Monday Night Dinner - Shared with Friends

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

 

Ciao 2017 - A Year that Warmed My Heart

Another year.  Another 365 days of "what did I do with all that time?"  I do recall many moons ago an older person said to me that time goes by faster when you are older.  I didn't quite get it, but now that I am older, I see that it is true.  But I still don't get it. Time flies by quicker now. But how? But why?  Is it because as adults we wish for the weekends to come so we can have some rest? Only to find out that we have cleaning and laundry, errands and bills to attend to.  Is that why time blows past us?  Who knows, except, here it is the end of 2017 and I am still wondering what happened to March!!  What have I done with all that time?

I have accomplished some things but will readily admit that I wasted too much time.  2018 will be about making more of each moment. Well, that was the goal of 2017, so wish me luck... again.

As the year comes to a close some of you will host big parties.  Great.  But if you are like me, and don't make such a huge deal out of New Year's Eve, or feel pressure to do something, or maybe you feel sad because nothing special is happening.   Please remember it's just another night like the one before it and the one after it.  You can choose to how to honor it or not. You can use it to ump start a fresh beginning. But if you don't have big plans, so what.  You can do what JC and I like to do.  Sit quietly, rejoice in what we have now and make a list of our wishes  for the coming year. Without pressure but just gentle reminders of what we would like to reach for.

As we wrap this year, that was filled with tons of emotion for most of us, let me share some moments of just how lovely a year can be.  (Lots of photos, so keep scrolling for another message from me.)

January
Shared time with my sister Jill and nieces, Nikki and Gabrielle, as we cooked together making the original "something from nothing" recipe, Zucchini Orzo Pie and an old family tradition, stuffed breads.

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February
Starting the month with an invite from our family friends, the Marzullos, to kick start a month of eating well.
Celebrated my birthday with my parents in Miami showing them cool restaurants for them to visit, like Prohibition. Then back home to celebrate another Pisces birthday with my 'niece', Lauren, serving up a traditional Spanish tapas lunch.

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March
Stirring it with love with Gabrielle at her workplace, Traditions, in Charlotte, NC promoting my Think...then Jump™ children's book series and reading to the kids. Back home, taking in nature with a walk through our favorite local spot, Rockefeller Park.

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April
Another trip to Italy, because... Well, it's Italy and you can never get enough. And let's not forget this is the land of beauty, love and of course...pasta.  All things I hold dear.

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My own fresh pasta made in the Tuscan Hills.  Recipe here

My own fresh pasta made in the Tuscan Hills.  Recipe here

My hubby, falling in love with Cortona in the Tuscan region of Italy.

My hubby, falling in love with Cortona in the Tuscan region of Italy.

May
JC's birthday, celebrated as usual with good food and wine.

Cucumber, radish, mint salad

Cucumber, radish, mint salad

Roasted pork loin

Roasted pork loin

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June
A full month of gatherings with family and friends, both in NY and Miami.  

Us and the Nardolillo Family.  Finally, after many dates were thrown around, we found one in June!

Us and the Nardolillo Family.  Finally, after many dates were thrown around, we found one in June!

Always love visiting Miami for sun and the warming of my soul.

Always love visiting Miami for sun and the warming of my soul.

Miami gang,  Marta and Me with JC to celebrate Emilce's Birthday.

Miami gang,  Marta and Me with JC to celebrate Emilce's Birthday.

Krista and Me.  I babysat for her.  Yes, I did and now she is getting married!

Krista and Me.  I babysat for her.  Yes, I did and now she is getting married!

July
Spent the 4th sharing good times, good food and good fun with dear friends Emily and Lorne at their Bay home.

Rocked a successful event aboard a NYC nighttime cruise that Despaña co-sponsored.  Boy, was I tired after that one.

A NYC visit from my bestie, Dominique, ending a perfect  girl's day with her daughter, Lauren.

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Despaña Gang AKA Chicas Poderosas = Powerful Girls!

Despaña Gang AKA Chicas Poderosas = Powerful Girls!

Dominique and Lauren. Don't you love those smiles!

Dominique and Lauren. Don't you love those smiles!

August
Too many photos to even think about sharing from our trip to Northern Spain, but the highlight was spending time with our dear friends, Marcos and Angelica, at their home in Amieva, Asturias.

Amieva, a beautiful view

Amieva, a beautiful view

Marcos, Angelica and JC

Marcos, Angelica and JC

Angelica and me

Angelica and me

September
How do you celebrate fall with Cuban in-laws?  Roast a pig.
How do you celebrate a friend's birthday? Call and say "I'm coming over with food and cake!"

How do you celebrate a life? By honoring it with memories, laughter and love. Sharing as a family a most beautiful memorial to rejoice in life of my dear Aunt Catherine.

