Strawberry Breakfast Bread Pudding

I'm on a little bit of a strawberry kick this weekend; I had to buy a great big container of strawberries for the strawberry bruschetta I made Friday night, because the grocery store didn't have any smaller containers, so now I'm trying to come up with creative ways to use the berries.  Although there's nothing wrong with just eating the strawberries on their own.


But I also had half a loaf of leftover bread from the bruschetta, so it seemed the perfect chance to make a breakfast bread pudding.  Bread pudding is a wonderful way to use day old bread, and this breakfast bread pudding was sort of like waffles in a ramekin, except without all the butter and syrup.  Although you could certainly top it with butter and syrup if you wanted to, but it was delicious on its own without any added fat or sugar.  I also didn't add any sugar to the pudding itself, because I felt like the strawberries would contribute enough sweetness to the dish.


The first breakfast Jamie ever made for me was pancakes with Cookies and Cream flavored protein powder in them, something I would never have thought to do, but they were so yummy.  We don't make pancakes all that often, but when I'm in the mood for something like that, I try to think of ways to add sweetness and flavor without making them too unhealthy, and I think this bread pudding recipe fits the bill!


Strawberry Breakfast Bread Pudding
(makes 2 servings)
  • 1 1/2 cups day old bread, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 cup chopped strawberries, plus 2 sliced strawberries for garnish
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup mascarpone or low fat cream cheese, plus 2 tablespoons for garnish
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Preheat the oven to 350, and boil a kettle of water (I actually just used very hot tap water, which worked fine for this).

In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, mascarpone cheese, milk, vanilla and cinnamon until smooth.  Add the bread and strawberries and toss to combine until most of the liquid is absorbed into the bread.


Spray two ramekins (large enough to hold 2 cups) with non-stick cooking spray.  Divide bread pudding between the ramekins.  Place ramekins in a baking dish and fill the baking dish with the hot water so that it comes 2/3 up the sides of the ramekins (do not get the water inside the ramekins).

Bake for 20 minutes.  Bread will be slightly golden and crispy on top and soft in the middle.  Remove ramekins from the water and set on a plate to serve.  Garnish with an extra dollop of mascarpone cheese and sliced strawberries.




Strawberry Bruschetta with Mascarpone Cheese and Aged Balsamic

Summer is the season to celebrate strawberries, so I wanted to end July with a fabulous strawberry dish that's been marinating in my mind for a while.  


Yes, I know July is national ice cream month, so maybe I should be writing about ice cream, but sadly, I don't have an ice cream maker, so all of my ice cream making attempts end with a block of ice in the freezer that we can barely chip away at.  Maybe one of these days we'll get an ice cream maker, but for now, we're holding out since the temptation to make ice cream every weekend would be pretty hard to resist.

Most people seem to make their strawberry bruschetta with goat cheese, which I'm sure is delicious, but I wanted to make mine with the flavors that are reminiscent of one of my favorite childhood desserts.  Strawberry Shortcake.  


When I was a kid, my parents would frequently take us to an all-you-can-eat steakhouse/salad bar type restaurant after church on Sunday, the kind of place where kids eat pretty inexpensively.  Unfortunately, my vanity got in the way of their budget since I reached the age where I was too embarrassed to have to use a "kid plate" - the kind of plate that has the dividers to keep the food separate - especially since my older sister had graduated to a grown up plate and I felt like a baby in comparison!  We were standing in line, my dad getting ready to pay, when my mom saw my trembling lip and tragic eyes (I suppose I was a little dramatic about it!).  Moms seem to instinctively understand these situations, though, and asked for a grown up plate for me.  Life was good again, especially when I was allowed to have one of the pretty parfait glasses of red jello cubes and whipped cream sitting by the register.


