Sunday, January 29, 2012


We had some friends over last night for beef brisket and it was such a fun, relaxing evening! Everything I served, I made up in advance. We had cook-in-the-oven Texas-style beef brisket, garlic mashed potatoes, mashed sweet potatoes (we still have frozen mashed sweet potatoes from my husband’s 2010 garden to use up!), and cornbread with whipped honey butter. I asked my guests to bring a warm veggie dish and tossed salad (I just provided the carbs and protein!).

I made up all my dishes on Friday and then kept them in the refrigerator until Saturday. Yesterday morning, I put the brisket in the oven. It cooked at a low temperature all day (kind of like you would do with a slow cooker, but the slow cooking in the oven doesn’t turn the meat into mush; it just makes it very tender.). Then I put the cornbread, sweet potatoes and mashed potatoes in our second oven about 30 minutes before our guests arrived. There was nothing else that needed to be done all day to get ready for the meal (I had already made a dessert the day before, which was still in the fridge. One of our guests was bringing a second dessert.). After our friends arrived, I was in the family room, sipping on wine and munching on appetizers (crackers and cheese/dips), while we waited for the dishes to finish cooking in the oven. I wasn’t having to rush around the kitchen doing all this last-minute food prep. I love easy meals like this. And the brisket (something I discovered since moving to Texas) is something people always seem to enjoy.

Really, this is the ideal meal for a Friday night or other weekday evening dinner, when you’re at work and away from home all day. You can put the beef brisket in the oven when you leave in the morning, and it’ll be ready when you get home. The other items can be cooked for 30 minutes after you get home—about the time you’re getting the brisket out of the oven to “rest” for a bit before cutting. It’s also a good meal to serve up after church; you can come home with your company and dinner’s just about ready. When your guests ask, “Is there anything I can do to help?” there really isn’t; everything’s already done. It’s one of those meals that generates a super-relaxing atmosphere, because as the hostess, I’m not running around like a “chicken with its head cut off.” My husband and sons really appreciate that.

Here are last night’s recipes:


Rub, for 8 to 10 pounds of beef brisket:

4 T. chili powder
2 T. salt
2 T. garlic powder
2 T. onion powder
1 T. ground black pepper
2 T. granulated sugar
1 T. plus 1 tsp. dry mustard
3 bay leaves, crushed
4 cups beef stock or beef broth

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Trim excess fat on brisket. Mix the dry rub ingredients together, and season the brisket on both sides with the rub. Place the brisket on rack in a roasting pan, fat side up. Add beef stock to yield about ½ inch of liquid in the roasting pan (just enough so that the broth is really close to coming in contact with meat, but not quite). Put roaster lid on. Bake 8-10 hours (1 hour per pound of meat, after fat is trimmed). When done cooking, leave out at room temperature 15-20 minutes before cutting. Then slice the meat thinly across the grain. Top with juice from the pan, or serve with warm barbecue sauce on the side.


4 cups mashed sweet potatoes
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup milk
2 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. cinnamon

Combine all of the above and pour into buttered 1 ½ quart glass casserole dish. Then, mix the following together until crumbly, and sprinkle on top of mashed sweet potato mixture:

½ cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup butter
½ cup chopped pecans

Bake in 350 degree oven for 30-40 minutes, or until center is heated through.


5 lbs. Russet Potatoes, peeled
1 (8 oz.) pkg. cream cheese, softened
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. When baked in the oven like this, these potatoes get a “crust” on top and they’re light and fluffy inside….and they go fast when served.


2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/8 cups cornmeal
3 tsp. baking powder
½ cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. salt
½ cup shortening, chilled
2 cups milk
2 eggs

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Combine flour, cornmeal, baking powder, sugar and salt. Using a pastry blender or your fingertips, cut in shortening until crumbly. Add milk and eggs and stir just until all the ingredients are well combined. Bake in a 7 X 11-inch greased baking pan for about 30 minutes. Serve with whipped honey butter. (For last night’s dinner, I made up the batter the day before, put it in a baking dish, covered it with plastic wrap, and then kept it in the refrigerator until baking. I like making up the batter ahead of time and baking it right before eating it. To me, cornbread always tastes best fresh out of the oven, rather than baked a day in advance.)


½ cup unsalted butter, softened
¼ to 1/3 cup honey (to taste)

Using a hand mixer, whip butter and honey together until light and fluffy.

Have a good rest of your weekend!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Decorative Chocolate Cream Pie

We’re having company over for dinner tomorrow night. I thought I’d make a post about what we’re having for dessert…chocolate cream pie. I’ve found over the years that chocolate cream pie is a dessert that practically everyone likes. This recipe comes from the 1980 Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook. It’s the best chocolate cream pie recipe that I’ve ever found.

1 9-inch baked pie shell (I use the recipe I posted last July), cooled
½ cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
¼ tsp. salt
2 cups whole milk
2 squares unsweetened chocolate, grated
3 large egg yolks
3 T. butter
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Whipped cream for garnish, plus chocolate leaves, sprinkles or curls—if desired.

Whisk the three egg yolks in a pint-sized bowl and set aside. In a 2-quart saucepan, whisk together sugar, flour, salt, milk and grated chocolate. Over medium heat, cook mixture, stirring constantly, cook until mixture is thickened and boils (about 10 minutes). Spoon about a half-cup’s worth of the chocolate mixture into the beaten egg yolks and quickly whisk together. Pour this chocolate-egg yolk mixture back into the pan with the rest of the chocolate mixture. Blend together well. Stir over low heat until very thick (about two minutes), and mixture mounds when dropped from a spoon (don’t allow to bowl though). Remove from heat and stir in butter and vanilla. Then pour into baked pie shell. Cover the surface of the chocolate mixture with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until cool and set—about 3-4 hours. Then you can remove the plastic wrap and garnish.

