Indoor Birthday Picnic

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July was too hot for picnics. This was heartbreaking for me because picnics are definitely on my list of top favorite activities. I apparently don’t hide this fact either – last year for my birthday Paul and my mom almost got me the exact same picnic themed gift! My mom sent me an adorable, custom picnic kit and Paul said, ‘hey! I almost ordered a nearly identical basket!’ I didn’t get the set until the day after my annual birthday picnic, but don’t worry, it still got used! So yes, this year’s annual birthday picnic was a given, but the weather was just miserable. I have not adapted well to the Boston humidity…rather than sweating through our lunch we decided to try an indoor picnic. We kind of stumbled around the internet to see if there are any places you can go to set up an indoor picnic…we really weren’t sure how that would work or what we were looking for though. In the end, I thought a picnic at home with Mad Men sounded very pleasant! This was, I believe, the week that Mad Men stole my life. It was lovely and I’m glad we still kept up the tradition even when we were too stubborn to go outside. I was leaving for Colorado the next day, so it felt really nice to just chill out and enjoy the day before a busy travel day.

I also have to give a shout out to the prettiest birthday package (last photos)! I woke up and gasped at the sight of this beautifully wrapped box on my desk. Isn’t waking up to packages just the best feeling ever?? Birthday part two featuring the prettiest cake coming up soon!

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Skillet Shrimp and Orzo

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Here’s what I did with the rest of Captain Rob’s bargain shrimp! This recipe was just as easy as the shrimp tacos and is another great find from Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food Magazine. It’s very similar to a paella, but of course so much easier to make since it uses orzo pasta instead of rice. Paul and I were just recently remembering a time that we tried to make paella in my parent’s kitchen years ago…it was going very well until I discovered that half of the rice was black and stuck to the bottom of the pot. I’m still not sure if that pot survived the massacre. I’m also not sure if I have attempted to make real rice since that experience. I’m so much more of a pasta fan than a rice fan anyhow!

This sauce is pretty similar to the roasted tomato and capicola recipe that I have already posted about. In this case though, you let the tomatoes cook on the stove with spices and herbs and then let the orzo soak it up in the oven. Who doesn’t love a one skillet meal??

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Shrimp Tacos with Coleslaw and Avocado

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This post is partially brought to you by Captain Rob! I was all set to buy the tiny (er, shrimpy? heh) shrimp when Captain Rob enthusiastically introduced himself and cut me a (way too generous) deal on the jumbo shrimp if I promised to keep coming back. Duh, Captain Rob! I’m in. Since I was actually planning on just using the shrimpy shrimp, I got two meals out of these. Double thanks to Captain Rob! When I was planning my shopping list I decided that shrimp tacos sounded like the quintessential summer dish. Super colorful, light, and fresh. But, I gotta be honest – my primary reason for making these tacos was because I thought they would be fun to photograph. Eek! I knew my new camera lens was arriving soon and I was already excitedly planning my next kitchen photo sessions. The lens arrived right as I was about to leave for the store, so I was psyched. And then Captain Rob made my trip even more exciting. Ha! The tacos were perfect for enjoying a beautiful summer evening (as much as we can without a balcony, boo) and they went very nicely with my mint cherry limeades! And easy too – seasoned shrimp (paprika is good) + coleslaw + avocado + (optional) tomatoes. A little lime and mint helps this pair even better with the cherry limeades. Loving the summer food and loving my new lens! Second shrimp dish to come soon!

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Salad with Tuna and Fennel

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This was a my quick lunch a couple of weeks ago. It’s another salad that was part of my cookbook, but mostly magazine, challenge and something I would never think to make on my own. I actually got my ingredients a little confused when I put this together, but it all worked out okay. The recipe uses oranges rather than grapefruit, which I think would be a lot better even though I love grapefruit more than oranges. I’m also not too sure how I feel about fennel…I’ll be honest and tell you that I didn’t eat all of the fennel on my plate. Something about it was just weird to me. I’ve had it chopped up in smaller pieces in salad before and really liked it though! On the more positive side, I can’t believe I never realized how good tuna and avocado are together! I’m embarrassed. So tasty! Next time, oranges! And I’ll try cutting up the fennel. And maybe not roasting it? Or maybe just ditch it? How do you feel about fennel??

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Mint Cherry Limeade

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First off, I must make a blogger confession…I don’t own any mason jars. Yes, we all know that the top three things that all bloggers must have are 1. a decent camera 2. too much time on their hands and 3. mason jars. I made due with these just as cute (maybe?) soda glasses that we got last summer and have barely used! For some reason we have all these cute ice cream and drink glasses, but we rarely drink alcohol and are typically too lazy to actually scoop the ice cream out of the carton before eating (Ok, that might just be me). Anyway, it’s summer now, so I’ve really been in the mood to make some fancy, fruity drinks! I was going over my grocery list on the way to the store and quickly decided that if I grabbed a whole bunch of limes I could probably fashion some sort of tasty drink. I knew we already had mint and like five cans of tonic water in the fridge and plus I had cherries on the list for a breakfast recipe. Sweet!

