Happy Birthday!

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My brother’s birthday happens to fall during the busiest week of the year. I wanted to make his birthday dinner but I also wanted to make sure that it was simple.  For dinner I set up a chili bar with vegetable chili, meat lover’s chili, and toppings with corn bread, maple bread and salad. The chili and hearty bread is especially perfect for winter so here are some easy recipes you can use to cater any party this season!

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Chop Chop Salad: 1 head of Romaine lettuce (chopped), 1 bell pepper (chopped), 1/2 English cucumber (chopped), 1 large tomato (chopped), 1 15 oz can of chickpeas (drained, rinsed), 8 oz of gorgonzola cheese, 1/4 cup of balsamic dressing. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Toss with dressing and serve.

Before dinner I put out some shoepeg corn salsa, guacamole and chips to tie everyone over until dinner.

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The Robinson’s Shoepeg Corn Salsa: 1 can of shoepeg white corn, 1 can of black beans, 1 green pepper, small dice, 1 red pepper, small dice, 1 red onion, small dice, 1 lime, squeezed, 1 teaspoon of olive oil, 1 handful of cilantro or parsley, chopped, salt and pepper to taste. Combine all in a medium bowl and serve with corn chips.

This shoepeg corn salsa became a favorite in our house after family friends of ours introduced it to us a few summers ago!

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Guacamole from the Cleaver Brothers: 3 medium ripe avocados; 1/4 cup of tomato (diced), 2 cloves of garlic (minced), 2 tablespoons cilantro or parsley (chopped), 2 tablespoons onion (chopped), 1 tablespoon mayonnaise, 1 tablespoon lemon or lime juice, 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, salt and pepper to taste.
Directions: Remove the avocado meat from the shell and place in medium sized mixing bowl. Using a spoon or a firm whip, blend the avocado to a smooth consistency. (I used a potato masher because I still like to leave pieces of the avocado for texture.) Add the remaining ingredients and combine. Serve with corn chips.

I found this guacamole recipe from The Cleaver Brothers when I was cleaning out our recipe box.  I would highly recommend it – the bowl was scraped clean before dinner even started.

Now for the main course!

Making chili is an effortless meal you can make you any party that will be sure to satisfy all of your guests! Here are the two recipes I used:

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Emeril Lagasse Vegetarian Chili

Yields 10-12 servings

*I modified and changed a few ingredients from the original version.  For the original you can visit Foodnetwork.com

Ingredients

2 tablespoons canola oil

1 1/2 cups chopped red onions

1 chopped red bell pepper

2 tablespoons minced garlic

2 to 3 serrano peppers, stemmed, seeded, and minced, depending upon taste

1 medium zucchini, stem ends trimmed and cut into small dice

2 cups fresh corn kernels (about 3 ears)

1 1/2 pounds portobello mushrooms (about 5 large), stemmed, wiped clean and cubed (I like to throw them in the food processor.  These give the chili a hearty meat-like texture.)

2 tablespoons chili powder

1 tablespooon ground cumin

1 1/4 teaspoons salt

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

2 14 oz. cans of fire roasted, diced, no sodium tomatoes

1 15 oz can of black beans, drained and rinsed

1 15 oz can of kidney beans, drained and rinsed

1 32 oz can tomato sauce

Sharp cheddar cheese, garnish

Diced avocado, garnish

Parsley, garnish

Directions

In a large, heavy pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions, bell peppers, garlic, and serrano peppers, and sweat, stirring, until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the zucchini, corn, and mushrooms, and saute, stirring, until soft and the vegetables give off their liquid and start to brown around the edges, about 6 minutes. Add the chili powder, cumin, salt and cayenne, and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes and stir well. Add the beans and tomato sauce, stir well, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes.

Remove from the heat and stir in the cilantro. Adjust the seasoning, to taste.

I like to serve this with sharp cheddar cheese, avocado, and parsley.

