My Hospitality Notebook: An Update and My Go-To Recipes for Having Company Over

Ever since I shared the post about how I created a hospitality notebook where I could store all my recipes and ideas for entertaining and reaching out to others, I’ve had a few questions from readers asking for an update.

Ask, and ye shall receive!

When I first created that binder more than a year ago, I went in search of meals that were easy to prepare, could be served as a single dish, and, of course, were tasty.

I spent the first few months trying out about a dozen recipes and trying to perfect them. Out of all those efforts is how I came upon my Easy, Cheesy Spaghetti Casserole (which you can get the recipe for here).

But all the other ones either weren’t that great or included ingredients I didn’t normally have on hand. Which made me less likely to make them and, consequently, not all that useful.

Then, I had an epiphany. Perhaps I was trying too hard with this whole entertaining thing. Perhaps I was trying to make dishes that were too fancy for my abilities and too complicated for my cooking personality. Perhaps I had unreasonable expectations about how many recipes I needed to have in my repertoire. Perhaps I was looking in all the wrong places for recipes to make, when all I had to do was simply look at the ones I was already making.

What I ended up realizing was that while I had hoped to have about a dozen go-to recipes, all I really needed were two or three. That’s all. Because by limiting the number I have in rotation, it makes it so easy to decide what to make.

And I ended up choosing recipes that I was already making, that I was already familiar with, that I could whip up with ease, especially ones that I can make—at least in part—ahead of time. Plus, then I’m using ingredients that I already happen to have on hand or ingredients that I can stock up on and keep in the freezer or pantry just in case.

I realized that the meals don’t have to be fancy. I like to serve meals that have something unique about them—such as my chili that includes sweet potatoes—but they don’t have to be worthy of fine-dining. In fact, it’s probably better if they aren’t, because then you don’t have to worry about making your guests feel uncomfortable or like they “owe” you a meal in return. When you keep things simple, then that makes it easier for everyone to enjoy themselves. Including you!

So, want to know what’s in my rotation of current standbys?

If you come over to my house for dinner, you’re like to get served Sweet Potato Black Bean Chili (with cornbread on the side) or Easy, Cheesy Spaghetti Casserole (with a salad). Sometimes we also like to do a build-your-own pizza-making meal, where I’ll have some of my Whole Wheat Pizza Dough and Pizza Sauce ready, and a variety of toppings spread out to make and bake our own pizza pies.

For appetizers, I like to serve some Whole Wheat Pretzel Bites (and mustard for dipping) or some tortilla chips and Homemade Tomato Salsa.

I’m not a huge dessert maker, so the only real dessert that I make is my Homemade Chocolate Pudding. (Although we’ve been cutting dairy out of our diet, so I’ve been making it with almond milk but that doesn’t congeal as well so it turns out more like chocolate soup. Any ideas how to fix that without having to use milk?)

We also always have tea and coffee at the ready to cap off the meal or to tide us over while we chat. (Here's my coffee-making guide if you're interested.)

Since I’m using recipes already in rotation in my kitchen, my hospitality binder hasn’t really gotten much use lately. And I’m glad of that. Because now my efforts at entertaining are becoming more natural, less forced. I don’t feel the need to whip up a special meal; instead, I usually just double the amount I would normally make. And that makes it easier to enjoy the process.

The thing I’ve learned is that I have to trust that people are coming over to see me, not just get a meal. That has taken a lot of the pressure off, and so I'd encourage you, if you're feeling overwhelmed by the task of hosting, to try to view it that way. It's made it so much easier for me to freely open up our home without all the stress that can often accompany entertaining!

Related Posts
Steps Toward Hospitality: Creating a Hospitality Journal
Steps Toward Hospitality: Creating a Card Box


  1. Hi Carmen, I think your attitude to entertaining is great! It's no fun going to someone's house for dinner and them being stressed out with the cooking. On of my favourite things is to roast baby tomatoes in the oven with garlic and some sugar, then toss them with rocket (I think you call it arugala in the US) and balsamic vinegar for a starter, or add it to spaghetti and feta cheese for a yummy main course. As a student I would by strawberries when they were on offer, dip them in chocolate and leave them to cool...and voilĂ , a yummy and easy dessert!

  2. Thanks, Louise! And I love the simple-but-decadent dessert idea. I think that's a great one to add to my arsenal; thanks for sharing!

  3. A little less like Martha and more like Mary - love it! I struggle with being the "perfect" hostess and you have given me some great refreshers. Thanks!

    By the way, cornstarch actually is only optimal for thickening dairy based sauces. You many need a brand new recipe altogether. Good luck!

  4. Wow...Appetizers? Coffee? I'm getting a headache. I clearly have a lot to learn about hospitality.

  5. That's a great way of putting it, Urban Wife! And thanks for the tip about the cornstarch. I was afraid of that ;/ Oh well, what is cooking if not an adventure?!

    Aw, no need for headaches, Amanda! Around here we try to keep it simple so my definition of "appetizers" is pretty much chips and dip and coffee is something we always have on hand, so it's pretty easy for us to pull those out when we have company over. But it looks different for everyone else, even if that DOESN'T mean appetizers or coffee.

    I think if you're finding entertaining overwhelming, start small. Maybe that means just having people over for games and a bowl of chips or pretzels. That's still hosting! Or if you love baking, you could do just desserts. It really doesn't have to be complicated at all--that's what I'm learning about this whole hospitality business :)

  6. The spaghetti casserole sounds like something I'll definitely have to try! Out of curiosity, why are you cutting dairy in your diets?

  7. Thanks, Rose! Let me know your thoughts! The dairy bothers my husband's stomach, so we're trying to limit it. The things I'll do for love ;)

  8. Ha! I understand. I don't make too much Mexican food, all because I love my husband (and his stomach!)

  9. How lovely Carmen! Thanks for the encouragement on the top three dish simplicity. I'm going to try out your ideas. We are starting to have more and more people over and having a stockpile and easy go to recipes sounds like heaven for a busy girl like me! I have my tea pot on the stove continually and a basket of teas cider and cocoa stocked for such occasions. That alone has made my life a lot easier. I've also made cookie dough and kept it in the fridge or freezer for cookies in a snap :) Thanks for the tips and recipes!

  10. Love it, Tari! I think making hospitality easier for ourselves is essential to enjoying the process. And cookies in the freezer is a perfect way of doing that! I need to do that more often! Thanks for the idea :)

  11. I have had good success making homemade pudding with canned coconut milk instead of cow's milk. It is much thicker than almond milk, which helps achieve the right consistency.

  12. Oh thanks for the tip, storms family! I had not heard of that but I'll have to give it a try. I have a can just waiting in my fridge :)

  13. About the chocolate pudding, have you considered flax seed? My husband and I inadvertently discovered it thickend our morning blueberry shakes all too well. They really have no taste and are supposed to be very healthy.


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