Labor Day, 2003.
I had a cookbook in one hand, a spatula in the other, all while perched over a hot stove. I was in the process of making spaghetti sauce, a recipe that I found on the Internet. One that I secretly hoped would come out well. As the sauce started to boil inside the new pots I received as a wedding present, I bent my head closer to stare at my wonderful concoction. As I enjoyed breathing in the aroma of fresh spices, sauce started covering my face. It did not state in the directions that this would happen! Calmly I wiped my face with a dishtowel and let out a frustrated sigh.
Up until then, my experience cooking for a large crowd consisted of take out food and grocery store cookies. I was clueless in terms of the culinary arts. However, I made a promise to my husband that I would have dinner ready for him and his fellow Airmen. When he asked me, it really did seem like a good idea. Now? Not so much!
Fast forward to Labor Day 2016. I find myself once again in the same predicament. The only difference is the type of stove I am leaning over and the current duty station we live at. The insecurities about cooking and baking that plagued me in 2003 no longer exist. I have actually grown to enjoy the culinary arts and have turned my fears into a way to earn a part time income. It’s funny how life works out at times, right?
For those of you who hosting a Labor Day get together and feel overwhelmed like I did all those years ago, here are a few planning tips that may help:
Send Out Invites a Few Weeks in Advance
Labor Day is a pretty busy weekend among military families due to the possibility of having 3 or 4 days off. Be sure to send invites at least 2 weeks in advance. Facebook allows you to create event invites and RSVP’s. They also will send guests a reminder a day or two before the party.
Think of a Theme and Purchase Decorations
After the invites are sent, think of a theme that you want for the cookout. It could be anything from patriotic (red, white, and blue) to casual and summery. Purchase decorating items a few days before the party so you aren’t rushing to get everything done last minute.
Plan out Activities for Guests
If your guests are bringing little children, plan to do activities that will keep them occupied. Swimming pools, bouncy castles, water fun, and crafts can be fun for them and make it less stressful for the parents.
Plan Your Menu Before You Send Out Invites
It’s always a good idea to plan out your menu before you send the invitations. Place your menu inside the invites. Guests who have specific food allergies or dietary needs will become aware of things and can plan accordingly.
To get a jump start on your menu planning, here are few of our family’s favorite Labor Day recipes!
Honey Jalapeno Burgers
- 2 lbs. hamburger meat
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 1 green onion stalk, chopped
- 6 tbsp. canned jalapenos peppers, finely diced
- 1 tbsp. dried parsley
- 6 tbsp. of honey
- 1 package (8 count) of hamburger buns
- Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.
- In a large bowl, combine all ingredients until well mixed.
- Form meat into 8 balls and place balls onto the baking sheet.
- Grill until desired doneness. Garnish with toppings of your choice.
Easy Vegetable Pasta Salad
- 2 cups of rotini pasta, uncooked
- 2 cups of fresh broccoli florets
- 1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
- 1/4 cup sliced black olives
- 1/2 cup Italian Dressing
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan Cheese
- In a large sauce pan, cook pasta as directed on package.
- During the last 2 minutes of cooking, add in the broccoli florets. When finished, drain noodles and broccoli.
- In a big bowl, combine noodles, broccoli, tomatoes, olives, Italian Dressing, and Parmesan Cheese.
- Stir until well blended and mixed. Chill in the refrigerator until ready to eat.
**Libby’s Notes: Change it up a bit and use different types of cheese. You can also add sliced red onions, chopped green onions, boiled eggs, etc. This is good when served hot or cold.
Cinnamon Peach Cobbler
For the peaches:
- 6 medium peaches, peeled and sliced
- 1 and 1/2 tablespoons of cinnamon/sugar mixture
- 1 and 1/2 tablespoons of lemon juice
For the rest of the cobbler:
- 1 stick of unsalted butter, melted
- 1 cup of milk
- 1 cup of self rising flour (see note at the bottom of recipe)
- 1 cup of granulated sugar
- 1/8 cup of finely crushed graham crackers
For the peaches:
- Mix the peaches, cinnamon/sugar mixture, and lemon juice in a bowl until well combined. Let it sit for 15 minutes.
For the cobbler:
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Place melted butter into a 9×13 inch baking dish OR a deep 9 inch pie pan.
- Stir the milk in with the butter inside the pan.
- In a small mixing bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, and graham crackers.
- Pour the flour mixture into the pan and whisk mixture until lumps are gone and it looks well blended.
- Place the peaches over the mixture.
- Bake for 40-50 minutes or until the cobbler is light brown and looks ‘set.’
- Serve with vanilla ice-cream or whipped cream.
Libby’s Notes: If you don’t have self-rising flour, you can use 1 cup of all purpose flour, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and 1 and 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder as a substitution. Mix all of this together in a bowl and continue with step 4.
Pineapple Lime Coolers
- 1 (6 oz.) can of pineapple juice, chilled
- 1 tbsp. fresh lime juice
- 1 and 1/2 cups of lemon-lime soda, chilled
- In a pitcher, combine all of the above ingredients. Stir until well mixed and serve.
Libby’s Notes: If you are making this for more then 3 people, make sure to double or triple the recipe. You can also use fresh lemon juice instead of lime.
Olivia (or Libby) Smith is an Air Force spouse of 15 years, stay at home mom of 2, and founder and owner of the food/recipe site, Cooking With Libby, where she blogs about food and life. In 2015, she turned the site into an LLC and now runs it on a full time basis. Even though she has her degree in Social Work, she enjoys running her food site more. She lives in Albuquerque, NM with her two children, Air Force husband of 15 years, and their rambunctious dog, Chelsea. Follow her culinary and family adventures over at Cooking With Libby or you can find her on social media: Facebook and Pinterest.