ALL POSTS IN Entertaining

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Everyone is talking about coconut oil — the benefits, the uses, the reasons to have it at home, at work, etc. I’m an advocate for the superfood and love having it in my medicine cabinet as well as in my pantry. Beyond that, I can’t get enough of coconut water and milk, especially in my smoothies. So let’s just give a round of applause for coconuts! What’s your favorite way to use this fruit?

Mood Board Monday: CoconutsTop, L to R: Santa Fe Dry Goods, Flickr, My Baking Addiction | Middle, L to R: Justina Blakeney, Celebrations at Home, Vintage Blog | Bottom, L to R: Roxana’s Home Baking, Free People Blog, Honestly Yum

Come back every Monday for an inspirational mood board. Miss a day? See all the posts here.

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Sweet Potato Salad

Falling somewhere between appetizer and side dish, this unique tasting salad is a welcome alternative to mayonnaise-laden versions offered at backyard barbecues. The tender sweet potato slices tossed with a lime-based dressing and fresh herbs, then topped with crispy tortilla strips and queso fresco offer a combo of flavors that are bound to get the conversation going at any gathering. The recipe easily doubles to accommodate more people and you can make the recipe to serve with grilled chicken for a colorful and interesting weeknight dinner.

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Insta-Grahams

Here is the s’mores modern rival. A hands-on tasty graham cracker-based treat that is perfect for a digital age. This hybrid is a clash of s’mores and the classic baked graham cracker toffee. These easy breezy snacks are loaded with kid-friendly toppings and only take a few minutes to assemble into creative iPhone-sized pieces. The variations are pretty much endless and only limited by imagination.

White Chocolate Selfie Insta-Graham

My nephew Uri with his Insta-Graham titled “White Chocolate Selfie.”

Norm’s Notes: Let Me Take a Selfie

When I visit my sister, I cook. I cook a lot! Feeding this crew is no easy task. She has five handsome young sons and one awesome husband who I’m lucky to call my brother-in law. I love the challenge of feeding this many people balanced meals and it is my pleasure to give them a break from the stove and add some variation to their usual diet.

The boys all love to watch me simmer away in the kitchen and I’m constantly in search of things that the party of five can all help make. So during my most recent weekend visit, almost on cue, serendipity stepped in and brought us the Insta-Graham. The creation was a true family affair. My sister provided the initial concept, the boys gave the flavor combos and names, and my brother in-law captured all of the fun on camera.  The three flavors are just the beginning of what you can do. Try out a variety of topping combinations to make your Insta-Graham into a one of a kind “selfie”. Don’t forget to add #Insta-Graham.

Peanut Butter Parfait Insta-Graham

My nephew Fabian is excited to chow down on his “Peanut Butter Parfait Insta-Grahams.”

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Sausage, Onion, and Potato Hash

If sitting on a sunlit patio in early hours of the day, while sipping hot coffee, reading the paper and eating a sensible breakfast sounds appealing, then I’ve got the ideal meal to match the mood. Awaiting is a home-style breakfast spread that features a smoky Sausage, Onion and Potato Hash. The robust flavor of the sausage permeates potatoes that are peppered with hints of sweetness from sauteed red onion and bursts of spice from fresh jalapeno. This morning meal is  tailored for cooks who want to be the one who “gets it while it’s hot,” and I’ve included some wonderful hints on how to assemble a hot cooked breakfast and join in on the fun around the table.

Norm’s Notes: Breakfast of Champions

My biggest issue with cooking breakfast is its à la carte nature. Pancakes, waffles, toast, eggs and many more often have to be made to order which often means the cook is the last to partake in the meal or the food quickly cools while guests wait for the cook to finish and to come to the table. In order for one to finally make it to the table and actually sip coffee sitting down, the number of hot cooked items has to be reduced. In this meal I made the hash the only hot cooked item, kind of; but it’s not complete on its own, the meal needed filler. So, I took a page from classic diner menus and added fresh tomato slices sprinkled with salt and pepper, fresh cut fruit and hard boiled eggs. Hard boiling eggs is a great way to include them in the meal without having to don the skills of a short order cook.

