July 30, 2012

Dinner Club - Theme: Puerto Rican

May's dinner was hosted by Lisette who also happens to be of Puerto Rican descent.  I don't think I've had Puerto Rican food before but I'll be having again for sure after this dinner. Here is what was on the menu from the host. Carne Mechada, arroz amarillo, Habichuelas rojas and tostones (translation: Pot Roast, Red beans and Rice and Fried plantains).

Dinner Club attendees from the front left: Lisette's sister, Lynn, Melissa Y, Lisette's mom Lydia, Me, Heather, Shannon. 

Some members couldn't join us on this night, our crew sort of changes depending on schedules anyway.  It was great to hear stories from Puerto Rican and learn about the differences and similarities in our cultures.  I think this might have been one of the most interesting dinner clubs for that reason. Thank you to Lisette for hosting and providing the pictures!

Habichuelas Rojas
Recipe found here

2 slices bacon, diced
½ cup ready made sofrito
3 - 15oz. cans beans (pink beans)
1 - 15oz can diced or sliced potatoes, drained
1 - 8 oz can tomatoe sauce
¼ cup sliced olives with pimentos
1 tbsp. cappers
8 oz water, appx.

Cook diced bacon until done - don't drain.
Add the sofrito and cook this for about 5 minutes over low heat. Add the rest of the ingredients, bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer for approximately 5-10 minutes or so. It should not be too thick. Of course you can make this same recipe using any type bean.

Papas (potatoes)

Pina Colada made by Shannon.  Went perfectly with our Puerto Rican dinner.  Cold and refreshing.  Thanks Shannon.

If I know Shannon she probably eye balled this recipe so the recipe below is one I found at AllRecipes.com

  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 1 cup pineapple juice
  • 1/2 cup rum
  • 4 tablespoons white sugar
  • 8 cubes ice

Put all of the ingredients into a blender and mix until smooth.  Serve immediately.

Mixture to go into the rice.

Arroz Amarillo (rice)
Recipe found here

¼ cup vegetable oil
2 cups uncooked white rice
4 cups boiling water
1 envelope Sazón Goya
1 tsp. salt

Rinse the rice using a metal strainer and shake off excess water.

Heat oil in a caldero, add the rice, water, Sazón, and salt. Water line should be about 1" above rice line. Too much water means rice will be sticky. Too little water and it won't cook through. Stir a few times to mix ingredients.
Cook over high heat until water evaporates, then stir once or twice (too much stirring and rice might get sticky), bring the heat down to low, cover and cook another 25 minutes or so. Traditionally Puerto Ricans shape the rice to have a pyramid like mound in the middle in order to cook better - not necessarily true. 

Rum Cake

Lynn T made a wonderful Puerto Rican rum cake.  Lynn is a fantastic cook and everyone oohed and aahed over this cake.  It was definitely a favorite.

For the cake:  1-pkg.  of yellow cake mix.....1 pkg of  instant vanilla pudding mix......4 large eggs....1/2 cup spiced rum, 1 /2 cup water....1/2 cup  veg. oil....1 cup  of pecans or any other nut........
In a standing mixer, mix all ingredients and mix on med. high for 2 minutes,,,,meanwhile spray a bunt pan with pam or other veg. spray.  Put the cup of nuts in bottom of pan and arrange evenly.  Pour in cake batter on top of nuts and bake at 350for 45 min. or until   done.   

 For the topping:  1/2  pint of heavy cream, 3 rounded tbls. of Ducan Hines fluffy white frosting mix, ...2 tbls. of rum extract. In a stand mixer or hand mixer beat all until light and fluffy.  When cake is cool, spread on top of cake, drain cherries and place on top of cream.  Cake should be refrigerated. 
The homemade version is easy too, but I found that the easy version has a more delicate flavor. 


