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Pot Lucky: Food on a Stick Edition

Pot Lucky: Food on a Stick Edition

Food on a Stick

I probably say this every Pot Lucky – but the stick party was the best ever. Food on a stick! Skewered anything! Skewered everything! Kicked up Shish Kabobs……Swish Kabobs! It was the perfect storm of a late summer night with stunning weather, a beautiful pool patio with gorgeous gardens, amazing guests ready to have fun, and a commitment from people to bring their culinary A-game to the table. Literally – to the table. 

Limoncello Sparklers

Special cocktail: Limoncello Sparkler. Add lemon seltzer and Prosecco to Limoncello and garnish with mint and lemon slices.

Pot Luckys, for the uninformed, are my spin on the dreaded (to me at least) pot luck. The emphasis is on the Lucky. Menus are curated around a theme and the goal is to avoid supermarket fare stored in the office desk drawer all the damn day. Don’t think you are fooling anyone by using a frilly pick. That does NOT make it special. I’m on to you. I know, I know. Not everyone that you want to invite is game for this, but there are so many ways for all to participate. Pot Luckys are always about the food, in this case the Swish Kabob, but since there was a lovely pool patio I layered luau onto the theme. That left room for people who don’t cook to get excited about leis. I mean who doesn’t love that?  The order went out to don trop frocks and the crew did not disappoint. From banana slippers to tiki attire, it was a colorful group.

Trop Frocks

Atmosphere was easy to come by. Between the host’s inflatable shark raft and my 4 zillion floating flip flop candles the pool was set. Lights in trees, colorful cloths, lots of flowers and a few banana leaves and you have yourself a party. 

Setting the Table

I always supply “placecards” to let guests write their own title on the dish. While I use this app to track the menu and help guests decide on a dish not already claimed, there are always last minute changes. Best to let guests create their own card on arrival. This time I slapped on a few stickers from a crazy stash that I had apparently hoarded. Who knew I was long in tropical stickers? I also ordered an inexpensive photo booth kit of tiki props from Amazon, which made taking photos a lot of fun. 

Hula in the House

We’ve done about a dozen Pot Luckys so far with a good list of more to come. Some of my favorites include the salad paloozafajitas, sliders, and a nautical theme. For details on how to host your own, link here. Depending on the party (8 kinds of meatloaf or 6 flavors of soup), you can plan on leftovers for your freezer. But for other themes, like Swish Kabobs, you can expect the pineapple to get licked right off the dish, with nothing but amazing memories (and possibly a few compromising photos) to take away.  

Food on a Stick

Shrimp, Chicken and Watermelon with Feta

Tropical Shrimp on a stick; Chicken Satay on a stick with peanut sauce; Watermelon, Feta  & Mint on a stick with a Balsamic glaze.

There are no rules on how to put food on a stick and though I provided a few menu ideas for each category (apps, sides, mains, desserts), I also sent people off to google food on a stick. Pinterest has its share of ideas. If it looks tricky, it might not hurt to give it a test run. I find that the online photos that have their subject carefully laying down might be displayed this way due to precarious skewerability. That’s a word, right? If the photo shows the skewers upright and poked into a watermelon or pineapple or someone holding them, that’s a safe bet. I hope my guests know by now that I appreciate the effort as much as the success. Not all things turn out, but they are always tasty…A+ for effort, and I love their enthusiasm for trying something new. I had an Italian cooking teacher who always said, “That’s the way we like it!” in reference to any dish and any outcome. Applause. Applause.

Greek Salad and Chicken & Waffles

Greek Salad on a stick; Chicken & Waffles on a stick.

Some dishes were cooked or prepared separately and then assembled and some were cooked on the skewers. Don’t forget to soak your skewers if you are going to grill them. Also some had a single portion with a lot of skewer showing, appetizer-style, and some were loaded end to end, entree-style. Variety is the spice of life. 

Antipasti, Brats & Corn

Antipasti on a stick; Hatch Chili Brats & Spiced Potatoes on a stick; Corn Cobbettes on a stick.

I often have Pot Luckys where the cooking happens on the scene, like pizzas or burgers. This time I asked for the food to be ready-to-serve since it wasn’t my house. Either way you need to be clear about expectations. Let your guests know that quantity is not a concern, because there are so many dishes from which to choose. I try to give a head count as a guideline, but know that not all guests will try each dish, especially when you have 20 items. And then there are those who will try every single one and then some. Why are you looking at me? It’s my job.  

caprese, grilled peaches & mozzarella, pineapple chicken on a stick

Caprese Salad on a stick; Grilled Peaches with Basil & Fresh Mozzarella on a stick; Pineapple Coconut Lime Shrimp on a stick.

Flank Steak, Veg Kabob, Pork Wings, Pork Belly with Avo

Flank Steak on a stick; Summer Squash & Red Skins on a stick; Pork Wings on a stick: Pork Belly, Pineapple, and Avo on a stick.

One brave guest rolled his own sushi and popped that on a stick. Kind of perfect! And what you see below is not any old fruit kabob. Oh, no! This fruit – mango, pineapple, fresh cherries and Moon Drop grapes – has had a little boozy bath before being skewered. 

Boozy Fruit and Sushi on a Stick

Sushi on a stick; Boozy Fruit on a stick.

Special props to the ladies who went the extra mile to fill the challenging dessert category. I wasn’t sure if we would get any takers on dessert, but two brave souls stepped up to the challenge with tremendous success! Three flavors of ice cream pops and mini blueberry pies on a stick. So creative, so beautiful, and so tasty. A real crowd-pleaser!! 

Ice Cream Pops on a Stick

Ice Cream Pops on a stick: Pineapple/Kiwi/Coconut; Brownie/Pecan; Strawberry/Blueberry.

I love that some of the blueberry pie-ettes were made using a Michigan-shaped pastry cutter. We call ourselves the Mitten State. So, these are officially “Hand” Pies!! Yum!

