Category Archives: Entertaining

Savory Cavatappi with Pork Sausage and Veggies


I truly love discovering quality foods to cook with…recently I came across Applegate Farms Breakfast Sausage at my local Whole Foods Market.  The sausages are really, really, really good. Really. So, I thought, why limit myself to just breakfast?  Inspired by my dad’s recipe for a 1960s favorite—Egg Noodles and Sausage Toss—I devised this recipe. It’s a hit, except with my son who dislikes green things in his food. Oh well, like so many good-for-you foods, in Sam’s case, the spinach is optional.

Savory Cavatappi with Pork Sausage & Veggies

(serves 6)

  • 1 package (16 ounces) Cavatappi (corkscrew) pasta (or try bowties, penne, etc., any shape will do!)
  • 4 tablespoons good quality olive oil, divided
  • 1 package (8 ounces) Applegate Farms Classic Pork Breakfast Sausage
  • 1 medium red onion, sliced
  • 2 large cloves garlic, chopped
  • 8 ounces grape or cherry tomatoes (any colors and varieties), halved
  • about 6 ounces  baby spinach leaves, rinsed and dried
  • 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • small basil leaves, optional

Cook the Cavatappi according to package directions. Before draining it, reserve 3 tablespoons of the cooking liquid. Drain the pasta and transfer it to a large bowl. Drizzle it with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and the reserved cooking liquid, and toss. Cover the pasta to keep it warm.

While the pasta is cooking, add 2 tablespoons olive oil to a large skillet, and saute the sausage  over medium low heat. Remove the sausage to a cutting board.  Slice the sausage diagonally into 1 inch pieces.

Keeping the heat on medium low, add the onions and garlic to the pan, and saute them for a few minutes until they soften.  Add the tomatoes and cook them for 2 minutes, then add the sliced sausages. Next, add the spinach and cook it until it just begins to wilt. Be careful not to overcook it, since it will become mushy and lose its brilliant green color.

Pour the sausage mixture over the pasta, and gently toss it. Sprinkle it with the Parmesan cheese, then add salt and pepper to taste, and  toss it again.

If you like, add some small basil leaves and a sprinkling of extra Parmesan cheese to each serving.

This recipe lends itself to all kinds of good veggie variations, so have fun experimenting!

Heather

3 Comments

Filed under Entertaining, Pasta, Pork, Sausage, Vegetables

Not Just for Vegans….Nutritional Yeast

Does Nutritional Yeast sound good to you? Me either. But, I was introduced to it recently, and guess what? It’s actually really good—and better yet, it’s good for you.

Sugar-free, dairy-free, & gluten-free, nutritional yeast is naturally low in fat and sodium. Since it has a cheesy, nutty flavor, it works as a cheese replacement in many recipes, making it a vegan’s best friend. Since it’s healthy and tasty, I’ve made friends with it too.

So, what the heck is it? Well, for the full scientific explanation, check it out on Wikipedia….but in short, it’s a deactivated yeast sold as powder or flakes. It’s a source of protein and vitamins, and it’s often available fortified with vitamin B12.  You can find nutritional yeast in health food stores….I bought it at Whole Foods. It’s not cheap, but neither is cheese, and a little goes a long way.

I’ve used nutritional yeast in pesto, I’ve breaded chicken cutlets with it, and I’ve sprinkled it and on pasta and salads. Nutritional yeast makes a really tasty topping for popcorn, too, plus you can really enjoy it knowing it’s good for you.

Not-So-Cheesey Popcorn

(makes eight 1-cup servings)

  • 8 cups air-popped popcorn
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
  • • 2 tablespoons of melted clarified butter, or 2 tablespoons of a vegan spread, melted
1. Place the popcorn in a large bowl.
2. Mix the nutritional yeast, italian seasoning mix and garlic powder together in a small bowl.
3. Drizzle the melted butter over the popcorn and toss it.
4. Sprinkle on the nutritional yeast mixture and toss again.
5. For a little extra zip, sprinkle on a little Cajun seasoning.

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Filed under Appetizer, Entertaining, Popcorn, Snacks, Vegetarian

Party Cake Pops

Every year when the kids’ birthdays roll around, my wife Carol tries something different to celebrate. As a creative director, she is, well, pretty creative, so I’m always expecting something new & exciting. This year she decided to try her hand at making cake pops.

Cake pops have been “all the rage” ever since Angie Dudley of Bakerella fame published her recent book. Although Angie forms her pops from crumbled cake, Carol decided to try baking them from a set of Bake Pop trays. Carol also wanted her pops to have a soft exterior coating of frosting, rather than the harder candy melt surface that Angie suggests. Either way, cake pops are all about the decorating, and, as you can see from our photo above, anything goes!

You will need…

  • cake mix
  • bake pop tray or baking pan
  • candy melts and your favorite frostings
  • lollipop sticks
  • piping bag & tips
  • sprinkles, nonpareils, etc. (for decorating)
  • styrofoam board (for drying)

Bake cake mix in bake pop trays. Allow to cool. Remove pops from tray.

Place candy melts in narrow microwave-safe bowl and melt in microwave, per candy melt package directions.

Dip lollipop stick approximately 1/2″ into melted candy. Next, insert stick halfway into cake pop. Place pop on small baking sheet or plate. Repeat with remaining pops.

Place pops in freezer for 15 minutes to secure lollipop stick.

Place frosting in narrow microwave-safe bowl and microwave one minute. Tint if desired. Stir. Repeat until frosting is thinned enough for dipping. (Do not overheat or frosting may break down.)

Dip cake pops fully into melted frosting and allow excess to drip away.

