Holiday Dinner Party

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This past Sunday was spent scurrying around a kitchen with one of my sweet friends, Allie (take a look.) With cocktails in hand, together we executed a pretty-damn-flawless dinner party for our significant others and a few friends. I handled the cooking and Allie managed the bar, charcuterie and somehow accomplished to set a tablescape that I swear I’ve seen in a magazine. The girl has an eye for design and let me tell you, I’m a little (a LOT) envious. You’re going to wonder where she’s been for every event you ever hosted (I’m considering renewing my vows so she can plan my second wedding), but not to worry! She has a blog where you can access all of  her wonderful thoughts that are brought to life. Better yet, let her come paint your dream party for you.

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I’ve hosted my share of dinner parties over the past few years and there’s a few things I’ve managed to pick up along the way. My first tip: Don’t overthink it! Nobody at your party/gathering will be able to relax if you’re not relaxed. My second tip? Take help when it is offered! I am MOST guilty of this. Not only do I sometimes feel awful accepting help when I’m the one who invited people over, but it’s also a controversial topic whether or not I have a serious case of OCD. However, I’ve learned that typically people are offering to help because they want to. Give them an easy task to do! It’s not asking much, but it’s one less thing you have to worry about. My last prequal tip before I get into my real tips is to save the damn dirty dishes for the morning. Yes, five of your friends will offer to do them. Your husband will probably offer, too. The mountain of dishes will irritate the crap out of you. The cure? Pour yourself a glass of wine. Kick off your heels and go enjoy the company you just hosted. Relax, laugh, make memories; The dishes will still be there in the morning, but your friends and family will be leaving soon.

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When it comes to the bar, I like to offer at least one pre-mixed cocktail. Something that’s all ready to pour and people don’t have to think about it (we think all day – it’s time to relax!) Whether it’s sangria, punch, or a big batch of Mimosas, it’s sure to be a hit. There’s no shame in making a party BYOB, either. In the age of IPAs and a plethora of different wines, people actually like to drink the things they prefer. Just make it known, so people aren’t left high and dry.

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Appetizers, antipasta, hors d’oeuvres, the first course. I love charcuterie. I know I’ve mentioned it before, but it’s really true. There’s something on it for everyone (put some nuts on it for the vegans!) and it’s not too much. If you’re planning to follow your first course with a main course, you don’t want to spoil everyones appetite. However, if you’re having a party that starts later in the evening, possibly after people would have eaten dinner or too late to serve dinner, I would go a little heavier on the appetizers or snacks. Especially if there’s alcohol involved.

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The Dinner Plate: Protein, starch, and a veggie. Every party is not Thanksgiving and it can be quite the buzzkill if everyone’s ready to head to bed after dinner. For Christmas my mom always makes Prime Rib and my mouth is seriously watering just thinking about it. With that being said, when planning with Allie what to make for our dinner party, I decided to stick with what works (do not try to fix something that’s not broken.) To go with the Prime Rib (recipe to follow), I decided to stray away from the “been there, done that” mashed potatoes (who AM I!?) Instead I made Creamy Garlic Parmesan Polenta. WOW. I would never mean to cheat on potatoes, but sometimes a girl gets weak. With the Prime Rib and Polenta being so rich, for my vegetable I decided to go with a salad. Don’t worry, it wasn’t just an ordinary salad! This Shaved Brussel Sprout Salad is sure to be your new favorite.

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Lastly, it’s time for dessert. I’m truly not much of a baker. My pies consist of store-bought crust. I don’t play well with yeast or anything that has to rise. I love everything that starts with Phils and ends with Bury. Cheesecake is just about the only thing I can handle, which is fine with me because it’s so versatile. If you can find your perfect cheesecake recipe, it’s pretty easy to make it fit any occasion. For example, for this holiday party I made a “Kris Kringle Cheesecake” (recipe to follow) that consisted of a peppermint bark Oreo crust, my traditional cheesecake recipe, a white chocolate ganache, and crushed candy canes on top. It was heavenly and fit the theme seamlessly.

Throwing a dinner party doesn’t have to be hard, but it should always be fun. If you’re not much of a cook or funds are tight, opt to have a potluck. This way, everyone brings a favorite dish and a whole lot of pressure is taken off of you. You can make it fun by requesting everyone bring recipe cards for their dish too, so it becomes somewhat of a recipe exchange. People are always looking for new recipes and it’s a great conversation starter!

