May: Lunch Among the Hydrangeas

May:  Lunch Among the Hydrangeas


Lunch Among the Hydrangeas

Fresh Fig, Prosciutto, and Arugula Salad with Parmesan Shavings

Suggested wine:  Mormoraia Vernaccia di San Gimignano

Poached Salmon with Tarragon Sauce and Fingerling Potatoes

Suggested wine:  Qupé Bien Nacido Reserve Chardonnay

Berry Tart with Mascarpone Cream

Serves 6


This menu is from “The Best of Gourmet: 1999.”  What attracted me to this menu was few and easy looking components.  But, as the day approached when everyone came over for the meal, I started to worry that this menu would not make my guests full–it just looked too light.  I guess I always worry that there won’t be enough food, but rest assured with this menu, you and your guests will leave the table satisfied.

I served this menu for Mother’s Day which just happens to be when my hydrangea plant starts to be in full bloom.  One hydrangea plant provides ample amount of blooms, so I was able to have a few bouquets around my home and on the table full of the flowers.  My Mother loves flowers and gardening so this theme and menu started to take shape.

When I have people over I generally don’t want to rely on my sometimes abrasive personality, so I feel that I need to provide my guests with some enticing reason to be at my home.  Thus, I try to present my food with a pleasing presentation.  That way my guests will at least leave my home thinking it was worth their while to drive all the way over because at least they had a nice meal.  This menu does not let anyone down.  The presentation is simple, but the colors, textures, and flavors come together elegantly.

I looked over my previous menus that I have made for this blog but none are plated that are served to seated guests.  The served, plated dish is one element of many that elevates this menu to something special.  Serving a plated meal also makes your guests feel special too.  For me that is always what I try to achieve:  that my food and the environment in which the food is served becomes my gift to my guests.

To plate the salad and the main course I did enlist helpers, my daughter and her boyfriend.  The key with this menu is to prep, prep, prep.  If you have prepped all your ingredients then it is a snap to assemble.    KitchenAid has an informative page that has a few good tips for plating your food.  Below you will find my kitchen notes on each of the courses and at the end of this page is my Ebay Design Collection for this menu.

Fresh Fig, Prosciutto, and Arugula Salad with Parmesan Shavings

One reason why I prep so much before my guests come over is because I like to chit chat and drink wine.   After all it is a party, but all that chit chat and wine drinking gets me off my mark when I am cooking.  With this meal I was so focused on getting everything prepped for the main course and this salad looked so easy, I didn’t really do any prepping for it.   What could go wrong it looked so simple?  Well, everyone said the salad was great, but I knew something was missing.  I completely forgot the Parmesan cheese!  A minor oversight, yes, but if I had placed each ingredient into little bowls ready to go, I would not have forgotten anything.  Things like that just bug me.  It’s like painting a room and everyone says it looks great, but I can see every little imperfection.  Get your prep bowls out and this salad is a snap to plate and you won’t forget a thing!

Poached Salmon with Tarragon Sauce and Fingerling Potatoes

This menu is for 6 people, but I had 11 at my table, so I doubled everything.  But, original 6 person salmon recipe calls for 2 1/2 to 3 pounds of salmon.  I did not double the salmon as I thought that would be way too much fish.  I was right.  I think I purchased 3 1/2 pounds and it was the perfect amount.  I had light eaters and two guests were children, so when making this dish keep in mind who you are feeding, unless you want a lot of leftover salmon (which can get expensive).

The sauce is amazing and combined with the creamy potatoes and the crunchy snap peas it is a wonderful spring flavored meal.  Each part of the menu can be made well ahead of serving.  The potatoes I made last and close to serving so they were slightly warm.

Berry Tart with Mascarpone Cream

As I mentioned, I doubled all the recipes for this menu, so I made two tarts.  I only have one round removable bottomed tart pan, so I used my rectangle tart pan too.  If you like berries, then this dessert is for you!  Tons and tons of berries and somehow they all fit on the tarts.  The light sauce for the berries has raspberry liqueur and marmalade, it is simple and highlights the berries flavors.  I used cream cheese rather than the mascarpone because I just like cream cheese better in desserts.

The cheese filling for the tart does not need to set nor does it need to bake.  Once you fill it you can top with the berries and eat.  You do, however, have to bake the crust and I would recommend doing that the day before.  This dessert is not time consuming or complicated, but because of all the berries, it has a nice “Wow” look to it.

Lunch Among the Hydrangeas:  An Ebay Design Collection

“The Best of Gourmet:  1999” designed this menu to be set among a Cape Cod garden theme.  Muted colors of lavender, blue, and green complement the soft frosted plates, glasses and flatware.  The garden has a quaint Victorian feel with wicker furniture and whitewashed shuttered windows.  Have fun decorating your May gathering with beautiful blooming hydrangeas.


My Love Affair with Paul Hollywood In the Southwest of England (Chapter One)

My Love Affair with Paul Hollywood In the Southwest of England (Chapter One)

I have been taking a break from my full menus lately because I got swept up in my new love affair with Paul Hollywood–OK, just his book titled British Baking, but seriously, I am in love.  You might want to stop reading right now if you were hoping for something more torrid than flour, fats, and sugar.  I purchased Paul Hollywood’s British Baking book because my 17 year old daughter is a huge fan of the The Great British Bake Off.  This book has been a revolution for me and my baking/cooking skills, but also her skills as well.  I will briefly explain, and then enjoy my photos of my cooking tour of England with our tour guide, my new love, Paul Hollywood.

This book has elevated my cooking skills because Mr. Hollywood has made me more aware of my measurements, ingredients, and what to look for in each stage of the cooking process.  His instructions are brief, yet clear.  The result is a product that is far superior to anything I have baked in the past, but my results from this book are also better than what I can get from most bakeries in my area.  Everything is just delicious and the texture is superb.

My daughter who loves to bake has some special needs that have made cooking and many other things challenging for her in her daily life.  Using standard American measurements of scooping out cups has been one of these challenges for her.  She just does not have the coordination to level off a proper cup of flour, sugar, etc.  It seems like she invariably under or over scoops and I always need to step in to help her make corrections.  Using a scale, however, is much easier for her.  We just put a bowl on top of the scale and she pours the flour in until it reaches the proper weight.  Once it hits the correct number, 500 grams, for example, she stops.  If she over poured than she just takes a little spoon and spoons out very carefully until the number is exactly 500 grams.  This method is so easy for her I can’t believe we haven’t used a kitchen scale a long time ago!  If you have a special needs person in your life who has occupational challenges such as that, I highly recommend switching to weights for cooking rather than American volume cup measurements.

The format of Paul Hollywood’s British Baking book is like a baking tour of the British Isles.  A history of England through the eyes of a baker.  The chapters are divided into geographic and cultural areas of the British Isles.  The recipes include both the savory and sweet,  and yeasted breads to scones.  The array of baked goods in this book is wonderful, and as a student of baking (which you will be if you are cooking from this book) it will keep your interest in both challenges with technique and variety in taste and texture.  Take a look at the pictures of the items we baked from the first chapter and you will can see this variety.

I would love to hear about your cooking revolutions and discoveries and any challenges you may have regarding cooking like those of my daughters.  Please enjoy the pictures and kitchen notes.

I have a feeling once you start baking with Paul Hollywood you will fall in love with him too and start a long and delicious affair with British Baking!


Pictures from Chapter One:  The Southwest

The following pictures are all items from his first Chapter titled, “The Southwest.”  There are two recipes from this chapter I have not made and those are the Baked Somerset Brie and the Oldbury Gooseberry Pies.  I plan to make these, but I can’t find gooseberries right now and the baked brie calls for cranberries which are in season in November.  So, I might add those once I make them at a later date.

Cornish Pasties

These were huge and delicious.  The recipe calls for lard and I think this is the first time I have had lard in my house and thus in my cooking.


Priddy Oggies

Not much to say other than, AMAZING.


Wholemeal Seeded Loaf

Excellent.  I forgot to make the snips along the top of the loaf, but it did not detract from how good this loaf tastes.


Sally Lunn

Another superb baked good.  Have with a cup of tea and some strawberries.

Saffron Cake

The British like their currents and this loaf is stuffed FULL of them.  I was skeptical but the currents are so fruity and delicious and paired with the saffron and lemon peel it was scrumptious.

Devonshire Splits

Best to serve these as soon as you make them.

Dorset Wiggs

As Mr. Hollywood explains in his book, these were originally made close to a brewery using the yeast from the beer making process which is why they were spiced.  The spice attempted to hide the strong flavor of the beer yeast.  I made these with regular bread yeast, but I make beer and I wonder if I should try someday to make these as they originally were made.  That might be a fun cooking experiment.


Mothering Buns

These might be one of my favorite recipes, but they are best served the moment after you frost them.  Don’t attempt to keep them in plastic wrap as the frosting will just drip off.  They taste like a raised doughnut, but so much better and so pretty too!

Strawberry and Pistachio Shortcakes

Stunning presentation and surprisingly easy.

Dorset Apple Cake

Seed Cake

A strong nutmeg flavor.  Great texture.  I used poppy seeds rather than the more traditional caraway.


Hevva Cake

More of those wonderful little fruity jewels called currents.  This cake you have to make to understand.  The picture didn’t make the cake look that appealing to me, but the flavor and texture of this cake is fantastic.  Almost like shortbread, but not.  We Americans just don’t have anything comparable to this cake.

Cornish Fairings

Drink a nice strong Assam Tea with these little cookies.  And you can find the perfect Assam here.



January: An All-American Sunday Dinner

January:  An All-American Sunday Dinner

An All-American Sunday Dinner

Cider-Braised Pork Loin with Sautéed Apples

Rutabaga Potato Purée

Peas with Celery and Shallots

Quick Cloverleaf Rolls

Toasted Almond Angel Food Cake

Wine:  Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyards Finger Lakes Riesling

The Sunday Dinner

The hustle and bustle of the holiday season is past us, and January can be a pleasant, quiet refuge.  The holidays served to remind us of the importance of family.  Family has many different configurations and meanings to people, while some still pretend that there is one set definition.  One strong idea, however, runs through the concept of family and that is love or some unknown bond that is common to a set group of people.  I think of myself and my cousins, some of whom I have only met once as a small child, yet I keep in touch with them and I know most, if not all would open their door to me in an instant, as I would to them.  If the opportunity presented itself to have just one Sunday dinner with them, that would only strengthen our bonds.  Family is more to us than what a group photo depicts (we have no such photo anyway)–there is a tie that cannot and will not be cut.

When I was preparing for this dinner my first thought about Sunday Dinners was from the TV show Blue Bloods, in which the “Sunday Dinner” figures prominently and is in fact one of the more memorable moments in the show.  Every Sunday the whole extended TV Blue Blood family comes to their father’s home for a large traditional sit-down meal.  I loved watching the behind-the-scenes YouTube clip about shooting these dinners.  But the fact remains that the Blue Blood version of the Sunday Dinner is, indeed, a fiction.

