Sunday, August 7, 2011

Gnome's Notes, Week 3: Appetizers

When hosting a party, it's easy to get caught up in what to cook for dinner - the main course and all the sides. It can be overwhelming! You want to do something fancy or impressive and of course it takes a lot of time and effort to prepare (especially when you have a lot of guests to entertain). What I've learned is that appetizers are the key to a successful dinner party. Keep the main course and sides simple, and offer an abundance of appetizers. Fruits (strawberries with sugar, fruit slices - orange, apple, pineapple), veggies (carrots, baby pickles, black olives, green olives), hummus and pita (maybe a couple varieties of hummus), shrimp and dip, chips, cheese dip, egg rolls, etc. The possibilities are endless. It will get everyone talking and since there are so many things to choose from, it's easy to please everyone. It won't even matter what you make for dinner! The appetizers stole the show!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Salad: Black Beans and Couscous Salad

This dish is all about summer and tons of flavor. It tastes great warm and cold (we had it for dinner and lunch at work the next day!) I plan on bringing this to a party at some point as well. I can't wait to make it again!

Experience Level: Beginner
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Ready In: 30 minutes
Serves: 8 (side dish), 3-4 (meal) or 2 with leftovers

1 cup of uncooked couscous
1 1/4 cups of chicken broth
3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons of lime juice
1 teaspoon of red wine vinegar (I'm pretty sure I used a tablespoon)
1/2 teaspoon of ground cumin
8 green onions, chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1-2 tablespoons of cilantro
1 cup of frozen corn kernels, thawed
2 15oz cans of black beans, drained
salt and pepper to taste


1. Bring chicken broth to a boil in a 2 quart or larger sauce pan and stir in the couscous. Cover the pot and remove from heat. Let stand for 5-7 minutes.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lime juice, vinegar and cumin. Add green onions, red pepper, cilantro, corn and beans and toss to coat. I used a whisk for all of it.

3. Fluff the couscous well, breaking up any chunks. Add to the bowl with the vegetables and mix well. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve at once or refrigerate until ready to serve.

Tip: The original recipe calls for 1/4 cup of cilantro. That is A LOT of cilantro (at least for us). We did about 1/8 a cup (2 tablespoons roughly) and that was more than enough. When I make this again, I will personally use just 1 tablespoon. This recipe is very easy to make. It's just preparing the ingredients, cooking the couscous and mixing it all together. A great summer dish!

*Source: Black Bean and Couscous Salad -

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Cookies: Orange Creamsicle Cookies

Experience Level: Intermediate
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Ready In: 30 minutes
Serves: About 30 cookies

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 firmly packed brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons orange zest (about 2 medium-large oranges)
1 cup of Vanilla Chips

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2. In a small bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt; set aside.

3. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugars until light and creamy. Beat in egg and vanilla until smooth. Gradually add flour mixture until combined. Stir in orange zest and chips.

4. Drop rounded teaspoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets. Do not flatten cookies; it will make them dry. Bake 8 - 10 minutes or until golden brown around edges. Do not overcook! Cookies will be plump. Cool for several minutes on cookie sheets before transferring to rack to cool completely. Store in airtight container.

Tip: Roll them into little golf-ball sized balls and definitely do not flatten or overcook. When you bake them for 10 minutes, they won't seem done, but after they sit, they will be fully cooked. Make sure you get Vanilla chips for the full Creamsicle effect. We used white chocolate chips and they were still delicious, but it didn't have the Creamsicle taste. And lastly, and this is very important... when you zest, ONLY zest the top layer of the orange. If you grate the orange too much, it will have a bitter taste and that bitter taste is very strong and will ruin the cookies. Just grate the sides lightly. Enjoy!

Source: The Girl Who Ate Everything

Gnome's Notes, Week 2: Marination

One trick I learned when it comes to marinating is to marinade the meat for two days. I have a very simple recipe that requires only chicken breasts and zesty Italian dressing. When I marinated the chicken breasts and dressing for two days and baked them with some fresh sliced mushrooms, it was a bigger hit than some of my more gourmet dishes. It really soaks through entirely. Sometimes I will double the marinade recipe as well. Happy cooking!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Seafood: Ultimate Shrimp Scampi

My husband hates seafood but can tolerate a few things, and luckily shrimp happens to be one of them! So when I found this deliciously rich and tasty seafood pasta dish (with avocado! Which happens to be one of our favorite fruits) I just had to jump on the chance to make it. I love referring to for ideas. Don't skip out on the avocado unless you absolutely hate the fruit. I will of course source the link for the original recipe, but here is the dish we made.

