How to Make Your Home the Best Lil’ B+B in Town

 

Holiday season is upon us, and I love, love, triple love having guests ( I inherited the hospitality gene from my Southern grandparents).  Nothing fills my heart more than having people in the house to bake for and dote on from the minute they put their bags down until the minute they leave. I want every single person who walks through the front door to immediately feel at home, and I’ve got a few tips on h0w to make that happen:

 

The Amenities Basket: I think this is one of my favorite things in the entire house, and something I’m really proud of. In the past, though it doesn’t happen quite that often, I’ve been at a friend’s house and totally unprepared. I didn’t have my toothbrush, I didn’t have my toothpaste, I didn’t even have a tube of chapstick! It’s a terrible feeling because you find yourself picturing exactly where each item you’ve left is, and wishing that you’d just packed it, just in case. That’s why I came up with the idea for the Amenities Basket. I’ve got every miniature-sized item a guest could ever need: makeup wipes, toothpaste, fancy soaps and body washes, shampoos and conditioners, and even feminine products. Truthfully, my basket is tailored more for the female guests that arrive, but take the opportunity to tailor it to the needs of your specific guests. Maybe they like a certain aftershave, maybe they like a certain lotion. Nothing will make your guests feel welcome like a basket filled with their favorite things. And here’s a good tip: try to double up on products if you can. If you’ve got multiple guests, you want to make sure that you have enough emergency items for everyone.

Baked Goods: Greet your guests at the door with a sweet treat! You can never go wrong with a warm batch of classic chocolate chip cookies like these ones from my favorite cookie lady, Dorie Greenspan!

 

Candles: Freshen up the guest room (or even the whole house) with a couple scented candles. Make sure to keep the scent warm, light, and crisp to create an atmosphere that is cozy and inviting, not overpowering; You never know what your guests prefer scent-wise until they’ve gotten there, so best to err on the side of less is more. (Side note: You can find a great selection of super inexpensive, delicious-smelling candles at Homegoods and Target!)

 

Fresh Flowers: Nothing brightens up the home like a bouquet of fresh flowers! Choose bright, seasonal colors to make the whole house pop. And to keep things extra fancy, trim a few and put them in a mason jar or small vase on the nightstand in your guest room.

 

Bedside Reading Material: You never know the sleep schedule of your guests. While you may be a night owl, they may be early to bed, early to rise. If that’s the case, or they’re just having trouble falling asleep in a bed that is not their own, it’s always nice to provide a little reading material to pass the time. I like to tailor my picks to things I think my specific guest will love. Usually I’ll choose one book that will make them think, one book to turn their brain off when they just want to relax, and one or two magazines for when they want to stare at beautiful pictures. It’s good to have a variety.

 

Clear Space in the Closet: Depending on how long your guests plan to stay, it’s always a good idea to clear a little space in the closet for them with a few extra hangers. We wouldn’t want a beautiful dress or suit to get wrinkled!

 

Soft Blankets + Socks: I like a cold house, what can I say? And while this cold-centric gal doesn’t mind putting on extra layers in the house, my guests may not always. That’s why I’m always prepared with extra soft and cozy blankets and socks for when my guests feel a bit chilly. It’s always good to have several available in case your guests don’t want to share.

 

Fresh Linens + Towels: Wash your sheets, and wash extra towels. You never know when your guests may want to take a shower, or even a quick cat nap after a long journey. Be prepared.

A Beverage Basket: We happen to have a lot of baskets lying around the house from various holiday gifts, so I found a good use for one as a beverage basket.  If you’ve got an extra basket, or don’t mind shelling out a few bucks for a small one, fill it with specialty teas, individual coffee packs, water bottles, and even a cocoa mix or two. It’s good to be prepared for any tastes your guest may have.

Ask Ahead of Time: The most important tip of all is to always, always ask ahead of time. Ask about food allergies (VERY IMPORTANT), ask what snacks they like, ask what kind of movies they watch, ask how they like their coffee in the morning. Nothing shows that you care more than making sure your guests have the best stay possible. The goal is to make them feel as though they never want to leave, but of course they’ll have to eventually! Always ask.

 

What are your best guest tips? Sound off in the comments below!

 

 

 

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Mexican Wedding Cookies

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Holiday baking is officially in full swing and there is no one in this world happier about that than I am. There are holiday parties all over the place in the near future, and it means loads of planning, which puts me front-row-center in my happy place. To make things even sweeter, we have a beautiful, fragrant Christmas tree just waiting to be decorated, and of course, the proper way to decorate any tree is with a mouthful of cookies and ornaments in both hands.

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It’s always best to ease into the baking season with a simple cookie that’s tasty and seemingly complex enough, but takes you very little time in the kitchen to make. After all, you’ve got a lot of baking ahead of you, and don’t want to burn yourself out with the very first batch! That’s where these Mexican Wedding Cookies come in. They’re simple little things, but they’re packed with buttery flavor,  nutty crunch, and so much sugar. They’re perfect for any time of year really, but just seem to make everything just a little brighter around Christmastime.

