Sunday, June 29, 2014

Individual Berry Cheesecakes

I'm not sure how June got away from me so quickly this year, but believe it or not, it's time to start thinking about Fourth of July plans!

July 4th is one of my favorite (non-gift giving of course) holidays.  There's nothing better than spending a long day at the beach with friends, enjoying some cold beverages, cooking out, and ending the day with fireworks. 

These individual cheesecakes are the perfect patriotic treat after a long day in the sun.  They could't be easier to whip up, and would also be easy to transport to your picnic or bbq.  

Ingredients (12 individual cheesecakes):
* 5 whole graham crackers
* 2 tbsp. butter, melted
* 1/4 c. greek yogurt (or sour cream)
* 1 (8oz) block cream cheese, at room temperature
* 2 eggs
* 1 tsp. vanilla
* 1 tsp. lemon zest (about 1 lemon)
* 2 tsp. sugar
*3/4 c. strawberries, chopped
* 1/2 c. blueberries
* 1.5 tsp. sugar

Preheat oven to 325.  Line a muffin pan with paper liners.  Pulse the graham crackers in a blender or food processor until you have small crumbs.  Transfer the crumbs to a bowl and stir in melted butter, until all the crumbs are evenly coated.  For each cheesecake, spoon about a tablespoon of graham cracker crumbs into the liners.  Use the bottom of a shot glass to press the crumbs down. Bake the crusts for 5 minutes, then set on a rack to cool.

While the crusts are cooling, prepare the filling by combining yogurt, cream cheese, eggs, vanilla, lemon zest, and sugar in a bowl.  Beat with an electric mixture until smooth.  Divide evenly throughout the pan and bake for 20 minutes, or until the cheesecakes are just set.  Cool at room temperature, then transfer to the refrigerator to chill for 2 hours.  For the topping, combine blueberries, strawberries, and sugar in a bowl.  Top the cheesecakes with fruit when ready to serve.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Grilled Peach Panini

I'm not even sure where to begin with this sandwich.  Melted cheddar.  Grilled peaches.  Sweet barbecue sauce.  Thick cut bacon. Grilled chicken.  

Yes, these are a few of my favorite things.  But when they join together in this sweet, salty, melty panini? There is only one word that comes to mind: Epic. 

Peaches are so juicy and sweet this time of year, so I have stocked up and been treating myself to at least one a day. Grilling peaches just slightly softens them and adds a nice flavor to the flesh.  Add them to a sandwich, smoothie, or serve them up with a scoop of vanilla.  You can't go wrong!

Ingredients (2 sandwiches)
* 1 chicken breasts, butterflied
* 4 pieces of bacon
*1/4 c. bbq sauce
* 2 oz. cheddar cheese, cut into thin strips
* 1 peach
* 4 pieces thick cut bread

First, cook the bacon.  Arrange the bacon on a foil lined cookie sheet and place in a cold oven.  Turn the heat on 400 and cook the bacon for 17-19 minutes, or until mostly red.  Remove the bacon and transfer to a paper towel lined plate to drain. 

Slice the peach in half and remove the pit with a spoon.  Coat the grill with cooking spray and heat to medium (I used my indoor grill pan).  Grill the peaches, cut side down, for 2-3 minutes or until there are nice grill marks.  Thinly slice and set aside.  Season the chicken with salt and pepper and grill, roughly 4 minutes per side, or until cooked through.  

Preheat panini press to medium high heat.  To prepare the sandwiches, spread a thin layer of bbq sauce all pieces of bread.  On one side, arrange a thin layer of peaches, then bacon, cheddar cheese, chicken, and another layer of cheddar.  Top with remaining piece of bread and transfer to panini press.  Grill until lightly browned, slice the sandwich on the diagonal, and serve.  Enjoy! 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Weekend Thoughts

Happy Monday friends!  I hope everyone had a great weekend.  I had no agenda and didn't do anything terribly exciting, which is just the kind of weekend I needed.

Friday night, we saw Chef and both Mike and I loved it.  There was an all-star cast, including Jon Favreau, Sophia Vergara, Scarlett Johansson, and Dustin Hoffman.  Robert Downy Junior has an absolutely hilarious cameo as well. 

