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Sunday, October 27, 2013

‘Tis the Season…already!

On a Friday night recently, my oldest daughter mentioned she expected twelve adults and twelve kids for dinner and football watching the next night. “What’s for dinner?” I asked. Her reply? “I haven’t thought about it yet.” I would have had a menu planned a week before cooking started, dishes laid out, and so would her sister. She claims that gene missed her, but she pulled it off beautifully—two pots of chili (one vegetarian) with chips, salsa and guacamole. She planned a salad but decided against it at the last minute. Dessert was leftover birthday cake and cupcakes and cookies someone brought. Kids and adults alike loved it.

For me, it’s time now to start planning Christmas, both gifts (half or more of that is already done) and menus.

At Christmas I traditionally have a party for anywhere from thirty to fifty people. With that size group, I avoid anything like canap├ęs—don’t want to make, say, 150 crostini, wontons, or gougeres or anything like that. I focus on things that can be served in bulk. Here are two or my favorites:


This is traditional in my family. When my brother and I were young, our family always went to a certain house on Christmas Eve for a party. I don’t remember what was served except this cheeseball and lots of fresh shrimp. I suppose there was a roast or something. Today, my kids clamor for this.

½ lb. Roquefort

1 pkg. Old English cheese (no longer available—I use an 8 oz. pkg of Velveeta)

l eight-ounce pkg. cream cheese

½ lb. pecans, chopped fine

1 bunch parsley, chopped fine

1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

1 small onion, chopped fine   

½ tsp. horseradish

Let the cheese soften to room temperature and mix thoroughly. Add Worcestershire, onion, horseradish and half of the parsley and pecans. Mix thoroughly and shape into a ball. Do NOT do this in the food processor, as it will become too runny. Even a mixer makes it too smooth and creamy—wash your hands thoroughly and dig in, so the finished cheese ball has some texture and credibility. Roll the ball in the remaining parsley and pecans. Chill. Serve with crackers.

Brie with topping:

I use a 12 inch brie but you can do this with any size, even a slice; just cut down on topping.

Slice away the rind on the upper side of the cheese but leave it intact on the sides or your brie will run \all over the baking dish.

Top with a mixture of one cup dark brown sugar, well mixed with one tsp. cayenne—you can make any amount to fit your brie. Just keep the proportions. I have done ¼ c. sugar with ¼ tsp. cayenne for a smaller round of brie.

Bake until cheese is soft and topping is melted—about 20 minutes in a 350 oven, but watch it closely.

Serve with crackers.

More Christmas ideas to come! Start your planning now!



Sunday, October 20, 2013

My kind of happy

My entertaining style is casual, to say the least (excluding small seated dinners and those are fairly casual but I do use wine glasses.) At gatherings of ten or more, I use plastic wine glasses, disposable plates, paper napkins--and urge my guests to wear jeans (which most know to do anyway).
I have new neighbors on the east--we share driveways and so, you might say, are intimately connected. I wanted to welcome them and introduce them to some of my great neighbors, so I decided on a happy hour with heavy hors d'oevres. The beauty of such events at my house is that my neighbors are used to bringing their own drink of choice and something to contribute to the meal. But still, as hostess, I felt obliged to provide some anchor foods, so I chose three old favorites?

Hot dogs in Crescent Rolls:
Everyone makes these, but I chose them because there will be three young children tonight. It's been my experience, however, that adults eat more than the children. With that, I put out a bowl of mustard next to the hot dog rolls (no one touched it). I did have some trouble that I may have to talk to Pillsbury about: I could not open the first can of rolls--the wrapping tore before I had a chance to pull it off. I finally used a knife to get into the package. With the second tube of rolls, I couldn't find where it unwrapped and consequently peeled off unusable hunks of dough. Talk about inept in the kitchen--if  you can't do Crescent Roll hot dogs, you're pretty hopeless. But I ended up with fifteen puffy golden rolls. Made them in the morning, refrigerated, and re-heated for serving.

Onion soup mix:
Another winner for kids, though they tend to eat just the chips. Still I put out mixed veggies, with a heavy emphasis on carrots (Jacob will get them for snacks this week). This doesn't do well made ahead, so I did it at the last minute.

