Monday, December 28, 2009

Some Like it Hot

I’ve been craving a lot of Buffalo wings lately (no, I’m not pregnant). Not really sure why—other than the fact that they are awesome. You know what’s even awesomer—ahem, more awesome…Buffalo Chicken Dip. It’s everything you love about hot wings, minus the mess. I first saw the recipe in Taste of Home magazine but in my pre-Christmas cleaning frenzy, I apparently threw it away. So I Googled it (of course), searched through at least 100 versions that all claimed to be “the best” and finally settled on this one. How I have never heard of this before is BEYOND me. It was such a hit the first time I served it (to a bunch of hungry guys during a football game--no brainer), I made it twice in one week during Christmas. Sadly, no pictures of this one. You’ll just have to trust me.

Ultimate Spicy Buffalo Chicken Dip
Adapted from Adrienne Bailey, Mary England and Susie Cromer Clements

1 cup Ranch dressing
¾ cup chopped red onion
2 8-oz packages cream cheese, softened
3 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cooked and shredded OR one rotisserie chicken, shredded
1 cup Frank’s Hot Sauce (adjust to your tastes)
2 cups shredded Cheddar
Tortilla Chips and celery for dipping

Directions
1. Saute red onion in butter until tender (about 10 minutes); remove from heat.
2. In a large bowl, combine chicken, hot sauce, cream cheese, half of shredded cheddar and sauted onions.
3. Mix thoroughly and pour into baking dish.
4. Sprinkle remaining cheddar on top.
5. Bake uncovered for 25-30 minutes, until bubbly.
6. Serve with tortilla chips and celery.


*Adrienne’s note said this goes best with a nice cold beer, and I must say, I agree (preferably, Stella).

Monday, December 7, 2009

Christmas Comes Early

Any of you who might know me are well aware of my Williams-Sonoma obsession. I will happily spend hours perusing the tools, gadgets, recipes, books, etc. (not to mention, enjoying the tasty samples). Well, they just made my Christmas season. Why? I’ve had my eye on this wonderful little pancake pan…not just any pancake pan, I tell you…an Ebelskiver pancake pan. I know, I know…an Ebil-WHAT? Let me give you a little back story…my dear Uncle Charlie used to make Ebelskivers, a traditional Danish pancake, for my family when I was little. It was always such a treat, since we never made them in my own house. They are basically round pancakes that are light, fluffy, slightly sweet and pretty much a small piece of heaven. So last Christmas when I was doing my daily drooling over the Breville Panini Press at WS, I spotted the pan! It had been years since I’d even seen one…I had kind of thought they were hard to find. In any case, it was a little pricier than I wanted to spend at the time and I have been coveting it ever since. Imagine my absolutely DELIGHT when I received an email from WS this morning, announcing 1-day deals that they will be promoting throughout the month. Today’s deal? The Ebelskiver pan HALF-PRICE! I bought two (one for my parents), as well as the cookbook that accompanies it. It is filled with both sweet and savory recipes; every one of them looks divine (especially the chocolate ganache, pictured here--YES PLEASE). If you’ve got a pancake-lover in your family, head over to Williams-Sonoma today and pick up this fabulous gift! i don't know about you, but I'm looking forward to Christmas-morning breakfast…

*Photo from
http://www.williams-sonoma.com/

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

DC Weekend Kick-off at Jaleo

So I arrived in DC on Friday evening, with just enough time to share a bottle of red wine with my friend Emily, do a little catching up and then hit the sack so as to rest up for the big weekend.

Saturday started like this...

Emily suggested this fabulous tapas restaurant, Jaleo, for brunch. At first I was skeptical...tapas? For brunch? Don't get me wrong, I LOVE tapas. I also love to eat. A lot. Particularly at breakfast (I mean, it's the most important meal of the day). Anyway, we got this cute little table right in front of the window so we could people-watch as we ate (I adore sidewalk cafes/restaurants for this very reason). We started off with a Mimosa (duh) and an order of Pan con Tomate, topped with Manchego. Pan con Tomate is a very traditional Spanish tapa. It's basically rustic bread that has been smeared (for lack of a better term) with fresh garlic and a juicy, ripe tomato. This version was topped with one of my favorite cheeses OF ALL TIME-- Manchego. Manchego is a sheep's milk cheese from the La Mancha region of Spain. It. Is. DELICIOUS. Some people compare it to feta, although it's not as salty. In any case, if you have never tried Manchego (shame on you!), I highly recommend that you run out this very minute and get some.


Next, we ordered Revuelto de queso y set--scrambled eggs with chef selected wild mushrooms and cheese. I forgot to ask what kind of cheese was in the dish, but whatever was used was wonderful. I also forgot to take a picture. But don't worry- I DID get a shot of another brunch highlight--complimentary roasted garlic in olive oil and rosemary with fresh bread. Needless to say, I was in heaven. While there were so many other dishes we wanted to try (such as pancakes made with Spanish extra virgin olive oil--the more carbs, the better), we were actually full after our two dishes. We also knew we were headed for a day of sipping and tasting at the MCES, so we needed to pace ourselves.

Exhibit editorial to come...

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

My "Saved by the Bell" Moment

Man, I tell you--nothing like being surrounded by celebrity chefs for the weekend to provide some major inspiration to get in the kitchen and make some magic. With this sort-of-new job that I'm still getting used to, I confess that I feel overwhelmed at times with all I want to do (and feel like I should be doing) with this blog. Kind of reminds of that episode from Saved by the Bell where Jessie gets hopped up on caffeine pills and proceeds to get hysterical while singing "I'm So Excited" before totally breaking down (you all know what I'm talking about)...except that I'm not taking caffeine pills and I'm breaking down in Husband's arms instead of Zack Morris's. ANYWAY...the weekend in DC was an absolutely incredible experience. I'll be posting the highlights soon --undoubtedly while hearing Jessie's voice in my head yelling, "There's never enough time!". Sigh.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Stalking of Tyler Florence- Part Deux


So if I thought that I didn't embarrass myself nearly enough last April when I accidentally hit on Tyler Florence at the Metro Cooking and Entertaining Show, now is my chance to redeem myself (or embarrass myself further--it could go either way).

The MCES is headed to the Washington Convention Center this weekend, and I'm headed out this evening to enjoy the food, fun and of course--stalking my fave Food Network celebs. Not only have I coerced my dear friend Emily into attending with me, but we'll also be participating in Tyler's Ultimate Food and Wine Pairing and a celebrity presentation by Giada de Laurentiis (have I mentioned that I want to be her when I grow up?). Should be an interesting weekend, to say the least. Paula Deen, Guy Fieri, The Neelys and many more amazing people will be in attendance. I'll be sure to post pics throughout the festivities.

Cheers!

*Note: Photos from http://www.metrocooking.com



Friday, October 23, 2009

Steak and Onion Rings

The cool thing about being a Foodbuzz Featured Publisher is that you get to participate in their Tastemaker program. In other words, they will send you samples of food, gadgets, etc. for you to try out and write about on your blog. Imagine my delight when I got my very first package--a box with Emeril's Steak Rub, Essence of Emeril and Beef Stock.

