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December 28, 2012 | 09:23 AM

2012 Gingerbread House Competition Winners in Chapel Hill, NC

Congratulations to the winners of the 2012 Gingerbread House competition.

Youth Competition
1st Place Patrick Noonan ~ Old Well 
2nd Place Kaitlyn Beal ~ Barn   

Adult Competition
1st Place Ann Bailey ~ Tree Stump
2nd Place Robin Bilodeau ~ Red Square

Enjoy viewing images of the first and second place winners in both categories.

2nd Place Adult Robin Bilodeau2nd Place Youth Kaitlyn Beal1st Place Adult Ann Bailey

December 14, 2012 | 03:18 PM

Candied Bacon at The Carolina Inn ~ Chapel Hill, NC

This is an amazing recipe...It's sweet! It's savory! It's delicious! If you think everyone loves bacon, you haven't seen them jump into a plate of candied bacon.

1 C. Brown Sugar
1 C. White Sugar
2 T. Freshly Ground Black Pepper
1# Thick Slice Bacon

1. Preheat your oven for 350°. 
2. Combine both sugars and black pepper on a large plate. Add bacon and coat well.
3. Place bacon on a nonstick cookie sheet or Silpat and cook in the oven for 12 – 18 minutes rotating the cookie sheet every 5 minutes.
4. When the bacon is brown and caramelized pull out of oven.
5. Place cool bacon on a wire rack. Bacon will become crispy. 
6. Cut into pieces and serve immediately. Candied Bacon can be enjoyed until the next day.

Serves 6

Bon Appétit!

December 14, 2012 | 12:39 PM

Build Your Own Gingerbread House ~ Tips from Executive Pastry Chef Sara Thomas

Executive Chef James Clark and his talented culinary crew has been busy literally making and baking Christmas memories and holiday cheer daily. In fact, Executive Pastry Chef Sara Thomas and her team will make about 2,000 Christmas cookies of all shapes, sizes and designs this month, including 500 for our Christmas Day brunch. Sara says to save room for sugar cookies loaded with sprinkles and chocolate stripes.

Sara is really excited to help judge our 10th Annual Gingerbread Village Competition and offers five of her own gingerbread house tips:

1. Have a theme and it does not have to be just Christmas. It could be local landmark or a place that is celebrating a big anniversary, or perhaps a current event. If you want it to be Christmas, then maybe the 12 days of Christmas, Santa’s Workshop, etc.

2. Icing is key as it needs to be right. This could take a little trial and error but follow the recipe below. The trick is to make sure it is not too firm because it will be too hard to pipe. But if it is too loose it will not stand up and make a mess.

3. It is also important to have a solid gingerbread recipe. Now this is not like a gingerbread that you would eat on Christmas morning; it is a little more dense so it can stand up. Follow recipe below. 4. Make sure you have all the tools you need ready so that you are not looking for the ruler when you need it. Gingerbread houses are like building a regular house; all your measurements need to be consistent and precise.

5. Last let your imagination run wild and have fun!

Gingerbread House Dough
Yield: 1 14in. X 12in. House with Roof
Shortening –  1 ½ cups
Sugar –   1 ½ cups
Eggs –   3 each
Molasses –  1 cups
AP Flour –  6 ¾ cups
Ginger –  1 ½ T
Cinnamon –  1 ½tsp
Baking Soda –  1 ½tsp
Salt –   1 ½tsp

1. In a mixing bowl with a paddle attachment, cream together the shortening and sugar
2. Add the eggs slowly
3. Add the molasses
4. Then add all the dry ingredients
5. Chill the dough for about 1 hour
6. Roll out the dough to your desired pieces
7. Bake @ 300’F for about 15 to 20 minutes

Royal Icing
Eggs whites –  12oz
Powdered sugar – 4#
Cream of tartar – 1T
1. In a mixing bowl with a paddle attachment
2. Add the powdered sugar and cream of tartar
3. Slowly add the egg whites until you get the constantly
4. You might need to add more egg whites if the batter is to thick or you might need to add more powdered sugar if the batter is to runny.

Happy Holidays!

