Showing posts tagged Party
EASY WAYS TO SPICE UP YOUR SUMMER PARTIES
Whether it’s Cinco de Mayo, Labor Day, 4th of July, or just a little summer get-together, it’s nice to do something special to make your bbq or pool party unique. Anyone can open tubs of dips and pour pre-made margarita mix, but why do that when it’s cheaper, healthier, and tastier to prepare a few things really well.
Here are a few of my favorite tricks and recipes that always make my guests smile. All pics are from my archives. (It’s been too long since I threw a real party so I had to dig deep.)
** DILLY DALLY AND DECORATE
You’re right to think people are just happy to be at your house having you cook for them, but a few simple additions can make all the difference to make your party exceptional. A garden variety of flowers on the table, in the bathroom, on shelves. Use vases or an eclectic mix of handy containers - see mine here. Witty cocktail napkins are a simple snag at any Sur La Table.
If it’s a holiday, I don’t have to tell you to buy themed knick knacks at the Dollar Store. But… Buy cute knick knacks! Allot at least $10 and go wild.
** ROLL OUT THE RED BLANKET
Well, your blanket doesn’t have to be red, but I’ve found people will join other guests they don’t know on a blanket to eat or chat. At a table, they feel like they have to pull up a chair, on a couch they have to squish in. This is also a simple solution if you don’t have enough chairs and tables. Eating a meal standing can be uncomfortable.
** OPT FOR ALTERNATIVE BEVERAGES
Anybody can serve light beer and margaritas. Consider other options for punch, concoctions, and lagers. My go-to is an infused vodka with strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries. I muddle them up and let them sit in the vodka overnight (or at least 8 hours) in the fridge. Strain the fruit or leave it, then serve with splash of fresh oj and soda water.
Another favorite is sweet tequila (like Corralejo Reposado that has a honey sweetness on the tongue) over ice with lime and a splash of water or soda water. If you like it sweet, add agave. Advise guests to sip instead of slurp. This drink is clean and has exponentially less calories than a margarita. If you really enjoy a mixed drink, opt for a mojito! Here’s an easy recipe.
As for wine, it’s hot outside, so pick up bottles of Rose instead of Chardonnay or Sav Blanc. It’s cheap, colorful, and delicious!
Finally, serve local craft beer instead of Bud Light. It’s like serving a steak instead of a frozen burger. A few of my favorites are here.
** MARINATE YOUR MEAT
Unless you’re serving masses or have a special burger mix (if so please share!), buy some good cuts of meat and marinate them. Click here for my beef fajita marinade and grilled pork chops.
If you’re looking to go big, roast up this bad boy pork dish. It’s labor intense and pays off in flavor. Great for cold weather, but I feel you could serve it in smaller portions for a summer party. Being the cover of BonAppetit, it’s a show stopper.
** ORDER THE REAL DEAL
There are two companies that come to mind for amazing party food you can order online. Goode Company and Texas Tamales will deliver the goods to your door that you can unwrap and serve with pride. Goode Company has THE BEST brisket, BBQ sauce (get the original), and a pecan pie that is admittedly better than mine.
Tamales are not something I would make myself and freeze well so they’re great to have at parties. Top them off with some of their chile and/or chile con queso. Your guests will love you (and hate you) all in one breath. Sinfully delicious and worth every bite.
** DIY YOUR DIPS
Resist the hesitation to dump dip out of the tub into the bowl. Usually this is what guests will eat the most of, so do them right and make it from fresh ingredients!
No one can resist chile con queso dip, I don’t care who they are. Use this recipe instead of a block of velveeta for a smokey and healthy sauce people won’t feel so bad about devouring.
Making guacamole from scratch is totally worth it. Chop up avocados, tomatoes, and onions to your liking. Please don’t forget the cilantro, it’s my favorite part! Maybe add some fresh jalapeno. Squeeze in lemon or lime. Salt and pepper. To give it a little extra kick, add fresh minced garlic (very important it’s minced).