This movie will make your mouth water.  There is a scene where Jon Favreau's character is making his son the most amazing looking grilled cheese.  The food shots are fantastic and they really harp on the crunching sounds.  The soundtrack was so lively as well, with lots of Cuban flare. 

Saturday morning, I lounged around and browsed through the Smitten Kitchen cookbook, which I picked up at Anthropologie last week.  If you haven't read it, Smitten Kitchen is a great food blog.  I appreciate anyone who describes themselves as 'an obsessive home cook', and can also whip up gourmet meals in a tiny NYC kitchen. Her recipes are super creative, yet approachable.  I'm looking forward to trying her sour cream peach pancakes. 

On Sunday, I made my first summer batch of pesto, and judging by the size of my ginormous basil plant, there will be more to come!  I can't take credit for it though.  My father-in-law grows a mean basil and he gave me one of his plants.  I don't have much of a green thumb, but I have at least kept it alive for about a month now! 

Cheers to a happy week!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Grilled Chicken Nachos

Some of you may not know this about me... but I am a connoisseur of nachos. So much so that multiple toasts at my wedding actually referenced my love of the crunchy, cheese snack. 

 After sampling nachos all over the world (ok, all over Wilmington, and many a movie theater and sports arena), I figured i'd try my hand at making some of my own.


When it comes to nachos, I don't really discriminate (unless it's just melted cheddar on top- who does that? a cheese sauce is vital), but there are some kinds I like more than others.  I like to keep my nachos pretty simple, with a little pico, the occasional pulled pork or grilled chicken, and maybe a dollop of sour cream on top.  I skip the beans and jalapenos, but feel free to go crazy with any toppings you like.

The best part is the pico is double duty- part of it is used as the base for the cheese sauce and the rest is served on top.  The cheese sauce recipe makes plenty, so you could keep the extra warm in a fondu or crock pot for a party.

For the Chicken:
* 1 boneless, skinless chicken breast, butterflied
(halved lengthwise to create a thinner chicken breast)
* 1/4 tsp. paprika
* 1/4 tsp. garlic powder
* 1/4 tsp. onion powder
* 1/4 tsp. cumin
* 1/4 tsp. chili powder

* 3 plum tomatoes, chopped
* 1/2 red onion, minced
* 2 garlic cloves, minced
* 1 jalapeño, minced
* juice of 1/2 lime

Cheese Sauce
* Pico (half of recipe above)
* 1 tbsp. vegetable oil
* 1 tbsp. flour
* 1/2 c. lager style beer
* 1 c. monterey jack cheese, grated
* 1 c. cheddar cheese, grated
* 1/2 -1 c. heavy cream
* 1/4 tsp. cumin
* 1/4 tsp. chili powder
* 1/4 tsp. paprika

First, prepare the pico by combining all ingredients in a bowl; set aside.  To prepare the chicken, combine all spices in a bowl, then rub on the chicken.  Grill on medium high heat until cooked through (about 3-4 minutes per side). 

For the cheese sauce, start by adding the vegetable oil to a pot.  Heat to medium high, then add half the pico and sauté until the onions are slightly soft.  Stir in flour and cook for one minute.  Add the beer and cook for one additional minute, then add heavy cream.  Heat this mixture until small bubbles form around the edges, then reduce heat to medium low and add the cheeses.  Season with cumin, chili powder, and paprika.  If the cheese sauce is too thick, add a bit more cream until you have reached the desired consistency. 

Serve with tortilla chips.  Enjoy! 

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Mushroom, Onion & Smoked Gouda Crustless Quiche

Weekend cooking.  My favorite kind of cooking!  This weekend, I had no plans on my calendar, and I absolutely loved it.  Friday night, we had an impromptu party at the picnic table with some great neighbors, pizza, and plenty of wine.  Saturday was spent leisurely preparing breakfast for Sunday, making some delicious homemade nachos (stay tuned this week!) for lunch, and gearing up for a Father's Day dinner fit for a king. 

