Thursday, May 30, 2013

Entertaining Essentials: Dining al Fresco

This is the perfect time of year for dining al fresco.  I'm still working on making my dream deck a reality, but in the meantime, here's some outdoor entertaining inspiration.

I like my decor to match my menu, so if Mike's manning his BBQ chicken at the grill, I'm not going to break out the fine china.  I like to keep my outdoor dining casual and comfortable, and let everyone help themselves to utensils.  This condiment set is both chic and functional.

Burlap is always a fun option, especially this monogrammed version to add a touch of personality to your picnic table.

These bee glasses are my absolute favorite.  They're the perfect casual wine glass, and durable enough for the dishwasher.  No matter the occasion, you can usually find me drinking wine, but these are also great for cocktail or water glasses.  

Don't stress over bugs - these food domes are great and keep any unwanted guests away from your dinner.

Add color and depth to your table with flowers from your yard.  I like to mix and match whatever I can find and use my stemless champagne flutes or water pitchers for vases. 

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Grilled Veggie Orzo

Mike and I have been all about the grill lately with this warming weather, so i've been trying to step-up the creativity.  When it comes to grilling, I love showcasing fresh, simple ingredients and that's exactly what this pasta accomplishes.  Grilling lemons with the veggies subtly brightened up the dish without overwhelming any other flavors.

Ingredients (serves 4 as a side):
* 1 c. orzo pasta
* 3 lemon slices
* 2 tbsp. olive oil, divided
* 1/2  of medium red onion, chopped
* 3/4 c. cherry tomatoes
* 3/4 c. snow peas
* Salt, pepper

Prepare pasta according to package directions.  When the pasta is done cooking, drain, toss with one tablespoon of olive oil and set it aside until the veggies are done. Meanwhile, toss veggies with one tablespoon of olive oil and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Place the veggies and lemon slices in grill basket and cook on medium heat until the onions are soft.  When the vegetables are done cooking, add to the pasta and stir well to combine.  Serve warm or at room temperature.  Enjoy!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Greek Festival

6:00 on a Saturday evening and here I am, laid up on the couch in a Greek food coma! Oh well, it was worth every bite. 

The annual Greek Festival at St. Nicholas Orthodox Church is such an amazing event.  The food is absolutely incredible, and i'm not just saying that because my handsome Greek fiance mans the souvlaki station.  If you didn't go today, not to worry!  It is still going on tomorrow so swing by for your Gyro fix and if you can't spare the time, you're in luck because this year there is even a drive thru!  

We arrived just in time for the Greek dancing (I'm taking notes before I marry the Greek guy!).

First stop, Calamari!  It was super fresh, crispy, and perfectly seasoned. 

We washed it down with a few of these Greek beers.  Refreshing and de-lish. They also have a Greek beer on draft, as well as some American favorites and even wine.

My charming fiance made me this amazing Souvlaki.  The meat was tender and super flavorful.  Why he never makes it at home is beyond me!  I'll get the recipe out of him soon though.  

Despite this being quite a hearty afternoon snack, I couldn't leave with out  my loukoumades fix!  Loukoumades are delicious, warm donuts drizzled with honey and cinnamon sugar.  

I thought I might burst after the loukoumades, but since the Greek Festival only comes once a year... there's always room for a little to-go treat!  Any pastry you can think of can be purchased individually, or in this pre-packaged variety box.  

I'm feeling full again just seeing these pictures.   Kali spera (that's Greek for good evening!).

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Weekend Eats

My weekend was indulgent to say the least!  I of course headed to Greensboro to celebrate Mother's Day with the one and only Debs.  If you know my mom, you know she's a special lady.  Everything I know about cooking I learned from her (well, the Food Network did help a little) and everything she has ever made has been from scratch. I'm famously known for requesting "shiny top" (re: box mix) brownies from my mom like my friends moms made, but fortunately for me, she never obliged!  My mom is excellent with classic recipes, but also makes up many of her own so it's of course impossible to replicate, but I do try! 

  My sisters and I took her to one of our favorite spots, Southern Lights, in Greensboro, for Saturday dinner.  Somehow we all ended up ordering filet mignon, each with our own picky specification!  I stuck to the menu offering: filet mignon with bleu cheese crumbles, red wine drizzle and petite pomme frite.  Perfection!

Sunday morning, my sister Sara whipped up my mom's favorite brunch: classic eggs benedict.  Sadly I didn't get a picture - Sara is famous for a great presentation (and a great dish!).  

