A Million Different Directions

We are trying to tie up lose ends on our projects both in the house and in the Cottage but new items keep cropping up.

Before sewing the rugs together I cut off the fringe.
Before sewing the rugs together I cut off the fringe.

I started working on the stair runner two weeks ago.  I finished about half of it before the sewing machine started giving me problems.

We'll be staying in a historic hotel.
We’ll be staying in a historic hotel.

Also we’re heading to New York City soon so I’m trying to make plans for the trip.  Thus far I have reduced our hotel bill $155 by going back to the website and calling for a better deal.  Unfortunately $155 won’t pay our parking for the weekend but it will certainly help.

I have always enjoyed a late-night cabaret.
I have always enjoyed a late-night cabaret.

I have made a short list of Broadway, off-Broadway, and cabaret shows as well as must-see restaurants for the first-time visitor. We’ll be staying near the Waldorf.  Any suggestions?

The Cottage windows are charming but drafty.
The Cottage windows are charming but drafty.

Our Cottage tenant has decided to have all the windows replaced with more efficient ones as well as a new front door and storm door.  Those items along with some interior trim should keep the Cottage “under construction” for a few weeks.

The conservatory sink will get a backsplash that matches the shower tile.
The conservatory sink will get a backsplash that matches the shower tile.

And Charlie and I are getting additional tile installation quotes since the first one was much more than we expected.

Soup is on the menu.
Soup is on the menu.

Then, when we get back from New York I’ll have to begin cooking and decorating for the “surprise party”.  I think I have worked out how it will go but I still need to contact a few bunch of friends.

I'm planning a South of the Border theme.
I’m planning a South of the Border theme.

I’m already planning a bridal shower for May which I hope my choir will actually sponsor since one of our own is getting married in June.

I'm starting in the living room.
I’m starting in the living room.

First thing on the agenda: clean the house!!!

Do you plan ahead and then realize you’re all booked up?

Shhhhh! Can You Keep a Secret?

I need a menu and a theme for a special birthday party.

The Glade is perfectly suited to having large parties with great food.
The Glade is perfectly suited to having large parties with great food.

This person might be expecting something but I hope it’s not what I have in mind.

Soup has been on the party menu before.
Soup has been on the party menu before.

The menu needs to be heart-healthy.  Soup and salad seem like reasonable options.

  • Beef stew
  • Chicken noodle soup
  • Homemade croutons
  • Vegetable plate with hummus
  • Chopped salad fixings:  lettuce, eggs, avocado, craisins, slivered almonds, cherry tomatoes, chicken breast, shredded cheese.
French market theme?
French market theme?

I told the first rush of secret-keepers about the party and reminded them that an off-hand comment would be a giveaway to this very astute person.  In the group was one of my favorite cooks who offered to make one of her signature desserts.  We’re on our way.

Have any theme ideas for early March?

Lady Finger Sandwiches with Pumpkin Pastry Cream

Just in time for Thanksgiving I’ve got a pumpkin recipe that will please the masses.  My guests described it as tasting “like pumpkin pie only better”.

24 lady fingers per box at Trader Joe's.
24 lady fingers per box at Trader Joe’s.
Lady fingers are very light.
Lady fingers are very light.

I started by making pumpkin pastry cream according to this recipe except I replaced the nutmeg with 1/2 teaspoon of ground cloves. Then I chilled it in the refrigerator where it became very firm.

Whipped cream is folded into pastry cream.
Whipped cream is folded into pastry cream.

I whipped up a pint of heavy whipping cream with about 1/4 cup of powdered sugar then folded the whipped cream into the pumpkin pastry cream. It became light and spreadable.

A schmear of pastry cream raises simple lady fingers to a new level.
A schmear of pastry cream raises simple lady fingers to a new level.

Having already purchased some lady fingers at the store I spread the light pastry cream on the flat side. (I also tried piping the cream. Either works.)

A delectable sweet treat.
A delectable sweet treat — light as air.

The cream spread lady finger was topped with another one to make a tiny, sweet, yummy sandwich. This recipe of pastry cream will make about 72 lady finger sandwiches — 6 boxes.

The pyramid on the left is lady fingers filled with whipped cream lightened pumpkin pastry cream.
The pyramid on the left is lady fingers filled with whipped cream lightened pumpkin pastry cream.

Lady finger sandwiches with pumpkin pastry cream is especially delicious with coffee.

What your favorite flavor? Chocolate? Vanilla? Pumpkin?

Two-bite Quiche

This past weekend I wanted hors d’oeuvres-sized quiches.

This Ham and Swiss Quiche can be miniaturized.
This full-sized Ham and Swiss Quiche can be miniaturized.

I have made quiche many times in the past but since we were having an afternoon party I felt a little snacking food would be sufficient.

First the phyllo, then the onions, then ham (or any other filling).
First the phyllo, then the onions, then ham (or any other filling).

I used my same old recipe except I did not cook it in a pie plate, instead I used muffin tins. First I brushed half a piece of phyllo (filo) dough with melted butter/olive oil and folded it in half. I cut the piece into squares and lined muffin tins. I probably should have also buttered the tins before inserting the phyllo for ease of removal.

Although milk is sufficient I replaced some of it with cream. Yum.
Although milk is sufficient I replaced some of it with cream. Yum.

