A Crowd Pleaser

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Whether you are expecting a crowd to watch the Super Bowl or enjoying it with family or a friend or two, a yummy Mexican cheesecake is an appetizer that’s sure to please everyone. If you don’t have all the ingredients on hand, there’s still time to make a quick trip to the grocery.  Here’s what you’ll need.

Mexican Cheesecake

1 c. crushed tortilla chips

3 T. butter, melted

2 8 oz. packages cream cheese, softened

1 package taco seasoning mix

2 eggs

2 c. shredded Mexican cheeses

1/2 c. thick and chunky salsa

1 c. sour cream

green onions, ripe olives, tomatoes chopped

Stir together crushed tortilla chips and melted butter.  Press onto bottom of 9″ springform pan.  Bake at 325 for about 10 minutes.  Cool slightly.

Beat cream cheese and taco seasoning at medium speed until well mixed.  Add eggs and continue beating until smooth.  Stir in shredded cheese and salsa.  Spoon mixture over cooled crust, spreading to smooth.

Bake at 325 for 30-35 minutes until edges are set.  The middle may be a bit soft.  Top with sour cream and cool completely.  Cover and refrigerate.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI like to make the cheesecake a day ahead and leave it in the refrigerator until time to serve.  Just before serving, all you have to do is remove it from the pan to an attractive platter and garnish with  green onions, olives and tomatoes.  Serve with tortilla chips, sit back and wait for the raves.

I’m on my way to the grocery right now.  See you there!

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First the Arancini

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWith the table set, it was time to get busy in the kitchen preparing the Sicilian dinner.

Without question, one of my favorite foods in Sicily was arancini which I swore not to make noting that it was rather labor intensive.  No way though could I pass on it knowing that it possibly would be a new taste treat, so I bit the bullet and got started.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAArancini is basically a risotto ball so the first step is making your favorite risotto being sure not to let it get too soft and mushy.  Al dente is the buzz word.  When it has cooled enough to handle, roll the risotto into golf ball sized shapes with a small mozzarella ball in the middle.  Dip the balls in beaten egg whites and roll them in a mixture of equal parts flour and bread crumbs seasoned with salt, pepper and chopped basil.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOnce your balls are prepared,

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAfry then in olive or canola oil over medium high heat until browned on all sides.  A deep fryer would likely be a little more efficient than a skillet.  I must tell you this part can be a little tricky as the balls tend to fall apart if they are handled too much so do use care when moving them around.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARemove the balls from the oil and drain them well on paper towels.  Making the arancini is more time consuming than difficult I learned, but the good thing is it can be made a day ahead and reheated in the oven or warming drawer.  That takes a lot of the pain out of preparing the rest of the meal.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt serving time, put a heaping portion of  meat sauce in a bowl and top with 2-3 arancini.  Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and coarsely chopped basil or Italian parsley. Then sit back and enjoy the moans of pleasure that will come from your table.  That makes the effort all worthwhile!

While you may have a favorite meat sauce, I can’t resist sharing Chef Michael’s recipe for Sicilian meat sauce with its flavorful blend of ingredients.

1/4 c. olive oil

1/2 c.  each finely chopped onion, carrot and celery

1 lb. ground pork or Italian sausage

1/2 c. red wine

6 oz. tomato paste

28 oz. can of diced tomatoes

3 c. beef broth

1 T. fennel seeds, toasted and ground fine

2 cloves minced garlic

1 bay leaf

Kosher salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat and add the onions, carrots and celery.  Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the pork or sausage, stir until broken up and cook until browned.

Pour in the wine and cook until it has nearly evaporated.

Stir in the tomato paste and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add diced tomatoes, beef broth, seasonings and bay leaf and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for 2 hours.

Remove the bay leaf and season to taste.

As you might guess, this sauce is great with most any pasta.  Double the recipe, freeze the extra and you have sauce ready for another time.  Not a bad idea!

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Found!

Have you ever put something away and not been able to find it?  I do that from time to time, and the hunt makes me crazy!  

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFor two years I looked high and low for these candelabra that fit so nicely into a bottle and are terrific on any table. Finally, they’ve been found  hiding in a basket under some books.  How did they get there!!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIroning a tablecloth from Provence, I noticed a border of sunflowers which are the last flower to bloom in Maine.  Right away a tablescape that would combine the found candelabra, sunflowers and the cloth began taking form in my mind. What I liked was the notion that the table would have sunny summer colors and at the same time be a lead in to fall.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFrom there it was easy to make the table happen.  Yellow plates, yes.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was was a no brainer to accessorize with the cranberry tones of the tablecloth. I’m crazy about the square shape of the cup and saucer….so contemporary looking but from a set of dishes popular in the 1940’s.  Some things just don’t go out of style.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThese little guys, cigalles they are called in Provence, are supposed to keep a table cloth from blowing off the table, but here they are used as napkin rings.  They are fun finds from a street market in Gordes.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn a matter of minutes, the table is set, and I’m off to the kitchen to prepare gazpacho with which to fill those cups.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATomatoes are at their best right now, and gazpacho is one of my favorite ways to use them.  I throw all the vegetables in the blender with Clamato juice (1-2 cups) and blend until they are smooth. Here I used a mixed selection of tomatoes (4-6 depending on size) and a zucchini in place of the more traditional cucumber.  You can be creative with your vegetable choices.  When the ingredients are well blended, add a teaspoon each of red wine vinegar and sugar and salt and pepper to taste.  If you like a bit of spice, add a touch of Tabasco or red pepper.  

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI like to top the soup with diced veggies and a dollop of sour cream and when I have it I throw in some chopped lobster.  Hmm, I’m getting hungry just thinking about it!

