Quick & Easy Halloween Treat

Posted by on Oct 26, 2012

This “Monster Mix” party mix is an easy, quick and inexpensive treat for a Halloween get together. Or, portion the mix into treat bags or mason jars to give to teachers, coworkers, or party goers as a party favor.

In a large mixing bowl, combine:

3 c. Golden Grahams cereal (“mummy scabs”)
2 c. mini marshmallows (“ghost poop”)
2 c. candy corn (“goblin teeth”)
1 c. semisweet chocolate morsels (“witch warts”)

Serve immediately, or store in an airtight container and use within two days. (The marshmallows lose their fluffiness and the cereal loses its crunch after that.) Yield: 16 servings.

To get the look shown, I used small mason jars ($1.49 each at World Market) and cut scraps of Halloween fabrics into 6-inch squares with pinking shears to cover the lids. Screw on the collar and finish with a ribbon or a piece of twine (use what you have!). To download the printable (and adorable!) labels, right click on the photo of the label below and choose “save image as.”

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St. Patrick’s Day Cupcakes

Posted by on Mar 6, 2012

St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Saturday this year, and it will be a premium day for entertaining. The theme and menu practically plan themselves! If corned beef and cabbage isn’t your style, how about a new twist – serve up corned beef sliders topped with cabbage slaw. For music, tap into an online music service such as Pandora and call up a Celtic station to add some Irish ambiance. And for dessert, try one (or both!) of these cupcake ideas, each topped with a decadent Irish Cream Cheese Frosting. (Note: these cupcakes are for grown ups only!)

Irish Stout ‘n Chocolate Cupcakes

The addition of a stout beer adds a chewy texture to these deep, rich goodies.

2 c. all purpose flour
2 c. sugar
¾ c. cocoa powder
1 t. baking soda
½ t. salt
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
1 12 oz. bottle stout Irish beer (such as Guinness)
1 t. vanilla extract
3 eggs
¾ c. sour cream

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 24 muffin tins with paper liners.

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda and salt. In a separate bowl, combine the butter, beer and vanilla. Add eggs, 1 at a time, whisking after each addition. Whisk in the sour cream until smooth and well combined. Add the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients a little at a time, stirring until completely combined. (Batter will be somewhat thin.) Fill the muffin tins ¾ full and bake for 24 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.

Spiked Irish Spice Cupcakes

1 box yellow cake mix (plus ingredients called for on the box)
1 ½ t. cinnamon
½ t. ground ginger
¼ t. ground nutmeg
¼ t. ground cloves
1 c. Irish whiskey, divided

Preheat oven directed on the cake mix package. Line 24 muffin tins with paper liners. Prepare the mix as directed on the package, except:

  • Stir the spices into the dry mix before adding the wet ingredients.
  • Substitute ½ c. whiskey for ½ c. of the liquid called for on the package.

Fill the muffin tins and bake as directed. Cool on a wire rack. With a bamboo skewer, make several holes in the top of each cupcake. Using a pastry brush, brush each cupcake generously with the remaining whiskey. Allow to set at least 15 minutes before icing with the Irish Cream Cheese Frosting.

Irish Cream Cheese Frosting

1 8 oz. package cream cheese, softened
¾ c. Irish cream liqueur (such as Bailey’s)
5 to 6 c. powdered sugar

In a large mixing bowl, with a hand mixer on medium speed, beat the cream cheese until it’s fluffy. Add the liqueur and beat until well combined. On low speed, add the sugar one cup at a time until everything is incorporated and the frosting is fluffy and holds its shape. (The frosting will be soft.)

To ice the cupcakes, first allow the cupcakes to completely cool. Fit a gallon-size plastic zipper bag into a 2-cup measuring cup, folding the top of the bag over the sides of the cup. Fill the bag with frosting and gather the top of the bag, remove excess air, then zip it closed. Work the frosting down into one corner of the bag, then snip off the corner, about ¼ inch. Frost each cupcake with a swirl of frosting, keeping it away from the edge of the cupcake. This frosting will spread a bit on its own to the edge of the cupcake. (Frosts about 30 cupcakes.)

To decorate the cupcakes, make shamrocks from green melting chocolate (available at craft stores). Melt about ½ c. of disks in a microwave-safe dish according to the package directions. Fill a sandwich zipper bag with the melted chocolate; snip off the corner and pipe shamrocks on a piece of parchment paper. (Hint: Use my Shamrock template under the parchment paper to keep the shamrocks somewhat uniform.) Green decorating sugar may also be used as shown. Or, melt and swirl together green and white melting chocolates; allow to harden; and use a vegetable peeler to create chocolate shavings.

Use green melting chocolate, a plastic sandwich bag and some parchment to create professional-looking decorations!

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Sweets for Your Sweet

Posted by on Feb 3, 2012

Decadent chocolate truffles are so easy to make, I really had no idea! This recipe is very simple and can be adapted with a variety of flavors, such as extracts stirred into the chocolate or different spices or toppings coating the chocolate. When I make these, I divide the chocolate and cream into two batches and flavor them separately. In the photo, I rolled plain chocolate truffles in either cocoa or cinnamon (for a little bite) and then I made a half batch with almond extract, rolling them in either crushed toasted almonds or toasted coconut.

