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18 on his 18th….


As the More is More Mom®, I am all about…..more surprises! To celebrate my Nick’s 18th birthday, we decided to throw him a surprise party; brunch at our house and 18 holes (18 for his 18th) with his pals. All of the planets must have been in alignment when I took a gander at our calendar to find that he had a free Sunday. No golf. No hockey. It was a miracle.

The guest list was easy; hockey friends, golf friends, childhood friends, all from the Be All and End All Academy and St. Feels Right For Her. The surprise, however, was potentially more complicated. I am highly in favor of a proper invitation, addressed by hand and sent via snail mail, but I totally get how email is just easier. Besides, sending a teenage boy a proper invitation, addressed by hand and received via snail mail could be construed as; weird. I sent out the email, made the tee time reservations and got cooking.

 

Brunch is always a hit, economical (especially minus the mimosas) and simple to prepare. On the menu;

  • Scrambled eggs
  • Pancakes, both plain and chocolate chip
  • Bacon
  • Bagels
  • Fresh Fruit
  • Orange Juice, milk and water (no coffee worries either)

 

Of course the question was; how to sneak all of this past him without raising suspicion. It’s a good thing our household is accustomed to shenanigans, because he didn’t bat an eye! We told him he had to wrap up all of his homework on Saturday (instead of putting off to tomorrow what he could do today…..) because his uncle wanted to take him golfing on Sunday (wink, wink). With about 30 minutes left on the clock, we sent him on a quick “errand”. Upon his return, he found the fellas milling about in front of our house. As we spied from inside, we could see him grinning from ear to ear. He was surprised and he was happy.

 

Boys sure can eat! The prep was so simple; it just took a little planning. Saturday, we cooked 4 lbs of bacon, employing my favorite method. Pre-heat your oven to 350°, line rimmed baking sheets with aluminum foil, lay bacon in a single layer and cook for 20-30 minutes. Just watch it. I then remove the bacon, line a container with paper towel (to soak up all of the grease), layering with bacon and paper towel as we go. I then refrigerate until I am ready to serve. You can totally make the bacon a few days in advance. Zap it in the microwave and you’re good to go…..with no mess!

 

I hulled the strawberries, sliced and diced the melon and cantaloupe and rinsed the blue berries. To keep the fruit mushy-free, I layered paper towel (you know I love Bounty…the quicker picker upper) in between each layer of fruit. Store it in the fridge until ready to use. For the sake of beauty, I served the fruit in layers in a tall glass hurricane. It was pretty…just the kind of thing teenage boys appreciate.

 

The night before, I even cracked all my eggs (mess averted), and kept them in two mixing bowls with tight sealing lids. With ten boys for breakfast, 40 eggs seemed like the magic number. About 45 minutes before the boy’s arrival, I whisked in some milk and pepper and scrambled them up. They were light, fluffy and perfect. I kept them warm in a chaffing dish until the boys were ready to eat.

 

My family LOVES pancakes, so I’ve got that down to a science. I made 24 pancakes, half plain and half with chocolate chips mixed in the batter. I must remind myself that all children are not chocoholics like mine. I kept them warm in our warming drawer (or simply on low in your oven). When we were ready to eat, I put them in another chaffing dish. It must be fine, because that’s how they serve a breakfast buffet from the Holiday Inn to the Ritz Carlton. Powdered sugar and syrup were a lovely accompaniment.

We bought fresh bagels from Einstein’s and had them sliced in half there. No need to cut off a digit at home. So been there done that (see More Uses For Duck Tape in my August archives, as we marked the three year anniversary of Chuck’s successful severed thumb replant. Thanks OAD!). What more does a boy need than cream cheese, strawberry cream cheese and butter?

The boys filled their plates, told funny stories, gave each other the business and laughed and laughed. It was music to my ears. After brunch, I zipped over to the golf course with them to settle up at the Pro-shop. They were so darn cute and polite as they posed for pictures. More life long friends, more shared experiences, more laughs, more breakfast,  more golf, more fun, more memories……

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More Cocktails and Appetizers on the Wild Side!


As the More is More Mom®, I’m always up for more fun with family and friends. We’ve barely scratched the surface of our Safari Cocktail and Appetizer Party. You may recall that the stage is all set to greet our guests with a cool and refreshing beverage (detailed 7/28/10).

