CBS Live From The Couch: Packing the Perfect Picnic Basket

I was over at CBS/WLNY studios this morning filming a really fun segment on the NYC morning show Live From The Couch, which airs on WLNY 55. The segment was all about how to pack the perfect picnic basket, and I shared some of my best picnic food tips, as well as some very cool new products.

This was my first time doing a segment at The Couch, and they were all so great to work with. The hosts, Carolina and Lisa, and crew were all really lovely and helpful. That isn't always the case with all the TV shows, so it's always really amazing when you get to do a segment with such a cool group of genuinely nice people. I look forward to working with them again!

This was also the first segment that my new intern, Ariana, got to join in on, and it was amazing having her to help me prepare and set up. I'm usually flying solo on these segments, and having someone to help makes all the difference in the world (plus it means I have pictures to share with you!).

I also have to give a HUGE thanks to the folks at Fresh Direct, who provided all the delicious and beautiful food for the segment. The crew pretty much devoured all of it the second we were off the air.

Click the video below to watch the segment & then scroll down to check out more details on the tips and products I mentioned on air.

Watch the Video:

My 5 Favorite Picks for Packing the Perfect Picnic Basket

1. Wicker Picnic Basket Set ($128), C. Wonder
C. Wonder is one of my favorite stores in the city right (as evidenced by my closet and credit card statements), and this picnic basket is everything that I love about them--it's stylish and really elegant, but also super playful (tiny baby cheeseboard!). It comes with a service for four, napkins, removable insultated mini cooler, and even a waterproof picnic blanket!

2. Tommy Bahama iPod Stereo Cooler ($98), Tommy Bahama
I am in LOVE with this cooler. It comes with a little slot in the front were you can slip in your iPod or smartphone and connect it to the built-in speakers on either side so you can play music at the beach or in the park. The inside is also a super roomy insulated cooler that will hold all your food and beverages. It's pretty much the best thing ever!

3. Sur La Table Red & White Gingham Tablecloth ($50), Sur La Table
I usually find that most blankets that are sold as actual "picnic blankets" are WAY too small. They're barely big enough for one adult to stretch out on, let alone a few. So I like to use extra large tablecloths, like this really pretty classic red gingham style from Sur La Table, instead. Plenty of room for everyone to spread out and relax while enjoying the food and sun.


4. Pier 1 Trellis Pattern Melamine Plates ($7 each), Pier 1
Melamine plates are definitely the way to go in the summer. They're lightweight, come in really gorgeous colors and patterns, and can be used again and again so you can reduce waste. (They're also dishwasher safe!)

5. Madria Sangria ($6)
My new favorite for summer parties! This lovely red wine is infused with natural citrus flavors, so all you have to do to make the perfect pitcher of sangria is chill and add fruit! As I mentioned in my last sangria recipe post,  I'm not a fan of super sweet sangria, which is why I love this--it's perfectly balanced and not at all sickly sweet. Add it to a pitcher with a few handfuls of frozen or fresh fruit and you're good to go!

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Love Always Order Dessert? Let's connect! Follow me on Twitter or Pinterest, become a fan on Facebook, or sign up to receive my once-a-week e-mail updates. And if you ever need any entertaining or cooking advice, please don't hesitate to e-mail me. Thanks for reading!   



Savory Cucumber Herb Sangria

As much as I love sangria, I usually find that I avoid ordering it at restaurants, often choosing wine instead.

The reason? Sugar.

I've mentioned it before, but I much prefer to eat my carbs than drink them. Given the choice between cake and a sugary drink, I will always choose the cake.

Unfortunately, sangria doesn't give me much control in that respect. The recipes vary widely, but typically include ingredients like fruit juices, sugar sodas, simple syrups, sweet liqueurs or any combination of the above--all of which raise the sugar count of this fruity punch to levels beyond what I'm comfortable drinking.

Last weekend, I spent a couple days at The Standard Spa in Miami (one of my top favorite hotels ever!), during which I regularly indulged in a few glasses of cucumber and citrus-infused spa water on offer in the lobby.

And THAT was when I got the idea:

Wouldn't it be great to make a savory sangria inspired by spa water?

Crisp, dry white wine infused with herbs, citrus, and cucumber, with no sugar added. The drink would be refreshing and just as playful as sangria, but much healthier and lighter. A naturally low carb sangria.

It would even pair well with food!

