Game on!

I’m a planner.

I like making lists, I like doing research and, yes, my family’s vacations include an itinerary.

That’s why my kitchen table was covered with paper and cookbooks the other day. We were having some friends over for Game Night and I was looking for snack ideas. This wasn’t a formal dinner or even a potluck, but I think get-togethers, no matter how casual, are all about the food.

Over the years I’ve hosted Thanksgivings, a wine tasting, Memorial Day cookouts and Super Bowl parties. I had a get-together for the Olympic Games opening ceremony and presented an awesome spread for a Halloween party.

The pumpkin cheesecake was made to look like a Jack-O-Lantern.

Before each event, my husband asks me not to go overboard. (I think he’s having a hard time letting go of the 96 mini cupcakes I made for a friend’s baby shower.) My friend Cecelia has been known to text an hour before the party with two words: Stop cleaning.

I love them both, but I know myself. I decide on an idea and I go with it. And yes, I usually go overboard, but it’s a great way to try new recipes. If it doesn’t work out, I open a bottle of wine and everyone still has a good time. Most of the parties I host end up with everyone in the kitchen, sitting around the table and munching on olive and rosemary focaccia, red-eye deviled eggs or miniature fried tacos.

Bonus: My family dines on leftovers the next day.

Miniature food was the theme for Game Night. I made tiny cupcakes, mini cheesecakes, individual pizza and – because it’s National Peanut Month – Baby BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwiches. Roasted peanuts added to the coleslaw give the sandwiches an added crunch.

BABY BBQ PULLED PORK SANDWICHESBBQ pork sandwich

Ingredients for the pulled pork

  • 1 2-pound pork butt or shoulder
  • 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 cup root beer
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds, lightly crushed

Ingredients for the fixings

  • ½ cup chopped dry-roasted peanuts
  • About 2 cups BBQ sauce
  • 12 Hawaiian rolls, sliced in half
  • About 1 cup coleslaw

Put pork, broth, root beer, onion, bay leaves, and mustard seed in a slow cooker on low heat for about 6 hours or until the pork is tender.

Remove meat and discard liquid. Using 2 forms, shred the meat. Return shredded meat to the slow cooker and keep on low heat for 10 minutes or until you’re ready to serve.

Toss pork, peanuts and BBQ sauce together in a large bowl until combined. Fill each roll with about ¼ cup pulled pork and 2 heaping tablespoons of slaw.

Makes 12 sandwiches

Recipe courtesy of Tiny Food Party!: Bite-sized Recipes for Miniature Meals by Teri Lyn Fisher and Jenny Park

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Just pin it!

I love Pinterest. I’ve killed many hours pinning ideas for dinner, my daughter’s birthday party and future vacations.

Like many fans, I’m guilty of pinning first and … well, what happens after pinning?

I started a board to identify all the things from Pinterest I actually tried. There aren’t many things pinned to that board – yet – but I love moving a pin from one board to the “I did it” board. It’s like an illustrated “To do” list – with yummy results!

I had a few friends over last weekend and needed some simple snack ideas. This appetizer may just be the most popular recipe in Pinterest, considering the number of re-pins its received. I only had two Lit’l Smokies leftover, so they’re be on to something!

BACON WRAPPED SMOKIES WITH BROWN SUGAR AND BUTTERbacon-wrapped lil smokies

  • 1 pound Bacon, cut into thirds
  • 1 pound Lit’l Smokies
  • 1 stick Butter
  • 2 cups Brown Sugar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cut the bacon into thirds and wrap each Lit’l Smokie.

Place all the wrapped Lit’l Smokies in a single layer in a baking dish. Then melt the stick of butter and then 1 cup of brown sugar and stir until mixed well. Pour the butter and brown sugar mixture on the Lit’l Smokies and bacon. Then take the other cup of brown sugar and sprinkle evenly over the Lit’l Smokies.

Bake them for about 15 to 20 minutes and then turn the heat up to 400 degrees for about 5 minutes or longer until the bacon becomes crispy.

Recipe courtesy of tastykitchen.com via Pinterest

Oh Snap(ple)!

Day 25: Frozen Green Apple Yogurt

It was probably not smart to make frozen green apple yogurt on the first real cold day of the month, but it looked yummy and I had a few Granny Smith apples that were going to go bad soon.

Breakfast tomorrow will be a little chilly.

FROZEN GREEN APPLE YOGURT

  • 1/3 cup honey
  • ½ cup apple juice
  • 3/4 cup finely grated unpeeled green apple (I ended up chopping mine because I couldn’t locate my peeler)
  • 16 ounces Greek-style yogurt

Stir honey and juice in a small saucepan over low heat until honey melts; cool syrup 5 minutes.

