Monday, December 31, 2007

Champagne Cobbler: Another Delicious Champagne Cocktail

I seem to be fixing a lot of Champagne cocktails this year. I guess partially because sparkling wine is such a great celebratory thing for the holidays. But also because it's the chance to have a delicious cocktail that is a little less "octane." The sparkling wine acts like an alcoholic club soda diluting whatever liquors you're using.

This one is called a cobbler. Traditionally, these were drinks made of wine or sherry served with a simple fruit syrup over ice. They have expanded in definition over the years, but this one fits the tradition nicely.

It might be a great brunch drink, since it's essentially a mimosa, although made with fresh fruit and with an extra kick. Maybe you could serve it tomorrow with your New Year's Day brunch.

Champagne Cobbler
From Food & Wine magazine.
Makes one drink.

Muddle a 1/2 inch thick orange slice and a 1/4 inch thick lemon slice with 2 tablespoons of Maraschino liqueur or Cointreau. Strain into a Champagne flute over crushed ice. Add cold Champagne and serve with a lemon peel twist.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Right on Target: Archer Farms Appetizers

You know I am a fan of natural ingredients, homemade cooking and putting a little work into a wonderful meal or party. On the other hand, I'm also a big fan of simplicity. Last week, as I made a final Santa run to Super Target, I found myself in the frozen food section. I was amazed at the selection of Archer Farms (Target's house brand) products. I was already a fan of their "gourmet" potato chips and some of their cookies, but had never tried any of their frozen foods. Decided to take a couple along to my sister's house for our Christmas Day dinner and see what we thought. We really liked them.

One was a delicious phyllo cup filled with a Southwestern mix of cheese and black beans. It was a perfect bite-size appetizer with nice rich flavor and just enough spice. The other was a little mushroom "purse"--pastry wrapped up and around a rich mushroom filling. I'm looking forward to trying the third product that is still in the freezer: beef with a Bourbon sauce served on tiny bagel bites. They're all worth a try.

They reminded me of an article in Real Simple magazine's December issue. They tested a variety of products to find the best finger foods in several categories. I have tried several of them and have to agree. Seapack makes a wonderful jumbo butterfly shrimp you can find in the frozen food section. Nice and crispy and perfect with your favorite cocktail or dipping sauce. (You might try this one.) They also recommend Delimex Three Cheese Taquitos. They're a generous size and filled with a rich cheese filling. Great to set out with queso, salsa and/or guacamole on the side.

And of course there are other choices at your grocery store. The more "upscale" the store, the more elegant the choices. Save yourself some time in the kitchen and check them out.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Simple New Year's Nibbles

Need a few ideas for simple, but delicious, snacks for your New Year's party? Here are three recipes you might try... (All are from Real Simple magazine.)

Smoked Salmon and Horseradish Cream with Potato Chips

In a small bowl, combine 8 ounces room-temperature cream cheese, 2 tablespoons jarred horseradish, and 2 tablespoons milk or cream. Stir until smooth. Serve with sliced smoked salmon and gourmet potato chips.

Rosemary Pecans

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Melt 2 tablespoons unsalted butter in a skillet over medium heat, Stir in 1 teaspoon sugar, 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt. Add 2 cups pecan halves and toss to coat. Transfer to a baking sheet and bake, stirring occasionally, until toasted, about 12 minutes. Add 2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary and toss to combine. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Olive Oil Dip with Vegetables

Chop 1/2 cup green olives. Combine them in a medium saucepan with 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, 3 smashed garlic cloves, 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, 6 sprigs fresh thyme and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt. Cook over low heat, stirring gently, until just warm, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and serve with broccoli florets, fennel wedges, carrot sticks and radishes.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

New Year's Toasts: Bargain Sparklers

Nothing against the French, but I am boycotting Champagne this year. Not because it's not delicious, but because a good one is so dang expensive. So I've concentrated on sparkling wines from other countries, including right here in the U S of A. I started making my shopping list a couple weeks ago. Interestingly enough, several of my choices were endorsed by The Dallas Morning News and their wine panel this week. Here's MY list. Hope it helps as you make your purchases for New Year's Eve.

