Friends Luncheon – Feeding Friendships One Dish at a Time

Friends Luncheon – Feeding Friendships One Dish at a Time

Leading up to my visit to Claire’s, I was so excited for all the delicious food, but I had no idea our little friends luncheon was going to be so grand! Working on a fabulous meal together was the perfect way to catch up with out-of-town friends. I can’t wait for our next get-together! If you are thinking of planning a friends luncheon of your own, read on for some fabulous recipes and tips from Claire.

At this point, I think my love for hosting has been fairly well established, so for me, nothing beats having friends over for a weekend stay. I enjoy all parts of the process, from the planning stages up. I gleefully plot out a menu and a rough list of possible activities, carefully tailoring each visit to my guests’ particular tastes, and being sure to plan for several hours of doing nothing at all in order to establish a truly vacation-y vibe. Also, depending on the previous night’s activities, sometimes sitting around doing nothing is exactly what we need.

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of hosting several friends at once. Andrew and Meredith drove down from San Jose, and Candi made the trek up from Phoenix with her 9-year-old son. I made the long haul to several grocery stores.

For a get-together like this one, I like to keep the fare simple, but impressive. I planned the weekend menu around dishes that wouldn’t take too many ingredients, and that wouldn’t clash with each other on my cooking surfaces. My guests rolled in late Friday evening, so I threw together a basic cheese board with fresh bread, and we sat around it munching while we caught up. Saturday morning, I made buttermilk biscuits and sausage gravy, and since we had such a heavy breakfast, we decided to make our next meal a late luncheon.

For the next several hours, we sat around laughing and digesting, and remembering why we all had so much love for each other, while planning out our friends luncheon.

I settled on making a roasted pork tenderloin, because it can be easily sliced into small servings, and it’s a fairly simple cooking process. We also had a trio of artichokes, another cheese board (because there’s no such thing as too much cheese), and one of my favorite crowd-pleaser recipes, tomato pie. For a dinner party, I usually like to have everything basically ready by the time my guests arrive. In a sleepover scenario like this, though, it’s much more fun when everyone hangs around the kitchen and helps, so I planned around each of my friends’ kitchen strengths. Andrew quickly got to mixing cocktails while I pulled ingredients out of the fridge. Candi, who, incidentally, is a fire wizard, went out to the patio to get the grill going while I started prep on the artichokes. Mer tested the cocktails and cheeses for quality control.

Friends Luncheon

For the artichokes, I squeezed a couple of lemons into a big pot of boiling water and dropped them in, then threw in the halved artichokes. After about 15 minutes, I checked them to make sure they were done, and then gave them to Candi. She slathered them in a mix of olive oil, lemon juice, kosher salt, and pepper, and finished them on the grill to char up the edges a bit. We put them on a platter with bowls of butter and mayo for dipping.

Our friends luncheon was coming together nicely, but surveying our progress, I realized that we were missing a key ingredient: dessert! Luckily, I had just bought a giant box of strawberries, so I put Candi to work hulling those while I threw together a shortcake. My recipe of choice comes from my grandma’s copy of Cross Creek Cookery, by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, and it is pure perfection.

While the shortcake cooled and the oven was still hot, Andrew took a break from mixing cocktails to work on the pork tenderloin. He put together a mixture of dried herbs and spices from my pantry, rubbed down the tenderloin, and threw it in a hot skillet. After he got a good sear on all sides, he put the skillet into the 450° oven and let it roast for about 18 minutes. Then he covered the pan in foil to let the meat rest while we prepped the tomato pie.

At this point, our friends Jess and Ian showed up. My husband and Ian loaded Candi’s son into the car and headed out to play some disc golf, and not a moment too soon, because Andrew’s cocktails were starting to catch up with us. Our 90’s hip hop dance party heated up while we waited for timers to ring.

When the tomato pie finally came out of the oven, we were ready to get to the grub. We put everything out buffet style, set out plates and silverware, and sat around the table inhaling the fruits of all our hard work. In our case, the tomato pie was maybe a little darker around the edges and the pork just a little more done than planned. That’s just what happens when you ignore the kitchen timer because you’re in the middle of a dance-off. Anyway, the best foods are flavored with laugh-attacks.

Friends Luncheon

Tomato Pie

  • 1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
  • 4 or 5 tablespoons whole grain mustard
  • 8 oz Gruyere cheese, sliced or shredded
  • 2 tomatoes, sliced
  • 1/2 cup to 1 cup fresh basil, coarsely chopped

Preheat your oven to 400°. On a lightly floured surface, roll the puff pastry out to desired size; I like to fit mine to a stoneware baking tray, but any cookie sheet or pizza stone will work. Bake the pastry for about 15 minutes, until it is golden brown, but not quite done. Spread the mustard evenly over the pastry, then layer on the cheese, basil, and tomatoes. Pop back into the oven and bake until the cheese is melty and the tomatoes are cooked, about 10 more minutes.

