8 Steps to Sunday Dinner

Jathan, Heather and David

Jathan and Heather with one of their favorite and most frequent guests, David Pirozzolo.

Everyone has a busy schedule these days. Whether working long hours getting a company off the ground, chauffeuring kids to soccer practice and piano lessons, or catching up on household chores, we all have an increasing number of reasons that is seems nearly impossible to sit down with family and friends for a delicious home-cooked meal. But as we always say, with a little organization, some advanced planning and a few favorite recipes, gathering loved ones around the dinner table is possible.

This weekend, we extended a bit of hospitality to a number of friends and asked them to join us at our home after we all fueled our spirit at our religious services. Although our public speaker couldn’t join us, we still had a grand time, swapping stories, laughing until our sides ached, and chowing down on tasty grub. But how did we get ready to feed a dozen people, tidy the house and still accomplish other necessary tasks we have to do every weekend? Here’s how, in 8 easy steps.:

Cassie and Samara

Cassie Taylor and her daughter Samara enjoy our Simply Chocolate Cake with Berries.

  1. Decide how many people to invite and make a list. (A week ahead.)Perhaps it seems like a foregone conclusion, but oftentimes the most important part of planning a gathering is realizing your limits. If your home will only fit 10 guests comfortably, don’t invite 20 people and think that you’ll figure out where everyone can sit later or that the food will stretch far enough to feed all those hungry people. As you would with a gift list, write down everyone that will attend, including your own family. Now you’ll have enough chairs and your guests can ask for second helpings if they wish, and you may even have enough leftovers to serve for lunches later in the week.
  2. Plan the menu and make a grocery list. (3 days ahead.)If you are a frequent home cook with plenty of recipes in your arsenal, you may be able to think of several dishes that stretch to feed a crowd right off the top of your head. If you’re a novice in the kitchen however, we suggest you plan a theme first. Mexican or Italian? Comfort foods or appetizers? For this dinner, we chose Italian foods because many dishes can be stretched simply by making more pasta. Lasagnas also go a long way and frequently make about 12 servings. Consider making two main dishes, a big salad, and sides of bread to feed the crowd. And don’t forget about dessert! Each dish should give every guest at least one serving. Once you have your menu planned, make a list of all the ingredients needed for each dish.
  3. Leslie and Alanna

    Leslie Croley and Alanna Langston shared jokes at Sunday dinner.

  4. Shop your pantry, refrigerator and freezer. (2 days ahead.)One of the biggest concerns people have about hosting a gathering is cost, particularly in our current economy. But once you have prepared your grocery list as directed in step two, visit your current inventory. Dig into the back of your freezer and fridge, pull out cans from the pantry and seeing what you already have on hand. (If you keep these storage areas organized, you’ll make this step so much easier. But that is another post altogether.) You’ll be surprised how many items you already have and can check off your grocery list, thereby reducing the number of items you actually have to purchase.
  5. Visit shopping destinations in order. (2 days ahead.)We always know the best places to shop to get a good deal. But if you’re not sure, ask a friend or look through the week’s grocery store circulars to find sales on the items you’ll need to prepare your feast. Once you know which stores you need to visit, plan to visit the stores on a circuitous route from your home. For example, first we head east to Kroger, north to Costco, west to IKEA, then go south toward home. By planning accordingly, we don’t backtrack and spend less time in busy weekend traffic.
  6. Linnea and Charles

    Linnea Konnagan and Charles Evans loved our Creamy Veggie Lasagna.

  7. Prepare baked goods and dishes with the longest cook time first. (1 day ahead.) Look at your menu again, checking the prep and cook times of each recipe. If one item has to cook and cool, like a cake, for example, prepare that dish first. Then prepare items like casseroles, lasagnas and meatballs, basically anything that will take an hour or more to prep and cook. If the menu item can be stored overnight in the refrigerator, make it. All fresh items like salads and boiled pasta should be prepared on the day of your event.
  8. Tidy the house. (1 day ahead.) If all menu items are prepared and something is cooking for a long time in the oven, set the timer (so you don’t forget about that food cooking in the oven) and start tidying each room of the house that guests will visit. Vacuum the rugs, dust the furniture, and sweep away any cobwebs. Also, be sure to clean the bathroom and stock it with toilet paper, soaps and clean hand towels. Sweep and clean the kitchen after you’re done cooking for the day.
  9. Set up tables, chairs, and buffet. (4 hours before serving time.) On the morning of the event, set the tables and chairs up and arrange the buffet. If you’re hosting a brunch, do this the evening before. Be sure to put out enough eating utensils, servings utensils, glasses, cups, plates, bowls and napkins. For an extra nice touch, light candles and arrange flowers to make the event even more special.
  10. Warm the food and prepare last minute menu items. (1 hour before serving time.) Heat any items you prepared in advance such as breads, casseroles, etc. Items that can’t be prepared ahead of time should be assembled or cooked now as well, such as salads and pasta. When everything is ready, invite your guests to take their seats, serve, and enjoy!
  11. Sandra and Jathan

    Sandra Evans and Jathan always find something delicious to dish about.

