Thursday, September 29, 2011


We had company over for a cookout last night, and for dessert I made a couple of fresh fruit tarts. This dessert always tastes good on a warm summer evening (and yes, we’re still experiencing summer in Texas!). The recipe is below. This makes one 9-inch tart.

1 ½ cups unbleached white flour
½ tsp. salt
3 T. unsalted butter (straight out of the fridge so it's very cold)
1/3 cup Crisco (frozen)
3 T. cold water

Sift flour and salt into a mixing bowl. Using your fingers or a pastry blender, cut in butter and Crisco until the mixture resembles coarse meal. (If there are some pea-sized pieces of Crisco or butter in the mixture, that is fine.) Sprinkle water on top of flour and salt mixture, 1 tablespoon at a time. After each sprinkling of water, gently mix in the water drops with some of the dry mixture. After 3 tablespoons of water has been sprinkled in, the mixture should hold together in a ball. Roll each into a large circle (about 11 inches in diameter) and press into a 9-inch round tart pan. Bake in a 375°F oven for 15 minutes to prebake the crust. While crust is cooking, prepare filling.

1 (8-oz.) pkg. cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract
½ tsp. grated lemon or orange rind (optional)

Beat the cream cheese and sugar together until smooth and fluff. Mix in the eggs, one at a time. Add the cream, vanilla and lemon or oran the tart for 20 - 25 minutes, or until the filling is set. Remove from the oven. Cool at room temperature for about an hour, and then place in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight.

Right before serving, or 1-2 hours before, wash fresh fruit to top the tart with. Strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries and kiwi all work well. For a glaze, dip raspberries and strawberries in melted courant jelly (melt in microwave for about a minute—just until warm and melted but not hot). An ideal glaze for the non-red fruit like kiwis, blueberries and blackberries is melted apricot jam (melt in microwave as with the courant jelly, and then press through a sieve to remove the apricot pulp). Dip fruit in glaze and arrange on tart.

Happy tart making!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

How to Make Homemade Body Lotion

One of my favorite ways to get together with friends is to have a few gals over to make something crafty together. You can have fun chatting and sipping on coffee or even munching on donuts, while you’re making whatever you’re making. You’re also being productive at the same time.

I already mentioned how I like to have friends over for homemade soap making parties. This morning I had a couple friends over to make homemade body lotion (well, technically, we made whipped body recipe) together. We used the recipe for whipped body butter on the Pine Meadows website ( This is where I buy a lot of my soap and lotion making supplies. They have great products, and good recipes on their site as well.

The ingredients necessary for making whipped body are:

100 grams shea butter
100 grams cocoa butter
160 grams coconut oil
20 grams stearic acid
60 grams emulsifying wax
620 grams distilled water
40 grams liquid glycerin
7 grams Germaben II (a natural preservative)
15-20 grams fragrance oil

Here are some step-by-step pictures of our body butter making process:

First, you need to have two separate, microwavable mixing containers. Each should hold about two quarts. In one container, weigh the first five ingredients—the shea butter, cocoa butter, coconut oil, stearic acid and emulsifying wax . Use a digital scale with a tare feature to do your weighing.

One all five of the ingredients are in container #1, melt the mixture down in the microwave, in one minute increments, stirring after each minute.

In the second container, weigh out the water and liquid glycerin. Put this container in the microwave for two minutes to warm it.

Next, pour the water and glycerin mixture into the first container with all the butters and oils.

Get out a stick blender and blend until the mixture is thickened (like softened butter). The recipe on the Pine Meadows site said this would take 10 minutes, but it took us closer to 25 minutes to thicken.

Once the mixture is thickened, add the germaben II and fragrance oil. Blend these all together so that you have a very smooth and consistent whipped body butter.

Transfer the finished body butter into small cosmetic jars.

This recipe makes approximately 10 4-oz. jars.

You can buy all of your supplies for lotion making on the Pine Meadows website, as well as other soap supply websites. You can also find a nice selection of cosmetic jars at the Container Store; that’s where I got mine.

Lotion making is a fun activity to share with friends. I also think that having some homemade lotions to share with friends is fun too…and another way to show hospitality!

Happy lotion making!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

More Make-Ahead Appetizers

I’ve posted several recipes recently for appetizers that can be made up in advance. Here are a few more:


40 large and evenly-sized button mushrooms
2 (8 oz.) pkgs. cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup sour cream
1 pkg. Hidden Valley Ranch dip mix
4 T. fresh parsley, diced finely

Rinse and lightly pat dry mushrooms. Carefully remove the stems, and discard. Beat cream cheese with mixer until smooth. Add sour cream, dip mix and 2 T. of the fresh parsley. Blend well with mixer. Spoon mixture into decorating bag with star tip. Pipe inside each mushroom top. Garnish filled mushrooms with the rest of the diced parsley. Refrigerate until serving. Can be made one day in advance.


