I was thrilled to host another Foodbuzz event this weekend after having such fun last time I did it.  This was a particularly fun event because it was sponsored by Smirnoff and needed to be somehow related to a summer theme.  For me, the best summer nights are casual get togethers with lots of friends, sipping cocktails and munching on delicious snacks while engaging in some friendly competition be it board games like bingo games free of charge, video games, outdoor games – whatever!  So, my idea for Summer Fun & Games Night was born!

On the Menu:
Smirnoff Tuscan Lemonade
Smirnoff Vodka Mojitos
Strawberry Margaritas
Assorted Beer and Wine

Loaded Baked Potato Skins
Oven Baked Chicken and Shrimp Spring Rolls
Soft Pretzels
Hot Bean and Cheese Dip
Chile Lime Tequila Popcorn

Chocolate Dipped Banana Pops
S’mores Brownies
Strawberry Whoopie Pies
Peanut-Butterfinger Mini Cheesecakes
Peach Brulee

Being sponsored by Smirnoff, our only requirement for this party was to feature either the Tuscan Lemonade or Vodka Mojitos as part of our menu.  One of my friends is a big fan of Smirnoff and both options sounded good to her, so we bought both.  The Tuscan Lemonade seemed to be the favorite, but both were definitely a hit.  Both of these are completely premixed cocktails, and I have to say as the hostess it was incredibly convenient to have some yummy drinks that required nothing more than opening the bottle.  I’ll have to keep these in mind for the future.

We had a big assortment of board games to choose from.  If we had had more time, I’m sure we would have played even more than we did!

Have you ever played Apples to Apples?  It’s a SUPER fun game, and pretty hilarious.  You definitely need to try it out!

How many doctors does it take to figure out a new board game?  At least 5!  Really though, once we figured out the premise of the game, it was a blast.  Party Playoff by the people of Cranium – this is a great game for a party (duh, right!?)  You can play it with any number of people and it’s still great even with a large crowd.  We loved it!

And my personal favorite game, Aerosmith Guitar Hero.  Ben and I battled in the finals, and though we seemed to be perfectly tied in the sudden death round, he won somehow – I still claim the game malfunctioned ;)

Rachel and Joe are jammin’!

A make-shift winner board was a fun way to keep track of the games we played.  Unfortunately four guests were unable to make it at the last minute, otherwise this would have a lot more names (and games) on it!

In keeping with the spirit of competition, I made these rating cards so that the food items could “compete” against each other.  I loved reading people’s responses, although for the most part there was no clear landslide winner.  I guess that’s a good thing, because each item received votes in some category or another, so everything must have gone over pretty well!

After the tallying, here are the results!

Best Looking: Spring Rolls
Best Tasting: Soft Pretzels
Perfect for a Party: Loaded Baked Potato Skins
Overall Favorite: Soft Pretzels (Spring Rolls were a close second)

Best Looking: Peanut-Butterfinger Cheesecakes
Best Tasting: Peanut-Butterfinger Cheesecakes
Perfect for a Party: Chocolate-Dipped Banana Pops and Strawberry Whoopie Pies (tied)
Overall Favorite: Peanut-Butterfinger Cheesecakes

Aahh, the spring rolls.  I will spare you the details of the full saga, but I had the hardest time ever finding spring roll wrappers despite heroic efforts on my part.  I finally gave up and just used egg roll wrappers and you know what?  They were great!  These were very popular, and there were none left at the end of the night.  I was concerned about how the texture of these would be after baking as opposed to frying, but they were really good.  Certainly not as crispy as with frying, but we all thought they were fantastic.  I think they would have been even crispier if they had baked a few minutes longer, but I had other things that needed to get in the oven.  Can’t wait to make these again!

Oven Baked Chicken and Shrimp Spring Rolls
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1 small boneless skinless chicken breast, cooked and roughly chopped
1 cup cooked shrimp, peeled
Napa cabbage, enough for 2 cups shredded
1 medium carrot, peeled
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 tsp. fresh grated ginger
1 tbsp. oyster sauce
1 tsp. fish sauce
1 cup bean sprouts
2 tbsp. chopped cilantro
2 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
1 package egg or spring roll wrappers
1 egg white, lightly beaten
Cooking spray

Combine the chicken breast and shrimp in the bowl of a food processor.  Mince with brief pulses until chicken and shrimp are finely chopped.  Transfer to a bowl; set aside.  Replace the blade of the food processor with the shredding attachment.  Shred the cabbage to yield 2 cups.  Shred the carrot.  Transfer the cabbage and carrot to a bowl; set aside.

