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May 29, 2012

Peonies | 3 Ways to Display Individual Blooms Around Your House

It is finally Peony season in New England.  I say 'finally' because I've been seeing the blooms on blogs from back home for what seems like months.  I have had complete peony envy.  Not only because the season is later here than it is in the Midwest, but because I have no bushes of my own.  Ugh.  I used to at our old house in Fairway.  It was not a mature set of bushes, but it was on its way, producing a handful of beauties every year.  Enough to keep a couple of flowers on my coffee table, bedside table, bathroom vanity and kitchen counter for a couple of weeks.  All a girl needs.

What's worse? Now that our time has come in the North East I have to walk by bushes with their blooms blowing in the wind every day.  You might think that someone who doesn't have peony bushes of her own might enjoy walking by bushes that are in bloom.  No.

Here's why : Peonies are a cutting flower, people.  These ladies are meant for the stage.

If you are lucky enough to have a bush with big, lovely blooms- cut them!  Cut them in masses and bring them inside to enjoy.  I'll repeat: They are a cutting flower meaning they are grown for cutting.  They look best in when cut, not on the bush.  Another cutting flower?  Roses.  Roses on a rose bush are not nearly as attractive as when it is cut and placed in a container- alone as a single bud or in a group.

I used to feel guilty cutting flowers and bringing them inside until I came to this realization.  Like all of us, peonies have their strengths and weaknesses.  These girls truly are at their best when they cut and brought inside... in fact they last longer when they are kept out of the bright sun and heat.  Do them (and me!) a favor and go outside with your shears and go crazy.  Cut them!  Put them around your house in every container you can find.  Group them in pitchers and bowls- even vases if you've got 'em  Give them to your friends and neighbors that are not as blessed with your bounty.

Me?  I have to buy mine- $5 each at the market.  So, instead of big masses on my center island, I've plunked single blooms in drinking glasses, bud vases and bowls.  I have to say, I really enjoy them as individuals.  It helps me to appreciate these gals and their utter and completely flamboyant beauty.

Still stunning even as she falls apart... if we all were so lucky.

May 25, 2012

Easy Summer Centerpiece | Planted Herbs

I’m all for things that can serve double duty and make life easier- especially when they are really beautiful and simple to make.  This herb box moves from the window sill in my kitchen to the kitchen table for a last minute centerpiece. 

The long shape and low height of this box is perfect for a casual meal at my rustic harvest table.   You can make this in any shape or size that will compliment your window and your table.  This box is made from wood salvaged from an old barn in Vermont.  Keep your eye out for a unique vessel that you love, or make one yourself!  Your herb box can be made out of any material, as long as there is good drainage out of the bottom, which is easily done by drilling holes.

My herb box has become a fixture in my home, changing with the seasons.  In the Summer, I fill it with fresh basil and keep it out on the patio table all season long.  I never have to worry about putting together a centerpiece when we’re having friends over for a last-minute patio party, and as a bonus the herbs in the box just might inspire the menu.

Of course, you don’t have to only plant herbs in the box.  Late in the Fall, I plant paperwhite bulbs that will bloom just before the Holidays.  It is such a nice treat to have a full box of blooms on my breakfast table in the middle of Winter.

 You'll need...

-wooden box with drainage holes
-potting soil
-5 herb plants
-sheet of metal    

Directions :

Find or build a simple box that will fit on your window sill and will fit nicely on your table.  Be sure to drill several holes in the bottom of the box to enable excess water to drain out.

Create a liner for underneath the box out of a sheet of metal.  You can find tin or another light-weight metal sheet at the hardware store.  With protective gloves on, using a ridged straight edge, bend the sides of the sheet of metal up, so it fits around the box.  Be sure to make multiple folds on each side to hide sharp edges.

Fill the box half way with potting soil.  Plant the herb plants down the center of the box, then fill in with potting soil.  Water generously. 

May 24, 2012

Summer Guide : Recipes, Grilling, Party Inspiration, Menus & Simple Table Settings

The moment you've all been waiting for... my Summer Entertaining Guide is live!  In the guide you'll find resources like Grilled Appetizer Recipes, Summer Desserts, Menus, Simple Summer Table Settings, etc.  I'll be constantly updating the links all Summer long, so make sure you check back when you need a little inspiration!

Click here (or on the "Summer Entertaining Guide" Banner on the right hand side of the page- where you'll be able to find it all season long,,,) to go directly to the Summer Entertaining Guide homepage.

Raspberry & Pear Crostada

Raspberry & Pear Crostata
serves 4

1 pie dough (store-bought or homemade)
2 pears, pealed & large diced
1 cup of raspberries
2 tablespoons of sugar
2 tablespoons of flour
2 tablespoons of orange juice
1 tablespoon of butter, cut into pieces
1 egg
1 tablespoon of sugar

In a bowl, mix pears and raspberries with flour, sugar and orange juice.

