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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


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. 


  • 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


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.


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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I Never Saw Such Sausage: Sausage Making 101

I Never Saw Such Sausage: Sausage Making 101

Sawsuch sawsedge. That’s the way my Dad used to say it. Was he channeling his inner Brooklyn? Fuhgeddaboudit! He cracked himself up when he said it. But this tale isn’t really about sausage or sausage making, it’s about fun with friends.  I must however make one quick sausage stop, a reverent moment to pay homage to the mother of all sausage experiences – the sausage bomb.  I once had to work for the daughter of a famed crime boss.  I would tell you who she was, but I’d have to kill you (read: they may kill me).  You think I’m kidding, but when her brother died in a car/mini-bike accident, the car driver was “disappeared.” Have I said too much already?  Anyway Princessa Mafiosa wrote a cookbook and Extra was filming a piece at her Lon G-Island mansion. I prepped what I could and took a car service to arrive a bit ahead of the appointed hour.  They really hadn’t scheduled sufficient time for me to ready all the beauty food laid out in a magnificent “of course she did this herself” spread.  When I knocked on the door of the palace, the circle drive strewn with obligatory black Escalades parked haphazardly Tony Soprano-style, my knock was greeted with a door slam and strict instructions to come back later. I had been doing this long enough to know how much work lay ahead and forceful enough to finesse my way inside, but I always wondered –  at what cost?

The first recipe was a pasta dish that called for browning the sausage in 2 cups of olive oil, then adding 2 cups of cold water and a bouillon cube to the boiling oil.  It was genius – take out the target without spilling any blood – sausage bomb ??? style. BOOM!  I did have the good sense to retrieve my business card from the kitchen counter before leaving lest I find a horse head in my bed. Hopefully with a lovely Béarnaise sauce napping it just so.

But I digress – and still swear this really isn’t about sausage.  It’s about hospitality.  We’ve just survived the super bowl, the Oscars, and the New York marathon of all home entertaining events- Thanksgiving.  It was no doubt stressful. Was the turkey too salty, too dry, too frozen?  Did you really have to do it all by yourself? Time now to sit back and enlist the full team to make things happen, and have fun while doing it.  I’m not just talking about a potluck people, I mean a real cooking party.

around the tableI recently had the good fortune of spending the afternoon at a sausage party.  This crowd takes their game meat seriously so we had a variety of flavors, including a beef heart sausage. (Stop it – your face is gonna freeze like that). But the one here is rabbit with dried cherries and toasted hazelnuts. The great thing about making your own sausage is that you have ultimate control over the seasonings and fat/meat ratio, eliminating all preservatives, while having great fun. Win. Win. Win.

One of my all-time favorite meat books is a seriously old cookbook by Jack Ubaldi. Jack owned the legendary Florence Prime Meat Market in New York’s Greenwich Village. He was a butcher’s butcher. A master of meat. When I came on the food scene, he had just sold it and was teaching. I took both butchering and knife skills from him.  He changed my life when I learned that a bread knife is not to be used in a back and forth sawing motion, but rather cut on the forward movement, only dragging the knife back – without action – merely to re-position, so you can cut again on the next forward motion. Who knew? Jack.

Jack’s sausage technique became the base for our afternoon of sausage revelry.  I arrived just as the sausage mix was being processed in a meat grinder. My Mom and Grandmothers had manual grinders that C-clamped to their counters. Today you can buy attachments for a variety of machines; I have the grinder attachment for my KitchenAid stand mixer. Starting the SausageHere’s what we missed –

Fresh Rabbit Sausage with Dried Cherries and Toasted Hazelnuts:

  • 2 pounds lamb, cut in chunks
  • 2 pounds rabbit, cut in chunks
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt (if not kosher, at least coarse grain)
  • 2 Tablespoons chopped garlic
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon chopped marjoram
  • 1 teaspoon chopped sage
  • ¼ cup chopped dried cherries
  • ¼ cup chopped toasted hazelnuts
  • Casings, soaked – available from your butcher

Makes about 4 pounds of sausage, or approximately 12 links.

The general rule of thumb is 30% fat to 70% lean meat. If it’s too lean, it will be very dry; too fatty, the fat will render leaving a shriveled up sausage that is way too rich. This sausage was pretty lean, but lots of flavor. The meat went through the grinder with 3/8” plate, and the rest is stirred in by hand, first the seasonings, then the cherries and nuts.   Knead by hand until the meat sticks together, about 5 minutes or so. The recipe and technique here are for a fresh sausage, meant to be cooked and enjoyed within a couple days. Drying sausage is a separate technique, which is no longer required for home cooks, now that we have fridges.

Threading the CasingsThe casings you will find are generally hog. They are often sold packed in salt. If your butcher doesn’t carry them there are several online sources. About an hour before you start, you should soak the casings in warm water for about 30 minutes. After, run water through the casings, but do not squeeze. Then return them to a container, covered in tepid water. One pound of casings is about 50-60 feet long, and will pack 25 pounds of sausage, though it may be closer to 50 pounds. There is a fairly wide range in capacity because the diameter will vary. If you don’t use them all, wring out the excess water and pack again in salt and refrigerate in airtight container.

The real fun begins when the stuffing happens.  My friends happen to own an antique stuffer, but in addition to the meat grinder attachment, my KitchenAid stand mixer has a Stuffing Attachment. You can always use a funnel for stuffing by hand. Thread the casings onto a wet funnel or stuffing tube until an inch of casing remains. Tie off the end.
Tying Off the SausageAdd the meat to the hopper and push through. It helps here if you have octopus arms or a friend – one to man the sausage intake and one to manage the casing/stuffing output. Once you have filled a desired length, press gently to ease out any air, even the meat distribution, and make sure there is a little give – i.e. not too stuffed.   Tie off this end. Continue filling additional lengths, until you have used all your meat mixture.
Twirling LinksThe next step is to make links: Pinch off a 4-5 inch section at each end and twirl like a jump rope to create an individual link.  Generally all the links are kept attached to minimize the waste.  At this point you can freeze, simmer, broil, or grill, but if you are like us, you will want them right away with a frosty beer. We threw them on the grill and cooked about 8-10 minutes per side.

Hot Off the GrillThere are infinite ways you can customize this concept – fresh sausage, dry sausage, fruit, nuts, organs, animals, fish, veggie, etc. But this story is about camaraderie and spending the day with friends. We cracked a new jar of last season’s habanero mustard – sorry but this recipe is also a mob secret – and served it up with Amy and Todd’s butternut squash soup, topped with crispy bacon, shallots, and apples, then chased it with my gentleman jack pumpkin ginger cheesecake. Fat and happy!!!!

The next cooking party on the docket is a soup party. Stay tuned!

Where are they now? ChloElla J update

Okay you know where they are!!! It’s only been ten days. However, this update is worth reporting.

I do believe they have outdone themselves – December’s Cupcakes for a Cause were edible snow globes. Could they be a bit cuter????

ChloElla J Update© Copyright: KatyKeck.com 2015. All rights reserved.

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