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Orange Chicken

You know that feeling you’re left with after a major spring cleaning of your house…purging the junk, wiping away the dust, polishing the knick knacks…that refreshed feeling of comfort in your space, when everything is organized, neat, and tidy?

Well, after taking the past few weeks to put a fresh polish on some things around this site, that’s just about how I’m feeling. And it feels good…

  • The Recipe Collection is up to date and organized in a way which I hope will make browsing the vast selection of recipes on this site a bit more user friendly.
  • The Gallery page now includes a much more comprehensive collection of photos, which are bigger and arranged in a more appealing manner. Best yet, clicking any photo will bring you directly to that recipe. Hovering your cursor over any picture will provide a brief description of the featured recipe.
  • A few new step by step guides have been added to the How-To Photo Guides page.

I’ve still got a bit more housekeeping to do around here, but I really hope you enjoy browsing around those pages!

It’s been a productive few weeks. But the best thing about stepping away from new posts for a bit is that it gave me a little time to reflect on where I am and where I’m going with this little blog. I started this blog two and a half years ago as what felt like a natural extension of what I was already flooding my social networks with…ramblings about cooking and eating. Very quickly, I discovered that it gave me a great feeling of satisfaction to produce a blog post…a delicious dish, a few photos, a written recipe…that tangible ‘job completed’ feeling that’s rare in my life as a stay-at-home mom. The very act of clicking Publish was rewarding to me. Even more rewarding was finding that people were actually interested in what I’d published. And that sure felt good!

Rice Krispie Treat ‘Sushi’ for our ninja-themed party

What started as a sort of personal food journal, took on a life of its own, with readers and subscribers and a facebook page and a twitter account (which I don’t really know how to use). But at the end of the day, this is just my little space about food, with no aspirations of being anything other than what it is. It’s not a baking blog or a gluten-free blog or a South Beach blog, though it contains recipes that fall into each of those categories. It’s not a gourmet blog or even a family-friendly blog, though there are plentiful recipes in each of those categories as well. Admittedly, the collection of recipes on this site is a bit scattered.

But you know what? So am I. So is my family. And this blog is a snapshot of our lives… One day I’m intent on losing the weight that’s been nagging at me since having our third son. The next day I’ve craving chocolate-covered bacon-wrapped twinkies. One day I’m cooking hot dog casseroles with my kids. The next I’m serving slow-braised short ribs in a cabernet reduction sauce at an elegant dinner party with dear friends. (I wear sweatpants regardless of the occasion.) My kids are usually clamoring around my feet when I cook and with three boys ages five and under, it’s almost inevitable that one of them will throw a tantrum, fall off a chair, or start coloring the grout between the bricks on my fireplace just as I’m engaged in some crucial time-sensitive step in a recipe. My photos are rapidly staged and shot close because my table is usually too messy to shoot wider. There’s often a baby climbing my legs while I’m frantically snapping the photos.

It’s chaotic. It’s imperfect. It’s my life. And I’m guessing it’s probably some of your lives too.

The Birthday Boy!

And that’s not about to change anytime soon, but there is something new I’d like to bring to this blog… The most wonderful thing about the culinary program I completed many years ago is that it left me with so much more than a collection of tasty recipes. It armed me with an understanding of techniques, which I can now apply towards everything I do in the kitchen…the tools and the confidence that enable me to walk into the kitchen and cook without recipes or to read another’s recipe and quickly understand what I can substitute or alter to fit my family’s tastes. That’s the thing I hope to share with all of you. I want to take my posts here one step further than just some story about my chaotic life and an awesome recipe for braised short ribs or pumpkin parfaits or cheddar bacon biscuits. I want each post to leave you with understanding of why the recipe works and how you can take that idea and make it part of your culinary toolbox. So, from here on out, that’s what I intend to do. Everything else will remain the same, but with each new post, I’m going to pull out one or two techniques or tips which are demonstrated in the recipe and be just a bit more explicit about the how or why.

Ninjago (Ninja Lego) Cake

Ok then, enough chatting about this blog. Time to get back to actually blogging on this blog… We’re throwing our middle guy, Lucas, a grand ninja battle…errr, I mean party, this weekend in celebration of his fourth birthday. It’s gonna be a ninjatastic event with an Asian-themed menu, surprise costumed ninjas, and rice krispie treat ‘sushi’ for dessert. I will share more details, photos, and recipes after the party, but for the moment, I want to share one of the recipes I’ll be preparing for this weekend’s festivities.

