Why did I not give you this recipe last summer?

Spicy Artichoke Dip
from Better Homes & Gardens Hometown Potluck Favorites
serves 14

1 14-ounce can artichoke hearts, rinsed, drained, and coarsely chopped
1/3 c. mayonnaise or salad dressing
1/3 c. grated Parmesan cheese
2 Tbsp diced green chile peppers, drained
2 tsp drained and chopped pickled jalapeno peppers
1/8 tsp ground cumin
1 clove garlic, minced

In a large bowl, combine chopped artichoke hearts, mayo, Parmesan, green chile peppers, chopped jalapeno peppers, cumin, and garlic. Spoon in to an ungreased small casserole. Sprinkle with paprika.

Bake, uncovered, in a 350 degree oven for about 25 minutes, or until hot and bubbly. Let stand about 10 minutes before serving.

for 40 servings (!)

3 14-ounce cans artichoke hearts, rinsed, drained, and coarsely chopped
1 c. mayonnaise or salad dressing
1 c. grated Parmesan cheese
1 4-ounce can diced green chile peppers, drained
2 Tbsp drained and chopped pickled jalapeno peppers
1/2 tsp ground cumin
3 cloves of garlic, minced

Same preparation, but use a larger casserole — about 1 1/2 quarts — and bake for about 30 minutes.

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It occurs to me that I made this for a birthday party last spring, but I don’t think I shared the recipe. My bad.

This recipe works best if you are feeding a crowd, and you have a dedicated sous chef; preferably one who doesn’t mind handling chicken parts.

Sweet and Sour Chicken Wings
from Better Homes and Gardens Hometown Potluck Favorites

for 24 servings
2 1/2 lb. chicken wings
1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. lemon-pepper seasoning
1/4 tsp. garlic salt
3 Tbsp. cooking oil
2/3 c. sugar
1/2 c. white wine vinegar or rice vinegar
1/4 c. unsweetened pineapple juice
1/4 c. ketchup
1 tsp. soy sauce
green onions (optional, for garnish)

First, cut off the tips of the chicken wings. Cut wings at joints to form 24 to 30 pieces. This is a really good job for your sous chef.

In a shallow dish, combine the flour, lemon-pepper seasoning, and garlic salt. Coat each chicken piece in the mixture.

Heat your cooking oil in a 12-inch skillet. Add the coated chicken pieces. You will probably end up doing this in batches, which is fine. Cook, uncovered, until brown, turning occasionally. Remove chicken from the skillet and arrange in a 3 to 4 quart rectangular baking dish.

In a medium saucepan, whisk together the sugar, vinegar, pineapple juice, ketchup, and soy sauce. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Pour over chicken in baking dish.

Bake, uncovered, in a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes, or until chicken is tender and no longer pink. Turn pieces over after 15 minutes and baste. If desired, garnish with the green onions.

This travels fairly ok, just make sure that you wrap or cover it securely. If you have an insulated hot carrier, all the better. And it helps if there is an oven at your destination in which you can reheat the chicken just prior to serving.

Here is the 12 servings recipe — though I wouldn’t go through with this recipe for only 12 servings. There are a lot of steps to the recipe and it’s just more worth it to make the bigger batch. Leftovers will keep well or can be sent home with guests, and they reheat nicely in the microwave.

for 12 servings:

1 1/4 lb. chicken wings
1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. lemon-pepper seasoning
1/8 tsp. garlic salt
4 1/2 tsp cooking oil
1/3 c. sugar
1/4 c. white wine vinegar or rice vinegar
2 Tbsp unsweetened pineapple juice
2 Tbsp ketchup
1/2 tsp soy sauce

Prepare using the same method as the 24-serving recipe, except bake in a 2 to 3 quart rectangular baking dish.

Hello. The 1950s called. They said we can keep the casserole dishes. Yay!