I piped whipped cream on my chocolate cream pie (above), and garnished it with dark chocolate, white chocolate and peanut butter leaves. I made these with a leaf mold, that I filled with melted Candy Wafers (available from Hobby Lobby). You can also use Wilton’s Candy Melts, which you can buy at craft supply stores like Michael’s, or "real" chocolate if you temper it first. One final touch was to sprinkle Cocoa Pearls on top of the piped whipped cream. These are available at Trader Joe’s, and add a special touch to the pie.

Have a great weekend everyone!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Favorite Super Bowl Munchies

With the Super Bowl less than two weeks away, my youngest son and I have been planning our annual Super Bowl party. He’s actually spearheaded the whole event, planning the guest list, designing and writing the Evite invitation, and organizing games for the party. Now we’re down to creating the menu. Our guests will be bringing a lot of finger foods and beverages to the party. In addition, there are certain munchies we like to make every year. The recipes for our favorite Super Bowl treats are below. We’ll probably make these foods this year too. They’re not exactly low calorie food choices, but they sure do hit the spot while you’re sitting on the couch, cheering on your favorite team with your friends!


1 can refried beans (I use Amy’s Organic Refried Beans, which are seasoned and taste delicious!)
1 16-ounce carton sour cream
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 pack of dry taco seasoning mix or Fiesta Ranch dip mix
16 ounce containers guacamole dip (I use Wholly Guacamole—again, very delicious! And there are natural preservatives in there, so the guacamole doesn’t go bad even though it’s fresh.)
12 ounces finely shredded Monterey Jack and mild cheddar cheese mix
2 bunches green onions, sliced thinly
1 large tomato (chopped finely)
½ cup black olives, sliced thinly

Assemble the layers in a 7 by 11 inch glass baking dish. The layers will be thin, so that when you dip a tortilla chip, you get all seven flavors in every bite. First, spread the refried beans over the bottom of the dish. Next, beat the cream cheese, sour cream and taco seasoning together, and then spread that on top of the refried bean layer. Make the guacamole the third layer; spread it over the cream cheese mixture very carefully so that it doesn’t get mixed up in the first two layers. For the fourth layer, sprinkle the cheese on top of the guacamole. The last three layers are the green onions, then tomatoes, and black olives on top. Cover the dip with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator until ready to eat. Serve the dip with tortilla chips.


2 cups ketchup
2 cups bourbon
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 medium yellow onion, diced finely
1 T. plus 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
¼ tsp. Tabasco sauce
3 (1 pound packages frankfurters—each hot dog cut into thirds) or 3 pkgs. Little Smokies cocktail franks

Combine ketchup, bourbon, brown sugar, onion, Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco sauce in saucepan. Simmer uncovered for a half hour, stirring occasionally. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place franks on a shallow baking pan that has been sprayed with cooking oil spray. Pour the bourbon sauce over the franks, coating them evenly. Cover pan with aluminum foil. Bake about 30-40 minutes, until heated through. Serve with toothpicks.


25 chicken wings
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tsp. garlic powder
½ tsp. salt
Vegetable oil for deep frying
½ cup butter, melted
½ cup hot pepper sauce (I like Frank’s “Red Hot” cayenne pepper sauce)

Cut wings at joint and remove tips. Set aside. Mix flour, cayenne pepper, garlic powder and salt together. Dip wings into flour mixture and coat well. Deep fry wings (about 10-12 at a time) in hot oil until crisp and golden brown. Drain on paper towels. In a small sauce pan, melt butter; add hot sauce to butter and stir well. Dip wings into hot sauce mixture. Cover; let stand one minute. Serve warm with celery sticks and your favorite sour cream ranch dressing.


1 cup finely ground smoked turkey
1 (8 oz.) pkg. cream cheese, softened
3 T. mayonnaise
2 T. fresh parsley, diced finely
1/2 cup pecans, chopped

Blend first four ingredients together and chill for an hour until firm. Shape mixture into a bowl and then roll into chopped pecans. Store in refrigerator until serving. Can be made 2-3 days in advance. Serve with crackers and/or pita and pretzel chips.


1 (11 oz.) can golden sweet corn
1 bell pepper (green, red, yellow or orange), diced
3 Roma tomatoes, diced
1 red onion, diced
½ bunch cilantro, diced
1/3 cup hot salsa
Salt and pepper to taste
2 T. balsamic vinegar
2 ripe avocados, diced

Mix all ingredients together in bowl. Cover bowl, and refrigerate several hours before serving. Serve with tortilla chips.


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.

Oh, I must add the a big batch of buttery popcorn—made the “old fashioned” way with a popcorn popper using oil—also makes for some good munchin’ at a Super Bowl party. It’s one of my favorite treats actually…and is “no sweat” to make.

Well, those are my son’s and my favorite Super Bowl treats. What about you? Do you have any great ideas for Super Bowl munchies that I didn’t mention here? If you do, drop me a note! I’m always looking for good ideas!