Insert stick end of cake pops into styrofoam board to dry. Once the pops have dried, decorate as desired.

For more cake pop tips & methods check out Bakerella’s “how to” video.

-Joe

7 Comments

Filed under Cake, Chocolate, Cupcakes, Entertaining, Sweets

Please Pass the Sangria!

Is there anything quite as refreshing as a cool glass of Sangria on a hot summer evening? Try this white wine version I recently concocted for a studio party. It’s delicious!

Sangria is not an exact science. Try experimenting on your own with various fruits and sweeteners….the combinations are endless. And let us know if you come up with your own signature Sangria!

Sparkling White Sangria
Makes 8 servings

1 bottle white wine (such as Chardonnay, Reisling, or Chablis)
1/2 cup superfine sugar
1/4 cup orange brandy (such as Cointreau or Grand Marnier)
2 plums, pitted and sliced
1 peach, pitted and sliced
1 mango, peeled and sliced
2 cans (12 ounces each) club soda or seltzer
fresh mint

• In large pitcher, stir together wine, sugar and brandy until sugar is dissolved. Add fruit. Cover and chill for at least an hour (the longer the better!)

• Just before serving, stir in club soda. Serve over ice with mint. Sip!

Cathy

4 Comments

Filed under Drinks, Entertaining, Foodies, Fruit, Holidays, Vegetarian

Wait. What? Watermelon!

Take a close look at this picture. You’re right, that’s not chopped tomato; it’s fresh watermelon!

Last week Cathy was looking for a quick and easy summer appetizer that would take advantage of the season’s fresh produce. We think she scored a home run with this sweet ‘n tangy watermelon bruschetta. You’re gonna love it!

Watermelon Bruschetta

Makes about 2 1/2 cups

2 cups diced watermelon, drained on paper towel
1/3 cup diced yellow bell pepper
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 tablespoon diced red onion
1 teaspoon lime zest
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon snipped chives
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 baguette, thinly sliced

• Combine all ingredients except for the bread.

• Cover and chill at least 30 minutes. Serve with bread slices.

Tips

• Do not prepare more than an hour before serving or mixture will become too soft.

• Try the watermelon over grilled chicken or salmon. Yum!

3 Comments

Filed under Appetizer, Breads, Cheese, Entertaining, Foodies, Fruit, Snacks, Vegetarian

Little, Luscious and Easy-as-Pie!

SO simple.

SO cute.

SO luscious!

During some food-styling downtime at a recent location shoot, Cathy concocted this elegant little tart. Of course, we thought it was beautiful, so we raced to put it on the set, and voilà!  Do you love it??

Cathy started with a small, good quality shortbread cookie for the base. She used LU, a readily available shortbread cookie with an adorable crimped edge. She topped the cookie with a tablespoon of prepared lemon curd, then garnished with a tiny dollop of whipped cream, a blueberry, and some lemon zest.

This is the perfect no-cook, no-bake recipe for those last-minute get-togethers when you’re short of time,  but still looking for a dessert with some “wow” power. Just keep the ingredients on hand, and you can be turning out tarts at a moment’s notice.

Here are some other sweet tarts to consider:

Chocolate Tart:  shortbread cookie, a tablespoon of prepared chocolate pudding, a dab of whipped cream, a raspberry, & chocolate shavings
Butterscotch Tart:  shortbread cookie, a tablespoon of prepared butterscotch pudding, a dab of whipped cream, & chopped toasted pecans
Key Lime Tart: shortbread cookie, a tablespoon of prepared lime curd, a dab of whipped cream, & lime zest

Heather

4 Comments

Filed under Cookies, Dessert, Entertaining, Lemon, Sweets

Three Tasty Mice

 

Here’s the story behind these adorable little morsels!  I had dinner with my friends from PAWS (Pet Animal Welfare Society) last night. The conversation always turns to animals, and we all share our stories in one way or another.  At dessert time, my friend Alexis presented a tray of adorable edible mice.  They were actually quite simple in design: a chocolate-covered cherry (with stem) for the body and tail, a Hershey’s Hugs Kiss for the face, sliced almonds for the ears, and icing for the eyes and nose.  Serve them over a triangle of cheese… genius! Or should I say “Micey” Nice!

Cathy

24 Comments

Filed under Dessert, Entertaining, Snacks, Sweets

Touchdown Treat for a Crowd

Gimme a F-E-S-T!   Football Fest.  Beer Fest.  Fan Fest.  Media Fest.  And  last but not least, MAJOR Calorie Fest! Yep, it’s Super Bowl time. For me, the Super Bowl is all about two things: the Doritos commercials and, of course, the snacks. However, I am so over the predictable calorie-heavy buffalo wings and the cheese-laden nachos. Yet, a vegetable platter just doesn’t seem like football fare. Hmmm, there must be some middle ground! This afternoon, I remembered that ALC shot a yummy recipe recently for the Popcorn Board that fits the occasion perfectly.

Touchdown Popcorn Peanut Treat
makes about 4 quarts

4 quarts popped popcorn
1 cup unsalted cocktail peanuts
1 cup seedless raisins
1 cup honey
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon lemon juice

– Preheat oven to 300F.
– In a large buttered bowl, combine popcorn, peanuts and raisins.
– In small saucepan stir together honey, water and lemon juice; bring to a boil. Cook and stir over medium heat until mixture reaches 250 degrees Fahrenheit, or hard ball stage  on a candy thermometer.
– Pour over popcorn; quickly toss to mix thoroughly.
– Turn onto a buttered jelly roll or large baking pan.
– Bake for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Tips

– Use freshly squeezed lemon juice for the best flavor.

