Monday, October 31, 2011

Warm Apple Pie Pockets

I just recently bought a “Pocket Pie” cutter from Williams Sonoma. What a fun “toy” for people like me who like to entertain! This cutter makes personal-sized apple pies, that are just right for one person. Best of all, you can make up a batch of these ahead of time and freeze them until you want to make them. They’re fairly easy to make. Here’s what you need to do.

Make up a batch of your favorite pie crust (enough for a double, top and bottom crust). In this case, I recommend a crust recipe made with 100 percent shortening (rather than with butter) so that it is not too crumbly. This will make it easier to handle.

Here’s my recommended recipe:


2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
2/3 cup Crisco or other shortening (There are many organic shortenings on the market, which work great in pie crusts!)
4 ½ to 5 T. cold water

Sift flour and salt into a mixing bowl. Using your fingers or a pastry blender, cut in shortening until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Sprinkle water on top of flour mixture, 1 tablespoon at a time. After each sprinkling of water, gently mix in the water drops with some of the dry mixture. After 4 ½ tablespoons of water has been sprinkled in, the mixture should hold together in a ball. If it doesn't, sprinkle 1-2 teaspoons of additional water onto the dough. Shape dough into two equal-sized balls. Roll out onto a floured surface and cut into shapes using the apple pie cutter.

Place apple pie shapes on trays and either refrigerate or freeze while you prepare the filling.


5 large golden delicious apples
1/3 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
2 heaping tablespoons all purpose flour
2 T. unsalted butter, softened

For the filling, peel and thinly slice 5 large golden delicious apples. Microwave for 5 minutes to make them soft. Add the remaining ingredients, and stir just until ingredients are evenly distributed.

Press one apple pie crust cut-out onto each side of the pocket pie maker. Spoon about 2-3 heaping tablespoons of apple pie filling onto one crust. (For a shortcut, you can use canned apple pie or peach pie filling.) Whisk together one egg and 1 T. cold water. Brush a little of the egg and water mixture on the border of one apple pie crust. Press the two sides of the apple pie cutter together to seal. To bake, place pocket pies onto baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake in 375 degree oven for 25-30 minutes.

If desired, brush crust with milk or some of the egg and water mixture and sprinkle with granulated sugar before baking.

These can be frozen (wrapped individually with plastic wrap) for up to 1-2 months. Thaw 1-2 hours at room temperature before baking.

Happy pie baking!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Crock pot chili

We had a house-full of teenagers and their parents over last night. My oldest son’s 18th birthday is coming up, and we wanted to have some of his friends and their families over for dinner to celebrate this milestone. And with the weather cooling off like it has (It’s actually been chilly in Dallas, and I’m not complaining that’s for sure!), the obvious choice for what to feed everyone was crockpot chili.
I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like chili. Top it with shredded cheese, sour cream and Fritoes and that’s a scrumptious meal…and so easy to prepare! This chili cooks all day in the crockpot all day, and fills your home with the smells of a TexMex restaurant. Mmmmm! You can assemble the chili the day before and keep it in the refrigerator up until you start it cooking. That adds to the ease of meal prep. Here’s the recipe:


3 lbs. lean ground beef
4 large yellow onions, diced
4 large green bell peppers, diced
3 tsp. crushed garlic
4 28-oz. cans whole tomatoes with the juice, crsuehd
2 cans light red kidney beans, drained
2 cans dark red kidney beans, drained
3-4 T. chili powder
2-3 tsp. cumin
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper

Brown ground beef, onion, green pepper and garlic together in skillet. Drain off grease. Transfer to a 7-8 quart crock pot. Add the remaininig ingredients and stir to blend. Cook over low heat for 8 to 10 hours.

Enjoy the chili!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Becky's Bruscetta

Haven't posted in a while, but here's one to make up for lost time. This is for bruscetta, which we had last night. It's a simple appetizer, and one of my favorites....especially with a pasta dinner!