When I got back to New York, I tested the idea, combining some crisp wine with muddled fresh limes, lemons, basil, mint, and cucumbers. I chose my favorite vinho verde for this batch, but any light, crisp dry white will do. The trick is to let the wine infuse with the muddled fruit and herbs for about 20 or so minutes, before diluting it with ice and sparkling water.

The result is fresh, light, and just a little bit tart--perfect for summer!


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Love Always Order Dessert? Let's connect! Follow me on Twitter or Pinterest, become a fan on Facebook, or sign up to receive my once-a-week e-mail updates. And if you ever need any entertaining or cooking advice, please don't hesitate to e-mail me. Thanks for reading!    



Savory Cucumber Herb Sangria Recipe (No Sugar Added)
Serves 2-4

Ingredients
2 lemons, washed and sliced
3 limes, washed and sliced
1 large green cucumber, sliced
1 cup fresh mint leaves, washed and patted dry
1 cup fresh basil leaves, washed and patted dry
1 750ml bottle dry white wine
2 cups sparkling water
2 cups ice

Directions
Combine the sliced lemons, limes, cucumber, mint, and basil in a large pitcher. Use a wooden spoon to muddle slightly to release some of the juices and natural herb oils. Pour in the wine. Stir and chill about 20 minutes, letting the flavors meld. Stir again, then add ice and top off with sparkling water. Serve immediately.

2 Weeks & 2 Spots Left for Sweet Escape 2013

Have you been thinking and thinking about signing up for my amazing all-inclusive culinary retreat weekend in Vermont next month? Well you're still in luck, but it's definitely time to pull the trigger.

There are only TWO tickets left to this very special weekend adventure and they are going to sell out.

If you've been dreaming about joining us, now is the time!

Click here to register today and you'll get to take part in all that we have planned, including hands-on cooking demos, cocktail and wine workshops, excursions to visit local farmers and cheese producers, wonderful gourmet meals served family style on the long farmhouse table, crafts workshops, daily yoga classes, an in-house massage therapist, evening dessert experiences, a food-themed movie night, and SO MUCH MORE!

Remember that this is all-inclusive, so the $695 ticket gets you round-trip transportation from NYC, lodging in shared double bedroom, all meals, workshops, events, and one amazing goodie bag filled with surprises to take home!

If you have any questions at all about this weekend or the registration, just email me. I want everyone who wants to come to be able to make this happen, so let me know what I can do for you to make this possible. Seriously--just ask!

Lots of love & I can't wait to share with you in just 2 short weeks!

Click Here to Register for A Sweet Escape 2013

xoxo

Alejandra

10-Minute Broiled Chipotle Salmon Fillets

When it comes to lazy day dinners, salmon is at the very top of my list. It's incredibly satisfying, quick to prepare, healthy, and so naturally flavorful that it requires very little work on my part.

Exactly what I need when I'm way too exhausted to put much more thought than that into it.

Though I'm usually satisfied with a quick sear on a hot skillet, this weekend I decided to experiment with something a little bit more exciting (although still ridiculously simple).

The inspiration came from one of my favorite recipes on this blog (Yes. I inspired myself.): this chipotle roasted eggplant, which only calls for three ingredients and is equally good both hot and cold.

It's one of the easiest things to make, but is always a guaranteed crowd pleaser. Every single time I make it, people beg for the recipe and I have to confess how embarrassingly easy its.

The secret? A two-ingredient marinade made with olive oil and Chipotle Tabasco.

If you've never tried this variety of Tabasco, I highly recommend that you pick up a bottle of this spicy smoky stuff the next time you go shopping. Ever since I tasted it for the first time at a Chipotle (as in the burrito bar) down in DC back when I was in college, I've been obsessed. We never not have a bottle of it in our fridge.

Usually I keep a back-up in the pantry, too.

What's great about this sauce is that it's the perfect blend of spicy, smokey, and savory. Mixed with a little olive oil and brushed onto salmon fillets, it's a ridiculous simple way to add maximum flavor with minimal effort.

A quick broil and dinner is ready. I served mine on top of a bed of arugula dressed simply with fresh lime juice, olive oil, and salt, and once again had to fess up to doing practically nothing to make it so delicious.

Note: if you can't find Chipotle Tabasco, you can also use chipotles in adobo sauce. Just puree the chiles with the sauce and then measure out the amount you need. 

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Love Always Order Dessert? Let's connect! Follow me on Twitter or Pinterest, become a fan on Facebook, or sign up to receive my once-a-week e-mail updates. And if you ever need any entertaining or cooking advice, please don't hesitate to e-mail me. Thanks for reading!   


