The Little Paris Kitchen | Cookbooks By Lovely Ladies

Spring might not want to show up in Chicago yet but let me tell you, spring flavors are taking over my kitchen whether they want to or not. I love today’s cookbook feature because it’s a menu using recipes with spring ingredients but it’s also perfect for colder days. The Little Paris Kitchen by Rachel Khoo is one of the most approachable French cookbooks I’ve seen. Traditional French recipes are given a modern twist using ingredients that are accessible and not so intimidating. This particular menu is perfect for a weekend dinner with friends or family. The flavors are bright and it’s not a super heavy meal but it is comforting and satisfying. All qualities necessary for a cold spring night.

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I’ve only made a handful of recipes from The Little Paris Kitchen but what I have cooked through has been incredible. For example, who knew Mac n’ Cheese was French and that it could taste so good?! I mean, I guess we all know how fantastic Mac n’ Cheese can be, but not when you make it yourself! There’s also a recipe for Meatballs in Spicy Sauce with Alsatian Pasta that is to-die-for. She has salads, desserts, gouters (or snacks), and even breakfast recipes. It’s a well-rounded cookbook that touches a lot of different parts of French cuisine and that’s what makes The Little Paris Kitchen such a great cookbook.

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I know I can only complain about the weather so much on here without sounding like a broken record, but you guys. It was snowing today. I love cold weather as much as Snow Miser but it would be great to walk around without a coat. You know what I mean? On the other hand, I have a few extra winter pounds from all my “comforting” dinners I don’t want exposed just yet. So when I have recipes like the Spring Lamb Stew to give the best of both worlds, it’s a win. On another note, I hope you guys are enjoying these little peeks at cookbooks I’m in love with. It’s great sharing my own recipes with you but I also love sharing my experiences with cookbooks. It’s different and it also broadens my own perspective on ingredients and different cuisines.

The Menu:
Garlic Mayonnaise with Crunchy Raw Vegetables
Spring Lamb Stew
Citrus Fruit Cake

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The Garlic Mayonnaise is the real recipe for the starter. It’s more like a garlic aioli that acts as a dip for freshly cut veggies. It’s a light appetizer that pairs well with heavier dishes or mains that stand on their own like the Spring Lamb Stew. Like many other lamb recipes I’ve cooked through, I substituted beef. I know it’s not the same, I know using lamb is the whole point of this being a spring stew but it’s SO expensive. Buying a 3-pound lamb roast versus a beef cut is like comparing pennies to dollars. Using a beef roast doesn’t ruin this dish though so stick with me.

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Green beans, peas, and carrots brighten this stew and the beef is the perfect substitute for a still-winter-kind-of-spring meal! The flavors blend beautifully and the meat cooks for a few hours making it super tender. It is fantastic for leftovers as well (if there are any left). Serve with a little crusty bread and you have yourself a winning dinner!

Finally, the best part of this post: Citrus Fruit Cake. It sounds terrifying, doesn’t it? Fruit cake does not bring to mind happy feelings. Forget that. This is more like a citrus pound cake. It has a similar texture and consistency. It’s got a great citrus flavor because of all the orange goodness but it’s not too overpowering like lemon can get. You know what I mean? It’s easy to make and lasts for a few days if you can restrain yourself to just a slice or two. It’s wonderful by itself but also tasty with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and some berries on top.

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Lattes, Life & Luggage Guide to Spring

Happy 1st day of spring! Most people everywhere are rejoicing in the promise of warmer weather. Even me, the winter loving, fall sweater obsessed fanatic is looking forward to the change in seasons. But let’s get real for a second. I live in Chicago. If you’re in the northern hemisphere, while it’s certainly not winter anymore, spring is still about a month away. That is, the stereotypical flowers blooming everywhere and warm sunny day kind of spring. It’s nice to dream though, right? To be honest, I’m content holding on to my sweater weather a little longer and enjoying some 50 and 60 degree days before the bugs come out to play. It’s just nice to feel the sun warm your skin again. It’s also nice to have a few extra hours of sunlight for photography! All you fellow bloggers and creatives feel my pain on that one. Anyway, as much as I treasure my beloved fall and winter seasons, spring is here to stay and I’m not mad about not having to wear a coat all the time.

