Friday, August 29, 2008

Labor Day Weekend Gatherings

Labor Day weekend is the traditional end to summer and many folks hold their last outdoor party of the season. In the interest of being a guest at your own party, it’s good to have some recipes tucked away that are simple to make and can be scaled to feed a crowd.

These recipes are a snap to make, can be prepared ahead of time, and work just as well for a Labor Day picnic as a birthday bash as a family reunion.

Fruit Salsa and Cinnamon Tortilla Chips

2 kiwi fruits, peeled and diced
2 granny smith apples, peeled, cored, and diced (or your favorite apple)
8 ounces raspberries, halved
16 ounces strawberries, quartered
2 tablespoons white sugar
1 tablespoon brown sugar
3 tablespoons fruit preserves or apple jelly
10 – 10” flour tortillas
Butter flavored cooking spray
cinnamon sugar

In a large bowl, thoroughly mix kiwis, apples, raspberries, strawberries, white sugar, brown sugar and fruit preserves.
Cover and chill in the refrigerator at least 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
Coat one side of each flour tortilla with butter flavored cooking spray.
Cut into wedges and arrange in a single layer on a large baking sheet.
Sprinkle wedges with desired amount of cinnamon sugar, then spray again with cooking spray. Bake in the preheated oven 8 to 10 minutes.
Repeat with any remaining tortilla wedges.
Allow to cool approximately 15 minutes and serve with fruit salsa.
Serves 10

Tortellini Salad with Grilled Chicken

6 chicken breast halves, boneless and skinless
1 – 8oz bottle your favorite Italian dressing
12 oz cheese tortellini, fresh or frozen
½ cup mayonnaise
3 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
½ cup sweet red peppers, chopped
12 sun-dried tomatoes (packed in oil), cut into slivers
Salt and pepper to taste

Place chicken in a ziplock bag, pour entire bottle of Italian dressing over the chicken and marinate in the refrigerator overnight. Turn the bag several times.
Remove chicken from ziplock bag and discard marinade. Grill for 15 to 20 minutes or until chicken is thoroughly cooked. Remove from grill and cut into bite-size pieces.
While chicken is grilling, boil water and cook tortellini until tender but still firm - about 8 to 10 minutes. If using frozen, cook according to package directions.
Drain. Rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process and drain thoroughly.
In a large salad bowl, combine mayo, eggs, red pepper, tomatoes, salt and pepper, chicken, and tortellini and mix until well combined. Add additional mayo if necessary to reach desired consistency.
Serves 6-8

Corn Salad with Basil Vinaigrette

1 – 12oz bag frozen roasted corn (Trader Joe’s is fantastic!)
3 large tomatoes, diced
1 large onion, diced
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons white vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Thaw corn in refrigerator and drain.
In a large bowl, toss together the corn, tomatoes, onion, basil, oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Chill at least one hour before serving.
Serves 4

Refreshingly Simple Punch For a Crowd

4 – 1/4oz packets of unsweetened strawberry drink mix (like KoolAid or Wylers)
2 – 46oz cans pineapple juice
3 cups white sugar
4 quarts water
1 – 2-liter bottle of ginger ale

In a large punch bowl combine drink mix, pineapple juice, sugar and water.
Stir until dissolved.
Just before serving, stir in the ginger ale.
Serves 45.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Favorite Birthday Cake

Italian Creme Cake. I can't even begin to describe the decadent deliciousness of it. From the torte-like coconut buttermilk cake layers, to the cream cheese and toasted pecan icing in-between and encasing those layers; it is pure heaven. Of course my favorite birthday cake clocks in at close to 1,000 calories per serving. The way I see it, I'll have it once a year on my birthday - indulge until I go into sugar shock - then that will knock out the craving for me for another year.

Last year, my husband and son made my Italian Creme birthday cake from scratch as a surprise. They did a fabulous job and I believe this is the recipe they used, from Southern Living.
Make sure you use real buttermilk as it makes all the difference.

Italian Cream Cake
Serves 12

* 1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
* 1/2 cup shortening
* 2 cups sugar
* 5 large eggs, separated
* 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
* 2 cups all-purpose flour
* 1 teaspoon baking soda
* 1 cup buttermilk
* 1 cup flaked coconut

Nutty Cream Cheese Frosting

* 1 cup chopped pecan, toasted
* 1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
* 1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
* 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
* 1 (16 ounce) package powdered sugar, sifted

1. Beat butter and shortening at medium speed with an electric mixer until fluffy; gradually add sugar, beating well.
2. Add egg yolks, one at a time, beating until well blended after each addition.
3. Add vanilla; beat until blended.
4. Combine flour and soda; add to butter mixture alternately with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour mixture.
5. Beat at low speed until blended after each addition.
6. Stir in coconut.
7. Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form; fold into batter.
8. Pour batter into three greased and floured 9-inch round baking cakepans.
9. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.
10. Cool in pans on wire racks 10 minutes; remove from pans, and cool on wire racks.
11. Spread Nutty Cream Cheese Frosting between layers and on top and sides of cake.
12. Nutty Cream Cheese Frosting: Beat cream cheese, butter, and vanilla at medium speed with and electric mixer until creamy.
13. Add sugar, beating at low speed until blended.
14. Beat at high speed until smooth; stir in pecans.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Saving Money with Boxed Lunches

The first week of August is back-to-school for students around here. While school lunches have come a long way in the last 30 years, some kids (and parents) prefer to pack their own. Many families choose to pack their own lunches as a money-saving measure, although when purchasing convenience items and pre-packaged snacks, the savings disappear. With food costs climbing at a shocking pace, it pays to take a bit more care shopping and preparing meals. Spending a little extra time can save a family hundreds of dollars per year.

