Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Grilled Fish for Dinner—A Healthful Alternative to Red Meat…and Tasty Too!


Okay, I’ve posted a lot of recipes for grilled steaks lately. However, we all know, when it comes to red meat, you can have “too much of a good thing.” It’s not good for our cholesterol levels, and it can also add up to a lot of extra calories…and pounds! So every now and then, we have company over for a grilled fish dinner…just for a change of pace.

Actually, my husband and sons had some very successful fishing trips earlier in the summer, and we have quite a bit fish frozen in the freezer right now. We’ve been serving that fish to guests, and it really hits the spot. Actually I think it’s scrumptious! And it’s a way to get some extra omega 3s too!

Today I’m posting three of my favorite grilled fish recipes, each for a different type of fish. These are recipes we’ve collected from fishing friends, and “tweaked” a bit. All of these fish dishes have gotten good reviews from our guests. A couple people have told us they weren’t normally “in” to grilled fish, but they liked the fish we served them. Many people have told us they appreciate being able to go to dinner at someone’s house, and not feel guilty afterwards about what they ate. (Admittedly, I don’t get told that very often. After all, look at the dessert and pasta recipes I’ve posted on this blog! But when I know people are trying to watch their weight or avoid red meat, it inspires me to serve “be good” and serve healthy dishes to them when we have them over.)

Here are the recipes:

ROSEMARY-LEMON TROUT WITH VEGETABLES

1 large eggplant, cut into ½-inch cubes
2 large zucchini, cut into ½-inch slices
1 large yellow neck squash, cut into 1/2 –inch slices
4 Roma tomatoes, quartered
1 cup oil and vinegar salad dressing
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. black pepper
8 (8 oz.) butterflied trout
4 T. lemon juice
4 T. extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. dried rosemary
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. black pepper

Coat grill with nonstick cooking spray. Preheat grill to medium-high (375 to 400 degrees F). Place eggplant, zucchini, yellow neck squash and tomato pieces in a bowl. Pour oil and vinegar salad dressing on top. Add salt and pepper. Stir so that all of the vegetables are coated. Put vegetables on grill. Cook about 4-5 minutes, or until tender and slightly charred. Return to bowl. Cover with aluminum foil to keep warm, and set aside.

Drizzle each trout with about 1 ½ tsp. of the lemon juice and 1 ½ tsp. of the olive oil. Mix rosemary, salt and pepper together, and either sprinkle or “rub” on the fish. Place trout on grill, skin side up. Grill 3-4 minutes on each side, or until fish easily flakes with fork. Remove from grill and serve with vegetables.

COGNAC-MARINATED BASS

2 lbs. bass fillets
½ cup oil
½ cup sesame seeds
1/3 cup cognac
1/3 cup lemon juice
3 T. soy sauce
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. minced garlic

To make marinade, combine oil, sesame seeds, cognac, lemon juice, soy sauce, salt and garlic in a small bowl. Put fish in a large ziplock bag and pour in marinade. Let fish marinate for 30 to 60 minutes, turning once. When ready to grill, remove fish, reserving sauce for basting. Place fish in a greased grill. Cook in medium high heat (375 to 400 degrees) for 10 minutes. Baste with marinade. Turn fish over, and cook for 8 to 10 minutes longer.

GRILLED TILAPIA WITH BELL PEPPERS AND ONIONS

Citrus marinade:
½ cup lime juice (preferably fresh squeezed)
3 cup extra virgin olive oil
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. granulated sugar
1 tsp. whole grain mustard

8 (6 oz.) tilapia fillets
1 large red bell pepper, seeded and cut into strips
1 large yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut into strips
1 large orange bell pepper, seeded and cut into strips
1 large red onion, cut into ¼-inch slices.
1/3 cup fresh cilantro, chopped finely

First, make citrus marinade by blending those six ingredients together. Then, drizzle half of this marinade on fish fillets, turning to coat. Let stand 20 minutes.

Coat grill rack with nonstick cooking spray. Preheat grill to medium (325 to 350 degrees F). Place peppers and onions in grill basket. Grill 8 to 10 minutes, turning every couple minutes until softened. Drizzle with the rest of the citrus marinade, and toss to coat. Cover with aluminum foil to keep warm, and set aside.

Remove fillets from marinade, and place them on grill. Grill 6-8 minutes, or until fish flakes easily with a fork. Remove from grill. Serve with grilled bell peppers and onions.


I hope you like these recipes! Each makes enough for about 8 servings. If you make one of these dishes and like it, please post a note and let me know.

Happy grilling!
~Becky

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Grilled Rib Eye Steak Cookout—A Favorite for Company!


In my post late last night, I mentioned that we had out-of-town company over for dinner. These were longtime friends from Iowa, who were here in Dallas. We thought they’d enjoy an outdoor cookout, especially since back in Dubuque, Iowa, where they’re from, the weather was still a bit too chilly for an evening dinner outside! Imagine that! Well, that is definitely not a problem here in Dallas! So we thought we’d serve them up some VERY WARM Texas hospitality.

Last night we served marinated steaks, oven-roasted baby red potatoes, oven-baked asparagus spears, a tomato pepper salad, and coconut cream pie for dessert. The recipes are below.

TERIYAKI MARINATED RIB EYE STEAKS

2 T. olive oil
2 T. grated fresh gingerroot
6 garlic cloves, minced
6 green onions, finely chopped
2 cups thick teriyaki basting glaze
4 T. fresh lime juice
1 tsp. sesame oil
8 (12 oz.) rib eye steaks, 1 ½ inch thick

For the marinade, in a small saucepan heat olive oil over medium heat. Add ginger and garlic; cook and stir 1 minute or until garlic is slightly golden. Add onions; cook and stir 1 minute more. Stir in teriyaki glaze, lime juice and sesame oil. Remove from heat; let cool. Place steaks in large resealable plastic bag; add marinade. Seal bag; turn to coat. Refrigerate 8 hours, turning occasionally. Coat grill rack with nonstick cooking spray. Preheat grill to medium-high heat (350 to 400 degrees). Remove steaks from marinade, and place on grill, Grill, covered, 7 to 10 minutes on each side, or to desired doneness. Remove from grill and serve.

OVEN ROASTED RED POTATOES

4 pounds baby red potatoes, washed and cubed
½ cup olive oil
2 (1 ounce) envelopes dry onion soup and dip mix

Coat potato cubes with olive oil in 10 by 13-inch baking pan. Sprinkle potatoes with onion soup mix, and stir to evenly coat. Bake about 45 minutes in 375 degree oven, stirring occasionally.

BAKED ASPARAGUS IN GARLIC BUTTER

2 lbs. fresh asparagus spears
1 cup butter
¼ cup minced garlic
Salt and pepper to taste

Place the spears in a single layer on baking sheet. In a saucepan over medium heat on stovetop, melt butter. Add garlic and stir to combine. Cook 3-4 minutes, being careful not to brown the garlic. Ladle the garlic-butter mixture evenly over the asparagus. Season with salt and pepper to taste. (The asparagus can be prepared to this stage a day in advance. Cover with foil and refrigerate until ready to bake.) Bake, covered with foil, for 15 minutes, or until the asparagus is bright green and just tender. Be careful to not overcook, as the asparagus will become soggy. Serve immediately. Makes 12 servings.

GREEN PEPPER TOMATO SALAD

2 green bell peppers, sliced thinly
4 large tomatoes (beef steak is best, preferably ripened on-the-vine)
1 large yellow onion, sliced thinly
1 cup pitted black olives, sliced in thirds

Dressing:
¼ cup canola or olive oil
¼ cup white or wine vinegar
1 T. oregano
1 tsp. salt
¼ tsp. black pepper

Stir bell pepper, tomato, onion and olive slices together. Mix dressing ingredients together and stir into vegetables. For best flavor, chill 1-2 hours before serving.


COCONUT CREAM PIE

One baked 9-inch pie shell
1 cup sugar
½ cup all purpose flour
1/8 tsp. salt
1 cup milk
2 cups half and half
4 jumbo eggs, separated
2 tsp. vanilla
4 T. unsalted butter
1 ¼ cup sweetened coconut
Meringue topping

Whisk the four egg yolks in small bowl and set aside. Mix the sugar, flour and salt in saucepan. Add milk and half and half. Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened. Reduce heat to low, and cook 2 minutes more. Remove from heat. Stir about 1 cup of this hot mixture into the beaten egg yolks. Return egg mixture to saucepan and blend in with the rest of the cooked mixture. Cook 2 minutes more over low heat, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla, butter and 1 cup of the coconut and blend well. Pour into baked crust.

Make meringue topping by beating the 4 egg whites with 1/4 T. of granulated sugar (ideally ultra fine sugar), ¼ cream of tartar and ½ tsp. vanilla extract. Beat until firm peaks are formed, and spread on top of filling. Sprinkle with remaining coconut. Bake in 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and chill at least 2-3 hours before serving.

Happy grilling!
~Becky

Fresh Strawberry Cream Cheese Pie


Today we had the pleasure of having some long-time friends from Iowa over for dinner. We had an outdoor cookout, which we enjoyed outside on the patio in "cool" 90degree weather ("cool" by Dallas standards anyway; our friends from Iowa weren't quite convinced that was cool...especially since they had just come from 70 degree temperatures!). I plan on posting the dinner menu sometime soon. In the meantime, I thought I'd post the recipe and photos for one of tonight's desserts.

