Tuesday, March 20, 2012

flower arrangements for a bridal shower

Flowers are such a huge focal piece for any dinner party or event. Different colors and flowers can set the tone and add a necessary feminine element to a table.

Flower arrangements don't have to be extravagant or expensive. I love to visit the LA Flower Mart for unbeatable prices and or even score some great deals at Trader Joe's.

Check out my feature on Mint Love Social Club for all the details behind Natalie's bridal shower flower arrangements.

Monday, March 19, 2012

lemon and garlic tofu banh mi

Banh mi's are quite possibly the perfect sandwich. There's creamy mayo, a kick from the jalapenos, and that tart sourness from the pickled vegetables. They're usually on a baguette or some form of a french roll. And then there's a whole range of proteins you can pick like BBQ pork, meatballs, beef, etc.

I saw this recipe on The Kitchn and was inspired to play around with my own flavors. The flavors were ridiculously good. The sandwich was simple to put together and pretty inexpensive. 

I switched up a few ingredients to use what was more readily available at my market. So this isn't necessarily a traditional banh mi, but it's pretty dang good.

We have leftovers of all the ingredients except for the bread. We're thinking of setting up a "deconstructed banh mi" for dinner tomorrow with tofu, pickled veggies, cilantro, and jalapeno over coconut rice. 

Lemon and Garlic Tofu Banh Mi
adapted from The Kitchn
(makes 2 sandwiches)

2 demi-baguettes (6-8 inches in length)
4 tablespoons wasabi mayo*
1/4 cup cilantro leaves
1 jalapeno, seeded and thinly sliced

Pickled vegetables:
1 cup julienned carrots
1 cup julienned cucumbers
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar**
1/4 cup sherry vinegar**
1 cup water

Marinated lemon and garlic tofu:
8 ounces firm tofu
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 lemon, juiced
4 cloves of garlic, minced

*You can use normal mayo, but the wasabi mayo gives it an extra kick
** These were the vinegars I had at home, but you can totally use whatever vinegars you have (white, cider, etc)

Combine all of the pickled vegetable ingredients together in a bowl. Cover with saran wrap and refridgerate for at least an hour or up to a day.

Slice the tofu into 1/4 inch slices. Press between paper towels to remove excess liquid. Place tofu in a shallow dish. Combine all of the tofu marinade ingredients and pour over all of the tofu. Cover with saran wrap and refridgerate for at least an hour or up to a day.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Slice baguettes in half vertically. Toast baguette slices until slightly dried out, about 5 minutes. 

In a medium-high pan, sear the tofu slices until golden brown, about 3 minutes on the first side and 2 minutes on the flipped side.

Spread 1 tablespoon of mayo on each baguette slice. Layer tofu slices on the bottom baguette slice. Top with pickled cucumber and carrots. Garnish with jalapeno and cilantro. Top with baguette slice.

Friday, March 16, 2012

a st. patty's day menu

(image via a sugar high)

Happy almost St. Patrick's Day to you all!

For those of you impromptu dinner partiers, here's the perfect Irish menu to get you and your guests in the celebratory mood.

If anything, pleasseeee make the Guinness float. It's epic. Life changing. I had my first at 25 Degrees out in Hollywood and I dream about these things. Heck, it could even be your breakfast tomorrow (there's milk in it - so it's totalllyyyy healthy).

To sip on:
Keep it simple - Guinness, Smithwick's, and Jameson

To munch on:
Corned Beef and Cabbage Rolls

The main course:
Guinness and Onion Soup
Individual Shepherd's Pie

Guinness Float

Thursday, March 15, 2012

mini layer cakes

This past weekend was my friend, Natalie's bridal shower. I'm so honored to be a bridesmaid in her wedding and can't believe it's almost here! Kay Lee designed the event and it was absolutely beautiful. I love me a party, so I jumped at the chance to help with whatever I could.

I created the floral arrangements and brought in all the desserts for the dessert table (I'll be guest blogging about both over on Mint Love Social Club next week!).

