• French Green Salad

    Sometimes you just want a leafy green salad, am I right?  Especially when it gets hot out, and especially after you spent the weekend eating lots of fried things (guilty).  I tried my best to copy the green salad they … Continue reading

  • Southern Fried Chicken Dinner

    As I may have mentioned before, my mom’s desert island food is fried chicken (as is mine which would be really convenient if we ended up stranded on the same island) so in honor of her birthday today I thought … Continue reading

  • Dining Al Fresco

    I was just on Nantucket, eating in the lovely back garden of Met on Main, and was so inspired by their blue and white decor that I thought I would pull together some fun pieces with a similar look (stay … Continue reading

  • Hummus

    Hummus definitely falls into that category of foods where you ask yourself, “Is it worth making this or should I just buy some?”  There are plenty of good brands of hummus to purchase, especially if you doctor it up with … Continue reading

  • A Cinco Taco Party

    Happy almost Cinco de Mayo!  I love, love, love, that it is falling on a Friday this year since I already do Fiesta Friday.  It also marks the 2 year anniversary of A Capitol Contessa being born, so lots to … Continue reading

  • Ham and Cheese Panini

    This rainy spring weather has me in the mood for comfort food and what fits the bill better than a warm cheesy gooey sandwich??  They key to a sandwich this simple is the best ingredients – imported ham, fresh bread, peppery … Continue reading

  • ACC Parties: A Spring Menu for Easter

    Easter in my family is a big deal and definitely my 2nd favorite holiday (sorry nothing beats Christmas!).  There is something about the little chickies, the pastel candy and all those spring ingredients that make me so happy.  Even if … Continue reading

  • Cheesey Creamed Spinach

    This dish is inspired by an incredible meal Patrick and I had when we were in Chicago last summer (you can see more about our trip here).  Of course we had to hit up one of the city’s steak houses and Bavette’s Bar … Continue reading

  • Some Spring Cocktails and Entertaining Goodies

    Apparently it is finally supposed to turn warm in DC this weekend (and by finally I mean again, since it was 80 degrees in February).  Nothing like seeing patios opening and flowers blooming to make me want to set down the … Continue reading

  • St. Patricks Day Dinner Party

    As I have explained, St. Patrick’s day is a big deal in our house.  This year it is going to be even more awesome as it falls on a Friday and my sister in law Sara will be in town … Continue reading

French Green Salad

Sometimes you just want a leafy green salad, am I right?  Especially when it gets hot out, and especially after you spent the weekend eating lots of fried things (guilty).  I tried my best to copy the green salad they serve at one of my favorite restaurants Le Diplomate.  Just like them I add fresh tarragon to the Boston lettuce and merely kiss the salad with dressing.  The addition of hazelnuts was my idea to give a little nutty flavor and crunch, but you can certainly omit them.  This is the perfect side for a nice grilled steak or some chicken.  Or grab a big hunk of french bread and a glass of rose and call it lunch!

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French Green Salad (printable version at the end of the post)

Inspiration:  the salad vert at Le Diplomate
Special Equipment:  none

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon champagne vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon minced shallot
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 2 heads of Boston (also called Butter) lettuce, well rinsed and torn into bite sized pieces
  • 1/3 cup hazelnuts
  • 1 to 2 sprigs of tarragon

In a small bowl combine the olive oil, champagne vinegar, shallot and dijon mustard.  Season with salt and pepper.  In a small dry skillet toast the hazelnuts over medium heat for about 5 minutes.  Let cool.  Right before serving pull the tarragon leaves off of the sprigs and toss the leaves with the Boston lettuce pieces.  Add 3/4 of the dressing, toss, then add the rest only if you need it.  You want this salad to be very lightly dressed.  Top with the toasted hazelnuts and serve.

