Easy Homemade Restaurant-Style Salsa Recipe

I was catching up on a few of my favorite blogs the other morning, when a very cool recipe caught my eye.

It was shared by Lisa of A Dinner Party, who talked about throwing a low-key dinner party with some friends after a few harried weeks at a new job. On the menu? Fish tacos, a salad, and a batch of homemade restaurant-style salsa.

Lisa's description of the salsa as that "addictively spicy salsa you get in better Mexican restaurants," totally grabbed my attention.

I knew exactly what she meant, and I immediately wanted to taste it.

No joke...barely 10 minutes had passed before I was in the kitchen tossing ingredients into my food processor.

This salsa is incredible!

So very simple to make, and the results are killer. Salty, savory, and with just the perfect amount of heat. You know? The kind of heat that keeps you going back for more, without completely destroying your tastebuds for the rest of the meal.

The recipe makes about 3 cups, and I suspect would keep well for a couple days in the refrigerator, although I cannot testify to that since ours did not last the afternoon. Whoops!

Sidenote: While cleaning, I told Eugene that I couldn't "believe we ate all that salsa today!"

To which he replied, "Yeah...you definitely ate most of it by yourself."

Guilty as charged, my friends! (And not at all sorry.)

I made a few minor changes to the original recipe that Lisa posted (my version is posted below), cutting out the Rotel, and using whole, drained plum tomatoes (because it's what I had on hand). I also increased the jalapenos, garlic, and lime juice.

I need to pick up another couple cans of tomatoes so that I can make this again.

(And again and again and again...)

By the way, these would be excellent with my recipe for Easy Homemade Corn Tortilla Chips!

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Easy Homemade Restaurant-Style Salsa
Makes about 3 cups (Adapted from a recipe found on A Dinner Party, originally from Mountain Mama Cooks)

Ingredients
1 28oz can whole plum tomatoes, drained (save the tomato sauce it comes in for something else--don't use the kind with basil in it)
1/2 medium red onion, roughly chopped
2 large garlic cloves, peeled
1 large jalapeƱo, stem and most of seeds removed (Like it super spicy? I would start with one, then taste and add another if needed. It's got pretty decent heat at this level, and the heat increases as it sits.)
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 small to medium size bunch of fresh cilantro, washed and bottom roots/tough stems trimmed
Juice of 2 medium limes

Directions
Combine all the ingredients in the base of a food processor or blender and puree until smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning to taste, adding more cumin, salt, or lime juice as needed. (Note: I recommend actually tasting it with tortilla chips so that you don't over-salt it.)

Raspberry Lemon Punch Cocktail (Featuring Smirnoff Sorbet Light)

This light and refreshing vodka punch is perfect for summer parties or bridal showers.  Serve individually by the glass over ice, or multiply the recipe to fill a punch bowl or beverage dispenser.

This post is part of my entertaining series "A Summer Sips & Sweets Social" sponsored by Smirnoff Sorbet Light. All ideas and opinions are my own. Click here for more easy entertaining tips and summer party ideas!

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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!


Raspberry Lemon Punch
Serves 1, multiply as desired

Ingredients
1/4 cups fresh raspberries
Ice
1 1/2 oz Smirnoff Sorbet Light Raspberry Pomegranate Vodka
1/2 cup fresh or bottled lemonade
Lemon slice, for garnish

Directions
Muddle the raspberries in a tall glass. Add ice, vodka, and lemonade. Stir and serve garnished with a lemon slice.

Lemon Cucumber Martini (Featuring Smirnoff Sorbet Light)

I think of this as a martini for the non-martini drinkers--it's crisp, light, and not overwhelmingly vodka-y (if you know what I mean).

Made with Smirnoff Sorbet Light Lemon vodka, it's got lovely natural lemon flavor and just a touch of sweetness.

Hosting a party? Get yourself a great martini pitcher like this one, and mix up a big batch all at once!

