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Monthly Archives: July 2013

Using Technology to Plan Your Simple Celebration

While Vicki is away and Mary-Ellen is in bed with a sinus infection, our friend and guest blogger, Andrea, is filling in with web site suggestions for managing event dates, guest lists, seating charts, etc.   Thanks, Andrea!  And by the way, if you have a favorite recipe or entertaining tip you would like to share with our followers, just contact us at and we will be happy to have you as a guest blogger.

Say it with me –

“Technology is my friend.” When it comes to keeping celebrations simple, at least, it is very true.  Need help planning and managing your guest list?  Tired of shuffling seating charts around?  There’s an app for that!  And there’s a really useful website to help you coordinate dates with your guests to find the one that works best.  Let’s start there. lets you offer a choice of dates to your guests.  You select the dates that work for you and add the email addresses of the guests you want to invite.  Your guests will tell you when they’re available and you’ll get a chart that shows which dates are best for which guests.  It’s free and has a mobile app that does all the same things.  It’s great for coordinating  meetings, book clubs, dinner clubs – any time you want to pick the best date for a group.  A cheap upgrade gets rid of the ads.

Guest List Organizer is a nice app for tracking your RSVP’s and whether your guests are bringing guests.  It coordinates across all platforms and allows you to generate reports using a number of different parameters including RSVP status, name, attendance, etc.  The upgraded version allows you to add a lot of information about your guests including job title and contact info; the kind of information that would be helpful in a business or fundraising setting.

Wedding Guest List is part of a bigger package of wedding planning apps.  It handles many of the same functions and also offers wedding planning advice along the way.

GuestPlanner (free) generates a visual seating chart and lets you track important guest information such as food allergies or special needs like wheelchair access or high chairs.

Friday Night Fettuccine Salad with Arugula and Prosciutto

Fettuccine Salad with Arugula, and Prosciutto

Fettuccine Salad with Arugula, and Prosciutto

It’s Friday night, so let’s have a simple celebration!  This recipe is more than easy to follow and is a one-dish, healthy and colorful meal.  Serve along with crusty bread and how about a nice bottle of full-bodied Chardonnay to ease into the weekend – good idea!

  • 1/2 cup good quality olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons champagne or white wine vinegar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 crushed garlic clove
  • 8 ounces fettucine
  • 1/3 pound of thinly sliced prosciutto
  • 4 ounces arugula
  • 1/2 cup sliced roasted red pepper
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 6 hard-boiled eggs, roughly chopped
  • 1 avocado, sliced
  • Kosher salt & freshly ground pepper

To make the vinaigrette, whisk the olive oil, vinegar, mustard, garlic, salt and fresh ground pepper in a small bowl.  Set aside.

Preheat oven to 400℉.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Place prosciutto in a single layer and bake until crisp.  Break into medium-sized pieces.  Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook pasta according to directions.  Drain, return the pasta to the pot and mix in 7 tablespoons of the vinaigrette.  Add salt and pepper to taste and stir.

Add the arugula, red pepper and Parmesan cheese to the pasta and stir. Then add 1/2 the eggs and 1/2 the prosciutto and mix thoroughly.

Place the salad on 4-6 dinner plates and top with the remaining eggs, prosciutto, avocado and freshly ground pepper.  Serve remaining vinaigrette in a gravy bowl.

Make Ahead Side Dish – Asparagus or Green Beans


Serve this side dish at your next Simple Celebration along with our pretzel chicken, pork tenderloin, or filet recipes listed on our entree page.  The recipe below is for asparagus, but green beans are also awesome!!

  • 2 bunches of asparagus
  • Olive Oil
  • 2 T. of fresh herbs, such as chives, basil, dill, and/or rosemary
  • Kosher salt
  • Fresh ground pepper
  • 1/4 c. fresh grated parmesan cheese

The easiest way to prepare the asparagus is to take about 4 stalks in your hand and bend, until it snaps. Put asparagus in a large fry pan with enough water to cover about half the asparagus. Bring water to boil and cook for several minutes – until you can spear the asparagus but it still remains firm. Drain water. You can do this step up to several hours before finishing the dish.

