Summer Entertaining: Guiltless Tapas

Summer Entertaining - Guiltless Tapas

Clockwise from top left: Caprese salad, spicy garlic shrimp, turkey bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with chorizo, walnut cranberry date balls

Last month, to celebrate our wedding anniversary, I made a tapas spread fit for a king…or in this case, my husband. One of our early dating rituals was frequenting restaurants that served sangria and tapas. Nothing is better than sitting outside at a cafe in the summer, sipping sangria and grazing on tapas. Nothing. Except if your dog is haunting you for a nibble…but I digress.

Are these recipes completely guiltless? Well, not really. But, wherever I could, I used lower calorie options, like substituting turkey bacon for regular bacon. You get my drift. But you’ll also see no bread or wheat, so these are all gluten-free.

The great thing about these recipes too is that I made everything in just over an hour.  Plus, if you’re entertaining friends and family, you can keep the dishes coming as you finish. So, to start this meal, I started with something easy– a caprese salad.

Caprese Salad

Ingredients

  • 1 or 2 beefsteak tomatoes
  • buffalo mozzarella
  • fresh basil
  • extra-virgin olive oil
  • balsamic vinegar

Directions

Cut the tomatoes into thick slices and arrange on a serving plate. Cut similar-sized slices of the buffalo mozzarella and place them on top of the tomato slices. Next, chop up the fresh basil and sprinkle over the tomatoes and cheese. Lightly drizzle olive oil and balsamic vinegar over the salad and serve.

Walnut Cranberry Date Balls

Next, I served up these walnut, dried cranberry & date balls. I know the picture above looks like raw meatballs, but I’m telling you, these are soooo delicious that you’ll want to devour the plate. Also, these are a good snacking option if you’ve been working out as they also have protein powder.

Walnut Cranberry Date Balls

Adapted from the Tone It Up Nutrition Plan

Ingredients

  • ½ cup dried cranberries
  • ½ cup pitted whole dates
  • ¾ cup walnuts (unsalted)
  • 1 scoop of protein powder (optional)

Directions

Place walnuts in a food processor and chop until the nuts are finely ground. Remove nuts into a bowl. Next, place the remaining ingredients (dried cranberries, dates and protein powder) into the food processor and mix until a paste forms. In the bowl, combine the cranberry-date paste with the chopped walnuts. Place bowl in refrigerator for 30 minutes to chill. Once the mixture is chilled, roll the paste into 1-inch snack balls and serve. These can also be made ahead.

 

Keep those dates handy, as you’ll be using them for this traditional Spanish tapas recipe, Turkey Bacon-Wrapped Dates with Chorizo. Yum….

Turkey Bacon-Wrapped Dates with Chorizo

Turkey Bacon-Wrapped Dates with Chorizo

Adapted from Food & Wine magazine

 Ingredients

  • 1 small Spanish chorizo sausage (about 2 ounces), casing removed
  • dates, pitted
  • 12 slices of turkey bacon, halved crosswise
  • 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • toothpicks

Directions

Slice chorizo into small, matchstick-sized pieces. Tuck each chorizo stick into a date and pinch the date shut. Wrap a turkey bacon strip around the date and secure with a toothpick. Next, heat olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Place the wrapped dates in the pan and sauté for about 10 minutes or until all sides of the turkey bacon have thoroughly cooked. Serve immediately.

 

Spicy Garlic Shrimp

Spicy Garlic Shrimp

Adapted from Food & Wine magazine

Ingredients

 

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 canned chipotle chile pepper, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon adobo sauce
  • 1/4 cup minced flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 pound shelled and deveined medium shrimp
  • Sea Salt

 

In a large skillet, heat olive oil on medium-high heat. Add garlic, chile pepper and parsley and saute for about 30 seconds. Next, add the shrimp and adobo sauce. If you prefer more heat, add more adobo sauce. Sauté until the shrimp turn pink and curl. Sprinkle with salt and serve.

 

Summer Sangria RecipeAnd where would a tapas meal be without sangria? You can make this recipe the night before since it will need to chill for at least 4 hours. Traditional sangria recipes call for wine and liquor, but to cut the calories a bit, this recipe also uses seltzer, which gives it some fizz.

