A Picnic Among the Vines

Oh I love a picnic!!  Especially now that the temperatures are returning to pleasant.  Recently Patrick and I introduced our favorite vineyard in Virginia, Greenhill Winery, to some friends.  I have posted about this place before and it just keeps on charming us.  We have been club members for the last year and the best part is that gives you access to their Manor house that has a great patio overlooking the pond.  However, any spot there would be perfect for a picnic and really this picnic would be perfect in any spot!

Since I knew we were doing to be drinking Bordeaux style wine I put together a French inspired picnic basket.  The best part of French picnics is that many of the items are store bought so it’s really just about assembling them prettily.  We started with a cheese board of course.  Three to four cheeses are all you really need and our friends Ariana and Callan picked a perfect mix of brie, blue, aged goat and a sharp cow cheese.  I rounded out the selection with some fig jam (this brand is my fave and easy to find in most grocery stores), olives, cornichon, grapes and crackers.  Bring a real cutting board and cheese knives to make this no cook starter more special but also easier to eat – who wants to balance a paper plate on their knees trying to cut cheddar with a plastic knife???  I also used my favorite Weck glass containers, ideal for picnics as they double as serving containers and don’t leak.

Sandwiches are a picnic staple for a reason – sturdy, easy to make in large quantities and eaten room temperature – my baguette was just crying out to be used.  Per my husband’s request I made a sandwich you can find all over the streets of Paris, ham and butter.  Before you shake your head we are talking imported Prosciutto de Parma, high butterfat European style butter and freshly baked bread.  Simple, so the ingredients really matter, but so so good.  I grabbed the prosciutto from my beloved A. Litteri, which is right next to Union Market.  Inside the Market I hit Righteous Cheese for the European butter and Lyon Bakery for the baguette.  Make sure not to be stingy with that butter!

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I wrapped each sandwich in wax paper and tied it with bakers twine to give it that Parisian touch.  Since I still hadn’t cooked anything yet I figured I would stretch myself and make an easy side of green beans.  I blanched green beans and tossed them with olive oil, white wine vinegar and lots of garlic.  Let it sit overnight and you have a nice crisp salad to counter balance the richness of the butter and prosciutto.  Last but not least we had to have dessert.  A quick trip to a local French bakery for macaroons would be perfect.  I made Blackberry Financiers, little French tea cakes packed with almond and blackberry flavor.  A couple bottles of wine, this picnic and the lovey setting almost had us believing we were in France.  Fill up your basket and picnic the weekend away!

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Slow Cooker Lamb Tagine

When I was a kid and got a present I would immediately use it, even if that meant wearing a parka in July or playing with my ice cream stand at Christmas.  I haven’t grown up all that much because when my brand new slow cooker arrived in the mail it was less than 24 hours before I broke that baby in.  My friend Tommy had convinced me to upgrade from my old school crock pot to one with a digital timer.  After some research I settled on the Set n’ Forget from Hamilton Beach and have been really happy with it so far.  The best thing about having the timer is that I put the lamb tagine in before I went to work and set it for 8 hours – once it hits the proscribed time the slow cooker switches to a warming mode.  I was worried that the food would be overcooked and dry but it was perfect.  I always wondered how people were cooking in their slow cooker and working a full work day but now I can be one of those people!  Browning the lamb at 7:00am wasn’t the highlight of my day but coming home to an almost complete meal was – I served this dish alongside some couscous which only requires boiling water.  Viola, a dinner party!

A tagine is actually an earthenware cooking vessel from Northern Africa (and the name of dishes made in it).  Its conical shape helps seal in moisture to braise chicken or lamb dishes just like its more modern slow cooker friend.  I would love to have this hand-painted one from Tunisia, maybe not to cook in but to use as a serving dish, but tagines are pretty large for a single use item!  So the slow cooker it is, just make sure to serve it up in a pretty dish before devouring it.  I included some traditional Northern African flavors like the olives and preserved lemons to give this dish a lot of contrasting flavors.  If you have never cooked with preserved lemons before this is a great way to start – you can buy them in a jar or make them yourself (I did once and went back to buying them as I couldn’t tell the difference).  Because they are processed in salt the lemon rind becomes edible and has a lovely smooth flavor unlike the sharp citrus bite of fresh lemons.  They last forever in the fridge and really punch up the slow cooked lamb.  I like the Les Moulins Mahjoub brand but any will do.  This dish also freezes really nice so make up a big batch this weekend and squirrel some away for a rainy day.

