The Story Behind the Menu – Weeknight Dinner for a Friend

Who: the three of us and a friend

What: a regular weeknight dinner

When: Monday evening

Why: because she works less than a mile away from our house, and we thought it’d be a blast



The thought process: I knew I had to make a lot of food that could be made in advance, and couldn’t make a single thing that would come together at the last minute. I was going to be prepping this with Gooplet right underfoot, so I had to stretch myself to find easy recipes that still qualified as classy.

The menu:

Jamie Oliver’s Chicken in Milk – it had been so long since I last roasted a chicken. It’s one of those tasks that could not be easier, and yet every time I’m about to do it, I get anxious about it. Good news: it continues to be the easiest, and turns out just great no matter what.

Ladd’s Roasted Potatoes – Last time I roasted a chicken was probably about the last time I made something from The Pioneer Woman, so I was long past due. Let me tell you – anything dripping in butter and Lawry’s is just fine by me. (Let me also tell you these would be just as delightful at breakfast as they were at dinner.)

Sauteed Green Beans – Whenever I need to take a vegetable dish to the next level, I make green beans a la my mother in law. Saute a finely chopped onion, add some minced garlic, salt and pepper, and some haricots vert. Quickest, easiest, best green bean dish ever. Add toasted, slivered almonds if you want some crunch.

Apple Pie a la mode – A neighbor of ours just started a pop up bake shop, and she sold apple pies to raise money for a wonderful cause. I bought one to enjoy at dinner, and had one less thing to worry about.

What worked: Dinner! My theory with almost every single kind of entertaining I’ve ever done is: it’s going to work because it has to work. It can’t not work. As I had no intention of calling this friend to cancel, I knew dinner was simply going to happen. There’s something about that mindset that helps me immensely. The wine was flowing, we put the kid to sleep before dessert, and kept the party going long into the night. (Well, long into the night for us parents, which means we were done by 10 and fully cleaned up by 10:30.)

What didn’t: I don’t think this didn’t work, but I wish I had made one or two more dishes. By loading my meal with butter, I’m confident our guest went home well-fed, but when I entertain I love having too much on the table. I wish I had done an arugula salad, and maybe some garlic bread too. And I didn’t take any pictures! That happens way too often these days.

The Story Behind the Menu – Brunch with Friends

You may remember that last year, my college friends got together for a Favorite Things party, in which we, well, bought our favorite things for each other.

This year, I got to play hostess!

Who: 6 friends; 5 sorority sisters, and 1 friend we adopted into our clan 10 years ago when we met her at a work orientation

What: Our 2nd Annual Favorite Things Brunch

When: One oddly warm January morning

Why: Because it’s becoming a tradition.


We couldn’t find a pre-Christmas date that worked for the whole gang, so we celebrated right after New Years.

Between the 6 of us, there are 4 little boys and a tutu-clad little girl.  And let me tell you, though I have contributed none of those kids, these girls are my #momgoals.  Despite having little ankle-biters running around at home, and working regular jobs, and I don’t know what other things moms do, they found the time to wrap their gifts beautifully, and bring MORE than just favorite things.  I saw gifts being exchanged for the little ones, and I even got a housewarming gift out of the deal, too.

(It’s a return address stamp, and I have written over 50 thank you notes in the past two months, so let me tell you, dear readers, this gift is perfection.)

Of course, with 5 little people running all over the place, I barely had time to stop and snap pictures, but what can you do?  Here’s how the morning went:


The thought process:  For brunch, I like to make sure there’s an egg-y dish, a fruit of some sort, and I’d say I like to make sure I have carbs, but it’s brunch; it’s the carb-heaviest meal I can think of.  I was trying to think about this crew, and whether anyone has dietary restrictions, and no one does.  Clearly my most low-maintenance group of friends.  I did want to make sure there was at least one healthier choice, because though none of us have trouble indulging in something sweet now and then, I didn’t know how these ladies preferred to feed their children.

The menu:

  • Blueberry Banana Baked Oatmeal from Heidi (holy goodness, this is a great breakfast food, especially if drizzled with extra maple syrup)
  • Crockpot Cinnamon Roll Casserole (inspired by AGOMYR, who made it for a staff breakfast one morning…followed the recipe except I used coconut milk because yum)
  • Hashbrown Sausage and Cheese Casserole (which is not that different from this, except it is different in an important way and that is that it is also amazing, and worth making on separate occasions)
  • fruit salad
  • mimosas

What worked:  The menu!  All the kids had something to eat, which had been one of my main concerns. And I was happy with all three dishes I made, and that rarely happens.  Loved having the leftovers as a way more fun alternative to cereal and smoothies for weekday breakfasts.

What didn’t:  Um, nothing?  It was a truly great morning.  I felt a little out of place hosting littles of so many ages.  We don’t have toys to play with, but moms know when a hostess will be grossly under-prepared to deal with their ilk, and come armed.  When my friend Ashley’s daughter wasn’t sure about our house at first, Ashley assured me that all it would take was some Taylor Swift, so she plunked on the floor and we shook it off.

Oh, and the favorite things?

  • LUSH cosmetics
  • hand sanitzer on one of those loop-y things that you can carry everywhere
  • dry shampoo (which I’ve been dying to try, so here’s my risk free investment)
  • a koozie (you can never have too many)
  • this orange-y flavored gum
  • bobby pins
  • local Michigan chocolate and caramels
  • a cookie scoop (gee, wonder who picked that?)
  • Am I forgetting something?

The Story Behind the Menu – Taco Night [slow cooker pulled pork]

Who: 10 friends

What: Dinner at our house, post hosting a homeless dinner at a local church

When: The night after Christmas

Why: Because our church dinner wrapped up at 6:30, and we all needed to eat too.

cheese plate.

The Thought Process:  This was an interesting one for which to plan.  I needed to have dinner pretty much ready and waiting when I walked in the door.  But I knew I’d only get home about 20 minutes before my guests.  I thought a lot about having the party catered, so that all I had to do was take lids off of trays and turn on some Sterno.  But our Christmas was low-key, and I knew I could handle a little meal prep.  I remembered my friend Rachel, who hosts taco Fridays (in the same vein as meatball Fridays), and always makes slow cooker pulled pork.  It’s flavorful, and not greasy in the slightest.  I could chop, shred, and set everything I needed in bowls ahead of time, and let them wait in the refrigerator until showtime came.

dr pepper pork.

The Menu:

What worked:  Taco night!  It was just the right menu, and with a twenty minute head start before everyone came over, I had enough time to set out drinks, and put out all the toppings.

What didn’t:  This was one evening that went off without a hitch.  I don’t think my pork was nearly as good as Rachel’s, but I am certain to make it again and refine my technique.

To make Dr. Pepper pulled pork for a crowd, you will need:

  • a giant slab of pork shoulder (or pork butt, they’re the same)
  • a can of chopped chipotles in adobo (In the “Latino food” aisle- Get a small can for a minimal spice, and a large can if you’re going for a real kick.)
  • Dr. Pepper

Put the pork in the slow cooker, and top with chipotles and adobo.  Spread them over the pork to coat.  Pour Dr. Pepper about 2/3 way up the roast, and cook on low for 9 hours.  It’s great if you can be there to flip it at some point, close to halfway through.  When the pork is done, remove it from the slow cooker, and shred with two forks.  Pour extra sauce over top, if you like the flavor.

The Story Behind the Menu – CV(D)’s Baby Shower

me and cv(d).

Who: CV(D), me, and about 20 of our friends.

What: A baby shower

When: Saturday brunch

Why: Because I love her, duh.

parfaition setup.

the spread.