In contrast, Don Draper from Mad Men realized that the advertising world’s idea of the “family” was a lie and that the American people were not fooled any longer by that “Leave it to Beaver” style sit down meal.  Times had changed, families had changed, even what people were eating had changed.  Don and Peggy’s new ad campaign reinvented the concept of “family.”  To these fictional characters, the realization of this cultural shift in the “family meal” is actually quite poignant. The show cleverly juxtaposes this cultural shift with the exceptionally mid-Century event of the first Apollo 11 moon landing, overlaid with the genius of Don Draper’s ad campaign for Burger Chef, giving the whole scene not just poignancy but the weight of  social critique. Watch this clip first and then this one to understand.

Don recalls his own family dinners and realizes that not only has it changed, but perhaps it never existed.  His children live with his ex-wife and her new family, Don’s new wife lives in California and he in New York, so they don’t sit down to dinner together on any regular schedule.  Peggy reveals that most nights she eats alone or with her neighbor’s 10 year old son who sits in front of her TV.  Burger Chef provided the proverbial family table and the Apollo 11 mission provided the bonding American family experience.  While people ate in front of their TV watching the astronauts land on the moon, America dined together.

The Sunday Dinner in Blue Bloods is a fiction because today with our upward mobility, only rarely do families all live in the same town, have the same schedule, and have no other obligations, so they can sit down EVERY Sunday to eat and drink together.  The show does however have some great awkward scenes that really highlight family tension.  Mad Men and Blue Bloods both understand that family centers around food–whether it is a burger from a burger chain or 250 homemade meatballs–food is a focal point.  Food welcomes us, reminds us of our grandparents, or a simple meal that created a special bond between unlikely individuals.

My family is all over North America, but for many members of my extended family food is a major part of their life.  One of my cousin’s who lives on the East Coast and has developed a love for urban organic gardening has started a Facebook group:  The Urban Farm Report.  Another cousin lives in Maine and they tap their Maple trees and set up a sugaring operation in their backyard to make their own maple syrup.  In Michigan I have a pig farming cousin and his wife sells her own homemade dog biscuits at the local farmer’s market.  And in Canada lives another cousin who in his spare time is an organic chicken farmer.  I hope to have to opportunity to share just one Sunday Dinner with each of them someday!

Darren making Maple Syrup.

For my January Menu, I was lucky enough to have Sunday Dinner with some members of my husband’s extended family, including their very well mannered dog, who got to share her dinner with my dog.  It was a joy to open my home to them and get to know them just a little more.  We also had the presence of another family branch–my brother-in-law’s family, the Stivalas, who resides in Upstate New York.  Their presence was in the form of art and music.   Oscar Stivala provided the art in some of the photos and our music for the evening.  His CD is not only tremendously enjoyable to listen to, but it was also fitting to have family entertain us at a family-centered meal.

Thus, the Sunday Dinner need not be every Sunday, but it can serve as a symbol of bonding and love.  It can be spontaneous or planned, frequent or infrequent, but make an effort to share your food adventures with the ones you love. The Sunday Dinner is a simple everyday celebration of family.

I would love to hear about your family’s food adventures and I invite you to share in the comments.  Now, on to this month’s food and wine.  Classic flavors are found in this homey menu that is fairly easy to prepare with a little preparation and planning.

The Wine

It was fitting that this menu features a wine from New York (Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyards) since our art and music which entertained us originated from that state, but out here in California there is not a New York Riesling to be found!  That did not stop us from having a wide array of Rieslings from Washington, Germany, France, and Mendocino.  These also spanned the tasting profile of the Riesling variety–from sweet to dry.   Having these menus is such a fun excuse for tasting these wines and different wine regions.

In doing my research for this variety, I discovered that the Finger Lakes Region in New York produces ice wine.  I have never tried an ice wine and I am completely intrigued by this specialty wine.  If you have tried some from this region please tell me all about it and which vineyards have some stand out examples.

The Food

The meal perfectly plated by my guest.

None of the recipes from this menu can be found on the web site, so I will also include the recipes for each along with my comments.  All of these recipes can be found in The Best of Gourmet: Volume Two (1987).

Cider-Braised Pork Loin with Sautéed Apples:


Meat preparation is not my strength in the kitchen.  I was a vegetarian for a good portion of my adult life and so, understanding how different meats should be prepared and even taste is something I am still learning.  Thus, there were two very important things I needed to know to prepare this very simple dish:  What is a rib-end boneless pork loin? and What does it mean “rolled and tied.”  The second question really stumped me because if it is a big cut of meat, why is it tied?

The Cooks Thesaurus’ page on Pork Loin Cuts really helped me a lot.  I purchased a boneless pork loin from Costco and on the back of the package there is a diagram showing the various parts to that cut of meat.  That along with the Thesaurus explained everything I needed to know.

The tying of the pork was explained very nicely in this four minute video from Fine Cooking.  This is so super simple to do and it makes the pork come out perfectly.  What I don’t understand is why did it take me so many years to spend four minutes to learn this technique?  I tied my pork and rolled it in the herb mixture the night before.  Here are some photos of my tied pork:

Now go and make yours.  Here is the recipe originally published in the 1987 Gourmet Compendium:

  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried sage, crumbled
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled
  • a 3-pound rib-end boneless pork loin, rolled and tied
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 cups chopped onion
  • 4 large garlic cloves
  • 1/2 cup apple cider
  • sautéed apples (recipe follows)
  • fresh sage leaves for garnish if desired

In a small bowl combine the salt, the pepper, the sage, and the thyme and on a large piece of wax paper rub the mixture on the pork, coating the pork well.  Wrap the pork in the wax paper and chill it for at least 2 hours or overnight.  Pat the pork dry with paper towels.  In a heavy flameproof casserole heat the oil over moderately high heat until it is hot but not smoking and it it brown the pork.  Transfer the pork to a plate, pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the fat, and in the fat remaining in the casserole cook the onion and the garlic over moderate heat, stirring, for 1 minute.  Return the pork to the casserole, add the cider, and bring the liquid to a boil.  Braise the pork, covered, in a preheated 325 degree oven for 50 minutes to 1 hour, or until a meat thermometer registers 155 degrees, for juicy, barely pink meat.  Transfer the pork to a heated platter, discard the string, and let the pork stand for 10 minutes.  Spoon off the fat from the pan juices and in a blender or food processor purée the pan juices and solids remaining in the casserole.  Season the sauce with salt and pepper and serve it in a heated sauceboat, straining it through a fine sieve if desired.  Arrange the sautéed apples around the pork and if desired garnish the platter with the sage leaves.  Serves 6.

Sautéed Apples

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 Granny Smith apple, cored and cut into 12 wedges
  • 1 large red apple, cored and cut into 12 wedges

In a large skillet melt the butter with 2 tablespoons water over moderately low heat and in the mixture cook the apples, covered, in one layer, in batches if necessary, for 2 to 4 minutes, or until they are just tender.  Increase heat to moderate and cook the apples, seasoned with salt and pepper, uncovered, turning them, until they are tender and lightly golden.

Rutabaga Potato Purée and the Cloverleaf Rolls


I have never cooked or eaten a rutabaga before.  They are very easy to prepare, a wonderful alternative to potatoes, and a perfect complement to the pork and apples.  I kept thinking there must be something wrong with the recipe because it requires no liquid when mashing them.  But the rutabagas are quite most and creamy on their own and no additional liquid is needed.

For the cloverleaf rolls I used a roll recipe from Bread Machine Magic by Linda Rehberg.  I made the rolls a week ahead of the dinner and put them in the freezer.  I made the rutabaga potato purée the morning of the dinner and I used the microwave to reheat them for serving.  It worked out well.  Here is the rutabaga recipe as originally published in the Gourmet compendium from 1987:

Rutabaga Potato Purée:

  • 2 pounds rutabaga, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 pound boiling potatoes, peeled, cut into 1-inch cubes, and reserved in a bowl of cold water
  • 1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, cut into pieces and softened

In a large saucepan combine the rutabaga with enough salted cold water to cover it by 2 inches, bring the water to a boil, and boil the rutabaga, covered, for 40 minutes, or until it is just tender.  Add the potatoes, drained, simmer the vegetables, covered, for 10 to 15 minutes, or until they are very tender, and drain them well in a large sieve or colander.  While the vegetables are still hot force them through a ricer or food mill into the pan or mash them with a potato masher in the pan, add the butter and salt and pepper to taste, and stir the purée well.  Reheat the purée, if necessary, over low heat, stirring constantly, until it is hot, transfer it to a heated serving dish, and spread it decoratively with a rubber spatula.  Serves 6.

Peas with Celery and Shallots


If you have the celery and shallots chopped up in advance of your dinner this dish comes together in a snap.  I copped the celery and shallots into pea sized pieces.  I like everything to be the same size in a dish like this.  I did not add the minced celery leaves nor the sugar–totally forgot, but I don’t think they were missed much.  My vegetarian daughter ate a lot of peas and rutabagas and she said they were fantastic together.  She really liked the flavor of the shallots.  Here is the recipe as originally published in the Gourmet compendium from 1987:

Peas with Celery and Shallots:

  • 1 cup thinly sliced celery
  • 1/3 cup minced shallot
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • two 10 ounce packages frozen peas, thawed
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon celery seeds if desired
  • 2 tablespoons minced celery leaves

In a heavy saucepan cook the sliced celery and the shallot in the butter, covered, over low heat, stirring occasional, for 5 minutes, or until the celery is softened.  Add the peas, 2 tablespoons water, the sugar, the celery seeds if desired, and salt and pepper to taste and simmer the mixture, covered, for 3 minutes, or until it is hot.  Sprinkle the mixture with the celery leaves and toss it.  Serves 6.

Toasted Almond Angel Food Cake

It is a real tragedy that this recipe is not on  I thought it was easy, had a wonderful presentation (even with my problem as you will see), and tasted like it was inspired by the angels in heaven!  The flavor is similar to a gourmet marshmallow with the crunch of toasted almonds.  The fluffy white cake is light, springy, and moist.

