Stuffed baby eggplant and yellow globe zucchini

Stuffed baby eggplant and yellow globe zucchini

Summer is in full swing at my farmer’s market and I could not be happier. There’s a new farmer there this year who specializes in unique twists of stand-by summer veggies. He has mint and evergreen striped zucchini and deep purple cherokee tomatoes right next to the brightest neon yellow squash I have ever seen. This week he had some globe zucchini, too, in both yellow and a pale green. I snatched up several figuring they would be the perfect vessels for some kind of stuffing. Flash forward 10 minutes, I’m walking past an Asian reseller at the same farmer’s market who has the most gorgeous baby eggplant stacked high. I had a vision of how awesome they would look next to the yellow squash. Same size, complimentary colors, it just had to happen!

Stuffed baby eggplant and yellow globe zucchini

So, the eggplants went into my basket as well and later they both went into a hot oven to bake with a savory tomato stuffing. Both were tasty, but if pressed, I admit to enjoying the zucchini a little more. The skins of the baby eggplant were a little chewy, but I’m not going to complain because it was so good-looking on the plate. These made a delicious side dish to some grilled chicken, but they would be fun served as part of a vegetable plate, too. (If you’re not from the South, a vegetable plate is a meal made up solely of side dishes. And just FYI, macaroni & cheese is considered fair game for a vegetable plate).

Stuffed baby eggplant and yellow globe zucchini

Stuffed baby eggplant and yellow globe zucchini, makes 4 servings

4 small baby eggplant, about 3″ in diameter

4 small globe zucchini, about 3″ in diameter

1 can diced tomato, drained well

2 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

2 Tablespoons diced red onion

1 Tablespoon chopped fresh herbs (I used oregano and thyme)

1 Tablespoon olive oil

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Slice a thin sliver off the bottom of each eggplant and zucchini so they will sit flat. Cut the tops off the baby zucchini and eggplant. You may reserve the top to use as a ‘lid’ when baking if you’d like. Using a melon baller, carefully hollow out the eggplant and zucchini leaving about 1/2″ think walls. Place the hollowed vegetables in a shallow baking dish.

Combine the tomatoes, feta, onion, herbs, and olive oil in a bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stuff each zucchini and eggplant full of the tomato mixture.

Pout 1 cup water into the baking dish around the stuffed zucchini and eggplant. If using, place the tops back on the vegetables as lids. Place in the oven and bake 1 hour.

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Insta-Party: Carrot-tini and Feta Stuffed Sugar Snap Peas

Carrot-tini and stuffed snap peas

Well, it’s been a little quiet around Ready, Set, Party recently. But I swear I’ve been making good use of my time while away from here. The full-time gig has kept me busy heading up several major transitions. Let’s just say I’ve gotten an on-the-job MBA in change management. Besides that, two other major events have occurred while I have been absent.

Magnus

#1 – New dog in the HOUSE! His name is Magnus and he only wears his tie to formal events. He’s an 8 month old, 70 lb bull mastiff puppy. He is a handful, but very sweet. Almost sweet enough that I don’t mind all the dog hair and slobber he leaves everywhere.

Clear Eye logo

#2 – I started a business! With an extremely talented, driven, and funny partner named Kylee. She’s the written word ying to my visual art yang. Our shared passion is helping small businesses with their marketing. So we do websites, copy, SEO, logo design, brand development, print and digital ad design, web-videos, and so much more! We have a handful of clients but we turned a profit in our first quarter in business! If you know anyone who needs marketing assistance, I’d be happy to speak with them. You can find our contact info on the Clear Eye Marketing website.

Carrot-tini and stuffed snap peas

But I have missed blogging and brainstorming ideas and recipes, fussing with photo styling, and sharing Insta-parties and such. So here I am, back again. I can only stay away from delicious food, drink, and celebrations for so long. This Insta-party makes delicious use of one of my favorite late-spring vegetables – the sugar snap pea. These are straight from my garden, still warm from the sun and incredibly sweet. Filled with a smooth, salty feta cheese stuffing, they’re additive little sweet-salty-crisp snacks.

