Sunday, July 31, 2011

Plan a summer outdoor activity for your friends!

I don’t have a recipe to post for today, but I did want to make a quick post related to hospitality. Specifically, I wanted to encourage you all to plan a fun group outing yet this summer with your friends.

Today, we went on a inner tube float trip down the Guadalupe River (about 30 miles north of San Antonio) with a group of friends. We had a blast! Some of our friends in Austin organized the trip. We’re so glad they did.

Actually, one of my friends today was commenting how in her circle of friends down in Austin, people look to certain individuals to plan group outings. It seems a lot of people wait for others to do this kind of thing. It got me thinking, you know that’s hospitality too. It’s another way you can be hospitable, without having to open up your home to make it company-ready. And really, people appreciate those who take the initiative to plan events, who are good at organizing all the details.

I think the best group activities are those that get people laughing and relaxing and talking together (rather than something passive, like going to a movie with friends). Today, there were people in the group who didn’t know each other so well. Our friends in Austin invited us, as well as some people we didn’t know. And then we invited some friends from Dallas who didn’t know any of the people from Austin. But you know, when we had to get in the very cold water of the Guadalupe River to launch our tubes, we all started laughing together and it really broke the ice.

Here’s just few ideas of fun group activities you can organize:
*Horseback riding
*Trip to the arboretum or zoo
*Day at the beach
*Afternoon at the community pool or water park
*Afternoon at the county fair
*Organize a hayride

I am sure there are many other ideas. The point is, if you don’t normally initiate these kinds of activities, why not try it? These kinds of activities are a fun way to build friendships and practice hospitality “on the road," and a wonderful way to build some great memories for the future.

Have fun!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Melt-in-your-mouth Buttermilk Pancakes

If you have a lot of overnight guests over to your home, I think it’s important to have a good pancake recipe. After all, who doesn’t enjoy just-made pancakes on a weekend morning?!! I have a favorite family recipe that I’ve been using for many years. It’s posted below. It’s been a favorite of our family, and of our houseguests too!

Melt-in-your-mouth Buttermilk Pancakes

1 ½ cups all purpose flour
1 ½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
2 T. sugar
2 cups buttermilk
1 large egg
3 T. butter, melted

In a medium-sized bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar. Add buttermilk, egg and butter and stir until batter is evenly mixed. Refrigerate until ready to make pancakes. Do-ahead tip: this recipe is excellent when mixed up the night before.

Top with fresh berries, whipped butter, maple syrup or honey. If desired, dust with powdered sugar before serving.

You can also add ½ to ¾ cup fresh or frozen blueberries to the batter (do this right before cooking on the griddle).

Happy pancake making!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Upside Down Peach and Blueberry Crisp

My family and I were out-of-town on a trip last week. During part of the time, we stayed with some friends....very hospitable friends who made us feel right at home. They prepared some scrumptious meals for us, which we enjoyed very much, along with the good conversation. (On a sidenote, I gained five pounds while staying with them, which underscores just how hospitable they were!)

One of the things they shared with us was a delicious peach and blueberry crisp. It was made with freshly–picked blueberries and peaches, which probably made the recipe turn out even better. They shared the recipe with me, and I bought some peaches at a local farmers market while in the area to take home. I made the peach and blueberry crisp tonight for my family. We love it! It satisfies the sweet tooth, but it’s not too sweet. I bet you’ll like it too.

Peach and Blueberry Crisp

1 cup all purpose flour
½ cup oatmeal
½ cup granulated sugar
1/ 2 cup unsalted butter, very soft
½ tsp. vanilla

2 cups fresh blueberries
2 cups fresh peaches, peeled and sliced
1 T. lemon juice
¼ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup all purpose flour
½ tsp. cinnamon

Combine topping ingredients and press onto the bottom of a greased 11X7 inch glass baking dish. Mix topping ingredients together and spoon over crust. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 35 to 40 minutes. Best served warm with vanilla ice cream or freshly whipped cream.

Happy baking!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Creamy Baked Chicken Breasts

Here’s another favorite entrée I like to make for company. You can prepare this one a day ahead of time and refrigerate it until baking time.

Creamy Baked Chicken Breasts

8 (4 oz.) boneless, skinless chicken breasts
8 4X4 slices Swiss cheese
1 can cream of chicken soup
¼ cup dry white wine
1 cup herb seasoned stuffing mix
1/3 cup butter, melted
¼ cup capers, drained

Arrange chicken in lightly greased 13 X 9 X 2 glass baking dish. Top each chicken breast with a cheese slice. Combine soup and wine, and spoon over chicken. Sprinkle with stuffing mix. Drizzle butter over crumbs. Sprinkle with capers.

Bake in 350 degree oven for 1 hour and 10 minutes. (Add an extra 10 minutes if chicken has been refrigerated).

Bon appetit!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Perfect Pie Crust

I'm sitting here at a friend's house, and we're planning on doing some baking together this afternoon. She's actually got blackberries outside her front door that are needing to be picked. We're going to turn them into a blackberry pie, which we'll serve up with homemade vanilla ice cream.

It got me thinking...I've already posted my blackberry pie recipe. Actually I've posted a lot of pie, tart and quiche recipes on this blog. However, I've never posted my pie crust recipe. I'm going to do that right now. This is the butteriest (not sure if that's a word!), flakiest, and most tender pie crust recipe I've ever tasted. But I won't take the credit. It's my grandma's recipe, one that I've been using my whole life. Here it is:

Grandma's No-Fail Pie Crust

2 1/3 cups unbleached white flour
1 tsp. salt
6 T. unsalted butter (straight out of the fridge so it's very cold)
2/3 cup Crisco (frozen)
5-6 T. cold water

Sift flour and salt into a mixing bowl. Using your fingers or a pastry blender, cut in butter and Crisco until the mixture resembles coarse meal. (If there are some pea-sized pieces of Crisco or butter in the mixture, that is fine.) This is what the mixture should look like:

Sprinkle water on top of flour and salt mixture, 1 tablespoon at a time. After each sprinkling of water, gently mix in the water drops with some of the dry mixture. After 5 tablespoons of water has been sprinkled in, the mixture should hold together in a ball. If it doesn't, sprinkle one more tablespoon worth of water onto the dough. Shape dough into two equal-sized balls. Roll each into a crust (either a bottom and top crust, or two bottom crusts).

This is a recipe where your technique really matters. Here are some extra tips:

1. Be careful not to over-handle or over-blend the dough. You want to mix in the water just until it is able to be shaped into a ball. If you mix the dough too much, the crust will be tough when you bake it.

2. Add just enough water until the dough just holds together in a ball. Too much water results in a sticky or wet dough ball, which turns into a tough pie crust.

