Monday, December 29, 2008

New Years Party Planner

For the longest time, my friends and I couldn’t decide what we were going to do on New Year’s Eve. Go out of town, or stay close to home? Buy tickets to a swanky party in the city or throw an intimate bash in the living room?

Problem #1: We’re all recent college grads on limited budget. So much for the swanky (but ridiculously expensive) party in the city.

Problem #2: Most of us either live with our parents or in tiny apartments that barely fit a futon in the living room…meaning any get-togethers at home would be a little too cozy.

The Solution? We’ve decide to spend the New Year’s holiday at the beach. We have a free place to stay (thanks to some generous parents who are loaning us their house) and plenty of room to throw a festive party.

But how do we turn a beach-themed summer retreat into a fantastic winter soiree? Luckily, I stumbled upon my new favorite blog which offers some amazing ideas for planning a New Year’s Eve party (and lots of other types of parties, too!). Just click on your favorite theme (I like “Gold and Silver Shimmer”) and you’ll find everything from ideas for decorating the table to recipes that fit the theme. The best part is it’s easy to do on a budget! As the web site suggests, I found tons of great stuff at Target: 100 feet of gold tinsel for less than $45 and gold charger plates for a steal ($19.99 for 10). You can even find plastic silverware painted to look like real gold at party stores or here.

And, here are two awesome, quick and delicious recipes that I’m planning to bring to the party:

Chicken Quesadillas

1 can (10 3/4 oz.) Campbell's® Healthy Request® Condensed Cream of Chicken Soup
1 tsp. chili powder
1/2 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
1 can (9.75 oz.) Swanson® Premium Chunk Chicken Breast in Water, drained
8 flour tortillas (8-inch)

1) Preheat oven to 425°F.
2) Mix soup, chili powder, cheese and chicken.
3) Spread about 1/4 cup soup mixture on half of each tortilla to within 1/2" of edge. Moisten edge with water. Fold over and seal. Place on 2 baking sheets.
4) Bake 10 min. or until hot. Makes 8 quesadillas.

Holiday Brie en Croute

1/2 of a 17.3 ounce package Pepperidge Farm® Puff Pastry Sheets (1 sheet)
1 egg
1 tbsp. water
1/2 cup apricot preserves OR seedless raspberry jam
1/3 cup dried cranberry, softened*
1/4 cup toasted sliced almond
1 (13.2 ounces) Brie cheese round
1 pkg. (26 ounces) Pepperidge Farm® Entertaining Quartet Distinctive Crackers

1) Thaw the pastry sheet at room temperature for 40 minutes or until it's easy to handle. Heat the oven to 400°F. Mix the egg and water in a small bowl.
2) Unfold the pastry sheet on a lightly floured surface. Roll the pastry sheet into a 14-inch square. Cut off the corners to make a circle.
3) Spread the preserves on the pastry circle to within 1-inch of the edge. Sprinkle the cranberries and almonds over the preserves. Place the cheese in the center of the pastry circle. Brush the edge of the pastry circle with the egg mixture. Fold 2 opposite sides over the cheese.
4) Trim the remaining 2 sides to 2-inches from the edge of the cheese and fold them up onto the cheese. Press the edges to seal. Place seam-side down on a baking sheet. Decorate the top with the pastry scraps, if desired. Brush with the egg mixture.
5) Bake for 20 minutes or until the pastry is golden. Let stand for 1 hour. Serve with the crackers.

*To soften the cranberries, mix the cranberries and 1/2 cup hot water in a small bowl. Let stand for 1 minute. Drain and pat the cranberries dry.

I must say, I love the pre-pared Pepperidge farm pastry sheets! They make my dishes look artistic and complex, taste delicious, and save me lots of time! Happy New Year’s party planning!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Party Idea: A Creative Way to Use Your "Other" Leftovers

On Friday, I suggested a few recipes for using your holiday leftovers. Well, here’s another creative way to use “leftovers” from the holidays….but not the kind of leftovers you keep in the fridge, the kind you still have sitting under the tree. It happens every year – I inevitably receive at least one gift that I just don’t know what to do with. It could have been a horrific sweater from a distant aunt or a gag gift from a best friend, but either way, seriously re-gifting it is usually out of the question.

So, for a great “post-Christmas” holiday party, why not have an entertaining gift exchange? At my party, everyone is going to rewrap the worst, least favorite, or funniest holiday gift they received and bring it to the party. Then, the guests swap gifts in a game that is played like this:

Guests sit in a circle and place their wrapped gifts in the center. Each guest picks three numbers from a hat. The host then calls out numbers one at a time, bingo style. When a guest’s number is called, they pick a gift from the pile, unwrap it, and place it in front of them. Once all of the gifts are unwrapped, the guests can begin “stealing” unwrapped gifts from other guests when their number is called. Play continues until all of the numbers have been called and all of the gifts are distributed. You’ll be amazed to see who actually likes that ugly sweater or gag gift!

Here’s another idea to spice up the party: Turn the party into a potluck by asking each guest to bring a dish to the party using their leftovers from the holidays. Not only will everyone have an excuse to clear their fridges of leftovers, but you’ll be spared from having to supply all of the food!

Check out these blogs for more party ideas:

Friday, December 26, 2008

Using Your Holiday Leftovers

Okay, so if you’re anything like my family, you have a ton of leftover food from the holidays, and not a clue what to do with it all. When I was in college, I fondly remember wrapping up as much as possible and bringing it back with me! This year, I’m determined to find a creative way to use the leftovers – they certainly aren’t going to waste. Here are some great recipes that call for ingredients you probably have taking up room in your refrigerator right now or staples you should have in your pantry if your relatives did indeed suck you dry. Try them out and let me know which is your favorite!

Here are some other sites that can help you use every last bit of your holiday leftovers:

Turkey and Stuffing Casserole
Vegetable cooking spray
1 can (10 3/4 ounces) Campbell's® Condensed Cream of Mushroom Soup
1 cup milk or water
1 bag (16 ounces) frozen vegetable combination (broccoli, cauliflower, carrots),
2 cups cubed cooked turkey or chicken
4 cups Pepperidge Farm® Herb Seasoned Stuffing
1 cup shredded Swiss or Cheddar cheese (about 4 ounces)


1. Spray a 2-quart shallow baking dish with the cooking spray.
2. Stir the soup and milk in a large bowl. Stir in the vegetables, turkey and stuffing. Spoon the mixture into the baking dish.
3. Bake at 400°F. for 20 minutes or until the turkey mixture is hot and bubbling. Stir the turkey mixture. Top with the cheese. Bake for 5 minutes or until the cheese is melted.

Tip: When you don't have any leftover turkey or chicken for this recipe, substitute 1 can (9.75 ounces) Swanson® Premium White Chunk Chicken Breast, drained.

Cheddar Potato Bake
3 cups mashed potatoes
1 can (10 3/4 ounces) Campbell's® Condensed Cheddar Cheese Soup
⅓ cup sour cream or plain yogurt
Generous dash ground black pepper
1 green onion, chopped (about 2 tablespoons)

1. Stir the potatoes, soup, sour cream, black pepper and
onion in a medium bowl. Spoon into a 1 1/2-quart baking dish.
2. Bake at 350°F. for 30 minutes or until the potato mixture is hot.

Chicken Nachos
1 can (10 3/4 ounces) Campbell's® Condensed Cheddar Cheese Soup
½ cup Pace® Chunky Salsa
2 cans (4.5 ounces each) Swanson® Premium Chunk Chicken Breast in Water,
1 bag (about 10 ounces) tortilla chips
Chopped tomato
Sliced green onion
Sliced pitted ripe olives

1. Heat the soup, salsa and chicken in a 1-quart saucepan
over medium heat until the mixture is hot and bubbling, stirring often.
2. Spoon the chicken mixture over the tortilla chips.
Top with the tomato, onion and olives.

Some other great, easy leftovers recipe suggestions:
Easy Turkey Pot Pie
Chicken Pizza Muffins
Turkey Noodle Soup

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Holiday Party Meal Plan

If you’re hosting a holiday party this year, I’ve compiled a menu you can use that’s sure to impress your guests. These recipes are all simple, and many are tried and true classics! I’ve broken the menu down into sections – appetizers, main course and dessert. So even if you’re not the host, you can offer to bring one (or more!) of these easy dishes to a holiday party.

Give them a try and let me know which is your favorite!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Last Minute Gift Idea

My mom is a teacher, so during the holidays she gets tons of gifts from her students. The other day, she brought home a gift from one student that I thought was so smart! It was a mason jar filled with all of the dry ingredients needed to make holiday bread. The ingredients were pre-measured and layered in the mason jar. The lid was covered in a holiday fabric and tied with ribbon, and the recipe for the bread was attached. So, when my mom decides to make the bread, all she’ll need to do is mix in the wet ingredients and bake!

Speaking of bread,, a great blog for baking ideas, featured some adorable holiday bread pans. The pans bake mini loaves of bread that would be perfect to give as gifts.

Here’s a delicious and easy recipe for a unique Banana Salsa Bread that would be perfect to make in the bread pans:
Banana Salsa Bread
  • Vegetable cooking spray

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened

  • 1 cup sugar

  • 3 medium ripe bananas, mashed

  • 1 cup Pace Chunky Salsa

  • 2 eggs

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour

  • 1 tsp. baking soda

1) Heat the oven to 350°F. Spray a 9 x 5 x 3-inch loaf pan with the cooking spray.
2) Beat the butter and sugar in a medium bowl with an electric mixer on medium until the mixture is light and fluffy. Stir in the bananas, salsa and eggs. Stir in the flour and baking soda. Pour the mixture into the loaf pan.
3)Bake for 1 hour or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Remove from the pan and cool completely on a wire rack.
Tip: It's best to set the oven rack in the middle of the oven for this recipe.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

My First Office Holiday Party!

As a “recent college graduate” office holiday parties are a brand new experience for me and many of my friends. I’m already finding myself overwhelmed with the amount of work that needs to be done before the end of the year! On top of that the first holiday party of my career has the potential to be a bit of an awkward experience for the newbie who doesn’t quite know the drill. So, when it was announced that our office holiday party was a potuck, I felt even more pressure to contribute something that would get notice and approval from all of my co-workers.

Yesterday was my office’s annual holiday party. The pressure was on, so I decided to make my Buffalo Chicken Dip, the dish that tested so well among my friends. This time, to change things up I substituted ranch dressing for the blue cheese dressing and shredded cheddar cheese for the blue cheese crumbles. I actually preferred it this way, although blue cheese does give it that “wings and football” feel.

I held my breath as my co-workers asked “what is that?” when I unveiled my masterpiece. Since Buffalo Chicken Dip is so popular, I was surprised by how many people hadn’t tried it yet. Luckily, it passed with flying colors! There was none leftover after the party, and everyone asked for the recipe. The “new” girl had brought a great “new” dip. I took a big sigh of relief and silently said a thank you to the gods who invented Buffalo Chicken Dip.

As a side note, I made Buffalo Chicken Dip (which my co-workers now lovingly refer to as BCD) the night before the party and just heated it up in the microwave in the kitchen at the office. It couldn’t have been easier! I brought tortilla chips for dipping, but there were also vegetables at the party that some people used to dip. I know I have now written two full entries about Buffalo Chicken Dip, but I LOVE this recipe! I am not alone in my excitement over Buffalo Chicken Dip either, check out for more variations of the recipe. There are so many ways to spice it up!

Sometime in the next few weeks, you probably have a work holiday party on your calendar, right? I’m sure it’s there, somewhere in between the gift shopping, tree decorating and frantic wrapping. If you’re the one that got stuck planning your office’s holiday party, check out these blogs for some great tips:

Friday, December 12, 2008

Holiday Gift Guide

If you’re anything like me, the most stressful part of the holidays is shopping for presents. The long lines are a pain and the stress of overspending is no fun, but the worst part is just thinking of what to get for your friends, family and co-workers, year after year. Especially if you, like me, have a friend who, without fail, somehow has the time to go out and find the perfect gift. I think she starts shopping in August.

Here’s the deal: the present can’t be too expensive….but it can’t be too cheap either. It has to show you put thought into the gift, and be creative and original. Basically, I need to be able to get gifts that convey thoughtfulness or, as our friends at Mastercard say, “the things that money can’t buy,” since I don’t have money! The pressure! Well, has posted an awesome holiday gift guide that covers everyone on your shopping list. It’s broken down by persona and price range so it’s easy to navigate. How do I know it’s awesome? Cause every item I looked at, I thought “I could use that!” or “That’s perfect for ______!”

Another great blog is The Gift Ideas Blog for really cool, artsy jewelry and other original ideas! The image above is courtesy of their fantastic holiday gift guide. This is a great place to find ideas for hard to buy for women like your Mom and sister or really hard to buy for women such as your mother or sister in law!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Recipe Test Run: Buffalo Chicken Dip

It has become apparent to me that being a college grad means two things in my family:
  1. My parents are finished supporting me financially in any way, shape or form. (Well, it was nice while it lasted!)

  2. I’m now expected to bring a “dish” to all of our holiday gatherings, celebrations and/or functions.
This may not seem like a big deal, but you should know that for the past four years I lived mainly on a diet of spaghetti and cold pizza, so my cooking skills are a bit rusty. Now that I’m out in the real world, my wallet hasn’t had a chance to catch up with me. So, with my lack of cooking expertise and a minimal budget, I wasn’t sure how I’d compete with my Mom’s amazing sweet potato casserole, my aunt’s pies, and my sister’s famed appetizers.

Last Sunday night, I decided to do a test run with Buffalo Chicken Dip, a recipe that has been getting a lot of buzz lately. I brought it to a Sunday Night Football party, and I was blown away by the reviews. Since “planning ahead” is not my strong suit, I didn’t have time to cook chicken, wait for it to cool, and then shred it in time to make the dip for the party. Instead, I used Swanson® Chicken which is made with only white chicken breast. Everyone loved it! Not only was the dip super easy and affordable to make, but I (ok, Buffalo Chicken Dip) was the hit of the party. Now I know what I’ll be bring to many holiday parties this season. I think it may even stand a chance against Mom’s casserole!

Frank’s® RedHot® Buffalo Chicken Dip:

1 pkg. (8 oz.) cream cheese, softened
2 cans (9.75 oz each) Swanson® Premium Chunk Chicken Breast, drained
½ cup Frank’s ® RedHot ® Sauce
½ cup blue cheese salad dressing
½ cup crumbled blue cheese
Assorted fresh vegetables and/or crackers

1. Stir cream cheese in 9” deep pie dish until smooth. Stir in remaining ingredients.
2. Bake at 350°F. for 20 min. until hot and bubbling. Stir. Serve with vegetables and crackers.

  • Substitute ranch dressing for blue cheese dressing and shredded cheddar or mozzarella cheese for blue cheese crumbles.
  • Make this in the microwave by heating it on high for 5 minutes instead of baking
  • Keep it warm in a crockpot or slow cooker

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Cookie Swap Party

Yesterday, I was invited to a “Christmas Cookie Swap Party,” and I thought that this was a great idea! It will save me from spending way too much time attempting to bake a bunch of different cookies. I’m excited to try my friends’ favorite recipes and find some new ones to share. If you’ve never heard of a cookie swap before, here’s how it works:

Each guest is asked to bring a batch of their favorite holiday cookies or treats and an empty cookie tin. At the party, everyone swaps cookies so that they end up with a variety of treats. By the time you leave the party, you’ll have an assortment of holiday cookies, without having to bake them all yourself. It’ll look like you’ve been slaving away in the kitchen for days!

Since I’m always one for saving time, my contribution will look like it took me all day when it only requires about an hour and just a few ingredients!

Here’s a great recipe for Dessert Mini Wraparounds:

1 pkg. Pepperidge Farm® Puff Pastry Sheets (2 sheets)
1 egg
1 Tbsp water
Flour, for coating prep. surface
Assorted Fillings: Jam, preserves, peanut butter, chocolate pieces, chopped dried fruit, chopped nuts, chopped mini chocolate peanut butter cups or caramel.

  1. Thaw pastry sheets at room temperature 30 min. Preheat oven to 400°F. Mix egg and water.
  2. Unfold pastry on lightly floured surface. Roll each sheet into 12" square and cut into 16 (3") squares. Place 1 tsp. filling in center of each square. Brush edges of squares with egg mixture. Fold corners to center over filling and pinch edges to seal. Place on baking sheets.
  3. Bake 15 min. or until golden. Remove from baking sheets and cool on wire racks 10 min.

Gift Idea
I’m always looking for ways to save on both time and money, so when I came across these super cute Chinese-take out style boxes I thought they would be great to fill with cookies or treats and give as a gift. These boxes look really trendy and are even decorated with holiday prints! They’re perfect for gifts to coworkers, friends or even the mailman! If you’re feeling crafty, you can buy the boxes in plain white and decorate them yourself by simply tying red and green ribbon around them.

For more info. on great “cookie” gift ideas and recipes, check out:

Monday, December 1, 2008

Holiday Decorating Ideas

This is my first Christmas as an official adult (let’s face it, college doesn’t count), so I don’t have much in the way of decorations yet. My entire holiday decoration collection consists of my Mom’s unwanted stuff and a few strands of burnt out Christmas lights. I certainly don’t have the money to buy a ton of new decorations, so I’ve been in search of inexpensive and easy ways to decorate for the holidays.

Here are some of my favorite finds so far:
  • Recycle empty mayonnaise jars by using them as votives for tealight candles. You can surround the candle with nuts or peppermints, and wrap the jar with a ribbon for extra holiday appeal. See for more information.
  • Use holiday wrapping paper around your home to add holiday flare. You can cover your front door, or just wrap empty boxes like gifts to “stage” around your house. Even a simple bow tied around a mirror or picture frame will create a seasonal feel in a room.
  • Fill an empty glass bowl with some inexpensive holiday ornaments, pine cones, candies, or whatever you have around the house.
  • Use luminaries to decorate the exterior of your home for a classy look. Simply buy white paper bags and tall candles. Fill the bags about ¼ of the way with sand, and a candle, and line your driveway or sidewalk with the bags. When they are all lit, the effect is extremely elegant!
If you want more tips for decorating on a budget, check out The Decorating Diva and Amazing Christmas Ideas.