Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas 2011

I made a couple of new dishes for Christmas.  One was a squash casserole that I found from Paula Deen.  The only change I made was using Panko breadcrumbs on the top.  Leave it to Paula to take something wholesome like squash and add sour cream, butter and cheese to it.  It sure was delicious and I will make it again!

I had some left over cranberries and I used these in a cranberry apple crisp.  It turned out very well and quick to put together.  It had plenty of sweetness and the topping, my favorite part, was very tasty.

I also feasted on a dessert that I think was probably this peanut butter brownie trifle.  It was AMAZING.  AMAZING.  It sounds almost like too much, but it was not.  A small serving is all you need, though I wanted to take the bowl and lick it clean.  I will definitely be making this myself.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Cookie Competition 2011

I entered my company's Christmas cookie competition this year and the best place I finished was third.  My third place cookie was Betty Crocker's Chocolate-Marshmallow Pillows.  This cookie, according to the website, was a prize winning cookie in 2009.  The prize was probably THIRD place.  I thought this was a delicious cookie and a chocolate lovers dream.  Some hints I learned:  

  • Cut the marshmallows with kitchen shears.  
  • When you first put the marshmallow in the cookie, it is not that important to push it down.  After you cook it for 2 minutes, THEN really push it down and make is spread over the entire cookie.

My other cookie, which did not place, but was delicious nonetheless, was Oatmeal Toffee Cookies.  These were super easy to make and I liked them alot.  I think nuts would have been nice in them as well.  Or maybe chocolate chips.

The winning cookie, also from Betty Crocker, was AMAZING!  It is a bar cookie, which makes it quicker to produce large quantities.  The Praline Crumb Caramel Cheesecake Bars are tasty as well as pretty.  Very nice choice for a cookie competition and I was happy to pass my trophy on to the winner and end my reign of 3 years running.

Chicken Soup

One of my favorite bloggers, The Pioneer Woman, had a recipe for Chicken Soup last week.  Perfect, seeing as I am obsessed with soups as of late!

The recipe, if you only look at it and not the blog post, fails to mention to remove the chicken, take off the meat, and return the meat to the pot.  

This is an easy, basic, chicken soup recipe.  It features parsnips, and this is the first time I have ever cooked with those.  I think the soup needs more oomph - either rice, noodles or potatoes.  And, because the entire chicken cooks in the broth, there is a lot of fat floating at the top.  I only ate a sample while it was hot and the rest I put in the refrigerator for left overs.  Then the fat congeals and I can spoon it out before heating.

The soup has a nice, gentle flavor and would be perfect for giving to someone with a cold. 



Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Sugared Cranberries




I enjoyed the cranberries on our appetizer tray at Benjy's so much that I decided to try them at home. Despite what our waiter claimed, the cranberries do get cooked a bit when you pour the hot simple syrup over them. I don't think my sugar layer turned out as even as the ones an Benjy's, but they taste great and were easy to make.

I couldn't find superfine sugar at HEB, so I just gave some regular granulated sugar a whirl in the food processor for about 40 seconds.

Recipe

Split Pea Soup

My winter of soups continues.  The latest, Split Pea Soup, was the simplest and tastiest.  You layer everything in the crock pot, set it, and forget it!  DO NOT STIR because you need to maintain the layers so the peas will get soft.  

I made a couple minor changes, and I am glad I did.  I did NOT add any salt or pepper and the soup ended up being perfectly seasoned.  It is almost too salty due to the ham.  And speaking of ham, I used an entire ham steak with a bone.  I cooked the bone and removed it at the end.  I also used all my parsley which did not affect the flavor, only added some colorful flecks.  And finally, I threw in a couple sprigs of thyme.  

After 5 hours I stirred the soup and knew it was finished cooking.  I left the lid off for 20 or so minutes to thicken a bit.  This soup is wonderful and re-heats beautifully.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Pizza!

I made homemade pizza today and it turned out deliciously!  I used this recipe for the dough and made the following variations, as recommended by other reviewers.

I reduced the water to 3/4 cup and I added 1 tsp garlic powder, 1 tsp thyme and 2 tsps of Italian seasoning to the dough. Next time I will use a little less Italian Seasonings as this really is a dominate flavor.  I also let the dough rise several hours.  The crust could have been crisper and next time I will pre-heat the pizza stone as well as cook at 400 degrees.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Chrstmas Dinner 2011

Christmas Dinner 2011 was held at benjy's on Washington Street.  All were in attendance except for Lauren and Carol.  

I must say... this is now my favorite restaurant.  Everything was wonderful.  The staff was the nicest and most accommodating that I have ever encountered.  This is a VERY trendy bar and restaurant where I would not have been surprised if the staff were rude and uptight, especially since this is such a happening, "place to be seen", Washington Avenue hot spot.  I shall share examples of the awesome staff as I recount the evening.

 Mary, Janet and I arrived first and started at the upstairs bar.  At 6:30 pm, it was packed.  There was plenty of seating and standing areas and an outdoor patio.  The menu featured happy hour drink and appetizer specials.  Mary and I had the blood orange margaritas that were delicious!  The drinks were a bright orangey pink color, very sweet and with a hint of tequila.  YUM.  The waiter brought us water with our drinks, which is uncommon in a bar, but very appreciated and a nice touch.

At our reservation time of 7, the maître d' came upstairs to find us and told us we could have a table or a booth.  He seemed to really care which we preferred.  When we went downstairs and met Tonya he told us the booth was almost ready.  Upon sitting we were gives a triplet of munchies:  sugared cranberries, two types of sliced pickles and a wonderful flat bread.   Each item had us guessing as to how it was prepared and the waiter was happy to tell us.  He said the sugared cranberries were raw cranberries soaked in simple syrup (he told us that simple syrup is sugar and water HAHA) and then rolled in plain sugar and air dried on trays and "thrown in Tupperware".  The berries were tart and sweet and delectable.  The pickles were mild and the flat bread was very thin and crisp and like nothing I have ever had.  It was an usual pairing of treats but all delicious.

For dinner, Mary and I ordered the crunchy nut chicken which was 2 slices of a chicken breast coated in nuts (when asked, the waiter mentioned about 10 nuts) and served with potato gratin, asparagus, corn reduction and a balsamic vinegar sauce.  It was very very good and a huge portion for only $16.95. 

