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Peppermint Mocha Cakes

Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat…

We’re at the three day countdown to Christmas and the excitement is bubbling over in our home. Our annual cookie exchange took place last weekend, and last night we hosted our first ‘white elephant’ booze exchange amongst my siblings and a few other honorary family members.

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It was a roaring success, most certainly to be repeated in future years. I won a couple bottles of hard cider from a local orchard, a wine glass sippy cup, and a bottle of One Hope pinot noir, a portion of whose profits go toward funding adoptions for homeless animals. Every sip comes with complimentary images of wagging puppy tails and frolicking kittens. Christmas win!

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Gifts marked for the exchange

Tomorrow I’ll cook our annual chicken parmesan dinner, then Tuesday I’ll prepare the beef bourguignon for the Christmas dinner we will celebrate with 16 people. The abundance of our blessings in love, and family, and friendships does not go unnoticed.

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Brothers

Before we get swept into the Christmas tornado, I wanted to share this recipe with you. These delicious little peppermint mocha bundt cakes evolved from one of my favorite Hershey’s chocolate cake recipes. They’re moist and rich, with a minty mocha flavor reminiscent of my favorite holiday Starbucks beverage. Make them as mini cakes, perfect for gifting or bake sale donations, or make it as a full-sized treat for your holiday table.

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Peppermint Mocha Cakes

Ingredients

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon peppermint extract
  • 3/4 cup very strong, hot coffee

For the coffee glaze:

  • 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • A few tablespoons brewed coffee

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease and flour 12 mini-bundt pans or 1 12-cup bundt pan.

In a large bowl, combine the sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the eggs, milk, oil, and peppermint. Beat for a couple minutes until well combined. Gradually add the hot coffee and stir. (The batter will be thinner than you might expect.) Pour the batter into the prepared pans, so that each pan is no more than 2/3 full. Bake until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. (Approximately 20-25 minutes for mini-bundts, 50-55 minutes for large bundt pan) Cool completely.

To prepare the glaze, gradually stir a little hot coffee into the confectioner’s sugar until a smooth glaze forms. Drizzle the glaze over the top of the cake, then garnish with a crushed candy cane.

Makes 12 mini-bundt cakes or 1 large bundt cake

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Triple Ginger Cookies and Holiday Sangria

This past weekend, I hosted my third annual cookie exchange party. Cookie party, for me, is quite simply an excuse to have a bunch of my friends over to my festively adorned house, so we can indulge in afternoon cocktails and eat cookies.

We eat cheese. We drink holiday sangria, pomegranate champagne cocktails, and cocoa. We trade cookies. The kids make holiday crafts. Everyone has grand time.

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This year’s party was apparently so grand and inviting, that perfect strangers decided to join us.

No joke.

My cookie party got crashed by three women wearing Santa hats.

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They walked up our driveway, let themselves in through the front door, sat on our stairs to remove their winter boots, coats, and hats, then proceeded to walk through the house in search of someone they knew.

One of my friends alerted me to the presence of my new guests, who were wandering my house at that very moment. I ran to my husband to find out what to do.

We were just about to greet our new guests as they walked into the living room and realized their mistake.

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One woman, who appeared to be the mother of the other two, mumbled an embarrassed apology, then made a hasty exit. The other two women sat on the stairs while they laced up what seemed like the tallest winter boots in creation. They then chased after their mom, who was already in her car driving down the road in search of their intended party.

Had it been me, standing there, eating a piece of cheese in the living room of a complete stranger, surrounded by that stranger’s family and friends, I would have run out of that house barefoot, into the foot and a half of snow on the ground.

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Had they brought cookies to share, I would have eagerly encouraged them to stay. But, as I always say, every time someone crashes my cookie party… No cookies? No cocktails!

Next year, I’m hiring a cookie bouncer for my party.

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These spicy, triple-ginger cookies were my contribution to the cookie buffet. They’re sweet and chewy and oozing with gingery flavor. The holiday sangria, which follows, is accented with festive flavors of orange, ginger, cinnamon, and pomegranate.

You’d have crashed my cookie party too, if you knew these cookies and sangria were waiting inside.

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Triple Ginger Cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
  •  1 2-ounce bottle crystallized ginger, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 cups flour

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix sugar, eggs, and oil. Add the remaining ingredients and stir until well blended. Roll into 1″ balls. Arrange the balls about 1 1/2″ apart on a baking sheet. Bake for 8-10 minutes, until crackles form on the top. Remove the cookies from the oven, then give the baking sheet a little whack on the counter to flatten the cookies.

