Saturday, February 21, 2009

Crazy Table Setting Day

We have been serious all week, with sickness Monday through Wednesday. We need a dinner celebration that is fun and not a lot of work. Oh, I know! I remember a dinner my mom did for us when we were little that we thought was loads of fun. I'll see if it works for a new generation as well.

The kids need an outing... We'll go to the farm in 1/2 hour. I need a dinner that I can get a good head start on. We will try Chicken Supreme Pie.

I stick the chicken and bacon on myGeorge Forman Grill (Man I love that thing).
I place the bread dough in the oven over a pan of boiling water at 200 degrees.
I finish the pie filling and place it in the refrigerator.
Off we go on our adventure.
We return home at 5:15 and want dinner on the table by 6:00.

I finish dinner and while it bakes, I prepare the bags. We have seven for dinner tonight, so I number 7 bags. I fill each one with: 1) plate like object 2) something to drink out of 3) a utensil to eat with. There are papers with numbers 1-7 to draw for a paper bag.
For the plates I have used a pie tin, muffin tin, cutting board, griddle, fry pan, casserole dish etc. For utensils we have a ladle, tongs, meat fork, tablespoon, spatula, an ice cream scoop... For glasses we have an egg separator, a jar used to sprinkle pd. sugar, a pitcher, a thermos, a tiny cup, a vase and oh how I wish we still had a baby bottle or sippy cup.
Everyone picks a number. I explain that the numbers correspond to a bag which contains everything that they will eat with tonight. Oh the eruption of giggles when they opened their bags! The chitter-chatter at my table was fast and furious as all showed how they had the worst collection and there was "NO WAY" they could eat with what they had. My husband and I dished the food. (We had to be careful where it went on some of the plates) Giggles turned into confidence. "Hey look at me!" was heard over and over. The silliness of the evening turned into stunts at the table, such as spoon hanging or balancing things on our heads.

Result? Definitely a do again. It was a ton of fun and not much harder than setting the table. The jury is still out on the Chicken Supreme Pie. It was super filling...How can you go wrong with chicken, bacon, and mozzarella? I guess I would have liked it a bit more exciting or savory. Well, for the meat and potatoes folks, I'll share the recipe because it was easy, everyone ate it and it was different.

Chicken Supreme Pie
4 cups cooked cubed chicken
15 slices bacon, fried & crumbled
2 cups Monterey Jack or mozzarella cheese
1/2 onion, chopped
1 tsp. garlic salt
1/2-1 tsp. ground ginger
2 tsp Dijon mustard
2/3 cup mayonnaise
2 eggs

Mix all ingredients together and put aside.
Take a 10-12 inch greased springform pan. Cut 1/3 off the end of the loaf leaving 2/3 for the bottom of the pie. Roll the 2/3 portion into a large circle. Place in the bottom of the pan and press the dough up the sides of the pan half way or more.

Place filling inside dough.

Roll the 1/3 portion into a circle and cut it into 8 pie shaped triangles. Take the triangles and overlap them on top of the filling. Seal the bottom crust to the top crust by pinching the ends together like you would a regular pie crust.
Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes. Serves 8 hearty servings.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Valentine's Dinner

Often, my girl's eyes widen as they watch me prepare for a party. They finger the silverware and seat themselves for awhile where they can drink the ambiance. Always they ask, "Is this for us?" Sadly, usually, the answer is no. Well, no more!!! The most special people in my life deserve to use the good china once in awhile. They deserve something fun to look at while they dine and a little extra effort just for them. So here came a good opportunity. Valentines' Day is one of the easiest dinners to spruce up because the elements are so clearly defined. Pink, Red, Hearts, Love... Simple, using things we already have.

Breakfast was celebrated with a fun morning table, pink and red balloons hanging from the ceiling and valentine's paper goods, that I purchased the previous year after the holiday for 75% off. We feasted on omelets and heart shaped scones with honey, cut out of Rhodes Bread dough. As I am normally a stickler for fat content and fried foods, it was a special treat.

I would love to go out to dinner with my husband and do something special, but for us, getting a babysitter is very difficult and very expensive. Plus, we don't love crowds. So, we decided for the present, to make Valentine's Day a family affair, a celebration of all our love.
For the table, I pulled out the gold chargers and gold tablecloth. Ribbons are wonderful table dressers. Two different ribbons in pinks run the length of the table. I purchased a small amount of gold sheer fabric on sale and hemmed the edges and sewed a jewel on each corner. This was crumpled up on the table and fake flowers were stuck in and out of the folds along the length of the table. For the centerpiece I filled my glass trifle bowl with water and pink floating candles, recycled from old taper candles that were too short to use. I differed from the instructions and used silicone muffin cups, but I'm sure cookie cutters work great and will try them next time for some fun shapes.

During dinner, we passed around a box full of questions, drew a slip, and answered the question listed. This was a HUGE HIT. Everyone wanted to answer all the questions, not just their own. This was a great opportunity to let everyone have their say and feel appreciated. Some of the answers were humorous and others informative. There are many versions of this floating around... you can probably download the questions somewhere.
Some examples of questions in our box are:

What is your favorite food?

What do you like to do in your spare time?
If you could ask your Mom any question what would it be?
What is your favorite restaurant?
What do you like most about Christmas?
What is your favorite thing to do?
If you could have any animal in the world-what would you choose?
What is your favorite indoor game?
Tell us something you are proud of.
What do you want to accomplish next year?
What is your most embarrassing moment?
What are Grandmas good for?
Who is not a friend of yours - but you would like to be?
What is the worst thing about being a kid?
What is your favorite way to help Mom?
What makes Dad mad?
Who helps around the house?
Grandma makes me happy when...
What do you like to do on warm sunny days?
What do you like about growing up?
What do you like best about your brothers and sisters?
What is your least favorite room in the house?
What time of day do you like best?
What do you feel when you look at a sunset?
If you could ask Grandpa just one question, what would it be?