Begin by assembling a platter of sliced fruit, sliced tomatoes and shredded lettuce before starting the hash. Start boiling the eggs at the same time you begin cooking the hash so that they’ll be slightly warm when you’re ready to eat. Once the hash is finished and eggs are cooked, peel and cut the eggs and arrange them on the lettuce. Drizzle them and the tomatoes with a little olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Don’t worry about transferring the hash to a platter. Just bring it to the table, place on a trivet and serve out of the skillet. It will help keep the hash warm throughout the meal, and reduces the amount of dishes you’ll have to clean later. Now all you need to do is serve the coffee and enjoy your wonderful breakfast.

Egg and Fruit Platter

Arranging the fruit, eggs, and tomatoes on a platter, in rows, cuts down on the amount of bowls and plates that you need to carry to the table. Adding a bit of shredded lettuce to the platter separates the savory tomato and sweet fruit. It will also act as a bed for the eggs, keeping them from rolling around on the platter and absorbing any of the fruit juices.

In case you need a refresher, here is how I boil eggs.

Place 6 eggs in a large saucepan and cover with cold water until fully submerged. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and boil 1 minute. Remove from heat, cover with lid and let stand 7 to 10 minutes. (Less standing time means a more tender cooked yolk.) Drain. Rinse with cold running water until cool to the touch. Peel eggs and slice into quarters.

Breakfast Spread

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Sparkling Hibiscus Cooler

Lately, the use of my porch has bordered on abuse. In the search for the slightest reason to park on the swing or rocker, I’ve come to notice that a beverage is always near and this rosy concoction has been my latest companion. It’s laced with the flavors of fresh ginger and lime, but it’s the addition of sparkling mineral water that truly heightens the level of refreshment. Enjoy sipping it slow in a heavily iced glass that stands for a minute or two. The intentionally tart brew needs no accent, but if you must garnish, a simple lime twist does the trick.

 Norm’s Notes: Ice Ice Baby

I am a recovering ice nerd. I have molds on molds and trays on trays that capture simple water and transform it into a sublime luxury. I still love shattering a few cubes for a slushy drink or using whole chunks for the slow dilution of a cocktail, but after all of my experimentation I made up my mind that the bagged stuff from the grocery store is best. Blasphemy? I don’t think so. The folks who make that stuff know what they’re doing and I find clean filtered water frozen into consistent pieces works best for me. Maybe I’ve become lazy or more efficient in my years, but gone is the quest to make the “perfect” ice cube. Although I still freeze up a tray of large cubes for a Manhattan from time to time, more often than not, I’ll dip into the bag of pre-made crystals and go on about my way.

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Peach Cornbread Slice

The fragrance of ripe peaches is as sensuous as Number 5. They draw you into their presence and urge you to fit just one more in the bag. Once the juicy flavor grenades are brought home, usually two fates await. They will be quickly devoured within the first few days or left to sit around with the best of intentions, ultimately lending themselves to over ripening. Here is an option for what to do with peaches that are on the verge of too ripe: bake up a rich cakey peach cornbread. The recipe uses up a lot of pantry staples keeping the need to go shopping for ingredients to a minimum. It’s slightly sweet, making it able to be served with a smear of creamy butter for breakfast or topped with whipped cream for dessert.

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Island Style Lunch

Maybe it’s the afternoon showers cooling temperatures from oppressive to pleasant or the fact that I’ve watched three surfing documentaries this week, but I’ve craved the tropics. My desperate grasp for a taste of island life has led to a bit of over purchasing, leaving my counter piled high with mangoes and limes. (Don’t judge. They were really cheap and I couldn’t resist.) Now, to use up the bounty, I’ve been eating them with just about every meal. Mango-lime smoothies in the mornings, mango sprinkled with lime juice and chili powder for a snack and my personal favorite, mango slaw with lime dressing to go with lunch or dinner. The slaw recipe is the highlight of the excessive purchase and inspired a lunch/dinner meal where it pairs with marinated short ribs and white rice. The short ribs showcase a salty sweet marinade and cook up quickly on the stove-top or grill, while fragrant hot cooked rice rounds out the plate and balances the robust tropical flavors. The menu is suited for a sensible lunch gathering with a few friends and maybe a few beers. It’s refreshing, yet filling, but won’t leave you so full the rest of the day is unproductive. Enjoy.