Segura Viudas Brut Reserva Heredad Cava
So my secret appears to not be so secret anymore. I've blogged about this wonderful wine from Spain several times. And it's been a go-to-gift for me many times...delicious and the bottle with its pewter embellishments is always impressive. As for the wine itself, it's fruity and just delicate enough without being sweet. Clean and food-friendly with its creamy toastiness, it retails for just under $20. This was DMN's top pick.

Segura Viudas Brut Rosé
I love Segura Viudas' brut so much that I'm trying their rosé this year. Tasting notes I've seen say that it's "zingy" with strawberries on the palate. Bet it will be yummy with the cheese we'll nibble on before our New Year's Eve dinner.

Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut
Widely available for $15-20, this is a reliable sparkler with nice fruit and acidity on the palate.

Lucien Albrecht Cremant d'Alsace Blanc de Blancs
This French sparkler isn't a true Champagne, but a nice substitute. It retails for around $20 and I always associate the "Cremant" in its name with the creaminess I get when I drink it. It has one of the biggest "mouthfeels" for any of the wines on this list.

And if you need a sparkling wine in volume for your party, you can't go wrong with two other Spanish cavas, the Segura Viudas Aria or the Freixenet Cordon Negro. Both are steals at around $10 and will satisfy even the discerning palates on your guest list.


Monday, December 24, 2007

Cookies for Santa: White Chocolate, Strawberry and Oatmeal Cookies

What are you leaving on Santa's plate tonight? How about these? Just make sure and set a few aside for yourself....

White Chocolate, Strawberry and Oatmeal Cookies
From Cooking Light magazine.

3/4 cup all-purpose flour (about 3 1/3 ounces)
1 cup regular oats
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
3/4 cup coarsely chopped dried strawberries
1/3 cup premium white chocolate chips (such as Ghirardelli)
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350°.

Lightly spoon flour into a measuring cup; level with a knife. Combine flour, oats, baking soda, and salt; stir with a whisk. Place sugar and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer; beat at medium speed until well blended (about 3 minutes). Add vanilla and egg; beat well. Gradually add flour mixture, beating until blended. Add strawberries and chips; beat at low speed just until blended.
Drop dough by tablespoonfuls 2 inches apart onto baking sheets coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 12 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from oven; cool on pan 1 minute.

Remove cookies from pan; cool completely on wire racks.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Easy-to-Make Candy...The Perfect Last-Minute Gift

Christmas got away from me this year. Lots of business travel and a couple of days being sick cut into the time I usually spend cooking, baking and buying the perfect gifts. So it's been a weekend of quick and easy (but delicious) homemade gifts for neighbors and those friends that we "promised" not to exchange gifts with. (Isn't cheating fun?)

My other half has been quite the food-gift-elf this week. Making batches of these delicious spicy pecans.

I got into the act also with these two simple and tasty candy recipes.

Salty Chocolate Pecan Candy
From Southern Living.

1 cup pecans, coarsely chopped
3 (4-oz.) bars bittersweet chocolate baking bars (Make sure you're getting the big thin ones and not "baking squares.")
3 (4-oz.) white chocolate baking bars
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt*

Place pecans in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake at 350° for 8 to 10 minutes or until toasted.

Line a 17- x 12-inch jelly-roll pan with parchment paper. Break each chocolate bar into 8 equal pieces. (You will have 48 pieces total.) Arrange in a checkerboard pattern in jelly-roll pan, alternating white and dark chocolate. (Pieces will touch.)

Bake at 225° for 5 minutes or just until chocolate is melted. Remove pan to a wire rack. Swirl chocolates into a marble pattern using a wooden pick. Sprinkle evenly with toasted pecans and salt.

