Sunday, December 30, 2012

Blue Cheese Shortbread Bites + New Years Eve 2012

Three, two, one, party!  With 2013 around the corner, do you have your New Year’s Eve celebration plans set?  Are you painting the town red?  Hosting a soirée at your house? Attending a friend’s bash? Relaxing in front of television with a glass of champagne and ringing in the New Year with Ryan Seacrest? No matter what plans you have, as long as you are authentic in your celebratory plans and do what makes you happy, then that is the best way to ring in the New Year.

Last year at this time I was preparing for an intimate New Years Eve soiree that I was hosting at our house.  Entertaining for me is an opportunity to let my creative juices flow, gather good friends together and share in great conversation and many laughs.  One of my long time friends Denise came to the Bay Area for the holidays, so it was a perfect reason to host a wine and appetizer party at our house for her and about a dozen plus other friends.  A good time was had by all with good friends, great conversations, tasty food, special wines and indelible memories.

This year Hubby and I decided to celebrate with just the two of us by enjoying a wonderful bottle of bubbly and sharing tasty appetizers.  Perhaps to ring in 2014, we will host a bash at our house.  Until then, I am looking forward to having a party for two and ringing in the New Year with my hubby.  We will be feasting on an array of appetizers along with enjoying a few glasses of French bubbly.  I have featured a few of the tasty appetizers we will be enjoying.

Blue Cheese Shortbread Bites, Truffled Popcorn and Caprese Bites

Speaking of bubbly, thought I would share with all of you a Quick Guide to Champagne and Sparkling Wine:

Authentic champagne, a sparkling wine must come from the Champagne region of France and must be made using the “methode champenoise”, in which secondary fermentation occurs in the bottle.  Other sparkling wines are made using “methode traditionelle”, “bottle fermented” or methode champenoise” on the label.

  • American Sparkling Wines such as Roederer Estates (by Champagne Louis Roederer), Domaine Chandon (by Moet & Chandon) and Domaine Carneros (by Tattinger) are a few French producers in California.
  • Cremant are sparkling wines made outside of the Champagne region in France and still utilize the methode champenoise to produce these sparkling wines.  Brut Rose is a perfect example of Cremant with it’s lovely coral color, berry aromas and a dry finish.
  • Cava is from Spain and is the sparkling wine that is primarily produced in the Penedes region in Catalonia.
  • Prosecco, one of my favorites is made from the Moscato Bianco grape in the Peidmont region in Italy.
  • Blanc de Blancs is made only with chardonnay grapes and goes well with light foods
  • Blanc de Noirs is made solely from pinot noir and pinot meunier grapes and often have a deeper color which pair well with meats and cheeses.
  • Rose can be all pinot noir, pinot noir & pinot meunier or a blend of all three grapes.  The color comes from leaving the skin on during the fermentation process for a period of time and is called “saignee” which means bleeding.  Rose pairs well with food.
Dry versus Sweet

Review the label to determine the level of sweetness:
  • Extra Brut – totally dry
  • Brut – dry
  • Extra Dry – Medium dry
  • Sec – slightly sweet
  • Demi – Sec: Fairly sweet
  • Doux – Sweet

According to the French, the correct way to chill a bottle is to use a champagne bucket filled with a combination of water and ice should reach the perfect temperature in 15 to 20 minutes.

Food Pairing

Champagne is a wonderful beverage to pair with many foods.  Here is a quick list of both traditional and non-traditional pairings to try:
  • Hard cheeses – Cheddar, Gouda and Parmesan
  • Breaded and fried mushrooms with a Srirachi dipping sauce
  • Gruyere Gougeres
  • Mac and Cheese
  • Truffled Popcorn
  • Deviled Eggs
  • Handmade Potato Chips with Sea Salt
  • Crab Cakes
  • Butternut Squash Risotto
  • Mini Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato Sandwiches
  • Chinese Egg Rolls
  • Classic Cheese Fondue
  • Individual Baked Cheese Soufflés
  • Figs wrapped with Prosciutto
  • Duck Fat Fried French Fries with Rosemary
Opening Champagne

A toast to you!! I want to raise my virtual glass of champagne and toast each of you and wish you all the best in 2013.  May it be a year filled with much happiness, good health and your own personal prosperity.  May you have many new learning experiences, expand your imagination, be grateful for every day, accept new challenges and recognize opportunities.  Of course, may it be filled with delicious food and wine!  Cheers!