Fresh Strawberry Cream Cheese Pie

Crust:
1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour
½ tsp. salt
1/3 cup shortening, chilled
3 T. unsalted butter, chilled
2-3 T. cold water

Sift flour and salt together in a large bowl. Using your fingers or a pastry blender, cut in the shortening and butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle the water over the mixture, 1 T. at a time, until all the ingredients are moistened and the mixture holds together in a dough. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and roll to a 1/8” thickness. Carefully fit into a 9-inch pie plate. Prick with a fork, and bake in a 425 degrees F oven for 20-25 minutes. Let cool to room temperature.

Filling:
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/8 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 (8 oz.) pkg. cream cheese
1/3 cup granulated sugar
½ cup sour cream

In quart-sized bowl, whip cream together with powdered sugar and vanilla until stiff peaks form. Set aside. In another bowl, beat cream cheese and granulated together until fluffy. Fold in sour cream. Fold in whipped cream. Spoon mixture into cooled crust. Refrigerate at least 2 hours.

Topping:
3 cups fresh, whole strawberries, washed and hulled
1 cup granulated sugar
3 T. cornstarch
2 T. light corn syrup
1 cup water
Pinch of salt
2 T. strawberry gelatin (dry)

To make a strawberry glaze, cook the sugar, cornstarch, corn syrup, water and salt until clear. Cool slightly and add the dry strawberry gelatin. Stir well. Let cool to room temperature. Add strawberries, and gently stir until all the strawberries are coated with the glaze. Arrange on top cooled pie filling. Let chill at least 1-2 more hours before serving.

Happy pie making!
~Becky

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Tex-Mex Sirloin Kabobs



We had an enjoyable evening tonight with friends. For dinner, we grilled spicy sirloin skewers. They were delicious! Next time you’re grilling, I definitely recommend this recipe.

Spicy Sirloin Skewers

3 lbs. boneless sirloin steak, trimmed, cut into 1 ½ to 2-inch cubes
2 tsp. cumin seeds
4 T. olive oil
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 T. fresh lime juice
4 T. fresh cilantro, diced
1 large yellow squash, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 large yellow onion, cut into pieces
1large yellow and 1 large red bell peppers, cut into 1-inch pieces

Place cumin seeds in skillet. Cook over medium heat 1 minute or just until fragrant, stirring or sharking skillet occasionally. Add oil, jalapeno, ad garlic; cook and stir 30 secods. Remove from heat. Stir in lime juice, cilantro and salt to taste. Pour over steak cubes; toss to coat. Alternately thread steak, squash, onion and bell peppers onto kabob skewers. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Coat grill rack with nonstick cooking spray. Preheat grill to medium-high heat (350 to 400 degrees F). Place kabobs on grill. Grill, uncovered, 10 minutes or to desired doneness. Remove from grill and serve.

Happy grilling!
~Becky

Friday, June 24, 2011

Extra Special Chocolate and Peanut Butter Chip Cookies


I’ve almost always got some kind of cookie “dough balls” in the freezer, ready to bake for last-minute entertaining. That way, we can always offer guests warm cookies, just out of the oven. What a treat! I love cookies, but when they’re just baked, that is a whole new taste senstation!

During the summer months especially, we often have friends over on the spur-of-the-moment to go swimming. It’s nice to be able to offer them something when they come over. A lot of times it’s just something simple—iced tea or sodas, tortilla chips and salsa, and then a tray of just-baked cookies.

Here are the recipes for the two kinds of cookie dough I made today. The second recipe is the one on the Reese’s Peanut Butter Chips package—with a few modifications—mainly that I use two bags of chips in the recipe instead of just one! Otherwise, I don’t think there are nearly enough peanut butter chips in the cookie!

Extra Special Chocolate Chip Cookies

¾ cup unsalted butter, softened
¾ cup dark brown sugar, packed
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 large egg
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
¾ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1 (12 oz.) bag semi sweet chocolate chips
1 cup coconut, toasted
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Cream butter and sugars together in large bowl. Blend in vanilla and eggs. Mix in flour, baking powder and soda, and salt, and blend well. Stir in chocolate chips, coconut and nuts. Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto lightly greased cookie sheet. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes in 375 degree F oven. Makes about 2 ½ dozen cookies.


Chocolate Peanut Butter Chip Cookies

1 ¼ cups butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup cocoa
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
3 1/3 cups (2 – 10 oz. pkgs.) peanut butter chips

Cream butter and sugar together. Add eggs and vanilla, and beat well. Blend in Flour, cocoa, soda and salt. Mix well. Stir in peanut butter chips. Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto a lightly greased cookie Sheet. Bake 8 to 9 minutes. Do not overbake; cookies will still be soft. Cool slightly on baking sheet, then remove to a wire rack. Cool completely. Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Twelve Tips for Stress-Free Entertaining

Having a crowd over for dinner or a party certainly can be stressful. What are some tips for cutting down this stress? Here are the top ideas that really work for me:

--Plan your menu carefully. Choose dishes that can be made up ahead of time and either frozen or refrigerated until serving or baking time. Don’t serve a lot of foods (no more than 1or 2 dishes) that need a lot of “last minute” prep.

--Do whatever you can ahead of time as far as cooking prep, as well as cleaning the house, folding cloth napkins, making place cards, setting the table, etc. If something can be done in advance, do it.

--Make a timetable and stick with it. When I plan a very large party or formal occasion, I make a list of everything that needs to be done and when. This includes grocery shopping, food prep, cleaning, organizing entertainment or games, sending out email reminders to guests, etc. Usually the week before a party, I have a “to do” list for every day. Then the 24 hours before a party, I’ll make out a schedule for what dishes need to be assembled, put in the oven, pulled out of the oven, etc., at each hour. It really helps ensure that everything gets done, and that there’s enough time for each task.

--Clear out your refrigerator. Eat up leftovers in advance of your party, so that they’re not taking up space in your fridge. You’re going to need that space to store the food for your party. Keep in mind you may need to turn down the temperature a degree or two in your fridge, to compensate for all the extra food you are trying to keep cool. If you don’t have enough fridge space, ask friends, relatives and neighbors if they have some extra freezer or refrigerator space where you could store some of your food.

--If there’s going to be a lot of last-minute arranging food on platters (such as for a cocktail or appetizer party) figure out in advance what platter will work best to serve what food. Otherwise, if you wait until right before your guests arrive to figure out what food you should put on what serving dish, this can waste a lot of time. You have to make the decisions about what trays and platters will work best, you have to locate the platters, maybe unload them from storage boxes or get them down from high shelves—and this can take a lot of time. What I do a day or two before a party is put little post-it notes on platters and serving dishes, noting what food’s going to go on what. My husband laughs when I do that, but it really helps streamline things! Also, by figuring out what tray or platter will work best for what foods, this can help you figure out if you need to borrow any serving dishes.

--When you assign guests to bring food items to your party, anticipate how well they’ll follow through. If there are “important” entrees like desserts (right?!!) or specific side dishes you really want to have at your party, assign those items to people who really like to cook and have the time in their schedules to do so. If there are guests who aren’t so “in” to cooking, let them have an easy assignment, like pick up a bag of chips and a container of salsa, or a bottle of wine. You have to kind of know your guests. One person I know will walk in the door to a party with a head of iceberg lettuce and a bag of whole tomatoes when I ask her to bring a tossed salad—usually when I’m scrambling around doing all kinds of last-minute things and five other people have asked me: “Where are your serving spoons?” “Where do you keep your…?” So for this guest, I have a knife, cutting board and salad bowl waiting for her when she walks in the door.

--Ask one of your guests to stop off at a convenience store on the way to your party and bring an extra bag or two of crushed ice. Invariably, you will run out of ice at your party, and ice is always in big demand at parties—especially outdoor gatherings where people are seeking out cold beverages! However, there’s often not enough freezer space to store extra ice bags. So it’s very helpful to have a guest bring some extra ice over. Have a cooler ready to store the ice in during the party.

--Have the dishwasher unloaded and ready to fill—before your dinner party. Also, have the kitchen sink emptied out and clean. That way you’re ready to wash dishes and load the dishwasher if your guests offer to help clean-up after the party.

--If it’s a casual gathering with paper plates, have an empty trash can with a new trash bag in it, ready to go so your guests will know that’s where to put their disposables—and you won’t have to stop what you’re doing during the party and take care of this.

--Plan for accidental messes ahead of time. Buy some stain remover, particularly one for wine (if you’re serving red wine), and have it on hand before the party. More often than not, there are going to be some spills—on table cloths, carpets, etc. Better to deal with these stains when they happen, rather than let them set in.

--Know your limits. Don’t try to do more than is realistic for one person to do. Oftentimes guests will volunteer to help out, either with set-up or clean-up. Let them! Don’t be shy about accepting their offers to help. If you’re serving a formal dinner for a large crowd and there’s going to be lots of china, crystal and silverware that have to be hand-washed afterwards, hire some teenagers in the neighborhood to clean up afterwards. The idea is to NOT wear yourself out—so that you can enjoy yourself too.

--Aim to have all your prep work done before your guests arrive. That way, when your doorbell starts ringing, if you pour your guests some wine, you can also pour a glass for yourself. It's time to kick back and enjoy your company! Remember, if you’re relaxed and stress-free, your guests will be much more likely to have a good time themsleves.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Favorite Muffin Recipes for Brunches and Overnight Guests


During the summer months, we seem to have a lot of overnight company. It seems every week there’s either someone “passing through” the Dallas area and needs a place to stay, or our sons’ friends are spending the night. One of my favorite summertime breakfasts for overnight guests is a plate of fresh fruit—kiwis, pineapple, strawberries, melons, grapes, etc.—and a batch of muffins, just out of the oven. (Of course a muffin and a cup of coffee or tea also hits the spot on a cool fall or winter morning too. And on a side note, some cool weather really sounds good right about now!!! This Texas heat is intense, to say the least!)

