Archive for November, 2009

If you are the lucky one hosting Thanksgiving Dinner this year, there are some simple things you can do to make your guests feel even more welcome in your home.

Start the welcome at your front door. Hang a seasonal wreath or swag. If you don’t have one, have your youngsters gather big leaves, tie the stems with a ribbon and hang on the door. You can also have your budding artists draw or paint a welcome sign that can be hung outside.

Let a welcoming scent greet your guests as they step inside. Have a candle burning in the entry, or at the least, have a scented wall plug-in. Think about scents that go with the season such as pumpkin, cinnamon or apple.

Clean out your coat closet or, if you don’t have one, make sure there is a designated area for coats. Enlist some youngsters to be the official door greeters and coat takers. It makes them feel important, keeps them occupied and frees up your time for more important tasks.

If you are serving food buffet style, make sure you add in plenty of height, color and texture to your table. Put down a base cloth, strategically place boxes, books or other sturdy items to provide height, then artistically drape another cloth on top. Make sure your centerpiece is the highest point on the table and place it off center. Your centerpiece can be something as simple as a hurricane with a candle and pinecones, a basket of leaves or nuts or a bouquet of seasonal flowers. If you have hot dishes that need to stay warm, heat bricks in the oven. Make sure you put a pot holder under the bricks so you don’t damage your table surface. You can drape a second cloth over the bricks to hide them. Aluminum or plastic pans filled with ice, and draped with a cloth, work well to keep cold foods cold. Use the colors of the season in your serving pieces or mix and match pieces in all one color – such as white or cream.

If you are serving a plated meal or everyone will be seated at the table, have children create fun place cards for each guest. When you are selecting a centerpiece, make sure it is low enough that everyone can see over the top of it. For a casual country look, use a piece of barn wood (that has been cleaned) down the length of the table and put a mixture of candles, nuts and pears or apples on it. For a more formal atmosphere, think about taper candles combined with seasonal flowers or even stalks of wheat tied in bundles with satin ribbon.

Make sure the guest bathroom is shiny-clean. This is one area guests will notice if everything isn’t in top shape. Spend a few minutes the night before scrubbing, polishing and putting out fresh towels. A candle or small floral arrangement is a great finishing touch for the guest bath.

Have plenty of garbage bags on hand as well as plastic wrap and foil. If you are going to be sending home doggie bags, make sure you have resealable bags or even some take out boxes to use.

If you are going to use scented candles, make sure the scents are all of the same family – spicy, floral, or fruity. Don’t mix the scents!

Have an activity for the children. It could be something as simple as Thanksgiving themed pages to color, board games or find the thimble. Put an older child in charge of these activities. I read something the other day about a game that would have been played around the time of the first Thanksgiving celebration called “Kick the Shins” … now there is a game I could have fun with!

Most of all, remember it isn’t about the house, the food or the atmosphere – it is about the people. Be gracious, be welcoming and create some warm memories that will last long after the turkey is finally gone!

Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Entertaining!

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On cold blustery days when I’m running short on time to fix dinner, Hubby and I enjoy this comfort meal made from noodles and beef. If you have leftover cooked chicken, you can substitute it for the ground beef. It is also an easy meal to put together for last-minute very casual entertaining. Hubby gave the dish this interesting name:

Noodle Goo

One Large Package of wide egg noodles
2-3 lbs lean ground beef
2 cans Cream of Mushroom Soup
1/2 cup shredded Colby-Jack Cheese
Salt and Pepper
All-purpose Seasoning
Heaping tsp. Onion Flakes
Put water on to boil (according to noodle package directions) and while it is coming up to temp, break the ground beef up in a medium skillet and start browning. Add a sprinkling of salt and pepper and some all-purpose seasoning (I like Mrs. Dash) and a spoon of onion flakes to the beef. While it is cooking, add the noodles to the boiling water and cook until fork-tender. Drain the water from the noodles and return to stove top. Reduce heat to medium-low and add the beef. Mix in the two cans of soup, give it a good stir and cook just until it all blends and the soup is hot. You can either mix in the cheese before serving, or plate the noodles and sprinkle cheese on top. You can also serve with spaghetti sauce that has been warmed.  Serve with a  nice tossed green salad and warm bread to complete the meal.

