Holiday Hosting Recipes and Tips

We recently threw our 5th (should have been 7th) Annual Fakesgiving. The tradition started back in 2009 when I was faced with hosting Thanksgiving for the first time. I decided that having a friend version would be a fun way to do a test-run of recipes and practice hosting a large group for a sit-down dinner.

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After that first year (or maybe it was after the second?), we switched it up and made it more of a cocktail party, with Thanksgiving-themed appetizers and hors d’oeuvres. We have missed two years along the way, once because Nolan had a stomach bug and once because Will was born. Kids…

I quickly learned that anything you can make ahead, or at the very least prep ahead, is key to enjoying yourself during a party. The catch is, the hours and days leading up to the party are totally consumed by preparation. For this year’s Fakesgiving I did everything ahead of time, and with the exception of making cocktails and taking a few things out of the oven, I ate and drank and chatted the whole party. But…not including the grocery shopping, I spent two ENTIRE days, cooking and prepping. I didn’t take any shortcuts in most cases, so I’ll indicate below where you could save time by doing that.

Here are a few recipes I used. They would be great year-round but they’re especially good for fall and winter parties.

Baguette with Goat Cheese, Walnuts, and Honey – adapted from Epicurious

1 baguette, sliced into half-inch slices (about 36)

6-8 ounces of goat cheese, (remove from fridge at least 30 minutes before using)

1/2 cup of chopped walnuts

honey, for drizzling

salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375. Cover a large baking sheet with foil. Spread goat cheese on each bread slice and line up on baking sheet. (NOTE: Don’t be skimpy with the goat cheese here.When these cook in the oven, the cheese loses some of its strong flavor and it melts into the bread a bit.)   Sprinkle the walnuts and a little salt and pepper over all the slices and then bake for about five minute until everything is warmed and the walnuts have started to toast.

Remove from the oven and generously drizzle the honey over each piece. Serve immediately.

MAKE AHEAD TIPS: Cut the baguette the day before and store the bread in a ziploc bag, Chop the walnuts and store in a tightly closed bag or container. This dish was probably the only one I made that required any right-before-the-party steps.

Spinach, Bacon, and Onion Dip – Martha Stewart

Over the years, I’ve made a few different hot and cold spinach dips.  I think this might be my new favorite. It was gone very quickly, so I think in the future I would double the recipe and just use a larger dish. I followed the recipe exactly and wouldn’t change a thing! I served it with pita chips, which I made the mistake of making myself. While they’re tasty, it’s a step I would probably skip next time.

MAKE AHEAD TIPS: I prepared the dip early in the day (up to the oven step) and stored it in the fridge. I removed it from the fridge about an hour before I cooked it so it could come to room temperature and then followed the cooking instructions.Because it was probably still a little cold, I baked it for a few extra minutes before turning on the broiler.

Sausage Stuffed Mushrooms – Barefoot Contessa

Let me preface this recipe by saying I don’t like mushrooms and I’m not crazy about sausage. That being said, I think these are ridiculously good. The recipe calls for 16 extra-large white mushrooms and I purchased 24. Apparently they weren’t as large as they should have been, because I increased the amounts by 1.5x and I had so much filling left over. A  party guest took the rest home to enjoy. With the exception of leaving out the marsala wine (I think it’s disgusting) and lining the pan with foil (easy clean up!), I follow the recipe exactly.

MAKE AHEAD TIPS: I made the filling the day before and stuffed the mushrooms a few hours before baking them. Again, remove everything from the fridge around an hour before cooking so it can warm up a bit.

Apple Thyme Martini – Adapted from The Stripe

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Makes 2 cocktails

4 ounces vodka

4 ounces apple juice or apple cider

2 Tablespoons thyme simple syrup*

Combine all ingredients in a shaker filled with ice. Shake for 20-30 seconds and serve.

*Simple syrup is the best way to sweeten up a drink. It can be flavored in so many ways! This thyme simple syrup is perfect for a fall drink. Combine 1 cup of sugar with 1/2 cup of water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil while stirring to dissolve the sugar. Lower the heat and boil for two minutes. Add a few sprigs of thyme and boil an additional 2-3 minutes. Cool and refrigerate.

I hope you can use some of these recipes at your holiday gatherings this year. I have a few more up my sleeve that I’ll try to share before Thanksgiving!

 

 

 

 

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What to do with breasts. Specifically chicken ones.

We eat a lot of chicken in our house. For a while, I almost always bought skin-on split chicken breasts because they’re easy to roast and use in a lot of different dishes. They are also pretty much the only chicken parts that Ina Garten’s recipes ever call for, and we know how I feel about her. (Side note: if you like Ina Garten, you need to Google Ina Garten memes – so funny)

I used to avoid buying boneless, skinless breasts unless I was making chicken cutlets. I never knew how to cook them without them being dry and boring. However, in my efforts to save a few bucks, I’ve been buying big packs of them, so I had to find some tasty ways to use them. Good news…I found some!

