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.

Spicy Sunday

This past Sunday, as I was perusing cookbooks, I came across a recipe that sounded delicious, easy to make and most importantly spicy. I knew I needed to make it immediately, and luckily for me, Ed was hungry. The  original recipe was found in the book At Home by Steve Poses (one of my favorite books of all time). I’ve made a few modifications to the recipe to make it just a little spicier…enjoy!

Wasabi-Edamame Puree on Rice Crisps with Sesame Seeds
1 bag (approx 2 cups) frozen edamame
3/4 cup olive oil
3/4 cup water
rice crisps (cut into quarters)
black sesame seeds
2+ tablespoons wasabi powder (spice to taste)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

1. Boil edameme until soft (at least 8 minutes – longer then the directions will tell you to)
2. Once soft, strain and rinse edamame in cold water
3. In a blender or food processor, puree edamame, olive oil, water, wasabi powder, salt and pepper
4. Spoon the puree onto rice crisps (a melon baller is the perfect size scoop)
5. Sprinkle with sesame seeds

This recipe was a huge hit in our house. We could barely stop eating it to take a picture.

Don’t forget about the Reader Giveaway – to enter, comment here.
The winner will be announced tomorrow.

January 20, 2011. Menu, Recipes. Leave a comment.

Reader Question – Hosting a Game Night

Q. I have a request – Could you tell me how to host a penny-pinching, yet gourmet party.  My husband and I are going to host a game night, and I want to make cheap, yet impressive appetizers for people to snack on.  Also, I think it’d be fun to have one fun cocktail (but otherwise BYOB)—or is that tacky these days?  We’re trying to make this fun but not the $500 extravaganza Thanksgiving was.

A. Hi –

What a great idea – a game night sounds like a lot of fun! 

In terms of food, the most important thing is to provide quick and easy snacks for your friends that they can grab and eat so as to not miss their turn during a game.  If possible when hosting a game night, don’t make anything that requires your guests to use utensils.

I like to use the 3 “S” rule: salty, savory and sweet. If you have 1-2 food items that cover each category, your guests are sure to find something they can munch on. Most importantly, no host wants to feel stressed out the day of an event so make sure you pick appetizers that can be made in advance. If needed, you can always use a mixture of homemade and store-bought snacks. Trust me, no one will be disappointed.

Here are some quick and easy finger-foods that fit in the 3 “S” categories, won’t break the bank, can be made in advance,  and most importantly look impressive (all recipes can be found below after the jump):

Toasted Almonds & Orange-Scented Green Olives
Parmesan Rounds with Tomatoes and Feta

Oven-Baked Rosemary Potato Chips
Hot Wasabi Popcorn

Cinnamon Tortilla Crisps with Fruit Salsa and/or vanilla brown-sugar dipping sauce
Sweet Spiced Walnuts

Regarding drinks – specifically for a game night, it isn’t tacky at all to offer 1 type of alcohol and ask guests to bring their own – so long as you let them know the event is BYOB when invited.

As you aren’t looking to spend a lot of money, I would offer a signature mixed drink. Beer can add up quickly if each person drinks a few. And everyone has a different viewpoint on “decent” wine. A signature mixed drink allows you to provide a beverage to your guests and save money. 

 Depending on the theme of your game night, you could jazz up your drink with a name. i.e. casino-tini or aces punch.

A great signature drink option are the buckets of mixers that only require you to add a bottle of alcohol, stir, and freeze over night. The buckets can be found at your local Bed Bath & Beyond, Costco, or similar type of store.  They are tasty, easy to make, don’t cost a lot of money and best of all, each bucket makes enough drinks to be used for a group.

Garnish the drinks with some fresh fruit,  a salted/sugared rim or even a drink umbrella.

Hope you enjoy a wonderful game night. Please be sure to let me know how it turns out!



January 18, 2011. Holiday, Menu, Recipes, Recommendations, Themed Party. Leave a comment.

The Menu

As you know, the menu for Saturday has one catch: one of the guests eats no meat. She does eat fish however (whew!). Knowing this, and keeping within the theme of the “finer things,” I need to create a menu that will both satisfy the “meat and potatoes” crowd and my fish-only guest. And, because I will have very little time to cook, I need a meal that is relatively easy and quick to make.

Before I divulge the menu, you should know a few things: 1) We live in New York City where purchasing food is exponentially more expensive; 2) all meals are created in a better-than-average-for-new-york-city but piss-poor-compared-to-the-rest-of-the-country galley kitchen; 3) while not necessarily on a budget when it comes to food shopping, I am fiscally conservative and know that I would rather put my money towards a new pair of shoes then food (stay tuned because if you are like me, then you aren’t going to want to miss my tips for creating a 5-star gourmet meal on a budget!).

The Food:

  • Hors d’oeuvres: Strawberry Brie en Croute with crackers and sliced apples. (see below for the receipe)
  • First Course: Homemade cream of asparagus soup, garnished with asparagus stalks, creme fraiche and crostinis. (recipes to follow in a later post)
  • Main Course: Crab stuffed dover sole accompanied by fresh green beans and onion oven-roasted potatoes, and crescent rolls. (recipes to follow in a later post)
  • Dessert: One of the guests has offered to bring dessert. But, as I like to be prepared, I will also have fresh fruit and a devils food cake ready to go as back-up. (recipe: duncan hines devils food cake from the box and followed to a T….ssshh!)

The Drinks:

  • Water: Always put a glass of water at each person’s place. This is the responsible thing to do.
  • Wedding Wine – Bodega Catena Zapata Malbec: The husband and I love our wine. Luckily, due to my Father’s miscalculations about the quantity of alcohol needed at the wedding (*separate post to follow about this!*) we have cases upon cases of Bodega Catena Zapata Malbec, an absolutely amazing wine. We love it (and yup – it is free to us, since it was previously purchased by my parents. Score!), so going forward, you will commonly hear it referred to as “wedding wine”
  • Ice Wine: For Christmas, we received a lovely trio of ice wine. What better time to serve a bottle then during the first dinner party of the year. Ice Wine is a dessert wine which is best served very cold, so make sure you refrigerate it for a couple of days before serving. It is also a sweet wine, so use a port glass or smaller glass to serve it in (or, if you don’t have small glasses, just pour less into a regular glass).
  • Coffee: Many people enjoy an after dinner coffee. Always make sure to have extra milk/cream, sugar and artificial sweetener on hand.

As mentioned previously, one of my favorite “tricks” is to combine store-bought items with homemade items to create food that is deceivingly simple. Case in point:

Strawberry Brie en Croute:

What you will need:
1 Brie Wheel
1 Jar Strawberry preserves (you can substitue for any flavor preserves)
1 package frozen/fresh puffed pastry
1 egg
1 tablespoon water


1. Pre-heat oven to 400°F.
2. On a cookie sheet unroll the puffed pastry and place brie wheel in the center.
3. Spoon the presererves on the top of the brie wheel (no need to be neat about this!)
4. Fold up the edges of the puffed pastry covering the top of the brie wheel and preserves. Cut off any extra dough if needed.
5. Whisk the egg and water in a bowl and brush the top and sides of the pastry with the mixture (this creates a beautiful browning)
6. Bake for 25 minutes or until pastry is golden brown. Let sit for a few minutes before serving.

Serve with crackers, bread, nuts or apple slices. Enjoy!

January 7, 2011. Menu, Recipes. Leave a comment.

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