Saturday, October 30, 2010

Halloween Soup Cook-Off

Every year, my office hosts a Halloween Luncheon that includes a Costume Contest, Pumpking Decorating Contest and Soup Cook-Off with homemade grilled cheese sandwiches (cooked by our CFO). Last year (my first Halloween with the company), I was determined to make a good impression. I made my very first soup from scratch, Roasted Butternut Squash, and walked away with a prize for 2nd place! I can't say the same for my pumpkin or costume, but it didn't matter- I was just thrilled that my first homemade soup attempt wasn't a total disaster.

This year, I spent all month thinking that I would miss the festivities because of being out of the office for a wedding. On Tuesday, I realized that the luncheon was on Thursday (not Friday, as it normally is), and I would, in fact, be here. Blast. Two days to come up with a costume, pumpkin and killer soup recipe. Since my Soup Repretoire consisted only of that One-Hit Wonder from last year's event, I scoured my favorite foodie sites for tips and recipe ideas. I settled on Rachael Ray's Sausage, Pepper and Onion Stoup, which sounded delicious and (more importantly), EASY. I tweaked it a bit (added a few ingredients and adjusted the cooking time) and tested a batch on Husband, who gave his approval ("Yes, but is it CONTEST-WINNING good").

Well, I guess you could say I work well under pressure, because this year I received 1st place for both my pumpkin AND soup! I was shocked. I mean, my pumpkin really was the cutest (is that mean?) but there were many outstanding soups.

This recipe is perfect for the chilly Autumn nights ahead (that I hope and pray will come to Alabama soon). Delicious on its own, it would also be great as a chunky "sauce" over pasta.

Italian Sausage and Roasted Pepper Soup
adapted from Rachael Ray


2-3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound bulk Italian sausage
½ pound bulk hot pork sausage
4 cloves fresh garlic, minced (or 2 tsp. minced garlic from jar)
2 Anaheim peppers, seeded and thinly sliced
1 12-oz. jar Roasted Red Peppers, drained well and sliced
2 medium sweet onions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 cups chicken stock
2 15-oz cans diced fire-roasted tomatoes
1 6-oz. jar Tomato Paste
½ cup basil leaves, torn
1 ½ cups shredded Parmesan
Salt and Pepper, to taste
½ tsp red pepper flakes (optional)


1. Heat extra-virgin olive oil in deep skillet.
2. Add sausage and brown about 6-8 minutes, until mostly cooked through.
3. Add garlic, Anaheim peppers, Roasted Red Peppers and onions. Cook until peppers and onions are soft, about 10-12 minutes.
4. Deglaze pan with balsamic vinegar.
5. Stir in chicken stock, diced tomatoes and tomato paste.
6. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer until thickened to your liking (about 15-20 minutes).
7. Add salt and pepper, to taste, and red pepper flakes (if desired).
8. Stir in basil leaves and half of parmesan cheese.
9. Set bowl of remaining parmesan on table for guests to add on top of soup.
10. Enjoy!

Serves 6-8.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Caramelized Onion Dip

Some of you may remember my love affair with Vidalia Onion dip last summer. Well, I have a new obsession. Same basic concept- cheese, onions, and more cheese. But with one tiny change, this dip has changed my life. Dramatic? I think not.

I fully realize that it’s hard to mess up a dip with three (you heard me, THREE) packages of cream cheese, so I suppose I should give Philadelphia most the credit. But I digress…

WARNING: This is not your average “powder in a packet” onion dip. Cooked over low heat for about an hour, the sweet, deeply caramelized onions add a new dimension of flavor to this creamy dip. The Havarti doesn’t hurt, either. My family was still talking about how good it was three days later. Serve with Ritz crackers (or some crusty bread- you know how I like my carbs) for your Game Day fun this weekend. You won’t be disappointed!

Caramelized Onion Dip

1 Tbsp. butter
3 8 oz packages cream cheese, softened
1 8oz package Havarti cheese
2 large onions, thinly sliced
Salt and Sugar, to taste
1/2 cup mayonnaise (I always use Hellman’s)
Ritz Crackers to crumble on top (optional)


Melt the butter over medium heat and add onions. Cook the onions for about 10-15 minutes, until softened, stirring occasionally. Sprinkle some salt and sugar (which helps the caramelization process) and stir. Lower heat and cook onions another 30-45 minutes, until deeply browned and caramelized. The trick is to leave them alone long enough to start browning, but then stir before they burn. Just be sure to keep an eye on them throughout.

Combine the cream cheese, mayonnaise, Havarti and onions, stirring until thoroughly mixed. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Before heating, crumble Ritz crackers over the top. Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees and bake about 25-30 minutes, until bubbly.

You might just want to make a whole batch for yourself. No judgement here. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Birmingham Restaurant Week

The first-EVER Birmingham Restaurant Week is officially here! Well ok, it actually starts tomorrow…but last night, Birmingham foodies were in full-force at the Preview Party at Hotel Highland (benefiting Railroad Park, opening Saturday!) where participating restaurants gave us just a taste of what we have to look forward to. And Birmingham, we are in for a treat.