CRUNCHY CHICKEN
nut crusted + marbled potato gratin
+ sweet corn reduction 16.95

Janet had the:

HOUSE RICOTTA RAVIOLI
local shrimp + lump crab + forest
mushrooms + piquillo cream 17.95

I did not sample the ravioli, and the plate was beautiful with large shrimp piled high.

And Tonya had the:

RED WINE BRAISED BEEF SHORT RIBS
jalapeño-potato cream
+ warm brussels sprout salad 22.95

Tonya shared some of her ribs with me and they were AMAZING.  So very tender and flavorful.  The brussels spouts were delicious as well.  Next time, I will order the ribs.

A manager took our dessert orders and this was part of the entire restaurant staff working as a team.  I often saw others helping the waiters get their orders in ASAP to ensure food arrived quickly, which it did.  For dessert, I had read in reviews that Mom's chocolate cake was the one to order.  I like chocolate, but it is not my favorite desert.  I asked the manager about the banana pudding and if it was worth it.  Because yes, I have been places before and asked about desserts and was steered away from one, ordered it anyway, and was very disappointed.  Why would a restaurant have a sub-par offering on the menu?  The manager told me "get the banana pudding".  I did.  Mary ordered a challah bread pudding with white chocolate ice cream and Janet and Tonya ordered the chocolate cake.

When the desserts arrived, the waiter brought an extra chocolate cake for me and Mary to share!  How wonderful and totally unexpected!  The cake had two huge pieces, so I know Tonya or Janet would have given Mary and me a bite (we all shared our entrees).   Instead, Mary and I enjoyed our desserts as well as the cake.

The banana pudding, pictured below, had a silky, sweet meringue and the pudding tasted as if it had some peanut butter in it.  It also had peanut butter cookies rather than vanilla wafers.  On the side were two homemade peanut butter cookies and two homemade chocolate chip cookies.  All were wonderful.

The chocolate cake was divine with a ganache like chocolate icing with pecans and it was served with homemade vanilla ice cream.  

I highly recommend benjy's.  The staff is wonderful, the food is reasonably priced and delicious and there is great people watching of the young and hip of Houston's inner loop.




Sunday, December 4, 2011

Molasses Crinkle Cookies

The recipe I used for Molasses Crinkle Cookies is on the back of the jar of Grandma's Molasses.  However, I could not find it on the Internet.

This was a super easy recipe that only requires a spoon for mixing.  The dough is chilled and then you form balls the size of walnuts and roll in sugar.  Finally, sprinkles of water cause the cookies to crack and crinkle.

I used a small ice cream scoop that is about twice the size as recommended in the recipe.  I made 2 dozen cookies and the recipe says it makes 4 dozen.  These are delicious and have a soft texture.  The spices blend together beautifully.


Molasses Crinkle Cookies

3/4 cup softened shortening (use the baking blocks)
1 cup light brown sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup molasses (spray measuring cup with Pam for easy pouring)
2 1/4 cups flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cloves
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
sugar for rolling

Mix shortening, sugar, egg and molasses.  Stir in remaining ingredients. Chill dough.  Heat oven to 375 degrees.  Roll dough into balls the size of walnuts and then roll in sugar.  Place balls on greased cookie sheet and sprinkle with water for a cracked surface.  Bake 10-12 minutes.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Golden Potato-Leek Soup with Cheddar Toasts

I am still in my soup making mode.  This recipe for Golden Potato-Leek Soup was easy to put together on a work night.  I did not make the cheddar toasts as the soup was my focus.  

I made some slight variations due to quantities of my available ingredients.  I used twice as much thyme sprigs because I LOVE THYME!  The vegetable broth I bought came in 32 ounces, so I used it all and did not add any water.  I also had a cup of whipping cream so I added it all and I believe the soup came out perfectly.  I left some potato chunks and the soup has a creamy texture that was not too thick and very smooth.  Before I added the cream I was concerned that I had just created a starchy, inedible mess.  Once the cream hit the warm potato mixture it came together beautifully and I was very pleased.  Delicious!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Butternut Squash Soup

I have never made pumpkin or squash soups and with a blistery cold front dropping temperatures, I thought this would be the perfect time to try a soup recipe.  Cook's Illustrated's Great Butternut Squash Soup sounded perfect.  The modifications I made were to add some diced onion, since I had some left over from another recipe and I added 4 thyme sprigs rather than 2 since I love thyme.  I had a difficult time peeling the squash, so I mostly peeled it after it cooked.

The soup tastes very fresh and creamy with a delicate flavor.  Yum!

Butternut Squash Soup
serves 6 to 8

2 1/2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 2-inch cubes (about 7 cups)
2 tbs unsalted butter
1 leek, white and light green parts only, quartered lengthwise, sliced thin and washed thoroughly (about 1 1/2 cups)
4 cups vegetable broth
1-2 cups water
2 springs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
pinch cayenne pepper

Place squash in a bowl, cover and microwave until paring knife glides easily through flesh, 14 to 18 minutes.  Transfer squash to a colander set in a bowl and drain 5 minutes.  Reserve liquid.

Melt butter in Dutch over medium high heat.  Add squash, leek, and 1 tsp salt.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until squash pieces begin to break down and brown bits form in the bottom of the pot, 10 to 13 minutes.

Add 2 cups broth and scrape bottom of pot to loosen brown bits.  Add remaining 2 cups broth, reserved squash liquid, 1 cup water, thyme sprigs, bay leaf and cayenne.  Increase heat to bring to a low boil and then reduce heat to medium and simmer until leeks are fully tender, 6 to 7 minutes.

Remove and discard bay leaf and thyme sprigs.  Working in batches, process soup in blender or use immersion blender, until smooth.  Return soup to pot (if using blender) and thin with up to 1 cup of water to desired consistency.

Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve with a dollop of sour cream, if desired.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Walnut Sweet Potatoes with Cranberries

I found this recipe for Walnut Sweet Potatoes with Cranberries in an HEB circular.   I love making sweet potato casseroles and I want recipes that do not include marshmallows.  This one sounded different because of the cranberries.  It was easy to make and very tasty.  The cranberries add a bit of tart sweetness.  I followed the recipe exactly though I used an 8 x 8 inch pan.  My 4 potatoes would not have made 2 layers in a 9 x 13 pan.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Caramel Apple Cupcakes

I received this recipe for Caramel Apple Cupcakes in an email and loved the sound of it.  The cake is delicious and would make a wonderful bread, like banana bread.  The icing is amazing and easy to prepare.  The dough was very dry and I thought I made a mistake but when I added the apples, it became the perfect consistency.  I ended up using about 3 apples because I thought if I added all the apples that I cut up it would be so much apples that the cake would not come together.