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Holiday Sangria

Ingredients

  • 1.5 liter bottle of sweet red wine (I used Sutter Home’s Sweet Red Wine)
  • 1/2 cup triple sec
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1 cup ginger ale
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 pear, chopped
  • 1 pomegrante
  • 1 orange

Directions

Combine the wine, triple sec, orange juice, and ginger ale. Add the cinnamon stick and the chopped pear. Remove the arils from the pomegranate and add to the mixture. Remove the orange segments from the orange, chop into small pieces and add to the mixture. Remove the white pith from the orange peel, then slice the peel into small slivers. Add to the sangria. Chill and enjoy.

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Thanksgiving Menu Ideas

Hey, folks…

Reposting last year’s round-up of Thanksgiving ideas for a little menu-planning inspiration!

~Amy

APPETIZERS

Cranberry Chipotle Meatballs

Corn and Bacon Fritters with Smoked Salmon

Bacon-Wrapped Dates stuffed with Bleu Cheese

THE MAIN EVENT

Herb-Roasted Turkey Breast with Pan Gravy (and tips for roasting a whole turkey)

Bacon and Cider Braised Turkey Drumsticks (and garlicky creamed spinach)

Spiced Sweet Potato Puree with Pecan Streusel

Sausage, Apple, and Leek Stuffing

Cranberry-Orange Sauce

Green Beans Almondine

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Walnuts

Hot Doughy Buns

DESSERTS

Chocolate Pecan Pie

Pumpkin Coconut Pie

A Few Variations on Apple Pie (in an all butter pie crust)

Caramel Apple Cake

Turkey-Shaped Sugar Cookies

Caramel Apple Tartlets

Spiced Mango Upside Down Cake

Cannoli Cheesecake

Breaking Bad Dinner Menu

Well, hello friends!

Apologies for my unplanned vanishing act. By the end of Day 1 of summer vacation, I was pretty sure I’d never make it out alive. I fought the chaos tooth and nail for the first week. Then I just I surrendered. Summer swallowed me whole and belched as I went down.

I ran on reserve power for most of the summer, focusing on only my most integral functions, like preventing the boys from maiming themselves during their daredevil play routines and rinsing the mud from their summer bodies three times daily.

I thought that once the school year began, I’d be able to climb my way from the pit of chaos and promptly begin posting again, but I’ve been saying that for three weeks now. Alas, the school year brought upon us its own special kind of insanity and I still find myself with too many balls in the air. If only I knew how to juggle…

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Hear no evil. See no evil. Speak no evil.

I’m going to make it up to you today though, with an entire menu’s worth of recipes. Have we got any Breaking Bad fans out there?

I recently read some comment that watched in reverse, AMC’s Breaking Bad tells the inspiring story of drug lord who cleans up his act, beats cancer, reunites his family, and becomes a school teacher. Sounds like a Lifetime movie. In actuality, for the last five seasons, we’ve watched the tale of a seemingly normal man’s struggle with cancer and providing for his family crumble into the most unimaginable chaos, up to the point where last episode left off, with a suggestion that perhaps there’s nothing left of that kind, normal man. The show is widely considered one of television’s best dramas and for good reason. I’m approaching the series finale with mix of eager anticipation and deep sadness for its ending.

In honor of its finale, the good folks at Cinema Blend asked me to put together a little Breaking Bad themed dinner party menu. Though not in any way a show about food, Breaking Bad gives us no shortage for dinner party inspiration. Many of the shows pivotal confrontations occur over some of the world’s most awkward meals. The following menu, designed with a New Mexican flare for the show’s setting, should give you a few good ideas for hosting your own Breaking Bad series finale dinner party.

Check out Cinema Blend for all of the latest coverage, recaps, and reviews of Breaking Bad.

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During the past season, Walt, Skyler, Hank and Marie met for the world’s most awkward double date at a Mexican restaurant. At the height of the tension, an upbeat waiter arrives, eagerly pushing the joint’s signature tableside guacamole. (You can see the clip here.)

Make this guacamole tableside to your guest’s liking, or prepare it ahead of time. *Squeeze a bit of lime juice over the top and cover securely with plastic wrap to prevent browning.