Blueberry Hand Pies

Blueberry Hand Pies on a stick – get it? Michigan mitten-shaped, aka “Hand”, pies!
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Greek Salad Salad on a Stick: marinated cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, feta and black olives on a white tray with fresh thyme

Food on a Stick: Greek Salad

  • Author: Katy Keck
  • Total Time: 30 minutes
  • Yield: 32 skewers 1x


Greek salad on a stick is a quick and easy solution when you need an hors d’oeuvre to go. Prep the ingredients ahead, and marinate the Feta up to overnight. About 20 minutes before you are ready to assemble, marinate the vegetables. Once assembled, these will keep in the fridge for several hours. 



For skewers:

  • 8-ounce package of Feta (chunk or block, not crumbles or cubes)
  • 4 mini cucumbers (8 ounces)
  • 32 cherry tomatoes, assorted colors
  • 32 oil-cured, pitted olives
  • 32 bamboo skewers

For marinades:

  • Olive oil
  • Lemon juice
  • Fresh herbs: chives, thyme, oregano
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Coarse sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper


Marinate the Feta:

Slice the block of Feta in half, creating a top half and bottom half. Cut each section in 4 x 4 sections, resulting in 32 pieces of Feta. Transfer to a mixing bowl and drizzle lightly with olive oil and a squeeze of lemon. Season with chopped chives and red pepper flakes, to taste. Set aside for 20 to 30 minutes, up to overnight. 

Marinate the vegetables:

Trim off the ends of the mini cucumbers, and slice each one into 8 slices. Slice the stem end off each cherry tomato and using a small knife or spoon (I like to use a strawberry huller), cut out the ribs and seeds from the tomatoes. The tomatoes will serve as a cup to keep the Feta intact.  Place the cucumbers and tomatoes in a small bowl and drizzle with olive oil, enough to coat, and a squeeze of lemon. Season with fresh thyme, chopped oregano, sea salt and black pepper.  Marinate for 20 to 30 minutes only. 

Assemble the skewers:

Skewer the cucumber slice (lollipop-style), a tomato (open end up), a piece of Feta (pressed down into the tomato), and an olive. Repeat using up all the ingredients. Refrigerate until serving and sprinkle with salt and pepper before serving. 

  • Prep Time: 30 minutes
  • Category: Salad
  • Method: No Cook
  • Cuisine: Greek

Keywords: Greek Salad, Food on a Stick, Kabobs

Food on a Stick Finale

Thanks to all my Pot Lucky-ers for continuing on this journey and being intrepid voyagers. Are you game to try your hand at a Pot Lucky? Let me know how it goes, tag me with #PotLucky  & #PalatePassionPurpose and as always, I love to get your comments below. 

Ice Cream Pops

Michigan Mitten Hand Pies

© Copyright: KatyKeck.com 2018. All rights reserved.


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Passion & Purpose: Laughing Tree Bakery

Passion & Purpose: Laughing Tree Bakery

Proofing Dough in Baskets


Hands. As in hard working hands. Hands is the word that immediately springs to mind after spending a morning in rural Michigan somewhere near Hart. (“We could give you an address, but we’re not really on the map – this will get you pretty close”, I was told.) Hand-built, hand-mixed, hand-folded, hand-formed…made by hand. Until my visit, I thought I had some idea about what bread baking involved. But when I entered the hand-built bakery with hand-made brick oven at Laughing Tree, it was clear I did not. Not like this, anyway. There were no mixers, no rack ovens, no utility lines. Charlie and Hilde Muller have brought their off-the-grid sensibilities that are the basis of their home life to the bread baking business. Solar panels power the very few electric appliances – mainly refrigeration and presumably a couple of lights needed for 2am baking – and hardwood cut-offs, milled locally and the remnants of local pallet making, fire the oven. Laughing Tree Bakery is the only 100% solar-powered commercial kitchen in the state of Michigan.

Charlie & Hilde Muller at the Muskegon Farmers\' Market

While Laughing Tree Bakery has only been around since 2010, Charlie, a veteran of the Peace Corps,  and Hilde have been baking bread – first separately, now together – since the 90s, first crossing paths in Ypsilanti. Hilde eventually found herself at the legendary Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor, but not before popping in on the Depot Town Sourdough Bakery in Ypsilanti to see what was happening. Charlie, having baked his way from one coast to the other, was then the head baker at Depot. Along his journey, Charlie had the very good fortune of working with the legendary Alan Scott, artisan of the brick oven.  When the Mullers finally found land where they could build a house and set up their own bakehouse, Alan’s design became the cornerstone of the kitchen. Charlie’s hand-built brick oven uses wood-fired heat captured by 15,000 pounds of masonry to create a radiant environment. This special design results in even heat so critical for creating loaves with “crusty, crackly exteriors and moist, perfectly textured interiors”. The vaulted arch with a low ceiling is important for bread production, so that the top of the bread is closer to the radiating masonry above for even baking and so that the steam is kept close to the bread, aiding in crust formation.

Charlie Muller with a peel in front of the wood fired oven

The commitment to sustainability and attention to detail does not of course stop with design. Over the years, they have sourced like-minded farmers that produce certified organic grains and flours: Central Milling, Natural Way Mills, and Ferris Organic Farm, a Michigan-based mill. Many of the breads are loaded with add-ins – sesames, flax, sunflowers, raisins, walnuts, Sunspire chocolate chips – also all organic.  All but one of their eleven weekly breads – Oceana, a yeast dough named after their home county – are sourdough. Charlie mixes all the doughs, and I was surprised to see, all by hand in large tubs. Sourdough is a very wet, slack dough, and his is made simply from flour, well water, salt and a starter. And unlike yeast-risen doughs that require kneading to develop the glutens, this dough is bulk-fermented and quietly folded several times over several hours. Mind blown.  