Broiled Chipotle Salmon

Serves 4

Ingredients
4 6oz to 8oz salmon fillets, rinsed in cold tap water and patted very dry
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons Chipotle Tabasco sauce (or substitute pureed chipotles in adobo sauce).
Kosher salt and black pepper
Fresh limes cut into wedges

Directions
Preheat broiler.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and arrange the salmon fillets skin-side down 2 inches apart. Whisk together the olive oil and Chipotle Tabasco sauce, and brush generously over the tops of the salmon. Season with kosher salt and black pepper. Broil 4 inches from flame for about 10 minutes, or until the salmon is cooked to desired doneness.

Serve with fresh lime wedges.


Weekend Living: Flowers in My Grocery Basket (Fresh Direct's Floral Delivery Service Review)

My love of the NY-based grocery delivery service Fresh Direct is WELL-documented on this blog. Given the amount of groceries I buy for recipe testing, cooking classes, as well as our own personal meals (and the fact that I don't drive), I can't even begin to imagine how difficult life would be without them. Apart from the convenience and the amazing quality of their food (especially the local produce & meat), I love that they occasionally add some really fun options to their site.

Like their new local floral delivery service!

I've always wanted to be the sort of woman who regularly keeps gorgeous fresh flowers around the home. The truth is that I am not that sort of woman. I'm more the sort of woman who buys fresh flowers, enjoys them for a few days, and then keeps forgetting to throw them out as they sit withering and drying and crumbling into dust all over my coffee or dining table. Way more Miss Havisham than Martha Stewart.

They finally get thrown out and then months and months pass before I even think to buy another bouquet.

But a service like this could be pretty great. Because I always remember to buy groceries (naturally) and it's easy enough to pick something lovely and seasonal and add it to my basket.

This weekend, I decided to test out the service to see just how it works in real life, and took pictures so that I could share with you in case you've also been thinking about trying it.

NOTE: This is NOT a sponsored post; I'm just sharing because I think it's a cool service and figured other folks in NYC might also be curious about it. Fresh Direct did not ask me or pay me to write this.

The site said that the flowers arrive with closed buds, wrapped in parchment paper in twine. Once cut and placed in water, they start to bloom and look perfect within 1 or 2 days.

It sounded easy enough to me, so I added a $19.99 bouquet of peonies to my basket. Since the flowers come just in bouquet form without vases, they're all pretty inexpensive, ranging in price from $12.99 to $29.99.

As promised the flowers arrived closed and wrapped in brown butcher paper labeled with instructions. I decided to use an old mason jar as a vase, and cut the stems down very short to fit in the jar and create a nice tight bouquet.

Ever vigilant, Hudson was keeping his eye on the neighborhood while I worked on my flowers.
Tip: I find that cutting flowers (even inexpensive bodega flowers) very short and putting them into small vases makes them look much more elegant and expensive than leaving the stems long.

It also allows you to be creative with your vessel (I've used large mugs, watering cans, even old plum tomato cans to create really cool looking arrangements.)

From the above photo, you can see that I used my lobster shears to cut them. I couldn't find regular scissors, and it's always nice to find another use for lobster shears, since I don't really make lobster all that often.

Not wanting to waste the parchment paper, I cut it down a bit (also using lobster shears) and scrunched it up around the jar, tying it in place with the twine, for a perfectly lovely rustic look.

I arranged the cut flowers in the jar, which I prepared by filling with room temperature filtered water and a bit of the provided flower food. I then placed them in the sun, feeling rather fancy about myself.

It wasn't long (mere hours) before the tight buds started springing to life with plush, fragrant blossoms. By the next afternoon, the flowers were absolutely perfect.

While I have no illusions that a standing peony order is going to turn me into a perfect homemaker, I can't deny the fact that having the gorgeous blossoms on the table motivated me to do a bit of straightening and dusting up. We'll see how long this lasts, but for now I am most definitely a happy customer!

Do you like to keep fresh flowers around the house? Do you find that it helps you keep your home tidier?

If you've never tried Fresh Direct before, you can click on this invite link which will give you access to a $100 discount off your first 2 orders ($50 off each). (I'll get a $25 credit, too, but that won't affect your discount in any way.)

Fresh Direct Coupon Code: Want to try Fresh Direct? Click here for a first-time Fresh Direct customer coupon and save $100 on your first two orders!