Easy Chocolate Truffles

8 oz. bittersweet chocolate

8 oz. semisweet chocolate
1 c. heavy whipping cream
1 T. prepared strong coffee
½ t. vanilla extract
(Optional flavorings: 2 T. liqueur such as Grand Marnier or Frangelico, or 2 t. almond extract)
Cocoa powder
¼ c. almonds, toasted and crushed finely
¼ c. shredded coconut, toasted and chopped

Chop the chocolates and place in a medium mixing bowl. Heat the cream just until boiling; pour over the chocolate. Slowing stir the mixture with a wire whisk until the chocolate is completely melted. Stir in the coffee, vanilla and an optional flavoring, if using. Allow the mixture to come to room temperature for 1 hour.

Using 2 teaspoons, form small balls of chocolate, about 1 inch in diameter. Place on parchment-lined baking sheet and refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes. Roll each mound of chocolate lightly between your hands to form a somewhat smooth ball. Roll in coating(s) of your choice. Store in an airtight container in the fridge, but allow the truffles to come to room temperature before serving. Makes about 50 truffles.

To present your sweets to your sweet here are a few ideas:- Place each truffle in a mini cupcake liner and place them in a heart-shaped box (available at craft stores).- Line a confection box (the kind with the clear cellophane window in the lid) with red tissue paper, place your truffles inside, close the lid and wrap with a red organza ribbon.- For a mini treat, place two truffles in a clear cello treat bag and tie with red, white and pink curling ribbon.Enjoy these rich and delicious treats!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Cocktail of the Month: Pink Velvet

Posted by on Feb 12, 2011

This month, in honor of Valentine’s Day, I created a bevvie reminiscent of red velvet cake. It’s “Pink Velvet” and it’s smooth, creamy and decadent. As a bonus, it’s so delicious, it can double as a dessert!

Pink Velvet

1 shot white chocolate liqueur

1 shot vanilla vodka

Splash of grenadine (or 2-3 drops of red food coloring)

Fill a cocktail shaker halfway with ice. Pour in all ingredients, cover and shake until cold and well-blended. Strain into a chilled martini glass. Serves 1.

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New Year’s Nibbles

Posted by on Dec 28, 2010

Whether you’re staying in, having a few friends over, or going to a full-on New Year’s Eve bash, satisfying snacks make a good accompaniment for the evening’s libations. Here are a few ideas for a simple buffet that is sure to please your palate and fill your stomach:

Meat and cheese display. Browse the specialty cheese section of your favorite grocery store for a few choices, maybe one bold flavor profile like a garlic cheddar; a creamy, mild Brie; and a middle of road Manchego – mix it up! Add in a dry salami or a prosciutto and serve it all up with some nuts and dried fruits and it’s a buffet on a platter.

Herbed onion focaccia. With some help from the market’s refrigerated section, this crowd pleaser takes about 30 minutes to prepare. (Recipe follows.)

Crostini trio. Three simple spreads – a roasted tomato bruschetta, a Tuscan white bean hummus, and an olive tapenade – can be whipped up in minutes and served with garlic toast. Guests help themselves to their favorites. (Recipes follow.)

As always, have plenty of water and non-alcoholic beverages on hand. If you’re having a party or going to one, be sure to have the number to a taxi service or a safe ride program so you can enjoy your evening knowing you’ll be safe, not sorry, in the New Year.

Herbed Onion Focaccia

1 package (10 to 12 oz.) refrigerated focaccia dough

¼ c. olive oil

1 T. each fresh basil and oregano, chopped

2 or 3 thin slices of red onion, separated into rings

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place the focaccia dough on a non-stick rimmed baking sheet and spread it out with your fingers until it’s even. The shape doesn’t matter. Dimple the dough with your fingertips and then prick with a fork 12 to 15 times. Brush the dough with the oil and then sprinkle with the herbs and onion. Allow the dough to rest 15 minutes. Bake 13 to 15 minutes until it’s golden brown. Allow the focaccia to cool on the pan at least 20 minutes before cutting into wedges to serve.

Crostini Trio

Garlic Toast

1 French baguette

2 cloves garlic

Slice the baguette at a slight angle into ½ inch pieces. Heat a grill pan over high heat and place the bread slices on the grill pan, turning once when nicely browned. Remove the bread slices and, while still warm, rub with garlic clove. Allow to cool.

Tuscan White Bean Hummus

Creamy, garlicky and satisfying. You may never go back to chickpea hummus again.

2 cans cannellini beans

3 cloves garlic

½ c. fresh oregano leaves, loosely packed

1 lemon

1 t. salt

½ t. black pepper

¼ c. olive oil

Rinse and drain the beans. Place the beans, garlic, oregano, the juice of 1 lemon and the salt and pepper into the work bowl of a food processor. Process until the beans are broken down and nearly smooth. With the processor running, drizzle the olive oil through the food tube of the processor until the mixture is smooth and thick. Taste for seasoning and adjust. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours to blend. Yield: 2 ½ c.

