Jan 30, 2009

The Book: Ready for Kick Off

‘Tis the season for… football. Though it’s hard to escape all things Super Bowl right now, this menu can really work for any sporting event.

Serves 6-8

The Game Plan:
Provided you have a television large enough to see the action, invite a few buds over for any big match up: college rivals, national playoffs, World Series or Stanly Cup matches. Put out a cooler of beer, a couple of delicious dips and the remote control. Use commercial breaks to freshen drinks and put out more snacks.

The Menu:
Cold Beer
Spicy Corn Dip
Buffalo Blue Cheese Dip
White Chicken Chili
Avocado Grapefruit Salad
Ice Cream Sandwiches

Spicy Corn Dip
1 (16 oz.) bag frozen white corn
1 (8oz.) package cream cheese, softened
Quarter cup butter or margarine, softened
2 TB ground cumin
2 TB pickled jalapeno peppers, chopped
salt & pepper to taste

Cook corn in boiling water for 5 mins. Drain. Combine corn with cream cheese, butter, cumin and jalapeno peppers, stir until evenly blended. Season with salt & pepper to taste. Serve warm or at room temperature with tortilla chips or Fritos.

Buffalo Blue Cheese Dip
16 ounces cream cheese (light is fine, but not fat free)
1 (12 ounce) bottle blue cheese dressing
1 (5-6oz.) bottle hot sauce (Frank's is pretty traditional)
Quarter cup chopped chives

Let cream cheese come to room temperature. Combine with dressing, half of the hot sauce and the chives. You may want to use a hand-held mixer to get everything evenly mixed. Taste the dip & add more hot sauce to taste. Garnish with a few extra chives and serve with extra crispy potato chips and celery sticks.

White Chicken Chili
1 lb dried small white beans
Half stick butter
2 large onions, chopped
Third cup all-purpose flour
1 TB chili powder
1 tea chipotle powder
1 TB ground cumin
3 cups chicken broth
2 cups half & half
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons white pepper
5 chicken breasts, gently poached & cubed

Place beans in large heavy pot with enough cold water to cover by at least 3 inches. Let stand overnight. Drain the beans and return to the pot. Add enough fresh cold water to cover beans by 3 inches. Simmer until beans are tender, stirring occasionally, about 1 hour. Drain ‘em well.

Melt butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add onions and sauté about 10 minutes. Add chili powder, chipotle powder and cumin. Sauté about 5 minutes more. Add flour and stir for 5 minutes, being sure not to brown it. Gradually whisk in chicken broth and half & half. Add salt & pepper to taste. Simmer gently until thickened, about 10 minutes. Add white beans and chicken and simmer gently to blend flavors, about 20 minutes.

Serve with any or all of the following:
Grated Monterey Jack cheese
Sour cream
Chopped fresh cilantro
Chopped jalapenos (fresh or pickled)
Tomatillo salsa
Chopped onion
Green Chimichurri sauce from your favorite burrito joint

:Chipotle powder is sometimes hard to find, although McCormick has started making it. I used to have to travel to Phoenix to find some! But it’s worth the trip, adding heat and smokey flavor to the chili.
:Any white bean will work but I prefer Navy Beans ‘cause they’re smaller
:It’s important to use the best chicken broth you can find, no bouillon cubes! Homemade chicken stock would be ideal, but hey - you don’t always have that kind of time.
:Ground black pepper can be used if you can’t find white pepper but it ruins the visual aesthetics w/ dark specks which is not as appetizing!
:The chili can be made 1 day ahead, just be sure to chill uncovered until room temp, then cover and refrigerate. Re-warm gently to avoid overcooking the beans.

Avocado Grapefruit Salad
1 ripe avocado, peeled & sliced
2 cups red grapefruit sections
Half red onion, thinly sliced
Half lemon, juiced
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
A pinch of sugar
10 blades of chives, snipped
Third to half cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste
Salad greens for 6

Combine lemon juice, mustard and sugar in a small bowl, whisk well. Add chives & whisk in olive oil in a slow stream. Season dressing with salt & pepper to taste. Arrange avocado, grapefruit & red onion over dressed greens.

NOTE: Use the grapefruit that comes peeled and sectioned in glass jars - it is much easier than actually sectioning a grapefruit yourself, and they are always sweet & delicious. Or do it the hard way, totally up to you.

Ice Cream Sandwiches
I owe this idea to my friend ‘R’ who served these at her Super Bowl party many years ago…they were such a hit then & I’ve been dying to make them ever since.