Sunday, January 22, 2012

Hosting a Roaring 20s Murder Mystery Party

In April, I made a blog post about our Old West-themed murder mystery party. Last night, we hosted a Roaring 20s-themed murder mystery party and dinner. It was a super fun evening!!! Here’s a run-down on the party:

We used a commerical murder mystery kit for the evening. I actually found two companies that have excellent roaring 20s-themed murder mystery kits. One was “Murder at the Juice Joint,” ( which was created by Night of Mystery, the same company I bought my “Murder at the Deadwood Saloon” kit from last year; and “Murder at the Four Deuces,” which is available from the company, Dinner and a Murder Mystery Games ( ). Since I already tried a game from Night of Mystery, I decided to go for the “Murder at the Four Deuces” kit this time.

I thought this kit was just as good as the one I bought last year. Some differences: with the Night of Mystery kits, you get a lot of ideas for decorations, including a lot of downloadable items like labels for booze bottles and crates and the templates for making your own name cards. But with the Dinner and a Murder Mystery games, you can buy a boxed kit—which arrives in the mail. That’s what I did. I liked that, rather than having to print everything up from my own printer. With this kit, you also get some extra activities for the evening, like a scavenger hunt activity, and an online party invitation and management system, which the other company doesn’t offer. But…the name cards included in the “Murder at the Four Deuces” kit were just the plain ol’ stick-on on kind, and they didn’t stick on too well. And there weren’t any templates for décor like you get with the Night of Mystery kits. I also found A LOT of typos in the character descriptions and other materials they sent me (I can’t help it…I’m an editor.). I also reworded and retyped up some of the scripts they gave me for key characters like the host and inspectors, which I think made the evening much more clear for our guests. But all in all, I thought the kit was a good value. It really just depends what you want. If you have a lot of time for making invitations, name cards, decorations, etc., go with a Night of Mystery kit. (This kind of “creating” can be loads of fun!). If you want all this printed up for you—without the same creative/artistic touch—go with the Dinner and Murder Mystery kit.

Decorating for this event was a bit of a challenge. The setting for this house was a speakeasy. I thought a lot of the speakeasy and roaring 20s decorations that were available from online party suppliers were a bit hokey. Every company out there basically sells the same the same old hokey, cheap-looking speakeasy decorations. And honestly, I thought it would have been a bit of a challenge trying to make our dining room, kitchen area and family room into a speakeasy with tables and a dark, smoky atmosphere. We have large windows throughout and big, Texas-sized furniture that I wasn’t going to try to move to make room for folding card tables. I did find a design online for a mock bar table we could have made out of plywood, but again, where would we find room to put it? Not only that, I didn’t want to spend money on making a bar. Now I thought it would have been fun to make some old booze bottles with old fashioned labels on them, and put those bottles around the house for decorations. But then my very logical son brought up the fact that during Prohibition, companies probably didn’t want to identify themselves too clearly as bootleggers, so they probably didn’t put labels on their liquor back then. Besides, I didn’t have a bunch of empty bottles on hand to put labels on. I also didn’t have big boxes to put fake booze labels on, which I had thought about doing.

So…I decided to just go with a more general 1920s style of décor. Black and white was a popular color scheme back then, along with anything sparkly and glitzy, so I went with that as my theme. I decorated with strings of pearls, black and white feather boas, black and white streamers, and black and white bandanas which I used for table coverings, which I found for good prices at Party City and Hobby Lobby. I also found some really elegant crystal candle holders from Hobby Lobby—during their ½ price sale week—which I put black candles in. I put candles all over the family room, kitchen, dining room and front office (which we used as our wine room), and dimmed all the main house lights, which created kind of a night club atmosphere. I also hung posters of Al Capone and other 1920s gangsters (which I bought online from poster companies), and found some black crystal confetti to scatter on the tables. I did have several sets of crystal candle holders for the dining tables, which actually were my grandmother’s, which she got for her wedding in the late 1920s. Anything crystal (as long as it’s clear crystal; the colored “Depression glass” didn’t come along until the 1930s) is ideal to decorate with for a 1920s-themed party.

Here’s a sampling of some of the decorating I did for the party, such as “The Four Deuces” sign I made out of glitter…

Wine glasses with black and white ribbons…

A couple of the tables…

I wrapped plastic cutlery around black and white napkins and tied them with black and white ribbons…

The right music also adds to an evening like this. For music, I bought a three CD pack of 1920s classics called, “I’d Rather Charleston,” which was a collection by various artists, and an online music download, “Charleston: The Dance of the Roaring Twenties,” by Walter Weeman’s Brass and Singers. We played these all evening, and it really added a lot to the fun, upbeat atmosphere of the evening (even with murders going on!). I bought the music from, which incidentally has a great selection of music from that era.

We had 22 characters join in the fun last night. (We were supposed to have 24 but one couple got sick and couldn’t make it). Plus, we also had 12 teenagers and younger children (sons and daughters of characters) over; they just observed and didn’t take on roles (actually, for most of the evening, they were upstairs in the game room playing ping pong and video games!).

I already included a lot of tips about how to host a murder mystery party in my April 3 post. If you haven’t read that and are interested in planning a murder mystery party, you might want to check out that post.

Some other useful tips:

**Give your guests a detailed outline of what-would-happen-and-when during the evening. Now most murder mystery kits will include a handout for what you give to your guests to explain the setting, etc., for the party. In addition to sending out that to my guests, I typed out a very detailed outline for my guests that explained specifically what we’d be doing at our party (which may be particular for us): when to arrive (I stressed that for this party, timeliness was very important), where to park, which door to use, when we would be eating, when we would be having the scavenger hunt, how the investigation would progress, which guests were playing which roles, what awards we would be presenting at the end of the party, etc. If you try to explain all this after you’ve already got a crowd gathering inside your house, it’s going to be too hard to do. It’s better to let your guests know these details ahead of time. Email this information to your guests in advance of your party (about 2-3 weeks before the event). Also stress that they should be studying up on their characters before they arrive.