Over the years, I’ve collected about seven all-time favorite muffin recipes. These are posted below. Some of these are long-time family recipes, passed down from my mom and grandma. Others are recipes I’ve put together on my own. Each of these recipes makes about 2-3 dozen muffins.


Apple Coconut Muffins

1 cup vegetable oil
2 ¼ cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
3 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
3 cups peeled and chopped apples
2 cups chopped pecans
½ cup coconut

In a large bowl, combine oil, sugar, eggs and vanilla. Add flour, soda and salt and mix well. Stir in apples, pecans and coconut. Spoon batter into greased or paper-lined muffin tins, filling three quarters full. Bake for 18 to 25 minutes, or until muffins spring back when lightly pressed.


Streusel-topped Bran Muffins

1 ½ cups wheat bran cereal
1 cup hot milk
1 cup all purpose flour
1/3 cup brown sugar, packed
½ cup butter, softened
2 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
1 egg
Streusel topping (recipe below)

Mix cereal and milk; let stand until cereal is slightly softened. Stir in remaining ingredients, except streusel topping, just until flour is moistened. Fill greased or paper-lined muffin tins, about two-thirds full. Sprinkle with streusel topping. Bake 18 to 20 minutes, or until golden brown. Immediately remove from oven.


Banana Nut Muffins

½ cup butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
2 large eggs
1 cup mashed banana (about 3 large)
1 ½ cups flour (I use ½ white flour, and ½ whole wheat)
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
½ cup sour cream
¾ cup chopped walnuts

Cream butter and sugar together. Add vanilla and eggs, and beat well. Stir in sour cream. Mix well. Stir in flour, baking soda and salt. Finally, stir in the nuts. Spoon into muffin tins. Bake at 350 degrees for about 25 to 30 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.


Very-Special Blueberry Muffins

½ cup butter, very soft
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
½ cup milk
2 cups all purpose flour
1 T. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. nutmeg
1 ½ cups frozen blueberries, partially thawed
¼ cup sliced almonds for garnish
2 T. granulated sugar for garnish

In mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Add eggs and milk and blend well. Mix in flour, baking powder, salt and nutmeg, just until blended. Fold in blueberries. Fill greased or paper cup lined muffin tins about two-thirds full. Sprinkle with almonds and sugar. Bake in 400 degree F oven for 15 to 25 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.


“Goober” Muffins

1/3 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup creamy peanut butter
¾ cup buttermilk
½ cup all purpose flour
¼ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt
½ cup chopped peanuts
1 cup chocolate chips

Mix oil, sugar, eggs and peanut butter in large mixing bowl. Add buttermilk, stirring thoroughly to blend. Add flour, soda and salt. Fold in peanuts and chocolate chips. Fill greased or paper-lined muffin tins two-thirds full. Bake in 400 degree oven for 20 minutes.


Mandarin Muffins

1 (11 oz.) can Mandarin oranges, drained
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 ¾ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. nutmeg
¼ tsp. allspice or cloves
½ tsp. salt
½ cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup shortening, chilled or frozen
1 large egg
¼ cup milk
¼ cup butter, melted
Topping: 1/3 cup granulated sugar mixed with 1 tsp. cinnamon

Cut each Mandarin orange segment in half, and set aside. In large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, nutmeg, allspice, salt and sugar. Using a pastry blender or your fingers, cut in shortening until it resembles coarse meal. Combine egg and milk and add all at once. Mix just until flour is moistened. Fold in the Mandarin oranges. Spoon into greased or paper-lined muffin tins, filling three-fourths full. Bake for 20 minutes in 350 F oven. Remove muffins from pans while hot. Brush tops with melted butter, then sprinkle with cinnamon sugar mixture.


Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins

¾ cup sugar
¼ cup butter, softened
1 tsp. grated lemon peel
2 eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 ½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
1 cup milk
6 T. poppy seeds

Cream sugar, butter and lemon peel together. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each. Combine flour, baking powder and salt. Add to creamed mixture alternately with milk, beating well after each addition. Fold in poppy seeds. Spoon batter into greased or paper lined muffin tins about three-fourths full. Bake at 400 degrees F for about 20 minutes.

Happy Muffin Making!
~Becky

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Shortbread Toffee Squares


Growing up, I have the best summer memories of hanging out at my best friend’s pool, and her mom bringing us out a batch of freshly-made shortbread toffee squares. Mmmm! Those were scrumptious! Over the years, I’ve made the same recipe myself. In fact, I just made a batch today. My kids, too, enjoy these as poolside snacks with their friends. You might want to try them yourself. They’re easy to make, and freeze well.

Shortbread Toffee Squares

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1 egg
1 ½ tsp. vanilla
2 cups all purpose flour
1/8 tsp. salt
1 (11.5 oz.) bag milk or semi sweet chocolate chips
1 cup chopped walnuts

Cream butter and sugar together; blend in egg and vanilla. Add flour and salt and mix well. Spread into a greased 13X9-inch baking pan. Bake in 325 degree oven for 30-35 minutes, or until tan in color. When done baking, remove from oven and top with chocolate chips. Once the chips have melted, spread out chocolate in an even layer. Sprinkle with chopped nuts. Cool and cut into bars. Makes 25 to 30 bars.

Happy baking!
~Becky

Monday, June 20, 2011

Fresh Salsa for a Crowd


My sons, husband and I had several “kitchen projects” that we did together today, one of which was to make a huge batch of fresh salsa. We’re expecting some company to come over tomorrow and Wednesday to go swimming, so we thought it’d be fun to have some chips and salsa on hand to serve to them.

Here’s our recipe for fresh salsa:

Fresh Salsa for a Crowd

10 large beefsteak tomatoes
2 bunches fresh cilantro, chopped
2 large yellow onions, diced
5 mild Jalapenos, seeded and diced
2 green bell peppers, seeded and diced
2 T. lime juice
2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and Pepper, to taste
Optional: 2 T. olive oil

Combine all ingredients and refrigerate. Makes about 10 cups of salsa—definitely enough for a crowd!

Of course, to make this much salsa, it’s helpful to have a couple of teenagers in the house—at least, teenagers who are willing to do some—well, lots—of chopping! Here’s a pic of my helpers at work:

Happy salsa making!
~Becky

Steak Marinades: Recipes and Tips


Yesterday was Father’s Day, and we grilled marinated steaks for a special dinner. It was some of the most tender, flavorful steak that I had had in a long time! Not only did we select a tender cut of meat, we also soaked the steaks in a Jack Daniels marinade for about two hours before cooking them. Yum!

If you’ve marinated steaks before, you know how delicious they can be. If you haven’t, you might want to consider it next time you’re planning an outdoor cookout! I’m posting some favorite marinade recipes at the end of this post, which I highly recommend. But first, I thought it would be helpful to post some of the basics about marinating.

A marinade is a seasoned liquid mixture used to add the flavor to meats soaked in it. Many times, marinades also help tenderize beef, especially less-expensive or leaner cuts of meat like round, chuck and flank steaks.

Cuts from the loin (Porterhouse, t-bone, sirloin, Delmonico, New York strip, rump steak, tenderloin) are already very tender. However, you may still want to marinade them to add flavor.

A marinade can be any seasoned liquid, but typically it’s a brine or an oil and alcohol (typically wine) mixture with herbs added for flavor. If a marinade is meant to tenderize meat, it will have an acidic ingredient of some type in it. That could be pineapple or lemon juice, vinegar or wine. As the meat cooks, the alcohol evaporates, while the proteins are hydrolyzed, creating a tendering effect on the muscle tissues.

To marinate your steaks, put them in a glass dish (with a cover) or a large ziplock freezer bag. Pour in the marinade, and put the meat in the refrigerator. Turn the steaks occasionally during marinating so that all sides are equally exposed to marinade. If you are using a tender cut of meat and are only marinating for flavor, marinate for 15 minutes to 2 hours. If you’re using a lean cut of meat and also want to tenderize, marinate for at least 4 hours, up to 24 hours. (Don’t marinate longer than 24 hours, as that can result in a mushy steak!)

What follows are the recipes for my favorite steak marinades. These recipes are designed for 1 ½ to 2 pounds of steak, trimmed of outside fat. As a general rule, you should allow ¼ to ½ cup of marinade for each pound of meat.

BLACK PEPPER MARINADE

½ cup vegetable oil
1 T. coarsely ground black pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
1 T. white vinegar
½ tsp. salt
1 T. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
2 T. lemon juice

Combine all ingredients, stirring until well blended.


TERIYAKI MARINADE

½ cup soy sauce
1 clove garlic, minced
2 T. brown sugar
½ tsp. ground ginger
2 T. Worcestershire sauce
1 T. lemon juice

Combine all ingredients and mix well.


BOURBON MARINADE

1 cup bourbon
¼ cup soy sauce
3 T. Dijon mustard
¼ cup brown sugar
1 small yellow onion, diced fine
½ tsp. garlic powder
¼ tsp. Worcestershire sauce

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl, and mix well.


