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A little late, but better late than never!

We spent Christmas this year with my family up north. We had a great week of visiting and food. This year, the theme was simple. We wanted to enjoy time with family rather than spending so much time in the kitchen. And I wanted to make sure that the food was as good as in the past, and the menus elegant. Here’s what we came up with.

Super Simple Christmas Eve Menu
{for 7}

1st Course: Potato Leek Soup

Entree: Crab Cakes with Creole Meuniere Sauce, Roasted Green Beans with Lemon, Pine Nuts & Parmigiano, and Crescent Rolls

Christmas Menu
{for 20}

Appetizers: Spinach and Artichoke Dip with Crackers, Antipasto Platter

Dinner: Salad with Goat Cheese Purses; Ham; Horseradish-Crusted Prime Rib with Horseradish Sauce; Twice Baked Potato Casserole; Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Carrots, and Cauliflower; Spinach Salad; Thyme Dinner Rolls; Poppy Seed Dinner Rolls

Dessert: Coconut Cream Meringue Cake

Xmas 2013

 

Xmas 2013

 

 

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I’m a bit behind in my holiday posting and am playing catch up. This week, stay tuned for some holiday menus – be sure to bookmark or pin them for next year!

Holiday Party 2013

Menu: Holiday Party 2013

Savory:

Mozzarella-Stuffed Meatballs
Bacon, Leek & Cheddar Mini-Quiche
Parmesan Artichoke Pesto and Tomato-Almond Spread
Rosemary Wreath with Marinated Olives and Bocacchini
Fresh Bread

Sweet:

Snickerdoodle Cupcakes
Pecan Pie Truffles
Buddy the Elf Cookies
Peanut Butter Cookies
Seven Layer Cookies

Beverages:

Assorted wine, beer & sodas

Hot Chocolate Bar: Peppermint Schnapps (an nod to this Liquid Thin Mint we all love), Kahlua, Candy Canes, Marshmallows, Thin Mints, and Pirouette Cookies

Holiday Party 2013

The above menu was planned for 30-40 people. In addition to the above, guests brought Guiness Bailey’s Cupcakes (similar to this recipe), Christmas crack (saltine toffee), brownies, and macarons. Almost all of the savory items were gone but a good number of sweets remained. Note to self: more savory items next year!

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ChristeningA couple of weeks ago, all of my relatives flocked to my parents house for Sophie’s Christening. We had a wonderful long weekend catching up with family, half of whom were meeting Sophie for the first time.

My mom and I agonized for several weeks over the menu for Sophie’s Christening. The meal would be served early afternoon. We needed something easy, but suitable for a hot summer day. Most menus I had seen were some sort of sandwiches or brunch items. Neither of us were especially excited about that. Finally, we settled on the below menu – a combination of items we made ahead and items we ordered from a local restaurant. We ended up with a great assortment and the perfect amount of food – very little was left over.

I hope this inspires you for one of your events in the future!

Christening

A Christening Lunch/Dinner for 25

Appetizers:

Mediterranean Layer Dip

Crudite with Sun-Dried Tomato Dip

Mixed Nuts

Dinner:

Roasted Beef Tenderloin (catered)

Spicy Grilled Shrimp

Christening

Parmesan-Crusted Grilled Scallops

 Old-Fashioned Potato Salad

Quinoa with Broccoli, Sun-Dried Tomatoes & Cashews (catered)

Penne Pasta with Pesto & Roasted Veggies (catered)

Bread

Dessert:

Mixed Berry Pie (catered)

Peach Pie (catered)

Coconut Cream Cake (catered)

French Vanilla Ice Cream

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Spring Special Occasions LunchMy family moved after my freshman year in high school. We arrived at our new home a week before school started for me to try out for the high school tennis team. That first day of tryouts, I met the woman who would become my best friend for the next 15 years.

From that first day, we were two peas in a pod. We were both trying out for the first time, both of us having moved recently. We were both the oldest child, loved tennis, and ate peanut butter sandwiches (hold the jelly and jam, please) for lunch. We stayed close throughout college and after, were lucky enough to end up living in the same state.