French Green Salad

  • Servings: 4
  • Time: 7 minutes
  • Print

Inspiration:  the salad vert at Le Diplomate
Special Equipment:  none

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon champagne vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon minced shallot
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 2 heads of Boston (also called Butter) lettuce, well rinsed and torn into bite sized pieces
  • 1/3 cup hazelnuts
  • 1 to 2 sprigs of tarragon

In a small bowl combine the olive oil, champagne vinegar, shallot and dijon mustard.  Season with salt and pepper.  In a small dry skillet toast the hazelnuts over medium heat for about 5 minutes.  Let cool.  Right before serving pull the tarragon leaves off of the sprigs and toss the leaves with the Boston lettuce pieces.  Add 3/4 of the dressing, toss, then add the rest only if you need it.  You want this salad to be very lightly dressed.  Top with the toasted hazelnuts and serve.

Southern Fried Chicken Dinner

As I may have mentioned before, my mom’s desert island food is fried chicken (as is mine which would be really convenient if we ended up stranded on the same island) so in honor of her birthday today I thought I would post a menu all centered around my Fried Chicken Perfected – this has your weekend plans written all over it.

For this comforting, Southern themed meal I was inspired to use my vintage oyster cans as decoration.  I have been collecting these for several years – they are a symbol of the oyster industry that used to dominate the Chesapeake bay region.  I have them all over my house year round but they act as great vases for hydrangeas that I gathered from my front yard.  Since they were the center piece, and its almost summer, I figured just pull out all of my nautical gear and run with it.  How adorable is this row boat salt cellar??

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Paper placemats are my jam and great for a casual dinner party like this – I have several nautical themed ones (#ihaveaproblem) like this or these rope ones.  I used these rope napkin rings we got on Nantucket and the rattan chargers remind me of their famous baskets.  Seersucker napkins top off the preppy vibe.

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Curried Cashews

To start with I just wanted a couple of things to nibble on since the dinner is pretty heavy.  These curried cashews are easy to throw together and great with a beer or glass of rose.

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Broccoli Slaw 

I make this broccoli slaw from Smitten Kitchen ALL THE TIME.  It is so healthy and so addictive.  People will think you are nuts, shaving down whole heads of broccoli but they will be converts once they have tried it.  The dried cranberries give a little nod to my New England upbringing at this Southern meal and the slaw is a nice crunchy foil to the fried chicken’s tenderness.

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Fried Chicken Perfected

I can’t say better things about this fried chicken that hasn’t already been said by my friends.  Years of research and lots of mediocre fried chicken (which lets admit is still pretty good) led me to the perfect recipe that I share with you.  Eat it and be happy.

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Smoked Gouda Mac and Cheese

Probably the second most requested thing I make right after the fried chicken so why not pair them together?  The Southern tradition of mac and cheese with fried chicken has been around forever and for good reason.  The velvety cheese sauce some times picks up crunchy bits of the chicken skin on your plate and then you are in heaven.

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Bourbon Peaches with Ice Cream and Candied Pecans

You need a sweet treat at the end of this meal and a nice simple fruit dessert is just the ticket.  I make these bourbon peaches just like I do in my pancake bar post – sauté them with a little bit of butter, sugar and bourbon.  You can use frozen peaches or fresh ones if they are ripe enough.  Either way paired with vanilla ice cream and candied nuts (I had Southern appropriate pecans on hand) they are delicious.

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So happy birthday mommy and I hope you all celebrate this weekend with fried chicken!

Dining Al Fresco

I was just on Nantucket, eating in the lovely back garden of Met on Main, and was so inspired by their blue and white decor that I thought I would pull together some fun pieces with a similar look (stay tuned I will do a longer post on my favorite spots on the island soon).  Slightly nautical, a little french and all style these pieces will have your friend begging to come over all summer!

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Peacoat Beer Garden Set from World Market – These french bistro chairs are all the rage.  I spent the better part of 2014 trying to find some that weren’t ridiculously expensive and finally broke down and got some.  I love mine but these are even better paired with the long dining table and benches.  Our outdoor dining set is from World Market and the quality is really high.