I made the cake two days prior to our dinner.  That did not effect the quality of the cake, however, the presentation suffered from gravity.  I am not sure if I should have made my frosting a little stiffer or if the almonds were too heavy for the frosting, but the frosting started to, very slowly, slide off my cake.  My husband said it looked like one of the Queen’s hats.  Here are the photos:

In any event, the cake was very tasty and everyone loved the frosting despite the “slide.”  Once the cake is cut and plated you cannot tell one way or the other.  Here is the recipe as it was originally published in the Gourmet Compendium from 1987:

Toasted Almond Angel Food Cake

For the cake:

  • 1 cup cake flour (not self-rising)
  • 1 2/3 cups sugar
  • 1 3/4 cups egg whites (about 13 large egg whites) at room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract, or to taste

For the icing

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
  • 2 large egg whites at room temperature
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, or to taste

1 1/2 cups toasted sliced almonds

Make the cake:  Sift the flour 3 times onto a sheet of wax paper.  In the sifter combine the sifted flour and 2/3 cup of the sugar and sift the mixture onto another sheet of wax paper.  In a large bowl with an electric mixer beat the egg whites until they are broken up, add the salt and the cream of tartar, and beat the whites until they are frothy.  Beat in the remaining 1 cup sugar, a little at a time, and the almond extract and beat the whites until they hold soft peaks.  Sift one forth of the flour mixture over the whites, folding it in gently but thoroughly, and continue to sift and fold the remaining flour mixture into the whites in the same manner.  Spoon the batter into a very clean, ungreased tube pan, 10 by 4 1/4 inches, preferably with a removable bottom, smoothing the top, and rap the pan on a hard surface twice to remove any air bubbles.  Bake the cake in the middle of a preheated 300 degree oven for 1 hour, or until it is springy to the touch and a tester comes out clean.  If the pan has feet invert the pan over a work surface; otherwise invert the pan over the neck of a bottle.  Let the cake cool for at least 1 hour or overnight.  Run a thin knife in a sawing motion around the edge of the pan and the tube to loosen the cake from the pan and invert the cake onto a cake stand.  Slip strips of wax paper under the edge of the cake to cover the cake stand.

Make the icing:  In a small saucepan combine the sugar, the corn syrup, and 1/4 cup water, bring the mixture to a boil, covered, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar, and boil the syrup, uncovered, until it registers 240 degrees F. on a Candy thermometer.  While the syrup is boiling, in a heatproof bowl with an electric mixer beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt and the cream of tartar until they are frothy and as soon as the syrup reaches 240 degrees F add it to the whites in a thin stream, beating constantly.  Beat in the vanilla and beat the icing until the bowl is not longer hot.  (If the icing is too stiff beat in 1 to 2 tablespoons hot water, or enough to form a fluffy, spreadable icing.)

Spread the icing over the top and sides of the cake, including the inner cavity, cover the cake with the almonds, and remove the wax paper strips carefully.

An All-American Sunday Dinner:  A Design Collection

This Ebay collection is inspired by the table and room design pictured in “The Best of Gourmet: Volume Two” (1987) from the menu titled, “An All-American Sunday Dinner.”  I wanted to include only pieces that either reflected an American table or pieces that were made in America. What could be more American than a silver dessert set made by one of our Patriots?

For your Sunday dinner table pull out one or two heirloom pieces to reflect the continuity of the family.  Or check out my Ebay collection and choose a new addition for your table.

The best part about doing these menus is knowing I get to make one again next month!  Until then, enjoy your food and your family!

S.  Save


December: A Caroling Party (AKA “The Rackerby Family’s European Alpine Christmas”)

December:  A Caroling Party (AKA “The Rackerby Family’s European Alpine Christmas”)


I usually do a roast, turkey, or ham for Christmas Day dinner.  This year, however, I wanted something fun and casual but really I was just absolutely captivated by the picture in the cookbook.   Below is the original picture from The Best of Gourmet: 1995. Below the picture is the “Caroling Party” menu.  The items in brackets were not from the original menu, but were my own addition or brought by my guests.  This menu serves 12 and I had 12 guests at my dinner, so it put this menu to the test.



Starter Course

Crisp Spiced Nuts

[A selection of cheeses from the Northern European Region]

Nose-Warmer Punch

Main Course

Hearty Goulash Soup

Viennese Cucumber Salad

Marinated Vegetables with Mustard Dill Dressing


Fess Parker Santa Barbara County Syrah

[A selection of other Santa Barbara Syrahs to taste and enjoy]

Dessert Course

Austrian Sweet Cheese Crêpes Baked in Custard

Apricot Carmel Sauce

[Meyer Lemon Pie]

[A selection of Christmas Cookies and Candies]

[Holiday Teas from Simpson and Veil]

My Plan

Saturday, December 17, 2016:  Make nuts.

Thursday, December 22, 2016:

  • Make the crêpes
  • Make the apricot caramel sauce

Friday, December 23, 2016:  Make goulash

Saturday, December 24, 2016:

  • Make Marinated Vegetables
  • Stuff Crêpes

Christmas Day:

  • Set table
  • Make:  Nose warmer punch in slow cooker
  • Set out nuts and cheese plate
  • Reheat soup
  • Finish marinated veggie platter
  • Prepare cucumber salad
  • Place crêpes in oven while we eat

The Holiday and Winter Setting


This was a Christmas Dinner party, so I did want something elegant, but I also wanted to highlight the cozy Alpine ski lodge quality.  At first I thought I should stick with the “caroling” part of the original Gourmet magazine theme, but eventually I dropped that idea and started to focus on the “cozy” aspect to Northern European winters.  I told everyone to leave the fancy dress and heels at home and wear your UGGS and jeans instead.  For gifts I gave everyone scarves and winter hats, and luckily out here in Northern California the weather was accommodating to this theme and it was actually cold–well, California cold that is.

In doing my Northern European cozy research, I came across a new, fun, and very worthwhile fad–Hygge!  Really, I had no idea this was a thing until after I decided on cozy as my theme.  There are, as I learned, tons of books, articles, youtube clips, and other things dedicated to this concept.  I highly recommend looking it up.

My husband even got on board and set up little decorative lights in my kitchen so we could avoid overhead lighting.  He also spent a fortune at World Market on tea lights and other candles.  He eagerly placed them all over the house making our home a cozy winter wonderland.  Careful to complete his vision of the hygge scene, he set a nice warm fire in the fireplace and put on our TV an 8 hour winter scene that he found on youtube.  That youtube movie really gave a winter feel to our home.  Thanks, Honey, for all your cute holiday charm!

Starter Course

Crisp Spiced Nuts:

My family loves nuts, so I made a double batch.  It made a lot of nuts–enough for our family to enjoy prior to the event, package and give to friends, and still have plenty to serve on the day of dinner.  I swapped out the hazelnuts for cashews and I did not use blanched almonds, just raw almonds and I don’t think it made a difference.  After reading the reviews of this recipe on, it looks like most people choose the nuts they prefer.

The recipe in the book does not say to line the pan with foil and spray with a non-stick cooking oil, but I highly recommend doing that.  I had two baking sheets of nuts and one I oiled and the other I did not.  The oiled pan was easy to stir during cooking and easy to get the nuts off once completed.  Do not skip the step of stirring every 10 minutes.  That step is very important or the nuts will not get evenly browned and toasted and they could burn.

The final product is a bit spicy with the full amount of cayenne, so if you have guests that are sensitive to spicy food, halve the cayenne and it will still be tasty.  Some reviewers complained that these nuts are sweet with a kick at the end but little flavor in between.  To that I would stress using fresh and high quality seasonings.  Everyone in my family enjoyed them and it appeared that my guests did as well and I made them exactly according to the recipe. I made these a week ahead of time and they store very well.

Nose-Warmer Punch:

I admit, the brandy scared me in this recipe.  I was afraid I would be inebriated in one sip.  I was also worried that there wouldn’t be enough fruit flavor in the punch.  None of my fears were merited.  I thought the punch was a really nice blending of flavors and it lives up to its name as it will warm you all over and make you look like jolly Old St. Nick.  I kept mine warm in a slow cooker, as it cooks it smells fantastic!  Enjoy.

Norther European Cheeses:

I thought this menu could use a cheese plate so I asked everyone to bring a cheese from Northern Europe.  It was fun to see what everyone could find.  My sister was quite creative with her interpretation of this request.  She brought her fondue set for a real Swiss Alps experience.  She set the chafing dish up in the living room and everyone sat around dipping little bread chunks into the gooey cheese.  That really added a bit of fun to the evening’s food.  She also brought another cheese that I have never tasted or seen:  Ski Queen.  This cheese probably requires most people to acquire a taste for it, but this ended up being my husband’s favorite cheese on the table.  The New York Times has a very informative article about this cheese variety.

My personal favorite Norther European cheese is Gouda.   The best Gouda I have found in my area is one made in Oakdale, California by Oakdale Cheese.  If you like cheese, I highly recommend ordering a half or whole wheel of their Gouda.  You will not be disappointed.

Main Course

Hearty Goulash Soup:

One of my concerns when entertaining is:  Will there be enough?  With this recipe, I had plenty for everyone to be served a hearty helping with many people having seconds and enough leftovers for three people the next day.

Now, the next major concern when entertaining or even trying a new recipe:  Will it taste good?  No problem here, the answer is, YES.  Many people in the reviews for this recipe say it is average or nothing special for a goulash.  I don’t know what soup they made, but I thought this was exceptional.  The hardest part about this recipe is the time it takes, but as you are not cooking on the day you serve it, you have some flexibility as to when  you make this dish.  The time consuming part is cutting the beef into nice 1/2 inch cubes, and slicing the veggies into similar sized pieces as the beef.  But, ensuring even sized pieces in this stew key to creating a good product.

Another step to making this soup exceptional is making it in advance.  I made it two days in advance and I am so glad I did.  It is just a different soup with deeper flavors if made a couple of days before eating.  This step should not be optional.  The benefit of this step is, of course, it makes for easy entertaining the day of the dinner.

My last tip:  make sure you trim as much fat off the beef as possible. You don’t want a fatty soup, you want to make sure that the wonderful flavors come through.  Your guest will not be disappointed that you didn’t fix a fancy roast once they have their first bite of this hearty flavorful stew.

Viennese Cucumber Salad:

I loved this salad.  Simple, yet nice presentation with the thin slices and forked decoration.  I have been to Austria, but it was about 25 years ago, so I have no recollection as to if this is an authentic flavor or not.  However, in looking at the reviews for this recipe on, almost every single person that reviewed the recipe says it is exactly like they had in Austria or from their Austrian mother, and they wouldn’t make any other cucumber salad recipe.  So, for such a simple, humble salad, this has some pretty high praise.

I made this the day of the party using my food processor for thin even slices of cucumber.  Just make sure you make this in advance as the cucumbers need to sit for a little while first after salting, then draining, then with the marinade.

Marinated Vegetables with Mustard Dill Dressing:

Between the cucumber salad and this colorful vegetable platter, there is sure to be a vegetable to everyone’s liking.  This platter features beets, carrots and green beans, all cooked to crisp tender.  The carrots and beets are marinated in separate dishes, the green beans are not marinated.  The next day you arrange them decoratively on a serving platter and drizzle the mustard dill dressing all over the veggies.  My only diversion from the instructions for this recipe is that I cooked my beets in a glass pan with water, and covered, for about 12 minutes in the microwave.  Its just a super easy, super quick way to make beets.  I thought that this recipe was very heavy on the carrots, but the carrots are delicious, so it is not that big of a problem.

The choice of vegetables is very Austrian and thus, it fits perfectly with the rest of the menu.  My point in saying this is, don’t change a thing!  If you want to stick to a menu theme, then don’t add feta or use grilled eggplant.  This is not a Greek vegetable dish, it is Austrian.  I say this because one of my criticisms of the web site is that these recipes are all on their own with out the context of the full menu that they were meant to be made with.  So, people make comments on the recipe, but then say they served it with all sorts of different things.  No one actually reviews the menu in its original context.  The modifications might be great, but I wish that would link to the original menu so people could know how the recipe was intended.

