A Tart! A Tart! My Kingdom For A Tart!

Well, I don’t suppose that was truly the line, but we unfortunately missed that particular part of Richard III last night.  Yesterday 9 of us got together in Bloomington, IL to celebrate a friend’s 30th birthday at the Illinois Shakespeare Festival. Ky, you should turn 30 more often 😉

It was a lovely evening with everyone contributing something for a picnic dinner of bread and wine and cheese, spinach salad, pasta salad, a giant sandwich, and of course I brought mini-tarts for dessert.

The grounds of the Ewing Manor are simply fabulous and it was a perfect evening for a picnic.

I had tucked some Off! in my bag, but didn’t even need to pull it out. There were wandering minstrels and a group stopped to sing Happy Birthday to K.

The down side of an open air theatre, is the chance of being rained out, particularly in the Midwest. That is exactly what happened to us, not long after intermission. I must say they chose a very good time to call the play off. Just as we arrived at the car, it started to really pour and we would have gotten on a good drenching had we still been in our seats.

Nevertheless, it was a fabulous evening. KT’s car is equipped with video so A and I got to watch The Reduced Shakespeare Company perform the complete (abridged) works of Shakespeare on the way home. It was hilarious! So, thanks, Ky for turning 30 and letting us participate in the celebration. Now, if I can just figure out another excuse to go back . . .

Leave Room For Dessert

I did not intend to leave you with only fig muffins for so long. As is often the case, life got in the way (and Facebook, where I have spent far too much time lately). Tartlet 1 has been baking up a storm, including her birthday cake pictured above which she baked and decorated herself. She has also made pizza crust, bread sticks, cinnamon rolls, oatmeal spice cake, and peanut butter cookies. I finally shoved her out of the kitchen to prepare for Easter. 😉

This is a gratuitous picture of my new sofa. I’m so tickled with it. It’s comfortable, it has low arms, it’s curvy rather than boxy, it doesn’t have a skirt, and it’s purple!! 😀  I know it has nothing to do with food, other than the fact that one day, probably sooner than later, I’ll have to deal with food having been spilled on it. 😛

Easter was a lovely day with lots of friends around the table. The menu was much like previous years:

Cheese plate and crackers with Tillamook cheddar, muenster, and herbed goat cheese

Lamb with lemon, garlic, oregano and cumin rub
Ham with apricot glaze
Mashed potatoes and gravy
Praline Sweet Potatoes (photos coming soon!)
Green salad with grape tomatoes, cucumber, jicama, pignolia
Green Peas
Steamed Asparagus
Orange Glazed Carrots
Sauteed Mushrooms and Onions (mmm, so tasty with the lamb!)
Dinner Rolls

For dessert I made a Black Forest-esque cake, a Meyer Lemon Cheesecake with fresh fruit, and Fresh Strawberry Pie. I’ll be back to tell you about the first two desserts later.

Happy New Year!

If I had waited any longer to post, I may have missed even the Chinese New Year!  The In-Laws arrived late on Christmas Eve and, after a couple of schedule changes, The Husband and I spent a night in St. Louis sans Tartlets before our New Year’s Eve party.  We special ordered a sofa from Dolnick’s (the middle column, 22nd row — in plum microfiber!). We got back and spent a couple of days in a cooking and cleaning frenzy. I don’t have pictures though! What was I thinking? We had a pretty small group this year with a number of people out of town, so the menu was pared down a bit from initial plans, but still it was a lot of food!

This was the menu:
Savory:
Veggie tray (carrots, celery, jicama, mushrooms, olives, peas, and grape tomatoes)
Misc pitas and crackers
Dips: ranch, garlic chive hummus, roasted red pepper hummus, orange & cranberry cream cheese, artichoke and red pepper
Cheese plate with Havarti, muenster, cheddar, pepper jack, and herbed goat cheese
Misc chips with a mild chunky salsa, chipotle salsa, and guacamole
Mini calzones
Egg rolls
Chicken Skewers (simple peanut butter, yogurt & BBQ sauce marinade)
BBQ meatballs

Sweet:
Fresh fruit with pineapple, honeydew, and red seedless grapes
Baklava (made with pistachios rather than walnuts)
Apple Toffee Bars
Orange Nanaimo Bars
Almond Balls
Orange Cheesecake covered with Chocolate Ganache

And for the punch, I mixed grape juice and apple juice (100% juice) with soda water for a high fructose corn syrup-free punch! I used to always make punch by mixing the juices with Sprite/7-UP/generic lemon-lime soda, but this was just as tasty and much less sugary. I still made a ring of frozen juice with lemon and lime slices in it instead of adding ice.