Grey Rattan Outdoor Lantern from Target – I love the grey, almost driftwood like treatment and these would look equally good inside.

Acrylic Drink Dispenser from Crate and Barrel –  When dining outside you don’t want to spend the whole time running inside and out getting people drinks.  I actually have two – one for water to keep guests hydrated and one for a signature cocktail.  This acrylic version is great because it won’t get too heavy when full.

Galvanized Metal Tiered Stand from Pottery Barn –  This can hold drinks, snacks, napkins, shucked oysters – pretty much anything.

Globe String Lights from Amazon –  The easiest way to transform your back yard into a bistro are strong lights – make sure to pick up extra bulbs as I notice we lose a couple every year to wind etc.

Acrylic Wine Glasses from Sur La Table –  I have these glasses and love the way they mimic real glass goblets.  They are great for wine but also for our drink of the summer, the aperol spritz.  Best of all you never have to worry about breaking them!

Dottie Aqua Acrylic Drinking Glasses from Crate and Barrel –  They look like delicate french glasses but are ideal for summer cocktails on the deck.

Rope Melamine Platter from Pottery Barn –  A big platter is a must for outside dining.  Fill it up with grilled veggies and steak and everyone can eat off of it family style.  I love the deep blue and the slight nautical edging.

Indigo Bar Melamine Dinnerware from Pier One –  Can you believe these dishes are plastic?  They look like hand thrown porcelain but are super sturdy – if you buy this weekend they are even on sale!

Chilewitch Mosaic Blue Placemat from Williams Sonoma –  Chilewitch is made for outdoor living.  These woven plastic table “linens” are a little pricey but will last forever and just need to be wiped off.  I use them all the time inside and out.  This pattern almost exactly matches the benches on Nantucket!

Bistro Outdoor Flatware from Pottery Barn –  Don’t hand your guests a plastic knife and expect them to cut through BBQ chicken!  Yes you can use your regular flatware but why when this bistro set matches so perfectly?  Better yet you can keep it in the caddy recommended here and be ready to go anytime the mood strikes to eat outside.

Claude Napkin Set from Anthropolgie –  Fun, punchy napkins brighten up this look and give it a little boho beach look.  Paper napkins are just going to blow away anyways so give your guests a real napkin.

Acaica Flatware Caddy from Target –  Caddies like this are great for a casual look outside. Keep it stocked and just plunk down in the middle of the table for friends to help themselves.

Happy Memorial Day Weekend!!!

 

 

 

Hummus

Hummus definitely falls into that category of foods where you ask yourself, “Is it worth making this or should I just buy some?”  There are plenty of good brands of hummus to purchase, especially if you doctor it up with a drizzle of olive oil or a sprinkling of zatar spice.  The thing is you can never quite buy yourself the super smooth, fresh tasting, garlicy punch of your own homemade hummus.  There are a zillion of hummus recipes out there and once again I have practically tried them all to try and find the right combination of teqniques.  Most purists will tell you to start with dried chickpeas, soak them over night, cook them with baking soda etc etc but at that point, for me at least, the scales of why can’t I just buy this and dispense with the hassle starts to tilt into convince’s favor.  So canned chickpeas it is.  That doesn’t mean there won’t be some work involved.  I found the somewhat tedious task of taking the skins off of the canned chickpeas makes for a substantially smoother and better tasting hummus.  It’s not as easy as just dumping the can into the food processor but at least it’s not a multi day effort.  To peel them, drain and rinse the canned chickpeas.  Then take the chickpea between your fingers and gently squeeze – you will find the weird white casing comes right off.  For a can of chickpeas it took me about 15 minutes – just turn on your favorite cooking show and get lost in the mindless task.

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From my research I learned that the other benefit of cooking your own chickpeas was that when they are warm they take on the other ingredients better.  Well here we can easily cheat that by quickly nuking the skinned chickpeas in the microwave for a couple of seconds before adding them to the food processor.  After that its just a matter of taste with the amount of tahini, lemon juice and garlic.  The recipe below is how I like it but play around and see what you like best – some people really want more of that sesame tahini flavor, others really hate lemon juice and replace it with water.  The method is the key and once you have that down the sky’s the limit.  Hummus away!

