Every year I attend a large New Years Eve party where everyone brings various food to share. It’s always delicious and a good way to help absorb the alcohol.
Here’s a roundup of some of my favorite pot-luck recipes, one of which I’ll probably draw on in a couple of days.
I’m not a big fan of nuts.
Sure, I can eat a handful of honey roasted peanuts now and then, salted cashews are starting to grow on me, and I like my peanut-butter crunchy, but I despise Jordan almonds and think that nuts ruin perfectly good fudge. I hate nuts in stuffing, I hate nuts in trail mix. They’re usually bitter and make my teeth feel weird.
But these Candied Pecans might as well be some illicit drug with how addicted to them I am.
I would go as far as to say that besides for the allergic, these would convert even the most ferocious of nut-haters.
They’re so easy to make and perfect to have on hand for the holidays. I’ve served them for our last three holiday movie parties, and several years ago I even made festive little baggies of them as gifts.
Recipe type: Dessert
- 16 ounces pecan halves
- 1 egg white
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon water
- ⅔ cup granulated sugar
- ⅓ cup brown sugar
- 1 Tablespoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon fine salt
- Preheat to 300 degrees and line a large baking tray with wax paper.
- Whisk the egg white, vanilla, and water together in a large bowl until its thicker and frothier.
- Add in the sugars, cinnamon, and salt, and then mix thoroughly until the pecans are well covered.
- Spread evenly over the wax paper-lined baking tray and place in oven for 45 minutes.
- Stir the pecans every 15 minutes.
- Cool for at least 10 minutes before eating.
- Stores well in cookie tins.
You’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t give them a chance.
Our humble party spread featuring the candied pecans, kettle corn, movie-theater popcorn, hummus and veggies, hot cocoa and fresh whipped cream, eggnog, pomegranate punch, salted caramel cookies, various candies, and a delicious cabbage salad courtesy of my brother and his girlfriend.
Holiday shorts and cartoons before our main feature during our Holiday Movie Party
We’re getting ready for a zillion holiday festivities here in Qwerty land. Brie and I went out to fetch the tree (her name is Norma) and put up some decorations this week. Clearly, the most important stocking is Cheeto’s.
Now we just need to finish cleaning and plan the menu for our holiday movie party. The feature last year was DieHard, but this year we’re going with something a little older. (Holiday Inn, which was made in 1942.) In terms of food, we’re thinking:
Movie Theater Popcorn
Ginger Egg Nog Scones
Easy Peasy Rum Cake
I’ve also been considering soft pretzels, candied pecans, and … something else? Something more substantial — maybe meat-based? Still need to figure out. Also hot chocolate. Mmm.
We have lots of other recipes that work really well for holiday parties, but I’m feeling a little lazy. Most years I try to make sure all of the following flavors are represented: egg nog, peppermint, chocolate, cranberry, apple cider, and gingerbread. With their powers combined, it really feels festive.
Here’s the spread the first year we hosted in 2013 (for some reason I neglected to take a photo last year):
Another good one for holiday parties is Quick Egg Nog Pie (very fast, very tasty).
And that’s it, folks! What do you like to serve guests during the winter holiday season?
You heard me right. Gluten-free Thanksgiving.
(With the exception of those Hawaiian sweet rolls, everything on this table is gluten-free).
And to redeem my table decorating skills, here’s what it looked like when I actually served dinner:
I dove into this adventure because a dear, dear friend ended up joining us for turkey day last year and they have a pretty rough time with gluten. I resolved to make sure they could have as yummy a day as the rest of us.
To be clear, gluten-free basically means nothing that might have gluten in it — that’s wheat, barley, rye. It’s in most flours, and it’s often used as a thickening agent in other foods. A LOT of foods, actually.
Going into a gluten-free Thanksgiving had me kind of freaked out, if I’m super honest. I wanted to make absolutely certain that I didn’t accidentally poison my friend. This lead to hours of Googling and researching the bajesus out of all these new recipes I could try out.
In the end, it wasn’t hard. I eventually threw out those new recipes and returned to what I had already been making.
That’s right. A gluten-free Thanksgiving required minimal changes from what I was already doing. Who knew?
