Feb 282014
A cookie to celebrate black history month.

A cookie to celebrate black history month.

Our dance performance tonight is part of a black history month celebration. My volunteer assignment was to bring cookies for the performers. To celebrate all the hard work that has been put into this performance, I wanted to try to make my cookies a little special but without putting in too much work.

My first idea was to make chocolate cut-out cookies in the shape of dancers. There is a surprising lack of dancer cookie cutters out there. There are many wonderful dancer silhouette shapes, however. I printed out several and cut them out. I used this recipe and read some tips online about freezing the dough before cutting out the shapes as well as just before baking to keep the crispness of the shapes.

Cutting out the dancer silhouettes.

Cutting out the dancer silhouettes.

Freezing the cutouts before baking.

Freezing the cutouts before baking.

Dancer cookies before baking.

Dancer cookies before baking.

Dancer cookies after baking.  They held their shape!  The heartbreaking part after this, however, was that most of them broke when I took them off the baking sheet!  next time, I would bake them on parchment paper.

Dancer cookies after baking. They held their shape! The heartbreaking part after this, however, was that most of them broke when I took them off the baking sheet! next time, I would bake them on parchment paper.

This idea was working but was going to take way too much time for all the cookies. So, I decided at this point to just use a few of the dancer cookies for the display and using one of my no-fail drop cookie recipes for the rest.

With all the other things we had to keep track of during the performance, I didn’t want to have to remember to take home my cookie display. So, I had my husband pick up a tray from the dollar store on his way home from work. I knew I needed the cutout cookies to be able to stand up on this tray. After some thought, here is the method I came up with.

The display supplies needed: plastic tray from the dollar store, candle and matches, plastic spoons.

The display supplies needed: plastic tray from the dollar store, candle and matches, plastic spoons.

I carefully held each spoon over the flame until the plastic began to soften.  I then bent the spoon handle to a 90 degree angle and then melted the base of the spoon just enough so that it would adhere to the plastic tray. Be careful handling the hot spoons!

I carefully held each spoon over the flame until the plastic began to soften. I then bent the spoon handle to a 90 degree angle and then melted the base of the spoon just enough so that it would adhere to the plastic tray. Be careful handling the hot spoons!

Shaping the melted spoons.

Shaping the melted spoons.

The finished tray with built-in cookie stands.

The finished tray with built-in cookie stands.

Decorating the cookies with melted chocolate and sprinkles.

Decorating the cookies with melted chocolate and sprinkles.

After decorating the cookies, I painted each spoon stand with melted chocolate and attached the cookies to them.

After decorating the cookies, I painted each spoon stand with melted chocolate and attached the cookies to them.

The last step was to layer on the cookies!  Yum!

The last step was to layer on the cookies! Yum!

You could obviously adapt this display technique for a number of different occasions. The next time I am at the dollar store, I will stock up on a few of these disposable trays to have on hand for potlucks, summer cookouts or future cookie-making assignments!

 Posted by on February 28, 2014 General Tagged with: , , ,
Jun 282012

Ruly entertaining: a drink wagon!

The economy is still terrible. And people more than ever long to congregate over great food. Luckily the two are not mutually exclusive. I wrote last year’s Ruly Ruth on what’s hot food-wise to share. So I think it’s a must that I update this annually!

6 Cookout Food Trends for 2012

1.  A Main Course

People are being asked to bring not just an “extra” food item, as in years past–but often parts of the main course. A friend recently brought a beautiful sausage roll baked in a puffed pastry and sliced for easy serving–lovely! We brought a sliced pork tenderloin marinated and cooked in an Asian sauce over rice with mixed veggies and a teriyaki sauce over the entire dish. You get the picture. Bring foods that are hearty, and can stand alone. These are huge hits these days.

2.  Ethnic Food

A beautiful Korean-style buffet

Ethnic food is HUGE HUGE HUGE! Follow your roots or your favorite cooking style! I LOVE Creole food–although we have zero Creole roots. I can make a mean gumbo (and now that I know a quick microwave roux I can cut the crazy cooking time in half) and blackened anything is fabulous! A Green Thai Curry stir-fry is always fabulous–I have to go to the Asian market to buy my favorite paste to fry up in coconut milk before adding the rest of the ingredients. Greek food/Mediterranean food is as always super desirable–lovely humus dips, fresh tomato and cucumber salads with feta cheese–loving it! Fondues are back in…I had a fondue party recently with cheese as the main course and of course the chocolates–both white and milk melted for dessert dipping. A friend from Nigeria made a mad noodle dish with a lovely sweet-potato and meat topping. Bring it on! I think what’s great about this food is that most of us love to try new things…so this is a way to contribute to a party and have a new tasting sensation at the same time. And also, if you love cooking it–you know it will taste fabulous!

