In home event planner creating traditions for gathering family and friends, thoughtful gestures and creativity.
Author: Social Interactions and Parties
My passion has always been to gather family or friends and make them feel special, but our lives are busy and complex so it's hard to make time one on one. I've created "gatherings" that encourage face to face interaction and shared common interests that set aside time periodically and enjoy each other's company.
I work full-time, so the ideas and planning for these events fill my spare time but form lifelong memories with those who participate. My intention is to encourage my readers to be inspired by some of these ideas and form your own S I P (Social Interactions and Parties).
Meanwhile, I also appreciate a beautiful and inspiring lifestyle and will share ideas for home organization, thoughtful gestures, journaling, traveling and more that have made my simple life joyful.
My good neighbor (and friend) presented me with a small bowl of five greenish Roma tomatoes from her garden before heading out of town for a short get away. I placed the tomatoes in a small pottery bowl on a shelf where the morning sun gently ripened the skin from a green to a rich red. It took just over a week, so I had plenty of time to think about what I would transform them into. Hw to make a meal simply of tomatoes? Soup!
Roasting tomatoes creates a texture somewhere between that of a fresh tomato and a sun-dried tomato, and concentrates as well as sweetens the flavor. I decided to roast the garden tomatoes along with some grape tomatoes that were starting to wrinkle, along with sliced onions and garlic to create the base of my soup that can be served in a few different ways.
ROASTED SPICY GARDEN🍅TOMATO AND SHRIMP SOUP
Yields 4 to 6 servings
Olive Oil (approx 3 tablespoons)
5 Roma or vine ripened tomatoes (halved)
1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes
1 medium yellow or white onion sliced
1 head of garlic sliced in half (through center cloves)
1- 2 small (about 3 in.) red Fresno or Serrano pepper
1/2 to 3/4 cup vegetable or chicken stock
Fresh Basil (chiffonade: stack and roll leaves like a cigar and make thin slices)
1/4 to 1/2 cup heavy cream (optional)
Red chili oil (optional)
kosher salt & fresh ground pepper
8 oz. medium peeled and deveined shrimp (optional)
a splash of white balsamic vinegar (optional – white will not change the beautiful color of the tomato and brings down the acidity of the tomatoes.)
Pre-heat oven 400 degrees F.
Place halved Roma or vine ripened tomatoes, grape or cherry tomatoes, sliced onion, and garlic on a sheet pan and evenly drizzle each area of the tray with approximately 2 to 3 tablespoons (total) with olive oil. Sprinkle from high above with about 1 teaspoon salt (helps salt evenly distribute) and freshly ground pepper. Roast in the oven for 25 to 35 minutes.
Place the roasted vegetables in a blender or food processor. Add 1/2 to 3/4 cup of vegetable or chicken stock and puree (amount depends on your desired thickness). Slice one red chili pepper and remove seeds. Tomatoes are very delicate, so I personally did want to blow away their sweet flavor with too much heat, but when it comes to spicy it’s a personal preference. My advice is to add a little at a time and test the flavor until it reaches your desired spiciness. Add chilis to the puree and blend until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste and a splash of white balsamic vinegar.
Heres where to options begin. The puree at this stage can be served in few ways.
Option 1: 🍅 Serve at room temperature or transfer to a medium sauce pan to warm on a medium low heat; garnish with fresh sweet or spicy basil and a small drizzle of red chili oil. ( I use an eye dropper to disburse small droplets over the surface)
Option 2: 🍅 Warm soup (from above). Add a 1/4 to 1/2 cup of heavy cream. Stir to blend evenly. Garnish with chiffonade basil.
Option 3: 🍅 Follow option 2, and then add peeled and deveined medium shrimp and poach at a gentle simmer until shrimp curl (cooked). Add 1/4 cup basil and stir. To serve garnish with fresh basil, red chili oil droplets and (optional) a couple of slices of fresh red chili (to your heat preference).
Leftover soup can be refrigerated and rewarmed up to a few days. Perfect for a light but filling lunch, especially on a rainy day! I hope you give it a try and enjoy!
A couple of weeks into this year’s quarantine, due to the limitations of restaurant and fast food options – I decided to play private chef to my brother for a while and make him a few home cooked or hand prepared items each week. Fortunately the simplest to prepare, turned out to be one of his favorites. So much so, that when he plated the items, he snapped the photo above to send me a quick thank you. In honor of his birthday (this week) I thought I would share one of his favorite easy dinners.
Caramelized Baby Bella Mushrooms, with nutty short grain brown rice.
