Thursday, March 27, 2014

Inspiration for a spring brunch

Spring brunchSpring is in the air, right? Well, maybe not so much. But it's totally in my heart. I am just willing it to come. We need warm weather. It was 10 degrees when I left the house the other day and it. was. cold. Freezing. And something about that just made me angry and put me in a terrible mood. And I wasn't the only one. All of us in MN are so sick of the cold. Our bones are permanently chilled.

Ok, enough weather talk. Technically it is spring. And if I can't feel it in the air at least it can be felt through my entertaining endeavors.

One of the easiest ways to entertain is with brunch. Guests are always happy with a glass of champagne in-hand. I think it's the bubbles, or maybe the fact that they're drinking before noon. Either way, brunch is awesome and one of my top favorite things ever in life.

I'm thinking of starting a new content feature that is all about "how to's" when it comes to entertaining. These posts will provide inspiration for hosting your own parties. They'll include menu ideas, recipes and decorating tips, all in the Eat Drink Pretty style.

How to throw a spring brunch gathering

Menu:

Mini quiche lorraine or this asparagus, morel and ramp quiche
Cinnamon rhubarb muffins  (or purchase a variety of store-bought pastries)
Fresh fruit
Goat cheese with baguette or bagels
Mimosas/bellinis/champagne with fruit (set up a simple mimosa bar with orange juice, peach juice, fruit and champagne. My favorite bubbly is cava or prosecco).
Coffee and tea

Decor:

Tulips in individual glass vases
Lemons in cylinder vases

I have so many ideas for these "how to" features such as:

How to throw a pizza and wine party
How to host a spring dinner party
How to host a neighborhood BBQ
How to create an afternoon tea party

I could go on forever! What do you think? I'd love any suggestions for "how to" posts you'd love to see.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Mini quiche lorraine

Mini quiche lorraine{Photo taken with the iPhone 5 and edited using Afterlight}

You most likely know by now that I love quiche. Regular sized, mini quiche, vegetarian, meat-filled, puff-pastry, pie crust, etc. I love all of it. Egg bakes and stratas rank pretty high up there, too. If I ever published a cookbook a quiche cookbook would be at the top of my consideration. It's so versatile. Of course the obvious brunch entree comes to mind, but quiche works great at dinner as well and it also can be transformed into minis for a cocktail party.

So when my colleague hosted a "Paris at Midnight" themed gathering last Saturday mini quiche lorraine seemed like a great choice. Savory little bites filled with bacon and cheese? Sign me up.

This is an easy recipe that creates a really delicious appetizer. We had a blast at the gathering and the quiche was a hit. In addition to my quiche, we had about 5 baguettes (seriously!), tons of cheese, crepes for dessert, lentil pate and many bottles of champagne. Savory/salty food pair really well with champagne. That's not obvious but it's so true. Even potato chips go well with champagne. French fries, too.

Ok, now I'm getting way too hungry. 

Mini quiche lorraine (recipe adapted via iVillage)

Ingredients

6 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled (to keep things easy I purchased already cooked bacon)
2 large eggs
1 egg yolk
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup Gruyere (or Swiss) cheese, shredded
1 15 ounce package refrigerated pie crust
Salt and pepper
1 teaspoon oregano

Preparation

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 24 cup mini muffin tin with cooking spray or butter. In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, yolk and heavy cream. Season with salt and pepper (about 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon each). Set aside.

On a lightly floured surface, use a 2 1/2 inch round cutter to cut 24 rounds out of the piecrust (the mouth of a glass works, too). Press the rounds into muffin cups.

Divide crumbled bacon and cheese evenly between the lined cups, then divide egg mixture between cups. Sprinkle oregano between the quiche.

Bake until quiche crusts are golden brown and egg mixture is puffed and completely set in the center, about 20 minutes.

