Salmon and dijon potatoes

These roasted potatoes were really good. Most of the time we do roasted potatoes they're a bit ho-hum, but the mustard in this preparation really gave them the kick they needed to be extra delicious. We had them with salmon and an arugula salad.

Dijon-roasted potatoes
Inspired by Ina Garten's Mustard-Roasted Potatoes

Chop potatoes into bite-size pieces. Toss with dijon mustard, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast at 425 until cooked through and lightly browned.

Afternoon tea shower

Today I'm sharing some information for hosting the most darling afternoon tea shower! At the beginning of the month another neighbor and I hosted a baby shower for yet another neighbor. We decided to host afternoon tea and enjoy each other's fellowship along with a fun shower activity. All the details are below!

We hosted the shower at two o'clock in the afternoon. This allowed us to provide an array of savory and sweet tidbits but not have to worry about anything too heavy. This works perfectly for a tea spread! Our savory items included pimento cheese and crackers, chicken salad cups, and cucumber sandwiches. The sweet items included mini vanilla cupcakes, sweet orange knots, meringue cookies, and strawberries.

The Savories

For the pimento cheese and crackers, I served my favorite go-to store brand. It's Palmetto Cheese spread and it's always a winner at parties. Served along with wheat crackers. This pimento cheese is a great shortcut. I was tempted to make my own but I was making everything else and thought this would help me out!

For the chicken salad cups, I made chicken salad. My chicken salad of late consists of chicken pulled from a rotisserie chicken and shredded, tossed with diced celery and pickles, a little dijon mustard, salt and pepper, and mayonnaise. I spooned the chicken salad into phyllo cups that I warmed / crisped in our toaster oven according to package directions. I prepped the chicken salad the day before the shower but filled the cups the morning of. 

For the cucumber sandwiches, I used a white loaf from a local bakery (but honestly think Wonder bread would've been better) and removed the crusts. I peeled and thinly sliced one cucumber. For the spread I mixed equal amounts of mayonnaise and soften cream cheese with electric beaters (probably ended up with about 3/4 cup of the mixture but I added more after initially mixing it together because it didn't look like enough). Once they were incorporated I added freshly chopped dill and salt and pepper. I spread the mixture on each side of the bread before layering the cucumbers and cutting the sandwiches into thirds. The sandwiches were prepared the morning of the shower.

The Sweets

For the sweet orange knots, I found these while browsing Pinterest and they were a hit! Here's the recipe. I made these the morning of the shower.

Orange knots from Little Dairy on the Prairie 
Makes 16 knots
   For the knots
1 16 oz. can refrigerated biscuits
3 tbsp butter, melted
2 tbsp granulated sugar
1 tbsp orange zest
   For the glaze
½ c. powdered sugar
1 tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice
1 tsp orange zest

  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Mix granulated sugar and 1 tbsp of orange zest together in a shallow bowl.
  Cut each biscuit in half. Roll each biscuit into a rope. Tie each rope in a loose knot. Tuck the ends underneath the knot. Place on parchment paper lined baking sheet.
  Brush tops of knots with melted butter. Dip buttered tops in orange sugar mixture.
  Bake for 8-10 minutes. Watch carefully so sugar doesn’t burn.
  While knots are baking make an orange glaze. Mix powdered sugar, orange juice and remaining orange zest together.
  While knots are still warm brush them with orange glaze. Let cool for about 2-3 minutes. Serve.
  Orange Knots may be stored in an airtight container and served the next day. They are best warmed in the microwave for about 10-15 seconds.

For the meringue cookies, one of my go-to make ahead cookies you can find the recipe on the blog here. These were prepped the day before the shower. They need to be left in the oven for a few hours (they're made by placing them into a preheated oven and then turning it off) so it's easy to make them right before bed and you'll wake up to these wonderful dessert bites.

For the mini vanilla cupcakes, I've started making this recipe this year to replace buying boxed cake mixes! It's tasty and really highlights the vanilla flavor. Here's the recipe and here's the link to the buttercream frosting we recently shared and I've been making it to go along with the homemade cupcakes. The frosting was tinted pink because a baby girl would soon be making her arrival!