    These are the steps we take for nearly any gathering. However, here are some additional things to keep in mind. If you’re planning a large gathering, plan as far in advance as possible, particularly if you will need to send invitations, rent tables and chairs, move furniture to other rooms, set up a dance floor, etc. Also, many hands make the load light, so recruit as much help as possible and delegate chores to family members and friends. Finally, music always sets the mood for a party, so prepare a playlist on your iPod or burn CDs with music suitable to the party you’re planning, then play the music at an ambient level so it is loud enough to hear, but not so loud that it interrupts conversation during mealtime.

    Using these 8 steps, you too can plan a gathering that will be boisterous and fun, making a special memory for all your guests, and easing the stress you would otherwise experience as a host. Advance preparation makes all the difference in the world, and if you do as much as possible in the days preceding your event, you’ll be able to enjoy your own party and can avoid being stuck in the kitchen.

    © 2011 Jadeworks Entertainment. All rights reserved.

Photo Friday: Findlay Market

Findlay Market

Potted plants welcome visitors to the west entrance of Findlay Market.

One of our favorite Cincinnati landmarks, Findlay Market is a foodie’s paradise featuring the freshest meats and produce in town. If you’ve never been, our first photo essay gives you a sneak peak of what to expect.

Heather grew up going to Findlay Market, where her mom stocked up on fresh meat, fish, veggies and more to feed her family of eight. Now we visit at least once a month, rubbing elbows with some of the best chefs and home cooks in the region, as we all seek great deals on top quality cuts of beef, pork, poultry, seafood and more. Read more of this post

Celebrate family and friends this July

Jathan and Heather's wedding cakesJuly 2011

Dear Friends,

July is always one of the busiest months of the year for us. To begin with, our wedding anniversary is July 16th, and we always do something special to commemorate the day we exchanged vows. One of our favorite traditions is that we splurge and buy a box of juicy chevron dipped strawberries (chevron dipped means that they are covered with both dark and white chocolate—YUM!) because these covered the top of our groom’s cake when we got married. Our good friend Val O’Dell made our cakes, and they were gorgeous with a basket weave design that took her countless hours to perfect. We’d looked forward to eating the cake that day with great anticipation, and yet the chocolate strawberries were the only part of it that we were able to eat! As you can tell from the picture shown here, they were to die for. Tell us what some of your wedding anniversary traditions are here. If you would like to view some of our other wedding photos, check out our new photo gallery.

This month is also the time we take our summer vacation. What will you do this month? Are you going to travel or have a “stay-cation” as many are doing this year? Since money is tight for everyone, we’re going to investigate inexpensive and free things to do with your family, then we’ll share our discoveries with you here. So stay tuned for money-saving vacation tips and reviews of the places we visit this month. If you have tips you’d like to share, send them our way as well.

As some of you may have noticed, June was not an eventful time in our “test kitchen.” However, we did dish up some tasty recipes that you will want to serve, perhaps for your very own barbecues this month. Scoop up our chunky guacamole with Serrano peppers with your favorite tortilla chips or dollop it on top of a juicy burger! If you love hummus, you’ll definitely want to try our simple and delicious recipe that goes great with our refreshing Israeli salad. And, if you want a sweet treat with breakfast, be sure to spread a little tropical sunshine on your toast with our homemade pineapple jam.

We’re also adding a Shopping section to our site. Here we will highlight companies we’ve done business with over the years who have not only delivered great products and customer service, but they do so consistently! New vendors are being added regularly, so be sure to visit our new Shopping section often.

Whatever you’re doing this month, we hope you find a great way to beat the heat, curl up with a good book, and enjoy time with friends and family. Have a safe and happy summer!

Jathan & Heather

© 2011 Jadeworks Entertainment.

8 favorite tools for your kitchen

Our friends have always been amazed by what we can do in our kitchen, no matter how big it is. This was true even when we lived in our first apartment with its tiny galley kitchen and two feet of counter space! But from those early days in our marriage until now, we always had several tricks up our sleeves… great kitchen tools and gadgets that made everything just a little simpler.

Since there are such great money-saving deals to be found at this time of year, here are eight of our favorite products every home should have, whether you’re a cooking novice or a culinary wizard. What are you waiting for? Go nab these fantastic finds while they’re on sale!

