Tuesday, December 31, 2013

November 24, 2013

We meet at my house and missing were Teresa and Carol.  The theme was brunch, which sounded simple for this busy time of year.

Cocktails:  Janet, Sparkling Cranberry Blush and The Best Bloody Mary
Main Dish:  Mexican Eggs in Purgatory
Sweet:  Janet, Breakfast Carrot Cake
Sweet:  Mary, Sweet Potato Bread Pudding
Fruit:  Tonya, Yogurt Parfait
Starch:  Tonya, Best Breakfast Potatoes

Janet started us off with Sparkling Cranberry Blush.  This cocktail was sweet and bubbly.  It is also a beautiful color.  Very festive for the holidays!

I served cream cheese covered in pineapple and habanero sauce and a spicy cranberry salsa.  I also wanted to share my Christmas gift of Chocolate Balsamic Vinegar and Lemon Olive Oil.  Put both on the same plate and dip with bread.  YUM.  So delicious.

For sipping during our meal, Janet prepared The Best Bloody Mary which she garnished with bacon and gherkins.  OH MY!  Anything that has bacon as a garnish is a winner in my book. This recipe has a homemade tomato base that was quite healthy with tomatoes, carrots, beets, fennel and garlic.  Wow!  No need to have a V8 when  you drink this for brunch.

Janet's third contribution to our meal was Breakfast Carrot Cake.  It was divine!  I loved the almonds which gave each bite a mild crunch.  Janet reduced the sugar to 1 tablespoon and 1/4 cup, added seeds from one vanilla bean and used 2 teaspoons of baking powder.  Great, mildly sweet cake with lots of texture.

For the parfaits, Tonya layered vanilla yogurt with granola, diced apples, pears, dried cherries, dried cranberries and dried pomegranate seeds.

Tonya also brought Pioneer Woman's Best Breakfast Potatoes Ever.  These are baked in the oven which makes the potatoes crispy and cooks down the vegetables creating a delicious medley.

Mary is our bread pudding guru and today she dished up Sweet Potato Bread Pudding with Pecan Crumble.  YUM.  The addition of sweet potatoes make me think this is healthy but it is really very decadent.  And I like a sweet brunch so this was perfect!

The main dish that we prepared together is called Mexican Eggs in Purgatory.  Essentially it is  sunny side eggs on top of a a tomatillo sauce.  I purchased the tomatillos at Fiesta.  What a wonderful store.  It sells EVERYTHING!  Not just products you think of being popular in Mexico but from all over the world.  I liked the flavor of this dish and it is a dramatic presentation with the eggs nestled in the green sauce. 

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Soup and cake

I enjoy preparing soups because they make such wonderful, filling, left overs.  I liked this chicken and black bean soup because all the seasonings were in the salsa and taco mix.  I did not add the sour cream or cheese because I did not want the extra fat.  I did add some zucchini and a can of diced tomatoes because the more vegetables the better!  This was super easy in my crock pot and the flavor was wonderful.

For dessert I wanted to use a bag of cranberries.  This cake, with the cranberry and apple compote, was healthy enough that I decided it would be a great breakfast.  I think that was a stretch but I had the super healthy soup to counterbalance the cake breakfast!

This cake was not only delicious but beautiful.  The red berries and apples were sweet and colorful.  I cooked them until the berries popped and they continued to caramelize while the cake baked.  I used almond milk instead of real milk and there were no issues. 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Holy Cow Cake!

I planned to make this Holy Cow Cake for my coworkers.  I had all the ingredients, or so I thought, and I started preparation.  Where is my boxed, chocolate cake?!  Oh no.  I forgot to buy it.  I also didn't have any cocoa so I decided to prepare, FROM SCRATCH, a yellow cake.  I am so glad I forgot the chocolate cake because it was fun to make a cake without using a mix.  The yellow cake recipe I found was quick, easy and delicious.  Next time I want a cake I will follow this recipe, including the cream cheese frosting. 

