Dinner Party Menus

Dinner Party Menu: September

dinner-party-menu-september

September! One of my favorite months. In Texas, things start cooling down. In Wisconsin, things really start cooling down and you can smell fall in the air. That crispness makes everything feel so fresh and so rejuvenating. Texas misses out on the fall season a little bit, which would be sad except that September is the start of the state fair. So, crisp Wisconsin air vs. Texas corn dogs. Tough call.

Septembers are usually busy for people, which in my mind makes it an extra good month to have a dinner party. People will appreciate it! And for you, the one cooking, make something easy! And eat outside, maybe with sunflowers as your centerpiece.  This is one of the few months where I genuinely like eating outside – a reasonable/borderline cool temperature and less bugs. Most other months I am forced to come up with an excuse to my husband why we can’t eat outside. Mosquitoes. Wind. Hot. Too sunny.  If you have any other ideas, please LMK.

The Menu

Appetizer: The best spinach artichoke dip you’ll ever make

Main:        Super delicious pulled pork tacos

Side:         Dole BBQ ranch chopped salad (store-bought)

Dessert:    Store bought pie, preferably chocolate

As I’ve said before, only make a couple of things. It makes it so much easier on you and leaves more time for sipping margaritas.

To execute:

  1. About 5 hours before, start the pork.
  2. One hour before, make the dip
  3. Right before guests arrive, shred the pork and get the tortillas/toppings ready (i.e., cheese and sour cream). Assemble salad.
  4. There’s hardly any instructions here because it’s that easy.

Dinner Party Series: August

dinner-party-series-august

I’m failing on the blog front lately, but I can’t help it. My twins are BUSY and I’m hanging on by a thread. Not just from keeping up with them all day long, but making sure they’re learning and growing each day – that’s a challenge. Or maybe that’s just pressure moms put on themselves unnecessarily; babies used to literally grow up in caves and they were still helping their moms hunt for dinner by the age of 5.

Anyway, this dinner party post is too late. You really only have 8 days left to use it. Just kidding! Because I’m selecting grilled pizza for this month, and pizza is good ALWAYS. And I’m using grilled pizza for this month because we just went to a dinner party at my friend Annie’s house and grilled pizzas were the theme, and it was perfect. It was so much fun, really interactive, and at the end we got to eat PIZZA. I also feel like we all really bonded over the stressful yet satisfying act of rolling out pizza crust into something reasonable looking.

I’m offering two approaches here – buy the pizza stuff and make the salad, or make the pizza stuff and buy the salad.

Menu

Appetizer: Simple platter of roasted nuts and summer fruit

Pizza:        Homemade grilled pizza here and here or buy all the stuff    somewhere like Jimmy’s Food Store in Dallas

Salad:        Italian Chopped Salad or buy a prepared/bagged salad at the store

Dessert:    Brownie Bottom Cheesecake

To execute:

  1. Bake cheesecake the day before.
  2. If making pizza, prepare the dough the night before or morning of. Refrigerate until ready to use.
  3. Prepare nut/fruit plate before guests arrive.
  4. Prepare salad before guests arrive.
  5. When ready to grill pizzas, roll out the dough, brush with oil, and grill on high heat first without the toppings. When dough crisps up, add toppings and return to grill until cheese melts.

Dinner Party Menu: July

dinner-party-menu-july

I’ve got the best tip for all you moms out there. It’s fully researched, tested, and proven to be very effective. It just takes a leeeeettle bit of sacrifice on your part.

Get the flu. Or mildly poison yourself with salmonella.

Yesterday I got the flu (I know, it’s not inFLUenza but the flu as we all know it from our childhood)…or salmonella poisoning, I can’t be sure because I did spend a good part of my day testing the cake batter for my sons’ upcoming birthday…and I’m telling you guys. My husband had to stay home to take care of the kids…and for the first time in 362 days, I didn’t change 16+ diapers, I didn’t make and clean up 6 meals, I didn’t change outfits 4 times, I didn’t pull Bax out of the fireplace 3 times, I didn’t make 4 trips back forth to the car loading and unloading babies in 100 degree weather, I didn’t read 4 books that make little to no sense, and I didn’t give anyone a bath. Oh and my clothes looked and smelled clean at the end of the day.  What I did do, is lay in bed all day and watch Friends. Sure, throw in a little puking here and there but you know what? I feel rejuvenated. Try it.

So now that both babies are walking around like crazy, I have the opposite problem that I thought I’d have. I am not running in 2 different directions to constantly chase them down; THEY are constantly running in one direction to chase ME down. Seriously, I can’t even go to the bathroom without those two pounding on the door for me to come out. It makes kitchen time very tricky- I’ve got two little puppies just following me step for step; into the pantry, into the fridge, into the dishwasher. So today I am doing a dinner party post because I haven’t been cooking.

July – what a great time for a casual, cool dinner party. Something easy, something summery, something casual, and something outdoors is the ideal gathering. Nothing fussy here – just getting together with friends for good food and drinks.

