Thursday, June 30, 2011

Review:'s Dining Out at Home Cookbook + An At-Home Version of Chili's Monterey Chicken

I'm an equal opportunity foodie: I enjoy eating out at my favorite restaurants, but I also love cooking a nice meal in my kitchen. Lucky for me, the book I'm sharing with you today allows me to have the best of BOTH worlds! I enjoy visiting CopyKat Recipes | Restaurant Recipes, which features make-at-home versions of many of my favorite restaurant dishes. The blog's author, fellow Texan Stephanie Manley, recently published a cookbook entitled's Dining Out at Home. She sent me a copy of the cookbook to review and feature a recipe for you to see how easy it to create restaurant favorites at home.

The book is laid out in chapters for drinks, appetizers, salads, soups, main dishes, side dishes, desserts, breakfasts, and sauces/dressings. Recipes range from fast food classics to national chain restaurants. Chances are you'll find many of your personal favorites to try out in your own kitchen. The recipes feature easy-to-find ingredients and clear, easy-to-follow instructions. In no time, you'll make spot-on re-creations of popular restaurant items at home...for a fraction of the money. Best of all? You can eat the at-home version in your jammies in front of the TV if you're so inclined!

Let me tell you, it was SO HARD to pick just one recipe to spotlight for this post. The book features many of my best-loved restaurant dishes...including:
  • Chili's Awesome Blossom
  • Black-Eyed Pea's Squash Casserole
  • Olive Garden's Pasta Alfredo (Stephanie's personal favorite, she tells me...)
  • Popeye's Red Beans and Rice
  • Cracker Barrel Hash Brown Casserole
  • The Cheesecake Factory's Cheesecake
I decided to try making one of my favorite dishes from Chili's: Monterey Chicken. Seared chicken topped with BBQ sauce, crispy bacon, melted cheese...and a sprinkle of chopped tomatoes and green onion just before serving. It was ooey-gooey and delish...and ready in less than 30 minutes. That's faster than I can drive to the nearest Chili's and order...not to mention the aforementioned PJ perk!

Chili's Monterey Chicken
from's Dining Out at Home

Step 1:  Cook enough slices of bacon to equal your chicken breasts until crisp. I cooked three chicken breasts, so I cooked three pieces of thick applewood smoked bacon. Set aside. Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Spray with nonstick spray or coat with a little bit of olive oil. Salt and pepper your chicken breast. Cook for about 5-7 minutes per side, until nicely browned. Spoon about 1 tbs. of your favorite BBQ sauce on top of the chicken.

Step 2:  Preheat oven to 375. Top each piece of chicken with the bacon. I found it easiest to cut the cooked bacon in half and put it on top in a crisscross pattern. Sprinkle about 1/4 cup of shredded cheddar-monterey jack blend cheese on top. Place the skillet in the oven just long enough to melt the cheese.

Step 3:  Just before serving, sprinkle each piece of chicken with a bit of diced tomato and sliced green onion. I served this chicken over a boxes rice pilaf, with a green salad on the side. 

This dish was great...I paid approximately $10 for enough ingredients to make three portions of this dish, which is a fraction of what I would have paid to go out to eat this meal. The flavor is nearly identical to what I've eaten at Chili's, and it was ready in no time flat dirtying only one skillet and one saucepan in the process.

If you'd like to purchase a copy of this cookbook, you can buy it via this link at Amazon. I hope you'll also go check out Stephanie's blog, which features even more of her recipes for at-home versions of famous restaurant dishes...she recently featured a CopyKat version of McDonald's amazing new frozen strawberry lemonade that I can't wait to try!

So,'s just about vacation time at Casa Garcia. That means I'm taking a little blog break for the next week. We leave for Chicago tomorrow afternoon, and we return late next Wednesday evening. We've got all sorts of fun things planned: foodie adventures at Giordano's and Frontera Grill (for starters...), time spent with family, tons of museums and other tourist attactions...and we're FINALLY getting to see U2 after a 1-year delay since last year's show had to be rescheduled! I promise to come back with all sorts of pictures and all the fun details next week. I hope all of you have a fun, food-filled July 4th!!

