Monday, December 31, 2012

Champagne Cocktail

It's just about time to bid farewell to 2012 - this calls for some bubbly! In my opinion, if you aren't sending 2012 off with a Champagne toast, you just aren't doing it right.

I tasted my first Champagne Cocktail at a restaurant called the Public House in Chattanooga.  This cocktail, which Victor Laszlo and Captain Renault both ordered in the 1942 film Casablanca, has an elegant, vintage feel that doesn't distract too much from the true Champagne flavor.  These days, you can find such a wide variety of champagne cocktails, from the French 75 to flavored bellinis, but the Champagne Cocktail is the original.

To make the classic Champagne Cocktail, place 1 brown sugar cube in a champagne flute.  Add 2 dashes of Angostura bitters and top with champagne (some recipes call for a 1/2 ounce of brandy and a lemon peel garnish, choose your favorite). Enjoy!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Banana Bread

I've been making a lot of banana bread as of late, largely because I keep buying bananas in bulk and I can't eat them fast enough!  Overripe bananas make the best banana bread - they're easy to mash, super soft and make a moist bread.

I eat my banana bread with cream cheese and it is just so good, you have to try it. That's how my mom made it when I was little and when I asked her about it, she said she learned that from the Neiman Marcus Tea Room, where they serve banana bread bites with cream cheese and strawberries- how lovely!

* 1 1/4 c. flour
* 1 c. sugar
* 1/2 tsp. salt
* 1 tsp. baking soda
* 1/2 c. butter
* 3 very ripe bananas, mashed
* 2 eggs, beaten

Preheat oven to 350.  Grease a 9X5 loaf pan, set aside.  Sift together all dry ingredients.  Cut butter into cubes and work it into the dry ingredients using your hands or a pasty cutter, until it is crumbly and the size of small peas.  Add the mashed bananas and eggs to dry ingredients and stir well to combine, being careful not to over mix (it will be slightly lumpy).  Bake for 45 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the highest peak comes out clean (test in a few places, keep in mind that the bananas will stay soft so sometimes the skewer will not be totally clean).  Serve warm with cream cheese.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Bacon Cheddar Quiche

Since this will be the last year that we will be spending Christmas apart, Mike and I decided to celebrate what we call "little Christmas" a bit early this year.  We spent the whole day in our pajamas (well, a festive onesie for me), feasted on quiche and banana bread for breakfast, lasagna for dinner, more banana bread for dessert, and opened presents by the tree.  Honestly, I could not imagine a more perfect day!

I knew I wanted to make some special meals for our mini celebration, but I also knew I didn't want to spend the whole day in the kitchen or doing a lot of dishes.  Enter- quiche!  Quiche is so versatile, you can really add any ingredients or flavors that suit you.  It's also great for holidays or company because it can be made up to 3 days in advance and reheated in the oven when needed.

I use rice to weigh down the pie shell

* 1 small yellow onion, chopped
* 5-6 pieces of thick cut bacon, cooked & crumbled
* 1 c. extra sharp cheddar cheese, grated
* 3/4 c. heavy cream
* 6 eggs
* 1 tbsp. butter
* 1 prepared pie crust

Preheat the oven to 375.  Arrange the pie shell in a 12 inch pan(I really wanted mine to be pretty with perfectly crimped edges- but you can see, pie dough is not my forte!). Place a sheet of parchment paper over the dough and weight down with rice, beans or pie weights (this is called blind baking - it's a way to pre-bake the crust so it stays crisp; if you use beans or rice, just save them to reuse for this purpose, not to eat), and bake for 20 minutes, or until the edges are lightly browned. Meanwhile, heat a sauté pan to medium heat and melt putter.  Add onions to pan and cook until lightly browned (7-8 minutes).  In a bowl, add the eggs, grated cheese, heavy cream, cooked bacon, and onions. Stir well to combine.  Transfer the egg mixture to the pie shell and bake for 40-45 minutes, until the center of the quiche is just set.  If you are making the quiche ahead of time, let it cool, then refrigerate for up to 3 days.  Reheat in the oven at 325 for 20 minutes.  Enjoy!