The Thought Process:  I was going for a staff breakfast vibe.  CV(D)’s (former-wah!) and my place of employment is famous for hosting some indulgent morning meals for our coworkers, many of whom were with us that morning.  I knew right away I had to have Nutella French Toast casserole on the menu; that’s CV(D)’s brunch fave.  Cracker Barrel’s hash brown casserole is a crowd favorite, so that got added too.  Brunch isn’t complete unless you have an egg dish, so I made one, and a friend brought one.  Other friends rounded out the sides with fruit, bread, and of course parfait.  We had to add a donut tree, because CV(D) ate about half of the one at The (Not So) New Girl’s shower.

the house.

The Menu:

Slow Cooker Nutella French Toast Casserole

Cracker Barrel’s Hash Brown Casserole

Breakfast Casserole

Parfation (yogurt, granola, and fruit)

Pumpkin bread, banana bread, muffins, and cinnamon rolls

Donut tree (cover a styrofoam cone in tinfoil, poke toothpicks in, and fill the toothpicks with donut holes)

Mimosa station

seat of honor.

What Worked:

Who worked might be a better descriptor here, and who worked was AGOMYR.  She came early, placed a salted caramel mocha in my hand, and we ran around the kitchen together for about an hour and a half to get everything in place in time.  She didn’t even ask what needed doing, she just figured it out and did it, including, but not limited to, hanging bunting (that she hand-lettered), slicing treats, finishing the toothpick-ing of the donut tree, taking people’s coats, arranging gifts, taking most of the photos you see in this post, and staying far longer than necessary to clean.  I don’t think I’ve ever had a party she wasn’t invited to, but she locked in all future invitations with this one.

But what worked was, um, everything?  I can’t take a step back here and evaluate the success of a brunch at my house with so many of my favorite people (and foods).  I loved watching everyone reunite, and of course, celebrate one of my best friends.  It was a truly wonderful

What Didn’t:

The donut tree!  I don’t even understand.  It was a star of The (Not So) New Girl’s shower, and wasn’t such a hit at CV(D)’s.  I suspect not enough people picked at it at first, and then others didn’t want to disturb the beauty.

The Story Behind the Menu – a 60-something birthday lunch [zesty slow cooker chicken barbecue]

If you missed last week’s episode of the story behind the menu, know that I am itching to pull off hosting people on a weekly basis, and I’m not so skilled at it just yet, but unless I do it, and figure out how to fix whatever I’m not doing as well as I want, I won’t get better at it.  Or, more eloquently:

on entertaining weekly.:


So I kicked things off last weekend…

Who: 11 friends, whom we call family

What: A birthday lunch

When: 1 hour after church (!!!)

Why: Because it was two of their birthdays, and because they had been to our house about a year earlier, to see the before edition of La Moneda, and we were excited to show them the after.  In the before phase of our reno, we had no working kitchen, so we ordered pizza and called it lunch.  This time, however, I had a kitchen.  Pizza wouldn’t do, and I was working under some serious time constraints.

The thought process:  I always try to give people a meat, a starch, and a veggie if I’m responsible for feeding them a well-rounded meal.  While AGOMYR and I are content to live on buffalo chicken dip alone, these are responsible adults, who have been feeding themselves for years.  I needed to prove I am, or at least, can sometimes be, one of them too.  Because I needed food on the table but had about 0 minutes to cook it, I turned to the slow cooker for the main part of the meal.  If I could get something in it in the morning, and have it cook while we went about our lives, that would be ideal.  Chicken is always a crowd pleaser, especially if barbecue sauce is involved, so there was that decision.  Hamburger buns just need to be unwrapped.  Then I rounded out the menu with a pasta salad that could be served at room temperature (starchy), and green beans (veggie), which I keep in big bags in the freezer (thank you, Trader Joe’s).  I often cook them ahead of time and reheat them when I need them.

zesty slow cooker barbecue chicken.

The Menu:

Chips and guac

Veggies and hummus

Zesty Slow Cooker Chicken Barbecue (which I swear I’ve blogged before, but can’t find, so recipe below)

green beans with onions and garlic

summer orzo salad.

a riff on my classic summer orzo salad

leftover cookies

margi's cake.

this show-stopper of a birthday cake from our friend, whose cakes are my favorite

What worked:  We were with some of our favorite people, and they felt comfortable enough to linger for a while after eating.  It’s never a bad time with this crew.  And I felt good about what I managed to put on the table that could all be prepped in advance.  I prepped the pasta and green beans the night before, and turned the chicken on in the morning.  The only thing I had to do when we got back from church was reheat the beans, and set out the food.

What didn’t:  I didn’t feel like I had enough food.  I am someone who loves nothing more than to overfeed people.  So while I don’t think anyone left hungry, I wish I had offered more options.

The chicken, however, is a wonderful staple that I’ve made multiple times.  The recipe comes courtesy of Cari Faye, who also gifted us with its cousin, slow cooker buffalo chicken sandwiches.

To make zesty slow cooker chicken barbecue for 11, you will need:

  • 10 boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 20 oz. barbecue sauce
  • 1 C Italian dressing
  • 4 T Worcestershire sauce

Place the chicken in the slow cooker.  In a bowl, whisk barbecue sauce, dressing, and Worcestershire.  Cover, and cook 3-4 hours on high, or 6-8 on low.  Use two forks to shred cooked chicken.

The Story Behind the Menu

Dear Readers, I have a couple of weekend engagements on my calendar coupled with a goal to host people for dinner every week.  I’m finally entertaining again.  But don’t think of it the way Martha Stewart might.  Oops.  When I say entertaining I mean I am opening my doors, and letting people in.  Any degree of formality you may be imagining is probably pretty far off base.

And yet, the idea of weekly dinners is still staring me down and intimidating me.

on entertaining weekly.:

While listening to The Simple Show episode with Megan (episode 12), she shared this quote from Ira Glass.  This.  This is weekly entertaining to me right now.  I have a vision of how I want it to be, but it’s never going to get there unless I do the work that gets me there.  I’m on it, dear readers, and I’m going to let you know how it goes, in hopes that it takes some of the fear out of entertaining.

On Feeling Settled

Dear Readers, we have been setting up camp in our house, in one form or another, since June 1.  And I haven’t really had anyone over yet.  Some friends have popped by in that, if you’re in the neighborhood, kind of way, but I have yet to pull out all the stops and really truly host people.

first meal.

When we moved into our last house, we had a housewarming party a mere three weeks after we got there.  Three weeks!  I’m coming up on 4 months with nothing to show for it. I felt so guilty about this, not because anyone was banging down my door, saying, “Invite me now,” but because what 30-something year old lady doesn’t throw heaps of guilt on herself for things that would seem trivial to people with rational minds?


But yesterday, I achieved clarity.  And thus, I have learned another secret of life.  You can’t compare things, even if those things seem like the same things.  Deep, no?  I moved into a house 5 years ago.  I moved into a house 4 months ago.  As they were not the same house, nor is my life going on under the same circumstances, I cannot expect the same things to happen in the second house that happened in the first.  The first house was move-in ready.  We unpacked our boxes and did not need to do so much as paint.  So of course we had people over right away.  We had nothing else to do!  This house still has a to-do list about a mile long.  There’s a living room rug we’re waiting on the next credit card cycle to buy.  There are three rooms to paint.  There are light fixtures that haven’t even been decided yet.  So it doesn’t feel ready.


None of those things will be in place in a couple of Fridays, when I open up my doors to some of my favorite people, but I feel ready for them anyway.  For one, the things we already have in the house are almost all in place.  Think pictures on the wall, books on shelves, and sheets on the beds.  And for another, I feel settled.  We moved in in June, moved our stuff in in July, promptly ran off to the beach, then came back as I was gearing up for work to start again.  But now I’m getting into the swing of things.  I had the day off today, and crossed some menial tasks off the list, and I realized I feel settled in our home now.  The house feels like ours, now that I’ve had space and time to myself in it.

closet explosion.