One last thing...the winner of the Sucre 15-macaron sampler box is: 

#8 Christina

I'll be in touch to get your shipping info so Sucre can get that sent right out to you! I hope you enjoy these tasty macarons as much as I did...a little taste of Paris by way of New Orleans...

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Frozen Strawberry-Grand Marnier Mousse

Well, friends…it’s only a few days before we leave for Chicago, and I’ve got a huge container of organic strawberries in the fridge that I need to use before we leave! What’s a girl to do? Well, if she’s a resourceful food blogger, she comes up with a fantastic recipe to showcase these beauties! My criteria was pretty clear: the recipe had to be simple…and it needed to be something refreshing to help us deal with this crazy Texas heat. I went to one of my “go to” recipe resources, Cooking Light's website, to see what ideas they might have. As usual, I found just what I was looking for after a few minutes of looking: a simple frozen strawberry mousse. 

Only a handful of ingredients and a few minutes are needed to make this dessert, which is perfect for my busy week! Of course, I tweaked the recipe a bit…but what else is new? Rather than completely puree the strawberries, I left them just a bit chunky so there would be little bits of strawberry in the mousse. I used French Vanilla Cool Whip – a seasonal flavor – to add a hint of a vanilla in the background…and I couldn’t resist adding some Grand Marnier since I LOVE the way it pairs with strawberries. This dessert comes together in about 15 minutes, then it goes in the freezer for a couple of hours while you attend to other things…like, say, packing a suitcase? It doesn’t freeze solid…it’s totally spoonable and delicious! I topped each serving of mousse with half of a large strawberry…eye appeal is important too, yes?

Frozen Strawberry-Grand Marnier Mousse
adapted from Cooking Light

Step 1:  Add 2 cups chopped strawberries, 1/3 cup superfine sugar, and 1/4 cup Grand Marnier to a food processor. Pulse until the strawberries are just short of pureed...leave some little bits of strawberry for flavor and texture.

Step 2:  Pour the strawberry mixture into a mixing bowl. Add 1/2 cup light sour cream and whisk until combined.

Step 3:  Add 1.5 cups of Cool Whip to the bowl. If you can find it, use the French Vanilla seasonal flavor. If you can't find that, add 1 tsp. vanilla extract in its place. Whisk the Cool Whip well to totally incorporate it into the mousse.

Step 4:  Spoon the mousse into four serving bowls. I used pretty stemmed wine glasses that are freezer safe, but ramekins or rocks glasses would also work nicely. Freeze for about two hours, then garnish with a strawberry half before serving.

This dessert is perfect for a warm summer evening…it’s so refreshing and light! To me, nothing says summer quite like strawberries. This recipe makes four individual servings of mousse. In my household, that means we have dessert left for tomorrow night too…which is perfect when you’re trying to take care of the millions of little details that come with preparing for a vacation. We leave on Friday afternoon, but I’ll be back with one more post on Thursday. I have a cookbook review and recipe feature to share, and I’ll announce the winner of my Sucre macaron giveaway. If you haven’t entered, you have until tomorrow evening at 1159 p.m.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

A Little Something Sweet...Review + Giveaway: Macarons from Sucre, New Orleans

I'm no psychic, but I'm seeing deep dish pizza and dinner at Frontera Grill in my immediate future. Sorry I've been a bit MIA the past few days...things are hectic at Casa Garcia gtting ready for our upcoming vacation to Chicago next weekend. We're looking forward to a few days visiting with family, cooler temps, lots of foodie adventures, a trip to Trader Joe's...and? We're going to see U2 in concert at Soldier Field!!! The concert was originally scheduled for LAST July, but was rescheduled when Bono injured his back and had to have surgery. So, this is sort of delayed gratification for us. But...before I go, I've a few more blog posts to share...starting with a fun gourmet food review + giveaway. 

