Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Ringing in the new year

I'm sad to say goodbye to 2008; it was a wonderful year in so many ways. Highlights of the year included our family trip to California in June; my youngest beginning middle school; both kids' amazing summer camp experiences; Steve Sr.'s success with Flatout Motorsports and his novels; and the myriad benefits of my job as a personal chef, including the symposium I attended in Charleston in October, my wonderful clients, and the great new friends I've met along the way.

I look toward the new year with wonder and awe, and with the belief that the best is yet to come. I'll try to share that spirit tonight with those gathered at our house to ring in 2009. Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Our family's Christmas Eve tradition, dating back at least 4 years, is to eat hors d'oeuvres and desserts for dinner, in front of the fireplace. A week or so before the big day, I take a poll and ask each family member to name one or two items they'd like me to make. Then I make a menu, adding many things that I like and deleting some of their suggestions (ssssshhh... they never remember what they asked for anyway).

Our tradition changed a bit last year, as our fireplace was knocked down during our home renovation. We now have our feast in front of a Yankee Candle. Last year we even made s'mores using the candle. We're an inventive group.

Tonight, we enjoyed our hors d'oeuvres early so we could get to church for the Christmas pagent, and then we had our dessert when we returned home. I had the pleasure of having my daughter help me make the delicious dishes this afternoon.

Christmas Eve 2008

Vegetables and Herb Dip
Antipasto Triangles
Sweet and Sour Turkey Meatballs
Cheese Nachos
Shrimp Shooters
Dessert: Hot Fudge Pudding Cake with Whipped Cream

Sunday, December 21, 2008

White Bean, Pasta and Sausage Soup

The snowy weekend made me think "soup," so today I made an old favorite, "White Bean, Pasta and Sausage Soup." Here's how old and favorite it is: I have a handwritten comment on the recipe that reads, "Oct. 1991 - Very good soup." Enough said.

I served it with a spinach salad and sliced wheat baguette.

White Bean, Pasta and Sausage Soup
Serves 4-6

1 1/2 cups (about 8 oz.) small white beans (Navy beans)
1 - 2 T. olive oil
8 ounces chicken or turkey Italian sausage (sweet or spicy; up to you)
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
seasonings: dried basil, dried sage, dried thyme, fresh thyme if you have any
6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
3 cups water
1 can (14 oz.) diced tomatoes, undrained
1 cup dry small shell-shaped pasta
grated Parmesan cheese and chopped parsley, optional

Rinse and sort beans in fine mesh colander and set aside.

Heat oil in a large heavy dutch oven over medium heat. Remove and discard sausage casings, and crumble sausage into the pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes, or until sausage begins to brown. Add onion, garlic and carrot and cook for 5 more minutes, stirring often. Turn down heat if the vegetables are browning. Stir in beans, seasonings, broth and water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cook, covered, at a gentle boil, for 2 hours, or until beans are tender to the bite.

Add the tomatoes and their juices, then stir in the pasta. Return to a boil and cook until pasta is just done, about 8 minutes or whatever the pasta box advises. Serve soup with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese and fresh chopped parsley, if desired.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Soy-Soaked Roasted Salmon

We all loved last night's dinner. The flavors were just right; not too overpowering but not too shy, either. This is a super-easy dinner to make; the only hard part is doing the dishes afterward.

Soy-Soaked Roasted Salmon with Vegetable Noodles

Serves 4

1/2 pound thin spaghetti
6 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
3 inch ginger -- peeled and grated
2 limes -- one juiced, one cut into wedges
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 1/3 pounds salmon fillet
1 bunch broccolini -- ends trimmed, stems peeled if desired
2 large carrot -- grated
4 cloves garlic -- minced
1 large red bell pepper -- sliced thin
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 teaspoons honey
1/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
dash sesame oil
pinch sesame seeds
2 large scallion -- sliced

Cook pasta in boiling salted water until al dente. Drain and set aside.

Combine soy sauce, ginger, juice of 1 lime and red pepper flakes. Pour over salmon fillets. Turn to coat and let marinate about 10 min.

Steam broccolini until barely tender (I used a Zip and Steam bag). Set aside.

Place marinated salmon on oiled broiler pan and broil for 10 min., or until done. (My fillet was very thick; thinner fillets will not need as much time.) RESERVE MARINADE.

