Sunday, September 30, 2012

Sangria Bar

Is there a more perfect time to introduce last weekend's Sangria Bar (for a bridal shower that I hosted) than now? I'm listening to the rainfall, enjoying a crisp Sunday afternoon glass of cab, and thinking about my readers and all of my recipes lined up for the week (which I'm so desperate to share with you as the week unfolds).
As I contemplated the planning steps involved in this party, the idea of a sangria bar popped into my mind and I couldn't shake it-so I set out to create it. I figured that this would be a fabulous way to serve a large group of people afternoon drinks and would also provide a beautiful, appealing bar set-up, with the rainbow of colors involved in 3 very different sangria recipes.
I found an A-Z stamp and ink set in my craft drawer, some old wooden slabs and paint in my shed, and created a shabby chic (and also very cute!) sign listing the types of sangria that were served at the party. I propped the wooden sign up against an ice filled galvanized bucket. I emptied the dry pasta from 3 of my tall glass IKEA jars (made with a metal latch) to use as sangria vessels. These were all simple steps to creating my sangria bar, and involved materials that were easily located around my house.
On your next rainy afternoon, pour a glass of wine (or cup of tea!) and investigate multiple uses for everyday items around your own house. The transformation can be amazing (and creating change can be soothing and calming to the state of your soul).
Listed below are the three types of sangria that I chose for my party. My best childhood friend came to help me prepare for the party and played a hand in helping me sample the sangria as we went (my belief is that any good cocktail recipe MUST be sampled copiously before being served to guests at any party).

Pink Lemonade Sangria
Combine one bottle of sweet white wine (I chose a pinot grigio), one bottle of sparkling pink lemonade (the bottle that we used is featured above, doubled as a vase once consumed), 1/2 a cup of simple sugar (made by boiling a combination of water and sugar until dissolved) and 2 lemons, sliced. 
This is a cute, crisp type of sangria that would be adorable at any afternoon gathering. I love the whimsy that it adopts by using pink lemonade and taking on a light pink color. Perfect for a garden party!

Red Ginger Sangria
Combine one bottle of red wine (I used a merlot), 2 cups of ginger ale, 1 tablespoon of minced, fresh ginger, 1/2 a cup of simple sugar, 1/2 of a pineapple, cut into small chunks and 1 cup of frozen strawberries. 
This was a beautiful shade of red, and I would consider it versatile for parties hosted any time of day (or night). I would highly suggest tasting this one as you go, adding simple sugar as you see fit. Your palate may be very different than mine, and its important that you love the beverages that you choose to serve.

Sweet Honey Plum Sangria
Combine one bottle of white wine (I chose chardonnay), 3/4 cup of honey (mixed with boiling water until dissolved), 3 plums, sliced (I found 3 different kinds to add to the hue) and 1/2 a cup of blackberries. 
This was a sweet, refreshing sangria that could be served all summer long and also into early months of Autumn. Sweetened with honey, it took a different taste that the other 2 recipes which were sweetened with sugar.

I enjoyed toying with these different recipes and trying to achieve party-worthy taste and colors. This was a sweet, cost efficient way to serve a large guest list. Featured below is a fun photo of my friend, Lianne, taste testing! If you have any sangria recipes which you've loved in the past, please feel free to share. I would love to learn more! I hope you've had a wonderful weekend full of hope and laughter.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Party Food!

I'm here today to talk about my FAVORITE thing! PARTY FOOD! I love cooking for parties and also love every second of brainstorming that goes into planning a party. The photographs above come from a bridal shower that I hosted this weekend. I would love to share a few of the recipes that I used. 
I could have better photographed the display (and am so bummed that I didn't get a photo of the outdoor sangria bar in daylight hours-which I had the most fun decorating) and was also too busy to capture images of the beautiful fresh flowers that came from my co-host (and best friends!) gorgeous Charleston garden. Oh well!
I'm going to divide this party up into 3 separate posts this week. Today I'm going to talk about FOOD! My next blog post will outline the steps that I took to create a lovely sangria bar (we had perfect weather!) and the 3rd part this week will feature desserts that were served. 