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I used almonds in my cookies, though you can get away with any nut you love, so long as you chop it up finely. No one wants to bite into a cookie with just a little too much crunch. Though if you ask my father, he’d strongly disagree. He’s been pushing for weeks for a dessert with nuts, and so far, these haven’t disappointed him!

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There is actually no such thing as too much powdered sugar with these cookies, and that is absolutely a fact. It reminds me of the gentle kiss of snow and how much a beautiful winter day can put me in a wonderful mood…you know, if I don’t have to drive in it. But looking out the window with a warm cup of cocoa, impossibly cozy socks, and a stack of new cookbooks with spines that crack upon first opening, is my kind of winter’s day. Put a plate of these Mexican Wedding Cookies in front of me, and we’re talkin’ business.

 

Here’s What You’ll Need:

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • ½ cup powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 ¼ cups flour
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¾ cup finely chopped nuts (pecans, walnuts, or almonds)
  • Powdered sugar for rolling

Find the recipe here at Crazy for Crust!

 

LET THE CHRISTMAS COOKIE SEASON BEGIN.

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The Christmas Playlist

I’m late on this, as I’m sure you’ve had thousands of Christmas playlists in your face since November 1, but I’m not too late for the actual holiday! The truth is: I listen to Christmas music all year long (that’s what headphones are for, … Continue reading

Learning the Language of Latkes

For three weeks I’ve had one dish on my mind: latkes.

So what is a latke you ask? For those who don’t know, here’s an official definition:

Noun
(in Jewish cooking) A pancake, esp. one made with grated potato.

Now here’s my (unofficial) definition:

Noun

Circular potato pancake of deliciousness. 

I am officially on break for a month, thus: the perfect time to start cookin’! And boy, was this dish an easy blast!

Here we go!

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It took me absolute ages to peel these potatoes, but I made it happen! A good vegetable peeler is an essential tool for the kitchen. Without it, I would have used that knife, and I’d probably still be peeling. (Okay, honestly, the peeler probably just saved me 10-15 minutes tops.  Still!)

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Next, in order to fit the onions and potatoes into the food processor for shredding, I had to cut them up into little pieces. I’m happy to announce that the onions did not sting my eyes, as they usually do. I don’t normally have access to food processors at my apartment, so using one definitely saved me some time. If you’ve got one, use it. Some recipes call for graters, which I’m sure work fine, but if you’re planning on making latkes for a dinner party, or planning on having leftovers, a food processor is the way to go.

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The recipe calls for 1/4 cup flour, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and one large egg, but since I used two potatoes, I ended up doubling the recipe. Adding the freshly shredded and drained potato/onion mixture to the…well, mix, I whisked it all together until everything was coated.

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Latke time! Here’s what I learned:

1. When the recipe tells you to scoop a mere teaspoon of latke mix into a pan, do it. I decided to take spoonfuls because I wanted bigger cakes, but that was a MISTAKE. They cooked slower than I wanted, and I just didn’t feel in control at all.

2. Although the recipe called for peanut oil, I found that extra virgin olive oil does the trick nicely as well.

3. You’ll have to use more oil than what the recipe suggests.

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Here, I finally started to get the hang of it. (Notice that I heeded the recipe’s advice and lessened my spooning size. )

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FINALLY, FINALLY I got it! Perfect size, good crispness. What I learned:

1. YOU MUST WATCH THESE CAREFULLY. These cakes are much smaller, and significantly thinner, so they crisp before you know it. One minute is a pretty solid amount of time, but every cake crisps differently.

2. If you’ve got an electric stove like I’ve got at home, the heat should be at about 6. If you’ve got a gas stove like I’ve got at my apartment, 5 or 6 is probably a good, safe place to remain.

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Into the tupperware they go, ready to be eaten tomorrow for dinner!!

Doubling the recipe made a TON, and this is a great food item to make in advance, and they’re great re-heated. What’s also great is that these aren’t just for dinner parties! Potato pancakes can be enjoyed at breakfast, or as hor d’oeuvres with some yummy topping combinations!

Oh! And here’s the recipe from Smitten Kitchen!

1 large baking potato (1 pound), peeled
1 small onion (4 ounces), peeled
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Peanut oil, for frying

In a food processor or on a box grater, coarsely shred the potato and onion. For longer strands, lay the potato sideways in the chute of your food processor. Transfer to a colander or wrap in a cheesecloth sling, and squeeze as dry as possible. Let stand for 2 minutes, then squeeze dry again.

In a large bowl, whisk the flour, egg, salt and pepper together. Stir in the potato onion mixture until all pieces are evenly coated.

In a medium skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil until shimmering. Drop packed teaspoons of the potato mixture into the skillet and flatten them with the back of a spoon. Cook the latkes over moderately high heat until the edges are golden, about 1 1/2 minutes; flip and cook until golden on the bottom, about 1 minute. Drain on paper towels. Repeat with the remaining potato mixture, adding more oil to the skillet as needed.

Happy Cooking!!

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