Sassy Salsa! The perfect addition to any party

As many of you know, November is a very important month for the Junior League of Tampa. For the past 11 years, the first weekend in November has held our Holiday Gift Market – a 3 day shopping extravaganza at the Florida State Fairgrounds. I was tasked with making an appetizer for the kick-off party. The easiest and tastiest recipe that came to mind was Sassy Salsa from the first cookbook in the Junior League of Tampa’s Culinary Collection, Life of the Party.

I love this recipe for its simplicity and because I can make it ahead of time. The ingredients are pretty straightforward and easy to find. I will admit, I cheat and buy the pre-cut green and red onions and tomatoes to save even more time. The recipe calls for avocado, which I did not include because the grocery store didn’t have any ripe avocados when I did my shopping. I did include mild green chilies. I like spicy salsa but I kept this one on the mild side for mass appeal!

For the kick-off party I actually doubled this recipe to yield almost 6lbs of fresh and delicious salsa. But making the recipe as noted below will still yield plenty of salsa for the big game or holiday party on your calendar. Serve with your favorite corn chips or crostini.

2 (15-ounce) cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1 (16-ounce) can corn, drained
½ cup fresh cilantro
¼ cup chopped green onions
¼ chopped red onions
1/3 cup fresh lime juice
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1-tablespoon cumin
Salt to taste
Ground pepper to taste
1 cup chopped tomatoes
1 cup chopped avocado
1 (4-ounce) can green chilies (optional)
Hot sauce (optional)
Corn chips (Tostitos scoops are great)

Combine the beans, corn, cilantro, green onions, red onion, lime juice, oil and cumin in a large bowl and mix well. Add salt and pepper as needed. Chill, covered, for up to 24 hours. Stir in tomatoes, avocados, green chilies immediately before serving. Add hot sauce to taste if desired.





It’s not fall until you’ve tried Curried Pumpkin Bisque!

Fall is here! If you are looking for an impressive dish for a dinner party or an interesting starter for Thanksgiving dinner, try the Curried Pumpkin Bisque from The Junior League’s Savor the Seasons cookbook (page 50).  Start to finish, it only took 30 minutes, so it would work great during the week, too.  The combination of flavors was great and the rich, creamy taste would be wonderful on a cool fall night (although we enjoyed it on a warm fall night, it is Florida after all).

All of the ingredients are easily found, especially the pumpkin puree during this season.  I purchased lump crab rather than jumbo lump crab, as it saved about $4 per container.  The crab is a little pricy, but well worth it!  The directions were clear and accurate.  I noticed the soup thickened nicely from the cornstarch base.  Once assembled, it would probably hold well if left on low heat with occasional stirring.  I followed the recipe as written, but would probably use half and half or whole milk instead of heavy cream next time, just to make it a bit less rich.  We didn’t have cognac, so I used a bit of sherry instead and finished it with chives on top for a bit of oniony taste.  I imagine the cognac would be wonderful.

I wanted to keep things festive so I served it in a gourd, as was suggested in the cookbook.  It is really easy (I promise!) and looks quite fancy.  If you choose to serve the soup in a gourd, there are a ton of colorful and interesting choices available in stores right now- all types and colors of pumpkins, as well as squash of different colors and shapes, so get creative!  You basically just need something with enough space to hold a couple ladles of soup and the ability to flatten the bottom so it sits evenly.  I went with the standard acorn squash, which is generally available all year.  I thought the green skin was a nice contrast to the orange soup.

After scooping out the seeds, I thought the “bowl” should be a bit larger, so I used a pairing knife to carve out a larger and more symmetrical space.  The uncooked squash provides tons of carving possibilities.  If you are more creative and crafty, you could even carve out a shape (this was not in my skill set)!  And don’t forget some crusty bread for dipping!  We had a side salad with blueberries and almonds for some additional greens.  It was husband approved!

