Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Trip to Minnesota

The cherry tree off my deck...taken right before I left. Note the netting (done by great loves Steve and AJ) to save the cherries from the robins. Friends will pick the fruit come the first week in July and hopefully save me some so we'll have cherry pie come Thanksgiving.
Dear Friends: The blog is somewhat on hold temporarily; isn't that what hold means?

I made it to Minnesota with two cars, a husband, a daughter and a puppy and without a working printer, computer or much in the way of kitchen equipment.

Two days of driving, one night in a hotel and ... then... school for the first time since 1976. Not only school, graduate school. Well, there's not much time to eat, much less cook. Maybe that ten pounds will finally come off. Ok, twenty. I've been here almost five days and have yet to unpack my suitcase or do any grocery shopping beyond already-roasted chicken and pre-grilled vegetables. God is, indeed, the love of my life as he placed a Whole Foods store 1 block from the apartment, on the way home from organ practice and the class on Choral Scores Analysis. More on this another day. How I love it all; how badly I'm doing and ok with that, too. Some days. (Do you know the fifty types of French Chanson?)

Anywho, I'll be studying for a couple of months and know that the blog will be up in a more intelligible way in a little over a week--please!-- when cameras, computers, etc. are all in working order and grades are posted for the first class. Meantime, enjoy a short article from the cookbook on what to do with... you guessed it... chicken. Go back and make Moroccan Chicken (first May blog) if you are desperate for a recipe.

Chicken Salads, Sandwiches, etc.
a few ideas for the roasted chicken you stored in the frig last night

-I think my family is most happy I’ve roasted a chicken the next day. There are chunky chicken sandwiches (with salt and mayonnaise) for lunch or even dinner.

-Salad? Put some on top of your favorite Caesar (check out my recipe for Caesar Salad to Call Your Own) or tear onto top of mixed greens. If you choose the mixed greens version, add some grated cheddar and top with salsa and crushed tortilla chips.

-Easy pedestrian chicken salads for toast, crackers or greens:

Mix into chopped chicken a small amount of onion, double that of celery and add a little poultry seasoning and pepper. Stir in mayonnaise and add salt, if needed.
Mix into chopped chicken some green grapes, pecans, pineapple, onion and curry powder to taste. Add mayonnaise to moisten. Sprinkle with salt and pepper after tasting. Mix well; serve on bed of greens or as is.

-How about chicken tacos? Roll up chicken and chopped green peppers in tortillas and add salsa to satisfy.

-Do you love frittatas? Use potatoes, chicken, onions and basil in this one.

-What about fast soup? In a small kettle, sauté one cup each chopped onions, celery and carrots. Add 2 quarts of chicken broth. Bring to a boil and add some fresh vegetables such as asparagus, green beans, cabbage, zucchini (or all). Turn down heat, cover, and simmer until vegetables are done. If you have fresh spinach and basil, add them now. Stir in 1T chopped garlic. A little chopped leftover pasta or rice would serve to make the soup heartier. Potatoes? Why not? Stir for a minute and add chopped chicken. Check for seasoning. Serve w/ grated parmesan.

- Call it anything but leftovers; you’ve got a meal!

Sing a new song, loved ones,


Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Olive Panzanella and Grilled Sausages