 

As for the menu, the warm weather beckoned a selection of delicious, cold appetizers;

  • Prosciutto Wrapped Mango Slices (recipe revealed 7-28-10)
  • Shrimp Cocktail in a tangy homemade sauce
  • Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad Spears
  • Greek Salsa and Pita Chips

 

The beauty of all the recipes that I am sharing with you today is that they are largely prepared in advance, leaving a little bit of assembly just before your first guest arrives. 

Nothing says over the top indulgence better than Shrimp Cocktail (except maybe caviar, but who really wants to eat all of those little fish eggs anyway?) served in an elegant martini glass. Now that’s instant glamour.

 

Shrimp Cocktail in a tangy homemade sauce:

To serve 6;

 

2 lbs cooked peeled shrimp, tails cut off and chopped into chunks (any size will do)

½ – 1 lb cooked peeled Jumbo shrimp. We’re going to artfully arrange a few tails over the rim of the glass for each guest. Beautiful!

Note: For the sake of simplicity and my sanity, I defrost my shrimp the evening before I am going to serve it. I store them in a Ziploc Baggie, lined with a paper towel (I prefer Bounty, the quicker picker upper. This is not a paid advertisement, darn it. I just so happen to be fan!). Rarely do I serve shrimp cocktail individually. As a rule I serve it in a silver platter that I toss in the freezer before the party to help the shrimpies stay nice and cold, but not soggy as they tend to get when directly served on ice.

Tangy Sauce;

In a mix bowl, lightly whip;

 

4 Tbsp heavy cream

Mix in;

 

4 Tbsp mayonnaise (am I a looser for using Hellman’s when I could have made it from scratch? I like to think that I am being practical. As it is, I could be using store bought cocktails sauce!)

4 Tbsp ketchup (now you know it’s good)

2 tsp Worcestershire sauce

Juice of one lemon…..which in my mind translates to a few tablespoons of bottled real lemon juice

Add more lemon juice as needed to make the sauce super tangy.

 

Stir in the chopped shrimp. Transfer to a container with a lid if you are leaving it in the refrigerator over night.

To Assemble;

1 head of Romaine lettuce, rough chopped (or any other hearty, crisp lettuce)

Fill each glass about 1/3 of the way with the lettuce.

Spoon the shrimp mixture over the lettuce, evenly amongst the 6 glasses.

Drape a few jumbo shrimp over the side of each martini glass.

For maximum impact, I placed all 6 martini glasses on a leopard tray.

Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad Spears:

I order a grilled chicken Caesar salad at nearly every establishment I patronize, so I’m kind of an expert. The individual spears were a party in your mouth! I tossed myself a little salad with the left over dressing a few days later and I’m telling you, there’s not a Caesar salad out there that rivaled it…..

This recipe makes approximately 20 spears.

Grill, on medium heat;

 

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut into thin strips

Once the chicken cooled, I sliced each strip in half making it a more manageable serving size. As is my M.O., I placed the chicken in a Ziploc Baggie lined with a Bounty paper towel and stored in the refrigerator until ready to use.

The dressing was so tasty, you may want to double the recipe so you have more for later. In a bowl combine;

½ cup mayonnaise

½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

3-4 cloves of garlic minced (there is nothing wrong with garlic, especially if we are all having it)

1 tsp anchovy paste (I don’t care for anchovies, but the paste is essential to achieving that classic Caesar status)

1 tsp Worcestershire sauce (and maybe a splash more)

1 tsp dry mustard

Mix well and store in a bowl with a lid overnight.

To assemble;

2-3 heads of small romaine lettuce leaves. I used endive instead because it was the perfect size.

Separate the lettuce leaves.

Place 2 strips of grilled chicken in the leaf (it makes a nice little cradle)

Plop a dollop of dressing on top of the chicken

Garnish with shaved Parmesan (use your vegetable peeler to create perfect shavings)

If it floats your boat, top with capers.

Artfully arrange the spears on a platter and serve to the “oohs and ahs” of your guests.

Greek Salsa with Pita Chips:

The Mediterranean flavors are a welcome respite from your more traditional salsa.