Merry Christmas from my festive Reindeer! 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Fire Roasted Tomato Salsa

I love a festive baked good as much as the next person, but sometimes it's nice to give a little something savory along with all the holiday sweets. This salsa is tasty for any occasion, but this year I thought I'd include it in some gift bags because it's so easy to make, makes a pretty large batch (about 6 jars, I believe they each hold a cup), and it's great to set out with appetizers.  I'm giving salsa this year as gifts along with a bag of red and green tortillas (Trader Joe's!) and a store bought jar of queso.  Some margarita mix might make a nice accompaniment as well!  'Tis the season after all..

* 1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes with mild green chilies
* 2 (14.5 oz) cans diced fire roasted tomatoes
* 1/3 c. green onion, finely chopped
* 1/3 c. white onion, finely chopped
* 1 jalapeno, finely chopped (I removed half the seeds and membrane, if you prefer spicier salsa, include the seeds)
* 1/3 c. cilantro
* 1 lime
* 1 tsp. sugar
* 1 tsp. kosher salt

Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl.  Use an immersion blender to blend the ingredients until desired consistency is reached.  If you do not have an immersion blender, use a blender or food processor to blend the salsa.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Peppermint Bark

I just adore giving homemade holiday gifts, especially ones that I know will be appreciated.  I've never met a person who didn't love Peppermint Bark, and it's SO easy to make homemade. 

Make a big batch now and keep gift bags of it in the fridge in case any unexpected friends or neighbors pop in with a gift.  I'm loving these treat bags I found at Target - 3 for a dollar, you can't beat that!

* 1 (12 oz) bag white chocolate morsels
* 1 (12 oz) bag dark chocolate morsels
* 1 tsp. peppermint extract
* 6 candy canes, crushed

Melt white chocolate over a double boiler (if you're not familiar with a double boiler, place the chocolate in a heat proof bowl- some glass is heat proof, but I use a stainless steel bowl just in case- and set it over a pot of boiling water; you only need an inch or two of water as you don't want it to touch the bottom of the bowl). When chocolate is melted and smooth, remove from heat and stir in crushed candy canes and peppermint extract.  Smooth white chocolate out on a baking sheet lined with wax paper and refrigerate until firm (30-40 minutes).  Once the white chocolate is firm, melt the dark chocolate using the double boiler, pour onto the firm white chocolate mixture and return to refrigerator until firm.  Break into bite size pieces and serve.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Edible Gifts: Olive Oil & Balsamic Vinegar

I'm always looking for creative gifts for those people on my list that are hard to shop for.  You know the type...The neighbors, your boss, your in-laws, the person who has everything.  A good Olive Oil and Balsamic are great gifts because they last well past the holiday season, but can also come in handy for the host who will be entertaining a lot throughout the holidays.  Some people may think that all olive oil is created equal.  I say those people haven't been to Taste the Olive!  

I ventured to Taste the Olive recently to pick up a bottle of Greek olive oil.  Little did I know that Greek olive oil is not in season until February or March!    I set out to tasting their variety of oils to pick one that suited me and I settled on a Chilean Frantoio.  As I picked a few to taste, I really didn't anticipate being able to differentiate, but you'd be surprised how unique the various oils are based on their region.  The Chilean oil had a smooth, buttery flavor we all know and love in an olive oil, but it also had a peppery after taste.   The quality olive oils are best eaten raw as opposed to using them in cooking. I like to serve mine with parmesan and balsamic (I picked up this parmesan herb blend to try while I was there) and a crusty bread, drizzled over a sharp cheese, or  of course with a big bowl of pasta, and whoever is lucky enough to get this as a gift will too!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Rum Cake

Rum cakes are the perfect holiday treat- rich and buttery with a crunchy sugar crust.  They keep well for a few days and make a great dessert, snack, or even breakfast! The first time I made this cake, one of my good friends, Katie, had just returned from a trip to Trinidad and brought me a HUGE bottle of dark Trinidadian rum. Since i'm not much of a rum drinker, I decided to make a cake with it.  I brought her my first rum cake as a thank you, and ever since this recipe has been in high demand!