Slow Cooker Lamb Tagine 

  • 2 – 3 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
  • 2 pounds of lamb leg, trimmed and cut into 1 to 1 1/2 inch cubes
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 4 carrots, peeled and cut into large pieces on a diagonal
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon coriander
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon cardamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1/2 cup port (or red wine)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 of a preserved lemon, rinsed, seeded and chopped finely
  • 1/3 cup golden raisins
  • 1/3 cup green pitted olives
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley

In a large skillet heat 2 tablespoons of oil over medium high heat.  Put the flour in a bowl and season it with salt and pepper.  Working in batches (should take 2 to 3 max) dredge (i.e. toss the meat in the flour and then shake off the excess) the lamb cubes adding them to the hot oil.  Only do enough that can fit in the pan.  Brown the pieces all over, cooking a couple of minutes on each side, before adding them to the slow cooker.

Add more oil if necessary to brown all the batches of lamb.  Then add the onion, carrot and garlic to the skillet, lowering the heat to medium if necessary to keep from burning.  Cook for 5 minutes or so until the onion begins to soften, then add all of the spices along with salt and pepper.  Cook for another minute or so, stirring until all the veggies are combined with the spices.

Pour in the port and use it to deglaze the pan (i.e. get all the brown bits off the bottom of the pan).  Dump everything in the skillet in to the slow cooker on top of the lamb.  Add a 1/2 cup of water and stir everything together.

Set for 8 hours on low or 5 hours on high.  Once it has finished cooking you can refrigerate for several days or freeze for several months.  Right before serving (or while you are reheating it) stir in the chopped preserved lemon, raisins and olives, stirring to combine.  Let those ingredients heat through and then serve with the parsley sprinkled on top.

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ACC Travels: 24 Hours in Richmond

Two years ago Patrick and I stopped in Richmond for the night while heading down to Hilton Head.  We only had a quick dinner and then left the next morning but even that quick glimpse made us want to come back and explore more.  So when we were headed to Coastal Carolina this summer we decided to carve out more time and actually got a full 24 hour experience.  We are already planning a trip back because this city is really something.  Charming and historic, but also growing and changing at a rapid pace, it’s a great quick get away from DC.  I did a fair amount of research before we left and solicited lots of advice but we barely scratched the surface of what Richmond has to offer.  Here is a rundown of our 24 hour Richmond adventure – a little something for everyone.  If you have Richmond recommendations please add them in the comments!

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10:00amJames River Walk – Patrick and I arrive at the Hilton Downtown Richmond (really great location and super reasonable prices).  We drop our bags and head right out the door.  A quick walk from downtown and you are at the James River.  Richmond has done a great job creating walking and bike paths along the river with lots of signs with historical information as well.  We knew we were in for a high calorie day so decided to get moving a bit first to feel less guilty.  We decided to check out Belle Isle, one of the biggest islands in the river, and it certainly delivered.

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Once you are on the island it’s hard to believe you are in a city, it’s so peaceful.  Nature people we are not, so it was a little disorienting though we finally made it to the other side of the island.  If I were going to do it again I wouldn’t walk all the way across the river and island to the other side of the city (in August no less) but it made the breweries on the other side that much more refreshing!

11:00amLegend Brewery – Sweaty and THIRSTY we arrive at Legend Brewery Company, the first of the breweries on our trip and also one of the first in Richmond.  They have a great outdoor patio overlooking the city and lots of fun barrel aged beers you can only get at the brewpub.  Not the most creative beers I have ever had but friendly staff and a much needed break from the heat.

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11:45amBlue Beer Cider – Right around the corner from Legend is Blue Beer Cider.  They are moving to a new and bigger location back on the other side of the river soon, which will make this place much more accessible.  I am not a big cider person but this place just blew me away.  Do make sure to stop by and do a tasting of their ciders.

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From Hopsap Shandy, their hopped cider, to Mill Race Bramble, their berry flavored cider, every one is dry, crisp and totally unexpected.  This place really changed how I think about cider and I cannot wait to go back and check out their new location (the current location leaves something to be desired as it is just a room in an industrial building – however the helpful staff and amazing cider more than make up for it).

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1:00pmCan Can Brasserie and the Carytown District – After all that walking (and tastings!) we needed sustenance so we headed to Carytown.  This is such a cute little stretch of the city that mostly runs along West Cary Street.  If you want to do some shopping, this is definitely the spot with cute independent boutiques and an outpost of one of my favorite stores, Creme de la Creme.  The last time we were in Richmond we had a terrific dinner at Can Can Brasserie and while normally I don’t like repeating myself in another city, the sound of a bistro lunch was too enticing.

