Just in Time for Thanksgiving!

I know I say this almost every time the Gourmet Girls girls get together, but seriously this was one of the most fabulous meals we have had in the past five years!  (Yes, August marked the 5 year anniversary of the Gourmet Girls!)  We dinned on Tuesday, November 15 at Miss Raquel's home.  Raquel always puts together the most exquisite table decor.  She is so talented and so creative., and always has the perfect table for the season.  We started the evening off with an appetizer by Jodi, Cheesy Roasted Red Pepper Dip with french baguettes from Our Best Bites (you can find it on their blog or in their cookbook).  Next was Bridget's Pear and Blue Cheese Salad, also from Our Best Bites.  Andrea arrived with two different types of rolls, No Knead Dinner Rolls by Martha Stewart and Thanksgiving Bread (I'm making it this afternoon from Taste of Home.  After we had stuffed ourselves with appetizers, salad and bread, we served up Raquel's Herb Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Preserves (Pioneer Woman), LS's Sweet Potato Gratin (I'm still dreaming about this), a Williams-Somoma Recipe, and Lara's southern flair on stuffing, Cornbread Stuffing (a family recipe).  And then to finish the night off,  Lynley treated us to a beautiful and delicious cake layered with chocolate cake, cream cheese and chocolate frosting, a Lion House recipe.  See those beautifully wrapped packages in front of each place setting?  Scroll to the bottom of this post to find out what was inside!
 Andrea, Jodi & Bridget
Jodi, Raquel, LS & Andrea


The first course-  salad and bread

Sweet Potato Gratin
Cornbread Stuffing

8 cups cornbread, crumbled - 2 boxes Jiffy cornbread mix works great
1 medium onion, chopped
1 cup celery, diced
3/4 cup butter
2 cans cream of chicken soup
2 eggs, beaten
2-3 cups chicken broth
1 tsp seasoning salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tsp sage
1 tsp poultry seasoning

Make and bake cornbread mix according to package, then crumble until you have 8 cups (2 boxes in a 9x13 pan will make 8 cups).  You can make the cornbread the night before - just keep it covered.

Melt butter in skillet and simmer the onion and celery until soft.  Combine all ingredients with celery and onion (only using 1 cups of chicken broth).  Put in lightly greased 9x13 dish.  Lara pours 2 cups more chicken broth over the dish before baking so dressing will be moist.

Bake for 20-30 minutes at 450 degrees.
Mid meal-shot of LS, Jodi & Lara
Mid-meal shot of Bridget, Raquel & Lynley
(oh . . . and Miss Scarlet)
Chocolate Cake
Slice of chocolate cake 
Check out those gorgeous layers!

Sweet Home Alabama

The gourmet girls met on Tuesday, October 25 for another fabulous evening of food and friends!  (I know, it's about time I get this post up!)  We met at Lara's for a good 'ol southern meal.  Lara grew up in Huntsville, Alabama and wanted to share some of her southern cuisine with us.  Boy are we glad she did!  We started the evening out with Antipasto Kabobs, a recipe my sister-in-law Whitney shared with me.  Our main dish was Shrimp and Grits by Lara; YUM!  LS decided to stick with the theme for her side dish and favored us with Fried Green Tomatoes, fresh from her garden!  She served an Onion Relish to go with.  Lynley provided some delicious orange rolls and Jodi made Black and White Brownies, complete with ghost decorations on top!  Unfortunately Raquel and Andrea weren't able to join us.  Stay tuned for our next gourmet gathering on Tuesday, November 15!
Antipasto Kabobs

1 9 oz package of Three Cheese Tortellini (I used Buitoni, but Costco has better tortellini) cooked to package directions
Grape or cherry tomatoes (I used grape)
1 can Medium or Large pitted Black Olives (I used extra large)
1 5.75 oz jar Green Olives (I used the pimento stuffed ones)
2 12 oz containers of marinated mozzarella balls (I just bought the large container at Costco.  Much more cost effective and great flavor).
30 slices of Salami, cut in half (I just bought the Kroger brand)
1 cup Balsamic Vinaigrette Salad Dressing (store bought or homemade – I made mine with ¾ cup olive oil, ¼ cup balsamic, 2 TBS brown sugar, ½ tsp salt, ½ tsp pepper, 2 cloves garlic minced, juice of ½ of a lemon)
Skewers (I cut mine down)