Porky the pig in La Caja China, the Chinese roasting box

Porky the pig in La Caja China, the Chinese roasting box

I made a gluten free cake to celebrate Carl's birthday.

I made a gluten free cake to celebrate Carl's birthday.

Alla familia

Alla familia

Aunt Catherine's favorite hat and her corn cob pipe.  No button nose here.

Aunt Catherine's favorite hat and her corn cob pipe.  No button nose here.

October
Thanks to my sis, Alys and Mastercard, we got to visit the Chiluly exhibit at the NY Botanical Gardens

Then had a wild production experience as Team Despaña, Angelica and Master Carver Jaume Guerra were slicing up jamón on The Untitled Action Bronson Show appearing on Viceland TV.

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Angelica & Jaume showing how it's done.

Angelica & Jaume showing how it's done.

Action Bronson checking out the jamón

Action Bronson checking out the jamón

November
NYC Marathon with my amazing sis, Alys.

Stats that make her cream of the crop.

Stats that make her cream of the crop.

Family support after 26.2 miles.  Ready for a meal.

Family support after 26.2 miles.  Ready for a meal.

December
That time of year when spending time with flour, butter and sugar is how I pass my time, baking up a storm. Thankfully, I had one brave soul to help me, my niece, Gianna to the rescue.

Gianna, directly home from college and before seeing friends, helped me make cookies... all day.

Gianna, directly home from college and before seeing friends, helped me make cookies... all day.

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I also had to say ciao for now to my nephew, John, as he moved away to Colorado.

So as we close the books on 2017, I wish for you all the health and love life has to offer... And there is an abundance of it. There truly is no end to that well.  You can continue to tap it and unearth it's riches.

May you find the path you were searching for.

May the passions you dream of become realities.

May the struggles you have be released and resolved.

May good friends, good food find their way into your home.

May each day bring a wonderful mixture of laughter and smiles, inner peace and joy, satisfaction and accomplishment, confidence and strength.

May you step closer to knowing and loving your true self and rejoice in your essence.

I wish all these and so much more for you.

Happy New Year

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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.

Plentiful Platters

"Summer breeze makes me feel fine...Sweet days of summer, the jasmine's in bloom. July is dressed up and playing her tune."  You have to sing that last part to yourself.  And be grateful that I've only written the lyrics and you can't actual hear me butchering that beautiful Seals & Croft song. I've been told my singing voice is for internal use only.  But the sweet days of summer have arrived and for JC and me it signals a time for entertaining and calling on friends and family to join for BBQ, drinks and chilling.  One way to easily serve and satisfy a big crowd is present everything on a big platter and let your guests pick and choose what they like.  The combinations are infinite. The preparation usually pretty simple. The best part, it looks amazing and feeds the masses happily. 

Here are a few of my favorites from the past. For the most part the veggies are either grilled or oven roasted.  I have posted several recipes with oven roasted veggies before, so no need to photo walk you through all that again. (But for a reminder, check out  Roasted Vegetables - Lunch 3 Ways)  Remember, there is no step by step recipe for this.  Buy, prepare and assemble what moves you. 

Grilled veggies, roasted potatoes and grilled tomatoes

Grilled veggies, roasted potatoes and grilled tomatoes

This big platter of chick peas/celery/scallions, sautéd string beans, grape tomatoes and cucumbers served as the side dish to an abundance of pizzas.  It made the ideal accompaniment to those crispy, yeasty delights. 

This big platter of chick peas/celery/scallions, sautéd string beans, grape tomatoes and cucumbers served as the side dish to an abundance of pizzas.  It made the ideal accompaniment to those crispy, yeasty delights. 

Here it is on the table.  I think I also added roasted potatoes.

Here it is on the table.  I think I also added roasted potatoes.

A simple Boston salad with fresh tomatoes and grilled asparagus.

A simple Boston salad with fresh tomatoes and grilled asparagus.

The combinations are whatever you like, really.  I usually try to complement the main protein and use vegetables and herbs that will enhance and brighten the meaI. I also love combining roasted veggies into a salad, if you will.   Chopped up and tossed into something starchy and hearty like Israeli Couscous. When I was able to eat wheat this was one of my favorites.  It's not a full pasta but plump little pearls that won't overfill your guests but have just enough heartiness to round out a meal. 

Israeli Couscous with grilled zucchini, summer squash, roasted red pepper, hearts of palm and a basil dressing.

Israeli Couscous with grilled zucchini, summer squash, roasted red pepper, hearts of palm and a basil dressing.