Here we go! I would highly recommend serving the following 4 recipes at a party, big or small. I cooked for a guest list of 12-14 girls, so these recipes are mostly suited for that number, but all would be easy to double or halve. 

#1: Red Lentil Hummus
This hummus had a nuttier and more exotic taste than your standard chickpea hummus. I enjoyed trying something new and was able to use Red Lentils that were shipped directly to me as a gift from a lentil farm in Idaho. (I received 20 lbs of dried lentils! THE most perfect gift!)

Cook 1 cup of dry red lentils in 2 cups of water with 3 garlic cloves, minced. Bring to boil, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes. 
Drain lentils, reserving cooking liquid.
Puree lentil mixture in food processor and mix 1/2 a cup of olive oil, 1/4 a cup of tahini, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 1/2 teaspoon of Tabasco sauce, a pinch of cayenne and the reserved liquid. 
Cover and let sit for at least one hour at room temperature.

I prepared this hummus 2 days before it was served. On shower day, I threw back in food processor with 3/4 a cup of water and 1/4 a cup of olive, another pinch of salt and another pinch of cayenne and it created THE perfect consistency. 
Feel free to add garlic powder, more or less cayenne, salt, pepper, whatever you choose until you achieve the taste that you prefer. I've found that people have very differing opinions on how they choose to take their hummus so feel free to experiment with the taste as you go.
I served this hummus with sesame crackers, carrots and celery. 

#2: Olive and Feta Tapenade with Bread (Baguette, toasted and drizzled with lemon olive oil)
Chop 2 cans (one black, and one green) of olives into a small, chunky texture. I was able to discover olives that were canned with just oil and sea salt and were fabulous. Both were lacking that metallic taste found in some canned olives.
Add one small container of crumbled (full fat) feta cheese.
Toss in a bowl with the juice of one whole lemon, 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh rosemary, and 2 garlic cloves, minced. Add a tablespoon of olive oil, stir, and let marinade for as long as possible.
I let my olive marinade in the refrigerator in an airtight container for 2 days. I think that time frame completely added to its deliciousness.
I sliced a baguette, drizzled lemon flavored olive oil and toasted in oven to serve with my olive "tapenade" (which is much chunkier than your typical tapenade, I just chose to name it that because it needed a name!)
This recipe was one that I created as I went along and could EAT every DAY (It was fab and well received by guests! Perfect party food!)

#3: Maple Bacon and Pineapple Skewers
Cook one package of applewood smoked bacon about halfway (on 400 degrees for 15 minutes). Let cool.
Dice a whole fresh pineapple.
Wrap pineapple chunks in bacon and spear with bamboo skewers.
Roll skewers in dark brown sugar.
Bake at 400 degrees for an additional 10 minutes (or until brown sugar begins to caramelize pineapple and bacon is cooked thoroughly).
SERVE! Simple!

#4: Apricot Gorgonzola Canapes
Purchase a package of dried apricots in the bulk department at your grocery store (if you plan to make many of them, this is the most cost efficient option).
Crumble a bit of crumbled gorgonzola cheese in the center of each apricot.
Put one pistachio on the top of each blue cheese adorned apricot.
Drizzle raw honey on top of these golden little pieces of delicious party love!

I hope you can use some of these recipes at your next party! I had so much fun creating them and putting together a fun variety of colorful foods that turned out looking gorgeous together. 
What would I have done, especially in the creation of the next two features (sangria bar and cookie bar!), without my best and longest standing friend? I valued (most of all!) her sophisticated Sangria sampling palate and you can envision the fun we had. I can't wait to continue sharing party details with you this week and I hope some of these ideas are ones that you'd like to use as well.