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With Thanksgiving arriving next week, it officially signals the beginning of holiday entertaining. As guests come into your home, you might want to think about setting up a coffee or beverage station where they can help themselves. This is especially nice when offering an assortment of rich desserts.

Here are some easy tips for setting up a coffee station:

For guests to dress up individual cups of coffee, set out bowls of cream, sugar cubes, red-hot candies, cinnamon sticks, purchased chocolate stirrers, vanilla and almond extracts, and ground spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger.

Other stir-in ideas include grated chocolate, whipped cream, cocoa powder, chocolate syrup and orange or peppermint extracts.

To flavor an entire pot of coffee, sprinkle coffee grounds with orange or lemon peel or ground cinnamon, nutmeg or ginger before brewing.

The flavor of coffee begins to diminish within an hour after it’s made and leaving coffee on the heating element accelerates the problem. To keep coffee fresh and hot, transfer it to a carafe or thermos that has been preheated with hot water.

Only make as much coffee as needed and avoid reheating coffee, which can make it bitter.

For 12 people, you need about 1/4 pound of coffee and three quarts of water. For 25 people, you need about 1/2 pound of coffee and one and a half gallons of water. For best flavor start with cold, fresh tap water.

For those who aren’t coffee drinkers, have a carafe of hot water with a selection of cider and chocolate packets or tea bags available.

Happy Entertaining!

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apple-crispIf you want to fill your home with the delicious scent of baked cinnamon and apples, this apple crisp will do the trick. It is fast and easy to put together and so good! It is one of the few desserts  Hubby will actually eat!

Apple Crisp

3/4 cup brown sugar, packed

1/2 cup flour

1/2 cup oatmeal

1 1/2 tsps cinnamon

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1/3 cup butter, melted

6 apples, peeled, cored and sliced

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup brown sugar, loosely packed

Caramel topping or sauce

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9×9 casserole dish with non-stick cooking spray. Mix together 3/4 cup brown sugar, flour, oatmeal, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, nutmeg and melted butter. Work together with a fork until it is crumbly and well- mixed. Set aside. Mix 1/4 cup brown sugar, 1/4 cup sugar and 1 tsp cinnamon with the sliced apples. Stir well to coat apples then pour into the casserole dish. Top with crumbly mixture and bake for about 35-40 minutes or until juice is bubbly.

Serve while warm. Warm caramel sauce and drizzle in a fun design on the plate. Place a piece of crisp on top of design and drizzle with caramel sauce. Place a spoonful of vanilla ice cream or whipped cream next to the cobbler and sprinkle with cinnamon. Enjoy!


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fruit-basketIf you are the lucky one who is hosting Thanksgiving dinner this year, you’ll find things run much more smoothly with a little pre-planning.

Here is a two-week countdown list of things to do to be prepared for Turkey-Day. By following these steps, hosting Thanksgiving will be easier and hopefully a lot more enjoyable for you. Start your planning 11 days out and by the time Nov. 26 rolls around, things will be a breeze!

Day 1: Make your guest list. Who exactly will be attending? Get confirmations from each guest as soon as possible and find out if any of them are bringing extras. If people can’t commit right away, give them a deadline of one week out. You need an accurate head-count.

Day 2: Determine what is going to be on your menu this year. As you think about recipes, keep in mind how much stove top, oven and microwave space you have available, what can be made ahead, what will be made that day, what will be cooked where. Do not try a recipe for the first time on Thanksgiving Day. If you want to try something new, give it a test run before the big day.  Agree on dishes your guests can bring. Make sure you know if someone has food allergies or dietary restrictions. Plan at least one special dish for them. Gather all your recipes that you’ll be using into one handy place.

Day 3: Talking Turkey! Today decide what type of turkey you will be serving (fresh, frozen, etc.) and how big of a bird you need to purchase. If you are ordering the bird from the butcher, do that today. Also place orders for any pies or deli trays today.

