My friend, Anne, got me into playing mah jongg and I love it. LOVE it. Part of it is the group of women. Sure, Anne is one of my best friends, but the rest were strangers and so different from me and my usual group of friends. We all have a quirky sense of humor and are very easy-going so it's fun and relaxed. We're almost all novices so just play for bragging rights, which I always prefer anyway. One woman has another mah jongg group where they're all very good and bet on each hand so she tries to encourage us to bet, but we're not there yet. Another woman is very good at knowing what hand you're playing (rumor is that she can count cards) so it's fun to try to outsmart her. But there's about twelve of us and we try to have 5 people at each game so we can rotate in and out (and so we don't have to cancel if one person can't make it). And we rotate who hosts.
Last night was my first night of hosting. I took a half day from work so I could clean my house and cook some yummy treats. But what to serve? Most do some a mix of appetizers and candy, which is always a big hit. But it's fall, which brings out the need to pull out mixing bowls and crank up the oven.
I did a little online searching and found macaroni & cheese cupcakes. Are you kidding me? How freaking fabulous is that idea! And I remember that Martha Stewart had a recipe in a holiday magazine for making individual mac & cheese for a kids' party and I always wanted to do it for adults. Putting it in a cupcake liner is just even more brilliant.
I wish I remembered to take a picture because they were darn pretty. I used a mix of Sargento reduced-fat Italian cheese blend and Kraft sharp white cheddar and then put a teaspoon or two of shredded parmesan cheese on top to give it a crunchy crust. So picture the recipe author's version but a little crispy up top. Plus hers is a much better picture than mine would have been.
I've never made macaroni and cheese with egg in it before (I come from the layered-casserole school of m&c) and I think it was the egg that helped it stay together when you took off the liner. I sprayed the inside of the paper so they came out a little greasy, but nothing a napkin couldn't take care of. Fab finger food. And not too shabby heated up the next day for lunch! Think next time I would have used all sharp cheddar, but the blend was still very nice.
I always like a little green with my mac & cheese. Broccoli is great, but then I found a recipe for spinach balls. Perfect for my appetizer mindset! And they were super easy and super good. I think they were even better room-temperature than warm. I made them with whole-wheat stuffing mix, shredded parmesan instead of grated and herbes de Provence since I was out of garlic powder. Think I also used a medium onion instead of small, but since I was missing the garlic, figured extra onion would be good. And it was. Next time I might use 3 boxes of spinach since I like a lot of green, but otherwise it was perfect.
For dessert, I made my now-favorite red velvet black bean cupcakes. Take a box of cake mix (or make your own - I do always prefer homemade, but I'm in a lazy mood) and add the necessary water, but instead of oil, add the same amount of applesauce. And instead of eggs, add a pureed can of black beans. Seriously. It sounds weird and a little gross, but you cannot taste the beans. I first did this for Halloween with a fudge chocolate cake mix and just mashed the beans - when you bit into a bean piece, you just thought it was a chocolate chip. For the red velvet, I decided a puree would be better since the batter isn't dark enough to hide the bean chunks. Icing was 2 boxes of 1/3 reduced-fat cream cheese, maybe two Tb of vanilla and granulated Splenda to taste. One woman dubbed them "health cakes." Though they didn't taste healthy at all!
I assmembled it all on my cupcake stand. Red velvet on the bottom, mac & cheese on the top. It was so pretty and I really am kicking myself for not taking a picture!
For a 100% healthy side, I sliced up a few star fruit. The light green on my turquoise platter was a great combination and the lightness of the fruit was a nice contrast to the heaviness of the other food.
Overall, I was quite pleased with my selection and think I'll repeat it exactly when I host again in two weeks - after all, it is a different group of players!