Campfire Cones

If a campfire is in your weekend plans, then so should this delicious dessert. A simple sugar cone, loaded with flavors and textures that melt and mull together to make an ooey gooey treat to share in the glow of your cozy fire. What could be better on a summer of fall evening with friends? Easy to make at the campground, in the backyard, and even on the grill. Here’s what you need to get started:

Campfire Cones
inspired by Chef Jessica Bright

aluminum foil
sharpie marker
sugar cones
mini marshmallows
mini chocolate chips
salted pretzels
fresh berries
caramel
peanut butter
chopped candy bars
bananas
pineapple chunks
maraschino cherries
chopped cookies
ice cream (optional)

Directions
Let each person fill his or her cone with desired fillings. It’s a good idea to have at least 5 or 6 mini marshmallows in the mix to melt everything together. Once full, wrap the cone completely in foil and write the person’s name on the foil. Place wrapped cone in the outer perimeter of a campfire for about 3-5 minutes, or until marshmallows are completely melted. (These also work great on a hot grill. Cook for about 3 minutes!) Serve immediately as is or with a giant scoop of hard ice cream.

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Food Safety for Outdoor Parties

Outdoor parties are one of the highlights of summer and fall. But did you know? Foodborne illnesses actually increase in warmer months when we dine much more outdoors. Here are some simple guidelines to keep you and your family safe:

  • The most important safety measure is to keep hands clean. Have a hand-washing station available with water, soap and clean towels if possible. If not, anti-bacterial towelettes or hand sanitizer will keep guests’ hands clean and free from spreading contamination to serving spoons, trays and food.
  • Marinate meats in the fridge instead of the countertop or outdoors. Food temperatures are almost impossible to regulate outside of the fridge, freezer, or a cooking device, and raw meats are especially susceptible to bacterial growth. Keep raw meats cool until cooking time.
  • Invest in a meat thermometer and use it while grilling. Hamburger and beef should be cooked to 160 degrees, chicken 165 degrees, and pork 145 degrees. Plus, you’ll avoid dry, overcooked meat! To keep hot foods safe for hours, they should maintain a temperature of 140 degrees. Wrapping them in foil and keeping them stored in an insulated container will give you the best results. (Yes, your insulated cooler will keep hot foods hot!)
  • Cold foods should be kept at about 40 degrees to prevent bacterial growth. Salads containing mayonnaise or raw egg should be kept on ice.
  • Food left out for more than two hours becomes increasingly dangerous to eat, since bacteria reproduces exponentially. If the temperature outside is above 90 degrees, that window is reduced to an hour. It can be difficult at a party to remember, but as soon as people are done eating, it’s best to cover the food and transfer it to a cooler or fridge.
  • Believe it or not, one of the best and easiest ways to prevent food borne illnesses at your outdoor party is to have plenty of plates, napkins, and utensils. A fresh plate and utensils for each course of food drastically reduces contamination and cross-contamination of food and bacteria.
  • A healthy immune system wards off most problems, but pay close attention to those who are susceptible: the very young, the very old, pregnant women and anybody whose system is compromised in any way. Be especially vigilant if you have such guests in attendance.

Do you have any food safety tips or suggestions? Share them in the comments!

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15 Genius Summer Party Ideas

Get your next summer party on the calendar with these genius ideas that will transform you into the host with the most. From decorations, to cooking tips, to thoughtful details that make your guests feel comfortable, these ideas will change the way you par-tay!

Clip flowers from your yard and place them under glasses with votive candles on top.  This will create a gorgeous, colorful display that takes you from daylight to night light.

 

Terra cotta pots lined with foil and filled with hot charcoal make great centerpieces and tiny s’mores stations!

Large leaves make colorful coasters for drinks.

Provide outdoor necessities your guests may have forgotten, like bug spray, sunscreen, extra sun hats or scarves.

Put glow sticks in balloons and scatter them across the yard for an illuminating display.

 

Think outside the box for serving containers. Fill a kiddie pool, wheelbarrow, or bird bath with ice and turn it into a cool drink station.

Fill water balloons and freeze them for colorful, functional ice blocks to keep food and drinks cool.

Keep bugs at bay and out of your cocktail by popping a cupcake liner on top of your cup!

Grilling burgers? Have guests write their meat preference in ketchup on their bun.