Charlie Mixing the sourdough by hand


Dumping the DoughRather than develop glutens, fermentation in fact is the key to breaking them down. The yeast and bacteria present in the sourdough starter transform the grains into digestible material. Hilde told me that “this is the process that makes gluten digestible for most. It is essentially a pre-digestion process.  A healthy sourdough can have as many as 14 different yeast strains and multiple bacterial strains.  In a commercially made yeasted loaf, only one strain of yeast is present and no bacteria.” 

Slacking Olive Dough

Resting Dough at Laughing Tree BakeryProofing Baskets on a baker\'s rack at Laughing TreeSaturday is Market Day for the Mullers, but the process for the next week starts again pretty much as soon as the last loaf is sold. It’s a continuous flow. If you have never been on the line in a commercial kitchen, you may not have a sense of the intricacy of kitchen timing. There, unlike in a kitchen using a wood-fired bread oven, we can easily turn up/down the gas with the flick of a wrist, and there are a lot of precise ways to determine temperature. At Laughing Tree, it is more art than science. The oven is fired over several days, long before baking commences, and only then the dance begins to bake the right things at the right time and at the right temp. During the stoking time, Charlie spends Wednesday weighing all the ingredients and add-ins and prepping the baskets. Meanwhile, Hilde is in charge of pastry recipes and production, wholesale accounts, orders, packaging, communications, scheduling and managing the staff. Charlie then spends Thursday mixing, folding, shaping and proofing. By Friday when the temperature has dropped from a peak of perhaps 1100oF to roughly 650oF, it’s time to start baking bread. The cold loaves from the overnight in-basket proofing are transferred to a peel and pushed onto the hot hearth. (All signs of fire have now been swept away.) Charlie generally can get in 8 oven-loads of 30-50 loaves each between 6am and 2pm before the temp gets down into cookie-baking range. Two or 3 oven-loads of Hilde’s cookies later (about 300 cookies), and it’s time to re-stoke the fire. After once again reaching a sufficiently hot temperature, the oven is ready for four evening loads of bread. Most of the bread baking is done on Friday most of the year. However, during summer markets and the very fabulous sandwich stand in the Muskegon Market (stall #9 – run Forest run – from June til the end of this month), sandwich loaves are baked on Thursday so they are cool enough to slice. And if you aren’t tired yet, the Mullers are popping three rounds of scones in on Saturday morning around 2:30 am while packing up the van for the markets. Then – finally – the last remaining bit of heat is used the following Monday to bake off Hilde’s granola and brownies when the temperature has cooled down to 325oF. Applause! Applause!! Applause!!

It’s a Family Affair

Don’t think that Charlie and Hilde are doing this alone.

Alida Muller, laughing tree bakery helperThis is Alida, age 3, and I have to say she was a fine helper the day that I visited. I have seen firsthand what happens when she uses her deft hand to dust the loaves with the final sprinkle of rice flour. While she doesn’t have an official loaf, the Honey Oat Loaf is called Rosie’s Honey Oat, after her nickname. Finn, age 11, is the namesake for Finn’s Pecan Raisin Pecan, chocked full or pecans and organic raisins. And Annie’s Raisin Spice, made with a Michigan-grown whole wheat, is named after the Muller’s 8-year-old. There is a very special Pilgrim Rye that honors the legacy of the angel baby Pippin Muller, who would be 5 now. His name is a shortened version of Peregrine, which shares a Latin root with Pilgrim.

The passion for bread and baking and having a low impact on the world around them has transcended generations and gives this family purpose and a shared sense of responsibility. It is easy to see – and taste – the commitment they all have in sharing their passion with others. It was Charlie’s grandmother that said when the winds are blowing the trees are laughing. I can’t speak for the trees, but the Elbridge  Parmesan Olive Loaf sure puts a smile on my face.

What Makes Our Breads Unique - farmers market sign with Charlie Muller

Where to Find Laughing Tree Bakery Treats

Laughing Tree Bakery breads are available in several farmer’s markets on Saturdays: Grand Haven (through October) and Sweetwater and Muskegon Markets (year-round). In addition, you can find them at Gala Gourmet (Newago), Healthy Pantry (Whitehall), Montague Foods (Montague), The Cheese Lady Muskegon (holiday schedule), Hansen Foods (Hart), and Health Hutt (Muskegon). To get on the mailing list for weekly updates of varieties and schedules, send an email to [email protected].

Hiilde on the Line at Laughing Tree Farmer\'s Market stand


Sandwich Stand at the Muskegon Farmers Market

Every summer until the last days of September, the Mullers set up an impressive stand (Stall 9) at the Muskegon Farmers Market. I think we have already established my profound desire over all things grilled cheese – it doesn’t hurt that this is called Grilled Cheese Charlie – but also not to be missed are Suzie’s Voracious Veggie, Market Day Reuben, and Morris Avenue Ham Slam. The Mullers make their own sauces and source organic toppings like sauerkraut and kimchi from fellow vendors in the market.

Reuben sandwich hot off the grill at farmers market

Big Bite of Laughing Tree breads Rueben Sandwich

Grilled Cheese & Tomato on Third Coast Three Seed

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Grilled Cantelet, Chipotle Fig Spread & Pear on Three Coast Three Seed

Laughing Tree Bakery Grilled Cantalet, Chipotle Fig Spread, and Pear Sandwich

  • Author: Katy Keck
  • Total Time: 10 minutes
  • Yield: 1 sandwich


I love choosing a nice chewy sourdough like Three Coast Three Seed Loaf from Laughing Tree Bakery and stuffing it full of cantalet, sliced pears and a healthy dose of chipotle fig spread. This cheese is a great melter and the bread becomes a golden crusty wrap. 