I decided that my first entry would be a recipe (well, two actually) that I had been dying to try since I first started my blog. On a rare Saturday off last fall, I was lounging on the couch channel-surfing and stumbled upon Barefoot Contessa. I had never watched Ina Garten before, but I was instantly intrigued by her show. That day, she was making Steakhouse Steaks with Cornmeal Onion Rings and Sauted Wild Mushrooms. Love at first sight.

I decided to take her steak and onion ring recipes and tweak them a bit, adding Emeril's steak rub and Essence of Emeril seasoning. They turned out pretty good--considering that I have never cooked steak or onion rings before. The steaks were definitely too salty, but still good. I'm sure that adding the steak rub added some salt. However, I absolutely LOVED the addition of Essence of Emeril to the onion rings. It gave them a nice little kick that was just delish!


Steakhouse Steaks
adapted from Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten
Episode: Steaks and Sides


Ingredients

2 (10-ounce) filet mignon
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 tablespoon fleur de sel

1 tablespoon freshly cracked black pepper
1/2 tablespoon Emeril's Steak Rub
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, optional

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Heat a large, well-seasoned cast iron skillet over high heat until very hot, 5 to 7 minutes.
Meanwhile, pat the steaks dry with a paper towel and brush them lightly with vegetable oil. Combine the fleur de sel, cracked pepper and Emeril's Steak Rub on a plate and roll the steaks in the mixture, pressing lightly to evenly coat all sides.

When the skillet is ready, add the steaks and sear them evenly on all sides for about 2 minutes per side, for a total of 10 minutes.

Top each steak with a tablespoon of butter, if using, and place the skillet in the oven. Cook the steaks until they reach 120 degrees F for rare or 125 degrees F for medium-rare on an instant-read thermometer. (To test the steaks, insert the thermometer sideways to be sure you're actually testing the middle of the steak.)

Remove the steaks to a serving platter, cover tightly with aluminum foil and allow to rest at room temperature for 10 minutes.

Cornmeal-Fried Onion Rings

adapted from Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten
Episode: Steaks and Sides

Ingredients

2 large Spanish onions (or 3 yellow onions)
2 cups buttermilk
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp Essence of Emeril, divided
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (medium) yellow cornmeal
1 quart vegetable oil

Directions
Peel the onions, slice them 1/2 to 3/4-inch thick, and separate them into rings. Combine the buttermilk, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, 1 teaspoon pepper and 1 teaspoon Essence of Emeril in a medium bowl. Add the onion rings, toss well, and allow to marinate for at least 15 minutes. (The onion rings can sit in the buttermilk for a few hours.) In a separate bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper and 1 teaspoon Essence of Emeril. Set aside.

When you're ready to fry the onion rings, preheat the oven to 200 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with paper towels.

Heat the oil to 350 degrees F in a large pot or Dutch oven. (A candy thermometer attached to the side of the pot will help you maintain the proper temperature). Working in batches, lift some onions out of the buttermilk and dredge them in the flour mixture. Drop into the hot oil and fry for 2 minutes, until golden brown, turning them once with tongs. Don't crowd them! Place the finished onion rings on the baking sheet, sprinkle liberally with salt, and keep them warm in the oven while you fry the next batch. Continue frying the onion rings and placing them in the warm oven until all the onions are fried. They will remain crisp in the oven for up to 30 minutes. Serve hot.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Margaux's

So I know that this blog is primarily focused on cooking, but I just HAVE to give a little plug to my new favorite (out-of-state) restaurant--Margaux's in Raleigh, NC. My parents moved to North Carolina two years ago, and this quickly became their favorite dining spot. On a recent trip to visit them, Mom and Dad were nice enough to treat me to dinner. Words cannot express my gratitude. Dramatic, but true. This place is THAT GOOD.

We started out at the bar with our favorite cocktail-- Apple Martinis (actually, Dad got a Gin and Tonic--he's not that girly) to enjoy the atmosphere and watch a little football. The decor is very eclectic--it's not stuffy, but still upscale. The menu changes periodically, and they always have seasonal specials. I had my eye on a dish that I found on the menu a few days earlier (doing my due diligence--I always look at menus before I go to new restaurants. It gets me excited), but my parents warned me it might not be on there any more. I'm happy to say they were wrong. Not only that, but when the bartender described the dish to them, they decided that they would get it too! We're all about variety, in my family.

Anyway, the dish was Pan Seared Lobster Tails with Shrimp and Scallops, served with a Smoked Bacon and Pumpkin Sage Risotto. I can't even type it without drooling, but the best part was the presentation. My photo does not do it justice (the restaurant was very dark), but the dish was served in this adorable mini pumpkin. I all but licked my plate clean (pumpkin included). And though we didn't really have room for dessert, I couldn't resist their White and Dark Chocolate Mousse. In a word--heavenly. Food is my best friend (sorry, Husband).

Monday, October 12, 2009

Homemade Pumpkin Bread

About a year ago, I started this very fun, stressful, fulfilling and time-consuming thing--my blog. It's been a great year...I mean, no book deals or movies with Meryl Streep, but I've definitely learned a lot about cooking and even more about myself. Cheesy, I know. Anyway, I decided to celebrate my anniversary by paying homage to my very first blog post--those decadent Pumpkin Pie Waffles. But instead of waffles, I would venture into baking my first ever homemade Pumpkin Bread. We all know how great I am at baking (insert sarcastic comment here), but something about the cool, fall weather inspired me. Or maybe it was the Pumpkin Spice Latte at Starbucks, I can't be sure...

Anyway. I found this easy (idiot-proof) recipe at RecipeZaar and decided to give it a whirl. The bread was moist, delicious and full of my favorite pumpkin flavor. This will definitely be one to share over the holidays!

Pumpkin Bread
adapted from RecipeZaar, recipe #264721

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup canned pumpkin
1/2 cup olive oil (can sub with canola or vegetable)
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon apple pie spice

Directions

1.Preheat oven to 350°F.
2.Sift together flour, salt, sugar and baking soda.
3.In a separate bowl, combine pumpkin, oil, eggs, water and spices.
4.Combine pumpkin mixture with dry ingredients, being careful not to over mix (this will make the bread tough).
5.Pour into a well-buttered 9x5x3 inch loaf pan. Bake 50-60 minutes until a thin skewer poked in the very center of the loaf comes out clean. Turn out of the pan and let cool on a rack.

Serving: One 9x5 loaf

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Baby Shower

Well I think the hard work paid off. I successfully schlepped (almost) every entertaining piece that I owned to Atlanta for my dear friend Anna's baby shower (or as Husband liked to refer to it, "the thing that took over my life and my dining room). Husband looked at the pile on the living room floor as he was about to load the car and said, "Ok, how about we leave half of this stuff here." I ignored him. Of course, as soon as we arrived Anna's sweet mom saw our stash and said, "I have dishes, you know." I might have gotten a glare from Husband at that point, but I can't be sure.

Anyway, our resident photographer (aka my mom) got some great shots of the food, table and of course, beautiful parents-to-be. It was an incredibly special day and we were so happy to be a part of it!

My pride and glory--the diaper cake. I decided that instead of flowers, I would make this the "centerpiece" of the table.I mean, flowers are beautiful, but diapers are useful. I followed the instructions on this helpful site...it wasn't nearly as difficult as I thought it would be! Don't you love it when that happens?