JACK DANIELS MARINADE

½ cup whiskey
½ cup brown sugar
1 T. minced garlic
¼ cup vegetable oil
¼ cup lemon juice
1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/3 cup soy sauce
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. black pepper


RED WINE MARINADE #1

½ cup red wine vinegar
2 T. vegetable oil
1 T. Dijon mustard
2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ tsp. dry Italian seasoning
¼ tsp. ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients, stirring until well-blended.


RED WINE MARINADE #2

1 cup dry red wine
2 T. balsamic vinegar
¼ cup chopped yellow onion
2 T. olive oil
1 T. Worcestershire sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. dried thyme
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper

Marinade at least 15 minutes, up to overnight.


HAWAIIAN MARINADE

2/3 cup soy sauce
¼ cup lime juice
2 T. honey
2 T. ginger

Combine all ingredients until well-blended. Marinade at least 15 mi9nutes. Can also use to baste steaks while grilling.


LEMONY ASIAN MARINADE

¼ cup fresh lemon juice
3 T. chopped green onion
1 ½ T. soy sauce
1 ½ T. vegetable oil
¼ tsp. ginger
¼ tsp. crushed red pepper pods

Combine all ingredients, stirring until well-blended.


ZESTY ITALIAN MARINADE

2/3 cup prepared Italian salad dressing
2 T. coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
1 T. chili powder

Combine all ingredients and mix well.


SAVORY MARINADE

¼ cup steak sauce
2 T. brown sugar, packed
2 T. lime juice
¼ tsp. ground red pepper

Combine all ingredients and mix well.


TEX-MEX MARINADE #1

1 cup prepared salsa
4 T. chopped cilantro
3 T. fresh lime juice
2 T. vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ tsp. ground cumin

Combine all ingredients, stirring until well blended.


TEX-MEX MARINADE #2

½ cup olive oil
¼ cup lime juice
¼ cup red wine vinegar
1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tsp. chili powder
¼ tsp. ground cumin

In small bowl, whisk all ingredients together.


CITRUS MANDARIN MARINADE

½ cup orange juice
¼ cup soy sauce
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 dashes ground cloves

Combine all ingredients and mix well.


BARBECUE MARINADE

½ cup chopped onion
1 ½ T. brown sugar, packed
1 T. vegetable oil
1 T. prepared horseradish
1 T. water
¼ tsp. coarse ground black pepper

Cook onion and brown sugar in oil in small saucepan over medium heat until onion is tender, about 3 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and continue cooking over medium heat 3 to 4 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Cool thoroughly before using to marinate beef.


If you like, you can use these marinades as a basting liquid during grilling. However, after you’re done with a marinade, discard it. It’s not safe to reuse a marinade that has had raw meat soaking in it. There could be a lot of bacteria remaining in that marinade…not something you want to introduce to the next cut of meat you marinate.

Happy marinating!
~Becky

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Cooking with Wine


As a journalist, I like to interview people—to “pick their brains” and glean new insights and information. Much of what I’ve learned in recent years has come that way—by talking to experts in a wide variety of fields.

Lately I’ve been writing a lot about cooking and entertaining. Recently I talked with several chefs in Texas, and asked them what they thought was the easiest way to turn a routine meal into something really special. They all gave me the same basic anwer: use wine in your cooking!

"Eating is one of our greatest sensory pleasures,” says Chef Kent Rathbun, pictured above. “However, when you add wine to your cooking, you end up with an even greater sensory experience.”

The alcohol in the wine evaporates while the food is cooking, so it’s not that you’re going to “feel tipsy” after eating the food, Rathbun explains, but rather that you will experience new taste sensations. “Adding wine enhances, intensifies and accents the flavor and aroma of your entrées,” he says.

As owner and executive chef of Jasper’s and Abacus Restaurants of Dallas, Austin and Houston, Rathbun definitely knows what he’s talking about. “I cook with wine almost every day,” he says. “Wine is a wonderful addition to many dishes, from soups and stews to broiled fish, roasts and desserts.”

Wine can be used as a marinade ingredient, a cooking liquid, the basis for a sauce, and as a flavoring in a finished dish. For most recipes, Rathbun recommends you reduce the wine by at least half before adding it in as an ingredient. You might simply put it in a pan on the stove and boil it down, or you could add wine to pan drippings or caramelized onions in a pan and then let that simmer together. This causes the water elements to evaporate out of the wine, and creates a richer, more mellow flavor.

In one of Rathbun’s recipes, he might start out with a half gallon of wine and reduce it down to two cups before adding tomatoes for marinara sauce, or chicken or beef stock for soup. “You end up with a sauce that’s very big in taste—to the point that it might not even need any salt,” he says. On the other hand, if you don’t reduce the wine and add it into a dish that’s almost finished cooking, your food would have more of a sharp, raw taste, according to Rathbun.

It’s worth noting that not only do foods cooked with wine taste sumptuous, they’re often very healthy too. “You are contributing a distinct taste to your food, but doing so without adding extra fat, sugar or salt—which most of us do not need,” notes Lona Sandon, MEd., RD, LD, a registered dietician in Dallas on the staff at U-T Southwestern and a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.

Of course, cooking with wine may seem a little daunting or intimidating to some people—especially if they’re not cooking enthusiasts or are nervous about trying out new recipes. But, cooking with wine is easier than you might think, at least when you’ve got the basics down. Here are some important tips:

* Choose a wine that complements the food with which it’s paired.

The first thing you will need to think about is whether to use a red or white wine in your recipe. “Red wines generally go best with beef, venison and marinara sauces, whereas white wines seem to fit best with seafood, poultry, pork, and creamy, dairy-based sauces,” advices Brian West, Executive Chef and owner of Café Paladar in San Antonio and Stone Oak, Texas.

White wine tends to add a much more subtle flavor to a recipe than red wine does, and is ideal for dishes like baked chicken, poached seafood and fettuccini Alfredo. Red wine is much bolder and more flavorful than the white varieties, and is great in stews, broiled beef steaks, spaghetti sauces and other entrées that require a lot of punch.

As far as what variety of red or white wine to use, West suggests you put the same wine in your recipe that you’ll be drinking with the meal. If you are cooking an ethnic dish, cook with a wine that comes from the same region. This will guarantee you a good flavor pairing.

* Cook with quality wine

Never cook with wine that you would not drink. Don’t use very cheap wines, wine that’s turned to vinegar, wine that’s been corked for a long period of time, or any poor-tasting wine. Sometimes people use these kinds of wines in their cooking, Rathbun says, just to try to use it up. But that’s a big mistake. “If you reduce an already bad-tasting wine, you’re only going to intensify its bad taste because now you’ve taken all the liquid out of it,” Rathbun says.

This does not mean, however, that you need to go out and buy a $50 bottle of premium Bordeaux to use in your beef stroganoff. “That’s overkill, and it’s unnecessary,” Rathbun says. He says a $10 or $15 dollar bottle of wine would probably do fine—as long as it is a good quality vintage that you enjoy.

* Avoid cooking wines

Do not use the “cooking wines” found in grocery stores, typically in the same aisle with the vinegar and bottled marinades. “These wines are generally poor quality and have a lot of salt added to them,” West notes. Using these wines will affect the recipes that you use them in—and not in a good way!

* Don’t add too much or too little

Consider the overall balance of flavors in the dish, and don’t add so much wine that it disrupts the balance of flavors. Remember, “the wine should enhance your recipe, not overpower it,” West says. At the other extreme, don’t add so little wine that it is inconsequential. Obviously it will take some experimentation before you know exactly how much wine flavor you like in your food. To get you started, braising a 4 to 6 pound beef roast with ½ to 2 cups of wine works well for most people. To flavor soups, add a tablespoon of wine at the start of the cooking process for each cup of liquid. You could replace 2 cups of the liquid in your spaghetti sauce recipe with wine, and then start it simmering. You can add less wine if it’s already been reduced.

* Add wine in the beginning of the cooking process

If you’ve already reduced your wine, you can add it anytime—even at the end of the cooking process or in uncooked dessert sauces and it’ll taste great. But if you’re adding unreduced wine, be sure to add that early on in the cooking process so that it can simmer with the food. This will reduce the wine and bring out the smoother flavors. If you add wine too late, it could impart a harsh quality to your dish, Rathbun says.

* Be willing to experiment

Don’t be afraid to wine in recipes that don’t call for wine. In fact, wine may be just what’s needed to add life to a recipe! And even when a recipe does call for wine, you may want to use a different type than what the recipe specifies. Be creative, and let your taste buds be your guide.

“In the beginning, you’re going to have to do some experimentation to see what works for you,” West says. Feel free to experiment with using various kinds of wines, in varying amounts, in different types of dishes. When it comes to cooking with wine, there are no hard and fast rules. These are just some general guidelines to make cooking with wine a little less daunting.

“The important thing is to have fun while you’re cooking,” Rathbun says. He recommends you save a little wine for your glass so you can sip on it while you’re cooking. Then you’re sure to enjoy yourself—not only when you’re eating the food, but when you’re preparing it too!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Blackberry Pie ala mode--Yum!


