Thursday, August 30, 2012

New Age White

I must admit, it's rare that I choose a white wine over a red, but if the mood does strike- I'm a big fan of New Age white (no, I didn't mean to rhyme just then!). I tried New Age for the first time at Aubriana's during the Wilmington Wine and Beer walk and now it's my go-to white, especially in the summer.  What's really lovely about it is that it's just slightly effervescent (I call it mini champagne), refreshing, and a bit fruity/floral.  It's actually best served with a lime wedge, which cuts the sweetness a bit and brings out the bubbles!  Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Tomato & Goat Cheese Bruschetta

Having a get together for Labor Day weekend?  Try making these Tomato and Goat Cheese Bruschetta; I promise they'll go fast!  I made them recently for a cookout and they disappeared in five minutes flat!  I absolutely love the Natures Way goat cheese I find at the farmers market, but if you don't live in Wilmington (or don't find yourself up at a reasonable hour to make it to the farmers market on Saturdays!), substitute a plain chèvre.  This is a perfect dish for showcasing ripe summer tomatoes.

* 1 baguette, sliced on an angle
* 4 tbsp. olive oil
* 1 medium round of chèvre (about 5 oz)
* 2 ripe plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped
* 1 tbsp. shallot, minced
* 1 tsp. garlic, minced
* 1 tbsp. basil, chopped
* 1/2 tsp. sugar
* salt/pepper
Preheat oven to 400. Spread sliced baguette pieces on a baking sheet and drizzle with 2-3 tbsp olive oil (just lightly coat).  Sprinkle salt and pepper over bread.   Toast for 5-8 minutes until golden.  Meanwhile, combine tomatoes (to seed the tomato, cut in half crosswise, then gently squeeze the tomato until the seeds fall out, being careful not to tear), shallot, garlic, basil, balsamic vinegar, sugar, and 1 tbsp. olive oil. Allow tomato mixture to rest at room temperature for 30 min.  Spread goat cheese onto toasts (after they've cooled slightly) and top with a spoonful of the tomato mixture.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

It's OK if you're crabby!

I just got back from an amazing weekend in Aurora, NC at the home of my friends Matt & Lindsey.  If you haven't heard of Aurora, it's on the Pamlico Sound about 2.5 hours north of Wilmington.  I had such a great weekend filled with sun, wine, and best of all- phenomenal food.  On Saturday we went crabbing (who knew all you had to do was throw a chicken leg in the water and the crabs come running?!) and caught the most amazing blue crabs.  The steamed crabs were delicious- sweet, buttery crabmeat inside perfectly seasoned shells.  Matt served these up alongside a traditional low country boil of shrimp, corn on the cob, potatoes, and sausage.  So tasty!

Here's Matt's secret recipe for perfect steamed crab:
* 10 blue crabs
* 1 c. Old Bay seasoning
* 4 tbsp. black pepper
* 2 tbsp. dry mustard
* 1 to 2 tbsp. cayenne pepper (to taste)
* 1 flat beer
* 1 c. white vinegar
Combine Old Bay, black pepper, dry mustard, and cayenne pepper in a bowl.  Rub this mixture onto the crabs until they're well coated.  Add beer and vinegar to the bottom of an outdoor cooking pot and bring to a boil.  Add crabs to the basket of the pot and steam until crabs are red in color.  Serve with melted butter.  Enjoy!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Farm Fresh

I love supporting local businesses when possible, and on top of that- I LOVE a good deal!  All of this fresh produce was only $9.50; can you believe all this loot?  I found it at Port City Produce, a stand near my house in Wilmington.

There's nothing worse than wasting food, so I use my produce as a centerpiece on my kitchen table so I don't forget about it. Most fruits and veggies are fine at room temperature, though if I don't use lemons or limes within a few days I transfer them to the fridge to store.  I use the produce as inspiration in my cooking; almost like a challenge- use it before you lose it! Enjoy!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Prickly Pear Margs!