In a medium bowl, combine;

 

2 cups of crumbled feta cheese (Costco sells huge containers of feta, of course, because everything is huge at Costco)

2 large tomatoes, seeded and chopped

5 scallions, whites and greens, chopped

1 cucumber peeled, seeded and chopped

1 cup Kalamata olives pitted and rough chopped

½ cup fresh, flat leaf parsley chopped (fresh just tastes like summer)

2 Tbsp fresh oregano chopped (fresh oregano is so flavorful)

2 Tbsp fresh dill chopped (okay, I know, enough with the fresh, but is just tastes so FRESH)

1-2 Tbsp lemon juice

1/3 -1/2 cup of olive oil (add slowly to see how much you really need. You just want a very light coating)

Cover and refrigerate for at least a few hours, but overnight is even better.

When you are ready to serve, transfer to a pretty bowl. I chose a lovely cut crystal to equal the formality of the martini glasses.

Serve with pita chips. I like Stacy’s in the jumbo bag from Costco, though you could certainly toast your own. Instead of tossing the chips in a predictable bowl, I served them in a cheetah patterned planter (that I only use for food service). I like the shape and whimsy of the planter.

Should you have any salsa left over, you might enjoy it spooned over a grilled chicken or fish on another night.

I hope you have as much fun with this menu as we did. What could be better than more time with friends on a beautiful summer night with more delectable dishes, more laughs, more good times and more memories? 

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Fourth of July Celebration, Day Three; Appetizers


The very best way to kick off any bash is with cocktails and appetizers! As your guests gather and visit, it’s the perfect time to nibble and nosh. Even if I’m serving a big meal, I like to treat my guests to delicious starters. My Fourth of July celebration is no exception!

 

Cheese and Crackers

Margarita Chicken Skewers

Grilled Pizza with Bacon and Tomatoes

 

Cheese and Crackers:

 

Really now, what is there to say about preparing cheese?  I like to select a nice variety, for instance, at my 4th of July party I am serving; Chipotle Gouda (creamy and spicy!), Monteray Jack with Dill and Garlic (such fresh flavors!) and a Yellow Cheddar with Horseradish (not your everyday cheddar). For the sake of streamlining my preparations, I cube the cheese the night before and store it in none other than a Ziploc Baggie (the object of my obsession).

I believe that I mentioned a certain fabulous slate cheese board that my friend Mrs. Lilly found for me from William Sonoma…. The night before my party, I write the names of the cheeses in chalk directly onto the slate. Informational and quirky! You know how crazy I am for cracked black pepper, so I always serve my table water crackers and my Triscuit’s with a little kick!

Margarita Chicken Skewers:

Talk about a wallop of flavor, especially if you are partial to a classic little drink from South of the border….

 

 

In a large Ziploc Baggie (again with the Ziploc) combine;

1 ½ lbs skinless, boneless chicken breasts cut into 12 strips (I actually purchased chicken breast tenderloins, so I was one step ahead of the game, rather than behind the 8 ball)

1 10-ounce can frozen margarita mix, thawed (oddly enough, this can be found by the frozen oj)

2/3 cup tequila (isn’t Jose Cuervo ever bodies friend?)

½ cup fresh cilantro chopped (so good!)

2 Tbsp chicken seasoning

Squeeze the air out of the bag and marinade over night.

Prior to grilling, soak enough wooden skewers for each chicken strip in water.

 

Remove chicken from the marinade and thread each individual strip onto a skewer.

 

Pre-heat the grill to medium. Oil the grate and grill for several minutes per side.

 

Arrange the cooked chicken skewers on a lovely bed of arugula or baby spinach and serve. You can certainly choose to garnish with fresh slices of lime. Garn-y is pretty.

Grilled Pizza with Bacon and Tomatoes;

 

I did pull out the big, bad boy for this one…..my Kitchen-aid.

 

In a 2-cup liquid measuring cup stir together;

2 1/4 oz envelopes of active dry yeast

2 cups of warm water

Let stand for 5 minutes.

 

In your large mixing bowl (attached to the industrial mixer, if you are using) stir together;

Yeast mixture

3 cups of all purpose flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

2 tsp salt

2 tsp sugar

1 ½ tsp dried thyme

Option: add 1/3 cup of cheese such as parmesan or asiago, whatever you like

Add;

½ cup of olive oil

Beat at a low speed until well blended (scraping the sides of the bowl when necessary).

Stir in another 1- 2/3 cups of all purpose flour to make a good stiff dough.

 

In a lightly greased large bowl, place;

Dough

1 Tbsp olive oil

Turn to coat

Cover with a towel and let rise for about 45 minutes (or until nearly doubled in size). Punch dough down.