Friends Luncheon

Strawberry Shortcake

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Pinch nutmeg
  • 1 egg, well beaten
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1 1/2 quart strawberries
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • Half pint of heavy whipping cream
  • Dash of vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon sugar

Butter a round cake pan and set it aside. Preheat the oven to 400°. Mix the first five ingredients together and sift. Cut the butter into pieces and quickly work it into the flour mixture with your fingers. Add the egg, and then milk. Mix quickly and turn the dough into the cake pan and pat it into shape with the flat of your hand. Bake the shortcake for 20 minutes and then turn it onto a cooling rack.

Set aside a few of the largest strawberries to top the finished cake, and cut the rest into pieces. An hour before you’re ready to eat, add the brown sugar. Let the berries sit in the bowl for about an hour in a warm place, stirring occasionally to make sure they are macerating evenly. Cut the shortcake into two layers and butter each cut side. Pour the cream, vanilla and 1 tablespoon of sugar into a tall bowl and whip until stiff peaks form. To assemble, stack the cake layers together with strawberries and juice between and on top. Top with whipped cream and decorate with reserved berries.

Friends Luncheon

Printer friendly recipes: Friends Luncheon Recipes

Meatless Monday – Jalapeño Corn Fritters

Meatless Monday – Jalapeño Corn Fritters

Well didn’t we get lucky? Our Meatless Monday blog just happens to fall on National Corn Fritter Day! I am sitting here drooling thinking of all the Meatless Monday dishes that could benefit from a delicious Jalapeño Corn Fritter – vegetarian chili, a big hearty salad, vegetable stew! I’m super excited about these! Sarah W. was brave enough to fry in her own kitchen, but I think I would break out the electric skillet and do these outside (I have a very real fear of indoor frying. We’ll save that story for another time.). These look easy enough that even I could make them, and Sarah has a bunch of suggestions for customizing them to your personal taste, whether you’re making them for Meatless Monday or just because. Sarah, teach us the way of the Corn Fritter!

Happy Corn Fritter Day! When Candice told me this was a thing that really exists, I knew I had to find a great recipe. I have no personal attachment to corn fritters, but as a Midwest resident, I know and love me some sweet corn. Today’s recipe is simple and doesn’t require any crazy impossible-to-find ingredients.

Meatless Monday meals can be as simple or as gourmet as you like, and these Jalapeño Corn Fritters fit in nicely no matter where you fall on that spectrum.

Summer for me is about simple food that’s easy to prepare (and preferably has a little kick). I added some finely chopped jalapeño to give my corn fritters an additional dimension of flavor. Typically, Midwest summers are hot, sticky, humid, and best spent lounging by the pool, but this year we’ve been given something of a reprieve. It’s very odd to wake up to a crisp mid-July day, but hey – I’ll take it! The fact that the weather eased up made it easier to think about tackling a dish that requires a hot stove.

We all know I love shortcuts. This recipe is fairly straightforward, so there’s not a lot of room for improvement, but I will say a few things. Adding jalapeño was a fantastic idea. If you’re not making these on a Meatless Monday, toss some bacon in there, too. Summer is growing season, and hot peppers are one of the things that have historically grown best for me (they don’t need very much attention).

If you have a hot pepper other than jalapeño, use it! If you have frozen corn instead of fresh corn, use it! If you are using fresh corn and have access to a grill, try grilling your corn before slicing it off the cob. This recipe calls for paprika, but to be honest, I am not very good at being able to taste paprika in things. If you want to spice this up with additional favorite seasonings, do it! Rosemary (my perennial favorite) would be great, as would fresh cilantro, lemon pepper, a little red onion, maybe even garlic (be careful with fresh garlic – it burns easily). My point (as always) is: this recipe says to make this dish a certain way. Fortune favors the bold, so modify, modify, modify, and don’t be afraid to add flavors you like! Also, use a mixer to beat the egg white – don’t try to be a hero like me and whisk it by hand for five straight minutes until your arm cramps up before conceding defeat and digging out the hand mixer. It’s a much better choice, I assure you.

Meatless Monday Corn Fritters

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon paprika
  • 1 egg, separated
  • ¾ cup corn (I used one cob)
  • 1 jalapeño

Meatless Monday Corn Fritters

Directions:

  • Remove corn from cob, if using fresh. Chop your jalapeño pretty finely.
  • Combine flour, salt, baking powder, and paprika.
  • In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolk, then add your corn and jalapeño bits.
  • Add your dry ingredients to your egg yolk, corn, and jalapeño. This is going to coat it and make what appears to be corn gravel. Go with it.

Meatless monday Corn Fritters

  • Beat the egg white until soft white peaks form. The photo above should give a decent reference of “soft peaks”- if your egg doesn’t hold a little bit of shape when you pull your beaters out, you’re not there yet.
  • Once you’ve beaten your egg into submission, fold into your corn gravel. You should have a super sticky mixture, but the egg white should be enough wetness to incorporate all your flour. If your dough is too dry, add a tiny, tiny, TINY bit of milk. I didn’t need to do this, but thought I would until I mixed and scraped the bowl for a few minutes.
  • Heat oil in a skillet. Drop dough into pan by rounded teaspoons, flattening slightly once they’ve hit the oil.
  • Fry until golden brown on both sides, flipping once.