Curried Pumpkin Bisque

1 small onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbsp curry powder
2 tsp ground ginger or 2 Tbsp grated fresh ginger  (I used ground)
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp Tabasco sauce
1/2 c (1 stick) butter, melted
1 Tbsp cornstarch
1 (16 oz) can pumpkin puree
4 c chicken broth
2 c heavy cream
2 c fresh lump back fin crab meat, flaked
salt and pepper to taste
Cognac (optional)
fresh or dried parsley (I used fresh chives)

Cook the onion, garlic, curry powder, ginger, nutmeg and Tabasco sauce in the butter in a stockpot until the onion is tender, stirring frequently.  Stir in the cornstarch and cook until thickened.  Add the pumpkin and broth and bring the mixture to a boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Stir in the cream and crab meat.  Cook until thickened and bubbly, stirring constantly.  Season with salt and pepper.  Ladle into soup bowls.  Pour a splash of cognac over each serving and sprinkle with parsley.  Yields 8-10 servings.

“Out of your gourd”
For a gourmet presentation at your autumn dinner or Thanksgiving feast, serve Curried Pumpkin Crab Bisque in colorful gourds, such as acorn squash.  Slice a bit of the rounded base of the gourd to help it lay flat, and line the inside bottom with foil to ensure the soup doesn’t leak.  Garnish with small pieces of crab, a dash of cognac and fresh parsley.

butter, onions, spices


Perfect your tailgate with Roast Beef on Rolls!

Let’s face it- we all have hectic schedules. Between the final days of summer, the hectic “back to school” rush and the madness of the impending holidays comes one of a Southern girls’ favorite times of year: Football season! And while attending our fair share of tailgates and football parties may seem like an easy feat, we are often asked to bring a dish to the celebration or even (gasp) host a party of our own. Luckily, the Tailgate Roast Beef on Rolls (aka sliders) from The Life of the Party on page 33 are a quick, easy and impressive treat that will allow you to spend less time in the kitchen and more time with your guests.
To be completely honest, 90% of what I cook revolves around how much I love cheese. So while this recipe traditionally calls for Swiss cheese, I opted for a more gourmet variety: Gruyère. I definitely think this swap helped dress up the sliders since I was cooking for friends. I was also very strapped for time when I was making this, and decided to use chives instead of green onions since that’s what I happened to have in my refrigerator at the time. Though there’s no real substitution for the unmistakably distinct flavor of green onions, chives or minced shallots can be used as a quick fix (and are just as tasty). I also had half an onion on hand that needed to be used, so I caramelized them (a painstaking process, but completely worth it), and used them as my final touch before tossing the assembled sliders in the oven. These sliders were such a hit, and I loved that even though I followed the recipe pretty straight on, there were so many options to improvise or put your own twist on the recipe. Pretzel rolls, pickled radishes, Londonport roast beef, or fresh arugula all would have made great additions or substitutions to this dish. You could even make these as larger sandwiches for dinner or lunch! Who doesn’t love options, right?
The best part about this recipe, other than the fact that it’s absolutely delicious, is that it takes all of 20 minutes to make- that’s it! If you’re really crunched for time, you can even prepare the sliders beforehand by assembling the sandwiches, wrapping them in foil and storing in the fridge until you’re ready to bake. While I love to cook, I just don’t always have the time to make something from scratch, but that’s why I love these sliders. This recipe is perfect for the “can’t-cook” cooks out there, and a wonderful dish for football entertaining.
Let us know how you make yours!


Recipe: p.33

8oz cream cheese, softened

1 envelope ranch salad dressing mix

1/2 cup chopped green onions

1 (24 count) package small dinner rolls

1 to 2 pounds deli-sliced cajun roast beef

12 slices swiss cheese (or cheese of your choice)

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted

Combine the cream cheese, ranch dressing mix and green onions in a small bowl and mix well. Remove rolls from the package. Slice the rolls horizontally; remove the top of the rolls in on piece. Spread the mixture on the cut side of both layers. Layer the roast beef and cheese you selected on the bottom layer. Cover with the top layer of rolls; brush with melted butter. Arrange on a baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes or until golden brown. Slice into 24 small rolls. Serve warm.