Orange chicken…I just adore the sticky sweet and slightly spicy sauce coating chunks of crispy chicken. As I planned the menu for this little ninja party, it seemed like the perfect fit for a big group of adults and young children. It’s a dish I’ve eaten often and made never. So, I did a bit of searching for a starting point. The big surprise for me was that some of the recipes contained not a bit of orange. No juice, no extract, no peel. Many recipes were more sugar than anything else. And though those recipes may be successful at reproducing the familiar orange chicken flavor from your favorite Chinese takeout restaurant, I just can’t come to grips with an orange chicken recipe made without orange. So, I played around a bit and came up with the recipe which follows. It’s pleasingly sweet, just a bit spicy, and packed with a good dose of authentic orange flavor. Prior to frying, the chicken is marinated in a soy-ginger-orange marinade, then dipped in egg, and coated with cornstarch. A simple sauce, made with orange juice and fresh zest is accented with Asian flavors then thickened to the consistency of a glaze with a bit of cornstarch. Definitely a crowd-pleaser!

Focus on Technique – Thickening with Cornstarch

Cornstarch is an effective (and gluten-free) thickener which can be used in a variety of recipes, including sauces, gravy, pudding, and fruit pie filling. It adds no flavor of its own and produces a clear, glazy result, as compared to the cloudy effect of a butter/flour roux. In general, about 1 tablespoon of cornstarch can be used to thicken 1 cup of liquid. To effectively blend the cornstarch into the liquid to be thickened, you should start by making a slurry, which is simply a mixture of the cornstarch with a bit of cold liquid (usually water). This step prevents the cornstarch from clumping when added to the hot liquid. Add the slurry to the liquid you wish to thicken, then bring to a simmer for a minute or two until the liquid thickens.

Orange Chicken

Ingredients

For the Chicken

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1″ chunks

  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 3/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Vegetable oil, for frying

For the Sauce

  • 2/3 cup brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • Zest from 1 orange (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sambal oelek (crushed chile paste)*
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons cold water
  • 2 green onions, sliced

*You can substitute crushed red pepper or cayenne pepper powder to add a bit of spiciness. If using cayenne powder, reduce the quantity.

Directions

For the Chicken

Stir together the soy sauce, orange juice, and ginger. Submerge the chicken in the mixture. Allow the chicken to marinade for about 20 minutes in the refrigerator.

Combine the cornstarch and salt on a plate. Heat about 1/2″ of oil in a large skillet over medium-high/high heat to approximately 375 degrees. (You can use an instant read meat thermometer to estimate the temperature. If you do not have a thermometer, just heat the oil for several minutes until it’s sizzling hot.)

Remove the chicken from the marinade. Place the chicken in a bowl with the lightly beaten eggs. Remove the chicken from the eggs, then dredge in the cornstarch until well coated. Fry the chicken in small batches until crispy, golden, and cooked through, about 5-6 minutes. Turn the chicken once or twice during cooking. Remove the chicken from the oil with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel.

For the Sauce

Combine the brown sugar, water, orange juice, orange zest, rice wine vinegar, lemon juice, soy sauce, and sambal oelek in a saucepan over medium heat until well combined. In a small ramekin or bowl, stir together the cornstarch with the cold water. Pour the mixture into the sauce and whisk to combine. Bring the sauce to a simmer. Simmer for a couple minutes until the sauce is thickened.

Just before serving, pour the sauce over the chicken. Garnish with sliced green onions and additional orange zest, if desired. Serve over white jasmine rice.

Tips

  • To maintain the chicken’s crispiness, wait until just before serving to toss the chicken in the sauce.
  • To make ahead of time, fry the chicken and refrigerate until using. Prepare the sauce and refrigerate until using. Reheat the chicken on a baking sheet in a 375 degrees oven for about 10-15 minutes until heated through and crispy. Heat the sauce and pour it over the reheated chicken.

