Housewarming Party Spread

Hello again, friends.  I hope you all had a good weekend.  I’m hanging on the sofa, enjoying today’s chilly afternoon.  Dave has RedZone football on, and I’m still reeling from a wonderful party at our new house.  Yesterday, we *finally* threw our housewarming party after moving into our home in late May.  It’s been a journey and a lot of work getting the house together… buying some new furniture, painting a few of the rooms, hanging up pictures, etc.  It’s nice for everything to be coming together.  The housewarming party was a great success- lots of friends and family came to visit and we had a great time.  But, more importantly… the spread was fantastic.

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After lots of planning, stress, more planning and more stress- I landed on what I hoped to be enough food for the 60+ people we were expecting.  I wanted to share my party spread and the corresponding recipes with you, in the hopes of maybe making YOUR next open house party less stressful.

Our party was awesome, and the food was absolutely perfect.  There are a few tips I’d first like to give before diving into the yummy recipes I’m sharing.

  1. When you’re going to try and cater your own party, you can never have too much planning.  My first step of planning was for our menu.  I saved recipes with links to the original pages on an email draft, and added as I thought of more.  At the same time, I made my grocery list.  Every time I added a recipe, I would open it up and jot down the ingredients I’d need to buy for it.  I’ve found this to be SO helpful while I’m at the grocery store.
  2. For your menu, come up with a variety of options.  Finger foods are always ideal, less waste and clean up required.  A few hot items, a few cold items are nice… as well as a good combination of veggie-friendly and carnivore-friendly.
  3. Next, plan when you’re cooking EVERYTHING.  If there’s anything you can prep before hand, do it.  The less you have to do the day-of, the better.  Trust me.  Things get crazy and stressful and this will make your life so much easier.
  4. Double check your ingredients.  I had to go back to the store twice, after not remembering to save my onions, or buy extra limes.  Your prep will run smoothly if you check all of your ingredients before starting on your recipes!
  5. Map out your serving plan just as precisely as your recipe plan.  Know what serving utensils, dishes bowls, and space you’re going to use before making up your mind.
  6. Labels.  Label your food and drinks, please.  You wouldn’t want all your hard work to go to waste because someone doesn’t know what’s in the cheesy dip no one’s touched yet.  People feel more comfortable eating food when they have an idea of what it is… don’t you?
  7. Ask for help!  Grab your spouse, Mom, friend, anyone who offers to help you.  It’ll be nice to get to delegate some of the work, but also getting another opinion when you’re stuck with a last minute decision is clutch.

Now that you’re ready to plan… let me share my menu with you!

Before the madness

Before the madness

For our food spread, I wanted to go with most recipes I could make before the day of the party.  I’m a huge fan of dips, so I always have a few of those.  I also had a few cheese plates we got for our wedding that I wanted to show off, so I definitely wanted to do some fun cheeses.  Adding in a few other apps here and there, and Dave’s requested Chick Fil-A nugget platter, we came up with a great variety of food that was pretty much gone by the end of the night!  It was a huge success.

Soft Pretzels:  Being in Philly, I had to order our favorite soft pretzel tray from Philly Soft Pretzel Factory.  I like to get the full tray but only include salted pretzels and everything pretzels.  Yum.  Dave picked these up about an hour before the party started.

Cheese Plates with Crackers:  I ALWAYS try to buy my cheese from Trader Joe’s.  They have an awesome variety and great prices and if you’re not sure what to do, their staff is very helpful.  I went with a crunchy, aged sharp cheddar, a 1000-day aged Gouda, the always reliably delicious and creamy Saint Andre, a nutty Manchego, and a slightly stinky Blue Stilton.  We had a few accompaniments to go alongside the cheese and crackers- Fig Butter, Honey, Dried Cherries, and Truffle Marcona Almonds.  Nommm.

Caprese Skewers:  This is probably my new favorite entertaining snack.  It’s healthy, it’s easy, and everybody loves them.  These bad boys are simple… buy yourself some small wooden skewers, stack a grape tomato, basil leaf, and chunk of fresh mozzarella.  You can drizzle with balsamic or put a small dish in the center, like I did, for your guests to dip.  I recommend doing this day of so the tomatoes and cheese don’t dry out.