I found the recipe in a book my mom gave me, "Someone's in the Kitchen with Melanie," by local Greensboro cookbook author Melanie Soles.  It starts with a boxed cake mix and the best part is everything goes into the same bowl.  You can whip up the batter in no time, so it's quick in a pinch!

* 1 package Duncan Hines Deluxe Golden Yellow cake mix
* 1 regular size instant vanilla pudding mix
* 1/2 c. water
* 1/2 c. dark rum
* 1/2 c. vegetable oil
* 4 eggs

* 1 1/2 c. sugar, divided
* 1 stick butter
* 1/4 c. dark rum (**The recipe says light rum for the glaze, but I use dark rum)
* 1/4 c. water

Preheat oven to 350.  Grease and flower a Bundt pan.  Comine all ingredients for batter and mix until smooth.  Pour into the Bundt pan and bake for 45 minutes, or until cooked through (insert a wooden skewer into the cake; when it comes out clean the cake is done).  Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack for ten minutes or so.  Meanwhile, prepare the glaze by bringing 1 c. sugar, butter, rum, and water to a boil.  Whisk the glaze continuously for 2-3 minutes (don't walk away!).  Remove the heat, set aside.  Line a baking sheet with tin foil and a wire rack, and flip the cake on top of the rack (I do this so that the any glaze drips fall on the tin foil).  Stir in the additional sugar to the warm glaze.  Spoon the glaze over the cake and sprinkle with additional sugar if desired.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon

Somehow, I managed to escape the all too common childhood trauma of being forced to eat my brussels sprouts.  I'll have to check with my mom on that one, but I have a sneaking suspicion she doesn't like them herself!  Hmm..

I recently had brussels sprouts for what may have been the first time in my life and, as it turns out, they're delicious!  This recipe was my first attempt at making them at home and it was so simple, I think I'll make it a more common staple.  The brussels sprouts were delicious simply roasted with olive oil, but the bacon adds that extra something special.  I served them with mustard roasted salmon and skipped the starch - and I didn't even miss it!

* 1 lb. brussels sprouts
* 1/4 c. olive oil
* 3 strips bacon, chopped
* Salt & Pepper

Preheat oven to 375.  Rinse the brussels sprouts, remove any loose leaves (these tend to burn in the oven), and cut into halves or quarters, depending on your preference.  Arrange the brussel sprouts on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper.  Transfer to the oven and roast for 25-30 minutes until they're nicely browned, stirring once.  Meanwhile, heat a skillet over medium high heat.  Add the bacon and cook until crisp.  Set the bacon aside on a paper towel to drain and reserve the bacon fat in the pan.  When the  brussels sprouts are finished, top with crumbled bacon and 1 tsp. of the bacon fat.  Serve warm.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Ice Cream Soda

The holidays are upon us!  Can you believe it?  I think the season's arrival calls for a special treat.  Ice Cream Soda is actually a specialty of my mom's; I don't remember a week going by when I was younger that I didn't have one (I mean, it was the perfect accompaniment to my weeklyTGIF Pizza Party after all).  It's such a delicious, nostalgic treat, and it only takes two ingredients: Vanilla Ice Cream and Vernor's Ginger Ale ( and I insist you use Vernor's).  The ginger ale gives the ice cream almost a freeze dried texture and creates a yummy, bubbly foam on top.

