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Victorian Tea – Tour of Tables

As I mentioned in my last post, our church has a Victorian Tea each spring. I was on the kitchen staff which meant I had the chance early Saturday morning to see all of the beautiful tables that had been set up by the hostesses the prior evening. I decided to take pictures. Some of them are missing centerpieces that probably arrived later in the day while I was busy with food, but they were still beautiful. I’d love to hear which ones were your favorites if you care to comment!
We’ll start with the first table I photographed, which was also probably my favorite. I love the colors and theme. The tea pot is an Appaloosa horse, which is named for the area where we currently live – The Palouse.

Here’s the table that was set by Shelley who did a marvelous job of coordinating the whole event. I love the colors and the fun bottles of old-fashioned soda she set out for her ladies.

Here you see beautiful soothing colors from our very-gifted Children’s Ministry coordinator.

Fun bright colors from one of our most dedicated youth workers who just had a precious new baby.

I love the feminine feel and colors of this classy table.

This one had gorgeous china and napkin rings with a cute tea-cozy from The Empress Hotel in Victoria, BC if I’m not missing my guess?

What fun colors with the classic vintage glassware on this beauty.

Serene colors and a very dignified arrangement for this lovely table. Photography falls a little short on this one.

I’m a sucker for blue and yellow, so this was one of my favorite tables. I loved the lemon drops and little packages. (I would like to know what was in them but I resisted the urge to sneak a peak in the empty room on Saturday morning.)

More fun and festive colors from a very fun hostess. I wanted to sneak some of those malted eggs too. Good thing she had them tied up in such cute bundles.

Here we have one decorated by our middle-school girls with the help of my delightful neighbor. It had a gummy theme, with gummy worms and bears. Adorable!!

The high school girls, with the help of our youth pastor’s wife, decorated their entire table with duct tape. The flowers for the centerpiece were even made of duct tape. It was really cool and I’m sure that the girls at the table have a cooler word than “cool” to describe their work.

By contrast, this one was so classy with its formal setting and lovely gold utensils and chargers.

This table was almost as striking as the beautiful hostess. Her husband helped her set it and the red was gorgeous.

Here’s another fun one that really fit the vivacious personality of the hostess.

This setting was by our pastor’s sweet wife. I love that her daughter’s places were set with extra special care.

Here we have one that was simply gorgeous and so well appointed.

This table was by our International Pastor’s wife. She is the nicest lady you could ever meet. Her centerpiece was pictured at the top of this post. Check out the dishes and tea pot.

Another one of my neighbors set this one. (I live on a very talented block.) I love Fiesta ware and the colors on this pretty table were so vibrant! I couldn’t resist taking an extra picture of the place set for her daughter.

The last table I photographed had one of my favorite centerpieces. I like the combination of deep colors and spring flowers – very fitting for the spring we’re having on The Palouse.

Thanks to Shelley and all of the hostesses for such an extravaganza of eye candy!
If you’d like a behind the scene’s look in the kitchen, go to my prior post.

Victorian Tea – View into the Kitchen

Our church has a Ladies Victorian Tea every spring and for the last two years I’ve gotten to work in the kitchen for the event. It makes me feel like a member of an elite team. I’ve dubbed it the dream team because these ladies are so good that it’s a dream to work with them. Sandy moves so fast, she couldn’t even freeze for a photo.

Susie and Sandy are the ones who do all the planning and they are geniuses when it comes to large scale production with pretty presentation. Sandy handles most of the sweet treats and Susie is the sandwich and salad queen. Diane and I do what we’re told, as efficiently as possible. A lot has to happen at the end of two days of hard core prep work.

There were 160 ladies this year seated at twenty tables, so everything had to be done 160 times and divided into groups of eight to be placed on trays for the twenty servers. To complicate things further, some things need to stay cold until the very end and the kitchen barely holds 20 trays set out at once, let alone the one’s were trying to load for the next course. Garnishing has to be done at lightening speed! It’s fun.

This is the list of courses:

Day one of preparation looks something like this hodgepodge. Thankfully, we had some extra help that morning.

On Saturday morning it all starts to come together.

Sandy handles the scones which go out as the first course.

Then the parade of tea sandwiches begins.
The cucumber sandwiches were very cute. The dill and pimentos on top make it pretty and force us to hustle at the end! Here’s Susie holding out the first prototype.

Then, she repeated the procedure 160 times.