Feta Stuffed Sugar Snap Peas

16 plump, fresh sugar snap pea pods

2 Tbsp walnut pieces

1 ounce feta cheese

1 Tbsp skim milk

1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley

salt and pepper to taste

Carefully split each pea pod along the flat top of the pea. Using your fingers, gently open the pod to create a pocket.

In a food processor, grind walnut pieces to a fine powder. Add feta, milk, and parsley and process to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste and stir to combine.

You can spoon in the filling or you can make a quick piping bag. Add feta mixture to a small plastic sandwich bag and push mixture down to a bottom corner, thenĀ  snip the corner and pipe filling into the pea pods.

Carrot-tini and stuffed snap peas

Carrot juice may not seem like an obvious choice for a cocktail. But neither did tomato juice until the bloody mary came along. Gin goes well with fruit juice, and it turns out, with root vegetable juice. I used a carrot juice blend from Trader Joe’s which was sweet with an earthy edge. And that color! This cocktail is pretty, unexpected, and most importantly, tasty.

Carrot-tini

Equal parts carrot juice blend and gin

ice

citrus pepper for garnish (optional)

Combine carrot juice and gin in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake 100 times. If using garnish, rub a lemon around the rim of your glass and dip rim in citrus pepper. Strain carrot-tini into glass and serve.

Insta-Party: Green Tomato Madness

Insta-Party: Green Tomato Madness

I recently spent a delightful weekend eating and drinking my way through Charleston, SC with my cousin, who I am lucky to also call a great friend. One evening found us at The Grocery for a very interesting and well-executed meal. It had been on my to-visit list for a few months mostly because they pickle and cure in house. You may not know, but i am quite the pickle aficionado. I dabble in the art of pickling and am an avid fan of others who pickle. You should hear me wax poetic about Gisella, our local farmer’s market pickle master. When I heard The Grocery was doing wonderful things in the pickling realm, it moved to the top of my must eat at list. My cousins, aunt, and uncle graciously humored me while I was in town.

Insta-Party: Green Tomato Madness

I had practically memorized their online menu so I expected to fully enjoy my meal there, but I didn’t expect to squeal with delight while reading…the bar menu. Four words: Dirty Green Tomato Martini. They pickle their green tomatoes before frying them (genius!) and then in another stroke of brilliant, non-wasteful thinking created a delightful cocktail by mixing the green tomato pickling brine with vodka. Trust me when I say our entire party was practically in a swoon over this drink. It’s a little sweet, a little salty, a little spicy, but not at all vinegary.

Insta-Party: Green Tomato Madness

Since I unfortunately live several hours from The Grocery and can’t visit frequently for a Dirty Green Tomato Martini fix, I pickled my own green tomatoes with the full intent to rip off, errr, recreate both their fried pickled green tomatoes and the martini. If you don’t feel up to pickling yourself, your local farmer’s market probably has its own version of Gisella doing wonderful work with pickled green tomatoes.

Dirty Green Tomato Martini, makes 1 drink

4 ounces vodka

1 ounce pickled green tomato brine

Wedge of pickled green tomato for garnish

Combine vodka and brine in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake 100 times and strain into a martini glass. Garnish with pickled green tomato wedge.

Insta-Party: Green Tomato Madness

To get pickled green tomato brine, you have to make pickled green tomatoes. Which are way tastier than I ever imagined. They are delicious fried (think fried green tomatoes meet fried pickles) but equally good straight from the jar. This snack really was a ‘what have we got in the fridge’ concoction, but turned out rather tasty. It was also a good personal reminder for me that virtually any combination of cracker+meat+pickle+cheese=delicious.

