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Pulling off Easter Dinner– A few tips to keep it simple.

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Hosting a large family dinner can be a daunting task, especially at a holiday. There are a few things you can do to ensure that the day goes smoothly and guarantee that you enjoy the day too. No one signs up to host a family meal saying, “Sure, I’d love to have you come over to a enjoy a stress-filled, resentful, exhausting nightmare together.” But, this is what these days are for some frazzled hosts.

This post was inspired by a hopeful co-worker who popped into my classroom this week to ask for help. She is hosting Easter dinner for her entire family for the first time ever. She was feeling intimidated, but hopeful that with a few suggestions, she could pull it off. I gave her some tips and a sold menu, and she left work on Friday feeling determined and optimistic. After seeing her relief, I thought it would be a good idea to share them with all of you.

1. The Menu

My co-worker had the challenge of incorporating traditional favorites, but accommodating a family member who is vegetarian and a family member who is vegan. Here is what we came up with:

Honey Glazed Spiral Ham— Don’t be afraid to go with a store-bought ham. They are very tasty and easy to make.

Oven Baked Risotto— This is a crowd favorite, and if made with vegetable stock & a butter alternative, it will please both the vegetarian and vegan. Additionally, it’s a sophisticated alternative to potatoes.

Quiche– A quiche is a nice option for vegetarians, and it works for meals throughout the day. Go plain, or add variety with different vegetables.

Clementine Balsamic Glazed Carrots— Roasted whole carrots are a beautiful symbol of the spring season. Not to mention, the flavor is the perfect complement to the sweet ham.

Garlicky Green Beans— Toss some skinny fresh green beans with olive oil, sea salt, and fresh minced garlic. Saute until bright green and slightly tender. Remove from heat, and transfer to a serving bowl quickly so they don’t over cook.

Spinach and Strawberry Quinoa Salad— Adding cooked & cooled quinoa is a great way to add texture and update this classic salad.

2. Appetizers

My advice is to limit appetizers when hosting a large sit-down dinner. The first reason is practical. Since you are spending so much time, energy, and money on this meal, you don’t want your guests to fill up on snacks before dinner. The second reason is procedural. You will be far less stressed as a cook if you are not trying to prepare appetizers when you really need to be devoting your time and energy to the main course. I would suggest a simple cheese and cracker plate and some fresh fruit. Fruit is a great option because if hungry kids ruin their appetites with fruit, is that really such a bad thing?

3. Working Ahead 

The key to sanity and effective kitchen management is to do as much as you can ahead of time.

A few days before:

  • Set the table
  • Clean the house
  • Shop for groceries
  • Make the quiche and freeze
  • Lay out serving pieces and cookware needed
  • Clean the fridge, creating space for prepped ingredients and leftovers

The day before:

  • Wash the fruits & vegetables
  • Do all dishes and run the dishwasher. Be sure to unload it too!
  • Make quinoa and store in the fridge.
  • Pre-slice the cheese.
  • Defrost the quiche in the fridge.

The day of:

** Keep up with dishes and cleaning in the kitchen as you are cooking. Staying on top of things and keeping the kitchen clean as you cook will reduce your stress later.

  • Before guests arrive–
    • Prepare the salad (do not put the dressing on until you are ready to serve it)
    • Make the ham, slice it off the bone, and arrange on a platter.
    • Warm the quiche.
    • Assemble to fruit plate.
    • Measure and prep all ingredients for the green beans, carrots, and risotto.
    • Arrange the drink table. Add ice and cold beverages just prior to guests’ arrival time.
  • About an hour before dinner–
    • Make risotto & carrots.
    • Let guests know that you will be eating in an hour.
  • Fifteen Minutes before dinner–
    • Warm ham and quiche in the oven.
    • Toast rolls or bread.
    • Dress the salad.
    • Make green beans
  • Five minutes before dinner–
    • Put the food on the table.
    • Encourage guests to get a fresh drink
    • Start the dishwasher with any random dishes left over from the prep.
  • Dinner time–
    • LET IT ALL GO!!
    • This is what you have been planning for. Be sure to sit, enjoy dinner, and take time to have good conversation with those you love!
  • After dinner–
    • Let guests help to clear the table.
    • Put away clean prep dishes from the dishwasher.
    • Load the dishwasher with dinner dishes.
    • Sit and enjoy family and your dinner success!
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Balsamic & Clementine Roasted Carrots

