What to Feed Your Halloween Party


In addition to my regular menu planning this weekend, I had to finalize our party menu, too! Saturday was our bi-monthly Sam’s shopping trip–excellent timing on that one–so we took advantage of already being in the warehouse store to stock up on the usual goods plus anything else we’d need for party food.

We also stopped by Trader Joe's on the way home. (This doesn't include the cooler full of meat or the case of beer.)

We also stopped by Trader Joe’s on the way home. (This doesn’t include the cooler full of meat or the case of beer we also purchased at Sam’s.)

Todd’s trunk was so weighed down it made alarming noises when we stopped at red lights! And there was no way everything was fitting in the pantry, so party prep items are still hanging out at the end of the dining room table until needed. I’d estimate we spend $200-$300 extra in groceries when prepping for a big party like this, and it always feels like money well spent. Our guests have plenty of options and the leftovers feed us (and sometimes our offices) in the days after the party so we don’t have to worry about cooking after the fun. It all evens out.

Speaking of those options, this is what the menu is currently set at:

Spanish Pulled Pork with Kings Hawaiian Rolls
Vegan Corn Chowder*
Roast Beef and Swiss Pinwheels
Smoked Gouda Pimento Cheese Pinwheels

Bacon-Wrapped Artichoke Hearts*
Stacked Spuds*
Spinach Puffs*
Spicy Black Bean Dip* with assorted crackers and chips

Cranberry-Pumpkin Bread
Chocolate Chip Brownies*

Paladin Punch* (non-alcholic)
Mulled Apple Cider
Frank-n-Brew (tequila)
Black Juleps (whiskey)
Beer: Yuengling Oktoberfest and Not Your Father’s Root Beer
Assorted wine, sodas, full bar, and mixers are always available

(Menu items marked with an * are from my cookbook, What to Feed Your Raiding Party.)

It’s very similar to last year’s menu with a lot of “fan favorites” like the bacon-wrapped artichoke hearts and the pinwheels. I had multiple dips on last year’s menu, but with so much food they got overlooked, so I slimmed it down to only one (and one that is always a hit at out parties). I also had a couple more desserts on the menu for last year, but I know that at least one guest is bringing a couple of sweet items for the table, so I lessened my to-do list knowing that we’ll have plenty.

We had all of this, plus 3 more items on the table in the kitchen that we just couldn't make room for!

In the end we had all of this, plus 3 more items on the table in the kitchen that we just couldn’t make room for!

And last year’s table was so jammed full that I thought it would be nice to have a little more room to maneuver this year!


This picture is from last year, too–I like to plan what is going where on the table and what serving dishes I’ll need before I start filling platters and dressing up the table. It looks like we only had 2 of the 3 leaves in place–I guess we only added the third leaf for Thanksgiving, though we’ve left it in place since. Good! That means we’ll have even more room to work with!

Okay, now back to work on my costume!

Tuesday Reviews-Day: The Fondue Bible

Tuesday Revews-Day


Whether for Girl’s Night Out, birthday, anniversary or New Year’s Eve, there’s nothing that carries the same feel of anticipation than heading to the local fondue restaurant for a several-hour dinner. Fondue is the ultimate communal meal–instead of everyone concentrating on their own plates, there’s a mutual point of interest about what’s in the pot, and the waiting for each item to cook (or cool down enough to bite into) invites both conversation and relaxation.

Back in the 60s, the fondue set became a standby of housewarming and wedding gifts, and with many people fascinated with kitsch and mid-century throw-backs, I think the fondue pot is making a comeback for home use. I received one a few years ago as a Christmas present, but admit that it hasn’t seen the heat of a flame very often and spends more time in it’s box that on the table.

Getting the chance to review The Fondue Bible, though, gave me the chance to dust off the fondue set and give it a place of prominence on the table for a couple of gatherings and a relaxed mid-week supper.


Because it lends itself so well to party grazing, I started off with a cheese fondue for one of our local game nights. The Edam Tarragon Fondue (p. 32) was a nice combination of the more traditional cheeses with the almost sweet tarragon, especially with the grainy mustard added. It went excellent with sausage puffs, chicken breasts, apples and carrots. As for the leftovers, those were fabulous as an impromptu quesadilla filling when melted inside of tortillas.


Another night we went for the sweet with a cocktail-inspired B-52 Chocolate Fondue (p. 198). In addition to the dark chocolate, Kahlua, Cointreau, and Irish Cream I used coconut milk thinned with a bit of lactose-free 2% in place of the heavy cream and it worked fabulously. Into this we dipped strawberries, fresh-cut pineapple chunks, and cubes of homemade (gluten free) pound cake. Some of our guests also went for the salty-sweet combo by dipping rice crackers and salty popcorn into the gooey chocolate.

