Currently.

Eating / Sushi!  We’re obsessed.  This past Sunday we headed to Mura (again) and tried four new rolls.  I was in sushi heaven.

Drinking / Bubbles.  Always and forever.  But I’m trying to experiment with gin and make use of all our fresh herbs in cocktails this summer.

experimenting with gin

Practicing / My golf swing.  No, seriously!  Last night was the first GNO (girls night out) Golf Social at the Country Club.  I had an absolute blast and I can’t wait to hit a few more balls.

Mastering / Curling my hair!  Y’all, I’m getting good at it.

Learning / All about gardening.  In fact, we released 1,500 ladybugs into the garden on Tuesday night in hopes to save our okra.  Big Guy taught me all about the life cycle of ladybugs.  Fun fact:  Ladybugs live 1-3 years.  Way more than I ever imagined.

Trying / To live for the moment and cherish every moment of every day with the ones I love.

Playing / Country music all summer long!  It’s my favorite.

Finishing / Currently, my coffee.

Reading / Wild and Ladies’ Night.  I am almost finished with Ladies’ Night and it’s such a great read (and easy, too!).  Wild is taking me a little longer but I want to read it before the movie comes out.

Remembering / Everyone has their struggles and we all need grace.

Wearing / Lilly!  And it’s National Wear Your Lilly Day on Saturday – so you should wear some, too.  And sunscreen.  Always.

Cooking / Zucchini!  We’ve got zucchini coming out of our ears!  I can’t wait to cook with the rest of our homegrown produce.

lasagna 2

Working / On checking items off the Summer Bucket List!  In fact, it’s hanging on the refrigerator so that I can’t forget.

Traveling / No where this weekend!  But I have a few upcoming beach weekends in the works.  It’s my happy place.

Wanting / Exactly what I have.  I am so blessed and have more than I could ever want in life.  So I want to appreciate it all.  (but a glass of bubbles after work will be fantastic.)

i stole this idea from jessica because i like lists.  and this was a fun list.

Zucchini Lasagna

I really wish I had invited company over for dinner last night.  It was that good.

The zucchini is growing like crazy and we’ve picked four since Friday.  They were destined to be used in zucchini lasagna.

The recipe requires some time but the end result is better than I ever imagined.  Big Guy claimed it was the best lasagna he’s ever had.

lasagna 2

First I started working on the sauce.  Lean ground beef is cooked and then simmers with crushed tomatoes, fresh basil, onion, garlic, salt and pepper.

While the sauce simmers, the zucchini are sliced into long strips – like lasagna noodles.  I used a mandolin but you could totally use a sharp knife.  The zucchini slices are salted and allowed to sweat for about 10 minutes to release the extra water.  This prevents soppy lasagna.  No wants soppy lasagna.

Big Guy was in charge of grilling the zucchini slices until tender.

Ricotta is a key ingredient in lasagna.  The ricotta is mixed with an egg, salt, pepper and Parmesan cheese.

Once all those parts are prepped, it’s time to start layering.

Start with a layer of sauce at the bottom of the baking dish.  Then goes a layer of zucchini followed by sauce and then the ricotta mixture and finally a hefty sprinkling of mozzarella.

Then keep on layering until all the ingredients are used up – ending with a layer of mozzarella on top.

The lasagna bakes for about 45 minutes, covered and then uncovered for an additional 10 minutes.  I broiled the top for about 3 minutes to get it nice and bubbly.

lasagna

Y’all – this is comfort food.  And I honestly couldn’t tell I was eating a huge plate of veggies.

The zucchini becomes so tender but has just enough bite that makes it better than noodles.

Seriously delicious.

Cheesy.

Comforting.

Rich.

Meaty.

Salty.

Tender.

Saucy.

And since the zucchini is growing like crazy, I’ll have enough to make another lasagna.

But I’m not making it unless I have guests.

