Monday, December 22, 2008

Holiday Coffee and Dessert Get Together

Thinking about hosting a holiday party? You still have time. Should it be a cocktail party, brunch, lunch or maybe dinner? So many choices, everyone is so busy these days, not to mention the cost of hosting a holiday party.

Here's an idea....a holiday coffee and dessert get together. Coffee and dessert you say...who does that anymore? You're right, but think about it. That is why it would be fun and different, nobody does that anymore.

When I was growing up it wasn't uncommon for friends and family and stop over after dinner for coffee and dessert. It wasn't necessarily planned, as a matter of fact we always had a Sara Lee dessert in the freezer or a box of cookies in the house to serve with coffee. It didn't have to be extravagant, it was a spur of the moment thing.

I wanted to plan a get together with a few of my close neighbors, but when I realized that I didn't have much time before Christmas, I remembered back to the days when I was a kid and coffee and dessert was served. So, you guessed it. I called each of my neighbors and invited them over for coffee and dessert if they were free on a particular night.

The house looked so festive with the Christmas decorations up, that I decided to use my Mother's good china to make it even more special. I had already made Christmas cookies and fudge that I would serve. A chocolate cake with white cream cheese frosting(my favorite) and cheesecake with raspberry sauce(my husband's favorite) would complete the table. Coffee(regular and decaf), tea and oh yeah, after dinner drinks. My favorites, baileys Irish cream(it's great in your coffee), amaretto and brandy.

Let me tell you. It was the most enjoyable evening I have had in a long time. It was so nice just being able to chat with our neighbors. There was no stress, no running around making sure everyone had a drink or if they wanted more to eat. I served everyone when they sat down and asked that they please help themselves to more coffee, dessert and after dinner drinks when they were ready.

So, if you want to have a get together for the holidays or anytime of year. Think about a coffee and dessert get together. I think you will enjoy it as much as we did. Happy Holidays!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Mini Chocolate Eclairs

Making eclairs can be intimidating. This Paula Deen recipe is so easy you just have to try it. I just want to mention that you will need patience. I say that because it's one of those recipes that you will need to spend time at the stove stirring.

I suggest you get everything measured and lined up before starting. It makes it easier so you can just add while you stir. The pastry is made first. So far so good, everything was going according to the directions.

While the pastries baked in the oven, I started on the filling. It did seem like forever before the filling thickened to a mayonnaise consistency per the instructions. Don't even think about taking the easy way out and substituting instant pudding. The time spent stirring to get the right consistency was worth the wait. The filling was absolutely delicious.

The eclairs were so good, we had no leftovers for the next day. They were addicting. I guess because they are so light you don't realize how many you've eaten. This is a great make ahead dessert. The eclairs can be frozen in an airtight container and taken out of the freezer before you are ready to serve.

Ingredients for pastry:
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter (margarine can be used according to the recipe, but butter tastes so much better)
  • 1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
  • 4 eggs

    Ingredients for filling:
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons flour
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

    Ingredients for icing:
  • 2 squares (2 ounces) unsweetened chocolate
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup whipping cream

    Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Grease a cookie sheet or line with parchment paper.

    To make the pastry: Bring 1 cup water and the butter to a boil. Add the flour and stir constantly until the mixture is smooth and forms a ball. Remove from the heat and let cool. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Drop the dough by teaspoonful on to the prepared cookie sheet. Bake for approximately 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Set aside on a rack to cool.

    To make the filling: Combine the milk, sugar, salt and flour in a medium saucepan. Cook slowly until mixture thickens, stirring constantly. Add the eggs and cook, stirring, until the mixture is even thicker, about the consistency of mayonnaise. Remove from the heat, let cool and add the vanilla.

    With a serrated knife, slice the pastry puff lengthwise but not all the way through. Pipe the custard into the center.

    To make the icing: Melt the chocolate in the microwave at full power for 30 seconds; place in a medium saucepan and stir, then add the sugar and cream. Cook over medium heat until soft ball stage, 240 degrees F on a candy thermometer. Let cool and beat until smooth. Ice the tops of the eclairs.

    Note: I didn't have a pastry bag to pipe the filling onto the pastry shell. I substituted with a zip-lock bag. I filling the zip-lock bag with filling and then snipped off tip. It worked pretty well. Also I didn't have a candy thermometer to check the temperature of icing. I had to wing it. It turned out great.