Yellow Cupcakes from Betty Crocker
   Yield 24 cupcakes or 48 mini cupcakes
2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup butter, softened
1 1/4 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2/3 cup milk

   Heat oven to 350F. Place paper baking cup in each of the muffin cups. Grease and flour muffin cups or spray with baking spray with flour.
   In a medium bowl, mix flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.
   In a large bowl, beat butter with electric mixer on medium speed 30 seconds. Gradually add sugar, about 1/4 cup at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping bowl occasionally. Beat 2 minutes longer. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after addition. Beat in vanilla. On low speed, alternately add flour mixture, about 1/3 of mixture at a time, and milk, about 1/2 at a time, beating just until blended.
   Divide batter evenly among muffin cups, filling each about 2/3 full.
   Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown (for cupcakes and 17 to 20 minutes for mini cupcakes) and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans 5 minutes. Remove cupcakes from pans; place on cooling racks to cool. Frost with desired frosting.

The Beverages

Our tea shower obviously featured a variety of tea bags to choose from but also an infused water! This was a great addition to offer to the teas. The water was infused with strawberry, lime, and mint. We had the various tea bags set out in a serving bowl and then a kettle of hot water ready to go. All the teacups were set out on the serving table. Between the other host and myself we had a mix and match assortment of teacups that really set off the shower!

The Activity

What new parent to a newborn doesn't need some diapers?! And diapers with cute messages at that! The other host put everything together for this activity and it turned out really well. She had various cut out shapes to write "Midnight Messages" to the new parents and craft tape to attach to the diapers.

The new parents welcomed their baby last week and we wish them all the best as they embark on this new adventure!

Jamaican Night for the Bachelor Finale

It's no secret that we're fans of The Bachelor franchise. We tune into the dramatic show and love watching how everything unfolds even if it is predictable. It seems that people are split on the show - either love it or love to hate it. I think it's a great show to promote dialogue about relationships and what's working on the screen and what's not. Patrick and I are under no delusion that it's not reality television and there's very much a template for the show throughout the season but that doesn't mean it's not enjoyable. We're able to watch it and reminisce about some of our first dates and be so thankful that we found each other and we're done with dating! The Bachelor really doesn't deserve the bad media it gets but to each their own.

With all that being said some seasons are more exciting than others and the drama is built up a lot more! Every now and then with these extra exciting season premieres or finales I'll plan something a little special. For the premiere of Juan Pablo, a Venezuelan native, we made a traditional dessert from the area - dulce de leche and served it with apple crisps. And then for Bachelor Chris's finale we made Fantasy Sweet cocktails.

Well Bachelor Ben did not disappoint all season long! We were particularly excited about his season finale and to see who he would choose. For the first time ever the lead had told the final two women that he loved them both which has never been done before!!!

The finale aired in Jamaica so we celebrated the episode with Jamaican night - a deliciously marinated Runaway Bay Jamaican chicken, coconut rice with mango and pineapple, a side salad, and rum ice cream. It was the perfect meal to accompany Ben's proposal to Lauren B!

At first Patrick was skeptical of Jamaican night but enjoyed our meal. The marinated chicken and rice side would be perfect for a summer grill out. I wouldn't be surprised if this makes an appearance at our outdoor table this summer. Check out the recipes below.

1 large red onion
3 cloves garlic 
1 habanero pepper, seeded (we subbed a jalapeno pepper)
1 tbsp fresh ginger root 
1/4 cup olive oil 
1/4 cup brown sugar 
3 tbsp red wine vinegar 
3 tbsp orange juice concentrate, thawed (we subbed orange juice)
1 tsp soy sauce 
2 tsp ground cinnamon 
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg 
1/4 tsp ground cloves 
1/2 cup chopped cilantro 
1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste 
6 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves

   In a food processor, combine onion, garlic, habanero pepper, and ginger. Pulse until ingredients are minced. Blend in olive oil, brown sugar, vinegar, orange juice concentrate, soy sauce, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, cilantro, salt, and pepper. In a container, combine marinade with chicken. Cover, and refrigerate overnight.
   Preheat an outdoor grill for medium heat and lightly oil grate. We used our stove top grill pan.
   Grill chicken for 10 minutes per side, or until no longer pink and juices run clear.