Bida Manda {Triangle Restaurant Week}

Triangle Restaurant Week is a week-long celebration of culinary excellence that includes restaurants in Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill and other surrounding areas.  For me, Restaurant Week is an opportunity to try a new-to-me restaurant.  Restaurant Week happens two times a year and I try to make it if all possible.  (If you recall, I tried out Battistella’s in January as a part of Restaurant Week.)

Before I get to the review, let me start with this:  Make a reservation now at Bida Manda.  It’s been on my list of places to try but for some reason we never made a point to dine at Bida Manda.  And we’ve been missing out.

Bida Manda is a Laotian restaurant and the term “Bida Manda” is a term for “mother” and “father.”  The food is a flavorful marriage of Vietnamese, Thai, and Chinese cooking traditions with French sensitivity.

The restaurant space is beautiful.  The wood that you find on the walls was salvages from old barns and church walls.

First of all, the service was impeccable.  Our waiter was fantastic despite having a high-volume of customers and I would go back for the service alone.

Secondly, the drinks were seasonal and delicious.

I ordered the Jamaican 75.  It’s on their new bar menu which isn’t posted online yet but it was a mix of rum, hibiscus simple syrup, citrus and sparkling wine.

Perfectly sweet without being overwhelming.

While the regular menu was available for us to order from, we were there for Restaurant Week so we ordered off the 3-course menu.  

The waiter highly recommended the sausage appetizer and the lettuce wraps.  While Big Guy’s sausage was delicious, the lettuce wraps stole the show.

Crispy Rice Lettuce Wraps with herbs, peanuts and lime

wraps

Taste buds were blown away.  This was hands-down the favorite plate of the night.  The description gives this appetizer no justice what-so-ever.  I happily shared with Big Guy because this portion is huge.  Perfect for sharing with the whole table.  Though you might be tempted to order another plate of them.  The next time we return, we will no doubt order this dish.

The waiter also gave us recommendations for the entree selection.  He did not hesitate to recommend the Crisp Pork Belly Soup and the Green Papaya Salad.

Big Guy ordered the soup.  But soup isn’t a fair word for this dish.

Kaffir lime leaf coconut curry broth, julienned fresh vegetables, peanuts, local herbs, rice noodles, and house-made crispy pork belly 

Savory and succulent, this dish was a pleasure to taste.

As for me, I went with the salad.  But it’s not really a salad.  First of all, there’s no lettuce.  Secondly, the papaya is cut into noodle-like strips and served warm and tossed with a delicious sauce.  And finally, there’s really no green on the plate – expect for the lime and the dill.

Julienned green papaya, tomato, house-made tamarind and lime sauce, peanuts

crab

 

For the protein, I ordered the Crispy NC Soft Shell Crab.

I actually don’t typically like crabs because they are so.much.work to get a bite of meat.  But with soft shell crabs you can eat every.single.bite.  And since it’s seasonal and not often on the menu, I was glad that I went that route.

And then dessert was served.

The dessert is where I tasted the French inspiration of the Lao cuisine.

French Macaroons with a shot of Chocolate milk.  The macaroon was a lemon-lime flavor with a blueberry cream filling.

It reminded me of the most amazing lemon bar ever.

macaroon

And I couldn’t tell you the last time I had chocolate milk.

The perfect ending to the most amazing dinner.

I cannot wait to go back!

And after dinner, we stumbled upon a sandcastle.  In the middle of downtown.

And this is why I love date nights with Big Guy.

 

Smoked Chicken with Fresh Herb Marinade {caprese zucchini on the side}

Like I mentioned last week, I’m drooling over the latest Southern Living Magazine.  Knowing how much Big Guy loves to cook low and slow on Sundays, I suggested the Smoked Chicken with Fresh Herb Marinade.  Not only could he do something he enjoyed but I would be able to use a few fresh herbs from the garden and feast on deliciousness.