I think I've mentioned before that New Orleans holds a very special place in my heart. Michael spent several long weekends eating our way around that great foodie city during out dating years. Then, Michael proposed to me under a gorgeous wrought-iron gazebo in the courtyard at the Ritz-Carlton New Orleans in 2001, and we spent a few days relaxing there after our wedding in December 2003. I think I've also mentioned my love of cookies a time or much so that my brother-in-law's nickname for me is actually Cookie. So? My latest review and giveaway is pretty much perfect for me: macarons from Sucre bakery in New Orleans. 

If you've never tried a macaron, they're a delicious French classic! They're basically a delicate egg-white based cookie that's sandwiched with fruit or nut-flavored buttercream or mousseline. It's easy to do, but don't confuse them with macaroons...the sticky coconut cookie. I love macarons, but have never attempted to bake them at home. Truthfully, they intimidate me more than bread baking ever did. Lucky for me, several bakeries offer mail order macarons...including Sucre.

The nice people at Sucre generously sent me a 15-cookie macaron sampler box this week. The package arrived complete with dry ice to keep the macarons chilled in the crazy Texas heat. The box itself is very cute and colorful, and the personalized note was a nice gesture. Inside was a guide to all the flavors in the sampler, and the cookies were covered by a hard plastic over lay to protect the delicate macarons...I'm happy to report that none were damaged in transit. The macarons are individually placed in paper cups and packaged so they don't touch, which provides them even more protection during the shipping process.

The sampler featured each of their macaron flavors:
  • Strawberry with Strawberry Cream
  • Chocolate with Semisweet Chocolate Mousseline
  • Lemon with Lemon Cream
  • Orange with Orange Cream
  • Pecan with Pecan-Infused Mousseline
  • Pistachio with Sicilian Mousseline
  • Almond with Almond Mousseline
  • Hazelnut with Hazelnut Mousseline

Wow...these macarons are simply AMAZING! The cookies are so tender that they almost melt in your mouth. And the fillings? They're full of flavor that perfectly compliments the macaron cookie -- not too sweet, and the perfect amount of filling. The box is perfect for sampling...and most flavors came two to the box, which made sharing with Michael very easy. No fighting over who got to sample each flavor. I can really appreciate a product that fosters marital harmony in a house of foodies. We enjoyed all of the flavors, but our personal favorites were the strawberry, lemon, and the pecan...the classic almond macaron with a southern spin!

I've been fortunate to sample macarons from several prominent bakeries, and I can honestly say that these are among the best I've tasted. The quality of the ingredients is evident from the very first bite. The fruit flavors are bright and vibrant, and the chocolate variety is the perfect balance of chocolate goodness without overpowering the delicate macaron. For those of you who live in the NOLA area or are planning a trip to visit that amazing city, Sucre has two locations where you can sample their entire line of baked goods in person: one on Magazine Street, and one Lakeside. Wait...I'm having another psychic moment: I predict I will be standing in this very spot during my next visit to NOLA:

Sucre has generously offered to give one of my readers their own 15-macaron sampler box just like the one pictured above! To enter, simply visit Sucre's website to see all of their delicious baked items. Then come back here and leave me a comment letting me know which macaron flavor you're most excited to try, along with your e-mail address. For a second entry...leave a separate comment telling me what fun foodie adventures you have planned for this summer. It's really important that you leave a separate comment for each entry since I use a random number generator to select my winners -- each post counts as one entry. Good luck...the contest is open until this Wednesday, June 30. I'll announce the winner before I leave for Chicago next Friday.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Dynamic Side Dish Duo: Garlicky Red Potatoes + Italian Roasted Broccoli

Let's talk side dishes...i.e., the supporting players of your meal. They’re not the main event, so they're sort of easy to overlook. However, that’s a big mistake...because they’re vital to the overall success of your  meal, much like an ensemble cast in a movie or play. The supporting cast is there to make the star of the show look good...but they can make or break the outcome of any production, be it onstage or on a plate! I’m going to share two simple side dishes with you that will make any meal that much better. Both feature recipe makes simple red potatoes jump off the plate, and the other will make you actually WANT to eat your broccoli...promise!