1 ½ pounds lean ground beef or ground turkey
1 qt. fresh bean sprouts
3 large Spanish onions, chopped
2 pounds fresh carrots, peeled and shredded
1 cabbage, shredded
Salt and pepper to taste
I package Lumpia wrappers, thawed in the refrigerator at least one day (these are available at Asian markets)

For filling: Brown ground beef and onion together. Drain, and set aside. Stir fry bean sprouts, carrot and cabbage together in 1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in hamburger and onion mixture.

Carefully separate Lumpia wrappers. Put about 2-3 tablespoons worth of filling into each. Fold each side in a couple inches, and roll up “burrito-style.” (Usually there are instructions on the Lumpia wrappers package, for exactly how to fold them.) At this point, you can fry the egg rolls. Or, you can put them in freezer bags or containers (with waxed paper between the layers) and freeze them uncooked. About a day before serving, start thawing them in the refrigerator.

Cook them in hot oil for 2-3 minutes (until lightly browned), or baste them with oil and bake them on a cookie sheet at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes. Serve with sweet chili sauce (also available at Asian markets, as well as the international aisle of many supermarkets). My favorite is Mae Ploy Sweet Chili Sauce.


2 lbs. lean ground beef
1 cup plain bread crumbs
2 pkgs. dry onion soup mix
2 large eggs
3 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. minced garlic

1 ½ tsp. minced garlic
1 T. butter
½ cup honey
¾ cup catsup
3 T. soy sauce

To make meatballs, combine all of the meatball ingredients together. Shape into 1-inch meatballs. Place in a 15X10-inch jelly roll pan or shallow roasting pan that has been sprayed with cooking oil. Cook them in a 375 degree oven, 20-25 minutes, or until browned. Remove from oven and drain on paper towels. At this point you can add the sauce and serve immediately. Or, you can put the meatballs in a freezer bag and freeze them until you’re ready to heat and serve them.

To make sauce, in medium saucepan, saute garlic in butter. Add honey, catsup and soy sauce. Simmer for 5 minutes. Pour over warm meatballs and toss to coat.


1 tsp. minced garlic
1 T. olive oil
1 cup fresh tomatoes, seeded and diced
½ cup mozzarella cheese
½ tsp. dried basil
½ tsp. dried oregano
1/8 tsp. black pepper
15 frozen baked phyllo cups
1 small can sliced black olives
½ cup Parmesan cheese (ideally freshly grated)

In a small skillet, saute tomatoes and garlic in olive oil until liquid is evaporated (about 5 minutes). Remove from heat and stir in mozzarrella cheese, basil, oregano and pepper. Divide mixture between 15 phyllo cups. Top cups with the sliced black olives and Parmesan cheese. Bake in 400 degree oven for 6-8 minutes, or until bubbly. Serve immediately. (Do-ahead tip: these appetizers can be assembled up to one day in advance and kept in refrigerator until ready to bake. You will need to add 2-3 minutes to the baking time.)

Happy munching!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Becky’s Totally Do-Ahead “Comfort Dinner”

I realize most of the country is having fall weather right now. Being the displaced northerner that I am, I really miss those 60-degree temperatures. But after four years of living in Dallas, I’m learning to be thankful for whatever level of “cool” weather we get. And truly, after experiencing over two-months’ straight of 100-degree plus weather, with temperatures “cooling down” to the low 90s and mid-80s now, I guess we are indeed having cool, fall weather.

So now that it’s nearly fall and the temperatures have dipped a bit, it’s time for some comfort food. We had a dinner party tonight and that’s exactly what I served. And I must admit, it really did hit the spot. Not only that, it was a very easy meal to get on the table since every single thing I served tonight was prepared in advance. Here’s the menu and recipes:


3 pound boneless chuck roast, thawed
1 packet dry onion soup mix
1 family-sized can cream of mushroom soup

Place roast in 6 quart crock pot, and top with onion soup mix and mushroom soup. Cook on low for 8-10 hours.


5 lbs. Russet Potatoes, peeled
1 (8 oz.) pkg. cream cheese, softened
1 (8 oz.) container sour cream
½ cup butter, softened
¼ cup chives, rinsed and chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1-2 tsp. salt (to taste)
½ tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. paprika

Cook potatoes in boiling water about 30 minutes or until tender. Drain potatoes and mash. Beat the cream cheese with an electric mixer until smooth. Add potatoes and remaining ingredients except the paprika, beat just until combined. Spoon the mixture into a lightly buttered 2-quart casserole, sprinkle with paprika. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Remove from refrigerator 15 minutes before baking. Uncover and bake at 350° for 30 minutes or until thoroughly heated through. Serves 8 to 10.


2 lbs. frozen asparagus spears
1 cup butter
¼ cup minced garlic
Salt and peper to taste

Place the spears in a single layer on baking sheet. In a saucepan over medium heat on stovetop, melt butter. Add garlic and stir to combine. Cook 3-4 minutes, being careful not to brown the garlic. Ladle the garlic-butter mixture evenly over the asparagus. Season with salt and pepper to taste. (The asparagus can be prepared to this stage a day in advance. Cover with foil and put in freezer until ready to bake.) Bake in 350 degree oven, covered with foil, for 15 minutes, or until the asparagus is bright green and just tender. Be careful to not overcook, as the asparagus will become soggy. Serve immediately. Makes 12 servings.