The chicken marinates for at least 8 hours (we marinated ours for about 24 hours) in the most amazing mix of ingredients with olive oil and peanut oil.

fresh parsley
fresh basil
fresh oregano
lemon juice
Dijon mustard
brown sugar
Worcestershire
garlic
salt and pepper

The chicken then smokes for about 2 hours.  Big Guy spooned the juices over the chicken every 30 minutes or so to ensure that we didn’t end up with a dry bird.

grill 003

 

The chicken smelled amazing the moment it hit the grill so I knew we were going to be in for a treat.

grill 004

After the chicken was finished cooking, Big Guy cranked up the heat so that I could grill zucchini (fresh from the Farmers Market) slices for our side dish.

The grilled zucchini slices (which were simply tossed in olive oil and pepper pre-grilling) were being transformed into a Caprese-style side dish.

Once grilled, the zucchini was topped with sliced grape tomatoes and mozzarella balls along with basil confetti and a sprinkle of sea salt.  So refreshing and light.

grill 005

This dinner was perfection.  The chicken was cooked perfectly – crispy skin and tender meat.

grill 006

Quite possibly one of my favorite Sunday night dinners.

 

Weekend Review {supper club, Saturday and a perfect Sunday}

Good morning, friends!  Surprisingly I am finding myself feel very refreshed and ready to tackle the week ahead on this Monday morning.  I have a busy week but there’s a few fun things thrown in that I have to look forward to. Let’s get right to the weekend review and everything that was beautiful this past weekend.

Friday night we headed to the Club for Supper Club.  Our supper club group gets together four times a year for dinner and it’s always a good time.

The dinner was delicious but the dessert was by far my favorite.  It was a sour cream cake with the most delicious frosting ever.

On Saturday I decided not to set an alarm and wanted to truly savor the day.  No rushing around, no plans.  Just a day of relaxation and fun.

Of course we were still up and at ‘em.  We headed to the Farmers Market and browsed all the fresh and delicious produce.  I ended up bringing home (not pictured) some lettuce, potatoes, zucchini, strawberries, green onions and farm fresh eggs.  I adore the Farmers Market and plan to go every Saturday we’re in town, well, unless our garden is out of control with produce.

After running a few more errands, I headed to the pool.  Just me, a new book and four life guards.  I was the only one there for a good hour.  Pure bliss.

Saturday evening we had a double date with friends at our house.  It was an absolute perfect evening.

First of all, I’m obsessed with this tray that I snagged from Target.  Isn’t it adorable?  Like I promised, I experimented with gin on Saturday and made Strawberry Basil Gin and Tonics Sodas.  So refreshing!  The strawberries from the Farmers Market made the strawberry puree extra delicious.  I may just be a fan of gin after all.

Dinner was delicious but the company was even more amazing.  We snacked on an appetizer for Goat Pimiento Cheese while chatting away.  The pimiento cheese was an grown-up twist to the Southern favorite.  For dinner, Coffee-Crusted Strip Steaks with Chimichurri Sauce.  On the side, Grilled Endive and Roasted Potatoes (not pictured).  For the steak seasoning, I used a coffee rub that we had made a couple of months ago when we had some Kona coffee that was begging to be used in a rub.  The chimichurri sauce was out of this world.  I love having fresh herbs right out the back door.

S’mores!  As the sun went down, it got a little cool outside but it was perfect for a fire pit.  I haven’t had s’mores in forever and they were a huge hit.  There’s just something about s’mores that makes you feel like a big kid.  Along with the graham crackers, I made some cookies to use for the sweet sandwich - Flourless Chewy Peanut Butter Cookies.  I really didn’t want the evening to end.

On Sunday, we took it slow but eventually headed out to grab a light lunch at Milton and Miles.  We don’t have many lunch places around town so it’s nice to have this little sandwich and salad place.  This is one of the new additions to the menu for Spring:  The Spring Salad.  Loaded with fruit, jicama, candied pecans, feta and green onions.  So refreshing and light.

Sunday afternoon Big Guy smoked some chicken and we just enjoyed the sunshine.

More details on Sunday dinner tomorrow.

But I can’t not mention dessert.

