Event Planning

Pumpkin Carving 2013

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Hey everybody!  Happy Halloween!  I just had my annual Pumpkin Carving this past weekend.  Sure it was cold and it did rain a little bit, but I think everyone had fun.  We even did it up a little bit and put some bales of hay around the fire pit so folks could carve and still stay warm.  And we did have a fire extinguisher on hand because having a bunch of dry straw next to an open flame isn’t exactly the safest thing to do.

How autumny!
How autumnal!

Folks brought some stuff to share like a nice rice salad and a yummy warm spinach dip.  We provided the pumpkins and made a big batch of chili.  I baked a whole bunch of stuff as well:

Gluten Free Pumpkin Cupcakes with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting

I haven't made these extra festive yet with my Halloween accoutrements
I haven’t made these extra festive yet with my Halloween accoutrements

Pepita Lavender Brittle

I love this stuff!
I love this stuff!

Savory Pumpkin Rugelach

Savory and sweet!
Savory and sweet!

Ciderhouse Whiskey (Saveur)

I am clearly not talented at making acceptable lemon twists.
I am clearly not talented at making acceptable lemon twists.

I also made a Harvest Spread, but that was from a mix (I know).  I’ll get the recipes up as soon as I can.  Well, maybe not the Brittle recipe because I have done a Lavender Pepita Croquant before and the recipe is very similar.  On a weird side note, apparently I am the country’s leading expert on Pepita Croquant.  I did a Google search to do some research and there I was — I took up the top three spots.  Weird and unexpected, but still kewl.  Anyhoo, keep an eye out for the recipes and be safe during the holiday!

Fall is almost here!

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Fall is my favorite time of year.  I love everything about it — the smells, the cooler days, the crisper nights, the colors, the pies, Halloween, Thanksgiving, volleyball and football start up again — what’s not to love?  Alright, I admit there is one thing I don’t like — cleaning up all those damn leaves on my property.  I own about an acre of land with maybe 20 giant oak trees.  So the leaves can pile up and pile up quickly.  And unlike in some neighboring cities, I can’t just push my leaves into the road, so I either have to do it myself or hire someone else to do it.  But that’s a whole other issue. . .

this sums up Fall for me.  you do need to add "volleyball" somewhere on here though.  in big gigantic letters.  like all over the place
this sums up Fall for me. you do need to add “volleyball” somewhere on here though. in big gigantic letters. like all over the place

Anyhoo, I saw this the other day on Facebook and wanted to share.  This appeared on my feed from the magazine Midwest Living.  This sums up everything that is awesome about Fall and I wanted to share it with y’all.  What do y’all like about Autumn?  Just let me know — either here or on Facebook!  I gots a recipe for some Gluten-Free Rocky Road Brownies coming up later this week, and hopefully some other fun stuff.

Stay tuned!

Watermelon Punch

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It’s August and Summer is in full swing here in Michigan.  Actually, with the weather we’ve been having here the past few weeks, it feels like Fall.  Not that I mind the cooler temperatures; I’m just hope the mild summer is not going to translate into a brutal winter.  But enough about that — nothing says summer quite like a nice boozy watermelon punch.

DSC_1426
Ready for summer!

I did just have my summer shindig recently and made this again.  I usually have 4 big get-togethers each year when I invite my close friends (actually I consider these guys to be family) and treat them to some free food and booze.  Sure this explanation is a little simplistic, but y’all don’t need to get into my big bag of crazy when it comes to planning and prep.  I actually don’t remember what else I made, other than stuff on the grill.  But I did remember this!  Making this concoction this time seemed a lot easier, but last time I was face down in my backyard all afternoon so who knows what my recollection can actually count for.  And, of course, I could not find my old recipe no matter how much I looked around for it.  So this is a whole new deal.

Here's a better shot to get a feel of the size of the watermelon.  Just a "regular" size I guess
Here’s a better shot to get a feel of the size of the watermelon. Just a “regular” size I guess

Now I really like this recipe.  I didn’t think it was overly sweet and you could still pick up on all the ingredients.  And if you are like me, you may just have a couple of portions of mint syrup just hanging out in the freezer for emergencies.