Transfer the quiche to cooler racks. Can be served warm or at room temperature.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Coconut flour chocolate chip muffins

Chocolate graham crackersLast week Juliet and her cousin Chloe were having a play date. Chloe's mom, Nikki left a coconut flour muffin for Chloe as a snack and I broke a small piece off for Juliet (she had organic animal crackers and they were sharing snacks. Have you ever noticed that toddlers will eat anything if their friends are eating it?). Juliet gobbled down that muffin and immediately said "more muffin more muffin!".

I had never heard of coconut flour before. As a pretty avid baker, I probably shouldn't be admitting that. I asked Nikki for the recipe and made a batch on Sunday.

Since I am obviously not an expert in gluten-free baking or coconut flour I did a little googling and this article was informative and helped me understand the benefits and nuances.
Chocolate graham crackersI found organic Bob's Red Mill Organic Coconut Flour at Super Target for around $6.Chocolate graham crackersThese muffins are really tasty and Juliet likes them a lot. Surprisingly, so does Erik (he isn't typically into baked goods). I'm always up for trying new ingredients so thanks to my sister-in-law, Nikki for introducing me to coconut flour. I'll definitely be making these muffins again and I'll probably try adding fruit, dried fruit, peanut butter, etc.

Coconut flour chocolate chip muffins (recipe slightly adapted from The Coconut Mama)

Ingredients
  • 3/4 cup of coconut flour 
  • 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt
  • 6 eggs (I use organic Simply Balanced brand from Target)
  • 1/2 cup of coconut oil, melted (I get organic coconut oil from Trader Joes)
  • 1/2 cup of honey (I use organic honey from Aldi)
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla
  • 2/3 cup semi-sweet mini chocolate chips
Preparation
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl, mix all dry ingredients together and set aside.
In a another bowl, beat eggs and mix in melted coconut oil, honey and vanilla. Add dry ingredients until combined. Fold in the chocolate chips. Allow the mixture to sit for 3-5 minutes so the coconut flour can absorbed the liquid.
Scoop batter into prepared (greased) mini muffin pan. Fill each muffin tin 3/4 full of batter. 
4. Bake for 14-17 minutes. Remove muffins onto a cooling rack. Store in airtight container in refrigerator. 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Our Mexico vacation to El Dorado Casitas Royale

El Dorado Royale CasitasA couple weeks ago Erik and I traveled to Mexico for a much needed getaway. We went to celebrate our 5 year wedding anniversary back to the resort we honeymooned at, El Dorado Royale a Spa Resort by Karisma in Riviera Maya. We stayed in the Casita Suites section of the resort, which was nothing short of incredible.

In exchange for a review on the blog and social media posting (via Instagram) Erik and I got upgraded to an Infinity Pool Swim-Up Casita Suite. Being a blogger totally rules sometimes. To be completely open and honest, Erik and I did not plan on staying in a casita suite because it would have been a bit too much of a splurge for us. So I was beyond thrilled when I learned that the resort wanted to partner in exchange for a review. Hello fabulous-ness. I've NEVER been in a suite this beautiful. When I walked in the door to our room I was totally blown away. Photos of the suite with more details are below.

El Dorado Royale Casitas is a 25 minute drive from the Cancun airport. What I love about this location is that we can take an early, direct flight from Minneapolis and be on the beach by noon. We still get almost a full day at the resort instead of spending the day traveling. And with a shorter trip (4 nights) we needed every moment we could get to enjoy vacation. This resort is one of the Conde Nast Traveler Readers' Top 100 Hotels in the World. We met quite a few other couples while on our trip that said they've tried multiple resorts in the area and El Dorado is by far the best.
El Dorado Royale CasitasThe resort has about a 1.5 mile stretch of beach that is lined with stunning beach beds with thatch roofs.
El Dorado Royale CasitasThe entire resort is meticulous and just so, so beautiful. I woke up early everyday (not on purpose, just a habit I guess) and would walk down the sidewalk with the blue ocean to my left and just marvel at the scenery.  El Dorado Royale CasitasWhen we arrived in our room we saw this sweet towel art. It's perhaps a bit cheesy but I don't mind a little cheesy romance in my life, especially when I'm there to celebrate a 5 year wedding anniversary. There were red rose petals scattered all over the bed. Loved it.