Summer Sangria

Adapted from Tropical Sangria recipe in Cosmopolitan magazine

Ingredients

  • 1 (750-ml) bottle full-bodied red wine, like Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot
  • 1/4 cup orange liqueur, such as Triple Sec or Grand Marnier
  • 1 orange (unpeeled), thinly sliced
  • 1 cup strawberries, chopped
  • 1 (8-oz) can pineapple chunks packed in 100% juice, with juice
  • 2 cups naturally flavored lime or lemon-lime seltzer or club soda

Summer Sangria ingredients

 Directions

Combine all of the ingredients (except the seltzer) in a large pitcher and stir. Chill for at least 4 hours (or overnight) in a refrigerator. Before serving, add chilled seltzer to the pitcher and stir.

 

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Off the Hook: Crocheted Cowl

I know that I’m a slow stitcher, but this is one of those rare times where I actually started and completed a project in time to wear it in the current season! Woo-hoo! Also, it had been a very looooong time since I last crocheted. I figured it was time to dust off my crochet hooks.

I saw this free crochet pattern on Purl Bee’s blog last fall and immediately added it to my Ravelry queue. This is how easy it is…The only stitch you make is a single crochet. That’s it! OK, so it’s a slightly altered single crochet stitch, but still. Instead of inserting the hook under both loops of the previous row’s stitches, you insert the hook through the back loop only. The Purl Bee does a great job illustrating how to do this in their instructions. Essentially what it does is flatten the stitch so the cowl appears as a rib.

For this project, these are the materials I used:

  • Yarn: Lion Brand Vanna’s Choice
  • Color: Silver Heather
  • Fiber: 100% acrylic
  • Skeins: 3 (only needed 2-1/2 though)
  • Hook: Size P (biggest I’ve ever used!)

I first cast on in January and this is one of those projects you can easily complete in a week. Not that I did that mind you, but if I had focused on it, it would have been doable. The truth is, I kind of forgot about it, but when I was looking for a project to work on during a flight to San Francisco last week, I remembered this portable project. I think somewhere over Colorado I finished it!

The cowl is a snug fit–you only need to twist it once around your neck. But trust me, you won’t be feeling any cold air around your neck with this cowl scarf. At this point in March, I HOPE I will only need to wear this cowl for another two weeks. Spring cannot come fast enough!

 

Purl Bee Crocheted Rib Cowl pattern here.

 

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What I’m Pinning Now: February Edition

Pinterest February pins

I feel like I’ve been pinning up a storm on Pinterest this month and wanted to share what is currently inspiring me. Maybe these will inspire you too!

 

1. This free pleated skirt tutorial from Elle Apparel is so of-the-moment for spring. (elleapparelblog.com)

2. I’ve been looking for healthy breakfast options and thought this smoothie from Harley Pasternak would be great to try. (fitsugar.com)

3. I saw this gorgeous Twiggy Tunic sweater on Ravelry and had to add it to my queue!

4. I love the simple lines in this Spring 2014 dress pattern (B6016)  from Butterick

5. Pinned this and made it last weekend to rave reviews from my husband– Red Curry with Tofu recipe from A Beautiful Mess. Definitely a keeper (A Beautiful Mess)

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Printable Valentine’s Day Matchbook Covers

 

Whenever I go to a fun restaurant or bar, I keep a lookout for matches. They’re nice little mementos to take home and I like keeping a small collection.  So, I thought, maybe it would be cool to make classic rock-inspired matchbook covers just in time for Valentine’s Day.  And with my husband being a huge Bruce Springsteen fan, of course I HAD to include our wedding song, “Fire.”

DIY Matchbook Covers

If you like these matchbook covers, you can download a PDF of the Classic Rock Matchbook Covers here.

Or you can design your own—perfect for wedding or shower favors. To create your own matchbook covers, flatten the matchbook and measure it around from the strike strip to the edge of the flap. Then, in your design program, enter the dimensions and create something fun!