**Have information envelopes available for each of your guests to pick up when they arrive. I had a wrought iron basket setting out, with two envelopes for each guest: an “A” envelope with their nametags, character descriptions (an extra copy of what they already were given before the party), play money for the game, and certain documents for particular guests. The “B” envelopes had character objectives for after the murder, voting cards (for best acting, best costume, etc.), and other documents and instructions that certain guests needed. The “A” envelopes were opened upon arrival; the “B” envelopes were opened after the murder. Organizing all the materials this way ensured that guests would receive the materials they needed, when they needed them…and as the host, I didn’t have to scramble around trying to find certain guests to hand them particular documents at various points during the evening.

**Make sure your evening’s “victim” knows exactly what he’s supposed to be doing during the evening. Last night’s victim had a lot of very detailed information in his “A” envelope about where to be standing when he saw his demise, and how to signal to the host (my husband) that he was ready to fall on the floor (and my sons would need to turn off the lights and make a loud bang sound by popping a balloon). You want this part of the evening to go very precisely. It sets the tone for the rest of the party.

**Have back-up cast members available for key characters. Last night several people were sick and couldn’t make the party. Another gal had a “family emergency” two days earlier and almost wasn’t able to make it. You have to be ready to “move characters around” or find replacements for key characters—just in case you need to. Something always seems to happen last-minute, especially if you’re planning one of these parties during the winter months, when a lot of cold and flu bugs are spreading. That’s not a reason to fret though. In any murder mystery kit you buy, there will be a list of “core” characters as well as supporting roles (that are not essential to the storyline, but do add to the evening if you have people to play them). On Friday—the day before the party—I had to find replacements for three key roles. One couple was sick, along with their kids, and they weren’t going to make it. Another couple had a very contagious little boy; the husband would have to stay home and watch his kids while the wife could still go. Friday afternoon, when I got the news, I was scrambling around to find replacements. I moved one couple who were playing less essential characters, to playing the more pivotal roles of the couple who got sick. I was able to talk my 18-year-old son into playing the part of the husband with the contagious little boy (so he could stay home with his kids)…which meant my son had two “older women” hanging on him during the murder mystery party. (Check out this pic. It says it all!)

**Assign character roles very carefully. If you’ve got introverted or shy friends, they’ll probably enjoy themselves more if you assign them supportive roles. What some people enjoy most about these kinds of parties is just dressing up, observing and trying to figure out “Whodunnit.” Usually the main character roles are best played by extroverts—people who naturally like to “ham it up.” My husband is a good example. He’s a classic introvert (married to a super extrovert who plans nonstop parties…well, we balance each other out!). Last year, he had the main male role, and the minute the party started, he was besieged by about 20 other guests who had character assignments to harass him or question him about something. By the end of the evening…well, probably 15 minutes into the evening…he was totally wiped out.

**Serve food that fits in with the theme for the evening, and requires absolutely NO last minute food prep or cooking on your part. For me, I was the hostess last night, and I was also one of the main characters. If you are going to be eating the main meal sometime after the party starts, have appetizers to eat beforehand. This is what we did last night. Our guests arrived somewhere between 6 and 6:45 pm. We had appetizers to munch on during this time. I asked a couple of the guests to bring cheese and cracker trays for appetizers. I also made an easy appetizer for the evening—cheese, sausage and olive kabobs. This was a popular snack in the 1920s, and the kabob sticks fit with the black and white theme:

The party “officially” started at 6:45, once everyone had arrived. The victim had about a half hour to complete a list of objectives (basically he had to say and do certain things to get other characters upset with him).

Here’s a photo of the evening’s victim, Jim Ravioli, telling his daughter, Rebecca Ravioli, she couldn’t marry Rhett Bumbler:

Here’s the victim lying on our front staircase:

After the victim was dragged away by the inspector and my husband (owner of The Four Dueces), dinner was served. This was about 7:15. Dinner was ready right then, and I didn’t have to do anything ahead of time to prepare it. Everything had been done ahead of time. I made a large tray of lasagna, which I put in the oven at 6 pm, right before our first guests arrived. I made crock pot chicken cacciatore, which I got going about noon. All I had to do at serving time was take off the lids of the crock pots. I made herbed spaghetti to with the chicken cacciatore and garlic bread loaves. Both of these were prepared in advance, and just needed to be heated in the oven about a half hour before serving. Being that the theme for the party was 1920s Chicago gangsters, and most of the characters were Italian, Italian food a perfect choice for the meal. It was a really good choice for me, because I didn’t have to do any last-minute food prep. Here are the recipes:


3 ½ lbs. chicken pieces (thighs and/or breasts)
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 tsp. dried oregano
½ tsp. lemon pepper
½ tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. black pepper
2 tsp. garlic powder
¼ cup rose wine
1 T. granulated sugar
1 green pepper, sliced thinly
1 (8 oz.) can tomato sauce
1 (8 oz.) can mushrooms

Put all of the above ingredients in a large slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for 6 hours. Serve with pasta.