Tostones (fried plantains)

I found this recipe http://www.elboricua.com

Boliches (roast)

sofrito stiffing mix for the boliche

Cooked sofrito stuffing for boliche

Carne Mechada (pot roast)
I found this recipe online here

Sofrito for beans
I found this recipe here

1 large yellow onion
1 pimiento (Cubanelle) or substitute with green bell pepper
1 red bell pepper or 1sm jar roasted red peppers
1 medium head of garlic (2 tbsp. minced garlic)
1 bunch of cilantro
12 ajíes dulces (hard to find and may skip)
6 leaves of recao - (Eryngium) (hard to find/skip)
¼ cup Spanish olives, pitted
1 tbsp capers
2 tsps salt
1 tbsp black pepper
1 tbsp crushed orégano
½ cup olive oil

Wash, peel, seed and coarsley chop everything. Put in a blender and pureé. Store in a glass jar covered in the refrigerator for later use. Freeze it in ice-cube trays and dump the frozen cubes in a freezer bag. This will be fried in achiote oil or tocino as the first step in recipes. This recipe makes about 2 large ice-cube trays. Use about 3 cubes for rice or soup that will serve a family.

Lemon Meringue Cookies were my contribution.  You can find my post about them here.

I found this website to be a huge help with these recipes.  Check it out if you're interested in Puerto Rican cooking. http://www.elboricua.com/recipes.html

July 27, 2012

Frozen Vodka Slush

Dinner club transformed to drink club this last time.  Drinks for dinner was the theme, don't worry we all brought appetizers too. Needless to say, it was one of the favorite dinner club's for us all.  I'll be posting about that night soon but for now let's concentrate on this delicious drink that I found on Pinterest. 

First off let me say, this is one of the favorite drinks I've had in a long time.  I'm a huge fruity, sweet drink kind of person so this totally fit the bill.  I couldn't taste the alcohol at all.  

You start by making a simple syrup and incorporating it into a juice and vodka mix.  Then you freeze it.

When you're ready to serve it, you use a spoon to scrape the slush and put it in a glass about halfway up.  Add Sprite (or sparkling water for less sweetness) to the other half and drink up.

I love this drink.  The original recipe says you should double the recipe because people love it so much and I don't disagree; however I made the regular amount and I still have a  ton left in my freezer.  I think it makes about 3 quarts or so.  If you plan to have a lot of people over for a pool party or something than yes, make more.

Frozen Vodka Slush
Found at EAD Living

8 cups water
3 cups white sugar
juice of 2 lemons
juice of 2 oranges
one 48oz can of pineapple juice
one 12oz can frozen Minute Maid grapefruit juice
one 12oz can of frozen Minute Maid lemonade
26oz Vodka (3.25 cups)

Sprite, 7up, or sparkling water flavored with lime. 

Make a simple syrup by putting the water and sugar in a large sauce pan on medium until the sugar dissolves.  Let sit until it gets to room temperature. 

In a separate container mix all of the remaining ingredients (except the lemon lime flavored soda).  When the simple syrup is cool, mix in with the remaining ingredients, mix and freeze until ready to serve.  When ready to serve, fill a glass half full of the slush mixture and top off with the soda.  Enjoy!

July 25, 2012

Cherry Pie Filling

Cherries are one of my all time favorite fruits.  I'd much rather eat a cherry pie to a cake any day.  I just love em.  I recently bought a bag of cherries and was doing my absolute best to eat them all but sadly wasn't making much progress, so cherry pie came to mind.

During my Internet searching I found this recipe and knew I had to make it.  I love the idea of making my own pie filling, well making anything that takes the place of a canned item actually. Anyway, this recipe was super easy and totally delicious.

I'm not sure if you can replace the cherries for other fruit so if anyone does it please let me know.

After you've pitted all those cherries (if you have gloves you may want to wear them, my fingers were purple all day)  you can just add them to a sauce pan with the other ingredients except the extract.

Thick and delicious!  I'm drooling all over again, I love this stuff.

Please, you gotta try this while the cherries can still be found!  I think you can actually use frozen cherries as well if you miss cherry season however.

