Saturday, May 28, 2011

Planning a Party - The Guest List

If you want to have a successful party and be a great hostess, careful consideration should be done when planning a party. You guest list is extremely important! When you first start planning a party, decide on how many people you want to host. Always invite more than you actually plan on having attend. I’ve read that a good rule of thumb is 50%. In other words, about half the number of people you invite to your party will actually attend. I’m not so sure I agree with this figure, however. Attendance rates to my parties are usually significantly higher. In fact, one year we had a Christmas party to which we invited 100 people, and 112 people attended! Not sure how that happened, but it was a great party! Maybe folks were just in the Christmas spirit and in the mood to attend some holiday parties.
If you’re planning a party that’s going to include a large number of guests, be careful not to leave anyone out that you meant to invite. This is easy to do when you have so much to take care of. When I’m planning a big party, I keep a running guest list in my party composition book. When I think of someone I’d like to include, I jot down the names.
When you’re coming up with names for your event, think about the atmosphere that the guests will create. Unless you’re hosting a party for a specific group of people, I strongly suggest mixing it up. In other words, if you’re a teacher, don’t just invite other educators to the party. If you do, the conversations will likely be about nothing but school, grades, curriculum, and students. If that’s what you want, fine. But if you prefer something more interesting, a mixed guest list will be better.
We’ve thrown some great parties, and I attribute much of this success to my guest lists. I always include people from all walks of life and from different socio-economic groups. I also include different ages, even if it’s an adults-only party. At a single party, I’ve had teachers, electricians, doctors, lawyers, coaches, college professors, small business owners, college students, blue collar workers, and farmers. You’d be surprised at how these groups intermingle! It gives guests a chance to get to know people they don’t usually come in contact with. Don’t forget to invite people who have invited you to their parties and events!
Once you have a guest list, you’ll need to decide how you’re going to invite people. Will you mail invitations, or will you make phone calls? Unless I’m hosting a more formal party, I make phone calls to guests. This gives them an opportunity to ask questions about what to wear, about whether kids can come, and/or about what to bring. Know the answers before making the calls. Don’t tell one guest they can bring her kids and tell another potential guest that kids aren’t invited. Some guests will offer to bring a dish to the party. When guests ask me what they can bring, I usually respond by saying something like, “We’ll have plenty of party food, so you don’t need to bring anything unless there’s a special appetizer you’d like to make.” This gives the guest an “out” if they don’t have time or just don’t want to prepare something for the party. In the South, most folks like taking a side dish or party food because they like showing off their cooking skills! Phone calls will also often give you a good idea of who’s planning on attending and who isn’t. some people will tell you up front that they have other plans for that date, while others might tell you they’ll definitely be coming.
Here’s a problem you might run into with your guest list: feuding friends. This has happened to me before. I’d have two friends that didn’t like each other or were quarreling at the time of the party. If you like both friends, how do you handle this? This is what I do: Let’s say Mike and Joe don’t like each other, but I like both of them and want to invite both to my party. In this case, I’ll probably mention to Joe that Mike is coming, and I’ll understand if he doesn’t want to attend, but that we’d love to see him. I’ll tell Mike the same thing. This puts the ball in their proverbial courts. They can decide whether or not they want to attend, without being “blindsided.”

Planning a Party - General Overview

If you’re planning a party, you can make things a lot easier on yourself by taking care of details in advance. If you do, you can actually enjoy your party instead of running around all stressed out. As you think of holiday ideas and party ideas, jot them down. Keep a composition book just for this purpose. Place the composition book by your favorite TV viewing chair, along with a pen. Sometimes I think of great party food and party ideas while I’m “lost” in a movie or television show, and if I don’t write it down immediately, I’ll likely forget about it.
First of all, you need to consider your party theme. Of course, if it’s a holiday party, you won’t have too much to think about in the way of a theme. Otherwise, you’ll have some decisions to make. In considering your theme, you’ll also need to decide if this will be an adults-only party, a kids’ party, or a party for families, with adults and kids invited. You’ll also need to have at least a rough idea of how many people you plan on inviting.
Once you’ve chosen from among hundreds of party themes, decide where your party will be held. The number of party guests will have a big impact on where you’ll hold your event. Will it be indoors or outdoors? Will it be held at your home, or will you rent a party venue? Both have their own advantages and disadvantages.
Next, you’ll need to decide on decorations. Will they be elaborate or simple? Will you do the decorating yourself, or will you hire it done?
Will you have entertainment at the party? If so, what type? Things you might consider are live bands, DJs, and games. Games don’t have to be just for kids. Adults enjoy games and activities, too. Of course, you might not need any entertainment at all. Well planned parties with dynamic guest lists usually create their own entertainment!
Plan your party menu as far in advance as possible. This is usually where most of the stress and effort come from for the hostess. Party food doesn’t have to be expensive or elaborate, but it needs to be tasty and attractive, and you’ll need to make sure you have more than enough.