Hummus (printable version at the end of the post)

Inspiration:  simple but not too simple method of making hummus
Special Equipment:  food processor

  • 15.5 ounce can of chickpeas, rinsed, drained with the skins removed (see above)
  • 5 -6 tablespoons warm water
  • 3 tablespoons tahini sauce
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • olive oil and zatar for serving (optional)

Once all the chickpeas are peeled (see above on how to remove the skins) place them in a  microwave safe bowl and microwave them on high for 20 seconds.  Add the warmed chickpeas to the food processor along with the rest of the ingredients.  Puree until smooth, stopping to scrape down the sides.

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If its not as smooth as you would like add more warm water.  Chill for at least 1 hour to let the flavors meld – serve room temperature with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of zatar (optional).

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Hummus

  • Servings: 2 cups
  • Time: 2 minutes (plus 15 minutes to peel the chickpeas
  • Print

Special Equipment:  food processor

  • 15.5 ounce can of chickpeas, rinsed, drained with the skins removed (see above)
  • 5 -6 tablespoons warm water
  • 3 tablespoons tahini sauce
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • olive oil and zatar for serving (optional)

Once all the chickpeas are peeled (see above on how to remove the skins) place them in a  microwave safe bowl and microwave them on high for 20 seconds.  Add the warmed chickpeas to the food processor along with the rest of the ingredients.  Puree until smooth, stopping to scrape down the sides.  If its not as smooth as you would like add more warm water.  Chill for at least 1 hour to let the flavors meld – serve room temperature with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of zatar (optional).

A Cinco Taco Party

Happy almost Cinco de Mayo!  I love, love, love, that it is falling on a Friday this year since I already do Fiesta Friday.  It also marks the 2 year anniversary of A Capitol Contessa being born, so lots to celebrate.  If you want to kick your celebration up a notch there are some cute ideas here on how to make your taco night extra special.

First up the margs – those are a given but how cute would it be to serve them in Patron bottles?  The mini bottles are sort of pricey but you can use the tequila inside and then just wash them out and reuse the bottles anytime you want to fiesta.

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You could serve my spicy grapefruit margaritas from my very first post in honor of the anniversary (skip the salt air though as I am not sure how you would get it into these bottles).  If you are pressed for time, I like to cheat with this skinny margarita mix from Williams Sonoma.  I usually HATE margarita mixes because they taste super fake and have way too much acid but this one is great – I just doctor it up with a couple squeezes of fresh lime juice and you are good to go.  Now we need to talk decor – Mexican themed of course.  I like to throw down some serapes as table covers (they are excellent for hiding salsa spills).  I also found these colorful votive candle holders at the dollar section of Target – definitely look around close to Cinco de Mayo and you can find some cute items that you can pull out every Fiesta Friday.

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Since this is a special party I always think favors are the way to go.  You can always do mini tequilas but I found these incredible bags of sea salt for margaritas in beautiful handwoven bags.  A really nice touch and something your guests can use over and over again at their own homes.

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Ok on to the menu – the most important part!  You need a great starter to go with those adorable margaritas so try my queso and poblano dip.  I also set out regular salsa – I love Rick Bayless’s Chipolte Salsa, it’s the only jarred salsa I will eat.

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Then on to the tacos – I went grilled chicken for ease but you could also make my carnitas or my Carne Asada tacos.  I just simply marinate chicken breasts for an hour or so in lime juice, olive oil and grated garlic and then throw in the grill.  Cause really it’s all about the toppings right?