Oh how I love a good ladies night!  Is there anything better?  My girlfriends and I get together every Thursday and though we've been mixing it up lately (Circa 1922 last week, the Kitchen two weeks ago), our standard go-to is K38.  Not only do they have spectacular Margs (Cantinarita anyone?) & Red Sangria, but hands down: best salsa in town.  Maybe the best salsa  ever. My absolute favorite is the prickly pear margarita (left) -isn't it stunning?  Not only is it delicious but the color is a show stopping pink!  I actually went so far as to order prickly pear cactus syrup online a while back so I could make them at home.  Here's how:

Combine 2 oz. white tequila, 1 oz. cointreau, juice of 1/2 lime, and 1 oz. prickly pear syrup in a shaker filled with ice.  Shake vigorously to combine.  Pour over ice (or blend!) and garnish with a lime.  This is great served with a sugared or salted rim.  Yum!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Guacamole (For Cheaters!)

I can't believe August is slipping away from us!  One of my favorite summer foods is guacamole.  Nothing tastes better than guacamole and a cold Cerveza after a long day in the sun! Because I make it so often in the summer, I made this "cheaters" version to make it easy on myself.  Instead of chopping tomato, onions, peppers, etc., I use store-bought pico de gallo or fresh salsa from the deli section.  It's such an easy, fresh, and tasty treat!

* 3 ripe avocados (they should be soft to touch)
* 3 tbsp. pico de gallo or fresh salsa
* juice of 1 lime
* salt/pepper
Halve the avocados and remove the seed with a spoon.  Using a dull knife, score the avocado (cut lines lengthwise and crosswise).  Spoon avocado into a mixing bowl and squeeze fresh lime juice on top (I had a very juicy lime so it only took one- you want about a tablespoon).  Add 3 heaping tablespoons of pico/salsa and a pinch of salt and pepper.  Stir to combine.  Serve with blue corn chips or as a topping for tacos.  *If you're making guacamole in advance, store it in the refrigerator with plastic wrap directly on top (touching) to keep it from browning.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Spaghetti & Meatballs

I believe the key to successful entertaining is making others feel at home in your home.  While I love experimenting with unique foods and flavors, sometimes it's best to surprise everyone with a classic!  This recipe is perfect for company because it can be made ahead and reheated when needed (up to 3 days later).  I also skip the pan frying of classic meatball recipes and instead opt for browning in the oven.

Ingredients:  (makes 16 meatballs; easily doubled)
* 1 lb. ground beef (85% lean)
* 1 tsp. fresh basil, chopped
* 1 tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped
* 1 egg
* 2/3 c. ricotta cheese
* 1/3 c. dry italian breadcrumbs
* 1/2 tsp. each of salt, pepper
* 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
* Tomato Sauce

Preheat oven to 450.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Heat tomato sauce over medium-low heat.  In a mixing bowl, add ground beef, basil, parsley, egg, ricotta cheese, breadcrumbs, salt and pepper.  Using your hands, combine all ingredients, being careful not to overwork the meat.  Form mixture into 1 1/2 inch balls and line on baking sheet with about 1/2 in. between each meatball.  Bake for 20 minutes, then transfer to simmering tomato sauce.  Reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes.  Serve over spaghetti noodles. If making ahead, reheat meatballs in sauce for 1 hour over low heat.  Enjoy!

Tomato Sauce

For any recipes I make that call for tomato sauce, I really prefer to use a low sodium or no salt added brand (Muir Glen Organic is my favorite!).  It's amazing how different a recipe can taste when you start with a sodium rich base.

* 1 large (or 2 small) garlic cloves; minced
* 1 white onion, finely diced
* 3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
* 1 tbsp. fresh oregano, chopped
* 1 bay leaf
* 3 (15 oz) cans tomato sauce
* 1 (6 oz) can tomato paste
* 1 tbsp. sugar

Heat sauté pan to medium heat.  Add olive oil and onion and sauté until onion is translucent; about 10 minutes (stir every few minutes, reduce heat if onion starts to brown).  Add garlic to pan and sauté for 30 seconds.  Add all remaining ingredients to pan.  Reduce heat to low and simmer 45 minutes to an hour.  Enjoy!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Dinner For Six

My sister, Laura, is visiting from Raleigh for the weekend and i'm so excited to gather some of our friends for a dinner party.   Laura and I have similar tastes in food so I was excited to make some of our favorites!
Here's my dinner menu for six:

Sliced Sirloin 
Oven Fries
Snow Cones for dessert!

Everything on this menu is easy to prepare and since I'm working all day before the dinner party, I like to have a little help by using store bought, frozen oven fries (delicious), and having everyone make their own dessert- what's easier and more fun than a snow cone? 