One of the best aspects of this resort is that it's not just all-inclusive, it's gourmet-inclusive. The food is 5-star, so delicious and super high quality. They have top shelf liquor at all the bars which is huge for Erik since his favorite drink of all-time is a Grey Goose dirty martini.

El Dorado Royale CasitasThere are 7 different restaurants at the resort offering a wide variety of different foods from sushi to Italian to seafood to Mexican and more. A couple of the restaurants are open air with gorgeous views of the pools or beach. They all have beautiful decor and each are very distinct. You can see gorgeous photos of each restaurant here as well as download and view their impressive menus.

This photos below are from our delicious breakfast at their newest restaurant, Santa Fe Grill which has American cuisine with a Mexican vibe. I ordered a breakfast burrito and banana pancake.
El Dorado Royale Casitas El Dorado Royale Casitas
El Dorado Royale CasitasThe very first breakfast I had at the resort was Huevos Rancheros at La Isla, the open air restaurant that is my favorite place for breakfast. I cleaned this plate fast, the dish was so good. Another major perk? Endless mimosas with every breakfast.El Dorado Royale CasitasThis was the beautiful pool in our Casita section complete with a swim-up bar, a gourmet corner for lunch and a hot tub. The entire pool was surrounded by a lazy river that connected to the Casitas. We could walk out our patio door and hop right into the lazy river and swim to the bar. Erik was especially excited about this. El Dorado Royale Casitas El Dorado Royale CasitasI loved these swings at the outdoor bars. You can swing back and forth while sipping your favorite drink. Speaking of...I drank a lot during this trip. Probably a bit too much. My favorite drinks were mango margaritas, Grey Goose club sodas with a splash of cranberry juice and a lime, mudslides, margaritas and basically every martini they made in the lobby martini bar. El Dorado Royale CasitasThe beach beds by the Casita section of the resort had this gorgeous white fabric that swayed in the wind. Something about this fabric on these beds made me feel so relaxed. Erik is not as big a fan of the beach as he is the pool so while he hung out by the pool I would come out to one of the beach beds and listen to the waves and just be. Just me and the ocean and the gorgeous blue sky. El Dorado Royale CasitasWe had lunch at Jo Jo's Seaside Grill a couple times. This view? There are no words. And the lunch was incredible. I had fish and chips one day and an avocado burger with fries another day. Erik had a flank steak both times and raved about it. El Dorado Royale Casitas{iPhone photo}

I won't really get into this too much but let's just say I almost didn't even pack a 2 piece bathing suit because I wasn't really feeling it, know what I mean? I bought a fab one piece from JCrew and planned on wearing that. But once I was at the resort, I just didn't care anymore. Maybe it was the margaritas but I just felt good all around. Mind, body, soul. It was really nice. 
El Dorado Royale CasitasAnother view into the pools in the Casitas section. I love these palapa roofs all over the resort. El Dorado Royale CasitasA glimpse of the ocean through the palm trees. El Dorado Royale CasitasA view of the Swim-Up Casita Suites
El Dorado Royale CasitasAaaahhhhh, the beach beds. I couldn't get enough and must have taken 100 photos of them. El Dorado Royale CasitasSome lucky guests stay in the Presidential Casita Suite which is the creme-de-la-creme of suites on this resorts. It's huge and has a private pool and private beach area with beach bed. El Dorado Royale Casitas El Dorado Royale CasitasOur view to the right as I laid on our outdoor bed on our patio. El Dorado Royale CasitasThe straight-ahead view from the outdoor bed. If this isn't an oasis I don't know what is. El Dorado Royale CasitasOn our first evening we attended a 5-course dinner in the Fuentes restaurant, which is a culinary theater. The restaurant is equipped with cameras and big screens where you can watch the chefs prepare your meal with commentary. I was in foodie heaven here.