Into each cup section went a spoon of well-sautéed onions, bits of sliced ham, and more bits of Swiss cheese. Then I poured the custard mixture — 1 large egg to 1/4 cup of milk (make as much or as little as you need) — into each cup covering the solid ingredients.  To gild the lily I sprinkled a bit of grated Parmesan cheese on top.

Mini-quiche on the left, chicken salad in pâte à choux on the right.
Mini-quiche on the left, chicken salad in pâte à choux on the right.

The mini-quiches baked until they were set — approximately 30 minutes.

We used the kitchen island as the buffet serving station.
We used the kitchen island as the buffet serving station.

The buffet was small but well-received.

What filling do you like in your quiche?

Chicken Salad in Choux Pastry

For our shoe making party we prepared our regular chicken salad recipe.

Chopped almonds, craisins, and celery were added to chicken in equal parts.
Chopped almonds, craisins, and celery were added to chicken in equal parts.

The chicken salad is easy:

  • chopped rotisserie chicken,
  • craisins,
  • celery,
  • pan toasted sliced almonds,
  • mayonnaise.
I chopped the sliced almonds then browned them lightly in butter/olive oil.
I chopped the sliced almonds then browned them lightly in butter/olive oil.

This time we finely chopped all the ingredients because we planned to fill small choux pastry balls with the mixture.

Craisins were chopped.
Craisins were chopped.

I used the recipe for Basic Cream Puff Dough from Epicurious. 

The small points need to be flattened with a wetted fingertip.
The small points need to be flattened with a wetted fingertip.

After following the directions for mixing the dough I put it in a pastry bag and piped small blobs onto a baking sheet.

We cooked the pate a choux on parchment paper and removed immediately upon removal from the oven to deter sticking.
We cooked the pate a choux on parchment paper and removed immediately upon removal from the oven to deter sticking.

After baking for 10 minutes at 425 degrees then turning the oven down to 350 for another 12 minutes we cooled the balls.

A small scoop conveniently filled the choux pastry balls.
A small scoop conveniently filled the choux pastry balls.

Then the bite-size pastry were sliced in half and filled with chicken salad.

We served the small chicken salad balls on the buffet in a glass-topped platter.
We served the small chicken salad balls on the buffet in a glass-topped platter.

One recipe makes about 50 balls.

What do you like in your chicken salad?

Mid-Afternoon Menu for the Shoe Party

In a little more than a week we’ll be throwing our Party with a Purpose, cutting out shoe tops for Sole Hope.

We'll be using yellow gourds as table and mantel decorations.
We’ll be using yellow gourds as table and mantel decorations.

Even though it’s taking place from 1 to 4 in the afternoon I always like to have a little nosh.

We'll use the kitchen island as a buffet station.
We’ll use the kitchen island as a buffet station.

This time we’ll try to keep the food in the kitchen so there are no crumbs in the shoe shipment.

The kitchen island
The kitchen island

The menu is simple:

  •  Mini-quiches
  • Chicken salad in choux (shoe) pastry
  • Lady finger sandwiches with pumpkin pastry cream
This Ham and Swiss Quiche will be miniaturized.
This Ham and Swiss Quiche will be miniaturized.

I have a favorite recipe for quiche which I’m going to try to reinvent as individual bites either without crust or with fillo dough.

Previously I served chicken salad on potato rolls, this time in tiny choux pastry balls.
Previously I served chicken salad on potato rolls, this time in tiny choux pastry balls.

My chicken salad is usually made with rotisserie chicken, craisins, celery, and toasted almonds. This time I’ll chop the salad up a little more to fit into the wee pâte à choux balls.

Choux pastry
Choux pastry

I like to take recipes that have been successful and put a little twist on them. This time trading out rolls for pastry balls.

Pastry cream layered between 2 store-bought lady fingers.
Pastry cream layered between 2 store-bought lady fingers.

The last item is dessert-like.  I got the idea from our chef at work who made a nice, light dessert with lady fingers and pastry cream.  I thought I could do the same thing substituting pumpkin pastry cream.

What’s your go-to food for a crowd?

Facilitate

I like to have get-togethers at our home.

A party can be simple or elegant.
A party can be simple or elegant.

But sometimes actually entertaining at home is not possible.

Lurman Woodland Theatre has free concerts on Saturday and Sunday nights in summer.
Lurman Woodland Theatre has free concerts on Saturday and Sunday nights in summer.

In our area there is an abundance of free music and free films.

Last night 6 of us visited a church (not ours) to watch God's Not Dead 2.
Last night 6 of us visited a church (not ours) to watch God’s Not Dead 2.

When I find something that really interests me I email a group of friends and tell them I’ll be there. I don’t judge the interest I just make the invitation; I facilitate.

Texting is an easy way to hook up.
Texting is an easy way to hook up.

I’m sure to add my cell number to the email with the instruction to text or call when they arrive at the venue, especially if it is a big venue like the parade grounds at our local Army base.

This cannon actually fires.
This cannon actually fires.

If it’s something I have done previously I add any details that might sway someone who is on the fence. For instance the U.S. Army Field Band is performing the 1812 Overture with real canons.  I’ve heard it before and it’s fabulous.  I reminded everyone to bring their own lawn chair.

Bug spray is de rigeur in Maryland in summer.

I encourage you to do some research and contact your social circle for a fun and different and free event.  Provide as much or as little as you like. Don’t for get the bug spray.

What event can you facilitate for your friends?