After I put it together, I decorated with some cute ribbon that coordinated with the invitations, plates and napkins that I picked out (because I'm a big nerd). I topped the "cake" with some fresh hydrangea and used an ivory cake stand (one of my favorite wedding gifts) to display it. I was really excited about these adorable socks I found at Swoozie's. Anna and Jeremy have decided to wait until the baby is born to tell us his name (believe me, I have tried to get it out of them) so they affectionately call him "Little Buddy." Imagine my delight when I found little baby socks embroidered with (you guessed it)... Little Buddy! Perfection!

Oh, the food. My favorite part of any gathering. I have to give a HUGE thank you to Anna's amazing father, Mr. Yanni, who slow-cooked his own BBQ pork for us to make mini BBQ sliders with. It was incredible. I filled out the table with Warm Swiss and Bacon Dip, Artichoke Dip with Pita Chips, Mini Roast Beef and Havarti Sliders, Red Potato Salad and some fresh veggies.


Dessert included Brownie Bites, Petit Fours (with blue baby booties--adorable!) and Anna's favorite pregnancy craving--Oatmeal Cream Sandwiches. It was actually the only thing she could eat for about three months.

As another gift to Anna and Jeremy, we asked the guests to write down some words of encouragement or blessings for the parents-to-be. I added their baby pictures to the table in some adorable frames that they can use for the nursery. Note: Given the number of swine flu cases that had been diagnosed at the time of the shower, we asked guests to sanitize their hands. Anna thinks of everything.

Congratulations Anna and Jeremy! We can't wait to meet Little Buddy!

Friday, September 11, 2009

BB Birthday Sheet Cake

So I'm off to a great start. It's my first ever Barefoot Bloggers post, and I'm late. =( The cookout that Husband and I went to ended up lasting past midnight (which is really impressive, actually, considering that I'm usually in the bed by 10pm and trying to count how many hours of sleep I'll get). Anyway, I was too tired to post when we got home so I'm doing it before work. Forgive me, I will do better next time!

I was actually kind of terrified to make this recipe (what with this being my BB debut and all). I don't really bake, I don't have a standing mixer (which seemed pretty necessary for this task) and the recipe had gotten some iffy reviews on the Food Network. Nonetheless, I rolled up my sleeves and got started.

I followed the recipe almost exactly--I omitted the lemon zest, used almond extract instead of vanilla (which is what I had on hand), and lessened the amount of baking soda (following the lead of other reviewers). For the icing (after reading more reviews), I decided to use half semi-sweet and half milk chocolate chips. I also did not have the correct size sheet pan, so I used a 9x13 inch baking pan. The cake took forever to cook, and never really set in the middle. Finally, I just got annoyed (and was already 30 minutes late to the cookout), so I took it out and hoped it would continue to cook a little during the car ride. I don't know enough about baking to know why that happened or what I might have done wrong, so any advice is greatly appreciated!

When we got to our friend's house, I proceeded to pour (that's right, pour) the icing over the cake. It was nowhere near thick enough, but I was anxious to finish the cake and take some pictures before everybody got a piece. Our friend, Chris, wanted to know what the "sauce" on my cake was. Nice. Also, it sunk in the middle (because it had not finished cooking) so it looked like I had a little chocolate pond in the center of the cake. Sigh.....apparently cakes aren't my thing (remember Husband's birthday incident last month?).

All that to say....the cake was actually delicious! I was really pleasantly surprised. It was moist, had a nice texture and the hint of almond gave it a wonderful flavor (I also added some Reese's Pieces to the top of the cake because I wanted it to look "fall-ish"). Here's the kicker--as we were leaving the cookout 5 hours later, I noticed that my frosting had thickened and had the perfect consistency. Of course.

Oh well. My new motto is, "It tastes good no matter what it looks like". I'm posting the recipe with my minor changes below, but you can find the original here. Enjoy!

Barefoot Contessa's Birthday Sheet Cake
Adapted from Barefoot Contessa (Ina Garten)

Ingredients

For the cake:
18 tablespoons (2 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 cups sugar
6 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
8 ounces (about 1 cup) sour cream, at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons pure almond extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon baking soda

For the frosting:
12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
12 ounces milk chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
Chocolate candies for decorating
Directions
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a 9x13 inch baking pan.

To make the cake, cream the butter and sugar on medium-high speed in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. On medium speed, add the eggs, 2 at a time, then the sour cream, vanilla, and lemon zest, scraping down the bowl as needed. Mix well. Sift together the flour, cornstarch, salt, and baking soda. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and stir just until smooth. Finish mixing by hand to be sure the batter is well mixed. Pour evenly into the pan, smooth the top with a spatula, and bake in the center of the oven for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in the pan to room temperature.

For the frosting, place the chocolate chips and heavy cream in a bowl set over a pot of simmering water, stirring occasionally, until the chips are completely melted. Off the heat, add the corn syrup and vanilla and allow the chocolate mixture to cool to room temperature. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk the chocolate mixture and softened butter on medium speed for a few minutes, until it's thickened.

Spread the frosting evenly on the cake. Decorate with candies.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Barefoot Bloggers

One of the things I love about blogging is the community. No matter what topic you blog about, chances are you can find several (or several hundred) people who LOVE to blog about the same thing! For me (obviously) it's cooking, so imagine my delight when I stumbled upon Barefoot Bloggers--a group of bloggers that love all things Ina (aka the Barefoot Contessa). Finally, people who will understand me when I begin a sentence with, "Well Ina says..". Husband just looks at me like I have three heads.

Anyway, here's how it works. Each month, two of Ina's recipes are chosen for members to cook or bake (members get to choose the featured recipes in an order determined by the date they join the site). Those recipes will be posted on the 2nd and 4th Thursdays of each month, and then everyone gets to compare notes and talk about how the recipes turned out. Fun, right?

The first recipe for September is Ina's Birthday Sheet Cake. As it happens, Husband and I are cooking out with some friends tonight so now I can bring dessert! I'll post the pics and update later today.

Happy Cooking!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Roasted Red Pepper and Turkey Wrap

Sometimes Husband and I like to play a game called, "Let's cook everything in our pantry/fridge before we go to the store again." It didn't actually work today because I had to get toilet paper...nonetheless, it did get me searching through the fridge to see what random items I could make lunch out of. I ended up with a new turkey wrap that I was actually quite proud of. Its very rare that my first attempt at a new recipe or dish turns out any good. Usually, I'm disappointed and hem and haw over what I missed and did wrong. This time I can honestly say it didn't need a thing (except maybe a better photo). Granted, this isn't super gourmet--(as such, I barely have an actual recipe to share). But its not just any ol' turkey sandwich, either. Somewhere in between...I think I can handle "in between" for now.

