Budget Friendly Cookout Ideas: The Decor

Budget Friendly Cookout Ideas: The Decor

In my humble opinion, the recipe for the perfect cookout is equal parts food/drink, décor, and fun. People come for the food, feel comfortable because of the décor and atmosphere and stay for the fun. So I'm giving you some ideas for all three!

Plan an Awesome March Madness Party

Even though I know nothing about March Madness, there is one thing I can totally get behind. The food and the party (OK, technically that's two things. But they work together.)

Yummy Super Bowl Snack Ideas

I'm going to confess here, I absolutely love hosting football parties. Holidays, birthdays, and what have you are awesome, but there is just something about getting all your pals together to eat, drink, and yell and scream at TV. It's the best. I will openly admit that I am way more of a college football gal. Mr. T and I watched the national championship game in our hotel room during our honeymoon. Mostly because he's an Ohio State fan (and also because I am the best wife ever). But I get into the pros too. Sadly this year we aren't doing anything for the Super Bowl. We don't really care about the teams and things have just been so busy. So, I obviously have to share my yummy Super Bowl snack ideas so someone out there can make them. Here are some you should definitely try. And if you're looking for some cute/fun decor, check out my easy tutorial on how to make a football field table runner.

1. Buffalo Chicken Dip

I know, I know. Everyone does it. But trust me when I tell you it's always a crowd pleaser. It's actually one of the first things I ever made for Mr. T's friends during March Madness a few years ago. Now we literally have friends who come over just for that. The best thing is that it's super easy and can be made in the crockpot. I am shocked I don't have a picture of it, but I guess that's because I'm always too busy eating it.


  • 4-5 chicken breasts (I don't precook mine and have even been known to use frozen chicken breasts from time to time)
  • 1 bottle of Ranch dressing (doesn't matter what kind)
  • 1 bottle of Frank's Red Hot Sauce
  • 1 block Cream cheese (you can also buy the stuff in the container)
  • 1 bag shredded cheddar cheese

What to do

1. Put all ingredients into Crock Pot. I usually start with the chicken and then put about half a bottle of ranch and Frank's in it. Then add the whole block of cream cheese and about half the cheddar cheese.

2. Let it cook on low for about 3-4 hours, stirring it every once in a while so the cheese doesn't burn (it's OK if it does a little, trust me no one will notice). Then I check it, if the chicken shreds easily it means the chicken is done cooking and you will want to be sure to shred all of the chicken. It doesn't have to be perfect, but you want to be sure to break up the meat so it makes a nice dip consistency. And when I say easily I mean easily. You should be able to shred it with a fork and often times I just stir it and the chicken falls apart. That's the beauty of the crockpot.

3. Add remaining ingredients. I don't always use a whole thing of Frank's. It depends on a) my mood and b) who is coming over. I like it to be wingy and spicy, but not everyone likes that so I am sure to tone it down. I recommend adding the rest of the shredded cheese and then alternating the Frank's and the ranch until it's a good flavor that you and your guests will like. I tend to add more of the Frank's at first since the ranch will cool it down if there is too much spice.

4. Cook for about an hour more.

Serve with chips, crackers, vegetables.

Seven Layer Dip

Seven Layer Dip

The last time Mr. T and I had people over, I made a seven layer dip inspired by this recipe. It wasn't exactly seven layers, but it's darn tasty so who cares. Here are the alterations I made:

Black Bean Layer (Bottom layer)

I basically just put some black beans, salt, pepper, and a jalapeno (without the seeds) in a food processor. Then I spread that on the bottom of the dish.

Sour Cream Layer (Second layer)

I mixed sour cream, my homemade taco seasoning, and pepper jack cheese in the food processor and spread that over the beans

Tomato Layer (Third layer)

I do not like tomatoes. At all. I mean, I like them cooked in sauces and salsas, but I don't like them raw or the taste of them raw. So I made this salsa recipe to use as the tomato layer and spread that over the sour cream

Cheddar Cheese Layer (Fourth layer)

I just took some shredded cheddar cheese and put it on top of the tomato layer.

Green Pepper Layer (Fifth Layer)

I cut up some green peppers and put it on the top.

I also put some black olives on the side. I love them, but Mr. T hates them and they are hard to pick off in this sort of thing. But on the side guest, as well as myself, could easily add them if they wanted to. I served with some chips and vegetables and it was a total hit.

Photo from ericasweettooth.com

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Football

I also made this for one of our recent get togethers and let me just tell you that it was the biggest hit. Some of our pals literally just sat by the table and ate this baby. I used this recipe over here. It's so good and tasty and it was incredibly easy to make. Far easier to shape into a football than I thought. I put it in the freezer after I made it so it would set well before serving. Then I served it with graham crackers, vanilla wafers, and pretzels.




My 5 Holiday Must Dos

My Holiday Must Dos Oh Christmas time, you are my favorite time of year. I mean, I love fall and it's my favorite time of year, but Christmas is the best. I always feel like a little kid. The snow. All the pretty decorations. 994 excuses to make pretty things and eat your weight in cookies and treats. Giving presents. The list could go on and on. And one thing that I really enjoy are all of the holiday traditions I've grown to love and do each year. Here are my five holiday must dos.

