Panzanella

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Panzanella is a classic Florentine dish that simply showcases old stale bread and the juices of plump, ripe, summer tomatoes. Since we are on the brink of tomato season I thought I’d share my favorite salad recipe!

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Ingredients:

4 cups of Chopped Tomatoes ( I like to use all different kinds for color)

4 Cups of Cubed Stale Bread

1/2 Cup Chopped Basil

1/8 Cup of Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1/2 Tablespoon Sea Salt

1/2 Tablespoon Black Pepper

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First things first, using stale bread is key or it will completely fall apart. If you don’t have stale bread around the house, you can buy bread, cut it into 1 inch cubes and leave it out overnight, or pop it in the oven at 350 for about 5 minutes and it will be just fine. For my salad I chose a rosemary loaf just to add a little more Mediterranean flavor.

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Chop the tomatoes into nice large, but bite sized chunks and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

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Combine with chopped basil, salt and pepper and let sit for 10 minutes. If your making this salad before prime tomato season they may need a little help so you can add a little but of red wine vinegar to add acidity and liquid that you would normally get with perfectly ripe tomatoes.

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Combine tomatoes and bread, drizzle with olive oil and serve! I love the simplicity of just using these ingredients however some other fun things to throw in are cucumbers, artichokes, and capers!

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Also if you have a ton left over and the bread is getting really soggy you can throw it in a baking dish and cook for 20 minutes at 350 and you’ll have a warm savory bread pudding!

So excited for summer!

Decorating with Herbs: Mint

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It’s great to mix it up a little by using herbs instead of flowers to decorate your home. This mint makes a beautiful arrangement while also making your home smell amazing!

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Mint is one of those plants that will keep growing and growing anywhere you plant it! You will have plenty to cook with and decorate with.

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Can’t wait to think of fun recipes to use the mint with! Any ideas?

Grilled Artichokes

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It’s artichoke season! March through May is the most popular time for artichokes and I try and get my hands on as many as possible! These spiky little green balls can be intimidating at first, but are so delicious once you figure out the best way to cook them. One of my favorite ways is to grill them.

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Harvesting artichokes is really easy using gardening sheers – you just cut right through the stem. The stem is one of the best parts of an artichoke so I like to cut about 4 inches down from the bulb.

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The hardest part of cooking artichokes is cleaning and prepping them – but it really just comes down to four steps.

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STEP 1: Slice them in half. I like to take the point of a large sharp knife in the stem at the base of the bulb and cut through the whole choke first, then the stem.

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STEP 2:  Cut off the hard top of each leaf with scissors.

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STEP 3: Scoop out the center of the artichoke with a spoon. Remove the hairy fibers covering the heart and the inner purple spiny leaves. Be careful not to take out pieces of the heart but still be firm with the spoon.

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STEP 4: Peel the stem using a normal vegetable peeler until it turns bright green.

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Once the artichoke is prepped immediately place in a pot of water with lemons to keep it green. Boil artichokes for about 25 minutes until the heart is fork tender and the outer leaves can easily be pulled off.

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Drain the artichokes and pat them dry with paper towels to remove and access moister. Cover with coarse black pepper and sea salt.

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Grill face down on high heat for 3-5 minutes and serve!

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These grilled artichokes go great with a lemon Dijon aioli dipping sauce. Simply combine: 1 cup of mayonnaise, 1/2 cup of Dijon Mustard, the juice of one lemon and salt and pepper. Enjoy!

Cinco de Mayo Margarita Bar!

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I thought a fun way to celebrate Cinco de Mayo was a do-it-yourself margarita bar, because let’s be honest – I can’t always be the hostess with the mostest – so make your own damn drink!

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I put out 3 different kinds of juice: classic lime, orange and grapefruit, and raspberries, blackberries, and lime slices as garnish.

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Can’t forget the tequila and Cointreau!

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I put out instructions for a classic margarita – but let my guests decide what fruit juice and garnish they’d like.

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Two combinations I liked were 1 ounce of lime juice and 2 ounces of grapefruit, mixed with both blackberries and limes.

