Baked Potato Bar!

Last Monday, our family was in Virginia Beach with my parents and my oldest brother’s family of five. We each had a cabin on a little dead-end street in a beautiful state park, and we all took turns making dinner for one another.

Of course I volunteered for Monday 🙂 #MondayNightDinnerParty

I wanted to do something that would be relatively simple and healthy that could be tailored by each person according to their dietary preferences (one does not eat meat, one does not eat dairy, etc.) I went to the grocery store in hopes that something there would inspire my menu, and discovered that baking potatoes were on sale. Score! I decided to do a Baked Potato Bar, and it was a huge hit!

Here’s how I did it, from start to finish:

Grocery List:

12 baking potatoes

1 package of fresh chives

1 yellow onion, sliced

1-2 c sliced mushrooms

1 can of chili (I used Amy’s Organic Chili with Vegetables—not spicy!)

1 package frozen or fresh broccoli crowns

1 package of shredded cheddar cheese

1 container sour cream

1 container of spreadable butter

coconut oil

salt & pepper

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 400.

Scrub each of the potatoes clean and pat dry.

Scoop out a teaspoon or so of coconut oil, rub it all over your hands, then rub each potato all over with the coconut oil. Get more oil on your hands as needed. Place potatoes in a baking dish or cookie sheet, leaving room between each potato. Poke each potato with a fork two or three times if you want to (I do because my mom always did, but I’m not sure what purpose it serves!) Liberally salt and pepper the potatoes in the pan.

Bake for 60-90 minutes. (Note: there might be some smoke at first as some of the oil burns off the potatoes. That’s normal and will stop unless they’re actually on fire!)

Meanwhile, heat a skillet to medium and add about a teaspoon of coconut oil. SautĂ©e your onions until clear, then add the mushrooms and continue to stir/sautĂ©e them until they’re cooked. Remove from heat.

Steam your broccoli (stovetop or microwave, your choice).

Warm the chili just before serving (again, stovetop or microwave).

Chop your chives.

Presentation:

Set out the toppings, buffet style. I left the sour cream and butter in their store-bought containers, but if you wanted to get a bit fancier, you could, of course, put them in nice bowls. I did set out the cheese, chives, chili, and onion-mushroom sautée, but left the broccoli on the stove so it would keep warm.

Set out the potatoes.

Set out a stack of plates and a jar of utensils.

Call everyone to dinner.

This menu is especially appealing to kids, because they love to fix their own food! It was so fun to watch each of them get creative with what they put on their potatoes.

This menu is especially appealing to adults, because there was zero whining or negotiating about who would eat what or how much. Oh, and also it turns out adults like to have the freedom to fix their potatoes the way they like them too 🙂

NOTE about using coconut oil:

I am pretty much obsessed with coconut oil these days. I use it on my body, on my kids’ bodies, to brush my teeth, and for cooking. I love how it smells and how it tastes, but note that it does add a definite flavor to your food when you cook with it (at least, the kind I buy does). So if folks in your midst don’t like coconut, or have coconut allergies, substitute olive oil, which is what I used for baking potatoes for years.

NOTE about baking potatoes:

I like the skins crispy. Some people like them softer. If you prefer softer potato skins, wrap them in foil before baking. Otherwise, leave them just oiled, not foiled, and they’ll be deliciously crispy. 

ANOTHER NOTE about baking potatoes:

This would also work well with sweet potatoes! Perhaps you’d choose different toppings, but sweet potatoes or yams make great baked potatoes as well, and add a bunch of good nutrients to boot!

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Y’all, this is one of the simplest, crowd-pleasingest menus you could do. There is almost no actual “cooking” involved! It’s mostly prep! And you could easily involve your kids in the prep if you wanted to (mine were too busy running around with their cousins this time, but other times, they’d be right there with me, chairs pushed to counters).

What would you add to the menu? Do you have favorite baked potato toppings I didn’t include?

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A Simple, Cheap, Delicious Summer Table

Last week, our Monday Night Dinner Party included six children and five adults, and I wanted to set a fun and festive, yet cheap and simple, summer table. It’s been unusually cool here in Seattle, so when the weather finally warmed up, I wanted summer fare! Here is what we served:

  • Hot Dogs, Brats, and Vegan Dogs
  • Whole Wheat Buns
  • Cole Slaw
  • Watermelon
  • Corn on the Cob
  • Ice Cream with Fresh Berries
  • Condiments (Ketchup, Mustard)

It doesn’t get much more summer-traditional than hot dogs, watermelon, corn on the cob, and cole slaw! To keep things really simple, my husband cooked all the dogs/brats on the grill, and I put the buns in a basket on the table. I bought pre-shredded cabbage and carrots and a jar of cole slaw dressing (I like to mix slaw myself, because I used much less dressing than most recipes call for). I boiled a huge pot of water, shucked the corn, and put it in for about four or five minutes right before we sat down to eat, then drained it, cutting it in half (for all those little hands) and putting it in a shallow serving dish on the table (along with our beloved ButterBot!) The ice cream I almost always serve is Tillamook’s Vanilla Bean, and I love to top it with fresh strawberries and/or blueberries and some cacao nibs.