November 16, 2012 | 02:05 PM

Sweet Potato Bisque with Vanilla Bourbon Chantilly Recipe

Enjoy Chef’s Sweet Potato Bisque with Vanilla Bourbon Chantilly recipe! This rich and creamy bisque will warm you and your guests up this holiday season.

4 Large Sweet Potatoes ~ Peeled & Diced
½ Sweet Onion ~ Diced
1 Carrot ~ Peeled & Diced
2 Cloves Garlic ~ Chopped
1 C. White Wine
2 C. Vegetable Stock
3 C. Heavy Cream
2 T. Olive Oil
Salt & Freshly Ground Pepper
2 T. Bourbon
1 tsp. Vanilla Extract

1. In a heavy bottom soup pot, sweat the carrots, onions and garlic.  Once soft, add the sweet potatoes and cook for 4 – 5 minutes.
2. Deglaze pot with white wine.
3. Once the white wine has reduced by half add the stock and two cups of the heavy cream. Cook at a slow simmer until sweet potatoes are very soft. 
4. Take the remaining cup of heavy cream and whip it until thick and soft. Add the bourbon and vanilla and whip until a little thicker but not stiff. 
5. Once the sweet potatoes are soft, season the soup with salt and pepper and then purée in a blender until smooth. 
6. Serve immediately with a small dollop of bourbon vanilla cream. Bisque can be made ahead of time and served later.

Serves 4

Bon Appétit!

September 28, 2012 | 01:11 PM

Tailgating with Pimento Cheese at The Carolina Inn in Chapel Hill, NC

What will you serve during your next Tailgating event? Executive Chef James Clark has the answer, Pimento Cheese! This delicious recipe is simple to prepare and is the perfect tailgating food. Serve pimento cheese on burgers, pizza or simply on a cracker. This all-star recipe is packed with flavor and will surely be a touchdown during your next get-together or tailgating event.

2 Sweet Onions ~ Rough Chopped
2 Cans Diced Pimentos
3 lbs. Cream Cheese
5 C. Mayonnaise
5 lbs. Extra Sharp Cheddar ~ Grated
3 Logs of Goat Cheese
5 lbs. Gruyere Cheese ~ Grated
½ C. Crystal Hot Sauce
Salt to Taste

1. Drain ½ the liquid from pimentos onto the onions. Transfer the onions to a blender and liquefy.
2. In a heavy duty mixer add the cream cheese and whip until soft. Scrape the sides of the mixer with a rubber spatula a few times.
3. Add the mayonnaise, onion mixture, hot sauce and goat cheese. Continue to whip until blended well and sides are scraped.
4. Turn off mixer and add ½ of the grated cheese.
5. Turn mixer onto medium speed and add the goat cheese mix. Add the last ½ of grated cheese and mix until blended well and smooth. Do not over blend or the mixture will break down the cheese.
6. Add salt to taste.

Enjoy Executive Chef James Clark’s Recipe Thyme video below.

Makes 3 lbs. of Pimento Cheese

Bon Appétit!

September 26, 2012 | 03:36 PM

Fall, Football and Fridays on the Front Porch!

The fall season is gorgeous in the Triangle and with mild temperatures and low humidity; it’s my favorite time of year. The leaves are turning into beautiful autumn colors; the evenings are pleasant and are the perfect time to enjoy great outdoor music!

There's no better way to celebrate the end of a conference-filled workweek, or better yet, begin a meetings-filled weekend than at The Carolina Inn’s Fridays on the Front Porch (a.k.a. FOFP) event!  I have hosted many successful client events at FOFP which encourages relaxation, and allows my groups to kick off their shoes and unwind from the busy day. FOFP has been enjoyed by the local community and our overnight guests for 10 seasons; it’s always a great reason to add an extra night at the Inn just to experience the fun at Fridays on the Front Porch. Relax under the shady oaks and magnolias on our front porch while listening to live music, sipping on local craft beers and enjoying a delicious picnic menu created by our talented culinary team.

Chapel Hill, N.C. is truly the southern part of heaven!