Blue Cheese Shortbread Bites

Makes 36 Shortbreads

½ Cup Sharp Blue Cheese, room temperature
3 Tablespoon Butter, room temperature
½ Cup Flour
¼ Cup Cornstarch
½ teaspoon pepper
¼ teaspoon salt
1/3 Cup Walnuts, chopped


Ricotta Cheese
Mango Chutney
Candied Walnuts

Combine the blue cheese and butter in a food processor; process until creamy.  Add the flour, cornstarch, pepper and salt to the processor and pulse to combine.  Next add the walnut nuts and process until incorporated.  Do not over process.  Remove the dough from the food processor and shape into a ball and then flatten into a disk.  Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for one hour until firm.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Place the chilled dough on a piece of plastic wrap and cover with another piece of plastic wrap.  Roll the dough out to about ¼ inch thick.  Remove the top plastic wrap and cut into 1-inch circles using a fluted cookie cutter.  Place on a cookie sheet with parchment paper.  Repeat until all the dough is used.  Bake until light brown, about 20 to 25 minutes.  Let cool.

To assemble, spread about 1 teaspoon of ricotta cheese on top of each shortbread and place a small dollop of mango chutney on top of ricotta then garnish with a small candied walnut piece.  Enjoy!

Note:  Blue Cheese Shortbread recipe from Cocktail Food by Mary Corpening Barber and Sara Corpening Whiteford

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Friday Night Bites | Bacon Parmesan Crackers

Christmas came and went in a blink of an eye this year.  I guess I say that every year, but it seems to speed up each year.  I enjoy each and every moment, especially watching the faces of my four nephews opening their gifts and seeing their eyes light up.  This year I was in charge of bringing appetizers for our Christmas celebration at my parent’s house.  Surprise huh?

After debating over several choices, I knew one was for sure.  I had pinned these crackers some time ago and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to make these bacon and cheese delights. I spied folks going in for seconds, thirds and fourths – then I stopped paying attention.  The multiple times to the plate were the only validation I needed to certify that these were a winner.

It was a magical day just spending time with my family.  We shared many laughs and lively conversation.  We ate really well.  We enjoyed the rainy and chilly day by the roaring fire that never stopped burning.  We opened gifts and saw many small boys get very excited over certain “requested” toys and other toys not requested got rave reviews.  We took cat naps.  We enjoyed my sister’s handmade English crackers during brunch and dinner with wonderful surprises in each.  We saw my Dad moving around extremely well since having his surgery four months ago.  Most of all, we enjoyed the spirit of Christmas and spending time together as a family!

Since the dough freezes beautifully, so I doubled the recipe so hubby and I could enjoy these tasty crackers for our traditional Friday Night Bites with a glass of chilled Sancerre. 

Bacon Parmesan Crackers

Makes 60 to 70 crackers

2 Cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
10 Grinds of fresh pepper
2 Tablespoons, chopped chives
1 cup finely grated fresh Parmesan cheese
8 Tablespoons (1 stick) butter
½ Cup Heavy cream
8 slices Apple Wood Smoked Bacon, cooked and crumbled

Put the flour, salt, cheese and butter in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the flour and butter are combined. Add about ½ cup cream or half-and-half and let machine run for a bit; continue to add liquid a teaspoon at a time, until the mixture holds together but is not sticky.  Add the bacon and pulse a few times to incorporate. 

Transfer the dough to a large square of parchment or wax paper.  Shape the dough into a long rectangle with a 1-inch square cross-section. Wrap tightly in the paper and freeze for at least 3 hours. 

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat.

Slice the dough ¼-inch thick, arranging the cookies ½-inch apart on the baking sheet.  Bake until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Cool on a rack; serve warm or at room temperature or store in a tin for a few days

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Kale and Sausage Soup

Today in the Bay Area it was chilly with consistent rain pounding the pavement.  The trees were whipping and shaking with the substantial wind.  Winter is here.  The sun never peaked out today and it turned out to be a great day to stay indoors.

