March | Lunch for Friends

I have a group of former co-workers whom I have known for about twenty years.  Although we no longer work together, we often meet to catch up on family, friends and discuss the “good old days!”   These girls know me well and I just love getting together with them.  In keeping with my goal this year of entertaining once per month, I decided to invite them over for a Saturday lunch.


I kept the menu simple because for me the best part of entertaining is about connecting and conversing.   Sure, I also enjoy planning and making the meal a little special but it is the relationship building that means more to me than the fussy details.  I have often heard there is a rule in entertaining that you should not serve a recipe that you have not made before.  Most of the time I break that rule.  I enjoy trying new recipes as much as I like cooking for others so it is natural for me to marry those two interest.  Sometimes it works out, other times it does not.  Fortunately those relationships I am building over the meal are usually strong enough to overcome any culinary fiascoes.

Our lunch started with store bought Black Olive Hummus and Pita Bread.  I have not tried making my own hummus yet but have thought about it.  I am a huge lover of hummus!


For the main entree, I chose Caramelized Onion Quiche and a side pasta salad since they would be easy to make ahead.  I thought the quiche sounded great since it was full of caramelized onions and Gruyere cheese, what not to love.  However, the dish ended up being a little greasy which I had never experienced before with other quiche I have made.  I assume it came from the oil used to caramelize the onions.  The taste was ok but paled in comparison to my quiche standard, which is my mom’s hash brown crust quiche.


The Caesar Pasta Salad was another new recipe that I found in Good Housekeeping magazine.  This one was a keeper. It was full of fresh veggies, basil and a vegetarian caesar dressing.  Of course I forgot to take a picture of mine, but it looked pretty similar to the Good Housekeeping picture below.


The final new recipe I used was for Mini Key Lime Pies.  These were really good and I think the hubby would agree since I came in the kitchen and caught him scarfing a few of these down when the luncheon was over.  I would definitely recommend making these simple, easy tarts if you are a fan of Key Lime pie.


The food was good but the conversation was great.  One item that came up in conversation was a story about a little boy who believes he is a reincarnated WWII pilot.  Maybe you saw the story about this on ABC’s Primetime, if not, watch this uTube video, it is fascinating!  I cannot say I have ever been a believer in reincarnation, but how in the world would this 3 year old  little boy know these things???

Talk with you later friends…….

Tempering Chocolate|Chocolate Cups

When I was planning the dessert for our Valentine dinner I wanted something very special.  I tried to think back on the most memorable desserts I have eaten in restaurants over the years and the one that immediately came to mind was McCormick & Schmick’s Chocolate Bag.  It is totally a decadent treat that MUST be ordered if you ever eat at this establishment.


Source unknown

The creation starts with a molded chocolate container in the shape of a small lunch bag.  It is filled with a generous amount of white chocolate mousse covered with assorted berries.  Pure heaven!  I knew that this work of art was way beyond my chocolatier skills but that did not stop me from doing some research and trying my hand at some chocolate cups of my own.

I found several sources of information and tutorials about working with chocolate and several mentioned “tempering” the chocolate which was something I had never heard about but as I read more I totally understood what they were talking about.  Have you ever dipped strawberries in chocolate and when the chocolate dried it looked grey?  Tempering chocolate keeps the cocoa fat from rising to the surface and “blooming.”  Tempered chocolate is shiny, glossy and snaps when you break it, it is the secret to professionally made chocolate.

According to the multiple sources I checked, there are only three steps to tempering chocolate.  It was recommended that you start with at least a pound bar or chunk chocolate.  I used Ghirardelli Semi-Sweet Chocolate baking bars.

1.  After breaking the bars into smaller pieces,  I put 3/4 of the chocolate into a metal bowl over a pan of boiling water (if you have a real double-broiler that is perfect) and melt it to a temperature of 109-112 degrees. (115-118 degrees for dark chocolate).




2.  When the temperature is achieved, remove the chocolate from the heat and stir in the remaining chocolate which will bring the temperature down.  Keep stirring until the temperature reaches  84 degrees or less.


3.  Then move the chocolate back to the double broiler and let the temperature rise again to 86-88 degrees (89-90 degrees for dark chocolate).   Now your chocolate is tempered.