Egg salad is spread on egg-shaped bread with a little “yolk” window cut in the top. Diane and Ruth cut all of those tops and bottoms…and cut all of those cute little holes. I made the filling and we all worked fast to poke little parsley sprigs in at the last minute.

The turkey avocado sandwiches don’t require cookie cutters so they assemble a little bit more efficiently, but they are garnished with – get this, blanched chives tied into a cute little knot – a sandwich bow tie atop a tomato. Picture me and Diane tying knots in 160 little sprigs of blanched chives. They were adorable…once we were done.

Next up is pasta. Susie handled this one and it gives us a breather during the rush. Easy to put on trays and no garnishes at the end, but delicious!

Kebabs were the very pretty fruit of Sandy’s labor with a sweet creamy dip.

Once the fruit is out, the dessert round begins.

The lemon cupcakes were wonderful – another one of Sandy’s masterpieces.

These little Bavarian cream tarts were Susie’s idea and they came with pre-baked shells, which was great. I got to pipe in the filling and put the raspberries on these little guys.

Last, but certainly not least…brownie bites. Oh, how I wish you could taste the raspberry cream frosting on the top of these guys. I LOVE chocolate and raspberry! Thankfully we had a few extras to “check for quality” in the morning.

Of course, it takes a lot of tea for a Tea. This was about a third of the final pile. We brewed 12 batches in large pots.

In my next post I’ll show you the GORGEOUS tables!

Pulled Pork and Beans Throw Down!

This week we had pulled pork and baked beans from Bobby Flay’s Throwdown! cook book.

The boys and I really like to watch this show on Food Network as a Wednesday night wind down so they bought me the book for Christmas. I like that Bobby Flay has proven to be an excellent model of sportsmanship. He is obviously a very competitive man, but win-or-lose, he is always very gracious – a great example for certain young men that I know and love.

I won’t write the recipes here, since they are directly taken from the book shown above, but the bean recipe is on the internet (here) as well as a different version of the pulled pork recipe that you can find here, but the version in the book is much easier for home cooks to follow.

In general, pork and I do not get along in the kitchen. I am terrible at pork chops. The NHL could use them. However, I’m married to a Georgia boy who grew up eating pork in all forms, including pulled pork sandwiches from a local dive called Piggy Park – only in the South. Anyway, trying pulled pork the first time was daunting given my record but I have mastered it. It turns out, that with eight or nine hours of perseverance, even pork will give up and get tender so that is how I wage this particular culinary war. Maybe someday I’ll revisit the chop.

The process for pulled pork, according the recipe I was using on this occasion, starts the night before with the mixing just about every ingredient in your spice cabinet into a rub for the pork. It smells great!

Then the pork shoulders spend the night in rub.

In the morning they come out of the fridge looking like this.  Good morning, pork.

For the first four hours they are exposed to the air in a 250 degree oven with apple juice in the bottom of the pan. I used a turkey baster to periodically drizzle them with apple juice so they wouldn’t dry out.

After four hours, they come out of the oven looking like this and ready for the next step.

The next few hours are spent wrapped in foil with apple juice – a new take on pigs in blankets.  I guess you could call this pigs in wet blankets.

It stays in the foil until its internal temperature reaches 190 which is well above the point at which my meat thermometer begins telling me that pork is done. I have to turn off the alarm or it would wear itself out.

When the time comes, let the meat rest and cool for a few minutes before pulling it between two forks to achieve the shredded texture pulled pork is known for.

I used the BBQ sauce from the baked bean recipe to pour over the meat, but you can use any sauce that suits you. I fell down on the blogging job when we started eating and forgot to take a picture of the finished sandwich. Sorry.

On to the beans…

Here’s what goes into the pot when you’re adjusting to feed twenty-five.

This recipe has you making a custom barbeque sauce, browning bacon, and sautéing onions to start.

Then you open beans, and open beans, and open beans…

This is when I wish I had a ZANS! (You can be the comment queen of the day if you know what I’m talking about.)

Again, I forgot to take a picture of the finished beans, but they were good, and the leftovers made great quesadillas. I’ll blame my failure to photograph on these guys arriving.

At least I finally remembered to take a new picture of them. They’re a great group! A few are missing so we’ll do this again if I can hold the thought.

Here was their dessert.

Lemon Cake (from a box) with lemon cream cheese frosting. Yum.

Strawberry Pretzel Dessert

The theme last Tuesday was layers. Layers of white lasagna, then layers of dessert – seven 9×13 pans worth.

Here’ s the recipe for one pan.