We had more of sons’ friends over tonight for a BBQ. For dessert, we had warm blackberry pie, just out of the oven, topped with vanilla ice cream. Even though we were away from home all day today, it only took me a few minutes to make the pie late this afternoon—since I already had crusts pre-made that had been in the freezer, and I used frozen blackberries. I like to have pie crusts made up ahead of time, so I can always put together a quick dessert. That way, I’m never more than an hour away from a freshly-made pie! Here’s today’s recipe:

Becky’s Blackberry Pie

Pastry for a 9-inch double-crust pie
5 cups fresh blackberries or 4 cups frozen, unsweetened blackberries, thawed
1 cup granulated sugar (preferably ultra-fine or Baker’s Sugar)
1/3 cup (heaping!) all-purpose flour
1 tsp. lemon juice
2 T. butter, cut into small pieces

Line pie pan with half of the pastry. In a mixing bowl, combine the berries, sugar, flour and lemon juice. Spoon into bottom crust. Top with butter pieces (trying for an even coverage). Moisten edge of crust with water, and place top crust on top. Crimp edges to make crust. Cut slits in top crust to allow steam to escape. Bake in 375 degree oven for 50 minutes to an hour. If crust starts browning, put aluminum foil or a pie shield on top of crust. When done, remove from oven and allow to cool on rack 1-2 hours before cutting and serving. Tastes especially good topped with vanilla ice cream.

Well, it’s been a couple hours since I pulled the pie out of the oven. Of course, it’s long been scarfed up. That’s what happens when there’s seven teenagers in the house! They didn’t even wait the 1-2 hours to let the pie cool before cutting it. They sure seemed to enjoy it though!

Hope you have a nice weekend!
~Becky

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Brownies and Ice Cream--YUM!


Warm brownies just out of the oven, topped with ice cream and chocolate syrup or hot fudge sauce. Yummmmm! It has got to be one of the simplest desserts to make, but at the same time, it is SO scrumptious!

Being that it’s summer vacation, we’ve got lots of teens over at our house (friends of my sons), and I’ve been trying to come up with some special treats to serve to them. The picture above is what I made today. We topped these brownies with cookies ‘n cream ice cream. We also like mocha, mint chip and peanut butter ice cream with brownies.

Over the years, I’ve tried dozens and dozens of different brownie recipes. My favorite in recent years has been the “Fudgy Brownies” recipe on page 156 of King Arthur Flour’s Cookie Companion cookbook. It’s fudgy and rich, but still has a cake texture. Next time you’ve got hungry guests to feed, or if you’ve just got a chocolate craving, I highly recommend this recipe.

Fudgy Brownies

¾ cup unsalted butter
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup cocoa
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. baking powder
1 T. vanilla
3 large eggs
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup chocolate chips (I add 1 1/2—and these could be white chips, peanut butter chips, or cappuccino chips, instead of semi-sweet or milk chocolate chips. Or, you could use a mix of both.)
Optional: 1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

In microwave-safe bowl, melt butter. Then add the sugar and stir to combine. Return bowl to microwave, about 30 seconds more. Heating the mixture a second time will dissolve the sugar, which will yield a shiny top crust on the brownies. Stir in the cocoa, salt, baking powder and vanilla. Whisk in the eggs, stirring until smooth. Then add the flour, chips and nuts, stirring until smooth. Spoon the batter into a greased 9 X 13-inch pan. Bake the brownies for 29 to 32 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, or until only a very few crumbs cling to it. Cool brownies on rack about 15 to 30 minutes before cutting.

These are very moist brownies—as long as you don’t overcook them. You may be tempted to leave them in the oven for longer than 32 minutes, but don’t. That will dry out your brownies. As long as the edges of the brownies are set, the brownies are probably done—even if the center looks soft.

Happy brownie baking!
~Becky

Ooey Gooey Fudge Muffins


We've got overnight company coming this weekend...and at least one of our guests is a die-hard chocoholic. So when I was trying to figure out what to make for breakfast, one recipe instantly popped into my head: chocolate fudge muffins!!! These are the most chocolately muffins I have ever tasted. Amazingly, they have no leavning in them whatsoever.

Ooey Gooey Fudge Muffins

2 squares unsweetened chocolate
1 cup butter
1 ¾ cups sugar
4 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
1 ½ cups flour, sifted
Optional: ½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Melt chocolate and butter in a saucepan. Mix in sugar, eggs and vanilla, stirring gently. Add flour and mix just until combined. If desired, fold in chocolate chips. Pour into greased muffin cups, or muffin tins with cupcake liners. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Happy Baking!
~Becky

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

“BIG TEX” BARBECUE & COUNTRY WESTERN PARTY


Four years ago, when we moved to the Dallas area, one of the first things we learned was that Texans like to have fun. They know how to throw good parties, particularly barbecues. We’ve been to quite a few of them, and we’ve also hosted a few hoe-downs ourselves. We just had one recently. Actually, it’s the time of year when you want to be outside grilling and barbecuing, so I’ve been thinking a lot about this kind of get-together.

Now you don’t have to live in Texas to throw a “Big Tex” country western party. In fact, one of the best hoe-downs I’ve ever been to was in Wisconsin, about five years ago. Okay, the host was a displaced Texan, temporarily living in the North. He served us some bold and spicy steaks—big enough to take up a whole dinner plate (after all, everything’s “bigger in Texas” right?!!), decorated his home with Texas stars, and played us down-home tunes like “Deep in the Heart of Texas.” It all underscores my point: You can have a little “Lone Star State” kind of fun anywhere you live. Here’s what you need to do to throw one of these parties yourself:

INVITATIONS
Make big invitations by cutting out the shape of Texas out of card stock. On the front of the write, “Come to a Big Tex Party!” Inside, you can give all the details: location, date and time, what to wear, an overview of the activities for the evening, what to bring, etc.

Or, create a WANTED poster out of 8X10-inch light brown colored parchment paper as the invitation to your party. Underneath the word “Wanted” in large black letters, write “Party Guests” and state all the details about the event. Roll up each invitation and tie it with twine.

If you’re not “in” to old-fashioned paper invitations, you can certainly go electronic. Some of the online invitation services like Evite have some very clever western-style invitations that can really set the tone for your party.

ATTIRE
Encourage your guests to come dressed in western shirts, chaps (for the guys of course!), bolo ties and big belt buckles (again, for the guys!), bandanas, jeans, and perhaps fringed cowgirl shirts and skirts for the gals).

You might want to have a “best dressed Texan” contest at your party, so note this on your invitation. That way your guests will know they really need to put some thought into what they wear to the party. You could also have a contest just related to the hats worn by your guests. Inform everyone that you’ll be awarding prizes for who wears the “biggest,” “most outlandish,” and “most beat up” hats. All of your guests could vote on these categories during the party, and then you can award the prizes before the end of the evening.

DECORATIONS
You can buy a lot of western-style and cowboy decorations at your local party store or through online party supply houses like Party America and Oriental Trading Company. They have a huge selection of props, centerpieces, paper goods, streamers, costumes and other party supplies.

For the western party we recently hosted, I went online and ordered some custom “Wanted” posters with guests’ pictures in them. You can also do a Google search and find retailers selling “Don’t Mess With Texas” posters, photos and posters of Texas longhorns and oil wells, and travel posters featuring the Dallas skyline or west Texas. Or, buy a Texas flag or traditional Texas star to display. All of these items can really add to the ambiance.

Of course, you could get creative and make your own “Wanted” posters on your computer. This way you can really customize them. You might also want to make “Cowboys” and “Cowgirls” signs to hang on the bathroom doors.

You can also find a lot of decorative items at craft, farm, western, discount and dollar stores. One idea is to purchase bales of hay to set outside the entrance to your home, in your yard and on your patio. Put some rubber snake around the hay bale, sit a saddle on top of the bale (maybe you have an equine enthusiast you can borrow one from!), or an old wagon wheel off to the side.

Decorate the inside of your home by displaying branding irons, spurs, cowboy boots, western hats, cacti in terra cotta pots, and cowboy rope tied in lassos or lariats. Make bandana streamers by folding bandanas over fishing line (securing with staples) to string across the party area.

Set out galvanized pails (lined with red bandanas or tied with red gingham ribbons) filled with peanuts in shells. This adds to the western feel, but also gives guests something to much on while they’re waiting for the meal.

Cover your tables with a red checkered or gingham tablecloths. For a table centerpiece, fill a cowboy hat with hay and wild flowers, or place a large cactus inside. Or, fill a canning jar with real or silk sunflowers, and tie raffia around the rim. Use red bandanas for chair coverings, doilies or table runners.

Use blue enamel pie tins as plates, and serve up your beverages in old mason jars. Tie a piece of rope or twine around the rim of the jar and you have an authentic western-style drinking glass.

Create flatware/napkin bundles out of bandanas. Bandanas make wonderful napkins for western parties! You can usually find bandanas at craft stores, for relatively low cost. They come in a variety of colors, in addition to the traditional red. At my recent western party, I bought a supply of inexpensive bandanas from Hobby Lobby for $1 each.

To make the flatware bundles, fold the bandana in half to form a rectangle. Place it so the folded edge is at the bottom. Bring the top edge of the first layer to the bottom edge. Turn the bandana over; bring the left edge to the center. Fold this section over itself two more times in the same direction. Place the set of flatware knife, fork and spoon) inside. Tie the napkin bundle with thin rope, jute or twine. Arrange the bundles in a galvanized metal feed tub (one that’s wide but shallow), at the end of your buffet line. You can tie a red gingham ribbon around the pail for an added decorative touch.

MUSIC
Compile a music playlist for your party to help set the mood. Try to come up with a nice mix of modern country, bluegrass and classic country, with a balance between male and female voices. If you’re not normally “in” to country western music, give it a chance. Even those are don’t normally like this music genre, still like a lot of the hits by performers such as George Jones, Martina McBride, Willie Nelson, Clint Black, Faith Hill, Alan Jackson, Chris LeDoux LeAnn Rimes, Garth Brooks and Waylon Jennings. If you can swing it, and if you’re guests are genuine country music fans, hire a local country western band to play for the evening.

