Sunday, September 30, 2012

Eat, Drink, and be Scary!

Meet Count Vino on the right! 
October has arrived!  Can you believe it?  I think I must have caught Mike's Halloween spirit (he's a HUGE fan), which is ok with me! Mike's house is completely decked out in skeletons, spooky lights, orange and black garland, you name it.

For my house, I prefer more subtle decorations (it's sort of hard to turn my pastel, shabby chic look into a haunted house), like these fabulous wine bottle accessories I found at Pottery Barn yesterday.  I couldn't decide between the Dracula cape (or as Mike calls it, Count Vino) or the witches hat, so I thought i'd better go with both! After all, either would make a great hostess gift if you're heading to any spook-tacular parties this year.  I couldn't find these online, but they have plenty at the store (and only $6.50!), along with glittery spiders, skull bookends, and plenty of other halloween decor to peruse.  Let me know what you find!

Ten Minute Sweet & Spicy Pickle Chips

I was really sad to hear recently that one of my favorite downtown dinner spots, Crowe Hill, has closed.  I loved Crowe Hill for the atmosphere, "localvore" menu, and my absolute favorite- the homemade pickles.  They actually served a jar of pickled vegetables (cucumbers, carrots, sometimes peppers or okra) in lieu of a breadbasket, which I loved.

When flipping through October's Everyday Food magazine, I found this recipe for quick pickles, so in honor of Crowe Hill I thought i'd give it a whirl!  I followed the recipe provided except to give it an extra kick, I added red pepper flakes.  Since Mike's making burgers tonight, I also made pickle chips instead of sandwich slices like the recipe suggested. If you're a pickle fanatic like me, it's really worth making these at home!

* 1 c. white vinegar
* 1 c. sugar
* 1/2 tsp. pepper
* 1 tsp. salt
* 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes (optional)
* 4 kirby cucumbers
Slice the cucumbers into thin chips and place in a heatproof bowl.  Meanwhile, combine all remaining ingredients in a medium sauce pan.  Bring to a boil over medium high heat, whisking frequently.  Reduce heat to medium and continue stirring until sugar is dissolved.  Remove from heat and pour over cucumbers. Let sit 10 minutes or so until cool, then serve.  Yum!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Roasted Veggie Pasta with Goat Cheese

This pasta is a perfect weeknight meal.  Despite being a vegetarian dish, it’s still hearty and filling, yet surprisingly light since I used the pasta water to make the goat cheese sauce.  Even better- it’s super easy to prepare and practically a one pot wonder.  I wasn’t sure if would go over well with Mike (especially post work out!) but surprisingly – he added it to the official ‘home run’ list; the ultimate compliment!

* 1 yellow squash, roughly chopped
* 1 zucchini, roughly chopped
* 2 plum tomatoes, sliced
* 1 sweet onion, roughly chopped into wedges
* 1/4 c. olive oil, salt, pepper
* 4 oz. chèvre (plain goat cheese)
* 1/4 c. parmesan cheese
* 3/4 lb. whole wheat penne pasta

Preheat the oven to 400.  Meanwhile, spread the vegetables out evenly on a cookie sheet.  Pour olive oil over the veggies and season with salt and pepper. Transfer to oven and roast 35 minutes, stirring once or twice. Prepare the pasta as directed, but reserve 1 c. of the pasta water before draining; set aside.  Return the pasta to the pot and add the cooked vegetables.  Add in the goat cheese and parmesan, as well as 2 tbsp. pasta water.  Stir well to combine.  If sauce is too thick, continue to add 1 tbsp. of the pasta water at a time until you reach the desired consistency.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Spaghetti Squash with Garlic Oil & Parmesan

Well, fall has arrived and I must admit, I seemed to have reached my winter weight a bit early this year!  This week, I'm trying to make a few lightened-up dinners and my first stop is...Spaghetti Squash!

