Mini lasagnas are on my mind and in my hands…

Mini Wonton Lasagnas

Like many of my friends, my friend Oliver is really into food. I wouldn’t say he’s as obsessed as I am, but I do know we share a tendency to pour over online menus, planning our meals before we even set foot in the restaurant. We also cook dinner together once a week before settling in to watch a few hours of (usually pretty trashy) TV. It’s one of those random routines that has worked fairly effortlessly for us for years.

The only hard part is deciding what to make each week. While our food preferences can vary a bit (I probably couldn’t pay him to try foie gras), the main issue is actually our timeline — we meet at 7pm and try to be done cooking within thirty minutes so we have ample TV time.

Even working with this limitation, we have put out some damn good food, including this crispy orange chicken and a roasted rack of pork with vegetables. But one of my favorite things we cooked recently were this little mini lasagnas, made by using wonton wrappers.

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Baby hasselback potatoes topped with burrata

baby hasselback potatoes with burrata

Baby hasselback potatoes with burrata, crispy chicken skin and fried garlic

I love cute food. I can’t help it — give me tiny one-bite appetizers or adorable mini anything and I will love it. There’s just something about a petite portion of food that is so pleasing.

And early summer is great time to find produce to aid with this mission. There are tiny spring onions, mini patty pan squashes and the smallest new potatoes that taste like butter. A week or so ago, I was woo-ed into buying some little red potatoes and after having roasted a batch or two, I was looking for something new to try.

I had a ball of burrata cheese in my fridge, crispy chicken skin from a recently roasted bird, and thanks to this recipe, things started to come together.

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Peachy Keen: Creating the perfect bellini Jello shot

Bellini Jell-O Shots

My take on the bellini: Sparkling wine & Peach Jello shot

I have a soft spot for Jello shots. Maybe it’s just my nostalgia for college, I’m not sure, there’s just something so fun about them. But while I have fond memories of “shooting” lime Jello mixed with copious amounts of Jose Cuervo, I like to think that as an adult I’ve upgraded to classier versions of alcohol and gelatin.

About 8 years ago, I made a gin and tonic jelly that I had seen in Nigella Lawson’s How to be a Domestic Goddess. I was completely smitten with it — it was a beautiful color, absolutely delicious and (dare I say?) even elegant.

Gin & Tonic Jelly

Gin & Tonic Jelly

Triple Layered Fruity Jell-O shotsA few years after that, I did a “cape cod” jelly made with alternating layers of vodka with cranberry and vodka with lime. It was fabulous.

And last year for my birthday I did triple layer Jello shots, putting in as much booze as possible while still allowing for the mixture to set. Yes, there is a science to this.

So when the girls in my office decided to throw a surprise baby shower for another co-worker, I asked if I could bring Jello shots. I think a few people thought this was a little weird (on several levels I’m sure) but my idea of a good party means there should be alcohol somewhere. If we weren’t going to be drinking wine, we should at least have boozy Jello. (In the end we drank wine too, because it was a Friday and we do what we want.)

I figured vodka would be a bit much for the mother-to-be, but since every pregnant lady I’ve known has still enjoyed a glass or two of bubbly while waiting for her due date, it seemed that sparkling wine would be perfect for the occasion. I pondered a few possible cocktail options (mimosas? Kir royals?) before settling on the classic combination of the Bellini — bubbles mixed with peach puree.

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The best accompaniment for a new recipe is an old friend

Ricotta & Parmesan Stuffed Sweet Peppers

Ricotta & Parmesan Stuffed Sweet Peppers

Having grown up in a small town, it’s often hard for me to recall how long I’ve known someone or when I first met them. I’ve known my best friend, Nikki Sea, since before I can remember and most of my graduating class in high school I knew in preschool.

One of the people I have no recollection of being introduced to is my friend Florence. I actually remember her from my kindergarten class, though it’s very possible we met before that. While she and I were never really close, we shared enough mutual good friends to stay aware of each other throughout the years, though we could have very easily never spoken again after high school.

But strangely, as social media fate would have it, I can thank Myspace for reconnecting us about 6 or 7 years ago. I can also thank our shared love for drinking wine, eating good food and gossiping about our former schoolmates for cementing our growing friendship.

While she is currently living in Alaska, every summer Florence spends a few weeks in Portland, taking classes and tests for her studies. And every visit she sends me a text, sometimes after a full 12 months with no contact, saying she is in town. And just like that, it’s on — we do what we do best: we drink a bottle of bubbles and stuff ourselves silly while rehashing the past and catching up on the present.

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Flowers in your bubbly: A little something different

Wild Hibiscus in Champagne

Wild hibiscus flowers liven up a glass of bubbly!

One of my favorite things to do is host parties, and over the years, I’ve learned it’s usually the small things that make a get-together memorable. Whether it’s creative party invitations, fun party snacks or curiously carbonated cocktails, it seems like it’s often the little details that will stick in someone’s mind for days afterward. Therefore I’m constantly on the hunt for the strange and unusual, little things — generally of the culinary persuasion — to bring out at my next party to surprise guests with.

So when I heard about these Wild Hibiscus Flowers in Syrup a few years ago, I was immediately obsessed with them. Unable to find them in town, I went online and ordered six or seven jars at once. A few I gifted to friends who also share a love for interesting treasures and the rest I hoarded in my pantry to break out whenever the mood hit.

While they aren’t a new trend by any stretch, these hibiscus flowers are certainly still fun to experiment with. They add a festive detail to any party, and are particularly perfect as an ice breaker during aperitifs. (That sentence made me feel like I just channeled Martha Stewart!) But honestly, even if you’ve grown accustomed to these flowers like I have, they never lose their luster.

And the best part is that they require no more effort than this:

Start with a hibiscus flower from the jar. They feel like a gummy candy crossed with a fruit leather, and they kind of remind me of these piranha plants from Super Mario Bros.

Wild Hibiscus Flowers

Wild Hibiscus Flowers

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Cheddar and Cayenne Biscotti: Happy Dunking!

Cheddar and Cayenne Biscotti

Cheddar and Cayenne Biscotti

In a recent post, I mentioned that I had been on a biscotti kick. I baked several different types over the holidays, all sweet, made with sugar and various types of nuts. But in the comment section, thanks to a fellow blogger, I got wind of a different type of biscotti made with cheese and pepper that sounded too intriguing to forget. I love it when things that you expect to be simply sweet are turned into something savoy instead — like the sage macaron I had for lunch today.

Cheddar for BiscottiI googled the recipe reviews for the link that she gave me (Parmesan and black pepper biscotti) and it sounded like a winner. However, I didn’t happen to have any Parmesan cheese at my house and I had just polished off the last of the pecorino, which is my go-to substitute. But I did, thanks to my stepdad who is also a cheese fanatic, have a huge hunk of two-year aged white cheddar from Wisconsin that was begging to be used in something fun.

I’m sure I could have switched out the cheddar in the original recipe just fine but I thought I’d do some additional internet digging to see what else was out there. And I stumbled upon what seemed like the perfect fit — a recipe from the famed Mark Bittman for Cheddar and Cayenne Biscotti.

I ran to the kitchen so fast, I practically hurt myself!

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