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It seems like we keep really busy late in the year attending events and activities that involve food. Whether it’s a company party or a family get together, a welcome addition to any gathering is an appetizer. The term “appetizer” usually refers to a small plate or single bite of food served before the meal to stimulate the appetite. The same food item might be served as an hors d’oeuvres at cocktail parties and receptions, where no dinner is served afterward. There are many recipes freely available, and here are a few of our own.

Texican Street Corn Scoops
Texican Street Corn ScoopsThis is a delicious treat that accents the freshness of corn on the cob with butter, cheese and homemade Emeril’s Essence! Texican Street Corn Scoops are a terrific way to deliver wonderful flavors in a bite size finger food. We cook the ears of corn in the microwave for our Texican Street Corn to retain all the flavor and sweetness which other methods often cook out, and we show you how to create this flavorful bite size version that will bring them back for more. Get the recipe here.

Twice Baked Potato Skins
Twice Baked Potato Skins Treat the family to an oven baked potato recipe dish that has the ideal texture and taste. Load these twice backed potatoes with butter, sour cream, cheese, chives, and top with crumbled bacon. They boast the ultimate level of silky creaminess, cheesiness, and buttery goodness . . . then top it with bacon! The perfect recipe for your memorable Christmas meal! Many folks also enjoy smaller versions as finger food, whether served hot or cold. Get the recipe here.

Shrimp Boats
Shrimp In A BoatThe original recipe for this appetizer was a shrimp salad that dates back to the early 1970s when our next door neighbor, Karen Flessner, introduced this. She served the salad in a large bowl with a dipping spoon and snack crackers on the side so we could fix our own. This deliciousness can also be elevated to bite-size morsels served in tortilla cups, as we show here, or on crackers, croutons, or any other vessel that is available. Get the recipe here.

Curried Carrot and Pear Bites
Curried Carrot and Pear Bites with RaisinsAdapted from our Carrot and Pear Salad, this tasty morsel on a stick is a party of flavors in an attractive burst of colors. Combining a zesty marinade with the pallet-pleasing tastes of fresh pears and raisins is counterbalanced by the earthy tones of the carrot ribbons. This eye catcher is a favorite, and they are easy to assemble, so be sure to make plenty. Get the recipe here.

Fingerling Hasselback Potato Bites
Roasted cheddar potato fanThe Hasselback potato is clearly the most eye-catching spud to ever call itself a side dish. Elevate the baked potato into an eye-catching side dish or appetizer with these potatoes roasted in a hot oven to produce a crispy skin and creamy interior. Adding seasoning and cheese, these appetizers will leap off the serving tray. These are called “Hasselback” potatoes, which refers to the luxurious Hasselbacken hotel and restaurant in Stockholm, which originated this technique. Get the recipe here.

Rye Bread with Dill Dip
Dill Dip in Rye Bread LoafLarry’s mother got this dill dip recipe from a St. Louis grocery store that made it fresh daily. We have served it many times over the years, and it eventually found its way into a hollowed out loaf of rye bread. Break the center of the loaf into pieces and place around the loaf. When the broken pieces are gone you break bread from the loaf itself. Enjoy! Get the recipe here.

Roasted Cheddar and Bacon Jalapeno Poppers
Cheddar and Bacon Jalapeno PopperStems sliced down the middle give these jalapeno poppers additional eye appeal. Poppers are fun to experiment with and we like making these a variety of ways. This recipe uses flavored thick cut bacon, and a little bread or cracker crumbs to add a tiny bit of texture to the filling, to complement the crunchiness of the exterior. Get the recipe here.

Easy to assemble appetizers and hors d’oeuvres are fun to make, and even more fun when they become the hit of the party. Try putting together one or more of these for your next get together, and let us know how it went. Have a favorite you’d like to tell us about? We always enjoy hearing from you!