3. A key to a flaky crust is not having the shortening or butter melt or soften when you are making the crust. That's why it helps to use very cold shortening and butter in the recipe. I usually freeze pre-measured amounts of Crisco in the freezer at least several hours before I plan on making a pie crust. If it's summer and your home is warm, it helps to have the air conditioner on while you're working, or at least a fan blowing in the direction of your work station.

4. Another key to a flaky crust is using at least some shortening (I like Crisco better than off-brands) in the recipe, as in the recipe I've posted here. This recipe is close to being half butter and half shortening. The shortening makes the crust flaky, whereas the butter makes the crust tender and adds flavor. If you substitute butter for the shortening and make the crust all butter, it will result in a crust that is more crumbly than flaky. Now some people don't like the shortenings (which do not melt at room temperature and stay solid, even though they are oil) because they don't want the hydrogenated trans fats. Well, there may be some shortenings that still are made with trans fats, but Crisco no longer has them. That should ease some people's concerns. However, if you still prefer to avoid Crisco, you can find some organic and "natural" shortenings in health and specialty food stores. I have used those on occasion, and they still do okay in pie crusts (but I don't think they do nearly as well as Crisco).

5. Cover your rolling pin with a cloth rolling pin cover or stockinette. This prevents the rolling pin from sticking to the pie crust dough when you are rolling it out, and requires less flour on the surface. Using too much flour on the rolling surface can incorporate a lot of extra flour into the dough, which also results in tough crusts.

One final note: Pie crusts can be made ahead and put in the freezer or refrigerator until ready to bake. For bottom crusts, I just fit them into a pie plate, cover them with plastic wrap, and refrigerate or freeze them. For top crusts, I will often roll them out on a pie crust "bag" or transfer the just-rolled top pie crust into one of these bags. These are circle-shaped plastic bags, usually around 14 1/2 inches in diameter, that zipper up around the perimeter. Once the crust is rolled, you just zipper it shut and stick the crust into the refrigerator or freezer until you are ready to use. You can buy these pie bags on as well as cooking stores.

Okay, that's about it for pie crusts. I know a lot of people who have difficulty with them, but they're really not that hard to make. And they taste SOOOOO much better than store-bought pie shells.

Now I'm off to do some of my own baking! Hope you're all enjoying your summer!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Ideas and Tips for Planning the Perfect Potluck

You may like the idea of having company over for a meal, but the fact is, you just don’t have the time to do all the cooking, or you may not have enough money in your budget to buy all the extra food. These days, groceries are expensive, and getting more so every day. The solution can be to host a potluck.

When you host a potluck, you have a lot less “prep work” that you need to do, and far fewer responsibilities during the meal. That means you have more time to enjoy all the festivities.

Potlucks can be very enjoyable for your guests too. A lot of people love to cook up their favorite recipes and share these dishes with others. They just don’t want to have to host an entire dinner all on their own.

Of course, not everyone looks forward to a potluck dinner. For some, the term “potluck” conjures up memories of mysterious casseroles made out of who-knows-what, Jell-O salads, canned baked beans in Tupperware bowls and stale, store-bought apple pies. But potlucks don’t have to be that way.

The key to hosting the perfect potluck is P L A N N I N G. A potluck can be a totally wonderful event as long as you take certain necessary steps ahead of time. Number one, don’t invite people over to a potluck and have them just bring whatever pops into their heads an hour before the meal. If you do, you’re sure to end up with too much of certain types of dishes, or food items that do not pair well together.

Decide ahead of time what types of dishes you’d like to have at the meal. When you invite your guests, give them a choice of menu items to bring. Once they tell you what they’re bringing, that’s their assignment. You don’t need to be super specific with your assignments; most people like to have a little leeway regarding what to bring. Just give them a category—a green salad, a dessert, a bread, a cooked vegetable dish, etc.

You might want to make the main entrée yourself, to make sure there’s going to be enough of the primary menu item. Then plan dishes or food categories that can go with it: cooked vegetables, warm side pastas, casseroles, cold pasta salads, veggies and dip trays, chips and dip trays, fruit salads, desserts, beverages, etc. As people RSVP “yes,” you can assign them one of these dishes. Know how many of each of these dishes you want. So if you’d like three tossed salads, cross that off your list once three people offer to bring a salad.

Evite ( is an easy way to divvy up potluck assignments. You can actually choose a potluck design for their invitations. They have quite a few specifically designed for potlucks. Then there is a feature where you can ask guests to bring something. You then make up a list of what food items you’d like brought to your party (such as main chicken dish, main beef dish, casserole, warm vegetable dish, pasta dish, tossed green salad, dessert, wine, liters of soda, etc.) and how many you’d like of each. Ask guests to choose one to bring. As they do, the total number needed for that food item will be reduced accordingly. It’s a very efficient way to make sure you don’t get too much of any one item.

You could just do a generic or “old fashioned” potluck—where you make the main meat entrée and have guests bring a wide variety of other side dishes, casseroles, finger foods, desserts and beverages. You assign them a general type of food to bring, and they get to choose something within those food categories. Now you may end up with a lot of different types of food—Tex Mex, pastas, fried chicken, meatloaf, casseroles, finger sandwiches, and maybe even hummus, egg rolls, and sushi, if you’ve got friends with ethically-diverse taste buds. These kind of potlucks can really be a lot of fun.

Or, you could come up with a theme potluck and have guests bring foods that fit in with that theme. That way, all of the food is sure to “go together.” Here are some ideas for themed potlucks:

1. Soups and Sandwiches: have guests bring either a crock pot of their favorite soup or stew, or a platter of sandwiches.

2. Italian: ask guests to bring their favorite pasta dish such as lasagna, chicken cacciatore, fettuccini, spaghetti or rigatoni. You could supply the garlic bread, tossed green salad and spumoni ice cream.

3. Mexican: ask guests to bring either their favorite Mexican entrée or sides such as chips and salsa or guacamole, seven layer dip, flan, spicy pinto beans in the crock pot, and maybe a raw vegetable tray with a spicy sour cream dip.

4. Thanksgiving food—everybody brings an item on a traditional Thanksgiving menu. You could do this for a group a week or two before Thanksgiving (such as with friends who will be traveling out of town for Thanksgiving, and won’t be able to come to your “regular” Thanksgiving dinner you may be hosting at your home, or you could do this menu any time of the year—just for fun).

5. Chili Cook-off: guests each make up a pot of chili to share and guests can vote on which was the tastiest, most spicy, most unique, etc.

6. Picnic Foods: Menu items to have guests bring include fried chicken, coleslaw, potato salad, barbecued beans, chips and dip, brownies, iced tea. This is a good one for the cold, winter months when everyone has “cabin fever” and would like a mental “get away” from the winter doldrums with a summer picnic (indoors, of course!).

7. Comfort Foods: have guests bring foods like chicken and dumplings, baked macaroni and cheese, chicken pot pie, mashed potatoes and gravy, scalloped potatoes, creamed spinach in the crock pot, cornbread, peach or apple crisp, chocolate cake or bread pudding.