Place the cooked tortellini in a bowl or large gallon freeze bag. Pour the salad dressing over the top and marinade in the fridge for a few hours (I did mine overnight). Drain the pasta.  Place one of each item onto the skewer using the pointy side.  This can be made a few hours in advance. Just cover tightly and place in the refrigerator.  (I think it’s actually a better flavor if they marinate together for a few hours).

  Lynley, Bridget & Jodi

 Lynley helping out in the kitchen

 Hostess Lara & Bridget
The table loaded up with food!
Onion Relish to go with the Fried Green Tomatoes

2 white onions, diced
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons chopped chives

Rhodes Orange Rolls
(We'll forgive Lynley since she recently had major surgery, plus they're delicious!)

 Black and White Brownies

Brownie Layer
1 pound butter, softened
4 cups sugar
1 cup cocoa
2 tsp salt 
6 eggs
4 tsp vanilla
3 cups four
Cream butter and sugar together.  Mix in remaining ingredients in order listed.  Bake in greased jellyroll pan at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. 

Vanilla Butter Cream Layer
1 cup butter, softened
4-6 cups (1 pound) powdered sugar
1/2 cup cream
2 tsp vanilla
For the vanilla butter cream layer:
Cream the butter thoroughly with an electric mixer.  Gradually add the powdered sugar alternately with the cream.  Add the vanilla and beat until very light and fluffy.  Spread evenly over the cooled brownie layer.  Chill in the refrigerator at least 10 minutes.

1 cube + 1 TBS butter
1 TBS vanilla
1 1/2 cups semi sweet chocolate chips
Melt butter and chocolate chips.  Add vanilla.  Pour over cold brownies, tipping pan to cover evenly.  To cut brownies use a very sharp thin bladed knife.

An Evening in Venice

And yet another gourmet success!  The Gourmet Girls met on Tuesday, September 20 at Laura Steven's (LS) home just two days after her return from Italy.  Naturally she had to try out some of her new Italian cuisine on us!  Unfortunately Raquel was detained and work and unable to join us.  So, we started the night off with soup, salad, and bread.  Andrea favored us with Sweet Pea Soup (Emeril Lagasse).  I don't even like peas and this soup was delicious!  Lara made a Rich & Creamy Blue Cheese Dressing which she served over wedge salads with fresh tomatoes and freshly ground pepper.  True to form, Jodi stuck with the theme and made  loaves of delicious Italian Bread.  Then our main dishes were ready, Mahi Mahi with a red sauce and Gnocchi over figs.  Lynley made a fantastic side dish Mashed Potatoes Baked with Three Cheeses (Williams Sonoma) For desert, I dove into a new project and created four different varieties of cake bites!  I'm obsessed!  Once again we had a fabulous evening with food and friends!
The Cook in the Kitchen!

Andrea, Laura (LS) and Lara (LA)
Bridget, Lynley & Jodi

Mashed Potatoes with Three Cheeses

4 large russet potatoes cut into 1/2 inch cubes
4 1/2 oz Brie cheese, rind removed, cut into 1/2 inch dice
5 1/2 oz fresh white goat cheese, crumbled
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup whole milk, plus more if needed
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons minced fresh flat-leaf (Italian) parsley

Preheat the oven to 350.  Butter a 9-inch pie dish. 

Pour water to a depth of 1 inch into a large pot and bring to a boil.  Put the potatoes into a collapsible steamer basket and set the basket over the boiling water.  (The water should not touch the  bottom of the steamer basket).  Cover and steam until the potatoes are tender when pierced with a small knife, about 15 minutes. Transfer the potatoes to a bowl.

