Strawberry and Basil Infused Water

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I’ve been trying to cut back on my diet coke intake these days, in favor of some more refreshing and summery beverage options.

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This strawberry and basil infused water is absolutely divine.

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The basil was freshly plucked from my container garden. The two flavors combined just taste exactly like summer!

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I took a tray out to my back deck to enjoy a light afternoon treat in the sunshine.

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The macaróns are from Trader Joes! They come frozen – just let them sit out and defrost for about an hour. This box held a variety of delicious flavors, and they are cute and bite-sized!

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I love leisurely summer afternoons!

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Travel Themed Bridal Shower – International Food

My mother and I teamed up to create the lunch menu for Priscila’s travel themed bridal shower. Our goal was to feature foods from the four main countries that are important to Priscila and Mike – the U.S., Sweden (where they met), Peru (where Priscila is from) and France (where they took a special trip to Paris together).

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We hosted just over twenty people, and had more than enough food to go around (that’s a sign of a great party, right?!) Our appetizer spread included a big platter from Philly Soft Pretzel Factory, for what could be more representative of Philadelphia than soft pretzels?

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We had cheese and crackers (plateau de fromage) to represent France, and a tray of thin rye crisp bread, cheese, and sweet & yummy lingonberry jam – a common preserve eaten in Sweden.

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I ordered some of our international fare from World Market, including the crisp bread, jam, and two jars of bruschetta made in Peru – an artichoke spread and an artichoke & piquillo peppers – all of which were delicious!

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The star of the appetizer table was definitely the bolitas de causa served with huancaina sauce, a Peruvian dish made all the more authentic because it was prepared by Mili, Priscila’s mother! Mili knew these were a favorite of Priscila’s, and we all learned why very quickly – they are absolutely delicious (made with potatoes and other magical ingredients), and the sauce (a spicy cheese sauce) was killer. I will be getting the recipe from Mili for sure!

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Lunch was primarily ‘American’ – deli mean sandwiches and a salad. We also served Swedish Meatballs (bought a package of frozen ones from IKEA), and Deviled Eggs (made by my wonderful Aunt Susan!).

Dessert, my friends, was clearly the highlight of this whole event.

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We had Red Velvet Cupcakes (Priscila’s favorite, homemade by my mother), Chocolate Chip Cookies (homemade by my grandma), Coconut “Cocadas” or Macaroons – made by me using this Peruvian recipe, and a suitcase full of Peruvian chocolates & candies brought by Mili.

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We also had a lovely tower of French Macaróns (naturally!)

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These delectable & fluffy macaróns came from a great little french bakery in Quakertown, PA (my hometown) called Moussey Moose. We had chocolate, raspberry, and lemon poppy flavored – and they were quite possibly the most delicious things I’ve ever tasted.

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I labeled our multi-cultural foods with markers printed on cardstock & cut in the shape of airplanes, listing the food & the country of origin. (just taped to toothpicks and stuck into the food platters!)

And we can’t forget the drinks: unsweetened iced tea and Pisco Sour Sangria – a delicious version of sangria that uses Pisco, a popular Peruvian brandy. I followed this recipe and will definitely be making this again!

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My mouth is watering just thinking about all of the delicious food we served! It was like a trip round the world on a plate!

I hope you have a great weekend!

DIY Garden Markers

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Today’s DIY features the work of someone much more talented than me – the creative mastermind behind Rifle Paper Co., Anna Bond. I am pretty much obsessed with the gorgeous products that come from this husband & wife team (I have this iPhone case, and love to use their gorgeous gift wrap). I get so excited when I come across Rifle Paper Co. products in my favorite stores –  like recently Target & Pottery Barn! I came across the Homegrown Garden set of cards at Pottery Barn a few weeks ago (on sale!) and grabbed them, knowing they’d be perfect cards to use for people like my mother (I used the green wellies card in her Mother’s Day Gardening Gift Basket). Once I decided to plant myself some lil’ veggie seedlings, I decided these cards could help make perfect plant markers!

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I had picked up a few of wooden sign/stakes from Michael’s a few weeks ago – I think they were $1.99 a piece. So I took two the vegetable medley card & the herbs card and cut out the adorable drawings of the vegetables in my container garden. You could use any plant images, or printed text of the plant names, that you’d like to create your own (or, if you have artistic ability – which I do not – you can draw/label them yourself!)

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I painted the tops of the markers white. I then glued the pictures using Mod Podge – and finished the whole thing off with a coat of spray Mod Podge sealant.

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The sealant will help protect them from the outdoor elements.

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I am pretty much obsessed with these little markers – I think they are so adorable!

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I still have a bunch of cards left from the set, and I saved the cards I cut in case I add more vegetables or herbs this season or next year. I’m so excited about my little vegetable seedlings – I can’t wait for the garden fresh tomatoes, peas & basil we will enjoy this summer!