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Corn, is a large grain plant first domesticated by indigenous peoples in Mexico about 10,000 years ago. Over time is became one of the most versatile food staples throughout history. Originally maize, it became known as corn which could be consumed in any number of ways; roasted, baked, fried, boiled, ground into meal for any number of uses. We are celebrating corn in its many forms in this listing of recipes that will help you appreciate the most appealing and tasty dishes easily prepared at home.

Marjorie’s Corn and Peas
Corn and Peas Side DishThis is another amazingly good recipe from the Thistlethwaite family. I fondly remember a number of delicious Thanksgiving dinners when Marjorie (J.B.’s mother) would bring this delicious vegetable dish. Combining shoe-peg corn and frozen peas with sour cream and spices, it goes together quickly, and certainly stands out on the table. The recipe is located here.

Texas Style Creamed Corn
Texas Style Creamed Corn with BaconThis corn is so delicious with barbecued ribs or brisket! Most of Texas’s best barbecue restaurants serve this style corn with coleslaw, potato salad and baked beans. Add bread, pickles, onions, and hot sauce, and you have a feast! You can even add in some bacon crumbles as shown above. The recipe is located here.

Texican Street Corn
Texican Street CornThis is a delicious ear of corn! Cooking in the microwave retains all the flavor and sweetness other methods often cook out, and clean up is so easy; no shucking, no frustration trying to remove the silks. We like them without any cheese just as well, although you can take this in many flavorful directions by using your favorite cheese.The recipe is located here.

Creamy Creamed Corn
Creamed CornThis recipe comes as close as possible to the flavor of the creamed corn at one of our favorite BBQ joints in Central Texas. Combining heavy cream, cream cheese, butter, sugar, salt and pepper in a slow cooker, it is a delicious blend of flavors that goes very well with every barbecue dish. Get the recipe here.
For a spicy version see Poblano Creamed Corn.

Campfire Chicken Dinner with Roasted Corn
Roasted Chicken Dinner in FoilWhat a fun recipe this is! A chicken quarter, or breast, potatoes, carrots and roasting ears, all in a single foil pack. Can actually be cooked on the campfire, or roasted in the oven, for the fun of an “outdoor” meal with all the flavors and variety of a home meal. This can be served right in the foil for easy after-meal cleanup!
The recipe is located here.

Poblano Creamed Corn
Poblano Creamed CornThis recipe is based on a favorite side dish we enjoy at a barbecue restaurant in Bee Cave, Texas, near Austin. I actually based the sauce in this dish on Southern creamed corn slow-cooker style recipes, and added the roasted Poblano chili for that unctuous earthy flavor. This requires special attention, and quite a bit of stirring, to successfully obtain that slow-cooker intense flavor. This is delicious with any barbecue flavored dish. The recipe is located here.

Cornbread Casserole
Cornbread CasseroleThis is an oldie, but goodie! This is so simple, and goes well with lots of homemade meals! The recipe doubles easily, too, for bigger gatherings! Combine whole kernel corn, cream-style corn, and sour cream with a store-bought cornbread mix. A quick and easy favorite, it takes only 5 minutes to prepare, and even the kids love it! The recipe is located here.

Golden Sweet Cornbread
Golden Sweet Skillet CornbreadSkillet cornbread, historically known as hoecakes, is cornbread made like a pancake. Inside, it’s dense, but creamy. Skillet cornbread takes it up a notch or two with even texture, and sweetness throughout. This is an American classic that pays homage to our pioneer ancestors. The recipe is located here.

Celebrate corn! And, share with us your comments, thoughts, and favorite recipes, to be shared with others. Best regards from our kitchen to yours!

Pitch-in dinners are a fun way to share togetherness and fellowship with friends and family, and you can kick up the fun factor by making it a themed pitch-in. Make it an “Appetizers Only” party, Munchies Only, with dips and things to dip into them, “Some like it HOT,” featuring spicy dishes, Hot Casseroles Only, Cold Salads Only, or, “How Sweet it is!” desserts only. Here are some dishes, with links to our recipes, that you can pass along as ideas.