– The cold water test is a sure bet when testing for the hard ball stage of a candy  mixture.  Drop a small amount  of the syrup into cold water. It will form a hard ball.  If you take the ball out of the water, it won’t flatten. The ball will be hard, but you can  still change its shape by squashing it.

– Add dried fruits such as cranberries, cherries, pineapple, blueberries, apricots to mix it up a bit.

Heather

3 Comments

Filed under Entertaining, Popcorn, Snacks

Slow-Cooker Butternut Squash Soup

Wow, have I been making the most of my slow-cooker this season!  Here on the East Coast, we have been hammered with snow, and  there is nothing like coming into the kitchen after hours of shoveling or sledding to the aroma of a hearty soup or stew. My most recent concoction? A creamy and delicious Butternut Squash Soup.  I pre-roast the squash for about 15 minutes which really brings out its wonderful nutty taste.  Curry and coriander add layers of flavor to the soup and are balanced by a slightly sweet touch of applesauce.  Serve the soup in a huge mug and grab a warm, crusty chunk of bread and a cozy blanket.  My frostbitten toes are tingling just thinking about it!

Butternut Squash Soup

Makes about 10 cups

1 butternut squash, peeled and halved  (about 3 pounds)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter or margarine
1 onion, chopped
1/4 teaspoon curry powder
1 sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
4 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup apple sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup chopped walnuts, lightly toasted
– Preheat oven to 400F.  Place butternut squash halves, cut side up, in roasting pan. Drizzle with olive oil.  Roast 15 minutes.  Cut into 1-inch cubes.
– In medium saucepan, melt butter.  Add onion and cook, stirring, until lightly browned.  Stir in curry powder; cook 1 minute.
– Place butternut squash and onion mixture into a large slow-cooker.  Add remaining ingredients except heavy cream and walnuts.  Cover and cook on LOW for 7 hours.
– In food processor or blender, process mixture in small batches until purèed.  Return to slow-cooker on WARM setting; add heavy cream and stir  until heated through.
– Sprinkle each serving with chopped walnuts and a sprig of fresh thyme if desired.


4 Comments

Filed under Butternut Squash, Crock-Pot, curry powder, Entertaining, Soup

Christmas Cupcakes Made Easy!

These Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting & Holiday Sprinkles are made from Duncan Hines Red Velvet Cake Mix and Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting. I added 3 tablespoons Hershey’s unsweetened cocoa powder to the cake batter for added chocolate flavor. The cupcakes taste great, but also look great thanks to the beautiful cupcake liners.

As a props stylist, I am sometimes stopped dead in my tracks when I discover a new product that I could only have dreamed of in years past. While other people may be excited by, say, advances in technology or medical science, I get excited when I see products perfect for photo shoot propping, and I am always on the lookout. Colorful straws that bend, square plates, tiny glass Christmas balls in unusual colors…well, you get the idea.

Cupcakes have always been hard to shoot because the see-thru thin paper liners were so unattractive that they ruined the shot. The foil liners were a bit better, but not by much. (Seriously, I have been known to handpaint cupcake liners because what we needed for a shoot simply did not exist.) For many years, cupcakes were pretty, cupcake liners were not. It was common knowledge. At least in my world.

Therefore, I was recently blown away when I came across Reynolds’ line of decorative foil cupcake liners that change seasonally. The red and green ribbon swirl pattern practically jumped off the shelf as I browsed the baking aisle of my grocery store. The liners are paper on the outside and foil on the inside. They hold their color and their shape; in fact, you do not even need a cupcake tin to use them. Pretty & practical…now that’s genius.

Happy cupcaking!

Heather

3 Comments

Filed under Chocolate, Cupcakes, Dessert, Entertaining, Holidays

25 Easy Holiday Appetizers

Need a quick holiday appetizer recipe?  We’ve compiled a list of easy, no-recipe-required appetizers that combine a little of this and a little of that to give you an arsenal of hors d’oeuvres that you can serve now and all through the year.  Print the list so it will be at your fingertips. You’ll be ready for anything!

mixed olives, roasted garlic & fresh rosemary (#16.)

1.  Spoon cranberry chutney over a block of cream cheese; sprinkle with chopped pistachio nuts.  Serve with crackers.

2. Wrap a cracked-pepper bread stick or lightly steamed asparagus spear with prosciutto.

3. Pipe your favorite hummus onto cucumber slices and sprinkle with chopped toasted nuts.

4. Pipe flavored cream cheese onto quartered pumpernickel bread slices or party rye slices; drizzle with warmed fig preserves.

5. Toss 2 cups of your favorite nuts with one beaten egg white; sprinkle with 2 tablespoons sugar and your favorite spice blend. Spread on baking sheet and bake 300°F for 25 minutes.

6. Spoon finely chopped pears tossed with small amount of chutney onto ends of endive leaves.  Sprinkle with gorgonzola cheese.

7. Cut your favorite store-bought pizza into bite-size pieces.

8. Brown sliced, fully cooked kielbasa in butter with a sprinkling of brown sugar; add drained, canned pineapple chunks.  Serve warm with toothpicks.

9. Toss mozzarella balls (bocconcini) and grape tomatoes with your favorite balsamic vinaigrette. Serve with toothpicks.

10. Stir chopped sun-dried tomatoes and a small amount of basil pesto into neufchatel cheese.  Serve with toasted bread slices.

11. Heat store-bought breaded chicken tenders. Serve with a dipping sauce made from warm apricot preserves combined with a dash or two of chili powder and a splash of BBQ sauce.

