Pecan-Crusted Salmon with Roasted Carrots & Jasmine Rice
Peanut Butter & Sunflower Seed Smothered Chicken with Mashed Potatoes

Broiled Cheddar-Thyme Crab Dip with Toasted Baguette
Sesame-Seared Tuna with Flash-Fried Kale and Avocado

At Trader Joe's we picked up their frozen sweet and sour chicken tempura.  I love sweet and sour chicken, but our local Chinese joint serves just the chicken and sauce.  No fruits or veggies.  Booooo.  So, I grabbed the frozen chicken and sauce and decided to make the rest myself.  Quick, easy, and with results as tasty as Chinese carry-out, this will be my new go-to recipe for sweet and sour chicken when just the chicken and sauce just won't do.


  • Trader Joe’s frozen sweet and sour chicken tempura (fried chicken pieces with sweet and sour sauce)
  • White rice
  • Olive oil
  • Canned pineapple chunks
  • Colored sweet bell peppers
  • Yellow onion
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Red wine vinegar
  • Sugar
  • Salt and pepper


  1. Preheat the oven according to the chicken tempura package directions.
  2. Pour the water, rice, and salt into the slow cooker and get it cooking.
  3. Slice the onions and bell peppers into thin strips and slice the cherry tomatoes in half.
  4. The oven should be heated, so toss the chicken onto a jelly roll pan and pop into the oven.
  5. Heat olive oil in a large skillet.  Toss in the onion and bell pepper.  Cook until they start to soften.  
  6. Then, add the cherry tomatoes, pineapple chunks, a splash of red wine vinegar, a sprinkling of sugar, and season with salt and pepper.   
  7. Cook until tomatoes start to soften.  Then, fold in the sweet and sour sauce until evenly distributed.  
  8. Pull the chicken out of the oven, pour it into the skillet, and toss with the veggies and sauce.
  9. Take the skillet off the heat.  Plate a bed of rice and top with the sweet and sour chicken and veggies.
  10. That’s it!

For a side, we had a leftover tropical fruit salad from the night before.  It shares many ingredients with the sweet and sour dish, but it paired nicely without being overly repetitive:

Toss together the following ingredients and let sit a few hours to let the flavors meld:

  • Sliced oranges
  • Sliced kiwi
  • Diced onion
  • Chopped rainbow sweet bell peppers
  • Chopped mango
  • Chunked avocado
  • Halved cherry tomatoes
  • Orange zest from ½ orange
  • A drizzle of olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • A squeeze of honey 

Now that we’re moving into the winter months, I’m cooking with red meats I haven’t cooked before.  Last week it was rack of lamb.  More recently I made filet mignon steaks wrapped in bacon.  Using ingredients from Trader Joe’s, I put together a meat and potatoes meal that was hearty and tasty.

Bacon-Wrapped Filet Mignon Steaks: Wrap beef tenderloin in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.  Take out of the fridge and slice through the tenderloin – wrap still on – into 1.5-inch thick steaks.  Season with salt and pepper and wrap each with a slice of bacon.  Heat olive oil in a pan and cook steaks, making sure to sear all sides and the bacon.

Pan-Sauteed  Asparagus: Take Trader Joe’s frozen asparagus spears and cook in butter, salt, and pepper – tossing frequently – until soft and browned.

Mushroom Mashed Potatoes: Boil russet potato chunks in salted water until tender.  Meanwhile, sauté sliced baby portabella mushrooms in butter, garlic, salt, and pepper until soft and brown.  Mash potatoes with cream, mushrooms, and a handful of grated or chunked cheese.

Salad: Dark,leafy green with sliced tomatoes, apple-balsamic pickled shallots, and herbed goat cheese.
Every week or so, I change up my table settings and centerpieces.  I collect vintage linens and like mixing and matching them to create different looks.  The smartest décor purchases I’ve made are those that I can change with the seasons.  I have large glass hurricanes that allow me to swap out the fillers (corks, dried flowers, garlands, ornaments and bulbs, pebbles, potpourri, etc.) and candles with the seasons.  

