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Summer is just over a week away, and it’s time for our first al fresco dinner gathering!  We have great weather in Southern California, but for some reason (probably the East Coaster in me) I don’t think much about entertaining outside until late spring.  And now that we are about to move to Virginia later this year (another adventure!), I am in high gear to make the most of our remaining time in California.  I think what I will miss most about my house is our garden. I’ve been a little obsessed of late (too many wistful IG garden posts I know, please humor me!).  Anyway, I’m excited to have friends over tomorrow.  And it’s been fun putting together a menu to kick off summer a few days early, inspired by ingredients that always make me think of summer: mint and lemon.

Halibut on Mashed Green Peas with Mint

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This recipe has been a favorite for over 8 years.  I found it in Bon Appetit magazine.  The mint and lemon make this a perfect, healthy for summer main dish.  The original recipe called for fava beans, but I couldn’t find any frozen – green peas are a good replacement.


  • 2 1/2 cups frozen green peas
  • 2 teaspoons plus 1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
  • 2 teaspoons finely grated lemon peel, divided
  • 3/4 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
  • 2 pinches of dried crushed red pepper, divided
  • 6 5-ounce 3/4-inch-thick halibut fillets
  • 9 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • All purpose flour (for dredging)


  1. Cook peas per package instructions (usually 10-12 minutes).
  2. Mix 2 teaspoons mint, 1 teaspoon lemon peel, 3/4 teaspoon coarse salt, and 1 pinch of red pepper in small bowl. Arrange fish on large rimmed baking sheet. Rub mint mixture all over fish. DO AHEAD: Can be made 4 hours ahead. Cover and chill.
  3. Using potato masher, mash peas to coarse puree, adding water by 1/4 cupfuls if dry. Season with salt and pepper. DO AHEAD: Can be made 4 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.
  4. Dredge fish in flour, shaking off excess. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in each of 2 heavy large skillets over medium-high heat. Cook fish until lightly browned and just opaque in center, about 4 minutes per side.
  5. Meanwhile, rewarm pea puree. Stir in remaining 1/4 cup mint, 1 teaspoon lemon peel, and 3 tablespoons olive oil.
  6. Divide pea puree among plates. Top with fish and serve.

Israeli Couscous Salad with Summer Vegetables


I found this refreshing recipe on Green Valley Kitchen. I skipped the olives and feta.  It is a really light side dish that I can see myself making over and over again this summer.


  • 1 cup of Israeli couscous
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1/2 veggie bouillon cube – roughly chopped up
  • 1/4 red bell pepper – finely diced
  • 1/2 cucumber – peeled and seeded – finely diced
  • 1 cup of cherry tomatoes – sliced in half
  • 2 tbs red onion – minced
  • 1 handful of parsley – minced
  • 3 tbs olive oil plus 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 tbs red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp honey – a small squeeze
  • 8 twists of black pepper from a pepper mill
  • A pinch of salt


  1. Heat a sauce pan over medium heat and add one tsp of olive oil. Once the oil is warm – about 30 seconds – add Israeli couscous and stir for a minute or two until Israeli couscous is slightly toasted.
  2. When couscous is toasted – add 1 cup of water and chopped up bouillon cube. Be careful, the pan is hot and the water will probably instantly come to a boil, pour carefully so it doesn’t splash up.
  3. Turn heat down to low and simmer couscous for the amount of time on package instructions.
  4. While couscous is cooking, dice red pepper and cucumber – you want the dice to be roughly the same size for both. Add to a large bowl.
  5. Next, slice cherry tomatoes in half and add to the other vegetables in the bowl.
  6. Mince parsley and red onion. Add to the vegetables in the bowl.
  7. Whisk olive oil, red wine vinegar, honey, black pepper and salt together.
  8. When Israeli couscous is ready, add to a fine mesh sieve and rinse so that the couscous cools. Shake the fine mesh sieve thoroughly so that the couscous is fairly dry.
  9. Add Israeli couscous to the bowl of vegetables. Add the dressing and toss to combine.

Italian Lemon Pound Cake

I found this amazing recipe on myrecipeconfessions.  I made a lighter version (slightly lighter, let’s not fool ourselves, this is decadent!) by skipping the cream cheese frosting from the original recipe, and I also used reduced fat Buttermilk.  This was the first time I had made this, and it was such a hit!

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3 cups all-purpose  flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup of sour cream
4 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tsp. of fresh ginger, minced
Zest of 2 lemons ( about 2 tbsp.)

1 teaspoon of vanilla


Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees

1. Sift flour, baking powder, and salt and set aside. In another bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Mix in the sour cream, lemon juice, vanilla, ginger, and lemon zest.

2. Mix half of the flour mixture into the butter mixture. Mix in the buttermilk and then add in the remaining flour mixture. Mix just until the flour disappears. Pour the cake batter into a bundt pan that has been generously sprayed with baking spray.

3. Bake for 70 to 80 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.  Remove the cake from the oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes. Turn the cake over on a cake platter. Spread  the lemon glaze over the warm cake so that the glaze can soak into the cake.

Lemon Glaze

1 1/2 cup powdered sugar

3 tablespoon lemon juice, at room temperature

Whisk the  powdered sugar and lemon juice together and mix until the glaze is smooth.

I hope you enjoy these recipes and find yourselves dining al fresco a lot this summer. I know we will!



Tags : outdoor entertainingsummer al fresco dinner; halibut; fava beans; lemon cake; entertaining; dinner party

The author Myra

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