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The Evil Queen's Apple and Beet Salad

The Evil Queen’s Apple & Beet Salad Recipe

Apple & beet salad with a Disney twist! Let me apologize now.  Some of you are surely here for a kid-friendly beet recipe. You can try to get your kids to eat it – I certainly won’t stop you – but it was actually created for an adult dinner party. I’ve been discussing how to host a fancy dinner party over the last couple of weeks (part 1 and part 2 if you’re interested), and I had this lovely plan to culminate it with a discussion of my Disney-themed party. However, my party got rescheduled, because I am nothing if not frenzied, so for now I’ll just drop this little tidbit in here.

I found this really beautiful apple and beet salad on Food and Wine when I was searching for salad ideas for the party. It was an instant obsession. Everyone knows who the evil queen is, right? She wanted poor, beautiful Snow White to eat her poisoned apple. She also had a thing for ripping people’s hearts out, which is a little bit on the evil side, but to each their own I guess. Anyway, I looked at this salad and saw the beets, which look a little like hearts, had dyed all the apples red. They looked a little… poisoned. So that was it. I knew I had to serve apple & beet salad at my party. Unfortunately, my husband hates beets and he’s my tester, so I revised the whole recipe to make it less beet-heavy. Here’s what I came up with.

Recipe for Apple & Beet Salad

Serves 2-4, 15 minutes active, 75 minutes cook time

Ingredients

2 green apples
1 beet
walnuts
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp olive oil
salt & pepper to taste
1/4 cup goat cheese

Instructions

  1. Cut the greens off the beets, leaving about 2 inches on the bulb. Save the greens for later. Next, put the beets in an aluminum foil-lined pan and roast at 450° for 45 minutes – 1 hour.
  2. When the beet is ready, pull it out and let it cool. While it cools, cut the apples into slices and take the ends off the greens.
  3. Peel roasted beet. The skin should come off easily with your hands or a towel.*
  4. Chop beet into small pieces, about 1/2 inch. Try to retain as much of the juice as you can.
  5. In a medium bowl, mix the beet pieces with apples. The apples should start turning pinkish-red.
  6. In a separate bowl, toss the beet greens with apple cider vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper.
  7. Put greens on plate, followed by apples and small beet chunks.
  8. Add walnuts and goat cheese. Then you’re ready to serve!

 

apple & beet salad

Notes

*If you are not a regular beet chef, here’s a great tutorial on roasting beets. It’s how I learned. Also, if you didn’t gather from the pictures that beets turn everything red, beware – they turn everything red. You might want to wear gloves. I don’t personally, but I do wind up washing my hands a LOT, so it’s something to consider. The less you like beets, the smaller the beet pieces should be. I enjoy them, but the hubby doesn’t, so I make them small enough to be mixed in with an apple bite. You can toast the walnuts up if you want to. Just put them in a pan on your stove. Nice and simple. In fact, all of this is simple! But it looks pretty nice, so I think having an apple & beet salad at my dinner party will work out just fine. Enjoy!

fancy dinner party

Five Steps to Perfect Fancy Dinner Party Timing

Fancy dinner party timing can be a real hassle. Last week I talked about the basics of hosting your party, but if you want it to be successful and not pull your hair out, you will need to be a timing pro. You’ll want to write things down. I mean with a pen and paper. Do you remember those? You probably have some in a drawer somewhere. You may glance at them every once in awhile and think of throwing them out, but you never do. And now, vindication! You can use them! I know you’re wondering why someone who frequently talks about her automated to-do list suggests paper, but think about this. You’re going to be cooking all day. Your hands are going to be gross. Do you really want to constantly check your iPad or Galaxy or whatever gizmo you have?

time to write our your fancy dinner party timing
This is what paper and writing utensils look like.

That’s not to say you won’t need your gizmo – you probably will, unless you are a recipe printer. I’m not. But it’s just easier to have a piece of paper stuck on the fridge or taped somewhere when you only need to do a quick glance. Memorize it if you prefer, but you risk a really long gap between meals, or something burning, if you don’t. So, there’s that little tidbit of advice. Now let’s talk about the good stuff. I do have a Disney-themed fancy dinner party coming up, but I’m going to use last year’s French menu as an example for now. Feel free to steal it.

How to Plan your Fancy Dinner Party Timing

1. Pick when the guests will arrive.

Oh hey! Guests! When should they show up? You might think this should be the least of your concerns, but unless your friends love last minute invitations, you’re going to want to give them a heads up at least two weeks in advance. If you have an event with a dress code, make sure you give them time to prepare. They might also want to get a baby-sitter. I have no problem hosting kids at my dinner parties (they eat pizza), but I can’t watch them, not even my own. I also serve a lot of wine. My friends know this, so they don’t always want to drag the kids along. Maybe you don’t want kids there at all so you ban them. Whatever, it’s your party.

The reason this makes a difference in your timing is that once you send out those invitations, your start time is set. Now you know exactly how much time you have to get things done. Personally, I like to invite my guests to show up at 6:30 P.M. Most of them will be there by 6:45, and all of them will be there by 7:00, even the perpetually late ones. I will have the appetizers ready by 6:30, 6:35 tops. I will also be dressed, the table will be set, and the kitchen will be as cleaned up as it can be (the rest of the house will be clean, but I won’t do that – the hubby will). Anything else may or may not be prepared, but at least I have a goal time.

2. Write out your menu with active time & cooking time separated.

This is probably the most important step if you want to get your courses out at different intervals. Actually, if it’s your first time, you might need this step just to get everything completed before the guests show up. You may think you’re a great prepper, but you will find out otherwise if you’re trying to put together an entire salad while your guests are waiting on you. They may not notice – serve enough wine, they probably won’t notice – but you don’t want to be serving the last course at 11:00 at night. So, as soon as your menu is set, go ahead and write out this part.

My handwriting is strangely similar to the Excel font.

You may remember last week I said to practice practice practice. I hope you did! Sometimes when you use a recipe the timing will be completely off. Whoever wrote it may be able to make their cheesecake in ten minutes, but I sure can’t! The ones I find are the worst are vegetable-heavy recipes. These cookbook writers are obviously much faster choppers and dicers than the rest of us, so they can’t be trusted with times. When you practice, try to remember how long it takes you. You can copy times over from the recipe, but you can also tweak them once you’ve seen you in action.

3. Decide what to do in advance.

Now that you have a nice schedule of how long everything is going to take you, you can decide if you want to try it all at once or prepare in advance. My fancy dinner party timing is designed to take place over two days. Am I cooking the entire two days? No. But it gives me a break in between things, and who doesn’t want that? If possible, I like doing desserts entirely the day before. Once I picked churros, which have to be fried, and that was the worst decision I ever made at a dinner party. I was so tired of cooking by then, I gave up trying to make them look beautiful and just served blobs of fried dough. I did creme brulee last year, and it did have to be broiled at the last minute, but that was totally doable.

churros
These are my actual churro blobs. Don’t be like me. Serve nice churros.