Coconut Rice with Mango and Pineapple inspiration from Food Network
   6 servings
2 cups jasmine rice
1 1/2 cups water
1 cup canned unsweetened coconut milk
1 tsp kosher salt
1 mango, 1/2" dice
1/4 of a fresh pineapple, 1/2" dice

   Rinse and drain rice in cold water. Place in a saucepan with water, coconut milk, and salt. Place the pot over high heat and bring the liquid to a boil. Stir and reduce the heat to the lowest possible setting and cover the pot tightly with the lid. Continue cooking for 15 minutes.
   Remove the pot from the heat and let stand 10 minutes, covered. Fluff with fork, add mango and pineapple, and serve.

   Makes 1 quart
1 cup milk
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup dark rum
2 – 3 eggs (depending on their size)
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp cinnamon
7/8 tsp salt

   Place eggs in a large mixing bowl.  Using a whisk, whip eggs until frothy.
   Add 1/4 cup of the brown sugar and 1/8 teaspoon of the salt and whisk until well blended.  Set to the side.
   Place milk, cream, 1/2 cup of the brown sugar, 3/4 teaspoon salt, nutmeg and cinnamon in a heavy saucepan. Cook over medium heat until hot, but do not boil.  Remove from heat.
   Combine the cream into the egg mixture in a slow, steady stream, whisking constantly.
   Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and return to the heat.  Stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture reaches 175F on an instant read candy thermometer.  Again – DO NOT BOIL. Immediately remove from heat and strain the mixture through a fine sieve or cheesecloth into a metal bowl.
   Add the rum and stir until blended.  Cover and chill in the refrigerator for 6 to 20 hours, but do not hold the mixture more than 24 hours before making the ice cream.
   Transfer the mixture to the container for the ice cream machine and freeze according the manufacturer’s instructions.
   Ice cream may be stored in an air-tight container in the freezer for about 7 days.

Meal Plan Monday Post

Hello all! We're a bit delayed with Meal Plan Monday today (sorry). I typically work on this post throughout the week updating it every few days on the laptop during the evening. Well this week the laptop was hooked up to the TV so we could access TBS for all of the NCAA Basketball Tournament games we wanted to watch - what a drag! Bring back CBS for all the games and bring back reasonable tip offs for EST folks too! After that mini rant I should definitely include Go Tar Heels!! They made suffering through all these late nights worth it as they have reached the Final Four!!

Hope everyone had a wonderful Easter holiday as well. We kicked it off with local friends on Saturday evening by hosting a neighbor potluck. Everyone chipped in for a traditional buffet that left us all with full bellies and happy chit-chat into the evening hours. On Sunday we spent the day with family as we traveled home for Easter lunch. There was equally delicious food and good times.

Meal Plan for Monday March 21 - Sunday March 27

Monday - Risotto and beets
Tuesday - Southwestern stuffed spaghetti squash, spinach salad
Wednesday - Balsamic chicken with cherry tomatoes and orzo, spinach salad
Thursday - Pork Lo Mein
Friday - Tried out the new Hope Valley Brewing Company which went into the old City Beverage spot
   Dessert at home Strawberry Shortcake
Saturday - Breakfast Buttermilk pancakes, sectioned oranges
   Lunch Leftovers
   Dinner Easter potluck with neighbors (leftover pan shot)
Sunday - Breakfast Grab and go
   Lunch Easter lunch with family
   Dinner Potluck leftovers

Wellness Wednesday - Compost

It's time to finally share our compost experiment on the blog! I've been meaning to have this published for quite a while now but there seems to be so much to share. Today's post is going to feature what we are doing and how we are doing it. The benefits of composting should be obvious but if not I'll include a few reasons why we started composting.

According to the EPA, "food scraps and yard waste currently make up 20 to 30 percent of what we throw away... making compost keeps these materials out of landfills where they take up space and release methane, a potent greenhouse gas." [source] With a subscription to a local CSA and lots of home cooking we were disposing of lots of food scraps. In an effort to reduce our household waste and to turn that waste into something beneficial for the yard we decided to start a compost pile.

We started our pile almost exactly one year ago (it was in March) and, since we haven't shared a compost blog post yet, we can include what's happened over the past year! During my compost research one thing I kept seeing was "just start a pile".  So in many ways that's what we did! Here's our first pile:

The past owners of the house left lots of paving stones under the deck so I placed them in a U-shape that was roughly 3' x 3' and about 1' high. There are many things to consider when deciding what kind of compost system you'd like to have. We opted for probably the most simple kind - an open air pile. From my research I decided that a 3-pile system would work most efficiently. This meant we would have 3 piles (more on that below) but we would only start with one. Since we were starting with one pile I was able to use the paving stones to get a start on composting. 

