Italian Pasta Night Dinner Party

When my husband and I got married, we decided to finally get some “grown up” dishware to replace the set I’d purchased when I was 18 and had been using ever since. (They were clear glass – not very exciting, but they didn’t conflict with any of the decor through my numerous moves and held up for over ten years!) We decided what better way to celebrate the new dishware – and silverware – than by hosting a little dinner party for some friends? Our theme was “Italian Pasta Night.” We had an enormous array of food, and everything was delicious.

Pasta-Night-Dinner-Party-2

Our menu included:

– Two kinds of homemade pasta (spaghetti and fettuccine)

– Two kinds of homemade pasta sauces (pesto, and a red marinara sauce)

– Garlic bread with a delicious herbed garlic butter

– Caesar salad with homemade Meyer lemon Caesar dressing

– Vanilla panna cotta topped with grated dark chocolate, accompanied by almond brittle

Pasta-Night-Dinner-Party-5-wp

What would a dinner party be without the decor though, right? OK, maybe I get a little bit more excited about this kind of thing than other .. normal.. people do, but I really wanted an excuse to be fancy and try out some projects that were on my DIY list!

Italian Pasta Night Dinner Party 3I spent a little bit of time sourcing out different candle holders for the center grouping. I found some for .49cents each at Ikea, which conveniently can hold either a stick candle or a votive! I also went to our local thrift store and picked up a few other clear glass candle sticks in varying heights.

Italian Pasta Night Dinner Party 2

The blue goblets were already part of my collection. They are vintage “Kings Crown” style goblets, by Indiana Glass company. They were made somewhere around the 1960s-1970s. I loved them so much when I first got them, that I ended up buying the same ones in different colors for the head table at our wedding. (You can view those here!)

The silver colored chargers were on sale at Michael’s craft store, 2 for $3. They added a nice touch!

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I am quite obsessed with these place cards! Obviously they weren’t necessary for a small dinner party, but when I saw the idea, I just couldn’t resist. They were one of the easiest crafts I’ve ever done. You simply take a sprig of fresh rosemary and bend it into a circular shape, then secure it with a little piece of floral wire. Adorn it with a bow of your choice, and a name tag clipped from a piece of printed cardstock. My rosemary stalks were pretty sturdy, so I had to break them just a little bit in a few places as I formed the circle. It wasn’t noticeable at all, and it achieved the nice wreath shape for each of them. I used a little bit of kitchen twine for the bow. You could use colored ribbon or whatever you’d like!

DIY lemon leaf garlandOne of the biggest projects was the lemon leaf garland. I didn’t take too many in-progress photos, but have included one so you can get a better idea of what I did. I found a tutorial online, and it was actually a really simple project!

I used about 2 large bunches of fresh lemon leaves, which I purchased at a florist. I clipped off each leaf, leaving about 4-5 inches of stem below it. Cut a long length of twine and attach each leaf/stem to the twine by wrapping floral wire around it. Wrap the stem, lay the next branch over it, and wrap again. You will keep overlapping each branch with the new leaves until you get to the end. How close or far apart you wrap them is completely up to you. I ended up wrapping 2-3 at a time for a full look. The garland extended the entire length of the table!

I made this in advance, so I stored it in our guest shower, and misted it with a spray bottle of water 2x a day for 2-3 days. I wouldn’t advise making this more than 3 days in advance, or it will dry out. 1 or 2 days is preferred, or even same day if you have the time available.

To accent the garland, I simply placed fresh lemons around it on the table. So easy, and beautiful! As you can see, our dinner party looked really elegant without a whole lot of time or money spent to decorate the table.

Don’t worry, I am not leaving you without any recipes.. here’s the recipes for the vanilla panna cotta, and the almond brittle. Both are very simple and incredibly delicious.

Vanilla Panna Cotta

yield: Makes 8 to 10 servings

This recipe was created by chef Lachlan Mackinnon Patterson of Frasca Food and Wine in Boulder, Colorado. It’s part of a special menu he created for Epicurious’s Wine.Dine.Donate program.

Start this recipe a day before you plan to serve it. Both the pear jam and the panna cotta are best if chilled overnight.

Ingredients:

  • 4 teaspoons unflavored powdered gelatin from 2 (1/4-ounce) envelopes
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 vanilla beans, split lengthwise

Directions:

In small bowl, sprinkle gelatin over cream. Let stand until gelatin softens, about 1 minute.

Meanwhile, in medium saucepan over moderate heat, whisk together milk and sugar. Scrape in seeds from vanilla beans; add beans. Heat, whisking occasionally, until sugar dissolves, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in cream mixture. Strain through fine-mesh sieve, discarding vanilla beans, then ladle mixture into 8 (4-ounce) ramekins. Cover and refrigerate at least 8 hours or overnight.