For the caramel component I used a bag of caramel balls.  I can never find the caramel topping (I think it is by the ice cream and I try and avoid that aisle!) so these balls are perfect.  I think this is a new addition to the baking aisle because in the past I would have to remove the plastic wrappers from the caramel squares.  The bag of caramel balls is perfect for baking!

This cake received rave reviews from my colleagues plus two requests for the recipe!  I think the yellow cake is better than using a chocolate one because it cuts through the sweetness of the caramel and butterfingers.

October 20, 2013

Janet hosted in her new home and all were in attendance except for Carol and Teresa.  Janet's friend, Natalie, was not able to join us but she did send over our appetizer.

Angie:  Cocktail, Evening in Kingston
Natalie:  Appetizer, Squash Casserole
Janet:  Bread, Sweet Cornbread Muffins
Tonya:  Salad, Orzo Salad
Mary:  Side, Parsnip, Potato, and Turnip Purée
Janet:  Main, Chicken Marsala
Angie:  Dessert, Roasted Pear Crumble

This cocktail, Evening in Kingston, was potent though tasty.  We added some agave syrup to not only sweeten but also dilute. 

For our appetizer, Janet's friend Natalie sent over a squash casserole.  It had a crunchy topping with squash mixed with a cream.  This dish would also be an excellent side dish.

Janet whipped up some cornbread muffins for the bread course.  This was a good recipe that equally balances the sweet with the corn meal so it does not taste like a cake.

A perfect side dish for the Chicken Marsala was Mary's Parsnip, Potato and Turnip Puree.  It was a fancy take on mashed potatoes and the fresh dill not only looked pretty but made a huge flavor impact.  Mary cautioned that the vegetables do not cook at the same rate so you may want to do them separately.

Tonya's Orzo Salad had chick peas and tomatoes mixed with a vinaigrette along with fresh herbs.  This was a refreshing and light pasta salad.

The chicken Marsala was delicious.  Mary expertly flattened the chicken breasts and the rest of us assisted with chopping, slicing and stirring.  If I were to prepare this again I would use much less prosciutto and more mushrooms than called for.

To finish our meal we had Roasted Pear Crumble.  This was a simple dish to make and it can all be done ahead of time.  I simply warmed up the pears prior to serving.  The granola is delicious and I added some cinnamon to it as well as used both almonds and pecans..  The mascarpone cheese is sweet and creamy. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

Hello Cold Front!

I love the components of a cold front:  high winds followed by rain which subsides, leaving behind a cold, gray day and within a few hours.... perfection.  Low temperatures, low humidity and clear, blue skies.  It makes me feel frisky and I drive too fast with my windows down.  Even when it reaches 82 degrees.  But no matter!  LOW HUMIDITY makes it all ok!

The lower temperatures and humidity also make me want to bake and cook.  I baked these Knock You Naked Bars for a football party.  YUM.  I only put in half the amount of peanut butter called for because I have a picky eater in the house and you could still taste it so if you do NOT LIKE peanut butter, skip it all together.  But next time I make this, for my parents, I will use ALL of the peanut butter!

It doesn't matter how you dollop the top layer of cookie dough on because it will all come together creating a new crust for the caramel goodness.  These are really easy to prepare and the bars stay moist for days. 

I cooked up this pot of White Chicken Chili in 30 minutes.  It was great right after I made it and even better the next day, giving the "chili" flavors more time to develop.  Without the sour cream and half and half it is just a soup but the creamy dairy products bring this to a chili status.  It also tones down the heat from the cayenne.  I actually was out of half and half so I used evaporated milk because I had some in the fridge.  I am not sure how half and half and evaporated milk measure up to each other but I found it to be interchangeable and with less fat.  This "chili" would be good also with some potato chunks and maybe corn.  But then I think it becomes "White Chicken CHOWDER".  Haha!