Not only is Ice Cream Soda a fun dessert for adults and kids alike, but also make for a lovely finale at a dinner party.  No matter what I make, I find that people are almost always too full for dessert (ok, so I may be guilty of refilling the cheese plate until it's gone, but who am I to judge how much cheese 5 people   can consume?!).  Not the case with ice cream soda!  The first time I made it for friends was after my first annual ladies gift exchange a few years ago.  I made Julia Child's famous boeuf bourguignon and everyone was about to burst when I mentioned dessert.  Most of the ladies politely declined, but as soon as I brought out a few Ice Cream Soda's on a tray, their eyes perked up!   It's such a refreshing, sweet treat, it really is hard to resist.    Be sure to serve it up with both a straw and spoon (I found these red striped straws at Sur la Table).   Merry Sipping!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Homemade Garlic Bread

I must admit, i've been MIA from the blog this week. After a delightful Thanksgiving, i've been slow-moving to get back in the swing of things this week!  I have been doing some brainstorming though, so don't fret- I will be posting many edible gifts and holiday party treats starting next week!

This weekend, my mom and sisters are coming down for a visit and to go see Smokey Robinson in concert tomorrow.  We saw Smokey when I was about 8 years old and I'm pretty sure we listened to the tape we purchased then in our volvo station wagon for the next decade!

Since everyone will be traveling to get here, I wanted to make something simple and comforting tonight in lieu of going out to eat.  I decided on Spaghetti & Meatballs, but since it's a special occasion, I thought i'd go all out and make some homemade garlic bread.  It's so simple and delicious, I don't think the frozen stuff has any means for comparison!  Here's how I make it:

* 1 baguette, sliced horizontally
* 1/4 c. fresh oregano, chopped
* 2-3 garlic cloves (depending on size), minced
* 1/3 c. olive oil
* 2 tbsp. butter

Preheat the oven to 375.  Spread butter on one side of the baguette.  In small sauté pan, heat olive oil over medium heat.  Add garlic and oregano to the pan and sauté for one minute.  Remove the oil mixture from heat and use a spoon to spread the olive oil mixture on the opposite side of the bread from the butter.  Place the halves back together, wrap in aluminum foil, and bake for 10 minutes.  Remove foil and bake for an additional 3-5 minutes until golden brown.  Slice into individual pieces and serve.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Hearty Beef Stew

This beef stew recipe is nothing short of Sunday dinner perfection. The first time I made it was actually after a very rare snow day in Wilmington.  I had all my friends over with the hopes of building snowmen, but of course, the snow practically melted before anyone could even get in their cars!  On the bright side, it was still a great excuse to have everyone over for a warm, comforting dinner and a side of Christmas movies (classic combo).

This recipe makes A LOT of beef stew, so it's great for company, or you can freeze the leftovers.

* 2 lb. beef stew meat (I used to use 1lb, but since Mike tends to pick all of the meat out of it, I upped it to 2 so there's plenty of leftovers)
* 2 white onions, chopped
* 1 (15o z) can tomato sauce
* 1 (14.5 oz) can stewed tomatoes
* 2 c. beef stock
* 1 (16 oz) bag baby carrots
* 1 (24 oz) bag small red potatoes, quartered
* 1/3 c. flour
* 1 bay leaf
* 1 tsp. salt
* 1 tsp. sugar
* dash of Worcestershire sauce

Preheat oven to 325.  In a large dutch oven, combine all ingredients with the exception of the red potatoes and half the onions (I like to add some of the onions later so they don't all disintegrate).  Stir well to combine, then transfer to the oven and cook for 1.5 hours.  Remove from the oven and add the potatoes and remaining onions.  Return to the oven and cook for an additional 1.5-2 hours hours, until the meat is fork tender.  **If you do not have a dutch oven, you can also make this on the stove by cooking on low, covered.  Serve with warm yeast rolls.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Thanksgiving for Twenty

This year may have been the best friendsgiving yet, thanks to everyone contributing amazing dishes.  This ended up being just the right amount of food (yes, it's a lot!) for twenty people.  Enjoy!

