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?

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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!

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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.

Recipe:

Ingredients:
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)

Directions:
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.

Are You Ready For Some Football: Hosting a Super Bowl Party


Sunday February 6th marks one of the most sacred days in football: The Super Bowl. Every year Ed and I host friends and family for a super bowl party. This is easily one of our most fun parties to host as all we worry about is food and drink, the entertainment of course is provided thanks to the NFL.

The key to a successful super bowl party is to make it as “guy-friendly” (read: no fuss) as possible.


Game-Time Must Haves:

  • Abundant seating. We bring out the folding chairs and floor cushions to make sure there is plenty of seating.
  • Extra napkins and paper towels. The underdog scores a touchdown and everyone goes wild, which propels a plate of food from someone’s lap onto the floor. With extra napkins on hand, we can clean up the mess without having to take our eyes off the game.
  • Paper plates and plastic cups. Normally I am a big proponent of using real dishes, but during the super bowl all rules are out the window. Use paper plates and plastic cups to minimize your time in the kitchen and maximize your time in front of the tv.
  • Football decor. While certainly not necessary, football decor can add a little extra fun to your day. Some of my favorite accessories are:

And if you are very hardcore:

  • Lots of Food. It definitely makes me hungry to watch the football players work so hard on the field. To curb everyone’s appetites we always make sure to have a plethora of snacks available. The two most sought after snacks every year are the pigs-in-a-blanket and 7 layer dip. If you are looking for some snacks that are sure to be a hit, I recommend trying these out.

7-Layer Dip
Ingredients:
1 head of lettuce shredded
1 can refried beans
sliced black olives (approx. 2.25 oz)
1 3/4 cup shredded cheese
1 1/2 cups guacamole
1 1/2 cups salsa
1 1/2 cups sour cream
1 packet taco seasoning (any level of spiciness works)
Tostitos Scoops Tortilla Chips

Directions:
1. Mix the taco seasoning with the sour cream
2. Using any sort of pan (approx. 9x 13 with at least 2 inch high sides) layer the following ingredients in the following order (first listed on the bottom): refried beans, lettuce, guacamole, sour cream (mixed with taco seasoning), salsa, cheese and olives.
3. Serve with Chips

Pigs-in-a-Blanket:
Ingredients:
Pillsbury crescent rolls (each crescent roll dough piece cut in half)
hot dogs (each hot dog cut in two)
ketchup
mustard

Directions:
1. Roll a piece of hot dog in a crescent roll.
2. Place on cookie sheet and bake according to the crescent roll instructions.
3. Serve with ketchup and mustard.

Two super easy snacks that will keep your guests coming back for more. The last most important “must have” is drinks. We always have extra soda and water on hand along with beer. If you are feeling adventurous, a “touchdown-tini” would make a fun addition for the female fans. 

Want to learn the rules of the football to impress your friends this Sunday? Check out Sports Girl.

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January 31, 2011. Celebrations, Recipes, Themed Party. Leave a comment.

Recap: How to Host a Puppy Birthday Party

Miss Fang and Bandit preparing to "blow out the candles" on their birthday cake.

 This year’s puppy birthday party was held last weekend – and the party certainly lived up to its yearly standard (although possibly a bit tamer than years passed). There were costumes, decorations and dog-themed food galore. While the puppy-tini and pin the party hat on the puppy game were missing, there were plenty of other new aspects that everyone enjoyed.

After any party, I believe it is important to not only review the details, but also lay out what worked and what different. This allows others to gain creative ideas and learn what they can do to improve/modify the party for their own benefit.  

The Details

  • Costumes: Puppy-visors with kerchiefs

Modeling the Puppy-visors

  • Food: bone-shaped cheese spread (recipe below), chicken corn chowder, rolls and snacks galore
  • Dessert: bone-shaped petit fours and birthday cake

What Worked:

  • Having a sit-down dinner
  • Using dessert to dress up the tables

What Didn’t Work:

  • The costumes in theory were a great idea, but most of the guests found the ears “itchy” so they didn’t last long.

Recipe: Cheese Spread
From the kitchen of Suzan Pfeiffer

Ingredients:
12 oz. grated sharp cheddar cheese
12 oz. grated mild cheddar cheese
1 cup mayonnaise
1 tsp. cayenne pepper (or to taste)
1 small onion chopped
1/2 cup chopped pecans
Assorted Crackers
Raspberry Jam (or your choice)

Directions:
Mix first 5 ingredients together by hand. Put on platter or in a bowl (or you can mold into any shape you want i.e. dog bone). Sprinkle with pecans. Place jam in a bowl on the side or spread on top of cheese before sprinkling with pecans. Serve with assorted crackers.

My family loves this spread – especially with some extra cayenne pepper. The best thing about it, is that you can plate it any way you like and it always look beautiful. Keep this recipe in mind when you start thinking of Super Bowl foods!

January 25, 2011. Celebrations, Recipes, Sit-Down Dinner Parties, Themed Party. 2 comments.

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