Posts Tagged ‘party’

Jicama Salad

Slice up a peeled jicama root and add it to colorful bell peppers, butter head lettuce and grape tomatoes.  Make a simple dressing using 1 part balsamic vinegar to 3 parts good quality olive oil, dash soy sauce and squeeze of honey.

Seven Layer Dip

Whether you get seven layers or not is not important.  The most vital ingredient in this dip is freshness.   Pick out firm and bright bell peppers to finely dice for this dip.  Start with cream cheese mixed with your favorite herb blend, green onion tops and paprika.  Spread the cream cheese on a plate, then top with the bell pepper.  Next layers are tomato, avocado (if in season), red onion,  shredded cheese, and fresh parsley or cilantro.  You could put a layer of black beans over the cream cheese but I don’t find this necessary.  Serve with sturdy crackers or pita chips, tortilla chips will probably crumble.

Olive Bread

Start with the NY Times No-Knead Bread recipe.  Add a heaping tablespoon of Greek or Italian herb blend to the flour before the water is poured in.  Also slice 6 – 10 pimento stuffed olives and toss them in the flour with the herbs.  A coating of flour should keep the olive slices distributed in the bread dough.  Add the water and stir to combine into a shaggy mess.  Follow the remaining instructions as written here.


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It’s official.  Big Brother is finished kindergarten!  Couldn’t be prouder of him.  His teacher absolutely adores him and I’m sure she will be looking for him in the halls this fall.  Thank you MA for all your hard work!

Today I was fortunate enough to have the day off work so I could help with the party.  A mini buffet of cookies and fruit, juice and chips got a bit of island flare with tiki dudes and fresh whole pineapples.

The graduates dug for prizes in the sandbox or hung out at the lagoon while dancing to Beach Boys and assorted island tunes.

We had a cookie decorating station with all sorts of colors of frosting and sprinkles.  I made a double batch of sugar cookies à la Make It Sweet as the canvases.

There were only a few chocolate cookies left by the time the bells rang and everyone got one last hug from their teachers.  I sent home what was left with the kids.  Of course I took pictures at home before they were devoured!

Congratulations to Big Brother and his friends!

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This is an appetizer I came across in Martha Stewart’s Entertaining book, circa 1998.   These stuffed snow peas caught my eye for an attractive spring treat.  If it wasn’t so darned hot in Texas I might try to grow my own snow peas, green beans sort of worked last year until the drought set in.

Here is how I used Martha’s snow peas to inspire this little bite.

  • cream cheese, room temperature or at least until it’s workable
  • Epicure “3 Onion Dip Mix”  (about 1 tsp per 2 oz cream cheese)
  • 1 tbsp mayo (per 2 oz cream cheese)
  • dash hot sauce

Mix the above until well blended.  Set aside.  Strip the string off the front of the snow pea pods and carefully cut it open but not all the way in half.  Pipe the cream cheese mixture into the opened pods.  Chill before serving.  2 oz of cream cheese will easily fill a dozen pods, any leftovers can be snacked on later with a few crackers.

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While at Sprouts market I found an interesting cheese in the deli area.  There were a few different flavours to choose from; lemon poppy seed, roasted red pepper, and cranberry port.  After enjoying the mango cream cheese spread at our friend’s house at New Year’s, I felt a little adventurous and picked up the cranberry port.  Much to my surprise, this was made in Canada!  There’s no way I’m not going to buy this now.

Tangy.  Munch munch.  Slightly sweet.  Munch.

Do I have to share?

This is great.  I’m upgrading to first-class cheese spreads.

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Do you know how many times we’ve stayed home on New Year’s Eve, watching Times Square on television as each time zone rings in the new year?


This year we were invited to a friend’s in south Austin, quite a hike for us on the opposite side of the city.  I got all girly and put on a dress (not noticing I haven’t shaved in about 3 months but it’s blonde so no one should see it).  Little Sister was just gorgeous in her holiday dress, I took a stab at trimming her fine baby hair that was growing haphazardly at the back of her head.  You can’t really tell any hair is missing, it’s still fuzzy.

Our friend made a simple cracker spread out of smoked oysters and soft cream cheese.  She just mashed it up and sort of made a mold with the mixing bowl and inverted it on a platter for crackers.  Along with the oyster spread was cream cheese doused in what tasted like mango chutney.  Very simple and very easy to eat.

