FF | Spring Break Edition

You know what, I really did set a personal goal to post on this blog at least once a week to stay “motivated”. I got a little overzealous and posted twice in one week and then WHAM…life happened and now I’m a couple weeks overdue on posts. Oy vey! 

We are currently on spring break which, for those who work from home like me, means absolutely nothing special except you “get” to bring your laptop to wherever you’re “breaking”. Working in a school setting for the past 10 years, we got used to having an official spring break. However, I do realize in #RealLife, the adult-working world doesn’t take spring breaks…they just take vacation. So in that sense, I am still very thankful that we were able to take a few days away from the day-to-day crazy.

We spent the past few days on the coast in Oak Island, NC. The weather took a surprising turn for the warm and sunny. It was perfection, especially through the eyes of our spunky, almost-three-year-old Amelia.

In true “vacation mode”, I thought I’d post a few highlights from the past week:

>> Say “Hi!” to the New Kids on the QC Food Block:

  • Tandūr Kitchen {SouthPark}: Officially opened this week and it’s already killing it. Don’t miss out on the Naanchos, Spiced Okra Fries, Tikka Masala, Garlic Naan and the Korma. Hell, just try it all…it’s all fantastic. This place has already earned a spot in the Masanotti rotation.

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  • Haymaker {Uptown}: Farm to Table, Fine Southern Cuisine — This is most certainly added to my list for top date spots, perfectly situated overlooking Romare Bearden Park. Grab a few small plates to share or choose a few as starters before you dive into their incredible entrees, and don’t even think about skipping out on dessert. The Haymaker Punch and the Harvest Spritz are TOPS.

>> Leftovers or Bust

Before we leave for a vacation or trip, I typically skip grocery shopping the week prior and we make our meals from whatever we can find in the refrigerator. It’s challenging with an entire week of “clean the pantry/fridge” meals, and an added bonus…it’s fairly cost efficient too. We had a TON of leftover roasted chicken from The Roasting Company and vegetables from the farmer’s market, so here’s what we made for the week {Not pictured: Chicken Verde Enchiladas that were devoured before I could get a photo}:

>> Breakfast…BEACH Edition

From my first time making homemade crepes (a nod to my NYC French Fam, M & A) to apples & almond butter to some fancy a#$ avocado toast (as requested by my sister), breakfast remains my FAVORITE meal of the day.

Hopefully you feel inspired to go try some of our newest CLT restaurants, challenged to  see how many meals you can make from just a handful of ingredients already in your fridge or just do yourself a favor, make a beautifully delicious breakfast and see the difference it can make as you start your day…#liveyourbestlife.

Now back to our regularly scheduled vacating. <3


A first for me…

Rewind to a few weeks ago when I received a text from a dear friend who wanted to celebrate her 40th birthday by surprising HER friends with a delicious dinner. I was so lucky to be included in this group of amazing women; however, she also requested that I be the one to make said dinner.

This was incredibly humbling and awesome for multiple reasons…1. Laurie is known for her ability to be keenly aware of her friends’ gifts and talents, and for helping them find ways to cultivate those gifts. She is the ultimate connector! 2. She knows I have never made a full course meal for that many people before, but knew I would be up for the challenge…and 3. She recognizes my growing love for cooking and knew this would be a place for me to shine, and I wanted to do that for her on HER day to shine.

Needless to say, I was so honored and wanted EVERYTHING to be perfect for her special day. I reached out to my uber-talented brother-in-law who happens to be one of the BEST chefs in Atlanta (and who has graciously taught me much of what I know in the kitchen) to help me put together a menu. He sent me thoughts and ideas…enough to spark my fire and give me the confidence to forge ahead.

I’m an obsessive “To-Do List” kind of gal. I write and re-write my lists over and over until they are beautiful and without blemish. So, 10+ scratched-out lists and recipe edits later, I had everything I needed in working order. I worked through 2 different recipes for the salad and then at least 3 different ones for the main course. I liked components from each, but wanted to make this my own after testing in the kitchen.

After much deliberation, adaptations and recipe-testing with my resident taste-testers (J & A), I finalized the menu and went shopping. I felt SO accomplished when I realized I got all the ingredients for the appetizer, salad and main course for well under $200. Thank you, Costco & Trader Joe’s.

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I knew I couldn’t do all the prep by myself, so Laurie and I decided to hire a former Trinity student of mine, along with her friend, to help me prep and clean in the kitchen the day of. That proved to be a fabulous idea and we got everything prepped and started before the guests arrived.

Surprisingly, I wasn’t stressed. I felt pressure, but in a good way, and I think my adrenaline kicked in at just the right time. There were a few hiccups along the way, but we powered through them. The appetizers were being passed, drinks poured, and the dinner had officially started. I was truly in my happy place.

 

I enjoyed every part of it…every “supreme” citrus cut, every peel of a parsnip, the searing sizzle of the chicken thighs…it was GLORIOUS. Sure, there were definitely missteps. Once things started trucking along, I totally forgot to throw in some ingredients, but it didn’t have a huge impact. No one thing proved too problematic and everything came together beautifully.

For the appetizers, I made a Butternut Squash, Sage & Goat Cheese Crostini and Goat Cheese Stuffed Dates wrapped in Prosciutto. The salad course was next and I was super excited about this dish: Roasted Beets with Winter Citrus over Baby Kale & Ricotta Cheese, topped with a Pistachio Vinaigrette.

