An Introduction -While There’s Any, There’s Lots

“Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in various forms.” 1 Peter 4:8-9.

What comes to mind when you think of hospitality? 1. Gracious hosting, grand gestures of thoughtful preparation, skillfully prepared meals on artfully adorned tables? Or 2. cookie dough and a movie shared on a lumpy couch in cozy jammies? Both actually.

Sometimes it’s great to be treated like royalty. To be made a fuss over. Fancy can make us feel loved and special.

And sometimes we just want to be welcomed into the mess as part of the family. Loved enough to be wanted even when it’s not convenient. Invited into the real (and busy) home.

If you find yourself relating to my title, my guess is that the thought of dinner guests can be stressful and overwhelming. Can I suggest that maybe you need to broaden your idea of hospitality? And take a deep breath. If you have people willing to come to your house at the last minute, they will not be expecting my first definition of hospitality, but rather the second. They don’t need perfect, because if they did, let’s face it, they wouldn’t have agreed to the whole spur-of-the-moment thing. Most people don’t want perfect anyway, they want genuine. And the fact that they’re being welcomed into your real home, speaks volumes in terms of kindness. They will appreciate the genuineness of an invitation into your home.

My model for hospitality comes from stories I hear of my great-grandparents. They never had much, but they always had people living and eating in their home. They welcomed my grandmother in when she was the local schoolteacher needing room and board. They had an aged relative that lived with them at one time as well as one of my grandpa’s friends who needed a home. When my great-uncle was drafted into WWII and my great-aunt and kids had nowhere to go, Great Grandma and Grandpa found room in their bursting house for them. People didn’t forget their hospitality. The saying around the dinner table was, “while there’s any, there’s lots”.

I try to practice both forms of hospitality that I mentioned, both the grand and the humble. Once a month, I host a dinner party for friends where I pull out all my culinary skills and table decorating genius. But other than that, my door is open and my table has an extra chair. Come and be a guest in life as we live it.

My hope is that this recipe book will help you feel empowered to be you and to welcome others into your heart and home. These are not grandiose dinners for grand entertaining, but simple suppers that give you time to make the meal more about genuine community and less about showy gestures.

And please adapt these to your comfort level in the kitchen! You can add a little fancy if you have the time and desire. Can you easily whip up some biscuits to accompany the meal? Then share the love! If that would take all your attention and energy then share the sandwich bread with your chili. Are you adding two guests who would be tickled with the cloth napkins? Or do you have a family of five in addition to your five and you dread the thought of more laundry? Set the table accordingly.

You can do this! No need to panic. Let’s take a look at my pantry stock suggestions, and then we’ll get into the recipes. Oh, and I’ve interjected a few table stories from my past, just for the fun of it!

Let them eat PIZZA!

Pizza is a crowd pleaser! And although you could call for delivery, you may be able to whip up a nice pizza or two or three in an hour if you have these ingredients on hand. The nice thing about pizza is there is no end to topping possibilities. And the kids are usually happy to have a cheese pizza to themselves.

You’ll notice that I use the same amount of yeast in the smaller crust and the larger crust. That’s not a typo. Just the way I’ve always been doing it.

Never a Dull Moment

Whether it’s cousins or just friends, kids love to hang out in bunches. Even as an introvert, I always enjoyed the times that my family would spend visiting other families, and large group dinners were such a warm way to live life together.

At one such dinner party, my little brother was seated next to the host. Josh kept looking from the host to another picture on the shelf behind the man. Eventually, this fellow noticed my brother’s glances back and forth and turned to investigate the photo himself.

“Oh!” our host remarked. “You’re noticing that I used to have a mustache! I have a mustache in this picture, but now it’s gone!”

Leaning forward and pointing, by brother exclaimed, “There it is! It’s in your nose!”

Rosemary Dijon Sheet Pan Chicken

Sheet pan dishes are wonderful if you are serving four. Everything cooks together and clean up is simple which leaves more time to visit.

Note from picture: I don’t actually have a legit sheet pan which measures 18″x13″. Mine measures 16″x10.5″.

Variations: Use any other vegetable combination that is appropriate for roasting. When not using sweet potatoes (red or yellow potatoes make a good substitute), lower the heat to 400ºF and add a few minutes to the second bake time for the chicken to cook completely.

Sticky Situations

When I was a teenager, Mom and Dad acquired some wonderful antique wooden chairs that needed some TLC. After a little more stain and varnish, they were very handsome indeed. My parents still own these chairs, but now you may notice that some have jeans imprints. One, in particular, has a very distinguished bum etched out in the varnish. But this, of course, is how stories are made.

Sometime after the chairs were varnished, family friends were over to visit. There was quite a crowd that night actually, and everyone stayed late, talking and playing games around the kitchen table. It was a toasty, hot summer evening, and apparently no one noticed that the varnish on the chairs was getting sticky. Until it was time to leave, and people began unsticking themselves from the chairs. The bum print belongs to one of our friends who stood up and lifted the whole chair off the floor! It took two other people, yanking and pulling, (and laughing quite a bit) to finally peel the chair away.

Tacos and Fajitas

As long as you have tortillas, cheese, peppers and meat, you can host a party. Of course, there are all kinds of additional toppings that add more fun. Beef, ground beef or chicken are my favorite meats to use.

Taco seasoning packets and Fajita Seasoning packets are fairly similar so feel free to substitute one for the other. Or skip the seasoning mix and season the meat yourself! I almost never use store bought taco seasoning in my tacos. For either tacos or fajitas, season your meat with a generous amount of chili powder (1-2 Tbsp.) and then add cumin, salt, pepper and cayenne to taste. Other spices you can add are garlic or onion powder, paprika and oregano.