Hubby enjoyed the oyster cheese dip so much that he wanted it again for dinner today.  The inaugural trip to the grocery store was full of bleary eyed shoppers, who probably just woke up to make it to the store before dark. Night had fallen while we spent the better part of an hour gathering essentials for the house, and the smoked oysters of course.  Little Sister partied as hard as we did, she passed out in the bumper car themed cart for kids (Not the best idea when you know there are loads of groceries to pick up, the actual cart volume is smaller than the regular carts!).

Dinner was a thick steak seasoned with Worcestershire sauce and Montreal Steak Spice, left to marinade and adjust to room temperature on the counter for 20 -25 minutes (the time I took to make rice).  I also sautéed mushrooms and yellow onion for the steak.  The cream cheese (2 – 3 oz) and smoked oyster (3 oz can) was a strong compliment to the beef.  You’d think we were in fancy rotating restaurant in downtown Calgary!

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Looking for a super simple appetizer that will impress your guests?  This one answers the call.

All you will need are four ingredients:

  • smoked salmon
  • cream cheese (light or whipped can be used)
  • capers
  • bread

The bread can be any type, grain, or size you like.  Pictured above is my home-made focaccia split open and cut to size.  You can do the same with a loaf of dark multigrain bread, slice then divide each slice into thirds or quarters.  Go fancy and trim the crusts.  Toast the bread briefly under the broiler to give it structure.

The rest is a breeze.  Put the cream cheese on the toasted bread, lay a piece of salmon or two on top, then garnish with capers.  Done.

These smoked salmon bites are great for afternoon entertaining or as part of a tapas table with cocktails in the evening.

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On the farm we had few luxuries.  Peanut brittle is one thing that I remember.  I don’t know why it sticks out in my mind but it’s an instant reminder of years ago when family would gather for holidays in the everlasting winter of the North.  That and my Dad’s Lion’s Club pot lucks.

If there was a choice between peanut brittle and Nanaimo bars, the brittle would win a spot on my paper plate every time.

When I had braces it was sticky-candy-withdrawl for months.  They came off just in time for Halloween, probably the last time I went Trick-or-Treating, and I nearly overdosed on salt water taffy.  My new smile and I couldn’t wait for the brittle to begin to appear again.

Here and now, no one makes me peanut brittle.  It is absent.  Forgotten.  Until it was found in a cookbookSee what a wonderful thing a book can do?

I wanted needed to make some peanut brittle.

No peanuts? Fine.  I’ll use pepitas (shelled roasted and salted pumpkin seeds) that I bought from the bulk section.

Not enough syrup?  Fine.  I’ll make half a batch.

One way or another, this WAS going to happen!

Pepita Brittle

  • 1/2 cup Karo syrup
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup Pepitas
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • coarse sea salt
  • 1 Tbsp butter

Use the butter to grease a rimmed baking sheet.  Little people (aka children) should not be near the stove or even in the kitchen while you make this, they should be napping preferably.

In a small pot, slowly bring the syrup and sugar to a boil.  I recommend using a heat-safe spatula to stir, and keep the sugar moving while it heats and boils.

Eventually, it will turn from a frothy white to a light golden brown.  At this point, reduce the heat a smidge to prevent the whole thing from burning.  Continue stirring until the color gets rich.

Remove from the heat and add the pepitas.  Quickly stir in the baking soda, the mixture will turn opaque and expand.  Pour onto the greased baking sheet, it should spread out on its own.  DO NOT touch it or attempt to lick the pot or spatula!

Sprinkle with the sea salt while the brittle is hot.  Let the brittle cool completely then break up and store in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

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Hubby declared this as the best snack type food I’ve ever made.  He doesn’t usually eat sweets or deserts (except for the stash of super dark chocolate for their “antioxidants”) but this captured those taste buds by surprise.

I was watching Dessert First on Food Network where the host, Chef Anne, was making tiny cherry pies and petit fours.  While I’m allergic to almonds and can’t make the petit fours, I can certainly eat cherries!  I had a package of frozen pie dough on hand and I must have had ESP at the grocery store when I bought cherry pie filling on a whim.

