Monday Night Dinner - Shared with Friends

full.meal2.jpg

In today’s world of hustle and bustle, technology and device driven social contact, there is one aspect (well, probably many) of our new reality that makes me truly long for days of yore.
Connection. Real, soulful, personal connection.
I miss those times when getting together with loved ones was easy, almost expected on a regular basis. When weekends were spent visiting friends and family, and not traveling in a car for hours to watch a little league, or spent in front of a computer trying to catch up on work. Nowadays, it takes calendars, a team of coordinators, pie charts and graphs and law firm to find a date that matches up for everyone. When I was younger, we had our midday meal at my grandmother’s house every Sunday in Brooklyn. It was known and expected and it was a comfort and joy to gather all together. When we moved out to Long Island, everyone then drove out to us for the day. We were a family, and friends were always welcome to join.

I long for those days. I’m not saying every Sunday but I do yearn for time spent enjoying a meal with people I love in a chill atmosphere just so we can catch up. I fully recognize some of the reasons why this has become difficult. People move further away from one another. Jobs and schedules are more demanding. Kids have extracurricular activities that require more time and attention. But I guess this new paradigm of life is what irks me. We put so much more emphasis on things that cause us stress, and less on carving out time to hang with people we care about. I know I might get some backlash about the kids’ activity portion. It brings joy, etc. But when did sports and violin practice consume 75% of a kids free time? When do they have time to socialize and be kids? Now, that is a whole other topic. But, you all get where I’m going.

 

So given that long diatribe, it completely warmed my heart that when my friend Tecla’s dad was back in NYC visiting from Tuscany, JuanCarlos and I were top of his list to visit. High on the list!! We were tickled Parmesano Reggiano. We made a date for a Monday night and as we were deciding where to meet, it was a no brainer to invite them to our home. Unfortunately, our dear friend Scott, Tecla’s hubby, was unable to join us, and he was missed.

tecla.babbo2.jpg
 

A simple meal is all that’s needed, since the purpose of the visit was spending time together. We did add an appetizer and soup because we wanted the evening to last longer. More time requires more food. Well, at least that’s my thinking.

Here is what we served, and the elegant, simple table setting we served it on.

Appetizer & Soup

Eggplant rounds with roasted tomato & goat cheese

Sliced eggplant dusted with flour, quick sauté, then placed on a baking. Top each one with a spoonful of roasted tomatoes (sauce), a dollop of goat cheese, some thyme leaves and drizzle of olive oil. Bake until cheese melts.

eggplant.rounds.jpg

Seafood Soup

This is the perfect starter on cold night. A light fish broth chock full of shrimp, monkfish, calamari and beans.

Simply sauté garlic, onions and parsley. Stir in cannellini beans to add a bit heartiness. Then add fish stock and bring to low rolling boil and add the fish. Cover and lower to a simmer until the fish is cooked through.

The same wine we enjoyed with Tecla’s dad in Italy on a visit to the winery. Perfect with the pork and the cake!

The same wine we enjoyed with Tecla’s dad in Italy on a visit to the winery. Perfect with the pork and the cake!

Main Course
Pork Roast
Oven roasted Heirloom Carrots
Oven roasted Butternut Squash with Brown Butter Sage
Quinoa with scallions

 
Photo credit: Tecla Palli-Sandler

Photo credit: Tecla Palli-Sandler

uncooked.pork2.jpg
Roasted Pork
Roasted vegetables & Quinoa
 

Cinque colore salad with oil cured olives

I’ve taken the traditional tri-colore salad and amped it up with a few more colors by way of citrus fruits and oil cured olives. I used both the juices from the grapefruit and oranges then added lemon, lime and zest whisked with olive oil, salt, pepper for the dressing. Fresh, bitter, sweet, sour, peppery. This hit all the right notes.

citrus.salad.cu.jpg

Dessert
Gluten Free, Dairy/Egg free chocolate tart. This is not my recipe. Nor did I make it exactly as the recipe stated, but this came out chocolatey, rich and delicious. I made a slightly altered version of Brandi’s Chocolate Espresso Fudge Cake. I didn’t have chocolate to shave over top so I created my own decoration with a random almond sliver swirl. I must have been channeling crop circles.

chocolate.tart2.jpg

Table Setting & Decor
It was a Monday night so there was not a ton of time for a formal table setting. It was more of a last minute task. So no time for ironing meant no tablecloth, and a need to display a napkin that no one would notice the wrinkles. Deep green colored velvet placemats kept with a winter warm theme. White dishes and gold charger popped nicely off the deep color mats and made it feel rich and elegant, but not pretentious. Just the right touch to make our guests feel special, yet not a lot work for me.

single.placesetting.green.jpg

The heartiness of my cabbage floral arrangement, plus elements from my Fall themed arrangement lasted long enough for me to arrange them at the end of the table with some candles to warm up the setting.