September 24, 2012 | 08:38 AM

Crispy Oysters on the Half Shell

The fall season is the time of year to enjoy fresh oysters. Executive Chef James Clark teaches you how to create one of his favorite dishes, Crispy Oysters. These flavorful breaded and fried oysters are served with country ham and leak reduction topped with an artichoke relish. These delicious oysters are irresistible, so be sure to make plenty for sharing and definitely seconds for all.

Country Ham Leek Reduction
½ C. Country Ham ~ Diced
½ C. Leeks ~ Diced
1 tsp. Garlic
1 T. Olive oil
Fresh Ground Pepper to Taste
1 C. Heavy Cream
Oyster Liquor
2 T. Pernod 

16 Shucked Oysters ~ Save the Liquor and Bottom Shells
1 C. AP Flour
1 C. Fine Corn Meal
2 Tbs. Old Bay Seasoning
Sunchoke Relish
Enough Peanut Oil to fry Oysters at 365°

1. Mix dry ingredients together. Toss in oysters and coat well. 
2. Place each oyster in the hot oil and fry  about 30 seconds, until crisp.
3. Place a small spoonful of the reduction on the shell.
4. Top each shell with a crispy oyster strait from the oil.
5. Finish with a dab of Sunchoke relish!

Enjoy Executive Chef James Clark’s Recipe Thyme video below.

Serves 4

Bon Appétit!

September 11, 2012 | 11:46 AM

The Cow Parade has Arrived at The Carolina Inn

CowParade is the world’s largest public art exhibit featuring life-size fiberglass cows, hand-painted by local artists and auctioned off to raise money for charity. CowParade first began in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1998 and has raised more than $30 million for nonprofits.

The beneficiary of CowParade North Carolina is N.C. Children’s Hospital, a 150-bed state-of-the-art facility offering complete pediatric inpatient and outpatient care as well as more than 25 satellite outpatient clinics throughout North Carolina.

More than 80 vibrantly painted cows will be on parade across Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill through December 7th 2012. The cows are approximately eight feet long and five feet high and will be auctioned off to the highest bidder at a gala on January 26th 2013. Cows that aren’t sold in the live auction will be auctioned online.

The UNC Mooo-saic, Lady Carolina Bloo, from artist Paula MacLeod, is dressed in a mosaic of Vietri stoneware dishes, porcelain and glass tile featuring iconic UNC logos and hidden barn animals. Lady Carolina Bloo will live at The Carolina Inn during our Twelve Days of Christmas through the end of December.

To see the locations of all Carolina’s cows, visit

August 08, 2012 | 08:50 AM

How to Can Mid-Summer Pickled Cucumbers

Its summertime, and what better time to learn how to can homemade pickles than now. Executive Chef James Clark will show you how easy it is to prepare pickled cucumbers from the garden that will last you many months to come. Harvest your cucumber crop today and start canning!

4lb Small/Medium Pickling Cucumbers ~ Firm not soft, even from end-to-end and not too fat
¾ C. Sugar
½ C. Pickling Salt
2 C. Apple Cider Vinegar
2 C. Distilled White Vinegar
4 C. Water 
For Each Jar
¾ Tbs. Dill Seed
¾ Tbs. Fennel Seed
2 Sprigs of Dill
½ a Chili Pepper of Choice ~ Optional

1. Bring your canning pot to a slight simmer and place jars, lids and sealing bands in the water to sterilize.

2. In a separate non-reactive pot, add salt, sugar, vinegars and water and bring to a slow simmer. Make sure all salt and sugar are dissolved. 

3. While everything is heating up, slice cucumbers about ¼” thick.

4. Once your jars have sterilized, carefully remove them from the pot onto a clean towel. While jars are hot, add dill and fennel seed and then add 2lbs of cucumbers. Add dill and chili pepper and continue to fill with cucumbers making sure you pack everything in tightly. 

5. Once all jars are filled, ladle the hot pickling liquid in each jar leaving a ¼” open on the top.
6. After pickling liquid has been added, wipe clean the top of each jar with a hot clean towel and carefully assemble the sealing tops and bands.