With my current fondue pot I usually use sterno-style gel fuel but it tends to get way too hot for cheese and chocolate fondues. Behold, the power of the humble tea light as this is plenty to keep a couple cups of melted cheese of chocolate liquid enough for dipping without risking scorching the whole pot (the center does tend to get a little stuck, but at least that’s easy to clean up).


The gel fuel worked wonderfully for the Quick Asian Hot Pot (p. 138), though, doing an excellent job of keeping the broth (I made lamb broth since I had some lamb ribs on hand from a different meal) steaming hot for the duration of our dinner. While it looks like a lot of work, there really wasn’t much more to it than the prep for any stew or soup–the bits and pieces were just laid out prettily on a platter instead of tossed into the soup pot. And the remaining portions were tossed together on the stove to prepare soup for lunch the next day.

We didn’t dip into the oil fondues–that many forks in boiling oil makes me a little nervous, truth be told–but maybe I’ll get braver as they do look just as delectable as the book’s other options. The Fondue Bible includes 200 recipes, loads of gorgeous photographs, and plenty of pairing ideas as well as dips and sauces that could easily go with any other meal, not just your fondue fest. I have a feeling my fondue set is going to be getting much more use, now, with so much inspiration at hand!

National Guacamole Day Dip & Sip? Challenge Accepted!

Sponsor of the Dip & Sip Challenge: Piedra Azul Tequila

Sponsor of the Dip & Sip Challenge: Piedra Azul Tequila

I’ve always loved playing hostess at parties and I’m so lucky to have found, in Todd, a willing accomplice to party perfection. We try to throw at least one good-sized party a year (with written invitations, party favors, etc.) but with this year’s bash being the wedding (in 47 days–holy cats it’s getting close!), at-home entertaining has taken a back-seat. Sure, we have our group over for regular game nights but it’s just not the same.

Which is why, when I was invited to participate in the Dip & Sip Challenge in honor of National Guacamole Day (today, September 16) and sponsored by Piedra Azul Tequila, I jumped at the chance. The idea was that, as participants, we invite folks over to share some delicious guacamole and tequila cocktails and blog about it–it was just the kick in the pants I needed to stop focusing on the wedding for one night! Participating bloggers received a bottle of Pedra Azul Tequila, a copy of Gaby Dalkin’s new Absolutely Avocados cookbook, and a $25 gift card to Whole Foods (ours opens in less than a month and I can hardly wait to have one nearby, finally!).



For the past few months I’ve been hosting craft nights every other Wednesday, so I decided to capitalize on the fact that I was already planning to have friends over on the 11th and described the evening (in the Facebook invite) as “A Very Special Mid-Week Create Break.” Apparently I should have started theming the nights way before now as this week’s craft night garnered loads more interest than previous ones! (Even though a few girls had to bow out at the last minute due to life–unfortunate that life should get between us and tequila, but that’s the way it goes some days.) Our usual m.o. is to open a bottle of wine, pop in a chick-flick, and craft and chat for a couple of hours. This week’s wine would be a new tequila cocktail and this week’s movie would be Selena–though sometimes we talk more than watch, it’s nice to have something on in the background.

Gaby Dalkin, author of Absolutely Avocados, will be judging our Dip & Ship Challenge experiences!

Gaby Dalkin, author of Absolutely Avocados, will be judging our Dip & Ship Challenge experiences!

Reading through Absolutely Avocados for inspiration, there were just so many good ideas I found it difficult to limit myself to just one or two items. So I said to hell with it and ended up making 9 of her recipes to make sure we had a good smattering of avocado options and guarantee that there’d be something that each guest would love. I needn’t have worried, though: everything went over like gangbusters!

Now, to make this work on a weeknight (without taking a day off of work, that is), I did some preliminary staging on Monday night along with making my shopping and prep lists. There may have been spreadsheets involved. (Okay, there was definitely a spreadsheet involved.) Back at the beginning of the summer I’d received a box of goodies through Oriental Trading Company‘s Blogger Outreach program and (again, the whole lack of entertaining thing this year) hadn’t had a chance to use them. Since the plates, bandanas, cutlery, cups, and lanterns were all in these great spring greens and such, I figured they’d be a great way to dress up the serving area for our tasty treats and pull everything together nicely.

A rough draft of how the food table would look.

A rough draft of how the food table would look.