CabbageFinal4.jpg
Table setting with green velvet placemats, gold chargers, white plates and a soup bowl with gold trim.

Table setting with green velvet placemats, gold chargers, white plates and a soup bowl with gold trim.

There is nothing more satisfying than making a meal that nourishes the body and the soul, and sharing it!

tablesetting.green.jpg
Tecla and her dad, Paolo serving up food stirred with love.

Tecla and her dad, Paolo serving up food stirred with love.

JuanCarlos talking about the state of… If you want to know, you’ll have to join us for dinner.

JuanCarlos talking about the state of… If you want to know, you’ll have to join us for dinner.

JC.Tecla.Babbo.jpg

We had such a great night. We all love food, travel, family, and living life richly. So conversation was a flow as we enjoyed a simple meal together. Cherishing the time we each carved out for one another in our busy schedules, and realizing that anything worth enjoying takes a little effort. I’m glad we all made the effort. And even happier that we were on Paolo’s list during his short visit. Our turn next… in Italy!!

I hope that with all the rush of the holidays you, too, can carve our time in your schedules to share a meal, laughter and love with the people you love. Dig in, fork first!

Paolo, aka Babbo, digging into chocolate heaven.

Paolo, aka Babbo, digging into chocolate heaven.

 

Brunch Made Simple

table3.jpg

Brunch is supposed to be a relaxed, chill vibe. A time to hang with friends and family. The whole idea is rooted in the premise of sleeping in, then eating lazily in the late morning.  That is true if you are going out to eat, or to someone else's home.  But if you are hosting, it's a bit harder to sleep in. Plus it can feel a bit overwhelming, knowing there are mountains of ideas on what to serve.  I am guilty of wanting to offer up more options than are possible to consume.  (Or to make, for that matter.) The essence of brunch is that beautiful crossover of food from breakfast items to lunch or even a few heartier items. There in lies the rub.  All those choices create a mind numbing battle of what to serve when the possibilities seem endless.

That was my dilemma a while back when we hosted a brunch for our dear friends Carl and Malcolm. I had all sorts of ideas, but I was determined to keep it as simple as possible.  In the end, I felt like I accomplished that, so much so that I recreated the same menu for a Sunday brunch with our other dear friends, Nicki and Jeff. 

A little forewarning, in order to keep this post manageable, each recipe below is a hot link, bolded and highlighted in blue. Just click to be whisked away to see how to make it.

Let us begin:

There were two slight changes to the menu for Nicki and Jeff versus the original. I didn't serve the polenta cake, but did add an amuse-bouche of Ibérico ham, Marcona Almonds, olives.  It was a nice way to greet our friends and settle in a bit as we caught up on our life tales and the many moons that had passed.

Now, you've heard me say many a time that it is essential to serve warm items, room temp and chilled items. This holds especially true for brunch.  Certainly, if I were serving brunch in the winter I might lean on a few more warm plates, but this combo seems just right for the rest of the seasons. Plus, as we head into summer we are in prime time for more entertaining in general, especially outdoors.  Brunch is ideal for backyard entertaining.

 

 

After the nibbles that amused our mouths and whetted our appetites, we started off with a chilled dish, then moved on to all the other plates. Let the party begin with a refreshing and clean burst of citrus.

Citrus Salad Martini

A 'brighten your day' start to Sunday, or any day for that matter.

A 'brighten your day' start to Sunday, or any day for that matter.

Next up was a continuation of fruit, transitioning to savory with this lightly tossed salad.

GRAPED UP BOSTON SALAD

Boston lettuce with grapes, fennel, celery, scallion. It's bright and light.

Boston lettuce with grapes, fennel, celery, scallion. It's bright and light.

