Thursday, October 30, 2008

October Luncheon

Mothers at our preschool gather in the halls each day to pick up our children, but many of us only know each other as "Will's mom" or "Kristy's mom." I thought it would be fun to get to know each other outside of school, so we invited Mary Ashley's class of 17 to join us for a luncheon and play date after school yesterday. It was a lot of fun for the children, and now we moms know each other by name.

To make hosting a mid-week party easier, I incorporated several time-saving elements into my plans. First, I made lunch for the mothers and asked them to bring sack lunches for their children. Focusing solely on a ladies lunch kept menu planning and food preparation simple. I knew that most of the children would be too excited to eat much anyway, so those who preferred friends to food could take their lunch boxes home after the party. Decorations were kept simple with washable quilts. Used as tablecloths, quilts add warmth to the setting with the time-saving benefit that they don't need to be ironed. A large quilt spread on the grass made a great picnic area for the children, and pretty weather allowed for lots of outside play.

A simple menu celebrated autumn's splendor.

I love preparing food for women because they are always so appreciative of the effort. I was so pleased to offer them one of my best soup recipes yesterday, but since I was tripling my recipe I used my biggest pan instead of the higher quality pan I usually use. So some of my vegetables stuck to the bottom of the pan and burned. I was disappointed in the way the soup turned out, but the ladies were so gracious about it. I am sharing the recipes from our meal today, along with the original soup recipe as I prepare it for my family.

Cranberry-Apple Cider

1 gallon cranberry-apple juice blend
1/4 cup brown sugar
4 cinnamon sticks
1 teaspoon whole cloves
1 lemon, thinly sliced

Bring all ingredients to boil, and simmer uncovered for at least 30 minutes. Serve warm.

The Great Pumpkin Cheese Ball

I loved my mother's cheese log recipe growing up, but wasn't so sure about it when I saw the list of ingredients. This blend is definitely worth a try, though!

8 ounces cream cheese
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 small can deviled ham
1 small can finely diced black olives
Chopped pecans

Allow cream cheese to soften at room temperature for 30 minutes, then beat with cheddar cheese. Mix in ham and olives, and chill cheese mixture for at least 30 minutes. You can then roll the mixture into two logs, or shape it to fit the occasion. For our fall party, I set out to make a pumpkin. I rolled the cheese mixture into a ball, pressed pecans around the outside, and scored the ball with a knife to make pumpkin ridges. Three whole pecans tucked into the top of the ball made the stem.

Favorite Fall Salad

10 ounces mixed baby greens
1 bottle raspberry-walnut vinaigrette
5 ounce package dried cherries
10 ounce package of pecans
4 ounces crumbled feta cheese
2 pears, chopped

Toss greens and dressing. Gently fold in other ingredients and serve.

Chicken Vegetable Chowder

3 strips bacon, diced
1 1/2 ribs celery, diced
1/2 medium onion, diced
2 large carrots, diced
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 box chicken stock (4 cups)
1 rotisserie chicken, de-boned and shredded
2 unpeeled medium potatoes, chopped
1 (1 lb.4 oz.) package frozen creamed corn, thawed
1 1/2 cups baby lima beans, cooked and seasoned
1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
1 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook bacon over medium-high heat until crisp. Remove bacon with slotted spoon, and set aside to drain on paper towels. Add celery, onion and carrot to drippings and cook over medium-high heat until tender, stirring frequently. Stir in flour gradually. Cook 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Slowly add stock, stirring constantly. Add the potatoes, corn, limas, poultry seasoning, salt and pepper and bring mixture to a boil. Boil 15 to 20 minutes, or until potatoes are tender. Then stir in cream, chicken and bacon. Add more salt and pepper if needed.

Sticky Pumpkin Treats

Two-year-old Emma liked helping me sort the Apple Jacks according to color, but she loved sampling the cereal.

4 tablespoons margarine
1 pound miniature marshmallows
12 cups Apple Jacks cereal, sorted by color

Melt margarine and marshmallows in a nonstick pan, then stir in 12 cups of orange Apple Jacks. Allow the mixture to cool in the pan, then use an ice cream scoop to pull balls of cereal treats from the pan. Shape them as necessary in your hands, then add a green Apple Jack stem.

These were some of the friendly faces that made today so much fun!

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