Unmold and serve:
Run thin sharp knife around inside edge of each ramekin to loosen. Dip bottom of 1 ramekin in bowl of very warm water 6 seconds. Put plate over ramekin, then invert panna cotta onto plate, gently lifting off ramekin. Repeat to unmold remaining panna cottas.  (Note: I poured my mixture right into a fancy glass serving dish, as shown in the image earlier in this post. I did not unmold it, and instead left it in the pretty dish. I topped it with grated dark chocolate.)

Almond Brittle

Yield: 13 servings

Ingredients:

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup light-colored corn syrup
3/4 cup coarsely chopped almonds, toasted
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
Directions:
Line a jelly-roll pan with parchment paper. Combine sugar and syrup in a 2-quart glass bowl. Microwave at HIGH 3 minutes (sugar mixture will be clear and bubbly). Stir in almonds. Microwave at HIGH 3 minutes or until mixture is a light caramel color, stirring every minute. Stir in butter, vanilla, and salt. Microwave at HIGH 1 1/2 minutes or until mixture is the color of peanut butter. Add baking soda, and stir until texture is foamy. Quickly pour mixture onto prepared pan. Spread to 1/4-inch thickness. Let stand 30 minutes. Break brittle into pieces, and store in an airtight container for up to a week.
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Cranberry Scones with Lemon Curd

While lemon recipes are notoriously popular in the spring, lemon-anything is right up my alley. I try to work the flavor into recipes that are more seasonal and ..ahem.. currant. (Har har..)

Cranberry Scones with Lemon Curd

I had some fresh cranberries that needed to be used up, and some leftover lemon curd – which probably would have otherwise been eaten straight from the fridge by the spoonful. Instead, I tried a recipe for Cranberry Scones. They were really easy, and delicious! The perfect mix of tart cranberries, savory almonds, and sweet lemon curd.

 

Cranberry Scones with Lemon Curd

I’m not certain if there’s a recommended serving size, but I just loaded it up by the spoonfull(s). I’ll definitely be making these again!

 

Cranberry Scones Recipe

From JoyofBaking.com

2 cups (260 grams) all-purpose flour

1/3 cup (65 grams) granulated white sugar

2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup (76 grams) cold unsalted butter

1/2 cup (50 grams) dried or fresh cranberries (cut fresh cranberries in half)

1/3 cup (50 grams) mixed candied fruit and peel

2/3 – 3/4 cup (160 – 180 ml) milk

1/4 cup (25 grams) sliced almonds

Powdered (Confectioners or Icing) Sugar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (205 degrees C) and place rack in middle of oven. Butter or line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Cut the butter into small pieces and blend into the flour mixture with a pastry blender or two knives. The mixture should look like coarse crumbs. Gently stir in the cranberries and mixed fruit, making sure not to crush the berries. Add the milk and stir until just combined. Do not over mix.

Transfer to a lightly floured surface and knead the dough four or five times and then pat, or roll, the dough into a circle that is 7 inches (18 cm) round and about 1 1/2 inches (3.75 cm) thick. Cut this circle into 8 triangular sections. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet and then brush the top of the scones with milk or cream. Sprinkle with sliced almonds. 

Bake for about 15 – 20 minutes or until lightly browned and a toothpick inserted into the center of a scone comes out clean. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool.   If desired, serve with Devon cream and/or your favorite jam.

Makes 8 scones.

———–

This is my go-to lemon curd recipe. It’s so easy and always turns out really delicious. The entire recipe can be made from start to finish in about 15 minutes. Try this once, and I guarantee you won’t want to ever buy pre-made lemon curd again. (Nor should you!)

Lemon Curd

Gourmet  | January 2001

yield: Makes about 1 1/3 cups

active time: 20 min

total time: 1 1/4 hr

 

Ingredients

1/2 cup fresh lemon juice

2 teaspoons finely grated fresh lemon zest

1/2 cup sugar

3 large eggs

3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut up

Preparation

Whisk together juice, zest, sugar, and eggs in a 2-quart heavy saucepan. Stir in butter and cook over moderately low heat, whisking frequently, until curd is thick enough to hold marks of whisk and first bubble appears on surface, about 6 minutes.

Transfer lemon curd to a bowl and chill, its surface covered with plastic wrap, until cold, at least 1 hour. (Can keep chilled in the refrigerator 1 week.)

