Thursday, February 24, 2011

It's Party time!!!!!!!

I love to give to have friends over, and as a family we love to "celebrate"; whether it's holiday or birthdays (this weekend is "Roxannepalooza"..."Dannypalooza" will be here before you know it!!)

Entertaining on a budget can be want to go "all out" but your budget (and good sense) tell you not to. Honestly....if you're getting together with family, or close friends...they aren't expecting you to break the bank...good food, family, friends are enough and having these things doesn't mean you have to go broke. Shop for bargains at the store..check the clearance aisles...have your friends each bring an ingredient and as they arrive put their contribution in a dish on the counter. When everyone's arrived you can then have a pizza, omelet, frittata, or fondue party. If it's a morning get-together, you can even do a waffle bar!!

Use what you already own. Pretend you have no money in your account and look around your house for ideas. You can use cut flowers from your own garden for decoration. Party favors can even be sample items you've either gotten free in the mail, or previously bought at a Dollar Store or Target's "One Spot" (two of MY personal favorite places!!) Be flexible in what you are serving, don't stress, don't be afraid to ask for help and you can have a lot of fun getting together with those you love!

Here's a couple ideas for some nice "get together" snacks

Creamy Greek Feta Dip
1/2 c. low fat Greek Yogurt
1/2 c. reduced fat (or you can use regular) mayonnaise
1/4 c. crumbled feta cheese
2 tsp chopped fresh dill (or 1 tsp. dried)
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp white or black pepper.

Serve with crudites, crackers, or pita chips.

Mini Fruit "Tartlets"

Cookie Base (to save time, you can use a plain flat butter cookie..but if you want to completely do it yourself, here's the recipe)
2 c. all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
8 T. (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 c. sugar
1 large egg plus another large egg yolk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1 c. heavy cream
1/4 c. sugar
1 11 oz jar of lemon curd (you can find this in the "ethnic (or foreign) food section of your local store)
2 pints assorted fruit, such as blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and kiwifruit
1/2 c. apricot jam

Make cookies: Mix flour, baking powder and salt. Beat butter and sugar until light; 2 minutes. Beat in egg, yolk and vanilla. Stir in flour mixture. Knead into a ball. Divide in half, form into disks. Wrap each in plastic and chill for 2 hours. Preheat oven to 350. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment. Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface to 1/8 in thickness. Cut into 2 inch rounds. Transfer to baking sheets, leave 1 inch between cookies. Gather scraps and re-roll and cut out more cookies. Repeat with second disk. Bake cookies until edges are golden, 12 minutes. Let cool.

Make topping: Beat cream with sugar until stiff peaks form. Sir 1/3 of whipped cream into lemon curd to lighten. Fold in remaining whipped cream. Keep chilled. Just before serving, top each cookie with a teaspoonful of lemon mixture. Divide fruit among tarts. Melt jam in a pan over medium heat. Add 1 T. of water, stir until liquid. Strain. Dab apricot mixture over fruit.

One of my most favorite things to have on hand for parties is a dish of "M&M's". Here's some fun facts on this VERY fun food:

M&M's were invented in 1940.

For 11 years, from 1976 to 1987, there were no red M&Ms.

Blue M&Ms were introduced in 1995.

There are 340 million M&M's produced daily.

M&Ms were taken along on the first space shuttle voyage in 1982. M&Ms are also part of the permanent space food exhibit at the Smithsonian Institute's National Air & Space Museum in Washington DC.

Estimated amount of glucose used by an adult human brain each day, expressed in M&Ms: 250.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Roasted Chicken...Sunday Dinner

I love roasting a whole chicken (even though chicken is one of my LEAST favorite meats, seriously, I'm not that fond of most poultry in general) because just the act of getting it ready is comforting to me, and at the same time, an art form. My husband accuses me of all but giving the chicken a "bubble bath" and asks if I offer it a glass of wine afterwards (seriously...he knows better...there's never any wine left here!!) In any case, I am fastidious about making sure the chicken is clean, clean, CLEAN...but when I am finished this is how best to get one ready to result in one TASTY dinner.