My icing was more like a thick glaze and I think it was because I did not let it cool all the way.  You should start making the icing as the cupcakes are baking since you need to let it cool at least an hour or more.  I made 15 full size cupcakes and 24 mini cupcakes and had a bowl full of icing left, so next time I will halve the icing recipe.


These were delicious and my coworkers and neighbors gobbled them up!  The cinnamon in the batter really makes these taste like fall and the holidays.

Friday, October 28, 2011

October 23, 2011

We met at Lauren's house and she picked a wonderful, fall theme of pumpkin.  All gourmet gals were in attendance.  Yea!

Appetizer:  Tonya, Pumpkin Seed Pesto crostini with goat cheese and manchego cheese.
Salad:  Angie, Fall Greens Salad with Pumpkin Seeds and Asiago
Soup:  Carol, Pumpkin Soup
Bread and Wine:  Janet, Spiced Pumpkin Biscuits and Riesling
Main:  Lauren, Pumpkin Corn Cakes with Creole Shrimp and Avocado Butter
Desserts:  Mary, Pumpkin Butter Cake and Pumpkin Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Lauren set a beautiful fall table with pumpkins and leaves and Carol's pumpkin soup bowls fit right in.  




We started with Tonya's appetizer of crostini with pumpkin seed pesto and either goat cheese or manchego cheese.    Both were delicious and looked beautiful on Tonya's green platter.
 
 
 
 
I also brought along some sweet and salty roasted pumpkin seeds which I found on the Nutmeg Nanny blog.  They are an addictive little snack!
 
 


Carol made for us a heavenly pumpkin soup.  I unfortunately did not get a picture of the beautiful orange soup and it was creamy and just the right amount of sweetness from the carrots and apple. 

Carol doubled the recipe and the following modifications were made for a SINGLE BATCH:
  • used just 1.5 tablespoons butter
  • used just 1/2 cup cream
 For our bread, Janet made Spiced Pumpkin Biscuits.  These were wonderful with butter and Janet suggested that they would also be great with some honey and served for breakfast.

Alternations made:
  • added 1 teaspoon dried sage to dough
  • add pumpkin seeds to the middle and top of biscuits
For our main dish, Lauren combined three recipes to create this creative and fancy entree.  The corn cakes were fluffy and flavorful, the avocado butter creamy and the shrimp spicy.   All complimented each other well.



  
Pumpkin Corn Cakes with Creole Shrimp and Avocado Butter
 
Prep Time: 30 Minutes Total Time: 45 minutes Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients:

For Avocado Butter:

2 ripe avocados, peeled and diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 lemon, zested and juiced
2 tablespoons honey (or more, if you like it sweeter)
¼ cup olive oil
Salt to taste

For Pumpkin Corn Cakes:

2/3 cup all purpose flour
1/3 cup low-fat buttermilk
1 egg
¾ tsp baking powder
½ cup pumpkin puree
2 cups fresh corn kernels
2 green onions with tops, thinly sliced
½ tsp coarsely ground black pepper

For Shrimp:

8 oz large uncooked shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 tbsp olive oil, divided
2 tsp Creole Rub (recipe below)
1 tsp lemon zest

For avocado butter, combine avocados, garlic, lemon, honey, olive oil and salt in blender or food processor and blend until smooth.

For cakes, combine flour, buttermilk, egg and baking powder in bowl; whisk until smooth. Add pumpkin, corn, green onions and black pepper to bowl; mix well.

Heat olive oil on griddle over medium heat 1-3 minutes or until simmering. Using a medium sized scoop, scoop pumpkin batter onto griddle for a total of 12 cakes, lightly pressing down with back of scoop. Cook 4-5 minutes on each side or until cakes are golden brown. Remove cakes from griddle, keep warm.

For shrimp, combine shrimp, 1 tsp of the oil, rub and zest in stainless mixing bowl; toss to coat. Arrange shrimp on griddle; cook over medium-high heat 1 ½ - 2 minutes on each side or until opaque.

To serve, top pumpkin cakes with avocado butter then shrimp.

Cook’s Tip: Creole rub consists of: 1 ¼ tsp paprika, ½ teaspoon garlic powder and ¼ tsp each of salt, cayenne pepper and dried oregano. Combine ingredients in prep bowl.

Mary blessed us with TWO desserts, both featuring pumpkin.  The first was Pumpkin Gooey Butter Cake which had a delicious spice cake crust and a similar texture and taste to pumpkin pie.  Mary topped the cake with freshly whipped cream.  The pumpkin cake with cream cheese frosting was wonderful and sinful with that icing!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Apple Oatmeal Crisp

Fall weather is around the corner and that makes me think of fruit crisps.  Apple is my favorite variety because apples are abundant any time of year.  I found this recipe for Apple Oatmeal Crisp on allrecipes and it was easy to prepare and tasty!  I like the fact that the butter is melted and you do not have to "cut it" in.  I HATE cutting in butter as I think it is hard work and takes too long.  To me, butter is best when it is soft enough to not fight back when incorporating into a recipe.

Minor modifications made were instead of putting some of the topping on the bottom of the pan, I instead tossed some of it with the apples along with a couple of tablespoons of white sugar and generous dashes of cinnamon.  You do NOT need the full amount of white sugar and the couple of tablespoons was plenty.

This would be excellent served with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream along with a tall glass of cold milk.  Sitting in front of a fire is optional.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Hot Apple Cobbler

I love apple cobbler and I love dump cakes.  Combine the two and you get this recipe for Hot Apple Cobbler thanks to Wanda of www.thehappycooker.com.  The only tricky part about dump cakes is making sure the dry cake mix gets enough moisture so it turns into a delicious topping.  I normally use a fork halfway through the cooking process to press all the cake mix down.  I especially had to do it for this recipe because the cake layer is thicker than normal because of the cooking vessel.

Hot Apple Cobber

1 (18.25 oz) box yellow cake mix
2 (21 oz) cans of apple pie filling
1 (8 oz) can crushed pineapple, un-drained
1 (5 oz) can evaporated milk
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 cup natural sliced almonds

Heat oven to 350 degrees and lightly butter a 3-quart dutch oven.  (I used the dutch oven I use for everything and I think it is more than 3 quarts).

