This weekend is Labor Day weekend…a holiday strangely positioned in the school year calendar...Let’s start school for a week or two, and then give the kids a long weekend to re-mess up the schedules that their parents have been trying so hard to get them used to over the last few weeks.
Anyway, Labor Day is a great time for a last-ditch effort at a “summer” picnic or barbecue, so this post is going to be about how to have a “politically correct” yet delicious meal…
Prepping Your House for a Labor Day Bas…(Or Ay Other Bash for That Matter)
1.Use disposable plates, utensils, and so forth. This is not Christmas or Thanksgiving. Don’t risk the chance of one of your wedding gifts from thirty years ago being broken…Just make sure that the products that you use are recyclable.
- Each year in the U.S. alone, an estimated 40 billion plastic utensils are used.
- Each day 500 million disposable plastic straws are tossed away, in the United States alone.
Even though it might be convenient and easy to entertain using Styrofoam plates, plastic cutlery, and plastic cups…eating outdoors shouldn’t mean leaving a trail of litter in the form of disposable plates and cutlery.
The Three R’s
Instead of contributing to these statistics, we should all consider the three R’s of helping to protect the environment…
1. Reduce…Buy only what you need….The most eco-friendly option is always to use whatever cups and plates you already have at home. If you have a large crowd to feed, consider renting plates from a local church or community center.
2. Re-use…If you must buy something, plan on using it and re-using it.
It does take more effort to use reusable items, but choosing dishes and glasses that can be washed and used over and over again–instead of paper and plastic–saves not only on what goes thrown into landfills but also on having to buy those items again and again.
Reusable items can also add a touch of class and decoration to a party. Eating with sturdy cutlery is much less frustrating than cutting food on a Styrofoam plate with a flimsy plastic knife. So consider buying a second set of cheap, lightweight plates and cutlery at a local thrift store.
Serving iced juice or water in a beverage dispenser is not only practical and elegant, but eliminates the need for a cooler full of dripping wet plastic water bottles or soda cans.
Serve drinks in small mason jars. Write guests’ names on the side in permanent marker, or tie a ribbon around to differentiate.
3. Recycle…If you must use disposables, look for paper plates made from 100% recycled paper. This should be considered only as a final option.
There are several companies who make good quality re-useable, eco-friendly paper and plastic picnic-ware..as well as companies that make environmentally-friendly products from cork, bamboo, coconut, palm, and stainless steel.
Here are a few great examples…
1. Bambu Home Veneerware®
- Available…in a package of 8 plates, or in a case of 100 plates.
- Cost…$70 per case
- Made from…100% certified organic bamboo
- Sizes…7″, 9″, or 11″ round…square sizes too
2. Eco-Friendly Cookware Bamboo Square Plates – Chartreuse
- Available…set of 4
- Made from…bamboo fiber and corn powder
3. Preserve Products Large On The Go Plates
- Available…sets of 8
- Made from…100% recycled lightweight but sturdy #5 dishwasher-safe plastic that can withstand hundreds and hundreds of uses without cracking, warping, or breaking
- Size…10.5” large plate
4. Stalk Marketplates
- Available…420 plates per case
- Made from…sugarcane bagasse, a material which breaks down into natural soil in approximately 50-100 days in properly maintained compost facilities
- Size…7″ classic round plate
5. To-Go Ware
- Available…sets of five
- Made from…dishwasher-safe bamboo
- Available…packs of 25
- Made from…fallen palm leaves
- Size…extra-large 10” recyclable plates
More Pointers About Setting Up Your Labor Day Party…
1.Setting Up the Buffet Table…Any flat surface-a desk, a coffee table, a piano top, a card table, a kitchen counter, or a patio table-can be used to set out a buffet meal…but allow yourself at least five linear feet of surface space.If this much space isn’t available, use three or four smaller tables—one for tableware, another for the main course, a third for dessert, and a fourth for beverages.The placement of the buffet table is determined by the dimensions of the room. Position the buffet table in the center in a large room to allow for service from both sides or both ends of the table and reduce congestion in the room….against the wall Ia small room to allow space for the flow of traffic.Set any dining room chairs against the wall.
- Put most plentiful or cheapest types of food at the beginning. Push the scarcest or most expensive to the end.
- Arrange food in groups of related temperatures, such as hot foods together.
- Allow enough room beside each dish for guests to rest their dinner plate while they help themselves to food that requires two utensils to serve, for example, a tossed salad…as well as the serving utensils near the food they are to be used for, and any sauces and condiments that accompany a given dish.
- At the exit end of the table, lay the flatware and napkins. Set flatware in a row on the table, if space permits. When flatware is placed in a stacked position, the top utensil is difficult to remove.
