From Hostess with the Mostess

Homemade Gift Idea: Caramel Whiskey Sauce

It’s kind of a long story, but a few months ago I was introduced to the idea of a whiskey sauce. It may or may not have involved me sorely loosing a cooking competition.

I’m not bitter.

On the up side, my world was opened to the concept of bread pudding with Tennessee whiskey sauce. Those are two things, either separate or together, that I would not have imagined eating. Now? Call me a convert.

Fast forward a few weeks later when I had some of my female co-workers over for a small gathering. I decided that we’d top off our meal with warm gingerbread (I’m not quite ready to serve my so-so bread pudding to a crowd) with whipped cream and…you guessed it…this caramel whiskey sauce.

The saddest part of all of this was that I had to Google Tennessee whiskey to know what kind to buy. I’m more for wine than whiskey—what can I say?

After one taste I knew I’d be saving this post for the Homemade Gifts portion of the Dare to DIY party. This could be the perfect gift for neighbors, co-workers, friends or family members. It was great on top of gingerbread, but I could also see it on ice cream, the infamous bread pudding, brownies…the list is endless.

This recipe makes about one pint, which is more than enough for one family. It might be wise to break this into even smaller jars to get more gifting for your effort—a little of this does go a long way.

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Tasty Tuesday: Red, white and blue menu

It’s hard to believe that the Fourth of July is just around the corner.  We generally don’t do much to celebrate the holiday, but lately I’ve been day dreaming about a good old-fashioned BBQ.  The chances that I could actually organize a big, fun gathering in time for the 4th are slim to none, but a girl can dream, right? With that in mind, I thought I’d put together some menu and party ideas for those of you who might be planning a stars-and-stripes bash!

I feel that every BBQ needs the standard burgers and hot dogs (red ones, if you live in Maine).  But my meat-loving husband would want something in addition, and these honey-chipotle-glazed ribs are looking rather  good.

via marthastewart.com

I don’t have any pictures of my own, but my go-to potato salad recipe is Dave Lieberman’s creamy dijon-dill potato salad.  I just love the flavor from the fresh dill and lemon.

via veggie-terrain.blogspot.com

And dessert.  I could basically just eat dessert for the whole meal.  But I love the simplicity and beauty of a trifle, like this patriotic berry trifle.

Maybe if I had more time and/or skill, I would try my hand at this fancy-pants cake…

via pinterest.com / iammommy.typepad.com/i_am_baker/

 

And I know this is supposed to be menu related, but I can’t help thinking a bit about decor.  If I were putting together some July 4th decorations, I would probably go the less traditional route with more contemporary fabrics like this…don’t you think it would make a great table runner?

Oh, but I do love the idea of jars filled with sand…

via pinterest.com / marthastewart.com

 

And if I really, really had my act together, I would so love to make this fun little party favor with sparklers and covered match boxes.

via pinterest / hostessblog.com

So, there you have it–my wishful thinking Fourth of July party!  Do you have any party plans of your own?

Holiday Dinner Party Wrap-Up

You’ll probably want to roll your eyes at me when I say this, but preparing our home and a meal for our 14-person holiday dinner party wasn’t that much work and really wasn’t stressful.  I swear.  We actually spent the most time cleaning because we might have let dusting, vacuuming and sweeping slide for the past few several weeks!

Last week I shared our menu plan and now I’m back to let you know how it all went down.  We took a similar approach to this meal as we did for Thanksgiving, which means I made a ton of lists, timelines, grocery shopped days before and did a few things each day ahead of the party to make things easier.

I dragged out an extra table and set the place settings on Thursday.  I went very easy and simple on the table decor since we really didn’t have much extra space.  (Chris told me I needed to up my centerpiece game because he thought I could do better.  But I didn’t.)

Don’t you love our mis-matched chairs?  We borrowed some banquet chairs from Chris’ office, and no one seemed to mind that the tables we put together were two different sizes…we were just cozy, that’s all.  And sorry about the lighting in that picture.   I forgot to snap table pictures until just before guests arrived!

I also made some menu items ahead of time.  I made the pound cakes for the trifle on Thursday night and the cranberry fruit relish on Friday night.

