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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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If you like pina coladas and getting caught in the rain,” then National Pina Colada Day was made for you. And how perfect that it falls in the dog days of summer when nothing seems more refreshing than a cold, tropical cocktail in hand. So “put the lime in the coconut and drink it all up,” I say. But if you’d rather skip past the drinks and head straight to dessert, then try these pina colada baked doughnuts or pina colada key lime pie. Both look exceptionally sinful.

Strawberry Pina Colada Pops

Photo and recipe courtesy of Cornelia Guest

 Spiked Strawberry Pina Colada Pops

Ingredients

3 cups fresh pineapple, cubed
1/3 cup unsweetened coconut milk
1/2 cup water
3 tablespoons sugar
1/3 cup rum
1 cup strawberries, sliced

Instructions

Puree all ingredients (except strawberries) in a blender until smooth. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve and discard solids. Add strawberries, pour into ice-pop molds and freeze for 30 minutes. Insert sticks and continue to freeze overnight. For best results, leave ice pops in the freezer for at least 24 hours.

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Watermelon Salad with Quick Pickled Jalapeno

Whether you’re lugging home a 15-pounder to slice into wedges or grabbing a pre-cut version, my guess is that your watermelon will generally be served plain. May I recommend you add some intrigue to your melon by pairing its sweet succulent flesh with the fruity spice of jalapeno and acidic tang of lime? The Latin-inspired combination transforms plain ol’ watermelon into a complex dish with loads of sweet and spicy flavor. These 3 recipes are all paired with fresh jalapeno and lime to provide a few more interesting ways to enjoy summer’s unofficial fruit.

Norm’s Notes: Pick a Pepper

I don’t know if it’s because of drought or my selection habits, but most of the chiles (especially jalapeno) I’ve had this year are really, really spicy. Although I generally like spice, sometimes there is such a thing as too hot. If you are in the same boat and want to keep the heat of chiles to a minimum, remove the seeds and inner white membrane with a sharp knife. Doing this will not only reduce the heat level, but will help bring out more of the chiles’ fruity flavor. Also, thinly slicing or finely dicing the peppers helps to evenly distribute the spiciness in a dish, allowing for a more predictable heat level and giving a peppery pop of flavor to each bite.

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Fireworks are normally the main attraction of a Fourth of July party, but it’s time for the menu to take center stage. It’s easy to come up with creative menu items for this holiday because it’s so festive, and the main course revolves around my favorite — the grill. These patriotic recipes will surely be the talk of your party.

Panna Cotta Shooters

You can’t get any more patriotic than these adorable shooters. Layers of red, white and blue creamy panna cotta and edible gold stars make this a true patriotic treat.

Panna Cotta Shooters

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While you embrace the Fourth of July with tasty seasonal fare and vibrant fireworks, don’t forget about a festive, signature party beverage. With the summer heat bearing down, these icy concoctions will certainly hit the spot.

Fourth of July Recipes

Courtesy of Cornelia Guest

Star-Spangled Spiked Smoothie

Ingredients

1 ounce vodka
1 cup mixed berries (fresh or frozen)
1 8-ounce container vanilla yogurt
coconut flakes, for garnish

Instructions

Combine vodka, berries and yogurt in a blender and blend until smooth. Garnish with blueberries and coconut flakes.

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It’s officially summer, and for some of you that means throwing a Fourth of July party. A patriotic vibe is the first thing your guests will notice, so set the bar high when it comes to decorations. To help you, I’ve rounded up my favorite easy decoration and activity ideas your guests will love.

Paper Flower Wreath

Give your home a patriotic feel even before your party guests walk in the door with a crepe paper flower wreath. Choose unconventional Fourth of July colors like coral, cobalt blue and ivory, or go with the classic red, white and blue hues.

Paper Flower Wreath

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Ombre Party Linens

Dyeing basic white table linens in an ombre pattern is a modern way to show your patriotism. Despite how intricate this looks, these are easy to make.

Patriotic Ombre Party Linens

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In case you haven’t heard, it’s National Candy Month! However, June is quickly drawing to a close, which means there’s only 5 days left to celebrate this tasty occasion. You can either gorge on candy from your local convenience store, or you could go for a slightly different approach. In the spirit of Ogden Nash’s wise words, “Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker,” here are 6 candy-inspired cocktail recipes for you to try:

6 Candy-Inspired Cocktails: Heath Bar Cocktail Recipe

Heath Bar Cocktail: Heath Bars are one of my personal faves, so this toffee-flavored cocktail topped with shaved chocolate looks absolutely irresistible to me! GET THE RECIPE>>

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Greek Style Baby Artichoke Salad

Baby artichokes are one of those farmers’ market purchases many people commit to due to a persuasive salesperson or solely based on their attractiveness, but soon regret the purchase when left pondering “how do I cook these?” To solve this common problem, here is an illustrated guide on the bare necessities to preparing those prickly pears into something delicious. Included are 4 simple ways to serve these babies to your friends and family.

Norm’s Notes: Trimming Baby Artichokes in 3 simple steps

STEP 1:

Trimming Artichokes Step 1

Pluck away any leaves attached to artichoke stem. Remove tough outer layer covering the stem with a vegetable peeler or paring knife.

STEP 2:

Trimming Baby Artichokes Step 2

Cut away top ¼ portion of leaves, leaving a flat surface, cut artichoke in half lengthwise.

STEP 3:

Trimming Baby Artichokes Step 3

Examine each artichoke half to see if the choke (the fuzzy parts right above the heart and just below the purple line ends) is a bit overgrown (the fuzz will tend to stick out from the cut side if overgrown). If they are, carefully scrape away choke with the tip of a paring knife.