Yummy!  It's difficult to see, but this glass has my name etched into it!  Thanks to the in-laws for the gift!
Yummy! It’s difficult to see, but this glass has my name etched into it! Thanks to the in-laws for the gift!

I did hollow out the watermelon and use it as a serving utensil, which is completely optional.  I like the presentation.  If you were interested in serving it this way but don’t know where to get a spigot like this, you could check out your local brewer’s supply shop.  Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 1 watermelon (medium-sized, I guess.  Use the pictures as a reference)
  • 1/2 – 1 c. vodka
  • 1 c. cachaça
  • 1 1/2 c. rum (I used a dark 8-year-old rum)
  • 4 oz. Midori
  • 6 limes, juiced
  • 2 c. mint syrup

1.  Take your watermelon and see if it’s able to stand on its end.  If not, just cut off a small slice to level it off, making sure not to expose any of the inner flesh.

2.  Cut off the top couple of inches of the watermelon to expose some of the red flesh inside (wow that sounds a little macabre).  Using an ice cream scoop, start scooping out the fruit (berry?) and place it in a food processor.  Pulse it in batches until smooth and run the purée through a fine sieve set over a large bowl.

3.  In a large pitcher or jug, combine the vodka, cachaça, rum, Midori, lime juice, and mint syrup.  Stir to blend.

4.  Add the strained watermelon juice and stir to combine.  You can refrigerate this overnight, just be sure to mix it before hand.

5.  Pour yourself a little happy.  Add some ice if you like!

Here's the impaled watermelon!
Here’s the impaled watermelon!

Notes – you may want to run the watermelon through a very fine sieve.  you could just line a sieve with some paper towel, but that sounds like a long process. . .  if you cut off too much on the bottom to level the watermelon, it’s not the end of the world.  just be sure not to hollow out the watermelon too much or you will have a boozy, leaky mess on your hands. . . also, be careful not to take out too much of the pulp (is that the right term?).  if you are overzealous with your scraping, the hollowed out shell might crack and there’s another boozy, leaky mess. . .

Quick cocktail party appetizers #3 — Gluten-Free Black Forest Cakelets

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The layers are kinda hard to distinguish, but there are four layers of cake and three of filling.

Yes, yes — this isn’t an appetizer; that’s confession #1.  But this is Part 3 of my “series” about a not-so-recent bourbon tasting / cocktail party.  This was my dessert offering and it’s gluten-free!  Confession #2 — this really isn’t a Black Forest Cake.  Actually this is a version of Rose Levy Beranbaum’s Chocolate Feather Bed, which is the background image of my blog.  One variation is that I have a middle layer of cherry preserves — so not a real Black Forest cake.  I do make a mean Black Forest Cake though!  And Black Forest Cake Day is on March 28th (which is my blogiversary in case I didn’t mention it before :)  And I think I’ve figured out my blogiversary give-away, but more on that later).  Confession #3 — it’s not exactly quick.  The cake itself bakes in 16 minutes, so that part is quick, but there is a lot of chilling involved, which takes time.

In my opinion, this cake is definitely better presented pre-sliced, as opposed to whole.  If it was whole, it would look like a giant chocolate slab covered with chocolate curls.  Which might not be too bad, if that’s what you’re going for.  But again — just my opinion.  It might be nice to have a giant chocolate block on your table; it could be reminiscent of the monolith in Kubrick’s 2001:  A Space Odyssey.  What a great theme party!!!  Everyone could wear space suits or ape suits, you could use one of those pod things as an entry portal, or maybe make one of those warp-light-tube thingies, and just play the Blue Danube on a loop.  But I digress, here’s what you need:

My ganache was a little bit grainy here. If that happens to you and you want to fix it, just re-melt the ganache and re-chill and re-whip. It's very forgiving. This is from a cake I made a while ago, but it stays truer to the original recipe (sans cherries).

