Fall is coming y’all! I love fall. I love the change in the temperatures. I love getting back into a more structured schedule. I love sitting on the back porch by the fire (having a good old s’more every now and then). I love thinking about the coming holidays. All of it spurs me to clean, to get up a little earlier, to read more and to cook more. Fall just seems to be the season for hospitality and adding some spice to life. It’s a time for laughter around the table, brisk walks in the cool morning air. It’s a time to cheer on our favorite football teams. Cinnamon, clove, nutmeg. Barbecue sauces, roasted chilies, peppercorns. Fall.
My weekly menus needed a little spicing up. I was growing tired of our favorite summer recipes. As I began this past week to think through some old fall favorites and peruse Pinterest for some fall cooking inspiration, I found myself inspired by the colors of fall. Reds, green, oranges. Apples, peppers, carrots, pumpkins and squash. Yum! Immediately I knew it was time to pull out one of my “tweaked” family favorites. I grew up eating candied carrots. The good old Southern kind smothered in butter and brown sugar, slow cooked until glazed and slightly browned. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with that good old Southern recipe, adding a little spice always makes everything nice! Honey Glazed Pepper Jelly Carrots. Yep. Nothing better. Even grandma approved! Yes, the same grandma who taught me the traditional candied carrot cooking method.
I promise you will want to try this recipe. Go for it! It’s the perfect balance of sweet and spicy. Just enough heat to make you perk up, but sweet enough to comfort.
I apologize to all my readers for my recent absence. Life has just been happening and frankly, I needed a break. However, speaking of needing a little spice in life. I have a lot more to say on that subject. I have been in a leadership training the past few days, and as I was prompted to think on my mission, think about my behavior style, I was reminded I need to be bold, to take more risks, to speak up and doubt less. It’s time to get back at this blog thing!
I love to host events. I have the Spiritual Gift of hospitality and come from a long line of Southern cooks, most of whom loved to entertain. There’s just nothing better than good food, a cool beverage, some flowers and a host of friends. Every time I entertain, I am reminded thought “It ain’t about me!”
It saddens me that as our houses have grown in size and Viking Ranges have gained in popularity, fewer and fewer people entertain. I am hopeful though as I follow blogs and spend too much time on Pinterest, that the next generation is bringing good old fashioned hospitality back. That’s exactly as it should be. I also notice though that the houses are a little smaller, the tables set with restraint, and what is old is new again. How fun!
As I mentioned, I come from a long line of great cooks and hostesses. Each with their own style, but each made certain their home was ready for guests and the very best of what they had to offer was prepared with love for those visiting. I pray the gift of hospitality is something I will pass on to my girls. Hosting others in your home can be one of the most fulfilling tasks. Especially if done right. And, the only way to ensure you do it right, is to remember, “It ain’t about you.” Too often we get more concerned with what people will think of our home, our place settings, our choice of attire, etc… and we fail to think about the person(s) we have invited into our home. To entertain well, one must make your guest comfortable. And that can mean different things for different folks. But what it always means is placing our attention on them.
I have been blessed to have a husband and children that love having others in our home. That being said, we have hosted a LOT of stuff. I am always so blessed when my guests tell me how comfortable they were at my home or have someone take the moment to tell me how “homey” my home is. Now, I realize that in some “southern” talk that can mean my home is cute, not the top in vogue design style etc… but, if someone felt at ease, enjoyed good conversation and wanted to linger, then “homey” I’ll take! This point was driven home a few years ago when a dear friend called and asked if I would take the lead in hosting a bridal shower for her son’s bride elect. Her reasoning for calling me was simply this, “I know you will think about her and make it comfortable. She likes simple things, doesn’t have expensive taste and would much prefer that money be spent on a cause than on cakes or silver.” Yes, entertaining is ALL about your guests. Of course, I hosted the bridal shower and I do believe it was a success, meaning the bride elect was at home and felt welcomed. In reality, I got a few raised eye-brows as I recommended we use a few paper products, have rustic decor and serve mini cupcakes instead of a large bridal shower cake, which in the South can come close to looking like a mini version of the wedding cake! We served on white porcelain trays, no silver, no crystal. Oh my… But, you see, that was this bride-to-be. She loved color and simplicity. Her heart was tender and she was a giver. A lot of fluff and sparkle would have seemed a waste to her, almost even an offense. Lesson learned, yet once again. Entertaining ain’t about me, it’s all about my guests.
Here are a few tips, followed by some pictures of various hostessing moments. Enjoy. I hope you will be encouraged to open your home. Plan a party. Plan dinner with friends. Keep it simple and make it ALL about them.
A clean home is more important than a decorated home. I know, we all hate it, but mop, vacuum and scrub the toilets. It’ll go a long way.
No need for crystal and china-although if you have it USE it!
Set the table the day before. Include placing serving pieces on the table.