Ingredients

1 flour tortilla
1 Tbsp. chive and onion cream cheese
2 Tbsp. sliced roasted red peppers
5 slices oven roasted turkey breast
2 Tbsp. shredded mozzarella cheese


Spread chive and onion cream cheese in a smooth layer over flour tortilla. Top with turkey slices, red peppers and mozzarella. Starting with one end, roll tortilla over mixture and place seam-side down on baking sheet. Place under broiler in oven for 3-5 minutes, until cheese is melted and tortilla is slightly brown.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Penne a La Vodka Casserole

For Husband's birthday dinner, I referred to an old favorite--Emeril's Penne a La Vodka casserole. It's hearty, delicious, feeds 12 people (which is perfect for a crowd OR when you're trying to stretch your groceries) AND it gave me an excuse to use another goody from my Foodbuzz Tastemaker package--Emeril's Original Essence seasoning. Sometimes I cheat a little (such as using Vodka Sauce from a jar instead of making it from scratch) but you really can't tell the difference. This time I added roasted red peppers for a little extra kick, and I loved the flavor they added. Bonus: It tastes even better the next day--our leftovers lasted us almost a week!


Penne a La Vodka Casserole
adapted from Emeril Lagasse

Ingredients

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound sweet Italian sausage, cut into 1-inch slices
1 pound hot Italian sausage, cut into 1-inch slices
2 large onions, diced
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh basil leaves
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 jar Vodka sauce
1/4 cup roasted red peppers, sliced into strips
1 teaspoon Emeril's Original Essence
1 pound penne pasta
15 ounces ricotta cheese
1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
11/2 cups grated mozzarella

Directions
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Heat 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil in a large saucepan over high heat. Add the sausages and cook, stirring, until browned, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the onions, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and the black pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are just soft, about 4 minutes. Add the red peppers, basil and garlic, and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the Vodka sauce and Essence; stir to mix, and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Heat about 4 quarts of water with the remaining 1 teaspoon salt in a large pot over high heat. Bring to a boil, add the pasta, and cook until al dente, 12 to 14 minutes. Remove from the heat and drain well. Combine half of the ricotta cheese and half of the Parmigiano-Reggiano in a large mixing bowl. Add the pasta and toss to coat evenly. Add the sausage mixture and mix well. Add the remaining ricotta cheese and the remaining Parmigiano-Reggiano and mix well.

Transfer the mixture to a 9 by 13-inch baking dish. Sprinkle with the mozzarella. Bake until bubbly and golden, about 45 minutes. Remove from the oven. Serve warm with crusty bread.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Almost Homemade Chocolate Mousse

After Husband's cake disaster, I needed to think of another dessert for his actual birthday. Preferably, something that wouldn't fall apart and/or leave me in tears. This one came about from the following conversation:

Me: So what do you want for your birthday dessert?
Husband: Pudding.
Me: Like....banana pudding?
H: No, like just regular pudding.
Me: Um...
H: Chocolate pudding.
Me: Are you just saying that because we have a box of chocolate pudding in the pantry?
H: No.
Me: Right. How about chocolate mousse?
H: Whatever...
Me: (Sigh)......

So I remembered this delicious Amaretto Chocolate Mousse that my mom used to make when we had company, and I decided to give it a whirl. It's one of those that made guests think she'd been slaving in the kitchen for hours when really it only took about 15 minutes.My version was more like what I like to call a "progressive recipe". I just kept adding stuff to it until I felt like it was ready. The result? Well, let's just say...I won't tell about the boxed pudding if you won't.

Amaretto Chocolate Mousse

1 pkg Chocolate Pudding Mix (Instant)
1 pkg Cool Whip, thawed
1 1/2 cups cold milk
1/4 cup Amaretto
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup cocoa powder

Mix chocolate pudding mix and milk according to the directions on the package. Fold in thawed Cool Whip. Pour in Amaretto, mixing well. In a small bowl, beat whipping cream with a hand mixer until stiffened, about 2-3 minutes. Fold into pudding mixture. Stir in cocoa powder and mix well. Cover and chill in refrigerator at least 1 hour. Pour into martini glasses or tea cups and serve.


Serves 4.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Panzanella

It's hard to believe, but sometimes we let bread go stale in my house. You see, Husband is not a carb-fiend like I am, so sometimes I'm left to finish an entire loaf of rustic Italian something-or-other on my own. Normally, this would not be a problem but I'm trying to practice a little restraint (and not be wasteful).

So what's a girl to do when the bread goes stale? Make panzanella! This recipe is loosely based on
Giada's version in Everyday Italian (I do love Giada). I would have followed it exactly, but I didn't have all of the ingredients so I decided to improvise a little. In fact, now that I am re-reading my scibbbled notes, I barely followed it all. Oh well. The inspiration is authentic, even if the dish is not...

Panzanella
adapted from Giada de Laurentiis

6 Roma Tomatoes, sliced
8-10 oz. Italian loaf (or some other kind of good, crusty bread), 2-3 days old, cubed
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp. minced garlic
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/4 cup basil, thinly sliced
1/4 cup diced red onion
1/2 cup chopped cucumber
1 Tbsp. each oil and vinegar




In a large bowl, combine olive oil, vinegar, garlic, salt and pepper and whisk until blended. Add bread, tomatoes and sliced basil; toss well to combine. Let bread mixture sit about 10 minutes, tossing occasionally. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Drizzle with 1 Tbsp. each of oil and vinegar. Cover and let sit at room temperature for at least 1 hour. Garnish with fresh basil and shaved parmesan, and serve.

Serves 4.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Happy Birthday, Husband!

Husband's birthday is next week and at my insistence, we are having a little birthday cook-out with some of our nearest and dearest. I think Husband is a tad bit grumpy about turning 32 (he didn't even want a party!) but I happen to love birthdays, so I put my foot down (and by that, I mean pitched a little fit) and voila! A cook-out it is.

For the occasion, I decided to attempt making one of Husband's favorite desserts--German Chocolate Cake. My morning went something like this:

Step 1. Googled every recipe for German Chocolate Cake ever published.
Step 2. Became enamored with Annie's Eats GCC post. Vowed to make my cake look half as good as hers (she is adorable, by the way. If ya'll don't already read her blog, you need to).
Step 3. Played around on at least 20 different blogs that I love but have not read in awhile.
Step 4. Scolded myself for not keeping my blog up-to-date.
Step 5. Made a resolution to keep my blog up-to-date.
Step 6. Got distracted by the beautiful weather and made plans to lay out at the pool with some friends.
Step 7. Went to the store to buy ingredients where I got further distracted by Betty Crocker's boxed cake and coconut/pecan icing.
Step 8. Convinced myself that Husband would never know the difference.

Successful, huh. In my defense, I planned to make homemade chocolate ganache to pour over the cake. I know that traditional German Chocolate Cake is iced with coconut/pecan gooey yummy-ness, but I had a brilliant idea for a cake topper that needed a smoother (and darker) surface. Husband's wedding cake was poker-themed, with white chocolate playing cards sitting on top and chocolate "suits" scattered around the outside of the cake. I thought they were adorable, so I wrapped them up and stuck them in the fridge to save for another use. A year and a half later, I had my opportunity!! Also, Husband would no longer have to threaten to throw them out.

Now I would like to say that my cake turned out exactly like Annie's masterpiece, and that our friends oohed and aahhed and marveled at my ingenuity. But that would be a lie. It didn't even survive the 12-minute car ride. I'm not entirely sure what happened, all I know is that at one point I heard Husband say "Oh crap", and when I got out of the car to go take the cake from him, the entire thing collapsed in my hands. Needless to say, I cried. Hard. For 20 minutes.