Now my bestie is getting married. I’m so very excited for her – she’s the sister I never had. Since I was unable to attend her bridal shower, I hosted a very small lunch with a couple of her closest friends. When I was planning, I knew I wanted something light and elegant, with a couple of simple items and a decadent chocolate dessert. Plates were wiped clean, leftover cake was packaged up for the men who were left home. I call that a success! Crab Cakes

Menu:

Spring {Special Occasions} Luncheon for 5

Cocktails:
Champagne Cosmos

Appetizer:
Mediterranean Cucumber Bites (inspired by this Mediterranean Layer Dip)

Lunch:
Mixed Green Salad with Raspberries and Poppy Seed Vinaigrette
Crab Cakes with Creole Meuniere Sauce

Dessert:
American Beauty Cake (chocolate cake + chocolate mousse + chocolate ganache)

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Sophie & I making Easter favors

Sophie & I making Easter favors

Happy Easter! I hope everyone had a fantastic day with friends, family, and good food.

My hubby and I enjoyed our first holiday with our little Hazelnut. My brother came to visit for the weekend. Good friends of ours, whose daughter was born 5 days after ours, came over yesterday for dinner. I savored the opportunity to pull out the china and create an ambitious menu to celebrate the day. Everything was fantastic! I will be sharing a few of the recipes with you over the next couple of weeks, but unfortunately not everything survived to be photographed. I’ll be looking for opportunities to remake everything on the menu, so you may see a recipe in the future!

Appetizers:

Sugared Nuts

Dinner: 

Beef Wellington

Easter

Portobello Wellington

Hasselback Potatoes

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Herbed Bread

Dessert: 

“Cadbury” Egg Cream Brownies

Favors:

Candy Carrots

Candy Carrot Favors: I made the carrots from Reese’s Pieces (although I considered using orange jelly beans). I used triangular-shaped treat bags from my local craft store, filled them with candy, and tied them with a thick green ribbon. Easy peasy!

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Over the past couple years, I’ve become involved in the Susan G Komen Walk for the Cure. Two years ago, I completed the walk for the first time – 60 miles walked and over $3,000 raised to fight breast cancer. The walk was indescribable. Not only was it a physical challenge, but it was an incredibly emotional experience. If I had to only pick one word to describe it, it would be inspiring.

After crewing at the event last year, I’m excited to be back to walking this October with two of my closest friends as well as my aunt. We decided to tackle fundraising early this year, before training kicks in and our weekends become defined by the number of hours and miles walked (5-6 hours and 15 miles at the height of training). Our first fundraiser of the year (and hopefully our only one) was the most successful a couple of years ago – a Boobieque. We served food and drink donated by local businesses and raffled off items donated by friends, family, and more local businesses. Like two years ago, this year’s Boobieque was a big success.

A big thanks to our sponsors as well as family and friends who donated or supported us in another way. And thanks and hugs to my girls who participated in this event and will spend many hours walking with me over the next six months.

The Boobieque Menu, 2012

Crockpot Pulled Chicken: BBQ and Spicy

Crockpot Pulled BBQ Brisket

Old-Fashioned Potato Salad

Orzo Salad with Grilled Vegetables

Fruit Salad with Vanilla Syrup

Chips & Dip

Chocolate Ice Cream Cone Cupcakes with Vanilla Frosting (instructions below!)

Vanilla Cupcakes with Strawberry Ice Cream

Sugar Cookies

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Soda, Wine & Beer

Serving & Quantities: We planned this menu for 40-45 people, making a triple batch of pulled chicken (9 lbs.), a double batch of BBQ brisket (8 lbs), a triple batch of the potato salad, a double batch of the orzo salad, a large bowl of fruit salad, 3 bags chips, a single batch of the ice cream cone cupcakes (24 cupcakes), a batch (24 cupcakes) of vanilla cupcakes with strawberry frosting, and two platters of cookies. Hot dogs were on standby for kids (and in case we ran out of pulled chicken/brisket).

We ended up having 30 people, and a good bit of leftover meat and a small container of potato salad.

Ice Cream Cone Cupcakes

These are way easier than you’d think.