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My other favorite was simply using orange juice with raspberries.

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I think mango and pineapple could be a fun addition to this margarita bar as well. What are some of your favorite margarita recipes?

Easy-Peasy Picnic

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I was so excited to go on a picnic with my friends this weekend. I normally would have loved to whip up some fun sandwiches and dips, but I was just too exhausted. Lucky my local grocery store came to the rescue!

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Instead of just grabbing sandwiches and calling it a day, finger foods from pretty much any market can make for a more fun and special meal. There’s no science to the perfect combination of food – see what’s fresh at the store and what you’re in the mood for!

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I chose 2 cheeses – a soft Bree and Humboldt fog goat cheese, 2 cured meats – prosciutto and salami, a crusty sourdough baguette, herb bread sticks, strawberries, sparkling water, mixed olives, a marinated artichoke, red pepper and mushroom salad and almonds.

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( I like that you can eat all of these items with your fingers )

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In addition to food some good things to pack are: plastic cups, napkins, cheese knives, a cutting board and sunscreen!

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Malibu Winery was the perfect escape for our picnic. What are other great spots?

A Little Bit Country

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This weekend I flew home to Sacramento to celebrate my baby sister’s 16th birthday. My mom and I whipped together some fun country-themed decorations with the help of Rustic Event Rentals. They supply great custom accents for any occasion. Check them out at: http://www.facebook.com/RusticEventRentals

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Some sand blasted glass jars, tied with burlap and twine made the perfect country lanterns.

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We used these colorful cowboy hats as both party favors and as garland to decorate!

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My favorite inside-tip from the girls at Rustic Events was the cowboy boot center pieces!

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All you have to do is place a regular glass jar or vase inside a cowboy boot.

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Just add water and flowers!

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Yes, that is a mechanical bull– what country-themed party would be complete without one?

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So, my sister insisted on having Taco Bell to serve for dinner.

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Rustic Event Rentals provided the cutest wooden containers to display all the tacos and burritos.

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It was a great way to feed hungry teenagers!

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Chalkboards are an instant way to personalize an event.

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I loved all different shapes and sizes and scattered them around the party.

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Other decorations were simple items we found around the house – like jean jackets.

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The party was definitely a success thanks to Rustic Event Rentals! Thank you for some great ideas and supplies!

Extra Versitile Olive Oil

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I love finding new uses for my glass jars and bottles! This bright green bottle used to contain extra virgin olive old from California Olive Ranch. As you know, I use olive oil pretty frequently when I cook, so I didn’t have to wait long to decorate my home with the bottle!

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One way to use this bottle was as a dish soap container. After thoroughly cleaning the bottle, pour in regular dish soap with a splash of water to make it less dense. Top the bottle with a pour spout that you can purchase for under $5.

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Another more obvious way to re-purpose this bottle is as a vase. I filled it with some fresh lavender from my yard and it really made my room look and smell like spring.

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Have a great weekend everyone!

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Quest for the Perfect Cafe Table: Rose Bowl Flea Market

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For the first time in my adult life I have a backyard! (well in reality a 3×6 foot balcony). But it’s just enough space for some flower boxes, herbs and potted tomato plants. What was missing was seating to enjoy it all.

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I searched all the usual places: Target, Bed Bath and Beyond, Craigslist – I wasn’t impressed. I fell in love with a perfect garden table at a store on Montana but it was $400. Finally I found this adorable metal cafe table and chairs at the famous Rose Bowl Flea Market for $100. Not cheap, but still a great deal.  It’s the perfect addition to my ‘backyard’.

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This flea market is enormous. You can find vintage clothes, antique furniture, old records, estate sale jewelry – pretty much anything you could possible imagine. It’s open the second Sunday of the month. Don’t miss out this weekend! My next search will be for some cute upholstered stools to put by my fire place. I found this photo from http://thetwinsfashionblog.wordpress.com – check it out for more information on the market.

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I thought this lantern from Cost Plus World Market (www.worldmarket.com) was a great accessory for the table. I can’t wait to have a dinner date out here on a warm spring night!