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Summer Entertaining – Graduation, Father’s Day, & Grilling!

Summer Entertaining – Graduation, Father’s Day, & Grilling!

Summer Entertaining - Graduation with Maranda Where You Live

I just had the chance to join Maranda on WOTV 4 Women’s program Maranda Where You Live to share with her viewers some ideas on how to zhouzz up a party –in this case graduation – by adding a few easy details that give it real style.  For entertaining, like most things in life, it’s the details that make the difference. Most of these style tips, with just a tweak here or there, will seamlessly slide from graduation, to Father’s Day…even to a wedding celebration. It’s summer entertaining at the brink of the season.

Summer Entertaining – Graduation with Style

I created a graduation celebration, themed around an outdoor event. In Western Michigan, we wait all year for this time.  It’s great because the temps are mild, the days are long, and who doesn’t want to keep the masses and that mess outside.  One of the tricky parts of any entertaining is how to avoid the long lines that form around buffets.  I’m more likely to not at eat at a party than to stand in line, and as a host that is not something you want! To hack that, I created a menu that is grab and go. Everything is pre-served and portable. And I suggest scattering dishes around the patio, grouping two or three items together, to help spread the crowd. It’s best to cluster around a central theme – maybe a vegetarian station, or a dessert station, or together by temperature – the hots, the colds…you get the idea.

Draining Salsa to Make Turkey Burger

Kicked-Up Southwestern Turkey Burgers

One of the portables that I served was a slider. Assuming you don’t want to grill while you have guests – though I am fully aware that some hosts love that distraction – these turkey burger sliders can be grilled earlier in the day and reheated to serve. But won’t they dry out? Au contraire! By adding a jar of drained salsa to the ground turkey, the flavor profile is kicked up a notch and the salsa adds both moisture and depth of flavor. Its super simple and you are letting the salsa factory do all the heavy lifting of lots of chopping and roasting the chipotle.

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Juicy Turkey Burger

Kicked-Up Southwestern Turkey Burgers


  • Author: Katy Keck
  • Total Time: 30 minutes
  • Yield: 24 sliders or 8 full-size hungry-girl burgers 1x

Description

Turkey burgers can get a real boost in the flavor profile category by just adding a jar of drained salsa to the ground turkey. The salsa adds both moisture and depth of flavor. Why not let the salsa factory do all the heavy lifting by roasting chipotles and doing all the chopping for you. More time to enjoy, less time in the kitchen. 


Ingredients

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

Instructions

Pour the salsa into a fine mesh strainer, set over a bowl to drain. Set aside for 20 minutes or more until the liquid has been released.

Mix the turkey, drained salsa, shallots, cumin, salt and pepper by hand until mixed through and shape into patties.

Grill over a medium-hot fire until cooked through (timing depends on burger size).  Poultry should always be thoroughly cooked.

Notes

These are best made ahead and left to chill in the refrigerator for an hour or up to a day or two. This gives the patty time to firm up.

They also freeze really well, and so I tend to make a large batch and wrap in plastic wrap, individually. I spread them out on a tray to freeze. Then once frozen solid, I transfer to a big Ziploc. 

  • Prep Time: 10 minutes (plus draining and chilling time)
  • Cook Time: 20 minutes
  • Category: Mains
  • Method: Grilling
  • Cuisine: Southwestern

Veggie Shooters

Veggie Shooters

The next idea I showed was veggie shooters – using a shot glass or even a disposable clear plastic. By transferring the ranch dressing to a squeeze bottle (think diner ketchup or mustard bottle), you can put a squirt in the bottom of each shot glass without “sliming” the sides.  Then just tuck in an assortment of fresh veggies – carrot sticks, celery, multi-color peppers, snow peas.  And I tuck different combinations in each glass because not everyone will like them all, so pick let your guests pick what suits them.  Could this be any cuter? 

For all the dishes, both savory and sweet, I used herbs, flowers and vegetables to create super simple garnishes for each tray.  It’s that little extra touch that will let your guests know you “THOUGHT OF EVERYTHING”!!