For 12 Sandwiches
2 dozen oversized store-bought chewy cookies (Archway makes some amazing molasses ones but peanut butter and chocolate chip are classics)
Half gallon softened ice cream (I like to steer clear of any flavors with too much chunkiness, stay pretty smooth like vanilla, cookies & cream or mint chocolate chip…)

Pick any cookie & ice cream combination you want. Let the ice cream soften until you can spread it easily. Place a scoop on a cookie and smush it to within a quarter-inch of the edge all the way around. Top with another cookie, press gently until the ice cream reaches the edge, wipe with a CLEAN finger to neaten it up, wrap in wax paper & pop them back into the freezer to harden up. If you want to be really fancy you can roll the ice cream edge in sprinkles, mini chocolate chips, crushed Oreos or anything else you dream up. 

You've gotta...

Start eating more french fries. 

Have you seen this?

I’m not much of a fast food Gal, but I do have a soft spot for Bojangles. For those not in the know, it’s a Cajun-themed fried chicken restaurant in the South that serves the absolute best sweet tea & spiced fries on the planet.

And now it can be yours.

Bojangles has started selling their French fry seasoning – you can buy it in bulk from any location or on-line

I have to admit though, it’s not quite the same. I roasted some potato wedges & doused them with the spice mix and while they were tasty, they weren’t really as good as the real thing. I’m guessing that has something to do with my semi-healthful cooking method and the lack of grease. Because let’s face it, everything tastes better deep-fried!

Jan 29, 2009

California Dreaming

Dinner For One: Fish Tacos

This is a DFO that requires a little more pre-planning, only because it includes a few fresh ingredients (cabbage & limes). Originally from Baja, fish tacos with shredded cabbage are fast, delicious & easy – they might be a perfect food actually. Crunchy & soft, tangy & spicy… I have even seriously considered moving out to Cali so I could have constant access to them…

How I made them:
Mix 3 tablespoons of sour cream with the juice from half a lime. Toss with a large handful of shredded coleslaw mix (green & purple cabbage with carrots, buy it in a bag from your produce section) and some cilantro leaves. Put aside. You’ll want to do this first so the cabbage will soften a little and loose some of its raw cabbage taste while you prepare everything else. I added a spoonful of the pickling liquid from a can of pickled jalapenos but that is seriously optional*.

I like boneless, skinless tilapia filets - you can find them frozen & thaw one at a time as you need them – but any mild white fish will work. Heat a swirl of olive oil in a non-stick pan over high heat. Generously salt & pepper both sides of your fish & add it to the pan. Flip it over when the bottom has browned and the filet looks halfway cooked (opaque white).

While fish is cooking, start heating tortillas over medium heat. I had corn tortillas on hand so that’s what I used – but I like the flour ones just as much. If you use corn tortillas, be sure to toast them – it’ll enhance their flavor and keep them from breaking apart. I use this special tortilla pan, a gift from a pal in LA, but any flat-bottomed pan will work. Wrap them in a dish
 cloth or tin foil as they come off so they’ll stay hot.

Once the fish is cooked through, assemble your tacos. A tortilla, some of the lime cabbage mixture, some fish & a few pickled jalapeno strips on top*… a little hot pepper sauce if you’re into that kind of thing. And there you have it – a Baja-style fish taco, without the plane ticket out west.

If you’re hosting some friends, try serving these with a side of black beans & a cold Sol beer… but be sure to invite me over if you do that. Seriously.

*A note about pickled jalapenos:
I’m a teensy bit obsessed with pickled jalapenos. I LOVE them. I could add them to just about anything. And you can be sure that there is always a container of them in my fridge. Really, just ask to try one next time you come over-

I realize not everyone feels such affection for this pickled pepper – I just don’t understand why. I do think they really work here though so give them a try!

Jan 28, 2009

Dish It Up:

Balsamic Fig “Baked” Brie

I’ve made this twice in the last month & it’s been well received both times so I thought I’d share it here. It’s a variation on a traditional baked brie - I’ve ditched the puff pastry & apricot preserves for an appetizer with lower fat and more sophisticated flavor.

The quantities of everything will depend on how many people you’re serving, so here’s the basic how-to:

Put a wedge or wheel of Brie in an oven-proof dish with raised sides, ideally only slightly bigger than the piece of cheese. You don’t want a lot of room for the topping to melt off. Spoon store-bought fig preserves over the cheese, until it’s covered with a thick layer of fruit & sprinkle generously with balsamic vinegar. Heat in a 350 degree oven until the cheese has heated through & the preserves are bubbling around the edges (10-15 minutes).