3.  Homestyle Food

Some of North Carolina's best barbecue! You don't have to make it yourself. Take out from a great restaurant is wonderful too!

Homestyle food is back in also. Last year I categorized this as “old fashioned”–times have changed–I swear if I threw a party and had everyone bring their own version of mac ‘n cheese right now it would be a huge hit! (There were years this concept wouldn’t have flown at all!) Truffle oil in mac ‘n cheese is very popular right now–so consider that as a deluxe addition. And the cheeses–white cheeses are making their appearance in this dish with huge avail. Some add meats to it, others keep it plain. Even Kraft’s deluxe version with the breaded topping is fabulously rich. Go figure! Fried chicken, if you’re here in the south, hush puppies–yum! And barbecue–with shows like “Pit Masters” that we can’t take our eyes off of–you know it’s going down! Once you’re in the south you learn of regional specialties with barbecue. In MD and VA you have a more tomato-sauced based barbecue sauce flavored with amazing things. Here in North Carolina, they use a vinegar-based sauce. Which was very interesting, but I’ve grown to love it! And sweet tea–when McDonald’s launched it you know the nation loves it!

4.  Cocktails, Mocktails and Punch

Drinks are still popular to bring along…especially cocktails that have taken time and special ingredients–or mocktails for those teetotalers out there. One friend made a martini with her own homemade blackberry syrup reduction. A lovely treat for all of us! And punches are huge again–you’d think the ’60s and ’70s had maxed those out–but they are back in a big way, both alcoholic and nonalcoholic alike. Presentation is everything–from dry ice to fancy glasses (yes, even guests who want it to look a certain way will bring their own glassware for serving).

5.  Kids

An adorable kids' table starring Ruly Ruth's daughter.

Here’s the deal–family-friendly is THE ONLY way to go nowadays. Even if you don’t have kids! Babysitters are expensive items most of us save for only once-in-a-whiles right now. And we are in an era where kids are to be kept involved and with us…that’s why we had them, after all. A cute little table set apart for kids food is a huge hit. Extra bonus points if you can make even a make-shift table at child-height! Chicken nuggets, the original Kraft Mac ‘N Cheese, carrots and dip and cut-up fruit (apple slices or orange slices or melon) and juice boxes is all you need—relatively inexpensive items that make picky eaters or little eaters very comfortable.

A surefire hit: Chik-Fil-A's chicken nugget tray.

6.  Diet Foods

Trifles are everywhere! Not sure this one is diet-friendly but it was delicious!

Diet is IN! Yes, even with homestyle, we love our “Skinny Girl Margaritas”–which taste even better thanks to my friend Martha’s discovery to mix half of that mix with Crystal Light Lemonade! Light whipping cream in desserts, please! (And trifles are back too–angel food cake, berries and light whipping cream and also light vanilla pudding layered is the first to go.) The ONLY caveat is make sure it tastes good. Life is short, and if it doesn’t taste good, believe it or not, we won’t eat it!

7.  Cake Balls

Desserts have a super popular theme this year: cake balls! Everyone is doing cake balls. It used to be a once-in-a-while thing, now it’s mandatory. I’m not a great decorator, so I am usually the trifle-bringer. But the friends that are make these look amazing! Doctored baked cake usually mixed with cream cheese rolled into balls and put individually on a lollipop stick, hardened in the fridge and then either spread with icing or dipped and often with toppings. Yum!

Another fresh dessert idea a friend brought was so delicious and beautiful in presentation–she bought waffle cones, filled them with mixed berries, arranged them in a circular pattern and put a bowl of whipped cream with a serving spoon in the middle. The first thing to go, that’s for sure! Lovely!

Note from Anne: One of my neighbors brought this gorgeous strawberry roll to a party and it was devoured in seconds. She claimed it was easy to make too.

I hope these ideas are helpful as we approach the 4th of July cookout season! Enjoy, be safe, and bon appetit!

