Image

Cookie Lee Party!


I’m writing with a little sadness in my heart because as much fun as my party was yesterday, I have no pictures to prove just how amazingly lovely my table turned out. All that planning…pshhh…out the window…

No worries…I’ll just have to use some amazing writing to paint a picture for you….

The Menu

  • Fruit Pizza Bar
  • Veggie Pizza
  • Chocolate Fondue
  • Miscellaneous little bites

The Decor

Went for a valentines theme courtesy of the 99 Cents store. Red/White/Pink/Purple/Orange. Had a red table cloth with a few purchased sturdy plastic placemats for the three main dishes…bought a little plastic bucket for the plates, napkins, cups and silverware…had pink and red paper cups…white plastic bowls from the miscellaneous nibblies…it was great.

The Party Purpose

I’m a Cookie Lee consultant and I decided to have a clearance sale for all my Cookie Lee jewelry I’ve had in my trays for awhile. Everything was 50% off which meant a lot of purchases were made! Here’s my personal pitch…if you would like to check out the NEW Cookie Lee catalog that came out, check out my website: http://www.cookielee.biz/esuite/home/jessicaabsher. If you decide to make a purchase and tell me that you found the link here on my blog, I’ll give you 25% off any item in the catalog! You have to look pretty when you cook right?!? Sorry guys…you can purchase something for the beautiful cooks in your life!

The Menu Inspiration

I sort of based my spread off the Fruit Pizza Bar seen below. I found this on Pinterest and thought it had to be one of the most clever and cheap ideas I had seen in awhile. I bit labor intensive if you decide to make your own sugar cookies (which I did) but still very cheap and pretty no matter how you do it.

My bestest friend Jamie came over to help me get things put together and it’s a good thing she did since we had a pink lemonade emergency clean-up process that required all-hands-on-deck. I learned that if you place your pretty glass beverage dispenser with a spigot in the refrigerator with the spigot facing out, your door may actually help you open it up when you go to close it. Which means sticky pink lemonade all over your poor clean refrigerator…and the floor. The sad part of this story is that the incident was a “fool me once” scenario..mean I was the genius that earned and “shame on me” when I put the dispenser back in the fridge, forgetting to turn it so this didn’t happen again. Needless to say Jamie and a friend Brittany kept me from completely unraveling as they helped me mop it up. Our shoes and feet were sticking to the floor with the lovely accompanied noise, but we go everything ready to go on time.

Back to the menu…the fruit pizza was one of the stars but the others were the chocolate fondue and veggie pizza. You’ve all probably had a veggie pizza like this one from Pillsbury.  The crust is a cylinder of crescent roll dough, the spread is cream cheese, sour cream, dill, and garlic powder, and the toppings are your choice of chopped veggies. This recipe is one that my grandmother use to make all the time when we were younger, but we just recently added it to our appetizer archive and it is one we make a lot for get togethers with family.

The last thing I made was a chocolate fondue. When looking for a recipe I was hunting for something simple that didn’t involve a lot of ingredients. I found a recipe that called for 3 ingredients: chocolate, heavy cream, and brandy (Cognac and liqueur are also mentioned as options). I had a pack of chocolate chips that I used and bought a very small thing of heavy cream which gave me a cup of cream. The recipe says to just use 8 oz of chocolate and 3/4 cups of cream, but I decided to just the full 12 oz package of chocolate and 1 cup of cream so I didn’t have to measure and it turned out just fine…wasn’t too thick…. so I recommend doing the same for the ease of it. You finish it off with a tablespoon of brandy and stir it in before transferring it to your bowl or fondue pot. My dippers were pretzels, strawberries, marshmallows, nilla wafers and tangerines. It was a big hit and couldn’t have been an easier dessert.

These were my easy three table items, but then I decided to add a few extra things for a fun touch. I had chocolate covered toffee pieces and yogurt covered raisins that I got from Fresh and Easy that I placed in martini glasses and also made some candied almonds and pecans because I had them on hand and figured why not! I don’t know if you’ve had those warm nuts sold in touristy destinations or bakeries that they serve in a cone that you open up and can’t help but demolish in less then 5 min! I wanted to make those! I found this recipe and thought it would be  a fun addition to the table..which is true…they were! I would encourage you to try this with your favorite nut since it’s easy and would likely work the same not matter which one you did. A TIP:  I had to keep mine in longer because they were to sticky after the time they gave in the recipe. I read a review on the website that they left them in for 45 min until they had the crunch they were looking for. So keep that in mind, but if you’re like me and worried about burning or over cooking them keep an eye on them.

