Posts Tagged ‘dinner parties’

quick and easy chocolate dessert

Mom called it Fudge Crud--but it's delicious and festive enough for any dinner party.

When I was a kid, my mother made an easy, inexpensive dessert that was officially known as Hot Fudge Sundae Cake; Mom called it Fudge Crud. It was one of those science-experiment desserts: you made a cake batter (one without eggs), spread it on the bottom of the pan, then topped it with a mixture of cocoa and brown sugar and poured hot water over the whole thing.

And, miraculously, as the cake baked, the water and cocoa thickened into a sauce and the cake rose to the top, becoming a sort of chocolate floating island in a sea of fudge sauce. It never failed to amaze me–as they say, science works even if you don’t believe in it. There was just one little problem: It wasn’t chocolate-y enough. So this winter, when chilly nights made me think fondly of warm gooey desserts, I remembered Fudge Crud.

And I decided to tinker with the amounts of cocoa until it was chocolate-y enough. When I made the most recent version for friends last week, they declared that I had achieved my goal.

Hot Fudge Sundae Cake

1 cup flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
4 tablespoons cocoa (good cocoa – I use Valrhona)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk or water
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup cocoa
1 3/4 cups hot water

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix together the first five ingredients, then stir in the milk or water, the oil and the vanilla. Stir until smooth, then mix in the nuts. Spread the batter in a baking pan.

Yes. Now, about that baking pan. The original recipe claims that you can make this dessert in a 9x9x2 square pan. And you can–but you will have chocolate goo all over the bottom of your oven if you do. I use a lovely 9x10x3 Le Crueset baking dish I received as a gift a few years ago. It’s perfect. If your friends don’t know you well enough to give you lovely deep baking dishes, try a 9×11 pan.

Anyway, you spread the batter in the pan. Mix together the half-cup of cocoa and the brown sugar and sprinkle it over the batter, then slowly pour the hot water over all. Bake for 40 minutes, until the cake floats to the top and firms up.

Spoon the warm cake into dessert bowls, making sure everybody gets plenty of sauce, then top with ice cream. Yum.



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I make lasagna for parties and potlucks; I often make it for the first night of our annual girlfriends four-day Cambria road trip, but I’m fairly sure my honey has never had it for a dinner with just the two of us. Mostly because, in true Perry fashion, I only know how to make a batch for 10 or more guests. I’m sure you can make smaller amounts, but why? The leftovers are even better for lunch or dinner the next day and the rest freezes perfectly for that night you are just too exhausted to prepare dinner. So here you go – dinner for 10 – just add salad and garlic bread.

Good friends, a bottle of red & Red & White Lasagna

This lasagna uses both a red sauce and a faux bechamel/white sauce–it’s not a true bechamel because I don’t adorn an onion with whole cloves and steep it in hot milk for an hour. (That makes for a delicious sauce, yes, but I have a day job. And a life.)

Easy Red Sauce

1/2 small onion, chopped
1-2 tbls olive oil
4 large garlic cloves, minced
2 lg cans Italian stewed tomatoes (try to find Italian, they’re better!)
1/2 cup red wine (good wine, follow my mantra – if you can’t drink it, don’t cook with it)
1 small can tomato paste
2 tsp Trader Joe’s 21-Seasoning Salute*
2 tsp Trader Joe’s Pasta Seasoning Blend
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet; warm the olive oil (you want medium heat–olive oil burns if your heat is too high), then add onions and sauté until tender (about 3 minutes). Pour in the tomatoes and smash them until they’re in smaller chunks. Add tomato paste, spices and red wine. Simmer with a screen cover (so it doesn’t splatter all over your stove) for about half an hour. Salt and pepper to taste.

Easy White Sauce

1/4 cup butter (half a stick)
1/3 cup flour
1 qt half and half
1 tbls Knorr Caldo de Pollo powder
1/4 cup white wine
1 1/2 teaspoons nutmeg (or to taste; sometimes I use more)

Melt butter in large saucepan until bubbly. Add flour and stir in; the flour should be absorbed. Stir for about 3 minutes; don’t allow to turn brown! Add wine and then the milk until the mixture is thick and starts to bubble (it might not take the full quart). Then add in the pollo de caldo powder. Last, turn off heat and stir in nutmeg.