Take your favorite cupcake recipe or boxed mix. Get a box of ice cream cones – the sugar cones, not the waffle cones. Place the cone in a cupcake pan, one cone per place, just as you’d do with a cupcake liner. Fill each cone about 3/4 of the way full. There’s a little lip just inside the cone. Do not go past that lip otherwise your cupcakes will overflow. Bake per the directions on the cupcake recipe, or until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. (I think mine took 20-25 minutes.)

Frost and decorate as desired. I used pink and white ribbon sprinkles, but these would be super cute with a Maraschino cherry on top.

 

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Last Halloween, my friends and I had a Clue-themed Halloween party. It was fantastic. We all dressed up as characters from the movie (yours truly was Mrs. White). We decorated a friend’s house with props from the movie – a set of keys, pumpkins with the weapons carved into them, the weapons (a lead pipe, two candlesticks, etc.) scattered about the house. Our hosts, Ms. Scarlet and Mr. Body, did a fabulous job of transforming their dining room table into a billiards table, which is where the food was served. Our menu was also inspired by the movie. I never issued a post with the menu, but here it is:

Ms. Scarlett’s Red Velvet Cupcakes
Mrs. White’s White Pizza
Soft frosted sugar cookies with the weapons piped onto them
“Monkey’s brains” (crab dip)
Red herring (bagels & lox)
Colonel Mustard’s homemade pretzels and mustard dip
Almond brandied pound cake (because they drink tons of brandy during the movie)
Mr. Green’s chips & guacamole
Professor Plum’s chocolate-covered plums

I had been eying this pound cake recipe for a while, and was thrilled for an occasion to make it. I was a huge fan. It was just barely sweet with a slightly crunchy top. It’s recipes like this one (and the almond poppy seed bread) that make me wish that I had friends over for tea, because I can’t help but think that this would be fabulous with tea or after dinner coffee. But even if you don’t entertain for tea or coffee, you should make this recipe. Make it for your coworkers for their morning coffee. Or hoard it for yourself. Either one is perfectly acceptable. 😉

Almond Brandied Pound Cake

Adapted from The Way the Cookie Crumbles, via The Novice Chef featured on Love & Olive Oil (wow, that’s a mouthful!)

Makes 1 loaf

Ingredients:

  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 1¼ c. sugar, divided
  • 1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 2 Tbs. brandy
  • 1 Tbs. almond extract
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1½ c. cake flour, sifted

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350. Butter and flour a 9×5 inch loaf pan. Set aside.
  2. In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip egg whites on medium-high speed until foamy. Increase speed to high and continue whipping until the egg white form soft peaks. With the mixer still running, slowly add 1/2 c. of the sugar. Continue whipping until egg whites form stiff, glossy peaks. Transfer egg whites to a clean bowl and set aside.
  3. Clean stand mixer bowl and switch to the paddle attachment. Beat butter on medium speed until soft and creamy, about 1 minute. Lower speed and add salt and remaining ¾ of sugar. Increase speed again, mixing until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Scrape down sides of bowl.
  4. In a small bowl (or measuring cup), whisk together egg yolks, brandy, almond extract and vanilla extract. With mixer on medium-low speed, add to butter-sugar mixture. Beat for 2-3 minutes, scraping down sides of mixer as necessary, until thoroughly combined.
  5. Now we’re going to add the flour and egg whites with a rubber spatula. Alternate folding in ingredients: flour – egg white – flour – egg whites – flour. Flour and egg whites should be completely mixed in.
  6. Pour into prepared pan. Bake 45-60 minutes. A toothpick inserted into the center should come out clean. Top with be golden brown (if it browns too quickly, loosely cover with aluminum foil).
  7. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes. Then, use a knife to loosen edges of cake from pan. Invert, removing from pan. Place back on a wire rack to cool completely.

Serve at room temperature.

Serving suggestions: with tea, coffee, or a dollop of whipped cream.