Pretty easy, right? I have an innate fear of frying things in oil on the stovetop, and these went pretty well. Make sure your oil is heated so your fritters sizzle once they hit the pan. Use a kernel of corn from your dough mixture to test before dropping a whole batch in. Using rounded teaspoons, I came out with 9 palm-sized fritters, so adjust the size or double the recipe as needed. I’d recommend frying 3-4 at once, depending on the size of your pan, and using the back of your spoon to flatten these when you drop them in so they cook evenly. Be warned that corn + hot oil can mean popping or spitting. Corn naturally has some water content, so be cautious.

Meatless Monday Corn Fritters

These are a great treat, crispy on the outside, with the sweet notes of the corn and the spiciness of the hot pepper on the inside. Great with a cold beer on the patio on an unseasonably cool summer evening.

What’s your favorite Meatless Monday recipe?

Have you ever grilled corn before? (It’s delicious)

Are you as deathly terrified of frying things as I am?

The Art of the Cheese Plate

The Art of the Cheese Plate

Cheese is my soulmate, so when Sarah W. sends me photos of her cheese plates (which she does every week or two), my heart speeds up and I get butterflies in my stomach. Then I remember that Sarah lives in Ohio and we can’t share. It’s the worst kind of long distance relationship. I have been enlightened, however, with the knowledge that I’m not the only one who eats cheese for lunch sometimes, and that it’s actually a socially acceptable thing to do as long as you lay it out prettily on a plate before consuming. If I pick myself up one of these gorgeous boards, I may even convince the world that my midnight raid of the cheese drawer is because I’m fancy, and in no way related to, you know, beer consumption. I think we’ve delved into my issues enough for one day, so I’m going to pass the cheese plate to Sarah now. If she can inspire me to be a little more classy, just think what she can do for you! Spread the cheese, Sarah!

I don’t actually have a lot of meaningful memories associated with cheese or cheese plates (besides my mother telling me to never use low-fat or fat-free options because, “What’s the point?”), but I have to say, there are not a lot of things that rank higher than sitting outside on a beautiful day with a bottle of wine, a plate covered in cheeses, crackers, veggies, and fruit, accompanied by my best friend or husband.

Cheese Plate

Two kinds of olives, pickled carrots, fresh cherries on the left. Gouda, pepperjack, 5 county cheddar, cucumber slices, sharp white cheddar, porter-marbled, and crackers. Perfect with white wine.

So let’s talk composition. There are so many kinds of cheese. Washed rinds, soft cheese, goatsmilk, sheepsmilk, bleu cheeses, sharps, extra sharps, mild, layered, studded, alcohol-marbled. Going to the fancy cheese section of your local grocery store with the idea to lay out a bangin’ platter can be intimidating, let alone setting foot in a fancy cheese shop. And then, what if you don’t like your choices?

Real Simple has a nice article on selecting cheeses and all the niceties that go along with that, but I don’t always like following rules. Off the top of my head (and from copious field research), I would have guessed cheese plates are usually grouped bleus, creamy, sharp, and mild, and I wasn’t far off the mark. But I’m bored already discussing textures and types.

So how do you pick winners for your own cheese plate?

Cheese Plate

My winners from last summer – a 5 county cheddar (five cheddars of varying sharpness and softness layered one atop the other) and a porter-marbled

Answer one is to taste everything. Any cheese shop worth its salt and cream will hand you a sample. Taste, ask questions. It’s a lot like wine-tasting in that you’ll eventually find yourself with a few solid staples that are both unique and undeniably suited to you. Which leads us to answer two: know your tastes. Sample a mango-studded cheese if you spend all summer obsessively squeezing mangoes at the grocery store to see if they’re ripe for smoothies. Try a cheese marbled with dark beer if your favorite part of St. Patrick’s Day is drinking your dinner in form of Guinness or other stouts and porters. Be on the lookout for ingredients that you know and love in other preparations — artisans put a lot of things in cheese now!

To address the cheesy elephant in the room, if you have never liked any bleu cheese you’ve ever eaten (like my cheese-heathen husband), then ask your cheese shop associate what they’d recommend as an alternative. You might find yourself with a tasty gorgonzola or feta instead. Your guests will have a pungent cheese, and you won’t feel like you’re forcing yourself to eat mold.

Cheese Plate

Pepperjack, multi-grain crackers, sharp white cheddar, brie with strawberries, swiss, garlic-stuffed green olives, mango-studded, and honest-to-goodness air-popped popcorn.

Once you’ve settled on your cheeses, start thinking about what else you’d like to put on your plate — crackers, fruits, vegetables, meats. Brie with fresh strawberries is a super yum combination that finds its way onto my platters on many occasions. The beef sticks I’ve known my whole life as “smokies” make a great accompaniment sliced into inch-long pieces, while thick slices of fat smoked sausages and summer salamis are also a great standby. I have a little garden, and fresh cucumbers and green beans make their way onto my plates, as well as pickled carrots from the year before. And if you love the taste of salty, pickled things, grab feta- or garlic-stuffed olives as garnish. Fresh berries and cherries make a sweet statement against mild cheeses like jarlsberg and swiss. Multi-grain crackers, cheese crisps, even the humble saltine all make mini cheesy sandwich bites, and one of the most delightful things I’ve put in a cheese assortment has to be popcorn. Because why not?

