Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Easy Eats

The fabulous and fantastic MJ asked for tips on easy, quick entertaining.  Here are some tried and true quick meals I've made for easy, casual entertaining for a party.  I find finger foods and appetizers are perfect because they're easy to make, and I can mingle with guests.  I like to wrangle a guest or two to help pass out drinks, to make sure everyone's glass is full.  It helps break the ice and makes some people feel like they are doing an important job at the party.  They are.

I like to serve meals buffet style or family style, everything on the table and everyone can help themselves.  Or I just wrangle another guest or two to pass out the appetizers at the beginning, then everyone can help themselves to the food at the table.

Here are my easy eats dishes, ranging from easy no cook meals to ones that require a little bit more effort:

Dip & Eat

1. Buy celery and chop into stalks (I like to keep the leaves on the stalks; or just buy celery stalks) and buy baby carrots (or regular carrots, then peel and chop into baby size)
2. Serve with dipping sauce of choice: ranch, thousand island, cheese, and for a sweeter flavor, peanut butter.
I've also toasted bread, then cut them into 1 inch wide slices to dip in sauce to eat.

Cheese & Crackers

1. Buy a box of Ritz or unsalted saltine crackers (usually come in a box of 4 packets)
2. Buy a small rectangle of cheese (Cheddar, Colby Jack, Swiss, etc), cut into thin, small squares/rectangles small enough to fit on cracker. Or use Cheeze Whiz or any cheese spread you like on the cracker.
3. Peel and cut cucumbers into thin circles. I find 1 large cucumber is almost enough for each cracker packet.
4. Cut tomatoes (I like roma, or use any variety you like) into slices small enough to fit on cracker.
5. Assemble from the bottom up: Cracker, cheese, cucumber, then tomato. Serve on a large tray or plate.
You can make this up to at least a hour to half an hour before the party.

Pork Sliders

1. Buy breakfast sausage patties (the kind that is all ready cooked; they are more flavorful and you can just microwave them! I like pork; you can use whatever cooked meat you like). Buy enough for your guests.
2. Buy a package of rolls small enough to fit the sausage patties (the ones common around Thanksgiving that you just brush with butter and heat in the oven will work). Or just buy a loaf of sliced bread and trim them to size. Or get those small frozen mini waffles that you can toast.
3. Sauce or condiment of choice: My go to is mayo ketchup mix--equal parts mayo and ketchup mixed together, the poor man's thousand island; use thousand island; or even avocado or guacamole; Sriracha for some heat. With mini waffles, I've used maple syrup or honey.
4. Cook/Microwave sausage patties. Cut rolls in top and bottom halves to make buns for patties. For extra flavor, toast the rolls lightly (I like to butter the inside ends that will hold the patty and lightly toast the buttered sides down in a pan on the stove-top or on a baking sheet buttered sides up in the stove; or just lightly toast the bread before trimming them to size to fit the patties; save the toast trimmings for use as bread sticks to dip in sauce).  Spread sauce on the toasted buns, then put the cooked patty between the bun slices to make your sliders (small hamburgers).
5. Optional toppings for flavor: pickles, onions, bacon, tomatoes, shredded cabbage/lettuce, stir fried bell pepper slices, caramelized onions, cheese, potato chips, fries etc.
You can make these an hour before the party; just keep them in a warm oven to keep warm.

Pigs in a blanket

1. Buy 2 cans of Pillsbury crescent rolls
2. Buy 2 packs of hot dogs (8 hot dogs/pack usually).
3. 8 slices of cheese, each cut into 6 strips.
4. Preheat oven to 375F or according to crescent roll directions.
5. Slit hot dogs to within 1/2 inch of ends; insert 3 strips of cheese into each slit.
6. Unroll dough into triangles. Wrap dough triangle around each hot dog. Place on ungreased baking sheet, cheese side up.
7. Bake at 375F for 12 to 15 minutes or until golden brown or according to crescent roll baking directions.
You can make these at least an hour in advance before the party, just keep them warm in a warm oven.

For Piglets in a blanket

1. Buy 2 cans of Pillsbury crescent rolls
2. Buy 2 packages of Lil Smokies or enough for 48 sausages (cocktail sausages, usually 48 from two 14oz packages)
3. Preheat oven to 375F or according to crescent rolls directions.
4. Unroll dough into triangles. Cut each triangle into 3 very narrow triangle strips.
5. Place sausage on widest side (base) of triangle strip and roll up to the point or tip of triangle. Place pointed side down on ungreased baking sheet.
6. Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until golden brown or according to crescent rolls directions. Remove from sheet and serve warm.

