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Monthly Archives: June 2013

There’s an app for that!


Please join Vicki and me in welcoming our good friend and guest blogger, Andrea, who has been kind enough to share her experience with a great app, Grocery IQ:

You’ve probably sent or received invitations through Evite or Punchbowl and we’ve all used internet websites like and to find awesome recipes, but did you know that there are hundreds of apps that can help you with every step of your simple celebration?  From menu planning to grocery shopping, guest lists to playlists, your smart phone can tackle the big jobs for you.  Some of the best apps are free!

I can’t live without Grocery IQ.  Making a shopping list just couldn’t be easier.  Running low on mayo? Type ‘mayo’, say ” mayonnaise” or scan the bar code on the jar and mayonnaise appears on your list.  You can add details like quantity and the app will offer coupons for items on your list.  Grocery IQ organizes your list by aisles and let’s you rearrange the aisles to mirror the floor plan of your store.  You can keep a list of favorite items to streamline the process further.  And it isn’t just for groceries – you can make a shopping list for each store you visit.  I keep a list for Home Depot and one for Target, too.  What’s more, the app syncs across all your devices so that the whole family can access the list.  Grocery IQ even provides email and printing options.  Amazingly, this app is free.

Elegant Dinner for Four – Now a Simple Salad


Many times salad is served as a separate course from the main meal.  It is certainly a matter personal preference, but we enjoy having the salad at the same time as the meal.  This enables the hostess to enjoy his/her meal without having to get up to clear the salad plates and then serve the entree.  Everyone enjoys the simple celebration together!

The following recipe serves four:

  • 10 oz. container of fresh spring greens
  • Avocado
  • 4 oz. fresh shaved parmesan (use a potato peeler to get a nice thin slice)
  • 1/4 c. good quality olive oil
  • 1 T. good quality balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and fresh ground pepper

Peel the avocado and cut into 4 equal pieces.  Leave one end of the avocado intact.  With a sharp knife cut two slits in the avocado lengthwise.  Place on plate and fan out.

Put lettuce in a large bowl and season with salt & pepper.  Whisk together the oil and vinegar, sprinkle over lettuce and toss.  Fill each plate with lettuce and add shaved parmesan to each serving.

Fresh Corn and Asparagus – A Great Summer Side Dish

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A great summer side dish, this fresh corn and asparagus recipe will complement your simple, but elegant celebration!

  • One bunch or one pound of asparagus, trimmed
  • 4 ears of fresh corn, shucked
  • 1/3 c. chopped red onion
  • 1 T. olive oil
  • 1 T. butter
  • 2 T. fresh chopped basil
  • 2 T. fresh dill and/or chives
  • 1/4 t. red chili flakes
  • Salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste

Cut each asparagus stalk into three equal pieces.  Put asparagus in a large frying pan with enough water to almost cover.  Boil for a few minutes until fork can pierce the asparagus, but still remains crisp.  Drain the water (you can do this several hours in advance).

Add olive oil, butter, red onion, red pepper flakes, salt, pepper and corn to pan and saute on low for several minutes.  Add fresh herbs and stir for 30 seconds.

Twice Baked Potatoes

Serve these twice baked potatoes along with our filet recipe and your simple, yet elegant, celebration will be delicious!

  • 4 Idaho baking potatoes (large)
  • 1 T. minced fresh dill
  • 1 T. minced fresh chives
  •  1/2 c. Creme Fraiche
  • 1 T. butter
  • Milk (1/4 c. +)
  • 1/2 c. grated sharp cheddar cheese
  • 3 chopped green onions (scallions)
  • Kosher salt (or seasoned salt)
  • Freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 400℉.  Wash potatoes, spear a few times with a fork, and bake for one hour or until you can easily insert a fork into the potato.  Remove potatoes from oven and let cool, slightly.

Mix together the creme fraiche and the fresh herbs in a small bowl.

Cut a large oval in the top of each potato and remove the “oval” skin.  Using a tablespoon, remove the inside of the potato, leaving the skin intact.  Put in a medium bowl and mash (using a hand potato masher).  Add all of the rest of the ingredients and mash until you achieve your desired consistency.  Add more milk if you want less dense potatoes.

Put potato mixture back in the potato shell and top each potato with a little more grated cheese.  These potatoes can be made earlier in the day and refrigerated.  Take the potatoes out of the refrigerator about 30 minutes before baking.  Bake at 350℉ for 40 minutes.