  • Do you love the word “panzanella?” It’s beautiful, isn’t it? As a musician, the sound of it brings a sweet pitch to mind… and a drawing out of the eh of “ella,” with a tad of dipthong present… a big no-no for singers. So it goes something like, “pahnzahnayhhhhhhlllahhh….” Maybe to you, it doesn’t have such a ringing tone. Maybe, to you, it sounds like one of Cinderella’s stepsisters. But you also might wonder what in the world is panzanella, much less olive panzanella. I never heard of olive panzanella either, but I made it.
    Ok; here goes: Pane is bread in Italian…. Panzanella is a dish made with Tuscan bread that is a day old (Oh what lovely things we do with day-old bread...) and traditionally is made with tomatoes, basil, onions, cucumbers and olive oil. I am a twister and turner of “traditional” dishes, adding what I have in my pantry or frig and making them into traditional Colorado Springs dishes. After all, I am not in Tuscany; I am blessed to eat Marigold’s bread in Colorado Springs… and I am without cucumbers as I am rapidly paring down my frig to be away from home for two months. (More on that later.) My basil (all four plants) promptly died after planting, but I do have thyme… and there was still parsley in my veg drawer. Closer inspection (read that cleaning out) of the middle shelf led me to olives stuffed with garlic leftover from my daughter’s graduation party. Et voila, olive panzanella. Things that grow together go together, is the saying.
    This is a wonderful meal to serve in the summer when tomatoes (and basil if you make it the typical Italian way) are full, ripe, round and warmly fragrant. It is perhaps a tish early in the season, particularly in Colorado, to make it now, but hey, I had the tomatoes and went for it. You can substitute some dried thyme (1/2 if) for the fresh if you have to, but try to use the fresh parsley at least. I think you could be absolutely inventive with your veg. (beans, asparagus?)
    So turn your eyes to heaven, breathe deeply and shrug your shoulders back squarely before you say the best grace you can before this meal begins (and afterward, too, if you are a Jew); it is one for which to be very thankful. Being grateful, as a way of life, is healthy, I think, for me. Maybe for you, too. A great practice. This meal is simple, fast, even frugal and still feeling decadent. Oooo. (Lower your eyebrows and pucker up big when you “ooooo.”)
    One note about the olive oil. Don’t skimp on the oil for your dressing. First of all, make your own dressing and you’ll save money not having to BUY bottled dressings (check the ingredients sometime), have great salads and not ruin costly veg. Many homemade dressings do store for several days or more. When folks talk about what a great salad that was, it was usually because 1. the ingredients were fresh and 2. so was the salad dressing. I use, for dressings, Olio Santo (California.) For cooking, I use whatever Olive Oil (not EVOO) is on sale.
    To taste dressing, get a little piece of lettuce from frig and dip very lightly a teense into the dressing. Good? Bad? Salty? Oily? Vinegary? Adjust one of these and try again. Better? Worse? Bland? Needs zing? (try a drop or two of Tabasco)
    Wine: Why not go the whole Italian way and sip a Chiani Classico? On the other hand, there’s hardly anything better than California Zinfandel with sausage. Neither are expensive, though you can find expensive examples if you want to.
    If you have become a recent lover of wine, find a wine shop in which you’re comfortable (where the help is approachable and helpful) and frequent it. Make yourself a customer and get to know the wine people there so that you’re comfortable going in and asking for “a zinfandel under $15.00.” Not everyone can afford expensive wines often. I think of it like this: every day wine, weekend wine, birthday wine, graduation wine, etc. The numbers are then not so staggering. Besides, if you’re cooking at home, my friend, you’re already saving your bucks. Buying decent wine OUT is really a lot more; drink it at home. “Better wine and better food at home” is the phrase we use to not eat out.

    Dessert: Semifreddo Espresso. Brew 2 cups of espresso. Pour a ½ cup each over each of 4 cups of vanilla ice cream. Use gorgeous small lotus bowls. Smile.

    Make the meal bigger for company: Add a cheese plate and/or a first course soup.

    Time to cook:

    Olive Panzanella with Grilled Italian Sausages
    Serves 4

    Sausages: 4 fresh Italian sausage links and ¼ c Dijon mustard
    Place mustard in a small serving bowl and set aside. Fill a 4 qt. saucepan half full with water. Add sausages and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower heat and simmer sausages about 5 minutes to cook off some of the fat. Remove from water and grill over medium heat until crispy brown. Set aside, covered.