Roll out pie dough into a 10-12 inch circle.  Pile peaches and raspberries into the center.  Dot with butter.  Fold up the sides of the dough.  Create an egg wash by beating 1 egg, then brushing it on the pastry.  Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of sugar over the dough.  Bake at 425 for 20-25 minutes.

Toss the fruit with flour, sugar and orange juice.

Dump it out onto a pie crust.

Fold up the sides, then put small pieces of butter on the top.

Bake until the edges are golden brown... just needs some ice cream!

May 22, 2012

Brown Sugar Chili Lime Grilled Chicken and Vegetable Kebabs

I think kebabs might be the single best Summer Entertaining recipe.  They are the perfect thing to serve at a every type of party.  Dinner party?  Make them big.  Cocktail party?  Make them small.  Vegetarian guest?  Leave off the meat.  They are made completely in advance, they are a full meal in one efficient package, and you can make them in endless varieties.  Need one more reason?  Budget friendly.  A pound of steak, chicken or shrimp can be stretched to serve 3-4 people by adding colorful (and inexpensive) summer produce like squash and peppers.  Oh, and they are healthy!

Here is one of our favorite versions... what's yours? 

Brown Sugar Chili Lime
Grilled Chicken & Vegetable Kebabs

Marinade :
1/4 cup of oil
3 limes, juiced - freshly squeezed
1 tablespoon chili powder
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons of brown sugar
2 teaspoons sea salt
2 teaspoons of cracked pepper

3 whole boneless, skinless chicken breasts, 2-inch cubes
2 medium zucchini, sliced
2 red peppers, 2-inch pieces
2 cups of mushrooms, thickly sliced
8 skewers

In a large bowl, combine all of the marinate ingredients.  Separate the marinade into two separate bowls.  Slice vegetables then place them in one of the bowls of marinade.  Cut the chicken into large cubes, then put them in the other bowl of marinade.  Let the vegetables and chicken marinate for 1 hour (or more, up to overnight) in the refrigerator.  Skewer the chicken and vegetables on wooden or metal skewers.  Grill for 3-5 minutes, on each side until the chicken has cooked all the way through.

For a complete grilling party menu, serve the kebabs with Grilled Artichokes with Lemon Caper Aioli and Grilled Prosciutto & Fresh Mozzarella Toasts.

May 19, 2012

The BEST Brisket Recipe | Sweet & Tender Soda Pop Brisket

Brisket can be somewhat of a daunting piece of meat.  It is very large, very fatty and notoriously hard to cook.  I've always been confused by it with the multitude of different recipes and recommendations that exist.   Should you cook it low and slow?  For 2 hours or 12?  The recommendations are all over the board.  To make matters worse, it is one of Mike's favorite comfort meals, which equals high expectations.  

This Robin's Egg Blue Enamelware is available, here, in the store starting at $16-24.  I also have matching small plates, colanders, platters, etc.

I recently saw a brisket recipe that featured Coca-Cola and ketchup as the two main ingredients.  Sound like an old, yucky recipe from the 80s?  Maybe, but it came highly recommended...

Cook's Country (on PBS, my favorite channel) is filmed in an old Vermont farm house - which I love.  They feature unpretentious food with recipes that have been tested and retested.  Chris Kimball, the host, is a very poindexter looking fellow that seems to have a sophisticated (a bit snobby?) palette.   He knows everything about food, New England life and culture.  On the last episode, he said that this recipe was his favorite recipe of all time.  A recipe with sauteed onions, ketchup and Coca-Cola as the main ingredients.  Now that is something to try.  

I have to tell you, that I loved, loved loved this recipe.  I don't know what happens to sauteed onions, mixed with ketchup and Coke in an oven when it cooks with a brisket, but let me tell you - this sauce was incredible.   The entire thing only baked in the oven for 3.5 hours, then rested for 45 minutes.  

There are a couple of things that are crucial to this recipe.  The resting is a very important, apparently, as Chris described it, the many tendons of the brisket get tight during the hot cooking, but the resting period allows them to soak up the moisture of the sauce and soften, leaving the brisket fork tender.  And it was.  The original recipe called for rubbing the meat with salt 6-24 hours before cooking, but I skipped this part due to time.  If you have the time, I'd love to hear how salting it improved the tenderness, too. 

I served our Soda Pop Brisket with Ina's French Potato Salad.  It is basically steamed potatoes, dressed with herbs and a dijon vinaigrette, served warm - was a great side dish for this sweet and rich brisket.  I also served it with some really easy homemade refrigerator pickles.  I'm so excited for these simple, rustic Summer dinners.

Enamelware : You may have noticed the beautiful robins egg blue enamelware pieces I used for this very summery dinner.  They are part of my Summer Collection, here.  They are incredibly fun and lightweight - perfect for casual, outdoor entertaining. 

I made a couple of changes to their original recipe - mainly the seasonings. 

sweet & tender
Soda Pop Brisket

3 1/2 lbs beef brisket
sea salt*
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 lb onion, large dice
2 cups coke-cola
1 1/2 cups ketchup
4 teaspoons onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder

*This is the part I skipped due to time, but if you plan ahead, it would be great to try.
With a fork, poke holes in the brisket all over.  Rub the brisket with salt.  Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 6-24 hours.