1. Drink cocoa with candy canes.

Do I even need to explain this one? The candy canes definitely make it taste better.

2. Baking and making goodies.

I'll be sharing some ideas in a feature later this month, but I love to make goodies. Ok, wait, technically I'm not much of a baker. I leave that to my mom, sis, and Mr. T. I'm much better at quality control and decorating. But it's really the experience of doing it with (and for) the people I love that makes this a must do every holiday season.

3. Zoo lights and Christmas decorations.

I haven't braved the crowds of tourists just yet. But one thing I have to do every year is go see decorations and lights. I'm not that partial to where though I usually go with my family to see the zoo lights in Lincoln Park Zoo. It's a tradition we started when we lived there and it's been something we've continued to do every year. It's the best.

4. Listening to the Chipmunks and Muppets Christmas albums.

Yes, I am totally a child of the 80s and I wear that loud and proud during the holiday season. Nothing makes me feel more holiday like than listening to those two albums. I also sing them loudly (sometimes from the office which makes Mr. T ask me what's going on). It's also the best.

5. Watching Elf and National Lampoons Christmas Vacation.

My whole family is obsessed with Christmas Vacation. Seriously. Even my niece and nephew can recite lines from the movie. My nephew was actually once Cousin Eddie for Halloween. I wait all year to watch it and I love that Mr. T is also a fan. Recently I've also added Elf to the list. It's hilarious and, to me, represents the magicalness of the season. I even get a little choked up in the end (don't judge).



Going Out on New Year's is the Worst: Here are 5 Other Ideas

Photo courtesy of Andreas Graulund (Flickr) Confession time y'all. I hate going out on New Year's Eve. And I can blame it on the fact that I'm an old married lady and genuinely enjoy wearing leggings as pants while sitting on the couch with Mr. T and drinking beer and/or vodka out of a plastic cup. But it's honestly just that I hate it and I have for some time.

And I know that I live in NYC so people assume I should love it. But that's actually the thing that makes it worse. Actually, being in any city makes it worse.  I hate crowds and being thrashed by people. I hate paying overpriced drinks. I hate trying to get home (I seriously had to hold up in a Walgreens one year in Chicago with all the other drunk people because there were no buses, cabs, or anything). It's just awful and, to me, that's not how you should ring in the New Year. Ever.

So here are 5 alternatives to going out on New Year’s (that are way more awesome and fun). You could actually combine a few of them for even more fun.

1. Have a fancy dinner party

A lot of people like to go out because it's an excuse to get all dolled up and wear a pretty dress. But why do you have to go out for that? You could host a fun little gathering with all of your friends. Make invitations. Cook a fancy meal. Drink champagne. Have everyone wear their Sunday best. It's all the fun of going out without all the annoyances of actually going out. And it's often way easier to get home when you aren't near all the bars or trying to leave at the exact time everyone else is.

2. Have a slumber party

Obviously if no one has to leave until New Year's Day, you've eliminated the problems all together. And the best part here is that you don't have to wear pants (I mean, not REAL pants). Have your friends all bring their favorite snack and movie (ahem, scary movies work great). You can also make a slammin' breakfast the next day and watch a few football games. The possibilities are endless.

3. Host a game night

What could be better than ringing in the New Year with Mario Kart or a few games of Cards Against Humanity? Have your pals over, make some tasty treats and a few cocktails, and have a blast.

4. Rent a cabin

I've always had this dream to stay in a cabin somewhere to ring in the New Year. Maybe upstate where it's cold and snowy. Everyone can chip in for the cost and bring food and booze. And then everyone just hangs out all night with movies or games or whatever you want. What could be better?

5. Get a hotel room

This is pretty similar to the cabin idea only you don't get that snowy, woodsy feel. But, like the cabin, it's equally awesome. You could even choose a spot that's near the action wherever you live. That way it's like you're a part of it all, but you don't have to deal with all of the annoying people or crowds.

Cookies with Mr. T: Orange Drop Cookies

Happy holidays, fellow cookie aficionados. This week I am taking a break from the book routine for a special holiday edition of Cookies with Mr. T. When were last visiting family, Jess was telling her mother how much she loves the Pillsbury orange rolls (these bad boys), but that we cannot find them anywhere in Brooklyn. Her mother gave us a cookie recipe which she said replicates the flavor quite well. As we were hosting some friends for Thanksgiving last week, and the other 463572 things we were making weren’t enough, we decided (or was it that Jess decided for me?) to make these cookies as well. I must say, my mother-in-law was right; they do replicate that flavor pretty well.