HOW TO COOK MUSHROOMS: Being a cooking show junkie for several decades now, one of my chef mentors gave advice on the proper way to cook mushrooms that I’ve never forgotten. All you have to do is try this method once, and you’ll never forget because they taste so good! See below: makes approximately 2 servings
Lundberg short grain brown rice 1/2 cup
Chicken stock (or add a tablespoon of chicken broth seasoning base or bouillon to water) 1 cup
1 pint of baby bella mushrooms (wiped clean with a paper towel and then thinly sliced)
2 tablespoons of butter
1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil
salt and pepper and (red chili flakes optional)
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1/4 cup of chopped chives or scallions ( just the green part)
optional in the photo I had some left over oven roasted grape tomatoes I added for color
Place rice and stock (or water with bouillon) in a rice cooker or pot and cook according to instructions. Brown rice takes longer to cook than white so this may take about 45 minutes or longer so this will have to be made ahead of time. When finished move to a medium sized bowl. (This Lundberg rice has a delicate nuttiness and firm chew like no other brown rice I’ve found, that gives this dish it’s special flavor.)
(A technique I learned years ago from one of my many cooking show mentors on cooking mushrooms.) In a medium skillet heat olive oil and butter, add sliced mushrooms. Try to separate and flatten each on one side against the pan surface. Do not stir! Allow the mushrooms to caramelize on one side. It takes about 5-7 minutes. Turn the skillet around every few minutes for even caramelization of all of the mushrooms. Turn over one of the mushrooms to check, if there is a golden brown color, it’s time to flip them. Allow the mushrooms to slide down to the end of the skillet away from you and then toss to flip. You have to do this with confidence, but if it doesn’t work out, just use a fork to flip over each mushroom to the other side and allow the opposite side to achieve the same golden brown color. If the pan seems to be too dry you can add a little more olive oil and butter. (The butter will burn if not paired with olive oil. )
Sprinkle with salt and pepper (and red chili flakes if desired) from high above the skillet for even distribution. (No stirring) and added chopped fresh thyme. Cook for about 2 minutes and then remove from the heat. Pour over the prepared brown rice. Add chopped chives or scallion greens and gently toss.
Oven Roasted Red Snapper in Foil
In the mid 1980’s I used to subscribe to a magazine long since gone called Cuisine. I can still remember the images of a boneless chicken breast nested between two sheets of foil topped with thinly peeling strips of carrots and herbs that I prepared for one of my first dinner parties. Years later I use the same simple technique to gently cook fish.
This version can be used per serving or one large piece of fish could be shared by two. If you do not live in an area with fresh fish, you might be surprised to find out that this fish was purchased at Walmart. I’ve been happily surprised to learn they have expanded their fresh fish options to include snapper. (I also cook fish this way to make fish tacos.)
1 5 to 6 ounce piece of red snapper (or other flaky fish)
2 pieces of aluminum foil sheets
salt and pepper
1 lemon (zest and then slice into disks)
fresh celery leaves
1 carrot (strips made with peeler)
sliced red bell pepper (optional – as seen in the full plate photo)
Pre-heat oven 375 degrees F. Spray one side of the two sheets of aluminum foil with cooking spray and lay the fish – skin side down on to the sprayed foil sheet and move to a baking sheet pan. Drizzle the top of the fish will a little olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and the zest of the lemon. Slice the lemon in half and make 2 to four round lemon disks to lay on top of the fish (save the other half of the lemon and set aside). Top with celery leaves and strips of carrot. Place second foil sheet on top of the fish. Fold the edges of the two sheets together forming a tight seal all the way around. Place baking sheet in the oven for 20 minutes.
Allow the packet to rest when removing from the oven for about 5 minutes. Carefully open to allow the hot steam to release from the packet by either cutting open with the slice of a knife or unwrapping. Slide onto a plate allowing all of the juices to remain with the fish to serve. Squeeze the juice from the remaining half lemon over the fish just before serving.
Finally, I simply placed a package of fresh sugar snaps peas in the microwave (time according to the package) and that was his green vegetable side. I did give him this meal for his birthday this week – so Happy Birthday Brother!
The recent worldwide quarantine caused this “social interactions” hostess to take pause from the usual planning of gatherings with family and friends. As we all tucked away in our homes in what felt like the longest “time out” ever, the demands of my regular full-time job excelled and continues to require long work hours. Grateful for my job, I was not among those who had time to reorganize and meditate during the quarantine. What time I had on the weekends, I made the usual masked trip to stock up on groceries, and then returned to continue my quarantine with cooking (see Simply Elevated category), clean and launder. Suddenly the weekend had evaporated into thin air and it was Monday again.
I missed the company of friends and entertaining. Always on the look out for inspiration for my wine club themes, I saw “The Kutchers” Ashton & Mila appear on several morning and entertainment shows, to share their idea behind Quarantine Wine and their partnership with Nocking Point wines. The entire story can be found online, but the point that drew me in was that 100% of the proceeds of sales would go to various charities for those in need during the quarantine. How could I have a 6 year old wine club and not contribute in this way? The bottles sold in sets of two, with the idea of keeping one and sharing (giving one) to someone else to share during the quarantine. The only problem is that the demand (orders) were so high, that Nocking Point had trouble getting the bottles shipped out quickly enough. It took about 2 months for me to receive my shipment of 6 bottles, but the wonderful news is that they raised over reported $1 million for some important causes.