I created delicious Garlicky Red Potatoes after Salt Works Gourmet Sea Salts recently sent me several sample packets of their delicious products to try out. Included in my package were several flavored salts from their Fusion line. I was very impressed with the quality of all their products, but the Roasted Garlic Sea Salt flavor really caught my attention. It packs much more garlic flavor than the typical garlic salts I've tried, and it was a more mellow flavor since the garlic was roasted. My potatoes have an amazing garlic flavor thanks to a two-pronged flavor approach of fresh garlic and this amazing flavored salt! Click on the links above to check out Salt Works and all of the amazing gourmet salt products they offer. 

The Italian Roasted Broccoli recipe is my slight tweak on Ina Garten's AMAZING Parmesan-Roasted Broccoli. This broccoli is light years beyond boring steamed broccoli -- it's full of Italian-inspired flavors, and roasting brings a slightly sweet taste to broccoli. As soon as I saw the recipe, I knew that I had to make it eventually. I just needed to find the right occasion since Michael never met a broccoli floret he liked. Even if you think you hate broccoli, you’ll love this dish: it’s full of interesting flavors and textures! 

This dynamic duo of tasty side dishes definitely deserves their moment in the spotlight! So, without further ado...

Garlicky Red Potatoes
a Weekend Gourmet Original Recipe

Step 1:  Heat 2 tbs. olive oil in a medium non-stick skillet over medium heat. While the oil is heating, combine the following ingredients in a mixing bowl: 1 lb. diced red potatoes (skin on), 1-2 tbs. chopped flat-leaf parsley, 1 tbs. garlic salt, 2-3 grated or finely chopped garlic cloves, 1 tbs. olive oil, and salt & pepper to taste. 

Step 2:  Toss well to combine all the ingredients,and add the potatoes to the heated skillet. Raise the temperature to med-high and cook, stirring often, for about 10 minutes.

At that point, lower the temperature to medium-low, cover, and let the potatoes steam for about 5 minutes. Uncover, add 1 additional tbs. olive oil, and increase the temperature back to med-high. Cook about 5 minutes longer, until the potatoes are golden brown.

Step 3:  To serve, place the potatoes in a serving bowl. Add more salt & pepper if necessary and sprinkle a bit of parmesan cheese on top. 

Italian Roasted Broccoli
adapted from Barefoot Contessa, Back to Basics

Step 1:  Preheat oven to 400. Line a large baking sheet with parchment or a Silpat. Cut one bunch of broccoli into florets and spread evenly in one layer on the baking sheet. I left a bit of the stem -- maybe 1/2 inch.  Top with three thinly sliced garlic cloves and about 3 tbs. olive oil...sprinkle with salt & pepper to taste, and give it a toss with your hands to make sure all the broccoli has a light coating of oil and seasoning.

Step 2:  Roast the broccoli for about 20-25 minutes. While the broccoli is cooking, combine the following ingredients in a small bowl: the zest of one lemon, 1/3 cup grated parmesan reggiano, 1 tbs. julienne fresh basil, and 2 tbs. toasted pine nuts. Toss to combine and set aside.

Step 3:  When the broccoli is done, remove from the oven. You'll know it's ready when it's slightly browned on the edges. Place the broccoli in a serving bowl. Add 1 tbs. olive oil, the juice of one lemon, and the reserved mixture in the bowl. Toss to combine and add more salt & pepper if needed.

Boy, is this broccoli ever delicious! The lemon and zest gives it a bright flavor, and the basil/parm/pine nuts give it a fresh and nutty flavor. This broccoli is good warm or at room temperature, so it's great for entertaining. You can make it ahead and let it hang out until it's time for the meal to be served. This dish will make even the most avowed broccoli hater come around. 

These two side dishes would be a great one-two punch with simple grilled meats for a lovely summer dinner, but I didn’t actually serve these dishes at the same meal. I served the potatoes as part of a recent breakfast-for-dinner weeknight meal, and the roasted broccoli was one of the sides for my Foodbuzz/Electrolux dinner party last weekend.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Shortcut Strawberry Shortcakes: All the Flavor, Lickety Split!!