I feel like I may be the last one to hop on the spaghetti squash band wagon, but if you're unfamiliar (as I was until recently!), it's a larger, winter squash and after it's cooked, either by roasting or microwaving, the flesh is easily scraped into thin strands.  Now, I don't know if I would quite call it a pasta substitute as many have claimed, but it certainly passed for a delicious and healthy side dish.  Given it's mild taste, it's also incredibly versatile as it can be topped with marinara, baked with cheese, or simply sautéed.

Here's my first-timer take on a simple preparation:
* 1 spaghetti squash
* 1/3 c. olive oil
* 1/2 c. parmesan
* 1 garlic clove, minced
* 1/4 tsp. fresh ground pepper
First, cut the spaghetti squash in half (I had to have Mike do this for me!  The squash is pretty hard- almost like a pumpkin).  Place half the squash (or both sides, if it will fit in your microwave), cut side down in a microwave safe dish.  Add 1/4 c. water to the bottom of the dish and microwave on high for 10 minutes. Repeat with the second half. Once the squash is cool enough to handle, scoop out the seeds and discard.  Using a fork, rake out the squash, lengthwise, into a separate bowl.  Meanwhile, heat olive oil over medium heat in a saute pan.  Add garlic to pan and saute 30 seconds or so.  Add the squash to the pan and stir to coat the strands of the squash evenly.  Add the parmesan cheese (I used my Sarvecchio Parmesan from the Afraid to Commit- Try a Bit! bin at whole foods), fresh pepper, and stir well to combine.  Serve warm.  Enjoy!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Homemade Vanilla Extract

I don't know about you, but given how quickly September is flying by, I feel like the holidays will be sneaking up on us in no time. Personally, I cant wait! I've already got my mind on rum cakes and candied pecans galore, but this year I thought i'd try something new: homemade vanilla.

When making vanilla, the beans need to steep in vodka for about 12 weeks, so now is the ideal time to make it.  I must admit, this is not the most economical recipe (vanilla beans cost about $2.50 each), but a small bottle of vanilla will go a long way in baking.  I'm thinking a small, decorative bottle with a handwritten recipe card that incorporates the vanilla will make a charming gift for friends or neighbors.

Here's how to make it:  You will need one vanilla bean per quarter cup of unflavored vodka (I'm using Absolut).  Carefully cut the vanilla bean lengthwise, exposing the small vanilla beans inside. Cover completely with the vodka (if you're making a small amount, halve or quarter the beans to ensure that they are covered).  Let steep for at least 12 weeks in a cool, dry place, and gently shake the mixture ever week or so.  If you leave the vanilla bean in the bottle, you can continuously add vodka after you use a bit (just be sure that the bean is always submerged so it does not mold).  Enjoy!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Afraid to commit? Try a bit!

I have to admit, I am that person who is still mesmerized by everything I see in Whole Foods. I cause cart traffic problems because i'm in a trance staring at the 40 different types of local honey; I troll the buffet lines up and down at least 4 times before I can decide what I want; but my absolute favorite place to hover is the cheese display.

Much to my delight, I had the cheese display to myself today- I mean, that never happens!  I was even more thrilled when I discovered this tray of mini portions: "Afraid to commit? Try a bit!"  It's like they read my mind.  Not only are the smaller portions economical, but there are so many choices- who wouldn't want to expand their cheese horizons?!  Today I went with a thin wedge of Sarvecchio Parmesan to grate over pasta; what would you choose?

Saturday, September 22, 2012

RX Wilmington

Last night, Mike and I ventured downtown to RX Restaurant to have dinner with our good friends Chad and Amber.  RX is in the former Halls Drugstore on Castle street and there has been plenty of buzz around town about this trendy (dare I say hipster?) hot spot and their eclectic southern fare.  I must say, it absolutely lived up to the hype!

