Beverages

Talking Smoothie

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While traveling in Vietnam, I discovered a new taste treat….smoothies!  They were made with fresh fruit and oh so creamy and thick.  My absolute favorite was made with avocado, and I have been trying to replicate it for some time without satisfactory results.  You’d think I would have asked how it was made, but it didn’t occur to me that it would be much of a challenge.

DSC01811-2After many tries, I have come up with one that compares favorably.  The ingredients are simple: yogurt (1 cup), avocado (1/2), honey (1 T.) and a bit of coconut.  I don’t know what possessed me to add coconut, but it resulted in an extra touch of flavor.

DSC01815The first sip was a bit thick so I added about 1/2 cup of milk which made it perfect.  No question this creation will be added to my list of favorite smoothies for breakfast or lunch.

If you have smoothies you especially like, do share!

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Food, Tablescapes

Next Step

DSC01572With the house having little touches of fall, it was a no brainer to have the next step be continuing them on the table for the evening dinner.   Already what can serve as a centerpiece is there making it easy to add the rest.

DSC01603None of my dishes reflect fall better than these.  The rich color with its arty black leaf outline is perfect, and I like using them for another reason.  They were a gift from a very special and thoughtful friend who knows how crazy I am about all things for tables.

DSC01579Some time ago this flatware was on sale at Target, and it has been such a good find. Its coppery contrast with the table’s wood surface adds such warmth.

DSC01586Thinking about what food is going to be served, I don’t put more dishes on the table than can be used.  Tonight there will be an entree and a salad, so nothing more than dinner and salad plates are needed.  The black salad plate complements the leaf outline, and its shape will be perfect for the salad.

DSC01593On any table, the napkin presentation is one of those little touches that make a table special.  One of my favorites is this one folded accordion style and fanned to make it stand.

DSC01592With the addition of wine stems and water glasses, a table can’t be much simpler than this.  It started with what was already there and has warm color and texture which makes any table inviting.

DSC01588I can’t resist sharing with you one of my favorite salads made with delicata squash, one with which I was unfamiliar. The attraction was its green and pale yellow striping, reason enough to give it a try!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFor the salad, cut the squash into rings and remove the seeds.  Place them on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil.  Roast at 400 until tender, roughly 15-20 minutes.  To prepare the salad, place mixed greens or any lettuce on a plate.  Top with the roasted delicata rings, sprinkle with craisins, toasted almonds and feta (optional).  My preference for dressing is a honey mustard vinegarette, but most any salad dressing would work.

I can assure you this salad will be a hit at your table not only because it is so tasty but because it’s a little different.

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Tablescape Thursday

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Share Your Cup Thursday

Food, Friendship, Tablescapes

Eating With Friends

If you really want to make a friend, go to someone’s house and eat with him.  The people who give you their food give you their heart.

Cesar Chavez

How grateful I am to have friends who enjoy planning, preparing and gathering for a once a month dinner where a lot of heart is given. All of us contribute to the meal, which is always wonderful, and the hostesses do a bang up job of preparing the table.

DSC00331The most recent dinner was a visual treat. The delicately designed dishes are quite old, a memory of the hostess’s mother.

DSC00326Without question, they made a lovely setting when combined with silver and glass.

DSC00327Playing off the pale green in the pattern, the hostess found the perfect linen tablecloth and napkins.  All together the look was quite elegant at the same time warm and friendly.

DSC00334A few days before our gathering a storm blew through that flattened many of the small blooming things.  The hostess was clever enough to see that her damaged flowers perfectly matched the colors in the china, so, voila, a just right centerpiece made in a silver bowl.

DSC00332So there would not be question about where each person sat, there were name tags directing us to our place.  That is always a thoughtful gesture.

DSC00338The first course, a zucchini mold, happened to be my assignment.  It was something with which none of us were familiar, so we all experienced a new taste treat.  Not only was it tasty, it was easy to prepare which makes it worthy of making again as it gives a whole new way of presenting zucchini.