Tortellini Skewers w/ Pesto Dipping Sauce:  Another SUPER simple recipe.  I bought a huge serving of the pre-cooked tortellinis from BJ’s and cooked them up day of.  Throw two tortellini’s on each skewer and then again, either drizzle or offer a pesto dipping sauce.  I wanted to do this instead of a pasta salad, that people would probably serve themselves too much of.

Roasted Shrimp w/ Cocktail Sauce:  This was a great make-ahead snack.  Bought a giant bag of Extra-Large frozen raw, tail-on shrimp from BJ’s.  Shrimp can be expensive, so definitely try to get them in bulk!  I thawed the shrimp, then spread them in a foil-lined, pam-sprayed cookie sheet.  Then, I sprayed the shrimp with coconut oil spray (olive oil drizzle would be fine too!) salt and pepper.  Popped them in the oven at 400 for about 4-5 minutes on each side.  I put those in a tupperware until the day of, when I served with cocktail sauce.  Simple, yet these were the first snacks gone!

BBQ Salami:  Two Hebrew National Salamis- score and place in foil inside a baking dish.  Cover the salami with BBQ sauce.  Sweet Baby Ray’s is a family favorite (and gluten free!).  Bake in the oven for about 45 min or until the BBQ sauce starts getting all carmelizedy on the salami.  Cut or slice and pour any extra BBQ sauce ontop.  Serve with mustard, again, family preference is Nance’s Sharp and Creamy.  Another big hit.

In case you're like me and had no idea what kind of salami to buy :)

In case you’re like me and had no idea what kind of salami to buy 🙂

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Roasted Shrimp and Green Bean Salad

Roasted Shrimp and Green Bean Salad

Now, onto the Dips.

Caramelized Onion Dip w/ Wavy Chips:  Based off of Ina’s Pan Fried Onion Dip.  This was a new recipe to me and I’m pretty much obsessed.  This was the first thing I came to when people were leaving and it was my turn to eat.  YUM.

Recipe- 2 Large Sweet Onions, 4 T Butter, 1/4 cup Vegetable Oil, 1/4 tsp Cayenne, 1 tsp Kosher Salt, 1/2 tsp Black Pepper: Cut onions in half.  Make thin slices with the cut side-down (half moon shape).  Cook the onions for about 30-40 minutes with all other ingredients listed so far in a saucepan.  Put aside and let cool.  Meanwhile, in a mixer, combine 4oz Light Cream Cheese, 1/2 cup Fat Free Sour Cream, and 1/2 cup Olive Oil Mayo.  Once the onions are cool, add them to the mixture and combine.  I tried to remove the onions from the grease, and did not just dump them in together.  

Spinach Dip w/ Carrots and Celery:  A classic staple for us.  I make this all the time just to have for Dave and I to snack on during the week.

Recipe- One container fat free sour cream, 3/4-1 cup of Olive Oil Mayo.  Mix with one package of cooked chopped spinach (I drain mine using cheese cloth.  SO MUCH BETTER than paper towels, i promise it’s worth the small investment), one small can of diced water chestnuts, and one package of Lipton Vegetable soup (dry mix only).  Serve with raw vegg.

Buffalo Chicken Dip:  I never make this because everyone does, but it was a specific request from Dave… so of course I made it again.  Check out my fav recipe here on the blog, not too long ago.  I like to serve this with crackers or my favorite, Fritos Scoops.

Roasted Jalapeno & Honey Hummus:  Another repeat for the blog, but my favorite and really the only hummus in my life anymore.  It’s so good.  I used only 2 peppers, without seeds and it was pretty hot.  Not sure how I used 4 as I talked about in the original post, but go for it if you like heat.  I try to keep things on the less-spicy side for big parties.  Served this with Pita chips.

