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!