Girls' Night Done Right

By Tina Albo:



When I became a single mother last year, it was my friends and family who helped lift my spirits. If there's anything I’ve treasured as much as the support I received from my parents, it was my small group of girlfriends. Each lady, special in her own way, showed me that I could rise above the shock and sadness of my divorce and stand on my own two feet again.


As an introverted old soul, I'm always reluctant to go out to the many bars and clubs Edmonton has to offer, as it's vastly out of my comfort zone. I've never been one to go dancing or clubbing, but I have nothing against that scene at all . . . it's just not for me.


My girlfriends, bless their hearts, are always more than happy to come to my place for a night in. Whenever they are able to find a sitter and want to hang out, my kitchen is always the place to be. Or sometimes, we alternate houses and visit accordingly. Either way, there's no expectations of anything except a nice, calm time.


Our “Girls’ Night In” routine is pretty standard. Food is made, bottles of wine are opened, and we vent and enjoy each other’s company. We don't need to go out to have fun—we just need each other.


That being said, nothing makes a Girls’ Night better than mouthwatering tapas. None of us is fond of huge, heavy meals on nights like these, so we set a simple yet delicious tapas menu to enjoy with our wine.



Amanda's Wicked Jalapeño Poppers


Amanda has been a good friend of mine since I moved into the neighborhood four years ago, and she was the first to welcome me with open arms. She is a ballsy gal with a wicked sense of humor, and we get along like a house on fire.


While our situations are different, we are still both thirty-something divorcees with a lust for life. If there's anything we truly bond over, it's our love of new and interesting food. Amanda is excellent with meal planning and can make a delicious meal out of scattered leftovers in her refrigerator.


So when she presented her version of Jalapeño poppers to me one night, I was delighted to see how she'd transformed the traditional pub treats into a healthier, yet tastier alternative. After that first bite, I knew I was hooked and immediately convinced her to give me her recipe.


Not only are these poppers incredibly easy to make, but they also take less time than the traditional ones we know and love.


20 minutes of preparation - 20 minutes to cook - Serves 2–4 people.


Ingredients

14 Jalapeño peppers

1 package plain cream cheese

1 tbsp salt

1 tbsp black pepper

14 slices bacon


Instructions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Prepare the Jalapeño peppers by cutting them in half and removing the stems, veins, and seeds.

3. Cut the cream cheese into 14 separate pieces, enough to place in between the halved peppers.

4. Insert the cream cheese inside one half of the pepper, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and then seal with the other half.

5. Wrap each sealed Jalapeño with one slice of bacon and place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.

6. Place filled cookie sheet in preheated oven and cook until bacon is fully cooked, about 20 minutes.

7. Remove poppers from oven and serve plain or with your favourite dip.


If you love spicy food as much as we do, then this will be a hit at your next get-together. Just make sure you have a lot of napkins handy, as your mouth will be watering even before you enjoy that first bite!



Tina’s Kickin’ Cornbread


Cornbread is a staple in my household, and I always have some around when I make a stew or chili for dinner. I’ve also found that it pairs nicely with Amanda’s Jalapeño Poppers.


It’s mildly sweet and savoury with the added kick of chili pepper.


This recipe takes about 40 minutes from prep to baking and makes around

9 servings.


Ingredients

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup cornmeal

¼ cup white sugar

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon chilli powder

1 egg, lightly beaten

1 cup sour cream

¼ cup milk

1/4 cup butter, melted


Instructions

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (205 degrees C). Lightly grease an 8-inch square baking dish.

2. Combine flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl.

3. Mix egg, sour cream, milk, and butter in a small bowl.Fold egg mixture into flour mixture until just moistened; pour into prepared baking dish.

4. Bake in preheated oven until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Serve warm.


Smiles are shared all around when I bring out my cornbread. We either eat it as is, straight from the oven, or we enjoy it with a nice glass of Moscato. What better way to tantalize your taste buds?



Tina's Bloody Caesar Chicken Salad


While I have made several recipes my own in recent years, this is one that I have created and perfected myself.


Although I do not drink cocktails very often, the Bloody Caesar is one of my absolute favourites. It's tangy, spicy, and altogether delicious—a veritable delight that is Canadian-invented and enjoyed throughout the world. (Please don't confuse this cocktail with the standard Bloody Mary, as it's an entirely different drink that uses a lot of different ingredients.)


A while back, a friend issued a challenge for me to take the unique flavours of the Bloody Caesar and incorporate them into a snack. Inspiration hit when I saw the leftover roast chicken in my refrigerator—and the rest is history.


Chicken salad is a quick and easy snack to serve at Girls’ Night (or any gathering) and adding a unique twist definitely kicks it up a notch. To achieve that irresistible, heady combination housed in the cocktail, I've had to endure some trial and error. The end result is a smoky, spicy chicken that you won't be able to stop enjoying even after the last dollop has been eaten.


20 minutes preparation and serves 3–5 people.


Ingredients

2 cups chopped leftover chicken

1 tsp cayenne pepper

1 tsp chipotle pepper seasoning

1 tsp chili pepper seasoning

1 tsp celery salt

1 tsp paprika

1 tsp ground black pepper

1 tsp ground white pepper

1 tsp sea salt

1 cup plain yogurt

1/2 cup olive oil mayonnaise



Instructions

1. Place cubed chicken in a bowl.

2. Add in cayenne pepper, chipotle pepper, chili pepper, celery salt, paprika, black pepper, white pepper, and sea salt.

3. Add in yogurt and mayonnaise. Toss chicken until evenly coated with mixture.

4. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and put in refrigerator for at least an hour.

