Summerbrew

With summer in full swing, it’s prime entertaining season. Summer seems to bring out my inner hostess, and I find myself constantly making excuses to have friends over for parties. (It’s true, for me, finding a cute new set of straws is reason enough.) A key ingredient in any summer soiree is a delicious, refreshing cocktail, and last summer I found a recipe that does just the trick.

Summer brew is the perfect summer cocktail. It’s not too sweet, not too stout, making it enjoyable for male and female guests alike. It’s unpretentious. Sure, it can be dressed up in a cool cocktail glass with a groovy garnish, but it tastes just as good out of a red solo cup. It’s easy to make and you can whip it up pitchers at a time, which means less time mixing and more time mingling with your guests!

See, I told you: the perfect summer cocktail. There’s only one potential flaw:

Summe rbrew is so refreshing and easy to drink, it’s easy to down a pitcher without a second thought. There’s more alcohol in there than you think, and lightweights like me will realize quickly that this potent potion packs quite the punch!

So drink up, but don’t forget to have cabs on call for your guests!

Summer Brew

Makes 6 servings

1 (12 fluid ounce) can frozen limeade concentrate, thawed

3 (12 fluid ounce) bottles Mexican beer (such as Corona)

1/2 cup vodka

Lime wedges, for garnish

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I try my hardest to not keep candy around the house, but when it comes to Christmas, I simply can’t resist. Hershey’s Kisses, M&Ms, Andes Mints and Reeses Pieces are a few of my favorite treats to keep in the candy jar during the holidays. Oh, and candy canes, of course!

This year, my new favorite candy treat is the perfect combination of salty and sweet, mixing pretzels with Hershey’s kisses and festive M&Ms. I originally saw the idea for this sweet treated used for Valentines Day on the blog g*rated. Since then, I’ve made them for several other holidays, including Halloween and Thanksgiving.

This time, instead of using Hershey’s Hugs (the black and white striped cousin of the Kiss), I found these yummy and festive peppermint kisses. The red and white stripes were the perfect seasonal update to the snack.

Beware: this snack is absolutely addictive. You seriously cannot eat just one. But worry not, it’s still December and those New Years resolutions don’t kick in until the first!

Christmas-Inspired Pretzel & Chocolate Button Bites

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Lay the butter snaps out into rows, leaving space between the pretzels to prevent them from melting together. Add a peppermint kiss to the top of each pretzel. Put the cookie sheet into the oven for 3-5 minutes. The kisses should get warm, but you should take them out before they start melting and losing their shape. Remove the sheet from the oven and immediately press green M&Ms into the kisses. Before removing from the tray, allow the bites to harden. It helps to put them into the refrigerator for 20 minutes or so.

Tips & Tricks:

  • You can use regular pretzels instead of the butter snaps, but I have found that the butter snaps taste better and since their holes are smaller, easier to manage with melted kisses.
  • Instead of setting the oven timer and walking away, keep an eye on the snack as it bakes. It’s pretty easy to tell when you should take them out if you keep an eye on them.
  • The peppermint kisses took a little less time to melt than the hugs usually do. More on the 3 side of 3 to 5 minutes.
Filed in: Christmas, Desserts, Holidays, Recipes | Leave a Comment »

Quick & Healthy Pumpkin Muffins

My new obsession with pinterest has me in recipe overdrive. Last weekend I decided to try out an easy and cheap recipe for tw0-ingredient pumpkin muffins that recently took my pinterest feed by storm. I was totally intrigued by the idea of such a simple pastry and just had to try it for myself!

Given the simplicity of this recipe, I decided to start by doing some research and figure out which ingredients would make for the best result. The original pin called for a yellow cake mix, but after a bit of googling and reading through comments, I found that people who had made these multiple times liked a spice cake mix better. I can’t find where I read it, but one site suggested that you use Duncan Hines Spice cake mix in particular. I also found a few recipes that called for a yellow mix with nutmeg and cinnamon added, but that just seemed like too much work!

As you would suspect with a two-ingredient recipe, these babies were a breeze to make. It took no time at all! One thing that did surprise me was that this recipe didn’t make a full two-dozen muffins. On the recommendation of another blogger who said that they wouldn’t rise like regular cupcakes, I filled my liners with more batter than usual, which is probably why I ended up with 17 muffins instead of 24.