On Saturday morning I assembled the trifle and made our triple layer chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting (a birthday cake for one of our guests).

While Chris cleaned the house top to bottom, I prepped things for later in the day.  I set our appetizer table in the living room and pulled out the serving dishes that I planned to use for each food item.  I know it seems silly to set out empty dishes, but it is a good way to make sure everything fits and that you don’t have one serving dish in mind for two different items.

I also set out everything we would need for dessert and drinks.  I don’t know about you, but I hate rummaging for coffee mugs or glasses while guests are waiting, so I pulled it all out ahead of time and made a little dessert/drink station.

To make life easier, I even pre-set the coffee maker so we just had to switch it on when it was time for dessert.  Again, who wants to be counting scoops of coffee when you have a table of guests waiting?

The rest of the cooking timeline took place later in the afternoon.  We calculated how long our ham would take to heat and when we wanted it to come out and worked backward from there.  I knew I wanted our butternut squash lasagna to come out just before the ham went in, so I started making it at about 3:15 p.m., leaving just enough time to prepare it and bake it before the ham went in at 4:45 p.m.

This is a next-day picture of the lasagna, but you can imagine the whole pan full, right? (I’ll be posting my simplified version of this recipe next week)

When the lasagna was done, I covered it in foil and set it aside to be re-heated later once the ham was almost done.

While the lasagna was cooking Chris and I both took quick showers and got dressed.  At 4:45 p.m. (one hour before guest arrival) we finished up the rest of the menu.  The ham went on the bottom rack of the oven and I got the completely-unphotographed-but-lovely baked brie onto the top rack (it’s as simple as wrapping a brie wheel in puff pastry and baking on a pizza stone for 30 minutes).  Then I boiled up the spuds for our mashed potatoes.  At the same time I boiled our green beans for about 5 minutes and then topped them with some almonds that toasted in the stove next to the baked brie.

By 5:30 p.m. the potatoes, green beans, sliced bread and lasagna were all set to the side of the stove, ready to be popped back in for warming.  I quickly sliced the cheese and veggies and set out the appetizers.  Our first guests walked in just as I was finishing up and lighting candles around the house!

I did a few last minute things while the guests were here (like slicing butter pats to go on the table and filling pitchers of ice water) but, for the most part, we were able to cross everything off the list before guests stepped in the door.

Once the ham was ready at about 6:45 p.m., we let it stand for about 15 minutes while all the other items went back into the oven for a few, and before we knew it dinner was served!

And if you’ve made it this far into this long and drawn-out post, then you are a super blog fan and I send some virtual dinner party leftovers your way.  Except for the dessert.  We ate all of that.

But truly, I hope that this post shows that with a little planning and advance preparation, hosting a dinner party can be fun and relatively stress-free.  And trust me, if I can do it, anyone can!

Holiday Dinner Party Menu

I’ve mostly about two things lately…food and our nursery project.  Can you tell what is on my mind!?

Tomorrow evening we are hosting a dinner party for 14 (well, 11 adults, two kids and one little baby).  We’re excited to have the members of Chris’ staff over to thank them for all that they do professionally, but mostly because they are incredible friends to us and do nice things for us all throughout the year.  Despite their protests, we are requiring them to come empty handed.

Chris and I love planning a meal together, so this little adventure (our largest dinner party to date) has been fun to organize, and fingers crossed that we can execute well tomorrow evening.

Because I have a hard time finding achievable dinner menus online, I thought I would post what we plan to make, and next week I can let you know how it all went down.  So, allow me to virtually whet your appetites…

Appetizers:

  • Baked Brie
  • Crudite with artichoke and spinach hummus
  • Cheese and crackers

Main Course:

Dessert:

I don’t know whether or not you’ll agree with me that this menu is achievable for most people, but it truly is made of a mix of homemade, semi-homemade and store bought items.  Plus, many of the items can be made ahead of time (even days before or just hours before guests arrive), so you can really focus on spending time with guests.

One of the main reasons that we went with ham was that it simply needs to be warmed, which means we won’t be worrying about overcooking a fancy roast or making gravy at the last minute.  It also means we can keep things like potatoes, lasagna and bread warm on the top rack of the oven while the ham comes to temperature below.  Our desserts are make-ahead items that are easy to serve and look appealing.