This post is part of my entertaining series "A Summer Sips & Sweets Social" sponsored by Smirnoff Sorbet Light. All ideas and opinions are my own. Click here for more easy entertaining tips and summer party ideas!

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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!



Lemon Cucumber Martini
Serves 1, multiply as desired

Ingredients
1/4 cucumber, diced, plus an additional slice as a garnish
1/2 lemon, juiced
1 teaspoon honey or simple syrup
1 1/2 oz Lemon Smirnoff Sorbet Light Vodka
club soda

Directions
Add the cucumber, honey, and lemon juice to a large shaker and muddle slightly, Fill with ice and add the vodka. Shake vigorously until the outside of the shaker is frosted. Strain into a martini glass and top off with club soda.

Garnish with a cucumber slice.

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Thanks so much for your continued support!

xoxo

Alejandra

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Mango Passion Fizz Cocktail (Featuring Smirnoff Sorbet Light)

This is my new favorite summer cocktail! It's light and refreshing with sweet, fragrant flavors of mango and passion fruit from the naturally infused vodka.

Really lovely for enjoying in the sun on a hot summer day, and even better when mixed up by the pitcher to share with friends.

This post is part of my entertaining series "A Summer Sips & Sweets Social" sponsored by Smirnoff Sorbet Light. All ideas and opinions are my own. Click here for more easy entertaining tips and summer party ideas!

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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!



Mango Passion Fizz Cocktail
Serves 1, multiply as desired

Ingredients
1 1/2 oz Mango Passion Fruit Smirnoff Sorbet Light Vodka
1/2 large lemon, juiced plus a lemon slice for garnish
1 teaspoon simple syrup or honey
Ice
Club soda

Directions
Combine Mango Passion Fruit vodka, lemon juice, and simple syrup in a shaker filled with ice. Shake vigorously until the shaker is frosted. Serve on the rocks, topped off with club soda and garnished with a lemon slice.



Turkey Quinoa Meatballs & Getting Out of a Cooking Slump

Confession time:

Last week? It was kind of a disaster as far as cooking for myself.

Seriously. A disaster.

The refrigerator was empty after getting back from Sweet Escape, and I kept forgetting to do the groceries (which I usually do online, further adding to the patheticness of things).

My days were also so full that come dinnertime, all I could manage was to log onto delivery.com and ask Eugene "Italian, Latin or Asian?"

I almost hate to admit it, but this is a thing that happens around here every so often..especially after a big event like my retreat. After those 3+  days of cooking multiple multi-course meals for 20 people, I was honestly just spent.

With the exception of the dishes I cooked on camera on Friday, I pretty much stayed out of the kitchen and let the fine restaurants in our neighborhood handle the cooking.

This week, I vowed things would be different. I filled the fridge with fresh veggies, fruit, and my favorite meats. I bought a case of strawberries to make jam. And I planned out a few dishes that I knew would make my life easier throughout the week.

First up? These Turkey Quinoa Meatballs.

These things are incredible: ground turkey seasoned with herbs, lemon zest and a bit of chile flakes,  then mixed with cooked protein-packed quinoa instead of bread crumbs.

They're little nutrition power houses that can be made in advance to add to sauce or soup, tossed in a salad, or served with a dip as a party appetizer. I even like these cold and straight out of the fridge for breakfast.

The recipe below makes a big batch of about 50 meatballs that you can portion up and freeze for meals throughout the week.

And that, my friends, is totally the key lesson here. Because nobody can be expected to be 100% on the ball all of the time (I most certainly am not!). But you can plan ahead for those moments when you need it.

It's a tiny bit of extra upfront effort that will ultimately make life easier and better.

There are seriously fewer things better than being able to open the fridge at the end of an exhausting day, and find that dinner (or lunch) was already made by an organized, more productive, earlier version of you.

Now let's just hope I remember this for next time!

