Tag Archives: food

Friends that Cook Together are Surprisingly Well Fed

I wanted to spend more time with friends but let’s face it, the work day is long and by the time I get home all I want to do is relax and recoup. I finally decided to stop being lazy and combine my favorite things (friends, good food, laughter, and creativity). We started with a simple plan, meet one Monday each month to make a gourmet meal together. Now the challenge, finding simple and delicious recipes that did not take hours to prepare. After all, we are of an age where 9:00 seems a reasonable time to get ready for bed. Our solution was a wonderful cookbook called Gourmet Meals in Crappy Little Kitchens.

Gourmet Meals in Crappy Little Kitchens provides recipes that use a minimal amount of appliances, cookware and ingredients. While I don’t consider my kitchen to be little, I did want to learn how to create wonderfully simple gourmet meals that do not take a lot of time or fuss. This book delivers for me.

Each month someone hosts the dinner. The host picks the meal, purchases the ingredients and does the prep work the night before. The friends bring the beverages and dessert and arrive no later than 6:00. Cooking commences immediately on arrival and the hilarity abounds. We have prepared Barbequeless Barbequed Salmon, Hunka Hunka Monkfish (with lobster), Whats-a-Matta-You Brushetta Salad, Get Freaky Tzatsiki, Better-Than-Nookie Sweet Potato Gnocci and much, much more. We cook, we laugh and then we sit at the table and close our eyes as we savor the flavors.

We have learned how to use a freezer bag as a pastry bag, that Champagne vinegar actually exists, how to make a lemon vinaigrette, and that vinegar can actually cook the outside of fish if marinated too long. Cooking with friends is a great way to start the week. As we enjoy our meal, we always raise a glass to toast another Monday. This new tradition has transformed Mondays into a day of the week I anticipate.

If you are interested in seeing Chef Jennifer in action please visit her website.

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Sugar Cookie Comfort

“When nothing else subsists from the past, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered· the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls bearing resiliently, on tiny and almost impalpable drops of their essence, the immense edifice of memory” -Marcel Proust

Grandma was predictable. When we traveled to her home, she would look out her dining room window watching for our arrival. Once we were spotted, she would rush outside and embrace us in hugs. My siblings and I vied for her attention as we were ushered into the house for dinner. Dinner was delicious comfort food. Swedish meatballs, mashed potatoes, corn, and strawberry banana jello. Dessert always followed. Sugar cookies and Cass-Clay vanilla ice cream.

These foods, especially when combined within one single meal, awaken vivid memories of grandma. Preparing them with my children is a way to introduce and connect her to them. Her sugar cookies are easy to make and difficult to resist. The buttery dough is silky and makes perfectly round cookies every time.

Sugar Cookie Comfort
2 cups butter (room temperature)
1 cup powdered sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
4 cups flour
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream butter. Add eggs and sugar. Beat well. Add sifted dry ingredients and vanilla. Mix thoroughly. Form into small balls (heaping teaspoonful size). Place on ungreased cookie sheet. Flatten with bottom of a glass dipped in sugar. Dip glass in sugar between each cookie press. Bake for 10 minutes. Makes 5 dozen.

Below is a copy of grandma’s recipe in her own writing. She used 1 cup butter and 1 cup shortening. I prefer butter so in my version of her recipe I skip the shortening and double the butter.

Using the freezer to stash grocery deals

My family loves bread. When I was young you made your own bread, purchased bread from the bakery or chose from a few varieties of bread at the grocery store (remember Wonder bread?). Now, almost one entire grocery aisle is devoted to bread. You can buy flatbread, whole grain bread, cinnamon bread, egg bread, rye bread and much, much more. Bread slices have become larger, more flavorful, and sadly, more loaded with sugar.

Since I have started to reduce the amount of hidden sugar in my diet (yes, even milk has sugar) I am looking more critically at the nutrition labels of everything I purchase. I love Brownberry Oatnut bread. When I looked at the sugar content of one slice of Oatnut bread, I realized I was going to have to bid my Oatnut a fond adieu. Thankfully, Brownberry has come up with a healthful line of bread that only has 2 grams of sugar a slice. The healthful line has two varieties, Nutty grain or 10 grain. Now that I found a new bread to love, I had to find a way to purchase my new favorite at a price I can afford. Here is where couponing, perusing the grocery ads and the freezer come in handy.