Disclaimer:  This is NOT a sponsored post. Fresh Direct did NOT pay me or even ask me to write this. I just decided to try it and share it with you on my own accord. I included my referral link above so if you use it to sign up and have never ordered before, I will get $25 credit and you'll get a $100 discount, but that's not influencing my opinions in any way.

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Love Always Order Dessert? Let's connect! Follow me on Twitter or Pinterest, become a fan on Facebook, or sign up to receive my once-a-week e-mail updates. And if you ever need any entertaining or cooking advice, please don't hesitate to e-mail me. Thanks for reading!   

Inspired Living: 9 Inspiring Life Lessons I Learned at Food Blog Forum

I just got back from an incredible weekend at Food Blog Forum conference in Orlando, and I'm so giddy to finally share with you some of the many things I learned. As you might know, there are a LOT of conferences for food bloggers, but what I love most about FBF is that the focus is all about helping us grow personally and professionally as bloggers and creatives. The weekend lessons go far beyond the pages of our blogs, and are actually applicable to all other aspects of our lives. I was loving it so much that I filled an entire notebook with notes and quotes and observations. It was pretty major.

Here are 9 of my favorite lessons from the weekend, and don't worry if you're not a blogger because these aren't blogging lessons. These are LIFE lessons!

1. Life is who you meet.
Every single person you meet or interact with has the potential to add value to your life and help you move toward your goals. From the random person sitting next to you on the plane, to the folks you chat with on Twitter, you never know who your next champion will be. As Julie from The Little Kitchen mentioned in the panel on building a grassroots community, everyone has the potential to be an ambassador for you.

Sometimes when we're exhausted, in a rush, or just feeling shy, it may feel easier to ignore people or be curt with the idea in mind that "Oh I'll never see him again," but the truth is that you never know what person or conversation can lead to your next big opportunity.

Put yourself out there. Go to random events you'd kinda rather skip. Talk to people. Give out business cards. Tell total strangers about your blog, your projects, your dreams.

Treat all people genuinely and with kindness, and you'll be amazed at the doors that open up for you. 

2. You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.
This is a point that Jaden and Scott brought up during their session on redefining success, and it's so very true. The personalities and aspirations of the people we spend the most time with affect our own moods and aspirations.

Think about the people you talk to all day at work or in your social circle--are they the ambitious cheerleader types? Or the gossipy negative ones? Do you feel energized and inspired when you spend time with them? Or do they make you feel stuck and grumpy?

Pay attention to this, and make changes if you need to. Surround yourself with people who are doing the things you want to do, and let them inspire and push you toward achieving your own goals. If you work in an environment where the people tend to get you down, seek out other places where you can connect and share with some more upbeat folks. This might just mean asking to move to a different desk (blame the AC vents or the glare from the window). Or it could mean joining a club, making an effort to hang out with some of your best girlfriends more often, or even signing up for a class on a subject that fires you up.

Whatever you have to do, do it. Take charge of your situation and make a change for the good.

3. Get inspiration from others, but don't make them the standard for your own path.
You've heard the saying "comparison is the thief of joy." This is especially true on the web, which can be an incredibly envy-inducing place to hang out. From the fashion bloggers in their perfectly styled outfit photos to the immaculate houses in the design blogs and all those amazing projects all over Pinterest, it's easy to compare all that perfection to your own life and end up feeling a little... frumpy, messy and inadequate.

But that doesn't mean that you should just shut down the computer and hide under your bed to preserve your sanity--that won't change anything and it certainly won't get you any closer to creating the life you want to live.

Instead, look to others for inspiration! Let them teach you, push you, and drive you to grow, all while keeping sight of the fact that we each have our own path.

There is no single right way or right timeline, so take the bits that resonate with you and use them as the kick you need to create your own kind of perfection.

4. Problems are merely opportunities for creativity.
My FAVORITE speaker at the conference was Tim Warzecha, who is a Disney Imagineer. Imagineers are the men and women who conceive, design, and implement ALL of the amazing attractions and elements at Disney. They basically dream up amazing things for a living, and then make them a reality.

In his talk, Tim described the Imagineer process for creating a project, from conception to completion. While describing the process, I noticed that the language he used was very deliberate, and that one word kept popping up: "opportunity."

I asked him about this, and he explained that for Imagineers, there is no such thing as "problems." There are simply opportunities for creativity.

Whenever they come up against a difficulty or issue, they ask themselves "What are the opportunities here?" and use it as a way to further reinforce their storytelling. He noted that once they adopt that mindset, it becomes easy--and even fun!--to find solutions to challenges.