For more bulk cooking ideas, check out this post on frozen shredded chicken and the ideas in this post on cooking for a pregnant friend

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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!


Turkey Quinoa Meatballs
Makes 50 meatballs

Ingredients
3 pounds ground turkey (I use a mix of breast and dark meat)
2 cups cooked quinoa (use leftovers, or prepare a fresh batch according to package directions)
3 large garlic cloves, finely minced
3 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons ground pepper
1 tablespoon ground oregano
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional)
1 tablespoon chopped rosemary
Zest and juice of 1 large lemon
1 large egg
1 red bell pepper, finely diced (optional)

Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or a silicone mat.

In a large bowl or the base of a stand mixer, combine the turkey, cooked quinoa, garlic, salt, pepper, oregano, crushed red pepper, rosemary, lemon zest and juice, egg, and bell pepper (if using). Mix until thoroughly combined. Use your hands or a small scoop to roll the mix out into 1 1/2" balls and arrange next to each other on the baking sheet.

Bake for about 20 minutes, or until the meatballs are fully cooked and slightly golden on top. Serve immediately, or let cool slightly before portioning and storing. (These can also be added to simmering tomato sauce to make them tender, or to a soup broth.)



Spicy Maple Candied Bacon

While working out the activity schedule for my Sweet Escape Retreat, I knew that a maple syrup cooking class was practically a requirement.

We were, after all, heading to Vermont--the largest producer of maple syrup in the United States.

In the demo, I talked a bit about the different grades of maple syrup, and explained how the letters (A and B) signify the strength of flavor and color, not the quality. I then shared a couple recipes that feature maple syrup, talking about what grade would be best for each kind.

The first of these recipes was a very simple Spicy Maple Candied Bacon Recipe, which took mere minutes to prepare, and was an absolute hit once it came out of the oven.

To make, you simply whisk together an easy glaze of maple syrup, spicy brown mustard, with a bit of kosher salt and cayenne pepper for an added kick.

This is brushed over slices of thick smoked bacon (I love the Black Forest kind), and then baked for about 12 minutes, then flipped and brushed with more maple glaze and a sprinkle of coconut palm sugar before returning to the oven for about 15 more minutes. (You can use brown sugar, too, but I recommend you try the coconut sugar--it's wonderful!)

The result is smokey, salty, sticky and crunchy--absolute bacon heaven! Perfect for including in burgers or sandwiches, chopping over a salad, or just serving alongside brunch time egg dish like we did.




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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!

 
Spicy Maple Candied Bacon Recipe

Ingredients
1 pound thick-cut smoked bacon (such as Black Forest)
1/2 cup grade B maple syrup (substitute grade A maple syrup, but grade B has a stronger flavor that's better for cooking)
1 tablespoon spicy brown or dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne
2 tablespoons coconut palm sugar (substitute brown sugar if you prefer)


Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil and top with a cooling rack. Arrange bacon slices next to each other on the rack. In a small bowl, whisk together the maple syrup, mustard, salt and cayenne. 
Brush half of the syrup mixture generously on the bacon and bake 12 minutes. Remove from oven, flip bacon, and brush the other side with the rest of the syrup.
Sprinkle the strips with the coconut palm sugar, and return to the oven for another 15 minutes, or until bacon is crisp on the edges. Let the bacon cool on the rack for just 1-2 minutes before transferring to a serving platter (if you wait too long, the bacon will harden and make it nearly impossible to remove from the rack!).
Let cool a bit more before serving (the bacon will continue to crisp up as it cools).

Inspired Entertaining: DIY S'Mores Dessert Bar

One of the parts of Sweet Escape 2013 that I was most excited about, was the Bonfire and DIY S'Mores Bar Event that I planned for Friday night.

I'd always dreamed about having a lavish s'mores themed party where my guests could choose from a bountiful array of marshmallows, chocolates, cookies, and toppings to create their own unique combinations.