Empty the pot and wipe dry.  Return the potatoes to the still-hot pot. Add two-thirds of the Parmesan cheese and mash well with a potato masher.  Add the 1/4 cup milk, a scant 1/4 tsp kosher salt, and 1/4 tsp pepper and mash to blend, adding more milk, 1 tablespoon at a time, if needed to reach the desired consistency.  Transfer the potatoes to the prepared dish.  Sprinkle the remaining cheeses evenly over the potatoes.

Bake the potatoes until heated through and the cheese is just beginning to brown on top, about 20 minutes.  Serve at once, sprinkled with the parsley.

Gnocchi with Figs
Unfortunately we didn't get a picture of the fish!

Cake Bites Galore!

I have loved cake bites ever since my friend Karen Veranth introduced me to them at The Sweet Tooth Fairy!  So the thought of creating my own was so exciting I could hardly stand it!  I finally bought the book I'd had my eye on for the past month - (101 Cake Bites by  Wendy Paul) and dove into the process!  I made Chocolate Cream, Lemon Cream Pie, Chocolate Peanut-Butter Cup and White Chocolate Macademia.  I also dipped some vanilla cookies in chocolate and sprinkled them (something I'd seen on Good Things Utah that week - not that great.)  But the cake bites were pretty heavenly!  I shared the gourmet left-overs with family, friends, piano students and neighbors and it seems Chocolate Cream Pie took 1st place, with Lemon Cream Pie as a very close 2nd.  For all of the cake bites, it is basically a three-step process:
1. Bake the cake
2. Combine the crumbled up cake with frosting and other ingredients until it is a dough-like consistency.  Then roll into bites and refrigerate for 1-2 hours.
3. Dip the bites in chocolate and decorate the tops

White Chocolate Macadamia
I loved these!
1 box white cake mix
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup half-and-half
Mix together and pour into a 9x13 baking pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for 28-32 minutes or until cake springs back when lightly touched.  Remove from oven and cool completely.  Crumble cake into small even pieces, placing crumbs in a large bowl.

1/3 cup macadamia nuts, chopped
1/3 cup white chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

With the back of a spoon, mix together, form into bites and cool in the fridge 1-2 hours or 20 min in the freezer.  Dip into white melting chocolate.  Drizzle with melted chocolate and/or chopped macadamia nuts.

Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
I should have taken better notes, but I'm pretty sure I halved this recipe.

8 TBS (1 stick) butter, room temperature
3 3/4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
3/4 TBS milk or cream
2 tsp vanilla extract

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup
I thought these were the most difficult to make because the consistency of the dough was so sticky with the peanut butter. It was also my least favorite flavor, but others seemed to love them.  You'll notice the chocolate is not very shiny and sort of dull looking.  I used Gutitard Chocolate, which I purchased in a 5 lb bag at Gygi.  Not sure why these are dull looking; could be I over-heated the chocolate.

1 box dark chocolate cake mix
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup half-and-half
Mix all together and pour into  a greased 9x13 baking pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for 28-32 minutes or until cake springs back when lightly touched.  Remove from oven and cool completely.  Crumble cake into small, even pieces, placing crumbs in a large bowl.

1 cup Chocolate Buttercream Frosting or 1 cup Peanut Butter Frosting 
3 pkgs. (1.5 oz) regular-size peanut butter cups, unwrapped and coarsely chopped (I used the 4.4 oz package they carry at Wal-Mart for $1.00)

With the back of a spoon, mix together cake crumbles with other ingredients until a thick dough consistency forms.  Shape into evenly sized cake bites and cool 1-2 hours in the fridge or 20 min in the freezer.  Dip into melting chocolate.  Drizzle with melted chocolate and/or chopped peanuts (I didn't do).

