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Archive for the ‘entertaining’ Category

My daughter had some friends over yesterday for an end of the year sleepover, and we had a family favorite that was a big hit with the girls.  It is a “make your own Calzones Party” and is easier than you think.  What you’ll need is a variety of pizza toppings/fillings and some easy to make homemade dough (recipe follows).  For fillings, I usually have shredded mozzarella, thinly sliced sweet peppers, mushrooms, sliced pepperoni, and my husband usually peels the casings off one or two hot italian sausages and fries the crumbles up for sausage.  I also put out a bowl of pizza sauce.  I buy a gigantic can of Ragu Pizza Sauce at Sam’s a few times a year and freeze the sauce in ziplock baggies, which I line up accordian style in a shallow plastic container.  So easy to pull one or two of them out.

First step is to prepare the pizza dough.  The recipe that follows makes 4 calzones.  Yesterday I doubled it to make 8.  I have a large Zojirushi Bread machine that I make my dough in using the quick dough cycle and I was happy to see it handle the double recipe easily.  While dough is rising, prepare all filling ingredients and set out on a large work surface such as a kitchen island, counter, or table.  Preheat oven to 425 F.  Have 1-2 cookie sheets ready.  I put a piece of parchment paper on mine to keep the sheets clean, make sure the calzones won’t stick, and to give me a place to label each person’s calzone by writing on the parchment with a sharpie:).

When dough is ready, working on a floured surface, divide dough into the number of calzones you are making.  Roll out to a circle about 6-8 inches in diameter.  Each person should then fill their calzone by putting toppings on one half, leaving about a 3/4 inch edge clean for sealing.  When calzones are filled, dampen the edge around filling with a finger dipped in water, then fold over the top half and seal by pressing all around edge with a fork.  Poke a few holes in the top with fork.  Carefully transfer each calzone to a cookie sheet and label the parchment so you know whose calzone is whose.  If you don’t use parchment, you can poke initials in the top with the fork or otherwise do something to mark each one.   I can usually fit 4 calzones on my largest cookie sheet, but it is close, you may want to use 2 cookie sheets for 4 calzones.   Bake at 425 for 18-20 minutes. (these work great in my convection oven at 400 F also).  Allow to cool for at least 5-10 minutes before attempting to eat – they are HOT inside!

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Calzone Dough (makes 4 calzones)

1.5 t. yeast

1 c. warm water

2.5 c. flour

1/2 c. cornmeal

1 T. sugar

1 t. salt

2.5 T. olive oil

Use whatever method you would normal use to mix and knead ingredients for bread or pizza dough.  I use the quick dough cycle on my bread machine.

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Enjoy!

Lynn

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Yesterday my friend and I were walking our dogs and after she graciously put up with my ranting over the hassles I was having getting a small insurance claim filed properly, she told me she was going to be busy putting together a dinner they decided to throw for one of her husband’s grad students a bit at the last minute.  She had a well-thought out menu and I have been to their house for parties before – she and her husband are great hosts and will throw a good party.  She mentioned that one of the other faculty wives coming spends weeks preparing for a gathering, but my friend did not think this lady was judgmental about people who did things more on the fly, so she wasn’t too worried about impressing or not impressing her.

It got me thinking about a conversation I had over the internet about 10 years ago with a woman who I chatted with regularly but had never met in person.  She was about my age and had been married about 8 or 10 years, which was similar to me.  Her husband had invited his boss for dinner and she was a nervous wreck because she had NEVER entertained before!  I was flabbergasted.  “NEVER?  Not even a family holiday dinner?  Not even your best friends over for some brats on the grill?”  I asked.  Nope, never.  Well, she survived her first dinner party, but I don’t think she enjoyed herself.

The situation could not be more different at our house.  I was inviting people over for dinner while I was still in college.  In fact, I used to have my husband and his roommates over at least once a month.  I grew up with a bunch of sisters and at the time did not quite understand how much college guys could eat.  I would make a dinner that I thought was plenty, the guys would eat and compliment and leave, and my husband told me years later that they would then go out for more food because they were still hungry!  I can laugh now, but I would have been mortified back then.    But they knew I was doing my best and never saw the point in hurting my feelings by telling me I wasn’t serving enough food.  If I had found out, I would have probably been upset, made adjustments to my cooking, and gotten over it.