Equipped with the wine, I knew that life would not immediately go back to the way we once knew it and that gathering elbow to elbow at my dining room table again was far into the future. Outdoor entertaining seemed like the best option once some of the quarantine orders were lifted, but not having a great outdoor space, I found a local State Park along the river, perfect for a Sunset Sipping gathering.
Let’s Get together for a Sunset 🌅 Sipping at the River
Knowing as the quarantines were lifted, everyone’s calendars would begin to fill with family obligations and vacations – I decided to email everyone hoping the majority would be available meet the following weekend.
In my interpretation I did not have bourbon, so I played off of the apple cider vinegar and used Calvados (Apple brandy) that was delicious. My only warning is that since the recipe is in grams and ounces that required an online conversion calculator to use cup measuring. I had to make a little adjustment to the amount of cheese and butter in the original recipe due to butter seeping from the cookie while baking. The quality of cheese chosen could also make a difference in the result of the savory baked cookie.
1 cup of sharp cheddar grated (make sure to buy good quality cheeses)
1 cup of pepper jack grated
1 deseed jalapeno chopped finely
1 large spring of fresh rosemary chopped finely
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 egg (place in a bowl and scramble before adding to mixture).
1 cup of all purpose flour
3/4 cup semolina
Note: I used a lower quality cheese to save on the cost. As a result the butter seeped out of the cookie. I had to increase my oven temperature to 375 F and after the first 20 minutes, move the cookies to a fresh cookie sheet to finish baking another 10 minutes. I then moved the cookie to a rack to cool and crisp and they were not at all greasy, but recovered perfectly. I share this in case you as the baker experience a similar situation.
Turkey Thai Lettuce Wraps
Grilled shrimp in chimichurri sauce
Stuffed mini sweet peppers
Eggplant caponata on toasted bread
Cucumber salsa and chips
I selected a spot beneath moss draped oak trees that created a tunnel view of the sun shining over the river in the distance. I set up a folding table and asked my guests to bring their own chairs. Tip: Tie the corners of the tablecloth into knots to keep edges from touching the ground – learned this when a large black ant made its way to the top of the table.
We formed a large circle facing each other while sipping wine and catching up with great conversation. On this mid-June summer evening we were cooled by an occasional comforting breeze that contributed to the perfect comfortable evening.
DESSERT – WATERMELON PORT SORBET WITH
CUCUMBER AND MINT SIMPLE SYRUP
The temperature high of the day was 91 degrees, so I knew I needed a cold and refreshing dessert to end the evening. I found this version of watermelon sorbet (in the link below) incorporating port wine that I felt would be the perfect finale for a wine club party. My wonderful neighbors gave me a couple of cucumbers from their garden earlier in the week and I had an idea to make a mint simple syrup with cucumber as a side relish to provide a fresh crunch. https://www.recipegirl.com/watermelon-sorbet/
Cucumber Mint Relish: Peel cucumber, slice in half, scoop out and discard the seeds. Dice into 1/4 inch pieces. Chopped 2 tablespoons of fresh mint and mix into the diced cucumber. For simple syrup in a medium sauce pan add 1 1/2 cups of sugar to 1 1/2 cups water. Heat on medium until the water is warm enough to dissolve the sugar. Turn off the heat and add 1/2 of mint leaves and (optional a 1/4 inch of fresh ginger). Let steep for 30 minutes and then remove mint leaves. Pour the cooled mint simple syrup over the cucumber. Refrigerate over night and when serving the sorbet, spoon some the cucumber along the side of the scooped watermelon port sorbet, drizzle with simple syrup and garnish with fresh mint and edible flowers (optional).
As the time of sundown approached we walked as a group toward the river catching the final stages of the setting sun in the horizon. Grateful for our health, our friendship and this beautiful evening together, as a group we have shared a lot of fun memories. While our world has been forever changed in 2020, we all hope for a clearer vision to embrace what truly matters most in life for our futures.
The sun now set, creatures of nature began to emerge. In the front pond, a small alligator popped its head from the surface, crickets began to chirp in song and as we made our last trip toward our cars with the table and chairs, someone sighted fireflies flickering in the woods as if saying goodbye. A perfect ending to a wonderfully enjoyable warm summer evening.
The final days of May, healthy plump stalks of corn fill the bins at the grocery stores priced as little as four for a $1.00. Fresh corn is sweet with a delicate crispy crunch and there are a number of ways to create a summer salad, soup, main dish or side that can be served at an elegant lunch or afternoon barbecue.
Corn recipes usually combine simple ingredients allowing the corn’s sweet tender crunch to be the star. Grilling corn enriches its flavor and sweetness in the same way that oven roasting other vegetables such as butternut squash, asparagus, tomatoes and broccoli elevates theirs.