I found these matchbooks in bulk in my grocery store

Next, print your design or the PDF in this post on 8-1/2” x 11” sticker paper. Trim the cover using the crop marks in the PDF and then align the sticker on the matchbook with the shorter end of the sticker flush against the strike strip. The side of the matchbook with the flap is a little longer. Press the sticker firmly, then fold and tuck the matchbook flap.

I dare you not to sing these songs while you’re making the matchbook covers!

Free Printable PDF: Classic Rock Matchbook Covers

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Fashion Inspiration: Olivia Pope’s Coats on ‘Scandal’

Olivia Pope's Salvatore Ferragamo coat from Season 2 (photo credit: ABC/Nicole Wilder)

Olivia Pope’s Salvatore Ferragamo coat from Season 2 (photo credit: ABC/Nicole Wilder)

A sure sign of a show hitting the country’s pop culture zeitgeist is when you check your Twitter feed and all you see are tweets related to #Scandal. Especially when it’s between 10-11:00 pm EST on Thursday nights. For me, ABC’s Scandal is appointment television and I’ve got my iPhone ready to go to live tweet my astonishment at every oh-no-they-didn’t-just-do-that plot point. And while I’m glued to the TV, I’m also ogling the awesome, ultra-feminine wardrobe that Kerry Washington gets to wear as her D.C. fixer character, Olivia Pope.

I mean, come on! I feel like the Jack Nicholson as the Joker in Batman–”Where does she get those wonderful clothes?!”

Lately, Olivia Pope’s wardrobe has been all about the coats. They are so luxe and gorgeous! So while we must wait until February 27th for new episodes (why!), below are some sewing patterns you can use to create your own Olivia Pope-worthy coats.

Wrap Coat

Like the costumes on Suits, Olivia Pope’s clothes are all about the necklines. In season 2, Olivia Pope wore this light pink, oversized wrap coat by Salvatore Ferragamo. The wool and cashmere coat retailed at over $1,700.

Vogue 1321, Donna Karan Collection

However, Vogue Patterns has this Donna Karan pattern above (Vogue 1321), that could easily look like the Ferragamo coat, but at a price tag with less zeros.

Short-Sleeve Coat

From Season 2, Episode 14, “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” (credit: abc.go.com)

Oh this Max Mara coat! And with the long gloves! So iconic…And get this–Vogue has a similar pattern to this coat as well:

Very Easy, Very Vogue–V8861

 

Military Jacket

Season 2, episode 10 “One for the Dog”

I had a tougher time finding a pattern for this Ann Demeulemeester double-breasted military jacket. However, if you alter the Simplicity 2508 below, it makes a nice alternative. And with the right fabric, you can make any of those patterns worthy of a Olivia Pope coat.

Simplicity 2508

 

People, we have 39 days until Scandal is back. Who’s makin’ a coat?

 

P.S. While I was researching this post, I found this video gem from online retailer, Bluefly, made with Kerry Washington in 2012 about Olivia Pope’s wardrobe:

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Tutorial: Hipster Gingerbread Man Felt Ornament

Hipster Gingerbread Man Felt ornament

Last year, after I made my little lobster ornament, I was revved up to come up with other felt ornament ideas. I adore gingerbread men, but what twist could I make on a traditional theme? OMG, I gotta make a hipster gingerbread man ornament!

In New York City (or any major U.S metropolitan area, I’d imagine), if you work in a creative field or venture to an of-the-moment restaurant or bar, you’ll invariably run into a subculture—that of the hipster.  For me, it’s easier to describe the fashion of a hipster guy than a hipster girl. Usually, the guys have large, black plastic glasses, bushy beards, slouchy knit hat, plaid flannel shirt and skinny dark jeans rolled at the ankle. It’s grunge for the 2010s.

What’s great about this project is that aside from the body and the beard, you can use whatever fabric scraps you have lying around. Also, if you have a small 2-foot tree like I do, the ornament doesn’t look too big—he’s only 6-1/2” inches tall.

