Host a Banging Brunch

Nothing’s better on a weekend than a nice lazy brunch catching up with friends. But, who has time for those long waits at the local spots? Nobody. So, skip the line and host your own banging brunch at home.

Brunch s a casual occasion by nature, so this is a super stress-free way to get together and enjoy some quality time. Plus, with just a little bit of planning, you can still sleep in on Saturday morning and get your private brunch on that same afternoon.

Do-Ahead Dishes

The key to an easy, breezy brunch is to stick with make-ahead meals to keep it super simple. 

Egg Course: The obvious go-to for brunch, eggs are a must. A great, easy way to incorporate them into your menu are with my Bite-Sized Bacon, Egg & Cheese Frittatas. You can make them the day before and gently reheat before serving. They’re also pretty tasty at room temperature. A baked strata is another idea that you can assemble the night before and pop in the oven when you wake up.

Something Sweet: French toast casseroles or frozen cinnamon buns are easily baked the morning of, or you can try my Citrusy Belgian Waffles with Crème Fraîche & Raspberries. They’re super delicious and you can make them before the troops arrive, then keep them warm on a resting rack in oven.

Something Savory: If you prefer the lunch side of brunch, a smoked salmon platter with cream cheese, minced onions and capers is great alongside pre-sliced bagels, or you could go for a small spiral ham with fruit chutney. If you can’t brunch without bacon, bake it in advance and and keep it warm in the oven.

Bakery Basket: Use a pretty cloth napkin to line a basket and then pile it with bagels, muffins and cookies. Take things up a notch by baking fresh Toasted Oat Scones with Cranberry & Ginger or just have friends grab treats from the bakery on their way over. Baked goods is a great answer to brunch guests when they ask, “What can I bring?”

Pretty Parfaits: For a simple, serve yourself setting, put out a variety of yogurts, granola and fresh fruit (buy precut!), then set guests up with serving bowls or parfait glasses to make their own layered treat. 

Coffee, Coffee, Coffee: Set up your coffee maker the night before and borrow carafes as needed. Want to make it even easier? Put a Keurig on the counter with a basket containing a variety of coffees and teas. 

Boozy Brunch: Um, of course! Grab a bottle or two of bubbly and offer a variety of juices for make-your-own-mimosas (mango is an amazing option to traditional OJ) or blow them away with my special Spicy Sriracha Bloody Marys.  

Buffet Your Way to Easy Brunch

No need to worry about place settings. Just make sure you’ve got enough seating and set up a serve-yourself buffet. Don’t have enough space in one room to put everything out? Great! Using multiple places to split up food and drinks actually works super well to control traffic and encourage mingling. Keep warm dishes in the kitchen, set out baked goods on the dining table or sideboard, and build your bar in the living room or den.

The pro tip is to set everything up the night before with post-it notes to label where everything goes. This not only makes sure you keep your plan straight, it’s a good way to help any helpers help you. All your plates, utensils, glasses and coffee cups can be set up the night before, too.

Lounge & Linger

Ask any weekend server: brunch is a long, lazy meal that can last for hours. It’s not so great for restaurant turnover, but it’s awesome for giving your guests an excuse to rest and relax before heading back to work on Monday.

Here are some ideas to set the scene and make your guests comfortable and content:

  • To encourage lounging, make sure there are plenty of places to sit and lay out floor cushions to create a casual space for hanging.
  • Add ambiance with flowers, but put them on a buffet where they won’t block conversation.
  • Make self-service a snap with pre-sliced bagels and breads, and already-cut-into-portions casseroles, and roll utensils into napkins to have at the ready on the buffet. 
  • Place extra pitchers of water with glasses on the side, or ice buckets with individual-sized bottles in a couple of easy access spots.
  • Create a fun playlist in advance or try a groovy Pandora channel for background music. Or, find that early-arriver guest who loves to DJ and put them on task when they show up.
  • Put out crossword puzzles and pens, print out the funny pages or take it old school with a fun round of Mad Libs to enhance the entertainment. 

Now, how simple is that? You can practically set up and host your banging brunch in less time than it takes to go out, and you’ll have tons more fun as a result. 

Have your own easy ideas for weekend brunch at home? Share them with us below!

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Thank Your Holiday Host with a Better Bottle

Thank Your Holiday Host with a Better Bottle

The holiday season is a time for spending time with family and friends, celebrating and giving gifts, and of course … parties! 

Now, you never want to show up at a party empty handed and a bottle of wine is a great go-to gift, which is why most people will be doing the same thing. To make your gift stand out, here are a few creative tips for wine gifts that wow.

