Monday, April 14, 2014

April 13, 2014

We met at Tonya's house.  There were only three of us so our menu was actually cooking light!  For once, I left without feeling like a stuffed pig!

For cocktails I prepared a lemon lavender cocktail using Janet's lavender syrup.  It was light and sweet with no overly alcohol taste from the gin.  The prepared syrup made this recipe simple to put together.  I used the juice from 8 lemons so clearly there are medicinal benefits.

The appetizer was a roasted garlic and brie pizza.  I used a Boboli thin crust and added sun dried tomatoes and thyme.  I covered the pizza in brie and I think that may have been over kill.  If I made this again I could have some patches without cheese because it is very rich.

Our main dish was moussaka.  It is like a Greek shepherd's pie, except with currants, honey and bechamel sauce. Ha!  This casserole was delicious and all the exotic flavors blend together magically.  We garnished with parsley and ate it with some warm naan.

The dessert was Greek to go along with the Greek themed main dish.  Galaktoboureko is a custard in a crispy phyllo shell.  The custard has a texture like malt-o-meal and not smooth like creme brulee.  This desert is also not overly sweet despite the syrup on top. A nice sized slice was the perfect end to our meal.

Friday, April 11, 2014

March 2, 2014

We met on March 2, 2014 at Mary's new, beautifully decorated home!  Besides Mary, Tonya, Angie and Janet we had Mary's brother Jackson and Mary's friend Cecilia.

Main dish:  Mary, Pan Seared Scallops with Fettuccine
Appetizer, Cocktails and Wine:  Janet
Salad:  Angie, Kale, Cranberry, Pepita Salad
Side:  Angie, Honey, Ginger Roasted Carrots
Dessert:  Tonya, Silken Chocolate Walnut Tart

Janet got us started with an eggplant dip and tasty cocktail.  Shortly thereafter we moved on to wine.  HA! 

The salad was a copy-cat of HEB's kale salad though I think the flavor was a little different.... not as sweet.  This is still a nice, healthy salad full of raw kale that keeps for several days.
Our main dish seemed to have all the food groups covered:  cream, bacon and pasta.  Oh, and tasty scallops! 

For a side dish I prepared carrots.  Ever since Mary brought roasted carrots to a gathering I have been craving them.  This was a simple dish with fresh ginger and I used whole carrots.

We finished our meal with the most decadent, chocolate tart that Tonya served with a side of ice cream.  It was creamy and just the right amount of sweetness.  It also looked very pretty.

Silken Chocolate-Walnut Tart (from The Pastry Queen by Rebecca Rather)

Tart Crust

2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup (11 tbs) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 large egg
1/4 cups chilled heavy whipping cream


1-1/2 cups coarsely chopped walnuts
3/4 cups (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
14 ounces chocolate (semisweet or bittersweet or a mix), chopped
1-1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt
2/3 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tbs. whiskey or dark rum (optional)

To make the tart dough, combine the dry ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add in the butter cubes and mix on low speed until the dough looks crumbly (about 1-2 minutes). Whisk the egg and cream together in the small bowl, then add to the dough. Mix on low speed just until the dough comes together (you may need to add a little more cream, do so 1 tbs. at a time). Form the dough into a disk, cover in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Roll out the chilled dough and press into a 10 inch tart pan. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Place the nuts on the sheet in a single layer and toast in the oven 7 to 9 minutes until lightly browned and fragrant. Set aside to cool.

To make the filling, place the chocolate and butter in a microwave safe bowl and melt in the microwave, heating 30 seconds at a time and stirring in between. Alternately, melt in a double boiler or in a saucepan over very low heat. Once the chocolate and butter are melted, remove from heat and add the sugar, stirring until smooth. Add in the eggs, one at a time, whisking until smooth. Add in the vanilla, salt, cream, and whiskey and stir until smooth.

Spread the nuts in a single layer in the dough-lined tart pan. Pour the chocolate mixture evenly over the nuts. Bake for 50 minutes. The tart should still be slightly loose in the center, but will firm up as it cools. Allow to cool completely before cutting (refrigerate to speed up the process). Use a sharp knife to cut thin slivers (it is rich!). Enjoy chocolate bliss.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Good and evil

I picked the day of a work dessert competition to decide to stop eating sugar.  Needless to say, that did not happen.  So AFTER this dessert took 2nd place in the competition, I went to the gym and vowed to start again at dinner.  One meal at a time!

The white chocolate crumb bars were rich and creamy.  I used 2 - 4 oz white chocolate bars and strawberry jam.  I would recommend using a spoon and not a tablespoon to put thinner dollups of jam on top of the white chocolate.   And do not stir.  Bake so the center is pretty much set.  Even after cooling and refrigerating the very center was still too gooey.  I ate those pieces and they were delicious yet messy.  UGH!  I am OUT OF CONTROL!  Ha!

I also wanted a chocolate entry into the competition, hence these Snickers Brownie Cookies.  I thought that they would take the prize but nope, did not even place.  I could not find the Snickers bites (because I was on the Valentine's aisle and not the candy aisle - see, I do not even know where to buy candy except at the cash register) so I used 1 chopped up Snickers in the batter and 1 to press extra pieces into the dough prior to baking.  I froze the Snickers for easy chopping.  I liked these cookies and I will make them again.

Now, for the good and healthy.  I made a quinoa salad with Brussels sprouts and butternut squash.  I started with this quinoa because I found it at Sprouts and it seemed like a good introduction to this new ingredient that I have not cooked with before.  This salad was so delicious!!  I could not find the shaved Brussels sprouts so I pulsed them in my food processor a few times.  This resulted in a mixture of tiny pieces and almost whole sprouts.  Next time I will just quarter them.  I do not like peeling butternut squash so I halved it, removed the seeds, sprinkled on some brown sugar and roasted it.  Then I cut and scooped it out of the skin.  Much simpler.  I used salted, roasted pumpkin seeds (pepitas) that I found in the bulk bins from Sprouts.  I will definetly be making more quinoa as it is so versitale and tasty.

