Thursday, May 28, 2009

Call them what you will -- Popsicles, freezer pops, ice lollies, ice pops -- they are delicious!

Did you know that the word Popsicle is also a brand name? Well until today, neither did I! Click on the Popsicle box below to read more about the history of the Popsicle.

My brothers and I grew up on homemade orange juice popsicles in the summer time (straight-up OJ or lemonade, frozen in a popsicle-shaped mold). My mom had a classic Tupperware Popsicle mold, and she recently told me that she was constantly making those popsicles each summer for us-- we must have been obsessed! Today, there are so many cool designs for these plastic ice lolly molds. Here are a couple of my favorites.

Freezer pop mold by Progressive

There is an amazing popsicle vendor in Nashville called Las Paletas. They make homemade popsicles in a wide variety of flavors (from hibiscus to cantelope). Las Paletas is open year round, but like other ice cream shops, it is particularly popular during the summer months.

I am looking to invest in an ice pop mold, so that I can start coming up with my own unique poptastic combinations. If you don't want to buy a mold, small plastic or paper cups work fine for making popsicles. A wooden craft stick works as a popsicle stick.

It would be fun to serve popsicles for dessert at your next summer party. Everyone loves a popsicle, especially because they evoke memories from our youth.What is the most unique popsicle flavor you have ever tasted?

Here are some ice pop recipes that I would like to try this summer:

Blend 4 cups of honeydew melon cubes (which contain potassium) with 1/4 cup of vitamin-K-packed chopped fresh basil and 1/2 cup organic frozen lemonade concentrate.

Watermelon Pops
4 1/2 cups seeded watermelon chunks
1/2 cup sugar
1 pinch of salt

In a blender container, combine the watermelon chunks, sugar and salt. (Salt might seem like a strange ingredient to add to a dessert, but it actually helps make the flavor of the watermelon more intense.)

Blend the mixture on high speed until the mixture is liquid. Pour the mixture into a glass measuring cup with a spout, then divide the mixture evenly among 8 pop molds or cups. Insert the sticks. Freeze the ice pops for at least 8 hours or overnight. Run the molds under warm water for 30 seconds to release the pops. Eat the pops right away! Makes 8 pops.

Orange Creamsicle
1-6 oz. can frozen orange juice concentrate, softened
1-6 oz. can water
1 pint vanilla ice cream, softened, or vanilla yogurt

Pour all ingredients into a blender. Pour mixture into molds, insert sticks, and freeze.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Summer strawberry season

It's strawberry season in the south! Every year my mom buys gallons of strawberries from the Amish community near the lake house, and last weekend she and her friend Kathy made a fresh batch of Strawberry Freezer Jam. This stuff is so easy to make, and just as delicious as the more traditional jam recipes that take a MUCH longer time to cook. Did I mention that this recipe does NOT require any canning? I just love it.

Freezer jam will last for at least a couple months in the fridge, and much longer frozen. It is delicious on everything from biscuits to ice cream! If you've never made any sort of jam or preserves before, this is a great recipe to try for your first time. Strawberry freezer jam tastes so fresh and it would make a very impressive, and well-received hostess gift that you could take along with you on a summer getaway to the lake.

Here's a picture of the little Amish strawberries!

Strawberry Freezer Jam
2 cups crushed strawberries (buy 1 qt. fully ripe strawberries)
4 cups sugar, measured into separate bowl
3/4 cup water
1 box SURE.JELL Fruit Pectin

RINSE clean 5 (1-cup) plastic containers and lids with boiling water. Dry thoroughly.

STEM and crush strawberries thoroughly, 1 cup at a time. Measure exactly 2 cups prepared fruit into large bowl. Stir in sugar. Let stand 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

MIX water and pectin in small saucepan. Bring to boil on high heat, stirring constantly. Continue boiling and stirring 1 minute. Add to fruit mixture; stir 3 minutes or until sugar is dissolved and no longer grainy. (A few sugar crystals may remain.)

FILL all containers immediately to within 1/2 inch of tops. Wipe off top edges of containers; immediately cover with lids. Let stand at room temperature 24 hours.

Jam is now ready to use. Store in refrigerator for 1-2 months or freeze extra containers up to 1 year. Thaw in refrigerator before using.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Bite-size treats: sweet and savory-filled fillo cups

About a month ago, I purchased 4 packages of mini fillo pastry shells in the freezer section of the grocery. I thought I would use these for an upcoming baby shower, but I ran out of time and ended up making a dip instead of individual, bite size treats. Needless to say, these fillo shells are taking up some prime real estate in my freezer.

Here are some recipes I've found to put these shells to good use. The crispy little shells are great for entertaining and can be filled with pretty much anything, so long as the filling doesn't have too much liquid, which makes the shells soggy. In the past, I have experimented with these shells by using a spanikopita-type filling once and curry chicken salad filling another time. These are always well-received and look very impressive.