The dish will be screaming hot when you take it out so have a platter or plate ready to put it on. Serve with crackers or sliced bread & watch your friends devour it.

NOTE: You don’t need to buy a really nice brand of Brie for this – the flavor of the fig & vinegar will be dominant, so an inexpensive cheese is fine.

You will want to use a good fig preserves though – not a jam or jelly. It should have real fruit in it with a low amount of added sugar for best results. If you can’t find fig preserves you could also substitute a pear or mango chutney and it would be absolutely delicious.

If, like me, you have a grandmother who will make fig preserves for you from figs off the tree in her backyard, well then - you are very lucky indeed! ☺

Jan 27, 2009

DIY: Fancy Fortune Cookies

Chocolate-Dipped Fortune Cookies
My friend ‘V’ gets all the credit for this one… she had me help her make these for a New Year’s party last year & I thought they were so fun – plus everyone loved them! 

We made three flavor combos that night – dark chocolate with shredded coconut, white chocolate with chopped pistachios and milk chocolate with crushed peppermint candies.

What you’ll need:
Fortune cookies
One bag chocolate chips (milk, dark, white... whatever you like)
Toppings (sprinkles, chopped nuts or dried fruits, candies)

Step 1: Stockpile Fortune Cookies
You could order ALOT of Chinese takeout & save your cookies. Or you could just call your local takeout restaurant and offer to buy a bag of cookies. You can also find them in bulk at Asian grocery stores or sometimes at specialty stores like Cost Plus World Market. They usually come individually wrapped so you’ll need to unwrap them & discard any broken cookies.

Step 2: Dip & Decorate
You’ll need to melt the chocolate, either in the microwave or over the stove in a double boiler. If microwaving (I usually do), put the chocolate chips in a microwave-safe bowl and heat on high in 30-second intervals, stirring in between, until melted & smooth.

Dip each cookie in chocolate about halfway & turn to coat evenly. You can either roll the chocolate covered portion in a bowl of your topping or simply sprinkle the topping over the cookie. Either way, lay the finished cookie on a sheet of waxed paper until the chocolate has cooled & hardened.

NOTE: The cookies will only keep for a day or two so serve them pretty quickly for best results.

Jan 25, 2009

The Book: Chinese New Year

If there were a book, there'd be a party plan for Chinese New Year. Also known as the Lunar New Year, it generally falls in late January. Take a look & let me know - too complicated for real life? 

Preparing Asian food can sometimes be intimidating for a home cook. Recipes usually include a long list of crazy ingredients that you use once & then never again. Shorter ingredient lists and a store-bought appetizer make this a doable, family-style feast.

Visit your local Asian market for cheap decorations – paper lanterns, plastic dipping bowls and colorful chopsticks…plus you’ll be able to buy frozen dumplings, delicious sauces, restaurant-style fortune cookies and authentic jasmine tea there. Websites like www.pearlrivermart.com are another great resource.

A red tablecloth or napkins and a big bowl of tangerines in the center of the table will help create a dramatic mood. Gold & red foil-wrapped chocolate coins represent the Chinese tradition of giving money to loved ones during the New Year.

Send your friends home with takeout containers full of chocolate, fortune cookies or even actual leftovers… if there are any!

Serves 6-8

The Menu:
Potstickers w/ Scallion Dipping Sauce
Longevity Noodles
Soy Sauce Chicken
Sesame Green Beans
Tangerines, Fortune Cookies, Chocolate Coins
Jasmine tea
Red Lotus Martinis

Potstickers with Scallion Dipping Sauce
You definitely want to take the shortcut route here. Yes, you could spend all afternoon making potstickers by hand – but really – who has the time for that? Instead, head to your local Chinese grocery store or specialty store (like Trader Joe’s) and pick up a bag of the pre-made frozen variety. They come in a few flavors, just pick one you like. I like to use the mushroom flavor for my vegetarian friends and the pork with vegetable are always a hit.

Prepare the potstickers according to the directions on the package & serve with a small bowl of dipping sauce.

The Sauce:
Quarter cup soy sauce
One TB rice vinegar
One teaspoon sugar
3 TB thinly sliced scallions, white & green parts

NOTE: You can also use plain soy sauce or soy sauce mixed with prepared wasabi paste or chili sauce.

Longevity Noodles
Long, uncut noodles are traditionally served during Chinese New Year celebrations to represent a long life.