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How to Make Cake Pops

Cake pops are all the rage these days…or am I thinking of cupcakes? Or is it macarons?? I can’t keep up. But, you can find cake pop recipes and ideas all over the internet and magazine covers these days. Starbucks even carries these sweet treats right next to the muffins and dessert bars. They’re insanely cute and super fun to eat. The best part is that there are a million possible flavor and design combinations.

Once you’ve got the basic idea, you can have a lot of fun customizing these little goodies with different flavors of cake, frosting, and candy coating! Then, get creative with the decorating! I’m already planning on making bloody eyeball cake pops for Halloween, turkeys for Thanksgiving, and snowmen and trees for Christmas!

For my little guy’s third birthday (and my first attempt at cake-popping), I made a batch of decadent triple chocolate cake pops. It’s a simple, but somewhat time-consuming process, so plan ahead. Here’s how it’s done.

You will need:

  • 1 13×9 inch cake
  • Cake frosting (approximately 1 1/2 cups)
  • Lollipop sticks
  • Candy Melts (approximately 4 cups)*
  • Sprinkles or other decorating candies (optional)

*If your grocery store doesn’t carry the candy melts, check your local craft store. They come in all sorts of colors and flavors!

Bake a 13 x 9 inch cake. Use your favorite homemade recipe or one box of any flavor cake mix. (You can bake the cake a day ahead of time, if desired.)

Once cool, crumble the cake into fine crumbs. This is a perfect job for little helpers.

You’ll end up with a big bowl of fine cake crumbs.

Combine the cake crumbs with any flavor frosting. A container of prepared frosting works fine or use your favorite homemade. Depending on how moist the cake is, you probably will not need the whole container of frosting. About 3/4 of a 16-ounce container should do the trick. You want the mixture to be moist enough to mold, but not too mushy. Mushy cakes will have a harder time staying on the sticks…lesson learned the hard way.

Refrigerate for about 30-45 minutes (or longer) to help firm up the mixture.

Roll the mixture into balls, just over an inch in diameter.

Melt a small quantity of the candy melts according to package directions. Dip the end of each lollipop stick into the melted candy, then insert the stick a little more than halfway through each cake ball. Place each pop upside down on a baking sheet and refrigerate until quite firm.

Once firm, warm the candy melts according to package directions. Use a container that is tall and narrow enough to fully submerge each cake pop into. A 2-cup pyrex measuring cup worked well.

Dip each pop into the melted candy. Gently swirl the pop to remove excess candy. (Skipping the swirl step will result in a candy coated stick. Trust me on that one.)

Decorate with sprinkles or candies, if desired. Then, place each pop into a piece of styrofoam to dry upright at room temperature. (Refrigeration will cause condensation on the surface of your pops. Another lesson learned the hard way.) The candy exterior will harden at room temperature.

Hearty Sausage Baked Ziti

In high school, I was assigned a paper on William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience. I’ve never been much for poetry, but I loved those 18th century poems. There’s such a simple brilliance to the idea that the way we view the world changes with our experiences in life. And in his short, carefully crafted poems, Blake said so much about his perspective on life and the world he lived in. His message is timeless.

But it’s all about perspective, isn’t it?

My first baby

Before I had my children, I thought I loved my dogs as much as I could ever possibly love children. I made the mistake of once voicing this emotion and still get made fun of it to this day. But, at the time, I truly believed there could be no (parental sort of) love that was greater than what I felt for my pups. I loved them with every bit of love I thought I possessed. They were my babies.

And then I had my kids. And I quickly discovered an entire world of love I never could have imagined before. In retrospect, it sort of makes me feel a bit silly for believing that I loved my dogs as much as I would ever love my kids. But then, it’s all about perspective.

Furbaby meets human baby

For as long as I can remember, I dreamed about being a stay at home mom. I would gladly say goodbye to a successful career, years of time spent attaining advanced degrees and certifications, and a respectable paycheck, in order to care for my family. In my dreams, I was Suzy Homemaker. I baked pies every day and had adventures with my giggling children. My house was impeccably clean and my hair perfectly coifed. I’d enjoy quiet pastimes like crochet and tending to my garden. Perhaps I’d even start watching soap operas and collecting porcelain figurines. Who knows…

But then, that picture perfect image of 1950’s domestic bliss isn’t the reality, is it? In the real world, I can’t clean my house faster than the kids destroy it and for every giggle, there is a matching scream or whine. I certainly never considered I’d be scolding my child for pulling his pants down in the produce section of the grocery store. Oh, and there is definitely no time for tending to my non-existent garden or putting my imaginary crochet skills to use. And for every bit of joy and pride my children bring me, there are new fears and new challenges to contend with. And still, I wouldn’t trade this experience for the world.