Caprese Chicken – I found this one on Pinterest and I love it because it has a ton of flavor and requires very little prep or chopping. I shave two or three minutes off the cooking time on the chicken and use regular mozzarella instead of buffalo because I’m strange and don’t like buffalo mozzarella.

On a whim, I bought this Balsamic Reduction glaze and it’s so good. The caprese chicken is perfectly delicious with regular balsamic vinegar, but when you can drizzle this sweet syrup on it, why wouldn’t you??

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One-Pan Chicken Burrito Bowl – Here’s another one I found on Pinterest. I loved it so much that I think I made it three times in the month after I found it. As the title indicates, you only use one pan, which makes clean up easy IF you don’t use heat that’s too high. The second time I made this I guess I left it simmering a bit too high and there was a whole layer of cooked rice stuck to the bottom of the pan. Ugh.

The other change I make to this recipe is that I swap out the can of diced tomatoes for a jar (or really three quarters of a jar) of salsa. It adds some extra flavors and with the huge variety of salsas on the market, you can really customize the recipe based on your taste.

Chicken Chili – This one comes from Dinner: A Love Story (a great place for solid recipes) and it’s another fast and easy one. When I read through the recipe for the first time, I saw four tablespoons of chili powder and thought, “whoa! That’s a lot of heat.” I like a little spice but not too much. To be safe I used two tablespoons and I thought that was plenty of heat.

I had serendipitously just bought Whole Foods Organic Fire Roasted Corn and it was PERFECT in this recipe. Obviously regular frozen corn is fine too, but the flavor from charred corn was delicious and added zero extra work. If you don’t have a Whole Foods nearby, I’m pretty sure Trader Joe’s carries a similar product.

5 Ingredient White Chicken Chili – yet another Pinterest find! It’s really more of a soup than a chili and it’s so fast and easy that I felt guilty just pouring everything in the pot and saying, “Ok, I made dinner!” The secret to this recipe is salsa verde. If you’ve never had it, it’s a very mild salsa and it’s delicious.

The base of the soup is only the salsa verde, chicken, chicken stock, cumin, and Great Northern Beans but then you can add so many delicious toppings at the end. I like cilantro, avocado, sour cream, cheddar, and broken up tortilla chips.

Do you have any go-to recipes for chicken breasts?

Get cooking!

Twenty Minute Turkey Taco Salad

Quick dinner recipes are advertised all over the place: cookbooks, blogs, magazines, and of course, Pinterest. But what I often find is that the 20 or 30-minute recipes have ingredient lists that looks like this:

   2 lbs potatoes, peeled and cubed

   2 onions, diced

   1 lb butternut squash, peeled, diced, and roasted

   1 cup cooked chicken breast, shredded

While those are all delicious ingredients, they require lots and lots of time.  Those types of recipes should really be called, “Lots of prep the night before, but 20 minutes to assemble before you eat it.” Or maybe something a little catchier.

This dinner is so fast because there is almost no chopping. It’s also incredibly versatile and you can change it up based on what you have in your house.

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 lb ground turkey (I prefer dark meat because I think the light is too rubbery)

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 cup salsa

1 can kidney or black beans, drained and rinsed

1 tablespoon chili powder

1/2 tablespoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste)

romaine lettuce

tortilla chips

Topping Ideas: shredded cheddar, avocado, sour cream, chopped tomatoes, whatever you want!

Heat olive oil in large skillet and add turkey meat. Cook over medium heat, breaking up the meat until no longer pink. Add garlic and cook for an additional minute. Add chili powder, cumin, and salt and stir well, making sure all the meat is coated with the seasoning. Add salsa, beans, and a little water (I use the can the beans came in and fill it about halfway). Bring to a boil and then turn the heat down to low and cover. Cook for ten minutes.

While the meat finishes cooking, arrange the lettuce on your plates, add some tortilla chips and get your toppings ready. When the meat is done, arrange it on top of the chips and then add your toppings. You’re done!

 

cozy things for the weekend

It looks like another crummy, cold weekend ahead…

Head to the supermarket today before it gets gross out and pick up the ingredients for some comforting winter food.

Risotto is one of my favorite meals to cook (and eat, duh) in the winter. I love anything that’s made in one pot (fewer dishes), and it usually reheats fairly well. I don’t really mind the 20 or 30 minutes spent stirring at the stove to make traditional risotto, but when Barefoot Contessa published a recipe for risotto made in the oven, I thought it must be too good to be true. It’s not. The version she makes in the oven is a basic one with parmesan and peas, but you can absolutely take your favorite risotto twist and adapt it to this one. Whether it be mushroom, butternut squash, lobster, most of these ingredients can be added in the last steps of the recipe, after it has baked. Obviously, your add-ins should be fully cooked if they need to be.

I’ll also be making Smitten Kitchen’s Baked Potato Soup for the first time this weekend. It looks soooo good and I just bought the ingredients – they were cheap!

