creamy, easy tuscan white beans.

Just thinking about this recipe makes me crave it. What started out as a search for a hearty side dish ended up doubling as an easy and delicious appetizer that was irresistible by all parties in our household, including the little toddlet. Miss Mari loves her beans!
Though the possibilities are endless, we did two things with the Barefoot Contessa's Tuscan White Beans recipe; we ate it as a side dish with grilled chicken and the next day, enjoyed it atop crostini for a little snack that we paired with some good, dry white wine. The scene-stealer here is gently sautéed fennel that had my husband ask, "so what is this stuff?" because he liked it so much.

Along with the fennel, carrots, onions and lots of fresh herbs, this versatile dish helps us get our veggies and protein, and want to eat them, too. It's also make-ahead friendly, which seems to be a bit of a pre-req. for me.
I have visions of making a pillowy bed of Tuscan White Beans for salmon or simply offering it as a dip with good pita chips. Any which way, this aromatic dish is simple on the prep work with drained, canned white beans and store-bought chicken stock. I can't even imagine how good it would taste with dried beans and homemade chicken stock, but I'll share with you my method and if you want to see the BC's original recipe, pull out her How Easy Is That? cookbook, which you should own. Because it's so good!
Tuscan White Bean Crostini
Inspired by and slightly adapted from The Barefoot Contessa's How Easy Is That?, page 196

Serves a party of 8, give or take

One thin loaf of french bread, thinly sliced about 1/4" thick
1/4 cup good olive oil, plus extra for bread
4 cups chopped fennel, stalks, fronds and core removed (2 large)
2 cups chopped carrots (4 large carrots)
1 tablespoon minced garlic (2-3 cloves)
2 15-oz. cans of white beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon minced fresh sage leaves
1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary leaves, plus extra for garnish
2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus extra for bread
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place bread pieces on baking sheets, and lightly brush with olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt. Heat for about 10 minutes (check after 5) or until bread is toasty and golden. Remove from oven and set aside to cool completely. Crostini, stored in an air-tight container, is good for a few days.

For the beans, heat olive oil in a large pan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the fennel and carrots and sauté for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally until tender. Add the garlic for just a minute more, stirring constantly to avoid burning. Add the beans to the vegetables, then the chicken stock, sage, rosemary, salt and pepper and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 12-15 minutes, until creamy. Stir in the Pecorino and season to taste (but I bet you won't need to). The beans will keep for as many days as you can keep them around, sealed tightly in the refrigerator.

Serve beans warm or at room temperature atop crostini and garnish with a sprig of rosemary. Next time, I may add a tiny piece of prosciutto to the whole thing, much like this flatbread recipe. Oh, and a beverage suggestion, if not enjoying white wine: this, from Ashley Sullivan. Try it and report back, please!


a few kaua'i photos.

Two years ago, when we visited Kaua'i for the second time, we had all sorts of adventures all over the island. We hiked, waterfalled, explored and ate well. This time around was different, because our vacation was about introducing Mari to the island, and not so much about us.

Which wasn't my mindset on day one.
{possibly the tastiest mai tai I've ever had, from Scotty's}
I was picturing drinking mai tais by the pool, absorbed in the latest Sunset magazine - or this book that I'm loving, on recommendation from sweet Jen - while Eddie and Mari played in the pool. That, my friends, never really happened. I didn't even crack open any reading material, though we did spend lots of time at the pool. And walking around our gorgeous retreat and looking at the fish and talking to the chickens. So many conversations with chickens.

We never made it out of our little world on the North Shore, and I'm not complaining because this trip re-introduced me to why I really love the island - the simple things - and it reminded me that Mari does this for me at home, too. She helps me pause, think and appreciate things pineapple slices. Or the red dirt for which Kaua'i is famous. Or tropical rainfall in the morning.

That, in a nutshell was our vacation: pineapple slices, red dirt, chickens, fish and agua. I mean water. Which, in Mari's world, is the ocean.
For anyone Kaua'i bound or considering, I do have a few tips to share, mostly about food.

