ALL POSTS IN Entertaining

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June is Great Outdoors Month, and for good reason. These warm summer nights are begging us to get out of our homes. So, while the nights are still balmy, why not throw a movie night with the stars? No, I’m not saying you should invite Leo DiCaprio. What I mean is, move the party outside and screen movies in your own backyard! Here are a few tips for making your cinema soirée a success:

Throw an Outdoor Movie Night
Create a Display
First things first: set up your theater. DIY Network shows you exactly how to transform your backyard into an outdoor entertainment center. Renting an inflatable screen for your movie night is a great option, but you can also project the movie on a white drop cloth or large white wall.

MORE MOVIE NIGHT TIPS

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metallic brush stroke balloons

Summer just beckons small gatherings of friends in the backyard, firing up that grill, and sitting back in an Adirondack chair with a refreshing drink in hand. We all want to throw that perfect party, but if you are like me, you’re not trying to break your back with all of the prep and planning. Here are some fabulous party ideas that are low-maintenance and low-cost so you can just focus on having fun!

design love fest metallic balloons

Design Love Fest shows the quickest and easiest way to bring a simple balloon to the next level with these metallic brushstroke balloons.

picnic food ideas

Need some food ideas? Check out Design Sponge’s Best of Picnic Foods.

Even More Summer Fun

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Perhaps it is the warm weather that is causing us to flirt with lighter fare, or perhaps it’s simply the season for veggies. One thing is for sure, however, zucchini squash is definitely seeing its 15 minutes in the spotlight — all for good reason.

The almost ridiculously versatile vegetable has been a long standing favorite of mine in everyday cooking. Not only is it insanely healthy — with only 20 calories per cup it’s almost FREE — it has light sweetness to it that keeps me coming back. It also helps that zucchini squash is easy to prepare, not like that pesky butternut squash I had to deal with all winter.

Lately, I’ve been seeing zucchini pop up in the most creative and innovative preparations. From pasta to cookies (Zukies?) We can’t seem to get enough of this healthy indulgence.

Check out these recipes and get inspired to feature this summertime squash on tonight’s table.

Ricotta and Zucchini Omelet Cake

What better way to start off Food Trend Friday than with breakfast — I’ve made no attempts to keep my affinity for breaki a secret. This recipe from Rachel Ray, whose recipes have stolen a lot of my attention lately, looks too good not to try.

Ricotta Omelet
With a generous helping of eggs this recipe provides ample protein to get the morning started. The zucchini, chilies, and peppers are wonderfully healthy but can also be substituted for almost anything you want. The ricotta spikes these omelet cakes with a creamy sweetness that makes the dish seem far more indulgent than it actually is.

Zucchini Boats

zucchini boats

What an easy and fun looking recipe to try. To prep the zucchini all you need to do is cut it lengthwise and hollow it out. Then fill your boat with as much of the called-for-guts you desire and bake! The walnuts play nice with the zucchini’s subtle flavor while the breadcrumbs, garlic, and tomato give the dish a substantial savory side. You can also switch out the toppings; try a red onion with tomato or even add mushrooms. The possibilities are endless!

Crispy Parmesan Zucchini Chips

Zucchini Chips

For the frying fanatic — this healthier alternative is the perfect substitute for your usual potato chips. With a buttermilk batter, amped up with oregano and thyme, these panko plated zucchini chips are light enough to let your inner snack monster take the reigns. If you’re having friends over, gain some Guy Fieri cred and serve the cool Garlic Aioli dip as well and finish the plate with a shower of Parmesan or white cheddar shavings.

Sunny’s Spicy Baked Zucchini

sunny Squash
This side had my eye immediately. It calls for zucchini — my fav — and breadcrumbs — which are carbs and are also my fav — but also Hungarian paprika: a gentle but pronounced spicy kick in the mouth. If you aren’t one for fire but need something to stir up this veggie dish, I suggest smoked paprika which will give the zucchini a more robust profile sans the burning sensation.