Folks from Jinsei, making the magic happen - Mini Kadoma Tuna

I just have to say how much it made my YEAR when I saw the announcement on Twitter that Birmingham was launching it’s first Restaurant Week. I’ve been fortunate enough to experience the same event in a few different cities, and had literally JUST been thinking to myself, “With all of our amazing chefs and restaurants here, why don’t we have our own?”

Dream. Come. True.

Not only is this an INCREDIBLE opportunity to experience our fine-dining gems, such as Bottega or Highlands, for an amazing price (that was my pitch to Husband, too), but you also have an excuse to finally check out those casual eateries you’ve been hearing about but never tried. With three-course menus offered at $10.10, $20.10 and $30.10, there is no better way to experience our food scene.

As for me, I am currently mapping my “plan of attack” (i.e. dinner at Little Savannah Wednesday, Highlands Friday, perhaps a few lunch dates scattered in the middle) with blog posts to follow. Good thing I’ve been saving up! Now if only I could keep from gaining 30 pounds…

Be sure to check out the official 2010 Birmingham Restaurant Week website for more details and menus from participating restaurants. NOTE: Perusing menus is likely to induce sever bouts of hunger and/or salivating over your keyboard. You have been warned.

Bon Appetit!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Favorite Game-Day Snacks

In the South, football is part of our culture (there’s a reason the SEC is the best). In Alabama, it defines you (FACT: First question you’ll be asked when you arrive in Birmingham is “Are you for Auburn or Alabama?”). In Auburn (yes, I know I’m outnumbered), it’s your LIFE. At least for the first four months of the school year…

For me, football is yet another way to enjoy great food with great friends. Nothing beats curling up on the couch with some yummy snacks, a cold beer, and a big TV (all the better for yelling, my dear).

Husband and I will be spending Labor Day weekend at the lake with the WHOLE family (bless his heart, he’s the lone Alabama fan), so I’m already planning the delicious food that will accompany our day ‘o football.

Buffalo Chicken Dip
I first made this dip for the SEC Championship game last December. It lasted MAYBE 10 minutes. It’s everything you want in a Game-Day snack - the delicious combination of spicy wings and cool Ranch dressing, without all the mess. There are several great recipes out there, but this version from the blog “Woman, Wine and Song” is my favorite.

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 of your favorite wing sauce (I like local favorite, Moore’s Buffalo Wing Sauce)
2 cups shredded Cheddar
Tortilla Chips and celery for dipping

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 (and a cold beer!).

Black Bean, Corn and Feta Dip
With temps still in the high 90′s (come on Fall weather…), a cold, refreshing dip is also a great choice for the first Game Day of the season (a nice side for your Labor Day picnics, too).

* Adapted from Martha Reiser, AU Alum website

1 can black beans
1 can corn, shoepeg
4 oz feta cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

1. Combine black beans, corn, feta, olive oil, sugar and cider vinegar in a bowl.
2. Toss and serve with tortilla chips or Fritos.
*This dip gets better the longer it sits.

Roast Beef and Havarti Sandwiches
This fabulous recipe from Southern Living is a welcome twist on the tried-and-true Ham and Poppyseed Sandwiches. With the creamy Havarti, sweet peach preserves and crunchy walnuts, these are truly addicting (definitely my most-requested hors d’oeuvres!). Bonus: Perfect “make- ahead” snack. Stick a few batches in the fridge on Game Day and heat as needed.

photo from

*Recipe from Southern Living, December 2008
Yield: Makes 12 to 16 servings


1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts
2 (9.25-oz.) packages dinner rolls (I use Rainbo Dinner Rolls)
2/3 cup peach preserves
1/2 cup mustard-mayonnaise blend (i.e. Hellman’s Dijonnaise)
3/4 pound thinly sliced deli roast beef, chopped
1/2 pound thinly sliced Havarti cheese
Salt and pepper (optional)


1. Preheat oven to 325°.
2. Heat walnuts in a small nonstick skillet over medium-low heat, stirring often, 5 to 6 minutes or until lightly toasted and fragrant.
3. Remove rolls from packages. (Do not separate rolls.) Cut rolls in half horizontally, creating 1 top and 1 bottom per package. Spread preserves on cut sides of top of rolls; sprinkle with walnuts. Spread mustard-mayonnaise blend on cut sides of bottom of rolls; top with roast beef and cheese. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, if desired. Cover with top halves of rolls, preserves sides down, and wrap in aluminum foil.
4. Bake at 325° for 30 minutes or until cheese is melted. Slice into individual sandwiches. Serve immediately.

Now all you need is some icy cold beer and good company, and you are ready for a full day of football-watching.

Friday, August 13, 2010

These Are a Few of my Favorite Things...

It’s hard to believe that summer is almost over (don’t freak out – I said ALmost). As usual, the year is flying by. For me, this was an especially enjoyable summer as it was my first REAL summer in years. After being in the event plannning industry for quite some time, I got used to working every weekend and subesquently, missing out on a lot of fun summer activities – trips to the beach, the lake, Saturday morning brunch, etc. I’ve been at my new job just over a year (ok, so I guess it’s not really “new” anymore), and I tell ya- Monday through Friday ain’t so bad.

But I digress…

I’ve enjoyed the last couple of months so much that I wanted to share some of my FAVORITE things from Summer 2010. I hope you enjoy!

