Host an Interactive Pot Luck for the Holidays

Host an Interactive Pot Luck for the Holidays

When Sous Chefs Crash Christmas

Tired of the same holiday party themes? If you are like me, you’ve done them all: the crazy Christmas sweater party; the winter white party (lots of cauliflower and mashed potatoes). Of course, there was the “everyone brings an ornament” for the tree party, and the ever-popular pirates Christmas party. (There was actually a scuffle during that one!) I have also themed my holiday parties around the Deep South, a cookie exchange, alfresco in December theme (that one was pretty chilly) and even a football tailgating Christmas! I was beginning to think I ran out of fresh ideas… until….. I came up with this one: The Interactive Holiday Party!

The new, hip trend in entertaining is to incorporate interactivity with your party theme. Ideas like painting parties, and guests getting involved with the more exciting aspects of hosting. Interactive food is a natural. Food stations evolve. The idea is to strike a balance between fussing over your guests, and letting them have fun cooking during the party. It’s kind of a new riff on the old-fashioned pot luck supper. Instead of your guests bringing a dish that they prepare at home, they come to YOU first, and help prepare your menu. An interactive pot luck supper invites your guests to double as “sous chefs”, which in French basically translates to the kitchen’s second in command.

Pulling this party off so everyone has a blast is all a matter of setting up the cooking stations in advance; the more organized the host, the more fun your guests have cooking up the meal. Here’s how you do it.

You, the hostess with the mostess, choose the menu.


Then you set up stations for each dish that includes all ingredients, cooking tools and serveware. Set up your dining table and invite your guests to have a seat. Take a couple friends at a time and start cooking. After each dish is prepared, return to the table, and savor the food together as a group. Then continue with more friends to create the next dish. Small plates are best for this idea, as the FUN and tasting go on…and on…and ON! Spread out the stations, so you don’t find yourself cleaning up one station to make room for another. If you have a small kitchen, you don’t have to do everything on your stovetop. Make use of plug-ins like slow cookers, panini makers, electric skillets, etc.

Le menu for your first Interactive Pot Luck

Get started using the following menu as a guideline for creating your interactive pot luck supper. I’m including the recipe for Grilled Guac. The others (and so many more) are available in my iBook Sunday Best Dishes. Did you know you can download the book onto your iPhone?  It is available through iTunes. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. Download it today, and start your holiday cooking off right!

Small Plate 1 – Grilled Guac

Pre-Set: Cut up your vegetables, so they are prepared for either your outdoor grill or your indoor grill pan. Ask your guests to grill the veggies until just done. Cool a bit and then add everything to the serving bowl. Cool a bit and then add everything to the serving bowl. Take turns mashing and tasting. Have the basket of chips ready for scooping when you bring everything to the table.

Small Plate 2 – Warm Brussels Sprouts Caesar Salad

Pre-Set: Buy pre-shaved Brussels sprouts in the bag and microwave to steam them until they are very soft. Cool to room temperature. Prepare a station with toasted bread crumbs (for the croutons), grated Parmesan cheese and Caesar salad dressing. Ask your guests to warm the sprouts in a sauté pan, and toss in the remaining salad ingredients. Serve on small plates with a garnish of cracked black pepper and a sliver of anchovy.

Small Plate 3 – Short Rib Panini Sandwiches

Pre-Set: Cook boneless short ribs in your slow cooker. Create a station with all the elements needed for super sandwiches: artisanal breads and cheeses and roasted tomatoes, flavored mustards and mayos, and crisp veggies like lettuce and cucumbers. Now ask your guests to assemble panini sandwiches “to order”, using a panini maker or good old fashioned waffle maker.

Small Plate 4 – Ice Cream Sundaes with Pizzelle Bowls

Pre-Set: Premix pizzelle batter. Create a station with all of the items needed for sugary ice cream sundaes: chopped candy and nuts, chocolate and caramel sauces, sprinkles, fruit and cookie crumbles. Invite guests to make the ice cream bowls by inverting warm pizzelle cookies over small cups or bowls, and then cooling to room temperature. Your pizzelle maker will be perfect for this. Spruce up the theme by topping with red and green sprinkles.