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Grow Baby Grow

So, as I mentioned in Sunday’s post, I’m trying my hand at a little gardening project this year. I was never that into gardening in the past (and I really do not have the greatest track record when it comes to keeping plants alive), but this year I’ve become inspired to grow myself some veggies. (I’m going to make a confession right now and admit that one of the big reasons I decided to venture into gardening THIS year was because of the overwhelming cuteness of the garden tools at Target…)
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The hubs & I live in the 2nd floor apartment of a two family home, but since the 1st floor residents are his parents, we have unlimited access to the back yard/deck (score). Even so, the yard is small & so I’ve opted to start a little container garden, and grow just a handful of vegetables this year.

We’ve got a Lowes in town, with a great garden center. I was a little overwhelmed with the selection & options at first, but I figure the best way to learn is to dig right in (get it?) and learn as I go! So I purchased a pair of wooden planter boxes that I happen to completely adore. I thought about painting them fun, bright colors, or stenciling designs on them, but I decided I really love the simple, natural look of them so I left ’em as they were.

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The third planter is hexagonal-shaped, and was a quick add on to my supplies when I realized I had purchased too many plants to fit in just the two boxes! (Lesson #1 – tomato plants need lots of room to grow!)

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On my first trip to Lowes several weeks ago, I bought a bunch of seed packets & thought I was going to be all Johnny Appleseed about it. Then I called my mother (garden pro) and she told me in order to grow my veggies from seeds I would have had to start them in indoor pots and care for them until they were sturdy & strong enough to be moved outdoors. Space is a limited commodity in our home, and most indoor plants run and hide from me in terror.

So I took those seeds back and waited a few weeks until we had passed the danger of frost in our area, and purchased myself some pre-planted & cared for mini seedlings. I think it’s kind of like adopting a child after all the messy diaper-changing & late-night crying years. So it’s like adopting a bunch of teenage plants. I can just stick ’em in the ground, provide food & shelter, and let ’em do their thang. Just like a kid…right?

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Let me introduce you to the family. First, we’ve got the real stars of the show – a set of tomato plant triplets. I grabbed three because I want to increase my odds of successfully growing some delicious, juicy red tomatoes. (Again, just like with children. One of them is bound to get it right).

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Next up are the easy-to-care-for and full-of-promise basil plants. (They are like the middle child – they don’t need as much attention as their siblings, but they’ll spend their whole life trying to make you proud grow delicious leaves). These little over achievers are going to become pesto before you can say… presto?

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And finally, the babies of the family who will respond to extra love & attention – some cute little sugar snap pea seedlings.

You most likely already know how to go about planting things in dirt, but in case you’ve been living in the desert or on the moon for a while, here’s what I did in three simple steps:

1) Filled the planters 2/3 of the way with dirt (or should I say dirt’s more glamorous cousin, soil. I used one bag of ‘regular’ soil & 1 bag of Moisture Control Miracle Grow to fill all three planters.)

2) Plopped in the plants.

3) Added more dirt.

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The plants were hanging out on the deck over the weekend, and soaked up lots of rain from passing showers. Even so, after I finished planting, I fed my little children seedlings with some miracle grow fertilizer, and made sure the pots were placed in the sunniest spot on the deck. There was some patting and cooing and “grow baby grow” encouragement offered as I planted, but that about sums it up.

Now I guess there is nothing left to do but cross my fingers & hope that they grow into something I can be proud of & brag about to all of my friends er… eat. Gosh, I’m going to be a great parent someday.

When Life Hand You Lemons… Make Shortbread!

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I’ve never tried to make shortbread cookies before. I’m a big fan of chocolate chip, chocolate dipped, or chocolate anything cookies, actually. But when I saw this recipe from Real Simple magazine, I was just dying to try it.

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There’s nothing like a desert recipe that takes 15 minutes to prepare!

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The end result is a buttery, flaky, delicious shortbread with the perfect lemon flavor and a hint of chamomile.

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To make these delicious little triangles, you will need:

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

grated zest from 1 lemon

1 teaspoon loose chamomile tea (I just emptied the contents of a Chamomile tea bag)

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

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1. Heat over to 325° F. Combine butter, sugar & salt in mixer and beat until light & fluffy. Blend in the lemon zest, loose tea, and flour until smooth. Press into an 8 inch square cake pan. Sprinkle some clear sugar crystals over the top of the shortbread.

2. Bake 30 minutes or until the shortbread begins to turn golden. Cut into 9 squares, then cut each square into 2 triangles.

3. Cool completely on a wire rack, then remove shortbread triangles from pan.

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Enjoy!

Salad in a Jar

You’ve all seen it floating around on Pinterest – the brilliant idea of pre-making & stacking up salad ingredients in a mason jar (seriously, as I ask myself time and time again…what would the world be like without mason jars?)