Watching a movie is always a good activity for bad weather. I’m WAY behind on seeing the big movies of last year. One that I actually saw is The Grand Budapest Hotel. I’m pretty neutral when it comes to Wes Anderson movies. I like some; I don’t care for others, but I really loved this one. It’s just a great story, it’s obviously beautiful because it’s Wes Anderson, and it’s funny and sweet. Good stuff.

Do you have a favorite cold weather recipe or cuddle-conducive movie? I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

recipe chaos

I have never been good at organizing recipes. Up until recently, if I wanted to find a recipe I would have to look in one of several places: an actual cookbook, a shamefully messy file folder of magazine cutouts and scraps of paper with handwritten notes, my various Pinterest boards, the Food Network website, and various other cooking blogs.  That’s not including the phone calls to family members with questions like, “Remember that thing you made for that thing? Where did that recipe come from?” It was time consuming and completely inefficient. The worst part about it is that I know I made a ton of good meals that then were never made again because I found the recipe in some far corner of the internet and then never printed or saved it. RIP creamy pasta dish I made that one time.

A few weeks ago, I decided enough is enough. I made a folder on my browser titled Recipes and then a few subfolders for different meals and types of foods. Since then, every time I make something I like, I bookmark it in that folder. I was tempted to add recipes I hadn’t tried yet, but then it was a little overwhelming. Instead, I made a separate folder to put those in since I don’t actually know if they’re reliable yet.

Screen shot 2015-01-15 at 12.19.08 PMAs you can see, I edited the names of the first three recipes to make them more concise and I’ll do the same with the others when I have some free time.

If you’ve been feeling a little stagnant with your cooking, here are some places to look:

Barefoot Contessa cookbooks – At Home, Family Style, and Back to Basics are my favorites, but they are all good. Many of her recipes are also on the Food Network website.

Smitten Kitchen – I especially love her website for baking

 Martha Stewart and her more casual offshoot, Everyday Food

(I picked this image because I love Seth Meyers)

Dinner A Love Story – the cookbook and the blog are fantastic

Pioneer Woman – she seems to only make the most gluttonous food on her Food Network show, but her website has a wider variety of great recipes and ideas

What do you do, friends? Have you abandoned your cookbooks to rely solely on the internet? How do you keep track of it all? For now, I’ve organized my recipes by meal and main ingredient, but I wonder if maybe it should be more lifestyle-related. Perhaps separate them into folders like, Make Ahead, Fast Dinner, Dinner Party, or Stuff Nolan Actually Eats.

life around here

It’s been an eventful eight weeks since my last post. We celebrated Thanksgiving, prepared our house for the holidays, celebrated Hanukkah and Christmas with our families, cooked up some delicious meals, and oh yeah, I had a baby.

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Will Henry was born on November 17th and his delivery was a complete 180 from Nolan’s. I hope to write up my birth story in the next few weeks before I’ve forgotten everything. Did you know Nolan’s was featured on Design Mom back in 2011?

Nolan has adjusted pretty well to being a brother. With Will being young and immobile, Nolan’s life hasn’t changed too much. We’ll see what happens when Will starts taking Nolan’s toys…

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For now, I’ve been soaking up this cute baby’s smile and cooking up a storm. I made this super fast and healthy-ish pasta for lunch today; this chicken chili was so easy and tasty, but I recommend using half the chili powder; this roast chicken is probably my favorite chicken dish of all time: juicy chicken, crunchy French bread croutons, sweet onions, yum.

 

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IMG_4334Stay warm, friends!
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homemade pizza in 20 minutes

I’m home sick today and wishing I still had some of this pizza left.  Calling it “homemade” might be a bit misleading because I don’t make the pizza dough; however, I still thinks this counts as homemade because believing that is good for my self-esteem.

Back to the pizza. I’ve made a bunch of variations but this one was my favorite.

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Ingredients:

Pizza dough

Tomato sauce (if you use jarred sauce, Rao’s is my favorite)

Shredded mozzarella

Thin slices of prosciutto (about 2 ounces)

Dried figs, thinly sliced

Arugula

Olive oil

Whole Foods sells whole wheat pizza dough in the freezer section and it takes about a day in the fridge to defrost. If you remember, leave it out for a half hour or so before you make the pizza because it’s easier to stretch dough when it’s close to room temperature.  I never remember to and it always works out fine.

Preheat your oven to 500 degrees. Spread a little olive oil on a sheet pan and place floured dough in the center. Gently stretch it out and flatten so the dough takes up most of the pan.

Spread a very little bit of sauce on the dough, leaving a 1-inch border around the edge. Sprinkle the cheese, again leaving the border. Lay strips of prosciutto on top of the cheese.

Cook pizza for 12 minutes and then place pieces of fig on top and return the pizza to the oven. When the cheese is bubbly and the crust is lightly browned (probably another 2-5 minutes), it’s done! If you want the arugula slightly wilted, add it and return to the oven for just a minute. Otherwise, you can add the arugula just before serving.

Enjoy!