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THINGS TO DO…
- Stock up on some immune boosting tea. You may think I’m joking making this my first thing to do but hear me out. The change of seasons, especially here in Chicago, is very unstable. The weather bounces around and we get a second wave of the cold and flu. Keep the sniffles at bay, prep your body for those pesky allergies that are bound to act up, and just stay healthy. I love (and this is not sponsored in any way) the Immune Support Tea by Yogi or similarly, the Echinacea Plus Tea from Traditional Medicinals. Echinacea has immune boosting properties which is helpful when the weather doesn’t know what it wants to do and wreaks havoc on your body.

- Go shopping! I just got my latest Stitch Fix box (my personal way of adding to my wardrobe) and I love the transitional pieces my stylist included. Sweaters are still very much a part every day life with the cooler temps but I love the lighter tops you can pair with them on warmer days.

- Plan a long weekend trip and drive. Saving money for a long summer vacation but still want to getaway? Now is the perfect time to plan a mini road trip and take a long weekend somewhere. What’s one or two days off of work going to do? Give yourself a spring break. We got them in school! Look for a cute small town within a few hours driving distance or visit a nearby city. Whatever floats your boat!

- If you can, visit a local farmer’s market. The more we get into spring, the more that will become available. Fresh produce should be popping up soon and now is the best time to cook with all those colorful fruits and veggies. A few things in season include: asparagus, fava beans, peas, ramps, rhubarb, artichokes, mangoes, spring onions and strawberries. If there is one season I might love more than fall produce, it’s berry season and we’re coming up on it soon!

LISTEN TO…
You guys know I love a good playlist! One of the things I love doing as the weather gets a little warmer is have friends and family over for dinner. This is definitely a year-round activity but there’s something about the weather warming up that makes it a little more exciting. It also most likely has to do with the fact that I finally have new ingredients to work with after six months of winter produce. The second playlist is very much spring-focused with a completely acoustic soundtrack. It’s lighter, just like spring, but still happy.

GET IN THE KITCHEN…
Other than fall, spring is my favorite time of year to get in the kitchen. There’s a ton of fresh produce waiting to be turned into a meal. Everything is so bright and colorful and because it’s in season, it tastes amazing. Unfortunately, the farmer’s market in my hometown doesn’t begin until the end of April but there are plenty of markets in the city that offer seasonal and local produce. It’s a great way to cook seasonally, sustainably, and also support local small businesses while you’re at it. Here are some of my favorite spring-inspired recipes we’ve shared on the blog so far…

French Fridays: Dessert Edition

We are finishing the spring section of A Kitchen In France strong today with sweets. These desserts were not the easiest to make but they were the most satisfying. Not because they were my favorite desserts to eat but because I was so proud of myself when they were complete. The Garden Cake, for example, took me three tries to accomplish. Meringue is not a friend of mine and I am desperately hoping that this is the last time I will make them again. The Almond Tart wasn't terribly difficult to make but it did take a long time to set. They both received rave reviews if you were wondering how the end result turned out.

Garden Cake
Although cake is in the name of this dessert, there is no cake about it. It's actually two meringues stacked with a whipped cream frosting on top and garnished with berries. I was planning to make it much prettier with edible flowers and such but sadly all of the options at the store were moldy. The presentation of this cake is beautiful in A Kitchen In FranceMimi must be a dessert-making genius because even all done, mine did not look nearly as spectacular as hers. The whipped cream didn't seem to cover the entire meringue and mine cracked in several places. But how do they taste? Food can look awful but still taste divine. This is a very, very sweet dessert made of only egg whites and sugar. The berries complimented the meringues perfectly. The tartness from the raspberries and blackberries toned down the sweetness of the meringue. In the end, it was a decadent, delicious dessert.

Sugared Almond Tart
This tart is very simple. The crust is a basic tart/pie recipe and is baked on its own before filled. The filling is only a few ingredients and is boiled on the stove before being cooled and poured into the baked tart crust. The tart is then set in the fridge and cooled, I'd say overnight. The recipe calls for 4-5 hours but the filling hadn't set enough by that time for me. After the proper amount of time, the filling becomes a custard-like, pasty consistency making it a rich treat. Sugared almonds are commonly used in wedding favors. You can usually find them at candy or specialty stores. I wasn't able to find them in the grocery stores. The recipe calls for them to be crushed. These babies are hard though so I literally took a hammer to them, individually crushing each one. It was therapeutic but don't get too carried away because you don't want a hole in the bag or your kitchen counter.