    12” Baguette, cut into 1-2” chunks (stale is good; new will still work)
    1-2T olive oil
    Kosher salt and freshly black ground pepper
    1 each: red, yellow and green bell (sweet) peppers, cut into 1” dice
    ½ med red onion, slivered
    2 lrg or 3 medium ripe tomatoes, cut into 1/8s
    ½ c sliced green olives stuffed with garlic
    2T capers (chopped finely if the large ones)
    ½ c fresh parsley, minced, plus 2-3 sprigs for garnish
    2-3 t fresh thyme leaves

    Dressing: (You'll use it all.)
    1 T Dijon mustard
    3 T red wine vinegar
    ½ t garlic, minced
    ½ c (8T) extra-virgin olive oil, best quality
    ½ t Kosher salt
    ¼ t Freshly ground black pepper

    Heat olive oil over low-medium heat with a dusting of salt and pepper. Add cut-up bread and brown slowly, toasting evenly and tossing with tongs for 5-10 minutes until golden.

    Meantime, make salad dressing in a large bowl. Whisk the mustard, vinegar and garlic together. Add oil slowly, whisking still, until shiny and somewhat opaque. Season with salt and pepper. Add chopped vegetables and herbs. Season once again. Add toasted bread and stir gently, but thoroughly. Let sit 10-15 minutes. Garnish with parsley. Serve with sausages topped with the Dijon mustard.

    Eat all of the salad; it doesn’t keep.

    Here's the Gabster, still looking good from
    her day at the groomer's.

    Sing a new song,

    P.S. Re being gone: I move to St. Paul ( temporarily) this Saturday for two months to do some graduate work in liturgical music at University of St. Thomas. I'll also be within walking distance of a hugging group of old cooking friends...... Move with me and keep up on the blog, which will feature SUMMER IN THE CITY food and HOW TO COOK AWAY FROM HOME IN A FURNISHED (NO GOOD KNIVES; NO CUISINART) KITCHEN WITH A GREAT NEIGHBORHOOD FOR GROCERIES AND THE BEST FARMERS' MARKETS........

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Mustard-Rosemary Green Bean Salad

Over the weekend, perhaps you were very blessed indeed and grilled some steaks, chicken breasts or pork chops with someone you love. While it’s summer some places, in Colorado, it’s still a tad nippy at night. (Time for the gray sweatshirt hoodie.)
God, I’ll trust, was with you and you spent an evening on the deck with some people you enjoy SO MUCH….and you spent more time at the table than in the kitchen.
Someone identified a contstellation maybe. (Mary, not Martha) You might have had a nice salad and that bottle of wine you couldn’t afford, but your friend who COULD, brought along. (When we eat together, life changes in ways we don’t anticipate.) Maybe your daughter made dessert and your son (if old enough) put some old Simon and Garfunkel or Tony Bennett for Lovers on the stereo. People began to breathe somewhat slower… and some told a story or two from the week. One just sat there sighing, taking in the air with a little peace.
(At left: view to north from our deck.)

“Phew” was almost said out loud. There were no “you should…” or “why didn’t you…”s Maybe you rolled your eyes at yourself and smiled. (Did I really think that was SO important; THIS is what’s important.) No matter what, eventually your spine relaxed as your face softened and your breath became even and you came to the table knowing you were cared for and enjoyed.

Well, you had some leftovers, didn’t you? Sunday night rolled around…not a big time to cook, but still a time to be together. Blessed indeed were you if you worshiped together sometime as my family did. (It's Trinity Sunday.) There’s a bit of meat in the frig and some cooked green beans…what to do with them?
Here’s a sweet green bean salad you could throw together. Granted, you needed to have been growing some rosemary in your south window (who wants to pay the $3.50 for a tiny, old packet of it in the grocery). Use dried if you don’t have it. Rosemary is for remembrance… check it out. Throw a bit of the meat, thinly sliced, on the side of the plate (almost like a garnish) and make most of the meal veg tonight. It’ll feel good. Have a bit of wine if there’s any left; tomorrow’s Monday, folks.
Take the cool Sunday night air in through your nose and feel it reach all the way down to your ribs and below. Still time to rest before the week begins again.