1 loaf braided Challah bread, torn into ¾ inch pieces (about 10 cups worth of bread chunks)
1 (29 oz.) can sliced peaches (in natural juices), drained and diced
7 large eggs
2 ½ cups milk
½ cup granulated sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
½ tsp. nutmeg
1 ½ tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. salt
1 ½ cups chopped pecans
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
½ cup butter, melted

Butter a 9X13X2-inch baking dish. Mix bread pieces and peaches together in the dish. In large bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, sugar, salt, nutmeg and cinnamon. Pour evenly over bread mixture. Press down to soak all the bread pieces. In small bowl, combine pecans, melted butter and brown sugar. Drizzle evenly over bread-egg mixture. Cover tightly with foil. Chill in refrigerator 8 hours or overnight. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Bake bread pudding for 30 minutes with foil still on top of dish. Remove foil and bake another 30-40 minutes, or until custard is set in the center. Remove from oven. Let set out at room temperature for about 10 minutes. Dust with powdered sugar. Serve with with Melissa’s Raspberry Sauce or caramel syrup.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

How to Plan the Perfect Picnic

I realize that in much of the country, cooler weather is setting in and most of the entertaining is moving indoors for the rest of the year. But here in Texas, the “cooler” weather has finally here (you know—we’re having temperatures in the low 90s instead of 100s!), which means residents can finally go outside and enjoy their yards and parks for some outdoor fun. (Many of us have “cabin fever” from having to stay inside all summer where it’s air conditioned! It’s just been way too hot to go outside.) Now that the weather has cooled down, it’s time to plan a picnic! (What a change from when we lived in Chicago, where people get cabin fever in the winter months!)

So what are some tips for hosting the perfect picnic?

First, you need to decide on how many people you’re going to invite and the locale. Usually picnics are small gatherings—no more than 6 or 8 people. That’s primarily dictated by the fact that the meal usually is on a picnic table or a picnic blanket, and neither of those have space for a lot of guests. Picnics can also make nice dates—a romantic getaway kind of thing.

As far as where to have the picnic, for many city dwellers, the obvious choice is the neighborhood or state park. Many cities and suburbs, like the Chicago Metropolitan area, have forest preserves throughout, and most of these have recreation areas with picnic tables. When we lived in the Los Angeles area, I knew people with flat roofed-garages who would plan sunset picnics on their garage tops (sometimes during 4th of July, to watch the fireworks). Some cities have arboretums and botanical gardens where visitors can have a picnic. Perhaps you live close to the lake or ocean and can have a beach-side picnic. Maybe you live near mountains and can drive or climb to a site with a beautiful view of the valley below. Many historical sites, such as Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan, and Biltmore Mansion in Asheville, North Carolina, have locations on the properties where people can have picnics (with special permission and paying a fee). Those are all ideal venues for a picnic!

Keep in mind, you don’t have to have your picnic in a “natural” setting. The picture below is of my son at a picnic area in downtown Chicago. When this photo was taken, we were getting ready to have lunch there with some of our good friends—on one of our last outdoor outings in Chicago before moving to Texas. To me, that was a nice setting for a picnic. I just love the Chicago skyline!

Some of my other favorite picnic spots over the years have been the San Gabriel Mountains and the cliffs of Malibu in Southern California; the lower sand dunes at Warren Dunes State Park in southwestern Michigan (we could barely get ourselves to the top of the dunes, little lone a cooler, so the lower dunes worked fine—and still provided a beautiful view of Lake Michigan and the surrounding forests); and a lesser-known venue, a local park in Barrington, Illinois, called Langendorf Park. When my kids were young, every couple weeks during the summer months we’d meet a friend there for a picnic. She had three boys and I had two, and we’d sit and chat while our boys played. Those are some wonderful memories!

That brings me to the next thing you need to decide: who’s going to provide the food for the picnic? When my friend and I used to meet at the park in Barrington, we’d each bring our own sack lunches, and then I’d usually make a fruit pie that morning to bring with me to share, so we could all have a warm slice of pie. That was an easy, no-fuss way to get together.

I had another friend in the Chicago area who every now and then would organize a picnic and she’d do all the cooking and just treat me and my sons to a wonderful meal. She made the best sandwiches and pasta salads! It was a really sweet way for her to entertain. But, not everyone has the time or finances to be able to cook for everyone.

You could also organize a “potluck style” of picnic. As the host, you would bring the picnic blanket or reserve the picnic table and grill (if you’re going to a park) or pay the fee for the picnicking spot, and provide the main entree (such as grilled steaks, BBQ chicken or hot dogs and hamburgers) and the plates, cups, napkins and eating utensils. You would ask your guests to bring all the side dishes—salads, chips and dips, cheese and crackers, veggies and dip trays, fresh fruit (cut up in bite-sized chunks), beverages, desserts, etc.

