Thursday, May 29, 2014

Jello for Grown Ups

For today's Food Inspired Friday I bring you…Jello!  Summer is here, and sometimes grown-ups need transportable adult beverages.  Jello shots don't have to be your average grape and cherry in a plastic cup - they're going gourmet!

On of my favorite blogs, Domesticate Me, shared a recipe for moscow mule jello shots.  She also shared the basic formula for jello success:
 1 cup alcohol + 1 cup non-alcoholic liquid + 2 envelopes gelatin= JELLO SHOTS

How pretty are these watermelon-lime squares?  This particular recipe has just a touch of alcohol, but you could always adjust if necessary! 

I'm still a fan of a classic Cosmo - you can't beat the color of these squares

I'm having a hard time deciding which recipe I want to try first!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Chess Squares

When I go home to Greensboro, one of my favorite activities is sorting through my mom's recipe box and cookbooks.  She has quite a collection of what I would consider 'vintage' cookbooks and I stumbled upon this gem of recipe in a Junior League cookbook from the '70s. 

These Chess Squares could not be easier to throw together and would be a great project for the kiddos too. The ingredient list is super short and all you will need is two bowls, a mixer and this sweet treat will be oven-ready in under  5 minutes.

The results are a golden brown, buttery, creamy delight that anyone can put together in a snap. 

*1 box Duncan Hines butter cake mix
* 1 stick butter, melted
* 1 egg, beaten
*1 box confectioners sugar (I used 3/4 a box for a little less sweetness)
* 8oz cream cheese, softened
* 3 eggs

Preheat oven to 325.  Stir butter and 1 egg into cake mix with a wooden spoon.  Press cake mix into a 13X9 pan. 

For the topping, beat together sugar, cream cheese, and 3 eggs.  Pour over the cake mixture.  Bake for 55-60 minutes.  Cut into squares when cool. 

Monday, May 26, 2014

Sarasota Wedding Weekend

I hope everyone is feeling rested and rejuvenated after the long weekend!  I spent the weekend in beautiful Sarasota at one of the best weddings i've ever been to. 

Friday night, we enjoyed a beach side dinner at the Ritz-Carlton Beach Club.  The sunset was incredible! 

These are three of my best friends from college days - reunited to celebrate Katie (far right) and Anthony. 

Saturday, the wedding and reception were held at the Ca' d'Zan, which is the former home of the Ringling family (of the Ringling Brothers Circus).  The weather could not have been more perfect as the sun was setting, with cool breezes off the water. 

Besides the view, I couldn't get over the food.  Every time I turned around a waiter was ready with a freshly stocked tray of passed hors d'oeuvres.  There were duck spring rolls, crab rangoon, shrimp cocktail, fresh bruschetta, brie and pear grilled cheese, fried ravioli, and even more if you can believe it.   I never had a chance to get hungry - my kind of party! 

The reception area was like a scene from the Great Gatsby.  The Edison lights were the perfect touch for this setting. 

 One of the most touching moments of the weekend was the father-of-the-bride's toast.  Katie's dad (her parents work for the government and have lived all over the world) reminded us all how fortunate we are to be able to celebrate together in such a beautiful setting, with so many freedoms allotted to us, because of those who fight for those freedoms.  It was a lovely nod to Memorial Day. 

Here's to a short week!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Pasta Salad

Is everyone ready for a long weekend?!  Memorial Day really snuck up on me, but i'm not complaining! I'm heading to Sarasota for a weekend of fun in the sun and to see one of my best friends get hitched.  

For those of you who will be hosting a party, I bring you the perfect pasta salad! There's nothing better than a great pasta salad at a picnic or barbeque.  I promise your friends will be impressed with your homemade version of a classic cookout favorite!

I greatly prefer a fresh vinaigrette based pasta salad to the mayonnaise-y counter part. The red wine vinegar in the dressing lends that familiar tang we all love, and the raw grated garlic packs just the right punch of flavor with a subtle heat.