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I am so glad we went back, as this place is really a stand out.  If you like Le Diplomate in DC, well this is the Richmond version.  It is like stepping into a Paris bistro but with a touch of Southern charm.  Even better we decided to sit at the bar and during the week they have a discounted bar menu with many of the most popular dishes.  Fortified by mussels and frites we set off for more exploring.

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3:00pmScott’s Addition Neighborhood – This semi industrial neighborhood has been totally transformed over the last several years.  Like many up and coming cities these large vacant buildings have been turned into hip loft apartments and new commercial spaces.  Scott’s Addition has a pretty ridiculous concentration of breweries in it, so if you are interested in packing in as many as possible I would send you here.  Honestly for breweries I do think it’s about personal taste – we heard from almost everyone in the food industry that we had to try The Veil Brewing Co. but we were not impressed.  You have to REALLY be in to beer here – the all black walls, beers poured in wine glasses and the pretension really turned me off.

Ardent Craft Ales, was much more my speed with a large beer garden outside and a light filled, laid back tasting room.  There is also Hardywood, Isley Brewing Company, James River Distillery and many others all packed into about one square mile.  We did not hit all of these (and I wouldn’t recommend it!) but needless to say if you want to spend an afternoon sampling Richmond craft beer, Scott’s Addition is the place to be.

6:00pm – Tarrant’s Cafe – After some more exploring, a cat nap and a quick change of clothes we are ready to go out on the town.  Near our hotel we stumbled across this adorable little supper club like restaurant called Tarrant’s Cafe.  Housed in an old pharmacy building this place is quintessential Richmond.  I love how the city has retained many of its older buildings and have lovingly updated them.  With original pressed tin ceilings, vintage chandeliers and lovely stained glass this place does a mean cocktail.  Ask for any of the classics (I went with a Vesper martini of course) and you won’t be disappointed.

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8:00pm – The Roosevelt – Another neighborhood worth checking out is Church Hill.  Unfortunately the famous Sub Rosa Bakery was closed by the time we got there for our dinner reservation but it’s just another excuse to go back!  The Roosevelt was recommended by almost everyone I spoke to.  This James Beard award winning  restaurant is tucked into a small row house so charming it makes you feel like you are at a dinner party rather than a restaurant.

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They serve updated southern classics made out of local ingredients – make sure to end the night with the chocolate pudding!  We were totally beat after our long day so didn’t get to check out the nightlife in Church Hill but there are several bars within walking distance if you want a nightcap.

Next day – 9:00am – Perly’s -This is a classic Jewish deli with a hipster twist.  Again another restored business that has all of the old lovely details with modern twists on the menu (think rosemary flavored cream cheese and homemade sodas).  I had one of the best latkes I have ever had while sitting at the old school diner style counter.  We left stuffed and happy, eager to return to Richmond to discover more gems.

Rum Tasting Party

This party was starting to become my white whale – back in 2012 the Washington Post wrote an article about hosting your own rum tasting party.  Everyone is supposed to bring a different bottle of rum so you can taste varying styles and ages.  I immediately latched on to the idea and tried to make it happen…4 years later, success!  No this is not a difficult party to throw but you do need friends to sign up in advance so you can ensure a proper amount of bottles are represented.  You also need to get over the stigma of too many bad Captain and Cokes consumed during college.  Most of my friends said they would happily come to a tequila, scotch, whiskey…pretty much anything but rum tasting party.  Luckily I came up with a couple brave enough friends and it was a blast.  My buddy Devin, who has probably been to 99% off all parties I have hosted, declared it the. best. ever.

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So as I said, have everyone you invite plan on bringing a bottle for the party to consume.  We ran the gamut from black rum, 12 year old Dominican rum (hands down the crowd favorite), to Mt. Defiance rum made right here in Virginia.  I made sure to have plenty of small tasting cups for everyone to sip out of.  People really got into the spirit, helped along by a good tropical Spotify playlist.  Unfortunately, lots of pineapples had to die for this party to work, not only for the food but also as decoration.  The produce manager at Harris Teeter  must have thought I was a loon carting off over a dozen pineapples!!!

