Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Fabulous At-Home Fiesta

I don’t need an excuse to throw a party, but Cinco de Mayo sure is a good one! Not only is it fun, but it’s EASY. Throw together some chips n’ dip, quesadillas and a pitcher of margs (margaritas) and call it real! This year, I’ve got some super-simple ideas that will be sure to impress.

Individual Mexican Layered Dip

I learned this trick while interning at Southern Living during college. My dear friend, Kate Graham, and I had the opportunity to work on a video shoot for Wal-Mart. We spent two days buying groceries and cooking utensils in massive quantities, became best friends with the Wal-Mart employees (and left 10 lbs. of butter in the photo stylist’s van…overnight…in July), and learned fun new recipes and behind-the-scenes secrets. It was a blast. Except for the butter incident…

Anyway, I loved the idea of individual servings of dip in a martini glass. Turns out, SL was way ahead of their time. In the catering world, EVERYTHING is now served in a mini-this or individual-that.

The how-to is simple. Start with a clean martini glass and coat the rim with a lime. Dip the glass in a shallow dish of red pepper or chili powder, just like you would in salt for a margarita. Shake off the excess. Layer your dip ingredients in the following order:

1. Re-fried beans (I mixed mine with some spicy Rotel to give it an extra kick).
2. Guacamole
3. Sour Cream
4. Shredded Cheese (I used the Fiesta blend, but Cheddar works too!)
5. Jalapenos and homemade baked tortilla chips, for garnish

Feel free to mix it up any way you like–you can add shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes, bell peppers, whatever looks good to you! I made homemade tortilla chips in an effort to be somewhat healthy. Take 3-4 tortillas layered on top of one another, cut into 8 triangles (which will give you about 24-32 chips), arrange on a cooking sheet coated with cooking spray, drizzle some olive oil, squeeze some lime, sprinkle salt and pepper, and bake at 350 degrees until nice and crispy (10-12 minutes).

UP NEXT: Italian Margaritas and Mini Salsa Cilantro Bites!

Friday, April 24, 2009

MCES Part 1-The Stalking of Tyler Florence

I have FINALLY received pictures from my mom of the cooking show in Atlanta. The anticipation nearly killed me (don't worry, I snagged a few off Facebook so I could at least change my profile pic and share my new found stalking-tendencies with the world).

Meanwhile, having to rely on someone to mail me pictures for my blog confirmed my decision to use birthday money for a new digital camera. I explained to Husband (in my best "Disney" voice, as he likes to call it) that to be a serious food blogger I simply HAD to have great pictures. So we ventured out to Best Buy where I spent a good hour taking random pictures with every camera in the department. The sales people loved me. I came home with a Canon Powershot and have since then been strutting around our condo saying things like, "Make every shot a Powershot" a la Maria Sharapova. But I digress...

I have three words for you. I am crazy. Going to this cooking show confirmed it. Here's a rundown of my adventures in Atlanta with my fabulous mother.

We arrived at the Marriott on Friday evening with just enough time to daydream about meeting famous people and then it was time to hit the hay (needed plenty of rest for our first day). By the way, I'm usually not this celeb-crazy. Really, I swear.

Anyway, we were planning on meeting my former boss/entertaining extraordinaire Martie Duncan ( Saturday morning to help her get set for her first show. We're winding our way through the convention center when who do we stumble upon, but Tyler Floren
ce (finishing up his first show in the Celebrity Theatre). I smiled. He smiled. I swooned. Mom caught me. I recovered (and immediately tweeted about it) and we continued.

The MCES basically had three parts to it--the exhibits (food and entertaining vendors), the workshops (mostly local chefs and restaurants) and the Celebrity Live Theatre (along with book signings and VIP events). Martie's workshop on parties/entertaining was a huge hit. The theme was a beach party, and her presentation was absolutely spectacular. The audience loved it, and I could tell they were pumped about her awesome ideas. Check out her blog for a full rundown and photo gallery.

Thanks to Martie, Mom and I were able to attend Tyler's second Celebrity Theatre show. We had killer seats (2nd row) so we could gawk appropriately. You can't really tell in the image to the right because it's blurry, but he was looking straight at us. =)

Tyler was an absolute rock-star--funny, friendly and informative. Oh, and he clearly knows a thing or two about cooking. And did I mention he's dreamy? He cooked three incredible dishes--Chicken Marsala, Shrimp Scampi and Lamb T-Bone Steaks with Lemon Mashed Potatoes. We got to taste a little bit of the marsala and it was out of this world. We also learned that you should NEVER substitute dried herbs for fresh, Colorado lamb is just as tasty as New Zealand lamb and you should only think about buying expensive olive oil if you are using it as a finisher (such as on a mozzarella salad), but pretty much any kind of olive oil is fine for cooking. We were on cloud nine as we headed back to prepare for Martie's second workshop.