Homemade Strawberry-Pretzel Ice Cream.  Seriously.

Cream cheese was a new-to-me homemade ice cream ingredient but the end result was perfection.  The pretzels added saltiness that was much appreciated while the hint of basil really made me feel fancy.  Make this ice cream now – strawberries are on their last weeks of being in season but they made this ice cream over the top.

I savored every last bite of this past weekend.  Literally.

 

Weekend Review {unofficial start of summer}

Happy Monday Tuesday!  After a long weekend, I’m ready to tackle the week.  But first, here’s a look at what I was up to all weekend.

Last Thursday evening we went on an impromptu double-date with our friends Marlo and Garrett to celebrate Garrett’s birthday.  On The Square is one of our favorite spots and it didn’t disappoint.

 I sipped on a Hold the Phone cocktail which was a combination of Cardamaro, Fresh Mint, Lemon, Canton Ginger Liqueur, and Bubbly.

And for dinner, Pan Seared NC Mahi-Mahi with Almond Crust, Strawberry and Asparagus.

After a couple of hours of work on Friday, we headed to Ocean Isle Beach for a long weekend.

On the way down, we stopped in Wilmington for a late lunch at Bento Box.  

The salmon was so fresh!

Once settled, we poured ourselves a drink and relaxed while we waited on the rest of the gang to arrive.

We were up bright and early on Saturday morning and went on a walk.  The walk included a coffee break in the middle.

There’s a new coffee shop on the island and I have been looking forward to trying it since Easter.

Drift is in a perfect location on the island and I see myself being a regular when I’m on the island.

All I wanted to do on Saturday and Sunday was relax.  And that’s just what I did.

I even had my own pool boy.

This little girl loves the pool and the beach.  Building sand castles is her favorite.  Along with turtles.

Don’t be fooled – she only laid in this position for a picture.  She is always on the go.

Saturday night was low-key.  I fixed dinner for the family along with my Momma.

Sunday was filled with the same as Saturday.

But on Sunday night we grilled out over at my PawPaw and MawMaw’s house.  Hamburgers and hotdogs are a must.

And we obviously had to take advantage of the scenery.

Unofficially the start of summer.

And this little girl made the weekend extra sweet.  So full of life.  I can still here her saying “I love you SO much, Emmy.”

And finally – Happy Birthday to my little brother, Taylor!  I am so glad we got to spend some time together this past weekend.  Let’s promise not too let too much time go by before I see you again, okay?

Chipotle Lime Shrimp Tacos with Strawberry Salsa {plus margaritas}

This past Saturday we had our first guests in what seems likes forever!  I love entertaining and for some reason I often entertain with Mexican food.  It’s just so delicious and a lot of the planning is done for you.  When you serve Mexican food guacamole is an obvious appetizer along with margaritas.  My in-laws aren’t picky eaters so I knew that I could get away with just about anything.

First up, margaritas!  I made them two ways:  a basic, but delicious margarita and a Sage and Blackberry Margarita.  I was torn between so many margarita recipes on Pinterest but I ultimately decided on the sage and blackberry ‘rita because we have sage growing in the garden.

The recipe was actually quite strong and I would recommend using only 1 or 2 ounce of tequila.  I love a good margarita.  The blackberries were so juicy and plump and were a great addition to the glass.  Blackberry and sage margaritas like a sugar rim while the “regular” margaritas pair better with salt.

Along with the margaritas, the best guacamole ever!  

And for dinner, Chipotle Lime Shrimp Tacos with Strawberry Salsa.  This recipe is perfect for strawberry season.  Thankfully the strawberries this year are so much better than last year.  In fact, Big Guy and his parents went to get freshly picked strawberries from a local strawberry farm (Strawberry City in Nashville, NC) on Saturday morning while I was volunteering.

So ripe and juicy.

The shrimp marinated for about 30 minutes before grilling to perfection.  Plump and succulent.