Reusable containers save money and energy. Instead of using zip bags for sandwiches, try the reusable storage containers with lids. These containers come in all shapes and sizes that are perfect for boxed lunches. With sandwich sized zip bags costing five to ten cents each, the savings add up.

Instead of individually packaged snacks, fruit cups, and yogurts, purchase the family size containers and spoon portions into small containers when packing lunches. A 6oz (one serving) container of yogurt costs $0.75. You can purchase a 32oz (over five servings) container for approximately $2.00. That’s a savings of nearly 50%. Another big savings can be had by purchasing the family sized can of fruit cocktail ($0.07/ounce), versus the individual fruit cups ($0.18/ounce). Cha-ching!

Kids love cheese cubes and sticks. The individually wrapped (or cut or cubed) varieties cost about $0.50 per ounce – that’s $8.00 per pound! Why not purchase a 32oz block of cheese for less than half that price and cut it yourself?

For sandwich fillings, think about using the leftover protein from dinner. That leftover chicken or beef from last night’s meal is delicious on a sandwich, in a wrap, or atop a salad, is far better than that sodium-laden luncheon meat from the deli, and is much less expensive.

I started making my own bread to avoid preservatives (many times, the pan grease used in commercial bread baking is preserved with petroleum-based products – yuck), and found that I was saving money at the same time. It ends up running about ten cents per slice.

Homemade goodies will make your kids the envy of the lunch table. Baking up a pan of snack cake or a few dozen cookies is very easy to do, less expensive than pre-packaged, and you can control the sugar and fat content. Muffins are great to pack in lunches and can be made ahead as most of varieties freeze beautifully.

Below are the recipes for my family’s favorite homemade sandwich bread and their favorite muffins. The bread is super easy as the bread machine does the work before plopping the dough in a loaf pan to be baked in the oven. The muffins are also frequently requested by my personal chef clients.

Soft Whole Wheat White Bread

Makes1 Loaf

1/2 cup milk

2/3 cup hot water

3 Tablespoons sugar

4 Tablespoons melted butter or vegetable oil

1 cup whole wheat flour

2 cups all-purpose flour or bread flour

1-1/4 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons yeast (regular or quick rise)

Place ingredients in bread machine in the order recommended by the manufacturer. Set to dough cycle.

When dough cycle is complete, place dough into a greased loaf pan.

Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.

Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Muffins

Makes 30 Muffins

4 eggs

2 cups sugar

1 (16 ounce) can pumpkin

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 1/4 cups vegetable oil

3 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon salt

12 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips (Regular or mini)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In large mixing bowl beat eggs, sugar, pumpkin, vanilla and oil until smooth.

Mix dry ingredients together and mix into pumpkin mixture. Fold in chocolate chips.

Fill greased or paper-lined muffin cups 3/4 full.

Bake at for 16-20 minutes.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Operation Baking Gals - Sweets To Our Soldiers

Earlier this week, a friend of mine turned me on to the Operation Baking Gals organization and blog. Operation Baking Gals recruits volunteers to bake and send goodies to service persons overseas that they can share. What a fabulous idea!
The second round of Operation Baking Gals will be having their mass mailing the week of August 23-30. I have joined Team Hungry Fox for this round and will be sending my goodies to Daryl, who is in Iraq. Next round, I plan to host my own team. Stay tuned and I'll be posting the info to show how you can join my team! To join a team for the current round, head on over to Operation Baking Gals and enlist!

All this baking talk has me craving Snickerdoodles. Snickerdoodles were my favorite cookie growning up. None of my friends had ever heard of them, so I thought my mom was the only one on Earth who made them. When I was dating my husband, one of our conversations turned to cookies and he mentioned snickerdoodles. I was amazed! He was the first person I'd ever met, outside my family, who knew what snickerdoodles were. I believe that was the moment I knew I would marry him.

About 2 dozen cookies

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1-1/2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon

In large bowl, cream butter and sugars on high speed until creamy.
Add egg and vanilla; beat until smooth.
In separate bowl, combine flour, salt, baking soda, and cream of tartar.
Pour dry ingredients into wet ingredients and mix well.
Refrigerate dough for at least 30 minutes.
While dough is chilling, preheat oven to 300 degrees and combine coating ingredients in small bowl.
Form dough into walnut-sized balls.
Roll dough balls in coating mixture and set 1" apart on parchment lined baking sheet.
Bake for 10 minutes or until crackly, yet still very soft.
Cookies will look underdone, but will set up while cooling. DO NOT OVERBAKE.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

USPCA 2008 Recipe of the Year!