Cheese Plate

These Vans gluten-free cheddar crackers are one of my favorite finds for cheese plates. Super thin and crunchy! Soppressata and salami picante are great cheese plate additions, and white cheddar cheese curds are the main attraction.

The only real rule I’ve come across in cheese plating is to keep wet things (olives, freshly-washed berries, pickles) away from anything they will get soggy (crackers, popcorn, chips). Other than that? Go nuts! I, personally, am not one for smears and smudges of jams and chutneys on a cheese plate, but you do you. Heap preserves on top of a small wheel of brie and pop it in the oven for about 8 minutes. Absolute heaven.

To prepare your cheese for plating, let it guide you. Firmer cheeses do well in thin slabs that easily stack on crackers. Softer cheeses can be cut into rough cubes with a very sharp knife, or allowed to crumble as they will. Creamy cheeses and spreads need to be accompanied by a knife. Layered cheeses, like my 5 county cheddar favorite, made a cute presentation cut into little matchsticks, but it wasn’t the most stable, and liked to fall apart. You can make your cheese plates as Alice in Wonderland landscape-ish or as neat as you’d like. Fan out slices or make a pile of cubes — it’s all up to you!

A last few recommendations: Slice your cheese reasonably close to when you plan on serving it. After several hours, it can start to get hard around the edges and get that greasy, unappetizing sheen. If you have leftover cheese, the best thing to do is have a leftover cheese plate for lunch the next day! Check out this guide on the best ways to store cheeses based on type. I’ve had good luck wrapping cheese in parchment, then plastic wrap, although sometimes you still need to trim hard edges, which is fine! Using the same cheeses over and over won’t get repetitive provided you add something new each time. Finally, I didn’t address dried fruit or nuts, but those are both excellent cheese plate accompaniments.

So, what’s your favorite kind of cheese? Does talking about cheese texture bore you to death, too? What’s the most unique cheese you’ve ever tried — and was it good?

Memorial Day BBQ – Watermelon Ricotta Starters

Memorial Day BBQ – Watermelon Ricotta Starters

 Since many of us have the day off and the kids are ending their school year, Memorial Day has become the unofficial kickoff to summer, with the scent of back yard BBQ wafting through the air. If BBQ is in the plans for you this Monday, try these refreshing appetizers from Sarah B. Sarah may have gotten a little confused with the west coast lingo, but she knows good BBQ, and she definitely knows good snacks! So, Sarah, give us a little lesson on BBQ and teach us how to make those awesome watermelon bites!

Since moving to California from North Carolina, I’ve come to realize there are tons of cultural differences that I wouldn’t have given a second thought to otherwise, generally when it comes to what things are called.

Here, the big road you drive on is called a freeway, not a highway. If you go to a Mexican restaurant and order a taco, the odds are good it won’t have a hard shell a la Taco Bell. Most importantly, though, is that people here use the word barbeque to refer to a gathering where you grill hot dogs and hamburgers, and not to refer to a meal that involves pulled pork.

In North Carolina, barbeque (or BBQ more often) is something of a religion, and the side of the state you originate from will determine the kind of barbeque you proclaim to be the best. If you’re from Western NC, you’ll likely go for the Lexington Style BBQ, made from pork shoulder and served with a sauce seasoned with ketchup, vinegar, and pepper.

If you’re from Eastern NC, you’ll be more likely to prefer Eastern Style (otherwise known as “the correct choice”). Eastern Style BBQ is vinegar and pepper based and includes no part of a tomato.

It should be noted that it’s next to impossible to find real BBQ around here, so imagine my surprise when I heard a couple of colleagues talking and one mentioned that her Memorial Day plans were to have some people over “for barbeque.”

I got really excited hearing this and jumped into the conversation, thinking at the very least I could procure some leftovers, and at best, I might score an invite.

“You’re having barbeque?” I asked, maybe a smidge too enthusiastically. “I haven’t been able to find barbeque anywhere since I moved here.”

She looked at me oddly for a second, then said, “They don’t have hamburgers near your house?”

After another round or two, we determined that when she said she was having people over “for barbeque,” that meant they were grilling out, having what I would call a barbeque. For me, having people over for barbeque means you’re probably having what they refer to in NC as a “pig pickin’” and would be rewarded with delicious pulled pork.

Needless to say, I’m still on my eternal quest to find some good BBQ west of the Smokies.

So I hope everyone has a great Memorial Day weekend, whether you’re having BBQ sandwiches (yay!) or plain old grilled hamburgers (boo!). If you get invited to a cookout, take along these fun appetizers, made with the quintessential summer fruit: watermelon! They’re super easy and super delicious.

Watermelon Ricotta StartersMemorial Day BBQ

Ingredients

  • 1 watermelon
  • 1 container ricotta cheese
  • Several mint sprigs
  • Olive oil, salt, and pepper to taste

Dice your watermelon into large enough chunks that they won’t fall apart if you take the middle out. Remove the center with a melon baller (or even a small spoon).

Fill the holes with ricotta cheese.

Drizzle olive oil over the cubes and add a dash of salt and pepper (to taste) over the platter.

Garnish each ricotta-filled cube with a mint sprig.