Goat Cheese Grilled Zucchini

Goat Cheese Zucchini

This recipe screams summer — it’s super light and gives you an excuse to light up the grill. Grilling is such a fun pass time for me and I can’t wait to try this at my next patio party. A great gluten free and diet friendly option as it doesn’t require breadcrumbs (for any of the other recipes simply opt for GF breadcrumbs) or a heavy dressing. But don’t think that means that these veggies will be plain — the feta and herbs pack a powerful punch.

ZUKIES!

Zukies

Finally! What I have had you guys clawing at the edge of your chairs for since I started this post: cookies! With just a hair more then 65 calories apiece, these are worth trying. Trust me. The warm spices pair seamlessly with the brightness of the orange to hint at fall flavor while keeping to the current season. Take my advise and add carob chips.

If you’re a dedicated zucchini lover like myself, these recipes might give you some new spins and updates on your existing repertoire. However, if you’re a novice at this particular vegetable, these recipes are easy as pie and taste just as good. Try them all, or just try one (Zukies!) but be sure to tell us how it turned out.

It seems as though the whole staff here at Design Happens has zucchini fever. Norman just posted an incredible recipe for a Summer Veggie Sandwich and Kayla’s recipe list looks pretty great as well!

If you’re planning a barbecue, try this simple Zucchini-babes recipe!

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Grilled Vegetable Sandwich

If clear summer weather is in the forecast this weekend, consider entertaining off-site and host a picnic in the park. Round up a few friends and have everyone pitch in and bring components to create a fabulous meal. One person should bring sides (store bought or homemade — it doesn’t matter), another brings the fresh fruit and beverages, and another a main entree like fried chicken fingers. Finally, you arrive with this show stopping sandwich and a simple dessert, if desired. I recently pitched in hosting  a picnic in the park and created this grilled vegetable, mozzarella and prosciutto sandwich for the occasion. My friends dubbed it “The Symphony.” I’d like to think it was due to the delicious and harmonious taste of the sandwich, however, since our picnic was at an outdoor symphony performance, I think other factors were involved. Regardless of the name sake, it is a fantastic item to bring to your next gathering, whether indoors or out. Click to see the recipe and tips for packing up a portable outdoor meal.

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Hamburgers are on the menu for this week’s brand-new post, Food Trend Fridays. They’re a tried-and-true classic that never cease to satisfy the taste buds, a dish that flashes back to childhood and Fourth of July cookouts with the family. No matter what age you are, that first juicy bite is always one to savor.

The beauty of these handheld works of art is that they can take on almost any flavor profile — from the classic American to the new Umami-style burgers. Chicken, turkey and salmon have even found themselves between the bun, creating new flavor profiles and making this culinary mainstay even more adaptable. My personal favorite burger beef-up is the recent addition of a fried egg — breakfast is, after all, the best meal of the day. Bacon jam, which is even better than it sounds, is another addition that has been popping up on burger menus everywhere.

Remember: Father’s Day is right around the corner, which is the perfect excuse to stretch your burger-magination. I’ve wrangled up five tasty recipes that Dad is sure to love.

The “Bash Burger”

The Bash burger

This recipe gives the classic burger a spicy, Chinese kick with its use of Sriracha and Dijon mustard. It also employs the palette mystifying powers of bacon in a homemade jam that will add sophistication and a father-friendly taste to your dish.

More Juicy Burger Recipes to Try

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Lemon-Vanilla Custard

The finale of the Summer Entertaining Toolkit presents a sweet send off with Lemon-Vanilla Custard. This luxurious confection has the perfect balance of sweetness and richness. Think of it as refrigerator ice cream; a creamy, dreamy treat that tops a variety of ripe summer fruit and baked goods or is great, on its own, a spoonful at a time. [FYI, a few dollops of custard over sliced fresh bananas and vanilla wafers makes for one great tasting banana pudding as well!] This easy one-pot dessert comes together in no time and will delight your palate with its silky sweet taste.