Wine: Nice California it if you had leftover beef or pork.
If you had chicken or fish left, put out some Sauvignon Blanc.

Mustard-Rosemary Green Bean Salad
4 approx. 2” new potatoes, cut into 1/8’s
18 1” baby tomatoes
2T olive oil (plain quality is fine)
Kosher Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 c haricots verts or young green beans, cooked until tender
2 T chopped fresh rosemary
2 springs rosemary, for garnish

1T Dijon mustard
1T white wine vinegar ( I like Chardonnay)
2T extra-virgin olive oil, best quality
Pinch kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Place cut up potatoes in a glass pie pan or casserole with ¼ c water. Cover with dinner plate and microwave 4-5 minutes on high until tender. Drain and set to one side.
Meantime, heat olive oil over medium heat in medium skillet. Add a dusting of kosher salt and freshly ground pepper and sauté for 15 seconds. Add baby tomatoes and cook for about five minutes. Put microwaved potatoes in pan with tomatoes and sauté 10 minutes or so until tomatoes are softened and potatoes have begun to look a bit crispy.

Dressing: In a large mixing bowl, whisk together Dijon mustard and Chardonnay vinegar. Slowly pour in olive oil, whisking until emulsified. (Creamy and satiny) Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Add cooked haricots verts/green beans to dressing and mix lightly. Pour beans onto large platter and top with tomato/potato mixture. Garnish with rosemary sprigs

Here are the animals this weekend-Gabby (aka Gabriella) got groomed (woo hoo) and Russert (neighborhood stray/sometimes ours) hung on the front porch:

Enjoy the whole crew!

Sing a new song--maybe you did Saturday night!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Carrot Cake Baby Shower

This blog dedicated to our new little friend-to-be, N.R.W.
Baby and bridal showers can be so complicated, intense and have just too much food. There was a time when such events were not much more than cake, punch and mints and nuts on the table. Now, they've turned into rich buffets (with rich presents involved) in homes or even more expensive, rich meals at restaurants. Why not go back to the easy style of shower...a few treats, a couple of games to lighten up the day and lots of chatter and laughter? After all, the person giving the event has first got to organize it, cook a bit and definitely dust something or other (a lick and a promise is my idea of cleaning) before the guests arrive.
Spending the day loving the guest of honor and not worrying about the food or the house would be the goal here.

I hosted a baby shower last week for one of my good friends and made it easy, easy, easy. Here's the menu:

** Sangria (see Chicken Taco Salad blog from last Monday)
** White wine
** Iced Tea/Water
** Spinach Dip and tortilla chips (brought by the grandma-to-be)
** 3 different cheeses (Humboldt Fog, Manchego, and Gouda) with
** 2 kinds of crackers and some thinly-sliced baguette
** Lindt truffles in small bowls around room

Carrot Cake

Of course, there's a story for the carrot cake.
I once worked for the National Trust for Historic Preservation in Washington, D.C. I held several different jobs (mostly library ones), but finally moved out to Woodlawn Plantation in Mt. Vernon, Virginia. Woodlawn is a beautiful house, built by George Washington for his foster daughter, Nelly Custis Lewis. Originally part of the Mt. Vernon estate, it is just down the road from that lovely house and just north of Ft. Belvoir.
We had a great group of people working there, all of whom I loved dearly; I was quite attached to them. Lots of healing went on there after a few traumatic years of my life. Among the great work force was housekeeper Grace Herson. A nearly-elderly woman then, the mansion was a big place with which to keep up and she cooked for us, too! When there was a fine occasion or some vip was coming, Grace would make her carrot cake. We all adored it.

I left Woodlawn in 1985 after my husband went to Officer's Training School and we were then transfered to Spokane, Washington. When it was time for me to go, the people I worked with wrote a cookbook for me, putting down on paper in one book all of their favorite recipes that we had eaten together over the years. Grace included a few, but the carrot cake was the one I've treasured over the years. Here's Grace's version that has become mine over the intervening years... and never fails to make a big hit, especially among carrot cake lovers. I doubled it for the shower and baked it in a 1/2 sheet cake pan.