  • Butter
  • Sourdough bread, sliced (Laughing Tree’s Three Coast Three Seed is a winner!)
  • Cantalet or melting cheese, sliced
  • Chipotle Fig Marinade, used as a spread
  • Firm pear, thinly sliced


Melt 1 Tablespoon butter in a sauté pan.

Spread one slice of bread with chipotle fig marinade and place slice, along with a second slice in pan, over medium heat.  

Layer slices of cheese and pear on both sides and cook until melted.  When cheese is melted and bread golden, flip one slice onto the other. Transfer to a cutting board and cut in half. 


Cantalet is one of France’s oldest cheeses. Produced in the Auvergne Valley and dating to Roman times, Cantalet is a firm, creamy, mild but nutty cow’s milk cheese. Try any melting cheese you like, but this one pairs nicely with the chipotle, fig and pears already in play.

If you don’t have any chipotle fig marinade on hand, use any prepared fig spread

  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 5 minutes

Grilled Cantelet, Chipotle Fig Spread & Pear on Three Coast Three Seed

© Copyright: KatyKeck.com 2017. All rights reserved.

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Chipotle Fig Glazed Chicken & Fajita Fiesta – Olé!

Chipotle Fig Glazed Chicken & Fajita Fiesta – Olé!

Hand holding a fig marinated chicken fajita with avocado, garnished with lime and cilantro

If it’s summer, it’s grilling time and what better way to get a little entertaining help than a Pot Lucky. After the success of last year’s Slider Grill-a-thon, I picked Fajita Fiesta for a theme.  I also had a brand new jar of Balsamic Pepper Fig Spread land on my doorstep and immediately thought of chipotle. To be specific, Chipotle Fig Glazed Chicken Thighs! Are you feeling me? On a grilled tortilla with some refried beans, maybe a little guacamole, pineapple salsa, cilantro sprigs and perhaps a grilled veg or two?  Well don’t stop there! We got so many wonderful contributions that the pairings and combos of flavors were virtually endless.

Margaritas in a large jar

But let’s get this party started properly. Normally my potlucks are a BYO event (leaving me time to focus energy on coordinating culinary contributions, trying to weed out duplicates). But this time one couple decided to bring her dad’s signature and award-winning margarita in lieu of food. Score! They also brought that darling baby that appears further down this post. The cocktail recipe itself is a secret, but I have it on good authority that there is a certain blue collar beer in the mix. Nobody seemed to remember Hop Skip & Go Naked, but that was one of my earliest (college) blender memories. Starting with frozen lemon or limeade, all other “liquids” added used the juice-can-as-measure technique. Beer was definitely in the mix. Anybody?

Dinner\'s Done - condiments for fajita party - lime, guacamole, cilantro, sour cream, queso, salsa served on a serape

Readers have asked how to host a Pot Lucky, as I have taken to calling the Curated Pot Luck. ICYMI, I have a deep-seeded fear of pot lucks. Shivvvvvvvvvvver. One too many frilly picks atop Velveeta cubes atop Slim Jims. True fact: I ate that last summer. I was THAT hungry. So it occurred to me a couple years ago to help people help themselves. By creating a theme (which makes it easier for guests to focus on their contribution to the menu), suggesting categories, and having a Sign Up for Your Dish List, you can create an amazing feast.  We’re pushing our tenth Pot Lucky, all covered in this blog, but a few of my favorites are sliders, pizza, meatloaf, and nautical style.  Like any good mother, I can’t really choose.

Here’s the 101 Crash Course on how to host a Pot Lucky. Doubtless there will be additional thoughts coming in subsequent posts, but let’s start with the basics.

The 411 on Pot Lucky 101

Like most things in life, the devil is in the details, and I am a firm believer in plan, plan, planning. Make a master list for any gathering and create sections for who is coming, what they are bringing, your shopping, prep, and set up.

Create a Theme

Creating a theme to curate your Pot Luck around is step one to giving menu directions. This is the best possible insurance against Velveeta with a frilly pick on a Slim Jim. Because unless your theme is Junk Food (I actually did that theme for a Chefs’ Night Out after the James Beard Awards, because let’s get real – that’s what chefs crave) or White Trash, there is a high likelihood you can avoid this culinary treasure. I have done sausage making, pizza toppings, soup swaps, sliders, nautically themed, Thanksgiving family treasures, meat loaf and more. What about a clam bake? Salad Palooza (my next Pot Lucky), American BBQ classics, fondue, Chinese New Year’s, Indian street food? So many possibilities.

Who is Game?

Most times when you entertain, the cast of characters is pre-ordained. An office party? Family gathering? School reunion? But if this is just a time to pull folks together around this menu, consider who would enjoy it. I’m all about being inclusive and fully believe everyone can whip together something using ready-made components – I have offered to give tutorials to those that might feel a teeny twinge of stress over this – but what you don’t want is take-out. That is a whole other party. Calvin Trillin used to host an annual dinner in NYC to benefit the NY Public Library and he had minions scattered all over Chinatown to scoop up and swoop in with military precision, delivering NY’s Best Chinese Take Out.

Look for people that think this is fun. It might not be everyone you know, but you might be surprised how many people jump on the bandwagon and show up with papier mâché marionettes wearing sombreros.  Be prepared to yield a wide berth for exceptions and provide a hall pass to anyone happy to pitch in in other ways. Do you do dishes? You are absolutely most welcome!

Set Expectations

I always provide detailed descriptions of the evening’s flow from arrival time to what to bring (already plated with serving spoon).  I also like to include a list of everything I am providing.  And then I plan for contingencies for that one person that shows up with the bowl, the ice, the cocktail sauce and no shrimp. I might not have shrimp to make that dish whole, but I will have a backup appetizer to fill the void.  A day or two before, I provide a general head count for everyone so they know how much to bring. Nobody has to make enough to feed the total crowd because there will be so much food. 2 or 3 cups of a salsa goes a long way when sprinkled on a fajita. But I usually specify quantity on proteins (2-3 pounds each for the fajita mains; 2 dozen 2-ounce sliders for the burger party) and ask the people bringing lower priced or less time-intensive items to bring 2 or 3 items. And, some Pot Luckys are geared toward sharing the food beyond the night. So make sure folks bring containers to nab portions of the many meatloaves that were sampled, but not finished.   