Note from Anne: It has been interesting for me to see how many of Ruth’s trends from last year showed up on party tables throughout the year.  The only trend that may have changed is Ruth’s placing “Store-bought veggie trays” at the top of the “Do Not Bring” list.  Ruly Ruth herself served some Sam’s Club veggie trays at a recent party (below) and they were fantastic.  I served some Wal-Mart ones recently and they were fantastic too.  So, maybe we need to alter that warning to be “Un-fresh-looking store-bought veggie trays.” The one trend I am seeing at Fredericksburg parties is an increased emphasis on healthy, sugar-free food.  Store-bought fruit and vegetable trays are wonderful quick and easy things to bring!

Ruly Ruth's Sam's Club Veggie Tray. It was delicious!


A Sam's Club Fruit tray with cheese, apples and caramel dipping sauce. Lovely!

What food trends are showing up at your local cookouts? Please share in the comments.

 Posted by on June 28, 2012 General, Ruly Ruth Tagged with: , , ,
Jun 162011

It’s summer time! Cookouts abound and from Memorial to Labor Day, grilling and outdoor gatherings are the fête du jour! With that, when you are invited to one of these lovely events, I have suggestions for what you should bring that will be enjoyed by most!

10 Best Things to Bring to a Summer Cookout:

1. Kid-Friendly Fare. If you are one of only a few parents in attendance of a party that is family-oriented, a kid-friendly dish like Mac ‘N Cheese or chicken nuggets are greatly appreciated–and the crazy secret is that the adults eat this too–so no worries about not having a hit on your hands.

2. Say Cheese. The Big Trend right now is beautiful mozzarella slices with tomato and basil on top of each slice–a gorgeous site to behold–and the bigger the plate and the more on it the prettier it looks! Occasionally someone will drizzle a vinaigrette over it–it holds up very well and is usually devoured immediately!

3. Adult Cupcakes. A friend made a gorgeous set of chocolate rum cupcakes complete with a liquor-infused icing—-fabulous!! A very fun juxtaposition.

4. Cocktails. It’s BYOB-what to do? Mix up a lovely big cocktail in a glass sun tea jar filled with ice. A friend recently brought “Pink Panties”. Other faves of late have been Mojitos, Margaritas—and the awesome Pomegranate Martinis…..to die for! If it’s a non-alcoholic event, fancy sparkling sodas from specialty stores such as Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods are really fun. Our local store in Ridgecrest, CA, Bottany’s Desire sells lovely sparkling imported juice beverages that are the first to go at parties!

5. Waldorf Salad. Although I’d store the lettuce leaves on a bag of ice wrapped in paper towels to keep in the sun before serving. 🙂 The lovely mayo dressing actually preserves in the sun–it’s a really fun combination of apples and dried fruits–occasionally add tuna or cooked chopped chicken—lovely, fresh, salty and sweet! Wonderful, wonderful side dish! (P.S. from Anne. If you don’t know what Waldorf Salad is, like me, there is a recipe here. Also, while you always have to be careful with mayonnaise dishes in the sun, particularly if you are adding something like chicken to it, Ruth is right that commercially-prepared mayonnaise is relatively safe. Read more about mayonnaise here.)

6. Ambrosia. In the spirit of milk-based items, my Darling Husband’s favorite side dish anywhere is Ambrosia! Aptly named, it’s a sweet dish with a whipped and/or sour cream base–depending on which recipe you use–we prefer low-fat Cool Whip with dry pistachio pudding mix and canned fruit cocktail. Super easy to make–serve super cold. Delish! Kids and adults alike love this refreshing side/desert.

7.  Crockpots. Crockpots do show up—filled with wonderful items! A gorgeous baked bean or chili dish is always fabulous–esp. if hot dogs are on the grill–making them into chili dogs is THE BEST! Also, meatballs–super easy and always loved–a recent friend did a BBQ/Marinara sauce that was lovely! Or even making them in a cream sauce–yums!

8.  Pigs in a Blanket. Even the Ritz Carlton can’t get rid of this appetizer offering! Cocktail weenies wrapped in dough. Always a hit throughout the ages!!

9. Fruit and Veggie Tray. Yes—a veggie tray–or fruit and veggie tray. And don’t just stick to celery and carrots. People LOVE sliced peppers, mushrooms, green onions are hot right now–asparagus. The more variety, the faster it will disappear. Obviously melons, grapes and cherries are always a picnic favorite too!

