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Life Lessons of a Military Wife (overseas in Europe!): I'm Having People Over for Dinner...Am I Nuts?

Life Lessons of a Military Wife (overseas in Europe!)

My goal here is to make your life easier, especially those who are in the unique situation of being a military spouse. Yes...I've been around...but in a good way...and hopefully can share those tips, tricks and shortcuts with you too. I've been on this military bus for over 40 years now. My goals in life are to have a well-run home, few money worries, well adjusted children, money socked away and whatever happiness I can scoop out of life.

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After life as an Army brat, being in the Army myself and marrying a soldier, I can honestly say I have a bucket full of life lessons I can share to help you make your everyday life easier and enlightening. Don't waste your time making unnecessary mistakes and benefit from others who have come before you on your journey through life.

Friday, October 5, 2007

I'm Having People Over for Dinner...Am I Nuts?

Here I am coming back from being out of town, and one of the first dumb things I do is invite a slew of people over...dumb,'s seems like I just ask for it sometimes! Well, guess what? I am NOT going to stress, because I am going to follow the tips below!

  • I'm going to decide what I'm going to make ahead of time. I am not a masochist and don't have hired help, so only one "difficult" menu item is allowed. The rest have to be easy.
  • I am not going to let myself stress by making any last minute food preparations.
  • I will plan the menu well ahead of time and not go shopping the day of the dinner.
  • If there is anything that can be made the night ahead, I will go ahead and make that dish then.
  • I am not going to make everything the same color.
  • Since again, I don't want to stress and it is a larger group of people, it will be buffet-style. Serving from the kitchen (you filling the plates) is also an option.
  • It's always better to make too much food than too little. I love having leftovers anyway, cause it gives me a break from cooking the next few days.
  • Do have lots of bread, crackers and cheese plus all the ingredients on hand for quickly making another pasta dish (just in case). I also like to have drink mix, such as Country Time Lemonade in case I run out of wine, beer, sodas and drinks.
  • Have a simple appetizer such as cheese and crackers, or bread and dip, or veggies and dip; this will encourage people not to pig out when the meal is served.
  • Have plenty to drink; do it just like the buffet-style restaurants; if people fill up on drink, they won't overload on everything else, and you can enjoy yourself without stressing.
  • Check to make sure no one has any weird tastes or allergies, and if you have a vegetarian in the bunch, plan a dish they can eat too (even if it's a sidedish).
  • If you are buying wine, a general rule is white wine goes with chicken and fish, red wine for read meat; calculate half a bottle per drinker (that's two or three glasses each).
  • Do have some kind of dessert, even if it's store bought; also have coffee and tea available for those who indulge in that.
  • Bribe one of your good friends to act as the hired help (they can replenish food as it disappears and help with the clean up and putting away of things). Do this only if she is a VERY good friend and please realize you owe her big time! I had a battalion commander's wife who used to use her neighbor to do this for her. She obviously had a very good friend to go along with all these dinner parties. When she wasn't available and it was just the ladies, believe it or not, her battalion commander husband did it for her...with apron on and everything!
Now you've gotten an idea of how you want to to this. Of course, a tablecloth and nice bowls and plates make the place look festive. If you don't have a full set, it's okay to mix and match. Just alternate the plates and bowls when you stack or set them.

I see you still staring blankly into space. You say this is all well and good...but WHAT AM I GOING TO MAKE!!!! Okay, okay, see below for some old stand-bys that work very well...and are pretty...for company. I also like to keep the ingredients for a quick pasta dish on hand, just in case the hungry hordes show up who weren't invited or if one of your guests happens to have a bottomless gut.

Here are some appetizer ideas:

Confetti Salsa (serve with tortilla chips)

4 large tomatoes, chopped
1 red onion, chopped
1 cup lightly packed cilantro leaves, chopped
1 can mild green chilies, chopped
1 tsp fresh garlic, minced
juice of two fresh limes
1 tsp salt (optional)
2 cans kernel corn, drained
3 cans black beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 tsp cumin
3 TBS Italian dressing

Mix together, cover and chill overnight. Keeps about 1 week in refrigerator.

Party Cheese Ball

2 pks Philadelphia Cream Cheese (8 oz each), softened
1 pk Shredded Sharp Cheddar Cheese
1 TBS finely chopped onions
1 TBS chopped red bell peppers
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp lemon juice
dash ground pepper
dash salt
1 cup chopped pecans

Beat cream cheese and cheddar cheese in small bowl until blended. Mix in all remaining ingredients except pecans. Cover and refrigerate several hours or overnight. Shape into a ball and roll in pecans. Serve with crackers.

Layered Bean Dip (there are many variations of this one out there)

How about some maindishes:

Lasagna (again, many variations! For a switch, how about using bottled white sauce, cooked chicken replacing the ground beef and adding cooked spinach to the ricotta mixture for color?)