One other thing I really like to do to keep my fancy dinner party timing in check is early morning vegetable chopping. That goes for all recipes. I’ll put them in baggies or bowls or something to keep them separated. For the most part veggies stay fresh looking after you cut them, so it’s one less headache later in the day. Soups are usually good in the slow cooker, so that’s another thing to think about doing early in the day. I rarely do the main dish or the side dish ahead, besides seasoning. Obviously this will all depend on what you’re cooking; a roast will go in the oven a lot earlier than something would go on the grill.

4. Set the table and get ready at the last minute.

Get ready at the last minute, you say? Are you crazy? I’m asking everyone else to dress up and I will barely have any time to look my best? Yep, sorry. Pro tip: You’re the one cooking. That means spills, flours, oil, sauces all over the place. Prolong the mess as long as you can. You can invest in an apron if you want, but taking it on and off every five minutes while you switch courses is going to get annoying. Also, this must be said – keep your hair back. No one wants a hair in their food. If you’re wearing an up-do, you can do that once you’re up for the day and it will stay. Probably. I don’t know your hairstyling skills. Mine are generally terrible, but I can still keep my hair in a bun.

Having perfect fancy dinner party timing isn’t really going to be affected by setting your table, but I would suggest doing it last, doing it first, or having someone else do it. I can’t do it first at my house because we’re a madhouse and something will mess it up, so I stick to last minute. If you’ve never read anything by me before, you might not know this, but I hate decorating. So my centerpieces will usually be something simple and a couple of bread baskets. Super easy. Waiting til the last minute doesn’t hurt me at all, although it might change how fancy my napkin folding gets. Yes, I use real napkins. I bought them for my wedding, so I might as well use them.

5. Keep your clock out while you eat.

You spent all this time scheduling it, now you have to keep your fancy dinner party timing perfect by watching the clock. Does that suck a little bit while you’re hosting all your friends? Yes, kind of. But someone always volunteers to help, so it could actually mean one-on-one time with people. Fun! You can have Siri or Alexa or whoever time things for you, but I feel like that would ruin the ambiance. Now, how long should you have between courses? I guess that’s up to you and how fast you eat, but I like about fifteen minutes between the end of one course and the start of another. I swear, it doesn’t make the meal last forever.

What? You think I own paper AND an actual clock? Don’t be crazy.

Let’s see how this works. I have people showing up at 6:30. My appetizers have to be ready to go. They have half an hour to eat them. Then at 7:00 I serve an amuse-bouche. No need for a fifteen minute break here; I tell them my rules (you have to try,  no offense taken if you don’t like it), then move on. So, we’re serving salad around 7:05. We have a lot to eat so courses are small. Assume everyone’s done in five minutes. That means soup needs to be ready at 7:25, a main course at 7:45, and dessert at 8:05. Everything’s done by 8:10 if I’ve planning my fancy dinner party timing correctly. That’s a great time to play a game or something, plus you only had to sit at the table for a little over an hour. Wah-lah! Dinner has been served.

Note:

I planned on keeping this fancy dinner party series on a week-by-week basis, but unfortunately I had to reschedule my Disney-themed dinner. How’s that for some crappy fancy dinner party timing, huh? This is probably not a huge deal to anyone, but I wanted to let you know in case you were eagerly waiting to steal my Little Mermaid soup or whatever I’m serving (hint: it’s not that). Don’t worry, it will be here sometime in May. Until then, I’ll have more frenzied ideas on the way!

 

 

 

Secrets to a Fancy Dinner Party

Secrets to Hosting a Fancy Dinner Party

I have a confession. I love hosting a fancy dinner party. It makes no sense for a busy gal like myself. I cook for days, I barely sit down even during dinner, and cleanup is awful. Yet I love it anyway. My cooking skills are on display for everyone to see and praise, plus I get to personally judge my organization and time management. Why is that fun? I don’t know. When you’re a self-employed person, I guess you start coming up with weird ways to assess yourself. I also serve a LOT of booze, so it’s like my guests are all reliving college, but in a fancier way.

My annual fancy dinner party is coming up soon, so I thought I’d write a little series about it as I get prepared. I’ve been doing this since 2010, and shockingly they’ve all gone quite well. My cuisine has gotten better, and my timing last year was about perfect, so I think it’s a great time to share my secrets. Do you need to know how to cook to host a fancy dinner party? Yes. Don’t kid yourself on this one. Your only other option is to have someone else cook it, whether family, friend, or caterer, but then they might as well host it themselves, right? Luckily, if you follow my schedule, you’ll have plenty of time to learn.

Secret #1 – A fancy dinner party is not a weekly event.

I said my fancy dinner party is annual, and I’m not kidding. You guys, it is so much work. I’m a bookkeeper and I work with CPA’s who try to smother me in paperwork every March and April. That’s why I celebrate the end of tax season with something nice. My husband and I invite over 6-8 of our friends, tell them to dress up, and then serve them dinner. But, I don’t have time to do all the cooking and prep work every week, and he would probably balk at the cleaning if I tried. I’m not saying you can’t do it more than once a year, but if you’re serious about providing good food that you yourself cooked, you’re going to want a break in between.

May I have 4 bites of lobster tail, please?

Also, this may not be a secret, but fancy dinner parties are expensive to throw. I coupon from time to time, but we do alright for ourselves and I prefer not to spend my precious time driving from store to store looking for the best deal. What kind of ingredients do fancy foods have? The pricey kind. By only throwing one or two a year, you save yourself the hassle of trying to cut costs for every course. There’s also cleanup to think about. I try to be a green hostess when I can, but my husband and I agree we will not be using dishes we have to put through the dishwasher. Think about it. Five courses for ten people is fifty plates. Kill me now! But we’re being fancy, so we have to get the high quality disposable plates to make sure it looks nice.

Secret #2 – Practice, practice, practice.

The other important part of hosting your fancy dinner parties sparingly is the time you have to practice your courses. I legitimately give myself a year to find the recipes I want and perfect them. Actually, I keep a list of potential menus in my to-do list, so I could potentially be practicing courses for years before I wind up using some of those recipes. Sure, you could cook the four dishes you always cook and call it “fancy,” but people aren’t going to dress up for that. You should be serving elegant dishes you wouldn’t serve all the time, and that requires more than day-of practicing.

