Good Friends + Fine Food = Fun

by | Jul 19, 2011 | Cocktails, Entertaining, Side Dishes

A toast to the retiree

Six friends and I recently gathered at Holm Family cookbook recipe tester, Sue Mears’, home in Incline Village on Lake Tahoe’s north shore. All teachers, we were gathering to celebrate Sherri Vares’ retirement. Our usual routine during our get togethers is to have a light breakfast, go out for lunch and return home for cocktails, appetizers, dinner and dessert. This visit was no different.

We started with fresh berries, yogurt, cinnamon toast, coffee and juice. Some headed out for a morning walk around Incline Village – beautiful day! Next stop was the Hyatt Regency’s Lone Eagle Grille restaurant. It has a beautiful bar that looks out over Lake Tahoe. The mountain style décor in the dining room gives it a warm feeling.  We all were pleased with our choices, mine being a venison quesadilla. I just can’t pass up something different!

The beautiful view from Lone Eagle Grille’s bar at the Hyatt Regency

In the late afternoon the group of four retired teachers and three working teachers loaded up snack bags and headed to the movie theater. The movie Bad Teachers was playing and we saw it only fitting to see the movie. On the drive up to Lake Tahoe I had heard a review on NPR and from the review it didn’t sound bad – I must not have listened very well – I guess I was distracted by the snow covered Sierras. Fortunately, we had some Mandarin Martinis waiting for us after the movie.

Mandarin Martinis were a welcome sight after watching the movie, “Bad Teachers”

Sue loves to cook, so she has guests bring breakfast, appetizers, and beverages and she does the rest. Linda Andrade brought breakfast, Stephanie Beard, Fran Rebello, Janet Berglund and I brought appetizers. For this meal, Fran Rebello, also one of our recipe testers, got us primed with her Mandarin Martinis. Stephanie Beard brought an appetizer she had tasted at Whole Foods – ricotta cheese, with sweet onion marmalade and crackers. I made a Prosciutto and Pear Pizza from a recipe I found one holiday season in Raley’s, Something Extra, magazine.

Sue made the entrée and salad; beef burgers on whole wheat buns and Orzo with Roasted Vegetable salad. She had prepared the beef burgers stuffed with lemon herb butter ahead of time. Before going to the movie she had roasted the vegetables for the salad. This strategic move allowed her to enjoy the appetizers and Mandarin Martinis! Sue’s husband, Al, was allowed to come home to grill the burgers and of course enjoy our company. We accompanied the meal with a Wente Riva Ranch Chardonnay and a Heritage Oak Zinfandel.

To end the evening we had Sue’s Blackberry Buttermilk Cake and Sherri’s Graham Cracker Brittle with ice cream. It was a delightful way to end the evening with some of my closest and dearest friends.

The recipe from the evening I would like to share, and believe me there were many delicious recipes, is the Orzo with Roasted Vegetables. Sue found this recipe in the Barefoot Contessa Parties cookbook and changed it a bit. I have also made it and left out the feta cheese adding one pound of cubed roasted chicken. For me it is the dressing, fresh basil and toasted pignolis that put it over the top!

This recipe is a slight variation of a wonderful summer dish invented by Sarah Leah Chase in her book, The Open House Cookbook.

Orzo with Roasted Vegetables


  • 1 pound of asparagus cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 2 red bell peppers, 1-inch diced
  • 2 yellow bell peppers, 1-inch diced
  • 1 red onion, peeled and 1-inch diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/3 cup good olive oil (I’ve used lemon olive oil with good results)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 1 cup orzo or rice-shaped pasta  

For the dressing:

  • 1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (2 lemons)
  • 1/3 cup good olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper  

To assemble:

  • 1/4 cup pignolis (pine nuts), toasted
  • 3/4 pound good feta, crumbled
  • 15 fresh basil leaves, cut into julienne


Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Toss the asparagus, bell peppers, onion, and garlic with the olive oil, salt, and pepper on a large sheet pan. Roast for 40 minutes, until browned, turning once with a spatula.

The toasted vegetables

Meanwhile, cook the orzo in boiling salted water for 7 to 9 minutes, until tender. Drain and transfer to a large serving bowl. Add the roasted vegetables to the pasta, scraping all the liquid and seasonings from the roasting pan into the pasta bowl.

Draining the orzo

For the dressing, combine the lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper and pour on the pasta and vegetables. Let cool to room temperature and add the pignolis, feta, and basil. Check the seasonings and serve at room temperature.

Cutting a chiffonade of basil

“Food is not about impressing people. It’s about making them feel comfortable.”

~Ina Garten, ‘The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook

And that my friend, is what Sue Mears does!