Looking for a new way to cook carrots? This is a simple way to update this Easter staple, giving it a complex flavor. While the finished dish looks sophisticated and gourmet, the recipe is really very easy and mess free!

Ingredients:

  • 8-10 whole carrots, cleaned and sliced in half, lengthwise
  • 4Tbsp. of balsamic vinegar
  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 clementine

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 425°, & line a baking sheet with parchment paper, or spray with cooking spray.
  2. Combine oil, vinegar, and the zest of 1 clementine in a glass bowl, & whisk together. Save the clementine.
  3. Coat the carrots with the vinegar blend.
  4. Roast for 30-40 minutes until tender, but not mushy. (Insert a fork to assess the firmness)
  5. Remove from the oven and squeeze the juice of the clementine over the carrots.
  6. Transfer to a serving bowl and serve warm.
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Mimosa Bar

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‘Tis the season of brunches, showers, and gatherings. As we all emerge from our winter hibernation, we seek time with friends and family. We also are juggling entertaining opportunities to celebrate holidays, sacraments, showers, and time with friends and family. One way to make these get togethers feel a bit more fancy is with a mimosa bar!

This is an easy entertaining trick that is a real crowd pleaser.

What you need:

  • Glass carafe- one for each type of juice or nectar (I got mine from Wal-Mart for a few dollars)
  • Wine glasses (many places sell the stemless variety for $1)
  • Champagne, prosecco, or any other variety of sparking wine.
  • Nectar- I prefer mango & pear
  • Juice- Orange, pineapple, & pomegranate are good choices
  • Fresh fruit- I chose raspberries & star fruit, but you can add any variety.

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How it works:

  • Set up the mimosa station where guests can easily access it.
  • Pour nectar and juice into the carafe
  • Slice fruit and place in pretty bowls
  • Arrange glasses
  • Open chilled Champagne bottles
  • Encourage guests to mix and match flavors.
  • Pour a few ounces of champagne into the glass, then add nectar and/or juice, and garnish with fruit.

Enjoy!

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10 Kitchen Things That You Need to Clean More Often

It is Spring! Time to think about opening the windows, letting in the fresh air, and cleaning away the dust and grime left from a winter all cooped up! Well, after spending a Saturday morning with some hot water and cleaning products, I managed to find 10 areas that I do not clean often enough. Check out this list. Do you regularly clean all of these areas?

1. The grates of the stove can be one of the hardest things to clean, but a clean stove top can have a big impact on making your kitchen look cleaner overall.

1. The burner grates of the stove

1. The Burner Grates of the Stove

2. The toaster can be a crumb-filled fire hazard, but I also took the time to wipe down the sides and buttons too!

2. The Toaster

2. The Toaster

3. Don’t forget to get up on top of the cupboards! You will need to dust, as well as wipe them down with a good degreaser.

3. The top of the cupboards

3. The Top of the Cupboards

4. The silverware drawer always amazes me because it contains clean utensils, but somehow manages to catch more crumbs than the toaster…EWWW!

4. The silverware drawer

4. The Silverware Drawer

5. The bins of the refrigerator can get really gross quickly. Again, they are crumb catchers, but also magnets for sticky rings from leaky condiments.

5. Refrigerator bins

5. Refrigerator Bins

6. The liquor cabinet can be a lonely place for forgotten and expired liquors and spirits. I actually found a dusty bottle of butterscotch schnapps from a party we hosted the first year of our marriage 15 YEARS AGO!!! While I know some alcohol improves with age, I’m pretty sure this bottle is not on that list.

