Table Settings for Small Dinner Parties

It’s fun to have friends over to enjoy a good meal.  If you’re planning a dinner party for 6-8 people a little bit of planning and you can set a very nice table without busting the bank.

Rule No. 1

How many times have you sat down in a restaurant and didn’t know which bread plate was yours?  Well here is a little trick to remember…eat left, drink right.  Your drink glass is on your right and your bread plate is on your left.  An easy way to remember it is drink and right both have five letters.  Kind of like port and starboard on a ship.  Once you have that down, the rest is easy.

Table Cloths

The great thing about using a table cloth and cloth napkins is that you can wash them and reuse them.  Not as wasteful as paper.  You can get really nice permanent press table cloths for under $15 at Wal-Mart or Garden Ridge.  Pick a color that you can use for different occasions.  If you get a solid color like a beige or maybe navy or red you can use napkins with a pattern.  If you choose red you can also use it for Christmas.  Be sure to measure you table to get the right size.  It will need to extend over the edge about 8 inches.

Pick a Theme

You can either pick a theme or decide what you’re serving first.  For example…you’re having spaghetti so your theme can be Italian.  You can use a red table cloth with red checkered napkins or a beige cloth with a wine theme napkin.  Or maybe your party is a little more relaxed.  You can have a beach theme or a picnic.  The beige cloth would work here too.  Just take a blanket or beach towel to put over the table cloth as if you were outside on the ground or beach.  Have fun with it!

The Center Piece

It’s nice to put something in the center of the table.  You can use a small flower arrangement or candles or just about anything you already have.  If you use flowers be sure to make the arrangement low enough to see over,  you don’t want to interfere with conversation across the table.  Let your theme be your guide.  During the summer, have a Picnic theme and use kid’s beach toys like buckets and shovels.  Just lay them down the center of the table.  Add a couple of small beach balls and you have your center piece.  No need for sand!

Setting the Table

This part is really easy.  You should always set two forks to the left of the plate with a knife and spoon to the right.  If you’re having a salad the salad fork will be the smaller one and on the outside.  Put the knife edge facing the plate on the right with the spoon on the outside.  Your water glass goes above the knife and your bread plate goes above the forks.  If you’re not serving bread, you can use the plate for the salad.  Short of room, just put the salad plate or bowl on the dinner plate.  You can collect them after that course is done.

Now you’re ready to party!  What kind of ideas do you have for a dinner party theme?

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Dinner Parties on a Budget

About 14 years ago my sister-n-law remarried and with a new husband, she gained a group of friends that had dinner parties every month.  My new brother-n-law also gained the two of us.  So when we put the old friends with the new family, we got a group of 8.  We have since added another couple to make 10.

What to Fix

We started out by having everybody bring something, but it was hard to ask someone to bring a particular thing to go with the main course.  So, now we take turns and fix it all.  It’s really easier to plan the whole meal and since we only host 2 months a year, it’s really not that expensive.  For a nice dinner party, I like to have an appetizer, salad, bread, entrée, and a dessert.

Once you figure out what you’re having, make a list and go shopping.  Figuring out what to fix is the hard part.

Starters…aka Appetizers

This is easy.  You won’t need a lot, because you don’t want your guests to fill up before they even get to the table.  Set out some veggies like carrots, celery, and cucumbers with a nice dip, like ranch.  Set out a tray of cheese and crackers.  This is usually great for the women but the men will want meat.  You can buy a package of little smokies or meat balls and heat them in BBQ sauce.  Serve them in a bowl with toothpicks on the side.  I know, this sounds cheesy, but after you have done a few of these, you can get a little fancier.  Don’t forget to have something set out for your guests to drink.  The main purpose of appetizers is for you and your guests to have time to visit and catch up with each other.

Bread and Salad

You can either buy a bag of salad or create your own.  Remember those cucumbers and carrots you set out for appetizers…well those will go great in your salad too.  I like to make a simple oil and vinegar base dressing with a package of dressing mix and lightly toss it on just before serving.  I make the salad earlier in the day and put it in the fridge without the dressing.  This is one more thing you won’t have to do when your guests arrive.  As for the bread, pick up a nice loaf or rolls the morning of your party.  Most grocery stores have a supply of fresh made bread and rolls for your choosing.  Just pick one you like.  This will add a nice touch to your meal.

The Main Course

If you’re cooking for 8-10 people, you will want to pick an entrée that will feed everyone without worrying about not having enough.  I like to be able to visit with my guests, so I try to fix something that I can prepare in advance.  This can be a casserole that you can prepare ahead and pop in the oven to reheat, or maybe even spaghetti.  I have a recipe my mother taught me that I embellish with a little fresh green peppers and onions.  My spaghetti is always a big hit and it’s easy to fix ahead.  If I’m not going to have time the day of, I can fix it several days ahead and either freeze or stick it in the fridge.  If you need to fix vegetables, pick something you can either microwave or fix in the oven quickly.  Frozen vegetables have come a long way these days.  I find green peas or corn to be an easy fix.  Or if you like broccoli, you can microwave it a couple of minutes and it’s ready to go.

Coffee and Dessert

Get your coffee pot ready to go and set out the nice cups.  When you get through with dinner, start the coffee and set out the milk and sugar and a sugar substitute.  For me, dessert is my favorite part.  Two reasons, I like to bake, and I like to eat sweets.  If you’re not a baker, don’t panic.  You can pick up a nice cake or pie at the store and add a little something to make it your own.  A scoop of ice cream for a slice of pie or a swirl of chocolate or raspberry syrup on the plate for a piece of cake.  You can also have a little fun by letting everyone fix their own ice cream sundaes or banana splits.  You just buy the fix ‘ins and let everyone get creative.

Dinner parties are a great way for friends and family to get together and have a nice evening.  Be sure not to stress yourself out so much that you don’t enjoy the party.  Have fun.

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Getting Ready for Vacation

Well, the week before vacation is always hell week for me.  I am trying to get everything completed and notes written for my back up at work.  Then at home, it’s trying to remember everything to pack.  We’re taking a 7 day cruise and we can’t wait.  But before we can relax and enjoy the cruise, we have to pack.  What are we going to wear to dinner?  What will we need for the islands?  What about hanging out by the pool?  I know I know, these are good problems to have, but these decisions have to be made before we can have fun.

Packing

We’re driving to the port so we don’t have to worry about the 4 oz. liquid limit you have when flying.  That makes packing a little easier.  We’ve taken a lot of cruises, so we’ve learned what not to pack.  I won’t need an outfit for every day, and neither will my husband.  We’ll spend most of our days at sea in bathing suits with a cover up.  I’ll only need a couple of pairs of shorts with tops for the islands.  And the same goes for my husband.  No need to over pack - been there, done that!  I’ve brought home clothes I didn’t wear.  I just need to pack a couple of pairs of slacks and nice blouses for dinner.  I’ll only have the pants on for a couple of hours, so I can wear them more than once.  A change of tops, and it’s a different outfit.  For the formal nights, I have a nice pair of black evening pants and I take two different tops.  So, I have three pairs of pants and 7 tops.  Not too bad.  Oh, and don’t forget the toiletries, passports, and tickets.

Loading the Car

Well, this is always a chore.  You wouldn’t think it would be, but there are four of us traveling together, so we’ll have 2 sets of luggage.  We’ll also need snacks for the drive.  We’re going out of New Orleans so it’s about a 6 hour drive from Houston.  Cruising out of Galveston is easier, but we wanted to cruise to Key West and that trip is going out of New Orleans.  We’re traveling with my Sister-n-Law and Brother-n-Law.  We travel together a lot so the drive will go fairly quickly.  Three of us will talk and one will nap.  That would be my Brother-n-Law.  As soon as we pull out of the driveway, he’ll be asleep.  When he’s awake he’ll have an electronic toy of some sort to entertain himself with.  This is my husband’s younger sister.  Surprisingly they get along like best friends, not like siblings.

At the Port

This is the tough part of the vacation.  So close yet so far away!  This is where we stand in line to get checked in and get on the ship.  Since we’ve taken so many cruises, we usually get to go to a short line, which gets us on the ship faster.  This is helpful since my Brother-n-Law has no patience for standing in line.  Even standing in line for a couple of hours is better than being at work, so just smile and remember…You’re on vacation!

I’ll tell you about the cruise when we get back.  In the mean time, don’t work too hard.

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German Chocolate Cake – A Labor of Love

Making a German Chocolate Cake is definitely a labor of love.  But you know, I think it’s worth it.  I’m writing this tonight because I have plans to make one this weekend for my husband’s co-worker’s birthday.  Boy that was a mouthful.  They have worked together for 12 years and have become friends off the job as well.  Along with another former co-worker, we all play golf together at least once a month.  The guys play several times during the month, but once is about all I’m good for.

The Cake

I follow the recipe inside the package of “Bakers German Sweet Chocolate”.   Over the years, I have found that it works best if I line the 3 pans with wax paper before I start.  I take the dull side of a knife and draw a circle around the outside of one of the pans and then use scissors to cut them out.

One of my mother n law’s friends once told me her secret to a light GCC.  She uses extra egg whites.  Since I have always doubled the icing recipe so that I can cover the whole cake instead of just the tops, I use those extra egg whites in my cake.

The Icing

For me, this is the best part of the cake.  The trick here is taking your time to let the icing cook slowly so that it thickens.  Be sure to cook it on a medium heat so that it doesn’t stick.  This is where it takes a little patience and time.

Once it’s the right thickness and color, just follow the recipe.  I like to let it cool completely before I put it on the cake.  This also allows your cake time to cool.  I cheat when it comes to putting on the icing.  I have a cake turn table to hold each layer so I can turn it as I apply the icing.   If you don’t have some type of turn table, just turn the cake as you go.

One trick I learned from my sister n law, is to put strips of wax paper under the edge of the bottom layer.  Just cut strips about 3 inches wide and slip them under the edge over lapping them as you go around.  This will allow you to spread the icing on the bottom of the side without leaving a mess on the cake plate.  Once you’re done icing the cake, just gently pull out the wax paper.  Be careful not to leave any under the cake.

Time to Enjoy

Well this really is the best part…eating the cake.  Since I am making this one to give away, I won’t get to taste the fruits of my labors.  But that’s ok.   I know it will be enjoyed down to the last bite.  I’ll make another one this summer for my husband’s birthday – it’s his favorite too.

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Mid Week Dinner with Friends

Well it’s hump day, Wednesday, and that means going out to eat with friends.  It’s an open invitation but there are at least 4 of us.  There are a couple of local restaurants that we like to frequent.  One is Mexican, a personal favorite, and the other is a little bit of everything… burgers, grilled fish, steak with baked taters, and chicken fried steak just to mention a few.  I better type fast, this is making me hungry.

Why Wednesday?

When we started having someone come clean the house, she came on Wednesdays.  The rule became no cooking in the clean kitchen for at least 24 hours.  I don’t always follow the rules, but some rules are not meant to be broken.  Who am I to tempt fate?  ;-)

How it Grew

One Wednesday evening, we were talking to some of our dinner group friends and told them what we were doing for dinner if they wanted to join us.  Well who can resist going to dinner with friends?  Dinner out on Wednesday isn’t as crowded as the weekend and it gives us a mid week pickup.

The Food

Are you getting a recurring theme in my blogs…FOOD!  We love to eat.  Especially with family and friends.  Laughter always makes the food better.  The Mexican Restaurant has great Fajitas Pablano.  This is a combination of beef fajitas, grilled onions, grilled bell pepper, grilled Pablano peppers, and bacon.  The bacon makes the difference.  The Pablanos aren’t hot – they just add a lot of flavor.  All of the food I mentioned for the everything place is good.  I love the grilled fish with grilled vegetables.  Tastes good and keeps me on my diet.

Sitting Around the Table

After dinner, we usually sit around and visit until someone’s ready to head home.  This gives us a chance to catch up on what our friends and their families are up to.  It also gives our dinner time to settle.  Dinner isn’t expensive and if it’s not in your budget, try just getting together for dessert and coffee.  It’s worth the time to catch up with friends.  Besides, what are you going to do at home by yourself?  Watch tv?  Friends are way more interesting most of the time.

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Veranda – How it all Began

About 15 years ago we moved into our current home.  My sister n law and brother n law moved at the same time.  We were next door neighbors for six years before we moved, so we wanted the same thing in our new neighborhood.  We each bought a home in the same subdivision and we managed to get the houses almost back to back.  Our back yards share a fence for part of the yard.

Sitting on the Veranda

We each have pools, but my sister n law has a bigger patio.  It’s also protected from the sun in the afternoons. Ours gets full sun all afternoon.  In South Texas that can get very hot!  For this reason, we started sitting on her patio enjoying a nice glass of wine or a cocktail.  During the summer, we enjoy the pool, and when the sun is gone, we can retire to the Veranda!  The four of us found ourselves sitting out on the Veranda most evenings during the spring and summer with a bottle of wine and cheese and crackers.

Veranda Today

What started out as a casual evening with a brother and sister and their spouses has turned into a standing Sunday afternoon Veranda!  Since we were all depressed about having to go to work on Monday morning, we would sit and talk while we drank and ate.  Nothing excessive, just sipping a cocktail or a glass of wine.  It didn’t take long for the word to spread to our friends that we were on the Veranda every Sunday afternoon before the group grew from 4 to 8.  Everybody brings something to nibble on and what they want to drink.  It’s not unusual for other friends to drop by too.  And sometimes the kids join us!  We have had as many as 16 friends at Veranda!  It’s always fun to spend time with family and friends.

The Food

What started out as nibbles has turned into a buffet.  We often have finger foods like wings, chips and dip, ribs, chicken fingers, and that has grown into pots of Chili, Chicken and Rice, soup, and even Jambalaya.  Whatever the crowd brings.  And no, you can not have the address of Veranda!

Start Your Own

You don’t have to have a pool or big patio.  Veranda can be anywhere friends and family gather to visit.   Take it from me, hanging out with the ones you love is a great way to start your week!

 

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RSVP

Today, I am venting.

Ever get an invitation with RSVP at the bottom? Ever forget to respond? If you have ever tried to plan a party without knowing how many people to expect, you know the importance of responding to an RSVP.

Food

Trying to plan food without a head count is very difficult. How much food do you prepare? If you don’t know who’s coming, you might not have enough. If you fix too much, you’ll have to throw some of it away.  That’s not only wasteful, it can get expensive.

It’s just rude not to respond. You don’t have to give a reason, just say “I’m sorry we can’t make it, but thanks for thinking of us.” Such a simple statement that can really mean a lot to the host and hostess.

Help Relieve Stress

Having a party is a lot of work.  Adding to that work is the stress of not knowing what to expect on the day or evening of the party.  How do you shop without knowing how much to buy?  You sent out invitations for 30 and now you’re shopping wondering – do I buy for 30 or the 15 that have responded?  It makes a difference.  When you’re planning a kid’s party you need party favors.  More expense that isn’t necessary if everyone simply responds to the RSVP.

That being said, invitations today are often delivered via email so replying is even easier. If you don’t know the answer when you first read the email, simply make yourself a calendar reminder for the next day or so. Then you can reply and move on.  Simple enough!

Remember…Respond to your RSVP’s.  It shows you have class!

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Cruising…the best vacation for your $$$

I find cruising to be the best vacation value you will find. Where else can you get great accommodations, 5 star cuisine, and Las Vegas style entertainment all in the same place?  And you don’t even need a rent car!  What a plus.

Food and Service

If you are traveling with a group, a couple, or by yourself, a cruise will allow you to be able to do what you want.  For example, you don’t all have to agree on where to go for dinner.  Imagine a group of 8 or 10 trying to all agree on what’s for dinner.  On a cruise ship, you just meet in the dinning room and enjoy!  Dinner always includes hot and cold appetizers, soups, salads, and multiple main courses.  And the desserts, well they’re unbelieveable.

The service is always outstanding. You are waited on at all times. You don’t even have to get out of your lounge chair for a drink or soda.  Waiters are always walking around just waiting to bring you refreshments.

Activities

Now I know most people complain about gaining weight on a cruise, but that doesn’t have to happen.  There are plenty of things to do during the day on the ship to work off all the food you eat.  There is a gym and running/walking track.  Not that I have ever visited the gym except to look around, but I have used the walking track that goes around the ship.  It’s not really exercising when you consider the view and the breeze blowing while you walk.

There are pools, a rock climbing wall, basketball, shuffleboard, and sometimes miniature golf.  Not really exercise, but your doing something.  If none of these are for you, no problem.  Be a lounger potatoe.  That’s a couch potatoe on a cruise ship.

Avoid Bad Weather

One of the great things about a cruise is the way the ship manages to steer clear of bad weather.  I was in the Gulf of Mexico on a cruise while Hurricane Rita was going into South Texas.  The only way we knew about the Hurricane was the CNN TV feed.  We had sun and calm seas every day.  Being from South Texas, it was good to have the news feed to keep an eye on Rita.

My Favorite Part

I like a cruise because I can enjoy my family and friends without having to spend my whole vacation with them.  I can do whatever I want with whomever I want and meet up with others when I want.  A cruise allows each vacationer to enjoy their own vacation while also enjoying their travel buddies.

If you have never tried cruising, give it a try.  I highly recommend it.  I’ll write more on how to pick your ship and how to book your cruise at a later date.  If you what to know more, just drop me a line.

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Sundae Pie – A Delicious Dessert Recipe

About 35 years ago, one of my husband’s cousins had us over for dinner.  We were all newlyweds.  I can’t remember what we had for dinner, but for dessert we had something she called Sundae Pie.  It was amazing.  I asked for the recipe and it quickly became a family favorite.  It’s not hard to make, it just takes a little patience.  My older brother once commented that he didn’t know I could make a crust that flaky.  That’s enough history for now, let me tell you how its made.

Ingredients

Here’s what you will need:
1 stick of butter
1 cup of flour
1 cup chopped pecans
8 oz cream cheese
1 cup powered sugar
16 oz cool whip
2 small instant chocolate pudding boxes
milk 

Crust

Take a stick of butter out of the fridge and let it set for about an hour to soften. 
Add a cup of flour and use a pastry blender to mix them together.  After these are mixed up, add a cup of chopped pecans.  Go ahead and use your hands to mix these together.  It’s easier to spread if you drop small amounts all over the pan rather than just one in the middle.  This allows you to spread them together and cover the bottom easier.  It took me several tries to figure this out.  Once you have spread this mixture over the bottom of the pan, you will bake it for about 15 minutes at 350º, just until it is a light brown around the edges.

You will need to let this cool really well.  When the crust isn’t cool enough, it will be hard to spread the next layer.  Another thing I have learned over the years is to make the crust the day before.  That gives it time to cool and cuts down on the time the next day. 

Layers

For the first layer, mix 8 oz of cream cheese with 1 cup powdered sugar.  I like to let the cream cheese sit out for about an hour to soften.  It makes it eaiser to blend with the powered sugar.  Since the sugar usually has lumps, shake it thru a strainer to break them up. Use the pastry knife again to mix these until creamy.  Once they are blended, add a cup of cool whip.  You will stir these together until they are well blended.  It will look lumpy, but that’s ok. 

Once again, if you drop the cream cheese mixture in small dollops all over the crust, it will be easier to spread.  Use a rubber spatula to spread the dollops together until they cover the crust, being careful not to pull up the crust.  Just take your time.

For the third layer, mix the 2 small boxes of instant chocolate pudding with 2 cups of milk.  I like to mix the pudding up with a wisk.  Since it’s instant pudding, it won’t take long to set and be ready to spread on the cream cheese layer.  Pour the pudding onto the cream cheese layer and spread until it covers the pan.  Now you’re almost done.  Just top it off with all of the cool whip.

Enjoy

Now that it’s made, just cover with plastic wrap and put in the fridge until you are ready to serve.  I can’t really tell you how long it will last in the fridge, because mine never lasts more than a day or so.  :-)

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Welcome to Out on the Veranda!

Thank you for joining me Out On the Veranda!  I started this blog to have something to do at night while my husband watches tv.  I tend to listen to tv more than watch it, so I thought “why not sit and type about what I know”?  I’ve been married for just over 36 years to a wonderful man…don’t tell him, I don’t want his head to swell.  I love to cook, except when it’s 90º outside.  My favorite is baking.  I have become the queen of desserts.  Anytime my friends need a dessert, they give me a call.  We entertain friends and have dinner parties on a regular basis.  

I hope to post many of my favorite recipes, hints to having fun and tasty dinner parties for friends and family, and I’ll even go over how to plan vacations and other fun things in life.  I may even look into cloud email archiving.  Many of the things I have learned have been thru trial and error.  Maybe I’ll be able to save you the errors.  If you have a question, please feel free to ask.  If I don’t know the answer, I’ll try to find it for you.

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