 

Cinco de Mayo Recipes

Cinco de Mayo Recipes

Cinco de Mayo is a holiday to celebrate Mexican heritage and culture. And like any celebration it is best with food! Are you ready to celebrate? Head out for some authentic Mexican fare or stay home and whip some up yourself. We’ve got you covered in the food and drink department!

Chow down on this fantastic Shrimp Cocktail while sipping a Simple Margarita.

shrimp

Or, if you’re feeling a little fancy, this Hibiscus Margarita is a real winner!

Celebrate Cinco de Mayo with a Hibiscus Margarita

Here we have a lovely little salsa that makes a great appetizer.Football Food

What’s your favorite dish to make for Cinco de Mayo?

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March Madness: Recipes & Tips to Make Your Party a Slam Dunk

March Madness: Recipes & Tips to Make Your Party a Slam Dunk

March Madness is upon us! I don’t understand the bracketology or even the enthusiasm, but I’m certainly not going to judge you if you’re into it…mostly because I’m a nice person, but some of it has to do with wanting you to share your game snacks with me. Thankfully, Sarah Buchanan is back and willing to share some tips and recipes to make your March Madness parties successful. I’m going to sit on the sidelines now and pass this to Sarah. (Get it? I crack myself up.)

It’s the time of the year when the madness strikes – March Madness. Fully grown adults will gather around TV sets, scream at refs and at athletes barely out of high school, and feverishly track wins and losses on brackets drawn on huge pieces of paper in the conference room at work.
Before I moved to California, I lived in North Carolina, where college basketball is its own special kind of religion. UNC, NC State, and Duke are the big three, and if you’re a North Carolina native, you probably have a favorite you’re passionate about. Or you could be like me, the fourth kind of NC basketball fan, the ones who may or may not have a preference between State and Duke, but are known as the ABC Fans: Anyone But Carolina.

March Madness games provide a great excuse to get your friends together for sports and food and…more food.

If you’re the host of one of these get-togethers, below are some tips (and recipes!) to make sure your March Madness party is a slam dunk. (Sorry.)

  1. Serve several snacks and appetizers rather than trying to plan and execute a full blown dinner if you’re having more than three people over. You don’t want to be running around, checking the casserole, stirring the beans, and making the salad while the game clock is counting down and everyone else is having fun. Choose some easy to make snacks, and if you really want to have a meal, order some pizzas to go with your snacks!
  2. Make sure that you have everything you need beforehand. Check your stock of drinks, napkins, plates, ice, snacks and ingredients, and cups. You don’t want to have to run out of your own March Madness party to pick up ice in the middle of the game.
  3. Consider making it a potluck. You provide the pizzas and plates and entertainment; your guests provide the apps and drinks. This is a much less stressful way to have a party, and most of the dishes will go home with their owners at the end of the night. Win-win! Just make sure you have your guests let you know what they’re bringing so you don’t end up with 15 cheese plates. (Although, I suppose there are worse things…)
  4. Have fun! Parties are no time to stress out. If you spill a drink on the rug or end up with dip on the armchair or inadvertently give your dog a mohawk in the colors of your favorite team, it’s okay. You’re having a get-together to enjoy your friends and the madness of March, so enjoy yourself, take pictures, and scream at the TV. Have a ball. (Again…sorry.)

Here are a couple of easy recipe ideas for your March Madness party. (Easy is important when you’re whipping up treats for several people!) Feel free to dye the dip the appropriate team color.

Fiesta Ranch Dip

  • 1 packet Hidden Valley Fiesta Ranch Dip (you can use less for a less intense flavor)
  • 1 10-oz. can original Rotel, drained
  • 16-24 oz. sour cream
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • Tortilla chips and/or crunchy veggies like carrot or celery sticks

In a medium bowl, mix together sour cream, Rotel, and ranch packet (start with half and taste before adding more). Stir in cheese. Chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour before serving. Serve with chips and/or veggies.

March Madness

Nutella Grape Bites

  • One bunch of green grapes (use roughly 50)
  • One container Nutella
  • 1 cup chopped pecans (or almonds, or walnuts, or peanuts, or…)

Wash grapes and dry thoroughly. Dip one end of each grape in the Nutella, then gently roll the grape in the pecans. Spear each grape with a toothpick and serve.

March Madness

What’s your go-to dish for pleasing the crowd on game day?

Printer friendly recipes: March Madness Appetizers

St. Patrick’s Day: Individual Guinness Cheddar Pull-Apart Rolls

St. Patrick’s Day: Individual Guinness Cheddar Pull-Apart Rolls

This St. Patrick’s Day, stay in and treat yourself to some ooey-gooey goodness with these Individual Guinness Cheddar Pull-Apart Rolls. Sarah W. sure knows how to make my mouth water; I knew I was in trouble as soon as I opened the pictures. There’s just something about boozy food that really gets me going…maybe it’s the booze? Anyway, Sarah Weber is my reigning queen of deliciously boozed savory treats, and she does not disappoint with these super easy, intriguingly cheesy pull-apart rolls. Care to join me for St. Patrick’s Day? Let’s have Sarah come, too. Or, at the very least, let’s have her teach us how to make these amazing rolls at home. Sarah, show us your cheesy ways!

St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Tuesday this year. Which, unless you’re very dedicated to partying down on this holiday and are willing to take a vacation day, means probably no big wild parties (or green beer). But it doesn’t have to be a disappointment or no fun.