With a little practice, I’ll make this soup beautiful!
With even more practice, you’ll be able to tell these are crab cakes! 🙂

You might also want to start practicing your plating skills. Have you ever been to a fine dining establishment? The food doesn’t look the same way it does when you go to Chili’s or Outback. Plating food is not a natural skill, and I’m still not all that great at it. But, I get better every year. That’s because  of practice! You don’t have to make anything fancy to practice plating. If you’re making a full meal one day, why not dress up the plate a little? By the time you get to hosting your party, you’ll have an idea of what you’re doing.

Secret #3 – Do not invite picky eaters.

Don’t invite the whole world, don’t invite people who couldn’t hold a conversation over their meal, and definitely, one hundred percent, don’t invite picky eaters. You are going to be so irritated if you spend a year working towards this beautifully plated meal and then your guests won’t even try it. I actually have rules when I host. I serve an amuse-bouche while I tell the guests the rules so it comes out nicer, but they’re pretty simple. Unless you’re allergic to it, you need to try it. I don’t care if people like it. I really don’t. What are the chances that ten people would all like every dish you serve? Not good, probably. But, oh man, if you won’t even try it, why did you come?

Good luck with the picky eaters when you serve them Moroccan cod with harissa!

When you’re making up your guest list, this will pop into your mind. Maybe you will feel guilty if you have one friend you really want to invite, but you know she’ll tell your other friend you don’t want there. Oh well. Be an adult, just tell the other friend you don’t want to do all that work for people who aren’t going to eat it. In the past, I’ve invited two out of three of my very close coworkers. I’ve invited one of my next door neighbors but not the other. If they get all bitter about it, you can make something up. Say you got to choose one friend and your spouse got to choose one friend and that’s all you can fit at your table. Whatever. Just don’t do all that work for people who won’t appreciate it.

Secret #4 – Put thought into your menu.

You can go willy-nilly if you want to. Serve a cucumber salad, borscht, fried chicken, and a flan. See how that goes. Hint: It won’t be the best. I had no theme at all for my very first dinner party, other than that I found all my recipes on Food and Wine, but I’ve gotten better since then. Last year it was French, the year before was spring. Spring was actually one of my most successful menus. Every course featured a beautiful fruit or vegetable. This year I’m doing… Wait for it… Disney! Yes, a Disney-themed fancy dinner party. Believe me, there was more thought put into this menu than any other one I’ve ever done. I’m going to write more on that specific meal in a later post, but I do think it will be great.

A spring asparagus soup.

It’s not just a theme that matters though. You should decide ahead of time what kind of courses you want to put out. I do appetizers and a cocktail while people arrive and I finish up my prep. I serve an amuse-bouche to tell people the rules. Then I have a salad course, a soup course, a main course with a side, and dessert. Everything from salad on gets it’s own wine. That’s the one thing I have guests bring, by the way. I don’t want them cooking and ruining whatever theme I’ve got going, but they can bring the type of wine I tell them to. Anyway, you don’t have to follow my plan, but you should have your own. Don’t serve three soups and a cheese plate. Just don’t.

Coming up: Planning and Organizing

I said at the beginning this was going to be a series, and I meant it. You don’t want to sit here reading all day, do you? Maybe you’ve already started thinking about holding a fancy dinner party, and now you know what will make it successful. Next time we’re going to talk in detail about planning and organizing the party, because if it’s going to be successful, that needs to be a category all its own. Unless you have two ovens, it can get really tricky to get everything out on time, and that’s just one concern. Enjoy your week and I’ll be back soon!

Food Trivia to Share atEaster Dinner

Trivia You Can Share When Hosting Easter Dinner

Hosting Easter dinner this year? Kudos to you! I’m sticking to a fun Easter brunch, but you dinner-hosters have my admiration. Do you have the whole family coming over? A bunch of friends? No one? Those are all fine choices, although I personally like the idea of someone hosting a fabulous Easter dinner and then refusing to invite anyone to it. If I wasn’t married…

Anyway, I’m not here to give you a whole bunch of tips on what to wear and how to decorate, although if you needed to know that I’d say clothes and minimally. Instead, I thought I’d provide you with a little information about food. Were you aware that Easter is a religious holiday? I bet you were! According to Gallup’s last Easter poll, about 60% of people in the US go to church on Easter. I will vouch for this. I used to live two streets away from a church, yet somehow on Easter my whole street would be filled with the cars of lost souls who forgot how to park at a church since they only attended once a year. Religious holidays come with all kinds of traditions and meanings, so if you’re going to be hosting Easter dinner, you might as well know what tradition you’re following.

Hosting Easter Dinner with Lamb

traditional Easter lamb

If you are serving lamb this meal, you’re serving the most Christian of all the traditional Easter foods. If there was meat at the Last Supper, this was it. It’s weirdly also the most Jewish of all the traditional foods, because it’s usually part of Passover. What I’m saying is, lamb at Easter dinner is a religious thing. Not religious? That’s okay. It’s still delicious. Personally, if I was cooking Easter dinner this year, I’d be going with lamb. My son is too young to care what he eats, so I might as well enjoy this tasty meat while I have the opportunity. Never cooked it? I suggest something like this basic rosemary recipe. It’s pretty common to season your lamb with rosemary, so you might as well start with the basics.

Why You’re Serving Ham

Americans ham Easter dinner

Eating ham this Easter? Oh hey! You must be American! If I’m not mistaken, Easter has something to do with Jesus, and that guy was a Jew. I bet he wasn’t eating ham.  So how did it get involved in all this mess? Basically, it’s just what was around. Easter takes place in the spring, and back before globalization and climate change, you couldn’t get everything fresh every time of year. Germans started serving ham because they could slaughter pigs in the winter and then keep it until spring. This spread throughout northern Europe, and they brought pigs over to the Americas, and we’ve been obsessed with pork ever since. If you’re going to cook one yourself, I say something simple like this would be fine. More time to work on your sides!

What’s the Deal with the Eggs

My sister is always curious about this one. I guess she forgets every year, because I have told her repeatedly. A long time ago, Christianity was not the dominant religion, so Easter wouldn’t have been a huge deal to everyone. But, that doesn’t mean non-Christians didn’t have their own religions. They did – and a lot of them celebrated spring. Once Christianity started growing, traditions started getting combined. There was one goddess of rebirth who had a symbol of a rabbit laying eggs. Her name? Eostre. So, Eostre became Easter, and now we’re stuck with this random goddess in the middle of a Christian holiday. Fascinating, right?

Alright! Now you’re pumped full of information about Easter. It doesn’t matter what kind of tradition you follow. Have a barbecue, skip Easter altogether, eat your lamb and ham and eggs, or cook up some dish that your family has passed down forever. What does matter is that you have fun and know more about the meal than everyone else.  🙂 Get out there, play smarty-pants and answer any food-related questions that come up while you’re hosting Easter dinner.