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King Ranch + Casserole

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Since the 1800’s the King Ranch in south Texas has been part of Texas folklore.  Spanning over 800,00 acres it is known for cattle raising, hunting leases, retail products and so much more.

 Now I can’t tell you whether or not the King Ranch casserole actually had its origins there or why this tasty dish bears its name.  What I can tell you is that if the state of Texas had an official casserole this would be it.

There are a lot of variations to this Texas favorite, but I like best what I think is the original recipe.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAKing Ranch Casserole

1 can cream of chicken soup

1 can cream of mushroom soup

1 can Rotel tomatoes 

1 cup  chicken broth (or more, to taste)

1⁄2cup  chopped onion

1⁄2cup  chopped green pepper

16 ounces  monterey jack, colby jack or cheddar cheese

3 c. chopped chicken

12 corn tortillas

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.  In a large saucepan, cook pepper and
onion in melted margarine until tender, about 5 minutes.  Add soups,
RO*TEL and chicken, stirring until well blended.  In a 13 x 9 x 2-inch
baking pan, alternately layer tortillas, soup mixture and cheese, repeating
for three layers.  Bake 40 minutes or until hot and bubbling. Serves 8.

With this as your base, you can’t go wrong preparing what is surely to be a crowd favorite.  I like having a little salsa, sour cream and guacamole on the side, and you need nothing more with it but a salad and/or black beans or frijoles.   Happy eating!

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Oh So Good…Simple, Too!

IMG_0746 (1)These days roasting is my favorite way to prepare vegetables.  

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne is wonderful all by itself, but mixing several together is even better and a great way to use a little of this and a little of that from the refrigerator.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEasy?  You bet!  All that is needed is seasonings, oil and always garlic.    I particularly like Herbes ‘d Provence or fresh rosemary and either avocado or olive oil.  

Always we have some veggies left over, and I’ve found they make a great soup.  Already the vegetables are seasoned so just add some chicken broth and maybe a bit of half and half or milk for a richer version.  When the ingredients are heated through puree to a creamy texture.  Here is one of the many instances I find a handheld blender very handy.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAdd a salad and this is a tasty lunch or dinner on those days when you’re looking for quick and easy!

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Party Planning Tips

I don’t give a whole lot of parties, so when we decided to have a Christmas gathering I got a little anxious before making myself sit down to create a “to do” list.  That made things ever so much easier, and I hope you will find some of these tips helpful.

Three weeks in advance, send invitations.  Paperless Post is an easy way to do this and makes it very convenient for guests to RSVP.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA week or more ahead of time, create a centerpiece for the serving table.  For me, that sets the stage for everything else. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs soon as possible, get out your favorite cookbooks and look for new food ideas that will go well with old favorites. By the way, don’t be afraid to include some of the very good prepared party foods from Costco, Trader Joe’s or Sam’s.  That makes your work much easier.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOnce the selections are made, make a thorough shopping list.  Nothing is more frustrating than getting ready to make something and finding you don’t have all the ingredients.  

Make a workable schedule for food that can be prepared  several days in advance so that everything doesn’t have to be done at the last minute.  Doing as much as possible ahead of time is a great stress reliever!

Look through your cabinets for serving pieces that work for your menu items and complement the centerpiece.  

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALay out the serving pieces, plates and napkins to make sure they are cohesive.  FYI, this is one time I use paper!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAStand back and with a critical eye judge your setup and make any changes that make the table more inviting.

With all the preliminaries done, you can take a deep breath knowing that you’ve got everything under control.  Of course, even easier than this is having the party catered, but if you bypass that option, it’s a good idea to have a helper in the kitchen during the party.  Having someone refill empty dishes and keep everything orderly in the kitchen allows you to enjoy the party without worry.

For any gathering, I like to keep things as simple as possible and have a few favorites like this blue cheese spread that take only minutes to prepare.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMix blue cheese, roquefort or gorgonzola with fig preserves or one like this roasted garlic/onion jam from Stonewall Kitchen.  I generally use more cheese than preserves, but there’s no fixed rule so make it to satisfy your own taste.

  Serve with rosemary raisin crackers from Trader Joe’s.

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An Irresistible Dessert

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If you are still looking for a knock your socks off dessert for an upcoming dinner, a Spiced Pumpkin Trifle is it.  I’d love to take credit for the recipe, but it is one I saved on Pinterest from a favorite blog where you can get the full details.  

Not only is it one of the best and prettiest desserts I’ve tried recently, it is incredibly easy.  The trifle layers pumpkin bread, condensed milk, whipped cream mixed with pumpkin, and heath bar chips.  No way you can go wrong with those ingredients.

You could shortcut the recipe with a bought pumpkin bread, but I went to my tried and true Southern Living cookbook for a favorite.

Pumpkin Bread

3 c. sugar

1 c. oil

4 eggs, beaten

1 16 oz. can pumpkin

3 1/2 c. flour

1 t. baking powder

2 t. soda

2 t. salt

1/4 t. ground cloves

1 t. each cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice

2/3 c. water

Combine sugar, oil and eggs.  Add pumpkin and mix well. Combine dry ingredients and add to pumpkin mixture.  Add water, mix thoroughly and pour into 2 greased loaf pans.  Bake at 350 for 1 hour.

You only need one of the loaves for the trifle.  Enjoy the other for breakfast or freeze for another day.  

A word of warning about the trifle.  It’s so yummy you will be tempted to have a second serving.  All of us at my table did just that and found that our eyes were bigger than our belly.  Save some for later and you’ll enjoy it even more.

i so appreciate your visit and the comments you leave behind