7. Now it is time to seal. Place each jar into your canning pot. The jar must have at least ½” of water over the top of the jar. Allow to slowly poach for 18 minutes. Once done, pull jars from the water and allow them to sit and cool on a dry towel on the counter. Do not put jars in ice or the refrigerator for at least 3 hours. The lid should not have a bubble that bounces up and down. If the lid is sunk in you’ve completed the canning process!

Allow the jars to sit in your pantry for at least 3 weeks before enjoying your pickles!

Makes 4 Quart Jars or 8 Pint Jars

June 06, 2012 | 03:54 PM

Chambord Glazed Scallops with Frisée and Fingerlings

Watch Chef Peter Brodsky prepare a summertime seafood delight; a perfect dish for the everyday cook. This quick and simple recipe includes fresh seared scallops, frisée, fingerling potatoes and is dressed with a flavorful Chambord glaze. Accompany this delicious entrée with a Riesling or Chambord cocktail.

10-12 oz. Diver Scallops
2 oz. Thick Cut Bacon ~ Cut into Small Strips
2 oz. Chambord
1 oz. Unsalted Butter
8 oz. Fingerling Potatoes
2 Heads Frisée
½ c. Olive & Canola Oil Blend
¼ c. Raspberry or Sherry Vinegar
10-15 Raspberries
Salt & Freshly Ground Pepper

1. Split fingerling potatoes lengthwise, and toss with a small amount of oil, salt, and pepper. Roast potatoes at 350° F for approximately 25 minutes or until tender. 

2. Clean and dry frisée, remove the root, and separate leaves into a medium mixing bowl. Set aside until you are ready to assemble salad. 

3. Render the bacon in ½ c. blended oil until crispy. Pour hot bacon and most of the fat over frisée. Add warm potatoes and raspberry vinegar to frisée and toss to combine. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Place salad on plates.

4. Reheat pan with remaining bacon fat and oil. Once the pan is very hot, briefly sear the scallops on both sides, and place scallops on salad. Deglaze pan with Chambord and add butter. Remove pan from heat, and spoon Chambord Glaze over seared scallops. Garnish with Raspberries.

Serves 2

Bon Appétit!

May 25, 2012 | 02:37 PM

Don’t Forget to Bring your Skateboard to Chapel, Hill NC

Do you enjoy “Sidewalk Surfing” a.k.a. skateboarding? Skateboarding is a relatively modern sport born in the late 1940’s or early 1950’s by Californian surfers who wanted something to surf when the ocean was flat. It’s unknown who created the first board, although it seems that multiple people developed designs similar to each other. Can you imagine the first skateboarders used wooden boxes or boards with roller skate wheels attached to the bottom?

This summer, be sure to bring along your skateboard the next time you travel to Chapel Hill. The Chapel Hill Skatepark is in close proximity to The Carolina Inn, and we would be thrilled to provide you with transportation to and from the park. You’ll get a super workout skating on their ramps and practicing your ollie’s, kickflips, wheelies and pivots. Or, you may be new to the sport still learning how to balance and be comfortable riding your board. Let the team at the Chapel Hill Skatepark help guide and teach you the tricks of the trade. Keep in mind if you’ve never skateboarded before, it’s never too late to start skateboarding as a new hobby or pick-up where you’ve left off.

Don’t forget to celebrate “Go Skateboarding Day” recognized every year on June 21st!

May 02, 2012 | 05:04 PM

Tar Heel Tea

Quench your thirst with our signature drink the Tar Heel Tea created by longtime bartender of Carolina Crossroads Bar, Phillip Ivey. This southern beverage is made with fresh juicy lemons, mint sprigs, bourbon and is topped off with a secret ingredient. Watch this short video to learn how to make this refreshing drink, and discover what Phillip's secret ingredient is.

1/4 tsp. Sugar
4-5 Large Sprigs of Mint ~ Torn
3 Fresh Lemon Wedges

1. Muddle sugar, mint, lemon wedges in a rocks glass.
2. Fill rocks glass with ice.
3. Add one shot of bourbon of choice.
4. Fill glass with sweet tea made with black tea such as Earl Grey or English Breakfast.
5. Pour into a shaker, shake vigourously and serve.