The dinner was hosted by Kendall Jackson vineyards and each amazing course was paired with a glass of wine. 5 courses and 5 glasses of wine? I was feeling pretty darn good by the time the dinner was over.

Sarena Stern was the chef from Kendall Jackson. She prepared an absolutely awesome menu, it was all so good I can't pick which course was my favorite.

Here is the menu from that night:

  • Scallops, grapefruit curd, avocado mousse, mango and grapefruit, crispy quinoa, micro cilantro paired with Aurora Point, Sauvignon Blanc, Stonestreet, Alexander Mountain Estate (my favorite wine of the night)
  • Tomato salad, cashew cream, seaweed vinaigrette, cashew crisp paired with Hartford Court, Russian River Chardonnay 2011
  • Seared duck breast, farro, pomegranate, red wine, pomegranate gastrique paired with Kendall-Jackson, Vintner's Reserve Pinot Noir, 2012
  • Artisan cheese selection, verjus jellies, beet mostarda, bacon almonds paired with Atalon Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley 2009
  • Coconut, passion fruit parfait with coconut shortbread, lime zest paired with Kendall-Jackson Late Harvest Reserve Chardonnay 2012
This dinner did carry an additional cost because it was a special gala dinner. The resort offered it to Erik and I complimentary. A huge thank you to them for that, it was a truly a memorable evening. 

El Dorado Royale CasitasOne thing I didn't do was swing from one of the many hammocks. Looking back at this photo I wish I did. Did I mention that it's going to be -17 degrees when I leave the house Thursday morning? It's so cold it hurts. Take me back to Mexico please!!!El Dorado Royale CasitasSoft white sand and crystal clear blue ocean
El Dorado Royale Casitas El Dorado Royale Casitas{iPhone photo}

El Dorado Royale CasitasErik's eggs benedict breakfast one morning. This was paired with a bloody mary which was his drink of choice with breakfast. El Dorado Royale CasitasBeds by the pool with more gorgeous, dreamy white fabricEl Dorado Royale CasitasWhen we arrived at the resort it was raining but I didn't care. Immediately when we walked into the lobby, they poured us a glass of champagne. We got to the room I hopped onto this outdoor bed and listened to the raindrops against the water. I felt so lucky to be there in that moment; to be on vacation, to be with Erik, to get away from work. El Dorado Royale CasitasThis was the first warm weather vacation where I didn't really care about laying in the sun to get color. I slathered on the sunscreen and pretty much tried to stay in the shade. Nope, I'm not in my 20s anymore!El Dorado Royale Casitas El Dorado Royale Casitas El Dorado Royale Casitas El Dorado Royale CasitasHere is a room tour of the Swim-Up Infinity Pool Casita Suite. Like I mentioned earlier in the post, the suite was wonderful. I absolutely loved it. There were two showers, one was outdoors (but totally private). There was a comfy king size bed, a huge bathroom, a jacuzzi for two and the best part was the patio with an outdoor bed, and an infinity pool that connected to the lazy river. And the room was BIG. It was definitely luxurious. And let's be honest, it carries a price tag to match. But you know what? It is so worth it. Erik and I will be staying in this same suite next time we're back (even if it means saving up for a while in order to do so).

When we honeymooned at this resort 5 years ago we stayed in a standard room. All standard rooms at the resort are technically suites (they are called junior suites). And they are extremely nice rooms. They have jacuzzi tubs, a balcony or patio with a hammock and the ocean front junior suites have a gorgeous view of ocean. So if you consider going to this resort and the casitas are just a too spendy, definitely try the junior suites. You won't be disappointed. There are some swim-up junior suites that look awesome.