Hipster Gingerbread Man Felt Ornament

Finished size: Approximately 4-3/4” x 6-1/2”

Supplies

  • Brown felt
  • Dark brown embroidery floss
  • Polyester fiberfill
  • Fabric scraps for shirt and vest
  • Denim
  • Thread to match fabric
  • Curly doll hair (kind find this in craft stores)
  • Black cardstock
  • 5/8” hole punch
  • 3/8” hole punch
  • Piece of silk ribbon

Click on the link for the free PDF of the Hipster Gingerbread Felt Ornament pattern.

Directions

1. Print and cut out the hipster gingerbread ornament pattern. Fold brown felt in half and pin the gingerbread body pattern to felt. Cut fabric. Do the same for the shirt, vest and pants.

2. Pin the gingerbread body pieces together and using 2-ply of the dark brown embroidery floss, sew the edges together using a blanket stitch. Leave a small opening between the arms and legs and gently stuff the ornament with the fiberfill. Sew the hole closed.
3. Sew the side seams of the denim pants with right sides together. Turn the pants right side out and put on the gingerbread man. Cuff the pants.
4. Pin the two shirt pieces to the gingerbread ornament and hand-stitch the shirt together as close as possible. You will need the shirt to hug the gingerbread man so that it won’t appear bulky under the vest. Fold sleeves under.
5. With right sides together, sew each vest front to the vest back. Turn right side out and put it on the ornament.

6. For the beard, cut a small length of the curly doll hair. Bunch it together wrap a piece of thread around it to keep in contained. Then sew to the bottom of the gingerbread face.
7. Use the hole punches on the card stock to create the glasses. Cut out a small, narrow strip of paper for the bridge and attach to the glasses with either craft glue or tape. Attach the glasses to the gingerbread face with a small bead of craft glue.

Oh no, Mr Bill! That lobster is about to eat the hipster gingerbread man!

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Cherry, Chocolate & Pistachio Cookies

Cherry Chocolate and Pistachio Cookies

It’s that time of year again and it’s time to make cookies! This year I’m attending a friend’s cookie swap party. And this friend is a professionally trained baker. No pressure or anything!

I came across this cookie recipe in Self magazine’s December issue. The photography drew me in (my cookies in no way look like the magazine photos!) and then I read the recipe and I was sold.  It’s the perfect blend of salty and sweet. And it’s very easy to make—perfect for a cookie swap!

Cherry, Chocolate & Pistachio Cookies

Adapted from Self magazine, December 2013

Yields 40 cookies

Ingredients

  •  2-1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¼ olive oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 oz dark chocolate (60-70% cacao), chopped
  • ¼ cup dried cherries
  • ½ cup pistachios, shelled and finely chopped

Directions

In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt. Separately, using a standing mixer, combine butter, sugar and olive oil until well blended. Add eggs and vanilla extract. Slowly add flour mixture in small batches. Stir in chocolate and cherries.

 

Divide dough in half and roll into two logs, about 2” by 8” long. Wrap in plastic wrap and freeze for 45 minutes.

 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. Spread chopped pistachios on a cutting board and roll the chilled cookie dough. If the nuts do not stick to the dough, press the nuts into the dough.  Cut each log into 20 cookies and spread evenly the cookies sheets. If there is any left over chopped nuts, sprinkle them on the cookies. Gently press the cookies so they are flat and round. Bake for 8-10 minutes. Transfer cookies to a wire rack and cool.

If you are making these cookies as gifts, I typed out the name of the cookies and printed them on 65# card stock. If you would like to print them out, you can download my PDF here. Then, using a 1.5″ circle punch, I punched out the tags and used a hole punch at the top. I ran out of ribbon so I used some yarn I had on hand for a rustic touch.

Once you and your friends taste these cookies, you will die and go to heaven. Happy Holidays!

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What Were You Doing in 1998?

“Sex and the City” debuted on HBO in 1998

This week Vulture is running a series on pop-culture and fame in New York City in 1998. So far it’s been pretty comprehensive—from Leonardo DiCaprio ruling the club scene with his posse, to Monica and Chandler hooking up on Friends.