Life in an apartment makes this a bit tough (lack o' fire), so I knew I had to make this happen at Sweet Escape.

I was so honored to have two sponsors who made this possible for me with their generous product donations. 240 Sweet, an artisan marshmallow maker based in Chicago provided an assortment of some of their incredible marshmallow flavors including vanilla-sriracha, coffee chip,  honey & pink peppercorn, avocado & lime, elephant ear, and SO many others.

Green & Black's sent us an assortment of their delicious organic and free trade chocolate bars in incredible varieties like dark 70%, chocolate mint, milk chocolate, toffee, chocolate almond, ginger, creamy white, and spiced chile. The bars were such a hit and people were debating over their favorite flavor (mint seemed to be a big winner).

In addition to classic graham crackers, I put out cinnamon grahams, ginger snaps (my favorite!), buttery shortbread cookies, chocolate chip cookies, and dark chocolate-covered pretzels to sandwich the marshmallow and chocolate.

For filling, I included some chocolate nut butters, jelly, and Nutella to spread on the crackers.

I also added fresh ripe blueberries and strawberries, as well as some wrapped caramels and (since we were in Vermont!) maple candy wafers.

I love savory elements in my desserts, so I added a log of soft and creamy Vermont Creamery goat cheese, some dried culinary lavender buds, and fresh mint leaves.

I also included a jar of thick and syrupy balsamic vinegar glaze.

To drink, I put out a couple bottles of chilled RumChata--a sweet rum and horchata cream liqueur that was the perfect accompaniment on its own and poured into coffee.

I also included a little cutting board and knife for cutting the big puffs into smaller pieces.

And for toasting, we lit a gorgeous crackling fire in the bonfire pit outside.

Just a few of the snaps the retreat attendees shared on Instagram
The attendees freaked out a bit when they saw the display, which is exactly the reaction I was hoping for.

After attacking it with their cameras (check out the hashtag #sweetescape2013 on Instagram and Twitter), they got to work creating some pretty incredible s'mores combinations.

I saw everything from toasted coconut & blueberry with the Green & Black's chocolate almond bars, to strawberry marshmallows with dark chocolate, goat cheese and balsamic to bacon with peanut butter, white chocolate, and maple.

Such a perfect ending to a lovely summer day!

Click here to read more about my Sweet Escape Retreat Weekend. And email me if you'd like to get on the list for next year's event!

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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!

DIY Pantry: Homemade Nutella (vegan recipe)

One of my favorite workshops during this past weekend's Sweet Escape Retreat (more about that soon!), was the DIY Pantry class, during which I showed the attendees how to make easy homemade versions of popular condiments and pantry staples. In the hour-long workshop I showed them how to make a quick strawberry jam and homemade ketchup, but the definite hit was my recipe for Homemade Nutella.

This quick and dairy-free version tastes almost exactly like the kind you get in the bottle, but doesn't contain any funky ingredients. Even better? It's made entirely in the food processor--all you have to do is combine the ingredients and let the machine do the work.

The recipe starts off with blanched hazelnuts--this is key as it eliminates the need for you to roast and remove the skins yourself, which is a total pain in the butt (trust me. I tried it that way once and it wasn't fun.).

I get my blanched hazelnuts from nuts.com (one of my top three favorite shopping websites EVER!), but you can also find them at the bulk aisle of grocery stores like Whole Foods. They're about a dollar or two more expensive per pound than the ones with skins, but it saves you so much time and effort, that it's totally worth it.

Photo by Connie of UrbanBakes.com, via Instagram
You then puree this with unsweetened cocoa powder, powdered sugar (I used organic as it's GMO-free), a bit of salt, some vanilla extract, and hazelnut oil, which helps loosen the spread and also intensifies the hazelnut flavor.

You'll note that in the recipe I am flexible with the oil--that's because different batches of nuts will have more oil than others, so you'll have to use your eye and just keep adding oil until it hits the right creamy texture.