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If you like a more traditional chili try this family recipe for a meat lover’s edition:

Meat Lover’s Chili

Yields 10-12 servings

Ingredients

6 slices of bacon

3 hot Italian sausages

1 lb ground turkey

1 yellow onion, chopped

2 gloves of garlic, minced

1 large green bell pepper, chopped

2 jalapeño peppers, seeded and chopped

1 15 oz can of pinto beans

1 15 oz can of kidney beans

2 32 oz cans of crushed tomatoes

4 teaspoons of chili powder

1 teaspoon of pepper

1 teaspoon of dry mustard

2 tablespoons of worceshire sauce

2 tablespoons of soy sauce

Directions

Cook bacon in the bottom of a large pan for 3-5 minutes (don’t let it crisp, you want it to still be soft). Then add sausages, turkey, onion, garlic and pepper.  Cook until meat is completely browned and the vegetables release their juices. Then add beans, crushed tomatoes, chili powder, pepper, mustard, worceshire sauce, and soy sauce.  Let cook over low heat for 6 – 10 hours before you are ready to serve it.

*You can also cook it overnight in a crock-pot.  Brown meat in a separate pan and then combine all ingredients together in crock-pot.

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For dessert he requested a red velvet cake and ice cream cake, which took a little longer than the chili to make but they were well worth the extra time!

I used a recipe for red velvet cake from this blog. I would highly recommend this recipe. The cake came out fluffy and moist.  I topped this cake with a cream cheese frosting and semi-sweet chocolate shavings.

I looked around for a couple cream cheese recipes but I didn’t find any that satisfied the amount of frosting I needed.  I combined a few different recipes and ended up using this recipe:

Cream Cheese Frosting
Ingredients

12 oz of cream cheese

8 oz of butter

2 tablespoons of vanilla extract

5 cups of confectioner’s sugar

Directions

Cream the cream cheese and butter together using an electric mixer.  Then add the vanilla and slowly start to incorporate the confectioners sugar.  If the frosting becomes to stiff you can loosen it with water.  If it is too soupy you can add more confectioner’s sugar.

Over the summer I started experimenting with making ice cream cakes.  The first one I made used raspberry sorbet, chocolate chips and vanilla ice cream.  Ever since then my family has been anticipating the next ice cream cake.  I decided to make a chocolate espresso ice cream cake for my brother’s birthday.   This is a very simple dessert to make but it takes some planning ahead because it needs to set overnight in the freezer.  Here’s how to:

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Dark Chocolate Espresso Ice Cream Cake
Ingredients

1 box of chocolate cake mix (recommended: Betty Crocker Dark Chocolate) – you can certainly make homemade cake but this will save you lots of time

2 tablespoons of instant espresso powder

1 pint of coffee or espresso ice cream

1 pint of chocolate ice cream or sorbet (I used a homemade chocolate whipped cream in an effort to make it lighter but it did not freeze evenly and it turned a little icy so I would recommend an ice cream or cool whip instead)

1 pint of coffee frozen yogurt

1/2 cup of mini chocolate chips

1/2 cup of fudge (I used store bought to save me some time but again you can definitely use homemade)

Directions

Clear a space big enough for your cake in the freezer. Make chocolate cake according to the box in the pan you wish to build your ice cream cake.  Add the instant espresso powder to batter. Let the cake cool completely on a wire rack and then cut in half.  Put one half of the cake back into the pan (wrap the other cake and place it in the refrigerator until you are ready to use it).  Layer the first pint of coffee/espresso ice cream on the cake. (Be sure it is completely cool. I would even recommend throwing it in the freezer just to be sure! I skipped this step because I was in a hurry so my first layer of ice cream soaked up into the cake.)  Top with mini chips and place in the freezer for 2-5 hours.  Then top with softened chocolate ice cream. Freeze again for 2-5 hours.  Then top with other piece of cake and remaining layer of coffee frozen yogurt.  Freeze for 2-5 hours.  Melt hot fudge in microwave or on the stove and drizzle over the cake. Place in the freezer overnight or until ready to serve.

We had lots of desserts to choose from including my gramma’s famous cookie cake!

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These impressive cookie cakes are always the first to go at our family parties! Nothing can beat them!

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Sources:
"Vegetarian Chili." Recipe : Emeril Lagasse : Recipes : Food Network. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Dec. 2012.
"The BEST Red Velvet Cake Recipe ~Easy, Homemade, Moist with Southern Flair~." Divas Can Cook RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Dec. 2012.