Grilling corn outside results in a delicious char that can be slathered with a lime zest mayo, sprinkled with chili spices, grated parmesan cheese and chopped cilantro for a delicious cob of Mexican Street Corn at a barbecue.
An example of a delicious corn side made with simple ingredients is grilled corn grits. My first experience with grilled corn grits was at Zea’s Rotisserie. Regardless of what protein anyone at our table ordered, the preferred side every time was their delicious Corn 🌽Grits. How simple?
2 cups of heavy cream
2 cups of water
1 cup of yellow corn grits
1 stick of butter (sliced into tablespoons)
1 teaspoon of salt
1 large corn on the cob
1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil
Place cream and water in a medium sauce pan and bring to a boil. Add yellow grits, salt and pieces of butter. Simmer until thickened, stirring occasionally to avoid sticking to the bottom of the pot. Once thickened turn off the heat. Grits will continue to thicken as it sets.
Cut both ends of the husked corn cob off. Place in the microwave for 2 minutes Allow to cool for a few minutes. It will be very hot, carefully remove the husks and silk. Brush the corn with olive oil and either place on a grill and lightly char or if you do not have a grill, use a non-stick skillet on your stove with medium-high heat. Drizzle skillet with olive oil and place the corn in the pan as one side browns, turn the cob until all sides have the desired light browning each side. Remove the pan from heat and allow corn to cool enough to handle. Cut the kernels from the cob and stir into the cooked grits. (While there are all kinds of techniques for cutting corn from the cob, I find that the least messiest method is to lay the cob its side and slice a row with a sharp knife. Turn to the now flat side and cut another side and continue to rotate until all sides have been removed.
Corn🌽Chowder (with Shrimp)
Corn chowder, with or without shrimp is quick and easy. The recipe card below provides a list of ingredients. The fresno chili is optional and for a little heat you can use red chili flakes as an alternative. An alternative for coconut milk it evaporated milk.
Seafood stock can be purchased in the grocery store or it can be made with the shells peeled from the fresh shrimp. Wash the peels in a strainer, fill a soup pot or dutch oven with a quart of water, an onion quartered, 2 stalks of celery, a large carrot cut in half, 1/4 tsp. of peppercorns, 1 tsp. of kosher salt and the shells. Bring to a boil and then simmer for one hour. Carefully strain out the shells and vegetables into a heat proof pitcher (for easy pouring) or large heat proof bowl. Discard the shell and vegetables. If the is cloudy you can strain again through cheese cloth.
CORN🌽CHOWDER RECIPE BELOW
1 medium onion diced
2 stalks of celery diced
1/2 fresno chili (seeds removed) minced (or red bell pepper)
1 tablespoon each olive oil and butter
5 stalks of corn (for a larger batch – I’ve made the chowder with as little as 2 stalks) cut the ends off and microwave 2 to 4 minutes. Allow to cool and remove husk & silks.
1 lb. of peeled and medium deveined shrimp (retain shells for stock)
1 large potato or two medium, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes.
1 qt. box of seafood stock (or make stock from recipe above)
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
1/2 cup coconut milk or evaporated milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
Chili oil ( or 1/4 tsp. red chili flakes)
In a medium sized soup pot, drizzle olive oil and 1 tbsp. of butter over medium heat, add onion, celery, chili and or bell pepper, and corn kernels. Saute’ until onions are translucent and veggies slightly tender. Add potato fresh thyme, and stock. Bring to a boil and then simmer until the potatoes are cooked (about 20 minutes), but not mushy. Add milk, cream, salt, pepper and shrimp. Simmer until the shrimp are coral in color, season with additional salt and pepper if necessary to taste. When serving drizzle with a small amount of chili oil (optional).
Corn 🌽season varies per region. Here in Louisiana our season is May to July. So grab some corn from the produce section or farmer’s market and experiment with this delicious sweet and crispy vegetable before it ends!
For the past couple of months I’ve been preparing meals for my brother who was home alone during the quarantine. The thought of him eating sandwiches everyday during such an emotional and stressful time, bothered me. So I started cooking a few meals that included some of his favorite comfort foods and a little something sweet to help him get through the week.
Inspired by a Texas Sheet Cake cookie recipe I found, that was made with a box cake mix, I dug through the pantry and decided to let the idea inspire me to create something with the ingredients I had. I don’t usually have boxed cake mix in my pantry, but I found a box of German chocolate cake mix tucked away in the back. I’d never made cookies with boxed cake mix before, but I followed the additions of egg and oil per the Texas Sheet Cake cookie recipe and then with that as my base I used the ingredients usually found in a German Chocolate cake to create this decadent cookie.