Lucky for me, I am married to a man who is unfailingly encouraging and supportive. Or maybe he just can't stand to see a woman cry...who knows. Either way, he calmed me down and we entered the party---me with black mascara under my eyes and Husband holding what was left of his birthday cake. At the end of the meal, I did what any refined hostess would have done--I stuck the cake in the middle of the table, handed out forks and said, "Dig in."


Thursday, July 30, 2009

Oklahoma, OK!!!

I hope I'm not the only one who understands the reference of my blog title...ya'll have seen the musical Oklahoma, right? Anyone?

Anyway, I just returned from a business trip to OK City, completely exhausted and probably 5 pounds heavier. My boss and I were meeting with the marketing folks at the Sonic headquarters (which is awesome, by the way--though I found myself craving tater tots throughout the entire meeting). Our day started with a 6am flight (why did we think that was a good idea?) and we were in meetings until 5pm. We were a little tired, but looking forward to a nice, relaxing dinner. We did our research before we arrived and chose the Red Prime Steakhouse in downtown Oklahoma City. Oh. My. Word. Where do I even begin...

It has a very trendy atmosphere…the lights are dim and everyone is bathed in a red glow. The bar is obviously a hot spot (highlighted by a floor-to-ceiling metal "cage", for lack of a better word, that houses I don't even know how many bottles of wine). Everything from the white square plates down to the cutlery and stemware was impressive. Although the floor was a little slick---ladies in heels, beware.

To say the wine list is extensive is an understatement….my boss (we'll call her "M", like in the James Bond movies. I could be the James Bond of marketing. You don't know.) took the reigns on that. I mean, I like to think that I know a little bit about wine, but when M started talking about how Napa produced a really lovely Cab in '95 I knew I was WAY out of my league...I'm thinking this job will be a learning opportunity in more ways then one. Anyway, M chose the Turnbull Cabernet, '95 from Napa. I'm still learning how to distinguish between "notes" and "flavors" and whatnot, but this was smooth and delicious and I gladly would have drank the entire bottle by myself.

Moving on to my next favorite food group--the bread. This was not just any ol' roll--these were warm and freshly baked with black and green peppercorns scattered throughout the dough. Being the proud, carb-craving girl that I am, I ate 6 or 7.

We couldn't pass up the Prix Fixe menu, which at $35 for 3 courses was an absolute steal! I chose the RP Tomatoes as my appetizer--fried green and hot house tomatoes with fresh mozzarella, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, cracked pepper and sea salt. Absolutely delicious. My main course was the 7oz. petite filet, cooked to perfection. This was my favorite part-after you choose your cut of steak, you get to choose from 6 crusts and 6 sauces to accompany it. I wish I could have tried every single one, but I settled on the freshly cracked pepper crust and creamy horseradish sauce. Always a sucker for great french fries, I chose the Idaho fries as my side. My boss chose seared green beans, which looked delicious, and some sauted mushrooms for us to share (also delicious). And last but not least--dessert. Chocolate spoon cake with walnuts and a small scoop of vanilla ice cream. Absolute heaven—but the real gem was the tiny dish of salted caramel served next to the cake. I all but licked the plate clean. Finished off with some wonderful coffee, I can absolutely say that it was one of the best meals I have ever enjoyed. I think I'm going to like this new job....

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Pleasure is All Mine

I'm standing in one of my happy places (the cooking section at the Barnes and Noble), sipping my White Chocolate Mocha, eyes slightly glazed over, when something catches my attention. A book cover with a gorgeous brunette in a stunning white dress and fabulous black heels, holding a bottle of wine in one hand and a plate of steak and fries in the other, laughing delightedly at some inside joke that immediately makes me wish I were in on the secret. Dang. If I ever have a cookbook one day, THAT'S what I want the cover to look like.

Meet Suzanne Pirret, Harvard-trained actor, extremely successful voice over artist and a oh yeah--a kick-a%$ chef, thank you very much (she's also a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu).

Her highly entertaining and impressive cookbook reads like a novel. Each chapter starts with a story from her cooking/living experiences in Paris, London, New York and LA--whether it be from her stint as a pastry chef for Jamie Oliver or a nasty run-in with some Chinese take-out.

The opening recipe is Steak au Poivre with Frites. A girl after my own heart, this one. If I have neglected to mention my slightly unhealthy obsession with french fries before, let me do so now. I went through a phase last month where I was eating french fries at least three times a week. Great comfort food, in my opinion--not so good for the waistline.

Anyway, this clever, decadent and "naughty" (her words) cookbook will either have you curled up on the couch with a good glass of wine to indulge in some late-night reading (did I mention she also includes fabulous wine pairings?) or heading straight to the kitchen to whip up General Tso's Chicken. Or both.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Strawberry Amaretto Skillet Cake

So it's time for another cooking experiment. While I'd like to think that my passion for cooking is enough to have me whipping up gourmet delicacies every evening, I know better. I'm pretty sure that I have not cooked ONCE since we got back in town and I started my new job (both good excuses, right?). And although I have a continuous stack of recipes and ideas that I want to try, sometimes I need a little motivation. That motivation comes in the form of another contest (but thankfully, no video).

This time the contest is for the Simple and Delicious magazine, part of the Taste of Home publications. They have great contests every few months and after my first contest experience, I decided it was time to give another one a shot.

The theme is Berry Bonanza, featuring strawberries, raspberries, blackberries or blueberries. My first attempt features strawberries along with one of my favorite coffee cake recipes given to me by my grandmother--I call it Strawberry Amaretto Skillet Cake. My recipe will use the same cake ingredients, but with a different topping. Instead of using the full amount of almond extract in the batter that the original recipe calls for, I'm going to half it and make up the difference in the topping with...you guessed it, amaretto liquor. I do adore amaretto. And after all, what's a great brunch without a little booze?

(Kidding, Mom).

Ingredients


1 1/2 sticks of margarine
1 1/2 C. sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 C. flour, sifted
1 pinch salt
1/2 tsp. almond extract

Topping Mix
2 cups sliced strawberries
2 tbsp. amaretto liquor, divided
1/3 C. sliced almonds, crushed
1/4 C. sugar

Directions

Preheat oven to 350° F.

Melt butter and stir in sugar. Beat in eggs one at a time. Add flour, salt and almond flavoring; mix well. Line a cast iron skillet with aluminum foil, letting the foil extend up over sides. Pour batter into lined skillet.

Cook 30-40 minutes, until top is firm. Let cool about 20 minutes. Using a fork, poke holes throughout the cake. Pour 1 tbsp. amaretto evenly over entire top of cake, so that it drips through the holes. Toss strawberries with remaining 1 tbsp. liquor and pour over cake, spreading evenly so that it covers entire surface. Sprinkle crushed almonds and sugar over top of strawberries.

It still needs a little tweaking (I'll update this recipe/post as needed), but I think the first attempt turned out pretty well! The cake itself has such a delicious flavor and moist texture, which contrasts nicely with the crunchy almonds. The strawberries add beautiful color and the amaretto...well, if you don't like amaretto then I'm afraid my blog just won't do anything for you! ;)

I'll be back soon with more berry-inspired recipes. Happy cooking!

