New Year’s Soiree….

Looking forward to a simple cocktail/appetizer party on Saturday.  As always, I obsess over what I’ll be serving.  (in a good way!)  In my experience I’ve found that most people really go for hot appetizers.  I think it’s nice to offer a couple of cold items  so that there’s something available between hot apps.  Olives are nice.  I like to offer some vegetables as well so that my guests have a healthy option.  I love the look of blanched broccoli on a vegetable tray.  *Blanching will make the broccoli very bright green and will make it less bitter.  Serve fresh cut veggies with my Light Bleu Cheese Dip.  No one will know it’s light, so good!

Another thing to consider is whether your guests will mostly be standing and mingling.  Always a good idea to serve items that are bite size and easy to eat.  Be sure to have plenty of cocktail napkins on hand as well.  If guests are a little shy about going up to an appetizer table, circulate them yourself or enlist another guest to do so.  This will put everyone at ease.

Here’s what I’m thinking…


1)  Fried Calamari with Fresh Marinara Sauce (the sauce can be made ahead)  Not sure about this one….like to have most everything done ahead of time! 
2)  Crab Cakes with Roasted Red Pepper Aioli (make ahead, just warm in oven)
3)  Black Forest Ham and Gruyere Puff Pastry Squares (Ina Garten) great at room temperature (make ahead, serve at room temperature or warm in oven for a few minutes)
4)  Parmesan Stuffed Mushrooms (make ahead, warm in oven)
5)  Proscuitto Wrapped Breadsticks with Boursin and Arugula (cold) (make ahead)


Mini Cheesecake Bites with Fresh Raspberry Sauce (make ahead)
Something Chocolate…not sure what….
Fresh Berries with Mascarpone Cream-beautiful, simple, and festive.  (make ahead)

I have time before my gig, so I’ll be changing things around a bit.  Will let you know my final menu.

Have a nice evening-


*to blanch broccoli, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add the cut broccoli to the water and set the timer for 1 minute.  Drain and immediately plunge the  hot broccoli into a bowl of ice water.   Once the broccoli is cool, drain well.  Enjoy!

Homemade Challah, Step by Step Instruction….

I loved everything about making this bread.  Loved the simple ingredients, the hand feel, and the smell in my house.  Next time I will double or triple the recipe.  Imagine french toast or homemade bread pudding made out of this bread…OH MY!

The dough did take quite some time for the first rising, about 2 hours.  I used regular yeast but you could use the rapid rise variety of yeast and you might be able to trim off 30-60 minutes here.  The dough itself is very dense, very lovely.  I found that when I kneaded the bread I virtually used no extra flour as I have in the past with other kinds of bread.

My friend gave me the ingredient list for this bread and she makes hers in a bread machine. I decided to make it the way I make most other yeast breads only I kneaded the dough a bit longer.  I got the same exact result.  The key here, I believe, is using bread flour as opposed to all purpose.  Bread flour has more gluten than all purpose flour.  This makes for a really nice, chewy yet tender texture.  So, so good.

Let’s get started….