Of all the awards given out at the USPCA's annual conference, my favorite is the Recipe of the Year. Probably because I love trying out the new recipes. At this year's conference, the top recipe was a fish dish - and I have it here for you! Courtesy of the USPCA 2008 Recipe of the Year winner, Chef Leah Peachey, owner of Savory Selections Personal Chef Service in Augusta, Maine! Luckily, I'm a personal friend of Ms. Peachey's so I was able to obtain an advance copy of the recipe. Thanks, Leah - I'm making this for dinner tonight!

Baked Crusted Haddock
4 servings

  • 1-1/3 pound fresh Haddock (or other firm, mild, white fish)
  • 2 med lemons, 1 for zest and 1 for garnish
  • 1/3 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 5-1/3 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup cracker crumbs, whole wheat bagel crisps, crushed
  • 7/8 cup seasoned bread crumbs
  • 1/3 cup oats, quick cooking
  • 2/3 teaspoon fresh parsley, chopped

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

Melt butter on stovetop in a 3 quart saucepan; remove from heat.

Crush bagel crisps in Ziplock bag.

Zest lemon and set zest aside for later.

Slice lemon for garnish and chop parsley.

Into the pan of melted butter, mix in cracker crumbs, seasoned breadcrumbs, oats, parsley, and lemon zest.

Rinse fish under cold water and place in baking dish.

Juice 1 lemon and pour over fish.

Place crumb topping over fish.

Bake in oven at 375 degrees for 30 minutes, or until fish flakes easily.

Sourcing Local Foods

In my search for locally grown and produced foods, I was referred to the Arizona Farm Bureau (AZFB). Julie, the Director of Public Relations for AZFB, excitedly directed me to lists local member farms and producers who will sell to you - not just to the grocers.

Once you are at the Fill Your Plate site, you can search by the product you are seeking, as well as by city or even zip code. Once the list comes up, you can double-click on the name of the farmer/grower/producer and a box will pop up with contact information and, in some cases, a little blurb about them.

I had no idea there were so many food products grown in this area. From eggs to herbs to fruit to flowers to shrimp. Yes, I said SHRIMP grown in Arizona. I am completely blown away and have contacted the shrimp farm, requesting a tour. I'll update the blog after touring the place. I can't wait!

I'm also in contact with a producer of all-natural, locally grown pork called The Meat Shop. They don't have a website yet, but I'll post as soon as they do. Tim, the owner of The Meat Shop, is on board for a local "dinner party" or "neighborhood bbq" that I am planning, consisting of all locally grown foods and highlighting the growers and producers. To fill your freezer with this delicious, all-natural pork, contact Tim at 602.751.8756 or

Eat Local! Your food will be fresher, tastier, and less expensive than having it shipped in from somewhere else - AND - your dollars will stay in your community.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Foodies & Winos 2008

The blog entry I wrote last year after attending the United States Personal Chef Association's (USPCA) annual conference was titled, "Foodies & Winos." I've just returned home after this year's conference and found the title just as apropos for this year, so I'll just add "2008" to the end.

The conference committee likes to showcase the local cuisines of the host city. Well, since the conference was in Arizona and I live in Arizona, the food served at the luncheons was not new or exciting to me (or the other Arizonans attending). Next year, however, the conference will be set in New Orleans. I fully expect to eat and drink my way through the city. With any luck, enough wine will make us completely forget about the oppressive humidity of Louisiana in late July. I'll have to ply my friend from Maine, Chef Leah, with enough wine that she stops worrying about the behavior of her naturally curly hair while down on the bayou. ;-)

Speaking of my friend, Chef Leah, her creation won the "Recipe of the Year," award! I have yet to lay my hands on this recipe, but as soon as I do, I'll be trying it out and maybe posting it here (with Chef Leah's permission, of course). That's a pretty awesome achievement to have your recipe judged above all others by a group of professional foodies!

Another friend (and a valley local, being in Peoria), Chef Leslie, was most helpful (and entertaining) sitting next to me at the Kosher cooking class. The biggest thing I got from that class is the fact that I'm now even more freaked out by the rules of Kosher cooking (since I'm not Jewish - and the rules were not explained during this class, just kind of thrown out there) and I'll be referring any Kosher clients to Chef Leslie. The lingering question for me is, "Is silicone Kosher?"

On the last morning of conference, Chef Leslie and I had breakfast with Chef Gail Kenagy, who is the new president of the USPCA, and world-renowned food stylist and author, Denise Vivaldo. This was the highlight of my weekend. Chef Gail is one of my all-time favorite people, and Denise is one of the most entertaining speakers I've ever seen. Oh yeah - and Denise says, from what she sees in Beverly Hills, silicone MUST be kosher - and Botox too!