Spread pie filling and crushed pineapple over bottom of pan.  Evenly spread DRY cake mix over fruit.  Pour evaporated milk over top, covering all of the cake mix.  Drizzle melted butter evenly over this.  Sprinkle almonds over top and bake 45 minutes or until golden brown.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

September 18, 2011

We met at Janet's home for a very special gathering and a theme of Chinese food.  All were in attendance except for Lauren and we had the addition of Teresa, who recently moved to Florida!  It was a lovely afternoon with delicious food!

Appetizer:  Angie, Wonton soup
Salad:  Carol, Chinese Salad
Side:  Tonya, Stir Fried Vegetables
Main: Janet, Oriental Chicken with Orange Ginger Wine Sauce
Dessert:  Mary, Chinese Root Cake
Wine:  Teresa



Janet set a beautiful table with souvenirs from her recent trips to China.  In the center was a beautiful array of flowers featuring red and orange roses.





We started our meal with wonton soup.  I intended to make it from scratch but alas, unexpected weekend plans got in the way so I purchased the soup at a local Chinese place.  I am happy to report this sin has not resulted in my being expelled from the Gourmet Gals.  Yippee!



Carol made one of my favorite salads, Chinese salad.   The crunchy noodles and almonds are delicious with the fresh cabbage and light, sweet dressing.  This salad should be mixed at the last minute so the noodles stay crisp.  For this reason, it is not as tasty the next day because the noodles get soggy.  Carol sliced the cabbage into ribbons which made for a very nice presentation.



Tonya quickly put together these stir fried vegetables in a dutch oven.  The colors were gorgeous and the flavor very tasty.  The recipe is from my Dorothy Huang's Chinese Cooking cookbook.  

Stir Fried Vegetables
serves 2

1 onion
4 oz fresh mushrooms
4 oz fresh snow peas
red bell pepper (added by Tonya and great for presentation)
3 tbs oil
1/4 tsp salt

Thickening Sauce
1 tsp corn starch
1/2 tsp sugar
2 tbs chicken broth
1 tbs oyster sauce
1/4 tsp sesame oil

Cut onion into 8 wedges and separate into layers.   Cut mushrooms into half inch slices.  Remove tips and strings from snow peas.  Cut bell pepper into strips.  Combine ingredients for thickening sauce.

Heat 3 tbs of oil in pan over high heat.  Add vegetables and salt and stir fry 2 to 3 minutes.  Add thickening sauce and stir, until sauce is thick.





For our main entree, Janet picked Oriental Chicken with Orange Ginger Wine Sauce.  It was so good!  The chicken was marinated then coated in cornstarch and deep fried.  It is then mixed with the sweet sauce.  We discussed that while not as tasty, it would be easier to pan fry the chicken.  This would also reduce the fat content.

Oriental Chicken with Orange Ginger Wine Sauce

by Lin Gee Way Bessey, guest chef, Central Market Cooking School   1/1/2006


Servings:

 

Ingredients

2 pounds chicken breast cut into 1-1/2 x 1-1/2 inch cubes
1 tablespoon garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon ginger root, chopped
1/4 cup PLUS 1/3 cup soy sauce, divided
1/4 cup PLUS 1/3 cup cooking wine, divided
1 cup PLUS 1 tablespoon cornstarch, divided
6 cups peanut oil
1 can mandarin orange slices with syrup
1 cup fresh kiwi cut into big pieces
orange slices for garnish
1/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1 tablespoon fresh orange peel, grated
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon fresh ginger root, grated

Cooking Instructions

Mix the chicken, garlic, 1 tablespoon chopped ginger root, 1/4 cup soy sauce and 1/4 cup cooking wine together and let the mixture sit for 30 minutes. Dry chicken and coat with cornstarch. Heat the peanut oil, and deep fry the chicken pieces until they turn light brown. Mix all sauce ingredients (orange juice, orange peel, 1/3 cup soy sauce, sugar, 1/3 cup cooking wine, 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger root, 1 tablespoon cornstarch) and bring to a boil. During this time, add the cooked chicken with the mandarin oranges and kiwi pieces. Mix in the warm sauce. Garnish plate with orange slices and serve.









For dessert, Mary prepared a lightly sweet cassava cake with a curd-like topping.  It is awesome that she was able to stick with the theme of Chinese!  Not an easy feat!  The cake was the perfect compliment to the sweet, rich chicken dish.



Monday, September 19, 2011

Apple Cream Cheese Bundt Cake

Carol made this cake for a church function and says it is DELICIOUS!  Sounds great for fall! 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

RDG

For the final night of Houston Restaurant Weeks, we dined at RDG Bar Annie.  There is a sitting room and private dining rooms downstairs and the bar and restaurant are upstairs.  When we arrived the happy hour was hopping in the bar that also includes an outdoor patio. 

Our first table was just off the bar and the noise was so loud that we could not hear over the boisterous crowd!  We asked the hostess for a new location and she gladly complied.  Our final table was in view of the kitchen where we could see the calm Robert Del Grande walking amongst his chefs, who also seemed very calm.  Their demeanor went well with the soothing atmosphere of the wood paneled dining room.

RDG offered a 4-course dinner deal with two starters, a main course and dessert.  Appetizers included polenta, trout with egg salad, and pear and endive salad with a spicy dressing.  Entrees ordered were the strip steak with hominy and salmon with ginger slaw.  For desert the choice was unanimous of cheesecake covered in caramel.  All entrees were delicious and several had lots of heat!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Scallops with Wilted Spinach, Grapefuit and Mint

Janet found the perfect summer supper and wanted to share it.  Scallops with Wilted Spinach, Grapefruit and Mint is delicious and quick to prepare.  A short cut is to use grapefruit sections from the produce department.  

Though this may seem like an odd combination of flavors, all come together beautifully and even a finicky husband will enjoy!

Brennan's of Houston

Another week in August, another week celebrating Houston Restaurant Weeks.  This week it was Brennan's of Houston and the food and atmosphere were both amazing! 

After being seated at our table featuring high backed chairs we ordered our three course meals.  Appetizers included shrimp and grits, the famous turtle soup and a salad featuring peaches and a sunflower seed brittle.  The shrimp and grits were my favorite even though I ordered the turtle soup!  The soup was thick and made from a brown roux and it was finished with a drizzle of sherry.  The salad was delicious and my second favorite appetizer.  I HAD to order the famous soup, which I did enjoy and finish, and fortunately my table mates were happy to share a taste of their dishes.

