Category Archives: Holiday

Cooking Light’s Amazing One-Hour Dinner Party

Kat is back in the kitchen. In case you hadn’t noticed, I’ve been MIA is in the blogosphere for a while. I’ll get into the reasons why on another post but suffice it to say, I’m back.

What prompted my return to the kitchen (actually it was my friend Vickie’s kitchen) was her request that I assist with a birthday dinner for our friend Brigitte (of the Kahlua making).

As it happens, last year I picked up an issue of Cooking Light magazine in the check out line after the cover story, Amazing One-Hour Dinner Party, caught my eye. I love dinner parties, especially when there are themes involved. My first ever elegent dinner party took two days of cooking so I wasn’t about to pass up a menu that could be ready in one hour. The timing of this dinner couldn’t really be more appropriate in case any of my readers are trolling the net for last minute ways to impress their Valentine.

The dinner went off perfectly and was fairly amazing, if I do say so myself. Vickie and I had everything for the salad, main course and dessert prepped and ready to go according to the directions in the article. The only one change we made was roasting the potatoes before putting the tenderloin in the oven. Otherwise, unless you have two ovens, I don’t see how both the potatoes and roast were going to cook in one hour. For the record, we roasted fresh red potato wedges on 450° for 15 minutes. We covered them to keep them warm and then popped them back in the oven when the roast was resting.

Another change we would make in the future would be to add a small amount of sugar to the whipped cream. We opted to follow the directions because of the agave nectar that the fruit was marinaded in. In hind sight, one-half to one teaspoon of sugar would be a nice addition.

There were a few things that surprised me:

  1. There was no shopping list in the magazine. I created one here.
  2. Two pounds of beef tenderloin didn’t seem like it would be enough to feed 8 people. Vickie got a 4 pound roast. We fed six ladies and there was plenty left over so maybe I was wrong.
  3. The potatoes call for the addition of truffle oil. At $16.99 a bottle, I now know why I’ve never cooked with it before. I did purchase a bottle from a local olive oil producer for this dinner. Based on the cost, rest assured I will find all kinds of new ways to use truffle oil. In the end, though, I didn’t feel like the flavor profile delivered $16.99 worth of value to the potatoes. Perhaps I’m just a heathen, who knows?

I haven’t blogged about wine tasting here but I am an avid wino…hence the number of bottles I brought for the party. It seems like overkill but at the end of the night, they were all gone. I may have splurged a bit on the number of bottles but cost-wise this dinner came in at about what I would have spent had I taken the birthday girl out for a nice dinner.

My wine budget is typically in the range of $10 to $15 a bottle. Here is what I brought to match up with the courses:

Champagne toast: Titziano Italian Prosecco $10.99 with raspberries dropped in the glass.

Champagne cocktail: We substituted vodka for the gin at the birthday girl’s request. I found a lovely bottle of Dr. Loosen Sparkling Riesling for $12.99 and used this as the base.

Salad course: Kung Fu Girl Riesling. This was one of the specific wines suggested for the menu. I was able to find it at AJs for $12.99. It was crisp for a Riesling but balanced well with the flavors of the salad.

Main course: The Pinot Project Pinot Noir. For $14.99 this is a great medium bodied/soft tannin red that paired well with the red meat.

Dessert: Kendall Jackson Vintners Reserve Riesling ($8.99). Sweeter wines pair well with sweet desserts. This Riesling is a little softer than the Kung Fu girl and matched well with the berries and cream.


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Kat’s Fantasy Elegant New Year’s Eve Dinner

individual beef wellington

Individual Beef Wellington

Alas, there will be no New Year’s Eve dinner for me this year. Things have been quiet in Kat’s kitchen, mainly because I’m still battling a cold and then have had a headache for four days on top of it. When I’m not feeling good I lose the desire to eat anything good for me (except, maybe soup) and gravitate to Christmas cookies and microwave popcorn. This may be a portent of things to come; I’ve heard that the sweet and salty taste buds are the last to go and that’s why elderly folk prefer sweet and salty food. It’s not a pretty thought, sigh!

