Thursday, May 24, 2012

Awesome Appetizer Recipes in Action

This past weekend, Cory and I took it upon ourselves to throw our very own birthday party. That’s right – our birthdays are two days apart (I’m older!!) and we wanted to celebrate with as many people as possible.

We played it off as a combined “Sunday Fun-Day” and “Belated Housewarming” get together. It was a PERFECT day. The weather was sunny, not a cloud in the sky, with temperatures pushing 80 degrees. We have an outstanding porch off of our apartment, and that was really the place to be.

For me, this day was extra fun because I finally got to cook for a large group of people and share my goodies with everyone. Reviews were GREAT and I couldn’t be happier. We don’t have a grill, so I decided to pull a small selection of my favorite appetizers that I have seen made on the Food Network and give them a whirl myself.

Here are some links to the recipes. I followed them very closely, for the most part. I will share any additions, subtractions, or tips following each link.

Giada DeLaurentiis’ Meatballs a la Pizzaiola

Holy. Yum. I watched Giada make these on her show (I love the way this lady cooks!) and I knew I had to try them. This was my second go-around with the recipe, and it was just as delicious as I remember. The idea behind these meatballs is that they have all the flavors of a pizza built right inside! I decided to nix the red pepper flakes because (a) I just don’t have them and (b) as I have said many times, spicy foods aren’t my favorites. I had at least 30 meatballs from the measurements listed in this recipe, perfect for our crowd of 20+.

Alton Brown’s Spinach and Artichoke Dip

Who DOESN’T love a good “Spin Dip?” As far as I know, this is a favorite among many. This recipe is so simple it’s ridiculous. And, really, it feels so much better than putting out a jarred dip for your guests. One thing I had to compromise on here was the artichoke hearts. For the life of me I could NOT find frozen artichoke hearts. Luckily, in that sneaky aisle of canned veggies, there on the top shelf sat canned artichoke hearts. I drained these well and still boiled them to get rid of that awkward can flavor. So much else was going on in here, I doubt anyone noticed! This list of ingredients looks daunting – cream cheese, sour cream, AND mayo all in one? Look – here’s a little secret. Use the low fat or fat free versions of any two of the aforementioned carb-filled condiments. Still delicious but secretly a little more guilt-free.

Giada DeLaurentiis' Tilapia Fish Tacos with Arugula

I would definitely have to say that these nuggets of joy were probably most well received along with the Spin Dip. I wasn't sure how many of my guests liked fish, so I decided to do one batch of tilapia taco bites and one batch of chicken taco bites (using none other than the trusty Purdue Short Cuts!) I also mixed a little too much dressing in there so I decided not to do the wasabi cream. Also, to keep the wonton wrappers as crispy as possible for as long as possible, I lined the bottoms with a small piece of romaine lettuce.

Ina Garten's Cheese Straws

These were a delicious addition to the table. I didn't want to have just regular bread to try to fill out the menu, so my curiosity peaked when I saw Ina make these for one of her fabulous get togethers on her show, "Barefoot Contessa." If you like cheese, you will love these. Made from puff pastry and your favorite blend of cheeses, it's pretty hard to mess these up. The best part about them is that after you twirl them, they become a great visual for the table spread as well!

Beyond what I made, all of our friends were generous enough to bring some snacks as well! We had a veggie platter, cheese and crackers, my friend Meghan's homemade salsa (SO FRESH AND YUMMY), cookies, candy, and a precious birthday cake from Cory's sister. Check this out:
It was lemony,  fresh, and DELICIOUS!

In case you missed it ... a close up of the food table!

I loved having everyone over, and I think everyone had a great time! ALL the food went. Have you thrown a party recently? What did your menu look like?

My Kitchen Playlist

In my opinion, cooking is one of the most fun things you can do in your home. It completely beats vacuuming, painting the walls, mowing the lawn, etc. It's meant to be FUN -- and, other than fun, it's also extremely rewarding. You get to share your treats with everyone and keep their bellies full.

If you have started to find cooking to be a drag, try playing some of your favorite good-mood tunes while you cut veggies, clean chicken, mix up your marinades, and plate your meal.