Before I go further I'd like to say that there are a plethora of resources at your disposal on the internet but I found it helpful to go to a composting class so I could ask specific questions. I'd recommend checking out your local county extension office if you too would like to take a compost class. 

Once you've begun your research or your compost pile you will see "greens" and "browns" mentioned a lot. Greens and browns are what makes up your compost. Greens are raw kitchen scraps (no meat, oils, bread, dairy) and browns are yard waste. Two things that might throw you off - coffee, despite being brown, is a green and grass clippings, despite being green, are actually a brown! Greens and browns provide your compost with nitrogen and carbon. I've seen many different numbers for what ratio of greens to browns you need. One thing I learned at the compost class was you really can't do it wrong and if you are the compost pile will let you know. If it's smelly then you don't have enough browns and if it's not composting quickly enough you don't have enough greens. 

After greens and browns the other requirement is water - no sunlight is needed! One other loose requirement is aeration or turning the compost. I say this is a loose requirement because this primarily affects how quickly the pile composts. The more you aerate and turn the pile the more quickly it will compost. We're not very good about turning our pile. 

Alright - so we got the basics of composting down! Our first open air pile in the paving stones was a great way for us to get started with composting. We learned that we could do it and it wasn't so hard! Off we set to acquire some pallets. It was time to install our 3-pile system!

Our plan was to build 3 boxes. The pallets are a great way to contain the compost because the slats allow air to get into compost pile but the pallets restrict the view of an unsightly pile. Our compost piles are under our deck and this seemed to make a lot of sense to us. They're out of view from the deck and our windows but still close to the house. I guess we're good composters because we've never had any trouble with smell! 

We screwed four pallets together with L-shaped brackets and 3" hinges on the 4th pallet for a swinging door. We also lined the interior with landscape fabric to prevent compost from falling between the slats. Here are some closeups on the boxes: 

Now to explain the 3 pile system! We've explained the components of compost - greens, browns, some water, and some turning but the last component is time. If you are constantly adding to a compost pile it will never be composted. To retrieve compost from a pile you are adding to you would need to sift through the pile and sort out the large items to allow them to continue composting. This seemed terribly cumbersome to me which is why we went with the 3 pile system. Once all 3 piles are in play, this system allows us to actively be adding to one compost pile while the other 2 compost. We broke it down monthly - 4 months to add to each pile. Here's a snapshot of our piles:

Pile 1
   Actively add to compost in Months 1-4
   Start composting in Months 5-8
   Finish composting in Months 9-12
   Compost will be ready to add flower beds and will start a new compost pile

Pile 2
   Begins after Month 4
   Actively add to compost in Months 5-8
   Start composting in Months 5-8
   Finish composting at the start of the next year

Pile 3
   Begins after Month 8
   Actively add to compost in Months 9-12
   Start composting at the start of the next year
   Finish composting 4 months into the next year

The lifespan of a pile is to actively add to it for 4 months and then give it 8 months to finish composting. Turning all of the piles as frequently as we can helps them to compost. You can see in the pile snapshot above that there are no discernible scraps in Pile 1 but there are in Pile 2. Once there are no discernible scraps then you have compost!

Woo we have compost! We will soon be putting compost from Pile 1 in our flower / garden beds and transitioning back to actively adding to Pile 1. This will allow Piles 2 and 3 to compost.

Our current active pile is Pile 3. We started it back around October/November. It has pumpkins in it! Check it out: 

If you start composting, or are already composting, you'll learn that you really can't go wrong and if you are you can correct it. Composting is a quick study once you get over the learning curve of not knowing anything about composting. One thing you might see a lot is that what you add to the compost should be small. For example, shredded leaves is ideal. And for that matter smashing your pumpkins would be better too. This is not necessary. We never shred leaves before placing them in the compost and I rarely break down food scraps more for compost. You will see this because the smaller things are when they go into the compost pile the faster they will break down. It doesn't mean they won't compost, they'll just be there longer. Patrick and I have all the time in the world to wait on compost to compost!

