Happy New Year!

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope you had a good night to end 2007 and ring in 2008, whether that meant going to bed early, watching Dick Clark in your bathrobe, or partying ’til dawn. We had our annual New Year’s Eve Party/Open House event.

We never know from year to year exactly how many people will come and how long they will stay — I think our largest crowd at midnight was around 21, our smallest was just our family b/c everyone went home by 11 PM! When we were listing our RSVPs, Tartlet 1 was jumping up and down in excitement that it looked like the kids were going to outnumber the adults — at one point we had 32 adults and 32 kids on the list and then she asked if I had included us. No. WHOO-HOOO! She cheered. Neenerneenerneeeeenee! But one family left two of their kids at home and another left all four kids at home, but then an adult couple called to cancel . . . our final count, including our family, was 33 adults, 32 kids. She pouts. 😦 Boooooo!

So, given that for our guest list, I tried to pick some things that would suit all palates. We had a lot of repeats. I made the perennial favorite with both adults and kids, mini calzones/pizza pockets, PBJ cut out sandwiches (using cookie cutters to make shapes — crustless sandwiches in fun shapes are always popular with the little crowd), and industrial meatballs from Sam’s in the crockpot served with bottled sauces — sweet and sour, BBQ, and marinara. We also had cheese plates with crackers, chips and salsa and guacamole, veggie plate, beef skewers with balsamic vinaigrette marinade, chicken skewers in both peanut butter/yogurt and garlic lemon flavors, and bruschetta. And my favorite artichoke dip, which appears every year, usually in better focus than here. Even though I fully understand, I was a little disappointed that by the time I was done bringing the waves of hot food out of the kitchen around 8:30, many of the people were already heading home with their little tykes.

For desserts I often make some spectacular new thing, but that didn’t happen this year. Instead we had some of these repeats, with filberts instead of almonds, and some of these repeats in both orange and an experimental mint version. C doesn’t like her chocolate dark. At all. But she loves Andes candies. So, for her sake, I made some with melted Andes candies on top instead of unsweetened chocolate and then sprinkled them with chopped bits. It got a thumbs up approval. I also made baklava using pistachios instead of walnuts and I used lemon in the syrup, as well as some cheesecake squares, some of which I topped with canned cherry pie filling. We had a platter of fresh fruit — pineapple, honeydew, and cantaloupe. And I made some special brownies for Mrs. V, who can now eat cocoa again!! Now there’s something to say ‘Whoo-hoo!’ about because carob? What, is that short for caribou dropping or something? Blech. Her brownies were made with cocoa, rice flour, sorghum flour, honey, egg, xanthan gum, cream of tartar, baking soda, and pistachios. They were a little weird in the baking — I think my oven was running very hot 😛 so the edges were getting burnt while the middle turned out rather fudgy.

Once I closed down the kitchen and joined in the action of the party, after more than half the people went home, we got a telephone pictionary game going, followed by a couple rounds of Catch Phrase. I *LOVE* telephone pictionary, which seems very odd to me. I mean, normally I’m the sort of person who likes to think about things for a long time and not be very spontaneous so a game in which you have 30 seconds to either write a phrase from a picture or draw a picture to match a phrase, with all sorts of surprises along the way, seems like a game I would normally avoid. But I’ll join in a telephone pictionary game any time. This time around I think the funniest twist (certainly the most macabre) came from Abram’s phrase of ‘one giant step for mankind’ which ended with a picture of a person being run over by a train. The more adjectives and adverbs you use, the more likely your phrase will distort by the time it gets back to you . . . and then there are players like my Tartlet 1 who didn’t know what to write or draw a couple of times so she just made something up — as in totally unrelated! There are those who play the game trying to keep it as close as possible to the original version and there are those who play to see twist wildly . . . and seriously, which is more fun? The twisted ones, of course! But especially when the animals are misinterpreted and actions are poorly illustrated.

When I was in college I had a very good friend, the best friend I’ve ever had. In fact, it seemed like we shared a brain. Unfortunately, she always had it while I was in calculus, but we played regular Pictionary like you wouldn’t believe. One of us would start to draw a line and the other would guess it almost immediately. The other people would say — how on earth does that line look like ‘hopping on one foot’?! And we’d just shrug — I knew what she was drawing. The trouble with telephone pictionary is you need 14 people (in our game last night, anyway) who can do that to keep the phrase the same throughout the round.  Anyway, thanks to all those who joined us for the night, however much of it you were able to share with us, and I wish you all a very happy new year!