Looking back on my early days as a stay at home mom, I remember how frazzled I felt. It’s astounding how one tiny baby can turn your world so completely upside down. I struggled to figure out my new life as the stay at home mom I’d always wanted to be. It was hard, even with only one baby. I missed my job. My job was less tiring…and it came with a lunch break. Yet, now, as a mother of three kids, being alone with just the baby feels like a vacation. It’s funny how quickly perspective can change.

My almost-three-year-old, back in his baby days

And although my dream of being a stay at home mom is not at all what I’d pictured it would be, I’m still living my dream and am thankful for it every day. If I were William Blake writing a poem about parenthood, my song of experience may not be nearly as rose-colored as my song of innocence, but it would communicate something much deeper; a level of emotion only the experience of being a parent can awaken.

My almost-three-year-old now, ready for nursery school

My second little cutie is turning three in a few days. Where does the time go? We’re throwing him a birthday party next weekend. With cool weather quickly approaching, I’m making a comfort food menu, with an Italian twist. I’m making my pepperoni pizza salad, a big batch of meatballs in marinara sauce, toasty garlic bread, and this hearty baked ziti.

Enjoy! It’ll warm your soul.

Hearty Sausage Baked Ziti

Ingredients

  • 1 pound ziti or penne pasta
  • 3 cups tomato pasta sauce, homemade or store-bought
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated
  • 4 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded, divided
  • 1 pound spicy Italian pork sausage

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook pasta al dente, according to package directions. Drain and rinse with cold water to prevent the pasta from over-cooking. Remove the sausage from the casings. Cook the sausage in a pan over medium heat for  7 to 8 minutes, until fully cooked. Use a fork or edge of a spoon to break it into small pieces as it cooks. Combine the cooked pasta with the pasta sauce, sausage, ricotta, parmesan cheese and about 2 1/2 cups of the mozzarella cheese. Pour the mixture into a large baking dish. Sprinkle the remaining mozzarella cheese on top. Bake for about 25 minutes, until heated through and lightly browned on the top.

Dark Chocolate Orange Cake with Cannoli Filling

Early each morning, sometime before the sun rises, our three year old crawls out of his bed and taps his tiny bare feet along the hardwood floors as he finds his way into our bedroom. He climbs into bed between me and my husband, snuggles up under the heavy down comforter, and quietly falls back to sleep. This has been his routine for most of his perfect little life.

As such, on the day of my birthday, he made his way to his space in the bed and snuggled up with his head nuzzled into my back. With his tiny hand, he touched my cheek for just a moment. And then he whispered, Mommy? Is today the day of your birthday? I replied affirmatively. He continued, Mommy? What sweetie? Happy Birthday Mommy. Thank you baby. Go to sleep now. Mommy? What is it buddy? I’m going to make you delicious treats for your birthday. I can’t wait, sweetie. Now, go to sleep.

Then we went back to sleep, at least until my other little guy came charging into the room. He doesn’t tap across the floor; he charges. And he doesn’t snuggle up and go back to sleep; he pounces, giggles, and makes animal noises. But, by this time, the sun had risen and it was time for our day of delicious treats to begin.

If you ask my kids, no birthday of delicious treats is complete without cake. And I have absolutely no problem with baking myself a cake on my birthday. The best part is being able to custom design the cake of your birthday dreams! And on my special day, I decided to make a moist dark chocolate cake, accented with fresh orange zest, filled with chocolate-chip cannoli cream, and smothered with chocolate ganache. Doesn’t that sound dreamy?

I went back to my favorite chocolate cake recipe, which you’ve seen here before. It’s truly fantastic; moist, rich, and delicious. With a few little modifications, I incorporated a hint of orange flavor. The orange in the cake is intended to complement the sweet, delicious candied orange peel I’ll be mixing into the cannoli filling. You can skip the orange completely, in the cake and filling, but it really does add an interesting depth of flavor.

