The Potluck is not Dead!

So I am sure that many of you have this vision of dank church basements with rows of jelly salads and crock pots bubbling away when I say the word potluck. I know that is what it used to mean to me. But I am here to tell you the potluck is not dead. In today’s economic times it is hard to have a dinner party for more then 3 or 4 people without busting the bank, but if we return to the potluck well the possibilities are endless. I will endeavor to share some tricks and tips to make your potluck dinner party a hit every time.

Pick a theme (see below for a list of a few themes you might want to try). Recently I had joked with friends about having a curry/video game potluck, little did I know how much interest I would have in this little gathering. Turns out everyone loved the idea, so a date was set and off we went. I hosted the party and so offered to make enough rice for everyone. I in fact made two types of rice, long grain wild rice just plain, and then a veggie version of the same in case we did not get enough veggie dishes to satisfy our vegetarian friends. I also found some Nann  bread that was on sale and bought it up. I made the rice the night before and just heated it through in disposable tin pans in the oven.

I did the rice that way for two very important reasons, one as a host of a dinner party I hate being stuck in the kitchen all through the party so I try hard to make stuff in advance that can be heated without my attention. The second reason is that I knew we  would need the stove top space to heat the curries. This brings me to our first tip. Everyone usually has a pot in every size they might need to cook but very few of us have the money or space to have several of the same size pot this means heating food brought to your house can be a challenge. I solved this problem but doing the following. First I asked my guests to try and bring their curry in a dish that could either go into the oven or mircowave. This way we could heat a few dishes at a time. I also asked anyone who had a crock pot to bring their dish in that, instant heating. When it came time with a few helping hands we had all the dishes quickly heated and ready to eat at the same time.

This brings us to problem two you will run into. Now I have plenty of serving spoons but in the end even those were not enough. If you are a guest going to a potluck try and remember to bring a serving spoon for you dish, it will help. But if none do then here is my tip, use mugs. Yes that is right plain old coffee mugs make great serving utensils. I use them all the time for soups and stews and curry. Alternately try measuring cups used for dry ingredients they work amazingly for things like rice and pasta.

So your dinner is all heated, you found utensils to serve it with and you call everyone to the table/counters and the shouted questions begin. “What’s in the red dish, what about the white one?” “Hey I smell fish is this safe for me to eat?” While we all think we are being careful and safe and staying away from the dishes we THINK are going to hurt us we can never be 100% of what is in someone’s potluck dish, and lets be honest if we are going to go to someone’s house for potluck and only eat the one dish we brought we might as well have stayed home. So what do you do? Well the answer is simple, even if we did not think of it until AFTER this party. For our next party we plan to make ingredient cards for each dish.

I get this seems like a lot of work but with the rate of allergies these days it is vital to make sure we do not end up sending a friend to the hospital because they accidentally ate a dish with gluten in it, or dairy. So I suggest you start this practice with from the start. Ask your guests to prepare an ingredient card or recipe card to sit next to their dish. I also offer the service free of charge, guests just need to  e-mail me their info and I will print the cards up and have them waiting for them. It is important to note here that something as simple as a bullion cube contains soy/dairy and wheat by products which can set off many types of allergies, so if it is listed as an ingredient the person with this allergies will be able to decide if they wish to take the chance of not.

One quick note about parties supplies here. I always use disposable dishes for these parties. I love my friends but even I don’t want to clean that many dishes at the end the night and honestly who has a 15-20 piece dinner setting these days. The trick here is that while for many of these parties you can get away with the standard dollar store stuff (I buy lots of it and just tuck it away for the next party) be sure your dishes fit what you are serving. For example while paper is great those tiny thin plates just don’t hold food all that well, and Styrofoam bowls work for lots of stuff but be careful serving hot soup in them as sometimes they melt. So just keep your theme in mind and buy accordingly.