Friday, September 20, 2013


Brown Sugar Pound Cake with Caramel Sauce - this cake was so moist that I could not get it all out of the pan.  No fear - as the recipe states, just put it back together and the delicious icing will cover up any flaws.  There are a total of 4 cups of sugar in these recipes though it is not sickeningly sweet.  Very good and lots of texture with the nuts and heath chips.  The sauce hardens up and is a great compliment to the cake.

Banana Bread Bars - banana bread meets delicious icing to become a bar.  Baked in a jelly roll pan the bars are not too thick.  Which is a good thing since the icing has four cups of sugar!  Make sure you cook the butter in the icing until you get the brown bits.  This gives it a great depth of flavor.

P.S.  All these "4 cups of sugar" recipes is why I am having to take a break from my sugar addiction and just say no!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

July 28, 2013

Tonya hosted and all were in attendance except for Carol (who sent her salad with Teresa).

Janet's Middle Eastern Magic
an original cocktail

3 cups unsweetened pomegranate juice
3 cups sparkling water
1 cup mint syrup*
1 cup lime juice
1/4 cup orange blossom water (at Middle Eastern markets)
1 cup good quality vodka

Mix all, pour into glasses with crushed ice.  Garnish with a slice of lime and mint leaf.

* Mint syrup:  In a small pot combine 1 cup water, 1 cup sugar and 1 bunch roughly chopped mint.  Bring to a full boil.  Remove from heat and steep for 30 minutes and strain.

Appetizers:  Phyllo Triangles (Angie) and red beet and traditional hummus (Janet).

Salad:  Greek Salad (Carol as prepared by Teresa).

Sides:  Roasted Carrots and cous cous (Mary).

Main Dish:  Falafel (Tonya).

Dessert:  Orange and honey ice cream (Teresa)

Friday, July 19, 2013

June 30, 2013

Teresa hosted and all were in attendance except for Carol.  The theme was Rick Bayless/Mexican food. 

Teresa:  Drink, Sangria;  Appetizer, Melted Cheese Casserole with Mexican Sausage and Roasted Chiles (queso fundido);  Side Dish, Beans; Main Dish, Chicken Enchiladas
Tonya:  Appetizer, Guacamole
Janet:  Appetizer, Avocado and Tropical Fruit Salsa;  Side Dish, Mexican Succotash
Angie:  Salad, Mixed Vegetable Salad with Lime Dressing
Mary:  Dessert, Lime Tart

Teresa set the table with crape myrtle blooms and had a hand made kitchen towel at each of our places.  I love the colors and Teresa said that the towels ARE actually meant to be used and not just admired.  Thank you, Teresa!

We started with sangria, Tonya's guacamole (Rick Bayless recipe), Janet's avocado and tropical fruit salsa and the queso fundido.  The sangria was fruity and refreshing, the guacamole creamy and cheesey with the queso fresco and the salsa was tangy and fresh. 

Queso Fundido
by Rick Bayless

2 medium fresh poblano peppers
1/2 cup chorizo sausage, casings removed
1 white onion, sliced
12 corn tortillas
8 oz Mexican melting cheese (Monterrey Jack, mild cheddar, quesadilla or asadero), shredded
1 tsp oregano

Roast the peppers until skin is blackened.  Rub off the blackened skin then pull or cut out the stems and seed pods.  Tear the chiles open and quickly rinse to remove any stray seeds or bits of skin.  Cut into 1/4 inch wide strips.

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  In  a skillet, cook the chorizo over medium heat, breaking up clumps, until half cooked, about 5 minutes.  Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is richly golden and the chorizo cooked through, about 10 minutes.  If mixture looks oily, drain.  Stir in the poblano strips, taste and season with salt if needed.  Transfer to a shallow baking dish.  

Heat tortillas in a damp kitchen towel in the oven for about 7 minutes.

When tortillas are heated, mix the cheese into the chorizo mixture and bake until the cheese is just melted but has not begun to separate, about 5 minutes.  Sprinkle with the oregano and "serve without a moment's hesitation" in the warm tortillas.

