A Sunny Shower

It’s been awhile since my last post and I have lots to share in the next few weeks.  May was a busy month with an engagement (mine!!), a long-awaited trip to the beach, and preparing to help host a baby shower the first weekend in June.

The baby shower was for one of my closest friends, Andi, which I hosted last weekend with my mom and three other family friends, Kathy, Cindy, and Katie. Andi and her husband, Tony, opted not to find out the sex of the baby, so we stuck with a gender neutral theme of “you are my sunshine” to reflect the décor of her nursery.  The yellow-and-blue color scheme felt fun and summery – perfect for an early June afternoon. The menu was a compliment to the light mood with an assortment of tea sandwiches and salads; pineapple chicken salad on croissants, mango shrimp salad in cucumber cups, strawberry romaine salad, and fresh fruit.  For dessert, lemon squares and brownies sat next to a towering display of cupcakes – each topped with a fondant sunshine or cloud. Instead of favors, we opted for a candy bar. Apothecary jars and glass dishes held a variety of yellow candies for guests to fill treat bags with as they got ready to leave.

Throwing a shower is always fun but there’s an excitement and anticipation with baby showers, especially when the mommy-to-be is a close friend, that makes it all the more special. (Plus, as Katie put it, diaper cakes, toys, and tiny outfits are a lot more fun that blenders, towels, silverware.)

Invites

Invitations by Frilly Milly Events

Flower

Sunny flower arrangements by Kathy, one of the other hosts

onesies

Onesies clipped to a ribbon ‘clothesline’ decorated the fireplace.

name tags

Diaper-inspired name tags

fruit

Fruit, baby! (Made by Katie, one of the fellow hostesses)

cake

Sunshine and sugar

A swim in the sherbert punch...

A swim in the sherbert punch…

The mommy-to-be with her mommy.

The mommy-to-be with her mommy.

candy bar

Sunshine-inspired candy for guests to take home.

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Your Best Grilled Cheese: Winner

Thanks to all who participated in the “Your Best Grilled Cheese Contest.” I’m excited to announce that we have a winner! The Avocado Mac and Grilled Cheese, submitted by Michaela C. of Cincinnati, Ohio, won the hearts and taste buds of our judges. Warm macaroni and cheese, made with sharp white cheddar and infused with a subtle hint of avocado, sandwiched between two think slices of crusty, buttered ciabatta bread – it’s a unique and delicious combination of two favorite comfort foods. Michaela will receive a $50 gift certificate to Williams-Sonoma to help stock her kitchen for future grilled cheese experimentation. Looking forward to seeing what she comes up with next!

The Fried Cheese Melt, submitted by Mike C. of Columbus Ohio, was a close runner-up and sure to please even the most extreme cheese lover. This easy-to-make sandwich consists of mozzarella cheese sticks and lots of gooey American cheese melted between two pieces of sourdough bread and served with a side of marinara for dipping.

Celebrate National Grilled Cheese Month by trying these two amazing sandwiches for yourself. Scroll down for recipes.

grilled cheese winners

WINNER: Avocado Mac & Grilled Cheese

Submitted by: Michaela C. Cincinnati, Ohio

Serves: 1

Ingredients

  • 8 oz elbow pasta
  • 3/4 c skim milk
  • 1 fully ripened avocado from Mexico, halved pitted, peeled and mashed
  • 3/4 c diced sharp white cheddar cheese (about 4 oz)
  • 1-1/2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 slices Italian ciabatta bread

Directions

1. In a large sauce pot, cook pasta in salted water according to package directions.

2. Meanwhile, in small saucepan, heat milk until hot; remove from heat, set aside. When pasta is almost cooked, combine avocado, cheese and lemon juice in blender. Gradually add hot milk and blend until smooth.