Tuesday night saw me picking up the last few necessary ingredients and doing all the food prep I could possibly do. I baked the cookies, made the salsa, and blind-baked the crust for the quiche as well as all the other slicing and dicing possible–storing most things in quart-sized baggies, some in recycled take-out soup containers–short of actually cutting the avocados. Since they brown so easily, it was enough to get everything else done so that the next night would just be a matter of assembly and final cooking.

What 5 hours of concerted effort looks like.

What 5 hours of concerted effort looks like.

Wednesday night I chopped about a dozen avocados (my success rate for cleanly getting the pits out of the avocado halves is about 1 in 3 at this point). I started the quiche in the oven, set up the rice cooker (one less thing to monitor over doing it on the stove), and got the blender and food processor going. As soon as the quiche came out the turkey sliders went into the oven and as each item was completed, it could immediate go out into the serving area. Because I’d decided where and on what each item would go the night(s) before, there was no mad scramble at the end to make everything fit. By the time most of our guests arrived at 7:30, I was simply waiting for the sliders to finish as Todd put the cookies out and I mixed the veggies and dressing in with the finished rice.

I hope everyone's hungry!

I hope everyone’s hungry!

We sampled:


  • Avocado Quiche Lorraine (p.41)
    So incredibly rich; I used a pre-made gluten-free pie crust and subbed plain Greek-style yogurt for the heavy cream. The latter reduced the lactose-load, making it more Low-FODMAP friendly. It did take a bit longer to bake than the recipe specified, but that could be partially because I’d mixed the filling the night before and it was still a bit chilly when it went into the oven.


  • Avocado Super Food Smoothie (p. 46)
    The serving size said “2” and since I wasn’t really sure how big the servings were I prepped a double batch just to be on the safe side. One batch was plenty as it made an entire blender-full, but the extra has not gone to waste. I’ve been sipping on it as an after-work “snack” as well as subbing it for my usual breakfast oatmeal once or twice. It was a big hit with our guests, too! (And subbing cane syrup for the honey/agave nectar was an ideal Low-FODMAP solution, though I’d bet you could leave it out entirely and not be disappointed in the smoothie one bit.)


  • Bacon-Cotija Guacamole (p.55)
    Oh, man. Bacon, cheese, and avocados–there is nothing whatsoever wrong with that combination! This is a hearty guacamole that is so good I’ve found I can only eat a little of it at a time. Like really good chocolate or really rich ice cream. A little goes a long way, even though you don’t want to walk away from it for a moment.


  • Avocado Kopanisti (p.67)
    One of the ladies I’d invited doesn’t eat pork, so I wanted to make sure I had a alternative dip and this feta and roasted red bell pepper concoction really fit the bill. Not only did it offer a change in flavor from the usual guacamole, it also offered a change in color as well. Since the recipe calls for both fresh garlic and olive oil, I substituted garlic-infused oil to get the flavor across without pushing this into High-FODMAP territory.


  • Crab & Avocado Quesadilla (p.103)
    While I know everyone liked these, they were what I ended up with the most of as leftovers and let me tell you I am not complaining! Since there were already green onions in this recipe, I skipped the red onion entirely and used brown rice tortillas instead of flour. I’d heard some not-so-great things about the brown rice wraps in general, but I think for something like quesadillas they worked perfectly and, as a bonus, they stayed crisp even after being refrigerated (which made the leftovers all the easier to munch on). Served with the Tomatillo-Avocado Salsa (p.66) they were both bright and rich, a perfect combination. And the salsa? I’ve been noshing on that all weekend with chips, it might just be my new favorite thing.


  • Cheese-Bellied Guacamole Turkey Burger (p.138)
    Can I just say that I love the phrase “cheese-bellied”?! It’s such a fun alternative to the usual stuffed burgers, and fun food is half the battle, sometimes. Anyway, these spicy burgers (which I made slider-size to continue our tapas-esque offerings) get a cooling assist via some of the Bacon-Cotija Guacamole on top. I served them with a tiny crouton of toasted gluten-free bread to keep them just this side of mini-meatball territory. And while the recipe calls for garlic salt, I just used a couple of pinches of Kosher salt and some garlic-infused oil–with lean turkey meat I’ve found you’re going to want a bit of additional fat anyway.


  • Vegetarian Avocado Sushi Bowl (p.175)
    Studded with veggies and tossed with a slightly sweet dressing (again, cane syrup for the honey is a great Low-FODMAP option, or you could use maple syrup–it could definitely hold it’s own with the gf tamari, rice vinegar, and sesame oil), this made a great option for something more filling, along the lines of the quiche, but without the pesky animal proteins–always good to have a veggie option on hand, after all. About the only thing I might have done differently (and will, if I make this again) is to add a chiffonade of nori on top, just to bring the sushi vibe home. Alas, this was also the one dish that just didn’t hold up quite so well as leftovers. (Still tasty, just not quite as pretty to look at the next day.)