Cook kebabs more evenly by using two skewers instead of one. It will keep items from spinning or falling off.

A mini marshmallow in the bottom of an ice cream cone prevents drips!

Use colorful pots or vases to hold utensils and other party necessities. Always inventory your own stuff before buying anything new.

Tea lights inside empty jars transform into summertime lanterns. This is an incredibly simple and affordable way to add ambiance to a party. Place them on tables, along paths, and anywhere you need a little twinkle of light.

Serve summer salads or appetizers in strawberry crates. Cute, recyclable, and a perfect way to control portions.

Transform your hampers into trash and recycling bins at your party. So much prettier than regular garbage cans.

Do you have a favorite outdoor entertaining tip? Share your ideas!

25 Ways To Be a Tourist In Your Own Town

Now that summer is here, you don’t have to plan a getaway to enjoy some new sights. Chances are, there are plenty of interesting fun things to do in your own hometown that you’ve never tried because, hey, they will always be there, right? Time to go exploring in your own backyard with these great tips:

  1. Pretend you have friends coming to stay with you from a foreign country for the first time. Where would you take them?
  2. Pick up a local guidebook. You’re likely to discover places and tips you didn’t even know about!
  3. Sign up for community newsletters and mailings to be aware of happenings.
  4. Use web apps like Yelp! to discover new places to eat that are rated by locals.
  5. Spend a few minutes looking at the postings on bulletin boards in public places like libraries and schools.
  6. Visit your town’s website. Find out historical facts and future events.
  7. Make a list of museums, galleries, and parks in your town and make a point to visit them.
  8. If there are lakes or rivers nearby, rent a canoe and spend a day on the water fishing or relaxing.
  9. Research nearby walking, biking, or hiking trails. Take a bottled water and bug spray and make an afternoon exploring the great outdoors.
  10. Ditch your car for the day and plot out a pedestrian day about town.
  11. Take a ride on public transportation, whether bus, metro, tram or train. You’re likely to get a different glimpse of your own city and community.
  12. Snap a lot of photos, just as you would when touring other cities. Don’t let the familiarity keep you from preserving memories.
  13. Interview longtime residents about what life was like when they were younger. Ask their recommendations for a day on the town.
  14. Explore your local architecture. Look for themes, influences and charm. What’s the tallest building in town? The oldest?
  15. If you live in an older town, find out if there are guided ghost tours and take a friend for a bone-chilling walk into the past.
  16. Research your local gardener’s guild and participate in a garden tour of homes.
  17. Many tourist councils offer city passes with discounts to major attractions. Purchase one and spend the summer visiting different attractions.
  18. Any famous persons from your town? Research their biography and walk in their footsteps.
  19. Get connected with your local arts council. Attend outdoor concerts or plays put on in the community.
  20. Utilize weekend mornings for farmers markets and yard sales to pick up local delicacies and great antiques.
  21. Mix up your routine. Drive a different route to work for a week. Eat in different restaurants. Shop at a different grocery store.
  22. Spend a night or weekend at a local hotel or bed and breakfast.
  23. Attend a local sporting event and cheer for the local team. Even if you don’t know anybody!
  24. Shop local small businesses to find unique and meaningful “souvenirs” unique to your town and the people there.
  25. Adopt an adventurous attitude. We’re more likely to try new things on vacation, but why not at home too? Say yes to new opportunities and invitations that push you out of your comfort zone and lead to discovery.

12 Great Recipe Ideas for a Long Weekend

If you’re hosting a houseful for the holiday weekend ahead, there’s no need to slave over a stove to keep everybody fed. We’ve got a secret weapon to keep you on top of your game. Store-bought rotisserie chicken can be transformed into so many different delicious recipes, it’s the most versatile way to feed your crowd over the long weekend without breaking a sweat. (And nobody knows they’re eating leftovers!) We’ve put together a dozen crowd-pleasing meal ideas (hot, cold, and room temperature) to see you through from Friday to Monday.

1. Stir some tangy barbecue sauce with the chicken and serve it on rolls with coleslaw for a delicious Pulled Chicken Sandwiches.

2.  This Asian Chicken Pasta Salad is fantastic as a light lunch or dinner, or as a perfect potluck side dish.

3. A platter of Chicken Chimichangas can be put together quickly and will undoubtedly go fast.

4. A pot of this Half Hour Chicken Gumbo and a pan of cornbread is an impressive quick meal with impressively rich flavors.