If you don’t have a grill available wherever you’re having the picnic, one idea is to have a taco salad buffet. The host could fill a giant thermos with seasoned taco meat, and then the guests could each bring another taco salad item (shredded cheese, sour cream, salsa, lettuce and tomatoes, black olives, chopped green onions, guacamole, tortilla chips, etc.).

Of course, you don’t have to have grilled or hot foods at your picnic. As the host, you could just make up a selection of different sandwiches (beef, turkey, vegetarian, etc.) for the main entrée. I went to a picnic once where the main entrée was a giant sub sandwich cut in 6” sized segments, and that was really fun—and tasty. A pasta and chicken salad is another cold main entrée that is really delicious.

If it’s a romantic dinner for two, or an all-adult picnic, you might want to bring a bottle or two of wine, but make sure that alcohol is allowed wherever you’re planning on having the picnic. Many public parks and city and state recreation areas do not allow alcohol on their premises.

Whatever you and your guests decide to bring, try to choose foods that travel well, and try to have all of the dishes ready to serve when you arrive at your picnic site. You don’t want to have to be doing a lot of food prep after you arrive. Do all your cutting and mixing ingredients together at home.

Besides the food, tableware and eating utensils, there are many other items that are nice to have on a picnic. Here’s my list of essential picnic items:

* Condiments (mayonnaise, catsup, mustard, salt and pepper shakers, etc.)
* Plastic serving utensils
* Can and bottle opener
* Food screens/covers and bug nets (to prevent insects from coming in contact with food dishes)
* Corkscrew (if you’re serving wine)
* Cast iron skillets (if cooking outdoors)
* Tablecloth and tablecoth clamp (if you’re eating at a picnic table)
* Large blanket picnic blanket (if you’re eating on the ground)
* Picnic basket (for tableware and nonperishable food items)
* Insulated canvas carrying bags and or large cooler for chilled food and beverages
* Gallon-sized cooler or ice chest filled with cubed ice
* Acrylic chiller serving containers (a container for food, which sits in a larger container of ice—to serve chilled foods such as raw veggies and fruits
* Insect repellant and sun block
* Citronella candles
* Matches/lighters
* First aid kit
* Shade umbrella (if eating on the beach or open area)
* Camp stove with full can of fuel, or portable grill, charcoal and lighter fluid
* Folding chairs (if extra seating is needed at the ends of the picnic table)
* Antibacterial hand gel or disinfecting hand wipes
* Disposable wash cloths (for cleaning off the table)
* Heavy duty trash bag (plus a fold up cylindrical laundry hamper to put the trash bag in) for trash (especially important to bring if there is no garbage can on the premises. You might want to bring an extra trash bag to put dirty, non-disposable dishes in after your picnic.

It goes with out saying that not only do you want to serve a nice variety of tasty dishes, you also want to make sure your food stays safe (meaning minimize bacterial growth). Here are some tips to keep in mind along these lines:

* When transporting food to your picnic area, the USDA recommends you place perishable or cold foods in an insulated cooler with ice or ice packs to keep the food at 40 °F or colder. A good ratio to strive for when packing your cooler is no more than 75 percent food to at least 25 percent ice. To put it simply, the more food you load in your cooler, the less cold it’s going to be.

* When packing your cooler, put the foods you will need last (such as desserts in covered containers) on the bottom, and the items you will need first (such as hot dogs to start grilling and cheeses to start snacking on for appetizers) on the top. That way you can quickly open and shut your cooler when you need something, and don’t have to dig around for what you want (which lets the cold air out and the warm air in).

* Find a shady spot (such as under a tree) to set your cooler(s) down in when you arrive at your picnic spot. This will help keep the contents cool.

* Have a separate cooler and/or insulated beverage jug (such as an “Igloo”) to put your sodas, water bottles and other drinks in—in addition to your main cooler where you are keeping your entrée foods. That way guests won’t have to be continually opening and closing the main cooler to get drinks when they want them.

* If you’re going to be grilling, keep your raw meats separate from the cooked foods. Ideally, put all the raw meats in their own separate cooler, or at least in their own separate, airtight container.

* Make sure whatever cold or perishable foods you’re putting in the cooler are chilled before you pack them. Don’t try to use the cooler to chill room temperature or just-cooked foods.

* After you’ve finished cooking your meat or poultry on the grill, the USDA recommends you keep it at 140 °F (or warmer) until you serve it. You can do this by setting aside the cooked meats to the side of the grill or warming tray or rack—instead of directly over the coals or main flames where the meat would continue cooking.

* When removing food from the grill, put it on a clean platter. Don’t put cooked meats on the same platter that contained the meat when it was raw.

* In hot weather (above 90 °F—which is much of the year in Texas!), the USDA warns against leaving perishable food out for more than one hour. If you leave food out longer than that, you run the risk of bacterial contamination. So this means, no matter how scrumptious it was, you need to throw out leftovers if the food’s been out in the open air longer than an hour.

Well, I think I’ve shared enough with you on the topic. If you’re going to be organizing a picnic anytime soon (I realize with you Northerners, that might not be until April!), hopefully some of these tips will help you with your planning.