So that was my menu and it kills me that I didn’t take any pictures to share, but these ones are better then any I would shoot with my phone camera. A special thanks to Jamie for bringing some chips and yummy dip to add to the table. It was an awesome addition to cut the sweets!

Hope you give me your thoughts and feedback on these recipes or other like them…what do you do for parties that is easy and quick that you can share with me?!

Updates: I bought a new camera!! It’s on it’s way…stuck in NJ last I saw….but there are hopefully going to be much prettier pictures coming soon. Can’t wait to use it on new recipes.

P.S. I made my first pizza on my stone with smoked mozzarella…yum. Didn’t take pictures but would like to practice the dough a few more times since I botched up my first batch…more to share about that later…but I’ll use my new camera to document that process next time. Also, I’ve asked my older sister, Elizabeth, to be a guest writer on here so hopefully she’ll share some of her fun recipes with you all soon.

Happy cooking all!

Image

BBQ Chex Mix…yes please!


So, I love bbq…we’ve established that. And what better way to get that bbq flavor any time you want then to make up a chex mix that is easy to munch!

My first attempt at making this recipe was a few years back from a Super Bowl party at home. I did it in the oven because I thought it was laughable to do in the microwave. Not to mention, putting stuff in the microwave to cook seems…less like cooking…more like…something else. It doesn’t feel like cooking unless I’m turning on a stove or oven so if someone  tells me to take the short cut in a recipe and do it in the microwave, I usually turn up my inexperienced nose and use the oven/stove to complet the recipe, convinced it will taste better.

Well, I should have hung my head in shame after making this in the oven. It was a soggy, sticky mess and not very delicious….at all. Boo. I, of course, blamed the failure on the recipe and vowed to never try it again.

2 years changes things, because I got it in my head to cross the bridge one more time and give it a try when I had the same bbq craving this summer. I need to get off of my mental high horse regarding microwaves because this recipe is a total success in the silly thing. And FAST! If you’re having a party or work full time like me and need a quick something to bring to a get-together, this may be your new go to!

Here’s the recipe and my experience with microwave cooking :) (CHEAP NOTE: The cheapy in me bet myself that I could get all the ingredients for this yummy snack at the 99 cents store. I was almost right…just had to get the Chex Mix at the store. Everything else was a quick pick up there. Score! )

Step 1: Grab a bowl and your ingredients. The recipe calls for Cheese-It type crackers, but I found these whales at the 99 cents store and I have to say, this is my new favorite cheese cracker to add to this mix. Better flavor then the cheese its.

Step 2: Mix your dry ingredients..6 cups of Chex, 3/4 cups honey roasted peanuts, 1.5 cups of pretzels and cheese crackers. I have been using my big red plastic bowl for this project, however, I’m pretty sure that’s not a great idea when microwave cooking. Best bet is a nice big glass bowl. Much less toxic.

Step 3: Combine your other ingredients for the sauce…garlic and onion powder, bbq sauce and vegetable oil. My little oil bottle looks like it’s olive oil…it’s not…thus the silly blue label. Had to use the vegetable oil for something so I decided to pour the small amount I had left into the glass bottle. Very hand, but confusing for this recipe :)

Step 4: Pour bbq mixture into dry ingredients

Step 5: Mix it well. I have to admit that the first time I made this I was highly skeptical that the little amount of bbq sauce mixture was going to coat that 6 cup+ mixture of dry ingredients….but have faith. It does cover the whole lot of it. I found that the bbq sauce that tends to be thinner is better for this recipe. I’ve used KC

Masterpiece and then this dollar store buy and though I prefer the taste of KC or a Kraft Honey BBQ sauce, this one did a better job combining. My one tip is to mix well and try not to make up any more of the bbq mixture if possible. Remember you don’t want this to be soggy but crunchy. The more you put on, the longer you’ll likely have to cook it. Here is a picture of what it looks like all mixed…not a whole lot different hu :)

Step 6: Put your bowl into the microwave and put 7 min on the clock. I recommend opening up the door and stirring after the first 2 min and then I usually open and stir every min until I hit the 7 min mark. I’ve had an incident where the mix started to burn, so I’ve been careful ever since. As a hint, you won’t notice anything magical happening to the mix. It’s not going to look much different from when you put it in so don’t be using that as a sign to know when it’s done. I’ve learned that the hard way and I wish they would have explained it in the recipe.

Here’s a picture of what it looks like after a few min in the microwave.You can kind of see what I mean…nothing much different. Don’t worry, you’re still doing everything right. It’s going to seem like it’s still too wet when you finally pull it out, but don’t be discouraged, just follow through with the recipe.