Crust Layer
2 cups of crushed pretzels 
1 TBSP Sugar
3/4 cup butter – melted
White Layer
1- 8 oz pkg. Cream Cheese softened
1 cup sugar
8 oz cool whip topping
Red Layer
6 oz box Strawberry Jell-O
1 cup boiling water
1 cup very cold water
2 cups frozen strawberries

I like to use the food processor for crushing the pretzels. but you can smash them any way that suits your mood. For reference, the entire bag of pretzel sticks gave me 5 cups crushed. (I was tripling the recipe so I had to scrounge in the snack cabinet for a few extras.)

Once they’re crushed stir in the sugar and melted butter.

By the blogging way, I would like you all to know that I have just learned to spell “pretzel”. Apparently it is not spelled “pretzle”. Thanks to Microsoft Word for its contribution to my education.

Press the p-r-e-t-z-e-l mixture into the pan. Bake for about 10 minutes in a 350-400 degree oven then let it cool.

The middle layer involves Darth Mixer. Mix the cream cheese and sugar until it’s nice and smooth, then add the Cool Whip and mix with a little less vigor. You need to scrape the sides with the spatula because Cool Whip doesn’t have quite enough oomph to pull the heavy cream cheese completely away from the sides.

Spread this layer over the crust. It should be pretty firm so it doesn’t need long to set before you can proceed, but for good measure, store it in the fridge while you’re working on the Jell-O layer.

This recipe calls for only half the water in the Jell-O box instructions so that you get a nice firm layer. Bring one cup of water to a boil then whisk in the powder until it’s dissolved. Remove from the heat, drop in the remaining cup of liquid, which includes ice. Stir vigorously until all of the ice melts then add the strawberries.

Store the finished dessert in the refrigerator, and give it a couple of hours to firm up before you try to cut and serve.

Yikes, don’t let it fall off the edge though!

The Great Spring Pumpkin Fest

It is April.

I absolutely should not have been baking pumpkin bread.

But, it was raining and/or snowing for most of the day yesterday and I had a can of pumpkin in the cabinet that I didn’t want to unpack in New York. So, I figured, if life was going to give me pumpkin weather, I might as well make pumpkin bread.

Conveniently, we had a few extra kids in our homeschool for the morning to help eat this novel spring snack.

They were excited when I turned the loaves onto the breadboard.

It took them about five minutes to reduce both loaves to this:

Within fifteen minutes, the evidence of October food in April was virtually obliterated.

I got one slice.

It was delicious and I would share more but I cannot post a pumpkin recipe at this time of year. Some things just should not be done.

(originally posted 4/12/2011)

White Lasagna

I started making this recipe in Kansas about seven years ago. It’s kind of a pain to prepare, but it is high on the favorites list for almost everyone who has ever eaten at our house. Even my children have come around. At first they were offended by the presence of spinach, and red bell peppers and artichoke parts, but even our toughest critic, Si, has begun to turn in clean plates.

It was back by popular demand last Tuesday night for the college students, and happened to coincide with a happy surprise visit from my cousin Corinn and her two amazing kiddos. That’s about 25 people who eat hearty portions, so the regular recipe had to be quadrupled. (Keep that in mind as you look at the photos.)

Here’s the recipe for one 9×13 pan full of this creamy goodness.

Sauce Layer
1 jar of Alfredo sauce 
1/3 cup of milk
Noodle Layer
Lasagna Noodles – You’ll need about 8
Spinach Layer
Fresh baby spinach – one small bag from the grocery with stems pulled off
Chicken and Veggies Layer
3 cups chopped cooked chicken – I love rotisserie chicken for this
1 can of artichoke hearts – preferably not in oil marinade 
1 or 2 chopped and seeded Roma tomatoes
½ -1 cup finely chopped onion – any kind will do or as I did on this occasion, use a mixture
1 TBSP minced garlic
½ of a red bell pepper finely chopped (optional)
Cheese Layer
12 oz Mozzarella
6 oz crumbled Feta

The first step is to start chopping. No particular order.

Here’s what you have to do when you go to the grocery store late in the evening and the rotisserie chicken case is empty. The house sure smelled good while I was roasting my own though!

I can’t stand chicken gunk under my nails, thus the gloves.

On to the artichokes…

Next up: the tomatoes. They need to be seeded so that they don’t spew their juice into the mixture. And then they need to be chopped.

Scrape seeds out with a knife after cutting them into halves.

Rinse that cutting board one more time and go for the onions.