Happy picnicking!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Super Moist Pumpkin Nut Bread

This evening’s baking project was pumpkin nut bread. I’ve been using the same recipe since college days. It’s so moist, and freezes well. When I make up this bread, I bake it in miniature-sized loaf pans and freeze up about half of it. I like to have this bread on hand to be able to pull out of the freezer to serve at brunches and teas. Here’s the recipe:


1 cup butter, softened
4 cups granulated sugar
6 eggs
1 large (29 oz.) can pumpkin
1 cup water
2 ½ cups all purpose flour
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 ½ tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 ½ tsp. salt
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 ½ tsp. ground cloves
1 ½ cups chopped walnuts

Blend butter and sugar together in large bowl. Add eggs, pumpkin and water. Blend in flours, soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and cloves. Stir in nuts. Grease 4 regular sized loaf pans, or 10 miniature-sized loaf pans. Pour in batter. Bake large loaves for about an hour and small loaves for about 35-40 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Loose sides of loaves from pans; remove from pan. Cool loaves on rack before slicing.

Happy baking!

Friday, September 9, 2011


Wondering what to make for your next dinner party? Why not make stuffed bell peppers?!! This dish is not only inexpensive to prepare, it’s also very tasty and can be assembled ahead of time.

The recipe I use is actually one from an old 1978 Betty Crocker cookbook that I’ve modified. The original recipe just used green bell peppers. I like to use red, orange and yellow bell peppers, in addition to green. This makes a very colorful dish for company!

Here’s the recipe:


8 large bell peppers (ideally, ones that “stand up”nicely)
2 lbs. lean ground beef
1 large yellow onion, diced
2 tsp. minced garlic
1 ½ to 2 tsp. salt (depending on taste)
¾ tsp. black pepper
2 cups cooked rice
2 cans (15 oz. each) tomato sauce
1 ½ cups shredded mozzarella cheese

Cut tops off of the bell peppers and remove seeds. Cook them in boiling water, for about 5 minutes. Remove from water and set aside.

Brown ground beef, onion and garlic in large skillet. Drain grease. Stir in salt, black pepper, cooked rice and 1 of the cans of tomato sauce. Spoon mixture into peppers, coming to about ¼ inch from the tops. Pour remaining can of tomato sauce over the peppers. Cover with aluminum foil. Bake in 350 degree oven for 45 minutes. Remove from oven. Remove foil, and top each pepper with some mozzarella cheese. Return to oven and bake another 10 to 15 minutes—until cheese is melted and bubbly.

Do-ahead tip: Only put ½ can of tomato sauce on top of stuffed peppers. Bake for 30 minutes in 350 degree oven. Remove from oven and once cooled, put in refrigerator for up to 24 hours. About 45 minutes before serving time, preheat oven. Bake peppers for 20 minutes, covered with foil. Remove from oven and add cheese. Bake 10-15 minutes more.

Bon appetit!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

How to Host an Afternoon Ladies’ Tea Party

One of my favorite ways to get a group of ladies together is by hosting an afternoon tea party. A lot of people choose a tea party format when hosting bridal and baby showers, going-away send-offs, and birthday celebrations, and that usually works out very nicely. But you don’t need a special reason to have a tea party. Usually I’ll plan a tea every fall, and that’s just because I’m happy that the hot weather is over and it’s time to bring on some hot tea, coffee and pastries! In fact, I will be planning a “Happy it’s fall” tea party really soon. (While you can do tea parties any time of the year, somehow sipping on hot tea just sounds a whole lot better to me during the cool weather months.)

In the past, I’ve hosted themed tea parties—for instance, for a group of new moms or expectant mothers, for a group of teen or elementary school-aged girls, or for several retired ladies or widows. Other times, there may have been a couple of new ladies at church or at the office and I hosted teas to give them the opportunity to get to know some of the other women. Most of the time, though, when I host a tea, it’s just to get a group of friends together and catch up on what’s going on in our lives.

So what exactly is needed to host a tea? Well, you can go super elaborate and set a dinner table with your best china for a dozen or more people, or you can go simple and casual and just set out your tea service on the coffee table in your living or family room for just two or three friends. You could also serve a “garden style” tea out on your patio or porch or in a sunroom (If you didn’t already have a picnic table out there, you would just need to set up folding or card table.). I think they’re all fun, but I particularly enjoy planning the big, formal productions. (Anyone who’s read my blog for a while, probably isn’t surprised at me saying that!)

Afternoon teas traditionally take place between 1 and 5 pm. At the very minimum you will need a teapot, tea, teacups and saucers, creamer and sugar bowl, dessert or luncheon plates, eating utensils, and some food accompaniments such as finger sandwiches, tea breads, pastries or cookies on nice serving plates. Some fresh fruit, such as chocolate-dipped strawberries or fruit kabobs (whole strawberries, blackberries, cherries, orange segments, and cubed pieces of melon and pineapple on appetizer-sized skewers) are also a nice addition. Try to have several selections of both sweet and savory foods to choose from.

Set each place setting with a plate, teacup and saucer, napkin, dessert fork and spoon. Place the teapot somewhere near center of the table. If it’s not out of your price range, it’s also nice to have a fresh flower centerpiece or even a small vase of fresh flowers for the table.