Some blogs showed the muffins topped with powdered sugar or iced with cream cheese frosting, but trying to keep them healthy and low-cal, I decided to leave mine plain.

Not only are these muffins easy to make, but they turned out super moist and very delicious. I brought them to the office this morning and everybody loved them! These are certainly going into my go-to recipe file for fall!

Two-Ingredient Pumpkin Muffins

Makes about a dozen and a half muffins

  • 1 box Duncan Hines Spice cake mix
  • 1 15 oz. can 100% Pumpkin Puree (Do not use pumpkin pie filling.)
  • 1 bag semi-sweet chocolate chips, if desired

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Dump ingredients into a large mixing bowl. Blend with a mixer for two minutes on medium speed or until well mixed. The batter will be thick. If desired, use a spatula to fold in chocolate chips. Scoop batter into lined or greased muffin tins.

These muffins won’t rise like traditional cupcakes so fill them with more batter than usual. If you like smooth rounded tops, use a spoon to even out the batter. These will not settle like normal muffins or cupcakes.

Bake at 350 degrees for 18-22 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let muffins cool before removing from the muffin tins. You may choose to top them with powdered sugar or creme cheese frosting, but I thought they tasted delicious plain!

Tips & Tricks:

  • When made without chocolate chips, these moist and delicious pumpkin muffins are only 2 Weight Watchers points!
  • You may choose to top them with powdered sugar or creme cheese frosting, but I thought they tasted delicious plain!
  • As tempting as it may be, do NOT add the eggs, water or vegetable oil as instructed on the box.

Download the Recipe

Filed in: Desserts, Recipes | 34 Comments »

Everybody needs a go-to appetizer, something you always have the ingredients for and can make from memory. This creme cheese and sausage dip is mine. With only three ingredients, it’s easy to make, delicious and perfectly suited for almost any occasion!

I first tasted this recipe when my Aunt Connie made it for a family gathering and it’s been a Shiffler family favorite ever since. I’ve honestly never seen a dish of this stuff go unfinished. Your guests will be scraping the sides trying to get one last delicious bite!

Though it’s served hot, this dip makes a great dish all year round — even in the summer! Also, it freezes well, making it a marvelous make-ahead dish. In fact, I often double the recipe so I can have enough to freeze a batch for unexpected occasions. Pop it in the oven for 30 minutes and it tastes fresh as ever!

Tostitos Scoops (the multi-grain kind) are my chip of choice with this dip though many of my friends prefer it with Fritos Scoops instead.

Do you have a go-to dip? Share yours in the comments below! Or keep reading for step-by-step instructions & a downloadable recipe card.

Creme Cheese & Sausage Dip

  • 1 pkg Jimmy Dean sausage (Regular or hot, depending on your taste)
  • 1 can Original Rotel tomatoes
  • 2 8oz Whipped cream cheese (if you use the blocked cream cheese, make sure it’s softened)
  • 1 bag Multi-grain Tostitos Scoops or your favorite tortilla chips

Crumble and brown sausage. In a separate bowl, mix together Rotel and cream cheese. Drain sausage in a colander or on a paper towel then add to the cream cheese mixture. Mix together and put in baking dish (I use chafing dishes – it fills two). Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes until bubbly. Serve hot with tortilla chips or fritos.

(I usually make two batches and freeze one – before cooking – so I have it around. I have one in the freezer now!)

Download the Recipe

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Whole Foods Crab Cakes

Yesterday I touched on the fact that I find cooking for one less than ideal. Though I don’t enjoy cooking for myself nearly as much as I enjoy cooking for others, I have perfected a few meals for one that I simply adore.

One of my favorite spring/summer meals is crab cakes from Whole Foods. Though they come packaged in twos, I usually ask them to split a pack since I just need one. They always happily oblige. This saves me money and from having to eat the same meal two days in a row. One crab cake usually costs about $6.

Of the two varieties usually offered, I prefer the Maryland Blue Crab Cakes. I don’t remember the name of the other one, but I’ve tried it and found it a bit spicy for my taste.

I usually sear both sides of the crab cake on the stove then pop it into the oven for 10-20 minutes. Served with a light, summery salad (like the strawberry vinaigrette salad pictured above), this meal is both quick and easy to make. And at only 330 calories, it is a marvelous meal option for those trying to stay slim during swimsuit season!