Bacon Double-Blue Cheese Hamburgers

My family and friends really enjoy homemade hamburgers. We’re always experimenting with different homemade hamburgers recipes and trying out exciting taste combinations. Sometimes they actually get a little wild. The following burger recipe, however, doesn’t really fall into that category. These hamburgers aren’t all that unusual, but they’re definitely tasty! I call them bacon double-blue cheese burgers. Why blue cheese? If you haven’t tried blue cheese with beef burgers, you’re missing out! The two flavors go wonderfully together.
Why “double”? It’s not because each serving contains two hamburger patties, and you don’t double the amount of bacon you’d normally add to a bacon burger. The “double” refers to the blue cheese. With this burger recipe, you get two hits of blue cheese – one on the inside of the burger and one on the outside of the burger. Are you ready for this?
Bacon Double-Blue Cheese Hamburgers recipe
Ingredients you’ll need:
2 pounds lean ground beef
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
½ cup crumbled blue cheese
16 strips bacon
½ cup bottled blue cheese dressing
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon minced garlic
8 French rolls or hamburger buns
Directions: Combine ground beef with salt and pepper. Add blue cheese and form into eight hamburger patties. Refrigerate until firm. While the burgers are firming in the fridge, fry the bacon until almost crisp.
Get the grill ready.
Cook the hamburger patties over medium to medium-high heat until almost done. At that point, move the burgers to a cool area of the grill and place the bacon on top to warm – two slices of bacon per patty. Close the grill lid.
Make the hamburger sauce by combining blue cheese dressing, sugar, and minced garlic.
Remove burgers from the grill carefully and place on buns or rolls. Top with blue cheese sauce.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

All-American Apple Pie

This traditional apple pie will be a big hit at your Memorial Day, July 4, or Labor Day meal. After all, what’s more “American” than apple pie? To stay with the red-white-and-blue theme, top pie slices with cherry ice cream and fresh blueberries,  with blueberry ice cream and fresh strawberries or raspberries, or with vanilla ice cream, raspberry syrup, and fresh blackberries.
All-American Apple Pie recipe
5 cups sliced apples
2 teaspoons lemon juice
½ cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
1/3 cup sugar
¼ cup plain flour
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon melted butter
2 frozen or fresh pie crusts
Directions: Place apple slices in a large bowl and drizzle with lemon juice. Toss to coat apples.
In another bowl, combine sugars, flour, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and salt. Add to apples and mix, making sure each apple slice is covered with flour and sugar mixture. Turn apple filling into pie crust and drizzle with melted butter.
Top with second crust and seal edges. Cut three slits in top pie crust.
Bake pie for about 50 minutes at 375 degrees. Serve with cherry ice cream and top with blueberries.

Easy Party Food: Cucumber Rings

Easy party food recipes make for some great holiday ideas. After all, what’s a holiday without a party or two to celebrate? When I had a large vegetable garden, I always tried to take advantage of all the free produce whenever I was planning a party. These cucumber rings were one of the things I made, and they’re yummy and easy!
These are good for any type of party or get-togethers on holidays. They're especially appropriate for St. Patrick's Day parties!
Filled Cucumber Rings
Fresh cucumbers
8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1 envelope dry ranch dressing mix
flat-leaf parsley
Directions: Rinse and dry cucumbers. Alternately peel strips to give the cukes a “striped” appearance.
Cut cumber in half, crosswise. With a small sharp knife, cut out center and seeds.
Soften cream cheese in the microwave and blend with ranch dressing mix. While mixture is soft, place it in a pastry bag. Use a medium-large tip to fill the cucumbers with the mixture.
Wrap filled cukes in plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour or so for filling to firm. Cut cucumbers in desired length to serve and top each with a parsley leaf.