If it’s a more formal tea party, you may want to put out place cards and assign your guests a specific seat at the table. You can buy some really cute tea pot-shaped place card holders online (just do a Google search for “tea pot place card holders” and you’ll have several to choose from) and these are ideal for tea parties. Usually, though, I just set the table (or tables) and let guests choose where they want to sit.

Be sure to have several different types of teas on hand, so that everyone at the tea party can take their pick. “You might want to fill the teapot with a standard blend like Earl Grey or orange pekoe, and then have a tea kettle with hot water on hand to fill individual cups with alternate choices such as herb or green teas or flavored black teas,” suggests Marsha Yarbrough, owner of The Lavender House Tea Room in McKinney, Texas. I usually set out a small dish or pretty wicker basket filled with a variety of flavored and herb tea bags.

“You can either buy the standard bagged teas, or loose leaf teas,” says Yarbrough. “If you do the latter, you’ll need a small tea infuser for each guest and a large brewing basket for the teapot. You should start steeping the tea for the teapot right before the guests arrive.” To do so properly, she recommends you fill the pot with very hot boiling water and steep your tea 5 to 7 minutes, depending on how strong you like it.

Even though it’s a “tea” party, I’ll usually I’ll make up a pot of coffee as well. There’s always at least one guest (if you ask for an honest answer!) who prefers coffee over hot tea. If you have a coffee pot in your china pattern, that is an ideal way to serve the coffee. A thermal coffee carafe can also be nice.

Exactly which foods you serve at your tea all depends too on how much time you have to cook. If you’re short on time, you could buy some cakes and tea cookies from your local bakery or coffee shop. But if you have time, by all means, do some baking! Here are the recipes for some of my favorite tea party treats:


4 cups all-purpose flour
2 T. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
2/3 cup unsalted butter, cold and in pieces
2 cups heavy whipping cream

Combine first four ingredients. Cut in butter with a pastry blender or your fingers until mixture has the texture of coarse crumbs. Add heavy cream, sprinkling a little at a time, stirring just until mixture is moistened and holds together. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead 5 times. Roll into four 6-inch circles about 1/2-inch thick. Cut each circle into 8 pie-shaped wedges. Place on lightly greased cookie sheet or scone pan. Bake in 375 degrees F oven for about 15 minutes or until golden brown. Makes 32 scones. Serve with clotted cream (you can buy this in specialty food stores, or make your own), lemon curd, butter or jam.

If desired, frost each scone with orange glaze before serving. To make the glaze, blend together 1 cup powdered sugar, 1 T. shredded orange peel, and 1-2 T. freshly-squeezed orange juice.

HOMEMADE DEVONSHIRE CLOTTED CREAM (spread on scones and muffins)

1 cup heavy cream
4 oz. cream cheese, softened
¼ cup powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla

Beat all the ingredients together until mixture is thickened, smooth, and holds its shape. Chill in refrigerator until ready to serve. Best when served the same day.

HOMEMADE LEMON CURD (spread on scones and muffins)

3 large eggs
¾ cup granulated sugar (preferably, “super fine”)
1 T. grated lemon peel
1 cup lemon juice
4 T. unsalted butter, chilled and cut into pieces

In sauce pan, beat eggs until frothy. Whisk in sugar, lemon peel and lemon juice. Cook over very low heat, stirring constantly, until thickened—about 7 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in butter and mix until well-blended. Store in refrigerator. Can be made up to 3 days before serving.


1 package cocktail bread (rye, whole wheat or white)
2 cucumbers, peeled and sliced very thinly (1/4 to 1/8 inch slices)
2 packets Good Seasons Zesty Italian salad dressing mix
1 (12oz.) tub spreadable or whipped cream cheese spread
Optional: Fresh dill for garnish

In a small bowl, blend cream cheese spread and Italian salad dressing mix together. Spread this mixture onto individual slices of cocktail bread. Top each with a cucumber slice. Arrange on platter. If desired, garnish each cucumber sandwich some fresh dill weed.


“Cream puff” style shells:

½ cup butter
1 cup water
1 cup white flour
¼ tsp. salt
4 large eggs

Spray 2 large baking sheets with cooking oil spray and set aside. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. In a medium saucepan, heat butter and water to a rolling boil. Add flour and salt and stir until the mixture becomes smooth and leaves the side of the pan. Remove from heat. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Beat until mixture loses its gloss. Drop dough by rounded teasponfuls onto prepared cookie sheets, allowing 2-3 inches between each spoonful of dough. Bake about 15 minutes in preheated oven until puffed and lightly browned. Remove from oven and cool away from draft. Makes about 48 to 80 appetizer-sized puffs. No more than 2-3 hours before serving, split shells in half and fill with chicken salad. Refrigerate until serving time. Fill with tuna salad filling.

Tuna Salad Filling:

2 (7 ounce) cans tuna, drained and flaked
½ cup mayonnaise
1/8 cup sweet pickle relish
¼ tsp. minced onion flakes
1 T. dried parsley

Mix all ingredients together. Refrigerate until you’re ready to fill the puffs.