Cheese Plate: Cheddar cheese, blue cheese crumbles, Greek honey, rosemary crackers, granny smith apples
Green Bean Casserole
Squash Casserole
Annie's Cornbread Dressing
Stephanie's Maple Sweet Potatoes
Amber's Mac n' Cheese
Lindsey's Mashed Potatoes
Yeast Rolls
Brandon & Courtney's Brownies & Pumpkin Pie

Here's a few of my favorite pics from Friendsgiving 2012...

Annie, Courtney, Stephen and Lindsey enjoying the cheese trays!

Stephanie loves a good buffet line photo op.

I found these votive holders at World Market, love them! 

Mike loves ruining a photo op with a noogie...

Chad, Adam, Courtney and Brandon
Chris & Annie
Stephanie, Jim & Chris

You know it's a success when you find everyone here..
The aftermath of Friendsgiving... Too bad I forgot the before shot! 

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! 

Mixed Green Salad with Honey Dijon Vinaigrette

Some people don't think that a salad has any place on a thanksgiving buffet, but I beg to differ.  A light, festive salad makes a delicious accompaniment to the carb filled feast! Even though I make this salad and vinaigrette all year round, it's still elegant enough for a holiday celebration.

For this salad, I like to use mixed greens, blue cheese crumbles (goat cheese and feta are also delicious), dried cranberries, and some pecan pieces for crunch.  The homemade vinaigrette is what really takes this salad to the next level; the perfect combination of sweet and tangy.  Don't be intimidated by making your own dressing, it's simple to whisk up and can be made in advance. For this large salad, I doubled the recipe below. 

Honey Dijon Vinaigrette:
* 1 tsp. balsamic vinegar
* 1 tbsp. dijon mustard
* 1 tbsp. honey
* 6 tbsp. olive oil
* salt & pepper to taste

Whisk together the vinegar, mustard, and honey until they are well combined.  Stream in the olive oil while continuously whisking.  Once the dressing comes together (it will be thick), season with salt and pepper.  

Friday, November 16, 2012

Herb Roasted Turkey

In my opinion, Thanksgiving is not necessarily a time for experimenting.  Sure, you can add a new side to the mix, put together a special appetizer, even add some flare with an annual themed cocktail!  But once you've found the method of cooking the turkey that suits you, just stick with it.

Personally, I use the 3Bs: Brine, Butter, & Bake.  Here's how I make my traditional roasted turkey:

1. Brine: Soaking the turkey in flavored water for 24 hours will ensure that the turkey is super moist (even the white meat!), and incredibly flavorful.  Last year was the first time I brined my turkey and I have to say, the end result is SO worth it.  I make my brine by adding 3/4 c. salt, 1/4 c. brown sugar, and a bunch of fresh herbs- usually thyme and rosemary, to a pitcher of cool water.  Stir the mixture well to combine.  Place the turkey in a large pot, cover with the liquid, then fill the pot with water so the entire turkey is submerged.  Refrigerate for 24 hours before cooking the turkey.

2. Butter: I like to make a dense herb butter.  I use one stick of room temperature butter, mix in chopped rosemary and thyme, and the zest of one lemon.  When you're ready to put the turkey in the oven, remove it from the brine, dry the skin completely (this will help it crisp), and rub the entire turkey with the herb butter.  Use your fingers to separate the skin from the turkey breast (be careful not to break the skin) and use your fingers to push the herb butter under the skin.

3. Bake: Place the turkey on a roasting rack.  Cover the wings with tin foil so they do not burn and tie the two turkey legs together (this will ensure the turkey cooks evenly).  Place 1 can of chicken stock in the pan, then cover the entire pan with tin foil (be careful not to let the foil touch the turkey).  Bake at 325 until the turkey is cooked through (I always use the instructions on the turkey package; for my 28lb turkey, the roasting time was 4.5-5 hours).  During the last hour of cooking, remove the tin foil so the skin can crisp up. When the turkey is cooked through (use the pop up timer that comes with the turkey already!), remove it from the oven, cover it loosely with foil, and let it rest for an hour at room temperature before slicing it.


