Monday, October 15, 2018

Diner en Blanc Los Angeles - An East Culver City Wonderland

On Saturday, September 29, Diner en Blanc once again returned to Los Angeles! Diner en Blanc (in English translated to "Dinner in White") began as a simple gathering of friends in Paris nearly 30 years ago. Now it is hosted in cities all over the world in the most elegant of public spaces! It is a flash mob style, "chic picnic" where guests are dressed elegantly and dine on fine food and wine while enjoying fabulous entertainment.

Having attended three of the previous four Los Angeles events, it is an amazing undertaking with many volunteers, complicated transportation, and unique entertainment! While the event itself is quite magical, it is also a bit of an undertaking as an attendee as well. Attendees are expected to provide everything needed for the dinner including table, white chairs, white cloth linens, white plates, real silverware, real glassware and of course an elegant picnic dinner! And of course a chic all white outfit. A lot to prepare and a lot to transport!

When the 2018 Los Angeles event came along, my friends and I just could not commit immediately and tickets sold out quickly. The theme was "Wonderland" this year and as a big Alice in Wonderland fan, I did not want to miss out on the celebration! Rather than attending the main soiree, I went back to the roots of Diner en Blanc and hosted friends at my own house in "East Culver City". While my house and yard are not large, I was still able to keep the dining location "secret" until just before just like the real event!

So how did I pull off a magical event at my own home without spending a lot of time or money? Read on for all of the details!



Decor

The decor was the biggest effort for this event. I knew I wanted to host it outside and while the landscaping in my backyard is beautiful, I needed to bring the "magic" as well as Wonderland to life. In Alice in Wonderland, the playing cards are caught painting the white roses bushes red so I used that as a jumping off point for decorating my own hedges. Of course as it is Diner en Blanc the roses stayed white! I purchased faux flowers from Michael's and inserted those into the hedge and then added strands of white lights to add that beautiful glow once the sun went down.



As for the tablescape itself, I built the centerpiece around the concept of the Mad Hatter's hat. I found a white top hat from Target and added the proper 10/6 sign to tie in theme. To keep it simple, I used more flowers from Michael's and a feather to complete the centerpiece. Real flowers would have been beautiful as well but I was concerned that they would look droopy by the time we sat down as there was no way to place them in a vase. In addition I scanned pages from an Alice in Wonderland book and included a page at each place setting. We all enjoyed reading the passages aloud during dinner though for some they were confusing out of context! I also cut out the various playing card symbols from glitter foam to add some dimension to the table. Finally I used two white tea cups with blooms and "Drink Me" tags to bring our own "mad tea party" together. Classic tea lights from my collection completed the table.





I focused primarily on decorating the hedge and the table however did include some signage in the trees that led back to our dining area and also some croquet set pieces to tie in with the Queen of Heart's rose garden. The signs include "This Way", "That Way", "Up", "Down", "Go Back", and "Yonder" with the Disney animated film as inspiration.


The entire cost for the décor was approximately $20. I purchased the flowers, hat and glitter foam. I already owned the book so used my home printer for the signage and book excerpts. As for the linens, dishes, etc., I already owned everything I needed since they were all basics. I used a table I owned and borrowed the chairs, tea cups and lights from a friend!

Menu

The menu was kept simple with everyone bringing a contribution. We started with some appetizers before heading to the "secret" location. Then we enjoyed a three course meal that began with a lovely fall salad. I prepared the entrée and went with this delicious Slow Cooker Mediterranean Chicken. Since we did not have to actually pack a picnic, we had the luxury of a hot entrée. This recipe was great because the cooking didn't have to be hands on until just prior to serving. I made a few minor modifications to this including adding a little bit of chicken stock and substituting pre-chopped white for yellow onions (a great time saver). I also already had chicken tenderloin pieces so used them instead of the full breasts. Once seared in the pan, the chicken cooked for a bit on low before I turned it up to high. I want to say it was less than an hour total. It was cooked through and very juicy. I would highly recommend this entrée for a dinner party or a Tuesday night! I served it with a side of Quinoa and Kale from Aldi. No photo because we were too focused on eating but here is a photo of our sweet ending! One of my guests made delicious vanilla cupcakes (gluten free no less) and put them in cute Alice in Wonderland wrappers! We also had macarons to complete the tea party theme!



