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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Butter Pecan “Caramel” Rolls

Over 28 years ago, I became “Best of Friends” with a cookbook. It was a wedding shower gift from my mother-in-law and is the single cookbook I gravitate toward first, especially when planning a holiday or family gathering. I have discovered so many favorites between the two covers, recently they had to be laminated and re-bound. Countless pages are stained from nuggets of goodness being dribbled or splattered upon them. The good news is there are two additional editions from Darlene Glantz Skees; Best of Friends, Too! and Best of Friends, Festive Occasions. Unfortunately, all editions went out of print following Darlene’s death in 1998. A few copies can be found online using the second hand market. I know this because several times I have considered buying spare copies, concerned my books will become un-usable and then, what? I said they were my favorites!

I want to share Darlene’s absolute best recipe for “caramel” or butter pecan cinnamon rolls! It is a recipe I have perfected over the years, often keeping a dozen rolls in the freezer, specifically for guests or to share as a hostess treat when we travel to the homes of friends & family.

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