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Thanksgiving Tips & Tricks

Preparing a thanksgiving dinner for twenty people can get overwhelming, but take a few tips and tricks i've learned along the way to make your job more enjoyable!  Here are a few methods I've mastered through the years:

1. Time the turkey so that it will be done at least an hour or so before you plan to eat.  That way, you have time to bake the sides and let the turkey rest.  Letting the turkey rest (under tin foil), allows the juices to redistribute so it will be super moist and flavorful.  Don't worry about it getting cold, this year for Friendsgiving I had the turkey done 2 hours early and it was still piping hot inside when I sliced it!
This is the official 2012 turkey photo! 

2.  Do absolutely everything you can in advance.  Most thanksgiving casseroles can be assembled the night before and baked off before dinner.  I'm always thinking of more things I want to make at the last minute, so I try to get everything I possibly can done in advance.

3.  Take help where you can.  When you have twenty people for dinner, the dishes can be overwhelming.  This year, I opted to use paper plates and I cannot believe how easy the clean up was!  Essentially all I had to do was wash silverware, wine glasses, and casserole dishes.  Hosting a large dinner is so much more fun when you aren't stressed about cleaning up!

4. Always, and I mean always, start the party with an empty dishwasher.  Clean up will go quickly if people can put their own dishes in the dishwasher.

5.  Set up a bar.  At smaller gatherings, it's easy enough to top off drinks and play bartender, but when I'm whisking up gravy and trying to make sure the bread doesn't burn, it can be overwhelming.  I use a variety of glasses so people are less likely to get them confused, set out a red and a white wine, and cocktail napkins.  For a large gathering, I only use dishwasher safe glasses.

6.  If you're serving dinner buffet style, set out trivets and plenty of serving spoons in advance, as well as extra plates and napkins.

7.  Keep a sense of humor.  When you're having a large crowd over for dinner, just know that no matter what, something will go awry!  My first friendsgiving, I couldn't even lift the turkey it was so heavy.  When I had my friend Brandon retrieve it from the oven for me, he spilled the turkey grease ALL over my kitchen floor.  That was right before we cut it open and it was still raw.  Needless to say, I had a complete fit (there were tears) and i'm still trying to live it down! The food is important, but the fun is what everyone will remember.

8.  Most importantly, make sure you have someone to guard the turkey.  Your friends may try to take the leftovers otherwise.  My faithful Roscoe was assigned this task this year; he really went above and beyond the call of duty.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Cranberry Baked Brie

I love making cranberry sauce every year, but I do tend to have leftovers.  Many people pass right over the cranberry sauce on the buffet, but I've found (and now proved!) that there is one sure fire way to get people to try something: put it on a cheese plate!  I knew i'd have plenty of cranberry sauce leftover, so I put together this simple appetizer and it was a BIG hit.  Mike even had me make it again the next night!

Cranberry baked brie is not only an elegant appetizer, but also a crowd pleaser.  To assemble, preheat the oven to 375.  Scrape some of the rind off of the top of the brie (be sure to leave the rest of the rind in tact, otherwise the cheese will melt all over your oven!), and top with a quarter cup or so of orange cranberry sauce.  Bake for 20 minutes, or until bubbly.  Serve with sliced granny smith apples and crackers.  

Orange Cranberry Sauce

Cranberry sauce is actually one of the easiest thanksgiving dishes you can make.  I know some people prefer the canned stuff, but there's really no excuse not to make it from scratch!   It's one of my absolutely favorite things to make because I just love the sound the cranberries make when you heat them.  They burst open one by one and voila!  Cranberry sauce! The entire process takes under ten minutes and the end result is so worth it. 