Be creative in your centerpieces: A few potted plans sitting on some burlap running the center of the table. (Your guests can take them as party favors or you can plant them the next day.) A grouping of candles is always fun. Fresh fruit gathered among-st some grapevine or set upon a wreath.
Keep the food simple. A meat, a starch, and a veggie or salad. Make dessert the night before or have something mixed up ready to pop in the oven. I love chocolate chip cookie dough in ramekins. Serve hot with a scoop of ice cream.
Be creative with napkins: Use bar towels, bandannas, and yes, even paper
Don’t stress over the details and by all means don’t snap and yell at your family. (This is the voice of experience.) Your guests will notice the tension more than they will notice the missing centerpiece or toys under the coffee table.
Let the dirty dishes wait. Your guests came to see you. Be seen. Sit and visit.
It has been a cold winter. And for those of us in the South, we just ain’t used to this white stuff called snow. We have a love hate relationship with it. We love it for about a day. Then, all our power lines begin to fall, electricity may or may not go off and stay off, the streets are iced, we have no real means of getting our streets ready or cleared, etc… One thing for sure though, we have food. First inclination of bad weather and off to Kroger we go! It’s a battle for Wonder White Bread and Milk. Go figure. This year, apparently bananas were also in high demand, and LORD HAVE MERCY there was a Rotel and Velveeta shortage. Now that, dear friends, is a SIN, with a capitol S! We love our food, especially when “snowed in”. After all, isn’t that what every good Southerner does when stuck inside? Cook and eat.
I myself love a good pot of soup. Slow cooked soup with some rolls or crackers and cheese. Better yet, a little cheese dip and some tortilla chips! Two of my go to soups are: Taco Soup and a new favorite Tortellini Soup. The latter is actually quite healthy and vegetarian. The Taco Soup, well, kind of healthy until we sprinkle on the avocado, add a dollop of sour cream, and a cup of shredded cheddar cheese. It’s the South-no apologies.
I thought I’d share my go to recipes. Both are easy to make and both are great for taking to sickly friends.
2 lbs ground beef, browned and drained
2 pckgs ranch dressing mix (powder)
2 pckgs taco seasoning
3 cans mixed beans (I like Kroger Simply Organic: kidney, black and pinto beans)
1 can chick peas
2 cans Ro-Tel
42 oz vegetable broth
2 (9oz) packages spinach tortellini
1 can diced tomatoes with garlic
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup light whipping cream
Both soups: Just dump it all into a slow cooker. Let simmer for 3-4 hours. Top Taco with the above mentioned. Top Tortellini with shredded Parmesan.
I LOVE to cook. Maybe it’s being from the south, maybe it is family heritage. Whatever it is, I love to cook. Eating dinner at home is one of those BEST things for my family. It is a priority. And, contrary to popular belief, it is possible. My kids are not hermits. We engage in extra curricula activity. We attend church. My husband and I both manage small businesses, I home school, we have friends and yet, we manage to eat at home together 4-6 nights per week. Top it off, we NEVER eat chicken nuggets at home. I don’t mean that to be haughty. Again, it is a choice we as parents make. Are my kids exposed to enough of that outside of our home? If so, then I am going to minimize it in our home. Now, lest you think it is a made from scratch meal every night, please know there is an occasional pizza or Chinese take out, and on occasion a Stouffer’s frozen lasagna or Chicken and Rice. As with all things, each of us can do and will do what we determine we desire to do in the time we are given. With a little Sunday night planning, bi-weekly or monthly grocery shopping, and use of pre-set oven or Crockpot, there are actually a lot of simple, quick menus to prepare. One of my staples and family favorites is Shrimp Penne.
Cook the Penne according to recipe. Begin by sauteing 2 lb of pealed shrimp in olive oil and 2 tbsp of minced garlic. Add 2 cups of heavy whipping cream to the cooked shrimp. Stir in 1/8 cup of chicken broth, 1 tsp basil, 1/2 tsp rosemary, 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes, 1/2 tsp oregano. Add salt and ground pepper to taste. Stir and let simmer. Last, but not least, stir in one cup of shredded Parmesan. Let the Parmesan melt completely. If the sauce has gotten too thick, add a little more chicken broth or some butter. Dump the cooked and drained Penne into the sauce. Fold (do not stir aggressively) the Penne into the sauce. Let the mixture simmer on low (cover the pan) for no more than 3 minutes. Serve directly from pan. Sprinkle some additional grated Parmesan on top.
To keep things simple I serve this with french bread, slightly toasted and a side salad. Takes no more than 30 minutes to throw this together. Short on time, cook the pasta the day before. Store it in a zip lock bag. Same with shrimp. Run hot water over the pasta in a colander. Heat shrimp up in skillet with olive oil. Continue with recipe directions above.
Having a few staples like this allows you to create a great meal in a short amount of time. Sit at the table and enjoy your family.