Mini Pecan Tartlets

Mini Pecan Pie Bites
1/2 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons dark or light corn syrup
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 egg
3/4 cup chopped pecans
1 teaspoon vanilla
30 frozen mini filo shells

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In small bowl, combine brown sugar, corn syrup, butter, and egg; beat well. Stir in pecans and vanilla; mix well.

Set the filo shells on a non-stick cookie sheet. Fill each shell with 1-2 teaspoons of the pecan filling.

Bake for 15-16 minutes, or until the filling is bubbly and just set. Remove from cookie sheet and let cool on wire rack. Be careful here - the brown sugar mixture is very hot and it will burn your fingers if you touch it. Use a spatula and a fork to remove the little pecan pie bites from the cookie sheet. Don't wait for these sugary bites to cool, because sugar mixture hardens quickly and the shells will be glued to the pan!

Store covered in airtight container. Makes 30 little tarts.

Mini Spanikopita Bites
2 pkgs frozen mini fillo pastry shells (30 shells)
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup chopped scallions
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp chopped fresh dill
1 box (10 oz) frozen chopped spinach, thawed, not drained
1/4 cup ricotta cheese
1/4 tsp pepper
1 pkg (4 oz) crumbled feta cheese
2 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese

Directions: Preheat oven to 400ºF. Place fillo shells on a rimmed baking sheet. Heat oil in a nonstick medium skillet over medium heat. Add scallions, garlic and dill; cook 1 minute until soft. Add spinach and any liquid; cook 2 minutes until almost dry. Add cream cheese and pepper; remove from heat and stir until cheese melts and mixture is blended. Stir in feta and Parmesan cheese. Spoon 1 rounded measuring teaspoon into each shell.

Bake for 6-8 minutes, or until hot. Planning Tip: Can be made through Step 4 up to 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.

Raspberry Walnut Baked Brie Bites
2 packs mini fillo shells, thawed
1 (8 ounce) round Brie cheese
1/3 cup seedless raspberry jam
2 tablespoons chopped walnuts

Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and lightly grease with cooking spray. Lay the mini fillo shells onto the prepared baking sheet. Cut small slices from the Brie wheel and place one slice in each shell. Spread a dollop of jam on top of the Brie. Sprinkle the walnuts atop the jam. Bake in preheated oven until the pastry is golden brown and cheese is melted, about 8-10 minutes.

Bite-Size Berry Cheesecakes

2 (2.1-oz.) boxes Athens Mini Fillo Dough Shells
1 (8-oz.) container Philadelphia Cheesecake Flavored Cream Cheese
3/4 cup fresh raspberries
3/4 cup fresh blueberries
1/2 cup melted apricot jam

Preheat oven to 350F. Crisp fillo shells according to package directions; let cool. Place about a teaspoon of cream cheese in each shell and top with raspberries and blueberries. Brush lightly with melted jam. Chill until ready to serve. Makes 30 tarts.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Kitchen accessory revival: the return of the apron

I am proud to say that you will not look like Joan Cleaver from "Leave It to Beaver" if you decide to sport one of these fabulous vintage-inspired aprons from Etsy. Not only are aprons functional to keep your outfit clean while you are cooking up a storm, they are super cute too! One of these aprons would make a fun shower gift for a kitchen-themed bridal shower or the perfect hostess gift for a domestic goddess. I am so thrilled to see that aprons are making a comeback in the retail world. I recently gave one of these to my expecting sister-in-law for her birthday, and my husband and I coined it the "mama bib."

click image for more info on this item from BellaBeeDesigns's Etsy Shop

click image for more info on this item from Boojiboo's Etsy Shop

click image for more info on this item from Aprons and More's Etsy Shop

Friday, May 15, 2009

Appetizertastic...a little something tasty to whet the appetite

On this lovely Friday, I decided it would be fun to share a recipe for an appetizer that my hubby and I enjoyed this week -- grilled artichokes. We have tried several times to nail down this recipe, and I think we finally got it this time. The key was making sure that the choke was entirely cooked during the boiling process. Unfortunately, I did not take a picture of our magnificent artichoke and all of its grilled perfection, but this image pretty much sums it up.

Here's the gist of our recipe for grilled artichokes:

1-2 fresh, healthy-looking artichokes (look for 'chokes without bruises or discoloration)
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
salt & pepper
juice of 1 lemon

Squeeze lemon juice into a large pot filled 3/4 full with water. Make sure that there is enough water in the pot for your artichokes to be submerged. Bring water to a boil. Trim artichoke stem, thorns, and slice the top off. Submerge artichokes in boiling water and boil for 30-40 minutes (depending on the size of your 'choke) or until bottom is tender when poked with a fork. You can always try a leaf to see if it is tender.