Mashed potatoes with cream, cheddar, bacon, and garlic? Gluten-free.
Corn starch instead of flour in the gravy and boom, gluten-free.
Cranberry sauce… no gluten there.
The sweet potato casserole I’ve been making for the last eleven or so years? Gluten-free.
Green bean casserole? With a few modifications, it tasted just as good as any other year and BOOM — gluten-free. Just swap out the french fried onions for something homemade: slice up a medium onion, dip onion slices in buttermilk, then shake off and place in a zip-loc bag with gluten-free Bisquick, salt, and pepper. Shake to cover and then put those onions in the deep fryer. They’re done when they are golden and crispy and work great in the recipe below.
The amazing corn casserole that Adam brings? Swap out one ingredient and it’s delicious (as usual) AND gluten-free.
Our Brussels sprouts? GLUTEN-FREAKING FREE.
The gluten-free stuffing mix we bought from the neighborhood market was delicious. I expected it to be a little off-putting or weird, but it turns out that gluten-free products have come a long, long way.
Pie was probably the biggest challenge, and it still ended up being pretty easy. All it required was picking up a few gluten-free shells to fill with our normal pie choices.
To save time, we admittedly also just picked up a pre-cooked turkey, splurging on one from Whole Foods. That was an amazing choice and freed up time to focus on making and cooking the tasty side dishes.
If you need to put on your own gluten-free turkey day, don’t be intimidated. It’s easier than you might think — just double check your canned goods and broths to make sure they’re gluten-free, too.
SUPER GUESTS ASSEMBLE!
There are a lot of benefits to having guests assemble their own food. They get the flavor profile they want, with ingredients in the exact proportions they desire. You don’t have do the assembling, which is also nice. I like that part.
The drawbacks are usually that you have to use more dishes – extra spoons for serving, extra dishes for assembling. And there can be more food waste, despite the fact that, rather than leave out an entire jar of (food thing), I put out a portion that I think will last the group (that way just the small portion spoils from being left out all evening instead of the jar). It also takes more time, but that can be part of the fun of the evening.
We’re clearly big fans of assemble-your-own-whatevers here at Qwerty Cafe. I’ve pulled together some of the greatest hits for the next time you want to try it yourself. Heads up: this seems to work best for groups under 10 people. More and it starts getting really complicated juggling space on the counter for assembly as well as space in the (cooking appliance) for things that require heat.
Bake Potato Bar
I don’t know about you, but Tater Tots are probably my favorite form of potato. Those little nuggets that are crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside just speak to my soul.
Brandie requested cheesy tots for this last Friday night Qwerty meal, and then Cat made the best suggestion of her entire life; tater tot nacho bar.
It was divine. The tots were the perfect cheese, quac, onion, meat, sour cream, etc receptacle.
And then the leftovers for breakfast the next day was more than a girl could dream of.
Tater Tot Nachos - or - Totchos
- Tater Tots - 1 cup "scoop" for each person served
- Suggested toppings:
- Shredded Cheddar Cheese
- Nacho Cheese
- Seasoned Ground Beef
- Sour Cream
- Purple Onion
- Green Onion
- Diced Tomatos
- Enchilada Sauce
- Bacon Pieces
- Bake tater tots per packaging directions
- Prepare toppings while tots are baking, including shredding and chopping.
- Place tots in a bowl and cover with your favorite toppings!
Bonus kitty close up:
Adam and Brandie are August babies and we haven’t really gotten to throw them a birthday shindig before, but, they gave us the okay this year with the theme idea of “fair food”.
They requested the always amazing corn dogs, cheesy nachos, crispy onion rings, and I tried my hand at funnel cake for the first time; I used this super easy recipe from food.com.
We also put out a tasty cheese platter (Gouda, Gruyere, and Smoked Havarti), fruit and veggie assortment, a really yummy Hidden Valley Spinach and Parmesan cream cheese dip, and stocked the mini-fridge with an assortment of glass bottled sodas.
To top it all off with some decoration, Cat did some quick photo-shopping of Adam and Brandie’s amazing and adorable kitties.