* 1 bag fresh cranberries
* 1/2 c. granulated sugar
* 1 naval orange (you'll need the zest and juice)

In a small pot, combine cranberries, zest of one orange, juice of one orange, and sugar over medium high heat. Stir the mixture often until the cranberries burst and the desired consistency has been reached (about 8 minutes).  Transfer to a heat proof bowl to cool.   Serve at room temperature, warm, or chilled!  This can be made in advance as well. 

Step one..
...and two!  Once the cranberries reach a jam like consistency, you're all set! 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Friendsgiving...learn from my mistakes!

Through the years, Friendsgiving has become something of a tradition in my circle of friends, which I absolutely adore.  It's a time to get together before everyone parts ways for the holiday, enjoy each others company, and test drive some new recipes without the pressure of getting up a few hours later for black friday shopping.  I must admit, my actual Thanksgiving is quite leisurely.  Typically, I spend the day watching the parade, eating scrumptious appetizers, and drinking wine with my mom while my sister, Sara, prepares a turkey dreams were made of; and my sister, Laura, creates her annual "tablescape".  I just love it! Friendsgiving, however, is a time for me to hone in on my culinary skills and entertain in my home.  Here's a look at Friendsgiving through the years, and a few lessons learned along the way.

<- This was my first annual turkey day.  SO many rookie mistakes!  The turkey was completely raw inside and my guests were STARVING at about 9pm.  The key is giving plenty of time to thaw the turkey.  Little did I know a 28lb turkey would take about 5 days to thaw!  Don't try to cheat, as I did, and put it in the oven if it's even the slightest bit frozen. It will not cook evenly, and it will be devastating.  If your turkey is still frozen the night before, put it in a pot of cool water and change the water every 30 minutes until it is thawed.  If all else fails and the turkey is raw and all the sides are done, slice it, microwave it, and know that you will never make the same mistake twice!

Year two: turkey perfection.  Rookie mistake: assigning sides to my [guy]friends without consulting them.  Just know that they will likely be watching football all day, drinking, and they will show up with hot baked (canned) biscuits in a plastic bag.  They will be soggy.  Solution: Just do everything yourself until they have girlfriends who will bring adequate sides!  That is, assuming you are a control freak like me.  Of course, these days, I just ask who wants to bring what. Remember that everyone has different traditions and may like some unique sides.  You can always make new tradition!

                                                                             <-Year three: down to a system.  Friendsgiving has been moved to a Friday so as to lessen the likelihood that my [guy]friends will come straight from the bar after a long day watching football.  Is a polo too much to expect?  I mean I do take the day off to cook and clean. They get me now : ) 

Year Four: The tradition is official! I can safely rely on Annie to make her grandmothers cornbread dressing.  Her husband Chris, makes amazing gravy.  Lindsey will bring her mashed potatoes (but will she ever give up the secret ingredient? I'm still working on that).  Stephanie will bring the candied yams, and we will try to figure out the difference between yams and sweet potatoes.  Tara will DEMAND mac n' cheese like her parents make for thanksgiving, and somehow we will have the ingredients to make it at the last minute.  
In the end, nothing will ever be perfect.  Sometimes the turkey will be raw.  The sides will get burnt.  The smoke detector will go off.  But no matter what, I will sit down with these wonderful people, at this makeshift table, and remember what this holiday season is all about.  

Stay tuned for this year's Friendsgiving update! 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Wilmington TRUCK-a-ROO!

Happy Friday!  I've got the day off today and i'll be catching the the next flight to Chattanooga, TN for some quality time with my bestie, Honor (yes, that's her name, she had it before Jessica Alba's daughter!).   
I'm looking forward to a weekend away, but I must admit, i'm pretty sad to be missing Wilmington's debut Truck-a-Roo!  If you haven't heard of it, the Truck-a-Roo is a friendly competition of local food trucks.  They will all come together Saturday from 4:00-8:00 at Riverfront Park and if you buy a ballot for $10, you can sample their best selections and vote for your favorite.  Personally, I've been dying to try Catch's daily ceviche or crispy fish tacos, but i'm not sure anything could beat the Cheesy Banker's Too Big to Fail Grilled cheese (with Mac n' Cheese, pulled pork & caramelized onions!).  If you'll be in town this weekend please check it out and take plenty of pics so I can admire from afar!  