Step 7: Roll out your parchment/wax paper and spread your mix and separate the pieces. Believe it or not they will dry and be crunchy! They will also be stuck together so you can put them in a Rubbermaid like shown below and shake the dickens out of it. That is sure to separate the pieces….I guess the same can be said for a gallon bags…but then you don’t get the terribly loud noise…choices, choices.

I hope you give this a try. My Life Group friends enjoyed it…think Jamie and CJ tried it this summer too… I’d like to try this with some of the other flavors that the Chex website offers.  Tell me of your Chex mix adventures below!

Image

Chips, Dips, Goat Cheese and Crackers!


I feel like that title needs to end with an “Oh My!”. Just like Wizard of Oz…this was another adventure in cooking….okay that’s hammy I know, but a nice segway, don’t you think?!?

I made this meal up last Sunday before my room mate came home and our cinnamon roll baking experience began…(to follow in a future post). Before she got home I decided to make up a nibbly lunch…meaning snacky stuff and not exactly healthy :) I was in the mood for a lighter lunch and so I decided to go through the pantry and refrigerator and figure out what I had on hand.

I’m a big fan of making home made pita chips since it’s a very easy and quick snack to have with store bough hummus. I’m also a big fan of using my old tortillas for a savory or sweet snack. That is what inspired me to get this snacky meal going since I had both on hand. I had bought some goat cheese (Jamie will appreciate that..:) at the store and had a few ripe avocados from our tree (I’ll have to take a picture to show you…it’s huge!) to make some guacamole…so this was quickly becoming a chips and dips meal!

Usually when I make pita chips I use a cayenne pepper/sea salt mixture that I keep on hand to season the pita chips. However I switched it up this time around. You see in the picture above that there is a little red topped Rubbermaid container, which is my home made taco seasoning.  I decided that would complement the guac a little better and was an easy substitute. The taco seasoning is from a grilled chicken taco pizza recipe  on the Food Network posted by Aaron Mccargo, star of Big Daddy’s House. I love this recipe because it makes up lots of extra that I get to use long after I make the pizzas. I highly recommend making some up for stuff like this when you want to spice up your homemade tortilla and pita chips. It’s awesome with avocados to make a salsa as well (used on the top of the pizza (see recipe via link above).

Back to the process….I started everything out by cutting my pitas in strips or chip shaped pieces. I like doing strips…mostly because I stink at making chip shaped chips :) I kind of like using older pitas, because they end up having a crunchier finish, but the results can be the same with newer pitas if you set your oven temp accordingly.

 

I then drizzle the pita pieces with olive oil. I always use olive oil however, I’ve resorted to vegetable oil when I’m out of olive oil and get the same results….so I think it’s safe to say you are good to use whatever oil you have on hand. You don’t have to use a whole lot of oil to do the trick but feel free to brush the oil on to get an even coat to cover the pieces.

After coating them with oil, I sprinkled the seasoning over them. I’ve made the mistake of going overboard and regretted it since it’s far too strong. So, I’ve learned the age old saying of “less is more” works wonderfully when seasoning the pitas.

 

 

The next step is to put them in the oven. This time I put them in for 10 mins at 350 degrees. this is just a starting point. You can always keep them in longer depending on what consistency you’re going for. I like the crunchy/soft texture to them. You can also put them in at a low broil setting for a shorter amount of time and get nice crispy chips. If you broil, please learn from my mistake and DON’T GO FAR!

I can’t tell you how many batches of overdone pita chips I’ve made because I decided to go to the bathroom or in the other room….some were still edible and others…lost forever. “Why didn’t you put a timer on” you ask?…I don’t have a good answer to that other then to say that I make stupid mistakes in the kitchen…a lot…which is what this blog is kind of all about :) So, learn from my mistakes…set a timer and stay in the kitchen if you decide to broil them. I recommend 3 min on the clock…you can probably gage your oven’s strength after 3 min and then flip them over and go from there :) Good luck! Above is what mine looked liked…one of my better batches.

Next I made up the guacamole from our ripe backyard avocados. Actually…these were probably picked too soon since the color of the avocados looked a little too light. Still had a great flavor but it looked a little funny. Avocados may be a post I do later, after some research. I should know how to pick them since we have a tree.