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When throwing a liquor tasting party, you really need to think carefully about your menu.  No one wants all of their guests in a drunken stupor before the 1st course is even served!  I decided to go with heavy with the appetizers as they would be served while we worked our way through the tastings.  Basically I fried everything I could get my hands on.  I also made a really light rum punch from the Post to drink alongside the tasting (as recommended by the original article).

Food and Wine Spicy Coconut Shrimp

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Oh baby are these good – if deep drying intimidates you try shrimp.  You need way less oil, they cook quickly and with the crunchy coconut crust you are going to get that nice crisp texture no matter what.

Cayobo’s Pina Colada Fritters

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I randomly found this recipe during some internet searching for Caribbean appetizers.  They were so light and crispy and great dipped into some bottled spicy mango sauce.  Since you are already heating up the oil for the shrimp might as well fry some more!

Following the tasting and appetizers most people switched to beer or wine and we served a full dinner.

Bon Appetit Grilled Jerk Chicken

This marinade is SO powerful and delicious.  I went with just boneless chicken breasts for the party to make life easier on myself, as opposed to bone in chicken but if you have the time go for it.  Best of all it’s delicious room temperature so you can grill the chicken before your guests even arrive.

Feasting at Home’s Caribbean Mango Cabbage Slaw

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After all the fried and spicy foods I wanted a nice crisp slaw to balance everything out.  This one is nice and colorful and has a sweet hit from the mango.

Pineapple Fried Rice

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So delicious along with the spicy jerk chicken you definitely should take the time to serve this fried rice out of the pineapple shells for the party.

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This was definitely worth the wait but I suggest you not and throw a rum tasting party this weekend to celebrate the end of summer.  I am already thinking of another next tasting party – any suggestions for what to do next???

A Southern Dinner Party

Living in Washington, D.C. can lead to a bit of an identity crisis – invariably when someone asks me where I am from I answer Boston immediately and then clarify that I live in DC.  However, next year will mark the year I have actually lived longer below the Mason Dixon line then I ever lived in New England.  Most Southerners will tell you that absolutely does NOT make me Southern and that’s ok by me.  I am going to try and continue my mix of the best of both worlds – reading my Southern Living magazine on my front porch with some iced tea wearing my Red Sox hat.  One thing that I have always admired and tried to emulate though is the Southern hostess’s way of making people feel welcome and comfortable even if it’s 100 degrees outside.  I am learning that the key is making sure that the food isn’t too formal, that you make as much as possible in advance and that you lean heavily on comfort foods.  That perfectly fits my entertaining mode so I threw together this Southern dinner party so we could beat the heat and catch up with friends.  Southern summers are so hot that going out to dinner actually becomes a chore, where as this delicious meal is made mostly in advance and with the help of a slow cooker that won’t heat up your house.  And who doesn’t love a party where you eat corn nuts out of a silver bowl???  Southern entertaining at it’s best.

Cooking Light Bacon Goat Cheese Jalapeno Poppers

These bite size appetizers are insane.  Spicy, salty, sweet, cheesy, crunchy, meaty.  It leaves nothing out and none will be left behind.  I served these with a bowl of corn nuts and that was it for the first course – dinner is pretty hearty so don’t front load the first course.  A great selection of craft beers or a crisp sauvignon blanc would be a good pairing for these bites.

NYT Mississippi Roast

When you read this recipe you are either going to think it sounds like the best thing ever invented or totally disgusting.  The first group is correct.  This large beef roast is cooked in a slow cooker with basically ranch dressing for over 6 hours to become meltingly tender and delicious.  This recipe has been around for a long time but to those of us outside of Mississippi it took the New York Times of all publications to bring it back in vouge.  It really is incredible and not at all greasy.  If you have leftovers they would make for an amazing sandwich.  Make sure to have extra pepperoncini on hand to serve alongside the roast.

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Smashed Red Potatoes with Creme Fraiche

Mashed potatoes seemed like a natural side for the roast but this version by Country Living actually makes for a lighter and brighter side perfectly contrasting the meat.  The addition of lemon peel while cooking the potatoes and using creme fraiche instead of a ton of butter and cream makes this one of my go to potato dishes.  Throw in a quick veggie side and you are all set.

Individual Peach Crumbles

It wouldn’t be a Southern party without a little bourbon and the use of a cast iron skillet!  These single serve peach crumbles are so good and can be made way in advance.  Once dinner is over move every one to the living room or a porch if you have one for an after dinner drink and pop these in the oven.  People will love that they each have their own dessert and the sweet peaches are the perfect note to end the night on.