Marinated Short Ribs

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Happy Bastille Day everyone! I must admit, I’m feeling pretty nostalgic. I was lucky enough to watch the fireworks erupt behind the Eiffel Tower on Bastille Day last year (take me baaack), so I’m having a serious case of wanderlust today. Even if we can’t all go to Paris to join in traditions like watching the fireworks or attending the Military Parade on the Champs-Élysées, we can certainly celebrate this historic day in our own way here in America. Here’s a few HGTV takes on La Fête Nationale traditions:

Bastille Day Ideas: Red, White and Blue Decor
All Things Blue, White, and Red
Remember all those cute Fourth of July decorations you put so much thought into two weeks ago? Good news: Bastille Day gives you a reason to re-use your festive red, white and blue pieces. Just remove anything involving stars and stripes and voilà — your home is ready for French festivities.

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I’m once again suggesting you take the party outsideCrafternoon style this time! My good friend Whitney threw a wonderful crafting party in Washington Square Park last week. The event was a hit and I highly recommend throwing your own crafting party in the park, or any outdoor venue you prefer. After staking out a perfect spot in the shade, the afternoon was comprised of great friends, delicious food, adorable puppies, lots of pictures and beautiful paper flowers. While bringing craft supplies outdoors may seem counter-intuitive, the open setting gives you ample space to create. (Plus it’s so nice to be out in the fresh air during these hot summer days.)

Whether you host a big crafting event or just a get-together with a few close friends, this summer party idea is great for guests of all ages. Here are a few tips to make your own Crafternoon a success:

Throw a Crafting Party

Photo: Courtesy of Whitney Penn

Pick a Convenient Craft
Make sure you pick a DIY project that is nature-friendly — in other words, nothing that requires excessive materials, cleanliness, or, of course, electricity.  Whitney cleverly chose paper flowers for her party craft, which fit both thematically and logistically. The craft itself was simple and the components were easy to transport. Plus, if the petals got a little crumpled or dirty, it just made them seem more realistic.

More paper flower crafts: Fourth of July Wreath, Wedding Bouquet

Other easy outdoor crafts: Coiled Wire Ring, Felt Bowls, Friendship Bracelets

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Crispy Chicken

Here is a skillet supper that truly uses one pan to create all the components of a great meal. Crispy Chicken Breast Filets, flattened to quicken the cooking process, are paired with sweet corn medallions, bulb onions and fresh tomatoes. It’s a delicious party menu that utilizes peak seasonal ingredients to keep the flavor high and costs low. Outside of the pan, I’ve also included a dessert of Cherry Cream Pie which is a revelation in contrast to the recipes found on the back of cream cheese packets.

Norm’s Notes: Seasoning Salt and Blends

In today’s culinary world, salt and pepper reign as the undisputed kings of flavor enhancement. The numerous variants of sodium chloride and pungent berries are prized among cooks who often adjust and combine different types to meet specific uses. However, store-bought seasoning salts and blends, popular with most home cooks, often get no love. Since many peoples’ cabinets are littered with half full cylinders of them, I think salt and pepper elitism needs to be addressed.

Seasoning salts and blends are great because they will go with just about anything you can think of, quickly enhancing the taste of foods with little effort. The main problem is many of the seasonings lose potency and pungency over time. So that seasoning you bought for that one recipe you made, for that thing, two years ago, may be past its prime. A good rule is if you haven’t used it within the current calendar year, it probably needs to be discarded, but check the expiration date to be sure. My advice is to use seasoning salts and blends often and boldly. Shake a bit on fresh cut veggies, salad, eggs, grits or anywhere you would use salt and pepper or hot sauce. If anyone sticks their nose in the air about your love of seasoning salt and blends, smile at them, shake on more, and enjoy.

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