8. Favorite childhood foods: ask everyone to bring their favorite main entrée, side dish or dessert that their mom used to make when growing up. (You will probably ask a third of your guest list to bring a main entrée, another third to bring a side dish, and the last third to bring a dessert. You could supply the beverages and an entrée.)

9. Taco salad buffet—each guest brings a different ingredient for taco salad, such as tortilla chips, sour cream, salsa, shredded Monterey Jack and cheddar cheeses, fresh guacamole, canned black beans, chopped tomatoes, iceberg/leaf lettuce that has been shredded or broken down into salad-sized pieces, sliced green onions, sliced black olives. Usually the host will provide the seasoned and cooked ground beef. Guests can each bring one or two items, depending on how costly their item is. Some invitees might be asked to bring two less-costly items (i., 2 large cans of black beans and two large cans of black olives that have been sliced), whereas another guest might just bring the shredded cheese for everybody. Arrange taco salad ingredients on a buffet line.

10. Salad samplin’ potluck—ask guests to each bring a salad—enough for a small taste for everyone. This is an especially nice get-together for the ladies. We used to do this at one of my former employers. All the women in the office would each bring a different salad for a weekday lunch together, such as fajita salad, pasta salad, Asian salad, fruit salad, Waldorf salad, etc. Before the event, each guest submits the recipe for their salad to the hostess, who organizes all the recipes into a mini cookbook for guests.

11. From the garden—everyone brings dishes made from produce they grew in their own garden. This is an ideal type of get-together if you have friends who have gardens. Ask them to bring dishes made from produce they grew themselves. They could bring everything from homemade pickles, pie made with homegrown fruits, chips and salsa made from their own tomatoes, freshly-picked garden salads, etc. This is an ideal meal towards the end of the summer when you’re doing lots of harvesting.

12. Spa food—ideal if you have a group of ladies who are all “trying to be healthy” or limit calories, but still want to get together and socialize. Ask them to bring foods they might have if they were going to a day spa—salads, iced flavored herb teas, smoothies, whole grain muffins, hummus dips and whole grain crackers, veggie wraps, cucumber and tofu sandwiches, etc. Ask your guests to each bring one of these types of foods. To add to the fun, hire a masseuse and/or a manicurist to come out to your home to take turns doing these treatments on your guests before or after the meal.

13. Cookie party—a potluck with just sweets in mind. Like the salad party, each guest makes up her favorite recipe. Recipes are submitted ahead of time to compile into a cookbook. Guests bring enough cookies for every guest to have one—either to sample there or to take home. Hostess provides coffee, tea and cool beverages like iced tea and sparkling water to go with the cookie tasting.

Some final thoughts:

When you’re planning out your meal, make sure you have dishes coming from every course—appetizers, soups or salads, meat dishes, casseroles, side dishes, desserts and beverages (both nonalcoholic as well as alcoholic). Plan to have at least 2-3 dishes coming from each category. That way in case something happens—one of your guests get sick at the last minute and can’t come, for instance—you’ll still have enough of that type of food out on your buffet table. If you’re providing the main entrée, you may still want to have some extra meat or pasta dishes coming, to ensure that you have enough “main entrée” type of foods available for guests to eat.

Give your guests some guidelines for how much to bring. Don’t assume that if you ask them to bring a salad, that they’ll make the same size bowl you might bring. Spell out exactly how much you want them to bring. For instance, I might ask my guests to bring “enough for 10-15 servings,” or “enough for two families.” They don’t have to bring enough for every guest to have a full-sized serving, but there should be enough that everyone present could at least have a small portion, just to taste it. Plan to have a little extra food coming, just in case unexpected guests show up, or you’re having teenage boys over with a ravenous appetite. I’d rather have more than enough food at a party, rather than just barely enough. People can always take their leftovers home.

Have most of your guests bring dishes that are prepared in advance, don’t need to be heated in the oven, and are ready to serve when they arrive. Most of us have limited oven space, so you don’t want lots of people asking to heat dishes in your oven. If you’re providing the main entrée (such as a meat dish) you may already be using most of the oven space to cook that.

Ask your guests to bring their own serving utensils. Just in case they don’t, it’s nice to have extra serving spoons, tongs, pie servers, etc. on hand. For relatively little money, you can go down to your local store and pick up these items rather cheaply. I bought several large plastic serving spoons from Dollar Tree for $1 each. I have them just for casual parties. If they get lost, it’s no big deal because they didn’t cost that much. But it’s nice to have them on hand “just in case” they’re needed….and they almost always are.

Figure out ahead of time where you want to guests to set their dishes when they arrive. I usually have a table for beverages, a table for desserts, my center island in the kitchen is for main and side dish foods, and then I have countertop areas set aside for salads and bread/crackers/chips. And of course, I have the plates, napkins and eating utensils set out at the head of the food line. It’s better to plan out all this in advance, so you’re ready for your guests when they start arriving.

For my recent luau, here’s a photo from our dessert table. My guests all brought lots of desserts! There’s always plenty of sweets at our parties. I have a lot of friends who like to bake, just like I do.

Potlucks are really a lot of fun…and an easy way to entertain. If you haven’t hosted one lately, you really should!

Happy pot-lucking!!!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Soft and Chewy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

Today’s baking project was oatmeal raisin cookies. I use a recipe which I pulled from a package of Quaker Oats about 20 years ago, and modified a bit (added cinnamon, reduced the salt, etc.). This is a favorite of my oldest son, as well as of many of our friends (especially males, who seem to really like this kind of cookie). These cookies are especially delicious, just out of the oven!

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

¾ cup butter, softened
1 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
½ cup granulated sugar
1 egg
¼ cup water
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. salt
½ tsp. baking soda
3 cups oatmeal (quick or old fashioned)
¾ cup raisins

Cream together the butter and sugars. Add egg, water and vanilla, and blend together until creamy. Add the flour, cinnamon, salt, baking soda and oatmeal and stir well. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto greased cookie sheets. (I make "dough balls" up ahead of time and put them in the freezer. Not only is this a time-saver to have a last-minute snack/dessert ready to bake, it also helps prevent the cookies from spreading too thin when baking.) Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 12 to 15 minutes, or until lightly golden around edges.

Happy baking!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Fresh Fruit ‘n Cream Dessert Pizza

I’ll be the first to admit it: I like dessert. So do a lot of our friends. When we have them over for weekend get-togethers and they offer to bring side dishes, I can’t help but notice that the there are two or three times the dishes on the dessert table than on the salad table. Hmmm.

However, during the hot summer months, most of us aren’t drawn to the super rich and heavy desserts. The fresh fruit desserts look more appealing. And maybe because “fruit” is in the name of the dessert (rather than “chocolate” or “fudge”), psychologically we less guilty about eating it (especially if we’re still hoping to fit into our swim suits by the end of summer!). Well, this kind of reasoning works for me. But…that’s a whole other subject.

