Gather the Neighbors and Let’s Party!

We moved into a new home in December, during a very cold and snowy winter…. Let’s just say the neighbors were not likely to be out and about and the lots are much bigger, creating a physical distance as well. In our previous home, just across town, we could spend hours just talking over the fence with our neighbors. We hosted Oktoberfest parties, Bunko games and Christmas parties during the three years we lived there and the neighbors always showed up. Let’s be honest, we missed our fabulous neighbors a lot! It’s not that we didn’t try to meet anyone in our new house. I took trays of Christmas cookies around and introduced myself to those who lived nearest. We hosted a house warming party in January and three couples from the ‘hood’ joined the fun. But by summertime, I was feeling a bit lonely because we barely knew the names of four couples, and we hadn’t developed any sort of relationships. To top it off, we had just taken a river cruise in Provence where a group of 14 NEIGHBORS from Texas were on the ship. Yep, they are such good friends, and neighbors, they were willing to travel halfway across the globe together. The green monster showed up in my mind and heart, and I so desperately wanted to not just know my neighbors but be friends with them!

The decision? I will host a summertime block party and by golly, it will be fun! (Yes, I really can be that determined). Scheduling a date was challenging with the HOA President as our summer schedules seemed to be in perpetual conflict, but finally, August 24 was the day. We began advertising the event about a month out and after two weeks I was convinced there might be 4-6 of us total. A bust. A reminder was emailed one week in advance and we had 25 guests in all – a successful backyard party after all. And the weather was perfect. The food was awesome, a bit on the sweet side (probably 75% of the guests brought a dessert) but no one went home hungry, and everyone left with a smile.

We provided the burgers, dogs, beer, sodas & wine, baked beans and couple desserts, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to share a few recipes with you. (Let’s just say the hubby’s office enjoyed a lot of leftover treats come Monday).

Rhubarb Apple A La Crunch

1 cup flour
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup oatmeal
1/2 cup butter
1 tsp cinnamon
2 cups diced rhubarb
1 large apple, peeled and thinly sliced
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
1 cup water
2 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp vanilla

Mix together flour, oatmeal, brown sugar, butter and cinnamon until crumbly.

In a 9-inch square pan, pour one half of the crumb mixture, pat lightly with a fork. Spoon the diced rhubarb on top of the crumbs. Add the apple slices.

Combine sugar, water, cornstarch and vanilla. Cook over low heat until clear. Pour this over the rhubarb and apples. Top with remaining crumbles.

Bake in 350° oven for 1 hour. Serve warm. Top with whipped cream or ice cream, if desired.
*Recipe adapted from Best of Friends, Etc. Cookbook

Huckleberry Muffins

2 cups flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
3 egg whites
1 cup Greek plain yogurt
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup huckleberries

In a large mixing bowl, cream together sugar and butter; add egg whites, yogurt and vanilla. Mix well. Add dry ingredients. Mix thoroughly until moistened. Carefully fold in the huckleberries.

Spoon batter into a greased muffin tin or muffin liners. Bake at 400° for 15-20 minutes. Yield: 12 muffins
*Recipe adapted from Best of Friends, Too! Cookbook

Wild Huckleberry Breakfast Cake

9-10 inch springform baking pan
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1 Tbls freshly grated lemon peel
1 large egg
1 1/2 cups flour
2 Tbls poppy seeds
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup sour cream

2 cups fresh huckleberries
1/3 cup sugar
2 tsp flour
1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 Tbls freshly squeezed lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350°. In a mixing bowl, cream together sugar and butter until fluffy. Add the lemon peel and egg, beating an additional 2 minutes at medium speed. In a medium bowl, combine 1 1/2 cups flour, poppy seeds and baking soda; add to the butter mixture alternately with the sour cream. Spoon and spread batter over bottom, and 1 inch up the sides of a greased and floured springform pan.

In another bowl, mix together the berries, 1/3 cup sugar, 2 tsp flour and nutmeg. Spoon evenly over the batter.

Bake 45-50 minutes at 350°, crust will be golden brown. Remove from oven, cool to warm, remove the sides of pan and glaze with the powdered sugar and lemon juice.
*Recipe taken from Best of Friends, Too! Cookbook

Sassy Baked Beans

2 cans white or pinto beans, drained
2 cans red kidney beans, drained
1 cup diced sweet onion
1 cup diced yellow bell pepper
1/4 cup corn syrup
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp celery seed
1/2 tsp fresh basil, diced
1/2- 3/4 cup honey BBQ sauce
1/4 cup water
1 Tbls fried bacon, chopped
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp chili powder
1 Tbls Worcestershire
1/4 cup hot mustard
Sliced (or chopped) bacon

Mix all ingredients except bacon slices in a large crockpot and marinate in refrigerator at least 4 hours or overnight. Top casserole with bacon slices and cook on HIGH for 4 hours. Alternatively, mix in a large oven proof dish and bake uncovered at 375° for 45 minutes.

I moved my crockpot insert into the oven for about 30 at 400° to get a more browned top before serving, but depending on your appliance, that may not be necessary.
*Recipe adapted from Best of the Best from Virginia Cookbook II

So, how does the story end?
The gray cloud has lifted, neighbors are waving at one another, and chatting on the street or trail. Sometimes all it takes to create community is to be willing to open your home and welcome them in. I’m so glad we did…

Blessings,
Tina

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A Raclette Dinner Party

We thoroughly enjoy hosting a “gathering” of friends and co-workers for a party. The only problem is getting around to visit with everyone in attendance. It doesn’t seem to matter if there are 20 or 50. With good intentions, almost everyone is personally greeted at the door but if you’re lucky, you may get a chance to say a quick goodbye. Lots of activities and conversations steal your attention throughout the evening and make it challenging to fairly make the rounds. So, this time around, we decided to invite 3 couples for an intimate dinner party of 6. It didn’t take long to decide the menu – Raclette.