To this day, I feel a little panicky at these types of serve-yourself restaurants.  The endless rows of tile floors surrounding the food bars scare me, since on one of our family lunches there, my slippery Sunday shoes went right out from under me, and I'm sure you can guess what happened after that...  I fell.  I dropped my plate and food went flying.  I cried.  I ran back to our table and jumped on my dad's lap, sobbing.  I was too embarrassed to go back, so he went back for me and got all of my favorites - salad with pineapple and cottage cheese, a chicken wing, a little macaroni and cheese, and my all-time favorite, fried okra. (It was the south, after all!)


After lunch, there was the dessert bar, which really is the only reason most kids eat their meal.  We were fascinated by the soft-serve ice cream machine and all the bowls of toppings laid out.  There were some plates of individually sliced cheesecake and pie, which didn't interest me at the time.  What I loved were the pans of fruity cake and pudding.  There was banana cream pudding, lined with vanilla wafer cookies, whipped cream, bananas and pudding.  There was a chocolate something or other.  And there was strawberry shortcake, a huge vat of spongy cake, cream and strawberries, that you could just scoop into a bowl and eat with a spoon.  The cake soaked up the cream and berries so it had such a nice, moist pudding quality.


When you taste this bruschetta, it has all the flavors of strawberry shortcake and you'll almost think you're eating dessert, even though there's only one teaspoon of added sugar in the whole recipe and it's a very light dish.  But this strawberry bruschetta is all grown up with the addition of balsamic vinegar.  Don't even think about leaving this off--it's the most important ingredient and really makes the dish!  Balsamic vinegar is sweet and a little tangy, and really brings out the flavor of the strawberries and cheese.  We used our new bottle of 18-year aged balsamic that we bought at a farmer's market and it was absolutely amazing!   And it was also so pretty, that I just couldn't stop taking pictures. :)

(I'm excited to tell you that I learned how to create links to "printable recipes" for your convenience, so you will see this from now on--it'll take me a little time to go back and add these for previous posts, but eventually, these links will be available on all my posts.)


Strawberry Bruschetta with Mascarpone Cheese and Aged Balsamic
(for 4 slices)
  • 4 slices good bakery bread or french bread (I used a small loaf of "Ecce Panis" bread from the grocery store)
  • 4 teaspoons olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons mascarpone cheese
  • 1 cup sliced fresh strawberries (4-6 strawberries)
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 4 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
Place the bread slices on a baking sheet lined with foil and drizzle with the olive oil.  Toast under the broiler on low until slightly golden and crisp.

While the bread is toasting, toss the strawberries with the sugar in a bowl to draw out the juices.  They only need to macerate for about five minutes to get juicy enough.

Let the bread cool for a few minutes (so that the cheese doesn't melt when you spread it).  Spread each piece of bread with a tablespoon of mascarpone cheese.  Top with the strawberry slices, and then drizzle the strawberries with the balsamic vinegar.

Enjoy immediately!

Oreo Truffles all Dressed Up... and a Coffee Mishap...

This morning I presented my coworker with a beautiful box of truffles in three flavors (more coming on that...) for her birthday party.  And our break room was finally stocked with some stronger coffee which makes me happy - there is always a surplus of the light roast, and I have to make them at least double strength to have a decent cup of coffee.  But right now I'm resenting coffee.  


There seems to be a law of physics or gravity or something that when I wear white, whatever I'm eating or drinking will be attracted to it.  Tuesday, I wore a white dress to work and almost immediately dropped a pen in my lap, leaving an ink stain, although my handy little stain remover pen I keep in my purse did a good job of scrubbing it out.  And today, I wore my favorite white summer skirt, and what do you think happened?  Not ink.  That would have been too easy.  It was a cup of coffee.  An ENTIRE cup of coffee that I spilled all over the stack of papers next to my keyboard and onto my lap.  It was a little too much for my stain remover pen to handle.

As much as I love coffee, I hate how prone I am to spilling it on myself.  Once, I did this twice in one day, although on that day, it only went all over my desk and not on myself.