I wanted dinner to be quick and easy so I could spend the day with the family, but look fabulous so everyone would feel fancy.

Bacon-Cider Pork is delicious and looks fancier than run of the meal dinners, but it is also fairly simple, with only 5 ingredients. This recipe makes 8 steaks. I halved it to serve 5.

Trim, Cut, and Season
1 pork tenderloin (1 1/2-2 pounds)
Wrap; Saute in 1 T olive oil:
8 strips thin-sliced bacon
Saute; Deglaze;Season:
1/4 cup shallots, minced
1/2 cup apple cider or juice
2 T unsalted cold butter, sliced
Salt and Pepper to taste

Trim tenderloin of fat and cut into steaks about 1 1/2 " thick. Season with salt and pepper.

Wrap each steak with a strip of bacon and secure with a toothpick. Heat oil in a large ovenproof saute pan over medium-high and saute pork 5 minutes per side, or until browned. Tip the steaks on their edges to brown the bacon, rolling them as they brown, about 3 minutes total. Cover and finish cooking to an internal temperature to 145 degrees, about 5 minutes. Remove pork and keep warm; pour off all but 1 T. drippings.

Saute shallots for 2 minutes in the same pan, stirring constantly. Deglaze with cider, scraping up the brown bits and simmer 2 minutes. Then add butter, swirling until melted. Return pork to pan along with any accumulated juices and season sauce with salt and pepper.

Pour sauce over pork and serve.

Miniature Chocolate Mouse Cakes are darling tea party food. They are small enough for each person to have their own, or share with one other person. Everything looks cuter when it's small. My friend Carrie shared the secret of using prepared shortcakes for a shortcut and I went nuts with the idea. The original recipe is to die for with raspberries, lemon curd and cream cheese. But to my husband, it is not Valentine's Day without Chocolate, so I improvised. The result was YUMMY. This recipe makes 6 cakes.

12 miniature shortcakes
3/4 cup milk
1 t. vanilla extract
1/2 t almond extract
1 box chocolate instant pudding mix
1 cup frozen whipped topping
1. Combine milk and extracts. Beat in pudding mix on medium-low for 2 minutes. fold in topping. Refrigerate 3-5 minutes.

2. Place two cakes, well sides up on two dessert plates. Plop a generous dollop of mouse in the center of the cake and top with the other cake. Finish with remaining cakes.
3. Frost with the remaining mouse.
I just love doing things like this for my family. It says I love you... I guess it is one of my love languages.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Chinese New Year

One of the great thing about Chinese New Year is that though the date changes, there are celebrations that last a couple weeks, so I had a good window of time to find a day that didn't have gymnastics, dance, or basketball. My goal is to create simple family memories at the dinner table, so this isn't too elaborate.

I set the basement coffee table at 3:30 p.m. so I'd be free for homework and dinner preparations. Since we were sitting on the floor, the basement carpet is the only carpet I don't mind spilling on. The Siamese cat on the table isn't decoration, she is my Pywackit. I hung some paper decorations I bought at the local Asian market for $1.95 around the walls.

At 4:30, I started the rice in the rice cooker, and made the chicken. At 5:30 I stir-fried the vegetables, made Egg Drop Soup and sliced the oranges. When there was a lull, I downloaded the Chinese Zodiac and piled picture books and Chinese party poppers under the table.

We had some fun attire we purchased at an Asian import store years ago, so I invited the children to try them on.

The Egg Drop Soup was the biggest hit. Even my 4 year old drank her entire bowl. I'm not sure if it was the fun spoon or if it really tasted great. The fun really started when the kids took to the chop sticks. One ran to her room in frustration, then came back to master the sticks. The others refused forks and had a ball. While we ate, we found every one's animal on the zodiac. Before going back for seconds, my husband read The Empty Pot by Demi. Then those of us that could read passed around The Little Book of Chinese Proverbs and enjoyed the wisdom. My children all chanted to me, "Your kindness is engraved on my bones. " (traditional expression for "thanks a lot"). We giggled and giggled. We finished by having the youngest serve the lucky orange slices starting with the oldest, wishing us a prosperous and happy new year.

While cleaning, I found the party poppers still under the table, but the evening was a success anyway.

Red Sweet and Sours
4 chicken breasts, cut into strips
1 egg, beaten
Dash garlic powder
Season beaten egg with garlic powder. Dip chicken in egg, then cornstarch. Fry until golden brown. Prepare sauce.

1/3 c. sugar
1/3 c. vinegar
1/4 c. ketchup
1/4 c. water
1 T. soy sauce
Dash salt
Combine sauce ingredients in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Pour sauce over fried chicken. Bake at 350 degrees for 25-40 minutes. Turn over every 15 minutes. It is done when there is not much sauce left in the bottom of the pan.
Note: 30 minutes was plenty in my oven.

Egg Drop Soup: From my clever friend Rebecca
5 c. chicken stock
1 tsp. soy sauce
2 T sherry (opt.)
1 sm. piece fresh ginger, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, smashed
2 lg. eggs, lightly beaten
2 scallions, thinly sliced
1 1/2 tsp. sesame oil (or to taste)

Bring stock, soy sauce, sherry (optional), ginger and garlic to a boil in a heavy saucepan. Remove ginger and garlic with a slotted spoon and discard. Simmer uncovered about 5 minutes. Stirring in a circular motion, slowly add eggs. Simmer undisturbed until strands of egg are cooked, about 1 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in scallions and sesame oil to taste. Makes 4 servings.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

I'll be up and running by Tuesday hopefully.