Favorite Bruscetta

1 loaf (3 to 4 inches in diameter) crusty Italian bread
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
6 plum tomatoes, peeled and chopped
3 cloves fresh garlic, finely chopped
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup fresh basil, diced
1/4 cup fresh parsley, diced
1/2 tsp. each salt and pepper
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, ideally freshly grated

Preheat oven broiler to 500 degrees F. Cut loaf of bread into 1/2-inch slices. Mix tomatoes, garlic, onion, basil, parsley, salt and pepper together in small bowl and set aside. Spray cookie sheet with canola oil and arrange bread slices on sheet. Drizzle olive oil on top of bread. Place cookie sheet in broiler and bake several minutes, just until bread slices are slightly toasted and golden brown around edges. Remove, and top with tomato mixture and grated Parmesan. Serve immediately. Makes enough for about 8-10 people.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Favorite Italian Salads

Admittedly, I post a lot of dessert recipes on this blog. But truth be told, as much as I like making desserts, I often find salads a whole lot more satisfying (and amazingly, my clothes are still likely to fit me after making them!). Here are three of my favorite salads, all with an Italian flavor.


1 bunch Romaine lettuce, washed and torn into bite-sized pieces
½ bag garlic and butter flavor croutons
½ cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, grilled and sliced into strips (I marinate the breasts overnight in Grill Mates’ Zesty Herb Marinade, and then grill the chicken either on an outdoor or indoor electric grill)

1 ½ to 2 tsp. minced garlic (depending on taste)
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
2 T. Dijon mustard
2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 ½ tsp. granulated sugar
1/3 cup lemon juice
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 T. fresh parsley, minced

Combine all the dressing ingredients together and refrigerate at least 1 hour. In large bowl, place the lettuce, croutons and Parmesan cheese. Add dressing and toss. Top with freshly-grilled chicken pieces and serve.


2 red bell peppers, seeded and quartered
2 green bell peppers, seeded and quartered
2 cups oil and vinegar salad dressing
4 large garlic cloves, sliced
1 (16 oz.) container bocconcini (mozzarella balls), drained
1 cup pimento-stuffed green olives, drained
16 slices sourdough bread, lightly toasted

Coat grill rack with nonstick cooking spray. Preheat grill to high (400 to 450 degrees). Place bell peppers in a large bowl. Add salad dressing, turning to coat. Remove peppers from dressing; reserve dressing. Place peppers on grill. Grill 6-7 minutes per side or until softened and lightly charred (without overcooking!). Transfter peppers to a cutting board, and let them cool. Meanwhile, ad garlic, mozzarella balls and lives to reserved dressing; toss to coat. Set aside. Cut peppers into 1-inch pieces. Add to bowl; season with salt and pepper to taste, and toss to combine. Cover and refrigerate at least 8 hours. Place toasted bread slices on a serving dish. Spoon antipasto salad on the bread and serve.


2 green bell peppers, sliced thinly
3 large tomatoes (beef steak is best, preferably ripened on-the-vine)
1 large Spanish onion, sliced thinly
1 cup pitted black olives, sliced in thirds

¼ cup canola or olive oil
¼ cup white or wine vinegar
1 T. oregano
1 tsp. salt
¼ tsp. black pepper

Stir bell peper, tomato, onion and olive slices together. Mix dressing ingredients together and stir into vegetables. For best flavor, chill 1-2 hours before serving.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Homemade Hand Cream


Last week I posted a recipe for homemade body lotion. Today I made homemade hand cream. It’s similar to the body lotion, only a little less greasy. This is a recipe a friend of mine gave me, and I really like it.

Now my husband says, what does hand cream have to do with hospitality? But again I say it’s a nice gift for others. Also, I’m planning on hosting a lady’s spa weekend at my home this fall sometime, and I’ll probably pass out some of these creams as gifts. So…I think that meets the qualifications for writing about it in a hospitality blog.

All of the supplies for making homemade hand cream can be purchased from soap making supply houses. I really recommend Wholesale Supplies Plus ( Their prices are probably the most affordable of any of the suppliers I’ve bought from, and they offer free shipping for orders over $30.

Most of the supplies come in 16 oz. bags or bottles. So…you might spend $40 on supplies, but that will make you many, many batches of hand lotion. So, in the long run, you really do save money. Also, I think the handmade hand cream is a whole lot nicer than what you can buy in stores. For one thing, if you have sensitive skin, this stuff isn’t going to irritate your skin at all. So many of the commercially-made lotions and creams can really be irritating and to my skin and cause it to feel itchy. This homemade kind doesn’t.