* 3 tbsp. red wine vinegar
* 6 tbsp. olive oil
* 1 clove garlic, grated
* 1 tbsp. shallot, minced
* salt, pepper

(add as much or as little of anything you like!)
* 12 oz pasta
* 1 c. cherry heirloom tomatoes, halved or quartered
*  1 cucumber, chopped
* 1/2 c. feta
* 1-2 tbsp. chopped basil, depending on taste

Prepare the pasta according to package directions.  While the pasta is cooking, prepare the dressing by combining all ingredients in a mason jar and shaking until well combined.  When the pasta is done cooking, drain, and toss with 3 tablespoons of the dressing, tomatoes, and cucumber.  Let the pasta salad cool at room temperature for ten minutes or so, then transfer to the refrigerator to finish chilling (about an hour and a half to two hours).

After the pasta is chilled, stir well, and add more dressing as needed (I ended up using about 3/4 of the dressing).  Toss the pasta with the feta and basil and serve.  Enjoy!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Party at the Picnic Table

A few months ago, my father-in-law gave us the most amazing picnic table.  It is absolutely huge and can easily sit 12 people.  Since the moment it landed in my back yard, I've been dying to host an al fresco dinner. 

Friday afternoon, with the forecast looking close to perfect, we decided to host a Moscow Mule social and dinner at the picnic table.  I thought the table came together perfectly and effortlessly with just a few colorful accessories, paper napkins, and some simple fresh flowers.

I recently bought these great stacking plates at C. Wonder -perfect for a utensil rest and a nice pop of color.  

I'm obsessed with these disposable linen placemats I found in Wilmington at Dragonflies - perfect for the picnic table.  I accidentally threw away the packaging so I can't find the brand, but i'll be buying more soon and will be sure to post. 

 Trader Joe's and Whole Foods usually have great deals on fresh cut flowers.  These hydrangeas were $4.99 and are still hanging in there 4 days later! 

We kept the menu pretty simple with Stonewall Kitchen Pork Tenderloin (pork tenderloin just keeps going on sale at Harris Teeter- I can't resist the buy one get one free!), squash casserole, grilled asparagus, and Pasta Salad. 

Simple votives provided a lovely glow as the sun went down, and helped keep some of the bugs away.


Moscow Mule

Have you hopped on the Moscow Mule bandwagon yet?  I recently did and I must say, I'm a fan. 

I bought these beautiful copper mugs  on a whim while I was in Greensboro for Mother's Day, knowing that Mike would love them and hoping that I would like the signature beverage that has made them so trendy.

As it turns out, Mike and I both love Moscow Mules.  The cocktail is light, refreshing, and the ginger beer offers a hint of a warm spice.  Just be careful- they go down easy! 

* 2 oz. vodka
* 1/2 oz. fresh squeezed lime
* Ginger beer
* crushed ice

Fill a copper mug with ice.  In a cocktail shaker, shake vodka and lemon juice over ice, then strain in copper mug.  Top with crushed ice.  Enjoy! 

Today I'm also teaming up with a great group of bloggers for a giveaway! Enter below to win a LuluLemon Gift card! Wilmington friends - there is a Lululemon pop up shop in the Forum, open through September! a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Hiltons

I recently finished a great book, "The Hiltons, the True Story of an American Dynasty."  Don't worry, there are only one or two chapters about Paris, I promise!  The story focuses on Conrad Hilton as he builds the Hilton Hotel empire and the many struggles he faces, along with the sometimes tumultuous story of his children and personal relationships.

What you may not know is that Conrad was once married to Zsa Zsa Gabour, and his son Nicky was actually Elizabeth Taylor's first husband.  As a result, the story is intermingled with tales of old Hollywood and life in Beverly Hills. 

What I really loved about the story were the accounts of the glamorous, old world parties and dinners Hilton would throw.  While Hilton was fairly frugal with his own family, he spared no expense in celebrating the opening of each hotel.  For the "Hilton Junkets" he would fly press, family, and celebrities to the hotel for sometimes weeklong parties, with cocktail receptions, black tie affairs, lunches, brunches, and activities each day.  

Even later in life (he lived until 1979), he upheld old fashioned traditions, with formal family dinners.  I found it interesting that even when he was married to Zsa Zsa, they would eat dinner each night, being served of course, at opposite ends of the large, formal dining table.  

I would highly recommend this book - an inspirational story of one mans determination to build an empire, rich with history and glamor.  I'm thinking of starting up my book club again just so I can host a formal dinner for discussion!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Sour Cream Noodle Bake

I recently tried the Pioneer Woman's Sour Cream Noodle Bake and it was so tasty, I have to share!