At this point you must move fairly quickly to work with your chocolate while it maintains the perfect temperature.  If it drops below the 86 degree mark you can move back to the double broiler to gently warm it back up, but do not let it get above 91 degrees or you will need to start the process all over again.

Before I started melting the chocolate I had laid out mini muffin cups in a small muffin tin.


When my chocolate was at the correct temperature I used a small paint brush and painted the chocolate up the sides of the muffin papers.  I was working very quickly and did not stop to take pictures of this step in the process.  By the time I was finishing these twelve small cups the chocolate was getting too thick to easily paint.  This is what they looked like when I was finished.  Not perfect by any means, but you get the idea.


I threw the pan in the fridge to let the chocolate harden.  In the meantime, I had lots of chocolate leftover so I moved it back to the double broiler and begin pulling out all the fresh fruit I had in the house.  Then I started dipping…….


My oh my, this part alone was worth all the effort.  After about an hour I pulled the cups out of the fridge and easily pulled the paper off the chocolate.  I stored them back in the fridge until the night of our Valentine’s dinner then I piled each of them with fresh raspberries.  They were the perfect treat to eat alongside the White Chocolate Raspberry Cheesecake.


I need much practice to get this process perfect but I can not wait to try this again.  Next time I am going to use full size muffin papers, then make some raspberry mousse to go inside.  Maybe eventually I will even try those chocolate bags.

Sharing at:

Simple and Sweet Fridays @ Rooted in Thyme

Showcase your talent Thursday @ What’s Cooking Love

Foodie Friday @ Rattlebridge Farm

Six Sisters Stuff

Basil Pesto and Parmesan Palmiers

At our Valentine’s dinner party last week we started our evening with these light puff pastry appetizers.  A palmier is a french pastry that is typically served as a sweet cookie but when I came across this savory version at Pie O My that included pesto and parmesan I knew I had to try it.  It worked perfectly for serving at the party since I was able to assemble it ahead then pop it in the oven right before the guest arrived.


Overall they were fairly simple to make and only required three ingredients…..the results were SO good.  I will be making these over and over again in the future.

Basil Pesto and Parmesan Palmiers

1 sheet of frozen puff pastry, thawed

1/3 cup of basil pesto

½ cup grated parmesan cheese

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2.  Roll out the puff pastry into a rectangle on a lightly floured board until about 1/8 inch thick.


3.  Spread the pesto over the pastry.

4.  Sprinkle the parmesan cheese over the entire rectangle.


5.  Roll up one of the long sides to the center of the rectangle.  Repeat on the other side.


6.  Slice the roll into approximately 16 pieces, each about 1/3 inches wide.  Place on the baking sheet.


7.  Bake for about 12-15 minutes until the palmiers start to brown.

These taste great either warm or at room temperature.  Bet you can’t eat just one!

Bits and Pieces – Christmas Edition

I worked at a feverish pace this past week both for my day job and in trying to get ready for Christmas.  As an accountant/systems analyst/project manager this time of year is crazy insane.  Not only do I have two projects being implemented in the next two weeks, but I am also preparing the system for year end and building new reports for next year.  I have several other projects I am managing plus I attended a kick-off meeting for a new project on Friday.  At the end of each work day this week my mind was mush.  However, last weekend I had laid out a plan (the thing I do best!) to tackle all my Christmas tasks this week and nothing was going to stop me from getting those things done.

*We made our traditional Candy Cane Cookies.


I  have been making these cookies since before Dave and I were married and it would not be Christmas at our house without these.  Usually I have a daughter or two, or even a son-in-law to help but this year we were on our own.  As soon as they cooled I threw them in the freezer so I would not eat them all before our Christmas Eve party!  If you are interested, I have attached the recipe.

Candy Cane Cookie Recipe

*I finished our 2013 Christmas Card.  I am having so much fun learning new things in photoshop.  This year’s card started with a photo I took at our house last year after a snowfall.  I added some falling snow then applied a watercolor effect.  Here is the before and after.



*I hosted the first of two holiday gatherings we are having this year.  We started with Candy Cane Cocktails (click here for recipe) and antipasta inspired by The Barefoot Contessa.  Then we feasted on salad, pasta and finished with multiple desserts.  Fortunately our guests each brought a dish so I was able to spend more time enjoying myself at the party then actually cooking.  The best kind of party!!!