Heisenberg’s Tableside Guacamole

Ingredients

  • 2 ripe avocados, halved
  • 1/4 red onion, finely diced
  • 1/2 jalapeño, ribs and seeds removed, very finely diced
  • 1 small tomato, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

Smash the avocado using the backside of a fork, a potato masher, or with a mortar and pestle. Stir in the remaining ingredients. Adjust quantities as desired.

Serve with Walt’s signature blue tortilla chips and Jesse’s favorite Funyuns. To go full Breaking Bad style, wait to offer this to your guests during the most tense part of the evening. Orchestrate tension, if necessary.

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No Breaking Bad menu would be complete without some fried chicken, from Gus Fring’s Los Pollos Hermanos, the fried chicken joint which played heavily into the show’s third and fourth seasons. We served our boneless fried chicken tenders over a spicy salsa verde, drizzled with a bit of chipotle mayo.

Gus Fring’s Los Pollos Hermanos Fried Chicken Tenders over Salsa Verde with Chipotle Drizzle

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds chicken tenderloins
  • 3 cups buttermilk, divided
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
  • 3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Vegetable oil, for frying

Directions

Soak the tenderloins in 2 cups of the buttermilk in a covered container in the refrigerator for a few hours.

Heat the vegetable oil in a large frying pan over medium/medium-high heat, until sizzling hot.

Whisk together the remaining cup of buttermilk and the eggs in a large bowl. Transfer the chicken tenders to the egg mixture.

In a small baking dish, stir together the flour, garlic powder, salt, paprika, and cayenne pepper.

Remove the chicken tenders from the egg mixture. Allow the excess to drip off. Press the chicken into the flour mixture until well coated on both sides. Place in the hot oil. Cook for about 3-4  minutes on each side, until cooked through and golden brown. (The chicken should sizzle when placed in the oil.) Drain the cooked tenders on a paper towel. Repeat in small batches until all of the chicken has been cooked.

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Salsa Verde

Slightly modified from Rick Bayless’ Salsa Verde

Ingredients

  • 8 tomatillos
  • 1 jalapeno pepper or 1-2 serrano peppers, halved, stems and ribs removed*
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 white onion, coarse chopped
  • 10-12 cilantro sprigs, bottom portion of stem removed, coarse chopped
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • Salt, to taste

*Use jalapeño for a spicy sauce. Use serrano for a more mild sauce.

Directions

Preheat your broiler.

Remove the husks from the tomatillos. Rinse. Cut off the stem, then halve. Place the halved tomatillos, garlic cloves, and jalapeño or serrano pepper on a baking sheet. Lightly rub the tomatillos, peppers, and garlic with olive oil. Roast a few inches under the broiler for about 5 minutes. Flip them over and roast the other side for about 5 minutes. Once cool, transfer the entire contents of the tray (including the juices) to a blender. Add the onion and cilantro. Blend to desired consistency. Season with lime juice and salt, to taste.

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Chipotle Drizzle

Ingredients

  • 1 chipotle (from can of chipotles in adobo), pureed or very finely chopped
  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons of adobo sauce (from can of chipotles in adobo)

Directions

Combine all ingredients until well blended.

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The fifth season’s episode “Fifty-one”, finds Walt, Skyler, Hank and Marie seated once again at a dinner table on Walt’s 51st birthday, reflecting back the past year, with Walt spinning a web of lies while Skyler silently contemplates an escape for herself and her children. Attempting to break the tension, Marie offers a compliment about Skyler’s mashed potatoes, eager to learn how she removed all of the lumps. Skyler distractedly credits the use of a potato ricer, though her potatoes were actually store-bought and microwaved.

It may not truly be Skyler’s trick to creamy potatoes, but a potato ricer is in fact the ticket to smooth, non-gummy potatoes. By pressing the cooked potatoes through the ricer, lumps are thoroughly removed, without disturbing the cooked starches too much. I’ve had my eye on a potato ricer for many years now, though the idea to purchase one always corresponds with the holiday season, when I’m bleeding money and just can’t wrap myself around the added expense. I bought myself one yesterday in honor of this dish. Those are some smooth potatoes!

Skyler’s Creamy Potatoes with Cheddar and Jalapeño

Ingredients

  • 8 large russet potatoes, peel and chopped into 1″ chunks
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 2 cup cheddar cheese, grated
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1  jalapeño, ribs and seeds removed, very finely diced
  • Salt

Directions

Place the potatoes in a large saucepan. Add water to just cover the potatoes. Bring the water to a boil. Cook for about 10 minutes, until fork tender. Allow to cool slightly. Mash the potatoes in a potato ricer or food mill. Alternately, use a potato masher. Stir in the sour cream, cheese, milk, and jalapeño, just until blended. Do not over-stir. Add more milk, as desired, to reach your preferred consistency. Season with salt, to taste.