Cherry Pie Filling
Recipe from My Baking Addiction

5 to 6 cups fresh pitted cherries, about 2 1/2 to 3 pounds ( I used dark sweet and was 5 cups but not 2 1/2 to 3 pounds, it was only about 1 1/2 pounds I think).
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2/3 cup granulated sugar - (you might be able to reduce this slightly, mine was sweet since I was using sweet cherries already.  The measurement listed here is for Bing cherries). 
4 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Put all the ingredients except the almond extract into a saucepan and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to simmer and cook for about 10 minutes.  Stir more frequently toward the end of the cooking time since this will thicken significantly. Remove from the heat and add the almond extract.  Let cool a little before putting into a container to refrigerate or use directly into a pie or other dessert. 

July 23, 2012

Panera's Macaroni and Cheese

There is one food that is my absolute weakness.  Macaroni and cheese.  I grew up loving the Kraft blue box and progressed to Stouffer's until I was old enough to start making some from scratch.  I love it, and now my daughter loves it.  Whenever we're anywhere and I ask her what she's hungry for she will always say macaroni and cheese.  Every time.  She hasn't been all that receptive to the homemade versions I've tried so far.  I was finally able to figure out that she just wants plain no frills macaroni so I made it as simple as possible and she'll eat it that way.  She'll also eat Panera macaroni and cheese (which is odd considering several of my homemade variations have been similar) so I was thrilled to see that they actually publish their recipe online.  How convenient! 

The first time I made this recipe I was on my way over to a neighbors house for a 4th of July party.  This recipe is easy to make and doesn't require any baking at all, it's all done on the stove top.

You probably have most of these ingredients on hand already.

The thing I love about this version is how creamy it is without baking and not baking it makes it quick. I also like the flavor of the hot sauce and the Dijon mustard even though you can't really identify either flavor, you just know there is something unique.  The amazing thing is that my daughter actually eats it!  If she only knew she was eating hot sauce and Dijon mustard!

My new favorite way to make Macaroni and Cheese! Yum!

Panera Macaroni and Cheese

1 (16-ounce) package of rigati pasta (or other small pasta shells)
¼ cup butter
½ cup all-purpose flour
2½ cups 2% reduced fat milk (or cream)
6 slices white American cheese, chopped
1 cup (8 ounces) shredded extra-sharp white Vermont cheddar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon hot sauce 

Boil the pasta until al dente in a medium saucepan. 

While the pasta is boiling, melt the butter in another larger saucepan.  When melted stir in the flour and cook for about 1 minute. 

Slowly add the milk and stir with a whisk to get the clumps out.  The sauce will begin to thicken.  Once thickened remove from the heat and add the cheese and the rest of the ingredients (except the pasta). Whisk until smooth. 

Add the pasta and stir well and serve while warm. 

July 20, 2012

Tomato Jam

When you make this think "gourmet ketchup" only way better.  It's sweet like a jam but the tomato flavor is concentrated and totally yummy.  I'm so glad I made this for two reasons.  I had a bunch of Roma tomatoes to use and I'm a huge condiment fan.  I usually put some sort of condiment on everything I eat.  I know, it's a problem.  Here's the other problem, I might never want to eat regular ketchup again after making this.  Seriously.  It's that good.

Dice up 1 1/2 pounds of tomatoes.  You can leave the skins on, just core them.

Add all of the ingredients into a medium saucepan.

The aftermath of my prep work.

Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer for about an hour or so.

After about an hour, it's almost done.

The finished product.  I am super excited about having this in my refrigerator.  I can't wait to try this on some different items like biscuits, hot dogs, burgers and even on sandwiches.  Let me know if you try it and what you think!

Tomato Jam
Recipe from The New York Times

1 1/2 pounds of ripe tomatoes.  I used Roma, cored and coarsely chopped.
1 cup sugar
2 Tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice
1 Tbsp grated or minced ginger
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp salt
1 jalapeño or other pepper, seeded, stemmed and minced. You could also use red pepper flakes or cayenne to taste.  I used a jalapeño (the jarred kind).