 

If you find yourself with some extra lemon curd left over and want to know what else to do with it, I also have a recipe for lemon curd stuffed vanilla cupcakes, with coconut topped frosting. Check it out! https://victoriaallison.wordpress.com/2012/04/27/lemon-curd-stuffed-cupcakes-with-vanilla-frosting-and-coconut/

Homemade Hot Fudge Sauce Recipe

 

Okay, let’s face it – hot fudge sauce does not need much of an introduction, does it? Rich, gooey, chocolately deliciousness that’s perfect atop waffles, ice cream sundaes, or eaten straight from the spoon. (Ahem.)

 

The most shocking aspect of this post? The fact that it’s taken me so long to try my hand at the homemade version of this classic topping! The recipe was really easy, and the finished product can easily be kept in your fridge for a couple of weeks….. if it lasts that long. (In our household, it did not.) Store it in a glass jar for easy re-heating when you’re ready to serve it.

 

Bonus: It would make a great gift, if you’re feeling generous enough to share!

 

Homemade hot fudge sauce - close up

 

I know what you’re thinking, and I’m here to tell you that it absolutely tastes as good as it looks!

 

Homemade Hot Fudge Sauce Recipe

Yield: A heaping 2 cups

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 10 minutes

Total Time: 15 minutes

Ingredients:

2/3 cup heavy cream
½ cup light corn syrup
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
¼ cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
¼ teaspoon sea salt
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped, divided in half [note: I used Ghirardelli “60% cocoa” baking chips. I stand by that decision!]
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:

1. In a 2-quart saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the cream, syrup, brown sugar, cocoa powder, salt and half of the chocolate to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low or low (enough to maintain a low simmer), and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

2. Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining chocolate, the butter, and the vanilla extract, stirring until smooth. Let cool for 20 to 30 minutes before using (it will thicken as it cools). Store in a jar or airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. To reheat, microwave for 30 seconds to 1 minute until it’s pour-able but still thick.

(Recipe slightly modified from Brown Eyed Baker.)

Fresh Cherry Crumb Bars Recipe

This recipe can really be described in just a few words: fresh, sweet cherries, buttery crumb cake, and a hint of almond. It’s sort of a multi-occasion treat – served best warm, or cold, or for breakfast, or for a mid-day snack, or even for dessert… and probably amazing with fresh whipped cream, although I didn’t think to make any before we cleaned out the entire pan. (Twice… I’ve made this two times in the month of July already, it’s that good!)

 

Fresh Cherry Crumb Bars

If I were to change anything else, I’d probably sprinkle sliced almonds onto the top layer of the batter before putting it in the oven. I did add a little splash of vanilla extract and almond extract to the cherry filling,, which wasn’t called for in the recipe but was something I felt it needed. I also omitted the orange zest, as we had fresh squeezed OJ but no zest.

 

Fresh Cherry Crumb Bars plated

Fresh Cherry Crumb Bars

Recipe found on Bakeaholic
Yield: 30 1 1/2 inch Bars

Crust and Topping
1/2 cup brown, packed
1/2 cup white
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup cold unsalted butter (2 sticks or 8 ounces)
1 egg
1/4 teaspoon salt
Zest of one orange
Cherry Filling
4 cups cherries, pitted and roughly chopped
1/2 cup white sugar
4 teaspoons cornstarch
Zest and juice of one orange

*splash of vanilla extract and almond extract (about 1/2 tsp. each) Optional, but I liked the addition

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Grease a 9×13 inch pan.

In a large bowl (or food processor), stir together 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup white sugar, 3 cups flour, and baking powder. Mix in salt and orange zest. Use a fork or pastry cutter (or pulse mixture if using food processor) to blend in the butter and egg. [I used my hands to gently mix. It was more fun, and achieved the same consistency.] Dough will be crumbly. Pat half of dough into the prepared pan.

In another bowl, stir together the sugar, cornstarch, juice and zest of one orange , *and extracts, if using. Gently mix in the cherries. Sprinkle the cherry mixture evenly over the crust. Crumble remaining dough over the berry layer.

Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes, or until top is slightly brown. Cool completely before cutting into squares.

Homemade Peppermint Marshmallows and a Gift Packaging Template

It’s that time of year – peppermint season!

Okay..peppermint can be enjoyed year-round, but I personally associate it with wintertime. I’ve been so busy with work (for which I am grateful!) that I haven’t had much time to enjoy many holiday festivities, baking and candy making included.

The very first thing on my to-make list when I had a spare moment was marshmallows. Not just any marshmallows – peppermint marshmallows!