 

Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead 4-5 times, kneading in an additional 1/3 cup of all purpose flour (who knew there was so much flour?).

 

Divide the dough in half and shape into balls.

 

Roll each ball into a 14” circle (yeah right! I actually loved the odd ball shape of my dough. It screamed homemade!).

I did this the night before. To store, I placed a piece of wax paper on a cookie sheet and placed to dough on top. I layered on an additional piece of wax paper, and placed the second rolled out dough on top of that. Then I covered the whole kit and caboodle with plastic wrap to ensure its freshness until the following day.

NOTE: This dough freezes quite nicely. Simply divide the dough into two balls prior to the kneading process. Wrap in plastic wrap and place in a freezer proof Ziploc Baggie. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator and pick up with the kneading process. The dough can be stored in the freezer for up to 3 months.

Now you should go crazy with the toppings!

For the adults, I chose;

Shredded mozzarella cheese

6 slices of bacon, cooked and chopped (typically, I have cooked bacon on hand in the fridge because I cook it 2 lbs at a time. I store it, layered with Bounty Paper Towels (No endorsement, I’m just a paper towel snob.) and keep it in a sealed container. I pull it out for salads, sandwiches and burgers.).

16 cherry tomatoes, halved, or quartered, depending on the size

Basil leaves, fresh and thinly sliced

NOTE: I prepare my toppings the night before as well. I wrap each individual topping in Bounty Paper Towels to absorb any moisture, especially from the tomatoes. Then I tuck them all safely together into a Ziploc baggie to keep them fresh. You’ve totally gotta love Costco and their bulk products (like baggies and paper towels….and everything else they carry).

Pre-heat the grill to medium heat.

 

Brush oil directly onto the pizza dough and flip over onto the grill, removing the wax paper. Grill for 8-12 minutes (you may need to rotate for even cooking). Brush oil onto the top of the pizza dough and with two spatula’s carefully flip over to the other side.

 

Add your toppings. Cook for another 8-12 minutes (you may need to rotate for even cooking). Remove from grill. Let cool, slice and serve.

 

Now I only hope you and your guests have paced yourselves and are ready for…..more tasty morsels!

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What Could Be Better Than a Hearty Homemade Lasagna Dinner?


As the More is More Mom® I can’t wait to share with you……more recipes. Last week was crazy with all of the pomp and circumstance involved with Amanda graduating from Our Lady of Perpetual Donations Grammar School. Our day began with a beautiful mass at 9:30am. I was certain I was going to be balling my eyes out (I cry at everything…..I was teary eyed reading my book club book just this morning), but I was remarkably composed (not something I’m always known for…). Then we skedaddled over to a lovely luncheon for the graduates and their parents; making it home by 2:30 in the afternoon. The evening festivities culminated at 7 PM (just in time for our Chicago Blackhawks to play Game 3 of the Stanley Cups Finals. What rotten timing!), so we were in a bit of a time crunch to enjoy dinner with our family.

With very little time on our hands for food prep before our guests arrived, I knew the perfect meal to feed a crowd…..lasagna! You know I am all about being prepared, which is why I adore lasagna; it is made ahead of time. It is really the perfect food because it represents so many of the food groups in one, savory, mouth watering serving; protein, carb’s, veggies and dairy. The only thing missing is chocolate (okay….and maybe fruit. Did the grapes in the wine count?). I love this fantastic recipe from Everyday Italian, by Giada De Laurentiis; Classic Italian Lasagna (pg 92).

I happened to make a double recipe because we were thirteen for dinner. I am going to give you the recipe in the order in which I prepared the ingredients for assembly.

Ingredients, for one tray of lasagna:

Salt

2 Tbsp vegetable oil (I used olive oil, what difference could 2 little tablespoons make?)

15 dry lasagna noodles (about 12 oz)

3 Tbsp olive oil (or 5 and make your life just that much simpler)

1 lb ground beef chuck

Ground black pepper (and lots of it! You know I’m a super fan of the cracked black pepper)

2 ½ cups Béchamel Sauce (recipe to follow)

1 ½ cups Marinara Sauce (recipe to follow, or just use it from the jar.  I’m totally serious, I would insist on homemade when authenticity was vital to the dish’s integrity)

1 ½ lbs whole-milk ricotta cheese

3 large eggs

2 Tbsp unsalted butter

2 (10 oz) packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry (always a complete hassle, but this time I attempted a technique that worked quite nicely)

3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

¼ cup freshly grated parmesan (or make your life simpler and use more mozzarella. Whatever you’re up for.)