Candied Orange Peel is a cinch to make and stores well at room temperature, in the fridge or freezer. So, make a big batch and save the extras for throwing in brownies, cookies, and breads or simply dipping in dark chocolate for a decadent treat.

Dark Chocolate Orange Cake

(Adapted from Hershey’s Deep Dark Chocolate Cake recipe)

Ingredients

  • 2 cups Sugar
  • 1-3/4 cups All-purpose Flour
  • 3/4 cup HERSHEY’S Cocoa or HERSHEY’S SPECIAL DARK Cocoa
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons Baking Powder
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons Baking Soda
  • 1 teaspoon Salt
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1 cup Milk
  • 1/2 cup Vegetable Oil
  • 2 teaspoons Vanilla Extract
  • Zest of 1 Orange
  • Juice of 1 Orange (about 1/4 cup)*
  • Boiling Water (about 3/4)*

*The combined total of juice and water should be 1 cup.

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease and flour two round cake pans.

In a large bowl, combine the sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the eggs, milk, oil, and vanilla. Beat for a couple minutes until well combined. Stir in the orange zest. Add the boiling water, orange juice and stir. The batter will be thinner than you might expect. Pour the batter into the prepared pans. Bake for about 35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool completely before filling and frosting.

Cannoli Filling

Ingredients

  • 1 15 ounce container Whole Milk Ricotta Cheese, strained*
  • 3/4 cup Confectioners Sugar
  • Dash of Cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup Mini Chocolate Chips
  • 2-3 Tbsp Candied Orange Peel, finely diced

* If the ricotta cheese seems even a bit runny, strain it by placing it over a piece of cheesecloth, in a colander set over a bowl, for a few hours in the fridge to remove the excess liquid. This will ensure a thick cannoli filling.

Directions

Beat together the ricotta and sugar until smooth. Stir in the cinnamon, chocolate chips and candied orange peel.

Chocolate Ganache

Ingredients

  • 6 ounces Semisweet Chocolate
  • 1/2 cup Heavy Cream

Directions

Give the chocolate a coarse chop. Place the chocolate pieces in a bowl. Heat the cream, just to a boil. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and stir until smooth.

 

Candied Orange Peel

Ingredients

  • 4 Navel Oranges
  • 3 cups Sugar
  • 1 cup Water
  • 1/2 cup Sugar for rolling (optional)

Directions

Clean the oranges. Cut off the tops and bottoms of the oranges. Use a knife to remove the orange peel and pith in large chunks. Set the oranges aside for another use. Slice the orange peel into thin strips.

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add the orange peel and boil for about 2 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water.

Bring a fresh pot of water to a boil. Add the orange peel again. Cook for another 2 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water.

Combine the 3 cups Sugar with 1 cup Water in a saucepan. Stir to combine. Bring to a simmer. Add the orange peel. Simmer for 15-20 minutes, until the peels are tender and slightly translucent. Strain. *If desired, you can keep the orange accented syrup for another use.

When the orange peel is cool enough to handle, take a few pieces at a time and roll in sugar to coat. Then, arrange the orange peel onto a drying rack to dry for one to two hours. *If desired, you can skip the sugar-rolling step and simply arrange the peel on the drying rack.

The same procedure can be applied to lemon and lime peel. Dried candied orange peel can be store in an air-tight container at room temperature, refrigerated or frozen.

Post-Party Relief and a Caramel Apple Cake

Ahhhhhhhhh… Deep breath of relaxation. The birthday party for the little man was a grand success. I love throwing parties, but it’s always a great relief on the morning after. No long list of things to cook, corners to clean, or balloons to inflate. Just a house which looks like a herd of elephants charged through during the night and me on my computer, looking through pictures from the party and eating leftover caramel apple cake.

Mmmm… Caramel Apple Cake.

We’ll get to that cake in a minute. But first a few pics from the party.

The little man requested a dumptruck party. So, a dumptruck party he received.

There were construction themed plates with dumptruck designs, construction vehicles hanging in the windows, dumptrucks filled with potato chips, and hard hats, of course.