Appetizer:   Veggies and store-bought dip

Main:           Sweet Texas BBQ Ribs

Side 1:          Sweet Potato Skins

Side 2:          Buy the Dole BBQ Ranch Salad Kit at the store (obsessed with this)

Dessert:      Ice cream with hot fudge/caramel topping

To execute:

  1. Arrange veggie platter the morning of; cover and refrigerate
  2. About 3 hours before guests arrive, start the grill and oven. Sear the ribs and then wrap and place them in the oven, basting for about 2 hours.  Let the ribs rest for 30-45 minutes.
  3. During the last hour of ribs, bake the sweet potatoes. In another oven is ideal, otherwise just put them in a little longer. Or, microwave!
  4. While the ribs are resting, finish making the potato skins in the oven or grill.
  5. Put the salad in a bowl.
  6. Um, that’s it!
pineapple-jalapeno-bbq-chicken-kabobs

I would have added more words to the title of this recipe, but they didn’t fit. I would have added ‘spicy,’ ‘soy sauce,’ ‘veggie,’ and maybe even ‘amazing.’  I have to admit I’m not a total kabob person.  I can’t really explain why…except that I maybe feel like they’re pointless. Generally you can eat the exact same thing without having to chop everything up and put it on a stick. BUT, these are different. Because with these, in each bite you get a burst of super flavorful BBQ chicken, sweet juicy pineapple, and spicy jalapeno – a bite that’s hard to achieve anywhere else (except maybe a pizza).  It’s worth it here to chop it into bits and put it on a stick. The flavor combo is perfect and it screams SUMMER’S HERE!! Always a nice reminder.

Recipe

Marinade

  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup sweet BBQ sauce (I used Sweet Baby Ray’s)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon Sriracha

Kabobs

  • 2.5 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • ground black pepper
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped into large pieces
  • 1 sweet onion, chopped into large piece
  • 2 jalapenos, cut into rings, seeds and veins removed
  • 1 pineapple, cut into large chunks

Season the chicken with pepper. Prepare the marinade in a ziploc bag, add the chicken and marinate for at least 1 hour (I did about 3). Heat the grill to medium high. Place all the veggies (bell pepper, jalapeno and onion – not pineapple) in a bowl, splash with a couple tablespoons of water and S&P, drizzle with a bit of olive oil, cover and microwave for 3 minutes. This is important, because otherwise the veggies won’t get done by the time the chicken is done on the grill. A fatal flaw of kabobs.

Prepare the kabobs, alternating chicken, pineapple, jalapeno, bell pepper and onion.  Discard marinade. Lightly oil grill grates.  Grill kabobs about 4 minutes per side or until done.

 

Dinner Party Menu: June

feast-together-june

Even for those that love to cook, putting together a full menu for a dinner party, barbecue, or any group gathering is daunting. More so today than ever probably, because there are literally 73 million recipes out there. Maybe more. Pairing the right flavors and themes is important, as is considering how much work and time everything is going to take. So, starting today, I will be doing a monthly dinner party series that will feature my recommendation for an entertaining menu that month. So you don’t have to!

In my early cooking/’entertaining’ days, I would just pick my favorite things to make with complete disregard for timing and execution feasibility. I would spend hours running around the kitchen getting everything ready, and more often than not miss the cocktail hour once our friends arrived (don’t worry I was drinking wine in the kitchen). I quickly learned that’s not the way to entertain and you have to think these things through when picking the menu. So, I’ve adopted a few rules to consider as I make recipe decisions:

  1. Make ahead is best. Recipes where you can do some part of it ahead of time, then just finish up the final steps once guests arrived is ideal.
  2. Ina Garten’s genius tip: don’t make any more than 2 (3 at most) items off your menu. So if you make the main dish and a side, buy the appetizer and dessert.
  3. Don’t go fancy with the appetizer. Something simple to nibble on while having a drink is all you need. 99.5% of the time I do a cheese plate.
  4. Consider the season. Don’t serve beef bourguignon in the summer, or grilled lemon chicken in the winter.
  5. Always serve dessert.

And that’s it! For June (and most Summer months), I opt for something on the grill to keep it light, fun, and to inject you with that unmistakable smell of summer on the grill.

Appetizer: Block of cream cheese topped with red pepper jelly, serve with crackers

Main:           Blackberry-Balsamic Pork Tenderloin or Grilled Herb Dijon Chicken

Side 1:         Grilled Vegetable Salad (sorry for the old terrible photos here)

Side 2:         Buy a twice-baked from the deli case or simple baked sweet potato

Dessert:      Bakery-bought cookie platter

To execute:

  1. Store-bought cream cheese and pepper jelly can be assembled a couple hours in advance and stored in the fridge
  2. Marinate the pork the day before, or the chicken the morning of; simply grill once ready to eat
  3. Have vegetables chopped and in grill pan when guests arrive. Start grilling them about 20-30 minutes before you put on the meat. Very little maintenance once they start cooking. Toss in the balsamic, cheese, and basil when ready to serve (PS this can be done early too – we’ve eaten this at room temperature plenty of times and it’s just as delicious)
  4. I would buy a twice baked or sweet potato from Whole Foods or Central Market, or simply pop some sweet potatoes in the oven at 350 for one hour. Serve with butter.
  5. A variety of cookies is NEVER a bad idea.

Happy feasting!