Heat 2 teaspoons vegetable oil over medium-high heat.  Cook garlic and ginger just until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Add the shredded cabbage and carrot and sauté just until the carrot is slightly tender, about 3 minutes.  Add the chicken and shrimp to the pan.  Mix in the oyster sauce, fish sauce and bean sprouts.  Stir until well combined.  Remove from the heat and stir in the chopped cilantro and hard-boiled egg.

Preheat the oven to 400° F.  On a work surface, orient an egg roll wrapper with a point toward you.  Place about 2 tablespoons of filling near the edge of the wrapper.  Flip the point up over the filling, rolling away from you to cover the filling.  Fold both sides in and continue to roll.  Use a dab of egg white on the loose point of the wrapper to help seal the roll completely.  Transfer to a baking sheet lined with a silicone mat or parchment paper.  Repeat with the remaining wrappers and filling.  Spray the rolls lightly with cooking spray.  Bake until golden brown and slightly bubbly, about 15-20 minutes.

Source: adapted from Cooking Et Cetera

These little babies couldn’t be easier!  Such a brilliant idea, s’mores brownies.  These bake up quite tall so you can cut them into smaller pieces.  I think I cut 20 and the pieces looked absolutely huge to me!  That certainly didn’t seem to stop them from being eaten though, so maybe that was the right size.  The marshmallows on top browned a bit more than I would have liked and I think next time I will drop them on about halfway through baking to prevent that.  Otherwise, loved these!

S’mores Brownies
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1½ cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
16 tbsp. unsalted butter
6 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
5 large eggs
1¼ cups dark brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup roughly crumbled graham cracker pieces
12-18 large marshmallows

Preheat the oven to 350° F.  Butter and flour a 9×13″ pan.  Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a small bowl, stir together and set aside.  Combine the butter and chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over simmering water.  Warm, stirring occasionally, until completely melted and smooth.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the eggs, brown sugar, granulated sugar, and vanilla extract to blend.  Stir in the warm chocolate mixture until blended.  Mix in the dry ingredients on low speed until just incorporated.  Fold in the graham cracker pieces with a rubber spatula.  Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth with a spatula.  Dot with the large marshmallows.  Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with moist crumbs attached, about 30-35 minutes.

Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool for at least 20 minutes.  Cut with a clean, sharp knife, cleaning between slices if the knife gets too messy.  Serve immediately or wrap individually in wax paper for storing.

Source: adapted from Joy the Baker

This dip is so, so, so good.  I’ve been dying to make it for quite a while and wow – I think I’ve found a new addiction.  It is basically refried beans mixed with sauteed jalapeno and onion, and lots of melted cheese.  It was wonderful the next day as well, but didn’t last longer than that before it was totally devoured.  Yum!

Hot Bean and Cheese Dip
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1 tbsp. olive oil
½ onion, chopped
1 jalapeno, seeded and finely diced
1 (14.5 oz) can refried beans
2 tbsp. sour cream
¼ tsp. ground cumin
½ tsp. kosher salt
1/3 cup cheddar cheese, in ½-inch cubes
1/3 cup pepper jack cheese, in ½-inch cubes

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Add the onions and jalapeno, and sauté until tender, about 3-5 minutes.  Stir in the refried beans and cook until smooth, stirring occasionally.  Stir in the remaining ingredients and cook until the cheese is melted.  Transfer to a bowl and serve hot with tortilla chips.

Source: adapted from Life’s Ambrosia

These are super cute, easy to make, and delicious!  The strawberry flavor is definitely a key player.  I do think next time I might try using a cream cheese based filling rather than this one, which is more like frosting.  It was just a bit too sugary for my taste.  But still delicious, and very cute.  My main word of caution is that this recipe makes a LOT!  I made about 20 mini sandwich cookies using a small dough scoop, and I think I could have made about 20 more with all the extra batter and filling (just didn’t have time or need for them.)  So, unless you need a lot of these, I recommend halving the recipe.