So everyone has eaten, most of the food is gone but not all, because after all some people cooked for an army. So what do you do with all the left overs, well I know Bob over there is eying Jane’s dish like he would like to lick the pot so why not send him home with some. But what to put it in, his pot is still dirty and it is too big to carry such a small serving. Well I have you covered with my next tip. We all buy things like margarine and butter and even ice cream in tubs (Thanks to my friend Shasta for this one) so why not save those dishes. Wash them out and tuck them away. Now I like my regular ziplock dishes for storing my own food and normally just toss out those others, but since the party I have been saving them and they came in handy. I was able to pack up several dishes with just a few spoonfuls left and sent them with guests as lunch the next day. I did not worry about the dish as I was going to throw it out anyway, but it sure came in handy to send along with guest. I now have a neat little stack in varying sizes set aside for this very purpose.

And that my friends is the secret to a great potluck. People are already asking when we plan to have another one. I think I spent in total $20 to host a party of 15ish people and everyone went home well fed and filled with the joys of spending time with good food and friends. I wish you the same when you plan and host your next potluck (or your first as the case may be).

Potluck themes: Curry, Mexican, Italian, Greek, Tappas (little hors d’œuvres) Pizza (everyone makes homemade ones), Soups, Stews. You could ask each friend what their nationality is and then pick from a hat which ones to do. If you have ideas for themes feel free to drop us a line and let me know. I would love to hear them.

Good luck, and most of all remember to have fun the kitchen.

Monkeying Around

So even Kitchen Goddesses need help from time to time when things get boring in the kitchen. Over the holidays I took a little help from our families favorite monkey Ross the Sockmonkey. We decided it was time to make Mom’s Butter Cookie because there are time when no other cookie will do.

Here is the recipe and some great photos of my little helper. Who knew a monkey could be so handy in the kitchen.

Mom’s Butter Cookies

(Do yourself a favor and just bake a double batch of these, even if you freeze them they WILL disappear as these cookies are just as yummy cooked as they are frozen.)

1 cup of butter {must be butter}
1/2 cup of icing sugar
1 egg yolk (I’ve used the full egg with no noticable differences.)
2 cups of flour

cream butter add sugar and egg yolk
slowly add flour
roll in to balls press down with a fork
add cherry on top (I often leave this step out or add sugar or food coloring instead this is really more decorative then necessary.)
bake at 350 till slightly brown
cool a few minutes before removing from pan

 

And now for the Monkeying Around.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Remember when the kitchen is getting you down, invite a friend for a few hours and you may rediscover your love of cooking. Thanks always to my monkey buddy for sharing an afternoon of fun with me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s Talk About Lunch!

So a little life back story here, I am a stay at home wife, not by choice but by health. I am unable to work due to a medical condition and so out of necessity I am forced to stay home. This leaves me often times with a huge weight of guilt. My husband works very hard to support us and so I feel like my job is to work just as hard to support him.

Sadly because I have health issues sometimes our house is not as clean as I would like, sometimes the dishes don’t get done and unfortunately at least once or twice a month we just have to order out because I can not stand long enough to make us dinner.

But the one thing I do manage to do is make him a home packed lunch. Now we are not talking a wilted sandwich and bruised apple of my father’s lunches, (in my mother’s defense she had to make five lunches every night, cook dinner, keep house and work a full time job, not to mention we did not have all the fancy tools available back then) but a lunch which people he works with eye with envy.

No I do not make super fancy lunches served in a picnic basket, but I do manage to give him a lunch which keeps him feed, healthy and happy. I will now endeavor to share my tips and tricks on how to make your family’s lunches something they will want to eat while saving you a few dollars in the process.

The first thing you need to do is know who you are making lunch for. You will need to shop for a few essential items and they should be reflective of the person you are buying them for. For example the wicked cool red lunch bag may have caught your eye, but might be a little loud for your husband, and who says little girls can’t have a Star Wars lunch box if they want one. So when you go out to buy their lunch box keep in mind their tastes not yours.

Things you will need to make your loved one’s lunch a work of art are as follows.

1. Lunch bag (be sure you buy one of the appropriate size. My husband not only takes lunch in his but breakfast and an afternoon snack as he is gone from the house for nearly 12 hours sometimes)

2. two – four lock and lock containers sandwich size like these ones. I use two for my husband’s lunch and so I buy four because that way if he forgets them one day I am not left trying to find a substitute for them. I also buy these at the dollar store so if they get broken or lost I am not out major bucks and believe me they will get broken and lost it is the way of the world.