Mix all the ingredients in a heavy bottomed sauce pan and cook over medium heat to a boil.  Stir consistently.

Turn the heat down to simmer and cook for about another 1 hour and 15 minutes or until the sauce is thick like a jam. Stir occasionally.  Mine was done after about an hour.

Makes about a pint, keep refrigerated and it will last at least a week.

July 18, 2012

Summer Vegetable Tian

It seems like every time I go grocery shopping I buy yellow squash and zucchini.  We usually just chop it up and sauté them in some oil and garlic and we love it that way.  If we've got the grill fired up I like to marinate them in Italian dressing and then grill them but I'm always looking for new and interesting ways for us to eat this combination.  I was thrilled to find this recipe.

The original recipe calls for sliced potatoes as well but I didn't have any of those on hand so I went with what I have.  I loved it, I changed it up a bit when I reheated the leftovers and topped it with some Feta cheese as well and really enjoyed the saltiness that it added.

I didn't cook mine as long as the original recipe called for since I didn't add the potatoes.  This is a great recipe and I'll be making it again before summer is over.

You start by dicing the garlic and onion and putting it in a pan with some oil until they soften.  Pour that mixture into an 8x8 in dish.

Slice the yellow squash, zucchini and tomato all about the same width.  I used Roma tomatoes since they were about the right size and I didn't want this too watery.  Arrange the veggies as shown above, season with salt, pepper and thyme and bake.

After baking for about 20 minutes, pull out and top with mozzarella cheese.  Bake until the mozzarella is melted.  I used cubes but shredded would work well.

I can't wait for you to try it especially if you're trying to stay in swimsuit shape this summer.  I think a nice variation would be to pour your favorite spaghetti sauce over the top during the first bake cycle and then top with cheese at the end.  I'm gonna try that next time.

Summer Vegetable Tian
Modified slightly from Budget Bytes

2 small summer squash
2 small zucchini
1 medium onion, chopped
2 bulbs garlic, minced
Olive Oil
Salt, Pepper, Thyme
Mozzarella, shredded

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and grease a 8x8 inch pan.

Dice the onion and garlic and cook in a pan over medium heat with oil until softened.

Slice the vegetables and set aside.  When the onion and garlic are cooked, pour them into the bottom of the 8x8 inch dish.  Arrange the veggies on top of the onion mixture.  Sprinkle generously with salt, pepper and thyme.  cover and bake for about 20 minutes.  Take out of the oven and sprinkle with mozzarella cheese, do not cover and bake again until the cheese has melted and browned slightly.

Let cool slightly before serving.  Enjoy!

July 16, 2012

Artichoke Spinach Dip

I've been on a quest to find an Artichoke dip like I had years ago in Montana.  I knew this one wouldn't be exactly like it since that one didn't have spinach but I thought I'd give it a try anyway. I thought this dip was good, but not exactly what I had been looking for.  Don't get me wrong, I'd make it again.  It really was good.

I made this dip for our monthly dinner club for July.  I'll post about that here soon. Our dinner club parties are awesome.  I'm so lucky to live on a street where everyone gets a long for the most part. I hope to post about it soon, until then give this dip a try and let me know what you think.

A-Freaking-Mazing Artichoke Dip
Found at Joyful Abode

8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/4 sour cream
1/4 mayonnaise
1 cup of chopped spinach
2 cans of artichoke hearts
garlic salt
chili powder
Shredded Mozzarella cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

To soften the cream cheese and make mixing easier, microwave the cream cheese for 2 minutes at 50% power.

combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix together well.  Season to taste with the garlic salt and chili powder.

Bake for 30-45 minutes and then broil for about 10 minutes to brown the cheese.

July 13, 2012

Dinner Club - Theme Pasta

Melissa Y hosted last June's Dinner club and the theme was a big hit!  Everyone has at least one pasta dish that their family loves. Melissa said her mom invented this dish and it's a winner for sure.  I'll be adding this to my rotation as well.