Chill 1 hour or until firm. Break into pieces. Store in an airtight container in refrigerator up to 1 month.

Bourbon Pecan Truffles

From Everyday Food.

Note: Chilling the chocolate mounds for a half hour makes it easier to shape them into balls. The truffles soften quickly, so keep them in the refrigerator until just before serving.

To make sure the chocolate does not melt, work with a few truffles at a time (keeping the rest refrigerated), and roll them in the nuts quickly.
Makes 35 truffles.

1 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips (or 10 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped)
2 tablespoons bourbon
1 cup finely chopped pecans

In a medium saucepan, bring cream to a boil; remove from heat, and add chocolate and bourbon. Let stand 3 minutes; whisk until smooth. Transfer chocolate mixture to a medium bowl, and refrigerate, uncovered, until thick and firm enough to spoon out in mounds, about 2 hours.

Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment or waxed paper. Drop level tablespoons of chocolate mixture onto baking sheet. Refrigerate chocolate mounds until firm, 30 minutes.
Place pecans in a shallow bowl. Using hands, roll each chocolate mound into a ball; roll balls in pecans, pressing lightly to adhere, and place on baking sheet. Refrigerate truffles until set, 30 minutes to 1 hour. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator up to 2 weeks.

*3/4 tsp. kosher salt may be substituted.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Pear and Cranberry Bellini

Mimosas (orange juice and sparkling wine) are a standby of brunch menus. For Christmas, I've often done something different and served "poinsettias"--cranberry juice and sparkling wine. Here's a new idea I am going to use for this year's holiday brunches.

Pear and Cranberry Bellini

In a large measuring cup, combine 1 cup canned pear nectar and 1 cup cranberry juice cocktail. Pour 1/4 cup juice mixture into each of eight champagne flutes. Top with dry sparkling wine. (I typically use Prosecco or a Spanish cava.)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

HandMade Someone Else's Hands

You're running out of time to make your gifts this year. (We can't ALL be Martha Stewart after all!) Check out It's an online store where you can buy (or sell) handmade goods of all kinds.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Corn Bread Bites

Here's a nice twist on cornbread. Packed with flavor... and in a small package... they're a great accompaniment for soup or chili. (The bread lover in the household tore them into littler pieces and dumped them onto the White Chicken Chili I posted last week. He said it was just like Mexican chicken and dumplings.)

They'd also be great for a party. Just as a bite-size nibble on the buffet. Or even split with a nice piece of ham in the middle.

Corn Bread Bites
Adapted from Cooking Light magazine.
(I reversed the quantity of flour and cornmeal to make it a little less "bready.")

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup yellow cornmeal
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (2 ounces) shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup reduced-fat sour cream
1/4 cup thinly sliced green onions
1 (8 3/4-ounce) can cream-style corn
Dash of hot sauce
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 375°.

Combine flour and next 4 ingredients (through salt) in a large bowl. Combine cheese and remaining ingredients except cooking spray in a small bowl; stir with a whisk. Add to flour mixture; stir just until moistened.

Divide batter evenly among miniature muffin cups coated with cooking spray.

Bake at 375° for 15 minutes or until golden brown. Cool in cups 2 minutes on wire racks; remove from pans. Cool completely on wire racks.

Makes 36 mini-muffins.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Prosciutto Options

I've told you of my love affair with Parmesan cheese. Another staple of my pantry/refrigerator is prosciutto di parma (or its Spanish cousin Jamon de Serrano). Here are some simple ways to use it and savor its wonderful salty richness.
  • Spread a cracker or toasted baguette slice with goat cheese or herbed cream cheese and top with a slice of prosciutto.

  • Of course you can wrap the traditional melon or asparagus with prosciutto, but why not a crunchy breadstick?

  • Add prosciutto to your mozzarella tomato crostini.

  • Or crisp in the oven for twenty minutes and crumble over salad or your favorite pasta.