As an example, he explained how the sprawling design of an African-themed restaurant necessitated huge weight-bearing columns throughout the dining room that would have taken away from the aesthetics of the environment. They chose to look at this as an opportunity, and instead turned the columns into large trees that ended up adding more to the design and the story they were trying to tell.

I loved this concept, and saw that it was instantly applicable to both my blog and my life. It's a given that we will have problems, but by looking at them as an opportunity to stretch your creativity and your resources, you will be able to come ahead stronger, wiser, and infinitely more incredible than you would have without the struggle. 

5. Take time to dream BIG with no restraints.
I was also fascinated by Tim's description of Disney's Blue Sky Studios, the department within the Imagineering group that dedicates itself to brainstorming. They have a big room filled with toys and craft supplies, and each day, the folks who work there have just one job: to dream up ideas with no restraints or limitations. Those ideas are then whittled down and refined and developed until they become actual rides or parks or attractions, but they all begin the same way--as wild ideas.

I think we all need to establish a little Blue Sky Studio in our own life. Whether it's just a couple hours or a even a whole weekend a month of just crazy all-out no-limits dreaming and playing, we need to get in the habit of thinking BIG for ourselves.

What would you do if you could do anything? What would you want to achieve? Where would you go? What would you make?

Set yourself free to go as far as your imagination can take you. You might be surprised by just how achievable those dreams can be, once you dare to dream them.

6. Find ways to pursue your goals, right where you are today.
I started my blog a little over 5 years ago, because as much as I enjoyed the job I had as a magazine editor, my real passion was writing about food. While not 100% the dream that I had (which was to spend all day cooking, writing, and talking about food), starting a blog was a beginning, and it was a way of giving me at least a few hours a day of living my dream. Knowing that I had this place where I could go to every single day to do what I love, instantly made my life better without requiring any drastic changes.

Jaden talked about how we ALL need something like this in our life. Whether it's on the weekends or a couple hours in the evenings after work, find a way to capture a little bit of that big dream you have, right where you are today.

One great idea that Jaden shared was negotiating for time. If you're offered a raise at work (or told there is no budget for one), try to see if you can instead trade that for a couple additional days off a month, or the flexibility to work from home so that you can travel or save those commuting hours. It may not be everything, but it's a little way of capturing more time for yourself to spend on the things that you love.

For me, one of my (many!) current dreams is to work in television regularly as a host on a food and lifestyle program, and while I don't yet have my own show or even a regular correspondent gig, I have been creating more and more opportunities for myself so that now I am on TV 2-3 (or even more) times a month. It gives me a few hours a month of doing the thing that I love and want for myself, and I know that just like with my blog, it will continue to grow until it's no longer a dream, but my reality.

7. Look beyond the obvious.
Todd and Diane Cu, the brilliant bloggers and photographers behind White on Rice Couple, gave a beautiful presentation about photography and videography. One of their best tips was to always look beyond the obvious.

As an example, they talked about how they wanted to share their garden with their readers, but didn't want to do it the obvious way of just posting photos or a simple video tour. Instead, they decided to create a video following their dog around as she played in the garden chasing after bubbles.

The result was gorgeous, entertaining, and totally unexpected. I have zero interest in gardens and gardening, but I could watch that video 5 times straight.

As bloggers and creatives we can sometimes get stuck in a rut; this was a great reminder that to shake things up, we sometimes just need to look at things from a different perspective.

8. Find your truth, and share it.
Do you ever have moments when you think to yourself "Am I the only one who [fill in the blank]"?

Here's the thing, the answer to whatever you're thinking is pretty much always "no." Because you are NOT the only one. There are dozens and hundreds and maybe even thousands of us who feel that way, too, and would love to hear someone else say it first.

When bloggers and creatives come together, there is always a lot of talk about "authenticity." You have to be authentic, people say again and again. And it's true, but what does that really mean? What is authenticity?

To me, it's just that. It's sharing your truth. It's sharing your story. And your truth and your story are a collection of all those little moments. In the panel on building community, Lindsay from Love & Olive Oil wisely noted that "the more specific you are, the more people you will reach."

This doesn't mean that you have to divulge all your most private secrets. It simply means that you should understand the things that make you, you, and make them a part of what you're sharing. What makes you tick? What fires you up? What makes you laugh? People relate to passion. They relate to honesty. And all those specific little moments and quirks that make you feel totally alone, are actually the things that will speak to people the most.

