Memorial Weekend: Open the Lake BBQ

Memorial Day weekend is for BBQs, friends, family, relaxation and fun. It is also a great excuse for a party to kick off the summer season. This is the first time in a long time that we aren’t traveling this weekend, so we plan to take full advantage.

We are starting out the weekend with a BBQ hosted by friends at a lake near their house. This is an annual party that they throw and they call it “Open the Lake” as it is the first weekend the lake is open. They have asked that I recommend some recipes for the BBQ that can withstand the sun and be enjoyed all day without refrigeration.

While the main dishes will be grilled meat – there are lots of side dishes, desserts and general munchie options that can be made. 

My top  favorite dishes for the BBQ are below. All of the dishes are extremely easy to make, can be made in advance and can be served all day.

Watermelon, Feta, Tomato & Basil Salad

(recipe serves 12 – enlarge or reduce as needed)

5 cups watermelon chunks/balls*
3 sliced tomatoes (red and/or yellow)
1 cup crumbled feta
2 large handfuls of chopped basil
Olive Oil and Sea Salt to taste

Directions: In a bowl combine all ingredients and serve.

*Helpful tip: Buy a full watermelon, cut off the top and use a melon baller to scoop out the watermelon. Save the scooped out rind and use it to hold punch (possibly spiked!)

Asparagus, Artichoke, Pea and  Pesto Pasta Salad

(serves 8-10)

1 box Pasta (any kind works)
1 cup fresh peas
1 1/2 cups sliced fresh artichoke hearts
1 1/2 cups sliced asparagus spears
1 can sliced black olives
1 red onion diced
1 jar pesto sauce
2 garlic cloves minced
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions: Cook pasta according to the package. Blanch the vegetables for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Combine everything in a large bowl and refrigerate overnight.

Dusted Angel Food Cake with Strawberries

(Serves 8-10)

1 box Duncan Hines Angel Food Cake*
Sliced strawberries
Powdered Sugar

Directions: Prepare the angel food cake as directed on the box. Let cool. Dust the top with powdered sugar. Serve with strawberries in a separate bowl so that guests can add the strawberries themselves.

* Hint: Angel food cake from scratch takes an unessarily long time – and the duncan hines version tastes just as good. Personally, I would shy away from buying a pre-made cake at the grocery store as they usually aren’t as light and fluffy as making it yourself (from the box)

*Alternative: Instead of just using strawberries, use any fruit(s) and combine them together.

Helpful Cooking Hint: Always make angel food cake using a proper angel food cake pan. Once you remove the cake from the oven. Place upside down on a wine bottle and let cool completely. This prevents the cake from deflating. Once cooled completely use a knife to separate the side.

S’mores Bars

(If you can make actual s’mores – then go for it! But, if you can’t these are the next best thing)

 3/4 cup butter
2/3 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
18 whole graham crackers, crushed, about 3 cups
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 milk chocolate bars, approximately 1 1/2 ounces each
3 1/2 cups miniature marshmallows

Directions: Heat oven to 350°. Beat butter and sugar with electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla. Stir in crushed graham crackers, flour, and salt. Reserve 1 cup of the graham cracker mixture and press remaining mixture over the bottom of a greased 13x9x2-inch baking pan. Arrange chocolate bars, in a single layer, over graham cracker crust mixture in the pan. Sprinkle with marshmallows. Crumbled reserved graham cracker mixture over the marshmallows. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown. Cool in pan on wire rack for 10 minutes. Cut into bars and cool completely.
Makes about 2 dozen bars.

What are your plans for Memorial Day Weekend?


May 24, 2011. Celebrations, Dessert, Helpful Cooking Tips, Holiday, Menu, Recipes. Leave a comment.

Reader Question: Office Valentine’s Day Party

Q.  I was recently nominated to be the Party Planner for my department at work and I could use some help. Im going to have a Valentine’s Day party on the 14th and I was hoping you could suggest a few things for me to bake for the party. I want fun tasty desserts that I could bake that can go along with the theme of the party, aren’t too difficult or costly to make, and work friendly. Can you recommend a few ideas?

Thanks. -M

A. Hi – An office holiday party is the perfect opportunity to combine store bought items with your own creativity. Especially if you are trying to keep the treats easy to make, cost friendly and work appropriate.

Things to keep in mind – the desserts should:

  • Be bite-sized
  • Be able to travel easily to work
  • Not need refrigeration

Here are some creative changes that can be made to store-bought or box based desserts to make them uniquely yours.

Spicing Up Boxed Brownies: Make the brownie batter as is instructed on the box. Add cayenne pepper to the batter for some spice. Bake the brownies as is instructed. Use a small heart cookie cutter to make heart shaped brownies.

Dipping Sugar Cookies: Buy pre-baked sugar cookies or bake your own sugar cookies using any valentines day cookies cutters to shape the cookie dough. Dip sections/half of the cookies in any color melted chocolate. Add sprinkles, crumbled cookies, sugar pearls, colored sugars or edible glitter to the chocolate.

 Sheet-cake mini-cakes: Bake any flavor sheet cake per the instructions on the box. Once cooled completely, use any Valentine’s shaped cookie cutters to cut out the cake. With two identical cut-outs, spread jam, frosting, or any type of filling you can think of, on one side of one of the cut-outs. Place the other cut-out on top creating a sandwich. Dust entirely with powdered sugar. Some great combinations would be:

  • chocolate sheet cake with nutella and sliced bananas filling
  • lemon sheet cake with raspberryor blueberry jam filling
  • vanilla or strawberry sheet cake with chocolate frosting/ganache and sliced strawberries/strawberry jam filling

 Don’t forget about the option to make chocolate covered oreos!