Sausage-Rice Casserole
from Better Homes & Garden Hometown Potluck Favorites
serves 6*

1 lb. uncooked sweet (mild) or hot Italian sausage (or sausage links with the casings removed)
1/2 c. chopped onion
2 1/2 c. cooked white rice
1 4-oz. can green chiles, drained
1 4-oz. can mushroom stems and pieces, drained
1 10 3/4-oz. can condensed cream of chicken soup
1 c. milk
3/4 c. (3 oz.) shredded cheddar cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Cook sausage and onion in a skillet on the stovetop until sausage is brown. Stir it to break up big pieces. Drain off excess fat.

In a very large bowl, stir together the rice, chiles, and mushrooms; add the soup, milk, and cheddar cheese; then add the sausage-onion mixture. Stir thoroughly. Tip in to a 2- or 2.5-quart rectangular baking dish. Bake uncovered in your preheated oven for 50 minutes or until heated through.

You can also make this in advance, up to 24 hours according to the recipe book, and store it covered in the fridge til you are ready to cook. Just bake for 65 to 70 minutes if baking straight from the fridge, or until heated through.

How easy is that??

It’s simple, it’s filling, it’s not too expensive if you think about it (just the sausage, really), and I feel that it will reheat spectacularly. It could even do a great impression of a hot, cheesy, creamy, filling dish at a brunch. I used sweet Italian sausage, so the only heat really came from the green chiles and that is not an overpowering or off-putting heat. It was actually quite pleasant with a green salad on the side.

*Why do we love the Hometown Potluck Favorites cookbook? Because it provides the recipe in small and large serving sizes so we can adjust it for family dinners or family reunions, as necessary.

For 12 servings:

2 lbs. sausage
1 c. chopped onion
5 cups cooked white rice
2 4-oz. cans of green chiles, drained
2 4-oz. cans mushroom stems and pieces, drained
2 10 3/4-oz. cans condensed cream of chicken soup
2 c. milk
1 1/2 c. (6 oz.) shredded cheddar cheese

Follow all the same preparatory steps, but divide the mixture evenly between 2 2- or 2.5-quart baking dishes. Bake both dishes 50 minutes at 350, or cover, refrigerate up to 24 hours, and bake at 350 for 65 to 70 minutes, just as you would for the 6-serving recipe.

The actual name of this dessert in the recipe book is “Streusel Strawberry Bars,” but that just didn’t sound right. So I changed the name. Now that summer is almost upon us, make room in your picnic baskets for some strawberry goodness!

From the Better Homes & Gardens Hometown Potluck Favorites recipe book.

Strawberry Streusel Bars (or Streusel Strawberry Bars…take your pick)
recipe makes about 24 pieces

1 c. butter, softened
1 c. granulated sugar
1 egg
2 c. all-purpose flour
3/4 c. pecans, coarsely chopped
1 10-oz. jar strawberry preserves or seedless red raspberry preserves*
1 recipe Powdered Sugar Icing or sifted powdered sugar

*I use Trappist strawberry preserves from St Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, MA. You can buy their preserves online here, if your local stores do not carry it. It’s satisfyingly sweet and an excellent thickness for baking. 10 ounces is almost a full jar, with a couple of ounces left over for your morning toast or oatmeal or your lunchtime peanut butter & jelly sandwich.

In a large bowl, beat softened butter and granulated sugar together using an electric mixer on medium speed until combined, scraping occasionally. Beat in the egg. Beat in as much flour as you can with the mixer, then switch to folding in remaining flour by hand. Add pecans. Mixture should be somehwat crumbly but buttery. Set aside about two cups of the pecan mixture.

Press the remaining pecan mixture in to the bottom of an ungreased 9×9 pan. Sometimes I will dip in to my reserved pecan mixture for a few more clumps of dough, if I feel like I have thin spots in the base layer. If you have a silicon pan, use that, because it’s a dream to remove the finished bars from. Spread the preserves to within about 1/2 an inch from the edges. Dot the reserved pecan mixture all over the top of the preserves.

