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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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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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10 Things to Consider When Renovating Your Kitchen

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As many of you know, I just completed a renovation of my kitchen. It was necessity due to a leaking sliding glass door that had caused the subfloor to rot, but it also created a good opportunity to remodel and change out some aspects of my kitchen that I didn’t love. The white finishes did not suit my family with three small children. Also, the linoleum floor was pretty outdated, and my appliances didn’t match. Finally, my husband and I have a rustic style, so our new construction kitchen didn’t suit our personal tastes.

This was the first remodel that my husband and I had undertaken, and there were some valuable lessons learned in the process. So, recently, when Unique Design of Brisbane, Australia reached out, asking me to share some tips about renovating a kitchen, I was well prepared with my new found knowledge. I am constantly in my kitchen. It is where I cook, relax, oversee homework, eat, and entertain. It is the most used room in my house, so it was essential that I thoroughly planned and considered all of the decisions regarding my updated kitchen. After reflecting on this experience, I compiled a list of my top ten things you should do when planning a kitchen renovation.

# 1 Find What You Like: You need to visualize exactly what you like. Use magazines, Pinterest, or design sites like Unique Design to find pictures of kitchens that appeal to you. Also, remember that you do not need to find all of your tastes in one place. It’s ok to find a picture of a floor and another picture of the cabinets, etc…

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#2 Research Materials: Be sure to research the pros and cons of the materials and finishes you like. Make sure the durability and maintenance match your lifestyle and your family. For example, If you are a meticulous neat-freak, you do not want to choose copper counter tops that will develop marks and an uneven patina over time.

#3 Establish A Budget: Most of us do not have an unlimited amount of money to throw into a kitchen renovation, so establishing a budget is necessary to maintaining mental health and financial stability. When establishing a budget, make sure you can afford it, and make sure your home’s value is proportionate to the renovation budget. Finally, conduct property value research to ensure that you can get a decent return on your investment.

#4 Consider Alternatives: Once you have an idea of what look you are trying to achieve, consider the options. If you can’t afford your first choice, look for cheaper alternatives that provide the same look. Also, consider eco-friendly options when possible. A good showroom, designer, or contactor can help you understand the products currently available on the market.

#5 Evaluate Your Space: Prior to your remodel, evaluate the space in your kitchen and surrounding rooms. Is the space being used as well as possible? For example, we chose to get rid of the kitchen table and created a coffee/wine nook because our dining room was going unused five feet away. Don’t be afraid to use an old space in a new way. It may just make your house feel new again. Luckily, Unique Designs has  Designer 3D, a free downloadable, digital template to use when planning your new kitchen.

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#6 Communicate With Your Designer and/or Contractor: Discuss your needs and thoughts openly from the start. Not only can this save you money, but it will offer you a different perspective and valuable knowledge gained through experience. We learned this with our contractor when he grabbed a piece of slate tile from my rejected pile and showed me how beautiful it could be, and unique ways he could arrange it to create a one-of-a-kind look. It is my favorite part of the new kitchen! Also, when we discussed our budget with him, he pointed out simple things we could do to save hundreds of dollars.

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#7 Be Creative, But Neutral: If you have BOLD style, choose a neutral foundation and add BOLD accents. Remember that your house is an investment. Your expensive renovation should not be something that detracts from the value of your home, nor something that you will regret in five years.

#8 Treat Yourself: Leave enough money in the budget to allow yourself at least one indulgence. Perhaps it will be an expensive light fixture or a new dishwasher. Whatever you choose, it will be the one piece that will jump out at you daily and make the room personal.

#9 Be Patient & Plan Accordingly: In order to preserve your sanity and happiness, plan out your renovation timeline while considering family and professional stressors. Be sure that the construction phase does not overlap your most stressful time of the year, or a major life event.

#10 USE IT!!: Once your kitchen is done, USE IT! Don’t avoid making it messy, or try to preserve its new perfection, embrace it, and appreciate it by cooking in it, or hosting guests to show it off. Make the effort and expense worth it.

So there you have it, my two cents worth of renovation advice. Good luck, happy planning, and love your space!

Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored post.” The company who sponsored it compensated me via a cash payment, gift, or something else of value to write it. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

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Kitchen Renovations on a Budget

Pop on over to Chester County Moms and check out my guest post about my recent kitchen renovations on a budget!
Kitchen Reno DIY on a Budget

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