Strawberry Whoopie Pies
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For the cookies:
3½ cups all-purpose flour
1½ tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
¾ tsp. salt
2 cups packed light brown sugar
2/3 cup canola oil
2 large eggs
½ cup plain yogurt
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup strawberries, finely chopped

For the filling:
16 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
5 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
2 tsp. vanilla extract
½-1 cup strawberry puree

To make the cookies, preheat the oven to 350° F.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.  Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl.  Stir together and set aside.  In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment combine the brown sugar and canola oil and mix until smooth.  Beat in the eggs.  Mix in the yogurt and vanilla extract until well blended.  Mix in the dry ingredients on low speed, just until incorporated.  Gently fold in the chopped strawberries with a rubber spatula.  Cover, and refrigerate the batter for 30 minutes.

Using a dough scoop, drop mounds of batter on the prepared baking sheets, about 2 inches apart.  Bake until the cookies are set and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 12-15 minutes if using a medium dough scoop (about 9-10 minutes with a small dough scoop).  Rotate the baking sheets halfway through baking.  Once finished baking, transfer the baking sheets to a wire rack and allow to cool for 10 minutes before removing the cookies to the rack.  Repeat with any remaining dough.

To make the filling, in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter until smooth.  Add in the confectioners’ sugar and beat on low speed until incorporated, then on medium speed until smooth.  Mix in the vanilla extract.  Add in the strawberry puree, starting with about ½ cup and adding more if desired.  If the filling becomes too thin, add more powdered sugar to stiffen.

To assemble, pair up the cooled cookies by size, laying one cookie of each pair flat side up.  Pipe a dollop of filling onto the flat cookie of each pair, and top with the other cookie to create a sandwich, pressing gently to bring the filling to the edges of the cookies.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Source: adapted from Erin Cooks

I think that if any one food item stole the show at the party, it was these soft pretzels.  I’ve made pretzels before but decided to try Alton Brown’s recipe this time around.  After seeing him make it on Good Eats and hearing multiple rave reviews, I figured it had to be good.  Boy, was it!  The dough tasted phenomenal, the texture was just right – they were just an all-around hit!  I had originally planned to serve them with some spicy mustard and then never had time to get it on the table, but no matter because they were gone before I could bat an eye.  I would love to try them with other flavor variations or a cinnamon-sugar topping, but no matter what way you try them, they are delish!

Soft Pretzels
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For the dough:
1½ cups warm water (110-115° F)
1 tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. kosher salt
2¼ tsp. instant yeast
22 oz. all-purpose flour (about 4½ cups)
4 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
Vegetable oil, for greasing the bowl

For finishing:
Cooking spray
10 cups water
2/3 cup baking soda
1 egg yolk beaten with 1 tbsp. water
Pretzel (or kosher) salt

To make the dough, combine the water, sugar, salt and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Mix on low speed to dissolve the yeast.  Add in the flour and melted butter and mix just until the dough comes together.  Switch to the dough hook and knead on medium speed until the dough is smooth and clears the sides of the bowl, about 5 minutes.  Transfer the dough to a bowl lightly greased with vegetable oil, turning once to coat.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place, about 50-55 minutes or until doubled in bulk.

Preheat the oven to 450° F.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and spray lightly with cooking spray.  Bring the water and baking soda to a boil in a large saucepan or stockpot.  In the meantime, divide the dough into 8 equal pieces.  Working with one piece at a time, roll a segment out into a 24-inch long rope.  Make a U-shape with the rope and holding the ends of the rope, cross them over each other and onto the bottom of the U-shape in order to form the shape of a pretzel.  Place onto the parchment lined baking sheet.  Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough.

Place the pretzels into the boiling water, 1 or 2 at a time, for 30 seconds.  Remove from the water with a slotted skimmer and return to the baking sheet.  Once all the pretzels have been boiled, brush the tops with the egg wash and sprinkle lightly with salt.  Bake in the preheated oven until dark golden brown, about 12-14 minutes.  Transfer to a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before serving.