12. Sprinkle cooked baby back ribs with toasted sesame seeds; cut into individual ribs and serve with duck sauce.

13. Spread a large flour tortilla with store-bought salmon spread; sprinkle with capers and minced red onion; roll up, then cut crosswise into 3/4 inch slices to make spirals.

14. Stir chopped mango into your favorite salsa.  Serve with tortilla chips.

15. Split dried apricots. Fill each with a small piece of brie and drizzle with raspberry preserves.

16. Toss store-bought mixed olives with roasted garlic cloves, fresh rosemary sprigs, sea salt and red pepper flakes; heat, covered with foil, until warm. Serve with toothpicks.

17. Serve cooked, peeled shrimp with chipolte mayonnaise mixed with a splash of BBQ sauce and a spoonful of honey mustard.

18. Cut steamed tiny red or fingerling potatoes in half; top with a dab of sour cream, and sprinkle with finely chopped cooked bacon, minced chives, sea salt and cracked pepper.

19. Top a warmed brie wheel with a warm mixture of canned apple pie filling and a dash of balsamic vinegar; sprinkle with toasted pecans.

20. Spoon your favorite warmed chili into Tostitos Scoops; sprinkle with shredded Cheddar cheese and minced scallions.

21. On toothpick, thread a chunk of Black Forest Ham and a small cornichon. Serve with whole grain mustard for dipping.

22. Cook  frozen cocktail meatballs. Serve  with store-bought tzatziki sauce.

23. Toss chopped dried cherries and chopped pistachio nuts with enough honey to bind mixture.  Spoon over goat cheese log.  Serve with crackers.

24. Top a cucumber slice with a thin smoked salmon slice;  add a dab of sour cream, capers, and minced chives.

25. LAST BUT NOT LEAST!!!  Lightly brush frozen soft pretzels with water.  Sprinkle with your favorite seasoning.  Bake and cut into serving pieces.  Serve with mustard, or, if seasoning topping is sweet, caramel or chocolate sauce.

Cathy

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Filed under Appetizer, Entertaining, Holidays

Dangerously Good Chocolate Mint Meltaways

It’s true….these Chocolate Mint Meltaways should come with a warning. They’re that good!

Have you ever noticed that the best looking cookies are not always the best tasting cookies? This is especially true when it comes to Christmas cookies. That adorably decorated sugar cookie might look like it should be on the cover of a fancy food magazine, but it can be dry as dust with little flavor save the traces of food colorings used to tint the frosting. No thanks!

So, when I discover a pretty cookie or bar that actually has awesome flavor and texture, it makes the “A” list and goes into my recipe file to make every year. I wheedled this recipe out of my friend Janet, and she said I could share it with all of you. But don’t say you weren’t warned. They truly are addictive!

Chocolate Mint Meltaways
(makes about 6 dozen bars)

Brownie Layer:
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
4 eggs, beaten
1 can (16 ounces) Hershey’s chocolate syrup
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup flour

• Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 13 x 9 baking dish with aluminum foil. Grease foil with a little butter.
• Using mixer, cream butter and sugar in large bowl. Gradually beat in eggs, chocolate syrup, vanilla and salt. Using wooden spoon, stir in flour until just combined.
• Spread mixture in pan and bake 30 minutes. Cool completely.
• Grasping foil, carefully lift brownie layer from pan and invert onto large cutting board. Peel away foil.

Mint Layer:
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 cups confectioners sugar
1 TB  Creme de Menthe liqueur
• Using mixer, cream butter and sugar, then beat in Creme de Menthe.
• Reserve 2 TB mixture, cover and set aside. Spread remaining mixture evenly over cooled brownie layer.

Chocolate Topping:
6 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
6 TB butter

• In heavy saucepan, stir chocolate and butter over low heat until melted. Cool.
• Gently spread chocolate topping over mint layer. Chill until chocolate is set.
• Using large knife and wiping blade frequently, cut into bars about 1 inch by 1 1/2 inches.

Mint Drizzle
Place reserved mint filling in small Ziploc bag and snip a tiny piece from the corner. Drizzle filling over each bar.

Note: Store bars covered, in refrigerator, for best results.

Heather

8 Comments

Filed under Chocolate, Cookies, Dessert, Entertaining, Holidays, Sweets

Classic Holiday Eggnog

Every holiday season, the same question comes up: Do the eggs need to be cooked in an eggnog recipe?

My answer is…definitely! Even refrigerated eggs with clean, uncracked shells can still be contaminated with the Salmonella bacteria, and  eggs must be cooked to 160°F to kill such bacteria.  There is a popular misconception that adding alcohol to eggnog will kill the bacteria.  Not so!

Here is an easy-to-follow, delicious cooked eggnog recipe.  You’ll have one less thing to worry about during your holiday season!

Classic Holiday Eggnog
Makes about 10 servings

4 eggs
1/3 cup + 1 Tbs. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
3 cups milk
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup bourbon or rum
ground nutmeg
cinnamon sticks for garnish

– In medium saucepan with wire whisk, gently beat eggs, 1/3 cup sugar and salt.  Gradually stir in milk.  Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture coats the back of a metal spoon.  Remove from heat; stir in vanilla.  Cover and refrigerate until well chilled.

– In large bowl, beat heavy cream and 1 Tbs. sugar until stiff peaks form.  Fold into chilled custard, then stir in bourbon.  Pour into large serving bowl or pitcher.  Sprinkle with ground nutmeg.  Serve with cinnamon sticks.

Tips

– When making the custard, be sure to cook over low heat, stirring constantly.  Trying to speed it along by increasing the temperature will most likely curdle the custard.

– For an even richer eggnog, substitute half-and-half or light cream for some of the milk.

