Between Breakfast and Lunch: Brunch

I love breakfast foods. I could them any time of day. I’m not picky – I like eggs, muffins, scones, cinnamon buns, biscuits (with or without gravy), grits, waffles, pancakes, fruit, and the occasional slice of bacon. And coffee. Let’s not forget coffee.

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Brunch is  one of my favorite meals to host because the food is pretty low maintenance to prepare, the food can easily be scaled to feed a crowd, and a lazy Saturday or Sunday morning is the perfect time to hang out with family and friends over a leisurely meal.

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Earlier this year, I wrote about our family brunch. On the menu in the photo below, we had biscuits and gravy (pork sausage gravy in the big pot, turkey sausage gravy in the small pot), scrambled eggs, yogurt almonds, fresh fruit (raspberries, nectaries, and grapes), and blueberry muffins. And coffee. Let’s not forget coffee.

I’ve also seen some cute ideas for brunch foods on Pinterest. The create-your-own bar seems to be a very popular idea right now: 

Bellini Bar

Top-Your-Own-Yogurt Bar

Top-Your-Own-Oatmeal Bar

Top-Your-Own-Pancakes Bar

Food on a skewer is easy to serve and can be done in lots of different combinations:

Rainbow Fruit Kabobs

Chicken and Waffle Skewers

Blueberry-Strawberry Pancake Skewers

Lemon, Ginger, and Strawberry Pancake Skewers

And anything that can be made ahead, whether a casserole or single serve portions, is a winner for a party food:

Baked Oatmeal with Fruit

Pancake Bites

Mini Egg Omelets

What are some of your favorite brunch foods?

I’m looking forward to planning some fun brunch gatherings in the future with good friends and yummy food. And coffee. Let’s not forget coffee.

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Beachy Spaghetti

While we were on vacation, one of our meals was spaghetti with roasted vegetables. It was a simple, delicious meal that Artie practically inhaled. What can I say – after a day of walking up and down the beach, we were seriously hungry.

The actual spaghetti was easy enough to prepare – we used jarred sauce (our favorite garlic spaghetti sauce) and basic spaghetti noodles (both from Trader Joe’s). I don’t know if it was something about this spaghetti or the fact that we were hungry from a day at the beach, but it tasted more delicious than normal. To prevent having to clean extra dirty dishes, we boiled the spaghetti noodles, drained them and returned them to the same pot, and then poured in the sauce.

We complemented the spaghetti with roasted vegetables. One package of pre-washed/pre-chopped broccoli and half of a sliced red onion (left over from the black bean tacos the night before) tossed with olive oil, salt, and minced garlic, then roasted at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.

Artie also made some garlic bread. He spread a few slices of whole wheat Italian bread (another Trader Joe’s find) with butter that had been mixed with minced garlic and then toasted the bread in a skillet over medium heat.

IMG_1556(Sorry the picture is a little bit out of focus.)

This definitely isn’t the most gourmet meal we’ve ever made, but it was tasty and quick to prepare. In fact, the timing couldn’t have been better – while the pasta water came to a boil, I chopped the onion and broccoli and got them into the over. When I drained the pasta, I tossed the vegetables once. While the sauce heated up with the noodles and Artie made the garlic toast, the veggies finished and everything was ready to put on the plate at once. That almost never happens for me in the kitchen.

We ate dinner on the deck while watching the sunset with a bottle of Newman’s Own Chardonnay. Perfection.

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Beach Meals: Breakfast and Lunch

While we were on vacation at Little Gasparilla, we tried for simple, healthy food that was easy to prepare (no special kitchen gadgets required) and easy to clean up  (so we could get back to the sun and sand).

For breakfasts and lunches, we bought:

  • English muffins and bread (whole wheat sourdough and plain wheat)
  • Cream cheese, butter, jelly, and sunflower seed butter
  • Fruit (bananas, blueberries, apples, and grapes)
  • Veggies (cucumber, baby carrots, baby peppers)
  • Yogurt
  • Hummus
  • Provolone cheese
  • Bread and butter pickle chips
  • Chips (roasted garlic flavored and a splurge for the beach)
  • Jo-jo’s (only the best, most delicious vanilla-flavored cookies from Trader Joe’s)

Breakfasts were sunflower seed butter and jelly sandwiches, English muffins with butter and jelly, bananas with sunflower seed butter, or yogurt with blueberries.

Every day for lunch we had a different combination or tasting plate:

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Cucumber and cream cheese sandwich, Jo-jo’s, peppers and carrots with garlic hummus, roasted garlic chips, grapes, and bread and butter pickles

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Grilled cheese (provolone, mustard, arugula, and apple slices), grapes, apple slices, bread and butter pickle slices

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Sandwich (cream cheese with apple and cucumber slices), cucumber and carrots with garlic hummus, apple slices (and probably some Jo-jo’s later in the afternoon…)

What are some of your favorite go-to luches and dinners when you are preparing simple, healthy meals?