May 01, 2012 | 01:47 PM

Are You Ready for a Culinary Throwdown?

As sales managers, our minds are constantly in motion generating innovative and unique team building ideas. Your phone rings - the meeting and event planner reaches out to you inquiring about what type of exercises at your property have been successful with past groups. The sales manager’s focus is distinctive and energizing activities, whereas the planner’s interests are interaction through fun and friendly competitions. Recently, The Carolina Inn held a successful and scrumptious Shrimp-n-Grits Throwdown. Seven local star chefs from renowned restaurants competed for the title of Shrimp-n-Grits Champion.

A panel of judges included food writers and local industry experts who determined the winner. The object of this culinary event was to engage the local foodie community, bringing everyone together for a great cause (proceeds benefitted TABLE, serving Chapel Hill-Carrboro children at risk for hunger), and to determine which star chef’s shrimp and grits reigned supreme.

So, what does a Shrimp-n-Grits Throwdown have to do with meetings and events - friendly competition. Make your next team building exercise exciting and innovative by incorporating your version of a Throwdown. Divide the group into teams with a minimum of two on each team. What’s the challenge you may ask? A Medicinal Potion Throwdown! Teams will concoct their version of a tasty potion that remedies pain after a long, grueling day. Each team would utilize at least 3 of the same ingredients chosen by the hotel. The challenge is fast and teams are required to think on their feet so, the competition should last no more than 30 minutes. In the end, two judges will sample each “remedy” and based on a predetermined set of criteria, a Medicinal Potion Throwdown winner will be announced.

What type of Throwdown ideas do you have in mind? The bottom line is, just make it fun!  

April 16, 2012 | 01:38 PM

Grilled Asparagus with Arugula and Prosciutto Recipe

Nothing beats the flavor of fresh grilled asparagus on a bed of arugula, and the addition of prosciutto and Locatelli cheese makes this dish out of this world. Who knew gourmet cooking could be this simple? 

Grilled Asparagus with Arugula and Prosciutto Recipe


20 Asparagus Spears ~ Snapped at the Bottom
2 c. Arugula
4 Prosciutto ~ Thinly Sliced
4 T. Locatelli Cheese
4 Eggs
Aged Sherry Vinegar
1 T. Za’atar Spice
6 T. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1. Drizzle about 2 tablespoons of olive oil on asparagus. Season with salt and pepper and grill until just tender.
2. Divide onto four separate plates and then add arugula, prosciutto and locatelli cheese
3. Drizzle salad with desired sherry vinegar.
4. Cook four sunny side up eggs and place on top of salad.
5. Mix Za’atar spice and remaining olive oil together and drizzle on top of egg.

Serves 4

Bon Appétit!

April 12, 2012 | 02:30 PM

Parsnip Potato Soup

Parsnips play the starring role in this hearty soup recipe. When shopping for parsnips, look for ones small to medium-sized, and should be blemish-free and firm. Enjoy this hearty meal packed with seasonal ingredients, fresh herbs and a touch of heat; the aroma will immediately sweep you off your feet!

Parsnip Potato Soup Recipe

1 c. White Onion ~ Medium Dice
2 Pieces Apple Smoked Bacon ~ Medium Dice
3 c. White Potatoes ~ Peeled and Chopped Rough
2 c. Parsnips ~ Peeled and Chopped Rough
1 Gallon Chicken stock
3 Bay Leaves
1 T. Roasted Garlic
½ c. Heavy cream
2 tsp. Fresh Thyme Leaves
Tabasco to Taste
Cider Vinegar to Taste
Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper to Taste

1. Sauté bacon until fat is rendered and bacon is almost crispy.
2. Add onions and sauté 3-4 minutes.
3. Add potato and parsnips, salt and pepper and sauté 2-3 minutes.
4. Add chicken stock, bay leaves, roasted garlic, and cream. Cook until potato and parsnips are cooked through.
5. Add Tabasco, vinegar and thyme.
6. Purée in a blender until smooth.
7. Season with salt and pepper.