I have to say that the Gâteau Basque was probably my favorite dessert out of all the spring treats. It was light but rich at the same time and made for a fantastic base to chocolate syrup or compotes. I also really loved the Fava Bean Soup from the spring section, the Chicken Confit Parmentier and the Pan-Seared Chicken Breasts with Spring Onions. That one was most likely my number one favorite recipe from the entire spring section. The flavors were just phenomenal. Did you have a favorite? Stay tuned for the first edition in the summer menu!

French Cooking Friday: Onion Tart, A Roast & Canelés

This meal is the magic number that officially converted my Noni. I successfully turned her "I hate French food" into, "this is pretty good." It won't be the last time I have her loving French food either. Tarts are some of my favorite appetizers to make because they're simple and always a hit. They are easily customizable, crowd pleasers, and not too filling so that you spoil the main course. A roast is an easy way to cook a comforting meal without putting in much work. Slow cooking on low temperatures ensures a tender meat that falls apart easily and melts in your mouth. Adding extra flavor is optional but highly recommended. In case this is your first French Cooking Friday post, I'm making my way through Mimi Thorisson's A Kitchen In FranceCatch the intro to the series here.

STARTER: Onion Tart
This tart was bursting with flavor. I've come to learn that people are either strongly pro-onion or anti-onion. I believe that if you are a true foodie, you must be pro-onion because they are such a basic ingredient to adding flavor in your dishes. You don't have to like them raw but to deny them at all in cooking makes no sense. Mimi mentioned in her book that she always has a bowl of onions on the counter, much like having a bowl of fruit. I'm the same way. I always have a ton of onions stored. This recipe calls for one pound of onions. That would seem like a lot and a bit unnecessary but it's not. When onions cook down and caramelize, they take on a sweetness that is irresistible. They also cook down meaning that cooked onions are less in volume than non-cooked onions. This recipe also calls for lardons (bacon chunks) for saltiness and baslamic vinegar for a little tartness. The combination is outstanding. I would have eaten the whole tart if I could.

MAIN COURSE: Roasted "Lamb" Shoulder with Garlic Cream Sauce
I put lamb in quotations because I used a pork shoulder instead. I personally love lamb but it is super expensive. It's popular in Europe so I'm wondering if it's cheaper there, kind of like how pork or beef is for us. More importantly, not everyone in my family likes lamb. If I'm going to splurge on a chunk of meat, everyone is going to love it without question. 

This was the dish that changed my Noni's opinion about French food. She didn't like how the garlic looked roasted, it made her sick, but when it came to the garlic cream sauce spooned over the pork shoulder, she was sold. The sauce is creamy and rich, like stereotypical French food, but a little went a long way and it was so decadent. This is a great Sunday night dinner. It's also simple to prepare. It roasts in the oven for most of the day. All you need to do is whip up the sauce when it's through cooking. It takes but a few minutes.

DESSERT: Canelés de Bordeaux
My success with French desserts has not been stellar. I was looking forward to the canelés because they seemed simple enough. As soon as I put them in the oven, I went back to the book and read the last line of the introduction: "Canelés should have a caramelized crust and a soft inside, so you and your oven might have to make several attempts before they turn out absolutely perfect." My heart sunk. My oven and I don't have a good relationship so I convinced myself that they were going to turn out terrible. Well, the universe must have wanted to give me one because they were perfection the first time. I'm talking, perfect caramelized crust, soft and moist interior. It was the confidence boost that I really needed in the baking department. The one thing I could have done differently is fill the molds a little more. I was worried they'd spill over so some of them are a bit short.

I'm pleased with how this meal turned out. I could have taken the meat from the oven a little earlier. It was a bit dry but still tasty. The onion tart was a hit as were the canelés. Maybe canelés are not the first thing you want to brave when entering French baking but for me, the first time was the charm. I can't wait to share next week's meal with you. It's perfect for spring or summer and I baked my first savory soufflé. Until then, bon week-end!