The sandwich and salad menu was a hit. Once the work of composing the sandwiches was complete, it was an easy meal to serve. The popular favorite turned out to be the Roast Beef, Cheddar, Apples, and Horseradish Sauce, which I served on cheese bread, lightly warmed in the oven.

For dessert, we enjoyed the Muddy Cups, which were my personal favorite. You may remember that I made the Muddy Cups as a solution to mangled, over-filled cupcakes. They turned out to be delicious. I’d purposely mangle cupcakes any day, in order to make more Muddy Cups.

We sang Happy Birthday, of course, and the little man blew out his birthday candle. It was sweet to watch the expression on his face as the room full of people sang to him. He was clearly confused and intrigued by the event.

Amongst other fantastic gifts, he received a dinosaur costume, which we all enjoyed.

Rrrrroar!

And did I mention this Caramel Apple Cake??

On the flight home from NYC a couple weeks ago, I picked up a copy of Food Network magazine and was greeted with the recipe for this cake. I instantly added it to my list of recipes to try.  Last weekend’s apple picking excursion provided me with the star ingredient. So, I whipped it up yesterday as an extra party treat.

The recipe starts with a homemade caramel, which is delicious and simple to make. The entire process sort of has a mad scientist feel to it. You start with a pot full of dry sugar, which magically melts in an amber syrup. Then you add the butter and cream. Do be careful and use a deep pot and a long spoon for mixing. It will bubble up a storm once you add the butter and cream. The vigorous bubbling which ensues the moment the butter and cream hit the syrup actually led my husband to question whether I was doing it right. Yes, dear. I’m doing it right. It’s a lot of fun to make. Just be careful and keep kids at a distance.

Part of the hot caramel is poured into a buttered pan. You need a deep pan for this recipe, at least 3 inches deep. I was able to find one in the baking section of my local craft store. After the caramel has cooled a bit, sliced apples are arranged in an overlapping round and a halved apple is placed in the center.

The batter is then prepared and poured over the apples. Chopped apples are placed on topped and the cake is baked for about an hour and twenty minutes.

To serve, the caramel is remelted by placing the cake pan in a dish of boiled water. The cake is inverted over a serving plate. Then, the reserved caramel is warmed and drizzled on top.

Overall, I really liked this recipe, though I agree with some of the reviews that 1 1/2 cups of caramel is more than necessary for drizzling over the top. No real complaints here though, since the extra caramel will be great over ice cream. As far as the cake batter goes, I’d rework this part of the recipe if I made it again. It was just a touch too dry and a tad bland for my tastes. I’d be inclined to sweeten it up a touch, add a bit more cinnamon, and decrease the flour for a moister, sweeter, spicier cake.

You can find the recipe for Caramel Apple Cake, along with a step by step slideshow, by clicking here.

Looking forward to a day of eating leftovers and relaxing in my messy house!

Mission Fiesta

Tomorrow afternoon we will celebrate my little one’s second birthday. Where in the world did two years go?? It seems like only yesterday that I was waddling around, anxiously awaiting his birth. And now he’s this tiny little man. So utterly perfect.

I really love throwing birthday parties. There’s a good possibility that I actually enjoy throwing the party more than the kids enjoy celebrating the party. And with a little bit of thoughtful planning, I find it to be a relatively stress-free and enjoyable experience. In my opinion, a stress-free party is all about planning a menu which can be mostly prepared the day before and requires minimal fuss on the day off. I like dishes served cold or at room temperature or trays of food which can be reheated in the oven, while still maintaining their fresh taste and appearance. I avoid things like burgers, which need to be cooked in batches during the party and usually result in people standing around waiting for the platter to be refilled. I think burgers are great for barbecues, but for birthday parties, I like all the food to find its way to the table at the same time. Just my personal preference.

I also like to vary our party menus so that there’s always something new for our guests to enjoy. I’ve also got a few party standards, which I make again and again, like the Dinosaur Bar B Que Macaroni Salad. For this little fiesta, I’ll be serving an assortment of sandwiches and salads. Hopefully there will be a little something to delight everyone’s tastebuds.

