Midweek entertaining do’s and don’ts

The past few weeks I had a few after work get-togethers, which taught me a few lessons about mid-week entertaining.  Last week went smoothly, while last night I was scrambling last minute and then ended up putting a few of my guests to work to help me push out some food (thank you Megan and Meghan - I couldn’t have done it without you!).

So here are my DO’s and DON’Ts based on my experiences:

DO

  • Adjust your own expectations. This is a mid-week gathering and you have a full time job. No one expects a feast of all feasts. Which brings me to…
  • Have a manageable plan. Last week I gave myself the task of making 2 apps and 1 dessert which I quickly whipped up together the night before. Everyone was more than happy with just that and a cooler full of beer!
  • Get helpfrom your guests and your grocery store :) Guests always ask what to bring – give them specific instructions (beer, dessert, etc.) or go a step further and make it a potluck gathering. Last night the feast below (and more! we had to use a side table) was all put out by my guests!! A few items from the grocery store completed the table. You don’t have to cook every single thing from scratch. Cheese + cured meats went quickly. Crostini from fresh baguette + ricotta and sour cherry jam (all store-bought) was one of my favorite appetizers of the night! Even on the night of the party, get help from your guests with last minute touches if you need it. Many of them offer help, take them up on it if it’s going to ensure you’re not stuck in the kitchen all night while everyone else is having fun (although that shouldn’t happen if you actually plan right – see don’ts.)
  • Have a partner in crime – Adam buzzed people in and was making sure everyone had a drink in hand and enjoyed each other’s company while I was still finishing up my dish.

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  • Make things ahead of time. I know this is obvious but man, was I reminded of this last night. I left a lot of things to last minute and paid the price. I like dips and dishes that can be warmed up or baked right before the party. Do the work ahead of time and you’ll be much more likely to enjoy the party you’re hosting!

DON’T

  • Don’t over commit – seriously, don’t! I know you may feel like people have high expectations because you’re known as the food blogger or a really great cook, but remember – this is a midweek party. Keep it simple and manageable and your guests will be happy. I promise! :)
  • Don’t be cocky – Last party went so smoothly that you think you can just wing it and end up watching 5 episodes of Top Chef Just Desserts instead of prepping the night before? (totally hypothetical ;) ). Nope – not a good plan. Have a plan and execute on it  – this is how you keep your reputation as the hostest with the mostest!
  • Don’t be a perfectionist – Last minute things at work so you couldn’t get off early to make sure everything was 100% ready before your guests arrived? It’s OK! As I was still making the pizza monkey bread below and needed my guests’ help, I kept rambling about how I was the worst host ever. Megan said something so sweet that really brought me to reality. She said: “Elina, look around. Everyone is having fun in the living room. You’re among friends. And you’re human.” Phew! It’s good to be among friends.

Last night’s guests were some of my favorite blogger friends: Meghan, Megan, Elizabeth, Cara (and husband Ben), Lizzy, Bridget, Shannon (and boyfriend Mike), Melissa and Josh, Kerstin, Ranjani, Tiffany (and husband Kyle). Check out their blogs if you don’t follow them yet!

I made this pizza monkey bread again last night but since this post is getting too long, I’m going to ask you to wait a little longer for the recipe. I promise you it will be worth the wait. Just ask the people above!! :)

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And these Russian cheesecake lollipops will be shared on Russian Bites next week. Be sure to check back there! Edited to add: here is the recipe. Don’t miss it! :)

Russian-cheesecake-pops

Speaking of Russian Bites, please give me some love on my post on vareniki (vegetarian Russian dumplings). Thanks! You’rethebestest. Winking smile

Are you an entertaining guru? Share your do’s and don’ts with us! Smile

Operation perfect pizza

Thank you for all of your comments on the latest diet free living post! I gotta say I was really inspired and motivated when I wrote it.  It’s been barely 24 hours but I feel a real shift in my perception. Only good things can come from that!

Before this wave of inspiration came upon me (which by the way I totally credit the It Was Always Meant to Happen That Waybook… thanks Christie for reviewing it!! You all should buy it asap if you can relate to my struggles with food), pizza was on my mind. And well, I have the need to share such important things with you. ; )

Are you a pizza fan? What does “perfect pizza” mean to you?

To me, it means a chewy, doughy crust and incredibly fresh ingredients. Basically, it’s pizza from Picco. I’m obsessed!!

