Cooking for a Crowd – BBQ Themed Menu and Timeline

One of my favorite things to do these days is to cook for a crowd!  Ken’s family lives just a little more than an hour away, so we seem to get together with his family pretty often for holidays and birthdays.  There are usually 10 people when we’re all together, and I love cooking something different almost every time they come over.

Some friends and relatives ask where I get the ideas for what to make.  Usually it’s one of two places for inspiration:

1) Start with a request.  For instance, I asked my father-in-law what he wanted to eat when we were going to be hosting Father’s Day dinner this year.  He said BBQ ribs!  So that was a great starting off point!

2) I’ll try to think of some other common theme type meals, like a steakhouse meal, Mexican, or anything else (like the BBQ restaurant-inspired meal I ended up cooking for Father’s day).  Then, I’ll look online for the menus for those types of restaurants (like Outback for steaks, Famous Dave’s for BBQ, etc.) and get some recipe inspiration for things like appetizers, main dishes, and desserts!

Now, I’ve never come up with an original recipe on my own before in my life, so I always stick to recipes that I have found online or in magazines.

Here is an idea for cooking BBQ for a crowd!


The Menu

Timeline for Preparation

The day before

  • Make the coleslaw and both BBQ sauces.
  • Make the cake!
  • Before going to bed, mix the ingredients for the BBQ rub, and massage it into the ribs.  Refrigerate everything overnight.


The day of the party or get-together

  • Ribs take a long time to cook, so make sure you put them in the smoker about six hours before you plan to serve the meal!
  • Put the pork in the slow cooker!
  • About an hour before your guests are scheduled to arrive, start boiling some potatoes for the mashed potatoes.  (Note, if you have an extra slow cooker, you can also make mashed potatoes in the slow cooker for even less active preparation!)  After the potatoes have boiled, follow the rest of the mashed potato recipe, and put it in the oven.  When the cooking time is done, switch the oven to “keep warm” and leave the entire dish in there until it’s time to eat.
  • While the potatoes are boiling, shuck your corn so that it’s ready to cook!  (Of course, if you’re cooking it using an alternative method like on a smoker, you might want to keep some of the husks on for cooking).

That’s it!  Once your guests have arrived and settled, the food just has to get put on the table!

What are your favorite menus when cooking for a crowd?

New Orleans – 2008 Road Trip (Blast from the Past)

This is a Blast from the Past post. These posts chronicle our travels and other life events before we started blogging!

In October 2008, Ken and I took our first big road trip together. We drove from DC > Atlanta > New Orleans > San Antonio > Memphis > DC.

This post covers the first part of our visit to New Orleans, LA.

Part 1: Atlanta

French Quarter: Bourbon Street

When we arrived in New Orleans, it was nearly dark. Our hotel was not in the French Quarter, but very close to it. We checked into our hotel, and walked about three or four blocks to Bourbon Street, which is in the French Quarter.

I’m going to be honest here, I did not have a very positive opinion of New Orleans our first night there.* We had several dudes come up to us and say, “Hey, I know where you got them shoes! I know where you got them mother-effin shoes!” And then, when we’d just ignore them, they’d say, “On YO FEET! That’s where you got them shoes!” in an insanely drunken voice.

As you can probably tell, both Ken and I really like to take photographs. Some folks, presumably locals, started following us and saying, “Clickety clack! What the eff you even taking pictures of?” Then some of them would jump in front of our photos. Some asked us to take photos of them.

At that point in my life, I had traveled to more than 30 countries, and had even lived in the Middle East, so I was certainly no stranger to street harassment. But I can definitively say that I had never experienced street harassment like what I did in New Orleans anywhere else in the USA.

**Spoiler alert! Our opinion of New Orleans greatly improved the next day when we started exploring the rest of the (Non-Bourbon Street) French Quarter. I even had to go back to New Orleans about a year later for work, and I downright enjoyed it that time!

It was just a few days before Halloween, so there were a lot of festive decorations up, like cobwebs and plastic spiders. We walked up and down Bourbon Street and we were trying to decide where to eat!

When we decided on a place (sorry, I can’t remember the name of it), I was thankful for this Cajun Glossary included on the menu!

We ate, and went back to the hotel. It was fairly late, and we were tired after our long drive from Atlanta!

French Quarter (non Bourbon Street)

The next morning, we set off to explore more of the French Quarter. We hopped on a street car and took it a few miles and got off right next to the Mississippi River!

As we were walking around, I said to Ken, “Okay, THIS is what I expected New Orleans to be like.” The architecture was stunning, and the street harassment was not nearly as bad!

Jackson Square and St. Louis Cathedral

We walked around Jackson Square for quite a while.

From across the street, I took this photograph from under a cannon. The photograph became (and still is) one of my favorites of all time.