The featured recipe will make about 8 servings depending on how much you decide to spoon on. A heaping tablespoon or two usually does the trick. However, it is easily doubled to serve twice the amount of individual servings or be used in a large trifle dish layered with fresh fruit and cubed pound cake to feed a crowd. Use ripe summer stone fruit like peaches, cherries, nectarines, and plums or fresh berries for the best results. Fresh cut melon is not a good choice to serve with this custard since they tend to water out when the custard is added, leading to a milky watery mess in the bottom of the serving bowl. Try the custard for breakfast, spooned over waffles or pancakes and topped with chopped fruit. Or smear on a piece of fresh pound cake for a quick dessert.

Overall, this recipe follows the same theme of versatility and customization as the other recipes included in my Summer Entertaining Toolkit. I hope this program has provided core recipes that you may incorporate into gatherings throughout the season. They all work together as a full menu, but try options where you break them out individually and compose a meal based around one or more. I encourage you to play and experiment with the menu to make it your own.

 Norm’s Notes: Canning Jars as Serveware

Canning jars offer a casual appeal in serving your menu and are cheap enough to be purchased in bulk when hosting a large number of guests. Use them for individual servings of dessert, green salad, or as holders for flatware on a buffet. My preference is for the wide-mouth variety because they are easy to fill and eat out of. I also use canning jars as holders for tea-light candles outdoors as they are sturdy enough to survive a slight wind gust without tipping. Place jars of varying heights and volumes to create mood lighting at the table or pack a few with fresh cut flowers for a simple centerpiece. Personally, I steer away from them when serving beverages since the screw top glass feels a bit unsophisticated, but if you like them for that purpose, go for it. A case of 12 wide mouth half-pints or pints costs around $12 to $15 and will serve you well over the year, whether as a container for banana pudding or quick table lantern.

Lemon-Vanilla Custard Trifle

Now, for the Recipe

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Meatballs with Sauce

If you have been reading the past two weeks, you now have a new summer cocktail and a go-to appetizer. Today, it’s time to get to the meat of the menu, literally. This installment of the Summer Entertaining Toolkit features an entree of rich pork meatballs. If this doesn’t strike you as an ideal summer main dish, let me explain the value. The key selling points to this recipe are ease of preparation and versatility of serving. Meatballs are not much work to assemble and can be cooked in advance of your gathering, then simply sauced and reheated when guests arrive. These specific mounds are bold in flavor and succulently juicy thanks to the rich fatty bacon and pungent herbs that pulse throughout. The combination of flavors are not only delicious on their own, but allow for easy pairing with a variety of sauces. Whether covered with a favorite red sauce, creamy garlicky white sauce, such as Alfredo, or Asian-style sweet and spicy red chili sauce, these meatballs compliment both savory and sweet tastes. Serving options are also customizable. Nestle the meatballs atop hot cooked pasta, grilled fresh vegetables, or hearty risotto and ferry to the table spread on a large platter, family style, or serve individually plated. Also, try slicing and layering them on fresh pizza dough spread with a spicy red sauce. Top with fresh mozzarella slices, then bake, grill, or broil to cook and crisp the dough and melt the cheese. Finish with a light covering of torn fresh basil leaves and freshly grated Parmesan. Any way you try them, they are a welcome departure from typical summer proteins and will give your guests a pleasant supper surprise.

