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Archive for May, 2010

One of our favorite beaches to visit is Treasure Island at the Montage Resort in Laguna Beach.  The grounds at the Montage Resort are kept beautifully.  The short walk along the coast to get to the stairs that take you down to the beach provides stunning views.

It is especially fun to take the kids to explore the incredible tide pools.  It’s always a “must do” when we have friends and family staying from out of town.

The Montage Resort partners with the Laguna Ocean Foundation to provide tide pool docents to educate the public during low tides and busy weekends or holidays.  The docents know where the giant star fish are hiding out and can point out all kinds of colorful sea creatures.  It’s always best to check the times for low tide before you go.  And, be sure to bring shoes for walking out on the rocky areas (it’s tough on bare feet!)

Getting There: The easiest way to get to the tide pools is to take Montage Resort Drive from PCH.  There is a parking structure underneath the highway.  The maximum time limit is 3 hours.

We often play at the beach for a few hours then head across PCH to Ruby’s for a hamburger.  It makes for a very fun day!

On a side note, the Montage Beach is also a great place to take family photos.  If you happen to visit the beach in the late afternoon, you often find many professional photographers on the beach taking family photos.   My husband is our “family photographer” and brings his tri-pod along.

My favorites are the candid shots.  Those that no one knows you’re taking.

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Orange is a color that is often left out of tablescapes and table settings.  It can be a fun color to use — as it enhances the colors of food in addition to being a happy and bright color.

I like to use orange with whites and greens in late spring through summer.  Then I use orange with browns and rusts in the fall.  (The fun salad plates were a gift from my brother-in-law, Brad.  Love them!  They are also great at Halloween with black napkins.)

With outdoor entertaining, I like to add coordinating pillows on some of the chairs (usually the two end chairs).   This adds color and comfort.  The 20″ square pillows work well with our patio furniture.  I tend to browse places like TJMaxx (pre-summer season for outdoor pillows) and Pottery Barn & Restoration Hardware sale bins (after holidays).  I have extra 20″ pillow inserts that I keep on hand.  Add a pillow cover/sham — and you create a coordinated look.  If I find a really great deal, I buy extra pillow shams for our chaise lounges.

Gotta love orange! At least I do…

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We eat a lot of green beans at our house — mostly because it’s one of three vegetables that our son will eat.  I thought he would eat anything if it were wrapped in bacon, but that’s not always the case.

This is a very simple green bean dish, but it also looks nice served for a dinner party.  You can prepare it earlier in the day and bake it for dinner.  (It’s the vegetable we served at my in-laws anniversary dinner party).

Green Bean Bundles

Serves 6

2 lbs. Green Beans (thin, tender beans like Haricot Verts)

12 strips of Bacon, partially cooked (I use the Hormel Pre-Cooked Bacon from Costco)

Garlic Salt

4 Tbs. Butter, melted

3 Tbs. Brown Sugar

1. Trim the green beans to the same length.  Steam or parboil the beans for 2 – 3 minutes.  Drain immediately and place beans in an ice bath (large bowl filled with ice water).

2. Drain and dry beans with clean dish towels or paper towels.  Gather 12 – 14 beans in bundles and wrap piece of bacon around the center of each bundle.  Place bundles in a glass baking dish.

3.  Sprinkle bundles with garlic salt.  Pour melted butter over bundles and sprinkle with brown sugar.

4.  Bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes until bacon is done.  (Increase baking time if you’ve prepared in advance and the beans have been refrigerated).

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Barb (my sister-in-law) and I threw a casual, family dinner party last week in celebration of our husbands’ parent’s 50th anniversary.  It’s not everyday that couples celebrate 50 years.  While our in-laws didn’t want a big party, they did agree to a small, intimate, casual gathering with family.

Barb and I enjoyed planning the evening.  We both enjoy cooking, but we wanted to make an easy, yet delicious meal.   We decided on surf and turf — getting our husbands involved with grilling.

We started the evening with grilled herbed shrimp with mango salsa and a special grapefruit and vodka cocktail.  This was followed by a strawberry field greens salad (see May 14 post for recipe).  The main course was filet mignon with a shitake gorgonzola sauce and grilled lobster with drawn butter — served with green bean bundles.  Dessert was strawberry pie with cappuccinos.  (Click on picture above to see enlarged menu).