Another thing to note is that as this is homemade, it's unlikely that you'll get it as perfectly smooth as the bottled kind. Many of the bloggers on the retreat actually noted that they preferred the slightly gritty texture as it felt "more rustic and natural." I have to agree!

P.S. Check out retreat attendee Judith's post about the class here.

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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 Nutella (Vegan, Dairy-Free)
Makes 3 cups

Ingredients
4 cups (1lb) blanched hazelnuts
2 cups powdered sugar
2/3 cup cocoa powder
1/4 cup hazelnut oil plus more as needed (Note: substitute walnut, canola, grapeseed, or coconut oil if you can't find the hazelnut oil although note that the hazelnut oil will give it the stronger "nutella" flavor)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Directions:
Process the hazelnuts in a food processor about 2 to 5 minutes,  until they start to form an oily hazelnut butter (similar to a rough peanut butter).

Scrape down the bowl, and add the powdered sugar, cocoa powder, hazelnut oil, vanilla extract and salt and continue to process, scraping down the bowl and adding more hazelnut oil, a few tablespoons at a time, until the mixture becomes smooth and glossy (similar in texture to jarred Nutella). 
Once it reaches the desired texture, transfer to a jar for storage. Store in the refrigerator for up to 6 weeks.


Sweet Escape Retreat 2013: A Recap with Pictures!

As you may know, this past weekend I brought a group of 20 food bloggers and other food lovers up to Vermont for a 3-day culinary retreat.

The retreat, which I named A Sweet Escape, was a dream that I'd been thinking about for a long time, and was excited to finally see come to life. The idea, at it's root, was to create a real-life version of my blog. An event where I could bring together some of my readers, friends, and fellow bloggers for a few days of cooking, eating, exploring, and learning about food.

Over the course of three days, we cooked, made crafts, visited farms and cool small shops, and shared incredible meals and drinks over a long wooden farmtable. The evenings were spent toasting marshmallows around a bonfire, or curled up in pajamas sipping cocktails. And thanks to Rosalie, our amazing in-house massage therapist, Maegan's morning yoga classes, and the hot tub outside, there was also plenty of time for relaxation.

Throughout this week, I'll be sharing posts with detailed recipes, tips, and tutorials of the events described below, but for now, I just want to share a quick overview of our weekend with you:

Bus Trip + Day 1
The retreat started on Thursday evening in NYC, where we all met up in midtown to hop on The Good Bus, a 24-passenger jitney that was our ride up to Vermont. 

I had prepared a dinner of Grilled Chipotle Chicken Sandwiches with Roasted Veggies and Cilantro Crema, Tortilla Chips with Black Bean & Corn Salsa, Espresso Mint Brownies, and Fresh Strawberries.

To drink, we enjoyed Minty Tequila Limeade (or "mojitoritas" as Sara nicknamed them), Vodka Orange Coolers, and Red Citrus Sangria served from my improvised little "bus bar." 

The next morning, I prepared a light self-serve breakfast of freshly baked cream scones, banana bread, blueberry banana muffins, hard boiled eggs, berries, and freshly squeezed orange juice.

The first workshop of the weekend was a craft workshop featuring Mod Podge, where the attendees learned how to make glass collage plates and tissue paper baskets.

I was so impressed with the creativity of the group--the plates they made were absolutely gorgeous!

We then gathered in the kitchen for a demo about cooking with maple syrup, using syrups from our sponsor Tonewood Maple.

I taught the group how to make Candied Maple Bacon, Massaged Kale Salads with Maple Lime Ginger Dressing, and Maple Butter.

The maple bacon was definitely a hit!

After lunch, the attendees piled back onto The Good Bus, and headed to Jersey Girls Dairy where they learned about the milk industry, and met some adorable baby cows.

This was followed by a stop in the small town of Ludlow for a little bit of shopping.

