Christmas Entertaining: Bloody Mary and Hot Chocolate Bars

Hot Chocolate Bar

Hot Chocolate Bar

Holiday entertaining doesn’t have to be difficult, it just has to be festive and fun. A couple of years ago I had a Christmas Brunch complete with a Bloody Mary bar and a Hot Chocolate bar for the kids, (and adults too, just add some Baileys’).

For the Hot Chocolate bar, have hot water in a carafe, packets or a container of hot chocolate mix, marshmallows, chocolate chips, whipped cream, festive sprinkles, and candy canes for stirring. Let the guests make there own favorite concoction, this was a big hit with the preteens.

_MG_0734

For the Bloody Mary Christmas Bar, make pitchers of Basic Bloody Mary’s 3parts tomato juice, to 1 part vodka (have regular tomato juice on hand for those who don’t drink alcohol) Then set up the bar with ice,  Worcestershire, celery salt, hot sauce, old bay seasoning, picked vegetables, lemon and lime wedges, celery, cooked shrimp, olives and any other topping or garnish you desire. Again let the guest play bartender, set out some pastries, breakfast casseroles and a salad and the party is complete.

Bloody Mary Christmas Bar

Bloody Mary Christmas Bar

What the heck is that?, Adventures at the Produce Stand and Cactus Pear Margaritas

As you may or may not know, I am a sucker for produce stands and farmer’s markets. I love to look at all the fresh offerings begging me to take them home and invent some new recipe. My younger son also likes to go and find the one fruit or vegetable that he has never tried before. This time it was cactus pears, and well you know I wasn’t going to say no.

So we got them home but now what, I had no idea what part was even edible much less what to do with it. Thank god for Google, my son had already told me no salsa, so after researching a bit I found that really the only other thing to do was a margarita. Well I  had no problem and he was game as long as I didn’t put the tequila in his, if he only knew what he was missing, but he has at least 6 more years before he finds out. Now to figure this “pear ” out.

First step was to peel it, the easiest way is to chop off the ends and then run your knife down the fruit and then carefully remove the peel in one big chunk.

This fruit is full of seeds which are edible but not appetizing, we tried a little piece, it tastes like a not so sweet melon, or a slightly sweet cucumber. Very refreshing though, would be yummy without those pesky seeds.

I threw my fruit into a food processor and pureed it, then strained the seeds out with a sieve, not the easiest process, but worth it in the end. I was left with the juice.

I added the juice from my 2 pears, the juice of 1 lime, 2 T agave nectar, and 2 cups of ice to the blender, and pureed until smooth.

I split this between 2 glasses and added a shot of tequila to mine, my son added Sprite to his, we garnished them with lime and pieces of the cactus peel.

Pretty darn tasty, not too sweet and very refreshing, I could probably drink a lot of these, they go down smooth, but thankfully we only bought 2 pears.

5 Minute Craft: Frosted Pumpkins

I love crafts but often don’t have the patience to finish them. This one is so easy that even I can do it. It’s cheap too and makes a perfect Halloween centerpiece. This method is easy and I already have ideas for Christmas to use pears and persimmons.

Frosted Pumpkins

1 bag epsom salts (so much cheaper than glitter, and has a nicer subtler effect)

2 T white glue

2 T water

paintbrush

small pumpkins or gourds

Mix glue and water together, I used a disposable cup for easy clean up. Paint pumpkin with glue mixture.

Sprinkle with epsom salts. I did it over a paper plate for faster clean up.

Let dry and arrange in group on table, I scattered some fall leaves around first, I would use real ones but I’m in Florida so I went with the silk ones. This would be fun with kids too as a party craft.

Pepperoni and Cheese Stuffed Shells

 

Add a little zip to your stuffed shells recipe with pepperoni and arugula.

Pepperoni and Cheese Stuffed Shells

12 oz box of large shell shaped pasta

2 lb container of ricotta cheese

2 eggs

2 cups chopped pepperoni

3 c grated mozzarella cheese

1/4 c chopped arugula

1 T lemon juice

1 t lemon zest

2 T chopped basil

1 t crushed red pepper

1 t salt

1/2 t ground black pepper

1 1/2 c grated parmesan cheese

1 jar of your favorite tomato sauce

In a large pot boil shells until done, drain and rinse with cold water. Meanwhile prepare filling in a large mixing bowl. Add ricotta cheese, eggs, 1 cup pepperoni, arugula, lemon juice, lemon zest, salt, pepper, 1 cup parmesan cheese and 1 1/2 c mozzarella cheese, stir until combined.

Pre heat oven to 350. Pour about 1/2 c of tomato sauce onto the bottom of a large glass casserole pan to prevent shells from sticking. Use a heaping tablespoon to stuff each past shell with cheese mixture. Line them up in your casserole pan.

Top with tomato sauce and remaining pepperoni, mozzarella and parmesan cheese.