We went inside St. Louis Cathedral for a while. If memory serves me correctly, the entrance was free, but we left a donation in the box.

Cafe du Monde

After walking around, we had worked up quite an appetite, so we set off to find the famous Cafe du Monde to try some of their beignets!

They’re apparently famous for their Cafe au Lait too, but strangely enough neither Ken or I like coffee, so we opted for hot chocolates instead.

We got our check, which was just hand written on a napkin.

We also chuckled at how the floors were just covered with powdered sugar!

Algiers Ferry and Algiers Point

A tour book that I brought with us suggested going to Algiers Point, a short (and free!) ferry ride across the Mississippi. The guide mentioned that the area had experienced some sort of redevelopment and that it was well worth a visit.

Well, I think the person who wrote that for the book must have been trying to lure business to the area, because it was really disappointing. The ferry ride itself was good for some views of the New Orleans skyline, but we basically walked around Algiers Point for 20 minutes and then took the next ferry back. Very disappointing. Oh, and some stranger started following us around asking us about our cameras and to take his photo. So we couldn’t even escape people trying to bother us there either!

The highlight was being able to see a levee up close, especially after hearing about them so much just a few years earlier when Hurricane Katrina hit.

New Orleans Ghost Tour

Unfortunately I can’t remember what company we used (there are dozens!), but after some rest back at the hotel, Ken and I decided to go on a guided ghost tour of New Orleans. It was silly, but still a fun way to see New Orleans by night!

A ghost purportedly used to haunt a restaurant located in this alley, so the owner always had to put out an empty table for the ghost to sit at so he wouldn’t disturb the rest of the guests. Seems legit, right? I was trying to capture the ghost’s orb here :)

And I think a young girl jumped out of this dormer window when she couldn’t marry the man she wanted (or something like that).

More than anything on the ghost tour, I thought the Jesus shadow on the back of St. Louis cathedral was very creepy!

Random story, there was a guy on our tour (which consisted of about 8 people), that was from the same small county in Pennsylvania that I’m from! Small world!

And with that, we wrapped up our first full day in New Orleans!

*I had been to New Orleans when I was three years old. My family drove to Louisiana to go to the 1984 World’s Fair. But unfortunately, I have zero memories of it.

Friday Randomness 7-25-14

  • We’ve been getting lots of work done around the house!  I’ll talk more in depth about the projects in future posts, but we ordered some new hardwood floors for our living room (still waiting for the floors to get delivered!), we’re tinkering with some new lighting fixtures, including sconces and recessed lighting in the basement, and we ordered new interior doors.


  • On the more annoying end of home improvements, we’ve had some plumbing issues.  Here goes:

1) I was doing laundry a few weeks ago and somehow our entire cheapo utility sink completely collapsed.  It was a super cheap plastic kit we bought from Home Depot nearly five years ago, and the legs didn’t even screw into the sink.  Somehow the legs fell out from under the sink, and we ended up with a watery mess in our laundry room.  (Although it could’ve been a lot worse).  After looking for, and hating, nearly every laundry sink / utility sink we found in stores like Home Depot and Lowes, we opted for this commercial grade sink.  It’s so sturdy and we love it!  Here’s the aftermath of the plastic sink once we took it outside to wait for garbage day!

2) Our basement toilet has had a very slow drip leak.  The plumber looked at it and said, “You don’t even have any bolts on this toilet!”  Apparently we had been using a toilet that had not been bolted to the floor.  We were really lucky to have averted disaster all these years.  There were some other things wrong with the toilet, so we ended up just buying a new one (meaning the plumber had to come back!).  Did you know you can get a toilet for 88 bucks?  That’s what we bought.  I can’t imagine a $200 toilet is that much better than an $88 one.


3) I was working from home one day, and I noticed something weird on our kitchen ceiling, right next to an upper kitchen cabinet.  I sent Ken this picture.

He freaked out and drove home, thinking the entire kitchen ceiling was about to collapse.  He cut a big hole in the drywall, and we couldn’t figure out if the leak was from heavy condensation on our HVAC ducts, or from the bathroom tub.  Long story short, even after the plumber looked at it, we still don’t have a good answer.  Ugh!

  • Thanks to various circumstances, Ken and I hosted three dinner parties within ten days!  I love to cook and to have friends and family over, but wow, that was crazy intense.  On the upside, the house has never stayed cleaner for a longer period of time!


  • We’ve been considering a vacation to Alaska sometime in 2015.  Specifically, a cruise and a few extra days (or week) in Alaska.  The options all seem very overwhelming!  Does anybody have recommendations?


  • I got a whopping 8 inches of hair cut off!  My hair had reached a point of “inconveniently long.”  It was halfway down my butt, so I was always sitting on my hair accidentally, and wearing it down became of of a chore than fun.

That’s about it!  Happy Friday!