– For a non-alcoholic eggnog, substitute 1/4 tsp. rum extract for the bourbon.

– Recipe can be doubled.

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Filed under Drinks, eggs, Entertaining, Holidays

Thyme-Scented Roasted Vegetables

Why didn’t anyone serve vegetables like this when I was a kid?? They not only look beautiful with their glossy jewel tones and crispy caramelized edges, but they have amazing flavor. Mmmm…crunchy, slightly salty, accented with the sweetness of fresh thyme. Best of all, the roasting process could not be easier! Try these as a side dish to a holiday ham or turkey, or just them shine alone as a vegetarian course. Make sure you save the leftovers—just warm them up and arrange them atop fresh greens for a healthy and delicious salad.

Thyme-Scented Roasted Vegetables
Makes about 8 servings

6 cups assorted fresh vegetables (such as brussels sprouts, beets, carrots, parsnips, sweet potatoes, and onion)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon sea salt
Fresh ground pepper, to taste

• Preheat oven to 450°F.
• Rinse and lightly scrub vegetables. Dry thoroughly. Pare vegetables if necessary. Cut all vegetables into uniform pieces, about 1 inch each.
• In large bowl, toss vegetables with olive oil, thyme, salt and pepper.
• Grease the bottom of a shallow roasting pan (not glass) or jelly-roll pan. Spread the vegetables in the pan in a single layer. Do not crowd the vegetables.
• Roast vegetables, stirring every ten minutes, about 30 minutes or until tender and lightly browned.

Heather

7 Comments

Filed under Entertaining, Side Dishes, Vegetables

Pumpkin Turkey Centerpiece

Searching for a creative centerpiece or whimsical hostess gift for Thanksgiving? Meet Tom Turkey.

Although I am not what you would call a crafty person, I made Tom in less than 5 minutes! Seriously, I did.

Handcrafted by artisan Jeff Krause, the handpainted metal head, feathers and feet of this turkey are easily poked in to your own pumpkin or gourd, and voilà!  I found one of Jeff’s kits in a local gift shop for $19.95, but I googled and the kit can be ordered for $15 plus shipping from The Rusty Crow. Each kit comes with 5 feathers, 2 feet and a head.

I actually bought my kit to mail to my sister as a gift, but I liked it so much I kept it. That’ll just be our little secret…

Heather

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Filed under Entertaining

Perfect Peach Daiquiri

At least once a summer, I try to time my vacation travel to include a stop at Stoudt’s Fruit Farm Stand, just off I-78 in Shartlesville, Pennsylvania. Why? Well, they have all kinds of excellent homegrown produce, but really, it’s all about the peaches for me.

Stoudt’s sells some of the best tree-ripened peaches you will find anywhere, and they’re always worth the trip (or the detour). This afternoon I stopped and purchased a peck of Freestone Yellow Peaches, and they are, once again, mouth-wateringly delicious.

Although we will enjoy most of them plain because they are just too good to consider cooking or baking with, I have set aside a few for my favorite summertime drink, the Peach Daiquiri. A lot of peach daiquiri recipes are overly fussy, involving simple syrup, lime juice, powdered sugar, and even daiquiri mix (oh no!) However, I do not think any of that is necessary, because when you start with peaches this good, the recipe is simple—just three ingredients!

Perfect Peach Daiquiri
Makes 1 drink

1 magnificent tree-ripened peach, peeled, pitted  and cut up
1 cup crushed ice
2 ounces golden rum

– Place all ingredients in blender with tight-fitting lid. Puree until smooth. Pour into a tall glass and serve immediately. If desired, garnish with a peach slice and a mint sprig. Find a sunset view and a rocking chair, and  sip slowly.

Tips – If a peach is truly ripe, the skin will peel off easily using a paring knife. Otherwise, drop peaches in boiling water for about 45 seconds then drop in ice water for about 1 minute.  The skin should come off easily. – White rum can be substituted for golden rum, but the flavor will not be as deep. If using white rum, add a tablespoon of fresh lime juice for extra flavor.

Heather

8 Comments

Filed under Drinks, Entertaining

Summertime Salsa Scoops

It’s August, and summertime entertaining is in full swing. Are you looking for an easy appetizer to bring to a party or barbecue? Perhaps one that does not require heating up the kitchen? Here’s a recipe that could not be easier—and it’s a crowd pleaser! Start with Tostito’s White Corn Scoops and fill them with our zesty black bean and corn salsa. Sure takes the risk out of any of your guests “double dipping!”

as photographed by our team, alacartepartners

Black Bean and Corn Salsa Scoops
(makes about 2 cups salsa)

1 can (15.5 oz) black beans, rinsed and drained
1 can (7 oz.) corn, drained
1/2 medium red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
1/3 cup chopped red onion
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons lime juice
1/2 teaspoon grated lime peel
salt and pepper to taste
Tostitos Scoops

– In medium bowl, stir together all ingredients except Scoops; cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

– Just before serving, and using a small spoon, fill Scoops with salsa or let guests scoop as they go!

Tips

-Other fillings include mango salsa, fresh tomato salsa or your most favorite salsa—as long as it is not too watery.

-Fill just before serving time; otherwise the “Scoops” will get soggy.

2 Comments

Filed under Appetizer, Corn, Entertaining, Rice and Beans

When Life Gives You Lemons…Make Lemonade!

Ahh, the dog days of summer…the sun is blazing, the sprinklers are sprinkling, and the kids don’t have a care in the world.  A cold and icy  glass of lemonade comes to mind. And I don’t mean the store-bought, fructose-laden, preservative-filled, sickeningly sweet, syrupy, neon yellow lemonade.  I’m talking real lemonade! Make it from scratch.  All you need are lemons, sugar, water and ice!