Cheese, Salad, Hummus, Buffalo Chicken Dip

Cheese, Salad, Hummus, Buffalo Chicken Dip

Spinach Dip and vegg

Spinach Dip and vegg

Time for the “main” dishes!  Not too heavy, I tried to still stay with finger food.

Chicken Nuggets:  I’d like to say this was for the kids we were expecting, but I’m pretty sure the adults devoured them just as much.  Saved myself some time and ordered the biggest party tray available at Chick Fil-A.  They’re the best.

Balsamic Roasted Veggies:  I like to have a healthy option and a good hearty veggie option since Rachel my sister-in-law is a vegetarian, I always try and remember that not everyone can eat meat!  During my prep day, I sliced two eggplants, a few lbs of zucchini, carrots, asparagus, and multi-colored bell peppers (keep those whole!) and threw them in the oven at 400, sprayed with some oil salt and pepper.  I roasted the veggies for about an hour, flipping every so often and turning the bell peppers.  For the bell peppers- you’ll want to get those nice and browning, then toss them in a paper bag.  Let them steam for about 10 minutes, then remove the skin and seeds once they are cool.  I placed all the veggies in a tupperware with balsamic vinegar poured overtop.  Served these room-temp day of.

Strawberry Salad w/ Lime Basil Vinaigrette:  You can make the dressing ahead, but definitely do the salad day-of.  I simplified the salad but used the dressing from this recipe.  Mixed greens, tossed with fresh strawberries, raw slivered almonds, and crumbled blue cheese worked great with this light dressing.  It looked like it wouldn’t be enough, but once I tossed the salad with the dressing, it somehow dressed the whole salad.  Don’t panic if you  make the dressing and it looks small!

Dressing- 1/4 cup Fresh Lime Juice, zest from the lime, 1/2 cup Olive Oil, 1 T Honey, 1/4 cup Fresh Basil, Salt, Pepper.  Blend in a blender or food processor.  

Italian Green Bean Salad:  This recipe is a favorite of my friend Erin’s family and was passed along to me for my party!  A great additional healthy option, and is perfect room temp.  I did make the salad day of and dressing during my prep day.

Recipe- 2lbs Fresh Green Beans, 1 pint Grape Tomatoes (cut in half), 3 T Balsamic Vinegar, 1 T Dijon Mustard, 1/2 tsp. Salt, 9 T olive oil, 1 large red onion (diced and soaked in cold water).  Drop beans in boiling water.  Cook for about 4 minutes, then drain and place into an ice water bath to stop the cooking.  Mix the dressing, then toss with the beans, tomatoes, and onions.  Serve room-temp.  

Raspberry Chipotle Meatballs:  Another staple for parties of mine.  Easy, sweet, spicy, love it.  I bought a 5lb bag of Turkey meatballs from BJ’s and doubled my original recipe I found years ago from Southern Living.  Made these during prep-day, then threw the cold balls into my crock pot a few hours before game-time.

Recipe- 2lbs meatballs, 1 28oz BBQ Sauce (again, Sweet Baby Ray’s for me), 1 15oz Jar Raspberry Preserves (I use All-Fruit brand!), 3 chipotle peppers + 1 Tablespoon of sauce from a small can of Chipotle Peppers in Adobo (found near mexican food in grocery store).  Mix everything but the balls in a large pot, add 1 1/2 cups water and whisk.  Add meatballs and cook until heated through or about 45 min.  Re-heat or place in a crockpot to keep warm.

Roasted Veggie platter

Roasted Veggie platter

Pretzels, Nuggets, Salami, and Meatballs

Pretzels, Nuggets, Salami, and Meatballs

Our desserts were completely provided by our fabulous Moms!  My Mom made a decadent chocolate pizza with marshmallows ontop, chocolate covered pretzels, and her famous “White Trash” (white chocolate rolled chex mix, peanuts, and M&Ms).  Dave’s Mom brought us her famous Magic Cookie Bars, Raspberry Bars, Lemon Bars, and my favorite fall-appropriate Pumpkin Bars.  My mouth is watering again!