April 12, 2012 | 10:29 AM

Grilled Sumac Scented Grapefruit and Frisée Salad

Enjoy using ingredients you've never utilized before until now! The use of fresh local ingredients only enhances the enjoyment and flavor of this delightful spring dish!

1 Grapefruit ~ Cut into Segments
1 T. Sumac Powder
4 c. Frisée Greens ~ Chopped Rough
4 T. Feta Cheese ~ Crumbled
4 T. Toasted Pistachios
1 Icicle Radish ~ Sliced This
4 T. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 T. Moscatel Vinegar
Salt & Freshly Ground Pepper ~ To Taste

1. Simply mix all the ingredients together and divide into four separate plates.

Serves 4

Bon Appétit!

April 11, 2012 | 08:17 PM

Orange-Chipotle Glazed Pork Belly, Jicama Salad & Candied Kumquats

Have you ever wondered what the best way is to braise a pork belly? Let Executive Chef Jimmy Reale show you the way! The medley of seasonings will sing to your palette bite-after-bite. What are you waiting for? Get to your local farmer's market and start cooking - there's a tasty meal in your future!

Braised Pork Belly
3 lb. Pork Belly
1 T. Coriander
1 T. Mustard Seed
1 tsp. Fennel Seed
5 Garlic Cloves
2 Bay Leaves
Salt & Freshly Ground Pepper
Veal Stock
Chicken Stock

1. Toast seeds and crack them in a food processor.
2. Lightly season pork with salt and pepper and rub them with the toasted seed mix.
3. Refrigerate overnight.
4. Grill pork so it becomes slightly crisp and place in a braising pan with garlic, bay leaves, and then cover with chicken and veal stock.
5. Cover pan with foil and cook at 275° for 4 hours.
6. When pork has completed cooking, remove foil and place in refrigerator to completely cool.
7. Remove pork and cut into 2” by 2” squares.
Orange Chipotle Glaze
8 c. Fresh Squeezed Orange Juice
1 Chipotle Pepper plus 1T. Adobe Sauce
1 T. Honey

1. Place all ingredients in a sauce pan and reduce by 75% then pour through a fine mesh strainer.
2. Place in refrigerator until ready to use.

Jicama Salad
1 Medium Jicama, peeled and julienned
1 Red Pepper ~ Sliced Thin
1 Green pepper ~ Sliced Thin
3 T. Cilantro ~ Washed and Finely Chopped
2 tsp. Ground Cumin
Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper ~ To Taste
Orange Vinaigrette ~ To Taste

Candied Kumquat
2 c. Fresh Kumquats ~ Sliced Thin and Remove Seeds
4 c. Sugar
2 c. Water

1. In a sauce pot, place water and sugar over low-medium heat.
2. Stir until sugar has dissolved then add kumquats.
3. Simmer for 15 minutes.
4. Remove from heat and cool completely.

1. Sear pork bellies on both sides in a sauté pan.
2. Add 1 cup of orange-chipotle sauce.
3. Place in a 325° oven and glaze bellies every few minutes until cooked through.
4. Place some Jicama salad in middle of plate.
5. Place pork belly on top of salad and pour some glaze over it.
6. Top with candied kumquat.

Serves 4

Bon Appétit!

April 03, 2012 | 08:47 AM

Za’atar Seared Scallops with Tabbouleh

Liven your palette this spring with a succulent seafood dish! Executive Chef Jimmy Reale channels his Lebanese heritage to create a mouthwatering Za’atar Seared Scallops with Tabbouleh. The citrusy flavored Za’atar spice burst with robust flavors seasoning the Scallops and complementing the fresh ingredients in the Tabbouleh.

Enjoy Executive Chef Jimmy Reale's instructional video below.