9. Don't let complaints become your opening line.
During one of the break sessions, I approached a sponsor representative that I was eager to meet as I'd like to potentially work with her company. I walked over to her, fired up after the inspiring session that had just finished and excited to make the connection. But as soon as she opened her mouth, it was like getting dumped with a bucket of ice water. She was rolling her eyes and complaining about the session, which she personally didn't like. I had walked up to her feeling inspired and excited, but her negative energy instantly turned me off. I'm sure she was actually a nice lady, but I couldn't handle the negativity--so much so that I found a way to politely cut her off and all but ran in the opposite direction. This was especially bad because she was there representing a company, but even if she had been just another blogger, it would have been disappointing.

Because here is the thing. There are always going to be things that we don't like. Boring speakers. Stinky bathrooms. Too much air conditioning.

If you're looking for something to complain about, you'll find it.

And this might be fine if it's just you and your best friend or husband commiserating, but if you're in a room full of new people (and potential networking contacts) don't let the complaints become your opening line. Don't let negativity be your first impression, because that is not going to make people want to get to know you.

Instead, talk about the thing you're loving. The thing you're excited about. Or just smile and say hello, and let the other person lead the conversation. Don't let a silly complaint get in the way of a potentially amazing new connection. (Which brings us right back to lesson #1!)

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I'd love to know if any of these lessons in particular resonate with you. I for one, am going to start off by making #5 a regular part of my day!

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Love Always Order Dessert? Let's connect! Follow me on Twitter or Pinterest, become a fan on Facebook, or sign up to receive my once-a-week e-mail updates. And if you ever need any entertaining or cooking advice, please don't hesitate to e-mail me. Thanks for reading!   

5 Sweet (and Healthy!) Strawberry Recipe Ideas for Summer

The unofficial start of summer is just around the corner, and strawberries are more delicious than ever. Here are five of my favorite healthy strawberry recipe ideas for spotlighting these bright summer gems.

(Scroll down for the recipe links.)

1. Strawberry Basil Yogurt Cake

2. Strawberry Thyme Limeade

3. Whole Wheat Strawberry Buttermilk Cake

4. Strawberry Brown Sugar Compote

6. Whole Wheat Strawberry Shortcake with Basil Strawberries

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Love Always Order Dessert? Let's connect! Follow me on Twitter or Pinterest, become a fan on Facebook, or sign up to receive my once-a-week e-mail updates. And if you ever need any entertaining or cooking advice, please don't hesitate to e-mail me. Thanks for reading! 

On New Orleans, Sassy Bosses & Army Guys (Oyster Po' boy Tacos with Jalapeño Remoulade Recipe)

I was 19 the first time I went to New Orleans. It was summer and I was working full-time as a press intern in DC, where I spent most of my days writing press releases, sending media kits, and pitching stories.

I also spent a lot of time taking long Pinot Grigio-fueled lunches with my boss--a sassy older southern lady who would always say things like:

"Honey, I've been working here since sexual harassment was called flirting."

I loved her.

The coolest thing about this job (besides that lady) was that in August, all of us interns got to accompany our bosses on a business trip.

And not some lame car-trip to a conference room in nowheresville, either!

A real live business trip, via plane, to New Orleans.

Where we each got our own executive suite.

And an expense account.

For a week.

I loved it.

The one thing I didn't love about this trip was that I was alone most of the non-working time. The other intern had brought his girlfriend along so they were always off doing couple-y things together.

My closest friend on the trip was my sassy boss, but she would head back to her room early each evening (ya know...because she was in her 70s), and I would be left by myself.

At 19. In New Orleans. With a suite and an expense account.

The first couple nights were actually pretty low-key. I ordered up various crayfish dishes, and ate them on my king size bed in the hotel robe while watching pay per view movies.

But when I told this to my boss, she took pity on me and told one of my other bosses (a younger guy in his mid 30s) to:

"take the girl out, damn it"

So he dutifully chaperoned me on my first trip to Bourbon Street where I dragged him around from one non-carding Hurricane-selling booth to another.

It was madness!

Unsurprisingly, I ended up meeting a guy that night in the midst of the flurry. He was a VERY handsome 30-year-old Army sergeant whose name I remember because it was Paul Walker--just like the actor in what was then still just one The Fast & The Furious movie.

For some reason, my chaperone-boss deemed Sgt. Walker trustworthy enough to entrust with my care, and left me alone with him.

Clearly, my boss was a TERRIBLE chaperone.