Highlight of the Day

So Husband just emailed me to say that I received something in the mail from Columbia Crest Winery and wanted permission to open it. It was a thank-you note for entering the Flay-vors of Washington contest AND Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill cookbook!! Cool, huh? I was actually going to eat at Mesa Grill while we were in Vegas (he has a location in Caesar's Palace, and others in NY and the Bahamas) but the line was long and I was starving so I went elsewhere (sorry, Bobby!). I take that to mean that the restaurant is awesome! I'll be sure to check it out and review next time we're there. Also, I have yet to try out any of Bobby's recipes (I'm lucky to make mac 'n' cheese these days), so this gives me a great excuse to start. Cheers!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Celebri-Stalking Alert

I was just THISCLOSE to Ben Affleck at the Ante Up for Africa Tournament at the Rio. Also, Matt Damon, Jason Alexander, Don Cheadle and Nelly are here. I just thought everyone should know. Pics posted soon!

P.S. I realize that none of my recent posts have anything to do with food, but I promise that will change soon (when I'm back in town and focused on something other than Matt Damon).

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Good Life

It's about noon in Vegas and Husband and I are enjoying the Champagne Brunch at the MGM Grand. Well, I'm enjoying champagne...Husband is enjoying Diet Coke. And lots of Prime Rib.

We arrived at 10:30am, tired and starving, but excited for the week ahead. We checked into the hotel at the airport (EVERY hotel should have this option. At every airport. Everywhere), boarded a shuttle and 5 minutes later we were strolling through the monstrous casino/hotel, sans bags, which would be sent up to our room when ready. We got a little lost on the way to the Grand Buffet (easy to do), but pretty soon we were piling up our plates with everything from sushi to ravioli, and sipping some bubbly.

I could get used to this....

Vegas, Baby!

It's 1:30am and I just finished packing for our trip to Vegas (wahoo!!!!). Its not that I wasn't prepared. I was. I had a List (I like to make lists). I had everything checked off, except for the necessary toiletries that I would need pre-flight. The problem was the shoes...its always the shoes. Husband said AT MOST I should only have 3 pairs. I laughed at him. And proceeded to sit on my suitcase to stuff everything in.

Anyway, our flight leaves in 5 hours so I'm thinking of just staying up all night. I mean, what's the point? I can sleep on the plane. I hope.

Meanwhile, we'll be back in a week with hopefully some great restaurant reviews, recipe ideas and maybe a good story or two. Here's to hoping our trip is half as fun as the movie The Hangover (without the tiger in the bathroom...but maybe the baby in the closet). If you don't know what I'm talking about, go see the movie. Totally worth it.

Peace out!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

No Luck

Well dear readers, no Top 20 for me. It's ok. Really, it is (Mom, are you reading??). As I mentioned in my last posts, there were some truly fantastic entries out there--lots of inspiration. I wish them all the best! Be sure to check them out and vote for your favorites!

Meanwhile, I've discovered three more contests that I'm going to enter this summer (one rejection just wasn't enough!) so I'll be sure to keep you posted on those ideas, experiments and disasters.

Happy cooking!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Flayvors of Washington Update: And The Winner Is....

Ok, I haven't won yet. I'll be lucky to make it to the Top 20 (there are some AMAZING entries out there), BUT I am pleased to say that this recipe is definitely the winner among all other attempts, experiments and disasters. I know this because as soon as Husband tried it, his first response was "WOW". From a man whose most enthusiastic response is "That's good", this was high praise. All that to say, this is the recipe that I am MOST proud of since I started this blogging adventure less than a year ago (amidst delusions of grandeur, I must admit).

So now its all up to the powers-that-be at the Food Network. But in the meantime, feel free to try it out. I promise you won't be disappointed.


Asiago Encrusted Halibut over Sweet Onion and Chardonnay Cheese Grits
with Fresh Asparagus
Wine Pairing: Columbia Crest Grand Estates Chardonnay

INGREDIENTS

Grits:
3/4 cup Quick-cooking grits
3 cups water
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 of a sweet onion, chopped
2 Tbsp. butter
3/4 cup aged Asiago cheese
1/4 cup half & half
4 Tbsp. butter
1/4 cup Columbia Crest Chardonnay
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Halibut:
2 6oz. Halibut fillets
1/2 cup Panko breadcrumbs
1/4 cup aged Asiago cheese
2 Tbsp. flour
1 large egg white, beaten
1/2 of a large lemon
2 Tbsp. olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Asparagus:
1 bunch of Asparagus tips, washed and trimmed to 1-2 inches
2 cups water
Splash of Columbia Crest Chardonnay

Salt, to taste

DIRECTIONS
Grits:
Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.
1. Melt 2 Tbsp. butter in a skillet over medium-high heat and saute chopped sweet onions, until tender (about 15 minutes).
2. While onions are cooking, bring 3 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Stir grits and 1/4 tsp. salt into rapidly boiling water. Reduce heat and simmer (covered) 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until thickened.
3. Once grits are thickened, stir in 3/4 cup Asiago cheese and 4 Tbsp. butter; blend well.
4. Add the sweet onions, 1/4 cup half & half, 1/4 cup Chardonnay, freshly ground black pepper and additional salt (to taste, if necessary).
5. Pour grits into small baking dish (8x8) and bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes, until thick and creamy.
Yield: 2 large servings or 4 small servings

Halibut:
1. Place flour in a shallow dish. Mix panko breadcrumbs and Asiago cheese together and place in another shallow dish. Place egg white in another shallow dish.
2. Squeeze fresh lemon juice over both sides of the halibut to bring out the flavor of the fish. Sprinkle both sides evenly with salt and pepper.
3. Dredge fillet in flour, shaking off excess. Dip into egg wash, allowing excess to drip off. Coat fish with panko/Asiago mixture, pressing lightly to adhere. Set aside and repeat with remaining fillet, in the same order.
4. Heat 2 Tbsp. olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat.
5. Add fillet to pan; reduce heat to medium and cook for about 4-5 minutes on each side, until the crust is a nice golden brown and the fish flakes easily with a fork.
Repeat with additional fillet.
Yield: 2 servings

Asparagus:
1. Bring 2 cups water to a boil in a small saucepan. Add sprinkle of salt and splash of Chardonnay.
2. Boil asparagus until they turn bright green, about 3-5 minutes.
3. Remove from heat, drain, and immediately plunge into ice bath to stop cooking process while retaining the bright color and crisp texture.
Yield: 2 servings

To serve:
Place two heaping spoonfuls of the grits onto a plate and sprinkle with fresh asparagus tips. Top the grits with one piece of halibut. Finish with a glass of Columbia Crest Chardonnay.

Enjoy!

Halibut on Foodista

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Seriously??

So, apparently you cannot buy Dungeness Crab in Birmingham. I know, I know...I probably should have done some research before I wasted time/gas driving to every fish market and gourmet grocery store in town, only to be met with looks of amusement and/or pity when I presented my request ("Where does she think she lives, the west coast?").

Back to square one. AGAIN.