Provide Sample Menu with Categories

I put some time into coming up with categories and then list a smattering of ideas under each category.  Don’t assign particular dishes to guests, unless it’s their signature and you must have it (Deb’s shrimp burger as a slider is an example.)  Everyone comes from different places – work, home, yet another soccer game – so let them figure out what they are comfortable with making that fits their skills, palate, schedule, and budget.

Track the Menu

As much as I would like to say your job is done, I want you to avoid the all-pork-tenderloin dinner party. Every Pot Lucky has one item that is the highly coveted I MUST MAKE THAT. For fajitas, it was pork tenderloin. By asking guests to reply to you directly (no need to clog everyone’s inbox), you can track what is already taken. And if you got this email and want to bring one particular thing, reply ASAP!! You can also set up a private event page online and let people sift through all the comments to see what is already nabbed, or better yet, use an app that tracks commitments by whatever categories you specify.

Set the Table

Whether the event is at my house, on a boat, or at the park, I always pack extra serving spoons and forks, some condiments and seasonings, and plates, silverware, and napkins.  For smaller groups, it may be a sit down with linens and table décor. For portable events, I try to consolidate, but still throw in a tablecloth and a pot of herbs for décor. Sometimes people show up with their own decor ideas, and you might turn around to find a prayer candle for the Virgin of Guadalupe and a big sombrero right where you left your chip basket. Get creative, but be organized with a master list of what you will need.

Organize Arriving Food 

Once the food starts arriving, try to categorize it by how it will be used. For pizzas, that means putting all the sauces in one area, the cheeses in another, the scattering-type toppings in yet a third. For fajitas, put the tortillas at one end of the table and the cilantro sprigs at the other. This is your chance to be restaurateur for the day, so make a plan to lay out all contributions in a logical order. There may be some things that are for noshing now, so you can stage them in a separate area to clear space for working and setting up your buffet.

Be Flexible

This is like point number 7 on every Girl Scout badge – after Be Prepared, there is Be Flexible. Even the best planning will go off the rails at some point or in some way, but just roll with it. Extra people? No problem because I have extra plates! Forgot your spoon? Got it handled – because I pulled out extras. Didn’t read the part about having the soups to swap in individual containers for take away? Done and done! We will wash all the containers from the tasting portion and repackage with the soup that needs to be portioned.  At the end of the day, this is a party and the only rule is to have fun. Be inclusive. Be gracious. Share! Generosity of spirit covers a multitude of mistakes (that nobody but you needs know about).

Zero Footprint

Let’s leave this place better than we found it.  That goes for the host and also the participants. Whether the party is in your own home, someone else’s or at the park, enlist help to return to pre-party conditions. Too often we don’t want to break the spell by doing the mundane, but many hands make light work. Don’t be a martyr – this is a community party so it’s a great time to get some extra hands to hand back platters and serving utensils, pack up the dirty things and make a trip to the recycle bin. That leaves you free to wake up tomorrow and bask in the memory of a great party, not to face a mound o’ mess!  

Meanwhile back at the fiesta….

here are some of the amazing dishes that arrived for the Fajita Fiesta. One section of the table was reserved for the more app-type contributions to nosh on while the grill was firing up – chips & salsas: pineapple, pico and mango, and guacamole. 

Pineapple Salsa in a pineapple half, on a pewter tray shaped like a pineapple

And there were so many toppings, among them grilled onions, squashes, and peppers. Pickled and fresh jalapenos, cilantro & lime, tomatoes, scallions, lettuce & arugula, sautéed mushrooms.  Oh my! Cheeses ranged from goat to queso fresco, and Monterey Jack to habanero cheddar. Corn and flour tortillas were given a quick pass on the grill to warm up and slightly char. Dan brought his legendary refried beans and there was a tomatillo cilantro rice.

Surveying the Feast overhead shot of the sides for the fajita bar

I kind of left Sauces & Salsas open, with only a few ideas offered, and the range of things that came in did not disappoint. A red chili sauce, the roasted Hatch chili salsa verde, a yogurt cumin sauce and several chunky salsas, including black bean & corn, mango coconut and pineapple.  Lots and lots of guacamole.

What I love is that everyone is into working the theme into the décor. Props showed up by the boat load (literally – across the lake by boat with a serape and maracas). Look how great these sauces are in the Mexican terracotta.

Fiesta Party Decor - Virgen of Guadalupe candle, mexican marionettes, maracas, mexican pottery

Salsa Verde and Salsa Roja in pitchers in a mexican terracotta tray

Next up the mains: In addition to the chipotle fig glazed chicken thighs, the main event included pork tenderloin, fish, shrimp, sirloin, chorizo, pulled brisket and shredded pork.

Give me some meat! overhead shot of all the accoutrement to accompany grilled fiesta meats - refried beans, salsa, etc

Chipotle Fig Chicken Fajitas

My contribution was this sweet heat chipotle and fig glazed chicken thighs. The chipotle fig marriage lands this chicken dish squarely in Mexican territory and the sweet and heat combo makes it a fiesta! Olé! Throw some tortillas on the grill, stuff with chicken, avocado, cilantro and a big squeeze of lime and you are on your way to a party in your mouth. 

Grilled tortillas wrapped in a tea towel

Balsamic Pepper Fig Spread in a jar with a wooden spoon on burlap

Grilled Chicken in Chipotle Fig Sauce

Grilled Veg in Salsa Verde


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Hand holding a fig marinated chicken fajita with avocado, garnished with lime and cilantro

Chipotle Fig Glazed Chicken & Fajita Fiesta

  • Author: Katy Keck
  • Total Time: 20 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 8 as a main, more if making fajitas 1x


The marriage of figs and chipotle lands this dish squarely in Mexican territory and the sweet and heat combo makes it a fiesta! Olé!




