Nov 232010

Good idea: A pre-party trial run. Bad idea: Setting the kitchen on fire.

Burned King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion

My Poor, Burned, King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion Cookbook

Okay, I didn’t actually set the kitchen on fire. Just a cookbook, but the kitchen is alive and well only thanks to my quick-acting husband.

To explain: A couple of years ago I learned (kind of the hard way) that it’s not a good idea to make a recipe for the first time when preparing it for my Open House. Most recipes don’t tell you how long they really take to make – at normal human speeds, not Rachel Ray 30 minute speeds – not to mention how long they will keep at room temperature, if they freeze well, if they taste good, just plain if they’ll work for a party when you’re trying to make a couple dozen other dishes for the same event.

I should try recipes out throughout the year. I know that. But somehow I get to October or November and I can’t figure out where the year went. I’m doing good if the potential OH recipes that I find throughout the year make it into my OH recipe books. So the last two years in the week or two before Thanksgiving, we have company for the weekend (which also happens to correspond to my birthday). To take advantage of a captive audience, we do a mini Open House and trial about 8 or 10 new recipes.

We’re looking for dishes that we can make in a reasonable amount of time. If all or part of them can be made ahead, that’s extra credit. (Depending on the dish, I’ll freeze some of the leftovers and thaw out after Thanksgiving to see how they taste.)

It can be the fastest dish in the world, but if none of us liked it, it doesn’t make the cut.

It can be scrumptiously delicious, but if it’s too complicated, too messy to serve, or otherwise impractical it doesn’t land on the menu. That doesn’t mean, however, that I won’t make it for other occasions. I won’t serve Chocolate Eclair Squares at the Open House but I crave them for myself constantly. But that recipe was initially part of one of these mini events.

Sometimes a dish can be quick to make but difficult to keep at serving temperature. Or doesn’t look appetizing as it cools. Cranberry Baked Brie in Puff Pastry comes to mind for both these features – it cooled off too quickly and looked yuckier the longer it sat. Brie works better in a small slow cooker without the puff pastry. Not as decadent or delicious, but much more practical.

Okay, back to my beloved (but now burning) cookbook.

Kids, learn from my mistakes. Even if you have a small kitchen, do not use your stove as a cookbook holder. Especially when you turn on the wrong burner.

Oh, and don’t walk away after you turn on the wrong burner and start folding laundry in another part of the house. Thank goodness my husband heard the crackling and ran to the kitchen. He put the fire out in the kitchen sink, threw the cookbook outside, and then we just had to worry about the smoke alarms (and aerate the house).

Thankfully, this was the night before our guests arrived, my cookbook survived – though without the back cover (and it spent two weeks in the garage while the burned smell dissipated), the weather was clear so we could open every window in the house to clear out the smoke, and we were still able to have our mini Open House the next day.

Oh, speaking of the food, here’s what I made, and our verdicts:

Pesto Goat Cheese Truffles -these were very good, easy to make, and kept overnight in the fridge even when rolled in fresh chives. Recipe is adapted from Bat Bites on the website. (I just used the first three ingredients and rolled the balls in pecans or chives.)

Pesto Goat Cheese Truffles

Pesto Goat Cheese Truffles

Asian Chicken Rolls – good, but a little bland. Would be difficult to serve and keep puff pastry crisp. Maybe for a game night, but not for Open House. Recipe from Cuisine at Home magazine, December 2008.

Buffalo bites – these are a given every year, but my hubby wanted to get the recipe in writing.Will do a post with the recipe and technique in the future.

Blue Cheese Bacon Puffs – Delicious, and kept for several hours. The recipe said I could freeze them after baking, but they didn’t reheat very well. But I enjoyed them and they weren’t that difficult so they made the cut. Recipe from Cuisine at Home magazine, December 2002.

Blue Cheese Bacon Puffs

Blue Cheese Bacon Puffs

Stuffed Fingerling Potatoes – Delicious, but too much work. Might consider in future years if using small round potatoes for easier scoop-outing. The narrow finger-shaped potatoes were just too fussy. Recipe adapted from Teatime magazine, November/December 2010, but I mostly just took the baking times and used my own ingredients for the filling – bacon, cheese, a little cream, etc.

Slow cooker Brie – as I mentioned earlier, worked much better than the puff pastry version, I just have to find a smaller slow cooker or a larger wheel of Brie for the actual party. Adapted from a recipe on A Year of Slow Cooking blog. (I did strawberry jam and nuts instead of her ingredients. Mostly adopted the method.)

Chicken Satay – All the prep work can be done the day before, and it smelled like a Thai restaurant as I cooked them. Nice change up from the usual, so it makes the cut. From Fine Cooking magazine, December 2004/January 2005.

Blue cheese dip with crudites – Hey, we needed some veggies. Pretty good, make ahead, different from my usual dips so made the cut. Recipe from Cuisine at Home magazine, December 2002.