 

Bake for about 30 minutes or until sauce is bubbling and cheese is melted. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes and serve. Top with chopped basil and arugula if desired.

Make Your Own Pizza Night: Pear, Blue Cheese, and Caramelized Onion Flatbreads

We have “make your own pizza night” every couple of weeks at our house. It’s an easy weeknight meal that gets the whole family involved, uses up some leftovers and gives us a chance to be creative. We use all different kinds of things for crust from pre made doughs, pitas, tortillas, Naan, and pre made bread crusts. Whatever happens to be on sale or leftover from the week’s dinners can become a canvas. This weeks winner was a flat bread topped with thinly sliced pears, blue cheese, caramelized onions and fresh arugula.

Pear, Blue Cheese and Caramelized Onion Flatbread

4 flatbreads (we used round ones found in the deli section of our supermarket)

1 sweet yellow onion sliced

2 T butter

2 c mozzarella or Monterey jack cheese

3 T blue cheese crumbled (use the good stuff here)

1 large ripe pear sliced thin

2 cups arugula

1 t lemon juice

olive oil

salt and pepper

Add 2 T butter to a med sized pan, melt over med high heat, add sliced onions and cook over med low for about 30 minutes or until onions are caramelized. This is a slow and tedious process but you will be rewarded with flavor. Pre heat oven to 400 degrees. spread about 1 tsp of olive oil on each flat bread, I used a pastry brush, but a paper towel will also work. Cover the inner circle with about 1/3 c mozzarella or monterey jack cheese. Top the flatbreads with caramelized onion, pears and blue cheese. Bake in oven for about 5  minutes or until cheese is melted and bubbling. Toss arugula with 1/2 T olive oil, lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste.

Cut and serve.

Kale, Potato, and Pork Soup

Hearty, Yummy, and Easy. This is a perfect weeknight meal for fall or anytime of the year. The vinegar added at the end adds a nice flavor and brightness to the soup.

Kale, Potato, and Pork Soup

1 yellow or white onion chopped

2 large potatoes cut into bite sized chunks ( I left the skin on)

3 T olive oil

1- 1 1/2 lbs ground pork  (substitute any ground meat that you have on hand)

3 cloves garlic chopped

1/4 t  black pepper

1/4 t red pepper flakes (add more if you like it spicy)

1/2 cup chopped carrots

1 T Italian Seasoning

32 oz chicken broth

1 T balsamic vinegar

In a large heavy pot, add olive oil and heat over med high heat. Add potatoes and onion and cook for about 3 minutes, add ground meat, garlic, pepper and red pepper flakes. Cook until Meat is no longer pink. Add carrots, Italian Seasoning and chicken broth. Bring to a simmer and reduce heat. Cook for about 20 minutes or until potatoes are soft. Add balsamic vinegar and cook for 5 more minutes. Serve.

Kalamata Olive Aioli: The Paris Wife

Book Club time again, this month’s selection was The Paris Wife by Paula McLain. It tells the story of Hadley Richardson, Ernest Hemmingway’s first wife. I loved it, but then of course historical fiction is my favorite genre, and Paris in the 1920’s intrigues me. It also meant the food for book club would be easy, Paris, Spain, champagne and elegant meals, there was lots to choose from. And did I mention costumes, I do love to dress up and putting together a flapper costume was great fun. The hardest part this month was narrowing my options down. I chose to go with olives as my ingredient. In chapter three, Hadley tries olives for the first time at a greek restaurant in Chicago, she says, “I suppose it’s embarrassing, but I’ve never had olives before.” Ernest replies, “That should be illegal. Here open”. and feeds her an olive which starts their romance. I made an olive plate, but also wanted to actually make something so I made a dip that I also served at my sons chip and dip graduation party.

A kalamata olive aioli, which I loosely based on the Kalamata dip served at Nordstrom’s cafe with their fries (it is delicious, try it if you ever get a chance). It is simple, elegant, and has lots of applications, it is a great dip for crunchy potato chips or raw veggies, a great spread for bread and cheese or chicken sandwiches, and would also be great on roasted vegetables or french fries.

Kalamata Olive Aioli

1 1/2 c mayo

3 cloves of garlic, or 5 cloves of roasted garlic

1/2 c pitted kalamata olives

1 T lemon juice

1/2 t lemon zest

cracked pepper

add mayo, olives, garlic and lemon juice and zest to a food processor, blend until olives are completely incorporated into the mayo.

Add pepper and stir, and serve.

Barbecued Orange and Jalapeno Ribs

 

I am not intimidated but much in the kitchen but for some reason ribs have always been well, scary. However, they are my oldest child’s favorite food and biggest request as well as a family favorite. So it was time to put on my big girl apron and figure this out. I have to say they were delicious and pretty easy, just takes some preplanning. I will be making them again and was very pleased with the flavor of the marinade and barbecue sauce. I desperately wish(hint, hint) that I had a smoker but until then these  slow roasted and then grilled ribs will be perfect.