{Photo by: Kendall Shiffler}

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Cooking Hostess

Most people think that because I like to entertain, I also like to cook. This couldn’t be any further from the truth. Planning the menu, of course, is an ever important part of a successful soiree, however; this task is most often left up to my Mom or her best friend Leslie who have flawless taste in food and a surefire stock of recipes.

Entertaining, in fact, is one of the few times I actually enjoy cooking. You see, as a single gal most meals I prepare are for one. I find it hard to get enthused about preparing a meal that only I will be able to enjoy. The thrill of pulling off a new recipe is just not as fun when not shared with a friend.

Maybe that is why I like hosting parties so much — it challenges me to experiment in the kitchen and also comes with the added pressure of getting it right.

Over the past year, my adventurous spirit in the kitchen has blossomed. While in the past I was satisfied with heating up taquitos or ordering in Chinese, I’ve stepped up my game and ventured to try some new dishes that require more than a cookie sheet and a hot oven.

At a party I hosted for the most recent premier of The Bachelor, I served up a panini bar, offering a delicious array of deli meats and cheeses with a serious selection of spreads. Also, I recently attempted a new avocado bruscetta recipe for a dinner party I attended.

I’ll save the rest of my culinary crusades for upcoming posts, but I’ll leave you with the recipe for avocado bruschetta — a delicious little number I picked up from Lauren, Leslie’s daughter, who is a pretty good cook herself!

Remember, a good hostess doesn’t always have to be a good cook. Do like me and fake it till you make it! Chinese and frozen bites are always a great fallback when your short on time, money or culinary creativity! Throw them on a pretty porcelain platter and your guests will never know!

Photo courtesy of: Elle's New England Kitchen

Avocado Bruschetta

  • 2 T. lemon juice
  • 1/4 c. olive oil
  • 2 T. red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 c. chopped cilantro
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 c. chopped fresh parsley
  • 3/4 t. salt
  • 2 avocados, cubed
  • 1/2 t. red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 in. ciabatta slices
  • 1/2 t. dried oregano
  • 1/4 t. ground black pepper

Combine lemon juice, vinegar, garlic, salt, red pepper flakes, oregano, and black pepper in a small bowl.  Whisk in oil, then stir in cilantro and parsley.  Fold in avocado cubes.  Brush ciabatta slices with olive oil and toast lightly under broiler.  Spoon avocado mixture onto toast slices, and serve.

{Photos via Pinterest and Elle’s New England Kitchen}

Filed in: Appetizers, Parties, Recipes | 2 Comments »

Kendall's Menu for the Week

I love to cook for other people, but when it comes to cooking for moi, I just can’t ever seem to find the motivation. Frozen dinners, cereal and sandwiches are the usual fare when it comes to dinner at the Shiffler abode. In an effort to cook more and ultimately, eat healthier, I’ve added a line up of food blogs to my Google Reader repertoire. This week’s menu includes recipes from and inspired by some of my new favorite recipe blogs!

Monday

This Monday it is my turn to host the girls for The Bachelor again. This season each of our hostesses has been really good about offering up healthy fare — a stark contrast to our cupcake and pig in a blanket filled seasons past! With a long day at work and little time for pre-party prep I oped to prepare an easy crockpot meal I’ve posted about before. Black Bean Crockpot Chicken can be served in many healthy ways. I’ll be offering up corn tortillas for those who want to make tacos and fresh greens for the taco salad types.

The appetizer, Creme Cheese Sausage Dip, I admit, is a bit less calorie conscious, although I did choose to use light creme cheese which make it a little better! I made the dip a few weeks ago and froze it, so again, no prep time.

Wednesday

I’m guessing I’ll have leftovers from Monday night’s meal so I planned my next cooking venture for Wednesday. This easy looking vegetarian recipe comes from No Eyeballs Please, a blog by one of my fellow GHS alums, Danielle. She recently launched her blog where she posts recipes that are “always vegetarian and occasionally vegan.”

Danielle’s Lemony Creamy Linguine is one of the many recipes I have slated to try out. I love that there are very few ingredients, making it an easy and affordable meal. (Just the kind I like!) I haven’t tried this recipe before so I’ll report back on how it goes. It sure looks delicious though!

Friday

My last recipe of the week was inspired by the Roast Chicken with Balsamic Bell Peppers recipe on Keeping up with the Joneses. I’m not a huge fan of bell peppers and don’t have the time or motivation to make my own mashed potatoes, so I sought out a similar roasted chicken recipe. A quick search and I came up with McCormick’s Rosemary Baked Chicken with Potatoes recipe. I love that it has few fresh ingredients, because who knows if I’ll actually get to this recipe this week!