My little almost 6 month old (with his new big boy haircut from this afternoon) has stared at a candles flame for about as long as I've been writing (what incredible singular focus babies this age have!). I'm signing off now to cuddle him, make tea, and embrace his tiny baby youth that appears to already have begun to disappear with his new trim! Have a wonderful afternoon. Much love. 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Cauliflower Curry Soup

Hello! I've spent such little time with my computer and such a great amount of time outside this week in the crisp air that I've hardly had a chance to check in. How has your week been?

Would YOU like to make a slow-cooking, really tasty, very suitable FALL soup? The recipe that I'm featuring today is so simple and delicious that I'm planning to make it many times over the next few months. My belief is that it could easily be used as a template for a much richer variety of soups as time goes on. My husband noted that adding small pieces of chicken would amp the heartiness and give it a bit more texture and taste. I think that tofu would create the same idea. If you make it and decide to add/subtract ingredients as you go, please share your ideas with me! I'm always interested.

Please forgive my hasty introduction. I usually find myself with more time to be contemplative and leisurely with my morning coffee/tea/blogging schedule than the time I have in the evenings. Are you a morning person? Or do you prefer your evenings? Or late nights? I'm most thoughtful when I rise with the sun...I tend to become clumsier and less thoughtful as the daytime hours tick by.

Ok! Here you go:

Set your crock pot to high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil, one medium onion, chopped, 2 garlic cloves, minced, 2 carrots, sliced and one apple, chopped. Leave unattended (if you wish) for ten to twenty minutes. Add one medium head of cauliflower, chopped into small pieces. Add 2 tablespoons of curry powder and mix until all vegetables are well coated. 
Once this step is complete and your veggies all have an orangish hue from the curry powder, add 6 cups of vegetable broth and 2 cups of water. Also, a pinch of salt and black pepper, to taste.
Voila! Set on medium heat and cook for 6-8 hours!
Once you're nearing mealtime, add 1/2 a cup of milk or cream and blend soup with an immersion blender. Taste and add salt and pepper again, if necessary for your palate. (If you don't have an immersion blender, transfer soup to blender in batches and then transfer back to crock pot).

This soup is fabulous with a chunk of bread or some sesame crackers. I serve with a dollop of greek yogurt and a handful of roasted cashews, chopped, for garnish. YUM!

You can expect to find many slow-cooker recipes on my blog as the temperature decreases. I love coming home to the scent of sweet squashes, winter greens and spices that have been cooking all day long as I've been going about my every day business. It cooks itself! Comfort food! Perfection.

This weekend, I'm hosting a Kitchen Shower for my Sister-in-Law (to be married in October!) I've planned my menu and prepared most of my foods for the party. Early next week, I'll do a party planning feature and share some of my ideas with you for tapa-like, mid afternoon party foods and will completely fill you in on all of the details of my sangria bar! 

I hope everyone is having a wonderful week! Time for me to get my baby from his crib, pour a glass of wine, turn on a bluegrass-y Pandora station and make some decisions about tonight's dinner. Find a moment to consider your day through a calm sense of reflection. Take a deep breath. Enjoy your Thursday evening. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Pumpkin French Toast

It's almost AUTUMN! To celebrate season change and family visiting us, I made a Pumpkin-Stuffed (eggless) French Toast this weekend and it was divine. What did you do this weekend?
We enjoyed an amazing art festival downtown where we viewed a lot of awesome local art, sampled a variety of international foods and enjoyed a bit of time in the Beer Garden, where my favorite brew was an Indian Spiced Ale.
We also celebrated more family (existing and soon to be part of our family) with a party honoring the upcoming marriage of my Sister-in-law and future Brother-in-law (fun!). Altogether, our weekend was family-rich, fun and FULL of good eats and drinks.
To finish off the weekend, we hosted a fun brunch where I toyed with a recent tinkering of stuffing breakfast foods with amazing additions to create hearty, satisfying foods to honor the colder months to come. Featured below was a (successful!) new recipe that I would love for you to try.