For the cake:  (you will need 2 batches)

  • 4 oz. dark chocolate, chopped
  • 6 eggs, separated
  • 1/4 c. sugar, plus 2 T.
  • 3/4 t. cream of tartar
  • chocolate curls (for garnish — I used dark, milk, and white chocolate just to add some visual interest)
  • Cherry preserves

1.  Coat a half sheet pan (17 1/4″ x 12 1/4″ x 1″) with shortening and line with parchment with a 2″ overhang.  Spray parchment with baking spray with flour (like Baker’s Joy or something like that).

2.  Preheat the over to 350 degrees F.  Place the oven rack in the lower third of the oven and allow to heat for about 20 minutes, which should be more than enough time to put together the batter.

3.  Melt the chocolate in a bowl (either in the microwave or over a double boiler).  Allow to cool until still fluid but no longer warm to the touch.

4.  Beat the yolks and 1/4 c. sugar in the bowl of a mixer on high for 5 minutes, until ribbon stage.  Scrape the chocolate into the bowl and mix on medium until fully incorporated, scraping the sides of the mixing bowl as needed.  Transfer to another bowl.

5.  In a very clean bowl of a stand mixer, beat the egg whites on medium speed until foamy.  With the beater off, add the cream of tartar; beat on medium until soft peak stage.  Raise the speed to medium high and gradually add the 2 T. sugar, beating until stiff peaks form.

6.  Mix in about 1/4 of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten.  Gently fold in the rest of the meringue and when incorporated, scrape into prepared pan.  Level off with an off-set spatula.

7.  Bake for 16 minutes; until .  In the meantime, prepare the batter for the next cake so it is ready to go when the other cake comes out of the oven.  Cover with a dry towel and allow to cool completely in the pan on a wire rack.

8.  Gently remove cakes from the pans using the overhang to lift.  Stack the parchment-lined cakes one on top of the other and cover with plastic wrap.  Place in the refrigerator to chill for about 30 minutes.  This makes the cakes easier to work with.

It's a sea of cake!

For the chocolate whipped ganache:

  • 8 oz. dark chocolate, chopped fine
  • 2 c. heavy cream
  • 1 t. vanilla

1.  In the bowl of a food processor, chop chocolate until very fine.

2.  Scald the cream and with the motor running, gradually add the cream to the chocolate.  Process until smooth, just a couple of seconds.  Chill until cold, either in the fridge or in an ice bath.  Stir while chilling, about every 30 minutes; if using an ice bath you need to stir frequently.  Ideal temp is around 65 degrees F / 20 degrees C.  If it is too cold, it will not aerate well; if it is too warm it will not stiffen.

3.  In the chilled bowl of a stand mixer, add the vanilla to the cream and beat on low for about 30 seconds, being careful not to overbeat.

Assemble the cake:

There are a couple of ways that you can do this depending on what you want to do.  You could assemble this on a serving plate and treat it as a regular cake (hold it in place with some frosting and then assemble).  I just kept the bottom section on the parchment, trimmed it after I assembled it, cut it into slices, and then served it.  Rose trims the cakes before assembly; I do it after because I wanted that very very clean edge.  Again, all depends on what you want.

1.  Using a sharp knife, cut the cakes into equal rectangles so that you have four equal layers.  Dislodge the cakes using a long metal spatula.

2.  Spread a layer of the ganache about the same thickness of the cake on top of the first layer.  Top with a second layer of cake.  Spread with a layer of the cherry preserves.  Top with another layer of cake, followed by the ganache, and the final cake layer.

3.  Spread a layer of the ganache on the top of the cake.  I sliced it into servings / cakelets at this point and then covered the tops with the curls.  You could just keep it whole and cover everything with the curls.  Serve!

Be sure to visit my page on Facebook!  You get access to exclusive content!  Jeez, I can’t say that without laughing.  But I do some quick posts, share some links and resources, and share some local events / retailers that may be of some interest to folks.  My bakery has a page as well; stop by there for a quick visit too!