As far as summery fruit desserts go, one of my favorites is dessert pizza with fresh fruit. My recipe is below. Reading through the recipe, you’ll notice that it’s definitely not low calorie. But it is topped with lots of luscious fresh fruit.

Fresh Fruit ‘n Cream Dessert Pizza

½ cup butter, softened
¼ cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
1 cup all purpose flour
¼ cup oatmeal (quick or old fashioned)
¼ cup finely chopped walnuts

1 (8 oz.) pkg. cream cheese, softened
1 (14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
¼ cup lemon juice
1 tsp. vanilla

Fresh blueberries, raspberries, blueberries, kiwis, peaches and pineapples (whatever combination of fresh fruit you like)
Optional: melted courant jelly or apricot jam (run through a sieve) for a fruit glaze

In a medium bowl, cream together the butter, sugar, flour, oatmeal and walnuts until thoroughly blended. Grease a 12-inch pizza pan with butter or shortening. Prick the crust with a fork. Bake crust for 12 minutes at 375 degrees F, or until lightly golden brown around edges. Remove from oven and cool.

To make filling, blend cream cheese and sweetened condensed milk together with a mixer. Add lemon juice and vanilla and blend until smooth. Spread on top of cooled crust. Chill for 2-3 hours, or until filling is firm.

Top with fresh fruit in a nice pattern. If you’d like to glaze the fruit, first dip them in melted courant jelly or apricot jam.

Enjoy your summer…and all the fresh fruit that’s available!


Monday, July 11, 2011

How to Host an Hawaiian Luau

We just had a luau this past weekend. This is definitely one of our favorite party themes! You can’t help but feel relaxed while you’re sipping tropical drinks and listening to Hawaiian tunes. This kind of party is perfect for the summer months, when your guests can mingle outside by the pool, as well as indoors.

My sons really got into this party. Here's my oldest, the week before the luau:

Luaus are easy to host. Here's what I recommend you do:

Create an airline boarding pass with your luau as the destination. Include your address, the “time of arrival” (when the party starts!), the date of the flight (or luau!), and list the first class perks (the main activities for the luau). You can also find some really cute luau invitations on Evite and other electronic invitation websites.

Your invitations should encourage guests to come dressed in Hawaiian attire. That includes grass skirts and bikini tops, hibiscus hairpieces in ladies’ hair, leis, Hawaiian shirts, sarongs, muumuus, flower lei bracelets and ankle bracelets.

--Trash can sized-hula skirts to wrap around trash cans. Grass skirts for tables. You can buy both of these from party supply houses like Oriental Trading Company, as well as party and craft supply chains like Party City and Hobby Lobby, and discount stores like Dollar Tree.
--Hang garlands of hibiscus flowers to enhance the island feeling.
--Hang fishnets across ceilings and on walls.
--Use table cloths with tiki motifs, palm fronds or hibiscus designs. Fish nets also make ideal tablecloths for a luau.
--Tape paper or cloth hibiscus on beverage coolers and door frames, around windows, etc.
--Hang travel posters and post cards from Hawaii.
--Place bamboo tiki torches outdoors by your pool and/or patio. There’s usually quite a selection in the home and garden sections of department and discount stores.
--Create South Pacific-style flower arrangements with birds of paradise, ginger root, orchids and hibiscus—that’s if your party is going to be a little more formal than a less formal luau beach party.
--Hang a hammock out on the patio, back porch or between two trees.
--Put paper lanterns, strings of hibiscus-shaped or other party lights, and torches outside on your patio or by your pool (if a summer luau)—to create the ambiance of a night at the beach
--Scatter fresh orchids and either real or paper hibiscus flowers around your your house.
--Line table edges and countertop edges with imitation hula grass.
--Set out real surfboards around your home.
--Hang Hawaiian style straw hats and flip flops around your home.
--Fill large ceramic bowls and baskets with tropical fruits like papayas, coconuts, pineapples, mangos, bananas, kiwis, lemons, and limes—to have them on display and guests can snack on them too. If desired, drape or encircle bowls with flower leis.
--For a cute, practical touch: buy a hula skirt for your trash can. I bought one from Oriental Trading Company and it made a rather utilitarian object in the room—the trash can—look quite festive, and actually added to the décor!

Play Hawaiian tunes—Don Ho songs, and steel guitar and ukelele music.

--As your guests arrive, wish them Aloha, which means hello (as well as farewell) and place a flower lei around their necks. As the hostess, if you are going to be busy with last-minute food prep when guests arrive, designate a female to dress as a hula girl and greet guests as they arrive. I asked two daughters of a friend (age 10 and 18) to do this for me this past weekend, and they did wonderfully! I filled a tall wicker basket with about 120 leis, all in different colors and designs, so it was possible to try to color coordinate leis with what each guest was wearing.
--Have a sing-along of songs by Don Ho and other Hawaiian singers
--If the party takes place around a pool, include swimming as an activity.
--Hold a hula contest. Purchase inexpensive hula skirts from your favorite important store. Tie skirts around a few of the guests (be sure to include a few men), play recorded Hawaiian music, and see how well they can hula. Or, simply have a hula hoop contest and see who can do it the longest amount of time. Give out prizes for who can hula the longest without dropping their hula hoop…One way to do a hula hoop contest is to award the person with the longest time keeping the hoop spinning around the waist. Another way is to see who can spin the hula hoop around the neck, arms, legs and waist, with winners being those who can keep the hoop spinning for 15 seconds around each body part.
--Have a limbo contest. Although the limbo is more Carribean than Polynesian, many associate it with any kind of tropical party. You just need a long pole, ideally a long bamboo stick to keep with the tropical theme. Each guest bends backward at the waist, attempting to walk around the pool without touching it. Each time it gets lower until only one person can do it.
--Play “Pass the coconut.” With this game, the idea is to transfer a coconut down a line of people, without dropping it, held under the chin from person to person, without using your hands. If you drop the coconut, you’re out. The last player left is the winner. To prevent the coconut shell from rubbing your guests’ chins, lightly smooth it out with fine sandpaper before the party.
--Have a water balloon toss. Have your guests get in two-person teams. Partners/team members face each other in rows. Start out with team partners about 8 feet apart from each other as one partner tosses their water balloon to the other. After each toss, each team takes a step backward and the other partner tosses the balloon this team. If a team drops the water balloon and it breaks (which is sure to happen!), or if the partner does not catch the water balloon, that team is eliminated. Teams continue to step backward after each toss, getting further and further apart. Keep playing until only one team remains, and they are the winners.