There’s a ton of prep work (but the end result is totally worth it), so let’s get started!

The Béchamel Sauce:

This recipe makes approximately 4 cups of sauce. For a single recipe of lasagna you will require about 2 ½ cups, so you may as well make two trays of lasagna. You could always freeze a tray for dinner another night when your family is particularly busy.

 

You will need:

5 Tbsp unsalted butter

½ cup all-purpose flour

4 cups of warm whole milk

½ tsp salt, plus more to taste

Pinch of ground white pepper, plus more to taste (what’s a pinch? You’ll want way more than that)

Pinch of ground nutmeg, plus more to taste (again…see above)

In a saucepan, warm up the milk. Keep on simmer.

In another sauce pan, melt the butter over medium heat.

Add the flour and whisk until well blended, no more than two minutes.

Gradually you will add the warm milk, while constantly whisking to keep free of lumps. You will continue whisking while the sauce becomes nice and thick, smooth and creamy. No more than 10 minutes. Don’t allow the sauce to come to a boil. Scalding milk is just plain gross.

Remove from the heat and add the pinch of white pepper (and then some) and the pinch of nutmeg (and then some). Season with salt and more white pepper and nutmeg to taste. Allow the sauce to cool before proceeding to the next step. This sauce can be made up to three days in advance.

Marinara Sauce:

A homemade marinara sauce is lovely, but I don’t think it’s necessary in this particular instance because the marinara is going to be mixed with the Béchamel sauce, and who would know the difference once the flavors are blended and married with everything else?

I’m a fan of the Prego, but if you’re a purist, here goes…..

I make this sauce when the marinara is going to stand on its own and this is delicious.

Ingredients:

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

2 small onions, finely chopped (I need onion goggles for the chopping, which is a hassle, because I LOVE onions. Oh well, the things we do for love….)

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped (I press. Am I committing a horrible faux pas by pressing? I think not)

2 celery stalks, finely chopped (Chuck loves celery. I’m not a huge fan, though I like carrots, peppers, snap peas and cucumbers dipped in Ranch dressing.)

2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped

½ tsp sea salt (Love the sea salt, but why only ½ a teaspoon? Shake, shake, shake to taste)

½ tsp cracked black pepper (come on….you know we need way more than that!)

2 (32 oz cans of crushed tomatoes)

2 dried bay leaves

I always use a large sauté pan with a thick lip, to keep all the juicy goodness inside the pan. Heat oil over a medium high flame.

Add the onions and garlic and sauté for about 10 minutes, until the onions have a beautiful translucent quality.

Add the celery, carrots and a dash or two of salt and pepper. Sauté until the veggies are soft and tender (about 10 minutes).

Add the tomatoes and the bay leaves and simmer for about an hour, until the sauce thickens. Sprinkle on a little more salt and pepper to taste. The sauce can be used immediately or the next day. It is really nice and fresh over a bed of pasta with a little freshly shaved parmesan (or, I am always a fan of goat cheese!).

If you are using in conjunction with the Béchamel sauce, once they are both cool would be the time to combine 1 ½ cups of the marinara with 2 ½ cups of the Béchamel for a beautiful, rich sauce.

Otherwise, be a practical cheater and toss in 1 ½ cups of Prego, or so, and you still have your self a very tasty, thick sauce for your lasagna.

Seriously, get organized, and have all of the ingredients prepped for assembly. It’s just so much simpler and makes for a more pleasant process.

 

The Beef:

Okay, the sauce is ready to go, now let’s brown the beef!

I prefer a nonstick skillet for easier cleanup, though my gorgeous stainless steel skillet from Williams Sonoma cleans up like a charm.

Heat 3 Tbsp olive oil over medium-high flame. Add the ground beef a ½ tsp (or so) each of salt and pepper. Break up any clumps of meat and sauté until the beef is nice and brown. Remove from heat, draining any excess fat. Set aside.

The Ricotta Mixture:

Super simple. In a large bowl, mix the ricotta, eggs, and some more salt and pepper until well blended. Set aside.

