Howdy, all! Happy Sunday. :) Hope you had a wonderful weekend. Highlights?

Mine include another victory for the Hawkeyes – they were en fuego on their home turf last night! Another highlight? Finding out that YOUR votes got me through to round 3 of Project Food Blog! :D

So let’s see here… We learned my stance as a food blogger in Challenge #1 and how to make homemade pasta and Pasta allo Scoglio in Challenge #2. Challenge #3? Host a luxury dinner party!

So, ok, I served lunch instead of dinner, and there was nothing highbrow about it. See, when I think of the word luxury – sure there’s lobster, caviar and champagne involved – but I also think of other indulgent things like a hot bath, a soft & fluffy oversized robe or a super-rich mug of hot chocolate.

What do these things have in common? The cozy factor. Yes! Inspired, I created my Cozy Lunch at Home luxury lunch menu. Featuring…

Menu

Each course of my lunch menu featured a fresh element, as well as an indulgent, luxurious element. You’ll see. ;)

I started by decorating my table. A plain table is fine for everyday use, obvi, but when I’m hosting a meal, I like to jazz it up a bit!

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I chose a Fall theme, complete with a flickering sugar cookie-scented candle,

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and miniature pumpkins and gourds.

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Inexpensive, but totally gives off a cozy vibe. :)

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I also brought out my Fall-themed place mats to round it all out. Loved all the warm colors together!

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Next I got to work on the actual lunch portion of the show. Whenever I have multi dishes going into the oven at multi times, and at multi temps, I like to write out a game plan. I’m a visual person, so this helps me stay on track!

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I started with the dishes that were going to take the most time to whip up. First was dessert – Fall Apple Crisp! I peeled & chopped 3 Granny Smith Apples then tossed them with ~2 teaspoons each flour and granulated sugar, along with a dash of cinnamon.

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Into a greased, oven-safe dish.

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Next I whipped up the crisp part of the apple crisp (the best part!) Combine 1/2 cup each brown sugar and old fashioned oats then add 1/4 cup each butter and flour.

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Combine with a fork, or clean fingers, until butter is about the size of peas.

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Top the apples with the crisp mixture,

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and pop into the oven at 375 degrees for 30 minutes, or until the top is CRISP and golden brown. YUMMMMMM!

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Next I got going on the star of the menu – Classic Macaroni & Cheese!

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The macaroni & cheese recipe I used is my Mom’s, and it’s the same one I ate at least once a week growing up. It screams comfort food, and I knew it’d be perfect for my menu.

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It’s cheese-TASTIC and SO creamy!

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I’ll fill you in on the recipe later, but the cheese sauce is made on the stovetop, then baked with cooked noodles in the oven until golden brown and bubbly.

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My game plan was to finish the entire menu by the time my guests of honor arrived at 12:00pm. Guess who showed up right on time? My folks! As some of you may know, my parents prepare a meal for our entire family almost every Sunday afternoon. I thought it’d be nice to return the favor and invite them to MY Cozy Lunch at Home party!

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Thankfully everything was ready by then, and we got right to work nibbling on some apps. Like I said, I like to have something fresh and something decadent in each course of the menu. That way guests can choose how heavy or light they want their meal to be.

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I set out some fresh carrots, celery & French Onion Dip,

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but the clear favorite was Bacon Wrapped Dates! Drooooooool…

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We’re talking sweet, soft dates wrapped in smoky, salty bacon – then broiled to crispy, sweet & savory perfection! I’m literally obsessed with these babies!

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My Dad was too!

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Ok, Mom as well. ;)

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We ate and chatted,

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until it was time for the entree portion of the party!

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You know, whenever I’m hosting lunch or dinner, I always feel the need to go all out. While that may be fun once in a while, most times it’s more than ok to just go with whatcha know. You know?! K.I.S.S. is my motto. :D

Therefore I served a Fresh Vegetable Salad,

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(with multi dressing options)

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Roasted Green Beans (fresh green beans tossed with extra virgin olive oil and garlic salt, then roasted at 425 degrees for 15 minutes)

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and my Classic Macaroni & Cheese!

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And it was good!

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This mac & cheese recipe uses oh-so thick & creamy Velveeta cheese. Yep! You know, you could use reduced fat Velveeta or some other cheese, but it’s never quite as delish as regular Velveeta. If you’re going to go for it – I say, GO FOR IT! ;)

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So glad I did too. The pasta swirls trapped all that luscious & luxurious sauce. Sensational!

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The roasted green beans were off the charts. SUCH an easy recipe and the green beans taste so green beany. You’d love it.

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Heavy mac :arrow: light salad. It’s all about balance.

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We ate it all!

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Saving room for dessert, natch. ;)

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I kept the apple crisp on top of the stove all morning, while the oven was on and working away at other dishes, so it would keep warm.

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It melted the cold vanilla ice cream I served it with and oh. Heavens. was it ever good! A sweet ending to a cozy meal with the people I love the most. :)

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Well, the guests have gone back home, the dishes have been cleaned and I am one happy lady. But before I go sneak off for a Thanksgiving-esque catnap, here are my tips for throwing a low-stress, yet luxurious, lunch or dinner party:

* Prepare anything you can ahead of time. Ie shop a day or two before your party, prepare produce the day before, etc.

* Write out your plan of attack/cooking timeline on a piece of paper and keep it handy in the kitchen. Being able to visually see everything you need to cook will make it less likely that you’ll forget something.

* Allow more time than you think you’ll need. You can always wait 30 minutes to pop something into the oven, but you don’t want your guests waiting on their meal if you’re running 30 minutes behind.

* Don’t try and do too much. Nobody says you have to have 10 courses, or that it even has to be 100% homemade. Take advantage of store-bought foods if you can/want to, and don’t be afraid to plan a simple, satisfying, menu.

* Decorations make the party special, but you don’t have to go overboard. A simple vase of daisies or inexpensive seasonal decor will liven up the place.

* Don’t forget about ambience too. Lit & scented candles, a crackling fire, or music can help set the tone of your party.

* Consider your guests likes, dislikes, allergies, etc. when planning your menu. Don’t serve seafood when a pregnant woman will be in attendance, or if you know dinner guests would prefer a more causal get together, maybe keep your china in the hut. ;)

* ALWAYS have dessert. People may not remember what you served for dinner, but they’ll always. remember. dessert! Whether it’s store-bought or homemade, everyone loves a sweet ending!!

Allllrighty folks – I start my new job tomorrow, so this afternoon will be filled with mucho mental preparations. Wish. Me. Luck!

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Do you stress out about having people over for lunch or dinner parties? Would you rather host a party or go to it?

I’ll be honest with you – hosting a meal is pretty high on my stress list and I’d prefer to go to someone else’s party, then host it. However, if you plan ahead, make dishes you’re comfortable with, and don’t try and do too much, you CAN do it! :D