Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Stove Top Macaroni and Cheese

Every good southerner, or really just person in general, needs a great mac and cheese recipe in their back pocket.  Today I bring you my new favorite - stove top mac and cheese! 

I've been making this recipe for years and tweaking it here and there. In the past, i've usually baked the macaroni with breadcrumbs on top.  I still love the baked counterpart, but this stove top version is the creamiest, richest mac you'll find.

Once you understand the method and standard ingredients, the possibilities are endless.  You could always experiment with different cheeses, fold in some crispy bacon, add broccoli or tomatoes, really anything!

 *1 lb. cavatappi or macaroni
* 4 tbsp. butter
*4 tbsp. flour
*2 c. whole milk
*1/2 c. half and half
*1 tbsp. dijon mustard
*1/4 tsp. nutmeg
*1/4 tsp. paprika
*salt, pepper
*8 oz. extra sharp cheddar, freshly grated
*4 oz. gruyere, freshly grated
*dash of hot sauce (optional)

Prepare the pasta according to package directions; drain and set aside.  Meanwhile, in a large pot, melt butter over medium high heat.  Add flour and whisk for 1-2 minutes until the butter and flour are well combined and lightly browned (you want to cook out the raw flour taste). 

Add the milk and cream and heat until small bubbles form around the edge and the sauce is slightly thickened.  Stir in dijon mustard, nutmeat, paprika, salt, pepper, and hot sauce.  Remove from heat and whisk in the cheddar and gruyere.  Stir in pasta and serve immediately.  
*I made this an hour or so ahead and reheated it over medium low heat with a touch more cream to smooth out the sauce. 

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Bacon Cheddar Dog Treats

If you follow me on Instagram, chances are you know I'm pretty much obsessed with my chocolate lab, Roscoe.  Today, Roscoe turns 5 and we celebrated over the weekend with some homemade dog treats and a family cookout.

Roscoe absolutely loved his Bacon Cheddar Dog Treats, and after testing them out on a few other pups at a friend's cookout Saturday, I can safely say these are pretty popular.  

 I don't actually know much about doggie nutrition, but after looking at a few other recipes online, I saw that whole wheat flower and skim milk were common ingredients.  It's not abnormal for Roscoe to have a little bacon or cheese, so I didn't think twice about feeding him these.  If your pup has a more sensitive stomach or doesn't eat a lot of human food, there are quite a few healthy alternative homemade treats on Pinterest. I found the Lab cookie cutter at Williams Sonoma - they lots of breeds!

Roscie enjoying his birthday present- a baby pool!

Ingredients (makes 24 cookies, depending on cookie cutter size):
 *3 c. whole wheat flour
*2 tbsp. butter, diced
*2 tbsp. olive oil
*1 c. milk
*1 egg
*4 oz. freshly grated cheddar cheese
*2 pieces bacon, cooked and finely chopped

Preheat oven to 375 and line 2 cookie sheets with tin foil or parchment paper.  In a large bowl, add the flour and cut in the butter using a pastry cutter or fork, until the butter is the size of small peas.  Add the cheese and bacon to the dry ingredients and stir to combine.  In a separate bowl, combine milk, egg, and olive oil.  Slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry, stirring with a wooden spoon until just combined.  When the dough comes together, shape it into a ball with your hands and refrigerate for 20 minutes (if it is too dry and not coming together, add water, 1 tbsp. at a time until the dough forms).  Cut the dough in half and roll out to 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick on a floured surface.  Cut into shapes and bake for 20-25 minutes or until crisp and lightly browned. 

Friday, April 25, 2014

Food Inspired Friday: Society Social's Impromptu Entertaining Tips

One of my favorite blogs is The Social Diary, the blog of Society Social.  If you haven't heard of Society Social, it's a great site filled with signature bar carts, entertaining accessories and custom furniture.  I've been dying for one of the bar carts for ages but I haven't pulled the trigger just yet.

Roxy, the founder and North Carolina native behind SS,  recently shared some amazing hostess tips for an impromptu dinner party, so I thought i'd share for today's Food Inspired Friday.

I love that she suggests to always use place cards- I love place cards!  It adds something sort of special to the table and seems considerate. Natural center pieces are also great for an outdoor table.

