Entertaining isn't easy, but there are solutions for those of us who are not great cooks -- and who don't mind passing off store-bought items as our own.
Here are some ideas for local foods that feel so homemade your guests will never know you didn't make them yourself.
(Note: If your guests are local and you really want to fool people, the key is to source foods from shops outside your own neighborhood.)
– Hart & Hive in Riverview offers sides and mains that feel like they were homemade by a gourmet chef. Take home a tub of flavorful, tomato and meat-based Sunday sauce and use it to top noodles, zoodles or meatballs. No one has to know that you didn't spend your entire day by the stove as the sauce slow-simmered its way to perfection. It's also a one-stop-shop for all sorts of other party supplies, from cheese plate accoutrements like olives, jams and honey to bloody mary mix and cocktail napkins. Its "snackle" boxes -- tackle boxes filled with cheese, charcuterie, nuts and other bite-size gourmet snacks -- are a fun, creative way to serve snacks at a holiday gathering.
– If you aren't acquainted with Food City's prepared food selection, I'm happy to introduce my favorite item: the snack mix. It's the perfect combination of Chex, peanuts, pretzel sticks and perhaps another ingredient or two I'm forgetting. But it's the seasoning (which likely includes Worcestershire, seasoned salt, garlic powder and onion powder, although we're not sure of Food City's exact seasoning blend) that makes it great, and Food City's is just right. Every batch is a little different, often with some burnt pieces -- the sort of "flaws" you won't find in a mass produced bag of Chex Mix. Put it in a nice bowl or an old piece of Tupperware, and everyone will think you made it.
– Another Riverview spot offering delicious items with a genuinely homemade feel is Vine Street Market, located in a house repurposed as a restaurant. You'll find tasty snacks like chicken salad and pimiento cheese available in bulk, as well as casseroles and baked goods. The outstanding homestyle taste and casual presentation (for example, its baked goods are wrapped in cellophane and displayed on a counter in the fashion of a bake sale) are what make Vine Street a great somewhat-secret spot for not-really-homemade dishes. They accept orders for special holiday to-go dishes at Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter.
– The butcher shop is another good place to source yummy homestyle party foods. Aside from quality meats that make any meat dish more tasty, Don's Meat Shop in Hixson also offers ready-to-heat entrees like pecan-crusted fish fillets and sides such as buttermilk biscuits and flame-roasted sweet potatoes that you'll be proud to pass off as your own. You can also find all the sausages, corn, shrimp, potatoes and seasoning you need for a low-country boil that's next-level good.
– The Bread Basket, with locations in Signal Mountain, East Brainerd and Riverview, has exceptionally tasty cakes that have more of a homestyle look than most bakery cakes.
– Southern Star downtown or in Signal Mountain offers ready-to-heat entrees and sides with a down-home flair like banana pudding and squash casserole with Ritz cracker topping.