As with so many casual party themes, the food for luaus is best served up buffet style. This past weekend we served Hawaiian cheeseballs for an appetizer in the family room, along with frozen Pina Coladas, Blue Hawaiians and Mai Tais (I used the frozen drink tubs) for the adults, and nonalcoholic Polynesian Punch for the kids. This was followed by the buffet meal of Teriyaki chicken kabobs, Pineapple and golden raisin rice salad, Fresh fruit kabobs on sticks (pineapple, mangos, papaya, strawberries, oranges, watermelon and honeydew or canteloupe chunks, kiwi), Aloha Sweet Potatoes, tossed green salad, Hawaiian Fruit Salad and a variety of tropical desserts. One of them was coconut crème brulee. The recipes are below:

Hawaiian Cheeseball

1 (8 oz.) pkg. cream cheese, softened
1 (8 oz. can crushed pineapple, drained
¼ cup celery, sliced thinly
¼ cup red bell pepper, diced
½ cup yellow or orange bell pepper, diced
4 green onions, chopped finely
¾ cup chopped pecans

Mix all ingredients together except pecans. Put into refrigerator for about an hour to firm up. Then, form into a ball. Roll into chopped pecans so that the entire cheeseball is coated in nuts. Chill until serving time. Serve with crackers.

Polynesian Punch (nonalcoholic)

5 ½ cups (46-oz. can) pineapple juice concentrate
1 ½ cups (two 6-oz. cans) frozen orange juice concentrate
1 ½ cups (two 6-oz. cans) frozen lemonade concentrate
1 ½ cups (two 6-oz. cans) from limeade
1 ½ cups cold water
4 to 4 ½ quarts chilled carbonated water, ginger ale or lemon-lime soda

Combine all ingredients except carbonated beverage and ice. Mix well. Just before serving, add ice and carbonated beverage.

Teriyaki Chicken Kabobs

1/4 cup lemon or pineapple juice
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup soy sauce
¼ cup light brown sugar, packed
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 tsp. fresh garlic, finely minced
Optional: one can beer

2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 (20 oz.) can unsweetened pineapple chunks, drained

Prepare marinade: Combine lemon juice, vegetable oil, soy sauce, brown sugar, ginger, pepper, garlic and beer; stir in chicken chunks. Cover and refrigerate at least 3 hours or overnight to marinate, stirring occasionally.

About an hour before serving, remove chicken from marinade. Discard marinade. To assemble kabobs, alternately thread chicken and pineapple onto skewers. Place kabobs onto grill. Grill about15 to 20 minutes, turning after 10 minutes. Makes enough for 8 large servings.

[Do-ahead tip: Whole marinated chicken breasts can be grilled on your outdoor grill the day before assembling them into kabobs. Once cooked, take grilled chicken breasts and cut into 1-inch cubes. Refrigerate until ready to thread onto kabob skewers. When you’re ready to serve them, take pineapple and chicken skewers and put on a griddle on low to heat and stay warm. Drizzle extra teriyaki sauce/marinade on skewers while they are warming. You can used bottled teriyaki sauce for this. I did my kabobs ahead of time like this and it was a wonderful time saver…and they would have never known they were cooked the day before!]

Here's a picture of our teriyaki kabobs. I found some really cute hibiscus skewers from Oriental Trading Company (only $8 for 144 of them!) to thread the chicken and pineapple on.

Aloha Sweet Potatoes

4 cups mashed sweet potatoes
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup milk
2 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. cinnamon

Combine all of the above and pour into buttered 1 ½ quart glass casserole dish.

Then, mix the following together until crumbly, and sprinkle on top of mashed sweet potato mixture:

1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1 cup flaked coconut
1/3 cup butter, cold

Bake in 350 degree oven for about 40 minutes, or until heated through. Makes about 20 servings. [Do ahead tip, you can make the mashed sweet potato mixture ahead of time and put into your baking dish. Add about 15 minutes to the baking time. You can make up the topping ahead of time too. After 30 minutes of baking, top with coconut topping. Let sit out at room temperature 5-10 minutes before serving.]

Hawaiian Fruit Salad

2 large cans pineapple chunks (in pineapple juice, and drained)
2 large cans Mandarin oranges (drained)
3 large bananas, (sprinkled with lemon juice and sliced)
3 kiwi, peeled and sliced
1 papaya or mango, peeled and sliced
1 ½ cups shredded coconut
2 cups miniature marshmallows
2 cups sour cream
½ tsp. nutmeg

Combine all ingredients in large bowl except nutmeg. Right before serving, Let chill 1-2 hours before serving. Sprinkle with freshly ground nutmeg just before serving.

South Pacific Rice Salad

12 cups cooked rice
3 cups green onions, thinly sliced
3 cups celery, thinly sliced
1 ½ cups chopped fresh parsley
2 cups raisins
2 (20 oz.) cans crushed, unsweetened pineapple, drained
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup pineapple juice
¼ cup lemon juice
½ cup soy sauce
Salt and pepper, to taste

Cook the 6 cups of rice as directed on package (you will probably need to add about 12 cups of water and cook for 20-25 minutes in microwave or in covered pan over stovetop). When done cooking, fluff the rice with a fork and spread it over large baking sheets to cool. Then transfer the cooled rice to a large mixing bowl. Add the onions, celery, parsley, raisins and crushed pineapple. (The salad can be made a day in advance up to this point. Cover and refrigerate until ready to toss with the dressing. You can also make the dressing ahead of time and keep in covered container in the refrigerator.)

To make the dressing, whisk together the olive oil, pineapple juice, lemonjuice, and soy sauce in a bowl. Gradually add to the rice mixture, tossing to coat. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Serve chilled. Makes enough for 25 people.

Tropical Coconut Crème Brulee

3 cups heavy whipping cream
3/4 cup granulated sugar
12 large egg yolks
1 1/8 cups unsweetened powdered coconut milk
5 T. super-fine granulated sugar

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Scald the cream in a heavy, medium saucepan. Whisk ¾ cup sugar and the yolks in a medium bowl. Whisk the hot cream into the yolk mixture. Return the mixture to the saucepan and stir over medium-low heat until the custard thickens, stirring constantly, about 3 minutes; do not boil. Remove the pan from the heat. Add the powdered coconut milk; stir until dissolved. Divide the custard among nine 2/3 cup ramekins. Place ramekins in a large baking pan, and fill hot water half-way up the sides of the ramekins. Bake until the custards are set around the edges, around 25 to 30 minutes. Remove the custards from the water bath and cool overnight in refrigerator. Just before serving, sprinkle 1 to 2 tsp. of super-fine granulated sugar over each of the custards. Heat with a chef’s torch until the sugar carmelizes. Serve immediately.

If you are having a large group over, a luau is an easy meal that can be "potlucked." In addition to the foods I provided above, my guests also brought side dishes like fruit platters, veggies and dip trays, and desserts.

Well, that's about it for this post. So I'll just end by saying:

E ‘ai ka-kou (that’s the Hawaiian equivalent of bon appetit!)