5 Tips for an Awesome Easter Brunch

5 Tips for an Awesome Easter Brunch

Making an awesome Easter brunch honestly isn’t that difficult, because even a regular brunch is awesome. I’ve talked about the basics before, and we’re going to stick with that outline, but add a theme. Easter’s kind of a strange holiday to figure out, isn’t it? Not the religious part – that part’s pretty easy. But the rest of it is just weird. We’ve got a giant bunny who for some reason delivers eggs. Who knows who he’s stealing all those eggs from, because I went to a biology class one time and I’m pretty positive rabbits don’t lay eggs.

Anyway, that’s not even what I’m talking about. I mostly mean it’s a Christmas-like holiday, but people don’t make it a travel priority if family isn’t close. Sometimes it coincides with spring break, other times it doesn’t. I didn’t do anything for Easter for many years because I didn’t have anyone to do it with. Now I’m close to my family again, and I have my own family to entertain, so I can make my own traditions. Brunch is definitely going to be one of them, whether I ever get around to making an Easter basket filled with bizarre bunny eggs or not. So, without further adieu, here are my 5 tips for an awesome Easter brunch.

1. Find a cool centerpiece – But don’t overdo it.

I’m not a super fan of cheesy decorations, but unless you’re going straight up Christian traditional only, Easter seems like a good time to be a little silly. Like I said, it involves an egg-laying bunny. I’ve seen many cool centerpieces online over the years. One simple one I like is just carrots in a vase, but you can get much crazier than that if you have time, especially if you already own a bunch of Easter decorations. Here’s another idea, and another. All fun, none too difficult. I moved a couple of weeks ago, and I’m very excited to have my dining room table out of storage, so I’ve already practiced my own. Let me know what you think, so if it’s terrible I have time to find something else!

Step 1: Buy junk at store. Step 2: Put junk in vases.

 

So, cool centerpieces are a must. But that doesn’t mean you should go crazy with the decorations. This is the Frenzied Hostess you guys, not the I Have So Much Time I’ll Knit Placemats for Every Attendee Hostess. If you’ve got that nice Easter wreath, I’m sure that’s already up, right? Or a few little decorations the kids put up, they’re fine too. That doesn’t mean you have to spend an extra hour or two of your precious time getting ready for one meal. Set the table, have a little fun with it, and let your awesome Easter brunch menu be the shining star.

2. Have an awesome Easter brunch menu.

Ha, bet you didn’t see that one coming, did you? You can serve one thing for brunch. You can do potluck. Or, you can knock it out of the park, and have your fruits, your sweets, your eggs, and your meats covered. Okay, skip the meat if you’re vegetarian. And the eggs if you’re a vegan. And the food if you’re a zombie. Don’t want to leave any eating plan out now. But the point is, have a few dishes that provide different tastes, and don’t skip the dessert, even if you are a zombie.  That doesn’t mean you need four complete dishes that will each take all day. It just means variety is the key.

Shockingly, I will have a little spare time this Easter because it coincides with the end of tax season. I will be as stressed as possible on Good Friday, but by Easter everything should be handled. Don’t worry, you still have until that Tuesday to file your taxes. Just don’t ask me to do it. I need a break. Anyway, since I have more time than usual I can actually focus on making something nice. But, I know that’s not the case for everyone, so to help you out I’m including three different cohesive menus. We’ve got the traditional, the fancy, and the fun. All of them have options for make-ahead on at least one dish. Still need help? You can always count on Martha Stewart.

Awesome Easter Brunch Menus

The Traditional

Biscuits with Jelly
Deviled Eggs
Ham
Hot Cross Buns or Pound Cake

Time Savers & Alternatives

You don’t have to hand make the biscuits, friends. Or the jelly. Just buy these things. Deviled eggs can be made the day before, morning of, whatever. They will be smelly either way, right? The hot cross buns can be done the day before in two different ways. One, you can cook them and warm them up on Easter. Two, you can make the dough, refrigerate it, and cook them the day of. I actually think this menu is the least time-consuming, even if you do have to use your oven a lot. But, if you really are in a pinch, combine your meat and egg dishes and have a ham scramble.

The Fancy

Fresh Fruit
Cheese and spinach quiche
Smoked salmon bagels or chicken salad croissants
Crepes

Time Savers and Alternatives

No time for quiche? Just do a casserole. Less fancy, same taste. Although, you can technically make quiche ahead if you want. Just form it and freeze it sometime before Easter and you’re good to go. Smoked salmon bagels are quite easy even though they look fancy, but I know not everyone’s a fan. If you prefer to do chicken salad instead, you’re in luck. That can be done the day before as well, and you have my permission to buy the croissants. Crepes sound complicated, but honestly, they’re pancakes, and no one needs to make pancakes in advance. You can skip fresh fruit altogether if you do a fruit filling with your crepes, and you can do the filling in advance. Extra time? Fancy up the fruit and put it in individual serving containers.

The Fun

Fruit kebabs or fun shaped fruit platter
Eggs in a hole
French toast sausage roll ups
Monkey Bread or Dirt Cake

Time Savers and Alternatives

First thing’s first:  If you’re a Pinterest user, look up “Easter fruit” to see what I’m talking about with that. Next thing: If you’re out of time, scrap the fruit platters and put it in a bowl! Eggs in a hole are pretty easy to do if you bake them. You can cut out the bread the night before. If your kids don’t like those, just scramble something up. Both monkey bread and dirt cake can be done in advance, but they’re also both super easy so you might not have to. The worst here is the french toast sausage roll ups, so if you’re really short and time but determined to do this, why not buy prepared pancakes and roll them around the sausage instead? It’s close enough.

3. Don’t forget about the drinks – alcoholic or not.

Do people usually drink on Easter? I don’t even know. I won’t be, but I’m knocked up, so I don’t count. My family members aren’t huge drinkers either, so I don’t think I’m going to be in a rush to buy a bunch of liquor. But, if you are, no judgment from me. My only concern is that you serve something nice. Now, I don’t like to invite people over for events and expect them to bring food, unless we specifically decided a potluck would be fun, but I do think it’s perfectly reasonable to have them bring drinks. It takes no effort to buy a carton of orange juice. Slightly more to buy a bottle of champagne if your ID doesn’t easily slide out of you wallet, but still, nothing too taxing. So don’t feel bad about assigning people drinks if you want.

Having other people bring them, doing it yourself, alcoholic, non-alcoholic, none of these things are terribly important. What is important is that the drinks are special. Sure, you can serve plain orange juice and milk. But what’s awesome about that? You don’t have to do anything complicated, but adding a little splash of color or something will certainly make for a more entertaining meal. Here’s a few alcoholic beverages that look exciting, and here’s a few that you could make for the kids. Serve one one fancy drink to go with your regular choices, and your guests will be dazzled. Or they’ll yawn, and get kicked off the guest list for next year’s awesome Easter brunch.

