopping, and prepare a careful shopping list before you go.  Plan out every dish and make a list of all the ingredients you’ll need.  Do NOT go shopping without that list or you’ll come home with a bunch of stuff you don’t need and you’ll have to make at least one more trip to the store to get all the stuff you forgot about!

Do as much food prep as you can before the day of the event.  That is the single most important tip I can give you!  It will keep you from being completely stressed out and exhausted for your shindig.

Recently I hosted a fajita night at my home on a Friday evening.  I did all the food prep I possibly could on the Wednesday before the event.  I chopped, diced, mixed, etc., and got everything done that could possibly be done that day.  All the salsas and dips were made.  All the meat was put in marinade.  All the vegetables were prepared.  It literally took about six hours to do all that, and everything was stored away in those gallon ziplock bags for easy access on Friday.

Why Wednesday?  I didn’t want to have to spend six hours the day of the event doing all that work, and, I wanted time to get the house clean after I made all that mess in the kitchen.  I had my house keeper scheduled to come in Wednesday evening!  So, all the messy prep work was done when she got there and I was left with a sparkling kitchen and all the labor-intensive work out of the way.  Friday, I spent most of my time simply assembling things and putting them on platters rather than doing all the mundane chopping.

Have helpers the day of the event!  You’ll have lots of running around to do–last minute trips to the store, tables and chairs to set up, etc.  Extra pairs of hands are good things to have.  Don’t be a hero and try to do it all by yourself!  The same goes for clean-up that night or the day after–schedule some helpers to be there for you.

One Final Note

I hate to be the one to tell you this, but something probably is going to go wrong with your event.  You’ll run out of something, something won’t turn out as you planned, etc.  Just relax and roll with it, and don’t look back!  Your guests will take their cues from you on how to deal with the various circumstances surrounding the party.  If you get upset?  They’ll be uncomfortable.  If you handle the bumps in the road with grace and poise, they will be at ease and have a much better time.

When I was in graduate school I was hired to bartend a private party at the home of the dean.  I will never forget watching the dean’s wife walk down the staircase with a plate of food in each of her hands when her skirt just fell off her body.  Apparently the zipper on it was loose and had worked itself free.  She was rather barrel-shaped so instead of it getting caught on her hips, the skirt instead just hit the floor.  There she was with her hands full, she couldn’t grab the skirt, and on the staircase there was nowhere to put the plates of food.  I was thinking how mortified I would have been when she died laughing.  She got someone to take the plates of food out of her hand and and she gracefully put her skirt back on and came on down the stairs.  She did not let that incident ruin her party nor did she dwell on it.  Classy and graceful!

Good luck to you with your party and event planning and if you learn any valuable lessons along the way, please drop me a line and share them?