I added some other touches like an Alice in Wonderland playlist (happy to share upon request!) and dressed like the White Rabbit!

I also experimented with making a video before everyone arrived. It is a one take, non-rehearsed, selfie video so please be kind in the comments! You will notice in the video I tried out an alternate name "Champagne Parties on a Beer Budget". Possibly a spin off blog? Let me know what you think!





Monday, May 8, 2017

Carrot Top Pesto & Roasted Carrots with Imperfect Produce

Recently I started getting vegetable deliveries from a great company called Imperfect Produce. Their business model is to take fruit and vegetables that are not cute enough to sell in stores (and often go to waste) and offer them at a reasonable price for home delivery. I decided to give it a try because: 

1. I like the idea of eliminating food waste.
2. More veggies are never a bad thing.
3. My cooking routine needed some variety.
4. Most importantly the delivery is both right sized for my lifestyle and can be customized. 

If you live in LA, the San Francisco Bay Area or Orange County, I suggest you give it a try! If you sign up before May 10 and use the code "April Friend" you'll get $20 in free groceries! List me as your referral and get $10 more! If you are reading this after May 10, then you will just be able to get the referral bonus.

Enough about my sales pitch (though seriously they should hire me!), let me share some of my new recipes! 

In my first order I received organic rainbow carrots with the tops. I immediately knew I wanted to experiment with a pesto! I found a few recipes online but the one I liked best was super simple and addictively good. I have since made it another way but that is a another post!

This recipe was from a website called Don't Waste the Crumbs. I need to spend some time looking through this site as the author is all about making healthy meals for her family with real food and on a budget! It does not contain any cheese so it is good for vegans too!

As per usual, I made some modifications to this recipe which I will note below but here is the recipe as written for the most part. My notes will be indicated with a "G". 

Carrot Top Pesto

3 Tbsp nuts, roughly chopped 
1 garlic clove (G - If using minced garlic from the jar, use 1 1/2 teaspoons)
2 cups carrot tops (from 4-5 carrots, roughly chopped)
1/2 cup packed fresh herbs 
1/2 – 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

G - I used pistachios & basil for my nut and herb selection

1. Measure nuts and garlic into a food processor. Pulse until a rough paste forms. How much of a paste you form will depend on the type of nut you use. (The natural oils from the nut will be released to form the paste).

2.Add carrot tops and herbs and pulse until everything is in teeny tiny pieces and creates an even thicker, rougher paste. G - You will probably need to scrape the sides a bit. I also found that some of my garlic/nut mixture had a difficult time combining on it's own.

3. Add 1/2 cup olive oil and pulse/blend until the mixture is mostly smooth. If the pesto is too thick, add additional olive oil if desired, 1 Tbsp at a time. G- I did not measure this exactly and ended up adding a little citrus oil too. 

4. Season with salt and pepper. 

5. Makes about 1 cup. Store in a glass jar in the fridge. If you’re using quality olive oil, the pesto will likely solidify in the fridge. Bring to room temperature for 10 minutes before using.

G - I would probably add some fresh lemon juice or zest next time as the citrus olive oil really enhanced the flavor. 



Since I made the pesto on Grilled Cheese Day, I made myself an amazing sandwich and served it with a side of roasted carrots. The pesto was also a great dip for the carrots! 

I simply used this recipe for the carrots from Food.com. I did not peel the carrots either - just cleaned them really well. No wasted skin!



Here is my photo of this delicious meal. My stomach is growling looking at it! My sandwich is a little on the lightly toasted side but only because I used healthy olive oil cooking spray instead of butter or mayo on the bread. It was still really good but I saved a few calories!

Do you have any good recipes to use up carrot tops or other often discarded parts of food?

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Product Placement Wednesday - Trader Joe's Platinum Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Truffles

Yes, after MUCH delay Product Placement Wednesday is back! Between work, life, and my other (often neglected) blog On The Tart Side is getting so much needed love!


Trader Joe's Platinum Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Truffles





Trader Joe's always comes out with some amazing seasonal products this time of year - particularly in the chocolate department. I am keeping my fingers and toes crossed that this gem makes the cut to be a year round item! The Platinum Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Truffles are make with 70% cacao dark chocolate and yes, Cabernet! The wine flavor is present but not overpowering - they remind me a bit of the Ghiradelli Intense Dark Cabernet Matinee. The advantage that the truffles have over the bar is that they are made with actual wine plus the delicious soft truffle center! I have enjoyed them with several varietals of red wine but as to be expected they paired best with full bodied wines.