  • Avocado Chocolate Chip Cookies (p.178)
    How could I not include a dessert item made with avocados?! I was a little apprehensive about this one at the beginning: the creamed butter, sugar, and avocado was a rather icky greyish green color, but as the rest of the ingredients went in the color lightened until there was just the barest tint in the finished dough and none whatsoever in the baked cookies. Chilling is super-important for this dough and even then was very sticky. My usual Low-FODMAP flour blend and 3/4 tsp of xanthum gum worked perfectly in these cookies and the avocado (in place of a good portion of the butter) made for dense, moist cookies that everyone absolutely adored.


While my friends began to nibble on all of the above, I got to work on our cocktail of the night. I teased a picture of it on Friday’s Sips column, but here’s the full scoop. It’s the love child of a margarita and a mojito, which I call…

The Guajito

1-2 sprigs Cilantro
pinch Kosher Salt
pinch Raw Sugar
5-6 cubes Avocado
1/2 oz Piedra Azul Blanco Tequila
3 oz Lemon-flavored Sparkling Soda

In the bottom of a low-ball or stemless wine glass muddle the cilantro, salt, sugar, and avocado pieces enough to break up the avocado and release some of the oils from the cilantro. Fill the glass 3/4 full of ice, pour in the tequila and soda and stir to combine. You may want to serve with a spoon so that your guests can make sure not to miss the avocadoey goodness submersed in the drink.


Because it was a weeknight and the ladies would be driving home (eventually–we went a full hour over our usual time) and we all had to work the next morning, I wanted a cocktail that had the warmth of a traditional margarita but would still be light enough that no one had to worry about a hangover. The Piedra Azul Blanco is assertive enough to not be missed, even though it’s the smaller of the two liquids in the drink. The soda I used is lightly sweetened with cane sugar (no High-Fructose Corn Syrup here!) and was light and refreshing. I would not suggest using the usual lemon-line sodas for this, it would be too cloying; go for something a little nicer and you’ll be well-rewarded.

Time absolutely flew by! We must have spent at least an hour eating, drinking, and chatting before putting the movie on amd doing a bit of crafting. Before we knew it, it was 10:30!  Some doggie-bags were made and I wished my friends a contented “good night and drive safe” before teaming up with Todd (okay, he did most of the heavy-lifting) to un-wreck the kitchen. Finishing 8 dishes in 2 hours makes for a bit of a mess, but thankfully it only looked bad. No one was up til the wee hours scrubbing and polishing anything, I promise!

Thank you, Piedra Azul for sponsoring our little Avocado-Fest 2013!

Low-FODMAP Pineapple Salsa


I was expecting company last week and had meant to do some baking but the week had just gone from hectic to all-out-insane and I just couldn’t summon the will to turn on the oven. Still, I wanted to offer my guests something so I figured I’d just pick up some nice cheese on the way home and call it done.

Until, that is, I got a hankering for something a little more tropical and came up with this:


Low-FODMAP Pineapple Salsa

1 c diced tomatoes
1 c diced pineapples
1/2 c sliced green onion tops
1/4 c chopped cilantro*
juice of 1 lime
salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients and mix well. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or until ready to serve. Good for about 3 days or so.

If you like more heat in your salsa you can, by all means, add a diced jalapeno or other peppers to the mix. Not knowing the heat tolerance of my guests and wanting something a bit on the milder side I left it out. And if you’re in a hurry, many of these items can be found in your local grocery store already chopped and ready to go!

I served it with tortilla chips, of course, but the leftovers made amazing nachos with a bit of shredded cheese and some avocado crema on top!

*Cilatro or Culantro?

When I was picking up said supplies, I needed some cilantro but didn’t really want to buy an entire bunch as I knew most of it would likely go to waste. Dried wasn’t really an option for this sort of preparation, so I was looking among the smaller packages up on the top shelf and found a pouch of Culantro which I mistook for cilantro until I noticed the leaves were actually long, flat blades about an inch wide or so. The packaging mentioned that it had the same flavor as culantro but was hardier–making it a better crop for gardens and a better staple in the fridge.

Preparing this for the salsa I noticed the same taste and flavor as cilantro but the texture was incredibly different. It was more of  a crisp leaf that shattered almost as much as it sliced, and had a crunchiness almost like bay leaves. Still, sliced thin enough and once it’s macerated a bit with the pineapple et al. it’s perfectly fine.