The Wine


Syrahs, as I learned after preparing for this meal, are like the espresso of wines.  They pack a punch in flavor and are rich heavy red wines.  They complement the Goulash perfectly.  If you just make the Goulash and nothing else, at least enjoy it with a glass of syrah.

I was surprised when I started my hunt for Santa Barbara syrahs that I couldn’t really find any in my area (Northern California and close to Napa, CA).  I ended up finding two and only two in my town–the Rusack and the Rancho Sisquoc.  No surprise that our local market carried the Rancho Sisquoc, as that winery is owned by the Flood family.  The Flood family is a well known name in San Francisco–so it made sense to find their wine in this area.  My brother-in-law was also up to the challenge of looking for Santa Barbara County syrahs and ran into the same problem in his town.  He ended up bringing the Fess Parker and the Hartley Ostini.  So, we had four for our Santa Barbara County Syrah wine tasting.

My favorite was the Rusack ($26 from the Nugget Market).  From the moment the bottle was opened it was delicious.  Gourmet Magazine suggests the Fess Parker Santa Barbara County Syrah for this menu, and that did not disappoint either.  The Rancho Sisquoc was probably my least favorite, but not horrible, just in comparison to Fess and Rusack is lacked a certain quality.  The Hartley Ostini was a surprise.  It was good upon opening but, to my luck, not all of it was consumed at Christmas Dinner.   It sat on my counter, open for about two days.  I poured the last half glass and couldn’t believe how the flavor had developed–blackberry.  It was like drinking a blackberry that had its sugar removed.  It was superb.

I would love to hear your experience with Santa Barbara Syrahs.  Going to visit that region is on my list of travel ideas now, especially since I can’t really find a good selection of that region’s wines in my local area.  If you want to set up a Syrah tasting at your party I liked this article from that has some great visual explanations of the variety and also has a link to a comparison of Old World wines and New World wines, which is fun.  You could have an Old World/New World Syrah tasting party.

Dessert Course

Austrian Sweet Cheese Crêpes Baked in Custard:

I chose to serve this dessert from the original menu from Gourmet Magazine, with other desserts because it was Christmas and I like to see a whole dessert buffet.  But, if you decide to make this dessert and no other for 12 people, have no fear, it is HUGE!

Don’t even attempt this recipe if you don’t have a proper pan for making crêpes.  These are easy to make if you have that equipment.  Once the crêpes are made the recipe is just simple assembly after that step.  I had a fair amount of filling left over after filling the crepes.  I filled mine using a two tablespoon ice-cream style scoop.  The recipe does say to use a “generous” two tablespoons, and that is correct.  No need to skimp when filling.

I made the crêpes three days before and I filled the crêpes the night before our dinner.  I poured the custard sauce on the crêpes right before baking, but I had mixed up the custard earlier in the day and left it in the fridge until I was ready to use it.  That timing system seemed to work out just fine.

Apricot Caramel Sauce:

This is the accompanying sauce for the crepes.  This is why making these menus can be fun–it forces me out of my comfort zone for cooking.  I am not a candy maker and while making this recipe I was sure I had done it completely wrong (and maybe I did, but it did taste fine).  The recipe requires that you melt the sugar and only the sugar in the pan.  Then you swirl the pan until the melted sugar is golden caramel.  It goes from clear to caramel in seconds so WATCH it carefully!  I had the stove on fairly low for this process.  Then, once the golden color,  you take the pan off the heat and CAREFULLY add the 3 cups of water.  Well, when you add the water the sugar completely hardens.  It also makes some scary steam noises too–be prepared!  At this point, don’t fret, as I did, place it back on the heat, stir and the caramelized sugar will dissolve.  Whew!

Now you can safely and confidently complete the other steps.  Here are my thoughts on the final product:  Although this sauce had a nice look and consistency, I was a bit disappointed at how little of a caramel flavor I got from the final product.  After the dramatic cooking experience I guess I wanted something more from the flavor.  That said, it is still a nice complement to the crêpes.

If you know something about how to make a sauce such as this Apricot Caramel Sauce then please feel free to leave me a comment about that process, and point out any mistakes I may have made.  I am still sure I did something wrong with this one.  Thanks!

A Caroling Party:  A Design Collection

This Ebay collection is inspired by the table and room design pictured in “The Best of Gourmet: 1995” from the menu titled, “A Caroling Party.”  When I saw this place setting what immediately stood out for me was the amber colored deer figurines used as table decor. I was surprised to learn that these figurines were made with candy. The candy is called barley sugar and was made in antique candy molds. These candy “statues” give this place setting a truly magical feel. I also loved the simple but unusual Christmas colors. It all comes together to create and elegant yet whimsical space for a fun and special holiday gathering. The meal starts out with punch in antique cups and nuts presented in leaf bowls.  Have a look at the collection and let me know what you love!

Barley Candy and Toy Molds: 

As I stated, I was captivated by the candy reindeer, and being daring, yet overconfident with my cooking skills, I attempted to make barley candy figurines.   After finding a recipe on line for Old Fashioned barley candy, I set to work.  The ingredient list was simple, barley, sugar, water, and a pinch of cream of tarter.  Here are some pictures from my two attempts:

In the first picture on the left, the candy was hard, and tasty, but as you can see way too dark from caramelization.  I think part of the problem that I faced was not having excellent equipment.  I had two different candy thermometers, and on the first attempt I focused on reaching the recommended temperature, but I don’t think either of my thermometers were 100% accurate.  So, back to the drawing board.  I read up on candy making, then set to work again.  This time using only my eyeballs to look for the various stages in the candy-making process.    However, this second attempt came out too soft and very cloudy.  Although, the flavor of this second batch was nice as it had a more pronounced barley flavor since I didn’t over cook it.

If I kept attempting the candy I might have gotten a product that I liked, but that wouldn’t have solved the problem of the fact that the gingerbread house mold just looked like a big blob.  The old fashioned style molds are really the only ones that give that statute shape, and these antique molds are quite pricey as you can see from the ones listed on Ebay.

Therefore, if you want to have that magical look and  you are not a candy making expert, you might want to check out these candy-makers who sell beautiful candy statutes.  They would make a wonderful addition to a holiday table:

Dorothy Timberlake Candies

Melville Candy

Shane Confectionary and a nice article about their seasonal candy can be found here.

This is also a nice article about barley candy from

Thanks for reading and I look forward to sharing with you a New Year filled with cooking adventures!


June: Summer Picnic Series #2

Picnic 3

The Meadow Picnic from “The Best of Gourmet:  Volume VI” might be my favorite menu so far.  It is an amazingly delicious array of dishes and although I did not transport my meal to a picnic area, I do believe that this would all transport very nicely.  My only hesitation about recommending this menu to others to prepare would be that it was very time consuming and took a great deal of chopping.  Overall, there are no complex cooking techniques, it is all very straightforward, but be prepared for the time you need for chopping, rolling, and mixing.  Also, if you are planning a picnic I would suggest starting this menu three days in advance and have everything done the day before your event.  On the other hand, it all would be fairly easy if each member of your party was assigned a dish from this menu.  Just a thought.  The menu would easily serve about 10 people.  Below you will find the menu followed by a preface to this months blog entry.  Enjoy!

Meadow Picnic

Grilled Chicken and Ziti Salad

Lebanese-Style Tuna Salad with Tahini Dressing

Green Bean, Yellow Pepper, and Bacon Salad with Oregano Vinaigrette

Roast Beef and Couscous Rolls


Cherry Tomatoes

S’Mores Bars

Iced Tea

Grgich Hills, Napa Valley, Fume Blanc ’88

Rosemount Estate Diamond Reserve Hunter Valley Red ’88

Why I Started this Blog

Before I begin this installment of my Gourmet Magazine Menus, I wanted to take a moment to tell you one reason of why I started this blog and in the process, also tell you a little bit about myself.  I love looking at cooking magazines and books.  Often I hear people say about books and magazines like Gourmet or Bon Appitit is that meals these publications present are impossible or impractical for the home chef.  I admit, that even I am prone to that sort of thinking at times.  I will see an elaborate spread of perfectly placed full course meals and I think, “Who can do that?  Who has time?”  I mean, the editors of these publications don’t do this all on their own.  They have an army of workers setting up, cooking, cleaning, photographing, etc.  Yet, these publications are meant for the home cook.

I have created full meals in the past, usually for special occasions, but in the past I was more likely to only pick one recipe from a menu, rather than the whole meal.  So, I started to wonder when I was given all these books, if these menus were practical to cook in a home kitchen by one cook.  I also wondered what skill level one might need to fully complete these menus.  What I am finding, in the six months of making these menus, is that they are very well crafted.  The balance of complex/simple, quick/lengthy, savory/sweet is always very well thought out.  I think most people familiar with their kitchen can execute these menus with efficiency and elegance.

My background as a cook is very simple:  What I learned I learned from my mother or reading.  I have no formal training, I have never taken a cooking class of any kind.  I don’t even really like watching cooking shows.  I usually think, why am I watching this show when I could be making something myself?  The only food show that I really love is Kitchen Nightmares.  That, however, has only reinforced my desire to cook great food at home.  Now on to the food and wine!!

Wine and Iced Tea

Meadow Beverages

The Grgich Hills Estate Fume Blanc was very nice, however, a bit pricey ($30), and frankly, I preferred some of the other white wines I have had from some of the previous menus that were far less expensive.  Nonetheless, it certainly made a nice wine to have on the table to offer my guests and family.  And after reading this review of it in the LA Times, I want to try it all over again.  Sometimes when I am busy putting all the finishing touches on my table, it is hard to stop and “smell the wine” so to speak.  Grgich wine, especially their Chardonnay, is worth a try, however because in 1976 to the shock and surprise of the French, a panel of French wine judges during a blind tasting, declared Mike Grigich’s Chardonnay the best wine in the world!  And, according to my reading, he is still known for his exquisite Chardonnays.

I did not go with the Rosemount wine, rather I chose a Pinot Noir simply because I love Pino Noirs and I thought it would be excellent with a light, fresh summer meal.  The Rosemount Estate is still around and widely available if you do choose this wine for your picnic.  I went with a more moderate priced red to balance out what I spent on the white, but I was not disappointed.  The Hahn 2014 Pino Noir ($12) was wonderful with the flavors of the meal.  I even loved it with the S’Mores Bars as it balanced out the sweetness from the marshmallows very nicely.  The Hahn Family Winery was founded in 1979 in the Santa Lucia Highlands in Monterey, California, but wine grapes have been grown in that area for about 200 years.

Harney and Son’s is one of my favorite tea merchants and the Tropical Green was nice, light and fruity for the iced tea.  However, I recently had the pleasure of trying Piper and Leaf’s “Front Porch Special” black tea blend.   I made that into iced tea sweetened with simple syrup.  It was the best iced tea I have ever sipped and, had I had this tea available for my Meadow Picnic, I would have served that.  Piper and Leaf is expensive, but this blend is worth every penny and so refreshing on a hot summer day!

