A Potluck Chopped Challenge Dinner Party

A Potluck Chopped Challenge Dinner Party

Everyone seems to be familiar with the TV show “Chopped” on The Food Network and the concept of a Chopped Challenge. But not everyone gets all excited about actually participating in a Chopped Challenge party.  My husband is a total foodie.  He watches all of the cooking shows on TV, including “Chopped”.  And he loves to cook.  I, on the other hand, don’t watch and don’t cook!  Instead, I am the person who loves to organize, decorate, entertain and socialize.  Oh yes, and eat too!
So when our friends Tom and Cathy invited us to a Chopped Challenge Party, my first reaction was yikes!  I don’t DO cooking.  Maybe I can just drink and watch my husband prepare the entrée!  Fortunately, our friends had a clever twist, a Potluck Chopped Challenge.

A Potluck Chopped Challenge Dinner Party appeals to so many more people.

It is a perfect idea, especially if you are like me:
  • You love food, but don’t like to cook
  • You have limited space in your kitchen
  • Or  limited time to sit around and wait for courses to be prepared
  • You have some awesome neighborhood “chefs” you want to recognize
  • And you enjoy socializing
So here are the “twists” to throwing a Potluck Chopped Challenge Dinner Party:

Twist 1: Instead of cooking at the hosts home, you are assigned your course and  your “mystery ingredients” in advance.

You prepare your course ahead of time and bring it to the Potluck, ready-to-eat.

Twist 2:  Two couples compete against each other in the same course category with the same mystery ingredients.

For example the courses/ingredients could be:

  • Vegetable  – Cheetos, Black Bean Garlic Sauce, Green Beans
  • Soup  – Ginger, Walnuts, Egg
  • Salad – Pomegranate,  Mandarin Oranges, Mint
  • Dessert – Strawberries, White Chocolate, Bacon Bits
  • Cocktail – Coconut Milk, Kiwi, Tuaca

Twist 3:  As you are eating the course, everyone tries to guess the mystery ingredients that are common in the course.

You can make the guessing formal, but we enjoyed just shouting out our answers!

Twist 4:  All of the attendees get to vote a “Winner by Course” and the “Overall Chopped Challenge” Winner.

Criteria is based on Presentation, Taste, and Creativity!

Twist 5:  The Host couple prepares the main course.

As it turned out, my husband and I won the Vegetable category and were the Overall Chopped Challenge Winner that night.  Actually, he won,( real men cook) I just got to steal some credit!  I think my husband’s aoli with black bean garlic sauce, olive oil and mayo really was the key.  Oh, and one more thing I did learn…if you want to win, include BACON!

So try the Chopped Challenge – Potluck Edition, and create your own twist!  Let us know how it goes.

chopped-challenge-potluck-dinner-party

Green Beans, Cheetos and cheese, wrapped in Bacon. Served with Black Bean Garlic Aoli!

End of School Picnic

End of School Picnic

The school year is winding down and the kids are getting excited for summer!  It’s that time of year for end of school picnics, parties, and potlucks. Kids, parents, and teachers alike will appreciate a fun day to celebrate all of the achievements of the school year!  And the teachers really appreciate it if a few parents volunteer to pull a party together for them.  All it takes is organization and communication. With very little effort you can avoid that party where the only food choices are pretzels, potato chips, cookies and more cookies!

Here are a few tips for a successful end of school picnic:

      • Assign specific dishes to your guests. You can break this up by last name:
        • A-F bring a main course
        • G-L bring a dessert
        • M-Q bring salads and fruit
        • R-T bring paper plates and cups
        • U-Z bring plastic silverware and napkins
      • Get volunteers in advance to bring ice, coolers and some extra serving utensils just in case.
        • This is a great option for full-time working parents who may not have the time to prepare a dish, but will feel uncomfortable if they aren’t able to contribute.
        • Serve food immediately or make certain you keep it refrigerated prior to serving.
      • Make a large cooler of Lemonade, with powder or fresh.  Skip water bottles, juice boxes, and soda cans to avoid wasted drinks and excessive trash.
      • Set up a buffet table that can be served from both sides, so you can accommodate a large number of hungry guests.
        • Serve the kids the main meal and drinks. Get a few parents to help out.  Kids will get their food and drink fast, and you will make certain that portions are controlled.
      • Set up games to keep the kids (and adults) entertained. If you are entertaining at the local pool, this is pretty easy – all you have to do is open the gate and the kids are guaranteed a good time!
        • If it is a backyard pool party, hire a lifeguard for the day so adults can enjoy the party too.
        • If you are having it at a park, there are always water balloons, sprinklers, bag toss…you get the idea.
      • Make sure you have plenty of shade and sunscreen available for adults and kids. No need to start vacation off with a sunburn!
      • Before you let the kids leave, gather up all of the abandoned socks, shoes, shirts, towels and have them at the door and ask every kid to look to see if they are missing one of the lost items before they go!

With just a little bit of planning, you can host a spectacular summer kick-off that everyone will enjoy! We would love to hear your plans for an end of school picnic – share in the comments!

Looking for brunch ideas  or entertaining tips, see our earlier posts.

Spring Brunch Ideas

Spring Brunch Ideas

Throwing a brunch has always seemed like a daunting task to me –pleasing various palates with both breakfast and lunch foods, all while making everything look a little more fancy than usual? Not exactly my idea of fun. But I’ve been thinking about brunch ideas more lately, as this beautiful spring weather beckons me outdoors and encourages casual family events. I can totally pull this off! Even if you don’t have two chef brothers (I know – I’m the luckiest gal in the world!), the good ol’ internet is full of delicious and easy recipes (there’s one below!).

Use these simple brunch ideas, and you too can pull off a great spring event that will leave everyone talking!

Variety – Make sure you have options for everyone.

Breakfast is pretty easy, but make sure you have some good lunch options available, too; a spiral ham on a carving board next to  a cheese tray, for example, can be combined with croissants and condiments to make lovely sandwiches. You’ll also want to be aware of any vegetarians/vegans who may be attending. As much as I love bacon, it’s important not to make every dish meat-centric.  A pasta salad with fresh veggies will be a crowd pleaser. As far as drinks go, though, you can keep it pretty basic – a full bar is not exactly brunch appropriate. If you do choose to serve alcohol, keep it light –  mimosas or a pre made punch. You should definitely have coffee, tea, and water; throw in some lemonade or iced tea to keep things interesting, but anything beyond that is up to your personal taste.

Style – You don’t need fancy china to pull off a gorgeous brunch!

If I had to throw a party with all matching dishes, well… that just wouldn’t happen! You know what’s fun, though? Thrift store finds! Hit up your local thrift stores for an eclectic mix of vintage plates and serving ware – you can stick to a set color scheme or go all out and have a unique plate for every guest. You’ll make everyone feel special without breaking the bank! And if you don’t want to keep them, you can just donate them back (basically just renting dishes!). If you would rather have something more permanent, beautiful wood serving boards never go out of style, and can be used for years to come. Add a few displays of pretty spring flowers and you’ll be all set! Like your drink selection, you can take your decor as far as you’d like – just don’t clutter up your buffet table too much.

Simplicity – Don’t drive yourself crazy – it’s just brunch!

Even if you don’t want to cook, you can still satisfy your guests. A nice layout of pastries from your local bakery (or, you know…Costco), is perfectly acceptable when paired with a variety of fruits, cheeses, deli meats, etc.  The point is to spend time with your guests, right? You don’t have to provide show-stopping delicacies to have a good time.

Logistics – Hammer out those details!

Make sure you have plenty of seating for all of your guests, or at least areas where they can set their plates and drinks and eat comfortably. Cafe tables are a great option if seating space is limited. Also, if you can stick with foods that are fine at room temperature, you will save yourself the hassle of hot plates and ice baths. If you are serving something that needs to stay hot or cold, make sure you have the proper equipment – you want this to be memorable, but not because of food poisoning!