Artichoke Recipes

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The summer months call for cold and refreshing treats like ice cream and ice pops, but these warm-weather staples aren’t just for kids anymore. This season, indulge in some adult desserts made with fruity wines and sweet liqueurs that are sure to satisfy the child within.

Limoncello Pops Recipe

Courtesy of Maria Nelson of Pink Patisserie

Sea-Salted Limoncello Pops

Makes 6-8 large ice pops

Ingredients

1 1/4 cup water
2/3 cup sugar
zest from 1 large lemon
pinch of sea salt
1 cup freshly-squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup Villa Massa Limoncello
1 teaspoon flaked sea salt

Instructions

In a large saucepan, combine water and sugar over low heat. Heat just until sugar has dissolved. Grate lemon zest on top. Add pinch of sea salt, stir and allow to cool to room temperature. Once cool, add lemon juice and Limoncello. Stir and pour into ice pop molds. Cover molds with aluminum foil and freeze for 2 hours.

After 2 hours, make a slit in foil and place sticks into molds. Freeze an additional 6 hours or overnight. To remove, run molds under warm water for 2-3 seconds. Melting will occur quickly, so don’t run under water for any longer than 2-3 seconds. Just prior to eating, sprinkle with sea salt and serve.

Skinny Amaretto Recipe

Courtesy of mixologists Alie Ward and Georgia Hardstark

 Skinny Amaretto Cappuccino Granita

Ingredients

2 cups Nescafe Dolce Gusto Skinny Cappuccino, cooled
2 ounces amaretto liqueur
1/4 cup crushed almonds

Instructions

Prepare two cappuccinos and let cool slightly. Add to blender with amaretto and whip on high for 1-2 minutes until frothy. Pour into shallow freezer-safe dish and cover. Let set for 3-4 hours, stirring a few times with a fork to mix and make fluffy. Before serving, fold in crushed almonds. When ready, scoop into dishes and top with almonds.

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curbly summer round-up

In last week’s Easy Summer Entertaining post, we started to get ready for our backyard BBQs and mellow get-togethers with our friends and family. Since we plan on keeping the cooler packed all summer long, here is Part 2 of low-key, fun, summer entertaining ideas. To start off, we are diving into a meta moment with this summer entertaining round-up by Curbly in my summer entertaining round-up.

Cup of Jo refreshing waters

For a cleansing refreshment, try out these three different all-natural flavored waters on Cup of Jo.

watermelon salad

Any watermelon salad is oh-so-summer and just screams refreshing. This one, in particular, looks mouth-watering and delicious. Via Design Sponge.

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I love warm-weather weddings, and I especially love the trends that come along with them. One of my favorites right now is rainbow sprinkles; they’re delightfully colorful and playful. Some brides have even suggested throwing sprinkles instead of rice when the couple exits. Others are covering cakes, cupcakes, macarons, cookies and cocktail glass rims in these vibrant morsels. Do you think sprinkles are a fun wedding “accessory”?

Mood Board Monday: SprinklesTop, L to R: A Paper ProposalBeautylishFree People | Middle, L to R: Gimme Some Oven, Wedding Chicks, Clockwork Lemon | Bottom, L to R: Style Me Pretty, Style Me Pretty, My Home Decor

Here’s your mission: grab a cone (or bowl), add two or more scoops of ice cream, then top with an abundance of rainbow sprinkles. That’s it. Happy summer, friends!

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

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Noodle Bowl

Noodle bowls of all types are having a moment in the spotlight. Although known by different names and varying styles and tastes, most noodle bowls have a few things in common: a rich flavorful broth; cooked noodles; and toppings of vegetables and various sauces. They are ideal for feeding a crowd as each serving can be adjusted to personal tastes and are quite filling. Host your next summer gathering featuring this robust and savory chicken version that is flavored with fresh ginger and chiles and dried mushrooms.

Noodle Bowl Setup

Disposable chopsticks are a must for this party. I found a pack of 40 for around $1 at a local Asian market.

Norm’s Notes: Oodles o’ Noodles

Asian-style noodles come in just as many varieties as Italian-style pasta. However, Asian noodles are far superior to keeping their shape in hot liquid thanks to the addition of alkaline substances (such as baking soda) in the recipe. I recommend taking a trip to a local Asian market and browsing the variety of noodles available (It will be a lot, trust me). Don’t be intimidated by the stylish characters that adorn the fronts of the packaging. Usually, on the flip side, there are picture directions that show proper cooking techniques and times. Pick a few different styles and cook them up to see which you prefer.

Packages of Noodles

Three of my favorite noodles: Japanese-style Udon, dried Soba and mushroom egg

Dried Noodles

Noodles out of the package

Cooked Noodles

Cooked noodles (Left to Right): Japanese Udon, Soba and Egg

Japanese-style Udon noodles are fluffly and toothy. I like to use them because they have a bit more body than the dried version making them very filling. Those unfamiliar with their texture may rate them as soggy and rubbery, so buyer beware.

Soba noodles are more hearty in texture and earthy in taste thanks to a buckwheat flour base. I like them because they tend to soak up the flavor of the soup better than any noodle. Also, they are great served cold and tossed with a light coating of soy sauce, sesame oil, fresh grated ginger and ground fresh chili paste.

Egg noodles are the user-friendly option. Most people are familiar with the texture (think Chinese Lo-mein) and they are the easiest to find in your local supermarket. You can buy them fresh or dried and in flat or round shapes. Where to find them in the supermarket: In fresh form, look in the produce section usually along side egg roll and wonton wrappers. In dry form, check the international isle where you may also find dried versions of Soba and Udon noodles.

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