A healthy alternative to both is pineapple salsa. Simple chop up:
- 1 pineapple, peeled and diced
- ¼ cup chopped scallion, green part only
- ¼ cup diced red bell pepper
- 1 tablespoon finely diced fresh jalapeno
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
- 1 small clove garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
**MAKE YOUR OWN CHIPS
Even though this takes a long time, hand-made chips will be the talk of the party. All you have to do is cut up tortillas into triangles and fry them in EVOO or Grapeseeed oil. Fill a sauce pan about 1/3 with oil, wait until the oil is hot, fry triangles in batches so they don’t overlap flipping a couple times, then put aside on paper towels to absorb the grease. Season with salt.
Of course, you can bake them too, but they aren’t as good.
** DON’T FORGET THE SWEETS
Dessert is easy to make ahead so it shouldn’t get in your way the day of the party. Two recipes that always please a crowd are my famous chocolate pie (one batch can make 2-3 pies). This year’s favorite has been banana pudding which you can serve in individual plastic cups instead of a big bowl. For a cake or cupcakes, absolutely take the time to make this carrot cake. Or consider these bad ass brownies.
** PLAN A GAME
Games are either a huge hit or a total miss. My thought: drop the idea early and see the reaction before you commit. My friends and I love an hour of Celebrity (charades with celebrity names), Kings (above), Pictionary, Scategories, etc. My friend Scott from high school, who happens to be a builder, actually had one of those huge Jengas made out of 2x4’s. SOOOO much fun. I’m not saying go that far. But consider it if you’re bbq is adults. Now, if you’re entertaining kids, absolutely plan ahead with a bag toss, chalk, hopscotch, or board games if you don’t have the available toys.
Proof a normal person can successfully “cook the cover” of Bon Appetit and live to serve it beautifully!
Last week I saw the whole process happen before my own eyes for our dinner party at Randall’s. Honestly, it’s more effort than I would be willing to put in for a typical dinner, but the hours of prep were certainly worth it for everyone’s reaction.
No question, this is THE best home-made dish I’ve had all year!!!
I worked as the su chef to help chop as Randall did the heavy lifting. You can actually do the prep a day ahead because the process requires some serious focus. It’s not “difficult,” just a lot of work. This recipe is for the people who really enjoy cooking masterpieces.
From Bon Appetit Magazine, October 2011
Ingredients (MR Note: you need EVERY ingredient)
- 1 ounce (1 cup) dried whole porcini mushrooms
- 2 ounces (3/4 cup) dried apples
- 1 pound kale, bottom stems trimmed
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt plus more
- 2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter
- 1 cup minced onion
- 1 tablespoon finely minced garlic
- 1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
- 1 1/2 teaspoons dried rosemary
- 2 tablespoons brandy or Calvados
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 pound ground pork
- 1 (trimmed) 2 1/2–3-lb. pork loin
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt plus more for seasoning
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper plus more for seasoning
- 3 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto
- 5 sprigs rosemary
- 4 medium apples (such as Granny Smith or Fuji), quartered, or 8 small apples, halved
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 cup dry hard cider
- 1/2 cup low-salt chicken stock
- **MR Note: Randall added red potatoes quartered
- Place dried mushrooms and dried apples in separate small bowls. Add 1 cup boiling water to each bowl. Let mushrooms and apples soak until very soft, about 30 minutes. Strain mushrooms. Cover and chill soaking liquid (about 3/4 cup). Drain apples, discarding soaking liquid. Finely chop mushrooms and apples, combine in a small bowl, and set mushroom and apple mixture aside.
- Meanwhile, blanch kale in boiling salted water just until wilted, about 1 minute. Using tongs, transfer kale to a rimmed baking sheet. Refrigerate until cool. Remove any large, tough ribs.
- Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion; cook, stirring often, until soft and lightly golden, about 8 minutes. Add mushrooms and apples; cook, stirring occasionally, until flavors meld, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic, thyme, and rosemary; cook for 1 minute. Add brandy and cook until liquid is absorbed, about 1 minute. Stir in 2 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp. pepper. Transfer mixture to a bowl and let cool completely. Add ground pork and stir to combine well.