The Accidentally Vegetarian Vacation

Last week, Artie and I spent five glorious days at my family’s beach house on Little Gasparilla Island. LGI is unique because you can only reach the island by boat and you have to bring your own drinking water and shower in rain water that is collected in tanks.  It sounds rustic, but it is wonderful. The beach is only a few steps from the front door and the sunsets from the deck can’t be beat.

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When traveling to an island with no stores for a week, it is important to make a detailed shopping list because forgetting something means either 1) go without it or 2) take a 15 minute boat ride to mainland, give up your parking space in the marina, and drive to an (expensive) Publix down the road. We usually go with option one because option two is a pain.

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We were going to be eating dinner on the island Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday and we knew my family would be joining us for at least two meals. We tried to plan meals that were easy to prepare (there aren’t a lot of fancy kitchen implements at the beach) and had overlapping ingredients (so we didn’t waste a lot of food). This is what we came up with:

Thursday – Crunchy Black Bean Tacos and arugula salad

Friday – spaghetti with roasted vegetables and garlic bread

Saturday – onion and pepper quesadillas

Sunday – Rice and Bean Casserole with Guacamole

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The black bean taco recipe is one of our new favorites (a Pinterest find) and the rice and bean casserole has been on my list of recipes to try. As you can see from the menu, we ended up having an accidentally vegetarian vacation. I don’t like cooking (or eating) meat very much and Artie is good enough to play along.

Overall, it was a delicious menu that didn’t take a lot of time to cook or clean up and satisfied our hunger after long days walking on the beach and swimming in the ocean (I know, it sounds so rough, right?). My family liked the food (even if they did supplement the meals with meat…) and we didn’t end up with lots of groceries left over.

I’ll be back this week with more details!

Island Life

Last week, we had a fantastic time on vacation at Little Gasparilla Island. We’re looking forward to sharing some foodie thoughts and recipes from our vacation over the next week or so, but for now here are some snapshots from paradise.

The view from here is mighty fine

IMG_1548Walking on the beach

IMG_1552She sells seashells by the seashore

IMG_1562Kisses at sunset

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Sunset over the Gulf of Mexico

IMG_1579 Beachy palms

IMG_1599Wine at sunset

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A White Family Christmas

An alternate title for this post could be “The One with the Epic Sangria” but I’ll get to that in a few minutes.  This Christmas, Artie’s parents suggested that in lieu of gifts we take a family vacation.  We considered several potential destinations and decided on Tampa.  A few of my friends asked me “Why Tampa?”  I guess the idea that a Central Florida native  would vacation there seemed foreign to them, but it was actually a great place to go and since Artie’s family isn’t from Central Florida, there was a lot that they wanted to see and do.  We stayed at the waterfront Embassy Suites which was right across from the downtown trolley.

The trolley runs from downtown over to Ybor City and makes stops along the way at the St. Pete Times Forum and the aquarium.  With the exception of a quick trip to the mall, we didn’t have to move our cars at all during our trip – we just hopped on the trolley.

We went to a Lightening game where they beat the Carolina Hurricanes 5 – 1.  It was a great game!

We went to the Florida Aquarium (where Keri pretended to be a conch shell).

But the most epic part of the vacation?  Dinner and the flamenco dancing show at The Columbia Restaurant.  I don’t have any pictures of the flamenco dancing (they asked the audience not to video or take pictures during the show) but I do have a few pictures of the delicious food.

We started with a pitcher of sangria (between the five of us, we polished off two!) which the servers prepare at your table.

I stuck to two small glasses.  It was rich and fruity and wonderful and packed a little bit of a punch.  See that little pat of butter in the corner?  That was consumed with warm, crusty, chewy Cuban bread.

For dinner, I had the “1905” Salad with shrimp and a cup of black beans and rice.  I didn’t get a picture because they room was darkened for the flamenco dancing show, but the food was amazing!  The black beans were salty and had a delicious bite from the raw onions on top.  The salad was dressed in a garlicky dressing and had the perfect mixture of flavor and texture: crisp iceberg lettuce, briny green olives, tomato wedges,  thin slivers of good quality cheese, and perfectly cooked shrimp.  I had talked about the salad so much that day, I convinced Artie’s mom, dad, and sister to order it, too.  It did not disappoint.

I made sure not to finish my bread, black beans, or salad because I wanted to try one of their desserts.  Artie’s parents got the churros (I tried a bite – not bad) and Keri got a flaming strawberry sponge cake thing (also not bad, but not my favorite).  Artie and I shared got a white chocolate break pudding with rum sauce.

Be still my beating heart.  We each had a few bites and then shared with the table.  It was hands down the family favorite.  It wasn’t too soggy, like some bread pudding can be.  It was warm and dense, cinnamon-flavored, and sweet without being too sweet.

Overall, I think Ybor City is a dive, but if you are in the Tampa area, you should check out The Columbia.  They are Ybor’s self-proclaimed hidden gem and the food lives up to it’s reputation.  Artie’s mom got us The Columbia Restaurant Cookbook so I might be attempting to recreate this bread pudding in the very near future…