4 quarts water
10 ounces mung bean or soybean sprouts (4 cups)
2 tea salt
One pound fresh Chinese egg noodles
half cup chicken stock or canned low-sodium broth
2 TB soy sauceOne tea toasted sesame oil
2 TB peanut oil
One half-inch-thick slice of fresh ginger, lightly smashed
half pound snow peas
One cup water chestnuts, peeled and sliced 1/8 inch thick (use the canned ones!)

Bring the water to a boil in a large saucepan. Put the bean sprouts in a colander or strainer, lower it into the boiling water and blanch the bean sprouts for 10 seconds. Remove the strainer and rinse the sprouts in cold water; drain well and put sprouts in a large bowl.

Add the salt to the water in the saucepan and bring it back to a boil. Add the noodles and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Drain the noodles thoroughly in the strainer and rinse them in cold water; drain. Rinse again then drain, lifting them to separate and dry the strands.

In a small bowl, combine the chicken stock with the soy sauce and sesame oil to make the sauce.

Warm a large saucepan or wok over high heat for 45 seconds. Add the peanut oil and swirl to coat the pan. Stir in the ginger and cook for 10 seconds. Add the snow peas and stir-fry until bright green, about 1 minute. Add the water chestnuts and stir-fry for 30 seconds. Add the bean sprouts and stir-fry for 1 minute.

Stir the sauce, add it to the pan and bring to a boil. Add the noodles and stir-fry until they absorb the sauce, about 1 1/2 minutes. Transfer the noodles to a platter and serve at once.

Soy Sauce Chicken
Poaching the chicken in a flavorful broth produces a moist, delicious dish unlike any Chinese food you’ve tried before. This is a really popular dish around the New Year and traditionally a whole chicken is prepared, but I’ve substituted chicken breasts for ease and speed.

4 cups chicken stock
3 cinnamon sticks
3 TB brown sugar
4 star anise pods
One 2-inch piece ginger, smashed
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup Shao-Hsing wine, white wine or dry sherry
4-5 chicken breasts on the bone with the skin (2 1/2 pounds)

In a large saucepan, combine the chicken stock, cinnamon sticks, brown sugar, star anise and ginger and bring to a boil over high heat. Add soy sauce and reduce the flame to medium heat. Simmer for 20 minutes.

Add the wine and bring to a boil. Add the chicken breasts, skin side down, and return to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for 12 minutes. Turn the chicken, cover and cook for 12 minutes longer. Remove from the heat and let the chicken stand, covered, for 1 hour.

Remove the chicken from the liquid. Remove and discard the skin and bones. Slice the breasts crosswise about one inch thick and serve.

Sesame Green Beans
1 1/2 pounds green beans, trimmed
2 TB toasted sesame oil
2 TB garlic, minced
3 TB soy sauce
2 TB rice vinegar
1 TB (packed) golden brown sugar
Quarter tea ground black pepper
2 TB sesame seeds, toasted

Cook green beans in large pot of salted, boiling water until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Drain. Transfer green beans to large bowl of ice water to cool quickly and stop them from cooking. Drain again. Pat dry. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Just store them in a large re-closable bag in the fridge overnight.)

Heat the sesame oil in heavy large wok or nonstick skillet over high heat. Add garlic and green beans and stir-fry until heated through, about 2 minutes. Add soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, and pepper. Stir-fry until sauce reduces slightly and loosely coats green beans, about 2 minutes longer. Add sesame seeds and toss to coat. Transfer to a large serving bowl and serve.

Red Lotus Martini
Makes one cocktail

3 - 4 ounces premium vodka
1 ounce lychee liquor
1 ounce cranberry juice

Shake and strain into chilled cocktail glass. OR… You can choose not to strain it, and serve it over ice.

Send your friends home with a sweet take-out treat*


Order a load of takeout, put it in your own serving dishes and throw away the evidence. Just kidding… mostly. :)

* Stay Tuned… Later this week I’ll post a DIY for chocolate-dipped fortune cookies. YUM!

Jan 23, 2009

Isn't this the truth...

“. . . gastronomical perfection can be reached in these combinations: one person dining alone, usually upon a couch or a hill side; two people, of no matter what sex or age, dining in a good restaurant; six people . . . dining in a good home.”    
M.F.K. Fisher
If you love culinary writing and you haven’t read anything by M.F.K. Fisher, you really should. Her books deal primarily with food, and are really a blend of autobiography, culinary history, philosophy and cookbook. 

You can find a 50th Anniversary collection that includes five of her most loved books here.