Giving Thanks for Resourcefulness


Our oven quit 3 hours before dinner on Thanksgiving day.

Oh, yes, friends, it was one of those holidays.

Strange thing is, the oven worked fine that morning. I’d gotten up in time to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade as I prepped the sweet potato pie, cornbread for dressing, and chicken stock (also for the dressing).

About noon I was done with my prep (dinner wasn’t until 5:30, so we had plenty of time) and shut off the oven.

I kinda wish I’d kept it on for those 3 hours, maybe then Todd wouldn’t have had to “bake” the corn casserole and rolls on our propane grill.

Todd using the gas grill as an improptu oven on Thanksgiving

And I wouldn’t have had dressing cooked on some antiquated cross between a hot plate and a crock pot.

But at least our turkey goes into a counter-top roaster oven (leaving the oven free–in this case free and clear to up and die) so that wasn’t a problem.

Though, in a very strange twist of fate the top of the bird was registering done after 1 1/2 hours but when we went to carve it the thighs–the part of the bird closest to the heating elements–was still underdone. Still haven’t figured out the how on that one, but a few minutes in the microwave solved that one pretty quick.

So this year’s Thanksgiving was a true learning experience. Here are some tips I thought I’d pass along:

  1. If you make Alton Brown’s Sweet Potato Pie, don’t use Greek-style yogurt, it’ll be too strong.
  2. But if you do, a slice warmed and served a la mode (with or without Torani Pumpkin Pie Syrup) will still taste just fine and dandy.
  3. If you run out of vanilla and the stores are closed, both vanilla rum and vanilla vodka made quick substitutes.
  4. Make sure to remove both the giblets packet AND the neck from the cavity of the turkey (I caught the error before we put the turkey in to roast).
  5. You can use your propane grill as an impromptu oven, but you might want to prop your casserole dish up on a couple of bricks to allow air to circulate under the dish, too. (If not you’ll end up with a more-than-toasted bottom of the casserole, but it did give it a nice grilled-corn flavor!).
  6. You can also finish dressing in a slow-cooker/hot-plate sort of device, just don’t expect the top to get all nice and brown (seriously, I don’t know what this contraption of Todd’s is, but it worked and that’s all that counts).
  7. Counter-top roasters are the bomb for speed-roasting a turkey. (That’s not new, but still true.)
  8. Placing a towel under the cutting board when carving the turkey may not be enough–you might want to tuck one into the cabinet door below the counter and let it rest on the floor. Just be happy you have a juicy turkey.

And if you have a doggie guest for Thanksgiving, don’t be surprised if they offer to “mop” the floor under the carving station for you. Molly was committed to getting that floor spotless 😉

We also tried a new hors d’oeuvres this year for pre-dinner noshing.

Apples on Horseback appetizer

I could swear I got an email last week with a recipe for apples on horseback (either that or I totally misread Angels on Horseback and hallucinated the rest of the article). When I couldn’t find my reference email, I decided to just go with it.

Apples on Horseback

3 Apples, small to medium-sized
18 cheese cubes
12 slices thin bacon, cut into 3rds

Quarter and core the apples and then slice each apple into thirds, lengthwise. You should have 36 apple slices.

Slice each cheese cube in half. I used a combo of pepper-jack and colby-jack (what I had on hand) and the pepper-jack makes for a decidedly spicier end product, but either are tasty ways to go.

Pair up an apple slice and a bit of cheese and wrap with the piece of bacon. You don’t want thick bacon here as it’ll take too long to cook. Dividing each slice in thirds (I just slice through the whole package, makes it easier) means this recipe takes just under a pound of bacon.

Broil the packets until the bacon is crisp on top. Some of the cheese will cook out, but enough will be left behind to lend flavor.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

This was, incidentally, the step in the days process that showed the oven for the fickle fiend it is. It had worked fine that morning to bake pie and cornbread, and I’d turned it off by noon. Come around 3:30 and I guess it resented being woken from its nap or something, as it refused to heat/broil/or do anything of use.

Thankfully we have a toaster oven. If it had been larger we could have cooked the casseroles in it, but it’s on the smaller side (just large enough for 2 hamburger buns, split, to give you a mental picture). It took 3 batches to finish the apples, but it got the job done.

Once we found counter space for everything and sat down to eat the rest of the evening went as usual. Everyone eats, we settle in to watch a movie (The Avengers, this year), and someone makes a goofy comment or 2 that has us laughing days later.

That someone is usually Mom.

It’s good to have traditions.