+ If you're going to do Hawaii for more than a few days and are traveling with a child, book a condo or a resort with suite-styled rooms. In my opinion, having a kitchen is very worth having. Our favorite rentals are The Cliffs, but if you have a load of Starpoints to burn like we did, the Westin at Princeville is magical! It's also kid friendly, done very tastefully.
+ If you are staying on the North Shore, stop at Safeway in Kapa'a instead of Foodland in Princeville. It's a bigger, better market and a bit cheaper. Just a tad.
+ If you will be cooking on your vacation, pack a small travel-sized bottle of olive oil and bags of salt/pepper so you don't have to buy overpriced essentials when you arrive.
+ If you are dining out on the North Shore, we tried two restaurants that get two big thumbs up; in the Princeville Shopping Center, Frederico's Mexican Cuisine. It's basically a walk-up/order and take out, or enjoy on the patio. The veggie burrito is delicious. I had two in five days. And, just west of Hanalei, near the end of the road, is Mediterranean Gourmet. Worth the winding drive, if nothing else for the view, though the food is wonderful. Get the pesto flatbread, topped with pine nuts, feta and arugula.

For more goodness on experiencing Kaua'i, start here.


friday foto: aloha.

This looks like a good way to kick off the weekend, doesn't it?
After a brief rainfall on the North Shore of Kauai, this was our view on a long stretch of a beach that we had all to ourselves. It was our favorite place to be on most days during our vacation, and next week, I'll have a few more snapshots to share, plus a few thoughts on how to bring the island spirit home and keep it going.

Thanks for all the fun feedback on yesterday's five questions with Mike Simms. It was such a pleasure to write and I was so glad to share our convo.

Happy weekend, all!


five questions with: simms restaurant group's mike simms.

Do I have a treat for you today! If you are local to the South Bay, you have no doubt enjoyed a meal (or two) at Simmzy's, Tin Roof Bistro (TRB) or the MB Post. Owned by the Simms Restaurant Group, the trio have defined Manhattan Beach's culinary scene, and there's more on the way. Simmzy's opened a Long Beach location and Manhattan Beach is expecting another restaurant from The Post's Chef David LeFevre later this year.
Here's why we love the Simms Group: not only do they do food, wine, beer and cocktails extraordinarily well and are all about local farm fresh foods (and all that really good stuff), they are inspiring. They each, in their own way, bring together really good people - staff, servers and guests included - and your meal is more of an experience shared. Each restaurant is perfectly crafted, from the ground up, from the countertops to the silverware to the restrooms (seriously), including all the things we love, like chalkboard menus, clothespins, grain sack-like napkins and mason jars.

I spent an afternoon with our friend and restaurant group owner Mike Simms, and picked his brain about all things food and entertaining, from the new brussel sprout to his favorite pub grub. We chatted over a pint of Bavik, a Belgian style pilsner, and I got to taste a few items on Chef Anne Conness' new TRB menu, which just launched last week. It was a perfect little afternoon, and I'm so excited to share the highlights with you, in five-ish questions.
*plus a flawlessly-executed photo bomb by our favorite TRB bartender Andy.
one: take us back to the beginning - how did you land in the restaurant business?
It's in the family. My grandfather started out managing the commissary at Paramount Studios in the 50s. A true entrepreneur, he went out, borrowed some money and opened his first coffee shop in Los Angeles in the mid-1950s, and eventually owned several. My dad followed in his footsteps after a detour as an aeronautical pilot, and started and ran Mimi's Cafe until he sold it in 2005 and then helped my brother, Chris, and I join the family business. 

Chris and I are partners, and together, we've brewed beer, and we've opened several restaurants. Chris opened the first Lazy Dog Cafe in 2003, and owns and runs all 11 locations. Four years after the first Lazy Dog, our intention was to open Tin Roof Bistro, but due to several delays, Simmzy's ended up opening first. It's a very serendipitous story about how the convergence of craft beer, wine and good food that we call 'gourmet pub grub' made it to Manhattan Beach Blvd. You can read all about here.

Prior to opening Simmzy's, I spent four years in the Napa Valley, managing Tra Vigne, where I learned true scratch cooking and made a lot of good friends who are passionate about the wine and food community, and we feature several of their home-grown foods and beverages at each of our restaurants. 


in my beach bag: island getaway.

Ah, did everyone have a good three days? I hope so. I have been buried in all thing happy - and most times, overwhelming - like learning a new trade, trying new recipes, eating good food (out) and downloading hundreds of photos from the past month. I know I was absent last week, so let's get right to it.