Sometimes, you really just need a good, comforting, cheesy, old-fashioned casserole, and this is certainly a good one to add to the rotation. It couldn't be simpler to put together and requires only a short list of ingredients.  The PW uses a mixture of mostly cottage cheese and a bit of sour cream, but I chose to lean heavier on the sour cream so this was almost like a mixture of lasagna and stroganoff. 

Here's the PW's picture -I had trouble capturing the layers, she nailed it! 
Ingredients (my version, find the original here):
* 1 lb. ground sirloin
* 2 tsp. olive oil
* 1 (15 oz) can tomato sauce
* 1/2 tsp. onion powder
* 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
* 8 oz block cheddar cheese, grated
* 1 (8 oz) package egg noodles
* 1 c. sour cream
* 1/2 c. cottage cheese

Preheat oven to 350.  Prepare pasta according to package directions, drain, and stir in the sour cream and cottage cheese.  Season with salt and pepper and set aside.  Meanwhile, brown the beef in a large skillet over medium high heat.  Add the tomato sauce, onion powder, and season with pepper. Simmer on medium low while the pasta is cooking. 

Build the casserole by adding half the noodles in a small baking dish, topped with half the sauce, and half the grated cheddar.  Repeat the layers.  Bake at 350 for 20 minutes or until the cheese is melted.  Let cool for 5 minutes before serving.  Enjoy! 

Sunday, May 11, 2014

St. John Honeymoonin'

Happy Monday!  I hope everyone had a wonderful Mother's day, either celebrating or being celebrated.  
Brunching with the one and only Debs!
I know things have been awfully quiet on the blog lately, but if you follow me on instagram, you may have noticed that I was busy enjoying a much needed vacay!

Mike and I just recently returned from our belated honeymoon in St. John, USVI.  I must say, this was absolutely the best vacation i've ever been on. 

We googled our hearts out before settling up on St. John, and we're so glad that was the choice we made.  Rather than staying at a resort, we opted for a great little house we found on VRBO.  We had our own pool, beautiful ocean views, and being able to cook our own meals was the icing on the cake. 

The ocean was absolutely pristine.  We swam so far out and the water was as clear as any swimming pool. 

May in St. John was so beautiful, and we were able to afford a great house because it is the off season (but not yet rainy season, which starts in June).  

Vacationing alone means lots of selflies! 
Each night we enjoyed cocktail hour and appetizers on our porch and watched the sunset.  The island life was so laid back - just the rejuvenating trip we needed!  

This is how I spent every afternoon - enjoying a good book and siesta in the hammock! 

I'm back in the swing of things this week and will be back to blogging as well! 

Monday, May 5, 2014

Stonewall Kitchen - Pork Tenderloin

Mike and I grill so often when the weather is nice, we're always looking for fresh flavors and ideas.  One of my favorite go-to store brands for marinades is Stonewall Kitchen. They make the most amazing flavors like Maple Balsamic Grill Sauce, Roasted Garlic Peanut sauce, Sriracha Teriyaki, and quite a few others.

Our personal favorite is grilled pork tenderloin with their Vidalia Onion Fig sauce.  It is so delicious!  We made this last weekend to go with Stove Top Macaroni and Cheese for a family cookout.  It was a huge hit - the fig sauce is sort of like a gourmet barbeque sauce.  We marinated the pork for a few hours, then Mike grilled it over medium high heat until it was cooked through and had a nicely caramelized crust.

What's on your grilling menu?

Friday, May 2, 2014

Food Inspired Friday: Cinco de Mayo Favorites

The day my Food Network Magazine arrives in my mailbox is always a great day.  I absolutely love it - the recipes are approachable, creative, and I pore over each page.  

I must say, FNM really killed it with their Cinco de Mayo ideas in this issue.  I honestly want to try all of the recipes! 

I for one think Queso is always a good idea, and this Double Chile Queso is no exception. 

These Shrimp-Avocado Tostadas look amazing.  For an easier option, I would probably make a mini version on a tortilla chip and skip the frying. 

I love these Stuffed Baby Bell Peppers for a fun, bite sized twist on the classic. 

 These Beef Skewers with Cilantro Chimichurri are such a festive entree - perfect for the grill! 
Happy Weekend!