Grilled Chicken and Ziti Salad

Grilled Chicken and Ziti

A fantastic crunchy and flavorful pasta salad with a nice creamy dressing.  I grilled the chicken and marinated it in the lemon juice the day before making the salad.  I did not have leftover juice from the chicken so you will need an additional lemon for the dressing.  Be sure to make this dish a day before serving as it was good the first day, but fantastic on the second.  Many reviewers on Epicurious suggested adding tomatoes, so clearly tomatoes go nicely with this dish but for us, our tomatoes are served on the side per our menu.  I also think that the juice from the fresh tomatoes might make the pasta too soggy and gummy.  Keep the tomatoes separate and everyone will be happy.  This is a great recipe and it keeps very well for a few days in the fridge.  Having the leftovers of this menu around was like living in a deli for a few days.  Yum!

Lebanese-Style Tuna Salad with Tahini Dressing & Tsatsiki

Tuna and Tsatsiki

I like parsley.  I don’t think the recipe called for that much parsley and in the picture in the book it showed a light sprinkle on top of the tuna.  The recipe also called for flat leaf parsley, but I prefer curly parsley, so that is what I used.  Tuna fans be prepared for a delicious and different tuna sandwich.  The reviews on Epicurious all say the same thing–“best tuna sandwich.”  The caramelized onions and toasted pine nuts give a nice flavor and texture to this layers tuna dish.  My only suggestion is that I would have liked a little more lemon flavor and a slightly spicier touch of the cayenne.  Ordinarily I love the food processor, but I thought it was easier to make the dressing by hand mixing and it came out perfect.  I served it with the pita and a generous helping of the Tsatsiki.


The tsatsiki recipe makes a very generous portion.  You could cut this in half and probably be fine.  The recipe is very good, but we all felt it could have used a little more salt and garlic.  Don’t be shy with either.

I made this Lebanese-style tuna recipe with canned albacore tuna, but I kept wondering how this recipe might be served with fresh seared and sliced ahi tuna in place of the canned.  I might need to explore that option in the future.  If you picnic some place with a grill, I would give that a try.  Just pack the dressing, caramelized onions, and parsley and put it together at your picnic site.

Green Bean, Yellow Pepper, and Bacon Salad with Oregano Vinaigrette

Green bean salad

This meal is not for vegetarians, pretty much everything has a little meat in the dish, but you won’t want to skip the bacon in this dish.  I used a thick cut smoked bacon and cut it with kitchen shears after the bacon got nice and crispy.  Not only is this dish delicious, but it is so lovely with its colors.  The recipe called for dried oregano, but I used fresh oregano from my garden.  If you use fresh oregano, just add as much as you want to flavor your dish.  Each of these dishes is excellent served together, but each also stands out on its own and this dish is no exception.  If this was the only dish on the menu, I would have been happy.  I made mine the day before and kept it in the fridge.  The oil solidified, however so I just popped it into the microwave for ten seconds or so to melt the olive oil or you can just set it out for a few hours before serving to let it come to room temperature.  Serving it at room temperature, rather than fresh from the fridge, also allows the flavors to come through more.  This recipe is not in the Epicurious database, so here it is:

Green Bean, Yellow Pepper, and Bacon Salad with Oregano Vinaigrette

  • 1 1/2 pounds green beans, trimmed
  • 1 tablespoon red-wine vinegar (I used balsamic reduction and doubled the amount)
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled (or fresh, chopped)
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small yellow bell pepper, cut into paper-thin strips
  • 6 slices of lean bacon, cooked until crisp and drained

In a kettle of boiling water cook the beans for 2 to 4 minutes, or until they are crisp-tender, drain them, and refresh them in a bowl of ice and cold water.  In a large bowl whisk together the vinegar, the mustard, and the oregano and add the oil in a stream, whisking until the vinaigrette is emulsified.  To the vinaigrette add the beans, drained well, the yellow pepper, and the bacon, crumbled, toss the salad, and season it with salt and black pepper.  The salad may be made 8 hours in advance.  Serves 8 to 10.

Roast Beef and Couscous Rolls

beef rolls

I am going to repeat myself:  If this was the only dish I was served I would be perfectly happy.  I really had no idea how these would turn out or if they would even be any good–I assure you, they are amazing, fairly easy to make, and when finished, have an inviting presentation.  Below I have pictures showing how to put them together.  I did not use couscous, I used a quinoa blend and I think it may have held together better because of that.  I think couscous would not have held together as well.  Use only the best deli sliced roast beef you can acquire.  The Nugget Market’s Boar’s Head Roast Beef was perfect because it was so incredibly tender it practically melted in your mouth and thus was a perfect texture for the filling.


My deli slices were very thin and I had to “patch” it in places, but that did not affect the structural integrity of the roll.  These pack nicely and make a great lunch the next day.  If you make these let me know in the comments.  I would love to know what you thought of these delicious little beef bites.

S’Mores Bars

If there is a disappointment in this menu, the S’Mores Bars are it.  It is chocolate, marshmallows, and graham crackers, so they disappeared from the serving plate, but I would have chosen a different dessert.   My problem with them was that I thought they were too sweet and the crust did not hold together and just crumbled all over the place.  Very easy to make, but I think brownies may have been a better choice.  You can see from the photo that as I cut them into squares they were very crumbly.  They looked good on the serving plate, but as soon as you bite into them, it crumbles all over!


Meadow Picnic: A Design Collection

In the Ebay collection I have combined the Summer Picnic series menus, so just scroll over the picture on Ebay and you can see what collection each item goes with.  The tin box above is such a beautiful find and is to be used for setting out your wine bottles.  To get a better understanding of the collection, here is the picture of the Meadow Picnic from “The Best of Gourmet:  Volume VI”:


Enjoy all your summer picnics this season!


June: Summer Picnics

Dessert MenuDessert Menu 3










The Best of Gourmet:  Volume VI, includes a trio of menus titled, “Summer Picnics.”  I hope to make all of these menus this June and share with you my experience making them.  I thought I would copy the page from the book that includes the menus:

summer picnics

I started with the Twilight Dessert Picnic and it was wonderful!  Easy to put together, fun to eat, fantastic complementary flavors, and it makes a lovely presentation.  For the assorted fruit I offered strawberries, cherries, sliced apricots, and sliced plums.  Choose whatever is fresh and in season, but I have to say, I especially loved the apricots and cherries along side the almond macaroons.

I would love to hear about your summer picnic plans.  Leave a note in the comments section.  Have a wonderful summer and I hope these menus will inspire you as they did me.  Enjoy!

Peach Wine

Peach Wine

The peach wine is so simple and an absolute must for this lovely menu.  Rather than the granulated sugar that the recipe calls for, I used simple syrup.  Everyone agreed that it was delicious and the peach flavor really bursts through.  Once the wine was gone we ate the peaches along with the other dessert items.  I only marinated my peach wine for a day and it was fantastic, I am sure the five days, that the recipe calls for would only make this drink more delicious.  I recommend making a double batch which would be four bottles of a dry white wine.

Chocolate Coconut Rum Cake

Rum Cake

This cake looks dense in this picture, but it is really a quite light cake with a moist interior.  I used Kraken rum which was very good with the coconut and chocolate.  This is a very easy cake to put together and the flavor and texture are excellent along side the fresh fruit.  To frost the cake I put a layer of frosting over the side, then I placed the cake in the refrigerator for about 5 minutes.  I kept doing this until all the frosting was on the cake.  It took about three or four times of cooling in the fridge.  After the last application of frosting do not put back in the fridge before putting on the coconut.  If the frosting is firm from being chilled the coconut will not stick as well as if the frosting is soft.

The frosting is pretty much rum, butter and powdered sugar, you will want to taste it, but try not to eat the whole bowl of the frosting, trust me it is even better with the cake!  We had a total of eight people for our “Twilight Dessert Picnic” and everything was devoured that evening.  So, when planning keep it in mind that if you have more than 10 people you might want to make an additional cake.

I could not find the recipe on so here it is:

Chocolate Coconut Rum Cake

  • 1 cup sweetened flaked coconut
  • 4 ounces semisweet chocolate, broken into pieces
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons light or golden rum
  • 4 large eggs, separated
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

For the frosting

  • 1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tablespoon light or golden rum
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 confectioners’ sugar

In a baking dish toast 2/3 of the  coconut in the middle of a preheated 350 degree oven until it just begins to color, transfer it to a small bowl, and let it cool.

(I did this step in the microwave rather than on the stove)  In a metal bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water melt the chocolate and the butter with the rum, stirring, until the mixture is smooth and remove the bowl from the heat.

In a bowl whisk together the yolks, 2 tablespoons of the sugar, the flour, and the salt until the mixture is smooth and whisk in the chocolate mixture and the remaining (untoasted) 1/3 cup coconut.  In another bowl with an electric mixer beat the whites until they hold soft peaks and beat in the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar until the whites just hold stiff peaks.  Stir half the whites into the chocolate mixture and fold in the remaining whites gently but thoroughly.  Pour the mixture into a buttered and lined with parchment paper7 or 8 inch springform pan, bake the cake in the middle of a preheated 350 degree oven for 40 to 45 minutes (mine only took 40 minutes), or until it is set and the top is puffed and cracked, and let it cool in the pan on a rack.  (The cake will fall as it cools.)

Make the frosting while the cake is cooking:  In a bowl with an electric mixer cream the butter, add the rum, the salt (I only used a tiny pinch), and the confectioners’ sugar, and beat the frosting until it is light and fluffy.  Remove the side of the pan from the cake and spread the frosting on the side of the cake.  Holding the cake in one hand over the bowl of toasted coconut, with the other hand pres the coconut onto the frosting, letting the excess fall back into the bowl.  The cake may be made 1 day in advance and kept covered loosely and chilled. 

Chewy Almond Macaroons

Almond Macaroons

If you look at the recipe for these on the link above, please ignore the reviews.  The only two reviews said these were horrible.  I don’t know what they did wrong, but mine were excellent!.  One of my guests said they were so little and easy to eat they were as addictive as chips.  I liked them too and by the end of the evening my double batch of these chewy almond cookies had vanished.  The picture from the book shows these cookies a little thicker than mine turned out, but it didn’t matter as they were still enjoyed.  Here is the picture from the book:

summer picnics 1

I made these cookies the day before and they were a snap to whip up.  Rather than using a pastry bag I put my double batch of batter in a large zip lock bag and then snipped the end of the bag off and piped them on to a parchment paper lined cookie sheet.

Summer Picnics: A Design Collection

Because this month will have a trio of menus and each one has a distinct style I have labeled each picture on my Ebay collection.  If you scroll over the picture it will tell you what menu each item goes to.  Have a look at the Twilight Dessert Picnic items.  The picture above is from the book.  You can compare my items to theirs.  I will add the other two picnic menu collections later in the month.