Entrees ordered were the filet of beef with delicious mashed potatoes over a bacon tomato jam and shrimp creole.  The steak was very tender and the bacon tomato jam gave the potatoes a bacon flavor that was very nice.  The shrimp creole featured large, fresh, perfectly cooked shrimp and a mild sauce that were served table side over a bed of rice.

All three of the dessert choices were ordered and these were strawberry shortcake, bread pudding and bananas foster.  All were delicious!  The strawberry shortcake had a strawberry puree with a biscuit covered in berries, fresh cream and another biscuit.  The bread pudding was accompanied by pecans and a whiskey sauce and was sinfully delicious.  Prepared table side, the bananas foster was served with a rum sauce, home made ice cream and a beautiful white bowl decorated with hearts made from powdered cinnamon.






Thursday, August 18, 2011

August 14, 2011

Some of the Gourmet Gals met at Mary's home for our August dinner with a theme of "light and refreshing".
 
Menu:
 
Appetizer - Avocado Salsa and chips, Carol
Bread & Wine - Fabulous Focaccia and Pinot Grigio, Janet
Salad - Mixed Green Salad with Cilantro Dressing, Carol
Side - Ratatouille, Angie
Main Dish - Seafood Linguine, Mary
Dessert - Neapolitan Cheesecake, Carol (a trifecta of cheesecake and entrees from our saint Carol!!)
  
 
 
Janet started off the evening with two light and refreshing Pinot Grigios to compliment the seafood main dish. I preferred the Italo Cescon one, especially its label with the little ribbon and twig (not shown).
 
 The appetizer of Avocado Salsa was a delightful blend of fresh ingredients and the star was not the avocado but the fresh corn.  Carol adapted the recipe by omitting the shrimp and cucumber and adding:
  • 1 can of drained and rinsed black beans
  • two ears of fresh corn
  • red onion rather than green onion
  • 4 tablespoons of lime juice rather than 3
 
 


In Lauren's absence, Carol surprised us by doing triple duty and bringing a salad with the most delicious dressing!

Mixed Green Salad with Cilantro Dressing
Texas on the Plate
Terry Thompson Anderson
 
Salad:
 
Mixed greens, including field greens if available ( Carol added 1 head of butter lettuce to the mixed greens)
Very thinly sliced red onions
Cherry tomatoes
Cucumber rounds
 
Cilantro Dressing:
Makes about 2 cups
 
2 cups lightly packed cilantro sprigs, leaves and stems
1 Tbs minced garlic
1 Tbs minced fresh jalapeno , seeds and veins removed
2 Tbs Champagne vinegar
1/4 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
1 teaspoon real maple syrup
1 Tbs freshly squeezed lime juice
3/4 teaspoons minced lime zest
1 c mayonnaise
 
Combine all the ingredients in work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade.
 
Process until smooth. Refrigerate, covered for about 4 hours before using to allow time for the flavors to meld.
 
Arrange the mixed greens on individual salad plates and pour desired amount of dressing over the top.

Garnish the salad with slivered red onions, cherry tomatoes, cucumber rounds, and avocado slices (if using).

 
 
 


Janet prepared a wonderful bread, Tyler Florence's Fabulous Focaccia, and I could have eaten the entire pan.  It was very light and a bit crispy.

 


For a side I wanted to prepare vegetables as well as try something different and I found this recipe for Roasted Ratatouille and it fit the bill perfectly!  The preparation of roasting rather than stewing made it quick and simple and the original recipe also features two other recipes that can be made with left over ratatouille.  If I made this again I would add mushrooms too.

 

For the main dish of Seafood Linguine, Mary combined two recipes together:  one from Cooks and another from I Cannot Believe It's Not Butter.  Mainly we followed the I Cannot Believe It's Not Butter Recipe and we included:
  •  minced clams
  • dry white wine
  • freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • cornstarch slurry
  •  parsley for garnish
  • sour cream—tossed with the boiled pasta prior to topping with seafood mixture


 
We ended the meal with a beautiful, as well as delicious, Neapolitan Cheesecake with freshly whipped cream and sliced strawberries.  Carol truly outdid herself, again!  The recipe is below.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Neapolitan Cheesecake
Yield: 12 servings
Best of Taste of Home - 2011

Crust:
1 cup cream filled chocolate sandwich cookie (Oreos!) crumbs
3 Tbs sugar
3 Tbs butter

Filling:

4 packages (8 oz. each) cream cheese, softened
1 1/3 c sugar
2 Tbs all purpose flour
2 Tbs heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
4 eggs, beaten lightly
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup fresh strawberries, hulled
1 to 2 drops red food coloring, optional
1/4 cup seedless strawberry jam, warmed

Sliced fresh strawberries and sweetened whipped cream


1. Place a greased 9 inch spring form pan on a double thickness of heavy duty foil ( about 18 square).
Securely wrap foil around pan.

2. In a small bowl, combine the cookie crumbs, sugar, and butter. Press onto the bottom of pan: set aside.

3. In a large bowl, beat cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Beat in flour, cream, and extracts. Add eggs,
beat on low speed just until combined. Divide batter into thirds.

4. In a microwave, melt chocolate chips; cool to room temperature. Stir melted chocolate into one portion of batter.  Pour over crust.

In a food processor, puree strawberries. Add pureed strawberries and food coloring if desired, to another portion of better. Gently spread over chocolate layer. Place spring form pan in a large baking pan; add 1 inch
of hot water to larger pan. (water bath)

5. Bake at 325 degrees for 40 minutes or until center is just set and top appears dull. Gently spread remaining plain batter over top. Bake for 25 - 30 minutes or until top appears dull. Remove spring form pan from water bath. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Carefully run a knife around edge of pan to loosen; cool for 1 hour longer. Refrigerate over night.

6. Remove sides of pan. Drizzle jam over cheesecake ; garnish with strawberries and whipped cream.

Haven

A delegation of the Gourmet Gals dined at Haven on August 17, 2011 in celebration of Houston Restaurant Weeks. This is a month long celebration where restaurants offer 3-course $20 lunches and $35 dinners and money is donated to the Houston Food Bank.

We chose Haven and its southern cuisine from the long list of wonderful restaurants and the food was outstanding. So far almost $11,000 has been donated and Haven is hoping to break last year's record of over $20,000.

Appetizers enjoyed included the corn soup, baby arugula and peach salad and fried chicken livers with biscuits and gravy. YES, chicken livers! They were delicious and coated in a crispy, golden brown batter.