This happened at 8:00 this morning.  I really dreaded not only the thought of walking around the office all day looking like I'd just climbed out of a dumpster but also the thought that by the time I got home that afternoon, the stain would have set and the skirt would be completely ruined.  I would cry if that happened since I love this skirt so much that I probably wear it three times a week in the summer.  (I started having visions of being forced to dye it black if I couldn't get the stain out... )

Fortunately, I'm able to work from home once in a while, so in order to quickly get the skirt in the wash, I decided to work from home for the rest of the day.  I live 60 miles from where I work, but my parents' house is just about 5 miles from my work;  so I drove to their house first (which I was going to do anyway since I had a box of truffles I made for them and wanted to drop off) and soaked my skirt in some stain remover gel I found in their laundry room.  As soon as I did that, though, I realized that I could no longer wear my skirt since it was covered in blue goo, so I drove the 60 miles back home just wearing my slip, hoping that I didn't get pulled over, or get a flat tire, or something that would force me to get out of my car on the interstate wearing not a whole lot!  But I made it home without humiliation, and it seems that my skirt has recovered from its coffee bath without any permanent damage.


So now that my day is sunny again, I'd love to share with you the flavors I decided on for the Oreo Truffles - I still call them that even though I didn't make them all with Oreos - I suppose they could just be called Cookie Truffles in that case? (Click the link above to see the original post along with the recipe and instructions for making these.)
  • Double Chocolate Oreo Truffles (made with the chocolate cream-filled Oreos and cream cheese)
  • Peanut Butter Truffles (made with Nutter Butters, cream cheese and peanut butter - just substitute about half of the cream cheese with peanut butter instead)
  • Butter Pecan Truffles (made with Pecan Sandies, cream cheese and a dash of vanilla)
I decorated these using a variety of semi-sweet milk chocolate, white chocolate and powdered sugar, topped with chocolate sprinkles, white pearl sprinkles and crushed Heath Toffee bits.

Now, if only the leftover ones sitting in my fridge would stop calling my name...



Oreo Truffles

Once upon a time, someone had the genius idea of smashing up a bunch of Oreos and mixing them with vanilla ice cream, giving the world the gift of Cookies and Cream.  I'm so grateful to that person!  But then they had to take it even further.  They decided to not just smash the Oreos, but to turn them into nothing but crumbs, frosting and all, which, as it turns out, makes a fabulous chocolate crust for a no-bake pie.  My gratefulness turned to awe.  But do you think they stopped there?  Nope, they had to get even crazier and mix those crumbs with cream cheese.  And what you get from that is a deliciously thick and fudgey paste, which, when rolled into balls and dipped in melted chocolate magically turns into a rich and decadent truffle.  


The concept is nothing short of brilliant.  And apparently everyone has been doing it but me!  I went to a friend's house last Friday night, and she had made these delicious, chocolatey balls of heaven; she had heard about it from a friend, who heard it from her friend, who heard it from...  you get the idea.  No one knows who came up with this.  I'm just glad I jumped on the bandwagon, since these are about the easiest chocolate dessert you can make in a fun little bite-sized package.


Oreos are a classic cookie from most people's childhoods; in fact, they're the only "hard" cookie that I'll eat, although even then, I have to completely soggify (yes, I made up that word) them in a glass of milk.  I like cookies very soft, under-baked to the point where they're almost raw.  Unfortunately, Subway knows that, and they deliberately keep a glass case of soft, buttery cookies by the register, taunting me when all I want is a healthy sandwich for lunch.



Of course, I had to put my own twist on this truffle recipe.  I made Cookies and Cream Truffles with chocolate-filled Oreos in the filling and covered in white chocolate.  Then I made Lemon Truffles with lemon cookie filling encased in semi-sweet milk chocolate.  Jamie and I each tried one, and couldn't decide which we liked better since they were both so creamy and luscious.  So that I wouldn't have them tempting me in my own house, I wrapped up the rest to bring in to work.  Of course, I'm bringing the temptation to my coworkers instead, for which they may either love me or hate me.  However, based on their reactions to the treats today, I'd say their feelings lean more towards love.  :)  They were gone in about 5 minutes.