Pastry for a 2-crust 9-inch pie
1 10-oz. pkg. frozen, thawed and chopped spinach
1 large onion, chopped
2 T. butter
2 large eggs
1 cup heavy cream
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. black pepper
1 ½ cups grated Swiss cheese (or a combination of Swiss and Provolone cheeses)

Divide pie crust among two 12-cavity tartlet pans. Set aside. Defrost the spinach. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Sauté the onion in butter. When the onions have become translucent, remove from heat. In a medium-sized bowl, beat the eggs and cream until smooth. Add to onions. Add the salt and black pepper. Mix well. Drain any excess water from the spinach. Then mix the spinach and one cup of the Swiss cheese into the egg and onion mixture. Then divide evenly into 24 tartlet shells. Top mini quiches with remaining half cup of Swiss cheese. Bake for about 30 minutes or until center of quiches is set. Do-ahead tip: can freeze and reheat (10-12 minutes at 350 degrees) before serving.


¾ cup sugar
¼ cup butter, softened
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/8 tsp. almond extract
2 eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 ½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
1 cup milk
6 T. poppy seeds

Cream sugar, butter and extracts together. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each. Combine flour, baking powder and salt. Add to creamed mixture alternately with milk, beating well after each addition. Fold in poppy seeds. Spoon batter into greased or paper lined muffin tins about three-fourths full. Bake at 400 degrees F for about 20 minutes.


1 cup white flour
¼ cup confectioner’s sugar
½ cup butter
2 large eggs
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 tsp shredded lemon peel
Juice of one lemon
2 T. white flour
¼ tsp. baking powder

First prepare crust. Stir flour and confectioner’s sugar together. Using a pastry blender or your fingers, cut in butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Press onto lightly greased 8X8-inch square baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees F for about 12-15 minutes, or until crust is slightly golden around edges.

While crust is baking, prepare filling. In small bowl, whip eggs until fluffy and lemon-yellow in color. Add sugar, lemon peel and juice. Blend several minutes, until mixture is smooth. Mix in flour and baking powder, and stir until all ingredients are blended together well. Pour over baked layer, and bake an additional 15 to 20 minutes, or until filling is set. Remove from oven, and let cool. Then sprinkle with additional confectioner’s sugar. Cut into bars. Makes 16.


2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup solid pack pumpkin
1 cup cranberries, chopped

In large bowl, combine flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda and salt. In small mixer bowl, beat eggs; beat in sugar, oil and pumpkin. Pour pumpkin mixture into dry ingredients; stir just until moistened. Stir in cranberries. Spoon batter into 2 greased and floured 8 x 4 inch loaf pans. Bake in preheated 350 degrees oven for 60 minutes or until wooden pick comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes; remove from pans. Makes 2 loaves.


1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
9 T. granulated sugar
1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups white flour
1 tsp. salt
4 cups unsweetened, flaked coconut

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly butter two 9” diameter tart parts with removable bottoms. Cream butter and sugar together; add vanilla. Stir in flour and salt. Blend in coconut and mix together until well combined. Divide dough between prepared pans and press to cover bottoms. Refrigerate 15 minutes. Then bake 25 minutes until golden. Remove from oven and cool 5 minutes. Remove sides from pans. Cut each shortbread into 12 wedges. If wedges are soft or moist, place on cookie sheet and bake until crisp, up to 7 minutes more.


Pastry for a 2-crust 9-inch pie

5 cups fresh apples, sliced thinly
1 cup granulated sugar
3 heaping T. flour
½ tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. nutmeg

Line individual tart pans with pastry. Divide the apple filling among the 24 tartlet cavities. (Alternatively, as a time-saver you can use 2 cans of apple pie filling instead of making your own peach filling.) Top each cavity with about 1-2 tablespoons of streusel topping (recipe below).

Streusel topping:
¾ cup white flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
6 T. butter (cold—straight out of fridge)

Bake tartlets in a 375 degree oven, for 25-30 minutes—until crust is golden and filling is starting to bubble. When done, cool on cooling rack. These tartlets taste good warm, fresh out of the oven, or cool.

Finally, some chocolate dipped ‘n drizzled strawberries is always a nice addition as well.

I hope I’ve inspired you to plan and host your own tea sometime soon!


Monday, September 5, 2011

French Silk Pie

Here’s the recipe for one of the other desserts I served up today….French Silk Pie. It tastes just like soft chocolate ice cream. It can be made a day in advance, so it’s a nice “make-ahead” dessert too. It’s definitely not a dessert for diets though!

French Silk Pie

2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/3 cup light brown sugar
2 (1 oz. each) squares unsweetened chocolate, melted
½ cup unsalted butter, melted

Mix the above ingredients together and press into a 9-inch pie plate. Freeze until ready to fill.

