COCKTAIL RECIPE: MOSCOW MULE (OPRAH'S FAVORITE DRINK)

Way back in like, 2008, I was driving in the car and had on Oprah Radio-- I heard Oprah raving about her favorite summer drink, the Moscow Mule. I was curious so I had to try it. I thought it was very refreshing and easy to drink. Best of all, they are easy to make. You'll need ginger beer, which you can find at most grocery stores these days or at an International market like World Market. And use fresh lime juice. Not the squeezy stuff.... You are supposed to serve a Moscow Mule in a copper mug and it may just be me but I do think they taste better in the copper. There are tons of places to buy these now- online and in the stores but hey- serve your Moscow Mules in a julep cup, a coffee cup, or a plastic cup---who cares?

THE MOSCOW MULE

INGREDIENTS

1 1/2 ounces vodka ( I prefer Tito's for this drink)

1 teaspoon simple syrup (make it with equal parts sugar and water- heat til sugar dissolves, cool)

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1/2 cup ginger beer

1 sprig fresh mint

slice of lime

ice

DIRECTIONS:

Pour vodka over ice. Add simple syrup and lime juice. Top with ginger beer. Garnish with mint and lime.

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RECIPE: DARK CHERRY CLAFOUTIS (Fluffy french dessert)

Clafoutis (pronounced kla fou TEE) is a rustic dessert, traditionally made with black cherries, eggs, milk, sugar, and flour. Clafoutis is French, but don't be intimidated. It's simple and rustic, but can be very elegant. I've made it for a dinner party and also when camping! The batter puffs up around the fruit and the edges get browned and a little crusty; it's delicious. It rises and puffs up as it bakes; much like a Dutch Baby, if you are familiar with that. The taste is a bit like a custard but it isn't as creamy. Clafoutis, served warm with a dusting of powdered sugar or a drizzle of heavy cream is one of my very favorite desserts... and once you taste it, you'll add it into your regular dessert rotation. Serve it in the skillet for an impressive presentation. If you don't have a cast iron skillet, you can also bake this dessert in a buttered baking dish but youneed to watch it carefully if you do because the timing may be different.

You can also make Clafoutis with different fruit. I like it with pears or apples, too.

Dark Cherry Clafoutis recipe

DARK CHERRY CLAFOUTIS

INGREDIENTS

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 tablespoon vanilla

6 eggs

6 tablespoons sugar

1 ¼ cup milk

Pinch salt

¾ cups of all-purpose flour

3 cups pitted cherries (don't get the canned cherries in heavy syrup. Use the 24.7 ozbottle of Dark Morello Cherries in light syrup, if you can find them. Drain them well. Or you can use fresh*)

Confectioners sugar (powdered sugar) for dusting

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Generously butter the bottom and sides of a large cast iron skillet or baking dish.

Combine vanilla, eggs, sugar, milk, and salt in a food processor or blender. Blend for a few seconds until combined and then add the flour and blend until smooth, about 1 minute. (if you don't have a blender, you can just whisk until well combined, the sugar is dissolved, and batter is smooth. Whip it really well.)

Pour the batter into the prepared skillet. Cover the top evenly with the well-drained cherries. Bake for about 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean and the top is golden brown. Don't be tempted to open the oven during baking or the Clafoutis may fall. Serve warm. Dust the top with powdered sugar or serve with a drizzle of heavy cream.

NOTE: When using fresh fruit, put the butter in the skillet and let it melt. Once it has, add about a pound of  fresh, pitted Bing cherries to the butter and let them cook to soften for about 3 minutes. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons granulated sugar and stir until the juice thickens into a syrup. Pour the batter over the fruit and bake as directed above.

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EASY ITALIAN NIGHT DINNER PARTY PLAN PLUS MY GO TO VINAIGRETTE RECIPE

YES. YOU CAN HAVE PEOPLE OVER FOR DINNER.

(And it will  be fast, easy & delicious!)

These days, we tend to meet up with friends at a favorite restaurant rather than go to the trouble of having them over. Most of us just don’t have the energy to do all of the running around and planning we think it takes to have people over, especially during the holidays when we are already sooooo busy. The reality is you don’t have to spend days in the kitchen preparing for a dinner party. Of course, you CAN go to a lot of trouble  if that makes you happy. But you absolutely do not have to. Trust me. Most people love having other people cook for them. Here's what I often do for an impromptu party to save time, save money, and so I can spend more time with my guests.

Don’t hesitate to make this into a party with an agenda. It is perfect for a school or fund-raising committee meeting, office team planning session, new hire welcome, small group or church group meeting, or a wonderful 'welcome to the neighborhood party' for new neighbors. It’s so easy you can even execute this party on a Friday night after working all day.

STEP BY STEP

  1. Set the date. Call, email, text, or send out a casual invitation or personal note to invite your guests.
  2. If you’re not inviting the children, be sure and mention that you are sending your own brood to your sister’s house for the evening.
  3. Clean the house the day before so all you have to do is a quick sweep before guests arrive. If you are decorating, go ahead and place candles, vases, etc. the day before, too.
  4. Make sure you have plenty of paper goods: toilet paper, paper towels, tissue, etc.
  5. Shop the day before so party day is easy.
  6. Make a playlist of old school favs: Sinatra, Dean Martin, and other Italian crooners.
  7. Make dessert ahead of time, too, so you just have to scoop or plate it.
  8. Chill any white wine you are serving two hours before guests arrive.
  9. Greet guests with a glass of something sparkling and small bite: crostini, a cheese board, olives, or breadsticks are all simple and delicious.