We begin with 3/4 cup of warm water.  (About the same temperature you’d make a bottle for a baby.)  Add  1 1/2 teaspoons of salt.  In a separate microwaveable bowl, melt 3 tablespoons of butter, set aside to cool.
Add 4 tablespoons of sugar.
Add 2 teaspoons of dry yeast.
Measure out 3 cups of flour into a small bowl.  Take out one tablespoon and add it here.
Whisk well to blend.  Allow it to sit for 10 minutes.
The yeast mixture should look like this.  If you look  closely, you can see bubbles.  This is the yeast coming to life.
Add 2 large beaten eggs.
Add the cooled melted butter.  Whisk to blend.
Next add half of the bread flour, beat well until smooth.
Add the rest of the flour and mix until it looks like this.
Dump the dough onto the counter and bring together with your hands to form a ball.
It should look like this.  I added the smallest amount of flour because it was sticking to the counter slightly.  Be careful not to add too much extra flour.  I found that I did not need any additional flour after this.  Knead the dough for 5-7 minutes.
It should look like this when you’re done kneading.  The dough should be smooth and elastic.
Grease the inside of a small bowl with butter, plop the dough in and coat the dough with a thin layer of butter as well.
Now cover your little ball of dough with a clean cloth or kitchen towel.  Time to put it to rest in a nice warm place free of drafts.  If you have a gas stove, simply turn on the light in the oven and place the bowl on the center rack.  The pilot light and the light will provide the dough with a nice warm place to rise.  Allow it to rise until double in  bulk.   It took my dough about 2 hours on the first rise.  (If you have an electric oven, turn the heat on 300′ for one minute.  Turn off the heat and turn on the oven light.  It is now perfect for proofing the dough)
The dough has doubled in bulk, it’s ready to be shaped.
Punch the dough down and divide into 3 equal balls.
Roll each ball into 12″ sticks as shown above.  Pinch them together at the top.
Now braid and pinch the bottom together.
Place the shaped bread on a baking mat or parchment paper.  Cover the shaped bread with the clean towel.   The bread should just about double in size, it should take about 40 minutes.   Preheat the oven to 375′.
Beat an egg with a tablespoon of water and brush the oven ready bread well with the egg wash.   Bake for 25-27 minutes.  when you flick it with your finger and it has a hollow sound, it’s done.  Remove from the oven onto a cooling rack.  Enjoy it warm by tearing off chunks and slather with softened butter.   Delish!

Homemade Challah Bread

3 cups bread flour
3/4 cup water
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons yeast
4 tablespoons sugar
2 large eggs
3 Tbsp butter, cut up

1 egg, 1 tablespoon of water

1)  Measure out 3 cups of bread flour in a small bowl.  In a large mixing bowl, add water, salt, sugar, yeast, and 1 tablespoon of flour out of the 3 cups of measured flour.  Whisk well to blend.  Allow to sit for 10 minutes.
2)  Melt the butter in a small microwaveable dish, set aside to cool.  Beat two eggs in a small bowl.
3)  Add the eggs and the cooled melted butter to the yeast mixture, whisk to blend.
4)   Add half of the bread flour and mix well until there are no lumps.
5)  Add the rest of the flour and mix.  Dump onto the counter and bring together into a ball.  Add a small amount of flour to the counter if the dough ball is a little sticky.  Knead for 5-7 minutes.  The dough should be elastic and smooth.
6)  Grease a medium size bowl with butter, add the dough, lightly grease the top of the dough.  Cover with a clean towel and allow to rise in a warm, draft free place.
7)  When the dough has risen to double it’s size, punch down the dough and divide into 3 equal pieces.  Shape into three 12″ logs and pinch together at the top.  Braid and pinch together at the bottom.   Cover with a clean towel and allow to rise for about 40 minutes.  Preheat the oven to 375″.
8)  Beat the egg with water.  Using a pastry brush, apply the egg wash liberally to the shaped and oven ready loaf.
9)  Bake for 25-27 minutes.  Enjoy warm by tearing off pieces with room temperature butter.  Store leftovers, if any, in a sealed plastic zip bag.  Makes one large loaf.

Thank you for sharing your recipe Genevieve!


Homemade Warm Challah Bread….

Good morning-

I hope all of your Christmas shopping is coming together nicely.  I’ve done most of mine on line, such a great way for me to shop!

It’s been hard to post during this flurry of parties, baking, and..well, you know, we’re all busy.

I had the lovelist surprise from my friend Genevieve.  A warm loaf of Challah bread.   Definitely a December highlight.  First because she took the time to make something special for ME during this very busy time of year.  Secondly, have you ever had a warm loaf of homemade Challah bread?  If you have, you know what I’m talking about.  Slightly sweet.   Firm yet tender texture.  A beautifully browned lovely crust.  Pure heaven.