ACTIVITIES
For added fun, plan some special activities for the evening. If you have the space, clear an area outside or inside your home for some country western dancing. That’s a sure way to get everyone involved and mingling. You may want to hire an instructor to teach the guests line or square dancing. Find a referral by calling your region’s square dance caller association (A quick Google or Yahoo search by typing in your state and “square dance caller association” will lead you in the right direction.). If that’s not in your budget, see if you have any guests with experience in line or square dancing, purchase a learning CD with pre-recorded music and directions on it (Amazon.com has a large selection), and have your own lessons during your party.

Another idea is to rent a karaoke machine for the evening (or borrow one from a friend), and let your guests can take turns singing popular country western hits. This is another activity you could hand out awards for (“Best Performer,” “Most Entertaining,” “Hidden Talent Award,” etc.).

Games can also add a lot of fun. You might pass out squirt guns to guests, have them all stand lined up side-by-side, and see who can be the first to knock over an empty soda can or put out the flame on a candle. If your party is during the daytime, or if you have good outdoor lighting (away from your main entertaining and eating area) you might sponsor a horseshoes tournament. A roping contest can be fun too. Make a lasso by tying a slipknot in a piece of rope, and see who can be the first to lasso a stake in the ground (attach a drawing of a bull onto that stake if you like). Note these activities on your invitation, to let your guests know what you’ve got planned for the evening.

MENU
If you’re inviting any more than 10 people to your party (and often these kind of shin-digs have a lot more people than that!), the meal itself is best served up buffet-style. If you have a large center island or one of those 6-foot folding tables, use that for your buffet line.

As far as the menu goes, you could serve up BBQ steaks like our friend in Wisconsin did, or perhaps a spicy chili if it’s during the fall or winter months. However, for during the summer when it’s warm outside, my recommendation for a main entrée is barbecued beef brisket, accompanied by baked beans, potato salad, cornbread, grilled corn-on-the-cob, and coleslaw. Wash down the hearty fare with ice-cold beer, ideally from a Texas micro-brewery. If you’ve got kids present, make sure you have a nice selection of sodas iced down in a beverage trough. For dessert, how about a nice peach cobbler? They’re all favorites here in Texas! The recipes follow:

Oven Barbecued Brisket

7-9 lb. beef brisket, trimmed of excess fat
Instant meat tenderizer
1 ½ cups hickory flavored barbecue sauce
2 T. Worcestershire sauce
1 T. liquid smoke
1 small Spanish onion, minced
1 tsp. crushed garlic
½ tsp. black pepper

Prick both sides several times with a fork. Sprinkle with meat tenderizer. Lay the meat flat in a large roasting pan. Combine the rest of the ingredients, stir well, and pour over meat. Cover and refrigerate overnight, to let the meat marinade. Bake in a 250 degree oven for 7 hours. When done, slice across the grain, in ½ inch slices.


Western-style Baked Beans in the Crockpot

1 lb. dried navy beans
4 cups vegetable broth
2 cups water
1 large Spanish onion
¾ cup ketchup
¾ cup light brown sugar
¾ cup water
1 tsp. yellow mustard
2 T. molasses
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. onion powder
½ tsp. garlic powder

Soak beans in vegetable broth and water overnight in a bowl. In the morning, drain the beans, discarding the broth and water mixture that the beans were soaking in. Put the beans in the crock pot and add the remaining ingredients. Cover, and cook on low, 10-12 hours.


Potato Salad

5 lbs. russet potatoes, cooked and diced
2 medium-sized Spanish onions
6 hard boiled eggs, chopped
6 celery ribs, sliced thinly
2 cups mayonnaise
3 T. cider vinegar
2 T. granulated sugar
2 T. yellow mustard
1 ½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. garlic powder
½ tsp. black pepper
Paprika—for garnish

Place potatoes, onions, eggs and celery in bowl. Mix next seven ingredients together in another bowl, then pour this on top of vegetables. Stir to evenly coat. Sprinkle a little paprika on top.


Yankee-in-Texas Cornbread
It’s sweet, so it’s not a typical Southern cornbread, but displaced northerners like me—and even many Texans—really seem to like it!

2 ½ cups white flour
2 cups cornmeal
3 tsp. baking powder
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 ½ tsp. salt
½ cup shortening, chilled
2 2/3 cups milk
2 large eggs, beaten

Combine first 5 ingredients in large bowl. Cut in shortening, using your fingers or pastry blender. Add milk and eggs, mixing just until combined. Pour into a greased 13X9-inch baking pan. Bake 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve warm with whipped butter.

DO-AHEAD TIP: This recipe can be made into cornbread muffins and frozen. Thaw the night before serving them. Reheat them in the microwave for a few minutes if you’d like to serve them warm. For a western touch, serve the muffins in a basket that has been lined with red bandanas.


Texas-style Grilled Corn-on-the-Cob

12 ears of corn (with husks)
1 tsp. salt
½ cup butter, softened
Salt and pepper to taste

Strip husks down to the end of the cob, but don’t remove completely. Fill a large bowl with cold, salted water. Put ears of corn in the water, and let them sit for about 10-15 minutes. Brush corn with butter and season with salt and pepper. Wrap husks around corn cobs, covering the entire ear. Secure ears with string or wire twist-ties. Place on grill over low heat, allowing to cook five minutes on each side before serving.

Sweet and Creamy Coleslaw

8 cups chopped green cabbage
2 cups chopped red cabbage
½ cup shredded carrot
½ cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. salt
¼ tsp. black pepper
1/3 cup regular milk (whole or 2 percent)
1/3 cup buttermilk
2/3 cup mayonnaise
2 T. white vinegar
3 T. lemon juice

Place shredded cabbage and carrot in large bowl. Combine remaining ingredients and pour over cabbage mix. Stir until coated well. Chill at least 2-3 hours before serving (best when made the night before).

Traditional-style Peach Cobbler

Filling:
10 peaches, washed, peeled and sliced thinly
½ cup water
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
2 heaping T. self-rising flour
1/8 tsp. salt
½ cup butter, melted
Cook peaches in microwave until tender, about 5 minutes. Add remaining ingredients to peaches and stir well. Stir well.

Pastry:
1 cup self-rising flour
½ tsp. salt
1/3 cup shortening, cold (chill in freezer or refrigerator)
4-5 tsp. milk (enough to make dough stick together)
In large bowl, combine flour and salt. Using a pastry blender or your fingers, cut in shortening until mixture resembles coarse meal. Sprinkle milk on top, and mix together just until it forms a dough. Roll out on a floured surface to about a ½-inch thickness. With a biscuit cutter, cut dough into dumpling-shaped circles.

To assemble cobbler, spray a 9X13-inch pan with cooking oil spray. Spoon half of the peach mixture into pan. Arrange half of dough circles on top, pressing them down into the peach juice. Pour remaining peaches on top, and top with remaining dough circles. If desired, brush with milk and sprinkle with some granulated sugar. Bake in a 350 degree F oven for 40-45 minutes, or until top is golden brown.


Before I close for today, I wanted to post this photo (above) of my oldest son, Danny, at the “Big Tex” party we went to in Wisconsin a little over five years ago. My son used to really enjoy dressing in western-style of clothing. Most kids do. If you host one of these parties, keep in mind it’s a great family activity!

Have fun!
~Becky

Monday, June 13, 2011

Maverick Marinated Flank Steak


Many years ago, a college friend gave me her recipe for “Maverick Marinated Flank Steak.” It’s a super-delicious recipe. I thought today would be a good day to post it…not only because it’s “grilling season” here in Texas, but also because I thought my Dallas friends would like the title for this recipe. And really…what better way to celebrate our Dallas Mavericks than with a super-yummy grilled steak?!!!

Maverick Marinated Flank Steak

¾ cup vegetable oil
½ cup teriyaki sauce
½ cup honey
2 T. wine vinegar
4 green onions, diced finely
2 cloves garlic, mashed
1 ½ tsp. ground ginger (or fresh ginger root)
1 large flank steak

Mix first seven ingredients together for marinade. Put steak in a freezer storage bag, pour in marinade, and marinate meat in refrigerator at least 24 hours. During this time, flip meat in bag several times so meat is well-seasoned on all sides.

Gill over hot coals 3-4 minutes on each side for medium rare, 5-6 minutes on each side for medium-well done. Slice flank steak on the diagonal across the grain.

Happy grilling!
~Becky

Viennese Apple Strudel

Do you like apple strudel? I do! It’s especially good when it’s warm out of the oven…and even more so if you’re got a fresh pot of coffee to sip on while you’re eating your strudel. But warm strudel’s hard to come by unless you make it yourself. Of course, baking your own may seem like a tall order, especially if you're making your own pastry. However, it’s a fairly easy undertaking if you use commmercially-made phyllo dough. That’s what I use most of the time. My recipe is below.

This is a dessert you can make up ahead of time, and freeze until you’re ready to bake it. This means you could have company over to dinner and have your strudel baking while you’re eating the main meal. That way you have a warm strudel, fresh out of the oven to serve to your guests when it's time for dessert. Yum! It’s even more yummy if you serve it up with sour cream sauce. That recipe is also below.