Monday, May 16, 2011

My Favorite Coleslaw

This coleslaw recipe isn’t fancy, but it goes great with BBQ cooking recipes and any other type of outdoor events. Actually, it’s great indoors, too! It has a pungent vinegar taste, along with some sweetness. If I don’t have time to shred my own cabbage, I use a 10-ounce package of slaw mix. I like to chop the packaged slaw mix to a finer texture, however, because it gives the slaw more surface area. This makes for a creamier coleslaw.
My Favorite Coleslaw recipe
6 cups shredded cabbage OR a 10-ounce bag
3/8 cup cider vinegar
½ cup mayonnaise
½ cup sugar OR Splenda
¼ cup ranch dressing
2 tablespoons milk
¼ cup sweet pickle relish
2 green onions, thinly sliced (I include the tops)
Garlic salt, to taste
Black pepper, to taste
Directions: Place cabbage in large bowl and chop to desired texture.
In a separate bowl, whisk together vinegar, mayo, sugar, ranch dressing, and milk. Pour over cabbage.
Add relish, onions, garlic salt, and pepper. Toss to coat.
Cover and refrigerate at least two hours before serving.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Super Baked Beans

Few activities are better for summer holiday ideas than BBQ cooking recipes. What goes better with BBQ cooking than baked beans? To save time, I use canned pork and beans, but believe me – these beans are awesome! For spicier beans, use a small can of diced green chilies instead of the bell pepper. You might also want to add some chili powder or ground red pepper for some heat.
Super Baked Beans recipe
2 cans pork and beans (28 ounces each)
1 large Vidalia onion, diced
½ cup bottled barbecue sauce
1 tablespoon prepared mustard
½ cup brown sugar, packed
½ pound ground beef, cooked, drained, and crumbled
1 green bell pepper, diced
2 teaspoons Liquid Smoke
6 strips thick-cut uncooked bacon
Directions: To save dishwashing, I combine everything in the pan that I’m using to cook the beans. Just mix everything together but the bacon strips. Use a 13 x 9 pan or Pyrex dish. Once everything is mixed together well, lay the 6 strips of bacon on top.
Bake uncovered at 300 degrees. Check the beans after two hours. I usually cook this recipe for about three hours, but your oven might be hotter than mine. Also, cooking time depends partly on how much liquid was included in your canned beans.

Cookout Tips

If you're hosting a cookout as a way to entertain guests, good choice! BBQ cooking recipes are favorites with just about everyone. BBQ cooking will make things a lot easier on you, too. It's always pretty easy to take charge of the grill or smoker. It seems that men especially like this type of cooking. Personally, I think this goes back to the caveman days, when the males hunted down wild game and cooked it over an open fire. Whatever the reason, take advantage of it! If you can get hubby or some other male to handle cooking the meat, that will be one less thing for you to have to do. Of course, you might want to make the sauce, yourself, by using some tasty BBQ cooking recipes.

If you have the meat taken care of, get help with the side dishes. I don't know how it is in your part of the country, but around here, guests always ask what they can bring to a party or get-together. Don't be shy. Of course, don't ask them to bring some complicated or expensive dish like lobster thermidor. Suggest they bring dishes like coleslaw, potato salad, pasta salad, or other cold foods. All you'll have to do is to take care of bread, beverages, and dessert.

Breads for cookouts is easy! Just split loves of French or Italian bread, spread them with butter, sprinkle on a little garlic powder or garlic salt, and wrap them in foil. The loaves can be warmed on the grill or in the oven.

For desserts, most of these can be made the day before. If you don't want to go to the trouble of baking, buy cakes, pies, and/or cookies at the bakery. Of course, ice box pies are easy to make, so you might want to consider a couple of those. If you choose to buy a pound cake or angel food cake, offer sliced fresh fruit and whipped cream for guests to help themselves to. You could set up a small area as a dessert bar. Include slices of cake, chocolate syrup, sliced strawberries, sliced peaches, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, and whipped cream. Another cookout dessert idea is homemade ice cream. If you have an electric ice cream churn, homemade ice cream really isn't hard to make, and it won't require your constant attention.

The next thing you'll need to address is beverages. When we have an outdoor event where kids will be included, we set up three coolers. One is filled with canned soft drinks, bottled water, and ice. Another is filled with canned beer and ice. The third cooler contains juice boxes, Capri Sun drinks, and/or Mondo Coolers. Kids won't be constantly asking for someone to make them a drink - they can help themselves! Ice down all the drinks the morning of the party or the night before.