A friend at work is having a birthday party this weekend, and asked if I would make some of these for her--of course, I'm honored and thrilled to be asked!  Now my mind is reeling with all the possibilities...  peanut butter filling with dark chocolate, lemon and white chocolate, Nutella instead of cream cheese in the filling, mint and chocolate, any of the above rolled in crushed nuts or mini chocolate chips instead of melted chocolate, or powdered sugar...  Just thinking these naughty thoughts makes me feel like I need to be getting in a good workout at the gym right now.



Cookie Truffles
  • 1 package (@11-15 ounces) cookies such as oreos, nutter butters, lemon, etc.
  • 1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, slightly softened
  • 12 ounces baking chocolate or chocolate chips
In a food processor, crush the cookies until you have fine crumbs.  Add the cream cheese and process until mixture is thick and pasty and fully incorporated.  (Note that if you are using a cookie with cream filling such as Oreos,  you may need slightly less cream cheese than with a cookie with no cream filling.)

Scoop the filling into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 1-2 hours.  Form into balls (this will make 36-48 truffles, depending on how big or small you make them).  Melt the chocolate according to the instructions on the package.  Dip the balls in the melted chocolate, chocolate chips, sugar, etc, then place on a baking sheet covered with wax paper.  Top the truffles with sprinkles, or whatever decoration you would like.  Chill for about an hour before serving, and store leftovers (if there are any!) in the fridge.


Grilled Peaches with Honey and Toasted Pecans

I love peaches.  I've said it before, and I'm sure I'll say it many more times.  But they are such a perfect fruit, tasting exactly like summer should taste.  


And the grocery store knows just how to lure me in to buying some with their display staring me in the face as soon as I walk in.  I manage to ignore the displays of doughnuts, but the fruit just calls to me.

If you haven't tried grilling peaches, you really should.   I wanted something sweet and dessert-like for after dinner Sunday night, that was still healthy, and when I remembered the jar of raw, unfiltered honey we recently bought at a farmer's market, I thought it would taste pretty great on fresh peaches.  Instead of slicing them and baking them, though, we just cut them in half, grilled them for about 10 minutes, then while they were warm, drizzled them with the molasses-like honey and topped them with toasted pecans.  Delicious! 



Grilled Peaches with Honey and Toasted Pecans
  • 2 ripe peaches, sliced in half and pits removed
  • 4 tablespoons honey
  • 1/4 cup pecans, toasted
  • sprinkle of nutmeg and/or cinnamon
Grill the peaches, cut side down, for about 10 minutes, until you have some grill marks and peaches are slightly cooked.  
To toast the pecans, spread them on a baking sheet and toast them at 350 for 5-8 minutes, until they smell very nutty.

Set the peaches, cut side up, on a plate; drizzle each with a tablespoon of honey then sprinkle with the pecans.  Finish by sprinkling with cinnamon and/or nutmeg, if desired.


Crab Cakes with Good and Evil Tartar Sauce

I have some exciting news.  Paula Deen came to my house last night!!!

Okay...  not Paula herself, just her crab cake recipe.  Although I did make quite a few changes to the recipe.  (Shhhh, don't tell her!)


When I eat crab cakes, I always think of this restaurant in Indiana which served the most delicious crab cakes (seems unlikely, I know, since Indiana is not known for seafood).  But my sister and I would go there sometimes for a light lunch and share the crab cakes and a few drinks.  I don't know what they put in theirs, but I wish I knew their secret.  Maybe the crab cakes were just that good, but looking back, I think it was just having a relaxing lunch with my sister that made it memorable.


So when I went looking for a recipe, I decided to go to Paula, since I'm never disappointed in her recipes.  I was surprised, though, that her recipe didn't call for any butter!  I was prepared to cut it out anyway.