The Spinach:

While tasty and full of rich nutrients, defrosting the spinach is a huge, messy hassle. I removed the spinach from the packaging and placed in a shallow dish. I set the microwave for about 3 ½ minutes and checked its level of defrosted-ness. I repeated the process at 30 second intervals until the frozen blocks of spinach were defrosted enough to work with, but not soggy or cooked.

I placed the spinach on a multiple piling of Bounty Paper Towels (really needed the quicker picker upper action for all of this water). I then squeezed the spinach in the paper towel, ringing it until I had removed as much moisture as humanly possible, and there you have spinach ready for layering!

The Lasagna Noodles…finally:

For prep purposes, I like to have all of the other ingredients ready to go.

Bring a large stock pot full of salted water to a boil. Add the vegetable oil (or olive oil…hello, what’s the difference? It’s just so the noodles don’t stick together.). Add the pasta and cook for 6-8 minutes, so the noodles are al dente. You don’t want them to get soggy while baking.

If you are doing this step first; drain, rinse under cold water, and lightly cover with a damp towel (to prevent them from drying out).

This is precisely why I like to cook the noodles last. Drain and separate the noodles, lying them on a flat surface (like a cutting board or two, or three, depending on how many trays you are making), so they don’t stick together and are easy to use.

The Layering:

This is it; the final step in the process.

1. Butter the baking dish.

2. Spoon about 1/3 (or 1/6 if you are making a double recipe. Any more trays than that, you should start a catering business.) of the Béchamel-Marinara Sauce over the bottom of your baking dish.

3. Arrange 4-5 lasagna noodles on top of the sauce, overlapping slightly to entirely cover the pan.

4. Spread all (or half, if you have doubled the recipe) of the ricotta mixture evenly over the noodles.

5.Top with the spinach, spreading it evenly over the ricotta mixture.

6. Arrange 4-5 more lasagna noodles over the layer of spinach, overlapping and covering completely.

7. Top with the ground beef.

8. Spoon 1/3 (or, again 1/6 if you are making a double recipe) of the Béchamel-Marinara Sauce over the ground beef.

9. Sprinkle with a ½ cup of mozzarella cheese.

10.  Top with another 4-5 lasagna noodles, overlapping to cover completely.

11. Spoon the remaining Béchamel- Marinara Sauce over the lasagna noodles.

12.  Sprinkle with the rest of the mozzarella cheese and the Parmesan cheese, if you are using.

13.  Cover tightly and refrigerate over night.

14.  Preheat oven to 375°

15. Line a large baking sheet with aluminum foil, placing the baking dish on top (just in case there is any dripping goodness from the pan).

16.  Bake for approximately 45 minutes. Let sit for 15 minutes before serving to allow for settling, and enjoy…..

I served with a simple green salad dressed with the homemade Parmesan dressing I made for Memorial Day.

Parmesan Salad Dressing:

This dressing is lovely with the fresh basil and grated parmesan. It is special enough to simply toss on a bed of pretty greens. For this particular meal I have enough flavors colliding, that the richness of this vinaigrette doesn’t need to be complicated with a medley of other vegetables. How about that? Simplicity from the More is More Mom®? (Though I would prefer to view it as a well honed matter of restraint.).

 Ingredients:

  • 2-3 cloves of garlic
  • ½ tsp or so of salt
  • 2 Tbsp good balsamic vinegar
  •  1 tsp lemon juice (again, since there are so many other rich, fresh flavors, I don’t think it’s worth the time or mess of squeezing fresh lemon juice. Sorry).
  • 3-4 Tbsp fresh, chopped basil (little smells as delightful)
  • ¼ – ½ cup of finely grated parmesan
  • ½ tsp cracked black pepper (I’m going through this stuff like crazy!)
  • ½ cup or so of olive oil

 

With a mortar and pestle mash the garlic with the salt.

Whisk together with the vinegar, lemon juice, basil, parmesan and salt and pepper.

Slowly add olive oil and whisk until well blended.

Toss with greens and serve.

The Final Presentation:

Lasagna, greens tossed with Parmesan Dressing and a slice of fresh baguette bread (of course Nick and Amanda don’t eat lasagna, so they had grilled hamburgers…..what can you do?) 

 

What could be more perfectly befitting a graduation dinner with family……

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Cinco de Mayo…..CELEBRATE!!