In regards to the dessert - my favorite meal of the day - I knew they had to fit 2 qualifications:
1. Utterly girly, by Natalie's request
2. Individual sized portions - Natalie and I both agree that it's so much easier for guests to grab a small, portioned out dessert, rather than cut into a giant cake or pie

Lately, there's been countless blog posts about mini layer cakes baked in tin cans. I played around with some flavor profiles and came up with a mini lemon chiffon cake with lemon curd whipped cream and a raspberry garnish. Light and fluffy, dainty, and just the right amount of girly for a bridal shower.

You absolutely must make this for your next birthday party, bridal shower, or "YAY, it's Friday party." They're simple, delicious, use a boxed cake mix, and the cake portion can be made 2 days in advance. It's sort of the perfect dessert.

Mini Layer Cakes
recipe from Cake Mix Doctor Cupcakes book
(makes 9 - I doubled this for the party)

1 box lemon cake mix (I used - and loved - Duncan Hines)
1 1/3 cup water
1/3 cup vegetable or canola oil
3 eggs
2/3 cup lemon curd, divided (Dickinson's was delicious)
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
6 clean 10 1/2 oz. tin cans, buttered and floured

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Empty the contents of the tin cans. Remove their paper labels and thoroughly wash and dry. Using room temperature butter (or just throw some cold butter in a bowl and toss in the microwave for about 15-20 seconds), butter the insides of the can. Throw some flour in the cans and gently shake around. Discard excess flour.

Mix the cake mix, water, oil, eggs, and 1/3 cup lemon curd until smooth and thoroughly mixed through. Pour equal amounts of cake mix into the cans. Plans cans on a baking sheet and put in the oven. Bake until just set and a toothpick comes out clean, about 35-40 minutes (start checking after 30 minutes).

Allow cakes to cool slightly, about 10 minutes. Using a knife, carefully cut around the edge of the cake, right where it brushes up against the can. Turn the can upside down and gently help the cake out of the can. Cut the cake into 3 equal layers.

To store the cake, place layers on a baking sheet and separate each row of layers with plastic wrap. Tightly wrap the entire baking sheet of cake layers and store in the fridge for up to 2 days.

Using a mixer, whip the heavy cream, powdered sugar, and 1/3 cup curd until stiff peaks form.

To assemble the cakes, place one cake layer on a surface, spread about 1 1/2 - 2 tablespoons of lemony whipped cream. Place another cake layer on top and spread another 1 1/2 - 2 tablespoons of lemony whipped cream. Garnish with raspberries.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

a healthy spin on shepherds pie

(image via mom's recipes)

I'm a shepherd's pie lover. Maybe it's the mashed potatoes. Or the creamy gravy. Or, perhaps, it's the Irish in me.

I love to make shepherd's pie year round in individual crock pots. I've made it before for dinner parties and everyone's always excited to get their own little dish to eat out of.

I usually make some version of the recipe below. It's a bit healthier, since it combines mashed cauliflower with the potatoes (I swear you can't taste the difference!). It also incorporates ground turkey, instead of the typical beef.

If you're having some sort of St. Patty's Day party this weekend, or just a lovely evening at home, whip up a batch of these pies, serve them up with a Guinness, and give a little toast to the Irish.

Shepherd's Pie
adapted from Food Network
(serves 6)

1 pound lean ground turkey
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
2 medium carrots, diced
1/2 pound white or crimini mushrooms, sliced
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup frozen peas
1 1/2 pounds yukon gold potatoes
about 2 pounds cauliflower, cut into florets
2/3 cup lowfat milk
2 tablespoons butter

In a large skillet over medium heat, cook the meat until brown, stirring occasionally. Transfer the meat to a plate lined with paper towel.

Heat the oil in the skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and carrots and cook, covered, until they begin to soften, about 8 minutes. Raise the heat to medium-high. Add the mushrooms and thyme and cook, uncovered, until the mushrooms are soft and their liquid has evaporated, about 8 minutes longer. Return the meat to the pan. Add the flour and cook, stirring for 2 minutes. Stir in the broth, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and a good helping of pepper. Bright to a simmer. Stir in the peas.

Pour the mixture either into a 11 X 9 baking dish or into 6 oven-safe crock pots or small souffle dishes.