Joe, Heather and I were shooting at my house one summer day.  I made a fresh batch of lemonade.  We all agreed to take advantage of the beautiful perennials in my backyard and use them as a backdrop to shoot it.  It was a great day. And afterwards, we all sat on my deck and relaxed with refreshing  glass of lemonade.

Here is my recipe.  You can control the sweetness, and you will not believe how much better it is than anything you can buy.  Add a sprig of mint from your garden and you are good to go!!!

as photographed by our team, à la Carte Partners

Cathy’s Fresh Lemonade

Makes  about 7 cups

7 lemons
1 cup sugar
6 cups cold water
ice
fresh mint

– Cut  6 lemons in half and squeeze out juice  to make about 1 cup of juice. Remove any seeds.

– Pour fresh lemon juice and sugar into a large pitcher, stirring until sugar dissolves. Add water, and refrigerate until ready to serve.

– Just before serving, slice remaining lemon.  Add to pitcher with ice and mint.

Tips

– To maximize the amount of juice you get from a lemon,  roll the lemon firmly on counter top before cutting in half .

– Avoid using bottled lemon juice.  The flavor will just not be the same.

– Adjust the sugar to your palate.

– Adding fresh fruit, such as strawberries or raspberries, will add another whole dimension to your lemonade!

– For an adult version, try adding a splash of  flavored vodka!!

Cathy


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Filed under Drinks, Entertaining

Luscious Limoncello

Last week, I enjoyed an unforgettable dinner at Sonny’s on the Avenue, an Italian ristorante in Verona, New Jersey owned by Tommy Malanga and his wife Alyssa Alia, a food stylist, chef, and all-around wonderful person. The meal was amazing from start (those eggplant meatballs!) to the finish (that silky ricotta cake!)

photo courtesy of Eugene Knowles Photography

 

At the end of the meal, when I thought I could not possibly consume even one more small sip or bite, Alyssa presented our table with a basket of fresh biscotti and a frosty bottle of her prized Limoncello. Unable to resist, our table dutifully dipped the biscotti in our glasses of Limoncello. Ah, la dolce vita!

The always gracious Alyssa was kind enough to share her recipe with me so I could post it. Limoncello needs time to age, so get started soon!

Alyssa’s Limoncello

Limoncello is an Italian liqueur made from lemons native to the Amalfi Coast (Capri, Sorrento and Liguria). Limoncello is always served ice cold from the freezer after dinner.

45 large lemons (scrubbed and washed)
2 (750ml) bottles grain alcohol, such as Everclear (151 proof)*
1 (1.75 liters) or 2 (750ml) 80-proof good quality vodka
6 cups bottled or distilled water
8 cups sugar
Large gallon glass jar (such as a Sun-tea jar)

*Due to its high alcohol content, grain alcohol can be hard to find in many areas, and may be illegal in your state. If so, it’s fine to substitute vodka for the grain alcohol.

1. Pour all alcohol in jar.

2. Using vegetable peeler or paring knife, carefully peel off just the yellow skin of the lemons. (It is very important that you do not have any white part left underneath the lemon peels, as this will make the mixture bitter). Try and make the peels as large as you can; this will make it easier to strain the mixture later.

3. Place peels in alcohol.

4. Cover jar tightly and place in a cool (not cold) dark place.

5. Allow mixture to sit for a minimum of 3 weeks or up to 3 months. Stir gently every few days. The longer the lemon peels sit the better the color and flavor. A good readiness test is to take one lemon peel and see if it snaps when you bend it. If it does, it is ready.

6. In large saucepan, bring water and sugar to a boil over medium high heat for 5 minutes. Let cool completely.

7. Strain lemon mixture into another glass container, using a large fine mesh strainer and paper coffee filters. (Note: this takes time and is a little messy). Repeat the straining process back into the original glass jar.

8. Add cooled syrup and watch your Limoncello come to life! Return jar to a cool dry place for at least another 2 weeks.   After 2 weeks, pour Limoncello into small bottles and store in refrigerator or freezer for up to 3 months.

9. Limoncello should be served ice cold from the freezer. It’s terrific as a cordial after dinner, and great on vanilla ice-cream.


Tips

– I make a double batch (90 lemons at time—a case of lemons usually has around 90 lemons) and usually start my batches in the summer to give out at Xmas time.

– Limoncello makes a perfect gift. Start saving decorative bottles from inexpensive stores such as Home Goods, Marshals, Target, the Container Store, or the Christmas Tree Shop. Make sure tops are airtight—you can even wax the corks to make sure they are well sealed.

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Filed under Drinks, Entertaining, Restaurants, Reviews

Back, by POP-ular demand!

Back in April, we ran a post, Pop ‘Til You Drop, that featured a recipe for an addictive snack recipe, Popcorn con Pesto. That post generated so much interest that we thought we should introduce you to another studio favorite from our December shoot for the Popcorn Board. This spicy-hot recipe for Cajun Corn is just perfect for casual summer gatherings where a little southwestern flavor is just the ticket. Serve this with a few frosty Margaritas by the pool… yes, that’s happy snacking!

Recipe courtesy of the Popcorn Board….

Cajun Corn

Makes 2 1/2 quarts

  • 2 1/2 quarts popped popcorn
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon lemon pepper
  1. Pour butter over warm popcorn.
  2. Combine remaining seasonings and sprinkle over popcorn; toss to mix.
  3. For crispy popcorn, bake in 300° oven for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring once.