Something warm with...

TOMATO & GOAT CHEESE PIE

Warm and savory. The sweetness of the tomatoes balances the tang of the goat cheese.

Warm and savory. The sweetness of the tomatoes balances the tang of the goat cheese.

Something room temp and hearty...

Salmon Salad Platter, Deconstructed

Polenta Cake

Polenta cake cut into slices.

Polenta cake cut into slices.

Ingredients

2 c polenta (cook according to package)
1.5 T butter
1/4 c chives, chopped
1/3 c goat cheese
salt, pepper

Instructions

Once the polenta is cooked, remove from the burner and stir in the butter, goat cheese and chives, salt and pepper until combined.  Lightly oil a cast iron pan and pour in the polenta. Bake at 350 degrees until a crust forms. Turn onto a board or plate and cut into wedges.  Best served warm but room temp is good too.

What I love best about this meal is that so much can be done in advance. The big plus is that any of these can be served at room temp, therefore, less stress about timing and getting the plates to the table.  

Then for dessert, I kept with the same theme of simple.  Prepped ahead of time and waiting on the kitchen table, I brought out a small platter of fresh cheeses (Manchego & Ibores),  grapes, strawberries and Sweet Olive Oil Crackers. Certainly, you can go sweet at this stage of the meal, but this felt right, and I believe our guests thought so too.

So, although YOU might not be sleeping in as late as everyone else, but taking the homemade brunch route doesn't have to stress you out.  Create the perfect crossover meal.  

 
DP-stirredwlove-ID1.jpg

Saturday Dinner Party - A Nod to the Mediterranean

A nod to the Mediterranean using a Provencal tablecloth. Simple. No fuss.

A nod to the Mediterranean using a Provencal tablecloth. Simple. No fuss.

We are in the midst of planning a trip to the South of France.  In our research, food and wine keep popping up frequently.  So much so that JuanCarlos has taken to buying only French wines at the moment.  Getting his palate ready, I guess. 
I'm getting mine ready by dreaming of Mediterranean flavors. So with plans to host a Saturday night dinner party for our friends, Donna and Jeff, it made total sense to devise the menu around that theme.  It's easy to cook for them. They are food lovers, too, and enjoy a wide variety of food.  Well, except that Jeff isn't quite that fond of spinach or squash, which believe or not, were both on my original plan. I had my heart set on making fish en papillote using carrots, zucchini and spinach. But no biggie, there are so many other ways to go.  I could still make fish en papillote, but minus those two ingredients. Thinking cap on, I would spiritually fly myself to the Mediterranean and envision some ingredients.  I had capers, olives, tomatoes which all fell right in line with that theme. It seemed even more fitting since Jeff and Donna have been to France numerous times, plus they are planning a trip to Italy in June.  Yet another cosmic nudge toward a Mediterranean mood.  So, mind made up. Plan in place. A celebration was in order, not just the flavors of the region but the style, too.
Starting with the table setting. 

I pulled out a tablecloth that had olives, sunflowers and tones of green, all of which are reminiscent of the Provence region of France.  I added deep olive green, velvet placemats and playing off the yellow tones, I used gold rimmed dishes and draped a triple pointed folded napkin slightly askew. Simple, elegant but not too fussy.

All keeping in the same tones. Greens play off the yellows and reds. Even the water glass is green and gold.

All keeping in the same tones. Greens play off the yellows and reds. Even the water glass is green and gold.

The Plan:

  • Table setting with a Provencal tablecloth

  • Keep appetizers to a few simple bites in the bistro style

  • Main course featuring fish with Mediterranean flavors, potatoes and salad

  • Dessert: true European style - Cheese platter

For appetizers, I thought a fun intro to the meal would be small pressed sandwiches accompanied by marcona almonds, olives marinated with herbs de Provence and cornichons.  The mini sandwiches were made with a combination of cured meats/cheese and leftover pork loin & onion jam

Plus a little twist on an old classic; Pigs in a Blanket, served up by using mini spicy Spanish chorizo wrapped in puff pastry and a side of whole grain and dijon mustard mix.

 

Lastly, a bite from the sea provided by marinated boquerones served on a crisp, cool slice of English cucumber.  

These offerings were just the right amount to get us started.

A panini press gives a nice warm crispness to the bread and melts the cheese.