Strawberry cheesecake bars – Pretty good, but too difficult to cut and no one was overwhelmed with their deliciousness, so out. Recipe from my poor King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion, so a little upset that the cookbook sacrificed its back cover for a recipe I won’t make again. Sigh.

Apple Cider Jelly Candy – We expected a kind of gummy bear and these were more really thick jam. Great on toast the next morning, but not for the party. From the Coconut and Lime blog.

Coconut Macaroons – Yum. Yum-yum. Kept several days, and they were killer. Not only on the party menu, but a new favorite cookie year round. From Good Eats, but I added mini chocolate chips to the macaroons themselves instead of dipping in chocolate (and so left off the nuts, too).

Oreo Truffles – Another new favorite. Decadent and delicious, and freezable at every step in the process. Variations are all over the Internet, but I started from Better Homes and Gardens magazine, July 2009.

Key Lime Coconut Snowballs – Didn’t like the first day, but they got better overnight, and kept several days. Several people really liked, and these were a neater alternative to key lime tartlettes or bars. In. From Cooking Light magazine, November 2005, and available at

Vanilla Sour Cream Cupcakes with Chocolate Fudge Frosting – okay, no one eats cakes or cupcakes at the Open House so I never intended to have these on the OH menu. But the mini party was also my birthday, so I was having cake! The cupcakes are the Magnolia Vanilla Cupcakes (from Food Network website) and the frosting is Foolproof Chocolate Frosting from Cook’s Illustrated magazine, March 2008.

So do you ever do trial runs of party recipes? Ever set your cookbook (hopefully not your kitchen!) on fire? Please share your stories in the comments!

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Nov 162010
Carolina Panthers Christmas Tree

My Carolina Panthers Christmas Tree

As I write this, it’s mid November and I feel drastically behind for the Open House. But I feel that way every year, so what’s new? Actually, my work load in my design job has been at capacity and beyond for several weeks, so I’ve had a hard time juggling that and OH prep. (At least I’m earning money to help pay for the Open House.) Here’s where I stand so far:


Carolina Panthers tree done. This tree sits on top of the entertainment center, topped by a Sir Purr angel (made the wings and halo with pipe cleaners). We won our only game the day I put that tree up, but unfortunately the luck hasn’t carried over from week to week. Going to be a looong season there.

Our Beach Tree

Our Beach Christmas Tree - all the ornaments are shells, lighthouses, or other beach-related items

Nature tree done. This is a little 4 footer with bird and wildlife ornaments. It sits on a table in the den because, as I learned the hard way a few years ago, any tree on the floor in that area is in danger of being hit by the dog when she’s flailing a toy around.

Beach tree done. I love the colors on this tree. That aqua just speaks to me, you know? I buy 1-2 new ornaments whenever we’re @ the beach to add to this slim 6ft tree. This is usually the first tree I set up each year (before Halloween, even), because it’s out of any traffic pattern in a corner of the dining room and doesn’t irritate me by being in my way. Unfortunately, I now have a recycling center in that spot, so having the tree up is more inconvenient than usual. But I’ve relocated the recycling to another part of the room for now. No biggie.

One front porch tree done. Normally, I just have to pull these trees out of the storage tub and set them by the front door, but I left myself a note in the storage tub that the lights didn’t match the bushes in the front. I’m a little anal particular, and the front bushes were cool white leds while the front porch was warm white leds (you always have to check when you buy), and I wanted them all to be cool outside. So with my mother-in-law’s help I stripped both trees down to the branches so I could start over with cool lights. One tree is redone, the other I haven’t had time to finish yet. I don’t normally do anything outside until after Thanksgiving (my husband’s rule), but our neighbor across the street has icicle lights up, so hubby said I could set up the outside decs, just not turn them on. (Thanks, neighbor!)

Ceramic tree up. This was my grandmother’s. Kind of a fancy light bright (Lite Brite?), but it always brings good memories and I love to look at it when it’s lit up.

Peanuts vignette and a few other entertainment center decorations done. I love setting up little scenes for guests to discover.

I still have more to do inside than I want to consider, including two trees (one real tree with hundreds of ornaments and lights, one a 4 ft kitchen theme tree), all my Christmas dishes, Winnie the Pooh Christmas village, and so on. I know I could make my life easier by decorating less, but I really enjoy it, and really enjoy looking at the finished decorations.

Food Preparation:

The menu is still a work in progress, but I have approximately 20 sweets and 20 savories as strong contenders. I’m making 10 new dishes for company this weekend as a kind of trial. We’ll evaluate for taste, ease of serving, how quickly we could make them, and if we can make ahead. I’ll freeze a few portions of some dishes, then thaw them out after Thanksgiving to see if they’re good candidates for doing ahead.

Unfortunately, I have only one cookie recipe scooped and in the freezer. I have a month to go, but unbaked cookies keep for months in the freezer so ideally I’d have a half dozen recipes finished and frozen. Well, my work is cut out for me for the next few weeks, I guess.

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