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
I can't remember but I'm pretty sure I did halved this recipe.
8 TBS butter, room temperature
1 cup peanut butter (chunky or smooth - I used chunky)
2 cups powdered sugar
3-4 TBS milk or cream
1 tsp vanilla

Lemon Cream Pie
These were probably the most time-intensive of the four recipes I did, since you have to crush the candy, make the frosting and zest a lemon. These were my personal favorite.
1 box lemon cake mix
2 TBS grated lemon zest
3 eggs
1 tsp lemon extract
3/4 cup half-and-half

Mix together cake mix, lemon zest, eggs, lemon extract, and half-and-half.  Batter will be thick.  Pour into a greased 9x13 baking pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for 28-32 minutes or until cake springs back when lightly touched.  Remove from oven and cool completely.  Crumble cake into small, even pieces, placing crumbs in a large bowl.

1/3 cup crushed hard lemon candy (I used Lemonheads)
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup Lemon Buttercream Frosting
2 TBS grated lemon zest

With the back of a spoon, mix together cake crumbles with other ingredients until a thick dough consistency forms.  Shape into evenly sized cake bites and cool 1-2 hours in the refrigerator (I put mine on parchment paper on a cookie sheet) or 20 minutes in the freezer.  Dip into white melting chocolate.  I sprinkled the tops with yellow sprinkles, which I thought made them sparkle!

Lemon Buttercream Frosting
(This is 1/4 of the recipe listed in the cookbook, which made a little more than enough for one batch of cake bites).

2 TBS butter
1 cup powdered sugar
3/4 to 1 TBS milk or cream
1/2 tsp lemon extract

Place butter in a large mixing bowl.  Beat until light and fluffy, about 30 seconds.  Stop the mixer before adding the sugar or you will have a large mess to clean up.  Add sugar, milk, and lemon extract.  Beat frosting, starting on slow and increasing your speed until frosting is nice and creamy.  Add more milk if frosting is too thick.

 Chocolate Cream Pie
1 box chocolate cake mix 
3 eggs
1 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
Mix together and bake at 350 degrees for 28-32 minutes.

8 oz cream cheese
1/4 cup Chocolate Buttercream Frosting (I think I used a little more than 1/4 cup)

Form into cake bites and cool in the fridge 1-2 hours or 20 min in the freezer.  Dip into dark melting chocolate.  (I used milk chocolate.)  The cookbook pictures little white swirls of frosting on the top, which I tried but was not skilled at.  I'd like to give this another shot.

Chocolate Buttercream
This was the first recipe of cake bites I tried, so I made the entire recipe of frosting, however I  learned quickly that the frosting recipes in this book make far too much frosting for what you need.  I made two batches of cake bites  with this one recipe of frosting and have more left in my fridge.  You could for sure half this recipe, maybe cut it in 1/4.

8 TBS butter
3 3/4 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup cocoa
3-4 tsp milk or cream
2 tsp vanilla extract

The chocolate I used to dip these in was Milk Chocolate Flavored Candy (specified for fondue, candymaking, desserts and fountains).  It was Chocomaker brand, which I purchased at Harmons in a 2 lb bag for $7.99.  I thought it tasted every bit as good as the Guittards but I thought the shiny texture was much prettier and I didn't think they had a waxy flavor, which melting chocolate sometimes does.  It was $1.00 more per pound that the Guittards.

FüD Feud 2011

Yesterday Andrea and I participated in our very first Cooking Competition!  It was a complete blast!  We had so much fun meeting fellow "foodies", sampling tons of delicious dishes and spending time together for five straight hours!  Below is a summary of our day, complete with pictures.