3. two drink containers. These I do not buy at the dollar store. I always buy brand name and make sure the the recycling symbol on the bottom is either #2, #4 or #5 to be sure they are safe. Read here for more information on safe plastics. Again I buy two so if one if left at work I have another one handy.

4. Plastic folks and spoons, as well as napkins round out my supplies. These are added in an as needed bases.

So you are now prepared to begin making lunches. First thing I do is shop in bulk. I buy all my lunch meats at the deli, then when I get home I separate it out  into individual servings, using a little wax paper to separate them, and then freeze them. I do this because I buy groceries only once every two weeks and I find lunch meat can get a little green by the end of those two weeks.

I also buy bagels in bulk, for $3.49 I can get 18 bagels (no-name brand) where if I buy something like Dempster it  is more like $1.99 for 6. I simply freeze the extra bagels into bags of 5 so I have only one weeks worth out at a time. I buy light cream cheese which allows me to control the amount going on the bagel. When my hubby was buying bagels it was $1.50 a day, since I started making them at home it costs us less then $8 for two weeks.

The next thing I do is bake whatever “treat” of the week that is going into his lunch bag. Often it is something like raisin bread, apple bread or some form of cookie which I make with Splenda. This allows for a much less guilty treat while giving him something sweet. I make these and package them individually and freeze them. This provides a few advantages. One if they are frozen they are less likely to be pilfered in the evening, two it keeps them fresh longer I simply take one out and pop it in his lunch in the evening and by the time he is ready to eat it at lunch it is thawed and  perfect, and lastly if I do this on the weekend it means I don’t have to hunt for things to put in his lunch. I have it all planned out.

I also make fresh bread and pre-slice and package it and freeze it as well so when I am ready to make his lunch it is waiting for me, but you don’t need to do this store bought bread works just fine. You can also use wraps, the small ones make handy lunches and two fit perfectly into the container.

Sometimes when we have leftovers I will substitute his sandwich with that. These lock and lock containers can be used for this, and the great news is they don’t spill. I turn the hubby’s on their side all the time and they never drip or spill. They are microwave safe and easy to rinse. This is when I add a spoon or fork as well. I just wrap it in the napkin and toss it in.

So every evening before bed I have a ten minute ritual where I make his lunch. I do up his sandwich tucking it into it’s container, which keeps it fresh and never wilted or squished. I make up his bagel and cream cheese and put that in the second sandwich container which is a perfect fit and keeps it from sliding around. I add his “treat” and a serving of fruit, lastly I fill his drink bottle and put it all in the fridge.

Come morning he takes it with him and I feel good knowing he has a healthy lunch, not to mention one that costs us a fraction of what it would cost if he ate at the burger joint down the street everyday.

There are lots of fun things you can do to show your loved ones you love and miss them, add a little note to their lunch box, throw in a special chocolate for holidays. Add a card for things like Birthdays and Valentines Day. Nothing makes lunch more fun then when you open it and not only does it taste great but you know it was made with a little extra love.

Join us again soon and we will return to finish off out holiday cookies as well as talk more about bread.

Honey Crinkles

First let me apologize for being gone all week. It turns out that even kitchen goddesses need to take time off to recover from a root canal.

So today’s post is a duel post of sorts. You see I have this GFF (Gluten Free Friend) and she comes over regularly and I was raised by a mother who believed in feeding everyone who came into our home no matter their dietary needs. This was instilled in me and I thus have begun to find ways to feed her the same foods as the rest of us get but only make hers gluten free.

This is much easier then one thinks when it comes to main dishes, anything with rice in it works brilliantly. But I have found it much harder to make deserts for her as I have no experience in baking gluten free. At least it was harder until I found this amazing product from Bob’s Red Mill. It is an all-purpose flour which is gluten free. You can substitute it 1:1 in any recipe by adding Xanthan Gum to it.

Below are the recipes for Honey Crinkles done both with and without gluten. It is a very simple way to make desert for your GFF. We hope you enjoy them.

HONEY CRINKLES COOKIES

2 c. sifted all purpose flour
2 tsp. baking soda
2/3 c. cooking oil
1 c. granulated sugar
1 egg, unbeaten
1/4 c. plus 2 tbsp honey
1 tsp. vanilla
Extra granulated sugar with liberal amounts of cinnamon to drop cookies into.