3. Drain pasta; return to sauce pot. Stir in cheese sauce. Set aside.

4. Butter two slices of ciabatta bread and grill on a panini press until warm.

5. Add pasta avocado mac to one slice of bread, top with the other slice, and press in the panini press until hot.

RUNNER UP: Fried Cheese Melt (Adapted from a Denny’s favorite)

Submitted by: Mike C. Columbus, Ohio

Serves: 1

Ingredients

  • 2 slices sourdough bread
  • 2 tsp softened butter
  • 3-4 slices of American cheese
  • 3 frozen cheese sticks
  • 1/3 c marinara sauce

Directions

1. Prepare cheese sticks accordingly to package directions. Set aside.

2. Heat a skillet to medium heat. Butter one slice of bread, and place in skillet. Cover bread with cheese.

3. Space cooked cheese sticks out over the slice of bread. Top with remaining cheese and second slice of bread. Cook on both sides until golden brown.

4. Serve with a side of marina sauce for dipping.

Super Bowl Snack: Mac and Beer Cheese Cups

I don’t watch the Super Bowl for the football. I don’t even watch it for the commercials. (By the second quarter, they’re all repeats.) Let’s face it, I watch it for the food. Pizza, beer, queso, potato skins – all in one sitting. Sure, I might indulge in a slice or two of pizza on a Friday night or share a bowl of queso at a Mexican restaurant but what other day of the year is it socially acceptable to pig out on all of these delicious delicacies in the same meal?

Naturally, I’ve put a lot of thought into what I’ll be feasting on during this year’s big game. My stomach immediately started growling when I ran across this recipe for macaroni and beer cheese. I tweaked the recipe a bit and then decided to bake snack-sized portions using a muffin tin. The result was delicious – rich and cheesy, infused with a slight malty flavor from the beer. This game-day twist on classic comfort food is definitely on the menu for Sunday’s festivities.

My adaptation of the recipe below.

Untitled

Serves 12

*Ingredients and steps 1, 2, 4, 6 adapted from livelovepasta.

Ingredients

  • 2 ½ c elbow macaroni
  • 10 oz grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese
  • 4 oz grated gouda cheese
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 8 oz milk
  • 8 oz amber beer
  • ¼ tsp paprika
  • pinch of chili powder
  • pinch of black pepper
  • ½ c Panko bread crumbs
  • 1/4 c grated Romano cheese

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 ° F.
  2. Prepare water for pasta and boil according to package directions. Strain, return to pan, and remove from heat.
  3. Line a standard muffin tin with cupcake liners. If using foil liners, one should be enough. If using paper liners, use two.
  4. Heat butter in a medium saucepan over high heat. Whisk in flour to create a roux and cook about 2 minutes, until golden and bubbly. Add milk and beer into saucepan whisking constantly, then add gouda and cheddar cheeses and stir until melted. Reduce heat continue to stir until mixture thickens. Add pepper, paprika and nutmeg.
  5. Pour cheese over pasta, mixing until completely covered. Spoon macaroni and cheese into muffin tins.
  6. Top with Panko bread crumbs, pepper, and Romano cheese. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden on top.

New York City

My sister, Suzanne, and I had a truly amazing girls’ weekend in New York City! We went for the surprise birthday party of one of our friends from college, Monica. The party was Friday night and definitely the highlight of the weekend. The birthday girl was thrilled to see everyone; she even started crying when she realized that so many of her out-of-town friends had made the journey. The rest of the weekend was filled with sightseeing, shopping, new friends, and great food. Here are some of my favorites from the trip –

The Vault at Pfaff’s – The surprise party was at The Vault at Pfaff’s in Greenwich Village. Originally a 19th century beer cellar made famous by Mark Twain and Walt Whitman, the re-imagined speakeasy is dark and intimate, with beautiful vintage décor, corset-laced waitresses and menus printed on newspapers. The cocktail names even pay homage to the 1850’s artistic culture of the city – Leaves of Grass, Bohemian, Smoking Revolver. I was easily transported into history…that is, until my bill came.  Definitely worth it though!