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Oh, Jesse, Jesse, Jesse… poor conflicted man, with any chance of living his American dream looking pretty hopeless right about now. Trapped in a concrete cell by some uber-creeps, Todd (no doubt the creepiest one of all) offers him some Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, giving him a choice between Peanut Butter Cup and Stephen Colbert’s Americone Dream.

Stephen Colbert’s Americone Dream combines vanilla ice cream with fudge coated waffle cone and caramel. This ice cream pie is inspired by the crave-worthy Ben and Jerry’s flavor. A waffle-cone crust gets coated with rich chocolate ganache then filled with vanilla ice cream and drizzled with caramel.

*Did you know that you can make a pie crust out of just about anything that crumbles? Combine two cups of crumbs with enough melted butter to make it stick (I usually use 10-12 tablespoons for 2 cups of crumbs, though other recipes use less butter), then press it into your pie shell and bake for a few minutes to set.

Jesse’s “Americone Dream” Inspired Ice Cream Pie

Ingredients

  • 2 cups ice cream cone crumbs (sugar cones or waffle cones)
  • 10-12 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 gallon vanilla ice cream
  • 1/4 cup caramel sauce

Directions

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Stir together the ice cream cone crumbs and melted butter, until it sticks together when pressed. Press the mixture into a deep dish pie pan. Bake the crust for 10 minutes. Cool.

Bring the cream just to a boil, then remove from heat. Stir the hot cream into the chocolate chips. Stir until melted. Pour the ganache onto the bottom of the pie crust. Use a spatula to spread the ganache in an even layer on the bottom and up part of the sides of the crust. Cool.

Allow the ice cream to soften at room temperature. Spread the softened ice cream into the prepared crust. Place the pie in the freezer to set.

Before serving, drizzle with caramel sauce.

For more of a Breaking Bad effect, garnish the pie with little bits of blue rock candy or crushed blue hard candy. *You might want to wait until the kids go to bed before adding the crystal blue garnish. It just didn’t seem right to have the kids around pretend drugs, even if they’re clueless about the reference.

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Blue is Walt and Jesse’s signature color. This crystal blue cocktail is oozing with orange flavors. I used an orange infused simple syrup to sweeten the drink, in order to preserve the beverage’s crystal transparency.

*This is a strong one, folks. Drink responsibly.

Crystal Blue Martini

Ingredients

  • 2 ounces orange vodka
  • 1 ounce triple sec
  • 1 ounce blue curacao
  • 2 ounces orange infused simple syrup
  • Lemon juice, to taste

Directions

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Pour off the ice. Garnish with orange peel.

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Orange Infused Simple Syrup

Ingredients

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • Peel of an orange, pith removed, thinly sliced

Directions

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan. Bring to a simmer, stirring until sugar is completely dissolved. Simmer gently for about 3-5 minutes. Remove the orange peel and reserve for garnish. Cool.

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Here are a few other fun ideas you could incorporate for a Breaking Bad viewing party:

Rooftop Roasted Pizza, just how Walt likes it. – Try any of the pizza recipes in the pizza section of my recipe collection.

Green Beans Almondine, like the store-bought ones that so impressed Jesse during his dinner at the White’s.

Breakfast with a number made of bacon, Walt’s annual way of bringing in his birthday. *This pic is from my son’s fifth birthday dinner. He is nothing like Walter White, except that he like breakfast foods and bacon.

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Tuco’s Burritos

Gus Fring’s Seafood Stew

Huevos Rancheros or this Huevos Rancheros Pizza

Rice ‘n’ Beans – Say it again. Rice ‘n’ Beans. Get it? Ricin Beans ** WARNING** DO NOT USE ACTUAL RICIN. It’s poison.

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Indian Chickpeas and Mango Lassis

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We spent last weekend at a rental house in the Catskill mountains with some friends from college and a few of their close friends. 10 adults. 8 little boys ages 6 month to 6 years. An endless supply of good food. Late nights and early mornings. Amazing fun.

