Archive for Planning

Cooking tips for a relaxing weekend getaway

My family and I recently went away for the weekend to the N. GA Mountains with my friend Kim and her family. While we were there, the cooking aspect of the weekend was so easy I decided to share my tips for how, with some planning, a weekend getaway can be relaxing for ALL!!

  1. Plan, Plan, Plan – About a week or so before we left, Kim and I got together and planned out all of the meals. The goal was to have delicious food that would travel well and not take too much time to make.
  2. Lists – After we had our menu set, I made a spreadsheet of the meals with all of the ingredients we would need to make each one. Kim and I put our names by any ingredient we had on hand and would not have to buy. I then made grocery lists for the remaining ingredients divided out by the 3 separate stores we were going to.
  3. Divide and conquer – Kim hit one store and I hit the other two. We met in the afternoon to exchange food for what we were each preparing early.
  4. Make what you can early – We made as much as we could ahead of time like chili, pumpkin bread and biscuits. We also did a lot of prep like chopping onions, browning sausage for the meat sauce and poaching the chicken for the buffalo dip. The bulk of our time in the kitchen was spent assembling more than cooking.
  5. Use the deck –  Since it was cold where we were, we kept all of the drinks outside on the deck in two separate coolers. One had water and soda and the other had beer. The beverages kept cold and it freed up a lot of space in the refrigerator.
  6. Go with people with similar food tastes – One thing that made this trip so easy was that no one had unusual food issues and everyone was able to eat the same things. Yes…we had 3 different types of coffee, but that was the extent of the “special” foods. When it was time to leave, there wasn’t much to bring back and splitting it up was very easy!

Here was our menu:


Breakfast – Hashbrown casserole, bacon, fruit

Lunch (and football watching snacks) – Turkey roll ups, Buffalo dip, Queso Dip, Veggie Tray

Dinner – Chili, cornbread, salad


Breakfast – Biscuits and Sausage Gravy, scrambled cheesy eggs, fruit

Lunch – Burgers and Hot dogs, Onion Dip and Potato Chips

Dinner – Spaghetti with meat sauce, salad, garlic bread

Breakfast: Pumpkin Bread, Leftover Hashbrown Casserole, Fruit

Cabin getaway

Dinner for 37 with no plan – Savannah themed meal

Ok, so McNack’s is always ‘preaching’ about how to prepare in advance for a big party and that without adequate preparation, who knows what will happen.

Well, I’ve been just a wee bit busy and realized that I committed to dinner for what was going to be 37 people at my house in less than 48 hours and I had no real plan. I definitely voluntarily invited my daughter’s Girl Scout Troop and their families to dinner and I wanted to do this. But, well, then life happened.

I also committed to making the theme of the meal “Savannah” as this is the year we take the girls to see the home of Juliet Gordon Lowe in Savannah (she’s the founder of the Girl Scouts). Hmm!? Now what?

First things first – I needed a menu. It was both kids and adults so I needed to be very kid friendly. So here is what I decided:

Savannah Themed Meal

Kids Menu:

Fried Chicken (plan was order from Chick-fil-a, see below for reality)

Macaroni and Cheese

Fruit (strawberries and grapes)


and whatever they want off the ‘adult’ menu

Adult Menu:

Homemade Pimento Cheese

Grilled Spicy Shrimp

Fried Green Tomatoes

Deviled Eggs

Cilantro Slaw

Sautéed Greens with Sausage

Desserts (I reached out to the parents who offered to help… when you need it, use it! Nothing wrong with that!) We had peach cobbler, a dessert bar one of the mom’s used to make when she lived in Savannah, brownies and cookies. Thanks ladies!!

An assortment of kid friendly and adult friendly beverages. Thanks again for those who helped in this arena too!!

The Last Minute Plan:

The good thing is nothing I was making was that difficult, it was just a lot. I went to the stores (all of them) the day before and reached out for help on the desserts. I went to order the nuggets from Chick-fil-a when it dawned on me the party was on Sunday! OMG! Now what? I love that Chick-fil-a is not open on Sunday but I was in a bind. While I was freaking out on my way to my car at my local grocer (Publix), the boy helping me out suggested I check with their deli. Duh!! Thanks! That worked out great.

I went ahead and made the pimento cheese and slaw, cut the fruit, sautéed the sausage, made the remoulade sauce, finished the deviled eggs and grated the cheese. I then got my tables and paper goods ready to go.

The day of I finished getting the house ready, got the serving, drinking and eating areas all setup and finalized the rest of the food. That included: marinating, grilling, and peeling the shrimp; making the mac n’ cheese; sautéing the greens; preparing the fried green tomatoes; and picking up the chicken tenders from the store (thanks Mark xoxo). Easy Peasy!!