French Cooking Friday: Artichoke Tartlets & Pan-Seared Chicken

Of all six menus compiled for French Cooking Friday, today's feels most like spring. Light, delicate but bursting with flavor, this is a quick meal that's also decadent and tasty. One thing cooking French has taught me thus far is simplicity is key. You don't need much to create bold flavors. It doesn't take fifty ingredients to make a dish shine. It's all about the small combinations of two or three ingredients to make something as simple as chicken breasts stand out. 

STARTER: Artichoke Tartlets
Europeans love artichokes but artichokes intimidate me. They are so difficult to work with. They're trimmed not enough or too much. You either under cook them or over cook them. They're by far my least favorite vegetable to work with. These tartlets are fairly simple to prepare (if you are a pro at artichokes). The tart is made of puff pastry dough and the "sauce" is sauteed shallots that were cooked with the artichokes. The flavors are incredible. This would have been a huge hit had I cooked the artichokes properly. 

MAIN COURSE: Pan-Seared Chicken Breasts with Spring Onions
This is my favorite main course in the spring portion. The sauce drizzled over the chicken and onions is nothing short of spectacular. I have never tasted anything so incredible in my life. I used a meat thermometer diligently to cook the chicken to the perfect temperature. I'm tired of dry chicken breasts and refused to let that ruin this dish. The spring onions were light enough in flavor to enjoy but not too light so that they did nothing. The sauce calls for Jura Wine or Sherry but having neither on hand, I used Brandy instead. I know substitutions in French sauces can be considered sacrilegious but this worked out beautifully. It prepared in about 20 minutes. It's perfect for a weeknight or a weekend when you want to spend more time with loved ones and less time in the kitchen.

Normally I try to link to the recipes on Manger when they are available but neither of these are on Mimi's blog. I guess that just means you'll have to check out A Kitchen In FranceI'm telling you, this cookbook so far has been an incredible experience to cook through. It's expanded my mind on what French cooking really is and I've even made my Noni a convert. That was not an easy task. I haven't shared the two dishes that have made her go from "I hate French food" to "this is pretty good" yet but they're coming soon and you'll definitely find yourself converting if you haven't already.

French Cooking Friday: Watercress Velouté, Chicken Confit & Bugnes

I promised a double feature to officially kick off the French Food series and I intend to deliver! There is a classic dish in the second spring menu I'm sure most people have heard of: confit. I never personally had the pleasure of enjoying confit of any kind nor have I made it. This menu is another example of the hands-off cooking of French cuisine. It's also the first menu to push me outside of my comfort zone and the first menu with something that I messed up. It certainly won't be the last though.

STARTER: Watercress Velouté 
I'm a huge fan of soups but the velouté, made with leafy greens, was not something I'd normally volunteer to eat. Made with watercress, a super-packed nutritional veggie, this recipe was simple to prepare and whipped up real quick. It was light, flavorful and surprisingly satisfying. The end result had a tab of butter melted in for a little decadence, a spoonful of crème fraîche on top and chives for the final touch. What looked like a disgusting health nut smoothie in a bowl was actually a creamy, delicious, light soup.

MAIN COURSE: Duck (Chicken) Confit Parmentier
Parmentier is essentially French for Shepherd's Pie. It's a meat dish topped with potatoes. This course had two parts involved. Before making the parmentier, I had to make the confit. There are many types of confit (pronounced "con-fee") but most popular are canard (duck) or poulet (chicken). It's meat that is slowly cooked in its own fat and often preserved. It was a way for people to elongate the life of meat without it spoiling before we had this amazing thing called a refrigerator. Duck is naturally more tender and greasy compared to chicken so it works well for confit but thanks to my notorious luck,  I was able to find everything but duck legs in the grocery store. I even found a frozen duck confit meal, a frozen whole duck but no duck legs. So instead, I substituted chicken. Confit takes overnight and a few hours slow cooking on the stove to make. To give you an idea of the timeline, I started cooking this dish about 36 hours before I planned to serve it.

Once the chicken confit was complete, I assembled the Parmentier. It's a simple dish with a few basic ingredients and not much labor. The meat filling was tender and packed with flavor - the potatoes crispy on top, soft in the middle and perfectly creamy. The meat filling was cooked briefly in red wine which took the flavors over the edge. It was a comforting dish that did not disappoint. The next time I'm in France, I will be searching menus for "confit" and "parmentier." I'll take them separate or together!