SaladJar2I’m here today to tell you that this is truly one of the most brilliant Pinteresty ideas yet. It is a super convenient way to bring your own salad to work or to school – without the mess of little Tupperware containers filled with dressing (that almost always open & spill all over your lunch bag…don’t they?) and without the worry of the dreaded soggy lettuce! There is nothing in this world I hate more in a salad than limp & soggy lettuce. Bleh.

SaladJar3The added bonus to this salad-in-a-jar method is the joy & self-satisfaction you will derive from packing a cute mason jar filled with healthy goodness into your cute lunch bag (do you ever even use that Vera Bradley lunch bag you got for Christmas last year?) and treating yourself to a delicious homemade salad. Take that, winter weight.

Salad1I’ve got loads of mason jars, previously featured in our DIY Wedding and used to craft these DIY Mason Jar Snow Globes. I simply took two of my quart sized, wide-mouth jars along with two plastic, wide-mouth lids (they are great for easy access food storage).

SaladJarI put 1 1/2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar dressing in the bottom. Then I added the vegetables- in this case mushrooms, chopped bell peppers and tomatoes. The veggies soak in the dressing, getting all marinated-and-delicious. Next came some chickpeas and cubed fresh mozzarella cheese. The lettuce comes last, and it sits nicely on top – far out of reach of the dressing – staying fresh & crisp & NOT soggy until you’re ready to enjoy your salad. You can stuff a lot of lettuce (I used mixed romaine) into the jar, but leave some space at the top so you can shake everything up when you’re ready to eat.

Salad2I made two at a time, but could totally have done more- they stay nice and fresh for days. The jars went into the refrigerator, and then into my lunch bag on Monday and Tuesday. As long as the jar stays upright during travel, you have no risk of soggy lettuce. At lunchtime, I gave the jar a shake-shake-shake (singing “Shake Your Booty” the whole time), and then emptied the contents onto a paper plate.

saladBoom. Perfect, freshly dressed salad with no muss & no fuss. Makes eating healthy almost seem easy.

At least until I run out of mason jars.

Butternut Squash Soup

I know I haven’t been around much – I’m claiming wedding preparations (16 days out) as an excuse. But I’m here today with a recipe for delicious Butternut Squash Soup.

In the midst of hardcore wedding dieting/juice fasting/exercising, the chilly & rainy days we’ve had lately forced me to indulge in some comfort food-goodness.

It was worth it.

Butternut Squash is a popular fall vegetable. I love it for it’s natural sweetness. To make the preparations for the soup as easy as possible, I used a pre-peeled, seeded & halved squash from my local grocery store. It was a total breeze to cube up the squash.

Looks like a plate of cheddar cheese, doesn’t it? Is it making you hungry? Because it’s making me hungry…

I also peeled & cubed one potato, and chopped up 1/2 of an onion.

Using 4 tablespoons of butter (I know… but it was comfort food!), I started with the onion until it was well on its way to a nice caramelized look. Then I added the cubes of squash and potato, stirring until the vegetables began to brown. I seasoned with garlic salt, pepper, and some Italian seasonings.

I transferred everything into a larger pot, and poured fat-free chicken stock into the pot until it just covered the veggies. I continued to season with salt & pepper, while bringing everything to a boil. I then reduced the heat & let everything simmer for about 40 minutes.

Until the squash & potato were nice and tender.

The next step was my favorite- I used my little hand blender to puree the vegetables directly in the pot.

Once nice & smooth, I added the milk, cinnamon & additional salt & pepper. I used about 1/4 of a cup more broth to thin the soup a bit. I continued to heat the soup for another 5-1o minutes, while I grilled up my sandwiches.

This soup was so delicious, and made me so happy. I topped the soup with ground pepper, and served it with a yummy grilled swiss sandwich, and praised the goodness of comfort food.

Butternut Squash Soup

Recipe (heavily) adapted from here.

Ingredients:

4 cups of butternut squash, cubed

1 potato, peeled & cubed

1/2 of a large onion, diced

4 tablespoons butter (or margarine)

32 oz Fat Free Chicken Broth

1 tsp Garlic Salt

1 tsp Cinnamon

1/4 cup skim milk

Salt & Pepper to taste

 

Instructions:
1. Halve a Butternut Squash, remove seeds & peel. Cube squash.

2. Heat butter in a large saucepan. Saute onions until caramelized. Season w/ Garlic Salt.

3. Add squash & cubed potato. Saute in butter until vegetables begin to brown.

4. Add chicken broth to cover all vegetables, bring to a boil.

5. Reduce heat & simmer for 40 minutes, until all vegetables are tender.

6. Transfer to blender or use hand blender to puree vegetables.

7. Return to stove, add 1/4 milk &  more broth to reach desired consistency.

8. Add cinnamon, and season with salt & pepper to taste.