Posts Tagged ‘entertaining’

Last Friday, we invited a rather large group of friends to a come-and-go open house. (I think I’m officially caught up on the “have-people-over-once-or-twice-a-month” resolution.)

It’s hard for me to guess-timate food for a crowd bigger than a dozen. But then again, the pros struggle, too – I’ve never ordered catering that didn’t way over-estimate how much food we would need for the number of guests I told them I needed to serve.

I fear running short, but I really hate wasting food, too. (I know the starving children in China can’t eat what I don’t, but it still bothers me to throw away food, so I try very hard to pinpoint how much to fix for anything, whether I’m cooking for two or 200.) Friday night was somewhere around 75 guests.

So what do YOU cook for a huge crowd? Since it was an all-evening event, I chose foods that would hold up as well as possible if they had to sit out for a few hours:

Pulled pork (heated up in batches), served with sauce and buns
An array of chips, pickles and fresh veggies
Cold melon and berries
A trio of bar cookies – million dollar bars, lemon bars and cheesecake square
Lemonade, tea and bottled water


just for the kids, of course…


What is a summer bash without some flaming-sticky-gooey-chocolatey goodness?

The menu is easy.  The quantities are where it gets dicey, at least with me as I try to shoot for Goldilocks.  (“not too little, not too much, but just right.”)

  • I asked the butcher for 20-25 pounds of Boston butt; he gave me three big ‘uns that totaled a little over 27 pounds.  It was about 5 pounds too much.  Like I said…20-25 pounds.
  • Twelve packages of buns were about 7 packages too many.  (Lots of low-carb folks, maybe?)
  • Four jars of pickles was one jar too many
  • Four bags of chips and two tubs of dip could have been cut in half.
  • Four bottles of sauce were just about right.
  • One watermelon, 3 cartons of strawberries and 2 cartons of blueberries – I shoulda cut up a second watermelon and bought more berries.  They went fast.
  • Two packages of baby carrots, two cartons of grape tomatoes and two heads of celery – more or less on the money.
  • Three huge trays of bar cookies were about two times too many.  (But we’ve somehow forced ourselves to take care of the extras 🙂
  • A few too many Hershey’s bars.  (tragic, eh?)

What did I learn? For the next big gathering (in a few weeks), I’ll probably ramp up on fruit and veggies and lighten up on carbs.

‘Cept the S’mores.  Because a few too many mallows and milk chocolate squares are never a waste.

Happy entertaining!

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Recipe of the Week: Broccoli-Raisin Salad

Our annual recipe booklets – cute, huh?

This recipe is among my very favorite salad recipes, and the dressing is the same one I use for regular coleslaw.  This recipe is made extra-special by the fact it came from one of my past Secret Sisters at Highland Heights.  

Susan usually makes this salad – and many other yummy foods – for us when we converge on her house for an annual paperback book and DVD swap.  It was also the recipe she submitted for our 2008 recipe book, which focused on salads.  (This year’s book will be all about brunches, and promises to be full of exceptionally delicious recipes, too!)

Susan’s Broccoli-Raisin Salad

2 cups broccoli, chopped
12 strips bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled
1 red onion chopped
1 cup raisins
1 cup sunflower seeds

1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Mix broccoli, bacon, onion, raisins and sunflower seeds.  Mix dressing together separately and pour over broccoli mixture; toss to coat.  Serves 8.

I have doubled (and even quintupled) this recipe for large gatherings; in fact, I made it for my mother-in-law’s 70th birthday party last summer, and it got rave reviews.  If you’re making it ahead, I recommend mixing the dry ingredients together in one bowl and blend the dressing in a separate container. Refrigerate both until ready to serve; combine and toss just before serving.

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I should preface this by saying I think I’m a fairly typical housekeeper…there’s a little clutter that accumulates, but the house is reasonably clean underneath the daily stuff.  But when I throw a party, my otherwise latent OCD tendencies kick into high gear and I feel compelled to do things like arrange my socks by color, artfully organize the pantry contents, or repaint the laundry room or garage.  You know, things that are highly unlikely to be seen–let alone appreciated–by guests.

A party is also a good impetus for thoroughly cleaning and organizing anything that’s been bugging me. Rarely do I just stow something away unsorted, and for the record, I can say I have NEVER been tempted to use my oven, clothes dryer or dishwasher as temporary storage.  (I know a lot of people who confess to having done that, so if you’re one of them and you were smirking at my OCD-ness, just remember we all have our little quirks.)

And sometimes it’s a good excuse to “spruce things up a bit,” like my last-minute notion to  display my great-grandmother’s vintage aprons.

I guess it’s fair to say that my parties tend to come with a bit of self-imposed stress.   But I love entertaining, so it’s the price I’m willing to pay. So what is my favorite part of throwing a party?

Well, it’s not tidying up, although a looming red-letter day on the calendar does tend to get me in the cleaning spirit.

The cooking is fun (but it also makes another mess AND there is the risk of a “dud”), so it’s really not my favorite thing about entertaining either.