Pepperoni, Pickled Green Tomato, & Feta

Um, yeah, so not really a recipe, just combine bits of the pepperoni, green tomato, and feta on top of a cracker and eat.

Anyone having a strong reaction to this post? Totally grossed out by a pickle-based martini or pickled green tomatoes in general? Or are you intrigued and would give it a shot? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Party On! Supper on the cheap

Party On! Supper on the cheap

This month, I am tackling the excuse I hear most often for why people don’t entertain: It’s too expensive. I’m about to knock the teeth out of that notion and prove that you CAN host a delightful meal for less than you think. With meat! And wine! And dessert! So, start flexing those frugal muscles and get ready to host a delicious dinner party on the cheap (and your guests will never know)!

*Please be aware this post contains gratuitous meat photos, just in case that sort of thing offends you.*

It’s fast becoming grilling season, so I chose a menu that would give us an excuse to fire up the grill for the first time.

Marinated Skirt Steak with Magical Chimichurri

Grilled Crookneck Squash

Chipotle Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Chilled White Wine

Ice Cream

Here’s the breakdown of the cost of each ingredient of this meal for 4: 2 lbs skirt steak $11.40, 3 lbs. sweet potato $2.00, 4 crook neck summer squash $2.60, 1 lemon $0.50, 2 bunches of herbs $1.50, 2 bottles of white wine $6.50 (don’t hate on the Charles Shaw when on a budget), 1 pint ice cream $3.50. Grand Total $28! That’s $7 a person! What?!? Yea!!

Party On! Supper on the cheap

I’m going to share with you my favorite trick to making a delicious meal while watching pennies: focus on quality, locally grown, in season produce. I’m talking whatever looks best and plentiful at your local farmer’s market or your own garden. Fresh, in season produce will always be less expensive than trying to find something out of season AND be of much better quality. Even though you might be able to find a $5 eggplant right now at the grocery does not mean it is good eggplant. This is one of those special, rare times when taking the cheaper route will actually yield better ingredients!

The very first summer squash varieties made their debut this past weekend at my farmer’s market, so I snatched some up. Living in the South is grand! Summer squash in April! They were actually slightly more expensive than they will be at the height of summer, but still a solid, quality bargain. Another bonus to in season produce – they’re already delicious so you don’t have to do much to them. A good coat of olive oil, salt and pepper, and a hot grill were all these squash needed.

Party On! Supper on the cheap

See what I mean about gratuitous meat shots. Oh yeah, that’s skirt steak in all it’s glory. It’s a chewy, extremely beefy cut that benefits from a nice long marinade and a quick hot grill. It is also very affordable, which makes it perfect for this budget Party On! Topping the steak with a little chimichurri sauce elevates it from plain old grilled meat into a company worthy main dish.

Warning, if you make this chimichurri expect future requests for it from everyone who tries it. Even people who hate cilantro love it. All the flavors combine to create something greater than the sum of it’s parts. I’m not 100% sure, but I think it might be magic.

Marinated Grilled Skirt Steak, serves 4

2 lbs. skirt steak

juice from 1 lemon

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1/2 teaspoon dried chipotle chili powder

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon garlic salt

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

Place skirt steak in a large zip top plastic bag. In a medium bow combine all other ingredients. Pour marinade over steak in bag. Carefully press out as much air as possible from the bag and seal (by removing the air, we’re increasing the total surface area of the meat that the marinade is touching and can cut the time to marinate in half). Marinate in refrigerator for 1 to 2 hours. Fire up grill and remove steak from fridge. Let rest on counter 20 minutes before grilling, then drain off marinade and pat steak dry. Grill over high heat about 5-6 minutes per side for rare (longer for more well-done).

Magical Chimichurri, makes about 1 cup

1 bunch flat leaf parsley

1 bunch cilantro

2 cloves garlic

2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar

1/4 cup olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Clean parsley and cilantro well. Pull leaves off the bunches and toss into a food processor. Peel garlic cloves and put in food processor. Add vinegar and oil, salt and pepper. Process in food processor until well combined but not totally pulverized. Serve immediately or store in an air tight container for up to 24 hours. Slather it on steak, or vegetables, or bread, or nearly anything edible.