This cheese dish was gooey, mild and indulgent.  I was full after just appetizers!

For the salad course, I prepared Rick Bayless' Mixed Vegetable Salad with Lime Dressing.  The recipe gave different groupings of vegetables to mix and match from.  Everyone liked the potatoes and thought it was a unique green salad ingredient.  The salad was colorful and garnished with red onion and egg.  The lime dressing did not wow me however it did not overwhelm the other ingredients.

Our side dishes were beans and Mexican Succotash.  The beans are a traditional Mexican side dish and they were hearty and flavorful.  I loved the succotash.  Anything with fresh corn is a winner in my book.  The poblano chile and cilantro is what gave this dish its Mexican flavors.

Teresa picked Rick Bayless' Creamy Enchiladas with Chicken, Tomatoes and Green Chile as the main course.  These enchiladas were full of chicken, had a kick from the peppers and a nice sauce with a  layer of cheese.  We did not remove the seeds from any of the peppers and some thought these were almost too spicy.  Fortunately, the succotash and beans helped with the heat.

Creamy Enchiladas with Chicken, Tomatoes and Green Chile
by Rick Bayless
serves 4 to 6

3 pounds ripe tomatoes (round or plum) OR 2 - 28 oz cans whole tomatoes
3 Serrano or 2 jalapeno peppers, stems removed (remove some seeds if you want milder)
1 1/2 tbs vegetable oil or pork lard
1 white onion, chopped
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup creme fraiche, crema or heavy whipping cream
2 cups shredded cooked chicken
2/3 cup shredded Mexican melting cheese (Chicuahua, quesadilla, asadero, Monterrey Jack or mild cheddar)
12 corn tortillas
white onions and fresh cilantro for garnish

Roast the tomatoes and chiles on a baking sheet below a hot broiler until darkly roasted, about 6 minutes.  Flip over and roast the other side, 5 to 6 minutes.  Pull off and discard the blackened skins from the tomatoes.  Put the tomatoes and chiles in a food processor (or blender), along with juices on the baking sheet, and blend until smooth.  

Heat the oil or lard over medium heat.  Add the onion and cook, stirring regularly, until golden, about 7 minutes.  Raise the heat and when the pot is noticeably hotter, stir in the tomato puree.  Cook, stirring until darker in color and thickened to the consistency of tomato paste, 10 to 15 minutes.  Taste and season with salt.  Stir the crema (or stand in) into the sauce. 

Put the chicken in a bowl and stir 1/2 cup of the sauce into the chicken.  Taste and season with additional salt if necessary. 

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Smear about 1 cup of the sauce over the bottom of 13 x 9 baking dish.  Lay the corn tortillas out on a baking sheet and lightly brush or spray both sides with oil . Bake just to warm and soften, about 3 minutes (WE SKIPPED THIS STEP as our tortillas were so fresh and pliable).  Stack the tortillas and cover with a towel to keep warm.

Roll a portion of the chicken up in each tortilla, then line up in the baking dish.  Douse evenly with the remaining sauce, sprinkle with the cheese and bake about 15 minutes.  Garnish with the onion rings and cilantro sprigs. 

The sauce can be made a day or two ahead. 

Mary made a beautiful Lime Meringue Tart.  The crust was crunchy and sweet.  The filling was light and creamy.  The meringue was beautifully browned.  This was the perfect desert after the cheesy, spicy enchiladas.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Peanut Butter Toffee Cheesecake Brownies

Peanut Butter Toffee Cheesecake Brownies.  Now that is a mouthful!  And a tasty mouthful at that!  A coworker told me "this is the best dessert I have EVER HAD".  Come on!  Now he is only 22 so maybe that explains it.

These bars are a brownie base (using the "cake like" recipe variation) with a peanut butter cream cheese layer and topped with chocolate and toffee.  The peanut butter flavor is prevalent so take caution if you are not a peanut butter fan.