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I like to have as many toppings as possible and lots of them are things you already have in your house.  If all the queso and salsa aren’t gone from earlier set those out for the tacos.  Then chopped red onion, grated cheese (jack is my fave), some sautéed peppers and onions for a fajita type feel, sour cream, chopped tomatoes, shredded lettuce…and on and on – the limit is your imagination!  I had some yummy mole sauce from a local Mexican market that I threw out there – those places are gold mines of inspiration.  Also make sure to set out hot sauces (we have maybe thirty), heat up some store bought tortillas and you have taco night.

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A great side for tacos is my tex mex quinoa salad as it’s a one bowl wonder that has veggies, beans, and quinoa all in a tart vinaigrette.  Also good would be my mexican beans and greens or my mexican creamed onions.

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To finish off the evening make life easy – grab some mango or strawberry popsicles from the store and call them paletas (Mexican popsicles) – especially good served in a glass of mezcal as a night cap!

Thank you to everyone for making A Capitol Contessa even more popular in its second year as in its first.  We had over 7,000 visitors!!!  It really is a joy for me to share my cooking and entertaining adventures with the world.  Raise a margarita and have a great Cinco de Mayo/Fiesta Friday!

Ham and Cheese Panini

This rainy spring weather has me in the mood for comfort food and what fits the bill better than a warm cheesy gooey sandwich??  They key to a sandwich this simple is the best ingredients – imported ham, fresh bread, peppery mustard and rich cheese all come together for the perfect combination.

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I made mine in my panini press but you can easily just make this in a skillet like a regular grilled cheese.  I got my ham at Dean and Deluca and had them slice it impossibly thin.  Make sure its high quality, salty ham so that it almost melts along with the cheese.   The bread is a nice pullman loaf from Spring Mill Bread Company – no Wonder bread please!  Mustard makes a really nice foil to the rich ham and cheese so make sure to use a spicy dijon.  I really like this version that has green peppercorns in it but any strong mustard will work.

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So get out of the rain and make this delicious sandwich – in only a couple of minutes you will be warm and happy.

Ham and Cheese Panini (printable version at the end of the post)

Inspiration:  rainy days
Special Equipment:  panini press (optional)

  • 2 tablespoons room temperature butter
  • 4 slices of white sandwich bread
  • 3 tablespoons dijon mustard
  • 3/4 cup grated gruyere cheese
  • 1/4 pound of thinly sliced ham

Butter one side of each piece of bread (it is important to have room temperature butter so it spreads thinly and easily).  On the other side of the bread (the non buttered side) spread a thin layer of mustard.  Divide the ham and cheese and pile them up on 2 slices of bread on the mustard side, then place the other 2 slices in top to create two sandwiches with the butter sides out.  Heat the panini grill (or a skillet over medium high) and add the sandwiches.

Toast for 3 minutes or so until the bread is nicely browned and the cheese has melted (if you use a skillet use a plate and push down on the sandwich in the pan, flip once – it may take a minute or two longer).  Let rest for 1 minute then slice in half.

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Ham and Cheese Panini

  • Servings: 2
  • Time: 4 minutes
  • Print

Special Equipment:  panini press (optional)

  • 2 tablespoons room temperature butter
  • 4 slices of white sandwich bread
  • 3 tablespoons dijon mustard
  • 3/4 cup grated gruyere cheese
  • 1/4 pound of thinly sliced ham

Butter one side of each piece of bread (it is important to have room temperature butter so it spreads thinly and easily).  On the other side of the bread (the non buttered side) spread a thin layer of mustard.  Divide the ham and cheese and pile them up on 2 slices of bread on the mustard side, then place the other 2 slices in top to create two sandwiches with the butter sides out.  Heat the panini grill (or a skillet over medium high) and add the sandwiches.  Toast for 3 minutes or so until the bread is nicely browned and the cheese has melted (if you use a skillet use a plate and push down on the sandwich in the pan, flip once – it may take a minute or two longer).  Let rest for 1 minute then slice in half.