Party On! Supper on the cheap

When I’m planning a party on the cheap, I always look to inexpensive starches to round out a menu. The humble Russet potato is always a good choice as is the pretty, pretty sweet potato I chose this time. Don’t overlook rice or pasta side dishes, either. None of these starches cost much money and they are easy to dress up. My sweet potatoes, for instance, got dusted with some of the same chipotle chili powder that I put in the marinade for the skirt steak. It added just enough zing and heat to amp up the guest worthy factor of a roasted potato. I also didn’t peel them before I roasted them, and was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed the crispy, kind of chewy potato skin.

Party On! Supper on the cheap

I hope this little dinner party encourages you to believe that you can be on a budget and still enjoy hosting a dinner party! Feel free to chip in with your cost saving tips in the comments. I would love to hear them!

Insta-Party: Bitter Orange with Hummus, Feta, Cucumber Bites

Insta-Party: Bitter Orange with Hummus, Feta, Cucumber Bites

Yikes! I haven’t done an an Insta-Party in almost a month. Life has been busy, but that is totally unacceptable! I actually have had several real-life Insta-Party’s over the past few weeks (one was a romantic picnic next to a bubbling stream!) but they have all been off-camera. So I broke out the camera finally to bring you a fun and super quick Insta-party to liven up your Wednesday. Or Thursday, or any day, really!

Insta-Party: Bitter Orange with Hummus, Feta, Cucumber Bites

These yummy little snacks were so easy to put together. I tend to keep hummus in the fridge for snacking with baby carrots or pretzels, and a cucumber is always in there to be tossed on a salad or with some vinegar for a quick veggie side. And I literally get nervous whenever I use the last bit of feta, so it is always in stock. Put together, these are a tasty little bite of the Mediterranean.

Hummus, Feta, Cucumber Bites, makes about 20 bites

1 cucumber

3 Tablespoons prepared hummus

2 inch cube of feta, cut into 1/4″ cubes

Chopped pimento, for garnish (optional)

Slice the cucumber into 1/2″ thick rounds. Spread a little hummus on each slice and top each with a small cube of feta and piece of pimento. Eat immediately.

Insta-Party: Bitter Orange with Hummus, Feta, Cucumber Bites

Don’t let the name fool you, this is a sophisticated little drink that benefits greatly from the addition of a drop of bitters. I shook a small quantity with ice, but this would be equally enjoyable in a larger portion served on the rocks. I specify Fee Brothers bitters only because I am partial to them. Feel free to use whatever bitters float your boat.

Bitter Orange, makes one drink

1 ounce vodka

1/2 ounce fresh squeezed orange juice (half of a little clementine should do it)

1 drop Fee Brothers Old Fashion Aromatic Bitters

Combine vodka and orange juice in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake 50 times and strain into an aperitif glass. Add drop of bitters and enjoy immediately while still very cold.

Party On! How to cook fancy

Fancy Cookin' - Broiled lobster, lemon braised leeks, and mashed potato gratin

Sometimes life just demands a fancy meal. You know those occasions – to celebrate a big promotion or raise or because it’s Wednesday. But cooking a fancy meal at home can be intimidating. Sure, you might be a master at every day meals, but if the thought of cooking something fancier than a spaghetti dinner leaves you queasy, this is the Party On! for you.

Cooking fancy at home can be achieved by following 3 simple rules.

1. Have one ‘fancy’ ingredient. A fancy ingredient should be high quality, very yummy, and something you wouldn’t eat every day. It will be the star of the meal, so a high quality protein is the best fancy ingredient. Think filet mignon, oysters, extra jumbo shrimp, lamb chops.