A panini press gives a nice warm crispness to the bread and melts the cheese.

Cut strips of puff pastry

Cut strips of puff pastry

Roll 'em up in their blankets

Roll 'em up in their blankets

The puff pastry adds a buttery flavor that complements the spice of the chorizo. These are a more grown up way of serving Pigs in a Blanket. Adding a nod to France, I mixed up whole grain mustard with dijon for dipping. Marcona almonds and cornichons for crunchy, salty bites.

The puff pastry adds a buttery flavor that complements the spice of the chorizo. These are a more grown up way of serving Pigs in a Blanket. Adding a nod to France, I mixed up whole grain mustard with dijon for dipping. Marcona almonds and cornichons for crunchy, salty bites.

Boquerones  are fresh anchovies. I marinated them in crushed garlic, olive oil and parsley. Then placed them atop an English cucumber slice.

Boquerones are fresh anchovies. I marinated them in crushed garlic, olive oil and parsley. Then placed them atop an English cucumber slice.

All appetizers were prepared ahead of time and kept in the fridge till right before serving. I made the sandwiches and wrapped them in plastic wrap. Then pressed them when our guests arrived.  The boquerones were assembled and plated earlier in the day. So all I needed to do was place them on the table.  My adult version of Pigs in Blanket were cooked right before they were due to arrive, so those were warm and ready to go. These small bites created a relaxing, no fuss vibe giving us a chance to sit, chat and catch up before the main meal.  Many a moon ago, Donna and I had blood orange cosmos at the Royalton NYC.  It seemed only fitting that we serve up a similar cocktail to start... just for old times' sake. As we nibbled, we sipped on Blood Orange Martinis made by the deft hand of my hubby, who lovingly squeezed all the citrus and mixed this drink to perfection.  

A mix of blood orange, lemons, limes, vodka and simple syrup.

A mix of blood orange, lemons, limes, vodka and simple syrup.

Squeeze them all into a bowl and include some of the pulp.

Squeeze them all into a bowl and include some of the pulp.

I love the bright color and flavor of this drink. So fresh. So delicious. Goes down so easy. Now that's AMORE!

I love the bright color and flavor of this drink. So fresh. So delicious. Goes down so easy. Now that's AMORE!

Dinner was also prepped ahead of time, stored in the fridge and then pulled together before serving.  The real nod to the Mediterranean came in the flavors used for the cod. I like using the en papillote method (cooked and served in paper wrapping) because it cooks beautifully. It's easy to prep, and each guest gets their own portion. I have made fish this way numerous times using different vegetable combinations. Not going with my original plan of zucchini and spinach, I needed some inspiration and found a recipe using grouper with capers, red pepper, tomatoes, kalamata olives and lemon.  I immediately knew that combo was the perfect way to go since I had most of the items save for the red pepper.  I took my cues from the recipe photo but used my own amounts. I also used cod because it was the freshest at the market.  I swapped the red onion for yellow, and eliminated the garlic and red pepper flakes. Although, I made modifications, this isn't my own, so if you want to follow the recipe to a tee, click here.

Using the mise en place method of cutting all ingredients, and getting everything ready makes assembly much easier.

Using the mise en place method of cutting all ingredients, and getting everything ready makes assembly much easier.

I place the parchment paper right on the baking sheet and built up the flavors.  Then folded the paper into a packet and built the next packet. I put two on each pan, then placed the whole baking pan in the refrigerator.  Once we were done eating our appetizers, I placed the pans in the oven to bake for 20 minutes.

Fresh, clean and ready to make a pocket full of Mediterranean yum.

Fresh, clean and ready to make a pocket full of Mediterranean yum.

Simply fold the edges around to create the pocket.

Simply fold the edges around to create the pocket.

fish.final2.jpg

For side dishes, I made Potatoes Anna turned Potatoes Dana, crispy kale/caramelized onions and Baby Arugula salad with oranges, tangerines, red onion, chopped marcona almonds with a orange/lemon vinagrette.

Slices and slices is what creates layers of potato for this dish.

Slices and slices is what creates layers of potato for this dish.

A slice of layered potato goodness.

A slice of layered potato goodness.

Peppery bite of arugula is balanced by the sweetness of the orange with the crunch of the almond.