5. Serve immediately or let chill in the refrigerator.


Although this combination has a bit of a kick to it, the mayonnaise and yogurt tame the heat and keep your taste buds happy! You can enjoy the creamy mixture on top of crostini or your favourite crackers.



Mama Gina's Delectable Rum Balls


I would be remiss if I didn't let my mother in on Girls' Night, as she has helped me through so much and continues to give me the support I need. While we are vastly different in personality and preferences, we have a strong bond that can never be broken.


Even in her younger years, she was an excellent hostess and always had snacks and sweets on hand, even for those unexpected guests. One of my favourite recipes that she used to make were her Rum Balls; they were a great holiday treat and an excellent idea for a homemade gift for a friend.


The best part about this particular treat is that they are even better when they are chilled, especially on hot summer nights when you're all dining al fresco on your back deck.


While these little flavour bombs are sinful, Girls' Night wouldn't be the same without a little naughtiness.


Recipe takes 15 minutes of prep time, at least one hour of chill time, and makes 36 servings.


Ingredients

1 cup (170 g or 6 ounces) dark chocolate chips

1/2 cup (57 g) plus 1/3 cup (40 g) powdered sugar, divided

2 tablespoons corn syrup

1/2 cup dark rum

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup (110 g) shredded coconut

2 cups (310 g or 11 ounces) crushed Nilla wafers (crumbled Oreos work well too)

1/4 cup (30 g) cocoa powder


Instructions

1. Melt the chocolate (I prefer to do this over the stove with a water bath). Put the chocolate chips in a metal bowl and place over a small pot of boiling water. Stir the melting mixture with a spoon until smooth. Remove from heat and set aside.

2. Sift 1/2 cup of the powdered sugar over the melted chocolate and stir until fully incorporated.

3. Add the corn syrup, rum, and salt. Stir with a whisk until everything is evenly mixed together and has a smooth consistency.

4. Add the crushed wafers and shredded coconut. Stir with a spatula or spoon until evenly incorporated. The mixture will look crumbly, but this is normal.

5. Cover the mixture with plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator for at least one hour or overnight.

6. Using an ice cream scoop, take enough of the mixture to make a 1-inch ball. Set them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. The mixture will be crumbly and hard, but it will come together easily.

7. Put the remaining powdered sugar in one bowl and the cocoa powder into another. Coat each ball with either the powdered sugar or the cocoa powder and set aside.

8. Place the cookie sheet in the refrigerator for at least one hour or overnight to let the balls chill and set.

9. Serve with coffee or your preferred beverage.


If you end up having leftovers, keep them in a sealed container and place in the refrigerator. I've found that the flavor improves over time.


Mom's Rum Balls are the perfect treat to top off any gathering, let alone a simple Girls' Night in. You can roll them in any topping, from Skor bits to shaved white chocolate curls. No matter what you use, you will enjoy the result.



Tantalizing Tandoori Mixed Nuts


It's true that a fun gathering isn't a fun gathering unless there's mixed nuts! As it is, every member of my little group is nutty in her own way . . . which is why we get along so well!


I discovered the basic recipe for mixed nuts a while back when I was looking for simple and delicious gift ideas for my coworkers and friends. I have done some experimenting in the past and come up with a few spice combinations that will pack a punch.


I really enjoy spicy flavors when it comes to my snacks, so I usually break out the Tandoori seasonings for an exotic kick. You can use any seasonings you prefer to add your unique flavor, plus, you can switch out any kind of nut for one you enjoy more.


Recipe takes 27 minutes in total and makes around 16 servings.


Ingredients

Cooking spray

1 cup untoasted walnut halves

1 cup shelled pistachios

1 cup unsalted, dry roasted almonds

1 cup unsalted, dry roasted hazelnuts (philberts)

1 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon Tandoori spice

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2 cup white sugar

1/4 cup water

1 tablespoon butter


Instructions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and lightly coat with cooking spray.

2. Combine walnut halves, pistachios, almonds, and cashews in a large bowl.

3. Add salt, black pepper, cumin, Tandoori spice, and cayenne pepper; toss to coat.

4. Heat sugar, water, and butter in a small saucepan over medium heat until the butter is melted. Cook for 1 minute and remove from heat.

5. Slowly pour butter mixture over the bowl of nuts and stir to coat.

6. Transfer nuts to the prepared baking sheet and spread into a single layer with a spatula.

7. Bake nuts in the preheated oven for 10 minutes.

8. Stir nuts until the warm syrup coats every nut. Spread into a single layer, return to the oven, and bake until nuts are sticky and roasted, about 6 minutes. Allow to cool before serving.


The combination is delectable and I'm usually sending my friends home with little jars of nuts so that they can enjoy them on their own. I have yet to meet anyone who hasn't asked for the recipe.


There are two things that make “Girls’ Night In” a smashing success: great friends and delicious food. In my eyes, you can't have one without the other.


So, the next time you gather your girlfriends for a fun night in, try a couple of these recipes and see what happens. You may be pleased with the end result.

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