Preheat oven 350 degrees F
1 box of German Chocolate Cake Mix
1/3 cup vegetable or canola oil
8 oz. bitter sweet chocolate chips
1 cup pecans
1 cup shredded coconut
Two baking sheet pans line with parchment or silicone sheets.
Place the pecans in a single layer on a separate baking sheet and place into the pre-heated oven for 10 minutes to until toasted and fragrant. Set the pan aside when finished and allow to cool before finely chopping.
While the pecans are toasting in the oven, place the shredded coconut into a stainless steal skillet over low-medium heat. Watch the coconut very closely as it toasts. It will take a few minutes to begin to brown, but will suddenly burn if not watched closely. Gently toss or stir around during the toasting process. When the coconut is a light brown remove from the heat and set the pan aside to cool.
In a medium to large bowl whisk the two eggs until blended. Add the oil and whisk until well combined. Pour the cake mix through a sieve and sift all of the lumps from the mix over the egg and oil mixture. Use a spatula to mix everything together until all of the dry and wet ingredients are combined. The mixture will be very thick (like cookie batter). Using a 1 1/2 inch scoop, form balls of dough and place on the lined cookie sheets.
I used desiccated coconut that is unsweetened and has a straw-like consistency. (But you can use any shredded coconut). In order to create smaller pieces I rolled pinches of the coconut between my fingers to crumble. I then rolled the cookie dough balls into the toasted coconut and returned them to the baking sheet. When both trays of cookie dough balls are prepared, bake for 25 to 30 minutes.
While the cookies are baking, place the bittersweet chocolate chips into a microwave safe bowl and heat for 30 seconds, two times. Stir with a rubber spatula. Let the chocolate sit for a few minutes and then continue stirring until all of the chips have melted and smooth.
Remove the cookies from the oven when baking is completed and place on a wire rack to cool for 15 to 20 minutes. When completely cooled, spread the melted chocolate on the bottom of the cookie and sprinkle with chopped pecans. When all of the cookie bottoms have been covered with chocolate and pecans – drizzle some of the remaining chocolate over the top side of each cookie using the corner of the rubber spatula. Allow the chocolate to set over night.
I slipped four of the cookies into a clear cellophane bag and tied it with twine and presented the package to my hair stylist the following morning. Later in the day she sent me a message saying she brought the cookies home and “Kevin is loving the cookies! He said they will never see tomorrow!” They are rich and crunchy from the toasted pecans and coconut and not overly sweet. Give them a try and let me know what you think!
Whether you have a special occasion to celebrate, want to make a special dinner, planning a romantic date night or just treating yourself to a special evening alone, there’s no reason you can’t make simple ingredients into something beautiful and delicious.
You’ve probably seen it before, but it’s easy to forget that you can present simple ingredients in a fun and impressive way. The only special equipment or tool you’ll need is a ring mold with a circumference of 3 to 4 inches, depending on how large or small you want to make your individual servings, with a 2 inch side edge.
If you don’t have metal ring molds, you can make ring molds, with a piece of cardboard – cut 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 inches long and 2 inches wide. The 1/2 inch portion is to overlap and tape into a ring. Cover the cardboard ring with foil or plastic wrap. (Make a ring for each serving.)
Place each ring on a plate or wide open bowl the size of a luncheon (salad plate -see first image below.) Fill each ring mold beginning with the heaviest or most dense of items you have to form a strong foundation. Carefully select and build each layer inside the ring until you reach the top. Use the back of a spoon and press down gently on the top layer to push the layers closer together. Cover the filled ring mold with plastic wrap and leave in the refrigerator until ready to serve (at least 30 minutes).
Serve with a filet of fish, steak or chicken and you have a restaurant style dinner.
When ready to serve the salad, gently remove the ring mold and while being careful not to add too much liquid (the wetter the ingredients the harder it is to hold the ingredients into a stack), top with grated boiled egg, micro greens or fresh chopped herbs and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and white balsamic vinegar or a little lime or lemon juice.
To an umami flavor, I roasted grape (or cherry) tomatoes with a little olive oil in the oven at 400 degrees F for approximately 20 to 25 minutes. Cool and then place into a small food processor or blender to puree with a little olive oil until smooth enough to pass through a squeeze bottle or pastry (zip) bag and drizzle to garnish the plate. I also used watercress leaves, but any small leafy greens or spring mix will work and an edible flower (optional).
The ingredients for the stack can be a multitude of variations. The shrimp salad could be replaced with blue crab in a delicate vinaigrette. A sushi version, with sticky sushi rice, snow crab salad, avocado, edamame and any of your other favorite sushi ingredients might be. It could be a combination of BBQ like ingredients, like potato salad, coleslaw, etc. Chicken salad, topped with other veggie stack options. Cobb salad ingredients stacked. The only so called “rule” is to place the heavier layer on the bottom and consider color and delicacy as the layers are stacked. No special cooking skills required! Have fun and impress someone or yourself tonight with your own stacked salad!