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Sunflower Seed Pate

This week’s installation of the Summer Entertaining Toolkit has the hardware to impress guests on the first nibble. Sunflower Seed Pâté and Grilled Bread are your new all-star starters. If you haven’t touched sunflower seeds since your last handful of trail mix, I recommend trying them in this finely ground form. The earthy tasting seeds are mixed with fresh herbs, lemon, and a few golden raisins, to add a hint of sweetness, then cradled to your mouth on a crunchy, smoky piece of grilled bread. It doesn’t sound like much, but Grilled Bread should be put into the rotation as a staple appetizer carrier this season. It holds a variety of cheeses, spreads, and dips alike, is inexpensive, and easy to make indoors and out. I like to grill bread not only for its simplicity and taste, but also for a kind of “batting practice” for grilling season. Although one’s dedication to tending an outdoor fire in inclement weather varies, I would guess most folks probably haven’t used the grill much over the past 4 to 6 months. That much time away necessitates a tune up session. Grilling bread slices helps you get familiar with temperature zones and hot spots without running the risk of turning a 20 dollar rib-eye into a piece of carbon. A 2 buck baguette helps work out the kinks, preserving food from overcooking and letting you know how close you can get to the heat without having a case of burnt knuckles.

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Memorial Day Cocktails

I have pretty routine Memorial Day weekends year after year. I like to be by the water, whether it’s on a friend’s boat or at the pool. It doesn’t really matter which one (or both!), but I like to be feet away from some sort of cool-down option with a refreshing cocktail in hand. To me, there’s no better way to kick off summer. Here’s what I’ll be concocting over the break.

4 Refreshing Cocktails to Try

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I found out a little late that today is National Chocolate Chip Day which means I didn’t get to aggressively eat chocolate chips all day. (I can’t decide if that’s a good thing or a bad thing yet.) But it has given me plenty of time to browse some drool-inducing recipes for later. Tonight may be a dessert first kind of night. Here are my favorite picks, with first place going to the chocolate chip banana bread. That glaze — I can’t stop staring.

Chocolate Chip CookiesGanache-Dipped Chocolate Chip Cookies Recipe >>

Chocolate Chip Cheesecake BrowniesChocolate Chip Cheesecake Brownies Recipe >>

Chocolate Chip Banana BreadBanana Bread With Chocolate Chips and Chocolate Glaze Recipe >>

3 More Recipes!

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Baton Rouge

Since warm weather has returned and daylight has almost stretched to the maximum, summer entertaining is beginning to bloom. If you are dreaming of basking in the favorable temperatures and can’t wait to entertain friends and family with a seasonal gathering, then the Summer Entertaining Toolkit is for you. Over the next 4 weeks you’ll receive a full menu of recipes including a cocktail, appetizer, entree and dessert, that highlight the flavors of the season. Plus, I’ll have some techniques for dressing your table to beautifully accent the dishes. This week say hello to the Baton Rouge. Your new signature summer cocktail.

The most popular warm weather cocktails are often the simplest to make. The margarita, daiquiri, Cuba libre, and caipirinha all contain 3 to 4 ingredients, depending on the maker. The bubbly, sangria-like Baton Rouge is the product of a similar ideal. Choice ingredients of French aperitif wine, orange liqueur, sweetened lime juice and sparkling water combine to make this delightful drink. The cocktail is easily thrown together on a hot afternoon to make a single glass or fill a pitcher. (One bottle of Lillet makes 16 servings!).

Adding to the ease of crafting this drink, is the use of sweetened lime juice. I, unlike many of my mixologist friends, have no problem using this “well” bar staple. It provides advantages of a long shelf life and predictable tartness and sweetness, leading to consistent tasting cocktails. Plus, with limes costing nearly 3 metal George Washingtons apiece, I think having it on hand is not a bad idea.

Norm’s Notes: Stocking up on Glassware.

This drink is suitable for a variety of glasses, so it’s up to you on what to serve it in. A simple wine glass, double old fashioned (aka “DOF”), collins, or juice glasses are all acceptable. It’s helpful to take an inventory to make sure you have enough of the same style of glass to suit the amount of expected guests. If you are running low, or have a bunch of mismatch drink-ware, stop by an antique mall or estate sale and pick out a set of patterned beauties to add to your collection. They usually don’t cost much ($12 to $15 for a set of 6 is the max I’ll pay) so, I’ll often pick up a second set of a similar pattern or style so I have more glasses than needed. Knowing you have backups help ease the stress when the inevitable happens and one tumbles to the floor.