Before I started my new job, we made a quick escape to our happy place, which we've covered at length previously, and that is the garden isle of Kaua'i. For our little family of three, this was our first official vacation, if you don't count a couple of brief local weekend trips and a large family stay in Lake Tahoe.

As I was settling into our lovely, lovely home for the week, I got a little anxious on day one, thinking about how to cover this island differently than I had in years past, because I love sharing these kinds of things with you. And I quickly discovered that I wasn't going to have a choice: family vacationing is quite different than a breezy getaway for two, and I recognize that blogging about Mari discovering chickens, fish, tropical birds and flowers isn't as interesting to you as it is to me.

So, instead I have a couple of quick things to share, like what I packed in my beach bag and lived on for five days (really: why do I even pack a flat iron? It never, ever gets used). Perhaps it will inspire those who are already thinking about Spring Break. Because it's almost March. Yikes!
one // two // three // four // five // six // seven // eight // nine // ten*
*hands-down: my most favorite article of clothing for this spring/summer and worth every penny!

I hope to share some vacation photos with you, plus some new tips for anyone who might be Kaua'i-bound. I fell in love with the island, all over again, and we never left the North Shore.

Aloha. Or, as Mari says: A-lo-lo-lo.


happy heart day.

Could you resist this in your mailbox?
Me neither. Sorry I've been a bit missing in action this week. I am back next week with lots of goodies. Promise!

Have a lovely, lovely Valentine's Day, all! XO

See Mari's 2013 valentine cards right here.


friday foto: signed, sealed + delivered.

It's amazing what you can find in the dollar bins at Target. This little tin mailbox was just waiting for me to take home to Mari, and it helped inspire her valentine cards.
Our local Target sold them in blue and pink. Keep your eyes peeled if you make a Target run this weekend! 

For more Friday Fotos, see last week's post.


our valentines cards.

Here are Mari's valentine cards, made with red Swedish Fish, gel pens, scotch tape, some Paper Source paper and a whole lot of love.
If you're interested, here are the sources for the cards.
one // baker's twine (note: this large spool is from Crate & Barrel; for smaller spoons: Shop Sweet Lulu)
two // Swedish Fish
three // Paper Source 5.75x5.75 square envelopes in pool
four // gel pens
five // Paper Source 5.5x5.5 square cards in red
six // Paper Source cover weight paper in white
seven // Paper Source printable label sheets in red

Other items not pictured that I used: scotch tape, double-sided tape, scissors, paper cutter and cellophane to wrap the fish. The return address stamp is a custom design, cut and printed by Paperwink.


valentine's prep.

As I was enjoying Pretty Paper Products last month, I played with the idea of making our valentine's with my new found Illustrator knowledge. I love homemade valentine's and vowed to do them earlier this year so I could share our crafting with you. And also: get them signed, sealed and delivered before I got swept away in my new job. I'm not sure what had me more organized: Paper Source or the fear of a brand new adventure. I am sure it was the latter.

So, with a bowl of my favorite candy - red Swedish fish - I got my creative juices flowing in the complimentary palette of robbin's egg blue and red. Here's a taste.
We printed everything at home, and sent just a few out to Mari's little fishy friends. For family, I printed these photo valentine cards.

I'll have the complete package with details for you tomorrow!

Click here for a quick view of last year's valentine's.


friday foto: sweet thing.

I know I've been a bit paper-heavy this week. The truth is that if I've been on my computer, I've been designing and not necessarily writing or reading. Which I've missed. I've missed most  everyone in the last week, actually, including my super supportive family, and I'll chalk it up to a career change and all the chaotic goodness that comes with new things.

The one person I've been very connected with, however - I'm very happy to report - is Mari. She and I spent a lot of time together this week, and we managed to get some valentine cards made and in the mail. It felt very familiar, sitting at our kitchen table, with tiny hands and big imaginations. And to look back at last year's craft session makes me smile and feel very sentimental. She was such a little'r person then, and now she's turning into such a big girl.
In between sucking on my favorite gel pens and stealing Swedish Fish from the fish bowl (hint hint to our valentine theme), Mari helped me make the master, and then I spent a few evenings cutting, taping, tying, stamping and sticking, and I'll have the details for you next week! Let the valentine inspiration begin.

Have a lovely February weekend, all!

For more Friday Fotos, see last week's post.