*****BONUS IDEA – CLAFOUTIS FOR DESSERT*****
Clafoutis is an easy light dessert that you don’t see on menus. It’s a combination similar to a dutch baby pancake (light) and custard with fruit. My clafoutis was made using the recipe from the link below, and in lieu of pears I had fresh raspberries and added orange zest and a teaspoon of orange liqueur . It’s important to not add too much fruit. Traditionally it is made with black cherries that you can find in season during the summer months and you can add a little kirsch (cherry liqueur) if you have some. The full recipe can be prepared and placed in the baking dish and set aside. Preheat the oven and set the baking time – place the pan in the oven to bake while you eat dinner. It’ll will be freshly baked and ready to serve right on time. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve! https://nationalpost.com/life/food/cook-this-daniel-roses-pear-clafouti-from-ina-gartens-cook-like-a-pro
Per Google definition: Clafoutis, sometimes spelled clafouti in Anglophone countries, is a baked French dessert of fruit, traditionally black cherries, arranged in a buttered dish and covered with a thick flan-like batter. The clafoutis is dusted with powdered sugar and served lukewarm, sometimes with cream.
With limited space in restaurants these days, why not create your own cafe’ style dinner at come. All you need now is a little candlelight and some relaxing music.
It’s that time of year when neighborhood gardens that were planted a couple of months ago, have begun to bear fruit. One day this week when I opened my mail box, I found two medium zucchini and two medium yellow summer squash left by one of my neighbors. If you’ve ever grown summer squash, you know it’s harvest is abundant and it can be hard to find new ways to cook it.
My first idea was to create some thin roasted chips for a healthy snack. So I pulled out my mandolin and started slicing. I searched around on Pinterest for different methods of making chips and hoped to achieve a delicate thin crispy chip, with a slight crunch similar to a thin potato chip.
Summer squash contains a lot of moisture that must come out in order to get a crispy texture. As instructed (in the link below) the slices of squash were laid between two layers of paper towel and pressed until most of the moisture came out. (My tip: make several single layers of sliced squash between paper towels and let them sit overnight up to 24 hours). The recipe in the link below involved olive oil, salt and a lot of time in the oven. The end result was delicious, with that potato chip slight oiliness, but its 90 degrees in the South right now and the heat of a gas oven going for hours isn’t a highly desirable method. So after leaving the remaining slices between the layers of paper towel for 24 hours, I gently pulled them up (they stick to the paper towel) and returned them loosely to their original spot. I then put one layer (with paper towel on top and as well) in the microwave and used 30 second intervals (about 6 or 7 times – combined total of 3 to 4 minutes) checking after the first 4 intervals. The chips were not only crisp but retained more of their color along the edges.
Within hours or the following day, they may be a little soggy again – you can stack the chips loosely on the baking sheet and return them to the oven to crisp up at the same temperature, checking over time, or the back to the microwave.
After about 4 rounds of chip making I still had a bowl of uncooked thinly sliced squash and was ready to find something else to do with it. Once again, I searched through Pinterest for recipes using summer squash and noticed several pizza recipes. I had invited some gal pals to meet at a local park for a little picnic and decided to make mini picnic pizzas inspired by the recipe at this link. https://thismessisours.com/summer-squash-and-ricotta-galette/
Using one tube of thin refrigerated pizza crust, stretch the dough over a piece of clear plastic wrap or waxed paper to prevent sticking to the counter. The dough is rectangle shaped, so I decided that rather than one large pizza, I wanted to make individual pizzas. The dough could be cut into four rectangles, but I wanted round pizzas. Using a saucer and a pizza cutter (or knife)- cut three free formed circles about 1/2 inch away from the edge of the plate. The dough can be further stretched once cut if necessary. As you can see above, the circles are far from perfect.
Following the recipe from the link above, I combined the ricotta, parmesan, shredded mozzarella, fresh thyme, rosemary and peppers. I did not add any salt and found the cheeses had sufficient salt without adding any more. After tasting the baked pizza, I think the addition of fresh lemon zest to the cheese mixture would have brightened the flavors a little more. Using a small offset spatula, spread a couple of tablespoons of the cheese and herb mixture in the center of the dough leaving the edges clear.
Roll up the edges of the dough, top the center cheese spread with a handful of the thinly sliced squash, and a drizzle of the garlic infused olive oil from the recipe. Brush the edges of the dough with the olive oil and sprinkle grated parmesan over the crust edges and squash. Sprinkle with some of the thyme leaves.
The recipe’s recommended bake time is 35 to 45 minutes. The smaller pizzas baked a little faster. If making the smaller version like I did, I would recommend setting the first bake for 25 minutes (result shown below). Remove the pizza from the oven and sprinkle with pine nuts. I also added a small amount of shaved parmesan. Return to the oven and bake another 10 minutes.