Farmer’s Markets

I experienced my very first Farmer’s Market at Pepper Place in May, and instantly fell in love. I know, so dramatic, right? But it’s true. Even though I had known about Pepper Place for years, it was the first time that my eyes were really opened to the amazing local farmers that we have right here in Alabama, producing some of the finest cheeses, herbs, fruits and veggies that I’ve ever seen/tasted. It’s got a cool vibe, with live music, chef demonstrations and people everywhere (dogs, too!). I loved wandering aimlessly around all of the booths, daydreaming about whatever recipe I would make with my goodies when I got home. I look forward to many more weekends at Pepper Place as the summer months come to a close, and anxiously anticipate the Harvest Market in the fall.

Roasted Tomatoes

Speaking of goodies from the market, I developed a newfound appreciation for my oven when I made a batch of these:

Slow-roasted tomatoes. I’d never roasted anything in my life (at least, not intentionally). Who knew that a hot oven and a couple hours could produce such a heavenly flavor? I’ve roasted many things since then (particularly loved some eggplant that I purchased at the Urban Cookhouse market), but nothing beats that first day, standing in front of the oven, impatiently waiting for the tomatoes to be perfectly caramelized, then standing over the counter and eating them one after another right off the pan, savoring the sweet, intense flavor (and not caring that I burned the roof of my mouth). They also make an easy and fabulous appetizer. Just roast some fresh garlic with the tomatoes and serve with crostini and fresh basil. Simple, but SO delicious.

The B.A.L.T.

Ok, so this is really two of my favorite things- my new favorite sandwich (everything good about summer rolled into one- local tomatoes, buttery avocado, Applewood Bacon and lettuce with mayo and classic white bread) and my new favorite restaurant, Urban Cookhouse (actually, make that three – I crave their fresh Strawberry Lemonade on a daily basis!). The restaurant started off with a bang and has been packed ever since. I love to see Birmingham supporting restaurants that are totally committed to the “farm-to-table” approach of serving food, and I partly credit UC with igniting my own passion to buy and eat local (hence telling Husband that we are never eating at “chain” restaurants again and him looking at me like I’d lost my mind). As their menu says, “Buy Local. Eat Urban.”

Canebrake Gouda

This creamy and delicious cheese from Wright Dairy Farm in Alexandria, AL is the perfect addition to your pre-dinner cheese tray or hors d’oeuvres menu. Better yet - pair it with a glass of wine and enjoy it for lunch, which is what I did (and not ashamed to admit I almost ate the whole block in one sitting. My sister helped).

Watermelon Mojito

This is the quintessential summer cocktail. It’s cool, minty, refreshing, delicious, pretty…need I say more? Oh yeah, it’s on special at Jinsei every Monday night. So you can get two.

I could go on, but I haven’t eaten lunch and I’m afraid that drooling over the keyboard cannot be a good thing. So it’s your turn! What are some of YOUR favorite things from this summer? Share with me!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Summer Desserts

I don’t know about you, but I am pretty great at procrastinating. Not because I work better under pressure (although that’s a nice excuse); it’s just in my nature to wait until the very last minute. Drives my mother CRAZY. Which is funny, because I’m pretty sure I inherited that trait from her…ANYway.

I’m bringing dessert to a cookout tonight and in true “Southern Soiree” fashion, I have only just begun to think about what to bring. Naturally, this leads me to what I like to call a ”Carrie Bradshaw” moment (say it with me) – I couldn’t help but wonder, what are some of the best quick and easy desserts to pull together for summer entertaining?

Enter the Banana Pudding. Some say its boring, I say dependable (which is totally different than boring. Totally). My standard go-to recipe is this low-cal version that my Aunt Dianne introduced me to (it makes me feel so much better about eating the entire bowl by myself), but it’s also fun to experiment by changing just a few ingredients. Use small cubes of pound cake instead of Nilla Wafers. Add some Nutter Butters to create the taste of a PB&B sandwich (a fave from my childhood…and maybe adulthood). For a more grown-up version, add a splash of Banana Liqueur to the pudding, or take it one step further and cook the bananas in Rum and Brown Sugar, “Bananas Foster” style. See? Not so boring anymore. And if you have a few extra minutes on hand, take the presentation up a notch by serving the dessert in individual glasses. I love the look of these parfait glasses featured in Southern Living. I like to serve mine in stemless Cosmo glasses (easier to eat out of).

*Photo from

This dessert doesn’t necessarily scream “summer”, but we serve Chocolate Eclair Cake at the lake a lot and it ALWAYS disappears quickly. It’s easy, light and great for a crowd. I like the recipe on the Kraft Foods website; although, sometimes I cheat and use canned chocolate frosting. Ssshhhhh……

*Photo from

Of course, you CAN’T have a summer dessert in the South without using our delicious Chilton County peaches. When you’ve already got the grill fired up, why not use it for dessert, too? This recipe from Epicurious is a favorite of mine – Grilled Peaches with Fresh Raspberry Sauce. You can make the Raspberry Sauce ahead (provided you are not a procrastinator extraordinaire, like yours truly), and the rest only takes a few minutes. Serve it over ice cream or pound cake for a simple, but impressive dessert.

*Photo from

Pick up some fresh peaches at the farmer’s market this weekend (Pepper Place, East Lake or Urban Cookhouse/Homewood are my personal faves) and try it out!