Jan 22, 2009

DIY: Glam Chalkboard

Gilded Frame Chalkboard
You can find fancy framed chalkboards in stores or catalogs, starting around $200. They’re a fun way to let your guests know what’s in store by listing the menu for the evening, what’s being served at the bar, or just a warm welcome. Commercially made versions can lack personality though & your frame selection will be limited. Instead, try making your own – it’s easy & can be done in an afternoon on the cheap – mine cost less than $100!

What you’ll need:
A great frame
A piece of MDF (medium density fiberboard) cut to fit your frame
Handful of small nails
1 can of chalkboard paint (I used the spray kind)
1 heavy-duty hanging kit (it’ll depend on how heavy your frame is & what your walls are made of)
Power drill (optional, but makes hanging a lot easier)

Finding a frame:
Large, ornate gilded wooden frames can cost a few hundred bucks at a framing shop so stop by a local antique store, flea market or art shop & see what’s available. And check out a swap meet – you can usually find some really bad, framed paintings super cheap. Buy the piece & rip out the ugly art… just look for a frame shape, size & material that appeals to you.

I found mine at an artists’ supply store that was having a big sale. Originally $300, I got it for $85 and I was able to pick up most of the other supplies I needed as well for about $15– one stop shopping!

Put out some chalk & let your friends 
create their own masterpiece! 

How to assemble:
Once you’ve got a frame, take careful measurements for how big your chalkboard piece will need to be. Head to the closest big box hardware store & look for the lumber/building materials department. Find a sales clerk (this could take awhile) and tell them you need a piece of MDF cut down to size. They’ll be able to get a sheet of MDF & trim out a piece for you. You’ll probably have to pay for the whole sheet, so if it’s big enough – have them cut two pieces just in case… always better to be prepared than have to come back later if you mess up the paint job. 

You’ll want to spray the paint outside – it gets everywhere. Lay down a few sheets of newspaper & position your MDF on top. Read the instructions on the chalkboard paint & lay down a solid layer of paint. Once it’s really dry you’ll need to do a second coat & you may even need a third – you want really solid coverage. Be sure to keep the can moving as you spray to avoid any puddles of paint & get an even finish.

Once your board is completely dry, fit it inside your frame & secure to the inside using small penny nails (if your frame is wood). Your hanging kit should come with a long piece of wire – unroll it & secure to either side of the back of your frame. Find a spot to hang it, measure to see where to drill and use the anchors & screws in the hanging kit to get it up on the wall.

Write a cute message, a to-do list or the menu for tonight’s party on your new glamorous chalkboard & marvel at how handy & accomplished you are!

Jan 21, 2009

You can do it!

A few of you tried the Chickpea Curry last night & it sounds like it was a success - that's great! Glad you enjoyed it...

If you haven't tried it yet, read a (completely impartial!) review here.

You've gotta...

Love Target. I mean really, is there anything you can’t buy there? My new favorite find is this incredibly chic glass jar scented soy candle. 

*Art book & too-cute paperweight not included

They’re 13 bucks and would make a terrific hostess gift – no need to even wrap it since it comes in a great printed box with a little trinket thingy. Great for any of your design-minded friends – they’ll never believe you found it at Target!

Get one here.

It comes in six amazing scents & each scent has a different (and equally fabulous) white design on the jar. I went for the slightly mod-looking Amber Vanilla but there’s a Tamarind Spice one in my future… and maybe in yours if you invite me over ☺

Jan 19, 2009

The Great Pumpkin...Soup

Dinner For One: Curried Pumpkin Soup

A great fall/winter soup, invented using ingredients scavenged from the pantry on a cold Saturday afternoon while I was stuck at home waiting for the cable guy. It’s creamy without the addition of extra fat. This recipe makes two big bowls or four appetizer servings - in case you decide to invite some friends over...

Here's how I made it:
Finely chop 1 medium onion and two cloves of garlic. Add to large soup pot over medium high heat with three tablespoons of olive oil (about three turns around the pot). Saute until onions are soft & translucent, about five minutes.

Add large palmful of curry powder, four shakes of ground ginger, four shakes of ground coriander, four shakes of garam masala spice blend & a few shakes of freshly ground black pepper and salt. Stir to combine and let the spices cook for two minutes.

Add one can of pumpkin puree and mix with onions, cook for one minute. Add two cans of chicken broth and stir until smooth.