Roast Beef Rolls 3 Roast Beef Rolls 2

Hummingbird Cake? Yes, please!

I like to think I inherited many of my characteristics and genes from my grandmother (Abuela), but I am certain she gave me her sweet tooth. Abuela turned 89 on the first of the month, and I knew the best way to her heart was a sugary path right through her stomach. As I was spinning my wheels brainstorming what to bake her, I looked to my kitchen counter and Capture the Coast was staring right back at me. I grabbed the beloved cookbook and flipped to the desserts section, and as soon as I saw IT, I knew it was the one. Hummingbird Cake.  If I’m being completely honest, Abuela is a sucker for ALL confections and sweet treats. But if you make her a dessert that has pineapple or coconut in it, she is truly defenseless. You will win her heart upon the first scrumptious bite.

The Hummingbird Cake recipe featured in JLT’s Capture the Coast cookbook is a mouth-watering combination of pineapple and banana, topped with a velvety cream cheese icing, and finished off with crunchy crumbled pecans.

Here is what you’ll need to concoct this southern dessert staple:


3 cups all-purpose flour

2 cups sugar

½ teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon

3 eggs, beaten

1 ¼ cups vegetable oil

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 (8-ounce) can crushed pineapple

1 cup pecans, chopped

2 cups mashed bananas

2 tablespoons brown sugar

Cream Cheese Frosting:

16 ounces cream cheese, softened

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 (2-pound) package confectioners’ sugar


Pecan Pieces (if desired)



For the cake… Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, mix flour, sugar, salt, baking soda and cinnamon until combined. [side note: the recipe says to sift the aforementioned ingredients 3 times. However, I didn’t have a sifter, and mixing worked out well for me.]

Add the eggs and oil to your dry ingredients, and stir the mixture until moistened. Next, add in the vanilla, pineapple, pecans, and mix thoroughly. Finally, add in the mashed banana and brown sugar, and mix one last time.

Divide your batter evenly between three greased or floured 8- or 9-inch round cake pans [I used disposable aluminum cake pans to cut back on excessive dish-washing… I love to bake but I hate to clean up after!]

Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, and remove from oven. To ensure the cake is baked through, insert a wooden toothpick into the center and check that it comes out clean. Cool cakes in pans for 15 minutes, and then place cakes on wire racks to cool completely.


For the frosting… Beat the cream cheese and butter in a large mixing bowl until creamy and smooth. Stir in the vanilla extract, and sift in the confectioners’ sugar, 2 cups at a time. Beat well after each addition, and continue beating the frosting until it is completely blended.

To assemble… After allowing the cakes to cool completely, spread your icing between the layers and over the top and sides of the cake.


Next, top with pecans, if you choose. Now the most important part of all, ENJOY!


Quick and Easy: One Bowl Pound Cake

Alex, of our cookbook committee, tried a new recipe for an event she was assigned dessert. It didn’t work out exactly as planned from the start, but was so easy to fix that she got great reviews! Thank you for sharing, Alex!

I was looking for a nice and simple dessert option. The One Bowl Pound Cake from Everyday Feasts sounded simple enough seeing as it says “one bowl” in the title of the recipe.

Most, if not all, of the ingredients are items that everyone keeps in the cabinet so there may not be any special trips to the grocery store. The Bundt pan I used was a stone pan. I placed all my ingredients in my one bowl and mixed everything together. The recipe says you can use vanilla or lemon yogurt and I opted to use vanilla in my recipe. I greased the pan very well and then poured the mixed ingredients into the pan and then into the oven. When trying out a new recipe, I always set the time to the lower end of the suggested time. The pound cake was done at 60 minutes, however, the recipe does not suggest how long to let the cake cool before trying to remove from the pan. I have to admit that I had to make this twice because I did not pay attention to the time the cake was out of the oven before trying to remove so it did not come out of the pan very well. On the second go around, I let the cake cool for 15 minutes while sitting on a cooling rack. I then let the cake sit flipped over on the cooling rake for a few hours. I then used a spatula to gently slide down the sides of the pan to loosen from the sides so that it would come out of the pan. Success! Overall, the cake got great reviews!