  • 10 ounce jar Balsamic Pepper Fig Spread
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 3 chipotle peppers in adobe sauce
  • Juice of two limes
  • 1 Tablespoon molasses
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt

2 pounds boneless chicken thighs


Make the marinade:

Place all ingredients in a small bowl and stir to combine. Makes 1 2/3 cups.

Prepare chicken:

Using about 1/4 of the marinade, combine with chicken and refrigerate, covered, for 1-2 hours, up to overnight. The remaining marinade will keep, refrigerated and covered, for several weeks.

Remove the thighs from the marinade, shaking off any excess marinade. Grill over a medium-hot fire (or bake the chicken at 350oF) until cooked through, about 5 minutes per side. Internal temperature should reach 165oF.

Let the chicken rest for ten minutes, then cut in strips if making fajitas.

  • Prep Time: 5 minutes (plus marinating time)
  • Cook Time: 15 minutes
  • Category: Mains
  • Method: Grilling
  • Cuisine: Mexican


Baby Young

At first I thought this little doll was eyeing the margaritas, but I realize now she was on to the cake. The cake on the left – Feliz Cumpleaños – was brought because, yes!, there has been yet another spin around the sun, and the other lovely was a wonderful Tres Leches.

Considering having a Pot Lucky of your own? Let me know in the comments or pick my brain at [email protected].

Cake! Birthday Cake and Tres Leches cake

Lighting the candles on the birthday cake

© Copyright: KatyKeck.com 2017. All rights reserved.

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Feeling Pot Lucky: Build Your Own Burger

Feeling Pot Lucky: Build Your Own Burger

I have seriously gone down the Pot Lucky rabbit hole, or as I have recently taken to calling it – the Curated Pot Luck.  It was only a matter of time after sausage making, soup swapping, and pizza topping, that I would dive head first into a burger blast.  No doubt I have mentioned that I rarely get dinner invites,  despite my dear friend Cindy running ahead and telling people they’ll have me at hambur…. (hint, hint, hint – I’m a gracious guest, really I am).  If this party didn’t crystallize that concept, I’m destined to dine at home.  Burgers, burgers, burgers and more burgers.

Lamb burger sliders on a platter

The gang has started to embrace (or run for the hills) the idea of bringing together a culinary creation around a theme.  This time I first lined up six people as the Patty People.   The call went out for each to bring a different flavor, 3 pounds divvied up into 2-dozen sliders.  Yup! That’s 12 dozen sliders.  Plenty to share for any one that wandered our way.  We ended up with turkey burgers – one of my go-to recipes – a three-cut beef blend, lamb, bison, shrimp and a beef raised locally by the pattier himself.  (Note to Dan: standing invite).

Feast for the Eyes: overhead shot of a spread of toppings for six kinds of sliders

I provided the Designated Toppers with a range of ideas, but the contributions far exceeded that list.  Cheeses, veggies, special sauce and more. In case it’s not yet clear – “more” means bacon.  Or it means more bacon.  The contributions ran from an irreverently-titled hot sauce to smoked onions stuffed with garlic, and on to smoked tomato mint jam (Noyce!!! A fabulous complement to the lamb burger).  I felt a bit like the butterball hotline, holding court and making pairing recommendations.  A cup or two of each topping is plenty if you shoot for the wide range that we recruited – no need to prepare vats-full.

Woman holding a jar of Jimbo\'s hot sauce

Here are a few of the amazing items that painted the burger canvas:


  • Goat
  • Bleu Cheese Crumbles
  • Pepper Jack
  • Jalapeno Pimento Cheese

Smoky onions stuffed with garlic

Veg & more:

  • Mushrooms Bourguignon
  • Smoked Onions
  • Mango Salsa
  • Arugula
  • Pickled Peppers
  • Lemon Feta Pepperoncini
  • Julienne purple radish
  • Bacon

Special Sauce:

  • Salsa Verde
  • Chimichurri
  • Cumin Yogurt
  • Mint Pesto
  • Chipotle Aioli
  • Roasted Pineapple Habanero Sauce
  • Guacamole
  • Tzatziki
  • Smoked Tomato Mint Jam

Smoked Tomato Mint Jam

Amazingly there were only about 3 of the 144 sliders left.  Clearly no one went home hungry and everyone was very (wink, wink) “happy”.  Sharing a grill and creating your own masterpiece is a great way to get the group mingling – everyone has something to say about their personal favorite combo.

Talking Turkey

If you have ever visited me in Michigan, you have probably had a turkey burger.   Because I add drained salsa to the very lean (read: potentially dry) meat, I tend to do a jar or two’s draining at once.  Then I patty the burgers out and wrap individually in saran and freeze on a sheet pan to keep their shape, zipping them up when frozen.  It’s great to have as a staple when company comes unannounced (unless they come three times in one day – you know who you are!)  This is the kind of dish I always make well ahead of guests and if I’m not freezing the patties, each wrapped in saran, I put them on a tray with wax paper below and on top of the burgers, and refrigerate for up to two days. If I’m holding for more than a few hours, I’m sure to wrap the whole tray in saran.  This resting time really helps firm up a somewhat wet patty.

At the very beginning of my career, I assisted my cooking school teacher Rick Rodgers in classes and at book signings.  He wrote both the Turkey Cookbook and Thanksgiving 101.  He has written well over 30 books now and there is not a dud among them. Every recipe is always impeccably tested.  I have links to a couple of the books in my shop but truthfully they are all fantastic.  I have a vague memory that we made turkey burger sliders for some book signings and served them on little potato rolls.  I think that is where the idea of drained salsa first came to my attention. Since then turkey burgers were a staple on the menu at my restaurant New World Grill, where we made Pico de Gallo in-house and added cumin, shallots, and a splash of white wine.  However you do it, these stir-ins add a lot of flavor and keep the lean meat from being dry.  I really love these with pepper jack and grilled onions on an onion roll. Go big or go home.