And just in case you are wondering, I’m going with the Grilled Peaches tonight.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Greek Panzanella

We were all over the map during Memorial Day weekend (more on that later), so I'm a little late sharing my latest dish. Better late than never, right? I figure there is still plenty of time to try it out for upcoming 4th of July gatherings.

I've made Giada's traditional Panzanella (aka "bread salad") before, but Ina Garten recently featured a Greek version on her show -- all it took was for her to say “feta” and “bread” and I was hooked.

My favorite part of the weekend was when my Aunt Judi tried the salad and exclaimed, “Oh, delicious! And what are these little black things?”. I peered over her shoulder…”Ah”, I replied. “That would be burnt bread.” I started off with the oil a little too high when I was toasting the bread so some of the cubes got a little crispy. Whoops. Nonetheless, the salad got rave reviews (whew!).


Greek Panzanella
Ina Garten, Barefoot Contessa


•Good olive oil
•1 small French bread or boule, cut into 1-inch cubes (6 cups)
•Kosher salt
•1 hothouse cucumber, unpeeled, seeded, and sliced 1/4-inch thick
•1 red bell pepper, large diced
•1 yellow bell pepper, large diced
•1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
•1/2 red onion, sliced in half rounds
•1/2 pound feta cheese, cut in 1/2-inch cubes
•1/2 cup calamata olives, pitted (these can be optional, depending on your tastes)

For the vinaigrette:
•2 cloves garlic, minced
•1 teaspoon dried oregano
•1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
•1/4 cup good red wine vinegar
•1 teaspoon salt
•1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
•1/2 cup good olive oil


Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large saute pan. Add the bread cubes and sprinkle with salt; cook over low to medium heat, tossing frequently, for 5 to 10 minutes, until nicely browned. Add more olive oil as needed.
Place the cucumber, red pepper, yellow pepper, tomatoes and red onion in a large bowl.

For the vinaigrette, whisk together the garlic, oregano, mustard, vinegar, 1 teaspoon salt and the pepper in a small bowl. While still whisking, add the olive oil and make an emulsion. Pour the vinaigrette over the vegetables. Add the feta, olives and bread cubes and mix together lightly. Set aside for 30 minutes for the flavors to blend. Serve at room temperature.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Slow-Roasted Tomatoes

Baby, I’m a believer (cue the Monkees). Check these out.

Gorgeous, greenhouse tomatoes. I mean, look at the color. Now, I know tomatoes are very much a “love it or hate it” fruit. As in, I love it but I know lots of people that hate it. I get it. I’ve had one or two run-ins with a questionable cherry tomato, but there are just SO MANY reasons why I love tomatoes (like this one. And this one). But as of today, I have a new love. Slow-roasted tomatoes. I don’t know what it is about roasting that brings out the best flavors in food, but it might just be my new favorite cooking method.

I didn’t exactly cut these tomatoes in all the same size (or shape, for that matter), but I don’t suppose it mattered. I lined a baking sheet with parchment paper, lined up the tomatoes, drizzled them with some EVOO, followed with a generous sprinkling of sea salt, freshly ground black pepper and a finished with a pinch of sugar. Into the oven at 275 degrees and time for waiting. And waiting. And more waiting. And peeking through the oven door the check progress. And resisting opening the door for fear of releasing the contained heat that is so clearly working its magic. And salivating.

Finally, when I just couldn't stand it any more, I took the tomatoes out and barely waited for them to cool before popping one in my mouth. scorched mouth was SO worth it.

The flavor is so amazing, I don't even know how to describe it. I'm talking sweet, juicy, melt-in-your mouth amazing (I mean, I guess that counts as a description). Disclaimer: Ignore the random pita bread and cilantro on the plate; I had more plate than tomatoes and those were the only two things in my fridge that looked remotely decent enough to photograph.

Batch 2

I was so excited about the outcome of my first batch, that I decided to roast the remainder of my tomatoes for dinner. On the menu, Slow-Roasted Tomatoes with Fresh Basil and Parmesan over Bow-Tie Pasta for Husband and Tomato Omelette for moi (watching my girlish figure...doesn't sound nearly as appetizing, does it.

I basically used the same method as before (tomatoes, sea salt, pepper, sugar, EVOO, hot oven, let it do its thing). When I thought they were about ready (just over 2 hours), I did a little taste-test. And then another one. And another one. And before I knew it, I had eaten half of the tomatoes meant for Husband's dinner. Whoops.

I am really looking forward to more trips back to the farmer's market as we get into summer and tomatoes really come into season (visions of brandywine dance in my head). Until then...

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Pepper Place Farmer's Market

I’m off to Pepper Place this morning, the official opening day of the Summer Farmer's Market. I’ve only been once and it was 5 years ago, so I’m really pumped. As a result of my latest “you don’t need culinary school you just need to read and practice more” conversation with Husband, I’ve been pouring over Mark Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything” and Tom Colicchio’s “Think Like a Chef” (Larousse Gastronomique is next on the list—but you could call it a tad intimidating). If there’s one thing that stuck out in both of these books, it’s the importance of seasonal, fresh, farm stand ingredients. For a girl who has never ventured outside the normal frocery store for produce and dairy, this is a big deal. I anticipate a lot of yummy looking veggies, baby strollers and large dogs (farmer's markets are a family affair, after all). Wish me luck!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Happy Cinco de Mayo!