For picnic packaging, loosely wrap each hot pizza in aluminum foil. Place a large cloth napkin or tea towel beneath the stacked foil wrapped pizza’s and tie the opposite corners together. This holds in the heat for quite a while for transport. I used a mini sealed box with a spray of water to transport the violas that were used to garnish the pizza at the picnic.
After two months of staying home due to COVID-19, I met with a couple of my gal pals for a “social distancing” picnic at a quiet park. We each took a corner of the picnic tablecloth, nibbled on our food and enjoyed a couple of hours of company and conversation.
As the summer heat draws nearer, pack a picnic basket, find a shady tree and enjoy the company of friends for an afternoon and pray you’ll never take for granted the simple pleasure of sharing time with the people in your life. Bring along a picnic pizza and crispy chips!
A few weeks ago I made Molly Yeh’s version of these meatball stuffed buns for my brother. My only adjustments to her recipe was substituting ground pork for ground turkey and then adding a finely chopped adobe pepper (for the can) to the meatball mixture to give a little kick of flavor and using provolone slices instead of mozzarella. My brother went banana’s over them. So when I made them a second time, I decided to change up the flavors a little, using the flavors of ginger, garlic and hoisin sauce. These could easily make a great kid’s hand held meatball sandwich for Memorial Day Weekend,
Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and preheat over 350 degrees F.
Gently mix and combine all ingredients in a medium to bowl until well combined. Try not to over work or meatballs will be tough. Wet hands and using a 1 tbsp. scoop (or by hand) roll into balls and place on foil lined baking sheet. Place in the oven and bake for a total of 30 minutes, turning the meatballs over at half way point. When cooked remove and allow meatballs to cool to room temperature. They can also be made ahead and refrigerated.
While you can make your own favorite meatballs recipe, any meatball will actually do. You could even take a short cut by purchasing pre-made meatballs. Italian or breakfast sausage are also options (formed and pre-cooked into a meatball).
Preheat the over 350 degrees (F)
2 -9″round pans or 1- 9″ X 9″ square pan (spray lightly with cooking spray)
Two 8 count packs of refrigerated Grand biscuits (any kind you choose)
1/4 cup of hoisin sauce
16 slices of either provolone or mozzarella cheese
Cilantro or Italian flat parley leaves
Remove the biscuits from the can. Taking one biscuit at a time, flatten and stretch out creating a one inch boarder around the meatball. Brush with hoisin sauce (careful not to put too much or the biscuit may get too wet.) Cut a slice of cheese into four and stack 2 pieces over the hoisin sauce. Add the meatball to the center and pull and pinch the sides of the biscuit over the meatball sealing it. Place each meatball stuffed biscuit with the sealed side down into the pan.
If desired, dip your finger in a little water and touch the top of each roll. Place a fresh cut cilantro or flat parsley leaf on the top of each and gently press into the dough. (I made the mistake twice of placing the herb on top of the bun after the 30 minute bake and it didn’t stick to the bun and dried as you’ll see from the finished version. The better method is to press them into the dough in the beginning. This of course is optional.
Place into the pre-heated oven and back for 30 minutes.
While the biscuits are baking, place the butter and peeled, smashed garlic clove into a small pot. Heat until the butter is melted and stir the garlic around in the warmed butter to gently release some of its flavor.
Brush the partially baked biscuits with the garlic infused melted butter. Sprinkle with grated parmesan cheese, salt flakes and everything bagel seasoning (or toasted sesame seeds). Return to the oven and bake for 10 minutes.
An inside view of the completed stuffed biscuit. When serving, serve with a side of slightly warmed hoisin sauce for dipping or topping. Below I cut one open and spooned a small amount of sauce inside. Served fresh is best, but I’ve been advised they rewarm well if placed back in the oven or toaster oven for about 10 to 15 minutes.
Over the years there are some ingredients or recipes that immediately bring back memories of a friend or family member. I’m sure we all have them. While looking through the remaining items in my refrigerator, I focused on leftover items wanting to challenge myself to use and not waste the partially filled containers and jars of various ingredients.
I wanted to make a little something sweet for my brother. He lives alone and I found out he was eating sandwiches or opening a can of vegetables for his meals during the stay home order. I just couldn’t let that go on, so I’ve been cooking and then bringing filled containers with prepared meals for his week. I usually make something sweet, like a homemade cookie or chocolate dipped strawberries, but this week I decided to let the items in the refrigerator direct me in this week’s small sweet bite.
Tucked in the back on the top shelf, I found a partially filled jar of Amarena cherries and a half filled jar of black cherry preserves. The cherries brought back a memory from several years ago, to a co-worker named Abbey. Abbey and her husband Murph had recently relocated to the New Orleans area from their home town in Boston. Knowing they were away from family, when the holidays rolled around I invited them to an annual Christmas tree trimming party I hosted. When they arrived Abbey presented me with a hat box filled with mini cheesecakes, each topped with a bright red cherry (from a can of cherry pie filling). The crust was made with graham crackers and the filling from cream cheese, sugar and sour cream; but it was that rich, bright red cherry on top that made these little bites both elegant and festive.