4. Use the good dishes. Make someone else clean them.

Hey, you’re doing all this work to make sure everyone has an awesome Easter brunch! Why should you have to cook and clean? I never use my good dishes. Literally, I mean never. They’re still in packaging. So this year I’m pulling out all the stops and embracing the terror that is allowing other people to use my nice things. (I’m just kidding you guys. If I trust you enough to have you for a meal, I trust you enough to hold a plate like a normal human being.) If you have your own nice dishes, might as well use them for this special occasion too, right? Even though paper plates would be so much less of a hassle…

But, here’s the thing about not having potlucks. It means the people you invited didn’t cook, they didn’t set out the beautiful centerpiece you found, and they aren’t going to be stuck with a pile of dishes. So it’s not so terrible to ask for a little help. Now, I wouldn’t ask my friends to clean up after themselves if it was a dinner party, but for Easter it’s my family. My husband and mom will probably do the dishes without being asked anyway, but if your family isn’t that way, perhaps you could print this Slate article and leave it strategically on your table before the meal starts. That will show them how to be a good guest. Trust me, if you can get someone to help you clean up, it will be a much more awesome Easter brunch for you.

5. Hide an egg, kids or not.

What’s more Easter-y than hiding some eggs? If you have kids attending, go throw them all over your yard. Seriously, just toss them around. It’ll take two minutes, your yard will look extremely festive, and it will entertain them while the grown-ups sip on whatever fancy drink you concocted and you finish the dish that inevitably took too long. Tell them they’re missing one if they find all the eggs too fast. There are other Easter games, I’m sure, but I don’t remember them. An Easter egg hunt is just so simple, why bother with other things? Of course, if it’s cold you’ll have to hide them inside, so make your boundaries VERY clear for those little weirdos.

No kids coming to your brunch? So what? Hide a “golden” egg somewhere and give the guests a prize. You don’t have to play a serious game of hide-and-seek with the egg. It can be a raffle, or one of those gold star on the chair sort of prize giveaways. It just adds a little bit of fun to have a prize at the end. Admit it, you hate those cheesy office Christmas parties, but you love it when they give out the prizes. Same idea. If your guests are drinking, I say hide it good and see what happens. It might be hilarious for everyone. Well, that’s my thoughts on having an awesome Easter brunch. Stay tuned – next week we need to talk about Easter dinner!

100g almond flour200g confectioners' sugar120g egg whites40g caster sugargel food colouringfilling of your choice

A Guide to Creating a House Cleaning Plan

I need a new house cleaning plan. Last week I wrote about moving. This week my new house is a disaster and I’m trying to come to terms with the fact that it’s double the size of the rental I’ve been in since my child became mobile. I tried to get ahead of myself and create a new plan before I moved in, but I very quickly got overwhelmed. Why do I have a house with four bathrooms? Seriously, what am I going to do with them? Do I have to clean all of them frequently even if we’re not using them? What about the guest bedroom? The baseboards? Cabinets? Ahhhhh! I’m tired just thinking about it.

So, what am I going to do? Preferably find a nice housekeeper and call it a day, but I’m pretty sure my husband will frown on that. I may have mentioned it before, but when you work from home, people think you should be cleaning your own house, watching your own child, and working at the same time. I’m not sure when you get magical powers after signing a telecommuting agreement, but I haven’t got mine yet, so that’s a bummer. Anyway, I’ve got to have some kind of house cleaning plan in place soon or I’ll fall back into my old ways and forget about my beautiful checklist that keeps me on track. Let’s see what I can come up with.

Guide to Making a House Cleaning Plan

1. Decide what you will actually do.

Sure, there are plenty of lists out there that will help you figure out what you need to do and how often you need to do it, like this or this. Unfortunately those lists won’t clean the house for you, so they’re not necessarily the best way to make your own house cleaning plan. I want to have a clean house, I really do. I also want to keep my sanity. Since those two things don’t always go hand in hand, I can’t follow the perfect mom guide to a spic and span life. Let’s see. I have to do the floors. Have to. I should dust the fans – but I won’t do it regularly. So instead of making it part of my routine cleaning, I’ll wait until I accidentally hit it with something and dust falls like snow.

Making some things a priority doesn’t mean you’ll let the rest of the house go to the wayside. It’s more about feeling accomplished and not overwhelmed. I know I’m going to vacuum. I know I’m going to clean my kitchen and toilets. Making them the main focus of my plan is a good thing because the chances of me throwing in the towel on these things are really slim. Perhaps for you it’s dusting or mopping – we all have chores we don’t mind or dirty spots we can’t stand. Build off of those chores to start, and you might feel like it’s not so bad doing a little house cleaning.

2. Write it down – but make it easy to change.

My floors, always. Schedule says…..It doesn’t matter, they obviously have to be cleaned.

 

I don’t mean you actually have to get out a pen and paper, although you can. I use Wunderlist for everything, so that’s what I’ll stick to. But, having a list of what to do, whether written or electronic, helps you remember what’s due when the rest of the world has tried to fry your brain. I only mop every other week because if it was on my to-do list every week, I’d sincerely have to move to a shack with no floors. But if I didn’t write it down,  I wouldn’t remember if I’d done it or not. Can I look at the floor and tell if it needs mopping? Yes. Am I going to do it if there’s 8 million other things I did commit to in writing? No.

Of course, I do need the ability to change my list without throwing off my entire house cleaning plan. My new house is new new, as in, I’m the first person to live here. I wonder about baseboards. How long are these things going to stay clean and beautiful? Should I wait until they’re really dirty or do it every so often to make sure they never get dirty? I haven’t decided yet. I’m going to put it on my to-do list for two months from now, and then I’ll decide if I want to stick with a two month time frame or not.  It can go for frequent things too – I switched vacuuming days based on the dogs’ schedules, and I do that every other day. Sticking to it is important, but if you can’t change it for the better, you might not want to follow it.

3. Decide if you’re a weekender or a day-by-day cleaner.

Honestly, my schedule doesn’t have  a lot of differences between the weekends and the weekdays. There’s not much point in me loading all my cleaning up on one day since no day is free. But, that might not be the case for you. What’s more likely – you getting two free hours on Sunday, or you getting ten free minutes seven days a week? Some things you might like to do more than once a week. Forget about them for a minute. Think about your once a week, once every other week, and once a month items. What would it be like if they all landed on the same day? If you think that’d be better, load them all up on the weekend. If you think that giant list would cause you to ignore all of it, spread them out.