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A Visit to Santorini

We didn’t fly off to Greek Isles yesterday, we just drove up to Chicago. The Husband needed to pick up a rather large box of ‘stuff’ for work and he’s been wanting to make it a Romantic Outing for about 2 wks. Yesterday we were finally able to get away, many thanks to Ramona and Nat. The trip to Chicago met the two major criteria we have for adventures to the Windy City — we didn’t get lost and we didn’t get in an accident. But driving in Chicago makes me freak out and the Husband and I discussed some major decisions in the car, our best place to talk, so it wasn’t exactly a relaxing day.

We drove right to the place to pick up the big box and then drove toward the lake and found a place to park for an exorbitant sum of money. We walked out to the end of Navy Pier and back to the car and then drove to Santorini at the corner of Halsted and Adams. One of the Husband’s former co-workers took us there about 6 yrs ago when we were in Chicago for an event at the Field Museum. It’s a nice Greek restaurant with white tablecloths and we had in tow two kids who were about 4 and 1.5 and who were tired after a day of travel and museum wandering. It’s not a place that is typically frequented by people with children but they were ever so gracious and seated us in a distant corner and gave the kids special things to eat. Ever since then the Husband has been wanting to us go back alone.

Santorini offers complimentary valet parking, which we didn’t realize and didn’t use. After you walk in the door of the terra cotta colored building, to your left is a display case of iced seafood. Both times we have been there, at least one octopus was prominently displayed. Santorini has a number of seafood specialties, but I’ve only had the kalimari, which was good. The restaurant interior is rustic with flagstone floors, a fireplace (with a fire yesterday), and homey decor.

They serve a hearty bread with butter and olive oil at the table while you peruse the menu. There are soups, salads, hot and cold appetizers, specials, kabobs, seafood, pasta and desserts. We ordered a fried eggplant appetizer that came with about six slices of deep fried eggplant covered with a delicious red sauce and a sprinkling of cheese. It would have been enough to make a meal by itself. I think it was about $5 with the most expensive appetizers (octopus being one of them) around $10-11.

For the entree, the Husband ordered Chicken Alexander, one of the specials that is served on Tuesdays and another day of the week (the menu labels the days that each special is served). It is a dish of chicken and vegetables (peas, carrots, celery, pepper, onion, etc) wrapped in phyllo dough and covered with the same delicious red sauce as was on the eggplant (I’ve got to learn how to make that stuff! YUM!) with cheese. It’s massive — about 8-10 inches long, 4 inches high and 4-5 inches deep; enough to fill the Husband and still have leftovers! It came with some very tasty potatoes that were cooked with onion. They serve something similar made with lamb, Lamb Stamnos, which I ordered the last time we were there and it was wonderful too. I didn’t take the camera with us so please excuse me for showing you pictures of cold leftovers — it doesn’t do justice to the goodness of the food.

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Showing the inside:

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I ordered Lamb Artichokes and it came with as much meat as I would use to serve the entire family. I’m afraid I ate most of the artichokes, all of the 4 or 5 thick slices of carrot, and part of the potato. The sauce has lemon and seasoning that is just scrumptious.

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I think our specials were both in the $11-12 range. The high end of the menu would be some seafood options around $22-25. The price is very reasonable for the quality and quantity of food you get.  I was hoping to try the baklava for dessert, but I was too stuffed. The service was perfect, the food was excellent, and I hope we don’t wait six years to go back! 🙂

Recipe of the Day — Chocolate Cheesecake (with White Lasagna) *** Updated recipe with photos

Tonight I made two experimental foods and invited over a couple I can always use as guinea pigs . . . a nameless, blogless people who are game to try many of my creations at least once. They declared both to be worthy of repetition!! Yeah!!!

I guess I’ve had a lasagna fixation since I catered the rehearsal dinner last week (lasagna was the main dish) b/c I kept thinking how interesting it would be to make the mushrooms and chicken in the fridge into a lasagna. So I made a white lasagna with chicken, mushrooms, and artichoke hearts (I know, you think I have some sort of chicken, mushroom and artichoke heart fetish or something, and maybe I do — but I really like the combo). I made a white sauce with some riesling (we drank the rest with dinner), milk and Parmesan. The cheese layer used ricotta, feta, mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses with an egg and some parsley — the feta was sadly swamped and I couldn’t really taste it distinctly. If I make it again I would probably want to add more feta. Still, it made for a good dinner. I have two really deep 10 x 13-in dishes so I made it in one of those with three layers of cheese & meat sauce and a fourth layer of noodles on top — nice, thick lasagna!