2.Setting Out Additional Table(s)…Do not make people pick up anything else-forks, knives, spoons, or cups-at the beginning of the line that they will have to juggle while scooping or picking up food during their voyage down the buffet table. That’s just rude.
If using “real” dinner plates, stack them in groups of eight…higher stacks of plates make your buffet almost seem like a cafeteria.
Set paper napkins with the seam facing outwards. This will help guests pick them up from the table easier.
3. Setting Out the Food…If you can, arrange the food in stations…
- Plates, and Forks
- Main Dishes
- Side Dishes
Start with a clean house, especially the kitchen, before guests arrive….Make sure your dishwasher is empty. Having a full dishwasher is guaranteed to ruin your clean-as-you-go party plan even before guests arrive….Take out the trash. Line wastebasket bottoms with newspaper to soak up grease and liquids before putting a garbage bag back in.
Use tablecloths….Food and drink spills can destroy good tables..and card tables are plain out ugly. Use tablecloths that are fun and carry out the theme of the party. At the end of the party, you can simply pick up the cloth, shake it out and throw the tablecloth in the washing machine.
Don’t serve messy food…The less messy food served, the less mess you’ll have to clean….Stick to bite-sized, grab-as-you-go foods. People will pop them into their mouths and continue to mingle, giving little opportunity to make a mess.
Make as much as you can ahead of time. Doing the bulk of your cooking the day before keeps your kitchen cleaner the day of.
Find a way to identify each person’s glass. That way each individual does not end up using six in the course of the evening. Find a way to identify beer bottles. Use wine charms.
Have plenty of coasters around for guests to set their drinks on. Disposable coasters can be purchased in packs of fifty or more.
Pour glasses as guests arrive instead of having glasses already poured for everyone when they arrive.
If you will be setting up a bar, put the bar outside…assuming it’s warm outside. This keeps spills outside instead of inside on your floors, carpets and rugs. If it’s the dead of winter, roll your bar cart to a non-carpeted surface that’s easy to clean and away from high-traffic areas.
If you will actually be serving wine, choose a white wine. Dark-colored wines and liquors can create tough-to-clean stains.
Use a glass drink dispenser. This makes it easier for people to choose their own drink and prevents glasses that aren’t actually needed clean.
Be prepared for the inevitable something being either broken or spilled by keeping the following close at hand…
- spritz bottle with cool water and a clean cloth
- portable stain removers, like Shout Wipes or Tide to Go
- hand vacuum
- small dustpan and broom.
Make it easy for people to leave their dirty dishes all in one spot. Set out a few large dish bins filled with soapy water in an out-of-the-way spot on the kitchen counter. This creates a spot for guests to place dirty dishes and helps you avoid stacks of dirty plates later.
Keep trash bags in plain sight. Have plenty of trashcan and garbage bags located throughout your home so people can throw away their stuff away themselves. If guests don’t know where to throw their stuff away, they simply can’t.
Keep spare trash bags close at hand.…For big bashes, you’ll likely have to take out the trash at least once.
It’s okay to keep certain areas of your home “off limits.” Keep certain doors locked or spaces decoratively blocked off. Otherwise you’ll spend all night hunting down half-empty wine glasses and dirty dishes…not to mention passed-out guests.
Do a final “walk-through” before guests arrive, imagining yourself as a guest who is going through the buffet line to fill her plate. Make sure that there’s enough room for people to get through and that the traffic flow makes sense…and that the buffet is as organized as possible.
Cleaning up while guests are still there makes them uncomfortable and keeps the party from being fun for yourself.
Send leftovers home with guests….Make sure you have plenty of plastic containers, aluminum foil, and large plastic bags on hand.
Avoid disappearing into the kitchen until all of your guests have left.
Once your final guest does leave, it’s time for the serious cleanup to begin…if you sit down now, nothing will get done and you will regret it later.
- Quickly go through the house with a garbage bag to pick up any trash or disposable items.
- Next gather up any dishes. Unload and reload the dishwasher. Rinse off plates and stack them if the dishwasher is full.
- Use ziploc bags to store any leftovers.
- Empty and rinse out any coolers or bins that were used.
- Use a dust cloth to clean off wood surfaces.
- Wipe down kitchen surfaces with an all-purpose cleaner and paper towels.
- Pre-treat stains on linens. Toss them into the washing machine to soak overnight.
- Quickly vacuum in the open areas to clean up all the crumbs so that you avoid attracting any bugs.
Now let’s look at the more exciting part of this event—the food….keeping the following points in mind…
- Have a lot of small, easily packaged finger foods that travel well.