Amber and I chose the seared scallops for an appetizer and the boys were brave and went with the braised pork cheeks (yes, it's actually the cheek!). I'm so ashamed, as a food blogger, to admit it, but those were my very first scallops!  I'm definitely going to have to try making them at home.  The scallops were perfectly seared and had a light yet buttery flavor.  They were served with a squash flan (who thought of squash flan?!) that was the perfect compliment.  I snuck a taste of the pork cheeks as well and I'm so glad I did; they were fork tender, succulent, and rich- almost like a pot roast.  The appetizers were followed by southern fried chicken, flank steak, and we all shared a slice of sweet potato pie to finish the meal.  I will definitely be going back to RX for more glammed-up, down home dinners! 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Grilled Cheese for Grown-Ups

This weather sure is starting to ware on me!  Even though it's still hot like summer, I just feel like it should be cold when I look out the window to the dreary storm.  Last night, I was at the grocery store when I noticed the gruyere cheese was on sale (practically half off!), so I stocked up to prepare for some fall comfort food recipes.
If you haven't had gruyere before, it's sort of known as the first cousin of swiss.  It's very similar, but a bit saltier, almost like parmesan.  The best part is, it melts beautifully- so it's perfect for a fancier version of grilled cheese, mac n' cheese, or even fondue.

Roscoe loves grilled cheese night!
Here's how I make my Grilled Cheese for Grown-Ups:  Start with a good bakery bread; I used a pre-sliced french loaf. Slather one side of each piece with a good dijon mustard.  Top the mustard side of bread with equal parts of grated gruyere and cheddar (my favorite combo!).  Meanwhile, melt a tablespoon of butter in a saucepan over medium heat.  Add the sandwich and let brown (to help the cheese melt so it's easier to flip, you can cover the pan lightly with tin foil).  If the bread browns too quickly, lower the heat.  Before flipping the sandwich, add more butter to the pan.  Serve hot out of the pan with your favorite soup. Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

White Truffle Pappardelle

Last night, I went to one of my favorite Wilmington spots, Deluxe, to celebrate my friend Stephanie's birthday in style!  I can always rely on Deluxe to surprise my taste buds with creative and inspired dishes. Though I loved my filet mignon with mustard demi, butter braised asparagus with lump crab, and goat cheese whipped potatoes, I must admit I was pretty blue after I discovered my absolute favorite side, the White Truffle Mac n' Cheese, was off the menu!

Fortunately, I have experimented with white truffle butter at home so I'm prepared for just such an emergency!  White truffle butter is really very inexpensive (I believe about $5 for 4 oz; you don't need much) and it's a great way to enrich the flavor of a cream sauce or pasta.  This pasta is super decadent and very rich, so this recipe portion is fairly small since I serve it as a side.  Feel free to double it if you're having guests!

* 1/2 lb. pappardelle pasta
* 1/2 c. cream
* 3 oz. white truffle butter
* 1/4 c. parmesan cheese
* 2 tbsp. chopped fresh chives
* Salt, Pepper
Prepare the pasta according to the package directions.  Meanwhile, heat cream to simmering over medium heat in a saute pan; reduce heat to low and whisk in parmesan cheese.  Swirl in truffle butter and season with salt and pepper; reducing heat if necessary (it shouldn't boil).  Add pasta to saute pan and toss to combine.  Top with fresh chives and serve.  Enjoy!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

French Toast

Oooh I just adore brunch.  What's not to love about a leisurely Sunday meal where any menu item goes?! Brunch is a great way to entertain on a budget as well, and it's so easy!  The key to a perfect french toast is a really great bread.  I prefer to make it with day old baguette (great way to use any leftovers!); that way the dry bread acts as a sponge and soaks up all the custard. Yum!

