When we finally arrived, hungry and white-knuckled from the drive, we were greeted by the kind and friendly owners of the Inn - Jan and Bruce. The Inn was beautifully decked out for the winter holidays, and our Christmas-themed room was just perfect. Jan set us up with our picnic supper in one of the adjoining rooms with a table and chairs. It was delicious - and the combination of the completed journey and the fantastic setting made it even tastier.
The next day we enjoyed some shopping and sightseeing and then came back to relax and bask in the inn's cozy ambiance before dinner. I had a cold and was feeling tired and stuffy and Jan doted on me by bringing up a tray of tea and cookies for us. As a was resting and enjoying the steamy, fragrant tea, I noticed a book called Girlfriends Forever by Susan Branch on a bookshelf. The cover was beautifully illustrated and the lettering looked handwritten. I stared reading through it and was entranced by the colorful, intricate drawings, stories, and advice woven in among recipes, menus and household tips. It was a fun and poignant celebration of the bonds formed between women through friendship and family. I read it cover to cover during our stay and then Googled the author when we got home, discovering her "Heart of the Home" website and books and putting a bunch of them on my Amazon wish list. I can't even really put a label on these books - each page is decoratively painted and hand-written in Ms. Branch's beautiful cursive - they really are works of art.
To add to the delightful look of these books, the recipes are creative and delicious, incorporating fresh, seasonal produce and interesting flavor combinations. One of the first recipes I tried from Girlfriends Forever is Broccoli Salad. It is great when you want a tangy-saucy type of salad, and you can experiment by add your own preferences, such as bacon and/or red onion. Here is the version I usually make:
1 lb. raw broccoli, cut into bite size pieces
1/2 cup raisins
1/4 lb mozzarella in 1/2 ” dice (string cheese works well for this)
1/4 cup diced red onion
1 tsp lemon zest
1 1/2 Tb balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup sour cream (I usually sub plain yogurt)
3 Tb mayo
I like slightly blanched broccoli better than raw, so I always steam it first for a minute or two, then run under cold water. Mix lemon zest, vinegar, yogurt and mayo together, then toss with broccoli, raisins, red onions and cheese. Chill for at least one hour and bring to room temp before serving.
When recently looking for a salad to bring to a cookout, I came across another broccoli recipe in Ms. Branch's The Summer Book - Spicy Orange Broccoli. It was equally yummy, and as I like to do - I added some of my own twists - some plump, juicy cherry tomatoes and sunflower seeds.
Spicy Orange Broccoli
2 cloves minced garlic
1 Tbsp minced shallot
peeled rind of 1 orange, chopped
1/8 tsp red pepper flakes
1 large bunch broccoli (cut in florets)
1/2 cup orange juice
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp sesame oil
Saute the first 5 ingredients, until the garlic and onion have softened. Add broccoli and stir for 1 minute. Add the orange juice, balsamic vinegar, salt and cover. Steam for 3 minutes. Remove from burner and drizzle with sesame oil and sprinkle with sunflower seeds. Serve warm, or chill and serve cold or bring to room temp (my preference).