1 lb spaghetti ( good quality)
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tsp. garlic powder
1 T. dried oregano
1 T. dried parsley
salt and pepper--to taste

Cook pasta in salted boiling water according to manufacturer directions. Drain, and add oil and the rest of the ingredients. Put in an oiled casserole dish. Refrigerate until serving time. About a half hour before serving time, put spaghetti in covered casserole dish in 350 oven. Bake for 30 minutes—or until heated through.

DO-AHEAD GARLIC BREAD LOAF (I made 5 of these for the party)
1 loaf French or Italian bread
½ cup butter
2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. dried parsley
Optional: ¼ cup Parmesan cheese

Slice loaf into 1 inch slices; make your cuts 90 percent into the loaf, but not all the way (without cutting into the bottom of the loaf, so that the slices stay held together in the loaf). Melt butter. Add garlic powder, parsley and Parmesan cheese. Spread each side of each slice of bread with the butter mixture (a pastry brush works well to do this). If desired, lightly brush a little butter on the outside of the entire loaf as well. Wrap loaf in heavy-duty aluminum foil and freeze. Bake in 350 degree oven (straight from freezer; you do not need to defrost loaf) for 30 minutes before serving.

I asked guests to bring accompaniments for the meal: Caesar or other tossed salads, veggies and dip trays, bottles of wine and desserts. I also had chocolate, raspberry and peanut butter mousse cups in the freezer, which I brought out of the freezer to thaw at room temperature about 30-40 minutes before mealtime. Everything was on my kitchen countertops and center island and was served buffet style. The meal went very smoothly!

**One last tip: buy some small gifts that you can hand out with the award certificates at the end of the evening. Last night’s guest with the most game money at the end of the evening got a set of black and white gangster shot glasses (which fit in nicely with 1920s speakeasy theme). The guest who won “best actor” got a bottle of champagne in a black and silver velvet bag. The guest who won “best costume “got a large box of dark and white chocolates. The guests who correctly guessed the killer got chocolates too. Having the gifts to hand out ended the party on a special note.

Here’s a photo of our group which we took at the end of the evening:

I can’t lie to you…this isn’t an event that’s going to be totally stress-free for you, no matter how good of an advance planner you are. You’re hosting a large meal AND you’re organizing what’s basically an Improv performance. It’s going to take a certain amount of work. A lot is on your shoulders. But it all can go very smoothly if you plan things in advance… and the stress will be kept to a minimum. Keep in mind the work you put into the evening is well worth it!!! I sure had a lot of fun last night. My guests said they did too. These are the kinds of events that make for great memories down the road.

That’s all for now! If you’re planning a murder mystery party and you have any questions, feel free to drop me a note!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Turkey (or Chicken) Noodle Casserole

When it comes to hospitality, I think it’s nice to always have a casserole in the freezer—ready to be baked—just in case you need a last-minute meal. True…a casserole may not qualify as a “fancy” dinner. However, you can still make a nice tossed green salad and pick up some dinner rolls to go with it and I’d say that’s good enough to serve to company.

One of my favorite casseroles is Turkey Noodle Casserole. This is something I often make after Thanksgiving, when I have a lot of leftover turkey breast to use up. It also tastes really good made with freshly-cooked boneless chicken breasts.

I’ve served this casserole a lot to company over the years, and people seem to really like it. I’ve also taken it a lot to new moms who just had a baby or people who just had surgery of some kind and needed some ready-to-bake meals made up for them.

You can make up this casserole ahead of time and put it in the refrigerator for 2-3 days before baking. Or, if you want to freeze it, that works well too. You can keep it in the freezer for 2-3 months; just thaw in the fridge for 24 hours before baking. A lot of times I’ll double up this recipe and make one pan for now and one pan to put in the freezer for a later date. Here’s how to make the casserole:


1 (12 oz.) pkg. wide egg noodles (cooked according to package directions and drained)
¼ cup butter
1 large yellow onion, diced finely
1 (13.25 oz.) can mushrooms
2 (10 3/4 oz.) cans cream of chicken soup
1 cup whole milk
1 cup sour cream
1 ½ cups Parmesan cheese (I used freshly-grated)
1 (7-oz.) jar diced pimento, drained
1 T. plus 1 tsp. dried parsley flakes
4 cups cubed cooked turkey or chicken

Melt butter in a skillet. Add chopped onions and cook 3-5 minutes or until tender. Add mushrooms, cream of chicken soup, and milk and heat through. Stir in sour cream and ½ cup of Parmesan cheese, pimento and parsley. Stir in noodles. Spoon into buttered casserole dish(es). Top with remaining Parmesan cheese. Cover, and bake in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. Remove cover and bake 15 minutes more.


Saturday, January 14, 2012


We went to a friend’s house for dinner tonight, and I got asked to make dessert. I made good ol’ fashioned PEACH Pie. I actually made two peach pies, and pulled them out of the oven about 15 minutes before we left for our friend’s home. That way, the pies were still warm when we ate them for dessert. Of course, we “had” to top the pie with ice cream. YUM!

Peach pie is probably one of our favorite desserts—especially during the late summer months when peaches are in season. Now it’s January and there aren’t always freshly-picked peaches at the supermarkets, and the farmer’s markets are closed down for the winter. I actually used frozen peaches in tonight’s pies—and these were peaches we bought from a farmer’s produce stand in northern Georgia on a trip this past summer. Georgia peaches are the best in my opinion—next to South Carolina peaches. They were delicious in tonight’s pies, and tasted just as good frozen as they were fresh.