What is raclette? It’s a fondue-type Swiss and French meal made with potatoes and melted cheese, but without a pot of melted cheese and long sticks. First, make sure you have a raclette grill. Mine is a square Hamilton Beach grill with 8 cheese trays, but it is best used with only 6 guests. Therefore, if you really want to serve 4 couples, I would recommend Amazon’s Choice SwissMar grill as the grill surface is larger and the rectangular shape would make it easier for guests 7 & 8 to reach.

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It’s a Lunch Date

For more than a year now, I have been blessed by a visit from my parents every couple of weeks. After living thousands of miles away for nearly 25 years, this is a pretty big deal. I returned to Montana 5 years ago – which is very hard to believe. Time marches on at an unbelievable pace! I have now lived in Montana (post college) for more years than anywhere else while we served on active duty. Obviously it has always been “home,” but I honestly have no desire to live anywhere else despite of the beauty and grandeur we have been fortunate to experience.

Sloppy Joes with Pickled Beet & Goat Cheese Salad

Back on topic – my parents come to town regularly for appointments, and for most every visit, we are able to have lunch. I don’t take these visits for granted because honestly, there were too many years when we didn’t have any face to face, intimate conversations. We enjoy great conversations at thoughtfully chosen locations, and are rarely limited by the clock unlike most lunch dates. It is especially meaningful to me because my dad has always been a workaholic (he’s a farmer, after all) and seems to only relax when he’s away from home. The 140 miles is exactly what he needs to relieve some of his stress. We rarely visit the same restaurant twice and if we do, it is months apart. I don’t typically fix the lunches for them for several reasons; Bozeman has a phenomenal restaurant scene and it’s fun to check out all the great places, my dad is allergic to dogs and we have two – sometimes three when the grandpup is here, and while I love to cook, it’s always nice when I can be served too. A weekday lunch is a good excuse to do something different. This week, we continued to switch things up and I fixed a simple and tasty lunch: Sloppy Joes with a side salad & Peach Pie. But it wasn’t a manwich style Sloppy Joe, nor an ordinary salad or pie. Check them out – you won’t be disappointed! Note: Don’t skip over the Baked Beans, they come first for a reason.

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A Summer’s Day in Montana

What is it about summer that is sooo busy? I am in awe my “summer” is half over and it feels like it just started. Yes, half over, since spring semester ended the first week of May and I’m back to school the 26th of August. We can’t argue the truth on July 1. I was expressing to my husband just last night my frustration I have so many in-house projects I wanted to do this summer, but all I want to do is be outside and soak up this gorgeous weather. If you don’t happen to live in Montana, every season brings its own beauty and grandeur. I love spring for its warming days and the change of new life and green pastures, planting flowers, the promise of so much beauty. I enjoy autumn for its vibrant colors and cooling days, the rush of being back in school and harvest season. Winter is gorgeous with the snow covered mountains, and includes my favorite season of Christmas and time with family. And then there is summer — lazing in the sunshine at Flathead Lake, the smell of fresh cut grass, clean crisp rains on a summer’s night, and all the ways we can enjoy the warm days whether floating the river, hiking the trails, or just enjoying the patio in the evening with a roaring fire and s’mores.

patio at night
A summer’s night on the patio
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Le Cordon Bleu Tops the Chart!

What was my favorite part of our trip to Provence, France and Geneva, Switzerland? Hands down, cooking school! Within the first week, we spent 2 1/2 days in Paris, primarily eating very well, doing the tourist thing and revisiting sights we have seen a half a dozen times during our seven years living in Europe. It simply felt good (and comfortable) being back on the continent as we remembered what we most enjoyed during our travels. Before heading south to Lyon for the Rhone River cruise, we spent the morning at Le Cordon Bleu Paris making chocolate macaroons.

The class began by selecting from the 12 cooking stations and getting dressed in our aprons and hats. Chef Eric Verger demonstrated the mixing and baking process, to include using a pastry bag to press the cookie dough into perfectly round half dollars. The most important instruction was to not overmix the dough or the cookies will crack during baking. I took copious notes during the demonstration, intending to get this right the first time.

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Rainy Day Comfort

It has been raining for 3 days straight and there doesn’t seem to be reprieve in the near future. What is it about dreary, cold weather that tends to inspire a bit of comfort food? Pasta almost always fits the bill, and is a good compliment to most any protein – chicken, beef, veal, or pork. While I hope to complete a post very soon for homemade pasta, there’s nothing wrong with simplifying your menu with a store bought fresh pasta. For this recipe, I decided on a spinach and ricotta ravioli from Giovanni Rana along with their marinara sauce to pair with chicken tenderloins.

Baked Chicken & Ravs

Baked Chicken & Ravioli

Serves 3-4

3/4 lb. chicken tenderloins
1-2 tsp. Alpine Touch seasoning
1/2 tsp. pepper
1-2 tsp. Divine Inspired seasoning

10-oz. package Giovanni Rana Spinach & Ricotta Ravioli
15-oz. container Giovanni Rana Marinara Sauce

3 tbls. cream cheese, cubed
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 tsp. dried parsley

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