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I love hosting our (almost) annual wine and cheese parties. I provide bread, crackers, and some other complimentary food. Everyone brings a wine and/or a cheese to share. A fabulous time ensues. Don’t believe me? How many wine and cheese parties have overnight guests? 😉

To jazz up the table, I made little placecard holders out of wine corks to label the cheeses and sweets on the table. To make, use a X-Acto knife or Stanley knife, slice a thin strip off the bottom of the cork, so that the cork will lay on its side without rolling. (Make sure you have a cutting board, thick cardboard, or quilters or scrapbooking mat underneath so that you don’t scratch your counter or table.) Then, using the same knife, cut a deep incision into the top of the cork, carving out a place for the placecard to rest. My cut was in the shape of an inverted triangle (like this: ▼) because I found it difficult to make a a rectangle (▌) with the knife I was using. The incision should go about 1/4 to 1/3 of the way down the cork. Place the card you’ll be using in the top to ensure that your incision isn’t too narrow or deep or wide or narrow, adjusting as necessary.

People arrived a little earlier than we expected so unfortunately the photo below is the only photo I have from the event (apart from a few close ups of the crackers and one cheese tray).

MENU: WINE & CHEESE TASTING PARTY

 

Assortment of Cheeses: Brie, Herbed Goat Cheese, Irish Cheddar, Jarlsberg, Parmesan, Pecorino Romano… Whatever anyone brought

Assortment of Crackers & Breads: “Everything” Crackers, Rosemary & Sea Salt Crackers, Whole Wheat Crackers, Triscuits, Baguettes

Other Compliments: Prosciutto, Salami, Dried Apricots, Almonds, Fig Jam, Coarse Ground Mustard

Sweet: Coconut Macadamia Nut Bars, A fruit tart-like dessert brought by a friend, Assorted Dove Chocolates

Drinks: Assorted Wines & Sodas

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The weather has been pretty wonky lately – 60°F one day and flurrying the next day. One lazy weekend, one where it was bitter cold and flurrying, I hosted my best friend and her boyfriend for dinner. I had all day to play in the kitchen, with no other obligations or chores for the weekend (a rare occurrence!). I put together the below menu, which brought coziness into a frigid day. Nothing about this menu is particularly difficult to prepare, although it is a bit time consuming with the chopping and long cooking time of the beef, the double-rising of the homemade dinner rolls, and the chilling of the dessert. However, it’s completely worth it. Doubt me? I made the entree twice in a three week period. I had very happy friends.

A WINTER DINNER MENU FOR FOUR

Beef Bourguignon

Buttermilk Dinner Rolls (below!) & Herb Butter

Chocolate Mousse

Chianti

The buttermilk dinner rolls were easy to make and were fabulous served warm with a warm winter soup or stew. Next time, I might try adding a little fresh herbs directly to the dough for an additional burst of flavor.

Buttermilk Dinner Rolls

Adapted from Williams Sonoma Cooking At Home p. 415

Makes 12-18 dinner rolls

Ingredients:

  • 1 3/4 tsp. (1 package) active dry yeast
  • 1.5 oz. lukewarm water (110°F)
  • pinch of sugar
  • 1/2 c. tepid buttermilk (90°F)
  • 1 oz. granulated sugar
  • 4 Tbs. unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 to 2-1/2 c. all-purpose flour
  • cooking spray

Instructions:

  1. Place lukewarm water in a small bowl. Sprinkle yeast over water. Stir in pinch of sugar and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. (My water wasn’t quite warm enough, so I carefully microwaved the bowl for a few seconds. Fix!)
  2. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, on medium-low speed, combine buttermilk, sugar, butter, egg, salt, and 1/2 c. flour until creamy. Lower speed and gradually beat in another 1-1/2 to 2 cups of flour, until mixture thickens and forms a soft dough.
  3. Switch stand mixer to dough hook. With mixer on low speed, knead the dough until smooth and springy, about 1 minute. Dough will still be soft and will begin to pull away from the bowl.
  4. Oil a clean bowl and transfer dough, patted together into a ball, to the clean bowl. Turn to coat all sides, or, lightly spray the top with cooking spray. Cover with plastic wrap and set in a very warm place (i.e. near a warm stove/oven) and let sit until dough has doubled in size, about 90 minutes.
  5. When dough has risen, prep a new workspace – lightly flour a counter or cutting board, and spray a 8 or 9 inch round cake pan with cooking spray. Turn dough onto prepared workspace and roll into a 18-inch long rope. Using a butter knife or pastry scraper, cut into 1 to 1-1/2 inch pieces, depending on how large you want your rolls to be. Working quickly, roll dough pieces into a ball and set into prepared cake pan, with the dough balls just barely touching. Cover with plastic wrap and place in your very warm spot to rise until puffy, 30-45 minutes.
  6. Preheat oven to 375°F. Bake rolls until lightly browned, 18-22 minutes.
  7. Allow to cool slightly before serving warm.