Baking when it’s 100 degrees outside is not exactly fun, but I’m willing to sacrifice one day of kitchen inferno for the cause (and to eat the food!).

To make this recipe from scratch click here, otherwise I simply took ready-made ingredients and followed the same instructions.  If you are very particular about presentation, make little round shields out of foil for each mini pie.  I used a sheet of foil which caused the filling to spill out of the vent holes, in most cases ripping the roof off the pies.  In hindsight, strategically placed holes would probably have prevented the mini pies from turning into mini volcanoes.

A dollop of plain Greek yogurt and fresh mint adorn my mini cherry pie.

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There seem to be several schools of thought when it comes to what you should be pouring into those wine glasses.

Between what I’ve been reading/watching all over the internet, and asking the vendors for suggestions in the store (when desperately trying to figure out what wine should be used in and with a cassoulet), there is a list that I’m trying to memorize.

  • Ham -> prosecco (light, slightly sweet and fizzy – also cheaper than champagne)
  • Turkey -> chardonnay (crisp and light)
  • Pork (loin or chop) -> riesling (dry)
  • Lamb -> syrah ( or a red wine with peppery notes)
  • Beef -> cabernet

This list is literally a sticky-note tucked away in my wallet, so that I appear to know what I’m looking for when shopping for wine. It’s hard to tell what makes a good wine worth buying, I’m not an avid drinker by any means, and actually only indulge around the holidays. (I didn’t even go out for a margarita on my 30th B-Day) Maybe because the holidays call for finer foods, thus a finer drink. A beautifully crafted tenderloin deserves something more than punch or iced tea.

What will you be serving for gathered guests this holiday season?

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Little Sister has now reached her first birthday and I’m astonished at how quickly this year flew by. The whole family packed up to go to the grandparent’s house, only 5 to 6 hours away, for a special celebration. Both Little Sister and Grandpa had birthdays this weekend, so we combined the two together. I made the appetizers and sweets, Grandma made brisket and rice, Tia made her beans.  Thank you very much to those who came out for some good laughs, invincible piñatas, and great company!

(red platter) Apple Cider Brined Carrots, (yellow platter) Skinny Pigs in a Blanket

Here’s what I contributed to the birthday bash.

Skinny Pigs in a Blanket

I’ve been reading Claire Robinson’s book (5 Ingredient Fix) and there’s some great pieces of advice in there, especially how you should use the best ingredients you can afford since there are so few components to a dish. This holds true for many recipes and I applied the philosophy to my Skinny Pigs in a Blanket by using super lean smoked sausage (which I found on sale last week) and pungent sharp cheddar. When you use sharp cheeses you need less of it to get the flavor to appear, this also means less fat. All three ingredients were toned down in fat levels, but flavor was not sacrificed. There were no leftovers whatsoever.

  • Lean Smoked Turkey Sausage
  • Extra Sharp New York Style Cheddar
  • Reduced Fat Crescent Rolls

Cut 3 inch sections of sausage, then quarter them lengthwise. Slice the cheese the same length, use as thin or thick a slice as you like. Wrap the sausage and cheese in a crescent roll, I had no fancy way of doing this, just cover as much as you can with the dough. Bake at 375 degrees for about 14 minutes or the tops are golden brown.

Pumpkin Cupcakes

  • 1 box yellow cake mix
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 can (15 oz) pumpkin puree
  • water
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 teasp cinnamon
  • 1/8 teasp allspice
  • 1/8 teasp cloves

Follow the directions on the box, except for the amount of water.  I used about 1/4 cup of water in my batter, the remaining amount will be added by the pumpkin.  You can roast and puree your own pumpkin (I’ve also used calabaza squash) for this recipe. 

pumpkin cupcakes

Pecan Raisin Tarts

Tart Shell:
  • 1 cups cake flour
  • 1 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 sticks cold unsalted butter
  • 1/2 teasp sea salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup chopped pecans
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 Tbsp melted butter
  • 2 Tbsp flour
  • pinch of sea salt

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees, that’s 175 deg C for my Canadian folks.  Cut the cold butter into the flour and salt until it feels like wet sand and will hold its shape when pinched.  Grease a muffin tin (or use silicone to skip this step, and I would have used my silicone molds because these little tarts stuck to my pan!) with butter.  Take a heaping tablespoon of the pastry and push it around the walls of the mold, then add a little more to cover the bottom.  Repeat until all 12 molds are filled.  Bake for 10  to 12 minutes, the outside edge should begin to brown. 