Pumpkin-Stuffed (eggless) French Toast
Mix 7 ounces of cream cheese, 2 cups of pumpkin puree, 2 tablespoons of brown sugar, 1 1/2 tablespoon of pumpkin pie spice and an additional 1 teaspoon of cinnamon in a medium bowl.
Cut a hearty, crusty bread (french, sourdough, etc) into 8 slices (to serve 4).
Spread pumpkin mixture on 4 slices of bread and top with additional 4 slices to form sandwiches.
Heat griddle to 375 degrees, or medium heat.
Fill a casserole-type dish with 1 3/4 cups of milk, 1/2 a cup of pure maple syrup, 2 tablespoons of vanilla extract and a pinch of salt. Put sandwiches in maple syrup milk mixture to soak, 4-5 minutes on each side.
Put butter to melt, in griddle. Transfer the bread to griddle and cook until golden brown, with a caramelized texture from the syrup soak. Repeat with remaining bread.

Warm in oven for 10 minutes at 400 degrees while waiting to serve. This will give it the final crunch.

One of my recent birthday presents was a variety of olive oils and vinegars. I served this french toast with seasonal fruit drizzled with a balsamic vinegar that has been aged for 25 years. Also, a side of bacon for my carnivorous diners, cooked to perfection.

We ate candlelit brunch with the lull of "Postcards From Italy" Pandora station in the background, a soft breeze coming through open windows and reminding us of the hopeful days of Fall. Served generously with mimosas (of course always recommended for a leisurely Sunday brunch).

I hope your weekend was relaxing, upbeat and enlightening. What was your highlight? I love a weekend like ours where there are too many to choose just one. I hope your weekend was similar in that way. Happy Monday morning-I'm ready for a coffee refill already...are you? :)

Friday, September 14, 2012

Banana Ice Cream

Some of my favorite things include receiving emails from friends with a simple link, photograph, a memory or a joke. I love taking time out of my day to pause and think about a dear friend or family member by receiving a simple and unexpected email or letter and sharing in a moment of connection. My dear friend Kate often sends simple things, like links or mass emails seeking opinions on items she wants to purchase such as bath mats and water bottles. My very favorite thing from time to time is when she text messages pictures that she took of things we experienced together months, or years ago, without any caption at all. My heart expands three times with one computer/phone click. I love that silent moment of connection. We live hours apart but after this magical friendship gesture, I feel closer to her than ever.

I received this link in an email from her yesterday: click here to see! The only subject message was "omg!!!!!!!!!" so I knew I had to share in her discovery. After feeling instantly motivated by the author's ice cream enthusiasm, I knew I had to join BOTH of them in their excitement. I pulled out the ingredients (simple and healthy!).

I blended 2 frozen bananas, 2 tablespoons of peanut butter (would love to try almond butter next time!) and 2 teaspoons of honey. I froze in airtight container until solid and served with 86% dark chocolate. I think the most exciting thing about this discovery is all of the options! It's an interesting thing, because the variation that I made is "ice cream" without dairy. It's very different from what we expected, but delicious.

If you have just a few spare moments today, perhaps share a link, or a joke, or a photo memory with a loved one via email. Technology doesn't have to create barriers in our relationships with one can do just the very opposite.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Greek Yogurt Lasagna

My first exposure to Greek yogurt was during my first pregnancy with my now 2 1/2 year old, Cloveleigh. I began eating it plain, or with honey, as an afternoon snack to provide extra protein to my vegetarian diet. Because of it's health benefits and deliciousness, I slowly began adding it to different areas of my cooking to substitute other food items such as cream, certain cheeses and sour cream. We've evolved into a household of hardcore Greek yogurt users. We've tried every kind we can get our hands on and have established a loyal and unwavering relationship with Cabots Lowfat Greek Yogurt.
My general rule with dairy products is that I try not to use anything less than full fat, and pay close attention to taste and chemicals added to reduce the fat in certain dairy products. One night, my husband challenged me and set up a tasting bar of both full fat and reduced fat Cabots Greek Yogurt, and I was determined to prove my point (full fat in small doses ALWAYS wins in taste and healthiness) with a blindfold I set out to WIN...and lost. I couldn't tell the difference between them at ALL...and so from there we further evolved into a Lowfat Cabots Greek Yogurt eating family and it's where we are today.