The competition was held at Trolley Square and put on by Lindsey Joy Smith, who owns a company called "Feast Upon Delights" (FüD).  I was so impressed with how well-organized and well put together the entire event was.  She had tons of fantastic sponsors and lots of great help, including a very impressive line-up of judges.  This is a picture of the check-in table as well as a view of the room where the event was held as everyone is setting up.
We arrived shortly after 9:00 and had one hour to set up or "stage" our 1 1/2 x 2 foot space on our table.  This was the part we were a little nervous about, but we did just fine. 
This is Lindsey welcoming everyone and giving us the run-down on the events of the day.  Andrea and I met her and chatted for a bit.  She is a super cool person and may find herself an invitation to one of our gourmet nights!  When we arrived we each received a "goodie bag"  complete with an apron, hot mits, a brownie server, a chef's hat and a copy of her book Feast.  It's Sunday night at 10:00 and I've already finished this delightful little book!  She has a darling wit and a fun style.
At 10:00 the judges began coming around, tasting all of our dishes.  There were three judges for each of the four categories; appetizer, main, side and desert.  This is me with my Marinated Cheeses, a recipe from Lara Dixon.  Lara brought these to our very first gourmet night and I have loved them ever since.  I make them anytime the opportunity for an appetizer arises!
Marinated Cheeses
8 oz cheddar cheese (I used Extra-Sharp Cheddar)
8 oz Cream Cheese (Andrea has convinced me that the store brand is just as good as Philadelphia).

Cut into small squares and alternate in a glass dish.

Mix the following ingredients well, pour over cheeses and marinate overnight.
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
3 TBS fresh parsley, chopped
3 TBS fresh green onions, chopped
1 tsp sugar
3/4 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
3 cloves chopped garlic
2 oz jar pimentos (I can never find a 2 oz jar so I use 1/2 of a 4 oz jar)

For this competition I doubled the recipe, but I ran out so I should have tripled it.  A single batch is usually adequate for a party or shower. I marinated the cheeses in a Tupperware dish overnight and then put together my serving dish once I arrived to the event.  I'm glad I brought paper towels to clean up the extra oil on the dish!  We were asked to plate three plates, one for each of the judges.
Here is a shot of Andrea's lovely plated salads, all ready for the judges!
Grapes and Pasta Salad
1/3 cup seasoned rice vinegar
1/4 cup honey
1 TBS lemon juice
1-2 tsp onion (grated onion)
1 tsp Sweet Hungarian Paprika
1 tsp celery
3/4 cup light vegetable or canola oil
salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
12 oz bow tie pasta, cooked & well-drained
1 pound baby salad greens
1 cup seedless red or green grapes, halved
3-4 green onions cut diagonally into 1 inch pieces
1/2 cups toasted pine nuts
salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded

Place 1st eight ingredients in blender and blend at medium speed until all is blended. Place in small container and refrigerate until ready to serve.
In a large salad bowl, combine the next 5 ingredients and toss well. Sprinkle shredded cheese over all, toss with dressing just before serving. 
Andrea brought all of her salad ingredients in a cooler, in separate containers.  She made a small salad for each of the judges and once the people's choice voting came around, she mixed together a huge salad in her punch bowl!  I make this salad frequently and everyone always loves it!  It's a unique mix with the pasta and greens and the dressing is delish! 
Each contestant was given two tickets to invite guests to vote for the "People's Choice Awards".  My darling sister-in law Whitney and my adorable niece Halle counted as my first guest and my cute piano mom Claudia Nielson was gracious enough to be my 2nd taster!
I thought this was one of the coolest entries there!  
I definitely want to learn to make something this fancy!
I thought this display for the Asian Salmon Burgers was cool. 
They ended up winning the gold medal for main dish.
This was the awards table.  Each Category was awarded a gold, silver and bronze.  They also awarded a 1st, 2nd and 3rd place award for "People's Choice" and then tons of raffle drawings, just for entering!

Andrea took home the bronze for the side dish category!  She won $50 cash, a $25 gift certificate to California Pizza Kitchen, a cookbook Cooking with Jaxon, a bronze charger and a bottle of Martineli's!  Way to go Andrea!

Andrea was so excited about her winnings!  She also won a raffle drawing!  A gift certificate to Whole Foods and appetizers for two at Biaggis!
Andrea and I after the Awards Ceremony! 

I also won a raffle drawing!  A chocolate party for eight at The Melting Pot.  We both agreed we definitely want to participate again next year and hopefully all of the other gourmet girls will join us!