4. Not everything has to be on a to-do list.

You know what I have never considered putting on my house cleaning list? Laundry. Washing dishes. Picking up toys. That doesn’t mean they won’t get done, but I don’t know when I’m going to do them. Probably when I run out of pants, fill up the dishwasher, or every fifteen minutes respectively. Putting them on the list would be irritating to me, and if your house cleaning plan annoys you, you aren’t going to do it. You have to figure out which chores you’re going to do, but might need reminding, compared to chores that you’re going to do anyway and a reminder would only waste more of your precious time.

5. Share the load.

Make a to-do list for the rest of your family too. Ha ha ha, I’m just kidding. Does anyone have kids or spouses that will help out? What’s that like? Do you all marvel at how awesome you are when you’re done with chores and then take adorable family photos? Or is it, like, really stressful and you all walk around on eggshells trying not to disturb any of your pristine home? I’m fascinated, please share in the comments. Of course, families like that probably aren’t reading lists like this, but still, maybe you’ve heard rumors of these odd creatures. Share that.

6. Whine away – but still do the list.

I try to start my day with fives minutes to myself for breakfast, but usually the baby beats me up. I spend the morning chasing him around, occasionally picking up after him, and then furiously cramming as much work as I can into his morning nap. We eat lunch and do a chore. Just one. If my to-do list has more than two things, I can’t get them done. Because after that, we have to climb the stairs fifteen times, dump all the toys out of every closet, put them away, repeat, and then walk the dogs. Sometimes I can do a little more work in the afternoon, but most likely it’s not going to happen. Then my husband gets home, I cook him dinner, the baby wants to play some more, and eventually they all go to sleep so I can do more work. That’s seven days a week.

Do I whine about cleaning the house? Yes. Good lord, yes. Do I do it anyway? Of course. Who wants to live in filth?  My house is currently a disaster, but eventually we’ll get moved in. Then I’ll start my checklist back up. One day it won’t be so bad. I won’t be pregnant, my husband won’t be in school, and my kids will. I would sincerely hate if my house got ruined in the meantime because I felt like it was too much work to wipe my bathroom down once a week. I’m as tired as the next gal or guy, honestly, but it’s part of being adult. Articles like this are fun to read and relate to, but they’re not helpful. If you’re serious about creating a house cleaning plan, you don’t have to follow the rules of Good Housekeeping. You do have to follow your own.

move in a hurry

The Best Ways to Move Houses in a Frenzy

Are you looking for the best ways to move in a frenzy? Not the best ways to have people tell you, “Wow, you’re an amazing packer!” I can’t help with that, because that’s not my goal. I move all the time and I just want to survive it. Okay, not ALL the time. It’s been eight months since my last move. Before that I did stay in a house for a record two years. That’s totally normal for a non-military family right? I’ve moved across the country, across town, and literally across the street. Sometimes I have lots of time to prepare, others I have zero. This time around I have about three weeks to move to a new neighborhood, but that doesn’t mean it’s not chaotic. I’m pregnant, my husband works ten hour days and has class on the weekends, and my toddler and dogs won’t do heavy lifting.

So, what’s a frenzied hostess to do? Get help? Of course not. That would cost money. Although I’ll be honest with you, if you’re moving across the country and not across the city, the help is totally worth it. You’re going to have to get a truck anyway, unless you don’t own anything or don’t want to take it with you. Use the good moving service packers. You won’t regret it. If you are moving across the city, though, I have seen what those movers do and I’ve tried a variety of things myself, so I have some ideas on the best ways to move on your own. Since I can’t currently host anything, I thought I’d go a little off topic and share.

Best Ways to Move in 7 Days or More

Packing for a move in a frenzy
Here go the bar supplies – very important. Notice the paper and plastic wrapping. Very professional.

Use Suitcases for Non-Glass

Does that sound like weird advice? It probably does, but let me explain. Boxes are fun and all, but they’re a lot of work to tape up, they can still break, plus if you do too good a job and bother to label them, you may never open them again. I like to fill up my suitcases with things, then unpack immediately at the new house, then bring the suitcases back and do it again. No, it’s actually not that much work. Yes, I do make more trips. But here’s another bonus – suitcases roll. I’m short, so even when I’m not pregnant carrying big square boxes around is quite irritating. Only have to lift a suitcase in and out of the car, or upstairs, makes moving much easier. Coolers and other empty trunk-like items also work.

Legitimately how I drove with my mugs and champagne glasses. Please excuse the messy car, we’re moving!
Everything survived, no need to worry. Proof of life shot glasses.

Use Lots of Paper or Plastic Bags for Glass

I always have too many plastic bags, which you may have noticed in this post. So when I move they come in handy. I put one bag in a glass, then wrap with a second bag, and that’s that. Do they survive the move, you ask? Yes. Most of my glasses even survived a cross-country move this way, in a box not marked fragile. I didn’t try that on purpose. When I packed I was putting things temporarily in storage and didn’t realize my life on the west coast was coming to an end.  The paper thing is probably safer – it’s what the real movers do – but I don’t usually have paper on hand. The point is, make sure there are fluffy things surrounding your glasses. Unfortunately, there is no cheat code for this, unless you want to bring them one by one. I’ve done that too.

Break Up the Big Stuff

Do you need that end table right now? Can you dismantle your desk or move the guest bedroom before you have to move your own room? This is kind of a necessity for me right now, since I’m handling the bulk of the move and I’m not allowed to lift anything too heavy. I have to rely on different people to help me whenever they’re available, not whenever I am. This is how my three week move that seems like plenty of time has actually become time crunched. But, it’s okay, because I can live with a half-house. For example, we got help with our formal dining table last week, but the kitchen table is staying until the final day. We have room to eat either way.

Best Ways to Move in Less than 7 Days

Fit Your Clothes Everywhere

Okay, so I actually do this every time, regardless of how long my move lasts. Who wants to pack up clothes? Do people actually take them off the hanger? I have used those crazy boxes they have for wardrobes on longer moves, but when you have no time, just keep them on the hangers they’re already on and toss them on top of whatever else you’re toting. They don’t take up much space, they’re light, and it is so nice to simply put them back on the shelves like they always existed in the new closet and nowhere else. The best ways to move do not include wasting time on clothes – ever.

Get Small Boxes & a Dolly

This may seem counter-intuitive, but look at the boxes I posted directly above this. Those were all fragile glass, and they were heavy. I couldn’t have lifted them on my own even if I wasn’t pregnant. It was fine for this move since we do have three weeks, but if I was doing a short-time move, these boxes would have slowed me down. I would have had to find someone else to carry them, when I could have broken them down into multiple boxes and known for sure I could carry them myself. Packing sucks, and when you’re in a hurry I know you want to throw everything into one box and go, but don’t do it. Use lots of little boxes and find a dolly to make transportation easy. Or, the very least, top one layer of books with one layer of pillows. Then you can halfway carry it.