This past week I hit the jackpot. Brownberry bread was on special at the local grocery store for $1.89 with an in-store coupon. I was limited to one loaf per purchase but since the grocery store is on the way home from my office this was not a problem. Each day I stopped by the grocery store and bought a loaf of bread. Bread is one of the products you can place in the freezer to be used later. My freezer is now loaded with bread. It is the bread I love, at a price I can afford and has very little sugar. The bread fits easily in our freezer because the ice cream has mysteriously disappeared.

Double Chocolate Creme de Menthe Cake

I could always count on mom. She was the go-to person when you needed help, comfort or a listening ear. As I grew older, I was happy to return the favor whenever I could.

Once a year, mom would make her Double Chocolate Creme de Menthe Cake. And every year, she lost her copy of the recipe. I came to expect her panicked phone call asking for the recipe. This always entertained me because, one… she was the one who gave me the recipe and two… she could never find the recipe even though she wrote it down each time she called. My copy of the recipe is still on the dot matrix printer paper I used when I wrote it all those years ago. Never heard of this kind of paper? You are not alone. Dot matrix paper is no longer available (or necessary).

Ironically, I now, once a year, get a phone call from my daughter asking for this recipe. I find it comforting to have this tradition unbroken for the last 20+ years. I have kept the recipe on this same paper because it’s hard to lose and the women of my family count on me to find it. While I am not worried that I’ll misplace this recipe, I think it’s time to update and get it into digital form.

As with all recipes passed down in my family, you may not find exact amounts or precise instructions. This is where common sense and your own creativity comes into play. I hope you use this recipe to start some of your own quirky traditions.

Double Chocolate Creme de Menthe Cake
Ingredients
1 package chocolate cake mix
1 package instant chocolate pudding
4 eggs
1 cup water
1/2 cup cooking oil

Mix all ingredients together, beating for 4 minutes. Pour into greased and floured Bundt pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 55-60 minutes. Test cake at 45 minutes (just in case). Cool in pan for 10 minutes. Drop on cake plate and cool completely.

Grasshopper Filling/Frosting
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
1/4 cup cold water
2/3 cup creme de menthe
2 cups whipping cream

Soften gelatin in cold water. Heat creme de menthe on low to warm. Once warm, add softened gelatin. Stir until dissolved and then cool mixture in pan. Whip the cream in a bowl. Fold whipped cream into cooled gelatin. Refrigerate filling for 10 to 15 minutes.

Split cooled cake in 1/2. Spread grasshopper filling between the layers then replace top layer of cake on the filling. Spread remaining filling over the top and sides of the cake. Refrigerate until served.

Chicken Pasta Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette

Recipes are passed down through the generations. In my family, we don’t have secret recipes because we love to share. If we love it, we are absolutely sure others will love it too. I like to give family and friends handwritten copies of my favorite recipes. For me, handwritten recipes are special. I cherish my own recipe box where I can see my mom or grandma’s handwriting. Seeing their writing as I cook helps me connect with them even though I can no longer pick up the phone and call them.

Today I am sharing a recipe that is one of my daughter’s favorites. She called me today and asked for this recipe. Being newly married, she is slowly building her own recipe box. I have this recipe in handwritten form but for today I am sharing it with her (and you) on the web. The internet is so convenient.

Chicken Pasta Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette
Ingredients
4 chicken breasts
1-2 Tablespoons Old Bay Seasoning
1 box rainbow rotini
1 green pepper 1 red pepper 1 yellow pepper
1 bunch green onions
1 tablespoon minced garlic
Dressing:
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar 1 cup olive oil 1 scant tablespoon salt

Directions:
Place chicken breasts in dutch oven with enough water to cover. Sprinkle old bay seasoning in water (Old Bay Seasoning adds a punch of flavor). Bring to boil and reduce heat to simmer for 15 minutes or until chicken is cooked through. Remove chicken breasts from pan to cool, reserving water in pan in which to cook the pasta. Add water to the pan (enough to cook the pasta) and bring to a boil. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and cool.

Cube chicken, slice peppers and onions. Toss chicken, peppers, onion and garlic with pasta.

Whisk dressing ingredients together until fully blended. Pour over pasta. Mix to blend and serve immediately or refrigerate and serve.