I was in charge of the tablescape and had decided to wait to see what flowers inspired me the morning of the dinner.   (Between my mother-in-law and I, we have table linens and china for every theme, color and season.)  While one doesn’t normally think of “pink” for the golden anniversary, I couldn’t pass on the beautiful pink peonies at Trader Joes.  We used fresh cuttings from my mother-in-law’s garden for greenery on the table.  Very simple, yet tasteful.

What my husband and I loved most about the evening was the discussion around the dinner table.  We had printed out questions for Jeff’s parents and placed them on the table runner.  During the course of the evening, family members asked questions about their married life.  Our kids really enjoyed asking the questions of their “Mimi and Pop”, especially the ones about their first kiss and their biggest fight.

My in-laws were such great sports … and shared wonderful, funny stories.  It was great for our children to hear about their grandparents lives and to witness the love, commitment and respect they have shared for years.

  • How did the two of you meet?
  • Where was your first date?
  • What is your favorite memory of your 50 years together?
  • What is your favorite memory of when the boys were little?
  • What advice would you give your kids on marriage?
  • What attracted you to each other?
  • What was your best vacation together?

It was a fun and special evening.

Happy Anniversary John & Linda!

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Strawberries are at their all time best … right now.  They are so sweet and beautiful!

A great way to eat strawberries is with a salad of field greens.  I love the Nordstrom Cafe Mixed Berry Salad.  It’s a delicious field green salad with fresh strawberries, blackberries and raspberries.  I make a version of this salad at home.  It has become a staple at our house — all year round.  And, I often serve it for dinner parties and luncheons because it is a colorful, interesting-looking salad.

I’ve provided my “quick recipe” below, followed by a “made from scratch” version.  There are many easy ways to adapt this salad to your taste.  If you like fresh berries, give it a try!

Quick Strawberry Field Greens Salad

Serves 4

Salad Ingredients

3 grilled boneless Chicken breast halves, sliced into thin strips   (I use my Chicken Fajita recipe: Blog Post May 4, 2010 or I buy Trader Joe’s Grilled Chicken Strips)

6 cups mixed Greens (Romain or Spring Mix)

3/4 lb. Strawberries, sliced (you can add blackberries and raspberries)

3/4 cup Goat Cheese, crumbled (Feta, Gorganzola and Blue are also good substitutes)

1/3 cup toasted Pecans, chopped (Trader Joe’s Candied Pecans are also great)

1/2 cup Brianna’s Blush Wine Vinagrette dressing

1/4 cup good Balsamic Vinegar

1.  Prepare your favorite grilled chicken recipe.  Let chicken cool and slice into strips.

2.  Add mixed greens to a large serving bowl.  Add chicken, strawberries, cheese and pecans.

3.  Mix the Blush Wine Vinagrette dressing with balsamic vinegar in a measuring cup.  Drizzle dressing over salad and toss. Serve immediately.

NOTES: My girlfriend Cheryl told me about mixing Brianna’s with balsamic.  She mixes the dressing with vinegar in the Brianna’s bottle and stores it in the refrigerator.  Then it’s ready for the single-serving or family salads.

When I make the salad for a dinner party, I toss the lettuce only with dressing.  I plate the lettuce on individual salad plates and top with chicken, berries, cheese and nuts.  This makes for a prettier presentation of salad (and you ensure everyone gets an even amount of “goodies”).

When you have a bit more time, the Beach Club Salad from the Simply Classic Junior League of Seattle cookbook is wonderful.

Beach Club Salad

Serves 6

Salad:

4 boneless Chicken Breast halves

4 cups Spinach leaves, rinsed and dried

1 head Romaine Lettuce, washed and dried

3/4 lb. Strawberries, hulled and sliced

1 cup Blue Cheese, crumbled

3 Tbs. Slivered Almonds, toasted

Dressing:

1/2 cup Raspberry Vinegar

1 Tbs Dijon Mustard

1 medium Clove Garlic, minced

1/4 tsp Salt

Freshly ground Pepper, to taste

3/4 cup Canola or Vegetable Oil

Directions

Marinating time is at least 4 hours (or overnight).  Prepare grill.

