ENTERTAINING: Tips on Moving a Party Indoors When it Rains

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Summer is perfect for outdoor entertaining. And as we have a city house, entertaining sometimes is limited because of space. So we do use the summertime to have our bigger parties, being able to use our large deck and yard in the back for people to sit, eat and socialize. In fact, we count on that extra space to host our annual Labor Day party properly.

What else can we count on Chicago? Unpredictable weather. 

Last year, as well as this year, rain storms threatened. I had to set up the food, drinks and eating areas inside last minute for 10 adults and 10 kids. After I panicked and chugged a glass of wine, hubby and I got to work. In the end, it all worked out fine. Everyone was stuffed, buzzed and left happy as ever, saying it was a great party. So mission accomplished!

The main things you need to ask yourself are "where am I putting the food so it makes sense and foot traffic through the line can be organized?" Same with the beverages. Then think through where people can sit and enjoy the food, kids included. Kids are more flexible. They can sit where ever, including the floor, and eat on their own schedule as they are playing with other kids. So keep that in mind and use it to your advantage!


Where can I put food? 
Do you have a buffet in the dining room that's loaded with pictures? Dump them in a drawer and set up the sides on top with serving utensils. If you don't have a buffet, do you have a small folding table you were going to put outside that now can be popped in a corner of the dining room to hold some dishes? Splitting up the food from mains and sides between two areas opens up the food lines a little, so there is not a big traffic jam in one area.


Where can I seat people?
Clear up any and all tables you have in the house, and pull out the extra chairs you have so that people can find seats and empty surfaces to eat and chat.


Use your living room coffee table too if you have one. You can't see it in this pic-I swear I took a pic of it for you. But oh well! I threw a table cloth on the coffee table in the living room, and let kids know that they could sit around it on the floor and eat their dinner. If you are worried about messes on the carpet, place a washable blanket underneath the table, and throw it in the wash once the guest are gone. If your living room has a TV, entice the kids to sit and eat with a Pixar movie playing. That always works here!


Where else can I put food?
Use your kitchen counters. Here is the Italian beef that I decided to put in a crock pot to save space (versus large trays over Sternos that take up a ton of room), and plug that baby in. Place rolls and toppings near it. To the left I was going to put some other pyrex pans filled with entrees.


Don't forget your stove. It's a major surface area in your kitchen, and makes things easy for you because you won't have to travel far once things are heated up. I decided once I pulled out my lasagnas, I was going to just keep them on the stove, have a pot of heated sauce for topping on a burner, throw in the serving spoons and let the hunger games begin.



Figure out a place where guests can grab the essentials; plates, utensils, napkins, pepper. I decided the small counter near my stove which was now going to feature the main dishes hot out of the oven was best. Make the area nice by using matching linen and some flowers to alert people visually to the area.


Find a place to feature your desserts. Here my kitchen table was doing double duty. We cleared it, added the leaf to make it larger and brought out extra chairs so it could accommodate more guests to eat comfortably. And it helped show off my homemade pies that I was serving for dessert. 

Now this year I bought a long and skinny folding table that fits nicely under my dining room window. Its skinniness allows it to stay out of the way, but I can put out all my desserts, coffee cups, desert plates, coffee carafe and forks on this table. It keep things out of the way until needed toward the end of the evening. I bought it at Kmart for 30 bucks. It caused a marital argument of monumental proportion of which I won. But every time I use it at a party, I am sooo happy. It can work for drinks, or you can put plates and stuff on it too. It has been worth the marital strife. Trust me.


Where do I put drinks?
Find some counter space for wine glasses, charms, cups, a sharpie (for guests to write their name so they don't lose their drink) cocktail ingredients and such if you don't have a bar. We don't have a traditional bar. SO I move all of C' school papers, and the misc nonsense that piles up on this part of the counter, and I made it a drink station. 

We also kept a giant cooler outside the kitchen door with pop and juice. It's the only thing we kept outside, and we kept it close for guests so they wouldn't get too wet if they wanted to grab a beer just outside the door.

***
SO there you have it! Don't cry in your beer when the rain comes for your party, your party can still be rocking inside! You may need to move a couple of things in drawers for the day, to clear off tables and open up space. But your house can be put back together once the guests are gone and your hangover leaves you. :) But for the day, the party must go on!

HOW TO VIDEOS: How to Make a Fresh Peach Lattice Pie Series

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People love my pies. I have spent years reading, learning, testing and perfecting pie making techniques. I have used a pastry cutter, food processor, and simply my own two hands and a fork to make pie crusts. And my favorite thing to make in the summer is a peach pie using fresh farm stand peaches from Michigan.

I have posted this recipe in the past, and I make it every time we vacation at our lake house rental in Michigan. We usually enjoy it on our "annual sunset pie cruise" on the lake, where we nibble on pie a la mode while watching the sun go down over the lake as my husband drives the pontoon boat rental around. Then we usually wait until "magic hour" when the fish start going crazy-and we get casting. I think I caught 10 large bass this trip! No joke! See.....



Our little lake house rental is SMALL. But even a small, minimal kitchen can allow for great things. And this pie proves it. Here, I show you in three phases how to make a peach pie. I include how to pick ripe peaches and easily slice them off the pit. Because my husband forgot my pastry cutter at home, I had to make this pie crust by hand with a fork and knife-really old school. So it's good to learn that technique as well! And finally, I dedicate one episode to making a lattice top. It's easy. I swear. Just watch. You'll see!

And I do end in episode 3 on the annual pie cruise, so you get to see our pretty sunset. Sigh*. I am wishing I was there right now.






RECIPE: 13 Top Tomato Recipes ROUND UP!

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Are you as over run with garden tomatoes as we are? You have a lot of guilt, don't you? You have to use them up and enjoy them before they get mushy, right! 

Well, I am here to help. I'm a helper.

Here are my favorite recipes on my blog that use tomatoes in all shapes and sizes.

And if you are the nasty, trashy, self-entitled lady we caught on security stealing ALL of our ripe tomatoes out of our vegetable garden last week (leaving us no ripe tomatoes for a while) we hope KARMA pays you a visit-or the police. We'll see which is faster.

Sorry. I had to get that out publicly. 'Gotta love living in the city sometimes.

Well, when I get my next round of ripe tomatoes, rest assured we'll be making quite a few of these yummies.


Cream of roasted tomato soup


Garden Tomato Sauce


Marinated & Grilled Shrimp and Vegetables with Tomato Onion Puree and Whole Wheat Fettuccini


Baked Rigatoni with Garden Eggplant and Zucchini


Tomato Frezzelle



Baked Peas, Artichoke and Tomato Pasta Bake


Summer Veggie Pizza


Lighten Up! Vegetable Lasagna


Easy Tomato Sauce


Velvety Fresh Garden Tomato Pasta Sauce


Oven Dried Tomato, Caramelized Onion and Olive Cheese Pie


Farmers Market Junk Drawer Quinoa Salad with Chicken



Rigatoni, Fresh Mozzarella, Olive, Tomato and Thyme Salad

RECIPE: Peach Puff Pie

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Recently we were vacationing in Michigan, and the farmers markets were overflowing with peaches. It's the season for peaches, and this is a super-easy pie that I whipped up with some extra peach filling I had that didn't fit in my traditional peach lattice pie I was baking. I didn't want to throw the extra peaches away, and I had extra pie crust from the scraps of my lattice crust, too. So this was a quick yummy made out of all my left overs! It was like I got two pies out of one baking day, really!

You can make your own filling, or just use peach pie filling from the store to top the pie. We enjoyed it warm with a little vanilla ice cream. A perfect summer treat!

Peach Puff Pie


Ingredients:
1 9 " store bought pie crust dough

3 Tbsp. flour
3 Tbsp. sugar
2 eggs
splash of water or milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
dash of salt
6-8 oz. softened cream cheese
1 cup peach pie filling with syrup

Directions:


Unfold and pat the pie crust dough in a pie tin. It doesn't need to go all the way up the sides, but if you have enough dough to do so then do.

Preheat oven to 400˚. Bake the pie crust until just set and golden, about 10 minutes. Cool crust slightly while making the filling.

In a medium bowl, whisk the cream cheese with sugar, salt and vanilla until smooth. Add the eggs and splash of water or milk, and whip until thick and smooth. Add the flour, and whisk until smooth.



Pour the batter into the crust. Spoon the peaches and syrup over the top, evenly. Sprinkle the top with granulated sugar. Bake the pie for about 30 minutes, until puffed and golden. Serve warm.



Make your own pie filling:

1-2 peaches, depending on size, peeled, cored and sliced
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 Tbsp. sugar
dash of salt
1 tsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. orange juice
dash of almond extract
1/2 Tbsp. corn starch
1 tsp. butter

Macerate the peach slices for an hour. Drain the peaches, reserving the juice. SImmer the juice for about 5-10 minutes until reduced by 2/3rds. Swirl the butter into the juice, and pour the juice back into the sliced peaches. Toss with corn starch and dash of almond extract. Your pie filling is ready!

RECIPE: Tortellini in Beef Mushroom Broth

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This is simply a delicious, light dinner. You throw everything in a pot, cook it up, strain it, cook up some tortellini, and slurp slurp slurp. Delish.

This soup does include a technique that my Italian mother uses a lot in peasant Italian dishes-throwing a chunk of Parmesan cheese rind into the stew pot for flavor and depth. It works wonderfully in this soup. and the extras make a nice, light lunch the next day.

Tortellini in Beef Mushroom Broth
Adapted from Food Network Magazine

Ingredients:

Broth:
1 cup dried Porcini mushrooms, rinsed
1 onion, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
2 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
2 stalks of celery, trimmed and roughly chopped
1 large piece of Parmesan cheese rind (3-5" long, 1-2" thick)
1/4 cup parsley leaves and stems, torn up roughly
5-6 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 tsp. black peppercorns
6 cups beef broth
4 cups water

1 lb. fresh or frozen cheese tortellini, cooked al dente according to package directions.

Directions:

In a large stock pot, place all the ingredients minus the pasta. Bring to a boil, and simmer slightly covered for about 1 1/2-2 hours. The broth will be dark, aromatic and reduced down.


Take off heat and pour the broth through a fine mesh sieve into a large bowl. Press the vegetables aggressively to get all the juice and flavor out of everything. Discard the broth remnants, and pour the clear broth back into the pot. Heat through and adjust flavor. You may wish to add a little hot water to balance the salt and "punchiness" of the broth.

Serve warm with a handful of tortellini in each bowl, and garnish with extra chopped parsley and a sprinkle of grated Parmesan cheese.

RECIPE: Multigrain Spinach Egg Bake

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This was my guilty working mom breakfast.
You see, my husband went on a trip to Canada-leaving my daughter and I to fend for ourselves for a week. So the first Friday on our own, I had had a very long day at work. My daughter and I were pretty hopeless. "What do you want for dinner?" "I dunno, what do you want?" "I dunno." Sigh.*

And that continued for about an hour. We had no idea what we wanted, and finally I walked over to my daughter's favorite rotisserie chicken shop up the street (which I hate) and brought home some chicken and home style sides. We picnicked in the living room watching a Disney movie. She was happy as a clam. It was cozy, I agree. But I felt like a really lame mom, not having a nice dinner planned for us.

So I got up early and whipped this puppy up based on what I had in the kitchen. I based it on a recipe I found on a great blog, Brown Eyed Baker. I thought we could enjoy some baked deliciousness to start our weekend off right.

My daughter liked it, but I think she enjoyed our chicken picnic better. And the moral of the story in that? Sometimes, our children want to just spend time with us, they don't have high expectations. They have very simple needs, and simple palates. We are the ones that have put the expectations on ourselves. And in trying to live up to those, we are missing out on some precious time with our kids.

Now I am not saying NOT to make this dish. It's a hearty, aromatic breakfast dish. Just don't do it out of guilt. As the recent Johnson's commercial says, "You're doing okay, Mom."


Multigrain Spinach Egg Bake

Ingredients: 

10 ounces of multigrain bread, cubed and crusts sliced off 
6 ounces of turkey bacon, cooked crisp and drained on a paper towel 
1 pound Cremini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced 
1 shallot, finely chopped 
1 cup frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry 
1 teaspoon of seasoning blend (I like a blend called Sunny Paris from the Spice House) 
salt and pepper to taste 
4 1/2 ounces of shredded mozzarella 
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese 
1 cup of shredded Irish Swiss cheese Irish or Gruyere 
8 eggs, lightly whisked 
1 1/2 cups of milk 
1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded


Directions:

Preheat oven to 250°. Lay the chopped bread on a baking sheet in an even layer and place in the oven to dry out while making other ingredients. They should take about 15 to 20 minutes. 




While the bread is drying out, defrost the chopped frozen spinach and squeeze dry. In a large sauté pan cook the bacon in a tablespoon of olive oil until crispy. Drain on paper towel but reserve the pan juices and return pan back to the stove. Reheat the pan and add the chopped shallots and sauté until translucent. Add the mushrooms and cook until they begin to release their juices. Add the chopped spinach and cook until softened. Add 1 teaspoon of the seasoning blend and salt and pepper to taste.







Chop the cooked bacon and toss the bacon with the mushrooms in the shallots and take off the heat. Meanwhile take the bread out of the oven and let cool slightly. Get a big bowl, and pour the bread into it. Turn up the temperature up on the oven to 425˚. Toss the bread together with the vegetables, Parmesan, Mozzarella and Swiss cheese until well mixed. In another bowl whisk the eggs with the milk. Pour the egg mixture over the bread mixture and toss to coat and moisten the bread mixture well.


Spray a deep 10-11" long casserole dish with nonstick cooking spray. Pour the wet bread mixture into the pan. With the back of a spoon, push the mixture down and pack it in tight. Sprinkle the top with the cheddar. Bake in the oven until top is melted and golden brown and bread is puffed up, about 35-45 minutes. Serve hot.


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