Whilst the shells bake, prepare the filling.  Set the raisins and pecans aside and whisk everything else in a bowl.  When the tart shells come out, they will look poofy, don’t worry, distribute the pecans and raisins to each tart, you can push them down in the middle gently.  Pour the egg mixture into each tart shell, then quickly get them back into the oven for another 20 minutes.  The result is a flaky shell with a sticky nutty caramel interior.  Let the tarts cool in the pan, this will be the hardest part but trust me, if you try to take them out while they are still warm you will lose a few chunks.  Yep, I did it.  So now you know what not to do, or use those fancy silicone molds instead.

Apple Cider Brined Carrots

  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup salt
  • 1 teasp black mustard seeds
  • 1/2 teasp turmeric powder
  • 1/4 teasp whole coriander seeds
  • 1/2 onion, sliced
  • 2 whole Serrano peppers, stems removed
  • baby carrots, rinsed well

Prepare a glass jar by sterilizing in a hot water bath for 10 minutes, I used an empty pasta sauce jar (Classico uses thick glass which should not break if you reuse them * however, do so at your own risk).  Pack the onion slices pulled apart into individual rings into the bottom of the jar, then the peppers and carrots.  I will also suggest adding the spices to the jar, as the mustard seeds stuck to the pot where the brine was made.  Next, make the brine.  Pour the vinegar, water, salt and sugar into a pot and bring it up to a boil while stirring to dissolve the salt.  Let it boil for a minute then carefully pour into the jar.  Cover the jar with a lid.  Tip: don’t put the glass jar on a cold countertop, the temperature difference may crack the glass when the hot brine is added.  Let the jar cool then refrigerate.  I made these carrots two days prior to the party so they would be good and pickled for my platter.

Caramel Popcorn with Peanuts and Sunflower Seeds

(adapted from Emeril’s Microwave Nutty-Caramel Corn)

  • 14 cups freshly popped popcorn
  • 1 jar roasted peanuts (no shells)
  • 1/2 cup roasted sunflower seeds (no shells)
  • 1 stick of unsalted butter
  • 1 cup light brown sugar packed
  • 1/2 cup corn syrup
  • 1 teasp vanilla
  • sea salt
  • 1 teasp baking soda
  • large paper sack

D – this is for you!

Combine the popcorn, nuts, and seeds in the paper sack.  In a microwave-safe bowl, add the butter, sugar, syrup, vanilla and pinch of sea salt.  Microwave on high for 1 minute.  Stir.  Return to the microwave for 2 minutes.  Stir again.  If the brown sugar feels grainy under the (wooden) spoon, pop it back in for another minute.  Sprinkle the baking soda into the hot gooey mess and stir carefully, the soda will bubble and foam.  Pour the caramel into the paper sack, toss the popcorn around to coat.  Stuff the paper sack into the microwave for 1 minute on high.  Then shake it, preferably with oven mitts.  Spread the sticky popcorn on two wax paper lined baking sheets (or kitchen counter) and if you like salty-sweet nibbles add a dash more sea salt while the caramel is hot.  Let it cool then store in an airtight container for up to 3 days, if it will survive that long. 

Hummus and Chorizo Spread

I know what you’re thinking, chorizo is so greasy why on Earth would you use it?  Well, this is not your typical chorizo – this is homemade lean chorizo from the Grandparent’s kitchen.  I’ve requested a weekend to learn how to make this delightfully versatile sausage.  When I learn how to make it, I’ll let y’all know!  This spread was unexpectedly tasty and incredibly easy to prepare, your friends will think you spent all afternoon putting the dish together.  Here is our little secret… buy the hummus from your deli!  I even took two flavors, regular and roasted red pepper hummus, just to have a taste of each.  Grab some low-fat multi-grain pita chips and you’re set.  Well, except for the chorizo, stay tuned for that…  Now you have everything needed to put this spread to work.  Brown the chorizo (drain on paper towel if it’s not lean), spread the hummus on a plate (half regular and half red pepper – or pick the flavors you want), top with a sprinkle of chorizo.  Done.

Now go grab an iced tea and enjoy!

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