Grace's Carrot Cake
makes 1 9x13 cake; serves 12
2 c whole wheat
2 c sugar
2 t baking powder
2 t baking soda
2 t cinnamon
1 t salt
4 eggs
1 1/2 c vegetable oil (I use Canola now)
3 c grated carrots (blotted dry w/ towel if you use food processor)
1 c chopped nuts

Icing: 1 8 oz pkg cream cheese, 4 T softened butter, 3 1/2 c powdered sugar, 2 t vanilla

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.  (If you make cupcakes, use 350 F.)
Cake: mix dry ingredients together and add eggs, oil and mix well. Add carrots and nuts. Turn into greased 9x13x2" pan and bake 45-55 minutes until a toothpick stuck in middle comes out clean. Cool well in pan and ice. Refrigerate if not eating that day. Cake freezes very well for up to one month.

Icing: Beat cream cheese and butter together very well for 2 minutes. Slowly add powdered sugar (or you'll have a big mess).

Beat in vanilla and whip icing until very smooth.

Sing a new song, and great thanks to the mother-to-be.........someone very special, who's been a pewmate in a new church for the last several months (what a difference that's made) and is also the daughter of one of my very closest friends,

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

My cookies: I can hardly remember a time when I didn’t make these cookies, but it has, perhaps, been only 25 years. I don’t know where the recipe came from, but it may have been from an oatmeal box. I keep looking at new oatmeal boxes, though, and, as things like that go, it’s not there… so I’m not sure. Over the years, of course, the recipe has developed; it can be modified to fit your favorite ingredients, as well.
My kids grew up with these favorite gems; my husband nearly passed out wanting to get home from many long trips.. Knowing the cookies were waiting for him. Sometimes there’d be no dinner, but there’d be cookies. The cookies went across the country, back and forth, up and down. We’re in our 23rd house now. The cookies spent two years in Germany, where there were no chocolate chips. My German friends cried for them when we moved back to the states, knowing they couldn’t make the cookies themselves without the commissary ingredients. (Today you can order anything on-line.) The cookies went to Christmas parties in Washington, D.C. and Spokane, to summer church pot-lucks in Dayton, and to many a church choir rehearsal in many a state. I had to feed these people; they sang their hearts out. The cookies, with an updated ingredient list, went through the mail as birthday gifts to my best friend, who shared them with co-workers who later begged for the recipe and then complained they just weren’t the same. ( I think I’ve solved their problem.) When we went to my sister's house, she would say, "Did you bring the cookies?" or "Are you going to make your cookies?"
The cookies went, period. There’s a tub of them in the kitchen right now and two neighbors have been munching on them this minute because they were smart enough to walk their dogs at the right time. And, dogs, too, want these cookies. (Is that saying much when you think of the things dogs WILL eat?) Our dogs, including our sweet Fiona, loved these cookies. Our precious Magi (before Fiona) had such a love affair with them that once when I tried to take a plate of them outdoors to a hardworking husband building a picnic table, she jumped so high to get one that I had to hold them over my head to get them out the door. Two of them made it into her mouth as I recall. (Careful: chocolate is poisonous to dogs.)
Most any chocolate chip cookie is decent and edible. Folks have loved them since Ruth Wakefield made a mistake with her cookies at the Toll House Inn in Whitman, Mass in the ‘30s. The things that really make the difference between good and great cookies are, to some people, the small things. To bakers, however (and I count myself among their number), these small things are paramount.
*Room temperature eggs. Good great big ones, with nearly orange yolks.
Real butter.
* Mixing the butter and sugar for several minutes, not seconds.( I had no mixer for many years and beat them by hand. Now I’m blessed with that Kitchen Aid living on my counter. )
*The best chocolate you can afford.
*Switching the cookie sheets halfway through baking so that they bake evenly… changing racks AND turning the sheets from front to back and back to front.
* Getting them out before they’re too done and letting them sit on the sheets for two minutes so they don’t fall apart when they’re transferred to racks.
* Using RACKS to cool the cookies.
* Storing them in real Tupperware. Freezing them that day if they won’t be eaten
And so on. You get the picture. We’re fussy creatures, we bakers. You’ll know why soon.
I’m not a baker who is a hoarder of recipes and, yes, these people exist. But, for some reason, I’ve never shared this recipe too much and I don’t know why. I don’t think I’m going there. Today, though, is your lucky day.
I made 4 batches of these for my daughter’s college graduation party. (See previous blog.) I stacked them towering high in a great basket lined with a blue and white checked picnic cloth that had graced her toddler table on holidays when we lived in San Antonio and Dayton. People told me they ate four and five of them (after dinner) and were proud of it instead of embarrassed. I’ll bet you have the same thing happen in your life. Make a lot. Give them away.

