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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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Testy about Tests

‘Tis the season for standardized tests. Those of you with school aged children, or those of us that teach them, understand that this is the time of year that schools put kids through the ringer with tedious standardized tests. Whether you are taking the PSSA’s, Terra Nova’s, ACT’s, SAT’s, PSAT’s, Elemeno P’s (just kidding), it is an exhausting endeavour. As a parent, there are a few things you can do to help your student.

First, ensure that they go to bed early and get a good night’s rest. A shower at bedtime may help them to relax and sleep well. Second, discuss any stress that they may be experiencing and keep the week’s schedule simple. We don’t want them focused on friend or family drama. Third, plan stress busting activities for afterschool free time. Surprise them with some new outdoor activities like jump ropes, bubbles, sidewalk chalk, water guns… Fourth, keep morning routines simple and free from chaos. Pick out cozy clothes the night before and pre-pack their backpack before bedtime. And finally, feed them well.

As your Food Fairy, and resident teacher, I have a few ideas for snacks and breakfast that will boost your learner’s testing energy.

Breakfast–

  • eggs– dippy, scrambled, omelets, or Quiche
  • bacon, sausage, or ham
  • oatmeal
  • cheese
  • yogurt with granola
  • pancakes
  • french toast

Snacks–

  • cheese stick
  • peanut butter crackers (be aware of your school’s allergy policy)
  • apple slices
  • granola bar
  • fruit like grapes, berries, or a banana
  • small crackers or pretzels

Foods to Avoid–

  • High sugar foods such as candy, cookies, soda, pies
  • Sugary cereals
  • Any foods that may upset their stomachs– (be wary of fiber bars that may make them have to “go” during testing)
  • caffeinated beverages

Here is a recipe that my daughter has requested for her testing mornings. I plan to make some things ahead so that they just need to be reheated in the morning 🙂 Good luck!!!

Hash Brown Quiche

**adapted from a Paula Deen recipe

Ingredients

  • 3 cups, shredded frozen hash browns, thawed and drained
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, melted
  • 3 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup half-and-half
  • 3/4 cup cooked sausage crumbles, or bacon crumbles, or diced ham
  • 1/2 cup diced green onions (optional)
  • 1 cup shredded Cheddar
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

Gently press the drained hash browns between paper towels to dry them as best as possible. In a 9-inch pie plate, toss the hash browns with the melted butter into the plate. Press them into the bottom and up the sides to form a crust. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until golden brown and starting to crisp.

Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, combine the remaining ingredients. When the hash brown crust is ready pour the egg mixture over it and return to the oven.

Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees F and bake for about 30 minutes until the Quiche is light golden brown on top and puffed.

PS…This is also a favorite in my house for Christmas morning, and dinner on a cold rainy night.