There's nothing better than Quiche for breakfast. Quiche has many of my favorite qualities as far as food is concerned.  You can literally put anything you like in it, you can make it in advance, and it makes a great breakfast, lunch, or dinner.  What's not to love? 

A traditional quiche is made with whole milk or cream and baked inside a pastry crust.  In the interest of bathing suit season, I opted for skim milk and skipped the crust.  Honestly, I didn't miss either!  The mushrooms and smokey gouda lend an earthy heartiness to the quiche, making it extra savory and filling. 

I made this Saturday afternoon so I could just pop it in the oven and warm it for a leisurely Sunday morning breakfast. The leftovers make a lovely, simple dinner paired with a side salad. 

* 1 onion, chopped
* 1 tbsp. butter, plus more for buttering the dish
* 1 c. mushrooms
* 3/4 c. milk (I used skim)
* 6 eggs
* 1 c. smoked gouda, shredded 
* salt, pepper

Preheat oven to 375.  Use butter to lightly grease a tart or pie pan.  Heat a sauté panto medium high and add the butter and onions.  Sauté the onions for 3-4 minutes until slightly soft, then add mushrooms and season with salt and pepper.  Continue cooking until the mushrooms are soft, stirring often, about 5 minutes.  

In bowl, whisk eggs together eggs and milk and season with salt and pepper.  Stir in the gouda cheese.  Add the mushroom and onion mixture to the eggs and stir to combine.  Pour the egg mixture into the baking dish and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until lightly browned around the edges and the eggs are set. If making this ahead, cool completely, refrigerate, and reheat it (within 3 days) at 325 for 20 minutes.  Enjoy! 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Burger Sliders with Goat Cheese & Blackberry Onion Jam

One of my favorite weekend activities, assuming I'm up in time, is heading to the Riverfront Farmers Market.  I love taking my time, perusing the fresh produce, flowers, herbs, breads and local products, buying whatever strikes my fancy and figuring out what to do with it later.

This weekend, I came home with vine ripened tomatoes, homemade blackberry jam, Nature's Way goat cheese (the best in my opinion), and of course I had to swing by Great Harvest for a fresh baguette and a big bag of oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.

With my farm fresh loot, I decided to make sliders two ways: first, I grilled the tomato and threw it on a classic American version, but the real star of the show?  My Sliders with Goat Cheese & Blackberry Onion Jam.

These sliders are total perfection.  The sweet, sticky onion jam, slightly crunchy with blackberry seeds, in contrast to the tangy, cool, semi-melted goat cheese?  I'm telling you, you need these in your life.

These sliders would be perfect for a tapas party or BBQ, or even full sized for a main course.

*1.25 lb. ground beef, 85% lean
* Goat cheese
*3c onion, thinly slice (two medium onions)
*1 tbsp. butter
 *1 tbsp. olive oil
*2 tsp. sugar
*1 tbsp blackberry jam
*1 tsp. balsamic vinegar
*2 tbsp. water
salt, pepper
*8 ciabatta rolls (I used frozen ones - perfect for sliders)

Begin by caramelizing the onions.  Heat a saute pan over medium heat, add butter, olive oil, and onions, and cook until soft and caramel in color (20-30 minutes), stirring often.  Once the onions are caramelized, stir in balsamic and blackberry jam, and season with salt and pepper.  If the mixture is too thick, add 2 tbsp. of water to loosen it a bit. 

To prepare the burgers, season the meat with salt and pepper.  Divide into 8 equal patties.  Preheat a griddle (you can also use a regular pan or grill) to high heat and cook the patties to desired temperature.  Top with goat cheese and onion mixture and serve on ciabatta rolls. Enjoy!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Ribs with Homemade BBQ Sauce

Let me just preface this post by saying I find it borderline impossible to get an attractive picture of ribs.   They completely fall apart when you try to plate them, are best drenched in delicious BBQ Sauce, and are generally very messy.  Con: not the best picture I've taken.  Pro: these challenges are just a few of the reasons these ribs are so amazing. 

I have tried so many different methods for making ribs, from boiling them in Pepsi, to grilling and slow roasting.  In my opinion, slow roasting is not only the least messy option, but also makes the most tender, fall off the bone ribs.  