*I finished my shopping and spent three hours Friday night wrapping while I watched the “I Love Lucy” Christmas special.  Did anyone else watch it?  I thought they did a great job colorizing it.  It was specially fun to watch the classic Italian movie episode where Lucy was stomping grapes…this was the only part that I really noticed the coloring did not look totally natural.

*We woke up Sunday morning to a blanket of snow, just enough for a white Christmas.  It was the perfect morning for cinnamon rolls and hot tea.



Now I feel ready for Christmas, not to mention a few days of rest and relaxation.  Merry Christmas everyone!

Pretzels with Friends

While at dinner a month or so ago with friends we ordered soft pretzels as an appetizer.  I mentioned that the Fall 2013 issue of Hy-Vee’s Seasons magazine had a recipe for soft pretzels and that I would like to try someday.  My friend Crystal said, “Let’s do it!”  We scheduled time on the calendar right that minute.  I love it when ideas become reality.


Overall, the recipe is not difficult, it just takes some time.  Making the pretzels with friends while sharing dinner made it seem simple as can be.  Below is a picture summary of the process with the detailed steps to follow.


A link to Hy-Vee’s recipe with ingredient amounts is provided at the bottom.

1.  Combine water, sugar and kosher salt in a large bowl, sprinkle yeast on top and let sit for about 5 minutes until the yeast foams.

2.  Add flour and butter to stand mixer.  We doubled the recipe to make 16 pretzels and the bowl was pretty full.

3.  Knead the ingredients with the dough hook until the dough is smooth, about 4-5 minutes.  Watch out for peeping toms in the window.


4.  Remove the dough from the bowl, oil the bowl with vegetable oil and return the dough to the bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for about an hour.  This is a great time to have dinner.  Crystal made an amazing pot of Spicy Vegetable Soup and the time flew by.



5.  Turn the dough out onto a lightly greased work surface and divide into 8 equal pieces.  Since we doubled the recipe we had 16 individual dough balls.

6.  Now the fun begins, shaping the dough into pretzels.  Since two IT guys were helping us do this, we were subjected to a technical discussion and even a you tube video they found.  It starts with rolling one of the dough balls into a rope about 24 inches long.

7. Make a U shape with the rope and cross them over twice making a twist.


8. Press the ends of the rope to the bottom of the U making the pretzel shape.

9.  The pretzels are then individually dropped into a pot of boiling water with baking soda for about 30 seconds.  They are removed with a slotted spoon and laid on a parchment lined baking sheet.



10.  The tops of the pretzels are brushed with  an egg yolk and water wash and sprinkled with pretzel salt.  We used sea salt.  There may or may not have been a little glitch in our process at this point by the person reading the directions but we won’t talk about that!

11.  The pretzels went into a preheated 450 degree oven for 12 to 14 minutes.


12.  They turned out even better than we expected.



Click here for the link to the detailed recipe from Hy-vee.  It was so much fun cooking with friends, we are already talking about our next adventure, do I hear cinnamon rolls?????

Cinnamon Oatmeal Raisin Bread(Bread Machine)

My youngest daughter is a soon-to-be Registered Dietician.  She is currently completing her internship hours and will be sitting for the exam next summer.  She occasionally shares nutrition information with me and hardly ever lectures me on my eating habits.  She recently told me about a blog called “100 Days of Real Food” that I am really enjoying.  I must admit I had not thought too much about eating processed foods but since I started reading this website I am much more aware of products I am purchasing.  While looking through the recipe index I saw a recipe for bread machine raisin bread which sounded awesome.  I did not end up making her recipe because it called for whole wheat flour and I did not have any of that in my pantry, but I did get out my bread machine cookbook and found an alternate recipe for which I had all the ingredients.  As a side note, I did find several recipes on “100 Days of Real Food” that I am going to try soon.

My bread machine is probably ten years old and I am guessing I have not had it out of the cabinet for a year.  If you like bread made in the bread machine I have a killer recipe for Honey Oatmeal Bread which hands down is the bread most made in my machine.  Let me know if you are interested in that and I would be happy to share.  Today I had raisin bread on my mind and my bread machine cookbook had multiple recipes to choose from.  I wish I could share with you how my house smelled while this loaf was baking, AAAAAMAZING!