ACC Parties: A Spring Menu for Easter

Easter in my family is a big deal and definitely my 2nd favorite holiday (sorry nothing beats Christmas!).  There is something about the little chickies, the pastel candy and all those spring ingredients that make me so happy.  Even if you don’t celebrate Easter the beginning of spring is a great time to gather your family and sit down to a nice meal that celebrates the best parts of the season.  Here is a suggested menu that has a lot of moving parts but actually very little needs to be done the day of, leaving you free to hunt Easter eggs and binge on candy with the fam.  I wanted the table setting to be whimsical, especially with kids in attendance.  I found these super cute carrot utensil holders at the dollar section of Target and paired it with our Vera Wang wedding china, set on chargers that sort of mimic an Easter basket.  Glitter eggs scattered over my homemade seersucker tablecloth and bam, spring is alive.

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I don’t like to have giant flowers getting in the way of conversation so instead I opted for some thyme from my garden staggered down the center of the table in white pots.  How cute is that cabbage serving dish?  I found it for $4 at Home Goods the week before Easter so I knew it had to make it to the table.  I set up our kitchen island as a appetizer and drinks station with a floral Cynthia Rowley tablecloth (also Home Goods!) and some baby’s breath mixed with bells of Ireland for flowers.

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Cheese and Chartucherie Board

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No party is complete without one!  Since both of the aps I was actually making were veggie based I knew I had to get some cheese in here somehow.  Just pick a nice selection and throw some dried apricots or grapes on the plate to jazz it up.

Chilled Sweet Pea Soup with Mint and Cream

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Nothing is more springy that sweet peas (no one needs you know you get em out of a bag!).  This soup is simple and can be made up to two days in advance.  I served it in cute little glasses for sipping but discovered that the texture really wasn’t ideal for that so I would suggest providing spoons for people to eat the soup with instead.  It’s a super light appetizer that adds a nice green punch to the mix.

Za’atar Spiced Beet Dip with Goat Cheese and Hazelnuts

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I had been dying to make this dip since the first time I spotted it in Food and Wine Magazine all the way back in 2012 – goes to show how many recipes I have socked away!.  It’s totally beautiful but I knew it would also be delicious, being the brain child of Yotam Ottolenghi, of Jersuleam (and this post) fame.  Everyone loved the earthy complex flavor and of course the color!

Lamb Kebobs with Minted Yogurt Sauce

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Lamb is the quintessential Easter dish but with grilled lamb kebobs you can make life much easier.  Marinate the lamb up to two days before and then just throw on the grill as you are having appetizers.  I love that it doesn’t hog the oven like a big lamb roast and it also encourages your guests to go outside and enjoy the spring, keeping the grill master company.  This version by Ina is so good though I skipped her sauce and went for my standard mint and yogurt sauce found here.

Make Ahead Polenta

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As described in this post, make ahead polenta can be really done with any kind of polenta recipe you have by just increasing the liquid content.  This was a great side for the lamb and didn’t require me standing over a hot pot frantically stirring the polenta – it was even a hit with the kiddos!

Roasted Asparagus

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Just toss spears with olive oil, salt and pepper and put them on a baking sheet.  During the last 15 minutes of the polenta put the baking sheet in the oven, toss once and voila!  A nice crunchy veggie side with almost zero effort.

Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

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Ok so here is where most of the effort for the meal came in.  I realized when I was planning the menu that I had so many make ahead items that I didn’t really have much to do “day of.”  That can sometimes spell disaster because then I set and reset the table, putter around driving my husband crazy (and myself) before our guests arrive.  So I made an easy layer cake and decided to try my hand at the basket weave frosting on top.  I followed this tutorial from Wilton – it was actually pretty easy once I got the hang of it.  It does take a while and my hand was sort of cramped into a claw for a bit but you can do this first thing in the AM and just keep the cake at room temp (or in the fridge if it’s really warm in your house).  I also got  beautiful edible dried flowers from Terrian and scattered them on top.  I have to say I was really proud of this one but if you don’t have the time or energy a store-bought dessert or even this cake without the fancy pants frosting would be delicious.  Happy Spring to everyone!

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