Another one of her tips is to bring indoor furniture outside.  I love her colorful mix and match table.  The turkish towels for guests to wrap up in if it gets chilly are such a lovely personal touch. 

This looks like a fearless dinner party - multiple main courses!  Steak, pasta and salmon - I love it!  Coming up with a cohesive menu is sometimes challenging, but serving multiple mains would be a great way for everyone to contribute.

See Roxy's full list of entertaining tips here.   Happy Friday!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Favorite Kabobs

I am a girl who loves to grill.  I am also a girl who is married to a man who refuses to let me grill. 

My newest excuse is that it's for my blog, so I HAVE to do it.  I mean, bloggers integrity, right?  So I bring you my favorite kabobs, which I mostly grilled myself, except when Mike was forcibly grabbing the tongs from me to demonstrate the proper way to turn all the kabobs at one time.  Ah, men..

I absolutely love this marinade.  Not only are the sweet and savory flavors delicious, but the brown sugar and honey in the marinade help caramelize the edges of the meat for that amazing color, flavor and texture. 

If you prefer your kabobs to have more of the saucy-factor, feel free to double the marinade! 

* 1.5 lb. chicken, steak, or a combo
* 1/3 c. low sodium soy sauce
* 2 garlic cloves, cut in half
* 1 tbsp. ginger spice blend (with the fresh herbs at the store)
* 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
* 1 tbsp. honey
* 1 tbsp. light brown sugar

Soak skewers in water (I cheated and rinsed them instead of soaking and they burned up terribly!).  Meanwhile, prepare the marinade by combining soy sauce, garlic, ginger spice blend, red pepper flakes, honey and brown sugar in a shallow casserole dish.  Cut the meat (I used two steaks and one chicken breast) into one inch cubes, add to the marinade and refrigerate for 15-30 minutes. 

 Skewer the beef  and chicken separately as they have different cook times.  Pour the remaining marinade (there will only be a small amount) into a small sauce pan.  Heat the grill to medium high and add the meat, cooking until done.  Meanwhile, bring the marinade to a boil over medium high heat, whisking often.  When the meat is almost done, brush with the boiled marinade.  Enjoy! 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Thai Peanut Chicken Wraps

One of my all-time favorite restaurants in Greensboro is Taste of Thai, which has long been my Thai staple.  Their cashew chicken is to die for, but honestly, what I get most excited about is the salad that comes with every meal!  It's very basic, just iceberg, cabbage, and grated carrots, but it is served with the most heavenly peanut vinaigrette. 

For years i've been searching for a comparable bottled version and I have to say, Trader Joe's Spicy Thai Peanut vinaigrette is sooo close, it is calming my Taste of Thai cravings! 

This vinaigrette is great with a simple iceberg salad, served as a dip for crudite, a marinade for chicken sate, or in these grilled chicken wraps for a light and fresh dinner.  If you go to Trader Joe's, be sure to pick up a bottle! 

To make the wraps, I tossed grilled chicken with the vinaigrette and served with shredded butter lettuce and carrots in a spinach wrap - with more dip on the side of course.  Enjoy! 

Friday, April 18, 2014

Food Inspired Friday: Kid-Friendly Easter

I've reached "that age" where my entire Facebook feed seems to consist of wedding or baby pics.  This week, I'm loving all of the baby pics with the Easter bunny, the preschool egg hunts, and most especially the babies dressed as bunnies themselves! For those of you that have little ones, here is a little inspiration and a few easy cooking projects for the holiday weekend. 

I used to love making these birds nests when I was little.  Just stir melted white chocolate (or butterscotch- that was my personal favorite) with chow main noodles, shape into nests, and top with candy eggs. 

These no-bake bunny tail treats are made with cream cheese and coconut. 

What could be easier than a rice crispy treat with a peep on top? 

These carrots are so cute - they would make a great edible centerpiece too!

If you'll be hosting this year, check out my Easter Brunch menu from last year for some inspiration!

Happy Weekend!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Spring Veggie Pasta

Every year for Greek Easter, Mike's family adopts a vegetarian diet.  During Lent, many people fast of all animal products, but because that wasn't something four growing, football playing boys could manage, this has become the tradition. 

Last year, I managed to gain probably 5 pounds during our meat fast, largely because we subsided off pizza, pasta and grilled cheese.  This year, i'm vowing to keep it healthy and embrace more produce. 

