Favorite Summer Recipes

The heat has cranked up on most of the East Coast and we’re all doing our best to stay cool.  Aside from running through the neighbors’ sprinklers as they water their lawns (my favorite summer pastime), I’m keeping my cool by putting together fresh, light meals that lower my body temperature and my summer stress levels.  Here are some old summertime favorites:

Cucumber Coolers – a light and refreshing beverage (non-alcoholic for the preggies out there, but you could tip in a little bit of vodka and make a cocktail if that’s your style).

Mediterranean Bean Dip – a tasty, healthy dip to bring to your next backyard barbeque, along with veggie crudites.  Yum!

Capery Salad – Briny, pickley goodness, fresh and fun for summer.

Refreshing Orzo Salad – Pasta salads are a summer essential, no?  This one is tart and lemony, inspired by my mom’s Grecian Orzo, and makes a perfect side when you’re grilling out.

Peach and Raspberry Pie – It wouldn’t be summer without peaches!  This pie is tart and sweet and oh so fabulous.

Blueberry Cobbler – Summer requires dessert choices, methinks.  If you’re a blueberry fan, this cobbler will be right up your alley.

Hope your summer is delish!

Packed Lunch for Two in Ten Minutes Flat

I try to pack lunches for hubby and myself as much as possible.  Anything that comes out of my kitchen is guaranteed to be cheaper, and most likely healthier, than what we could buy from a restaurant or cafe near work.  Not that we won’t treat ourselves occasionally – but that’s what it would be, a treat.  On a regular day, I’ll throw together our lunches in the morning before we leave for work.  And since we’re out the door by 6:30 a.m. most days, I’ve got to make the lunch preparation snappy.  Here’s how I put together a balanced lunch for two in ten minutes flat:

Step 1: Decide – the night before, if possible, what will be on the menu.  At 6:00 in the morning, I’m not a short-order cook, so most of the time hubby and I have relatively the same thing.  If we’re having sandwiches, we’re having sandwiches – although he’ll get whatever kind of sandwich he wants (from ingredients we have, obviously).  So he may ask for PB&J while I’m having cheese or hummus – and that I can do.  Last night hubby expressed a preference for salad today, so salads it was.

Ingredients and containers laid out and ready to go.

Start the clock running!  10 minutes remaining

Step 2: Start assembling the salads.  Add lettuce to each container (hubby gets the big one; I’m also having one leftover enchilada so I’m just taking a side salad).  Chop salad veggies (we’re having bell pepper, cucumber and tomato, and I’m also having a chopped pear) and add them to the salads.  Hubby gets most of the veggies because the salad is his main course; I just get a few since for me it’s a side.

Look at those tasty fresh salads!

Step 3: Finish off the salads with any final touches.  Today it’s cheddar-jack cheese and dressing (Annie’s Naturals Goddess) for hubby; pasteurized goat cheese for me.

5 minutes down, 5 minutes to go!

Step 4: Clean up the work area – take dishes to the sink and throw out veggie scraps or other garbage.

Lunches laid out and ready to be packed.

Two minute warning!

Step 5: Pack it all up!  Hubby is also getting an apple and I’m getting a pear.  And I have snacks because the baby gets cranky by late afternoon – so I’ve got a YoBaby yogurt (don’t hate) and some cherries to nosh on so I don’t get queasy on the drive home.

Ready for the commute!

Annnnnnnnd… she’s done!

Exactly ten minutes later, here we are all packed up and ready to go off on our day.  (If you’re curious about our lunch containers: hubby’s salad is packed in a glass bowl from Anchor and his lunchbox is actually a free insulated lunch bag I got as part of a packed lunch when I stayed at the Ritz-Carlton for a conference earlier this year.  My salad and enchilada were packed in Snapware – also glass and available at Target – and my lunchbox is from Built and is available at the Container Store and other stores.  My snack bag, which has my cherries and yogurt in it, is from Posh Pouches.)

Happy lunching!

Spring Brunch

Another one from the archives… Life has gotten in the way of cooking, but I’m hoping things will calm down soon.  In the meantime, enjoy this menu (complete with recipe links) – and if you’re planning to celebrate the moms in your life, just add love!

 Just in time for Mothers’ Day, here is a spring brunch menu packed with yummy flavors and bright colors.  Whether you’re planning to celebrate Mom tomorrow, or to throw an impromptu brunch next weekend just because the April showers are over and the May flowers are finally blooming, these dishes will bring some warm spring sunshine to your table.  Set the table with bright linens and crisp white china, and fill bud vases with spring blooms and line them up in a cheerful parade down the center of the table.  Or – better yet – eat in the garden!

Cucumber Coolers

Minted Fruit Salad

Potato Leek Frittata

Peach Oatmeal Muffins

Enjoy, and Happy Spring!

