In today's busy world, it is easy to get wrapped up in work to the point that movies, books, and other forms of entertainment may seem frivolous. Cloverfields Farm & Kitchen's Janine Washle says each of us owes it to ourselves to carve out time to engage in something enjoyable whether that is crafting, fishing, cooking, or reading. Joining a group is a good way to structure this down time. Wine meet ups, cooking groups, and book clubs are three perennial favorites and affords us with an opportunity to socialize, converse even debate a particular topic. Of the three, book clubs are particularly popular right now.
Book clubs typically decide on a book then members read it before the next schedule meeting. The following month, members gather to discuss not only the story line but the cover art, setting, and characters. If the book was made into a movie, a recent example, Hunger Games, that is usually discussed also. No matter the subject, the host provides snacks, desserts, and drinks.
Many times book clubs meet during the week; therefore, coming up with a few snacks can be stressful. There is the dilemma of just tossing a couple bags of chips and a container of salsa on the counter. Boring. Or, going overboard with a spread that looks more like a buffet line. Unless it has been agreed upon, don't serve a meal since most members will have eaten at home. On the other hand, you want it to be memorable.
Look to that month's book for inspiration. Where was the setting? Was the main character from a different country? Was food served in any of the chapters that could be recreated? If the theme was a circus like in Water for Elephants, it would be enjoyable to serve circus food like corn dogs and cotton candy. The Shades of Grey trilogy is primarily set in Seattle so a coffee theme immediately comes to mind in desserts like tiramisu, coffeecake, and of course, a delicious coffee drink.
Maybe that is too much during a busy week, but a host can still tie in with the book, for example, The Time Keeper. Simply decorate with clock paraphernalia from the craft store. Michael's Crafts carries clock faces that could be used as serving trays, clock mechanisms that could be set around on the table, and shop other rooms of your house for alarm clocks, pocket watches, even table top clocks to reinforce the theme.
We all turn to tried and true favorites when in a time crunch, but at some point we feel as though we've fallen in a snack rut. 7-layer dip by any other name is still 7-layer dip. It isn't hard to freshen up the traditional by looking at current trends.
There are 5 trends that the professionals are turning to this year:
Fresh (raw vegetables, fruits)
Ethnic Flavors (Mexican and Asian are hot right now)
Introduce New Flavors to the Classics (add smoked paprika to deviled eggs, replace American cheese with a spicy one)
Healthy Options (lighten dips and spreads with low fat/non fat alternatives)
Smaller Portions (think mini)
Some other considerations include how many snacks to serve? Usually 3-4 are enough. What kind of snacks? Think about the group for guidance. Are members dieting? Food restrictions or allergies? If there are no obvious issues, then think about a dip and/or spread; something crunchy like nuts, chips, veggies; something warm like pigs in the blankets, potato skins; and one or two sweet offerings. It is easy to overspend if you don't know how to calculate amounts per person. This basic formula: 4-5 pieces per hour per person helps determine how much to buy. Again, it is important to know your members. Are they hearty eaters or do they lightly pick? It is important to have a working knowledge of this so you don't overbuy.
Let's play out this calculation:
Members: 8 hearty snackers
Timeframe: 7-9 p.m.
Snacks/appetizers: 4 such as pig in the blankets, potato skins, brownies, spicy almonds
4 pieces X 8 members X 2 hours = 64 pieces (that is total pieces, not per person)
20 pig in the blankets
20 potato skins
Bowl of spicy almonds with a serving spoon (spoon will regulate number of almonds each guest takes)
And there you have it, roughly 64 pieces. If the group were light pickers, then decrease the pieces to 2 or 3. Don't be too frugal though, it is better to have some leftovers than an empty table an hour into the gathering. Most guests eat the most in the first hour tapering off after that.
No stress options:
Finally, if all of this is too boggling, go to a Sam's Club or a Party Store and check out the frozen section for a well stocked selection of frozen appetizers. Plus,don't forget the ease of just having each member bring a snack or appetizer. Especially among foodie types, the snack table could be the highlight of the get together! Plus, there is minimal clean up since everyone is taking their dishes with them.