Those are shallots and green onions by the way. No “real” onions in these pictures.

Now, doesn’t that look nice!

Pull the stems off of the spinach leaves so that you don’t have spinach floss going on at your dinner gathering.

Mix the Alfredo sauce with the milk. I usually pour the sauce out into a bowl and put the milk into the empty jar, reseal it, and shake it to get the last of the Alfredo out of the jar. This is the first step in the process of prepping for the recycle bin.

Now it’s time to start layering. Start by spreading a thin layer of sauce in the bottom of the pan and laying down the first layer of pasta.

Noodle Note: I used “no-boil” pasta straight out of the box once in this recipe and it was terrible. This time, I followed some advice from America’s Test Kitchen (more about that in a future post) and soaked the no-boil noodles for 5 minutes in water before using them. I also had to use some regular “boil ’em first noodles” because we were making an awful lot of lasagna and I’m cleaning out cabinets these days to get ready for our upcoming move.

Next: half of the spinach.

Then: half of the vegetable and chicken mixture

Followed by: half the cheese…

…and half of the remaining sauce spread evenly around on the cheese layer.

, because repetition is the theme of lasagna, here we go again…





And finally, Sauce again. Spread it around.


A big thank you to my cousin Corinn for her help with food and photos!

Bake at 375 degrees for one hour. The first 45 minutes covered in foil, then for another 15 minutes uncovered. When it comes out of the oven give it a few minutes to get its layers coagulated before you try to cut it.

Stay tuned for the post on the Strawberry Pretzel dessert we had the same night which will explain why we had to use foil pans for the lasagna.

Bananas + Beach Trip = Banana Bread

My father-in-law tells a story about driving to Florida for a fishing trip when he was a kid. (Picture a big old car, bench seats, steel dash, no seat belts and no air conditioning on a South Georgia highway.) After a few hours, he and his brothers were grumbling about hunger, so his dad pulled off at a roadside market, bought a big stalk of bananas, tossed the whole bunch in the back and drove on… Now, picture banana peels flying out the windows.

Interestingly, when his grandsons complain of hunger on beach trips he feeds them shrimp.

Anyway…back to this decade and the other side of the continent… We’re still talking about bananas and beach trips though.

We went to the beach in Oregon last week and the bananas stayed home, which is too bad because I’ve always wanted to re-enact that legendary banana toss over the driver’s seat. Thankfully however, bananas make great bread when they’ve been neglected for a while.

Here’s my favorite recipe for banana bread:
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup butter (softened)
2 eggs
1/3 cup water
3-4 very ripe bananas
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
¼ tsp baking powder 
½ tsp salt
1 cup finely chopped walnuts

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Start by mixing the wet ingredients and bananas

Then dump in the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly.

Pour the batter into a large loaf pan or two small loaf pans.

Bake for 55-65 minutes, until a toothpick in the middle comes out clean.

Let the loaves cool for a few minutes before removing them from the pans and for at least 10 more minutes before slicing.

Go bananas with the butter and enjoy!
(originally posted 4/9/2011)

Tillamook Cheese in a Beach Rental

I love Tillamook cheese!

Actually, I love most any cheese, but Tillamook is my favorite grocery-store brand.

In high school I remember playing pre-season basketball games against the girls from Tillamook and it stunk – literally. There were dairy cows everywhere and they just don’t smell good. I didn’t appreciate what those bovines produced until the Army transplanted us to Land o’ Lakes territory. I did such a happy dance in the Fort Sill Commissary the first time I saw Tillamook cheese on the shelf. Still makes me smile!

Last week, our family paid a visit to the Tillamook Factory on the way to our vacation in Lincoln City, OR with my Cousin Melissa’s family. While we were there, we ate… and we ate… and we ate and when we finally rolled out of the place with ice cream cones in hand, we were packing a load of cheese with us to the beach rental.

Now, part of the rationale for renting a big house at the beach, instead of cramming into a hotel suite, goes like this: “We’ll have a kitchen, so we’ll cook our own meals and save a lot of money.” It’s a great theory! I’m always really good about this money-saving plan for about one night. I grope around an unfamiliar grocery store trying to figure out what to cook without my own kitchen staples and end up with a bunch of junk food that saves us about twenty-eight cents.

But, on this particular vacation I had vision. I had a Tillamook cheese variety pack! Crackers would be the logical choice, but you can eat crackers in a hotel room. I had to justify a lovely rental kitchen and feed six hungry (and very goofy) kiddos.


