I’m Throwing a Dinner Party

dinner-party-menu-thanksgiving

I’m a traditionalist when it comes to Thanksgiving. I like to have all the same good stuff, year after year. It actually takes some of the planning stress out, because I always know what I’m going to make when I host. What IS always stressful, though, is timing everything out. So here is my recommended Thanksgiving menu (of course with all of my favorite things), and an easy outline for when to prepare everything. Also, while I typically recommend buying several items when hosting dinner, I believe in making most stuff for Thanksgiving. The homemade element adds a special touch and the chaos is FUN.

PS the picture above is from the Thanksgiving I thought it would be a good idea to make everyone individual pies. It was a great idea in theory and cuteness, but a terrible idea in manual labor output.

PSS sorry for all the terrible pictures in the links below. Most of them are from when I was in the middle of hosting Thanksgiving, and I was very very busy. And maybe a little tipsy.

Menu:

Appetizer: Trader Joe’s cranberry goat cheese + Ginger snaps

Appetizer: Cranberry Avocado Salsa

Main: Perfect Roasted Turkey + gravy

Side: Herb & Sausage Stuffing

Side: Yukon Gold Mashed Potatoes

Side: Brussel Sprout Salad 

 – I would simplify this salad for Thanksgiving purposes: saute the brussels instead of roasting (oven space), buy balsamic glaze instead of boiling down your own, and buy bacon from the salad bar if you can (otherwise make bacon day ahead)

Side: Green bean casserole – using the Campbell’s soup recipe! It’s hard to beat.

Side: Sweet Potato Rolls – gotta have bread!

Dessert: Pumpkin Pie with Cream Cheese Swirl

Dessert: Store bought Apple or Pecan Pie

How to execute:

Up to a week before:

Make the sweet potato rolls. Put them in a freezer storage bag and keep them in the freezer until Thanksgiving day. Take them out morning of.

1 day before:

Make the mashed potatoes. Yes! These are great for make-ahead. When warming them up on Thanksgiving day you can add a little cream or butter if they need more moisture.

Make the pumpkin pie; store in fridge

Brown the sausage for the herb sausage stuffing. Keep in ziploc bag in fridge.

If using a frozen turkey, start thawing.

Day of:

~6-7 hours before – prepare the Turkey and put it in oven (varies depending on turkey size)

Have a sip of wine.

Anytime- prepare green bean casserole in casserole dish, and cover; wait to bake.

Have a sip of wine.

~2 hours before- cook celery, onions, etc and assemble sausage stuffing; wait to bake.

Have 2 sips of wine.

~1 hour before – prepare brussel sprout salad

Have 4 sips of wine.

~45 min before (delegate here!) – remove turkey from oven and let rest. Prepare gravy. Put green bean casserole and stuffing into the oven and bake. Prepare cranberry avo salsa and set out cheeses. Warm up mashed potatoes.

Have 87 sips of wine.

Happy Thanksgiving!!

 

 

blackberry-balsamic-pork-tenderloin

Just when I think having twins couldn’t possibly be any more amazing, I discover something new that just makes my heart explode. Last week it was the babbling they do at each other, apparently understanding what the other is saying. The week before that it was that when one learned to climb the stairs, the other one insisted he do it too (with much less ease, grace, and a lot more grunting). And the week before that it was their love for chasing each other around in their walkers. Can you imagine anything cuter than two tiny babies chasing each other with extraordinarily fat legs? Heart explosion.

But this week I came to an extra extra special realization.  From now until who knows how long, probably the end of time, when one gets sick – so will the other. Awesome. Sure, regular siblings have similar challenges, but twins just CONSTANTLY gravitate toward one another. They play with the same toys. In fact, the only toy they ever want is the one that the other one is currently playing with/slobbering all over. So the germ swapping is immediate, unavoidable, and miserable. And yet somehow it was so cute to watch them respond so differently to the same cold…one acted like someone amputated his leg and that there was no way he was coming out of this alive, while the other just continued smiling, squealing, and stuffing his face with McDonald’s pancakes. Two very different boys, two very distinct heart explosions.

In the midst of all this sickness, I decided to make grilled marinated pork tenderloin.  Why? Because it tastes great with wine.

If you decide to make this – and you won’t regret it – make sure you leave enough time for marination. Is that even a word? I doubt it. Pork is one of the few meats that really does take on a 24 hour marinade perfectly; it infuses flavor without making the meat gummy or overly saturated.  I recommend at least 8 hours, but if you can swing 24, do it. Plus, if you’re making this for a summer BBQ, how great to have your main dish basically done before guests arrive? All you have to do is pop it on the grill. You will LOVE this sweet and flavorful pork.