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Pina Colada Cheesecake

We had a luau last night. What fun! I don't have time to post all the details right now, but I thought I would at least post the recipe for the pina colada cheesecake I made for dessert.

Pina Colada Cheesecake

1 ½ cups graham cracker crumbs
1 ½ cups shredded, sweetened coconut, toasted
¼ cup granulated sugar
½ cup unsalted butter, melted

3 (8-oz.) pkgs. cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 T. cornstarch
4 large eggs
½ cup cream of coconut
4 tsp. coconut extract
1 cup sour cream
1/4 cup light rum
2 (8-oz.) cans crushed pineapple, drained (reserve juice)

1 pint sour cream
3 T. pineapple juice (reserved from canned pineapple)
2 T. granulated sugar

½ cup toasted coconut
Canned or fresh pineapple rings

To make the crust, combine the graham crumbs, sugar, coconut, and butter in mixing bowl. Blend well. Press onto the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan. Bake for 10 minutes at 325 degrees. Remove from oven. Cool.

Prepare filling. In mixing bowl, beat cream cheese, sugar and cornstarch until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Blend in cream of coconut, coconut extract, sour cream and rum. Fold in the crushed pineapple and stir to blend. Pour into crust and bake in 350 degree oven for 1 hour and 15 minutes.

While cake is baking, prepare the topping. In a small bowl, mix the sour cream, pineapple juice and sugar together until smooth. When the cake is finished baking, spread the topping evenly over the top of the cake. Bake for an additional 5 minutes. Refrigerate overnight. Then remove cake from springform pan. Garnish with toasted coconut and pineapple rings.


Friday, July 8, 2011

Rhubarb Crumb Bars

I’m baking again! Today it was rhubarb crumb bars. This is a recipe that my grandmother used to make. So it’s a longtime family favorite.

I should say, growing up in Michigan, rhubarb grew like weeds, and everyone I knew had their favorite rhubarb recipes. Here in Texas, it’s not nearly as popular (my husband thinks rhubarb IS a weed!). Still, I make rhubarb desserts every now and then, and I think gradually I’m convincing friends down here in Texas that rhubarb actually tastes pretty good.

Here’s the recipe for crumb bars, just in case you’re interested in trying them.


Crust and crumb topping:
1 ½ cups oatmeal (quick or old fashioned)
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup dark brown sugar
½ tsp. baking soda
1 cup butter, cold
½ cup chopped walnuts

3 cups fresh rhubarb, cut in ¼ inch slices
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
2 T. cornstarch
¼ cup water
1 tsp. vanilla

Preheat the oven to 375° F. Grease a 9 x 13” pan; set aside.

Make the crust/crumb topping mixture first. In a medium bowl, combine the oatmeal, flour, brown sugar and baking soda. With your fingers, cut in the butter until mixture is crumbly. Spread about three-fourths of the crust mixture in an even layer over the bottom of the prepared pan and press down firmly to form the bottom crust. Set aside the remaining crumb mixture for topping.

Next, make the filling. In medium saucepan, mix sugar and cornstarch together. Add water and rhubarb. Cook until thickened. Add vanilla.

Spread rhubarb filling over crust. Sprinkle with remaining crumb mixture. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until the top is slightly golden brown. Cool completely before cutting into bars and serving. Makes 20 to 24 bars.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Raspberry-Banana Trifle

I made a raspberry-banana trifle for this past weekend. The photo of my trifle is above. This is a recipe I got Good Housekeeping’s Best Loved Desserts cookbook (my new favorite cookbook!) on pg. 273. I think this is the perfect dessert to serve during a summer cookout.

I did “tweak” the recipe a bit. I used regular raspberry jam instead of seedless jam, and I used my regular pudding recipe instead of the homemade custard the recipe called for. (As a shortcut, you could probably use instant or cooked vanilla pudding boxes.) I also used about double the whipped cream for the topping, to which I added powdered sugar, vanilla and whipped cream stabilizer (Whip-It), which the original recipe didn’t call for.

Raspberry-Banana Trifle

1 pound cake (1 pound)
12 oz. red raspberry jam

Pudding filling:
1 cup sugar
½ cup all purpose flour
1/8 tsp. salt
1 cup milk
2 cups half and half
4 jumbo eggs, separated
2 tsp. vanilla
4 T. unsalted butter
3 large bananas, sliced

2 cups heavy whipping cream
¼ cup powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 pkg. Whip-It (or “Sahnesteif”)

First, prepare cake. Cut crust from pound cake to make a nice, clean rectangular shape. Cut the cake lengthwise into 4 equal slices. Spread jam on each slice, about 1/8 to ¼ inch thick. Put cake and jam slices on top of each other, assembling back into a rectangle. Then cut cake lengthwise down the center. Cover with plastic wrap and put in refrigerator while making filling.

Next, make filling. Whisk the four egg yolks in small bowl and set aside. Mix the sugar, flour and salt in saucepan. Add milk and half and half. Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened. Reduce heat to low, and cook 2 minutes more. Remove from heat. Stir about 1 cup of this hot mixture into the beaten egg yolks. Return egg mixture to saucepan and blend in with the rest of the cooked mixture. Cook 2 minutes more over low heat, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla and butter and blend well. Let cool about 5-10 minutes at room temperature, stirring several times, before assembling trifle.

While the pudding is cooling, slice the two narrow cake rectangles into ¼-inch slices.

Assemble the trifle in a glass trifle dish or deep glass bowl. Place two rows of cake slices around the side of the bowl, alternating horizontal and vertical placement of cake slices to make a nice design. Place the remaining cake slices in a single layer on the bottom of the bowl. Top with a third of the bananas. Spoon about one third of the pudding on top of that. Top with some more bananas and more filling. Finally, top with the remaining bananas and ending with the remaining filling. Put some plastic wrap on top of the filling to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate several hours.

When filling is cooled and set, you can make the topping. Whip the heavy cream, powdered sugar and vanilla until stiff peaks form. Blend in whipped cream stabilizer if you’re using it. Pipe whipped cream onto top of cake. Garnish fresh raspberries.

You can make this trifle one day in advance.

Hope you enjoy it!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Basil-Garlic Turkey Burgers

Here’s another non-beef grilling recipe you might really like. We had company over today and made these burgers. Everyone seemed to enjoy them! It was a nice change of pace from “regular” burgers.

Basil-Garlic Turkey Burgers

2 eggs
½ cup dried Italian breadcrumbs
½ cup plus 4 T. chopped fresh basil, divided
2 lbs. ground turkey breast
8 slices fontina cheese
1 cup chopped tomatoes
1 small purple onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
2 T. extra virgin olive oil
8 hamburger buns
Fresh arugula lettuce

First, make the patties. In a large bowl combine egg, breadcrumbs and ½ cup of the basil. Add turkey and salt and pepper to taste; mix well. Form into 8 patties. Set aside in the refrigerator, covered, until ready to grill.