Early in the morning, I finished wrapping all of the Christmas gifts and put the final touches on each package.  The holiday cards are in the mail and just need to decide on what to make for Christmas morning.  We do a large brunch menu for the morning, so I think that a big assorted fruit salad with blueberries, blackberries, kiwi, mangos, watermelon, pineapple and a garnish of pomegranate seeds will be just the perfect touch.

Of course, our Christmas would not be complete with out a few appetizers made by yours truly.  This year I am going to bring a parmesan and thyme cracker, bacon wrapped dates and caprese bites.  I can hardly wait to see everyone, especially my adorable four nephews and expressions on their faces when they open their gifts.

Since today was chilly, soup was a perfect addition to warm up our bellies and eat by the fire while watching some holiday movies from Lifetime and Hallmark.  They are so predictable but so enjoyable.  My Kale and Sausage soup is absolutely delicious and the secret is adding a couple parmesan rinds to the soup to add richness to the soup.  Enjoy!

Kale and Sausage Soup

1 lb. Sweet Italian Sausage
1 Large Onion, small dice
2 T. Olive oil
3 Garlic cloves, minced
6 C. Kale, remove any hard pieces
1 Can (15.5 oz) Cannellini Beans
1 Can (15.5 oz) Small White Beans
5 C. Chicken Stock
2 Parmesan Rinds

In a large pot add the sweet Italian sausage and olive oil to the pan.  I use about 5 links and remove the casing then cook and crumble.  Next add the onions and garlic and cook for 4 to 5 minutes on medium.  Add the chicken stock, kale, beans (rinse first) and parmesan rinds.  Cook on high until boiling, then reduce to medium low heat and cook for about an hour.  Serve immediately. 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Friday Night Bites | Brie Cups with Grape Salsa + Cocktail Party Tips

With festive parties abundant this time of year, it the perfect reason to celebrate the season and throw a fun cocktail party.  The party can scale from half a dozen friends to an extravagant bash for fifty. Honesty by preference is the more intimate affair with 6 to 12 people in attendance.  It gives me the opportunity to really socialize, converse and enjoy my guests. The idea of simply serving a signature cocktail as a starter then a variety of new and old world wines along with tasty bite sized delights is pure perfection in my book.

At the moment, I am in the final stages of planning such an event for next week.  A long time friend is visiting over the holidays so why not host a celebratory cocktail party in her honor.  The invitations have been sent, RSVP’s completed and the menu is nearly complete and now I just need to settle on the signature cocktail.  I can hardly wait for next week.  Quite frankly, one of my favorite parts of throwing a party is the planning and of course the actual event is the piece de resistance.

Among my favorite appetizer recipes to share with my guests is the Brie Cups with Grape Salsa, which pairs perfectly with the Grgich Hills Chardonnay.  With the grape being the common denominator, the compliment of the wine and tartlet was a match made in heaven.  These appetizers are super simple to make and pack a lot of flavor.  I highly recommend that you make the grape salsa ahead of time, so the flavors have time to marry together.  For the tart cups, I purchased Athens brand Mini Fillo Shells since they are simply perfect each time.  If you are feeling creative, you could use store bought wonton skins. Simply brush with a bit of olive oil and place into a mini muffin tin.  Cook at 350 for 5 to 10 minutes or until crispy golden brown. 

If you are hosting a cocktail party soon, would love to hear about it!

Brie Cups with Grape Salsa

1 C. Red seedless grapes, cut in half
1/3 t. Salt
2 T. Green onion, finely chopped
1 T. Balsamic vinegar
2 T. Olive oil
1 t. Rosemary, finely minced
1 Small clove garlic, minced
6 Grinds of fresh ground pepper
30 Pre-made Athens mini phyllo shells
6 oz. Brie, rind removed

Preheat oven to 350.

Place the grapes and salt in to a food processor and pulse until grapes are coarsely chopped. Transfer to a strainer and let sit for about 5 to 10 minutes.  In a bowl, mix the green onions, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, garlic pepper and strained grapes together.  Let sit to marry the flavors together for at least 15 minutes.

To assemble, lay the 30 shells out onto a cookie sheet and place about ½ t. of brie in each cup and then about a half to full teaspoon of the grape salsa.  Bake for about 5 minutes, until the cheese melts. Serve immediately.