All through grad school, my husband and I invited people over regularly, mostly other grad students, who we knew were thrilled not to have to cook for themselves and so were always happy with whatever we had to offer.  We gleefully experimented, not too worried if things went wrong, always figuring we could order a pizza in a pinch.  We had beer tastings, wine tastings, cookouts, and stew at informal tables set up in the living room with our pets trotting around.  Our house was small and crowded, but we never worried too much about that – we had some great times in that house.

In our first year of marriage, I invited my boss (and academic advisor) and his wife for dinner.  We did clean like crazy (and had a fight over whether the bathroom trash can should be emptied before company – I told my husband that that was ridiculous but gave in and had to admit that it wouldn’t have been too classy to have a half filled trash can in the bathroom when your boss comes over) and did our best to present a little more high end meal than usual and I must say they were impressed and we all had a great time.    Something about a dessert called Fort Knox Pie will put everyone in a good mood.  And I think part of it was that I never thought to be intimidated – I liked to cook and I liked my boss and his wife, so what was there to be scared about?

The older we got, the more casual we got about entertaining.  My husband would frequently call in the afternoon to tell me he was bringing an out of town colleague home for dinner.  “o-kaaaay,” I’d reply and look around at the mess and try to figure out the best plan of attack, and then clean like crazy.  It always turned out well, maybe because we would both pitch in to make it work.

I can’t imagine not entertaining.  If a few weeks have gone by without having company, one of us will say, “We should have someone over this weekend.”  We’ve learned, parties can be casual and impromptu (“Hey, Ralph, we made this huge pot of chili, want to come over?”) or more formal, using good china, the dining room, and serving foods like steaks.

You really have only two things to consider before entertaining – is the house (or yard, if it is a cookout) presentable, and what are we going to eat?

For me, it is most important to have a clean bathroom.  I will also keep an eye on the bathroom through the party if we have a lot of people over.  I once went to a party at a pretty fancy house and about halfway through the evening, the hand towels in the powder room were completely soaked.  Yuck.  The last time we had a bunch of people over, I swapped out the towels for new ones about halfway through the night.  No big deal, but really made the bathroom nicer.

Aside from the bathroom, we do a quick run and pick up all the junk, throwing it upstairs out of the way if there is too much to actually put away, though if you are de-cluttering with me, this may be less of a problem.  Quick dusting if you have time, then run the vacuum and/or the broom.  I try to run a load of dishes and get them all put away so I have relatively clean counters.  That’s for a big party.  For just a few casual friends, I may not do anything at all.  Or quickly sweep the kitchen if I have time.

The biggest thing with food is that it shouldn’t be fussy and things you can prepare ahead of time are a big plus.   In grad school, we’d try new stuff when we invited friends over, now we stick with tried and true things unless it is a very casual evening with very close friends.

Never be afraid to say yes if people ask if they can bring something.  Whenever someone asks, I suggest things like salads, desserts, snacks, and appetizers.  I don’t count on anyone bringing anything specific, so I will usually have a salad, chips, and dessert ready, but nothing that can’t be set aside and replaced by something from a guest.  If I have a certain dessert in mind, I tell people, so they don’t show up with a dessert when I’ve got a fancy cheesecake ready.    Of course for a big party, the more desserts , the better!

Keep in mind that it never has to get fancy.  Unless it is someone you really need to impress, I have found most people will enjoy brats and beer on the deck just as much as fancy filet mignon in the dining room.

So, please, don’t be afraid to entertain.  It can be as simple as calling your neighbor after work and asking if they want to come over for beer and nibbles before dinner.

And here’s something handy I’ve learned – I need to throw several large parties a year – it is the best incentive to give my house a really good cleaning.  I sometimes joke that if we never had company, my house would never get clean!

Best regards,

Lynn

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