White Lasagna with chicken, mushroom and artichoke (after reheating in the mircowave):

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The second thing I made was a mental experiment that got out of hand. I still had some extra ricotta (when you buy it at Sam’s in a 3 lb container, it’s easy to have extra!) and I also had some phyllo dough and I started by thinking I could make some lovely little cheesecake bites in phyllo dough and then I started thinking, oh, and I could make it chocolate cheesecake . . . but even though I’m not from TX, I can’t seem to keep myself from making everything *large* so I started mixing up my batter and then I looked at my nearly full Pampered Chef bowl and thought — man, this will make something like 100 cheesecake ‘bites’ . . . um, let’s think of something else . . . so I whipped out the Pampered Chef springform pan (which had a couple of rust spots on it 😦 ) and started putting together a graham cracker crust but I wanted it chocolate-y so I added cocoa.
I was doing this at 3 PM with my dinner guests coming at 6:30 so I really should have thought ahead (reading a recipe or two might have helped too!) — I didn’t give myself much time for it to cool, etc. It was no longer warm when I served it, but it was kind of gooey, which at least one of the guests prefers — he doesn’t like true cheesecake and said he never would have thought it was cheesecake if I hadn’t told him b/c the texture was nothing like it. I sat down and tried to remember what I did, so this may, in fact, be totally wrong . . . I think if I were to make this again, I would use one less egg — it ended up with something between cheesecake and molten lava cake texture . . . Molten Cheesecake?? But it tastes mighty fine.

Man, I wish I had the camera tonight . . . The Husband and Kids are back, so I *do* have the camera now:

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Chocolate Cheesecake

Crust:

1 sleeve graham crackers, crushed

1/4 c. sugar

5-6 Tbsp. melted butter

2 Tbsp. cocoa (this is totally a guess, I just opened the container and shook some into my bowl)

Filling:

~ 1/4 c. whipping cream

1 1/2 – 2 c. chocolate chips (I used a partial bag of dark and a partial bag of semi-sweet)

3 c. ricotta cheese

1 c. sugar

4 eggs (try 3 if you make this recipe!)
Method:

Stir together the crust ingredients and press into the bottom of the 9-in springform pan, bringing the crust up the side slightly. Bake at 350 F for 10-15 minutes. Remove from oven and cool.

In a heavy saucepan, over low heat, stir together the whipping cream and chocolate chips until melted and smooth.

In a medium bowl, beat together the cheese, sugar and egg until well mixed. Stir in chocolate mixture and beat 1 min. Pour into prepared pan. Bake at 325 F for 50-60 minutes. Cool completely.

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I thought about making a ganauche to go over the top of this, but it was clearly soft already so I skipped that (it did form a ‘crust’ top). If I were prepared, I would have whipped the rest of the cream to serve with it, but instead I was on the phone talking to the Husband so I didn’t 😉 I’ll try to reserve at least one piece of this until Saturday night when the Husband returns with the camera and I’ll update the post then! Done! 🙂 I *still* didn’t add the whipping cream garnish for the Husband but he really liked it with his glass of milk, which is a *must* for him with a sweet chocolatey dessert.

Easy Recipe of the Day (Return of the Artichokes)

I’m teaching my 9yr old how to cook some basic things and she’s currently thrilled with quesadillas — it’s like a grilled cheese tortilla, how simple can you get? Her favorite is to add a couple of spoons of chopped green chiles, chopped green onion and pre-shredded Mexican/4 Cheese from a bag and she likes to do hers stove top on the griddle b/c she doesn’t like to mess with the oven. The husband and I like a bit more to ours. This is what I did:

In a small saute pan:

olive oil

8oz sliced fresh mushrooms

sliced onion

sliced bell pepper (the pretty ones were on sale last week)

Sautee until tender crisp then divide between 2-4 tortillas, depending on how full you like them. Top with some chopped artichoke hearts, sprinkle with cheese. I make my quesadillas by folding the tortilla over on itself, but you can also make them stacked. Pop in a 350F oven for 5 min and YUM! The only improvement I would have made would be to have some feta on hand instead of the Mexican cheese . . . but this was tasty. This may show up as an appetizer at future food events in our household!

Easy Recipe of the Day (today’s dinner)

Chicken & Artichoke Pasta

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut in 1 inch cubes
small onion, diced
14 oz jar marinated artichoke hearts, cut in smaller pieces
8 oz mushrooms, sliced
grape tomatoes, halved
Parmesan cheese
16 oz box bowtie pasta

In a large pot, cook the pasta according to the package instructions, drain.
In a large skillet, cook the chicken breasts, onion and artichoke hearts in a few tablespoons of the artichoke marinade. When the chicken is cooked through (no more pink showing), toss in the mushrooms and cook a few minutes. Add the tomatoes, cheese and cooked pasta and stir to coat. Serves 6-8.

You can also had some halved black olives (yum!) and some red bell pepper is nice if you have it (I didn’t tonight).

It was resoundly detested by the offspring, which makes it clear just how yummy it was. I served it with some asparagus.