Adapted from: Cocktail Food by Mary Corpening Barber & Sara Corpening Whiteford

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Zucchini Soup with Gruyere Croutons + Dinner Party Highlights

I love to entertain!  From the planning of the menus, to designing the table settings and decorations to matching the wine to the various courses – the entire process brings me much joy.  The greatest gift for me is bringing good friends together and sharing an evening together with tasty food, delicious wine and fun conversation.  Once I have a date on the calendar, my creative spirit goes into high gear. 

Last night was such a gathering.  My dear friends Melissa and Rich along with Pam and Tom joined hubby and I for a special dinner party at our house.  Time flies by way too quickly; we had not seen Melissa and Rich for a bit, however, when I opened the front door, it was like no time had passed.  That is the beauty of good friendships – the time gap closes immediately.  It was a double treat to see Pam and Tom two weekends in a row. Smile.

Me, Melissa and Pam

A moment of remembrance. It is weighing heavy on my mind and I would be remiss not to take a moment to reflect on the tragedy in Connecticut that occurred on Friday.  My thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of the victims.  Incidents like this remind us how valuable each and every day is, along with cherishing our loved ones. Not having children of my own, but an Auntie to four wonderful nephews, this hits me hard to imagine what these folks are going through.  It is a time to send many prayers and positive thoughts and support to those impacted families. 

It was extra special to have long time great friends over to share an evening together.  With our house all decorated for the holidays, it is one of my favorite times of the year to entertain and spend time with friends.  I wanted to make the evening extraordinary by sharing classic dishes that are worth repeating over and over again and proven winners.  I selected some special wines to share with our friends and to pair with the various courses.

We began with a glass of J Vineyards & Winery 1999Vintage Brut with a few frozen blueberries added for a bit of pizzazz.  This delightful wine has tiny elegant bubbles with a bright pear and citrus notes. I never want my guests to go hungry; I tend to make enough food for a small army.  Along with our sparkling wine, we noshed on Shaved Brussels Sprouts withTruffle and Parmesan and Brie Cups with Grape Salsa.  (recipe coming soon) With the bright flavors and effervescence of sparkling wine, the pairing was perfect.

We advanced to the dining room to begin with the Crab Cakes with Srirachi Aioli and a glass of Laurent Reverdy 2009 Sancerre. It is from Trader Joe's and very reasonable at $13 to $14 per bottle. The dry crispness of the wine was perfect with the rich crab cake.  Having a small starter or amuse bouche is a terrific method to share with your guests the tone of the evening and give a treat to their palates.  Next on the menu was the Zucchini Soup with Gruyere Croutons.  I decided to pair this with a Pinot Noir from Breggo which sits in the Anderson Valley.  This wine displayed intense aromas of black cherry along with undertones of earth and sage, along with a supple mouth feel and delightful finish. 

Now it was time for the Grand Dame of the evening – The AsianBraised Shortribs with Orange Hoisin Sauce on top of Sour Cream and GarlicMashed Potatoes.  This is hubby’s absolute favorite dish that I make and always a top notch winner at my dinner parties.  Tonight was no exception.  To honor this dish and our good friends we shared a very special wine – Lancaster Estates 2005 Estate Bottled Nicole’s from Alexander Valley. This Bordeaux style wine is a combination of Sauvignon Cabernet and Merlot. From the tasting notes on the Lancaster website, this wine exhibits a ripe raspberry jam, black cherry and chocolate characteristics along with hints of plum, clove and lavender.  All I can say, this wine certainly has the “wow factor”.  We also enjoyed the Estate Cabernet Sauvignon since we were all in love with the Lancaster wines.

With full bellies, there was still a bit of room for a bite or two of something sweet.  When planning the menu, I originally was going to make an espresso and chocolate bread pudding with salted caramel sauce, but decided to put that on hold for an event I am hosting in January.  My food bloggerlunch and cookie swap that I attended on Thursday provided me the perfect dessert – a lovely cookie platter full of tasty treats.

All in all, a memorable evening full of great friends, tasty wines and delicious food was had by all.  Cheers!