No Problem, Honey

One of Tartlet 1’s favorite jokes is: When is a chef cruel?
A: When she beats the eggs and whips the cream!

My Christmas baking still hasn’t progressed very far as we’ve been wrapping up school work and we’ve had a lot of things on our ‘to-do lists’. So this didn’t involve beating any eggs, just whipping a bit of cream!

Tuesday, as we were anticipating the arrival of The In-Laws the next day, The Husband called to ask if I could provide a dessert for a party on Thursday he had forgotten about. Although my initial sarcastic response was ‘Sure, honey, I’m not really doing anything this week’, I started thinking of something easy I could make that would still not let him down. The In-Laws weren’t able to arrive after all, but I still went with something simple — a repeat Turtle Truffle Tart. But this is a dessert that stands repeating, and I don’t think I’ve made one for this group before. It looks far more complicated than it is. The base is my standard Shortbread Crust, topped with pecans and caramel and a layer of chocolate melted with heavy cream, all staple ingredients in my kitchen and easy to whip up. *evil laugh*

Christmas Baking

I am behind in my Christmas baking, but it is finally getting underway.  I started with an easy no-bake recipe, Almond Balls, for a cookie exchange. I have some Sugar Cookie dough in the fridge waiting for me to roll out. I bought all the ingredients to make Chocolate Caramel Cookies, because Christmas isn’t complete without chocolate and caramel.

Of course we’ll make a batch of the Christmas cookie poster child, Spritz Cookies, and it’s sibling, Russian Teacake (or Mexican Wedding Cake or Snowballs, it goes by a number of aliases!).

I’m also pretty certain The Husband will be expecting at least one pan of Nanaimo Bars. Although I sometimes add in different cookies in the Christmas line up, these are family traditions that certain Tartlets would not want to forgo. What’s in your cookie tin?

Jicama for the Veggie Tray

One of the mainstays for the party table is a veggie tray.  Nearly all veggie trays have carrots and celery, maybe grape tomatoes, broccoli or cauliflower, possibly mushrooms.  One of my favorite things to add is jicama (pronounced /hee-kah-mah/). Jicama is a tuber with a tough, papery skin that you peel off (I usually use a knife rather than a vegetable peeler because the skin is fairly thick) to reveal the white, crunchy interior. The flesh of the jicama is something like a raw potato or green pear in texture and has a very slightly sweet taste, but is generally neutral. As such, it makes a great carrier for dips from Ranch to salsa. I also use them in stir-fry dishes, especially when I don’t have any water chestnuts on hand but want a little extra crunch. The jicama is also a common feature in my salads, when I can find good ones.

You will typically find jicama in the produce section near the potatoes, yams, turnips, and rutabagas or sometimes in a specialty produce section with the Mexican goods. You want to look for one with a firm, smooth skin, not shriveled. Unfortunately many produce workers in this part of the country are not familiar with them and have no idea when they should be removed from the shelf until they are obviously moldy and gross, so it’s hard to find good ones consistently. They should be stored in a cool, dry place, but not the refrigerator until cut. Because the jicama is mostly water, it does dry out easily if sliced bits are left out. It can easily be cut for a veggie tray and refrigerated, covered, for a day before serving.

Rainbow of Flavor

Here are the four versions of my signature dish I made for our cookout.

I like them to have variety, but the filling for all of them was a mixture of cream cheese/neufchatel cheese, homemade yogurt, and raspberry preserves.

Michael seemed to be quite happy there were enough for him to have two slices! 😉