* 1 baguette, sliced (preferably the day before)
* 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
* 1/2 tsp. vanilla
* 1 egg + 1 egg yolk
* 1 to 2 tbsp. butter

Combine milk, eggs, vanilla and cinnamon in a shallow dish; whisk with a fork.  Submerge baguette slices in milk mixture, making sure both sides get evenly coated.  Drain any excess from bread and set aside until all bread pieces have been soaked.  Melt 1 tbs. butter in a skillet over medium high heat.  Add bread to pan and brown on both sides (about 3 minutes per side; if bread browns too quickly, reduce heat to medium).  If browning in batches, add additional butter to pan as needed.  Serve warm with powdered sugar and maple syrup.  Enjoy!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Weekend Party Playlist!

Ready for the weekend?  I know I am!  My sister, Laura, always requests a mixed CD for her birthday so we made this playlist the sound track at Bald Head last weekend.  Now if you're a real music junky, this probably won't be for you.  But if you like quality with some miscellaneous, upbeat hip-hop mixed in, start downloading and you won't be disappointed!  Graffiti 6 is my new obsession! 

One More Night.....Maroon 5
Home.......Philip Phillips
Free........Graffiti 6
Some Nights.....Fun
Ho Hey.......The Lumineers 
Whistle....Flo Rida
As Long as You Love Me.....Justin Bieber
Vegas Girl...Conor Maynard
Too Close.....Alex Clare
Both of Us (feat. Taylor Swift)...B.o.B
Blow Me One Last Kiss....Pink
Dirt Road Anthem....Jason Aldean
Boyfriend....Justin Bieber

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

One Hope Wine

Last night I had so much fun supporting the Pink Ribbon Project at Focus on the Coast's official Girls Night Out at the Forum!

Raffle winnings!
Girls Night Out is a semi-annual event here in Wilmington that raises money for a different cause each time, and serves as an opportunity for ladies to socialize, network, and score some great swag- all for a cause!  The wine at the event was provided by One Hope Wine and the great thing about One Hope is that they donate HALF of their profits to charity.  I had the cabernet sauvignon (delicious!), for which the profits go to Fight Against Autism.  Each variety supports a different cause- who knew your social sips could have such an impact?

And check out these amazing Tiffany & Co sunnies I won in the raffle!  Supporting a good cause has never been more fun ; )

Monday, September 10, 2012

Sara's Baked Blackberry Brie

I just got back from an amazing long weekend at Bald Head Island. If you haven't been to Bald Head, you really must check it out! Even though it's only an hour south of Wilmington, it's so easy to unplug there.  Just a quick ferry ride over and  you're on vacation! How easy is that?

My family sticks with the easy-is-better motto on vacation and this baked brie that my sister, Sara, made was perfect for the occasion. Just two ingredients is all you need for this elegant appetizer.

* 1 small round of brie (no need to remove the rind)
* 1/4 c. blackberry preserves.

Preheat the oven to 350.  Place the brie in a casserole dish and top with 1/3 c. blackberry preserves.  Bake for 20 minutes or so until brie is heated through.  Serve warm with sliced green apples and crackers.  Enjoy!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Shrimp Scampi with Orzo

Is it the weekend yet?  It is for me!  I'm knocking off work early to head to Bald Head Island for Ficken-Family Vacay!  I'm so excited to relax, soak up the last of the summer sun, and make some delicious food with my mom and sisters.  My favorite thing about Bald Head is the quaint grocery store.  I probably go 3 times a day while I'm there, just to check out the snacks, pick up a doughnut and coffee, a magazine, you name it!

 We're having a ladies weekend, but i've convinced my manfriend (if you know Mike, you know it's just not right calling him a boyfriend) Mike to join us for one night, so tonight we're having man-friendly spaghetti.  The rest of the trip will be for delicious, lite seafood, easy appetizers, and lots of wine!

