Updated: Jun 23
By: Lisa Wright Burbach
We are empty nesters and we sit at the table to eat dinner! Crazy right? -No, it’s connection. I love setting the table and sitting down to a yummy meal and to discuss the day, the future, and just life in general. We take a tip from other countries who celebrate meal time, family and who savor the meal, drink in the aromas, and visit with each other. It’s a relationship table.
I’m from the South and being able to set a proper table is an exam you have to pass to be able to own a string of pearls. It’s serious business!! And I’m grateful for it. I’ve been known to set the table with water glasses, wine glasses, dessert forks, the whole thing for nothing more elegant than sloppy joes.
In addition to setting the table for my family I find that setting a full and proper table when we have company makes them feel pampered and cherished even if they are simultaneously intimidated by it. It’s ok, you really can use the cloth napkin; they wash. Oh and start from the outside and work your way in with the silverware, but don’t worry; there is no test and I promise not to talk about you after you leave. “Van!! Did you see them eat that salad with their dessert fork!! Why I declare! I believe I will just have to set a spell and recover“. No, it will be fine, just eat and enjoy. (To you Northerners, the pearl thing was a joke).
I understand this next statement may be “outdated thinking”, but I believe it is true. When I was 20 and elderly woman told me “Use the China and crystal when you don’t have company-there are no more important people to be seated at your table than your husband and your family.”. It was great advice and I took it to heart. When my kids were small we used china for snacks; my 25 year old son eats snacks on china to this day. A conversation I will need to have with my future daughter-in-law I’m sure.
Try setting the table before you start cooking dinner it will help you feel organized and ready to go; better yet, get the fam involved and have them set the table! Not sure what to do? Here is a How-To from Martha Stewart and one from Real Simple.
1. Sweet Potato Soup w/ Blue Corn Tortillas by Bobby Flay/foodnetwork: Note, the chipotles in adobo sauce can be very warm and you may need to make adjustments up or down based on your family/guests.
Time: 1 1/2 hour
Ease: Simple to moderate
Result: Most everyone loved this, not everyone. It has combination of spicy, sweet, and smokey. I will make this again. Serve with cornbread and a nice green vegetable.
2. Skillet Lasagna: Use the link as a guide, but feel creative with this one. I used Newman’s own spaghetti sauce because I had it on hand, I also used spinach pasta in place of lasagna noodles for the same reason. No reason for things just to sit in the pantry.
Time: 30 minutes
Result: Turned out nicely, tasted about like you would expect. We enjoyed it. Serve with steamed green beans or a salad.
3. Quiche: NOTE:MAKE DAY AHEAD FOR BEST TEXTURE. (we didn’t, but I recommend it.)This was a base for me and it takes a lot of work and hopefully Thomas Keller will never read this blog, because I am sure he will cringe repeatedly. Apologies to great chefs for all that I am about to say for the sake of the basic home cook. First I used a store bought pastry; not the one in the tin, but the Pillsbury one you roll out. Next instead of mushrooms I used broccoli and caramelized onions. Don’t be afraid of caramelized onions, if you start it before anything else you will have sweet, browned, delicious onions by the time you are ready to use them. Lastly, for some reason I do not own a blender and had to make do with the magic bullet, soooo It could have gone a little better. But, even unskilled, ill-prepared this was so yummy!
Time: 2 hours prep & cooking and overnight resting
Result: Worth every minute of time. This quiche is taller than most and great flavor and texture.
5. One-Pot Sticky Chicken Wings I already had chicken breasts that I had frozen when they were on sale, so instead of wings I used chicken cut into nugget sizes. I also had run out of star anise and used some anise seeds and it worked fine. Mirin, oyster sauce, Thai pepper paste and Sake can be found in the ethnic section of many grocery stores. Udon noodles may be found a Whole Foods or ethnic groceries-spaghetti can be substituted.
Time: 40 minutes
Result: My husband and I loved this meal and will eat it again. I think this will become a family favorite. To make it fun I served it with chopsticks on china of course.
A few more things: I buys spices from places like Whole Foods and Savory Spice Shop and find that I can have fun with exotic spices without spending a fortune. I usually spend less than $2.00. If this week sound intimidating keep checking back. Some weeks I go crazy on the experimental side and other weeks its just the basics. After a month or so you should see a variety of recipes ranging in difficulty, price, and time. There will be something just your speed.
Have fun, try something new and please set the table.