 

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Merry Christmas!

This holiday season is a full house for my family. The hubby and I spent the holiday with my family up north. For a week, we had friends and family in and out of the house every couple days. It made for a fun week, although a bit chaotic. It was hard to keep up with so many people coming and going, everyone at a different times. As a result, we kept our meals fairly informal and flexible. We stocked the pantry to accommodate a couple extra batches of cookies, and the freezer, which was full of ready-made appetizers and breakfast goodies that just had to be popped in the oven. Finally, family members volunteered to make a couple quick trips to the grocery store so that we could add two requested items (from this blog!). I just went with the flow (and tried to get Mom to relax and do the same).

In the end, the following ended up being the menu for the week – for most of the main meals. In addition to the below, we also had cranberry scones, orange pecan biscotti, and blueberry scones for breakfasts throughout the week.

CHRISTMAS EVE EVE (THE FRIDAY BEFORE)

Lunch for 9: Chicken Noodle Soup & Butternut Squash Soup

Dinner for 11:  Chicken & Eggplant Parmesan, Penne with Homemade Marinara Sauce, Warmed Italian Bread

Dessert/The Week’s Sweets: Seven Layer Cookies, Chocolate Chip Cookies, Babka

CHRISTMAS EVE

Dinner for 11: Crab Cakes, Roasted Shrimp with Tomatoes & Feta, White Rice, Roasted Asparagus

Dessert: Cheesecake with Raspberry Sauce, Cranberry Pear Tart

CHRISTMAS DAY

Appetizers (for 5-11): Spinach-Artichoke Dip with Baguette, Assorted Cheese & Crackers, Mushrooms Stuffed with Pancetta

Cocktails: Champagne Cosmopolitans

Dinner for 11: French Onion & Fennel Soup Gratin, Roasted Beef Tenderloin with Horseradish Sauce, Twice Baked Potatoes, Roasted Vegetables

Dessert: Leftover cheesecake, fruit tart, and cookies. Tiramisu, an Italian cookie platter, and a ginger-pear pie, compliments of our guests.

THE MONDAY AFTER

Leftovers & Chinese food. Mom and I finally get a break from the kitchen!

THE TUESDAY AFTER (round two of visiting family)

Appetizers for 18: Spinach-Artichoke Dip, Baked Fontina

Dinner for 18: Crown Roast of Pork with Apple Stuffing & Cider Bourbon Sauce, Roasted Vegetables

Dessert: Leftovers (Sadly. I’ve been dying to make a coconut cream cake, but we just had way too many sweets in the house to make it).

THE WEDNESDAY AFTER

Dinner for 18: Spaghetti & Meatballs

And because I can’t resist, a few photos of my favorite Christmas gifts :

1. A set of children’s books wine glass charms. I’ve never seen any book-related wine charms – can’t wait to try these out at the next book club dinner I host!

2. A gorgeous wreath made of pages from Jane Austen novels.

3. An ice cream maker with a copy of The Perfect Scoop – since my ice cream bowl for my KitchenAid began to ooze blue stuff this summer

4. From Plate to Pixel – so that I can work on my photography this year

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Books n’ Cooks is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program. Some links on Books n’ Cooks may be affiliate links – links books and kitchen supplies that I love and would recommend. If you click on the link and purchase, I make a very small percentage (at no additional cost to you!) which goes towards maintenance of this blog. Thanks for your support!

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