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3 Fundamentals to Wine Pairing

3 Fundamentals to Wine Pairing

Nearly every culture around the world includes wine on the dinner table. You want to know why? Because wine makes food taste better! When you get the perfect pairing of wine and food, you can really indulge in savoring the flavors so you enjoy every bite and sip. 

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Some Basic Tips About Wine

Some Basic Tips About Wine

One of life’s greatest pleasures is enjoying a perfectly paired glass of wine with a delicious meal.  

The right wine can actually enhance the flavor of your food for a more fulfilling dining experience, and it doesn’t have to be intimidating or expensive for you to enjoy it.

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Super Simple Canning

If you can boil water, it’ll be a breeze to can your own food. It’s really that simple. Follow grandma’s lead and put up your sauces, pickles and preserves so you can enjoy your summer fruit and veggie bounty well into the winter and beyond.

The canning craze has really taken off the past few years, and for good reason. It’s super easy, super effective and oh-so-satisfying when you hear that pop later when you’re ready to dig in!

Basically, you fill your jars with your goodies – acidic foods like tomato sauce, salsa, chutney, jam, pie filling and pickles work best – then expose the jar to heat to create a food-safe vacuum seal. This abates the food-fuzzies that you often see in the back of the fridge, while the high pH of the contents helps keep bacteria at bay. 

Tip: Check out The National Center for Home Food Preservation and the USDA websites for tried and true recipes for foods that work well for canning.

The easiest (and naturally most popular) method is called water bath canning. It’s so easy and you only need minimal gear to make it happen. Just pick up some mason jars, rings and lids, give them a quick wash and you’re ready to go.

Note: Make sure you have a pot large enough to cover the jars with at least an inch of water while boiling, otherwise grab one of those too.

You can also pick up a canning rack to make things a little easier when moving your jars in & out of the boiling water. They’re very handy and they don’t cost much … but you can get by with sturdy tongs and a hot mitt almost as well.

Once you’ve got your gear set and your goodies made, you’re ready to roll. 

  1. Put enough water in your pot to cover the jars by 1” and heat to a simmer.
  2. Warm your jars using the dishwasher or another pot of water so they don’t break when you fill them with hot foods.
  3. Put your prepared dish into jars and be sure to leave 1” of space at the top to leave room for heat expansion during canning.
  4. Run a small plastic spatula around the inside of the jar and press down on top of the contents to get rid of air bubbles and pack the food in tightly.
  5. Clean the rim of the jar, put a new lid on top and twist a band around it until it’s just barely on. Don’t make it tight because air needs a way to escape to create the vacuum. 
  6. Carefully slide the filled, (barely) closed jars into the simmering water. Cover the pot and heat it to a steady boil for as long as the recipe requires.
  7. Turn off the heat and let your jars stand for 5 minutes. Take them out of the water and let them cool upright on a wire rack or dishtowels for 12 hours. Leave the lids alone and let them work their magic. You’ll hear pops as each jar seals itself. 
  8. Test your jars and make sure the lids are properly sealed. If there’s still some flexing when you press the center of the lid, you can either refrigerate the jar for immediate use or try sealing it again in your next round of canning. 

Boom. Done. Crazy easy, right? Be sure to pick up some fun labels and tags to keep track of contents, or share your goodies as gifts. Your sealed jars will last for up to a year and you can remove the bands if you like – the lids don’t need them to keep the seal. However, if you’re planning to leave the bands on, make sure the threads are dry underneath and around the lip of the jar before putting them into storage.  

Have fun & if you find some super yummy canning dishes, be sure to let me know!

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9 Ideas for (Mostly) Make-Ahead Meals

How much energy do you put into deciding what to feed your family every night? “What’s for dinner?” is a question that can be daunting to even the most devout home chefs.

Add to that long days at work, after school activities, and trying to avoid eating at 10PM, and anyone would choose takeout over heading to the kitchen … thatis, unless they have a plan.

Believe it or not, cooking at home can be just as fast as dialing for delivery, and it’s way more tasty, too. All you need is my simple formula for (mostly) make-ahead meals that will make weeknight cooking a snap.

Batch & Prep + Pantry Power =

A Week of (Mostly) Make-Ahead Meals

The idea is to do some prep work and cook a big batch of something substantial on the weekend, and combine that with some simple pantry staples into a week’s worth of delicious, unique dinners all week long.