What else?! I guess it would be handy to add what we do in the kitchen to prepare the compost. Originally I purchased a fancy compost container to have on the counter / under the sink but I realized that was totally unnecessary. I had also heard from a few composting friends who recommended keeping their compost in the refrigerator. This prevents the compost from creating a stinky kitchen. I decided to go with this option. I saved up 4 large yogurt containers and we will fill up 1 at a time with food scraps. When they're all full we take it out to the compost!

Well I think those are all of our composting thoughts. If you've ever considered starting a compost pile I'd strongly urge you to do so. It's a lot of fun and will turn your backyard into a science experiment! If keeping food waste out of the landfill is important to you but don't think composting is for you or don't have the space then be sure to check out local resources. Many community gardens accept compost donations and your city may have a few businesses that offer composting services.

Deconstructed spinach ravioli

I saw this recipe featured on PBS's "America's Test Kitchen". Immediately I knew it was something that we would want to try! It did not disappoint and will be a great addition to our vegetarian dishes. However I would make one small change to it. There is a seasoned ricotta to dollop the pasta as well as a ricotta-garlic sauce to coat the pasta. I found the dolloped ricotta to be a bit too much and I would recommend halving that amount. Feel free to keep it extra decadent though and use all the ricotta! This would be a great spring dish so hope you try it.

Deconstructed spinach ravioli Inspiration from America's Test Kitchen
1 1/3 cup whole milk ricotta, divided
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, divided
salt and pepper
1 lb whole wheat fusilli pasta
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp cayenne
1/4 cup half and half
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 lb spinach, chopped
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded

   Whisk together 1 cup of the ricotta cheese with 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. (This is where I would only use 1/2 cup ricotta and then also 1/2 tbsp evoo.) Set aside; this ricotta will be dolloped on the pasta at the end.
   Meanwhile bring a pot of salted water to boiling. Cook pasta to al dente.
   While the pasta make the sauce. Warm 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil in a small sauce pot and add the garlic, nutmeg, and cayenne over medium heat. After garlic and seasonings are warm add remaining ricotta (1/3 cup) and the half and half. Stir together and then add the lemon zest and juice as well as 3/4 tsp salt.
   Reserve 1 cup pasta water. Before draining pasta add the chopped spinach to the pasta in the final 30 seconds so the spinach can quickly wilt. Then drain pasta and spinach. Return to pot and keep off the heat. Add the creamy garlic ricotta sauce and 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese. Toss to coat and let sit 2-4 minutes, tossing a few times, and adding reserved pasta water as needed to loosen sauce.
   Dollop with the fresh ricotta and serve immediately.

Meal Plan Monday Post

Well we're finally over the painting hump (half way hump, that is)! Patrick and I were finally able to enjoy a quiet, relaxing week and weekend. We finished the living room the other weekend and, despite a few more things to put back on walls and return things to their normal place, this weekend we were able to hang out on our sofa to admire our work. We did a lot of cooking this week but I think the toll of painting and exhaustion crept up on us. We did leftovers and takeout for dinner during the week. On Sunday afternoon we splurged on afternoon tea at the Washington Duke Inn. It was a really nice way to spend a dreary day. We're not jumping the gun yet with celebratory we're done painting events since we still have 3 rooms to go! It's all about the progress. Here's the meal plan!
Meal Plan for Monday March 14 - Sunday March 20

Monday - Jamaican night in honor of The Bachelor season finale (filmed in Jamaica) 
   Jamaican Bay marinated chicken, coconut rice with mango and pineapple, arugula, rum ice cream
Tuesday - Manicotti leftovers
Wednesday - Baked mac n cheese with bacon and broccoli 
Thursday - Salmon, dijon roasted potatoes
Friday - Chinese takeout
Saturday - Breakfast Brunch with neighbors; blackberry coffee cake and shrimp and grits
   Dinner Snack-y throw together
Sunday - Breakfast Potluck brunch with JLDOC friends
   Lunch Afternoon tea at the Washington Duke Inn

   Dinner Spinach salad with pear and almonds

It's Always Caturday
 March Madness or March cuteness?! Kitty cuddles during basketball.