I’m not a huge fan of crowds, so going out on St. Patrick’s Day to see the parades and drink cheap green beer while being pinched by strangers if I’m not wearing green has never much appealed to me. But I do have a small group of friends from college who get together on the weekend closest to St. Patrick’s Day every year for what we call “Green Weekend.” We watch terrible movies, play games, catch up, and relax, which is MY idea of a great weekend. I’m happy because I get to make a giant crockpot of corned beef and cabbage (which might be my husband’s favorite part of the weekend, too!) and I don’t have to deal with a crushing press of people.

Even if you’re not having a big shindig to celebrate the patron saint of getting drunk, you can make a fancy, satisfying, pint-sized appetizer that’s sure to be a hit. And if you ARE braving the crowds and whatever the weather decides to throw at us this year, these are a quick and easy way to start or segue your day of drinking and being merry (have two).

With a few ingredients you most likely have on-hand and about 25 minutes (including clean-up), you can have a cheesy, beery bite to get you in the St. Patrick’s Day spirit.

St. Patrick's

 

Individual Guinness Cheddar Pull-Apart Rolls

  • 3 large rolls
  • 1 cup shredded cheese
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1 can beer (room temperature)
  • Garlic powder to taste
  • Thyme to taste

In honor of the holiday, I’ve chosen to use Guinness and an extra sharp cheddar cheese, but if neither of those is appealing to you, pick a cheese as sharp as you can stand along with a beer as dark as you like. Guinness gives a great caramel taste to the end product here, but is distinctly its own flavor – if you don’t like it, use something else. I can think of plenty of great beer (or wine!) and cheese pairings – Swiss and a mid-dry white wine, goat cheese with a fruit-brewed beer, asiago with a nut brown ale… the options are endless!

Directions

Preheat your oven to 350°.

Cut or rip your rolls almost all the way down to the base. The idea here is to get them pretty loosely held together so that once it’s baked with some cheese and beer to soften it up, pieces will pull apart easily in your hands. I chose to use egg knots, and they worked like a charm – they’re basically already marked with perforations to tell you where to rip. I also made rips halfway along the side pieces to give my end result more poof (and more room for cheese!). You want to create as many crevices as possible, while ending up with nice big bites of bread.

Melt your butter. Once melted, add garlic powder and thyme to taste. Add a splash or two (or three) of your Guinness.

Arrange your ripped-up rolls in a dish with sides. These are going to leak a little bit by the nature of what they are, so make sure your dish isn’t too shallow. I used a 9” cake pan, which easily held 3 rolls and could have held more.

Pour half to two-thirds of your butter mixture over your rolls (get those crevices!) and put them in the oven for about 7 minutes.

St. Patrick's

While this is baking, throw your cheese in a bowl (if you have a block of cheese, now is the time to grate it). Pour the rest of your butter mixture over your cheese, and mix in more garlic powder and thyme to taste (a pinch or two of salt wouldn’t go amiss here, but be cautious – the cheese is pretty salty to begin with). Toss your cheese around with clean hands or a fork until your cheese is evenly coated.

Pull your rolls out of the oven and carefully spoon your cheese into those crevices. Load these suckers up – I had juuust enough cheese, so if you have extra, poke around for any crevices you may have missed.

Pop these in the oven for 12-15 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbly and maybe starting to brown.

This last step is important. Let these babies cool for a few minutes in the pan before you try to plate or move them. That cheese is going to want to ooze in some unhelpful ways unless you give it a minute to set. Use a spatula to transfer to individual plates (or one big plate if you’re doing a big batch for a party).

The result? An oozy, cheesy mouthful of YUM with a deep caramel flavor and a smooth cheese that gives a satisfying melty stringy rip-away from its roll.

St. Patrick's

Pour the rest of your Guinness into a super-chilled glass, and enjoy! These little treats are a quick way to turn up the “special” on this day and can easily be enjoyed while you wait for the corned beef in your crockpot to finish cooking.

What are your St. Patrick’s Day traditions? Do you think the parades and beer specials are worth taking a day off work? What’s your quick-and-easy-sure-to-please recipe? I think everyone should have at least one!

Super Bowl Snacks – Oreo Truffle Footballs

Super Bowl Snacks – Oreo Truffle Footballs

The Super Bowl is almost here! I’m in it for the snacks and commercials, but I hear there will be a football game, too. Thankfully, we have Sarah W. back this week — she actually loves football AND knows how to make great snacks! Let’s keep her around. Last year we had Chef J share some awesome savory appetizers, so this year we’re having Sarah treat us to the ultimate sweet indulgence: Oreo Truffle Footballs! Take us to the end zone, Sarah!

In many ways, I’m a really lucky lady. I’m a total foodie, and live in Cleveland, a city where food and drink is a huge, fun deal. Just named to a bunch of travel sites’ top places to visit, it’s really exciting to be living in a city on the rise. A lot of that excitement tends to drain away when the Super Bowl rolls around, however. The Cleveland Browns haven’t won a Super Bowl since before it was even called the Super Bowl. I’m a season ticket holder with a close group of friends, so tailgating is part of my almost-weekly routine September – December (and it gets COLD here!). We fry turkeys every Thanksgiving, make chili in the snow, and practice a firm “beat what you eat” mentality (pierogies when we play Pittsburgh, fish tacos when we play Miami, chicken wings when we play Philadelphia) during the season. It’s one of my dreams to travel to playoff games and maybe, in my lifetime if I’m lucky, to the SUPER BOWL someday!