2. Individual portions. This is key. Even though everyone will be eating the same meal, by serving them already plated in individual portions (just like at a restaurant) you up the fancy. This means portioning and plating everything BEFORE you serve to the guests. No communal passing of bowls or serving at the table. Bonus points to you if you have enough small plates, bowls, ramekins, etc. that can be used for serving an individual portion.

3. Make it look fancy. Garnish. Broil to golden brown. Use fresh herbs with abandon. TOP WITH CHEESE! A fancy meal should look like you went the extra mile to make it special.

Fancy Cookin' - Broiled lobster, lemon braised leeks, and mashed potato gratin

Here’s how I applied the rules for fancy cookin’ and whipped up a kick butt fancy dinner for the husband.

1. Have one ‘fancy’ ingredient. One word – lobster. Lobster tails are available frozen at any good grocery store. Let them thaw overnight in the fridge and they’ll be ready for action. Lobster tails also give the WOW factor of eating lobster without the ick factor of lobster homicide via a pot of boiling water. They’re also much easier to handle than whole lobsters, and they are cleaner to eat.

2. Individual portions. I used small ramekins to hold each serving of mashed potatoes. I also made a bed of leeks as a side dish but the leeks double as a pretty garnish under the lobster when plated. Each lobster tail is already portioned for one serving.

3. Make it look fancy. I split the lobster tail in half lengthwise to expose the meat. Then I brushed it liberally with fresh herbs, a little vegetable oil, and salt and pepper. The potatoes got topped with cheese and put under the broiler to get browned and crunchy. Again, the bed of leeks under the lobster is a fancier presentation than plopped in a pile on the side. Lastly, I added a few touches of fresh parsley to green up the plate.

Fancy Cookin' - Broiled lobster, lemon braised leeks, and mashed potato gratin

Now, onto the actual recipes for this fancy dinner! I pretty much used this exact video recipe from Wegman’s except I used Maine lobster and fresh herbs. The video shows exactly how to half the lobster tail, so I recommend watching it if you’re nervous about cutting through the shell.

Roasted lobster tails with fresh herbs

1 Maine lobster tail per person, thawed overnight in the fridge.

1 teaspoon (per lobster tail) fresh chopped herbs any mixture of parsley, oregano, and thyme

1 teaspoon (per lobster tail) vegetable oil

salt and pepper to taste.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Lay one lobster tail flat on a sturdy cutting board. Using a strong, sharp knife, cut through the lobster shell down the middle lengthwise to create two halves. Lay the halves meat side up on a baking sheet. Repeat with remaining lobster tails.

Combine the herbs and oil in a small bowl. Brush oil and herbs over the meat of each lobster tail half. Season with salt and pepper.

Place lobster tails in the preheated oven and cook about ten minutes or until the shells have turned bright red (SCIENCE!) and the meat is opaque.

Braised leeks with white wine and lemon, serves 2 (can be doubled)

3 leeks

2 Tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 cup white wine

zest from 1/2 lemon

juice from 1/2 lemon

salt and pepper

Trim roots from leeks and trim off the darker green ends of the leeks. You only want to use the white and light green portion of the leeks. You should have anywhere from a 4″ to 6″ piece of white and light green per leek, depending on the size of the leek. Quarter each leek lengthwise to make long strips. Fill a large bowl with cold water and add leek strips. Swish the leeks around in the water to loosen any dirt (and leeks tend to be quite dirty). Let the dirt settle to the bottom of the bowl then remove the leeks and pat dry on a clean kitchen towel.

Melt butter in a large pan over medium high heat. When melted, add leeks and cook, stirring occasionally, until the leeks begin to brown, about 5 minutes.

Add the wine and lemon zest to the pan. Lower the heat to low and cover the pan. Allow to cook covered for 15 minutes or until the leeks get very tender. Remove the lid and add lemon juice and salt and pepper.