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At the end of the night, what matters is exactly why you had the party in the first place: To pause our crazy, hectic lives for a few hours to spend time with the people who make life so enjoyable. I hope this holiday season you’re all able to have a party or attend one, meet a new friend, try a new dish, and remember everything that makes each of us so blessed. Happy Holidays to you and all those who make your life so special.

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Allie’s Blog: Love Forever

Photography: Daphne Sipes

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Creamy Garlic Parmesan Polenta

Move over mashed potatoes. I mean don’t go too far, because I LOVE YOU, but you have some competition in town. Next time you feel like taking a break from your relationship with potatoes, explore the world of polenta. You’ll be happy you did!

This creamy polenta melts in your mouth. It can seem like it’s not thickening, but just be patient. Low & slow is key, as you do not want to burn it. Sometimes you have to baby it, but I promise you it will be worth it.

What You’ll Need:

  • 4 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 cups cornmeal
  • 5 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup mascarpone
  • 4 ounces grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
  • 2 tablespoons fresh roasted garlic
  • salt and ground black pepper
  1. In a large saucepan, bring chicken broth to a boil. Slowly pour in your corn meal while constantly whisking. Lower heat to medium-low and cook slowly, continuously whisking for about 3 minutes until polenta begins to thicken. Turn heat to low and cover your saucepan. Continue stirring every 5 or so minutes, scraping anything that may be sticking to the bottom of the pan.
  2. After about 30 minutes, add your butter and garlic. Stir until melted and completely incorporated. Add your mascarpone, parmesan, and milk, stir well until combined. Season with parsley, salt and pepper. Let the creamy polenta remain on the stove (on low) until ready to serve.
  3. Once ready to serve, pour into serving dish. Garnish with more fresh parsley.

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Candied Walnuts

PSA: These things are like crack. Add to salads, granola, yogurt, charcuterie boards, side dishes, or just snack on them. You literally won’t be able to put them down. Because I like to indulge in them, I prefer to use truvia rather than granulated sugar. A little less guilt…

Candied Walnuts:

  • 8 oz. walnuts
  • 1/4 granulated sugar OR Truvia/Stevia
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

 

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Preheat your oven to 300º. In a large mixing bowl, add your walnuts.

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In a separate bowl, whisk together your egg white and vanilla. Pour on top of the walnuts and toss them, ensuring even coverage. Sprinkle on your choice of sugar and the cinnamon. Toss until the walnuts are evenly coated.

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On a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, evenly spread your walnuts. Bake for 20 minutes. Keep an eye on them, though. They tend to burn easily. Once cooked, transfer them to a bowl immediately so they don’t overcook. You can store them in a mason jar for up to 2 weeks (if they last that long!)

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Light Blue Cheese Dressing

My husbands favorite! We use it for salads, buffalo wings, dipping veggies – you name it. Subbing the sour cream with greek yogurt will give you less fat and more protein without compromising any flavor. Feel free to use fat-free, low-fat, or regular mayonnaise based upon your preference 🙂

What You’ll Need:

  • 1/4 cup skim milk
  • 1/4 cup reduced fat mayonnaise
  • 1/3 cup plain greek yogurt
  • 2 teaspoons white vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons reduced fat blue cheese crumbles
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon dill
  • garlic powder, to taste
  • salt and ground black pepper, to taste

Simply combine all your ingredients in a bowl. Transfer to a mason jar for storage – it will stay fresh for 1 week.

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Mama’s Mashed Potatoes

I’m not trying to be weird, but I’m pretty sure potatoes were my first love. No matter what way you have them, they never disappoint. It’s the perfect relationship.

These “mashers” are my mom’s recipe. In my 27 years of life, she has never once changed them. That’s because they’re freaking perfect and don’t you ever try to fix something that’s not broken.

Don’t forget to bring in reinforcements to peel the potatoes. This is when my mom would call in a few helpers to gather around the garbage can with their peelers in hand. You don’t have to wait until Christmas to call on the elves.

So, today’s blog post is brought to you by, drumroll please, Mrs. T…

What You’ll Need:

  • 5 lbs. Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled
  • 3/4 cup butter (1 1/2 sticks)
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup half n’ half
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic (from the jar)
  • 1/2 tablespoon paprika
  • 1 tablespoon parsley, finely chopped

 

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  • Wash and peel your potatoes. I’ll leave all the small potatoes whole, but cut the large potatoes in half or quarters. You want all of the potatoes to be around the same size to ensure they boil evenly.
  • In a large pot, put the potatoes and enough water to cover them and a dash of salt. Cover the pot and bring water to a boil. Let cook for 15 minutes or until they easily break apart with a fork.
  • Place your butter and all of the seasonings (except the salt, add this to taste) in a separate bowl and microwave for 30 seconds so that the butter softens.
  • Using a large strainer, drain the water from the potatoes. Place your potatoes back into the pot.
  • Using hand mixer, begin mashing your potatoes. Pour in your butter mixture, but slowly add in the milk/half n’ half a little at a time until you reach your desired consistency (the more milk the smoother the mashed potatoes.) Add your salt to taste.