Football games are a great combination of friends, food, and drink. It’s no wonder the Super Bowl is one of the most-watched televised broadcasts each year.

The energy of cheering for your team brings a natural closeness with the people around you, and a pride in the place you come from. Seattle and New England fans have that to look forward to this year. And I’ve got the perfect, decadent snack to go along with your celebration — Oreo Truffle Footballs. With just a few ingredients, and some fiddly steps, you can serve up a themed treat for your own Super Bowl party. I got this recipe from one of my family’s closest and dearest friends — they’re a staple at any football-related party we have!

Super Bowl

Equipment:

  • food processor
  • wax paper
  • microwave-safe bowl
  • toothpicks
  • baking sheet/tray

Ingredients:

  • 1 package of Oreos (go nuts! Make peanut butter or mint-flavored truffles with flavored Oreos! I’ve used the original ones here)
  • 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 12 oz chocolate chips
  • 3 tbsp shortening
  • 1 tube white frosting (or red, blue, and green for colored laces)

In your food processor, pulse the Oreos until they are a fine dust. My food processor is a little small, so I did this half a package at a time.

Cut your cream cheese into smallish chunks and add to food processor. Blend until you have a thick, smooth mixture. Make sure the cream cheese is completely incorporated.

Super Bowl

If you have kids who want to help, this is the perfect time — this next step is messy! This is also the moment to remove any rings you may be wearing. Working with small amounts (bigger than your thumb), roll your dough into little balls, then pinch the ends to make them football-shaped. Place them on a wax paper-lined baking sheet or tray. These don’t need to be perfect. The suggestion of a football shape is plenty. If you have an army of kids working for you, have them roll the dough into little oblong shapes and plop them down, then pinch the ends yourself.

Stick your tray(s) in the freezer to let these harden. Once they’re firm, melt the chocolate and shortening in the microwave (about 30 seconds at a time, stirring in between — my chocolate took about a minute and a half all told).

Grab a toothpick, spear a football, and dip them in the chocolate one by one. I used a second toothpick to scrape the bottoms, both to save chocolate (it goes fast!) and to neaten the appearance. If your chocolate starts to get stiff, microwave an additional 10 seconds or so. If your footballs start to get soft and hard to dip, put them back in the freezer to harden up.

Super Bowl

Let the chocolate set a bit, then grab your frosting! You can do plain white laces, or have a little fun and do red and blue or blue and green laces to show some team spirit. Keep these chilled until just before you’re ready to serve them. A great addition to any party spread!

If you happen to have a little extraSuper Bowl melted chocolate when you’re done dipping footballs, I highly encourage grabbing a bag of potato chips, and dipping them. You can snack on these as you get everything ready (which I heartily endorse), or put them on a wax paper-lined tray to save for another party treat.

 

Happy Super Bowl party hosting and attending!

Thanksgiving Traditions – Make Them, Don’t Break Them!

Thanksgiving Traditions – Make Them, Don’t Break Them!

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, hands down. My family is lucky enough to have two chefs in it, so we are always treated to some delicious fare this time of year. Thanksgiving traditions are important, though, and sometimes the creativity gets a little out of hand. One year, my younger brother volunteered to make the dinner rolls for our Thanksgiving feast, so Mom didn’t whip up her usual fluffy white rolls. Well, little bro’s rolls were delicious, but they were weird! We don’t eat whole wheat on Thanksgiving! What was this sacrilege? This simple Thanksgiving tradition is one we didn’t realize we hold so dearly, but let me tell you, this will NOT be happening again.

We have pretty gourmet taste in this family, but Thanksgiving is sacred. Over the years our mom has announced on various occasions that she will not be making cranberry-marshmallow salad or candied yams, and we predictably throw mini fits until she agrees to do the whole spread. Hopefully things are a little easier on Mom now that we are all grown and capable of helping out with these demands. We’re all fine with having some super-gourmet non-traditional treats on Thanksgiving, we just plead with you, dear creative chef brothers, make them in addition to our traditional Thanksgiving dishes, not as replacements.

So, if you are not looking forward to bringing just the same boring mashed potatoes this year, Chef J has an easy and delicious dish that you can bring as well. You’re going to be in trouble if you don’t bring the potatoes, but this is simple enough that you can make both. And it’s tasty enough that it might become a new Thanksgiving tradition.

This year, let’s focus on making new Thanksgiving traditions without breaking the old ones.

Chef J, show the people how it’s done!

Fall is in full swing! The leaves are turning yellow and the noses are running so it’s time to start planning what will be on the table for that big meal before the onslaught of Christmas shopping. To brave the swell of holiday shoppers that you will have to wade through next Friday (unless you’re going with the highly-recommended trend of online shopping), you will need the strength and stamina that only a hearty meal of turkey and pie can provide. This Thanksgiving, or “Gray Thursday” as I like to call it, will surely host the reliable classics: mashed potatoes, canned cranberry sauce, stuffing, and of course, the bird of honor. With that in mind, I decided to bring something new for my contribution to the family feast this season; a simple but delicious side that can be made in advance. Mind you, this won’t be replacing any of the family’s traditional Thanksgiving flavors, but will complement them beautifully.