Fresh Mozzarella and Grilled Pineapple Brochettes

Fresh Mozzarella and Grilled Pineapple Skewers

For the last savory dish, I used rosemary sprigs in lieu of toothpicks – both flavorful and adorable.  I marinated some mini mozzarella and grilled pineapple rings, then assembled.  Very fresh tasting! Be sure to get the pot of rosemary at the nursery or garden center and plant what remains in your herb bed so it can regrow…because you ARE going to want to do this again. Cut the sprig with sharp scissors so you get a point and remove the bottom few leaves to create the “pick”. 

Mini Banana Cream Pies

Portable Pies

Mini Banana Cream Pies

For dessert and continuing with the portable idea – in this case pie – I used mason jars to create individual banana cream pies.  This is a no-recipe recipe and takes good advantage of all basic supermarket items: vanilla wafers, banana pudding (2 minutes to mix with cold milk), sliced bananas and some whipped topping. Crush a few more wafers on top.  Sometimes super cute goes a long way to mask shortcut cooking. Shhh don’t tell anyone. That’s a professional tip and I could get kicked out of my professional tip society. This dish lands squarely in the “People Love It!” category. A+!

 

Diploma Cookies

Diploma Cookies

And then just because I could……diploma cookies – using packaged pirouette cookies, tied with a ribbon. Adorable. Easy. Win. Win.

 

S'Mores Bar

DIY S’mores

There is always a pride of ownership when you contribute to a meal, so let your guests help cook dessert with a DIY S’mores Bar – featuring GIANT Kraft Jet-Puffed marshmallows.  (I’m personal friends with JP, the Jet-Puffed guy!)

My Main Man JP

Giant Jet-Puffed

There are a lot of ways to set up the fuel station – creating a bed of river rock – or even charcoal briquettes as a prop – to surround the fuel.  Make sure to place this in a low wind area, with proper ventilation and pay attention to potential flammables, keeping them far away.  (It wouldn’t hurt to have a fire extinguisher under the table, because like an umbrella, if you have it, you won’t need it). Now you can find Green Heat products that are environmentally friendly and bio-degradable, as well as safe for direct contact with food. They are plant-derived, and come from corn-based ethanol and are non-toxic.  Look for those – good for you, good for the planet.  

Jenga Time

Making Memories

I ended the segment with a couple ways to make memories, something that is important for every celebration. Using a Jenga set – along with a bunch of markers – guests can add their wishes or advice, date and sign it – and the grad will have a keepsake to remember this day forever. Can you imagine the day when Bubba Junior will be playing Jenga with his grandchildren and a smile will cross his face thinking about this incredible party you hosted – back when?

Jenga Memories

Portable Photo Booth

And the final portable for the party: a photo booth.  Along with a few photo booth-type props (mortarboards on a stick) and one giant frame, this show can go on the road….grabbing photos of the grad and guests throughout the party.  The frame can be decorated for a princess, a sports career, or the college that lies ahead. Just screw a couple drawer pulls into the back so all those in the photograph can help hold it.  By being hand-held, this has the added advantage of going from portrait to landscape orientation and from straight on to cockeyed.  That variety of angles will inspire a lot of candid moments, making for a great souvenir photo book which you can give at Christmas when your grad comes home from college! And what a great chance to reinforce the idea of gratitude. He can print the photos and write the guests a note of thanks …for the support …for the gift… for being part of the day. Just slap a stamp on it and mail a photo of the guest and grad enjoying this wonderful celebration.

Have Fun! And that’s an order!!!

The most important thing to remember is to enjoy the day. You have worked hard for whatever it is you are celebrating – getting a child through school, walked down the aisle, or even your own significant anniversary – put your focus on planning and prepping, but the minute the doorbell rings, close the door on stress and open the front door with a big old smile to greet your guests. This day is as much about your achievements as those of your graduate.  No matter how awry a plan may have gone, no one but you will know. In the business, we have a saying no matter how a dish turns out: “That’s the way we like it.”  That might be the most important lesson I ever learned from Anna Teresa Callen, the great Italian cooking teacher.  She’d just shake her head and smile and in her wonderful Italian lilt, whisper….”Ah! That’s the way I like it!”