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So obsessed in fact that Adam and I have had it the past 3 Sunday nights we’ve been in town… and I’ve ordered the exact same thing (salami & cherry peppers with garlic, rosemary, chopped tomato, fresh mozzarella, romano & basil) – this never happens!! Absolutely obsessed. It’s incredible. And now it’s our little Sunday night tradition.

Of course for those of you who don’t live in Boston, this little nugget of information is quite useless. I know! But don’t worry – I am now officially on a mission to create the perfect pizza crust, inspired by Picco!

This was Saturday night’s pizza (mushroom for me, buffalo chicken for Adam).

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I used the dough recipe we tried at the King Arthur cooking class (scroll down that post to see the gorgeous pizza that came from that experience!)… which combines 2 cups of all-purpose flour, 1.25t instant yeast, 3/4t salt, 1T olive oil and ~0.75cups of warm water. It is quick and easy… and it’s even better on the grill! Yup, I grilled our pizzas on Saturday [apparently I was in a grilling mood this weekend]!

You can’t really tell from this photo but the grill marks are all on the bottom and under the sauce. I brushed the rolled out dough with EVOO and put it directly on the grill. A few minutes later I flipped it (when little bubbles formed), left it on for a minute or so and then removed it to apply the toppings. The pizzas then went back on the grill, which I then closed to let the cheese melt for a few minutes and let the other side of the crust cook a bit more.

It was definitely the best pizza I’ve made so far! The dough was nice and crispy on the bottom but soft with a bit of chew all over! I thought it was close to Picco’s until we had it the following night… and so the search for the perfect dough continues

I think Picco uses sourdough crust… it was just so chewy with large air pockets, very reminiscent of sourdough. Have you ever made sourdough pizza crust? I need to find out how to do that and get on it STAT!

Pizza is one of my favorite food groups! Winking smile

Please share your favorite pizza stories and recipes in the comments!

UNO’s mindful choices–review (+giveaway!)

Last night I was invited by the marketing coordinator of UNO’s, Nami, to try their mindful choices menu items. Have you been to UNO’s in a while? This is a relatively new change to the menu. I personally haven’t been to the restaurant since the night they served me a microwaved pizza (that made me sick the next day!) but I was eager to taste some of their healthier offerings. I always appreciated that UNO’s provided nutritional info for all of their items (even though the numbers were often scary!) and last night I was happy to find out that it’s easy to make healthier choices at UNO’s… and they are actually delicious!!

The mindful choices symbolized by a little tomato on the menu imply that the item may be reduced calorie, lower in fat, lower in sodium, etc. There is no set standard for what qualifies as a “mindful choice.” I did find that all the items appeared to be lower in calories, were more veggie centric and were prepared in a healthier manner (baked vs. fried; brown rice vs. white, etc.). Sounds more mindful of health guidelines, no?

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Bloggers Melissa and Natalie were also in attendance (check out their new website dedicated to fun events in Boston!), as well as my friend Judith – between the 5 of us (including Nami) we sampled every single mindful choice. Yes, there was a lot of food. And yes, it was a lot of fun!

APPETIZERS

Farro salad with chipsa whole grain barley with diced tomatoes, cucumber and balsamic vinaigrette

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[160 calories, 8 g fat – without chips]

Farro is a grain I rarely eat so I was really happy to see it on the menu of a chain restaurant. The balsamic vinaigrette added really nice acidity and the tomatoes and cucs added nice freshness. I say skip the chips (order this as a side!) and dig in with your fork. Yum!

House Made Guacamole with chipsred onion, cilantro, lime juice

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[230 calories, 11g fat; without chips]

I did not try this since it contained onions, but everyone LOVED this guac. We don’t need to talk about the fact that avocados are good for you, despite the higher fat content, right? Ok, I didn’t think so. Winking smile

Stuffed mushroomsportabella, shiitake, goat cheese, bread crumbs and romano cheese

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[140 calories, 9 g fat]

These were “meaty” and cheesy. Delicious!

SALADS

Walnut crusted warm goat cheesebaked goat cheese atop field greens, with fresh blueberries and low-fat blueberry pomegranate dressing

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[250 calories, 17g fat/srg – whole dish = TWO servings!]

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My love for all-things goat cheese is not a secret and this walnut crusted ball of heaven was my idea of a perfect salad. I think it would be really amazing to spread the goat cheese over some toast. Mmmm. Beware – this dish contains 2 servings!