The Park – We ventured over to Chelsea on Saturday night for a late dinner at The Park.  Described as ingredient-based Mediterranean, the cuisine seemed more American to me but delicious, nonetheless. (I ordered potato gnocchi with arugula, pancetta, and pecorino.) While the food was great, the ambiance of the restaurant was even better. We sat in the Garden Room, which was a patio (covered in the winter) full of Japanese maple tress decorated with tiny orange lights and bird feeders. It all felt very New York.

Magnolia Bakery – Suzanne and I went on a bit of a cupcake binge, going to three different cupcakes shops in three days.  And while my sister would argue that Sprinkles was the best (although not truly a New York bakery) I thought Magnolia Bakery took the cake (get it?) The classic buttercream frosting that made the bakery a tourist mecca is to die for. I’d skip the red velvet next time though – without any cream cheese frosting, it clearly lacked the calories I was looking for.

Bloomingdale’s – From the first time I ever set foot in a Bloomingdale’s, I was in love. (The absence of Bloomingdale stores in Ohio has only made my heart grow fonder.) And the flagship store on Third Avenue is certainly worth the trip. I could spend all day browsing the displays of brightly colored baubles, handbags, and designer pieces (that I can’t afford). In terms of what I can afford – I adore the Aqua line, exclusive to Bloomingdale’s. The pieces are well made and reasonably priced.  My sister and I spent a few glorious hours there shortly after we arrived in the city on Friday. I didn’t end up buying anything – I wasn’t quite ready to indulge myself in the spring pieces when it was below 20 degrees outside but Suzanne got a gorgeous lime-colored Yumi Kim top that I most definitely will be borrowing.

Despite all of the celebrating, fun, and food, what really made my weekend was experiencing it all with my sister. We only live two hours apart, but our schedules don’t allow many visits, and it’s rarely just the two of us. This weekend gave us a much needed opportunity to spend some quality time and catch up. And even though our bank accounts are suffering the effects of the weekend, the sisterly bonding time was priceless.

Vault at Pfaff's

Vintage newspaper menu at the Vault at Pfaff’s

Cupcakes from Magnolia Bakery

Cupcakes from Magnolia Bakery

sisters

Suzanne (left) in her new shirt (!) and me at Pfaff’s

Ice skaters at Rockefeller Center

Ice skaters at Rockefeller Center

Arugula, Parmesan, and Pine Nut Salad

I’ve never particularly enjoyed salad unless it’s covered with cheese, creamy dressing, or other toppings that would likely make a plate of nachos a healthier choice. However, I discovered a light, healthy option last year at one of my favorite tapas restaurants that may have changed my outlook on salad altogether. I’ve attempted to re-create the salad several times since, never getting the dressing quite right until the other night when I finally tasted victory by altering a basic citronette recipe.

What I love most about this salad is that it’s literally foolproof (yay!) and is easy to put together. It can be served as as simple, elegant side dish or topped with grilled chicken strips for a main course.

Bon appetit!

(Recipe below)

Arugula, Parmesan, & Pine Nut Salad

Ingredients
(Serves 2)

Salad

  • 2 c baby arugula
  • 1/2 c shaved Parmesan
  • 1/4 c pine nuts
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Dressing

  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 tbsp lemon zest
  • 1/2 tbsp orange zest
  • 1/4 c olive oil
  • 1 tbsp champagne vinegar
  • 1/2 tbsp minced shallot

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400° F. Arrange a single layer of pine nuts on a cookie sheet with sides (so the nuts don’t roll off). Bakes 5-7 minutes or until lightly lightly toasted.
  2. To make the dressing, combine ingredients and place in a tightly capped container. Shake until ingredients are well blended.
  3. In a larger bowl, combine arugula, cheese, and pine nuts.
  4. Pour dressing over salad and toss.
  5. Season with salt and pepper.
  6. Enjoy!