Back to blogging and the dinner I wish I was cooking…actually I did cook this dinner a few years ago and it was then the culinary highlight of my cooking experience. As background, I joined a local group called Table for Six. The moderator cooked a five course meal for herself and five carefully chosen guests…but she only did this four times a year. I was blown away by the experience and offered to cook a dinner the following month. I’m flattered to say that this was the only time that her group dined outside her home. I still feel all warm and gushy when I think about it. However, after hosting a six course meal I can see why she only did this four times a year. I cooked all six courses from scratch and spent two full days in the kitchen. As a matter of fact, I was still whisking the gravy as the guests were pulling up. I also had to purchase and borrow extra dishes so that I could individually plate each course. Oh, but what a night!

In actuality if I were going to do it again, I would change a few things. Even though I spent weeks researching the perfect pairings, I’ve expanded my culinary repertoire so a few changes might be in order.

Champagne cocktail – I chose a dry champage which, ironically, tends to be slightly sweeter that Brut or Extra Brut. I dropped a raspberry in the bottom of each class for color instead of the lemon wedge.

Appetizer – Shrimp ceviche (served in martini glasses)

Soup – Cream of broccoli soup (served in Grandma’s crystal fruit cocktail bowls)

Salad – Tossed salad with artichoke-Parmesan crostini (served on salad plates)

Main course – Individual Beef Wellingtons, garlic mashed potatoes with green beans amandine to which I added a small amount of diced pimento for Christmas color (served on dinner plates) garnished with fresh rosemary sprigs

Dessert – Chocolate Cavity Maker cake with mint-infused whipped cream (served on dessert plates) garnished with fresh raspberry and mint leaves

Coffee with homemade Bailey’s Irish Cream and port. I had never been a huge fan of port until I had it alongside the coffee and chocolate cake.

It was a great night. Even though I won’t be cooking this year I enjoy reminiscing. Don’t feel too sorry for me though. I am going out tonight with friends where someone else will be serving me.

I hope your New Year’s Eve is filled with good food and good friends.







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Grandpa’s Christmas Eve Spaghetti Sauce

Grandpa Joe

For as long as I can remember my family has happily eaten the same dinner on Christmas Eve; a meatless marinara sauce that lists Italian tuna fish packed in olive oil as the star ingredient. Because we grew up on it, my siblings and I never found the combination of marinara sauce and tuna fish odd. As a matter of fact, we would beg for the “Christmas sauce” on other special occasions as it was a rare treat for us. Over the years as we have added family members through either marriage or birth, some may have initially been reluctant to try the dish, but one-by-one they’ve been won over.

The ritual of a meatless Christmas Eve is popular in many parts of Italy and is certainly where the tradition of this dish originated. My mother’s grandparents immigrated from Italy through Canada. Mom recalls her grandfather, Bill, making the sauce. My Grandpa Joe (pictured) continued the ritual until his death in 1995. Mom made it every year I was growing up and continues to do so to this day. Now that my siblings and cousin are of sauce-making age, the recipe has truly been handed down through at least 4 generations.

I’ve made the sauce myself on a few occasions. There has only been one Christmas I haven’t been able to spend with my parents. Based on the splattered fax of the recipe my Dad sent me in December of 1996 that I just pulled out of my pantry, I’m guessing this was the year. I may have been in New Orleans, but Christmas just isn’t Christmas without the sauce!

I’m not certain that the sauce really needs to cook for so many hours. However, to honor the tradition I am posting the recipe true to the way it has been cooked in my family from time immemorial.

I would love to hear about any Christmas Eve traditions you have. Please post a comment for me!