A few days before your holiday cookout, hit the dollar store or your local party store for paper plates, napkins, plastic spoons and forks, and plastic tablecloths. Eat outdoors on picnic tables or patio tables, and place large trashcans near each table or eating area. Cleanup will be a snap!

If you use these holiday ideas, your cookout will be fun and practically stress free. Your guests will pick up on that, too, and everyone will have a great time!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Buttermilk Coleslaw

You probably already know that buttermilk is an ingredient in a lot of Southern food. Since I've been iving in the South for my entire life, I've used gallons and gallons of the stuff in my recipes. It adds a great “twang” to biscuits, pancakes, cornbread, and fried chicken, and it’s also great in coleslaw! Try this coleslaw recipe for your Memorial Day, July 4, or Labor Day cookout.
Holle’s Buttermilk Coleslaw
What you’ll need:
10 cups chopped or shredded cabbage
¼ cup chopped green onion
¼ cup thinly sliced celery
½ cup mayonnaise
½ cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
Salt and pepper, to taste
Directions: Mix together cabbage, onions, and celery in a large bowl.
In another bowl, stir together mayo, buttermilk, vinegar, and sugar. Pour dressing over cabbage and toss with salt and pepper.
Cover and keep in fridge for several hours before serving.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

July 4 Party Activities

If you’re hosting a July 4 party, chances are that it will be held outdoors. Maybe you’d like a few holiday ideas for keeping everyone entertained? This is especially important if you have kids at the event. I’ll tell you what we did for one of our big Fourth of July cookouts. We had a two-acre grassy area to work with, so all of these might not be feasible for you.

We had a lot of kids of all ages at our July 4 party, and this was before we had a swimming pool. We bought plastic wading pools and water guns and set them on the outskirts of the party area, and the kids had a blast! If you don’t want wet kids, you could fill the pools with small plastic balls or sand and sand pails. If you’re really adventurous, you could fill a wading pool with red jello!

We took bales of hay from the horse barn and made tunnels with them. All the kids loved crawling through the tunnels, and the older kids rearranged the hay bales to create rooms and caverns.

Something else the kids absolutely loved were the water balloon wars. All you need is a good supply of balloons, a water hose, and some towels. This is a great way for the kids to cool off!

We bought a cheap badminton set at the dollar store and set it up, too. We also made sure we had a good supply of Frisbees on hand.

We made a horseshoe pit and had several spirited rounds of horseshoe games. I think the men enjoyed this even more than the kids.

With all the above activities, the kids can move from station to station and play at their own pace. Little supervision or involvement is required from adults – at least, with the bigger kids.

If you prefer more organized activities, you could include some old-fashioned July 4 games:

Sack races – use pillowcases

Foot races – use age categories

3-legged races – use Velcro to join the legs together

Wheelbarrow races – the adult can be the driver and the kid can be the “wheelbarrow”

Tug o’ war – have a good mix of kids and adults on each team

To make the games even more fun, provide blue ribbons for the winners. You can find these at most dollar stores for a buck each.

Friday, May 6, 2011

BBQ Cooking Side Dishes

We have several holidays coming up – Memorial Day, Southern Memorial Day, and July 4. Are you already thinking up some holiday ideas? For the three events mentioned, BBQ cooking is very popular. You know that BBQ is traditionally a Southern food, right? Oh sure, the rest of the country does it now, too, but it all started in the South, where the pig was king of the barnyard.
With that in mind, it’s easy to see why Southern food dishes go great with BBQ cooking! If you’re hosting a barbecue or cookout, or if you’re invited to one, you’ll need to prepare a side dish or two. You wouldn’t show up to a gathering empty handed, would you? Of course, you wouldn’t! Why, that would be very un-Southern!
So what goes well with barbecue? If the barbecued meat is hot and spicy, the best accompaniments are cool, creamy dishes. Favorites are potato salad and coleslaw. You might think these two old standards are boring, but there are plenty of ways to “jazz” them up.
For potato salad, you could add ranch dressing instead of mayo. You could also add sour cream, diced bacon, red bell peppers, chopped cucumbers, bread-and-butter pickles, or radishes. If you want to add some heat to your potato salad, stir in some diced green chilies, some chopped pickled jalapenos, or some chipotle powder.
Coleslaw doesn’t have to be boring, either. Give it a tropical flair by adding some crushed pineapple or some diced mango. Make it more colorful by adding purple cabbage, diced tomatoes, halved grape tomatoes, sliced black olives, or small strips of red bell pepper.
If you choose to forego the potato salad and coleslaw, what about rice salad, corn salad, or pasta salad? You can find my recipes for all of these at the Best American Food website!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