This is a long, rambling way to a) cheer myself on, and b) let you, dear readers, know that you have permission to take the time you need to do whatever you need, whenever you need it.  With love from a thirty-something year old lady.

75 Parties

This weekend, I served lunch to 70 people (with a healthy does of help from caterers and friends).  And it reminded me just how much I miss serving food to other people.  It is my love language.

When we get our house up and running, it will come complete with an open invitation to everyone we love once a week.  My intention for this house is that it feels inviting to anyone who crosses its threshold.  Which means I’ve spent the months since I saw this dreaming about what those weekly gatherings will look like.  Of course, if they are weekly, they’ll likely be pretty low-key, since it will be another 6 days before we up and do everything all over again.  That’s kind of the point.  But I’ve had a lot of time to dream, and come up with a laundry list of entertaining possibilities.  I want to have some of these parties yesterday (oh, Oscar party, you have always eluded me).  I want to have some of these parties never (what, exactly, is a hoedown?).  But it’s fun to dream, and if we’re ever stuck for ideas for our weekly gathering, one of these might help us out.  Links are to anything I thought might help you plan a fete of your own.

Below are 75 ideas for entertaining.  But tell me what I left out, dear readers.  Do you have any fun party traditions?

superbowl//oscars//derby//cinco de mayo//meatballs and spaghetti//brunch//hot cocoa//chili//pulled pork//tacos//crostini//wine tasting//friendsgiving//ugly sweaters//barbecue//pajama//birthdays//half birthday//pizza//ice cream and a movie//potluck//soup//picnic//new year’s eve//cocktails//fondue//s’mores//tapas//beer tasting//game night//waffle bar//chocolate//halloween//mother’s day//father’s day//back to school//snow day//block party//easter egg hunt//clambake//hoedown//rooftop//sock hop//toga//mardi gras//cookie swap//masquerade//white//garden//fourth of july//labor day//memorial day//pool//eighties//tea//luau//bonfire//new year’s day//articles club//chinese food on christmas//state dinner//desserts//gingerbread houses//Nintendo//favorite things//comfort food//pinterest//trivia night//baked potato bar//casino night//un-birthday//spa day//cupcake decorating//mac and cheese//twenties//karaoke

p.s.  If you click on no other link, click on the one for trivia night.  🙂

Before the Summer Slips Away {marinated tomato bruschetta}

If you made a list of everything I’ve done this summer, in order of frequency, cooking would fall lower than just about anything else.  I have not cooked anything.  ANYTHING.  A large part of this truth is because we bought a house and I immediately jumped into action, using up everything that was already in our fridge and freezer, throwing out the remains of sauces and mixes saved up (and expired anyway) over the years, and running things off to storage, or to my in-laws, where my husband and I will be residing until the next, approximately, forever.  Cooking was, for once, the last thing on my mind.

marinated tomatoes.

And the other reason I haven’t been playing in the kitchen as much is the same reason I cite every summer.  There’s not much that needs doing in the kitchen.  Take these marinated tomatoes.  Slice up some tomatoes (I recommend home grown–these were gifted to me by a friend with a garden), and let them hang out with garlic, olive oil, and basil for a few hours, and heap them onto toasted bread.  That’s “cooking” in the summer.  And nothing tastes better.

marinated tomato bruschetta.

To make a baguette’s worth of marinated tomato bruschetta, you will need:


  • 4 medium or 3 large heirloom tomatoes, seeded and chopped into bite sized pieces.
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced, plus two cloves, peeled
  • large bunch of basil, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
  • one baguette

Combine all ingredients except peeled garlic cloves and bread in a bowl.  Set on the counter at room temperature for 4 hours (though you could get away with less; whatever, it’s summer, it will still work).  When ready to eat, slice baguette into three-quarter-inch-thick slices.  Chop the tip off each peeled clove, and give each slice of bread a good swipe.  The oil will seep into the bread and I promise goodness will ensue.  Toast or grill your slices, and then pile high with the tomato mixture.