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The weather was cold and rainy, but the house was well equipped to keep everyone occupied. We played air hockey and foosball and pool and Settlers of Catan. The kids got lessons in backgammon, dominos, and the card game, war. On the warmest day, we played bubbles and hopscotch. The kids enjoyed the large outdoor play set and playing tee-ball in the yard, which was much more a practice in turn-taking than anything else. There were nature walks, a close call with a tick and a perfectly freaky encounter with a snake. The jacuzzi went largely unused and the karaoke machine went completely neglected. (The beer fridge worked double time.)

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Each of the five families prepared a meal during our weekend stay. We ate tender slow-cooked BBQ pork with grilled sweet corn, beer can chicken, homemade waffles with ripe strawberries and fresh whipped cream (the sweet result of a multi-person hand-whipping effort), an assortment of four types of bacon, cinnamon roll french toast bake, cheddar garlic biscuits, scrambled eggs with applewood smoked bacon, caramelized onions, and gruyere, and a taco spread that would make any mouth water. (The lime marinated skirt steak won my heart.)

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And though the food was amazing, the home more than comfortable, and the entertainment plentiful, the best part of the weekend, by far, was the people. Over the course of three days, eighteen of us lived together, laughing and connecting, enjoying old friendships and beginning new ones.

In my last post, I asked you to share what you believe is the #1 factor which creates a memorable party, as your entry into a giveaway for a $50 gift card to Shindigz. And though I completely agree that the food, theme, decor and a relaxed host all lend a big hand, after the experience of this past weekend, I wholeheartedly believe it is the people that make the party.

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Likewise, it was the people who made our recent Temple Run birthday party such a grand success – the friends and family who traveled from out of town to celebrate with us, the ones who came early to help set up, my brother who chased 20 or so small children through the Temple Run obstacle course in a hot gorilla suit, the guests who repeatedly helped me to repair the course with packaging tape every time one of our small runners plowed through the perimeter, and our fun and social guests. The food and the decorations and the theme all set the stage, but the people made the party.

Thankfully, I had help from Shindigz when it came to acquiring the right decor and party supplies to make our party theme come to life and I had help from a friend when it came to our Indian-themed menu. I’m no stranger to googling recipes when I’m looking to cook something new, (like a full buffet of Indian food) but this time I also had the benefit of an old teaching buddy of mine, who kindly shared the recipe for one of her mom’s signature dishes with me – a dish she fondly recalls from her childhood, as being served with pooris on special occasions and when entertaining visiting family from India.

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Vibrant green plates from Shindigz!

Like many familiar family recipes, which are passed on through generations, this recipe is often cooked more by taste than by exact measure. And since I’ve never had the pleasure of tasting the original recipe, I had to use a bit of guesswork and personal guidance from my own taste buds when determining the measurements for most of the spices in this dish. My version of this tasty recipe may not be exactly like my friend’s familiar family favorite, but these savory chickpeas certainly made a delicious addition to our party menu!

It’s not too late to enter the giveaway for a $50 gift card to Shindigz! For more details, click back to my last post, Temple Run’ Indian-Spiced Meatballs with Raita, and leave a comment there about what you believe is the #1 factor that makes a memorable party. The winner will be selected at random on Friday, May 31, 2013 at 12:00pm EST. One entry per person, 18 years and older, US mailing addresses only, please.

Indian Chickpeas

Adapted from a recipe by Rekha Antani

Ingredients

  • 3 cans chick peas
  • 1 medium onion, coarse chopped
  • 3 vine-riperned tomatoes, coarse chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 inch segment of ginger, peeled
  • 3/4 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 3/4  teaspoon chile powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Pinch of cloves
  • 3 whole cardamoms
  • 1/2 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 tablespoon cumin
  • 1/2 tablespoon coriander powder
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 3 tablespoons powdered cashews (optional)*

Directions

Drain chick peas, reserving the liquid for later. Process the onion, tomatoes, ginger and garlic in a blender or food processor, until smooth. Combine the mustard seeds, turmeric, chile powder and cardamoms in a saucepan over medium heat. Immediately add the onion and tomato mixture to the pan. Add the cinnamon, cloves, sugar, and cumin/coriander powder. Stir well and let it simmer for 2-3 minutes. Add the chick peas to the mixture, stirring from the bottom. Over medium heat, bring the mixture to a simmer. Continue simmering, partially covered, for 25-30 minutes, adding some of the reserved liquid, a little at a time, as the liquid reduces. Once it appears that the chick peas have changed color by absorbing the spices, lower the heat. Take about 1/4 cup of the hot liquid in the pan and mix it with the sour cream. Then, add the sour cream mixture to the pan. Simmer for 3-4 minutes more at a medium/low heat, until it begins to bubble and thicken. Add the powdered cashews, if desired. Garnish with fresh chopped coriander.