- To butterfly, put pork loin on a work surface with short end facing you. Holding a long, thin sharp knife parallel to work surface and beginning along one long side, cut 1/2” above underside of roast. Continue slicing inward, pulling back the meat with your free hand and unrolling the roast like a carpet, until the entire loin is flat. Click here for photo instructions.
- Cover with a sheet of plastic wrap. Using a meat mallet, pound to an even thickness.
- Uncover pork. Season with 1 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp. pepper. Place kale leaves on top of loin in an even layer, overlapping as needed and leaving a 1” border. Spread filling on top of kale.
- Roll pork into a tight cylinder. Wrap one layer of prosciutto around roast. Tie roast securely with kitchen twine in 1” intervals. Tuck rosemary sprigs under twine, spacing apart.
- Preheat oven to 400°. Place apples in a roasting pan. Melt 1 Tbsp. butter with oil in a large skillet. Brown pork on all sides, about 5 minutes total, then set on top of apples in pan. Add cider and 1/2 cup water to skillet and bring to a boil, scraping up browned bits. Pour mixture into roasting pan. Roast pork until an instant-read thermometer inserted into center of loin registers 140° (it will be cooked medium but still slightly pink), about 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes. Let roast rest for at least 20 minutes and up to 2 hours.
- Put roast on a platter. Reserve apples from roasting pan; spoon off fat from juices in pan. Place pan on top of stove over medium-high heat. Add chicken stock. Pour in reserved mushroom liquid, leaving any sediment behind, and cook, scraping bottom of pan to release any browned bits, until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Whisk in remaining 2 Tbsp. butter and season to taste with salt and pepper. Strain sauce; slice pork. Serve sauce and apples alongside sliced pork.
I ate every bite of my slice. The mushroom and apple filling provided complexity to the sausage while the kale lightened it up. We paired it with a lovely, fruit-forward, red blend wine from Spain. I steamed artichokes to serve on the side. Absolutely delicious!
Well, the Gold Buying Party was a success, to say the least, for the women who popped in.
Any ideas how much my friend Leslie got for her 14k ring and necklace?
(hint, the answer is on MoreThanMary)
Take a stab at it and I’ll post the answer on tumblr later.
I’m sure you’re going to be involved in the Fourth of July festivities in one way or another. Whether you’re hosting the party or attending, consider whipping up one of these recipes to satisfy your friends:
1. Avocado Pesto Dip
Opt for something other than traditional guacamole! Combine these simple ingredients to taste.
- Very ripe avocados
- Sliced basil
- Minced garlic
- Fresh ground salt and pepper
- Thick grated Parmesan cheese
The more lemon you add, the thinner it will get.
Serve with pita chips OR Handmade Tortilla Chips (see instructions to make below).
2. Fresh Pineapple Salsa
Another recipe you can make to taste.
- 1 pineapple chopped into very small chunks.
- Chopped red pepper
- Chopped fresh jalapeno
- Minced garlic
- Chopped cilantro
- A teaspoon of EVOO
- Salt and pepper
- Lime (squeeze in the juice)
Serve with bagged chips OR….
3. Handmade Tortilla Chips
People are always so impressed when I make these. The process is time-consuming, not difficult.
- Wheat or White Flour Tortillas
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Salt or galic salt
- Dried herbs (optional)
- Large sauce pan
- Paper towels
Heat about 3/4 inch of oil in the pan. Cut tortillas into triangles like a pizza. Throw a few drops of water into oil; if it bubbles when it hits, oil is hot enough. Put one layer of tortillas in oil, turn once or twice until golden brown. Set on paper towels and season.
4. Berry Infused Vodka Cocktails
This is one of my signature recipes that my friend love and hate me for :)
- LOTS of fresh strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries
- 2 handles decent vodka
- Soda water
- Fresh squeezed orange juice
The night before the party, muddle most of the berries in the bottom of a pitcher with a lid. Pour in vodka and let it sit overnight.
For the cocktail, fill a cup with ice, add vodka with soda water and a splash of oj.