Combine honey mixture, apple and yogurt in 5 x 9 inch loaf pan. Cover with foil, freeze 3 hours or overnight.

Remove yogurt from freezer 15 minutes before serving.

Recipe courtesy of Quick & Easy Recipes With Just 4 Ingredients by ACP Magazines

Day 26: Apple, Brie and Turkey Panini

I received a Panini maker for a Christmas present a few years ago. I don’t use it that often (and yes, I hear about that all the time), but every time I do, I tell myself I need to get it out of the pantry more often. It’s easy, it’s fast – I love it!

A turkey, green apple and brie Panini is one of my favorite sandwiches. Today was a crazy-busy day, so it was the perfect sandwich for dinner.

APPLE, BRIE AND TURKEY PANINI

  • 2 slices of sourdough bread
  • 2 slices smoked turkey breast
  • ½ of a Granny Smith apple, sliced thinly
  • Thin slices of brie
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Using a pastry brush, lightly brush both bread slices with olive oil. Arrange a thin layer of brie on both sides of the bread and then lightly brush with olive oil, and sprinkle freshly ground black pepper according to taste. Place a slice of turkey breast on each of the bread slices. Arrange slices of apple on one side of the bread. Top with the other slice of bread.

Heat Panini maker and lightly brush with leftover olive oil. Place the sandwich on the grill until done. Slice in half and serve warm.

Recipe courtesy of jinkzzkitchen.blogspot.com

Day 27: Apple Nachos

My daughter is having a Halloween party tonight. There are eight 11-year-old girls in our downstairs family room, but it sounds like 50 people, and a herd of buffalo, have taken over that part of our house.

And that was before they consumed sugar.

I love Halloween parties. I love the costumes and I love the food. In years past I have made blood-shot eyeballs (deviled eggs), caterpillar pizza (pizza bread), a Frankenstein’s bride cake and a pumpkin-brownie cheesecake.

My daughter gave me a list two pages long with food suggestions for her party. We narrowed it down considerably to include ghost pizza, boney breadsticks, a jack-o-lantern veggie tray, black cat cupcakes and apple nachos.

Don’t let the name fool you. Apple nachos may be less healthy than regular nachos.

Happy Halloween!

APPLE NACHOS

  • 4 large Granny Smith apples, sliced
  • 35 large marshmallows
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 35 caramels
  • 1 tablespoon evaporated milk
  • 1/4 cup mini semi-sweet morsels

Slice apples and arrange on platter.

In a saucepan, melt marshmallows and butter until creamy. Set aside.

In a microwave dish, melt caramels with milk (cooking in 30 second intervals, and stirring). Set aside.

Pour marshmallow cream over apple slices, followed by caramel sauce. Sprinkle with chocolate chips. Serve immediately and enjoy!

Recipe adapted from Taste of Home magazine

The jalapeno challenge — recipe No. 2

I learned three things yesterday.

1. Soaking fingers in milk really does ease a jalapeno pepper burn.

2. My kids don’t react when they walk in the kitchen and see me soaking my hands in a bowl of milk.

3. Hulling strawberries is a lot easier than I thought.

STRAWBERRY JALAPENO POPPERS

  • 1 jalapeno pepper, finely chopped
  • 24 strawberries, hulled
  • ¼ cup cream cheese, softened
  • ½ teaspoon lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon cilantro

Wash strawberries and pat dry. Hollow out strawberries with a spoon.

In a mixing bowl, combine cream cheese, jalapeno, lime juice and chili powder.

Stuff strawberries with the cheese mixture. Dip cheese end of strawberry into cilantro.

Refrigerate one hour and serve.

Source: Jalapeno Madness (www.jalapenomadness.com)

I said, “Dip, baby, dip …”

We had a party the other day and I’m happy to say I did NOT go overboard on the snacks.

Yay me!

BEER DIP

  • 2 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, softened
  • 1/3 cup beer
  • 1 envelope ranch salad dressing mix
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
  • Pretzels

In a large bow, beat the cream cheese, beer and dressing  mix until smooth. Stir in cheddar cheese. Serve with pretzels and refrigerate leftovers.

Recipe courtesy of The Taste of Home Cookbook All New Edition

Where’s the beef?

The thing about hosting a party is that you spend so much time getting ready for it, you forget to eat.

Or I do, anyway.

So when we do have a party, I try to have at least one treat of substance, an appetizer that’s more than bread or vegetables, to keep me from eating all the sweets I’ve baked. For this party, my choice was garlic beef cubes.

Two words. YUM-MY!