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

French Onion Soup with Cheesy Croutons

Is there anything better than hot soup with a nice hunk of crusty bread on a crisp fall night?  Last night, I thought i'd make a big pot of french onion soup.  Typically, a restaurant style french onion soup will come in a bowl with the cheese and bread baked right on top. Much to my dismay, I realized when I got to cooking that none of my bowls were oven proof!  Since I couldn't broil the whole bowl in the oven, I decided i'd make some cheesy, crunchy toast to float on top of the soup.  It was oh so delicious, comforting and best of all, made plenty for leftovers.

* 4 onions, sliced (I went with two white, two sweet)
* 1/2 stick butter
* 2 tbsp. olive oil
* 1 tsp. kosher salt
* 1/2 tsp. pepper
* 1/3 c. flour
* 1/3 c. red wine
* roughly 5 c. beef broth (I actually used 1 (32 oz) box, plus 1 (14.5 oz) can)
* 1 (14.5 oz) can chicken stock
* 1 bay leaf
* 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
* 1 baguette
* 1/2 c. grated gruyere or mozzarella cheese

Melt butter in a large pot over medium heat.  Add olive oil to pan and swirl to combine.  Add the sliced onions and salt and cook until very soft, about 20-30 minutes, stirring often.  When onions are cooked, add flour to pan and stir well.  Let flour cook for 2 minutes, then add red wine to the pan.  Add beef broth, chicken stock, bay leaf, garlic powder, and pepper to the pan and increase heat to medium high.  Let the soup come to a boil, then reduce the heat and let simmer 15-20 minutes.  Meanwhile, preheat oven to broil. Slice baguette into individual toasts, place on a cookie sheet, and top with grated cheese. Broil until golden, about 2-3 minutes.  Serve soup with toasts on top.  Enjoy!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Hot Gruyere & Bacon Dip

Last night, I had a few friends over for my annual pumpkin carve-off! Even though everyone came over after dinner, of course I had to make a snack or two. This recipe is inspired by a recipe I found on Pinterest; I've been dying to try it so this was the perfect excuse.

The original recipe can be found here, but I altered it just slightly.  I skipped the the chives, largely because I forgot them at the store, added a bit of dijon mustard, and also sautéed the onions in the bacon fat, which gave the dip a really delicious, warm, bacon-y flavor. Everyone loved the dip and I even had to pull out some crackers when the bread ran out so we could gobble up every last bit!

* 4 pieces of bacon
* 1 1/4 c. grated gruyere cheese, divided
* 1 white onion, finely diced
* 1/2 c. mayonnaise
* 1/2 c. sour cream
* 1 tsp. dijon mustard
* Cooking spray

Preheat the oven to 400.  Heat a sauté pan to medium high heat, add the bacon and cook until crisp; reduce the heat if it starts to smell burnt.  Drain the bacon on paper towels and set aside.  Reduce the heat to medium low and drain all but a teaspoon or so of the bacon fat off (I just absorbed most of it with paper towels, but be careful- the bacon fat will be scorching hot!).  Add the onions and sauté until they are soft, about 8 minutes.  Meanwhile, combine 1 c. of the grated gruyere, mayonnaise, sour cream, and dijon mustard in a bowl.  Crumble in the bacon. When onions are done, let cool slightly, then add to the cheese mixture. Stir well to combine.  Spray a small baking dish with cooking spray and add the dip.  Top the dip with the remaining gruyere cheese.  Bake until bubbly and hot, about 20 minutes.  Serve with baguette slices or crackers.  Enjoy!