For this dish, cook the couscous as you would any other type of pasta.  Simply grill or roast your veggies of choice and chop them into bite size pieces.  Toss them together.  Then I usually make some dressing for additional flavor and moistness.  You can smash some garlic, salt, pepper and basil and add olive oil for a super fast full of flavor dressing. You can serve this on its own or take that simple Boston salad and turn it up a notch by adding the couscous atop the lettuce.

The Boston lettuce platter making room for the fluffy couscous mixture.

The Boston lettuce platter making room for the fluffy couscous mixture.

Another great feature of the big platter, you can easily make some of these the morning of or even the day before with the extra bonus of room temperature serving.

Greens and Whites platter is made up of arugula simply dressed with lemon juice, salt and olive oil, next to hearts of palm, sautéd string beans, 2 bean salad and roasted broccoli.

Greens and Whites platter is made up of arugula simply dressed with lemon juice, salt and olive oil, next to hearts of palm, sautéd string beans, 2 bean salad and roasted broccoli.

Various grilled vegetables atop Aborio rice.

Various grilled vegetables atop Aborio rice.

So choose what you like and whatever is available at the farmer's market, or at the grocery store. Start grilling, roasting and assembling your platter.  Your guests will love the abundant choices and you will love the abundant time you have to share with them during your party.  Plentiful platters, plentiful in so many ways, just like a summer's breeze.  

Lunch 3 Ways, as performed by Roasted Vegetables

The Stars

The Stars

Yeah, yeah, I know that you know that I LOVE roasting vegetables.  Honestly, it's one of the easiest, most efficient and delicious ways to cook them.  All the work is done for you.  Place 'em on a pan with the magic 3 (oil, salt & pepper), slide into a 400 degree oven and done and done.   

Knowing this, you won't be surprised that I've come up with 3 more ways to serve up roasted vegetables. This was yet another time when we had a handful of unused items from a party that needed to be cooked up. As usual when I looked at these, I wasn't sure what their final use would be, but before they went bad they needed one last curtain call.  

The stars of this day's performance: Introducing the Carrot, The Vine Tomato, The Beet,  The Yellow Pepper and of course, Miss Fennel.

Destined for sweetness by way of roasting.

Destined for sweetness by way of roasting.

Adding the Magic 3, Olive Oil, Salt & Pepper

Adding the Magic 3, Olive Oil, Salt & Pepper

I added potatoes because JC loves these roasted

I added potatoes because JC loves these roasted


Lunch Performance #1 - The Stack 'em Up Sandwich

Place a few of the roasted tomatoes in a small food processor along with crushed garlic, pinch of salt and 2-3 T olive oil. Pulse until you get a chunky paste.

 

Place a few slices of your favorite cheese on one side of the bread and broil it until the cheese is melted. (I used Ojeva Negra, an earthy Spanish sheep's milk cheese.)

Add a smattering of the tomato-garlic 'jam' and begin stacking the veggies onto your sandwich. From here you can begin diving in or take it the next step and panini it.  This earthy, crunchy lunch was for JC since I don't eat bread.  Sucks for me.

The Full Stack

The Full Stack


Lunch Performance #2 - Quinoa Bowl

Cook up your favorite quinoa.  I used an organic multi grain one.  Ready up your roasted veggies and cut into bite sized pieces.

Once quinoa is cooked, arrange in a the bowl, top the quinoa with the tomato 'jam' and dig in.


Lunch Performance  #3 - Pasta Toss

I don't need to tell you that this was my favorite.  I'm such a pasta monster.  You can use whatever type of pasta floats your boat.  Semolina is still my favorite but I can't eat wheat anymore so I cooked up some brown rice elbow macaroni.  

While the pasta was cooking, I sautéed 1/4 c chopped shallots, 2 cloves chopped garlic and some left over grape tomatoes equally about 2/3 cup. (Again, any amount that you have will work, so don't worry so much about amount here.)  Once those were soft, I added all the other roasted vegetables that I chopped into bite sized pieces.

To add a bit more heartiness as well as creaminess, I added a can of baby cannellini beans with their liquid, and a touch more salt & good amount of crushed red pepper.

Then came the star of this show. Can you tell I like pasta?  In went the cooked elbow macaroni. Add whatever shape you like  and gently stir together.  

Plate it up in a nice serving bowl and grate some Locatelli cheese on top.  This was satisfyingly yummy.  Add a glass of red wine, and you'll have a Joie de Vivre lunch, for sure.

I hope you love roasting vegetables as much as I do.  They are so adaptable to so many dishes. Be forewarned, roasted and grilled vegetables will make encore presentations in the future... and often.  Why not, their versatility is not to be reckoned with.  Get your veggie on!

P.S. The roasted potatoes were not called upon for lunches, but did make their appearance as a side dish for dinner.  Plus a few were eaten right out of the oven while making the lunches.  Seriously, who could resist those crunchy bites.