Aspekt knife sharpener available only at IKEA

Aspekt Knife Sharpener

$6.99 at IKEA

There is nothing worse than dull knives, whether you’re simply slicing a tomato for a BLT, mincing garlic and onions or cutting through a thick slab of beef. That’s why when we discovered this tiny little gadget at IKEA, we were thrilled by how simple knife sharpening became. Now our knives are always sharp and our food is easier to prepare!

Pyrex Prepware 2-cup glass measuring cup with red measurements

Pyrex Prepware 2-Cup Measuring Cup with Red Measurements

$9.31 at Amazon.com (Suggested Retail Price $20.94)

Whether you need to measure milk, berries, cheese or veggies, this glass measuring cup by Pyrex stands up to the task. It is dishwasher safe and so durable that we’ve had ours for over a decade and it is still going strong, serving as one of our hardest workers in the kitchen. We particularly love the red measurement lines which simplify every job, even when your eyes are burning from chopping onions.

Martha Stewart Santoku knife and cutting board

Martha Stewart Santoku Knife and Cutting Board

$16.99 at Macy’s (Suggested Retail Price $39.99)

We love this knife and cutting board set so much, we always seem to give it to couples as wedding gifts. It is a great beginner set because the bamboo cutting board holds up beautifully, cleans and stores easily and works for practically any task. The santoku knife is a versatile specialty knife that can be used for chopping, mincing and slicing and the indentations on the blade reduces friction and keeps it from sticking.

Williams-Sonoma gravy separator

Williams-Sonoma Gravy Separator

$24 – $28 at Williams-Sonoma

We bought this fat separator the first year we were married. It has definitely stood the test of time, surviving slippery, soap or grease covered hands and several falls into the sink. We depend on it every time we make chicken and beef stock, favorite soups and stews, and even when we make gravy from the juices at the bottom of a pan. The fat pours right off, making every meal healthier by lowering our cholesterol intake!

Lodge 12-inch skillet with assist handle

Lodge 12″ Logic Skillet with Assist Handle

$26.95 at Lodge (Suggested Retail Price $33.95)

We love cast iron. No fancy-shmancy cookware heats more evenly or is more versatile than this old stand-by. We use our 8-inch pan to bake Jathan’s famous corn bread, fry eggs and sausage and practically anything else it will hold. For many years, it was the only cast iron pan we had. Then, after our annual Fall Feast event one year, friends gave us a gift certificate to a local kitchen store and we used it to purchase this 12-inch pan. We use this larger size to roast chickens, vegetables, fry thick strips of bacon or prepare fried chicken and fish. If you only purchase one thing from this year’s list, make it this skillet. We guarantee you’ll love it as much as we do!

Cuisinart 12-cup grind and brew coffeemaker

Cuisinart DGB-550BK 12-Cup Black & Chrome Grind & Brew Coffeemaker

$74.99 at Buy.com (Suggested Retail Price $185.95)

If you’re like us, the first thing you want in the morning is a steaming cup of joe to rev your motor and prepare you for your day. Thank goodness for automatic coffeemakers with built-in timers, so your java is ready and waiting for you when you wake up. This Cuisinart coffeemaker is a step above the rest, however, because although it also works on a timer, it actually grinds your favorite whole beans as part of the process! Now you can forgo the pit stop at the local coffeehouse each morning and save time and money by making your coffee at home. So stay in your pajamas and slippers a little while longer and sip brew that’s as fresh and tasty as anything you’ll buy at Starbucks!

Williams-Sonoma all-clad stainless steel nonstick roaster with rack

All-Clad Stainless Steel Nonstick Roaster with Rack

$229.95 at Williams-Sonoma (Suggested Retail Price $380.00)

This is another product we purchased ten years ago for our very first Fall Feast event. Even now, ten-plus turkeys and countless hens later, this roasting pan continues to hold up wonderfully year after year. It is made of thick, durable stainless steel that doesn’t react with foods, and its nonstick surface makes cleanup a breeze. The v-shaped rack ensures even cooking and the large handles make it easy to get a huge bird in and out of the oven. And now this roaster even comes with a thermometer so you always know when your meat is the perfect temperature. Just don’t forget to baste the bird!

Red KitchenAid professional 600 series stand mixer

KitchenAid Professional 600 Series Bowl-Lift Stand Mixer with 14-Cup Capacity

$499.99 at KitchenAid

Due to its price, this is one of those dream purchases that folks always put off because they never think they can really justify buying this Rolls Royce of kitchen gadgets. But the KitchenAid Professional 600 Series Stand Mixer is definitely worth the cost! It mixes up to 14-cups of flour per batch, churns through bread and cookie mixes and kneads dough like nobody’s business. Buy the available attachments and it even grinds meat, shreds cheese, makes pasta and chops veggies. If you like to cook, this is the one product worth saving for. We’re just grateful someone loved us enough to get it for us as an anniversary gift!

©2010 Jadeworks Entertainment.