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ACC Travels – A Massachusetts Round Up

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Sorry to be away for so long but A Capitol Contessa is back and better than ever!  Most of my time away from the blog was spent in my lovely home state of Massachusetts where the food just keeps getting better and better.  I basically set out to give myself mercury poisoning, eating seafood at pretty much every meal I could get.  There just isn’t anything like a freshly shucked oyster right off the truck from Maine or perfectly cooked cod right out of the sea.  Lots of family commitments kept me from doing a true post on any one of the cities or towns I visited but I wanted to share the highlights for all of you travelling to MA this summer or for folks that are local.  Stops in Dennis on Cape Cod, Newburyport on the North Shore and of course Boston, have me itching to get back home more often.

Dennis, MA

The Ocean House – 425 Old Wharf Road – Seriously one of the more beautiful restaurants I have ever eaten in.  Waterfront dining isn’t that hard to find on the Cape but fine dining is – I truly love the variety of clam shacks and oyster bars  but if you want a nice night out it can be hard to find.  The Ocean House is white table cloths, a serious wine list and beautifully done food but it’s not so fussy that you stop feeling like you are on vacation.  I had some insane lobster ravioli there that must have had about a pound of lobster both inside and on top of the pasta.  Delicious!  Pro tip: order their espresso martini with dessert.

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Skipper Chowder House – 152 South Shore Drive – I consider myself a bit of a clam chowder connoisseur and I would have to put the chowder at Skippers at least in the top 5 ever, if not number 1.  Creamy, clamy, and chunky, it was everything I want in a chowder and more.  The fried clam plate is also pretty terrific but be warned it’s a LOT of food!  Skippers is a typical Cape style place right across from the beach with a good local craft beer selection on tap and a cute top floor bar.  Get the chowder and you wont be disappointed.

Newburyport, MA

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Brine – 25 State Street – Brine is just what the doctor ordered for the seaside town of Newburyport.  As much as I have always loved visiting, it was certainly lacking in upscale dining.  Brine serves up carefully selected oysters and refined seafood dishes as well as chops for meat loving patrons.  Definitely start with some oysters which are all expertly shucked by the staff (on Thursdays there is a buck a shuck deal).  I love all the attention to detail at this place like house made ketchup and inventive plating.

Joppa Fine Foods – 50 Water Street – Stores like this make me a kid in a candy shop…where my version of candy is high quality olive oils, artisinal salumi and a collection of flavored salts!  Joppa is a great store to buy local and handmade food ingredients and ideal for putting together a slamming picnic.  They have prepared foods, a to die for cheese counter and delicious wine to throw into your basket.

Boston, MA

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Saltie Girl – 281 Dartmouth Street – If I could design a restaurant (ooooh I can dream) it would be Saltie Girl.  Everything about this place is PERFECT.  The beautiful fish scale tiles on the bar, the jute wrapped columns, the iced buckets attached to each table to keep wine crisp – I loved ALL OF IT.  I took so many pictures it was starting to get obnoxious so I will only share a handful but please get yourself over to this place.

It is quite small and is first come first serve with seating at the bar and at several booths.  However, the staff is so gracious and accommodating that its worth the wait (a nice glass of rose doesn’t hurt either).

The Saltie in Saltie Girl refers to a large selection they have of tinned seafood.  If you think opening a can of sardines doesn’t constitute creating a meal think again.  These are not just any canned fish – these are the best of the best imported from around the world, that are served with carefully selected accompaniments.  The really knowledgeable staff will walk you through that menu, the raw bar and any other questions you may have.  Want something hot and more substantial?  Why not lobster and waffles or a really amazing looking burger?  All meals end with an adorable check presentation and an awesome haute version of a wetnap.

Last but not least I have to give a shout out to the Boston Public Market – this place isn’t new and isn’t new to me but during my visit they finally transitioned to being open 7 days a week.  Also every time I go there are more and more vendors open so if you haven’t been since it first opened I highly recommend you stop in again.  You all know how much time I spend in Union Market back in DC – well this is the Boston version and I hate to say it…but I prefer it!

Lots of food stands to buy food right on the spot mixed with terrific grocers and other food artisans to get super fresh ingredients from all over New England.  I stopped in and bought fresh parsley and garlic pasta at Nella Pasta, a beautiful bouquet of wildflowers for my mom at Stow Greenhouses, some local beer at Hopsters Alley and of course a small cone of moose tracks at Crescent Ridge as a snack.  The perfect way to spend an afternoon in Boston.  Hope all of you living in the Bay State or those heading there get to try some of these spots.  GO SOX!