July 4 Recipes: Firecracker Potato Salad

If you’re throwing a July 4 party and feeding folks, you’ll need some great July 4 recipes. Well, have I got a recipe for you! This is a super recipe for spicy potato salad. It’s a little bit sweet, and it has a kick. It’s not “fiery,” but it does have some heat. Of course, you can adjust the seasonings and make the salad milder or even hotter.
Holle’s Firecracker Potato Salad recipe
What you’ll need:
5 pounds potatoes
1 large red onion, chopped
8 boiled eggs, chopped
¼ cup sweet pickle relish
¼ cup diced celery
¼ cup diced pickled jalapenos1/4 cup diced red pepper
2 tablespoons prepared mustard
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons black pepper
2 teaspoons ground red pepper
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 ½ -2 cups mayonnaise

Directions: Peel and cube the potatoes. Cook in salted water until tender but not soft. Drain well and refrigerate until cool.
Place potatoes in a large bowl. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Cover and chill.
If you wish to garnish the potato salad, cut out star shapes from red bell peppers and place on top.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

July 4 Party Ideas - Drinks

Obviously, for a July 4 party, you’ll want most things to be red, white, and/or blue, right? If you’re having a meal, getting white, red, and blue tablecloths, napkins, plates, and cups is easy.  You can find them just about anywhere. Have you thought, however, about including some patriotic beverages?
An easy way to do this is to make red and blue ice cubes. Just buy some red soft drink, like Hawaiian Punch, along with some blue soft drink. Hawaiian Punch makes a blue raspberry, and I think Hi-C has a blue drink, too. Fill some plastic ice trays with the drinks and freeze – some blue and some red. Fill clear plastic cups with half red ice cubes and half blue ice cubes, and cover them with Sprite, 7UP, or ginger ale. Not only is this attractive, it also serves a functional purpose. In most parts of the United States, the weather is hot in July. Since most July 4 events are held outdoors, the ice cubes in drinks are going to melt rather quickly. If the ice cubes are the traditional kind made of water, they’ll dilute the drinks. But you won’t have to worry about this with the colored ice cubes because they’re also flavored!
You can do this the other way around, too. Use red or blue punch for the beverage, and make your ice cubes out of a clear soft drink. Freeze blueberries or raspberries inside the ice cubes for a whimsical effect.
Another way to add some colors to drinks is with fruit garnishes. Top the drinks with strawberries, blueberries, or raspberries, or use a partially split large strawberry on the rim of the cup of glass. Or pass a straw through the strawberry before placing it in the glass. For a really neat star-shape garnish, slice some star fruit and use them on the rims of glasses.

July 4 Party - BBQ Cooking

Okay, so you're thinking about having a crowd over to celebrate July 4, and you're searching for July 4 party ideas.Of course, just about any July 4 events will have to include food, right? A great way to feed everyone on the Fourth of July is with BBQ cooking. Why is that? Because BBQ cooking is done outdoors, where everyone will probably want to be if the weather's nice. If the cooking is done outdoors, it can be part of the festivites in itself. Also, the one doing the BBQ cooking won't be stuck inside while all the other July 4 party guests are having fun in the sun!

Another good reason to consider BBQ cooking for July 4 events that involve food is because a large amount of meat can be cooked at one time, especially if you use a large grill or smoker. The price per pound is usually much less for such cuts of meat, also. If you place the meat on a smoker, you won't have to attend to it much, so you can enjoy the party instead of working on the food.

Some good choices of meats for BBQ cooking on a smoker include fresh pork hams, pork spare ribs, baby back ribs, pork loins, beef briskets, and pork shoulders, also called "Boston butts." If you're expecting a large group of people, you might want to consider cooking a whole pig or a half pig and have a pig pickin', as we call it in the South! If you have a family member or friend who's into survival hunting - hunting for meat - you might be able to talk him into giving you a venison ham for the grill or smoker. Vension is excellent for BBQ cooking! If you need some recipes and info for BBQ cooking, just click the BBQ cooking link above!