A Thrifty Challenge

As a foodie… and as someone who loves fresh produce… my grocery bills can get pretty high.  Between the piles of fruits and veg, the nice cheeses that we bring home, and treats like fun spices that somehow find their way into the cart, I often find myself with teeth on edge, wondering how I managed to spend so much money at the grocery store checkout on any given completely normal week.  It also doesn’t help that hubby and I shop at Whole Foods (for the time being, but we’re anxiously awaiting that blessed day when Wegmans opens its next northern Virginia store, which will be tantalizingly close to our house).  All of this combines for some unacceptably high grocery bills.

 I’m not going to give exact numbers, because I prefer to keep financial information off the blog.  Just take it from me when I say that for quite some time now, I’ve been unhappy with my inability to economize at the market.  That’s why I’m getting serious about cutting back.  My lofty goal is to cut my grocery spending IN HALF for the remainder of the year.  (What I mean by that is this: I naturally spend somewhere within a range, say between $A and $B, on a weekly basis.  Each week until December 31st, I am setting a goal to spend within a range of between half $A and half $B.)  I started this goal a few weeks before we left for our vacation and I’m glad to say that so far, so good.  In fact, I’m pleased to report that on our big “return from vacation stock-up” trip, while I was fully expecting to blow the budget, I still came in $25 under my upper range.  Woo to tha hoo!

 This could get interesting.  Here’s what I’m going to do:

  •  Keep the pantry clean, organized, and clutter-free.  I am usually good about keeping an organized pantry, but lately I’ve let it get a bit out of hand.  The first step in cutting back on grocery bills is going to be cleaning out the pantry.  There’s no better way to figure out exactly what I already have!  I’m usually pretty well-stocked on canned and dried beans, brown rice, vegetable stock and soup in cartons, and oats (both old-fashioned and steel-cut).  Part of my money-saving strategy involves using those staples more.
  • Use coupons!  Whole Foods has a page of current coupons – and they’re coupons for things I already buy on a regular basis, like plain Greek yogurt.  Every so often, in a burst of thrifty inspiration, I print a page of coupons (and you can select only those ones that you want to print – so cool) and then promptly lose them.  Not anymore, though.  I’m going to go to the grocery store armed with coupons.  But – and this is a major but – I’m ONLY planning to use coupons for items that I would have bought anyway.  Coupons can cost you more money (and extra pounds on the tush) if you use them for overly-processed foods, like chips, that you wouldn’t have bought without the coupon.  I’m not into buying things just because I have a coupon – but if it’s an item that I buy anyway and I can save a dollar, I’m going for it.
  • Stock up on staples when they’re on sale.  I used to do this all the time when I ate chicken – I would only buy it when the organic chicken was on sale.  If we ran out between sales, we didn’t eat chicken again until the next sale.  But as a vegetarian, I find I’m terrible about this.  I buy the staples I need instead of waiting for sales and then stocking up.  If I need tofu, I buy tofu – even if it’s not on sale.  Same goes for beans.  Last week at the market I started to put this idea into practice – I bought three cans of lentils because they were on sale.  Now I’ve got them in my pantry and I can use them in meals anytime – and the next time I need lentils, I won’t have to buy them full price.  I need to be better about stocking up on staples when they’re on sale, and not buying them when they’re full price.
  • Control myself in the produce department.  My biggest money drain at the market comes from getting too excited about all of the pretty fruits and vegetables and buying way more than hubby and I can eat in a week.  I invariably end up throwing stuff away and it just kills me.  I need to either learn to preserve, or I need to be better about not throwing stuff into the grocery cart just because it looks good.  I have to get real about exactly how much veg two people can actually eat in seven days.
  • Get back in the menu-planning habit.  I used to do this and it did save me some money – although not as much as I’m aiming to save here.  I’ve fallen out of the habit and just gotten into whipping up whatever interests me in the moment, which is fun and all, but it’s an expensive habit that I need to kick.

 So there you have it – my strategy for saving some major cash at the grocery store.  I’ve exempted one item from my money-saving strategy: beer.  I personally don’t drink beer, with the exception of the occasional Blue Moon – the only beer I like.  (I’m such a girl.)  But hubby is into artisan beers, especially IPAs, and they add up.  I’ve spent a lot of time gritting my teeth over the grocery receipt, looking at how much money goes to expensive beers.  But you know what?  It makes him happy.  I could say “no” or tell him he has to reign it in, but I’d be a nag, and I’d be taking away something that he enjoys.  I’m just not willing to do that.  So for purposes of this money-saving challenge, I’m considering beer as a separate item that I won’t count toward the “grocery costs.”

 So there you have it: I’m challenging myself to chop my grocery costs in half for the rest of the year – through December 31st.  And I’m hoping that when I get into 2012, my thrifty strategies will become habits that will continue to save us money.  I’ll report back regularly to let you know how it goes!


Our first married Thanksgiving… now we’re on five and counting!

How many of you have watched the show “Dharma and Greg” from the nineties?  Show of hands?  Anybody?  Bueller?  Anyway, it’s a great show – I used to watch it religiously with my mom, and the show had some fantastic quotes that still apply to life in 2009.  (It helps that I have the first season on DVD to keep my memory fresh.)  One of my favorite moments is when Dharma decides to cook Thanksgiving dinner for Greg, both sets of parents, and their weird friends Pete and Jane.  Kitty, Dharma’s mother-in-law, tries to discourage her:

“Oh, Dharma, every new bride thinks she wants to cook a Thanksgiving dinner, and it always ends up the same way.  Someone cries, someone is rushed to the emergency room, and a perfectly lovely bird gets wasted.  Which, if I don’t eat soon, will be me.”