I'm thinking Shrimp Scampi with Orzo will be be perfect for BHI vacation.  It's easy to assemble and feeds a crowd.  Just serve it up with a simple green salad and you're all set!  They key to success with Shrimp Scampi is prepping everything before you start cooking, no running  back and forth to the cutting board!
* 1 lb. shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails removed
* 1 lb. orzo pasta (you can use the traditional angel hair if you prefer!)
* 1/4 c. flat leaf parsley, chopped
* 1 shallot, diced
* 1 garlic clove, minced
* 1 c. dry white wine, such as chardonnay
* 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
* 4 tbsp. butter
* 1 lemon, plus more for garnish
* Olive oil
Cook pasta according to package directions.  Coat a large sauté pan with olive oil and heat over medium high heat, 2 minutes.  Add shrimp to pan and sauté until just cooked (they should turn pink/white). Remove the shrimp with a slotted spoon; set aside.  Add garlic and shallot t pan and sauté 30 seconds or so. Deglaze the pan with white wine.  Add the juice of 1 lemon, zest of 1/2 lemon, and red pepper flakes. Reduce sauce by half (3-4 minutes).  Add butter to pan.   Once butter is melted, add pasta, shrimp, and parsley and stir well to combine.  Garnish with lemon slices and serve.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Is it Fall yet?

It may not officially be fall yet, but i'm celebrating early with Sam Adam's Octoberfest!  I just love this time of year when the seasons change and i'm so looking forward to some cooler temperatures (though I will surely regret this by December). Octoberfest is perfect for this time of year when you're craving fall flavors but alas, it's still 90 degrees out! It's crisp and refreshing, just slightly bitter and hoppy.  I'll be enjoying my fall beer in the air conditioning while longing for sweater weather! 

Sunday, September 2, 2012

All American Picnic!

Happy Labor Day everyone!  I'm celebrating my day off with some all-American classics.  Best of all, everything can be made ahead so you'll have plenty of time to enjoy your day.  Here's what i'm having:

Pulled Pork Sliders with Orange BBQ Sauce

I had some friends over for an early Labor Day gathering and made these sliders.   I had never made pulled pork before and I was surprised how easy it was!  The key to the pulled pork is low and slow, with lots of good seasoning.  I served the pork with sour cream slaw and a tangy orange bbq sauce- yum!

* 1 pork butt or shoulder (I used a 6lb. pork butt)
* 3 tbsp. olive oil
* 2 tbsp. smoked paprika
* 1 tbsp. garlic powder
* 1 tsp. cayenne pepper
* 1 tsp. chili powder
* 1 tsp. black pepper
* 1 tsp. salt
* 1 tbsp. light brown sugar
* 1 tsp. ground mustard
* 1/2 c. store bought BBQ sauce
* 1 1/2 tbsp. orange marmelade
* 1 tsp. dijon mustard
* 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
Preheat oven to 325.  Trim the pork of any excess fat and pat dry with paper towels.  Combine all ingredients for dry rub.  Coat all sides of the pork with dry rub, pressing it in to ensure it sticks. Place pork in a large dutch oven or cast iron pot (I use my le creuset dutch oven- you need something with a tight fitting lid).  Roast until meat is tender and pulls apart easily- about 3 to 3.5 hours, depending on the size of the pork (don't check it until at least 2.5 hours has passed so it steams).  Meanwhile, combine all ingredients for sauce.  Pull the pork apart with a fork and shred.  Stir in BBQ sauce.  If meat is slightly dry, mix add 1/4 c. pan drippings at a time until it's moistened.  Serve on dinner rolls with Sour  Cream Slaw.  Enjoy!

Sour Cream Slaw

This tangy slaw recipe is perfect for pulled pork sliders, or as a side on its own. Make it a few hours in advance and the flavors will only get better!

* 1/4 c. sour cream
* 1 tsp. spicy brown mustard
* 1/8 c. red wine vinegar
* 1/2 head of radicchio, thinly sliced
* 1/2 head cabbage, thinly sliced
* salt/pepper to taste

Combine sour cream, spicy mustard, vinegar, salt, and pepper in a bowl.  Add cabbage and radicchio to bowl and stir until cabbage is evenly dressed.  Chill for at least 30 minutes.  Serve chilled as a topping or side.  Enjoy!