My 3 Thanksgiving Must-Haves

Thanksgiving must-haves I love Thanksgiving. I'm not sure if I love it as much as Christmas, but I don't think it's fair to compare since I really just love it in a different way. You get a few days to relax, hang with friends, eat food, and watch football. There's also the best leftovers that last for days. For the past few years, I've hosted Thanksgiving for friends who stay in the city (we call it orphan Thanksgiving) and I've loved it. The first year I was really nervous, but I found out that making dinner isn't really that hard. But, my Thanksgiving dinner wouldn't be complete without a few things that I consider necessities. No matter how many new things I add to the menu, I have to have these things or it just doesn't feel like Thanksgiving. Here are my three Thanksgiving must-haves.

1. Turkey with dressing (aka stuffing).

Ok, thanks Mrs. Obvious. But really, turkey and dressing is a must-have at my table. And not just any dressing, the kind my mom makes. The kind she's made for as long as I can remember. I am sure there are other tasty recipes that I could try, but I always crave that dressing. I actually salivate over it all year. I guess I could make it anytime, but it just wouldn't feel the same to me. I don't know what it is. Maybe it makes me feel close to her even though she's not here or maybe it's just that I want to have Thanksgiving the way I'm used to because it feels like tradition. Anyway, here's how I make it (I'm sure a lot of Midwest ladies make it similar):


  • 1 package bread crumbs for stuffing
  • Celery, chopped
  • Onion, chopped
  • Butter
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • Sausage, raw
  • Chicken broth


  • Follow package instructions for chopped onion, celery, and butter
  • Crumble raw sausage and mix in bread cubes
  • Add sautéed onion, butter, celery, and egg.
  • Toss in hot chicken broth.
  • Stuff as much as you can in the bird to cook with turkey. If there is any leftover then just cook it in a separate dish in the oven.

2. Leftovers.

Yep, I mentioned them again. But I honestly look forward to leftovers every year. That's probably partially why I make enough food to feed the entire city of New York (that and the fact that making food for an army is in my genes). My favorite thing to do is make an open faced turkey sandwich. Just take some bread (I prefer wheat or rye) and then heat up some dressing, mashed potatoes, turkey, and gravy and put it on top.

3. Pumpkin pie.

I have similar feelings about pumpkin pie. I will only make my grandma's recipe. It's honestly because I think it tastes the best. Seriously. The. Best. I think it's because her recipe calls for butter and milk and a lot of recipes I've seen don't include that. It's also the fact that my grandma passed away so many years ago and I really like carrying on her recipes at my table. I first made these my first Thanksgiving in New York. It was actually the only piece of Thanksgiving I had that year (I literally had Chinese food and pumpkin pie with a friend and it felt so sad to me). That year I vowed to never feel that sad on Thanksgiving and no matter what I would try my hardest to never have a sad Thanksgiving ever again. I was really nervous at first, but they turned out great. Now Mr. T takes usually takes care of baking them since that's his thing.

Bonus: My sister's pecan pie.

Unfortunately since I haven't been with my family on Thanksgiving in a few years I haven't had the luxury of having that. I can't bring myself to make it just yet, but maybe next year. And, alas, I don't have the recipe.

What are some of your essential Thanksgiving must-haves?

How To Make a Football Field Table Runner

Football field table runnerMr. T and I hosted a little get together the evening that MSU played Ohio State. It was complete with buffalo chicken dip, seven layer dip, chocolate chip cookie dough dip shaped like a football, and our boozy apple cider. While we were prepping for the festivities, we wanted to add a little decor to the table. I had some leftover green felt from another project, but they were just small squares and there wasn't enough to cover the whole table. So after playing around with some ideas, I thought of the genius idea to put the squares together as a runner. Turns out it was a super easy project that added a little something to our decor. Here's how to make a football field table runner with a few inexpensive supplies.

What you'll need:

(sorry I didn't take a picture of all the supplies!)

  • Green felt (I used four squares, but you can use one large piece or more depending on what you want and how big your table is)
  • Masking tape
  • Chalk maker (I chose this because we have so many of them leftover from the wedding. But I found that it actually makes a really awesome looking line that almost looks like the lines they paint on the field. Even Mr. T said so.)
  • Ruler or measuring tape
  • Stencils

Here's what you need to do:

Football field table runner

Start by taping the squares together. You won't see the tape since it's on the back side. I'm sure you could use glue, but I didn't have time to let it dry and I was afraid it wouldn't stay as well.

Football field table runner

Draw a line in the middle. You can measure or just eyeball it. That is your 50 yard line and it will be your starting point.


Then you will need to draw for more lines on each side of the 50 yard line for the 12, 20, 30, and 40 yard lines. You will want to measure because you obviously want them to be evenly spaced or it won't look like a football field. Mr. T helped with this part.

Football field table runner

Using the stencil (unless you have really neat writing and the ability to make awesome block numbers), draw the numbers for each line. The 1,2,3,4, or 5 should be on one side and the 0 should be on the other. Repeat on both sides.

You could make a G at the end of the runner to show the goal or you could even write in your teams or be creative to make it look more like a football. We chose not to do this because it made it way too busy.

You can also put in the marks for the yards in between each 10 yards, but, again, we chose not to do this since it would make it look to busy.

Then just put it in the middle of your table and put all of your snacks out (I should have taken a picture of the table when it was all together. It looked amazing!)