Monthly Archives

November 2009

Havest Dinner Party

November 15, 2009

I’ve been saving these pictures, from a dinner party I hosted, for a couple weeks, and am just now getting around to posting them. The guests, Drew and Jean Vogel, and their friends Nick and Cindy DeVries, were the highest bidders at an anual auction in my hometown, and were treated to a dinner at my home, with me playing both chef and waiter for the evening. Knowing they paid money to have me cook, (crazy!) I wanted to make sure they had an evening full of great food.

Along with delicious food, I was determined not to stress and enjoy the evening. I stuck with a menu that was heavy on the prep work and low on hands-on time during the actual meal. For starters, a 3-cheese plate of (from left to right) Gorgonzola, Manchego, and buffalo milk cheese, paired with Quince and fig paste, grapes, crackers, and, of course, wine! My favorite, by far, was the buffalo milk cheese: soft, creamy, and slightly salty.

Instead of stressing over a complicated main-course, I selected something that world do the work itself. Borrowing from the master of science himself, Alton Brown, I made a beef tenderloin that was baked inside a salt-dough crust dotted with herbs. If you’ve never made a salt-crusted meat of some sort, I would highly recommend it.The crust, a mix of salt, flour, water, and herbs, is rolled out and the meal placed inside. An automatic thermometer is inserted and the meat placed in the oven until the desired temperature is reached. When the meat is done and had time to rest, peel away the salt crust and throw it away and you’re left with a delicious, juicy piece of meat like nothing you’ve ever tasted. The reviews at the dinner ranged from “delicious” to “the best beef I’ve had in years,” and that was from people who love good food! Find the recipe I used here.

There were a lot of other great menu items, but to keep things moving, I selected just a few of the recipes that received the most glowing reviews of the night. One such recipe: this gourmet macaroni and cheese from Bon Apetit. Called the “Cheesemonger’s Mac and Cheese,” I think it could easily be called the “$40 Mac and Cheese” based on how much delicious, and expensive, cheese it calls for. If you are ever looking for a great groumet mac and cheese recipe for a special occasion when the blue box just won’t do, this is it.

I would, without a doubt, say the night was a success. The guests arrived at 7 and stayed well past 11, chatting, enjoying some great food, and wonderful wine. For me, the best part was cooking for people who love food. Though I was nervous about it at first, I realized that when you cook for people who are knowledgeable about food, it’s all the more fun because you can share so much with one another.

Happy cooking!


No-Bake Chocolate Clusters

November 12, 2009

Crazy, busy, wonderful. Those three words really are not even close to being enough to describe my past two weeks, but they will have to suffice for now, because my brain is only functioning at 50% at the moment due to over-use and exhaustion. I’ve spent the better part of the last couple weeks filming holiday craft and decorating videos for Better Homes and Gardens – 100 Days of Holidays.

I was introduced to a whole new world that doesn’t involve food and had the opportunity to learn so much about decorating! It was awesome to spend days going to the Christmas tree farm, decorating wreaths, and hanging garland. It really got me in the holiday spirit, so much so that I feel like Christmas should be right around the corner. The videos aren’t online yet, but I’ll make sure to post a link when they are, which should be right around Thanksgiving time.

Simplicity is the name of the game for these chocolate clusters, because sometimes you just want a bit of something sweet right now, instead of laboring in the kitchen over a fancy dessert. I melted a bag of milk chocolate chips, though I would have used dark chocolate if we had it around the house, then stirred in a cup of shredded coconut, a cup of chopped pecans, and a half a cup of dried cranberries. Stirred it all together and dropped it in heaping tablespoons onto parchment paper. Give these little chocolate treats a half an hour in the freezer before eating and you have yourself a delicious and quick no-bake chocolate dessert.

Happy cooking!


Peanut Butter and Jelly Oats

November 8, 2009

We’ve been having unseasonably warm weather here in Iowa. It’s November and today warmed into a lovely, sunny, 74 degree day. Winter can stay at bay for at least another month as far as I’m concerned, which is probably wishful thinking, but a girl can hope, right?

Happy weather calls for even happier food. Familiar favorites that make you smile and want to linger at the table for just a few more minutes. Since breakfast is my ‘stay-and-linger’ meal of choice, there’s no better meal than Peanut Butter and Jelly Oats, for breakfast, or any time of the day.

1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
1 cup water
1 tablespoon peanut butter
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon jelly or jam (I used red raspberry)
Walnuts or pecans (optional)

*Mix together oats and water. Microwave on high for 1 minute, stirring at 30 seconds. Remove from microwave and stir in peanut butter, cinnamon, brown sugar, and salt. Top with jelly and nuts.

Happy cooking!


Peanut Butter, Pear, and Honey Stacker

November 5, 2009

Quite often, I sit down at the end of a busy day and think about what I fixed for myself, only to feel dismayed thinking about food I find to be rather uninspiring. I’m not a chips, fast food, and junk food type of girl, but on busy days I sometimes rely rather heavily on coffee, yogurt, and Lara bars, finished off with a big plate of veggies at the end of the day to balance everything out.

A couple weeks back I was putting together this little sandwich and one of the girls in my sorority asked me, “Why don’t you ever eat normal food?” I was rather confused by her question. “What in the world are you talking about? The foods I eat are normal!” I wanted to say, but instead I simply shrugged and settled for a, “Looks normal to me.”

This sandwich really isn’t much of a recipe, but it sure does hit the spot for lunch or a light dinner. I’ve never been much of a peanut butter and banana sandwich girl, but switch the bananas out of pears and add a drizzle of honey and I’m there. Depending on how firm your pears are, it may help to saute them in a tiny bit of butter with a touch of cinnamon just to soften them up, about 3 to 4 minutes. Layer the pears on a couple slices of bread coated with peanut butter and top it off with a drizzle of honey. Pure perfection.

Happy cooking!


Chocolate-Peanut Butter Truffles

November 1, 2009

Maybe it’s a bit too early to start thinking about favorite holiday treats. But since Halloween is over and done with, I have decided it’s entirely appropriate to start posting any and all treats that remind me of Thanksgiving, and particularly, Christmas. For years growing up I tasted these sweet little peanut butter-chocolate morsels of deliciousness and thought they must be terribly difficult to make. If big flavor was any indication of difficulty level, they would most certainly take forever to make.

Thankfully that rule does not hold true. Especially in this case. When I was let in on the recipe to these Chocolate-Peanut Butter Truffles, I was shocked at how simple they are to make. They have become my go-to treat for pretty little hostess gifts and parties of all sorts, because let’s be honest, who doesn’t like peanut butter and chocolate? Put them together in a bite-sized dessert and it’s game over. Give it a try. Make them, set them out, and watch them disappear.

*1 package vanilla sandwich cookies or Golden Oreos
*1 (8-oz.) package cream cheese
*1/2 cup peanut butter
*1 package chocolate almond bark
*Toffee bits, chopped chocolate, or other candy for garnish

*In a food processor, blend cookies until fine crumbs form, about 2-3 minutes. Add in cream cheese and peanut butter. Process until evenly blended. Transfer to bowl and refrigerate at least 1 hour.
*Melt almond bark in microwave safe bowl on high for 3-4 minutes. Stirring every 30 seconds, until almond bark is smooth and glossy.
*Form dough into 1-inch balls. Dip into chocolate and transfer to waxed paper to try. Top with candy garnish of choice.