Experience Level: Intermediate
Prep Time: 25 minutes
Ready In: 40 minutes
Serves: 4 (side dish), 3 (meal)

16 oz package of angel hair pasta
1/2 cup of butter
4 cloves of minced garlic (or 2 teaspoons)
1/2 cup of minced onion
3 tablespoons of chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon of black pepper
1 tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup of lemon juice
1 teaspoon of dry white wine (or chicken broth)
1 pound of peeled and deveined medium-sized shrimp
1 large avocado - peeled, pitted and diced (or 2 smaller ones)

1/2 cup of Asiago cheese (optional)


1. Bring a large pot of water to boil over high heat. Add the angel hair pasta and cook until al dente, about 2-3 minutes and drain (or whatever it says on the package).

2. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Stir in the garlic, onion, parsley, salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice and white wine/chicken broth. Once the mixture begins to bubble, increase the heat to medium-high and stir in the shrimp. Cook and stir until the shrimp turn pink and are no longer transparent in the center (about 5 minutes, especially if you can't tell a difference in apperance, just go for about 5-6 minutes).

3. Serve the scampi over a bed of angel hair pasta and sprinkle with Asiago cheese (if desired) and diced avocado to serve. I saw that one reviewer also served the scampi over spinach leaves. I haven't tried this, but I plan to.

Tip: We added a bit more garlic and Worcestershire sauce as is our liking and used chicken broth instead of dry white wine. It came out to be a favorite for us, thus featured on the site! Hope you enjoy!

*Source: Ultimate Shrimp Scampi -

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Poultry: Mediterranean Chicken with Rosemary Orzo

I cooked this fantastic dish for the first time yesterday and couldn't wait to put it up here! It is easy, low fat and super tasty. We don't have a dishwasher here, so any meal where I only have to use a couple dishes makes me happy. This one required a couple knives, a cutting board and my large skillet. I'd also never tried (or heard of) orzo pasta before. I am so happy I tried it, because this particular pasta is very light on the stomach (unlike fettuccine or lasagna noodles, for example). It is also one of those meals where it tastes like you went out to a restaurant. After we ate it, my husband and I agreed this one is going to be added to the "Permanent Menu"!

Experience Level: Intermediate
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Ready In: 30 minutes
Serves: 4 (side dish), 2 (meal)

1 pound of chicken breast tenders (not breaded) or 1 pound (I used 4 chicken breasts) of chicken breasts cut length-wise into 1-inch strips
1 can (or 2 1/4 cups) of chicken broth
1 1/3 cups (about 8 oz) of uncooked orzo or rosamarina pasta
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped (or 1+ teaspoon of minced garlic)
2 medium zucchini, cut julienne (cut lengthwise into fourths, then cut crosswise into slices)
3 roma/plum tomatoes, cut julienne (cut lengthwise into fourths, then cut crosswise into slices)
1 medium bell pepper, chopped (1 cup)
1 cup of course cut mushrooms
1/2 cup of water
1 tablespoon of chopped fresh (recommended) or 1 teaspoon of dried rosemary leaves
1/2 teaspoon of salt


1. Spray 10-inch skillet with cooking spray; heat over medium-high heat. Cook chicken in skillet about 5-10 minutes, turning occasionally, until brown.

2. Stir in broth, pasta and garlic. Heat to boiling; reduce heat. Cover and simmer about 8 minutes or until most of the liquid is absorbed.

3. Stir in zucchini, bell pepper, mushrooms, rosemary, 1/2 cup of water and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Everything but the tomato, unless you choose to (the original recipe says to add the chopped tomato as well, but we don't like mushy cooked tomatoes). I also added a little more broth because it seemed too dry for us. We enjoyed the extra broth. Heat to boiling and reduce heat. Simmer uncovered about 5 minutes, stirring once, until bell pepper is crisp-tender and pasta is tender.

4. Add tomatoes (if you didn't add it in already) and it's ready to serve!

*Source: Betty Crocker Cookbook

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Gnome's Notes, Week 1: Farmer's Markets

My Mom has taken me to Farmer's Markets for many years. I've always enjoyed the sights and sounds of a community coming together. There's nothing quite like it. I enjoy them no matter what town I visit; no matter how far from home. Somehow it always ends up feeling like home. The food is always delicious and locally grown. My Mom sent me a link recently explaining why everyone should frequent their local Farmer's Market, and I feel inclined to pass it onto anyone who might read this. The link is right in every way. I hope you find it useful :)