This pasta dish is so simple and delicious. I love the sweet flavors of the corn and onion and because there are so many veggies, it's very fulfilling. A splash of cream adds just the touch of richness that you need, but you could also skip that for a lighter option. 

* 1 small squash
* 1 small zucchini
* 2 plum tomatoes
* 1 bunch asparagus
* 1 small onion
*1 ear of corn
* 2 tbsp. olive oil
* 2 tbsp. heavy cream
* 1/3 c. parmesan cheese
*1 tbsp. fresh parsley
* 8 oz. whole wheat penne
* Salt, Pepper

Preheat oven to 375. Chop all of the vegetables, remove kernels from corn, and combine with olive oil, salt and pepper in a casserole dish. Roast the vegetables for 30 minutes, stirring once, or until the vegetables are tender.  Prepare pasta according to package directions and reserve 1 c. of the pasta water before draining.  Return the cooked pasta to the pan and stir in the vegetables, parmesan cheese and heavy cream.  Add pasta water, a tablespoon at a time, until the sauce is smooth.  Garnish with fresh parsley.  Enjoy! 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Weekend Update: NC Azalea Festival

Did everyone have a great weekend?  Mine was pretty exceptional, but I will admit that I'm also exceptionally exhausted! This weekend we had the North Carolina Azalea Festival here in Wilmington and after a 3 day string of events, i'm in need of some beauty rest.

The Azalea Festival, held the second weekend in April when the Azaleas start to bloom, offers a huge variety of events from the Garden Party, garden tours, concerts, fireworks, a street fair, and even a circus.  There is something for people of all ages to enjoy. 

The celebration started Thursday at the Off the Beaten Path concert, which was so much fun.  I went with my mother in-law and my friend Stephanie to enjoy the sounds of Randy Houser and Justin Moore. 

Saturday we headed out to the Garden Party at Airlie Gardens.  The day could not have been more perfect - a bit warm in the sun but absolutely wonderful in the shade.  The Garden Party is sort of a who's-who of Wilmington and you'll likely run into everyone you've ever met.  It's also open bar, starting at 11, so keeping a slow and steady pace is key to success! 

I stopped at the Bud-Light tent because they were giving out great novelty mason-jar glasses if you tried one of their canned margaritas.  I'm not going to lie, that strawberry-rita was delicious, but so sugary.  Just a few sips is all you need.

The garden party is a total sea of seersucker.  I particularly enjoyed these pink socks and shorts! 

The cadets from the Citadel escort the Azalea Belles to the Garden Party - poor guys must have been dying in those jackets, but they were great sports.

 I had to get an awkward rear photo - how great are those legit fanny packs?

Saturday night we attended the Patrons Party at Cape Fear Country Club.  The party was absolutely stunning- how beautiful is this tent? They set up various stations for small plates, which was such a great idea - it really kept the party moving. 

Happy Monday! 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Food Inspired Friday: Southern Tradition

Today's Food Inspired Friday celebrates Southern Tradition!

Two wonderful Southern traditions are taking place this weekend. Locally, we have the North Carolina Azalea Festival, and on top of that, golf fans 'round the world will be practicing their most demure golf claps while celebrating the ultimate tournament, the Masters. Since most of you aren't from Wilmington, I'll wait and chat about our Azalea Festival next week when I have pictures to share. 

If you'll be at home (or in person!) watching the Master's, keep your celebration traditional with a classic Pimento Cheese Sandwich on white bread and a side of sweet tea.  I don't know if the Masters is really considered a "Southern" tradition, but I'm positive the traditional fare is!

Pimento Cheese is one of my favorite southern foods. When I was young and my mom went back to work, we started eating at Harper's Restaurant in Greensboro just about once a week, and that's where I was first introduced to the ultimate Pimento Cheese.

Harper's serves their Pimento Cheese hot with tortilla chips and honestly, I still think that's the best way to enjoy it.  I've never found a store brand that I really love so you can imagine how excited I was when I recently found the recipe for Harper's Pimento Cheese online (via the Charlotte Observer).  

This dip has a strong taste of mustard (which I love) and the red wine vinegar lends a nice tang that makes you wonder what the heck is in there that makes it so good! 