Because you end up making quite a bit, I recommend getting together with a friend or two and hosting a handcream making party. That way you can share the costs of supplies, and divvy up the handcream among yourselves.

Here are the supplies needed for this homemade hand cream recipe:

3 T. almond oil
3 T. apricot oil
3 T. olive oil
1 T. plus 2 tsp. shea butter
2 T. plus 2 tsp. emulsifying wax
1 T. plus 2 tsp. vegetable glycerin
3 cups distilled water
½ tsp. citric acid (vitamin C—and a natural preservative)
4-5 T. fragrance oil
1 T. Germaben II (a natural preservative)
Optional: 4 or 5 drops of colorant (the liquid kind made for melt-and-pour soap making—available from craft stores like Michael’s works great for this. Just put in enough to add a tiny bit of color. It should be very pastel in color; you don’t want the color to be too noticeable.)

The basic steps are this:

First, in a quart-sized microwavable bowl, place the almond, apricot and olive oils, the shea butter, wax and the glycerin. Heat in the microwave about 1 ½ to 2 minutes, just until the mixture melts and looks clear. Then put the bowl in the refrigerator about 10 minutes, to let it cool to room temperature.

In another bowl (about 1 ½ quarts in size) place the water and citric acid. Heat in the microwave for one minute—just until the mixture is lukewarm.

Pour the oil, wax and glycerin mixture into the water and citric acid mixture.

With a stick blender, blend the mixture together until it looks creamy and thickened (about 10-15 minutes)—until it emulsifies. Then add your fragrance oil, Germaben II and colorant.

With this batch of hand cream that I made tonight, I divided it in two (after adding the Germaben II, but before putting in the fragrance or colorant). In one bowl, I put strawberry fragrance oil and three drops of red coloring to make a very light pink. In the other bowl, I put in cucumber melon fragrance oil and no colorant.

Finally, pour the cream into bottles or small jars. The hand cream will only be halfway-thickened at this stage. As it cools, it will thicken the rest of the way.

This lotion lasts the longest if you store it in the refrigerator, and then just get out one bottle/jar at a time to keep at room temperature while it’s in use.

This recipe fills about 10 3-oz. jars/bottles.

Happy hand cream making!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Make-Ahead Strawberry Mousse Cups

For dessert last night, we had strawberry mousse cups. Last spring, I posted a recipe for my "by scratch" strawberry mousse. There are also some wonderful mousse mixes on the market, and these are great short-cuts. That's what I used for last night's mousse. Specifically, I bought Foxy's Gourmet's Strawberry mousse mix. You can buy it on, as well as specialty food stores. With this mix, all you have to do is add whipped cream. You can pipe the prepared mousse into chocolate shells and freeze them ahead of time (just bring them out of the freezer and set them out in room temperature, abotu 30-60 minutes before serving, to thaw). Your guests will never know they were frozen! You can freeze these up to 1-2 months before serving. Of course, if you're going to serve them the day you make them, you would just keep them in the fridge.

Alternatively, you can make the homemade strawberry mousse. Here's my favorite recipe:

Do-Ahead Strawberry Mousse

1 quart fresh strawberries, washed, hulled and halved
1 package (1.4 ounces) strawberry gelatin
1/2 cup boiling water
1/3 cup extra-fine sugar
2 cups heavy whipping cream

In a large bowl, pour boiling water over gelatin and sugar. Stir until dissolved. Pour pureed strawberries into gelatin and stir until combined. Then put in the refrigerator to cool. While the gelatin is cooling, put the strawberries in a good food processor and puree until smooth. Then set it aside. Whip the cream until it forms stiff peaks. Then fold in the strawberry and gelatin mixture. Put into pastry bag and pipe into chocolate cups. Then put the strawberry mousse cups in the freezer until right before serving.

I make my own chocolate dessert cups. I buy Wilton Candy Melts from Michael's, or Candy Wafers from Hobby Lobby. These are melted in the microwave about 90 seconds, and then "painted" into dessert cup molds using a small paint brush. You can buy these molds from and other craft stores.

For a shortcut, you can also buy ready-made chocolate shells from and other online retailers, and sometimes from Cost Plus WorldMarket.

That's it for now. Happy mousse-making!