In a small bowl, combine tomatoes, garlic, oil, 4 T. of the basil, and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

Coat grill rack with nonstick cooking spray. Preheat grill to medium (300 to 350 degrees F.).
Place patties on grill. Grill, covered, 5 minutes on each side or until an instant-read thermometer registers 165 degrees F. During the last 2 minutes of grilling, top each patty with 1 cheese slice; grill just until melted.

Place rolls, cut side down, on grill. Grill until lightly toasted. Place cooked turkey burger patties in rolls. Top with tomato mixture and agugula, and serve.

Happy grilling!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Super-refreshing TANGY ICED TEA

To say it’s hot here in Dallas right now is the understatement of the year. We’ve had who knows how many 100 degree days already this summer. In this heat, we’ve had lots of company over for cookouts and swimming. In and of itself, that may be a treat for our guests. But probably the nicest thing we can do for people when they walk in the door is to offer them something very cool and refreshing to drink. An old family recipe I’ve simply known as “Tangy Tea” definitely fits the bill here. It’s a definite treat in the heat.

Tangy Iced Tea

4 family size or 8 regular tea bags
6 cups boiling filtered water
½ cup granulated sugar, depending on taste (super-fine sugar preferred)
1 (12-oz.) can cranberry juice concentrate, undiluted
1 (12-oz.) can lemonade concentrate, undiluted
4 cups cold filtered water

Pour boiling water over tea bags and steep about 5 minutes. Discard tea bags. Pour brewed tea into a pitcher. Add sugar and stir well to dissolve. Add cranberry juice and lemonade concentrate, and cold water. Stir well. Chill, and seve over ice garnished with lemon.

Happy sipping!

Five Bean Salad—Perfect for Summer Cookouts!

We had a cookout tonight. It was easy…barbecued chicken on the grill. I made several different side salads for the meal, including a five bean salad. To me, this always hits the spot, and it’s simple to make. Not only that, you can make it 2-3 days in advance.

Our guests brought a lot of side dishes tonight, and my husband did all the grilling. So once the guests arrived, I just talked and enjoyed our company. That’s my kind of entertaining!

Five Bean Salad

1 (15 oz.) can cut green beans
1 (15 0z.) can cut wax beans
1 (15 oz.) can light red kidney beans
1 (15 oz.) can dark red kidney beans
1 (15 oz.) can garbanzo beans (chick peas)
1 large green bell pepper, diced
1 cup white vinegar
2/3 cup granulated sugar
½ cup canola oil
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. black pepper

Open the five cans of beans and drain. Pour into large bowl. Add bell pepper. In small bowl, mix together vinegar, suar, oil, salt and pepper; pour over beans and bell pepper. Stir well. Chill for at least 4 hours, ideally overnight. Makes about 12servings.

Friday, July 1, 2011

We’d Like to Have You for Dinner: Invitation Etiquette

The drawing above is the front cover of an invitation I used to send out 20 years ago. You open it up and it says “We’d like to have you to dinner.” Underneath there are lines to write the name of the host, time, date, place, and r.s.v.p. phone number. These were packaged notecard invitations that I bought from a card shop. I hadn’t been married that long when I found these notecards in the store. I was enjoying planning dinner parties and I thought these invitations were funny, so I purchased several packages of them. I still have a couple of them left, albeit they are a bit yellowed by now.

Now I’m guessing Emily Post probably wouldn’t have sent out one of these invitations. I’ve got her etiquette book my shelf and this kind of humor doesn’t exactly seem like her style. But it was mine, at least at one time. And it does serve as a nice segue into an important topic: invitation etiquette.

Obviously, if you’re going to have people over, you need to do some inviting. But how? Should you send out a formal or an informal invitation? Are by-mail invitations always preferred or is it okay to just send one electronically? What type of information do you need to include in your invitations? When do your invitations need to go out? These are all questions I’m going to address here.


Back in the early-20th century when Emily Post published her etiquette book, it was a different world. Victorian culture was still a huge influence in society, not just in England but here in the U.S. too. When people entertained, it was done much more formally. They hosted balls, cotillions and formal dinners at elaborately-set dining room tables. Attendees dressed to the hilt, and friends addressed each other by “Mr.” and “Mrs.” The invitations to these events were often a work of art, written in calligraphy on personalized vellum stationery.

Our world today is certainly much less formal. It seems everyone is busy and strapped for time. When we get together with friends, it’s usually for a casual get-together of some kind—a BBQ, buffet, potluck, birthday party, etc. About the only formal events most people get invited to anymore are occasional corporate events and weddings, and sometimes black tie dinners or dances. Even if we’re invited to a ‘sit-down” dinner or a cocktail party, most people come in “casual” or “dressy casual” attire, rather than formal or semi formal. My husband and I went to a Broadway show a couple months ago and we were surprised how casually dressed most people were who attended. We saw a lot of people wearing jeans, and not a lot of jackets on the men or women in long dresses. “Formal” thinking is becoming a thing of the past.

With most of today’s social occasions being casual or informal, what’s necessary in terms of invitations follows suit. For the kinds of events that most people plan nowadays, a formal invitation isn’t necessary. If you’re planning an informal gathering, it only makes sense to send out an informal invitation. Of course, that could run the gamut from just calling up a friend on the phone or e-mailing someone and saying, “Want to come to our house for a cookout next Friday?” to sending out Evites, mailing store-bought notecard invitations, or making your own homemade invitations.

The majority of invitations I extend these days are sent as email messages or via an electronic invitation site like,,,, or It’s fast and convenient (you don’t have to manually fill out invitations and address envelopes), it costs nothing to send an invitation on these sites (which can save you some $$$), it’s quick (you don’t have to worry about invitations being lost in the mail!), and it’s easy for guests to RSVP (they just respond online). Actually, I can’t remember the last time I delivered invitations the old “snail mail” route.

Still, you may want to opt for mailed invitations, especially if you’re inviting people who don’t use computers very often, or if you just want to surprise your guests with a handwritten card in the mail. Most card shops, party retailers and discount stores carry a nice selection of preprinted notecard-style invitations. All you have to do is fill in the details of your party.

You may also want to get creative and make your own invitations, especially if you’re planning a theme party. For instance, when we’ve hosted western parties, our invitations came in the form of “Wanted” posters. For a Caribbean-themed party, our invitations resembled cruise ship boarding passes, with the party theme (Jamaican), location, date, etc., incorporated into the boarding pass. Some friends of ours hosted a 1920s themed murder mystery party, and sent out invitations that consisted of a newspaper front page from that time. That newspaper not only stated the “when” and “where” for the party, but also provided background information for the setting of the murder mystery. Another friend mailed out uninflated beach balls with the invitations to her child’s birthday pool party, which would feature a beach ball contest. There’s no limit to what you can do! You just need to think of some kind of object or motif related to your party theme that you could incorporate into your invitations. Remember, if “fun” is the goal for your gathering, a very creative, homemade invitation can really set the tone for your event.