Drain artichokes. Preheat your grill to medium heat for about 15 mins. Once 'chokes are cool enough to touch, slice the choke in half or quarters. Next scoop out the fuzzy center (choke) with a spoon. Drizzle with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and salt & pepper to taste. You could take it a step further and sprinkle some fresh garlic or other herbs on there, if you like.

Grill the 'chokes about 5 minutes on each side. Really you are just "charring" the 'chokes a little bit. This gives them a delicious, slightly smokey flavor. Remember, the artichoke heart is the best part, so don't let it go to waste.

Remove artichokes from the grill and serve with melted butter, remoulade, or whatever sauce suits your taste buds. While this appetizer seems a little complex to prepare at first, if timed well by your grill master, you could boil & grill the 'choke right before your guests arrive, no problemo.

Here's a diagram of the anatomy of an artichoke, in case you aren't familiar with this delicious vegetable.

image from Quamut

Bon appetit and happy weekend!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Cookout Craze...the basics of hosting a cookout

A backyard cookout is a fun, casual, low-cost way to entertain. While every hostess has their own definition of what a cookout should entail, I always envision a rather simple gathering...the host cooking on a grill and friends sitting on a back deck drinking ice cold beverages and playing yard games. My hubby is a fabulous grillmaster, so as you might imagine, I love hosting cookouts because he helps cook the entree (and sometimes the side dishes too!).

In my mind, a cookout menu usually includes some sort of grilled meat (beef, poultry, pork) and veggies (asparagus, corn, peppers, onions, or mushrooms), a couple of easy-to-prepare sides and a refreshing dessert. The most traditional grilled fare would be hamburgers and hotdogs, while the less traditional fare might include shrimp kebabs or grilled redfish sandwiches. Quintessential cookout sides could include potato salad, baked beans, and grilled veggies. Less predictable sides could be oven-roasted rosemary garlic potatoes, minted watermelon salad with feta cheese, and a field greens salad with strawberries, blue cheese, and spiced pecans.

I tend to mix typical cookout menu items with less-traditional side items, in an effort to please even the pickiest eaters. Although we don't have a cookout planned for Memorial Day weekend 2009, I decided it would be fun to make a mock-invitation, with a cookout theme.

click on image to zoom in

My cookout tips:
  • Keep your menu simple (1 main grilled dish, 2-3 sides, 1 dessert)
  • Prepare as much of the food in advance as possible, so that you can enjoy the relaxed pace of the party, along with your guests (i.e. burger patties can be made before your guests arrive)
  • Set up a self-serve bar area
  • Have a designated grillmaster, and time the rest of the food carefully with that person (example: it will take 10-15 minutes to grill the burgers, therefore the rest of the food should be ready to be served at 8PM)

I just love these apron-themed invitations from They would fit the bill for a summer cookout, don't you think?

BBQ invite by Sweet Pea Designs on

BBQ apron invite by Bert & Harry on

Cookout invitation by Carlson Craft on

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Almost Steeplechase time!

It's almost time for one of my favorite annual social events, the Iroquois Steeplechase. Steeplechase is a horse-racing event that takes place the second Saturday in May, at Percy Warner Park in Nashville. Proceeds benefit the Vanderbilt Children's Hospital.

I think of Steeplechase as sortof the kickoff to summer...sundresses, hats, food, cold drinks, and fun! I always pray for good weather on the day of Steeplechase, because the event is 100% outdoors there is no turning back if a thunderstorm decides to rip through mid-afternoon! Here are a couple pics from past years at Steeplechase (notice the blue skies and sunshine :).

My Hubby and me -- Steeplechase 2007

The girls -- Steeplechase 2007

Steeplechase 2008

There are many different entertaining approaches at Steeplechase. The infield usually resembles a tailgate party before an SEC football game, while the more elite Hunt Club and Iroquois Society tents have gourmet catered food and bartenders. We usually tend to be more on the casual side when it comes to preparing food & drinks for Steeplechase, although we don't skimp on the quality or quantity of food that we bring!

This year, since we're hosting a small breakfast/brunch at our house before Steeplechase, we are going to bring a light lunch w/ sandwiches and cold salads to munch on at the races. Here are the finalized menus for both the Steeplechase breakfast and lunch(click to enlarge image). I'd better get cooking, if this is all going to be ready by Saturday!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Busy {wedding} bee

I have been a busy bee the past two weekends working on various weddings, as an assistant to Alice Hendry, wedding planner extraordinaire. I have had the opportunity to work on a variety of weddings -- from small and intimate, to large and rowdy.

My usual responsibilities include prepping tables, linens and other rental items at the reception site, making sure things happen at the right times throughout the wedding, managing traffic flow throughout the day, and whatever else comes up in between! Overall, the most important party planning tip I've learned is that highly detailed, advance planning pays off tenfold. Alice checks (and re-checks) her list a zillion times before each bride's wedding day, and it really does make a difference in the end result.

Here are a couple of pictures from last weekend: