Entertaining a Disabled (or Special Needs) Guest

A little preparation will ensure that your handicapped guests (or those with temporary medical considerations) will have a great time.

disabled guestBefore your gathering, research your guest’s disability – the more you know about their needs or any special care or accessibility required, the more prepared you’ll be.  Two great places to begin your research are WebMD and Medscape.  As with any research project, consult multiple sources to confirm what you learn.

 

Preparing for a few hours to an overnight visit: If you are already acquainted with your guest (as opposed to knowing one of your other guests will bring him or her along), try to arrange an advanced visit.  Meeting beforehand without hordes of other people around will allow you to discuss accessibility issues on site.  Come up with a plan that ensures your guest’s privacy and dignity during bathroom visits, but without leaving the guest to fend for his- or herself.  For a disabled guest that you don’t know well, make it very clear that they’re welcome to bring a caregiver.  Keep in mind that when a disabled guest is accompanied by a spouse, the spouse may not be physically able to assist the disabled guest.  Either allow the couple to bring, and plan to also accommodate, a caregiver for help with bathroom visits, or offer your personal help.

 

Preparing for extended stays: If your disabled guest is staying for several nights to a week, you should make extra accessibility preparations for their safety and comfort, starting with bathroom accessibility.  A raised toilet seat with padded arms will work with your existing toilet, and can be removed after the visit. To help your guest shower with minimal help, there are shower benches with arms that work in your shower or tub. Both of these will run you less than $100. If your guest travels frequently, he or she may bring these along, so check before buying.  At the least, grab rails near the commode and in the shower/bathtub area should be installed. A hand-held shower head makes showering much easier for someone that must use a shower bench; make sure it’s within their reach when you leave them to shower.  If you don’t already already use a non-slip mat inside the tub and non-skid rugs on the bathroom floor, make sure you have them in place by the time your guest arrives. To accommodate wheelchair, walker or cane users, temporarily rearrange your furniture layout to widen the main route through your home.  This is especially important along the direct path to the bathroom from your guest’s bedroom (and ideally, their bedroom will be on the main floor of your home and close to a bathroom).

 

In addition to moving furniture, pay attention to placement of accent rugs, pet beds, magazine racks or baskets, floor lamps, oversized planters, and any unsecured cords that might get caught by a crutch, cane, or a walker leg.  If necessary, arrange more lighting so your guest can clearly see where they’re going in any room.  Secure enthusiastic, curious pets so your little buddy’s paw doesn’t get crushed beneath a walker leg or a cane.  Keep floors exceptionally clean from cooking oil buildup and salad dressing spills. Secure area rugs with rug pads or brush-on non-skid backing.  For throw rugs and runners, the safest thing you can do is remove those until your visit is finished – they don’t play well with crutches, wheelchairs or walkers.

 

When preparing a gift basket for a disabled guest, be sensitive to their special needs.  Someone with diminished vision might appreciate large-text reading material or puzzle books for relaxing before bed.  For guests taking periodic doses of medication, make sure their welcome basket includes bottled water and snacks to buffer an empty stomach from their medication.  Slippers or non-skid socks are very thoughtful gifts, if your guest’s medications make them more sensitive to cold (very common with heart or blood pressure medications).

 

Outside considerations: Before any guests arrives, make sure your steps and sidewalks are free of snow and ice. (And just to cover all bases, make sure your homeowners’ liability policy is paid up. You just never know.)  If necessary to ensure accessibility at our home’s entrance, lay a width of plywood over your steps to create a temporary wheelchair ramp for the disabled guest.  Have other adults stand at the ramp’s bottom to prevent it from slipping.

 

Finally: To appreciate your disabled guest’s experience in your home, move a standard dining chair to all the positions your guests may need to reach, for instance, appetizer trays or wine in ice buckets.  If someone in a wheelchair can’t access these things, find a way to lower the items, or at least some items, perhaps onto a covered end table or TV tray.  Leave some extra hand towels near anything that might drip water (condensation on glasses or anything in ice buckets), as hand towels are perfectly sized for covering a lap. Make a few small efforts to ensure the comfort of your disabled guest, and he or she will greatly appreciate the consideration.

Review: Nostalgia Electrics 3-Section Buffet and Warming Tray

 

3-Section Buffet and Warming TrayThis little gem bolstered my hostess reputation recently.

I intended to invest in a more costly buffet set, but for this particular event, I was incurring massive food and beverage costs too.  So figuring even if I get only one or two uses from this inexpensive unit, it would be worth it. It pleasantly surprised me when I unpacked the carton.

The set is actually beautiful, all stainless steel and black-handled elegance. The base alone is the warmer tray section, which can be used alone to keep plates and serving platters warm on its surface.  Add the steel frame and the three covered bins, and you have a tri-station appetizer/side server.  It’s got three warmer settings, low – medium – high,  and the lowest keeps your dishes at room temperature.

It was a big hit with my guests too. Upon seeing this full of appetizers at my first nosh station, one guest tried all three of what I had prepared (little empanadas, mini bean & cheddar burritos and corn & pepperjack scoops).  The guest then remarked, “Wow! Have you ever considered going into the catering business?”

And what better compliment can a hostess receive?

Get your own here.

 

 

Graduation Party (or How to Feed a Crowd)

He thinks the world actually enjoys seeing his butt crack above that baggy waistband. And he can’t fathom that the ball cap brim was designed to shield his eyes, not look ridiculous on the back (or side) of his clueless noggin. Yet somehow, your baby has pulled it off – he will graduate from high school in a few days. Now, you’ve got to keep your promise of a graduation party. And you have to do it without money for a caterer.

Take a deep breath. You can do this.

Traditionally, the graduation party is held in June but theoretically can happen anytime during the summer of the commencement. Pick a date 6-8 weeks out and get busy on those invitations.  Let Junior help; it’ll be good practice for when he’s paying his own bills and packaging his resume for mailing. (Does anybody still mail resumes??)

Now devise your plan. For food-centered celebrations, the plan revolves around the menu.  A small, family-only event can be a sit-down with meal with a special dessert of the graduate’s choice. But if your graduation party guest list includes whole households of extended family and hoards of ravenous teenaged classmates, a buffet is the way to go.  Ten to twelve people can likely be served from large bowls; bigger crowds than that may require chafing dishes or roaster pans. If you feel that you’ll never use them again, thus buying isn’t a good option, you might be able to rent from restaurant supply stores (or if there are none in your area, try a local restauranteur). Keep in mind that food must be at the proper serving temperature already when you put it in the chafing dishes.

Begin working on your backup plan as well. Will this be an outdoor event? Will you need to rent tents to protect attendees from sun? Awning companies often have a tent rental business on the side, because they can make their own tents with big wholesale canvas fabric purchases.  Try calling around. Also, if your plan is for an outdoor graduation party, have a summer-storm or all-day-rain backup plan. How many people will your basement rec room hold? And if you intend to rent or buy chafing dishes, devise a way to shield the buffet table so the Sterno flames don’t get blown out by a heavy breeze. Finally, keep in mind that you get roughly two hours warming time from each Sterno canister, and have help on hand to clear out leftover food when that happens.

Setting it up: Put compartment plates at the beginning of the buffet table, but plastic utensils and and absorbent paper napkins at the end; that way, your guests aren’t holding multiple items while they fill their plates.  Wherever possible, make separate tables for beverages and desserts so the main line keeps moving efficiently.

Entrees: It’s no coincidence that every wedding reception buffet spread includes rigatoni with meatball or meat sauce, OR parslied potatoes served with fried or barbecued chicken pieces. Spuds and pastas are starches that fill up guests while costing little to serve. And it’s hard to find anyone that dislikes either. Plus, they’re easy to prepare: Boil, drain, and toss with a sauce. Done.

Mashed potatoes are a good choice too. While whipping, dress them up with sour cream or cream cheese. Seasoning and herbs are aChafing Dishes for Graduation Party must in potatoes, and if possible, include freshly snipped parsley and chives. Before using dried herbs, eyeball their color first; herb colors and flavors fade as they age on your shelf. Vibrant flecks of forest-green herbs are appetizing and gorgeous. Army-green or brown flecks, not so much.

If you’d like to serve something a little fancier but still filling and inexpensive, try Swedish Meatballs.  Toss a double or triple batch with a few pounds of bow-tie pasta and put in your chafing dish.  For color, sprinkle with parsley.  I have a “cheat” version that is every bit as worthy as the from-scratch version.

Vegetables: The two main keys to offering a vegetable that everyone will eat is actually one in the same: You shouldn’t overcook it, and it has to look good.  Overcooked veggies are like old herbs – it’s sad how much is lost along the way.  Corn kernels shouldn’t be nearly white and caved in. Carrots shouldn’t be mushy. Green beans, the most popular vegetable choice for in a buffet lineup, shouldn’t be limp and waterlogged.  If you’re going to serve green beans, start with fresh ones.  After cleaning, blanche them in boiling water for two minutes, then drain.  Coat with extra virgin olive oil and sliced almonds that  you’ve toasted in a dry skillet or saucepan.  Season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Now they still have some crunch left and their healthy natural color is glossy and intact.

Salads: The Number-One Rule for food-handling is to wash your hands often, but it’s never more necessary than with produce that will not be cooked.  Surface-scrub and rinse produce before cutting (tomatoes, radishes, apples, etc.) to avoid transferring any surface mold or bacteria inside. Oh, and wash those hands often! Furthermore…

Avoid salads with mayonnaise or yogurt dressings that could sicken your guests if left out too long. Tossed salads are a good alternative, and even simple ones can be colorful. Use romaine and iceberg lettuces, shaved carrots, sliced radishes, and shredded red cabbage, and pre-dress with a basic vinaigrette. Keep the salad bowl covered with plastic wrap when not using, and if possible, nest the salad bowl in a large bowl of ice to retain its chill.  Even with the ice-bath, try to keep it out of direct sunlight.

Breads/Rolls: Although I’m a rabid fan of baking my own breads, supermarkets and bakeries often run graduation party specials. You  might do better buying these, once you figure in the utility cost of running your oven and the labor involved in kneading (plus the “rise” time).  Call a few places and get pricing before you decide.  One nice thing about leftover rolls: Wrap them well, freeze them, and they’ll last literally for months.  If you’re still dying to make  your own, try this simple bread. It’s as good or better than any store-bought loaf you’ll bring home. The recipe doubles easily for making two humongous loaves that yield 36-40 slices total.

Dessert: There are several ways to go here. The traditional graduation food dessert is a decorated cake.  Or, if you’re going traditional on the food items and would like a big finish, rent or buy a chocolate fountain and provide a tray or two of dippers on toothpicks.  Ideas here include strawberries, frozen grapes, sliced bananas (dipped in lemon-lime soda they don’t  brown so fast), toasted pound cake cubes, or pretzels (no toothpick needed).

Other details:

Choose a meat that you can roast, which doesn’t require so much babysitting as stove-top cooking. Meatballs are nice. Chicken pieces are standard. Ribs are totally yummy, and with boneless spare rib deals of $1.99/lb, they are definitely affordable.  Coat with barbecue sauce or your own special blend of brown sugar, apple cider, orange juice, garlic and spices.

Have plenty of napkins and plates on hand so you don’t run out before everyone’s been served.

Collect punch and iced tea recipes well before the graduation party. Do a trial run of any new recipe on your household first.

Have extra trash receptacles strategically placed around the perimeter of your event, preferably with lids so they don’t attract bees.

Don’t forget the extra ice!

If you’re looking for unique table centerpieces that could also double as party favors, try making one of these little beauties. The site’s pop-up email list subscribe requester box is a bit annoying, but get past that, and you’ll see that this woman’s candy bouquet creations are not only stunning, but suitable for numerous occasions.

Have you pulled off a big catering job on your own? Tell us about it in the comments!

Accommodating Food Allergies and Other Dietary Restrictions

Be prepared to accommodate a guest’s food allergy or dietary restriction.Food Allergy Dietary Restrictions Anaphylaxis Dairy-Free Intolerance

Imagine knowing that even a miniscule trace of nut residue can kill you. Now imagine showing up at a holiday gathering where nut-laden appetizers are being served.  Because of your experiences with this allergy, you know that the same knife that chopped the pistachios and almonds may have been only been wiped off before slicing onions for the entree.

You suddenly have a single option for staying healthy: Turn around immediately and leave.

Even if you’d opt to stay away from the table and socialize after others eat, you’re still in danger of accidental ingestion – perhaps through an innocent kiss on the cheek from another guest who’s thrilled to see you again after all these years. The final three minutes of your life would be spent in agony, trying to pull air through a throat passage that’s swollen completely shut.

While anaphylaxis is obviously the worst-case scenario, it is a very real danger to the millions of individuals suffering from food allergies.  According to a report from National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the most common food allergies are to eggs, nuts, and fish or shellfish.  Hostesses and hosts must make it a point to learn about any allergies or special dietary restrictions that invited guests could have.

Even when allergies are not a problem, some of your guests may not tolerate spicy foods well.  Others may hate mushrooms.  Still others could have an intolerance to prolific food ingredients like dairy or gluten. While this condition is rarely fatal, it can make an individual hate life in a variety of degrees over the next two to forty-eight hours.

Finally, a guest could be under doctor’s orders to strictly limit dietary fat and salt. Also keep in mind that foods and beverages can react badly with medications.  People on medications for blood pressure, heart, depression, and cholesterol cannot eat grapefruit.  Grapefruit enzymes, along with those of rarer fruits like Pomelo and Seville oranges,  affect the body’s metabolism of these medications, raising the medication level in one’s bloodstream possibly to toxicity.  (Mr. Cookie is vulnerable to such things because of a medication; I bring no citrus into our household that’s more exotic than a lemon, lime or naval orange.)

The last thing you want to do to a dinner guest is put them in the hospital…or worse. When you invite individuals, make it a point to ask them to not only respond, but specify whether there are any foods that they cannot eat.  All your invitees will appreciate this consideration. And most will jump at the opportunity to tell you that whether they despise anchovies or sweet potatoes as well.

Has a guest ever experienced an allergic reaction at your gathering? Tell us about it in the comments!

The time you spend on napkins can elevate a casual sit-down meal to a sumptuous dining experience. And I firmly believe that if you’re going to learn something new, you should learn from the best.

Have a look at what this gentleman can do with a simple fabric square.

Napkin-Folding from a Master, including the world-famous “Swan” fold:


(Here’s the book that Luigi wrote on the subject.)

'Video' Post | By on December 17, 2013

Gift Basket For An Overnight Guest

Made from inexpensive components, a welcoming gift basket pampers your visitors and puts everything they’ll need within reach.

Component 1 – the card or note.  Believe it or not, your guests might actually wonder if the treasures in their gift basket are meant to be used, or if the whole rig is merely part of the guest room decor.  Hand-write a short, personal note that leaves no welcome basketdoubt that everything here was chosen just for them. Make sure their names on the envelope are visible through the cellophane wrap (Component 5, below).

What to write?  Thank them for traveling so far to see you, or simply thank them for coming. Tell them how much you’ve looked forward to their visit.  That’s really all that’s necessary. (Aside from the autograph, of course – don’t forget to sign it before sealing.)

Component 2 – This puts the “welcome” in your gift basket… Start with the little things we tend to forget when traveling. Use them as small gifts to make your guests more comfortable.  The samples section of a “dollar” or discount store can yield tons of ideas. Soap, lotion and toiletries are always appreciated. Mints, tissues, aspirin and antacids too – and don’t forget to provide at least two bottles of water per person (and keep in mind – the gift basket should be big enough to accommodate them all).

Flavored decaf teas are nice for unwinding before bed, along with a puzzle book or a local-attractions magazine.  Depending on the room’s lighting, a mini booklight might be appreciated.

And don’t forget to include snacks, or your guests might scrounge desperately through your cupboards or fridge at 2:00 AM – let’s face it, a growling tummy will keep anyone awake. Fresh and/or dried fruits, granola bars and pretzels, and mini pastries or boxed chocolates (locally made, if possible) are all excellent choices for a gift basket.

Finally, if you don’t have a fully stocked bathroom right inside (or next to) your guestroom, put a neatly rolled bath towel, wash cloth, and hand towel for each guest in the gift basket. If there’s a trick to turning on the shower, or some other bathroom oddity they should know about, a little note with the wash cloths is not only appropriate, but appreciated.

Component 3 – the container. Wicker or straw are the most common construction materials for a gift basket, but you can also find wire, like ones that might hold binder clips, staplers, and other office trinkets at your desk.  Or try a brightly colored plastic bin.  Even a ceramic casserole dish will work in a pinch. The only rule is, it must have enough room to hold all the Component 2 treasures.

Component 4 – the filler. Or as most people refer to it, shredded paper.  You can shred your own, if you like; colored is nice, but white is perfectly acceptable, as long as it’s not part of a utility bill or {gasp} inky, messy newsprint.  You can even buy shredded paper filler in a variety of colors, and that which has been tightly crimped for added texture.

Arrange the goodies in the gift basket – shortest in front, tallest in back – then tuck the shreds between items, wherever there is space that needs filled.  Your handwritten card (see Component 1) goes front & center – again, this is what differentiates your gifts to them from just another pretty decoration in the room.

Component 5 – the cellophane.  The overwrap is cellophane, usually, and it’s widely available from discount stores and fabric/craft supply dealers.  However, for a female guest, you could also use a few yards of lovely, frothy tulle from the fabric store, which is see-through enough to serve this purpose nicely.  A length of lace is  gorgeous too, but bring your checkbook – it’s hardly inexpensive.

Whatever overwrap you choose, you’ll need enough at least a yard, maybe more – enough to wrap under and completely up over the front and back of your welcome basket, with some extra left at the top.

Component 6 – the ribbon.  Look at the above image for placement, and if you can, have a spare set of hands around – this simplifies things tremendously.  The gift basket in the photograph features two coordinating shades of ribbon.

The key to a perfect gift basket is to predict anything your visitors might need while they’re in your home, and make it readily available for them.

What items have you forgotten to bring while traveling? Let us know in the comments!

Bring International Flavor to your Gathering with French Cheeses

 

French cheeses partner wonderfully with a number of different types of food, including breads, fruits and honey. Soft cheeses – like the Brie and Boursault varieties - are delicious when paired with fruits like blackberries, dates, or figs. Blue cheeses work well with a number of fruits, as well as a variety of nuts for maximum flavor and variety. Bold greens topped with crumbled blue cheese and candied walnuts make for a light-but-satisfying dinner salad, or an ambitious start to a more substantial meal.

Assorted French Cheeses

Because of their higher water contents, cheeses manufactured in France are naturally lower in fat. As a healthier alternative to domestic offerings, soft French cheeses are also loaded with flavor. This is also true of France’s firmer cheese choices.  More than five hundred varieties are made in France alone, providing us with an almost unlimited number of options for enhancing pasta dishes or adding creaminess and tang to vinaigrette-drizzled salad greens. And they’re irresistible  in a cheese course platter alongside crackers and crusty breads.

Semi-hard French cheeses, such as Camembert, Port du Salut, and Chaubert, are good for both snacking and for use in desserts. They beautifully complement sweet-tart fruits like pineapple, kiwi and cherries.

Chutneys are a nice sidekick for bold cheeses. Sharp cheddar with apple chutney is a simple but outstanding combination.  Chutney is not difficult to make at home, but you can always find several commercial varieties in the gourmet section of a bigger supermarket. Serve it alongside your cheese platter in lieu of fresh fruit, or in addition to a specially chosen fruit in your course.

French Cheeses and Wines

Although reds are always our first instinct to serve with French cheeses, many white wines are perfectly suited for them as well.  The key is to choose one that can stand up to bold tastes and aromas if your menu includes assertive cheeses.  To make this balance easier to pull off, select just a few cheese varieties for your platter, and make certain these choices compliment your wines.

Bold cheeses need a more full-bodied wine, such as a Cabernet Sauvignon or a Shiraz. On the other hand, softer cheeses go well with lighter wines, especially fruity ones like Beaujolais and Riesling.

If you simply aren’t sure what to serve with your French cheese platters, you can likely find help from the cheesemeister at your area’s larger grocery stores, and perhaps even at the liquor store. Many of these individuals (especially at Pennsylvania’s antiquidated state-controlled booze stores) have been specially trained to answer all of your questions.

Sangria

 

Few things in life are as sweet as kicking back on a shady patio with a pitcher of sangria. Revved up with brandy and orange liqueur, this sangria recipe is one of my favorites. I’m including a non-alcoholic version as well, so your booze-averted guests (and their children) can enjoy something besides water and soda.

This makes roughly two quarts of sangria, including the soda or sparkling water additions.  Serve it with a juicy grilled steak or a spread of appetizers.

Sangria

Ingredients

  • 1 bottle red wine (750 ml.)
  • 1/4 cup brandy
  • 1/4 cup orange-flavored liqueur (Triple Sec, Cointreau or Grand Marnier)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 lime
  • 1 orange
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 red apple, any type
  • 24oz sparkling water or lemon-lime soda (If using soda, Sierra Mist is beautiful in this)
  • Optional: Freshly washed berries, cherries or mint leaves for garnishing individual glasses

Directions

Mix the sugar and brandy in a glass measuring cup or bowl. Microwave on high for 30 seconds, then stir. Heat for another 20-30 seconds, or until mixture begins to boil. Stir again. Heat for another 5 seconds and stir, repeating until mixture becomes a syrup with no sugar grains left to dissolve. Let this cool while washing, drying, and prepping the fruit.
For the lemon: Snip pointy ends away, then thinly slice half the lemon, removing seeds from the slices. Squeeze all the juice from the other half into a bowl, and fish out seeds. Discard the squeezed half. Process the lime & orange similarly, squeezing unsliced halves into same bowl as lemon and discarding the juiced part.
Process the lime & orange similarly, squeezing unsliced halves into same bowl as lemon and discarding the juiced part.

For the apple: Don’t peel it – the red color looks nice with the other fruits. You do need to core it though, and cut it into thin wedges.
Combine all fruits and their juices, syrup, and alcohols in a large plastic container or glass pitcher. Cover and chill at least 2 hours.
Fill serving glasses half full of sangria and fruit, then fill the rest of the way with soda. (Adding it ahead of time allows the soda to go flat; you don't want that!) Leave room for ice cubes.
NON-ALCOHOLIC VERSION: For children and those who don't/can't drink alcohol (and don't we all have a recovering alcoholic friend or family member?), making this a booze-free alternative is simple: Replace the red wine, brandy and orange liqueur with 4 cups of cranberry juice cocktail. Omit the sugar. Process the fruit same as for the standard (boozy) version, but leave out the lemon. Still hold off, adding the Sierra Mist until serving time, to retain its fizz.

Shortcut Swedish Meatballs

 

The “fresh herbs” segment of my Hubpages article shows that I am not a fan of dried herbs or packaged convenience foods; however, this version of Swedish Meatballs gets served at least Swedish Meatballsfour times a year in my household. No other meal makes the rotation so often – it’s just that good.

These meatballs go together in no time because most of the knifework is eliminated. I mentioned this in my Graduation Party post as being a viable alternative to rigatoni on a buffet; for feeding a crowd, combine the pasta & sauce before setting up in the chafing dish. As the entree for a sit-down dinner, however, maintain a bit more elegance by serving the meatballs and sauce spooned over pasta.  Even without the sauce, they’d make an excellent hors d’oeuvre at your next cocktail party.

Note about the recipe below: It makes two batches of 36 one-inch meatballs. I bake one batch now and freeze the other for a future meal.  You could easily bake the entire recipe at once, if you’re truly feeding a crowd; just put 36 on each of two cookie sheets, and switch their positions during the second stir.  One batch of 36 goes nicely with a pound of pasta and warm, buttered slices of homemade bread.