Bring a pot of water up to boil. Scrub the potatoes and cut into 2-inch pieces. Boil the potatoes about 6-8 minutes. Add the cauliflower and cook the potatoes and cauliflower until both are fork tender, about 10-15 minutes longer. Mash the vegetables until smooth. Heat the milk, butter, remaining salt, and some pepper and stir into the potato mixture.

Spread the potato mixture atop the baking dish or the individual dishes of shepherds pie. If you would like to serve right away, bake for approximately 25 minutes in a 350 degree oven. If you're making ahead, let the shepherd's pie come to room temperature then wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 2 days. To reheat, bake in a 350 degree oven for 35-40 minutes.

Monday, March 12, 2012

cheese ravioli with brussel sprouts and bacon

My kind of weeknight meal is quick to make (ideally 30 minutes or less), doesn't require full focus (I can come in and out of the kitchen while I'm unpacking my bags or throwing on comfy clothes), and somehow manages to get some veggies on my plate.

Oh, and if there's bacon - that's a huge plus.

This meal hits all of those requirements. And it's sort of fancy-looking with its shaved brussel sprouts, so you can be really impressed with your weeknight capabilities.

My other favorite part of this meal? You could totally prep all the veggies (slice the onions and shave the brussel sprouts) on a Sunday, and then this dinner will take you about 10 minutes to throw together.

Cheese Ravioli with Brussel Sprouts and Bacon

1 package of your favorite cheese ravioli (I like TJ's jumbo cheese ravioli)
about 10 brussel sprouts, cleaned
1/2 medium brown onion
2 pieces bacon
about 2-3 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan
1 tablespoon butter
1 1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste

Bring a pot of water up to boil and cook the ravioli according to the package.

Cook the bacon in a skillet over medium heat until its prepared to your liking. I like it on the softer side, while others like crispy. Remove the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate. Retain the bacon fat in the skillet.

Using a mandolin, shave the brussel sprouts. If you don't have a mandolin, you can use the large side of a cheese grater. Cook the shaved brussel sprouts in the bacon fat over medium heat until slightly wilted, about 3 minutes. Remove to a plate and toss immediately with 1 ounce lemon juice and a generous amount of black pepper. Chop the bacon into small, bite-sized pieces. Mix the bacon with the brussel sprouts.

Thinly slice the 1/2 of a brown onion. Add butter, onion, and a generous amount of salt to same skillet over medium heat. Cover and cook about 7 minutes until onions are caramelized, stirring once or twice.

Mix the onions, bacon, brussel sprouts together. Add last 1/2 ounce of lemon juice. Taste the mixture to see if it requires more seasoning.

Drain ravioli. Top ravioli with brussel sprout, bacon, onion mixture. Garnish with parmesan.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

green juice at home

Ever since I tried the Blue Print Cleanse a few months back, I've become mildly obsessed with green juice (a mixture of various greens, vegetables, and fruit juice). We bought a juicer a few weeks ago, and I've played around with my own ratios for the green juice recipe and am really happy with the results.

The juice is a great breakfast alternative or a fabulous pick-me-up during the day. I swear, after I drink one, I feel infinitely more energized.

Just a note: The recipe below makes about 2.5-3 servings. We keeps ours in a tightly covered container in the fridge to avoid oxidation and are comfortable drinking it within 48 hours. Some people claim you should drink your green juice within the day. I encourage you to do your own research on that one.

Green Juice
(makes about 40 ounces)

1 bag spinach (about 5 cups)
1 bag kale (about 5 cups)
3 romaine leafs
1 hothouse cucumber
about 7 sprigs of parsley
Juice of 2 lemons
6 small green apples, quartered
6 ribs of celery, trimmed

Make sure all of the ingredients are properly cleaned and trimmed.

Squeeze the juice of the lemons into the juicer container (whatever vessel catches the juice). Following the instructions of your juicer, juice all the ingredients. I find it works best to use some of the rougher, larger ingredients (like the celery and apples) to help push the softer ingredients (like the kale, spinach, and parsley) through the machine.

You'll notice some separation in the juice, which is completely normal. Just stir and enjoy!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

homemade churros

Did anyone else wait in absurd lines at Disneyland to get a hold of one of those giant churros? Those were pretty good.

You know what's even better? Freshly fried churros with chocolate sauce and whipped cream.