I'm a big believer in a steak that tastes like steak.   Here's how I make my perfect sliced sirloin:
1) Let the steak come to room temperature (set it out on the counter for 1 hour)
2) Pat the steak dry with paper towels; season liberally with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
3) Heat a sautee pan to medium high heat (let it heat for 2 minutes or so)
4) Add a combination of butter and olive oil to the pan.  Don't overdo it; for these large sirloins (2 12 oz sirloins) I used 1 tbsp. butter and 3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
5) Cook the steak to desired doneness; about 7 minutes per side for  medium rare
6) Remove steak from pan and wrap tightly in tin foil; let rest for at least 10 minutes. 
7) Slice against the grain.  Enjoy! 

Lemon-Garlic Shrimp

I absolutely love making shrimp for a party.   Not only are the flavor possibilities endless, but they also cook in under five minutes.  I served these as a side to my sliced sirloin, but they would be perfect as an entree or appetizer as well.

*1 lb shrimp; peeled and deveined
* zest of 1 lemon
* 2 tbsp.  teriyaki sauce (or soy if you have it)
* 1 garlic clove, minced
* 1/4 c. olive oil
* 1/2 tsp. fresh ground pepper

Whisk together lemon zest, teriyaki sauce, garlic clove, olive oil, and pepper.  Add shrimp to marinade and refrigerate for 30 min (or longer if you have time!).  Preheat skillet to medium high heat.  Add shrimp to pan and sautee until just opaque; about 2 minutes per side.  Enjoy!

Pesto Pasta Salad

Ok, so I can't really claim this is a recipe.  It's too easy!

Pesto Pasta is a simple, delicious side and it's great for a party or pot luck because it can be served hot, room temperature, or cold.  Store bought pesto makes this 4-ingredient dish a snap!

Here's what you'll need:
* 1/2 lb. farfalle pasta (1/2 box)
* 2 tbsp. prepared pesto
* 1/4 c. parmesan cheese
* 1/2 c. cherry tomatoes, halved

Prepare the pasta according to package instructions.  Drain the pasta and return to pot.  Add two heaping tablespoons of pesto.  Toss in parmesan cheese and tomatoes.  Leave at room temperature or chill. Enjoy! 

Grilled Romaine Salad with Spicy Lemon Vinaigrette

If you haven't tried a grilled salad yet, you don't know what you're missing!  I was originally skeptical, but when I first tasted one it was spectacular.  Grilled romaine halves produces a slightly warm, yet crunchy, fresh salad.  It's so simple to make this restaurant quality salad at home; for mine I make a lemony, garlic vinaigrette.  The combination of the raw garlic and black pepper create a unique, warm spiciness.

* 3 heads romaine lettuce (1/2 head per person)
* 1/2 c. cherry tomatoes, halved
* 1/4 c. parmesan cheese
* juice of 2 lemons
* 1 tsp. dijon mustard
* 1 garlic clove, grated
* 1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil.
* 1/2 tsp. fresh ground pepper

Halve romaine heads and wash thoroughly under cold water.  Place sliced side down on a tray lined with a clean dish towel; refrigerate while you prepare the dressing.  To make the dressing, combine lemon juice, dijon mustard, grated garlic, and pepper in a shallow bowl.  Stream in olive oil while whisking. Heat grill or grill pan to medium high heat.  Brush romaine lightly with dressing and placed halved sides down on grill.  Grill for 2-3 minutes, just until light grill marks appear.  Drizzle remaining dressing over lettuce, and garnish with cherry tomatoes and parmesan cheese.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Bon Appetit, Julia!

"It's fun to get together and have something good to eat at least once a day.  That's what human life is all about...enjoying things." - Julia Child

It wouldn't be right to let this day pass without commemorating a true pioneer in home cooking.  Today would have been Julia Child's 100th birthday- cheers to Julia!

Julia Child, a true testament to both determination as well as the science of recipe creation, is such a huge inspiration to me.  A few years ago, my mom gave me such a wonderful gift: a copy of the Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which I practically read cover to cover Christmas day. Just think, if Julia had not spent years and years researching, writing, testing, and creating recipes, we may never have had Boeuf Bourguignon in America!  And what a shame that would be.

