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Playing Hostess at Home

A few weeks ago, with the declining COVID cases and increased vaccine confidence, and wanting to see a dear family friend we've missed so much, my grandma and I decided to invite this friend to Alabang for a lunch date.

In the past, we would typically all meet up in my grandparents' condo and order food in. And because that was our usual, initially that was the supposed plan. But because it was this friend who inspired me to make a few changes in our house to make it feel more like home, I wanted her to see the changes I'd made. So I decided to host lunch at our home and invited my Titas to just come with drinks and dessert come our date. It would be my first time hosting these Titas at home, when it's usually the reverse, so it was a kind of a big deal for me.

And now that the day's done and dusted, I'm glad to report that it went off without a hitch.

I planned the whole menu around my Titas' & grandma's preferences. I considered my grandma's beef intolerance, and the general mature preference to light-tasting meals. I Googled and planned the menu a few weeks prior, and wanted to attempt recipes I'd never tried before.

I started with a Spanakopita -- a lovely Greek dish reminiscent of a pie or a savory baklava: a dish I'd never done before... but when I read the recipe while looking for dishes to cook for this date, I was intrigued and wanted to give it a go. The filling is made with a whole lot of spinach, Feta and Ricotta cheeses, and lightly beaten eggs, then seasoned to taste with salt and pepper. I lined the pyrex with oil then carefully, layer after layer, piled on 4 thin fillo pastries. Once done, I put the filling, then covered it up with another 4 layers of fillo pastry. I baked the dish for about 40 minutes at 175⁰ and it came out perfectly brown, looking like a nice, crispy baklava.

While busy with the Spanakopita, our beloved cook and household help, Ate Rachel, made her signature baked chicken. We brined a whole chicken for a few hours, then slathered her in a poultry rub. Popped her in the oven covered in foil for over an hour, then opened it up to brown. A household staple.

Then I prepped our Fish en Papillote. I was supposed to use Labahita but because of supply issues, used salmon instead. I made the rub with butter, garlic, lemon zest and some salt and pepper, then slathered it onto the fish. I then put a bed of spinach on a sheet of parchment paper, then layed the fish down. I then added a few slices of cherry tomatoes, shallots and 2 slices of lemon. I wrapped it up and put it in the refrigerator while waiting for the guests to arrive. When the guests came, we quickly put the baking dish in the oven and it came out perfectly moist in 10 minutes.

In the other side of the kitchen, Ate Rachel made our favorite baked mussels. She started by cooking the mussels in ginger and garlic, then lined them up in a baking dish, topped them with butter, garlic and cheese, and popped them in the oven for just 10 minutes. They came out perfectly plump and seasoned.

I then made a cream-based sauce for our pasta. I started by cooking thin slices of andouille sausages in a bit of EVOO, fished them out once they were done, then julienned some sundried tomatoes. In the same pan, I sauteed a generous helping of garlic, then added some water and a couple of tablespoons of flour to thicken the sauce. After that, I added some butter, cream, parmesan cheese, and a generous helping of salt and pepper. I was supposed to add chilli flakes too, but since the babies would eat this, I opted not to. Once the sauce tasted good, I added back the sausages and the sundried tomatoes, then added some cut up basil. When my guests arrived, I boiled up some Penne pasta then tossed it in the sauce. I served it in a bowl topped with some parsley and freshly grated parmesan cheese.

After lunch, we had a choice of a Basque Burnt Cheesecake that our guest of honor brought, and a light strawberry cake from purple oven. Both were delectable! I served handmade oatmilk lattes to accompany the sweet ending.

For our table decor, I was supposed to buy some orchids to don around the house, but boy oh boy would that blow me out of budget! Instead, I thought of our bougainvillea bushes outside the house and decided to bring those beautiful flowers in. However, while on our way home from my Tita's house yesterday, I passed by another bougainvillea bush and found this super lush branch of flowers! With the determination to take it home, I went down from the car and braved the thorny bush to get my perfect centerpiece. It turned out wonderfully, with some capiz stars I added for a little Christmassy effect. I got a few more bunches of flowers for the living room and foyer to complete the look. Money spent on decor? 0!

All in all, what I thought would be a very stressful day turned out to be only a mildly stressful one 😅 with most of that stress attributed to my two toddlers. And my Titas and grandma were also so happy with what we did and what we served. My husband was so happy for me, he felt it was a major feat! He even got me celebratory pizza for this hostess-in-training.

I look forward to more of these lunches and dinners! More than exercising my creativity in serving, the company it brings is what I excites me most!

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