Most everything was ready when guests arrived other than frying the tomatoes, getting the buffet area finalized, getting drinks for folks and other last minute things.

As typical for me, I made a whole lot more than I should have. Note to self: think about your guests. 60lb girls don’t eat as much as 200lb men. Oops. Leftovers!

All joking aside, it was fun. The girls had a nice ceremony and played well together. The parents had a nice time getting to know each other better. Looking forward to a great year!

dinner party without a plan

Preparing for a Party

I am one week away from hosting a baby shower for just over 30 people. Here is the update on the preparing for a party…

Guest list:

I had sent out Evites since this is a casual party. Evidently, there has been something wrong with Evite. I was getting concerned when over half of the people had not responded. I contacted the soon-to-be-parents to ask them if they could reach out to their invited guests. Well, as it turns out, some people responded, it just didn’t register on Evite.


The menu isn’t changing from my original plan. Here it is…

  • Pork sliders
  • Baked potato bar
  • Shrimp grits
  • Green bean and mushroom salad
  • Meatballs
  • Spinach and artichoke dip
  • Charcuterie platter


All of my lists are set and organized. I have one each for Costco, Walmart, and Publix. I also have a list for the party supply store. I have another list for when I am going to do all of errands, as well as which day to get the house ready. It’s going to be a busy week, but it’s all going to be fabulous!! I can’t wait. Cooking will begin on Thursday!


How to plan a party – Part 6 “Birthday Party for 16”

Yesterday was the final day of the 5 days of entertaining and my aunt’s birthday. As I have mentioned, my family is Syrian. It’s not often that the majority of the family can all get together at the same time, so it made sense to serve food that we all grew up on and loved. Obviously not everything I served was Syrian, but a lot of it was. One thing that is nice is that Costco now sells lots of this type of food so I don’t have to make it from scratch when I am pressed for time.


Mezza (Appetizers)




Grape Leaves


Meat Pies (Don’t ask, not giving this one up)

Shrimp Grits with Toast Points (This one either)



Drunk Chicken (Recipe Coming)

Garlic Green Beans

Corn Souffle

Noodle Rice

Fatoush Salad (and this…not happening)

Grilled Peaches


Lemonade Pie (Recipe coming)

Since I had been busy with cooking for other parties over the last several days, I couldn’t really do a lot of prep in advance for this one. I wasn’t worried though. The lemonade pies were made about a week ago and that was all that I really needed to do. I knew I was going to have a lot of extra hands if I needed it, and at this point, anything goes!!

The Family came over around 12:30. I had put out the tabuleh, hummus, pita, olives, nuts, and the meat pies. Those were made in batches so as they were ready, I replenished the plate. My sister was busy making the shrimp grits. It wasn’t until later that I realized that I had forgotten about putting out the grape leaves. Oh well…lunch for me next week.

The goal was to eat dinner around 7:30. I took out the ribs and chicken to prepare them around 4:00. I will be honest and say that my sister was in charge of the chickens! When the chickens were about 45 minutes from being done, the corn soufflé went into the oven and the rice was made. Did I mention that I forgot green beans for the garlic green beans? Well, at this point, we decided that we were done with making last minute store runs and the salad would double as the “green vegetable”. See, everyone has to improvise!!

Once all of the meat was off the grill and resting, the peaches were grilled and the salad was made. The soufflé was out of the oven (well, one was…the other wasn’t quite ready) and the rice was put into a serving dish. The meat was carved and sliced and the peaches were ready! Dinner was served!! By the time everyone was ready for seconds, the other soufflé was done. Another success!


1. Expect the unexpected. Things will go wrong. Don’t let it ruin your party.

2. Don’t freak out if you forget something. You can always improvise if you can’t (or don’t want to) get back to the store.

3. Your guests won’t know (or won’t care) what you forgot. They will be happy just being at your house and eating your food!

4. Be flexible and allow for help if you need it. I know some of you are laughing at this one thinking that I am neither flexible nor allow for help.

5. When you do have to go back to the store, just grab some more milk, even if you think you won’t need it. You will.

6. Ice, Ice, Ice!! Unless you have a REALLY good ice maker or separate ice machine, pick up a 10 lb. bag of ice to keep in the freezer. You will use more than you think.

7. If you are feeling stressed, just pour another beverage. It makes everything better (just like bacon).

Want to see more of this series? Here are the other parts:
Part 1 Original
Part 2 Getting Organized
Part 3 Baconfest
Part 4 Dinner for 13
Part 5 July 4th Dinner

How to plan a party – Part 5 “Family Fun Fest..SURPRISE!”