For entrees, most ordered the Akaushi steak which comes from cows raised in Texas that are the same breed as the Kobe cows in Japan. (More information can be found here). The steak was amazingly tender and stuffed with a thin line of brie cheese that oozed out with each bite. One brave soul faced her fear of shrimp heads and ordered the wild head on shrimp with shrimp boudin, andouille and grits. All entrees were delicious.

Finally, for dessert there was coconut tres leches bread pudding with a Swiss meringue and chocolate layer cake with homemade vanilla ice cream. YUM.

The Houston Restaurant Weeks is a great way to try trendy restaurants without spending $100 AND it all supports the Houston Food Bank. The Haven menu can be found here.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Treebeard's Butter Cake

I may have posted this recipe before but it is worth repeating! Treebeard's is a restaurant in Houston that I discovered when I worked downtown, straight out of college. The location I went to was in a beautiful church with gardens and on Fridays there was a band. The food is amazing, southern, comfort food. I usually ordered the fried chicken and mashed potatoes.


Fast forward ten years and two jobs later, and I eat Treebeard's once a month in a 24th floor conference room overlooking the Greenway Plaza area. It is the MUST HAVE menu at this board meeting. (One month a different restaurant catered and there was a near revolt.) Served is gumbo, shrimp etouffee, red beans and rice, a gorgeous salad, grilled chicken breasts with sweet bell peppers and greens. Normally, I opt for the chicken and greens so I can eat at least two pieces of Treebeard's Butter Cake. This cake is not really a cake but more like a blondie brownie. It has a crispy top and very moist center. It is an interesting bar that you cannot figure out how it is made until you see the recipe. There is a boxed cake mix bottom and a cream cheese and powdered sugar top that come together to create perfection. Anytime I bring these treats (I made them last night for a weekend trip) I get rave reviews and requests for the recipe. And the recipe is perfect as is. Do not change anything and no need for any of the toppings suggested in the recipe.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Banoffee Pie

I was reading a new cooking blog, Three Many Cooks, and found this recipe for Banoffee Pie and had to try it.

There is an interesting first step: simmer a can (sans label) of sweetened condensed milk for three hours in a pot of water. The first thing that comes to mind when imagining a simmering can is AN EXPLOSION. I did some research and was assured there would be NO EXPLOSION of hot milk lava to burn my skin off.

Apparently in Europe, simmering condensed milk happens quite often and in some countries the final product is sold in stores. The final product being caramel/toffee. When I opened the can the next morning, it looked like condensed milk and I thought what a waste of three hours of holding a pillow over my head least I get hit by shrapnel. I decided to push forward and poured it into the crust and after the first bit of yellow milk then the brown toffee appeared and I mixed it together in the crust. I do not know if there will always be a part of the can that does not caramelize or if it all would have had I covered the can completely with water.

The name of the pie, banoffee, is the combination of the words "banana" and "toffee". It was VERY delicious. The night before I was serving the pie I prepared the crust, toffee and whipped cream. I stored all separately (the cream in the refrigerator, the rest at room temperature) and assembled the pie in the morning and served it at dinner. I was afraid it would make the crust soggy, but it did not. The recipe says you can assemble it a few hours before serving but I think a day in advance would be fine.

My pie was not as solid as in the original posting and I think it would be beneficial to put it in the freezer 30 minutes to an hour before serving. The toffee is sweet and creamy and just the right amount. Any more would be too sweet. The bananas are a nice surprise, since you cannot see the slices mixed with all the cream. The cream, lightly sweetened, is a great way to cut the sweetness of the toffee.

I sprinkled the top with left over graham cracker crust crumbs. I did not think it needed any more flavors like the chocolate called for in the original recipe.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Chickpeas with Broccolini and Bacon

This recipe was originally meant for broccoli rabe, but it looks like broccolini in the picture, and I had broccolini, so that is what I used. I also had bacon (rare) and a can of chickpeas I did not know what to do with. It was as if this recipe was meant to be cooked by me this weekend. I did not have an onion, but a neighbor took pity on me and provided one.


This recipe is easy to put together, nutritious and different. The onions are sweet and the bacon makes it hearty. I think it would be a great main dish if you used ham rather than bacon. Also, I do not cook with bacon often (other than as a side to breakfast) and I realized after I made this that if you want the bacon crisp that you need to cook it to that point before adding the onions.


Other changes I made were to not parboil the broccolini and I did not use any oil as I knew the bacon would render plenty.


Here are pictures with the Parmesan on top and then plated and the cheese melted.



French Toast



I am on both a breakfast recipe run and an America's Test Kitchen run. I made their recipe for french toast and realized there are two secrets in the recipe that you must do: toast the bread before dipping and use only egg yolks rather than whole eggs. All else I think can be modified for your taste.



I also appreciated America's Test Kitchens recommendation of using challah bread. HEB did not have the bread. They said they do make it but it sells out quickly. I was shown another of their breads, a country loaf, and it worked perfectly. Other options are Arnold Country Classics White, Pepperidge Farm Farmhouse Hearty White or Thomas' English Muffin Toasting Bread. For my own test, I used Mrs. Bairds bread (as shown) and it was gooey. It was also difficult to work with as it threatened to tear during the entire process. Perhaps if I had toasted it, I would have had different results. But as I did not WANT to use that bread, I was lazy and just threw it in the mixture.





Sunday, July 24, 2011

Waffles



I caught an episode of America's Test Kitchens and there was a recipe for waffles with an ingredient I have never heard of, but promised to be the best waffles ever, so I had to try it. The secret ingredient is buttermilk powder, like dry milk, and it is sold in the baking aisle. I only saw one brand, and it was the brand used on tv. This is going to be my go-to instead of buttermilk from now on.

The recipe also calls for seltzer water which will make the batter light. It results in a crisp on the outside, moist on the inside waffle. The only modification I made, on the second batch, was add a dash of cinnamon and a little more vanilla. It turned out even tastier than the original recipe.








Monday, July 11, 2011

July 10, 2011

We met on July 10, 2011 at Carol's house. The theme was New Orleans/southern cooking.

Appetizer: Janet, Cheese-Stuffed Mushrooms
Bread and Wine: Carol, Corn Muffins
Salad: Mary, Coleslaw

Side: Lauren, Collard Greens

Main Dish: Angie, Red Beans and Rice

Dessert: Tonya, Praline Chocolate Cake



Janet made these delicious cheese-stuffed mushrooms from a Paula Deen recipe. If Paula Deen is not the epitome of southern cooking, then I do not know who is! The recipe calls for Paula's house seasoning which is simple to make. Janet modified the recipe by using feta seasoned with basil and only used half a cup of Parmesan cheese as topping. I could have popped a dozen of these in my belly but I restrained.