Combine flour and soda thoroughly; set aside.
Beat oil with sugar; add egg and beat well.
Stir in honey and vanilla, then add dry ingredients; blend.
Shape into balls and drop into cinnamon sugar and place on parchment paper lined cookie sheet three inches apart.
Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for 7 minutes.

GLUTEN FREE HONEY CRINKLES COOKIES

2 c. Gluten Free Flour
1/4 tsp. Xanthan Gum
2 tsp. baking soda
2/3 c. cooking oil
1 c. granulated sugar
1 egg, unbeaten
1/4 c. honey
1 tsp. vanilla
Extra granulated sugar with liberal amounts of cinnamon to drop cookies into.

Combine flour and soda thoroughly; set aside.
Beat oil with sugar; add egg and beat well.
Stir in honey and vanilla, then add dry ingredients; blend.
Drop with spoon into sugar.
Shape into balls and place on parchment paper lined cookie sheet three inches apart. Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for 5 minutes.

 

Join us for our next post where we talk lunches.

Big Balls on Leftover Friday

Today’s leftover Friday post is brought to you by Big Balls, not the red ones on Wipeout but the yummy ones with mashed potatoes and cheese.

When I make mashed potatoes I often make lots of extras, most times I have a plan for them and so they get used up in a day or so and I’ve saved myself time and work, but this week I just made extra so I could use up the potatoes that were beginning to grow little extra babies.

I remembered from my childhood the potato pancakes my mom used to make but of course those are made from raw grated potatoes and since we were dealing with cooked mashed types I had to come up with a new plan.

So here is what I did.

1. place mashed potatoes in a large bowl, add some cheese (really any kind you have on hand is good, I just put in a handful each of Parmesan and old Cheddar. Mix.

2. while potatoes are still cold scoop and roll into balls. The size depends on how much leftovers you have but I made my fairly large.

3. place some milk into a small bowl (if you wanted to go dairy free here you could use a lactose free milk, or two eggs beaten) and in a shallow dish place some bread crumbs. I spice my bread crumbs with our favorite seasoning, you should do the same.

4. roll your balls gently in the milk with one hand and place in the crumbs, using your other hand (if you only use on hand in the crumbs and one in the milk you prevent super gluey fingers) roll your balls in the bread crumbs.

5. repeat step 4, it adds a super nice extra crunch. (at this stage you can return them to the fridge until you are ready to bake them)

6. bake in oven at 400 for 20 minutes or so (stick a tooth pick in the center to make sure it comes out hot to be sure they are done)

7. remove and eat.

And that is it. Big Balls. Your kids will love the name, you will love getting rid of leftovers and everyone will think you slaved over them. Oh and special note, I was originally going to deep fry these guys but then I saw how well the bread crumbs held and decided to go the healthy route and just back them, the crust the crumbs formed was perfect and no one missed all the oil of deep frying.

Next time I plan to add a little hot peppers to it and make Jalapeno-Cheese Big Balls. The verity is endless.

We hope you enjoy your own version of Big Balls!

Buy in Bulk Save the Difference

Today’s post is about ways to save money, we all need to and want to do it.

I will provide some great money saving tips that I use all the time and include a sweet water-resistant label idea courtesy of our friends over at Card Tricks.

Our first tip is the one that will save you the most money. It may seem easy but it works. Make a list! Never just go into a grocery store. Not even if you are going for a few items. A list will keep you out of the isles that you don’t need to enter.

When I make my grocery list I organize it in the isles of the grocery store. I put all my products together, first meats, frozen foods and then fruit and veggies, dairy and lastly dry goods. This makes it very easy for me to find what I need and I am not forever running back to different isles because I needed something on my list that I did not notice when I was over there. For a copy of the word document that I use please  Click Here.

The other money saver that we do in our home is a two week menu. I sit down and decide what we want to eat over the next two weeks. I keep a master list of dishes, and we always have our standards that we eat at least once every two weeks. Then when I am making up my grocery list I buy ONLY what we need. It allows me to make sure I am not over buying plus it allows for easy diners. I put up a list above the freezer and every day I check off what we eat so everyone knows what is left for options. I do NOT assign a date for each food, just that those are the available meals for that week span. I also always leave one blank day for eating out or ordering in. This tip will not only save you money but it will allow you to eat much healthier.