It's true. Like the picture on the left says: I LOVE STRAWBERRIES!! They're hands-down my favorite fruit…I add them to my salads, I eat them with yogurt and granola for a healthy snack, and I love to make desserts with them! So, it was a no-brainer that strawberries would play a starring role in my Foodbuzz/Electrolux dinner party last weekend. The party may have been Italian-inspired, but per Michael’s request, our dessert was a quintessential American classic: strawberry shortcake. My favorite strawberry shortcake recipe is from Commander’s Palace in New Orleans, but I simply didn’t have time last weekend to whip up homemade shortcakes for what was supposed to be an easy-breezy summer party. So, I improvised a bit and discovered a fantastic shortcut that saved me tons of time…but I didn’t have to sacrifice flavor in the process!!

The secret mystery ingredient for my strawberry shortcakes? Canned biscuits. Yep…you read that right. My shortcakes were made from Pillsbury Grands buttermilk biscuits. I doctored them up with melted butter and turbinado sugar, and they worked out beautifully. That little shortcut gave me a pocket of time to make some homemade sweetened whipped cream…which was something that I considered vital to the overall flavor of the finished product. I also added a bit of Grand Marnier to the sliced strawberries to give the juices a little more oomph. I assembled the shortcakes after our meal and presented them to my guests, who gobbled up every bite and declared them delicious. When I let them in on my secret shortcut? They were totally surprised that a canned biscuit made such a great shortcake. 

Wendy's Shortcut Strawberry Shortcakes
a Weekend Gourmet Original Recipe inspired by Poppin' Fresh

 Step 1:  Slice a container of strawberries into bite-size pieces. Add 1/2 cup sugar and 1/3 cup Grand Marnier. Stir well to combine, cover, and refrigerate for at least one hour. This allows the strawberry juice to combine with the sugar and Grand Marnier to make a yummy syrup.

Step 2: Preheat oven to 375. Remove five Grands buttermilk biscuits from the container. Dip the tops of the biscuits in melted butter, then place them butter-side-down in a small bowl of turbinado sugar. Place the sugared biscuits on a baking sheet covered with parchment or a Silpat. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until the shortcakes are just golden. Set the shortcakes aside to cool until you're ready to serve.

Step 3:  Make the sweetened whipped cream by placing 1 cup heavy whipping cream in a mixing bowl; use the whisk attachment to whip the cream for a couple of minutes. Add 1/2 cup powdered sugar and continue whipping until stiff peaks form. I prefer to used powdered sugar because I find it keeps the whipped cream stable and a nice thick consistency. Place in a bowl and refrigerate until you're ready to assemble the shortcakes.

Step 4:  To assemble, split one of the shortcakes in half with a knife. Place the bottom side on a plate and top with about 1/2 cup of the strawberry mixture. Make sure to get a spoon to make sure each shortcake gets a bit of the yummy syrup in the bottom of the bowl. Top with about 1/2 cup of the whipped cream and place the sugared top-side of the shortcake on top. That's, you're ready to eat!!

These little shortcakes are perfect for summertime entertaining, but they're also quick to whip up for a weeknight treat. For something so simple, this recipe delivers a lot of bang for your buck! I loved the crunch of turbinado sugar on the shortcakes, the citrus background flavor from the Grand Marnier in the strawberries…and the fresh whipped cream? It was the perfect decadent little addition that pulled it all together.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

My New Favorite Chicken Recipe: Lemon-Thyme Roasted Chicken Breasts

I have a really fantastic chicken recipe to share today that will make you rethink chicken. Yes, chicken is versatile...but it can get really boring to eat it the same old ways. The recipe I'm sharing today, my friends, is anything but boring! I gently tweaked Ina Garten's AMAZING lemon chicken breast recipe for my Foodbuzz/Electrolux dinner party on Saturday. I added a bit more white wine, reduced the amount of garlic by half and upped the lemon juice slightly so the lemon flavor would really take center stage, arranged some fresh thyme sprigs around the dish, and added a bit of shallot. To me, the real test of whether a recipe is a keeper is how soon do I want to make and eat it again? Well, I'm already planning to make this chicken for dinner later this week!!