The below corn muffins, made by Carol first for us in September 2009, featured fresh corn kernels and a very thick batter. Coarse corn meal was sprinkled on top, before baking, and this resulted in a wonderful crunch. The muffins were very moist and made even more delicious with a pat of "bunny" butter.

Rather Rich Corn Muffins - Rebecca Rather - Rather Sweet Bakery - Fredericksburg, TX
Yield: About 2 dozen
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
3 cups heavy whipping cream
3 large eggs
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 coarse cornmeal plus extra to sprinkle over
1 cup sugar ( can use 1/2 of sugar if you don't want so sweet)
2 tbs baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
optional -- add 1 cup fresh corn kernels or 1 canned corn, drained

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Generously grease 24 standard muffin cups or line them with muffin papers. Pour the butter, cream, and eggs into the large bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Add the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt on top. Mix at medium speed just until the ingredients are combined and not lumpy. Stir the corn into the batter. Using a medium sized scoop, fill the muffin cups abut 2/3 full with the batter. Sprinkle cornmeal over the tops of the muffins. Bake the muffins for 12 - 15 minutes, until lightly brown.

Muffins should spring back when you touch the top slightly with your fingertips. They are best served warm, and equally delicious toasted with butter.

Tips: This batter can be refrigerated in a covered container for 3 days and baked just before serving. Be sure to add 3 to 5 minutes to the baking to compensate for the temperature of the refrigerated muffin batter.






As always, Carol set a beautiful table with pinks, greens and zebra print! She arranged the flowers in the zebra coffee mugs herself.




For the salad, Mary made coleslaw featuring poppy seeds and it was the perfect compliment to the spicy main course.


When I was thinking of this menu I hoped that the side dish would be greens and Lauren read my mind and prepared collard greens! They were delicious and slightly sweet. The one pound of greens cooked down and we wish there had been more!


Collard Greens

Ingredients
· 6 slices bacon
· 1 large onion, chopped
· 2 cloves garlic, minced
· 1 teaspoon salt
· 1 teaspoon pepper
· 3 cups chicken broth
· 1 pinch red pepper flakes
· 1 tablespoon brown sugar
· 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
· 1 pound fresh collard greens, cut into 2-inch pieces

Directions
1. Cook bacon until crisp. Remove bacon from pan and crumble. Add onion to bacon grease, and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, and cook until just fragrant. Return bacon crumbles to pan. Add collard greens, and fry until they start to wilt.
2. Pour chicken broth in slow cooker, and season with salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, brown sugar and vinegar. Add collard green mixture. Set heat to low, cover, and cook for 2 hours, or until greens are tender.




The main dish for authentic Louisiana red beans and rice came from allrecipes.com. I read many recipes and this one had the best reviews and seemed rather simple. The changes I made included adding THE ham bone (from April) to the beans at the start of cooking, then cutting away the ham and adding it before discarding the bone. I also used about a pound and a half of beans and similarly adjusted the seasonings to about 1.5 times. I never added salt, just like the recipe states, and I did not think it was necessary. If this seems strange to you, be sure to not add any until after the sausage has cooked as it adds plenty of salt. Also, I think next time I will use a potato masher to mash some of the beans to give it a thicker consistency.

Tonya's Chocolate Praline Cake was heavenly and made from a "doctored" cake mix recipe. Instead of the whipped topping, as called for in the recipe, Tonya demonstrated the making of Italian Meringue Buttecream. It was fantastic and there was plenty of beater licking! There was a slight emergency when the icing started to loosen up but this was rectified by placing a warm, damp town on the bottom of the mixing bowl and changing paddles. If you wanted to color the icing, do this at the very end of preparation.











Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Cheesecake Stuffed Strawberries

A neighbor brought me a tray of these strawberries this weekend. I think there were about 8 on the tray. By the end of the day, all of these delicious Cheesecake Stuffed Strawberries were in my belly. I could not stop eating them! The recipe above is the same idea, though I do not know if it is the exact one. The filing tasted like it could have been pre-made cheesecake filling in a tub and the graham cracker crumbs seemed like they might have had some butter and sugar mixed in. Delicious and so pretty!!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Pineapple Pie



My dad's favorite pie is Pineapple Pie. I found this recipe on allrecipes and it looked perfect for Father's Day. It was super easy to prepare, especially since I used store bought crusts, and it tasted delicious. I used the type of crust that comes in a pan for the bottom crust and the kind that come in the refrigerated section for the top crust. Sprinkling sugar on the top crust gives it a nice color.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Putting leftover phyllo to good use



I have plenty of leftover phyllo from our gathering on Sunday, and Carol suggested I make a dessert with phyllo and bananas. She forwarded me a recipe from Molly, the Dining Diva, and I gave it a try tonight (despite a serious case of 7-month pregnancy cankles).


Here is Molly's original recipe, but I think you can get away with any number of substitutions (see mine below):


Banana Phyllo Rolls (Molly's recipe)
Serves 6

15 Sheets Chocolate Phyllo (You can use the regular flavor)

1/2 cup butter

3 ripe bananas

3/4 cup grated white chocolate

3/4 cup toasted and ground macadamia nuts (chopped)


Prepare medium rolls using 5 layers of phyllo. Cut layered phyllo in half lengthwise. Cut ends from bananas and split them lengthwise. Place 1 banana half on each strip of layered phyllo. sprinkle 1 tablespoon each of chocolate and nuts over banana. Roll phyllo dough around banana.Brush with butter and place seam side down on cookie sheet. Bake banana in a preheated 350 degree oven for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Serve with caramel cream sauce.


Caramel cream sauce:

1/2 cup brown sugar

4 egg yolks

1 cup heavy cream

1 cup melted semisweet chocolate


In top of a double boiler, over hot water, mix sugar and egg yolks. Heat until hot to touch,stirring frequently. remove from heat. Using electric mixer, whip at high speed until stiff and thick.In a small bowl. lightly whip heavy cream and fold into sugar mixture. Drizzle over phyllo rolls. Serve.




I just stuck with the general method of wrapping the bananas in phyllo. I placed half a banana on the phyllo, added some brown sugar cooked in butter, and sprinkled with some cinnamon and chopped pecans. After baking, I drizzled with some of my chocolate raspberry jam (heated), and added a scoop of Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla, just for good measure. I still have some phyllo left, so I plan to try more substitutions.