Potato Salad with Herb Vinaigrette

Is there any more obvious picnic staple than potato salad?  I think not.  I like to lighten mine up by dressing it with a vinaigrette as opposed to a mayonnaise based sauce.  This salad really gets better the longer it sits or chills, so it's perfect for a potluck! 

* 1 (3lb) bag of red potatoes (this makes enough for a crowd!)
* 3 tbsp. chicken stock
* 2 tbsp. dry white wine (such as chardonnay) 
* 1 garlic clove, minced
* 2 tbsp. shallot, finely minced (about 1 small shallot)
* 1 lemon, juiced
* 2 tbsp. fresh tarragon, chopped
* 2 tbsp. fresh dill, chopped
* 2/3 c. olive oil
Scrub the potatoes clean, then chop into bite size pieces.  In a large pot, cover the potatoes with cold water. Bring water to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are fork tender (20 min). Meanwhile, prepare the vinaigrette by whisking together all remaining ingredients.  When potatoes have finished cooking, drain them, then return to the pot.  Dress potatoes immediately with the vinaigrette.  Chill for 1-2 hours, or serve at room temperature. 

Classic Blueberry Muffins

I just adore making all things blueberry in the summer when the berries are sweet.  Blueberry muffins, cobbler, cocktails- you name it!  These muffins are great for breakfast or as a side with dinner.  

* 1 c. fresh blueberries
* 2 c. all purpose flour
* 1/3 c. sugar, plus 2 tbsp.
* 1 tbsp. baking powder.
* 1/2 tsp. salt
* 2 large eggs
* 1/4 c. butter, melted and cooled (cool it for about 10 minutes at room temp so it doesn't cook the eggs)
* 2/3 c. milk
* 1/2 tsp. vanilla (optional)
Heat oven to 400.  Spray muffin pans (this recipe makes 12 muffins) with cooking spray.  In a small bowl, toss the blueberries with 1 tbsp. of the flour.  In a separate bowl, sift together remaining flour, 1/3 c. sugar, baking powder, and salt.  In another bowl, using an electric mixer, combine eggs, butter, milk and vanilla. Stir milk mixture into flour mixture until just blended (batter will be stiff).  Once ingredients are well combined, gently stir in blueberries.  Spoon batter into muffin pan, filling each two-thirds full. Sprinkle the tops with remaining 2 tbsp. sugar.  Bake 15-18 minutes until lightly browned. Serve warm with butter! 

Yankee Quaker Cookies

When I was little, my best friend Honor's mom made these cookies for us and let me tell you, you've never had one like it.  These cookies are absolutely amazing! A buttery, chewy treat filled with brown sugar, chocolate, and oatmeal.  Sometimes I stir in butterscotch chips as well, though it's hard to improve these!

I made these recently for a party with the intention of making them into ice cream sandwiches, but unfortunately- everyone was too full! I sent everyone home with a goodie bag instead so I wouldn't eat them all!
* 2 c. brown sugar, packed
* 1/4 c. granulated sugar
* 2 eggs
* 1 c. oatmeal
* 1 c. chocolate chips
* 1 c. crisco
* 2 c. flour
* 1 tsp. baking soda
* 1 tsp. salt
* 2 tsp. vanilla
Preheat oven to 375.  Sift together flour, baking soda, and salt.  In a separate bowl, cream together shortening and brown sugar.  Add eggs, vanilla, and oatmeal to sugar mixture.  Add the flour mixture to wet ingredients  and mix until well combined.  Fold in chocolate chips.  Form into 1 inch dough balls, then roll in granulated sugar.  Bake 8-12 minutes until edges are just slightly brown and the tops crack (be sure to keep an eye on them and take them out right when the tops crack; they will be chewy).  Enjoy!