I couldn’t help but wonder how 1998 was also a pivotal year for me. I graduated from college and more importantly, I moved to New York three months later. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

1998 Working in the City

After a bit of hustling, I landed my first job as a production assistant at popular women’s magazine. I couldn’t believe my good luck. When I started at the glossy, it was still magazine publishing’s heyday and everyone from sales reps to editors looked super slick. In those first few months, I looked like Laura Ashley in a sea of Carrie Bradshaws. At the weekly sales meetings, the young sales reps would be poring over the New York Times and Time Out NY restaurant reviews, deciding which posh places they’d take their clients to next. It was all about the expense account, baby.

I cannot stress enough how Sex and the City was THE show to watch. Each week, one of the assistants would tape the show and we’d watch it during lunch in one of the conference rooms while eating our salads.

My boss scared the living crap out of some of the sales reps. More than a couple would leave her office in tears. She had lungs too—especially when she was singing and headbanging to Collective Soul in her office. Luckily for me, I liked Collective Soul too. I didn’t have to answer her phone much, but I do remember fielding calls from her astrologer, Andi (“it’s A-N-D-I”), on occasion. For fun, my boss would map out co-workers’ astrological charts and teach them how to knit. I have never had a boss like her since, but I think I learned the most about magazines in that first year.

1998 Living in the City

Before I got the job, I had been researching neighborhoods all summer and randomly, in a book called, The Newcomers Guide to New York, I found a list of temporary residences. Immediately, my parents and I made a trip to the city to take tours. Most were pretty depressing, but our last stop was at the Webster Apartments, a Barbizon-type, women-only residence on West 34th Street. The founder, Charles Webster, opened the building in 1923 as housing for unmarried working women. Back then, this was particularly advantageous for the shop girls working at Macy’s, just two blocks away.  Did I mention that Webster was also Roland H. Macy’s first cousin??

I put my name on the waiting list and as luck would have it, within days of getting my job offer, the Webster notified me that they had a room available. Perfect timing!

For that time in my life, the Webster Apartments was perfect–it was a smooth transition from college dorm living to being on my own. I had a room so tiny that if I stretched my leg, I could touch the wall opposite my twin bed with my toe. But, rent was reasonable (it was based on income) and included breakfast and dinner in the cafeteria. For my parents, they loved it because of the no-boys above the ground floor policy (boo!) and the permanent security guard by the front door. Their oldest girl would be safe in the big, bad city.

The Webster, or what I called it then, The Convent, had quite the cast of characters.  It was mostly made up of seasonal interns, usually European, girls new to the city, like me, and old ladies. While there, I met made many friendships, but they always temporary, since most girls only lived there a couple of months.

Many of the Europeans, especially the German girls, would form cliques and cling together for dear life, but occasionally some would stray from the pack—especially those that wanted to improve their English. It wasn’t too long before I had my own social group of German, Austrian, French, Canadian and American girls that I could pal around the city with.

1998 Nightlife in the City

Clubbing was the thing to do on the weekends in the late 90s. If you knew a promoter, you were set. My first attempt at getting into a club was a total failure. Of course, it was at Spy Bar, one of the toughest clubs to get into, and the front door was manned by a snooty, Euro-trashy man with a clipboard who sneered at the group of us, “Are you on the leeeest?” Truth be told though, we had been schlepping around the city all day and hardly looked like the kind of gals who got past the velvet rope. Not long after that, I got the lay of the land and came up a list of rules to live by when going out.

  • Wardrobe for going out—slim-cut black pants (no jeans!) or skirt with a cute top
  • Do not wear a scrunchie
  • To get into the major clubs, leave a message on promoter Baird Jones’s answering machine to get on the list with a discounted cover charge
  • Save money on drinks by pre-gaming at dive bars before hitting the clubs
  • If there are drag queens, then you are at an awesome club
  • Read Time Out NY every week – it’s the nightlife bible
  • Regular club rotation: Webster Hall, The Limelight,  Culture Club

Looking back, 1998 seems so quaint. Part of it was also because I was living it as a 22-year old and everything felt so new. Annnnd 15 years later I probably romanticize that time a little. Oh well. OK, enough navel gazing and back to our regularly scheduled programming.

P.S. The New York Times ran a feature on the Webster Apartments a few years ago. You can read it here.

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