Twilight Dessert Picnic


I hate picnicking with paper plates and plastic forks and knives.  Why not picnic with some elegance, like a Limoges cake serving set, and a rustic Italian picnic cart?  Plenty of space for your wine and all your other dessert options in that cart.  There are a few unique and fun items to really elevate your picnic to something special and memorable in this collection.  Enjoy!


May #2: A Hikers’ Picnic

From Barnaby Summit

Another great adventure awaits with this menu!  I know this is supposed to be only one menu a month, but this menu was just calling out to me, so I thought I would give you a report.  “A Hikers’ Picnic” menu from “The Best of Gourmet: 1995” is a perfect menu for hungry hikers, I know because I was one of them!  Here is the menu:

A Hikers' Picnic

Chilled Yellow Pepper and Scallion Buttermilk Soup

Azuki Bean and Vegetable Salad in Pita Bread

Granola and Dried Cranberry Chocolate Chip Cookies


(Iced or Hot Tea)

I started making this the day before our hike.  This menu is quick and easy to prepare, especially with some of my updates.  It is also easy to pack and it feeds six people easily with a hearty appetite.  My daughter and I ate a couple of cookies and an apple, had a few sips of tea and started out on our 3 hour 5 1/2 mile hike.  Having eaten nothing before that snack, those cookies and apples kept us going for our whole hike.  After our hike, in which we made the summit of Mount Barnaby in Marin County, CA,

Barnaby Lookout

we headed over to the Marin French Cheese Factory to fill up on our picnic and of course buy some cheese and bread for dinner later that night.  It was the perfect ending to a beautiful day!

The Beverage

This menu in the Gourmet book does not suggest any beverage to accompany this meal.  I however, would suggest a nice hearty hot black tea.  We brought along a thermos of Mark T. Wendell Tea Company’s Scottish Breakfast.  After our hike we made short order of this big thermos of tea.  It was the perfect complement to this hearty lunch.   So, be sure to bring along a generous amount of your favorite strong tea.

The Soup

The Chilled Yellow Pepper and Scallion Buttermilk Soup sounds like it will be a flavorful complement to this menu, but I though it was a bit bland.  The soup is seen in the pictures in the camp cups.  If you do make this soup be sure to get out your immersion blender.  That makes this soup a snap to prepare.  However, a cold soup would be a great side dish to this menu, just not this recipe.  Do you have a savory cold soup that you would recommend?  I would love to know.  I don’t ever make cold soups, but I would love to try one that has been successful, after all, summer is right around the corner!

The Sandwich

Soup & Pitas

The Azuki Bean and Vegetable Salad in Pita Bread is flavorful and versatile.  Pack the filling for this pita sandwich in a Tupperware type container and stuff the pita when you are ready to eat.  My girls actually ate the mixture like a salad, but I stuffed mine into a whole wheat pita.  It was hearty, easy to eat, had a nice crunch, is vegetarian, and very delicious!  This is a great stuffing for a pita.  I used what bean I had on hand which was black-eyed peas, but I think most any bean would go very nicely in this mixture.

Besides the beans, I also made a few other changes.  The recipe calls for dicing carrots and broccoli and blanching them in boiling water.  This seemed unnecessary, so I used what I think is a little easier and more updated:  A bag of pre-shredded broccoli stems and shredded carrots.  No blanching, just dump into the bowl, add the rest of the ingredients and stir.  I also used feta rather than the provolone that is used in the recipe.  A squirt of lemon might be a nice addition, but be careful, you don’t want this salad to become too watery as it is a filling for soft bread.  Therefore, you can use your favorite bean, favorite cheese, and your favorite combination of raw shredded vegetables that do not get soggy when “dressed,” in place of the called for ingredients in this recipe.  In short, you can customize this sandwich filling while still staying true to the spirit of the recipe.

The Dessert (or snack, or in my case, breakfast)

Granola cookies, apples, and tea

Yum!  One of my daughters said that this cookie has the perfect texture.  I though these Granola and Dried Cranberry Chocolate Chip Cookies were a bit sweet (probably due to the type of granola I used), but excellent.  These cookies were good right out of the oven, but I thought these were even better a day later as the chewy and crunch texture really comes through.  This recipe is very much like the salad–they will come out differently with each cook.  Everyone will use a different granola, and the cranberry is only a suggestion, you can use raisins, or really any dried fruit that you want in these cookies.  Have fun and experiment with different combinations of granola, dried fruit, and baking chips (white chocolate, chocolate, butterscotch, etc.).

These cookies are hearty enough to be in my backpack and still make it out in one piece.  They go great with tea and are excellent paired with a crisp apple.   The granola cookies are a perfect beginning or end to a great hike.

Now go find a hill to hike!  Here are some wild flowers from our hike:

Blue wild flowers

A Hikers’ Picnic:  A Design Collection


Bandanas and enamelware will be awaiting the hikers at the picnic tables when they return from their hike.  This is a simple Ebay collection that combines retro with contemporary.  I love the idea of using bandanas as napkins.  Also, I appreciate the rustic charm of enamelware which can come in many colors and styles.  You can also use mess kits to serve up your picnic menu as I did in my pictures above.  Take a look at another of my Ebay collections inspired from the menu titled, “Picnic: Fishing in Scotland” from “The Best of Gourmet: 1992.”  I really love that collection and someday I look forward to making that menu.    Both of the collections have some fun ideas that will make your next picnic something to remember!

May: Brunch On Derby Day

Derby Day Brunch

Get ready to travel to Kentucky!  Brunch on Derby Day from “The Best of Gourmet:  Volume VI” is a fun, fresh, and plentiful menu that is easy to put together. Here is the menu:

Mint Juleps

Ham Biscuits

Turkey Hash

Corn Cakes

Pea Salad

Bibb, Watercress, and Mint Salad

Chocolate Pecan Bars

Fresh Strawberries

Wine:  Torres Vina Sol 1988


We celebrated Mother’s Day on Friday, May 6, 2016, the day of the Kentucky Oaks horse race.  The Kentucky Oaks is a wonderful event to watch for a Mother’s Day event because it is focused on women.  Everyone wears pick and in between the horse races they have a parade of women who have survived breast and ovarian cancers.  The women walk with their family or spouse and everyone is dressed in their fancy hats, dresses, and for the men, festive ties and the predominant color is pink.  When not fashion spotting during this event you have the excitement of the race itself which includes all fillies (young female horses).  It was the perfect event to watch for Mother’s Day.

We ate our lunch sitting in the living room enjoying the spectacle of the Kentucky Oaks and this menu is easy to eat in that sort of casual fashion.  Before the event started we put on some playlists I found on Spotify titled “Kentucky Derby” and we also listened to a little Kentucky Bluegrass too.  Everything in this menu complements each item perfectly and mint which is found in a couple of the menu items brings a nice spring flavor theme to the brunch.


Spanish Wine

The Gourmet menu suggested a Torres Vina Sol, 1988.  As I was focused more on the bourbon for the mint juleps, I didn’t spend that much time on the wine, however this is what I found out.  The Torres winery is still producing and they still produce a Vina Sol.  I could not find this particular wine, however, it uses two grapes, the Parellada and the Garnacha Blanca.  Both these grapes are grown in the Catalonia region of Spain.  So, I tried to find a white Spanish wine that was grown in that area of Spain and the Pansa Blanca, Marques d Alella, 2013 is what I found.  From reading about it, I think it is a very suitable substitution for the Torres Vina Sol as the Pansa Blanca is also from the Catalonia region and is made of grapes that are used in Cava (the Spanish sparkling wine), as is the Vina Sol.

This wine was very similar to the Orvieto that we had in the April menu, in that it is a light, slightly effervescent wine and it is also a great bargain at about $8 a bottle.  I liked the Orvieto equally to the Pansa Blanca.  I would recommend this wine for a light afternoon complement to this lovely meal.

The Cocktail:  Mint Juleps


We had the Mint Juleps as a pre-meal cocktail.  I made the recipe using the mint simple syrup called for in the recipe and my syrup did not discolor.  I should have experimented with proportions prior to serving them to guests, because on the day of our meal I made them according to the recipe which calls for 1 to 2 teaspoons of the mint syrup along with the bourbon.  It was good, but the next day I made a julep with some of the leftover syrup and I used double that amount and had a much more mint flavored beverage which was better.  So, use a generous portion of the syrup in the julep.

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this Four Roses Kentucky Bourbon.  It got good reviews for a bourbon that is good for mixing, so out of the numerous Kentucky bourbons out on the market, I picked the Four Roses.  We also tried this bourbon in an Old Fashioned prior to our event (to make sure this wasn’t horrible) and I really liked it served in the Old Fashioned better than the julep, but for this occasion and menu the Mint Julep was much more festive.  However, the Old Fashioned brought out the apricot and strong vanilla flavors of this very appealing Kentucky Bourbon.

The Food

I served this meal buffet style and I included everything on the buffet at once.  I did not have multiple courses.  The main, salads, and dessert were all on the table for people to eat and choose from however they pleased.  I also served my meal with a wonderful tea called Paris Breakfast from Mariage Frères tea company.  It is a wonderful tea that I served with copious amounts of sugar and milk.  I thought a sweet tea was perfect for this event.  Here is how it all looked on the table:

Derby Brunch

Ham Biscuits: 

Ham Biscuits & Turkey Hash

These little sandwiches are good, but I think they might be better if the turkey hash is served over an open face toasted biscuit.  However, I loved the presentation of these little sandwiches.  I probably would not serve them apart from this menu because they are a bit dry and unimpressive if served solo.  Together with the great sauce of the hash and excellent beverages to drink along side these sandwiches, they are a nice addition to the buffet spread.  I made the biscuits the day before and had my helpers butter, toast, and fill the little finished sandwich on the day of the event.  They are very easy, but they do require the assembly on serving day.

Turkey Hash:

The Turkey Hash is pictured above behind the ham biscuits.  This is a huge recipe and with everything else makes for a hearty meal that no one will walk away from hungry.  The flavors are simple and it tastes like good comfort food.  Once again, I think this would be even better served on the open faced biscuits.  I read the reviews on Epicurious and many say that it was too watery.  I did not have that problem, however I did add about double the cubed potatoes that the recipe called for.  With the added potatoes it has a better turkey to potato ratio.  I also used browned ground turkey rather than cubed cooked turkey.  I just thought the ground turkey would be easy and taste just as good.  Everyone thought it was great with the ground turkey.

This dish was a nice complement to all the other flavors on the plate.  The bell pepper flavor in the hash came through but it did not dominate so flavors from the other dishes were able to come through and complement this simple dish.  I think many of the reviews on the Epicurious web site do not review this dish in its intended context, that is with this full meal.  Some reviews said it was bland.  Although, I would not call this dish bland even by itself, I think one’s opinion might change if they had this dish served with this menu.  This dish should not have overpowering flavors because once on the plate with everything else it makes sense.  Additionally, comfort food is simple and uncomplicated.   Everyone enjoyed this dish.