Once soup has heated through, ladle into bowls and spoon a tablespoon (or two!) of plain yogurt, cream, sour cream or coconut milk into soup. The soup cries out for a sprinkle of chopped cilantro but all I had on hand was some dried Raita spice mix used to make Indian yogurt sauce & that was pretty darn good too.
The Great Pumpkin...Soup

For thicker consistency only use one can of chicken broth. Substituting a store-bought curry paste would work just as well as the multiple spices listed above. Just use what you have & what you like!

Jan 16, 2009

You've gotta...

Get these. Now.
Spicy Thai Potato Chips

They’re super crunchy, ginger-y, lemongrass-y & really spicy. I would let you try mine, but as you can see – I ate them all.

Jan 15, 2009

The Book: New Year's

IF I were writing a book I think I'd organize it by time of year. I'd start in January & run through the calendar with party & holiday ideas. Which means this party idea for New Year's Day would be the first chapter... 

Growing up as a GRITS Gal (Girl Raised In The South, thankyouverymuch) there are a few occasions during the year where the menu is dictated. Tradition prevails and it’s best not to mess around with the classics too much.

New Year’s Day is one such occasion. It’s also a great opportunity to throw a brunch party – the perfect antidote to New Year’s Eve overkill. An added bonus – you’ll spend less on alcohol since most everyone will be nursing a hangover. You will need to serve a little hair of the dog though, and a spicy Bloody Mary is the perfect remedy.

Superstition tells us that eating black-eyed peas at the start of the new year will bring good luck and collard greens will bring money. I don’t know about you but I could use some of both…

Serves 12

The Menu: 
Bloody Mary Bar
Mimosa Compote
Country Ham Biscuits
Cheese Grits Casserole
Black-Eyed Peas
Collard Greens

Bloody Mary Bar
A fun way to let everyone mix their own medicine - I mean - cocktail. Set all the ingredients out on the bar and let your friends play Junior Mixologist. 

What to include:
*Good-quality Vodka
*Tomato Juice and/or pre-made Bloody Mary mix
*A selection of hot sauces
*Ground horseradish
*Worcestershire sauce
*A1 sauce
*Celery sticks
*Olives (try jalapeno- or blue cheese-stuffed)
*Pickled green beans
*Celery salt & ground black pepper
*Lime & lemon wedges

Mimosa Compote
6 oranges peeled & sectioned, white membrane removed
4 grapefruits peeled & sectioned, white membrane removed
two-thirds cup champagne
half cup orange juice
half cup honey
half tea cinnamon
half cup slivered almonds, toasted
quarter cup shredded coconut, toasted

Combine champagne, orange juice, honey and cinnamon in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat until honey dissolves. Add fruit and cook for 1 minute. Pour mixture into serving dish and chill. Sprinkle with toasted almonds and coconut before serving.

NOTE: You can buy orange and grapefruit segments in the grocery store, look for them in glass jars in the fresh produce section. A great time saver.

Country Ham Biscuits
6 slices salt-cured country ham
2 TB butter
2 cans buttermilk biscuit dough

Prepare biscuits according to package instructions. Cut gashes in fat around the edges of the ham. Melt the butter in a heavy skillet and sauté ham until lightly browned, turning occasionally. Split the biscuits and cut ham slices in half (or more if needed). Place a piece of ham between two biscuit halves and place on a baking sheet in a low oven to stay warm.

Cheese Grits Casserole
8 cups water
2 tea salt
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups quick-cooking grits
1 cup unsalted butter
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup shredded Gruyere cheese
1 cup milk
hot pepper sauce to taste
salt & pepper to taste
4 eggs, well beaten

Preheat oven to 325F. In a large saucepan combine water, salt and garlic. Bring to a boil and add grits. Stir constantly over medium heat until grits thicken. Remove from heat and stir in butter, cheeses and milk. Stir until cheese melts and is evenly incorporated. Add hot pepper sauce, salt and pepper to taste. Stir in eggs and pour mixture into a greased casserole pan. Bake one hour until center is set. Serve warm with extra hot sauce for anyone who wants it.

Black-Eyed Peas
2 TB olive oil
quarter cup onion, finely chopped
4 oz. Country ham, chopped
2 TB garlic, minced
3 cups dried black-eyed peas
half tea chili powder
half tea ground cumin
quarter tea ground cayenne pepper
quarter tea crushed red pepper flakes
quarter tea ground coriander
8 cups chicken stock
2 tea salt
ground pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in large saucepan over high heat. Add onions ans sauté 1 minute. Add ham, garlic, peas and spices. Saute for 1 minute. Add chicken stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, cover and cook for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally, until peas are tender.

NOTE: Bacon or regular ham can be substituted for country ham. Taste the peas before you serve them - you may need to add a little salt.