One of the changes I had to make was to the crab itself.  Paula can afford pounds of real lump crab meat;  my grocery budget only allows for "imitation crab-flavored fish protein product".  Sounds tasty, doesn't it!  But really, once it's combined with all the ingredients and browned on each side with a nice crispy, golden crust, the imitation crab tastes really good, so I don't think you have to spend a fortune to make crab cakes.  These were moist and very flavorful from the green onions and a little grated cheese, had a nice crunch from the diced celery and they held together well while cooking.


Last weekend, Jamie and I bought a jar of "Good and Evil" pickles at a farmer's market in Paonia, CO, and let me tell you, these pickles are addictive.  Slightly sweet pickles with spicy jalapeno slices make a great combination.  And did you know you can make your own tartar sauce with just mayonnaise, pickles and lemon juice?  We used our Good and Evil Pickles to give an extra kick to the tartar sauce with the jalapenos and it was so good--don't be shy, though.  I think ours could have stood to be a little spicier.

I just made a simple salad, if you want to call it that, to eat with our crab cakes.  Some fresh greens and sliced tomatoes, drizzled with a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and sprinkled with freshly cracked salt and pepper paired really nicely with the crab cakes.  (We also made some delicious grilled peaches, drizzled with honey and toasted pecans...  more on that in another post, though...)



Crab Cakes with Good and Evil Tartar Sauce
Makes 8-10 crab cakes
  • 1 pound crabmeat, or imitation flake-style crab
  • 1 cup bread crumbs (I used half fresh, soft crumbs and half dried)
  • 2 green onions, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons diced aged proscuitto (optional)
  • 1/3 cup grated cheese
  • 1/4 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon ground mustard
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • dash cayenne pepper
  • flour, for dusting
  • vegetable oil, for cooking
 Good and Evil Tartar Sauce
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 2-3 tablespoons diced pickles and jalapenos (or sweet pickle relish)
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
 In a large bowl, mix together all the crab cake ingredients, except for the flour and oil.  Use your hands to incorporate everything well.  Form into patties (8-10 patties).  Sprinkle with flour.

In a large, flat-bottomed pan, heat 1/2 inch oil over medium high heat.  Sprinkle a few drops of water in the hot oil; when it sizzles, it's ready.  Working in batches, cook the crab cakes for 4-5 minutes on one side until crispy and golden brown, then turn over and cook for another 4-5 minutes.  Drain on a paper towel.  Serve with Good and Evil Tartar Sauce.

For the tartar sauce, whisk all ingredients together in a small bowl until well combined.  Make as spicy as you'd like!


Cauliflower and Artichoke Greek Salad

This salad is the last dish from my book club menu.  It's a little similar to the Mediterranean Vegetable Platter I've mentioned a few times, but there are enough differences to warrant a new recipe.  I really love all the flavors in this salad, and the drizzle of balsamic vinegar gives it a sweet and tangy kick that keeps you going back for more.  Which is not a bad thing since it's a perfectly good-for-you dish.  I think you can never have too many salad options for summer!



Cauliflower and Artichoke Greek Salad

  • 2 cups cauliflower, chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 can artichoke hearts, drained and sliced in half lengthwise
  • 1/2 cup sliced olives (Greek or Kalamata)
  • 4 tablespoons thinly sliced red onion
  • cucumber or zucchini, sliced
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 3 fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  • 1/4 cup roasted, marinated red peppers (optional--I used a few that came in a jar of Greek olives I had)
  • a few banana peppers (optional)
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup feta cheese crumbles
In a large bowl, combine everything except the balsamic vinegar and feta cheese.  Adjust seasoning if needed.  Cover and let marinate in the fridge for about an hour before serving.  Right before serving, drizzle with the balsamic vinegar and top with the feta cheese.  (Since the balsamic vinegar is such a dark color, adding it earlier will stain all the vegetables and you'll have a brown salad.)

Strawberry Lemonade

In this summer heat, there are few things more refreshing than cold and icy, lightly sweetened, freshly squeezed lemonade.  And what could be better than lemonade with fresh strawberries?  For the book club dinner last week, I made a pitcher of Strawberry Lemonade.  It went so fast that I forgot to take a picture until we'd already drunk half of it!  