Ararat Park Hyatt Moscow (Hotel Review)

Part 1: Introduction

Part 2: Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Clubhouse, Washington Dulles Airport 

Part 3: Turkish Airlines Business Class: Washington Dulles to Istanbul (IAD-IST)

Part 4: Istanbul Airport, the Turkish Airlines Lounge Fail, TAV Hotel, and Flight to Sochi

Part 5: Our Crazy Sochi Accommodations Story

Part 6 Women’s Halfpipe and First Day in Sochi

Part 7: Luge

Part 8: Olympic Park (covering two days)

Part 9: Speed Skating and Ski Jumping

Part 10: Sochi – The Ugly

I was pretty excited for our stay at the Ararat Park Hyatt in Moscow!

I booked three nights using 66,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points transferred to my Hyatt Gold Passport account (this was pre-Hyatt devaluation). This hotel goes for up to $750/night, even for a basic room, so this was a great points value redemption!

Before getting to the Hyatt, let’s start with our last night in Sochi.

After the speed skating event, we went back to our ship hotel. Our flight from Sochi to Moscow on S7 airlines was leaving at 5:55AM, so we were going to try and get some sleep. But, by the time we ate, backed up our photos from the day, packed our things, and we STILL weren’t adjusted to the time difference thanks to the crazy Olympic game schedules, we weren’t even tired by 1:00AM. And the ship had arranged for an airport transfer to Sochi airport that was leaving at 3:30AM. Oy.

Our flight from Sochi to Moscow was relatively uneventful. We flew economy on S7 airlines, which is a OneWorld partner. They even served a full and pretty tasty breakfast for the two hour, very early flight! There was some sort of medical emergency onboard, and the flight attendants started giving a man oxygen. I guess he was okay, because we didn’t have to make an emergency landing or anything!

We barely slept on the plane thanks to the excitement of the medical emergency, and we were actually dreading the private tour of Moscow we had arranged for 10AM that day because we were so exhausted. As soon as we landed, I contacted the tour company to reschedule, and they had no problem with that.

Before our trip, we had arranged for an airport transfer through the Ararat Park Hyatt. We landed at Moscow Domodedovo (DME) airport, which is quite far from the city. After checking prices with multiple companies, we were so shocked that airport transfers routinely exceeded $150. So, the airport transfer booked directly through the hotel was not that much more expensive, and we figured they’d know exactly where to take us.

At DME, the driver was holding a sign with the Park Hyatt logo after we picked up our luggage, so he was very easy to find. He walked us to the car, which was just outside the door. The car was a Mercedez Benz E-class. It was a nice looking car, but there was some trash in the back seat, like empty water bottles, which I was pretty disappointed with. As soon as Ken and I got in the car, with both passed out asleep.

When we arrived at the hotel we were hoping so so much that they would let us check in even though it wasn’t even 9AM, and check in time wasn’t until 3PM. We figured we’d offer to redeem more points for another “night” just to be able to check in. But luckily they had a room for us!

We went up, I snapped some pictures, and we slept for probably nearly six hours before heading out to do some touring of our own of Moscow!

Our room was a Park King. As soon as you entered the room, there were two closets and the door to the bathroom on the left. This is the view looking down the hallway.

The bedroom area was small but lovely.

There was a small desk and easily accessible power outlets in the corner. My only complaint was that the chair, which swiveled so you could use it at either the small table or the desk, was so insanely heavy, making it difficult to move it closer to the desk.

There was a small nook next to the bed housing coffee and tea supplies.

I thoroughly enjoyed the room’s automation features. Next to each side of the bed was a small control panel.

From this control panel unit, you were able to control the temperature in the room, adjust the shades or blackout curtains, turn on or off lights, and, perhaps the most fun, set your room to “do not disturb.” None of those pedestrian “do not disturb” door hangars at the Ararat Park Hyatt!

I didn’t get a picture of it, but there was a similar unit in the room’s hallway, which also allowed you to control the radiant floor heating in the bathroom.

The view certainly wasn’t anything to write home about, but the Ararat Park Hyatt was on a pretty narrow street, so I don’t think there would have been any amazing views of anything anyway.

Looking down the hallway from the bedroom area.

The bathroom was AMAZING. So, so incredible. For one, there was radiant heating on the granite floors. Being in Moscow in FREAKIN’ WINTER, the radiant floor heating was such a luxury! The decor was beautiful and there were many mirror and glass finishes, like on the sink area. The sink area also had plenty of counter space and storage to the left and right of the sink.

I also used this huge tub twice during our three day stay.

There was a glass enclosed, standalone shower in the bathroom. I did have one minor complaint about the shower. Whatever texture they put on the floor to make it nonslip really kind of hurt my feet. They looked like very thick grout lines or something, and there were about five of them, so they were hard to avoid while standing in the shower.