Dessert Area

Dessert Area

No party would be complete without the libations!  We bought beer, and provided one mixed drink option and two sangrias.  For each of the mixed drinks, I doubled the recipe.  I’ve made the red before and am a huge fan, but the favorite by far was the seasonal Apple Pie Sangria.  I’ll be making that again!  These can be made before the day of, but if you add the fruit in before, take that out day of and replace with new fruit.

Also, with any of the drinks, I’d recommend leaving out the ice and having your guests put their own ice in their cups.  That way, the ice won’t melt and water down the drinks.

Red Sangria, a Bobby Flay Recipe:  I used Spanish Red Wine, and omitted the Blackberries, as they are not in season.
Recipe- 2 Bottles Table Red, 1 cup Apricot Brandy, 1/2 cup Triple Sec, 1/2 cup Raspberry Liquor, 1 cup Orange Juice, 1 cup Pomegranate Juice, 2/4 cup simple syrup, orange slices, apple slices, blackberries, one cinnamon stick.

Apple Pie Sangria:  Followed this one exactly.  The Caramel Vodka we bought was Smirnoff brand called “Kissed Caramel”.

Recipe- 2 Bottles Reisling, 5 cups Apple Cider, 2 cups Ginger Ale, 2 cups Caramel Vodka, 3 honey crisp apples, 3 pears, 2 cinnamon sticks

Maui Moscow Mule:  Vodka, Lime, Ginger Ale, Pimms #1, Mint, Fresh Ginger and Lime Slices.  I made this one too strong at first, so I recommend tasting before serving so you can get the mixture right!  Like the sangria, I had the Ginger and Lime slices as well as mint leaves floating on top.

A pretty picture of my kitchen, where I did all this hard work :)

A pretty picture of my kitchen, where I did all this hard work 🙂

I hope this can inspire you when you’re going to make your own party next!  If you were one of the lucky ones at my party, you’re welcome ESPECIALLY for the Apple Pie Sangria recipe and thank YOU for coming!

Shrimp & Couscous w/ Yogurt-Hummus Sauce

This recipe reminds me of Israel.  Sighhhhh…. everything with hummus does.  Really.  That might be because hummus is all I ate there.

Anyway, this “20-Minute” simple recipe didn’t seem so simple to me at first.  I rarely make shrimp (Dave will. not. eat it) and I’ve never made couscous before.  So on the recipe anxiety scale of 1-10 (1 being toasting bread and 10 being a Baked Alaska) this shrimp dish was at a 6… I was worried!

To make matters worse, I even had to make this dish with shrimp… and another with chicken for Dave…

But (would you believe it) it all turned out fine.  The Food Network knows their shit.  This IS an easy recipe, and it DID take me 20 minutes.  LOL.  All that worrying for nothing.  That’s never happened to me before… totally new experience……… ………

Anyway, let me just tell you… it’s freakin’ delicious.  So good.  It’s like, lick the bowl good.  And- yes, I did.

Shrimp & Couscous w/ Yogurt-Hummus Sauce

Makes 4 Servings of couscous salad and sauce.  I made 1 serving of shrimp, 1 of sliced chicken breast for Dave, and the rest of the couscous salad I used for another meal!

Ingredients:

1 cup whole wheat couscous
1/4 cup golden raisins
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup Fat Free Greek yogurt
1 Tablespoon Hummus (I prefer Sabra if I didn’t make it myself)
1 teaspoon dried Dill or 1 Tablespoon Fresh 
Sea Salt and Black Pepper to taste
4oz Shrimp per Serving (I used frozen that I thawed)
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 teaspoon Hot Hungarian Paprika (or regular if you don’t have hot… and add a dash of Cayenne!)
Juice from 1/2 a Lemon
Directions:
1.  Make the couscous.  Combine the couscous, raisins and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a bowl. Add 1 1/4 cups very hot water, cover with plastic wrap and let sit until all of the water is absorbed and the couscous is tender, about 5 minutes.  It’s magic!