Turkey sliders and babaganoush hummus

It seems like every year around spring time I get a hankering for some turkey burgers (2014 2015). I guess spring came a little early this year, and along with it the turkey burgers! We still grill them indoors on our stove top, but dress them up differently depending on what we're in the mood for. This time we had avocado and caramelized onions with choice of BBQ sauce or dijon.

On the side we had some simple chopped vegetables, for which Whitney prepared a hummus mixture with roasted eggplant and yogurt, calling it a babaganoush hummus. I thought it was delicious and better than plain hummus, and went well with the veggies.

For the turkey sliders
   To prepare the sliders, mix salt, pepper, 1 egg, and Worcestershire sauce into 1 lb ground turkey. Fry in 2" rounds until browned on both sides and cooked throughout.
   Serve sliders on Hawaiian rolls with avocado, caramelized onions, and mozzarella slices. 

For the babaganoush hummus
   Slice 1 eggplant in 1/2" rounds. Drizzle olive oil on both sides of the eggplant and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Broil for 8-10 minutes; flipping half way through or until eggplant is golden on each side.
   In a food processor, combine the eggplant, 1/4 cup yogurt, and 1/2 regular hummus. Process until smooth and creamy.
   Serve with favorite veggies.

Valentine's 2016 - More Manicotti!

Today we're finally sharing our Valentine's meal! True to our tradition [2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010] we made manicotti. Not only do we have manicotti on Valentine's day but we have a new recipe. There's been spinach manicotti, traditional meat manicotti, manicotti with crepes, and a lasagna roll up (we were a tad bit liberal on manicotti that year). This year we're back to a vegetarian manicotti as it featured roasted vegetables.

Originally our Valentine's day was going to include hosting some dear friends but there was some snowy winter weather that changed their plans and they weren't with us for Valentine's supper. Because of our initial plans of having friends stay with us over the weekend I made the manicotti at the end of the week and froze it until Valentine's day. I actually doubled the recipe and froze an extra casserole too! Enough chatter about the manicotti please enjoy the recipe. You can access my google doc here that contains the full Valentine's menu.

Roasted Vegetable Manicotti inspiration from oh my veggie
   Serves 6
8 oz. mushrooms, sliced
1 small eggplant, diced
1 small zucchini, diced
1 tbsp. olive oil
salt + pepper to taste
1 package manicotti shells
15 oz. ricotta cheese
1 egg, beaten
1/2 c. Parmesan cheese, divided
1 c. mozzarella cheese, divided
2 c. marinara sauce

   Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
   Combine vegetables with olive oil, salt and pepper; toss to coat. Transfer to baking sheet and roast for 30 min, stirring after 15 min, or until vegetables are softened and just starting to brown. Set aside.
   Cook manicotti shells to al dente. Drain and run under cold water until shells are cool enough to handle.
   Meanwhile, stir together ricotta, egg, salt and pepper. Fold in roasted vegetables, 1/4 c. parmesan cheese, and 1/2 c. mozzarella cheese.
   Spread 1 cup of marinara sauce on the bottom of a 9x13 casserole dish. Using a spoon, fill each manicotti shell with vegetable mixture. Place finished manicotti in dish and top with remaining sauce and cheese.
   If you're planning on eating the manicotti the same day you make it, reduce oven temperature to 350F and cook right away. Cover casserole dish with foil and bake manicotti for 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake an additional 10 minutes more.
   To freeze: Place plastic wrap directly on top of manicotti, then cover casserole dish with lid. Freeze for up to 1 month. To bake, preheat oven to 350F; remove lid and plastic wrap and cover with foil. Heat for an hour, then remove foil and bake about 15 minutes more or until manicotti is heated through and cheese has melted.

Do you have a favorite manicotti?!

Black bean soup

Last month we had a Mexican potluck! Patrick and I contributed black beans and rice as well as a Mexican Chocolate pound cake. There were a lot of black beans after the potluck and no one wanted to take home some leftovers. Not to worry, I thought, these'll make a great black bean soup.

The leftover black beans were in a loose liquid so to turn them into soup I simply warmed them in a pot and took a potato masher to the beans. I tried to mash about a quarter of the beans so that they would thicken the soup. The originally black beans were very well seasoned so I didn't add anything extra for the soup. I primarily wanted to thicken it a bit.

