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The Great Outdoors

One of my favorite things about being a new, suburban homeowner (besides 45 trips to Home Depot each month!) is outdoor dining. As a kid, I loved any opportunity to eat dinner outside and spent the better part of my life trying to convince my parents to build a deck, a porch, or anything other than an insufficient picnic table that served more as home base for tag than a proper outdoor eating area! Alas, I had to wait until I had my own home to fulfill this fantasy.

So we are making the most of THREE outdoor spaces at casa de LaHerlinger. The al fresco adventure began with the discovery of a beautiful eight-piece patio set (for less than $130!) for the flagship patio area in the backyard from one of our many flea market/estate sale excursions. Last week, we added a quaint bistro spot for two on the back deck. And the upstairs balcony is the perfect spot for a solo cup of coffee or an outdoor nap. Okay, this is starting to sound like an ad for a B&B…Now on to today’s special.

For me, planning outdoor menus is really the fun part. All you need is a few good al fresco recipes to entertain yourself and others for Spring and summer. Here are some of  my new favorites. 

Brunch

Mixed Greens Salad with Honey-Orange Dressing

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons fresh orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 teaspoons minced shallots
  • 2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 cups chopped romaine lettuce
  • 4 cups torn radicchio
  • 3 cups bagged baby spinach leaves

Combine first 7 ingredients in a large bowl, stirring with a whisk. Add lettuce, radicchio, and spinach; toss gently to coat.

 Fresh Mozzarella, Sun-Dried Tomato, and Prosciutto Strata

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound rosemary focaccia, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
  • 3 1/4 cups fat-free milk
  • 1/4 cup (2 ounces) crème fraîche or sour cream
  • 1 (8-ounce) carton egg substitute
  • 1/4 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained and chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • Cooking spray
  • 4 ounces prosciutto, chopped
  • 4 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/4-inch-wide strips
  • 1/2 cup (2 ounces) grated fresh Parmesan cheese

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Arrange bread cubes in a single layer on a large baking sheet. Bake at 350° for 10 minutes or until toasted, stirring once.
  2. Combine milk, crème fraîche, and egg substitute in a large bowl, stirring with a whisk until smooth. Add tomatoes and garlic, stirring with a whisk. Add bread; stir gently to combine. Let stand 5 minutes.
  3. Pour half of bread mixture into a 13 x 9-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Arrange prosciutto and mozzarella evenly over bread mixture. Top with remaining bread mixture. Cover and chill 8 hours or up to overnight.
  4. Preheat oven to 350°.
  5. Uncover dish. Bake at 350° for 20 minutes. Sprinkle evenly with Parmesan. Bake an additional 20 minutes. Remove from oven; let stand 5 minutes. Serve warm.

Dinner

Spring Pasta with Peas & Mint

Ingredients:

  • Kosher Salt
  • 6 oz. pasta- (angel hair recommended but anything will work)
  • 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
  • 3/4 cup finely grated Parmesan
  • A good handful of chopped mint
  • A good handful of frozen peas

Directions

1. Bring salted water to a boil for your pasta and cook it until 2 minutes before done. Drain, reserving 3/4 cup pasta water.

2. While the pasta is cooking melt 2 T. butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add pepper and cook for about a minute. Add 1/2 cup reserved pasta water and bring to a simmer. Add pasta and remaining 1 T butter. Reduce the heat and toss in your peas, mint, and cheese until nicely coated.

3. Remove from the heat and add more pasta water if your pasta seems dry. Serve it up and enjoy!

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