My favorite way to eat Raisin Bread is toasted and smeared with cream cheese.  This recipe did not disappoint!


Cinnamon Oatmeal Raisin Bread(Bread Machine)

Makes a 1 ½ pound loaf


1 ¼ cups milk

3 cups bread flour

¾ cups oats, quick or old fashioned

2 T brown sugar

1 ½ t salt

1 ½ t ground cimmamon

2 T butter, cut into 4 pieces

2 ¼ t active dry yeast or 1 ½ t fast rise yeast

½ cup raisins

You should check your own bread machine for instructions for making sweet bread but these were the instructions for mine.

  1.  Add milk to bread pan.
  2. Add flour, oats, brown sugar, salt and cinnamon to pan.  Tap pan to settle ingredients, then level the ingredients pushing some of the flour mixture to the corners.  Place a piece of butter into each corner of the pan on top of the dry ingredients.
  3. Make a slight well in the center of the dry ingredients and add the yeast.
  4. Place bread pan into chamber.  Select the sweet bread setting and the bread color setting.
  5. After 17 minutes an alert sounds on my machine to add the raisins.  Close cover.

This recipe takes about 3 hours and 40 minutes to bake in my machine.  Enjoy!

Soup, Soup and more Soup

A few years ago we visited a local restaurant for which I have never been much of a fan.  I ordered a fire roasted vegetable soup and was pleasantly surprised at how good it was.  When someone suggested we visit that same restaurant again I was actually looking forward to it thinking I would order that same soup.  Not so lucky, the only item on the menu I liked and they had decided to discontinue serving it.  Last week I thought about that soup and searched on-line for something similar.  I found a few examples and then came up with my own recipe to make it weight watchers friendly.  I made the soup for dinner one night and we ate every last drop.  This past weekend I decided to make it again and freeze it for lunches during the week.  Then I had this great time-consuming idea of making my three favorite soups and freezing them in individual containers for several lunches.  It is no secret that I love soup!!!  So the soup-making marathon began.

I started with the Fire Roasted Vegetable Soup by dicing and cooking one cup each of celery, carrots and onion in a tablespoon of olive oil.


I stirred and cooked the vegetables for about five minutes.


When tender, I added this mixture to the crockpot along with fire-roasted tomatoes and tomato sauce.


I also added a tablespoon of chili powder and some red pepper flakes.


In addition, I added a cup of frozen corn and 2 1/2 cups of water, then let the soup cook on low for 5-6 hours.  The beauty of this soup is you can add any combination of vegetables you want, grated zucchini, broccoli, green beans, whatever you have on hand.  When it was time to taste it, I added a pinch (or two or three) of Romano cheese.  Pretty darn good for only 3 points per serving.


Click here to download and print the recipe for Fire Roasted Veg Soup.

Next I decided to make french onion soup, starting with Pioneer Woman’s recipe but halving the butter and leaving out the wine.  If you do not mind the extra calories, I am sure her recipe is fantastic.  I started by melting a half stick of butter (4 Tablespoons) and adding 6 sliced onions.



Coat-onions-with-butterStir and cook the onions for 5-10 minutes to make sure they are coated with the butter.  Then stick the pan in the oven on 400 degrees and roast the onions for about an hour.  Not only will this make your house smell wonderful, but it will carmelize the onions and make them very tender.  Next bring the onions back to the stove top and add 4 cups of chicken broth, 4 cups of beef broth, some garlic and a few drops of Worcestershire sauce.  Let simmer for about 30 minutes.  When ready to eat, add some croutons (or a piece of sliced baquette), cover with mozzarella cheese and broil in the over for just a couple of minutes until the cheese melts.   This recipe is so easy to make and taste wonderful!! Just 4 points per serving, without the garnishments of course!


Click here to download and print the recipe for French Onion Soup.

The last soup I made was Black Bean soup which I shared on this blog last January.  You can find that recipe by clicking here.


After all the cooking was complete, we ended up with a great dinner (three soups to choose from) and about 12 different lunches in the freezer.


It was a busy, but good day!!  Do you do much cooking ahead and freezing?

Shower for Baby June

I hosted another baby shower this past weekend, this makes three in three months.  I love parties!!

June-BugOur group feels the brunch theme works very well, we seem to have a better turnout when the party is not in the middle of the day.  And who doesn’t like brunch food?


We started with quiche and muffins.



And then added some berry fruit cups.


I love this cocktail line of plastic serving ware at Party America.  Besides these 2 oz square bowls, that have 3″ plates, 2 oz round bowls, and even 7″ trays.  I could totally see a small plates party using this whole collection. Hmmmm…..maybe my next party!  Of course we could not have a party without cake and cookies.  My friend Joyce made this gorgeous cake which matched the invitations.


And I made some baby face sugar cookies that tasted great but the decorating could have been much better.  I used Jenny Steffen Hobick’s Sugar Cookie and Royal Icing recipe which is by far the best I have ever made.  You can find those recipes here.  


The decorating was inspired from a post on Pinterest which was ADORABLE and much, much better than my attempts.  You can see that link here. 

I used  a black AmeriColor gourmet writer pen to make the face after the icing dried completely.  On my cookies the pen bled into the icing and I could not get the fine line I was hoping for.  I am going to try this pen again though because I like the idea of it and my results were probably just due to lack of skill and experience.  Never the less, they were fun to make.


Happy Day everyone!

Pita Pizza


I have been making this pizza for so long I do not remember where I found the original inspiration.  It has always been a quick and easy way to get dinner on the table while letting each person customize their own ingredients.  Since I have been going to weight watchers I have used this menu item many times because it is an easy way to control the portion size.

I start with a whole wheat, low fat pita bread and cut it in half.  If you prefer a thicker crust you can just leave the pita whole.  For me, the thinner the pizza crust the better.



I usually measure the ingredients, but at this point you can top anyway you want, with as much as you want.  For my pizza,  I divide 1/4 cup of pizza sauce between the two halves.



Then I add diced onions, green peppers, mushrooms, black olives or whatever I have on hand.  The MR. usually adds Italian Sausage (pre-cooked) to his pizza.  The cheese is then piled on.   I prefer parmesan cheese over mozzarella but usually there is a mixture that is thrown on the pizza.  For mine, I divide a 1/4 cup of parmesan between the two halves.


The pizza’s are then put in a hot oven (425 degrees) for 8-10 minutes, just until the edges start to crisp.

From a weight watchers perspective, you can have both pieces of the pita for 7 points, or 3 1/2 points if you share a pita with someone using the measurements I provided above.    I was just thinking that  the next time I make these I am going to make mine a classic margherita pizza with mozzarella slices and basil, something I should have done this time since basil is overtaking my kitchen window sill.

Let me know if you try it, hope you enjoy!

Baby Shower and Cucumber Salad Tea Sandwich Recipe

My lovely and  very pregnant daughter was in town for work last week.


We took the opportunity to throw her a baby shower filled with good friends and good food.


Dr. D helped with the fruit baby, the skills he acquired from his high school salad bar job have been used many times in this house.


The cupcakes were from Small Cakes and the cookies were from my favorite cookie baker, Lisa, at the Cookie Jar Bakery.


Everyone who eats The Cookie Jar’s decorated sugar cookies always rave about how good they are!!  Every time I order them I order an extra dozen  thinking I will have some leftovers……hasn’t happened yet!  We also had caprese salad skewers, artichoke dip and three different tea sandwiches, egg salad, chicken salad and cucumber salad.  I have included the cucumber salad recipe below since it was so darn good.  The recipe made more than we needed for the sandwiches so Molly and I snacked on it all week after the shower.  I forgot to take pictures of it though!  Molly thought it would make a good veggie dip also.

Cream Cheese and Cucumber Tea Sandwich

  • 2 (8-oz.) package cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup peeled, seeded, and finely chopped cucumber
  • 2/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup minced red onion
  • 6 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 8 slices white bread

After mixing the ingredients spread on two slices of bread to make a sandwich.  I removed the crust from the bread before spreading on the cucumber salad.  You can slice the sandwich into triangles for serving or use a 2″ cookie cutter and make circle tea sandwiches.  Garnish with dill or basil leaves.

Only about 7 more weeks until we get to meet Baby Levi.  I can’t wait!