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Pitch-in dinners are a fun way to share togetherness and fellowship with friends and family, and you can kick up the fun factor by making it a themed pitch-in. Make it an “Appetizers Only” party, Munchies Only, with dips and things to dip into them, “Some like it HOT,” featuring spicy dishes, Hot Casseroles Only, Cold Salads Only, or, “How Sweet it is!” desserts only. Here are some dishes, with links to our recipes, that you can pass along as ideas.

Appetizers Only
Sweet Swedish Meatballs
Cheese and Sweet Pickles
Breaded Mushrooms
Honey Roasted Cipollini Onions

Munchies Only
Rye Bread with Dill Dip
Herb Oil Fried Zuchinni with Ranch Dip
Spinach Artichoke Dip
Stuffed Baby Portobello Mushrooms

“Some like it HOT”
Campfire Chili
Gene Vaughn’s 2-Alarm Chili
Jamaican Jerk Chicken
Peppercorn Encrusted Roast Chicken

Hot Casseroles Only
Creamy Four Cheese Macaroni
Orange & Gold Potatoes au Gratin
Sour Cream and Horseradish Mashed Potatoes
Baked Macaroni and Cheese

Cold Salads Only
Grapefruit and Fennel Salad
Sweet and Sour Yellow Beets
Cauliflower and Broccoli Salad
Green and Gold Pea Salad

How Sweet it is! desserts
Peach Cobbler
Butternut Cream Pie
Gooey Butter Cake
Pear Bread Pudding with Butterscotch Sauce

Have fun with your pitch-in dinners! Select a theme and see how much more fun the party is when you elevate it to a whole new level. And, be sure to let us know how your idea worked out!

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Every day, home cooks hear, “what’s for dinner?” as hungry family members sneak a peek into bubbling pots and sizzling pans with anticipation. And, while there’s definitely a place for multi-hour braises and slow-simmered sauces, sometimes you just need a satisfying meal on the table. From quick and easy to classic and developed, nothing seems to shed the cold and warm the soul like a hardy, earthy, soup or stew. Here are a few favorite recipes that create that back-home feeling.

Sausage and Spinach Garbanzo Bean Soup
Sausage and Spinach Garbanzo Bean SoupSweet Italian sausage and chopped spinach combine to give this fall soup the soul-warming hardiness we love in our comfort food. This is a tasty and hardy soup for those days you need to take a little chill off the bones, and is also ideal for a quick meal when pressed for time. This is best when served right away while the spinach still has some crunch.
Get the recipe here.

Campfire Chili (Mild)
Campfire chili adapted for home cookingThis is a very flavorful, but mild heat, beef chili that was developed during family campouts, keeping youngsters’ pallets in mind. Take it in what ever direction you like by selecting some of your favorite sides or seasonings. Get the recipe here.

Spicy Sausage and Navy Bean Soup
Spicy Sausage and Navy Bean SoupThis is a perfect soup for those chilly days of fall and winter, with Hot Italian Sausage, Fire Roasted tomatoes, and fresh kale. This is a quick and easy recipe, but if you want to cook it longer to blend the flavors, leave the kale out until just before you are going to serve. The kale is best when it has just a little bite to it.
Get the recipe here.

Gene Vaughn’s 2-Alarm Chili
Gene Vaughn's Chili in Black PotThis recipe was one of my dad’s favorites. It was adapted, enhanced and embellished from the Army’s 1944 Cook’s Manual for Chili Con Carne. Dad’s recipe doesn’t much resemble that one, but is the result of much trial and error. This chili carries a lot of spicy flavors, mellowed by chocolate.
Get the recipe here.

French Onion Soup
Sweet Onion SoupThis classic soup delivers the wonderful aromas of caramelized onions, apple and a bouquet garni. Large sweet onions caramelize in butter that browns itself during cooking, and get a boost in flavor with apple juice or cider. Finish under the grill for that eye-pleasing presentation that is a classic favorite.
Get the recipe here.

White Bean and Pork Chili
White Bean and Pork ChiliAnother chili, but this one is made with pork, and gets mild spice from a Poblano chili. The velvety texture is surprisingly luscious, and is derived from the last minute addition of shredded Monterey Jack cheese. Keep your sausage in bite-size chunks for the “meatiness” texture we favor in chili soups of all kinds. Get the recipe here.