Caramelized Onion and Apple TartThanksgiving Tradition

  • 1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 green apples, thinly sliced
  • 2 TBS butter
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh sage
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
  • ¼ cup chopped pecans
  • ¼ cup crumbled bleu cheese
  • salt & pepper
  • 10 x 10” sheet of puff pastry

Preheat your oven to 375°F.
Melt the butter in a large sauté pan and throw in the onions. Cook over low heat until they begin to brown.
Add the apples and herbs and stir to coat everything with butter.
Season with a bit of salt and pepper and remove from heat.
Spread out the puff pastry and place it on a parchment lined baking sheet.
Pile the apples and onion onto the pastry, leaving about 1 inch of space around the edges.
Fold the edges up over the apples and onion, pinching the pastry together as you go.
Sprinkle the whole thing with the pecans and cheese.
Bake for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown.
Allow the tart to cool a bit before slicing.

If you want to save time, you can get everything made and assembled the day before and bake it when you need it.

Printer friendly recipe: Onion and Apple Tart

Kick Off the NFL Season: Favorite Football Foods

Kick Off the NFL Season: Favorite Football Foods

Football season is upon us! Kick it off right with some great finger foods for your viewing parties. This week, I’d like to introduce you to my friend Sarah Buchanan (not to be confused with my other friend Sarah, who you got to hang out with a couple weeks ago!).  Sarah  is a native North Carolinian turned Southern Californian with a serious cookbook addiction. She blogs about her attempts to work through her massive cookbook collection at  Sarah Cooks the Books, where she is determined to utilize every cookbook she owns (and there are many – I’ve seen ’em!) at least once.  So, Sarah, what kind of football food should I be making this season?

Kick Off the NFL Season: Favorite Finger Foods

by Sarah Buchanan

I’m originally from North Carolina and the beginning of football season is a big deal there. College football is the source of most of the insanity (NC State, UNC, or Duke. Your choice says everything about you.), but there’s some pretty serious love for the beginning of NFL season, too.

Basically, in North Carolina, football season was a thing to be revered. I haven’t lived in my new town for very long, but I’m going to guess that with the start of NFL season, there are football parties to be had here as well.

And the benchmark of any great football party? Great football food!

This salsa recipe isn’t the usual chunky kind you’ll often find. It’s more of a restaurant-style salsa, excellent with tortilla chips and, really, anything you usually dunk in salsa (veggie chips, baked pita chips, spoons, etc.) This was really popular at the last party I brought it to, and if you’re making apps for a large crowd, I would suggest doubling the recipe. It’s really easy to make, and one of the better salsas I’ve had. It’s the perfect football food!

The second recipe I’ll share and would recommend for any potluck is a popcorn and peanut bark. It only has three ingredients, so it’s so easy to make. A lot of food brought to football parties is of the salty variety, so these are a little bit of sweetness for the sweet-toothed among us.

So what are your favorite teams? Who do you think will go all the way this year? (Go Panthers!) And, most importantly, what is your favorite football food?

Easy Restaurant-style Salsa 

Serves 12-ishFootball Food

  • ½ cup cilantro
  • 2-3 cloves garlic
  • 1 whole jalapeno, diced (remove seeds and membrane before dicing if you don’t like things super hot)
  • ½ onion, chopped
  • 1 28-oz. can whole, peeled tomatoes with juice discarded
  • 2 10-oz. cans Rotel (any variety)
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. cumin
  • ½ small lime

Combine all ingredients in a large food processor.  Depending both on how large your food processor is and how much salsa you’re making, you may need to divide the ingredients up in several batches, then mix the batches together.
Pulse the salsa until it reaches the consistency you like and refrigerate at least one hour before serving.

Football Food

 Popcorn and Peanut Bark

Makes 1 pound of bark

  • 14 oz. chopped bittersweet chocolate
  • 3 cups freshly popped popcorn (If you use microwave popcorn, make sure it’s unsalted and unbuttered. This is best if you pop the popcorn on the stove or use an air popper.)
  • ½ cup salted peanuts
  • A pinch of salt
  • Butter, coconut oil, or olive oil for the cookie sheetFootball Food

Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil. Spray or drizzle with butter/coconut oil/olive oil to prevent sticking. (You can also just use a nonstick liner.)

Melt the chocolate by either using a double-boiler, the microwave (microwave for 15 seconds at a time, stirring after each 15 seconds), or over very low heat on the stove. My preferred method is melting it straight on the stove, but your mileage may vary. If you use this method, pay very close attention and use very low heat to avoid burning.

Add the popcorn and peanuts to the chocolate and fold the mixture until everything is evenly coated.

Scrape the mixture onto the cookie sheet and spread into a thin layer. Sprinkle salt over the top as desired.

Put the cookie sheet into the refrigerator for 30 minutes or so, or until the bark is firm. Break the bark into clusters.

Football Food