I'm not sure I can find enough adjectives to adequately describe the deliciousness of this chicken. The words juicy, lemony, and sublime all come to mind for starters. This is a very simple dish, but the ingredients combine so perfectly that you just want to keep eating it...and then hurry and make it again! This chicken is simple enough to whip up on a busy weeknight, but it's also elegant enough for entertaining. Your guests will think you spent hours cooking it, but it only takes about 15 minutes to assemble before roasting in the oven for 40 minutes.

Lemon-Thyme Roasted Chicken Breasts
adapted from Ina Garten's How Easy It That?
Step 1:  Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Add 1/4 cup olive oil and four cloves minced or grated garlic and 1 tbs. minced shallot to a saucepan over med-low heat. Cook for 1-2 minutes, but don't let the garlic just want to infuse the oil with the garlic flavor. Remove from heat and add the following ingredients to the saucepan: 1/2 cup white wine, the zest of two lemons, the juice of one lemon, 1 tsp. dried oregano, 1 tsp. fresh thyme, and 1 tsp. sea salt. Stir to combine. 
Step 2:  Pour the mixture into a baking dish. Depending on size, top with 3-4 boneless chicken breasts with the skin on. You can remove the skin before eating, but it allows the chicken breast to stay moist...and it bakes up pretty and golden-brown. Brush the chicken w/olive oil and season w/salt and pepper. Cut a lemon into 8 wedges and scatter them among the chicken breasts. Arrange a few sprigs of thyme among the chicken pieces as well.
Step 3:  Bake the chicken for 30-4o minutes, depending on the size of the chicken breasts you're using. The skin should be a nice golden-brown. If you want to maximize browning, do what I did: turn on the broiler for 2-3 minutes, keeping a careful eye out to make sure it doesn't burn! Remove from the oven and let the chicken sit for 10 minutes before serving. 
This dish is as pretty to look at as it is to eat! Golden skin, juicy chicken breast, and and a lemony-garlic pan sauce! I served this with The French Laundry's rich carnaroli parmesan risotto for the party, but some simple white rice would be perfect for soaking up that yummy sauce in the bottom of the baking dish. This dish was very well received at my dinner party...and I discovered that the chilled leftovers make a fantastic salad the next day for lunch. The chicken is moist infused with flavor all the way through. 

Let me put it this way: you simply MUST make this recipe, and me on this one, ok? I also wanted to share a great blog link-up with you. My good friend Louanne at the blog Louanne's Kitchen is part of blog group called Ina's Garden. They post recipes from Ina Garten on a monthly basis. This month's theme is chicken, so I'm linking up this recipe to share this month. Be sure to check out Louanne's great version of Ina's Tequila Lime Chicken

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Foodbuzz Tastemaker Program: My Italian-Inspired Foodbuzz/Electrolux "Are You Party-Ready?" Party

As part of the Foodbuzz Tastemaker Program, I recently submitted my favorite impromptu entertaining tip as part of the Electrolux "Are You Party-Ready?" campaign. Imagine how excited and surprised I was to have my tip selected as one of the 16 best tips. For having my tip selected, Foodbuzz provided me with a $250 stipend to throw a little party at Casa Garcia!!

The tip I submitted was this: I always keep a few snacks in a special "off limits" cabinet in my kitchen...a bag of chips and a jar of my favorite salsa (Frontera Kitchens), packages of seasoned nuts, flavored crackers, and a box of gourmet cookies are what I tend to keep stashed away in there. I also have a bottle of white wine and some cheese in my fridge at all times. When unexpected guests come by, I can quickly and easily whip up a quick snack and a drink without having to frantically inventory my kitchen! 