Anyways….I used the seasoning packet that you see above. I can get them at our local 99 cent store so it’s the cheapest and tasty way to make up guacamole. The only thing I’ll add is some fresh lime juice (also from a tree out back) to keep it pretty colors. My family is a big fan of guacamole so we make it a lot with family get-togethers and this is the seasoning that we’ve all come to like. Some mixes are too spicy for our “gringo” heart-burn prone palates so if you share these restrictions, I recommend this one :) I wanted it to look more restauranty so sprinkled some Parmesan cheese on the top of it when I was done (see picture below) which was a yummy addition…not sure if that’s actually what they use in the restaurants but it sure tasted good :)

As I mentioned before I also made up some tortilla chips from old tortiallas. I had bought some cilantro jalapeno toriallas from  Fresh and Easy and decided to make some chips out of those for my Mexican Chips and Dips extravaganza!! I have made chips by deep frying them but that was a little more involved them I wanted to get to today, so I went for baked chips. I decided to just use my cooking spray to coat them and chose not to use any salt or seasoning since the tortillas had flavor enough.

I put them in the oven for a little shorter amount of time since they definitely don’t take as long. Again this was just a place to start. They can stay in as long as you need them to. I didn’t take a picture of the finished product but you’ll notice them in my final picture. I had some fun trays that I put them in and kind of left them out to enjoy throughout the day  It was a tasty and easy meal for the lighter lunch I was in the mood for. I pulled out my goat cheese and put it on a plate with some garlic cracked pepper crackers and some kalamata olives. As pretty as I thought it looked, it also tasted pretty awesome too. I’m a big fan of the olives and goat cheese together. I’m wish I had, some carrots or tomatoes or something else to add to these over carbed trays…maybe next time.

So that was my fun chips and dip lunch last Sunday! No big mistakes this time because it’s all stuff I make pretty regularly but I would still love to hear any tips or tricks that you have in making these same things. . I’ll be posting my adventures with making Cinnamon Rolls with my room mate Emily very soon and I promise that, that experience is filled with oopsies and boy-I-hope-this-works moments…since those make the journey of cooking more fun I’ll include all of them! More to come…let me know what you think of the stories so far! Would love to hear from any and all readers!

Image

My turn…Sweet and Spicy Buffalo Wings


 

So, I decided it was a good idea to give these babies a try since I offered the recipe in my last post. Can’t know if they are good if I don’t at least try them.

So, tonight was my trial run…(see recipe from last post) . I donned my cute apron (yes I made it!), a sassy smile and got to work. (That may have actually been a pinched smile….threw my back out this morning and was feeling the pain!)

I took an awesome picture of all the ingredients, but it didn’t save on my phone…so here’s the run down of what I used: 2.3lbs of chicken wings, Louisiana hot sauce (didn’t even know they sold it but thanks to Fresh and Easy, I was educated), butter, honey, pinch of cayenne pepper, ground pepper and garlic salt. The recipe calls for 6 pounds of chicken wings but since I was just making these for myself I figured 2 lbs was plenty. I decided to half the recipe for the sauce but I could have halved that as well and had plenty. Here’s a run down of how it all went.

Step 1: Seasoning the wings…I decided to season the wings with a little salt and pepper…mostly because that’s what I feel you’re suppose to do. I don’t actually know if this helped or hindered the flavor. The recipe suggests that you grill the wings, but I don’t have a grill, so deep frying was the easier solution for me.

Step 2: Making the Sauce….I decided to do 3/4 butter, 3/4 cup hot sauce, and 1/2 cup honey and vegetable oil for the frying…these were all added together in my sauce pan along with the pinches of seasoning. They simmered together for 10 min while I began deep frying the wings.

 

Step 3: Frying the Wings…I set my temperature at 6 on the stove since that’s the warmest it could get. I figured the hotter the better! So I dropped the wings in and heard them cracking and popping. Before I knew it they were golden brown and I was proud of myself for how they were coming out.

HOWEVER, I was getting ready to take a bite into one and a little voice in my head sounding a lot like Alton Brown said something like…”Check the temperature of your oil. You want to make sure that it cooks the chicken all the way through which can be the toughest part of making fried chicken.” THANK GOODNESS that voice of Alton Brown…or the Holy Spirit…chimed into my cooking. I cut it the wing close to the bone and sure enough it was golden brown, but pinky pink on the inside. Fail for Jessica. I pulled the other wing out of the oil and decided to check that one as well…strike two. Bummer.

I decided to do a little research on the internet to get a better idea of cooking temperature and how long I should expect it to take to cook and crisp the wing. Thanks to OC Chef.com I did a quick 101 course on deep frying chicken wings. This site said it should take 8 to 10 minutes to cook up and that the oil should be at 375 degrees. I don’t have a thermometer anymore so I decided to crank my heat down from a 6 to a 4 and see how it went. The next wings cooked up in the 8 to 10 min time frame and were cooked all the way through…praise the Lord! I was back in business!