In general, I recommend using frozen peaches in your pies during the “off” growing seasons. That’s true even if you don’t have your own frozen, tree-riped Georgia peaches. Any frozen peaches you can pick up from your local grocer are probably going to taste better (and be less expensive too!) than the “fresh” peaches that are available in supermarkets this time of year. (These “fresh” peaches were probably imported from far-flung lands in the Southern Hemisphere when the peaches were still green, and weren’t allowed to ripen on the trees…and they don’t usually have a whole lot of taste.) Actually it’s been said by many that frozen produce is often very good quality—even sometimes better than fresh produce, because there’s not a lot of time between harvesting and processing, so the fruit doesn’t go bad. So…in my peach pie recipe, it calls for frozen—not fresh—peaches. Just wanted to give you an explanation why. Here’s the recipe:


Pastry for double 9-inch pie crust
6 cups frozen peaches, thawed slightly
1 cup granulated sugar
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg
Dash salt
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
3 T. butter, cut into pieces

Line pie plate with bottom pie crust. In medium-sized bowl, combine peaches, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and flour. Spoon into bottom pie crust. Top filling evenly with butter pieces. Moisten crust with a little warm water, and put top crust on. Cut slits for steam to escape. Bake in 400 degree oven for about an hour.

Happy pie making—and eating!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Chocolate Chip Macadamia Nut Cookies

I love chocolate chip cookies!!! Who doesn’t?!! Sometimes though it can be hard to find just the right recipe. Some recipes make cookies that are too thick, chunky and cake-like, whereas other chocolate chip cookie recipes spread way too thin. I find that the recipe below is just right—not too thin and not too thick. It’s a recipe I’ve “tweaked” a bit from Pillsbury’s BEST COOKIES cookbook. This is another drop cookie dough that can be made up ahead of time in dough balls and frozen until ready to bake.

½ cup unsalted butter, softened
½ cup Crisco or other shortening
¾ cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
½ cup granulated sugar
1 ½ tsp. vanilla
1 large egg
1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt
1 (12 oz.) package semi sweet chocolate chips
1 cup unsalted macadamia nuts, chopped

Cream butter, shortening and sugars together. Add egg and vanilla and beat until light and fluffy. Blend in flour, soda and salt. Stir in chocolate chips and macadamia nuts. Drop by rounded tablespoons onto parchment paper-lined cookie sheet. Bake in 375 degree oven for 10-12 minutes, or until light golden brown. Makes about 2 to 2 ½ dozen large cookies.


Monday, January 9, 2012


I like to host get-togethers where kids and their parents can interact with each other in a relaxed, fun atmosphere. As the mother of two teenage boys, I think that’s important. The teenage years are not a time when you want your kids to stop talking with you. I want to keep the communication channels open with them, and I like getting to know their friends too.

I also think it’s important that we parents plan activities that get our teens off their computers and iPods and interacting with other people. I’m referring to good “old fashioned” face-to-face talking. I see too many teens today, spending time “with” their friends, while each is plugged into his or her own electronic device. Sure, they might be sitting next to each other, but they’re not talking with each other. As parents, we should be doing what we can to get them interacting more. Otherwise, a lot of teens will sit in the same room together while staying “plugged in” to their iPods and iPads or other electronic gadgets. They’re not talking to us, they’re not talking with each other, and they’re not developing good communication skills. (Forgive me, but I have a communication background and this is “my thing.” I’m not “in” to all the passive forms of entertainment like playing solitary computer games and watching TV.)

What are some things we’ve done to generate communication at our house? Well, we bought a ping pong table last year, and put that in the game room. My sons really like playing ping pong with their friends, and with their friends’ moms and dads too. We hosted a murder mystery party last year where both parents and teens had character parts. We’ve also hosted a lot of Bunco parties and swim parties. One of the best and most entertaining teen- and pool-related fun has been two years in a row we had a “polar bear” event in the pool during winter break, where we watched 15-20 teens take turns diving into the pool in mid-December, and afterwards they all crammed together in the hot tub. We didn’t heat the main pool water and the air temperature was in the 40s. Those events definitely got the parents and teens laughing together…and caused me lose my voice I laughed so hard!

Another idea, which I wanted to focus on here, is to pick up some board games that can be played as groups. Sometimes we’ll have the teens just play the games by themselves; other times we’ll have the teens and parents all playing together. Here are my family’s favorites:


This game really generates a lot of conversation. It consists of 800 “Would You Rather?” questions, along with all the game pieces, score pads, timer, etc. Players take turns drawing a card, each with a question on it. You get questions like, “Would you rather spend 2 hours in a room with 100 wasps or sleep one week in a room with 2 rats?” “Would you rather eat a one-gallon container of apple stems or eat a dozen banana peels?” “Would you rather be a pathetic wannabe or a wasted has-been?” Players can’t pick “Neither” as an answer; they have to choose one, and doing so always leads to a lively discussion.

Players win by correctly predicting the group consensus to each of the questions and completing certain challenges. The challenges can be the most fun of all. Last time my sons and their friends played this at our house, we just about choked in laughter as we watched the teens use lipstick to write “Sponge Bob” on my son’s forehead, and later, to apply mascara to one of the more burly guys in the group. This game is a great way to really get to know your friends, and to just have some good-natured fun.


This is another game where participants draw from packs of question cards. The questions are either on general interest topics (“List five of the most dangerous jobs.” “List five body parts that have three letter names.” “Fact or Fiction: Dogs see only in black and white.”), solicit opinions and preferences (“Do politicians lie more than they tell the truth?” “How many times per week do you wash your hair?” “Is it acceptable for a 50-year-old man to marry a 25-year-old woman?”) or relate directly to the group of players (“Who here is most likely to have met somebody famous?” “Who here can hold his or her breath the longest?” “Who here watches the most television?”). The question is read, and everyone writes down their answers and paper.