Chicken & Bowties

1 package of chicken about a pound or so
red pepper
garlic and herb marinade

Cut the chicken into chunks and cook in olive oil and sprinkle with garlic & onion powder. In another pan, on high heat cook veggies in olive oil and sprinkle with garlic & onion powder. Once the chicken and veggies are cooked, combine them into one pan and add about half a jar of herb & garlic marinade. Cook bowtie pasta according to package, after draining sprinkle with garlic and olive oil and then combine with chicken and veggie mixture. Top with parmesan cheese.

Shannon made this yummy Pesto Pasta.

1lb. Pasta
1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
cup Feta
3/4 cup pesto
Salt and pepper, to taste

Wendy made stuffed shells which I have a weakness for.  They were so delicious that I had seconds and had to hold back from having thirds. Thanks Wendy!

Stuffed Shells

I'll post the recipe as soon as I get it from Wendy.

I know, not pasta related at all but I didn't have time to come up with a pasta related dessert like I had planned on.  I found these Vanilla Cake Truffles on Pinterest.  They were quick and easy which fit the bill on this night.

This recipe can be found here

Lisa W. made yummy brownies from and Aldi's mix she found.  Thanks Lisa!

July 11, 2012

Caprese Salad

Sorry for the delay in posts this week, I just got back from a wedding in Massachusetts and we hit the beach while we were there too. It was a fun quick getaway but I'm glad to be home.

This simple salad is always a winner whether it be a side at dinner time or for a party you've been invited to.  Three ingredients and you're done.  I grew the tomato and basil you see here so this is a great way to use up some of your garden harvests.  I used Roma tomatoes but Heirloom would be yummy here also.  This is a traditional Italian salad because of the colors, Green, White and Red are Italy's flag colors.

I've seen people add salt, pepper, garlic powder, Balsamic Vinegar or Olive Oil to the top of this to finish it off.  Simple and delicious.  Great for a summer barbecue.

This can be made as large or small as you need it to be so I'm not giving exact measurements.

6-12 Roma tomatoes, sliced
Fresh Mozzarella, sliced
1/4 cup basil, julienned

Layer the cheese and the tomato and top with the julienned basil.  you can also leave the basil whole but I would use smaller baby leaves if you choose to leave them whole.  Drizzle with Olive Oil or Balsamic vinegar if you desire.

July 5, 2012

Italian Lemon Drop Cookies

How's the heat in your neck of the woods? It's been oppressive here. I drove by a bank sign thermometer two days ago and it read 109.  We've been staying inside a lot for that reason.  Not that turning on the oven to bake cookies is a good idea either but at least the lemon flavor these offer is refreshing. Great at a BBQ.

I liked the texture a lot.  I wouldn't say chewy but very soft and dense.  Lemon flavor is one of my favorites so I'm glad I've got this one under my belt. The other nice thing about making these is that it's pretty much one bowl.  Fewer dishes mean less sweating. OK, that might be a stretch but we need to conserve our energy during these summer months don't we?

I think you'll enjoy these as much as I did.  Thank you Pinterest for another great find!

Italian Lemon Drop Cookies
From Taste of Home


  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • 1/4 cup vegetable shortening
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tsp lemon extract


  • 1/3 cup shortening
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup warm milk
  • 1 tsp lemon extract

Heat the oven to 375 degrees and line cookie sheets with parchment paper or spray with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, mix the flour, sugar, baking powder together.  Cut in the shortening, then add the milk, egg and lemon extract.  Mix until combined.

Roll the dough into balls about 1 inch in size.  Flour your hands to keep the dough from sticking.

Bake for 10-12 minutes or until lightly golden brown.  Move to a cooling rack to let cool before frosting.

For the frosting: Mix the shortening and powdered sugar with a pastry cutter.  Add in the warm milk a little at a time.  Make sure the milk isn't too warm, just not ice cold.  Add the lemon extract and combine so there are no lumps.

When the cookies are cool, frost each one.  I added a little lemon zest into the frosting as well just to pump up the lemon flavor.