 I put them in batches of 4 or 5 and that seemed to be just the right amount for the pot I chose to use. Too many more and they would have been crowded. I found that a few of them stuck together in my first batch so after I dropped in the second batch I made sure to put the tongs in there to separate them a bit.

It took me a while to get my 2lbs of wings cooked up because it did take 8 to 10 min a batch. If I had any more then the 2lbs I would have been frustrated. Eventually they were done…this picture demonstrates my “MMMMM yummy” face :)

Step 4: TOSSING THE WINGS…. I decided to toss them in the sauce but then finish them up in the oven since it had taken so long for them to finish frying and the first batch was getting cooler. The oven ideas was not in the recipe because they grilled them, but remember, I’m an experimental cook and SOMETIMES I have success! I used a bowl and tongs to get the tossing going. SIDE NOTE…I really wanted to be like one of those amazing chefs who can toss things in a bowl instead of stirring….but I was pretty sure I was going to look like I had killed someone when wing sauce splattered all over me during a incredibly dumb tossing move that landed the wings all over me and the floor. Sometimes my desire to be a professional chef is outweighed by my God given intelligence and common sense. I can just see my room mates walking in  to me flat on the floor because I had REALLY thrown out my back when I attempted to execute the tossing mix move…ugh. All that to say, the tongs worked beautifully!!
I used only part of the sauce on them since I was putting them in oven. I figured I would take them out and toss them in the rest of the sauce before digging in. Once the wings were coated, I put them on a foil lined baking sheet and put them in the oven at 400 degrees for 5 min. That ended up being not quite enough time for them to look the way I was hoping, so I left them in for another 5 min….total of 10 min. Here’s what they looked like when I took them out! Golden delicious :) I had extra sauce which I used to pour over them. I plated them and added my little cup of blue cheese dressing and dug in. TA DA!!!
So, how did they turn out?!?!
AWESOME! I was so very proud of the way that they looked and tasted. They definitely smelled and had the typical buffalo wing taste yet, the honey gave them a whole new flavor that I really wasn’t expecting. When you first taste the sauce you’ll get the sweet of the honey on the front, but as it sits on your tongue you get the kick of the hot sauce. It was a very tasty balance and the blue cheese dressing complemented everything very well. You’ll notice my glass of water in the picture, which is definitely recommended.  I assume most wing eaters would prefer a beer with their wings and IF I liked beer (I know….weird palate again..) I would have indulged.
Now that I can highly recommend this recipe, here’s what I would do differently next time.
1. I would probably use a bigger pan. It took a long time for all those wings to cook when I was doing 5 at a time. I could have also used my deep fryer to get the job done easier.
2. I would have waited to start the sauce when I was dropping my last wings. It was done way too early and though this didn’t seem to affect the taste or consistency of the sauce, the timing was off. I’m still trying to learn timing in cooking so it’s good that I make notes of these things :)
FAILURES:
1. I messed up the oil temperature…if you have a thermometor, use it. That would keep me from playing the guessing game. The above mentioned website gave a tip you can try to use to make sure the temperature is just right…they say to drop in a small piece of bread. If it takes the bread 60 seconds to get golden brown, then your oil is the right temperature! I didn’t try this because I had no bread on hand, but I will in the future.
SUCESSES
1. Sauce turned out great! Very happy with the Louisiana hot sauce I found at Fresh and Easy. In this case the cheaper brand served me well!
2. Deep frying was a good idea! I don’t think I would have appreciated them as much if they had not gotten the crispy coating on them. I’ll do it this way every time, though I would also like to try baking them and see if the results are similar.
2. Halving the recipe for the wing sauce was great for 2.3lbs of wings. There was plenty for everything I wanted to use it for. I had extra when I was all done, but it’s always easier to have more sauce then not enough. I saved the little bit I had left and thought it might be good next time I grill up shrimp or chicken. We’ll see if it sits in my fridge or if I use it!

3. Checking the wings for pinkness! Can’t say enough about how I’m glad I checked it. Life is too busy for me to be giving myself food poisoning!
4. Had good tunes playing to keep me company!  Thanks to Spotify to keep me entertained. I had some fun singing along to songs while I waited for the wings to finish frying up. If you don’t have a cooking buddy, I recommend bringing in some tunes :)
In conclusion…I highly recommend these to you and encourage you to tell me how your version of these go! I would say this is a perfect recipe for a novice cook and you’ll be guaranteed tasty results. If you have any more tips and tricks, I’ll happily hear them! Thanks for reading and happy buffalo winging :)
THE END