1.  Place chicken in a single layer in a non-reactive bowl.

2.  For Dressing:  In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar, mustard, garlic, salt and pepper.  Slowly pour in oil, whisking until emulsified.  Set aside 3/4 cup dressing, pour remainder over chicken breasts.  Cover and chill chicken for 4 hours or overnight.

3.  Cook chicken over medium-hot coals until cooked through, 6 to 7 minutes per side.  Slice across the grain into thin strips and set aside.

4.  At serving time, tear spinach and lettuce into bite-sized pieces and place in large serving bowl.  Add chicken, strawberries, blue cheese and almonds.  Drizzle with reserved dressing.  Sprinkle with additional freshly ground pepper, if desired.  Toss and serve immediately.

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I’ve watched more cooking shows in the past month (rehabbing the knee) than I have in my entire life.  It came in handy on Sunday, as I tried 2 new recipes for a Mother’s Day brunch.  Both recipes are my adaptations of Giada’s recipes from her show “Giada at Home”.

They are so EASY!   I hope you like them.

Baked Italian Fritatta (Serves 4 – 6)

Ingredients

2 Tbs. Olive Oil

1 Small Onion, diced

1/2 lb. Spicy Italian Sausage (casings removed)

8 large Eggs

1/3 cup Whole Milk

1 tsp Kosher Salt

Freshly Ground Pepper

1 small Red Bell Pepper, diced

1  1/2 cups grated Mozarella Cheese

1/4 cup Flat Leaf Parsley (plus some for garnish), chopped

Directions

1.  Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Spray an 8 X 8 inch glass baking dish with cooking spray.

2.  Heat the olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat.   Add the diced onion and cook until translucent (3 – 5 minutes).  Add the sausage and cook until brown, breaking sausage into small pieces with wooden spoon (about 5 minutes).  Drain oil from sausage and onions (or blot with paper towels) and let cool.

3.  In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, salt and pepper, until smooth.  Add the red bell pepper, 1 cup of Mozarella cheese and 1/4 cup of parsley.  Stir in onion/sausage mixture.  Pour the egg mixture into the prepared pan.  Sprinkle with the remaining cheese.  Bake for 20 – 25 minutes (or until golden brown).

4.  Cut the fritatta into wedges and sprinkle with remaining parsley before serving.

NOTE: This recipe doubles easily.  Use a 9 X 13 inch glass baking dish and extend the baking time by 10 minutes.

Pancetta and Cinnamon Waffles

These are delicious waffles!  They are great with a few sliced strawberries on the top, too.

Ingredients

1/2 cup chopped Walnuts

1 Tbs. plus 1/3 cup Vegetable Oil

8 oz. Pancetta, diced (I use the cubed 4 oz. packages from Trader Joes)

3 cups Belgian Waffle Mix (Krusteaz is great)

2 Eggs

1  1/2 cups Water

1  1/2 tsp ground Cinnamon

1/2 tsp Kosher Salt

Maple Syrup (Again, I use Trader Joe’s real maple syrup)

Directions

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Spread walnuts on baking sheet, in an even layer.  Bake for 10 to 12 minutes.  Set aside to cool.

2.  Preheat the waffle iron.

3.  Heat 1 Tbs. of oil in a skillet over medium high heat.  Add the pancetta and cook until brown and crispy (about 3 – 5 minutes).  Transfer the pancetta to a paper towel-lined plate or baking sheet to cool.

4.  In a large mixing bowl, combine waffle mix, eggs, vegetable oil, water, cinnamon and salt.  Use a whisk to blend the ingredients until smooth.  Stir in the pancetta.

5.  Spray the waffle iron with cooking spray.  Pour the batter into the preheated waffle iron (using the amount recommended by the waffle maker’s instructions).  Cook waffles for 3 to 4 minutes until golden brown.

6.  Place waffles onto serving plates.  Sprinkle with chopped walnuts and drizzle with maple syrup.

NOTE: When making waffles for a group, you can keep the waffles warm in an oven set to 175 degrees.

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Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms, grandmothers, step moms, aunts, sisters and other amazing women that love, influence and contribute to the lives of children.

May you have a wonderful Mother’s Day!


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