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
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'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.


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 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

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?


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.