Image via

February 2, 2011. Baking, Celebrations, Dessert, Holiday, Recipes. 3 comments.

Deceivingly Simple: Chocolate Covered Oreos

Chocolate covered oreos are one of my favorite desserts. They are easy to make, can be customized with color to match any event and always present well. With Valentine’s Day fast approaching why not try making your loved ones some chocolate covered oreos?

Helpful Hints

  • When melting chocolate in the microwave, always use 50% power to avoid burning the chocolate. Microwave in 20-30 second increments stirring in between.
  • Use a bowl that is narrow and deep enough to allow you to fully encase the oreo when dipping it in chocolate.


1 bag Oreos
1 bag candy melts (any color)
(use multiple colors of candy melts for multi-colored designs. For the chocolate covered oreos I made, I used pink to coat the oreos and midnight black to drizzle on top)

1. Melt the candy melts in a bowl in the microwave on 50% power in 20-30 second increments, stirring in between, until completely melted.
2. Using a fork as a spatula, dip an oreo into the chocolate covering the oreo completely with chocolate.
3. With the oreo on the fork, tap the fork against the side of the bowl so that the excess chocolate falls off.
4. Place on a wax paper covered cookie sheet.
5. Refrigerate until chocolate is firm (approx. 20 minutes)

Freshly dipped oreos on a wax paper covered cookie sheet


To decorate the oreos as I did, melt an additional color in a separate bowl and use a fork to drizzle the additional color over the oreo.

No need to be neat with the drizzling as there is wax paper on the cookie sheet.

Refrigerate until the chocolate is hardened. Voila – chocolate covered oreos. Don’t forget to make some extras to store in the freezer for the next time you have guests!

February 1, 2011. Deceivingly Simple, Dessert, Holiday, Recipes. Leave a comment.

Cookie Decorating Party

A cookie decorating party is a great way to bring friends together to enjoy a group activity. With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, I have been thinking of activities that could be done as a group with my coupled and single friends.  A cookie decorating party is definitely on the list. In December, Ed and I hosted a Holiday Cookie Decorating party. Together with 5 friends we spent a relaxed Sunday evening getting creative.

I made the sugar cookies using Betty Crocker’s Sugar Cookie Recipe (recipe below). Please note that my recipe is from an older edition of the Betty Crocker cookbook and is not currently found on the company website.  Next, I cut the cookies using various christmas cookie cutters I purchased at Michaels. We used sprinkles, m&ms, and icing to decorate.

Helpful Tip: Popsicle sticks are great to use for icing cookies. And, they are inexpensive and disposable. Less work for you.

Some people got very creative with their cookie decorating skills:

All in all, it was a wonderful evening. One that I can’t wait to recreate for future holidays.

Betty Crocker’s Sugar Cookie Recipe:

  • 1 1/2 cups butter, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 5 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons salt


1. Cream together butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla
2. In a separate bowl, combine together flour, baking soda and salt
3. Gradually mix dry ingredients into butter/sugar mixture and stir until incorporated (can be done by hand, but I use a stand mixer)
4. Place in refrigerator until cold (approx. 1 hour)
5. Pre-heat oven to 400ºF
6. Roll out quarter of dough till approx. 1 1/2 inches thick (make sure your counter/work space is floured!)
7. Cut cookies using cookie cutters
8. Place on un-greased cookie sheet
9. Bake 6-8 minutes or until the edges turn brown
10. Cool completely on a wire rack
11. Enjoy

January 13, 2011. Celebrations, Dessert, Holiday, Recipes, Themed Party. 2 comments.

Deceivingly Simple: Gourmet Brownies

Almost every Sunday, we eat dinner with my in-laws. My mother-in-law and I alternate between dragging the boys out to dinner and cooking meals for home. No matter whether we eat out or eat in, my MIL’s favorite dessert is brownies with coconut ice cream. Having tried almost every brand on the market, I now only make Ghirardelli Double Chocolate Brownie mix. I used to consider myself a hopeless failure at brownie making. I wondered why it was I could create a triple layered chocolate raspberry supreme cake, but couldn’t make a simple brownie. They were either too gooey in the middle or too crisp on the edges. Through trial and error, I have learned that there are 3 key tricks to baking the perfect brownie:

  • To ensure even baking, always make sure the rack is placed directly in the center of the oven.
  • Metal pans work better than glass pans. Despite owning beautiful baking pans, I always use a disposable aluminium 8×8 baking pan as the heat appears to transfer evenly throughout – and I don’t have to clean the pan after, I just throw it out. Score!
  • If you struggle timing how long the brownies should be cooked for, remember that it is better to have them a bit under-cooked than overly cooked because if overly cooked the edges become hard as a rock.

My MIL likes her brownies plain with a scoop of coconut ice cream. I prefer mine with m&ms or butterscotch chips on top and some vanilla ice cream. My mom prefers hers with some chocolate chunks and toasted coconut. There is no limit to the ways you can create a brownie. They are easy to make, gourmet in appearance, and always a crowd pleaser. A guaranteed win. Next time you make brownies consider jazzing them up with a little something extra!

January 13, 2011. Deceivingly Simple, Dessert, Recommendations. 3 comments.

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