After poring over the contest's ingredient list for what would hopefully be the last time, I decided that I really wanted to keep grits in my recipe (I'm hoping a little southern flair will help me stand out), and I think that some sort of seafood will be the best pairing for the grits. Turns out, Halibut is about the only Washington-state seafood item that I can actually get in Birmingham. So there you have it. I've got six days to come up with a brand new recipe, test it, perfect it, video it, and
submit it.

Remind me why I thought this was a good idea?

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Havarti Crab Dip over Andouille Grit Cakes

So we're on to round two of my recipe experimentation for the Flay-vors of Washington contest. I've adapted an old recipe from a dear family friend--Lynn Hennessy. Her Crab Toasts have always been a favorite in my family, but I thought I would add a new twist. Instead of serving the crab dip on a crostini or cracker, I'm going to try making grit cakes with some Andouille sausage. I think the sausage will add a nice texture to the grit cakes, which will be an interesting alternative to the more traditional english muffin that the original recipe calls for.

Havarti Crab Dip

1 stick butter, softened
8 oz. Havarti cheese, shredded
6 oz. lump crab meat (I'll be using Dungeness Crab for the real deal, but testing with some local crab from Publix for my first try)
1 1/2 tsp. mayonnaise
2 small garlic cloves, grated
1/2 cup cream cheese
1/2 tsp. salt

Mix all ingredients, blending well. Set aside until grit cakes are ready.


Andouille Grit Cakes

1/2 sweet onion, chopped
1 cup cooked Andouille sausage, chopped
2 T. butter, melted
1 (14oz) can chicken b
roth
3/4 cup half & half
1 cup Quick-cooking grits
1/2 tsp. salt

1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

In a large skillet over medium heat, saute onion in butter until tender (about 15 minutes). Add Andouille sausage, chicken broth, half & half; bring to a boil. Stir in grits and salt, reduce heat, cover and simmer about 10 minutes, until thickened. Pour into an 8x8 baking dish; cover and chill at least 8 hours.

Cut grits into squares. Brush with olive oil and broil in oven until crispy on both sides (about 5-8 minutes on each side).

Top grit cakes with crab dip and sprinkle with cayenne pepper.

Yeah, the pictures don't look like much, do they? I had trouble getting a really clear shot...of course, I'm still learning how to play with my camera so that could be why.

*NOTE: After this round of testing, we decided to try the grit cakes again in a larger baking dish so that they made a thinner layer. I used a cookie cutter to cut them into circles, and omitted the olive oil before broiling. It made a huge difference--they really got golden brown and crispy, and worked much better as a base for the dip. I've still got a little work to do on the crab dip...it's good, but not WOW. I'm thinking (hoping...praying...) that the Dungeness Crab will make a difference. I'll pick it up on my way home from the lake and try again!




Thursday, May 28, 2009

Happy Vidalia Onion Season!

I always know that summer is here when the sweet, delicious Vidalia onions arrive in the grocery store. FINALLY I can make my grandmother's oh-so-easy but sinfully delicious Vidalia Onion Dip that I've been craving since last summer. We have it at practically every family get-together. In fact, I'm making it at our lake house this weekend for her 91st birthday (Happy Birthday, MaMa!). My family will be lucky if I don't eat the whole dish...

You can find a great recipe almost anywhere, but MaMa's comes from an old favorite--the Good as Gold cookbook, courtesy of Ashland Place United Methodist Church. No self-respecting Southern woman should be without it (or at least in my family).

The great thing about this dip is that there is room for experimentation--use a different cheese, add another spice, etc. Just don't take it too far and mix in something like artichokes and ruin the whole thing. The onions deserve all the glory.

Serve with tortilla chips, crackers or even veggies. I like to spread mine between two layers of french bread and make a Vidalia Dip Sandwich. Don't knock it 'till you try it--I'm talking "weak-at-the-knees" good. I wish I had a great picture for you but once again, my insatiable appetite overpowered my need to take pictures.

Vidalia Onion Dip

3 large Vidalia Onions, chopped
2 Tbsp. butter
8 oz. shredded sharp Cheddar (sometimes I add a little more--I love cheese)
1 cup mayonnaise

1 Tbsp. fresh minced garlic
1/2 tsp. Tabasco or other hot sauce (adjust this to your liking)
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste


1. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat; add onions and saute until tender.
2. Mix together the shredded cheese, mayonnaise, garlic, Tabasco, salt and pepper.
3. Add onions to cheese mixture; blend well.
4. Pour mixture into a lightly greased 8x8 baking dish.
5. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes; let stand about 10 minutes before serving.

Happy Eating!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Update on the Flay-vors of Washington

So my first attempt didn't quite turn out how I anticipated...and by that I mean it was terrible.

Ok, ok, maybe not terrible. But bad enough that I shed a small tear in frustration and asked why in the world I thought I cook anything more complicated than spaghetti, to which my mom replied, "1. It's only your first try, 2. This is what "recipe developing" is like, and 3. Calm the heck down."

I felt a little better.

While I think we had a good idea going, we just didn't get the flavor we were looking for. I tried two different versions. Both had a Gorgonzola cream sauce as the base (that I didn't actually make--I got to borrow it from our chef at work for experimenting), which ended up being the most prominent flavor. One version was topped with a roasted pear, the other with diced apples and pears that had been sauteed in white wine, and both were finished with toasted walnuts and Gorgonzola crumbles. Now on paper, it sounds delicious (or at least, to me it did). But in real life? Ehh (shrug). Both my mom and grandmother loved the overall dish, but agreed that the Gorgonzola sauce overpowered the fruits (which were supposed to be the highlighted flavor). Granted, I didn't know what I was doing. But still--it prompted me to explore other directions/ingredients. Hors d'oeuvres are what I do best, so I think I'll stick to what I know.

We're headed back to the lake this weekend to celebrate my grandmother's 91st birthday (yeah, she's a rockstar) so I'm going to enlist my family as guinea pigs once more. This week the Washington-state ingredients are dungeness crab and sweet onions. Here's to hoping I don't cry this time!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Flay-vors of Washington

So I'm about to do something that will either be really great or really stupid. I'm entering a cooking contest to win a chance to cook with Bobby Flay. I'll wait while you laugh...

I've only won one contest my entire life. It was a coloring contest. I was in first grade (I think) and was home sick on the day the picture was due. My neighbor offered to turn it in for me, so I rushed upstairs to finish it (I was such a procrastinator, even then) and practically threw it out the door. And I won. It was ridiculous, really. But I did get a nifty little savings bond that I'll be able to cash in about 30 years from now.

Anyway, I found this contest on the Food Network site. It's called the "Flay-vors of Washington Recipe Contest" and it's sponsored by Columbia Crest, the award-winning winery in Washington state. Contestants have to submit an original recipe inspired by a Columbia Crest Grand Estates wine, using at least one Washington-state ingredient, AND a short video presentation of the dish. Two lucky finalists will be flown to New York to prepare the dish for Bobby Flay and a panel of judges, and one incredibly lucky winner will get some amazing prizes and the chance to cook with Bobby Flay.

I'm going to the lake tonight to hang out with my family (lucky for me they're all great cooks), so I've coerced them into helping me experiment. I'm fairly certain this will be a disaster (particularly the video part), but I'll let you know what we come up with.