This turned into a great weekend lunch. We toasted a slice of sourdough bread with cheddar cheese to have with the soup and a sliced apple rounded out the meal! We typically eat our leftovers as is so it was fun to turn them into a little something different (although this really wasn't that different).

Meal Plan Monday Post

Patrick and I are wrapping up painting the living room! Even though we're not done yet this feels somewhat like the culmination of the painting project! We have only 3 rooms left and one includes an extra DIY component so that seems like a whole other project. After the living room we will now finish painting all the doors, the kitchen needs to be painted (but we're leaning towards just painting the trim in there), and then the upstairs guest bathroom will need to be painted. The bathroom should be really quick! So like I said, it's almost like we can let out a big sigh of relief that the finish line is in sight. We can't wait to share pictures!

The dining room that we painted the weekend prior was wrapped up by Monday night so painting didn't creep into our weeknights this week. We cooked throughout the week and then took a casserole out of the freezer for our weekend painting meals! Check it out:

Meal Plan for Monday March 7 - Sunday March 13

Monday - Chicken tetrazzini leftovers (such a big casserole)
Tuesday - Balsamic roasted tomatoes and ricotta pizza, salad
Wednesday - Broccoli cheddar soup
Thursday - Crab cake sandwiches, cole slaw, roasted sweet potato fries
Friday - Ranch chicken tenders, green beans
Saturday - Breakfast Quiche with bacon, onion, mushroom, arugula 
   Dinner Manicotti from the freezer
Sunday - Leftovers all day long

Blue Party

March Madness is just getting started! Have you been enjoying all these tournament games? Before tournament games can begin the regular season must first come to an end. Anyone tied with the Blues Rivalry (AKA Carolina and Duke) will know that the last regular season game is always a Battle of the Blues. This final Carolina/Duke matchup is typically 3-4 weeks past the first meeting of the season.

Today's post is all about the viewing party we hosted for the first matchup which happened to fall on my birthday! Here's the Paperless Post invite we sent to our neighbors:

If you're hosting some sort of basketball viewing party over the next month then take note! This is an easy prep spread and the dip can even be made ahead. We served everything on our ottoman in the living room so we could all seat ourselves on the sectional and not miss any of the basketball action. We had a serving tray to corral the plates and napkins as well as the chips and dip. Then we placed our large bamboo cutting board next to it which completed the spread.

The spread included chips and spinach-artichoke dip, shrimp cocktail, and crackers with salami and goat cheese. We first made the spinach-artichoke dip as a holiday appetizer a few years ago and it's become our go-to dip when we're not serving salsa with chips. You can find the recipe here. I made it the day before our party and warmed it before tipoff. I'm fairly sure the whole dish was polished off by the end of the game. For the shrimp cocktail, I purchased raw shrimp that I shelled (left the tails on) and then quickly boiled for a few minutes until opaque and pink. They were served with a prepared cocktail sauce. And the crackers with salami and goat cheese should need no explanation. 

As I said this viewing party was coinciding with my birthday and a birthday isn't complete without cupcakes! I attempted Carolina and Duke cupcakes but I put too much blue for the Carolina ones... oops. All were still tasty!

As with all Carolina-Duke games only one of us goes to bed happy. Fortunately we split this season so it we were happy and sad. Hopefully there won't be any tournament matchups!

Don't let the Madness be too maddening. And if it is just have a cupcake. 

Pesto stuffed chicken breasts

I'm not typically a big fan of chicken breast. Even when cooked properly and dressed up, I'm not often craving the next bite. This dish, however, was exceptional and surprised me. The chicken came out perfectly tender, and the decadent pesto cream cheese filling and bread crumb topping made it extra delicious. Perhaps it isn't the healthiest chicken breast preparation, but this is great for an occasional treat.

For better chicken breast in general, apparently sous vide (precision temperature controlled water bath) is the way to go to avoid the dry stringy texture that's typical with baking. Maybe someday we'll give that a try.