Corn Cakes:

Corn Cakes & Tea












My daughter loved these all-corn pancakes.  I served them with warm butter and syrup to pour over these cakes.  They are very porous and the syrup gets soaked up easily by these and does not run all over the rest of your food on your plate.  These are also easy to make and can be made the day before.  I would not recommend making these any earlier in advance because they do dry out a little.  The day of the meal I warmed them in a 350 degree oven for about 25 minutes.  A nice addition to this southern style meal.

Pea Salad:

Pea Salad

A wonderful colorful and very spring tasting item to have on your plate!  I used frozen peas in this recipe, but if you can find fresh peas that would be ideal to really elevate this dish into something quite special.  Everyone loved it and it is very easy and quick to prepare.  It calls for tarragon which is an herb that I love.  Tarragon used to be the signal of Spring for me, because I had tarragon growing in a flower pot outside on my patio and every Spring it would suddenly emerge and fill my flower pot.  Since the drought here in California my tarragon eventually stopped sprouting, but it hasn’t stopped my love for this herb.  Add a little extra white vinegar to give this dish a little more zing, but with the spicy crunch of the radish and the sweetness of the peas this recipe is a winner.

Bibb, Watercress, and Mint Salad:

Green Salad Derby

An absolutely wonderful burst-of-flavor salad.  The super fresh tasting mint along with the crisp lettuce and crunchy watercress is an excellent combination of greens.  There is nothing complicated about this salad, the dressing is just oil, vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper, but it comes together like it was served in a five star establishment.  I washed all the greens the day before, dried them in a spinner, and sealed them in a zip lock bag.  It made for easy serving the day of the meal.   The mint really brings out the freshness of the Spring season.  Do not substitute the greens for anything else, it is excellent just as it is.  Lovely!

Chocolate Pecan Bars:

Dessert & Salad Pecan Bars

A perfect ending to this lovely menu.  Chocolate, nuts, and fruit, however are my weakness.  I think I may have overcooked my bars a few minutes to much, but these were great anyway, just a little crumbly.  The strawberries give a nice fresh spring touch that highlights a theme of this menu.  These look lovely on the table and are so nice with a cup of tea.  Epicurious did not have the recipe for these, so I could not include the link, here is the recipe:

Chocolate Pecan Bars:

For the crust:

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg, beaten lightly

For the filling:

  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup all -purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups chopped pecans
  • 2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Line a 13 x 9 inch pan with foil and butter the foil.

Make the crust: In a food processor blend together the flour, the sugar, the butter, and the salt, pulsing the motor, until the mixture resembles coarse meal, add the egg, and blend the mixture until it forms a dough (I needed a little extra moisture to make a dough so I added a teaspoon at a time of water until a dough formed).  Press the dough evenly with floured hands into the bottom of the foil lined and buttered 13 by 9 inch baking pan and bake it in the middle of a preheated 350 degree oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until it is golden.

Make the filling while the crust is baking:  In a bowl cream the butter with the brown sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy and add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition.  Beat in the flour, the vanilla, and the salt.  Stir in the pecans and the chocolate chips.

Spread the filling over the crust and bake the confection in the middle of the 350 degree oven for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the top is golden brown.  Let the confection cool completely in the pan on a rack.  Once cooled, take the foil and lift the bars out of the pan and place on a cutting board and cut it into 24 bars.  The bars may be made 2 days in advance and kept in an airtight container.  Makes 24.

To Conclude:  Brunch on Derby Day is a winner indeed!  For me, the bonus of discovering the enjoyment of the Kentucky Oaks was also a highlight.  I would love to have the tradition of watching the Kentucky Oaks and having brunch a yearly Mother’s Day event.  Next year I would love to make it more of an event by hosting an actual party having the women wear a pink hat and ask the men to wear a pink tie.  We could even bet on the horses having a portion of the betting money donated to a breast or ovarian cancer organization.  Such a great fun festive event and if I keep the food this good and simple, it will be an easy and successful occasion.  What menus are you cooking up this May?  Leave a comment, I would love to know!

Brunch on Derby Day:  A Design Collection


This Ebay collection is of course inspired by the design in “The Best of Gourmet: Volume VI” from the Brunch on Derby Day menu.  It has some fun items like the silverplate chafing dish which is perfect for keeping your Turkey Hash warm.  (I might add here that the turkey hash recipe was designed for keeping warm by a chafing dish, so the extra liquid is necessary to prevent it from burning. This fact is lost on the reviewers on Epicurious who have made this recipe out of its original context.)  I also included a few items that are not from the collection but are festive for the occasion that I created:  the Mother’s Day Kentucky Oaks party.  Thus, you will find some great pink derby style hats and some fun pink ties for the men.  Have a look and let me know what you love!




April: A Poker Party

Poker Dinner Book

This very simple and homey menu attracted me for a variety of reasons.  One reason is very practical, I am always needing ideas for feeding my family and no one can complain about a simple chicken, pasta and salad dinner.  The second reason for picking this menu is because of the dessert.  Many years ago my husband and I escaped to San Francisco for a couple of nights without the girls.  While we were there we had dinner at Cafe Zoetrope.  Cafe Zoetrope is one of the Coppola Family’s restaurants and we had a wonderful meal at this European style Italian cafe.  The dessert was especially memorable. We shared a Tartufo, which is a zabaglione cream center covered with chocolate gelato and rolled in chopped hazelnuts.  Food is always a fun way to celebrate and reflect on memorable moments in our life and this Poker Party menu, I felt, might resurrect that meal at Cafe Zoetrope because of its Italian theme and similar dessert.

I have to admit, the “poker” part of the theme did not really enthuse me that much, until I started making my Ebay Design Collection which you will find below.  However, I am always game for a fun theme, so in between our salad and main course we played a few rounds of poker.  That is what I love about making these menus, it allows our family to make the time to come together and have a good ol’fashioned family night of food and games.

Here is the menu:

Chicken Cacciatora with Fusilli

Arugula Salad with Carrot and Yellow Pepper


Miniature Tartufi

Wine:  Torre Sant’ Andrea Orvieto Secco ’88


Wine & Breadsticks

There were two highlights from this menu:  the wine and the tartufi.  Finding the Orvieto wine was a bit of a challenge, but well worth the effort.  As you can see from the picture above, I also added a bottle of the Coppola Chardonnay to celebrate our memory of our meal at Cafe Zoetrope.  My research for the the suggested menu wine, the Torre Sant’ Andrea Orvieto Secco, turned up nothing other than the Sant’ Andrea is a 12th century church in Orvieto, Umbria in central Italy.  So, perhaps that wine maker is no longer in business or only sells wine in Italy.  Orvieto, however, is a wine growing region in central Italy that primarily grows grapes for white wine.  The grapes they grow are “Grechetto and Trebbiano, which is sold under the Denominazione di origine controllata (DOC) Orvieto and Orvieto Classico,” (from the Wiki page on the Orvieto wine region).

I purchased my Orvieto Classico at our local market, The Nugget, for about $8.99 a bottle–very affordable.  They only offered one Orvieto and I thought it was excellent.  Apparently the wine grown in Orvieto used to be sweet wines, but today they are mainly dry, as was the one we purchased.  It was an excellent and very enjoyable light white wine.  In comparison to the Coppola Chardonnay, it looked like our Orvieto was almost effervescent, as we had bubbles in our glass.

According to Wine Sercher, the wines from the Orvieto region are decreasing in popularity in the United States.  From my observations, the Pinot Grigio is a much more popular Italian wine.  I, however, much preferred the Orvieto over the Pinot Grigios I have had. This is an excellent summer wine served chilled.  You can find some tasting notes on the La Carria, Orvieto Classico, 2014 at this web page.  I highly recommend trying this delicious and affordable wine.  If you try it, I would love to know what you think of the wines from Orvieto.

First Course:  Arugula Salad with Carrot and Yellow Pepper and Garlic Butter Breadsticks

Salad & Breadsticks

The arugula salad cannot be any simpler or easier.  This is a good standard Italian Restaurant oil and vinegar type salad.  The only ingredients are the ones listed in its course name, plus a leaf lettuce like red leaf lettuce, and the dressing of oil, vinegar, salt, pepper.  Simple.  I did not toss my salad, rather I made individual salads so my leftovers would not wilt.  I washed all the lettuce, dried it in a spinner and stored it in fresh clean zip lock bags.  I sliced the yellow peppers, and shredded the carrot and stored those in separate plastic containers.  That way it is easy to make this salad again and again throughout the week and you can have all the ingredients for this salad prepared a day in advance of making your menu.  I love easy salads, however, it was so simple and easy that I can’t say it was a standout, but it was certainly nice and a pleasant way to start our meal.

The breadsticks keep showing up in each photo.  They were really good and an integral part of this menu.  The strong garlic flavor was a nice complement to the simple salad and during the main course they sopped up the sauce from the chicken.  Although this menu recommends breadsticks, no recipe was given, so I made a recipe from a bread machine book called More Bread Machine Magic.  Keep an eye on your bread enthusiasts!  If you let them, they will eat these till their stomach expands. These were soft and garlicky so you can understand why they are dangerous.

I made my breadstick dough, cut it into it shapes, placed them on a baking pan lined with parchment paper, and froze them about one week prior to making this menu.  Just take them out the day of your meal and pop them in the oven after they rise.  Remember if you are one cook, like me, then in order to properly execute these menus timing is very important.  Once you get the timing down, these menus can come together very easily. So take every opportunity to make as much as possible in advance.

The Main Course:  Chicken Cacciatora with Fusilli

The chicken cacciatora was extremely disappointing.  It was flavorless and I didn’t like the way chicken cooked in the sauce.  If  you want a chicken caccciatore meal, then make a different one, skip this recipe.  Some recipes are worth making again if they have potential, make a few tweaks here and there to the seasonings, but this was just wrong.  After I made this I looked at the reviews on Epicurious and they seem to have the same opinion.

In the Volume VI compendium on the page for the chicken cacciatora there is also a recipe for a Chicken Club on Brioche Toast.  This is a much better recipe and would be a fine replacement for this family meal.  Or you can just use this menu, but make your own favorite recipes in place of the Gourmet recipes.  Not everything is going to be a hit, sometimes you get misses and this recipe is one of them.

The Dessert:  Miniature Tartufi

Tartufi in Foil cups

The tartufi were delicious, but get ready to get messy!  Put an apron on and maybe use gloves because your hands will smell like ice cream all day after making these.  The texture of these little ice cream truffles is outstanding:  crunch from the chocolate sprinkles and toasted almonds, dense and creamy from the homemade chocolate ice cream, with just a touch of chewy from the cherry inside.  When you take a bite and see the bright cherry inside against the dark chocolate, they also look beautiful.  As a consumer of these treats, they are ideal.  As the creator of these, they have their challenge.

If you decide to take on the challenge, then start making these one to two weeks in advance.  On one day I made the custard for the ice cream.  The next day I made the custard into ice cream, and I then transferred that into a container for the freezer.  The ice cream can stay in the freezer for a few days and when you have time you can start to tackle making these into little truffles.  The recipe only makes 12 tartufi, so I doubled the recipe and had plenty of ice cream for 24 tartufi and lots for just enjoying a bowl of homemade chocolate ice cream.