The tacos were topped with the salsa that I could have eaten by the spoonful and cotija cheese.  The recipe called for queso fresco but I find cotija is much more flavorful.  The cheese added a perfect amount of creaminess and saltiness to the mix.

And while the food was amazing the company was even better.  It was nice to catch-up with the in-laws without having interruptions or other places to be.

Who’s coming to visit next?  

Weekend Review {Friday blooms, cocktails and delicious eats}

What a fun and rewarding weekend.  Like I mentioned Friday, I knew that the weekend was going to be jam-packed.  But with all good stuff.  Here’s some highlights from the past few days:

White tulips make me happy.  Especially on a Friday afternoon when there’s lots of sunshine.

Cocktail hour on the patio with Big Guy.  A champagne cocktail for her (bubbles, St. Germain and sliced strawberries) with a side of more beautiful blooms.

It was such a lovely evening.  We spent a couple of hours just chatting outside and it was glorious.

Friday night’s dinner was one of the best meals to ever come out of my kitchen.  The wine we opened was the Alexander’s Crown from wine club a month or so ago that we purchased.  For supper club it was paired with a lamb dish and I played it safe by pairing it with a lamb dish, too.  The lamb shanks practically melt after being braised in diced tomatoes and red wine.  It’s a super simple recipe but the key is to use quality lamb shanks (ours were from Whole Foods) and a high quality wine.  A stunning dish.

On Saturday morning I was up early to do some volunteering before Big Guy’s Mom arrived in town.  I’ll give you recap of those delicious eats tomorrow.

It was a wonderful visit and I am glad I got to spend Mother’s Day with a special lady and Butch.

Though I missed my Momma and the rest of the Bell family tremendously.

Thankfully I will get to see her in a few short weeks.

We ended the weekend on a delicious note.  We had some leftover lamb from Friday night so we used it as a pizza topper.  We kept the rest of the toppings simple so that the flavor of the lamb could shine.  Cotija cheese (leftover from Saturday) was sprinkled over the lamb before it hit the grill to warm through.  On top, fresh from the garden mint and parsley for a pop of brightness.

There are few things in life that make me happier than pizza.

What was the highlight of your weekend?

Steak and Asparagus Stir-Fry

If there are two foods that Big Guy loves it would be asparagus and beef.  Combine them both in an Asian-inspired stir-fry and he’s an even happier man.

Spring is finally here (on the verge of summer with these 90 degree temps) and the asparagus is looking better than ever.

The key to a successful stir-fry is making sure everything, I mean everything, is prepped before you ever get your wok heated.  The one thing I did start cooking before I started the stir-fry was the jasmine rice because I knew it would take 30 minutes.

I cut the asparagus and the red bell pepper along with the green onions and then prepared the “sauce.”

The steak is sliced thin and I found that letting it hang out in the freezer for about 15 minutes made slicing so much easier.

The stir-fry comes together in a flash and smells amazing.  The only changes I made were using fish sauce instead of oyster sauce and subbing in tamari for the soy sauce.  If you like a little more heat, add more red pepper flakes.

The rice was perfectly sticky (I like sticky rice for a stir-fry) and was a great base for the beef and vegetables.

Because of the short cooking time at such a high heat, the veggies were crisp-tender and their flavors still stole the show.

Beef on a weeknight.

I must want something.

1 Year Anniversary

I can’t believe that a year ago this weekend I said “I do” to the love of my life.

photo credit: A Moment Like This Photography

It was the best weekend.

Ever.

A weekend full of love, family, laughter, and priceless moments.

I wish I could do it all over again.

photo credit: A Moment Like This Photography

The past year has been amazing.

Amazing, not perfect.

We’ve had some of the best days.

And some days we’d like to forget.

photo credit: A Moment Like This Photography

Marriage is way better than anyone tells you.

And this weekend we’re going to celebrate.

We’re going to celebrate us, the past year, and the many years of marriage that lie ahead.

photo credit: A Moment Like This Photography

Happy Anniversary, Big Guy.

I love you.