Collard Greens
2 big bunches collard greens
6 pieces bacon
1 large onion, finely chopped
Salt & pepper to taste

Fry bacon until crisp. Remove bacon and reserve for another use (BLTs for lunch, anyone?) Saute onion in bacon fat until translucent. Wash and chop collard greens roughly and add them to the pot (leave them slightly wet after washing, the moisture will help them cook faster). Simmer over medium heat for about an hour, stirring often. Season with salt and pepper before serving.

NOTE: If you're making the whole menu you can find some shortcuts... Instead of cooking fresh bacon, just use the rendered fat from the country ham you prepared to make the Country Ham Biscuits! 

Jan 14, 2009

Mark Bittman Part II

Stuck-Pot Rice? Why haven’t I heard of this before? All this time I thought I was ruining rice only to find out it’s actually a Middle Eastern treat??

Leave it to Mark Bittman to turn most people’s failures into a culinary success. This week he’s posted a recipe for Stuck-Pot Rice with Yogurt & Spices that at first glance seems a little nutty and completely unlike anything you’ve ever had before. Read his post and get the recipe here.

Anyone who knows (and loves) me knows that I can’t cook rice to save my life. I’ve even had to throw away pots because I’ve screwed it up so terribly! Do you know how badly you have to burn rice before it’s just easier to throw the whole pot away??

This year I received the sweetest, most thoughtful gift: a rice cooker. It’s not very big - it makes up to three cups, so it’s easy to use and just right for a quick weeknight dinner. And I LOVE it. I’ve gone through bags of rice since I got it – basmati rice, jasmine rice, brown rice, rice cooked in coconut milk, even just plain old long grain white rice…it all comes out perfectly cooked and delicious.

But now I’m intrigued by the idea of browning my rice – on purpose! I may have to try this recipe soon, if I can just find a pot…

Great minds think alike...

Mark Bittman stole my recipe!

For anyone who hasn't heard of Mark, he's a cookbook author, sometime TV chef & now NY Times blogger that I love. His trick is boiling down a recipe to it's minimalist roots & still getting great flavor. His recipes tend to be fast, easy & perfect for a home chef - really right up my alley, so i guess it's no surprise we both make coconut curry the same way!

Check out his great article on how to re-vamp your pantry and get stocked up to make quick, delicious dinners on the fly.

*Be sure to read the canned coconut milk entry :)

Jan 12, 2009

Talkin' 'bout last night...

Not every night can be a party and a Single Gal's gotta eat, right? Dinner For One (DFO) recipes usually make enough for two servings - which means there will be great leftovers for tomorrow's lunch.

DFO dinners don't require a special trip to the grocery store either - they're usually cobbled together from pantry staples with whatever fresh ingredients I picked up on my last shopping excursion - what could be easier than that?

Dinner For One: Chickpea Curry

This is as easy as it gets – plus it’s quick & filling. Spicy & creamy, it’s great over rice or even just scooped up in flour tortillas…

Here’s how I made it:
I chopped a quarter of a large onion into a medium dice and threw it in a small saucepot with a splash of olive oil over medium heat. Once the onion started to soften & turn translucent I added two tablespoons of curry powder and generous amounts of salt & pepper. Stir to coat the onions in the spices & let them cook for 2 minutes. Open and drain a can of chickpeas and add them to the pot, stir to distribute the onions & spices. Cook for two more minutes. Add one small can of coconut milk (5.6 fl. oz.) and stir to incorporate.

Let it bubble lightly for a few minutes, spoon over rice and top with chopped cilantro.
DFO: Chickpea Curry

NOTE: You can add any veggies you want, I’ve tried carrots, green beans, broccoli, diced potato, zucchini & cauliflower and it’s all delicious.

Jan 11, 2009

She's Classy, Not Trashy...

I hosted girls’ night in last night and an old friend reminded me of an important lesson: a good hostess deserves good guests.

It was a casual gathering, just a few bottles of wine and a huge cheese plate that substituted for dinner (a favorite for that crowd). My friends came, we ate & drank, talked & laughed and at an appropriate hour they helped carry the remnants of our spread to the kitchen and wrapped up the leftovers for me. It was only after I had finished the dishes, put the living room back together and gotten ready for bed that I noticed my friend had slipped away at some point in the evening and left a thank you card in my bedroom. It was such a sweet & thoughtful gesture and I got into bed, not only exhausted from the evening, but smiling from the knowledge that my friend recognized & appreciated the effort I’d made. It made me want to invite her over again right away!