I love Cinco de Mayo for two reasons: guacamole and margaritas (responsibly, of course). Plus, it's a great excuse to throw a party! I've got a couple last-minute ideas here, with recipes and more pics to come after tonight's fiesta. Enjoy!

I'm no florist, BUT I am good with produce. :) This assortment of bell, serano, jalapeno and habanero peppers piled high in a hurricane glass vase is an easy and efficient centerpiece -- and just look at those gorgeous colors! The best part? When the party’s over, just pop them back in your veggie drawer for future use.

My FAVORITE guacamole in the whole entire world comes from Rosa Mexicano. It's prepared table side in a molcajete, with your choice of mild, medium or hot spices (I always go with hot). It makes me happy. Lucky for me, Rosa Mexicano is kind enough to share the recipe on their website. I URGE you to try it (back away from the green mush at the grocery store)...seriously...I mean it.

These yummy Mexican Sushi bites were another one of Husband's ideas...I'm thinking maybe he should just write this blog...but anyway. These were a lot more time-consuming than I thought and I was running out of daylight, so I only have a few pics to post (and no actual recipes - yet). The fun thing about this unique appetizer is that the possibilities are endless. Fill them with anything from avocado and peppers to Spanish rice with rotisserie chicken...delish!

Last but not least, we're trying out Williams-Sonoma's Berry Margarita mix tonight (I love their mixes-- they are always yummy and easy!) in the BIGGEST MARGARITA GLASS YOU'VE EVER SEEN. Can't wait to post's actually NOT a margarita glass. It's a big bowl that is meant to float candles in, but I always thought that it looked like margs should be served from it. So that's what we're doing.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Twitter Feed

Hey guys! Check out my Twitter feed on the right-hand side of the's part of my entertaining blog that I write for Birmingham Magazine, called Southern Soiree. I'll be tweeting both cooking and entertaining tidbits, so be sure to check it out!

Friday, April 30, 2010

Metro Cooking and Entertaining Show 2010

It's that time of year again...celeb chefs beware, Haute Home Cooking is back in celebri-stalking style! This weekend, I am headed to the Metro Cooking and Entertaining Show in Atlanta . Well, I'm actually only going to the show on Sunday, but it's going to be quite a day -- Bobby Flay AND Mario Batali. I can hardly wait! Also, Martie Duncan of Martie Knows Parties will be there again with her amazing summer party ideas! If you are in the area, come check it out! I wonder how I'll manage to embarrass myself this year...

Monday, April 26, 2010

Perfect Punch

This might be the most addicting punch recipe I have EVER tasted…certainly the most delicious! I first tried it a few years ago during my wedding-planning days. One of our brides gave the chef this recipe and requested it for her reception. I have no idea where it originated from, but it quickly became our favorite beverage for parties. I’ve served it twice this month for baby showers and have gotten so many requests for the recipe, I thought I would share it will all of you!

Slush Punch

4 cups Cran-apple juice
4 cups Pineapple juice
1 ¾ cups sugar
2 Tbsp. almond extract
½ of 2 Liter bottle Ginger Ale

Mix the first 4 ingredients together and pour into gallon Ziploc bags to freeze overnight. Pour slush mixture into punch bowl, and pour ginger ale over. Stir and serve. Garnish with strawberries, raspberries or limes.

Just look at that gorgeous color! Perfect for a girly baby shower or spring fling. For a more “adult” version, add a splash of Amaretto or Vodka and you’ve got the perfect spring cocktail!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

I remember the first time that I ever tried Corned Beef Hash. I was actually in Chicago for work (oh, how I miss that city) and it happened to be St. Patrick's Day. I have to admit, even though I am Irish, I never really got into celebrating the holiday. Probably because until just recently, I could not stand the taste of beer or whiskey (well, STILL can't stand whiskey) and it seemed like that was a necessary ingredient to get into the proper spirit. Anyway...

In Chicago, they celebrate St. Patrick's Day like it's Christmas. They dye the river green, have parades, tons of parties-- it's a whole big "to-do". My former boss took a co-worker and myself to lunch at Smith and Wollenksy's on North State Street, which basically sits right on the Chicago river. We had an amazing view of the city and festivities (not to mention the BRIGHT green water), and it was the perfect time for me to try the traditional Irish dish-- Corned Beef Hash. Oh my. WHAT have I been missing? I mean, I know that the Irish aren't exactly known for their (how do I put this politely)...culinary delicacies, but this was delish--comfort food at its best.

I'm sad to say that I've never had it since, but I thought this year would be the perfect time to put my own spin on the traditional dish-- in other words, I did what I do best and made it an appetizer. Pair it with some green beer (ick) and you are ready to celebrate the luck o' the Irish!