*I omitted the powdered cashews in my preparation due to children with nut allergies at our party.

**The original recipe also calls for an unspecified quantity of a spice called hing or asafoetida, which was not available in my well-stocked grocery store. It would likely be available in an Indian grocery store.

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Mango Lassi (Mango and Yogurt Smoothie)
Ingredients
  • 2 cups mango nectar
  • 2 cups mango chunks, frozen
  • 3 cups plain yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • Honey (optional, to taste)
Directions
Combine all ingredients in a blender. Blend until smooth. Adjust sweetness with additional honey, to taste. Sprinkle with a dash of cardamom powder or garnish with a sprig of fresh mint, if desired.
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Disclaimer – Shindigz provided me with  $100 gift card to sample their products and services in order to share  my experience with you. All opinions expressed in this post are completely my own. 

‘Temple Run’ Indian-Spiced Meatballs with Raita (and a GIVEAWAY!!)

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Anyone play the game, Temple Run? You know, the video game for phones and tablets where this great big, manic, hybrid gorilla-vulture creature chases your character as you dodge fire, rushing waterfalls, and treacherous cliffs at the same time as trying to collect shiny medallions and green gems? That’s the one. We’re big fans of that game around here, bordering on obsession, to the point that I had to give it up for Lent to prevent myself from spending every second of my already minimal free time dodging fire and escaping gorilla beasts.

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Tiki Lantern Garland from Shindigz, for that exotic ‘Temple Run’ vibe.

Well, when my oldest son requested a Temple Run themed birthday party for his 6th birthday, I promptly replied, “No, they don’t make Temple Run party supplies. I’m not even sure how we’d do that. Think of another theme. How about pirates or rock ‘n’ roll or superheroes?” But, my son is not easily dissuaded once he’s stuck on an idea, so he persisted with his request. And I persisted with offering alternate ideas. Construction trucks, a luau, dinosaurs???

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Beginning of the ‘Temple Run’ obstacle course, complete with jungle entrance, terrifying flames and a rushing waterfall.

But after a bit of brainstorming with some friends, a vision for a Temple Run themed party started to evolve. We’d construct a Temple Run obstacle course in the backyard. There’d be fire and waterfalls and a cave. There’d be green gems and monkeys and tropical birds. There’d be a terrifying gorilla chasing our young party guests through the course, as they attempted to gather gold medallions and green gems to redeem for goody bag treats. Perhaps we’d need to ask parents to sign a waiver as they arrived with the party guests, sort of like those waivers of death they merrily hand you as you arrive at a bounce house party. (Kidding, sort of.) My husband was skeptical about this insane plan, but I’m just about as hard to dissuade as our six year old, once I’m set on an idea.

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Unfortunate temple runner who took a turn down the dead end, lured by the shiny gold medallions.

As if by fate, in the early stages of my party planning, I received an email from a party supply company, Shindigz, offering to send me a gift certificate to sample their products and services, in order to share my experience with all of you. It was kismet. It only took a few minutes of browsing their site to spark a million ideas. During a quick search for jungle party supplies, my plan for a Temple Run obstacle course became clear. I found green festooning in three different colors  to use to as tropical vines framing the perimeter of our course. Rolls of sheer gossamer fabric printed in a water pattern would create the perfect waterfall obstacle. A shimmery foil banner printed with flames would become our fire obstacle. Plastic gold medallions became the coins we needed to entice our temple runners – coins which they could later redeem for goody bag treats. Tropical birds and monkeys lent an exotic feel to my run of the mill backyard. We added tiki lantern garland and a hanging fiery pot to complete the atmosphere. The hardest part was narrowing down my wish list from Shindigz’ extensive collection of party supplies. I was so happy with everything I received and how fast it got to me, that I actually placed a second order for more festooning and a variety of streamers, which arrived just as quickly.

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The gorilla beast, right on Lucas’ tail, as he choose the faster route around the cave, instead of crawling through it.

Once the vision for our ‘Temple Run’ course was in place, all that was left to do was plan an appropriately themed menu. Admittedly, I was stuck for quite a while. I even tried researching the supposed setting for the Temple Run game, but came up empty handed. Then, I started thinking about Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. I certainly wasn’t about to go down the monkey brains and snake-stuffed snakes route for our menu, but then it occurred to me that Temple of Doom took place in India, which just happens to serve up some of my family’s favorite food. In fact, chicken tikka masala with naan is high on the list of the birthday boy’s favorite foods.