The object of the game is to come up with the same answer that all the other players are choosing. Basically, you’re guessing what others are thinking. The more you think like everyone else, the better you score, even if it’s not exactly the “correct” answer. If you answer differently than the other players, you get a penalty card. Once a player gets eight penalty cards, the game is over. Everyone who didn’t have eight penalty cards is considered a winner. Of course, whether you’re a winner or the loser, the fun in playing the game is just trying to figure out how other people are going to answer. Again, these are questions that generate a lot of conversation. Last time we played this game, three days later there was still a lot of discussion about—and attempts at proving—who could hold their breath the longest.


This board game is very similar to the classic party game, Dictionary. Players take turns reading words, names, initial, movies, or descriptions of unusual laws that probably nobody in the group has ever heard of. Each player makes up a phony—but believable—answer, that they turn into the dasher (the leader of the round). When the dasher has collected all the made-up answers, he or she reads them—along with the “real” answers—to the group. Players then vote on which answer is real. Points are scored to the players who guess the correct answer, as well as those who are able to bluff others to choose their answer as the correct answer. Believe me, there can be a lot of howling and cackling when this game is being played, especially as the dasher reads off that a “molebut” is a short, lumpy fish known as the seahog. Who could say “molebut” with a straight face?!! My kids sure couldn’t. The possible definitions that the kids came up with were pretty hilarious…but not necessarily things that I wanted to write down in this blog!


Another bluffing contest, Malarky is a game where players have to come up with answers to some pretty wild questions that are read to the group. For instance, “Why are there ridges on most stick licorice?” “Why aren’t there seat belts on school buses?” “Why does popcorn pop while other corn doesn’t?” “How did Levi’s 501 get their number?” “Why do roaches run away when a light is turned on in a darkened room?”

You don’t necessarily have to know the right answer; you just have to be able to come up with an answer that could fool everyone else. It’s a game everyone can play. If you’re a creative, right-brained type, you’ll be able to make up some creative answers. If you’re a left-brained “book worm,” all that knowledge you’ve stored up is going to help you select the right answers and make up answers that sound legit.

Players take turns acting as “host” for each round, who will be given the correct answer for a particular question. The “real” answer is listed on the card, which the host draws from a box. Everyone else has to make up believable answers. The “real” and made-up answers are all read by the “host” of that round, who has to try to keep a poker face the whole time, so that nobody knows when he’s reading the actual answer. Just like Balderdash, players vote on which answer they think is the right one. It’s funny to hear the made up answers, some of which sound so ridiculous you can’t help but laughing. And sometimes, the real answer is just as funny. Players are awarded points when their bluff answer receives votes or when they vote for the correct answer.

Last time we played this game at our house, we had six parents and seven teenagers playing for close to four hours straight. Parents and teens alike were all laughing so hard that by the end of the evening their sides were hurting. I think most of us also gleaned some interesting tidbits of knowledge as well. Before that evening, I never knew why stop lights are arranged in red, yellow and green, but I do now. We also can’t help but remember some of the made-up answers, which continue to make us giggle when we think about them.


This is a game that probably most people are familiar with, so I don’t need to describe all the ins and outs of how it is played. But I definitely wanted to include this game on the list. My oldest son naturally likes playing Pictionary because he’s been good at drawing from the day he could pick up a pencil. But even if you’re not an “artist” this is a great group game. Although it does help to be able to draw, it also helps if you are good at thinking on your feet. If you aren’t, this is certainly good practice!

To play, you divide your group up into two teams. We like to play guys versus gals, or teens versus parents. Sometimes there are words you have to draw that one group is much more familiar with that others. For instance, when we recently played, one of the words was “phonograph.” The parents all roared watching how a 14-year-old boy was going to draw something he had no real knowledge of. But then the laughs went the other direction when one of the parents drew a card with the name of a rap musician on it. So we have a lot of fun with this game. I think the friendly competition is a lot of fun. It’s also nice to see everyone playing together as a team and building that camaraderie.

You can probably find all of these games at your local Super Target, WalMart Super Center or Toys R Us. If not, you can find them on They’re worth the investment…especially when on a cold winter evening when you’re relaxing with friends and there’s nothing on TV worth watching (which seems to happen a lot for us!). These games will get your group laughing…and interacting!!!

Have fun!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Peanut Butter Mousse in Chocolate Cups

We’re having another murder mystery dinner party in a couple weeks. I have been busy planning for that. With this murder mystery, we are going to have our dinner about 45minutes into the party, which means I am definitely going to want to have a do-ahead dinner ready to go. That includes dessert.

One of the desserts I’ll be serving, which I just made this morning, is peanut better mousse in chocolate cups. Like the raspberry and chocolate mousse recipes I’ve posted on my blog, these mousse cups can be made up ahead of time and frozen. Pull them out of the freezer and let them thaw at room temperature about 30-40 minutes before serving. Here’s the recipe:

1 cup whipping cream
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 cup creamy peanut butter
¾ to 1 cup powdered sugar (to taste)
3 T. milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
About 40 cordial-sized chocolate cups (these can be purchased from stores like World Market, or you can make your own)
Miniature Reese’s peanut butter cups for garnish.