1 (8oz.) pkg. cream cheese, softened
¾ cup light brown sugar, packed
Dash salt
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted
2 large eggs, separated
1 cup heavy whipping cream

Beat cream cheese, ½ cup of the light brown sugar and salt together until smooth. Beat in egg yolks. Beat in cooled chocolate. In another bowl, beat egg whites with the other ¼ cup brown sugar until stiff peaks form. Fold into chocolate cream cheese mixture. In another bowl, beat whipping cream until stiff peaks form. Fold that into chocolate mixture. Pour about half of the mixture into chilled crust. Put the rest of the filling in the refrigerator about 2 hours, to let it set. Then spoon the remaining filling into pie crust, in a decorative fashion. Garnish with chocolate covered espresso beans if desired. Chill 8 hours or overnight.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Rolled Baklava

Here’s one of the desserts I made today….rolled baklava. This is a slightly easier-to-prepare rendition of the classic Greek honey and nut dessert.

2 cups finely chopped walnuts
1 cup granulated sugar
1 T. (heaping) cinnamon
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
1 pound phyllo pastry sheets
2 cups unsalted butter, melted
1 cup honey
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup water
1 T. lemon juice

Combine first four ingredients in medium bowl, and set aside. Brush one phyllo sheet with butter; top with 3 more phyllo sheets, lightly brushing each layer with some of the butter. Cover remaining phyllo sheets with a towel. Spread about 1/3 cup of the nut mixture along one short end of the buttered phyllo sheets; fold in both long sides over filling and then roll up jelly roll style, starting at the end with the filling. Repeat with remaining phyllo sheets, melted butter and nut mixture to make 6 more logs. Lightly brush each log with some of the remaining butter. Make small cuts in the tops of the logs at 1-inch intervals. Place seam side down in lightly buttered baking dish. Refrigerate 30 minutes. Then bake in 350° F oven for 25 to 30 minutes, or until golden brown.

Meanwhile, make syrup by heating remaining ingredients (1 cup honey, 1 cup granulated sugar, 1 cup water and 1 T. lemon juice) in heavy medium saucepan over low heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves. Simmer 5 minutes.

Remove baked baklava from baking dish, and then transfer to a cutting board. Cut each log into 6 slices, along the slits that were made before baking. Using a slotted spoon, dip each baklava slie into the syrup and place on serving platter. Can be made 1 day in advance. Store in airtight container at room temperature.

[DO-AHEAD TIP: Assembled and buttered baklava logs can be placed in freezer, unbaked, and kept frozen 1-2 months before baking. Wrap each log in double layers of plastic wrap. Thaw overnight in refrigerator before baking.]

Here's a photo of the dessert tray I made, with the baklava and Hershey Kiss Mexican Wedding Cakes:

Happy baklava-making!

Extra Special Hamburgers

We had a pool and cookout today. We figured we’d enjoy the 3-day weekend by having about 30 friends over. But rather than serve up plain ‘ol hamburger patties from Costco, I made two different kinds of seasoned hamburger patties. Everyone seemed to enjoy the not-your-typical burger taste. They were especially good with toasted hamburger buns and grilled, caramelized onions. Yum! Here are the recipes for our burgers:

Garlic ‘n Onion Burgers

2 lbs. lean ground beef
1 medium sized yellow onion, diced fine
1 cup bread crumbs
2 tsp. minced garlic
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper

Mix all the ingredients together and shape into 8-10 hamburger patties.

Italian-style hamburgers

2 lbs. lean ground beef
1/3 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, finely chopped in food processor
2 tsp. minced garlic
¼ cup Parmesan cheese
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper

Combine all ingredients and shape into 8 hamburger patties.

These make some yummy hamburgers!

Happy grilling!!!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Favorite Lemon Meringue Pie

We’re having lots of company over this coming three-day weekend. I did quite a bit of baking today to get ready for our guests. One of the desserts I made today was a lemon meringue pie. It’s a family—and company—favorite!

Lemon Meringue Pie

Prebaked 9-inch pie crust, cooled

1 ½ cups filtered or distilled water
¾ cup granulated sugar
Dash salt
3 T. cornstarch
3 T. flour
4 large egg yolks
1/3 cup lemon juice
1 ½ tsp. finely grated lemon peel
3 T. unsalted butter, cut into pieces

4 large egg whites
½ tsp. vanilla extract
½ tsp. cream of tartar
¼ cup granulated sugar

Beat the 4 large egg yolks together in small bowl; set aside. Blend water, sugar, salt, cornstarch and flour in medium sized saucepan. Bring to boil over medium-high heat. Boil 1 minute. Remove from heat. Stir about a quarter cup of the hot mixture into the beaten egg yolks; then return to the hot mixture over medium heat. Bring to a boil and cook over for another minute. Remove from heat. Stir in lemon juice, lemon peel and butter. Blend well, and pour into bottom pie crust.

Next, prepare the meringue. (Do this while the filling is still hot). Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Beat the ingredients for the meringue together until stiff, glossy peaks form. Spread the meringue over the hot lemon filling, sealing to the pie crust edges. Bake for about 10-12 minutes, until lightly golden. Chill in refrigerator (at least 2-3 hours) until ready to serve.

Have a good weekend everyone!