Strawberry Lemonade
  • 6 cups crushed ice
  • 10 lemons (squeeze the juice from 8 of the lemons and thinly slice the other 2 lemons)
  • 1 cup sliced strawberries
  • 1/2 cup sugar
In a glass pitcher, combine the ice, lemon juice, lemon slices, strawberries and sugar.  Fill with cold water and stir until sugar is dissolved. 

Eggs en Cocotte

Eggs en Cocotte is a method of cooking eggs that in French is called "Oeufs en Cocotte".  It simply means baked eggs, eggs that are baked whole in a ramekin with a knob of butter and a dab of cream, sometimes with herbs, grated cheese and chopped vegetables, and served with toast.  It's a little bit of an indulgence, but it's a breakfast dish I've been wanting to make for a while; today was the perfect morning for brunch since I had a stack of magazines waiting to be read after sleeping in a little.

With the rich ingredients, I kept the portions small so that it was not overly heavy; you can also substitute Greek yogurt or low-fat milk for the cream.  Caramelized onions and mushrooms also add another element of flavor, along with the extra sharp white cheddar cheese and a sprinkling of dry aged prosciutto.


Eggs en Cocotte (for two)
  • 1 tablespoon, plus 1 teaspoon butter
  • 3 medium-sized mushrooms, such as cremini, diced
  • 1/4 cup diced onion
  • pinch ground thyme
  • 1/4 cup grated cheese
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons cream or Greek yogurt
  • 4 tablespoons diced prosciutto
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsely
  • salt and pepper
 Bring a kettle of water to a boil and preheat the oven to 375 F.  In a medium skillet, melt 1 tablespoon of butter over medium heat.  Add the mushrooms, onions and thyme.  Season with salt and pepper.  Saute until soft and nicely browned.

Take the remaining 1 teaspoon of butter and grease the inside of two individual ramekins.  Sprinkle the grated cheese in the buttered ramekins, pressing against the bottom and sides.  Divide the onions and mushrooms between the two ramekins.  Carefully crack the eggs into the ramekins, without breaking the yolks, two per ramekin.  Top the eggs with the cream, milk or yogurt.

Set ramekins inside a baking dish; pour the boiling water into the dish (not into the ramekins) so that the water comes halfway up the sides of the ramekins.  Bake at 375 F for 20 minutes, or until the yolks are set.

While the eggs are baking, saute the prosciutto (no extra butter or oil needed) until browned and crispy; set aside to drain on a paper towel.

Carefully remove the baking dish from the oven; lift the ramekins from the water bath and wipe the bottoms dry.  Set on a plate; top eggs with prosciutto, parsley, and freshly cracked salt and pepper.  Serve with toast.



Chicken Salad Lettuce Wraps


Next up from my book club menu...  Chicken Salad Lettuce Wraps.  I've made these lettuce wraps a lot over the past year, tweaking the recipe here and there, trying to make it better every time, and I'm pretty sure this is it.  I know everyone has their own idea of what makes a perfect chicken salad, and this is mine:  juicy chicken that's shredded instead of diced, the crunch of celery, the sweetness of a little fruit, and just enough dressing to make it moist and flavorful but not too heavy.  I used to add sliced grapes and toasted pecans to the salad as well, which you can certainly do, but I prefer this simpler version better.

I do add a little mayo to mine, but not much, so this is a very light and healthy salad;  you could of course leave the mayo out and just use all yogurt instead.  When I'm in a hurry, I'll use a pre-cooked roast chicken from the grocery store, but it's really so much better if you cook your own chicken so that you can control the seasoning.
Using some beautiful Bibb lettuce to wrap up your chicken salad not only makes a dramatic presentation, but lightens up the recipe even further instead of using tortillas or bread, and makes a wonderfully light summer dinner.