Viennese Apple Strudel

½ (16 oz.) pkg. phyllo dough, thawed
½ cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
6 large golden delicious apples, sliced thinly and microwaved for 5 minutes
1 cup granulated sugar
½ cup finely chopped walnuts
½ cup raisins
1 tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. grated lemon peel
½ cup plain bread crumbs
Powdered sugar to sprinkle on top
Sour cream sauce (recipe below)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. In a medium-sized bowl, combine apples, sugar, nuts, raisins, cinnamon, nutmeg and lemon peel. Set aside.

With about 6 T. of the butter, brush each layer of phyllo dough with a little butter, before stacking the next layer of phyllo dough on top.

Spread bread crumbs in a 3-inch strip along one edge of the stack of phyllo layers, to within 2 inches of the edge and ends. Spoon apple mixture over bread crumbs. Roll up, jelly roll style to form a log shape. Place on a greased cookie sheet. Brush strudel “log” with remaining 2 T. of melted butter. Bake in preheated oven for about 40-45 minutes, or until golden brown.

Remove from oven. Let cool for about 30 minutes to an hour. Then dust with powdered sugar. Slice, and serve with sour cream sauce.


Sour Cream Sauce

1 cup sour cream
1/3 cup granulated sugar
Grated rind of 1 lemon
¼ tsp. nutmeg
¼ tsp. cinnamon
¾ cup heavy whipping cream, whipped

Mix sour cream with sugar, lemon rind, nutmeg and cinnamon. Fold in the whipped cream. Chill and serve cold.

Happy strudel making!
Glücklich Strudel backen!

~Becky

Saturday, June 11, 2011

ICE CREAM DRINKS FOR ADULTS


Tonight we went out to dinner with two other couples. As much as I love to entertain and host dinner parties, I must admit that I really enjoyed going out to a restaurant and being waited on. It was a nice treat!

After the meal, we invited our friends over to our house for drinks and more conversation. I made ice cream brandy Alexanders. This is kind of like an after-dinner drink and a dessert, all in one. I know they are fattening…but they are SO delicious! Tonight we sipped on our ice cream drinks outside, while we dangled our feet in the pool, listened to the bullfrogs croaking in the pond behind our backyard, stared up at the stars and just talked and laughed. To me, that’s about as good as it gets!

There have been times over the years when we just had friends over for cards and these drinks, and we didn’t need anything more. That alone was enough for an enjoyable evening! They’re also a wonderful finale to a full meal that you’ve served as well.

My recipe for ice cream brandy Alexanders is below, along with the directions for making two other ice cream versions of popular mixed drinks. Next time you have friends over, you might want to make up one of these recipes yourself.

Ice Cream Brandy Alexanders

1 quart coffee ice cream, softened
5 T. brandy
5 T. crème de cacao
¼ to ½ cup half-and-half (depending on desired consistency)
Topping: Whipped cream (canned or freshly whipped)
Garnish: Grated nutmeg

Place the ice cream, brandy, crème de cacao and half-and-half in blender. Blend on medium speed until smooth. Pour into 4 glasses. Garnish with whipped cream and grated nutmeg. Serve immediately.


Ice Cream Pina Coladas

1 (8 oz.) can crushed pineapple (with juice—undrained)
1 cup pinepple juice
1 cup light rum
4 T. coconut cream
1 quart vanilla custard ice cream, softened
4 fresh pineapple spears (optional)

Please all the ingredients except pineapple spears in a blender. Blend at medium speed until smooth. Pour into 4 glasses and garnish with pineapple spears.


Ice Cream Strawberry Daiquiris

1 quart strawberry ice cream, softened
½ cup fresh or frozen strawberries
1 cup light rum
Juice of 1 lime
6 large fresh strawberries, hulled, washed, halved, and cut in fans

Place the ice cream, strawberries, and rum in blender. Add the lime juice and blend on medium speed until mixture is smooth. Pour into 6 wide stemmed glasses and garnish with strawberry fans.

Happy blending!
~Becky

Friday, June 10, 2011

Broccoli Stuffed Shells


Looking through this blog, you can see that a lot of recipes for pasta. There is a reason for that. Pasta is scrumptious! Not only that, pasta dishes are relatively inexpensive entrées. Many can be prepared in advance, and refrigerated until baking time, which cuts down on the last-minute stress of trying to get ready for company.

Here’s one more pasta recipe that I think you might like:

Broccoli Stuffed Shells

24 jumbo pasta shells, cooked and drained
3 cups broccoli flowerets, cooked until crisp-tender (not mushy!)
1 (15-oz.) container Ricotta cheese
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 large eggs, beaten
¼ tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. oregano
3 cups marinara sauce
1 cup grated mozzarella cheese

Combine broccoli and cheeses in food processor. Process until broccoli is finely minced. Turn mixture into medium bowl and add eggs, pepper and oregano; mix well to combine. Stuff each shell with about 1 T. of the mixture. Place stuffed shells in 13 by 9-inch baking pan (spray pan with cooking oil first). Pour marinara sauce over. Sprinkle mozzarella cheese on top. Bake in 350 degree oven for about 20-30 minutes—or until heated through and mozzarella cheese is bubbly.

If desired, refrigerate the unbaked pan of stuffed shells until serving time. Allow for about 10-15 minutes extra cooking time.

Enjoy!
~Becky

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Super-Moist Carrot Cake


Yesterday, my husband brought in a full bushel basket of carrots from our garden. What do I do with that many carrots?!! We’ve also got three hungry teenage boys staying with us for a couple of days—in addition to our own two sons. What can I bake for them to keep them full? The solution to both: make carrot cake!!! I did that earlier today.(Granted, I will probably need to make about 20 carrot cakes to use up all those carrots!) My recipe is below. This is a family recipe that I have “tweaked” a bit over the years.

Super-Moist Carrot Cake

4 cups white flour
5 tsp. baking soda
4 tsp. cinnamon
6 eggs
1 ½ cups vegetable oil
1 ½ cups buttermilk
4 cups granulated sugar
4 tsp. vanilla extra
1 – 20 oz. can crushed pineapple, drained
4 cups shredded carrots
1 1/2 cups shredded coconut
2 cups chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and four 9-inch or 3 10-inch cake pans; set side. Sift flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt together. In another bowl, beat eggs. Add oil, buttermilk, sugar and vanilla. Stir in flour mixture, pineapple, carrots, coconut and walnuts. Blend well. Pour into prepared baking pans. Bake about an hour or until wooden toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool, and frost with cream cheese icing.

Cream Cheese Icing:

1 cup butter, softened
2 (8 oz.) pkgs. cream cheese, softened
3 tsp. vanilla
10 cups powdered sugar, sifted
3 T. half and half or milk

Cream butter and cream cheese together until fluffy. Add the remaining ingredients, and blend until smooth.

If desired, you can bake this cake ahead of time and freeze it (unfrosted). It freezes very well! You just need to let it thaw for a couple hours before you frost it.

Here’s a photo of the cake after a few slices have been cut out:

I also made a few carrot cupcakes. We had company over tonight, and some of the cupcakes made it on my dessert tray.

Happy cake baking!
~Becky

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Party Games to get Your Guests Laughing



A lot of the times when we have company over, the only “entertainment” for the evening is to sit and chat. We don’t need to plan anything. There is usually always something to talk about. For most of us, conversation comes naturally.

Other times, though, it’s nice to have a game of some kind planned for the evening. This is especially true when we’ve got a group of people coming over who may not know each other that well. Games can be a nice way to “break the ice” and get interactions going between people you’ve just introduced to each other. And even with people who have known each other a long time, sometimes it’s enjoyable to do something different rather than just sit and talk about our work weeks (especially if we’ve had a particularly difficult or frustrating week! Who wants to talk about that?!!). Games can be a wonderful way to incorporate some fun and laughter into an evening.

My favorite group games aren’t board game purchased from toy stores, but simple games, usually only requiring paper, pens, or everyday household objects like dictionaries. Below, you’ll find some of my top recommendations for party games. These are all easy to play, and fun for young and old alike. They’re also wonderful social mixers.


FACT OR FICTION?

To play this game, you need one index card for every player. Before your guests arrive, write down “Fact” on one index card using a black marker, and “Fiction” on all the other cards. Mix up the cards and put them in a pile. When you’re ready to play the game, pass out one card to every player, keeping the cards face down. None of the players should know who got the “Fact” card except for the person who got it.

Once everyone has a card, players sit around in a circle, with each having to tell a funny or crazy—but believable—story. It could be a personal type of experience, or something that was read in the newspaper or seen on YouTube.

For all of the players who got a card marked “Fiction,” their stories will be made up. For the person who got the “Fact” card, his/her story must be true. However, that person will want to tell a true story that is outlandish or out-of-the-ordinary—since all the other stories will be and he/she does not want his/her story to be too believable. That’s because after the stories have all been told, players will vote on which one they think is true. Players get one point if they guess the right story. If no one figures out which story is really true, the truth-teller gets 10 points.

Once this round is finished, tally up the points for each player on a score sheet. Then collect the index cards, shuffle them up, and pass them out again so that you can play another round. Play as many rounds as you like, or for a set amount of time such as two hours.