Power salad with fat free raspberry vinaigrette dressingchicken breast, spinach, plum tomatoes, carrots, feta, red grapes, goji berries, raisins, soy nuts, almonds, pepitas, and craisins

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[270 calories, 7 g fat; 2 servings/dish]

Wow, there is a lot going on here, doesn’t it? I had a few bites and saw the potential of all the sweet/ savory/ crunchy/creamy toppings being fun but I didn’t actually get to taste them all in one forkful. Entrees and pizza were coming up next so I was a bit distracted, but I think this definitely could be a delicious power meal!

ENTREES

Chicken Milanese salad with balsamic vinaigrettebread and baked chicken breasts, topped with a salad of mixed greens, tomatoes, red onion, kalamata olives, parmesan and balsamic vinaigrette

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[430 calories, 29g fat, including dressing; 2 servings per dish]

I normally would not eat meat at UNO’s (until they start serving organic chicken!) but I tasted a piece for the sake of a review. Man, this was good. It was perfectly crunchy on the outside, juicy on the inside, and very well seasoned. It is possible to have delicious “fried” chicken without frying (again note that 1/2 dish is meant to be a serving, if you eat the whole thing it becomes less of a “mindful choice.”]

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Lemon Basil Salmon

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[240 calories, 17g fat; without sides; 2 servings/dish]

This was nicely cooked – I loved the lemon/garlic/basil seasoning on top. A bit of butter also added a nice richness without making it greasy. Delicious!

PIZZAS

Harvest vegetable pizza on a 5-grain flatbreadhouse made salsa, garlic roasted cherry tomatoes, basil, peppers, spinach, broccoli, caramelized onions finished with cheddar and mozzarella

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[410 calories, 22 g fat; THREE servings/dish]

UNO’s is obviously known for their pizza and despite not being the ultra buttery deep dish, this pizza delivered! I loved everything up until this point, but this pizza was hands down my favorite. I loved the abundance of veggies, especially the roasted tomatoes and broccoli. This is also made to order, so I was able to request it without the caramelized onions. Note that each pizza is 3 servings, which makes it the most caloric dish if you eat the whole thing (my advice: don’t Winking smile ).

Roasted Eggplant, Spinach and Feta on 5 Grain Flatbread

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[290 calories, 11g fat; 3 servings/dish]

I’m surprised this pizza is lower in calories than the one above given that pesto is higher in calories than salsa. Perhaps there is less cheese on it? This was good if you love pesto as your pizza sauce but I personally preferred the harvest vegetable above.

DESSERT

Mini granny smith all American

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[320 calories, 14g fat]

Mini macadamia nut white chocolate cookie sundae

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[660 calories, 35g fat Disappointed smile]

Mini bananas foster

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[350 calories, 17g fat]

Mini hot chocolate brownie sundae

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[370 calories, 16g fat]

Obviously, dessert is no health food. I appreciate that UNO’s offers mini-versions of many of their top desserts but of course they should still be treated as treats (they’re small but pack a caloric punch – see mini macadamia white chocolate cookie above]. I did not love these. They were super sweet and a little fake tasting in my opinion. I’d stick to savory offerings at UNO’s and have dessert at home.

All in all, I was very pleasantly surprised by UNO’s mindful choice menu items. Everything tasted fresh and flavorful and I would not hesitate to go back there again!

Has it been a while since you’ve been to UNO’s? One lucky Healthy and Sane reader will win $25 UNO dough so you can try any of the above items (or their deep dish pizza… hey I won’t tell Winking smile ) yourself!

Here are the rules: there are 7 ways to enter.

1) Leave a comment on this post – Tell me whatever you want, like what your favorite pizza topping is or what you’d order if you won! :)

2+3) Follow me on Twitter (please tell me in the comments what your twitter name is so I can confirm). For an additional entry, you can also tweet about this giveaway (my twitter handle @elinacooks and a link to this post must be included to qualify)

4) Subscribe to Healthy and Sane by email

5) Like Healthy and Sane on Facebook.

6) Add Healthy and Sane to your blogroll.

7) Link to this post on your blog, if you have one. If you don’t, let someone else know about this giveaway and tell me so in the comments section after they’ve entered the giveaway.

Please leave a separate comment on this post for each entry. The giveaway will end on February 22. I will randomly choose 1 winner using random.org on the following Wednesday. Good luck! Open-mouthed smile

Edited to add: Nami just sent me a $10 off $25 coupon. If you live near the Boston or Newton restaurant and stop by, be sure to present it. Ok, I’m really done now. lol

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