Put olive oil in the pan with the drained asparagus. Saute asparagus until slightly browned and warm. Add herbs and salt and pepper to taste. Place on a pretty platter and top with parmesan cheese.

Pretzel Chicken Strips

Pretzel Chicken Strips

Pretzel Chicken Strips

This is one of those recipes.  A recipe where whenever or wherever it is served, people must have it.  Maybe it’s the crunch of the pretzel coating, or the tenderness of the chicken, or the delicious flavor combinations of the mustard sauce, but it is a 100% crowd pleaser.

One of the pluses of this dish is that it is served at room temperature.  Make ahead of your simple celebration, refrigerate, and take out 1 – 1 1/2 hours before serving.  This recipe is an awesome dish for a dinner buffet of 20-25 or as dinner entrée for ten.

  • 8 chicken breasts, skinless & boneless
  • 1/2 pound hard pretzels (such as Snyder’s homestyle)
  • 2 cups panko bread crumbs
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 2 teaspoons dried basil
  • 1 cup whole-grained mustard
  • 1/4 cup honey Dijon mustard
  • 1 cup canola oil
  • 6 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • Parsley, for garnish

Preheat oven to 400℉.  Cut the chicken breasts into about 6 strips per breast.  Pulse the pretzels in a food processor, leaving some medium-sized chunks.  Mix together the pretzels, panko, oregano and basil.

In a separate bowl, mix together the mustards, canola oil, vinegar and water.

Reserve half of the mustard sauce for serving with the chicken.  Dip each chicken strip in remaining mustard sauce and coat completely with pretzel mixture.

Line cookie sheets with foil or parchment paper.  Place strips on cookie sheet spaced about 2 inches apart.  Bake for 15-20 minutes.

Put chicken on a large platter garnished with parsley.  Serve the reserved sauce in a pretty gravy boat.

A Simple Celebration – Learning and Freezing

Mary-Ellen, Vicki, and the Chocolate Whisk

Mary-Ellen, Vicki, and the Chocolate Whisk

Greetings from the Food and Wine Conference in Orlando!   Vicki and I are having an awesome time learning about social media, cookbook writing, marketing, and much more.  The down side of attending this conference is the fact that the conference room is set at 60 degrees – our teeth are literally chattering.

Everyday Simple Celebration Desserts


After a wonderful simple celebration dinner, sometimes a quick, light dessert works best for everyone.  Having footed, glass dessert bowls on hand ensures not only a nice presentation, but allows for a wide variety of dessert options.  The bowls pictured above can be purchased at Crate and Barrel.

Suggestions for dessert include gelato or ice cream with biscotti (we like Nonni’s) or a thin sugar cookie.  Fresh berries with whipped cream and a sprig of mint are delicious.  How about Skip’s favorite, vanilla bean ice cream, sliced fresh strawberries and vanilla whipped cream (beat heavy cream with a small amount of sugar and vanilla extract).

Another idea is to scoop out ice cream and form into balls.  Freeze on a wax-paper lined cookie sheet.  After about a half hour, roll each ball in your favorite topping – coconut, toffee chips, M&M’s, crushed Oreo cookies, shaved chocolate, the sky’s the limit!  Refreeze for another half hour and serve.

A Perfect Dinner Salad For 2 or 20

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You will love serving this salad at your next simple celebration.  Feel free to substitute shrimp or sliced flank steak for the chicken.  These ingredients are per plate/person.   Serve salad with a nice baguette or pumpkin or zucchini bread.

  • Spring Mix
  • Roasted Red Peppers – 6 strips
  • Avocado – 1/4 per plate cut into 3 to 4 slices
  • Deviled Eggs – 2 (see recipe on previous blog)
  • Candied Nuts
  • Wedge of Brie cheese
  • Wedge of Manchego cheese
  • Grilled Chicken Breast (grill seasoned with salt and pepper or nice poultry season mix) 1/2 breast per plate
  • Champagne or Pinot Gris Vinegar
  • Good Quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Salt and Fresh Ground Pepper

Fill each plate with spring mix lettuce.  Group other ingredients, except chicken on plate.  Slice chicken breast and place in the middle of the plate.  Whisk together the vinegar and olive oil (oil should be 4 times the amount of vinegar.)  Season with salt & pepper.  Serve with a nice Sauvignon Blanc.