Recently, I decided to substitute ricotta cheese with Greek yogurt in my lasagna recipe that I'm providing you with today. I add broccoli to give it a certain heartiness often found in meat-based lasagna recipes. The result was INCREDIBLE! There was a certain fresh and tangy taste that isn't generally present in my go-to lasagna recipe, and I'm officially a Greek yogurt lasagna convert. Enjoy!

Greek Yogurt Lasagna
In a medium bowl, combine 2 cups of steamed broccoli, 2 cups of your favorite Greek yogurt, 9 ounces of freshly shredded mozzarella cheese and 3 ounces of...ready for another twist?...shredded sharp white cheddar cheese. Add salt, pepper and 2 cloves of freshly minced garlic.
Either make ( or purchase 2 jars of vodka sauce.
Boil one box of whole wheat lasagna noodles, al dente.
Spread vodka sauce on bottom of a casserole dish. Add layer of noodles. Spread yogurt and broccoli mixture in a layer on top of noodles and then top with a layer of fresh spinach leaves. Spread another layer of sauce, another layer of lasagna noodles, and repeat process until all ingredients have been used.
Finish with a layer of noodles, sauce and a combination of shredded mozzarella and sharp white cheddar cheese.
Bake at 400 degrees for 25 minutes with foil. Remove foil and bake for a final 15-20 minutes, or until cheese begins to brown bubble (yum!)

I served this lasagna to my family one night and then to dinner company a few nights later. It went far and received rave reviews around the table! It was even better leftover and reheated. Per habit, I served with a spinach salad on both occasions. And plenty of red wine :)

How has your week been? Mine has been so great. We've been adjusting (easily!) to the cooler weather. I've started two of my mornings this week taking long, leisurely walks and sipping coffee with my dear friend (who is about to have a BABY!). I've also had company in town to help celebrate my extended birthday week and have wholeheartedly welcomed my NEW year of life with open arms. I have high hopes for laughter, love, travel and many culinary adventures in my 29th year of life. My baby is beginning to stir so off I go to fall in love with him all over again, like I do every day as I retrieve him from his afternoon nap. Have a wonderful afternoon!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Fig Salad + Caprese Bread

Happy Friday! Do you have any weekend plans? We're hoping to relax, let Cloveleigh play with some new school friends, log some quality baby time and go couch shopping! I'm also hoping to put in a few good therapeutic cooking sessions. We're keeping our fingers crossed that the weather cools down a bit (I've heard rumors that it might...have you?)...our week has been one LONG short week! I'm looking forward to some maximum relaxation time, a glass (or 2) of wine, and a legit Pandora station (and maybe a 2 year old dance party) this evening. How do you unwind at the end of your day/week?

Last night, I pulled everything out of the refrigerator, surveyed the countertop produce and went to work. My goal was to create something simple and delicious.
The result: Fig Salad paired with Caprese Bread.

Fig Salad
Combine spinach, fresh figs, shredded carrots, copious amounts of avocado (if you love it as much as I do), slivered almonds and crumbled blue cheese.
This creates a simple, delicious and colorful salad that would look beautiful amongst a variety of other foods for a DINNER PARTY! I thought it tasted incredible with ginger dressing. I've read a lot about the combination of avocados and figs and I have to admit now...I agree!