Peppery bite of arugula is balanced by the sweetness of the orange with the crunch of the almond.

Baking en papillote allows all the juices to delicately poach the fish and vegetables together. A harmony of Mediterrean flavors.

Baking en papillote allows all the juices to delicately poach the fish and vegetables together. A harmony of Mediterrean flavors.

Of course, French wine was served. Beaujolais Blanc and Chateau Saint Roc Cotes du Rhone.

Of course, French wine was served. Beaujolais Blanc and Chateau Saint Roc Cotes du Rhone.

Finishing off the meal with savory flavors of a full cheese board was perfect way to end the evening.  Cheese selection of Époisses, Sofia, Majorero Pimenton surrounded by fruit and sweet condiments all enjoyed in front of a roaring fire.  

fireplace.jpg

We had a wonderful time together with friends with love, savoring food that paid homage to places we all love.  Pick a country or a region and honor it by creating a menu to share with those who love it too.  We're glad we did.

 
DP-stirredwlove-ID1.jpg

Weekend Guests -Life's Colorful Stroll

sun.pathway.jpg
You can't hide behind the wine... or the fork.

You can't hide behind the wine... or the fork.

Our world is made up of a bunch small moments.  Each strung together to make up a life.  And when those small moments are fulfilling and memorable, then that string makes up a beautiful life.  Mine is a long string of glistening pearls. Moments upon moments that bring me joy and memories that squarely plant a smile on both my face and heart. 

Last fall I added to that string when we hosted our friends from Miami who have a passion for photography. (Well, Marta has more than passion.  It's her profession. Check out her work here .)

They wanted to enjoy the cool fall weather and snap shots of the changing of the seasons. Which, of course,  is a big deal to them being from a one season city. It ended up being a spectacular weekend as the weather was cool but pleasant, the leaves were all starting to turn and gave way to a rainbow explosion.  The bursts of colors were emblematic of our feelings of spending time together.  Bright and cheerful with the crisp air breathing life into our souls.  

Lake view
orange.tree.jpg
yellow.tree.jpg

On weekends like these, entertaining takes a more relaxed vibe. We keep the food simple so we can spend quality time together. Plus with all the other activities going on who wants to spend oodles of time in the kitchen.  Simple entertaining doesn’t have to mean boring. It just means easy preparation, few ingredients with big flavors.  

Day One - An evening at home with cocktails, snacks & poached salmon

Since I was working in the city, the first night’s meal was prepared by my hubby who made an easy poached salmon with vegetables.  While we waited for the meal to be ready we downed the 'way to easy to drink' Citrus Martinis while snacking on some cheese, olives, marinated garlic cloves and the famous crowd pleasing nut, Marcona almonds (all of which I brought home with me from Despaña.)

Citrus cilantro jalapeño Martinis.  Refreshing and the perfect drink to get the evening started.

Citrus cilantro jalapeño Martinis.  Refreshing and the perfect drink to get the evening started.

I also roasted up some tomatoes ahead of time.  These are the easiest 'must have' staple in your fridge.  Since they are made with enough oil to keep them cured for awhile, they are a savior to pull out in a pinch.  Which is what I did, and then served it on crusty bread.  Our friend, Illy's, reaction to the simplicity but deliciousness of this bite... Priceless.

The OMG moment of food ectasty 

The OMG moment of food ectasty 

After the snacks and the drinks came the easy 'meal in bowl' dish; Poached Salmon   

Ingredients

salmon.jpg

(serves 4)
1.5 lb Salmon
1/2 yellow onion, cut in quarters
2-3 carrots, cut in 1" pieces
2-3 ribs of celery, cut in 1" pieces
4-5 new potatoes, cut into small chunks
Oil, salt, pepper

Directions: 

Sauté for 2-3 minutes only all the vegetables in a large, deep pan using oil and seasoning with salt and pepper.  Then place the seasoned salmon on top of all the vegetables and fill the pan with water to cover the fish.  Place a cover on the pan and cook over a low heat to a simmer until the fish has turned a pale pink.  Should take about 12-18 minutes depending on the thickness of the fish.  You can leave the vegetables whole or blend them up to create a puree.

 


Day Two - Fahnestock State Park followed by cauliflower soup, snap peas, salad, scallops
The following day we drove up to Clarence Fahnestock State Park wandering around, climbing up rocks and snapping off photographs as if film were free. Oh, that's right, we had digital cameras.  Snap a 1000 and deal with it later! 