GARLIC BEEF CUBES

  • 1 pound beef tenderloin, cubed
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed
  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 3 tbsp sour cream
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes in oil
  • 1 tbsp horseradish
  • 1 tbsp chopped parsley, fresh preferred

Sprinkle beef cubes with salt and pepper. In 10-inch skillet, heat oil and garlic over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until garlic is toasted. Remove as much garlic from the skillet; discard.

Add beef cubes to skillet. Cook 4 to f minutes, stirring occasionally until brown on all sides and desired doneness; drain.

In a small bowl, mix mayonnaise, sour cream, tomatoes and horseradish.

Spoon beef cubes into a mixing bowl or on a platter. Sprinkle with parsley. Serve with toothpicks for dipping into the sauce.

(Side note: This makes a quick meal on nights you don’t feel like cooking.)

I can live on bread alone

Another party appetizer recipe. I would come up with a snappy intro, but winter has hit and all my energy is spent keeping warm.

OLIVE FOCACCIA

  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 can Pillsbury Refrigerated White Homestyle Loaf
  • 1/4 cup pitted kalamata olives, chopped
  • 1 tsp dried rosemary leaves, crushed
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano leaves

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Grease bottom only of a baking sheet with 1.5 tbsp olive oil. Remove dough from can and spread on sheet. With fingers, make indentions on the dough.

Brush 1.5 tbsp of olive oil over dough. Sprinkle with olives, press lightly into dough. Sprinkle evenly with rosemary and oregano.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove bread from pan and cool on wire rack for 5 minutes.

ROASTED RED PEPPER DIP

  • 1 8-ounce container light cream cheese with roasted garlic
  • 1 jar roasted red bell peppers, drained  

In a food processor, combine cream cheese and roasted peppers. Process until smooth. Place in a small serving bowl

Cut focaccia in lengthwise pieces. Serve with the dip and enjoy.

Last Friday night …

We didn’t go streaking in the park or skinny dipping in the dark, but we did have a party, and alcohol was the main event.

Wine, specifically.

I don’t know a lot about wine. Basically, what I like is quite similar to what a 19-year-old college freshman drinks in attempt to be cool. So we had a wine party. Everyone brought their favorite bottle and we all tried something new.

I’m learned I’m very much a white wine girl. A sweet white wine girl. Good to know.

In addition to wine, we had appetizers. I probably made too many. I do that every time we have a party.

Yay leftovers!

SPINACH QUICHE BITES

  • 1 package Pillsbury Refrigerated Pie Crusts
  • 2 slices bacon
  • 1/4 cup chopped green onions
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half
  • 1/3 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 9-ounce package of frozen spinach, thawed, squeezed to drain

Heat oven to 375 degrees.

Roll out pie crust. Using a glass, cut out circles to form pie crusts. Place in ungreased miniature muffin tin.

Cook bacon in a medium skillet until crisp. Drain on paper towels. Add onions to the same skillet; cook 2 to 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Drain.

Place onions in a medium bowl. Crumble bacon and add to onions. Add eggs and beat well. Stir in half-and-half, cheese, salt and nutmeg. Add spinach; mix well. Divide mixture evenly into crust-lined cups.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until puffed and golden brown. Cool in pan or on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Serve warm.

I may have to rethink my stance on tomatoes

My husband and I celebrated our 12th wedding anniversary a few days ago.

12 years. Wow.

It seems like such a long time and such a short time. We met because of a tornado and we were engaged six months later. We were married a couple of months before our “one year of knowing each other ” anniversary.

It’s a great story. I’m lucky because we have a great marriage to go with it.

To celebrate, we went out to dinner the other night, just the two of us, to one our favorite restaurants. Italian food was the theme of the night, beginning with a bruschetta appetizer.

Yes, I am not a fan of tomatoes, but for some strange reason I love bruschetta — so much so that I made some of my own.

 

GARDEN-FRESH BRUSCHETTA

  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and halved
  • 14 slices French bread, about 3/4-inch thick
  • 4 Roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
  • 1/4 cup chopped red onion
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp fresh basil, minced
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp pepper
  • 1 tbsp parmesan cheese, grated

Rub cut side of garlic over one side of each slice of bread. Place bread garlic side down on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 5 minutes on each side or until lightly browned.

In a bowl, combine the tomatoes, onion, oil, minced basil, salt and pepper; spoon about 2 tablespoons onto each piece of toast.

Enjoy with a glass of white wine on you deck, balcony, front stoop, backyard, etc.

Recipe courtesy of my AllRecipes app on my new iPhone (Anniversary present! The phone, not the app.)