After my sisters went home Sunday, my mom and I ventured to P.F. Changs for a quick bowl of soup before we went to the movies.  Unfortunately, we didn't anticipate the 2 hour wait!  Darn P.F. Changs... We opted to cross the street for a quick bite in the bar at Fleming's and we were so glad we did. 

Mom and I obviously split our all-time favorite, the onion ring tower.  I adore a good, thick homemade onion ring.  Yum!

We also split a filet mignon flatbread (is it obvious the Ficken's love some filet?!)  It was topped with ooey-gooey monterey jack cheese, a sprinkle of bleu cheese and a caramelized onion sauce.  

The waitress recommended the Salt & Pepper Shrimp and having no idea what to expect, I was very pleasantly surprised.  The shrimp, along with green beans, was lightly fried in a crispy breading and perfectly seasoned.  I also found myself biting into a fried lemon slice (surprise!) and it was so delicious! Somehow the lemon lost its bitterness in the batter and the contrast of sour lemon with the salty breading was divine. 

Were three hearty meals in a row enough for this girl?  Obviously not.  Monday my mom and I went to Maxie-B's to taste test cakes for my wedding cake.  What a tough job we had! 

Decisions, decisions! 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Shrimp and Grits

Something about summer on the horizon puts me in the mood for seafood, and one of the best things about living in Wilmington is always having access to freshest options. Shrimp, being one of the easiest and least expensive seafood selections, is often a go-to for me.  Even better, shrimp are low cal and cook up in a snap!

Now, I know I live in the south, and I know I shouldn't admit this, but I've never really thought sausage or ham has a place in my shrimp and grits.  In lieu of spicy sausage that you often see, I used crispy bacon.  Sautéing the shrimp in the bacon fat really enhances the smokey-bacon flavor through out the dish. Just trust me, you can't beat it!

* 1 lb. peeled and deveined shrimp
* 1 1/2 c. grits
* 1 c. sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
* 4 slices applewood smoked bacon
* 1 tbsp. butter
* 2 tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped (for garnish)

Prepare the grits as directed and once they are finished cooking, whisk in the cheddar cheese off the heat. Meanwhile, heat a sauté pan over medium high heat.  Chop bacon and add it to the pan, cooking until crisp. Use a slotted spoon to remove the bacon and set aside on a paper towel to drain.  If the fat in the pan is excessive, drain some off, or if there is not much, swirl in the tablespoon of butter (you need about 2 tbsp. of liquid in the pan).  Add the shrimp and sauté until pink; 2-3 minutes. To serve, place grits in a shallow bowl, top with shrimp, sprinkle with bacon and parsley, and drizzle any remaining pan drippings over the dish.  Enjoy!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Grilled Ponzu Pork Tenderloin

Summer is on the horizon and Mike and I made the executive decision that a new season calls for a new grill!  In truth, we were already a two-grill family.  Unfortunately, after witnessing Mike nearly lose both eyebrows to a gas blow-up last year, I refuse to allow him to use his.  My grill was seemingly less life-threatening, however, when we rolled it out for its spring debut, we discovered that rust was encroaching on most of the grates.  Oh well, a quick run to Home Depot and we're back in action!

These pork tenderloin kebobs were made for the grill.  Despite the fact that it's a lean cut of meat, pork tenderloin stays very moist and flavorful when it's cooked.  The ponzu sauce helps the meat caramelize on the grill and locks in the tangy, sweet flavor.

Ingredients (serves 4):
* 1 (2.5 lb.) pork tenderloin, cut into cubes
* 1/2 c. soy sauce
* 1/4 c. mirin
* juice of 1 lemon
* 1 tbsp. honey
* 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
* 2 green onions, chopped

Combine soy sauce, mirin, lemon juice, honey, red pepper flakes, and green onions in a bowl.  Whisk until well combined.  Add pork tenderloin to the bowl and marinate at least 30 minutes.  Skewer the meat onto metal or wooden kebob skewers.  Add the remaining marinade to a small pot.  Heat the grill over medium high add the kebobs.  Set the pot with the reserved marinade on a side burner and bring to a boil, whisking often.  As the meat cooks, brush it with the boiled marinade.  Cook the meat 10 minutes or so, turning often, until it has reached the desired temperature.  I served mine with grilled asparagus and brown rice.  Enjoy!