Note to aspiring chaperones: don't ever leave buzzed 19-year-old girls alone on Bourbon Street with hot older Army guys on leave!

Fortunately, Sgt. Walker ended up being a pretty stand-up guy, and I (and my bosses) were surprised when he showed up in the press room at the convention center the next day with a bouquet of pink roses and an invite to lunch, during which he [at last! the point of the story!] introduced me to my first oyster po'boy.

The flavors of these fried oyster tacos remind me of that trip. Shucked oysters are coated in a crispy spiced cornmeal batter and fried until crisp. I serve them in soft tortillas spread generously with a spicy jalapeno remoulade. Add fresh tomatoes, avocados and cilantro, and you're in for a delicious summer treat.

No hurricanes, chaperones, or soldiers required.

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Love Always Order Dessert? Let's connect! Follow me on Twitter or Pinterest, become a fan on Facebook, or sign up to receive my once-a-week e-mail updates. And if you ever need any entertaining or cooking advice, please don't hesitate to e-mail me. Thanks for reading! 


Oyster Po'boy Tacos with Jalapeño Remoulade

Ingredients
For the Jalapeño Remoulade:
1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
1 lime, juiced
1/4 cup pickled jalapeños, finely chopped
1/2 bunch fresh cilantro, finely minced
1 bunch scallions, finely minced

For the oysters:
3/4 cup ground cornmeal (I like Bob's Red Mill)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 teaspoons paprika
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons cornstarch
Coconut or Canola Oil for frying
24 oysters, shucked
Tortillas, fresh cilantro, diced tomatoes, diced avocados, for serving


Directions
Make the remoulade: Whisk together sauce ingredients, cover and put in fridge to chill while you make tacos.

Prepare the oysters: Whisk together the cornmeal, flour, salt, cayenne, paprika, baking powder, and cornstarch.

Heat about 2 inches of oil in a heavy pot until it reaches 350 degrees.

Working in batches, toss the oysters in the flour mixture and coat completely. Fry in the hot oil about 1 minute per side until golden and crispy. Place on a paper towel lined baking sheet to drain.

Assemble tacos--spread warm tortillas with remoulade, top with 3 or 4 oysters, and desired toppings. Serve immediately.







My Appearance on Dr. Oz (Beet, Blueberry & Blood Orange Juice Popsicles)

Last week, I was called in for a taping of The Dr. Oz show where I was asked to share a unique beet recipe. As you might know, I love cooking with beets in somewhat unusual ways--featuring them in beet chocolate cake, beet and goat cheese gnocchi, and even beet chocolate chip ice cream!

The episode, which aired yesterday (and will re-air next Tuesday!) was about how a recent study discovered that drinking beet juice on a daily basis can help lower blood pressure by up to 10 points.

The only problem? Plain beet juice--for the most part--tastes like sugary dirt, so it's unlikely that many folks will want to make a habit of it.

To fix this problem, two other beet-loving women and I, were challenged by the Dr. Oz show producers to come up with recipes that help make the juice a bit more palatable...and possibly even delicious!

One of the women shared her beet and pineapple juice recipe, another made a beet smoothie, and I taught Dr. Oz how to make delicious beet, blueberry, and blood orange juice popsicles.

I demonstrated how to make the popsicles in a quick 1 minute segment on camera, and then Dr. Oz called an audience member up to taste and deliver a verdict. It was a hit!

Dr. Oz actually loved my recipe so much that after we broke for commercial, he continued to eat the entire thing (so much so that make-up had to come and clean him up since he stained his mouth and lips red!).

The popsicle recipe is super easy, and the tartness of the blood orange juice, blueberries and fresh lemon help cut the earthiness of the beet, while also packing in lots more antioxidants.

It's a great healthy recipe for summer, and perfect for kids!

Click here to view my Dr. Oz appearance (I come in at around the 2:51 mark, in case you want to fast-forward.)

And below is the recipe so you can recreate these pops yourself!

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Love Always Order Dessert? Let's connect! Follow me on Twitter or Pinterest, become a fan on Facebook, or sign up to receive my once-a-week e-mail updates. And if you ever need any entertaining or cooking advice, please don't hesitate to e-mail me. Thanks for reading!  




Beet, Blueberry & Blood Orange Juice Popsicle Recipe (from my Dr. Oz Show appearance)
Yield depends on the size of your pop mold--multiply the recipe for more popsicles!