As the More is More Mom® I am totally up for a good celebration. Let’s see, the month of May brings the likes of May Crowning, Mother’s Day, Memorial Day, and the ever popular Cinco de Mayo (commemorating the Mexican Army’s victory over the French forces at the Battle of Puebla…once again, I owe all of my knowledge of obscure historical facts to Wikipedia.). Cinco de Mayo is way better then St. Patrick’s Day. The wearing of the green is all well and good, but unless you love drinking beer, St. Paddy’s is kind of a let down (not to mention the fact that we usually have snow in March, but the warm weather in May screams, “Cocktails on the Patio.”). Cinco de Mayo on the other hand, now that’s a party……

This year my family and I celebrated Quattro de Mayo (all in the name of good photo opportunities!). My tablescape was festive and my menu delicious!

You know I’m all about the layering. The brightly hued, striped tablecloth sets the tone for a good time. My tres fabulous, multi purpose orange runner (I’m completely head over heals for orange these days. Who knew?), with the beautiful lattice pattern, is the perfect foil (One must love Pottery Barn, especially on clearance!). Hot pink placemats, edged with a beaded trim, are festive. Toss on rattan chargers for a textural element. Amidst the sea of color, the bright green glass dinner plates are a playful tie in to the citrus orange, and the pink dessert plates compliment the pink stripes in the table linens. I completely understand that a tablecloth negates the need for coasters, but I can’t resist the decorative detail of the green sparkles. Besides, the coaster then gives the proper importance to the ever necessary…..margarita glass. I rounded out the fabric elements with teal cloth napkins with a fringed edge, and slid it in place with a rattan napkin ring to re-enforce the texture of the charger. Simple silver flatware and orange and yellow peppers to adorn each place and completes my table setting. Bigger and better things await….

All of the elements of your tablescape should be thoughtful and help re-enforce your theme. A centerpiece can either merely compliment, or play an integral part in telling you story. How better to celebrate Cinco de Mayo than with Mexican Pottery? On a TJ Maxx and More run I fell in love with this sweet little froggy planter, and these wonderful matching patterned planters. The mix of patterns is vibrant and fantastic! Some hot pink floral stems from Jo Anne Fabrics filled in the froggy planter beautifully. The decorative, air purifying, plants I picked up at Home Depot the other day worked quite nicely in the planters. Every table setting benefits from candle light and I thought the simplicity of these votive holders, down played with the driftwood and twine detailing, was lovely.

The expanse of my kitchen island always works well for a buffet. I chose a red and orange, big buffalo check, square table cloth to set at an angle to anchor my display. At one end of the buffet, I filled my apothecary jars with lemons, limes and moss covered rocks for color and interest. On the other end, I placed two tall black painted candle sticks with floral detailing. For the center of my display I brought out my Chiquita Banana Lady that I use to serve tortilla chips. She is decorative and useful! On either side of her, I placed oversized margarita glasses (though I suppose that is personal opinion depending on how much you enjoy margaritas.); one to serve salsa, one to serve guacamole. The rest was simple….. a blue glass pedestal dish for the warmed tortilla shells, a platter for the fajita’s, a platter for the grilled corn, a baking dish for the nachos, plates, napkins, and of course blue glass tea light holders.

Not only does your celebration have to look good, but it should taste good too! I made salsa, guacamole, nachos, tacos, fajitas and grilled corn. All easy to make and prep in advance.

Salsa and Guacamole:
So easy to make! I always prepare an extra big batch of salsa so we have something to nibble on for a few days, though the guacamole doesn’t last nearly as long. I make both at the same time for the sake of efficiency.

 

7-8 tomatoes, diced (there about….5 for the salsa in one bowl, 2-3 for the guacamole in a second bowl)

1 large white onion, diced (two thirds in the salsa bowl, one third in the guacamole bowl)

1 large jalapeño pepper, seeded and diced (two thirds in the salsa bowl, one third in the guacamole bowl)

1 bunch of cilantro, washed, chopped (all in the salsa bowl)

3 avocados’s, peeled, seeded, mashed in to thin chunks (all in the guacamole bowl)

3 salsa seasoning packets (salsa bowl)

3 guacamole seasoning packets (guacamole bowl)

In each bowl, stir until the ingredients are well mixed, add avocado pits back to guacamole bowl, transfer to air tight containers and refrigerate until ready to serve….with your favorite tortilla chips!