 ……. And to all a Good Party Night!!!!


A Side Dish You Can Be Grateful For

A Side Dish You Can Be Grateful For

Thanksgiving is less than 2 weeks away! Do you have your menu planned?

This savory side is JUST EXCELLENT with turkey and all the fixings. It comes together fast, and pairs exceptionally well with a bottle of white. This recipe is a tried and true one from SUNDAY BEST DISHES. My readers can look forward to a print edition, coming out in Summer 2017. I raise my glass to all of you, and wish you the best Thanksgiving yet!

I think it I think it’s the goat cheese that makes this so yummy!

Caramelized Onion and Goat Cheese Bread Pudding

This savory take on bread pudding infuses chunks of buttery bread with sugary, caramelized onions and sharp goat cheese. It’s a yummy, creamy perfect for the Sunday supper table.


2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon butter

1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced, about 2 cups

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon coarse pepper

1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

3 cups half and half

2 large eggs, beaten

2 ounces goat cheese, crumbled, about ½ cup

6 to 8 thick slices bread cut into (1-inch thick) cubes, about 6 cups

            Preheat the oven to 400°. Heat the butter and olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until soft, about 15 to 20 minutes. When the onion begins to turn golden and caramelize, stir in chives and balsamic vinegar. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until the onion is dark brown and syrupy, about 5 minutes more. Remove the pan from the heat.

            Whisk the half and half with the eggs in a large bowl. Place the bread cubes into the wet ingredients. Push down to submerge every cube. Let the bread cubes absorb the liquid, about 15 to 20 minutes. When most of the liquid has been absorbed, stir in the caramelized onion.

            Spoon the bread pudding into a 9 x 9-inch baking dish coated with vegetable oil spray. Sprinkle the goat cheese on top. Bake until the pudding is set and the top is golden brown, about 30 to 40 minutes. Spoon the bread pudding onto the plate and garnish with additional fresh chives.

Company’s Comin’ Gumbo

Company’s Comin’ Gumbo

It’s almost Christmas Eve! If you’re looking for a dish that is perfect to serve while gathering around the tree, here is my Company’s Comin’ Gumbo recipe. You can prepare it in the morning and heat it up as the family arrives. This soup/stew has just enough spice to keep you warm and toasty so get out there a carol up a storm!!


This is a great make-ahead meal. You can put it together on the stove anytime of the day and warm it up when the guests arrive. The roux makes the dish… it’s rich, luscious and full of flavor!

Serves a 6 to 8
40 Minutes (or more) ‘til Dinnertime

Preheat the oven to 350°

  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup butter, 2 sticks
  • 1 red pepper, deveined and diced into ¼” pieces
  • 1 green pepper, deveined and diced into ¼” pieces
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, peeled and diced into ¼-inch pieces
  • 4 stalks celery, trimmed and thinly sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 1 Tablespoon Cajun seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon coarse black pepper
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 2 cups homemade chicken broth, or prepared low sodium chicken broth
  • 2 (8 ounce) bottles clam juice
  • 1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup tomato paste
  • 4 to 6 drops hot pepper sauce
  • 14 ounces andouille sausage, sliced and cut in half
  • 2 pounds uncooked jumbo shrimp (21 to 25 count), peeled, deveined with tails removed
  • 1 (10 ounce) package frozen sliced okra, thawed
  • 2 to 3 cups cooked white rice

Spread the flour onto a baking sheet. Toast the flour in the oven for 10 minutes.

Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Whisk in the toasted flour. Stir in the diced peppers. Cook the roux until it is amber brown, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Heat the olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion, celery and garlic to the pot. Add Cajun seasoning, salt and pepper. Cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Pour in the white wine and cook until the liquid is incorporated. Stir in the chicken broth, clam juice, diced tomatoes and tomato paste. Pour in the roux and cook for 5 minutes. Season with hot pepper sauce and additional salt and pepper. Stir in the sausage, shrimp and okra. Simmer until the shrimp is cooked through and the flavors meld, about 10 minutes.

Serve the gumbo by placing a scoop of rice in the middle of a bowl. Surround the rice with gumbo. Serve additional hot pepper sauce on the side!