10. Trifle. A trifle will always be loved—for 4th of July it’s red, white and blue baby! I like mine with angel food cake, vanilla pudding, whipped cream and then strawberries and blueberries layered one after the other after the other….A chocolate version is to die for as well, with a chocolate bundt cake crumbled between chocolate pudding, whipped cream and even crumbled Oreos. Yummo, as my Aussie friends say!

Presentation is everything! Some of the best money I’ve spent has been on items to bring things to events. A divided veggie and dip holder is expensive–but worth it’s weight in gold! A carry-all that holds a 9×13 glass covered baking dish that comes with a hot and cold pack is a staple. We received ours as a wedding present 13 years ago, and I use it all of the time. My trifle dish always looks amazing–and everyone’s selling them these days! Love it!! If it looks good, chances are that’s the thing people will go to over and over and over….

With that note–what to not bring to a cookout:

1. Store-bought veggie trays. If you do bring a store-bought veggie tray–make sure everything looks REALLY fresh—and ideally if you have a few seconds (which sometimes I admit even I don’t)–plate it on your own wares! It just pops more!

2. Spinach artichoke dip. I’m SO OVER right now the spinach artichoke dip. I think it’s really fattening and so NOT in the food of the 2010 decade! It SCREAMS the ’90s to me!

3. Bad potato salad. Yes–it’s bland and fattening and tastes of NOTHING! We’re WAY better off without it! Skip the calories, and if I do use those calories–make them worth my while, baby!

4.  Cheap versions of food the host is already preparing. Okay– a friend did this years ago—20 Big Macs from McDonald’s. And this was at a cookout where we were making and grilling gourmet burgers—just don’t bring anything at all! OY! (But guess what—they all got eaten–but not by me!)

5.  Outdated sushi.  If you’re going to do sushi–super super cool! BUT–double check the dates or order rolls fresh from a really reputable restaurant–otherwise it’s a quick trip to the ER with food poisoning. (After writing this I’m beginning to think I’ve almost seen it all here!)

6. Bland Soup. If it’s a hot day, espcially a hot day–if you’re bringing a hot dish–make it spicy or have some definitive taste. This is NOT the place for chicken soup! As seen on a Top Chef cookoff challenge…ugh! They could have easily made it into a great chicken tortilla soup and won over the judges…but not so much with plain soup….save those for winter!!

7. Spam. Do not bring canned meat to a cookout–or a product with that in use. Please. Enough said!

8. Bad Dessert. I have to include this from “Roland’s Cookout Rules“–which hilariously yet truthfully includes:
“If u just started baking, you are not allowed to bring any desserts.”

9. New recipes. Please try them first! (Not that I’m not guilty of this myself.) There are so many iffies….and really, we all just want our food to shine!!

10.  A Bad Attitude. The WORST thing to bring to a cookout is a stressed-out, negative person. STAY HOME!! Don’t just sit in a corner and sulk. I have no time and tolerance for that–and trust me, neither does the host/hostess. Fuggeddaboudit!

I am so excited to see what suggestions and feedback our readers have for cookouts! Please respond–we read every response and I anxiously await new ideas and feedback on my ideas. Bon Appetit!

From Anne:

Even a novice cook can bring a nice offering to a potluck. Below are some of the winners I was able to produce with very minimal effort or cooking talent.

Costco frozen spanikopita triangles (cooked, of course) with a bowl of kalamata olives. So easy to make and I took home only crumbs from this tray.

I once made a shrimp platter that looked gorgeous, was healthy and every last bit was eaten. I bought a bag of frozen (shell-on) shrimp, boiled them at home and peeled them, leaving the tails on. To serve, use two round Pyrex glass bowls, one large and one small. Put the small bowl inside the large bowl and fill the gap between the two bowls with crushed ice. Put the peeled shrimp on the ice and fill the smaller bowl with cocktail sauce. Wish I could find the picture from this one! So easy!

Vegan banana macaroons a.k.a. 'Bananaroonies.' While vegan and other 'weird health food' as my husband calls it, is a big risk at a potluck, these were well-received and especially appreciated by other vegetarians we didn't know would be in attendance.

Dulce de leche no-bake cheesecake. Just tried this recipe from the back of the can for Nestle Dulce de Leche for my daughter's Spanish language enrichment fiesta. Easy, creamy, cool and great that it is no-bake!

Update: 2012 Cookout Trends

 Posted by on June 16, 2011 General, Ruly Food, Ruly Ruth Tagged with: , , , , ,