A Nautical BBQ

The 4th of July is the perfect time to hang outside with friend and family, especially if you have a great deck like we do.  We are really lucky to have a view of fireworks from ours so usually we just post up on the deck and hang until it gets dark and the show starts.  But you don’t have to wait for 4th of July to roll around to have a lovely and really easy BBQ at your place – this menu is designed so that almost everything is made in advance and can be served at room temperature so you can relax and enjoy your guests.  I decided to go with a nautical theme for the table and even some of the food since it works well for 4th of July.  I also just so happen to have a “boat load” of nautical entertaining gear.

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A party like this screams for disposable serve wear but that doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice style.  I love bamboo plates for this because they are really sturdy, are eco friendly, chic and you don’t feel bad throwing them away.  Paired with cute wooden utensils and a large charcoal napkin your guests won’t even care they don’t have the real stuff.  Always remember when you are outside to think about what may blow away – I used my gorg turtle bottle opener as a paper weight but it did double duty with the beers.  I used lanterns filled with citronella candles to keep the DC bugs at bay and just set out all the dishes in the middle of the table so people could help them selves.  Scroll to the bottom for the sources of all this fun nautical stuff.  On to the menu!

Thyme Vodka Lemonade

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Just posted this Tuesday, this drink is perfect for a BBQ.  Not too potent and so refreshing.  I created a self serve bar by setting out glasses and an ice bucket so people could help themselves.  I love stemless wine glasses for parties because they work as a wine glass, water glass or cocktail glass (also my friends seem less prone to breaking these and Crate and Barrel sells them in 12 packs!).  We also had a bucket with summer beers and some crisp summer whites set up next to the bar.

Open and Serve Snacks

My favorite kind!  The best way to round out a menu is to have some items where you have to do zero work at all.  Since I was already going “overboard” with the nautical theme I even went with nautical snacks.  These Wye River Crabbers are easily available in the Mid Atlantic – I buy them on the Eastern Shore but have seen them in local Harris Tetters – but you could definitely sub goldfish crackers here.  Sandbaggers are these awesome Virginia peanuts that are tossed with salt and fresh black pepper.  Again you can find them locally here in stores but go online and get some if you live elsewhere – they are a revelation.

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Of course I also had to go with Cape Cod Potato chips to make sure New England was represented.  A pretty bowl will class up any snack so make sure to use your best here (ie not disposable) and keep an eye on the levels throughout the party and replenish as needed.

Corn Fritters with Jalapeño Jelly

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These fritters were by far the most popular thing on the table.  The sweet corn is such a good foil to the spicy jelly.  I was nervous about making them in advance but they turned out really well – fry them off earlier in the day and then just reheat in the oven.  Even at room temperature they were delicious.  I topped them with my new obsession, Woodberry Pantry Chile Pepper Jam.  Made in Baltimore with fish peppers that are native to the Mid Atlantic region, it’s pretty spicy but with a nice sweet finish.  You can buy it on line or at Salt and Sundry in DC.

Crab Stuffed Grilled Bell Peppers

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Another really easy make ahead snack set out on a cute whale cutting board.  Crab can be expensive for a crowd but a little goes a long way with this dish.  I grilled the peppers ahead of time and made the filling in advance as well so all I had to do was scoop the crab mixture into the peppers and set them out on this cute whale cutting board my mom got me.  Delish.

Sausage and Peppers

Ok I didn’t take any pics of the main dish of the night – mostly because I was having way too much fun!  Not sure if you all need to know what sausage and peppers look like anyway.  I did a mix of hot and sweet sausages that I just picked up at the grocery store.  I par boiled them for 10 minutes until they cooked through so all the grill master needed to do was throw them on the grill for a couple of minutes to get a nice char on the outside.  I also sauteed up some onions and bell peppers earlier in the day until they were caramelized and soft.  Reheated in a skillet on the grill and with a quick splash of balsamic vinegar they were great piled on top of the sausages in their buns.  You could also sub for regular hot dogs to make life even easier.

Salted Caramel Brownies

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I have to admit – these were not the easiest brownies to make.  When I saw this recipe in the New York Times I immediately printed it out and made it that weekend.  The results were delicious but as you can see from the pic pretty messy!  All the caramel makes them pretty tough to cut but if you have the patience go for it!  If not I think brownies and cookies purchased from your favorite bakery would be a great way to go.  Some fresh strawberries are a great way to decorate the dish and add some fruit to the mix.  Have a great 4th of July – hope you get inspired and whip up some of these dishes!