Heat oven to 325 degrees.  Pat brisket dry with paper towel.  In a large heavy bottomed pan (I used my dutch oven), heat 2 tablespoons of oil.  Sear brisket for 4 minutes on each side.  Remove from pan. 

Add the other 2 tablespoons of oil to the pan along with the onions.  Cook on medium until onions are tender and browned.  About 5-6 minutes.  Add ketchup, coke, onion powder and garlic powder.  Stir together, then put brisket back in, turning it to coat in the sauce.

Cover pan and put it in the oven to bake for 3.5 hours.  Remove from the oven, leaving covered, and let rest for 30 minutes.  Remove lid, then let rest for 15-30 more minutes.  Remove from pan, and slice in thick slices.  Spoon warm sauce over to serve. 

Here is the brisket before slicing. 

See how tender and juicy?  It is the resting that does it.

You really have to try it.  A very special recipe from very humble ingredients.

And for the potato salad...
I used the Barefoot Contessa's recipe for French Potato Salad, recipe, here.

It is a very simple - steamed potatoes tossed in a dijon and champagne vinaigrette with parsley, dill and scallions.  It was tart and tangy with the dressing and herbs - a perfect compliment to the sweet brisket sauce. 

Instead of cubes, I did the potatoes in slices - made it look/seem more like a dinner side dish than a potato salad.

Simple and pretty - perfect "real" food for summer.

I'm excited to snack on this all week for lunch.  I'm trying to upgrade my lunches during the week from a peanut butter sandwich... any ideas?


Tomato, Zucchini and Olive Bruschetta | Fresh Summer Party Food

I love good party food.  I really do think there is an art to designing a menu for a party.   It should be fresh, really flavorful, not too complicated and look bountiful - no one likes to go to a party where they feel like the food is rationed out or they have to wonder what it is they're eating!   When I was catering, I was able to observe what people when crazy for, then I would think about why...  

Here are my rules for great party food :

- Goes great with a cocktail, beer or glass of wine
- Easy to eat with one hand
- Easy to eat in a couple of bits
- Good hot, cold and/or at room temperature

These bruschetta fit the bill- in fact, most all bruschetta fit the bill.  I really like this combination of tomatoes, zucchini and olives - it feels very summery to me.  Another reason this is great party food?  Budget friendly.  The zucchini is a budget friendly way to stretch the more expensive tomatoes and olives.  Zucchini typically takes on the flavors you add to it, so the garlic and seasoning will make it taste very flavorful, not to mention the great green color it adds.  Don't feel like you have to splurge on heirloom tomatoes for this recipe- the seasoning and the other ingredients provide plenty of color.  Save your splurge for something else.  


Tomato, Zucchini & Olive Bruschetta
perfectly fresh party food for summer

serves 8 people for appetizers

1 zucchini, diced
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 small pinch of red pepper flakes
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon of sea salt
1/2 teaspoon of cracked pepper
3 cups of diced tomatoes
1/2 cup of kalamata olives
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 teaspoon of sea salt
1/2 teaspoon of cracked pepper
1 large baguette, sliced into 24 slices
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 clove of garlic 

Heat oven to 425 degrees.  Place diced zucchini on a baking sheet and toss it in 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 small pinch of red pepper flakes, minced garlic clove, 1 teaspoon of sea salt and cracked pepper.  Roast it in the oven for 10 minutes until the zucchini begins to brown on the tips.  Remove from the oven and let cool.

Meanwhile, dice tomatoes and olives and place them in a medium bowl.  Dress the tomatoes and olives with  olive oil, salt & pepper.  Add the zucchini and toss.  Refrigerate until you're ready to use- I like to serve this cold, but it is great at room temperature, too.

Prepare the bread by slicing it into thin slices.  Toast bread just before serving.  You can do it under the broiler in your oven, or on the grill.  Brush the bread with olive oil on both sides.  If broiling, place them on a sheet and place them under the broiler for 1-2 minutes on each side.  Be careful not to burn!  If grilling, also grill the bread on each side for 1-2 minutes.  When you remove them from the grill or oven, let them cool slightly, then rub the raw clove of garlic on each piece.

Serve with the tomato mix and parmesan cheese on the side to be assemble by the guests, so the bread does not get soggy.  If you would like to serve them pre-assembled, I recommend assembling, then serving them immediately from a passed tray.

Piled high.  Don't you like the napkin?  I made it myself!


I gobbled up these three right after shooting... I would plan for 3 per person.  At least.


I think these work great for pre-dinner appetizers because they are not too heavy- light and fresh before dinner so your guests are still hungry!  Paired with some other hors d'oeuvres they are great for a cocktail party, too, as they are substantial enough to be satisfying... think of them as a side dish as party of a mini meal. 

I'm so ready for some Summer parties... and Summer cocktails.  What are your favorites to serve to a crowd?
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