Day 4: Make a checklist. Go through your cupboards and pantry and see what is missing, outdated or in need of replacement. Make a list of things you need from your menu. Also, if you will be hosting overnight guests, check out the guest room and guest bathroom. Do you need extra towels? Are you well stocked on toilet paper, paper towels and soap? Is the guest room clean and comfortable? Take stock of your table linens. Spread out the linens you are planning to use. If they are stained beyond hope, think about purchasing a stain-resistant tablecloth  or turn to my favorite – sheets! Inexpensive and easy care, sheets come in a variety of colors or sizes and are worry-free coverings for your table. Grab a few in fall colors! Make sure you are also well stocked in trash bags, foil, plastic wrap, and zip-top storage bags or plastic containers. What will you use for a centerpiece? Are you making one or ordering one? If you need to order it, do that today.

Day 5: Complete your non-perishable shopping list. Do you need batteries for the camera? Cleaning products? Paper goods? Candies? Take inventory of your cutlery, cookware, and serving pieces. Do the knives need sharpened? Is your turkey platter chipped? Do you need to get a new vegetable peeler? Replace those stained and frayed potholders and dish towels. If you don’t have one, get an apron to wear on Turkey Day. Decide what you and the family  will be wearing. Do clothes need to go to the cleaners? Repaired? Pressed? Take care of that today. If you don’t have a thing to wear, do your shopping today.

Day 6: Something to sip… Today, decide what beverages you will be serving and in what you’ll be serving the beverages. Have a few selections and plan to have a pitcher of ice-water available. Today is the one-week deadline for those who wouldn’t commit to coming earlier. Follow up with them and get a definite head count.

Day 7: Make the do-ahead dishes. Any dishes that you can freeze, go ahead and make them today. Some things that freeze well are cranberry sauce, casseroles, cheese sauces, and piecrusts.  If there is ironing that needs done, take care of it today.

Day 8: Setting the scene. Decide today how to set your table? What will the place settings look like? Figure out what item will go in what dish and mark with a sticky note. Wash all platters and polish the silver. Store silver wrapped in tissue paper in an air-tight bag to keep from tarnishing. Enlist your spouse and kids to make placecards and fold napkins.  Decide what background music to play. Get your emergency clean-up tools ready and in a handy location (stain remover, whisk and dust pan, hand-vac).

Day 9: Move your frozen turkey from the freezer to the fridge as well as the make-ahead dishes. Shop for all perishables and make sure you have extra ice on hand. If beverages need chilled, stick them in the fridge now.

Day 10: Set the table. You already know what goes where, so go ahead and set the table. Label trivets with sticky notes so you know what hot dish will set where.  Roast or steam vegetables and make pies. Make sure your outfit is set out and ready to go. Have a list of the help-lines by the phone, in case of cooking emergencies! Make sure the person in charge of carving the turkey is up to the challenge.

Day 11: Happy Thanksgiving! Today you will make the stuffing, cook the potatoes and any other side dishes that need made.  Whip the whipping cream for dessert and chill. Cook the turkey, bring the cranberry sauce to room temperature before serving, warm the pies before eating and make hot beverages. Enjoy the warmth of the day, a delicious meal and be thankful!

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When the weather turns cold and staying at home cozied up by the fire seems like the best thing to do, I like to make a pot of homemade soup. One of our favorites is Chicken Dumpling Soup. It is comfort in a savory, steamy bowl of creamy goodness!

This soup can come together in less than an hour and is one I make from leftover baked chicken with potatoes. Once I take the cooked  chicken out of the pan, I pour all the juice into a bowl. The next day when I’m ready to make soup, all the fat can be easily skimmed off the top and the juice has all the great bits of meat and spices that make this soup extra tasty. Your chicken for the soup is pre-cooked as well as the potatoes, which is why the soup can come together so quickly.  I don’t usually measure the ingredients for this soup, so the following are “guestimates.”

Chicken Dumpling Soup

chicken broth (approx. 2 cups or 2 cans)

1 cup cooked potatoes, cut into chunks

1 cup celery, sliced

1 bag of frozen mixed veggies

3 cups cooked chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces

6 cups water

1 tsp. parsley

1/2 tsp onion flakes

1 can of refrigerator biscuits (do not use the flaky variety!)