MENU: Make it easy on yourself. Skip a few steps by incorporating frozen lasagna. I'm a big fan of Stouffer's and they've recently launched their Kitchen Cupboard Commitment which means the ingredients you'll find in Stouffer's are like the ones you'd find in your own kitchen! I like that.

Add a quick salad with a fast homemade dressing  and you’ll pull this dinner party together in record time. When you grate a good quality (meaning real) Parmesan cheese over the top of your frozen lasagna and sprinkle it with fresh herbs at the end,  nobody will ever know (or care) that you didn’t make it from scratch. Add a loaf of warm garlic bread and a few bottles of wine and you've got an Italian night dinner that anyone will love. 

MAKE IT SPECIAL: If I am serving family style, I might remove the frozen lasagna from its pan and place it into one of my baking dishes so it looks nice on the table. Simply sit the frozen lasagna pan in an inch or so of hot water and it will come lose from the container. Lightly brush your oven proof dish with olive oil and place the frozen lasagna in it. After about 30 minutes of baking, I remove it from the oven and cut slits into the top of the lasagna. Pour a cup or so of red wine over the top. At the end of baking, I finish with some grated Parmesan cheese and fresh herbs, if I have them. Can you believe the photo below is frozen lasagna? I took that photo with my iPhone.

While buying a salad in a bag is fast, I rarely use them. It is just as easy to grab several kinds of lettuce along with a few other seasonal items, chop them with a large knife and toss into a large bowl. Make up your salad dressing and dress the salad just before serving.

Here's a quick vinaigrette recipe you will love. It will become your new 'go-to' dressing. Watch me make it LIVE during a recent Facebook LIVE stream I did with Stouffer's where we talked about entertaining tips and the Stouffer's brand history. Since 1024, they have believed (Like I do) that the meals you love most are made with love from quality ingredients and a great tasting meal can make any place feel like home. You know- those memories just take you back!

EASY VINAIGRETTE DRESSING

When making a homemade dressing, always use a 3-1 ratio of oil to acid. Yield: Makes 1 cup

 INGREDIENTS

1 small shallot, minced and rinsed

1/2 teaspoon lemon juice

1/4 cup white wine vinegar (Or Champagne vinegar or Sherry Vinegar)

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley and chives, minced

3/4 cup extra virgin Olive oil 

DIRECTIONS:

Mince the shallot. Rinse under cool water to remove the strong smell. Add to bowl. Add the lemon juice and vinegar and season with salt and pepper. Add the herbs and whisk together. Stream in the EVOO, whisking constantly to emulsify and combine. Check seasoning. Add a bit more salt, if desired.

Will keep in the fridge for 2 weeks.

Note: If you find yourself without a whisk, you may simply shake this dressing up in a Mason jar with a lid.

DESSERT can be as easy as vanilla gelato with Frangelico or chilled Limoncello poured over the top. I love to crumble Amaretti cookies over the top or add a piece of biscotti. My Lemon Ricotta Pound Cake is another easy option you can make ahead. If you make the crostini recipe,  you'll have enough homemade ricotta for this recipe, too.

OTHER RECIPES: CHARRED TOMATO CROSITNI and LEMON RICOTTA POUND CAKE

GREET your  guests with a glass of something. That can be as easy as glass of white wine or Prosecco (Italian sparkling wine) or an Aperol and Soda cocktail finished with a squeeze of an orange and garnished with an orange wheel. Set out a few small plates with olives, nuts, or cherries. Or make crostini, bruschetta, or a store-bought antipasti assortment.

PARTY TIP:  Enlist help of your early arriving guests to help you make the dressing, set the table, or finish the salad. They'll love pitching in to help rather than feel as if they've arrived too early and are in the way.

DECORATING: Don’t bother with decorating if you don't have a lot of time- just light some candles. If you do have time, get an assortment of small herbs associated with Italian cooking like rosemary, oregano, or basil. If they are live, wrap the container with burlap and tie with a small ribbon. If they are cut, put them in small Mason jars with a bit of water and line them up down the center of the table. You can find fresh herbs- both live and cut- at most grocery stores these days so you won't need an extra trip to the florist.

You're all set for Italian night-- just modify this plan to fit your next gathering. You'll spend more time making memories and a lot less time worrying about the details! xox


HERE'S THE DISCLAIMER:  I wrote this party plan in 2009 and have used it or have suggested it many times since then. I even told Food Network magazine this was one of my favorite easy party plans in a 2012 interview. In other words, this has been a go-to for me for many years. This past summer, I was invited to Solon, Ohio to visit the Stouffer's facility for the relaunch of Stouffer's lasagna. It is Mrs. Stouffer's original recipe: all natural, made from scratch; even the pasta and the tomato sauce are made from scratch. Since that visit, I've joined with Stouffer's to help them bring you easy recipes and fun ideas for get-togethers at home. I wanted to disclose that they pay me but even if they did not, I'd still recommend Stouffer's lasagna. I've been a fan for more than 30 years. For more info on Stouffer's products, visit Stouffers.com