5. Spicy Cayenne Shandy
Sooo refreshing and unique. I found this recipe in Real Simple magazine.
- 3 cups fresh lemonade (simple syrup, lemons, water)
- 2 bottles of beer
- Course kosher salt
- Cayenne pepper
To make the lemonade: put 1/2 cup of sugar, 1/2 cup of water into a saucepan. Bring to a boil stirring occassionaly until sugar is dissolved. Put syrup, 1 cup fresh lemon juice, 2 1/2 to 3 cups of water into a pitcher. Add beer.
Mix the salt and pepper together to rim a tumbler. Add ice and lemonade.
6. Bad-Ass Smokeless Ribs
I posted the full recipe a month or so ago. Unbelievably delicious!
7. Broccoli and Sweet Onion Kabobs
Instead of hassling with a salad, grill up these greens that don’t require a fork. Simple cover with a little oil, salt, and pepper. Maybe even drizzle a little agave on the onion.
8. Cucumber Hummus Crostinis
A healthier snack to munch on.
- Thinly sliced cucumbers
- Toasted bread or crackers
Spread hummus on bread and top with cucumber.
6 Easy Ways To Spice Up Your Cinco De Mayo Fiesta
Cinco de Mayo always creeps up on me, and suddenly I realize there’s a reason to celebrate (aka overindulge on anything and everything Mexican).
As a Texan, it’s easy for me to throw together a little fiesta with a Mexican flare. I’m not going to, but if I were, I would be creative with my drinks and dishes. Here are 6 of my favorite ways to treat my guests to a Mexican feast.
MAKE YOUR OWN CHIPS
Even though this takes a long time, hand-made chips will be the talk of the party. All you have to do is cut up tortillas into triangles and fry them in EVOO. Fill a sauce pan, wait until the oil is hot, fry triangles in batches so they don’t overlap flipping a couple times, then put aside on paper towels to absorb the grease. Season with salt.
Of course, you can bake them too, but they aren’t as good.
ADD GARLIC TO THE GUAC
Making guac from scratch is also labor intensive, but totally worth it. Chop up avocados, tomatoes, and onions to your liking. Maybe add some fresh jalapeno. Squeeze in lemon or lime. Salt and pepper. To give it a little extra kick, add fresh minced garlic (very important it’s mince).
MOJITOS OVER MARGARITAS
Most people don’t realize that Mexicans also love mojitos because mint grows like wildfire down there. Here’s an easy recipe.
If you are going to make ritas, squeeze fresh lime juice and use agave instead of sweet and sour mix.
SERVE GOOD TEQUILA OVER ICE
I guess people don’t like to drink straight tequila because they’ve only been drinking Patron Silver. I don’t like solo either. Yuck! You should know there are plenty of super smooth tequilas out there that are pleasant to sip on. Don Julio Repasado and Clase Azul Repasado are two affordable favorites of mine. However, the fool-proof favorite is Corralejos. It’s sweet and has a honey aftertaste. No one will debate you it’s delicious. And thankfully easy to find. Buy the bottle below and serve over ice with a wedge of lime.
MOLE WILL MAKE ALL THE DIFFERENCE
Fajitas are simple and do the job of satisfying a large group, but it you really want to impress your guests, serve up chicken mole. If you’ve had mole in the States, you’ve probably never laid your lips on the real deal because it takes a long list of ingredients and days to make.
Here are two recipes – one from Bon Appetit and Kitchen Daily – that cut back on both the ingredients and time. If there is a specialty store in your neighborhood, you can also buy it for a quick fix. Either way, the chocolate and salty flavor is delicious and most importantly unexpected.
DON’T FORGET THE SWEETS
I’ve never been to a restaurant in Mexico that serves prailines, but in Houston, 9 out of 10 Mexican joints do. After a heavy and salty meal, the little pecan sugar cookie tastes AMAZING. I’ve never made them myself, but considering Paula Dean is the expert on everything made with butter, I’ll bet her recipe is spot on.
Ok, I think you’re all set. Viva La Mexico!