So today, only Julia's birthday, I insist you buy yourself a copy of "My Life in France."  This book is a true inspiration and behind the scenes look (written by Julia!) at Julia's life and the extreme passion that we have to thank for her remarkable contribution to cooking.  Bon Appetit!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Coveted Kitchen

I spotted this beauty today on an afternoon trip to Williams-Sonoma.  I just had to share! I can't imagine what kind of kitchen this belongs in, but I do know I surely belong in that kitchen as well!

My own beloved KitchenAid stand mixer is a beautiful pale pink and I must say, it's one of my all time favorite kitchen accessories (it's in close competition with my le creuset dutch oven).  My sister surprised me with it a few years ago and it's been proudly displayed on my kitchen counter ever since!  

Hmm..maybe tomorrow i'll break out my ice cream maker attachment and experiment with some new flavors! 

Grilled Kabobs

I recently planted an herb garden (a bit late in the summer, I know!) and i'm just loving the inspiration it has given me in my cooking.  I keep the pots right outside my kitchen window so I don't forget about them!  Fresh herbs are a great way to brighten up any dish in both flavors and aesthetics.  As we all know- we eat with our eyes first!
If you're looking for a quick, healthy, and summery dish try my herb inspired Grilled Kebabs.  Here's how I made them:

Finely chop about 1/2 tbsp.  each of rosemary, thyme, and oregano.  Combine herbs with 1/3 c. olive oil (this is an herb rich marinade-don't be alarmed!), and a dash of salt and pepper.  I marinated the chicken over night (2 chicken breasts), though shrimp (1/2 lb) really won't hold flavor as well, so they can be added to the  mixture ten minutes or so before grilling.  I like to skewer the shrimp and chicken separately since the shrimp only take a few minutes to cook through. 

I also skewered some summer vegetables (yellow squash, zucchini, and red onion) to serve along side. When everything is just about cooked through, throw a halved lemon on the grill for just about 30 seconds.  Squeeze the lemon overtop everything, and enjoy! 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Perfect Roast Chicken

I was always intimidated by roasting a whole chicken.  Why? I have no idea!  Once I came to the realization that it was really just a miniature Thanksgiving turkey, I felt confident I could manage! 

This recipe is fool proof and so delicious.  It's perfect for company because essentially, it's a one pot wonder.  Toss the bird right on top of the vegetables and they will roast in the wonderful pan drippings until they become a tender, somewhat sweet yet savory delight.  Sometimes, if i'm feeling particularly inspired, I will make a pan sauce by adding flour and chicken stock and heating on the oven until it thickens (yum!). 

* 1 4.5-5 lb. roasting chicken, neck and giblets removed (you can buy them this way now!)
* 2 lb. red potatoes, washed (about 6 medium/large red potatoes)
* 1 vidalia onion
* 1 red onion
* 1 lb carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
* 1/4 c. olive oil
* 2 garlic cloves, halved
* 1 tsp. dried herbs de provence
* 1 lemon, quartered
* 2 tbs. butter, melted
* kosher salt, fresh ground pepper
* kitchen twine

Preheat the oven to 425.  In a large roasting pan, toss potatoes, onions, and carrots with olive oil.  Sprinkle vegetables liberally with salt and pepper.  Place chicken on top of vegetables.  Stuff the chicken with lemon quarters and garlic cloves.  Using kitchen twine, tie the legs of the chicken together (this helps it cook through evenly).  Brush the chicken with melted butter, then rub the herbs de provence, salt and fresh ground pepper on top.  Bake for 1 hour 45 minutes, or until the juices run clear when a knife is inserted between the thigh and breast.  Once or twice while it is in the oven, stir the vegetables and brush the chicken with any remaining melted butter.  Enjoy! 

Treat Yourself Tuesday!

I’m a firm believer in Treat Yourself Tuesday…and Wednesday…Thursday.. You get the idea!  Last night I had a reunion dinner with my two former roommates, Kelly and Stephanie.  We lived together for years, in college and a few years after, and we used to love going to our favorite restaurant, Brasserie du Soleil, just for any occasion.  My menu favorite is their Filet Bordelaise.  It’s the perfect portion of Filet Mignon, in a rich and decadent red wine reduction, topped with a roasted shallot, and served with a paper cone of perfectly crisp pomme frites on the side.  The best part is, no matter how full you are (I insist you eat every bite!), there is always room for one of their miniature desserts.  Isn’t my cheesecake with blueberry compote darling?  Tiny spoon included!