DESSERT: Bugnes with Orange Flower Water
Sometimes I'm embarrassed to admit when I screw up but then I remember no one's perfect and they often lead to good laughs. I was excited for the Bugnes. They look absolutely delicious in the photo and are essentially fried dough. Who doesn't love fried dough? It's a very simple recipe with a hint of rum and lemon for a surprising flavor combination. Everything was going well until it was time to start cutting the cookies and frying them. They were completely plastered to the counter! They didn't retain their form at all because the dough was too wet. I'm not sure where I went wrong but if I make these again, I'm adding at least an extra half cup of flour. Refusing to let this perfectly tasty dough go to waste, I rolled it into balls instead and fried them like donuts. I can't provide you with perfectly shaped bugnes but I can tell you that they were delicious. Light, tasty and so soft. It was light eating pillows. 

This meal was the perfect combination of light and comforting. I absolutely loved everything, especially the chicken confit. It fell off the bone. I've never had such juicy, flavorful chicken. The Bugnes, although disappointing in shape, were a house favorite for us. I dare you to restrain yourself from eating just two or three. Before you know it the whole batch will be gone. So tell me, are you thinking of looking into A Kitchen In France? Do any of the dishes from the first menu or this menu look interesting to you?

French Cooking Friday: Fava Bean Soup, Roasted Chicken & A Simple Cake

What's the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about French food? For me, that's delicate pastries and rich sauces. I think of Julia Child and Jacques Pépin. It can be a bit intimidating because it has a reputation for being complicated and having an intricate process. My Noni claims that she does not like French food at all which is a pet peeve of mine because it's impossible to not like one dish from any one culture's cuisine. After cooking through several menus from Mimi Thorisson's A Kitchen In France, and I can guarantee that I will disprove expectations and stereotypes. 

Saying French food is complicated and rich is like saying Italian food is heavy or Spanish food is spicy. There is no one size fits all and I have especially learned that in just a few short weeks. Cultural cuisine, especially that of any European countries, is heavily centered around seasonal produce and what they have available to them. You'll see this as we go through the four different seasons A Kitchen In France is broken into. With that said, winter dishes are going to be heavier because they're meant to be comforting and warm. Spring and fall dishes will have strong seasonal elements and a mix of lighter and comforting meals because they are seasons of warming and cooling. Summer will be light, refreshing and flavorful since many fruits and veggies are at their peak.

French cooking is simple, basic and surprisingly hands-off. Sure, many pastries are rough to handle but the ingredients are minimal. This week's menu isn't the best example for the minimalism I've noticed but it is a great example for the hands-off approach that I admire the French for. Lots of French meals are slow-cooking meaning you have less time laboring in the kitchen compared to say...any week of Cooking With Stanley where I was cooking non-stop for a minimum of three hours. Instead of me taking the time to go on and on about the ease and simplicity of French cooking, I'll just dig right into the first menu...

STARTER: My Aunt Francine's Fava Bean Soup
Fava Beans are like gigantic snap peas that are lightly fuzzy and kind of look like caterpillars. To get to the bean, you have to cut through the sac and then slice the bean out of its shell. It's a tedious process but well worth it because this soup was oh so good. It's simple with only 6 ingredients that include olive oil and chicken stock. Most of the work is done on the stove while the beans and other ingredients cook and soften. It's creamed in a food processor or immersion blender and  topped with toasted breadcrumbs, pancetta, mascarpone and mint. It's light yet rich. Creamy and decadent. The soup itself is sweet but is complemented well with the salty pancetta, garlicky breadcrumbs and refreshing mint. This was a favorite of mine.

MAIN COURSE: Roast Chicken with Crème Fraîche and Herbs
If you're like me, super creamy dishes are a bit intimidating. They often leave me with stomach cramps and can make you feel heavy. This dish starts out looking like it will be exactly that, extra creamy. However, once cooked it is a beautiful roasted chicken with plenty of flavor and only a hint of that creaminess. It's a great spring dish from the color to the flavors thanks to lots of gorgeous and aromatic herbs. Roasting a whole chicken is apparently a big accomplishment in French cooking according to a friend of mine. This was my second whole roasted chicken and while I don't particularly prefer it, I definitely am getting the hang of it. 