Divide the leeks into 4 servings and pile onto each plate. Top with the roasted lobster tails.

Fancy Cookin' - Broiled lobster, lemon braised leeks, and mashed potato gratin

I’m not going to lie. These mashed potatoes were leftovers I fancied up. If you don’t have leftover mashed potatoes laying around, you don’t have to make them from scratch. Just pick up some pre-made mashed potatoes and pretty them up. The refrigerated brands of pre-made mashed potatoes are so good no one will suspect they’re not home made when served like this, though the Irish woman in me hates to admit it! Also, it’s not fancy, but the microwave will do a better and faster job of heating the potatoes. But don’t skip running them under the broiler or you’ll lose the fancy effect.

Fancy Mashed Potatoes, serves 4

4 cups leftover mashed potato or 1 container pre-made refrigerated mashed potatoes (Country Crock or Bob Evans are good brands)

1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

Move the oven rack to the 2nd top position and preheat the broiler. Divide the potatoes into 4 servings and fill 4 small bowls or ramekins with the mashed potatoes. Cover and microwave for 2-3 minutes, stir, and microwave about 1 minute more until hot.

Top each serving with 1/4 of the cheese and place the bowls on a rimmed baking sheet. Put under broiler to melt the cheese and brown the top, can take anywhere from 30 seconds to 2 minutes depending on your oven. Just keep an eye on them so they don’t burn. Remove and serve when golden brown and yummy looking.

There you go, a whole fancy meal that’s easy to prepare whenever the mood strikes. Just pick up some individual pastries or tiny cakes for dessert and you’ll be ready to go!

Insta-Party: Gin Sunrise and Smoked Salmon, Pesto Crostini

Gin Sunrise and Smoked Salmon Pesto Crostini

I wish I had something funny or clever to share with you about this Insta-Party. But alas, I am lacking witty anecdotes for it! The tastiness of this one will have to speak for itself. I will point out my brand-spanking new little tray. It’s bamboo! It’s actually a tiny bar cutting board! I only paid $3 for it! I’m more excited than I should be about it!

Gin Sunrise and Smoked Salmon Pesto Crostini

A quick note about smoked salmon. There are multiple varieties out there that fall into two main categories: cold smoked and hot smoked. The hot smoked salmon is cooked in the process of smoking and produces a very firm piece of salmon, just like if you cooked it at home yourself. Cold smoking first cures the salmon with salt, but the fish is technically uncooked, so it retains the silky smooth texture of raw fish. Before you say, ew, gross, if you’ve ever had bagels and lox, you’ve eaten cold smoked salmon.

My local grocery store stocks little trays of what they call ‘nova bits’ which are small trimmings of cold smoked salmon. I would imagine they’re the pieces that get cut off to make the expensive shrink wrapped packages of lox look so tidy. However, the leftover bits are rather inexpensive and perfect to use for cooking! I’ve never seen them at any other grocery, though, so if you can’t find them, a package of cold smoked salmon cut into strips will work just fine.

Smoked Salmon, Pesto Crostini, makes 10 crostini

10 rounds cut from a French baguette

1 Tablespoon prepared pesto

1/4 cup cold smoked salmon, cut into strips

Spread a little of the pesto on each bread round. Lightly toast until bread is golden and crispy. Top each piece with a strip or two of smoked salmon and serve warm.

Gin Sunrise and Smoked Salmon Pesto Crostini

Isn’t this just a pretty drink? The husband made this one up special. It’s tequila sunrise’s more sophisticated cousin with the herbal gin, bitter tonic, fruity orange, and sweet grenadine making a complex but oh-so-drinkable concoction.

Gin Sunrise, makes 1 drink

2 ounces gin

2 ounces tonic water

2 ounces orange juice

splash of grenandine

Fill a cocktail glass with ice. Combine gin, tonic water, and orange juice in glass and stir to combine. Pour a splash of grenadine after mixing and allow to settle at the bottom prior to serving.