Turkey Burger

For the burger pot lucky, I used one of my very favorite salsas: Frontera Chipotle Salsa.  Because ground turkey is a blank canvas, you almost can’t over-season it. In other words, more heat, more spice. Please.


  • 16 ounce jar of favorite salsa, drained and liquid discarded (or save and use to season a sauce, etc.)
  • 3 pounds ground turkey
  • 3 shallots, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper

Pour the salsa into a fine mesh strainer, set over a bowl. Set aside for 20 minutes or more until the liquid has been released. Discard the liquid or save/freeze for something else.

Making turkey burgers: ground turkey, cumin, pepper, salt, chopped shallots and drained salsa


Mix the turkey, drained salsa, shallots, cumin, salt and pepper by hand until incorporated and shape into patties. See note above about stocking your freezer or letting them rest for an hour (up to two days) in your fridge before grilling.

Turkey burger sliders pattied out and waiting for the grill!

Grill over a medium-hot fire until cooked through (timing depends on burger size).  Poultry should always be thoroughly cooked.  If you find it hard to flip, show a little patience. A hot grill will always release the stuck food when it’s ready.

Serve with firecracker cole slaw – recipe is coming soon!!

Makes 24 sliders or 8 full size burgers.

Turkey Burger with Pimento Cheese & Bacon

This post contains affiliate links.  For more of my must-have faves, check out my shop.

© Copyright: KatyKeck.com 2016. All rights reserved.

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Hot Brown and Jelly Beans: Doing Easter New York style

Hot Brown and Jelly Beans: Doing Easter New York style

“In your Easter bonnet with all the frills upon it…………you’ll be the grandest fella in the Easter Parade.” Thank you Irving Berlin. I couldn’t have said it better.  The New York City Easter parade, an annual event dating back to the late 1800s, has been a part of my spring tradition for decades.  The day starts with church – mine puts up a 12-foot wooden cross on Fifth Avenue and passersby add flowers to symbolize the new life that emerges from the death of Good Friday.  It’s called flowering the cross.  After the service, we spend a couple hours at the parade, and then, of course, it’s on to the ubiquitous Easter brunch. The last number of years I have gone to Bar Americain – a Bobby Flay restaurant – and I can’t seem to order a single thing besides the Hot Brown.  It’s high time I drill down on what makes this day so special – well, uh, other than the obvious, of course!!!

Flowering the Cross outside of Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church

Starting with the parade: many outside of NYC know about our famous parades – Macy’s Thanksgiving, St. Paddy’s, tickertapes for winning sport teams. But the Easter Parade is nothing like this. It’s really a promenade. It doesn’t go backwards up Fifth Avenue like many of our parades. It goes back and forth and hither and yon. And it is filled to the brim with crazy hats and entire outfits. You know there is a great hat coming when the crowd parts and folks rush to another corner. Get ready when you see the throng gather round.

Days of Yore - Victorian Finery at the NY Easter ParadeThe “parade” traces its roots to the collection of highly ornamented cathedral churches that line midtown on Fifth Avenue – St. Patrick’s Cathedral, St. Thomas’ Episcopal and my Fifth Avenue Presbyterian among them. After the service, it was traditional that those who attended the churches would stroll to nearby sanctuaries to admire the floral displays and greet friends. No doubt showing off their Easter finery was part of the equation. At one time, horse and carriages went up and down the avenue, carrying their owners in style, but today it’s pedestrian only. By 1890, the annual procession had become a significant event on the NY social calendar.

Easter Bonnet - with Frills Upon It - man wearing a swim cap covered in flowers

Through the 1950s the religious aspect began to wane and it became more about showing off and outdoing each other. That is certainly on display today. From tie-dyed poodles to political statements, you can see it all.

Kids and Pets - from pink poodles to children with large festive bonnetsThe kids and pets are all tricked out.

Crowds no longer top 1 million, but the joy and amusement is palpable. I have at least a dozen colorful souls I track down each and every year, and I refuse to leave until they are spotted.

Bizarro! the weirdest people at the easter parade - some scary makeup and spiked hairThese are some of the regulars that do not disappoint!

And the characters all have claimed their own domain – the guy with all the spikes is outside St. Pat’s and the guy with the Ed Grimley hair and studs is in front of Saks.  The best part is that whether or not they have been to church this is a multi-generational gathering – with pets (I do hope that fat rabbit didn’t go to church) – and memories are made.

Ladies ladies ladies - beautiful and overtop the floral hats for the paradeThe Ladies always sport colorful lids.

Only in New York - the craziest outfits in the easter paradeOnly in New York – from the TKTS theater ticket booth to Central Park to the Knicks – and EVERYthing in between.

The Gentlemen - my favorite is the bald man with a mohawk of candy peepsAnd the Easter bonnets are not limited to the ladies….

Traditions created and passed down. You can catch this feast-for-the-eyes every Easter – rain or shine – on Fifth Avenue between Rockefeller Plaza and 55th Street, from about noon to 3 or 4pm.

Jelly Beans and Candy Corn - this guy comes to the parade every year with a blazer studded with candyNothings says Easter like a Nathan’s “tube steak” and some jelly beans!

On to brunch.

Brunch at Bar Americain - scrambled eggs, killer cocktails and eggs benedictBar Americain brunch: Hangtown Fry with fried oysters, Mimosa and Rosemary Bee’s Knees, and Preakness Benedict

I look at the menu again and again and know I am definitely wasting time – I’m going for the Hot Brown. Bobby Flay has a bit of southern flair, including Kentucky, at this restaurant. “Pimenna cheese” on the burger, pot pies, shrimp and grits. They all sound and look delish – but here I go again, once more ordering the Hot Brown. A Hot Brown, is an open-faced turkey sandwich (fresh roasted and sliced thick here) on Texas toast with a Mornay sauce, crisscrossed (or “Angel Wings”) bacon slices and a perfect tomato slice. Yes, it’s holy!