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Mother's Day Lunch

As handmade cards, floral perfumes, silk scarves, and mimosa filled afternoons are harvested by mothers around the country, I recommend flipping to the “B” side of the annual celebration record. Make plans to skip brunch and serve a delicious lunch instead. Try making this delightful menu composed of a soup, salad and open faced sandwich. It retains a lot of the delicious flavors of the standard holiday meal, just minus the eggs and syrup.

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Graduation party supplies: photo booth props, paper straws and class of 2014 burlap bannerTop: Photo booth props from CleverMartin | Bottom, left to right: Paper straws from Partysupplier4U, Burlap banner from TheRusticChicBtqe

You guys, today is so bitter-sweet.

It’s my last day interning with HGTV.com (nooooo, boo, hiss!), but on the bright side, I will officially be a college graduate in less than a week (woohoo!). Is this real life? How has it possibly already been four years since I graduated from high school? Regardless, I’m pretty excited about not having any more papers to write and for my family and friends to make the trip to my university and celebrate with me.

If you’re also gearing up for a grad party this month, consider these tips and tricks to make it an event the new alum will cherish forever.

Invitations:

  1. Download free printables from Snapfish.
  2. Create your own announcements and invites fairly cheaply on Zazzle.
  3. Purchase invitations from an Etsy shop.

 

Decor:

    1. Decorate an old mailbox and use it as a centerpiece. Have guests put their cards and money gifts in it to keep them all together.
    2. Arrange old photos of the grad in a fun way.
    3. Use streamers in their Alma Mater’s colors to amp up the ceiling decor.

 

Activities:

      1. Set up a DIY photobooth with props.
      2. Create a special hashtag and spread the word so you can easily find photos and tweets from the party on Instagram and Twitter later.
      3. Make paper grad caps and decorate them.

 

Food:

      1. Cupcakes are easier to serve than cake. Make DIY cupcake toppers using toothpicks and tiny paper diplomas, caps, etc.
      2. Serve finger sandwiches cut into grad caps and/or wraps using tortillas rolled up like diplomas.
      3. Tie ribbons around Swiss Cake Rolls to look like diplomas.
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I know a lot of people “dipped” into the guacamole and tequila early and celebrated Cinco de Mayo over the weekend, but it’s not too late to gather your friends and whip up a festive Monday night fiesta. Or you can simply make a batch of homemade fiesta-ready cocktails. Either one sounds good to me.

Mood Board Monday: Cinco de MayoTop, L to R: HGTV.com, HGTV.com, Domaine | Middle, L to R: Lulu the Baker, HGTV.com, Spoonflower | Bottom, L to R: HGTV.com, The Glitter Guide, HGTV.com

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

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Moms are the best. Show yours just how much she’s appreciated by making Mother’s Day all about her.

Mother's Day Tea Party

Host an outdoor afternoon tea party for the girls. Pull out the china, set the table and make a spread of decadent sweets fit for a spring soiree. Get inspired >>

Mother's Day Lunch

Celebrate moms of all generations. Invite family over for a vintage-inspired lunch to celebrate Mom, Grandma and Great-Grandma. Display family heirlooms to set the perfect tone for honoring moms from past to present. Get inspired >>

More Ideas She’ll Love

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The start of May is one of my favorite times of year. To me, it means warmer weather, beach vacations with a drink in hand and pedicures. So, what’s the best way to kickstart the month? Cinco de Mayo, of course! For many of us, this holiday revolves around eating and drinking — mainly guacamole and margaritas. (Who’s with me?) Shake it up a bit this year with one of our unique takes on the classics. First up: margaritas!

Sol de Flare Margarita
If you like it hot, then this cocktail is for you — it features pepper-infused tequila. Muy caliente!

