I love serving big meals to people. It's one of my greatest passions. Special occasions (holidays, birthdays, having people over for dinner) and their accompanying "big deal meals" just make me happy. In the spirit of my Happiness Project, I thought I would record and share my typical process for planning a dinner party.
It starts several days before the big event, when I start planning the menu. Much to Andrew's annoyance, this takes even longer than the actual preparation of the food. Every dish has to be just right and have a special purpose. This week, for example, I was planning a party to welcome Chris Culver home from deployment. Well do I remember what a HUGE deal Andrew's homecoming was to me, so I wanted to let Stacey know how happy and excited we were for their family. Plus, good food always makes a get-together more enjoyable.
Knowing the party would be on Tuesday, I started brainstorming about main courses on Friday. In a moment of inspiration, I decided on my great-grandmother's recipe for BBQ ribs. Always a hit, and significant emotional attachment for me as well - perfect for the occasion. Naturally, you need potatoes to go with ribs. I considered normal baked potatoes, but then remembered a few weeks ago, when we had these same friends (sans Chris, of course) over for a post-Christmas dinner. I had served my Christmas-traditional twice-baked bleu-cheese potatoes. Clay had fallen in love with them and declared, "These are my new favorite food." So for Clay's sake (and mine, because I adore those potatoes more than any other form of potatoes - which is saying a lot), I decided on those again. Plus, I had bleu cheese left that needed to be used! See, I'm also very resourceful.
Rolls are also a necessity with almost any meal. Knowing myself and my tendencies to let WAY too much of my emotional well-being ride on the way my rolls turn out, I opted for frozen, yet delicious, Rhodes rolls. With Kara helping to put on the event, and knowing her natural ability to create amazing salads, I put her in charge of salad, drink, and ice cream.
That left me with a dessert - the hardest part every time. It has to be just the right level of fanciness, uniqueness, and still appropriate for the celebration. (By the way, Thanksgiving is always a White Chocolate Pumpkin Cheesecake with Pecan-Gingersnap Crust - a perfect holiday food. Just to throw out an amazing recipe that you have to make sometime.) With our occasion - Chris's return - I thought a cake would be good. Cakes are celebratory. I briefly considered a store-bought Costco cake, and then this amazing, incredible Sour Cream-Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting and Chocolate-Peanut Butter Glaze (I made that in WA with our friends the Willises), but opted for something a little less time-intensive. I found this and this, but ultimately decided on a Hot Fudge Peanut Butter Pudding cake made...in the CROCK POT. Perfect.
The menu was set. The countdown was on. The morning of the party (Tuesday), I woke up thinking about the food, as I always do on mornings like that. My mind was racing with things to do to get everything just right.
First step was to brown the ribs, make the sauce, and put it all in the crockpot (which always takes longer than I think!). Then I made my schedule for the day. This is one of my favorite parts of big meals (pathetic, I know). I work backwards from the time we will eat and figure out how much time each step will take - cooking and preparation - and write it on my chalkboard. That way I know I have to get the rolls out of the freezer to thaw at 12:30, turn the crock pot down to low at 2pm, and get the cake on high no later than 2:30pm. Since I am a list-lover, this method works well for me. And it makes it almost fool-proof when planning multiple dishes. (Note: I did say almost.)
Chris's dinner was one of the few "big deal meals" where nothing went terribly wrong. Nothing was burnt, I didn't run out of any ingredients in the middle of cooking, I didn't forget any crucial dishes. (Like the time I forgot to make a starch to go with a roast for a dinner party in WA - EMBARASSING.) I did forget to make the corn, but then I decided we didn't need it after all - it had been a last-minute and unnecessary addition to the menu.
Our friends arrived at 4:30, and I finished what little was left to do - crumble the bacon for the potatoes and make sure everything was warm.
Then comes the all-time best part of the whole ordeal - the part that makes being on my feet for 8 hours straight worth every minute - the sounds of "mmm!" and seeing people go back for seconds. It's not that I want people to compliment me, but that I want my food to make them happy. Even if it's just for a minute, it just thrills me to give someone the gift of a good meal. I'm not sure why I'm like this, but even before I loved to cook (or before I knew how to cook pasta without directions) I have always found joy in making food for people.
So I'll report that Tuesday night was an utter success. We had a grand time all being together again, and the food wasn't too shabby. Even if I do say so myself.
Here's the recipe for my great-grandma's ribs. Perfect for a crowd and delicious every time!
Grandma's BBQ Ribs
Boneless pork ribs (however many you need to feed your group - the sauce makes plenty for a pack of ribs from Costco)
3 c. water
4 c. ketchup
1/2 c. lemon juice
3/4 c. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 c. vinegar
1/2 c. butter
2 c. celery, diced
3/4 tsp. cayenne
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 med. onion, chopped
1 Tbsp. ground mustard
1/2 c. brown sugar
Brown ribs on all sides and set aside in crock pot or large pot. Combine all remaining ingredients in a large pot. Bring to a boil, then remove from heat. Pour over ribs. (If they don't all fit in one pot, split them up and put another pot on the stove or in the oven.) Cover with lid; cook on high for 4 hours and low for at least 4 more hours. In the oven, cook at 325 for at least 4 hours. On the stove, put over low heat for at least 4 hours. (The longer you cook them they softer they get!)
Serve with twice-baked bleu cheese potatoes! AMAZING!!