5. Fresh Greek-inspired flavors come together in this Chicken, Tomato and Feta Pasta Salad that is perfect served cold or at room temperature.

6. Everybody loves an enchilada, and the pre-cooked chicken makes these Chicken and Green Chile Enchiladas come together in a snap.

7. Spicy Chicken Lettuce Wraps are a fabulous appetizer or lunch with fresh, summery flavors that everyone will love.

8. It’s hardy, it’s healthy, and so pretty too. Chicken and Wild Rice Salad is a meal on its own or a perfect side dish at the BBQ.

9. A Pear and Chicken Sandwich is perfect for a picnic in the park, a hike in the hills, or fresh fare during fireworks.

10. Loaded with grapes, apples, cashews and dill, My Favorite Chicken Salad is delicious on a croissant or as an appetizer next to a plate of crackers.

11. You can’t go wrong with a pot of chili and this White Chicken Chili is a savory summer alternative to heavier beef versions. Load it with fresh toppings like avocado, cilantro and sour cream.

12. And finally, a Tex-Mex twist makes these BBQ Chicken Tacos a festive (and easy) meal to serve inside, outside, for lunch or dinner.

Tips for a Perfect Cheese Plate

As an appetizer at the beginning of a party or as dessert to wind things down, a cheese plate is a beautiful and creative way to feed your guests. Putting together a great cheese plate is both an art and a science, but it’s not hard to pull off once you learn a few tricks. Here’s everything you need to know to do it right:

  • Serving Sizes: Plan on roughly 1-2 ounces of cheese per guest.
  • Variety: Select cheeses that are a variety of different textures (aged, firm, soft, semi-soft, blue) and made from different milks (cow, sheep, goat).
  • How Many: No need to go overboard. Three to five cheeses are plenty for a great platter. Too many options can get overwhelming.
  • Serving Temperature: Room temperature provides the best flavor and texture of each cheese. If you make your platter ahead of time, allow 45 minutes to an hour before serving.
  • Use Labels: Mark each cheese with its name and a simple one or two word description.
  • Knives: Have one knife per cheese.
  • Ask an Expert: If you’re not a cheese connoisseur yourself, no problem! Ask the advice of your local deli manager when putting together your cheese platter. He or she will likely have a lot of great recommendations. Let them know your budget and then allow them to offer advice.
  • Always Have Honey: A drizzle of honey balances and tames the flavor of sharp cheeses that some guests might not enjoy on their own.
  • Use Plain Bread and Crackers: Avoid herb-infused or flavored breads and crackers, which can fight flavors and take away from the experience.
  • Don’t Crowd the Platter: Leave a 1-2 inch gap between items on the platter to avoid getting fingers and knuckles where they don’t belong (and possibly cut!).
  • Fruit and Nuts Are a Must: Break things up with fresh fruit like grapes, figs, apricots and dates as well as small handfuls of your favorite nuts.
  • Sweet and Savory Sides: Jams, chutneys, olives, and thinly sliced salty meats like prosciutto are also great additions to your platter.
  • Platter vs. Individual Plates: If guests are walking around, opt for a large platter from which everyone can serve themselves. If it’s a formal sit-down meal, use an individual plate for each guest.

Do you have a favorite cheese or platter tip? Share your ideas!

Image via Williams Sonoma

10 Genius Camping Tips

Summer is officially here and the great outdoors is calling. Before you pack up your gear and head for the hills, check out these great tips that will make your camping trip a breeze (and make you look like a genius)!

1. No need to lug around an entire bag of charcoal. Fill an empty paper egg carton with Match Light charcoal for a simple and effective fire starter for the grill.

2. No coffee pot? No problem. Make individual coffee bags out of coffee filters and dental floss. Allow them to steep in boiling water for several minutes, just like tea.

3. Refill empty Tic Tac containers with your favorite spices. It takes up less space and you can store them with your camping equipment year round.

4. Add bundles of sage to your campfire to keep mosquitoes away.

5. For perfect s’mores, use a small block of wood on the outer rim of campfire to rest your cracker and chocolate while you roast the marshmallow.The wood will transfer heat to get the chocolate nice and melted.

6. Campfire Banana Boats are a delicious ooey-gooey alternative to s’mores. Or a good side dish for s’mores. Either way.

7. Freeze drinking water in jugs and use them instead of ice in your cooler. Not only does it save space, it saves your ham sandwiches from getting soggy.