Thankfully, this particular kitchen was set up better than most vacation rentals for actually cooking but you still have to keep it simple when all of those cabinets are basically empty.

I decided to make chicken strips as a platform for the cheese sauce I’d been dreaming about all afternoon.

I bought a package of chicken tenders and dredged them in a stick of butter that I melted in the bottom of a 9×13 pan (in that beautiful oven). Then I rolled them in a bowl of crushed tortilla chips and lined them back up in the pan.

Ideally there would be some space between the tenders, but as I mentioned, those cabinets are pretty empty.

The great dilemma was choosing a cheese for the sauce until I discovered there wasn’t an ounce of pepper on the premises. Then, it seemed logical to use the cheese with pepper in the loaf.

I threw together a white sauce, while blessing the soul that left a small supply of four in the cabinet. For directions see the post on Basic White Sauce. The trick for adding cheese and keeping the sauce from turning out grainy is that you can’t let it get too hot. If it’s really steaming the cheese will melt badly.

That’s not my usual whisk, but it worked just fine.

These things don’t photograph very well on Corelle Ware! No Color.

The crispy little chicken tenders were good, but the cheese sauce made me happy all over. I re-heated what was left the next night and used it as dipping sauce for crackers. Yu-um!

Notice how quickly we were back to crackers? Good thing we had such a nice house to eat them in.

Chicken Enchiladas

These don’t blow-your-socks-off or inspire speculation about secret ingredients. They’re just simple, easy goodness. That’s why my children like them.

Tortillas – 9-12, burrito size
2-3 cups of cooked rice – the exact amount isn’t critical (great way to use leftover rice)
2-3 cups chicken cooked and chopped (beef also works nicely or just extra beans)
1 can of beans – I like black, white, pinto, or refried beans
Salsa or Picante sauce – about ½ a cup
¼ cup or so of the enchilada sauce
1 cup shredded cheese (some sort of jack or cheddar)
1 15 oz can of tomato sauce
Chili powder – about 2 tsp
Cumin – about 1 tsp 
1 TBSP Cornstarch dissolved in ½ cup cold water
1 more cup of shredded cheese 
Serve with
Salsa, sour cream, and guacamole

Sauce: Before I start the filling, I begin heating the tomato sauce, chili powder and cumin in a pan. It just needs to get hot before you add the cornstarch dissolved in water to thicken it. (I don’t understand why you have to dissolve the cornstarch in water, but you do. It stays grainy and gross if you dump it straight in – kind of like cornmeal in chili.)

Of course, you could just buy a can of enchilada sauce, but I don’t usually plan that well. I almost always have tomato sauce on hand though and dressing it up makes me feel like a real cook.

The filling is simple. I don’t have the patience for artistic layering of ingredients into tortillas. I plop it all into a bowl and stir it together. The salsa and enchilada sauce go in last so that I can make sure not to add too much. Indiscriminate dumping can turn the whole project sloppy.

Imagine a cup of shredded cheese in these pictures. I forgot it. Bad blogging, I know. But, the enchiladas were still very good and my hips were better for the omission.

The next step is assembly. I start by spreading some of the sauce on the bottom of the pan. Then it’s time to roll.

I’m never going to be a hand model!

Thanks to JP for the nice set of action shots.

Pour sauce over the top.

Sprinkle on the cheese.

Bake in 350 degree oven for 35-40 minutes. You want the cheese bubbly and hot. The ingredients are all pre-cooked so it’s just about getting them nice and hot.

Oh…and I forgot to mention that I sprinkle paprika on top when I want the finished pan of enchiladas to look pretty for company or for blog browsers. It doesn’t mess with the flavor, but it looks nice and this is a catwalk. The models must accessorize!

How I Named My Blog

cat·walk n.
1. a narrow ramp extending from the stage into the audience .., esp as used by models in a fashion show
2. a narrow, often elevated walkway, as on the sides of a bridge or in the flies above a theater stage, etc.

I like alliterations. (You know: words that start with the same sound.) So, I got “catwalk” in my head when I was trying to think of a name for a cookie blog. It seemed like if I was parading food for photos on the elevated surface that surrounds my kitchen the definition fit pretty well. The blog moved beyond cookies in my brain before I even started but “kitchen” worked too. Whew! (I also like rhymes.)

This is sort of what I was picturing – cookie dough balls strutting their stuff.

Conveniently, the word “CORNY” fits with the title as well as it does with the whole blog!