A few minutes into her show, Caroline (Martie's awesome assistant/artist/whatever you need her to be) starts waving frantically to me from across the stage. I run around the back curtain wond
ering what we had forgotten. And I stop dead. Because Tyler Florence is 5 feet away autographing aprons for the volunteer culinary students. I shamelessly jump in line and then realize that I don't have anything for him to I dash to my purse and pull out my day planner (no, that is not a joke). Finally, it's my turn. Our exchange goes something like this:

Tyler Florence (sticks out his hand and smiles charmingly): Hi, how are you?
Me (looks down, blushes, and thrusts day planner into his hand): This is all I have!

TF (looks at me curiously): Ok.

Me: I mean, to sign. Hi, I'm Courtney (we shake hands).
I loved yo
ur show.
TF: Thank you.
Me: It's actually my birthday tomorrow (a kid in Tyler's show told him it was his birthday and he was rewarded with the yummy-looking lamb chops). So uh, you're my birthday present! (wink-wink).
TF (laughs awkwardly): Oh, Happy Birthday!
TF signs both day planner and my official MCES name badge, and hands it back to me. Just smiling away. Dreamily.
Me (cursing myself for being an idiot): Thanks!

We smile for a picture. I walk away. And then it dawns on me...I just accidentally hit on Tyler Florence. Not exactly how I pictured that going....

Eventually I recovered (but not before tweeting about it and telling the embarrassing tale to my dad, sister, Husband and anyone else I could get in touch with) and moved on to Part Deux of the weekend. Stay tuned!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Easter Brunch Recap

I just wanted to share some pictures from my very first Easter Brunch! It was a beautiful day with two of my favorite things--food and family. I think we have a new favorite dish with the Decadent French Toast.
As far as decor, I cheated a little bit--I got lucky and snagged some leftover flowers from a wedding at work the night before, and made my centerpiece. I added my most "spring-y" looking place mats and napkin rings, my hand-painted eggs from Wrapsody and Voila! Instant table scape (it doesn't take much, my table isn't that big!)

The Fruit Salad Martini ended up being a great idea--we were a little behind getting out of church, so the casserole still had about 20 minutes to bake
when my family arrived. Everyone enjoyed the fruit while watching the Masters, and I was able to finish up in the kitchen. Just use any fruit you like--whatever is in season. I picked out my favorites (strawberries and blackberries) and filled in with melon, cantaloupe, grapes and blueberries. I topped it off with my favorite Almond Vanilla Granola, which gave it a nice crunch.

And now the main event...the Decadent French Toast. True to its name, this dish was every bit as rich as I expected it to be. I made one slight modification, using almond extract instead of vanilla. My family loves anything almond. It definitely gives the dish a more pronounced flavor and the texture was wonderful--almost like a custard. This is definitely not your average french toast. I can only imagine that it would taste like with a little drop of Amaretto or Grand Marnier. I may have to try that next time! If you're wondering why you can't see the whole dish, it's because I forgot to take a picture before we ate and this was all that was left! I guess that means they really did like it and weren't just trying to be nice.

Decadent French Toast

  • 2 tbsp. light corn syrup
  • 3/4 to 1 cup light brown sugar (I used dark because that is what I already had, and it worked fine!)
  • 5 tbsp. butter
  • 12 slices Honey Wheat bread, crusts removed
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract (or almond)
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 1/2 cups sliced strawberries

Combine syrup, sugar and butter in a saucepan, and heat until bubbly. Pour into 12x9x2 inch baking dish. Place bread in two layers over syrup. In a separate bowl, combine the eggs, milk and vanilla (or almond) extract. Pour over bread, cover and refrigerate overnight. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Spread sour cream over french toast and cover with sliced strawberries. Serve hot with maple syrup.


Sunday, April 19, 2009

I Heart Tyler Florence

I admit it...I have a teensy crush on Tyler Florence. And by teensy, I mean huge. Boy, is he dreamy (sorry, Husband). It's been an AMAZING show in Atlanta, and I can't wait to share everything with you! As promised, I've got tons of great pictures, cooking tips, ideas, stalker stories and more. I'll be back in town tomorrow and post the highlights!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Let Us Entertain You

I'm headed to Hotlanta this weekend for the Metropolitan Cooking and Entertaining Show-- a trade show for cooking and entertaining enthusiasts packed with plenty of food and fun! I'll get to hang with some Food Network favorites, like Tyler Florence, Paula Deen, The Neely's, etc. (and by "hang with" I mean "stare at"), attend workshops and tastings with local chefs, meet vendors from every aspect of the food/entertaining industry and more. In other words, my dream come true. ;) Husband was not quite as enthusiastic... I'm sure the idea of walking around for hours and hours looking at cookware and party ideas is slightly nauseating to most males. Luckily, my mom thought it sounded like a perfect girls weekend/birthday present (my birthday is also this weekend), so she's tagging along and somewhere Husband is breathing a sigh of relief.

My former boss, Martie Duncan (, is also presenting four entertaining workshops at the show, so mom and I get to help her out. Martie just got back from a whirlwind weekend in Palm Beach (also with MCES) and said it was FABULOUS! Be sure to check out her blog for some incredible party ideas.