The toilet was not separated from the rest of the bathroom, but that’s not a major complaint.

While taking pictures of the hotel lobby, I was promptly interrupted by a hotel employee. He stretched out his arm, panning the room and said, “Please. The children.” Nevermind that there was not a single child in sight. I just said that I was a guest, and continued to take photographs. He looked annoyed, but did not object any further. If he had, I probably would’ve stopped.

I also took some photos from our floor. I believe we were on the 7th or 8th floor.

We did eat breakfast at the hotel one morning, and it was very tasty, but unfortunately it was incredibly expensive ($30 for a plate of pancakes anybody? $45 for the buffet?). Sorry, I didn’t get any photographs of it.

Luckily we found a nearby pastry shop that served as our breakfast location for our remaining days in Moscow!

I’d definitely recommend the Ararat Park Hyatt to anybody planning a trip to Moscow. The service was impeccable. The concierge staff even booked and picked up train tickets for us, and left them in our room while we were out touring. It was also incredibly easy to arrange for our visa support letters prior to our departure, which is a requirement when getting a Russian tourist visa.

I’m definitely excited to try other Park Hyatt properties in the near future!

Atlanta – 2008 Road Trip (Blast from the Past)

This is a “Blast from the Past” post. These posts chronicle our travels and other life events before we started blogging!

In 2008, Ken and I took our first big road trip together. We drove from DC > Atlanta > New Orleans > San Antonio > Memphis > DC.

This post covers our visit to Atlanta, GA!

World of Coca Cola

Our sightseeing in Atlanta started with the World of Coca Cola. Our hotel was on the outskirts of the city, so we drove into the city and parked in a garage near the World of Coca Cola.

To be honest, I kind of had low expectations for this place, but the exhibits inside were really great!

Like this room filled with Coca Cola memorabilia.

And they had a room dedicated to international versions of Coca Cola

I focused on the Middle Eastern and Arabic language stuff! (I used to live in Egypt! More on that in future “Blast from the Past” posts!)

And all the old Coca Cola “vending machines” and coolers, as well as a display of dozens of Coca Cola products.

There was also a Coca Cola “bottling” area, but, much to Ken’s disappointment, it was just for show and not actually for Coca Cola that was bottled and sold.

We posed for a quick photograph with the Coca Cola bear!

(p.s., in my enduring commitment to fashion, I still wear those same shoes, every day of every summer. They’re six years old and still going strong! Thanks Mephisto Helen!)

Looking out the windows near the Coca Cola bear, you could see a courtyard filled with broken Coca Cola glass!

Another very cool exhibit was the Coke Pop Culture Room

And then perhaps Ken’s favorite, the tasting room! Each tasting station contained fountain Coke products from a particular geographic region, like Europe or North America.

And then, before exiting through the gift shop, we were able to take a complimentary bottle of Coca Cola!

After the World of Coca Cola, we grabbed lunch. I still remember the drama that went with finding lunch nearby. The World of Coca Cola was downtown, and it was a weekend afternoon, so pretty much everything was closed. We must have walked for 30 minutes trying to find an open restaurant. We finally did find one, and it was going to be an hour wait! Luckily we found a nearby pizza joint that was open and empty!

Atlanta Botanical Gardens

After we scarfed down our lunch, we drove to the Atlanta Botanical Gardens. It was an early October day, and the weather was absolutely gorgeous.

I’ll let the photos do the talking here!

CNN Studios Tour

The next day, we started our day with a tour of the CNN Studios in Atlanta.

We learned when we purchased the tickets that photography would not be permitted on the actual tour of the facilities. Booo! But, it really was a great tour.

And the gift shop after the tour had really cute stuff, like this “Cub” reporter.

Centennial Olympic Park

It was just a short walk from the CNN Studios to Centennial Olympic Park, which was really stunning. And, I might add, a much more reasonable size than the gigantic Sochi Olympic Park.

Centennial Olympic Park also had this statue of Pierre de Coubertin, the father of the modern Olympic movement.

And I thought the statue created some cool shadows!

Georgia Aquarium

So, I have to be honest, I’m always a bit underwhelmed by aquariums since I’ve been to the aquarium in Monterey Bay, California. The aquarium in Monterey is just so amazing and stunning, that any other aquarium pales in comparison. I will say that Georgia’s aquarium was certainly better than say, Baltimore’s (which everyone says is amazing and I have no idea why), or Pittsburgh’s, but I was still a tad disappointed, especially considering the admission cost. The kids we saw running around at the aquarium seemed to be having an absolute blast, so I guess my grown up opinion shouldn’t matter much as long as kids are engaged and having fun!

One of the more fascinating features were these HUGE aquarium fronts.

I’m pretty sure I had a screensaver like this in 1998:

We walked around a bit more in the aquarium, and then we were done for the day! We were beat!