You know what's the best? When someone awesome makes them for you as a surprise on Valentine's Day.

So you can totally make fresh churros for any dinner party. Prep the churro batter a few hours before the guests arrive and store in a ziploc bag in the fridge. Mix the cinnamon and sugar on a plate and set off to the side. Make the chocolate sauce, dulce de leche, and whipped cream and store in the fridge.

After dinner, bring a pot of oil up to the right temperature. Pop the chocolate and dulce de leche sauces into the microwave for about 30 minute seconds, or until warm, and get going on those churros. Your guests will love you.

adapted from All Recipes
(makes about 20)

2 quarts vegetable oil for frying
1 cup water
1/2 cup butter
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

In a deep pot, heat oil to 360 degrees F. Oil should be about 1 1/2 inches deep.

In a medium saucepan, heat water and butter to a rolling boil. Combine the flour and salt. Stir into the boiling mixture. Reduce heat to low and stir vigorously until the mixture forms a ball, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and beat in the eggs one at a time. Spoon the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a large star tip. (You can also use a ziploc bag and simply cut the corner off to pipe out of.)

Carefully squeeze out 4 inch long strips of dough directly into the hot oil until golden brown, about 2 minutes on each side. You can fry 3-4 strips at once. Remove from hot oil to drain on paper towels. Stir together the sugar and cinnamon and roll churros in the mixture while still hot.

Dip in a little bit of each sauce and some whipped cream. And enjoy, enjoy, enjoy!

Friday, March 2, 2012

a "ladies who brunch" menu

(image via the kitchn)

One of my absolute favorite weekend activities is getting together with my girlfriends over a leisurely brunch, which most likely consists of Eggs Benedict and mimosas. Why not host your own?

I've put together a menu that will guarantee a lovely brunch with your friends and a slightly fuzzy afternoon of mimosas.

(image via the kitchn)

Set up the Eggs Benedict as a "make your own" bar, so your friends can put whatever toppings under their eggs that they please.

To nibble on while people arrive:
Blackberry Jam Straws

To sip on:
Classic mimosas or
Hibiscus mimosas

The main course:
Lightly toasted English muffins or french bread
Poached eggs (here's how to make them the night before)
A spread of prosciutto, roasted tomatoes, wilted spinach (I did a similar spread here)
Hollandaise sauce
A bowl of raspberries, blackberries, and sliced strawberries

Thursday, March 1, 2012

a blind wine tasting and tapas party

(quinoa salad - see recipe here)

This past weekend we had some friends over for a blind wine tasting. It's such a fun party concept, and I completely encourage you all to host one of your own.

(spanish tortilla with sofrito - see recipe here)

Pick one wine varietal (we chose Pinot Noir) and then ask everyone to bring their favorite bottle maxed out at $20. When everyone arrives, have one person remove the foil and cork from each bottle and place it in a brown bag. Then have another person label each bag with a number (i.e. if you have 6 bottles of wine, each bag gets a number 1-6). This way no one knows which wine is in each bag.

Your guests can try all the wines and then vote on their favorite. For an extra competitive edge, we have each guest bring $5. We bought a nice bottle of Pinot Noir for the person who brought the most favored bottle.

(devilled eggs and skewers of fingerling potatoes, blood orange, and avocado)

To go along with all this wine tasting, we put out a large display of tapas. We didn't want a formal dinner since everyone would be more focused on the wine tasting. The small plates let people munch on food at their will and keep coming back for food all night long.

(bacon wrapped dates)

All the tapas (except for the bacon wrapped dates) were made the day before and refrigerated. So all that was left to do the night of was simply set out the food and quickly throw some bacon wrapped dates in the oven.

I wanted the setting to be relaxed and sort of rustic looking. I bought one roll of kraft wrapping paper and set it across all of our dining surfaces. Using a marker, I labelled all the food directly on the kraft paper. I set out dishtowels from Ikea as napkins and used simple white platters.

For flowers, I picked up 2 bouquets of orange flowers ($4 each at Trader Joe's) and a bundle of purple wax flowers ($4 at TJs). I put the arrangements together loosely in some wine ceramic square vases and set them among some gold mercury glass votives I picked up at Target for $2 each.

The party was a success and totally worth all the wine glass clean up!