Cookies aren’t cookies until you give them away. (Oh, boy…….)

If you’ve had a favorite chocolate chip cookie (I’ve looked this up…Levain Bakery, Tate’s Bake Shop, Marnee’s Cookies, your sister's, your mother's, etc.), I’m guessing that is about to change. Your own cookies are now going to be your favorite. Try them. Twice- if the first time you’re not satisfied. Tweak a bit as you’ll remember I’m at altitude. Do not leave that oven while they’re baking unless you move quickly to the other side of the kitchen to make a pot of coffee, pour a glass of milk or a fine California Cabernet Sauvignon… Yes, this to –die- for wine is made for chocolate, friends. Spend the money and… don’t weep. Enjoy it. God made these things to enjoy. No need for guilt. Really.
Do you remember a Freudian saying that somehow notes, “There’s no problem a hot bath can’t solve?” (And that’s true. Just try it on a regular basis; we don’t need fast showers all of the time.) I’m on to believing it’s true of homemade cookies.
Ok; that's enough. On to the real things. Please let me know how they come out or or if you still like YOUR FAVORITE best?

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies (6-7 doz; recipe can be halved)
2 ½ c butter
1 ½ c brown sugar
1 c white, granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2t vanilla extract
3 c flour
2 t salt
2 t baking soda
6 c Old-fashioned oats
24 oz chocolate chips (2 regular size pkg) or 2 c raisins, if you prefer
1 ½ c roughly chopped nuts, optional

Note: if you have a hand-held mixer, make a HALF BATCH ONLY AT A TIME
Preheat oven to 375 F.
Cream butter and both sugars in mixing bowl for 2-3 minutes, using electric mixer, until light in color and texture. Scrape down sides of bowl.
Add eggs and vanilla. Beat for one minute and scrape bowl again. Put flour, salt and baking soda into bowl and mix together separately on top of wet ingredients. Beat for 1-2 minutes or until well-incorporated. Do not over-mix. Slowly add oats until just mixed.* Add chocolate and nuts by mixer if you can, by hand if you can’t.
Form into 1 ½” balls using your hands or a small scoop and place 9 or 12 cookies on each ungreased sheet.** Flatten cookies using the palm of your hand to about 1/3 “ deep. Bake 8-10 minutes until just getting golden brown at edges. I f baking more than one tray at a time , switch trays and turn them around half-way through the baking time. Watch them closely so they don’t get very brown.

Remove trays from oven; let sit 2 minutes. Remove cookies to cooling racks using very thin stainless steel spatula. Let cool. Store tightly covered in Tupperware. Freeze if not using today or tomorrow.
*A hand mixer may not be able to accomplish the entire oatmeal addition you can cut the recipe in half and have much less trouble mixing in the oats.