Recipe (serves 4-6)

  • 2 pork tenderloins
  • 1 cup blackberry preserves
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 crushed bay leaves
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Mix all the marinade ingredients in a large ziploc bag, add the pork and refrigerate for as long as you can, up to 24 hours. Mine was probably actually more like 27 when it was all said and done.  Then, you can grill the pork tenderloin perfectly and easily using this 7-6-5 method. It works perfectly.  Heat the grill to high. Remove the pork from the marinade (reserve the extra if you want to reduce to a sauce).  Place the pork on the grill, cover, and leave undisturbed for 7 minutes. Flip the pork over, cover and grill for 6 more minutes. Turn the grill OFF, and let sit in the covered grill for 5 minutes. The pork should register about 140, then you can remove from grill, cover with aluminum foil and let rest for 10 minutes (it will keep cooking a bit here and raise about 10 degrees).  Our grill gets SUPER hot – like hard to keep below 500 hot – so I usually only leave it in the last phase for about 4 minutes. If your grill stays closer to 400, I would do the full 5. But even when I do the full 5, the pork is not too overcooked or dry.  Anyway, that’s the way to do it. If you want, you can reserve the extra marinade and reduce down on the stove for 10 minutes or so and serve with the pork. Make sure to bring it to a boil for at least 10 minutes since it was hanging out with the raw pork.

spicy-shrimp-with-tomato-basil-risotto

Today I decided I really need to focus the majority of my parenting efforts on not letting one of them get kidnapped. Yep, it’s going to be that simple for me going forward. Homemade baby food and story time – sayonara.

To break it down for you, there was one of me at the splash park yesterday with two [fast] mobile babies,  9 balls, 11 fountains, 50 screaming rambunctious kids, and 100 super friendly parents that wanted to talk about the twins. I loved all of this, every minute, until I was helping Price slap the water when I realized Bax had taken off and I couldn’t see him for .7 seconds. Panic! And I realize that I only have two kids and so many people have more and I’ve only had mine for 9 months, but I’m telling you.  My focus has shifted to simply bringing them home with me each day. That and putting on sunscreen.

In totally unrelated news, we had one of the meals of our life this week. As usual, my husband was the brains behind the operation. He comes up with ideas, and I execute. This dinner was so good and so special tasting – it is perfect for a dinner party but easy enough for a Sunday night. Why do I always make suggestions on what day of the week you should make things? Make it any damn night you want. You’ll love it. And if you’re cooking for someone who doesn’t like shrimp, either a spicy chicken or steak would be equally delicious. Shrimp are nice because they cook up so fast.


Recipe

  • 1 lb peeled and deveined shrimp (about 30 count)
  • 2 teaspoons blackening seasoning (store bought or homemade)
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1-1.5 teaspoons crushed red pepper, divided (.5 tsp for risotto, .5-1 tsp for shrimp)
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed or 1 tsp minced from jar
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 cup white wine, divided (1/2 for risotto 1/2 for shrimp)
  • 3/4 of a 28 oz can of diced tomatoes (juice included)
  • 1 cup risotto
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground oregano
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan
  • 3 tablespoons fresh chopped basil

To prepare the risotto, heat the olive oil in a large pot and add the onion and garlic. Cook several minutes until translucent, then add the butter. Deglaze the pan with 1/2 cup of the white wine and let reduce for a few minutes over medium heat. Stir in the tomatoes (plus juice), 1/2 teaspoon of the crushed red pepper and the 1 cup risotto; keep the heat on medium-low here to avoid burning the risotto. Just let the risotto soak up most of the liquid, then continue to add the chicken broth – about one cup at a time, adding as the risotto cooks up the liquid. The risotto is done when you have used all the broth and most of the liquid has evaporated. Stir in the parmesan, oregano, and basil.

To cook the shrimp, it’s so EASY! First of all, when you go to the seafood counter there are tons of beautiful expensive shrimp that are shouting Buy me! Buy me! But you don’t need to. I got medium sized shrimp for $12.99/lb and they were delicious. And better for this dish than the giant ones. Just saying.

Heat some olive oil in a skillet, until the pan is hot.  Season the shrimp with the blackening seasoning and remaining 1/2-1 teaspoon of crushed red pepper (depending on your desire for heat). This definitely gives it a kick, so simply use less red pepper if heat isn’t your thing. I found ~1/2 teaspoon to be plenty. Add the shrimp to the pan, let brown for 1 minutes, then flip and cook 2 more minutes. Add the remaining 1/2 cup wine to the pan, and cook until the wine is mostly reduced/gone. About 3-4 minutes. Serve the shrimp on top of the risotto, with some shaved parmesan and a glass of Rose, of course!

the-most-delicious-braised-short-ribs

**This is a terrible picture. I’m sorry, but it was New Years and I was more into the champagne.

Guys, make these. For a dinner party would be my rec, because you do most of the work the day before and they are flat out succulent. And flavorful and rich. And go ridiculously well with things like Mac ‘n Cheese.