Having a great time with our guests?  That’s certainly a high point.

But my very favorite part of having a party?  Don’t tell the guests, but sometimes it’s the after-the-party.  We don’t throw “swing from the chandelier with a lampshade on your head” type parties, so cleanup is usually a breeze – pop a few serving pieces in the dishwasher, toss or refrigerate any leftovers, and take out a bag of trash, and it’s done.

After the guests are gone, the house looks great, my little clutter piles have been dealt with, my decor has been snapped into focus, and some area of our house might even sport a new paint job.  I can kick back, smile, and enjoy the memories of a fun time with family or friends, and not have to worry about mopping or organizing my closet, at least for a few days.

Today’s Secret Sister brunch was wonderful – I am blessed to have so many caring and fun Christian women in my life.  And judging from the food we enjoyed today, our 2010 cookbook is going to be chock-full of extra-yummy brunch recipes.

Next weekend, we just might get to see some old, err longtime friends from Oklahoma who are coming through.  Wonder what I might accomplish before they arrive?

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Misfortune: uninvited but never unescorted

You know that old superstition:  bad things come in threes, misfortunes never occur singly.   Or the inverse: third time is the charm.

This week I’m gearing up for a yummy brunch with my Highland Heights secret sisters.  I’ve been eagerly looking forward to this for a long time – it’s a new event for this year and will kick off the 4th annual cookbook, which is – of course – brunch recipes.  We’re also doing something special for our members heading off to college.  (Shhhh, it’s a secret.)  The morning promises to be a lot of fun.

And the summer months have seen me backslide on my New Year’s resolution to show more hospitality, so this will help make up for lost ground.  (If you have 15 or 20 people over at once, that’s the equivalent of least 4 or 5 small dinner parties, right?)

As I work on getting everything just perfect for my guests, I’ve already had two mini-catastrophes occur:

1) The light switch in the hall bathroom shorted out a few nights ago.  As in smoke drifting from the switch.  Eeek!  Fortunately we caught it before it caught anything else on fire.   (Sidebar to dad:  Yes, I checked the wiring and insulation in the attic before going to bed.)  Back when this house was built, they still used real metal boxes for switches and plugs.  Made of real steel, probably forged right here in the  good old US of A.  We’ll pull new wiring and replace the switch, but the box is intact and I don’t think I’ll have to do any touch-up painting or drywall patching.

 2) I’ve managed to severely injure my right foot this week.  I’m gimping around, unable to put full weight on it.  Some day I will learn to listen to my body – the foot was tender after Monday’s run, but I was determined to get in a good run on Tuesday, too.  And now I’ll pay the price for my stubbornness by hobbling for a few more days and gobbling naproxen caplets like they’re candy.  And the weeds are NOT going to get pulled like I had planned.

But my real concern is, when will the other proverbial shoe drop?  Does the printer running out of toner count as a bona fide third catastrophe?  (New cartridge won’t arrive until next week.)  These things come in threes, or so *they* say.  (Then again, *they* say a lot of stuff that isn’t based on fact.)  But just to be safe, keep your fingers crossed for me, and maybe toss a little salt over your shoulder if you get a chance, okay?

August 30 Postscript: My third mishap was indeed technology related, but in other (better) news, my foot is nearly 100% again , the electrical connections in our house are good to go, the brunch went swimmingly and the toner cartridges arrived courtesy of good ol’ UPS today.

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What a weekend

This weekend started off with a bang when two families joined us for dinner on Friday night. Children edged out the adults (7 to 6, I think), and the dog had a blast being chased around by squealing kids. As soon as the guests left, the pooch was sacked out; we joined her in slumber not long after. Other than a slightly sticky kitchen floor (thanks to overly large disposable plates and a too-narrow trashcan – my bad) the house came through practically unscathed. Which meant Saturday was pretty typical: piano lesson, a trip to Sonic, and some afternoon shopping (I am merely the financier on those excursions.)

Saturday night was our annual newcomer’s dinner at Highland Heights – always a lot of fun getting to meet our newest members and learning some interesting trivia about one another. A huge thanks to all those who put it together each year!

Then daylight saving time arrived this morning. Now, for the record, I love, love, love longer days. I love the imminent arrival of spring. But oh what a price we pay to get there. Whew. I think I’d give up the extra hour in the fall if we didn’t have to torture ourselves every spring. In case that wasn’t enough to seriously mess with my Circadian rhythm, we’ll be headed into Eastern Time in a few days, so we’ll lose another hour of precious morning snooze time. Double ugh.

I am happy to report I ran 11.25 miles last week. (No, not all at once…unlike my marathon-training friends.) My short term goal is to run 4 miles a day (at least 3 times a week) over the next few weeks, then start aiming for 5 miles at a stretch. I have been told (by my all-wise BIL) that if I can break the 5-mile barrier, I’ll be ready to start preparing for a long run (i.e., half or full marathon.) I’m not sure I really want or need to do that, but since my original comment last April was, “I wonder how long it would take me to train for a half-marathon?” I guess I’ll keep pushing and see where it takes me.

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