Corned Beef Hash Bites

2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 cup diced onion
1/2 lb. cooked corn beef, chopped
1 1/2 lbs. baby new potatoes
4 oz. cream cheese
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup shredded Irish reserved cheddar (such as Kerrygold)
Salt and pepper, to taste
Parsley, to garnish

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Pierce potatoes and lay on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper; toss to coat.
3. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until tender.
4. While potatoes are baking, melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat.
5. Saute onions until they begin to become tender and translucent, but not brown (about 5-7 minutes).
6. Add chopped corn beef to saucepan; mix together with onions and then flatten into a thin layer in the saucepan. Let the mixture for about 5 minutes, until the onions and beef start to brown.
7. Flip mixture on the other side and let sit for an additional 5-7 minutes, or until the beef is crispy. Remove from heat.
8. Remove potatoes from the oven and let cool, until they are easy to handle.
9. Cut potatoes in half lengthwise; carefully remove the pulp from each half, leaving a thin shell in tact.
10. Sprinkle the potato shells with salt and put back in the oven for about 10 minutes, to let the shells get crisp.
11. In a small mixing bowl, blend the potato pulp with the cream cheese and sour cream. Add the beef and onion mixture, blending well.
12. Take potatoes shells out of the oven and fill each with about 1 Tbsp. of the potato, beef and onion mixture.
13. Top with shredded cheddar and broil for 5-7 minutes, until heated through and cheese is melted.
14. Top with parsley for garnish.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Spicy Ricotta Bruschetta

I'll admit, I had high hopes for this one. As part of my repertoire for new cheese-y recipes (all of which are being submitted for a contest through Taste of Home), I tried to replicate the ridiculously flavorful bruschetta that I fawned over from La Tavola. Yeah...didn't exactly turn out how I thought. For one, I've decided that I need a new bruschetta recipe. The one I use most frequently is a part of the Hot Bruschetta Brie appetizer that I posted not long ago. Somehow, you don't notice the lack of flavor from the bruschetta when its mixed in with the rich and creamy brie. By itself? Ehh (shrugs shoulders). I've eaten a LOT of bruschetta in my day and I can now firmly say that this one just won't cut it. But i digress.

The hors d'oeuvres I attempted to replicate went like this-- one slice of crusty bread, covered with a thick layer of spicy ricotta cheese, topped with tomato bruschetta. Delish, right? Not too complicated, right? WRONG. Well ok, it's not complicated. But I clearly missed the boat on SO many levels. For one, the spicy ricotta. My first thought was to mix it with roasted red peppers to give it a spicy kick, so I found this handy roasted pepper bruschetta-in-a-jar from Whole Foods. Bingo! Except that it had no flavor. It was also mixed with artichokes. I was very disappointed. If I thought the bruschetta topping would save it, I was dead wrong. I don't think I've ever attempted something with so much promise to turn out to be so BLAH. Food should never be BLAH. Kinda looks pretty though, right?

Anyway, I guess the good news is that we never get better if we don't fail. This has made me reflect on what I LOVE about bruschetta- the slightly, sweet flavor from perfect tomatoes or balsamic vinegar-- maybe even sweet onions, fresh basil and garlic...the perfect combination is out there somewhere. So, I'll add this to my "ugh" list of experiments and keep trying!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Beef and Bleu Biscuit Cups

Well I hate to say it, but Husband was right. These were a gooooooood idea.

I love to bounce ideas off Husband as I develop recipes (particularly for this contest). Even though we have different culinary tastes, he is brutally honest and has great instincts when it comes to my recipes. Which I kinda hate because if I win the contest, I owe him 30%. Anyway, I'll give credit where credit is due. The bleu cheese and biscuit was Husband's idea, and the beef and shallots were mine. Put it together and you have a super-easy and super-delicious appetizer that is sure to satisfy your next cheese craving.

Beef and Bleu Biscuit Cups


2 7.5 oz cans of biscuits
8 oz roast beef, chopped
4 oz gorgonzola cheese crumbles
2 Tbsp horseradish sauce
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
1 Tbsp olive oil


Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees
1. Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in small sauté pan over medium heat. Saute shallots, stirring occasionally, until onions start to turn golden and crispy, but not completely brown (about 10 minutes).
2. While shallots are sautéing, cut each biscuit into half and press dough into a greased muffin pan, making sure to press biscuits up around the sides in each cup.
3. Spread ¼ tsp of horseradish sauce into bottom of each cup.
4. Put 1 Tbsp of chopped roast beef into each cup.
5. Top each cup with 1 tsp of gorgonzola and ½ tsp shallots.
6. Bake at 375 degrees until bubbly and biscuits are golden brown, about 10-12 minutes.

Yields 40 biscuit cups.

Monday, January 25, 2010

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

I love it when two of my favorite appetizers combine to make one KILLER appetizer--in this case, Hot Bruschetta Brie. I stumbled upon this recipe a few years ago whilst perusing, and instantly fell in love. I mean, what's NOT to love, right? Traditional bruschetta mixed with my favorite cheese of all time--brie. Actually, it used to be my favorite cheese of all time (I was basically reared with a wooden spoon and a wheel of brie), until I had an "incident" with a very questionable slice of brie and some fig preserves. I went on a year-long hiatus from my beloved cheese and have since recovered, albeit with a slight shudder at the memory. But that's neither here nor there...

This appetizer is simple, stunning, savory and...what's another "s" adjective?? Scrumptious? Sure. It's especially beautiful during the holidays, with the bright reds and greens from the tomatoes and basil. Serve with assorted artisanal breads--my personal fave is the Roasted Garlic loaf. I mean, you can never have too much garlic, right? Not while this Twilight craze is still going strong...