The whole meal took less than an hour to prep and present. I set the table with our everyday outdoor dishes (HD Designs Outdoor Round Dinner Plates in Cool Multi-Colors) and some adorable peacock napkins I found at Dollar Tree a few weeks ago. The centerpiece was just a few tea light candles in small canning jars down the center of our huge table.

To make serving drinks simple, I keep an acrylic beverage dispenser on a table in our sun room filled with water, and I always have a stack of plastic cups next to it so the kids can get water whenever they’re thirsty. Our younger guests always love getting their own drinks and serving their parents!

It was so simple and I was totally relaxed as we sat for hours chatting while the children ran around the back yard. The whole meal cost around $40, which comes out to less than $4 per person. Not bad for dinner! And since tomorrow is the 4th of July, this might be a great menu for a fuss-free backyard holiday celebration. (Just substitute red, white and blue decorations and have sparklers on hand!)

What’s one of your favorite go-to quick and easy summer meals? I’d love to hear your tips in the comments!

 

When Your Guests are Vegan

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We had some of our new neighbors over for dinner last week, and a few days before the dinner, the neighbor, who is a vegan, followed exactly the right protocol for letting your host know of your dietary restrictions: she texted me that they were really looking forward to coming over, and by the way she’s vegan, and she is happy to bring a dish to contribute to the dinner (soup, salad, etc.), and more than anything they’re just really looking forward to spending time with us. (Gracious, generous, informative. I loved it!)

The good thing for my new friend is that I love making vegan dishes, and I have experimented with a number of recipes that have become staples in my catalog of vegan options for dinner parties.

If you’re expecting to host a vegan or vegetarian, but cooking entirely plant-based food is new for you, you’re in luck! Below are three of my tried-and-true vegan recipes that have been hits with herbivores and omnivores alike.

  1. Main: Raw Taco Gorilla Wraps (via Kimberly Snyder)
    I often include chips and salsa or guac with this as well.
    Side: Corn Salad with Lime Vinaigrette (via All Recipes)
    Note—I used fresh corn instead of canned. After shucking, I put the ears in boiling water for about 3-4 minutes, then ran them under cold water to stop them from cooking further. Then, laying them long-ways on the cutting board, I sliced off the kernals. So much better than canned!
    Dessert: Berry Bowl with Sweet Vanilla Coconut Cream
    Place cut up strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries in small bowls.
    Pour a can of coconut cream into amixing bowl. Add a tablespoon or two of maple syrup and a splash of vanilla extract. Mix together. Pour over the fruit just before serving.
  2. Main: Sweet Potato Shepard’s Pie (via Kimberly Snyder)
    This recipe is a bit of what my mom would call “a fusser.” I usually stick with really simple recipes that I can prepare in an hour or less. This takes a bit more time, because there are a few steps. But it’s so worth it. This is a great dish.
    Side: Mom Simmons’s Tossed Salad (chopped iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion, 2 TBSP EVOO, 2 TBSP lemon juice, 1 TBSP Italian Seasoning, 1 tsp onion powder, a few shakes of garlic powder, all tossed together)
    I usually serve rolls or bread with EVOO for dipping with this as well.
    Dessert: Raw Cacao Truffles (via Kimberly Snyder)
  3. Main: Vegan/Gluten Free Mac & “Cheese” (via Kimberly Snyder)
    Unless your guest is GF, it’s not necessary to use GF noodles. I have made this with regular vegetarian pasta noodles and it’s wonderful!
    Side: Shiva’s Kale Salad with Almond Ginger Dressing (via Kimberly Snyder)
    A tip for preparing any raw kale salad: before adding all of the ingredients, take a few minutes to massage the kale with EVOO. What I do is wash my hands thoroughly, then pour about a tsp of EVOO into my hands and rub them together. Then I massage the kale in the bowl for a while. This tenderizes the kale and makes it easier to chew and digest. It also releases more flavor. Makes a huge difference!
    Dessert: Coconut Cashew Rice Pudding (via Food Network)
    You can make this a day ahead and save yourself some time the day of your dinner party!

Let me know: 

Do you host dinner parties?

Ever have a full-vegan menu?

What are your favorite vegan recipes?

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