Chicken Salad Lettuce Wraps
  • 3 chicken breasts, cooked and shredded
  • 1 stalk celery, diced
  • 2 tablespoons diced red onion
  • 1/2 cup dried berries (I used an "antioxidant blend" of dried cherries, blueberries, cranberries and plums)
  • juice and zest of 1 lemon
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 can mandarin oranges, drained
  • 2 tablespoons whole grain mustard
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup nonfat Greek yogurt
  • 2 heads of Bibb lettuce
Cook the chicken.  Butterfly each breast; season with salt, pepper and paprika.  Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat and cook the chicken on each side until the outside is browned and the chicken is cooked through.  Shred with two forks while the chicken is warm, then let it cool in the refrigerator for an hour, or overnight.

In a large bowl, toss together the chicken, celery, onion, dried berries, lemon juice and lemon zest, salt and pepper.

In a small separate bowl, whisk together the mustard, mayo and yogurt until smooth.  Add to the chicken mixture and toss until coated;  just add enough of the dressing to your own liking--I only used about 2/3 of the dressing.  Taste and adjust the seasoning if needed.  Lastly, stir in the mandarin oranges.

Tear off the outer leaves of the Bibb lettuce to use for the wraps;  the inner leaves are smaller, so you can reserve those for another use. Rinse the lettuce leaves and pat dry with a paper towel.  To serve, spoon the salad into the lettuce leaves and wrap up like a taco.


Mini Berries 'n' Cream Tarts (no bake)

These are just too darn cute.  These tiny little two-bite desserts are so pretty and scrumptious, so easy to make and light in your stomach on a hot summer night.  Aren't they beautiful?


I'm starting with dessert first from last night's book club menu because I just can't wait to share this recipe!  Last year, I tried to find pre-baked phyllo pastry shells.  I swear I looked in the freezer section in every grocery store around and they didn't carry them; all I found were the sheets of phyllo pastry, which I find very difficult to work with.  And then last weekend when I bought puff pastry at Target, right under my nose I saw the elusive phyllo shells!  I bought two boxes and knew I had to make something with them immediately.


My brother gave me this handy little decorating tool for my birthday, and I was so excited to get to use it (until now, I've piped filling using a zip-lock bag with the corner snipped off--which works okay, but isn't very pretty.)  Of course, with the berries on top, no one can see how nicely you piped the filling in, but I like knowing it's pretty underneath.  :)


These are so tiny that you'll probably need to make about 4 per person.  Don't even try to eat just one.  You won't be able to.

I went very simple with the filling (just 6 ingredients for this whole recipe), so I'd love to hear how you make this recipe your own with other sweet or savory fillings and toppings.  I'm already thinking of some sweet crab and green onion appetizers...

Make these tarts this weekend.  Eat them.  Fall in love with them.




Mini Berries 'n' Cream Tarts
  • 30 mini pre-baked phyllo shells
  • 1/3 package lowfat cream cheese (1/3 cup), softened
  • 2 tablespoons lemon curd
  • 2 tablespoons powdered sugar, plus extra for dusting
  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
  • fresh assorted berries
Thaw the phyllo shells, about 30 minutes.  Using an electric hand mixer, beat the cream cheese, lemon curd and powdered sugar until smooth, about 2 minutes.  Add the whipping cream and beat for 2-3 more minutes, until soft peaks form.

Pipe about one tablespoon of filling into each shell; top with berries and sprinkle with powdered sugar.  Chill for an hour before serving to firm the filling up a little.


You might also like to try my recipe for Lemon Curd...

Girly Treats for Book Club Dinner

A few months ago, some friends and I started a book club, and last night was our third meeting which I hosted this time.  We're an informal group of book clubbers, usually chatting more about what's going on in our lives than the book;  book club is really just an excuse to get together for some girly talk, wine and a relaxing dinner!  But I love the books, too, and it motivates me to read, something I used to do a lot of, but don't make as much time for in the past few years.  