Zucchini Soup with Gruyere Croutons

Serves 6 to 8

1 large White Onion, small dice
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
10 Cups Zucchini, diced (about 10 zucchini)
6 Cups Chicken Stock
1 Tablespoon + 1 teaspoon Curry Powder

In a large stock pot, add the diced onion and olive oil and cook over medium heat, until onions are translucent.  Add the 1 tablespoon of curry powder to the onion mixture and cook for 5 minutes.  Add the diced zucchini and mix well and cook for 3 or 4 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper. Next add the chicken stock and cook on medium heat for about an hour until the zucchini is super soft.

Use an emulsion blender to puree the soup.  Add the teaspoon of curry powder and cook for another 10 minutes.

Gruyere Croutons

Slice the desired amount of sour dough baguettes in ¼ inch thick slices.  Toast lightly on both sides under a broiler.  Add a small slice of gruyere cheese to each toasted slice and place under the broiler until bubbly.  Remove and let cool.  Serve on top of each bowl of soup along with a few sliced green onions or chives for garnish. 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Friday Night Bites | Smoky, Spicy and Sweet Bourbon Peanuts

A vacation day - what a rare opportunity that I take advantage of, but need to more – especially after such a wonderful day that I have had so far today.  It is a day filled with food, friends, laughs, good conversation and great memories.

Patty from Patty’s Food arranged several weeks ago a cookie swap and lunch for a group of food bloggers.  I could hardly wait to attend and finally the day had arrived. From all sides of the bay Area, we made our way into
San Francisco to dine at Tyler Florence's Wayfare Tavern.  It was fantastic to see Patty, Bonnie, Azmina, Gina, Rose, Jean and Liren.  We ate well. I guess that is what food bloggers do. Smile.  From the signature Fried Chicken to Bone Marrow to Deviled Eggs to Cauliflower Soup with Lobster Beignets to Mac & Cheese with Smoked Olive Oil, it was a true feast.

After we finished gorging ourselves, well maybe not quite dramatic of a word, the best part was yet to arrive - the highly anticipated cookie swap.  Patty arranged this swap perfectly.  Each person brought half dozen cookies to share with everyone plus four to cut in half to enjoy at the table with a cup of piping hot coffee.  I wish you all could have dived into the cookies.  These are some talented ladies.  Always fun to catch up with these ladies and today was no exception. Big smile. We even packaged up the shared cookies and gave to our waiter as a special gift.  

I wanted to share these smoky, spicy and sweet bourbon peanuts for my Friday night bites weekly series.  I was instantly inspired by Jean’s Bourbon Pistachios and knew I had to make my own version pronto.  Since I had recently purchased a bag of peanuts; that was my nut of choice.  While searching my pantry I found a bottle of smoked paprika and built the recipe from this delightful spice.  The result was an enjoyable peanut that was smoky first, then sweet with a spicy finish. They were a hit at my office.  Thank you Jean for the inspirational nut recipe.  

Now it is time to head off for our annual holiday dinner with my book club.  Another great restaurant to enjoy tonight, just hope I have some resemblance of an appetite after today’s lunch. I wonder how much discussion will actually happen around this month’s selection - Telegraph Avenue. Smile. Wink.

Smoky, Spicy and Sweet Bourbon Peanuts

8 (oz) Bag of Shelled Peanuts
3 T. Bourbon
2 T. Maple Syrup
3 T. Brown Sugar
1 t. Salt
½ t. Cayenne Pepper
1 t. Smoked Paprika

Preheat oven to 250 degrees

Use a medium sized bowl and add all of the ingredients together except the peanuts.  Mix well.  Next add the peanuts and coat well with the bourbon mixture.  Use a sheet pan with sides and spread the peanuts evenly.

Cook for 25 minutes.  Halfway through, stir the peanuts to ensure they are well coated.  Remove and let cool. Use a spatula to loosen the peanuts and store in an airtight container.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Holiday Checkerboard Cookies | 2nd Annual Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap

What a wonderful time of year!  The holidays are here – a time for spending time with family and friends.  The cheer is flowing along with an abundance of tasty treats.  Speaking of delicious treats, this time of year brings out a plethora of delightful cookies.  It is a time for cookie baking, cookie swaps and trying new recipes, and of course, partaking in eating these one or two bite delights.