Spoon Dumplings for Soup
Spoon Dumplings in StewAdd another layer of flavor and comfort to any soup or stew by adding simple spoon dumplings just like great-grandma used to make. This recipe was handed down by Lea’s grandmother to her mother, Pauline Tate. Lea has used this recipe since she was a child cooking at home with her family. These dumplings really stand out on top of soup beans, vegetable soup and even chili! Get the recipe here.

Black Pot with Coals on LidThe cooler weather brought by the fall season brings fond memories of camp outs, bonfires, black pots, apple and pumpkin pies, and hearty chili soup to warm the soul. Raised in the Midwest, we experienced the colors and weather of all four seasons, including the final harvest of the season, the jovial hayrides behind a farm tractor or hay truck, vast pumpkin patches, and the growing excitement of the approaching holiday season.

:ea's Pumpkin PieWhen I think of pumpkins, the aroma and flavors of the seeds of a pumpkin we had just harvested toasting in the oven come to mind. Lea is held in high regard for her outstanding pie crust and her scrumptious apple and pumpkin pies. These are favorites, and often requested, at our church.

Gene Vaughn's Chili in Black PotChili soup brings back memories of my dad’s continuing development of his chili recipe, and how he was always experimenting with it. In particular, I remember him trying to include lettuce in it (Don’t try this at home, kids), and his one attempt at using chocolate candy bars as an ingredient (not successful! Candy makers will tell you that paraffin wax is a common ingredient in chocolate.) Nevertheless, over the years he developed a recipe that was popular with the local National Guard unit he served in. His recipe is named Gene Vaughn’s 2-Alarm Chili.

Coney Island Style Chili Cheese Hot DogI, on the other hand, have a couple versions of chili soup that are really popular with our church family, Chipotle Chili Soup (Medium Heat), and the Campfire Chili I have made since back when I was a boy on overnight camp outs. If you don’t have a lot of time to spend nurturing a chili to perfection, you can always fall back on our 30-Minute Chili Sauce that works just as well in a bowl as it does seasoned up over spaghetti, or spread on a chili cheese hot dog.

Do you have a favorite fall recipe? Drop us a line, or a link, and let us know. We would be happy to share it here on our cookbook. We are really looking forward to some great fall and winter time dishes!

Pat's Spicey Saltine CrackersIn the sweltering summer of 2016, Lea and I drove from our home in Central Texas to our childhood hometown to attend her family’s annual reunion at the “Homeplace” in rural northeast Missouri. The Homeplace is a 3-acre plot of land deep in the woods, miles from town, purchased by her great-grandfather, George Austin Tate, in 1891. Her grandfather was born in the cabin there, as was her own father. The property now belongs to her and her siblings.

Each summer we gather from all parts of the country for the weekend gathering, which is centered around catching up with each other’s activities, our children and their families, and of course, food. In fact, food is one of the primary topics of discussion, as many members in the family are cooks, and some grow big gardens and can the produce they grow. Everyone brings a dish or two for the main pitch-in lunch, and it is always a challenge to get everything crowded onto your plate.

This year we had quite a discussion around one of the snack treats Pat had made, spicy (some heat) saltine crackers. Spicy Oyster CrackersKathy, however, said she preferred to make them with Oyster crackers. And, the debate was on! Pat likes the saltines because you can hold them between your finger and thumb without getting messy spice all over your palm. Kat, on the other hand, (pun intended), likes the oyster crackers because you get more of the flavoring with each bite, which tends to hide the pasty flavor of the cracker.

Dill Oyster CrackersIf you’re interested in a version of the oyster crackers without any heat, check out Deb’s Dill Oyster Crackers. We served these when we ran a Bed and Breakfast, and they made an excellent snack for our guests. We served them both ways, baked and unbaked, and guests loved them both.
 
So, which do you like? Have you tried these, or a variation that you like? Send us your favorite recipes with comments, and we’ll post it here on the site.

Do you often wonder which spice goes with what, or how to choose those that combine well? Check out our spice page, which is helping cooks of all ages learn some of the basics.

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