This month we read "Not My Daughter", by Barbara Delinsky.  She's one of my favorite authors, and there's always a character or a story line that I can completely relate to.  This book is no different; even though I'm not a mom, I appreciate the insight into family life, difficult choices and that there is no perfect answer on how to be a good parent.  To my pregnant, soon to be mom friends from the book club, and to my sister, who is a month away from having her third beautiful daughter, you're going to be awesome!  :)


Since it was my first time to host, I wanted to make a fun meal that tied to the book in a way, but found that challenging since this book didn't have any strong "food themes" other than a Thanksgiving meal, so seeing how it's July and 90 degrees out, I needed a different plan.  (The first book we read in April or May was "The Help", and we happily ate fried chicken, biscuits and chocolate pie--if you've read the book, you'll know the joke about the pie...).  

In "Not My Daughter", the ladies own a business that creates colors for the yarn that they dye and sell;  the main character, Susan, is also described as having a "fuchsia heart", what her mother blames for Susan's life choices.  Heart-shaped cookies would have been too obvious...  so with the theme of color throughout the book, I made a really colorful and fresh summer dinner.  And also--it's light and healthy!  :)

I'll post the recipes over the next few days, so until then, a little sneak peek at what we ate... 
Chicken Salad with Mandarin Oranges Lettuce Wraps

Cauliflower and Artichoke Greek Salad

Mini no-bake Berries 'n' Cream Tarts

Strawberry Lemonade

Succumbing to Chocolate Temptation with Chocolate Pillows...


I've been experimenting a little lately with puff pastry.  And I was craving chocolate... Maybe because I was feeling better after being sick.  Or maybe because it was my birthday.  Or maybe just because you really don't need any excuse at all to eat chocolate!


I used both crumbled brownies and mini semi-sweet chocolate chips in these pillowy treats, and the brownies gave the filling a really nice fudginess.  You can play around with it a little, change the ratio of brownies to chocolate for a thicker filling or a more melty filling.  Or use white chocolate, dark, milk or bittersweet.  I'm kind of wishing I'd made one with a mini Reese's Peanut Butter Cup inside, because I suspect it would have been amazing.

If you want to get really fancy, make a chocolate sauce or a raspberry sauce to serve on the side with some shavings of chocolate or fresh berries.  The presentation will make it look like you worked really hard, but no one has to know how easy it was!


Last night, I made eight of these from one sheet of puff pastry.  Jamie and I each had two, and when he finished his, he looked at me with a sweetly hopeful, powdered sugar smile and said, "More?"  Turns out, eight of these only makes two servings.  :)  Good thing we started with a healthy dinner!



Double Chocolate Puff Pastry Pillows
  • 1 sheet puff pastry, thawed
  • 1 cup brownies, crumbled
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips
  • 1 egg
  • powdered sugar
Preheat the oven to 400 F and spray a baking sheet with non-stick spray.  Roll the puff pastry slightly thinner so that it measures 12x12 inches.  Cut into 16 equal squares (a dull pizza roller works well for this).

Toss together the brownie crumbs and chocolate chips in a bowl.  Scoop the mixture into a tablespoon, press lightly to pack into the spoon, then drop the mixture onto a square of pastry.  Repeat with 7 more squares so that you have 8 with filling and 8 without.  If you have leftover filling, just freeze it in a zip-lock bag for another batch.

Using a pastry brush, very lightly brush the edges of the dough with water.  Take one of the squares without filling, place on top of the filling and press the edges together to seal.  Place on the baking sheet and repeat with remaining squares of dough, leaving about 2 inches between each pillow on the baking sheet.

In a small bowl, lightly beat the egg with 1 teaspoon of water to make an egg wash.  Brush the egg wash over the tops of each pillow--no need to use all the egg wash, just use enough to glaze the dough so that it browns nicely in the oven.

Bake at 400 for 15 minutes, or until pillows are golden brown and puffy.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool slightly and sprinkle with powdered sugar.  Serve warm and enjoy.  No fork required!