This past weekend Kyle and I hosted an engagement party for his sister, Megan, and her fiance, TJ.  We chose a 1920s theme in a black, white, silver, and gold scheme.  Below I've posted the party details, from the invites to the menu to the DIY decorations.  
This is the invite that went out to all of the guests except the guests of honor, Megan and TJ. I wrote it to try and convey the theme, dress, and atmosphere. It's a bit hokey but still sweet. I made it using Publisher and FotoFlexer online.
This is the invite that went out to Megan and TJ with slightly different wording to make it specific to them.
For food, we did all small bites, no silverware required. We replenished the plates three times throughout the evening so that the food wouldn't go bad sitting out all night. Everything was served room temperature with the exception of #7 and #8 which I kept warm in a heated serving tray.
We set up a poker table inside which was a good place to get people to congregate and mingle. Some played texas hold 'em while others played euchre.
I set up several tables and chairs outside on the deck and in the yard. I bought black plastic tablecloths from the dollar store along with a ton of white and ivory taper candles. Four 8" candles for a buck isn't a bad deal. I decorated these tables with things I already owned. I put away any decor in the house that wasn't in the color scheme of black, white, silver, or gold. I also re-used ribbon from other events and borrowed chairs from family members.
We served drinks in an old washtub that I borrowed from my mom. I put all drinks into wine bottles with cork stoppers that I bought for $2 at World Market. We had a selection of cocktails, sparkling wines, Shirley Temples, water, PBR, and iced tea. I set out short plastic cups and sharpies so people could write their name or design their cup and hold onto it. The short glasses are a good plan if you have stronger drinks.
I dragged a shabby chic toy chest out onto the deck for additional seating. I also moved the chandelier from over the living room table out onto the deck. They're battery operated taper candles so no worries about setting the roof on fire. We had a playlist of 20s music mixed with other oldies.
In the yard, we set up tables and chairs for mingling along with corn hole which can anywhere from 2-8 people can play at a time. We also set up a high top table in the yard for people to set their drinks and appetizers while they played. We have woods behind us, so bugs are a problem. We sprayed the yard twice and put out citronella tiki torches and candles.
We strung white icicle lights from the deck and bought "congrats" garlands from the dollar store and hung a couple outside and inside the house.
The deck sat 8 people and is also where we set out all of the drinks. We kept the food inside to keep it cooler.
We set up a banquet table for people to sit and chat and snack. I often use empty wine bottles for vases. I go through my scrapbooking paper or pick up a few sheets at JoAnn's and wrap the bottles, cut shapes and letters out and paste them on, stick in a single long-stem flower, and voila!
We set up a photo booth and bought a ton of props from the dollar store: party hats, masks, wands, glasses, pistols, etc. We just bought the Polaroid Z340 which is a digital camera that allows you to edit right on the camera and offers you the option of which pictures you want to print on-the-spot. We bought Megan and TJ a blank scrapbook as their gift and had people take pictures, paste them into the book, and write little notes alongside the photos.
These are the two photo backdrops. The one on the left is a banner I made from cardstock using double-sided tape and then taping along strings of white ribbon. The one on the right is made of streams and ribbon looped around and hanging from a sturdy ribbon.
This is my giant magnet board that Kyle made me a few years ago for my bday. It's covered in pink printed fabric that you can see on the edges. For holidays and events like this, I just post sheets of scrapbook paper to make a quilted background in whatever colors I want. Megan and TJ are both University of Michigan grads, so I posted vintage U of M football programs, 1920s sheet music, and family photos with Megan and TJ in them. The magnet board is great because I can always change it up for the occasion.
Welcome! I realize it's not black, white, silver, and gold, but I made it for my Alice in Wonderland Party last year and wanted to use it again.
The food spread. I love and definitely recommend getting warming trays. They keep cooked food hot and you can keep it on low heat for hours. I used it to warm mushroom crescents and quiche, but I've used it in the past for cook-outs to warm hot dogs and burgers and baked beans. If you've never tried making cake bon-bons, they're delish but time consuming. Bake a cake in a pan, crumble it up and mix in almost an entire jar of frosting, freeze, dip in melted chocolate or white chocolate, and drizzle with melted chocolate and sprinkle with coconut, nuts, and candy sprinkles. They're always a big hit!
The hors d'oeuvres buffet. I thought the little shrimp martinis were adorable. They're mini martini glasses with a dollop of cocktail sauce, teaspoonful of horseradish in the middle, and three shrimp around the edge of the glass. Fancy and fun!
For drinks, I covered the label of wine bottles, re-labeled the drink, mixed up the drinks in pitchers and used the funnel to pour them into the bottles, and used cork stoppers to seal them. I used packing tape to cover them and keep them from getting soaked in the tub of ice, and the tape held up for at least a little while...We made three signature cocktails: the favorite being The Zelda Fitzgerald (French Martini) with Chambord, raspberry vodka, and pineapple juice; The Ernest Hemingway (Campari Royal with ginger ale) with Campari, Grand Marnier, Vernor's, and orange juice; and The Jay Gatsby (Tom Collins) with Tanqueray, lime juice, and club soda.
We stocked up in paper products from the dollar store in gold, silver, and white to go against the black tablecloths.
I bought these cute little numbered toothpicks from my favorite shop in Downtown Chelsea, The Potting Shed. They were $12 for a set of 10, so I plan on reusing them. I placed a numbered pick next to each dish and printed and posted a numbered menu so guests could match the items on the menu to the dishes on the buffet by the numbered toothpick. Probably unnecessary, but I thought it was a cute touch. To prop them up and make them reusable, I stuck them into corks.
The "vases" are wine bottles wrapped in and decorated with cardstock in the party's color scheme. The branches are from the dollar store and were labeled as Christmas decor. They're a bit gaudy and blingin', but perfect I think for a glitzy Gatsby party. Plus, at $1 apiece, I don't feel bad pitching them after the fact.

Party Pics!