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Poker Party Pals

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Tenny Tatusian, Hannah MacDonald, Brady MacDonald exhibit the pure joy of being at Poker Night while Gracie Monroe peeks in from behind. The December gathering is always at the home of Rob, Krystn, Gracie and Mia Monroe. 

“The cookie crunch was great! It gave it an extra bit of texture”

– Nancy Luna MacDonald aka The OC Register’s Fast Food Maven said of the Cookie Crunch Parfait

As a journalism major I spent most of my time inside the Daily Titan newsroom at Cal State Fullerton. It was an incredible experience and I made some good friends while working long hours putting together the campus newspaper.

Now, some of those friends and their families show up at the monthly Poker Parties. In the photo above is (from left)  in the foreground is Tenny, Hannah and Brady, who was my editor at the Daily Titan .Our desseert chef, Gracie, is in the background.  Poker party regulars include Ryan T. Blystone, Rob & Krystn Monroe, Brady and Nancy MacDonald, Dennis and Marie Kee, Gary and MJ Smet, David and Tricia Montero, Michael Rocha and Mark Gray. And their children too.

We rotate hosting duties and one of the best parts of these get-together is the food. At yesterday’s party at the Monroes, we started with appetizers, beer and wine. Rob grilled tri-trip, BBQ ribs to add the spread which also included Caesar salad, baked mac n cheese and couscous salad.

To top it all off Rob and Kristen’s oldest daughter, Gracie made us individual Cookie Crunch Parfaits for our dessert. Below, Gracie puts the finishing touches on dessert as her little sister, Mia, watches. Click here for the recipe
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All chocolate, no sugar

These cookies taste so sweet you'll be stunned they are sugar-free.

“Excellent.”

– Shalini Dore, senior editor at Variety

It was a cold and rainy day. A perfect day to stay home and bake some chocolate chip cookies. Only these are the sugar-free variety so I could have all the sweet taste without the harm of sugar since I am fairly addicted to the stuff. There is Splenda is in it but that’s all.

These are easy, quick and chockful of the sensuous flavor of chocolate … you’ll fool everyone. The secret is the applesauce it it.

Want to try for yourself, click here for the recipe.

Tasty & quick party fare

Fried ravioli was just one of the items on the spread for the holiday party. Others included grilled turkey sausage, mini-pastrami sandwiches, flatbread pizzas, chocolate fudge-raspberry cake and cookies.

“This is addictive.”

– Stephanie Endo, a guest at the 2011 holiday party, declared as she munched on some fried ravioli

It was time for our annual holiday party and we wanted a simple, fun spread to soak up all the liquor that our guests might be indulging in that night so we decided to do some sweets: a triple layer Chocolate Fudge-Raspberry Cake and some store-bought cookies and pair those with some savory dishes: Mini Pastrami Bites, Fried Ravioli, grilled sausage with spicy mustard and a couple varieties of flatbread pizza. Our only requirement of all the dishes were that they be tasty, quick to make and be easy finger-food type options for our guests who would be mingling and talking as they ate.

The cake I finished assembling the night before the party but the rest of the food we made in a few hours just before the open house holiday party started at noon.

Souffles: Easy and delicious

“It was delicious. I could tell you worked hard on it.”

– Krishna Swaroop

My sister was in the mood to make souffle when the latest Cooking Light magazine came out with a whole section of recipes on the French delicacy.

She had made souffles before and knew what to expect. I had not and was doubtful that I could pull it off. She let me help and I was astounded at how delicious and easy this treat ended up being. My uncle, Krishna Swaroop, was visiting from Colorado and seemed to enjoy eating

Food-lover’s delight

The Produce Market on Granville Island in Vancouver, Canada offers a plethora of culinary delights from vegetables to meat to pate to jam to fruit to seafood to chocolate to pastries like the ones above. I found the sight of these perfectly formed puff pastries with their savory fillings to be especially titillating.

I spent most of Martin Luther King Jr. weekend in Vancouver with four close friends: Ed De La Fuente, Brian Choo, Bobby Boos and Marian Liu. One of the places we wanted to see was Granville Island which is just minutes from downtown Vancouver where we were staying.

So on a rainy Saturday afternoon we headed to the highly walkable village area. After we got some nourishment at Agro Cafe Coffee and Roasting House we headed on over to the famous Granville Island Public Market.

Once inside we are bombarded by the sights of fresh fruit and vegetables as far as the eye can see. The food will bring you to the market but the real charm is in the vendors who offer you their advice on how to eat or cook their wares. There are about 50 or so stalls and stores of every kind imaginable and all of these shops include at least one expert on the types of food they sell. It’s intoxicating to talk food with someone who has a background in it.

The Public Market is open until 7 p.m. all the days of the week.

If your visit occurs between June and October you can check out the Farmer’s Market that the Island hosts every Thursday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. immediately across the street from the Public Market adjacent to the Net Loft.  Like most farmers’ markets this one is cash-only.

A bit of chocolate heaven

The season of chocolate continues with this tiramousse that I whipped up today for a New Year's Eve party tonight. This recipe was easy and has a deep chocolate taste tinged with coffee.

“It’s intense and chocolatey.”

Sunjay Swaroop, at the family New Year’s Eve party

This mousse was easy! The most time-consuming part of it was melting the chocolate, which is done in the microwave. The other ingredients are mixed in a blender and then you combine the two. It’s that simple … and the deep chocolate flavor is enhanced by a red wine when you serve it.

Want to make it for yourself? Click here.

Chocolate Tasting Party

This is a plate of chocolate treats that a guest made up at my Chocolate Tasting Party on Dec. 7. From left is the Mardi Gras Cake, Valrhona Bites, Truffle Doughnut and Cappuccino Cake.

I usually do a holiday cookie basket for close friends and relatives. This year I couldn’t decide what my chocolate part of the basket would be so I decided to host a party where the guests would vote on which they prefer.

I made Thomas Keller’s Chocolate Bouchon which I called a Valhrona Bite; Sherry Yard’s Dark, Decadent Doughnut which I called a Truffle Doughnut; Jim Dodge’s Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Cake which I called a Mardi Gras Cake (since it’s a party in your mouth) and my sister, Suki, contributed her Cappuccino Cake which was a chocolate-espresso confection. Click the links for the recipe.

It was a fun afternoon full of chocolate and friends. In the end, the Truffle Doughnut narrowly edged out the Mardi Gras Cake. Unfortunately, since the Truffle Doughnut needs to be served hot it wasn’t the best choice for sending in the mail.