2.  Make the sauce.  Stir together the yogurt, hummus, dill,  and 1 to 2 tablespoons water in another bowl. Season with salt and pepper and set aside in the refrigerator.

3.  Cook the shrimp.  Toss the shrimp, tomatoes, the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and hot paprika together.  Cook in a small saute pan over medium heat until the shrimp is cooked through (maybe 4 minutes?  It does not take long.  If you’re using pre-cooked shrimp, just heat through.)  Drizzle the lemon juice ontop of the shrimp-tomato mixture.  

4.  Assemble!  Fluff the couscous with a fork.  Place the couscous in a bowl or plate, add the shrimp mixture ontop.  Scrape any of the saucy drippings from the pan into the sauce and stir.  Place a dollop of sauce ontop of the shrimp/tomato mixture.  ENJOY!

Recipe slightly adapted from:  Food Network Kitchens

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Cookin' the shrimp/chicken and tomatoes

Cookin’ the shrimp/chicken and tomatoes

One chicken and one shrimp (with a few pieces of chicken snitched!  :) )

One chicken and one shrimp (with a few pieces of chicken snitched! 🙂 )

YUM!  I topped mine with some parsley.

YUM! I topped mine with some parsley.

Mixed all up, this is one delicious meal!

Mixed all up, this is one delicious meal!

 

See, that totally wasn’t hard at all!  Once you think about it in four simple steps:  Make the Couscous, Make the Sauce, Cook the Shrimp, and Assemble!  That’s all!  It was so tasty and different than anything I’ve ever made before.  I really enjoyed a break from all of the spicy food we normally eat.

Seared Scallops & Shrimp over Creamy Linguine

There was no way I was going to be at the JFX Farmers Market in Baltimore and not purchase slab bacon.  Our friend Donny has cooked it up for us before and I was blown away.  I knew that if I came home without it, my Bacon-Obsessed Dad would be very disappointed.  He and I made plans to cook up the bacon and make dinner together, something we rarely do.  After days of contemplating our menu, here’s what we came up with:

Seared Scallops & Shrimp Over Creamy Linguine

a Recipe by:  It’s Good to be the Cook (and the Cook’s Dad!)
Serves:  5
Ingredients:
  • 1 box Whole Wheat Linguine
  • Scallops (3-4 per person), rinsed and patted dry
  • Shrimp (3-4 per person we bought raw but devained), rinsed and patted dry
  • 1 cup Slab Bacon, cut into small pieces (use 4 pieces of regular bacon if you don’t have slab)
  • 1/2 Onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1 ½ cups frozen peas
  • 1 cup Light Cream
  • 1 cup Parmesan Cheese, grated fine
  • Sunflower Oil
  • 1 teaspoon Minced Garlic
  • 2 Green Onions, chopped
  • Salt, Pepper, Cayenne Pepper, Dried Parsley
Directions:
1.  Cook the pasta according to directions on the box, using olive oil and salt.  When it’s finished, drain, saving some of the pasta water, and set aside.
2.  Cook the bacon on low heat in cast iron skillet until crisped through.  Set aside on paper towels to drain.  Keep the bacon fat in the pan.
3.  Cook the onions in the bacon grease.  Set aside.
4.  Lightly salt and pepper the scallops and shrimp, making sure they are patted dry first.
5.  Add enough sunflower oil to the cast iron skillet to just cover the bottom.  Turn to high heat.  Once the oil is hot (you can test by adding just a drop of water into the pan) add the scallops.  The key here is DO NOT MOVE the scallops!  Let them cook and do not touch them until about 5-6 minutes in.  Flip the scallops and do not move them again!  This is how you’ll get that nice brown crust you’re looking for.  Add the shrimp during the last few minutes of cooking the scallops.  They should only take 2 or 3 minutes.  The scallops should take 8-10 depending on the size (ours were huge!)
6.  When the seafood is done, remove them from the oil and drain them on papertowels.  Now, you can make the sauce for the pasta.  In the same pot you cooked the pasta, add the light cream, parmesan cheese, peas, garlic, cooked onion, and green onion.  Bring to a simmer.  Mix it around until the cheese is melted and the sauce starts to thicken.  Add the pasta (I cooked a whole box but did NOT use the entire thing), just a shake of salt, pepper, dried parsley, and cayenne pepper if you wish.  I used a touch of the saved pasta water to make the sauce go a little bit further.  Stir in the bacon.
7.  Serve the pasta with the seafood ontop.  