Things are looking up for me.  Photo credit: Marta Neira

Things are looking up for me.  Photo credit: Marta Neira

trees.rock.jpg

Quite honestly, as eye catching as some of the photos are, they never seem to capture the true beauty of nature in its most vibrant state.

JC taking a test digital photo before using his film camera.

JC taking a test digital photo before using his film camera.

The stillness of water reveals stark reflections 

The stillness of water reveals stark reflections 

Reflections of a vibrant kind

Reflections of a vibrant kind

After being out in the chill of the day, we needed a little warmth.  What better answers that call than soup.  That night's no fuss easy line up:

final.plated.salad.jpg
soup-shallots.jpg

Day Three - Stone Barns followed by pizza, shrimp & salad
We drove Marta and Illy to one of our favorite local treasures; Stone Barns at Rockefeller State Perserve   I think you can tell by those smiles that we had a good time.  We hiked around for a leisurely 5 mile trek capturing even more photos of fall’s abundance. Crayola crayons, eat your heart out.

reflection.jpg
Illy's gentle essence

Illy's gentle essence

Marta's soulful smile

Marta's soulful smile

JC with one of his vintage cameras. Photo credit: Marta Neira

JC with one of his vintage cameras. Photo credit: Marta Neira

Marta & Illy admiring the cows at Stone Barns

Marta & Illy admiring the cows at Stone Barns

On our familiar path at Rockefeller Park

On our familiar path at Rockefeller Park

orange.tree2.jpg
moss.jpg
Oodles of color and lushness.

Oodles of color and lushness.

Upon returning for our final evening together, we felt like keeping it cozy with comfort food. I made an array of pizzas as appetizers followed by a quick sauté of shrimp and a salad.  Since we had been out on photography adventures all weekend, there was no time to make homemade dough. Store bought version does the trick and works like a charm.  

Keeping it warm by the stove

Keeping it warm by the stove

Spreading roasted garlic mash on the dough

Spreading roasted garlic mash on the dough

I add oil to a bowl, plop the dough inside, cover with a towel and don't let the dough rise too much.  Then I stretch it out with my hands into whatever shape it feels like making and add various toppings.  Here's a few we served that night.

Hot off the stone

Hot off the stone

Roasted tomato, roasted garlic, basil & Parmesan cheese pizza

Roasted tomato, roasted garlic, basil & Parmesan cheese pizza

Fresh tomato slices, goat & Parmesan cheese pizza

Fresh tomato slices, goat & Parmesan cheese pizza

Roasted red pepper & goat cheese pizza

Roasted red pepper & goat cheese pizza

After that yummy goodness, some greens and a protein were all that was needed. 

  • Sautéed jumbo shrimp (with garlic, scallions)
  • Boston salad with celery, fennel, scallion
     
Similar to my  Graped up Bibb Salad

Similar to my Graped up Bibb Salad

Jumbo shrimp with garlic & scallions

Jumbo shrimp with garlic & scallions

There was nothing extraordinary about any of these dishes other than good ingredients made with absolute love.  There was, however, moments of extraordinary all weekend long.  Hosting weekend guests doesn't have to turn your life upside down.  And even if it does, you will always land right side up.

duck.end.jpg
duck.up.jpg

Take a colorful stroll, breathe in the crisp Fall season, spend time with people you love, then return home to a warm meal. Fill your life with special moments and string together your own pearl necklace. 
 

A colorful stoll

A colorful stoll

The girls.  Photo Credit: JuanCarlos Casas

The girls.  Photo Credit: JuanCarlos Casas

ground.leaves.jpg
 
DP-stirredwlove-ID1.jpg

Lunch with a Friend - Casual with Style

My dear friend, Donna, and I had been trying to make plans to get together for months. We had set a date to meet in the city for lunch, but alas those plans got axed.  Once we switched the day, it meant she was able to come up to my house for a 'ladies lunch'.  Does that make us sound old?  If so, then forget it.  We were just eating together.