1 c. Cooked Bulgur Wheat
½ c. Parsley ~ Washed and Chopped
¼ c. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
½ c. Cucumbers ~ Seeded and Diced Small
½ c. Tomatoes ~ Diced Small
2 T. Fresh Mint ~ Chopped
2 Green Onion Sprigs ~ Sliced Thin
3 T. Fresh Lemon Juice
Salt & Freshly Ground Pepper ~ To Taste

1 T. Oil
4 U-10 Scallops
2 T. Za’atar Spice
Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper ~ To Taste

1. Place ¾ cup of uncooked bulgur wheat in a bowl and add 2 cups of very hot water. Let bulgur wheat soak for 45 minutes or until soft. Pour through a fine mesh strainer to remove any excess water.
2. For tabbouleh, mix all ingredients together in bowl and taste for proper seasonings. My preference is to add a lot of lemon juice.
3. Place 1 T. of oil in a sauté pan over medium high heat. Season scallops with salt and pepper. When oil is hot, place scallops in pan and cook for around two to three minutes. Flip scallops and cook to desired temperature. Remove from heat and sprinkle with za’atar spice.
4. Place tabbouleh on four plates, top with scallops and add more za’atar spice.

Serves 4

Bon Appétit!

March 12, 2012 | 11:00 PM

Wedding Tip Wednesday ~ Keeping Your Sanity

I am in the middle of wedding planning season. I wouldn’t say that it is the calm before the storm but it is more like the storm before the calm. I have noticed an increasing number of brides that are overwhelmed with all the choices that are put before them. With Pinterest and Facebook and all of these blogs out there, it's hard to commit to any decisions with new ideas popping up all of the time.

Remember how easy it was when Franck entered the scene in Father of Bride - do a little of this and a little of that and it was all taken care of. He had all of the right answers and made it incredibly easy to make all the decisions. Those were simpler times.

So if you are trying to keep your sanity amidst planning your big day, I offer to you my suggestions on how to keep it together and enjoy the journey, I mean this should be fun...right? 

Five Golden Rules of Wedding Planning:

1. Never ask too many people for their input - and believe me, when you tell your family and friends that you are engaged everyone will have an opinion on what your dress should look like, what colors your flowers should be, and what you should serve as a meal. So, pick one or two people to help you with your decisions. You will always know who to go to and you can shut out the "noise" that comes from too many opinions.

2. Pick a palette and go with it - most brides know how they want their wedding to look - white, pink, coral - they know. In most cases they have been thinking about it and looking at pictures for a very long time. If the decision has already been made then don't try to talk yourself into something else, this is energy better spent on planning your life together.

3. Don't Sweat the Small Stuff - Focus on what matters and just let the rest go. It's not the end of the world if you don't find the perfect pair of shoes, or if you can't find the perfect linens, or Aunt Mary doesn't like that you are serving beef instead of chicken. Just let it go, all that matters at the end of your wedding day is that you are married to the perfect person, I highly doubt that you will remember anything else when you are 80. 

4. Keep it Simple - You don't have to try and incorporate every idea from every website or Pinterest board that you have ever seen. Sometimes simple is best. I'd rather see a bride invest her money in things that get the most bang for their buck. Linens, flowers, photographers! Always pick a few beautiful, breathtaking (and most likely expensive) things over lots of inexpensive and less than lovely items.

5.  Make Decisions! The most frustrated brides that I see are the ones that make lists upon lists upon lists and then have to make a list to keep track of their lists. You must make decisions otherwise you will be simply overwhelmed and not even know where to start.

You cannot do it all. You cannot please everyone. You cannot be perfect. So, just let it go. Start making what matters the most to you happen and start crossing the other things off of the lists!

Enjoy the journey...and happy planning!

February 29, 2012 | 03:52 PM

Marinated Rabbit Loin with Fregola Sarda Salad

Rabbit…the other white meat. Executive Chef Jimmy Reale shows us how simple it is to prepare a succulent Rabbit Loin dish. The Rabbit is immersed in a Shallot, Citrus, Olive Oil marinade, and then cooked to perfection. It’s placed on top a Fregola Salad mixed with Fresh Spinach, chopped Herbs, and a creamy Madeira Butter Sauce. As an entrée or appetizer, the marinated Rabbit Loin recipe is a unique dish sure to satiate any food lovers’ appetite!

Enjoy Executive Chef Jimmy Reale's instructional video below.