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Filed under Entertaining, Healthy, Popcorn, Snacks

Double the Chocolate Strawberries

I can’t think of an easier dessert that yields as many “oohs” and “ahhs” as chocolate dipped strawberries. Perfect on their own, and truly elegant when garnishing a plate of cookies or brownies, these berries are a hit every time. As easy as they are to make, there are a couple of secrets for success: 1) use the freshest ripe berries you can find (local is best!) 2) do not burn the chocolate and 3) always make more berries than you need or keep them hidden until guests arrive! So, here, in honor of strawberry season, we give you:

Double the Chocolate Strawberries
Makes 12 dipped strawberries

1 dozen medium-size fresh strawberries, rinsed and patted dry
4 squares (4 ounces) semi-sweet baking chocolate
2 squares (2 ounces) white chocolate

– Line a baking sheet with wax paper. In small glass bowl, microwave chocolate on HIGH (100%) power for 1 minute. Stir until chocolate is completely melted. (If, after stirring well, there is still some unmelted chocolate,  microwave for another 10 seconds, then stir until melted).

– Hold strawberry by stem and dip into the melted chocolate, covering about 3/4 of the berry. Gently shake off excess chocolate and  place on wax paper-lined baking sheet. Refrigerate until set, about 15 minutes.

– In small glass bowl, microwave white chocolate on MEDIUM (50%) power for 1 minute. Stir until chocolate is completely melted. Carefully transfer melted chocolate to a zipper-style plastic sandwich bag. Squeeze out excess air and seal bag.

– Using scissors, snip a tiny corner of the bag. Squeeze chocolate from bag onto the dipped berries, using a random pattern. Refrigerate until set, about 15 minutes. Transfer berries to serving platter. Leftovers (ha!) may be stored in the refrigerator overnight.

Tips

– Recipe can easily be doubled, tripled and more!!!!

– Triple Chocolate? I like the way you think! Using dark (bittersweet) chocolate, follow the same procedure for the white chocolate. Pipe or drizzle in a criss-cross pattern over the white chocolate. Pretty!

– I am a big fan of Baker’s Chocolate Baking Squares, and you can find them in any supermarket.

– Think outside the strawberry! Try dipping kiwi slices, banana halves, pineapple chunks, and more. The trick is to pat the fruit dry before dipping.

Heather

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Filed under Berries, Chocolate, Dessert, Entertaining, Sweets

Refreshing Raspberry Mojito

Fresh mint is super abundant this time of year. The crop in my garden is already a bit out of control, and it’s only May! I use mint all summer long in iced tea, fruit salads, tabbouleh, and more. But, hands-down, the best use for fresh mint is for making an icy-cold Mojito on a hot summer evening.

The Mojito is a traditional Cuban cocktail made with lime juice, sugar, sparkling water, white rum, and of course, fresh mint. There are a variety of variations to the basic recipe involving all kinds of ingredients—ginger, pomegranate, mango, blood orange, coconut, even chili lime! Basically, the Mojito is only limited by your imagination. Recently, Cathy made this gorgeous Mojito with some beautiful fresh raspberries. It was delicious—and so pretty we had to shoot it!

as photographed by our team, à la Carte Partners

Raspberry Mojito
Makes 1 serving

8 fresh mint leaves
1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
1 teaspoon superfine sugar
2 ounces white rum
2-3 ounces seltzer
4-6 fresh raspberries

– Place mint leaves, lime juice and sugar in a highball glass (something tall and narrow is perfect). Using the straight end of a wooden spoon, gently press on  leaves to release flavor (“muddle” is the official term).

– Fill glass with ice cubes. Pour in rum. Top off with seltzer. Drop in raspberries, and sip!

Heather

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Filed under Berries, Drinks, Entertaining

Hot Artichoke Dip

(For all my PAWS friends)

Last week, PAWS (Pet Animal Welfare Society) had its annual wine tasting fundraiser.  I have been preparing the appetizers for the event for years, and  a mainstay dish that I serve is Hot Artichoke Dip.  It is a raving hit each time.  There are no surprises with the recipe—it is basically 4 ingredients, but for some reason the crowd goes wild for it.  For parties or events, I triple the basic recipe and bake it in a large casserole dish.

PAWS is a nonprofit no-kill animal shelter located in Norwalk, CT, that I have been volunteering with for the past 7 years.  PAWS uses a network of volunteers and paid staff who provide shelter, medical care and affection while finding loving homes for homeless or abused dogs and cats. I have to say it is the best thing I have done—both for me and the animals. Their website is www.pawsct.org. Feel free to send a donation if you are so inclined.  The animals will greatly appreciate it.

Now, for all my PAWS Artichoke Dip fans, here is the recipe!!

Hot Artichoke Dip
Makes 2 and 1/2 cups

1 can (14 ounces) artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup mayonnaise
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
paprika
assorted crackers, bread cubes, cut up vegetables

– Preheat oven to 375°.  In medium bowl, stir together artichoke hearts, cheese, mayonnaise and garlic powder. Spoon into a 1-quart baking dish. Sprinkle lightly with paprika.
– Bake about 30 minutes, or until hot and bubbly. Serve with crackers, bread cubes or vegetables.

Tips

– Recipe can easily be doubled or tripled for a crowd.

– Do not use marinated artichokes.

Cathy

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Filed under Appetizer, Artichokes, Dips, Entertaining

Best-dressed Chocolate Truffle Cake

To bake or not to bake? That is often the question in our hurried world. We all like to serve up something special, but we do not always have the luxury of time. My cousin ML, who lives in New York City, likes to say “If I can buy it within a six-block radius, I consider it homemade!” Luckily, as my cousin could attest,

there are an increasing number of top-quality desserts available in the freezer section of better grocery stores.

