Hosting a large brunch? Hold the bacon

Two tips for hosting a large brunch (or any meal)

Some people are natural party hosts.

I am not one of them.

Or at least, I have not achieved a level of mastery or ease in this process.

I work hard to plan every detail so I don’t stress the day of the party. This means I am always looking for easier ways to host, especially when it comes to meal planning.

One day I’ll learn to relax. Well, maybe…

Earlier this month we hosted a large brunch held in honor of a bride and groom on the day after their wedding. Here was the good part: technically I wasn’t hosting the party and it wasn’t at my house, but I played a role.

The brunch went well, and the bride and groom had a great time (as far as I could tell).

On a side note, I don’t believe that the perfect food and the perfect presentation make a party. It’s the people. It’s the host(s) bringing these people together. It’s the feeling of camaraderie that each guest leaves with. To me, that’s the mark of a truly successful party.

But these guests needed to eat.

During the party, I learned a couple beginner lessons about meal planning for larger groups, and here are my top two takeaways:

  1. Serve food that is low-maintenance. Cut it once and serve, or throw it in a crockpot and let it cook.
  2. Outsource. If you don’t have time or the inclination to bake or make it, purchase the food from somewhere that excels in it. Or ask a friend to bring their specialty.

Following these principles, more or less, this was the menu:

1. Croissants. Some with chocolate. Some without. All very yummy. My friends picked these up from a local bakery that morning. We cut the pastries up into more manageable pieces so that guests wouldn’t get overwhelmed by their size.

2. Bagels and Cream Cheese. Get your bagels fresh as well as your cream cheese. Find fun flavors. Just cut and serve.

3. Fruit Salad. My favorite is a variety of berries plus mint and honey. I’ll share this recipe in a future post. I usually keep half of the salad in the fridge so that there is fresh fruit for the stragglers. We also cut up melons.

4. Bundt cake. I am not sure what was in it, but my friend’s mother can bake a cake! I snacked on it all day.

5. Egg, Ham and Spinach Breakfast Casserole. Not all egg dishes can stand the test of a five-hour brunch, but this one worked well! The Greek yogurt preserved its moistness and the crockpot kept it warm. The initial prep took a little time but then you can forget about it. We doubled the recipe, and added a least another half hour to the cooking time. Here is the recipe we used.

We left these foods out for guests as they came, chatted with the newlyweds, and left. I only had to remember to put the fresh fruit out at the half-way mark.

And as it happens, we had one dish that didn’t work quite as well. There’s always one in the bunch.

Bacon. I admit the bacon was hugely popular. We would pull one batch out of the oven and it was gone in minutes. We served Uncured Apple-Smoked Bacon from Trader Joe’s and we threw it in the oven to make for a more simple preparation. But we had to cook batch after batch, which took time and attention. Although it was popular, I would omit this for the next brunch for a large number of people or over a long duration of time. It’s not worth the effort to keep it going the entire party.

When serving for large numbers, it’s always simpler to serve things that don’t need attention. Either outsource your food or serve food that is low maintenance. Also, serve food that you know will work.

Otherwise, you will miss the party.

How to make a simple meal divine with the right ingredients #WFMfoodie

Great ingredients make simple meals better!

 

A recipe doesn’t need to be complicated to be good. That’s been my mantra since I became a mother. A simple meal is always better in my book.

I’d like to go a bit further: A high-quality sauce, oil or ingredient can make a simple meal divine.

As a working parent, I’ve mentioned that I don’t have time to cook every night. I never have time to make sauces, and I look for shortcuts whenever I can.

Last week I attended a tasting at the Whole Foods Market in Arlington, Va., which introduced their new program: WFM Foodie. Whole Foods Markets across the country are highlighting special products they think their customers may like.

WFM Foodie products are high-quality, no preservatives, all natural. And hand-picked by foodies. We tasted a variety of the olive oils, sauces and black-bean noodles. All fantastic. And from what I saw: all very simple to incorporate into a meal. The product is simple, not the taste.

Here is what it boils down to: A well-thought out, high-quality ingredient can make almost any meal better.

I am saying this out loud because sometimes I just rush through the meal-planning process and forget that I can change things up with a good product. I used to embrace this concept a lot more, pre-baby.

Also, buying the right ingredients (not more ingredients) is often a great way to cut down time in the kitchen. 

Great ingredients make simple meals better!

At the tasting, Jackie from Whole Foods introduced a few products (and recipes), which I think are worth mentioning:

Christian Potier Sauces: I am very excited about this find. Christian Potier was voted the best sauce chef in France by Gault & Millau, and he was able to package his magic in microwave pouches. We tried the Bernaise (over grilled aspargus) and it tasted great.

Great ingredients make simple meals better! On a busy night, just grill up asparagus, heat up the sauce and there is your side dish. It would work great on Eggs Benedict as well. Christian Potier has other varieties too.

Great ingredients make simple meals better!

Black Bean Noodle Salad

Black Bean noodles: Yes, you read that right. Noodles made of black beans. Created by Explore Asian Authentic Cuisine, these noodles are full of protein, which I love. Very healthy. Very little sugar. Organic.

We tasted the Black Bean Noodle salad (above), which cooks up very quickly. Click here for the recipe.

Great ingredients make simple meals better!

Tandoori Salmon

The Sassy Indian Olive Oil: Oh my, so tasty. We ate grilled salmon, finished with this Tandoori olive oil that truly added that extra something. This main course only has four ingredients and takes no time to make. So delicious! Click here for the recipe.

Great ingredients make simple meals better!

Smoked Arbequina Olive Oil

Great ingredients make simple meals better!

I also enjoyed the smoky flavors of the Castillo de Canena Smoked Arbequino (used as a dressing above). A little pricey but worth the splurge.

Great ingredients make simple meals better! Here are some examples.WFM Foodie items are usually located in a display at the front of participating Whole Foods Stores. It’s a good place to start if you are looking for some new flavors this summer.

What’s for breakfast? Power pancakes!

Healthy and easy power pancakes! The Shortcut MomThis year I decided to put my sports bra back on and start exercising again, post baby. Serious exercise. I love it — a hard workout always invigorates me.

It also increases my appetite.

The next morning (post workout), I am ravenous, so I started to eat more protein for breakfast. And yes, I quickly grew tired of scrambled eggs.

When I read about protein-packed pancakes, I was all in.

I love, love, love pancakes. However, when protein is the main ingredient instead of flour, it is more challenging to make these pancakes as tasty.

On top of that, any recipe I use should also be simple and quick. I need to be able to make it in the morning before work with a toddler in tow.

I experimented with several types of protein pancakes and found one that really tastes like a pancake.

Healthy and easy power pancakes! The Shortcut Mom

There are three key ingredients in these power pancakes: oatmeal, cottage cheese and egg whites. You can add other flavors to your liking but the basic components are healthy and easy.

1/4 cup oatmeal
1/4 cup cottage cheese
1/4 cup egg whites (or less. Too many eggs ruins the pancakes. Trust me)

It’s 1:1:1

Optional: vanilla extract, stevia (or other sweetener), chocolate chips, fruit (bananas, yummy!)

Take one-part oatmeal, one-part cottage cheese and one-part egg whites and mix it up in the blender. It only takes a few seconds. (Then try this blender cleaning hack afterwards.)

Add your optional ingredients, then cook up your pancakes. I eat them with almond butter. I can still taste this morning’s batch!

After eating these power pancakes, I feel filled-up full and ready for the day, without that “oh-my-goodness-what-did-I-eat” feeling.

As a shortcut, I often make the batter at night, add a little water or milk in the morning and whip them up before I go to work.

Here are two of my favorite pancake shortcuts:

A better way to powder your pancakes: Easy DIY sugar dispenser

DIY powdered sugar dispenser: Use an old spice jar!

Kitchen hack: Clean your blender faster

Clean your blender faster! #momhack

 

Easy Protein Power Pancakes

Keywords: fry breakfast gluten-free

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup oatmeal
  • 1/4 cup cottage cheese
  • 1/4 cup egg whites

Instructions

Blend ingredients in blender or other mixer.

Make as you would normal pancakes.

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Freeze your own rice: simplify dinnertime and save money too!

Freeze your own rice: save time and money!Frozen rice is a gift from God. It can save 20-30 minutes on busy nights. Just pop it in the microwave (or heat on the stove) with a little butter and spices.

I used to buy frozen rice at the grocery store until I realized I could cook and freeze my own rice at a fraction of the cost. Frankly, I think it tastes better, too.

Step 1: Make a big batch of rice.

Freeze your own rice: save time and money!

Step 2: Let it cool some and put 1-2 cups of rice per freezer bag, depending on your usage.

Step 3: Refridgerate the rice bags, and when cool, transfer to the freezer. Make sure the bags lie flat so that it doesn’t take up too much space when frozen.

So easy. And so much cheaper than buying pre-packaged frozen rice!

 

 

I tried to make a cookie with only three ingredients and….

I tired to make a single three-ingredient cookie and ....I would love to find the perfect three-ingredient cookie recipe. I love simplicity. I love cookies and anything baked. Wouldn’t it be great if the two worked together?

Last weekend I found a recipe for a single peanut butter cookie on Pinterest. Perfect for someone like me who doesn’t want to eat more than one cookie. It was only three ingredients.

It was almost too good to be true.

It was Sunday afternoon, and my husband and son were going down for their afternoon naps. I thought I would try it. If it turned out well, I wouldn’t have to share.

1. Mix:

  • 1/4 cup peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup of powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of whisked egg

2. Roll into balls, place on cooking sheet and make criss-cross pattern with a fork.

3. Bake for 12-15 minutes (depends on the oven).

Here is the original recipe. (This is a fantastic tutorial with great pics.)

I took some shortcuts here — I used the toaster oven. I didn’t have any creamy peanut butter so I used my husband’s chunky. I put it on foil and let it go.

The original recipe called for 12-15 minutes and I let it cook 12 minutes, which was too long. Yes, it was a little crispy. You could smell the slight tinge of almost-burn wafting in the kitchen. (Although, it wasn’t bad enough to set off the smoke detector, which would have woken up my son. Whew!)

The taste: I ate around the crispy parts and it wasn’t bad. Tasted like cooked peanut butter that was sweetened. Hit the spot for me that afternoon but I wouldn’t serve it to guests.

Seriously, what can you expect from a three-ingredient cookie? There is a reason why some things are more complicated to make.

So here is my shortcut takeaway: Three-ingredient cookies are a quick fix if you need something now. Otherwise, if you are looking for a good shortcut cookie, go to your neighborhood bakery!

P.S. Don’t try this with almond butter, or anything other than peanut butter. Trust me — it does not work at all!

Ridiculously Easy Meal: Ham and Peas Cheesy Pasta

Ridiculously Easy Recipe: ham, peas and cheese shellsI’ll jump to the point: 15-minute meal and an extremely happy family! This is quickly becoming one of my go-to recipes.

Who doesn’t love cheesy pasta? Mix that with ham and peas and you have a full meal.

Here is the original recipe, found at Dinner, A Love Story. I had to change it up a bit because my husband doesn’t like onions. I also simplified the recipe, cutting out a few steps that would probably make it even tastier.

All you need is:

Box of shell pasta. Or any type of pasta that you like.

Frozen peas. About a cup

2-3 Thick slices of Ham (or more): you can buy this packaged or from a deli counter. I recommend buying more ham than you think you need if you like meat in your meals, like we do.

Cheese. The original recipe calls for 1/4 cups of Parmesan, which tastes fantastic. Sometimes we use mozzarella, or whatever we have on hand. Use as much, or as little, cheese to your taste.

Salt, Pepper, Red Pepper flakes, Olive Oil

Optional: Onions

And here is the process:

Ridiculously Easy Ham, Peas, and Cheese Pasta

1. Start boiling your water in a large pot. Cut the ham into small pieces while you wait.

2. Cook pasta as instructed. During the last minute, add the peas.

3. Drain your pasta and peas and let them sit while you return the pot to the stove.

4. You will use a little olive oil, add seasonings, salt pepper etc, and saute your ham a little. (If you use onions, cook those first before you put the ham in.)

5. Return the pasta and peas to your pan. Add cheese to taste.

Voila!

Interested in more Ridiculously Easy Recipes? Click here.

Ham and Peas Cheesy Pasta

Ingredients

  • 16 oz small shell pasta (or any pasta)
  • 1/2 cup Frozen peas
  • 2-3 Thick slices of Ham (or more)
  • 1/4 cup of shredded Parmesan or mozzarella Cheese. (Add more to desired cheesiness)
  • Salt, Pepper, Red Pepper flakes, Olive Oil
  • Optional: Onions

Instructions

1. Start boiling your water in a large pot. Cut the ham into small pieces while you wait.

2. Cook pasta as instructed. During the last minute, add the peas.

3. Drain your pasta and peas and let them sit while you return the pot to the stove.

4. You will use a little olive oil, add seasonings, salt pepper etc, and saute your ham a little. (If you use onions, cook those first before you put the ham in.)

5. Return the pasta and peas to your pan. Add cheese to taste.

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Ridiculously Easy Meal: Ham, Cheese, and Peas Pasta

Ridiculously Easy Recipe: Four-ingredient chicken pesto bake

Four Ingredient Chicken Pesto BakeIt’s a new year and I am on the prowl for new, painless dinner recipes. I love to cook but I usually don’t have time to whip up a masterpiece after working all day, and also spend time with my toddler. He actually likes spending time with us right now and I know that won’t last forever!

I ran across this Easy Italian Chicken Bake recipe from Pinning Mama that met my criteria — very few ingredients, easy prep and relatively healthy (depending on how you make it). Our family calls it chicken pesto, though.

Here are the four ingredients:

  • Chicken breasts
  • Pesto (I used Trader Joe’s Pesto and Quinoa but any will do.)
  • Tomatoes (I used roma.)
  • Mozzarella cheese .

All you have to do is layer the ingredients in a baking dish. Chicken first, spread with pesto, add sliced tomatoes and top off with cheese.

4 ingredient Pesto Chicken Bake

Bake it at 400 degrees for 25-35 minutes (depending on your oven). On the side, you can add almost anything. We usually add veggies in some form. Pasta is also an option. Please visit Pinning Mama’s blog if you want exact recipe quantities and more detailed instructions.

4 ingredient Pesto Chicken Bake

I omitted the tomatoes on part of the dish, to test. It’s definitely better with tomatoes!

4 ingredient Pesto Chicken Bake

I made this for the first time last week and it took about 8-10 minutes of prep because I had to slice the chicken breasts, which were gigantic. That left 30 minutes of cooking, and Zj and I went outside to play on the slide.

Adding more playtime in our busy schedule is a very good thing! Thanks Pinning Mama!

Ridiculously easy meal: Trader Joe’s marinated pot roast

Trader Joe's Marinated Cabernet Pot Roast. Super easy and yummy!

It is pot roast week and I forgot to add pot roast to my husband’s grocery list. (Insert head palm here.) So I ran up to Trader Joe’s for a few other things, and came back with a Cabernet Beef Pot Roast. Pre-marinated.  It looked good.

I always mix my own pot roast marinade. Usually with onion soup, beef broth and other seasonings. Throw it in the crockpot for the day and voila! Still a ridiculously easy meal.

But the Cabernet Beef Pot Roast marinade was good. Very good. And was even less work on my part. I just threw it in the crock pot and it was better than my original.

Looking forward to the leftovers tonight!

Microwave hack: Make your own {cheaper and healthier} popcorn in a bag

Did you know that you can make your own microwave air-popped popcorn bag? I am not sure why I didn’t think about this before. It’s genius.

You simply put popcorn kernels in a paper bag and it works just like the ones you buy at the grocery store. What’s better about this method is that it’s healthier, cheaper and you can control the portion size!

I was inspired by this article in The Christian Science Monitor that gives a great overview.

Microwave hack: DIY popcorn. Healthier, cheaper and super easy!

All you need is a brown paper lunch bag and corn kernels. And, of course, a microwave.

1. Place about 1/3 cup of corn kernels in a brown lunch bag.

2. Seal the bag the best you can by folding it a couple times in various directions.

3. Microwave. It took about 2 minutes in mine but you will need to figure out what is the best timing for your microwave.

Microwave hack: DIY popcorn. Healthier, cheaper and super easy!

4. Toppings! Because the bag is not lined, it’s probably wise to add your toppings after the fact. The first time I tried this, I added salt and butter. I am looking forward to trying kettle corn seasoning soon.

I’ve made this twice so far and have not been disappointed. It’s cheaper and I am happy that I know EXACTLY what ingredients are going into my food.

Ridiculously easy vegetables: Foil packet grilling

Foil packet grilling

Lately, I’ve been struggling to make veggies taste great in the little time we have to make dinner.

We had some green beans in the fridge that were almost at the end of their lifespan, and I was uninspired by my previous attempts at quick green bean preparation. I figured it was time to try something different.

This is not a new concept but it’s new to us: Grilling vegetables in a foil packet.

It’s simple:

1. Throw some veggies on foil.
2. Add a little olive oil and salt/pepper/spices.
3. Seal the packet and throw on the grill next to the chicken or burgers.

We are hooked. The veggies we have tried so far have been delicious, and it is easy. The clean-up is even easier: just throw away the foil.

I am looking forward to trying different vegetable and spice combinations!