DESSERT: Gâteau Basque
If there was one thing I was worried about when deciding to cook through this book, it was the desserts. Of all the temperamental things to deal with in the kitchen, French pastries and desserts rank pretty high. Starting with the simple cake was the best decision I could have made. It significantly built up my confidence. Gâteau in French means cake. Basque is a region in France. So to translate, this is basically a cake popular in the Basque region of France. It's not fancy, not hard to make and assembles just like a pie. Two "sheets" of cake dough come together with a cream filling in the center. It's dense, rich and absolutely delicious. Cover it with chocolate sauce, a fruit sauce or whatever you like. It's a great treat to introduce yourself to French desserts. Everyone who tried this absolutely loved it. It's an ideal treat for parties or large dinner parties because you don't need, or want, a large piece. You can serve smaller slices to everyone and still have leftovers.

These three dishes aren't the first thing most people have in mind when it comes to French food. I mean, be honest. Tell me in the comments below what you think of first when it comes to French food. I'm betting a bean soup, whole chicken and simple cake are not on that list. Macarons? Sure. Escargot? Definitely. Croque Madame? Maybe. Easy to prepare dinners that have little-to-no labor involved? Most likely not. I'm happy I decided to make my way through this cookbook not only to feed my wanderlust but to break the stigma that all French food is heavy and decadent, especially for my Noni. Well, mission success.

Spring Eats: Honey Lime Chicken Tacos & Spring Recipe Round-Up

A few weeks into April, you'd think it would be grilling season. It's been so cold in Chicago though that I haven't pulled ours out yet. It's really disappointing because when I originally wrote this recipe, it was meant to be cooked on the grill. Regardless of our cold weather interference, this recipe works just fine cooked on the stove as well. 

Tacos are a big hit in my house. You can put anything in a tortilla, call it a taco and everyone will be happy. This particular recipe I was really impressed with. I wanted major flavor and felt the chili powder, honey-lime combo would do it. Well, I was right. With just the right amount of spice, sweet and tart, these turned out extra tasty. 

HONEY LIME CHICKEN TACOS
Ingredients: 
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 teaspoons chili powder
2 tablespoons honey
Juice of 1 lime
2 garlic cloves
Salt and Pepper
Corn Tortillas

For Garnish (optional): 
Shredded Lettuce
Diced Tomatoes
Avocado
Corn
Montery Jack Cheese

Directions:
1. In a small bowl, combine the dry spices: cumin, paprika, chili powder, crushed red pepper, salt and pepper. In another small bowl, combine the juice from one lime and honey. Rub the chicken breasts generously with the dry rub and place in a large resealable bag. Add garlic cloves and honey-lime juice mixture. Seal the bag letting all the air out and squish around to coat the chicken with the liquid. Let marinated in the fridge at least 30 minutes up to overnight.

2. Remove the chicken from the fridge. Heat a non-stick skillet to medium-high. Add chicken breasts to the skillet and cook on each side until cooked through. Remove to a plate and allow to cool for about 5 minutes.

3. Slice each chicken breast and serve alongside your choice of garnishes. Assemble the tacos or let everyone build their own.

Before you go, check out these other spring recipes I found around the web!
Balsamic Peach Chicken Skillet - Cooking Classy
Basil Mint Pesto - Lattes, Life & Luggage
Basil-Peach Chicken Breasts - The Nest
Blueberry Feta Salad - Lemon Tree Dwelling
Blueberry Lavender Galette - A Cookie Named Desire
Chicken and Asparagus Lemon Stir Fry - Skinnytaste
Grilled Cheese with Avocado & Heirloom Tomato - fifteen Spatulas
Honey Lemon Chia Seed Muffins - Taste & Tell
Lemon Mousse with Strawberries - Scattered Thoughts of a Crafty Mom
Mixed Berry Cream Cheese Crepes - Whole & Heavenly Oven
One-Pan Spring Tuscan Quinoa Bake - Half Baked Harvest
Roasted Asparagus & Mushroom Carbonara - Closet Cooking
Sparkling Strawberry Lemonade - Life's Ambrosia
Spring Pea Risotto with Halibut & Spanish Chorizo - Feasting at Home
Spring Salad with Asparagus, Goat Cheese, Lemon and Hazelnuts - Proud Italian Cook
Sweet Berry Bruschetta - Recipe Runner