And while things like baked brie and a raspberry cream trifle might sound complicated, it’s not so bad once you consider that baked brie is simply cheese wrapped in store-bought puff pastry sheets and the cake in the trifle is from a store-bought pound cake mix.  There are always way to simplify!

As an added bonus, having this party has really made me get into holiday decorating a couple weeks earlier than I normally would.  So next week I’ll have to share a bit of how we decked our halls!

Thanksgiving table for two

As I mentioned last week, Chris and I are having a quiet Thanksgiving dinner for two (or three, if you count baby) and according to my own Thanksgiving preparation advice, I decided today was the day to set our table.   Or maybe it was the “Dare to Entertain” portion of the Newlywoodwards Dare to DIY Blog Party that got me motivated, but who’s keeping track?

This week’s challenge was to decorate and set our Thanksgiving table regardless of whether or not we are hosting the big meal because, let’s be honest, a nicely set table can make anyone happy.  Or maybe it’s just me?

In true thrifty DIY style, I used mostly items that I already had around the house, adding in some inexpensive touches, like the split yellow peas and beans that you see below.

As you can see, I made more of a “cornerpiece” than a centerpiece because we like sitting next to each other, and this leaves room for serving dishes on the table.

I was even able to properly set a table thanks to the fact that I studied up last year.  I may have needed to remind myself again this year…

I found these napkins with pops of yellow on super clearance at a Crate and Barrel Outlet a few weeks ago and I knew that they would work perfectly with the yellow bean centerpiece I had planned.

As for our place cards, I used some beads, string and paper left over from last week’s Thanksgiving decor project.  For some reason Chris was surprised to see his name written out.  Who else did he think I’d be dining with?

And, nothing says cozy like a Ball jar turned candle holder…

So, have you set your Thanksgiving table yet?  If not, be sure to stop by the blog party to see all of the other great table-decorating ideas!

Some related posts:

Behind the Scenes of a Dinner Party

I’m not a seasoned entertainer by any means, nor am I a seasoned cook.  But after a few recent dinner parties, I think I’ve learned a few tricks.  This past weekend we had two couples over for dinner and I decided to get extra organized.  You know,  so that I wasn’t burning things, chasing down hidden ingredients and setting the table all at the same time?

If there is one thing that is true, it’s that I make a mess when I’m in the kitchen.  I leave disasters on one end of the counter while I start another one across the room.  So, for me it’s important that I prepare as much food as possible before our guests arrive.  Otherwise they will see my kitchen like this:

(As a game we could try to name the number of random things in this picture, or the number of food items being made.  Who doesn’t have an allen wrench and tape measure on their counter while cooking!?)

Anyway, back to the party.  Let’s start with the food.  Our menu consisted of:

While the cake was baking, I prepared the chicken.  The recipe calls for cooking it on the stove top, which  I did.  But instead of serving it immediately, I placed it all in a large pan, covered it with foil, and reheated it just before serving.

Then I mixed up the pretzels and got them ready to bake.  Same with the sausage appetizers.  I washed the green beans and set them aside with all of the other necessary ingredients for dinner.

Once our guests arrived, all I had to do was pop things in the oven, turn the rice on, toast the almonds, cook the beans, saute the mushrooms for the chicken and, voila, dinner was served.  It was so easy that I was able to relax, drink wine and gossip.  Perfect.

In terms of other preparation, here is what I did before hand to make life easy.

  • I was using chargers, so I set aside the dinner and dessert plates (next to the yummy chocolate cake).

  • And because we have a refrigerator that doesn’t make ice (grrr), I filled the ice cube trays so that we could have ice for water and drinks.

Outside of the kitchen and dining room, I made sure there was a fresh hand towel in the bathroom and gave the toilet a quick scrub.  I lit candles around the house and made sure our outdoor light was on.

Having all of those tasks done before anyone arrived helped me actually enjoy and relax during dinner instead of having to rush around.  It took a few hours during the afternoon, but it was definitely worth it!

Have you had any dinner parties lately?  Any tips and tricks that make your life easier when you are entertaining?  Please share!