Foolproof Deviled Eggs


This deviled egg recipe is not only a foolproof appetizer, it is also used as an accompaniment to our Perfect Dinner Salad (separate blog).   The method of boiling the eggs is what makes this recipe foolproof.  By turning off the heat after one minute of boiling, you get a perfect boiled egg every time.  Throw a few extra in the pan for egg salad or a hard-boiled egg snack.

  • 4 eggs
  • 1 T. mayo
  • 1 t. dijon mustard
  • 1 T. pickle relish
  • 1 T. red onion, diced
  • Salt & fresh ground pepper
  • Paprika

Place eggs in a sauce pan and cover  with cold water.  Turn heat on high and bring eggs to a boil.  Boil for one minute.  Cover the pan, turn off heat and let eggs sit for 13 minutes.  After 13 minutes, drain the water and place cold water over eggs.  Let sit for a few minutes, then drain.

Once eggs are cool, cut in half and place yolks in a medium size bowl.  Mash the yolks.  Add remaining ingredients and stir until smooth.  Place mixture back into the egg whites and top with a sprinkling of paprika.

Aussie Shrimp & Avocado

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Credit for this outstanding dish goes to Vicki’s Australian friend, Paula, who is an awesome cook.  Paula made this dish while Vicki was visiting “down under.”  This dish has been served at many a simple celebration.

  • 2 lbs. medium to large shrimp, peeled (leaving tails) and deveined
  • 4 Garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 Cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 Tablespoon chopped fresh dill
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoon drained capers
  • Salt (such as Australian Pink Salt or Cyprus White Flake Salt)*
  • Fresh ground pepper
  • 1 Avocado, diced
  • Good quality Italian olive oil

Heat 2 – 3 Tablespoons olive oil in a large fry pan.  Add shrimp and garlic and cook until just done (the shrimp will turn pink and curl).  Once cooked put it in a medium bowl and let cool slightly.  Add parsley, capers, and dill.  Stir to combine and add salt and pepper to taste.  Add enough olive oil to moisten the dish (this can be done early in the day).  About 1/2 hour before serving, remove dish from refrigerator and let come to room temperature.  Add avocado.  You may need to add additional olive oil.

Serve with rice pilaf, a simple salad (recipes are on our side dish page) and a baguette.  This dish goes well with a nice, crisp Chardonnay.

Serves 6

* William-Sonoma sells a salt trio pictured below.  They make a huge difference to any dish you prepare.|salts|52|best|0|viewall|24||5&cm_src=PRODUCTSEARCH||NoFacet-_-NoFacet-_-Feature_Recipe_Rule-_-

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The Buffet Table Decoded

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A large dinner buffet at your home does not have to overwhelm!  Having basic party essentials on hand ensures a well-functioning, simple buffet celebration.   Purchase white dinner plates and you will save a ton of money otherwise spent on buying paper party goods.  Yes, it does mean that you will have more dishes to clean, but party guests are always willing to help out – you just have to let them!

Some reasonably priced, white dinner plates can be found at the following Pier One web site:,default,pd.html?cgid=dinnerware

Because your plates are basic, use napkins, table linens and decorations to define your theme or holiday celebration.

Set your buffet up on the dining room table.  If you are having more than 30 people, we recommend having two platters of each dish available.  If you need to use your dining room table for seating, set up the buffet in the kitchen.

Below is a listing of basic essentials you will need for a buffet of 20 people:

  • 25 white dinner plates
  • 25 salad plates – collect various styles
  • 25 forks, knives and spoons
  • silverware holder
  • 25 cloth napkins
  • 6-8 clear tealight holders
  • 8 large serving platters
  • 3 large serving bowls
  • 1 large salad bowl
  • 1 to 2 bread baskets
  • Variety of serving utensils – pie servers, tongs and large spoons (wooden are nice)
  • Gravy boat or sauce bowl with ladle
  • Salt & pepper Shakers
  • Vase for fresh flowers
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