In making the ice cream into the little tartufi, my advice is to work quickly and in small batches. The ice cream really hardened in my freezer so you need to have it soften a little before you make it into the little balls.  I used a 1 1/2 inch ice cream scoop.  Pressing the cherry into half the batch is not that easy.  Use both thumbs and apply even pressure.  And remember to work fast.  Let those sit in the freezer for a a while, then once those are firm, take them out and press them together.  Let those sit for a while to harden again before doing the last step.

Once your tiny ice cream balls are frozen, then get the almonds and chocolate coating ready.  The recipe says to use shaved chocolate, but I made it easy on myself and I used dark chocolate sprinkles along with the chopped almonds.  Take the chocolate balls out of the freezer and let them sit for two minutes.  Then, working quickly roll and press in the coating.  Place in the foil cups and freeze until you are ready to serve.  The finished product can stay in the freezer for many days.

The biggest challenge to these is all the shaping of a very messy melty product.  I think you could bypass the shaping and make something like this dessert in a loaf pan with layers of chocolate ice cream and chopped cherries, then coat the outside of the ice cream loaf with the nuts and sprinkles.  Slice to serve.  They wouldn’t be as cute, nor would they be easy finger food for your guests, but for the cook, that would be far easier!

A Poker Party:  A Design Collection

Have I mentioned that I love Ebay?  You never know what you are going to find.  I thought this collection was going to be boring:  a poker table and some black and white plates.  But then I did a search on Ebay for “antique poker tables.”  Once I found a poker table from a saloon from the 1870s I knew exactly the design direction that needed to be taken for this menu.  The menu already had a cinematic connotation for me (the dessert reminding me of the cafe owned by Francis Ford Coppola), plus the menu has an Italian flair, so when I found that poker table, I couldn’t help but think of Spaghetti Westerns–one of my favorite film genres.   Have a look at my Ebay Poker Party Collection and let me know what some of your favorite items are in the collection.

This is another menu that has a great opportunity for some fantastic ambiance music to get you in the poker/western/Italian mood.  I love cooking with some great music on the stereo and a little wine in my glass!  For this menu, be sure to put on a Spaghetti Western playlist on Spotify or just bring up some great Ennio Morricone soundtracks on You Tube.  Here are a couple of “must watch” clips to also set the mood:



Not everything is going to be great, but cooking is an adventure.   So even if the food isn’t amazing, look at all the benefits of going through the “trouble” of making a family meal:

  • Everyone has a wonderful reason to gather together;
  • You can always watch a fun movie that fits the theme of your menu-food and movies are always a great combination;
  • Learn a new game or play an old family favorite
  • As the cook, you probably learned some new skills.  I know I did from working with the ice cream.  Also, you can use these family meals to work on your menu timing so when you have guests over you will be more prepared and calm as you serve your meal.
  • Remember, For a Few Dollars More sometimes you just need to cut your losses and just go out.  Here we are this month revisiting Cafe Zoetrope:Coppola lunch

Be inspired through good food!


Beverage Quarterly Report: Tea, Beer, and Spirits

Beer tasters

No meal is complete without your favorite beverages.  Not only have I been trying to make a menu a month from the Gourmet compendiums, but these books are chuck full of great beverage recipes too!  So, I also decided to find one beverage recipe a month.  As I explored the beverages it made me realize how important beverages are around our house, specifically tea and beer.  Therefore, I am also including in this quarterly report a review of some of our favorite beverages from the past three months.  Take a moment to let me know what you have been drinking in your household too!

Beverage Recipes


Not only do we love tea in our house, but my younger daughter is very interested with Morocco right now.  So, when I came across the Moroccan Mint Tea recipe in The Best of Gourmet:  1995, I thought we had to give it a try.  I am so glad we did, it is fantastic!  This recipe is so good it is now a standard around our house.  I have made it many times.  Sometimes I use fresh mint, as the original recipe calls for, and sometimes I used dried mint.  When I use dried mint I use equal parts dried 100% mint tea and gunpowder green tea and it came out just as well.  I use Twinings Gunpowder Green tea for this recipe which is widely available in many major retail stores.

The Moroccan Mint Tea recipe is from the menu called “A Moroccan Feast,” which is also found in the 1995 Gourmet compendium.  I would love to make this full menu some day as it looks amazing and like there is enough food for a week long feast!!  If you are interested in the design elements of this menu I created an Ebay collection to go with this menu.  I love the cobalt blue colors that contrast with the orange, and the Moroccan doors in this collection are amazing!  Here is the recipe:

Moroccan Mint Tea

  • 2 cups loosely packed fresh mint leaves
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons gunpowder green tea
  • 6 cups boiling water

Garnish with fresh mint sprigs.

In a teapot combine mint, sugar, and tea and add boiling water.  Let steep 5 to 10 minutes.  Strain tea through a fine sieve into teacups and garnish with mint.  Makes 6 cups.  Enjoy!


Not only did I do a nice candle lit dinner for our Valentines treat, but I also made fun Valentines drinks that month too!  I again used The Best of Gourmet:  1995 for the recipe which was the Banana Rum Fizzes.  This recipe combines ice cream, banana, chocolate liqueur, rum and club soda, so go easy on these not only because of the alcohol, but also the calories too!!  Of course I had to embellish with a pink and white sugaring around the rim and a skewered Valentine Lindt chocolate ball in our drinks, which did not help with the caloric intake of this beverage!  However, it might help to know that we all thought these were actually better made with 1/2 and 1/2 or whole milk and a frozen banana in place of the ice cream.  Just add a pinch of sugar when blending everything together.

These drinks were fun and quite festive, but they are strong in alcohol so sip slowly which might be hard to do because they taste like dessert!  I used Marie Brizard Chocolate Royal and Kraken Rum .


I was all ready to pick out a fun beverage recipe in a Gourmet compendium for March, but then I got excited about the Ebay collection that I created.  This collection was inspired by The Best of Gourmet: Volume VI’s menu titled, “Dinner Irish Style.”  While putting that collection together I also added a few books on Irish design and Irish cooking.  This is how I came to discover the cookbook by Rachel Allen titled, “Favorite Food at Home:  Delicious Comfort Food from Ireland’s Most Famous Chef.”  As I am a fan of Irish home cooking, this was a must have for my cookbook collection!  Once I received the book in the mail from the Ebay seller, I discovered my March beverage recipe!

“Little Hot After-Dinner Shots” rose from the pages like a gift from St. Patrick himself!  I used the excuse that my husband is Irish American and of course needs a St. Patrick’s Day present, to run out and buy an expensive and premium bottle of Irish Whiskey.  I made my simple syrup and lightly whipped some whipping cream.  I put this all together and presented the drink is little cordial glasses and the end product was . . . . well, we decided we are not Irish Whiskey fans.  This, however leads me to the review of the Irish Whiskey I used for this recipe:


Please DO NOT report me to the Redbreast company!!  They state on their Facebook page that their whiskey is, “NOT FOR MIXING.”  Ooops.  Well, in all fairness we did drink it straight too because we needed to know what it tasted like before we mixed the whiskey.  It tastes like whiskey.  It is smooth and really has no burn, but like I said, I simply do not have adequately developed taste buds to fully appreciate the subtle flavors in whiskey.  Mixed however, it was a cute little drink and I would happily serve this on any St. Patrick’s Day event!

I used 1 1/2 ounces whiskey, 1 1/2 ounces simple syrup, 1 Tablespoon cream.  The cream should stay on the top.  Enjoy (or not)!

Tea and Beer


We consume a LOT of tea in my house.  My younger daughter has become a tea historian and connoisseur.  I could tell you all about tea, but for now I will tell you just what we have been drinking in the first three months of 2016.

I made two major orders from tea merchants.  The first from Ghograjan Tea Estate.  I discovered Ghograjan when we attended the past two San Francisco International Tea Festivals.  Ghograjan’s teas stand out among some excellent tea merchants at the festival.  Thus, when I received an email from them letting me know their teas were now available for the retail consumer, I wasted no time and went right to my computer.  We purchased pretty much all they offered earlier in the year which included the Vintage Earl Gray, the Assam Golden Tips, and the Royal Masala Chai teas.  All are amazing!  You will not be disappointed if you order from Ghograjan.  Their teas are exceptional!  You simply can’t order too much of their Masala Chai tea, that was gone instantly in our house!

For our Easter Dinner we served the Ghograjan Vintage Earl Gray along with our meal.  It was an excellent complement to the very English inspired flavors of the Easter Dinner Menu and the tea was enjoyed by everyone.

Here is a picture of their Chai in the cup that came as a gift with purchase from them:

chai tea

I like to spread my retail dollars out, so our next purchase was from Adagio Teas.  I signed up for their “Tea of the Month Club,” specifically their six month Black tea subscription.  The first box arrived very quickly and was nicely packaged.  This box included their Irish Breakfast and the Assam Medley.  I love Assam tea with its malty, biscuity aromas and flavors, but although Adagio’s Assam was good it couldn’t hold a candle to Ghograjan’s.  The Adagio Irish Breakfast is blended with Ceylon tea which had a nice distinctive almost dusty flavor.  I am really looking forward to seeing what comes next from Adagio.


Beer is the other important beverage in our household.  Last year my husband and I started making our own beer.  My husband and I decided we needed a team building project other than doing chores and raising kids.  We started off easy using kits, but our results have been fantastic.  Our sixth batch of beer is just finishing up and we plan to make more.  The eventual goal is to go “all grain” brewing, but for now we have no plans as of yet to change from the kits.  All-grain brewing is a goal down the road when our time becomes just a little more plentiful.

We have been ordering from Northern Brewer.  For our last order we wanted to get ready for St. Patrick’s Day, so we ordered three of their Irish style kits:  the Dry Irish Stout, the Irish Draught Ale, and the Irish Blonde.  The Blonde is still in the fermenter, so I cannot comment on that style, however the Irish Stout and Ale were excellent!  The Stout was so smooth and it had a slight bitterness which was pleasant.  The Draught Ale was a good flavorful all around beer.  Both of those styles are on our “make again” list!  We do not have a fancy or expensive set up, just a big stainless steel kettle, a plastic primary fermenter, a carboy, and a bottle capper.  I feel like since we have been making our own beer, there is always something to look forward to in my fridge!

Here is a picture of one of our delicious batches:


In between our homebrew we like to explore the plentiful local and micro-brew beers in the stores these days.  Around where we live there is no shortage of micro-brew style beers.  A couple of stand outs that keep reappearing in our fridge are:

Both of these French styled beers would be a nice addition to the Informal Dinner Menu from January 2016.  The Lost Abby saison is my personal favorite, but my husband’s vote goes to Boulevard’s saison.  Both are excellent.  Needless to say, our next order from Northern Brewer will be their saison style beer kits!  I can hardly wait!

Check back in three months for my next quarterly beverage report!  In the mean time look for my upcoming blog posts which will include a March cooking addendum, and my April menu!

Thanks for visiting!