As most of you know, I don’t normally make many dinners that are as decadent as this one!  What a treat!  My Dad and I spent all evening in the kitchen, and it paid off.  Everyone enjoyed their meal, everything turned out perfect, and most important, we had a lot of fun together!

Summer Salad

Usually when I come home from work and working out, the last thing I feel like doing is making a fancy dinner.  If I put together a salad or some stir-fry… chances are that I won’t be writing about it on the blog.

With that being said, this “ordinary” weeknight dinner salad was just too pretty and too delicious to not brag about!

Summer Salad

Recipe by:  It’s Good to be the Cook
Makes 1 Serving @  5 WW Points
Ingredients:
1/4 Head Iceberg Lettuce, torn
1/4 Champagne Mango
1/4 Cucumber
1/4 Avocado
1 slice Bacon, cooked crisp
6 Grape Tomatoes
4 Green Beans
Green Onion, Sea Salt &  Black Pepper
1 teaspoon Sunflower Seeds
1/4 lb Cooked Shrimp
Strawberry Balsamic Vinegar
Directions:
1.  Chop all of the ingredients except the shrimp.  Mix in a large bowl with the iceberg lettuce.  Pull the tails off of the shrimp and top the mixed salad.
2.  Dress the salad with some chopped green onion, a sprinkle of sea salt, and a few grinds of black pepper.  Sprinkle w/ a teaspoon of Sunflower Seeds.  Drizzle w/ Strawberry (or plain) Balsamic Vinegar.

Loved this salad!  I am not a big fan of raw veggies, so my salads tend to rely on the heavier, less healthy items such as chicken, cheeses, croutons, nuts, etc.  This salad was the perfect combination of the “good” stuff & the “bad” stuff.  I don’t put oil on my salads when I use Vinegar, and trust me, you aren’t missing it.  The touch of salt and pepper enhances the flavors and makes everything delish!

As ginormous as this salad is, believe it or not, it only racks up FIVE Weight Watchers Points.  FIVE!  OMG!

SBS Salad

“It’s a salad… only bigger… with lots of stuff in it”… Elaine Benes said it right when she made the “Big Salad” a hit back in the ’90’s.  In my house, “big salad” night is always quite the production.  Everyone is in the kitchen, rinsing, chopping, and even sometimes cooking to prepare their own version of the big salad.  You can always find bacon in my Dad’s, onion in my Mom’s, and blue cheese in mine.  We all have our favorites and this dinner is an easy one to personalize.  

If you didn’t catch these before, check out two of my favorite salads:  The Fajita Salad & the Mish-Mosh Salad.  We had just gone food shopping this week so our fresh ingredients were plentiful and this salad turned out beautiful!  I love when I manage to get so many colors in one bowl.  

I call this one (oh, and naming them for the blog makes the entire process so much more fun) the SBS Salad and boy was it delicious!!

SBS Salad (Strawberry, Blue, & Shrimp)

Recipe by:  It’s Good to be the Cook
Ingredients:
2 Cups Romaine, chopped
5 Shrimp, cooked, chilled, chopped
2 Tablespoons Blue Cheese Crumbles
3 Strawberries, washed & sliced
1/2 Carrot, shaved with a vegetable peeler
2 Tablespoons Purple Cabbage, sliced
1 Hot Cherry Pepper, seeded & sliced
1 Tablespoon Sliced & Roasted Almonds
5 Yellow Grape Tomatoes, sliced in half
5 Fat Free Croutons
2 Tablespoons Ken’s Light Asian Sesame (my FAV dressing)

I’m pretty sure that this salad is better than Elaine’s at Monk’s!  YUM!  

What’s your favorite “big salad” topping?