On the other hand, if you are planning a truly formal event like a wedding reception, a corporate gala for a hundred business executives, or a black tie cocktail party before going to the opera, you’re going to want to go with a formal, mailed invitation. These would typically be engraved or printed in black ink, on white or cream cardstock. You could either have a printing house design and print the invitations for you, or buy invitation paper from an office supply house and design and print your own. The latter, obviously, will cost you a lot less money.


Whether you are going with a formal or informal invitation, you need to include the same basic information:

*The type of event (dinner, cocktail party, game night, BBQ, anniversary celebration, going away party, graduation open house, retirement party, shower, etc.)
*Hosts’ names (if there are multiple hosts, list all of them, rather than just the homeowners where the event is to take place)
* Date
* Time
* Location (Definitely include street address and city. For out-of-town guests and those who are using Google Maps or Mapquest to obtain directions, it’s also helpful to include the state and zipcode. If the location is somewhere other than your home, such as a banquet hall or restaurant, include the name of the establishment.)
* Guest of honor, if there is one (the bride-to-be, birthday person, anniversary couple, family that’s moving away, high school graduate, etc.)
*Attire—black or white tie, business formal, cocktail attire, etc. (This is not always stated on informal invitations, but always should be on formal invitations. One informal type of informal invitation that would state the attire is if guests are to come in costume—such as for a 50s sock-hop, luau, murder mystery party, etc.)
* If you’d like guests to bring something—a dish to pass, their own drinks (BYOB), a specialty item (for instance, their own swim suits and beach towel if it’s a pool party; homemade baked goods if there’s going to be a dessert-making contest, etc.), or a contribution of some kind (white elephant gift, a donation if it’s a charity function, etc.)—this needs to be stated. Note: normally guests are only asked to bring something if it’s an informal event.
*Optional: Map and directions (For formal events, this information would be printed on enclosures on placed inside the envelope. For casual get-togethers, this information could be listed on the invitation itself if there’s space to do so.)
*Optional: The time for key events during the evening (i.e., cocktails at 6 p.m., dinner at 7 p.m., awards ceremony at 10 p.m.)
*RSVP information (include hosts’ contact information and deadline for responding)

The wording on a formal invitation, not surprisingly, is very formal. The standard format goes like this:

Winston and Eleanor Ashworth
request the pleasure of your company
for dinner and dancing
on Saturday, the twelfth of February
at seven o’clock
The Barn of Barrington
1415 S. Barrington Road
Barrington, Illinois
Black tie

For formal mailed invitations, enclose a reply card with a stamped, preaddressed envelope or postcard.

In contrast, the wording on an informal invitation is much less formal, and there isn’t a standard format. It can be written very straightforwardly, like this:

You are cordially invited for dinner
On Friday, October 12 at 6 p.m.
At the home of Ron and Nancy Myers
1231 Midland Road, Saginaw
RSVP: 517-792-2121, or

Or, the wording can be much more conversational:

We are planning a surprise anniversary party for Mike and Jenna Tucker at our home, on Saturday evening, June 3, at 6 p.m. Please join us for dinner, cocktails, and a special slideshow celebrating Mike and Jenna’s 25 years together. We would like to present them with a group gift, so if would like to contribute to that or have any ideas for what to buy them, please let us know.
Tom and Becky
RSVP at 965-987-1212 or

Note that the ending time for parties aren’t usually listed on invitations. The main exceptions are: children’s parties (so parents know when to pick up their children) and parties that precede a bigger event (i.e., cocktails before going to a theatrical performance).


Lastly, there’s the question of when you need to send out your invitations. This too depends on whether you are hosting a formal or informal occasion.

In general, the more formal the event, the more advance notice you should give to your guests. Most of the etiquette experts like Emily Post recommend you send out your formal invitations anywhere from four weeks to three months before the event. A formal dinner would be at the lower end of the range, whereas a wedding reception would be at the higher end. This is to allow your guests time to make all the arrangements that are usually necessary to attend these kind of events, like babysitting, airfare to travel there, hotel reservations and tuxedo rentals. (I’ve often wondered if this was also to allow female guests time to go on diets so they can fit in their party dresses! Okay, that’s my attempt at levity!)

For most casual get-togethers, invitations are usually sent somewhere between 1 and 6 weeks in advance. This gives people time to check their calendars and rearrange their schedules if necessary, but it’s not so far in advance that they might forget about the occasion later on. Usually there are far fewer arrangements that need to be taken care of to attend an informal event, so guests don’t need nearly as much advance notice as they do with formal events. Exactly how much time you should allow varies. If you’re inviting people to a pasta dinner on a weeknight, they may only need a week or two’s notice. However, if you’re planning a murder mystery or costume party, you should give your guests at least a month’s notice, just so they can have time to find costumes (which they may need to order).

This is not to say you should never invite people last-minute. Some of my most enjoyable get-togethers are often impromptu. However, these are usually VERY casual events. If it all possible, it’s nice to do some advance planning.

This is also not to say that you should never send out invitations to informal get-togethers more than 6 weeks in advance. In some cases, you might need to. A lot depends on how busy your social circle is. I, for one, socialize a lot with our local church, which is a very close—but busy—group. I often send out invitations to parties 6 to 8 weeks in advance, just because I know that if I wait until a month before we want to have people over, it may be too late. Everyone’s weekends are already booked up.

Of course, when I invite people this far in advance, I always send out reminders, 1-2 weeks before the event. That’s always a good idea. If you’re using an electronic invitation site like Evite, this is very easy to do. You just click the option to send out a message to everyone on the guest list, and within minutes you can have electronic reminder going out to all your guests.

If you don’t like sending out invitations way in advance—perhaps because you don’t have all the details planned out yet—an alternative is to send out a “Save the Date” notice. You might do this several months or more in advance. This can be done via a mailed postcard or notecard, email message, or through sites like Evite (which offer a “Save the Date” option with their invitations). Basically what you’re doing is letting your guests know you’re going to be planning on event on a particular date and you want them to mark their calendars now. You don’t have all your details figured out yet, but in this notice, you let your guests know you’ll be informing them of all the specifics closer to the date of the party (maybe just a week or two beforehand) and sending out the actual invitation then.

This summer, I sent out some “Save the Date” emails in early May, asking friends to set aside a date in August for a special pool party. I know how busy summer vacations can be, and I wanted to notify friends of the date, before their calendars were filled. It also helped me nail down a date for the party, before I started making too many plans.

Okay, I think I’ve covered the main points regarding invitation etiquette. I can’t think of anything more to add. I’m actually talked out! I hope what I’ve written has been helpful.