Individual Peach Crumbles

Years ago when Patrick and I were registering for our wedding at one of our favorite local shops, Hill’s Kitchen, I spotted these precious mini cast iron skillets.  What does a girl who already has everything register for??  Ridiculously cute and not very sensible baby sized pans.  Leah, the owner, convinced us both of their utility (she is a genius like that) and on the registry they went.  I will admit I don’t use them daily but when I do they put a smile on my face.  This peach crumble would of course work in ramekins or in one large pan (I would think a 8 by 8 inch baking dish) but just like how cupcakes are more fun than a cake, these individual crumbles will really wow your guests.  If you aren’t near Hill’s Kitchen you can also find them online.  They are also great to use as serving dishes for nuts, olives and the like or doing mini frittatas.  Buy them first and find more uses for them later!

This crumble recipe is super easy and could be adapted for whatever you have on hand – berries, apples etc.  Just keep on eye on how much liquid your fruit is giving off.  Since I used frozen peaches they were wetter than say fresh ones – another splash of bourbon or a knob of butter should fix that problem.  Basically you want the fruit to have a nice glaze on it but not be sitting in liquid before you add them to the pan.  Also sharing another good hint here – grating butter.  For a simple topping like this where you want the butter to distribute evenly through the dry ingredients you can use a food processor and pulse them together or just pull out the handy box grater and grate in super cold butter.  Do it quickly and you will get small pieces of butter that works perfectly in this topping.  Make them up to two days in advance, keep them in the fridge and then just pop them in the oven (don’t forget the ice cream!).

Individual Peach Crumbles 

  • 1 pound frozen peaches thawed and drained
  • 6 tablespoons cold butter
  • 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons bourbon
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • pinch of salt
  • pinch of cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup quick cooking oats
  • vanilla ice cream

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  In a large skillet melt 2 tablespoons of butter over medium high.  Add the peaches and 2 tablespoons of sugar and cook for 7 minutes until the peaches take on a little color and the butter and sugar melt into a syrup.

Carefully add the bourbon and cook for another 30 seconds.  Remove from the heat.  Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and equally divide the peaches among the 4 mini skillets on the baking sheet.

In a medium sized bowl combine the flour, 1/3 cup of sugar, salt and cinnamon.  Take the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter cold butter and grate the butter into the bowl.  Add the oats and stir to combine.  Equally pile the crumble topping on top of the peaches, making sure to cover all exposed peach.  Some will fall off on the baking sheet which is fine (that’s what the foil is for!).

At this point you can place the skillets in the fridge for several hours before baking them off if you want to make them in advance.  Bake for  30 minutes at 350 degrees until the crumble is lightly browned.  Remove from oven and let cool for several minutes then top with ice cream and serve.

Make a Pancake Bar

Because why not right?  I always have the hardest time deciding what I want to top my pancakes with so I thought my not have ALL the toppings??  This bar works really well with smaller, silver dollar pancakes, so that you can try lots of different topping combos before you stuff yourself.  Perfect for a father’s day brunch – doesn’t dad deserve a nutella, chocolate chip, rum banana and syrup pancake???

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I made some boozey strawberries which was just chopped strawberries (probably about a pint but this doesn’t need to be exact) macerated with 2 tablespoons of sugar and 3 tablespoons of cassis.

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I also sauteed some bananas, these were by far the most popular topping on the bar.  Melt 2 tablespoons of butter of medium high heat in a skillet.  Toss in 4 chopped bananas with 2 tablespoons brown sugar and 3 tablespoons of rum.  Cook for about 5 minutes.  Lastly I made a cinnamon compound butter which basically means mixing room temp butter with cinnamon and sea salt – add as much cinnamon as you would like.  Each of these took almost no time at all but really elevated the selection.