While they are not overly huge truffles, at only 50 calories each you can enjoy more than one. This product is so new it is not on the Trader Joe's website yet. The only other mention I could find online was on eBay with someone selling at twice the cost! I recommend buying them ASAP and then hoarding them. They would also make nice gifts throughout the holiday season!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Super Bowl Snack - BBQ Pulled Chicken Bites with Tex-Mex Feta Slaw

With the Super Bowl less than a week away, I thought it was way past due to share this super snack I made for last year's festivities! One of my favorite things to do when making a food item for a particular event is to take classic types of foods and give them a new spin. For example, the Super Bowl is all about American snack foods, meat, and beer. I went with BBQ and made a tasty treat that while a little higher end than what you might find at a Super Bowl party it fit in perfectly. Unfortunately the photos I took were not very good but I promise you the food is delicious! I probably could have made twice as many!


BBQ Pulled Chicken Bites with Tex-Mex Feta Slaw

The slaw was inspired by the Feta Slaw in Cooking Light.

1 package Trader Joe's BBQ Pulled Chicken (or your favorite local brand or restaurant)
1 package Trader Joe's Puff Pastry, thawed (2 sheets, total weight 1lb)
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar (I substituted red wine vinegar and it turned out fine)
1 tablespoon canola mayonnaise
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 cups angel hair coleslaw (I used one bag (10 oz) Trader Joe's Shredded Green Cabbage)
1/4 cup cilantro leaves
2 green onions, thinly sliced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced
1/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled (I used Trader Joe's Fat Free Feta)

1. Heat the oven to 400. Combine vinegar, mayonnaise, and black pepper in a large bowl, stirring with a whisk. Add coleslaw, cilantro, jalapeno, feta and green onions; toss to coat. As with most recipes, I suggest that you work with this as to your own preference. Want a little more heat? Add more jalapeno. Want more moisture in your slaw? Make more dressing. For best results, make at least an hour before serving so the flavors and meld.

2. Cut puff pastry into approximately 2 inch squares. I suggest that you measure you puff pastry and take those measurements into account so that your squares are even.

3. Spray a mini muffin pan with cooking spray and press a piece of puff pastry into each muffin cup. Top with pulled chicken.

4. Bake for approximately 15 minutes (you may wish to check beginning at 10 minutes. They are ready with the pastry is golden brown.

5. Serve either with the slaw on the side or top each bite with the slaw before serving. This will make about 36 bites though you will likely have leftover slaw. It was even better the next day!




Super Bowl Decor

Last year I posted some fun decor items for your Super Bowl party. There are so many great inspirational sites out there with great ideas from the simple to the elaborate. I was impressed that Target has created some cute items of their own for game day. You don't have to be crafty to elevate YOUR Super Bowl game! Here are two of my favorites - mini foam fingers and astroturf coasters! Of course the foam fingers aren't in either team's colors but they are in MY alma mater's colors (hint: Ohio University - buy these out!).

Have a great Super Bowl everyone!





Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Product Placement Wednesday - Crate & Barrel Stacking Acrylic Wine Glasses

If you have read my previous posts over the years, you know that I LOVE picnic season! Yes, I realize it is January and picnic season seems very far off to many of you but GREAT deals on picnic items don't wait for the sun to shine!

You may already be familiar with some of my other picnic favorites from the past such as Steady Sticks and the Table in a Bag. Well this little steal goes perfectly with those items.

Crate & Barrel Stacking Acrylic Wine Glasses



These glasses great for picnics, pool side, or anywhere you don't want to take glass wine glasses. The alternative of drinking wine out of a red Solo cup just doesn't work for me! They fit perfectly on a Steady Stick for all of you fellow picnic lovers out there! Also, they are stackable so they take up very little cabinet space!

So why am I sharing this item in January? Because Crate & Barrel has them on super sale! Normally they are $3.95 a piece but right now you can get them for a fraction of the cost! Clear and blue are marked down to $.97 and green & red are just $.47!