Bake in a 350-degree oven for about 45 minutes or until top is golden brown. Cool in the pan on a wire rack. Once the bars are cooled, I remove them from the pan, cut them to desired size, then rearrange them on the wire rack over a cookie sheet or cutting board. Then, drizzle over the Powdered Sugar Icing or sift over regular powdered sugar if you are short on time. Excess icing will drip through the wire rack to the cutting board beneath, leaving your bars all very neat-looking and your work surface clean. I use the same trick when icing my Soft Pumpkin Cookies. I let the icing set up until it starts to get hard, or about half a day at room temperature. Plan ahead for these bars if at all possible.

Powdered Sugar Icing
In a small bowl, stir together 1 cup sifted powdered sugar, 1 Tbsp. milk, and 1/4 tsp vanilla. Stir in additional milk, 1 tsp at a time, until icing achieves desired drizzling consistency. You will probably have a lot of icing for one little batch of strawberry bars, so ice just until they’re the way you want them. No one’s going to make you use up all the icing, unless you want to.

Sweet & Sour Baked Chicken
makes about 4 servings

4 medium skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
salt & pepper
1 Tbsp. cooking oil
1 8 oz. can pineapple chunks in juice (drain the pineapple and reserve the juice)
1/2 cup jellied cranberry sauce
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
2 Tbsp. packed brown sugar
2 Tbsp. rice vinegar or cider vinegar
2 Tbsp. frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed
2 Tbsp. dry sherry, chicken broth, or water
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1 medium green sweet pepper, cut into bite-size strips or pieces

After cutting the chicken, season it with the salt and pepper and cook it two minutes per side, or until slightly browned. Place the chicken in one layer in an oven-safe casserole dish. Place the pineapple chunks in the dish with the chicken.

To make the sweet & sour sauce, whisk together in a medium saucepan the reserved pineapple juice, the cranberry sauce, cornstarch, brown sugar, vinegar, orange juice concentrate, sherry/chicken broth/water, soy sauce, and ginger. Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened and bubbly. Pour over chicken and pineapple in dish.

Cover dish with a lid or aluminum foil and bake in a 350-degree oven for 25 minutes. Uncover and add sweet peppers, stirring gently to coat with sauce. Continue to bake, uncovered, about 5 minutes more or until chicken is done.

Serve with rice. The sauce thickens as it cools, so if it is too thin for your tastes when it comes out of the oven, let it sit a while. Great leftovers!

from Better Homes and Gardens Hometown Potluck Favorites

Spicy Artichoke Dip
Crab-Caper Dip
Tzatziki
Celery Stuffed with Gorgonzola
Spanakopita
Mini Lamb Burgers with Tzatziki Relish

DH tells me I am a glutton for punishment: Almost all my friends have food allergies or diet restrictions! Throwing a dinner party becomes a creative exercise when more than one guest has a restriction. My tapas party for 6 is being attended by a vegetarian with a tomato allergy and one guest with a possible gluten allergy. DH just laughs as I try to pick menu items that give everyone a selection of dishes to eat from. Dips are served with whole wheat pita chips and plain bagel chips, and carrots, celery, and broccoli for variety and as an option for the guest with the possible gluten allergy.

The recipes for the Spicy Artichoke Dip and Crab-Caper Dip both came from a potluck cookbook; the gorgonzola celery was from an Italian cuisine cookbook I’ve had for years; and the mini lamb burgers came from a recipe for lamb meatballs on Chow.com (just squish them a little and they’re mini burgers, not meatballs!). Everything else was bought from the store ready-made. Why drive myself batty doing everything from scratch, when a mix of a few homemade items and a few store-bought items will be just as delicious. If not more so — I tried to make tzatziki once and failed miserably.

SPICY ARTICHOKE DIP
The Spicy Artichoke Dip wasn’t quite as spicy as I had been expecting. Even though it had two tablespoons of canned diced green chilis and two teaspoons of chopped pickled jalapenos, the amount of heat in the fresh dip hot from the oven was not at all overwhelming — I don’t like spicy food and I thought it was great. I noticed that the small amount of leftover dip seemed to increase in heat after a day or two in the fridge, but still was not too hot. The recipe I have can serve 14 or, multiplied out, 40, and would make an excellent potluck party dip.