It’s easy to dress up a store-bought confection, especially if you start with a quality product. In this photo, one of my favorites from alacarte, our food stylist Cathy Paukner began with a boxed and frozen single-layer chocolate truffle cake. Using a fine mesh sieve, she dusted it lightly with unsweetened cocoa powder, and added a few luscious fresh raspberries and a sprig of mint. Presented on a pretty pink porcelain plate, the dessert looks as if you had spent hours in the kitchen baking and garnishing, when in fact, all you did was purchase and thaw. Wouldn’t “Purchase & Thaw” be a great name for a new food blog? Maybe my cousin could start it…

Heather

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Filed under Chocolate, Dessert, Entertaining, Foodies

Cheese, Please!

On a gloomy & rainy spring afternoon a few weeks ago, I met a colleague for lunch in the city. She took me to Artisanal Fromagerie & Bistro, a charming place just around the corner from her office on Park Avenue. “Everything’s good here,” she said as the waitress handed us menus, “but I usually  order the Cheese Board.”  I quickly scanned the menu and, although there were lots of tempting choices, I decided to take Helene’s advice and ordered the Cheese Board.

The waitress reappeared with a beautifully arranged plate featuring wedges of  three different cheeses, a halved fresh fig, a cluster of red grapes, pear slices, walnut halves, and delicate spring greens. Did I mention we also had a basket of fresh baguette slices? Mmmm. A little bite of cheese, a nibble of pear, a crunch of walnut, perhaps another slice of bread….just a happy mix of flavors and textures. So very civilized!  My day had brightened considerably by the end of this wonderful meal. Upon leaving, I requested the names of the three featured cheeses. They were Buche du Poitou (a French goat cheese), Coolea, and Cashel Blue (both Irish cow’s milk cheeses).

Try this at home… a Cheese Board is so simple to make. Start by selecting a couple of interesting cheeses—perhaps a sheep’s milk, a cow’s milk and a goat’s milk. Allow one ounce of each cheese per serving. Arrange your Cheese Board with the cheeses, lightly dressed (just a touch of oil and vinegar) greens, nuts, fruit, and of course, fresh French bread. Bon Appetit!

Note: the selection of cheeses in our photo are a Rosenborg Castello (Danish Blue), a Wisconsin Gouda, and a Chevre.

Heather

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Filed under Cheese, Entertaining, Main Dishes, Salad

Brie ‘n Basil Bites

Next to my Famous Chicken Casserole that’s technically not even mine, this pretty little appetizer is my most requested recipe. Last week, my loyal & hardworking foodie friend Patti whipped up a double batch of these for me to take to a charity event for which I had volunteered to cook. (I have really nice friends.) The Brie ‘n Basil Bites were, as always, a big hit, and there were numerous requests for the recipe. Luckily, I had the foresight to ask Patti to save some of the cheese mixture so I could take it to the studio the next day and have Joe shoot the “bites.”  So here goes, an enticing photo from ALACARTE and the recipe!

Brie ‘n Basil Bites

Makes about 4 dozen

Adorable and totally delicious—as every good appetizer should be.

1/4 cup fresh basil leaves
1 small garlic clove
4 ounces Mascarpone cheese
4 ounces  Brie or Taleggio cheese (rind removed), cut into 4 pieces
3/4 ounce lean prosciutto, minced
about 4 dozen crisp crackers, such as Wheat Thins Big
2 tablespoons pine nuts, lightly toasted
about 4 dozen tiny basil (or parsley) leaves

– In food processor with motor running, add  basil and garlic through feed tube and process until minced.  Add Mascarpone and Brie cheeses; process until smooth.  Scrape down sides of bowl.  Add prosciutto.  Process just until combined. (At this point, you can cover and refrigerate mixture for 1 or 2 days.)

– Using a pastry bag fitted with a star tip, pipe cheese mixture onto each cracker or  use a small spoon to dollop  cheese mixture onto crackers.

– Garnish with pine nuts and basil leaves.  Serve immediately.

Tips

– There is nothing as wonderfully creamy as Mascarpone, an Italian triple cream cheese. If you cannot find Mascarpone, mix together 4 ounces of best-quality cream cheese with 2 tablespoons heavy cream as a substitution.

– You can substitute ham for prosciutto.  A suggestion would be Black Forest ham, but any cooked ham would be fine.

– Taleggio is a pungent cow’s milk cheese from the Lombardy region of Italy. The cheese is cave aged and becomes quite tangy.  Taleggio is sometimes referred to as “Italy’s answer to Brie!”

Heather

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Filed under Appetizer, Cheese, Entertaining, Foodies

Pop ’til You Drop!

Some of the most fun we’ve had in the studio of late was a recent shoot we did for The Popcorn Board. We photographed  (and sampled!) a variety of pop-a-licious recipes for their website redesign. We shot popcorn snack mixes, popcorn balls, popcorn pie, popcorn bars, and more. It seemed like the popping never stopped! Our hands-down favorite recipe was the Popcorn Con Pesto. Warning: it’s highly addictive!

Popcorn Con Pesto
Makes about 5 quarts

5 quarts popped popcorn
1/2 cup  butter or margarine
1/2 cup pine nuts (optional)
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon dried basil leaves, crushed
1 teaspoon dried parsley, crushed
1 teaspoon garlic powder

– Put popped popcorn in a large bowl and keep warm.

– In small saucepan, melt the butter; add pine nuts, Parmesan, basil, parsley and garlic powder.

–  Stir to blend.

– Pour over popped popcorn, stirring well.

Heather

Recipe courtesy of the Popcorn Board

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Filed under Entertaining, Popcorn, Snacks