2 egg whites
1 cup sugar
2 tsp finely ground coffee
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
3 cups whole almonds
1/3 cup butter, melted
½ tsp vanilla extract
In a large bowl, beat egg whites with salt until soft peaks form. Gradually add sugar, beating until stiff peaks form. Fold in coffee, cinnamon and almonds; pour butter and vanilla over all then toss to coat.
Bake at 325° for 40 minutes, turning every 10 minutes, or until almonds are crisp. Serve at room temperature.
Pigs In Blankets
(This is the grown up version of the childhood favorite)
Adapted from Martha Stewart
2 pounds mini hot dogs or regular dogs cut in 3rds (56 pieces)
1 large egg
All-purpose flour, for work surface
1 box (17 1/2 ounces) frozen puff pastry, thawed
Poppy, sesame, or mustard seeds, optional
Mustard, for serving
Ketchup, for serving
Poke hot dogs several times with the tip of a knife.
On a lightly floured work surface, working with one sheet of puff pastry at a time, roll into a 14-by-11-inch rectangle. Cut lengthwise into seven 1 1/2-inch wide strips. Cut each strip crosswise into 4 rectangles, each about 3 1/2 inches long.
In a small bowl, beat together egg and 1 tablespoon water; set aside. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat; set aside. Place a hot dog on the narrow end of one piece of pastry. Roll to enclose, brushing with some of the beaten egg to adhere; transfer to prepared baking sheet. Repeat process with remaining hot dogs and pastry. Brush the tops of puff pastry with egg and sprinkle with seeds, if using. Transfer to refrigerator and let chill for 15 minutes.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Transfer baking sheets to oven and bake until puffed and golden, about 20 minutes. Let cool briefly before serving with mustard and ketchup.
Crunchy Warm Spinach Dip
2 teaspoons olive oil, plus more for baking dish
1 medium onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup milk
1 pkg cream cheese
3 pkgs frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
1 cup almond slivers
¼ tsp red pepper flakes
¼ tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 cup shredded mozzarella
¼ tsp salt
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a Dutch oven or large pot, heat oil over medium high heat. Add onion and garlic; cook until lightly browned, 5 to 8 minutes.
Add milk to pot. Stir in cream cheese until melted, about 3 minutes. Add spinach, almonds, red pepper flakes, Worcestershire sauce, 1/2 cup mozzarella, and salt; stir to combine. Pour into a lightly oiled 1 1/2-quart shallow baking dish; sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup mozzarella.
Bake until bubbly and golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Serve hot.
FREE RECIPE BOOKLET!:
Cloverfields Farm and Kitchen also has a special Book Club Recipe Booklet available by email. To ask for a complimentary copy, just email Janine Washle at firstname.lastname@example.org
To find Cloverfields Farm & Kitchen on Facebook: click here.
CloverFields Farm & Kitchen
Hardin Springs Area
Big Clifty, KY 42712
Janine Washle and her family live at the Cloverfields Farm and Kitchen in Big Clifty, Kentucky in Hardin County. CloverFields Farm & Kitchen, part of a century old farmstead, is our home and business. The McGuffin house, the original farmhouse, is a registered state landmark. CloverFields Farm has a prosperous farming history. They are continuing this rural story in their own unique way by the addition of CloverFields Kitchen a place to explore the past through food and merge it with our modern lifestyles.
CloverFields Farm is dedicated to the preservation of southern, especially Kentucky, food traditions. The kitchen is commercially-outfitted compliant with Health Department standards. In this kitchen I develop new recipes based on original ideas, inspirations from my culinary research, and most often according to what is in season.
On the farm, they make many gifts and specialty items. She is currently working on her first cookbook, but she also has a long resume developing recipes for several companies. She has also won several contests and cook-offs with her original recipes.