Needless to say, my friend not only shared the warm Challah, but the recipe too!!  Yippee!!  Genevieve tells me she’s been making it for about ten years and she’s “tweeked” it over the years to her taste.  The best recipes around are the ones we tailor to our own taste.

This is going to be good.  I’m going to make a homemade Challah, photograph it, and share it with you, compliments of Genevieve.  This will become a regular in my rotation of baking, for sure.

Planning on baking my brains out this weekend. In addition to the Challah bread, I’ll be making Raspberry Bars, Festive Peppermint Brownies, Peanutbutter Bars (with red and green M&M’s, Gingerbread CookiesPecan Squares, Coconut Macaronns, and Santa Thumbprints

Have a blessed day.


Best Holiday Cookies Ever!

Hi Everyone-

This is the perfect time to start cookie baking.  I find it much easier to mix one day, bake another, and decorate yet another.  This is a good time to get started.

First check out my tips for holiday baking essentials.  This is my equipment guide to successful cookie baking, easy clean up and efficient use of your time in the kitchen.

Cookie dough will keep very nicely wrapped in cling wrap and into a zip storage bag.  Label and date, as always, especially if you’re making a wide assortment of cookies.   The dough will keep nicely for 2 weeks.  I’ll be mixing gingerbread dough (aka “people cookies”) today.  I’m thinking I’ll mix approximately 6 batches as they are the #1 cookie tradition in our house.  My boys always look forward to these.

FYI, after the gingergread cookie dough has completely chilled, it may seem quite unmanageable.  Allow the dough to sit on the counter for 30 minutes before you begin.  Cut off a chunk and really work it with your hands to make it pliable to roll out on your board.  After you cut out the first batch, bring all the scraps together and add another chunk, working it together.  It is very easy after the initial batch.

Another lovely dough I like to use is a roll out butter cookie that has no levening.  It is the perfect recipe for layered and filled cookies.  Same deal here with rolling it out.  Use the same recipe for darling snowmen cut outs.

Mix your dough a day or two ahead then bake.   If you’re not ready to decorate at this point simply freeze the cooki  Pick a day closer to Christmas to actually decorate and put some aside for the kids to go crazy and decorate!  There is plenty of finger licking going on here, so I put their personal creations into their own bag.

I mix up my assortments as I do not like to decorate every cookie I make.  Lovely bars such as raspberry bars, and festive peppermint brownies are perfect because they slice beautifully and make for a pretty presentation.  My other Christmas cookie fav’s include santa thumbprints and chocolate dipped coconut macaroons.  Beautiful and delicious!

I’m so ready to get baking!

Have a great day-

How To Make Simple Thanksgiving Gravy…..

Ok, the clock is ticking!  The bird is out of the oven and you’ve got your sides are now in the oven to warm…. One last and extremely important detail, the gravy.  The best thickener to use when making turkey gravy is cornstarch.   You get a smooth and luscious  gravy without lumps.  Before we get to making the gravy, let’s discuss the very first step.  The drippings.

The best way to extract those lovely pan juices from the pan is with a turkey baster.  Remove as much liquid as possible, I’d say to go for 4+ cups if you can.  If you’ve made a large bird you will need lots of gravy.  If you come up short you can always make up the difference with chicken stock.  You’re in a bit of a hurry but try not to skip this step.  There are three good ways to do this.  (if you do not remove the fat the gravy will still thicken fine but there will be an unappetizing layer of fat over the top)

1)  A fat separator.  This is the simplest way of doing it.  Simply pour all of the liquid into the cup and let it sit for a minute or two.  You will see that all of the fat rises to the top.  When you pour the de-fatted liquid out through the spout, liquid comes out from the bottom where there is no fat.  You stop pouring when you get close to the fat layer.  This is the best one I’ve seen out there.  It’s by Pampered Chef and it has a four cup capacity.  You can see that there is a strainer on the top if you wish to remove any bits of food debris.  It’s awesome!  If you don’t have this type of gadget, read on.