My top-ten favorite songs to play while I'm in the kitchen are:

1. Everything is Sound - Jason Mraz, Love is a Four Letter Word
2. King of Anything - Sara Bareilles, Kaleidoscope Heart
3. Bullet Proof - La Roux, La Roux
4. Fans - Kings of Leon, Because of the Times
5. Part of Me - Katy Perry, Teenage Dream
6. Crazy Beautiful Life - Ke$ha, Cannibal
7. Perfectly Lonely - John Mayer, Battle Studies
8. Somebody That I Used to Know - Gotye, Making Mirrors
9. Sharp Knife - Third Eye Blind, Ursa Major
10. Everybody Loves Me - OneRepublic, Waking Up

Honorable Mentions:

1. So What - P!nk, Funhouse
2. Strip Me - Natasha Bedingfield, Morning Glory Soundtrack
3. Cooler Than Me - Mike Posner, 31 Minutes to Take Off
4. Harder to Breathe - Maroon 5, Songs About Jane
5. Hair - Lady Gaga, Born This Way

What gets you motivated in the kitchen?!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

10 things to know about this foodie

I haven't had any new cooking adventures recently, so I thought I would share ten fun, random facts about myself.

Seriously -- they are VERY random :-) Enjoy!

1)      I am a middle child.
2)      I have never hosted a dinner party, despite loving to cook.
3)      I am one of the biggest New York Mets fans this side of anywhere.
4)      I cannot resist the urge to stomp through puddles when I’m wearing rainboots.
5)      I adopted my cat in November with my boyfriend. His name is Dot.
         4 things to know about Dot:
         a.      Gray Tabby
         b.      Domestic Short Hair
         c.      13 whopping pounds
         d.      A lover, not a fighter
6)      I have never been to the Statue of Liberty.
7)      I’m not 100% positive what color my eyes are.
8)      My favorite meal is made with 4 simple ingredients. It’s my mom’s
Mac and Cheese. Tomato soup, a block of sharp cheddar cheese, whole
wheat pasta, more cheddar cheese shredded on top—that’s all you need
for heavenly goodness!
9)      My favorite cocktail is a mojito.
10)     I talk really loud and laugh even louder.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The easiest dessert - with NUTELLA!

I’m not a big baker by nature. It takes a lot of effort and things can go south REALLY quickly. They say baking is all about measuring – when you bake, you cannot bake the way Rachel Ray cooks (ie. A couple of tablespoons of spice is a handful but so is about a half a cup of parmesan cheese).

My go-to baking adventures are usually my banana bread and simply delicious peanut butter cookies. Then I stumbled upon this joyous little recipe about a month ago on Facebook and knew that I could do it. And, after you see it, you will be confident that you can as well.

Think: only 3 or 4 ingredients necessary.

Do you like Nutella? That heavenly spread of cocoa and hazelnut and angel dust? On crackers, on fruit, on croissants, on a sandwich – what CAN’T Nutella do!?

Well, it can be the flavor base for quick homemade brownies.
The nice thing about the use of Nutella in these brownies is that it makes the brownies chewy and a little more cake-y. I am fine with an overly indulgent, fudgy mess of a brownie once in a while. But—if I’m being honest—I actually prefer my brownies to have more of that cake texture. This may be why these seemed irresistible to me.

These measurements are inspired by Mariko from FitPerez, who has a recurring blog of recipes in four ingredients (who doesn’t love a simple yet tasty recipe?!).

You will need:
 ½ cup Nutella
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 egg
¼ cup of a mix-in of your liking (peanuts, hazelnuts, walnuts, oh my!)
All that you do:
 Mix all your ingredients together in a mixing bowl.
Grease a small baking dish or line a mini muffin tin and fill until 3/4 of the way full.
Pop into a pre-heated 350 degree oven and bake for 10 minutes.
Remove from oven, cut into bite size pieces (if made in a baking dish), and enjoy with a cold glass of milk!

The other great thing going on here is that the measurements are so simple, doubling this recipe would be a synch. I made mine in a baking dish – but next time, I really want to invest in a mini muffin tin. I think it will maximize the deliciousness and keep a little bit more of the chewy, gooey, goodness.