    Source: Paula Deen and Friends Cookbook, copyright 2005
  • Sunday, November 9, 2008

    Pumpkin Mascarpone Pie

    Thanksgiving is only a few weeks away, so I thought you might be interested in a new pumpkin pie recipe. I actually came across this recipe in a Bon Appetit magazine last year. Pumpkin pie isn't really a favorite of mine. It's okay, but I never felt it had that WOW factor every time I made it.

    Because I was hosting Thanksgiving last year I wanted my pumpkin pie to be something everyone would remember. Well, Pumpkin Mascarpone Pie is the pie your guest will remember this Thanksgiving. The texture of the pie is so smooth compared to traditional pumpkin pies made with evaporated milk.

    The recipe calls for one 9-inch pie crust. You can make your favorite pie crust recipe and chill it while preparing the filling. If you are not into making pie crust, you can purchase a ready made pie crust(there are some good ones out there).

    Since finding this recipe I have always made it with a regular pie crust and the pie seemed to get better every time I make it. I recently made it with a graham cracker crust. To be honest, I prefer this pie with a regular pie crust. The pie made with the graham cracker crust tasted too sweet. I would advise you to make this pie with a regular pie crust per the original recipe instructions.Hope you give it a try this Thanksgiving. I know you will enjoy it.

    Preheat Oven to 350 degrees F.

    Make your favorite 9-inch pie crust recipe or purchase one 9-inch Pie Crust. Chill Pie Crust while making the pie filling.

    Ingredients for filling:

    • 1 cup canned pure pumpkin (15 oz.)
    • 1 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
    • 2 large eggs
    • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
    • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
    • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
    • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
    • 1/4 teaspoon salt
    • 1 8-ounce container mascarpone cheese*

    Using an electric mixer, beat pumpkin and sugar in large bowl until well blended.
    Add eggs and next 7 ingredients and beat until blended.Next add the mascarpone cheese and beat just until mixture is smooth.

    Bake pie until custard is set, about 55 minutes.

    Transfer pie to rack and cool.

    This recipe can be made 1 day ahead, tent with foil and chill.

    *Mascarpone Cheese can be found in your local supermarket with the specalty cheeses. I have noticed recently that there is a mascarpone cheese with coffee. Be careful when purchasing, you will need the plain mascarpone cheese.

    Source: Bon Appetit Magazine, November 2007.

    Sunday, October 26, 2008

    Friday Night Pizza

    Friday night is Pizza Night in our household. We normally order a pizza, however, I've recently been unimpressed with the consistency of the pizza from various pizza shops in our area. Good one week, not good the next, overcooked, undercooked, cold, veggies not cooked just thrown on the pizza. You get the idea, I'm sure you find the same thing where you live.

    This past Friday, I decided to make my own pizza. Don't get me wrong, I have tried in the past. The taste was excellent, however, I have stayed away from making pizza at home for a couple of reasons.

    Number One: I have a hard time making dough. You are probably saying "What", she's crazy, it's the easiest thing to make. I agree, the recipes for making dough are easy, but I somehow mess it up. Some people have told me it's possible that the water I use to combine the yeast might be too hot. Some say that I may be kneading the dough wrong. Whatever the reason, I screw it up somehow.

    Number Two: I can't stretch the dough to make it fit on my pizza pan. I've tried all size pizza pans. Sometimes I get big holes in the dough after trying to stretch it to make it fit. Sometimes I get it to fit perfectly, only for it to shrink on the pizza pan after baking.

    So, you can understand now why I order pizza rather than make it at home. The taste is always great, it's just a struggle to get it to look right. Well, this past Friday I am proud to say, it was fantastic. Not to mention, if I must stay myself, it didn't look half bad. My husband commented, "Tell me again why we are buying pizza when the quality of yours is so much better and cheaper". Of course, that made me feel good.

    Before I started I call and consulted with a couple of family members, who by the way make the best pizza. It's so good they really should open up a pizza shop. Their homemade dough the best ever. I guess I was the family member who missed the dough making gene when they were handed out. Anyway, back to my story...

    I used dough purchased at the bakery and with a rolling pin, rolled out each side very slowly. I didn't pull the dough, I just kept pushing the rolling pin toward the outside edges of the dough. No holes yet. Things were looking good so far. Then I put some olive oil on my fingertips and gently pushed the dough along the outer rim of the pizza pan so that it would hold. I baked the dough without toppings for about 5 minutes in a 400 degree F oven. When I took the baked dough out of the oven, I put on all the toppings. I put the pizza back in the oven for another 10-12 minutes or until I saw it bubbling and edges were brown.

    I was so proud of myself. My persistence paid off. Now I need to learn to make my own dough, but that's another blog.

    Sunday, October 12, 2008

    Recipe Binder

    I pride myself on being organized. Seriously, ask my family or friends. They actually make fun of me, but I'm a good sport and play along. They have gone so far as to move things on me to see if I would notice. Of course, I would notice and put everything back in it's proper place.

    Anyway, back to my story. I lacked organizational skills when it came to keeping my recipes. Recipes that I find in magazines, get from family or friends and recipes I print from the Internet. I am embarrassed to say, they get thrown in one of my many cookbooks. They aren't even categorized by groups like entrees, desserts, breads, appetizers, etc. They are just randomly thrown in whatever cookbook that isn't already filled with papers. It worked for me, but it was a mess and took me forever to find a recipe.

    I did have this bright idea (I get them occasionally) of scanning all my recipes onto my computer. I made a file on my computer desktop called "Recipe Box" and put in categories so each recipe could be filed properly. So, one weekend I got started. Everything was going great. I was scanning and throwing away the paper copy. Following weekend, I continued. It was great. I had about 30-40 more recipes to scan and our scanner started giving me problems. If I have to start and stop, I had the time and patience. After three hours of fighting with the scanner, I called it quits. I will try again another day. Well, needless to say, I tried everyday for a good couple of weeks. Every time I thought something was scanning in, I got the awful beeping noise "ERROR, ERROR, ERROR". So much for finishing. I gave up, so what if I had a few papers in my cookbooks, it would be better than before. I had gotten almost all of my recipes scanned in my "Recipe Box" folder. Whenever I needed a recipe, I could just go to the computer, pull it up and start cooking. I was so happy, I was no longer "Recipe File Challenged".

    I boasted about how wonderful it was. If someone wanted one of my recipes, I would say "no problem, I have all my recipes on my computer, it will take only seconds for me to Email it to you". Silly me. Why did I think I was so smart. I knew something would go wrong and it did. Evidently, my scanning skills needed some work. When scanning I didn't actually notice that I was missing some of the recipe. Now, I'm in panic mode....remember, I went paperless and threw out all the hard copies of my recipes. I'm still trying to get some of my missing recipes back, but in the meantime came up with another solution to keeping recipes. I went out and bought a couple of 3-ring binders, clear protector sheets and binder tabs to categorize recipes. It doesn't cost much and sometimes you can find some really pretty binders to match you kitchen colors. It was actually fun.

    I laid everything out on the living room floor one Sunday, turned on the TV (Lifetime Channel had some great movies on that day) and put the binders together. It's a good chance to actually sort out duplicate recipes or throw out recipes that you don't want. So, if you are "Recipe File Challenged" like me, try this. Think of it this way. On a cold Sunday, you can stay in your PJ's, turn on the TV, throw all your stuff on the living room floor and put your Recipe Binders together. You can have a productive, yet relaxing Sunday. Oh, one more thing. You have to reward yourself by getting "Take Out" rather than cook. After all, you've been busy all day, you need someone to cook for you today. By the way, the Recipe Binders makes a great gift too, especially as a shower gift or as a gift for a new home. Start someone off with a pretty binder and inserts, add a couple of your favorite recipes and trust me, they will love it. Maybe they'll even invite you to dinner some night..