Quick cocktail party appetizers #2 — Cheese and Endive

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This is round #2 of my cocktail party appetizers.  Now I don’t necessarily recommend making all of these at once, especially if it’s just you hosting because there is a lot of assembly involved with everything I made (check out my last post for the full listing).  Even if all the prep work is done, getting things to look right takes time.  But taking these in small steps and you should be alright.  Or you could be better at planning than me even though timing really was a non-issue since everyone was at least an hour late!

Anyhoo, the  quick recipes in this post revolve around goat cheese.  One is a double cheese Napoleon and the other is Endive with Herbed Goat Cheese.  What makes this easy is that the goat cheese filling is the same for both!  So I don’t know if this then actually qualifies for 2 recipes, but I’m going with it.

Endive with goat cheese.

This serving tray seemed like it was designed especially with this dish in mind.

The big step here is making the herbed goat cheese.  Which, again, is also a step for the napoleons, so essentially one step = 2 appetizers.  And it’s not even a big step — you just mix everything in a bowl.  This one I adapted from Martha (again!  but that’s a good thing!).  Here’s what you need:

  • 1 11-oz. pkg. goat cheese
  • 1/2 c. cream
  • 1/4 c. olive oil
  • 1 T. chopped herbs (I used oregano and tarragon)
  • salt & pepper, to taste
  • 4 heads endive, washed and separated into leaves

1.  In a medium bowl, mix together the cheese, cream, and oil until smooth.  You can use a food processor if you like or even a hand mixer, but I didn’t want to have to wash extra things afterwards.

2.  Gently mix in the herbs, salt, & pepper.  Place a teaspoon on the individual endive spears and serve.

Double Cheese Napoleons.

These definitely look pretty. Tasted pretty good, too!

The two cheeses here are parmesan and goat cheese.  You make tuiles of parmesan and have some herbed goat cheese in between the layers.  I am not really sure how I came up with this one, but i really wanted something with some height.  These look a little rough, but again, I felt pressed for time since I had several things to assemble.  No real specifics here; I just grated some parmesan and kept on making crisps until I ran out.  You can use any extra ones as croutons on salads or in soups.  Or just eat them as is.  Here’s what you need:

  • herbed goat cheese (see above)
  • grated parmesan

1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

2.  Drop 1 t. grated parmesan onto Silpat lined baking sheets.  Slightly flatten the cheese and bake for about 5 minutes or until nice and golden.

3.  Allow to cool for about a minute and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

4.  Assemble napoleons starting with a parmesan crisp.  Place a small amount of the goat cheese, about 1/2 teaspoon.  Gently press another crisp on top and repeat until you have three layers of each.  You can put a garnish of herbs on top, but I just served them as they are.  If you want to be extra fancy, you can use a pastry bag with a star tip to place the goat cheese.

Quick cocktail party appetizers #1 — Tartlets and Bourbon

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So I’ve been a little preoccupied lately (and that’s why, but that’s because I’ve been busy planning a cocktail party).  But I’m back now and these are some of the things that I came up with.  I wasn’t sure what to serve even got some suggestions from other bloggers like The Breakfast Bachelor (I ran out of time to make his suggestion of Rosemary Sweet Potato Fries).  Since it was a cocktail party I wanted to do things that were easy to eat — finger foods, really.  Here’s what I had decided on serving (in addition to 2 big main course type things [pulled pork sandwiches and tater tot casserole] which I hope to discuss soon) — smoked salmon tartlets, leek and artichoke tartlets, double cheese napoleons, salami crisps, endive with herbed goat cheese, chocolate dream cake — black forest variation, Deviled Eggs, gougère, and Kale – radish – fennel salad.  Unfortunately I don’t have pictures for everything, but I do for most things.

Alright so it wasn't a cocktail party -- it was a bourbon tasting. This is what we had. And I am aware that Rye is not Bourbon.