Cheers!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Italian Eggs Benedict

I'm actually spending this Mother's Day alone. Husband and I are a few years away from kids (so we think--God might have other plans), both sets of parents are out of town, and my sister and her husband will be spending time with his family.

Husband played in a golf tournament in Montgomery yesterday, and then headed to Troy to hang out with his family (I had to work late last night so he said I didn't need to make the trip), so I had the house to myself. Despite my laundry-list of chores a mile long, I decided to make brunch. For myself. At 1:30pm.

I'm not sure where this craving came from, but I really wanted to make Eggs Benedict. Maybe it's because that's what my dad usually makes on special occasions. Or maybe it's because I already had most of the ingredients and didn't want to go to the store (it was raining--I hate grocery shopping in the rain). Either way, I craved it. So I made it. Or at least, I made a slightly skewed version of it.

For you dear readers who don't know me very well, I love all things Italian. I'm convinced I must have Italian blood in me somewhere (though my Scotch-Irish ancestry begs to differ). Italian food is my favorite thing to cook, eat, stare at, think about...you get the picture. So naturally, I decided to add a little Italian flair to my brunch-for-one. Plus, I had some Pancetta that I got on sale Friday night and I was anxious to cook with it for the first time. Add to that some fresh parmesan, eggs and Bisquick and ta-da! Italian Eggs Benedict with Pancetta and Rosemary Parmesan Biscuits. Sounds yummy, huh?

Now, obviously I have cheated a little bit. I did not make the biscuits from scratch. I mean, why let all that good Bisquick go to waste? I just doctored up the recipe a little bit to give the biscuits some extra flavor. I also opted for simple drop biscuits, as opposed to kneading, rolling and cutting the dough. Drop biscuits look more homemade to me, so I can pretend I made them from scratch. Like I'm playing a trick on myself.

Anyway, here is the recipe for you:

1 cup Bisquick
1/3 cup milk
1/8 tsp dried rosemary (I would have preferred fresh, but had dry on hand)
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan
2 slices Pancetta
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 egg

Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees. Mix Bisquick and milk together until soft dough forms. Stir in the rosemary and parmesan, blending well (be careful not to over-stir, this will make the biscuits tough). Drop spoonful of dough onto ungreased cookie sheet (this recipe will make about 3 medium biscuits--I halved the original recipe since I was only baking for myself). Bake for 8-10 minutes. While biscuits are baking, heat 1 tbsp. olive oil in 8" saute pan over medium heat. Fry two slices of Pancetta until crispy (about 5 minutes). Remove from pan and drain on paper towel. In the same pan used for the Pancetta, fry one egg until edges are set and the center is slightly cooked (or until desired doneness). When biscuits are done, cool slightly on wire rack. Cut the biscuit in half horizontally. Place egg on bottom half of biscuit, top with Pancetta and the other half of the biscuit.

Now I'm sure you all have noticed something my recipe is lacking. The essential ingredient to Eggs Benedict--hollandaise. Well, I've never made a hollandaise before and I've heard it's kind of tricky. So I thought I would save that task for another day. I did, however, find a delicious recipe that I want to try when I'm up for the challenge--Michael Chiarello's Olive Oil Hollandaise. I think it would be the perfect touch to my version of Eggs Benedict. I'll keep you posted!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Italian Margaritas, Bite-Sized Snacks and Decor

My mom and I absolutely love the Italian Margaritas at Johnny Carino’s (one of my favorite “chain” restaurants–casual, fun atmosphere and terrific food). So I decided to try my hand at re-creating the delicious, sweet taste of their signature drink for my Cinco de Mayo celebration.

I cheated a little bit and used a Bacardi Margarita frozen mixer instead of making the entire thing from scratch, but the end result was so good that no one seemed to mind!


Italian Margaritas

1 10 oz. can Bacardi Margarita frozen mixer
3/4 cup Tequila of choice
6 cups ice
1/2 cup Amaretto
Margarita salt OR coarse sugar
Lime

Follow the directions on the Bacardi package (essentially, combine the mixer with the tequila, amaretto, plenty of ice, blend until smooth). Rim your glass with some lime juice and dip in margarita salt or sugar, whichever you prefer. Pour margarita into glass, garnish with a lime and enjoy! Feel free to adjust the amaretto to your taste. I happen to love the sweet, almond flavor so I’m apt to add a bit more. This makes about 4 servings.

Mini Cilantro Salsa Bites

Hors d’oeuvres just don’t get any easier than this. I took some Tostitos Scoops and filled them with my favorite Southwestern Black Bean and White Corn salsa (Sam’s Choice–who knew??), then sprinkled some fresh cilantro on top. Quick, easy, yummy–what’s not to love?


Decor

Speaking of things I love, let's talk about Pier 1. They never cease to amaze me with their great products and even better prices. I refrained from going crazy (easy for me to do) and picked up just a few pieces to complete my festive display. A colorful, striped platter was the perfect backdrop for my tiny snacks and I couldn’t resist these martini-shaped candles. Adorable AND functional. What more can you ask for?

These Gerbera daisies were on sale–three bunches for $10! I picked out the brightest of the bunch–orange and hot pink. Used in a vase or on a platter, they added color and fun to my table.


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Fabulous At-Home Fiesta



I don’t need an excuse to throw a party, but Cinco de Mayo sure is a good one! Not only is it fun, but it’s EASY. Throw together some chips n’ dip, quesadillas and a pitcher of margs (margaritas) and call it real! This year, I’ve got some super-simple ideas that will be sure to impress.

Individual Mexican Layered Dip


I learned this trick while interning at Southern Living during college. My dear friend, Kate Graham, and I had the opportunity to work on a video shoot for Wal-Mart. We spent two days buying groceries and cooking utensils in massive quantities, became best friends with the Wal-Mart employees (and left 10 lbs. of butter in the photo stylist’s van…overnight…in July), and learned fun new recipes and behind-the-scenes secrets. It was a blast. Except for the butter incident…

Anyway, I loved the idea of individual servings of dip in a martini glass. Turns out, SL was way ahead of their time. In the catering world, EVERYTHING is now served in a mini-this or individual-that.

The how-to is simple. Start with a clean martini glass and coat the rim with a lime. Dip the glass in a shallow dish of red pepper or chili powder, just like you would in salt for a margarita. Shake off the excess. Layer your dip ingredients in the following order:

1. Re-fried beans (I mixed mine with some spicy Rotel to give it an extra kick).
2. Guacamole
3. Sour Cream
4. Shredded Cheese (I used the Fiesta blend, but Cheddar works too!)
5. Jalapenos and homemade baked tortilla chips, for garnish

Feel free to mix it up any way you like–you can add shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes, bell peppers, whatever looks good to you! I made homemade tortilla chips in an effort to be somewhat healthy. Take 3-4 tortillas layered on top of one another, cut into 8 triangles (which will give you about 24-32 chips), arrange on a cooking sheet coated with cooking spray, drizzle some olive oil, squeeze some lime, sprinkle salt and pepper, and bake at 350 degrees until nice and crispy (10-12 minutes).

UP NEXT: Italian Margaritas and Mini Salsa Cilantro Bites!