CRAB-CAPER DIP
When the recipe calls for low-fat mayo or salad dressing and reduced-fat Swiss cheese, heed it. I had regular mayo already on hand and I couldn’t find reduced-fat shredded Swiss in the store, so I used regular versions of both. It prepped fine but during the baking process, I believe the fats in the mayo and cheese separated out and the result, while still incredibly tasty, was not as creamy as I think it could have been, and I had to whip it together a little to re-colloid it. In fact, it looked a little scary when it came out of the oven and I was afraid it was ruined. But it wasn’t, and it was fantastic. There wasn’t any left over, so I’m not sure how it would be after a day or two in the refrigerator. I still have all the ingredients in my fridge, so I am going to make a second batch just for me and DH to enjoy. He doesn’t like to eat and drink at the same time, so he actually got to enjoy very little of the food I prepared.

TZATZIKI
I get the Joseph’s brand cucumber & garlic tzatziki because it is the thickest store-bought version I have found, and runny tzatziki is not as satisfying on pita and would definitely not stand up to vegetable dippers. It did hold up well, was incredibly popular with my guests, and made a great condiment for the mini lamb burgers.

CELERY STUFFED WITH GORGONZOLA
The cheese filling for these celery sticks is actually half gorgonzola, a blue cheese, and half cream cheese. I softened the cheeses up and blended this in advance, so at serving time all I needed was to fill the celery sticks. Apparently the combination of celery and cheese is a lot like cilantro — people either like it a lot, or don’t. I apparently am in the latter camp and all my guests seemed to be in the former. I wasn’t overwhelmed.

SPANAKOPITA
Store-bought frozen, baked up  browned and crispy with the perfect blend of filling. Some opened at one of the seams and became cornucopiae of spinach filling, but it was low-mess even then. Definitely a repeat frozen treat.

MINI LAMB BURGERS
I made the lamb mini burgers up in advance the morning of, and refrigerated those until we were ready for the second course. They went literally like hot cakes; I baked up half, they disappeared, I baked the second half, and they disappeared. They were delicious — with cumin and cinnamon dominating the palate, without much flavor of the chopped fresh mint, which was a bit of a surprise. I would have expected really strong flavor from the mint. But they were DELICIOUS and the next time I make them I will make them standard-burger size, because they are fantastic. They shrank rather a lot from their raw size, and plenty of fat was left behind in the baking sheet, so the burgers themselves were actually quite firm. I spread dollops of tzatziki on mine and the tangy Greek yogurt was the perfect condiment for the sweet, earthy lamb.

I know you shouldn’t use your guests as guinea pigs; you should always test drive new recipes before a party so you know whether they work, what their quirks are, and how they should taste. I didn’t test drive any of these recipes, I just went for it and promised everyone that if it turned out awful, we’d order pizza. Happily everything turned out, and I had maybe a half cup of the Spicy Artichoke Dip left over, and nothing else — it all disappeared. One of my guests brought chocolate chip banana bread for dessert and I don’t know how she did it, for it was cohesive but fall-apart moist.

I was able to do a lot of the recipe prep in advance in spurts throughout the day, so I didn’t feel like I spent all day cooking and when it was time to throw the dips together and bake them, I didn’t have to start an extra half hour earlier and chop onions, artichoke hearts, and vegetables in order to get started. It worked out really well as my guests arrived a half hour early, so when they called to say they were leaving I was able to get everything together and in the oven well before they arrived without any panic.

Go ahead and throw a party! It doesn’t have to be overwhelming, even if there are a lot of different things on the menu, such as for this appetizer-oriented party. The fact that there were “courses” impressed and excited my guests and it was actually very little actual work for me — I just had to spend some energy preparing in advance, which was no big deal and I used cutting up celery and broccoli as a break from cleaning. More important than the ease or contents of the menu, we laughed a lot and enjoyed each other’s company. There is very little better than to eat, drink, and be merry with good friends.