4 lbs Pork Loin Baby Back Ribs

Orange Jalapeno Marinade

2 garlic cloves chopped

1 tsp orange zest

1/4 cup orange juice

1-2 jalapenos minced

1/2 t dijon mustard

1/4 c ponzu (citrus infused soy sauce) or soy sauce

1/4 c lemon lime soda (sprite, 7up etc…)

Mix ingredients in a small bowl. Remove silver skin from ribs if necessary and score the ribs with a sharp knife through the fat between each bone to allow the marinade to penetrate.

Place ribs into a large ziploc bag and pour in marinade. Place in refrigerator over night turning the bag occasionally.

Preheat oven to 200, remove ribs from bag and place in a large pan, cover with foil and cook 3-4 hrs, turning once.

 

Orange Jalapeno Barbecue Sauce

2 c ketchup

3 oz jalapeno jelly

juice of 1 orange

1 tsp orange zest

1T worcestershire sauce

1T dijon mustard

1 T apple cider vinegar

1/2 t garlic powder

1/4 t black pepper

1/2 t salt

add all ingredients to a small sauce pan stir and bring to a simmer over med heat. Make sure jelly is melted and turn to low until ready to use.

Remove ribs from over, baste with sauce and place on a preheated grill (med-high) for about 7-10 min per side or until sauce caramelizes. If you don’t have a grill, place under the broiler in the oven.

 

 

Simple Summer Flavor: Grilled Chicken and Vegetables with Lemon Mint Yogurt Sauce

Let’s admit it, simple, clean flavors are the best. Especially in the summer when produce is at its peak. This uncomplicated dish sings Summer and lets the true flavor of the food shine through. Delicious, filling and healthy, the chicken and vegetables are kicked up with the acid of the lemon, the freshness of the mint and a subtle kick from cayenne. Perfect for a Labor Day cook out or any day of the week.

Grilled Garlic Lemon Chicken and Vegetables

3 lbs of chicken ( I used boneless skinless thighs and breasts)

4-5 T olive oil

1 lemon juiced

1 T garlic

1/4 t cayenne pepper

salt and pepper

2 zucchini sliced in 1 inch rounds

2 cups eggplant cut in 1 inch chunks

2 sweet yellow onions halved

2 red bell peppers cut into 2″ x 2″ chunks

Combine 2 T olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, and cayenne pepper in a small bowl. Lay chicken in a shallow baking dish and por marinade over chicken using , tongs to turn chicken so it is coated on all sides. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and refrigerate covered for at least 20 minutes.

Meanwhile chop vegetables and place in a large bowl, add 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil and toss to coat, add salt and pepper .

Thread on skewers. I like to do each skewer with an individual vegetable so they cook evenly since different vegetables have different cooking times.

Preheat Grill and place chicken and veggie skewers on grill.

Cook until vegetables are slightly charred and softened slightly. The onions and zucchini will cook slightly longer.

Cook chicken to preferred temperature or until no longer pink. About 5 min per side.

Lemon Mint Yogurt Sauce

1 cup plain greek yogurt

1 lemon juiced

1t lemon zest

1 t garlic

2 T chopped fresh mint

salt and pepper

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl

Serve with grilled chicken and vegetables

Greek Stuffed Zucchini

To low carb or not to low carb, that is the question. Yes, I know I lose weight this way, especially belly fat. But sometimes it is unrealistic, I have 2 teen boys, there is no way they are giving up on bread, pizza crust and cookies. My husband wants to, but he loves cereal and beer too much. I don’t think I can ever swear off potatoes for ever. So where does that leave us, weeknight dinners that cut down on the big bad carbs, pasta, white refined sugars, rice, potatoes and bread. We are still keeping fruits and veggies, all types. Beans and legumes are ok in our book. An occasional splurge on weekends and whole grain cereals for breakfast are fine too. I am not saying that we are going on a big strict diet, we are just going to try and incorporate more vegetables into our diets and leave out bad carbs when they are not necessary.

So that brings us to my Greek stuffed zucchini, it has all the flavor of yummy stuffed zucchini, just without the bread crumbs, which don’t add flavor anyway, just filler.

Greek Stuffed Zucchini

3 zucchini, cut in half lengthwise

1/4 cup chopped or grape tomatoes

1 T lemon juice

1 T minced garlic

1 T fresh oregeno

3 oz  feta cheese

Preheat oven to 350.

Using a spoon, scoop out the middle of the zucchini halves and add to a food processor bowl.

Add remaining ingrediants to food processor and pulse until it forms a smooth mixture, Fill the empty zucchini shells with the tomato and cheese filling.

Sprinkle with salt and pepper and bake for about 20-25 minutes, or until zucchini shell is tender and filling is bubbling.

Serve as a side dish, snack or appetizer.