When it comes to entertaining, I'm definitely in the "less is more" category. Part of that is out of necessity since we don't have a lot of space to entertain at Casa Garcia. Truthfully, I find it much easier to visit with my guests and manage the logistics of entertaining when I have a small guest list. For my party, I went with an easy Italian-inspired menu and invited one of our closest couple friends and their little girl over for a relaxing late-afternoon meal. I'm going to share a few tips for throwing a casual, elegant summertime party.

Tip 1: Don't spend a fortune on decor -- see if you have items on hand that you can use. I wanted to put a pretty wreath on my front door. However, I didn't want to buy an expensive wreath to match my I improvised. I used a grapevine garland that I had laying around. Since it was still rolled into a coil, I simply hung it and arranged it to look nice. From the moment my guests arrived, the tone of the party was set. I didn't take a picture, but I also put a pretty wine/grape area rug on my front porch to complete the theme.

For the inside decor, I stuck with a red/orange/golden yellow color scheme to play off my dishes and linens. I decorated my bar with silk flowers, wine bottles, and other decor that I already had around the house. Then I placed red tea lights in a decorative display above my fireplace. Total time to decorate inside and out? Less then 30 minutes the evening before the party.

Tip 2: Keep the menu simple. Don't overwhelm yourself with a complicated multi-course meal complete with multiple wine pairings. The idea is to have fun with your guests, not tie yourself to the kitchen the entire time! I served three easy appetizers, a sparkling sangria, and a simple meal. Here's my party menu:
  • Appetizers: store-bought parmesan pita chips and scallion-shallot boursin cheese, Tuscan White Bean Dip, and my spin on The Enchanted Cook's delicious Tomato Mozzarella Skewers. The appetizers were served with a delicious, fruity sparkling white sangria. Total time to assemble? Less then 30 minutes.
  • Dinner:  Lemon-thyme chicken breast; roasted broccoli w/lemon, garlic, parmesan, and pine nuts; The French Laundry's amazing carnaroli risotto; and field greens w/strawberries, feta, candied pecans, and raspberry-walnut dressing.
  • Dessert: Shortcut Strawberry won't believe how easy these are to whip up when I share the recipe later this week! I will say this much for now: sweet homemade whipped cream and Grand Marnier-laced strawberries.

Tip 3: Prep work is vital! If you try to do all the cleaning, decor, and cooking on the day of even the simplest of parties, you're asking for trouble...mark my words. Who wants to be a worn-out frazzled mess by the time your guests arrive? Instead, do as much of it ahead of time as possible. Here's how my timeline for this party went:
  • Thursday: Inventory kitchen and make grocery list. Wash wine glasses and clean/vacuum living room.
  • Friday afternoon/evening: Buy groceries, decorate, clean bathroom, make tomato-mozzarella skewers, prep chicken and place in baking dish, and prep broccoli.
  • Saturday morning: Pre-cook step of risotto -- this recipe lets you prep it the day before/morning of, then complete 15 minutes prior to serving, bake shortcakes, make sangria base, and assemble salad.
  • Saturday afternoon: Shower, set table, prep roasted broccoli on baking sheet, set out appetizers and turn on the custom playlist of music on iTunes 30 minutes before guests arrive. 
  • Guests arrive: Greet them, serve appetizers, and add prosecco to the sangria. While everyone eats apps, pop chicken and broccoli in oven. This gave me 30 minutes to visit  and have a drink. While chicken rests for 15 minutes, finish cooking risotto. Michael cleared the appetizers to make room on the buffet for the main dishes. Assemble shortcakes after dinner, just prior to serving.
See? Easy peasy...I was busy, but not overly hectic or stressed out leading up to the party. By serving a menu with dishes that could be prepped ahead and featured mostly hands-off cooking time, I had time to actually participate in my party! The risotto did require 15 minutes of my undivided attention just before serving, but everything else was pretty much hands-off once the intial prep work was complete! 

To find out if YOU'RE party-ready, please go visit Kelly Confidential and test your party readiness. For each person who participates, $1 will be donated to the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund. You'll also be entered for a chance to win an Electrolux French Door Refrigerator with the Perfect TempDrawer and Party Ice.