Bacon Dogs

1. Buy 2 packages of hot dogs (8 hot dogs/pack usually)
2. Buy 1 package of bacon or enough for 16 slices (usually 16 slices/package)
3. Butterfly the hot dog (Slit it halfway deep from end to end to open the hot dog like a book)
4. Wrap or coil 1 strip of bacon around each butterflied hot dog. Stick toothpick through bacon at ends of hot dog if you find that you need to secure the bacon to hot dog. Just remember to remove toothpick if you use it before serving.
5. Heat frying pan on Low heat with 1 Tablespoon of vegetable oil (enough oil to lightly cover the bottom of pan); place bacon dog opened end down first into frying pan. Fry until bacon is crispy to your preference. Flip hot dog over carefully to crisp other side.  Remove after other side is done crisping.  You many need to remove excess oil if you have more hot dogs to pan fry.
6. Serve warm.  Optional toppings: cheese, onions, sauerkraut, etc. Use condiment or sauce of choice. Serve over toasted hot dog buns or with a side of baked potato. I make these about 2 hours in advance of the party at the latest and keep them warm in a warm oven.

Easy Baked Microwave Potato

1. Wash and scrub enough potatoes to fit in the microwave (start with 4 to 6 fist size Idaho russet potatoes). Use a fork to poke holes through potato to pierce the skins (it doesn't have to be a deep poke; just enough to break through the skin). I like to poke each side twice (4 sides plus poke each end of the potato).
2. Place cleaned, poked potatoes on microwave safe dish in microwave.  Use the potato setting on microwave. If your microwave doesn't have a potato setting, I find that microwaving the potatoes 6 to 8 minutes is enough to cook them, depending on your microwave strength. Adjust cooking time accordingly, until the potato is fork tender (you can poke the potato with fork and the fork goes into the potato easily).
3. Serve warm with toppings of butter, salt, pepper, parmesan or other cheeses, sour cream, tatziki sauce, or favorite sauce or condiment like mayo.

Roasted Corn (courtesy of LX's great easy recipe)

1. Buy corn still in the husks, enough for your guests.
2. Preheat oven to 350F
3. Bake unshucked corn for 35 minutes.
4. When done, remove husks and serve with melted butter, salt, pepper. I like to add options like mayo, parmesan, or a squeeze of lemon or lime.

These are a few of the easiest dishes I make for casual, easy entertaining.  Sometimes, I just make sandwiches, my favorite being a simple egg salad:

Egg Salad sandwich

 You'll need eggs, salt, pepper, mayo, and bread.
1. Put 3 eggs (or enough eggs for your guests; about 1 egg per sandwich) in a pot and fill with enough cold water to cover the eggs.
2. Place pot on burner and turn on heat to Medium.  Once the pot comes to a rolling boil, turn off the burner.
3. Leave pot alone for at least 15 minutes.  The residual heat will cook the eggs.
4. After 15 minutes, pour out the water from the pot. Shake the pot to crack the cooked egg shell.  Then turn on the cold faucet and let it fill up the pot with the cracked cook eggs.  Let the cold water run til it overflows out of the pot.  Then turn off the cold water and leave the pot with the cold water alone for at least 1 minute (up to five minutes).
5. After 1 minute under cold water, reach into the pot and give each egg a gentle squeeze to crack most of the shell.  This will make it easier to peel off shells.  Now peel off the shells and put the egg into a bowl.
6. Lightly salt and pepper the eggs; you can always add more after you mix it for taste.  Add 1 Tablespoon of mayo to eggs (I use 1 Tablespoon of mayo to every 3 eggs; adjust according to your taste); use a fork to mash the eggs and mayo into a well mixed, chunky mixture.  Taste. Season according to taste.  A great substitute for mayo is avocado.  It's creamy and delicious and healthy.
7. Spoon mixture between bread slices.  Sometimes I like to toast the bread slices.  Eat sandwich.  Optional toppings and condiments include: pickles, caramelized onions, tomatoes, cabbage, lettuce, potato chips, and even ketchup and thousand island dressing, etc.

I hope you find these easy eats helpful and tasty.