Speaking of cookie swaps, I was excited to take part in the 2nd Annual Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap that is hosted by Julie from The Little Kitchen and Lindsay from Love and Olive Oil.  It was so much fun last year that I needed to join in the festivities again this year.  Essentially there are about 550 food bloggers from across the United States and beyond, that bake 3 dozen cookies, then send off a dozen to the three food bloggers they are matched with.  In turn, 3 food bloggers have been given your name and you receive in the mail a dozen cookies from each.  This year Lindsay and Julie paired up with Cookies for Kids Cancer and each participating food blogger donated as part of the cookie swap.  What a perfect combination of giving and baking. It is so fun to discover new blogs, friends and cookie recipes.

Last year I sent out Chocolate Dipped Gingerbread Biscotti Cookies and they were quite tasty.  For this year, I remember a favorite recipe from Martha Stewart for Checkerboard Cookies.  They are light, beautiful and incredibility tasty (and addictive).  Smile.  I wanted to put the Authentic Suburban Gourmet spin on these cookies along with making them in the holiday spirit.  I decided to eliminate the chocolate and tint the dough red and green - in turn making a red/white cookie and a green/white cookie.  In addition, I thought adding the sanding sugar would add a bit of holiday sparkle.  The end result, in my opinion, was a simply sublime cookie. 

Now for the other important part of the swap, was the packaging. I had some lovely silver tins and holiday ribbon to add along with a sprig of decorative holiday berries for that finishing touch.  I was matched with some lovely and talented bloggers from all across the country from Tennessee, Texas and San Diego.  It was great to get to know Amanda from High Heels to Hot Wheels, Jessica from My Baking Heart and Kathy from Cooking on the Side.  I hope that each of you enjoyed these Holiday Checkerboard Cookies as much as I do. Smile.

In turn, some very gifted bloggers were given my name to send their dozen cookies to.  I had them sent to my office and every day I would wait to see if I had a package on my desk.  The first to arrive was from Linda from TheUrban Mrs. who happens to live one city over from me – small world.  She sent a Double Chocolate Merlot Cookie which was very rich and tasty.  The next to arrive was from Val from A Scrumptious Life.  Val made a “melt in your mouth” Shortbread Cookie with White Chocolate, Pistachiosand Dried Cranberries.  The final delight to arrive was from Lauren from Have Fork Will Eat.  She sent a unique cookie that I have never heard of prior called “Bousou la tmessou” which is an Algerian cookie.  Half was lemon flavored and the other half was scented with rosewater and simply melted in your mouth. 

What fun this was and it was terrific to meet six new food blogger friends through the swap! Thank you everyone for the delicious treats – it was fun to be part of the 2nd Annual Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap!

Holiday Checkerboard Cookies

Makes 8 dozen

2 C. Butter (4 sticks), softened
1 C. Sugar
1 T. + 1 t.Vanilla
½ t. Salt
5 C. All-purpose flour
1 large Egg
Red and Green food coloring
Sanding sugar

In an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar until well blended.  Add vanilla extract and salt.  With the mixer on low, gradually add flour, scraping down the sides of the bowl.

Turn dough out onto a clean work surface; it will be loose and crumbly.  Knead dough together.  Divide dough into 4 parts.  Color 1 part green by drizzling a bit of the green color into the middle and knead until well blended.  Add more color until you achieve the desired color.  Repeat process with the red color with another 4th of the dough.  Leave the 2 other parts white.

Place each part (4 parts total) of the kneaded dough between two sheets of plastic wrap.  Using a rolling pin, shape dough into 7-inch squares, about 3/8 inch thick.  Using a sharp knife and a ruler, slice each square into nine, ¾ inches-wide strips.

Whisk together the egg and 1 tablespoon water.  Cover work surface with plastic wrap.  Place three strips of dough on plastic, alternating white and red for the first set, to create a checkerboard effect. Brush tops and in between the strips with the egg wash.  Gently press strips together.  Repeat, forming second and third layers, alternating colors to create a checkerboard effect.  (I added a fourth layer) Wrap assembled log in plastic.  Repeat process with green for second log.  Refrigerate 30 minutes, or freeze 15 minutes. 