Zucchini Mold

1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil

2 lbs. zucchini, finely diced

1 yellow onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

4 eggs

1 c. grated Parmesan

1 T. chopped Italian parsley

1 T. unsalted butter  

1/4 c. fine dried bread crumbs

Preheat an oven to 350.  Grease a 9″ ring mold or individual molds with butter and coats the bottom and sides with the bread crumbs.  Warm the oil in a skillet.  Add zucchini, onion and garlic and cook until tender.Add a little water, if needed, to keep the mixture moist.  Remove from heat and let cool.  Transfer the zucchini mix to a bowl and add eggs, cheese and parsley.  Season with salt and pepper. Mix well and spoon into prepared mold(s).  Bake about 20 minutes or until firm.  Invert onto serving dishes and serve immediately.  (6 servings)

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Food

What to do With a Puffball

IMG_1830Overnight it seemed, this big blob sprung up in the yard.  Curious, I pulled it up, took it inside for a photo that was posted on Facebook with the question what is it.  Immediately came back a number of responses, mostly from Maine friends, identifying it as an edible puffball.

IMG_1833Edible?  I was a little doubtful but decided to give it a try.  First, I sliced it to find it  a little on the spongey side and solid all the way through.  So began a series of dishes ranging from omelets to risotto to pizza and adding chopped, diced orsliced pieces of puffball.  What was discovered was that a puffball is fairly tasteless until it is seasoned and has a very different texture from other mushrooms with which I am familiar.

IMG_1838Of all the ways it was prepared our favorite was mushroom soup.  I had no recipe  so I chopped a section of the puffball and sautéed it in butter with  some onion and garlic.  Chicken stock was added along with salt, pepper and herbs d’Provence.  The mixture simmered for about 10 minutes and then using a handheld blender(my favorite kitchen tool), I pureed it.  It tasted good, but thinking how it could be improved I added half and half and returned the soup to the stove and heated it through.  Talk about good, the hubby and I both had seconds.  Served with a green salad and some crusty bread, puffball mushroom soup is a simple and yummy dinner.

If you ever see one of these growing in your yard, pluck it right up.  If it’s white all the way through, don’t be afraid to use it, but if it’s yellowish and has a mushy texture, throw it in the trash.

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Food, Recipes

Vegetarian Delight

Over the years with no one home but two, most of my friends have quit cooking dinner opting for takeout or restaurants.  That works for me every now and then, but I still enjoy preparing the evening meal because there are so many  things to try.  That makes the hubby very happy as he’d rather eat at home any day!

Another friend and her hubby are the same, so every week or so we share a meal.  They are not meat eaters which at first made meal planning a challenge, but it has gotten easier and done creatively, those meatless meals are downright tasty.

IMG_0566For ideas, I go no farther than these two cookbooks loaded with recipes to suit any palate.  There’s no chance I’ll ever get through the two!

The last dish tried was a mushroom/asparagus/cannellini bean combo that was so tasty not a bite survived.  Of course, meat lovers could add chicken or pork to go with it, but when something is as good as this it’s really not necessary.  Enough said, I’ll share the recipe!

Polenta with Asparagus, Mushrooms & Cannellini Beans

1 1/2 c. vegetable stock

1 1/2 pounds mixed mushrooms, thickly sliced

2 T. olive oil

1 bunch green onions, including as inch or so of green, thinly sliced

1 garlic clove, minced

15 oz. can cannellini beans

1 brunch of asparagus, steamed or roasted

1/2 c. Parmesan (serve on the side for a vegan friend, otherwise add it to the cooked polenta)

1 T. butter (can be left out)

chopped basil, parsley, chives or marjoram for garnish

Make the polenta using a packaged mix or yellow cornmeal cooked with water over a double boiler.  While it is cooking, do the chopping and mincing required to prepare the sauce.  