* 1 lb. sharp cheddar cheese, freshly grated
* 1/2 c. Duke's mayonnaise
* 9 oz. whole pimentos, drained and chopped
* 2 to 3 tbsp. spicy brown mustard
* 1/4 tsp. garlic powder
* 1/4 tsp. celery salt
* 1/4 tsp. fresh black pepper
* 2 tbsp. red wine vinegar
* 1 tsp. hot sauce

Combine all ingredients.  Chill thoroughly before serving, or microwave in 30 second increments until melted for a hot cheese dip.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Turkey Bruschetta Burgers

This warm weather is turning my life around.  I am welcoming spring in a major way - I could not be happier! I've started walking the pup every day, upping my vegetable game, planning out my herb garden, and in general I just have a little more pep in my step.  It's amazing what a toll a long winter can have on your body and attitude. 

This week I thought i'd try my hand at a light burger and these Turkey Bruschetta Burgers were too good not to share.  These burgers are hearty, melty, meaty and flavorful, just like a burger should be, but light on the calories.  We skipped the buns, but i'm sure they would be delish on a bun as well. 

Harris Teeter brand Bruschetta Topping is one of my favorite prepared products.  It has a delicious, rich tomato flavor and is great on bread alone, atop burgers, and sometimes I even blend it in my tomato sauces for extra flavor. 

I prepared my burgers in a pan but I'm sure they'd be great on the grill too.  Enjoy! 

* 1.5 lb. ground turkey (I used 93% lean)
* 2 tsp. chopped fresh parsley
* 2 tsp. chopped fresh oregano
* 1/2 tsp. onion powder
* 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
*1/2 tbsp. butter
* 2 tsp. olive oil
* pre-sliced mozzarella/provolone blended cheese (or choose one or the other)
* prepared Bruschetta topping

In a bowl, mix turkey, parsley, oregano, garlic and onion powder until just combined.  Form into 4 equal patties. Preheat a pan over medium high heat and add butter and olive oil (the butter helps give the burgers a nice brown crust; skip this if you're grilling the burgers).  Add the burgers to the pan and sauté until the turkey is cooked through, about 8 minutes per side.  Reduce heat if the burgers start to burn. 

When the burgers are cooked through, reduce heat to medium low, top each with a slice of cheese and loosely cover until the cheese is melted, about a minute.  Top each burger with a heaping tablespoon of Bruschetta topping.  Enjoy! 

Friday, April 4, 2014

Kate Spade Friends & Family

Kate Spade is offering 25% off your entire purchase with promo code S14FFUS for their Friends & Family sale!

I'm a big fan of Kate Spade's home collection and you may remember I chose the Platinum Larabee Dot for my china pattern.  There are a lot of great steals to be had.  Especially for small home wares.
Kate SPade Friends & Family
All via www.katespade.com

I bought myself the black and white pom poms; after all, you never know when you might need to put together an impromptu party! I also purchased some stationary and the black and white thermal mug.  Ok, and some sunglasses too.. I'm a sucker for a good sale!

I received the polka dot champagne flutes as a wedding gift and I'm head over heels in love with them.  They're delicate but not too fragile and a major steal at $37.50 (with the promo code) for a set of 4.  They make a crystal version ($40 per glass) but these glass alternatives are gorgeous. 

Happy Shopping!

Food Inspired Friday: All Things Brunch

Lately I can't seem to get my mind off of brunch.  I just love brunch - anything goes, sweet or savory, and for some reason, if you call it brunch, it's perfectly acceptable to start drinking before noon.  What's not to love?

Between Easter and the Azalea Festival coming up, I will have a few rotating house guests, so of course I need to have some great brunch ideas in my back pocket. 

Every brunch starts with a great cocktail.  Isn't this Bloody Mary gorgeous? If there's bacon involved, you can pretty much sign me up. 

For a larger group, I love the idea of a mimosa or bellini bar.  I think I would make a few different fruit purees (think peach) or syrups (strawberry rhubarb). 

For brunch, the more you can do in advance the better - especially if you have house guests.  Breakfast bakes are always a great option, like this French Toast Strata.  

A savory option, like this Overnight Bacon and Sausage Casserole, is always a crowd pleaser.

Just like the menu, anything goes with the table setting.  I'm dying to break out my grandmother's frilly pink china pattern for a ladies brunch.  

I love a bright and airy table too, with fresh flowers from the yard. 

Happy Friday Friends!  And Happy Brunching!