If you have extra dough continue repeating the process until all dough is used. 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with a parchment paper.  Slice each log into ¼ inch thick slices; placing on baking sheet.  Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with sanding sugar.  Bake until done, 10 to 12 minutes.  Remove baking sheet from oven, and let cookies cool 2 minutes.  Transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Friday Night Bites | Parmesan Pecan Dip

With the holidays now here - festive parties are in full force.  How many events do you already have scheduled or double booked this season? Whether it is for your office, a gathering of friends, spending time with family or other festive gatherings, now is the time to indulge in holiday cookies, a plethora of appetizers and other gourmet delights.  Last night was the start of my social gatherings.  I participate on a local board for Human Resource professionals and the last meeting of the year is a potluck of sorts.  With this being the third year I have been a member of the board, I have now been infamous for a particular appetizer – Parmesan and Pecan Dip.

It is widely requested among people who know me.  When folks taste it for the first time, it is literally addictive and you can’t help but go back for seconds, thirds, fourths and even a tenth one or more. Trust me.  Years ago I brought it to one of my offices and a gentleman who doesn’t really cook was instantly hooked.  He subsequently asked for the recipe and made it for every event he had.  I would get emails from him letting me know that he made the “crack dip” again.  He made it for his football buddies and it was gone super quick.  He is no longer with our company, but every once in a while I will get an email letting me know that he made the dip and it was a hit.  Love that!

This is the dip that you can bring to all of your holiday events and I guarantee that you will be the star at your event.  It is that good.  This dip would be perfect with almost any wine from a dry sparkling wine to a buttery chardonnay to a deep cabernet sauvignon.

Parmesan and Pecan Dip

1 C. finely diced celery
1 C. chopped roasted pecans
1 C. chopped parmesan
½ C. chopped flat leaf parsley


2 small garlic cloves minced and mashed with ½ teaspoon of salt
1 T. Mayo
2 T. Fresh squeezed lemon juice
2 T. Olive oil
3 to 4 grinds of fresh pepper

Endive leaves (3 to 4 whole endives)

Roast the chopped pecans for about 10 minutes in a 375 degree oven. You can skip this step by purchasing the dry roasted pecan pieces at Trader Joes. Blend the dressing ingredients in a small mason jar and shake until well blended. Place in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Chop the first four ingredients and put everything, except the pecans in a bowl into the refrigerator until ready to serve. Set pecans aside. When ready to serve, add the pecans and dressing. Toss well and transfer to a pretty serving bowl. Add to a platter with the endive leaves. Use a small spoon to have guests top each endive leaf.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Beer & Pumpkin Chili + BlueStar Cookware Review

Recently Wendy from Smart Click Advertising reached out to me directly to see if I would be interested in reviewing a new line of cookware from BlueStar.  Prior to accepting Wendy’s offer to send me cookware to review, I did research BlueStar, since I had never heard of them prior. I quickly learned the BlueStar label is part of Prizer-Painter Stove Works, Inc and began handcrafting and manufacturing stoves since 1880.  In 2002, Prizer introduced handcrafted, restaurant quality ranges for the residential market under the BlueStar brand.

These ranges are constructed with the highest quality commercial grade stainless steel along with 22,000 BTU power burner, which can deliver the same results at home that you have in any commercial kitchen.  The features are fully customizable, expansive oven space, durable construction and they offer 190 colors.  Yes – you heard me right – 190 colors! 

Hubby and I recently replaced our 11 year old refrigerator, with a well-known brand that specializes in built in refrigerators. Shopping for the new fridge got us excited about the possibility of replacing our ovens and range. We seriously contemplated replacing our ovens, but decided to hold off.  Actually glad that we did, since after looking at the BlueStar website I am extremely intrigued by the 36” Gas Wall Oven with the French style doors.  From the exterior, you can quickly imagine that you have stepped into a commercial bakery with the smell of freshly baked croissants lofting through the air.  Okay, back to reality.  Darn those croissants were smelling heavenly. Smile. This oven has an extra large oven capacity, a powerful 25,000 BTU burner within each oven, a 15,000 BTU ceramic infrared broiler, convection cooking and you guessed it – available in 190 colors.  Amazing, right? 

Browsing through all of the other incredible products, my mouth began to drool.  The BlueStar products are unique along with emboding a high standard of quality and customized features that stand out from other competitors in the market place.  A few of the remarkable products that I wanted to highlight include are:

Let’s chat about this noteworthy cookware that was generously supplied by BlueStar for me to review.  When Wendy mentioned she would send me some cookware to review, I anticipated a couple pans.  How wrong was I?  BlueStar sent me a 8 piece set that included 2” Quart Sauce Pan with Lid, 3” Quart Sauce Pan with Lid, 6” Quart Stock Pot with Lid, 8” Fry Pan and 10”Fry Pan. 