Ok, 4th party in four nights…a surprise birthday party for my aunt. Well, she knew about coming to my house for a birthday dinner, but what she did not know was it was going to be more than just my sister’s and my family.

Convincing my aunt to come on Friday and spend the night was not an easy task, but eventually we did it! She showed up to the house after lunch on Friday thinking it was going to be a small gathering. She got a very nice surprise when she walked into the kitchen to see another one of her niece’s and her family. A few hours later, another aunt and uncle arrived. The only guests we were waiting on were another aunt and uncle who were flying in from New York. They would arrive before dinner. I love surprises.

I knew I wanted today’s menu to be easy, kid friendly, and not take up too much time in the kitchen. After all, I wanted to hang out with my family! So, a taco bar it was.



The Best Salsa Ever (recipe coming)

Homemade Pico De Gallo

Homemade Guacamole


Taco Dip


Slow Cook Carnitas (recipe coming)

Beef Tacos

Sweet Corn Cake

Black bean and corn salsa

Taco Rice


THE MORNING of the party, the boys took the kids to see Despicable Me Part 2. My sister, cousin and I were busy making guacamole, pico, taco dip, black bean and corn salad, and salsa. Yes, I let people in my kitchen. The older I have gotten, the less “Type A” I am about people invading my space…I mean letting people help me in the kitchen!!! Anyway, everyone got back from the movie, had some munchies and then….SURPRISE!!

We all hung around, chatting and talking while the carnitas were cooking. The sweet corn cake was in the oven, the beef was browning and the rice was cooking. After the taco bar was ready…it was time to eat! Party number 4 was a success!!!

Want to see more of this series? Here are the other parts:
Part 1 Original
Part 2 Getting Organized
Part 3 Baconfest
Part 4 Dinner for 13

Part 6 Birthday party for 16

How to Plan a Party – Part 4 “Guests Arrive for the 4th of July”

As you know, my sister and niece arrived this past Tuesday, which was also “Baconfest”. On Wednesday, we hosted a “Dinner with Friends from the Old Days.” Dinner that night was actually very simple since everyone brought a dish or two. I just did How to Impress your Man Pork Tenderloin  and Grilled Green Tomatoes Caprese Salad. I had marinated the pork the night before, so I just started marinating the tomatoes about 4 hours before everyone was set to arrive. Once everyone got here, I put the pork on the grill. While it was resting, I cooked the tomatoes and dinner was served! Having guest bring dishes is a great way to entertain if you are pressed for time or if you feel as though you can’t pull off a whole meal….yet!

Here’s what I didn’t mention about this week. My sister and niece aren’t the only out of town guests staying with me this week. My cousin and her family were also coming. I couldn’t mention it before because it was a surprise for another aunt who’s birthday is Saturday. She reads the blog, so I had to choose my words carefully. Now that the surprise is over (that will be tomorrow’s post) I don’t have to be so careful!  So, knowing that we were going to have 10 people staying with us, it was a great incentive to really clean out my kids’ room last week. When I see clean, I mean I went in there with trash bags, not cleaning supplies. You moms out there know what I’m talking about. We pitched, donated, organized….and then cleaned! It was a lot of work, but something that has needed to be done for a while now. Mission accomplished! The house was completely in order before my sister arrived on Tuesday and guests came for Baconfest that night!

On to the 4th of July!! We had a simple cookout for family and friends. The weather held up enough to where we could still grill, so the menu didn’t have to be changed. Since this was day 3 of entertaining, I knew things were bound to start going a little wrong, despite my Type A lists! I went to the store in the morning to get a few last minute things for the 4th and the 5th. My grocery store was out of Boston Butts for the carnitas on the 5th. How was that possible? Evidently, the warehouse didn’t ship many to the entire the chain in my area. Great. Store run on the 5th was now in the plans. My family decided to go to White Water so I spent the morning cooking and preparing for the 4th. Sausage balls were first, followed by the mix for the grilled pitas. I made the macaroni and cheese and things were all coming together. Last thing to prep…warm wild mushroom toasts. I got the mushrooms out, looked at the recipe and then it hit me…I forgot the bread for the mushroom toasts. Scratch that appetizer! Sauteed Mushrooms were now going to be on the dinner menu.

About 20 minutes before everyone got here, I started cooking the sausage balls and preheated the grill for the pita. The pitas were coming off the grill right as the guests started to arrive. I must say, these pitas are one of the best appetizers I think I have ever put in my mouth. The flavors are all things I love!!

Dinner Menu FOR 13:

Vegetables and Dip

Sausage Balls

Grilled Pita with Tomato, Feta and Olives (recipe coming)

Pub Mix


Pork, Steak and Chicken Kabobs (marinated in Dale’s Seasoning marinade)

Grilled Zucchini (see below)

Sauteed Mushrooms

Macaroni and Cheese

Caesar Salad


After my cousins and friends arrived, we just chilled out for a while, munched on some appetizers, and talked. The kids were busy playing and everyone was relaxed. About an hour before I was ready to start grilling, I took the macaroni and cheese out of the fridge. I also cut the zucchini, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with salt and pepper. Thirty minutes before I was ready to grill, I marinated the meat. When using Dale’s, it really doesn’t take long at all.

When the meat was put on the grill, the mac and cheese went in the oven, and the mushrooms were being sautéed. As soon as the meat was cooked, I let it rest while grilling the zucchini and making the salad. The macaroni and cheese was ready and dinner was served!!! Happy 4th!!!

Want to see more of this series? Here are the other parts:
Part 1 Original
Part 2 Getting Organized
Part 3 Baconfest

Part 5 July 4th Dinner
Part 6 Birthday party for 16

How to plan a party – Part 2 : “Getting ready and organized”

Melissa and I will both tell you that the main reason why we can pull off a stress-free party (or parties) is because we are both huge list makers and we hate wasting time.  We make lists for our menus, our chores, our grocery lists separated out by store, you name it and we make a list for it! Our lists help us maximize our time without forgetting items or details. We are old fashioned and prefer the paper and pen way of making a list. We like to see our accomplishments when we cross something off the list and then redo our lists when they get too messy. Some may say that is very “Type A”. We just think that makes sense!! However, if you prefer making a list on an iPad, computer, post-it notes, etc., go for it! There’s not one way to get organized. You need to use whatever method works for you, but you do need lists!

What kind of lists do you need?

1) Menu list. You need to write done what you are serving before you can do anything else. This will dictate all of your other lists. Since I am having 5 different parties, I have 5 different menu lists, one for each day. I like to tape my menus on an inside cabinet in my kitchen so I can check off when a dish is complete. Yes, I literally put a check mark by the dish.

2) Non-Perishable list**. I make a separate store run for my non-perishables that I cannot find at Costco (warehouse store). Why? To save money without sacrificing quality. A specific brand of a non-perishable good is the same regardless of what store you buy it.

3) Specialty meat/fish store**. I am fortunate that I live near a great meat store or “Sausage Chalet”. I get most of my meats at a local store to me, Patak, because they are very high in quality and less expensive than Costco. If you don’t live near a place like this, then put your meats on your Costco/grocery store list.

4) Costco list**. I buy as much as I can at Costco because they sell just about everything I need and the prices are very reasonable. This is where I also buy beer and some wine.

5) Grocery list**. This is where I buy all of my last minute produce.

**Of course, you could combine your non-perishables, specialty meats and warehouse store lists with your grocery list and buy everything at your favorite grocery store instead. However, you’ll still need to make at least 2 trips if you are doing anything in advance: One for all the stuff you can buy and make ahead of time and the second when you buy all your last minute produce.

6) Liquor store list. If you need to stock up on some wine that is not sold at Costco or special alcohol, don’t forget your local liquor store!

7) Chore list. What do you need to do before your guests arrive? Do you just need to do a quick dusting or cleaning of a bathroom? Do you need to polish silver or buy a certain serving piece? Think about how you want your house to look and make a list of what you need to do to get it all done.

8) Schedule. About a week out, I make a schedule of what I am going to do on what day so I am not scrambling at the last minute. The schedule is inclusive of the day of the party and in the order of when I am going to accomplish each task. The day of schedule should include a last minute look around the house to see if you missed anything, as well as a final taking out of the trash before your guest arrive!!

T-Minus 48 hours until the first party

The first of 5 parties is in 48 hours. What’s the status? I have already done my “non-prerishable” store run. If you follow us on Facebook, you will see that the “Coca-Cola” refrigerator is fully stocked with water and soda for the week. On today’s errand list is Costco and Smyrna World of Beverage. To get the house ready, we are going to do a final cleaning of the basement to get it ready for my sister and niece. In the prepping of food department, the kids are going to make Lemonade Stand Pie, the only request made by my aunt for her birthday. It has ice cream in it, so can easily stay in the freezer for 6 days. Oh, the “adult beverage” refrigerator will be stocked, as well as the wine racks!

Want to see more of this series? Here are the other parts:
Part 1 Original

Part 3 Baconfest
Part 4 Dinner for 13
Part 5 July 4th Dinner
Part 6 Birthday party for 16