I thought they were delicious, very chocolaty and creamy.  Plus, the toffee makes these unique and pretty.

Monday, June 3, 2013


I am sure everyone has a go-to lasagna recipe.  I do not.  I have tried several and there is always something I do not like about it.  Last night I made Pioneer Woman's recipe and I now have my winner!

First off, it looks pretty - you can clearly see the layers in my glass pan (sorry, no picture, but imagine).  Second, it is EASY to put together the homemade meat sauce and cheese layer.   I used no-boil lasagna noodles and this was all put together (including 45 minutes for the sauce to simmer) in an hour.  

The sauce is hearty and meaty.  I liked the flavor but you may want to throw in a few red pepper flakes for more heat.  The hot breakfast sausage gets a little washed out.  The whole tomatoes stay chunky so if you have a picky eater you may want to break those up some.  The simmering does a pretty good job but definitely are some big pieces at the end.

This is a delicious, simple, hearty lasagna recipe that I will stick with!

Now back to finding the perfect peanut butter cookie recipe!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Sweet Breakfasts

I recently baked up some sweet treats for my coworkers and friends.  For my coworkers, I prepared Pumpkin Cream Cheese muffins.  I was like a mad scientist with three bowls of components:  batter, cream cheese filling and topping.  I had some cream cheese filling left over after running out of batter and that was no good.  You can make muffins without filling but filling without batter is a snack.  Next time I make these I will be more generous with the filling to not have any left.  

The muffins were super moist with a nice flavor from the cinnamon.  And a struessel topping makes everything decadant.

I was charged with making breakfast this weekend and I picked Cinnamon Roll Casserole.  Sounds like heaven and tastes as good too!  It is very easy to put together using canned cinnamon rolls covered in a simple homemade custard, maple syrup and finished off with the packaged icing.  I skipped the pecans.  This was delicious and seemed to be even tastier the next day.  I highly recommend this simple recipe to dress up cinnamon rolls.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Lemon Bar Cheesecake

My coworkers noted my lack of bringing in treats as of late and requested a sweet treat with cream cheese.  I compiled a list of several recipes from my Pinterest dessert board and they choose Lemon Bar Cheesecake.  It is essentially a cheesecake stuck in the middle of a lemon bar.  There are three steps... crust (which is like a short bread), lemon curd and cheesecake.  I made the crust and curd on Saturday and the cheesecake on Sunday.  

The crust was easy to prepare - all in a food processor and then rests in the refrigerator.  The lemon curd was made super simple using the microwave.  Finally, the cheesecake was rich and also easy to put together.  I used neufchatel cream cheese and this did not affect the taste at all.  I also prepared the cake in a 9 x 13 pan and this worked perfectly.

April 28, 2013

Carol hosted us on April 28, 2013 and we had a Spring Bunny theme with all of Carol's cute bunny dishes, decorations and flowers.  And of course, there was BUNNY BUTTER.  Carol makes the butter by spreading softened butter on a cookie sheet and then cutting out the bunny shapes. 

Janet supplied the two beverages and got the party started.

Our appetizers of two types of deviled eggs (Paula Deen and curried, minus the salmon, prepared by Teresa) were served at the breakfast table.  Carol also served a Ranch dip with vegetables.

Paula Deen recipes were popular this Sunday!  Mary made Deen's recipe for Fruit Salad with Honey Dressing.  It was a unique fruit salad due to unusual ingredients like mustard and avocado.  All blended together beautifully for a light, refreshing salad.

Our main dish of Chicken Breasts with Shrimp Stuffing was colorful and flavorful.  Chicken breasts were prepped by pounding until thin and then a layer of stuffing was spread inside and the chicken rolled and secured with toothpicks until baked to 165 degrees.  I think the stuffing recipe could be simplified by cooking the spinach with the peppers and onions and then adding to the cheese while still warm to allow the cheese to be fully incorporated.  The stuffing is then cooled prior to putting on the chicken.