(My 8 piece BlueStar Cookware Set after being unpacked)

Key features:
  • Try-ply construction for superior and consistent heat conductivity
  • Professional grade 304 stainless steel for optimal durability
  • Easy-grip, ergonomic, stainless steel handles stay cool during stovetop cooking
  • Oven safe up to 500 degrees
  • Dishwasher safe
  • Made in the USA
  • Limited lifetime warranty

What better way to do a review of cookware than to begin to cook with the products.  I was immediately drawn to the stock pot and knew I could test the heat conveyance, durability and cooking results.  I created a Beer and Pumpkin Chili Recipe and this was the perfect pan to test my recipe.  The first thing I noticed was that the handles did not get hot, unlike other pans I own.  This benefit alone was brilliant.  While browning the meat for the chili I paid close attention to see if it secured to the bottom of the pan.  Nothing worse than having to soak a pan overnight to remove food that sticks.  Again, the BlueStar cookware did not disappoint and I simply used a wooden spoon and the food came off like a dream. 

As additional ingredients were added to the chili, along with simmering for hours, the pan held a consistent heat while providing a perfectly cooked chili.  Again, those handles stayed cool to the touch and no oven mitt was required.  This feature alone was a highlight for me and I believe the home cook would appreciate. Hubby and I enjoyed this chili for three days in a row.  I simply put the stockpot in the refrigerator each night and reheated the chili the next day.  It was just as good the 2nd and 3rd night, if not better.  The pan heated up like a dream and no sticking to the bottom when it finally came time to clean up the pot.  I simply rinsed out the soup residue and washed it in the dishwasher.  It came out looking brand new.

I am excited to test out the other pans  by trying a fried egg in one of the fry pans along with making Salted Caramel in the 3” Quart Sauce Pan.  This new set is going to replace several “well-loved” pans.  My mind still visualizes owning the wall ovens one day. It is always good to dream. Keeping with my current obsession with pumpkin, I have included my recipe for Beer & Pumpkin Chili.  This has to be one of the BEST chili’s I have made.  Enjoy.  

Be sure to check out the BlueStar website and be careful to wipe the drool off your mouth after viewing!

Beer & Pumpkin Chili

4 Cups Fresh Pumpkin, peeled and diced into small cubes
1 lb. Ground Beef
1 lb. Sweet Italian Sausage, casings removed
1 large Onion, diced
1 (12 oz) bottle of Pumpkin Beer
3 Tablespoon Ground Cumin
1 Tablespoon Garlic Powder
2 Jalapenos, seeded and fine dice
2 (28 oz) cans San Marzano Peeled Tomatoes
2 Cups Water
2 (15 oz) Cans Organic Great Northern Bean or large white bean, rinsed
2 (15 oz) Cans – Kidney Beans, rinsed
1 (6) Can Tomato Paste
1 Tablespoon Salt
1 teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
2/3 Cup Espresso

Use a 6 Quart Stock Pot and heat over medium heat.  Add the ground beef and sweet Italian sausage.  Break up with a wooden spoon and cook until brown.  Remove any extra grease. (A trick that I learned years ago is to dump the meat into a colander and shake off the grease – super simple).  Add the meat back into the pan and add the onions and cook until translucent – about 10 minutes over medium heat.  Next add the cumin, garlic powder, jalapenos, salt and cayenne pepper. Mix will with meat and onions and cook for 1 to 2 minutes over medium.  Add the San Marzano Tomatoes and add a cup of water to each can to rinse any extra tomato flavors and add to the pan. 

Add the tomato paste and mix into the ingredients.  Finally add the beer, beans, pumpkin and espresso.  Bring to a boil and then quickly turn down to a simmer.  Let cook for at least 2 to 3 hours to allow the flavor to develop and taste, then add additional seasoning if desired.  Serve with cheese, onions and sour cream.  Enjoy!!

Note:  I did not receive compensation for this review, the company did send me a free 8 piece cookware set.  The opinions are exclusively mine.