  • one small onion, finely chopped
  • three cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • one 6 oz can tomato paste
  • two 28 oz cans tomato sauce
  • 2 bay leaves
  • one tablespoon Italian herbs (basil or oregano or both)
  • 1/2 cup sturdy red wine (Chianti or burgundy)
  • 1/2 stick of butter
  • High quality grated cheese (Asiago, Parmesan or Romano)
  • One 6 oz can Tonno (tuna packed in olive oil), drained well


  1. Heat olive oil in a large sauce pan or dutch oven until fragrant. Add onions and garlic; saute on medium heat for about five minutes. Add the tomato paste and mix well. Saute over low heat for about five minutes, stirring frequently so the bottom of the pan doesn’t burn.
  2. Add the tomato sauce and stir well. Cook over low heat for about 2 hours. Watch closely so that the sauce doesn’t burn.
  3. Add the wine, butter and a handful of the grated cheese. Stir often and continue cooking another hour or so.
  4. Add the tuna to the sauce and cook one more hour.
  5. Serve over a sturdy pasta like gemelli, fusilli or penne. Garnish amply with freshly grated cheese.

Serves four.

Kat’s tip: Double or triple the recipe for larger quantities and for leftovers. Seriously if you’re going to cook something for several hours you may as well. Freezes well.


Posted by on December 24, 2011 in Holiday, One pot cooking, Scratch cooking


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Classic Tiramisu

We had an Italian-theme party last weekend for La Mama’s milestone birthday. Although we had the appetizers and main course catered by a family friend, my sister and I elected to do the desserts. My sister makes my mom cheesecake every year. This year she changed it up a bit and did mini cheesecake cupcakes with a strawberry topping. They were quite yummy and I’ll be posting them later this week when I get my hands on her recipe.

In an impulse moment I announced was going to make tiramisu from scratch. Once the commitment was out in the open, there was no turning back. I’d never made tiramisu before and I was a little nervous. I followed the directions on the back of the lady finger package (that took four clerks in my local grocery store to find) and immediately relaxed. I had a mild amount of anxiety over the whipping cream; I’m always nervous that it’s not actually going to whip. Someone told me that the trick is refrigerate the bowl and the beaters which seems to work.

Tiramisu and white russian

Tiramisu, as it turns out, is not really all that hard to make. I elected to build mine in a spring form pan. The good news is that the end result tasted great, my mom was thrilled The pictures honestly don’t do the dessert justice. In the midst of serving 40 people it was really hard to get good photos. Plus using lady fingers meant that the layers were not nice and crisp like they would have been had I used something akin to sponge cake.

I’ve already decided there will be a next time and that I am going to try using a sponge cake cut in half for more even layers. I may even double the amount of coffee liqeure.


  • 6 egg yolks
  • 1 1/4 cups white sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups mascarpone cheese
  • 2 1/4 cups heavy whipping cream (divided)
  • 2 (3 ounce) packages ladyfingers
  • 1/3 cup coffee flavored liqueur
  • 1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder, for dusting
  • 1 (1 ounce) square semisweet chocolate
  1. Combine egg yolks and sugar; whip until thick and lemon colored, about one minute. Place in top of double boiler over boiling water. Reduce heat to low and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature, stirring frequently.
  2. Add mascarpone to whipped yolks. Beat until combined. In a separate bowl, whip *1-3/4 cup* cream to stiff peaks. Gently fold into yolk mixture and set aside.
  3. Split the lady fingers in half, and line the bottom and sides of a large glass bowl or spring-form pan. Brush with coffee liqueur. Spoon half of the cream filling over the lady fingers. Repeat ladyfingers, coffee liqueur and filling layers. Refrigerate several hours or overnight.
  4. Top with sweetened whipped cream. Combine 1/2 whipping cream, 1 tablespoon powdered sugar and 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract. Whip until stiff peaks form.
  5. Garnish with cocoa. Use a microplane grater or zester to get nice chocolate crumbles. You can also use a vegetable peeler or garlic slicer to shave the chocolate into curls.