Don’t Make a Donate Pile at the Old House

Moving so much is really awesome for one reason – my house is very light on useless crap. We donate a lot of things every time we move, as well as throw things away. But, when you’re really short on time, if you don’t already have the donate pile ready to go, do it at the new house. Perhaps you think you won’t donate it if you take it to the new house, but I’d be more concerned about time. Even big items of trash require special trips to the dump, and the less time you have in one house, the less special trips you can make. Yes, it’s extra work when you’re moving in, but time is of the essence to make sure you get everything packed. Leave the boxes of useless stuff somewhere you can’t avoid and you’ll make it to Goodwill eventually.

So there you have it. Those are my best ways to move in a frenzy. I am not concerned with perfect packing. Glasses will break if you get too crazy, yes, but you can throw all your shoes in one box without worrying about placement and I swear they will survive. Most stuff will, honestly, if you’re not going far. Don’t forget to shove strange shaped things into the floor of your car either. My bread maker never gets in a box, but it always finds its way somehow. Same goes for my guitar, my golf clubs, and even my plants. If I can move mostly by myself with a toddler and two dogs constantly at my feet, you can do it too! Good luck!

in the metro

A Mexican Pasta Dish With Sausage

Mexican or pasta? Why not a Mexican pasta dish instead? I personally always have ingredients for Mexican food on hand, but my Italian supplies are more limited. That’s why, every once in awhile, I have to combine the two just to get rid of certain things in my cabinets. Beth, you say. Why don’t you just go grocery shopping? Are you really that time-strapped? Well, yes and no. I will go grocery shopping at some point this week, probably even today. But we close on our new house tomorrow (so maybe I’ll start actually hosting things soon), and what’s the point of picking up a whole bunch of ingredients when you’re going to have to move them in a week?

Typically my husband and I eat our pasta pretty plain. We like olive oil for a sauce, and I’ll throw in a nice vegetable and meat to keep it interesting, but that’s about it. This is our favorite. Pretty delicious, I must say. But, I’m trying to clean out my kitchen, so here’s what I’ve got: sausage, pasta, cheddar and Pepperjack cheeses, some spices, and….that’s about it. I don’t have any tortillas, and those won’t be purchased again until the move. I don’t have any mozzarella or Parmesan, and again, those will have to wait. So you can see why sometimes I feel like mixing and matching my regional cuisines. Anyway, let’s get started.

Nothing like watching a pot try to boil

 

Add some spices
Red peppers, my favorite
A nice, messy pot all ready to go

Mexican Pasta Dish with Sausage

Serves 4
20-25 minutes cooking time

Ingredients

1 lb penne pasta
1 lb smoked sausage or chorizo
Red bell pepper, chopped
3/4 cup cheddar
1/2 cup Pepperjack
1/4 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp garlic powder
pinch cayenne
salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Boil pasta until al dente (10-12 minutes)
  2. Meanwhile, cut sausage into 1/4 in thick slices. Saute on medium high until cooked through.
  3. Add cumin, garlic powder, cayenne, salt and pepper to sausage. Stir.
  4. Add red pepper to saute pan and heat until softened.
  5. Drain the pasta. Now mix in a 1/2 cup of  cheddar and the Pepperjack and stir. Cheese should be melted throughout.
  6. Add sausage and red pepper to pasta and cheese mixture. Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir. Allow to cool slightly.
  7. Top with remaining cheddar cheese.

Notes

So, this is really more of a Mexican-inspired dish than a plain ole’ Mexican pasta dish. If you want something like nachos on macaroni, I would suggest something like this or this. I like the idea, but I’d be more likely to simply make nachos one day and macaroni the next if I had all the ingredients. Sometimes I feel like it’s easier to mix and match recipes rather than buy a whole store full of food, so that’s really my goal here. Now, if you want this particular recipe more Mexican-y, you could switch the sausage for ground beef. Also, definitely adjust the cheese to your own liking. I love cheese, but I know not everyone does.

This dish could also easily be switched to Creole. The flavors are actually really similar to this shrimp and grits recipe, which I also love. I may have an addiction to Allrecipes. I think the gist of what I’m saying is, feel free to throw whatever you have left in your cabinet and fridge, mix it together, and call it a dish. When your life is hectic, who cares if you’re entirely cohesive in your menu planning. Now eat up!

Olives as an extra topping, for those of you who like olives!
CASTLE

Plastic Tablecloth Decorations Vs. Streamers

There are some amazing plastic tablecloth decorations out there. Seriously, look at this and this. Who has time to come up with this stuff? Not me! But, I don’t really have time for anything (starting a blog may have been a terrible idea), so maybe I don’t count. Anyway, I may have mentioned this once or twice, but I’m not really a fan of decorating for parties. That’s a terrible thing for a hostess to say, isn’t it? Yet I say it all the time. I decided maybe I need to stop all those traditional decorating ideas, like using streamers at all, ever, and switch it up a little. Honestly, I don’t have time for the fancy stuff, so my mind turned to plastic tablecloth decorations. I could probably do something with those, right?

Well, if you looked at those amazing decorations I pointed out, you might as well just use streamers. It would take just as long to rip up a whole bunch of paper and tape it to your wall as it would to make those tablecloth things. I don’t want to have to cut and snip and tie and then still tape things. I want something that takes twenty seconds and miraculously looks cute. Impossible? Probably. But, I went out and bought a plastic tablecloth and gave it a shot. Feel free to laugh at my pictures, but just remember: if I can spend twenty seconds decorating for no party, you could probably spend forty seconds for a real party. 🙂

Ideas for Plastic Tablecloth Decorations

Idea #1: Photo Backdrop

This one’s so easy it’s cheating! Ha. I am positive I’m not the first to come up with it, but let me explain why it crossed my mind. For my son’s birthday, I decided I wanted one of those little streamer photo backgrounds. It  was irritating, it took too long, and I couldn’t get a good picture when it was done. Rather than waste my time with that again, I thought it would be so much easier to just tape up a tablecloth. It looks fine, right? And if it doesn’t, who cares if no one at all takes a picture in front of it? It took two seconds to put up, no skin off my back. If you feel like you have to put in a little extra effort, cut it up like it is streamers and call yourself a decorative genius.

Idea #2: Doorway Draping

Friends, you might need to buy two plastic tablecloths for this one. The picture I’m showing you is only one, but you have to understand I’m in a pretty cramped space right now. I felt like adding two was overkill. But, it would be nice to have one on each side if you have a bigger entryway. Imagine putting a few balloons on top. What a nice little border right? That’s all you have to do. That’s much simpler than draping streamers all over the door, twisting them up, and all of that jazz. Do you feel like a lazy decorator yet? I hope so.