Chicken Breasts with Shrimp Stuffing 

6 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Place chicken between 2 layers of plastic wrap and pound slightly to 1/4 inch thickness.  Season both sides with salt and pepper.  Place 1/2 cup stuffing in the center of each breast.  Roll breast around stuffing; secure with a toothpick.  Place chicken rolls, seam side down on a lightly oiled baking sheet.  Bake until chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees, about 30 to 35 minutes.

Let chicken rest for 5 minutes, remove toothpicks and slice each breast on the bias into thirds.  Fan chicken breast on individual plates or a meat platter and serve.

Shrimp Stuffing - Makes about 3 cups

2 T vegetable oil
1/3 c finely chopped red bell pepper
1/3 c finely chopped green bell pepper
1/3 c finely chopped red onion
1/2 pound (90 to 110 count) shrimp, peeled and deveined and cut into halves or thirds
1/2 T Creole Seafood Seasoning
1 T Louisiana hot pepper sauce
1 T Worcestershire Sauce
1/2 c water
1 (10 oz.) package fresh spinach, stemmed and washed
1 (3 oz) package cream cheese, softened
2 ounces soft goat cheese
2 ounces feta cheese
Tabasco sauce

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium  - high heat.  Add red and green bell pepper, onion and shrimp;  saute until vegetables are tender.  Spread out in a colander to drain excess liquid.  Season with Creole seafood seasoning, hot sauce and Worcestershire; chill in refrigerator.

Place water in a large skillet over medium - high heat.  When simmering, add  spinach and cook
until just wilted.  Drain in colander and run under cold water to stop the cooking process.  Use you hands to squeeze out as much water as possible.  Coarsely chop and refrigerate until needed.

When shrimp mixture is chilled, combine in a large bowl with spinach, cream cheese, goat cheese and  feta.  Season with salt and pepper and Tabasco.  Reserve stuffing in refrigerator until needed. May be made one day in advance.

 Creole Seafood Seasoning - Makes about 3 1/2 cups

3/4 cup salt
6 1/2 T finely ground black pepper
4 T cayenne pepper
7 1/2 T garlic powder
6 T onion powder
1 c  paprika
1/2 c tightly packed dried thyme leaves
7 T tightly packed dried oregano leaves

Place all ingredients in a medium bowl and mix thoroughly.   Or, place in a food processor
and pulse lightly to make a finer mixture.  Store seasoning in a covered container and keep
in a cool, dry place up to 6 months.

One side dish was another Paula Deen recipe for Pecan Parsley Rice.  The rice was crunchy and fresh tasting with the parsley, lemon zest and juice.  It was served in the bunny ramekins.

Tonya prepared Spring Vegetable Saute' with blanched edamame, asparagus and red onions.  Fresh mint gave this dish a bright flavor.  Delicious and so healthy!   

Zucchini Cornbread was also cooked by Tonya and it was one of the best corn breads I have ever had!  Tonya reduced the sugar to 1/4 a cup and baked the cornbread in a cast iron skillet, like a good Southern girl would do!

Carol requested that I prepare a single serving dessert to be placed on the bunny platters.  I baked Lemon Mascarpone Cupcakes.  I had never made such a fancy cupcake before.  I realize that I could have put the filling in deeper in the cake, as well as used more.  I did not make the icing "stiff" enough, using powdered sugar, in order to pipe it (though I tried!).  I thought if I put in more sugar then the flavor of cream cheese and butter would be diluted.  Despite my cake not being as beautiful as the original source recipe the flavor was decadent yet light with the lemon zest and juice.  The icing had no lemon flavor but it must have soaked it up from the cake and filling.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

March 3, 2013

We met at my house and all were in attendance except for Teresa.  