Appetizers Only
Sweet Swedish Meatballs
Cheese and Sweet Pickles
Breaded Mushrooms
Honey Roasted Cipollini Onions

Munchies Only
Rye Bread with Dill Dip
Herb Oil Fried Zuchinni with Ranch Dip
Spinach Artichoke Dip
Stuffed Baby Portobello Mushrooms

“Some like it HOT”
Campfire Chili
Gene Vaughn’s 2-Alarm Chili
Jamaican Jerk Chicken
Peppercorn Encrusted Roast Chicken

Hot Casseroles Only
Creamy Four Cheese Macaroni
Orange & Gold Potatoes au Gratin
Sour Cream and Horseradish Mashed Potatoes
Baked Macaroni and Cheese

Cold Salads Only
Grapefruit and Fennel Salad
Sweet and Sour Yellow Beets
Cauliflower and Broccoli Salad
Green and Gold Pea Salad

How Sweet it is! desserts
Peach Cobbler
Butternut Cream Pie
Gooey Butter Cake
Pear Bread Pudding with Butterscotch Sauce

Have fun with your pitch-in dinners! Select a theme and see how much more fun the party is when you elevate it to a whole new level. And, be sure to let us know how your idea worked out!

No one wants to take “just-another-same-same” dish to the pitch in dinner with friends or family. What we want is a dish with lots of visual appeal. Whether it comes from color or texture, we want everyone who passes by our dish to notice it. Here are a few of our favorites.

Sauteed Green Beans with Onions and Bacon
Green Beans with Onions and BaconHere is a green bean dish that certainly stands out from the others, particularly because most green beans turn gray from being overcooked. Boil these for four minutes and then immediately get into a cold water bath to stop the cooking and keep the beans bright green. Add crispy bacon and sauteed cocktail onions, and you have a winner! Get the recipe here.

Whole Sweet Corn with Cream Cheese
creamy-creamed-cornThis recipe comes as close as possible to the flavor of the creamed corn at one of our favorite BBQ joints in Central Texas. Combining heavy cream, cream cheese, butter, sugar, salt and pepper in a slow cooker, it is a delicious blend of flavors that goes very well with every barbecue dish. Get the recipe here.
For a spicy version see Poblano Creamed Corn.

Blue Cheese Cole Slaw
Blue Cheese Cole SlawLea adapted this recipe from a cooking show on television. This combination goes really well with spicy foods such as Southern Fried Chicken, Hot Chicken Wings, Spicy Jamaican Jerk Rib-eye Steaks, etc. It is also a real eye-catcher when completing with all the other dishes at a pitch-in. Get the recipe here.

Make Ahead Mashed Potatoes
Make Ahead Mashed PotatoesMashed potatoes are always a welcome staple, but they are pretty time consuming, and difficult to time just right if you have to travel to that pitch-in. These potatoes come out of the oven light and fluffy, and no one will know that these were made ahead of time. It’s a great time saver. Get the recipe here.

Marjorie’s Corn and Peas
Corn and Peas Side DishThis is another amazingly good recipe from the Thistlethwaite family. I fondly remember a number of delicious Thanksgiving dinners when Marjorie (J.B.’s mother) would bring this delicious vegetable dish. Combining shoe-peg corn and frozen peas with sour cream and spices, it goes together quickly, and certainly stands out on the table. Get the recipe here.

These dishes not only show off your cooking skills, they also stand apart from the other dishes for your pitch in dinner with friends or family. When you present one of these super star dishes, everyone who passes by is sure to notice it, and the flavors always deliver on the promise.

If your family or friends are planning a holiday season pitch-in dinner where the meat is already planned, you need to be able to pull out a few ideas for side dishes that can go together easily, have great eye appeal, and deliver with flavors as good as the dish looks. Celebrate the casserole, hero of overly busy homemakers for centuries! Here are some carry-in ideas to help get you started.

Baked Macaroni and Cheese
Baked Macaroni and CheeseThis is a recipe by Alton Brown that we adapted to fit our family’s preferences. Alton’s recipe calls for Panko bread crumbs for the topping, which we don’t always have on hand. We usually make coarsely ground bread crumbs from any crusty bread we have around, such as French or Italian bread or baguettes. You can find our recipe here.

Cornbread Casserole
Cornbread CasseroleThis side is a bread accompaniment that fits right in with any meal, whether it is a holiday gathering, a family dinner, or a camp out. The cornbread casserole is likely as time tested as any dish we could name. This simple recipe uses a boxed mix, is quick to assemble and cook, and yet, it is one of the best comfort foods you can add to any meal. You can find our recipe here.

Orange & Gold Potatoes au Gratin
Orange and Gold Potato CasseroleThis is an eye-catching dish that always pleases, with color to provide the visual “pop,” and the lusciousness of the waxy Yukon Gold potato combined with the silkiness of the sweet potato. They are layered with ricotta or cottage cheese, and your preference of Romano cheese (creamy), Asiago cheese (saltier), or Parmesan cheese (salty and nutty). You can find our recipe here.

Sour Cream and Horseradish Mashed Potatoes
Horseradish and sour cream potatoesMashed potatoes are one of the most beloved dishes for pitch-ins, often with two or three versions making an appearance. This variation stands out because of its eye-catching silky finish derived from using red or gold potatoes, and pairs very well with brown gravies and sauces due to a hint of horseradish. You can find our recipe here.

Creamy Four Cheese Macaroni
Four Cheese MacaroniOne of America’s favorite dishes, this recipe is adapted from “The Best of Cooking Light,” and is one of Lea’s favorite recipes. In fact, she said this cheese combination of Fontina, Parmesan, extra-sharp Cheddar, and Velveeta, is one of the best tasting she has ever made. If you like mac ‘n cheese, we think you will really like this recipe! Find it here.

Classic Cranberry Salad
Lea Mixing Cranberry SaladLarry’s mother, Marjorie, always made this for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. It is so delicious with turkey! We enjoy it mostly with the turkey sandwiches the day after the holiday! Give cranberries a ride in the food processor, add sugar and orange, marshmallows and nuts to create a chilled salad that is even better the day after. You can find our recipe here.

Casseroles fit the pitch-in bill because now there are portable carriers that can be heated or cooled, as appropriate, to keep your food in the food safety zone until service. At room temperature, bacteria in food can double every 20 minutes, according to foodsafety.gov. Check it out, to keep your food safer. And, share with us your comments, thoughts, and favorite recipes, to be shared with others. Best regards from our kitchen to yours for the holiday season!

Salads add eye appeal to a table setting, and contribute delightful flavors to complement the main course and other side dishes. Delicious salads may include fruit salads, chicken, egg and potato salads, as well as the ever-popular, leafy, mixed greens salads. Today we are listing some of our favorite salads that can be eaten before the meal, or as a side dish to accompany the protein served during the main course.

Cauliflower and Broccoli Salad
Cauliflower and Broccoli SaladCombine cauliflower, broccoli, onion, bell pepper, and pimento with a creamy sweet and sour dressing to make a colorful salad for holiday meals. This salad is delicious any time of the year, but, it is a favorite in our family since Marjorie Vaughn (Larry’s mom) first made it salad in 1973 for our family Christmas dinner. Find the recipe here.

Cheesy Pear Salad

Cheesy Pear SaladThis is a pretty salad when served assembled, and really catches the eye due to the contrasting colors. The flavor is delicate, with just a hint of sourness from the French dressing, which complements the pear and cheddar flavors perfectly. Give this one a try. It will quickly become a favorite at your house, too. Find the recipe here.

Chicken and Fruit Salad
Chicken and Fruit SaladLea created this recipe during the heat of August 1966 for a radio station “no cook” recipe contest. The judges voted it number one! It is a surprisingly delicious twist on everyday chicken salad that delivers a variety of fresh fruit flavors and the crunchiness of pecans and celery in a shredded or chunked chicken. Oranges, grapes, a banana, and an apple make an appearance along with salted almonds.
Find the recipe here.

Cranberry Salad
Lea Mixing Cranberry SaladLarry’s mother, Marjorie, always made this for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. It is so delicious with turkey! We enjoy it mostly with the turkey sandwiches the day after the holiday! Give cranberries a ride in the food processor, add sugar and orange, marshmallows and nuts to create a chilled salad that is even better the day after. Find the recipe here.

Iceberg Wedge Salad
wedge-salad_rThis elegant wedge salad with crumbled blue cheese is a steakhouse staple great for a simple lunch, or dressed up for a special occasion dinner. Fresh ingredients make this salad very elegant, and the wedge presentation makes it an eye-pleaser. Here are three versions: the classic, with blue cheese, another with red pepper aioli, and a third with cheddar cheese. Find the recipes here.

Seven Layer Salad
Seven Layer SaladWhen you talk about eye-pleasing salads, the Seven Layer Salad immediately comes to mind. With its striking layers of color from lettuce, cauliflower, green peas, cheddar cheese, and topped with onion rings, sliced boiled eggs and crumbled bacon, this salad promises great flavors, and delivers on the promise every time. Find the recipe here.

Green and Gold Pea Salad
Green and Gold Pea SaladA colorful salad that delivers on savory flavors, this salad combines cooked peas with American cheese and spices to create a creamy dish with the subtle pop of mustard in the background. This recipe dates back to Lea’s Junior High School days and has been a long time family favorite. This is one of those dishes that tastes even better the next day, and often appears on leftovers plates as a side. Find the recipe here.

Mozzarella and Tomato Salad with Black Olive Tapenade
Tomato and Mozzarella Salad with Black Olive TapenadeA bright and appealing salad that is a summertime favorite gets all dressed up for the holiday season with luscious sliced mozzarella, bright red tomatoes, and fresh basil leaves, topped with a black olive tapenade.
Find the recipe here.

Pat's Spicey Saltine CrackersIn the sweltering summer of 2016, Lea and I drove from our home in Central Texas to our childhood hometown to attend her family’s annual reunion at the “Homeplace” in rural northeast Missouri. The Homeplace is a 3-acre plot of land deep in the woods, miles from town, purchased by her great-grandfather, George Austin Tate, in 1891. Her grandfather was born in the cabin there, as was her own father. The property now belongs to her and her siblings.

Each summer we gather from all parts of the country for the weekend gathering, which is centered around catching up with each other’s activities, our children and their families, and of course, food. In fact, food is one of the primary topics of discussion, as many members in the family are cooks, and some grow big gardens and can the produce they grow. Everyone brings a dish or two for the main pitch-in lunch, and it is always a challenge to get everything crowded onto your plate.

This year we had quite a discussion around one of the snack treats Pat had made, spicy (some heat) saltine crackers. Spicy Oyster CrackersKathy, however, said she preferred to make them with Oyster crackers. And, the debate was on! Pat likes the saltines because you can hold them between your finger and thumb without getting messy spice all over your palm. Kat, on the other hand, (pun intended), likes the oyster crackers because you get more of the flavoring with each bite, which tends to hide the pasty flavor of the cracker.

Dill Oyster CrackersIf you’re interested in a version of the oyster crackers without any heat, check out Deb’s Dill Oyster Crackers. We served these when we ran a Bed and Breakfast, and they made an excellent snack for our guests. We served them both ways, baked and unbaked, and guests loved them both.
 
So, which do you like? Have you tried these, or a variation that you like? Send us your favorite recipes with comments, and we’ll post it here on the site.

Do you often wonder which spice goes with what, or how to choose those that combine well? Check out our spice page, which is helping cooks of all ages learn some of the basics.

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