Batch & Prep

Your big batch meals should simply seasoned so they are easily adaptable for different dishes through out the week. This is what you cook ahead of time. Great ideas include:

  • Grilled Chicken Breasts or Boneless Skinless Thighs
  • Roast Pork Loin, Grilled Pork Tenderloin, Slow Cooker Pulled Pork
  • Grilled Shrimp
  • Broiled Flank Steak
  • Poached or Grilled Salmon
  • Marinated Grilled or Seared Tofu

For the prep, chop some veggies to have on hand so you can easily toss them into dishes raw, or quickly cook them up as sides or additional components to dishes. These you’ll prep, then store to use later. Great ideas include:

  • Diced Onions
  • Sliced Peppers
  • Sliced Mushrooms
  • Julienned Carrots
  • Shredded Cabbage
  • Broccoli Florets
  • Baby Spinach 
  • Sliced Zucchini

Tip: Is your schedule too packed to cook or do the prep work? Try grabbing pre-cooked entrées like rotisserie chicken and opt for pre-cut veggies from your favorite grocer. 

Pantry Power

These staples have a long shelf life and allow you to make tons of different tasty meals. Keep a kitchen inventory list so you can replace items as they’re used.

Dry Goods: pasta, cous cous, rice, canned beans (black, kidney, chick peas), chicken broth, olives, cans of diced tomatoes, marinara sauce, pre-made stir fry sauces, roasted peppers, BBQ sauce

Fridge: whole wheat wraps, pre-baked pizza crust, hummus, pesto, shredded cheeses, parmesan, feta and/or goat cheese, vinaigrettes, eggs, salsas

Freezer: tortellini, corn, edamame, peeled deveined shrimp (defrost under running water in minutes when you need them)

Mostly Make-Ahead

Here we go! Here are 9 different ideas for mostly make-ahead meals you can make using our simple Batch & Prep + Pantry Power formula. I’ve used sliced grilled for the example, but feel free to play around with a variety of basic big batch items. Toss a handful of your favorite veggies in each option and enjoy playing around the with various combinations. 

Simple Stir Fry  = Sautéed Veggies + Stir Fry Sauce + Grilled Chicken. Options: serve over rice, cous cous, or noodles, add edamame

Hearty Soup = Chicken Broth + Beans + Canned Tomatoes + Pasta or Rice + Grilled Chicken + Veggies. Options: garnish with shredded parmesan or pesto for Italian; add frozen corn and salsa for Mexican

So Easy Wrap = Whole Wheat Wrap + Hummus + Veggies + Chicken. Options: add drained roasted peppers, olives, shredded cheese and/or drained rinsed beans.

Pizza = Marinara or Pesto + Sautéed Veggies + Shredded Cheese + Chicken + Pizza Crust. Options: swap BBQ sauce, corn & beans for Tex Mex.

Fiesta Quesadilla = Whole Wheat Wrap + Shredded Cheese + Sautéed Veggies + Chicken. Options: add beans or salsa.

Chef’s Salad = Baby Spinach + Veggies + Shredded Cheese + Chicken + Beans + Vinaigrette. Options: add feta, goat cheese, roasted peppers and/or olives.

Pasta Night = Sautéed Veggies + Chicken + Marinara or Pesto + Tortellini or Dry Pasta . Options: add parmesan or roasted peppers.

Mediterranean Cous Cous – Chick Peas + Cous Cous + Roasted Peppers + Chicken + Feta + Vinaigrette. Options: add olives and/or sautéed veggies.

Frittata = Sautéed Veggies + Eggs+ Shredded Cheese. Options: add roasted peppers, use feta or goat cheese, or top with marinara, salsa, or pesto.

Have fun trying out the different combinations and be sure to let me know what you come up with! 

Here’s to healthier, happier eating!

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Get to the Greek (Yogurt!)

Greek yogurt is an ingredient that’s so flexible and multi-purpose, it’s on my list of staples that I always keep on hand. It’s rich, creamy and filling with a decently long shelf life, plus Greek yogurt has a seemingly infinite number of ways you can use it in recipes or on its own as a satisfying snack or light breakfast.

Thanks to those fruit-on-the-bottom-or-top versions we’re used to, people often think of yogurt as a sweet treat, but Greek yogurt in particular is really great in savory dishes, too.

In chilled recipes, Greek yogurt makes a simple swap for higher calorie and fat ingredients like mayonnaise or sour cream. It also lends a rich texture and creamy finish to hot dishes, which is a good swap for butter or cream. I’m such a fan, Greenyogurt is on my official “happy and healthy eating secret ingredient” list; I’ve used it in everything from dips and salads to soups and sides.