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I hope you bring my family’s recipe to yours and each of you enjoy this Thanksgiving staple.

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Green Bean Casserole

Step aside, cream of mushroom soup. Traditional Green Bean Casserole just had an upgrade and don’t worry, it’s still so easy!

I’m not going to lie. Every time I make a green bean dish, I dread it. The trimming of those damn beans, I could SCREAM. I try to be patient, but my lanta sometimes it’s the little things. Now hiring: Professional Green Bean Trimmer. Will pay with food.

What You’ll Need:

  • 1 pound green beans, trimmed & halved
  • 8 ounces Baby Bella or Portobello mushrooms, sliced (IMO, don’t use white mushrooms)
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 teaspoon ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon of salt, added gradually to taste
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • 1 and 1/4 cups light cream
  • 6 oz container French’s crispy onions

Preheat your oven to 400°. Kindly ask your professional green bean trimmer to have at it while you slice your mushrooms. Add butter, mushrooms, some of the salt & pepper, and garlic to a deep pan and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes (once mushrooms start to soften and release moisture.)

Sprinkle all of the flour on top and stir until it has soaked up all of the moisture. Add the vegetable broth and let simmer for 3-5 minutes. Reduce your heat and stir in the light cream. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally until your mixture has thickened (10-15 minutes.)

In a large mixing bowl, add your green beans and about a 1/2 cup of the onions. Pour in your cream mushroom mixture and stir until combined.

Transfer your mixture into a baking dish and cover with the remaining onions. Bake for 15 minutes.

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‘Tis the season to indulge. We’ll worry about the cream and butter in the new year 😉

 

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Creamed Corn

Growing up, I despised creamed corn. It was really one of those foods I considered “old people food” and wanted absolutely nothing to do with. If I’m going to be completely frank, this belief followed me into my twenties. When I decided to tackle my first ever “Friendsgiving” I started asking my anticipated guests what some of their favorite Thanksgiving sides were. I was in complete shock (and a little confused) when I realized how many peoples’ Thanksgiving staple was cream corn. I thought, “What the hell? Are my friends 80 or something?!” 

Being that I love a challenge, I started like a mad woman looking for different creamed corn recipes, ideas, and insight. For my first Friendsgiving I put together a pretty standard homemade creamed corn that actually went over pretty well, with myself included. Since then I’ve really worked at making it my own and it is, officially, one of our staples on the table.

I hope that if you’re anything like me and never loved creamed corn, you give this recipe a chance and turn into a believer. If you’ve always loved creamed corn, take my advice and add this to your Thanksgiving menu. I promise you’ll love it.

What You’ll Need:

  • 8 oz. cream cheese, cut into squares
  • 1/2 cup butter, divided into 8 tablespoons
  • 2 cups of whole milk
  • 1/2 cup light cream
  • 5 cups of frozen corn (about 3 bags)
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
  • dried sage
  • smoked paprika
  • cayenne pepper
  • garlic powder
  • 3 tablespoons of sugar
  • salt & ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon of thickening agent (cornstarch, flour, arrowroot powder)

 

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Begin by melting your cream cheese, butter, & parsley over low heat in a large pot. Careful not to cook over too hot of heat, as your butter will burn before the cream cheese is melted.

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Add your thickening agent (I prefer arrowroot) to your cold milk & light cream and stir until dissolved. Once butter and cream cheese are melted, slowly whisk in the milk and light cream. Stir constantly over medium heat, ensuring there are no lumps. Once combined, add the corn, and about a 1/2 teaspoon of each seasoning: sage, smoked paprika, cayenne pepper (less if you don’t like a kick), garlic powder, salt & pepper. Stir in the sugar as well.

Let simmer over medium-low heat for 7-10 minutes. Transfer to a serving bowl and enjoy like you’ve never enjoyed creamed corn before!

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Apple, Sausage & Sage Stuffing

My most favorite Thanksgiving side of them all is stuffing. This particular stuffing recipe has even non-stuffing lovers digging into it. When you find something that works, stick with it! It’s moist (ew @ that word) on the bottom and perfectly crisp on the top. Not to mention a perfect combination of sweet from the apples and savory from the sausage.