I knew I didn’t have any graham crackers, but I did have some chocolate biscuits (as the English call them). We all know cherries and chocolate are bosom buddies. I knew I had a bar of cream cheese and as I searched for the remaining ingredients, I imagined the black cherry preserves swirled in the batter and knew immediately what I would make.
Mini Chocolate 🍒 Cheesecakes
Makes approximately 16
20 chocolate biscuit (cookies) – other options are chocolate or traditional graham crackers or any other type of wafer cookie ( 1 cup of crumbs)
1/4 cup of butter (4 tbsp. melted)
1 8 oz bar of cream cheese (at room temperature)
1 tsp. vanilla
2 teaspoons of cherry preserves or jam
1 teaspoon of lemon zest (optional- but adds brightness)
Amarena cherries or cherry pie filling
Mini cupcake paper liners
Preheat over 350 degrees F
Break biscuits into pieces and pulse in a food processor until fine crumbs form. (You can also place in closed zip bag and crush with hands or a wooden spoon.) Add the melted butter until well combined.
Line a mini cup cake tray with paper liners. Using a tablespoon measure fill each cup with about 1/2 tablespoon of the crumb mixture and press each to pack down into the paper cup.
In a medium bowl cream together the cream cheese and egg with an electric mixer until smooth and fluffy. Add vanilla extract until evenly combined. With a spatula fold in 2 teaspoons of preserves or jam. Test taste the filling for sweetness. I had honey nearby in case the filling needed to be sweetened, but the preserves provided all of the sweetness I wanted and so I did not add any of the honey. Fill each cup to the top with the filling. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until the filling has only a slight jiggle.
Let cool for 10 minutes and then using a small offset spatula or butter knife gently lift each cup from the pan and place on a cooling rack. Allow to completely cool. Place on a plate or tray and refrigerate for 8 hours or overnight. Just prior to serving top each with a cherry and it’s syrup.
Note: If you don’t have or like cherries, there are so many other options. Blackberry or fig preserves or jam is an option, even orange marmalade or lemon curd. Most preserves have chunks of fruit in the jar that you call use to garnish the top.
Take a peek in your own refrigerator or pantry and see if there’s an ingredient that captures a memory for you and recreate it!
I was in my early twenties, a newlywed and getting settled into our first home. We had just moved into a newly constructed neighborhood, so everyone around us was unpacking and settling in as well. We had bought the house on the corner of the street and the couple that resided in the neighboring house to the right eventually became good friends. At least once a month (or more) they invited us over and while the guys grilled chicken and sausages, I watched my eventual friend Judi prepare this shell salad.
The pasta and eggs had just been boiled, drained and the eggs peeled. The next stage of preparation I found really interesting. She grated everything (no chopping) on a box grater! When it was finally finished and we ate it (still warm) I enjoyed it so much that each time I visited I tried to remember her ingredients, because it wasn’t a written down recipe, it was just measured by eye.
Searching for partial packages of items to use up in the pantry, I found a half box of small shell pasta and it brought me back to those memories of backyard barbecues with Judi and her delicious shell pasta. You’re seen most of these ingredients in my other leftover recipes and its kind of interesting how many ways these same basic ingredients can be transformed in such a variety of ways.
2 cups cooked small shell pasta, 1 or 2 hard boiled eggs, 1 carrot, 1 stalk of celery (leaves for garnish), 1/2 of a small onion, one lemon (the zest and 1/2 juice), Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, mayonnaise, salt and pepper.
Using the large holes on a hand held grater held directly over the bowl of pasta, grate the boiled egg(s), celery, carrot, and onion. TIP: When you get to the end of the egg, flatten your hand against the last bit against the grater to avoid cutting your fingertips).
Add the seasoning…. remember there was no measuring involved – so I drizzled a little of the Worcester Sauce, soy sauce, and then added about 1/4 cup of mayo, the zest of a lemon and then the juice from 1/2 of the lemon, salt and pepper to taste. If you notice, many of these same ingredients are used to make a traditional potato salad. (You may choose to add some relish or chopped pickles for example). Mix it all together and taste to determine if you want more of an ingredient. Remember if it is a little flat – salt picks it up. It was very “Judi” to just mix and taste until she got it just right.
My favorite way to eat this salad was when the eggs and pasta were still warm. However, just like potato salad (that I also love warm) it’s just as good cold from the refrigerator or at room temperature and a great BBQ, picnic item or side with a sandwich.
My friend Judi has been with the angels in heaven for some time now, and when I saw that bowl of freshly boiled shell pasta I thought it was time to share her neighborly BBQ side dish with you! If you give it a try, say a little prayer for Judi and thank her!