Nana Network Tip

Use thawed, frozen shrimp and frozen okra in this recipe. It’s perfect and way less expensive!

Pumpkin Overload!

Pumpkin Overload!

What to do with all of those two for the price of one cans of pumpkin puree? Well, it’s a bit like Bubba Gump. You can bake pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, pumpkin cake and pumpkin muffins. You can prepare pumpkin waffles, pancakes and coffee cake. There’s pumpkin soup and pumpkin mole sauce. Pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin trifle… get the idea?

Well, here’s a refreshing dish. Let’s use that leftover pumpkin to create Pumpkin Pie Ice Cream. Believe it or not, it takes little effort. An ice cream machine does all of the work. Serve it alongside your favorite cookie… maybe pumpkin biscotti?!

Pumpkin Pie Ice Cream

Rich, velvety ice cream comes together more quickly than you might think. Serve with chocolatey brownies or cookies for an over-the-top ice cream experience. Remember, if it’s not frozen…. It’s not dessert!

Makes 12 Scoops

4 hours ‘til Dessert time

  • 1 cup dark brown sugar, divided
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • ½ cup whole milk
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice

Whisk together ½ cup brown sugar and egg yolks in a small bowl until smooth.

Whisk together heavy cream, the remaining ½ cup brown sugar, pumpkin puree, milk, salt and vanilla in a saucepan over medium heat until smooth. Cook until the liquid just begins to bubble on the edges, about 5 minutes. Do not let it boil.

Whisk a small amount (1/4 to 1/3 cup) of the warm liquid into the sugar and egg yolks. Pour this back into the saucepan. Cook the custard over medium heat until it thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 3 to 5 minutes.

Pour the custard through a sieve or fine mesh strainer into a bowl. This will sort out any cooked bits of egg. Place this bowl into a larger bowl. Place ice cubes into the larger bowl to chill the custard. Stir the custard every once in a while to reduce the temperature. When the custard is cooled (this can take 30 to 45 minutes) pour into an ice cream machine. Churn the ice cream according to the manufacturer’s directions.

Transfer to an airtight container and chill further in the freezer for at least 2 to 3 hours.

Snack Attack!

Snack Attack!

This Holiday Season Wrap Your Snacks with Bacon Bows

Then again, why limit a snack like this to the holidays?

HOLY APPY, Batman! This one is for the record (cook) book. I saw Food Network star, Ree Drummond prepare bacon appetizers on one of her Christmas specials and could not resist giving them a try. It is a simple idea of wrapping country club crackers with a thinly sliced piece of bacon and then oven baking the crackers at a low temperature of 250 degrees for 2 hours. Just layer the cracker with either Parmesan cheese or brown sugar. The cracker absorbs all of the rich bacon fat and the cheese or sugar melts right into the middle. This is such a great Christmas appy, which got me thinking, “Why do we have to wait until Christmas to eat things wrapped in bacon? This should be a year-round snack starter!”

That’s what I thought when I realized you can freeze these bacon crackers and then warm them back up any time you need a quick snack. You could also ditch the crackers altogether and embrace the gorgeous deliciousness of bacon in a more natural state. Hello, Chipotle Spiced Candied Bacon! You could also do what I did below in 2 simple steps.

Spicy-Cheesy Bacon on Warm Pita Bread

  • Step 1: Load pita chips with finely shredded cheddar cheese
  • Step 2: Sprinkled on a couple of diced pickled jalapenos and wrap the pita chip in bacon, baking the “bacon bites” on a rack in a baking pan at 250° for two hours.

The result was a cheesy, rich, and salty pita cracker that melted in my mouth and then surprised me with a pop of heat.

Call to Action for All Bacon Lovers!

Let’s start a bacon-wrapped cracker movement. We could change the world! Let’s see what combinations we come up with, and vote on which one is the most original! You post your combo and I will give it a try.

Meanwhile, we will have plenty of bacony treats hidden in the freezer to quell our next snack attack! Oh, and heads up: my blog is going to be doing a whole series of SNACK ATTACKS in anticipation of my lucky #7 book, out in 2015. I think I may have given away the book’s content in this post. Oops! Oh well….commence your snacking – it is going to help me so much!!