I was so thrilled that Nancy Warner, the blogger behind Potlicker Kitchen agreed to join us to lead a demo on wine jelly making.

She was really wonderful, and completely demystified the process--so much so that many of the ladies were talking about ordering cans and trying it out themselves at home!
After Nancy's demo, Bridget Jones from Boyden Valley Winery paid us a visit to host a wine tasting of five of their local Vermont wines and cream liqueurs, which the attendees enjoyed along with a selection of cheeses from Vermont Creamery.

Dinner that night was Middle Eastern themed.

The attendees enjoyed a spread of lamb kofte, spicy roasted eggplant, citrus carrot salad with hazelnut vinaigrette, and Greek cucumber salad.

The evening ended with a Bonfire and DIY S'Mores Bar (!!!) that I set up in the kitchen, featuring an assortment of artisan marshmallows from 240 Sweet, chocolates from Green & Black's, and a variety of toppings for the Sweet Escapers to create their own unique s'mores combinations.

(There will definitely be more about THIS later!)

Day 2
The second day started with yoga classes taught by Maegan Walton of Soglia Studios, followed by another low-key self-serve breakfast of freshly baked breads, fruit, and Vermont Creamery butter.

Our first workshop of the day was the DIY Pantry class, during which I taught the retreaters how to make homemade strawberry jam, homemade ketchup, and homemade nutella.

After the class, everyone gathered on the porch for a picnic lunch in the sunshine.

I wanted to keep it pretty light for this meal so I made cold peanut soba noodles, roasted ginger lime cilantro shrimp, and salad.

I also toasted up another batch of La Briola pretzel rolls and served them alongside my freshly made homemade jam and Nutella.

They then loaded back onto The Good Bus for a trip to the Calvin Coolidge Estate and Plymouth Artisan Cheese--the second oldest working cheese factory in the US (and makers of Julia Child's very favorite cheese).

We also brought the group to The Vermont Country Store and The Green Mountain Sugar House for Maple Creemees (local maple-flavored soft serve).

I stayed back to cook this massive 17lb hunk of beef:

And to wait for the arrival of Max Overstrom-Coleman, a bartender and brand ambassador for Vermont Spirits, a local spirit maker that distills vodka from local whey and maple syrup.

Max led an AMAZING cocktail demo during which he shared about cocktail history, gave tips on how to make a cocktail, and mixed up drinks for the attendees to taste.

The combo of cute barman + alcohol made for a very fun and rowdy evening!

Max then joined us for dinner, which was Latin-themed that night.
I prepared a taco bar featuring pomegranate and coffee braised chuck roll, seasonal roasted chipotle vegetables, guacamole, chips, and lime cumin creme fraiche. La Tortilla Factory (my favorite tortilla maker) generously donated their delicious new Soft-Wrap Minis to use as our tortillas.

After dinner, folks changed into their pajamas and cuddled up in the living room to watch the foodie classic Chocolat, while enjoying an array of chocolate sweets, brownies, candies, and dessert cocktails featuring RumChata liqueur.

Day 3
Our final day at the retreat once again started with relaxing yoga classes by Maegan, followed by a lavish brunch of Berry RumChata Pretzel Bread Pudding, Roasted Veggie & Cheese Frittata, Andoille and Potato Frittata, Curried Tofu Veggie Scramble, Sauteed Broccoli Rabe, and (of course!) those incredible warm toasted La Briola Pretzel Rolls topped off with my homemade strawberry jam and Nutella.

Each attendee then got a gift bag filled with all kinds of goodies from our sponsors, and I also gave out a few fun raffle prizes including a bottle of Vermont Spirits Gold Vodka, a Cuisinart Ice Cream Maker, a Weber BBQ Grill Set, a S'Mores Gift Bag, and a Crafting Gift Bag.

After a quick group photo, we all got back on the bus for a quiet (read: sleepy) ride back to New York City.

It was, indeed, a very sweet escape!
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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!


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