Here, I’ll focus on the tartlets.  These are easy and quick to make.  If you follow me on Facebook, you’ll already know how to make the shells (so visit me on Facebook).  But since that includes only 13 of you, I will go over it here.  This idea I adapted from Martha, but she used mini cupcake pans and cut the wrappers into small circles.  I don’t bother with cutting and I use a standard cupcake / muffin pan.

Such a quick step. These can last on the counter in an airtight container for about 2 weeks or in the freezer for 2 months or so.

Here’s what you need:

  • one package wonton wrappers (square or round), mine had 4 dozen in it
  • vegetable oil

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Brush both sides of the wrapper with oil and stuff it into the cups of a muffin tin.

2.  Bake for between 8 – 10 minutes until golden.  If you use a darker pan, it will darken faster.  Allow to cool on a rack before filling.

Artichoke and Leek Tartlets.

For the artichoke and leek tartlets:

This is a quick and easy version of an artichoke and leek lasagna that I make.  Here’s what you need:

  • 4 leeks
  • 1 jar marinated artichoke hearts; chopped, drained, and rinsed
  • salt & pepper, to taste
  • 2 – 3 T. olive oil

1.  Cut leeks in half lengthwise and then cut into 1/4 in slices.  Soak those in water to make sure that you clean out any sediment and then spin it dry.

2.  Heat the olive oil in the pan and add the dried leeks.  Stir to coat; add salt and pepper.

3.  Cover and cook for five minutes on medium heat.  Uncover and raise the heat to medium high and sauté for about 10 minutes or until tender.  Add the artichokes off the heat and allow mixture to cool.

4.  Spoon into prepared wonton cups.

Smoked Salmon Tartlets. I probably could've sliced to pickle thinner but they still tasted good.

For the smoked salmon tartlets:

No real recipe here.  I just made a batch of my smoked fish spread #1, but omitted the capers.  Instead I put slivers of pickle on top.  It would have been better if I used cornichons, but I don’t normally have those in my fridge.  Besides, those are just small pickles anyway.

The tartlets went quick. Good thing I had lots of extra shells.

March Foodie Holidays

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Here's Daisy and Cooper with this month's holiday announcements!

Happy March everybody!  It’s another big month for foodie holidays — including my 1st blogiversary (can’t believe that it’s been a year already, not that that’s a foodie holiday).  I was thinking about having an anniversary giveaway but I’m not sure yet.  Maybe I’ll post something on Facebook (11 likes so far!  check out the bottom of the side menu)!  More on that later, but check me out on Facebook anyway.  Anyhoo, here’s what we have in store for this month (check out some of these links):   Celery Month, Flour Month, Frozen Food Month, Noodle Month, Nutrition Month, Peanut Month, and Sauce Month.  Now here are some of the special days that we can celebrate in March:

Peanut Butter Lover’s Day, Fruit Compote Day

2  Banana Cream Pie Day

3  Cold Cuts Day, Mulled Wine Day

Poundcake Day

Cheese Doodle Day

6  Frozen Food Day, White Chocolate Cheesecake Day

Crown Roast of Pork Day, Cereal Day

8  Peanut Cluster Day, Agriculture Day

Crabmeat Day

10  Blueberry Popover Day

11  Oatmeal Nut Waffles Day

12  Baked Scallops Day

13  Coconut Torte Day

14  Potato Chip Day

15  Peanut Lovers’ Day, Pears Helene Day

16  Artichoke Heart Day

18  Lacy Oatmeal Cookie Day

19  Poultry Day, Chocolate Caramel Day

20  Ravioli Day

21  French Bread Day

23  Chip and Dip Day, Melba Toast Day

24  Chocolate Covered Raisins Day

25  Lobster Newburg Day

26  Waffle Day (in Sweden), Nougat Day

27  Spanish Paella Day

28  Black Forest Cake Day1st Blogiversary!

29  Lemon Chiffon Cake Day

30  Turkey Neck Soup Day

31  Clams-on-the-Half-Shell Day

I have no idea how these two ended up hugging like this. I could just barf it's so cute.