THE NOT-SO-NEWLYWED GAME

This is a great game for 4 to 8 couples. The host(s) for the evening is the moderator of the game (and assistant moderator). As the moderator, you will need to call each of the wives and husbands before the party (without their spouses listening in!), and ask them a series of questions about their mates (some ideas follow). Write down their answers on index cards. Ideally, you should use colored index cards, using one color for the husbands’ answers and another color for the wives’ answers. On one side of the card, write the responder’s name, and the other side will be his/her answer. You will have a separate index card for the respondent’s answer to each question you ask. For each of the wives, you will ask the same series of questions. You will have a different set of questions to ask all of the husbands. Once you’ve asked all of the participants the questions, for each question, paper clip or rubber band all of the index cards together with the respondents’ answers on them.

Here are some questions you might ask:
--When was the last time she burned the dinner?
--What is your spouse’s favorite fast-food restaurant?
--What is the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to him?
--What is her most annoying habit?
--Does your wife sleep on her back, right side, left side or stomach?
--If your wife could go anywhere in the world on a vacation, where would it be?
--Where did you go on your first date?
--Which one of your spouse’s personality traits do you admire the most?
--Who chose most of the furniture in your house—you or your spouse?
--What cartoon character does your spouse say you’re the most like?
--Wives, what is the top item currently on your “Honey Do” list?
--Husbands, what is your wife’s favorite perfume?
--Wives, which of your outfits would your husband like you to donate to Goodwill?
--Husbands, what did you and your wife do on your first date?
--Who snores the loudest, you or your spouse?
--If your husband turns on television, what is he most likely to be watching? The news, sports, sci-fi, a documentary, an action movie or a sit-com?
--If your spouse gets lost while driving in an unfamiliar city, he or she would probably do what? Stop at a gas station and ask for directions, pull over on a street and ask a pedestrian for directions, pretend to know where he/she is going and keep driving, or blame you for not being a good navigator.
--If your spouse chooses the restaurant you’re going to for dinner, would it most likely be: a diner, a steak house, Asian, Italian, Mexican, continental, or fast-food?

When your guests arrive for the game, start by asking the husbands each of the questions you asked their wives on the phone. The couple receives a point if the husband’s answer matches that of his wife. In the second half of the game, ask the wives each of the questions you had asked their husbands. Tally up the total points. Award a prize or certificate to the couple with the highest score.

How many questions you ask is up to you. However, probably around 7 to 10 questions is ideal. If you are playing with 4 to 8 couples, the game will probably last about an hour.


WHO AM I?

Pass out a sheet of paper and a pen to every player. Have each person to write down the name of a famous person on his/her paper. It could be an entertainer, sports figure, politician, or other public figure, living or dead. Beneath the name, write down seven clues to the identity of the famous person. Start with lesser-known or more general facts about the person, and ending with more specific information, and facts most people know about the individual.

For instance, if you chose Bill Gates, your clues might be: “One of the wealthiest people in the world,” “Is married with three children,” “Was declared a billionaire by Forbes Magazine in the late 1980s,” “Lives in Washington state,” “Chairman of a high-tech company,” “Attended Harvard, but did not graduate,” and so on. Obviously, to do this, you will need to choose a person you are fairly knowledgeable about.

Each player will take a turn, reading off their seven clues about their chosen famous person. During player 1’s turn, he or she will start by reading the first clue. Then he or she will ask if anyone wants to guess who the person is. If someone guesses correctly, he or she gets 7 points. (If several people shout out the right answer, the first person to answer will be the one who gets the points.) If no one guesses correctly, player 1 will then read the next clue. If another player then identifies the famous person, he or she will get 6 points. If no one answers correctly, player 1 will read his/her third clue, and so on until all the clues have been read. Each time, one less point will be offered. When the 7th clue is read, the person who guesses correctly will be given 1 point. After all clues have been read, if no one guesses correctly, player 1 will receive 7 points.

Once player 1 is done, player 2 will go through the same steps, and after that, player 3 and so on. The winner is the person who has the most points at the end of the game.


DICTIONARY

To play this game, you will need paper and pens for each player, and a dictionary. Everyone sits in a circle, and one person is designated as player #1. Each player should have several blank sheets of the same kind of paper, and the same color pen. You may also want to pass out clipboards for your guests to write on.

Going clockwise around the circle, the other players are numbered 2, 3, 4, 5 and so on. The game begins when player #1 is handed the dictionary. He or she is then given a couple minutes to look through the dictionary and select a word that is not commonly used. Player 1 then announces the word to the group, and asks if anyone knows what the definition is. If anyone knows the meaning of the word, player 1 must then select another word.

Once a word has been selected that no one is familiar with, player 1 then writes down the definition on one of his/her sheets of paper, without showing anyone else what he/she is writing. If the word has multiple definitions, he/she should choose the meaning that seems most common. If the definition is very long, choose the main part of the definition to write down.

All the other players then write down their own made-up definitions for the word, trying to make it sound as believable as possible. Once finished, players then hand their sheets of paper (with their made-up definitions on them) to player 1. Player 1 then reads all of the definitions aloud, including his or her real definition, while keeping a straight face the whole time. Player 1 will then read all of the definitions a second time, and the group will then be asked to write down which definition they think is the correct meaning of the word. Each person who guesses the right definition will be given one point. Players wil also be given a point for each vote for their made-up definitions. If no one chooses the correct definition, player 1 will be granted 5 points.

Once the points are tallied up, the dictionary is handed to player 2 and he or she goes through the same steps player 1 did. Depending on how many people are playing, players may only have one chance to choose a word from the dictionary to stump everyone with. Or, there may be several opportunities. The winner is the person with the most points at the end of the evening.


GUESS THE MUNCHKIN

Before your party, ask your guests to scan a photo of them when they were a toddler or young child, and email the file to you. (Discourage them from selecting a photo of when they were under a year old, since that can be way too difficult for this kind of game.) Have 5X7- or 8X10-inch photos printed up for each. Hang up the photos in different areas in your living or family room (or whatever room your guests will be hanging out in for the evening). Give each photo a number, and mark that number on the photo using a Sharpie marker. If desired, you can write down a title on a piece of paper underneath each photo, which will reveal information and a clue about the identity of the child. For instance, one photo might have the title, “Future coffee addict,” “Taken on a picnic at Malibu,” “Fido’s favorite toddler,” or “This kid’s first trip to Disneyland.”

When your guests arrive, give each a pen and a numbered sheet of paper. Next to each number, have your guests write down the name of who they think that childhood picture is. When everyone has written down all of their answers, read off the correct answers. Award a prize who correctly identifies the most photos.


MYSTERY OBJECT

This is the one game on the list that requires more than just everyday household objects. But that’s what makes it fun. Here are the details for this party: At least a couple weeks in advance—ideally when you send out your invitations—ask your guests to find an unusual gadget, tool or object of some kind to bring to the party. This will give them time to search for something unique to bring.

When I go to Home Depot with my husband and sons, there are plenty of strange tools and supplies there, especially in the plumbing department. On the other hand, my sons have been quite puzzled about some of the cooking tools in my kitchen. Depending on what kind of work your guests do, they may have a small, but unusual item at their place of employment that they could bring. I’ve seen items on art teacher’s desks, in medical and science supply houses, and in engineer’s offices that I couldn’t identify. I’ve also traveled to far-flung countries and seen items for sale in stores that I knew were unique to those cultures. These are all potential sources of unusual thingamabobs. You could steer your guests in those directions.

As the host, you’ll be the moderator of the game. This means you won’t be a contestant, but you will get a kick out of watching your guests play—that’s for sure! Before the party, ask each of your guests to email you with the name of the item they’re bringing for the game, and a sentence or two about what the item is used for. Assign a number to each guest’s item. Type up an answer sheet corresponding to each number, with the information about every guest’s mystery item. This answer sheet is what you will read off from during the party.

To set up for the party, put numbered 3X5 cards out on a table, to identify the mystery items. When guests arrive, have them sit out their mystery item on the correct numbered spot. Play the game either by passing out the items, one at a time, for your guests to examine. Distribute a sheet of paper to each guest, with a numbered list that has space to write down a name for the item and how it is used. Alternatively, you can just allow guests to peruse the table at their leisure during the evening.

Once everyone has had a chance to look over the mystery items, ask your guests to take turns reading their answers. After they’re finished, then it’s your turn to read your answer sheet. You are sure to get a lot of laughs as your guests read off their answers—and when you read the correct answers from your answer sheet. Sometimes just reading the correct name of an object is enough to make you laugh (especially when it comes to some plumbing parts!). Let guests tally up their own scores, and give a prize to the person who correctly identifies the most mystery objects.

Additionally, you may also have guests vote on who brought the “most unusual” item to the party, and award a prize for that as well.


These are some of my favorite party games. Have fun!
~Becky

Monday, June 6, 2011

Japanese Chicken Salad


A couple weeks ago I posted a Southwest Chicken Salad recipe which we served at a ladies’ garden luncheon. Here’s another main dish salad that is a wonderful for luncheons:

Japanese Chicken Salad

Ingredients:
1 large head lettuce or 1 bunch leaf lettuce (or a mix of both), washed and in pieces
6 green onions, washed and sliced thinly
1 red bell pepper, washed and cut into 1-inch slices
1 3 oz. can chow mein noodles
1 4-ounce package slivered almonds
¼ cup sesame seeds
¼ cup poppy seeds
3 to 5 boneless chicken breasts, cooked and cut into pieces

Salad dressing:
4 T. granulated sugar
2 T. salt
½ tsp. black pepper
4 T. white vinegar
½ cup canola oil

Mix salad ingredients together. Then, blend dressing ingredients together and pour on top of salad. Makes enough for about 4 to 6 luncheon-sized portions.