Heat 1 T. oil in large skillet or wok. Saute carrot, garlic and red pepper for about 2 min. Add honey to reserved marinade. Whisk and add to skillet. Add cooked broccolioni and chicken stock. Bring to a boil and simmer for 1 min. Add cooked pasta and toss to combine. Drizzle with some sesame oil.

Divide veggie/pasta mixture between four serving bowls or plates. Sprinkle sesame seeds on top. Top with salmon fillets. Garnish with scallions and lime wedges.

Adapted from Rachael Ray's "Express Lane Meals"

Friday, December 12, 2008

Snow day!

Well, "ice day" technically. No school today, due to very icy conditions. Yippee! I for one LOVE a snow day. I have the prerequisite gingerbread house kit, which I buy every year and promise the kids we'll make on the first snow day. Should I go wake them up so we can get started? Nah.

Friday is also my paperwork day, so after my coffee kicks in, I'll be printing out menus, labels, recipes and shopping lists for next week's cook dates. This time of year, people either want comfort foods (favorites include Turkey Meatloaf, Chicken Parmesan, Macaroni and Cheese, Chili, casseroles, hearty soups) or lighter dishes to counteract all the holiday party eating (baked fish, stir fries, vegetarian entrees). Which camp are you in?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

It's the most wonderful time of the year!

Last night's Cookie Swap rocked! I played hostess to 21 of my neighbors; we had appetizers; a Yankee Swap (awesome gifts this year, girls!); and then the much-loved cookie swap. Each of us made 4 dozen cookies, seen here. That big plate is the "Fudgy Bonbons" that I made (recipe below).

Everyone brings an empty container and goes around the table and takes 2 or 3 of each cookie. All the husbands and kids wait up for their wives/mothers to return from the swap, because everyone loves the cookies. One of my neighbors left, only to return because she got home without her cookies and her daughters accosted her; another couldn't find her cookies at the end of the evening and went storming down to her neighbor's house at 11 pm, because she was pretty sure she took them. Margaret, did you take Kathleen's cookies?

My own children miraculously fell asleep while the party was going on, but this morning wondered if they could have cookies for breakfast. I talked them out of that by having them each select a couple to take to school as a snack. Of course, my son left his on the kitchen table (he's not a morning person). Good times!

Fudgy Bonbons
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup butter
1 (14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
60 milk chocolate Hershey's kisses, unwrapped
2 oz. white chocolate melts

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Melt chocolate chips and butter over very low heat in medium saucepan, stirring constantly. Mixture will be stiff. Add condensed milk and mix well. Remove from heat.

Lightly spoon flour into measuring cup; level off. In large bowl, combine flour, chocolate mixture and vanilla. Mix well. Shape 1 Tablespoon dough around each Hershey's kiss, covering completely. Place 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheets.

Bake at 350 for 6 or 7 minutes. Cookes will be soft and appear shiny, but will become firm as they cool. Remove from cookie sheets and cool at least 15 minutes.

Melt the white chocolate melts (or regular white chocolate and 1 teaspoon oil). I did this in the microwave at 50% power. Pour the melted mixture into a squeeze bottle or plastic bag. Cut off corner of bag and decorate the tops of the cooled bonbons. Let stand until set. Place in decorative paper cups, if desired.

Makes 5 dozen.
Recipe by Mary Anne Tyndall, Pillsbury Bake-Off Grand Prize Winner

Friday, December 5, 2008

Christmas countdown!

Can you believe it's only 20 days 'til Christmas? I feel pretty organized this year:

- Almost all gifts have been purchased and wrapped; just a few more to get
- Designed cards on and have picked them up
- Just printed labels for cards
- House is as decorated as it's going to get!
- Have some holiday hors d'oeuvres made and in the freezer, ready to bake off before the neighborhood party on Sunday
- Ditto some holiday cookie dough made and in the freezer, ready to bake, though I know I'll be making some other varieties as the days go by
- Just ordered 2 Edible Arrangements to be delivered to special people next week

Hubby and DD are getting the tree on Saturday and the kids will decorate that; I need to write a few checks for mailman, newspaper delivery guy and so on; I need to write out my business holiday cards; DD and I need to plan the Christmas Eve dinner... I think we're in good shape.

How about you?