**I use heavy-duty Williams-Sonoma baking sheets, which will probably last most of a lifetime.

Sing a new song,

Monday, June 1, 2009

Chicken Taco Salad Bar Party for 25

Why do we shy away from inviting a group-any size, really- of people to eat at our table (or sit on the floor) and warm their hearts with us? What stops us? Larger parties just put people to shaking their heads and sort of pulling their lower lips to one side, gritting teeth, thinking about the need to paint the house, clean the carpet, re-do the bathroom, install new lighting fixtures, buy all new dishes, pots and pans and wine glasses, and, as my husband says, “alphabetize the spices.” In other words, we want to do everything that ever needed to be done (preferably in one week/day? or less) in the last five years. (Above and below photos-favorite family/friends come visit for the chicken salad taco party in honor our our daughter's college graduation.)
Once, many years ago now, we were having our good friends, Susan and Charles (with kids) over for a Christmas night buffet.
Early that afternoon, my lovely guy decided it was time to pull apart the kitchen chairs and re-glue them. Oh, boy. (I did stop him.)
We suffer from the perfection-for-company gene and, if we’re not careful, we tire ourselves out with that worry. We may easily not enjoy the special day we planned for our friends and loved ones or, even, worse, we’ll give up and either not have the party or we’ll throw in the dishrag and pay through the nose for a restaurant event. I have one friend who says, “I can’t even get the house clean, much less cook for anyone.” And that’s the story of our busy lives. I have one question. With what are we so busy that we have no time to spend with those we love? Why are we so worried about the cleanliness of our house or the tidiness of the yard or our own cooking skills? I truly don’t believe anyone cares about the state of our abode or the perfect food preparation, but they really do care about being together. People, all of us, feel the pain of isolation in our hurry-hurry lives and wonder why they’re not invited for dinner.
To have time to eat together requires a little planning, a little shopping, a little work.
Not so much more than you do anyway. Spending more time at the table has rewards much greater than a full stomach or an evening out; it fosters learning about others’ lives and sharing in the good, bad and indifferent if done on a regular basis. It warms up the laughter that has cooled in our hearts and takes it out on the breeze where it can flap around and do some good for everyone. We are meant to be together and, just as there are no atheists in fox holes, there are few (I can’t say none!) enemies around a table, loved ones.
If you are a practicing Christian (and even if you aren’t), take a look at what Jesus did the night before he knew he was going to die. He called his friends together to eat and told them to keep on eating together and… to love one another. I’m almost sure he didn’t re-carpet or worry about his china matching. His prescription was one we can look at for an example. He had no home; he had no church. He had hospitality of the heart.
So look at this plan for a grilled chicken taco supper party for 25 that you can use anytime. We put it together for our daughter Emily’s college graduation party, but you can have it for any weekend or the Fourth of July, even. The key, here, folks, to an enjoyable afternoon or evening is absolute simplicity of menu. One starter, two at the outside, (store-bought), two drinks (one alcoholic, one not), one main course, a pre-made dessert and coffee ready to go in the big pot you borrowed from your cousin Tess. The fewer decisions you give your guests, the less work you have and the more space you have in which to serve eat and enjoy.
Before I give you the menu, a few words of advice about getting your abode and the party itself ready:
1. No huge household projects that month.
2. Take an afternoon off the day before and get the serving dishes out (and cleaned) and set up everything you can ahead. (Hire someone to clean or give a kid a few bucks to help.)
3. Give yourself time to breathe and enjoy the journey of preparation; you’re doing something wonderful for people you care about. Smile and actually plan on having fun yourself. Think of the example of hospitality you’ll be setting for your children, friends and family.
4. Use disposable items if your conscience can bear it. (Or hire your kids to do the dishes)

Time to visit, catch up...

Time to learn, be close..

Even laugh!