2 cans of cream of chicken soup

salt and pepper to taste

In a stockpot, mix the chicken broth with the water, add in celery, potatoes, frozen veggies, chicken, parsley, onion flakes and salt and pepper. Bring to a boil on medium heat. Add in the refrigerator biscuits by pinching off a bite-sized piece at a time and dropping into the pot. Cover and let boil without peeking into the pot for about 15 minutes or until the biscuit dough is nearly cooked. Add in the cream of chicken soup and stir well to completely mix. Let simmer for about 5 minutes and serve!


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If you’ve been avoiding hosting an event or party because of the expense involved, think about budget-friendly entertaining. Yes, there is such a thing! In fact, when you pair creativity and resourcefulness with some simple tips, you’ll find entertaining within your means is fun.
Set Your Budget
Decide how much you’d like to spend and then stay within that budget. A  good way to figure out the cost of a dinner party is to divide the amount you are planning to spend by the number of guests who will be attending. If you want to spend $150 and you are inviting 10 guests, plan to spend about $15 per person. When setting your budget, remember any price range will work if you are creative with your party ideas.
Set Realistic Expectations
What is the one thing you want to focus on with your party?  Is it an unbelievable menu? Exotic food? Breathtaking decor? What is the one area you want to be outstanding for your guests? Once you decide on your focus, plan your party budget by scaling back on certain areas and highlighting your main focus. What aspect of throwing a party excites you the most? This is the area where you will shine and where you should focus. If you are a fabulous cook, friends most likely enjoy feasting at your home. If you have an artistic flair, put your focus in the decorations.
Spend Wisely
If you are hosting a huge dinner party on a low budget, shop at wholesale stores. Keeping your menu simple will also cut costs. Choose something easy like an Italian theme and feed the masses with lasagna, bread and salad for a very low cost. If you want to do a Chinese  theme, whip up some stir fry, fried rice and have fortune cookies for dessert. A Mexican Fiesta could be nachos and  tacos. Shop for fun decorations at a dollar store. Look at items with a creative eye and you’ll be amazed at what you find. A recent trip to the dollar store ended with a purchase of metal candle sticks and marble coasters that, when glued together, created a perfect stand for oversized cupcakes! Candles also lend a festive mood and can be put into a variety of interesting containers you may already have for stunning centerpieces or accent lighting. This time of year, you can bring the outdoors inside with twigs, leaves and  pinecones to create centerpieces or accent table settings.
Serve Only One Course
If you are on a really tight budget, have friends over for dessert and coffee.  Fruit dipped in melted chocolate or a signature dessert that everyone loves would be very much appreciated. Or invite friends over for appetizers and beverages. Meatballs, cheeses and finger foods are always popular!Exchange Recipes

Hosting a recipe exchange is extremely budget friendly. You invite a group of friends to bring a favorite dish and enough copies of the recipe for all attendees to have one. Everyone samples the dishes, takes the recipes of those they like and there is minimum cost to the host, who is then credited for having a fabulous party with tons of great food. The only cost to you is your own dish, beverages and decorations. You can also use this recipe exchange idea during the holidays for a cookie exchange.

Host a Competition
Throw a best entrée or meat competition. You provide a salad, beverages, bread and dessert, your guests bring the entrées and compete for the winning title. You will need to furnish a prize for the “people choice” award winner, but it is a fun way to give your guests a variety of eating options. The prize could be a certificate you create or something inexpensive like a pack of recipe cards.Create a Welcoming Atmosphere

Warmth and genuine hospitality are free, but often overlooked. Greet your guests with warmth and enthusiasm, make them feel welcome, and you will have created a memorable experience. Turn the radio to an appropriate station that goes with your party theme. Light candles or turn your lighting to a warm glow. Fill your home with inviting scents – which could even come from a crock pot filled with cinnamon and apple juice.  Be gracious and that is what your guests will remember – not how much money you did or didn’t spend, but how wonderful you made them feel in your home.

Parties are all about the people, so make your next gathering one to remember!
Happy Entertaining!

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