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The main course was one that I experimented with quite a bit, but was the most nervous about executing well for 20 guests. I made some adjustments with the pans I planned to used. Rather than cook everything in batches in a skillet (the original plan), I decided to slow-roast it all together in the oven. I seared the chicken first, then sautéed the onions, carrots and mushrooms, and finally layering with the riesling, coconut milk & herbs.

The final product was a delightful Coq Au Riesling, served on top of a Roasted Garlic & Parsnip Puree with sautéed Haricot Verts. The savoriness of the chicken and vegetables over the sweet, garlic parsnips proved to be SO. GOOD.

The whole evening was a lovely success and, for me personally, such a HUGE step forward to doing who-the-hell-knows with food. A few people have asked about my plans for this newfound love of cooking, and the only answer I have is, “Who knows?! I just LOVE cooking and LOVE cooking for people!” So for now, finding opportunities to do that is incredibly exciting.

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The whole experience was a first for me, and one I hope to be the first of many. Anyone want to be a taste-tester, I’ll come cook for you ANYTIME!

Happy Saturday, friends <3


A Night on the Town

Almost 10 years ago, Jay and I started exploring new cities by exploring new food places by way of what we have affectionately referred to as the “Team M Progressive Dinner.”

Progressive dinners are not a new concept. In fact, they’ve been around for quite a long time, but usually refer to a dinner party with successive courses prepared & eaten in different homes. For Jay and I, we discovered that most of the time when we travel, we are typically in a new city or place for only 2-3 days at the most. So, really, that’s only 9 opportunities to try the locale cuisine…and that’s just NOT enough. 🙂

It all started years ago when we were day-tripping up to Asheville, North Carolina. It’s one of our favorites places on earth (especially because it was the birthplace of our daughter<3). A city like Asheville presented the common problem we are faced with…too many incredible food places and not enough meal times!?

So our solution was to start with breakfast #1, where we would split something (most likely the most recommended menu choice, etc.) and then move on to breakfast #2, and do the same. We would walk around, explore the city and then come back around for an earlier lunch #1, split & share, walk to lunch#2, and repeat for dinner #1 and #2. We typically save the most expensive, decadent places for the lunch options because most places have a more affordable lunch menu, but with the same high caliber of food. Thus, the Masanotti Progressive Dinner.

 

This is the way we’ve explored almost every city we’ve traveled to: New York City, Brooklyn, San Francisco, Sonoma, Charleston, Wilmington, Asheville, Black Mountain, Chicago and more.

Living in a thriving and growing city like Charlotte, this is even our preferred method of exploring our OWN ‘hood as well. Date nights are few & far between with a 2yr. old at home (#babysittersareexpensive) and there are SO many great restaurants — new & old — in Charlotte that it would take FOREVER for us to try all of them. So, the progressive dinner is the way for us to go try the latest & greatest a few at a time.

Here are some my tips for planning a super fun progressive dinner:

  • Pick the Right Places: A typical progressive dinner includes one course at a different location: appetizers & drinks at one place, main course at another & dessert/after-dinner drinks at a third.

    It’s easiest to pick a food theme to explore or places with a similar cuisine so it’s not completely random. I mean, I can eat all the food, all the time…but I typically don’t start with sushi, move on to lasagna and then finish with fried mochi ice cream…or do I? No. Kidding. Don’t do that, just pick places that have a similar thread.

  • Location & Travel Time: Try to plan the progressive dinner locations to be within walking distance or no more than a 10min. drive in between. As long as the 1st & 2nd places are close and the 3rd is near or on the way home, that works too!

    If you’re pulling an all-day affair in an uber-walkable city like New York and plan for the breakfast #1, breakfast #2, etc., combo I mentioned above…THEN it’s probably better to space out the various food establishments a little more to allow for more digestion time.

  • The Funds: Unless you’re #moneybags, you might want to space out the $$$$ places in between the $ or $$ places. Typically it’s cheaper to do apps or shared plates at the more expensive places and then you can get an entree at the cheaper ones. Or flip it around, just don’t go all 4-$ on all three stops, that’s just crazy…or if you do, invite me:) Eating the progressive dinner way should be easier on the wallet because you can split & share smaller plates at more places to try the best dishes!

We actually JUST walked in from our latest Date Night/Progressive Dinner in Charlotte, and it was good, but not great. We started at RockSalt for their $1 Oyster Happy Hour and it was SO. DANG. GOOD.

They never disappoint and have the best oysters. Then we walked across the parking lot with grandiose plans to do dinner at the new HOT spot, Flourshop, before ending with drinks at Dot Dot Dot or Amelie’s. BUT when the restaurant doesn’t take reservations or use the NoWait App, you usually end up with a wait. Ours was 45min. which typically wouldn’t be a problem, but 30 of those minutes we watched a 4-top sit EMPTY…the same 4-top that we were then sat at around the 45min mark. Something went down, I have no clue what…but we STARED at that empty table and it was pretty disappointing. The food was pretty good from what I could tell, but we had to order & eat SO fast (#babysitterproblems) that we really didn’t get to enjoy it…nor did we get to do dessert. But c’est la vie, we enjoyed the night with friends (ALWAYS the best part) and the food.

Which brings me back to the biggest point I made earlier…when you do a progressive dinner you HAVE to be able to roll with the punches. If you need help picking places for your own progressive dinner, shoot me an email! I really would LOVE to pair different places together for you to try…date night, girls’ night, family night, whatever!

Happy Eating & Happy Weekend <3