Heat olive oil in a large saute pan.  Add the mushrooms, season with sea salt and pepper and saute for about 5 minutes over medium heat. (It may be necessary to do the mushrooms in 2 batches depending on the size of your pan.)  Add most of the scallions and garlic and cook for another minute. Then pour in the stock and add the beans.  Simmer until the mushrooms are tender, about 10 minutes.

When ready to serve, add the butter and the remaining scallions to the mushrooms.  IMG_0455Spoon 1/2-3/4 c. of polenta into the center of a plate.  Arrange asparagus around it and spoon the sauce over the polenta. Garnish with chopped herbs.

What I like about this recipe is that it’s pretty easy to fix and all you really need to go with it is a hearty, crusty bread to use for soaking up the liquid.  Don’t be surprised when appreciative moans accompany this dish!

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Desserts

Strawberry Treat

Who can resist sweet and juicy strawberries bursting with flavor?  Not me, nor can I  resist making an all time favorite dessert which came to me via a high school boyfriend’s mother.  That means I’ve been making it for a long time!

There are surely fancier strawberry concoctions, but for delicious, this one rivals any.  Heck, just looking at the picture makes me want a bite right now!  If you want to join me, here’s the very simple to make recipe.

Mrs. Ames’ Strawberry Dessert

3 cups strawberries, sliced and sweetened with sugar (I also add a tablespoon or two of Amaretto which adds the unexpected to the berries).  Set aside until ready to use.

Cracker crust

2 c. cracker crumbs (I use unsalted Nabisco crackers)

3 egg whites

1 c. sugar

1 t. vanilla

1/2 t. baking powder

1/2 c. chopped pecans

Beat egg whites until fluffy.  Add vanilla,  gradually add sugar and continue beating until stiff.  

Fold in baking powder, finely ground cracker crumbs and chopped pecans.  Pour mixture into lightly buttered 9″ pie pan and bake at 325 until lightly browned.  This takes about 30 minutes.  Cool completely.

To serve, top the crust with strawberries and slightly sweetened whipped cream.  (I often put the berries on the crust a couple of hours before serving to let the juice soak in.)

If this dessert is as popular at your house as it is at ours, you will be making it again and again.  Enjoy!

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Share Your Cup Thursday

Full Plate Thursday

Entertaining, Food, Random

From the Kitchen

OK, you know the table is set so what’s for dinner?

I had in mind a chicken dish served over polenta, but Houston temperatures have been a little wintery which made me think of comfort food, something warm with crusty bread.  What eventually came from the kitchen was somewhere between a stew and a soup which one of the dinner guests cleverly suggested calling a “stoup”!

The dish proved to be a simple one that took little time to put together.  If you are like me, that’s always a plus and makes the recipe worth sharing, that is if I can remember all the ingredients.

Chicken Stoup

4 boneless chicken breasts, halved

flour, salt and pepper

1-2 T. olive oil

1 onion, coarsely chopped

10 garlic cloves, minced

diced tomatoes, 28 oz. can

carrots and mushrooms, sliced*

4-5 bay leaves

1/3 c. each white wine and chicken broth

1-2 t. red or white wine vinegar

*Use your own judgement as to how much.  I used a heaping handful of baby carrots and 1 c. of mushrooms.

Dredge the chicken breasts in flour seasoned with salt and pepper.  Brown in olive oil.  Remove chicken to a plate and add onion and garlic to pan.  Cook until onion is soft and lightly browned.  Add wine and broth and cook for a few minutes until liquid has been reduced by half.  Add remaining ingredients and place browned chicken on top.  Cover the pan and cook until chicken is tender.

Place the chicken in warmed bowls.  Add 1-2 t. wine vinegar to liquid and spoon over the chicken breasts.  To add a little color, embellish with coarsely chopped spinach leaves.  That was an afterthought since I didn’t have parsley or basil.

Serve with crusty bread and a simple green salad.  Makes 6 servings.

Whether for friends or family, Chicken Stoup will get moans of appreciation.

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