Recipe

  • 10-12 beef short ribs – I always ask for the least fatty ones
  • ~2 cups mirepoix (mix of finely chopped onion, carrot, and celery)
  • S&P
  • 1 bottle good red wine
  • ~ 6 cups beef broth
  • Worcestershire
  • Bay leaf
  • Thyme

Preheat the oven to 350.  Heat some olive oil over medium in a big dutch oven. Working in batches, brown the short ribs on all sides. Generously season with salt & pepper while cooking.  Transfer to a plate.  Pour out the excess fat, then add in the veggies, cooking for about 5-10 minutes until soft (add more oil if necessary). Transfer veggies to a bowl. Deglaze the pan with the bottle of wine.  The wine flavor really does stand out in the end, so use a bottle that you would enjoy drinking.  Turn the heat up to high and let wine reduce by 3/4 – about 20 minutes. Add the meat back into the pan, then pour in enough beef broth to almost cover. Sprinkle in a bit of worcestershire, a bay leaf, and some fresh or dried thyme. If using low sodium beef broth, you’ll need to add more salt. Don’t under salt! That’s the fastest way to a flavorless dinner, IMO.  Bring the liquid to a boil, then cover and put in the oven for about 2.5 hours, until the meat is fork tender. Remove from the oven, let the ribs cool in the liquid, and then refrigerate (in the covered pan) overnight.

The next day, a couple hours before you want to serve dinner, take the ribs out of the fridge. And here is the magical/super gross part of this recipe. ALL of the fat will have solidified on the top – and it is A LOT – making it very easy for you to take a spoon and scoop it all out. It is a very gross yet very satisfying process. I’ve made short ribs before without this refrigeration/fat removal step, and have been disappointed with the fattiness of the end result. This cuts out that problem completely, allowing you to really enjoy the flavor of the meat and sauce.  Ok, so remove all the fat, then place the pan back on the stove and bring sauce to a boil. Let sauce thicken up and reduce by a lot (about 3/4), until sort of thick and glaze-like, a little over an hour. Continue to spoon sauce over the meat as it reduces down. Serve these delicious guys over something equally delectable, like creamy mashed potatoes or mac ‘n cheese!

apple-onion-stuffed-pork-roast-wi

Pork + apples = fall to me. I understand the apple piece, but I don’t know why I feel that way about pork.  Maybe because beef is dark and makes me think of winter, and grilled chicken is light and makes me thing of summer. Pork is in between.  Now it makes perfect sense.

Anyway, this recipe got hijacked by my husband. I wanted to make a slow roasted pork loin with apple butter glaze, and he wanted a stuffed pork with apples and onions.  Because we’re married now and it turns out you need to compromise, we did both. We stuffed a pork loin with apples and onions, and glazed it with apple butter.  YUM.  It really was quite pleasing to the palate and the eye. I would serve this at a dinner party, as long as John’s not in charge of buying the apples. My very specific request for HONEYCRISP was denied and replaced with gross green Granny Smith.  The flavor came out just the same, but red looks so much prettier with pork.

Recipe

Pork

  • 2-3 lb boneless pork loin roast
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • 2 cups apple juice

Stuffing

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, diced
  • 3 apples, diced
  • ½ cup apple juice
  • ~1 cup cubed bread

Glaze

  • 1 cup apple butter
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon + pinch of ground cloves

Start by butterflying or rolling out your pork.  I can’t really explain how to do this, so you might want to find a video on youtube. That’s what I did. But basically I cut a slit lengthwise into the pork roast about one inch from the bottom, then continued to cut and roll out the pork until it was flat.  Then mix the spice seasoning of salt, brown sugar, and pepper and sprinkle on one side of the pork (that will become the inside of your roll).  Preheat the oven to 325.

Meanwhile, make the stuffing.  Cook the onions in a tablespoons of olive oil, and add the apples a couple minutes in.  Pour in the apple juice and continue to cook for 5-10 more minutes. Add the bread cubes, and stir to coat.  Spoon stuffing onto the flattened pork (you won’t be able to use it all, but you’ll want to serve it on the side – it’s delicious!).  Then, slowly roll up the pork and secure with kitchen twine.  Sprinkle more of the seasoning mixture on top.

To make the glaze, heat the apple butter, brown sugar, cinnamon and cloves in a small saucepan until smooth.

Spray a small baking dish with Pam. Place the pork roll in the dish, then pour 2 cups apple juice over and around.  Glaze the pork with the apple butter.  Cover with foil, and bake for 45 min to one hour, or until the internal temperature reaches 145 (time will vary depending on the thickness of your roast).

Serve with leftover apple butter glaze and stuffing!

 

white-chocolate-peanut-butter-cracker
Wow! Great idea John, genius husband of mine. I loved these,
and will make them for a party at the next chance I get (someone please invite me to something).
Simply make PB cracker sandwiches with crunchy peanut butter and club
crackers (please, do not go ‘whole grain’ on me here), then dip them in melted white
chocolate (melt chocolate for 1-2 minutes, stirring after 1). Add
sprinkles for some extra fun on top. Really sweet, salty, and peanut butter-y. And fun to eat.
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