For the average size roasting chicken I take one lemon and halve it, also cut one half of an onion in half again. I salt and pepper the inside of the chicken then place it into the "Dutch Oven"....(my Dutch Oven is SO old...I think Our Blessed Mother roasted chickens for Jesus inside of it)I place the lemon and the onions inside of the cavity. I take one stick of softened unsalted butter and mix it with some chopped chives and scallions...I then lift the skin on the breast area away from the meat and put some of this butter in between the space...using the back of a spoon to spread it out. I insert some of the butter into both cavity ends and then deposit the leftover bits in the indentations of the drumsticks and the wings. I place fresh thyme around the top of the chicken, and salt and pepper it again. I generously squirt the top of the chicken with grainy, spicy mustard and use a knive to spread it around. I use a rack in my Dutch Oven to keep the bird up off the bottom...but this is optional. Add some vegetables if you like, carrots, parsnips, potatoes, small onions, root vegetables work the best...stash a garlic clove here and there if desired.

Put the cover on the Dutch Oven...or if you're using a low roasting pan cover with foil. Place in a 350 oven and roast for at least an hour. The finished internal temperature of a chicken (for this you'll need to insert a meat thermometer into the meatiest portion of the bird) needs to be 165 degrees. When the chicken begins to approach this, remove the cover so that the outside can brown and the skin can become "crispy" I like my chicken to basically "fall off the bone" but this is a matter of personal preference. As long as the internal temperature is 165 and the juices are running clear, it's technically done.

We enjoy ours with yellow rice...then any leftover rice can be combined with leftover chicken, maybe some of the leftover vegetables and pan drippings to become Chicken with Rice Soup for the Monday night meal.

Buon Appetito! (I'm perfecting my Italian)

Today's food quote: “Happy and successful cooking doesn't rely only on know-how; it comes from the heart, makes great demands on the palate and needs enthusiasm and a deep love of food to bring it to life.” Georges Blanc, ‘Ma Cuisine des Saisons’

Friday, February 18, 2011

Love your home, love your life

I profusely apologize for not blogging in such a long time....I just realized that the last time I blogged here it was the day before Thanksgiving!! Hope you had an opportunity to spend the Christmas holidays with your families and friends, and do some holiday baking. We had all four kids here for Christmas, which also included our newest member of the "family", Cassie's boyfriend Scott. Sadly, Christine could not get enough time off, so Karis had to come alone, but was able to spend a wonderful amount of time with us. Couple all of that with some medical "issues" around the first of the year and I guess that's my best excuse for being AWOL.

I've realized in the last month or so, how fortunate I am. I have a wonderful, hard working husband, some awesome kids, a nice house and am able to cook great meals and share them with ya'll. I am able to spend some wonderful time with some pretty fabulous friends. I may not travel the world in reality, but I can travel the world in my kitchen, and make food to share with friends and family. I may not have a lot of money to eat out, but I can make and share foods that warm the heart and soul. I can even relax with a good book and a nice hot cup of tea all by myself. I love my home...and I love my life.

My husband cooked for me tonight. He made a romantic dinner and we ate by candlelight, just the two of us, out by the pool. I'm going to share his shrimp recipe....experiment with it, tweak it and make it your "own"....share it with someone you love.

Dan's Grilled "Thai" Shrimp

1/2 lb uncooked shrimp (the ones we bought had the shells on, but you could just as easily by the ones with the shells already off--you need to remove than anyway prior to cooking them...unfortunately the ones with the shells taken off are sometimes "pricier". Your call. Just make sure the tails are on and they are UNcooked)
1 1/2 c. (or one can) of coconut milk
6 scallions, chopped
4 T. chopped cilantro
Zest and juice of one lime
salt and pepper

Combine milk, scallions, cilantro, lime juice and zest, salt and pepper together in a bowl. After removing the shrimp's shells (if you've bought them with them on) immerse them into the mixture and let soak for one hour.

Make sure your grill is HOT....use two long skewers (if these skewers are wood, you will need to soak them in water for about an hour, a good idea is to soak them while your shrimp are marinating) Thread the shrimp onto the skewers, inserting the skewer through the meatiest part of the body.

Place skewers onto the hot grill...grill for no longer than 5 minutes (shrimp cook quickly) turning once.

Serve with melted butter, or my favorite "dipping sauce" Publix brand "Mango Poppyseed Dressing" (I swear, I put this stuff on EVERYTHING!!)

Enjoy, have fun, make moments and memories. We're having some beautiful weather right now, (at least here in Florida) hope you're able to spend some time outside.

Today's food quote: "Enchant, stay beautiful and graceful, but do this, eat well. Bring the same consideration to the preparation of your food as you devote to your appearance. Let your dinner be a poem, like your dress." Charles Pierre Monselet, French author (1825-1888)