Ingredients
1 medium beet about the size of a small apple, peeled & juiced (or you can use bottled beet juice)
1 cup fresh blueberries
1 cup fresh blood orange juice (you can also substitute regular fresh orange juice)
1 lemon, juiced

Special equipment: popsicle molds

Directions
Combine the beet juice, blueberries, blood orange juice, and lemon juice in a blender and puree until smooth. Pour into popsicle molds and freeze at least 4 hours or until set. Unmold and enjoy within 3 days.
Note: If you prefer, you can also juice the blueberries so you don't have the little bits of skin, although I like the texture they add!




How to Make Homemade Crème fraîche

It should come as no surprise that I like to end my days with something sweet.

And this sweet thing usually goes through phases. Last month it was microwave mug cakes--scant spoonfuls of flour, sugar, and spice whisked with an egg and zapped just long enough to produce a tiny hot, spongy little cake.

The weeks before that, I was into homemade dark chocolate bark studded with bits of cracked espresso beans. (Delicious, but an unwise evening snack as it usually left me up all night thinking up projects.)

Now, with sunny warm days upon us, it's berries.
Strawberries, in particular, washed in cold water and served alongside a bowl of tangy crème fraîche and crunchy, toasty coconut palm sugar. It's the sort of treat that seems and tastes gloriously indulgent, and yet is not something that would be out of place on the breakfast table.

I rediscovered my love for creme friache just a few weeks ago when I attended a reception hosted by the folks at Vermont Creamery. For dessert, they served rich flourless chocolate cakes topped with a cloud of the silky sour cream, and I was blown away by how perfectly it worked to balance out the sweetness of the rich cake.

The flavor, if you've never tried it, is a bit of a cross between mascarpone and sour cream. It's got the cultured tang you might know from yogurt or buttermilk, but there is also a very lovely sweetness like that you get from good heavy cream. And the texture is thick and a bit gooey, like marshmallow fluff.

When my gifted container finished, I bought another and then a third, and then this weekend I was dismayed to find that the container was nearly empty yet again. I wanted to serve it along with dessert at the Mother's Day lunch I was preparing for my mom and mother-in-law, but I didn't have time to buy more.

That's when I remembered a long ago article that mentioned how incredibly easy it is to make creme fraiche at home. I got online and found that it really was easy.

As easy as whisking together good heavy cream and a few tablespoons of buttermilk or yogurt or even just some storebought creme fraiche. I happened to have a small unopened bottle of Ronnybrook cream (the best around here), so I poured it into a bowl and stirred in equal parts Greek yogurt and what was left of my Vermont Creamery container.

I covered the bowl with a piece of the plastic (poking in a few holes to allow air to travel), and left it on top of the stove overnight.

By Sunday morning, the bowl of cream had turned thick and silky. I was so excited that I brought it into the bedroom where Eugene was still sleeping. "Look at this! I made creme fraiche!" I exclaimed.

"That's nice," he mumbled, then rolled over back to sleep.

I left the room hugging my bowl then placed it in the fridge to chill and thicken a bit more. I served my homemade creme fraiche to the moms along with fresh strawberries, blackberries, and coconut palm sugar. They loved it.

The bowl is nearly empty again, and I think I just may have to make another batch.

This is definitely a dangerous skill to have acquired...

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Love Always Order Dessert? Let's connect! Follow me on Twitter or Pinterest, become a fan on Facebook, or sign up to receive my once-a-week e-mail updates. And if you ever need any entertaining or cooking advice, please don't hesitate to e-mail me. Thanks for reading!  




Homemade Creme Fraiche Recipe

Ingredients
2 cups good quality heavy cream (not ultra-pasteurized)
1/3 cup buttermilk, yogurt, or creme fraiche (or a combination of these adding up to 1/3 cup)

Directions
Whisk the heavy cream and buttermilk together in a glass bowl. Cover with plastic wrap that's been poked several times to allow air to pass. (You can also use cheesecloth.)

Leave at warm room temperature for 12 to 24 hours, or until the cream has thickened into the texture of loose whipped cream. Give it another stir, cover tightly with a new piece of plastic wrap, and place in refrigerator for at least 8 hours. It will thicken and set completely. You can now serve this with both sweet and savory dishes, or use for cooking. (Just as you would use sour cream or store-bought creme fraiche).

You can also sweeten or flavor the creme fraiche after it's ready--some good additions are lemon or orange zest, vanilla beans, dried herbs, or sugar. 

Keeps well 1 week to 10 days when stored in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator.


  

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