Thank you Maranada for the kind invitation! And the rest of you, check out the segment on Maranda Where You Live!

Maranada and Katy

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

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How to Get Pot Luck-y: Hosting a Soup Swap

How to Get Pot Luck-y: Hosting a Soup Swap

I have been hankerin’ for a soup swap for years now. But only since I started this blog did it actually happen. Consider this my second post – after the sausage-making party – in my series on How to Get Pot Luck-y. Like the sausage event, as the kids are calling it, the soup swap is a party that sort of plans itself. Sure, there is a bit of organization involved, but in the end, set up and prep (and even investment, for that matter) is minimal, and every one leaves fat and happy. It’s a great way to entertain without having to do all the heavy lifting tout seul, solo, by your lonesome.

Three for my freezer

DC’s Chicken Corn Chowda; Elle Capitan’s Hearty Organic Veggie & Chicken; Em’s Creamy Lemon Chicken.

I used to hear “pot luck” and think it was a bad thing. Cringe a little. I certainly wasn’t going to host one. Maybe too much ego. Surely too much ego – “I can do it all!!!” I just didn’t get it. A random mishmash of food that doesn’t go together and is of questionable food safety. I was in Michigan for years before I understood the concept of “a dish to pass” – I still can’t quite explain it. There IS no passing. But Pot Lucky – that’s quite different. Host a party with a theme and offer suggestions for contributions and watch the magic happen.  And the bonus of a soup swap is you get all of the above, PLUS a freezer full of soups …….THAT YOU DIDN’T EVEN HAVE TO MAKE!

Disclaimer (lest you think I am a food snob): I am fully aware that there is often anxiety with inviting me to dinner – for no damn good reason, I’d like to say. Despite the fact that my friend Cindy runs ahead swearing that burgers are my favorite food group, I rarely get invited out. Big mistake, people. I am a grateful guest – perhaps more so because I know what entertaining entails. I’m not judgmental; I’m uber thankful. I save all the judgement for restaurants lacking (or completely missing) hospitality. We all have PhDs in whether or not we are being treated well and bad service is inexcusable, especially when  you are paying for it. Even if the food is off – it happens – well-trained staff will have you feeling like a million bucks by the time you leave. But complain about a home-cooked meal??? Not on your life.

So how to Soup Swap?

There are many ways it can happen – like a cookie swap – everyone brings two quarts, leaves with two quarts; brings 4….leaves with 4. Or bring X leave with X and no minimum required. I, probably because I am a bit co-dependent, chose to have everyone bring one quart for every soup swapper – N minus one to dole out; the last one to share. (I hope Mrs. Holler is happy I am using my algebra). This way nobody is staring at their creation being the last one picked.  No 5th grade volleyball anxiety! Probably the hardest part of this method is to get an advance commitment so everyone knows what N is. For my Pot Lucky, N equaled 6. Some of the swappers were teams – so they had to thumb-war over how to divide 5 quarts! One couple each brought a soup so they took home two quarts of every flavor. Toward the end, I included a few people that didn’t want to cook and were happy to just come and have a taste.

Where's the Shrimp?

Justin’s Fabulous Shrimp-Free Cannellini Bisque

For this, my maiden voyage, I called in a ringer – a fellow foodie who was as excited as I about the party theme and, on top of it, a recent graduate of a Culinary School. He was there to add some cred to the gathering. He was also there to NOT FORGET the shrimp that was his killer soup garnish. Sigh. His soup was phenomenal regardless – if it weren’t for my labels, nobody would have known. In fact all the soups were phenomenal.  The Chicken Corn Chowder incorporated bacon, chicken and corn raised and grown by the soup-maker.  That IS Pot Lucky!! My only instructions were “no can + can + can” soups and “NO VELVEETA.”  It definitely helps to invite friends who like to cook.