PeppermintMarshmallows01

If you haven’t tried your hand at homemade marshmallows, have no fear; they’re incredibly easy to make. The hardest part is the waiting! Last year I made regular vanilla marshmallows, and thought I would switch it up with peppermint. (Oh – I also made some pumpkin ones in October! Those were equally amazing!) I made a batch of these peppermint ones the other day, and shipped most of them off to various parts of the country as part of my Christmas packages to family and friends, but did keep a few to enjoy here at home.

PeppermintMarshmallows2

.. and as expected, they’re absolutely delicious in hot chocolate!

For whatever reason, inspiration struck when I was packaging these for gifts. I made some labels for the packages, and found some adorable red and white striped ribbon in my supply stash.

PeppermintMarshmallows3

It’s not too late to whip up a batch of these yourself for some last minute holiday gifts! To save some time, I thought that you might like to use these labels too..

PeppermintMarshmallowsLabel

You can right-click and save the above image (a .jpg) and print it as you wish, but I also made a high-res .pdf file that you can download and print (it has 6 labels per page.) Click the link to view and save or print the file: http://victoriaallison.files.wordpress.com/2012/12/peppermintmarshmallows-printout.pdf

And last but not least, here’s the recipe I used:

Homemade Marshmallows

Bon Appétit  | July 2008

by Molly Wizenberg

Ingredients:

  • Nonstick vegetable oil spray
  • 1 cup cold water, divided
  • 3 1/4-ounce envelopes unflavored gelatin
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2/3 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract (for the peppermint version, I used 1 tsp vanilla extract and 1 tsp peppermint extract.)
  • * Optional: 2-3 drops red food coloring
  • 1/2 cup potato starch**
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar**
** I use cornstarch.. I also use about 1/4 cup cornstarch and 1/4 cup powdered sugar. It’s PLENTY!
Directions:

Line 13x9x2-inch metal baking pan with foil.

Coat foil lightly with nonstick spray. Pour 1/2 cup cold water into bowl of heavy-duty mixer fitted with whisk attachment. Sprinkle gelatin over water. Let stand until gelatin softens and absorbs water, at least 15 minutes.

Combine 2 cups sugar, corn syrup, salt, and remaining 1/2 cup cold water in heavy medium saucepan. Stir over mediumlow heat until sugar dissolves, brushing down sides of pan with wet pastry brush. Attach candy thermometer to side of pan. Increase heat and bring syrup to boil. Boil, without stirring, until syrup reaches 240°F, about 8 minutes.

With mixer running at low speed, slowly pour hot syrup into gelatin mixture in thin stream down side of bowl (avoid pouring syrup onto whisk, as it may splash). Gradually increase speed to high and beat until mixture is very thick and stiff, about 15 minutes. Add vanilla and beat to blend, about 30 seconds longer.

*Optional: I added a couple of drops of red food coloring and gently stirred it into the marshmallows to create a light pink ‘swirl’ effect.

Scrape marshmallow mixture into prepared pan. Smooth top with wet spatula. Let stand uncovered at room temperature until firm, about 4 hours.

Stir potato starch and powdered sugar in small bowl to blend. Sift generous dusting of starch-sugar mixture onto work surface, forming rectangle slightly larger than 13×9 inches. Turn marshmallow slab out onto starch-sugar mixture; peel off foil. Sift more starch-sugar mixture over marshmallow slab. Coat large sharp knife (or cookie cutters) with nonstick spray. Cut marshmallows into squares or other shapes. Toss each in remaining starch-sugar mixture to coat. Transfer marshmallows to rack, shaking off excess mixture.

 

Enjoy!

Pumpkin Coffee Cake with Pecan Streusel

I love pumpkin! (Unless it’s in pie, that is.) Pumpkin whoopie pies, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin cheesecake, and even pumpkin marshmallows, but pumpkin pie? Blech. No thanks. You can keep it!

 

Once July rolls around, I start thinking about fall, and pumpkin recipes. I saved this one on Pinterest a while ago, and have already made it twice this season. Actually, the first time was probably in July. Or maybe August. Either way, Fall was not on most people’s minds, but I needed a pumpkin fix. The recipe was amazing, and we ate the entire thing before I had time to take a few photos.

 

Naturally, I wanted this recipe documented here, so what better excuse to make it yet again?

 

I have a tendency to make slight modifications to my baked goods. The first time I made this, I used half whole wheat flour, and half white flour. The second time, I was out of whole wheat flour so I just used all white flour, and used pecans in the streusel topping instead of walnuts. I also used vegetable oil instead of butter for the cake part, both times. (Butter for the topping, of course!)

 

 

Honestly, this recipe is super easy. I make a half batch, which fills up a single 8 or 9-inch cake pan. Plenty for two people. Or more, if you like sharing.