  • Of course you can always use it in a recipe like this.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Cocktail of the Week: Frozen Cranberry Margarito

Yeah, it's a silly name, but it's a delicious drink. A tangy margarita with just a hint of mint flavor in the background. And the frosted rim and pink color make it perfect for Christmas parties.

Frozen Cranberry Margaritos
From Southern Living
Makes five cups.

1 (10-oz.) can frozen mojito mix (I had never heard of this, but it was easy to find. Most large grocery stores should have it.)
3/4 cup tequila
1/4 cup whole-berry cranberry sauce
2 tablespoons orange liqueur
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

Combine first 5 ingredients in a blender. Fill blender with ice to 5-cup level, and process until smooth. Serve immediately in cocktail glasses that you have rimmed with a mixture of equal parts sugar and kosher salt. For a fun garnish, spear a couple of cranberries onto a sprig of rosemary.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Another Simple Centerpiece

Some of us, myself included, simply don't have the flower arranging gene. Me, I either get a huge bunch for the vase....or pick a single beautiful stem for a bud vase or Japanese ikebana bowl. Never is here.

Hit the bed and bath store and buy the most beautiful toothbrush holder you can find. Fill with water and tuck a stem or two into each hole. Instant symmetry. People will think you've taken a class.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Giving Back...

It's the time of year for giving. Whether for Hanukkah or Christmas, most of us agonize over the perfect gift for everyone on our list. Family members, friends, co-workers, loved's all about shopping and wrapping. But it doesn't have to (and shouldn't) stop there.

I made a trip to the Wilkinson Center here in Dallas last week. Although the purpose of the visit was business, the effect was profoundly personal. I was tangibly and forcefully reminded how lucky I am. My life IS beautiful. There are so many others out there who worry about where their next meal comes they can clothe their families...and how to give their children gifts for the holidays.

It inspired me to go and adopt an angel from the Salvation Army tree at the nearby mall. That's been a family tradition for us for the last several years...but I'd been too busy this year to bother. I'll also be taking a box of clothes to the Wilkinson Center. And making a New Year's resolution to do something charitable every month...whether a donation of cash, food or money. Or even better volunteering.

As you're giving gifts this season, why not have them do double-duty? Here's a list of wonderfully worthy causes that you might make a donation to in your gift recipient's honor. After all, who needs another sweater vest or scented candle?

  • Go to and make a donation to support UNICEF's Child Survival Programs. You'll earn two American Airlines AAdvantage miles for every dollar donated.

  • America's Second Harvest works with more than 200 local charities and agencies in all 50 states, including many of the major food banks across America. They use your monetary gift to leverage more support than just a donation of canned goods ever could. (And if you live in North Texas as I do, you could support the North Texas Food Bank.)

  • To support the food and support needs of people around the world, make a donation to Heifer International. They work to eliminate hunger and poverty by providing animals and training to families in third world countries. For example, $30 provides a Gift of Honeybees. With it, struggling families earn income through the sale of honey, beeswax and pollen. (Plus the bees help to increase the yield of fruit and vegetables in the area.)

  • Unfortunately, AIDS and HIV continue to be scourges in countries across the globe, including the United States. Support Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS by shopping their online store. That limited-edition snow globe you buy for your daughter's piano teacher helps provide critically needed services to people living with AIDS or other serious illnesses.

Regardless of the charity you choose, stretch your gift-giving this year. Use those dollars to help make life more beautiful for others.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Cocktail of the Week: La Perla

This strange, but delicious, drink came from Imbibe magazine. (I highly recommend it.) It's rich (tequila), fruity (pear liqueur), and bracing (sherry) all at once. Would be a nice after-dinner drink, I think.