Whitney served this with couscous (tossed with sun-dried tomatoes and scallions) and honey carrots
Pesto stuffed chicken breasts Inspiration from this previous recipe
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 oz cream cheese, softened
4 tbsp pesto
salt and pepper
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

   Preheat oven to 350F.
   Pound chicken breasts to an even 1/2" thickness.
   Prepare pesto filling - mix together cream cheese, pesto, salt and pepper. Divide filling and place down the middle of both chicken breasts (lengthwise). Bring sides together and secure with a toothpick.
   Prepare bread crumb topping - mix together breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese, and extra virgin olive oil. Spread over chicken breasts and pat down.
   Bake in preheated oven for 35-45 minutes or until center registers 165F with a meat thermometer (I don't usually cook it quite so high to help save some of the texture, possibly at some food safety risk).
   Serve immediately.

Meal Plan Monday Post

Happy March! We've been trying to eats lots of green things in preparation of the holiday this month. There were lots of vegetables in this meal plan but we can always do better. We had a fairly low key week leading up to Patrick's birthday on Friday. I surprised him by taking him out to his favorite sushi restaurant. Then no rest for the weary on the weekend - we trudged on with the painting! This weekend we worked on the dining room. On Friday I prepped several savory and sweet items for a tea shower on Saturday afternoon; I also prepped our weekend casserole. Since I knew we would be painting I made a large casserole for us to have on both nights!

Meal Plan for Monday February 29 - Sunday March 6

Monday - Turkey sliders, babaganoush hummus and veggies
Tuesday - Out of town
Wednesday - Deconstructed spinach ravioli
Thursday - Marinated chicken, sauteed kale, sweet potatoes
Friday - Patrick's birthday!! Out for sushi
Saturday - Breakfast Peanut butter and banana oatmeal
   Co-hosted an Afternoon tea shower
   Dinner Chicken tetrazzini
Sunday - Breakfast Ricotta pancakes, strawberry and kiwi
   Lunch Chicken salad, orange, dilly beans
   Dinner Leftovers

Stir fry asparagus and shiitake

Pardon a second straight week of interruptions on the blog! Even though our house is still a mess from painting, this week I was out of town and wasn't able to draft posts in advance of my departure. Hopefully things will get back to our regular programming but no promises as we're planning to paint the dining room this weekend and the living room the following weekend!

If you make this recipe, though, it'll make up for our lack of posts! This may be my new favorite way to have asparagus. We're no strangers to asparagus so that's quite a statement. I keep asparagus in our meal rotation just often enough to say we consume it somewhat regularly (maybe every month or two). To me it always elevates a meal because it's not a vegetable we're eating every week or two. We featured it as a side in two anniversary dinners (this one and this one).  We love it with pasta (see here, here, and here). Typically roasting it or sauteing it as a simple side is our go to (like this, this, and this). And then sometimes we get fancy (we tried asparagus fries and baking it in parchment).

I'd throw this stir fry asparagus into the "sometimes we get fancy" category. This was unlike any asparagus preparation we'd had before and it was delightful. The asparagus starts in the pan and warm oil with some sauteing and finishes by steaming after the stir fry sauce is added. We served this flavorful side with a salmon filet that was roasted with a simple preparation of olive oil, salt, and pepper. Enjoy!

Stir fry asparagus and shiitake inspiration from America's Test Kitchen
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 lb asparagus, 2" cut on the bias
4 oz shiitake, thinly sliced
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp dry sherry
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tsp freshly grated ginger
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
2 tbsp water

   Warm vegetable oil in medium skillet.
   Toss vegetables in oil, cook for 3-4 minutes stirring twice through allowing asparagus to char slightly.
   Prepare sauce - whisk together soy sauce, dry sherry, brown sugar, freshly grated ginger, and toasted sesame oil. Finally add water to thin the sauce.
   Add sauce to pan and allow to steam asparagus. Cook for 1 minute more, letting sauce reduce down to a glaze.

Mexican potluck

A few weeks ago we hosted friends for a Mexican potluck! You might remember it because we've already shared this Mexican Chocolate Pound Cake that we made for dessert. I couldn't let the whole evening go by without some pictures and a mention on the blog so here are all the goods.

The Spread

We had rice and beans alongside beef enchiladas and chicken tortilla soup.

The Bar

Everyone not only chipped into the food but also the bar! Someone brought tequila, another someone brought margarita mixer, and we picked up some various juice sodas to customize your margarita. Lime wedges and a plate of salt completed the margarita bar. 

The Table

Chips and salsa as well as sour cream joined the centerpiece for our munching pleasure throughout dinner. 

Friends, come back! We need more Mexican potlucks in our lives.