Mostaccioli alla Vodka (serve with a green salad)

3 TBS butter
1 TBS olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/4 cup onion, chopped
1/4 cup chopped prosciutto (expensive but you only need a little; get from the deli counter)
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into pieces
1/2 cup vodka (or can use chicken broth; the alcohol does evaporate away)
1 TBS chicken broth granules
1/2 cup whipping cream (mixed with 1 TBS flour)
1 TBS fresh parsley
1/2 tsp pepper
1 package penne pasta, 16 oz (I typically use a package and a half)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Heat butter over med high heat. Cook garlic and onion 5 min til tender. Stir in chicken and cook for about 5 min. Stir in prosciutto. Stir in vodka and chicken granules. Cook until liquid almost evaporates. Stir in whip cream, parsley and pepper. Heat to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer uncovered, stir frequently and take off heat when thick and bubbly. Cook pasta al dente, drain, combine with sauce. Toss with Parmesan cheese. I like to put the dish in a 350 deg oven for about 20 min to give it a nice light brown topping.

Chicken Turnovers (serve with wild rice and roasted asparagus; very pretty dish)

Chicken and Bacon Rice Bake; see Easy Pantry Meal Mandishes at this site (serve with a green salad)

Veggies make everything so colorful:

Roasted Asparagus

package of asparagus, olive oil, salt and pepper

Wash asparagus and cut off a small piece from end of each stalk. Preheat oven to 350 deg. Place asparagus in a baking dish long enough to accomondate them laying flat. Sprinkle over olive oil, salt and pepper. Toss a bit to mix. Cover with tinfoil and roast for about 15 min (if you like asparagus a bit crunchy), longer if you want them softer.

Glazed Carrots

bag of mini carrots
brown sugar

Steam carrots (I use one of those steamer inserts and just put it in a pot of water and put carrots on top); otherwise, put carrots in saucepan with a bit of water and cook til tender. Drain water. Add a pat of butter and two tablespoons of brown sugar. Mix. To make it prettier, add fresh chopped parsley, about one tablespoon's worth.

Acorn Squash

1 squash per four people
cinnamon (optional)
brown sugar

Half acorn squash. Use spoon to scoop out seeds. Place facedown in a baking pan about 1/2 inch full of water. Bake at 400 degrees covered with tinfoil for about 30-45 min. Take out. Put each squash into a dish rightside up. Put a pat of butter in each and sprinkle with cinnamon, nutmeg and brown sugar.

Round out the evening with yummy dessert:

Pearl's Apple Crisp (tastes even better with a scoop of vanilla ice cream)

2 large apples (enough to cover a pieplate)
1/2 cup sugar
2 TBS lemon juice
1 cup flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter (1 stick partially melted)

This dish can be prepped a few hours ahead and kept ready to go in the refrigerator. Put in the oven about an hour before you expect the eating to be over. Preheat oven to 325 deg. Clean and cup up the fruit into the pieplate. Stir in sugar, lemon juice and cinnamon. Combine flour and brown sugar; cut in butter. Place flour mixture over fruit and pat down. Bake until golden brown, about 50 min.

Creme Brulee (I cheat and use Dr. Oetker's Creme Brulee; get two packs and remember milk and whipping cream); you'll need small individual containers to make it fancier.

Mandarin Orange Cake (I use this recipe, except I substitute 1 cup oil for the butter and put the batter into three 8" round cake pans to make a three layer cake; if you use three pans, bake at 325 deg for 25-30 min and make sure you grease and flour the pans first).

Vanilla Strawberry Parfaits (again, you'll need individual containers for each guest or use tall glasses)

1/2 bag (8 oz) frozen strawberries (or use fresh)
1 - 3.4 oz box instant vanilla pudding mix
2 cups milk
Whipped topping

Defrost strawberries. In bowl, whisk pudding mix and milk for 2 minutes. Layer pudding and strawberries in large glass bowl or use individual containers. Serve with whipped topping.

And if you have extra guests, no problem. Here's a dish you can quickly make with ingredients already on hand:

Fettucine Alfredo (can use bottled lemon juice and dried basil instead)

Always have plenty of lettuce and bottled salad dressing on hand too for just such occasions.

For extra dessert, make Brownie Sundaes (use a prepackaged brownie mix and serve each piece with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, chocolate syrup and a spritz of whipped topping...again, to make it pretty, have a jar of cherries on hand).

Do you like to entertain? What do you typically make? How do you go about it, and what tips can you give the rest us so we don't panic?

You can find this article and many other "Make it from scratch" articles at Pomoyemu's Party Edition.



Blogger Silvia said...

Those are some really great tips. Thanks!

October 7, 2007 at 1:47 AM  
Blogger Stephanie said...

Wow fantastic suggestions. You make me want to throw ad inner party.

October 9, 2007 at 6:14 PM  

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