A 65th Birthday Bash

by Michelle on February 2, 2014

My mother-in-law, Eileen, turned 65 on January 28th and since I love any chance to throw a party, I have been thinking about how we would mark the occasion for months now. Eileen has always said that she considers her girlfriends like family so I thought hosting a girls’ lunch in her honor would be the perfect way to fete her. I enlisted my sister-in-law Lauren’s help and we got to work.

Since it is the middle of winter (and an extremely cold one at that) I wanted the menu to be all about comfort food that warms the belly. And what better than soup, especially the butternut squash soup with coconut milk that Christie made for us back in October? I added in a broccoli quiche that’s always a hit, a hearty salad full of dried cranberries, slivered almonds and crumbled blue cheese and, when I saw these football sandwiches on Saveur.com, I decided we needed to add those to the menu as well. (It’s the Italian in me who always fears that people will leave hungry.) And I’m glad I did because they were a huge hit! We also served a festive ginger pineapple punch and finished the day with carrot cake and cookies since you’re never too old for cookies and milk!

Aren’t these little goodie bags super cute? I found them on Etsy in a shop called The Shindiggity Shoppe. The cookies and milk sign was made by Ashley at Paper Dime Design.

Since we were celebrating a milestone birthday, I wanted the decor to reflect a “This is your life” theme. My father-in-law graciously let me comb through old photo albums in search of pictures from different stages of Eileen’s life. I displayed them with twine and craft clothespins and also in frames on the tables.

Here is the birthday girl and some of her ladies.

A good time was had by all. And let’s not forget the food! Below are recipes for the dishes we served. A big thank you to everyone who celebrated with us! (And a special shout out to those of you who did all of my dishes when the party was over.) We love you, Eileen!

Football Sandwiches (from Saveur.com)

Makes 8 sandwiches

8 individual white dinner rolls (I used Trader Joe’s poppy seed twisted rolls)

12 ounces sliced Swiss cheese

9 ounces thinly sliced honey ham

1 stick  butter, melted

2 tablespoons prepared mustard, preferably spicy brown or Dijon

2 tablespoons poppy seeds

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

Slice the rolls in half using a serrated knife, and arrange bottom halves of rolls in a large casserole dish. Arrange a layer of cheese on top, followed by a layer of ham. Cover with the tops of the rolls.

In a small bowl, whisk together melted butter, mustard, poppy seeds, and Worcestershire sauce until well combined. Drizzle the sauce evenly over the tops of the sandwiches, cover the pan with aluminum foil and allow to sit for at least 30 minutes, or overnight. Bake in a 350° oven for 20-25 minutes, until the cheese is melted and the sandwiches are warmed through. Slice between the rolls, and serve warm or at room temperature.

Ginger Pineapple Punch (from Epicurious.com)

Serves 10 (I doubled the recipe)

For ginger syrup

1 1/2 cups water

1 cup sugar

1 cup thinly sliced unpeeled fresh ginger (1/4 lb; from two 5-inch-long pieces)

For punch

3 cups unsweetened pineapple juice, chilled

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (3 to 5 lemons)

1/4 cup fresh lime juice (4 to 6 limes)

3 cups sparkling water, chilled

4 cups ice cubes

Make ginger syrup:
Bring water, sugar, and ginger to a boil in a 1- to 1 1/2-quart saucepan, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, 10 minutes, then remove from heat and steep, uncovered, 15 minutes. Pour syrup through a sieve into a bowl, discarding ginger. Chill, covered, until cold, about 2 hours.

Make punch:
Stir together ginger syrup and fruit juices in a punch bowl or pitcher. Stir in sparkling water and ice.

Note: ginger syrup will keep in a covered container for 2 weeks in the fridge.

Broccoli Quiche

1 pound of frozen broccoli, thawed and chopped (I used Trader Joe’s organic broccoli florets)

1/2 of a large onion, chopped

1/2 cup shredded cheese (I used a cheddar, Monterey Jack, mozzarella blend)

1/2 cup sunflower oil

2 cups homemade Bisquick (recipe below)

4 large eggs

1/2 teaspoon salt

Freshly cracked pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Stir to combine.  Pour into a 9 x 13 inch baking dish and sprinkle with pepper. Bake for 30 minutes. Serve warm.

Homemade Bisquick (adapted from Fat Girl in a Skinny Body)

Makes about 4 cups

1/2 cup all purpose flour

2 cups white whole wheat flour

3 tablespoons baking powder

1 tablespoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter cold

Mix together flours, baking powder, sugar and salt in a medium bowl. Cut in the cold butter using a pastry blender Mix the butter and flour mix until the butter is in small balls and is coated in the flour. Store in the fridge or freezer. (Mix will last in the fridge until the expiration date on the butter).

Sweet Onion Dip (from Brown Eyed Baker)

8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature

1 cup mayonnaise

1 cup small diced sweet onion

1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano

1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a medium bowl, stir together the cream cheese, mayonnaise,

onion, cheese and black pepper until completely combined.  Transfer to a small baking dish and bake until the top is deep golden brown, 45 to 55 minutes. Serve hot with baguette slices, crackers, pretzels or tortilla chips.