Olive Tapenade

This spread also makes a great puttanesca sauce for linguine pasta.

1 6 oz. can whole black olives

1 5.75 oz. jar green olives

1 or 2 cloves of garlic (to taste)

6 sundried tomatoes, packed in oil

¼ c. grated parmesan cheese

Pinch of red pepper flakes

¼ c. olive oil

Place all ingredients except the oil in the work bowl of a food processor. Process until the olives are finely chopped. With the processor running, drizzle the olive oil through the food tube of the processor until the mixture just holds together. Yield: 2 c.

Roasted Tomato Bruschetta

Fresh summer tomatoes make the best bruschetta, but in the winter, a quick roasting brings out the flavor of the tomatoes.

1 container grape tomatoes

3 garlic cloves, peeled



Olive oil

¼ c. chopped fresh basil

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place the tomatoes and garlic on a rimmed baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil, just enough to coat, about 2 T. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and mix to evenly coat the tomatoes. Roast in the oven for 15 minutes, shaking the pan every 5 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Discard the garlic. Cut the tomatoes in half, allowing the skins to slip off. Strain the tomatoes if necessary and mix with the basil in small bowl. Yield: about 1 ½ c.

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Ideas to Host a Dessert Buffet

Posted by on Dec 20, 2010

Tasting parties are all the rage right now. Retailers such as Pier 1 and Cost Plus have entire lines of dishware and cutlery designed for small cocktail buffets. Why not keep a tasting or “small bite” theme but make it dessert? This could easily be a post-Christmas dinner dessert course or a standalone party for New Year’s Eve. With my rule of “make three, buy three,” putting together the menu is a snap. Here are a few ideas.

Make- Marsala Pear Mini Trifles (recipe follows)- Chocolate Mousse (recipe follows)- Christmas cookies- Peanut butter balls- Whiskey balls- Candied pecans

Buy- Butter cookie variety pack- Frozen mini éclairs or cream puffs- Chocolate-covered popcorn- Mini cupcakes

Make a pot of coffee and a pot of decaf (keep the coffee in thermal cafes for easy serving) and have dessert wines and Champagne or sparkling wine on hand as well.

Shot glasses, demitasse cups or small ramekins are ideally-sized for a tasting party, and demitasse or cocktail spoons and forks are now available at a variety of retailers and price points. Of course, never be afraid to use disposal dishware or utensils!

Marsala Pear Mini Trifles

The pears and the pudding may be made ahead of time, stored in the fridge and assembled in minutes.

2 large pears

1 ½ c. Marsala wine

¼ c. sugar

1 t. vanilla

1 cinnamon stick

½ t. whole cloves

½ t. whole allspice

1 strip lemon peel

1 frozen pound cake, thawed

1 small package vanilla pudding, prepared according to the package

Peel the pears and cut in half lengthwise. Remove the core (I use a melon baller) and the tough stem fibers. Heat the wine in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the sugar and stir to dissolve. Add the vanilla, cinnamon stick, cloves, allspice and lemon peel and bring the mixture to a boil. Add the pears, cut side down. Reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes. Turn the pears over and continue to simmer until the pears are just tender when pierced with a paring knife. Remove the pears and allow to cool slightly. Strain the cooking liquid and return to the pan. Reduce the liquid over medium heat until it’s a thick syrup, about five minutes. Meanwhile, dice the pears into small pieces. Add a tablespoon of syrup to the pears and toss to coat.

To assemble, cut 8 slices of pound cake about 3/8 inch thick. Cut pieces of the cake to fit into your serving dishes, 2 slices per dish. Place a piece of poundcake on the bottom of the serving dish, and drizzle with the Marsala syrup. Layer in a spoon of the vanilla pudding, then a layer of pears. Repeat the layers: cake, syrup, pudding and pears, finishing with the pears. Makes 8 mini servings.

Chocolate MousseI first made chocolate mousse from a recipe in Bon Appetit magazine when I was a teenager. It’s one of my favorite desserts. I adapted this recipe from a recipe I found in a chocolate bar wrapper in Paris in 1993.

8 oz. semisweet chocolate bars

4 whole eggs, plus one egg white

3 T. butter

2 t. vanilla

1 T. instant coffee

Pinch of salt

Melt the chocolate slowly in a double boiler. (If you don’t have a double boiler, place a heat-proof mixing bowl over a pan of hot, not boiling, water.) Separate the eggs, and beat the 4 yolks lightly. When the chocolate is completely melted, add a spoonful of chocolate to the yolks and stir quickly to temper the eggs. Then add the eggs all at once to the chocolate and stir quickly. Add the butter, vanilla and coffee and stir to combine. Beat the 5 egg whites with a pinch of salt at high speed with a hand mixer until stiff peaks form. Gently fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture in batches until the egg whites are well incorporated. (Do not beat or vigorously stir the whites!) Divide the mixture into serving dishes and refrigerate a minimum of 4 hours. To serve, top with whipped cream and garnish with mini chocolate chips, a dusting of cocoa powder or shaved chocolate.

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