Shortcut Swedish Meatballs

Ingredients

  • 2 eggs (lightly beaten)
  • 1/4 cup ketchup
  • 3/4 cups plain dried bread crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons dried parsley flakes
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 2lb ground chuck or lean ground beef
  • 1lb ground pork
  • 2 Envelopes instant brown gravy mix
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • dash nutmeg
  • Hot, cooked pasta (bowties are especially nice here) or noodles

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Combine the first ten ingredients in a large bowl, then break the meat up into crumbles, dropping into the bowl. Mix lightly but thoroughly with herbs, eggs, bread crumbs and spices.
Divide the meat mixture in half, and flip one half out onto a cutting board. Flatten into a rectangle. With a large knife, divide into six horizontal rows, then six vertical rows, to make 36 pieces. Quickly roll these into one-inch meatballs and space apart on an ungreased cookie sheet or jelly roll pan. (Now you must also choose whether you're making two batches of 36, or freezing the rest of the meat mixture for a future meal. If you're making both batches now, fill up another pan the same way.)
Bake meatballs for 20 minutes, stirring with a spatula after seven and again in another seven. When timer goes off, test one straight out of the oven; middle should show no pink to be left. If necessary, return to oven for 3-4 minutes and test again.

While these are in the oven, cook your pasta or noodles, then drain and toss with butter or margarine.
In a large skillet or Dutch oven. prepare gravy mixes with water according to package directions. Stir sauce until thickened. Remove from heat and add sour cream and nutmeg, stirring until color is uniform. Two gravy mixes and one cup of sour cream will make enough sauce for a single (36-count) batch of meatballs. Add the meatballs to sauce and stir gently to coat.

Vinaigrette Formulas for Those Still Hitting the Bottle

bigstock-Sunlit-still-life-of-raspberry-19859933Even sorrier than the hostess who never serves a fresh vinaigrette is someone that only enjoys a good salad three or four times a year. I’ve actually had guests mention they never eat salad unless it’s during a meal served by someone else.  This is a shame; salad greens are packed with vitamins and nutrients. Their chilled crunch is a welcome contrast to the meats, starches, and limp vegetables of a cool-weather weeknight meal. And many salad greens are available throughout the year -  even in the  blustery winters of the Western US – thanks to Giant Eagles, Bi-Lo’s and Shop-n-Saves.

Unfortunately, all varieties of produce are costly in the off-season, and what’s available isn’t always top quality. To make the best of your off-season produce haul, a good dressing can hide a multitude of shortcomings. And making a vinaigrette, even one with a dozen or more ingredients, is quite easy; it will cost you only five minutes of effort and literally a few cents per serving. If you’ve never made your own vinaigrette, you’re in for a treat: Homemade vinaigrette is much more flavorful than the stuff from the plastic bottles – and you get to control the sodium.  Beyond salad, they’re also excellent drizzled over roasted vegetables.

Here are three of my favorite, very basic vinaigrette recipes (which are almost too simple to be recipes…more like “formulas”!).

Balsamic Vinaigrette

Ingredients

  • 5 tablespoons Extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons Good-quality balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper (to taste)

Directions

Whisk together vinegar and mustard. While whisking, drizzle oil into vinegar mixture slowly to incorporate well. Add salt and pepper to taste.
This one wakes up the flavor of plain, mild greens. For a knockout salad, toss it with torn romaine lettuce leaves, then top with candied walnuts and Gorgonzola cheese crumbles.

Raspberry Vinaigrette

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons Walnut oil
  • 1/4 cup Rice wine vinegar
  • 1/3 cup Seedless raspberry jam

Directions

Combine all three items in a jar with a lid, then shake until jam is incorporated with vinegar and oil. This is outstanding on fruit salads, or on arugula greens with minced red onion, bacon bits, and crumbled feta cheese.
This is outstanding on fruit salads, or on arugula greens with minced red onion, bacon bits, and crumbled feta cheese.

Honey-Garlic Vinaigrette

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup Canola or vegetable oil
  • 1-1/2 tablespoon Honey
  • 5 tablespoons Apple cider vinegar
  • 1 clove Garlic (minced)

Directions

Combine all ingredients in a lidded jar and shake until combine. If using on salad, chill for 40 minutes first to allow the flavors to blend. This can stand up to the most assertive greens, and doubles as an excellent pork marinade before grilling or broiling.

What’s your favorite “formula” for a quick vinaigrette?  Let us know in the comments!

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