You can bet that quote was on my mind on Thanksgiving 2005, when I was the new bride cooking Thanksgiving dinner for the first time!  Fortunately for me, it was just me, the hubs, and my mother-in-law… and my mother-in-law happens to be  a delight, unlike Kitty Montgomery.  Thanksgiving was a breeze and I’ve done a few more Thanksgivings and one Christmas since then, so I feel like I’m starting to get the whole holiday dinner thing down.  And this year, it’s even easier – hubby, mother-in-law and I are going to a neighbor’s house for the holiday and she and I have split the cooking responsibilities – something I would have never considered doing just a few years ago!  This year, though, the number one item on my list of things that I am thankful for is that I don’t have to cook the turkey!   (Okay, maybe not the number one thing, but it’s pretty high up.  Turkey is a pain.)  Here’s my menu for this year…

Artichoke Dip – a holiday tradition for my family!

Soup and Bread
Apple and Butternut Squash Soup
Buttermilk Fantail Rolls

Main Course
Roast Turkey (contributed by my neighbor)
Traditional Stuffing (contributed by my neighbor)
Sweet Potatoes (contributed by my neighbor)
Classic Mashed Potatoes
Citrus-Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Green Bean Casserole
Roasted Acorn Squash with Cranberries and Orange

Pumpkin Cake (contributed by my neighbor)
Chocolate Chip Cookies (contributed by my neighbor)
Yankee Apple-Cranberry Pie
Chocolate Truffles

As you can see, it’s quite a menu!  Fortunately, we’re going to have a bigger crowd than usual this year, what with combining gatherings with my neighbor – and a friend or two who may stop by for dessert.  Now it’s your turn – what’s on your bountiful table this year?

A Dinner to Welcome Fall


Well, I’m officially here.  I’ve joined the rest of the world in the land of turning leaves, crisp days and chilly nights, hot cocoa, pumpkins, apple-picking, and wool sweaters.  Now that I’ve hopped on board with this fall thing (it’s only October 1st!), I feel it’s only right to welcome the season properly with a dinner in its honor.  This is a perfect time to dive into the fall produce at the farmers market – mine started carrying gourds weeks ago – and treat your friends to a menu full of classic autumnal flavors.  I like to decorate my table with warm tones – I prefer golden wheat and forest green, accentuated with a little bit of burnished pumpkin orange, to call to mind the changing colors outside.  Set candles everywhere for a warm, welcoming, flickering light, and serve up the best of the new season in style.

Crostini with Mushroom Pesto
Cups of Butternut Squash and Apple Soup

Main Course
Maple-Glazed Roast Chicken
Roasted Fall Vegetables
Potato and Parsnip Mash

Pumpkin Spice Loaf Cake

Wine Pairing: Now is the time for a warm, buttery (yes, I said it) Chardonnay.  Don’t be afraid of those oaky, toasty flavors – they’ll go perfectly with the roasted chicken and vegetables.  And maybe after they taste the luscious pairing of maple glaze and caramelized roasted vegetables with the full, ripe flavors of a good oaked white, some of the anti-Chard wine snobs might even wake up and realize what they’re missing – just in time for Thanksgiving!

Anniversary Dinner

Ocean Club

The view from our balcony at the Ocean Club, Paradise Island, on our honeymoon four years ago.

When an occasion is truly special, it calls for a special dinner.  But that doesn’t have to mean going out to a restaurant!  In fact, there are some times – like Valentine’s Day, for instance – when I would much prefer to light some candles, sip some wine and make a wonderful dinner with my favorite sous chef, rather than go out, fight traffic, deal with parking and spend way too much money for a buttery, fattening dinner.  I don’t consider cooking to be a chore even on weeknights, but I find it even more fun to make something special with the hubs and then enjoy it together, quietly, at home.  Next time you have an occasion to celebrate – a birthday, anniversary, or whatnot – try making a special meal at home rather than going out.  Here’s a menu for just such a night…

Herbed Cannellini Bean Crostini

Main Course
Garlic and Citrus Roasted Cornish Hens
Herbed Orzo
Cucumber Salad

Lemon and Almond Semifreddo with Raspberry Sauce

Wine Pairing: A special occasion calls for a special bottle.  The hubs surprised me by picking up a bottle of Chardonnay from Cakebread Cellars, one of my all-time favorite wineries!  Tasting notes on the wine are coming soon, so stay tuned!

Side note… I can’t believe it’s been four years since I married my best friend.  It seems like just yesterday that Father Joe was climbing into our limo and interrupting our just-married kiss.  I have had more fun, laughed harder and loved more than I could have ever imagined possible – and I have a good imagination.  Happy Anniversary, honey!