Nachos and Tacos:

My family likes more of everything (including leftovers), so dishes with identical ingredients would be no exception….
3 lbs of ground beef, browned
3 taco seasoning packets, mixed well with drained ground beef
(Can be prepared in advance, stored in an airtight container, the mess cleaned up, and re-heated as needed.)
3-4 tomatoes diced (wrapped in paper towels, I should be paid for promoting Bounty, and stored in a Zip-Loc Baggie, I should be paid by them too, or an airtight container.)
1-2 bunches scallions, trimmed and diced (I store in a Zip-Loc sandwich baggie)
Lettuce chopped (my usual method….wrapped in paper towel stored in a container or baggie)
Black olives, sliced (I buy them pre-sliced in the can to make my life the slightest bit simpler…not usually my specialty.)
Shredded Cheese (my people like cheddar, but go crazy!)
Anything else you like on Nacho’s and Taco’s; peppers, sour cream…have at it!
Tortilla chips
Tortilla shells

Nachos:

Pre-heat oven to 350.

 

On a baking sheet (lined with aluminum foil for easy clean up), or if you are serving to guests, I would recommend a pretty baking dish;

Scatter a layer of tortilla chips.

Top with a heaping layer of cheese.

Spread as a hearty a layer of taco meat as your family prefers.

Sprinkle on tomatoes, scallions, black olives and anything else your heart desires.

Additional layers if necessary.

Bake for 10-15 minutes and dig in!

Tacos:
I think we all know how to make tacos. Eat up!

Steak Fajitas:

I found this recipe on the Food Network website. It smelled heavenly and Chuck said it tasted even better (I was busy nibbling on Nachos).
The Marinade:
I made two batches of the marinade and separated the meat from the vegetables. Each batch required:

¼ cup soy sauce

¼ cup red wine
2 TBSP light corn syrup
½ tsp hot sauce (I used way more. If you’re making spicy….make it spicy)

¼ tsp black pepper (I’m crazy for cracked black pepper, so I just kept sprinkling)
The Meat:

12 ounces left over flank steak slices (left over from what? I bought one pound of flank steak, sliced it against the grain in very thin slices so they were easy to eat wrapped in a tortilla shell, tossed them in a Zip-Loc Baggie with the marinade over night.)

The Vegetables:

I like a lot of veggies, so I doubled the amount.

2 green bell peppers, seeded and thinly sliced
2 red bell peppers, seeded and thinly sliced
1 onion, peeled and thinly sliced
Toss in to a Zip-Loc Baggie with the marinade overnight.

In a large non-stick skillet, I sautéed the meat (discarding the marinade), in a little bit of oil, until cooked through.

Remove from the pan and set aside on a platter.
In the same skillet, I sautéed the vegetables (discarding the marinade), until the veggies were nice and soft, almost caramelized.

Remove from the pan and set aside on the platter.

Serve on a warmed, soft tortilla shell and top with guacamole if desired.

Mexican Sweet Corn:

This also came from the Food Network website. It was beautiful, smelled amazing and was outstanding!
I adjusted the recipe to accommodate 10 ears of corn. As it read, the recipe was intended for 4 ears of corn. It can’t just be, because I am the More is More Mom®, that 4 ears of corn seem like a ridiculously small quantity, even for a family of 4. What if someone wants more?

10 ears of corn (husks removed. I always do that the night before I serve corn on the cob and store in a 2 gallon Zip-Loc Baggie…seriously they should pay me. I can’t stand the mess of the silks.)
Mayonnaise (or butter Mixture):

I like mayo just fine, but none of my people like it, so I substituted butter and it was delish.

2 sticks of butter, softened (or, for a single recipe they recommend ½ cup of mayo, so I assume if you were doubling the recipe, 1 cup of mayo)
2tsp chili powder (I eyeballed)
2 tsp garlic salt (I eyeballed)
Freshly ground black pepper (Again, I used cracked black pepper, and I eyeballed the amount…..I have very good eyeballs.)
Stir all ingredients together until well mixed and store in an airtight container (If you have not already stocked up in duplicates of various sizes of glass containers with lids, you should….)

 

Heat the grill. Turn down to medium. Brush the cobs of corn with oil and place on the grill. Turn until all sides are charred, 6-10 minutes. Remove from grill and slather on your butter or mayonnaise mixture. Serve on a pretty platter and garnish with quarter cut limes for anyone that might like to squeeze a little fresh juice over their corn.

 

So there you have it….a beautiful and tasty Cinco de Mayo celebration. Ole!

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