The past weekend was so much fun, as a flock of family visited with us and each other. My husband and I spent time calculating guests, beds, bedding, food and dietary restrictions, car logistics, dinner reservations, babysitters, groceries, toiletries, and on and on.
Of course, I didn’t do it on my own. Friends and family came through with travel infant beds, babysitting services, desserts, entertainment, and great recipes. What would we (or could we) do without friends? Not to mention the patience with which they listen to our anxieties!
Some of the planning was a fail. When I tried to change a dinner reservation at an Iron Chef’s flagship restaurant, I was foiled (friends came through with an invitation for the added guest – thank you!). Our after-dinner drinks at a beautiful hotel lobby were glacially slow to arrive, and the walk to the hotel was unseasonably frigid (glacial theme is consistent, anyway!). Yet, I’d say that overall, everything came off well.
A particularly bright spot was the previsit meal preparation. I actually was able to converse with everyone, play with the kids, enjoy some wine, and watch a movie. All of this would have been impossible in my frantic, disorganized past.
Now, I’ll share with you those recipes that I prepared ahead. You can adapt these ideas with your own favorite recipes. These dishes are actually better when reheated! There are choices for diets like vegetarian, lactose and gluten-free, and “no red meat.” Leftovers can be frozen, except for the chili. I think the beans taste weird after they’ve been frozen.
Prepare and Freeze: Spanakopita
A family favorite, spanikopita (spinach pie) can be assembled and frozen days ahead of time. Then, put the frozen pie directly into the cold oven, heat the oven to 350°F for about one hour, and you are ready to serve.
I use a Pyrex 9″ x 13″ pan with plastic lid. I assemble the pita right in the pan, cover and freeze it, and then uncover and bake it. To avoid stressing the pan, I put the pie from the freezer into the cold oven and let the pan and oven heat up together.
Watch the pita during the last 15 minutes, to avoid over-browning. Let the pie sit for about 5 minutes before serving, as it will be easier to cut.
Freezing does not affect the taste or quality of the finished product; so you can enjoy your guests and their lavish compliments.
dietary consideration: meatless
Tri-color Pasta Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette (gluten-free)
Pasta salad is actually tastier when it’s had a chance to chill. So, the day before our guests arrived, a made tri-color gluten-free noodles and mixed them with halved cherry tomatoes, halved petite carrots, chopped celery, red pepper, and cucumber.
I poured some olive oil over the mixture and refrigerated it in a covered glass bowl.
Simply Organic Spice Right Everyday Seasoning Blends, All-purpose Salt-free, 1.8 Ounce
The next day, before serving, I doctored up a bottled white balsamic vinaigrette dressing by adding a salad seasoning. If you have chopped, fresh herbs, those would also be great, too! Mix the dressing into the pasta salad before serving. Easy and done.
dietary consideration: meatless, vegetarian, gluten-free
Pulled Pork for a Crowd
I cooked the pulled pork two days ahead, because it takes a day or two to marinade. Plan on starting three days before your guests arrive.
Hopefully, you have a large crock pot with a removable ceramic insert. It saves a lot of trouble in transferring, refrigerating, and reheating the meat.
A 4-pound pork shoulder roast was more than enough for ten to fifteen people (I say this because we ate leftovers most of the following week). Some people like their pulled pork plain, some like barbecue sauce (scroll down the link page for the recipe), and some go for hot sauce. I serve the barbecue sauce and hot sauce “on the side,” to keep everyone happy.
I like this meat served on a yeasty roll (soft), but some of my family ate it with no bun at all. In our final leftovers round, we put leftover chili over the pulled pork. It was amazing – and very filling, as you might guess!
dietary consideration: gluten-free
Annie’s Turkey Chili
Make it a day or two ahead and it will taste like a south-of-the-border party when guests arrive! I swear to you that this turkey chili just keeps getting better and better as it is reheated. Even traditionalists will love it, and I bet they won’t even realize that it is made with ground turkey rather than beef.
The seasoning I used is Frontera Chipotle Chili Seasoning Sauce. I don’t think you can beat the flavor! Our local market carries it, but you can also find it online.
This chili is so good with tortilla chips (which are, in fact, gluten-free). Add a simple green salad and you’ve got a complete meal. I served this for lunch, but it was a staple as our guests came and went throughout the weekend.
dietary consideration: no red meat, gluten-free
The Weekend Serving Sequence
The first guests arrived Friday afternoon, and we had chili. Since the weather had dipped below 19°F, it was a perfect lunch. We went to a restaurant on Friday night and ordered a pizza for the kids.
Saturday morning, I went with my nephew to get bagels and dougnuts. My sister-in-law made eggs, we drank lots of coffee (thanks for the coffee, bro and sis-in-law!).
More family arrived Saturday at noon. For lunch, I served the pasta salad, pulled pork, and spanikopita, along with a simple green salad. My brother and sister brought cookies and sweet breads for dessert. Yum!
No one was especially ravenous for dinner, but we had plenty of leftovers for nibbling. Then, we enjoyed some wine and a movie together.
Sunday morning, we made more eggs, turkey sausage, cold cereals, yogurt, and leftover bagels and doughnuts. It was an easy cooking weekend. We all could use those now and again.
Well, there you have it. These are my secrets to an enjoyable weekend with friends and family – at least from the cooking perspective. Once these dishes are made and ready, you’ll have time to kick back and enjoy the crazy train!
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