The sandwich was created by the Brown Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky in the 20s. The hotel – a National Historic Registry property – then drew more than a 1000 each night for dinner and dancing. In the wee hours, they needed a nosh. The chef created the Hot Brown to dazzle his diners. And dazzle it does.

So why does this super delish dish catch my eye each and every time? I finally figured it out. It was one of our special treat meals growing up. With Pop being in the Ford business and Mom being an excellent cook, we had and savored The Ford Treasury of Favorite Recipes from Famous Eating Places. The first edition was 1950 and there were five editions in total. The good folks at Ford Motor Company figured if you swooned over these dishes, you might jump in your car and hit the road. Ford had one of the largest culinary libraries in the world and these special editions were compiled by the Women’s Editor of the Ford Times, Nancy Kennedy, with the recipes tested by the Women’s City Club of Detroit. I once ended up at the James Beard house, seated next to Nancy, and she was squealing that I knew these books. What a small world!! The books were filled with tales of the inns and restaurants along America’s roadside and had beautiful hand-painted illustrations. I used to drool over the artwork and dream of going places. The original five were published over about 15 years through the mid 60s, and then for the Diamond Jubilee of Lincoln’s Mark V in 1978, there was a compendium of the best of the best.

Ford Treasury of Favorite Recipes - classic cookbooks by Ford Motor Company

After brunch, I grabbed my copy and thumbed through to find this iconic recipe that my Mom prepared to perfection – Hot Brown from the Brown Hotel, right up the Ohio River from us. I remember it so well. But wait a minute? This can’t be right. The Hot Brown. The Brown Hotel. These Luscious Ford books. Family Road Trips. What is this I’m seeing? I. DON’T. BELIEVE. MY. EYES!!!!!! This little treasure attributes the Hot Brown to the Coach House in Lexington. That is so wrong!!! A little digital dive through the NY Public Library turned up a 1953 menu from the Coach House and sure enough they did have a “Coach House Famous Hot Brown”. It was $1.35. But alas, they did not create it and they are not “famous” for it. Consider my bubble burst. But, I’m still ordering the Hot Brown at Bar Americain. And I will always know where it came from. Yum.

I shouldn’t even have to give you a recipe for this because we’ve already gone over how to make a béchamel and what makes it a Mornay and the rest of the dish is by eyeball – but here you go, a version adapted from the Brown Hotel’s website.  Check out that 1T butter: 1T flour: 1 cup milk recipe ratio that you already know about. You are totally welcome!!

Hot Brown at Bar Americain - topped with bacon, roasted tomato and herbs

The Legendary Hot Brown

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons salted butter
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan, plus more for garnish
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 slices of Texas toast (crusts trimmed), lightly toasted
  • 14 oz. sliced roasted turkey breast, sliced thick
  • 4 slices cooked bacon
  • 2 slices ripe tomato
  • Chopped parsley

In a small saucepan, melt butter and slowly whisk in flour until combined to form a thick paste or roux. Continue to cook roux for 2 minutes over medium-low heat, stirring frequently. Whisk heavy cream into the roux and cook over medium heat until the cream begins to simmer, about 2-3 minutes. Remove sauce from heat and slowly whisk in Parmesan until the Mornay sauce is smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

For each Hot Brown, place one to two (as needed to cover bottom) slices of toast in an oven safe dish and cover with 7 oz. turkey. Pour half of the sauce over the dish, completely covering it. Sprinkle with additional cheese. Repeat for second portion. Place dishes under broiler until cheese begins to brown and bubble. Remove and cross two pieces of crispy bacon on top of each and top with tomato slice. Return dishes to broiler for 30 seconds to heat tomato. Sprinkle with parsley and serve immediately.

Serves 2.

Sweet Treats - Easter cookies: Rabbits and eggs frosted in spring colors

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Rockin’ Moroccan Pita Pocket

Rockin’ Moroccan Pita Pocket

Two pitas with chicken and garbanzos on a blue plate with yogurt sauce

Coriander, cumin, garlic and lemon zest bring back immediate memories of the perfume of grilled meats on the streets of Casablanca.  This recipe brings all those flavors together, but in a very quick simple few steps to get it on the table.


  • 1 Tablespoon ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt, divided below
  • 1 pound chicken breast, cut in 1” cubes
  • ¼ cup olive oil, divided below
  • 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • juice (about ¼ cup) and peel of two lemons, zested or finely grated
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 16-ounce cans garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
  • 3 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1 red pepper, diced
  • ¼ cup parsley
  • 6 onion (or plain) pita pockets

Garnish: non-fat plain yogurt


Combine the cumin, coriander, chili and ½ teaspoon salt in a plastic bag. Add the chicken and shake to coat with the seasonings.

Heat one Tablespoon olive oil in a sauté pan.  Add the garlic and sauté until golden, about 2 minutes. Transfer the garlic to a small mixing bowl. Add the chicken to the sauté pan and sauté until cooked through, about 5 –6 minutes.  Transfer the chicken to a large mixing bowl.

Meanwhile in the small bowl with the garlic, add lemon peel, ¼ cup lemon juice, the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and black pepper.  Drizzle in the remaining 3 Tablespoons olive oil in a thin stream, whisking to combine.

Add garbanzo beans, scallions, and peppers to the chicken.  Toss the salad with the dressing and stir to combine. Stir in parsley.  Taste and adjust seasoning.

Cut the top off the pitas to open. Divide the salad among the pitas, and top each salad with a dollop of plain yogurt to garnish.

Serves 6