Lastly because I am saving so much money  by only buying what we need I can afford to buy in bulk when things come on sale. We love our chicken breast but they can be pricey, so I wait for them to go on sale. I know we will eat them at least 4 or 5 times in a two week span so it never goes to waste. I also put a line in our budget just for sales on things like EVOO (extra virgin olive oil) and flour and other bake goods. These sales can randomly happen and having an extra $20 in your budget for a good deal is always nice to have.

Speaking of EVOO and buying it in bulk that brings me to this great tip/trick. As I buy oil in bulk it means a huge bottle/jug which can be unwieldy at the best of times and when measuring for baking it is down right impossible. So I began keeping smaller bottles on hand to pour the oil into. I discovered by sheer accident that if you put in one of those alcohol pouring spout like this one . It allows me to easily control the amount of pour while giving me an easy to use bottle. I just top the bottle up when I need more oil and I am good to go.

But what about the label trick I spoke of, well here is the general gist of it.

“As many before us, Moose and I have been captured by the siren’s call that is Costco. As a result, we have been known to buy olive oil in two litre containers. Since I’m tired of having that huge jug on our counter, I decided to use an old condiment bottle instead. To jazz up the bottle a bit, a label seemed in order. But how to make a label that wouldn’t get ruined by any spilled drops of oil or any random cooking splatters? The answer came in the form of self-laminating sheets from our local office supply store. Now the bottle is adorned with a water resistant label that can be wiped off as needed.”

For full instructions and illustrations please visit Card Tricks Easy water-resistant bottle labels.

And that folks is it for today’s entry, join us for Leftover Fridays where we will explore the world of Big Balls!

When only Santa’s Balls will Do.

The next two cookies are very similar. The first I made up because we received a huge bag of those little chocolate x-mas balls that really no one ever eats, so I decided to make them the center of some chocolate chip cookies.

I also picked up some great holiday Kisses (Hershey) though I discovered that using anything but the ones that have nuts in them or are solid chocolate results in exploded cookies. The centers just get too hot and then blow up the cookie dough. I suspect if you put enough dough around them they might work better.

This is also where I learned that parchment paper and not wax paper is what you should use. I did not previously see the difference. That was before my kitchen filled with smoke as the wax paper began to heat up and turn brown and smoke. The next day I went out and bought me some real parchment paper and have never been happier.

So here are the recipes.

Secret Santa Balls

Ingredients:
* 1 cup softened margarine
* 1/3 cup sugar
* 1/3 cup light brown sugar (packed)
* 1 teaspoon vanilla
* 2 cups flour
* 1 cup mini chocolate chip
* Several Christmas chocolate balls (unwrapped)

Directions:

1. Preheat over to 375 degrees f.
2. In a large bowl, beat butter, sugars, and vanilla until well blended.
3. Add the flour and blend until smooth.
4. Stir in mini chocolate chips.
5. Mold cookie dough around each unwrapped ball covering completely.
Shape into balls.
6. Place into un-greased cookie sheet.
7. Bake 10-12 minutes or until set.
8. Cool slightly, move from cookie sheet to wire rack. Cool completely.

Forgotten Kiss Cookies

The little decorations on top where to help people eating them tell them apart.
(Heart= Caramel Kiss, Sprinkles= Mint Kiss, Ball= Almond Kiss)

Ingredients: Yield:4 dozen

* 1 cup softened margarine
* 1/3 cup sugar
* 1/3 cup light brown sugar (packed)
* 1 teaspoon vanilla
* 2 cups flour
* 1 cup mini chocolate chip
* 1 (9 ounce) bag Hershey’s chocolate kisses (I left these out)

Directions:

1. Preheat over to 375 degrees f.
2. In a large bowl, beat butter, sugars, and vanilla until well blended.
3. Add the flour and blend until smooth.
4. Stir in mini chocolate chips.
5. Mold a scant Tablespoon of cookie dough around each unwrapped kiss, covering completely.
Shape into balls.
6. Place into un-greased cookie sheet.
7. Bake 10-12 minutes or until set.
8. Cool slightly, move from cookie sheet to wire rack. Cool completely.

 

And that is all for today. Join me later in the week where I will return to bread making.

Previous Older Entries

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: