Archive for the ‘theme parties’ Category

A delicious low-cal dinner in minutes!

Lulakabob! What is it really? you ask. If you’re of Armenian descent, you already know; for the rest of us, it’s a happy discovery.
My first experience with lulakabob was at a barbecue – of a sort. It was at a automobile-salvage yard in the middle of a winter afternoon just before Christmas several years ago; it was cold, muddy and windy. One of the yard guys laid a grill over a big hub cap full of hot coals and then grabbed a skewer and squeezed some kind of ground meat onto it and laid it on the grill. He kept transferring meat to skewers as a bottle of Grey Goose and a bottle of Black Label were passed around and plastic cups were filled. Ice and mixer were offered, but with a look that told me only sissies would use them. A heavenly aroma rose from the grill, and when I was handed a skewer hot off the fire, I found out why.

I’ve been a lulakabob fan ever since.

They’re so simple and delicious. I recommend them as an appetizer for parties, although my honey and I have them for dinner too. You can make them on the small wooden skewers you find at the market, but I recommend going to the cooking store of your choice and picking up flat metals ones because they do work much better. I’ve found them at barbecue-supply stores for lots of money, but I’ve also seen them at the 99 Cent Store. Needless to say the chi-chi ones are of better quality, but if you’re in a hurry or on a tight budget, go the cheap route!

As you may have deduced, lulakabob isn’t from these parts, so the hardest part of this recipe can be finding a Middle Eastern market that carries the essential ingredient. If you’re in Glendale, there are lots of them, including my favorite Central Grand Market on N. Central. I have discovered a new favorite out here in the Inland Empire called simply the Farmers Market on Foothill and Archibald in Rancho Cucamonga. It’s a great store with a fabulous stock of exotic foods and a fresh meat market at the back, stocking lulakabob already mixed; you can buy ground, spiced lamb, chicken or beef. Feel free to buy cucumber dip or tzatziki while you’re there and if you find a great market like the two just mentioned, you’ll be able to pick up fresh baked flat bread to accompany your lulakabob.

You can also buy a package of dried lulakabob spices with the directions to make any ground meat into lulakabob. I always have a couple packages on hand.

Uncooked Chicken Lulakabob

Take it home, open up your white butcher paper and let the kabob building begin. It’s easy; wash your hands well, scoop out a handful of ground meat and squeeze on to your skewer – it’s that easy. Make as many skewers as you think you need, and then add a couple more. Place them on a hot grill and turn them every two minutes; they only need about 7 minutes altogether. It’s a quick, yummy dinner – serve with a fresh salad, flat bread and a yogurt dip of your choice. That’s it — a perfect, lo-cal, low-fat dinner. Make them in smaller bite-size skewers for appetizers. They’ll go over great at any Super Bowl party, I promise!



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Perfect for Halloween. Or Thanksgiving. Nut-topped pumpkin bars are luscious and so easy to make.

Are you surprised? Once again, we bring you a dessert that will never be recommended by the American Heart Association. But these pumpkin bars are perfect for Halloween parties, and I’m making dozens of them for my sister Allis’s housewarming Halloween bash. (I also made bunches of them for a recent Molly’s Mutts & Meows fundraiser.)

The original version of this bar cookie used a spice cake mix as the base. Just between you and me, I thought it was disgusting. So I replaced it with the world’s easiest bar cookie base, created by Alice Medrich and published in her wonderful book Pure Dessert, as the base for the best lemon bars ever. The topping does have one healthy item in it: pumpkin. The rest of it–cream cheese, sweetened condensed milk, eggs… Well, I suggest when people ask what’s in them, you just mention the pumpkin.

Here’s the recipe.

Cream Cheese Pumpkin Bars

This makes a 9×13-inch panful, and it is made in two stages: first you bake the base, then the filling with the base. Total baking time is about an hour.

The base:
2 sticks of butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups all-purpose flour

The filling:

8 ounces cream cheese, softened
14 oz. can of sweetened condensed milk
16 oz. can pumpkin
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (or 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon cloves, 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, 1/2 teaspoon ginger)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup chopped walnut or pecans

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Stir together the sugar, salt and flour. Melt the butter and pour it into the flour mixture; add the vanilla. Stir it together and dump it into the pan and pat it out to the edges. (Notice the elegant simplicity of this approach: no hauling out the food processor and cutting up cold butter and whirring it together with the dry ingredients and then pressing the crumbs into the pan. This is easy.) Bake it for about 25 minutes, until it’s well browned at the edges and golden in the middle.

In the meantime, make the filling. Beat the cream cheese until it’s fluffy, then pour in the milk and beat again. Add the eggs, pumpkin, spices and salt. Mix well. Pour over the baked crust and sprinkle nuts over the top. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until set. Cool and then refrigerate.

However, I think these bars are delicious warm, and I dig right in as soon I think they’ve cooled off enough that I won’t burn my mouth too badly.

For parties, I cut the bars about an inch square and put each one in a cupcake paper. There are lots of cute and seasonal cupcake papers around; I’m using black-and-white polka-dot ones for this holiday.

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Locating great party supplies is something of a hobby for us. Though I really don’t love to shop, I do manage to find lots of cool stuff for parties. There are plenty of places to find neat decor–the hard part is recognizing it when you see it! You know us: we may love the fun stuff, but we hate to spend big bucks on it.

Michaels always has a vast array of possibilities, although it can also damage your budget, so keep an eye out for the chain’s 50 percent off coupons in your local paper, or, while you’re in Michaels, sign up for their email list; they’ll send you extra coupons. Watch for sales of items that have “centerpiece” written all over them. And, honestly, you never know what that might be, so keep an open mind (and imagination).

Floral Supply Syndicate with its very limited hours is open to both the wholesale trade and the public, but remember the prices are different. If you don’t have a resale number, don’t be disappointed if the cash register price is different from the one you saw on the shelf. The selection is astonishing, and even the retail prices are pretty reasonable. I’ve never been able to walk out with less than $50 on my invoice. Okay–there have been the few times that I’ve run in for just one item and have stuck to it, but it’s a rare day!

And what a fun place Moskatels is, not just for floral stuff but way more!There’s an array of vases that goes on for many aisles. They have all the stuff Michaels has and all the stuff FSS has and then they throw more at ya! This is fun store chock-full of great ideas and party decor galore, give yourself plenty of time to explore this one!

It’s not a huge chain, but I’m madly in love with Tai Pan Trading Company. The company is based in Utah and seems to have just five stores–two in California: one in Costa Mesa and one is close to me, across from the Ontario Mills. This store is gift-hunting heaven and a must destination for your tabletop. Their plates are priced reasonably enough that you can actually set a table for four or six with brand-new plates for less than $20. They have an enormous selection of silk flowers–not inexpensive but the silk floral rarely is. On the other hand, their glassware is incredibly reasonable.

Then there’s Stat’s & Fishbecks in Pasadena (and two other locations)– this store is just too much fun. Do not go in the door unless you’re feeling like you need to spend, spend, spend. But, oh, what fun you’ll have!

If you have a Saturday morning free, I highly recommend just meandering the area around LA’s floral mart. Between the garment district, the fabric district and the floral district, there are dozens of stores with the oft-mentioned reasonably priced décor. From sparkly items to fabric to use on your tables, to vases and other glassware, you can easily spend the whole day on a shopping death march. Bring a few bottles of water, cash and one of those rolling carts you see the bag ladies pulling so diligently. Trust me, they’re on to something. Oh yeah, bring a girlfriend to talk you down off the ledge when you think it will be your only chance to ever buy that perfect glass/fabric/vase/box again.


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Maakouda, a North African potato cake, makes an unusual and delicious side dish for a Middle-Eastern themed party meal.

A couple of weeks ago Hazel and I had lunch at a Moroccan restaurant called Oasis in San Luis Obispo. We loved everything we tasted, and since we ordered a bunch of appetizers in order to sample as much as possible, we tasted a lot. I particularly liked the maakouda, which the owner said he had learned to make from his mother.

His version was unlike others I’ve seen: made colorful with chunks of mashed carrots and sheathed in a crispy chickpea-flour crust and served with a spicy tomato sauce. I came home determined to replicate it as much as possible, and the pink soup birthday party gave me the perfect opportunity. All of our guests are adventurous eaters, so I knew no one would poke at the maakouda suspiciously and push the plate away.

(Moroccan Potato Patties)

2 pounds potatoes
1 medium onion, diced
3-4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 or 2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
1 ½ tablespoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon harissa powder or a couple dashes of hot pepper sauce, to taste*
1 teaspoon crushed coriander seeds
¼ cup chopped cilantro
3 eggs, divided

Chickpea flour
Olive oil

I use Red Bliss potatoes because I hate to peel spuds (I spent my childhood peeling potatoes for a family of zillions. Okay, 12—but when you’re peeling potatoes, it’s zillions). Boil the whole potatoes in salted water until soft. Drain and mash then—you can remove some of the skin if you like (I usually do). While the potatoes are cooking, sauté the onions until they’re translucent and then add the garlic; sauté for another minute. Gently toss the spices, potatoes, onions and garlic and cilantro together. Taste and adjust seasoning. At this point you can refrigerate it until you are ready to fry the patties; I like to let the flavors meld.

When you’re ready to proceed, mix in two of the three eggs to help the potatoes stick together. Lightly beat the third egg with a little water or milk and pour into a shallow pan or a plate. Put a cup or two of chickpea flour on a second plate.

Heat the oil until it shimmers. Shape the potatoes into patties and dip each one in the egg mixture, then in the flour. Fry until crisp, turning once. Place the patties on a cookie sheet or jelly roll pan in a warm oven until all the patties are done.

I serve them with lebneh (kefir cheese) and a Moroccan-spiced tomato sauce, but they’re great right out of the frying pan.

*Harissa powder is available from various online sources. Mine comes from 54 Gourmet Spice Blends; no website, phone 818-546-1223.


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Here’s the invitation to the seder Mel and I will attend this Saturday. You can see exactly how serious an event it will be–just in case the fact that it will take place long after the first two nights of Passover doesn’t tip you off.

It's an invitation to a Passover seder AND a tribute to Michigan J. Frog.

We will be bringing our own plagues. I was wondering how to represent the plague of blood that befell Egypt–but, thanks to the popularity of Twilight, it was easy. Yes, my local Party City carries a product clearly marked Bottle of Blood. Whew! It’s an ill wind…


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A teapot arrangement for a larger table

Tea’s simple– or it can be. At one time tea consisted of bread, butter and jam, and tea. It became more elaborate in the early 1800s when it developed into a late-afternoon meal intended to tide ladies over until dinner was served sometime after nine o’clock. “Low” tea–often called a cream tea in the south of England–is taken in parlors, preferably served by the staff to ladies chatting in their armchairs. High tea is served on dining tables, hence the “high” part.

My Wisteria Tea generally turns out to be a substantial meal, though many of the items on the table come from the cream tea tradition. I lay a buffet on my dining table and set up small tables on both my front and back patios. Laurie and I own lots of 30-inch round tables because, well, we throw lots of parties. We share them for events, and we buy them on sale whenever we see them (usually at Big Lots; you know us – we love a bargain!). You never know what might happen to them -– I once came out of the kitchen during a party just in time to catch one young niece photographing another niece artfully posed on a rapidly collapsing table normally reserved for three seated at, not on the table. Panic ensued as they spotted me and hastily tried to put the table back together–in vain. Those nieces are lovely young ladies now and would never do anything quite so undignified these days – at least not in front of me.

Our nieces have helped assemble flowers at my last couple of teas. Both this year and last, I was in the kitchen while the fabulous table arrangements were magically produced by my floral genius sis, Hellen, and the nieces. This year Hellen had our niece Norah at the flower mart at 6:00 a.m. and back designing at my house before 7:00. We’ve done lots of arrangements in teacups, but this time they chose from my large collection of antique creamers.

Here are some of the results, arrangements so easy an 11-year-old can make them (with some expert advice from one of the best designers in the business!).

Just grab a few of your favorite flowers -– if they’re larger (roses, lilies, ranunculus), it really only takes five or six stems for a small arrangement. If the flowers are smaller (baby roses, sweet peas, daffodils), it will take a few more. Start with three in your hand (think of a triangle) and add a few more on each side. Finish with an edge of something green (three ferns, a couple stems of ivy or three or four sprigs of rosemary –- your own yard may provide endless possibilities). You can wrap them together with a pipe cleaner to hold the shape you’ve created, but if your vase neck is small enough, it will do the job without a pipe cleaner.

Make one for each small table. If you’ve got five tables (for 15 to 20 guests), make five adorable little arrangements. Plan to buy (or, if you’ve got a great garden, cut) 25 to 30 larger flowers, plus some smaller ones for filling in gaps. Hellen used sweet peas to fill in, along with herbs from the garden. That’s it for your small centerpieces – how easy can it get?


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Years ago, I decided to share my glorious wisteria with all of my girlfriends because it was so fragrant and lovely. A tea seemed the perfect way to do just that. The weather’s almost always perfect–both warm enough and cool enough to sit outdoors under the blossoms. Since then I have started catering teas, although I must admit, because it is so labor intensive, I much prefer to do tea for friends with Laurie’s help.

This year, my eighth annual Wisteria Tea, we had an abundance of help. My sweet sister Hellen did all the floral shopping at the mart and made the stunning centerpieces, ably assisted by our niece Norah. I’ll devote a whole blog post to their amazing work. My centerpieces are generally beautiful; Hellen’s are works of art.

Norah’s mom, my sister Margy, tore herself away from the Fairfield Downtown Business Association to also join us, and her help was very much appreciated. She was our go-to girl for the day – always good to have!

Because of the tea catering, I have many, many pieces of one-of-a-kind china. Rose patterns are my favorite, but most of my porcelain is covered in ultra-feminine floral designs. I never try to match china for 20 to 30 guests, so I use a mash-up of flower patterns, the more the merrier. My friends and sisters have given me lots of china, but most of it has been purchased on eBay. (The Party Know-it-alls are almost always thrifty.)

My Wisteria Tea has become a potluck event, with guests invited to bring their favorite tea item, which makes it a great way to entertain a large group without totally killing yourself or your budget–you know, our theme. We always make sure we’ve got the essentials handled: a number of tea sandwiches, scones, several desserts. It’s fun to see what people bring. Non-cooks offer to purchase clotted cream and jams and exotic teas. Our friend Barbara always brings incredible strawberries. One year a guest brought a polka-dot cake from a local patisserie that we’re still talking about. We always have wonderful concoctions that are demolished by the “starving” ladies who attend.

Maybe you’ve got a lovely garden you’d like to share with your friends but you find yourself under-equipped to serve tea for 20. Ask each guest to bring her own tea cup too. Almost every woman’s grandmother or aunt gave her china, even if the recipient said, “I’m not the kind who will ever use this.” But here’s your chance – take it to the party and remember the sweet story about the relative who gave it to you. Not my grandma, of course, but she did give me some kickin’ champagne glasses!

We’re going to post some tea sandwich recipes in the next few days. Laurie and I brainstorm for weeks about this tea. At the beginning we usually have 20 sandwiches in mind, but as crunch time rolls around, we narrow it down to, oh, 10 or so. Stick around; you’re gonna love our afternoon tea!


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