La Perla
1 1/2 ounce tequila reposado (Herradura is a personal favorite.)
1 1/2 ounce manzanilla sherry (Use La Gitana if you can find it.)
3/4 ounce Mathilde pear liqueur

Shake ingredients in ice-filled shaker and strain into a cocktail glass. (I used a copita in honor of the sherry.) Garnish with a lemon twist.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Make the Morning Easier

Mornings are always a rush for me. Although I try to take time for the paper and a cup of hot tea, packing my gym bag and work clothes, feeding our pets, and collecting my work stuff means I don't always have much time to fix breakfast. I know how important it is though. As I continue to try and lose a few pounds, it's important that I jump start my metabolism with that first meal of the day. Here are some tips I've used to make sure I get it all done.

  • As I get ready for bed and straighten the kitchen, I go ahead and measure the ingredients (minus the ice) for my smoothie directly into the blender container. Stored on the top shelf of the refrigerator, it takes less than a minute to blend up the next morning. Of course I love simple fruit smoothies (fruit, ice and protein powder), but also fix "heartier" ones sometimes. A recent favorite: 1 cup skim milk, 2 tablespoons ground flax seed, 1 tablespoon peanut butter, 1/2 cup frozen blueberries and 1 scoop whey protein powder.

  • Did you know you can "poach" eggs in the microwave? You can use a gadget like this, but I just crack an egg into a ramekin, blast it on high for 43 seconds (You'll have to experiment to see the perfect timing with your microwave.) and I have firm whites and just runny enough yolks.

  • And you can't go wrong with toast. Put a slice or two of multi-grain bread in the oven or toaster while you do something else. In no time, you'll have the complex carbs to get you going. How about a little low-fat peanut butter on top?

Do you have any quick breakfast tips you could share? If so, please post in Comments below.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Red Pepper Fennel Soup

I am posting this recipe hesitantly. Not because it's from Rachael Ray. (Not my favorite.) But because it just didn't have the bold flavor I expected...even after I added twice as much roasted red pepper as it calls for. That said, it's a pretty easy, elegant soup...and it's still pretty tasty. I'm taking it to lunch tomorrow with a snack bag of pita chips to accompany.

Red Pepper Fennel Soup
Adapted from EveryDay with Rachael Ray.

2 roasted red peppers, thinly sliced lengthwise (After the finished soup looked (and tasted) rather red pepper-less, I used about half a large jar.)
6 tablespoons butter, melted (You might try olive oil if you're watching your waistline.)
1 leek (white part only), thinly sliced crosswise
1 small bulb fennel with fronds, bulb finely chopped and fronds chopped for garnish
1 potato (1/2 pound)—peeled, halved and thinly sliced
2 cups chicken broth
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup heavy cream (You can omit or use skim milk if you'd like.)
1/4 cup sour cream (optional)

Reserve 4 strips of roasted red pepper and set aside. In a medium pot, place 4 tablespoons melted butter (or olive oil) over medium heat. Add the leek and chopped fennel bulb and cook until lightly golden, about 10 minutes.

Add the remaining roasted red peppers, the potato, broth, 2 teaspoons salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, partially covered, until the potato is tender, about 10 minutes.

Using an immersion or standing blender, working in batches if necessary, blend the potato mixture until smooth. Stir in the heavy cream (or skim milk) and season with salt and pepper.

Serve the soup hot or cold with pita chips. Dollop with sour cream, if desired, and top with the reserved roasted red pepper strips and more fennel fronds.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

A Beautiful Centerpiece Idea

Here's a centerpiece idea I'm going to try for this Christmas.

Use candle wax or floral clay to attach a small floral frog to the center of a shallow bowl. (Your holiday china would be perfect.) Place a taper candle in the center of the frog. Pour water into the bowl. Clip amaryllis blooms (maybe ones you've already forced or ones you've bought by the stem at the florist) and arrange them in the bowl around the candle.

Simple and elegant...

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Avoid the Dirty Dozen....

