entertaining

Adulting: How to Host Friends for Brunch

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On Saturday I had some girlfriends over for brunch so we could hear about a friend's recent trip overseas and I could show my house to a few who hadn't yet seen it. And so we could eat brunch. Now while I LOVE a good breakfast out at a fun restaurant (there are too many to even keep track of in Denver), there is something so comforting about entertaining at home. I lit a candle, put on some music and whipped up some new recipes. Here are a few tips to host your own brunch including the incredibly simple menu put I together. 

Think About Variety

When planning a menu, the first thing to think about is variety. Choose a bread or starchy item, protein, fruit/veg and some sort of fun beverage (in addition to coffee/tea). With this group I felt comfortable going a little more adventurous with the main dish but you could keep it as simple as cheesy scrambled eggs with toast and berries if you want. 

Make-Ahead Items

Make-ahead items were a must because I wanted to make sure I wasn't scrambling (literally and figuratively - get it? haha) at the last minute. I also knew I didn't want to do any sort of made-to-order dish even with a smaller group (five) because, hello, I wanted to be socializing and not setting smoke alarms off. For this reason I went with an egg dish that I could cook in the oven. I also wanted to do some sort of muffin or quick bread because I knew this would be easy to make the day before and warm just before serving. 

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Things to avoid:

  • Poached eggs. I once learned that you can make these ahead of time, store in cold water in the fridge, and then warm in simmering water just before serving. That seems a little risky though.
  • Pancakes. The first batch or two never really turns out that great, plus you don't want to be stuck by the stove or griddle the whole time.
  • Anything that requires individual plating/styling. I think buffet style is the way to go here. If you're trying to do eggs benedict or something else that requires multiple components, you run the risk of your food getting cold before everyone can sit down to eat. 

Let Your Guests Help

Whenever you host company for a meal, there's a 99% chance your guests are going to ask what they can bring. It's a nice gesture, but if you're trying to put together a cohesive menu you might not always want someone to bring a random side that doesn't fit with the rest of the menu. There are still a few key ways they can help including one of the following:

  • Ice. This is especially helpful if you're hosting a large group and are making cocktails (or even if you need it for water).
  • Booze. I asked someone to bring champagne because it's easy and one less thing I have to pick up ahead of time and store in the fridge.
  • Fruit. I knew I wanted a simple fruit salad for a side and wasn't set on any specific type - this was beautiful and perfect!
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Menu

Spicy Kale & Sweet Potato Egg Bake

Eggnog Banana Bread Muffins - the recipe is actually for quick bread, but I made it into muffins per usual so no slicing was required. 

Simple Fruit Salad - pineapple, blackberries, kiwi 

Mimosas + Berries 

Coffee

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Have you ever hosted breakfast or brunch for friends and if so, what was on your menu? 

Entertaining Made Easy: Build-Your-Own Pita Pizzas

It's something that happens all too often. You decide to host friends for dinner but have no idea what to make. You consider attempting a new recipe for the first time but panic at the thought of messing it up and having to throw everything away. Even worse, by the time you get home from work and get a fancy meal prepped and ready, you worry that you might not be eating until 8:00pm. I've been there! As tempting as it is to throw all plans of cooking out the window and call up Papa John's, I'm here to tell you that it doesn't have to be that way.

Your solution: Build-Your-Own Pita Pizzas. And before you say this is totally kid-ish or unfit for hosting guests, just keep reading because there are ways to make this more interesting. Jacob and I had some overnight guests on Friday night and decided to keep dinner easy with the BYO Pizza plan. I'm happy to say that it was a hit! 

There's a few reasons why this could possibly be the best entertaining meal ever...

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Customizable based on taste preferences and/or allergies.

These days it seems like everyone has at least one thing they avoid whether it's for allergy or intolerance reasons or just a pure dislike. This can make finding a crowd-pleaser totally stressful but by serving something that's customizable, everyone gets to choose what they want for toppings. If you have vegan friends coming over, you might pick up some non-dairy cheeses. For the non-meat eaters, have mushrooms on hand for a viable replacement (and because let's be honest, mushrooms are the best pizza topping there is). If someone is gluten-free, you could offer zucchini rounds or portabello caps as a replacement for the pita. 

See also | The 10 Healthy Foods I Always Have at Home

Inexpensive.

Entertaining is fun but if you're on a tight budget, it can also get pricey depending on what you decide to make and the number of people. The nice thing about this meal is that you can go as simple or adventurous as you want. I sprung for things like anchovies and artichoke hearts to add a little bit of spice but most people are just as happy with a basic pepperoni or cheese pizza too. 

Fun and experiential. 

All right this one is obvious, but how fun is it to go to dinner at someone's house and actually get your hands a little messy in the kitchen? I love the idea of getting creative and turning a typical weeknight dinner date into an experience. Plus, I'm a huge fan of casual food with friends and this fits the bill perfectly. Who needs a cooking class when you can pita pizza instead? Yes I used that as a verb. 

Just plain delicious because who doesn't like pizza?

Going back to that whole thing about people having different taste preferences, you can't really find more of a crowd-pleaser than good old fashioned pizza so it tends to be a great choice all-around. If you want to jump on the build-your-own pita pizza train, here's what you need to get started:

  • Pitas (I offered white and whole wheat so each person could choose)
  • Sauces/Bases: tomato sauce and/or pesto, olive oil
  • Meats: pepperoni, calabrese, sausage or shredded chicken
  • Cheeses: mozzarella is a must, but add variety with feta, goat or parmesan 
  • Other Toppings: sliced mushrooms, artichokes, spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, black olives, thinly sliced red onion 
  • Spice it Up (the fun stuff): crushed garlic, anchovy filets, capers, cream cheese, red pepper flakes, jarred roasted red peppers or fresh jalapeños 

How-to: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and ask everyone to assemble their own pizza. Place each one on a large sheet pan lined with parchment paper (or sprayed). Bake until cheese is melted and bubbly! 

I also threw together a quick salad to add some green, but of course this part is optional. I kept this simple too by grabbing a bag of greens and adding carrot shreds, an avocado, dried cherries and sunflower seeds. As long as there's ranch, you're golden. 

What's your go-to when hosting people for dinner? 

 

How-to Make a Healthyish Snack Board

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I have a new favorite word as of late and you may have seen me use it around my corners of the internet – that word is healthyish, and I wanted to explain why I like it so much, then give you a healthyish game plan for making a bomb snack board for your friends this weekend.

As most of you have probably gathered by now I’m mildly obsessed with Bon Appetit magazine. They have the most beautifully designed pages and food styling, they tell interesting stories and most importantly, they publish the most creative and delicious recipes, all with this fun and unique sense of humor wrapped around everything. The BA Foodcast is also in my top three favorites (which says something because I’m subscribed to at least 10-15). If you haven’t listened to it, I would highly recommend it for learning about new cooking techniques and the fun interviews with foodies from all sorts of backgrounds. 

Earlier this year, BA launched a subset of their brand called Healthyish. The editor-in-chief once described it as, "We’re thinking about food in new ways, we’re being more conscious about what we eat, but we’re also not losing sleep over it." Um, hello perfect word to describe my approach to eating.

All that being said, I wanted to give a little tutorial on how I make my all-time favorite healthyish appetizer (or sometimes dinner) – the snack board. Make this to impress your friends when they come over, for an appetizer at a dinner party, or for a lazy dinner when all you can really fathom is arranging a bunch of random things on a tray.

Be sure to check out my free resource at the end of the post - a printable shopping list and how-to guide so you don't have to remember all of this or take notes as you go (although I wont' judge if you do). 

Here’s what you need:

1. Veggie(s) + Dip

Carrots or celery sticks work great for some added crunch/texture but I also like radishes. You can see in the photo above I used the tri-color carrots because I think they are just beautiful. Hummus is the easiest and probably the most traditional dip choice, but there are also some really great Greek yogurt based dips and dressings available now, like this one from Sabra. Bean dip or guacamole are other fun options.

2. Smoked salmon is a must

It can be a little bit pricey, but usually at least one brand is on sale and a small piece goes a long way so most people won’t want to load up on this stuff. I think it's fun to serve because most people don't eat it all the time, so it's a nice treat and just plain delicious. It also pairs great with a creamy cheese. 

3. One or two cheeses

Go for one sharp/hard cheese and one soft/creamy option like brie to please multiple taste preferences. The cheese pictured above is a merlot soaked bellavitano and it's one of my all-time favorites. If you don't have a great cheese selection where you live, you can probably still find an extra sharp cheddar and this works well too! 

4. Crackers

Add one grainy/seedy option and one light and airy cracker or pretzel. I like Carr's water crackers because the flavor is so neutral and they are good for "cleansing the palate" if you will. I can't believe I just used that phrase. For the other option, try the Blue Diamond Artisan brand or even a basic Triscuit for something heartier to add variety. 

5. Fruit

I love grapes because it’s easy to grab a few without making a mess and the sweetness usually pairs well with the other flavors. They add a great pop of color too. Some other options might be sliced granny smith apples or pears when in season. Just avoid anything too juicy/messy because this is finger food after all. 

6. Something briny (like kalamata olives)

If you like 'em stuffed with blue cheese or something similar, you go. If you don't like olives, try pickled vegetables. Again, make this as easy as possible to grab and provide some sort of toothpicks/cocktail skewers to go along with these.

7. Optional: another meat or protein like proscuitto or salami

I only buy one of these if there's a good sale or if I sample something that is just too good to pass up (happens to me quite often actually). Go for something extra flavorful like dry salami or capocollo and serve a smaller amount as a compliment to the other items. 

Ready to venture into the world of snack board making? Be sure to grab the shopping list and how-to guide below so you can stop at the store on your way home today. It's even organized by section of the grocery store (you're welcome). 

If you give this a try, be sure to share photos with me so I can see all of your epic creations! On Instagram use #SpiceUpYourCookingGame and tag me (@LeanneRayRDN). 

Snack Board Shopping List + How-to Guide

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