ANYway, here is the recipe. And I was just kidding about the wooden spoon...also (in case any of you are wondering), I am Team Edward.

Hot Bruschetta Brie
adapted from

2 roma (plum) tomatoes, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh basil
1/4 cup olive oil
1 (8 ounce) wheel Brie cheese

1. In a small bowl, mix roma (plum) tomatoes, onion, garlic, basil and olive oil. Cover and chill in the refrigerator at least 1 hour.

2. Remove top layer of rind from brie. Place brie in a small microwave safe serving dish. Microwave on high 1 minute, or until the cheese begins to soften. Spoon roma tomato mixture over the cheese. Microwave on high 1 minute, or until slightly melted. Serve immediately with artisanal breads.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Roasted Red Pepper and Feta Dip

In keeping with my feta obsession, I experimented with a new recipe this weekend while hanging out with my sister and brother-in-law. It's similar to my mom's yummy Artichoke Dip, but with feta instead of parmesan, and peppers instead of artichokes. Ok, so maybe they're not that similar. But they are both delicious. I love the combination of the tangy feta with the fiery peppers, and the Panko breadcrumb topping added a nice crunch to the creamy dip. It's kind of like a really gourmet pimiento cheese--either way, it's a keeper!


1 shallot, diced
1 12 oz. jar roasted red peppers, drained and chopped
1 8 oz. package cream cheese, softened
8 oz. feta, crumbled
1/2 cup mayonnaise
4 tbsp. butter
3/4 cup Panko breadcrumbs
Sliced baguette or pita chips


Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. In a small saute pan over medium heat, melt 1 Tbsp. of butter and saute shallot until softened (8-10 minutes). Combine next four ingredients in a glass bowl; add shallots and blend well. *Note- Make sure the peppers are VERY well drained, so they do not add too much water to the dip. Pour mixture into 8×8 casserole dish and top with Panko breadcrumbs. Melt remaining 3 Tbsp. of butter and drizzle over dip. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until hot and bubbly. Broil for an additional 3-5 minutes, until the topping is crispy and golden brown.

Serve with a fresh, sliced baguette or pita chips.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


So Day 2 of our weekend (or rather, 24 hours) in Atlanta started off pretty much perfectly--with Mimosas. I know you saw that coming...

Rosebud is another adorable eatery in Virginia Highlands. It's chic, yet comfortable--perfect for a girly brunch, but equally inviting for solo dining. I can imagine myself sitting at the bar on a Sunday mornig, chatting with the staff as I read the paper and try to decide what in the world to order. It's times like this I wish that I were a food critic so I could order everything on the menu and not feel weird or guilty, because you know, it'd be my job. That's about what we did. Not because it's our job but because we love food and we do what we want...good-bye diet, hello Big Nasty (more on that later).

We began our descent into gluttony with one of Rosebud's "Morning Starters"-- Hashbrown Casserole with Fresh Crab, Jalapeno, Caramelized Onions and Aged Cheddar. Out of this world. Everything tasted so fresh-- I thought at first that so many strong flavors (the crab, peppers, onions) would be overwhelming, but they blended perfectly. As you can see, I liked it.

Next up was the Wild Georgia Shrimp and Grits with Andouille Sausage, Caramelized Onions and Tomato Gravy. Our sweet waiter took the time to divide the dish into individual bowls for each of us--very thoughtful. The grits were the creamiest I have ever tasted--almost like a risotto. Normally, I don't care for tomato-based sauces in my shrimp and grits, but I was more than pleasantly suprised. In fact, I'm pretty sure we licked our bowls clean.

Our entrees were the Omelette Special (Braised Beef and some kind of cheese that was similar to Camembert--HEAVEN), the Big Greek Omelette, Brioche French Toast with Mascarpone and Rosemary-Orange Honey and everyone's favorite-- The Big Nasty. And by nasty they mean delicious. It's a beast of a sandwich with lightly breaded and fried chicken, topped with a scrambled egg, smoked bacon and cheddar.

I'm pretty sure I gained 10 more lbs. just writing about it, but I'd say it was worth it...can't wait to try and re-create some of these delightful dishes at home!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Girls Just Want to Have Fun…and Food…and Wine…

I love girls weekends…mostly because my girls love the same things I do…good food, great wine and even better company. This past weekend, we went to visit our dear friend Hope, who recently left us for the big ATL. We miss her terribly, but the upside is that we have the perfect excuse to make frequent trips to see her and I can check out all the fun places that I didn’t get a chance to try/wasn’t allowed to drive to when I lived there.

We started out at
La Tavola in Virginia Highlands, where Hope is a hostess on nights and weekends. Sidenote--in all the 8 years I lived in Atlanta, I never went to Virginia Highlands. Boy, did I miss out. The area is full of amazing eateries, trendy boutiques and eclectic crowds. If only we’d had a few more days…but I digress.

