Archives for posts with tag: friends

I’m almost 98%* certain the answer is, “Yes, my friends would love me if I didn’t make the Artichoke Chicken Salad.” I’m just as certain, however, that being the purveyor of this side dish didn’t hurt when guest lists were being developed in the early days of my St. Louis social life.

Looking back, I’m glad I didn’t have to rely wholly on my classic good looks and sparkling personality to get me through the door.

Artichoke Chicken Salad was my ticket in. It helped break the ice: “So, which dish is yours?” It gave acquaintances a reason to follow up with me: “Would you mind sharing that recipe? It helped people get to know me: “What’s in that dish?” It also became the foundation that helped establish me as a go-to contributor for all kinds of party nosh: “I just made partner! Can you help me put together a celebration menu?”

Now, 12 years later, I’m fully ensconced in a wonderful group of true friends. Together we’ve celebrated life’s greatest joys and weathered its cruelest blows. We’ve planned and plotted; laughed and cried; risen and fallen; we’ve recovered and thrived. Rarely have I walked through any door without my ticket, and it never fails to deliver yummy satisfaction regardless of the occasion.

I’m thrilled to share this often-requested recipe with you.

Artichoke Chicken Salad **

1 Roasted chicken from your grocery store

1 Red bell pepper, diced

1 Yellow pepper, diced

1 Red onion, small to medium (depending on your taste), finely diced

2 Jars of Progresso marinated (in OIL) artichoke hearts, drained, chopped, and liquid reserved

2 Boxes of Near East long grain and wild rice, cooked per the package

1 Cup of Hellman’s mayonnaise

Artichoke Chicken Salad ingredients

Step one: Cook the long grain and wild rice per the package and set aside to cool.

Step two: Take the skin off of the chicken and the meat off the bones. (Use is all!) By hand, shred the meat.

Shredded chicken. Not much to look at, but yummy.

Step three: In a large bowl, combine the chicken with the red pepper, yellow pepper, red onion, and chopped artichoke hearts.

All the chopped veg. Pretty!

Step four: In a medium bowl, whisk the reserved artichoke marinade with the mayonnaise until it becomes a smooth dressing. Set aside for a moment.

Step five: Add the cooled rice to the chicken and vegetables, and mix well.

Step six: Pour all of the dressing over the top, mix well, and refrigerate.

And presto, we have a salad!***

I hope this recipe works magic for you like it has for me. If this this kind of dish isn’t your cup of tea, take some time to develop your own signature offering for pot-luck parties. Between football season and holiday events, the invitations will begin arriving soon. Whether it’s a dip, dessert, side, or a cocktail, please know that I plan to Eat It, St. Louis!

* Why not 100%? Well, that would be a blatant act of hubris that would call for a God smack. A little humility never hurt anyone.

** Notes: This is a recipe for which the brand of ingredients makes a difference (in my opinion). The Near East doesn’t taste as salty as others; the Progresso oil-based marinade has perfect balance. Don’t panic if you can’t find the exact brands, however. This salad is delicious no matter what. It’s fool proof. Unless you get water-packed artichokes … then salad has no flavor and the dressing falls apart. Also, in the original version, which my mom makes, the salad calls for a can of sliced black olives. I don’t like olives, so I leave them out. But in all fairness, I thought you should know.

*** Thanks to Mark, my talented husband, for having a better eye for proportion and balance than I. I’d have no photography with this post otherwise. xo

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This is a slogan that Penzys Spices makes available on a bumper sticker. The pithy little saying speaks to the way love translates itself through food.

Last Saturday night, a fashionista and an architect made a room full of people feel very loved. My husband, a gardener, two teachers, a non-profit executive director, a senior-housing specialist, an IT guy, and I – your humble blogger – gathered around a dinner table to share tasty food, engaging conversation, and a lot of laughter.

When we received the invitation to Supper @ Six from Jennifer and Peter Marks, we were – of course – delighted. I’ve known Jennifer mostly professionally for years. In recent months, our professional acquaintanceship has extended itself to a lovely personal friendship. I was looking forward to bringing our husbands together, too. Both men are smart, funny, and talented; if they had nothing else in common, they could talk about their adoring wives.

This was more than two couples getting together for dinner, however; this was a full-fledged dinner party. The intrigue of new names, new faces, new stories, and new perspectives danced in front of Mark and me all week. We really looked forward to the evening.