Kat’s tip: Make the Tiramisu a day in advance so that it has time to set. I made mine the morning of the party and it 9 hours later it seemed a bit jiggly (although everyone loved it). Dust with cocoa immediately prior to serving for the prettiest presentation.

Kat’s second tip: Mascapone cheese is über expensive. As a substitute you can combine 8 ounces of cream cheese, 1/4 cup sour cream and 2 tablespoons of whipping cream and then mix until blended and fluffy.


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Country-Style Shrimp Gumbo (Makes its own roux)!

Serve gumbo over white rice

Is it too soon for another gumbo recipe? I hope not because my freezer is full of cooked shrimp and the last of the post-Thanksgiving turkey gumbo is long gone. Sniff, sniff!

One of the most intimidating steps in the gumbo making process is the roux. Not only is it tricky if you haven’t done it before; the addition of extra flour and oil ups the calorie count. In my humble opinion, I have perfected an easier and healthier way to make gumbo.

I can’t take all the credit. Rumor has it the original chicken and sausage roux-less recipe, which was given to me by a co-worker when I lived in New Orleans, comes straight from the kitchen of Christian’s restaurant in Mid-City. I don’t know if that is actually true but I will put my version of gumbo up against any you can find in the Big Easy with confidence.

Despite the number of ingredients and the cook time (most of which is unattended), this is pretty much an easy and fool proof version of the original recipe (especially if you stick to frozen okra…see Kat’s Tip below).


  • 2 pounds raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 4 quarts water (or chicken broth)
  • 1/4 pound bacon, chopped
  • 1/2 to one pound andouille or smoked sausage, diced
  • 2 large onions
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 ribs celery
  • 1 bell pepper, any color
  • 1 pound fresh or frozen okra, chopped (see footnote)
  • 1 can small can tomato sauce
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon Zataran’s liquid shrimp/crab boil*
  • salt and black pepper to taste


Boil shrimp skins/tails to make stock

The day before (optional):

Peel the shells and tails off the shrimp. Place the shells in a large pot and cover with 3 quarts warm water. Bring to boil over medium high heat. Immediately reduce the heat and simmer (don’t let them come to a boil) the shells for about 45 minutes. Skim off any foam that rises to the top. Strain the stock through a fine strainer and then discard the shells.

This step is totally optional. You could easily substitute chicken or vegetable broth with ease.

The day of:

Chop the bacon and sauté in a non-stick pan over medium heat until the bacon is crispy. Use a slotted spoon to remove the bacon. Drain on a plate lined with a paper towel. Add the sausage to the bacon grease and sauté until slightly browned. Remove the sausage with a slotted spoon, retaining the bacon grease.

Chop vegetables and sauté in the bacon grease until the onions are soft (about 5-10 minutes). Add okra and cook over very low heat, stirring constantly until slime is gone being careful not to let the mixture burn (about an hour for fresh okra or 10-15 minutes for frozen and then thawed okra)

This is the basis for the roux

Sprinkle flour evenly over vegetables and stir until flour disappears. Add tomato sauce (see above). Cook 5 minutes, stirring constantly.

Transfer the mixture to large stock pot and slowly add 6 cups of shrimp stock or water. Cook 30 minutes.

Add the diced tomatoes, 8 cups of stock or water, the bacon, the sausage and the seasonings. Simmer on medium heat for one hour.

Add shrimp. Cook for 6 to 8 minutes over low heat until the shrimp turn pink. Stir often to avoid burning the bottom.

Garnish with parsley. Add salt, pepper and additional seasonings to taste. Serve over rice.

Serves 12

Kat’s tip:

Fresh okra can be quite messy and a pain to cook. I sometimes throw it in a food processor to chop it up. I’ve contemplated microwaving it to speed up the process and cut down on the mess. Frozen okra (just as good in my opinion) also works, takes less time to cook and is less sticky.