Caprese Bread
Toast a 9 grain baguette in the oven (after drizzling with olive oil), bottoms faced down, on a baking sheet. Add sun dried tomatoes, fresh basil (lots!), fresh tomatoes and slices/chunks of fresh mozzarella (the fresher, the better). Sprinkle with salt and pepper and broil until the edges of the bread begin to turn golden brown. THIS will achieve THE perfect crunch. Who doesn't like a good, crunchy bread? (I LOVE a good, rustic moderate amounts, of course!)

I was excited to share this recipe with you because of it's simplicity and because of the salads' potential to entertain at your next dinner party. My more time consuming recipes will come this weekend, when I have freer hands. Stay tuned for a greek-yogurt lasagna and fig and honey muffins (both which I'm hoping to invent this weekend!)...thank you to my loyal readers for all of your feedback and for taking the time to prepare, share and hopefully LOVE some of the recipes that you find on my blog. Cheers!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Carrot Soup + Peach Salad + Lemony Kale

A seasonal food party! As I find one season closing and another one approaching, I find myself making a variety of trans-seasonal foods and combining them for a colorful combination that essentially makes no sense at all...and I LOVE IT. Autumn is my personal favorite, so I'm itching for sweaters, warm coffee drinks, boots, crunchy leaves and spiced wine (I'll share my recipe with you this Fall!). We are a family of cold-weather lovers and Autumn gives us all an electric sense of hope in all things related to life. Do you experience this? This Fall/Winter will be our first for our baby boy, Banner. I just love a bundled up baby with a tiny, pink nose.

Let me share my recipes with you that you can find photographed above! This was our dinner last night and includes soup (that will be amazing all of the way through February), a salad (hurry and make it while Summer produce and your farmers market is still available, it's divine) and our own household kale staple, which we've named Lemony Kale.

Peach, Tomato and Feta Salad with Homemade Basil Vinaigrette
Combine 2 large ripe peaches and 2 large ripe heirloom tomatoes (cut into large, bite sized chunks) in a medium sized bowl.
In a blender, combine 1/2 cup of fresh, torn basil leaves, 1/4 cup of olive oil, 1/4 cup of balsamic vinegar, 1 tablespoon of dijon mustard and 1 tablespoon of honey. Blend well.
Toss tomato and peach salad with homemade dressing. Add 1/4 cup of feta cheese before serving, and serve at room temperature. DELISH!

Carrot, Sweet Potato and Ginger Soup
Cut 2 sweet potatoes and 4 carrots into chunks. Add to your favorite soup pot with 2 cups of vegetable broth. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 20-30 minutes. During simmer phase, chop 2 teaspoons of jarred, pickled ginger. Add to soup.
Once vegetables are soft, add salt and pepper and blend soup with either immersion blender or by transferring to your blender in batches. Add more broth during this phase if needed, to reach desired consistency.
Transfer back to stovetop and simmer on low until ready to serve, at least 15-20 more minutes to enhance flavors of the ginger in your soup.
Serve with a dollop of Greek yogurt.
This recipe requires such a short amount of time, and such few ingredients for a soup that tastes like it's required a lot of thought and TLC. This makes it perfect for both entertaining or for a quick weekday dinner. Either way, I hope you'll love it as much as we did.

Lemony Kale
Heat 2 tablespoons of Extra Virgin Olive Oil in saucepan on medium heat. Add one large bunch of kale, the juice from one whole lemon, sea salt and pepper. Cook, stirring attentively, for 20 minutes on medium heat. Turn to low heat and sit until ready to serve.
This is a relatively low maintenance meal, full of nutrients and has a crisp and refreshing taste. We make this at least once a week and it can carry you through most seasons, as it's usually available year-round. Because kale's peak season is Fall (and even Winter), we can't wait for the delicious taste of kale to heighten as the next few months unfold.

I hope you enjoy these recipes and find time to give them a try. What's your favorite season? And why? We can't wait to live somewhere one day with SNOW again! We found it to be so romantic (during our Charlottesville days) to be snowed in with pots of soup, mugs of spiced wine and the snow falling outside. I'm lucky to have a husband who thinks that the seasons can be just as romantic as I do.