Hazel’s Red-and-White Lasagna

Red and white sauces (purchased red is ok if you have a favorite, although I prefer my own)
1 package of Trader Joe’s Quattro Formagio cheese mix
1 8-ounce package of sliced white mushrooms
1 small onion, halved and thin sliced
1 package TJ’s Italian sausage (Chicken)
Olive oil
1 package no-boil lasagna noodles
1 tub Ricotta

Bring a large sauté pan to heat and splash in a couple tablespoons olive oil. Squeeze the chicken sausage from its casings and crumble into the pan. Sauté til cooked through, crumbling into big chunks. Remove from pan and add the sliced onions and mushrooms. Sauté til golden, then remove from heat.

In a large deep lasagna baking pan splash the bottom with olive oil, and smear over the bottom and sides of pan. Ladle in approx 1 cup of your red sauce and add the first layer of dry, uncooked lasagna noodles. Add another cup of red sauce to the top and spread roughly with flat wooden spoon. Sprinkle half your sausage over that layer. Add half the mascarpone by teaspoonfuls across this layer and then add about a cup of the cheese mix. Add another layer of noodles, this time covering with a cup of the béchamel sauce. Sprinkle this layer with half the onion-mushroom mix and the balance of the mascarpone and another cup of cheese mix. For the next layer, red sauce and the balance of the sausage and another cup of the cheese mix. For the final layer, cover with noodles, the last of your béchamel sauce and mushroom/oinion mix and the last of the cheese mix. Bake for about 45 minutes at 350 degrees. Enjoy!


*Another WordPress blogger who is equally devoted to Trader Joe’s seasoning blends notes that Costco carries a similar product–in, of course, a much larger package. Check out Carrol’s comments in What I Crave here. I too run out of 21-Seasoning Salute all too often, so this is info I can use!

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The holidays may be over, but, as singer/songwriter Robert Earl Keen observed some years ago, the party never ends. And you always need appetizers. Guests drop in, and it’s nice to have something special to serve with a glass of wine. I’m partial to palmiers, especially because I can make them when I have a free half-hour and stick them in the freezer. They’ll keep for a month, well wrapped.

I almost always have a package of puff pastry dough in my freezer (it’s a thin box and only sucks up a very small portion of that precious freezer real estate)

Choose Your Own Filling Palmiers
Roll out one square of the two in the package. If you wet your work surface with a damp sponge and cover with plastic wrap, this job is achieved with very little mess.

Rolling toward the center

I always layer my dough between two pieces of plastic wrap and roll it out so it becomes about two inches longer than it was when I started. Try to roll so the dough becomes more rectangular in shape.

Take off the top piece of plastic wrap and brush the entire flat piece of pastry with olive oil. Now here’s the fun part. Sprinkle with finely grated parmesan cheese and – you choose! I’ve used caramelized onions, olive tapenade, crumbled bacon, my honey’s smoked tomatoes minced fine, minced garlic – the variations are as big as your imagination. The only caveat: use only a couple ingredients.

Now, starting at the left edge, start to roll your pastry toward the center. Use your plastic wrap to help in this process. Once you have reached just to the center, do the same on the right side of your pastry. Your pastry should look like two small rolls lying next to each other, and they will be about an inch tall. Wrap it with the same plastic wrap that you just used for your counter covering. Put in the refrigerator for an hour and then stash in the freezer somewhere where it will be able to keep its shape. If it’s cold from the refrigerator, it won’t form ice crystals after it hits your freezer.

When you’re ready, pull the dough out and let thaw for only 10 minutes (make sure to keep it firm) and then slice to about 1/3 inch thick pieces. Lay the slices flat on an ungreased baking sheet about a half-inch apart. If you have time, you can let them rise for about half an hour at room temp. Pop them in a 400 degree oven till golden brown and serve hot. They’re crisp, delicious and easy!


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Today we have a guest post from our nephew Ryan Moore, who came up with this yummy quinoa dish. It’s a nice change from all of the rich foods of the winter holidays, and it’s very pretty too.

By Ryan Moore
Quinoa is a wonderful, soft, light, fluffy, grainlike seed that can easily be tossed into salads or serve as a replacement for other grains. It’s so easy to prepare too. My mother, in her explorations of healthy gluten-free alternatives to wheat, introduced me to quinoa, and it quickly became a favorite.

The ingredients for a simple, delicious and healthy salad.

I started out thinking I would create something like tabouleh with it, but the homogeneous nature of traditional tabouleh doesn’t suit fluffy quinoa, so I broke it into two parts: the warm nutty quinoa and a delicious seasonal mixture of pomegranate and cucumber. I liked that combination a lot, but I thought it needed something just a little richer and sweeter than the traditional olive oil and lemon juice as a dressing, so I came up with a yogurt-honey dressing.

Quinoa Cucumber-Pomegranate Salad

•1 cup dry quinoa
•1tbs butter or ghee
•1/2tsp ground cumin (whole Cumin can also be used)
•2 pods black cardamom, ground
•1 clove garlic, pressed
•2 cups water
•Salt to taste

Pomegranate-Cucumber salad:
•1 pomegranate
•½ English cucumber, or 2-3 Persian cucumbers, diced
•½ red onion, quartered and finely sliced
•flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
•1 clove garlic, minced (optional)
•juice from 1 lemon, plus some of the lemon zest
•1-2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt to taste

Yogurt-Honey dressing:
•Greek yogurt
•Mint, chiffonade or finely chop
•Honey to taste

Preparation: Heat butter/ghee (I like to use ghee because it tolerates high) in a pot over medium to medium-high heat. Add the cardamom, cumin and salt. Stir or swirl that together; it should become fragrant almost immediately–just make sure it doesn’t burn. Add the pressed garlic and when you can smell the garlic, pour in the dry quinoa. Stir that around for 30-60 seconds. Add water, cover, bring to a boil and then simmer until done.
While the quinoa is cooking, mix together the yogurt, mint and honey; set aside. You’ll notice there are no amounts given–that’s because your taste buds must be the guideline. Start with a cup of yogurt and a dollop of honey, plus a tablespoon of mint chiffonade. Add more of any single ingredient until you have a flavor you love.
Separate out the pomegranate kernels. If you’ve never done this before, it’s easiest to completely submerge the pomegranate in water, split or cut it in half, and then liberate the kernels (yes, I do mean liberate; they are delicate). The pith will float to the surface and the kernels will fall to the bottom. Combine the pomegranate kernels and the remaining ingredients in a bowl and toss them together gently.
As far as presentation goes, the only important guideline is the separation of the three components. For single servings, simply place a serving spoon’s worth of quinoa into a bowl or onto a plate, top with a generous dollop of mint yogurt and top with the pomegranate-cucumber mixture.
These great colors and flavors make a fabulous presentation
Hazel served it at her holiday party in a large shallow bowl, mounding the quinoa in the bowl and then creating a well in the center for the yogurt sauce, with a festive wreath of the pomegranate-cucumber salad circling it.

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A few weeks ago I wrote about my new pasta maker and my unfortunate first effort at making pasta. I had a few family members over for a small dinner party that night, and they were very tolerant of the results. My honey would not be that tolerant. He claims to hate Italian food – that’s because if I say Italian food, he’s hears “spaghetti.” And then he says, “It’s just ketchup and noodles; why bother.”

Apparently someone in his distant past was a really bad cook. I try fairly often to douse the memory of that bad cooking, but he continues making snippy remarks whenever I suggest Italian food for dinner. (At this point I think he does it only to annoy me.) So who deserves to experience my experiments in pasta making more than he? I can’t possibly disappoint him, right?

Many readers of the blog suggested recipes. I started with one from Laurie’s favorite Pasta Fresca by Viana La Place and Evan Kleiman. When I made angel hair from their recipe, I got exactly what I was hoping for when I bought that pasta maker: tender, delicate, delicious fresh pasta. Home-made Angel Hair Pasta
While the pasta dough was resting, I slivered some onions and garlic and tossed them into a pan with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and sautéed them for two minutes over medium heat. I then added 1 cup of chardonnay (of course, because it was Toasted Head, I poured myself a glass too) and let it reduce while I filled a pan with water and brought to a boil.

That freed me to uncover the grill and light the sear burner. While it was heating up, I made a very simple salad of baby romaine and Cambazola with a dressing of olive oil, my favorite Hop Kiln Zinfandel orange mustard and some white balsamic vinegar.

I gave my honey the job of blackening the salmon while I added half a cup of heavy cream to the wine reduction and brought it up to a bubble. I finished it by zesting a lemon over it, then cut the lemon in half and squeezed in the juice too. Serve the lemon sauce over the pasta and top with the blackened salmon. That’s it; we’re done already. Sometimes there’s nothing nicer than an intimate dinner party for two.

I plan to try the many recipe suggestions I’ve received from readers, although this one was so good, I’m not sure I’ll find a better–or even an equal! And as much as my sweetie claims to not like pasta, he took seconds. Then he took leftovers home for his lunch the next day.

Maybe it’s because I forgot to put any ketchup in the sauce?


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Dishes from the Garden

Posted by Laurie
I was laughing as I read Hazel’s post the day before yesterday because it is so true. I spent three days thinking about my menu for this dinner party and ten minutes putting together my table.

I had a dozen cookbooks out as I contemplated my menu. Alan and Carol are vegetarians (not vegan, so cheese and eggs could figure in the menu) and post-holiday penitents, trying to watch their weight. Mel requested polenta.

What would work with those requirements? I narrowed those cookbooks down to Viana La PLace and Evan Kleiman’s Cucina Rustica, Paula Wolfert’s Slow Mediterranean Kitchen and The Joy of Cooking. I ended up using them not so much for recipes as inspiration, though I always go with the Joy of Cooking recipe for making polenta in a double boiler. My life is just not long enough to spend an hour or two of it stirring cornmeal. I did stir some grated parmesan into the polenta as soon it finished cooking.

I broke down and bought an out-of-season eggplant (it’s this warm weather we’ve been having; my thoughts turn to summer dishes), sliced it thick and browned the slices in olive oil. The rest of the menu, however, came from the garden–mine and those supplying our local farmers market.

I unearthed last summer’s tomatoes from the freezer: I had them in two forms, roasted with garlic and basil, and smoked (courtesy Hazel’s sweetie, SmokeMaster Mark). Combined, they became an exceptional sauce. I topped each slice of eggplant with a few tablespoons of sauce and a slice of reduced-fat provolone and baked them until the provolone bubbled and browned a bit. The farmers market yielded a stir-fry mix of greens–gorgeous black kale, red chard, radicchio–which, with slow-simmered fennel and garlic, mushrooms, onions and thyme, made an unusual side dish.

And then we finished with the extravagant Molten Chocolates Cakes–because I don’t cut calories when it comes to dessert. Alas, I had no aliens with which to adorn the ramekins. We had to make do with whipped cream.

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Dishes from Space

Posted by Mel
Unlike many men, I like to shop, particularly at big malls. I don’t need to actually purchase anything; just walking around and watching the people and enjoying the architecture are enough for me. (I suspect that at least part of my fondness for exploring malls is due to having seen a movie called Things to Come at an impressionable age. Near the end of this movie, the human race has rebuilt civilization after decades of war. Most people live in airy city-size buildings and travel from place to place in flying cars and freestanding elevators. Many contemporary hotels — where the rooms surround an atrium that reaches from the lobby to the highest floor — seem to have been influenced by this movie too.)

One Sunday afternoon Laurie and I were out shopping for something specific, though I can’t remember what it was. She was browsing through a store called the Great Indoors, looking for whatever-it-was, leaving me to my own devices. I saw these plates and fell in love instantly, a thing that doesn’t usually happen between me and crockery.

I like the science fiction-themed plate on the floral place mat--it ups the steampunk quotient. Plus Mel accessorized with his cherished flying saucer salt and pepper shakers.

These were novelty dishes, each featuring a different picture. Not the usual food or birds or plants, but buildings and bridges and automobiles. The set that caught my eye had a sharp black-and-white illustration of the crash site of a flying saucer in the desert outside Roswell, New Mexico. The picture appealed to me not only because I have always been interested in science fiction and the possibility of life on other worlds, but because the Roswell crash happened on my birthday. Many of my friends claim this explains a lot.

Only dinner plates were available–and they were on sale. We bought all the shop had, six of them, and took them home knowing that we would use them on special occasions. Many of our science fiction-reading friends have turned green with envy at the sight of these dishes, which are impossible to find at the moment.

This past Saturday, we were hosting a small dinner party. Laurie hastily decided to use a black-and-white color scheme for the table. That, and the fact that our guests were old friends, made my UFO plates seem like a perfect choice. Alan had been my boss back during my animation-writing days, and we feel as if we’ve known his fiancee, Carol, almost as long. I don’t see and use these dishes often enough.

All in all, it was a lovely, relaxed evening. I was delighted that my dishes from another world were part of it.

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