I'll be back on Monday with hopefully some good stories, pictures, ideas, recipes, and maybe even a book signed by Tyler Florence! Happy weekend!

P.S. I'm way behind on posting the recipes and pics from Easter Brunch, but I'll get it done as soon as I get back. Can't wait to share, it was a hit!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Turkey Meatballs

My very favorite birthday meal growing up was my mother's meatballs. I know, right? Meatballs? Random. But they were so delicious, I requested them year after year. My dad always marveled at how I'd eat them right out of the oven, without sauce or anything. They were that good. The leftovers made a great lunch the next day, wedged in between some really yummy Italian bread...delicious.

With my birthday coming up in a few days, I had the urge to re-create my favorite celebratory meal. Instead of using the traditional ground beef, I decided to try something new--ground turkey. Turns out, they might be my new favorite (sorry, mom).

I combined my mom's recipe with a recipe from Giada's Everyday Italian. By the way, I adore Giada. One day I'm going to dedicate a whole week to Giada recipes. Or maybe a month...there are a lot I'm dying to try.

ANYway, here's the recipe:

Adapted from Giada de Laurentiis, Everyday Italian


1/4 cup dried Italian bread crumbs

2 tablespoons milk

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

1/2 cup grated fresh Parmesan

1 pound ground turkey

1 tsp. minced garlic

1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley, chopped

1/2 cup finely chopped onion

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

5 cups tomato sauce (NOTE: I don't love tomato sauce, so I actually used some Vodka sauce I had in the fridge. It was delicious!)

1 pound dried penne pasta

Additional fresh Parmesan for garnish


Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl, combine the first 8 ingredients (add turkey last) and mix well, being careful not to overwork the meat. Season with salt and pepper and shape into golf-size balls.

Arrange meatballs on ungreased baking sheet and cook for 30-35 minutes, turning once.

In a large pot, bring to a boil 6 quarts of salted water. Add pasta and cook until al dente, about 8 minutes. Drain pasta in a colander.

Heat your sauce of choice (if you are not making homemade, like me) over medium heat until warm. Add meatballs and cooked penne, toss well to coat. Pour into serving dishes and garnish with fresh Parmesan. Enjoy!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Easter Decor

Of course I have waited until the last possible second to come up with a darling centerpiece/tablescape for my Easter Brunch (in my defense, I have been sick, thanks to this crazy weather!).

Short on time and money (aren’t we all, these days?), I’m relying on two of my favorite stores to help me come up with something frugal and fabulous.

I was literally about to jump in the car and head to
Williams-Sonoma’s Easter Sale (one of my happy places—more on that later) to snag this tree when I realized that it is no longer available. BLAST!

It was so cute I just had to show it to ya’ll, even if they don’t have it anymore. They still have the ornaments that you can see hanging from the tree in the picture, so I may pick those up and hunt for a tree elsewhere.

Wrapsody in Patton Creek is often my go-to place for great gifts and entertaining pieces. They have everything from cute and whimsical to elegant and sophisticated, and their easter stuff is just down-right adorable. I picked up some adorable hand-painted eggs that I will somehow incorporate to my centerpiece (whenever I figure out what that might be). I wish I had some pictures to post, but I guess ya’ll will just have to head over there and check it out! Even better, all of their Easter stuff is now 50% off! Happy hunting!

Sunday, April 5, 2009


My sweet mother-in-law gave me a subscription to Taste of Home magazine, and I absolutely LOVED this cover. What a fun way to serve fruit salad! I have some martini glasses that don’t get nearly enough use, so I’m thinking a “Fruit Salad Martini” will be a perfect “first course” for brunch. It’s something that I can easily put together before church, stick in the fridge, and set out right as my family arrives. With a little Almond Vanilla Granola sprinkled on top for a finishing touch, they’ll have something yummy to munch on while I finish the casserole.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Here Comes Peter Cottontail...

This is my first Easter as a married woman (Husband and I celebrate our one year anniversary this Sunday—wahoo!), so to “act the part” I have invited my parents, sister and her husband over for Easter Brunch. It just sounds so grown up, doesn’t it? Plus, it’s an excuse to finally break out the fine china that Husband swore we would never use. Only two questions remain: 1. How did I ever think that I was going to fit 6 people (plus a toddler) in our tiny condo and even tinier dining room, and 2. What shall I feed them?

I decided on brunch instead of lunch because I’m not good at coming up with yummy lunch menus. We eat a lot of ham sandwiches around here. Plus, anything I can eat while drinking a mimosa pretty much makes my day.

I had all of these grand ideas about what I would serve, until I realized that most of them would mean not eating until 3pm. And my family is not that patient. So I’m going with a good ‘ol French Toast casserole (I’m a sucker for good casseroles). The recipe is from one of my favorite cookbooks that I’ve never actually used (I mostly stare at the pictures).

The book is Food for Thought by the Birmingham Junior League. Aren’t those always the best? I’ll post the recipe shortly and let ya’ll know how it turns out next week. Meanwhile, I’ll be back soon with some other great brunch ideas. Enjoy this beautiful weather!