An Indian-themed buffet it would be. From that point, it was just a matter of selecting dishes that would appeal to both children and adults, as well as people who might not be so adventurous when it comes to trying new foods. The other top priority was ease of reheating during the party.

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Capture anyway, just before escaping through the waterfall exit!

This was the Indian-themed ‘Temple Run’ menu we settled on:

Chicken Tikka Masala
Naan*
Basmati Rice with Cinnamon, Cardamon, and Peas
Indian-Spiced Meatballs with Raita
Beef and Potato Samosas with Mango Chutney
Indian Chickpeas
Mango Lassis (Mango Yogurt Smoothies)
 
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We also served a large platter of fresh fruit as well as a plate full of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, for anyone craving something a bit less adventurous. The PB&Js went largely untouched, as our Temple Run menu was enjoyed by most of our guests, big and small. I’ve linked to the recipes for the chicken tikka masala and naan in the menu above. (Rather than grill the naan, as in the linked recipe, I cooked them on a baking sheet, several inches under the broiler for about two minutes on the first side, a minute on the second. Worked like a charm!) I’ll be sharing the recipes for the Indian Chickpeas and Mango Lassis in the near future.

Today, I’m sharing the recipe for the Indian-spiced meatballs and raita. Raita is a refreshing yogurt dip, not too different from a Greek tzatziki sauce. It’s frequently served as a cooling counterbalance to spicy Indian dishes, and while these meatballs are not overly spicy, the raita makes a perfect dip. (Kids love to dip stuff. Trust me.) I added these meatballs to the menu mostly to appeal to our younger guests, but they were a notable hit with the bigger guests too!

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Chicken tikka masala, spicy and mild, to please all taste buds!

A GIVEAWAY!!! My friends at Shindigz are offering a $50 gift card to one lucky reader, to give you a chance to enjoy their wide variety of part supplies. With graduation and summer barbecue season just around the corner, I’m sure that gift card would come in handy! To enter the drawing for the gift card, simply leave a comment below sharing what you think is the #1 factor which makes a memorable party! The winner will be selected using Random.org on Friday, May 31, 2013 at 12:00pm EST. One entry per person. 18 years or older. US mailing addresses only, please. Good luck!!

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Indian-Spiced Meatballs

Ingredients

  • 1 small or 1/2 medium onion, very finely diced
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
  • 1/2 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
  • 1 pound ground beef

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Wipe a baking sheet with a little oil or spray with nonstick cooking spray.

Combine the chopped onion, garlic, ginger, curry powder, garam masala, salt, cayenne pepper, eggs and bread crumbs (everything except the meat) in a large bowl, until evenly blended. Add the meat. Use your hands to combine the mixture, just enough to evenly disperse the ingredients.

Form the mixture into balls, about 1 1/2″ in diameter. Place them on the prepared baking sheet. Bake for about 20 minutes, until cooked through.

Makes about 24 small meatballs

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Cucumber Mint Raita

Ingredients

  • 1 large seedless cucumber
  • 1 1/2 cups plain yogurt
  • 1/8 cup fresh mint leaves, finely diced
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

Use a box grater to finely grate the cucumber. Squeeze the cucumber gratings to remove as much liquid as possible. (If you have a piece of cheesecloth available, it’s useful to place the cucumber gratings inside the cheesecloth, then squeeze to remove the excess liquid.) Combine the cucumber, yogurt, and chopped fresh mint. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper.

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Green Gem Ringpop Cupcakes

Disclaimer – Shindigz provided me with  $100 gift card to sample their products and services in order to share  my experience with you. All opinions expressed in this post are completely my own. 

Loaded Nacho Chicken

Like many young twenty-something couples, my husband and I spent a good amount of our time, energy, and income on accumulating stuff. We needed the stylish duvet from Pottery Barn, the flatware set from Crate and Barrel, and the clothes from JCrew. When we married, we registered for the long list of items the registry guide told us we needed, fully believing that we would find frequent use for that 50-piece fondue set and the espresso maker with the milk foaming wand. We gathered our items and checked them off the list of things we were ‘supposed’ to have as well-equipped adults. We were consumers to the utmost degree.