    Sunday, October 5, 2008

    Spicy Spanish Rice

    Spanish Rice from scratch you say! I know, I know, it's so easy to open up that box of Spanish Rice rather have to chop up ingredients. I have to admit, the boxed spanish rice is good and I still use it occasionally, however, making it from scratch doesn't really take that much time and it's so much better. There are alot of recipes for spanish rice out there, but I have my own recipe that I made up awhile ago. I remembered it the other day when I was trying to figure out what to make as a side-dish. I was getting bored with potatoes and had all the ingredients in my pantry to make the spanish rice so I got cooking immediately. I have to tell you, I did have to rename my recipe from Spanish Rice to "Spicy" Spanish Rice. Let me explain...I normally buy Stewed Tomatoes marked "Italian Recipe". Evidently, I somehow bought Stewed Tomatoes marked "Mexican Recipe" by mistake. The Mexican Recipe Stewed Tomatoes have jalapenos, garlic and cumin in it. Of course, I didn't realize my mistake until I tasted the sauce and almost fell over. I never noticed that the can was marked Mexican Recipe and I had already added the red pepper flakes to the sauce so it wasn't like I could take anything out. What' a girl to do? Even though my husband doesn't really like spicy food, I really didn't want to throw it out only to start again. I decided not to tell him about my mistake and see if he noticed anything different. He did notice, but everything turned out well. Once the initial shock of flames coming out of your mouth subsides, it actually is quite good. Although my husband would prefer a potato with dinner, he did go back for a second helping of the rice so I figured that was a good thing. I updated my recipe now to use Mexican Recipe Stewed Tomatoes going forward. So, when you are bored with old standby side-dishes, try this recipe, I am sure you will agree, it's better than the boxed stuff. Enjoy!


    • 3 Slices of Bacon, chopped
    • 1 Red or Green Pepper, chopped
    • 1 Medium Onion, chopped
    • 1 15 oz. Can Stewed Tomatoes, Mexican Recipe
    • 1 15 oz Can Tomato Sauce
    • 1 Teaspoon Dried Oregano
    • 1/2 Teaspoon Garlic Powder
    • 1/2 Teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes
    • 2 Cups Uncooked Minute Rice
    • Shredded Taco or Mexican Cheese (optional)
    • Salt and Pepper

    Cut bacon in to bite size pieces and cook on medium heat in large skillet until crisp. While the bacon is cooking, chop red pepper and onion. Once the bacon is cooked, remove from the pan onto a paper towel to drain and set aside.

    Next, add red or green pepper and onion to pan. Then cook until tender. Add stewed tomatoes, tomato sauce, oregano, garlic powder and red pepper flakes to skillet. Stir together. Add salt and pepper to taste.

    Stirring occasionally, let sauce mixture come to boil on medium heat for 10 minutes. Stir in uncooked rice and bacon to sauce. Reduce heat to low letting rice and bacon simmer in sauce for 10 additional minutes. Continue to stir occasionally to prevent sticking.
    Remove from heat, add shredded cheese, if desired, and set aside until ready to serve.

    Sunday, September 28, 2008

    Lemon Ricotta Cookies with Lemon Glaze

    On a recent episode of Everyday Italian, I watched Giada De Laurentiis make Lemon Ricotta Cookies. It caught my eye because the cookies looked similar to a cookie recipe that I have, however, my recipe doesn't call for ricotta cheese. The ricotta was actually the ingredient that I found very interesting in Giada's recipe. I guess I wasn't sure how ricotta cheese would taste in a cookie. Well, if you have been following my blog, you know by now that I have a sweet tooth. Even though I wasn't expecting anyone over and didn't have a special occasion to bake anything for, I just couldn't resist trying this recipe. So after printing the recipe off the website and a quick trip to the supermarket, I was mixing up a batch of Giada's Lemon Ricotta Cookies. can't stop at eating just one cookie. These cookies are so light, I dare you to try and eat only one cookie. What was really funny is our friends stopped over unexpectedly later that night. The cookies were still on the cooling rack, the house smelled like I was baking all day. Add a cup of coffee and you have a perfect setting. They loved the cookies as much as I did and so will you. Hope you get a chance to try this recipe. Most of the ingredients you probably have in the house already.


    • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
    • 1 teaspoon baking powder
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
    • 2 cups sugar
    • 2 eggs
    • 1 (15-ounce) container whole milk ricotta cheese
    • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
    • 1 lemon, zested

    Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

    In a medium bowl combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

    In a large bowl combine the butter and sugar. Using an electric mixer beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating until incorporated. Add the ricotta cheese, lemon juice and lemon zest. Beat to combine. Stir in the dry ingredients.

    Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Spoon the dough (about 2 tablespoons for each cookie) onto the baking sheets.

    Bake for 15 minutes until slightly golden at the edges. Remove from the oven and let the cookies rest on baking rack for 20 minutes before glazing.


    • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
    • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
    • 1 lemon, zested

    Combine the powdered sugar, lemon juice and lemon zest in a small bowl and stir until smooth. Spoon about 1/2 teaspoon onto each cookie and use the back of the spoon to gentle spread. Let the glaze harden for about 2 hours.

    Source: Giada De Laurentiis, Everyday Italian, 9/25/08, Episode: Care Package