Appetizer:  Carol, Individual Seven Layer Dips
Cocktail:  Janet, Agua de Valencia:  Made with Cava
Salad:  Tonya, Argula, Apple and Manchego with Balsamic Vinaigrette
Side Dish:  Carol, Parmesan Baked Tomatoes
Main Dish:  Angie, Spanish Style Toasted Pasta with Shrimp
Dessert:  Mary, Sweet Catalan Cream and Bizcochos Borrah

Carol started us off with Individual Seven Layer Dips with homemade pico de gallo.    These were as tasty as they were pretty.   Piping using a Ziploc bag was the key to the neat layers. 

Our cocktail was Agua de Valencia made with Cava.  It is a Spanish cocktail that was first made in 1959 in Valencia.  You can ask for it in Spain and there are bottled brands of the drink for sale.

The salad had sweet apple, slivered almonds, spicy arugula and shaved cheese.  The slightly sweet vinaigrette pulled all the elements together.  Tonya picked the perfect salad recipe for our dinner!

Carol brought Parmesan Baked tomatoes as our side dish and it paired perfectly with the pasta.  The dish is simple and showcases the freshness of the tomatoes.  The green herbs on top add color and flavor.

I picked the main dish, Spanish Style Toasted Pasta with Shrimp, from Cooks Illustrated.  It had an interesting technique of cooking the pasta dry to a peanut butter color.  It then is finished in the wine, chicken broth and water in the oven.  Since we doubled the recipe the pasta was not all able to brown because my pan was too small. 

I really liked this dish and it re-heated well for days of left overs! 

Spanish Style Toasted Pasta with Shrimp

Serves 4

3 tbs plus 2 tsp olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 pounds extra large shrimp
2 3/4 cups water
1 cup chicken broth
1 bay leaf
8 oz thin spaghetti, broken into 1-2 inch pieces by wrapping dry pasta in kitchen towel and breaking on counter
1 onion, chopped fine
14.5 oz petite diced tomatoes, drained
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp anchovy paste
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 tbs chopped parsley
lemon wedges
1 recipe Aioli (optional - we did not use)

Peel shrimp, reserving shells.  Combine 1 tbs oil, 1 tsp garlic, 1/4 tsp salt and 1/8 tsp pepper in a medium bowl.  Add shrimp, toss to coat and refrigerate until ready to use.

Place reserved shrimp shells, water, chicken broth and bay leaf in a medium bowl.  Cover and microwave until liquid is hot and shells have turned pink, about 6 minutes.  Set aside until ready to use.

Toss spaghetti and 2 tsp oil in skillet until spaghetti is evenly coated.  Toast spaghetti over medium high heat, stirring frequently, until browned and nutty in aroma (should be color of peanut butter), 6 to 10 minutes.  Transfer to bowl.  Wipe out skillet with paper towel.

Heat remaining 2 tbs oil in now empty skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering.   Add onion and 1/4 tsp salt;  cook, stirring frequently until softened and beginning to brown, 4 to 6 minutes.  Add tomatoes and cook, stirring occasionally until mixture is thick, dry and slightly darkened in color, 4 to 6 minutes.  Reduce heat to medium and add remaining garlic, paprika, smoked paprika and anchovy paste.  Cook until fragrant, about 1 1/2 minutes.  Add spaghetti and stir to combine.  Adjust oven rack 5 to 6 inches from broiler elements and heat broiler.

Pour broth through fine mesh strainer into skillet.  Add wine, 1/4  tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper and stir well.  Increase heat to medium high and bring to simmer.  Cook uncovered, stirring occasionally until liquid is slightly thickened and spaghetti is just tender, 8 to 10 minutes.  Scatter shrimp over spaghetti and stir in to partially submerge.  Transfer skillet (OR, put in casserole dish without shrimp, then add shrimp, if your skillet is not oven proof) to oven and broil until shrimp are opaque and surface of spaghetti is dry with crisped, browned spots, 5 to 7 minutes.  Remove from oven and let stand, uncovered, for 5 minutes.  Sprinkle with parsley and serve immediately, passing lemon wedges and, if using, Aioli separately.