Colin's queso:
I've posted this before, but it bears repeating. Everyone loves it, and it was my truly "heavy" appetizer. I call it Colin's because he still asks for it--specifically on his fortieth birthday. When my kids were at home, I made a batch, put corn chips in bowls, and ladled the queso over it. That was dinner.
I made this in the morning and put it in a crockpot on low.

1 lb. hamburger, browned and crumbled
1 lb. sausage, browned and crumbled--your taste dictates mild, medium or spicy
1 16 oz. jar Pace Picante sauce--again, you choose hot, medium or mild
1 can mushroom soup undiluted
1 lb. Velveeta
Combine all, heat in crockpot.

A note here: I avoid processed food as much as possible. For the hot dogs, I used Oscar Meyer Select chicken dogs--no preservatives, pure chicken breast meat. As to onion soup, Velveeta, and mushroom soup, I simply closed my eyes and overlooked my objections to preservatives. Generally I feed tidbits of Velveeta to my dog occasionally but do not eat it myself nor feed it to Jacob ( he of course adores it). I'm less worried about GMOs than I am about preservatives in our food. I used to eat a prepared tuna salad with a sell-by date two months out. Think about what's keeping it safe that long. Doesn't land on my tongue any more. I make my own tuna salad with my good tuna from Oregon.

The evening was a success, though I sent a lot of Colin's queso home with Jordan, along with chips, and I have some queso for me, some Crescent Rolls in the freezer to defrost for Jacob's snacks, lots of carrots, and some assorted veggies that will make a great stir fry. Isabella, the five-year-old from next door, did me the favor of eating all the bell pepper strips. The new neighbors are interesting--with varied and impressive backgrounds--and most pleasant. I fell in love with the children--Bella just had her birthday this weekend, and Grant is a year old, happy and adorable. We all are going to enjoy these new neighbors.

As usual, I got busy being a hostess and forgot to take pictures. But it was a pretty spread, with chicken salad, shrimp and red sauce, a sausage and cheese platter, and a cheese/bread appetizer added by neighbors. Neighborhoods like mine--throwbacks if you wish--are so comforting.


Sunday, October 13, 2013

What I Cook or Don’t Cook When I’m Writing

Please welcome my guest, Marilyn Meredith, author of the newly released Spirit Shapes
My daughter and I had a conversation about cooking today—and my questions to her was, “I wonder how many dinners I’ve cooked over the years.” I don’t even want to figure it out.

When I cooked for my family, no one ever objected to what I concocted; they were just happy to eat whatever we I put on the table.  Hubby was in the Seabees when our five kids lived at home, and money was scarce. I shopped one time for the whole month, planning out every day’s menu ahead of time. I became an expert at putting together meals, sometimes from very little.

Later, after the kids were grown and hubby retired, we owned, lived in, and operated a care home for six women with developmental disabilities. I cooked dinner nearly every evening for them and us and whoever else might be living with us at the time (my mom, various grandkids) and we often had company too.  I learned to cook large quantities without sacrificing taste.

Now hubby and I are back to the two of us—though our son, who lives next door, often joins us for dinner. Anyone who follows me on Facebook knows that I am still cooking nearly every night. It doesn’t matter whether I’m writing or not, I want to eat so I still cook.

I must confess though, I don’t enjoy it quite as much as I used to. I still like to try new recipes and experiment with food items I have on hand. Unfortunately, I’ve had few failures. It’s hard for me to give a recipe for a certain dish to anyone, because I seldom make things the same way twice. And I don’t measure.

Once in a while, I rebel, especially when I’ve had a particularly long day either writing or promoting, and I’ll say, “Let’s go to the Mexican restaurant tonight.”

Sometimes I write about a meal my characters are cooking and eating and it makes me want to fix the same food.

What about you? Does reading on Facebook what someone is making for dinner, or what characters are cooking or eating in a novel you’re reading make you want to have or fix the same food?

This is the meatloaf that I made when my editor visited. I always make a large meatloaf, and I don’t really measure much so the measurements here are not exact..

3 lbs. lean ground round
2 eggs
3 T of Worcestershire sauce
2 white onions chopped
¾ C Bread crumbs (I usually just tear up some old bread for crumbs and frankly, because I like whole wheat sour dough, that’s what I usually have around.
Salt to taste
Mix the 2 eggs with a fork then mix all the rest in with them. Use your fingers to mix it all up together.
Form a large, but rather flat loaf, maybe 2 inches thick in a large baking pan with sides.
Pour ketchup on top in a thick layer.
Bake about 45 minutes in a preheated 350 degree oven.
Serves 5-6 and hopefully with slices leftover.