*2 lb Manchego cheese served on a large platter with Quince paste and crackers
*Tortilla chips and salsa (you’re buying these ingredients for the tacos, buy extra for the starters with no extra work)
*Sangria (I offer a recipe; you can also buy it)
*Iced Tea (premade in bottles in cooler)
*Water (same story as tea)
*Chicken Taco Salad (Start a day ahead for marinating chicken)
*3 loaves best local bakery French bread, garlic bread or tortillas (with butter)
*Chocolate Chip Cookies (or have two neighbors each make a gallon of ice cream) Make ahead and freeze. Cookie recipe is next blog…

(Start day before)
4 bottles red wine of any sort (I like Rioja, a med.-bodied rough Spanish red, but also
use the bottles people give us that we don’t adore)
4 lemons cut into wedges
4 limes ditto
4 oranges ditto
1 c simple syrup (boil equal amts. water and white sugar together briefly and cool)
1 qt. orange juice
4 shots triple sec
2 bottles seltzer water or low-sodium club soda

Macerate cut up fruit in wine only overnight (let fruit soak up wine.) Add simple syrup to taste to desired sweetness (you may not want it all). Put ¼ of mixture into a large pitcher or punch bowl and add ¼ of the juice, triple sec and seltzer. Repeat process as necessary when sangria runs low. Serve over lots of ice.

Chicken Taco Salad Bar for 25
(need to begin a day before serving)

2 jars (7 oz) canned chipotle chiles in adobo, chopped
¼ c canola oil
¼ c olive oil
6 t garlic minced
2 large onions, chopped coarsely
3/4 c fresh cilantro, chopped
5 T smoky paprika
5 t cumin
5t chili powder
3 t Kosher salt

25 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (Don’t marinate 2-3 pieces)

3 10 oz containers mixed greens
2 c grape tomatoes
1 large onion, slivered, divided
3 15 oz cans black beans, drained and rinsed
2 large sweet peppers, one red, one yellow, chopped and divided
1T olive oil
Kosher Salt and freshly ground pepper
Tabasco sauce
2pounds shredded Vermont cheddar
16 oz container low-fat sour cream
2 jars Litehouse ranch (light) dressing (comes cold in produce section)
1 jar (16 oz) Jardine’s 7J Ranch Campfire roasted medium salsa
4 c pre-made (or homemade if time) guacamole
4 c crushed tortilla chips (or left whole if you prefer)

Mix the marinade ingredients in a large bowl or process in the food processor. (You might save a little of this out for folks who would appreciate a very spicy dressing on their salad.) Place all but 2-3 chicken breasts (for folks who can’t do spicy) in gallon freezer bags, cover with marinade evenly and close bags securely. Mush the bags in order to make sure all chicken is covered. Put the chicken you did NOT marinade in a separate bag. Place all bags in refrigerator overnight or at least eight hours before cooking.

Mix ranch dressing with salsa and refrigerate in covered medium pitcher.

Place 1 T olive oil in medium saucepan, add 2T slivered onion and 2/ c chopped sweet peppers (some of each color) and sauté for 5 minutes.
Add black beans and cook over medium heat for 5-10 minutes, stirring frequently. Season to taste with salt, pepper and Tabasco. Place in small crock-pot and set dial to warm or low.

Place greens, tomatoes, remaining onions, remaining peppers, cheddar, sour cream, guacamole and tortilla chips each in separate serving containers and place on table or counter to create taco bar. Plug in pot of beans on bar or nearby. Remove chipotle-ranch dressing pitcher from frig. If you saved a bit of the marinade, place it in a small pitcher, labeled, on bar.

Grill chicken on grill about 6 minutes on each side. Slice each breast into 6 or so pieces and place chicken in warm dish at bar. Cook and serve unmarinated chicken breasts separately. Let folks build their own salads on large, strong paper plates. Serve with big chunks of great French bread and butter,
enjoy smile laugh eat drink be merry be one together dance sing open eyes see....
Sing a new song,

In memoriam...

Our sweet love and cooking companion, Fiona (11 1/2) had to be euthanized last Friday. She would eat nearly anything I cooked and was the essence of unconditional love in our house and kitchen. We will miss her forever.