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You’re invited

By Staff | May 9, 2013

A DRIZZLE OF chocolate sauce adds a finishing touch to Robinson’s flourless chocolate espresso cake.



MASON CITY – When Debbie Lestina Robinson wanted simple recipes for effortless entertaining year-round, she literally wrote the book on it.

“Every day should be a party with your family and friends,” said Robinson, 54, of Mason City, who published her cookbook, “You’re Invited!” in 2012. “The recipes in my cookbook are a party waiting to happen.”

These recipes showcase the flavor-packed favorites she has relied on in her own kitchen for decades. Some have come from friends, while others are family recipes that reflect a proud tradition of farm cooking passed on by her mother, Marlene.

SINCE THE INGREDIENTS for bacon-wrapped water chestnuts are easy to keep on hand, Debbie Robinson said she can easily whip up a batch in a matter of minutes.

“When I’m in the kitchen, fond memories of the time my mom and I spent together come to mind,” said Robinson, who grew up on a farm north of Woodward. “Mom allowed me to turn her kitchen into a test kitchen every weekend.

“With two older brothers, anything I baked on Saturday was gone by Sunday night.”

Like her mother, Robinson clips recipes from newspapers and magazines and loves to experiment in the kitchen, where she keeps her extensive cookbook collection. Some of her favorites, including Junior League cookbooks, and Marge Clark’s “Christmas Thyme at Oak Hill Farm,” inspired her to create her own cookbook.

“This was a labor of love,” said Robinson, who spent the last 12 years of her career managing the bookstore at North Iowa Area Community College. “It took two full years to complete, and it’s great to have all my favorite recipes in one convenient place.”

In addition to the recipes, Robinson’s cookbook features decorating ideas, invitation options, scannable QR codes for online ingredient lists and a music playlist. The cookbook is available at gift shops throughout northern Iowa, she said.

WITH ONLY FIVE ingredients, these crowd-pleasing bacon-wrapped water chestnuts are a snap to make, Robinson said.

Robinson’s husband, Bill, who farms in northern Iowa and runs Robinson Farm Real Estate, also carries a box of his wife’s cookbooks and has sold copies to seed dealers who offer them as premiums to their clients.

While Robinson doesn’t plan to write another cookbook, she continues sharing ideas and inspiration with others. “You don’t have to have a big fancy meal to entertain. Just get together and serve some simple party food. Everything tastes better with family and friends.”


water chestnuts

1 pound bacon, each slice cut into thirds

2 8-ounce cans whole water chestnuts, drained

1 cup Miracle Whip salad dressing

1/2 cup chili sauce

1 cup packed brown sugar

Wrap one piece of bacon around each water chestnut and secure with a wooden pick.

Arrange in a baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes; drain.

Combine the salad dressing, chili sauce and brown sugar and mix well.

Spread sauce mixture over the water chestnuts and bake for 20 more minutes. Serve hot. Serves 16.

Flourless chocolate

espresso cake

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter

1/2 cup freshly brewed espresso or strong coffee

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped

4 eggs, beaten

Baking cocoa and chocolate syrup to garnish

Bring the butter, espresso and brown sugar to a boil in a saucepan, stirring occasionally.

Remove from heat and add the chocolate. Whisk until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth.

Cool to lukewarm and whisk in the eggs.

Line the bottom of a 9-inch cake pan with parchment paper. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Place the cake pan in a larger baking pan.

Add enough hot water to the larger pan to come halfway up the side of the cake pan.

Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes, or until the center is set and a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs.

Remove the cake pan to a wire rack to cool completely. Chill overnight.

Run a sharp knife around the edge of the cake to loosen.

Invert the cake onto a serving platter and remove the parchment paper. Dust the cake with baking cocoa and drizzle with chocolate syrup.

Serve at room temperature. Serves 12.

Big fat Greek steak

with pasta

1/4 cup (half a stick) of butter

1/4 cup light olive oil

2 chicken bouillon cubes, crushed

1/4 heaping teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon Greek seasoning (such as Cavender’s)

2 2-inch thick beef tenderloin steaks

8 ounces thick spaghetti, cooked and drained

Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Heat the butter, olive oil, bouillon cubes, garlic powder and Greek seasoning in a saucepan until the butter is melted, stirring frequently.

Pour sauce over the steaks in a small baking pan. Turn the steaks to coat.

Bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes, and turn the steaks.

Bake for 10 to 15 minutes longer, or to the desired doneness.

Remove the steaks to serving plates.

Combine the hot pasta and pan juices in a bowl, and toss to coat.

Top generously with Parmesan cheese, and serve with the steaks.

Serves 2.

Crunchy vegetable salad

Lemon juice

2 large apples, chopped (Braeburn or Honeycrisp work well)

2 cups broccoli florets (about half a bunch)

1 1/2 cups cauliflower florets (about one-third of a head)

1 bunch green onions, finely chopped

2 1/2 cups seedless red grapes, cut into halves (about 1 pound of grapes)

1 large carrot, peeled and chopped

2 3-ounce packages real bacon bits

1 cup Miracle Whip salad dressing

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup cider vinegar

1 cup cashews (optional)

Stir lemon juice into a bowl of water. Add the apples to prevent browning.

Combine the broccoli, cauliflower, green onions, grapes, carrot and bacon bits in a bowl, and toss to mix.

Combine the salad dressing, sugar and vinegar in a bowl, and mix well.

Add to the salad. Drain the apples and add to the salad.

Toss to coat well.

Add the cashews and serve. Serves 8.

Creamy broccoli soup

2 10-ounce packages frozen, chopped broccoli

1 cup chicken broth

2 cups milk

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup Half-and-Half

8 ounces Velveeta cheese, cut into cubes

2 cups shredded Swiss cheese

1 teaspoon dill weed

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

Salt and pepper, to taste


In a saucepan, cook the broccoli in the chicken broth until tender; do not drain.

Whisk the milk into the flour in a bowl, and add to the broccoli mixture.

Stir in the Half-and-Half, Velveeta cheese and Swiss cheese.

Cook over low heat until thickened and hot, stirring frequently.

Stir in the dill weed, garlic powder, salt and pepper.

Serve in bowls with a sprinkle of paprika. Serves 8.

Lemonade kickers

1 12-ounce can frozen lemonade concentrate

12 ounces vodka

2 12-ounce cans light beer, chilled

Mix the lemonade concentrate and vodka in an insulated beverage pitcher.

Add the beer slowly, and stir gently to retain the carbonation.

Serve over ice.

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