12 Pointers to Food Prepping & Hospitality

As I flip through the pages of my favorite food magazine, I see article upon article illustrating the perfect way to set a table for guests. And the latest complicated food fashions. Or the politically correct wine to serve with each course. Considering this entertaining circus, the thought of having dinner guests is overwhelming.

My husband and I tend to be “last minute” hosts. We love inviting friends over on a whim. However, I often find myself shuffling through my recipe collection, stressing about the perfect meal to prepare. As the doorbell countdown commences, stress levels rise and cries for help setting the table or removing the “helpful” four year-old from the kitchen resound.

I often need to remind myself that my friends are coming for me, not the food. If they wanted a gourmet meal, they could go to a restaurant

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I love cooking, so extensive food prep isn’t daunting to me. But if you don’t appreciate quality time with your chef’s knife, here are a few simple suggestions to de-stress your experience:

• Chop, dice, mix, and measure as much of the meal as possible the morning of, or day before your party.

• It is OK to let your company bring the salad, dessert or drinks.

• If extra cost isn’t a deterrent, purchasing pre-chopped fruits and veggies is a time saver. Just watch out for added preservatives.

• A covered pot boils much faster than an uncovered one.

• Freeze leftover wine in an ice cube tray, and then transfer to a freezer bag. Add the cubes to soups and sauces.

• Freezing your grater for a few minutes will keep cheese from sticking.

• Share your family traditions. Your guests will feel privileged to join in, even on pancake night.

• Don’t forget to pre-heat your oven. When the oven door is opened to put food in, a large amount of heat escapes. If the oven did not have sufficient time to warm, it cannot quickly return to the desired temp, and your food will not be done on time (which is always embarrassing).

• Crockpots and casseroles are your best friend.

• When making casseroles, I often make a double batch, and keep one in the freezer. It comes in handy for last minute company.

• The menu needs to reflect the guests. Too many times I have planned a meal for the adults, and forgot to consider my younger guests.

• Plan meals that don’t require lots of last minute food prep. You don’t want to be stuck in the kitchen, while everyone else is chatting in the living room.

When having dinner guests, simply remember to put the emphasis on the guests and not the dinner, and you will master food hospitality.

Lasagna is a great meal to serve to company. You can prep the ingredients, or make the whole lasagna ahead of time. Simply add a salad and garlic bread sticks and you have a delicious and impressive meal.

Classic Lasagna

From Davina Weinhold

8 uncooked lasagna noodles

Meat mixture:

Olive oil

1 lb ground sausage or ground beef

1 lg onion, chopped

1 stalk celery, chopped

1 green pepper, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

4 cups spaghetti sauce, any variety

1 tsp basil

2 tsp cumin

1 tsp oregano

Salt and pepper to taste

Cheese Mixture:

15 ozs ricotta cheese or small curd cottage cheese

2 tsp dried oregano or 1 Tb fresh, chopped

2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

½ cup grated parmesan cheese, plus more to top

Heat water for the lasagna noodles, and cook according to package directions. Lay on sheet pan.

In a large skillet, cook the ground sausage or beef in olive oil until no longer pink. Remove from the pan. Drain all but 3 Tbs grease from the pan.

Add the onion to the same pan and sauté 1-2 minutes. Add the celery, peppers, and garlic and sauté for 3-5 minutes. Add tomato sauce. Stir in the basil, cumin, 1 tsp oregano, salt, and pepper. Stir in the cooked meat. Simmer 10 minutes or until it’s as thick as you like. Remove from the heat.

Mix ricotta, 2 tsp oregano, mozzarella, and parmesan.

Preheat oven to 350°.

Spread ½ of the meat sauce mixture in a buttered 9x13 pan. Top with 4 noodles. Spread ½ of the cheese mixture evenly over the noodles. Sprinkle with half of the mozzarella. Repeat the layers.

Finish with a sprinkle of parmesan cheese and oregano over the top.

Cover with tinfoil, and bake 30 minutes. Uncover, and bake 15 minutes. Let stand covered, 15 minutes before cutting.

(Editor’s note - The above is a rewritten version of a Through My Kitchen Window article which appeared in September of 2011.)

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