Do you plan your meals for the week in advance? If so, what’s on your menu for the week? Do you actually cook or opt for frozen meals?

{Photo Credits: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 }

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Pasta Salad

Pasta salad is truly an art. Trust me, I’ve been to enough barbecues and family reunions to talk. One poorly chosen ingredient, be it in taste or texture, can ruin the whole thing. Too much dressing and your pasta wilts, too little and you’re left with dry, starchy noodles. Obviously, I’m pretty particular about my pasta salad, which is why I’ve never attempted it for a party of my own before.

That was, until this summer, when while planning a Fourth of July themed soiree for my sorority alumnae club, I ran into the problem of finding a side dish to accompany the mini burgers I planned on serving. Pasta salad would be the perfect solution. But could I find a recipe that was elegant enough to match the menu, company and decor? And was I, the admittedly inconsistent chef, up for the task?

As a last minute addition to the party menu (I was already at the grocery store!) I decided to attempt a pasta salad. A quick call to my mom reminded me of the perfectly prepared past salad that my Aunt Tricia brought to this year’s family Easter festivities. Another quick flip of the iPhone and I found myself scribbling this delicious recipe on the back of my grocery list.

Turns out it was a hit. Not only was the pasta salad delicious, the ingredients came together to make a photo worthy dish! Check out the full recipe after the jump!

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Chicken Crescent Rollups

Let’s be honest, I’m not a great cook. Sure, I have a slim stock of sure fire recipes I’ve mastered, but beyond that my kitchen creations are only as good as the recipes I work from.

I’d been in sort of a cooking rut until my friend Alison shared a recipe for Chicken Crescent Roll-ups on her blog, Ross Ramblings, a few months back. The cheap ingredients and simple instructions seduced me into stepping out of my kitchen comfort zone and trying something new. I mean, nothing with that much cheese could possibly be bad, right?

That’s correct. Beyond being absolutely delicious, the recipe is sinfully simple! I made it for Ryan and we both gobbled it up. Plus, we had plenty of leftovers for the next day’s lunch.

Check out the full recipe after the jump. And don’t forget to subscribe to Ross Ramblings. Alison is full of great recipes and DIY projects!

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My younger sister, Bailey, constantly mocks me for having wedding blogs in my feed reader. She laughs at my mantra that weddings can be a great source of party inspiration.Bowtini I defend my position and don’t see why I should miss out on great entertaining ideas just because I’m not married or engaged! I mean, a wedding is just a big party, right?!

My friend Alexis, who you might remember from the Blushing Bride Bridal Shower, helped me strengthen my case when she emailed me photos from a recent party she hosted where her menu was inspired by a wedding she recently attended.

Alexis is always on trend, be it in fashion or entertaining, so I was not surprised when I learned that she took one of the biggest wedding trends right now – “mac-tinis” or “bow-tinis” as she calls them, and used it at her at-home get together.

“I first saw the idea at a wedding where the bride and groom opted for a laid-back heavy hour d’oeuvres buffet in place of a more traditional sit-down meal,” Alexis writes. “At the buffet, there were martini glasses with bow tie pasta and a dozen or so toppings that guests could choose from. ‘Bartenders’ served guests and mixed the toppings into the bow-tinis. It was cute and delicious!”

In Alexis’s at-home adaptation, she opted for a self-serve buffet. She set out toppings in colorful bowls filled with chicken, sausage, shrimp, feta cheese, Parmesan cheese, sun dried tomatoes, pesto, and pine nuts and allowed guests to mix and match.

“They turned out really cute and everyone loved them! It’s a great way to serve guests dinner when you don’t have the room to seat them all – a common dilemma for apartment dwellers like us!”

BowtiniAlexis also noted that you don’t have to use bow tie pasta. Any small pasta will do! Mac and cheese is also a great choice for those without time or space for a topping buffet. Alexis’s last tip for recreating this pasta-licious idea — add olive oil to the pasta to prevent stickiness.

An great idea, seen at a wedding, used at a real-life party. Take that Bailey!

{Photo Credits: Top left: Alexis Orf, Bottom right: Matt DeTurck}

Filed in: Appetizers, Recipes | 7 Comments »

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