Elegant Dinner for Four – First the Filet

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Some simple celebrations call for a “fancier” fare.  Almost everyone enjoys a tender, mouth-watering steak from time to time.  Impress your friends and family with this menu that is elegant, yet so simple to create!

  • 2 pound tenderloin roast (or 4 8-ounce filets)


  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 T. lemon juice, freshly squeezed
  • 2 T. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 t. freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 t. kosher salt


  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 1 T. chopped fresh chives
  • 2 T. fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 t. hot chili pepper oil or Tobasco
  • 1/2 t. kosher salt
  • 1/4 t. freshly ground pepper

You will note by the ingredients above, that the marinade and the sauce have very similar ingredients.  Get two bowls, one for the marinade and one for the sauce – just be sure to keep them straight.  Combine all ingredients for marinade and sauce and whisk together.

Place the filet in either a glass baking dish or a Ziplock bag and pour marinade over meat.  Refrigerate for 4 hours, redistributing marinade each hour.

Place sauce in the refrigerator and take out about an hour before serving, to get it to room temperature.

Take the meat out of the refrigerator one hour prior to grilling.

Preheat a barbecue grill to medium high. Turn down to medium.  Remove meat from marinade and grill turning occasionally.  Grill meat until an instant thermometer reads 120 degrees F for medium-rare.  Let meat sit for 5 minutes before slicing.  (Helpful hint:  If you own a warming tray, you can barbecue meat an hour in advance and cook until temperature reaches 110 degrees.  Place meat in warming tray and it should be the right temperature when you are ready to slice).

Place meat on plate and pour some sauce over meat.  Serve the rest of the sauce in a gravy boat or pretty bowl on the table.

Crowd Pleasing Breakfast Casserole


We have been making this breakfast casserole recipe for our families for years.  Whether it is a holiday morning, or a hungry sleepover crowd, this will fill up your crew and keep them coming back for more.  It truly helps your celebration become simple, because you prepare it the night before.   If  you have any left over, simply pop it in the microwave for a couple minutes and enjoy all over again.

  • 20 pieces sandwich bread (decrusted)
  • 10 oz. shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 10 oz. shredded Swiss cheese
  • 14 to 16 oz. diced ham (for non-meat eaters, leave a corner without ham)
  • 6 eggs, slightly beaten
  • 3 c. milk
  • 1/2 t. onion salt
  • 1/2 t. dry mustard
  • 3 c. crushed cornflakes
  • 1/2 c. melted butter

Butter a 9 x 13 inch pan.  Place half of the bread in the bottom of the pan.  Cover with half of the ham and cheeses.  Repeat the layers.  Mix together the milk, eggs, and seasonings and pour over the casserole. Cover pan with aluminum foil and refrigerate overnight.

In the morning, preheat the oven to 375 ℉. Melt the butter in microwave or stovetop, add cornflakes and stir.  Sprinkle mixture over casserole.   Place casserole, lightly covered with aluminum foil in oven and bake for 50-60 minutes.  Let stand 10 minutes before serving.  Serves 8.

Homemade Crunchy Granola

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This homemade granola recipe calls for a minimum of sweeteners, thereby making it much healthier than any store-bought variety.  Vicki likes hers with Greek yogurt and fresh berries and Mary-Ellen has hers in a bowl with milk.  This recipe should last about a month.  After the granola cools, simply put it in air-tight freezer containers.  When you are ready to eat, just scoop out what your serving – no need to thaw it out. This recipe also makes a perfect gift.   Make someone’s breakfast a simple celebration by giving it as holiday present, to a new neighbor,  an elderly friend or family member, or to a new mother – simply put it in a pretty glass jar or just in a clear bag with a bow and away you go!!