Kat’s second tip:

I recently bought a small bottle of Zataran’s Liquid Shrimp & Crab Boil at WalMart. If you can find it, this is a secret ingredient that will turn your shrimp gumbo from marvelous to out of this world. Up until now I had never seen it outside of the South.

Nutritional Value (not including rice):

Calories 215.7  Total Fat 8.5 g  Cholesterol 161.5 mg  Sodium 583.7 mg  Potassium 363.4 mg  Total Carbohydrate 16.1 g  Protein 23.0 g


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Decadent Dulce De Leche Blondies

Moist and chewy blondies with dulce de leche

It’s hard for me to believe, but as I write this I realize that I have not had ONE Christmas cookie yet this year. Some of you may be quick to point out that I blogged about the pumpkin sugar cookies brought on Thanksgiving Day but A.) that was November and B.) those were clearly Thanksgiving cookies and clearly not Christmas cookies.

Again, Kat has had no Christmas cookies yet this year. I’m not really sure how that happened since I baked two batches of cookies and then attended a cookie exchange last weekend. I have a beautiful assortment of cookies from said exchange in my outside fridge. Let us not forget (because I certainly haven’t) that I have the already-baked and ready-to-be-frosted Xmas sugar cookies in my outside freezer, too.

I feel I have shown remarkable restraint this year but my no-cookie-eating streak is about to come to an abrupt end once the caramel blondies come out of the oven. OMG, blondies are like a little slice of heaven. I posted earlier this year about the mystical bar that I first had at a church function. It took me, literally, years to figure out what they were and nearly involved me stalking the lady who donated them. Let’s just say its a good thing I couldn’t quite remember where she lived.

Today’s version is a re-do of the original recipe that lead me to discover that blondies are actually blondies. A light bulb went off for me when I saw the recipe in People magazine last year. Like a kid at Christmas, I couldn’t wait until my first batch came out of the oven. Sadly it was an epic failure. The original recipe called for a two-step cooking process and far too much of the star ingredient, a caramel-like creamy sauce known as dulce de leche. The end result was an ooey gooey mess that wasn’t a candy or a cookie. Try as I might I couldn’t figure out a way to redeem the sugary mess…so I threw it out and started over.

Now that the second batch (which looks way more brownie-like) is out of the oven, let the cookie eating commence!


  • 1 stick unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup white flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • one pinch of salt
  • 1/4 cup dulce de leche
  • Optional: 1/3 cup chopped nuts (I used pecans)


Preheat oven to 350°

Spray an 8″ x 8″ baking pan with non-stick spray

Combine butter and sugars in a large bowl. Using beaters or electric mixer, beat until fluffy. Add vanilla and egg; continue mixing and scrape sides with a spatula when necessary.

Add flour, baking soda and salt. Mix until thoroughly combined.

Spread the mixture in the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake for 7 to 8 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool for about 5 minutes. Pour dulce de leche evenly over the top. (The middle of mine “sank” a bit which left ridges on the sides. This was perfect to capture the dulce de leche when I poured in on.) Use a kitchen knife or spatula to swirl the batter slightly.

Return to the oven and bake another 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool before removing from pan.

Yield: 16 squares

Nutritional info: Lets not ruin the moment by calculating how totally fattening these little delights are. January is right around the corner and we can count calories then 🙂

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Posted by on December 15, 2011 in Cookies, Desserts, Holiday


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Vickie’s Pomegranate Jelly

Up until recently I gave little thought to the actual fruit itself but pomegranates grow well here in Arizona. Perhaps it is because of my new-found focus on seasonal produce that real in-the-flesh pomegranates have been showing up before me this year.

De-seeding the rosy red fruit is a cumbersome, multi-step process that is fraught with some peril since the juice stains. I was introduced to this process (and the warning) at a party in October when our hosts willingly shared the bounty from the tree in their back yard. Eating pomegranates reminds me of eating sunflower seeds or pistachios. There’s a whole lot of work involved for a little measly result; still plucking the seeds out of the white flesh is actually kind of addicting.