I can't claim I coined the term. It's a catchy phrase that the Environmental Working Group came up with to remind us how to lower our pesticide exposure by almost 90 percent. You just have to replace the twelve most contaminated fruits and vegetables with organic versions. Since it's getting colder...and most of us are no longer able to buy the freshest things from the farmers' market, it's valuable advice.

So make the organic switch when you're buying these:

  • Apples
  • Cherries
  • Grapes (imported)

  • Nectarines

  • Peaches

  • Pears

  • Strawberries

  • Celery

  • Lettuce

  • Bell Peppers

  • Potatoes

  • Spinach

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Martina McBride's Bus Stop Chili

Usually I post recipes here that I have "borrowed" or adapted from quite foodie-reputable sources: Gourmet, Food & Wine, Martha Stewart. Never before have I ripped a recipe out of People. (OK, I have a got a problem with that?!?)

This is a great, simple recipe that reminds me of those "dump cake" recipes. Here you open a bunch of cans, dump them in the pot, and you end up with a wonderfully hearty...and pretty healthy...soup. I'm thinking it's on the Christmas Eve menu this year.

Martina's Bus Stop White Chili

Adapted from a recipe from People magazine.

(I've made a few adjustments to kick up the spice and make it a little thicker.)

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2-14 1/2 ounce cans chicken broth
1 tablespoon garlic pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
4-15 ounce cans great northern beans
2-4 1/2 ounce cans chopped green chiles
1 can cream of chicken soup
Half of a 7 ounce can of pickled jalapeno peppers

For garnish: minced cilantro, sour cream, tortilla chips and grated cheese

Put chicken in a glass baking dish, pour in both cans of chicken broth, and cover with aluminum foil. Bake in a 350 degree oven for one hour. Remove chicken and reserve broth.

Cut chicken into small pieces and season with garlic pepper. Heat olive oil in stock pot and saute chicken for 2-3 minutes.

Puree jalapeno peppers, with juice, and set aside. (If you want your chili super thick, at this point, also drain and rinse one or more of the cans of white beans.)

Add reserved broth, beans, chiles, cream of chicken soup, and pureed jalapenos to stock pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes.

Ladle into bowls and garnish as desired.

Healthy Hint: Use low-fat chicken broth and a healthy version of the cream of chicken soup (I used Campbell's Healthy Choice)...and pass on the garnishes...for a guilt-free treat.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Forcing Things Isn't Always Bad...

It's that time of year again. Time to force wonderful winter bulbs like amaryllis and narcissus. I've told you about the whole process before, but just learned a new tip I'm going to try this year.

Too often paperwhites bolt and flow over in their containers. Try adding 1 part rubbing alcohol to 10 parts water and use as the rooting solution. They'll stop growing at about two-thirds their usual height.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Tick tock....

OK...not to make you panic, but it's December 1st. Do you know where your holiday plans are?

Never fear, there is much you can do now to make your life much easier as the countdown of shopping days left to us grows ever smaller. here are just a couple of quick tips:

  • Don't worry yourself over the party planning. If you're like me, you're constantly being invited to informal gatherings that require to bring a nibble or two. So, make it easy for yourself. How about an appetizer that dresses up store-bought hummus? Or one you can make in bulk and freeze. Then all you have to do is take them out and heat up. Cruise around the Food and Entertaining sections of this blog. You're likely to find a few other recipes--like this and this-- that are simple but sure crowd pleasers.

  • How about buying gifts in bulk? You're likely to have a load of friends and family members who share your culinary bent. So go buy them each a bottle of wonderful imported extra-virgin olive oil and make them something special like a salt blend. Personalize with a recipe and you're home free. Saves you from spending hours at the mall looking for that perfect sweater.

  • If the bulk gifts approach won't work for you, sit down, think it through and make your shopping list now. If you plan ahead and think of something wonderful you might buy for everyone on your list BEFORE you hit the stores, you're far more likely to emerge from the experience with fewer battle scars...and more apropos gifts.

More tips in the weeks to come...