Beat whipping cream til stiff peaks and set aside. In another bowl, beat cream cheese until smooth. Add peanut butter, powdered sugar, milk and vanilla extract and blend well. Fold whipped cream into peanut butter mixture. Spoon into pastry bag and pipe into chocolate cups. Top each with a miniature peanut butter cup. If serving that day, you can refrigerate mousse cups until serving time. Otherwise, put in a covered container in the freezer. Can freeze up until a month before serving.


Tuesday, January 3, 2012


If you were to ask me what are my two favorite things in life I’d have to say it’s friends and dessert. A really fun way to celebrate both of these is by hosting a dessert party. Out of all the parties that I’ve planned in recent years, the dessert parties have probably been the ones that have gotten the most rave reviews.

To make it clear up front, by “dessert party” I mean inviting any number of people over for a “drop in” or “open house” get-together, typically on a weekend evening, after the dinner hour, for dessert and coffee. The last dessert party at our house was one that I actually co-hosted with another friend. We invited about 70 people over on a Saturday night, and thrilled our guests with about 30 different desserts to choose from. The gal who I co-hosted with likes to bake as much as I do, so we both went crazy for a couple days baking up a storm.

Dessert parties are memorable and special. Who doesn’t like walking into a kitchen full of desserts to choose from? Obviously we couldn’t do these parties all the time, otherwise none of us could ever fit in our clothes! But every once in a while, a night of decadence can be okay in my book! It’s something we don’t do all the time, so we really remember it.

These kind of parties are perfect for co-hosting with someone else. That way you’re not the only one doing all the baking. You’re able to supply twice as many desserts for the evening, because someone else is baking as well as you. That’s really what makes these kinds of parties so much fun—you’re your guests walk into your kitchen or dining room and see desserts EVERYWHERE. Such extravagance!!! What a fun event to be able to host for your friends!

Of course, the smaller scale dessert parties can be fun too. You don’t have to serve as many desserts as I did when I co-hosted the party with my friend, and you don’t have to make it such a large group either. My husband and I have been to dessert gatherings when it was just 2-3 desserts and maybe 2-3 families. Those were still very enjoyable get-togethers.

If you don’t want to do all the baking yourself, you could certainly pick up a few desserts at a local bakery and maybe only make one or two cakes or platters of fancy cookies yourself. You could also do a “potluck style” dessert party where guests each bring a favorite dessert. I have been to those kind of dessert parties in the past and they have been a lot of fun. You should supply small note cards for people to write down the name of their dessert, to post next to it (that’s also a good idea if you supply all the desserts yourself). You might even want to have a contest for “best” or “tastiest” dessert, in which case guests would all be given voting cards that they could fill out and turn into you.

Plan your dessert party to start after the dinner hour. Somewhere around 7 or 7:30 pm is good. You might give your guests a range of time that they can stop by. That way, if they’re going out to dinner at a restaurant, they don’t have to feel rushed to get to your house at a certain time.

Provide a variety of desserts—rich ones, light desserts, and some that are in between, along with coffee and tea service, chilled water (sparkling and flat), and perhaps some after dinner wines and liqueurs in cordial glasses or edible chocolate cups (which you can make yourself or buy from stores like World Market).

I like to serve some really decadent, rich desserts at these kinds of parties (such as my chocolate Kahlua cheesecake, which I’ve already posted about on this blog), but those are going to be no more than a fourth of what I’m serving. Usually people like to sample a little of everything, and they’re not going to want to sample all rich foods. Have some “light” desserts on hand like fruit trifles, sorbet, fruit cups, etc., to balance out the super rich choices.

At the last dessert party we hosted, we served mousse cups, decorated cakes, cheesecakes (a couple chocolate varieties and then a fruit-topped cheesecake), cream puffs, fruit trifle, tiramisu, fancy cupcakes and petit fours, fruit kabobs, chocolate-dipped strawberries, Napoleons, baklava, flan, cannoli and fruit and chocolate cream tarts. (As much as I like pie, that’s a little too informal for a dessert party, so I made tarts instead of pies.). Provide a variety of tastes and textures, some traditional American desserts, as well as some ethnic classics from Europe, etc.

What I’m describing may very well sound like an over-indulgent, over-the-top evening, with desserts coming out of everyone’s ears. That’s just to give the guests the adult equivalent of a kid visiting Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. I think everyone should be able to experience this at least once in their lifetime. Of course, there are bound to be lots of leftovers. That’s okay in my book. I like to send desserts home with people. That way, my family and I aren’t eating all the leftover dessert. Also, it can be really fun for guests to take desserts home to munch on later. So I recommend buying some of those disposable “to go” storage containers for people to choose dessert samples to take home with them.

Depending on how many guests you’ve invited, you may or may not have enough “real” dessert-sized plates, beverage glasses and wine goblets. Disposable serveware is perfectly okay. You could also borrow some plates and glasses from friends—that’s okay too. It’s not essential that all the glasses and plates match. Of course, if you do a party like this more than once, you may want to invest in some economical but nice serveware. That’s what I’ve done. Walmart sells glass dessert plates for about $1 each. You can buy glass wine goblets from Bed, Bath and Beyond, Target and World Market for around $10-12 for a case of 12. Those are great to have on hand for large gatherings. It’s much nicer to drink your port wine out of glass goblets, rather than the plastic, disposable versions. And in the end, after you’ve had a couple parties, the glass goblets have paid for themselves.

Well, that’s about the gist of the dessert party. I hope I’ve given you some fun ideas for hosting your own!