One Bowl Pound Cake

2 ½ cups of flour

2 cups of sugar

½ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened

1 (8-ounce) container lemon or vanilla yogurt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

4 eggs


Preheat the over to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 10-inch Bundt cake pan. Combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, butter, yogurt, vanilla, and eggs in a large mixing bowl and beat at low speed until blended. Beat at medium speed for 3 minutes. Pour into the prepared pan. Bake 60-70 minutes or until golden brown and a wooden pick inserted near the center comes out clean.


Sombrero Chicken Salad

We had a guest blogger try out a Life of the Party recipe for us recently as we promote our new available e-book! Thank you, Cyndi!!
As spring is starting to blossom and summer is inevitably around the corner, I wanted to make a nice refreshing salad. I am a sucker for pasta salad, so when I saw “Sombrero Chicken Salad” in the Junior League of Tampa’s, “Life of the Party” cookbook, I knew I was going to get just what I was looking for! Most of the ingredients I actually had on hand, so I grabbed just a few things that I needed at the store and was excited to get the chicken marinating in the delicious cilantro/lime based dressing. It was simple and took no time at all.
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As the chicken marinated I finished some of the daunting spring cleaning and before I knew it the chicken was ready to be grilled. I chopped up the spicy jalapeno, green onion, and tomato, then got the beans and corn ready. Pasta was cooking as I was chopping, so I strained it and added it to the big bowl. Using the extra marinade I tossed it in as a dressing and mixed it up thoroughly. The recipe called for me to throw the chicken on the grill, but I am not much of a grill-smith, so I used my stove top grill pan instead. The key here is to cook it nice and slow, just like the grill does, you don’t want it to cook the outside too fast.
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Once the chicken was done, about 7-8 minutes on each side. I sliced it up into bite size pieces and tossed it in with the salad. I couldn’t help myself but to dive in for a bite, the chicken is so juicy and flavorful. I can’t wait to be invited to a BBQ this summer so I can add this to my list of favorite items! Thanks Junior League for a delicious and easy recipe to bring me just what I needed! 
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The Life of the Party is available now through Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble Bookstore, and iBooks!


Grilled Scallops in Coconut Curry Sauce

Grilled Scallops in Coconut Curry Sauce

It’s that time of year again when some of us are looking for dinner options for meatless Fridays.  I knew I would find just the right option in one of my Junior League cookbooks. I came across this dinner option in Every Day Feasts and it didn’t disappoint. This is a wonderfully flavorful recipe without being too complicated…my kind of recipe! I paired my kabobs with Jasmine rice as an entree but this recipe can easily be used as an appetizer as well!

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Grilled Scallops from Every Day Feasts

1 cup orange juice

3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil

1 pound sea scallops

Coconut Curry Sauce

1 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoons minced shallots

1 tablespoons curry powder

1 cup unsweetened coconut milk

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh basil

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon dried crush red pepper

2 teaspoons fresh lime juice

For the scallops, combine the orange juice and basil in a large resealable plastic bag. Add the scallops and turn to coat. Chill in the refrigerator for 45 minutes to 1 hour, turning once. Soak wooden skewers in water for 30 minutes to prevent burning. Remove the scallops and discard the marinade. Thread the scallops onto the skewers and grill over medium to high heat until firm and opaque, turning once.

For the sauce, heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the shallots and sauté until softened. Add the curry powder and cook for 1 minute or until the aroma from the curry is released, stirring constantly. Add the coconut milk and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and add the basil, salt and red pepper and cook for 1 minute, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and stir in the lime juice.

Yield: 4 main-dish servings or 8 appetizer servings