 

 

I had to include my favorite Pumpkin Jar in this shot. Isn’t it adorable? I never put anything inside of it, because I can’t decide on what. It’s handmade by Bauman Stoneware. (Their Etsy shop looks pretty much sold out at the moment, but you can click on their sold items page to see more of their amazing designs. I want one of their fabulous teapots!)

 

 

Onto the recipe! I originally found it posted on the blog Not So Humble Pie, who made theirs with a icing glaze.

 

Pumpkin Coffee Cake
From Make Ahead Meals for Busy Moms
1/2 cup butter, softened (*I substituted equal amounts vegetable oil.)
1 1/2 cups sugar
15 oz can pumpkin
3 large eggs
2 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt

Streusel Topping:
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1/3 cup walnuts, chopped (*I used pecans this time.)

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spray the inside of a tube or bundt pan with nonstick spray; set aside. In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed until well blended. Add the pumpkin and eggs and mix thoroughly. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves and salt. Add the flour mixture to the pumpkin mixture. Mix on medium speed until combined. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Prepare the streusel topping: In a small bowl combine the flour, sugars, cinnamon, melted butter and walnuts. Sprinkle the streusel over the cake batter. Bake for 50-55 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for about 15 minutes. Slide a knife around the pan so the cake doesn’t stick when removing it. Invert the cake onto a plate. Then invert the cake onto another plate, so that the streusel is on the top. Cool completely. Cover and store at room temperature.

(For two round cakes: coat two 8-inch rounds with non-stick spray and place a circle of parchment in the bottom. Divide the batter between the two pans, top with the streusel (x3) and bake for approximately 35 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.)

 

*As also mentioned, I made half of this recipe, in an 8-inch cake pan. (Or maybe it was 9-inches? I can’t remember offhand.) I baked it for 30 minutes.

Banana Oat Dog Cupcakes – Butters on the KOFY TV Dog Election Campaign Trail!

I’m not entirely sure how I’ve managed to maintain this blog for over a year and never mention our pup, Butters, given that he’s a constant source of entertainment around our home! Butters was a foster dog that we adopted in the summer of 2008; to our best guess, a Jack Russell Terrier/Dachshund mix…and quite possibly the sweetest dog I’ve ever known.


Butters loves nothing more than laying in the sunshine, and accompanying us wherever possible – hiking, in particular. (Although he’s just as happy being a beach bum, laying on a blanket with us by the ocean…or on the couch watching tv!)

Butters – whether he is aware or not – is entered into a “Dog Mayor Election” hosted by our local tv station, KOFY TV. KOFY considers themselves a dog-friendly station; they have “Dog IDs” that they air during commercial breaks.. short clips of dogs sitting in a studio set that looks like a living room..with a blurb at the bottom displaying the name of the dog, and what city they live in.

When I saw that they were having a dog election, obviously I had to enter Butters! Each dog at the audition had their Dog ID filmed for television as well, so regardless of who wins, we can still see Butters on tv at some point!

In the spirit of the dog election, I made some “campaign” photos!

The way the competition works is that each dog is a contestant for the county they live in. Everyone votes for their favorite dog until the end of the month. The top 3 dogs from each county move on to the next round of voting, and stop by the studio for an interview. Voting for that round is in October. The final winners from each county are featured in the KOFY TV Dog Calendar.  Pretty adorable, right? If you want to vote for Butters (you can vote once per day) please go here to register and vote: http://kofyclub.upickem.net/r/33U6b53NmY7?r=274427

Since Butters has been such a good sport, I decided to make him some dog-friendly cupcakes just for him!

Campaign themed, naturally.

Here’s some photos of the process…

Here’s the recipes I used, with slight modifications:

Three Dog Bakery Banana Honey Cake

Ingredients:

2 cups water
2 bananas
1/8 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 tablespoon baking powder
1 egg
2 tablespoons honey
Directions:

1 Preheat oven to 350°F In a bowl combine water, bananas, vanilla, egg and honey. Then add whole wheat flour and baking powder. Mix well.
2 Pour mixture into a 8-inch cake pan sprayed with a nonstick spray.
3 Bake for 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out dry.

(I used half of the recipe, which made 8 cupcakes using silicon molds. I also replaced 1/4 C of the flour with oats. I then baked them for 20 minutes, which seemed just right. I think they would have been fine at 17 mins. as well.)
—-
Ingredients:
2 cups mashed banana
1 tablespoons softened butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 tablespoons flour

Directions: Mix until combined. (I substituted 2TB of peanut butter, instead of the butter, and omitted the vanilla extract.)