Here's a quick checklist to see if you’ll be invited back again…

How to be a good guest:
This goes beyond good manners – how is your hostess supposed to plan for enough food & drink if she doesn’t know how many people are coming? There’s nothing more stressful for a hostess (or, I imagine more embarrassing for the inconsiderate guest) than having to re-set the table at the last minute to accommodate another place setting or figuring out how to turn ten servings of chicken into eleven so everyone gets some dinner! On the flip side, don’t cause your hostess to spend unnecessary time or money if you know you’re not going to attend. It’s far better to politely decline an invitation than to simply not show up or call at the last minute to cancel.

Be on time.
Recognize that your hostess has put considerable planning and preparation into the event and make the effort to arrive no later than ten minutes after the invited time.

Bring a hostess gift.
A bottle of wine, a beautiful candle or interesting book – your gift needn’t cost more than $10-20. Flowers are tricky because your hostess may have to stop what she’s doing to find a vase & put them away. Try to bring a pre-made arrangement or potted plant instead so that you don’t disturb her party prep. One of my favorite gifts to give is a bottle of French Savon de Marseilles hand soap. For about $18 it comes in a chic glass bottle and a variety of fabulous, fresh scents – it’s incredibly stylish & fun in a kitchen or guest bath.

Know when it’s time to go.
I once co-hosted a holiday party for over a hundred guests. It was terrific fun – a true whirlwind of food, drinks, stories & raucous laughter. But we weren’t laughing in the early morning hours when all but two people had gone home, we were exhausted and desperate to clean up & go to bed and they wouldn’t leave! There’s comes a time when it’s clear the party is over – be respectful of your hostess’ time and leave before the lights come on & the vacuum comes out.

Send a Thank You.
While my friend showed forethought & grace by bringing a note with her, sending a short handwritten card a few days after the event is just as classy. These days it’s more common to send a quick email but taking the time to write a note, address & stamp it shows your genuine appreciation. You get bonus points for mentioning something specific about the party that you especially enjoyed, i.e “Dinner was delicious! You’ll have to share your recipe for ______, it was the best I’ve ever had”.

Jan 9, 2009

Page 1

If I were writing a book, this would be the intro...

You’re fabulous. You have a great job, fun friends, cute pets, interesting hobbies, impeccable taste & amazing style…

You’re a Single Gal.

But you never throw parties or have anyone over…why???

You have the same old excuses…
1. I don’t have space! My house (condo, loft, apartment, whatever) is too small to entertain.
2. I’m overwhelmed! It’s so much work to entertain & I don’t have anyone to help me.
3. I don’t have enough money! It costs too much to entertain.

Now’s the time to stop making excuses & start throwing get-togethers that will have all your friends talking.

The Single Gal’s Guide to Entertaining will show you party ideas for multiple occasions (Birthdays, BBQs, Cinco de Mayo, Chinese New Year & more) with tips on how to make it work in your space, shortcuts to make it easy & fast to pull together and menus that won’t break the single-income bank! No matter where you live, what you do or how much free time you have…a Single Gal can always throw a great party.

Words of Wisdom

Looking back over pages I've ripped out of magazines over the years I came across one from Real Simple magazine. I think it's the basis for my personal entertaining philosophy and the theme of my "book"...

"When you're the hostess, your perfectionism spikes like a fever, but meeting your own high expectations (and the lesser ones of your guests) is not impossible. And you can probably get away with a lot less work than you think - a little artfully arranged takeout here, a simple flower arrangement there, a bottle of red, a bottle of white, and you've got yourself a cocktail party."                                                                                                                
Real Simple - June/July 2004


Hello friends, I'm glad you're here.
I could use your help.

For the past few years I've been jotting down ideas in a (now quite tattered) notebook and it's time to see if there's anything good in there. I'm not sure if it's trying to be a cookbook but I'd like to find out... it's about entertaining friends, and cooking, and some really stylish stuff I just like, and sometimes it's a journal of sorts... there are recipes, menus, experiments, ideas, musings, even lists & timelines for throwing parties for anywhere from two to two hundred of your closest friends... it's all very jumbled up really. 

And that's where you come in...

Over the next few months I'm going to sort through and start posting stuff here and I'd love to see what you think - try the recipes, review the menus, share your thoughts & ideas if you wish, or just tell me what I'm missing... you get the idea.

Sometimes I'll just post things that interest me, or that I think will interest you. I'll try my best to regale you with tales of heroic cookery and amuse you with stories of parties both good & bad.

All I ask is that you be gentle...