It had been a while since we had last seen each other, so the idea was to enjoy each other's company and not have cooking occupy my time. The plan to keep it easy peasy was to create a menu where the majority of items could all be roasted in the oven and the rest could be made ahead of time.  Leaving me hands free for when she arrived.  I like starch (pasta, potatoes, rice not the kind used for ironing), and wanted to include that too. My immediate thought was polenta. However, after surveying the menu, a last minute swap out for rice felt like it paired better with the rest of the offerings, which also included a salad.  When it came to dessert, this needed to be super simple because I didn't have the time to bake.  Add to that, I wanted something that I could enjoy too. A traditionally baked item uses flour and eggs, well, no good for me. 

Sure sandwiches would have been even easier. Sure we could have eaten at the kitchen table.  But a little extra detail is much nicer. And so...

How hard is it to keep it casual but amp it a bit to feel special?  Simply throw down a runner the opposite way to create an more intimate area on a large table, add some placemats. Toss cloth napkins on the plate and put glasses on the table.  That always ups the ante, and really it doesn't take more effort than that.

So when you want to keep it chill yet with touch of style for no fuss lunch, here's a menu that can be pulled off without a hitch. The best part of this for me was that since it was pouring out and despise schlepping in the rain, I already had everything in the house, and didn't even need to shop!!  

Prep everything in their pans, season right before putting in the oven and have a glass of wine.

Prep everything in their pans, season right before putting in the oven and have a glass of wine.

If you need some recipes guides for the below menu, the highlighted items link to previous blog posts that feature each one. Also at the very bottom, you will find printable recipe versions.  If you have any questions on how to pull this menu off, write a comment below or email me

Lunch Menu

Simply roasted salmon nestled up against beautiful roasted vegetables all on one plate.

Simply roasted salmon nestled up against beautiful roasted vegetables all on one plate.

Paella rice risotto style with 3 kinds of onions (red, yellow and scallions)

Paella rice risotto style with 3 kinds of onions (red, yellow and scallions)

For the Paella Rice Risotto style, first sauté a mixture of red, yellow onion and scallion until caramelized.  Set aside. In a medium sized pot, simply sauté some more onions in oil, salt and pepper then add the rice to toast it. Then add either hot water or hot stock (chicken or vegetable) a few ladles at a time until the rice absorbs the liquid. Continue until the rice is tender then stir in the sautéd onion mixture. 

Another option, you can check out my Garlic Rice recipe.

You know this salad. This is the Citrus Salad Bowl, but in one big bowl not individually plated. This way we could go back for seconds.

You know this salad. This is the Citrus Salad Bowl, but in one big bowl not individually plated. This way we could go back for seconds.

The skinny on how the dessert portion was pulled together with just a few ingredients: Open the fridge. Check out what you have and use your imagination.  I found strawberries and blueberries, and tucked in the back a tiny bit of left over chocolate ganache* (previously used for some profiteroles I had made).  And just like that I had a dessert.  Fresh Fruit Bark.

* Ganache is chocolate melted down by adding warmed cream to create a glaze .  When I originally made mine I used much less cream since I wanted a thicker consistency for the profiteroles.  If I had a traditional ganache, it would have never worked for this dessert.  

Spread the chocolate onto parchment paper.

Spread the chocolate onto parchment paper.

Instructions

I melted down the chocolate, spread it over parchment and jammed, I mean lovingly placed, the fruit into the chocolate. For texture, I sprinkled some crushed Marcona Almonds and popped it in the fridge to set and chill until time to serve. 

Arrange the fruit in a way that is appetizing to you.

Arrange the fruit in a way that is appetizing to you.

Since this was made with a semi ganache, it had a softer consistency than traditional bark.  That didn't bother either one of us, and the fresh fruit route was the perfect choice since Donna prefers fresh versus dried fruit. Phew, good call on my part.  This literally was the truest form of 'something from nothing', pulling a dessert out of the hat from whatever I had handy.  We both agreed it was quite delicious.  Bigger bonus, it gave her a new way to use up all the gorgeous summer fruit she gets at her country house.  

Starting with the lovely Shinn Estates Rosé that Donna brought, we had a relaxing time, ate well, caught up on each other's lives and travels, enjoyed a surprise yummy dessert, and of course, finished the entire bottle of wine. It ended as a perfect Lunch with a Friend.  

Sprinkle chopped Marcona Almonds all over the top.

Sprinkle chopped Marcona Almonds all over the top.