    • 5 cups Quaker old fashion oats
    • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened coconut
    • 2 cups of your favorite flake cereal – such as Special K
    • 1 cup raw sunflower seeds
    • 1 cup slivered almonds
    • 1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
    • 1/4 cup brown sugar
    • 2 t. ground ginger
    • 2 t. allspice
    • 1 T. cinnamon
    • 1/3 cup canola oil
    • 3/4 cup pure maple syrup
    • 2 t. vanilla extract
    • 2 cups dried cherries, cranberries or craisins
    • 1 cup chopped dried apricots

Preheat oven to 300 ℉.  Position 2 racks in bottom and middle of oven.  Using two pans as your mixing bowl (a large cookie sheet with sides and/or a 11 x 13 inch pan), divide the ingredients between the pans up to the cinnamon.  Mix these ingredients with a metal spatula.  Add to each pan the oil, maple syrup and vanilla and stir.  Finally add the fruit and stir one final time.  Place the pans/sheets on the oven shelves.  Bake for a total of 35 minutes, stirring each 10 minutes.  Remove from oven – stir one final time.  Let cool and store in air tight containers.  Freeze up to two months.

Panna Cotta Dessert With An American Twist

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“How about we post Panna Cotta for a dessert recipe,” Vicki asked.  I replied, “A what?  That doesn’t even sound like food.”  And there you have it, Vicki’s knowledge and experience in all things food are far superior to not only me, but I believe to most everyday cooks as well.  Here’s the good news – everything she makes is not only delicious, but usually low calorie and very easy to make.  So let’s trust her on this one …

This Italian “cream” dessert is only 170 calories per serving.  By adding strawberries and blueberries, it will make a great 4th of July simple celebration dessert.  More good news –  it is easy to make and can be done the night before.

  • 6 cups hulled and halved strawberries
  • 2 cups blueberries
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 1/4 cups 1% milk
  • 3/4 cup whipping cream (not heavy whipping cream)
  • 1 1/2 envelopes unflavored gelatin
  • 1 t. vanilla extract
  • 8 ramekins

Puree 3 cups of strawberries in a food processor. In batches, put puree in a strainer and push through as much juice as possible.  Save juice and discard seeds.

Whisk together the sugar, milk, and cream in a medium sauce pan.  Sprinkle the gelatin over the mixture and let sit for about 10 minutes.  Turn heat on very low and whisk mixture just until gelatin dissolves, about 10 minutes.  Do not boil mixture.  Remove from heat and stir in strawberry juice and vanilla.  Divide mixture among the 8 ramekins and refrigerate over night or at least 6 hours.

In a separate bowl, mix together the remaining 3 cups of strawberries and the blueberries.  You can add a little honey, if desired.

Remove ramekins from refrigerator and put in a “bath” of hot water (about 1 inch) for 20 seconds which will help loosen the panna cotta.  Turn upside down on a plate and surround with the strawberries and blueberries.


Rice Pilaf – The Perfect Starch


This yummy side dish is a fantastic addition to any meal over and over again.  Leftovers?  No problem, just microwave for a couple of minutes (stirring after one minute).  The chives, cheese, and pine nuts are optional, but “step up” this rice dish into something special for your simple celebration.

  • 1 1/2 c. Basmati or Jasmine rice
  • 3 c. water
  • 2 bouillon cubes
  • 2 t. olive oil
  • salt & fresh ground pepper
  • 1/4 c. snipped chives (optional)
  • 1/2 c. grated parmesan cheese (optional)
  • 1/3 c. roasted pine nuts (optional)

Heat olive oil over medium-high heat in a medium saucepan.  Add rice and stir constantly for about 1 minute.  Add water and bouillon cubes then stir.  When water boils, turn heat to low and cover saucepan.  Cook about 15 minutes on gas stove (20 on electric), stirring occasionally until water is absorbed.  Remove from heat and add salt and pepper to taste (you can make rice up to this point and leave covered for about 15 minutes).  Stir in chives, parmesan cheese, and pine nuts if desired.  Serves 6-8.

Healthy Black Bean Salad


This versatile side dish is a great accompaniment to our pork tenderloin recipe.  Not only is it tasty, but also healthy and low-calorie.  Looking for something different to serve for lunch?  Make this dish your main course along with thick sliced Cuban bread.  Enjoy and remember to make every meal a simple celebration!

  • 2 cans black beans (15 oz. each)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 t. cumin
  • 1/4 t. chipolte or regular chili powder
  • 3/4 c. feta cheese
  • 1 tomato, chopped
  • 2 scallions thinly sliced
  • 1 avocado, cubed

Drain one of the cans of beans and place in a sauce pan.  Add the other can, undrained.  Add garlic, chili powder and cumin.  Heat through.  Add the remainder of the ingredients and serve warm.

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