Sol de Flare Cocktail

Get the Full Recipe Here>>

Try More Cinco de Mayo Recipes

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We’re one day away from Derby Day at Churchill Downs, and those not heading to Louisville, Ky. are likely prepping their kitchen with mint leaves and bourbon. (Get our perfect recipe for a homemade mint julep.) But, if you’re looking for a more modern twist on this signature drink, then try out some of these fun and refreshing concoctions.

Blueberry Mint Julep Ice Pop

Recipe by Andrea Correale

Blueberry Mint Julep Ice Pops

Get the recipe here >>

More Kentucky Derby Recipes

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DIY Wood Coaster

As spring and summer approach, my inner hostess is starting to mentally plan some fun and festive get-togethers that say “yes” to all things spring. Bright colors, outdoor activities and light food are in order. Let’s kick this winter gloom to the curb and break out the multicolored dishware! I think some handmade details are needed, right? How about some DIY coasters where nature and bright party colors collide? I can get on board with any craft that turns a dead stick into a fancy coaster.

DIY Wood Coasters

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I may have technically outgrown an Easter basket in my family circle, but that doesn’t mean I don’t spoil myself with bag(s) of candy. But then, of course, my eyes are bigger than my stomach and I’m left with loads of leftover Milky Ways, Cadbury Creme Eggs, jelly beans and Peeps just staring at me. Before, my solution was to pawn it all off on other people, but these ideas are much, much better.

Cadbury Egg Cupcake Recipe

Cadbury Egg-Stuffed Cupcakes: I literally have ZERO words to describe this. Except that I can’t stop looking at it, and I want it right now. GET THE RECIPE HERE >>

Butterscotch Bird Nests Recipe

Butterscotch Bird Nests: Sweeten pretzels with a yummy butterscotch coating, then top with chocolate eggs. They’re adorable and delicious! GET THE RECIPE HERE >>

Easter Bunny Bark Recipe

Easter Bunny Bark: Take all your leftover Easter candy, crush it up and turn it into a mouthwatering dessert that’s perfect for packaging as spring gifts … or hoarding. I choose the latter, personally. GET THE RECIPE HERE >>

Candy Bar Blondies Recipe

Candy Bar Blondies: Use your favorite leftover candy bars (assuming there are any left) to make these quick and easy blondie bars. They’re gooey, chewy and oh-so-chocolate-y. GET THE RECIPE HERE >>

Peep Smores Recipe

Peeps S’mores: Turn those leftover chickies into candy-colored s’mores in seconds. GET THE RECIPE HERE >>

Jellybean Cocktail Recipe

The Jelly Bean Cocktail: Here’s a grown-up way to enjoy a classic Easter candy. Plus, you can create all the colors of the rainbow by substituting various liqueurs. (Vodka, Midori and sour mix will create a nice shade of green, for example.) GET THE RECIPE HERE >>

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My favorite Easter activities include decorating eggs, filling baskets with yummy treats and surprises, and my all-time favorite  — eating brunch with my family. Whether you’re hosting an extravagant brunch or making a simple meal for your family, we have easy, sweet and savory recipes that will please even your pickiest of guests.

Hatching Chick Egg

Great for the kids’ table, transform an ordinary hard-boiled egg into an adorable hatching chick.

How to Make a Hatching Chick Egg

Get the Full Recipe Here>>

Flatbread Pizza With Eggs, Tomatoes and Arugula

This healthy, protein-packed flatbread is a perfect main course for brunch.

Brunch Flatbread

Get the Full Recipe Here>>

Carrot Cake Cookies

Spread the cream cheese frosting between two cookies to make a sandwich. Just do it, trust me.

Carrot Cake Cookies

Get the Full Recipe Here>>

Ham and Cheese Breakfast Casserole

You can assemble this casserole the night before, giving you more time to spend Easter Sunday with your family.

Ham and Cheese Quiche

Get the Full Recipe Here>>

Easter Egg Cookies

I’m obviously on a cookie kick. These are so easy to make — just bake your favorite cookie recipe and place dyed shredded coconut and egg-shaped candy on top.

Easter Egg Cookies

What are your favorite Easter recipes?

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