Here are some tips for using Greek yogurt to boost the flavor of your dishes while making them sneakily healthier at the same time:

Mayo-Based Salads: Replace all or ½ of the mayo in tuna, egg or chicken salad recipes to slash calories and fat.

Bean Dips & Guacamole: Add a dollop of Greek yogurt to give your guac and bean dips a rich creamy mouth feel. It’s also a great flavor booster if your avocados aren’t fully ripe.

Mashed Potatoes & Other Veggie Purees: Use less butter and cream, yet still achieve silky delicious results by substituting Greek yogurt. It’s amazing in everything from celery root puree to cauliflower and potato gratins, and yes, it’s super yummy in mashed potatoes.

Soups, Stews & Chilis: Swap Greek yogurt for ½ or all of the heavy cream in creamy soups. Simply whisk it in at the end of cook time. Try it in all your favorites from cream of broccoli to Butternut Squash Bisque. You can also swirl it into Indian curries or use it as a cooling topper for spicy chili. 

Fresh Fruit Parfaits: Greek yogurt is a delicious, easy breakfast layered with fresh fruit, chopped nuts or granola for crunch. My girls like to sweeten theirs up with honey or vanilla flavoring syrup. Looking for those fruit flavors we all love in yogurt? Stir in a little all-fruit jam to make your own lower-sugar version at home.

Fruit Smoothies: I generally keep a variety of frozen and fresh fruit on hand for easy smoothie-making. Skip the $6 versions around town; just toss your favorite fruit in a blender with a bit of juice and Greek yogurt for a super rich and creamy smoothie exactly how you like it.

Swap the Sour Cream: Greek yogurt is a no-brainer replacement for sour cream in any salad dressing or dip. Want to test my theory? Check out my simple, super tasty Greek Tzatziki Sauce recipe below.  or in creamy sauces like this easy and tasty recipe for Greek Tzatziki Sauce.

Greek Tzatzki Sauce

Transform simple grilled chicken in a pita into something really special with just a dollop (or more!) of this tangy tzatziki dip. You can also try drizzling it over poached salmon, or use it as a dressing for chickpea chopped salad. Tzatziki’s also delicious as a dip for veggies, baked pita chips, poached shrimp and more!

Prep Time:minutes
Cook Time: 0 minutes
Yield: 4-6 Servings

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup low fat plain Greek yogurt 
  • 1/2 cup peeled, seeded and diced cucumber
  • 1 plum tomato seeded, diced (1/2 cup)
  • 1/4 cup minced red onion
  • 1 TB fresh lemon juice 
  • 1 TB chopped fresh dill (or 1 tsp dried dill weed)
  • 3/4 tsp garlic salt 
  • pinch cayenne pepper, or more to taste

Instructions

Whisk all ingredients together and chill to blend flavors. Keep tightly covered in fridge for up to 5 days.

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The Magic of Marinad

The Magic of Marinade

When it comes to getting your grill on in a healthier way, lean cuts of meat and seafood are the way to go. However, you want to give them a boost of flavor and some tenderizing before you let them hit the flames. Marinades are super easy to make and do wonders with making all your grilled goodies taste tastier. Before you let your meats and seafood hit the flames this grill season, make sure to give them a boost of flavor and some tenderizing love. Marinades are super easy to make and do wonders with making all your grilled goodies taste tastier. 

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Find New Uses for Your Fondue Pot

Find New Uses for Your Fondue Pot

Fondue pots inspire images of groovy 70’s soirées and heavenly, yet super heavy, meals of bread chunks dunked in melted cheese. Today they’re mainly used as the occasional novelty party dish, which is too bad. When you know how to use it right, your fondue pot can be a great tool for every day fun, too.

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Get to the Greek (Yogurt!)

Get to the Greek (Yogurt!)

Greek yogurt is an ingredient that’s so flexible and multi-purpose, it’s on my list of staples that I always keep on hand. It’s rich, creamy and filling with a decently long shelf life, plus Greek yogurt has a seemingly infinite number of ways you can use it in recipes or on its own as a satisfying snack or light breakfast.

Keep reading…

Read More

Super Simple Canning

Super Simple Canning

If you can boil water, it’ll be a breeze to can your own food. It’s really that simple. Follow grandma’s lead and put up your sauces, pickles and preserves so you can enjoy your summer fruit and veggie bounty well into the winter and beyond.

Keep reading…

Read More

Continue reading »