8. Avoid soggy, slippery bars of soap by creating one-time-use strips of soap with a vegetable peeler. HINT: rub dry soap on a mosquito bite to relieve itching.

9. Place a few of unscented dryer sheets on the table (or under a tablecloth) to keep bees away from the food.

10. A first aid kit that fits in your pocket is a must-have for hiking. Use an old prescription bottle and fill it with bandaids, alcohol wipes, antibiotic ointment and some Benadryl.

Do you have a favorite camping tip? Share you ideas with us!

Recipe: Deep Fried Oreos

Mrs. Fields Secrets Deep Fried Oreos
One of summertime’s greatest pleasures is the local fair. Whether it’s a county fair in the midwest or a street fair in midtown Manhattan, people are drawn to fairs and especially those delicious traditional fair foods. Today we’re kicking off a fun new series featuring your favorite fare from the fair, beginning with a dangerously delicious indulgence: Deep Fried Oreos. Hot and sweet, crunchy and soft, Deep Fried Oreos are downright crave-able. With today’s recipe, there’s no need to wait for the fair, but beware: whip up a batch and you may get a spontaneous crowd (and maybe a blue ribbon)!

Deep Fried Oreos

2 quarts canola or vegetable oil
1 package Oreo cookies
1 1/2 cup pancake mix
1 egg
1 cup milk
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
powdered sugar for garnish

Directions
Heat oil in a deep fryer or dutch oven to 375 degrees. Prepare a tray with paper towels for drainage. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk the milk, egg, and two teaspoons of oil together. Slowly add the pancake mix until no lumps appear. Once oil reaches temperature, coat 4-5 Oreos at a time in the batter, then drop into the hot oil. (Cook in small batches to prevent overcrowding and burning.) Cook for 20-30 seconds per side, or until golden brown. Remove and drain on paper towels. Serve warm with sprinkled powdered sugar.

Colorful Ice Cubes

Mrs. Fields Secrets Flavored Ice Cubes

We’ve got a simple way to add a fun range of flavor and color to your summer beverages. Freezing concentrated cubes of punch or juice will not only cool your summer drinks, but infuse them with bright color and flavor. You can match the colors to your party theme or holiday fare (think red, white and blue), combine them in a beautiful pitcher or in individual glasses. As the cubes melt, the drink gets more flavor and color with each sip!

Rainbow Ice Cubes

3 packets Koolaid, different flavors/colors
1 cup sugar
6 cups water
3 ice cube trays

Directions
Mix contents of one Koolaid packet with 1/3 cup sugar and 2 cups water. Stir thoroughly to ensure that sugar is completely dissolved. Pour into one ice cube tray and freeze until solid. Repeat with remaining Koolaid packets and ice trays. Once frozen, place cubes in a punch bowl, pitcher, or individual glasses with water, wine or clear soda for a beautiful pop of color and flavor.

HINT: Dark, concentrated juices like grape or pomegranate work best for juices. Consider freezing berries inside ice cubes for even more color and texture!

Pancakes On Sticks & Other Fun Breakfast Ideas

You’ve heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but did you know that it can be the most fun? We’ve gathered some incredible ideas to serve at your next summertime sleepover, brunch with friends, or even Father’s Day breakfast. Follow the links for full instructions or use them to inspire your own creativity.

Like a lollipop but better, these pancakes on a stick are too cute and super easy for serving.

Cheesy baked eggs inside potato skins is such a fun new way to serve individual eggs. Serve with your favorite hot sauce or ketchup.

Intermixing donut holes and fresh berries or fruit on a skewer ensures a balanced and beautiful breakfast. Plus, it’s so pretty!

Create lacy, lovely pancakes by using a simple squeeze bottle for your batter. Stack them up for a funnel-cake-like taste of sweet crunch.

Thin slices of fresh apple dipped in pancake batter create these delicious Apple Pancake Rings.

Betcha didn’t know you can make bacon cute. It’s actually quite easy with these bacon hearts. (Plus, you get a good mix of soft and crispy edges in each strip!)

And, of course, a little food coloring goes a long way. Create bright, colorful waffles in any color scheme. (We’re loving this red, white and blue!)

Do you have a favorite fun breakfast idea?

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