Instructions: First step is to make a quick simple syrup – I did 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 cup water. Then add the juice of 3 or 4 limes, depending on how tart you want it. Then I smashed a handful of cherries and strained the juice into the mixture. Fill your glass up about halfway with the juice and then fill the rest with whatever fizzy stuff you got. I had tonic water, so that’s what I used. Then you must add some extra halved cherries because they taste sooo yummy after they’ve been floating around in the drink for a while! The mint is a great touch, but that’s up to you as well! Feel free to sweeten with more sugar if needed. This made enough for 4 drinks.

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Tip: We had some extra soda left so I soaked some cherries in the fridge, which made a really nice snack for later!

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Puff Pastry Pizza

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According to Paul, this is one of the best things I’ve ever made. It’s hard for me to make such bold statements about my own cooking, but this is one dish that I have consistently craved since I made it. Just like my last puff pastry post (which, funnily enough, Paul also declared as one of my best meals), this pizza was totally improvised using what we already had. Luckily, the combination of toppings worked out so perfectly. With frozen dough, this meal couldn’t be more simple to put together. Puff pastry pizza is such a great thing to have in your repertoire of quick, weeknight, throw together meals.

To make sure the pastry gets crispy, pre-bake until it’s ‘set,’ but not browned all the way. For this pizza in particular, I like it best when it’s crisp, but still a little soft and chewy in the middle. It’s up to you though! Char that thing up if that’s what you’re feelin’! After I pre-baked the crust, I spread some pre-made pesto and then topped it with salami, green olives, caramelized onions, mozzarella, and sage. Ok, and I threw in some extra garlic too. So easy, and seriously delicious. I really, really recommend this combination of toppings, but I can imagine so many other great combos too. Let me know if you have any topping loves/suggestions!

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Cookbook Challenge – Cucumber Dill Salad

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The cookbook/magazine challenge is still doing strange things to my recipe selection. I don’t want to say that I’m not a salad person, because I do enjoy a nice big salad sometimes…but I can’t say that it’s normal for me to flip through a magazine and be drawn to so many salad recipes. Simple ones too! Since I don’t make salad very often, I really like making my own small batches of dressing when the impulse hits. It’s way easier than you might think and it’s pretty sweet that you can make a tasty dressing with only a few ingredients rather than the loads of complicated things that are listed on a bottle. This salad was very fresh with nice crunch and paired well with my…oh.so.sophisticated mac & cheese bites. Heh, kind of cut down on the classy, healthy thing didn’t I? I tend to do that. Paul bought us the Trader Joe’s mac & cheese bites so that I would have something quick to eat when I returned from my Colorado trip. They were good! Try both, I say!

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Crispy & Lemony Salad (From Martha Stewart Everyday Food March 2013)

1 head romain, chopped

1/4 cup dill sprigs

1 english cucumber

1/4 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons lemon juice

Combine the salad ingredients in one bowl. Whisk together dressing ingredients in another; season. Drizzle over salad and toss. Top with cracked black pepper. Serves 4.

Country Fried Steak + Gravy

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Deciding between country fried steak and french toast is always a huge dilemma when I go to a diner. Ultra savory or ultra sweet? I love both, so it depends on the place and my mood, I guess. It took some time for me to find cube steak, but I wanted to do it right no matter how impatient it made me! I asked my mom for advice before I attempted this and she said it’s easy, but it never seems to be as good as the diner. She suggested that Pioneer Woman would probably have a perfect recipe, and duh! She was correct! Definietly satisfied our diner meal craving.

But, really why should we have to choose between country fried steak and french toast? When you cook at home, you don’t really have to…steak for dinner and french toast for breakfast! Yep, that’s what I did – check out this post for those pics!

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…or French Toast

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Country fried steak or french toast? Tough question, right? That’s why I had to make a country fried steak and french toast joint post. I said in the other post that if these two items are on a diner menu, I have a really hard time picking between them. Of course, there’s always biscuits and gravy…pancakes…oh and anything smothered in green chile…oops I’m getting off course. So yeah, I made my country fried steak and then had to make french toast for breakfast.

In addition to this being a joint post, it kind of feels like a continuation of my waffle/blogger brain post, which has been one of my favorite posts to write. This french toast process was a lot less blogger brainy than my waffles…I almost didn’t even take photos! But of course, once they were done and lookin’ so pretty, I had to snap a few pics. We still got to eat warm french toast though! I really try not to keep people waiting too long when I take pictures of our food. Maybe someday I’ll plan ahead enough to create a nice food styling ‘set.’ But, for now, I guess I’ll continue with my casual, in-the-moment style. We’ll see how it goes! It’s always nice to have something to strive towards. : )

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Egg Salad Appetizer Night

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Appetizer night is probably my all time favorite way to eat. I was prompted to make egg salad sandwiches after Paul and I shared one from a convenience store…it was terrible. We were in a rush! Maybe it’s not fair to say it was disgusting because it didn’t really taste like anything. It was like eating a sponge. Anyway, I promised Paul that I would make some awesome egg salad (mostly because he wasn’t as disgusted by it as I was and I needed to prove that I could do better). We saw a picture of a really delicious looking open-faced egg salad sandwich only to scroll down and realize that it was made from fake eggs…sorry, not really our thing. I copied the look, but used real eggs and added stuff that sounded good to make it more ‘gourmet’. I did a basic (chunky) egg salad recipe with some lemon, chopped mint, paprika, plus a little cayenne, I think. Ah, so simple, but so much better! We cut up a baguette and created a spread of egg salad, burrata, tomatoes, and avocado. We were two happy eaters!

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