We had two desserts from Mary!  HOORAY!  This is starting to be a trend to have multiples of the same course.  I shall never complain about this!  One was a cake and the other a creamy custard.  The cake is light with a hint of lemon.  The custard is silkier than creme brulee and also has the taste of lemon.  Both were delicious  and complimented each other perfectly!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Two Bean Soup with Kale

I planted kale seeds in my garden in about October 2012.  All the other seed-to-plants that I planted at the same time are long gone.  What the bugs did not eat, the freezing temperatures killed.  Kale is like the roach of vegetables.  Nothing can kill it.  For the past couple of months I have harvested the tender leaves in the middle and I will repeat this until the kale finally gives up.  My continually giving kale plants is why I pinned this recipe for Two Bean Soup with Kale.  I am glad I did because it is the best soup recipe I have ever made especially given the few spices required (salt and red wine vinegar - I did not add pepper).

The modifications I made were adding a pound of mild Italian sausage and a can of Rotel (original), not pureeing the beans and omitting the olive oil and pepper.  I cooked the sausage until brown and then did not drain the fat.  I omitted the olive oil, and sauteed the vegetables with the browned meat and the little amount of rendered fat.

I did not add the salt when called for because I knew the sausage and Rotel would add some.  I added the Rotel at the same time as the beans.  At the end, I added a minimum amount of salt to taste.  The soup is hearty and flavorful with the fennel from the sausage.  I think without the sausage it would be bland.  The carrots and celery add some crunch and the beans are hardly noticeable (I am not a huge cannelloni bean fan).  The kale is in every bite.  This soup is hearty, healthy and flavorful with very little fat.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Two apple cakes

I made two apple cakes for work.  Both were well received.  One, the Mom's Apple Cake is a bit on the wholesome side, with no icing and the other, Apple Fritter Cake is naughty in all the right ways with both a brown sugar topping AND a glaze.

For the Mom's apple cake, a tube pan really is essential.  I baked mine in a bundt pan, and when I removed it, the cake split at the middle apple layer.  I was able to push it back together and it tasted fantastic.  I used about 5 Granny Smith apples and the cake over-floweth with apple goodness.

The apple fritter cake.  WOW.  It is so moist and sweet without being overly sweet.  I do not think the cooking of the apples is a necessary step, so I will skip that next time, along with the cornstarch.  Oh, and I used way more apples - 4 granny smiths.  I also only prepared half of the glaze.  I could have used a tiny bit more, so next time I will prepare the entire recipe and just use my judgement on HOW MUCH GLAZE IS TOO MUCH GLAZE?!  That really is not something that I should ever ponder, but I am trying to cut down empty calories. 

P.S.  My apple fritter cake won second prize at the office bake off.  I think I would have won first except my coworkers thought I was the Lance Armstrong (minus the steroids) of the company baking competitions and my reign needed to be stopped.  At least that is how Chad explained it to me.  Next time I will not tell people which dessert is mine.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Winning Cookie, 2012

I think I neglected to post this back in December.  This was my winning "cookie" from my office's 2012 Cookie competition.  And here is my trophy (and Claire).

Sunday, February 24, 2013

February 17, 2013

The Gourmet Gals gathered at Janet's house.  I could not make it because of a cold.  Teresa was back.  Yea!

Appetizer:  Carol, Carrot Ginger Dipping Sauce and Fig Jam, Prosciutto and Goat Cheese Crostini
Side:  Mary, Orange Sweet Potatoes and Herbed Wild Rice
Main:  Janet, Pork Chops with Rosemary Vinegar Sauce
Dessert:  Janet, Chocolate Blackout Cake
Salad:  Teresa, Green salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette

All sound delicious!  I love the idea of the wild rice being prepared in a crock pot.

 The salad had greens, tomato, cucumber, red peppers, blue cheese, almonds and hemp seeds with simple dressing of balsamic vinaigrette with balsamic and olive oil and a little garlic, salt and pepper.

Chocolate Blackout Cake