Of course you don't have to save these cute glasses just for outdoor use! With the colors available they also lend themselves nicely to both Christmas and Hanukkuh. At this price you can pick up enough for next year's holiday party or any other occasion!

I personally picked up some blue glasses - which color are you getting?

Don't forget to check out my picnic recipes here, here and here!



Friday, December 19, 2014

Last Minute Holiday Recipes

Is it just me or did this year fly by? I just can't believe that Christmas is less than a week away! As you finalize your dishes for your holiday table, I would like to share a couple that I created for Thanksgiving that would translate well for events through the rest of the month! The Apple Cider Sangria is a great drink for a crowd and doesn't involve too many specialty (or unnaturally flavored) ingredients like many of the other recipes I encountered. The Pumpkin Cornbread Stuffing Bites were just the right about of sweet and savory to accompany a traditional or non-traditional holiday meal. They would also be great on a appetizer buffet! Please excuse the photos as always. These items are much more beautiful in real life! Enjoy!


Apple Cider Sangria

6 cups Trader Joe’s Pear Cinnamon Cider (If you can't find this particular cider, I would recommend adding some pear juice to your traditional cider as well as some cinnamon. Mix to taste.)
1 cup Captain Morgan’s Spiced Rum
1/2 cup Patron Citronage (or another orange flavored liquor)
2 apples (I used Sweet Tango), chopped
2 Bosc pears, chopped
1 orange, chopped
1 bottle Sauvignon Blanc

1. In a large bowl sealable bowl, combine the cider, rum, and Citronage.
2. Add chopped fruit to cider and alcohol mixture. Stir well.
3. Seal and refrigerate for at least 3 hours though overnight is recommended.
4. Prior to serving, mix in 1 bottle of Sauvignon Blanc.
5. Serve in a punchbowl or a pitcher. Make sure each glass gets some of the delicious fruit in it!






Pumpkin Cornbread Stuffing Bites

4 cups Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Cornbread Croutons (Can't find these croutons? You can try regular cornbread croutons with some pumpkin pie spice.)
4 slices of bacon, chopped/crumbled (more if you want to amp up the bacon flavor, this can also be left out to make it vegetarian)
½ cup chopped shallots
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, browned
2 cups chicken broth (vegetable broth can be substituted, if you prefer a slightly more moist stuffing, you may want to consider adding another 1/2 cup broth)
¼ cup fresh sage, chopped

1. Pre-heat the oven 350.
2. Brown the unsalted butter in a 12 inch skillet (directions for creating browned butter can be found online).
3. As the butter starts to foam and brown, add the shallots so that as the butter finishes the shallots will get a quick saute.
4. Add the crumbled bacon, sage and broth. Heat to boiling.
5. Remove from heat and fold in the croutons and mix well.
6. Spray mini muffin tins with cooking spray.
7. Make small balls out of the stuffing mix and place one into each slot in the mini muffin tin.
8. Bake for 20-25 minutes until tops are crispy and the bites are set. This made exactly 2 dozen bites!

Notes: I prepped the stuffing mix earlier in the day and didn't bake for several hours and had no problems. They were a little crumbly but that didn't bother me. As mentioned above, you may wish to include a little more liquid of some egg to help bind it.




Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Product Placement Wednesday - Vaseline Spray & Go Moisturizer

Today I bring back Product Placement Wednesday to share a great product that is PERFECT for summer! 



I will confess - my skin is under moisturized. I am usually in a hurry to get ready and don't have the time to wait for a heavy lotion to soak in before getting dressed. Plus in the summer who wants the weight of a thick moisturizer sitting on their skin? I live in California - it's summer here more than it isn't! Recently a friend was doing a promotion for this product and offered me a bottle as a sample. I had high expectations but this product has exceeded them. Application is simple - spray on the areas you would like to moisturize (it sprays upside down too so you can even reach your own back!) and then quickly rub the product to make sure it absorbs properly. Personally I like to apply and then brush my teeth. By the time I'm done, the Spray & Go is fully absorbed! There are three types - Total Moisture, Cocoa Radiant (with cocoa butter), and Aloe Fresh. So far I have only tried the Total Moisture but envision the Aloe Fresh to be perfect after a day in the sun - especially if you keep it in the fridge! 

This week Vaseline Spray & Go is on sale at Target! What better way to kick off summer than with freshly moisturized skin at a discount price!