2 tsp. Oil
2 c. *Fregola Sarda
1 T. Shallot ~ Peeled and Diced Fine
1 T. Parsley ~ Chopped Fine
1 Orange ~ Zest
1 Garlic Clove ~ Minced
2 tsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
4 Rabbit Loins
2 Applewood Smoked Bacon Pieces ~ Sliced Thin
½ c. Tomatoes ~ Diced Medium
1 c. Spinach ~ Chopped Rough
¾ c. Madeira Wine
2 T. Butter
2 tsp. Chopped Herbs Mixture ~ Parsley, Oregano and Rosemary
Salt & Freshly Ground Pepper

1. Cook Fregola like you would pasta in boiling salted water. It takes longer to cook than regular pasta, approximately 15 minutes. Stir occasionally and taste for tenderness. When fregola is cooked, strain and place in ice water to stop cooking process. Then strain and keep in refrigerator until ready to use.
2. Remove any silverskin from rabbit loins being careful not to remove too much meat. Marinate rabbit with shallot, parsley, orange zest, garlic and olive oil. Preferably, marinate rabbit the day before cooking.
3. Heat a sauté pan to medium high heat.
4. Salt and pepper rabbit and sear on all sides until rabbit is cooked through.
5. Remove rabbit from pan and let rest; add bacon to hot pan and render fat.
6. After bacon is rendered, add Fregola, tomatoes and spinach.
7. Cook until all ingredients are hot.
8. Remove pan from burner and add Madeira wine.
9. Place pan back on burner; be careful of flames if using a gas burner.
10. Add butter, herbs and season with salt and freshly ground pepper.
11. Slice rabbit loins on the bias into four pieces.
12. Serve in small bowl and enjoy!
Serves 4

Bon Appétit!

*Fregola Sarda is a type of pasta from Sardinia, similar to Israeli couscous. Fregola comes in varying sizes, and typically consists of semolina dough rolled into balls 2-3 mm in diameter, toasted in an oven. Fregola Sarda can be found in most specialty food stores.

February 10, 2012 | 06:40 AM

Medjool Dates Stuffed with Spanish Blue Cheese and Lentil Salad Recipe

Don't you think it's time to add an exciting new recipe to repertoire? Executive Chef Jimmy Reale's Medjool Dates stuffed with Spanish Blue Cheese and Lentil Salad is a refreshing change to your everyday first course. The variety of ingredients used provide a medley of flavors that will engage your palette like no other salad before!

Enjoy Executive Chef Jimmy Reale's instructional video below.

Medjool Dates Stuffed with Spanish Blue Cheese, Wrapped in Prosciutto with Balsamic Syrup

12 Medjool Dates ~ Sliced in Half and Remove Pit
4 oz. Spanish Blue Cheese
12 Slices of Prosciutto
3 c. Balsamic Vinegar

Balsamic Syrup
1. In a medium-saucepan, over medium heat, add balsamic vinegar.
2. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer.
3. Simmer until liquid reduces by 3/4, approximately 30 minutes or until syrup-like consistency.
4. Remove from heat and cool completely.

Lentil Salad
1 c. Red Crimson lentils
2 c. Water
½ c. Arugula
¼ c. Green Onion ~ Thinly Sliced
¼ c. Red Peppers ~ Diced Small
¼ c. Yellow Peppers ~ Diced Small
2 T. Basil Oil
To Taste Salt & Freshly Ground Pepper

1. Cook lentils until just tender approximately 10-12 minutes.
2. Strain and cool.
3. Place lentils in bowl and toss with all remaining ingredients.

Basil Oil
1 c. Basil leaves ~ Tightly Packed
½ c. Parsley ~ Chopped and Washed
2 c. Olive Oil

1. Place all ingredients in blender and purée uree for 5 minutes.
2. Pour through a fine mesh strainer.
3. Keep refrigerated.

Pomegranate Balsamic Syrup
2 c. Balsamic Vinegar
¾ c. Pomegranate Juice
¼ c. Sugar

1. Place all ingredients in pot and simmer until reduced by 80%.
2. Place in refrigerator to cool.

Bon Appétit!


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