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How to Host a Country Breakfast

Posted by on Sep 9, 2014 in Featured, Uncategorized | 0 comments

How to Host a Small Country Breakfast

On Saturday, I hosted a delicious country breakfast for one of my favorite mama-friends and our families. Our sons are 1 day shy of exactly 1 year apart, and they’re both approaching birthdays very soon. The husbands were along as well to talk about world events, smoked/grilled meats, and various and sundry sporting events.

 

The boys playing at our last brunch in June

The boys playing at our last brunch in June, where my son is taking a toy away from a baby

Back in June, we had brunch at their house, and I had big shoes to fill. As I was trying to decide what to make, I decided to stick with what I know – good, ole country breakfast. The deciding factor was the delicious products I received from Southern City Flavors a week or so ago. I knew these local tastes would complement my menu beautifully. Here are my notes from the night before the breakfast that served as my cooking guide (basically the entertaining recipe for 2 mamas + 2 papas + 2 toddles) – with links to the recipes I used. My friends were arriving at 8:30 so I started prepping at 8-ish.

Pre-heat oven to 475* for biscuits.

Stone Ground Grits from Southern City Flavors – cooked in chicken stock

I cooked 2 cups of washed grits with 4 cups of stock and 2 cups of water. I started the grits first since they have a 20 minute cooking time. Here’s the tutorial I used to find out the process behind “washed” grits the label mentions. (Note: I had a LOT of grits left over so half of this amount would have been plenty. But that just means I’ll be cooking up grit bowls for my breakfasts this week. They have been amazing!)

I made the grits and eggs without any seasoning because both toddles are lactose intolerant, and I like to keep things salt free for them, too. But I had a toppings bar of herbs, spices, butter, various cheeses (including shredded Colby jack and cheddar and blue cheese crumbles), and salsa. The adults trashed up our servings for sure, as you can tell by my photo above.

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Biscuits – For two of us, I usually make a half batch, but since I had 4 adults this time, I made a full batch. The oven was beeping that it had reached temp just as I was about to pop these babies in the oven. It is really not hard to make fresh biscuits, and the canned kind can’t compare (#alliteration :P).

Local biscuit toppings including Fig Jam and Sweet Potato Butter (how good does that sound!?!)

Biscuits and local toppings

Biscuits and local toppings

Sausage gravy – a double batch of this recipe was just right. Check out my sausage trick below -

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It’s an age old problem: 1 lb of sausage is too much to use at once for a single person or small family, and it’s impossible to cut up frozen sausage. So here’s my trick for freezing sausage for use in smaller portions. I take a 1 lb package and cut it in quarters, wrap with plastic wrap, and freeze. Then, I can use as much or as little as I need. To thaw, I will either move it to the fridge ahead of time or defrost in a glass bowl in the microwave. I used 2 frozen bits (about half a pound) from the freezer for the sausage gravy.

Eggs – 10, scrambled at the last minute.

I think it’s ok to start the eggs after the guests have arrived. It only takes a couple of minutes, and they will be fresh, hot, and delicious!

Fruit – My friend brought pineapple and cantaloupe

Tomato Juice

Tomato Juice

 

I have several quarts of ta-may-tuh juice from my mom so we had to make up a Bloody Mary or two.

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Southern City Flavors was generous enough to send over samples of their delicious products for me to check out, and my review is 100% my own. Input Bettybecca at checkout to save 25% through 11/30/2014. Their story of cooking with family and friends really resonated with me, and I hope you will check them out today!

Getting Fresh Around Here

Posted by on Aug 25, 2014 in Around Chez Ary, Featured | 4 comments

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Thanks to Mr. J, the blog has a new look. If you keep up with me through a reader, please click through to take a look.

I spent a few (amazing!) days last week in Asheville, NC, at Food Blog Forum. This is my second time to attend this event, and I enjoyed every minute. The itinerary was packed full of incredible food, “money-can’t-buy” experiences, new friends, beautiful vistas, and great tips and tricks for blogging. I hope to share more soon about the trip and event, but in the mean time check out Instagram for all of my pics.

 

 

 

For the conference, I finally got some business cards, and I really loved how they turned out. I just ordered some simple ones and added washi tape. I have lots of customization options, and I’m really excited about them. Here’s a sneak peak:

 

Finally, we’re gearing up to celebrate birthday #2. I can’t believe it, and I’m not entirely sure I’m ready for what this year will hold (I hear it can be a bit “terrible” ;) haha). But there’s always a balance of absolutely precious moments in the mix. Here’s a recent pic and a hint at the theme of our party:

Big ELlama Llama Red Pajama

Until next time – Happy Monday, friends!

eat/make/do [5]: Try New Things

Posted by on Aug 11, 2014 in eat/make/do | 0 comments

 

Today’s roundup has new-to-me tastes, skills, and ideas.

  • I would love to go to culinary school someday, but I have no idea what I’d follow it up with. I’ve always said my only downfall would be butchering. I am very anxious and uncomfortable while I’m breaking down meat. I was shredding some chicken one day from a split breast, and Mr. J asked me if I was in pain because I was grimacing so much. Here’s a good guide to butchering a chicken that I am keeping for reference when I’m feeling inspired/brave.
  • I love getting the Brain Pickings emails every week. It’s like exercise for your brain…not a feeling I’ve had much since leaving college finals behind. Sign up today, and we can discuss. Kinda like book club?
  • I haven’t listened to a podcast in a while, but this one from Alton Brown just might get me back in the habit. I’m a huge fan!

“I enjoy exploring the nuances of food and drink; I enjoy trying to be an expert on the food I make. The difference between a meh experience and a superb experience is all about the details, really —  the espresso grind, the bread knead, the tomato harvest, the martini garnish, the noodle chew.”

eat/make/do [4]: Kinda Random (like it’s supposed to be)

Posted by on Aug 4, 2014 in eat/make/do | 2 comments

thatfishcray

I lol’ed.

 

  • You may or may not have noticed, but I’m obsessed with Pentatonix. My guilty pleasure every week is watching members Scott and Mitch on their web show Superfruit. It’s probably not for everyone, but I LOVE it.
  • I can’t describe how happy I am when I flip through Smitten Kitchen’s Flickr stream. I’ve read her blog for years, and I have her first cookbook. I can’t get enough.
  • I’m a card carrying member of the Mom’s Wine Club. This post is just too funny and should pair nicely with the aforementioned cheese platter.
  • Since I work on the recipe development/food photo shoot team at my job, I loved this post from Bon Appetit about how their recipes are brought to life.

A Complete Guide to Sympathy Meals: Basics Part II and Final Thoughts

Posted by on Aug 2, 2014 in On the Basics | 0 comments

 

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See the Intro to the series and Basics 1-6. Today, we’re talking about the tough topics…how long to stay and how to choose what to bring. I wrap up the series with a few last tips and hints for what to do if you can’t/don’t cook.

7) I mentioned last time that I’m particularly passionate about how long someone should visit while dropping off a sympathy meal. I don’t remember any offenders of this rule after I had a baby, but I’m hoping to offer guidelines to those who may be new to this practice. In my opinion, you need to get in and get out. A good rule of thumb is…don’t stay more than 15 minutes. This is a taxing time (that’s why you’re here), and you don’t want to be an added burden. Remember, you are not there to eat their food or make a bigger mess. You are not there to hold the baby unless mom is napping or showering and she OFFERS for you to hold the baby. In and out!

Unless you are absolutely sure you’re welcome to stay. In some cases, the person may be lonely or really hoping to talk to someone…or really needing help. You’re just going to have to very carefully read the situation. Ask profusely whether they’re sure you should stay, and your max time should be an hour. Wear a watch or check your phone. If you think you might get carried away in conversation, set a timer and pretend like it’s a text alert.

Pay close attention to what they’re saying and take your cues accordingly. For a new mom, that means stuff like “the baby needs to eat soon” or “we haven’t been getting much sleep. I think we all need a nap around here.” A new mom (or anyone else with their life flipped upside down) can go from “I’d really like some company and someone to talk to” to “get the heck out” in 5 seconds flat…and she might not even realize she’s getting irritated about playing host. It’s not personal…it’s just a hard time with a lot to balance. You can give lots of outs by saying stuff like, “Do you need to rest?” “I’m sure you’re ready for me to get out of your hair.” “Enjoy your meal. Bye!”

Here’s a counterpoint that the closest friends tend to follow my advice and stay away, which might lead to loneliness at a hard time. I like the notion of firefighter vs. builder. Which are you? (h/t A Cup of Jo)

8) Another basic that is pretty major: Make sure they’re going to like what you bring.

Time for a confession: I threw away some gifted food when my son was born.

Yikes! It wasn’t something we liked, and it just didn’t work for us. At another point in our lives, we might have been crafty enough to rework the recipe or donate it to those in need, but when you’re living in survival mode, some not-so-delicious casseroles pay the price. Don’t let your sympathy meal fall in that category.

Ask for a favorite family recipe (make spaghetti just like mom would if she weren’t resting; ask for the recipe, preferably before the baby comes)
Recreate a meal that was enjoyed by the family at your home (so you already know they like it)
If the family has a food blog (well, aren’t you lucky), make one of their own recipes
Knock off a restaurant favorite
Cater to food preferences of everyone in the family, find out the pickiest eater’s preferences and go from there
Don’t forget breakfast and snacks
Be especially careful of food allergies
Buy a loaf of bread and several packs of deli meats and cheeses so that sandwiches can be at the ready

A few last tips…

+ This is not a time to question or criticize their diet. If you don’t personally give your kids Cheetos and Coke, but that is what is asked for — buy it, drop it off, and move on with your life. If you don’t know anything about being vegan or Paleo or diabetic or whatever, then listen very carefully and follow instructions. Ask a friend that knows that diet or find a food blog that covers it.
+ Wait a while – everyone wants to help at first. Wait until mom (or dad) goes back to work and offer to bring a meal then. Wait a couple of weeks and then plan a longer visit to check in on how they’re doing. Staying longer may be appropriate then with their permission.
+ And remember: Just say no to the thank you note – make it clear when you drop the meal off that you don’t expect a note or any dishes back

If you can’t cook (or reeeeeally don’t like to), you can still help out:
Preparing a full meal for a family can be not only expensive, but overwhelming, if you don’t typically do this kind of things. Pick up rolls and drinks, and leave the veggies and entree to a couple of friends.  Or go in with someone else (you give them money and they handle everything else).
Get take out from their favorite restaurant (ask them what to order and then pay, pick up, and deliver the meal)
Offer to coordinate or set up a planning service (like Meal Train). You set up the service and keep an eye on it. Everyone else brings food.
Provide a gift card to a restaurant or grocery store
Or do the dirty work:
- Do the grocery shopping (Get a list and prepare to pay. Some people/families might insist on paying for their own groceries, and then your gift will be the act of doing the shopping. I’m ok with both scenarios, but I think if you’re going to offer, you should be prepared to pay. Now, let’s hope they don’t ask for a million things, but that’s a whole ‘nother story.)
- One idea is to stock their freezer full of whatever they ask for — pizza, chicken breasts, veggies…items that will help them easily and quickly prepare a meal later.
- Prep the produce (I did a lot of freezer cooking before my baby was born, but I still craved fresh produce like fruit and lettuce for salad. Wash and chop fresh produce so it’s ready at a moment’s notice for cooking or snacking)
- Do the dishes (slip in like a silent cleaning torpedo and then get the heck out – leaving only a clean shiny kitchen in your wake)

Do you have any other questions about how sympathy meals work? Do you disagree with me about how long the visit should last? Are you worried I threw away the casserole you brought when my son was born (of course not!). Let’s talk!

A Complete Guide to Sympathy Meals: Basics Part I

Posted by on Jul 29, 2014 in On the Basics | 0 comments

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Last time, we kicked off the Complete Guide to Sympathy Meals Series, and I wanted to start off with some basics. Of course, you can always just bring over a cake, but if you’re aiming to assemble a full meal, here’s a very short checklist of what you should plan for

  • A main entree with protein
  • A side or two (with at least one veggie)

It’s also nice to include

  • Bread or rolls
  • Dessert
  • Beverages (2-liters or a pitcher of tea) and ice, if needed

1) You don’t have to go it alone…go in with someone else. Stay tuned for a post on what to do if you can’t/don’t cook. You can still help out!

2) Ask when you should drop the meal off. If 2 p.m. is when they say, try to make it happen. Prepare your meal for storage and further preparation accordingly. Sometimes you’ll be able to whip in at 5:59 to put dinner for that night on the table at 6, but sometimes you won’t. Bonus points: If there is a new baby in the house, ask how you should announce your arrival. Banging on the door or ringing the bell are probably not good options…especially if there is a dog in the house.

3) Find out preferences
Plain (Please bring over 24 baked potatoes. Ring the doorbell, and leave them on the stoop.)
Healthy (Rabbit food only please)
Comfort food (Mac & Cheese & Eat my feelings & Please & Thank you)
Time of day (I’ve got 12 dinners lined up in a row, but I like to eat breakfast, too.)

4) Use dishware you don’t expect to get back (use disposable or thrifted)
Go the extra mile and bring disposable dishware and silverware to eat your meal on so that there is virtually no clean up.
However, you should know your recipient. If they’re a green-friendly-recycle-only-tree-hugging bunch, it’s probably best to stick to the thrifted casserole dish that you don’t care to get back and let them use their own real dishes and silverware.

5) Make it freezer friendly
Assemble the main dish with a note that says how to bake (today or tomorrow) or freeze for later
Bonus points if you make homemade freezer meals (well-balanced, single meal portions for one or two)

Next time, we’ll talk about how long you should stay. I have some pretty strong feelings about this, and I look forward to hearing what you think!