I also use a combination of traditional stuffing cubes and cornbread stuffing for the perfect texture. Yes, I buy the bags of Pepperidge Farm stuffing. It’s just as delicious and one less step! If you’re feeling ambitious, you can certainly make your own bread cubes.

Using my baster, I’ll also suck up about 1 cup of my turkey drippings (ensuring you leave enough drippings for your gravy!) This will give you all that flavor you’re looking for when you actually stuff the bird, without actually stuffing it.

Break out your stretchy pants because this is the dish you’ll be going back for seconds!

What You’ll Need:

  • 1 bag Pepperidge Farm seasoned bread cubes
  • 1 bag Pepperidge Farm traditional cornbread stuffing (should look like          breadcrumbs)
  • 2 – 16 oz. logs of Bob Evans sage breakfast sausage
  • 1 medium red onion, chopped
  • 3 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 2 apples (I use honey crisp), peeled, cored, and chopped
  • 2 teaspoons sage
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground pepper
  • 1 cup turkey drippings
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick), melted

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Preheat your oven to 350º. In a large skillet, add the butter,  sausage, onions, celery, and apples (leave a small handful of the apples aside for later.) Season the mixture with sage, garlic, and pepper and cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes. Ensure you are breaking the sausage into crumbles while cooking.

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Once the sausage is cooked through and the onions are translucent, pour in 1 cup of turkey drippings and 1 cup of chicken stock and let simmer over medium heat for 3-5 minutes. This will incorporate all of your flavor combinations.

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Add all of your bread cubes and cornbread crumbs to a large mixing bowl. Pour sausage/stock mixture over the bread and mix thoroughly, ensuring all the bread cubes are saturated.

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Transfer your stuffing to a lightly greased baking dish and press into an even layer. Top your stuffing with the leftover chopped apples and cover with foil. Bake covered for 45 minutes and then remove foil. Continue to bake for an additional 10 minutes (this will give you that crispy top!)

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Let cool before serving & enjoy!

 


Roasted Acorn Squash

Ever feel like having dessert for dinner? Well this is your dish! And it’s a vegetable, so it’s healthy…right!? OK fine, maybe it was healthy before we added the butter, brown sugar, and maple syrup. But this is a safe haven for all my butter lovers!

For those of you that do enjoy eating on the lighter side, I’ll include a healthier version of this recipe at the end of the post.

This is another great recipe for a busy fall or winter night, when your prep time is cut short. It just takes a few minutes to throw together before popping it in the oven.

CAUTION: If you are anything like me (a walking disaster), please be careful when cutting a squash in half! They can be extremely hard to cut through and they are round. We already know what happens when we aren’t careful cutting things that roll.

What You’ll Need:

  • Acorn Squash
  • 2 tablespoons Butter
  • 2 tablespoons Dark Brown Sugar
  • 2 tablespoons Maple Syrup
    • If preparing more than 1 (2 halves) Acorn Squash, it’s simply 1 tablespoon of each in one half: butter, brown sugar, maple syrup.

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Preheat your oven to 400°. Begin by cutting your acorn squash in half lengthwise. You can balance the Acorn Squash  on its ridges to prevent it from rolling (good luck!)

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Phew – I hope all your fingers are in tact and without stitches! Now you’re going to clean out the seeds and strings with a spoon…

Go ahead place a tablespoon of butter, brown sugar, and maple syrup in each half of squash. Place them in a baking dish, ensuring they aren’t going to tip over. Pop them in the over for 1 hour 15 minutes.

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Squash will be hot. Do you see that liquid?  Well that’s a jacuzzi of butter and sugar; Let cool 5-10 minutes before serving. You can either place each half into a bowl and eat it with a spoon directly out of the skin or you can remove all the squash and put it into a serving bowl (better for a dinner party). Don’t discard the jacuzzi of butter and sugar! You eat that with the squash, ya crazy! If you want to be healthy, just make the recipe below.

Honey & Cinnamon Acorn Squash (Healthier)

  • Acorn Squash
  • 2 tablespoons Honey
  • 1 tablespoon Cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon Stevia

Each half of squash will receive 1 tablespoon of honey, 1/2 tablespoon of cinnamon, and 1/2 tablespoon of stevia. Roast for 1 hour 15 minutes in a 400° oven.

No matter which way you choose to make your squash, they are both undeniably sweet and a nice treat to have for dinner (or lunch!) As always, I hope you love it!

Bon Appétit!