- Offer something more exciting than the expected picnic fare.
- Serve foods that will not spoil if left out for an hour or so.
Dips and Spreads
Salads–specifically pasta salad, potato salad, coleslaw–are also pretty typical standard picnic fare.
The hearty ingredients in pasta salads and and potato salads hold up well even if they suffer a bit of battering in transit, but leafy salads with dressing can wilt and turn really ugly if left out too long. Wait until the last minute before serving to add dressings and any other final touches to these salads.
Now for a few great ideas…
Labor Day menus typically consist of lots and lots of meat…so in light of the fact that my dear husband and almost everyone else who will be gathered at my house laughs at my idea of eventually switching to a complete Raw Foods diet, I will actually be committing the cardinal sin for these carnivores…yes, I’m serving meat…
Actually I’m making sandwiches that we can prep ahead of time, so that MDH(my dear husband) does not have to spend all day over the grill in this 100-degree Texas heat…
Here are a few ideas of the sandwiches that I am considering, along with a recipe that has become a favorite of everyone related to me in my necks of the woods…
The sandwich is typically lord of both the lunchbox and the typical picnic…which is appropriate because the modern “sandwich” as we know it was actually named after the real Lord Sandwich.
Supposedly Lord Sandwich, a very conversant gambler, would ask his servants to bring him a piece of salt beef between two slices of toasted bread during his long hours playing at the card table…when he refused to take the time to actually sit down and have an actual meal.
Soon others that gambled at the tables with Lord Sandwich would also order “the same as Sandwich”, and thus the “sandwich” as we know became standard fare.
Sandwiches that I am considering for this year’s Labor Day “It’s Too Damn Hot in Texas Even Though It’s September” meal are…
A wrap is a type of a sandwich, similar to a burrito or gyro, but differs from the typical sandwich mainly because one piece of soft flatbread–such as a wheat-flour tortillas, lavash, or pita–completely surrounds the contents–as opposed to a typical “sandwich,” which has both a top and bottom piece of bread.
Legend has it that a waitress in Stamford, Connecticut served the first wrap in the mid-1990s after the restaurant had run out of bread, but today wraps have become ordinary menu items at such establishments as McAlister’s Deli, KFC, and even McDonald’s.
Here are a few wrap recipes that I am considering…
Now for the promised recipe…
Italian Beef Sandwich
- 2Tbsp cooking oil
- 2# beef chuck roast
- 2 packets Good Seasonings Italian Salad Dressing & Recipe Mix
- 2 bell peppers, chopped
- 1 large sweet onions, sliced
- 5-6 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
- salt and pepper
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce
- 1-1/2 cups beef stock
- ¼ cup sliced pepperoncinis plus ¼ cup of the juice
- 2 bay leaves
Giardinara (optional condiment)
1. Prep…Heat the oil the pressure cooker post over medium high heat.
2. Prep the meat…Trim 2#roast. Cut in fourths. Season with salt and pepper.Brown meat of both sides. Add to the pot.
3. Make the au jus…Add onion, 2 bell peppers, garlic to pan used for browning the meat. Sauté five minutes. Add to pot…along with red pepper, Worcestershire Sauce, beef stock, pepperoncini, and dressing mix.
4. Cook the meat…Raise heat to high. Bring to high pressure. Adjust the heat to maintain high pressure. Set time for 40 minutes. When time is up, let the heat come down on its own for ten minutes. Then do a quick release.
5. Shred the meat…Remove the meat to a plate or cutting board.Let it rest for ten minutes. Use two forks to shred the meat.Add the meat back into the juice. (Chilling the meat overnight in the refrigerator makes the meat easier to thinly slice.)
6. Serve the sandwiches…Spread deli French or sourdough roll with butter. Sprinkle with garlic powder. Toast, face side up, until slightly golden. Serve with provolone cheese and giardinara.
Finally…(perhaps the best part of the meal)…Desserts
Being a true typical Southerner, you can never have enough dessert recipes in your collection…so here are a few options…
- Watermelon Pie…The Chew
- Chewy S’Mores Bars…Bakerita
- Lemon Cream Icebox Cake…The Kitchn
- Pecan Pie Brownies…Mr. Food
Oh Yeah, By the Way—Beverages
As important as food may be, drinks can be even more important on a hot summer day in Texas…
As far as serving beverages…Placing beverages on a separate table from the food will make it easier for guests to refill their drinks, without pressing through the buffet line and also help guests spread more evenly throughout a large space.
Also be sure to offer an assortment of kid-friendly and adult beverages, such as bottled water and juice….
Here are a few ideas of super sippers for a sensational summer setting…