2)  Believe it or not a heavy duty zip bag would work fine too.  Carefully pour the liquid into the bag, wait a minute or so until the fat rises to the top.  Carefully snip off a SMALL corner of the bag and drain the broth part of the liquid into a medium size sauce pan.  You must be quick as you don’t want the fat portion of the liquid to run through.

3)  A turkey baster.  I’ve done this on many occasions where I have way more than 4 cups of liquid I need to de-fat.  Pour all of the liquid into a large clear bowl, let it sit for a minute or so.  Using your turkey baster, extract liquid from the very bottom of the bowl.   Of course, you’ll want to stop when you get to the fat layer.  I found this to be very effective as well.

Now we’re ready to make gravy.

Simple Thanksgiving Gravy

4 cups turkey broth minus the fat (add chicken stock to make up the difference if necessary)
1/2 cup cold water
4 tablespoons cornstarch
salt to taste

1)  Pour the turkey broth into a medium size sauce pan.
2)  Add the cornstarch to 1/2 cup of water.  Mix well until the cornstarch is completely dissolved.  Pour it right into the turkey liquid.  Cook over medium heat and stir constantly until it comes to a boil. ( Enlist a guest to do this!) Once you see bubbles, it’s done, remove from heat immediately.  Taste it to see if you need to add salt.  Perfect, luscious gravy.

So the rule of thumb basically is this:

2 cups liquid (broth) + 1/4 cup cold water + 2 tablespoons cornstarch

*if you mix the cold water with the cornstarch ahead of time, you’ll need to give it another stir before adding to the turkey liquid as the cornstarch will settle to the bottom.


Email me if you have any questions!


Cornbread Stuffing Tip…..

Good morning!

I just read an interesting way to make cornbread stuffing (Food and Wine Magazine).  Use 1/3 sourdough cubes and 2/3 dried cornbread cubes.  This would give the stuffing nice texture with the chewy sourdough bread.



Sausage And Sage Stuffing….

This is soooo delicious!  I use Jimmy Dean’s Sage Sausage, it’s perfect for this stuffing.  Make this stuffing to your own liking.  Use any kind of bread you like.  Cornbread is a delicious option with the sausage as well.  If using cornbread, dry it out the same way you would other breads.  (instructions below)  I save the bread crust ends and toast them for stuffing.  Remember, cold stuffing into cold bird.  This is hugely important when it comes to food safety. 

Sage and Sausage Stuffing

1 lb. bulk sage pork sausage
1 tablespoon butter
5 stalks of celery, cut into small pieces
1 large onion, finely diced
1 teaspoon dried rubbed sage
1 cup fresh parsley, chopped
10 cups dried bread cubes, *homemade or store bought
3-4 cups cold chicken stock or water

1)  Dump the dried bread cubes into a large mixing bowl, set aside.  In a large skillet, cook the sausage until browned.  Drain off any excess fat.  Dump sausage into the bread bowl.
2)  Add the butter to the skillet and add the celery and onion.  Cook 6-7 minutes or until veggies are soft.  Add the sage and parsley.  Mix well.  Add to the bread bowl.  Pour half of the chicken stock over the goodies in the bowl.  Gently fold stuffing ingredients.  Keep adding the stock until all of the bread is moistened.  Cool completely and refrigerate in a large zip bag.  Stuff the cold bird with the cold stuffing right before going into the oven.

*To make your own dried bread cubes cut leftover bread into 1/2″ cubes.  Spread over a cookie sheet, do not crowd.  Bake in 300′ oven for 15-20 minutes or until the bread is totally dried out.  Turn the bread cubes every 5 minutes.  Cool completely.  Store in a zip bag if you’re not using right away.

**If you’d like to bake the stuffing in a casserole dish, butter a 2 quart dish generously with butter.  Add the stuffing and pack in.  Add a couple of pats of butter to the top.  Bake at 350′ for 30-35 minutes.  Makes about eight 1/2 cup servings.

Gobble Gobble!