This is just one more reason why I tip my hat to my friend Vickie for her pomegranate jelly. Vickie is an Arizona native and remembers the days before population growth and urban sprawl took over when “rural” Phoenix was full of dairy farms and orchards. She’s been picking and eating pomegranates since she was a kid (read this as she has had years of practice). Regardless, the process of de-seeding the fruit is still time-consuming and somewhat tedious. Then, once you have the seeds, you still have to juice them. Sheesh!

As the recipient of one of the cute little jars pictured above (and since I’ve never canned anything in my life), I asked Vickie if she had any pearls of wisdom or words of warning to share with my readers. Vickie acknowledged that next time she would skip the de-seeding process/juicing process and start with 100% pomegranate juice that you can buy from stores like Trader Joe’s. This is encouraging if you don’t have access to pomegranate trees in your local area. If you do go the fully natural route her warning is to plan ahead; the juice has to sit for a few days before its ready to be used.

So, I’m thankful to have been on the recipient list for Vickie’s pomegranate jelly. I can’t wait to try the jelly in the streusel short bread recipe that I’ve got lined up to cook in the next day or so.

Pomegranate Jelly Recipe from Simply Recipes

The process of canning jelly is specific to what fruit you are canning, the type of pectin you are using – whether natural, liquid, powder – and the ratio of juice to sugar to pectin. If you plan to store your jelly on a shelf, and not in the refrigerator, you need special canning equipment to ensure against spoilage.


  • 4 cups pomegranate juice
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1 package powdered pectin
  • 5 cups white cane sugar
  • You’ll also need:
  • 6-7 Eight ounce canning jars


  1. Make or buy the juice. If making the juice, see the two tips below on the best ways to accomplish these.
  2. Prepare canning jars. Seep the clean, empty canning jars in boiling water for several minutes. Boil a few cups of water in a separate kettle and pour over the lids in a small bowl to sterilize.
  3. Measure pomegranate juice and lemon juice in a 6-quart pan. Add pectin, stir and place over high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly to prevent scorching. Reach a full rolling boil, that cannot be stirred down, and add sugar. Boil hard for exactly 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Let stand for a minute and skim off foam.
  4. Fill jars to 1/2″ of the top. Wipe rims clean. Screw on 2-piece lids.
  5. Finish canning. This step you need to take if you plan to keep the jelly unrefrigerated. Place the jelly jars, not touching, on a rack in a tall pot of boiling water. The water should cover the top of the jars by at least an inch. Boil for 5 minutes and then remove from the water. Let the jars cool. Check seals, the lids should be sucked down (you’ll hear a popping noise as the jelly cools). Once the jars reach room temperature, put them in the refrigerator for a few hours to complete the jellying. Lasts about 3 weeks once opened.

Yield – 6-7 cups.

Making the juice:

There are two basic ways to make pomegranate juice from fresh pomegranates. The first is to cut open a pomegranate and submerge it in a large bowl filled with water. Remove the seeds underwater; they will sink to the bottom while the white membrane holding them together will float. Discard the peel and membranes. Strain the seeds and put them in a blender. Pulse the blender only a few times so that the seeds are broken up. Place a mesh strainer over a bowl and pour the seed mixture through the strainer. Use a rubber spatula to help press the pulp against the strainer as to extract as much juice as possible.

The second way to juice a pomegranate is to use a juice press. I have an old fashioned press that I use. I wash the pomegranate and cut it into quarters or halves, depending on how big the pomegranate is. I then crush the sections with a press and strain the juice through a mesh strainer. I have found that this method takes half the time or less of the first method, but the flavor can be a little more bitter because you are squeezing the peel as well.


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Posted by on December 14, 2011 in Breakfast, Desserts, Holiday


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