Now go forth and brunch!

To get you started, here is a great recipe for a savory taco quiche:

Taco Quiche

Courtesy of Sandy McGaffic

Yield: 8 Servings

Ingredients

  • 1 (9 inch) deep dish pie shell (frozen ok, just let it thaw for 10 minutes)
  • 1/2 pound ground beef
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon hot sauce
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 small can diced green chiles
  • 1 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 4 eggs slightly beaten
  • 1 1/4 cup half and half
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • dash pepper

Garnish

  • shredded lettuce, shredded cheese, chopped or sliced tomatoes, sliced avocado or guacamole, black olives.

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 400°.
  • Prepare crust and put in pan or pie dish; let stand 5 to 10 minutes before baking.
  • Bake pie shell 7 minutes; DO NOT PRICK PIE SHELL. Remove shell and reduce oven temperature to 375°.
  • In 2 quart sauce pan combine next 8 ingredients. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until ground beef is browned and onions are tender. Drain mixture. Layer shredded cheese, green chiles and ground beef mixture in pie shell.
  • In medium bowl combine eggs, half and half, salt and pepper. Beat with a fork or whisk until mixed well but not frothy. Pour egg mixture over ground beef mixture.
  • Bake 45-50 minutes or until a knife inserted in center comes out clean. Let stand 10 minutes before serving. Garnish with remaining ingredients. 

 

“Three-Pointers” for Entertaining

“Three-Pointers” for Entertaining

 

It’s  March Madness once again.  I’ll never forget the look on my husband’s face last year when he walked in the door after watching the championship game. His team had won, yet all I saw was defeat, exhaustion, disappointment and …was it hunger?  Our neighbor had invited 5 of “the guys” over to watch the big game.  My husband, who usually doesn’t live and breath March Madness, decided, sure, it’s a good guy-thing to do, should be fun to hang a bit,  drink a little beer, eat a bunch of food and watch a good game.  I guess Fritos and bean dip was the best his friend could come up with!  Why four grown men did not have the courage to say, “hey, this is ridiculous, I’m hungry, let’s order a pizza” I will never know.

Well, March Madness should be all about basketball and not about going hungry. Honestly, it doesn’t take much work to pull together some tasty and relatively healthy food for the big game.  Aside from saying… go to Costco – they have everything you need….here are my “three–pointers” for entertaining:

Point 1 – Always have enough food – The best parties are the ones where the food lasts for the entire night.  Not much fun showing up an hour into a party and seeing only a few whole grain crackers left in a bowl!  It is always easier to have smaller amounts of several different kinds of food, than it is to have a lot of one kind of food.  That way if you have leftovers, it is pretty simple to store in your refrigerator or pantry for the next get together.  Try to have a protein – we’re talking meat –  available too, not just carbs.

Point 2 – Have a variety of drinks – Remember, just because you like wheat beer, doesn’t mean everyone likes wheat beer. Find a mainstream beer, or make it fun and get a wide variety of beer and make it an informal beer-tasting event too. I always have a white wine  on hand for those who don’t feel like having beer, or like me, never acquired a taste for beer. Again, pick a wine that is balanced between dry and sweet, like a Pinot Grigio (please no more Chardonnay).  And finally, keep in mind some folks may not want to drink alcohol, so always have water, soda or lemonade available.

Point 3 – Presentation matters – With very little effort you can make chips and salsa look like a fancy party! Put your chips in a fun basket, display appetizers on a unique cutting board or serving board, add olives or nuts in a few colorful bowls, and drape your serving area with a decorative placemat or tablecloth to pull it all together.

This March Madness, I suspect we will be entertaining.  My husband, who I consider just shy of “a chef” will surely want to whip together some special appetizers.  And I will do what I do, which is clean the house, do the shopping, and get all my serving pieces out of the cupboard to entertain with style!