Butternut Squash Soup with Coconut Milk (adapted from The Shrinking Hubby)

1 large butternut squash, about 3-4 pounds, peeled and cubed

4 cups of low-sodium chicken broth

1/2 tablespoon of coconut oil


Sea salt and cracked pepper

1 large yellow onion, chopped

1/2 can of light coconut milk, adding more to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Put the cubed squash on a baking tray and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and cinnamon and let roast for about 40 minutes or until fork tender.

When the squash is ready, heat the coconut oil in a large, heavy bottomed sauce pan. Add the onion and a sprinkle of salt and saute until the onion softens. Add the squash and the stock, bring to a boil and then simmer for about 30 minutes. Allow the soup to cool. When ready to serve, put it back on the heat, give it a few blasts with your immersion blender  or ladle it in small batches into your blender and add the coconut milk to taste.


Swiss Chard and Sausage with Quinoa Pasta

by Michelle on January 24, 2014

I was at Trader Joe’s a couple of weeks ago, perusing the pasta aisle, when I came across brown rice and quinoa pasta. This intrigued me because I am a huge fan of quinoa and wondered what it would taste like in pasta form. I only bought one bag, just in case it didn’t hold up in the taste department, but I should have bought more (isn’t that always the case?) because it’s delicious! And very satisfying. And gluten-free for those of you who can’t or don’t eat gluten. But I am getting ahead of myself.

The other night as I was thinking about what to make for dinner, I remembered that I had a bunch of Swiss chard in the crisper. It was looking a little wilted but a quick bath in ice water brought it back to life. (This really works! Soak wilted greens in ice water for several minutes and then pat them dry with a paper towel.) I also had Trader Joe’s chicken sausage, olives, chick peas and capers. A meal was coming together in my mind.

Swiss chard is super easy to make. All you need to do is saute it in broth or water with a little garlic for extra flavor and boom it’s done. I don’t usually eat the stems, because I find them kind of chewy, but they are edible. I diced up my chard and then combined it with the broth I cooked it in, pasta, sausage, olives, capers, chick peas and a healthy swish of olive oil. Yum! A hearty winter dish that didn’t make me feel overly full, the way regular pasta sometimes can. Serve this with crusty bread for soaking up the broth at the bottom of your bowl.

Swiss Chard and Sausage with Quinoa Pasta

Serves 2-3

1/2 pound of quinoa pasta (I used Trader Joe’s fusilli)

1 package of chicken sausage (I used Trader Joe’s Sweet Basil Pesto)

2 cups chicken broth

1 bunch of Swiss chard, stemmed and sliced into ribbons

2-3 garlic cloves

2 tablespoons kalamata olives

3 tablespoons chickpeas

1 tablespoon capers

Olive oil

Salt, pepper and red chili flakes to taste

Bring a pot of water to boil. Meanwhile, brown the sausage in a large, heavy bottomed skillet until heated through. Slice on the bias and add to a large bowl. Cook the pasta according to package directions. As the pasta is cooking, add the chicken broth, garlic and chard to the skillet you cooked the sausage in. Cover and let simmer until the chard is wilted, about 5 minutes. Add the cooked pasta to the bowl with the sausage followed by the chard and its cooking liquid. Add the olives, capers and chickpeas, season to taste and finish with a swirl of olive oil.


Kale Salad with Grapefruit and Avocado

by Michelle on January 3, 2014

Happy New Year! A few days ago,  I had the pleasure of speaking with Lyssie Lakatos and Tammie Lakatos Shames, aka The Nutrition Twins, for a post I did for TODAY.com on detoxing in 2014. Their new book, The Nutrition Twins’ Veggie Cure, is full of recipes and tips on how and why to incorporate more veggies into your diet. Not only were they super nice, but the twins have TONS of fantastic recipes. As soon as they said the words kale and avocado salad, my ears perked up because that is one of my favorite food combinations. The grapefruit in this salad was a surprise but since I love grapefruit, and don’t eat nearly enough of it, I was eager to give it a try.

Wow. We loved this salad! If you let it sit for a bit before serving, the avocado softens and coats the leaves and the grapefruit is an unexpected and refreshing kick! What’s best of all is that you don’t need a ton of dressing weighing these greens down. A little bit of lemon juice and olive oil enhances the flavor of this heart healthy salad that’s super satisfying. If you’re a kale lover, add this one to your repertoire tonight!

Kale Salad with Grapefruit and Avocado

1 head of Lacinato kale, stems discarded, and torn into bite size pieces

1/2 of an avocado, cubed small

1 grapefruit, peeled, sectioned and cut into bite size chunks

2 tablespoons shelled pistachios

1 tablespoon pepitas (I used sunflower seeds because I didn’t have pepitas)

For the dressing:

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Zest from 1/2 a lemon

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 shallot, minced

Freshly cracked black pepper to taste

In a small bowl whisk together the shallot, lemon juice, lemon zest, olive oil and black pepper. Pour the dressing over the kale and toss to coat the leaves. Let sit at least 10 minutes or until the kale begins to wilt, tossing occasionally. Add grapefruit, avocado, pumpkin seeds and pistachios. Toss and serve.

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