To go with the quinoa, I prepared a super simple, super flavorful salmon dish.  I bought enough salmon for 4 or 5 servings for only $7.  It took about 2 minutes to put this dish together and in 15 minutes it was tender and flaky.  It also reheats beautifully.  I am thinking that the next time I prepare this that I may put in some asparagus in the foil packet. 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Carol's gift: Chef Ellen

We met at Janet's to share in Carol's gift to us:  an evening with Chef Ellen.

We started with appetizers and cocktails.

There was Apple Brie Bread with Almonds.  This was sweet like a breakfast bread or dessert.  It would be great for brunch.  Great choice, Tonya!

Mary prepared Mushroom Canapes with Red Onion Jam.  Very pretty and flavorful.

Tonya mixed up our cocktails.  These were dangerous because it went down so smoothly!

There were also some toasts with cheese and bacon from Janet and Angie's cream cheese and cranberry jalapeno sauce.

And bread wrapped brie with jam and pecans.

Chef Ellen was wonderful.  She was full of energy and shared a new cooking concept.  She discussed cooking using flavor profiles of sweet, salt, bitter, sour and heat.  You combine these to make a sauce that you serve over simple proteins like fish, chicken and pork.  In about an hour she prepared fish, chicken, pork and served a salsa and cheesecake.  Carol would have loved Chef Ellen's presentation and we are so grateful to her for leaving this to us.

Pork Loin being seared on the stove and then finished in the oven.  She made a rub with cocoa powder, salt, and Old Bay.  The dish was finished with a mango salsa with avocado, shallots and cilantro.

 Fish that was steamed in a steamer and topped with a sauce with orange juice, Worcestershire sauce, butter, garlic, chipotle and cilantro.

Chicken, after poaching, was dressed with a sauce of lemon, olive oil, parsley and mustard. 

Finally, Chef Ellen brought us a cheesecake that she made at home and had mascarpone cheese and cream cheese with no eggs and no baking.  There was an Oreo crust and it was very creamy and delicious.

Monday, January 20, 2014


Rest in peace, dear Carol.  Your lessons, both life and cooking, will never be forgotten.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

November 24, 2013

We meet at my house and missing were Teresa and Carol.  The theme was brunch, which sounded simple for this busy time of year.

Cocktails:  Janet, Sparkling Cranberry Blush and The Best Bloody Mary
Main Dish:  Mexican Eggs in Purgatory
Sweet:  Janet, Breakfast Carrot Cake
Sweet:  Mary, Sweet Potato Bread Pudding
Fruit:  Tonya, Yogurt Parfait
Starch:  Tonya, Best Breakfast Potatoes

Janet started us off with Sparkling Cranberry Blush.  This cocktail was sweet and bubbly.  It is also a beautiful color.  Very festive for the holidays!

I served cream cheese covered in pineapple and habanero sauce and a spicy cranberry salsa.  I also wanted to share my Christmas gift of Chocolate Balsamic Vinegar and Lemon Olive Oil.  Put both on the same plate and dip with bread.  YUM.  So delicious.

For sipping during our meal, Janet prepared The Best Bloody Mary which she garnished with bacon and gherkins.  OH MY!  Anything that has bacon as a garnish is a winner in my book. This recipe has a homemade tomato base that was quite healthy with tomatoes, carrots, beets, fennel and garlic.  Wow!  No need to have a V8 when  you drink this for brunch.

Janet's third contribution to our meal was Breakfast Carrot Cake.  It was divine!  I loved the almonds which gave each bite a mild crunch.  Janet reduced the sugar to 1 tablespoon and 1/4 cup, added seeds from one vanilla bean and used 2 teaspoons of baking powder.  Great, mildly sweet cake with lots of texture.

For the parfaits, Tonya layered vanilla yogurt with granola, diced apples, pears, dried cherries, dried cranberries and dried pomegranate seeds.

Tonya also brought Pioneer Woman's Best Breakfast Potatoes Ever.  These are baked in the oven which makes the potatoes crispy and cooks down the vegetables creating a delicious medley.

Mary is our bread pudding guru and today she dished up Sweet Potato Bread Pudding with Pecan Crumble.  YUM.  The addition of sweet potatoes make me think this is healthy but it is really very decadent.  And I like a sweet brunch so this was perfect!

The main dish that we prepared together is called Mexican Eggs in Purgatory.  Essentially it is  sunny side eggs on top of a a tomatillo sauce.  I purchased the tomatillos at Fiesta.  What a wonderful store.  It sells EVERYTHING!  Not just products you think of being popular in Mexico but from all over the world.  I liked the flavor of this dish and it is a dramatic presentation with the eggs nestled in the green sauce. 

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Soup and cake

I enjoy preparing soups because they make such wonderful, filling, left overs.  I liked this chicken and black bean soup because all the seasonings were in the salsa and taco mix.  I did not add the sour cream or cheese because I did not want the extra fat.  I did add some zucchini and a can of diced tomatoes because the more vegetables the better!  This was super easy in my crock pot and the flavor was wonderful.

For dessert I wanted to use a bag of cranberries.  This cake, with the cranberry and apple compote, was healthy enough that I decided it would be a great breakfast.  I think that was a stretch but I had the super healthy soup to counterbalance the cake breakfast!

This cake was not only delicious but beautiful.  The red berries and apples were sweet and colorful.  I cooked them until the berries popped and they continued to caramelize while the cake baked.  I used almond milk instead of real milk and there were no issues.