Marilyn Meredith is the author of over thirty published novels, including the award winning Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series. She borrows a lot from where she lives in the southern Sierra for the town of Bear Creek and the surrounding area, including the nearby Tule River Indian Reservation. She does like to remind everyone that she is writing fiction. Marilyn is a member of EPIC, an organization for electronically published authors, three chapters of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and on the board of the Public Safety Writers of America. Visit her at and follow her blog at 
Her latest novel is Spirit Shapes: Ghost hunters stumble upon a murdered teen in a haunted house. Deputy Tempe Crabtree's investigation pulls her into a whirlwind of restless spirits, good and evil, intertwined with the past and the present, and demons and angels at war.
Marilyn is doing a blog tour to promote Spirit Shapes, and the person who comments on the most blogs on this tour will have the opportunity to have a character named after him or her in the next Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery. Administered by Marilyn; please do not contact this blog.








Sunday, October 6, 2013

Tuna salad and more

My ideal lunch
Salmon salad at top left, leftover tabouli next to it
fruit salad, with a couple of slices of leftover lamb shish kebab
I love tuna salad and go around town testing tuna salad almost any place it’s offered—I feel the same way about potato salad but that’s a different story. My current favorite tuna salad is at the Swiss Pastry Shop. It’s a scoop of tightly packed tuna, mild in flavor, a hint of lemon, and just enough mayonnaise to hold it together, not a bunch of other stuff like pimiento, bell pepper, egg, etc. Just tuna—that’s the way I like it. My idea of salads, be they tuna, salmon, egg or chicken, is purist—I do not, for instance, want pickle in my ham salad. The tuna at McKinley’s runs a close second in my personal salad poll.

I start my salad with that wonderful albacore I get from Pisces in Oregon. When I can I also get salmon from them—it’s not always available. The cans are more expensive, but the couple who own the company fish from their own boat, never with nets, and dolphins swim alongside. The tuna is packed in cans and then cooked once—most tuna you eat is cooked twice. No preservatives, just plain tuna. Both tuna and salmon are available smoked or plain, but I prefer the plain. The salmon is great in croquettes, one of my favorite foods, and the tuna s good for lots of things besides salad—creamed on toast, flaked into hot pasta drizzled with olive oil and topped with Parmesan. Somewhere there’s a book on all the things you can do with tuna.

For tuna salad, because the chunk meat is fairly solid, I give it a whirl in the blender, for an even, flaked base for my salad. Friends said it would just turn to mush, but it honestly doesn’t if you drain it properly.

To one 7 oz. can tuna, flaked, I add:
Juice of one lemon
2 chopped scallions
A squirt of anchovy paste (gives it a tang—careful or you’ll end with anchovy salad)
Just enough mayo to bind—start small and add more if you need it. Jordan and I used to make tuna salad that swam in a soup of lemon juice and mayo, but we’ve gotten over that.
Serve chilled if possible.

I use variations on this formula for other salads. For salmon salad, I skip the blender. Salmon is softer and flakes more easily.
In addition to lemon juice and scallions, I add finely diced cucumber.
And then the mayo.

For ham salad, I buy a slice of boiled ham between ¼ and ½ inch think, cut it in chunks, and flake it in the blender. (I buy a French ham called, in French, Three Pigs—mild and good.)
Add diced scallions and chopped celery to taste
A good squirt of yellow salad mustard
Mayo to bind

I don’t make chicken salad as often, and I’m not sure why. But when I do, I flake the cooked chicken. It’s easy to put a boneless half chicken breast in an oven-proof dish, cover with salt, pepper, and sliced onion rings, put foil over the top, and bake at 325 for half an hour or so until done.)
Cut down on the lemon, using maybe half a lemon
2 chopped scallions
Equal parts sour cream and mayo to blend
Plenty of salt and pepper, which the other salads don’t seem to require.

Egg salad for one
Two-hard boiled eggs—I discovered recently that one of my sons, who eats a lot of hard-boiled eggs, didn’t know to peel them under cold running water. Makes it so much easier. Dice eggs and mix with
Chopped scallions and diced cucumber
Squirt of yellow salad mustard
Salt and pepper to taste

My idea of heaven is to  have one of the above every day for lunch—not in a sandwich but on a salad plate.