Sandwich and Salad Party Menu

Sandwiches

Waldorf Chicken Salad on Pain de Campagne

Egg Salad on Marble Rye

Honey-Roasted Turkey Breast with Lorraine Swiss, Thinly Sliced Pears and Honey-Mustard on Mutligrain Baguette

PB&J on White

Roast Beef, Cheddar, and Apple with Horseradish Sauce on Onion Rolls

Prosciutto and Figs with Gorgonzola Cream on French Baguette

Fresh Mozzarella and Roasted Red Tomatoes with Basil Pesto on Ciabatta

Salads

Dinosaur Bar B Que Macaroni Salad

Greek Couscous Salad

Ambrosia Salad

Napa Cabbage  Salad

Today’s mission was simple. Prepare as much of the food as possible.

I started with the Ambrosia Salad. Ambrosia is a childhood favorite of mine. Seriously, it’s hard to disappoint kids with a salad whose main ingredient is marshmallows. My Aunt Theresa is the queen of ambrosia, so I use her recipe, which couldn’t be simpler. There are no set measurements and it’s almost impossible to mess up. Simply mix a bag of mini marshmallows with a can or two of strained mandarin oranges and a can or two of strained pineapple tidbits. Then mix in about 1/2 cup of sour cream. If desired, throw in a cup of shredded coconut. Stir and refrigerate. Make a few hours or a day ahead of time. If desired, garnish with marashino cherries.

Next, I got to work on the Greek Couscous Salad, another simple and delicious side salad. Simply cook some couscous according to package directions. Allow it to cool for a few minutes. Then, I made a greek vinaigrette using lemon juice, red wine vinegar, olive oil, garlic, a bit of greek seasoning, salt and pepper. Toss the couscous in the dressing. Throw in some crumbled feta cheese, chopped kalamata olives, marinated artichoke hearts, and sun-dried tomatoes.

The macaroni salad is one of my recurring regulars. I use the Dinosaur Bar B Que recipe, found in their cookbook. As I’ve mentioned before, I have a bit of an aversion to mayonnaise. So, I tend to avoid salads dripping in mayo. The Dinosaur recipe is hands-down my favorite macaroni salad, since it incorporates a good amount of creole mustard into the dressing, which cuts the mayo consistency. The flavor is fantastic! The salad starts with a pound of small pasta shells. Throw in some chopped celery, tomatoes, and green peppers. For the dressing, combine a cup of mayo (Hellmans, of course) with 1/4 cup of Creole Mustard. (I tend to add a bit more mustard). Add a teaspoon of brown sugar, 4 cloves of minced garlic, salt, and pepper. Toss the dressing with the pasta and veggies, then refrigerate to cool.

My egg salad recipe couldn’t be simpler. Hard boil some eggs. Cool the eggs under cold running water. Remove the shells and cut the eggs in half. Remove the yolks and place in a bowl. Use a fork to crush the yolks. Combine with enough mayonnaise and mustard until creamy. Season with salt and pepper. Chop the egg whites and add to the bowl. Slice a few green onions and add. Stir until well mixed.

I prepared my recipe for Waldorf Chicken Salad, which you can find here and my Basil Pesto recipe, which you can find here. To keep things simple tomorrow, I also sliced the mozzarella and the figs and prepared the honey-mustard sauce, horseradish sauce, and gorgonzola cream for the sandwiches.

For dessert, I baked my little guy a giant cupcake, using my favorite chocolate cake recipe, found here. I decorated the top with a dumptruck and candy rocks, per his request.


I made a double batch of the cake batter, so that I could bake some cupcakes. But, I way overfilled the cupcake pan, which caused the cakes to overflow. They began to fall apart when I tried to remove them from the pan. They were not in any condition for frosting. So, rather than waste the perfectly tasty cakes, I made Muddy Cups; a perfect addition to the Construction theme we’ve got going on. I stuffed the slightly mangled cupcakes into the bottom of small plastic cups. Then I covered them with a scoop of chocolate pudding and sprinkled them with crushed Oreos and candy rocks.

I’ll also be serving a Caramel Apple Cake and Peanut Butter and Jelly Baklava. Those recipes will follow at a later date.


It was a productive day and we’re in good shape for tomorrow’s party. All that remains for tomorrow is composing the actual sandwiches, baking the Caramel Apple Cake, and decorating, of course! Should be a fun, stress-free, and tasty party!

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The Gourmand Mom

Good food, seasoned with a dash of life

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