But, recently, there’s been a major shift in how we handle our ‘stuff management’. I don’t know if it’s come with parenthood or age or just a general change of perspective, but we now purge, rather than collect. A few months ago, the microwave broke. I liked the counter space better than the microwave, so we didn’t replace it, and we’ve been totally fine since. The blu-ray player broke a few months before that. We dropped it off at the place for recycled electronics and left the shelf empty. This past summer, we sold  a good portion of the books and DVDs we’d accumulated over the years and have been thankful for the reduced clutter. Neglected toys and outgrown clothing, we regularly donate to our local rescue mission.

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And what we ‘need’ has changed too. Gone are our days of overpriced, trendy bedding and clothing. We buy mostly everything from Target now and when our Dyson, which served us well for many years, finally bit the dust, we replaced it with a bargain-priced Bissell. And you know what? It’s done the job just fine. Our priorities have shifted. We just don’t want the same things we used to think we needed; things which take up too much space in our lives and leave wanting holes in our budget.

A week ago, we made what was probably the biggest cut of all. We pulled the plug on the cable. Now, for people who are as serious about our tv-watching as we are, this is a humungous deal. We’d been toying with the idea for awhile. While we love our cable, seeing that bill every month was torturing us. We’d just rather have that money in our pockets. Liam cried when we told him what we were about to do. That alone may have signified that it was the right decision to make.

We kept our Netflix and through the convenience of modern technology, we are able to hook our computer up to the tv to get our weekly fix of Downton Abbey and our favorite network shows. I’ve felt no emptiness in my life without cable. In fact, life feels beautifully simpler now.

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When I told my mom I was making this loaded nacho chicken for dinner, she giggled at me, the ‘gourmand mom’, breading chicken breasts in crushed tortilla chips. But hey, no one ever said that good food needed to be complicated or utilize fancy ingredients. Simplicity can be positively blissful. The tortilla chips in this dish provide a fun variation on a basic breaded chicken breast. The tortilla coated chicken breasts are then topped with warm, delicious chile con queso and a generous dose of nacho toppings for a vibrant dish the entire family will enjoy.

**This dish could easily be adapted for a fun super bowl appetizer, but cutting the chicken into smaller pieces, skewering the cooked chicken, and serving with a big bowl of warm queso, topped with black beans, green onions, olives, and chopped tomato!

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Today’s Focus on Technique – Basic Breading Procedure

A basic breading technique can be used to coat veggies, meats, or seafood with a crispy, flavorful exterior. It is often used to prepare foods for pan-frying, but works swimmingly for baking as well. Foods can be breaded with basic seasoned bread crumbs, panko bread crumbs, or any variety of crushed crackers or even chips! Properly breading foods is a three step process. First, dredge the food in a bit of flour. Second, dip the item in a simple bath of eggs whisked together with a touch of milk. Third, press the food into your dry breading, until thoroughly coated. The flour adheres easily to the food. The egg adheres to the flour. The breading adheres to the egg. To prevent your fingers from getting breaded in the process, it’s a wise idea to handle the wet ingredients with one hand, while using the other hand for the dry ingredients. Once breaded, your food can be pan-fried in a bit of oil until golden brown and cooked through or oven baked for a lighter result.

Loaded Nacho Chicken

Ingredients

  • 3-4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 2 cups corn tortilla chips, finely crushed
  • 3/4 cup chile con queso dip (store-bought or homemade)
  • Black olives, sliced
  • Black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1-2 green onions, sliced
  • 1 tomato, diced
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Season the chicken breasts with a sprinkle of salt and pepper.  To set up your breading station, spread the flour onto a plate. Whisk the eggs and milk together in a small baking dish or bowl. Spread the crushed tortilla chips onto a plate. Dredge each chicken breast in the flour, then dip in the egg mixture. Finally, press the chicken into the tortilla chips until well coated. Place the coated chicken breasts in a baking dish. Cook for 25-35 minutes, until the chicken reaches 165°F, as measured with an instant-read meat thermometer.

To serve, top the cooked chicken with a generous helping of warm chile con queso and a sprinkle of black beans, black olives, tomatoes, green onions, or your other favorite nacho toppings.

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Tomorrow will mark the one year anniversary of what we now jokingly refer to as The DeLine Family Super Bowl Massacre. Guess who’s not hosting a super bowl party this year?? Looking for some fun super bowl food ideas? Check out my Baked Asian Sticky Wings, Buffalo Chicken Monkey Bread, Spicy Mexican Wontons, Chicken Wing Dip (you know you want some), Creole Deviled Eggs, or any of the other fun recipes found in the party food section of my Recipe Collection.

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