But why stop with the perfect ribs?  Topping these babies with homemade BBQ sauce is the icing on the cake. This recipe is a great basic that you can put your own spin on - once you  master the standard version, try mixing in different flavors of preserves or even whiskies!

*1 slab baby back ribs
* 1 tsp. paprika
* 1 tsp. garlic powder
* 1 tsp. onion powder
* 3/4 c. chicken stock
*2/3 c. BBQ sauce, plus more for serving

BBQ Sauce:
*2 tbsp. olive oil
* 3 garlic cloves, minced
* 2 c. ketchup
* 3/4 c. chicken stock
* 2 tbsp. soy sauce
* 6 tbsp. brown sugar, loosely packed
* 4 tbsp. molasses
* 3 tbsp. apple cider vinegar

Preheat oven to 325.  Prepare the ribs by removing the thick membrane from the bony side of the ribs (to start it, I gently cut the layer of the fat at one end of the slab).  Combine paprika, garlic powder, and onion powder and rub all over the ribs.  Add ribs to a baking dish, add chicken stock to the pan, cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 2 hours.  After 2 hours, brush with 1/3 c. BBQ sauce, recover with foil, and return to the oven for 30 minutes or until the ribs start to come away from the bone and are very tender. Remove the ribs, move the oven rack to the top third of the oven, and increase heat to broiling.  Broil for 8-10 minutes (watch closely!) or until nicely browned on top.  Serve with more BBQ sauce.  Enjoy!

For Sauce:
Heat a saute pan over medium heat.  Add olive oil and garlic and sauté for 30 seconds or so.  Add all remaining ingredients, whisking often, and bring to a simmer.  Simmer for 20 minutes or so, or until thickened and reduced to about 3 cups.  

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Grilled Potato Packets

I've always avoided grilling potatoes.  In my mind, it would probably take for-ev-er, waste too much gas, and result would likely be a boring steamed potato.

As it turns out, I was wrong about this one.  In an effort to avoid messing up my freshly cleaned kitchen Monday night, I decided to throw some potatoes on the grill with our chicken.  Twenty minutes later, I had perfectly cooked, golden brown, crisp to perfection potatoes!  They were so delicious, why did I wait so long to try this?

Grilling the potatoes directly on the heat resulted in the same crispy goodness you get from roasting potato, which usually takes over an hour.  These individual packets could not be simpler, and the best part is, no dishes!

Ingredients (for each packet  - serves 1):
* 1 russet potato, chopped
* 1/2 white onion, chopped
* 1 tbsp. butter
* 1 tsp. olive oil
* 1 tbsp. chives, minced
* salt, pepper

Combine all ingredients on top of a large sheet of heavy duty aluminum foil (I used a big piece so that my potatoes were in a pretty thin layer so most of them were browned).  Tightly seal the packet. 

Heat grill over medium.  Add the potatoes, directly on the heat, but avoid a large flame.  Grill for 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are nicely browned (don't peak until at least 15 minutes has passed so they have an opportunity to cook through).  Enjoy!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Chimichurri Sauce

In the summer, with so much grilling action, i'm always looking for new sauces and flavors.  This chimichurri is the perfect accompaniment to any grilled meat, vegetable, or even as a bread dipper. 

Chimichurri is not only fun to say, but also fresh and delicious!  A little bit goes a way and it brings a sort of refreshing, herby flavor to anything you spoon it over.  I served mine over grilled sirloin, vegetables, and was left wishing I had a nice pita bread to soak up the leftovers.

* 3-4 garlic cloves, depending on size
* 1 bunch flat leaf Italian parsley (I used a 3/4 oz package from the store)
* 2 heaping tablespoons fresh oregano
* 1/2 c. olive oil
* juice of 1/2 a lemon
* 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes (or more if you like the heat)
* 2 tbsp. red wine vinegar
* salt, pepper

Combine all ingredients in a food processor.  Pulse until blended, but not completely pureed.  Let sit at room temperature for 20 minutes before using.  If making in advance, refrigerate until ready use but bring to room temperature again before serving. Enjoy!