You Can Make Stone Soup with Virtually Anything!

Shawn and I used to host weekly Stone Soup suppers for our small community church group. If you’re unfamiliar with Stone Soup, it’s a folk story about a town bringing ingredients to share together. Hungry traveling strangers start a big pot of water in the town square and add all that they have – a stone – to the soup pot. They suggest other items that would make the soup tasty, and because they are curious about this strange recipe, people dash off to supply the suggested ingredients. After everyone has contributed, all share alike in the lovely soup that they’ve made together.

Stone Soup was always fun because it was a low pressure way for everyone to contribute. And each week the soup was different. It was a fun challenge to make everything come together, but I had a few tricks up my sleeve for concocting delicious soup from a variety of ingredients.

If you find you need to make dinner out of nothing, you can take some of my tips for creating your own stone soup.

Keep some basic soup supplies on hand. Broth is needed in almost every soup, but if you don’t want to keep large cans on hand, consider purchasing some beef and chicken bouillon which also work very well. I like to have cans of either diced tomatoes or tomato sauce on hand as well. Sausages or brats are a quick-and-easy precooked meat that can quickly add protein to an otherwise vegetarian soup. Black beans are also a good protein and work well in many styles of soup. Orzo or small pasta can make a thin soup heartier.

Look at your ingredients and then plan your soup base accordingly. Cooked chicken will do nicely with either a broth or creamy roux. (I’ll talk about roux later). Beef or pork and vegetables can also go either way. Ground beef may only need a tomato base. I prefer sausages with a white sauce or roux. If someone brings cheese, you’ll most likely want to be making that roux, which is really just a basic white sauce. If you have pasta, you will want a broth base.

Basic white sauce (roux): If you are cooking a red meat, you can stir fry it and any onions, garlic, peppers or celery in your soup pot. Remove meat and vegetables. Using a whisk, stir in a tablespoon or two of flour. Gradually add your soup’s liquid, either broth or milk (or even just water if you will be adding tomato sauce), and continue whisking. Heat your soup, and stir continually until thickened. Return cooked ingredients to your soup pot and heat through before serving.

If you do not have meat fat, simply start with one to two tablespoons of butter in a separate saucepan from your cooking soup. Melt your butter, add the same amount of flour, and cook as instructed above. Add your thickened sauce to your cooked soup and heat through before serving.

Other ways to thicken soup: If you have a potato soup, you will use a different method to thicken it. In a small bowl, stir together a few tablespoons of water with a few tablespoons of flour. Mix to form a watery paste. Add paste to hot soup slowly, stirring constantly to incorporate. You can also simply use a handheld blender to puree a little of the potato soup to create a creaminess without adding any flour. Sometimes simply adding a creamy dairy ingredient like heavy cream, half-and-half, cream cheese or shredded cheese will thicken your soup to the texture you like.

Don’t be afraid of spice. Almost every soup will need salt and pepper, but consider how much salt is in any broth you are using before you season too generously. A dash of cayenne can often enhance flavor. You can always add more herbs and spices, but you cannot, of course, remove any, so taste often as you go. And don’t be afraid of the herbs and spices in your cupboard. You can sniff your spice and then sniff your soup to determine whether or not you think the flavors will do well together. Oregano is a pretty safe choice for almost any soup. Besides chili powder, consider adding cumin, paprika or smoked paprika to create a Mexican flavoring. Other spices I enjoy using are savory, rosemary, thyme and white pepper.

I hope these tips will empower you to create your own version of Stone Soup! Experimenting is a wonderful way to increase your prowess in the kitchen. You may stumble upon some unique creations that turn into favorite family recipes.

Laughable anecdote:

One of my daughters has her own name for creating something out of found pantry items. Now whenever we hunt for dinner options we can create from our supplies, we lovingly dub our dinner “Liquid Pantry Extravaganza”.

Classic Potato Soup – a Vegetarian Option with Vegan Possibilities

Potato Soup is a filling, meatless, comfort food. Unlike most potato soup recipes, this one happens to be milk-free. If you need a vegan dish, feel free to make substitutions for the butter and chicken broth and skip the Parmesan cheese.

Variations on Chili and Spaghetti

Chili can make for a dinner with options. You can serve straight-up chili with toppings like sour cream and cheddar. Or you can use the chili to top hot dogs. If you need to stretch the chili for a crowd, consider serving it over baked potatoes or cooked macaroni to make Chili Mac. Or serve Macaroni and Cheese as another dish and let company mix as desired.

Most people have a favorite chili recipe already, but feel free to borrow my Classic Chili recipe.

And spaghetti can be as easy as opening a jar or canned sauce and cooking the noodles! Everyone loves spaghetti! You can serve it with garlic bread and/or salad and you’re all set. You can also visit Realizing Home and snag my homemade Slow Cooker Spaghetti with Meatballs.

Otherwise known as S’ketti.

One night, our family had the Williams over for dinner and served spaghetti. They were a family with three young children who happily devoured the meal. When he was done, the youngest requested another serving of “s’ketti.” One of his older sisters was quick to correct his pronunciation and replied, “It’s not s’ketti! It’s ba-sketti!”

Two Desserts for Surprise Company

Blondies or Cookie Bars

Apparently in the Midwest, we’re known for making bars. What’s easier than individual cookies? Throw all the dough into a pan and call it bars!

Simple Apple Turnovers

These turnovers are best served warm. This simple recipe using tube biscuits was the inspiration for this ebook! I had people stopping for an afternoon, and I was able to quickly mix these up. Using applesauce along with one chopped apple speeds the process.

Happy hosting! You’ve got this!