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!