Source: adapted from Alton Brown via Food Network

Is there any doubt from the name of these that you will love them?  Didn’t think so.  A graham cracker crust, a peanut butter cheesecake filling mixed with crushed Butterfingers, topped with ganache and more candy bar pieces – heavenly!  These are very easy to make, and my only concern was some discrepancy with the amount of crust to filling to topping.  I have altered my version to reflect a better estimate so you don’t end up wasting a bunch of ingredients like I did – I hate that!  I baked these in a mini-muffin pan, though you could certainly use a mini-cheesecake pan.  You may just end up with a few less cakes.  Also, if you use a mini-muffin pan, definitely use paper liners.  I had an awful time getting these out in one whole (nice-looking) piece.

Peanut-Butterfinger Mini Cheesecakes
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For the crust:
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
2 tbsp. sugar
2 tbsp. butter, melted
Pinch of salt

For the filling:
12 oz. cream cheese, softened
6 tbsp. creamy peanut butter
¾ cup sugar
1 egg + 1 egg white
3 tbsp. heavy cream
Pinch of salt
6 fun sized Butterfinger candy bars, chopped

For the topping:
1 cup semi-sweet or dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
3 tbsp. heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 350° F.  Set a 24-well mini-muffin pan on a baking sheet.  Line with paper liners.  In a small bowl, combine the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, melted butter and salt.  Toss with a fork until the mixture is completely moistened.  Press a small spoonful of the mixture firmly into the bottom of each well.  Bake for 10 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack.

Reduce the oven temperature to 300° F.  To make the filling, add the cream cheese to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Beat until smooth.  Add the peanut butter and beat again until well combined.  Mix in the sugar, eggs, cream and salt.  Fold in the crushed Butterfinger pieces with a spatula.  Spoon evenly into the wells of the pan over the crust.  Bake for 20-22 minutes or until the center is set.  (The cakes may puff up a lot, but they will sink again while cooling.)  Let cool for at least two hours before removing from the pan.

For the topping, heat the chocolate and the heavy cream in the top of a double boiler until the chocolate is melted.  Stir just until smooth and glossy.  Spoon over the tops of the cakes and sprinkle with the remaining crushed candy bar pieces.  Chill until ready to serve.

Source: adapted from Picky Palate

Popcorn is one of my absolute favorite snack foods, and I crave it literally every single day.  However, I rarely make it because Ben doesn’t feel the same way about it.  I thought this party would be a good opportunity to finally try out this flavor variation that I have been wanting to try for months.  It was great!  The spices gave it great flavor which Ben likened to a taco, but they were not overpowering so you could still actually taste the popcorn itself.  Little popcorn boxes are a fun touch to make any event more festive.  I see them all the time at my grocery store and Sur La Table but I’m sure party stores would have them as well.

Chile Tequila Lime Popcorn
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4 quarts freshly popped popcorn
5 1/3 tbsp. butter, melted
2 tsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
½ tsp. lime zest
1 tsp. tequila
½ small jalapeno, seeds and ribs removed, finely minced
½ tsp. pepper
1½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 tsp. ground cumin

Preheat the oven to 300° F.  Line a baking sheet with a silicone mat or parchment paper.  Place the popcorn in a large, clean paper bag.  In a small bowl, whisk together the butter, lime juice, lime zest, tequila, and jalapeno.  In a small dish, combine the pepper, salt, red pepper flakes and cumin.

Drizzle half of the butter mixture over the popcorn in the bag, fold down the top, and shake to coat the popcorn completely.  Taste and add more of the butter mixture if desired.  Sprinkle most of the spice mixture over the popcorn, shake once more, and taste again.  Adjust seasonings as necessary.

Spread the popcorn over the prepared baking sheet and bake until the popcorn is dry, about 5-7 minutes.

Source: adapted from 101 Cookbooks

Okay, these are just about one of the cutest little dessert ideas ever!  I foresee these being very popular with our kids someday, especially judging from Andrew’s reaction.  Actually, when Ben first saw them he said they looked like something for a kid’s birthday party, and I kind of agree!  They are fun, incredibly easy to make, and the kids would have a blast helping.  Don’t let the childish appearance fool you though, these are really, really good!  They far exceeded my expectations.  Just be sure to let them sit out a bit before serving, otherwise they are too hard to bite into.  The topping possibilities are endless.  I chose mini M&Ms, toffee bits, and honey roasted peanuts, but just use your imagination!