La Tavola is everything I imagine an authentic trattoria to be…simple and intimate with a wine list to die for. Oh, and the food is pretty stellar too. We started our meal with some delightful Prosecco Rose and three appetizers-- Mozzarella Burrata with tomato conserva and crostini, Escarole and Sausage with Parmigiana-Reggiano fonduta and Bruschetta with cherry tomatoes, oregano, garlic and spicy ricotta. I love a good bruschetta, and this version was no exception. The cherry tomatoes were halved, instead of chopped or diced, which soaked up the flavor from the garlic and oregano beautifully. The spicy ricotta was smooth with a nice kick, and a welcome change from the traditional shredded parmesan or mozzarella that I’ve had in other bruschettas. The Escarole and Sausage was delicious, but the Burrata…oh the burrata. I had never heard of burrata until reading one of favorite blogs, Orangette. It’s essentially a ball of mozzarella, stuffed with more mozzarella that has been mixed with heavy cream. Cheese stuffed with cheese?? Yes, please! To quote the wonderful Molly Wizenberg of Orangette, “I am deeply in love with it”. I’ve heard that it doesn’t need more than a drizzle of olive oil and sea salt, but I honestly can’t imagine anything better than the delicious tomato conserve (sort of like a sweet tomato jam) that La Tavola paired with it-- it was the perfect complement to the smooth, creamy and slightly tangy flavor of the cheese. If I go missing one day, I'm huddled in the kitchen at La Tavola and eating my weight in burrata...

And moving on. There were several entrees that looked amazing, so we each decided to get something different and share (we’re sweet like that). The winners-- Smoked Risotto with Butternut Squash (one of my faves) and Boar sausage, Pork Porterhouse with Buckwheat Polenta, Saltimbocca alla Romana (veal scallopini) with prosciutto, sage, roasted fingerling potatoes and braised brussel sprouts, and Braised Beef Ravioli in a red wine reduction with marrow butter and fresh thyme. I'm drooling over my keyboard as I type...

The risotto was perfectly creamy, sweet from the butternut, and smoky from the boar sausage--incredible combination. I’m not sure how to describe the pork and polenta, other than really tasty. The veal was also delicious, and I can happily say that someone else besides Tyler Florence can make me love brussel sprouts. But my MOST favorite was the Braised Beef Ravioli. The ravioli was fresh and tender, and the marrow butter added an incredibly rich, velvety flavor. It is quite possibly the most sumptuous (ha! I’ve always wanted to use that word) dish I have ever enjoyed.
We were so in love with the restaurant that they basically had to kick us out so they could clean and go home. We headed back to Hope’s house to finish the evening with La Tavola’s dessert sampler and more wine (FYI, the Chocolate Nemesis cake is as serious as its name). We tore into that sampler like we hadn't eaten in DAYS (it was maybe 15 minutes).

Well five paragraphs and who knows how many words later, I guess what I meant to say was, I think I know where we're going for my birthday dinner. See you in April, La Tavola!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Turkey Meatloaf with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Feta

I'm in the middle of what I like to call a "love affair with feta". It's all I want to eat, cook with, read about, etc. So when I was trying to figure out what to make Husband and some friends for dinner, this jumped out at me-- Giada's Turkey Meatloaf with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and FETA (yippee!). Done and done.

Now for all you meatloaf-haters out there (you know who you are, *cough* Heather), let me say this--this is NOT your momma's ketchup covered hunk 'o mystery meat. This is the good stuff. Gourmet meatloaf, if you will (who knew there was such a thing?). It's suprisingly moist (I say "surprising" because turkey is so much leaner and therefore, more likely to get dry) and full of flavor. I honestly felt like I could taste the Mediterranean...the tangy feta and sun-dried tomatoes came together beautifully. Not the most photogenic meal, but really, sometimes food tastes better than it looks. Not always...but sometimes.

Turkey Meatload with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Feta
adapted from Giada de Laurentiis


Vegetable cooking spray
1/2 cup plain bread crumbs
1/3 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup chopped garlic and herb-marinated sun-dried tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, minced, optional
2 eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons whole milk (I used Skim because that's what I had and it worked fine!)
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound ground turkey


Place an oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Spray a 9 by 5-inch loaf pan with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, stir together the bread crumbs, parsley, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, if using, eggs, milk, feta, salt, and pepper. Add the turkey and gently stir to combine, being careful not to overwork the meat.

Carefully pack the meat mixture into the prepared pan and bake until the internal temperature registers 165 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer, about 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and let rest for 5 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and slice. Put on a serving platter and serve.

*Pairs well with smashed baby new potatoes.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Robusto, Robusto, wherefore art thou, Robusto?

I had a really awesome rhyme that ended in "baguette" (get it--because "baguette" rhymes with "Capulet"--I'll wait while you give a courtesy laugh). I kill myself, sometimes...

But seriously, where has Robusto been all my life? I'll tell you where. Whole Foods. In the cheese section. With my name all over it.

I happened upon Robusto during one of my lunch breaks (Heather and I love to go to Whole Foods at lunch because they always have yummy samples so we can fill up and its free--sshh, don't tell on us). Anyway, there were several different cheese to sample that day but I can't remember anything past reaching the little plastic tongs in the clear dome because I think I might have swooned. It is the most amazingly delicious cheese I had ever tasted. It's described as a cross between Gouda and Parmesan, but who really cares because either way, Robusto cheese will change your life. Try it on a fresh baguette with some olive oil and a little sea salt, or add it to your favorite panini-- but I'd recommend sitting down the first time you try it so when you faint from sheer tastebud-ecstasy, you won't hurt yourself. Personally, I am looking to make the word's best homemade mac 'n cheese with this sucker...let the swooning begin.