Idea #3: Ceiling Decorations

Just add balloons.

Ceiling streamers are hit and miss with me. Sometimes they can look so tacky, right? Especially if they’re not done by someone who has the time or energy to do them, AKA, me. Some people have taken the time to hang a whole bunch of plastic tablecloths like they’re streamers, but as good as they look, it sort of defeats the purpose for me. It’s more taping and effort than I’m interested in. I’m of two thoughts here. One, hang up the tablecloth by all four corners and stuff it with balloons. That’s a little extra work because of the balloons, but it’s fun, right? You can drop the balloons on the kiddos later. The second thought would be a chandelier. Wrap it around a hula hoop or something else round, cut it up a little, and boom, call it a day.

Bahahaha, okay, I’ll work on this one. Twenty seconds people!

 

Well, I feel like I’ve come up with some not-amazing, but perfectly good enough, plastic tablecloth decorations. These ideas are all so much less work than putting up streamer after streamer after streamer! If you never cut it up, you could even reuse it and save yourself the time and trouble of a dollar store trip for every party. I know these ideas are all terribly slothful, but if they weren’t, they wouldn’t be appropriate for a frenzied hostess. The next time you throw a party, consider these ideas and spend more time enjoying and less time decorating!

Rock a 3 course valentine's day dinner

How to Rock a Three Course Valentine’s Day Dinner

Valentine’s Day dinner. Ug, am I right? Like I need another special meal to plan in between the cleaning, working, and baby-watching. I suppose I could be like most normal people I know and go out on the town. But it’s not exactly romantic when I have to drag my toddler along, especially considering he’s incapable of sitting down. Does anyone else have that problem? I’m not sure why my husband and I even try to go out anymore. We can’t talk to each other because one of us is always walking around the restaurant following our son. We do occasionally have a baby-sitter, but my parents have been happily married for three hundred years and it’s also my mom’s birthday, so they’re out for this one.

I’m left with two choices. Either I cook, or I don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day at all. That actually doesn’t sound so terrible, but my husband does like to acknowledge the holiday even though we don’t do gifts. So, cooking it is. Some of you may think I should have the hubby cook. No. You come eat his cooking sometime and then see how you feel about that. More power to you if you’re in a couple where you both cook. It sounds amazing. Anyway, without further ado, here’s my plan to fix a three course Valentine’s Day dinner without wasting all day in the kitchen.

Plan your Valentine’s Day Dinner Ahead

I would love if I always had everything I needed in my refrigerator, but it’s a rare rare day when that happens. I go through phases where I meal plan a week at a time, with some great advice, but I can’t keep up with myself during tax season. There could be anything in my fridge right now. Or nothing, which is probably more likely. This means for a three course meal I really need to come up with a plan ahead of time. Then I can grocery shop in advance, not have to run to the store later, and know exactly how much time I need to carve out of my day.

Pick a Cohesive Menu

Do you like Italian? Greek? Want to recreate some meal you and your lover had all those years ago? Pick one and go with it. The last thing you need is to have to come up with some sort of palate cleanser in between the important stuff. I’m going Greek this year because I need to practice a baklava recipe. Yes, I know baklava is originally from Turkey. That doesn’t mean they don’t make it in Greece. Anyway, that’s not the point. I want to practice this recipe, and my husband loves Greek gyros, so that’s the direction I’m going. Last year we had Italian if I remember correctly, and I also seriously considered French, but we’ll take it one year at a time.

I do have one caveat for your cohesive menu – the emergency cheese. What? You’ve never had to invest in an emergency cheese? Well, you should get used to the idea. It’s great. I know I’m going to do my best to plan everything and have a fixed schedule. I also know that’s not going to happen, because, life. That’s why I like to buy a good block of cheese when I’m doing my special occasion shopping. For my husband, only Gouda will do, so that’s what I get. Once I get backed up, which I inevitably will, he can munch on that with some apples. It also works as a first course appetizer or a dessert cheese plate if you really get behind. Wah lah! Emergency cheese.

Make Ahead Dessert

Dessert is the last course of the day, but I think it’s a great idea to make it the first course you cook. I’m going to make mine Thursday night after the kid goes to sleep. That way I know it’s done. Here’s a quick list of make-ahead desserts, but I’m sure Pinterest will show you a thousand more ideas if you can’t find one to fit your theme. Some desserts, like cheesecake, actually taste better to me after a day of sitting around, and it will allow you a little more time to do something fancy if you like. Plus, it’s the last course of your Valentine’s Day dinner so if you’re too tired to cook anymore, it doesn’t matter. Even something like creme brulee, which sounds really difficult but isn’t, can mostly be done ahead, then crisped up at the last second.

Easy but Elegant Salad

Anyone can dump a package of salad in a bowl. In fact, if that’s what you want to do, I’m not going to stop you. But, salads can also be really beautiful and elegant without a lot of work. When they’re not the main course, you usually don’t have to worry about getting a lot of protein in there, and that saves you cooking time. I think the last time I did a French salad the most difficult thing I did was toast some walnuts and dump in pre-crumbled goat cheese. Here’s another good list. If you’re following along my Greek menu, I’ll be doing your basic Greek salad by picking up a bunch of ingredients at the grocery store antipasti bar. They let everything swim in oil, so I probably won’t even have a dressing. I’ll throw my antipasti in a bowl with some lettuce and mix. So easy!

Spend your time on the Main Dish

You have to make a main dish, right? The emergency cheese just can’t replace your main course, no matter how much you want it to. If you’re going to get crazy, this is the place to do it, although I wouldn’t necessarily advise it. Does your theme have a slow cooker meal you could try? That’d save some time. You might not have to cook anything by the time Valentine’s Day dinner starts! I will be making gyro meat and tzatziki sauce. Is this complicated? Yes. I’m not going to pretend it’s not. But, I can do it in phases, like sauce in the morning, meat mixing afternoon, cooking it while I mix the salad. If I could ever find a good tzatziki, I would buy it and save myself the trouble, so please feel free to make recommendations. I do like cooking the meat though.

Whether you’re spending a lot of time on the main dish at night or in the morning, I would still aim for something really tasty. This actually is a special occasion. If it wasn’t, we wouldn’t go through all the trouble. As for a side dish, that’s totally up to you. I’m going to buy pitas to serve our meal as a sandwich, but other dishes might necessitate something more. Pasta’s fine on it’s own. A piece of chicken or steak might require a vegetable or something though. In that case I’d suggest steaming a vegetable, or maybe throwing a baked potato in the oven when the cheese comes out. Those are both super easy options that won’t distract you from the other stuff. Alright, readers. Go out and put together a fabulous three course Valentine’s Day dinner!