Chocolate Dipped Banana Pops
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Firm but ripe bananas
Lollipop or popsicle sticks
2 cups chocolate chips or chunks
Toppings (chopped nuts, M&Ms, chopped candy bars, sprinkles, etc.)

Peel the bananas and slice them into thirds or fourths, so you have about 3 inch-long sections of banana.  Place lollipop or popsicle sticks in the center of each banana, about 2 inches deep.  Place the bananas on a plate or tray, carefully spaced so they are not touching, cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight.

When you are ready to dip the bananas, melt chocolate over a double boiler and stir until smooth.  Have bowls or plates with toppings ready.  Dip each banana in the chocolate to coat and gently shake off any excess.  Gently press one side of the chocolate-coated banana into the topping to adhere.  Transfer to a foil-lined baking sheet, so that the topping faces up.  Repeat with remaining bananas.  Transfer the baking sheet to the freezer to set the chocolate for 30 minutes.

Once hardened, wrap individually in plastic wrap or sandwich baggies.  Allow to sit at room temperature for about 7-10 minutes before serving.

Source: adapted from Joy the Baker

The potato skins were the one thing I forgot to get a picture of, but you can kind of see them here on the red platter.  The idea is nothing new – hollowed out baked potato skins, topped with lots of cheese, crumbled bacon, sour cream and chives.  These were very yummy, even to me who is not a fan of baked potatoes or bacon.  They definitely seem like they would be perfect for football season, so I’m sure I’ll be making them again soon enough.  I baked the potatoes and hollowed the skins out the night before the party so that at crunch time, all I needed to do was top and bake them.  I definitely recommend this strategy if you have a lot of food to prepare because it made things very easy for party time!

Loaded Baked Potato Skins
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Russet potatoes
Melted butter
Shredded cheddar cheese
Sour cream (optional)
Minced fresh chives (optional)
Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 400° F.  Poke the top of each potato with a fork to let steam out.  Place the potatoes on a baking sheet.  Bake for about 1 hour.  When finished, transfer to a plate and let cool for at least 15 minutes.  While the potatoes are cooling, cook some bacon until almost crispy.  Crumble into large chunks.  Slice the cooled potatoes lengthwise into thirds, removing the middle slice so you are left with two slices covered mostly with peel.  Scoop out some of the potato inside, leaving some behind.

Preheat the broiler.  Line a baking sheet with foil.  Brush both sides of the potato skins lightly with melted butter and place on the prepared baking sheet.  Place under the broiler for about 3-4 minutes just to crisp up the skins.  Remove from the oven, top with shredded cheese and crumbled bacon, and return to the oven for a few minutes more until the cheese is melted.  Top with sour cream and chives as desired, and season with salt and pepper.

Source: adapted from Simple Comfort Food

Peach brulee is a fantastic dessert, and truly perfect for summer.  Possibly the best way to showcase ripe seasonal peaches is this simple preparation – sometimes, less really is more!  Peach halves are sprinkled with brown sugar and broiled for 2-3 minutes.  These take almost no time to prepare, but with a scoop of vanilla ice cream they are divine.

Peach Brulee
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Peaches, halved and pitted
Brown sugar
Freshly whipped cream, for serving

Turn on the oven’s broiler and move a rack to the highest setting.  Line a broiler-safe pan with foil.  Place peach halves, cut side up, on the pan.  Sprinkle brown sugar over the peaches.  Place in the broiler and stand by to monitor closely.  Cook just until the sugar has become brown and toasty (this should only take a couple of minutes at most).  Let cool slightly before serving.  Place a dollop of whipped cream in the center of each peach half, and serve immediately.

Source: adapted from Joy the Baker

And finally, a shot of these cute festive lanterns I bought for the occasion.  They seemed very summery and went well with the rest of the decor.  A nice touch, and they really set the mood once it got dark outside.  Happy summer everyone!  Take advantage and enjoy it while you still can :)