I'll be sharing the recipes for the lemon-thyme chicken, roasted broccoli, and strawberry shortcakes later this week. For now, I'll leave you with the recipe for the delicious sparkling white sangria I served with the appetizers. It's light and refreshing, perfect for summertime entertaining!

Sparkling White Sangria
adapted from Giada de Laurentiis

Step 1: Add the following fruit to the bottom of a large glass pitcher: 1 small sliced orange, 1 small sliced lemon, 1 small sliced lime, and 5-6 quartered strawberries.

Step 2: Add 1 cup orange juice, 1 cup light simple syrup (1/2 cup sugar + 1 cup water brought to boil and stirred), and 1/2 cup Grand Marnier. Give it a stir and refrigerate until time to serve.

Step 3: Right before serving, add one bottle sparkling wine of your choice. I added a bottle of sparkling sweet moscato, but you can use prosecco or champagne. Note: Since these are both less-sweet than moscato, you might need more simple syrup...depending on how sweet you want your sangria to be! Give it a stir and pour into glasses...salut!

OMG...I love this sangria! It's fruity and refreshing, and I loved the fizz from the sparkling moscato. It was just sweet enough, and the Grand Marnier boosted the orange flavor of the juice perfectly. I can see this being my signature summer cocktail...easy to whip up and so refreshing on those hot Texas summer evenings!!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Review and Giveaway: WannaHavaCookie Whoopie Pies and Bar Cookies

Over the past few months, I think we've firmly established that I have not only A sweet tooth, but an entire mouth fool of multiple sweet TEETH! However, I have an extra-special place in my heart for cookies of all types. Imagine how excited I was when I recently had the opportunity to sample some whoopie pies and bar cookies from New York City-based WannaHavaCookie bakery. Marisa Angebranndt, the owner and head baker of the company, graciously offered to send me a sampling of some of her baked goods. 

The box arrived a few days later, and I was literally like a little kid on Christmas morning! The box was quite large, and I loved the orange ribbon and her logo. When I opened the box, I saw festive orange tissue paper and discovered a note from Marisa. That was a nice, personal touch that I really appreciated. Then I opened the tissue and swooned: nestled inside were more than 2 DOZEN different whoopie pies and bar cookies...i.e., The Mother Lode!!

My sampler box included several flavors of individually wrapped whoopie pies, linzer bars, toffee bars, chocolate chip blondies, and brownies with white chocolate chips. I may have squealed with delight, then I decided to try a red velvet whoopie pie first. It was so yummy: moist cake-like cookies filled with a delicious homemade buttercream!

We had company visiting Casa Garcia that weekend, so I shared my goodies with everyone to get their feedback. Everyone sampled a whoopie pie (...or two) and declared all of the flavors delish, but the seasonal lemon-ginger was declared the overall favorite. Another very popular bar was the yummy linzer torte -- raspberry preserves on top of a buttery walnut-flavored base. My other favorite in the collection was the ToffeeMills bar...flavored with Skor toffee chips and a shot of Irish whiskey in the batter!

So, do I have your mouth watering yet? Good...because now it's YOUR chance to try some of these yummy treats for yourself! Marisa has generously offered to send one of my readers a variety box of 24 assorted whoopie pies and bars!! To enter, all you have to do is go visit the WannaHavaCookie website. While you're there, click on the Our Treats tab and take a look at all the flavor combinations she offers. Then, come back here and leave me a comment telling me which item you're most excited about trying.

For a second entry, you can Like WannaHavaCookie on Facebook. For a third entry, follow WannaHavaCookie on Twitter. For a fourth entry, you can follow my blog...or let me know you're already a follower of The Weekend Gourmet. Make sure to include your e-mail address on one of your comments so I know how to find you if you're the winner. This giveaway is open until 11:59 on Sunday, June 12th...and the winner will be announced next Monday. Good luck...these whoopies and bars are AMAZING!!