Finally, Supper @ Six was upon us, we arrived (bottle of wine in hand), and Jennifer greeted us warmly. Uncharacteristically, we were running late, so we managed quick introductions and slid seamlessly into comfortable conversations. Wine was flowing and delicious bruschetta and fresh crudité whetted everyone’s appetite.

The aromas emanating from Jennifer’s kitchen were magnificent. Her preparations of roasted vegetables (which included my absolute favorite: Brussels sprouts) and butternut squash risotto, were soulful and rich. As she opened lids and stirred pots, each of us eagerly anticipated the meal to come. The dishes she was preparing also gave us – her guests – an immediate conversation point that allowed us to connect with each other. The symphony of voices was fluid, graceful, and genuine.

Peter presented the evening’s centerpiece: a gorgeous platter of barbequed chicken. Yes, it was skin-on, bone-in and cooked to flavorful perfection. There wasn’t one of us who wanted to delay getting dinner underway. You’ve never seen so many people jump to get the table set!

As our group assembled around the table, we established a sense of community. We raved openly about the fabulous dinner that brought us together. We shared stories of our kids; compared notes on the challenges we face in our quickly changing world; talked about literature, and music, and art; and laughed about the crazy situations we find ourselves in from time to time.

Before we knew it, it was 11:30 and time to leave.

Jennifer and Peter planned, prepared, and gave us a tasty meal. And we felt warm and cared for and – well – loved. Thank you for providing a wonderful total experience for each of us.

I urge everyone to do the same thing for the people who decorate your life. Plan a simple but tasty menu, extend a warm invitation, and Eat It, St. Louis!

* Thank you, Tony Havlin, for telling me about a bumper sticker that led to a most appropriate title.

(Because I am a terrible photographer, I didn’t do justice to the dinner party. Sorry for the lack of photojournalism. Bear with me, folks.)

Foodbuzz

Red Velvet Baseballs … YUM!

Opening day is coming up quickly! On Thursday, March 31, thousands will flock to Kiener Plaza in downtown St. Louis to cheer in a new baseball season, to cheer on the St. Louis Cardinals, and to cheer about being part of Cardinal Nation. The party will continue at Busch Stadium when the first pitch is fired across the plate at 3:15.

Many of us, however, won’t be able to break away from our usual routines. Kids have school; adults have work. We all have things to accomplish and “middaycations”* can be tough to justify.

That’s why I’m delighted to share with you my recipe for Red Velvet Cake, which when made into cupcakes can add a dash of Cardinal spirit to any lunch box or office break room. The bright red cake and rich cream cheese icing – red and white to show Cardinal spirit – will be a home run with your kids and colleagues alike.

The cake really is a vibrant red!

The Red Velvet Cake & Icing recipe that follows was one that a neighbor shared with my mom, Gwen, when we lived in Cheyenne, Wyoming, circa 1975. It’s been my favorite since I was little, and I was always impressed that my mom made the whole thing from scratch.

This is the first cake – actually, it was the first anything – I ever made from scratch. And I messed it up. After three frustrating hours and loads of huffing and puffing, I couldn’t understand why the cake wouldn’t bake. I showed my step-mom, Kathy, the instructions. She patiently read over the recipe and gingerly suggested that I’d baked the frosting in the cake.

That was the night I learned how to read a recipe carefully. Thank goodness for the 24-hour Stop & Shop in Chelmsford, Massachusetts. I repurchased my ingredients and started all over. (I had volunteered to bring in a cake for a coworker’s baby shower, and I couldn’t show up empty handed.)

Regardless of how I flubbed my first attempt at this recipe**, it is an easy one. I’ve restructured it a bit and added in some helpful hints I’ve picked up along the way.

So, let’s get started!

Red Velvet Cake
2 cups Sugar
2 cups Vegetable Oil
2 large Eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1-ounce bottle of red food color
1 teaspoon distilled vinegar
2 ½ cups flour
2 teaspoons cocoa
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup buttermilk
Parchment Paper (cake) / Cupcake liners

(Hint #1: Bring your eggs and buttermilk to room temperature before you begin mixing. It will help your batter bake evenly.)

• Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.
• In a large bowl, combine sugar, oil, eggs, and vanilla. Mix well.
• In a small bowl, stir (carefully) the red food coloring and vinegar together. Add this to the sugar-oil mixture and mix well. The color is gorgeous!
• Sift the flour, cocoa, salt, and baking soda (dry ingredients) together. (Hint #2: Don’t skip this step. Sifting helps to make sure the cocoa doesn’t clump and it gives a nice lightness to the cake.)
• Add the dry ingredients and the buttermilk – alternately – to the sugar-oil mix. Always begin and end with the dry ingredients.

If making as cupcakes:

• Line traditional-sized cupcake tins with cupcake liners. (Hint #3: Spray even non-stick tins with a quick shot of PAM across the top. This will assure easy release if your cupcake crowns are large.)
• Fill with a ¼-cup of batter.
• Bake for 20 – 30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. (In my oven, they take 25 minutes.)
• You will get approximately 2 dozen cupcakes.
• Frost when cool.

If making as a cake:

• Grease and flour (even non-stick) three 9-inch cake pans.
• Line each pan with parchment paper to assure gorgeously flat cake bottoms. (It makes release from the pan and frosting easier!)
• Divide batter evenly among the pans.
• Bake for between 20 – 30 minutes.
• Cool pans on wire racks for 10 minutes. Turn cakes out onto wire racks and continue to cool.
• When completely cool, peel back the parchment paper.
• Assemble and frost.

Cream Cheese Icing
1 box powdered sugar
1 stick butter, room temperature
1 8-ounce bar of cream cheese, room temp
1 teaspoon vanilla
Blend together until creamy and soft. (For Valentine’s Day, I add 2 drops of red food color to color the frosting pink.)

For the cupcakes as shown, I first frosted the cupcakes with the white cream cheese icing. I added several drops of red food color to the icing that remained and piped the baseball seams and the St. Louis logo on the tops of the cupcakes with the narrowest frosting tip I have. (Because of the amount of food color it required to make the icing red, I discovered that I needed to refrigerate the red icing for approximately 5 minutes before I began piping.)

Red Velvet has always been a crowd pleaser, and I’m happy to share the love. Enjoy the recipe, bake for your team, and Eat It, St. Louis!

I couldn’t do this without my team:

Big thanks – and mad props – go out to Jennifer Buckman, the wife of a high-school friend. When she heard, via Facebook, that I was intimidated to pipe frosting for the first time, she generously offered to talk me through it over the phone. Her tips – apply even, steady pressure; use room-temp frosting; and keep on trying – were exactly the encouraging words I needed.

I should also mention that Jennifer and I have never met face-to-face. As a matter of fact, I don’t think I’ve run into her husband, Jon, since we graduated from high school. But through our shared love of baking, we have connected. Food brings friends – old and new – together.

Big love to my husband, Mark, for his photography! xo

*Middaycations = vacations in the middle of the day. Yeah, I made up a word. Should I call the OED?

** I still use the recipe that Mom typed out and sent me so many years ago. There is something very special about the legacy of the slips of paper that fill my recipe box. I’ve been collecting personal recipes from my family and friends for years. No matter what, they are always with me when I’m in the kitchen.

Foodbuzz

I’ve spent my life loving food. As a military brat, it defined how I connected to every community and culture into which I was plopped. As a young adult, it played a leading role in helping me craft friendships and shape my identity. Now, as a bona fide grown up, food brings my family around the table; coaxes my friends out to play; and encourages strangers to find common ground.

No foodie could ask for a better place to live than St. Louis, a true restaurant town. St. Louis has a sparkling independent restaurant community with stars who capture the national spotlight. I’ve found good stuff, too, at some of the chain restaurants. Any gastronomic need can be met. Any ambiance can be achieved. Any budget can be accommodated. A legitimate hobby in our fair city is going out to eat, and I do so often.

Perhaps this is a conceit, but in my opinion St. Louis has an inordinate number of crazy good home cooks. I’ve enjoyed meals that introduced me to new delights and new people. There are some meals that have become tradition. And there never has been a meal that left me wishing I’d dined somewhere else.

This blog is dedicated to the pure love of food, the artistry and passion of those who create it, and the sheer experience it provides. I won’t be commenting on bad service, sub-par dishes, or kitchen malfunctions that lead to last-minute pizza delivery. I’m not a reviewer. Each post will focus on one dish that I’d like you to try.

Also, don’t be surprised to see “fair food,” cocktails, or road trip explorations take center stage from time to time.

Pick up your fork, hoist your drink, and Eat It, St. Louis!

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