The resort also has a spa, which I didn't experience on this trip. I had already splurged in the month of December and had gone to the spa twice in that month so no spa for me in January. On our honeymoon I got a massage right on the beach and it was really nice.  El Dorado Royale Casitas El Dorado Royale CasitasRincon is the authentic Mexican restaurant at the resort and one of Erik and my favorites. These steak and chorizo tacos were in the top of Erik's list for his favorite things he ate on our trip. El Dorado Royale CasitasThe restaurant decor and a shrimp cocktail Mexican-style
El Dorado Royale CasitasIf I remember correctly these were chicken taquitos. They were as delicious as they looked.
El Dorado Royale CasitasCeviche served on tortilla chips. One thing I really like about the restaurants is that they give you perfectly sized portions. The food is such high quality and so good that you leave totally satisfied but not overly full. Because no one wants to get into a bathing suit feeling like that. El Dorado Royale CasitasThere was a gourmet corner that served lunch in the section of our Casita suite. I had this colorful ahi tuna salad. El Dorado Royale CasitasChips and guacamole. I could literally eat this with every meal for the rest of my life. El Dorado Royale CasitasMy delicious veggie wrap at the gourmet corner (I believe the restaurant is called Las Olas). The photo on the right is of the balcony at the Santa Fe Grill.

Not shown includes our dinner at Kampai, their Pacific Rim/sushi restaurant (another favorite), dinner at D'Italia the Italian restaurant (where I had the most amazing beef carpaccio) and a few other breakfasts and lunches.
El Dorado Royale Casitas El Dorado Royale Casitas El Dorado Royale Casitas El Dorado Royale Casitas El Dorado Royale CasitasWe love the lobby martini bar at the resort. It is very swanky and they serve perfectly mixed martinis with top shelf vodka (or anything else you want). I had a couple lemon drop martinis there while Erik sipped his favorite dirty martinis.

One thing I want to make sure to note is that the service at this resort is truly the best. The staff is knowledgeable, helpful, nice, and cool to talk to. Erik and I had a lot of great conversations with the bartender at our swim-up pool bar. Gratuity is technically included in the rate but we tipped every day on top of that (especially to the servers at the restaurants, the person who cleaned our room daily and the bartenders). They offer great service and definitely deserved the tips.
El Dorado Royale Casitas El Dorado Royale Casitas El Dorado Royale CasitasThe only photos Erik and I got together were ones we took ourselves. I wish we would have gotten a few more decent photos but it's challenging to ask a stranger to take a photo with your huge DSRL camera. We had a great time celebrating our 5 year anniversary. We were able to relax, take naps, have drinks anytime all day long and enjoy the beautiful Mexico sun. We were social and met some great couples but also had a lot of great quality, alone time. As busy, working parents it's easy to get caught up in everything going on and not focus on your relationship. We fall into that camp at times. This vacation allowed us to take a step back and be more deliberate about remembering what we love about each other. Because let's be honest, marriage can be hard and sometimes you forget. What I realized on this trip is you don't just automatically fall back into that on your honeymoon feeling but it was very easy to remember all the many reasons why I love this guy so much.

Our trip was the perfect getaway. It had all the elements to create a wonderful vacation; great weather, a beautiful resort, truly amazing food, limitless drinks, great staff and of course, the awesome upgrade. I can't say enough how much we appreciated that. The resort is truly top notch and these photos make me long to be back there.

I hope you enjoyed the photos and this glimpse into our trip. If you have any questions about the resort don't hesitate to ask in the comments or shoot me an email eatdrinkpretty {at} gmail {dot} com. You can also follow them on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.

Disclaimer: El Dorado Casitas Royale gave Erik and I an upgrade to an Infinity Pool Swim-Up Casita Suite. Besides the upgrade, we paid for the vacation 100% ourselves. All opinions about the resort are my own and this was the second time we have vacationed at El Dorado Royale. We will undoubtedly be going back.