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I put out the following in addition to the strawberries and bananas but you can really put
out anything you like – candied pecans, Nutella, mini chocolate chips, homemade whipped cream, and maple syrup.  Of course I also made up a huge batch of bacon (do this in the oven and make life much easier) to go along.  Since this is a self serve bar I thought DSC02700using a chalkboard runner would be really fun.  You can mark down what everything is and people can go to town themselves.  Sur La Table has this one online but I have also seen them at Salt and Sundry in DC.  If you don’t have a chalkboard runner I have these reusable place card holders that would be perfect.  Either way make sure to have a good variety of toppings – salty, sweet, fruity and chocolatey.  I set up my griddle (the other side of my raclette maker) and used…wait for this…a boxed mix for the pancakes.  Yes it’s ok!  Honestly these pancakes are way more about the toppings than anything else and I like the mix from Trader Joe’s.  Hosting in the morning is hard enough – this is a great way to shorten your to do list and no one will notice.  I made them pretty small so that folks could have a bunch of little ones with different toppings.  Get some friends involved making the pancakes and you have to do very little work!

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A brunch this good demands cocktails so we went classic with a bloody mary bar.  I HATE bloody marys, I actually wouldn’t even serve them when I was a bartender, but Patrick likes them and apparently makes a mean one so I let him take charge there.  He likes to have a variety of hot sauces and toppings like olives, banana peppers and celery to add.  We used chipolte vodka (also great in this drink) and DC’s own Gordy’s Bloody Mary Mix.

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For those of us who don’t partake in bloody marys I opened some bubbly and set out liquors to mix in like cassis and St. Germain.  We also served coffee with Kahlua to mix in if you like your cocktail with your caffeine fix.

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I usually like to send people home with something from a party and this time was no different.  Since all of our friends we hosted have doggies at home I made homemade dog biscuits and put them in cute little bags from them to take home (I am sure Gabby and Hagen would have preferred leftover bacon but there was definitely none left!).  I used this recipe by Ina and some cute dog bone cookie cutters.

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The bar was a great success with guests of all ages.  Baby Hazel made quick work of these pancakes, though she is going to have to wait a couple more years for a bloody mary!  So happy father’s day to all the dads out there including my own – may your day be filled with love and rum bananas!

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House Wine Part Deux – Rose and Sparkling

This is part two of a post I  did on choosing your own house wine back in May of last year.  It is still one of my all time most viewed posts (even though back then my photographs and formatting were a little struggles!).  People really responded to the idea of keeping on hand some classic, go with anything wines that were affordable.  It makes life really easy and entertaining a breeze if you know you have a half case of a favorite red and white in your basement that you can pull out at any time.  Well since that post I have finally settled on a house rose and a house sparkling so I wanted to share those with you as well.  Perfect summer sippers, they are a great addition to your “house” collection.

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If I had unlimited funds, for sure my house sparkling wine would be Veuve Clicquot.  It is my favorite champagne, so much so that we visited their caves while on our honeymoon.  However, until I win powerball, the Vueuve is going to have to wait for special occasions.  Luckily I stumbled across a terrific cava that is light and crisp with just the right amount of bubbles.  Dibon Cava Brut Reserve can be drank on its own or mixed in a cocktail or mimosa.  I have found some of the cheaper sparkling wines really must be mixed with something but this one stands on its own.  The price point cannot be beat – I have found it for as low as $9 a bottle, usually its around $11-12.  I have seen it at Wegmans, Total Wine and even Harris Teeter.  For folks that are on Capitol Hill you can also find it at P&C Market on Lincoln Park.  Even better, it has a very similar color label to that of Veuve so if you just sort of squint your eyes you can pretend its the real thing!  No really, having a couple of bottles on hand is great for the impromptu brunch or when something unexpected comes along that you want to celebrate.  Add this to your house collection and you won’t have to wait for New Years to be popping corks.

It took a while to finally nail down my house rose.  To me a good rose is dry, slightly fruity and light in color.  It should be drinkable on its own but also have enough acid to be paired with food.  Finding all that with an affordable price was not easy until I found Famille Perrin Reserve Cotes du Rhone Rose.  It has nice subtle berry flavor but is also really crisp.  Many of you are familiar with Cotes du Rhone reds from France and this family run vineyard produces those as well.  However, with their rose they use stainless steel tanks to give it a lighter body.  I often find this at World Market – if you wait until their White and Rose sale that they have several times a year you can pick one of these up for as low as $7 a bottle.  With the chic French label and its drinkability people will never know you could buy a whole case for less than $100.  I really like this rose paired with French cheeses of course but it also really pairs well with light summer foods like my summer Chicken and Rice Salad dish or my corn risotto.  Also since France has finally gotten on the screwtop train this becomes the perfect picnic wine.  If you already have a sparkling wine and rose that you really love no worries – these are just my favorites.  Either way make sure to stock up and your summer will be spent sipping stress free.

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