June 12, 2011

We met at Tonya's house and all were in attendance except for Janet. Also, we were joined by guests Lauren and her mom, Lisa.

The menu:

Appetizer - Tomato Tart, Angie
Salad - Watermelon Salad, Lauren
Side - Couscous Salad, Mary
Bread - Assorted, Carol
Main Dish - Spinach and Chicken Phyllo Cups, Tonya
Dessert - Lemon Cake and Cookie Cups, Carol



Tonya set a beautiful table with jars of homemade jams and jellies at each setting. I left with a jar of the famous mayhaw jelly. Yum!










I made the tomato tart using fresh tomatoes from my garden. The only change to the recipe was I placed fresh basil leaves, also from my garden, under the tomatoes. I think it would be tasty, as well as pretty, to put some fresh basil on the top too, after baking. The recipe was very easy and I served it at room temperature.







Lauren, a friend of Tonya's, made a delicious, refreshing watermelon salad. It was wonderful and very summery. Hopefully, Lauren will become the newest member of the Gourmet Gals! And Lisa is welcome any time too!



















Watermelon Salad

Salad:
4 cups cubed seedless watermelon
1/2 cup feta
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh basil

Dressing:
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
2 pressed garlic cloves
1 tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 tsp. dried basil
1/4 tsp. onion powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup olive oil

Mix together salad. Mix dressing and add as desired to each serving.





Mary made couscous salad and it was amazing! I have never tasted such a flavorful couscous before. The dates were the secret ingredient. I could also see using golden raisins or even dried cranberries.



Couscous Feta Salad

Ingredients:
Chicken broth (use amount indicated on couscous package)
2 boxes of couscous with pine nuts
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/2 cup olive oil
Add honey to cut the sharpness of the vinegar.
1 cucumber, seeded and chopped
1 (4 ounce) container crumbled feta cheese (used fat free feta)
6 green onions, chopped
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts (shortcut is to use the couscous with pine nuts in it)
Dried dates. Adds a bit of sweetness and nice texture. I used about 1 heaping cup.

Directions:


Bring the chicken broth to a boil in a saucepan over high heat. Remove from the heat, and stir in the couscous. Cover, and let stand for 10 minutes. Scrape the couscous into a mixing bowl, fluff with a fork, and refrigerate until cold, about 1 hour.

Once the couscous is cold, make the dressing by whisking together the salt, black pepper, red wine vinegar, and Dijon mustard in a small bowl (add some honey to cut the vinegar a bit). Slowly drizzle in the olive oil while continuing to whisk until the oil has thickened the dressing. Fold the cucumber, feta cheese, green onions, parsley, and pine nuts (if needed) into the couscous. Pour the dressing over top, and stir until evenly moistened. Chill 30 minutes before serving.






For our main dish Tonya picked a Rachel Ray recipe for chicken and spinach in phyllo cups. The dish was put together quickly and tasted great. The phyllo cups make the presentation very fancy and would be great for a dinner party. If you had made the cups in mini muffin tins you could serve it as an appetizer.










Carol made two desserts. YUM. The cookie from the cookie fruit baskets was so crisp and sweet and the perfect way to enjoy ice cream and ripe berries.




Cookie Fruit Baskets




Yields 12 servings




Ingredients:

1/4 cup butter

1/4 cup packed brown sugar


1/4 cup light corn syrup


3 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour


1/2 cup ground pecans


1/2 teaspoon vanilla


Vanilla Ice Cream (or and fresh berries




Directions:


In a small saucepan, melt butter over low heat. Stir in brown sugar and corn syrup; cook and stir until mixture comes to a boil. Remove from the heat. Stir in flour. Fold in pecans and vanilla.




Drop by tablespoons 3 inches apart onto parchment paper lined baking sheets. Bake at 325 degrees for 8-10 minutes or until golden brown.




Cool for 30-60 seconds; peel cookies off paper. Immediately drape over inverted custard cups; cool completely. Scoop ice cream into baskets; top with berries.










The second dessert, lemon cake with berry compote, berry paper and buttermilk thyme sherbet was light and refreshing.




Lemon Cake with Berry Compote, Berry Paper and Buttermilk Thyme Sherbet




Serves 8




Lemon Cake:




6 eggs, separated


1 3/4 cups sugar, divided


3/4 cups all-purpose flour


2 cups buttermilk


1/2 cup fresh lemon juice




In bowl, whip egg whites and half of the sugar to stiff peaks for meringue. In separate bowl, combine remaining ingredients. Gently fold into mixture.




Spritz 8 4-ounce ramekins with cooking spray and fill each to 2/3 full with mixture. Place ramekins in 9-inch by 13-inch pan. Add water about 1/3 way up to create a water bath. Bake at 300 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven.




(Carol did state that her batter made many more than 8. Twelve or 14, I think.)




Huckleberry Compote:




16 ounces Sauvignon Blanc


3/4 cups sugar


2 cups huckleberries (Carol used blackberries)


zest of 2 lemons


1 cinnamon stick


1 vanilla bean, split and scraped


1 in fresh ginger, peeled and grated with microplane




Combine ingredients in large saucepan. Cook over medium heat until liquid reduces and thickens to sauce. Set aside to cool.




Huckleberry Coulis:




Puree half of the huckleberry compote. Strain through cheesecloth. Set aside.




Huckleberry Paper:




Heat oven to 200 degrees. Spread huckleberry coulis thinly on nonstick cookie sheet liner such as Silpate and dry in oven 45-60 minutes, testing frequently. Remove from oven and quickly pull off large pieces, forming them by hand into free-form cup shape with point at bottom. Set aside as garnish. (This is similar to fruit roll-ups.)




For Thyme Simple Syrup:




4 cups granulated sugar


1 quart water


1/2 bunch thyme


zest of 2 lemons




Combine ingredient in large saucepan over medium-high heat until sugar dissolves. Cool and strain through fine-mesh strainer.




Buttermilk Thyme Sherbet:




1 quart organic buttermilk


1 cup thyme simple syrup


pinch salt




Mix, then prepare in ice cream maker




To Serve:




Place lemon cake in center of each plate and dot plate with huckleberry compote, a few thyme leaves and bits of ginger. With large soup spoon, form sherbet into egg shape and place on top of cake. Garnish with molded huckleberry paper.








Below are pictures of future baby Vivian's nursery. It is decorated in lavenders, white and black. Very beautiful and chic! Except for the scary "peek-a-boo" bear!