Getting Ready

There was minimal planning – I coordinated soup choices to eliminate dupes and make labels (which included “made-on” dates) – and minimal set up: everyone got one mug, one spoon and one napkin. Y’all are on your own from here. And everyone took charge of heating and serving their own soups. I made a big salad and had some crusty breads and cheeses on hand. Oh, and plenty of wine. And in the spirit of Pot Lucky, there were a couple guests that stayed a bit later and loaded the dishwasher. Bless you.

Making Soup to Swap

All I really had to do in advance was make my own six quarts to share and swap. Being a bit of stickler for that food safety thing, I chilled my two pots of soup in large bowls with ice water, changing the water and adding ice til the pots were down to 45 degrees. Even when cooking single batches, I will fill the sink with ice water and make sure to drop the temp so that the soup/sauce/etc. is cold before transferring to freezer containers. Muy importante! Most guests froze their 5 give-away quarts and brought them in coolers that we left outside til the end when the swapping happened. Remember that above all this is a party (one that fills your freezer, thank you very much!), not a military drill, so be flexible. Have fun!  Let your guests get involved! Relax and let the night roll out as it will.  For a first attempt, I will deem this a success.  “Green mints were served and a good time was had by all.”*

Vichyssoise & My Soup Swap Contender

Brett & Christy’s Vichyssoise; My CaribBean One Pot Wonder with pineapple salsa

Here’s my recipe for the CaribBEAN (bah dum bum – I’ll be here all week) One Pot Wonder. Everyone loves this soup – it’s so hearty and satisfying, but doesn’t leave you overstuffed like chili tends to. It’s also got a great dose of flavor, chocked full of ginger and jalapeno. And it could not be easier or faster. Really.

Like all quick cook techniques, it’s key to use quality ingredients: pork loin or tenderloin and quality beans. I’ve been using Bush’s Best for more than a decade and it’s a bean that holds its shape and comes out of the can intact, not mushed at the bottom, without absorbing the brine it’s canned in and without the overly salty, muddy taste of a lesser bean. It is all I ever use. I wish you could see my pantry – it looks like Super Target.

I love the texture contrast of the pork with the sweet potatoes but this dish could stand alone if you are pork-adverse, or it would also work well with chicken or a sturdy fish. Adjust cooking times accordingly. The garnish is totally optional, but the fruity topper is a great balance to the gingery heat of the soup.

Katy’s Soup to Swap: CaribBean One Pot Wonder

  • 1 pound sweet potato, about 2 medium potatoes
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 Tablespoons minced ginger
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 jalapeno, minced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 pound pork loin, trimmed and cut in 1/2” pieces
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 3 16-ounce cans Bush’s Best Dark Red Kidney Beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 14 ½-ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 1 14 ½-ounce can chicken broth

Serving Suggestion: Garnish with a spoonful of salsa made from 1 cup chopped pineapple, 2 sliced scallions, and 2 Tablespoons chopped cilantro. Serve with hot sauce.

Prick the sweet potatoes with a fork and microwave on high for 6 – 8 minutes until tender, but not fully cooked. Set aside. When cool enough to handle, peel and cut into ½-inch dice.

Heat the olive oil in a large stockpot. Add the ginger, garlic and jalapeno and sauté until soft, about 2 minutes.

Add the celery, green pepper, and onion and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes.

Season the pork with the cumin, salt, and black pepper. Push the vegetables to one side of the stockpot and add the pork, browning on all sides.

Add Bush’s Best Dark Red Kidney Beans, tomatoes, broth, and sweet potatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 25 – 30 minutes, or until the pork is tender. Taste, and adjust seasonings.

Serve with pineapple cilantro salsa and hot sauce, if desired.

Makes 3 quarts and serves 8

Next Pot Lucky: BYOPT – bring your own pizza toppings. Stay tuned.

*Show of hands (read: click on the link below and comment): Back in the day, did your hometown paper  finish every wedding story with “green mints were served and a good time was had by all?”

CaribBean One Pot Wonder

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