6. The liquor cabinet

6. The Liquor Cabinet

7. The coffee maker is one appliance that I allow to sit on my counter top, and I wipe it down almost daily, but it does need a deep clean from time to time. Check your owner’s manual because some models suggest you flush them with a vinegar solution. Also, you should wipe out the insides to clear away loose coffee grounds and dust.

7. The coffee maker

7. The Coffee Maker

8. While we are talking about coffee, lets discuss the sugar bowl. I was disgusted to see what had formed at the bottom of my sugar bowl. We had gotten into a pattern of just refilling when empty, but I had not noticed the petrified clumps of sugar that had accumulated at the bottom. That sucker went right into the dishwasher!

8. The sugar bowl

8. The Sugar Bowl

9. The vegetable drawer is a nasty place where unused herbs go to die. Keep an eye on this one because it can go from immaculate to a pseudo-composter in a matter of days.

9. The Vegetable Drawer

9. The Vegetable Drawer

10. The edges of the dishwasher are a horror that I had never imagined! The inside of the dishwasher is very clean, and I am constantly wiping hand prints off of the door, but I never knew just how gross the edges of the door could be. It took some deep scrubbing with a strong cleaner to remove the sludge that literally made me gag!

10. The Edges of the Dishwasher

10. The Edges of the Dishwasher

So there you have it! This is my master list of the areas in your kitchen that you may be neglecting. I now feel better knowing that my kitchen is cleaner, safer, and free from the gross scum that mysteriously accumulates seemingly overnight!

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My Very Best Pulled Pork

  

When it comes to pulled pork, I’m a full blown snob! I love it so much, that my bucket list includes a trip through the small towns of the south, sampling pulled pork and ribs from the well kept secret spots and smoky hole-in-the-wall kinds of joints, where the craft of bar-b-que is practiced from ancient family recipes.

Now, while I’d love to slow cook my own pork over a sampling of hardwoods, and allow the natural flavors to develop over hours of heat, the reality is that I’m a mom of three busy kids, who works full time. Carpools, laundry, bickering daughters, and work would not wait for me to monitor a roasting hunk of meat and the demands of an open flame in my small, suburban back yard.

So, I do what any other sensible cook would do, I pull out my slow cooker. I know it is not comparable to an open flame, but, oh well!

Here is my recipe. It is an awesome blend of a Carolina style vinegar pulled pork, and its bar-b-que based counterpart. I think of it as the best of both worlds. Smoky and savory, tangy and sweet all collide in this recipe that will leave you craving more!

Ingredients:

  • 1 large (8-10 lb.) pork shoulder/picnic or Boston Butt roast
  • 1 head of garlic peeled
  • 1 med. Yellow onion
  • 1 of each—Red pepper, yellow pepper, & orange pepper
  • ½ to 1 cup of ketchup
  • 4 cups of apple cider vinegar
  • 3-4 tbsp. of  brown sugar
  • Bar-b-Que seasoning
  • Salt and pepper

Preparation:

  1. Sprinkle roast with seasoning.
  2. Chop peppers and onions into large chunks
  3. Place roast, peppers, onions, and garlic into a slow cooker.
  4. Pour in vinegar
  5. Cook 8-10 hours on medium to high until the meat is tender and falls apart easily.
  6. Remove meat and set aside to cool.
  7. Strain juice from the slow cooker into a medium sauce pan on the stove.
  8. Boil liquid until reduced to half
  9. Add ½ cup of ketchup and 3 tbsp of brown sugar and continue to boil until you have a thin sauce. You may need to add small amounts of brown sugar or ketchup to adjust taste.
  10. Use two forks or your stand mixer to shred meat and add it to the sauce.

Serve on a roll of your choice, or open faced on a slab of Texas Toast garlic bread!

Tips:

  • The longer the meat sits in the sauce, the better it tastes
  • This can be frozen in smaller amounts and used as needed.
  • Make it at least one day in advance to allow the meat to soak up the sauce.